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As Democrats Lean Left for 2020, Trump Cries Socialism

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the latest entrant into the increasingly crowded Democratic presidential field for 2020. Sanders and several other Democrats in the race advocate progressive views on key issues like the economy, the environment and health care. In response, President Donald Trump charged that the Democratic Party is headed down the road of socialism, setting up what could be a major ideological debate next year. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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US Judge Grants Former Trump Lawyer Prison Delay

A U.S. judge on Wednesday granted a request by Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, to delay the start of his prison term by two months.

Cohen, 52, had been scheduled to report to prison on March 6 to begin a three-year sentence for fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress.

In a letter to Judge William Pauley, one of Cohen’s lawyers asked that the date be pushed back to May 6 so Cohen can recover from shoulder surgery and prepare for upcoming testimony before Congress.

Judge Pauley agreed to the request.

Cohen is scheduled to deliver closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on February 28 and has also been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Planned open-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee was put off after what Cohen alleged were public threats against him and his family from Trump and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Cohen admitted multiple charges in December related to work he performed for the real estate tycoon and pledged to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller leads the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, a probe that increasingly menaces the White House.

Cohen notably told prosecutors that Trump directed him to arrange illegal hush payments to two alleged former lovers ahead of the 2016 election.

He also admitted lying to Congress over pursuing a Moscow real estate deal in Trump’s name during the election, even after Trump had secured the Republican nomination.

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Sanders’ Early Fundraising Surpasses Rivals

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced Wednesday it raised nearly $6 million during its first day of online fundraising, easily exceeding first-day totals amassed by his rivals.

More than 220,000 donors contributed to Sanders, a Senator from Vermont, in a 24-hour period since he announced his bid Tuesday for the White House, eclipsing his 2015 first-day fundraising total of more than $1.5 million.

Public disclosures showed Senator Kamala Harris of California was previously the top early Democratic fundraiser, with more than 38,000 donors contributing $1.5 million. Harris announced her candidacy on January 21.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts raised nearly $300,000 online on December 31, the day she announced an exploratory campaign committee.

Senator Amy Klobuchar raised more than $1 million in 48 hours after launching her campaign on February 10, campaign officials said.

Sanders’ show of strength is not surprising. He raised more than $200 million when he opposed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

In its announcement Wednesday, the Sanders campaign touted a large grassroots donor base that includes individuals who have already “contributed $600,000 in donations that will recur every month.”

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Trump’s National Emergency Declaration: What’s Next?

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday after Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that was his signature 2016 campaign promise. His move aims to let him spend money appropriated by Congress for other purposes.

What’s next?

Legal challenges to Trump: On Monday, a coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued the Trump administration over the declaration and the president’s plan to use billions of dollars to erect a wall. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, came just days after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday.

In Washington, D.C., the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen filed a federal suit Friday evening. The lawsuit argued against the constitutionality of the declaration and that Trump exceeded his powers.

Options before Congress: Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, could either join a lawsuit filed by a third party, or they could file a lawsuit of their own, although the legality of that is in question.

House Democrats are also preparing legislation — a “joint resolution of termination” — and it would likely pass, which would send it to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it may run into a roadblock. Should any legislation pass, a Trump adviser has said the president would veto it. Congress would then need a two-thirds majority to override a veto.

Other lawsuits?

The New York Times reported that at least two more lawsuits may be filed this week. The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will file a case but has not publicly identified its client, according to the report. And Protect Democracy, a watchdog group, and center-right policy institute the Niskanen Center, will file a suit on behalf of El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights, the Times reported.

Outcome: Any legal challenge is likely to tie up Trump’s efforts in court, delaying the building of a border wall. A protracted legal battle is likely, with an ultimate hearing seen before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Money for border wall

In a recent spending bill, Trump asked for $5.7 billion in government funding for a border wall; Congress provided just $1.37 billion. To avoid a government shutdown, Trump signed the legislation, yet declared a national emergency along the border to gain access to other funds. He identified funds, totaling $8 billion.

Where did the money come from?

$1.37 billion: Congress

$3.6 billion: Defense Department, military construction budget

$2.5 billion: Defense Department, drug interdiction efforts

$600 million: Treasury Department, drug forfeiture program

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Border Wall, Bullet Train: California vs. Trump Escalates

Disputes over President Donald Trump’s border wall and California’s bullet train are intensifying the feud between the White House and the nation’s most populous state.

The Trump administration on Tuesday said it plans to cancel or claw back $3.5 billion in federal dollars allocated to California’s high-speed rail project, a move Gov. Gavin Newsom called “political retribution” for the state’s lawsuit against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. California led a 16-state coalition in filing the suit Monday, challenging Trump’s power to declare an emergency to earn more money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s no coincidence that the Administration’s threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the President’s farcical ‘national emergency,'” Newsom said in a statement. “This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won’t sit idly by.”

 

It’s the latest spat between Trump and California, which has styled itself as the Democratic-led “resistance” to the administration. Newsom, less than two months into his tenure, has appeared more eager to hit back at Trump than former California Gov. Jerry Brown. The lawsuit is California’s 46th against the Trump administration.

 

Using a broad interpretation of his executive powers, Trump declared an emergency last week to obtain wall funding beyond the $1.4 billion Congress approved for border security. The move allows the president to bypass Congress to use money from the Pentagon and other budgets.

Trump’s use of the emergency declaration has drawn bipartisan criticism and faces a number of legal challenges.

 

Still the president has told reporters he expects to prevail.

 

“I think in the end we’re going to be very successful with the lawsuit,” Trump told reporters, calling it an “open and closed” case.

 

Trump had earlier singled out California for its lead role in the suit, seeking to link the state’s high-speed rail project to his plan for the wall.

 

On Twitter, Trump claimed the “failed Fast Train project” was beset by “world record setting” cost overruns and had become “hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!”

 

The estimated cost for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles train has more than doubled to $77 billion. That’s about 13 times the $5.7 billion Trump sought unsuccessfully from Congress to build the wall.

 

Hours later, the U.S. Department of Transportation told California it planned to cancel nearly $1 billion in federal money allocated to the rail project and wanted the state to return $2.5 billion it had already spent.

 

Trump’s comments about a “failed” project followed Newsom’s comments last week that the current plan for an LA-San Francisco train would cost too much and take too long. Instead, he said he’d focus immediately on a line through the Central Valley while still doing environmental work on the full line. That work is a requirement for keeping the federal money.

 

Still, the U.S. Department of Transportation said Newsom’s remarks reinforced concerns about the project’s ability to deliver. The department wrote Newsom’s comments mark a “significant retreat from the State’s initial vision and commitment and frustrated the purpose for which the Federal funding was awarded.”

 

California Republicans who have long called the project a waste of money applauded the Trump administration’s move to take back the money.

 

“It is time to move on from the broken high-speed rail project and redirect our efforts to infrastructure projects that work for Californians,” said U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, a city on the train’s route.

 

But Newsom said the state intends to keep the money. Losing it would be a major blow to the chronically underfunded project.

 

“This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it,” he said.

 

The agreement with the federal government allows the administration to withhold or take back the money if the state fails to make “adequate progress” or “complete the project or one of its tasks.”

 

If the federal government decides to take the money back, it doesn’t have to wait for California to write a check. Instead it could withhold money from other transportation projects.

 

Tuesday’s comments won’t be the last; the administration has given California until March 5 to formally respond.

 

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Report Says Trump Asked For Ally to Lead Hush Money Probe, Trump Denies

U.S. President Donald Trump has denied asking his former acting attorney general to put a Trump ally in charge of a federal investigation into hush money paid to two women during the 2016 election campaign.

The allegation appeared Tuesday in a New York Times article that said Trump called Matthew Whitaker to see if he would put the probe in the hands of Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“No, not at all. I don’t know who gave you that,” Trump told reporters when asked about the story. “Just more fake news. There’s a lot of fake, there’s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”

If true, the episode could be used as evidence of Trump seeking to influence one of several ongoing law enforcement investigations into his conduct and that of his associates.

The Times cited several U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the phone call between Trump and Whitaker. The newspaper said Berman had already recused himself from the case due to conflict of interest.

The investigation involved payments made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, to two women who said they had sexual affairs with Trump. The money was meant to keep their stories quiet and not harm Trump’s presidential run.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to the payments.

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Ex-FBI Chief: Top Lawmakers Did Not Object to Trump Probe

Former acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe says top congressional leaders did not object in 2017 when he told them that the law enforcement agency had opened a counterintelligence investigation of President Donald Trump on the suspicion that he might have ties to Russia.

McCabe told NBC on Tuesday that he informed eight key lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican lawmakers at the time, shortly after he opened the probe almost two years ago.

“No one objected,” McCabe said. “Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds and not based on the facts.”

Days before, Trump had fired James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who then was leading the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible Trump campaign links to Moscow. Soon, Trump said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he ousted Comey and boasted at a White House meeting with Russian officials that he had relieved “great pressure” on himself by dismissing Comey.

Trump suggested Monday that McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein engaged in “treasonous” activity when they considered invoking a constitutional amendment in 2017 to remove him from office while opening obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations against him.

McCabe told CBS, in an interview aired Sunday, that a “crime may have been committed” when Trump fired Comey. McCabe, himself later fired after 21 years at the FBI, said, “And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would a president of the United States do that?'”

Trump is continuing to lash out at McCabe, saying on Twitter late Monday, “Remember this, Andrew McCabe didn’t go to the bathroom without the approval of Leakin’ James Comey!”

McCabe, whose new book about his time at the FBI and the Trump investigation was published Tuesday, told CBS that the confluence of events surrounding Trump caused the FBI “to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?”

McCabe said Rosenstein, who is leaving the Justice Department next month, was “absolutely” onboard with the obstruction and counterintelligence investigations of Trump. Nothing came of the discussions about invoking the constitutional amendment.

Days after Comey’s firing, Rosenstein named Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director, as special counsel to take over the Russia investigation. Rosenstein had assumed control of the Russia investigation because then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had removed himself from oversight because of his own discussions during the election campaign with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s former ambassador to the U.S. Sessions’ recusal from oversight of the probe eventually led Trump to fire him last year.

“Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe,” Trump said Monday on Twitter. “He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught.” 

Trump added, “There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous “insurance policy” in full action!” 

McCabe was fired last year by Sessions, a day short of gaining full retirement benefits. The Justice Department said he was dismissed because he misled investigators during an internal probe of a disclosure about an investigation to the Wall Street Journal, a claim McCabe rejected.

“I believe I was fired because I opened a case against the president of the United States,” he said.

Mueller is 21 months into his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign links to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

He has won convictions for various offenses against five key officials in Trump’s orbit, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos and former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, while indicting longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia during the campaign or that he obstructed justice.

 

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Democratic Report: Trump Aides Ignored Legal Warnings in Pushing Reactor Plan

Top White House aides ignored repeated warnings they could be breaking the law as they worked with former U.S. officials and a close friend of President Donald Trump to advance a multi-billion-dollar plan to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East, Democratic lawmakers alleged in a report released Tuesday.

The House of Representatives Oversight Committee report said former national security adviser Michael Flynn and two aides promoted the plan with Tom Barrack, the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, and a consortium of U.S. firms led by retired military commanders and former White House officials.

The effort, the report said, began before Trump took office and continued after his inauguration in January 2017 despite National Security Council staff warnings that a proposed transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia was being fast-tracked around a mandatory approval process in possible breach of the Atomic Energy Act.

John Eisenberg, the top NSC lawyer, had ordered the work halted because of concerns that Flynn could be breaking a conflict of interest law as he advised the consortium while serving on Trump’s campaign and transition team, said the report, which is based on documents and whistleblower accounts.

Administration support for the project, however, appears to have continued to the present, with Trump meeting consortium representatives in the Oval Office last week, the committee report said.

“The committee is now launching an investigation to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump administration are in the national security interests of the United States, or rather, serve those who stand to gain financially,” the report said.

The report, compiled by the Democratic staff of the panel chaired by Representative Elijah Cummings, comes as Democrats expand inquiries into alleged administration wrongdoing after winning a majority in the House in November elections.

The nuclear project is being promoted by IP3 International, a consortium of U.S. technology firms founded by retired Navy Rear Admiral Michael Hewitt, retired Army General John Keane, and Robert McFarlane, a former national security adviser to

President Ronald Reagan. The board includes former senior U.S. civilian and military officials.

The report said the companies include reactor manufacturer Westinghouse, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

The White House, Flynn and IP3 had no immediate response to the report.

Plan for dozens of reactors

Working with the U.S. government, the consortium would build dozens of power reactors in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other U.S. Arab allies, according to the IP3 website. In doing so, the project would help restore U.S. influence in the Middle East while boosting regional economic and political stability, according to the website.

Flynn, a retired Army general, promoted the plan on two 2015 trips to Saudi Arabia, and listed himself on government documents as an IP3 advisor during a period in 2016 while he was working for Trump’s campaign and transition, the report said.

He is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Flynn was an early target of the investigation and is awaiting sentencing for lying to FBI agents.

Barrack was represented in the plan, the report said, by the then-head of his firm’s Washington office, Rick Gates, a former political consultant and Trump’s deputy campaign manager. Gates pleaded guilty last year to financial fraud and lying to the FBI and also is now cooperating with Mueller.

Documents appended to the report included a draft presidential memorandum appointing Barrack as a special envoy to oversee implementation of the project that McFarlane sent to Flynn and his then-deputy, K.T. McFarland, on Jan. 28, 2017.

Also included with the committee’s report was a document authored by Barrack titled “The Trump Middle East Marshall Plan” that promoted the plan and was sent to NSC staff on March 28, 2017, by IP3 board member Frances Fragos Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush.

A current senior administration official was among the unnamed whistleblowers who came forward “with significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia,” the report said.

The whistleblowers, it said, also warned about political appointees ignoring the advice of “top ethics advisers at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump Administration officials to halt their efforts.”

In addition to McFarland, Flynn’s top Middle Easy adviser, Derek Harvey, played a key role in promoting the plan in the White House, doing so despite warnings of possible ethics and criminal law violations, the report said.

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Poll: US Rural/Urban Political Divisions Also Split Suburbs

America’s suburbs are today’s great political battleground, long seen as an independent pivot between the country’s liberal cities and conservative small towns and rural expanse.

But it’s not that simple. It turns out that these places in-between may be the most politically polarized of all — and when figuring out the partisan leanings of people living in the suburbs, where they came from makes a difference.

Fewer suburbanites describe themselves as politically independent than do residents of the nation’s urban and rural areas, according to a survey released Tuesday by the University of Chicago Harris School for Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll also found that the partisan leanings of suburban residents are closely linked to whether they have previously lived in a city.

“In the last decade, particularly in the past five years, I’ve felt a shift in having some liberal neighbors,” said Nancy Wieman, 63, a registered Republican and staunch conservative who has lived in suburban Jefferson County outside of Denver her entire life. “The ones who are markedly liberal have moved from Denver or other cities.”

Suburbanites who previously lived in a city are about as likely as city-dwellers to call themselves Democrats, the survey found. Similarly, Americans living in suburbs who have never resided in an urban area are about as likely as rural residents to say they are Republican.

Just 15 percent of suburban Americans say they are independent and do not lean toward a party, compared with 25 percent of urban Americans and 30 percent of rural Americans who call themselves politically independent.

That divide extends to the White House: 72 percent of ex-urban suburbanites disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance in office, as do 77 percent of city residents. That compares with the 57 percent of suburbanites who have not previously lived in a city and 54 percent of rural Americans who say they disapprove of the president.

Kevin Keelan moved from Denver to the sprawling suburbs of Jefferson County 16 years ago. Once a political independent, the 49-year-old registered as a Democrat a few years ago.

“Now it’s not even an option. I’d vote Democratic or independent, but there’s no way I can vote Republican anymore,” Keelan said. “It’s just being more open-minded, and I’d be that way if I was living here or in a loft downtown.”

Jefferson County is a cluster of subdivisions and strip malls huddled under the Rocky Mountain foothills. Once a right-leaning county, it has been reshaped by an influx of transplants from coastal, urban states. It now leans Democratic: The party swept countywide offices and won most of the state legislative districts there in 2018, and Hillary Clinton won the county by 7 percentage points in 2016.

Yet under that surface, election results from 2016 show it is a deeply polarized place. In 118 precincts in Jefferson County, one of the candidates won by more than 10 points. Clinton won 60 precincts and Trump 58.

“The chasm between the two sides is greater than ever,” said Libby Szabo, a Republican county commissioner. “It’s harder at this point, because the ideals are so different, to even change parties.”

The UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll points to how that split between urban and rural America echoes through the suburbs.

About two-thirds of city dwellers say that legal immigration is a net benefit to the United States, much as the 7 in 10 former city residents now living in the suburbs who say the same. A smaller majority of suburbanites who have never lived in cities, 58 percent, and half of rural residents think the benefits of legal immigration outweigh the risks.

Urban residents are somewhat more likely than rural residents to think the U.S. should be active in world affairs, 37 percent to 24 percent. That mirrors the split between suburbanites who used to live in cities and those who never have: 32 percent of the former favor an active U.S. role, compared with 23 percent of the latter.

About 6 in 10 urban residents and ex-urban suburbanites say that the way things are going in the U.S. will worsen this year, while less than half of rural residents or suburbanites with no city experience believe the same.

S.A. Campbell is a general contractor who lives in the Kansas City suburbs of Johnson County, Kansas, which swung toward the Democrats in 2018 as it replaced a four-term Republican congressman with a Democratic woman who is an openly gay Native American. It is often compared to Jefferson County, with its highly educated population, high-quality schools and influx of previous city dwellers.

Campbell, 60, said his childhood in Kansas City is part of what made him a supporter of Democrats; his parents were both teachers active in their union, and his mother was a supporter of Planned Parenthood.

“When you’ve been raised in a certain fashion, your view of the world is more open than if you grew up in a household that wasn’t that,” he said.

Greg Stern, the newly elected clerk in Jefferson County, has lived in New York City and spent parts of his childhood on a remote Colorado ranch. He sees partisan attitudes hardening in the suburbs much as they have in urban and rural parts of the country.

But, he said, there’s a key difference: While there may be fewer independents in the suburbs, the mixture of loyal Democrats and Republicans found there means it’s still a place for both sides.

“You’re welcome regardless of your political beliefs,” said Stern, a Democrat and volunteer firefighter in a suburban department with a wide range of political views in the station. “It becomes harder to live in rural or urban areas if your political beliefs don’t match those of the majority of the people who live there.”

 

 

 

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Trump Warns Venezuelan Military to Abandon Maduro

U.S. President Donald Trump, in a speech partly intended to be heard by members of the military of Venezuela, called for the end of socialism in that country, saying the United States seeks “a peaceful transition of power but all options are open.”

Trump, in Miami, appealed to Venezuelan soldiers to ignore orders from President Nicolas Maduro and accept the amnesty offer made by the head of the national assembly, Juan Guaido, who is now recognized as Venezuela’s president by the United States and about 50 other countries.

“You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out,” Trump warned the soldiers. “You’ll lose everything.”

The White House, ahead of Trump’s speech to the Venezuelan-American community, said, “The United States knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.”

Trump also warned members of the Venezuelan military to not block foreign aid intended for the country.

Three U.S. military transport planes loaded with humanitarian aid for Venezuela landed in Cucuta, Colombia on Saturday, adding to the tons food and medicine waiting to cross the border.

The aid sent from the U.S. and many other countries, however, has not yet reached any Venezuelans, but instead sits in towns in Colombia, Brazil and Curacao.

Maduro says the aid is unnecessary and illegal and that to allow it to enter Venezuela would presage a U.S. military invasion.

Venezuela suffers from shortages of food, medicine and other daily necessities and also has the worst inflation rate in the world. Three million people — about 10 percent of the country’s population — have fled the country.

Trump, with hundreds of those who have fled Venezuela and Cuba in the audience, repeatedly linked those two countries, contending Havana’s military is protecting Maduro.

“The ugly alliance between the two dictatorships is coming to a rapid end,” said Trump, decrying Maduro as “a Cuban puppet.”

The president concluded his remarks by predicting that when Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua are no longer under Socialist or Communist regimes, “this will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history.”

Trump’s warnings throughout the speech about socialism, which he declared is “about one thing only — power for the ruling class,” were also intended to rally his political base as he faces a re-election campaign next year.

“There’s no doubt that today’s speech was part of his electoral campaign and he was speaking not to the Venezuelan people but to the voters in Florida. And that is disappointing,” Dany Behar, an economist from Venezuela at the Brookings Institution, tells VOA News.

Anti-Trump activists in the Democratic socialist movement, including a freshman member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, are galvanizing young and disillusioned voters, who could be a pivotal force in the 2020 presidential election.  

 “There’s nothing less democratic than socialism,” Trump declared. “America will never be a socialist country.”

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