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Trump's Republican wall eroding ahead of impeachment vote

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Republicans offered only modest reproach when President Donald Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides of a white supremacist rally. They stayed in line when Trump was caught pressuring a foreign leader and later defended his handling of a deadly pandemic.
But with a sudden force, the wall of Republican support that has enabled Trump to weather a seemingly endless series of crises is beginning to erode.
Trump’s weakened standing among his own party will come into sharper focus on Wednesday when the House is expected to impeach the president for inciting a riot at the US Capitol last week. A handful of Republicans have already said they’ll join the effort, a number that could grow as the vote nears.
The choice facing Republicans isn’t just about the immediate fate of Trump, who has just seven days left in his presidency. It’s about whether the party’s elected leaders are ready to move on from Trump, who remains popular with many GOP voters but is now toxic in much of Washington.
How they proceed could determine whether the party remains viable in upcoming elections or splinters in a way that could limit their relevance.
“We’re at the moment now where we’re seeing a fracturing, a breaking, because of the unprecedented situation – the sedition, the violence, the death,” said Steve Schmidt, a longtime Republican strategist who left the party because of Trump.
The stunning nature of the deadly insurrection _ and Trump’s role in fueling it – has shaken many lawmakers. Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, gave rank-and-file conservatives the green light to abandon Trump in a scathing statement Tuesday evening.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she charged.
More ominously for Trump, The New York Times reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks Trump committed an impeachable offense and is glad Democrats are moving against him.
Citing unidentified people familiar with the influential Kentucky Republican’s thinking, the Times reported McConnell believes moving against Trump will help the GOP forge a future independent of the divisive, chaotic president.
While stunning, the fast-moving developments do not ensure Trump will be forced from office before Democrat Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration. The timing of a Senate trial is unclear and could spill into Biden’s presidency.
But for the first time, there are real signs that a significant faction of Republicans want to purge Trump from their party.
Already, three Trump Cabinet members have resigned in protest. Former Attorney General Bill Barr, who left the White House less than a month ago, accused his former boss of a “betrayal of his office.”
It took almost a week for Vice President Mike Pence, whose relationship with Trump has soured considerably since he and his family were forced into hiding during the Capitol siege, to publicly declare he would not to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to remove Trump from office.
Despite the defections, Trump remains popular with a significant portion of his political base. The president’s remaining allies warn that Republicans who cross him publicly risk a conservative backlash in their next elections.
“Public and private polling shows Republican grassroots voters strongly oppose impeachment,” said Jason Miller, a Trump senior adviser. “Any Republican senator or congressman voting for impeachment will be held accountable in their next primary election.”
Trump emerged from his White House fortress for the first time since the riots for a trip to the wall his administration built along the Texas border. As he left Washington, he was careful to insist “we want no violence,” but denied any responsibility for the insurrection.
Once he reached the border, his remarks to a small crowd were fairly muted. In the end, he spoke for just 21 minutes and spent less than 45 minutes on the ground in what was expected to be the final trip of his presidency.
Before leaving, he offered an ominous warning to Democrats leading the charge to remove him from office: “Be careful what you wish for.”
That veiled threat came as the nation – and members of Congress – braced for the potential of more violence ahead of Biden’s inauguration. The FBI warned this week of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington.
Capitol security officials made the extraordinary decision to require members of Congress to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber beginning on Tuesday, although some Republicans resisted the new rule.
It’s unclear whether the chaos in Washington represents an existential threat to the party, but it almost certainly threatens to undermine the GOP’s short-term political goals.
Several major corporations, many of them reliably Republican donors, have promised to stop sending political donations to any of the 147 Republicans who perpetuated Trump’s false claims of election fraud by voting to reject Biden’s victory last week.
The fundraising challenge comes at a bad time for the GOP. History suggests that the Republican Party, as the minority party in Washington, should regain control of the House or Senate in 2022.
At the same time, a collection of ambitious Republicans are trying to position themselves to run for the White House in 2024. They are also contending with Trump’s legacy.
One of them, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, reminded reporters on Tuesday that he’s condemned the Trump presidency from the very beginning.
“I’ve been in the same place I’ve been for the whole four years. A lot of people have just changed their position,” Hogan said, while vowing not to leave the GOP. “I don’t want to leave the party and let these people who did a hostile takeover four years ago take over.”
Despite Hogan’s confidence, he is far less popular among Trump’s loyal base _ a group likely to hold great sway in the selection of the party’s next presidential nominee – than the likes of Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, two other 2024 prospects who voted to reject Biden’s victory last week, even after the uprising.
“Republican leaders do not know how to move forward,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said. “Everybody’s afraid that Donald Trump will tell people to come after them, but they also realize they’re losing the center of America. They’re trapped.”
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After Trump setbacks, Kim Jong Un starts over with Biden

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SEOUL: Last year was a disaster for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
He helplessly watched his country’s already battered economy decay further amid pandemic border closures while brooding over the collapse of made-for-TV summits with former President Donald Trump that failed to lift crippling sanctions from his country.
Now he must start all over again with President Joe Biden, who has previously called Kim a “thug” and accused Trump of chasing spectacles instead of meaningful reductions of Kim’s nuclear arsenal.
While Kim has vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in recent political speeches, he also tried to give Biden an opening by saying that the fate of their relations depends on whether Washington discards what he calls hostile US policies.
It’s unclear how patient Kim will be. North Korea has a history of testing new USadministrations with missile launches and other provocations aimed at forcing the Americans back to the negotiating table.
In recent military parades in Pyongyang, Kim showcased new weapons he may test, including solid-fuel ballistic systems designed to be fired from vehicles and submarines, and the North’s biggest intercontinental ballistic missile.
A revival of tensions would force the USand South Korea to reckon more deeply with the possibility that Kim may never voluntarily deal away the weapons he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Kim’s arsenal emerged as a major threat to the United States and its Asian allies following tests in 2017 that included a detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of ICBMs that demonstrated the potential to reach deep into the American homeland.
A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and the U.S., but it derailed in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities.
North Korea won’t likely be the top priority for Biden, who while facing mounting domestic issues is also gearing up for a push to get back into a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump blew up in favour of what he called maximum pressure against Iran.
The Biden administration’s “sequence of policy attention will likely be: Get America’s own house in order, strengthen USalliances and align strategies toward China and Russia, and then address Iran and North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
But North Korea never likes to be ignored.
Although Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama, whose policy was to wait out North Korea while gradually increasing sanctions, that method might not work because the North’s weapons capabilities have grown significantly in the years since.
While sanctions, border closures and crop-killing natural disasters have created the toughest challenges of Kim’s nine-year rule, he won’t be in a hurry to offer concessions, Easley said. Kim’s government has a high tolerance for domestic suffering and could expect extensive help from China, its only major ally.
North Korea’s first provocation under the Biden administration could possibly be related to submarine-launched ballistic systems, which Kim showcased in recent parades.
Kim’s ambitions for longer-range ICBMs and reconnaissance satellites that he expressed during the ruling party congress this month could lead to a space launch that would double as a test of long-range missile technology. That would be reminiscent of a 2009 launch that took place weeks into Obama’s first term.
(The North) is capable of conducting tests that the USand its allies cannot ignore,” Easley said. “Kim is likely to exploit this.”
The North Korean leader is trying to move the diplomacy toward an arms reduction negotiation between nuclear states, rather than talks that would culminate in a full surrender of his weapons, according to Shin Beomchul, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
But North Korea probably won’t test weapons until after Biden’s State of the Union address in February, where he could set the tone of his policy toward the North, Shin said. Kim may also want to see whether the United States and South Korea proceed with a major joint military exercise expected in March.
Although the allies have described their annual exercises as defensive in nature and downsized much of their combined training activity under Trump to make space for diplomacy, North Korea has called for a full stoppage of the drills, describing them as invasion rehearsals and proof of US hostility.
“The North during the party congress has made clear it has no intentions of budging first, but it is also interested in hearing what the United States has to say,” said Shin, who served as a South Korean diplomat during the Obama years.
“Biden will not inherit Trump’s top-down diplomacy, but you could expect him to be more flexible about working-level negotiations, offering to talk with the North Koreans at any time and place and about anything,” he said.
Shin expects Biden to eventually pursue a deal with North Korea that resembles the agreement with Iran that Trump pulled out of in 2018. It could provide North Korea some level of compensation for freezing its nuclear and missile capabilities at their current level.
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Facebook's oversight board to decide on Trump's ban

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WASHINGTON: Facebook has asked its independent experts to take a decision on continuation of its ban on former US President Donald Trump.
Facebook and its photo and video sharing social networking service, Instagram, suspended Trump after his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6 that left five people dead and led to his second impeachment.
The Oversight Board, an independent body created by Facebook three years ago, on Thursday said it has accepted a case referral from the social media giant to examine its decision to indefinitely suspend Trump’s access to post content on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook has also requested policy recommendations from the board on suspensions when the user is a political leader.
Facebook’s decision to suspend Trump’s access to post on Facebook and Instagram has driven intense global interest. The Oversight Board has been closely following events in the US and Facebook’s response to them, and the board is ready to provide a thorough and independent assessment of the company’s decision, it said.
“A decision by the Board on this case will be binding on Facebook, and determine whether Mr Trump’s suspension from access to Facebook and Instagram for an indefinite amount of time is overturned,” the board said in a press release.
Facebook has committed not to restore access to its platforms unless directed by a decision of the Oversight Board. Facebook must consider any accompanying policy recommendations from the board and publicly respond to them, it said.
According to the Oversight Board, in the coming days, the case will be assigned to a five-member case review panel. After the panel reaches a decision, its findings are shared with the entire board. Sign-off by a majority of the board is required for a case decision to be issued.
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Biden has no plans to call Trump: White House

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WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has no plans to call his predecessor Donald Trump, the White House has said.
“There’s no call planned,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
She was responding to questions on the remarks made by Biden a day earlier when he said that Trump has left him a “very generous” letter in the Oval Office, and he plans to talk to him.
Trump did not attend his inauguration, a rare for an outgoing president.
“What he was conveying is that he didn’t want to release a private note without having agreement from the former president. But I wouldn’t say he’s seeking it through a phone call, he was just trying to be respectful in that moment of a private letter that was sent,” Psaki said.
It is customary for outgoing presidents to write their successors a letter and leave it for them on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
However, given that the former president broke several of the past traditions, including skipping Biden’s inauguration ceremony and never formally congratulated him on his election win, it was unclear until Wednesday whether Trump would maintain the tradition of outgoing presidents leaving notes for their successors.
“The president wrote a very generous letter. Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him. But it was generous,” Biden had told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday.
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