In Alabama, Democrat Fights History, Math in Senate Race

Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but it will take more than that to convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday.

In a state where Democrats are used to losing, the malaise is easy to find in this African-American neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, even on the final weekend before Alabama’s high-profile Senate contest.

“A lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote don’t count,” Ebonique Jiles, 27, said after promising a Jones volunteer she would support the Democrat in Tuesday’s election. “I’ll vote regardless of whether he wins or loses.”

Delicate balancing act

With history and math working against them in deep-red Alabama, Democrats are fighting to energize a winning coalition of African-Americans and moderate Republicans — a delicate balancing act on full display Saturday as Jones and his network of volunteers canvassed the state.

Nearly 100 miles south of Birmingham, during an appearance near the staging ground for Selma’s landmark “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965, Jones declared that Alabama has an opportunity to go “forward and not backward.”

“This campaign has the wind at its back because we are bringing people together from all across this state,” Jones said after a meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “The other side is trying to divide us more than they bring people together.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of only two African-Americans in the Senate, was scheduled to appear at Jones’ side later in the day at Alabama State University. And Saturday evening, the Democrat organized two get-out-the-vote concerts expected to draw overwhelmingly white voters, including some open-minded Republicans, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century.

​Moore goes silent

Moore had no public events on Saturday, an extraordinary silence three days before the election but in line with a final-weeks strategy that featured very few public events in which he could be forced to address allegations of sexual misconduct. The former state Supreme Court judge got a big boost the night before in nearby Pensacola, Florida, where President Donald Trump encouraged voters to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.”

The 70-year-old Moore is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has largely denied the allegations.

The explosive charges, which many Washington Republicans describe as credible, are giving Democrats a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. Even if Jones wins on Tuesday, many Democrats expect the GOP to re-claim the seat when the term expires at the end of 2020.

Tough math

Beneath Jones’ biracial and bipartisan balancing act is a complex numbers game that has vexed Alabama Democrats for decades.

The party’s core of black voters and white liberals — plus a smidgen of old-guard, more conservative “Southern Democrats” who’ve held on amid the region’s partisan shift — is worth no more than 40 percent in statewide elections. That’s been true in high-turnout elections, with former President Barack Obama twice landing between 38 and 39 percent, and the most recent governor’s race in 2014, when the Democratic nominee pulled 36 percent.

African-Americans make up about 25 percent of eligible voters, though Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said Jones needs black voters to comprise 27 percent or more of those who show up at the polls Tuesday. Jones then needs to win 1 in 3 white voters in the state, which would require capturing about 15 percent of Republicans, McCrary said.

Such dynamics are difficult to overcome, said Democratic strategist Keenan Pontoni, who managed the campaign of Georgia congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff earlier this year. Ossoff aimed for an upset in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia, but ultimately came up short in Atlanta’s Republican-leaning northern suburbs.

“The only way you win in these kinds of districts and states is a coalition that is obviously very hard to put together,” Pontoni said. “You’re going after voters who think and vote very differently.”

​Ground game

Much like Jones, Ossoff used an extensive, data-driven ground game to maximize Democratic support, while using television advertising to strike a moderate, non-partisan tone. Ossoff didn’t have a controversial opponent like Moore, but he ran against Washington dysfunction as a way to reach moderates.

On the ground in Alabama on Saturday, Jones dispatched hundreds of volunteers across the state to knock on doors to identify likely supporters in neighborhoods that featured high concentrations of African-Americans and Republicans who supported Moore’s GOP primary opponent, current Sen. Luther Strange.

Jones volunteer Dana Ellis, a 64-year-old nurse, navigated icy sidewalks in Birmingham’s Kingston neighborhood, which is overwhelmingly African-American, to ensure likely Jones supporters vote Tuesday. Unlike many states, Alabama doesn’t offer early voting.

“Roy Moore will not win if people turn out to vote,” Ellis said.

Many voters on the list provided by the campaign didn’t answer their doors Saturday morning. Those who did suggested they would support Jones, even if they didn’t know him well.

Oweda Clark, who lives just around the corner from 44th Place North, admits it’s hard being a Democrat in Alabama. But she told Ellis that she plans to vote for Jones anyway.

“I don’t like Roy Moore. I don’t like what he stands for,” she said.

Montana Tribe Wary of Monument Offer, Seek Land’s Ownership

Even as it clashes with American Indians over reductions to national monuments in the Southwest, the Trump administration is pursuing creation of a new monument on the border of a Montana reservation where tribal officials remain wary of the idea.

The Blackfeet Indian Tribe has long fought oil and gas drilling and other development within the Badger-Two Medicine area, a mountainous expanse bordering Glacier National Park that’s sacred to the tribe.

Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes told The Associated Press that protection of that 200-square-mile (518-square-kilometer) area is paramount. He sees a “workable solution” in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to co-manage the area with the tribe, but stressed that the Blackfeet have never sought a national monument designation for the land.

“We want total return to Blackfeet ownership,” Barnes said Saturday, adding that the idea of a monument “has been proffered and advanced by others.”

Zinke says he’d seek congressional approval for the co-management proposal, part of his recommendation to create national monuments at Badger-Two Medicine and two other sites, a Civil War camp in Kentucky and the Mississippi home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Barnes cautioned that the tribe would be unwilling to surrender treaty rights dating to the 1800s that let its members hunt, fish and gather timber from the Badger-Two Medicine.

“The Blackfeet Tribe’s interest has always been protection of the Badger-Two Medicine,” Barnes said in an emailed response to questions from The AP. “We have fought a long time and we see it not being over yet.”

Tribe’s creation story

The Badger Two-Medicine has deep cultural significance for the Blackfeet as the site of the tribe’s creation story and a place where traditional plants are still gathered for medicinal purposes.

During the brutal winter of 1883-84, when hundreds of tribal members starved to death, others journeyed to the Badger-Two Medicine to hunt. They brought back enough food for their families to survive, said John Murray, the tribe’s historic preservation officer.

The land was part of the Blackfeet Reservation until 1896. That’s when the tribe sold it and adjacent property that would later become Glacier National Park to the U.S. government for $1.5 million, a deal some tribal members still dispute as illegitimate.

Badger-Two Medicine is now within the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Zinke’​s home state

Zinke, a former Montana congressman who grew up around Glacier National Park, recently told reporters that said he recognizes the area’s sacred value to the Blackfeet. He described the Badger-Two Medicine as “one of the special places in our country” and deserving of national monument status.

“Here is a virtually untapped area to do it right, to generate income through tourism, a greater understanding of the culture,” Zinke said on a conference call to discuss the administration’s actions on national monuments.

Informal talks on the Badger-Two Medicine are underway between the Blackfeet and Zinke’s office, Barnes said. Still, Barnes said the tribe remains united with a coalition of tribes in American Southwest that have joined with conservationists to fight Trump’s reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah.

Barnes said the tribe remains opposed as a “general rule” to a federal monument designation for Badger-Two Medicine. But he added the tribe was working with Zinke in hopes of securing for the Blackfeet a permanent voice in how the land is administered.

Co-management common

The co-management of lands by tribes and government agencies has occurred numerous times elsewhere in the U.S., said Martin Nie, professor of Natural Resource Policy at the University of Montana.

It’s typically a way to balance tribal claims on public lands and resources against the federal government’s oversight responsibilities, Nie said. One of the most high-profile examples is the management of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, where tribes were given greater involvement under a court order.

In the case of the Badger-Two Medicine, co-management would put the Blackfeet on more equal footing with the U.S. Forest Service, Nie said. In the past, the tribe has been forced to react to actions affecting the land, such as government oil and gas leases issued in the Badger-Two Medicine in the 1980s, against the wishes of many tribal members.

Under co-management, the Blackfeet could have a say in such decisions.

However, Nie noted that Trump’s reductions to the two Utah monuments would call into question the permanence of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law under which presidents designate monuments, if the reductions withstand legal challenges.

Zinke also recommended reductions in Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou monuments and opening other protected land and marine areas to more fishing, logging and other activities.

 

That should give the Blackfeet pause, Nie suggested.

“Why would the Blackfeet be interested in pursuing a national monument,” he asked, “if it can be undone by a successor?”

Trump Speaks at Opening of Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is “moved” by the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Mississippi, where he praised civil rights leaders such as Medgar Evers and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trump’s presence at the event was controversial among his critics, who say he has fueled the fires of racial tension in the United States. Civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis, who was scheduled to speak at the event, announced on Thursday that he would not attend because the president will be there.

Trump kept his remarks at the event low-key, speaking to an audience that included Evers’ widow, and Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. To the creators of the museum, Trump said, “We are truly grateful … we admire you.”

Trump took special note of pastors like King, who he said “started the civil rights movement.” Of the civil rights leaders profiled in the museum and their peers, Trump said, “We strive to be worthy of their sacrifice.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a supporter of Trump who invited the president, welcomed the president to the podium by saying, “What a wonderful day this is for us all.”  He said this week Trump’s attendance will draw global attention and provide the museums with a key boost.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum offers a stark look at the often bloody struggle for civil rights in the American South from 1945 through 1976. Exhibits include such weapons of terror and hate as a Ku Klux Klan cross and the gun used to murder Medgar Evers.

There also is a Museum of Mississippi History, which provides a 15,000-year review of the state’s history from prehistoric times to present day. The two distinct museums under a single roof both open Saturday, the day before the 200th anniversary of Mississippi becoming the 20th state.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” Lewis said in a statement. “President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer … Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”

Lewis, who is 77 years old, worked with Martin Luther King, led the civil rights march on Selma, and spoke at the March on Washington in 1963. For the last 21 years, he has represented the state of Georgia in the House of Representatives. He was scheduled to be one of the main speakers Saturday.

The White House said it was “unfortunate” that Lewis would not be at the opening.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president “has always condemned racism, violence and bigotry and hatred in all forms. We stand by that.”

The president has come under criticism from some for his reluctance to condemn the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer. He also has been relentless in his criticism of the silent, bent knee protests during the national anthem staged by NFL players in their attempt to bring national focus to the police brutality directed on African American men.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of assassinated Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, was also one of the featured speakers at the opening event. Evers-Williams has said she would address Trump’s presence, although the president may be gone by the time she speaks.

Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president, told CNN that he will not attend the opening either. Johnson said Trump’s presence at the museum is “an affront to those individuals who fought for voting rights to ensure that people had quality education and access to health care …Those are principles this President does not support.”

The White House said Trump hopes others will be there to acknowledge “the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

Some African Americans, although opposed to Trump, were going to attend anyway. The Rev. C.J. Rhodes, a prominent clergyman and son of one of the state’s top voting rights lawyers, said he would be there. He said Trump sharing the day is part of Mississippi’s “complicated, complex, conflicted narrative.”

Capitol Hill Comes to Terms With Sexual Harassment Debate

From Hollywood to major media outlets, high-profile men are stepping down or being fired from their jobs for alleged sexual misconduct. The issue is now making headlines at the U.S. Capitol, where a wave of allegations is forcing out U.S. lawmakers from both political parties. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has the latest from Capitol Hill.

Protesters Lash Out at Trump Across Muslim World

Large crowds of protesters across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches Friday after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with protests in Gaza leading to the death of one Palestinian man.

The Palestinian, Mahmoud al-Masri, 30, was killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border after Palestinians called for a “Day of Rage” to protest the U.S. action. The Israeli military confirmed that it shot two people in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, accusing them of being “main instigators” of “violent riots.”

Israeli warplanes also struck Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to a rocket fired from the area. The Palestinian health ministry said at least 15 people were injured in the strikes.

Demonstrations also took place Friday in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

The Arab League, comprised of nearly two dozen countries, will meet Saturday in an effort to create a joint position on the matter.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the United States plans to move its embassy there. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. The Palestinians want the eastern part of Jerusalem for its capital of a future independent state.

​Holy sites

Israel has added additional security forces in Jerusalem. In the past, Israel has imposed age restrictions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound where violence often erupts during tense times.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said, “We have no indication there will be disturbances on the mount, therefore there is no age restriction. If there will be disturbances, then we will respond immediately.”

The site is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest Jewish site and the third holiest in Islam.

The Islamist group Hamas, meanwhile, has called for an uprising against Israel.

​Decade of diplomacy defied

Trump’s announcement defies decades of diplomacy in the quest to bring peace to Israel. Jerusalem has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the quest and it was widely believed that a solution would be reached in the peace process negotiations.

The White House on Thursday denied that the president’s announcement on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem means his administration is pulling out of the Middle East peace process.

“In fact, in the president’s remarks, he said that we are as committed to the peace process as ever, and we want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “And hopefully the ultimate goal, I think, of all those parties is to reach a peace deal. And that’s something that the United States is very much committed to.”

No other country has immediately followed Trump’s lead in planning to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something the White House has acknowledged.

“I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon,” Sanders said. “I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.”

The Russian ambassador in Israel, Alexander Shein, said Moscow could move its embassy to West Jerusalem “after the Palestinians and the Israelis agree on all issues of the final status of the Palestinian territories.”

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement viewed as a surprise by Israelis, said it considers “East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

​To draw up plans

Trump, on Wednesday, said he was directing the State Department to immediately begin drawing up architectural plans for a U.S. embassy in the holy city. But the actual relocation of the U.S. embassy, however, would take years, according to White House officials.

“We have to acquire a site, we have to develop building plans, construction plans, as you point out, ensure we get the authorizations — although I do not anticipate any difficulties getting those authorizations. And then actually build an embassy,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday at a joint press conference with his French counterpart in Paris.

“So this is not something that is going to happen this year, probably not next year,” Tillerson added, also noting that Trump was careful to say in his speech Wednesday that recognition and moving the embassy do not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.

Both Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have expressed concern about the timing of Trump’s announcement, according to U.S. officials.

Asked by VOA whether the president’s declaration had been delayed at the request of the two Cabinet members in order to put into place adequate security at U.S. embassies, Sanders replied the decision was made only after “a thoughtful and responsible process” and that “components of the decision went through the full interagency process.”

Palestinian officials say Trump’s decision has disqualified the U.S. as an honest broker in the peace process. Many U.S. allies are also disagreeing with the move.

Robert Berger in Jerusalem, and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.

Pentagon ‘Deeply Committed’ to Laws of War as ICC Considers Investigation

The Pentagon has reasserted its commitment to complying with the laws of war, after news emerged that the International Criminal Court is seeking an investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman Mike Andrews, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, told VOA on Friday that the United States is “deeply committed to complying with the law of war, and we have a robust national system of investigation and accountability that more than meets international standards.”

Andrews was replying to a move by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in November requesting judicial authorization to investigate the alleged misconduct by members of the U.S. military and Central Intelligence Agency.

The alleged war crimes by U.S. personnel are centered on reports from secret detention facilities in Afghanistan and on the territory of other states who are party to the ICC, particularly between 2003 and 2004.

Andrews said the U.S. objects to such an investigation, specifying that “we do not believe that an International Criminal Court examination or investigation with respect the actions of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan is warranted or appropriate.”

Meanwhile, a defense official told VOA that the United States has never consented to be under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, meaning it is not obligated to comply with the court’s actions.

“The U.S. has a longstanding and continuing objection in principal to any ICC assertion of jurisdiction over U.S. personnel,” the official said.

Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, requested permission from the ICC judges on November 20 to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the ongoing armed conflict in Afghanistan. The court has been examining the situation in Afghanistan since 2006.

ICC origins

The International Criminal Court began operations in 2002 and was designed to be permanent and independent of national governments as it investigated war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

While it has the support of small- and medium-power states, world powers such as the United States, Russia and China have been reluctant to sign on. The United States has specifically passed legislation prohibiting U.S. support of the ICC. Those laws authorize Washington to use “any means necessary” to repatriate U.S. citizens detained by the court.

The U.S. also has diplomatic immunity agreements with some nations in which they agree not to turn U.S. citizens over to the ICC. The court is investigating situations in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Kenya, Libya, Mali and Uganda.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor is conducting preliminary examinations in nine other situations: Afghanistan; Colombia; Gabon; Guinea; Iraq/the United Kingdom; Nigeria; Palestine; registered vessels of Comoros, Greece, and Cambodia; and Ukraine.

US Presses Russia About Compliance with Landmark Nuclear Treaty

The United States says it is reviewing military, economic and diplomatic options to compel Russia to return to compliance with the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The State Department marked the 30th anniversary of the Cold War-era treaty, which is set to expire Friday. 

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement saying the pivotal agreement, which has been a pillar of international security, is now under threat.

“The Russian Federation has taken steps to develop, test and deploy a ground-launched cruise missile system that can fly to ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty,” Nauert said. “In 2014, the United States declared the Russian federation in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty. Despite repeated U.S. efforts to engage the Russian Federation on this issue, Russian officials have so far refused to discuss the violation in any meaningful way or refute the information provided by the United States.”

She stressed the U.S. is still fully committed to the treaty, which eliminates an entire class of nuclear weapons, but said Russia needs to get back in compliance.

“The administration firmly believes, however, that the United States cannot stand still while the Russian Federation continues to develop military systems in violation of the treaty. While the United States will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution, we are now pursuing economic and military measures intended to induce the Russian Federation to return to compliance,” Nauert said.

“This includes a review of military concepts and options, including options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems, which would enable the United States to defend ourselves and our allies, should the Russian Federation not return to compliance,” she added.

She said these actions would not violate U.S. compliance.

Russian response

Russia has long denied that is violating the accord. The Russian Foreign Ministry also put out a statement Friday, saying it is prepared to hold talks with the U.S. to save the INF treaty, and would comply with its obligations as long as the U.S. does the same.

In the statement, Russia said it is willing to negotiate, but added “the language of ultimatums” and attempts to impose sanctions are unacceptable.

The Arms Control Association said the INF Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to “eliminate and permanently forswear” all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

The treaty marked the first time the two superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive, on-site inspections for verification. 

Russian state media are reporting that the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, has called on U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to personally take charge of the situation to prevent the collapse of the treaty, which he signed with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago.

Gorbachev said a collapse of the treaty would have “very heavy consequences.”

White House: Trump Senior Aide Dina Powell to Resign Early Next Year

U.S. President Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, plans to resign early next year and return to her home in New York, the White House said on Friday.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Powell, a key player in U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, had always planned to stay one year at the Trump White House.

Powell could be one of several administration officials to leave at the one-year mark of Trump’s presidency. Speculation has centered on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who officials say could be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and top economic adviser Gary Cohn may possibly leave also.

Powell’s replacement is likely to be Nadia Schadlow, a National Security Council aide who has been working with Powell on a new U.S. national security strategy expected to be released in the next couple of weeks, a senior administration official said.

Powell has been one of Trump’s inner circle and a key aide to national security adviser H.R. McMaster. She engaged in diplomacy throughout the Middle East with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“Dina has done a great job for the administration and has been a valued member of the Israeli-Palestinian peace team. She will continue to play a key role in our peace efforts and we will share more details on that in the future,” Kushner said in a statement.

Trump’s move to have the United States officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been denounced across much of the Arab world.

His team is working on a framework for a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that aides say could be released early next year.

Trump Presses for Tax Cut Victory as Russia Probe Intensifies

President Donald Trump is counting on congressional Republicans to enact a package of tax cuts in the coming weeks, in the process delivering his first major legislative achievement since taking office in January. 

But even as Trump and his Republican allies close in on the goal of passing tax reform, the Russia investigation continues to be a major distraction.

The recent plea deal between Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the office of special counsel Robert Mueller sent shockwaves around Washington and at the very least seemed to indicate the Russia probe is a long way from being completed.

WATCH: Trump Presses for Victory on Taxes as Russia Probe Continues

Banking on tax cuts

Trump is banking on a tax cut victory to shore up his political base and show supporters and detractors alike that he is a man of his word when it comes to delivering on his campaign promises. 

House and Senate negotiators are now working to resolve differences in the two versions with hopes of final votes in the coming weeks. But even if the tax plan is enacted into law, its impact is not likely to be felt for at least a year. And polls show the plan has less than majority support.

Trump insists the tax cuts will lead to economic growth and more jobs.

“I will tell you this is in a nonbraggadocio way,” Trump told supporters in Missouri recently. “There has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished. That I can tell you.” 

Democrats oppose the tax plan but lack the votes to stop it.

“It rewards the rich in terms of individuals and corporations at the expense of tens of millions of working middle class families in our country,” warned House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

​Base sticks with Trump

Despite his poor standing in national polls, just less than 40 percent approval in most surveys, Trump’s base is largely sticking with him. The latest American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 84 percent of Republicans continue to back the president.

“Among members of his own party, his standing is quite good,” said PRRI CEO Robert Jones, who announced the findings this week at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “He enjoys the support of 8 in 10 (Republicans) with significant numbers saying, in fact, that there is virtually nothing he could do to lose their support.”

Fueled by fear

Analysts say Trump’s hold on his supporters began during last year’s Republican primaries and remains strong. Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has written extensively over the years about Republican voters.

Olsen argues that Trump’s supporters are fueled by a sense of fear of economic and societal factors out of their control.

“These people were afraid of losing their economic and cultural place in American life and they wanted it back,” Olsen said. “So Donald Trump rockets to the top of the Republican primary largely on the backs of this sort of fear.”

Democratic hopes

Democrats won recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey largely on the basis of strong turnout from anti-Trump voters, fueling hope among the Trump opposition that Republicans may be facing some major defeats in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

But even liberal analysts like Joy Reid of MSNBC believe Trump’s base remains loyal to him.

“And so I think for Democrats who are realty kind of obsessed with this idea of converting Trump voters over, I’m not sure that that can be done, because I think for a lot of people, Trump is their Obama, and he has a cultural power over at least a third of the country that I don’t think anything can break,” Reid said. She was one of several people who spoke at a recent panel discussion at Brookings.

Midterms looming

And in looking ahead to next year’s midterms, Trump’s low overall approval ratings could prove to be a drag for Republican candidates.

“If the president is in the same place as he is today at 38 or 39 percent job approval ratings, then that midterm election is probably not going to go well for Republicans,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “They are going to lose seats in the House of Representatives, maybe endangering their majority.”

Given what appears to be a unified Republican front on the tax cut bill now under consideration, Republicans seem to believe that the best way to protect themselves in next year’s election is to enact the president’s agenda.

FBI Chief Defends Agency Following Sharp Criticism by Trump

In his first public comments since President Donald Trump sharply criticized the FBI on Twitter, Director Christopher Wray Thursday vigorously defended his agency as it came under fire from some lawmakers on a congressional oversight panel. Lawmakers questioned the impartiality of the nation’s top law enforcement agency as it investigates Russian election meddling and possible ties to the Trump campaign. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

Protests Against US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Continue Friday

Protests unleashed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital continue in the Palestinian territories and outside U.S. missions elsewhere. Dozens have been wounded in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslims in other countries took to the streets Thursday in solidarity. The violence could worsen Friday when Muslims attend weekly prayers at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

After Trump’s Shift on Jerusalem, What’s Next for Palestinians?

The dramatic U.S. policy shift on contested Jerusalem is seen by the Western-backed Palestinian leadership as a dangerous betrayal and game changer that is bound to propel them into a risky confrontation with the U.S. and Israel on the global stage.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t decided yet whether to formally abandon U.S.-led negotiations with Israel, a troubled process that after two decades has failed to bring the Palestinians closer to statehood. However, those close to Abbas say a Mideast era of stop-and-go negotiations and Washington’s monopoly as mediator is now over.

Here is a look at what could come next.

Why Jerusalem matters

Trump’s recognition Wednesday of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital contradicts longstanding international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the holy city will be determined in negotiations. With Trump’s sharp pivot, the U.S. is seen as siding with Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem, including the Israeli-annexed eastern sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.

The dispute over Jerusalem forms the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but transcends a mere real estate argument. The city, home to Judaism’s holiest site, is also sacred to billions of Muslims and Christians worldwide, and perceived slights to their claims have triggered major protests or violence in the past.

​Abbas’ response so far

Abbas has been trying to rally international support, reaching out to leaders from Pope Francis to the EU foreign policy chief and Arab leaders. He warned Trump in a phone call that the U.S. shift will rock the region and threaten Washington’s plans for a Mideast peace deal.

In a speech after Trump’s announcement, Abbas said the U.S. has effectively removed itself from any role as a Mideast broker, but he did not say what immediate steps, if any, the Palestinians plan to take.

Abbas is to hold internal consultations with officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah party, and plans to meet Thursday with his closest Arab ally, King Abdullah II of Jordan.

A moment of truth?

The crisis over Jerusalem may push Abbas, the most steadfast Palestinian champion of seeking statehood through negotiations, to a point he avoided for so long — acknowledgment that the peace process isn’t working, at least in its current format.

Critics have argued that endless negotiations mainly serve Israel by providing diplomatic cover for its expansion of settlements on war-won lands. Abbas also derived some political legitimacy from the process, positioning himself as the only leader with a shot at delivering statehood.

Trump says he remains committed to brokering a Mideast deal, despite the Jerusalem pivot. However, those close to Abbas say it’s time to look for alternatives.

Any talks with U.S. officials are now “superfluous and irrelevant,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official. “The peace process is finished.”

Abbas has warned in the past that a failure to achieve a so-called two-state solution could prompt Palestinians to pursue a single state for two peoples, a prospect most Israelis reject.

The Palestinian leader may be reluctant to break away from his longstanding policies or lack the political courage to do so, but not shifting course now would be worse, said analyst Bassem Zbaidi.

“It’s time for the Palestinians to say no before coming under pressure to accept” future U.S. proposals that could fall far short of their minimal demands, he said.

​Other options?

Some PLO and Fatah officials suggested shifting from cooperation with the U.S. and avoidance of conflict with Israel to a more confrontational approach.

Fatah supports halting contacts with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, closing the PLO office in Washington and filing a complaint against the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council over plans to start a multiyear process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, said senior Fatah official Nasser al-Kidwa.

The Palestinians could also try to press prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to charge Israeli leaders with war crimes, including over settlement building, others said.

Abbas has refrained from such a step until now, under apparent U.S. pressure.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination of the situation in the Palestinian territories, but this is a more open-ended review and could take years. The probe was triggered by “Palestine” becoming a member state of the court. The status change, in turn, was made possible by the 2012 U.N. General Assembly recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.

 

WATCH: In Controversial Announcement, Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Capital of Israel

Help from Europe?

The Palestinians are increasingly looking to Europe for help, encouraged by the harsh criticism of Trump’s Jerusalem policy by European leaders.

European states in the past were relegated by Washington to the role of paymaster, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to support the Palestinian self-rule government and help manage the long-running conflict.

European states often take a more critical view of Israeli policies than the U.S, especially on settlements, but have failed to challenge Washington’s monopoly as mediator.

Palestinians now hope the growing rift between European leaders and the U.S. over Jerusalem will earn them diplomatic points. An immediate goal is to persuade influential Western European countries to recognize a state of Palestine.

Risk or opportunity?

For Palestinians, Trump’s policy shift offers both risk and opportunity.

Jerusalem has repeatedly been a flashpoint for violence, and Palestinian protest marches planned later this week could lead to clashes with Israeli troops.

Such confrontations can spin out of control, as they did more than a decade ago when they escalated into an armed uprising. Abbas staunchly opposes violence as counterproductive, but he may not be able to contain widespread public anger.

Some say Trump’s policy shift may create a moment of clarity and help end years of paralysis by making it impossible to perpetuate the idea that statehood is possible under the old paradigm.

“That option is now off the table and that’s a good thing,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser of the Palestinian self-rule government. “This had really held us up for so many years.”

DACA Decision in Jeopardy as Government Shutdown Looms

An increasingly uncertain battle over funding the U.S. government until the end of the year has complicated the future of almost 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. A permanent legislative fix for the DACA program will be just one of several end-of-year legislative items on the agenda as congressional Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi meet with President Trump Thursday.

Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Gets Negative Reactions

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has met with criticism in the Arab world as well as in Europe and elsewhere. In a speech Wednesday, Trump described the move as a “long overdue step” after his predecessors failed to abide by the 22-year-old U.S. pledge to Israel. But the status of Jerusalem is a contentious issue many believe should be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

Trump Administration Maintains Commitment to Middle East Peace Amid Criticism of Jerusalem Decision

Under heavy criticism from Arab and majority Muslim countries for a decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Trump administration says it is committed to the Middle East peace process. VOA diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine looks at the broader contours of what administration officials describe as a new approach to peace and stability in the region.

Turkish President, Jordanian King Unite Against US President Over Jerusalem Move

The news of the United States’ intention to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel dominated talks Wednesday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan. In statements to the media at the presidential palace, both leaders voiced concern.

“If the wrong step is taken regarding Jerusalem’s status, it will be the cause of indignation in the Islamic world,” Erdogan said, adding that it will “dynamite the ground for peace, igniting new tensions and clashes.”

Abdullah, underlining Jordan’s role as guardian of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said he had spoken Tuesday with U.S. President Donald Trump, and had raised his concerns. The king said the Palestinians’ cause remains the central issue in the region and the current tensions over Jerusalem reaffirmed the need for a peace settlement.

“It is imperative now to work fast to reach a final status solution and a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, and this must allow the Palestinians to establish their independent state side-by-side with Israel and its capital in East Jerusalem,” Abdullah said. “Ignoring the Palestinians and Christian rights in Jerusalem will only fuel further extremism.”

Abdullah backed the Turkish president’s call for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, in Istanbul next Wednesday. Turkey currently heads the group of 57 Muslim nations.

“I want to make the following call to the whole world from here: Any steps to change Jerusalem’s legal status should be avoided,” Erdogan said. “Such a step would only play into the hands of terrorist organizations.”

Erdogan has been speaking to Muslim leaders to lobby against any move by Washington to change Jerusalem’s status.

The Turkish president’s efforts are expected to intensify ahead of next week’s meeting of Muslim countries’ leaders in Istanbul.

Trump’s Announcement on Jerusalem Explained

What has US President Donald Trump done with respect to Israel?

Donald Trump has decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the first U.S. President to do so since Israel was founded in 1948. Tel Aviv is currently home to the U.S. Embassy and many foreign embassies.

Trump plans to eventually move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but relocation could take up to two years. U.S. law requires the president to sign a waiver every six months that leaves the embassy in Tel Aviv. This week Trump missed the latest six-month deadline, but U.S. officials say he will sign the waiver and also order the State Department to begin the relocation process.

Why has Trump recognized Jerusalem?

Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He adopted a strong pro-Israel position as a candidate that appealed to his large evangelical base and pro-Israel American Jews.

Trump’s promise was very popular with those two segments of his supporters, including casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who donated $25 million to a political action committee that supported Trump during his campaign.

U.S. administration officials say the recognition of Jerusalem acknowledges “the historical and current reality” of Jerusalem.

​Why is Jerusalem, long the source of intense contention, so significant? 

Israelis and Palestinians have made claims over Jerusalem, the seat of Israel’s government. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital while the Palestinians see the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future Palestinian state. 

The conflict is focused on Jerusalem’s Old City, which is home to Islam’s third most holy mosque and Judaism’s holiest site and the reasons the city has been a contentious issue for Jews and Muslims throughout the world.

Although Israel controls the city, its annexation of east Jerusalem is not recognized by the global community, which wants the decades-long conflict to be settled at the negotiating table.

Jerusalem is also home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried. The Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations and the Greek Orthodox share custody of the church, where tensions frequently escalate over control of its various quarters.

What has been the reaction to Trump’s decision?

Palestinians have reacted angrily to the Trump decision, warning that it would disrupt, if not end, U.S.-sponsored negotiations aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and creating a Palestinian state next to Israel.

The decision is being applauded by Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is one of Trump’s most fervent international supporters.

Leaders of the largest Christian denominations in Jerusalem have urged Trump to reconsider his decision. They said in a letter to Trump that his decision will result in “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”

The letter was signed by all of Jerusalem’s major church leaders, including the Greek Orthodox patriarch and the Roman Catholic apostolic administrator.

​What are the potential ramifications?

Trump’s move overturns nearly seven decades of foreign policy and analysts warn it could threaten efforts to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Arab leaders warn it could elicit new outbreaks of violence, prompting the White House to prepare by coordinating plans to protect Americans abroad.

Israeli security officials say they are prepared for all scenarios.

In addition to angering key allies in the in the Arab world, the move threatens to infuriate allies in the West.

Conflict in Jerusalem

The Israelis and the Palestinians maintain a discrete security relationship in the West Bank that has helped prevent an escalation in violence in recent years.

But much of the violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been linked to tensions in the Holy City.

Jerusalem is a largely open city, but a nearly decade-old Israeli separation barrier cuts through several Arab communities and requires tens of thousands of Palestinians to pass through crowded checkpoints to reach the city’s center.

Deadly riots broke out in Jerusalem in 1996 after Israel opened a new tunnel in the Old City. A second Palestinian eruption occurred in 2000 after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, which has been revered as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

The city experienced a string of Palestinian stabbings in late 2015, partially due to an increase in the number of Jewish nationalist visitors to the Temple Mount. Last summer, Jerusalem experienced weeks of unrest when Israel attempted to install security cameras next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a Palestinian’s fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers.

Trump Set to Announce US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital

President Donald Trump is planning to announce Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But analysts and officials say the president is not expected to set a date for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, a step that would most likely trigger an extreme reaction in the Arab world.

In preparation for the announcement, Trump spoke by phone Tuesday with five Middle East leaders to brief them on his decision.

A White House statement identified the five as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Few details

The statement gave few details of the conversations except to say, “The leaders also discussed potential decisions regarding Jerusalem.” It added that Trump had reaffirmed his commitment to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Bloomberg News quoted a person familiar with Trump’s decision as saying the president had decided to sign a waiver postponing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the embassy must be relocated to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver every six months stating that the matter is to be decided between the Israelis and Palestinians. Every president since Clinton has signed the waiver, including Trump, who did so when it came due in June.

Dennis Ross was U.S. point man on the Middle East peace process under three presidents and worked with Israelis and Palestinians to reach the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1995. He said Tuesday that Trump appeared to be leaving a lot of room for both Israelis and Arabs to maneuver in the new environment.

In a briefing for reporters, Ross said it’s very important for the president to allow opportunities for Palestinians and Arabs in the region to say that their position “still has to be part of the negotiation process. … That seems to me to be the key to this.”

On the eve of Trump’s expected announcement, Reuters quoted unnamed State Department officials as expressing concern about the potential for a violent backlash against Israel and also possibly against American interests in the region.

When asked whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “on board” with a decision that could put U.S. citizens and troops in the Middle East at risk, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “I think the secretary has communicated clearly, as have all the members of the inner agency who have a role in making this decision. … He has made his positions clear to the White House. I think the Department of Defense has as well. But it is ultimately the president’s decision to make. He is in charge.”

​Preparing for violence

In a security message released Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, noting widespread calls for demonstrations this week, barred personal travel by American government workers and their families in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, until further notice. 

U.S. embassies worldwide also were ordered to increase security in anticipation of protests.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the international community maintains its final status must be determined in negotiations.

Nevertheless, Trump has said he is committed to a promise he made last year during the election campaign to move the U.S. Embassy out of Tel Aviv, a step favored by many American Jews and Christian evangelicals.

Jerusalem is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the holiest site of all.

Arab and Muslim states have warned that any decision to move the U.S. Embassy could inflame tensions in the region and destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

No longer a credible mediator

Senior Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath said Trump would no longer be seen as a credible mediator. “The Palestinian Authority does not condone violence, but it may not be able to control the street and prevent a third Palestinian uprising,” he said, speaking in Arabic.

Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the level of anger the announcement might provoke would depend greatly on how Trump presented the issue.

“If the president just says, ‘We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ without trying to define it further and without actually beginning the process of moving the embassy, then it’s a big nothingburger,” he told VOA.

Feierstein, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen, and later as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs under former President Barack Obama, said if Trump went any further, it could trigger a backlash and deal a crushing blow to peace efforts.

“If what he says is perceived as, or is in fact, a recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and he is no longer maintaining the international position that Jerusalem is to be divided and that East Jerusalem is to become the capital of the Palestinian state once there is an agreement, then that is going to have a very negative effect on the peace process,” Feierstein said.

“So the devil is in the details about how significant this is going to be,” he said.

VOA’s Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.

Senate Confirms Nielsen to Head US Homeland Security

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Deputy White House chief of staff Kirstjen Nielsen as President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

 

Senators approved Nielsen’s nomination, 62-37, on Tuesday. Nielsen, 45, is a former DHS official who is considered a protege of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former DHS secretary.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Nielsen a qualified candidate with the talent and experience to succeed. As a former DHS chief of staff, Nielsen understands the department’s daily operations and is ready to lead on her first day, McConnell said.

Democrats have concerns

Democrats complained that Nielsen lacks the experience needed to run a major agency with 240,000 employees. They also cited concerns about possible White House interference in a recent DHS decision to send home thousands of Nicaraguans and Haitians long granted U.S. protection.

Homeland Security oversees the nation’s borders, cybersecurity and response to natural disasters, among other areas.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Nielsen brings valuable, practical experience to DHS. He called her an expert in risk management, with a focus on cybersecurity, emergency management and critical infrastructure.

Nielsen “is ready to answer this call to duty,” Johnson said. “She has been working in and around the Department of Homeland Security since its creation.”

Questionable decisions

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Nielsen has played a role in several questionable Trump administration decisions, including a travel ban to restrict entry from six mostly Muslim countries, termination of a program for young immigrants and what Harris called a “feeble response to Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey.”

Harris also said she was troubled by Nielsen’s failure to acknowledge at her confirmation hearing how human behavior contributes to climate change.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, which promotes immigrants’ rights, said Trump has worked to punish immigrants and refugees, from his call to build a wall along the Mexican border to the partial travel ban to raids against immigrants.

‘Architect’ in Trump’s policies

As a key Kelly aide, Nielsen is “one of the architects” of Trump’s immigration policies, Sharry said. He called Nielsen “a willing accomplice, helping to shape and implement this profoundly disturbing and un-American vision of our country.”

Nielsen said at her confirmation hearing last month that climate change is a crucial issue and said the Trump administration is revising its climate models to better respond to rising sea levels.

“I can’t unequivocally state it’s caused by humans,” she said. “There are many contributions to it.”

Cybersecurity a top priority

On other topics, Nielsen said she agreed with Kelly that a U.S.-Mexico border wall is unlikely to be a physical barrier from “sea to shining sea.”

She also condemned white nationalism, rejected Islamophobia and promised to make cybersecurity a top priority.

Trump repeatedly promised during the campaign that he would build the wall and that Mexico would pay for it, but the administration is seeking billions in taxpayer dollars to finance the project.

Homeland Security has been leading the charge on implementing Trump’s aggressive immigration agenda, and Nielsen pledged to continue that work.

 

White House Denies Reports Trump Financial Records Subpoenaed

The White House on Tuesday strongly denied that the special prosecutor looking into alleged Russian interference in last year’s election has asked a German bank for records relating to accounts held by Donald Trump and his family members.

“We’ve confirmed this with the bank and other sources” that it is not true, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during the daily briefing. “I think this is another example of the media going too far, too fast and we don’t see it going in that direction.”

A member of the president’s legal team, Jay Sekulow, issued a statement that “no subpoena has been issued or received.”

Deutsche Bank

However, Deutsche Bank appears to be acknowledging there has been a related request, saying it “takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations into this matter.”

The bank received a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller several weeks ago to provide information on certain transactions and key documents have already been handed over, according to the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt.

Similar details also were reported Tuesday by the Bloomberg and Reuters news agencies, as well as the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Financial Times newspaper Deutsche Bank has begun sending information about its dealings with Trump to U.S investigators.

A person with direct knowledge of the German bank’s actions told the newspaper this began several weeks ago.

“Deutsche could not hand over client information without a subpoena,” said a second person with direct knowledge of the subpoena, according to the newspaper. “It’s helpful to be ordered to do so.”

The subpoenas concern “people or entities affiliated with President Donald Trump, according to a person briefed on the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reported in an update to its story.

“I would think it’s something more than a fishing expedition,” says Edwin Truman, a former U.S. Treasury Department assistant secretary for international affairs.

“At a minimum, they know there’s some fish in this pond and they want to know whether they’re nice fish or bad fish,” Truman, a nonresident fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Affairs, tells VOA.

If the reports are true, “this is a significant development in that it makes clear that Mueller is now investigating President Trump’s finances, something that the president has always said would be a red line for him,” says William Pomeranz of the Wilson Center, who teaches Russian law at Georgetown University.

“The substance of any potential charges remains unclear, but Deutsche Bank already has paid significant penalties in a Russian money laundering case, and I am sure that it does not welcome further investigations into its Russia operations,” says Pomeranz, who as a lawyer advised clients on investment in Russia and anti-money laundering requirements.

Relationship with family

The bank has a longstanding relationship with the Trump family, previously loaning the Trump organization hundreds of millions of dollars for real estate ventures.

Trump had liabilities of at least $130 million to a unit of the German bank, according to a federal financial disclosure form released in June by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

“Special counsel Mueller’s subpoena of Deutsche Bank would be a very significant development,” says Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. “If Russia laundered money through the Trump Organization, it would be far more compromising than any salacious video and could be used as leverage against Donald Trump and his associates and family.”

Congressional Democrats, in June, asked the bank to hand over records regarding Trump’s loans, but lawmakers say their request was rebuffed, with the financial institution citing client privacy concerns.  

 

A U.S. official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe, according to Reuters, said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out whether the bank may have sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB or other Russian banks that now are under U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Deutsche Bank, in January, agreed to pay $630 million in fines for allegedly organizing $10 billion in sham trades that could have been used to launder money out of Russia.

Red line

Trump earlier this year, when asked if examining his and his family’s finances unrelated to the Russia probe would cross a red line, replied, “I would say yeah. I would say yes.”

 

Trump, unlike previous U.S. presidents dating back four decades, has refused to make public his U.S. tax returns that would show his year-to-year income. Trump, a billionaire, is the richest U.S. president ever, although some analysts have questioned whether Trump’s assets total $10 billion as he claims.

Before he became president last January, Trump, who still owns an array of companies, turned over the day-to-day operation of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and a longtime executive at the firm.

Trump Delays Announcement on Whether US Embassy to Be Moved to Jerusalem

President Donald Trump will not announce a decision on Monday on whether he will again delay moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a White House spokesman said, despite Monday’s deadline for doing so.

An announcement on the decision will be made “in coming days,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump was returning from a trip to Utah.

Temporary order expected

Trump had been due to decide whether to sign a waiver that would hold off relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, as every U.S. president has done since Congress passed a law on the issue in 1995.

Senior U.S. officials have said that Trump is expected to issue a temporary order, the second since he took office, to delay moving the embassy despite his campaign pledge to go ahead with the controversial action.

No final decision yet  

But the officials have said Trump is likely to give a speech on Wednesday unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a step that would break with decades of U.S. policy and could fuel violence in the Middle East. They have said, however, that no final decisions have been made.

“The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go; that it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Gidley said.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on all of the city, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.

 

Immigrants Become Illegal While Waiting to Serve in US Military

They have raised their right hands, and sworn an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. They have college degrees, and have enlisted in the U.S. Army.

They have also fallen out of their immigration status, exposing them to deportation.

“I did everything I could to stay with valid status,” A.M., an Army reservist, told VOA.

A.M., 35 years old, who asked not to be identified because she is afraid of deportation, enlisted in the Army in March 2015 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI.

MAVNI was launched in 2009 to bring immigrants with medical or language skills into the armed services.

The program also allowed foreign-born military recruits to earn a fast-track path to American citizenship.

But nearly two years after enlisting, A.M. is still waiting to ship out to basic training and her student visa has expired.

The reason: The Pentagon, citing national security concerns, ordered intensive background checks on MAVNI service members and recruits.

In September 2016, the U.S. government retroactively required background checks on anyone who enlisted in the military through the MAVNI program, including anyone who was currently serving or waiting to be shipped to basic training. The government also stopped recruiting legal aliens.

October 2016 was when A.M. was scheduled to leave for basic training.

A.M. was told she had to maintain her visa status until a shipping date. She did. But her first shipping date was canceled. Her second shipping date, April 2017, has come and gone — and she has fallen out of status.

Without basic training, A.M.’s expedited naturalization process does not move forward. 

“Ever since I raised my hand, I go to every single drill,” A.M. said.

VOA spoke to seven people who have enlisted as active and reserve Army members and have also fallen out of status. All have signed enlistment contracts, have gone through the necessary background checks and have been waiting for more than two years to ship out.

Backlog on background checks

Everyone who wants to serve in the military has to go through background checks.

“They check to make sure you are not a criminal or a terrorist. They check your credit records. They run your fingerprints. They ask you a whole bunch of questions. That’s required before you can sign an enlistment contract,” Margaret Stock, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who created the MAVNI program back in 2008, told VOA.

With the MAVNI’S, she said, the government expanded the background check.

“I should tell you they already were doing a lot more background checking on the MAVNIs anyway. They are the most checked group of people that entered the U.S. military,” Stock said.

The MAVNIs, in addition to the regular screening, were being individually approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

“DHS was approving every single one of the enlistments individually. After checking all their immigration documents. … They were also doing something on the MAVNIs called a single scope background investigation, which is not done on most U.S. citizens who join the military,” Stock said.

This is an investigation normally done on someone getting top-secret clearance with the U.S. government.

These additional checks were being done before September 2016, when the Pentagon decided to run counterintelligence screening on each MAVNI.

“Basically, this caused the system to collapse. Because the government doesn’t have enough resources to do all these types of background checks on 10,000 people [the number accepted to MAVN],” Stock said.

The Department of Defense estimates it has a clearance backlog of 700,000, a figure that also includes civilians and contractors.

The backlog is causing “extreme” delays in shipping people to basic training. MAVNIs are not allowed to go to training until they have gone through these checks.

“But they didn’t have the resources to do them. So it caused two years, three years delays in people being shipped to training. And as of today, they still haven’t completed the background checks on everybody,” Stock said.

Without completed background checks, MAVNIs cannot ship to basic training. Without basic training, they do not qualify for expedited U.S. naturalization.

Changes in expedited citizenship

In mid-October, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters that an assessment of MAVNI found the program had problems.

“We are taking the steps, obviously, to save the program if it can be saved, and I believe it can,” he said.

Within days, the U.S. Department of Defense toughened the requirements for expedited naturalization, requiring enlistees to serve at “least 180 consecutive days of active-duty service, or at least one year of satisfactory service in the selected reserve.”

This is a change from the current practice, where a service member would qualify for “expedited naturalization” after one day of service.

Stock says there are legal reasons why the one-day policy was the original choice.

“They deploy overseas a lot. Sometimes they might go to their own original country and, if they’re not American citizens, they would be subjected to that country’s laws,” she said.

And naturalization could always be taken away. “If you don’t serve honorably for five years, you can lose your citizenship. … That’s a trade-off. They can let you have it right away, but you can lose it,” Stock said.

Staying legal

A.M. moved to the U.S. in 2005 with a J-1 visa to work as an au pair. After that, she got a sponsor, attended college and changed to an F-1 student visa.

“I saw as an opportunity to start a life here, to study, and from there maybe other doors would open for me to stay here,” A.M. said.

In Brazil, her home country, A.M. had a bachelor’s degree in translation. In the U.S., she earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education.

“Once I graduated, I started to teach. … I had my own classroom. The kids, they were wonderful, and working with parents, it was a great job,” she said.

She was eligible to work in the U.S. under Optional Practical Training, temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.

During that time, she worked on getting a sponsor for a longer-term work visa.

“I taught [for] about 10 months because I was trying to get a work visa, but the school I was working did not want to sponsor anybody,” she said.

A.M. heard about MAVNI in 2015.

“After I enlisted, I had to keep my student visa so I went back to school once again,” she said.

A.M says all together, she spent about $50,000 in American schools to keep her student visa valid.

There were times, she said, things were “so difficult that I was eating food from the dollar store, so that I could pay for college and could stay here.

“I am so close, though. But at the same time, I am so tired because my life is on hold,” she said. “At this point I was supposed to be a citizen already. I never thought it would take this long, and all the stress we’re going through.”

A.M.’s biggest worry is her enlistment contract being terminated since she has yet to go to basic training. The Washington Post reported in September that U.S. Army recruiters had “abruptly canceled enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born military recruits.”

A.M. fears deportation.

“I’m a very independent person here,” she said. “I see so much violence in my home country, so much injustice. … My life is here.”

VOA reached out to the U.S. Department of Defense, but the department did not respond to a request for comment.

Mattis Urges Pakistan to Redouble Efforts Against Terrorists

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday insisted his country is “committed” to the war against terrorism. The comment came during a meeting in Islamabad with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Outwardly, there were no signs of tension between the two men. However, it’s a different story behind the scenes, reports VOA’s Bill Gallo, who is traveling with the Pentagon chief.

Trump Tweets About Russia Probe Spark Warnings From Lawmakers

A series of tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump about the investigation into contacts between his 2016 campaign and Russia prompted concerns on Sunday among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying Trump could be wading into “peril” by commenting on the probe.

“I would just say this with the president: There’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” Graham said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril,” he added.

On Sunday morning, Trump wrote on Twitter that he never asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser – a statement at odds with an account Comey himself has given.

That tweet followed one on Saturday in which Trump said: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President (Mike Pence) and the FBI.”

Legal experts and some Democratic lawmakers said if Trump knew Flynn lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then pressured Comey not to investigate him, that could bolster a charge of obstruction of justice.

Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, told Reuters in an interview on Sunday that he had drafted the Saturday tweet and “made a mistake” when he composed it.

“The mistake was I should have put the lying to the FBI in a separate line referencing his plea,” Dowd said. “Instead, I put it together and it made all you guys go crazy. A tweet is a shorthand.”

Dowd said the first time the president knew for a fact that Flynn lied to the FBI was when he was charged.

Dowd also clouded the issue by saying that then-acting U.S. attorney general Sally Yates informed White House counsel Don McGahn in January that Flynn told FBI agents the same thing he told Pence, and that McGahn reported his conversation with Yates to Trump. He said Yates did not characterize Flynn’s conduct as a legal violation.

Dowd said it was the first and last time he would craft a tweet for the president.

“I’ll take responsibility,” he said. “I’m sorry I misled people.”

Yates did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a lawyer for McGahn did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Continual tweets’

The series of tweets came after a dramatic turn of events on Friday in which Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations last December with Russia’s then-ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak, just weeks before Trump entered the White House.

Flynn also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors delving into contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russia before the president took office.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she believed the indictments in the investigation so far and Trump’s “continual tweets” pointed toward an obstruction of justice case.

“I see it most importantly in what happened with the firing of Director Comey. And it is my belief that that is directly because he did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. That’s obstruction of justice,” Feinstein said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The president knew [Flynn] had lied to the FBI, which means that when he talked to the FBI director and asked him to effectively drop this case, he knew that Flynn had committed a federal crime,” Adam Schiff, senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told the ABC program “This Week.”

The Russia matter has dogged Trump’s first year in office, and this weekend overshadowed his first big legislative win when the Senate approved a tax bill.

Flynn was the first member of Trump’s administration to

plead guilty to a crime uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. election and potential collusion by Trump aides.

Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has said there was no collusion.

Comey, who had been investigating the Russia allegations, was fired by Trump in May. He told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in June he believed his dismissal was related to the Russia probe, and said Trump asked him to end the investigation of Flynn.

“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

On CBS, Graham criticized Comey, saying he believed the former FBI director made some “very, very wrong” decisions during his tenure. But Graham also said Trump should be careful about his tweets.

“I’d be careful if I were you, Mr. President. I’d watch this,” Graham said.