Trump, a Late Convert to Cause, to Attend Abortion Rally

 It was just four years ago that a political committee supporting one of Donald Trump’s Republican rivals unveiled an ad slamming his views on abortion, complete with footage from a 1999 interview in which he declared, “I am pro-choice in every respect.”

Now, as he heads into the 2020 election, Trump will become the first sitting president to address the March for Life, taking the stage Friday at the annual anti-abortion gathering that is one of the movement’s highest profile and most symbolic events.

It’s Trump’s latest nod to the white evangelical voters who have proven to be among his most loyal backers. And it makes clear that, as he tries to stitch together a winning coalition for reelection, Trump is counting on the support of his base of conservative activists to help bring him across the finish line.

“I think it’s a brilliant move,” said Ralph Reed, chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and one of Trump’s most prominent evangelical supporters. Reed said the president’s appearance would “energize and remind pro-life voters what a great friend this president and administration has been.”

It also shows how much times have changed.

Past presidents who opposed abortion, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, steered clear of personally attending the march to avoid being too closely associated with demonstrators eager to outlaw the procedure. They sent remarks for others to deliver, spoke via telephone hookup or invited organizers to visit the White House.

Over the last 10 years, however, the Republican Party has undergone a “revolution,” displaying a new willingness to “embrace the issue as not only being morally right but politically smart,” said Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List and Women Speak Out PAC. The group is planning to spend $52 million this cycle to help elect candidates opposed to abortion rights. Its  president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, will serve as national co-chair of a new campaign coalition, “Pro-life Voices for Trump.”

Indeed, among both Republicans and Democrats, there is a greater appetite for hard-line positions for and against abortion rights.

“There used to be a middle in this country and candidates would not want to alienate the middle,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. “And it just seems that that is over and that both parties play to their bases to get maximum turnout from their base.”

In addition, Flesicher said, Trump is far less tethered to tradition than past presidents and “happy to go where his predecessors haven’t.”

During his first three years in office, Trump has embraced socially conservative policies, particularly on the issue of abortion. He’s appointing judges who oppose abortion, cutting taxpayer funding for abortion services and painting Democrats who support abortion rights as extreme in their views.

“President Trump has done more for the pro-life community than any other president, so it is fitting that he would be the first president in history to attend the March for Life on the National Mall,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

This is not the first time Trump gave serious consideration to an appearance. Last year, he wanted to go and came close to attending, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. But the trip never came together because of concerns about security so Trump joined the event via video satellite from the White House Rose Garden instead.

Trump’s thinking on the matter was simple: If he supported the cause, “why wouldn’t he show up to their big event?” said Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union and a close ally of the White House. He said the appearance would be deeply significant for those in participants.

“I’ve had people be moved to tears over the fact that he’s going,” said Schlapp. “It’s a big deal.”

While Schlapp said he didn’t think Trump’s decision to attend was driven by election-year politics, he said it was nonetheless a “smart move politically” as well as “the right move morally.”

“It will cement even tighter the relationship that he has with conservative activists across the country”‘ Schlapp said.

During his video address last year, Trump sent a clear message to the thousands of people braving the cold on the National Mall. “As president, I will always defend the first right in our Declaration of Independence, the right to life,” he said.

The rhetoric underscored Trump’s dramatic evolution on the issue from his days as a freewheeling New York deal-maker, when he described himself as “very pro-choic”‘ in a 1999 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

During his 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination, Trump said his views had changed and that he was now opposed to abortion, but for three exceptions: In the case of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk.

Yet Trump’s unfamiliarity with the language of abortion activism was clear, including when he offered a bungled response during a televised town hall and was forced to clarify his position on abortion three times in a single day.

Asked, hypothetically, what would happen if abortion were outlawed, Trump said there would have to “be some form of punishment” for women who have them, prompting a backlash that managed to unite abortion rights activists and opponents, including organizers of the March for Life.

Asked to clarify his position, Trump’s campaign initially issued a statement saying he believed the issue should rest with state governments. He later issued a second statement that said doctors, not women, should be punished for illegal abortions.

Since that time, however, Trump has – to the shock of many – become a darling of the anti-abortion movement.

“These voters who are pro-life love Donald Trump and they will crawl across broken glass to get him re-elected,” said Reed, who expressed amazement at the transformation. “Whatever you think of this president, there is no question that both at a policy level and politically, he has masterfully capitalized on his pro-life position in a way I think no one could have envisioned four years ago.”

Critics, for their part, accuse Trump of using the march to try to distract from his impeachment trial in the Senate.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called it “an act of desperation, plain and simple,” and accused Trump of taking “refuge in his ability to whip up a radical anti-choice base, spewing falsehoods when he feels threatened.” 

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, accused the president of carrying out “a full-out assault on our health and our rights.”

“While Trump stands with the small number of Americans who want politicians to interfere with their personal health decisions, we’ll be standing with the nearly 80 percent of Americans who support abortion access,” she said.

Vandals Set Fire to Mosque in East Jerusalem

Israeli police said Friday they are investigating after a “room was ignited” in a mosque on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Hebrew graffiti was found on an outside wall.

The graffiti was hard to make out but appears to have been left by ultranationalist Israelis. One part read, “Demolishing (for) Jews? Demolishing enemies!” an apparent reference to the dismantling of settler outposts in the West Bank.

The mosque is in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, in annexed east Jerusalem. Israel captured east Jerusalem along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want both areas as part of their future state.

Hard-line Israeli nationalists have been implicated in past attacks on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Large Blast Rocks Houston

A large explosion at an apparent industrial building in Houston early Friday left rubble scattered in the area, damaged homes and was felt for miles away.

One person was taken to a hospital because of the blast, the Houston Fire Department said. A fire continued to burn at the site hours after the explosion and people were told to avoid the area.

The explosion, which appeared to be centered on an industrial building, shook other buildings about 4:30 a.m., with reports on Twitter of a boom felt across the city.

VIDEO: Doorbell camera captures explosion in northwest Houston – https://t.co/rvjZWj1HoT#kprc2#hounewspic.twitter.com/QBWmi9VAQg

— KPRC 2 Houston (@KPRC2) January 24, 2020

Houston police tweeted that officers were blocking off streets in the area. Police said people should avoid the area, but no evacuation has been ordered. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said first responders were checking on residents of nearby homes.

Several people told Houston TV station KHOU that the explosion was so loud, they thought a bomb had gone off or that a vehicle had crashed into their homes. At one man’s home about 1/4 mile (0.4 kilometers) away, glass doors were shattered, ceilings were cracked, and the lid of his toilet was even torn off, the station reported.

Southeast Texas has seen a series of explosions in recent years up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, which is home to the highest concentration of oil refineries in the nation. Last July, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown left more than dozen people with minor injuries and put nearby residents under a shelter-in-place advisory for three hours.

In December, two blasts in the coastal city of Port Neches shattered windows and ripped the doors from nearby homes.

 

China Locking Down Cities With 18 Million to Stop Virus

Chinese authorities Thursday moved to lock down three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period.

The open-ended lockdowns are unmatched in size, embracing more people than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.

The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were shut down, and ferry, subway and bus service was halted. Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet. Police checked all incoming vehicles but did not close off the roads.

Authorities announced similar measures would take effect Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theaters, internet cafes and other entertainment centers were also ordered closed.

In the capital, Beijing, officials canceled “major events“ indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, in order to “execute epidemic prevention and control.” The Forbidden City, the palace complex in Beijing that is now a museum, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.

Seventeen people have died in the outbreak, all of them in and around Wuhan. Close to 600 have been infected, the vast majority of them in Wuhan, and many countries have begun screening travelers from China for symptoms of the virus, which can cause fever, coughing, trouble breathing and pneumonia.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s communist government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties. And the effectiveness of such measures is unclear.

“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, said in an interview. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”

Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain, said the lockdowns appear to be justified scientifically.

“Until there’s a better understanding of what the situation is, I think it’s not an unreasonable thing to do,” he said. “Anything that limits people’s travels during an outbreak would obviously work.”

But Ball cautioned that any such quarantine should be strictly time-limited. He added: “You have to make sure you communicate effectively about why this is being done. Otherwise you will lose the goodwill of the people.”

People queue for receiving treatment at the fever outpatient department at the Wuhan Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Jan. 22, 2020.

During the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone imposed a national three-day quarantine as health teams went door-to-door searching for hidden cases. Frustrated residents complained of food shortages amid deserted streets. Burial teams collecting Ebola corpses and people transporting the sick to Ebola centers were the only ones allowed to move freely.

In China, the illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China’s Hubei province. Other cases have been reported in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong reported their first cases Thursday.

Most of the illnesses outside China involve people who were from Wuhan or had recently traveled there.

Images from Wuhan showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets, as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of isolation. That appeared to be an over-reaction, since no restrictions were placed on trucks carrying supplies into the city, although many Chinese have strong memories of shortages in the years before the country’s recent economic boom.

Local authorities in Wuhan demanded all residents wear masks in public places. Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan’s train station.

Liu Haihan left Wuhan last Friday after visiting her boyfriend there. She said everything was normal then, before human-to-human transmission of the virus was confirmed. But things had changed rapidly.

Her boyfriend “didn’t sleep much yesterday. He disinfected his house and stocked up on instant noodles,”  Liu said. “He’s not really going out. If he does, he wears a mask.”

The sharp rise in illnesses comes as millions of Chinese travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people. Chinese are expected to take an estimated 3 billion trips during the 40-day spike in travel.

Analysts predicted cases will continue to multiply, although the jump in numbers is also attributable in part to increased monitoring.

“Even if (cases) are in the thousands, this would not surprise us,” the WHO’s Galea said, adding, however, that the number of those infected is not an indicator of the outbreak’s severity, so long as the mortality rate remains low.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

China is keen to avoid repeating mistakes with its handling of SARS. For months, even after the illness had spread around the world, China parked patients in hotels and drove them around in ambulances to conceal the true number of cases and avoid WHO experts.

In the current outbreak, China has been credited with sharing information rapidly, and President Xi Jinping has emphasized that as a priority.

“Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels must put people’s lives and health first,” Xi said Monday. “It is necessary to release epidemic information in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation.”

A picture released by the Central Hospital of Wuhan shows medical staff attending to patient at the The Central Hospital Of Wuhan Via Weibo in Wuhan, China on an unknown date.

Health authorities were taking extraordinary measures to prevent additional person-to-person transmissions, placing those believed infected in plastic tubes and wheeled boxes, with air passed through filters.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market, which has since been closed for an investigation. Experts suspect that the virus was first transmitted from wild animals but that it may also be mutating. Mutations can make it deadlier or more contagious.

WHO convened its emergency committee of independent experts on Thursday to consider whether the outbreak should be declared a global health emergency, after the group failed to come to a consensus on Wednesday.

The U.N. health agency defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel to and trade with affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease-reporting requirements on countries.

Declaring an international emergency can also be politically fraught. Countries typically resist the notion that they have a crisis within their borders and may argue strenuously for other control measures.

 

New Rules Could Bump Emotional-Support Animals From Planes

The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.

Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.

Tighter rules praised

The U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.

“Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.

Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, too, and were pleased with Wednesday’s proposed changes.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The union chief said untrained pets had hurt some of her members.

Veterans groups pleased

Veterans groups have sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.

“It’s just interesting how people want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them,” Rizzi said.

Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48% from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17%. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.

Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they are proposing the changes to ensure safety on flights. They also said some passengers have abused the current rules.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, and they could take effect any time after that.

The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition of a service animal — it would be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers who want to travel with a service dog will have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them with their disability. A dog that is trained to help a passenger with psychiatric needs would continue to qualify as a service animal.

Note from medical professional

Currently, passengers have been allowed to bring many other animals if they have a medical professional’s note saying they need the animal for emotional support.

The proposal would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds — Delta Air Lines bans pit bulls, for example — but airline employees could refuse to board any animal that they consider a threat to other people.

The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines had “maligned” pit bulls by banning them. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s rule against breed-specific prohibitions “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”

The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips. But airlines could still require forms attesting to an animal’s good behavior and health, which could present challenges if the form has to be completed by a specific institution, Rizzi said.

The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public, and would end the rarely seen use of miniature horses as service animals, although a Transportation Department official indicated the agency is open to reconsidering that provision.

Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules.

Battle Over Witnesses Launches First Full Week of Trump Trial

The impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump got fully underway in the Senate Tuesday with a battle over the rules governing how the case moves forward. For just the third time in U.S. history, senators will vote to decide if a president should be removed from office. Congressional Democrats argue witnesses should be allowed to testify to help make their case Trump abused the power of the presidency. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.