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President Donald Trump attacked Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a member of his own party, after Romney called Trump’s appeals to Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son “wrong and appalling.”

Trump claimed in one tweet Saturday that he had heard that there are people in Utah who regretted voting for Romney, who won an open Utah seat for U.S. Senate in 2018 with nearly 63 percent of the vote. Prior to the general election, he won the Republican primary by nearly 40 points.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, was the Republican nominee for president in 2012. He lost to then-President Barack Obama.

Trump on Saturday appeared to call for Romney’s impeachment as senator, using a hashtag in all capital letters.

“He is a fool who is playing right into the hands of the Do Nothing Democrats,” Trump tweeted.

In a subsequent post, the president retweeted a Fox News correspondent’s posing the question of whether Romney would serve as the new Jeff Flake in the Republican Party. Flake, who served as a senator from Arizona until 2018, was a critic of Trump.

“Jeff Flake is better!” Trump said in response to the tweet.

Trump began his attacks on Romney earlier on Saturday with tweets in which he called Romney “a pompous ‘ass’ who has been fighting me from the beginning” and said Romney could have won the 2012 election if he “worked this hard on Obama.”

“Sadly, he choked!” the president wrote.

Trump’s broadsides came a day after Romney tweeted that, “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”

The Republican senator also mocked Trump’s insistence that he is motivated by concerns about corruption.

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney wrote.



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Israeli settlements don’t violate international law, U.S. says in major policy reversal

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The United States on Monday reversed its decadeslong position that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, in the latest step by the Trump administration to solidify Israeli control over areas claimed by Palestinians for a future independent state.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a press conference that declaring the settlements were in violation of international law had not worked in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace, calling the shift in position a recognition of “the reality on the ground.” He said from now on, the U.S. would take no position on the legality of any individual Israeli settlement, instead leaving that decision up to Israeli courts.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President [Ronald] Reagan: the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said.

The historic shift is the latest blow to Palestinian aspirations for statehood under the Trump administration, which also shuttered the de facto Palestinian embassy in Washington and moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for the capital of a future state.

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The reversal comes as the Trump administration maintains that it still intends to release a long-delayed Mideast peace plan drafted by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner along with a few top aides. The Palestinians have rejected any potential proposal and said the Trump administration has disqualified itself as a broker for Mideast peace by granting countless concessions to Israel.

Still, Pompeo said the U.S. was “not addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank,” arguing it was something Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate between themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis live in settlements constructed in the West Bank, which Israel seized along with east Jerusalem in 1967. Israel quickly annexed east Jerusalem, but not the West Bank. All serious peace proposals for decades have assumed that a future Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank, possibly with “land swaps” to allow some major settlements already built in the West Bank to remain under Israeli control.

The United Nations and most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex Jewish settlements as he struggles to salvage his hold on political power in Israel.

Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, who is currently tasked with trying to form a governing coalition in Israel, praised the decision in a statement saying the fate of West Bank settlements and their residents “should be determined by agreements that meet security requirements and that can promote peace.”

“I applaud the U.S. government for its important statement, once again demonstrating its firm stance with Israel and its commitment to the security and future of the entire Middle East,” Gantz said.

But Martin Indyk, the former U.S. special envoy for Middle East Peace under the Obama administration, on Twitter denounced the decision as “totally gratuitous.”

The decision, first reported by The Associated Press, rejects a 1978 legal opinion by the State Department legal adviser at the time, Herbert J. Hansell. Since 1978 and until the Trump administration, the U.S. has been consistent in maintaining that settlement construction violated international law, although different presidents have been more or less vociferous in pushing back on continued Israeli construction in the West Bank.

U.S. policy under the Trump administration has been tacitly, if not explicitly, supportive of Israel’s expanded civilian settlements into the occupied West Bank, an about-face from the previous administration. In the final days of his administration, then-President Barack Obama infuriated Israel’s government by allowing the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution demanding Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem,” and declaring that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

Paul Goldman contributed.



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Trump admin readies rule to send asylum-seekers back to dangerous countries they passed through

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to publish a rule that would send migrants who pass through Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras before seeking asylum in the United States back to those dangerous Central American countries to claim asylum there instead.

A copy of the rule, which was made visible online for “public inspection” Monday, would give asylum officers the authority to determine if one of the three agreements the U.S. has recently signed with those countries applies to the immigrants they vet.

If so, the asylum-seekers could be fast-tracked for deportation back to Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras to claim asylum there. Previously, it was unclear how the agreements would be implemented.

Immigration advocates have sharply criticized the agreements with the three countries, claiming that they do not have the capabilities to process asylum-seekers and should not be deemed “safe third countries.”

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“The administration has bullied the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras into signing agreements that will be deadly for people seeking asylum and is now carrying out their fatal application,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA.

The new rule comes on the heels of two other tough asylum policies implemented over the past six months. One, known as “Remain in Mexico” or MPP, sends asylum-seekers back into Mexico until they are allowed to return for their court date before a U.S. immigration judge. The other makes immigrants ineligible for asylum— and on the fast track for deportation — if they failed to claim asylum in any of the countries they passed through on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

An official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the part of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for providing benefits to those seeking asylum, said many inside the agency are quietly incredulous that the U.S. will be removing asylum-seekers to countries like Guatemala.

“Just as with MPP, there will be people who will die as a result of these policies,” the official said, due to the conditions vulnerable asylum-seekers will face in these countries. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the opinion contradicted the administration’s message.

The DHS and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.

In the rule, the administration says processing asylum claims from Central America “consumes a tremendous amount of resources with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.” The DHS must detain many asylum-seekers until their cases are adjudicated and, for the Justice Department, more than 476,000 asylum cases remain pending in immigration court.

The agreements between the U.S. and Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were negotiated this summer by the former acting Homeland Security secretary, Kevin McAleenan. In return, the countries received assistance to increase law enforcement and regional security, according to DHS statements following McAleenan’s trips to the countries.

McAleenan also met with representatives in the region from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which would play a critical part in helping asylum-seekers who have been deported to a country that is not their own and most likely does not have the infrastructure to review large numbers of asylum claims.

The new rule, which is expected to be officially published in the federal register Tuesday, can be found here. It is not clear when the rule will go into effect after publication.

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Democrats’ Southern victories could affect redistricting

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The re-election victory by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards over the weekend has assured Democrats of an all-important place at the table when political maps are redrawn after the 2020 census for future elections to Congress and the state Legislature.

Edwards’ narrow triumph on Saturday marked the third significant win in a Southern state in two weeks for Democrats, following their takeover of both legislative houses in Virginia and the defeat in Kentucky of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.

The recent Southern state elections provided a preview of the battle over redistricting power that is to come next year in many states. Although about one-quarter of the states use independent commissions or nonpartisan staff in their redistricting procedures, state lawmakers, governors and other elected officials have key roles in redistricting in most other states.

If one party controls all pivotal state offices, that party can draw districts to the advantage of its candidates — a practice known as gerrymandering that can help lock in a party’s political power for the next decade to come.

In Louisiana, Republicans who already controlled the state House and Senate had hoped to consolidate power by defeating Edwards, or else obtain a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers that would allow them to override his vetoes. Neither occurred.

The “election was a huge victory for Louisiana Democrats,” Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “By protecting Governor John Bel Edwards’s veto power, Democrats can keep moving Louisiana forward, block extreme Republican policies, and fight for fair maps after the 2020 census.”

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In Kentucky, Beshear’s election also will give the veto pen to a Democrat when the state Legislature draws new districts. The Kentucky House and Senate currently are controlled by Republicans, who are expected to maintain their majorities in next year’s state legislative elections.

Beshear’s veto power is not as strong as Edwards’ is in Louisiana, because the Kentucky Constitution requires only a basic majority vote by each legislative chamber to override a veto. Any redistricting plan passed by Kentucky lawmakers would be defended in court by newly elected Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the first Republican to hold the office in 70 years.

As a result of those circumstances, “we still view Kentucky as full Republican control for redistricting purposes,” said Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, which coordinates the party’s data and legal efforts for redistricting.

Yet Beshear still will have the gubernatorial bully pulpit during redistricting, just as Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will against a legislative body with Democratic supermajorities.

“If Governor-elect Beshear makes an issue of it, it could potentially force them to draw a fairer map than otherwise they might have,” said Patrick Rodenbush, communications director for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Elections this month in another Southern state played out as expected in favor of Republicans, when they held on to the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in Mississippi.

Following the 2010 census, Republicans who had swept to power in many statehouses used their newfound majorities to draw districts that increased their odds of winning future elections. Democrats had done the same thing historically when they had power.

But a backlash has grown against such gerrymandering over the past decade. In 2018, voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah approved ballot measures designed to diminish legislative partisanship in redistricting — in some cases, by giving power to independent commissions.

Activists are backing a new batch of potential redistricting initiatives for the 2020 ballot in Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks at his election night party in Lousiville on Nov. 5, 2019. Beshear defeated the Republican incumbent for in the gubernatorial race.Bryan Woolston / AP

In Virginia, congressional and state legislative districts have been drawn by lawmakers, subject to a gubernatorial veto.

But earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers overwhelmingly gave initial approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to create a redistricting commission with 16 members split equally between lawmakers and citizens, with no role for the governor. At the time that vote was taken, Republicans held a slim majority over Democrats in both legislative chambers.

A second vote on the amendment will be required in early 2020 to place it on the November 2020 ballot. This time, Democrats control both chambers.

Democrats could renege on the plan and try to keep the redistricting powers for themselves, but that would risk alienating voters and could backfire in the long run, said John McGlennon, a professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.

“The Democrats need to keep one thing in mind, which is that the political alignment of the state changed very quickly, and it can reverse quickly,” McGlennon said.

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