Under fire, Trump defends call to soldier’s grieving family
MIAMI (AP) — President Donald Trump emphatically rejected claims Wednesday that he was disrespectful to the grieving family of a slain soldier, as the firestorm he ignited over his assertions of empathy for American service members spread into a third contentious day. “I have proof,” he insisted.
The controversy over how Trump has conducted one of the most sacred of presidential tasks generated new turmoil in the White House. After one slain soldier’s father accused the president of going back on a promise to send a check for $25,000, the White House said the money had been sent.
Chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan, was left angry and frustrated at the way the issue has become politicized. The dispute was fresh evidence of Trump’s willingness to attack any critic and do battle over the most sensitive of matters — and critics’ readiness to find fault with his words.
The aunt of an Army sergeant killed in Niger, who raised the soldier as her son, said Wednesday that Trump had shown “disrespect” to the soldier’s loved ones as he telephoned them to extend condolences as they drove to the Miami airport to receive his body. Sgt. La David Johnson was one of four American soldiers killed nearly two weeks ago; Trump called the families on Tuesday.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat who was in the car with Johnson’s family, said in an interview that Trump had told the widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it … but it still hurts.” He also referred to Johnson as “your guy,” Wilson said, which the congresswoman found insensitive.
Solace or silence? Not all families of fallen get Trump call
WASHINGTON (AP) — Some got sympathy and solace. Some got silence. One got a promise of cash.
Relatives of people who died in military service have recounted varied interactions with President Donald Trump in the difficult days and weeks after their loved one’s death. Despite Trump’s boast that he reaches out personally to all families of the fallen, interviews with families members did not support his claim. Some never heard from him at all, and a few who did came away more upset.
The Associated Press reached out to the families of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president and made contact with about half the families. Of those who would address the question, relatives of nine said they had heard from Trump by phone or mail. Relatives of nine others said they haven’t.
Several spoke of being comforted by Trump but at least one call went awry: Cowanda Jones-Johnson told the AP that Trump spoke disrespectfully of her fallen nephew, Sgt. La David Johnson, when he called family members Tuesday. Johnson was among four servicemen killed in Niger earlier this month.
Chris Baldridge of Zebulon, North Carolina, told The Washington Post that Trump promised him $25,000 of his own money when they spoke in the summer about the loss of his son, Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, killed in Afghanistan, but the check never came. The White House said Wednesday, after the report, that “the check has been sent.”
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. NEW TURMOIL SWIRLS AROUND TRUMP
The president emphatically rejects claims that he was disrespectful to the grieving family of a slain soldier.
2. WHY WALL STREET IS CHEERING
The Dow, led by technology companies and banks, closes above 23,000 for the first time.
Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended
EDGEWOOD, Md. (AP) — A man with a lengthy criminal past who showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.
Less than two hours later, Radee Labeeb Prince drove to a used car lot about 55 miles (90 kilometres) away in Wilmington, Delaware, and opened fire on a man with whom he had “beefs” in the past, wounding him, police said.
The shooting rampage set off a manhunt along the Interstate 95 Northeast corridor. Police cruisers were stationed in medians, and overhead highway signs displayed a description of Prince’s sport utility vehicle and its Delaware license plate. The FBI assisted state and local authorities in the manhunt.
Prince was “apprehended a short time ago in Delaware by ATF and allied law enforcement agencies,” the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland tweeted Wednesday night.
Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy said Prince was arrested in Glasgow, 20 miles (32 kilometres) southwest of Wilmington, after a tip led authorities to his vehicle. Prince was spotted nearby and discarded a handgun when he saw police had recognized him. He ran about 75 feet (22 metres) before being captured. No one was hurt in the apprehension.
Wildfires worsen housing crunch in famously costly Bay Area
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Even before fire wiped out the home she rented for 17 years, Suzanne Finzell had thought about leaving this city on the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area because of rising prices. A spike in housing and other living costs had driven her friends to Nevada and Oregon.
Now, Finzell wonders if that will be her fate too, as the wildfires that charred California wine country send thousands of people who lost their homes scrambling for new places to live in one of the nation’s tightest and most expensive housing markets.
Before the fires, the rental vacancy rate was a mere 1 per cent in Santa Rosa and 3 per cent in surrounding Sonoma County. Then the city lost an estimated 5 per cent of its housing stock to the flames.
“We had a housing crisis before the fires,” Mayor Chris Coursey said Wednesday. “It’s magnitudes worse now.”
Meanwhile, authorities reported more progress against the flames. The deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said crews had stopped the movement of all fires.
GOP, Dem senators push health deal as Trump keeps distance
WASHINGTON (AP) — The authors of a bipartisan plan to calm health insurance markets said Wednesday they’ll push the proposal forward, even as President Donald Trump’s stance ricocheted from supportive to disdainful to arm’s-length and the plan’s fate teetered.
“If something can happen, that’s fine,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies because right now the insurance companies are being enriched. They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody has ever seen before.”
The agreement by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., on a two-year extension of federal subsidies to insurers that Trump has blocked gained an important new foe. The anti-abortion National Right to Life said it opposed the measure because it lacked language barring people from using their federally subsidized coverage to buy policies covering abortion, said Jennifer Popik, the group’s top lobbyist.
In another blow, Doug Andres, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Ryan “does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare.” With hard-right conservatives wielding considerable influence and unwilling to prop up President Barack Obama’s health care law, it was unclear if Ryan would be willing to even bring the measure to his chamber’s floor.
Overall, it was a bad day for the bipartisan accord, with several Republicans conceding that it likely needed Trump’s backing to survive.
Sessions defends Comey firing, dodges questions on Trump
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly defended President Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, but at a Senate hearing Wednesday repeatedly declined to discuss private conversations with the president about the dismissal, frustrating Democratic lawmakers who wanted to link the firing of the FBI director to a broader inquiry into Russian election meddling.
The repeated, often-testy questioning about the Russia investigation, coming even as Sessions spearheads sweeping changes to the Justice Department in the areas of LGBT rights, criminal justice and immigration, illustrates the extent to which the probe continues to shadow Sessions even though he recused himself months ago.
Sessions advised the Senate Judiciary Committee at the outset of his first oversight hearing as attorney general that he would not answer any questions about conversations with the president that he considered confidential.
He largely adhered to that principle during the five-hour hearing, refusing to say what Trump told him about his reasons for wanting to fire Comey, whether Trump confided in him his concern about “lifting the cloud” of the Russia investigation and whether he had asked him to drop a criminal case against Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona.
Sessions deflected the questions by maintaining that presidents are entitled to have private discussions with Cabinet secretaries, saying at one point, “I do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication between the president that I consider to be confidential.”
Corporations to keep tax break lost by millions of Americans
WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of Americans would lose a prized tax break under President Donald Trump’s sweeping revamp of the tax code, but corporations would get to keep it.
The Republican proposal would eliminate the federal deduction for state and local taxes, a widely popular break used by some 44 million Americans, especially in high-tax, Democratic-leaning states like New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois. But corporations, which pay billions in local property levies and state income taxes, wouldn’t be affected.
Republicans are determined to overhaul the nation’s tax system by year’s end, offering a plan that lowers the corporate tax rate from 36 per cent to 20 per cent and reduces the number of tax brackets. Trump and the GOP cast the plan as a boon to the middle class.
Meeting at the White House on Wednesday with members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, Trump said, “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, in my opinion.”
Democratic members of the committee remained united in opposition to the current plan, said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat. He said their message to the president was: “You fix it (the tax system) with real tax relief that helps the middle class. You don’t give tax cuts to people like him (Trump).”
Country stars honour shooting victims at CMT Artists show
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Singer Jason Aldean and other stars honoured victims of a mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas instead of accepting awards at the CMT Artists of the Year show Wednesday night.
The format of the show pivoted to focus on victims of the shooting, as well as those recovering from hurricanes and wildfires, with a night of sombre tributes, inspirational anthems and voices lifted in harmony.
Aldean, who was on stage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the shooting occurred Oct. 1, stood side-by-side with the night’s other award winners, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban, to dedicate the night to music fans. The honorees did not accept awards or give speeches as usual, but some chose to perform or other musicians performed in their honour.
“We’ve been tested beyond our worst nightmare these past few months,” Aldean said during the live broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee. “Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe how some of us feel. But we have proven time and again in this country that we have the power to overcome anything that threatens our way of life, or our freedom. We dedicate this night to you and everyone who has experienced loss or tragedy in the last few months.”
Aldean closed out the night with a defiant and rollicking group performance of “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty with Urban, Stapleton and Little Big Town.
Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead in ALCS
NEW YORK (AP) — This time, it was Masahiro Tanaka who was untouchable on the mound.
And when the New York Yankees sent Houston ace Dallas Keuchel to an early exit, their rollicking crowd let loose with a cathartic roar that must have boomed all over the Bronx.
“New York is no joke,” Keuchel said afterward.
One more big win, and these Yankees are World Series-bound.
Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and New York finally solved a longtime nemesis at just the right moment, beating Keuchel and the Astros 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.