Afghan security service suffers heavy toll in Taliban attack

By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Dozens of people killed in a brazen Taliban attack on a military base were members of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, officials said Tuesday, in a severe blow to the government that already has lost control of nearly half of the country to the insurgents.
At least 45 people were killed and as many as 70 were wounded by a suicide bomber who drove an armored Humvee packed with explosives at the base in eastern Maidan Wardak province on Monday, the officials said.
There were fears the death toll from the daytime assault could increase. The base, which also serves as a training center for pro-government militias, is run by Afghanistan’s intelligence service known as the National Directorate for Security, or NDS.
The NDS said its reports show 36 military personnel were killed and 58 were wounded. Though the agency’s figures were lower than what provincial officials had reported, it was still an unprecedented casualty toll for the agency, among the best equipped and trained in Afghanistan.
The agency said the suicide bomber had managed to penetrate the gate of the base on the outskirts of Maidan Shar, the provincial capital located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kabul, even though guards fired at the vehicle.
Khawanin Sultani, a council member in the province, said a main building collapsed from the explosion, which likely contributed to the high casualty toll.
“Most of the bodies were under the destroyed building,” he said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement to the media just hours after the attack and later said its representatives met Monday with U.S. representatives to discuss “ending the invasion of Afghanistan” in talks that were to continue Tuesday. They are meeting in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.
The timing of the attack, one of the worst Taliban assaults on Afghan forces in recent years, and the Qatar meeting that was meant to pave way for talks aimed at resolving Afghanistan’s 17-year war, underscored the audacity of the insurgents in the face of stepped-up peace efforts.
The Taliban now hold sway in almost half of Afghanistan and carry out attacks on a daily basis, mainly targeting the country’s beleaguered security forces.
After the suicide bomber struck, four other attackers engaged in a shootout with Afghan troops, according to Sultani, the provincial council member. All the attackers were killed, he said.
About 150 military personnel and others were at the base at the time, he said. The pro-government militia that was hit had been highly effective in securing the province, especially two key highways linking Kabul with the provinces of Kandahar, Maidan Wardak and Bamyan.
“They had participated in so many operations alongside other security forces and had fought against insurgents,” Sultani added.
A provincial security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said he counted as many as 75 bodies at the base. There was no official confirmation of this higher toll.
Dozens of ambulances took the wounded to the main provincial hospital or to Kabul, the official said. The blast was so strong that windows of civilian homes outside the base also were shattered, he said.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office said the “enemy had carried out a terrorist attack against the intelligence agency’s personnel, killed and wounded a number of honest sons of this homeland who were defending their country and protecting their people.” An investigation was ordered, the statement added.
There was no official breakdown on how many of the victims were military, intelligence personnel or militia trainees.
The attack was a “tragedy and a big loss to the Afghan security forces,” said Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy interior minister and a military analyst.
He said it was difficult to believe that the vaunted NSD could have lost such a high number of personnel in a single attack and that there must have been serious negligence on someone’s part. He also said there were no other checkpoints along the highway leading up to the base to prevent the attack.
The Taliban statement said they had met with U.S. representatives to discuss “ending the invasion of Afghanistan” in talks that would continue on Tuesday in Qatar.
“Peace talks and negotiations are important and essential for Afghanistan, but not under these unacceptable circumstances,” Yarmand said. “If such attacks continue, there must be a cease-fire agreement first.”
Last week, the Taliban threatened to walk away from the talks, accusing Washington of seeking to “expand the agenda” — presumably a reference to U.S. demands that the insurgents hold direct talks with the Kabul government.
The Taliban view the Afghan government as a U.S. puppet and have long insisted they will only negotiate directly with Washington.

Zimbabwe leader: Violence by security forces ‘unacceptable’

By FARAI MUTSAKA, Associated Press
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday said “unacceptable” violence by security forces will be investigated after a days-long crackdown on economic unrest, while a doctor said the 12 documented deaths and more than 300 people wounded are likely “are just a fraction of the actual victims.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for a national dialogue among political parties and civic leaders, even as arrests continued. He spoke after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland under pressure to return home.
Zimbabwe’s military is in the streets for the first time since post-election violence in August killed six people. This time, people report being hunted down in their homes. More than 600 people have been arrested, most denied bail.
The “army is on the forefront of orchestrating the violence,” backed by ruling ZANU-PF youth gangs and police, Dr Norman Matara with the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told reporters in Johannesburg.
The pattern of injuries seen in the more than 300 people wounded and 12 dead suggested premeditation and training in torture, Matara said, and “we think these numbers are just a fraction of the actual victims” as some were too scared to seek treatment.
Several people were dragged from their hospital beds and arrested. Some were shot in the head at close range and died. About half of those wounded were bystanders hit by stray bullets when the military opened fire on crowds. The group documented abuse of people as young as 9.
Some medical professionals, accused of “trying to subvert the government” by publicizing the toll, are now afraid to help victims, Matara said.
Zimbabwe’s president said insubordination will not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll.”
He defended, however, the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest by making gasoline in Zimbabwe the most world’s expensive. Authorities said it was aimed at easing the demand that created miles-long lines as gas stations.
But Zimbabweans who had seen no improvement in the collapsed economy under Mnangagwa, who took office in 2017 after the ouster of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, lost their patience. Activists and labor leaders called for people to stay at home in protest. Others took to the streets, some looting in anger or desperation.
Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the opposition, despite witness accounts of security forces killing or wounding bystanders, including a 17-year-old .
“Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest,” Mnangagwa said.
The government-backed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission said eight people were killed and criticized the use of the military and live ammunition. It said the government had not learned from the August crackdown, and should compensate “victims of military and police brutality.”
Mnangagwa has previously said he is open to dialogue with the main opposition MDC party, which narrowly lost both the July election and a court challenge alleging fraud. He has dismissed a government of national unity.
The opposition called Mnangagwa’s new call for dialogue a “gimmick to buy time.”
“Mnangagwa’s overtures are always on Twitter. He knows where we are, yet he has chosen not to talk to us directly,” MDC spokesman Jacob Mafume said.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said his attempts at dialogue had been “spurned and mocked” and that people must be free to talk without fear.
Arrests continued. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said police detained labor federation leader Japhet Moyo overnight, just hours after releasing him. He is charged with subversion for his role in organizing the national strike along with pastor and activist Evan Mawarire.
Police also detained 28 people being treated at a hospital in the capital, Harare, the lawyers’ group said, calling it “very inhumane.”
Zimbabwe’s government ordered an internet blackout in recent days as reports of abuses emerged, but the High Court on Monday ordered that full service be restored, saying only the president has the authority to order it.
At Davos, Mnangagwa had planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans but faced a more difficult reception than a year ago, when optimism was relatively high about a “new Zimbabwe.” Neighboring South Africa recently turned down Mnangagwa’s request for a $1.2 billion loan.
South Africa is now considering a bailout for Zimbabwe “as long as it is affordable for our side,” Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa again suggested that U.S. and other sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted or relaxed.
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube told The Associated Press in Davos that “we don’t need to be told by anyone that we need to do better on human rights or open up democratic space … we need to do it for ourselves.” He hopes to gain access to some $500 million in lines of credit at Davos.
Zimbabwe’s turmoil again brought questions about tensions between Mnangagwa and the man he had left in charge, hard-line Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who had led the military effort to oust Mugabe.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga have dismissed reports of a rift, and they hugged upon the president’s return late Monday.
“This is state-sponsored violence,” Dewa Mavhinga, the southern African director for Human Rights Watch, told reporters. He called Mnangagwa’s government the same as that of Mugabe but with “an even more brazen system in charge.”
___
Associated Press writers Krista Mahr in Johannesburg and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.
___
Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa

China demands US drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — China on Tuesday demanded the U.S. drop a request that Canada extradite a top executive of the tech giant Huawei, shifting blame to Washington in a case that has severely damaged Beijing’s relations with Ottawa.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Meng Wanzhou’s case was out of the ordinary and Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. infringed on the “safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”
Hua said China demands that the U.S. withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng and “not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side.”
Hua’s remarks came after more than 100 academics and former diplomats signed a letter calling on China to release two Canadians detained in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
They also follow a report by the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail that the U.S. plans to formally request Meng’s extradition to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng is Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei. Huawei has close ties to China’s military and is considered one of the country’s most successful international enterprises, operating in the high-tech sphere where China hopes to establish dominance.
The letter signed by academics and former diplomats said the arrests of the two will lead to “less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result.”
More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed.
Meng is living under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion while her case is under deliberation. Kovrig and Spavor are being held in Chinese jails and have yet to be granted access to lawyers, according to those who have contact with them.

Brazil’s nationalist leader to address Davos globalist crowd

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will headline the first full day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with a speech to political and business leaders.
The nationalist leader is attending an event that has long represented business’s interest in increasing ties across borders. But globalism is in retreat as populist leaders around the world put a focus back on nation states, even if that means limiting trade and migration.
After Bolsonaro’s speech on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will address the gathering on Wednesday.
But several key leaders are not attending to handle big issues at home: U.S. President Donald Trump amid the government shutdown, British Prime Minister Theresa May to grapple with Brexit talks, and France’s Emmanuel Macron to face popular protests.
___
Follow the AP’s coverage of Davos here: https://www.apnews.com/Davos

Kremlin ‘optimistic’ ahead of WADA doping ruling

By JAMES ELLINGWORTH, AP Sports Writer
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is “optimistic” ahead of a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling on whether the country’s authorities met demands to turn over lab data, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Tuesday.
The WADA executive committee reinstated Russia’s anti-doping agency in September — despite protests from many Western athletes and officials — on condition the country turned over data from a Moscow laboratory. The data could help WADA pursue doping cases against many top Russian athletes for past offenses.
WADA representatives left Moscow with the data last week but only after Russia missed a Dec. 31 deadline.
“Our sports authorities have clearly made the maximum effort to arrange the work of the WADA representatives in Moscow, to arrange all the necessary procedures and contacts,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. “So in Moscow everyone is optimistic.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had called for the Russian agency, known as RUSADA, to be suspended for missing the deadline, though WADA said it preferred to wait for the data.
Russian law enforcement sealed off the lab and its data after the former director, Grigory Rodchenkov, testified to WADA that he covered up doping for several years and swapped doped Russian athletes’ samples for clean urine during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
WADA president Craig Reedie on Thursday hailed the recovery of the data as “a major breakthrough for clean sport,” but said WADA couldn’t yet be sure the information was genuine.
___
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Trump’s shutdown proposal faces uncertain fate in Senate

By JILL COLVIN and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s proposal to reopen the government, with immigration provisions Democrats denounce as inadequate, is headed for Senate action, its prospects uncertain.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will try to muscle through the 1,300-page spending measure, which includes $5.7 billion to fund Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the sticking point in the standoff between Trump and Democrats that has led to a partial government shutdown now in its 32nd day.
Meanwhile, another missed paycheck looms for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and Democrats say they won’t negotiate border funding while the shutdown continues.
Senate Republicans late Monday unveiled the legislation, dubbed the “End The Shutdown And Secure The Border Act,” but its passage this week is by no means certain.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber but need Democrats to reach the usual 60-vote threshold for bills to advance. No Democrat has publicly expressed support for the proposal Trump announced over the weekend.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s office reiterated that Democrats are unwilling to negotiate any border security funding until Trump reopens the government.
“Nothing has changed with the latest Republican offer,” Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said. “President Trump and Senate Republicans are still saying: ‘Support my plan or the government stays shut.’ That isn’t a compromise or a negotiation — it’s simply more hostage taking.”
The Republican plan is a trade-off: Trump’s border wall funding in exchange for temporary protection from deportation for some immigrants. To try to draw more bipartisan support, it adds $12.7 billion in supplemental funding for regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. All told, it would provide about $350 billion for nine Cabinet departments whose budgets are stalled. Other than the wall and immigration-related provisions, the core measure hews closely to a package of spending bills unveiled by House Democrats last week.
In exchange for $5.7 billion for Trump’s wall, the legislation would extend temporary protections against deportation to around 700,000 immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump has tried dismantling the Obama-era program, which covers people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, but has been blocked by federal lawsuits.
That figure is substantially lower than the 1.8 million people Trump proposed protecting a year ago, which included people potentially eligible for DACA protections but who’d not applied for them. In addition, Trump’s 2018 proposal included other immigration changes and $25 billion to pay the full costs of building his wall. His measure was among several the Senate rejected last February.
The new Senate bill would provide three more years of temporary protections against deportation to around 325,000 immigrants in the U.S. who have fled countries racked by natural disasters or violent conflicts. Trump has ended that program, called Temporary Protected Status, for El Salvador, which has the most holders of the protected status, as well as for Honduras, Nicaragua and several other countries.
Another part of McConnell’s bill would tighten restrictions on minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in the U.S. It was already drawing condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocates.
The proposal would require asylum seekers under age 18 from those countries to apply for that status at special facilities in Central America, not at the U.S. border; let no more than 15,000 receive asylum annually; and bar them from appealing a decision to the courts.
The proposed asylum curbs would be “even more inhumane and un-American than Trump’s disastrous zero-tolerance policy” of prosecuting all migrants entering the U.S. without authorization, said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. DeGette chairs the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee that is investigating Trump’s now abandoned policy of separating migrant children from their families.
Yet some on the right, including conservative commentator Ann Coulter, accused Trump of offering “amnesty.”
“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer,” Trump tweeted Sunday, in response. He added: “Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else.”
While the House and the Senate are scheduled to be back in session Tuesday, no votes have been scheduled on Trump’s plan. McConnell spokesman David Popp said the GOP leader “will move” to vote on consideration of the president’s proposal this week. The bill includes funding for most domestic agencies.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing ahead this week with their legislation to reopen the government and add $1 billion for border security — including 75 more immigration judges and infrastructure improvements — but no funding for the wall.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Democrats are playing “political games” and repeated his claims that the wall is a solution to drugs and crime — although the Drug Enforcement Administration says only a small percentage of drugs comes into the country between ports of entry.
“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security,” Trump tweeted. “With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games. Must finally be done correctly. No Cave!”
The impact of the government’s longest-ever shutdown continues to ripple across the nation. The longest previous shutdown was 21 days in 1995-96, when Bill Clinton was president.
The Transportation Security Administration said the percentage of its airport screeners missing work hit 10 percent on Sunday, up from 3.1 percent on the comparable Sunday a year ago.
The screeners, who have been working without pay, have been citing financial hardship as the reason they can’t report to work. Even so, the agency said it screened 1.78 million passengers Sunday with only 6.9 percent having to wait 15 minutes or longer to get through security.
___
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

3 groups, many videos, many interpretations of DC encounter

By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press
A group of five black men shouting vulgar insults while protesting centuries of oppression. Dozens of white Catholic high school students visiting Washington for a rally to end abortion. And Native Americans marching to end injustice for indigenous peoples across the globe who have seen their lands overrun by outside settlers.
The three groups met for just a few minutes Friday at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, an encounter captured in videos that went viral over the weekend — and again cast a spotlight on a polarized nation that doesn’t appear to agree on anything.
At first the focus was on a short video showing one of the high school students, Nick Sandmann, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and appearing to smirk while a crowd of other teens laughed derisively behind him, as he faced off against a 64-year-old Native American, Nathan Phillips, who played a traditional chant on a drum.
Pull back further and a different view emerged, however, in a separate video showing members of a group calling itself the Black Hebrew Israelites taunting everyone on the mall that day, calling the Native Americans who had gathered there for the Indigenous Peoples March “Uncle Tomahawks” and “$5 Indians” and the high school students “crackers” and worse.
It was an ugly encounter of spewed epithets but one that nevertheless ended with no punches thrown or other violence.
Still, the videos were all over social media, again appearing to illustrate a nation of such deep divisions — racial, religious and ideological — that no one was willing to listen to the others’ point of view. Add to that the political tensions spilling over from a government shutdown that has gone on for a month and the stage was set for a viral moment.
But in this case, the videos didn’t tell the whole story, all the parties involved agree.
“I would caution everyone passing judgment based on a few seconds of video to watch the longer video clips that are on the internet, as they show a much different story than is being portrayed by people with agendas,” Sandmann, a junior, said in a statement released late Sunday.
Sandmann’s statement does seem at odds with some video from the confrontation that showed students from his school, Covington Catholic High in Park Hills, Kentucky, laughing at Phillips’ Native American group and mockingly singing along with him, as well as interviews with Phillips who said he heard the students shout “Build that wall!” and “Go back to the reservation!”
The fullest view of what happened that Friday afternoon came from a nearly two-hour video posted on Facebook by Shar Yaqataz Banyamyan. It showed members of his Black Hebrew Israelite group repeatedly interacting with the crowd as people from the Indigenous Peoples March and the high school students vigorously argued with them for a few minutes.
Sandmann said in his statement the students from his all-male high school were waiting for their buses near Banyamyan’s group when the latter started to taunt them. One of the students took off his shirt and the teens started to do a haka — a war dance of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture, made famous by the country’s national rugby team.
Phillips, an elder of the Omaha tribe, and Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes, said they felt the students were mocking the dance and walked over to intervene.
Phillips and Sandmann locked eyes, their faces inches apart. Both men said their goal was simply to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. But caught on video, the encounter still went viral.
The high school students felt they were unfairly portrayed as villains in a situation where they say they were not the provocateurs.
“I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination,” Sandmann said in his statement.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington apologized for the incident, promising an investigation that could lead to punishment up to expulsion if any wrongdoing by the students was determined.
The Indigenous Peoples Movement felt the encounter was a reminder the U.S. was founded on racism and President Donald Trump’s presidency is rekindling hatred based on skin color.
“Trump has riled up a reactionary voting block that reminds us that we are a nation founded on patriarchy, genocide and racism. Trump is clearly giving these archaic instincts license, encouraging the kind of aggressive goading that I witnessed,” movement spokesman Chase Iron Eyes said in a statement.
Trump himself weighed with several tweets in as some news reports questioned whether the early criticism of the students was warranted. The president tweeted Tuesday, in part: “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.”
Banyamyan posted his own reaction on Facebook, referencing the dozens of high school students in their Make America Great Again gear coming over to his group of five and chanting. In a rambling video, he also praised Phillips and compared Sandmann to the devil.
After the sun set and the Covington high school students left, Banyamyan’s video showed a few police officers stopping by to check on his group as they were wrapping up their protest. One of the officers said they were worried by the number of people that briefly massed in that one spot. One of the Black Hebrew Israelites said there were no problems.
“We weren’t threatened by them,” he said. “It was an OK dialogue.”

Supreme Court returns to gun rights for 1st time in 9 years

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will take up its first gun rights case in nine years, a challenge to New York City’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits.
The court’s decision to hear the appeal filed by three New York residents and New York’s National Rifle Association affiliate could signal a revived interest in gun rights by a more conservative court. The case won’t be argued until October.
The challengers are represented by prominent lawyer Paul Clement, who has been urging the justices to elaborate on the extent of constitutional gun rights the Supreme Court declared in decisions in 2008 and 2010. The court had previously rejected several appeals.
The court may be more willing to take on a gun rights case now that Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was President Donald Trump’s second high-court nominee to be confirmed.
Clement says the case “is a perfect vehicle to reaffirm that those decisions and the constitutional text have consequences.”
Joining in support of gun rights, 17 states said the court should break its years-long silence and use the case to define the scope of gun rights under the Constitution and the level of scrutiny, or skepticism, judges should apply to gun laws.
New York’s ordinance allows people licensed to have handguns to carry them outside the home to gun ranges in the city. The guns must be locked and unloaded.
The city residents who filed suit want to practice shooting at target ranges outside the city or take their guns to second homes elsewhere in New York state.
Lower courts had rejected the challenge.
The city’s top lawyer, Zachary Carter, urged the court to reject the case, arguing that the restrictions allowed New York police to reduce the number of guns carried in public.
There are seven shooting ranges in the city and at least one in each of the city’s five boroughs, Carter said.

Democrats lurch left on top policies as 2020 primary begins

By STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Democratic presidential contender Julian Castro launched his campaign by pledging support for “Medicare for All,” free universal preschool, a large public investment in renewable energy and two years of free college for all Americans.
That wasn’t enough for some of his party’s most liberal members.
Critics on social media quickly knocked Castro’s plan to provide only two years of free higher education — instead of four — as “half measures,” ”scraps” and “corporate Dem doublespeak.” Aware of the backlash, the former Obama administration Cabinet member clarified his position in an interview days later.
“At least the first two years of college or university or apprenticeship program should be tuition free — and preferably four years,” Castro told The Associated Press. “We’re going to work toward that.”
Welcome to the 2020 presidential primary. Almost no policy is too liberal for Democrats fighting to win over their party’s base, which is demanding a presidential nominee dedicated to pursuing bold action on America’s most pressing challenges.
Among two dozen possible candidates, virtually all have embraced universal health care in one form or another. Some have rallied behind free college, job guarantee programs, a $15 minimum hourly wage and abolishing — or at least reconstituting — the federal agency that enforces immigration laws. While few have outlined detailed proposals to fund their priorities, most would generate new revenue by taxing the rich.
The leftward lurch on top policies carries risks.
President Donald Trump and his Republican allies are betting that voters will ultimately reject the Democratic proposals as extreme. Some GOP leaders cast lesser plans as socialism during the Obama era.
Republican critics are joined by a handful of moderate Democrats, who fear that promises by well-intentioned presidential prospects may create unrealistic expectations with their party’s most passionate voters.
Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican mayor of New York now considering a Democratic presidential bid, recently opined that primary voters might be receptive to a more moderate approach.
“Most Democrats want a middle-of-the-road strategy,” Bloomberg said on ABC’s “The View.” He added: “If you go off on trying to push for something that has no chance of getting done, that we couldn’t possibly pay for, that just takes away from where you can really make progress in helping people that need help today.”
So far, at least, very few presidential prospects are heeding such warnings.
In the 2016 campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was the only presidential contender to support “Medicare for All,” a proposal that would essentially provide free health care coverage to all Americans. This year, it’s hard to find anyone in opposition.
That’s even after one recent study predicted the plan would cost taxpayers more than $32 trillion. Proponents argue that those same taxpayers would save the trillions they currently spend out-of-pocket for their health care.
Lesser-known policies have emerged heading into 2020 as well.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is expected to launch his presidential campaign soon, has sponsored legislation to create a federal jobs guarantee program in several communities across America. The pilot program, which is co-sponsored by fellow 2020ers like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, could ultimately transform the U.S. labor market by providing well-paid government employment with benefits for anyone who wants it.
Critics decry the plan as a step toward socialism.
“Big challenges demand big solutions,” Booker told the AP. “Both Martin Luther King Jr. and President Franklin Roosevelt believed that every American had the right to a job, and that right has only become more important in this age of increasing income inequality, labor market concentration and continued employment discrimination.”
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer supports much of the liberal movement’s new priorities — including Trump’s impeachment — but says the federal jobs guarantee “doesn’t make sense” given the nation’s low employment rate.
“I want the private sector to produce jobs people can live on,” he said in an interview. “A guarantee of government jobs doesn’t make sense.”
Yet Steyer insists that most of his party’s policy priorities — universal health care and free college, among them — are anything but radical.
“The Republicans are an extremist far-right, radical party. When you say we need to moderate to their position, there’s nothing moderate or pragmatic about their position,” said Steyer, who recently backed away from a presidential run, although he’s expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to shape the 2020 debate.
Free college is quickly emerging as a litmus test for Democratic contenders.
Those already on the record backing free tuition at public colleges and universities include former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders, Gillibrand, Harris and Warren. Estimates vary for the cost to state and local taxpayers, although Sanders acknowledged it could be $70 billion annually.
Warren seemed to back away from her support for free college during an appearance in Iowa earlier in the month, however. In 2017, she co-sponsored the “College For All Act,” which would have made tuition free at public universities.
Asked in a radio interview whether she supports reducing the cost of college or offering it free, Warren responded: “No, I think this is about reducing the cost.”
It’s unlikely the Democratic Party’s energized base would tolerate any significant shifts to the center on free college — or any of the party’s top issues.
Such populist appeals helped fuel sweeping Democratic victories in last fall’s midterm elections, while producing a new generation of unapologetic Democratic leaders such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is aligned with the democratic socialist movement. And polls repeatedly suggest that voters support proposals for universal health care, free college and free preschool.
“We have seen a dramatic shift in the Democratic Party’s center of gravity,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
To win the next presidential election, the Democratic nominee must embrace “big ideas,” he continued. “Those who deny that are hurting their chances in 2020.”
Meanwhile, Castro, like others in the early 2020 field, says he’s fully committed to a “bold vision” to address the nation’s top policy challenges.
“All Democrats recognize that this is not going to be easy, that to get Medicare for all, for instance, it’s not guaranteed, it’s not going to be easy, it may require along the way there are some compromises,” he said. “But I’m convinced that it’s worth it to go forward.”

High court lets military implement transgender restrictions

By JESSICA GRESKO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender people while court challenges continue.
The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have.
The Trump administration had urged the justices to take up cases about the plan directly, but the court declined for now. Those cases will continue to move through lower courts.
Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under President Barack Obama. The military announced in 2016 that transgender individuals already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017 as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
But after President Donald Trump took office, the administration delayed the enlistment date, saying the issue needed further study. While that study was ongoing, the president tweeted in late July 2017 that the government would not allow “Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He later directed the military to return to its policy before the Obama administration changes.
Groups representing transgender individuals sued, and the Trump administration lost early rounds in those cases, with courts issuing nationwide injunctions barring the administration from altering course. The Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted those preliminary injunctions.
In March 2018, the Trump administration announced that after studying the issue it was revising its policy. The new policy generally bars transgender individuals from serving unless they serve “in their biological sex” and do not seek to undergo a gender transition.
The policy has an exception for transgender troops who relied on the Obama-era rules to begin the process of changing their gender, allowing them to continue to serve. The military said last year that over 900 men and women have done so.