The Smithsonian National Zoo’s giant panda, Bei Bei, turned four-years-old on Thursday and he almost seemed to be smiling.
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Broadcast live on the zoo’s “panda cam,” Bei Bei enjoyed a panda-friendly cake made of frozen fruits, diluted juices and vegetables in the shape of a numeral 4, crafted by the zoo’s Nutritional Science Department.
PARTY ANIMAL: Bei Bei the panda munches on a buffet of treats as he celebrates his fourth birthday at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. Happy birthday, Bei Bei! https://t.co/FJ5YzwTmWp pic.twitter.com/1ev7ZN4CDt
— ABC News (@ABC) August 22, 2019
Visitors gathered around Bei Bei’s outside enclosure and sang “Happy Birthday” when he came out to eat his cake, according to Smithsonian National Zoo spokesperson Devin Murphy.
The festivities also marked a bittersweet moment as the zoo’s agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association limits panda cubs born at the zoo to be on loan for four years before they must be sent back to China.
Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images
“We have known since the day Bei Bei was born he would be moving to China.” Murphy said. “It’s also a really exciting milestone for us so we want him to move to China and become part of the breeding program and eventually have cubs and hopefully maybe one day some of those cubs will be released into the wild.”
Bei Bei will not be the first giant panda sent to China. Most recently, three-and-a-half-year-old female Bao Bao left the National Zoo in February 2017.
Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images
Bei Bei’s parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, have been at the zoo since 2000 and serve as the breeding pair so any cubs they have will be sent to China after four years.
The zoo’s current agreement with China, which extends to December 2020, allows the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to study panda behavior, health, and biology.
Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images
The tradition of keeping giant pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo began in the early 1970s when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gifted two pandas to President Richard Nixon to establish better relations with the United States.
Planning operations have begun to ship Bei Bei back to China but a specific timeline has not yet been released.
Two former GOP congressmen critical of President Donald Trump’s conduct in office and ballooning federal spending are moving closer to mounting long-shot primary bids against the president, moves that could weaken Trump ahead of the 2020 general election.
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Former Illinois congressman-turned-radio host Joe Walsh is expected to launch a long shot primary challenge against President Trump for the Republican Party nomination, with an announcement that could come as early as this weekend, a senior advisor to Walsh tells ABC News.
Walsh’s team says the former one-term Tea Party Republican with a long history of incendiary comments – once a fervent Trump supporter who recently distanced himself from the president, accusing Trump of inflaming racial tensions – is looking to travel to and spend “a lot of time” in the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks.
Both the latest events stemming from the Trump administration this week and what Walsh’s team calls an “incredible reaction” and flood of support following his op-Ed in the New York Times last week, ultimately pushed the conservative radio host further along than ever toward jumping in and challenging the President.
On Wednesday, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford told ABC News he is inching closer to entering the race after meeting with party activists in New Hampshire last week.
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, FILE
“I continue to gravitate in that direction based on green lights as opposed to red lights,” he said of the reception he received in the Granite State.
Sanford said he found “fertile ground” for a campaign focused on fiscal issues. “Republicans have lost their way on debt, deficit and spending,” he said. “People in the Granite State have a degree of financial prudence baked into their DNA that fits into some of the themes I’ve long cared about.”
The South Carolina Republican said he’s still on track to make a decision about a running for president by Labor Day. He said the “overwhelming” and “gargantuan” challenges associated with mounting a White House bid “would frighten anyone that’s thinking clearly,” and are still on his mind.
Neither Walsh nor Sanford think they have a chance of wrestling the GOP nomination from Trump, but instead hope to offer GOP voters an alternative vision for the party while perhaps weakening the incumbent president along the way. Sanford in particular pointed to former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush who were both roughed up by serious primary challenges on their way to losing their respective reelection races.
To Sanford, Trump has continued to demonstrate unfitness for office with recent comments this week accusing American Jews of disloyalty if they vote for Democrats.
“In his world it is personal allegiance that matters,” he said. “Ultimately I think it is another corrosive element to the Trump presidency and the way it operates.”
After weeks of behind the scenes negotiations and discussions, the White House on Thursday backed off a plan to cut billions of dollars from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budgets, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
The battle pitted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who opposed the cuts, against acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, whose agency set in motion the process to undertake up to $4 billion of cuts.
Foreign aid has been a favorite target of President Donald Trump’s when trying to cut the federal budget, but ultimately, after much lobbying from Republican and Democrat lawmakers, Trump decided against them.
“The president has been clear that there is waste and abuse in our foreign assistance, and we need to be wise about where U.S. money is going — which is why he asked his administration to look into options to doing just that,” a senior administration official told ABC News.
“It’s clear that there are many on the Hill who aren’t willing to join in curbing wasteful spending,” the official added, confirming that the White House would stand down.
The decision to not follow through on the cuts, formally known as a rescission package, has not yet been sent to Capitol Hill.
The package of cuts included key foreign policy priorities, including women’s development, aid for Venezuela, efforts to counter Russian disinformation and Chinese expansion, international religious freedom advocacy, and global health funding amid the deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to the State Department, which includes USAID, and asked for details on funds that were appropriated by Congress for specific purposes but have not yet been committed to a particular project.
No other agency received a similar letter, according to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for U.S. diplomacy. Eliminating these funds would hit 7% of the State Dept and USAID budget, but amount to a decrease of just 0.09% in the federal budget — with critics like USGLC saying earlier this month it would “significantly damage America’s security and economic interests” without making a significant change to shrinking federal spending.
Those critics also included the powerful chairs and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee — two Republicans and two Democrats. In a bipartisan letter on Aug. 9, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, wrote that these funds “were appropriated by Congress and signed into law” and are “essential” for U.S. leadership.
The four lawmakers warned that it would be “inappropriate,” “precedent-setting,” and “a direct affront to the separation of powers” if the Trump administration moved ahead and cancelled these funds and that they would “use all the tools at our disposal to respond appropriately.”
While the decision was pending, the State Department ordered a spending freeze of 2% of the funding for these particular programs. At one point, the administration wanted to move ahead on the cuts except for projects championed by Vice President Mike Pence and senior adviser and presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and for combating the Ebola outbreak, a source said.
At a news conference in Ottawa, Canada, Thursday, Secretary Pompeo said he was working on the issue even that morning, but wouldn’t comment on reports that a decision had been made.
But he added that “every penny” the State Department spends must be well-spent: “We’ve got to make sure we are using it in ways that are effective, that American interests are represented in the way we spend that money.”
ABC News’s Ben Siegel contributed to this report.
As the economy flashed warning signs of a possible downturn, President Donald Trump, with his political future potentially at stake, spent this week suggesting a variety of remedies — even as he argued they were unnecessary.
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His mixed signals on the economy come as he and his senior advisers try to stave off consumer concerns about a possible recession — and as the president makes the state of the economy a central message of his reelection campaign.
“You have no choice but to vote for me, because your 401(k)’s down the tubes, everything’s going to be down the tubes,” the president told supporters at a rally in New Hampshire last week. “So whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.”
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
As negative economic news piled up this week, Trump repeatedly argued the economy was strong — but in the same breath (or tweet) said the Federal Reserve needed to provide a fiscal boost by lowering interest rates.
One day, he said he was considering payroll tax cuts, after a White House spokesperson had denied it hours earlier; the next day, the president said they were off the table. He has floated indexing and a capital gains tax cut, too.
And he has turned to other news — making policy pronouncements, then backtracking — talking to reporters in marathon sessions at the White House and near his New Jersey golf club about Greenland (he was interested in buying it from Denmark), the Danish prime minister (she dismissed the idea of selling Greenland; Trump cancelled a trip to Denmark in response), guns (first he wanted “meaningful background checks,” then he said the U.S. already had “strong background checks”), Jewish voters (he said they were “disloyal” if they cast ballots for Democrats, a charge widely labeled anti-Semitic), and a myriad of other topics.
Asked Sunday if his administration was preparing for a recession, the president dismissed the possibility of a downturn. “Honestly, I’m prepared for everything,” he told reporters in Morristown, N.J. “I don’t think we’re having a recession.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Labor said that the number of jobs added to the economy from April 2018 to March 2019 was actually half a million fewer than previously estimated. The president frequently touts the number of jobs created during his administration, and the downward revision — according to the Associated Press, the largest in a decade — was an unwelcome development.
That same day, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said it expected the federal budget deficit to grow to more than $1 trillion in the next fiscal year — up from less than $600 billion when Trump took office.
As a candidate, Trump promised to pay off the entire deficit. The CBO attributed the jump in large part to this year’s congressional budget deal — blessed by Trump.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images
As the president repeatedly works to reassure American consumers that tariffs he has slapped on China do not impact them — a false claim, according to economists — the CBO said tariffs his administration has enacted are expected to lower the United States’ GDP by about 0.3% in 2020.
The president and his advisers have reason to worry. Last week, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, which measures Americans’ economic attitudes, fell to a seven-month low, and expectations for the economy’s direction followed this week — now at a five-month low .
ABC News’ Gary Langer contributed to this report.
The Democratic National Committee on Thursday rejected a proposal for an official climate change debate for the party’s presidential candidates, pitting party officials against activists who believe Democrats aren’t taking the issue seriously heading into 2020.
The measure failed 17-8 before the DNC’s resolutions committee. Party officials, including DNC Chair Tom Perez, have opposed tweaking the party’s debate rules to allow candidates to share a stage for single-issue debates. (The party has allowed candidates to appear at single-issue forums and town halls.)
“If we change our guidelines at the request of one candidate who has made climate change their campaign’s signature issue, how do we say no to the numerous other requests we’ve had?” Perez wrote in a June blog post. “How do we say no to other candidates in the race who may request debates focused on an issue they’ve made central to their own campaigns?”
Advocates for the climate change debate could try to bring up the measure again at the party’s general session later this weekend.
Michael Nigro/Sipa USA via AP
Activists with Sunrise Movement, an environmental group that staged a climate-change sit-in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office early this year, have been out in full force at the DNC meetings, attending the committee meeting and protesting against the vote.
The young organizers, along with Democrats like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have helped push climate change to the center of the Democratic primary. Nearly all of the party’s presidential candidates are putting forward their own environmental policy proposals, and many will participate in a climate-focused town hall hosted by CNN next month. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released his Green New Deal proposal on Thursday.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who framed his entire campaign around fighting climate change, dropped out of the presidential race Wednesday night after missing the cut for the next round of debates.
More than a dozen presidential candidates will address party delegates this weekend in San Francisco, giving many an opportunity to mingle with activists and Democratic insiders from across the country ahead of primary voting.
Thursday’s committee meeting wasn’t the only display of tensions within the party in San Francisco.
On Wednesday, progressive pro-impeachment organizers disrupted a local party dinner where Speaker Pelosi was receiving an award, calling on her to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates testified Thursday in Washington at the trial of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, who stands accused of lying to the government about his foreign lobbying work in Ukraine.
On Thursday, prosecutors questioned Gates about his interactions with Craig, a high-profile Washington attorney, during his time lobbying in Ukraine. The government has argued that if Craig had been entirely forthright about his foreign lobbying work, he would have been required to register as a foreign agent.
During cross examination in the afternoon, Craig’s defense team sought to undermine Gates’ credibility by turning the jury’s attention to the crimes he’d pleaded guilty to last year.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters, FILE
Gates, 47, emerged as one of the most important witnesses in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign. The special counsel’s office charged Gates and his former business partner, Paul Manafort, with similar crimes in 2017. Since his indictment in 2017, Gates has cooperated with prosecutors in several federal cases, including against Manafort. Gates testified against Manafort during his jury trial in Virginia in August 2018.
Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, is serving jail time after being found guilty of eight counts of financial crimes as part of the first major prosecution won by Mueller’s office. In early 2018, Gates pleaded guilty to lying to federal prosecutors about a laundry list of items related to the work he and Manafort did in Ukraine.
Gates and Manafort were longtime business associates, working closely at Manafort’s lobbying firm, which held offices in Ukraine since 2006. In indictments penned by the special counsel’s office, Gates is identified as Manafort’s “right hand man.”
In 2012, Craig and his law firm — which at one point also employed Manafort — worked on a public relations campaign for a report it authored for the Ukrainian government. Records also show Craig, during the course of his work in Ukraine, shared certain clients with Manafort.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images, FILE
In court documents filed prior to Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors accused Craig of attempting to dodge registration requirements because registering “could prevent him … from taking positions in the federal government in the future,” among other reasons.
Craig’s indictment cites his 2012 work with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, on behalf of the Ukrainian government, which hired Craig to report on the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister.
The firm in January agreed to pay more than $4.6 million, which equals the proceeds of its Ukranian work, and publicly acknowledge that it failed to register with the government for that work. The settlement appears to have credited much of that misstep to Craig, who was not named in the settlement but matches his description. At the time, Tymoshenko was a political opponent of then-Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, who was a longtime business partner of Manafort’s.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE
Craig secured an early win this month when the judge in the case dropped one of the charges, finding that a letter Craig had sent was not a formal filing to the FARA office, and therefore could not be considered a false document. The law, U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote, is too ambiguous on the matter.
But throughout Craig’s case, the government has argued that he told substantial lies to the government about his lobbying work in Ukraine, and that these lies helped him to avoid registering as a foreign agent.
With Gates’ highly anticipated testimony in the rear-view mirror, Judge Jackson has suggested that more evidence presented by prosecutors could stretch proceedings into next week — or perhaps longer. And after Craig’s trial concludes, prosecutors have written in court documents that Gates will have fulfilled his cooperation responsibilities and will be ready for sentencing.
“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” President Donald Trump said soon after the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that left 31 dead.
Under pressure to take action, the president has repeatedly tried to shift the cause of mass shootings away from guns and toward mental illness.
Experts say that’s completely wrong.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
“He’s scapegoating people with mental illness as the cause of the problem completely inappropriately,” Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, told ABC News.
Trump, asked Wednesday by ABC News’ Kyra Phillips why everyone shouldn’t have to go through a background check before purchasing a gun, responded, “I want guns to be in the hands of people that are mentally stable. People that are insane, people that are sick up here,” he said, pointing to his head, “I don’t want them to get a gun.”
Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, told ABC News that the president’s remarks are an attempt to avoid talking about guns and instead take advantage of a belief held by many Americans that mass shooting suspects must be “crazy.”
“What we know is that the majority of these mass shooters, did not have one of the major diagnosable psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression, that we know of,” Swanson said.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than one percent of the yearly gun homicides in the U.S. A 2015 study looking at 235 mass killings determined that 22 percent of the perpetrators were considered mentally ill. And research shows that people with a mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than others, and are often the victims of violent crime.
“To the extent that there is an association, which there is between gun violence and mental illness, it’s one contributor of many contributors, and it’s the only one that has a ready solution,” Lieberman said. “And the solution is providing better health care.”
Motivation behind mass shootings
Following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump gave his now-standard response.
“I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem,” Trump said. “I don’t want them to forget that, because it is. It’s a mental health problem.”
But mental illness is just one of many motivators of gun violence, experts say. Others include domestic and foreign terrorism, race hatred or ideologies, disaffected loners and disgruntled employees, according to those who’ve studied mass shootings.
John Locher/AP Photo
While experts agree that there is a relationship, they say that Trump’s comments overstate the correlation. A 2015 study by Swanson found that even if mental illness was completely eliminated as a risk factor, violence would decrease by only about 4 percent.
He argues that Trump’s comments tying mental illness to gun violence is part of strategy to create a “them versus us” mentality.
“It’s creating this boundary and saying we’re on this side, and those people over there are to blame,” Swanson said. “What better boundary could you think of then building an asylum and locking them all up in there, and it’s just not going to work.”
Would more mental hospitals work?
As Trump quickly changed the subject from background checks to mental illness, he called for more mental hospitals, suggesting mentally ill homeless were responsible.
“I remember, growing up, we had mental institutions,” Trump said Sunday. “A lot of them were closed. And all of those people were put out on the streets. And I said — even as a young guy, I said, ‘How does that work? That’s not a good thing.’ And it’s not a good thing. So, I think the concept of mental institutions has to be looked at.”
“President Trump’s comments about it’s all a mental health problem and we need to build more mental hospitals and go back to the asylum movement is just 100% wrong,” Lieberman said.
Marvin Swartz, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral Sciences at Duke University, agreed, telling ABC News that while there is a need for more beds in mental institutions, that hospitalization is not a feasible solution to preventing mental illness.
“We do have a shortage of beds, but the problem with that is finding a mass shooter is finding a needle in a haystack,” Swartz said. “So, to prevent an act of violence by that needle in a haystack, you would have to hospitalize the entire haystack.”
How Trump’s comments affect the mental health community
The White House has been briefed on a proposal to develop a way to identify early signs of mental illness that could lead to violent behavior, according to the Washington Post.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
When reporters on Wednesday pointed out to the president that other countries with similar levels of mental illness don’t have similar numbers of mass shootings — and why access to guns in the U.S. isn’t to blame — Trump focused his answer on video games.
“There are many, many things in play,” he said. “People are talking about videos. People are talking about lots of different things. But we do have a way of bringing what we already have … we have many, many people that are unable to buy guns right now. Many people are unable to buy guns. We have background checks. But there are loopholes in the background checks.”
While experts would be happy to see deficiencies in the mental health system taken more seriously on the federal level, Swanson said it is disappointing that such needs seem to get addressed only after a mass shooting.
“This drives mental health stakeholders bonkers because they really want to have this conversation about improving mental health care in the United States, but the only time we get to talk about it is when there is some horrifying mass casualties,” Swanson said.
Swanson added that this puts mental health advocates in a bind. Even though the president is potentially proposing an increase in funding for mental health care, which advocates support, his simultaneously tying improvements to gun violence, Swanson said, is forcing advocates to “make a deal with the devil in order to get something important done.”
“It’s just the wrong reason. It’s really part of a solution to a different problem,” he said.
Trump’s statements are not only wrong but can discourage those on the fence about getting treatment for their mental illness, according to Swartz.
“His comments are really stigmatizing,” Swartz said. “And I think it makes it hard for people to accept that they have a mental illness if they’re going to be lumped in with what Trump calls deranged killers.”
He added, “There is no correlation between the number of psychiatric beds and the generosity of outpatient treatment and rates of homicide across the country. The only thing that is correlated is the rate of gun ownership in the United States.”
There was strong reaction from National Alliance on Mental Illness Acting CEO Angela Kimball as well. “The president should be talking about better care and earlier access to intensive treatment, not revisiting the shameful institutions of our past,” she said in a statement.
“Words matter, Mr. President. ‘These people’ are our friends, neighbors, children, spouses. They’re not ‘monsters,’ ‘the mentally ill’ or ‘crazy people’ – they’re us. Talking about reinstitutionalization only further marginalizes and isolates the one in five people with mental illness. Instead, we need to be talking about the power of early treatment and effective intervention to change lives,” she said.
Perhaps it’s only appropriate that they’re rolling out another “Matrix” movie.
There’s a famous scene in the original “Matrix” where Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, spots a black cat padding along a hallway. Seconds later, Neo sees the same black cat. Déjà vu is a bad thing in the Matrix – to say nothing of the superstition of spotting a black cat in your path.
The shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, were weeks ago. We’ve again arrived at a point of déjà vu. It’s even déjà vu compounded on top of déjà vu, whether it be Columbine or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or Parkland.
President Trump expressed strong support for bolstered background checks a few weeks ago. Then, not so much. Now, maybe they’re back on the table. No one really knows, because, well, we’ll be off to the races on something else soon enough.
People spoke of the dual shootings in Texas and Ohio being the one, or the two, to change things. But now, we’re immersed in a diplomatic row with the prime minister of Denmark.
With all of the waffling this week, maybe the president will have a change of heart on gun control after all. If that’s the case, Trump’s disposition will be similar to the response John Lennon gave when The Beatles came to the United States. When asked by a reporter how he “found America,” Lennon quipped, “Turn left at Greenland.”
But, it’s unlikely. A mass shooting. The tears. The anguish. The proclamations and calls to actions. And then…
The black cat walked through the hallway, again. And like “The Matrix,” the story repeats itself, revolution after revolution.
Not a lot happens.
In a letter to fellow congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., again called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to reconvene the Senate to address House-approved bills bolstering background checks. Pelosi touted the fact that the House Judiciary Committee would return to Washington a couple of days early on Sept. 4 to address gun measures. Pelosi said Democrats would write a “red flag” bill, prepare legislation barring those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from acquiring weapons and author a plan prohibiting high capacity magazines.
Presumably, Pelosi and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., wouldn’t go to work on that legislation if they didn’t have the votes to pass them on the House floor next month. What’s absent from Pelosi’s agenda is a bill to ban “assault weapons.” Lots of Democrats have talked about barring such arms. But, there’s a reason such a bill isn’t on the House docket: it wouldn’t pass the House.
So, to be fair, things would be a little different after El Paso and Dayton if the House, now under the Democrats’ control, intended to advance legislation as a response to those mass shootings. But, the chances of anything becoming law has remained a stretch. There’s the Senate, with its 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster on legislation, as well as an apparent lack of support from President Trump. The Republican-controlled Senate likely would jump-to if the president delivered a full-throated endorsement.
McConnell was clear earlier this month when he said he’d be willing to look at something that could pass the House and Senate — and earn the president’s signature. McConnell likely will take a dim view of anything that comes up short of running the table.
“We’re where we’ve always been,” one knowledgeable Republican source told Fox News this week about guns. “There’s a shooting. Then, there’s talk, but there’s no real legislative push. There isn’t enough of a push to make a difference.”
The source is right.
Yes, the phones on Capitol Hill light up. There are declarations by lawmakers. Marches. Interviews with shooting survivors. But, “changing things” hinges on the “constants” in the equation on Capitol Hill. The noise after each mass shooting still doesn’t alter the parliamentary calculus.
PELOSI DEMANDS TRUMP RECALL SENATE TO CONSIDER REFORMS AIMED AT GUN VIOLENCE
Pelosi apparently has intended to move firearms legislation in the House in September because she can. That part of the equation would work in the favor of Democrats pushing for stiffer gun regulations. Such a scenario would allow Democrats to pressure McConnell and the Senate to react. Enough pressure and the Senate could act – or the issue could resonate at the ballot box in 2020. But, with few exceptions, Democrats haven’t persuaded voters to pull the electoral levers for them when it comes to guns in the era of mass shootings.
Consider the circumstances going into the 2018 midterms after the Parkland massacre that February. Conservative Democrats were struggling to hold Senate seats in states where gun restrictions were unpopular: West Virginia, North Dakota and Indiana. Only Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., emerged victorious in that crowd. A state Democrats thought they had an outside chance to flip? Texas. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat, lost to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Other Republican seats that were up? Former Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah retired. Sen. Mitt Romney took over for Hatch in Utah. Former Sen. Bob Corker retired in Tennessee. Sen. Marsha Blackburn kept that state red.
So, you see the problem in the Senate.
Very little has changed. The math has been the constant – even in the postscript of El Paso and Dayton.
Can Democrats flip Texas after El Paso? Republican Sen. John Cornyn is on the ballot. Democrats have a shot at winning a few suburban congressional House seats. But, when it comes to guns, it is still Texas.
Arizona? Maybe. Former astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, is running against Republican Sen. Martha McSally. Arizona has been an emerging state for Democrats.
Still, Democrats have to win control of the Senate. On a very good Election Night night for the party, Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama would hold his seat and a Democrat would defeat GOP Sen. Steve Daines in Montana. But Alabama and Montana offer versions of the “Texas problem” for Democrats. Any Democrat who wins in those states likely won’t align with the party orthodoxy on firearms.
Congress’ battles over gun legislation have similarities to “The Matrix.”
So, those pushing for enhanced restrictions on firearms remain trapped in “The Matrix.” They keep seeing the black cat and experiencing déjà vu. It’s doubtful anything moves now. Things would be just as unlikely even if Democrats pick up Senate seats, let alone seize control of the Senate next year.
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The shootings keep happening. And the parliamentary numbers change very little.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, who made the fight against climate change the focus of his White House campaign, said on Wednesday he was withdrawing from the race for the 2020 U.S. Democratic presidential nomination.
FILE PHOTO: 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and Washington Governor Jay Inslee speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Morgan/File Photo
The 68-year-old Inslee, speaking on MSNBC, said it had become clear he would not be the party’s standard-bearer and that he was pulling out of the race. Inslee announced his bid for the Democratic nomination on March 1.
“It’s become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball, I’m not going to be the president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race,” Inslee said in an interview on MSNBC.
Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
Inslee, whose withdrawal brings the crowded ranks of Democratic candidates to 22, had struggled to break out of the bottom of the pack, with some polls showing him running last in the large field. He was the second Democrat this month to drop out of the race, after former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper withdrew last Thursday.
Inslee released a sweeping plan in June to reclaim U.S. leadership in the fight against climate change that included proposals to resettle hundreds of thousands of climate refugees, and raise barriers to fossil-fuel imports.
His efforts drew praise from his Democratic competitors in the presidential race on Wednesday night.
“Thank you @JayInslee for fighting every day to make sure that climate change remains a primary focus of the election,” Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Bernie Sanders also praised Inslee’s efforts, saying, “There is no more important issue facing humanity.”
Inslee said in an email to supporters that polls had shown he was not popular enough to be invited to the party’s fall debates, and that his candidacy could not survive being left out of those high-profile events.
“It became clear that we would not meet the DNC’s polling threshold, thus we would not have been invited to the fall debates,” Inslee said. “As a result, I don’t believe we can compete for the attention and exposure needed to have a reasonable shot at the nomination.”
Painfully, perhaps, for a candidate who staked his bid on climate change, Inslee’s polling numbers of around 1 percent also appeared on track to exclude him from a televised town hall on climate issues to be held by CNN. The cable news network said candidates would need to win the support of 2% of likely voters in four polls by next week.
Inslee promised to continue to fight for political action on climate change, vowing to hold the next president accountable for adopting a plan.
Several other Democratic candidates, including front-runner Joe Biden, have outlined similar goals of eliminating U.S. emissions of the greenhouse gases scientists blame for the effects of climate change, like sea level rise, droughts, floods and more frequent powerful storms.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Mohammad Zargham and Sharon Bernstein; Writing by David Alexander and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney and Michael Perry
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Pentagon ‘very carefully’ watching China, it’s ‘No. 1 priority,’ Defense Secretary Mark Esper tells Fox News
China is the Pentagon’s “number one priority,” and the United States is watching Beijing “very carefully” in order to safeguard America, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
In his first interview since he was confirmed as Pentagon chief in July, Esper told Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin that China has engaged in the “greatest theft of intellectual property in human history” and is also expanding its military to “push the United States out of [the Indo-Pacific] theater.”
“China is the number one priority for this department. It’s outlined in the National Defense Strategy, why we think it’s a long-term strategic competitor and one that is pursuing a maximization campaign, if you will, throughout the Indo-Pacific Theater, whether it’s politically, economically, or militarily,” he told Griffin. “They are clearly professionalizing and expanding the capacity and capabilities of the military in order to push the United States out of that theater.”
“They’ve studied us, and they’ve learned about how we employ weapons; they’ve learned about our doctrine,” Esper added. “And so, that is something that we watch very carefully.”
Esper, a former Army lieutenant colonel, graduated from West Point in 1986 – the same class as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – and spent 10 years on active duty, followed by 11 years in the Army National Guard and Reserve. He brings military, defense and national security experience to the table, and touts a “good relationship” with President Trump.
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In his wide-ranging interview, Esper also spoke about deterring Russia’s nuclear ambitions, protecting American elections from foreign hackers, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and Iran funding its “illicit activities.”
Esper noted what he described as the coming shift from “low-intensity conflict that lasts 18 years,” referring to the war in Afghanistan, to “high-intensity conflicts against competitors such as Russia and China.”
“That means modernizing the force with advanced capabilities, A.I.-based, hypersonics, robotics, directed energy and updating our doctrine — doing all those things will be critical for us to deter a conflict in the future,” he said.
Esper described China’s theft of intellectual property as a “big, big problem.”
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“It’s a state-run organized effort to go after technologies, whether they are defense or non-defense technologies, to go up against other — all other types of intellectual property, even commercial goods,” he explained. “So, it really requires enforcement. And this is where […] I applaud the president for pushing back against China and all their trade activities that are outside the bounds of what should be expected.”
In addition to safeguarding intellectual property, Esper said the U.S. needs to modernize its nuclear stockpile.
“Our strategic forces are a key deterrent to nuclear war. I think a strong, reliable, capable, ready deterrent is really what prevents nuclear war from happening in the first place,” he pointed out.
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Esper noted the Russians were “clearly […] trying to expand their strategic nuclear arsenal […] to deal with the United States.”
“And so, as people talk about a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — that’s why we say, look, if there’s going to be an extension of New START, then we need to make sure we include all of these new weapons that […] Russia is pursuing,” he stressed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned his country would develop short- and intermediate-range land-launched nuclear missiles if it got word the United States had started building such weapons.
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“Right now,” Esper said, “Russia has possible nuclear-tipped […] INF-range cruise missiles facing [Europe] — that’s not a good thing.”
When it came to Russian hacking, Esper said the U.S. will see “continued malign Russian cyber activity.”
“We will see North Korean cyber activity and Chinese cyber activity,” he went on. “But I will say, we built exquisite capabilities ourselves under Cyber Command. And I think it’s one of the reasons why, between our capabilities and between the authorities granted to us by President Trump in the last year or so, we had little problems with 2018 elections.”
“[We] will continue to apply all of our capabilities and all of our authorities to make sure that we — our elections — are protected and that the integrity of our democracy is unquestionable,” Esper noted.
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The defense secretary also talked about President Trump’s proposed Space Force, and why it was needed – he pointed to nations like Russia and China, “probably more so China,” which are turning space into a “war-fighting domain.”
“Ten years ago, space was a place — the heavens upon which we looked down upon the Earth and figured out what was going to be the weather in Iowa, or we could survey our adversaries,” he explained.
But, since then, China and Russia have been working to overtake U.S. systems in space and threaten not only the U.S. military but the country’s economy and commerce, as well, Esper said.
“We want to be able to develop a space force that would build the space capabilities in a coherent […] fashion, but, at the same time, have a Space Command that would be responsible for the space war-fight,” he said.
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The Pentagon chief also told Fox News he applauded the president’s approach to North Korea, saying diplomacy was the way to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “in a verifiable, complete, and irreversible way.”
Griffin later asked Esper about former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned from his post in December after disagreeing with the president about the possibility of pulling troops from Syria.
“That was his red line,” Griffin said. “What is your red line?”
“So look, what I said is my issue with any person I ever worked for was, I would never do anything that is either illegal, immoral or unethical. And, I don’t believe the president’s going to ask me to do any one of those three,” Esper said.
Griffin also asked Esper about a moniker in his West Point yearbook.
“In your yearbook, they call you Troop. Why’d they call you Troop?” she asked. Mattis famously had the nicknames “Mad Dog,” “Warrior Wonk” and “Chaos.”
“Because I was really, really committed to military service and being in infantry, and that was kind of a nickname I inherited by a couple friends,” Esper said.
Griffin also asked Esper if anything kept him up at night and referenced claims by Trump that nothing keeps him up at night.
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“Is that true for you?” she asked.
“Yes,” Esper answered. “Nothing keeps me up at night because I think we’re defended by the best military in history.”