Americans divided: Neighbors turn enemies over Trump in swing-vote Michigan suburbs

By Tim Reid

LIVONIA, Mich. (Reuters) – At first glance, Cavell Street in Livonia, Michigan, looks tranquil enough – until the subject of the Democratic-led impeachment probe of President Donald Trump comes up.

A kind of suburban trench warfare is simmering amid the small detached houses and neatly trimmed lawns where diehard Trump lovers live next to Trump haters, and both sides are dug in.

Tensions run so high that nobody on the street displays a political yard sign, says Josh Robinson, 35, a steelworker who voted for Trump in 2016.

“I’m sick and tired of the Democrats bitching and moaning,” Robinson says, noting that the impeachment probe of Trump makes him want to fight harder for the president.

A few doors up, sitting on her front step, Kristine Flaton says she cannot stand Trump. “I wish he’d been impeached a long time ago,” said the 39-year-old, who is currently unemployed.

Michigan is a crucial presidential battleground. Trump carried the state by less than 11,000 votes in 2016, an unexpected victory, which along with wins in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, propelled his ascent to the White House.

The precinct that includes Cavell Street in the city of Livonia, a suburb northwest of Detroit, split its votes 358-358 for Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, according to the non-partisan data organization OpenElections.

Fast-forward three years, there is little sign that either side has changed its mind about Trump.

If anything, attitudes appear to have been hardened by the House of Representatives’ decision to launch a formal impeachment inquiry three weeks ago after a whistleblower complaint that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

In interviews with nearly 50 voters in Livonia and in two other swing suburbs in Michigan, where the vote was also evenly split between Trump and Clinton in 2016, Reuters found only one person who had flipped: Charles Pettyplace, 34, from Livonia, who voted for the Republican but now regrets it.

The impeachment investigation “just adds to the turmoil around him. It’s not what his office should be,” Pettyplace said.

Recent national polls indicate rising support in favor of the impeachment investigation, with the latest Oct. 7-8 Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showing that 45% of Americans wanted to impeach Trump, versus 39% who opposed it.

But the clean split over the issue in the Michigan suburbs suggests another close battle in the state in the November 2020 election.

Which side is more energized and turns out in greater force next year will decide the election, said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego who has studied the partisan divides in U.S. politics.

“This election will come down to turnout. In 2020, both parties are in a huge battle to mobilize the base and I think we’ll see the highest turnout in 100 years. The impeachment will feed into that and further that,” Jacobson said.

SPLIT AND ANGRY

About 100 miles (160 km) north of Livonia, in Saginaw Township, Michigan, two precincts were split 876-876 and 765-764 between Trump and Clinton in 2016.

Three years later, voters seemed just as split, and angry.

Trump supporter Ray Kirby, 48, a chef taking a stroll along quiet residential Ann Street, says he was shocked to receive a totally split response when he recently sent a Facebook post supportive of the president.

“I’ve never seen that before. People either love him or hate him.”

Rob Grose, the manager of Saginaw Township, says many people in his town “have agreed to stop talking politics because of their opposing views, because they get into arguments.”

Hank Choate, a district chair of Michigan’s Republican Party and a member of its issues committee, expects the impeachment issue to cause huge voter turnout on both sides.

On one level, it helps his party to turn out more Republican votes, because Trump’s supporters are so energized. Yet he also worries that the same goes for the Democrats.

But the longer the inquiry goes on, the more alienated independent voters will become, predicts Choate, 69.

Politically independent Americans are nearly evenly split over what Congress should do about Trump, even as a majority of them disapprove of the president in general, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.

But Geoff Garin, a veteran Democratic pollster, said even the voters who do not necessarily support impeachment agree that Trump is a figure of chaos. He also believes that Trump’s support among Republicans is not as intense as Democratic voters’ support appears to be for his eventual opponent.

“There are a lot of people ambivalent about impeachment but nonetheless are disapproving of his conduct, which I expect is what will really matter electorally,” Garin said.

Sipping coffee at a cafe in Saginaw Township, Carlee Giordano, 23, says she is afraid of discussing her political views in such a charged environment.

“People are either diehard blue or diehard red and it’s starting to bleed into everything else,” said Giordano, who wrote her college thesis on “Toxic Masculinity” and wants to see Trump impeached. “Your political views are becoming a personality trait.”

(Reporting by Tim Reid; Additional reporting by Chris Khan in New York; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney)

Netanyahu tries to avert indictment as he fights for political life

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his final attempt to fend off a corruption indictment on Wednesday when his lawyers argued against looming charges that have combined with election stalemate to threaten his long hold on power.

The pre-trial hearings, scheduled to be held over four days, will allow him to make his case against indictment to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit in three graft investigations.

A final decision by the attorney-general on whether to file charges is expected by the end of 2019.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, faces no legal requirement to leave government if indicted, as long as he remains prime minister.

But his aura of political invincibility has been clouded by his failure to win a clear victory in parliamentary elections in April and last month, after a decade in office as head of the right-wing Likud party.

“Today, we will present all the evidence that everyone knows and some new evidence,” Amit Hadad, one of Netanyahu’s attorneys, told reporters outside Mandelblit’s office. “We believe that all three cases will be dropped after the hearings.”

Mandelblit announced in February that he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach and trust. Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a political witch-hunt spearheaded by left-wing opponents and journalists.

The investigations, dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, have revolved around gifts of champagne and cigars that Netanyahu has acknowledged receiving from millionaire friends, purported attempts to influence media coverage and the alleged dispensing of regulatory favors.

Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a political witch-hunt spearheaded by left-wing opponents and journalists.

He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go through a pre-indictment hearing process.

Ehud Olmert, facing corruption allegations, quit as Israel’s leader in 2008 before such sessions could be held or any indictment filed. He was eventually charged and convicted of accepting bribes and served 16 months in jail before his release in 2017.

On Tuesday, talks to form a national unity government hit a further snag after Netanyahu’s centrist election rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, called off a meeting with him scheduled for Wednesday.

With neither leader appearing able to put together a coalition with a ruling majority on his own, Israel’s president last week gave Netanyahu 28 days to try to form the next government in the hope of securing a power-sharing deal.

Gantz, however, has pledged not to serve in a government under a premier facing criminal charges.

(Editing by William Maclean)

Republicans see impeachment backfiring. Democrats fear they may be right

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Gabriella Borter, Brendan O’Brien, Andrew Hay and Zachary Fagenson

(Reuters) – Having his morning coffee and cigarette outside a Starbucks in one of the most politically contested counties in the United States, Richard Sibilla recoils at the memory of President Donald Trump’s election.

But impeach him now? Sibilla can see little upside.

“After this he has a much better chance of winning another election, as scary as that sounds,” said Sibilla, 39, a resident of Pinellas County, Florida, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “It’s not even worth following because it’s all going to help him.”

Alarmed by a whistleblower’s revelations that Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives this week launched a formal impeachment inquiry into the Republican president.

Among the public, interviews with more than 60 voters across four of the most important counties in the 2020 election showed Republicans largely confident the impeachment process will backfire and Trump will win re-election. Democrats, on the other hand, are worried they may be right.

Marc Devlin, a 48-year-old consultant from Northampton County, Pennsylvania, said he expects the inquiry to “incense” supporters of the president. “This is my fear, that it will actually add some flame to his fire with his base,” he said. “I just fear ‘party over country.'”

Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Reuters is monitoring voters in four areas that could determine the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential contest: Pinellas County, Florida; Maricopa County, Arizona; Northampton County, Pennsylvania; and Racine County, Wisconsin.

Given the sharply divided electorate and the rules in America’s state-by-state races that determine the winner in the Electoral College, those four states will be among the most targeted by presidential candidates next year.

Public opinion has time to shift before voters cast their ballots next November. But for now, the prospect of impeachment has done little to sway opinions, largely formed along party lines, according to the interviews and polling.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Monday and Tuesday showed 37% of respondents favored impeaching the president versus 45% who were opposed. That 37% figure was down from 41% three weeks earlier and down from 44% in May, after the release of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“I don’t think he did anything wrong,” said Joe D’Ambrosio, 78, who runs a barbershop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and cheers Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

Lee Snover, chair of the Northampton County Republican Committee, said she felt the impeachment inquiry was the latest instance of the Democrats using unfair tactics to try to take Trump down. It showed she said, how disconnected Washington’s politicians are from the country.

“I have not had one Republican crack or say they’re turning or going the other way. They’re laughing it off. I think it’s going to help him,” said Snover, 50.

That sentiment was shared at a meeting of College Republicans United at Arizona State University on Wednesday.

“They have this idea that everyone is siding with them, that Trump is an impeachable president, when really it’s only a minority,” Rose Mulet, 19, said of the Democratic leadership in Congress. “It’s not a reflection of the general public.”

Moreover, odds of impeachment succeeding are long. None of America’s 45 presidents have even been removed that way. Though the Democrats control the House of Representatives, where they need a simple majority of votes, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, would have to vote with a two-thirds majority to remove the president from office.

That reality has only frustrated Democrats angered by what they see as a string of offenses by Trump, from bragging about grabbing women by the genitals to Mueller’s conclusion that Trump interfered with his probe.

“I am enraged,” said Barbara Lebak, a 66-year-old librarian who was working her way through a crossword puzzle from a bench in Racine County, Wisconsin.

Like Lebak, fellow Racine County resident David Ferrell, 56, said he saw multiple reasons to impeach Trump, including what he called the president’s hardline policies on immigration and inflammation of race relations.

“What has taken so long? It should have been done long ago,” said Ferrell. “I’m voting for a Democrat, no matter who it is.”

While polls and interviews suggest most voters are solidly entrenched, some, like Chris Harman, have been swayed.

Harman, 52, who works in sales and marketing in Maricopa County, said he voted for Trump in 2016 but will not in 2020. He said the president had already committed impeachable offenses even before the Ukraine scandal erupted.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” Harman said as he left a baseball game in Phoenix. “I’m not voting for Trump. I tried it, it was a grand experiment, but I’m not going to try it again.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagensen in Florida, Gabriella Borter in Pennsylvania, Andrew Hay in Arizona, and Brendan O’Brien in Wisconin; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

Explainer: “Only Bibi” no more – Israel’s Netanyahu seeks power-sharing deal

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – After failing to secure a clear election victory twice in six months, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister now seems to be calculating that he can stay in power only by sharing it.

Following a deadlocked parliamentary election last week, a weakened Netanyahu reissued an offer on Monday to his centrist rival Benny Gantz for a unity government, saying that neither had enough support from respective allies for a majority of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament.

There was no sign Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party, would agree to a coalition with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud. Gantz cited looming corruption charges against Netanyahu in saying no last week.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who will pick a candidate to try to build a coalition, has called for a unity government – but does not have the legal power to compel Gantz or Netanyahu to form one together.

Wrapping up two days of consultations with leaders of all parties that won parliamentary seats in the Sept 17 ballot, Rivlin summoned Netanyahu and Gantz to a closed-door meeting later on Monday, apparently to urge them to join forces.

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

On paper, Netanyahu now has a slim lead over Gantz in building a parliamentary bloc, with pledges of support from 55 members of a right-wing grouping to 54 for Gantz from left-wing and Arab parties. But it also means that neither has secured a governing majority of at least 61 legislators.

Netanyahu’s slight edge might move Rivlin to ask him to try to build a narrow coalition if a unity government proves impossible. A nominee gets 28 days to do so, with a possible 14-day extension, before Rivlin can turn to someone else.

Gantz had appeared to have 57 backers but three of the Arab Joint List’s 13 members on Monday withdrew support they had pledged to him a day earlier.

Likud won 31 seats to Blue and White’s 33, near-complete results show.

Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right Yisrael Beitenu party won eight seats, would remain the kingmaker if unity efforts fail. In his meeting with Rivlin, he refused to commit to either Netanyahu or Gantz, citing his own policy differences with Likud’s Jewish ultra-Orthodox allies and Blue and White’s Arab backers.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES FOR A UNITY GOVERNMENT?

It’s complicated, even though there are only narrow policy differences between Netanyahu and Gantz on many important issues, such as relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran and the Palestinian conflict.

Both men appear to be more deeply divided on the composition of a unity government.

Gantz has called for a “liberal” administration, political shorthand for one that does not include Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners. After the election, Netanyahu swiftly signed a new alliance with them.

And then there’s the question of who would get the top job: Netanyahu, Gantz, or both men – in rotation?

Left-winger Shimon Peres and right-winger Yitzhak Shamir set a historic example when they took turns as prime minister in a unity government from 1984 to 1988.

This time around, if a “rotating” power-sharing agreement is reached, it could be imperative for Netanyahu to serve as prime minister first.

Next month, Israel’s attorney-general will hold a pre-trial hearing at which Netanyahu can argue against his announced intention to indict the Israeli leader on fraud and bribery charges in three corruption cases.

As prime minister, Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing in the long-running investigations, would be under no legal obligation to resign if formal charges are filed. But any other cabinet post he might hold would not offer him that protection.

Netanyahu’s supporters in the legislature have also pledged to seek parliamentary immunity for him against prosecution. Any unity deal with Gantz would likely have to address that issue.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

‘King Bibi’ fights for his political life in Israeli election

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Twenty years after Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as Israel’s prime minister ended, the man hailed by supporters as “King Bibi” is again fighting for his political survival in a rerun election.

Opinion polls predict a close race when Israel goes to the polls on Tuesday, five months after an inconclusive election in which Netanyahu declared himself the winner but failed to put together a coalition government.

“A Likud victory is possible but it’s hanging by a thread,” said Abraham Diskin, political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, referring to Netanyahu’s right-wing party.

An end to the Netanyahu era after his 10 successive years in power would be unlikely to lead to a dramatic change in Israel’s policy on hotly disputed issues in a peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.

Relations with the United States would be likely to remain on track, despite Netanyahu’s close relationship with President Donald Trump.

Likud is running neck-and-neck with the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, who has focused heavily on looming corruption charges Netanyahu faces.

But Netanyahu’s political fate could ultimately end up in the hands of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu headed by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a potential kingmaker in the coalition-building certain to follow the vote.

After the election in April, Lieberman blocked Netanyahu’s attempts to form a coalition, citing differences with the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies. Opinion polls indicate Yisrael Beitenu will emerge stronger in the new ballot.

ANNEXATION

Netanyahu has campaigned hard to avoid losing power, as he did in 1999 against then-Labour party leader Ehud Barak, appearing in hours of live video question-and-answer sessions on Facebook in recent weeks and dominating the news in Israel.

In a step this week that alarmed Palestinian and other Arab leaders but delighted his core right-wing constituency, Netanyahu announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank.

It was, Israeli political commentators said, a clear attempt to draw votes away from far-right parties.

Netanyahu hammered home a get-out-the-vote message: Applying Israeli sovereignty to the valley, which Palestinians want as part of a future state, will happen only if Likud emerges from the election as the biggest party in the Knesset (parliament).

In Israel, votes are cast for a party’s list of Knesset candidates. Since no party has ever won a majority of seats on its own, Israel has always been ruled by coalitions, making post-election political bargaining key to determining the ultimate winner.

Netanyahu has burnished a statesman’s image during the campaign, visiting Britain last week for talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and meeting President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Thursday.

Netanyahu has also showcased his relationship with Trump, featuring posters in which both are shaking hands. But there has been no sign from Trump of a “grand gesture” that could bolster Netanyahu as a candidate.

Shortly before the last election, with the prime minister at his side, Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel captured the strategic area in a 1967 war and annexed it in 1981, moves not accepted by most world powers, who deem it to be occupied Syrian territory.

“NATIONAL UNITY”

The line-up of challengers this time is similar to the one Netanyahu faced in the previous election, with Blue and White his biggest threat.

Blue and White has said it would “strengthen the settlement blocs” in the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley as Israel’s “eastern security border”. But that falls short of an outright commitment to annex the valley, and a party spokesman said a Blue and White-led government would “maintain an open channel” for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Most of the international community regards the Israeli settlements as illegal, a view that Israel disputes.

The spokesman said the party would seek “the return of bipartisanship to Israel-U.S. relations”, a reference to Netanyahu’s close ties with Trump and his Republican party and sharp differences with the Democrats over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and Middle East peacemaking.

After an election in Israel, its president gauges, following consultations with all political parties that won parliamentary seats, which legislator stands the best chance of forming a government.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz hope to be tapped, but a photo finish would complicate the picture.

A “national unity” government could avoid or resolve a stalemate if a Likud-led right-wing coalition or a Blue and White-led center-left alliance prove impossible.

Gantz has said his party would not join a government with Netanyahu in it, citing the prime minister’s legal troubles.

If a partnership with Gantz is the only way to stay out of the backbenches, prominent Likud members could try to topple Netanyahu as party leader, some political analysts have said.

Blue and White tied with Likud on 35 seats in the April election, and Gantz is seen by some voters as “Mr Clean”.

“His low-key style and relative ineloquence are for many a modest man’s refreshing antitheses to Bibi’s perceived bluster and soloism. Gantz is seen as balanced, cautious and pragmatic,” said Amotz Asa-El, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute.

Two weeks after the election, Israel’s attorney-general will hold a pre-trial hearing in which Netanyahu can argue against his announced intention to file fraud and bribery charges against him in the corruption investigations.

Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has said he will not quit as prime minister if indicted, and there is no legal obligation to do so. Allies have said they will press parliament to grant Netanyahu, as a member of the body, immunity from prosecution.

After election night, it could all come down to Yisrael Beitenu’s Lieberman, at odds with Netanyahu’s traditional ultra-Orthodox partners over military conscription exemptions for Jewish seminary students.

Lieberman, whose party is projected to double its April Knesset seat tally to 10, has said Yisrael Beitenu will not join up with a Netanyahu administration after Tuesday’s vote if it includes the religious factions.

Netanyahu’s annexation plans: https://graphics.reuters.com/ISRAEL-ELECTION/0100B2981B3/ISRAEL-ELECTION.jpg

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Trump visits mass shooting victims; protesters shout ‘Do something!’

U.S. President Donald Trump deplanes with first lady Melania Trump arriving aboard Air Force One at El Paso International Airport for a visit with victims and first responders in the wake of last weekend's mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Jeff Mason

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump met victims and first responders from last weekend’s deadly shootings in Texas and Ohio on Wednesday, as chanting protesters accused him of inflaming tensions with anti-immigrant and racially charged rhetoric.

Trump visited hospitals where victims were treated in El Paso, Texas, on the border with Mexico, and in Dayton, Ohio, after massacres 13 hours apart that shocked the country and reopened a national debate on gun safety.

In both cities, crowds of protesters gathered to confront Trump and condemn his visit. Some held signs reading “Trump is racist,” “Love over hate” and “Send him back!”

Chanting crowds in Dayton urged Trump: “Do something!”

The president and first lady Melania Trump avoided the press on both hospital visits and stayed out of public view.

They visited survivors in their hospital rooms at the University Medical Center in El Paso and Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, and thanked the medical staff and first responders, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

“It was a warm and wonderful visit,” Trump said on Twitter after leaving Dayton. “Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love.”

A pro-Trump demonstrator holds a placard outside the University Medical Center, where U.S. President Donald Trump holds a meeting with first responders in the wake of last weekend's mass shootings at a Walmart store, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A pro-Trump demonstrator holds a placard outside the University Medical Center, where U.S. President Donald Trump holds a meeting with first responders in the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings at a Walmart store, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Trump also visited law enforcement personnel at an emergency operations center in El Paso to thank them for their response on Saturday, when a man killed 22 people at a Walmart store, apparently after posting an anti-immigrant manifesto online.

In Dayton, nine people and the suspect were killed in a rampage early on Sunday.

“The job you have done is incredible,” Trump told gathered officers and staff. “I wanted to come and thank you.”

Before leaving Washington, Trump said that in the wake of the shootings he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for Democratic efforts to ban assault rifles.

“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will certainly bring that up … There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks.”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, both Democrats, accompanied Trump in Dayton and told reporters they urged him to call on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back from its summer recess to work on a House-passed bill that expands background checks on gun buyers.

Brown said he asked Trump to promise he would sign that bill. “He only said that we will get things done,” Brown said, adding the president had been “comforting” to the victims.

Whaley said she agreed with Trump’s decision not to visit the district where the shooting occurred given the high emotions in the community.

‘NOT INTERESTED’

“A lot of people that own businesses in that district are not interested in the president being there,” she said. “A lot of the time his talk can be very divisive and that’s the last thing we need in Dayton.”

Trump later criticized the two Democrats for their comments, saying on Twitter the news conference they held was “a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place.”

Trump told reporters at the El Paso operations center the two Democrats “should not be politicking today.”

Democrats say Trump’s anti-immigrant, racially charged language at rallies and on Twitter has fanned racist, white nationalist sentiments, creating a political climate that is conducive to hate-based violence.

The massacre in the predominantly Hispanic city of El Paso is being investigated as a hate crime and act of domestic terrorism, authorities said. The FBI said the Dayton shooter also explored violent ideologies.

An open letter to Trump on Wednesday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having “a deep tradition of racial harmony” whose people came together after the tragedy. It admonished Trump for calling El Paso one of the country’s most dangerous cities in his February State of the Union address.

“He’s going to make war between us. Racism is starting to pop up more and more. Mexican people are fed up. He’s going to create chaos around here,” said Fernando Montoya, 45, who joined the protesters at a park in El Paso.

On Monday, Trump gave a speech focusing on mental health reforms, tighter internet regulation and wider use of the death penalty. Democrats accused Trump of hiding behind talk of mental illness and the influence of social media rather than committing to laws to restrict gun ownership.

In Iowa, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden said Trump had “fanned the flames” of white supremacy.

“We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division,” the former vice president said.

Former Texas congressman and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, another 2020 presidential contender, said Trump “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible” and thus “has no place here.”

Asked on MSNBC on Wednesday if Trump is a white supremacist, O’Rourke said: “He is. He’s also made that very clear.”

U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes El Paso, declined a White House invitation to join Trump in the city and said that the president “is not welcome here.”

“Members of our community, Hispanics and Mexicans and immigrants, have been dehumanized. That’s the bottom line: we’ve been dehumanized by the president and by his words,” she told the protest rally in El Paso.

Not everyone agreed that Trump should stay away.

“This is not a political visit,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told reporters. “He is president of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community.”

(Additional reporting by Nandita Bose, Rich McKay, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Barbara Goldberg in New York, Daniel Trotta in El Paso; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller, Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall)

Bush funeral to hark back to ‘kinder, gentler’ era in U.S. politics

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard from the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President George H.W. Bush’s full life and decades of public service will be celebrated on Wednesday at a funeral expected to be a remembrance of an era that many Americans recall as a time of less contentious politics.

An unusual bipartisan spirit will be on display at the service at the Washington National Cathedral, starting at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT), with both Republican and Democratic politicians gathering to hail the life of a president who called for a “kinder, gentler” nation.

Bush, the 41st U.S. president, died last week aged 94.

Visitors gather before a State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

Visitors gather before a State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

“You’ll see a lot of joy,” said Ron Kaufman, who was George H.W. Bush’s White House political director in his unsuccessful re-election campaign in 1992. “It’ll show the way of life that people took for granted in many ways and now kind of long for.”

Political feuds will be set aside in honor of the late president, a World War Two naval aviator who was shot down over the Pacific Ocean, a former head of the CIA and a commander-in-chief who defeated Iraqi forces in the 1991 Gulf War.

President Donald Trump will attend the service, along with his wife Melania Trump, but will not be a speaker.

Trump infuriated the late Bush in the past by attacking his sons, former President George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s rivals in the 2016 Republican campaign.

“Looking forward to being with the Bush family. This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

The Trumps spent about 20 minutes visiting with the Bush family on Tuesday. A senior White House official said Trump has privately called the late president “a good man and a nice guy” and that he has been pleased with the coordination with the Bush family this week.

Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, told the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council on Tuesday: “The president and first lady have been really gracious.”

Bush has been remembered as a patrician figure who represented a bygone era of civility in American politics, although he came across as out of touch with ordinary Americans as economic troubles bit hard in the early 1990s.

Former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush, Neil Bush, Sharon Bush, Bobby Koch, Doro Koch, Jeb Bush and Columba Bush, stand just prior to the flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush being carried by a joint services military honor guard from the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

Former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush, Neil Bush, Sharon Bush, Bobby Koch, Doro Koch, Jeb Bush and Columba Bush, stand just prior to the flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush being carried by a joint services military honor guard from the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

EX-PRESIDENTS

All surviving former U.S. presidents will be at the cathedral along with their wives: Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992, but in the years after leaving office developed a strong friendship with him.

George W. Bush will deliver a eulogy, along with former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, retired Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson and presidential biographer and former journalist Jon Meacham.

Attendees will include Britain’s Prince Charles and leaders of Germany, Jordan, Australia and Poland, along with a host of former world leaders, such as former British Prime Minister John Major, who was in office during Bush’s term.

Marlin Fitzwater, who was the late president’s White House press secretary, said the ceremony “will show a quality of gentility and kindness that he was noted for.”

Of Trump’s presence, Fitzwater said: “It’s important for our presidents to pay respect to each other and I’m glad President Trump will be there.”

Bush navigated the United States through the end of the Cold War and was president when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

He was dogged by domestic problems, including a sluggish

economy, and faced criticism for not doing enough to stem the tens of thousands of deaths from the AIDS virus ravaging America.

When he ran for re-election in 1992, he was pilloried by Democrats and many Republicans for violating his famous 1988 campaign promise: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Democrat Bill Clinton coasted to victory.

Bush’s casket will be transported to the cathedral from the Capitol Rotunda, where the late president has lain in state since Monday night. Thousands of people have filed past to pay their respects, some getting a chance to see Sully, a service dog that was Bush’s friendly companion.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Steve Holland and Alistair Bell; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Frances Kerry)

Turkey’s Erdogan sworn in with new presidential powers

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

By Ece Toksabay and Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) – Tayyip Erdogan was sworn in again as Turkey’s president on Monday, assuming sweeping powers he won in a referendum last year and sealed in a hard-fought re-election victory two weeks ago.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years, says the powerful new executive presidency is vital to drive economic growth, ensure security after a failed 2016 military coup and safeguard the country from conflict in Syria and Iraq.

“As president, I swear upon my honor and integrity, before the great Turkish nation and history, to work with all my power to protect and exalt the glory and honor of the Republic of Turkey,” Erdogan told parliament as he took the oath of office.

The introduction of the new presidential system marks the biggest overhaul of governance since the Turkish republic was established on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago.

The post of prime minister has been scrapped and the president will now be able to select his own cabinet, regulate ministries and remove civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.

Erdogan’s supporters see the changes as a just reward for a leader who has put Islamic values at the core of public life, championed the pious working classes and overseen years of strong economic growth.

Opponents say the move marks a lurch to authoritarianism, accusing Erdogan of eroding the secular institutions set up by modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and driving it further from Western values of democracy and free speech.

NEW CABINET TO BE NAMED

Erdogan is expected to name a streamlined cabinet of 16 ministers on Monday evening after a ceremony at the presidential palace for more than 7,000 guests, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

No major Western leader was included on a list of 50 presidents, prime ministers and other high-ranking guests published by state news agency Anadolu.

Investors were waiting to see whether cabinet appointees would include individuals seen as market-friendly, and particularly whether Mehmet Simsek, currently deputy prime minister, would continue to oversee the economy.

“For the cabinet appointments in the past several years, the most important issue has been the presence of the current deputy prime minister, Mehmet Simsek,” said Inan Demir, a senior economist at Nomura International.

The lira TRYTOM, which is down some 16 percent so far this year and has been battered by concern about Erdogan’s drive for lower interest rates, firmed to its highest level since mid-June before falling back to stand at 4.61 against the dollar at 1350 GMT.

Erdogan has described high interest rates as “the mother and father of all evil”, and said in May he would expect to wield greater economic control after the election.

“We will take our country much further by solving structural problems of our economy,” he said on Saturday, referring to high interest rates, inflation and the current account deficit.

Inflation surged last month above 15 percent, its highest level in more than a decade, despite interest rate hikes of 500 basis points by the central bank since April.

(Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

Kremlin: U.S. report accusing Russia of election meddling harms relations

A view through a construction fence shows the Kremlin towers and St. Basil's Cathedral on a hot summer day in central Moscow, Russia, July 1, 2016.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday described a report published by Democratic U.S. lawmakers accusing Russia of election meddling as damaging for bilateral relations, as well as for the United States itself.

Democratic U.S. lawmakers accused Russia on Wednesday of a “relentless assault” on democratic institutions worldwide, and called on President Donald Trump to treat election interference as a national crisis.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report detailing what they described as nearly two decades of Russian efforts to tilt politics across Europe, criticizing Trump for doing too little to address the issue.

The report was commissioned by Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, who said on Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin would “push as far as he’s allowed to push, if we don’t push back.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who has repeatedly denied accusations by U.S. intelligence officials and others that Moscow interferes in any foreign elections, told a conference call with reporters Russia rejected any accusations of meddling and was dismayed to see such allegations still being made.

“With regards to this (anti-Russian) campaign, all we can do is express our regret and repeat that these accusations remain unfounded,” said Peskov.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Justice Dept. launches new Clinton Foundation probe: The Hill

: A Clinton Foundation souvenir is seen for sale at the Clinton Museum Store in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 27, 2015.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has begun an investigation into whether the Clinton Foundation conducted “pay-to-play” politics or other illegal activities during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, The Hill reported on Thursday, citing law enforcement officials and a witness.

The newspaper said FBI agents from Little Rock, Arkansas, where the foundation began, had taken the lead in the investigation and interviewed at least one witness in the past month. Law enforcement officials told The Hill that additional activities were expected in coming weeks.

In response to a request for confirmation, a Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency did not comment on ongoing investigations.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment by officials at the Clinton Foundation. The organization previously said there was never any trade in policy decisions for contributions.

Democrats have accused Republicans of launching a spurious investigation of Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, to divert attention from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

The Hill reported that the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the probe was examining whether the Clintons promised or performed any policy favors in return for contributions to their charitable efforts or whether donors promised to make donations in hopes of government outcomes.

The probe may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use and whether the foundation complied with tax laws, the newspaper cited the officials as saying.

A witness recently interviewed by the FBI told The Hill the agents’ questions focused on government decisions and discussions of donations to Clinton entities during the time Hillary Clinton led President Barack Obama’s State Department.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Justice Department prosecutors to decide if a special counsel should be appointed to investigate certain Republican concerns, including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the sale of a uranium company to Russia, according to media reports in November.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Peter Cooney)