Daily Archives: Feb 17, 2020

    CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — With the Nevada caucuses less than a week away, Democratic presidential candidates campaigning were fixated on a rival who wasn’t contesting the state.

    Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg all went after billionaire Mike Bloomberg and made clear they were eager to take him on in a debate.

    “He thinks he can buy this election,” Sanders told a Carson City rally Sunday. “Well, I’ve got news for Mr. Bloomberg — the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections!”

    Bloomberg hit back Monday with a video mashup posted to Twitter of aggressive and threatening comments made by people who appear to be Sanders supporters, juxtaposed with Sanders calling for “civil discourse.”

    “We need to unite to defeat Trump in November,” the former New York mayor tweeted. “This type of ‘energy’ is not going to get us there.”

    Their attacks are a sign of how seriously the field is starting to take Bloomberg as he gains in the race and is on the cusp of qualifying for Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas. Bloomberg has bypassed the traditional early voting states including Nevada, focusing instead on the 14 states that vote in the Super Tuesday primary on March 3. He has spent more than $417 million of his own multibillion-dollar fortune on advertising nationwide, an unprecedented sum for any candidate in a primary.

    The focus on Bloomberg comes with many establishment-aligned Democrats anxious about the early strength of Sanders, who won last week’s New Hampshire primary and essentially tied for first place in Iowa with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Sanders is hoping to notch a victory in Nevada on Saturday as moderates struggle to unite behind a candidate who could serve as a counter to the Vermont senator, who has long identified as a democratic socialist.

    The hundreds of millions of dollars that Bloomberg has pumped into the Super Tuesday states has only heightened the sense of uncertainty surrounding the Democratic race.

    At Sanders’ rally, the crowded cheered as the Vermont senator joked that Bloomberg is “struggling, he’s down to his last $60 billion” and derided him for skipping the early primary states.

    It marked an escalation of the salvo Sanders launched Saturday against the former mayor, when he ticked off conservative positions Bloomberg has taken in the past, including opposing a minimum wage hike and a number of Barack Obama’s policies while president. On Saturday, Sanders suggested the former mayor’s past conservatism and controversial comments make him a weak candidate against President Donald Trump, charging that Bloomberg, “with all his money, will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need” to beat Trump.

    And on Sunday, he was joined by the current mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, who endorsed Sanders days ago. De Blasio introduced Sanders with an attack of his own on his predecessor, telling the crowd, “I’m sorry to report to you the chief proponent of stop and frisk is now running for president.”

    Klobuchar, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” accused Bloomberg of avoiding scrutiny by blanketing the airwaves and sidestepping debates or tough televised interviews.

    “I think he cannot hide behind the airwaves and the money,” she said. “I think he has to come on the shows. And I personally think he should be on the debate stage.”

    Klobuchar said she’s raised $12 million since her better-than-expected finish in third place in New Hampshire. She’s maintained her campaign through a series of strong debate performances and argued that Bloomberg being on stage with his rivals would level the playing field.

    “I’m never going to beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage,” she said

    Biden, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” suggested that Bloomberg will face increased scrutiny as the race continues, pointing to his record on issues relating to race. He said: “$60 billion can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can’t erase your record.”

    Biden knocked Bloomberg’s past support of stop-and-frisk policing policies and his comments suggesting that cracking down on racist mortgage lending practices, known as “redlining,” contributed to the financial crisis. Biden also criticized him for failing to endorse Obama for president in 2008. Bloomberg has released ads that tie him closely to Obama on issues like gun control and climate change.

    When asked on MSNBC whether Bloomberg shares the values of the Democratic Party, Warren also went after the former mayor over his comments on redlining, declaring that “anyone who is out there trying to blame African Americans for the financial crash of 2008 … is not someone who should be representing our party.”

    Even as the front-running candidates kept one eye on their Super Tuesday showdown with Bloomberg, they focused on the more immediate task of winning over minority voters, who are expected to be pivotal in Nevada and South Carolina.

    Biden reminded older parishioners at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Las Vegas of 1960s television footage of black protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, being attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses on the orders of city official Bull Connor.

    Biden said today’s racists are not “Bull Connors, not out in overalls. They’re wearing fine suits, and they’re living in the White House.”

    The former vice president is relying on his strength among black voters and an explicit appeal to Latinos and other minorities to deliver him a strong showing in the coming contests after posting disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, which both feature electorates that are whiter on average than the national population.

    Biden has been hammering home the need for any Democratic candidate to appeal to voters of color. On Sunday, he told black lawmakers and other political figures at the Nevada Black Legislative Caucus’s Black History Month observance that “the black community has in its power to determine who the next president of the United States is going to be.”

    ___

    Jaffe reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jonathan Cooper and Bill Barrow in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

     

      More than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign, according to the group Protect Democracy.

      “Political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law,” according to the group, which has been critical of the administration in the past.

      The nonpartisan, nonprofit group said that the attorney general has “flouted” that fundamental principal.

      The former DOJ officials said it is “outrageous” the way Barr interfered in the Roger Stone case.

      “Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the Department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the President, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case,” they wrote

      The group claims that Barr has done the president’s bidding and that those actions have caused damage to the Department of Justice. The letter was signed by officials appointed from both Democrat and Republican administrations, according to Protect Democracy.

      The officials commended the actions of the four line prosecutors who resigned from the Stone case and called on more to resign.

      “We call on every DOJ employee to follow their heroic example and be prepared to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation.”

      The number of former DOJ officials who signed the statement nearly doubled since Monday morning.On Monday, Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush and former U.S. Attorney, said Barr needed to resign in an op/ed in the Atlantic. Barr was attorney general under Bush, but Ayer did not serve with him.

      “All of this conduct — including Barr’s personal interventions to influence or negate independent investigations or the pursuit of criminal cases, and his use of the department’s resources to frustrate the checks and balances provided by other branches — is incompatible with the rule of law as we know it, and especially as it has functioned since Levi’s Watergate reforms,” Ayer wrote, referring to Edward Levi, who was the attorney general appointed after President Richard Nixon resigned. He was tasked with restoring credibility to the department.

      The Department of Justice has not returned ABC News’ request for comment.

      The calls for resignation come as Barr spoke out for the first time to ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.

      The attorney general said that President Donald Trump has never asked him to interfere in a criminal case. Barr said that Trump’s tweets, however, “make it impossible for me to do my job.”

      “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr told ABC News.

      “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr said. “I’m gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

      A senior adviser to the president told ABC News that while Trump is not happy with Barr’s interview with Thomas, his confidence in the attorney general remains steadfast.

       

        TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif./GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 300 American cruise liner passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, were flown home to military bases in the United States after two weeks under quarantine off Japan

        The cruise ship Diamond Princess, which with more than 400 cases has by far the largest cluster outside China, has become the biggest test so far of other countries’ ability to contain an outbreak that has killed 1,772 people in China and five elsewhere.

        A ground crew in anti-contamination suits met the chartered jet that touched down at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, and passengers could be seen climbing down the stairs wearing face masks in the pre-dawn mist. Another flight landed at Travis Air Force Base in California hours earlier.

        All the passengers were taken into a two-week quarantine.

        Although U.S. officials had said passengers with coronavirus symptoms would not be repatriated, 14 passengers found at the last minute to have tested positive were permitted to board the planes. The U.S. State Department said the infected passengers were exposed to other passengers for about 40 minutes before they were isolated.

        Across mainland China, the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 2,051 to 70,635, according to the World Health Organization. That was slightly more new cases than were reported on Sunday, but hundreds fewer than reported on Saturday.

        Chinese authorities say the decrease is a sign that measures taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.

        However, epidemiologists say it is probably still too early to say how well the outbreak is being contained within China and its central Hubei province, where the virus first appeared. Official figures of new cases have leveled off in the past, only to jump suddenly after changes in methodology.

        “The real issue is whether we are seeing efficient community transmission outside of China and at the present time we are not observing that,” Mike Ryan, head of World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said at a news conference in Geneva.

        Fewer than 700 cases have been reported in other countries and even within China the epidemic is affecting “a very tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of people,” Ryan said.

        China has responded to the COVID-19 virus by locking down Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people, and imposing restrictions in a number of other cities.

        But the ruling Communist Party is under pressure to prevent the economy from crashing and to get people back to work.

        China’s central bank cut the interest rate on its medium-term lending on Monday, which is expected to pave the way for a reduction in the benchmark loan prime rate on Thursday. Beijing has also announced plans for cuts in taxes and fees.

        Even so, economists expect China’s economic growth to slow. Ratings agency Moody’s on Monday lowered its 2020 GDP growth forecast to 5.2%, making it likely China would miss a goal to double GDP over the decade to 2020.

        CRUISE SHIPS

        Around half of all known cases of the virus outside China have been found aboard the Diamond Princess, which was ordered to stay under quarantine at the port of Yokohama on Feb. 3.

        Several other countries have announced plans to follow the United States in bringing passengers home. Around half of the 3,700 passengers and crew are Japanese.

        Matthew Smith, an American passenger who remained on the ship after refusing to board the voluntary repatriation flights, tweeted that staying behind was the “best decision ever”.

        “US Gov’t said they would not put anyone on the planes who was symptomatic, and they ended up knowingly and intentionally putting on 14 people who actually have the virus,” he wrote.

        Authorities around the world were also trying to track down passengers from another cruise liner, the Westerdam, which was turned away from ports across Southeast Asia for two weeks before docking in Cambodia on Thursday.

        One American passenger who disembarked in Cambodia tested positive for the virus in Malaysia on Saturday.

        Carnival Corp, which operates both cruise liners, said it was cooperating with authorities in trying to trace other passengers from the Westerdam. None of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew had reported any symptoms, it said.

        Hundreds of passengers are still in Cambodia, either on the ship or in hotels.

        Holly Rauen, a passenger from Fort Myers, Florida, said she and others will be tested by Cambodian authorities. “We have no idea when we get to get home,” she said.

        CHINA BACK TO WORK?

        After an extended Lunar New Year holiday, China needs to get back to work or will suffer severe economic consequences. There is a proposal to delay the opening of the annual session of parliament, due on Feb. 24.

        Some cities remain in lockdown, streets are deserted, employees are nervous, and travel bans and quarantine orders are in place around the country. Many factories have yet to re-open, disrupting supply chains in China and beyond.

        In Japan, where data showed on Monday that the economy had already shrunk last quarter at the fastest pace in almost six years, the impact of the virus is expected to show up in the current quarter, stoking fears of recession.

        Trade-dependent Singapore downgraded its 2020 economic growth forecast and has said recession is possible. It is set to unveil measures to cushion the blow on Tuesday.

        Organisers of the Tokyo Marathon have decided to limit the March 1 race to top-level athletes, banning 38,000 general participants, a person with knowledge of the issue told Reuters.

        Japan’s Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito’s public birthday address on Feb. 23, his first since his coronation last year. The event regularly attracts tens of thousands of people to the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo.

        Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Nandita Bose in Washington, David Stanway in Shanghai, Claire Baldwin in Sihanoukville, Daniel Trotta in New York, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Farah Master in Hong Kong and Sophie Yu in Beijing; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Graff; Editing by Mike Collett-White, Nick Macfie and Sonya Hepinstall

         

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