Trump: US Not Reinstating Family Separations at Mexican Border

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has no intention of reinstating his abandoned policy of separating Central American migrant children from their parents when they cross the southern U.S. border from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.

“We’re not looking to do that,” Trump said at the White House. 

But he added, “Once you don’t have it, that’s why you see many more people coming. They’re coming like it’s a picnic, because let’s go to Disneyland.” 

Under a “zero tolerance” policy to arrest all undocumented migrants as they crossed the border, the Trump administration last year broke up hundreds of families, separating more than 2,700 children from their parents. Some adults were charged with immigration violations and others deported back to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador while their children remained in U.S. custody in hopes of eventually winning asylum. 

After an international outcry over the family separation policy, Trump ended it last June. Many parents were reunited with their children, but some still have not been. News reports in the U.S. this week suggested Trump was considering reinstating the policy, but he said that is not the case.

Trump, a Republican, blamed his Democratic predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for the child separation policy, although there are differences in the way the two U.S. leaders have dealt with the continuing surge of migrants seeking entry into the U.S.

“President Obama had child separation,” Trump said. “I’m the one that stopped it.”

Obama did not have a child separation policy, and Trump has not explicitly, either. But the effect of the zero tolerance policy under Trump and promoted by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was to split up families when they walked into the U.S. 

The policy often meant that adults were charged criminally and their children separated. When the initial processing took longer than 72 hours, the longest time that the children could be held by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, they were transferred to another federal agency, Health and Human Services, where they were often kept in fenced enclosures.

Trump, sitting alongside Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the Oval Office, angrily assailed opposition Democratic lawmakers for what he said was their refusal to adopt tougher U.S. immigration controls.

“They want open borders,” Trump said. “They don’t even want to know who (arriving migrants) are. We’re stopping them.”

The U.S. leader said, “You have a Democratic Congress that’s obstructing. You talk about obstruction? The greatest obstruction anyone’s ever seen.”

“All they have to do is spend 20 minutes and they can fix this whole problem. … You have people coming in, claiming asylum. They’re all reading exactly what the lawyer gives them. They have a piece of paper, read what that is, and all of a sudden, you’re entitled to asylum. And some of these people are not people you want in our country.”

He also assailed a judge’s decision Monday that blocked a Trump administration  policy of requiring asylum-seekers to remain or return to Mexico while their petition is being processed. 

“It’s a disgrace,” he said. “We’re bucking a court system that never rules for us.”

Trump on Sunday ousted Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen after weeks of blaming her for the surge of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. Earlier, he had rescinded his nomination of Ronald Vitiello to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with Trump saying he wanted to go in “a tougher direction.” Trump also dismissed the head of the Secret Service, the agency that protects him and his family.

News accounts in the U.S. say that other leaders at the Department of Homeland Security also could be dismissed in the coming days, but Trump denied he was engaged in a purge of the agency’s top officials.


US Homeland Security Shake-Up Claims Political Victims

VOA News Center writer Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report from Washington.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw several contentious Trump administration immigration and border policies, will leave her post this week, opening up one of the most high-profile and influential positions in the president’s Cabinet.

The move appears to be part of broader leadership changes at several agencies within the DHS, following a string of departures in recent days.

On Monday, the White House said the head of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) Randolph “Tex” Alles would step down. Three days earlier, President Donald Trump rescinded his own nomination for the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Ronald Vitiello.

The New York Times reported Monday that the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), L. Francis Cissna, is also expected to step down soon, though neither the White House nor the agency has confirmed.

According to Trump, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Kevin McAleenan — the country’s law enforcement agency at the border and at ports of entry — will temporarily take charge of DHS as acting secretary, which would mean a change in leadership at CBP as well.

Heading in a ‘tougher direction’

The top-down shake-up is said to be motivated by Trump’s interest in more restrictions regarding migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and with immigration overall.

In rescinding Vitiello’s appointment last week, Trump said, “We want to go in a tougher direction” on immigration but did not elaborate.

Nielsen’s departure comes after publicly conflicting with the president late last month over U.S. relations with Central America, and amid media reports that Nielsen did not go far enough in pushing Trump’s restrictionist agenda at the southern U.S. border.

“Secretary Nielsen’s had a rocky tenure… from denying family separations were initially happening to having to justify the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. “This wasn’t altogether unexpected.”

With media reports that Trump wants to reinstate a policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border, the White House on Monday did not issue a flat-out denial of the allegation.

Hogan Gidley, White House deputy press secretary, told reporters: “The separation of families, you know, the president has said before he does not like that. It’s a horrible practice. But Congress has a way to fix that so that it will not be a magnet for people to come here and use children to do it.”

But migration is not triggered by one variable, such as congressional action, rather by several: conditions in migrants’ home countries, policies in the United States, economic variables, weather. And that list changes.

Neither Nielsen nor Trump, however, have publicly acknowledged that the administration’s policies may in fact be contributing to the increased number of border-crossers in recent months, as Dree K. Collopy, chair of the National Asylum and Refugee Liaison Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, suggested in January.

Democrats welcome Nielsen resignation

News accounts say Nielsen had no intention of quitting when she arrived at the White House on Sunday to meet with Trump, but that he was determined to ask for her resignation, which she submitted shortly after the meeting.

White House sources have said Trump often yelled at Nielsen for apparently not being strong enough in curbing the number of migrants trying to enter the United States.

“It is deeply alarming that the Trump administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement following Nielsen’s announcement.

Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, responded by summarizing Nielsen’s tenure at DHS as “championing President Trump’s cruel anti-immigrant agenda” and McAleenan’s appointment “deeply disturbing” given the CBP commissioner’s actions at the border.

Castro went on to say McAleenan “cannot be trusted… based on his record of prioritizing Trump’s harmful policies.”

But Nielsen’s removal and McAleenan’s temporary appointment are not a slam dunk on either side of the political spectrum. Noted immigration restrictionist Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, tweeted that he is “not sure McAleenan would be an improvement over Nielsen.”

He fully opposed Cissna’s possible removal and said it would be a “colossal blunder.”

Trump has expressed frustration with the situation along the southern border, where hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to escape poverty and crime in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have traveled through Mexico in hopes of entering the United States. Under U.S. law, foreign nationals are allowed to apply for asylum.

Nielsen’s last day in office will be Wednesday, April 10.

The Nielsen legacy

Trump’s immigration policies created tumult at the border, in airports and in the court system. For the first year, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly carried out those decisions.

His tenure largely focused on the first — and subsequent, controversial, and legally fraught — travel bans affecting international travelers and families with relatives abroad. The first successful attempt to cut refugee arrivals also happened under Kelly. Two of the three primary agencies tasked with refugee admissions are within the Department of Homeland Security.

When Nielsen succeeded Kelly in December 2017, she led a shift toward more domestic-oriented policies, namely on the U.S.-Mexico border. McAleenan not only has led an agency that focuses on the domestic aspects of immigration, but who also has experience in law enforcement.

O’Mara Vignarajah, head of LIRS, said that may reinforce Trump’s interest in clamping down on asylum-seekers.

“We cannot effectively employ a law enforcement answer to what is a humanitarian problem,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “We just hope that Nielsen’s departure doesn’t allow for new leadership to be put in place doubling down on policies to turn away vulnerable women and children.”


Three Key Things to Look for in Mueller Report

On March 22, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his 22-month-long investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by submitting a nearly 400-page confidential report of his findings to Attorney General William Barr. A week later, Barr wrote to members of Congress that he expects to release a redacted version of the full report by mid-April, if not sooner.

Here are three of the most important things to look out for when the report is released:

How much of the report will the public see?

The report runs about 400 pages, excluding tables and appendices, nearly twice as long as Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s 1998 report to Congress. But not every page is likely to be seen by the public, which could deepen a controversy already swirling around Barr’s refusal to release the full report.

While congressional Democrats want the complete report out, Barr has said redactions must be made to shield secret grand jury material and other sensitive information from public disclosure.

If the special counsel’s previous court filings are any indication, parts of the report are likely to be heavily redacted. In one recent filing by Mueller, almost every page was blacked out.

Barr has pledged to provide maximum transparency. Whether he errs on the side of less or more redactions remains to be seen.

Blacking out large portions of the report could renew criticism that the Justice Department is hiding information from Congress and intensify Democrats’ demands for full disclosure. So far, Congress and the public have had to rely almost exclusively on Barr’s interpretation and summary. “Show us the Mueller report!” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California demanded.

On the other hand, if summaries of various sections of the report — which were reportedly designed by Mueller and his team for immediate release — are not heavily redacted, the attorney general could face questions for holding them back.

What will the report add to well-documented Russian election interference?

The first part of the Mueller report documents Russian computer hacking and social media disinformation efforts to influence the 2016 election. The majority of this part appears based on grand jury indictments handed down against Russian operatives in February and July 2018.

Per Barr, the special counsel’s finding was categorical: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Barr quoted from the Mueller report.

Trump seized on Barr’s letter to declare “total exoneration” for himself. But whether the full report totally vindicates him of involvement in the Russian meddling effort or leaves any clouds hanging over him remains to be seen.

While the special counsel has documented interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russia, he has not revealed whether Trump was aware of and endorsed any of the exchanges.

​Disgraced former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has claimed that Trump knew of both the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump advisers and Russian operatives, and interactions between Trump informal adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks, which published damaging hacked emails regarding Democrat Hillary Clinton and her campaign organization. Trump has denied the allegations.

Was Barr’s exoneration of Trump justified?

The second part of the report, which deals with whether Trump obstructed justice, has generated the most controversy and is likely to be closely studied, parsed and debated.

In his summary, Barr wrote that “the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question. It leaves unresolved what the special counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the president’s actions and intent could be viewed as ‘obstruction.'”

In recent days, however, Mueller’s investigators have reportedly expressed frustration to associates that Barr’s summary failed to adequately describe “derogatory information” about Trump’s actions included in the report.

If borne out, this apparent contradiction between what Mueller’s prosecutors claim is in the report and how Barr subsequently characterized it to Congress could renew criticism that Barr cherry-picked the report to justify exonerating the president of obstruction of justice.

On the other hand, the report could shed light on how Mueller arrived at his decision not to draw any conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice.

In his letter, Barr wrote that his determination that there was no obstruction was based on a long-standing Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president. However, he left unmentioned whether the guidance had been part of the special prosecutor’s calculus.

 


Trump Avoids ‘You’re Hired’ With Acting Appointments

As President Donald Trump looks to reshape the executive branch, he’s avoiding the words “you’re hired.”

Trump’s choice of Kevin McAleenan as acting replacement for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spotlights the president’s increasing reliance on a once-obscure federal statute that governs how to fill vacant federal posts. It also raises fresh questions about his reliance on temporary appointments for key security roles. The reality-star president, who once made staff churn into prime-time television, has overseen massive turnover in just two years in office. But he’s shown little concern for creating uncertainty about the leadership of some of the country’s most important agencies.

Disordered departures have become the rule in the Trump administration, with aides and even Cabinet officials pushed out at a record pace, often with no clear replacement plan in place. And when he does have a plan, Trump has made a habit of taking the creative route, going around in-place deputies to select other officials he believes are more loyal or amenable to his agenda.

Officials with “acting” titles abound in key roles, from the secretary of defense to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and even the White House chief of staff. And when Linda McMahon’s resignation as Small Business Administrator takes effect later this week, that agency will be led by yet another acting official. Trump has announced his intention to nominate Jovita Carranza, the current treasurer of the United States, for the role.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 gives a president wide berth to fill openings across the executive branch and he’s used it without restraint to rejigger the succession plans of the Departments of Justice and Veterans Affairs. But in selecting McAleenan, Trump will have to go even further. The agency’s undersecretary of management, Claire Grady, is technically next in line for the job. She will need to resign — or more likely be fired — in order for McAleenan to assume the acting position under the act.

Avoiding Senate battles

Allowing individuals to fill roles in an acting capacity allows the White House to avoid Senate confirmation battles. Trump has seen several high-profile nominations founder, and others that have become distracting political fights.

“I like acting. It gives me more flexibility. Do you understand that?” Trump said in January, facing questions about acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. “I like acting. So we have a few that are acting. We have a great, great Cabinet.”

But it also serves as a “run around Congress,” said the Brookings Institution’s Darrell West. “He’s worried that he would not be able to get all of these people through the U.S. Senate, even though Republicans still control the Senate.”

West added: “It makes the administration look chaotic and not really in control of what it is doing, but Trump seems comfortable with that and he seems willing to live with that reality.”

White House officials acknowledged that the roster of “actings” was not ideal, saying Trump’s haste to make personnel changes, even without establishing succession plans, reflected his experience in the private sector. Some suggested it marked Trump’s wariness to hire the wrong people.

‘Acting’ positions

But the president has struggled to attract top-tier talent since even before taking office, in part because he has maintained a loyalty test that has kept away many qualified Republicans who were critical of his candidacy during the presidential campaign.

Shanahan assumed the post in December after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over the president’s Syria withdrawal plans and Trump has not named a permanent replacement. Mulvaney has been acting in the role since January, after the departure of chief of staff John Kelly.

At the Interior Department, David Bernhardt is serving in an acting capacity while his nomination to fill the role full time is pending before the Senate. The Office of Management and Budget is led by Russell Vought, while Mulvaney is at the White House.

“White House jobs and administration jobs are uber temporary because they’re very difficult,” said Matt Schlapp, a White House ally and chairman of the American Conservative Union. That’s especially true for those who work for a Republican and especially Trump, Schlapp added, citing negative press and heightened media scrutiny.

Additional “actings” fill posts at the sub-Cabinet level.

Trump last week suddenly rescinded the nomination of acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Ron Vitiello to lead the agency permanently. And the Federal Aviation Administration has been led by an acting administrator, Daniel Elwell, since January 2018. Trump didn’t nominate a permanent replacement until last month in the wake of a pair of aviation disasters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said at the Homeland Security Department alone at least 10 top positions are filled in an acting capacity.

“The purge of senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security is unprecedented and a threat to our national security,” she said.

On Capitol Hill, Trump’s use of acting officials has drawn scrutiny from within his own party as well, both over concerns that Trump was usurping their authority and that the instability could make the nation less safe.

“I am concerned with a growing leadership void within the department tasked with addressing some of the most significant problems facing the nation,” said Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Homeland Security committee chairman.


Some Experts Wary of Political Bent of Trump’s Two Choices for Central Bank

President Donald Trump’s decision to fill two vacant positions on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve with political supporters has experts concerned about the impact such a move would have on the credibility of the central bank as an independent, data-driven policymaking body, both domestically and around the world.

Last month, Trump said he would nominate Stephen Moore, a conservative economic commentator known for his devotion to supply-side economics, to fill one empty seat on the board. Last Thursday, the president said he planned to appoint Herman Cain, the former CEO of a pizza chain and an unsuccessful candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, to the other.

Neither Moore nor Cain has the sort of background or experience normally expected of nominees to the board of the world’s most powerful central bank, but each has been a vocal supporter of Trump, who is currently waging a one-sided war of words with the Fed over what he sees as excessively tight monetary policy.

Trump’s campaign to lower interest rates

Trump has put great public pressure on Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, to abandon a plan to gradually raise interest rates over the next few years.

The central bank held rates at or near zero for more than six years during and after the Great Recession, and has been slowly increasing them since early 2016. During the recovery, it also implemented a last-ditch economic stimulus policy, called “quantitative easing,” under which the Fed bought trillions of dollars’ worth of U.S. Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities as a means of injecting cash into the economy when interest rates could not be forced any lower.

The Fed has been slowly selling off those holdings as the economy strengthens.

Trump has repeatedly demanded that Powell lower rates again, despite the fact that the current target rate of between 2.25% and 2.50%, while higher than it was when Trump took office, is still historically low. On Friday morning, the president took his campaign against the Fed chairman a step further, telling reporters at the White House that the central bank should resume quantitative easing. 

“It’s certainly unprecedented for a president to go on camera and give, essentially, an ad-libbed multitiered criticism [of the Fed] and give a specific direction for monetary policy,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. 

Larry Kudlow, the chief White House economic adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that Trump isn’t trying to interfere with the central bank’s independence, but that he has “every right to put people on the Federal Reserve Board with a different point of view.”

Kudlow added that Trump wants people on the Fed “who share his philosophy,” while insisting “this is not a political issue.”

If Moore and Cain are able to navigate the nomination process successfully — something that is far from certain — they would become de facto representatives of the president on the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rate targets. 

Because the FOMC has 10 voting members, they would probably not be able to have an immediate effect on U.S. monetary policy. But the role of the Fed in the U.S. and world economies goes well beyond simply setting interest rates. 

Fed’s impact on the dollar

For example, actions at the Fed can have substantial impacts on the value of the U.S dollar.

During the financial crisis, when banks around the world were besieged by depositors looking to exchange foreign funds for the safety of U.S. currency, and bidding up prices in the process, the Fed mounted a massive loan campaign to provide other countries’ central banks with a supply of dollars. 

The action went little-noticed at the time, and was broadly seen by experts as a well-considered response to a crisis situation. But in an administration that touts its “America First” policies, loans to foreign countries in the midst of an economic crisis could easily be exploited by political opportunists.

Having two members of the Fed board with close political ties to the president could make executing that sort of policy extremely difficult in the future.

The Fed also plays a large role in the regulation and supervision of the U.S. financial services industry, and works closely with other central banks around the world to prevent and respond to financial crises. 

For all those reasons, experts are worried about the effect such a pair of nominations would have on the central bank’s reputation as an institution where decisions are made based on rigorous economic analysis.

Moore is a prolific writer and commentator on economic issues, but he has a reputation for getting basic facts and economic theories wrong, often in service of partisan political ends. He has acknowledged that he “will be on a steep learning curve myself about how the Fed operates,” according to published reports.

“Steve is a perfectly amiable guy, but he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job,” wrote N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard University economist who served as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the George W. Bush administration.

Cain, on the surface at least, has a connection to the Federal Reserve System. He served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City for a little more than a year and a half. However, Fed Bank boards actually have no responsibilities related to monetary policy or in setting regulatory policy. 

In his run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza received considerable attention for his simplistic “9-9-9” tax plan, which aimed at cutting three major tax rates to 9% each. He has also been a vocal advocate of returning the U.S. to the gold standard, a policy almost all economists view as dangerous snake oil, and one that would make Cain an extreme outlier on the Fed board.

Experts say they worry about the central bank’s ability to be a calming presence for global markets if two of the seats on the Fed board are filled by men who economists simply refuse to take seriously.

Fed’s importance in times of crisis

“We learned in 2007-08 that when there is a financial crisis, the world — everybody from the traders in the bond market to ordinary workers and citizens — looks to Washington and says, ‘Gosh, this is bad. We hope that there’s some grown-ups in charge who can reassure us that things are going to be alright,” said David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Wessel said Trump’s key economic policy figures, like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Chairman Kudlow, were chosen more for loyalty to the president than for their policymaking acumen. There may be nobody with the gravitas to reassure global markets in the event of a major economic disruption, he added.

“That means the institution to which people will be looking in a crisis is the Federal Reserve,” Wessel said. “That’s just one more reason why it’s important that the Federal Reserve be seen as an island of sanity and competence in a city where everything else seems to be chaos and polarized politics.”

To be sure, neither Moore nor Cain is guaranteed to wind up on the Fed Board in the end. Both would have to be confirmed by the Senate, and would carry considerable baggage into their confirmation hearings. 

Moore’s checkered financial past

Moore, for instance, was once found in contempt of court for failure to pay some $300,000 in child support and alimony after a divorce. He also owes the federal government more than $75,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties, according to a lien filed in federal court last year.

Cain had to end his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 after at least five women came forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior. He denied the accusations but was forced to withdraw from the race.

Even if both men were to fail in the nomination process, though, critics like Wessel say that the very willingness of the president to nominate them in the first place is damaging.

“It makes people wonder, what is the president doing to our institutions if he is willing to put people like this on the most important economic body in the world?” he said.


A 37-Year-Old Indiana Mayor is Surging in the Democratic Presidential Sweepstakes

Seems like just about no one can pronounce his name. But more and more people want to know about him. 

Four months ago, Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was a flat line on the political landscape outside of, well, Indiana. But after announcing a presidential exploratory committee in mid-January, he’s everywhere: CNN. Vox. Stephen Colbert. Bill Maher. New York Times. Washington Post. Fox. And CNN again. 

While lacking in stature among a Democratic political field strewn with U.S. senators, House members, a former governor, and likely, a former vice president, Buttigieg boasts an impressive resume.

The son of an immigrant from Malta, Buttigieg attended Harvard College around the same time as Facebook founder and fellow millennial Mark Zuckerberg. He received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, spent seven months in Afghanistan in the U.S. Navy Reserves as an intelligence analyst and driver and worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Reportedly he speaks seven languages, some of them fluently, including Spanish and Norwegian. 

And in 2011, he was elected mayor of his hometown, South Bend, population 100,000.

“People are looking for something completely different,” Buttigieg told HBO talk-show host Maher when discussing his wildfire popularity a few weeks ago. “You could argue that it doesn’t get much different from [President Donald Trump] than a laid back, intellectual, young gay mayor from the Midwest.” 

First openly-gay candidate for president

And while he would be the first openly gay candidate for president, recent polling shows that 70 percent of American voters said that wasn’t really an issue for them in deciding who to lead the country.

That has led Buttigieg to the No. 3 slot in two recent polls — behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — that ask people whom they would vote for if the election were held today. A relatively inexperienced newcomer to national politics, he’s bubbled up among a very large field of very experienced candidates very quickly. 

And before formally announcing his candidacy — although Buttigieg has tweeted followers to mark their calendars for April 14 — Buttigieg has raised $7 million so far and assured himself a spot in the Democratic presidential debates that begin in June. By comparison, Sanders raised $18.2 million over the first six weeks of his campaigning while Sen. Kamala Harris of California raised $12 million.

“Pete Buttigieg and his husband [Chasten Glezman Buttigieg] actually have both been able to leverage Twitter and all sorts of social media to help them separate themselves from the rest of this slate of candidates, which is a lot of older folks, a lot of senators, and elected officials who have been around for a little while,” said Leah Askarinam, reporter and political analyst for Inside Elections.

In the checkboxes of qualifications for presidential candidate, Buttigieg seems to light up the words “millennial,” “war in Afghanistan,” “Harvard” and “gay.” Younger voters seem to delight in “Mayor Pete’s” candidacy as “looking more like me” than elder competitors. He talks about climate change and abolishing the electoral college. A devout Catholic, Buttigieg makes going to church sound philosophical and cool rather than predatory. 

Trends well with all ages

He trends well with older voters, as well, His youthful exuberance and firm grasp of the issues is appealing not only to younger voters, but older Americans, too, who view him as a fresh breath of air or a brilliant grandson.

But his lack of experience running anything more than a small Midwestern city is a persistent issue during interviews. Wildly popular Stephen Colbert of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which garners 3.1 million viewers per episode seemed a bit skeptical about a young newcomer becoming leader of the free world.

“Not as big a leap as reality show to president,” Colbert added, referring President Donald Trump’s ascension from the star of his reality television show “The Apprentice” to the White House. “But you have to admit, a big leap …”

Jousting with Bill Maher

Talk-show host Bill Maher pushed Buttigieg about how well he could straddle issues that independents and undecided voters could get behind, saying Buttigieg’s keyword issues to young voters — like transgender bathrooms — are off-putting or irrelevant to older voters. While the nation last year shifted from Baby Boomers being the largest voting block to Millennials taking that weight, the transition for dominance has not been complete: Despite increased voter turnout among Millennials in the 2018 midterm elections, more Boomers go to the polls than Millennials.

Buttigieg’s signature response is that unity will bring more voters back to the center, rather than the political polarization the country seems trapped in now. The coastal and metropolitan Democratic party can seem condescending to Midwesterners on the fence over national direction, he said, and that needs to change.

“Look, if a wealthy, coastal, liberal professional goes up to a guy pumping gas in South Bend, maybe wearing one of those [Make America Great Again] red hats and says, ‘You know, you’re voting against your economic interests.’ You know what that guy is gonna say? He’s gonna say, ‘So are you.’” he told Maher. 

As his popularity and appeal surge from a post-industrialized city in the Midwest, as he typically describes South Bend, the question is often asked if Buttigieg has the wherewithal to upset Biden or Sanders in the Democratic primaries or unseat a Republican president in the general election.

“It’s fair to say that he has earned the respect of people across the political spectrum. He’s a can-do kind of guy,” said dean of political science Dave Campbell at Notre Dame University in South Bend, who has met Buttigieg but is not part of his campaign or cause. “He’s definitely the kind of candidate who can speak across a lot of divides.”

Rocky start in politics

“But he hasn’t had to face much Republican opposition,” he said. “South Bend is a blue dot in a very red sea.”

Buttigieg (whose name is pronounced boot-edge-edge) lost his bid for Indiana state treasurer in 2010. “I got clobbered. I got my head handed to me,” he chuckled to David Axelrod on Axelrod’s University of Chicago Institute of Politics podcast. Using failure as the best lesson, he said, he ran and won the mayor’s office in South Bend.

And now, improbably, Buttigieg has his eyes set on the biggest political prize of all.

“After Donald Trump won, we all pledged never to write off anybody again, and I’m sticking to that,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. Buttigieg has “intense support,” especially on Twitter. “I think he’s impressed people favorably.” 

“But that’s very different than actually winning the nomination, because there are real risks to nominating him for president. And I think that’s obvious to Democrats,” Sabato added. 

“You know, there’s an old saying: Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line. I’ve learned that if Democrats fall in love with a candidate — and they might well do that with Pete Buttigieg — they can ignore all of the warnings and put him forward anyway. Well, it’s perfectly possible,” he said. “But one would think given their desire to beat Donald Trump, that they’d be less inclined to gamble on someone who, after all, has only had one public position. And that’s mayor of the 299th sized city in the United States.”


US News Accounts: Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen Forced Out

Embattled U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced out rather than resigning willingly, several U.S. news outlets are reporting.

Nielsen submitted her resignation Sunday night after meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump, who almost daily has voiced his anger at the thousands of undocumented Central American migrants crossing the southern U.S. border with Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.

The news accounts say Nielsen had no intention of quitting when she arrived to meet with the U.S. leader, but that he was determined to ask for her resignation, which she submitted shortly after the meeting.

Immigration hardliners in the White House, including National Security Advisor John Bolton and immigration policy advisor Stephen Miller, had been pushing Trump to oust her, viewing her as not tough enough to deal with the crisis at the border.

Trump announced that current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will replace Nielsen, becoming the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, with Nielsen staying on through Wednesday in a brief transition.

“I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job,” Trump said.

In Twitter comments, Trump twice contended that the United States has no room for more arriving immigrants.

Last week, Trump retreated from a days-long threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border after advisors told him that a closure would have a significant negative impact on the U.S. economy, the world’s largest. Instead, he said Mexico had a year to curb the surge of migrants and interdict the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S. or else he would impose tariffs on automobiles Mexico exports to the U.S.

“Mexico must apprehend all illegals and not let them make the long march up to the United States, or we will have no other choice than to Close the Border and/or institute Tariffs,” Trump said.

Also last week, Trump rescinded his nomination of Ronald Vitiello as the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief, saying he wanted to go “in a tougher direction.”

Nielsen was the Homeland Security secretary for 16 months, overseeing the controversial separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents as they arrived at the border, a policy overturned in a court decision. She also secured an agreement with Mexico to start processing U.S. asylum requests while the immigrants were still in Mexico.

U.S. officials say the immigration crisis has worsened in recent weeks, with frequent complaints from Trump. He declared a national emergency to build a barrier wall along an increasing expanse of the border, tapping funding from various government programs after Congress refused to fund wall construction. Sixteen states and other groups have filed suit to contest his action, but the dispute has not been resolved.

Faced with declining support within the White House, Nielsen submitted her resignation, saying in a letter to Trump, “Despite our progress in reforming homeland security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside.”

While she did not say exactly why she is quitting, Nielsen wrote she hopes the next secretary “will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse. Our country and the men and women of DHS deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them.”

Trump has expressed frustration with the situation along the southern border, where hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to escape poverty and crime in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have traveled through Mexico in hopes of entering the United States. Under U.S. law, foreign nationals are allowed to apply for asylum.

White House sources have said Trump often yelled at Nielsen for apparently not being strong enough in curbing the number of migrants trying to enter the United States.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Trump administration’s immigration polices “cruel” and said they “have only worsened the humanitarian suffering at the border.”

“It is deeply alarming that the Trump Administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking,” Pelosi said in a statement. “America needs a Homeland Security Secretary who will respect the sanctity of families, honor our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants, and restore sanity to this Administration’s policies,” she said.

Nielsen faced a public outcry over the administration’s highly unpopular policy of separating migrant families when they crossed into the U.S.

Thousands of young children were taken from their parents and held in separation facilities. Nielsen was responsible for executing that policy while at times denying such a policy existed.

Despite the acrimony, Nielsen wrote, “I can say with confidence our homeland is safer today than when I joined the Administration. We have taken unprecedented action to protect Americans.”

Trump thanked Nielsen for her service.

 

 

 


Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen Resigns

Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen has resigned after 16 months on the job.

President Trump tweeted Sunday that “Nielsen is leaving her position and I would like to thank her for her service.”

He gave no details on why Nielsen is stepping down. But Trump has said he is frustrated with the situation along the U.S. border with Mexico. White House sources have said Trump often lashed out at Nielsen for apparently not being strong enough in curbing the flow of migrants trying to enter the U.S.

Along with the pressure from the White House to try to stop the influx of migrants, Nielsen faced a public outcry over the administration’s highly unpopular policy of separating migrant families when they crossed into the U.S.

Thousands of young children were taken from their parents and held in separation facilities, often in less than ideal conditions.

Analysts have said Nielsen herself was frustrated by what she saw as a lack of cooperation from Congress and the courts in tackling illegal immigration.

Trump announced that current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will become acting DHS secretary.

“I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job,” he tweeted.


Booker Raises $5 Million, Below Other White House Hopefuls

Cory Booker’s early fundraising numbers are well behind those posted by other major Democratic candidates in the race to challenge President Donald Trump.  

The New Jersey senator, who campaigned Sunday in New Hampshire, said he raised over $5 million in the two months since he entered the 2020 primary, and has over $6.1 million cash on hand.

Booker announced the figure in an email to supporters. The sum puts him near the back of the pack in fundraising with roughly 10 months left before the start of Democratic primary voting. Of those candidates that have announced their figures, only entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced raising less than Booker.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised $6.1 million during his first 24 hours of presidential campaigning beginning March 14, edging Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $5.9 million over the same period to top the Democratic field.

Booker said Sunday he feels “incredible” about the fundraising haul.

“Money is important, but it is definitely not going to be the barometer with which people make their decisions over who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” Booker said. “And I’m happy that we have the resources we need to be in this race.”

On the policy front, Booker on Sunday promoted a program known as baby bonds. It calls for newborns to get a savings account. The government would contribute up to $2,000 to the account annually until the child is 18. The amount would depend on their parents’ income.

Booker’s campaign says it’s expected that one in 10 kids in New Hampshire would receive the full $2,000 contribution annually. He said the plan would let kids use the fund to get training, to go to college, to start a business or to buy a home. Booker said the idea is to “create a fair playing field where everybody has a stake in this economy.”

Elsewhere in campaigning Sunday:

PETE BUTTIGIEG

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, defended his experience ahead of an expected run for president, saying he isn’t someone who has “been marinating in Washington” for a long time.

Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about his qualifications, he said he would “stack up my experience against anybody,” though he acknowledged “it’s not as traditional.”

The Democratic field is full of senators and members of the House.

Buttigieg said “being a mayor of a city of any size means that you have to deal with the kinds of issues that really hit Americans.”

Buttigieg would not confirm that he plans to announce his candidacy at an event next Sunday in South Bend but said “the kind of thing we’re going to announce is the kind of thing you only get to announce once.”

Buttigieg was campaigning in New Hampshire this weekend.

MICHAEL BENNET

The Colorado senator was in New Hampshire, days after he made his prostate cancer diagnosis public. Bennet said earlier this weekend that he wasn’t dwelling on the diagnosis and spoke to voters about health care and partisan divides in Washington.

He also told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he hopes to announce a run for president “as soon as I can,” depending on his health.

“I have got to go through a procedure at the beginning of the upcoming recess,” Bennet said. “That starts later this week.  And then it’s going to be a couple of weeks for recovery. But I would like to get on with this.”

He added that he’s “looking forward to running in 2020.”

“This obviously was unexpected,” Bennet said. “But we caught it early.  It’s something that I think we’re going to be able to treat. And I don’t think it should keep me off the trail.”  


Washington Awaits Redacted Mueller Report

Intensified battles are expected in Washington this week over the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and over lawmakers’ access to President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Democrats are demanding disclosure on both fronts and encountering resistance from Republicans as well as attorneys for the president.



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