Judge holds Donald Trump in contempt, fines him $9,000 and raises threat of jail in hush money trial

Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks, as his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York City, on April 30, 2024
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Donald Trump was held in contempt of court on April 30 and fined $9,000 for repeatedly violating a gag order that barred him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and some others connected to his New York hush money case. If he does it again, the judge warned, he could be jailed.

Prosecutors had alleged 10 violations, but New York Judge Juan M. Merchan found there were nine. The ruling was a stinging rebuke for the Republican former president, who had insisted he was exercising his free speech rights.

Merchan wrote that Mr. Trump “is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

Mr. Trump stared down at the table in front of him as the judge read the ruling, frowning slightly.

The ruling came at the start of the second week of testimony in the historic case. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump and his associates took part in an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential campaign by burying negative stories. He has pleaded not guilty.

Trump must pay the fine by the close of business on Friday, Merchan said in a written ruling. He must remove seven offending posts from his Truth Social account and two from his campaign website by 2:15 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Merchan said.

Merchan is also weighing other alleged gag order violations by Trump and will hear arguments Thursday.

Court was resuming Tuesday with Gary Farro, a banker who helped Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen open accounts, including one that Cohen used to buy the silence of porn performer Stormy Daniels. She alleged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, which he denies.

For his part, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee has been campaigning in his off-hours, but he is required to be in court when it is in session, four days a week. Outside the courtroom, Trump criticized prosecutors again.

“This is a case that should have never been brought,” he said.

Jurors so far have heard from two other witnesses. Trump’s former longtime executive assistant, Rhona Graff, recounted that she recalled once seeing Daniels at Trump’s office suite in Trump Tower and figured the performer was a potential contestant for one of Trump’s “Apprentice”-brand shows. Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker laid out how he agreed to serve as the Trump campaign’s “eyes and ears” by helping to squelch unflattering rumors and claims about Trump and women.

Through detailed testimony on email exchanges, business transactions and bank accounts, prosecutors are forming the foundation of their argument that Trump is guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payments. The prosecution is leading up to crucial testimony from Cohen himself, who went to federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

It’s unclear when Cohen will take the stand; the trial is expected to go on another month or more. And with every moment Trump is in court as the first of his four criminal trials plays out, he’s growing increasingly frustrated while the November election moves ever closer.

“Our country’s going to hell and we sit here day after day after day, which is their plan, because they think they might be able to eke out an election,” Trump declared last week in the courthouse hallway.

Also this week, Merchan may decide on prosecutors’ request to fine Trump for what they say were violations of a gag order that bars him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and some others connected to the case. The judge also has set a hearing Thursday on another batch of alleged gag order violations.

Prosecutors used Pecker, Trump’s longtime friend, to detail a “catch and kill” arrangement in which he collected seamy stories about the candidate so the National Enquirer or Trump’s associates could buy and bury the claims. Pecker described how he paid $180,000 to scoop up and sit on stories from a doorman and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. He didn’t involve himself in the Daniels payout, he said. He testified for parts of four days.

Trump says all the stories were false. His attorneys used cross-examination to suggest Trump was really engaged in an effort to protect his name and his family — not to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Farro first took the stand Friday. While a senior managing director at First Republic Bank, he was assigned to work with Trump’s lawyer for about three years, in part because of his “ability to handle individuals who may be a little challenging,” Farro said, adding that he didn’t find Cohen difficult.

Farro detailed to jurors the process of helping Cohen create accounts for two limited liability companies — corporate-speak for a business account that protects the person behind the account from liability, debt and other issues. Farro testified that Cohen indicated the companies, Resolution Consultants LLC and Essential Consultants LLC, would be involved in real estate consulting.

Prosecutors showed jurors emails in which Cohen describes the opening of the Resolution Consultants account as an “important matter.”

Cohen acknowledged when he pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018 that it had been formed to send money to American Media, Inc., the Enquirer publisher. It was meant as a payback for their purchase of McDougal’s story. But the deal never went through.

Farro said that since the account was never funded, it was never technically opened. Instead, Cohen pivoted to starting up the Essential Consultants account, which he later used to pay Daniels $130,000.

When asked whether Cohen seemed anxious to get the bank accounts set up, Farro testified: “Every time Michael Cohen spoke to me, he gave a sense of urgency.”

Farro told the 12-person panel that the bank’s policy prohibited doing business with entities tied to “adult entertainment,” including pornography and strip clubs. Trump’s lawyers have not yet had a chance to cross-examine Farro.

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Columbia University suspends students, refuses to divest from Israel as protests persist

New York’s Columbia University on Monday, April 29, began suspending students who refused to leave a ‘Gaza Solidarity Encampment’ after negotiations with protesters failed and the students decided to ignore a warning that remaining would lead to their suspension and eviction.

Columbia said the nearly two-week-long protest violated university policies, created an unwelcoming and “intolerable” environment for Jewish students and that “external actors” have contributed to a “hostile environment” around university gates and it had become a “noisy distraction” for students.

‘Free Palestine’

Tensions have escalated at universities across the U.S. with Columbia under the spotlight since its leadership called the New York Police Department to break up anti-war protesters’ encampments. Encampments and sit-ins at universities across the country expanded following the arrests at Columbia earlier this month. Police have arrested students at top American universities including Harvard, Yale, New York University, and Columbia amid widespread protests in solidarity with Palestine amid Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza.

ALSO READ | Why are students protesting across U.S. campuses? | Explained

Meanwhile the University of Southern California cancelled its main commencement ceremony, citing safety concerns amid the protests. On Monday, chaos erupted at the University of Texas in Austin as law enforcement moved in to make arrests and forcibly dismantle a pro-Palestine protest encampment amid chants of “Free Palestine”.

On Monday morning, around 10 a.m., Columbia University administrators distributed a notice to the encampment stating that negotiations with student protest leaders were at an impasse.

‘Disclose! Divest’

The notices, viewed by this correspondent, asked protesters to identify themselves to a university official and sign a form agreeing to an alternative resolution for the university policy violations that the encampment posed. The university had told student demonstrators to vacate by 2 p.m. or else “be suspended pending further investigation” and barred from completing the spring semester.

Students continue to protest at an encampment supporting Palestinians at Columbia University, despite an afternoon deadline issued by university officials to disband or face suspension, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, U.S., April 29, 2024.
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At the encampment, now in its second week, students voted nearly unanimously to stay put as participants chanted: “The more you try to silence us, the louder we will be.”

Students at the encampment, accompanied by numerous supporters comprising fellow students, staff, and faculty, spent a tense afternoon gathering around the location in a display of solidarity aimed at preventing the forceful removal of the tents. Around 2:45 p.m. — after the 2 p.m. warning time to leave — protesters marched around the encampment and chanted “Disclose! Divest! We will not slow, we will not rest!’” and “Free Palestine.”

ALSO READ | Nemat ‘Minouche’ Shafik: Columbia University president under fire

Just outside the encampment, about a dozen faculty in yellow and orange safety vests also stayed behind, with several saying they planned to remain overnight to make sure their students’ right to protest was respected. As the 2 p.m. deadline neared, faculty members stood in front of the encampment linking their arms.

Jennifer Lena, an Associate Professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, said she came to ensure that the students were safe from threats of eviction. “I am here to ensure that our students can speak their minds safely on campus… and I am here to make sure that they can continue to do that as safely as possible.”

On April 18, University president Minouche Shafik’s decision to authorise the NYPD’s sweep of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” which led to the mass arrest of over 100 protesters, had left many community members stunned. Over 100 faculty members from the University on April 22 gathered on the campus for a walkout to condemn the suspension and arrests of students and call for amnesty and protection of academic freedom.

File picture of president of Columbia University Nemat Shafik

File picture of president of Columbia University Nemat Shafik
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However, by 4 p.m., as uncertainty loomed while there were no signs of police intervention, majority of protesters started to scatter while some students and approximately 80 tents remained within the encampment. Around 5:30 p.m. Columbia University began suspending students who defied orders to vacate their pro-Palestinian protest by 2 p.m.

“We have begun suspending students,” Ben Chang, vice president for communications and a spokesperson for the university, said about three hours after the deadline passed. The university did not say how many students were suspended.

Mass arrests

Over the past two weeks hundreds of students have been arrested across U.S. for taking part in anti-war protests. The protesters at Columbia have inspired similar demonstrations on campuses across the country.

Columbia University doubled down on its stance regarding Israel making its position clear it ‘won’t’ divest from Israel’—a key demand of the students protesting in the encampment.

State troopers arrest a pro-Palestinian protester at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, Monday, April 29, 2024.

State troopers arrest a pro-Palestinian protester at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, Monday, April 29, 2024.
| Photo Credit:

Sueda Polat, a student organiser with the encampment, said the university had not made significant concessions to the protesters’ main demand: divestment from companies with links to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Columbia had also stopped negotiating. As a result, she said, the students inside the encampment “will not be moved unless by force.”

Ms. Polat said university officials “have shown a clear disregard” for the protesters’ demands.

The university has been trying to avoid calling back the police, whose intervention on April 18 at the request of administrators came under heavy criticism and attracted a wave of angry protests.

“We called on NYPD to clear an encampment once,” Ms. Shafik, the University president, wrote in a statement to the community last Friday co-signed by the co-chairs of Columbia’s board of trustees. “But we all share the view, based on discussions within our community and with outside experts, that to bring back the NYPD at this time would be counterproductive, further inflaming what is happening on campus.”

Though Columbia had previously suspended approximately 50 students for participating in the initial encampment on an adjacent lawn, the action did not dissuade a broader coalition of protesters from establishing the current encampment.

Joseph Howley, Associate Professor at Columbia University, said, “first, for six months, the university has capitulated to the extremist ideological position that political speech about Palestine, on behalf of Palestine is anti-Semitic. It’s not true and is an extreme position and the university leadership keeps adopting it over and over again for no good reason.”

Mr. Howley was part of the faculty who joined members in encircling the encampment to protect the students on Monday.

“Second, the only thing that has increased in terms of anti-Semitism and other form of prejudicial harassment on and around this campus has been the university, calling the police last week making the campus a flashpoint attracting bad actors and radicals from all over the city. We have had ugly things said outside campus… while on campus, the encampment has been peaceful and calm, and orderly and on message. So if there’s a problem here, it’s being created by the university leadership and NYPD and political pressure from outside,” Mr. Howley added.

‘Intimidation tactic’

Mahmoud Khalil, a graduate student and the lead negotiator on behalf of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the student coalition that has organised the encampment, called the deadline “just another intimidation tactic from the university”.

Columbia was the first institution struck by protests in support of the Palestinian cause, with students demanding that the school divest from investments that support weapons manufacturing and Israel amid the backdrop of the war on Gaza, in which more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the coalition organising the encampment protest, said in a statement on Monday: “These repulsive scare tactics mean nothing compared to the deaths of over 34,000 Palestinians. We will not move until Columbia meets our demands or we are moved by force.”

The group criticised the university’s “threat to mass suspend, evict and possibly expel students” with just hours’ notice as a violation of the school’s rules.

“We have paused negotiations until Columbia comes to the table in good faith, without the threat of violence. If the university does not come forward with real, concrete proposals that address our demands, we will have no choice but to escalate the intensity of protest on campus,” the group said.

Columbia University spokesperson did not respond to queries on whether the administration will allow NYPD on the campus again to disperse the students from the encampment.

Anisha Dutta is a freelance journalist based in New York.

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Palestinian flag unfurled by protesters at venue of Biden’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner event

Amid an increasing number of protests against Israel’s war in Palestine in the U.S., especially across Ivy League campuses, a huge Palestinian flag was spotted at the venue of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, The New York Post reported.

Calling for ending civilian casualties in Gaza, a group of protesters draped a huge Palestinian flag over the side of the venue of the event. They sloganeered as the dinner guests and U.S. President Joe Biden arrived at the venue, The New York Post reported.

Some of the demonstrators were seen carrying a large sign that read “Biden’s legacy is genocide”, while others yelled “Stop the genocide in Gaza” as Mr. Biden’s motorcade passed by on the way to the hotel, The New York Post reported, citing the videos circulating online.

However, neither Mr. Biden nor the journalists, politicians and celebrities who attended the event mentioned the war in Gaza.

Instead, Mr. Biden used the annual White House correspondents’ dinner to make jokes and issue grim warnings about Republican rival Donald Trump’s fight to reclaim the U.S. presidency.

Biden focuses on Trump

Mr. Biden opened his roast with a direct but joking focus on Mr. Trump, calling him “sleepy Don,” in reference to a nickname Trump had given the president previously.

U.S. President Joe Biden talks to Colin Jost, the host of this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 27, 2024, in Washington.
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Despite being similar in age, Mr. Biden said, the two presidential hopefuls have little else in common. “My vice president actually endorses me,” Mr. Biden said. Former Trump Vice President Mike Pence has refused to endorse Mr. Trump’s reelection bid.

But the president quickly segued to a grim speech about what he believes is at stake this election, saying that another Mr. Trump administration would be even more harmful to America than his first term.

“We have to take this serious — eight years ago we could have written it off as ‘Trump talk’ but not after January 6,” he told the audience, referring to the supporters of Trump who stormed the Capitol after Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump did not attend Saturday’s dinner and never attended the annual banquet as president.

In 2011, he sat in the audience and glowered through a roasting by then-President Barack Obama of Mr. Trump’s reality-television celebrity status. Mr. Obama’s sarcasm then was so scalding that many political watchers linked it to Mr. Trump’s subsequent decision to run for president in 2016.

Mr. Biden’s speech, which lasted around 10 minutes, made no mention of the ongoing war or the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Host Colin Jost, left, and President Joe Biden applaud as an image of Austin Tise, an American journalist detained in Syria, appears on screen at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

Host Colin Jost, left, and President Joe Biden applaud as an image of Austin Tise, an American journalist detained in Syria, appears on screen at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
| Photo Credit:

One of the few mentions came from Kelly O’Donnell, president of the correspondents’ association, who briefly noted some 100 journalists killed in Israel’s 6-month-old war against Hamas in Gaza.

In an evening dedicated in large part to journalism, Ms. O’Donnell cited journalists who have been detained across the world, including Americans Evan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice, who is believed to be held in Syria. Families of both men were in attendance as they have been at previous dinners.

The event drew nearly 3,000 people. Celebrities included Academy Award winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm and Chris Pine.

Both the president and comedian Colin Jost, who spoke after Mr. Biden, made jabs at the age of both the candidates for president. “I’m not saying both candidates are old. But you know Jimmy Carter is out there thinking, ‘maybe I can win this thing,’” Mr. Jost said. “He’s only 99.”

Protesters condemn Biden, Western news outlets

To get inside Saturday’s dinner, some guests had to hurry through hundreds of protesters outraged over the mounting humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They condemned Mr. Biden for his support of Israel’s military campaign and Western news outlets for what they said was under coverage and misrepresentation of the conflict.

Demonstrators walk the streets during a pro-Palestinian protest over the Israel-Hamas war outside the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, on April 27, 2024, in Washington.

Demonstrators walk the streets during a pro-Palestinian protest over the Israel-Hamas war outside the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, on April 27, 2024, in Washington.
| Photo Credit:

“Shame on you!” protesters draped in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth shouted, running after men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses holding clutch purses as guests hurried inside for the dinner. “Western media we see you, and all the horrors that you hide,” crowds chanted at one point.

Other protesters lay sprawled motionless on the pavement, next to mock-ups of flak vests with “press” insignia.

Ralliers cried “Free, free Palestine.” They cheered when at one point someone inside the Washington Hilton — where the dinner has been held for decades — unfurled a Palestinian flag from a top-floor hotel window.

Also read: Why are students protesting across U.S. campuses? | Explained

Criticism of the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has spread through American college campuses, with students pitching encampments and withstanding police sweeps in an effort to force their universities to divest from Israel. Counterprotests back Israel’s offensive and complain of antisemitism.

Mr. Biden’s motorcade Saturday took an alternate route from the White House to the Washington Hilton than in previous years, largely avoiding the crowds of demonstrators.

Law enforcement, including the Secret Service, instituted extra street closures and other measures to ensure what Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said would be the “highest levels of safety and security for attendees.”

Protest organizers said they aimed to bring attention to the high numbers of Palestinian and other Arab journalists killed by Israel’s military since the war began in October.

Boycott calls

More than two dozen journalists in Gaza wrote a letter last week calling on their colleagues in Washington to boycott the dinner altogether.

“The toll exacted on us for merely fulfilling our journalistic duties is staggering,” the letter stated. “We are subjected to detentions, interrogations, and torture by the Israeli military, all for the ‘crime’ of journalistic integrity.”

One organiser complained that the White House Correspondents’ Association — which represents the hundreds of journalists who cover the president — largely has been silent since the first weeks of the war about the killings of Palestinian journalists. WHCA did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a preliminary investigation released on April 26 by the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 100 journalists have been killed covering the war in Gaza. Israel has defended its actions, saying it has been targeting militants.

“Since the Israel-Gaza war began, journalists have been paying the highest price — their lives — to defend our right to the truth. Each time a journalist dies or is injured, we lose a fragment of that truth,” CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna said in a statement.

Sandra Tamari, executive director of Adalah Justice Project, a U.S.-based Palestinian advocacy group that helped organize the letter from journalists in Gaza, said “it is shameful for the media to dine and laugh with President Biden while he enables the Israeli devastation and starvation of Palestinians in Gaza.”

In addition, Adalah Justice Project started an email campaign targeting 12 media executives at various news outlets — including The Associated Press — expected to attend the dinner who previously signed onto a letter calling for the protection of journalists in Gaza.

“How can you still go when your colleagues in Gaza asked you not to?” a demonstrator asked guests heading in. “You are complicit.”

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U.S. House passes billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel after months of struggle

The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.

With an overwhelming vote, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine passed in a matter of minutes, a strong showing as American lawmakers race to deliver a fresh round of U.S. support to the war-torn ally. Many Democrats cheered on the House floor and waved blue-and-yellow flags of Ukraine.

Aid to Israel and the other allies also won approval by healthy margins, as did a measure to clamp down on the popular platform TikTok, with unique coalitions forming to push the separate bills forward. The whole package will go to the Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

“We did our work here, and I think history will judge it well,” said a weary Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who risked his own job to marshal the package to passage.

Biden, in a statement, thanked Johnson, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers “who voted to put our national security first.”

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” the president said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said he was “grateful” to both parties in the House and “personally Speaker Mike Johnson for the decision that keeps history on the right track,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Thank you, America!” he said.

The scene in Congress was a striking display of action after months of dysfunction and stalemate fueled by Republicans, who hold the majority but are deeply split over foreign aid, particularly for Ukraine. Johnson relied on Democrats to ensure the military and humanitarian funding — the first major package for Ukraine since December 2022 — won approval.

The morning opened with a somber and serious debate and an unusual sense of purpose as Republican and Democratic leaders united to urge quick approval, saying that would ensure the United States supported its allies and remained a leader on the world stage. The House’s visitor galleries were crowded with onlookers.

“The eyes of the world are upon us, and history will judge what we do here and now,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Passage through the House cleared away the biggest hurdle to Biden’s funding request, first made in October as Ukraine’s military supplies began to run low.

The GOP-controlled House struggled for months over what to do, first demanding that any assistance for Ukraine be tied to policy changes at the U.S.-Mexico border, only to immediately reject a bipartisan Senate offer along those very lines.

Reaching an endgame has been an excruciating lift for Johnson that has tested both his resolve and his support among Republicans, with a small but growing number now openly urging his removal from the speaker’s office. Yet congressional leaders cast the votes as a turning point in history — an urgent sacrifice as U.S. allies are beleaguered by wars and threats from continental Europe to the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific.

“Sometimes when you are living history, as we are today, you don’t understand the significance of the actions of the votes that we make on this House floor, of the effect that it will have down the road,” said New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is a historic moment.”

Opponents, particularly the hard-right Republicans from Johnson’s majority, argued that the U.S. should focus on the home front, addressing domestic border security and the nation’s rising debt load, and they warned against spending more money, which largely flows to American defense manufacturers, to produce weaponry used overseas.

Still, Congress has seen a stream of world leaders visit in recent months, from Zelenskyy to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, all but pleading with lawmakers to approve the aid. Globally, the delay left many questioning America’s commitment to its allies.

At stake has been one of Biden’s top foreign policy priorities — halting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance in Europe. After engaging in quiet talks with Johnson, the president quickly endorsed Johnson’s plan, paving the way for Democrats to give their rare support to clear the procedural hurdles needed for a final vote.

“We have a responsibility, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans to defend democracy wherever it is at risk,” Jeffries said during the debate.

While aid for Ukraine failed to win a majority of Republicans, several dozen progressive Democrats voted against the bill aiding Israel as they demanded an end to the bombardment of Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians. A group of roughly 20 hard-right Republicans voted against every portion of the aid package, including for allies like Israel and Taiwan that have traditionally enjoyed support from the GOP.

At the same time, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has loomed large over the fight, weighing in from afar via social media statements and direct phone calls with lawmakers as he tilts the GOP to a more isolationist stance with his “America First” brand of politics.

Ukraine’s defense once enjoyed robust, bipartisan support in Congress, but as the war enters its third year, a majority of Republicans opposed further aid. Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., offered an amendment to zero out the money, but it was rejected.

The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus has derided the legislation as the “America Last” foreign wars package and urged lawmakers to defy Republican leadership and oppose it because the bills did not include border security measures.

Johnson’s hold on the speaker’s gavel has also grown more tenuous in recent days as three Republicans, led by Greene, supported a “motion to vacate” that can lead to a vote on removing the speaker. Egged on by far-right personalities, she is also being joined by a growing number of lawmakers including Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who is urging Johnson to voluntarily step aside.

The package included several Republican priorities that Democrats endorsed, or at least are willing to accept. Those include proposals that allow the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and legislation to require the China-based owner of the popular video app TikTok to sell its stake within a year or face a ban in the United States.

Still, the all-out push to get the bills through Congress is a reflection not only of politics, but realities on the ground in Ukraine. Top lawmakers on national security committees, who are privy to classified briefings, have grown gravely concerned about the tide of the war as Russia pummels Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the Senate would begin procedural votes on the package Tuesday, saying, “Our allies across the world have been waiting for this moment.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, as he prepared to overcome objections from his right flank next week, said, “The task before us is urgent. It is once again the Senate’s turn to make history.”

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U.S. Treasury Secretary heads to China to talk trade, anti-money laundering and Chinese ‘overproduction’

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is headed to a China determined to avoid open conflict with the United States, yet the world’s two largest economies still appear to be hashing out the rules on how to compete against each other.

There are tensions over Chinese government support for the manufacturing of electric vehicles and solar panels, just as the U.S. government ramps up its own aid for those tech sectors. There are differences in trade, ownership of TikTok, access to computer chips and national security — all of them a risk to what has become a carefully managed relationship.

The 77-year-old Yellen, a renowned economist and former Federal Reserve chair, laid out to reporters the issues that she intends to raise with her Chinese counterparts during her five-day visit. Ms. Yellen is headed to Guangzhou and Beijing for meetings with finance leaders and state officials. Her engagements will include Vice Premier He Lifeng, Chinese Central Bank Governor Pan Gongsheng, former Vice Premier Liu He, leaders of American businesses operating in China, university students and local leaders.

Ms. Yellen, speaking to reporters Wednesday during a refueling stop in Alaska en route to Asia, said her visit would be a “continuation of the dialogue that we have been engaged and deepening” ever since U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in 2022 in Indonesia. She noted that it would be her third meeting with China’s vice premier.

Ms. Yellen recently accused China of flooding global markets with heavily subsidised green energy products, possibly undercutting the subsidies the U.S. has provided to its own renewable energy and EV sector with funds provided by the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. She said she intends to repeat her concerns to Chinese officials that they’re flooding the global market with cheap solar panels and EVs that thwart the ability of other countries to develop those sectors.

“We need to have a level playing field,” Ms. Yellen told reporters. “We’re concerned about a massive investment in China in a set of industries that’s resulting in overcapacity.”

Ms. Yellen didn’t rule out taking additional steps to counter Chinese subsidies in the green energy sectors, adding, “It’s not just the United States but quite a few countries, including Mexico, Europe, Japan, that are feeling the pressure from massive investment, in these industries in China.”

The Treasury secretary’s travels come after Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi held their first call in five months on Tuesday, meant to demonstrate a return to regular leader-to-leader dialogue between the two powers. The leaders discussed Taiwan, artificial intelligence and security issues.

The call, described by the White House as “candid and constructive,” was the leaders’ first conversation since their November summit in California, which renewed ties between the two nations’ militaries and enhanced cooperation on stemming the flow of deadly fentanyl and its precursors from China.

Still, it appears to be difficult for the two countries to strike a balance between competition and antagonism.

For instance, Mr. Xi last week hosted American CEOs in Beijing to court them on investing in China. Meanwhile, Mr. Biden last August issued an executive order that instructed an inter-agency committee, chaired by Ms. Yellen, to closely monitor U.S. investment in China related to high-tech manufacturing.

Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said, “the Biden administration’s efforts over the last year to stabilize the relationship are clearly working, but the main friction points all remain unresolved and will likely challenge the relationship for the foreseeable future.”

“For the time being, a managed rivalry’ might be the best we can hope for, given the potentially catastrophic consequences of the relationship really going off the rails,” he said.

Ms. Yellen last week said China is flooding the market with green energy that “distorts global prices,” and plans to tell her counterparts that Beijing’s increased production of solar energy, electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries poses risks to productivity and growth to the global economy.

China began to broaden its presence in the global economy more than two decades ago, exporting cheap goods that appealed to U.S. consumers at the expense of factory jobs in many of those consumers’ hometowns. Research by the economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson into what’s known as the “China Shock” led to the steady demise of many factory towns, and in some cases led to greater political discontent.

Still, some experts see a benefit in an economic showdown to produce green products.

Shang-Jin Wei, a professor of Chinese business at Columbia University, says that a subsidy war could ultimately help consumers in both countries buy more climate-friendly products, which is an aim of the Biden administration.

“In contrast, a U.S. tariff on EV imports could raise the price of EVs in the U.S. and is therefore counterproductive for the purpose of inducing a green transition.”

Ms. Yellen’s trip will run from April 4 to 9. It’s intended as a follow-up to Ms. Yellen’s travel to China last July, which resulted in the launch of a pair of economic working groups between the two nations’ finance departments to ease tensions and deepen ties.

But this visit falls in an election year, where tough talk on China has increased by Democrats and Republicans — who criticize Chinese ownership of popular social media app TikTok, the nation’s censorship and human rights record and hold a deep mistrust over recent acts of espionage such as hacking and the use of a spy balloon.

Scheherazade S. Rehman, a professor of International Business and Finance and International Affairs at George Washington University, said while “it’s an election year, so all the rhetoric is going to be sharper, the U.S and China are in a symbiotic trading relationship and ultimately need each other.”

China is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners, and economic competition between the two nations has increased in recent years. Yellen stressed Wednesday that the United States has no interest in decoupling from China.

China’s support of Russia as it continues its invasion of neighboring Ukraine is another issue that will come up during the meetings. As the U.S. and its allies sanction Russian officials and entire sectors of the Russian economy, like banking, oil production and manufacturing, trade between China and Russia has increased.

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Burning Man festival flooding strands tens of thousands at Nevada site; authorities investigate 1 death

September 04, 2023 07:09 am | Updated 07:09 am IST – Nevada, U.S.

An unusual late-summer storm turned a week-long counterculture fest into a sloppy mess with tens of thousands of partygoers stuck in foot-deep mud and with no working toilets in the northern Nevada desert in the U.S. But some Burning Man revelers said Sunday that their spirits remained unbroken.

Organisers closed the festival to vehicles after one death was reported. Officials provided no details of the fatality.

The annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of Reno attracts nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists for a mix of wilderness camping and avant-garde performances. Disruptions are part of the event’s recent history: Organisers had to temporarily close entrances to the festival in 2018 due to dust storms, and the event was twice cancelled altogether during the pandemic.

“We are a little bit dirty and muddy but spirits are high. The party still going,” said Scott London, a Southern California photographer, adding that the travel limitations offered “a view of Burning Man that a lot of us don’t get to see.”

More than half an inch (1.3 centimeters) of rain and possibly close to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) fell this weekend in parts of northwest Nevada, which includes the area where the Burning Man festival was being held, said Mark Deutschendorf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

For the Reno area, which is about 141 miles (227 km) south of the festival, the average rainfall for the whole month of September would be 0.21 inches (0.53 centimeters), Deutschendorf said.

“Already, everywhere from Reno up to the Burning Man area, Black Rock, we’ve already exceeded that — and it’s only three days into the month,” he said. Rainfall for the area around the festival was ending on Sunday, he said.

The road closures came just before a large wooden effigy was supposed to have been burned Saturday night. Organisers said that all burning had been postponed, and authorities were working to open exit routes by the end of the Labor Day weekend.

Officials said late Saturday they didn’t yet know when the roads would “be dry enough for RVs or vehicles to navigate safely,” but they were hopeful vehicles could depart by late Monday if weather conditions improved.

President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that he is aware of the situation at Burning Man, including the death, and the White House is in touch with local officials. He doesn’t know the cause of the death, Mr. Biden said.

With their party closed to motorised traffic, attendees trudged through mud, many barefoot or with plastic bags on their feet. Revelers were urged to conserve supplies of food and water, and most remained hunkered down at the site.

A few, however, managed to walk several miles to the nearest town or catch a ride there.

Celebrity DJ Diplo posted a video to Instagram on Saturday evening showing him and comedian Chris Rock riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. He said they had walked six miles through the mud before hitching a ride.

“I legit walked the side of the road for hours with my thumb out,” wrote Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz.

The event is remote on the best of days and emphasizes self-sufficiency — meaning most people bring in their own food, water and other supplies.

Those who remained Sunday described a resilient community making the most of the mucky conditions: Many posted selfies of themselves covered in mud, dancing or splashing in the makeshift lakes.

“We have not witnessed any negativity, any rough times,” organizer Theresa Galeani said. “Some people … were supposed to leave a few days ago, so they’re out of water or food. But I am an organiser, so I went around and found more water and food. There is more than enough here for people. We just have to get it to everyone.”

London, the southern California photographer who was attending his 20th Burning Man and just published a book on the festival, “Burning Man: Art On Fire,” spent much of Saturday walking barefoot across the site, which is about 5 square miles. He said that the biggest challenge was logistics because no vehicles could traverse the site, supplies could not be brought in and most people could not leave.

“Usually it’s very crowded with art cars, bikes and people all over the place. But yesterday it was like an abandoned playground,” he added.

Rebecca Barger, a photographer from Philadelphia, arrived at her first Burning Man on August 26 and was determined to stick it out through the end.

“I’m not leaving until both ‘The Man’ and ‘The Temple’ burn,” Ms. Barger said, referring to the wooden effigy and wooden structure that are traditionally torched during the event’s last two nights.

She said one of the biggest concerns has been the lack of toilet options because the trucks that normally arrive to clean out the portable toilets multiple times a day haven’t been able to reach the site since Friday’s rainstorm. Some revelers said trucks had resumed cleaning on Sunday.

To prevent her shoes from getting stuck in the muddy clay, Barger says she put a plastic bag over each of her shoes and then covered each bag with a sock. Others were just barefoot.

“Everyone has just adapted, sharing RVs for sleeping, offering food and coffee,” Ms. Barger said. “I danced in foot-deep clay for hours to incredible DJs.”

Ed Fletcher of Sacramento, a longtime Burning Man attendee, arrived in Black Rock City over a week ago to start setting up. When the rain hit, he and his campmates threw a party and “danced the night away” in their muddy shoes.

“Radical self-reliance is one of the principles of Burning Man,” he said. “The desert will try to kill you in some way, shape or form.”

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office did not release the identity of the deceased person or the suspected cause of death but said it is being investigated.

On their website, organizers encouraged participants to remain calm and suggested that the festival is built to endure conditions like the flooding. They said cellphone trailers were being dropped in several locations Saturday night and that they would be briefly opening up internet overnight. Shuttle buses were also being organized to take attendees to Reno from the nearest town of Gerlach, a walk of about five miles (eight kilometers) from the site.

The event began on Aug. 27 and had been scheduled to end Monday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Black Rock Desert, where the festival was held.

John Asselin, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, said he had seen “a steady stream” of vehicles leaving the festival site.

“People are getting out,” he said.

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White shooter kills 3 Black people in Florida hate crime as Washington celebrates King’s dream

A masked white man carrying at least one weapon bearing a swastika fatally shot three Black people inside a Florida store Saturday in an attack with a clear motive of racial hatred, officials said.

The shooting in a Dollar General store in a predominately Black neighborhood left two men and one woman dead and was “racially motivated,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said.

In addition to carrying a firearm with a painted symbol of the genocidal Nazi regime of Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, the shooter issued racist statements before the shooting. He killed himself at the scene.

“He hated Black people,” the sheriff said.

The shooting came on the same day thousands visited Washington, D.C., to attend the Rev. Al Sharpton’s 60th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Rudolph McKissick, a national board member of Sharpton’s National Action Network, was not in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. Yet his thoughts on the shooting touched on issues raised by the civil rights leader.

“The irony is on the day we celebrate the 60th commemoration of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King stood up and talked about a dream for racial equality and for love, we still yet live in a country where that dream is not a reality,” McKissick said. “That dream has now been replaced by bigotry.”

The gunman, who was in his 20s, wore a bullet-resistant vest and used a Glock handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He acted alone and there was no evidence he was part of a group, Waters said.

The shooter sent written statements to federal law enforcement and at least one media outlet shortly before the attack with evidence suggesting the attack was intended to mark the fifth anniversary of the murder of two people during a video game tournament in Jacksonville by a shooter who also killed himself.

Officials did not immediately release the names of the victims or the gunman on Saturday. Local media identified a man believed to be the shooter but his identity was not independently confirmed by The Associated Press by early Sunday.

The shooting happened just before 2 p.m. within a mile of Edward Waters University, a small, historically Black university.

The university said in a statement that a security officer had seen the man near the school’s library and asked for identification. When he refused, he was asked to leave and returned to his car. He was spotted putting on the bullet-resistant vest and a mask before leaving the grounds, although it was not known whether he had planned an attack at the university, Waters said.

“I can’t tell you what his mindset was while he was there, but he did go there,” the sheriff said.

Shortly before the attack, the gunman sent his father a text message telling him to check his computer, where he found his writings. The family notified 911, but the shooting had already begun, Waters said.

“This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history. There is no place for hate in this community,” said Waters, who noted the FBI was assisting with the ongoing inquiry and had opened a hate crime investigation. “I am sickened by this cowardly shooter’s personal ideology.”

Mayor Donna Deegan said she was heartbroken. “This is a community that has suffered again and again. So many times this is where we end up,” Deegan said. “This is something that should not and must not continue to happen in our community.”

McKissick, who is a Baptist bishop and senior pastor of the historic Bethel Church in Jacksonville, said the shooting took place in the New Town neighborhood, which now needs love and affirmation.

“It’s a Black neighborhood, and what we don’t want is for it to be painted in some kind of light that it is filled with plight, violence and decadence,” McKissick said.

“As it began to unfold, and I began to see the truth of it, my heart ached on several levels,” he said, noting the shooting appears to be an extension of a racial divide in the state highlighted by political turmoil, which he said has been fueled in part by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“This divide exists because of the ongoing disenfranchisement of Black people and a governor, who is really propelling himself forward through bigoted, racially motivated, misogynistic, xenophobic actions to throw red meat to a Republican base,” McKissick said in reference to DeSantis.

“Nobody is having honest, candid conversations about the presence of racism,” said McKissick, a Baptist bishop and senior pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville.

DeSantis, who spoke with the sheriff by phone from Iowa while campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, denounced the shooter’s racist motivation, calling him a “scumbag.”

“This guy killed himself rather than face the music and accept responsibility for his actions. He took the coward’s way out,” DeSantis said.

McKinnis said the location of the shooting was chosen because of its proximity to Edward Waters University, where students remained locked down in their dorms for several hours. No students or faculty were believed to have been involved, the university said.

The attack at a store in a predominantly Black neighborhood recalls past shootings targeting Black Americans, including at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in 2022 and a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

The Buffalo shooting, which killed 10 people, stands apart as one of the deadliest targeted attacks on Black people by a lone white gunman in U.S. history. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Jacksonville shooting came a day before the 63rd anniversary of the city’s notorious “Ax Handle Saturday,” when 200 Ku Klux Klan members attacked Black protesters conducting a peaceful sit-in against Jim Crow laws banning them from white-owned stores and restaurants.

The police stood by until a Black street gang arrived to fight the Klansmen, who were armed with bats and ax handles. Only Black people were arrested.

Jacksonville native Marsha Dean Phelts was in Washington with others at the King commemoration and said learning of the shooting was “a death blow.”

Phelts, who is Black, said her acute awareness of Florida’s history of racial tensions was amplified by the deadly shooting. The 79-year-old woman is a resident of Amelia Island, an African American beach community in Nassau County established in 1935 as a result of segregation.

“We could not go to public parks and public beaches, unless you owned your own,” she recalled of the state’s past institutional discrimination. “You did not have access to things that your taxes pay for.”

LaTonya Thomas, 52, another Jacksonville resident riding a charter bus home after the Washington commemoration, said she wouldn’t allow the shooting to draw down her spirits after the “wonderful experience,” but she was saddened by the violence.

“We took this long journey from Jacksonville, Florida, to be a part of history,” she said. “When I was told that there was a white shooter in a predominantly Black area, I felt like that was a targeted situation.”

Thomas said she was able to reach a close family friend employed at the store to confirm the person was not working during the shooting.

“It made the march even more important because, of course, gun violence and things of that nature seem so casual now,” she said. “Now you have employees, customers that will never go home.”

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United States sets a grim milestone with new record for the deadliest six months of mass killings

The United States has registered 28 mass killings during the first six months of this year, according to a database maintained jointly by the Associated Press, USA Today and the Northeastern University. This number sets a new grim milestone in the country’s ongoing cycle of gun violence, exceeding the previous record of 27, set in the second half of 2022.

Between January 1 and June 30, the U.S. witnessed the death of 140 people in mass killings, all but one of which involved guns. The death toll rose just about every week.

Law enforcement officials work Sunday, April 30, 2023, in the neighborhood where a mass shooting occurred Friday night, in Cleveland, Texas.
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A mass killing is defined as an occurrence when four or more people are slain, not including the assailant, within a 24-hour period. A database maintained by AP and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University, tracks this large-scale violence dating back to 2006. The database does not include non-fatal shootings.

James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, never imagined records like this when he began overseeing the database about five years ago.

“We used to say there were two to three dozen a year,” Mr. Fox said. “The fact that there’s 28 in half a year is a staggering statistic.” But the chaos of the first six months of 2023 doesn’t automatically doom the last six months. The remainder of the year could be calmer, despite more violence over the July 4 holiday weekend.

“Hopefully it was just a blip,” said Dr. Amy Barnhorst, a psychiatrist who is the associate director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “There could be fewer killings later in 2023, or this could be part of a trend. But we won’t know for sometime,” she added.

Experts like Dr. Barnhorst and Mr. Fox attribute the rising bloodshed to a growing population with an increased number of and access to guns in the U.S. For all the headlines, however, mass killings are statistically rare and represent only a fraction of the country’s overall gun violence.

What politicians are saying

“What a ghastly milestone,” said Brent Leatherwood, whose three children were in class at a private Christian school in Nashville on March 27 when a former student killed three children and three adults. “You never think your family would be a part of a statistic like that.” Mr. Leatherwood, a prominent Republican in a state that hasn’t strengthened gun laws, believes something must be done to get guns out of the hands of people who might become violent.

“You may as well say Martians have landed, right? It’s hard to wrap your mind around it,” he said.

Louisville Metro Police deploy for an “active police situation” that includes mass casualties near Slugger Field in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. April 10, 2023.

Louisville Metro Police deploy for an “active police situation” that includes mass casualties near Slugger Field in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. April 10, 2023.
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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, had urged the General Assembly in the wake of the Nashville school shooting to pass legislation keeping firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others, so-called “red flag laws,” though Mr, Lee says the term is politically toxic.

Getting such a measure passed in Tennessee is an uphill climb. The Republican-led Legislature adjourned earlier this year without taking on gun control, prompting Mr. Lee to schedule a special session for August.

Mr. Leatherwood, a former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party and now the head of the influential Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, wrote a letter to lawmakers asking them to pass the governor’s proposal.

Mr. Leatherwood said he doesn’t want any other family to go through what his children experienced at the time of the shooting when they were in kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade. One of his kids, preparing for a recent sleepaway camp, asked whether they would be safe there.

“Our child was asking, Do you think that there will be a gunman that comes to this camp? Do I need to be worried about that?’” Mr. Leatherwood said.

The Nashville shooter, whose writings Mr. Leatherwood and other parents are asking a court to keep private, used three guns in the attack, including an AR-15-style rifle. It was one of at least four mass killings in the first half of 2023 involving such a weapon, according to the database.

Students from the Covenant School hold hands after getting off a bus to meet their parents at the reunification site following a mass shooting at the school in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 27, 2023.

Students from the Covenant School hold hands after getting off a bus to meet their parents at the reunification site following a mass shooting at the school in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 27, 2023.
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Nearly all of the mass killings in the first half of this year, 27 of 28, involved guns. The other was a fire that killed four people in a home in Monroe, Louisiana. A 37-year-old man was arrested on arson and murder charges in connection with the March 31 deaths.

The NRA’s view

Despite the rising toll and evidence, the National Rifle Association maintains fierce opposition to regulating firearms, including AR-15-style rifles and similar weapons.

Also read | Two dead and three hurt, including suspected shooter, at Washington state music festival

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ constant efforts to gut the Second Amendment will not usher in safety for Americans; instead, it will only embolden criminals,” NRA spokesman Billy McLaughlin said in a statement. “That is why the NRA continues our fight for self-defence laws. Rest assured, we will never bow, we will never retreat, and we will never apologise for championing the self-defence rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Concern for the children’s future

Tito Anchondo’s brother, Andre Anchondo, was among 23 people killed in a 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The gunman was sentenced last week to 90 consecutive life sentences but could face more punishment, including the death penalty. The prosecution of the racist attack on Hispanic shoppers in the border city was one of the U.S. government’s largest hate crime cases.

Andre Anchondo and his wife, Jordan, died shielding their 2-month-old son from bullets. Paul, who escaped with broken bones, is now 4 years old.

Law enforcement authorities removing bodies from a scene where five people were shot the night before Saturday, April 29, 2023, in Cleveland, Texas. Authorities say an 8-year-old child was among five people killed in a shooting at the home in southeast Texas late on Friday.

Law enforcement authorities removing bodies from a scene where five people were shot the night before Saturday, April 29, 2023, in Cleveland, Texas. Authorities say an 8-year-old child was among five people killed in a shooting at the home in southeast Texas late on Friday.
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Tito said it felt like the country had forgotten about the El Paso victims in the years since and that not nearly enough had been done to stem the bloodshed. He worries about Paul’s future.

“I hope that things can drastically change because this country is going down a very, very slippery slope; a downward spiral,” he said. “It’s just a little unnerving to know that he’s eventually going to go to school with kids that also may bring a gun to school.”

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Biden is wrapping a campaign fundraising blitz aimed at making a bold early statement

President Joe Biden has cozied up to high-dollar donors at Upper East Side penthouses in New York and on West Coast decks in recent weeks. He has two more fundraisers in Manhattan on Thursday that will close out an end-of-quarter campaign blitz that his team believes will put him on strong financial footing for a 2024 White House contest expected to set spending records.

The pair of evening events will be Biden’s 9th and 10th fundraising receptions of the past two weeks, numbers matched by Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. The Biden campaign has been mum before the July 15 reporting date about how much he has raised at the often freewheeling gatherings but is confident about the size.

The president is also marshaling the whole of the Democratic Party to dial for dollars, enlisting help from Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois as well as former President Barack Obama, among others.

Mr. Obama is featured in a new campaign video to encourage small-dollar online donations before Friday’s donation deadline. Mr. Biden allies insist that despite polls showing lagging enthusiasm among the Democratic base for the 80-year-old president, his party is solidly behind him.

“I’ve been doing this for a really long time for a number of presidents and presidential candidates,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul, major Democratic donor and co-chair of Biden’s campaign. “I’ve never seen from top to bottom, the Democratic enterprise kick into gear this way, from President Obama, governors, senators, congressmen, just across the board — he’s gotten outstanding support.”

Aides say they are trying to motivate donors, especially small-dollar contributors, to dig deeper early on.

The recent blitz was also a function of Mr. Biden’s official duties, Katzenberg said, adding that “his first, second and third job is to run the country.” Mr. Biden had foreign trips in April and May, and the weekslong showdown over raising the nation’s debt limit kept him in Washington. He is set to travel to Europe next month, giving the campaign a narrow window before the historically slow summer season to fit in donor events.

While the first quarter is widely viewed as a benchmark of campaign strength, Katzenberg said there is “no urgency right now” for Mr. Biden to raise or spend vast sums because he lacks a credible primary threat and the election is 16 months away. Still, Mr. Biden is aiming to make a statement with the early totals.

Katzenberg said there were “very optimistic signals” for the Biden campaign’s ability to comfortably exceed its 2020 fundraising levels, including strong numbers of first-time Biden donors. Other campaign aides and allies have grown more bullish about the soon-to-be-reported total.

The president’s fundraising events, closed to cameras and with limited media access, feature a far less guarded Biden than the public often sees. He sometimes uses them to test a new campaign line or dish out more candid remarks than in formal events.

He usually starts behind a lectern but often shifts to using his preferred handheld microphone, which allows him to roam the room and speak more directly to guests.

Mr. Biden makes a personal nod to the hosts. In a fundraiser at the New York home of Greek American shipping magnate George Logothetis in May, Mr. Biden noted that the lessons he learned from his family as a child weren’t any different than “if my mom had been ‘Bidenopoulos’ instead of ‘Finnegan’.”

Though his aides make it a point not to engage with prospective 2024 opponents, Mr. Biden often does not shy away at these events from criticizing the Republican candidates, from Donald Trump on down.

“I’ve been stunned at the damage done by the last administration to us internationally and globally. I mean, I’ve been stunned how deep it goes,’ Mr. Biden said Tuesday evening in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

And this veiled reference to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a fundraiser in Greenwich, Connecticut: “Did you ever think you’d go through a time when the No. 2 contender on another team was banning books?”

When a baby squealed while Mr. Biden was talking about Republicans to Chicago donors Wednesday, the president said, “I don’t blame you kiddo.”

Mr. Biden’s sometimes rambling remarks are full of anecdotes about his lengthy time in public office, peppered with references to issues such as tougher gun restrictions and abortion rights that animate Democrats. In more intimate settings, where cameras are barred, the president can open up. For example, he made a rare reference to his personal views on abortion when speaking about the issue at a separate Chevy Chase fundraiser on Tuesday.

“I’m a practicing Catholic,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m not big on abortion, but guess what? Roe vs. Wade got it right.” At the same event, he misspoke when talking about the Ukraine war, referring instead to Iraq.

At a fundraiser last week, Mr. Biden caused a diplomatic dust-up after calling Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator” — a comment coming hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken had met Xi as part of a bid to thaw tensions between the countries. Mr. Biden insisted that his remark would not affect that relationship.

“He wants to shake every hand and chat with everyone,” Katzenberg said. “When there’s something that is on his mind, he’ll say it — and you know, that’s what makes him authentic.”

Last week in the San Francisco area, his fundraisers seemed to prove his argument that the U.S. economy has been favoring the wealthy. He attended events near homes whose Zillow price listings were about four times higher than an average U.S. worker’s lifetime earnings.

“Mr. President, trust me, this is a fancy crowd,” Newsom said to polite laughter at one event. “I know these folks.”

Mr. Biden tries to draw connections to a blue-collar past, even as he touches on big-picture issues such as climate change, relations with China and the fate of democracy.

“How many of you are from smaller Midwestern towns?” he asked. “You know what happened when the factory closes. The soul of the community is lost. Not a joke.”

Breaking with the level of transparency followed by the Obama campaign when Mr. Biden was vice president, Biden’s campaign does not share the total amount raised from any individual event.

Those numbers will be shared when the campaign submits its filing to the Federal Election Commission in July, campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz said.

“We are encouraged by the strong response we are seeing from donors and our grassroots supporters, including a significant number of new donors since 2020,” he said in a statement.

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Trump indictment throws 2024 race into uncharted territory

The historic indictment of former President Donald Trump thrust the 2024 presidential election into uncharted territory, raising the remarkable prospect that the leading contender for the Republican nomination will seek the White House while also facing trial for criminal charges in New York.

In an acknowledgement of the sway the former President holds with the voters who will decide the GOP contest next year, those eyeing a primary challenge to Mr. Trump were quick to criticise the indictment. Without naming Mr. Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the move “un-American.” Former Vice President Mike Pence, whose life was threatened after Mr. Trump incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, told CNN the charges were “outrageous.”

That posture speaks to the short-term incentives for Republicans to avoid anything that might antagonise Mr. Trump’s loyal base. But the indictment raises profound questions for the GOP’s future, particularly as Mr. Trump faces the possibility of additional charges soon in Atlanta and Washington. While that might galvanise his supporters, the turmoil could threaten the GOP’s standing in the very swing-state suburbs that have abandoned the party in three successive elections, eroding its grip on the White House, Congress and key governorships.

Mr. Trump has spent four decades managing to skirt this type of legal jeopardy and expressed confidence again late Thursday, blaming the charges on “Thugs and Radical Left Monsters.”


Mr. Trump is “ready to fight,” his attorney, Joe Tacopina, said on Fox News.

Mr. Trump is expected to surrender to authorities next week on charges connected to hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to women who alleged extramarital sexual encounters. For now, it remains unclear how the development will resonate with voters. Polls show Mr. Trump remains the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and his standing has not faltered, even amid widespread reporting on the expected charges.

Mr. Trump’s campaign and his allies have long hoped an indictment would serve as a rallying cry for his supporters, angering his “Make America Great Again” base, drawing small dollar donations and forcing Mr. Trump’s potential rivals into the awkward position of having to defend him — or risk their wrath.

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s campaign began fundraising off the news almost immediately after it broke, firing an email to supporters with the all-caps subject line “BREAKING: PRESIDENT TRUMP INDICTED.”

At Mr. Trump’s first rally of the 2024 campaign, held in Texas over the weekend, supporters expressed widespread disgust with the investigation and insisted the case wouldn’t affect his chances.

“It’s a joke,” said Patti Murphy, 63, of Fort Worth. “It’s just another way of them trying to get him out of their way.”

Others in the crowd said their support for Mr. Trump had been waning since he left the White House, but the looming indictment made them more likely to support him in 2024 because they felt his anger had been justified.

At the same time, there is little chance a criminal trial will help Mr. Trump in a general election, particularly with independents, who have grown tired of his constant chaos. That has provided an opening for alternatives like DeSantis, who are expected to paint themselves as champions of the former President’s policies, but without all his baggage.

But there were no immediate signs the party was ready to use the indictment to move past him. Instead, Republicans, including members of Congress and Mr. Trump’s rivals, rushed to his defence en masse. In addition to DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has already declared her candidacy, blasted the indictment as “more about revenge than it is about justice.” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is mulling a run, accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system,” while also sending a fundraising text off the news.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has tried to turn the public against the case. Early on March 18, amid reports that police in New York were preparing for a possible indictment, he fired off a message on his social media site in which he declared that he expected to be arrested within days.

While that never came to pass (and his aides made clear it had not been based on any inside information), Mr. Trump used the time to highlight the case’s widely-discussed weaknesses and to attack Bragg with a barrage of deeply personal — and at times racist — attacks.

Mr. Trump also sought to project an air of strength. The night of his post, he travelled with aides to a college wrestling championship, where he spent hours greeting supporters and posing for photos. On the way home, the assembled entourage watched mixed martial arts cage fighting aboard his plane.

And last weekend, Mr. Trump held a rally in Waco, Texas, where he railed against the case in front of thousands of supporters.

People who have spoken with Mr. Trump in recent weeks have described him as both angry and unbothered about the prospect of charges. Freshman Republican Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri said Mr. was “upbeat” at a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago the night before he warned of his arrest.

Indeed, Mr. Trump has at times appeared in denial about the gravity of the situation. He and his aides were caught off-guard by the news Thursday. And during the plane ride home from his Texas rally, Mr. Trump told reporters he believed the case had been dropped.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I can tell you that they have no case. So I think the case is — I think they’ve already dropped the case, from what I understand. I think it’s been dropped,” he said.

Still, Mr. Trump responded with anger when pressed, even as he insisted he was not frustrated.

Beyond the Manhattan case, Mr. Trump is facing several other investigations, including a Georgia inquiry into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and a federal probe into his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

It remains unclear how the public might respond if Mr. Trump ends up facing charges in additional cases, particularly if some lead to convictions and others are dismissed.

An indictment — or even a conviction — would not bar Mr. Trump from running for President or serving as the Republican nominee.

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