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Trump snubs John McCain during bill signing intended to honor him

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.

In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.

The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”

The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.

“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.

McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.

The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.

“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.

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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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Religious conservatives grapple with how to respond to Buttigieg

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By Josh Lederman

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Religious conservatives who have long been a reliable voting bloc for Republicans are grappling with a new challenge in Pete Buttigieg: how to respond to a Democratic presidential candidate who is leaning into the discussion about faith and its role in political life.

For years, Democrats seeking inroads with religious voters have faced a major obstacle erected by evangelicals and other conservative Christians who have often portrayed resistance to socially conservative policies as attacks on people of faith. Adding to their challenge is the fact that few Democratic candidates have seemed comfortable emphasizing their personal faith, perhaps unsurprising given that their positions on abortion, LGBT rights and contraception differ from traditional religious orthodoxy.

Buttigieg, who formally declared his candidacy on Sunday, is flipping the traditional Democratic playbook by emphasizing how scripture informs his positions on those same issues, rather than shying away from the topic.

Using vocabulary familiar to religious conservatives, he has constructed his arguments in a way designed to allow voters to conceive of supporting him and his approach as affirming — rather than challenging — a strong belief in God and religious values.

“We have this totally warped idea of what Christianity should be like when it comes into the public sphere, and it’s mostly about exclusion,” Buttigieg said recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Which is the last thing that I imbibe when I take in scripture in church.”

He describes his own same-sex marriage in moral terms, saying that his union with his husband has made him a better man and brought him “closer to God.” His ascent to the national political stage has coincided with shifting political winds in the U.S. at least on gay rights, with polls showing that a majority of Catholics and white Protestants now support same-sex marriage, and moral condemnation of gays and lesbians is considered acceptable by a smaller segment of American society.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, rejected the notion that evangelicals in particular would be swayed by a candidate like Buttigieg. Still, he acknowledged that religious Americans who are more liberal would find his message particularly compelling.

“They perceive in him less hostility. They might not see things the way evangelicals do, but faith is still important to them,” Perkins said. But, he adds, when it comes to evangelicals, “he’s going to have a hard time because there’s a disconnect between the talk about faith and actual biblical principles.”

In past elections, the notion of a disconnect was an easier argument to make. Then-Sen. Barack Obama, when he first ran for president in 2008, notoriously stumbled when remarks he made at a fundraiser were published in which he said Americans from small towns “cling to guns or religion” as manifestations of their economic anxieties. Hillary Clinton only rarely mentioned her own Methodist faith during her 2016 campaign, and her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, said he wasn’t particularly religious.

Buttigieg, who was baptized Catholic and attended a Catholic high school but now attends an Episcopal church, has said that his faith does guide his behavior in public life, and that the lessons he draws from scripture are “about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants, and making sure that you’re focusing your effort on the poor.”

“Republicans do not have a viable successful playbook for dealing with Democrats that are willing and able to make a positive case around faith, and that is what Buttigieg has done pretty consistently,” said Michael Wear, who was the faith outreach director for Obama’s 2012 campaign and author of “Reclaiming Hope.”

“He hasn’t gone negative. Most of the time when he talks about faith it’s the positive things in his life and the positive vision it gives him for governing,” Wear said. “It’s left Republicans pretty flat-footed.”

The uncertainty about how to speak about Buttigieg and his candidacy has played out in religious conservative circles and on the internet with increasing urgency as Buttigieg has surged in the polls and criticized Vice President Mike Pence for supporting religious liberty bills that limited LGBT rights. Pence and many supporters responded by accusing Buttigieg of attacking Pence’s faith.

The emerging strategy for responding to Buttigieg centers on emphasizing his positions on specific issues that remain a litmus test for many conservative voters, most notably abortion and gay marriage.

Erick Erickson, an evangelical radio host and conservative writer, posited on his blog The Resurgent that Buttigieg “apparently thinks Jesus would be ok with bestiality.” He based that on the logic that Jesus never addressed bestiality, and that Buttigieg has defended his support for abortion rights by pointing out that Jesus never discussed abortion. In another post he took aim at Buttigieg’s religious fidelity, arguing that since he’s Episcopalian, “he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”

And after Buttigieg accused evangelicals of hypocrisy for backing Trump despite personal behavior that would make many churchgoers cringe, Christian writer Michael Brown wrote on the anti-abortion site LifeSiteNews that it was “absurd” for a “professing Christian and practicing homosexual” to point fingers at others.

“As an out-and-proud gay man, Buttigieg must discard the entire testimony of Scripture, since every single reference to homosexual practice in the Bible is condemnatory, without a single positive, homo-sex affirming statement of any kind,” he wrote.

Buttigieg’s biggest challenge with religious conservatives may be his support for abortion rights, which are still opposed by majorities of U.S. evangelicals, Baptists and Mormons, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. The South Bend mayor told the Rev. Edward Beck, a Roman Catholic author, in a CNN interview this month that he doesn’t see “how my intervention as a government official, making rules about what she can and can’t do, is going to help.”

Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent Iowa political activist and president of the group The Family Leader, said he and other social conservatives welcome the nascent focus on faith and religion in the 2020 conversation. He said when it comes to casting votes, religious conservatives would find Buttigieg’s policy positions simply untenable.

“Donald Trump will stand up for the sanctity of human life and the sacredness of life and the unborn child. And Pete Buttigieg and others will say, ‘No, I’m OK with abortion on demand, and even maybe a born-alive bill,’ which is completely contrary to the Christian faith,” Vander Plaats told NBC News.

He added: “That’s the opportunity for the conversation, because once we peel back that onion, it’ll be very, very clear: There is nothing in the scriptures that back gay marriage, there’s nothing in the scriptures that would back embracing a gay lifestyle.”

Democrats seeking to peel away religious voters have significant ground to make up. In 2017, Pew found that the Republican advantage has only grown in recent years among evangelicals, with 77 percent of white evangelicals either identifying as Republicans or leaning in that direction. White Catholic voters and Mormons also leaned Republican by clear majorities.

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