Leader of armed group at U.S. border boasted of assassination training: FBI

Larry Mitchell Hopkins appears in a police booking photo taken at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S., April 20, 2019. Dona Ana County Detention Center/Handout via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay and Julio-Cesar Chavez

TAOS, N.M./LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Reuters) – The leader of an armed group stopping undocumented migrants who cross into the United States from Mexico had boasted that his members had trained to assassinate former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an FBI agent said in court papers on Monday.

Larry Hopkins was arrested Saturday on a weapons charge. His camouflage-wearing armed United Constitutional Patriots members claim to have helped U.S. officials detain some 5,600 migrants in New Mexico in the last 60 days.

The UCP says its two-month presence at the border is intended to support U.S. Border Patrol, which has been overwhelmed by record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum.

Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union accused the UCP of being a “fascist militia” whose members illegally detain and kidnap migrants by impersonating law enforcement. New Mexico’s Democratic Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, on Friday ordered an investigation of the group. She said “menacing or threatening migrant families and asylum-seekers is absolutely unacceptable and must cease.”

The FBI in court papers said that while it was investigating allegations of “militia extremist activity” in 2017, witnesses accused Hopkins of saying the UCP was planning to assassinate Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate Clinton and financier George Soros.

On Monday, Hopkins appeared in court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to face charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The FBI said it found guns during a 2017 visit to his home.

Defense attorney Kelly O’Connell said Hopkins planned to plead not guilty and noted that the charges were unrelated to UCP’s actions at the border.

“This is not even dealing with what’s going on right here,” O’Connell said.

UCP spokesman Jim Benvie previously said the group was helping the U.S. Border Patrol and publicizing the “border crisis.” He was not immediately available for comment.

Crowdfunding sites PayPal and GoFundMe last week barred the group, citing policies not to promote hate or violence after the ACLU called the UCP a “fascist militia.”

FBI Special Agent David Gabriel said in a criminal complaint filed on Monday that in October 2017 the agency received reports a militia was being run out of Hopkins’ home in Flora Vista, New Mexico.

PISTOLS, RIFLES

When agents entered the home they collected nine firearms, ranging from pistols to rifles, Horton was illegally in possession of as he had at least one prior felony conviction, according to the complaint. The FBI said in court papers that in 2006, Hopkins was convicted of criminal impersonation of a peace officer and felony possession of a firearm and that in 1996 he was also convicted on a firearms charge.

Hopkins, the UCP’s national commander, told the agents that his common-law wife owned the weapons in question, according to court papers.

At the time, the FBI had received information that the UCP had around 20 members and was armed with AK-47 rifles and other firearms.

“Hopkins also allegedly made the statement that the United Constitutional Patriots were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama” because it believed that they supported left-wing, anti-fascist protesters, the complaint said.

Former state and federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein said Border Patrol’s tacit allowance of the UCP to operate may have allowed it to go beyond what citizens are legally allowed to do.

“To the extent where the FBI has got involved, I think it’s escalated to a point where they need to send a stronger message out to them that ‘No, we told you not to do this,'” said Weinstein, a partner at the law firm of Hinshaw and Culbertson.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Editing by Scott Malone, Tom Brown and David Gregorio)

Why is the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem?

A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, a move that has delighted Israel and infuriated Palestinians.

On Monday, road signs directing traffic there went up around the neighborhood where it will be situated, and next week’s opening ceremony is timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

The initiative was driven by President Donald Trump, after he broke last year with decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump said his administration has a peace proposal in the works, and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of America’s closest ally had “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, celebrated Trump’s decision, but the move upset the Arab world and Western allies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “slap in the face” and said Washington could no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel.

Initially, a small interim embassy will operate from the building in southern Jerusalem that now houses U.S. consular operations, while a secure site is found to move the rest of the embassy operations from Tel Aviv.

WHY DID TRUMP RECOGNIZE JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL, AND ANNOUNCE THE EMBASSY WILL BE MOVED THERE?

There has long been pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and Trump made it a signature promise of his 2016 election campaign.

The decision was popular with many conservative and evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, many of whom support political recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.

Trump acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but to which other presidents since then – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – consistently signed waivers.

WHY DOES JERUSALEM PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT?

Religion, politics and history.

Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, and by regional powers and invaders.

It is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each religion has sites of great significance there.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The city even has different names. Jews call it Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, and Arabs call it Al-Quds, which means “The Holy”.

But the city’s significance goes further.

At the heart of the Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims internationally as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity but all that remains of them above ground is a restraining wall for the foundations built by Herod the Great. Known as the Western Wall, this is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.

Within yards of the wall, and overlooking it, are two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

The city is also an important pilgrimage site for Christians, who revere it as the place where they believe that Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected.

WHAT IS THE CITY’S MODERN HISTORY AND STATUS?

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the then British-ruled Palestine should be partitioned into an Arab state and a Jewish state. But it recognized that Jerusalem had special status and proposed international rule for the city, along with nearby Bethlehem, as a ‘corpus separatum’ to be administered by the United Nations.

That never happened. When British rule ended in 1948, Jordanian forces occupied the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it.

In 1980 the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring the “complete and united” city of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. But the United Nations regards East Jerusalem as occupied, and the city’s status as disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

DOES ANY OTHER COUNTRY HAVE AN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM?

In March Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales, said that his country will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, two days after the U.S. move.

Netanyahu said in April that “at least half a dozen” countries were now “seriously discussing” following the U.S. lead, but he did not identify them.

In December, 128 countries voted in a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained and 21 did not cast a vote.

WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN NEXT? HAS JERUSALEM BEEN A FLASHPOINT BEFORE?

Since Trump’s announcement there have been Palestinian protests and wider political tensions.

Arab leaders across the Middle East have warned the move could lead to turmoil and hamper U.S. efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in Gaza during a six-week border protest due to culminate on May 15, the day after the U.S. Embassy move and when Palestinians traditionally lament homes and land lost with Israel’s creation.

Although the clashes have not been on the scale of the Palestinian intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, violence has erupted before over matters of sovereignty and religion.

In 1969 an Australian Messianic Christian tried to burn down Al-Aqsa Mosque. He failed but caused damage, and prompted fury across the Arab world.

In 2000, the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, led a group of Israeli lawmakers onto the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex. A Palestinian protest escalated into the second intifada.

Deadly confrontations also took place in July after Israel installed metal detectors at the complex’s entrance after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; editing by John Stonestreet)

Federal Communications Commission set to reverse net neutrality rules

Federal Communications Commission set to reverse net neutrality rules

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to rescind net neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama that barred the blocking or slowing of internet traffic.

The 2015 rules barred broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more for certain content. They were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband service providers from favoring their own content. Chairman Ajit Pai proposes allowing those practices as long as they are disclosed.

Internet service providers clashed with Democrats and celebrities like “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill ahead of a vote this week as the battle over net neutrality stretched from Hollywood to Washington.

Protesters including some members of Congress are expected to rally outside the FCC in Washington before the vote.

Pai’s proposal marks a victory for big internet service providers such as AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc that opposed the rules and gives them sweeping powers to decide what web content consumers can get. It is a setback for Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc, which had urged Pai not to rescind the rules.

Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who heads a trade group representing major cable companies and broadcasters, told reporters that internet providers would not block content because it would not make economic sense and consumers would not stand for it.

“They make a lot of money on an open internet,” Powell said, adding it is “much more profitable” than a closed system. “This is not a pledge of good-heartedness, it’s a pledge in the shareholders’ interest.”

A University of Maryland poll released this week found that more than 80 percent of respondents opposed the proposal. The survey of 1,077 registered voters was conducted online by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland from Dec. 6-8.

Democrats have said the absence of rules would be unacceptable and that they would work to overturn the proposal if it is approved. Advocates of the net neutrality rules also plan a legal challenge.

Pai’s proposal is “like letting the bullies develop their own playground rules,” said Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Many Republicans back Pai’s proposal but want Congress to write net neutrality rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the FCC would “return the internet to a consumer-driven marketplace free of innovation-stifling regulations.”

A group of nearly 20 state attorneys general asked the FCC to delay the vote until the issue of fake comments is addressed.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Shumaker)

Russia pledges ‘harsh response’ to U.S. tit-for-tat measures

A sign outside the entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia is shown in San Francisco, California, U.S., August 31, 2017.

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it would respond harshly to any U.S. measures designed to hurt it, a day after the United States told Moscow to close its San Francisco consulate and buildings in Washington and New York.

The warning, from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, came as Russia said it was weighing a response to the U.S. move that will force it to shutter two trade missions in the United States as well as the San Francisco consulate by Sept. 2.

“We’ll react as soon as we finish our analysis,” Lavrov told students in Moscow. “We will respond harshly to things that damage us.”

Separately, a top Kremlin aide complained the U.S. demarche pushed bilateral ties further into a blind alley and fuelled a spiral of tit-for-tat retaliatory measures.

U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, saying he wanted to improve U.S.-Russia ties which were at a post-Cold War low. But since then, ties have frayed further after U.S. intelligence officials said Russia had meddled in the presidential election, something Moscow denies.

Trump, himself battling allegations his associates colluded with Russia, grudgingly signed new sanctions on Moscow into law this month which had been drawn up by Congress.

When it became clear those measures would become law, Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people.

Lavrov hinted on Friday that Russia might look at ordering further reductions in U.S. embassy staff, suggesting Moscow had been generous last time by allowing Washington to keep “more than 150” extra people.

He said Russia had cut the U.S. numbers to tally with the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, but that Moscow had generously included more than 150 Russian staff who work at Russia’s representation office at the United Nations.

Lavrov said Moscow still hoped for better relations and blamed Trump’s political foes for the deteriorating situation.

“I want to say that this whole story with exchanging tit-for-tat sanctions was not started by us,” Lavrov said.

“It was started by the Obama administration to undermine U.S.-Russia relations and to not allow Trump to advance constructive ideas or fulfil his pre-election pledges.”

Barack Obama, then outgoing president, expelled 35 suspected Russian spies in December and seized two Russian diplomatic compounds. President Vladimir Putin paused before responding, saying he would wait to see how Trump handled Russia.

“We thought this administration could exercise common sense, but unfortunately the Russophobes in Congress are not allowing it to,” said Lavrov, who complained that the United States had only given Moscow 48 hours to comply with its latest demands.

 

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

Russia, after U.S. meeting on diplomatic row, says ready to retaliate

The Russian Embassy's compound in Centreville, Maryland, U.S. is pictured in this still image taken December 30, 2016 from NBC4/WRC-TV helicopter video footage. MANDATORY CREDIT NBC4/WRC-TV/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday Moscow reserved the right to take retaliatory measures against the United States after a meeting in Washington ended without a deal on returning seized Russian diplomatic property.

Barack Obama, then U.S. president, ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December over what he said was their involvement in hacking the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, something Russia flatly denies.

Moscow has said a lot would depend on the outcome of a meeting in Washington on Monday between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon who discussed the diplomatic row.

But the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday a resolution to the problem had not yet been found.

“The Russian side stressed (in the meeting) that if Washington does not remove this and other irritants, including continued obstacles to the work of our diplomatic institutions, we reserve the right to take retaliatory measures based on the principle of reciprocity,” the statement said.

Russia wanted to resume regular dialogue with the United States about strategic stability too, it said, saying it was up to Washington to make a move on the issue.

(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhny; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Exclusive: Trump targets illegal immigrants who were given reprieves from deportation by Obama

FILE PHOTO - A U.S. border patrol agent escorts men being detained after entering the United States by crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico, in Roma, Texas, U.S. on May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Mica Rosenberg and Reade Levinson

(Reuters) – In September 2014, Gilberto Velasquez, a 38-year-old house painter from El Salvador, received life-changing news: The U.S. government had decided to shelve its deportation action against him.

The move was part of a policy change initiated by then-President Barack Obama in 2011 to pull back from deporting immigrants who had formed deep ties in the United States and whom the government considered no threat to public safety. Instead, the administration would prioritize illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes.

Last month, things changed again for the painter, who has lived in the United States illegally since 2005 and has a U.S.-born child. He received news that the government wanted to put his deportation case back on the court calendar, citing another shift in priorities, this time by President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has moved to reopen the cases of hundreds of illegal immigrants who, like Velasquez, had been given a reprieve from deportation, according to government data and court documents reviewed by Reuters and interviews with immigration lawyers.

Trump signaled in January that he planned to dramatically widen the net of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation, but his administration has not publicized its efforts to reopen immigration cases.

It represents one of the first concrete examples of the crackdown promised by Trump and is likely to stir fears among tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who thought they were safe from deportation.

While cases were reopened during the Obama administration as well, it was generally only if an immigrant had committed a serious crime, immigration attorneys say. The Trump administration has sharply increased the number of cases it is asking the courts to reopen, and its targets appear to include at least some people who have not committed any crimes since their cases were closed.

Between March 1 and May 31, prosecutors moved to reopen 1,329 cases, according to a Reuters’ analysis of data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR. The Obama administration filed 430 similar motions during the same period in 2016. (For a graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2s8csUZ)

Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed the agency was now filing motions with immigration courts to reopen cases where illegal immigrants had “since been arrested for or convicted of a crime.”

It is not possible to tell from the EOIR data how many of the cases the Trump administration is seeking to reopen involve immigrants who committed crimes after their cases were closed.

Attorneys interviewed by Reuters say indeed some of the cases being reopened are because immigrants were arrested for serious crimes, but they are also seeing cases involving people who haven’t committed crimes or who were cited for minor violations, like traffic tickets.

“This is a sea change, said attorney David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Before, if someone did something after the case was closed out that showed that person was a threat, then it would be reopened. Now they are opening cases just because they want to deport people.”

Elzea said the agency reviews cases, “to see if the basis for prosecutorial discretion is still appropriate.”

POLICY SHIFTS

After Obama announced his shift toward targeting illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes, prosecutors embraced their new discretion to close cases.

Between January 2012 and Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the government shelved some 81,000 cases, according to Reuters’ data analysis. These so-called “administrative closures” did not extend full legal status to those whose cases were closed, but they did remove the threat of imminent deportation.

Trump signed an executive order overturning the Obama-era policy on Jan. 25. Under the new guidelines, while criminals remain the highest priority for deportation, anyone in the country illegally is a potential target.

In cases reviewed by Reuters, the administration explicitly cited Trump’s executive order in 30 separate motions as a reason to put the immigrant back on the court docket. (For a link to an excerpted document: http://tmsnrt.rs/2sI6aby)

Since immigration cases aren’t generally public, Reuters was able to review only cases made available by attorneys.

In the 32 reopened cases examined by Reuters:

–22 involved immigrants who, according to their attorneys, had not been in trouble with the law since their cases were closed.

–Two of the cases involved serious crimes committed after their cases were closed: domestic violence and driving under the influence.

–At least six of the cases involved minor infractions, including speeding after having unpaid traffic tickets, or driving without a valid license, according to the attorneys.

In Velasquez’s case, for example, he was cited for driving without a license in Tennessee, where illegal immigrants cannot get licenses, he said.

“I respect the law and just dedicate myself to my work,” he said. “I don’t understand why this is happening.”

Motions to reopen closed cases have been filed in 32 states, with the highest numbers in California, Florida and Virginia, according to Reuters’ review of EOIR data. The bulk of the examples reviewed by Reuters were two dozen motions sent over the span of a couple days by the New Orleans ICE office.

PUMPKIN SEED ARREST

Sally Joyner, an immigration attorney in Memphis, Tennessee said one of her Central American clients, who crossed the border with her children in 2013, was allowed to stay in the United States after the government filed a motion to close her case in December 2015.

Since crossing the border, the woman has not been arrested or had trouble with law enforcement, said Joyner, who asked that her client’s name not be used because of the pending legal action.

Nevertheless, on March 29, ICE filed a two-page motion to reopen the case against the woman and her children. When Joyner queried ICE, an official said the agency had been notified that her client had a criminal history in El Salvador, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The woman had been arrested for selling pumpkin seeds as an unauthorized street vendor. Government documents show U.S. authorities knew about the arrest before her case was closed.

Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that revisiting previously closed matters will add to a record backlog of 580,000 pending immigration cases.

“If we have to go back and review all of those decisions that were already made, it clearly generates more work,” she said. “It’s a judicial do-over.”

(This version of the story was refiled to change “of” to “for” in Executive Office for Immigration Review in paragraph 8)

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Reade Levinson in New York; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)

On Pearl Harbor visit, Abe pledges Japan will never wage war again

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks with a Pearl Harbor survivor after he and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, U.S., December 27, 2016..

By Jeff Mason

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a symbolic visit to Pearl Harbor with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, commemorating the victims of Japan’s World War Two attack and promising that his country would never wage war again.

The visit, just weeks before Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office, was meant to highlight the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance amid concerns that Trump could forge a more complicated relationship with Tokyo.

“I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place,” Abe said.

“We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken.”

Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, pounding the U.S. fleet moored there in the hope of destroying U.S. power in the Pacific.

Abe did not apologize for the attack, a step that would have irked his conservative supporters, many of whom say U.S. economic sanctions forced Japan to open hostilities.

“This visit to Pearl Harbor was to console the souls of the war dead, not to apologize,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo, adding the trip had showed that the allies would contribute to world peace and prosperity.

Obama, who earlier this year became the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an
atomic bomb in 1945, called Abe’s visit a “historic gesture” that was “a reminder that even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and a lasting peace.”

Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, although three others including his grandfather had made quiet stops in Pearl Harbor in the 1950s.

The two leaders stood solemnly in front of a wall inscribed with the names of those who died in the 1941 attack and took part in a brief wreath-laying ceremony, followed by a moment of silence.

“In Remembrance, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan” was written on one wreath and “In Remembrance, Barack Obama, President of the United States” on the other.

They then threw flower petals into the water.

After their remarks, both leaders greeted and Abe embraced U.S. veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor attack.

In China, which has repeatedly urged Japan to show greater repentance for World War Two and Japan’s invasion of China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said real reflection was needed, not show.

“Reconciliation between inflictor and victim must and can only be established on the basis of sincere and deep reflection by the inflictor,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

DISPLAY OF ALLIANCE STRENGTH

Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the United States amid concerns about China’s expanding military capability.

During a meeting ahead of the Pearl Harbor visit, Abe and Obama agreed to closely monitor moves by China’s aircraft carrier, recently spotted on a routine drill in the Western Pacific for the first time, and to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

The leaders’ get-together was also meant to reinforce the U.S.-Japan partnership ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Trump, whose opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and campaign threat to force allied countries to pay more to host U.S. forces raised concerns among allies such as Japan.

Obama has sought to provide a smooth transition for Trump, but he made his opposition to the Republican’s policies, including his proposal to ban Muslims temporarily from entering the United States, clear during the 2016 campaign.

“It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward,” Obama said at Pearl Harbor. “We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.”

Abe met with Trump in New York in November and called him a “trustworthy leader.”

Obama called for a world without nuclear arms during his visit to Hiroshima. Trump last week called for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability and reportedly welcomed an international arms race.

Some Abe critics noted the Japanese leader’s visit, and the reconciliation with the United States that it symbolized, underscored the stark contrast in its relationship with China and South Korea, where the bitter wartime legacy still plagues ties with Tokyo.

Abe’s cabinet minister for reconstruction of disaster-hit regions, Masahiro Imamura, paid his respects later in the day (Wednesday, Tokyo time) at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, Kyodo news agency said. Abe angered Beijing and Seoul and upset Washington with his own visit to the shrine three years ago this month.

“A symbolic gesture of contrition to your closest ally is easy,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo.

“If he (Abe) really is sincere about reconciliation diplomacy and overcoming lingering enmities he needs to visit similar symbolic sights (in China and Korea) … and make similar remarks of remorse that are more specific about Japan’s responsibility.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Linda Sieg and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell, Lisa Shumaker and Nick Macfie)

U.S. court puts Obamacare case on hold until Trump takes office

President-elect Donald Trump

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Monday brought to an end President Barack Obama’s bid to overturn a ruling that threatens to gut his signature healthcare law by putting the case on hold until after President-elect Donald Trump, who aims to repeal Obamacare, takes office.

The Obama administration had appealed a judge’s May ruling favoring the challenge filed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives against a key part of the 2010 law. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed to a request by the Republicans to delay its consideration of the government’s appeal until after Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

The Obama administration opposed the move.

If the law is repealed by Congress, the case would be moot. The court’s decision to put the case on hold will not have an immediate effect on the law, as the lower court ruling was put on hold pending the appeal. The court said both sides should provide an update on the status of the case by Feb. 21.

The challenge targeted government reimbursements to insurance companies to compensate them for reductions that the law required them to make to customers’ out-of-pocket medical payments.

Trump has said he favors repealing and replacing Obamacare but would consider retaining certain elements.

The law has enabled millions of previously uninsured Americans to obtain health insurance, but Republicans condemn Obamacare as a government overreach and have mounted a series of legal challenges.

The Obama administration appealed U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s ruling that the government cannot spend billions of dollars in federal funds without congressional approval to provide subsidies under the healthcare law to private insurers to help people afford medical coverage.

The House Republicans argued that the administration violated the U.S. Constitution because it is the legislative branch, not the executive branch, that authorizes government spending.

The Obama administration has interpreted the provision as a type of federal spending that does not need to be explicitly authorized by Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 issued major rulings authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that preserved Obamacare and rejected conservative challenges.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Obama Announces New Gun Control Measures, Including Background Check Changes

President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled new measures that would govern gun sales and safety in the United States, actions he said are geared toward reducing gun violence by preventing the weapons from ending up in the hands of people who may use them nefariously.

Speaking in a televised address from the East Room of the White House, Obama listed mass shootings while detailing an executive order he said were designed to close loopholes in existing laws and make it tougher for people to obtain the weapons used in the deadly rampages.

The new measures would enhance the vetting process, requiring anyone who is “in the business of selling firearms” to obtain a selling license and conduct background checks. That’s not always the case under the current system, which has more lenient rules for gun-show and online sales.

“We know that we can’t stop every act of violence,” Obama conceded. “But what if we tried to stop even one?”

Opponents and gun rights activists immediately spoke out against Obama’s order, saying the president’s actions can not usurp American’s constitutional right to bear arms. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) issued a statement in which he said the president’s “words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty,” and said there was “no doubt” that someone would challenge the directive, which doesn’t need Congressional approval, in court.

In his address, Obama said the order was not an infringement of the Second Amendment and noted Americans were guaranteed additional rights and freedoms that gun violence was hampering, noting guns contribute to the deaths of 30,000 Americans every year. The president expressed a need to balance those other freedoms and rights with the right to bear arms.

He specifically mentioned the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara and from high schoolers at Columbine and from first-graders in Newtown,” Obama said, referencing campus shootings at Virginia Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School. “And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

Obama also referenced mass shootings at a military facility in Fort Hood, Texas, a church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Washington Navy Yard, a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on a list that included “too many” instances of gun violence. The president said it was time “not to debate the last shooting, but do something to try to prevent the next one.”

Several Democrats lauded the president’s efforts. They include former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured during a mass shooting in Tuscon five years ago this week. She attended the address and tweeted Obama’s “responsible actions … will save lives.”

However, the National Rifle Association issued a statement saying that none of Obama’s proposals would have stopped any of the “horrific events he mentioned” during his speech.

“Once again, President Obama has chosen to engage in political rhetoric, instead of offering meaningful solutions to our nation’s pressing problems,” Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. “Today’s event also represents an ongoing attempt to distract attention away from his lack of a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe from terrorist attack. The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts.”

The main point of Obama’s executive order is undoubtedly reforming background checks.

Those checks have already prevented 2 million guns from being sold to people who cannot legally purchase them, the White House said in a news release, and the executive order aims to bolster the strength and overall efficiency of the system. The FBI is planning to hire 230 additional employees to process the 63,000 background check requests it receives every day, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms is working to finalize rules that would prevent people from circumventing the background check requirements for particularly dangerous guns.

The order also calls for better enforcement of existing gun laws, and Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2017 includes funding that would allow the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms to hire 200 additional agents and investigators. The president is also pushing for better gun safety technology, directing officials with the Homeland Security, Justice and Defense departments to help study how to prevent guns from firing accidentally, and proposing $500 million for nationwide improvements to mental health treatment.

Obama Vows U.S. ‘Will Destroy’ ISIS, Other Terrorist Groups

The United States “will destroy” the Islamic State “and any other terrorist organization that tries to harm us,” President Barack Obama said in a televised speech to the nation on Sunday night.

Speaking from the Oval Office, the president said the country faces new challenges in its 14-year war on terrorism but remains equipped to overcome the threat the ideology poses to America.

The speech came days after the husband-and-wife team of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and wounded 21 others in a mass shooting at San Bernardino, California. The brazen attack occurred during a holiday party for Farook’s coworkers on Wednesday.

“This was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people,” Obama declared in the speech.

Obama went on to say that other shootings at military installations in Fort Hood, Texas, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, were also acts of terrorism. The president said the nature of these attacks represent a fundamental shift in the face of terrorism, and the challenge it presents.

He said the country has been at war with terrorists since 9/11, when terrorists hijacked four airplanes in an elaborate plot that ultimately killed nearly 3,000 people. America has beefed up its security and intelligence operations and disrupted a host of terrorist plots in the years since.

“Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase,” Obama said. “As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multi-faceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less-complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.”

While noting there was no evidence that Farook and Malik were directed by a terrorist group or that they were part of a broader conspiracy in planning and executing Wednesday’s shootings, Obama said “it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.”

The FBI echoed that statement on Monday, with an official saying at a news conference that the bureau had evidence that Farook and Malik had been radicalized “for quite some time.” The probe into the shootings and the circumstances around them continued Monday afternoon.

In his Sunday night speech, Obama reaffirmed the country’s commitment to fighting terrorism.

He said “our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary,” and noted that 65 countries have joined an American-led coalition that is carrying out airstrikes against ISIS interests. The United States is also providing training to forces in Iraq and Syria that are fighting ISIS militants on the ground, and deploying special ops in both countries. Coalition forces are working to disrupt ISIS in other ways, like cutting off its money supply (largely obtained through oil smuggling) and preventing it from adding manpower.

Obama noted global efforts to combat ISIS have increased since Nov. 13, when gunmen and suicide bombers linked to the group killed 130 people in multiple terrorist attacks in Paris. In particular, he said the exchange of intelligence between allies has surged since those attacks.

The president said technology has made it easier for groups like the Islamic State to corrupt the minds of people around the world. The terrorists are frequently able to use social media and the Internet to share their radical messages. Obama called for technology companies and law enforcement officials to make it more difficult for terrorists to hide behind computer screens.

He also called for the departments of State and Homeland Security to review the ‘fiancee visa’ waiver program that Malik, a Pakistani native who was living in Saudi Arabia, used to enter the United States. It’s been widely reported that she met Farook, a U.S. citizen, on an online dating site.

Obama also called for stricter gun laws, like making it more difficult to purchase assault weapons like the ones used in San Bernardino. He noted authorities simply can’t identify every potential mass shooter, but “what we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.”

While Obama outlined the steps America is taking against ISIS and to prevent future terrorist attacks at home, he also laid out a list of things that America should not do. Those included entering a ground war in the Middle East, which could be lengthy and ultimately play into the Islamic State’s hand. He also said the country shouldn’t fear or discriminate against Muslims, noting that the Islamic State “doesn’t speak for Islam” and was “part of a cult of death.”

“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” Obama said in his televised comments. “We will destroy (ISIS) and any other organization that tries to harm us.”