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Trump’s slow 2024 start worries allies

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CNN

Back in 2015, Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in Iowa as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination came just 10 hours after he declared his candidacy in New York. The following day, he was across the country in New Hampshire, with plans to visit South Carolina before the end of his first week.

But seven years later – and nearly three weeks into his 2024 presidential campaign – Trump has yet to leave his home state or hold a public campaign event in an early voting state.

Trump’s disengaged posture has baffled former and current allies, many of whom experienced firsthand the frenetic pace of his two previous White House bids, and who now say he’s missed the window to make a splash with his 2024 rollout. The uninspiring launch of his supposed political comeback comes as his campaign appears to be operating on auto pilot, with few signs of momentum or enthusiastic support from donors or party heavyweights.

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“I don’t know why he rushed this. It doesn’t make sense,” one Trump adviser said of his lackluster announcement speech last month, which came one week after Republicans delivered an underwhelming performance in the midterm elections and as the rest of the party turned its attention to the Senate runoff contest in Georgia.

Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution is a fantasy, but it’s still dangerous

 

Trump’s announcement was roundly panned for lacking zest, so much so that some audience members attempted an early exit, and his recent hosting of Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and embattled rapper Kanye “Ye” West at Mar-a-Lago only further galvanized GOP opposition against him. A person familiar with the matter said Trump spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving asking people around him if they thought the backlash to his private dinner with Ye and Fuentes was truly damaging.

“So far, he has gone down from his bedroom, made an announcement, gone back up to his bedroom and hasn’t been seen since except to have dinner with a White supremacist,” said a 2020 Trump campaign adviser.

“It’s 1000% a ho-hum campaign,” the adviser added.

The only other notable event to occur since Trump announced he was running again was both unintended and dreaded for weeks by the former president’s attorneys. Just three days after Trump launched his campaign, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee two ongoing criminal investigations into the 45th president and his associates.

While some Republicans long speculated that Trump entered the presidential race early to inoculate himself from further legal peril, his candidate status instead appeared to serve as the catalyst for Garland’s announcement.

A Trump campaign spokesman said the former president has held “multiple events since he announced,” noting his remote appearance at the annual Republican Jewish Coalition summit last month, video remarks to a conference for conservative activists in Mexico, a Patriots Freedom Fund event, his remarks at two separate political events held at Mar-a-Lago, and a tele-rally Monday night for Georgia Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker. None of these events were billed as campaign events.

Trump’s current campaign trajectory has left both allies and Republican opponents wondering if he will flip a switch in 2023 or fail to adapt to a different political environment. Even as the GOP’s undisputed 2024 frontrunner, some of his closest allies say he simply cannot afford to take his position for granted at a moment when influential Republicans appear exceedingly interested in dislodging him from his influential perch.

“If Trump was working in a lush jungle environment in 2016, he is in a desert today,” said a Republican close to the former president. “The political landscape has totally changed. He was irresistible because no one understood him but now everybody knows how to deal with him, so the question is, can he recalibrate?”

Some sources said Trump’s first-out-of-the-gate strategy, which was said to be partly aimed at clearing the GOP primary field, already looks poised to fail.

“You know what it’s done to dissuade people from getting in? Nothing. He hasn’t hired anyone. He hasn’t been to the early states,” said the 2020 campaign adviser.

Trump’s lack of impact was on display a week after his announcement, as other 2024 Republican hopefuls took the stage in Las Vegas for the annual RJC summit. Some attacked the former President, while others, once allies of Trump, indicated they were ready to take him on in 2024.

Just days before the event, Trump’s team announced plans for him to address the group remotely. Two people familiar with the matter said his virtual address was organized by aides at the last minute after he grew agitated upon realizing the event was a cattle call for Republican presidential prospects and he was not on its original list of speakers. The Trump campaign spokesman disputed this account, saying Trump’s remote remarks were planned “many weeks prior to the event.”

Other sources who for months harbored concerns that Trump wasn’t as enthusiastic about running as he was letting on in public appearances now say his inactivity has increased their worry. Apart from a planned fundraising appearance for a classical education group in Naples last weekend, the former president has yet to announce any events before the end of the year. A person familiar with the matter said Trump’s team is toying with a pre-Christmas event of some kind, though his campaign has not yet finalized any travel. In a statement last week panning a move by Democratic officials to put South Carolina first on the party’s primary calendar, Trump appeared to tease a visit to Iowa, currently the first state to cast votes in both parties’ presidential nominating contests, “in the very near future.”

“I can’t wait to be back in Iowa,” he said.

Campaign is ‘taking a breather’

Inside Trump’s campaign, sources said his current approach is entirely intentional, dismissing concerns that he has forfeited the spotlight at a critical time but acknowledging that Trump is currently working with a bare-bones staff.

The campaign “is doing exactly what everyone always accuses [them] of not doing – taking a breather, planning and forming a strategy for the next two years,” said one source familiar with Trump’s operation said.

Senior staff are holed up working on a plan,” this person added, noting that Trump’s campaign travel is expected to begin early in the new year, right as possible rivals who have taken the holidays to mull their own political futures may start launching their own campaigns or exploratory committees.

And while some Trump allies have been surprised by his lack of a hiring spree right out of the gate, his campaign has been content to maintain a lean operation while he’s the only candidate in the field. The former president is not expected to tap a formal campaign manager, instead elevating three trusted advisers – Susie Wiles, Brian Jack and Chris LaCivita – to senior roles, but allies said he will likely need to build out his on-the-ground staff in early voting states in the months to come, as well as a robust communications operation if he finds himself in a competitive primary.

While those hires don’t need to happen immediately, people close to Trump said his early entry into the 2024 race does raise questions about how he will sustain campaign-related costs over a longer period than other candidates who declare later, including chief potential rival Ron DeSantis. CNN has previously reported that the Florida governor, should he decide to take on Trump, would announce next May or June, after the conclusion of his state’s legislative session and just months before the Republican party could host its first primary debate, according to a party official involved in debate planning.

“The question a lot of us have is can Trump sustain a campaign for two years. That’s the real difficulty here. The pacing we’re seeing right now is designed to do that,” said a person close to Trump.

In addition to planning rallies and events and building momentum around the former President, the campaign staff is also looking at how to best insulate Trump after many were caught off guard learning of Trump’s dinner with Fuentes and West. The event, and the days of fallout and negative coverage, has expedited some of the campaign’s long-term plans, including ensuring a senior campaign staffer is always with the former president, a source familiar with the campaign said.

Trump’s White House staff worked with resort staff during his presidency in a similar fashion to protect Trump from potentially “unsavory” guests of members, the source said. Those close to Trump blamed “low level staffers” for allowing Fuentes to slip into the resort without any flags being raised.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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