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Trump nominee Neomi Rao grilled on past writings, expresses ‘regret’ about some

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — Judicial nominee Neomi Rao defended herself against tough questioning from members of both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday and expressed “regret” for some of her past writings, which she said in retrospect make her “cringe.”

Nominated by President Donald Trump to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals, Rao was grilled heavily about her views on gender parity and sexual assault that were expressed in articles she wrote during her college years. Democrats have focused on those writings in their opposition to confirming her to one of the most powerful courts in the country, one that can be a spring board to the Supreme Court.

Rao, 45, attended Yale University and often wrote there about the topics of date rape, sexual assault and responsibility of those involved. At times, she placed the onus on women to “accept responsibility.”

She was asked repeatedly about one article in the Yale Herald, titled, “Shades of Gray,” in which she posited that sexual assaults at college parties might be avoided if women didn’t drink too much. She wrote that “a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”

Two dozen activists showed up at the hearing room Tuesday in protest, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with that quote.

Rao insisted on Tuesday that “no one should blame a victim” of sexual assault, but she also said some of what she wrote amounted to “common sense observations” that would make women less likely to be a victim of assault.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is a victim of rape and sexual assault, said that some of Rao’s college writings give her “pause.”

“I’m not going to mince words,” Ernst said, who is one of two women appointed to the Judiciary Committee in the new Congress after having no GOP women on the committee. “I’ve had a chance to review a number of writings while you were in college and they do give me pause, not just from my personal experience, but regarding a message we are sending young women everywhere.”

In another, titled “The Feminist Dilemma” for the Yale Free Press, Rao wrote, “just as women want to control their education and then choose their career, similarly, they must learn to understand and accept responsibility for their sexuality.”

In the same article she wrote that anti-feminism academic Camille Paglia “accurately describes the dangerous feminist idealism which teaches women that they are equal.”

Ernst asked Rao if she doesn’t think women are equal.

“I very much regret that statement,” Rao said. “I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that in college.” Ernst said she wants “to have further conversations” with Rao on these topics.

“Looking back at some of those writings and re-reading them, I cringe at some of the language I used,” she told Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the committee.

In addition to her college writings, Democrats had concerns with her current role as the administrator of a little-known but powerful office in the executive branch, the Office of Informational and Regulatory Affairs. In that role, which is often called the “regulatory czar,” she has been instrumental in Trump’s rollback of government regulations at the Education Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and more.

The D.C. Circuit has jurisdiction of federal agencies and plays a major role in interpreting the role of agencies.

Democrats asked her if she would recuse herself on issues where she played a role in rolling back or rewriting regulations under the Trump administration, including: the clean power plant rule; the pending Title IX sexual assault regulations which would narrow the definition of sexual assault, place the burden on the victim to prove the assault in order for a school to respond and also raise the bar of proof; and the Housing and Urban Development disparate impact rule on race discrimination in housing, which is currently in litigation.

In each of the instances, Rao would not commit to recusing herself, saying she would “look carefully at the statutory standards of recusal” and “follow the practices of the D.C. Circuit.”

When asked by reporters if she was qualified to sit on the bench, Graham offered a quick, “yeah.”

Rao was asked about a litany of other issues, including her past opposition to affirmative action and climate change.

She said she now believed that human activity “does contribute” to climate change and that she didn’t take a specific position on dwarf tossing but commenting on a specific case.

In response to questions by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rao was asked if she thinks if gay marriage is “sinful.” Rao refused to comment. “These personal views are ones I would put to the side.”

If all Republicans back her, Democrats might not be able to defeat her confirmation with only 47 members, but they could do enough damage to prevent her from ever being nominated to the Supreme Court.

Garrett Haake contributed.



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Trump to award Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom

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By Allan Smith

Tiger Woods won the prestigious green jacket on Sunday, and soon he will have another award to add to his collection — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Monday that he would be awarding Woods the medal after Woods won the Masters Tournament on Sunday.

“Spoke to @TigerWoods to congratulate him on the great victory he had in yesterday’s @TheMasters, & to inform him that because of his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE, I will be presenting him with the PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM!” Trump wrote.

Trump did not say when the ceremony would take place. The president watched the final round of the Masters at Augusta National in Georgia from his golf club in Virginia.

It was Woods’ fifth Masters victory and his first since 2005. It was his first major tournament victory since the 2008 U.S. Open and came after a series of back surgeries and personal struggles led many to question whether he would ever capture another major title.

Woods became the second-oldest Masters champion, after Jack Nicklaus, who won in 1986 at 46.

Trump, who played a round of golf with Woods earlier this year, joined a chorus of supporters online in praising Woods over the weekend, tweeting Sunday that Woods “is looking GREAT!” before congratulating him as “a truly Great Champion!” following his win.

Presidents of both political parties have awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to prominent sports figures. Last year, Trump awarded it to the former NFL stars Roger Staubach and Alan Page and baseball legend Babe Ruth. Before he left office, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to basketball stars Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and longtime baseball announcer Vin Scully.



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Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago is denied bail

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By Xuan Thai and Rich Schapiro

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A federal judge on Monday denied bail to a Chinese woman who was arrested while trying to enter President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club with a trove of electronic devices.

Yujing Zhang, 33, has remained behind bars since March 30 when federal prosecutors say she lied to Secret Service agents to gain entry to the private club. Zhang pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of lying to federal agents and illegally entering a restricted area.

Federal Magistrate Judge William Matthewman refused to set bail for Zhang, saying he believed she posed an “extreme risk of flight” if released. Matthewman cited her financial resources in China and her lack of ties to the U.S.

Yujying Zhang’s passport photoUnited States District Court Southern District of Florida

“It does appear to the court that she was up to something nefarious when she tried to gain access to Mar-a Lago,” said Matthewman, who also noted that the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with China.

Zhang told federal agents and club staff members conflicting stories when she tried to gain entry to the members-only resort last month, according to a criminal complaint.

Zhang was discovered carrying two passports, four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware, according to her criminal complaint. When agents searched her hotel room, they found a device for detecting hidden cameras, several debit and credit cards, and nearly $8,000 in cash, according to court papers.

Zhang was indicted Friday on two counts: lying to a federal agent and illegally entering a restricted area. She faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors said in court Monday that additional charges are possible. A prosecutor also said that subsequent analysis on the thumb drive suggests that it may not contain malware after all.

The FBI began investigating Zhang as a possible spy after her arrest but no espionage charges have been brought.

According to court papers, Zhang told an agent posted at a Mar-a-Lago security checkpoint that she was a member who came to use the resort pool, court papers say. She displayed two Chinese passports with her name and photograph to the agent, who then took her to Mar-a-Lago security to determine if she was a member of the club.

Mar-a-Lago security allowed Zhang to enter because her last name — one of the most common in China — matched that of an existing club member, according to court papers. Zhang did not give a definitive answer when asked if that member was her father, but the club granted her entry anyway. A “potential language barrier issue” may have played a role in the club’s decision to let her in, court papers say.

Zhang’s story changed once she made it to the club’s main reception area, according to court papers.

After being asked several times where she was going, Zhang said she was there to attend the United Nations Chinese American Association event scheduled for that evening. The receptionist, who knew no such event existed, summoned the Secret Service, according to court papers.

In the arrest affidavit, the agent said Zhang spoke English well and during questioning “became verbally aggressive with agents.” She had no swimsuit in her possession.

Tom Winter contributed.

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Ivanka Trump visits Ethiopia, eyes laws and customs holding back African women

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By Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Visiting Africa to promote female economic development, Ivanka Trump on Monday sought to spotlight laws and customs that hold women on the continent back, from restrictions on property ownership to gender-based violence.

The president’s daughter and senior adviser, on a four-day trip to promote a White House global women’s project, spoke about roadblocks for women during a policy discussion with Ethiopia’s president and after signing a joint statement with the African Union Commission.

“We can and we must address these barriers to women’s equality and countries’ prosperity,” Trump said during a panel discussion held at the headquarters of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. She pointed to the limited number of female landowners on the continent and said some countries have laws allowing men to block their wives from working.

In the agreement, the United States and the African Union Commission pledged to help empower women and to fight problems such as child marriage, human trafficking and sexual abuse. She signed it at the commission’s headquarters along with Kwesi Quartey, the commission’s deputy chairman.

Trump highlighted the “collective goal” to eliminate gender-based violence and stressed the shared focus on improving access to education and business opportunities.

On her second day in Ethiopia, Trump delivered her message on gender equity in a country long considered a patriarchal society, where women and girls struggle with access to jobs and education. Female genital mutilation continues in some areas, although the government has outlawed the practice.

Ethiopia has pursued sweeping political and economic reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Last year, lawmakers approved a cabinet with women making up a record 50 percent of ministers and elected President Sahle-Work Zewde, the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial post.

Trump met separately with both leaders Monday, sitting with Zewde in a formal room at the presidential palace.

“I can say that you came at the right time. Africa is on the rise,” Zewde told Trump as the two participated in the panel discussion before a packed, largely female audience.

During the event, Trump and David Bohigian, acting director of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, announced a new financing initiative for women in Africa. Known as OPIC 2X Africa, the effort will directly invest $350 million — and seek additional private investment — in businesses and funds owned by women, led by women or working to help women.

OPIC provides loans, loan guarantees and political risk insurance, funding projects that stretch across continents and industries.

Trump started her day at Holy Trinity Cathedral, where she met with religious leaders and laid a wreath to mourn the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash that occurred soon after takeoff last month.

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