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As it happenedended1565819630

Trump news: President endorses man who openly avows white nationalism, collects Nazi relics and called Sandy Hook 'a hoax'

Follow the latest updates from Washington, as it happened

Clark Mindock
New York
,Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 14 August 2019 15:31 BST
Donald Trump spreads bogus wind energy claim in front of energy workers

Donald Trump has endorsed the political ambitions of ex-Arizona Diamondbacks baseball star Curt Schilling, an outspoken conservative and Breitbart podcast host known for espousing conspiracy theories and white nationalist rhetoric and collecting Nazi memorabilia.

The development comes after the president addressed energy workers in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and joked about calling off the 2020 election and serving a third term, attacking his political opponents including Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, despite the event not being earmarked for campaigning.

Speaking to staff after touring the Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Monaca, Mr Trump also spread misinformation about wind power (“All of the sudden it stops – the wind and the televisions go off”) after defending his retweeting of baseless rumours about the death of billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Mr Trump's comments at the Shell Plant also sought to take credit for the whole place, even though it was actually green lit and started in 2012 when Barack Obama was president.

As Mr Trump rested from that trip, the White House was relatively quiet on Wednesday.

But, vice president Mike Pence announced he would be visiting Ireland soon, adding gravity to previous statements that Congress would not ratify a trade deal with the UK if the post-Brexit landscape did not honour the Good Friday Agreement.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 08:40

Donald Trump addressed energy workers in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and joked about calling off the 2020 election and serving a third term, attacking his political opponents including Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren despite the event not being earmarked for campaigning.

Speaking to staff after touring the Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Monaca, the president also spread misinformation about wind power (“All of the sudden it stops - the wind and the televisions go off”) and attempted to take credit for the facility's construction as part of his latest effort to reinvigorate the Rust Belt support that sent him to the White House. He was cheered on by fluorescent-vest-clad workers who were, incidentally, paid to attend by their employers.

But despite Trump's claims, Shell announced its plans to build the complex in 2012, midway through Barack Obama's term in the White House. The complex - nearing completion - will turn the area's vast natural gas deposits into plastics. The facility is being built in an area hungry for investment and employment, though critics claim it will become the largest air polluter in western Pennsylvania. 

The event was billed as an official White House event, but Trump turned much of it into a campaign-style rally, boasting of achievements he claims as president and assailing his would-be Democratic rivals for the 2020 election. 

"I don't think they give a damn about Western Pennsylvania, do you?" he prodded the crowd. 

Trump contends that America's coal, oil and manufacturing are reviving and he deserves the credit. He's been focusing on his administration's efforts to increase the nation's dependence on fossil fuels in defiance of increasingly urgent warnings about climate change. And he's embracing plastic at a time when the world is sounding alarms over its impact. 

"We don't need it from the Middle East anymore," Trump said of oil and natural gas, proclaiming the employees "the backbone of this country." 

As for the new complex, he declared, "This would have never happened without me and us." 

Trump's appeals to blue-collar workers helped him win Beaver County, where the plant is located, by more than 18 percentage points in 2016, only to have voters there turn to Democrats in 2018's midterm elections. In one of a series of defeats that led to Republicans' loss of the House, voters sent Democrat Conor Lamb to Congress after the prosperity promised by Trump's tax cuts failed to materialise. 

Today, the much of the area is still struggling to recover from the shutting of steel plants in the 1980s that sent unemployment to nearly 30 per cent. Former mill towns like Aliquippa have seen their population shrink, though Pittsburgh has lured major tech companies like Google and Uber, fueling an economic renaissance in a city that reliably votes Democratic. 

Trump claimed that his steel and aluminum foreign-trade tariffs have saved the industries and that they are now "thriving," exaggerating the recovery of the steel industry, particularly when it comes to jobs, which have largely followed pace with broader economic growth. He took credit for the addition of 600,000 US manufacturing jobs. Labour Department figures show that roughly 500,000 factory jobs have been added since his presidency started. 

Manufacturing has also started to struggle anew this year as the administration has intensified its trade war with China and factory production has declined. Pennsylvania has lost 5,600 manufacturing jobs so far this year, according to the Labour Department. 

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 08:48

Speaking to reporters at Morristown Municipal Airport before arriving in Pennsylvania, Trump also defended his retweeting of baseless conspiracy theories about the death of billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

"The retweet - which is what it was, it was a retweet - was from somebody that is a very respected conservative pundit. So I think it was fine," the president said. There were actually two.

"I want a full investigation and that's what I absolutely am demanding," Trump said.

With the warden responsible for Epstein since removed from office and the FBI raiding the late hedge fund manager’s private Caribbean island, Trump admitted to reporters he had “no idea” whether Bill and Hillary Clinton were implicated in the death, as the tweets in question had suggested.

Why bother checking anything, right? Who really cares? After all, it's not as though he goes around denouncing "Fake News" and untrustworthy journalism all the time, is it?

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 09:00

Also at Morristown, Trump acknowledged his China trade war could have an impact on American consumers, hence his delaying the latest escalation of tariffs yesterday to avoid "Grinch" headlines this Christmas, said the anti-government protests in Hong Kong were "a very tough situation", made more vague gesture towards tightening background checks for gun buyers, had a final dig at Anthony Scaramucci and defended his new immigration measures.

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 09:20

On Twitter, Trump has been busy calling for calm in Hong Kong, attacking CNN ("BAD for America") and Chris Cuomo ("lunatic, ranting, raving & cursing") and retweeting the usual gallery of right-wing ghouls: Don Jr, Charlie Kirk, Ryan Saavedra, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Karen Pence, Ronna McDaniel, Diamond and Silk, James O'Keefe and Dinesh D'Souza.

He also called for voter ID to play a part in any election reforms and used praise of former acting ICE director Ron Vitiello to pressure the Democrats regarding the US-Mexico border.

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 09:30

As we just saw, Trump has repeatedly insisted that his trade war with China is all under control.

Despite an increase in the US trade deficit and American farmers reliant on exports bearing the brunt of the confrontation, the president tweeted yesterday that “Farmers getting more than China would be spending. Fake News won’t report!”, which is plainly untrue.

His campaign account even admitted as much on Monday:

As Think Progress points out, Trump's own secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, told CNN in June that the farming community are "one of the casualties there of the trade disruption".

“President Trump has a lot of respect for farmers and ranchers across this country. He appreciates your patience. He understands that it is tough out there,” Perdue said, pointing out the president has said he will make some of the $16bn (£13bn) bailout money available to the community.

But the same man's compassion was found wanting at a Farmfest event in Minnesota last week, when he joked: "I had a farmer tell me this in Pennsylvania: What do you call two farmers in a basement?’ I said ‘I don’t know, what do you call them?’ He said ‘A whine cellar.'”

The remark was reportedly met with some laughter and some boos from the audience of strained farm workers.

According to the conservative Iowa Farm Bureau, bankruptcies have soared to an 18-year high in the great Midwestern state under Trump. Its Republican senator Chuck Grassley has written to the president about his concerns, saying, "I’m not sure if you talk to him face-to-face he hears everything you say."

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 09:50

Chris Baynes has the latest on Jeffrey Epstein, as it appears two of his guards fell asleep on the job and subsequently falsified records.

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 10:05

A reminder that Julian Castro's video blaming Trump for the El Paso mass shooting airs on Fox and Friends this morning after the 2020 candidate bought himself some air time to ensure he has the president's attention.

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 10:20

A coalition of 21 Democratic-led states are suing the Trump administration over its decision to ease restrictions on coal-fired power plants, with California's governor saying the president is trying to rescue an outdated industry. 

In June, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eliminated the agency's Clean Power Plan and replaced it with a new rule that gives states more leeway in deciding upgrades for coal-fired power plants. 

The lawsuit, filed in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, says the new rule violates the federal Clean Air Act because it does not meaningfully replace power plants' greenhouse gas emissions. 

"They're rolling things back to an age that no longer exists, trying to prop up the coal industry," California governor Gavin Newsom said at a news conference. He said the lawsuit was not just about Trump but "our kids and grandkids" who would continue to be harmed by coal pollutants. 

West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey, whose state produced the second most coal behind Wyoming in 2017, predicted the lawsuit will ultimately fail at the US Supreme Court, which stayed an earlier Obama administration attempt in 2016 at the request of a competing 27-state coalition. 

He called the lawsuit a "big government 'power grab"' and argued that the Democratic attorneys general "are dead wrong" in their interpretation of the Clean Air Act. 

The US EPA and White House issued similar statements saying they expect the new version to survive the court challenge, unlike the Obama-era rules. 

"Unlike the previous administration, which crafted a far-reaching, burdensome, and unlawful rule that would have raised energy costs on hardworking American families, the Trump Administration's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule responsibly protects our clean air, reduces greenhouse gases, protects jobs, and keeps costs affordable," White House spokesman Judd Deere said. 

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys general in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. 

"The science is indisputable; our climate is changing. Ice caps are melting. Sea levels are rising. Weather is becoming more and more extreme," New York attorney general Letitia James, who is leading the coalition, said in a statement. "Rather than staying the course with policies aimed at fixing the problem and protecting people's health, safety, and the environment, the Trump Administration repealed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with this 'Dirty Power' rule." 

The states were joined by six local governments: Boulder, Colorado; Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and South Miami, Florida. 

The EPA's analysis of the new rules predicts an extra 300 to 1,500 people will die each year by 2030 because of additional air pollution from the power grid. But EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler in June said Americans want "reliable energy that they can afford," adding he expected more coal plans to open as a result. 

"It's more of a fossil fuel protection plan," California attorney general Xavier Becerra said. 

It would replace the Clean Power Plan, which would require cutting emissions fossil fuel-burning power plants. Becerra said that was expected to eliminate as much climate change pollution as is emitted by more than 160 million cars a year, the equivalent of 70 per cent of the nation's passenger cars, and was projected to prevent up to 3,600 additional deaths annually. 

Newsom and James said states' existing efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are beginning to work while creating green jobs and vibrant economies. 

In the north east, 10 states including New York formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that has reduced power plant emissions by more than 50 percent. 

California's power grid used more energy from non-greenhouse gas sources like wind and solar power in 2017 than from electricity generated by fossil fuels for the first time since the California Air Resources Board began keeping track. The board also found that pollution from transportation did not rise as fast as in previous years, and reported that 2017 was the second straight year emissions fell below the state's 2020 target. 


Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 10:35

Popular Democrat Stacey Abrams, who vaulted onto the national stage championing voting rights during an unsuccessful 2018 run for Georgia governor at last year's midterms, announced on Tuesday that she is launching a new multi-state voter protection initiative and not running for president in 2020. 

Abrams revealed plans for the initiative, called Fair Fight 2020, during a speech before a labor union convention in Las Vegas that was livestreamed on Facebook. The multi-million-dollar project will staff and fund voter protection teams in battleground states across the country ahead of next year's elections. 

The announcement follows months of speculation over what Abrams' next move in politics might be, including whether she'd join the crowded field of 2020 presidential hopefuls as she had mused. 

But that notion was put to rest as Abrams expressed optimism that Democrats could make gains in the next election. 

"We're going to win because there are only two things stopping us in 2020: making sure people have a reason to vote and that they have the right to vote. Well I've decided to leave it to a whole bunch of other folks to make sure they have a reason to vote," Abrams said, referring to the field of Democratic candidates. 

"But I'm here today to announce Fair Fight 2020 to make sure everyone has the right to vote," she said. 

Abrams spokesman Seth Bringman confirmed that Abrams was not running for president and would instead focus on the new initiative. 

Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia House, faced Republican Brian Kemp during her unsuccessful bid for Georgia governor last year. Kemp was secretary of state during their race, and Abrams frequently accused him of using his position to suppress votes, especially in minority communities. Kemp vehemently denied the claim. 

Voters in that election reported a myriad of problems casting ballots including malfunctioning voting equipment and long wait times that caused some voters to give up in frustration.

In the days following Kemp's narrow victory, Abrams refused to concede the race. She quickly founded a political organisation that filed a federal lawsuit that said state elections officials "grossly mismanaged" the election in a way that deprived some citizens of their right to vote. 

Abrams said her new group will fight "systematic" voter suppression across the country. 

A statement from Fair Fight says the initiative will "either directly fund, or assist in raising the funds for, robust voter protection operations, which will be run by Democratic state parties and allies." 

"Fair Fight staff will provide ongoing support to these operations," it says. 

In February, Abrams was tapped to deliver the Democratic response to Trump's 2019 State of the Union address. 

A few months later she announced that she would not run in 2020 for the US Senate seat held by incumbent Georgia Republican senator David Perdue, after being heavily recruited by Senate Democratic leadership to run.

Her decision to remain on the sidelines leaves her as a prime potential vice presidential pick and keeps the door open to a possible 2022 rematch against Kemp. 

Additional reporting by AP

Joe Sommerlad14 August 2019 10:50

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