Longtime Trump aide Stephanie Grisham will succeed Sanders as press secretary

Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for first lady Melania Trump, arrives for a campaign rally with U.S. President Donald Trump in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Stephanie Grisham, the communications director for first lady Melania Trump and a longtime aide to President Donald Trump, will succeed Sarah Sanders as White House press secretary, Mrs. Trump announced on Tuesday.

Melania Trump announced the development in a tweet to close out the president’s search for a press secretary after Sanders decided to resign and go back home to Arkansas earlier this month.

Grisham, 42, a fixture in the Arizona Republican Party, was one of Trump’s first hires for his presidential campaign – as a press aide in 2015. She served as a deputy press secretary in the White House when he took office in January 2017 and eventually moved over to the first lady’s operation.

A clue that the president was leaning toward Grisham for the job was when aides said she had now been added to the White House team going with Trump to the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this week.

The fact that Mrs. Trump announced the appointment, instead of the president himself, showed that the first lady was willing to part with Grisham for the greater good.

Grisham will have the dual role of press secretary and communications director. Sanders had essentially been doing both roles as well, without the communications director title.

Melania Trump’s tweet said: “I am pleased to announce @StephGrisham45 will be the next @PressSec & Comms Director! She has been with us since 2015 – @potus & I can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country. Excited to have Stephanie working for both sides of the @WhiteHouse. #BeBest”

Grisham was viewed internally as the candidate with the best rapport with President Trump, a key requirement.

With his tweets and multiple exchanges with reporters, Trump is in many ways his own press secretary and communications director, and Sanders’ role grew to being a senior adviser.

Whether Grisham would bring back the daily press briefing was unclear. Trump has all but ended the practice and it has been more than three months since the last one.

The other top candidate had been Sanders’ principal deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley.

Tony Sayegh, a former Treasury Department spokesman, had been considered as well but was in the midst of a move home to New York. Former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration.

Gidley tweeted his congratulations to Grisham.

“Amazing announcement! So proud and blessed to have my good friend @StephGrisham45 working with our team. She is a rockstar and perfect to fill Sarah’s shoes!” he said.

Sanders is contemplating a political future in Arkansas, considering a 2022 run for state governor, a position once held by her father, Republican Mike Huckabee.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Donald Trump welcomed to Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth

U.S. President Donald Trump inspects an honour guard at Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/Pool

By Steve Holland and Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain rolled out the royal red carpet for Donald Trump on Monday but the pomp, pageantry and banquet with Queen Elizabeth looked set to be overshadowed by the U.S. President’s views on Brexit, the UK’s next leader and a row over China’s Huawei.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for their state visit to Britain, at Stansted Airport near London, Britain, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for their state visit to Britain, at Stansted Airport near London, Britain, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump and his wife, Melania, were greeted by the 93-year-old monarch at Buckingham Palace at the start of a three-day state visit which sees him feted with the full force of royal ceremony: a formal dinner with the queen, tea with heir Prince Charles, and a tour of Westminster Abbey, coronation church of English monarchs for 1,000 years.

“I look forward to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit,” Trump wrote on Twitter as he landed at London’s Stansted Airport.

But beyond the theater, the proudly unpredictable 45th U.S. president is rocking the boat with the United States’ closest ally, whose political establishment has been in chaos for months over Britain’s departure from the European Union.

As he was flying into the British capital, he reignited a feud with London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who had written on Sunday that Britain should not be rolling out the red carpet for the U.S. president – describing him as a “stone cold loser.

The state visit, promised by Prime Minister Theresa May back in January 2017 when she became the first foreign leader to meet him after he took office, is cast as a chance to celebrate Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States, boost trade links and reaffirm security cooperation.

At Buckingham Palace, Melania, stood beside Elizabeth and Charles’s wife Camilla, while Charles and Trump inspected the guard.

Trump will have lunch with the queen before the monarch’s second son Prince Andrew accompanies him to Westminster Abbey where the president will lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.

The day culminates with a lavish state banquet at Buckingham Palace – where men wear white tie coats with tails and women evening gowns.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump meet Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, as they arrives at Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/Pool

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump meet Britain’s Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, as they arrives at Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/Pool

UNCONVENTIONAL

But away from the pageantry, Trump is set to make his trip the most unconventional state visit in recent British history.

He has already waded far into Britain’s turbulent domestic politics, where more than a dozen candidates are vying to replace May, who announced last month she was quitting after failing to get her EU divorce deal through parliament.

The president, who has regularly criticized May’s Brexit tactics, said Britain must leave the bloc on the due date of Oct. 31 with or without a deal and praised a more radical Brexit-supporting potential successor as British leader.

He also called for arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage, a scourge of May’s ruling Conservative Party, to conduct talks with the EU.

Brexit is the most significant geopolitical move for the United Kingdom since World War Two and if it ever happens then London will be more reliant on the United States as ties loosen with the other 27 members of the EU.

HUAWEI TENSIONS

At a meeting with May, Trump will also warn Britain that security cooperation, a cornerstone of the western intelligence network, could be hurt if London allows China’s Huawei a role in building parts of the 5G network, the next generation of cellular technology.

The Trump administration has told allies not to use its 5G technology and equipment because of fears it would allow China to spy on sensitive communications and data. Huawei denies it is, or could be, a vehicle for Chinese intelligence.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Britain last month it needed to change its attitude toward China and Huawei, casting the world’s second-largest economy as a threat to the West similar to that once posed by the Soviet Union.

Britain’s relationship with the United States is an enduring alliance, but some British voters see Trump as crude, volatile and opposed to their values on issues ranging from global warming to his treatment of women.

Hundreds of thousands protested against him during a trip last year and a blimp depicting Trump as a snarling, nappy-clad baby will fly outside Britain’s parliament during the visit. Other protesters plan a “carnival of resistance” in central London.

Jeremy Corbyn, the socialist leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, who has declined an invitation to attend the state banquet, scolded Trump for getting involved in British politics.

 

While Monday is dominated by pageantry, the second day of Trump’s trip will focus on politics, including breakfast with business leaders, talks with May in 10 Downing Street, a news conference and a dinner at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Andrew MacAskill, Alistair Smout and William Schomberg; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden; Editing by Jon Boyle)

In a first, Trump makes surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet military personnel at the dining facility during an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

By Steve Holland

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (Reuters) – President Donald Trump made a surprise Christmas visit to U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday, his first trip to a conflict zone nearly two years into his presidency and days after announcing a pullout of American troops from Syria.

Air Force One touched down at the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad after an overnight flight from Washington with first lady Melania Trump, a small group of aides and Secret Service agents, and a pool of reporters. He was expected to stay for around three hours.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump has drawn fire from some in the U.S. military for not having visited U.S. troops in conflict zones since taking office in January 2017, particularly after he canceled a trip to a World War One cemetery in France last month due to rain.

While there has been no full-scale violence in Iraq since Islamic State suffered a series of defeats last year, U.S. troops train and advise Iraqi forces still waging a campaign against the militant group.

On his way home from Iraq, he will also stop to visit troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Trump was looking for some positive headlines after days of turmoil over his decisions to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, pull out half of the 14,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan, and push out Defense Secretary James Mattis two months earlier than planned for criticizing his policies.

Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers have heaped scorn on Trump for his sudden order last week to withdraw from Syria.

On his stop in Iraq, he defended his decision to pull out the 2,000 troops from Syria, which he has said was made possible by the defeat of Islamic State militants.

His critics have said that fight is far from over and the withdrawal leaves allies in the lurch.

One of those critics was Mattis, who said in a candid resignation letter last week that his views did not align with the president’s, particularly in regard to the treatment of U.S. allies. Mattis had planned to leave at the end of February but Trump forced him to go on Jan. 1 after his resignation letter.

Trump has also faced negative headlines for wanting to pull troops from Afghanistan where they have been since 2001. Trump has questioned how long troops there should have to remain in what has become America’s longest war.

Trump’s unannounced visit to Iraq followed in the footsteps of two of his predecessors, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, who both made surprise trips to see troops.

The U.S. military says it has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, focused on training and advising Iraqi troops to ensure that Islamic State does not re-emerge.

NATO defense ministers agreed in February to a bigger “train-and-advise” mission in Iraq after a U.S. call for the alliance to help stabilize the country after three years of war against Islamic State.

Trump has had an uneven relationship with America’s military. He did not have to serve during the Vietnam War after being diagnosed with bone spurs in his heels.

As president-elect, Trump was drawn to the brawn of the armed forces and stacked his first Cabinet with generals, many of whom have since left his administration.

Trump has also wanted to end protracted U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts, and to force allies to pay more for the costs that he says fall disproportionately on American taxpayers.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell)

Trump sees Michael’s wrath, rescuers search for bodies

U.S. President Donald Trump visits a street in the the town of Lynn Haven, Florida, as he tours areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael in Florida and Georgia, U.S., October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump got a first-hand look on Monday at the “total devastation” that Hurricane Michael brought to Florida, as rescuers searched for scores of missing and hundreds of thousands of residents remained without electricity.

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) help distribute water in the town of Lynn Haven, Florida, during a tour of areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael in Florida U.S., October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) help distribute water in the town of Lynn Haven, Florida, during a tour of areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael in Florida U.S., October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump and first lady Melania Trump passed out bottles of water at an aid center in Lynn Haven, a city of about 18,500 people near Panama City in northwestern Florida, after taking a helicopter flight from Eglin Air Force Base about 100 miles (160 km) to the west.

“To see this personally is very tough – total devastation,” said Trump, who later traveled to neighboring Georgia to see storm damage there.

At least 18 deaths in four states have been blamed on Michael, which crashed into the Panhandle last Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the continental United States.

Thousands of rescuers, including volunteers, are still combing remote areas of the Florida Panhandle for those reported missing. They include 46 in Mexico Beach, according to ABC News. The town took a direct hit from the hurricane, and at least one person died there.

With most Mexico Beach homes already searched for survivors, rescue workers began using cadaver dogs to try to recover any human remains that might be buried under debris.

“The next phase is recovery,” Ignatius Carroll, a Miami fire captain who leads a Federal Emergency Management Agency rescue team, said by phone as he combed through wreckage. “We start using the dogs for larger rubble piles that were created by the storm.”

Searchers went through debris by hand, rather than with machines, so as not to destroy any bodies, Mexico Beach Councillor Linda Albrecht said.

“We expect to find everybody, because that’s our mentality. We expect everything to work out, but who knows what’s down the road?” said Albrecht, who returned to her home on Sunday to find it destroyed.

About 200,000 people remained without power in the U.S. Southeast, with residents cooking with fires and barbecue grills during daylight in hard-hit coastal towns such as Port St. Joe, Florida.

BILLIONS IN INSURED LOSSES

Insured losses for wind and storm surge from Hurricane Michael will run between an estimated $6 billion and $10 billion, risk modeler AIR Worldwide said. Those figures do not include losses paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program or uninsured property, AIR Worldwide said.

With top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kph), Michael hit the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by roads choked with downed trees after coastal woodlands and forests were uprooted by the storm.

Water service was restored to some in Panama City on Monday but Bay County officials said it was not yet safe to drink. Homeowners were advised to keep toilet flushes to a minimum because the sewer system was operating only at half capacity.

U.S. President Donald Trump riding aboard Marine One tours storm damage from Hurricane Michael along the Gulf Coast of Florida, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump riding aboard Marine One tours storm damage from Hurricane Michael along the Gulf Coast of Florida, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Florida Division of Emergency Management said that while power was returning in most areas, at least 85 percent of customers in four mainly rural Panhandle counties were without electricity on Monday. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to the most-damaged areas.

“We’re living in the daylight, and living in the dark once night gets here,” said Port St. Joe Mayor Bo Patterson, whose town of 3,500 was without power.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester, Bernie Woodall in Florida, Makini Brice and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

Trump, first lady to tour hurricane-ravaged Florida Panhandle

Dexter Humphries looks at destruction caused by Hurricane Michael from his driveway in Springfield, Florida, U.S., October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump headed to Florida’s storm-ravaged Panhandle and Georgia on Monday to see the destruction caused by deadly Hurricane Michael.

Debris strewn over streets in Mexico Beach, October 11. Duke Energy/via REUTERS

Debris strewn over streets in Mexico Beach, October 11. Duke Energy/via REUTERS

The president and first lady were to arrive at Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle, Florida’s northwestern region, and were scheduled to return to the White House on Monday evening, the White House said. Trump last month visited North and South Carolina after they were hit by Hurricane Florence.

Trump was expected to hold a briefing with Florida Governor Rick Scott, a fellow Republican, at the base located about 100 miles (160 km) west of where Hurricane Michael came ashore on Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall in the continental United States.

Insured losses for wind and storm surge from Hurricane Michael will run between an estimated $6 billion and $10 billion, risk modeler AIR Worldwide said. Those figures do not include losses paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program, AIR Worldwide said.

Michael hit the Florida Panhandle with 155 mph (250 kph) winds as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

Michael Bailey (L) evacuates his home with his children, Azelia and Seth, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Lynn Haven, Florida, U.S., October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Michael Bailey (L) evacuates his home with his children, Azelia and Seth, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Lynn Haven, Florida, U.S., October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

At least 18 people in four states have died because of the storm. Dozens of people remained missing on Sunday in Florida Panhandle communities left in ruins.

Rescuers said they expected the death toll to rise and they were using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment to search collapsed homes in small towns such as Mexico Beach and Panama City for more victims.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads and huge piles of rubble in many communities such as Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit from the massive storm that killed at least one person there.

“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told Florida media.

Cathey told ABC News that 46 people out of the town of some 1,000 residents remained missing or unaccounted for on Sunday.

A family sits by a fire and prepares to eat a dinner of MREs in front of their house with no roof following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, October 13. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A family sits by a fire and prepares to eat a dinner of MREs in front of their house with no roof following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, October 13.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Survivors grappled with power outages and shortages of food and water amid the mazes of uprooted trees and debris. Electricity and telephone service were being slowly restored but it could be weeks before power returns to the state’s most damaged areas.

More than 1,700 search and rescue workers were deployed, Scott’s office said, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

In Panama City, Fire Chief Alex Baird said search-and-rescue teams were now in “recovery mode” after largely giving up hope of finding any more survivors.

Trump is fully committed to helping state and local agencies with the recovery, the White House said. It was announced late on Sunday that he declared a state of emergency in Georgia, freeing up federal resources for the state. A similar declaration had already been made for Florida.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Panama City, Florida; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Bernie Woodall in Florida, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait and Will Dunham)

U.S. first lady Melania Trump lays wreath at ’emotional’ slave castle in Ghana

U.S. first lady Melania Trump greets a child during her visit at Cape Coast castle, Ghana, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

CAPE COAST, Ghana (Reuters) – U.S. First lady Melania Trump on Wednesday laid a wreath at a slave fortress on the coast of Ghana, vowing never to forget the place where Africans were held before being shipped away into further hardship, most across the Atlantic.

“It’s very emotional… I will never forget (the) incredible experience and the stories that I heard,” she said after seeing the dungeons and walking through the ‘door of no return’, the castle’s final exit toward the ocean.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump holds a child during a visit to a hospital in Accra, Ghana. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

U.S. first lady Melania Trump holds a child during a visit to a hospital in Accra, Ghana. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

She arrived in Ghana on the first stop of her first solo international trip as first lady, a tour of Africa, a continent her husband has been reported to have referred to derisively. She will also visit Malawi, Kenya and Egypt.

President Donald Trump has not visited Africa since taking office in 2017. In January U.S. media reported widely that he described African states as “shithole countries” during a discussion with lawmakers about immigration. He has denied making the remark.

The 17th century Cape Coast castle, now a monument, has attracted world dignitaries including America’s first black President Barack Obama and his family, who also shared their emotions at the site.

During her tour on Wednesday, Melania Trump walked slowly with a guide through various wings, asking questions. She passed a row of cannons and descended into a dungeon where male slaves were held in chains.

“It’s really, really touching,” she said. “The dungeons that I saw, it’s really something that people should see and experience, and what happened so many years ago — it’s really a tragedy.”

U.S. first lady Melania Trump waves as she meets with Fante chiefs to gain permission to visit Cape Coast castle, Ghana, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

U.S. first lady Melania Trump waves as she meets with Fante chiefs to gain permission to visit Cape Coast castle, Ghana, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Before proceeding to the slave castle, she visited the palace of the head chief of the area and obtained royal approval to visit the fortress after presenting drinks to the chiefs.

The ceremony took place in Obama hall at the Emintsimadze Palace, a hall that was renamed in Obama’s honor after his visit to the area in 2009.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Kwasi Kpodo; Editing by Peter Graff)

Trump pays tribute to 9/11 ‘true heroes’ in Pennsylvania memorial visit

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand together at the Flight 93 National Memorial during the 17th annual September 11 observance at the memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Roberta Rampton

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday lauded the men and women of United Flight 93 for saving countless lives when they struggled with hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001 and called the field where the plane went down a monument to “American defiance.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump hold hands and talk as they walk from the Marine One helicopter to Air Force One at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport prior to departing Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump hold hands and talk as they walk from the Marine One helicopter to Air Force One at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport prior to departing Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Commemorating the 17th anniversary of the attacks that struck the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, Trump said the nation shared the grief of the family members whose loved ones were lost that day.

“We grieve together for every mother and father, sister and brother, son and daughter, who was stolen from us at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and here in this Pennsylvania field,” Trump said.

“We honor their sacrifice by pledging to never flinch in the face of evil and to do whatever it takes to keep America safe.”

Flight 93 was heading to San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, when passengers stormed the plane’s cockpit and sought to take control from the hijackers, crashing in a field and preventing what was thought to be another planned target in Washington.

Family members of Flight 93, some of their voices breaking, read aloud the names of the 40 passengers and crew members who died. Memorial bells tolled.

Trump and his wife, Melania, traveled to the Flight 93 National Memorial from Washington and paused for a moment of reflection while overlooking the field where the plane crashed.

U.S. President Donald Trump andfirst lady Melania Trump walk at the Flight 93 National Memorial during the 17th annual September 11 observance at the memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump andfirst lady Melania Trump walk at the Flight 93 National Memorial during the 17th annual September 11 observance at the memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“They boarded the plane as strangers and they entered eternity linked forever as true heroes,” Trump said of the passengers and crew.

“This field is now a monument to American defiance. This memorial is now a message to the world: America will never, ever submit to tyranny.”

Commemorations also took place in New York and Washington to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton,; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump backs down, signs order to end family separations at U.S. border

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump backed down on Wednesday on an immigration policy that sparked outrage at home and abroad, signing an executive order to end the separation of children from their parents when immigrant families are caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The order requires that immigrant families be detained together when they are caught entering the country illegally, although it was not immediately clear for how long.

It also moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings. The order does not end a “zero tolerance” policy that calls for criminal prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally.

“It’s about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” Trump said as he signed the order in a hastily arranged Oval Office gathering.

Videos of youngsters in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked anger in the United States from groups ranging from clergy to influential business leaders, as well as condemnation from abroad, including Pope Francis.

Trump, a frequent viewer of cable television newscasts, had recognized the family separation issue was a growing political problem, White House sources said. First lady Melania Trump, in private conversations with the president, urged him to do something, a White House official said.

“The first lady has been making her opinion known to the president for some time now, which was that he needed to do all he could to help families stay together,” an official said.

Wednesday’s move marked a rare instance since Trump took office in January 2017 in which he has changed course on a controversial policy, rather than digging in.

Trump has made a tough stance on immigration central to his presidency. In recent days, the Republican president had insisted his hands were tied by law on the issue of family separations and had sought to blame Democrats, although it was his administration that implemented the policy of strict adherence to immigration law.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress is also considering legislation to address the issue. The House of Representatives planned to vote on Thursday on two bills designed to halt the practice of separating families and to address other immigration issues.

But Republicans said they were uncertain if either measure would have enough support to be approved. Trump told House Republicans on Tuesday night he would support either of the immigration bills under consideration but did not give a preference.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell, Amanda Becker and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bill Trott and Frances Kerry)

Trump meets victims, responders in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

U.S. President Donald Trump salutes as he and first lady Melania Trump arrive to board Air Force One for travel to Puerto Rico, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Roberta Rampton and Gabriel Stargardter

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico on Tuesday on a mission to reassure the island’s struggling residents that he is committed to their recovery from a devastating hurricane that has tested his ability to manage natural disasters.

One of the first people Trump met when he and his wife, Melania, touched down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the city’s mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has repeatedly blasted Trump as showing insufficient concern about the U.S. territory’s plight.

Trump, who has grappled with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the past six weeks, praised the federal assistance so far in Puerto Rico but said at a briefing that the disasters are straining the boundaries of the U.S. budget.

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico,” he said. “And that’s fine, we’ve saved a lot of lives.”

The trip offered Trump the chance to show solidarity with survivors, who are still struggling to get basic necessities, and demonstrate how his government intends to help them recover after they were hit by Maria, the worst hurricane in 90 years.

A few days earlier Trump had lashed out at Cruz on Twitter for “poor leadership” on the weekend after she criticized his government’s response. He cited “politically motivated ingrates” and said some people on the island “want everything to be done for them.”

Trump shook hands with Cruz after his arrival but he saved his warm words of praise for other local and federal authorities.

“Right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics,” he said of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Trump’s motorcade sped past trees stripped of their leaves, billboards stripped of their advertising, and the occasional home without a roof.

Not all were happy to see him.

“You are a bad hombre,” said hand-lettered sign in pink marker held by a woman along the route.

Trump and his wife, Melania, met survivors of the disaster in the nearby town Guaynabo, walking down a street and talking to several families whose homes were damaged. The sidewalks were piled with debris.

“You know who helped them? God helped them. Right?” Trump said. Later, he was to take a helicopter tour to look at the destruction. He is expected to fly over the USNS Comfort, the just-arrived hospital ship.

Before leaving Washington on Tuesday morning, Trump told reporters that roads were cleared and communication capabilities were coming back on the island. He said the mayor had “come back a long way” since her criticism.

Trump had criticism of his own about the local response.

“Their drivers have to start driving trucks,” he said at the White House. “So on a local level, they have to give us more help. But I will tell you, the first responders, the military, FEMA, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico.”

PROBLEMS PERSIST

The economy of the U.S. territory, home to 3.4 million people, already was in recession and its government filed for bankruptcy in May. The storm wiped out the island’s power grid, and less than half of residents have running water.

Two weeks after Maria, it is still difficult for residents to get a cell phone signal or find fuel for their generators or cars. About 88 percent of the cellphone sites are still out of service.

Valentine Navarro, 26, a salesman in San Juan, shrugged off Trump’s trip as a public relations exercise.

“I think he’s coming here because of pressure, as a photo-op, but I don’t think he’s going to help more than he has already done – and that’s not much,” Navarro said.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello said that as Trump flies over the island he would see “the magnitude of the devastation.” He said there were 320 functioning cash machines across the island and that waiting times for gasoline had dropped significantly.

Trump got high marks for his handling of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean.

Caught off guard by the severity of Hurricane Maria’s damage to Puerto Rico, Trump did not focus on the storm for days, instead launching a barrage of tweets over his view that National Football League players should be required to stand during the U.S. national anthem.

A previous Republican president, George W. Bush, faced widespread criticism for his administration’s initial handling of Hurricane Katrina, which killed some 1,800 people in and around New Orleans in 2005.

Images of Trump standing together with mayors, the governor and federal officials would go a long way toward showing Americans the White House is addressing the hurricane damage, said retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

Allen, who led the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, said the presidential visit will provide a chance to communicate that Americans care about the disaster on the isolated island territory.

Trump’s administration has transferred more than $20.5 million in federal funds to Puerto Rico to defray disaster expenses, FEMA said on its website.

The administration is preparing to ask Congress for $13 billion in aid for Puerto Rico and other areas hit by natural disasters, according to congressional sources said.

But that money will only go so far. The island’s recovery will likely cost more than $30 billion.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in WASHINGTON and Gabriel Stargardter in SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Catherine Evans and Bill Trott)

In U.S. presidential first, Trump prays at Jerusalem’s Western Wall

U.S. President Donald Trump places a note in the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City

By Luke Baker and Steve Holland

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump made a historic visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Monday, standing before the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray and saying a few words before inserting a note between the monumental stones.

He was accompanied by the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who said on Israel Radio that he recited two psalms with the U.S. leader. One of them, Psalm 122, speaks of Jerusalem as a “city that is united together”.

The ancient stones are in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. It considers all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital, a status that is not recognized internationally.

“(Trump) said that he understands the significance of the Western Wall for the Jewish people and that’s why he decided to visit here during his first trip to Israel. He is certain he will come here again, perhaps many times. He was very moved,” Rabinowitz said.

“He asked about the size of the Western Wall. We presented the maps, what was in the past, what’s happening now, the excavations, the finds.”

The president was joined on the visit by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew who went to the wall shortly after Trump and said prayers. Both he and Trump wore black kippahs, the skull caps worn by religious Jews and by others as a mark of respect.

After a few moments standing silently before the limestone edifice, his right hand resting on the blocks, Trump withdrew and smiled briefly. He did not walk backwards from the wall as religious Jews do as a sign of devotion.

It is the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited and prayed at the site. Barack Obama visited in 2008, but it was during the campaign, before he became president.

The Wall, the visible portion of which stands more than 60 feet (20 meters) high, was a retaining structure for the second Jewish temple, which stood on an esplanade in the Old City before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

The site is known to Jews as Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, and to Muslims as The Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, now stand.

Access to much of the walled Old City, which is divided into four ‘quarters’ — Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish — was shut down on Monday ahead of Trump’s visit. The area has been the scene of multiple stabbing attacks by Palestinians targeting Jews over the past couple of years.

As Trump and Kushner visited the area of the wall set aside for men, Melania Trump and Ivanka, Kushner’s wife, visited a separate nearby section where women are allowed to pray.

Like her husband, Melania held her right hand up against the towering stones and inserted a note among the cracks, something Jews often do as a means of submitting prayers.

Ivanka, who converted to Judaism on marrying her husband, was dressed demurely in black and wore her hair partially covered by a small hat. Video footage showed her crying as she prayed at the wall.

Trump’s visit to the site sparked some controversy during the planning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought to accompany Trump to the Western Wall. But the State Department said that would not be permitted as officially the Wall is in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied 50 years ago, and Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Greg Mahlich)