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Democrats push impeachment rules package through House

By ALAN FRAM and MATTHEW DALY Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed a package of ground rules for their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump through a sharply divided House Thursday, the chamber’s first formal vote in a fight that could stretch into the 2020 election year.
The tally was 232-196, with all Republicans who voted opposing the resolution. Just two Democratic defectors joined them: freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and 15-term veteran Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of his party’s most conservative members. Both represent GOP-leaning districts.
Though the vote was technically over the rules that will govern the process, each side used it to accuse the other of having already decided whether Congress should wrench Trump from office.
It also underscored how — for now — lawmakers on each side are comfortable with their approaches to next year’s presidential and congressional elections. Democrats have been buoyed by polls showing growing public sentiment toward investigating and even removing Trump from office, while the same surveys have shown GOP voters standing fast by him.
Thursday’s measure defined the procedures lawmakers will follow as they transition from weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses to public hearings and ultimately to possible votes on whether to recommend Trump’s impeachment.
The vote, which occurred on Halloween, drew a familiar Twitter retort from Trump: “The greatest Witch Hunt in American History!”
And White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats of an “unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding.”
During the debate, Democrats spoke of lawmakers’ duty to defend the Constitution, while Republicans cast the process as a skewed attempt to railroad a president whom Democrats have detested since before he took office.
“What is at stake in all this is nothing less than our democracy,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. Underscoring her point, she addressed the House with a poster of the American flag beside her and began her remarks by reading the opening lines of the preamble to the Constitution.
She also said the procedures would let lawmakers decide whether to impeach Trump “based on the truth. I don’t know why the Republicans are afraid of the truth.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., contended the Democrats are trying to remove Trump simply “because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box.”
No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise, R-La., accused them of imposing “Soviet-style rules,” speaking in front of a bright red poster depicting St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow.
Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the Republican Party earlier this year after saying he was open to considering whether Trump should be impeached, also backed the measure.
The investigation is focused on Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political opponents by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country’s new president.
Democrats said the procedures — which give them the ability to curb the president’s lawyers from calling witnesses — are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Republicans complained they were skewed against Trump.
It is likely to take weeks or more before the House decides whether to vote on actually impeaching Trump. If the House does vote for impeachment, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office.
Both parties’ leaders were rounding up votes as Thursday’s roll call approached, with each side eager to come as close to unanimity as possible.
Republicans said a solid GOP “no” vote would signal to the Senate that the Democratic push is a partisan crusade against a president they have never liked.
Democrats were also hoping to demonstrate solidarity from their most liberal elements to their most moderate members. They argued that GOP cohesion against the measure would show that Republicans are blindly defending Trump, whatever facts emerge.
Republicans said they’d use the vote to target freshman Democrats and those from districts Trump carried in 2016. They said they would contrast those Democrats’ support for the rules with campaign promises to focus on issues voters want to address, not on impeaching Trump.
Pelosi decided to have the vote following weeks of GOP claims that the inquiry was invalid because the chamber had not voted to formally commence the work.
The rules direct House committees “to continue their ongoing investigations” of Trump.
Democrats hope Thursday’s vote will undercut GOP assertions that the process has been invalid because the chamber hadn’t formally voted to start the proceedings. They note there is no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.
The rules lay out how the House Intelligence Committee — now leading the investigation by deposing diplomats and other officials behind closed doors — would transition to public hearings.
That panel would issue a report and release transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting.
The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump.
Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the committees holding the hearings approve them — in effect giving Democrats veto power.
Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. But in a bid for leverage, panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would be allowed to deny “specific requests” by Trump representatives if the White House continued refusing to provide documents or witnesses sought by Democratic investigators.
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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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This story has been corrected to say poster showed St. Basil’s, not Kremlin.

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National News

2 new California fires burn homes, send residents fleeing

By BRIAN MELLEY and MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ Associated Press
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Strong winds fanned new Southern California wildfires on Thursday, burning homes and forcing residents to flee their homes in a repeat of the frightening scenario already faced by tens of thousands across the state.
The latest blazes erupted in the heavily populated inland region east of Los Angeles as strong, seasonal Santa Ana winds continued to blow with gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) predicted to last until the evening before they fade away.
A fast-moving fire spread into the northern neighborhoods of the city of San Bernardino, forcing the evacuation of 490 homes — about 1,300 people, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said.
Fire Chief Don Trapp said an initial assessment showed that six homes and two outbuildings were destroyed or damaged in the 200-acre (80-hectare) fire. The cause was under investigation.
In the nearby city of Jurupa Valley, a fire started shortly after midnight when suspects in a stolen car chased by police drove the damaged vehicle into a field that ignited.
The blaze spread to 300 acres (121 hectares) and prompted evacuation orders. Three homes and two outbuildings were confirmed destroyed, the Riverside County Fire Department said. Authorities plan to charge the suspects with arson, Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback said.
That fire came after another blaze Wednesday in Jurupa Valley forced the evacuation of two mobile home parks and a psychiatric nursing care facility, where elderly people wearing face masks and wrapped in blankets were taken out in wheelchairs and gurneys as smoke swirled overhead. The blaze grew to 200 acres (80 hectares) in size before its spread was stopped.
“There was one moment when I could see nothing but dark smoke and I was like, ‘We’re going to die,'” said Qiana McCracken, assistant director of nursing for the Riverside Heights Healthcare Center.
The Santa Anas winds that help create California’s most destructive wildfires prompted a brushfire to quickly explode in size after it broke out before dawn Wednesday near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library between the cities of Simi Valley and Moorpark northwest of Los Angeles.
Officials ordered about 30,000 people to evacuate, although some were being allowed back home Wednesday night as fire crews began to get a handle on the blaze.
Crews remained at the scene through the night to make sure embers would not rekindle more fires after an army of firefighters helped protect the hilltop Reagan museum, which sat like an island in a soot-black sea. There was no damage, library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said.
Nearby residents had little time to heed evacuation orders as the flames approached.
Elena Mishkanian was able to gather only some basics. Her son, Troy, 13, netted six pet fish from a tank and put them in pots.
“Fish have feelings!” he said when his sister Megan teased him about it.
Frightened horses screamed in a nearby barn as Beth Rivera used a garden hose to water down the edges of her home to keep embers from igniting dry grass and trees. Friends helped evacuate 11 horses.
The cause was not yet determined, but Southern California Edison filed a report with state regulators to say it began near its power lines. Electrical equipment has sparked some of California’s worst wildfires in recent years and prompted utilities to resort to precautionary power outages. SoCal Edison had not cut power in the area at the time this fire started.
As winds buffeted the state this week, utilities deliberately cut power to more than a million people to prevent high winds from damaging power lines and sparking wildfires.
Pacific Gas & Electric, which has staged three sweeping blackouts this week, restored power to hundreds of thousands of people Wednesday and expected to have it back for the others sometime Thursday.
In the Northern California city of Novato, at least 20 seniors with wheelchairs and walkers were essentially trapped , in the dark, in a low-income apartment complex during a two-day power shut-off.
The waves of dayslong outages have been angrily condemned by state officials and consumers.
PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson acknowledged hardships but said outages will be necessary in the future as seasonal fire threats increase.
“As long as they remain the best tool that we have to keep people safe, and our communities safe, they’re the tool we will use,” he said.
PG&E equipment that wasn’t de-energized may have ignited a massive blaze in Sonoma County wine country that has destroyed 133 homes.
Firefighters reported making significant progress as high winds in the area eased Wednesday and the fire was 45 percent contained.
Southern California Edison said its safety power cuts still affected about 215,000 people by late Wednesday night and warned that outages were under consideration for about 800,000 people.
The days of windstorms are not unusual for the fall season, which has seen vicious gusts propel a series of deadly and destructive California wildfires in recent years.
But at least in the short term, there was good news from forecasters.
“This is the last event in our near future. We are not expecting any Santa Anas next week,” weather service meteorologist Kristen Stewart said.
But she noted the forecast only extends out seven days.
“Once we get past that, all bets are off,” she said.

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National News

Disabled California seniors in complex left behind in outage

By JANIE HAR Associated Press
NOVATO, Calif. (AP) — One woman in her 80s tripped over another resident who had fallen on the landing in a steep stairwell. Others got disoriented, even in their own apartments, and cried out for help.
At least 20 seniors with wheelchairs and walkers were essentially trapped, in the dark, in a low-income apartment complex in Northern California during a two-day power shut-off aimed at warding off wildfires.
Residents of the Villas at Hamilton in Novato, north of San Francisco, say they were without guidance from their property management company or the utility behind the blackout as they faced pitch-black stairwells and hallways and elevators that shut down.
“We were surprised by how dark it was,” said Pamela Zuzak, 70, who uses a walker to get around. “There was nothing, nothing lit. It was like going into a darkroom closet, pitch black, you couldn’t see in front of you.”
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. shut off power to more than 2 million people over the weekend to prevent its equipment from sparking fires amid hot, dry gusts. It was just one of four pre-emptive rounds of shut-offs imposed by the utility this month.
By PG&E’s estimate, more than 900,000 people were without power Wednesday, some of them since Saturday, while crews battled fires in Northern and Southern California.
The outages turned urban highways dark and blackened shopping malls once glittering with light. People stocked up on batteries, water and gas and lamented the spoiled food in refrigerators.
But the blackouts are more challenging for older and disabled residents who lack the transportation and money to rush out for ice and groceries, said John Geoghegan, head of the Hamilton Tenant Association.
He said about a third of the Villas’ 140 residents are too old, sick or cognitively impaired to care for themselves during an extended outage. He alleges the property management company VPM “abandoned” its tenants.
Geoghegan came home Saturday night to find residents milling in the parking lots, some near panic. “Some expected they would be communicated with, but they weren’t hearing from anybody,” he said.
VPM Management of Irvine, landlord Affordable Housing Access of Newport Beach, and the on-site manager did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Elected officials and PG&E customers have complained bitterly over the utility’s lack of communication and inability to provide real-time estimates of when power would be back on.
Marie Hoch, president of the Hamilton Field of Marin Owners Association, which does not include the Villas, got a call Monday. She visited the three buildings that make up the complex and found apartments without heat and electric stoves that did not work.
“I thought it was particularly upsetting that they knew the power outage was coming,” she said of management.
Zuzak didn’t leave her floor until after Monday night, when power was restored. She spent the two days ping ponging from one end to the other, checking on neighbors.
Her friend Patti Zahnow, 77, who also uses a walker, says she was too frightened to leave her apartment.
“It was really dark. They put a flood light up that wasn’t working,” she said. “They should have a flood light that works.”
Residents said emergency lighting came on in the windowless hallways but lasted for about 12 hours, not nearly long enough for an extended outage. Battery-operated front doors to the buildings that are usually locked became unlocked during the outage.
“It’s pretty disconcerting for the seniors who were fairly unprepared or have difficulty orienting at nighttime,” said Maureen Wagner, 64, who serves as a caregiver for her sister, who lives at the Villas.
Resident Helen Wagar, who is in her 80s, was returning to her third-floor apartment from walking her dog, Pixie. She was climbing the stairs, in the dark, when she tripped over another woman who had fallen on a landing.
Wagar’s knee is swollen. She never found out the identity of the woman.
“It was black as pitch in that stairwell,” she said. “I never did see the girl at all.”
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Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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National News

Border wall, impeachment battle imperil budget progress

By ANDREW TAYLOR Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed a long-overdue, $209 billion bundle of bipartisan spending bills Thursday, but a bitter fight over funding demanded by President Donald Trump for border fencing continues to imperil broader Capitol Hill efforts to advance $1.4 trillion worth of annual Cabinet agency budgets.
The 84-9 vote sends the measure into House-Senate negotiations but doesn’t much change the big picture. There has been little progress, if any, on the tricky trade-offs needed to balance Democratic demands for social programs with President Donald Trump’s ballooning border wall demands.
Democrats are again filibustering a much larger measure anchored by the $695 billion Pentagon funding bill over Trump’s plans to again transfer billions of dollars from the Pentagon to the border wall project.
Passage of the annual appropriations bills is one of the few areas in which divided government in Washington has been able to deliver results in the Trump era, despite last winter’s 35-day partial government shutdown.
A sense of optimism in the aftermath of a July budget and debt deal has yielded to pessimism now, and the poisonous political fallout from the ongoing impeachment battle isn’t helping matters. The budget pact blended a must-do increase in the government’s borrowing cap with relief from the return of stinging automatic budget cuts known as sequestration that were left over from a long-failed 2011 budget deal.
At issue are the agency appropriations bills that Congress passes each year to keep the government running. The hard-won budget and debt deal this summer produced a top-line framework for the 12 yearly spending bills, but filling in the details is proving difficult.
While it appears likely that lawmakers will prevent a government shutdown next month with a government-wide stopgap spending bill, the impasse over agency appropriations bills shows no signs of breaking.
Democrats say White House demands for $5 billion for Trump’s long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall have led the GOP-controlled Senate to shortchange Democratic domestic priorities.
They say negotiations can’t begin in earnest until spending hikes permitted under the July budget deal are allocated among the 12 appropriations subcommittees more to their liking. Trump is demanding a huge border funding increase that comes mostly at the expense of a major health and education spending bill.
“I am not optimistic,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “I don’t see the Senate taking action that would enable us to have an active negotiation with them. They haven’t set the groundwork. And until they figure out the (subcommittee allocations) — although we are having very nice conversations — I don’t see progress.”
Current stopgap spending authority expires Nov. 21 and another measure will be needed to prevent a shutdown reprising last year’s 35-day partial shuttering of the government. All sides want to avert a repeat shutdown, but it can’t be entirely ruled out because of the dysfunction and bitterness engulfing Washington these days.
Staff discussions on a new stopgap continuing resolution, or CR in Capitol Hill shorthand, haven’t yielded agreement yet. Democrats, including Lowey, have floated the idea of a stopgap CR into February, which would likely punt the budget battle past any Senate impeachment trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is pressing for a CR of shorter duration in hopes of wrapping up the unfinished budget work by Christmas. McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke by telephone on Monday, congressional aides said, in hopes of breaking the logjam.
“I think that McConnell clearly wants to get this done before the end of the year, which is good news,” said No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who also spoke with McConnell. “He doesn’t want it to go into next year, nor do I.”
But no progress was made at a follow-up staff session on Tuesday that included White House representatives. The White House is playing a strong hand on the border wall since it has begun employing its transfer authorities to shift billions of dollars of Pentagon funding toward wall construction — far more than it has obtained through the regular funding process.
The White House is demanding $5 billion in appropriations for the wall this budget year — up from $1.4 billion now. It is also demanding to keep its powers to transfer Pentagon dollars as well — and to get Congress to refill Pentagon military base construction projects tapped last month to pay for up to $3.6 billion worth of border fencing.
“Completely unproductive,” reported a senior Democratic aide who requested anonymity to describe the closed-door session.
For their part, Senate Democrats are refusing to allow the $700 billion Pentagon bill to advance, protesting the controversial wall funding gimmicks — and holding it back as leverage to counter White House power moves. They filibustered the measure last month and McConnell is forcing a re-vote as soon as Thursday.
“There is such animosity and bitterness and confrontation, it’s going to be really difficult to get agreement on anything,” said former Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. “So I worry about whether or not we can even pass a CR.”

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International Headlines

Ex-Trump adviser Morrison testifies on concerns over Ukraine

By DEB RIECHMANN, LISA MASCARO and MIKE BALSAMO Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A former top White House official who raised concerns about President Donald Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his political rivals confirmed some aspects of earlier reports but contradicted others during testimony Thursday before House impeachment investigators .
Tim Morrison, who stepped down from the National Security Council the day before his appearance, is the first White House political appointee to testify and could be central to the effort to remove Trump from office.
Morrison largely confirmed much of what a top diplomat, William Taylor, said in earlier testimony, as the two had multiple phone conversations raising concerns about the Trump administration’s approach toward Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the closed-door testimony. The person, who was not authorized to discuss the proceedings, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Republican lawmakers portrayed Morrison’s opening remarks as shifting the debate favorably toward Trump.
They said Morrison, in his opening statement, contradicted another key witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who handled Ukraine issues at the National Security Council. Vindman testified Tuesday that he twice sounded the alarm over the Trump administration actions.
“It’s a very compelling witness today that is giving testimony that contradicts some of the testimony we heard from Mr. Vindman,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Morrison’s opening remarks were not publicly released.
“Mr. Morrison’s testimony is very damaging to the Democrat narrative,” Meadows said. “They’ve all of a sudden gotten quiet today because this particular witness is very credible and has given evidence that suggests some of the other witnesses have been less than candid.”
Another Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, said, “When you all see what he had to say, it will be interesting.”
Morrison, a defense hawk well known in GOP policy circles, was the National Security Council’s top adviser for Russian and European affairs until he stepped down Wednesday. A senior administration official said he had “decided to pursue other opportunities.” The official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s job and spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said Morrison has been considering leaving the administration for “some time.”
Morrison was expected to be asked to explain the “sinking feeling” that he reportedly got when Trump demanded that Ukraine’s president investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and interfere in the 2016 election. The national security hawk, brought on board by then-national security adviser John Bolton , has been featured prominently in previous testimony from diplomat Taylor .
It was Morrison who first alerted Taylor to concerns over Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
In fact, Morrison’s name appeared more than a dozen times in testimony by Taylor, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless Zelenskiy went public with a promise to investigate Trump’s political rival Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. Taylor’s testimony contradicted Trump’s repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.
Morrison and Taylor spoke at least five times in the weeks following the July phone call as the defense expert and the diplomat discussed the Trump administration’s actions toward Ukraine, according to Taylor’s testimony.
As the security funds for Ukraine were being withheld, Morrison told the diplomat, “President doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.”
Their concerns deepened when Morrison relayed on Sept. 7 the conversation he had with Ambassador Gordon Sondland a day earlier that gave him that “sinking feeling.” In it, Sondland explained that Trump said he was not asking for a quid pro quo but insisted that Zelenskiy “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference,” Taylor testified last week.
Morrison told Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this call between Trump and Sondland, according to Taylor’s testimony.
The spotlight has been on Morrison since August, when a government whistleblower said multiple U.S. officials had said Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Morrison was brought on board to address arms control matters and later shifted into a role as a top Russia and Europe adviser. It was then that he stepped into the thick of an in-house squabble about the activities of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who had been conversing with Ukrainian leaders outside of traditional U.S. diplomatic circles.
The impeachment probe has been denounced by the Republican president, who has directed his staff not to testify.
Regardless of what he says, GOP lawmakers will be hard-pressed to dismiss Morrison, formerly a longtime Republican staffer at the House Armed Services Committee. He’s been bouncing around Washington in Republican positions for two decades, having worked for Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and as a GOP senior staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, including nearly four years when it was chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
Morrison told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison agreed, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s role in the impeachment inquiry and spoke only on the condition of anonymity. The official said Morrison told people that with the appointment of Robert O’Brien as Bolton’s successor, his own future work at the NSC was in a “holding pattern.”
Bolton brought Morrison into the NSC in July 2018 as senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefence.
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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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International Headlines

Health care or Brexit? UK parties unveil election themes

By JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — The opposition Labour Party kicked off its campaign for Britain’s December general election with one overriding message Thursday: It’s not just about Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn put the emphasis firmly on economic and social issues, calling the Dec. 12 vote a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the country. All seats in the 650-seat House of Commons are up for grabs in the early election, chosen by Britain’s 46 million eligible voters.
In his first stump speech of the six-week campaign, Corbyn said the left-of-center party’s plan would take on “vested interests” and “born to rule” elites — a dig at Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative party’s big-business backers.
“We’re going after the tax dodgers. We’re going after the dodgy landlords. We’re going after the bad bosses. We’re going after the big polluters. Because we know whose side we’re on,” Corbyn told supporters at a rally in London. “Whose side are you on?”
Johnson sought this election, which is being held more than two years early, to break the political impasse over Britain’s stalled departure from the European Union. But Corbyn wants to shift the election battleground away from Brexit and onto more comfortable terrain: the many versus the few.
Labour is hoping that voters want to talk about issues such as health care, the environment and social welfare — all of which saw years of funding cuts by Conservative governments — instead of more Brexit debates.
For his part, Johnson plans to campaign as the Brexit champion, blaming Corbyn’s “dither and delay” for the country’s failure to leave the EU on Thursday as scheduled.
While the Conservatives have a wide lead in most opinion polls, analysts say the election is unpredictable because Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties. For many voters, their identities as “leavers” or “remainers” are more important than their party affiliations.
A bill authorizing the early election was rushed through Parliament this week and officially became law Thursday when it received royal assent.
Sticking to his party’s core issues, Corbyn on Thursday called out prominent business leaders — including media mogul Rupert Murdoch and aristocratic landowner the Duke of Westminster — as he painted Johnson’s Conservatives as champions of the wealthy few.
Johnson once again banged the Brexit drum, ignoring his failure to get British lawmakers to pass his Brexit divorce deal and his previous vow to leave the EU by Oct. 31 “come what may.” Earlier this week, the EU granted Britain a three-month Brexit delay, setting a new Jan. 31 deadline for the country to leave the bloc and imploring British politicians to use the extra time wisely.
“If you vote for us and we get our program through … we can be out at the absolute latest by January next year,” Johnson said Thursday as he visited a hospital.
Johnson also tried to steal some of Labour’s thunder by promising more money for key public services such as hospitals, police and schools.
Labour is vulnerable over Brexit because the party is split. Some of its leaders, including Corbyn, are determined to go through with British voters’ decision to leave the EU, while others want to remain. After much internal wrangling, Labour now says if it wins the election, it will negotiate a better Brexit divorce deal, then call a referendum that gives voters a choice between that deal and remaining in the EU. The party has not said which side it would support.
“The prime minister wants you to believe that we’re having this election because Brexit is being blocked by an establishment elite,” Corbyn said. “People aren’t fooled so easily. They know the Conservatives are the establishment elite.”
“Labour will get Brexit sorted within six months. We’ll let the people decide whether to leave with a sensible deal or remain,” he added.
Corbyn shrugged off suggestions that he is dragging down the party’s popularity. Critics say the 70-year-old socialist is wedded to archaic policies of nationalization and high taxes, and accuse him of failing to stamp out anti-Semitism within the party.
Johnson’s critics bash the 55-year-old for his long history of misrepresentations and broken promises, and a string of offensive comments that he has tried to shrug off as jokes.
“It’s not about me,” Corbyn said Thursday. “It’s not a presidential election. It is about each and every one of us (candidates).”
Many British voters are fed up as they face the third major electoral event in as many years, after the country’s 2016 EU membership referendum and a 2017 election called by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May to try to strengthen her hand in negotiations with the EU.
May’s move was a spectacular miscalculation that cost the Conservative Party its majority in Parliament. She resigned after failing to get her Brexit deal passed by Parliament and Johnson took power in July.
More than three years after the Brexit referendum, Brexit positions have become entrenched and the debate has soured, with lawmakers on all sides receiving regular abuse online and in the streets. The toxic political atmosphere has prompted some long-time lawmakers to drop out of the race altogether, including Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, a Conservative.
“Over the last couple of years, I have had to have a couple of people prosecuted for death threats,” Morgan said. “I think there needs to be a wholesale culture change in the House of Commons. We’ve got to tackle this culture of abuse.”
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An earlier version corrected the spelling of Corbyn in first sentence.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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International Headlines

Islamic State group announces successor to al-Baghdadi

BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group declared a new leader Thursday after it confirmed the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi days earlier in a U.S raid in Syria.
In its audio release by the IS central media arm, al-Furqan Foundation, a new spokesman for IS identifies the successor as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — tracing his lineage, like al-Baghdadi, to the Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe.
It provided no other details about al-Qurayshi and it was not immediately clear who the name was in reference to. The group typically identifies its leaders using noms de guerre that refer to their tribal affiliation and lineage. Those names often change.
The speaker in the audio also confirmed the death of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, a close aide of al-Baghdadi and a spokesman for the group since 2016.
Al-Muhajir was killed in a joint U.S. operation with Kurdish forces in Jarablus in northern Syria on Sunday, hours after al-Baghdadi blew himself up during a U.S. raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
The killings were a double blow to the extremist group, nearly seven months after its territorial defeat in Syria.
The new spokesman, named Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, urged followers to pledge allegiance to the new “caliph” and addressed the Americans, saying: “Don’t rejoice.”
“The Shura Council met immediately after confirming the martyrdom of Sheik Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The leaders of the Mujahedeen agreed after consultation with their brethren and acting according to the will (of al-Baghdadi) they pledged allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi as the new leader of the Believers.”
The new IS leader is identified as a scholar, a well-known warrior and “emir of war” who has battled American forces and knows “its wars.”
“So don’t rejoice America for the death of Sheik al-Baghdadi,” the speaker said. “Don’t you know America that the state (IS) today is at the doorstep of Europe and is in Central Africa? It is also expanding and remaining from east to west.” The speaker was referencing the slogan IS used at the height of its successes: “Remaining and expanding.”

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International Headlines

Spain offers Madrid as host of December UN climate summit

By ARITZ PARRA Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Spain’s interim leader has offered to have Madrid host an international U.N. climate conference next month that was originally scheduled to be held in riot-struck Chile.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera on Wednesday canceled plans to host the Dec. 2-13 climate gathering, as well as a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, to focus on restoring security in his country, where at least a dozen people have died.
A statement Thursday from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s office said he offered the space because he understands why the Chilean government needs to prioritize its “national social agenda” and how pressed organizers of the COP25 meeting are, given the last-minute switch.
Sánchez, a Socialist, is trying to stay in power as Spain holds a general election on Nov. 10.
Spain said U.N. officials will consider Spain’s proposal next week at their meeting in Bonn, Germany. It wasn’t immediately clear on what scale the conference would be held if Madrid is chosen as an alternative. Last year’s climate conference in Katowice, Poland, was attended by more than 20,000 people.
U.N. Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said Spain’s offer would allow organizers to host the summit on its original timetable.
“It is encouraging to see countries working together in the spirit of multilateralism to address climate change, the biggest challenge facing this and future generations,” Espinosa said.
Other options could be shifting the U.N. conference to a different month. Other possible host sites include major U.N. venues in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Bonn or Nairobi, Kenya.
The COP25 conference aims to work out some of the remaining unresolved rules for countries on climate efforts, smoothing the way for a bigger climate effort at the 2020 summit to encourage countries to increase commitments to cutting their climate-changing emissions.
Speaking Thursday in Santiago de Chile, Piñera called Sánchez’s offer “generous” said it would allow climate experts to put together “all the progress that had been achieved.”
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Frank Jordans in Berlin and Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of climate change issues at https://www.apnews.com/Climate

Categories
National News

AP-NORC Poll: Trump approval steady as impeachment rages

By JULIE PACE and HANNAH FINGERHUT Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s approval rating is holding steady as the House presses forward with an impeachment probe that could imperil his presidency, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But there are warning signs in the survey for Trump.
Though Trump remains overwhelmingly popular within his own party, some Republicans have a critical view of the president’s honesty, his discipline and his respect for America’s democratic norms. Overall, 61% of Americans say Trump has little or no respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions, an issue that strikes at the heart of the impeachment inquiry focused in part on whether he sought a foreign government’s help for personal political gain.
Trump has fought back against the House probe with the same strategy that has buoyed him throughout the other investigations and controversies that have consumed his first three years in office: casting the investigations as politically motivated and repeatedly disparaging his opponents, often in bitingly personal terms. Republicans are so far sticking with him, with 85% saying they approve of Trump.
“The Democrats will not let the president do his job,” said Robert Little, a 73-year-old Republican from Kannapolis, North Carolina. “Ever since he’s been in office, he’s done a lot of good things for the United States, but the Democrats’ only agenda is to get rid of Trump.”
Overall, 42% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the job, in line with where he has been throughout his tenure. Just 7% of Democrats have a positive view of Trump as president.
Trump’s job approval rating and other markers in the survey underscore the deeply divisive nature of his presidency, with Republicans largely favoring his actions and Democrats overwhelmingly disapproving. As Trump eyes his reelection campaign, it suggests his path to victory will hinge on rallying higher turnout among his core supporters as opposed to persuading new voters to back his bid for a second term.
The biggest bright spot for Trump remains the economy, which has continued to grow despite warning signs of a downturn. Fifty-four percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, including a quarter of Democrats.
Trump inherited a growing economy from his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the trajectory has remained positive, with the unemployment rate hovering below 4%. But economists have warned that Trump’s push to levy tariffs on China puts economic gains at risk, and a majority of Americans, 55%, disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade negotiations with other countries.
Americans are more critical of Trump’s handling of foreign policy, with 59% disapproving of how he’s handling that issue. The public is also skeptical that Trump’s actions as president have been good for America’s standing in the world; 46% said his policies have done more harm than good, while 39% said they have had a more positive impact.
The poll was conducted almost entirely before Trump announced on Sunday that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a U.S. raid in Syria.
Trump was elected in 2016 with low marks from voters on an array of personal attributes, including honesty, and those assessments haven’t changed. Trump frequently repeats false statements and spreads conspiracy theories that have been debunked, including by members of his own administration.
More than half of Americans, 56%, said the word “honest” does not describe the president. Among Republicans, views are also mixed on Trump’s honesty: Just about half say “honest” describes Trump very or extremely well.
Even fewer Republicans have a positive view on Trump’s level of self-control, with just 39% saying “disciplined” is a very good way to describe the president, who often lashes out at critics and airs a myriad of grievances. Another 29% say it describes him moderately well, but about as many say it doesn’t describe him well.
The result is an electorate with raw emotions about the president. Nearly half say Trump makes them feel angry. And four in 10 Americans, including about 2 in 10 Republicans, say the president makes them feel overwhelmed.
“It wears you down, it wears you out,” said Bill Cathey, a 57-year-old independent from Charlotte, North Carolina. “And kind of dampens your spirit throughout the day.”
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The AP-NORC poll of 1,075 adults was conducted Oct. 24-28 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.
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Online:
AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/
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AP videojournalist Sarah Blake Morgan in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

Categories
International Headlines

Legal opinion: Poland, Hungary, Czechs broke EU migrant law

By LORNE COOK and SAMUEL PETREQUIN Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — With overcrowded Greek migrant camps facing explosive new problems, a top EU legal adviser said Thursday that Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic broke European Union law by refusing to comply with a refugee quota program meant to address such challenges.
The legal opinion strikes to the core of Europe’s migrant crisis since 2015 — its struggle to create a unified migrant policy — a challenge that is resurfacing as Greece faces a new surge of migrant arrivals.
Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston recommended that the European Court of Justice — the EU’s highest court — should rule that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland “have failed to fulfill their obligations under EU law” to take in refugees. Such legal opinions are not legally binding but are often followed by the court.
Meanwhile, Dunja Mijatovic, a commissioner for Human Rights at the Strasbourg, France-based Council of Europe, was appalled after a five-day visit to migrant camps on Greek islands.
“The situation of migrants, including asylum-seekers, in the Greek Aegean islands has dramatically worsened over the past 12 months,” said Mijatovic. “It is an explosive situation.”
She urged Athens to address the terrible living conditions in camps, notably on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Corinth, where people wait in line for hours to get food or use bathrooms, “when these are available.”
“This no longer has anything to do with the reception of asylum-seekers,” she said. “This has become a struggle for survival.”
In an emergency move in 2015, EU nations agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece as those two countries buckled under the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants, most from war-torn Syria.
That decision was made in a vote requiring about a two-thirds majority. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were among a small group of countries that voted against the move. Hungary and Slovakia, citing national security concerns, even challenged the vote in court but their case was rejected.
The failure of those nations to take part in a burden-sharing measure meant to help EU partners in distress was at the heart of one of the 28-nation bloc’s biggest crises. The issue of immigration then became a major vote winner for far-right parties.
Sharpston said if the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland had security or public order concerns about any of the migrants they should have rejected them on a case-by-case basis rather than ignore their entire relocation obligations. She found the EU plan contained enough safeguards to handle security concerns.
“Disregarding those obligations because, in a particular instance, they are unwelcome or unpopular is a dangerous first step toward the breakdown of the orderly and structured society governed by the rule of law,” she decided, according to a court statement. “The principle of solidarity necessarily sometimes implies accepting burden-sharing.”
Greece has recently begun to feel that burden more keenly. As part of its emergency response, the EU agreed in 2016 to pay Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) to stop migrants leaving the country for Greece and to help Athens cope with Syrian refugee arrivals.
Yet, according to recent EU data, Greece is one of Europe’s busiest entry points with more than 47,500 migrant arrivals this year through Oct. 6, a 29% increase from 2018.
Mijatovic praised Greece’s plan to transfer 20,000 migrants from the islands to the mainland by the end of this year, insisting their relocation should be done urgently. Greece has received more than 2.2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in EU assistance to help migrants.
“The Greek authorities must overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles that are hindering the effective use of these funds,” Mijatovic said.
She added that the EU must provide help in “relocating people from Greece to other member states, giving Greece breathing space to make structural improvements.”
Also Thursday, Greece’s parliament was set to approve tough new asylum procedures despite strong opposition from international human rights groups.
Lawmakers were holding a final day of debate on the measures, which include stricter detention policies for those entering the country and seeking asylum in the European Union.
As Greece struggles yet again to cope, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland appear unmoved even though the court is very likely to find them guilty of breaking EU laws.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party urged his government “to stand up to any pressure, no matter how it is legally or otherwise disguised, on the issue of the migrant quotas.”
Fidesz said people “don’t want one-time migrant quotas, permanent ones, those from 2015 or those currently being formed.” No new quota scheme has been announced, but the EU is urging member countries to help take in hundreds of refugees crossing the Mediterranean by boat.
Poland’s government argues that it refused to take part in the refugee plan because it was faulty and raised security concerns. Spokesman Piotr Muller said the government’s aim was to protect the interests of Polish citizens and defend against “uncontrolled migration.”
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said his government is studying the opinion and noted that it is not legally binding. He has previously described the quota scheme as “unacceptable and divisive.”
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Karel Janicek in Prague, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.