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Biden secures backing from several swing-state Democrats

“Our country needs a steady hand, someone who can help heal the country, an experienced and proven leader who can build teams with deep expertise and work across the aisle,” Houlahan, who served in the Air Force, said in a statement released on Sunday.

“Pennsylvania is not red or blue but a purple place which our next President needs to carry to win,” she said.

The death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, on Friday has vaulted foreign policy into the 2020 race, with Biden eager to use it to contrast himself with Trump as well as his fellow Democratic candidates. Speaking in Iowa this weekend, Biden was increasingly casting himself as the most trustworthy candidate on the global stage.

The endorsement from the House Democratic centrists also comes as Biden looks to demonstrate his ability to unite the party — and the country — before early-voting purple states, like Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, weigh in next month.

Lamb, whose district went for President Donald Trump in 2016 by 3 points, stressed that Biden stood a chance to win in battleground states like his own. “I believe that the next president must attempt to unify this country,” he said.

Luria, too, represents a district that chose Trump over Hillary Clinton by 4 points.

“Joe Biden is ‘battle-tested’ on the world stage, in Congress, and in the White House,” Luria said in a statement. “He will defeat Donald Trump and win in tough districts like mine.”

Biden, who has long pitched himself as a champion for centrists, also locked up the first endorsement from the Iowa congressional delegation last week — freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer.

In the 2018 midterms, he campaigned for many of the House Democrats who ultimately flipped red seats, including Houlahan and Luria. Lamb was first elected in March 2018 in an upset special election.

Biden leads the field in overall congressional endorsements, with official support from more than two dozen Democratic lawmakers. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who consistently polls second behind Biden, has about a half-dozen official endorsements.

Still, the vast majority of the roughly 230-member House Democratic Caucus have yet to publicly choose a candidate.

Lamb and Houlahan are the latest Democrats from Pennsylvania — where Biden has emphasized his middle-class roots in Scranton — to declare their support, along with fellow centrist Rep. Matt Cartwright. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has also endorsed Biden.

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Trump says his tweets are ‘notification’ to Congress, pledges ‘disproportionate’ response to Iran in case of attack — RT USA News

The US President Donald Trump has literally said that his Twitter posts should be seen as “notification to the United States Congress” – in another tweet no less – as he vowed to “strike back” should Iran target any American.

The president minced no words as he continued to threaten Tehran with a swift and potentially devastating response as the two nations have found themselves on the brink of a military conflict after the US killed a top Iranian commander on a direct order from the White House.
This time, however, he did not just issue another threat but also said that the US Congress should follow his Twitter to keep up with the latest developments of this potentially explosive situation.
“These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” Trump tweeted. “Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!”

The US State Secretary Mike Pompeo told ABC’s ‘This Week’ earlier on Sunday that, although Washington had “all the authority” to strike the Iranian general, it would try and keep Congress informed about its plans from now on. He never mentioned it would be done in the form of Twitter feed, though.

Trump himself has, meanwhile, been busy issuing threats to Tehran after Iran called the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force, an “act of international terrorism” and vowed revenge.

The US president warned that 52 Iranian targets, including some apparently important cultural sites, could be hit in a retaliation strike, should Tehran follow up on its revenge plans. Pompeo later denied this statement. Trump also said that “brand new” American military hardware worth trillions of dollars would head Iran’s way in the event of retaliatory action.

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‘Trump just threw a dynamite stick into a tinderbox’: US Democrats savage US strike that killed Iranian Quds chief Soleimani

Back at home, Trump was heavily criticized by the Democrats, including senators and 2020 hopefuls Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is leading the impeachment process against him. They all warned it would bring Washington closer to war with Tehran.
Trump’s Republican allies, on the contrary, welcomed the move and sided with the president and the secretary of state in calling it a preemptive defensive.

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Pompeo says US ‘will be bold in protecting American interests’ amid Iran crisis

“The American people should know that we will not waver. We will be bold in protecting American interests and we will do so in a way that is consistent with the rule of law,” Pompeo told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

He continued: “We’re trying to restore deterrence that frankly is a need that results directly from the fact that the previous administration left us in a terrible place with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran … we have developed a strategy to convince the Iranian regime to behave like a normal nation. That’s what our strategy is about. We’ve been executing it.”

The comments from Pompeo come amid increasing tensions between Tehran and Washington following a series of US attacks in the region, including one last week in Iraq that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and several others. Though the President has claimed Soleimani was planning attacks on US forces and that the action was taken “to stop a war,” he vowed specific military action against Iran if it “strikes any Americans, or American assets.”

Trump, in a series of tweets Saturday, said the US has “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago),” including cultural sites, which “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if the country responds to the death of Soleimani with military force.

On Sunday, the military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader said his country’s response to the killing of Soleimani will certainly be a military response “against military sites.”
“Let me tell you one thing: Our leadership has officially announced that we have never been seeking war and we will not be seeking war,” Hossein Dehghan said in an exclusive interview with CNN.

“It was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions. The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they have inflicted. Afterward they should not seek a new cycle,” he said.

On Sunday, Pompeo also backed the Trump administration’s claim that it killed Soleimani in response to an impending threat to American lives, even as the lack of evidence provided to lawmakers and the public has fueled lingering skepticism about whether there was an “imminent threat” to justify the strike.

Asked about how “imminent” the attacks on Americans were, Pompeo replied: “If you’re an American in the region, days and weeks, this is not something that’s relevant. We have to prepare, we have to be ready, and we took a bad guy off the battlefield.”

He continued: “We made the right decision. There is less risk today to American forces in the region as a result of that attack.”

Later on the same program, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg each weighed in on the matter, with Warren arguing last week’s US strike has moved the US closer to war.

“The administration doesn’t seem to have a coherent answer for taking a step like that, and they’ve taken a step that moves us closer to war, a step that puts everyone at risk, a step that puts our military at risk, puts our diplomats in the region at risk,” Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told Tapper that “we need answers on whether this is part of a meaningful strategy, what choices were offered to the President and why he believed this is the best choice when we really haven’t seen the indication that it even served to prevent whatever attack they’re talking about.”

Threat against Iranian cultural sites

Trump’s threat on Saturday to strike Iranian cultural sites should the country respond to Soleimani’s death with military force has been met with criticism as it’s highly unusual for the US to target cultural rather than military sites, with some critics suggesting such action may violate international law.

Among those critics are Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, who tweeted on Saturday that targeting such sites would be “a war crime” and that he finds it “hard to believe the Pentagon would provide Trump targeting options that include” them.

But Pompeo on Sunday defended Trump, arguing that such an action would not violate international law and instead suggested it would be a continuation of the administration’s attempt at deterrence and defense.

“If we need to defend American interests, we will do so. What President Trump said last night is consistent with what we have said all along,” he told Tapper.

“And the American people should know we will always defend them and we’ll do so in a way that is consistent with international rule of law and the American Constitution,” Pompeo said, insisting when facing pushback from Tapper that strikes against Iranian cultural sites and an action consistent with international law are “not two different things.”

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Fred Pleitgen, Schams Elwazer, Jeremy Diamond, Caroline Kelly and Greg Clary contributed to this report.

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Iraqi Parliament Votes to End US Military Presence in Country with Shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” — VIDEO








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Trump Is Pushing War on Iran — But Democrats Laid the Groundwork

Since President Trump took office in 2017, the leadership of the Democratic Party has overwhelmingly supported the precursors to today’s dangerous US escalation toward Iran: sanctions, proxy battles, and a bloated military budget. Yet now that we stand on the brink of a possible US war of aggression, Democratic leaders are feigning concern that Trump is leading a march to war without congressional approval, and using a faulty strategy to do so. These objections, however, are grounded in process critiques, rather than moral opposition — and belie Democrats’ role in helping lay the groundwork for the growing confrontation.

The US drone assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and a ranking official of the Iranian government, takes confrontation with Iran to new heights, inching the United States closer to the war the Trump administration has been pushing for. While Trump deserves blame for driving this dangerous escalation, he did not do it on his own.

As recently as December 2019, the House overwhelmingly passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 with a vote of 377-48. Two amendments were stripped from that bill before it went to a vote: Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-CA) amendment to block funding for a war with Iran barring congressional approval and Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) amendment to repeal 2001’s Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF). That AUMF effectively allows the government to use “necessary and appropriate force” against anyone suspected of being connected to the 9/11 attacks, and has been interpreted broadly to justify US aggression around the world. Officials from the Trump administration have suggested that the 2001 AUMF may give them authority to go to war with Iran.

Of the 377 Representatives who voted for the $738 billion defense bill, 188 were Democrats. Just forty-one Democrats opposed the legislation. The bill cleared the Senate with a tally of 86-8, with just four Democrats voting against it. None of the senators running for the 2020 Democratic nomination were present for the vote. Before the vote, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor to brag about the fact that “partisan demands” had effectively been removed from the bill and declared that “sanity and progress” had won out. “Reassuringly, the past few days have finally brought an end to bipartisan talks and produced a compromise NDAA,” said McConnell.

At the time of the bill’s passage, thirty-one organizations, including Yemeni Alliance Committee and the National Iranian American Council Action, put out a joint statement condemning the NDAA as a looming disaster destined to be abused by the Trump administration. “The NDAA is a massive blank check,” reads the statement. “The authorization of $738 billion is obscene. Further inflating the Pentagon’s overstuffed coffers does not make us safer — it perpetuates a system that treats military intervention as the solution to all world problems.” Despite these concerns, Democrats did not put up much of a fight, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus declined to whip the vote against the NDAA.

Democrats’ complicity doesn’t stop with bloated war budgets. In July 2017, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the only lawmaker in both the House and the Senate who caucused with the Democrats to vote against a bill that bundled together sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea. Proponents of the bill, meanwhile, used anti-Russia rhetoric to ram it through Congress. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told the Intercept at the time, “I just looked at the sanctions, and it’s very hard, in view of what we know just happened in this last election, not to move ahead with [sanctions].”

Sanders was clear that he opposed the bill because of his opposition to sanctions on Iran, but supported sanctions against Russia and North Korea, which are also aggressive and harmful to the people of those countries. Still, he was demonized by some in the Democratic establishment. As we previously reported, Adam Parkhomenko, former Hillary Clinton aide and founder of the Ready for Hillary PAC, said on Twitter at the time, “Feel the Bern? Bernie Sanders voted against Russian sanctions today. 98 Senators voted for Russian sanctions today. Sanders voted the same way anyone with the last name Trump would vote if they were in the Senate. No excuses — stop making them for him.”

When Trump — surrounded by hawkish advisers — pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May of 2018, the Democratic establishment roundly criticized him, often citing the supposed threat posed by Iran, even though the country has no nuclear weapons program, according to US intelligence agencies’ own assessments. “The president’s willingness to shatter the international consensus, forged over years of arduous negotiations, on how to constrain Iran’s nuclear program only makes sense as part of a campaign to erase his predecessor’s legacy, regardless of the consequences to our national security,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said at the time.

Yet Democrats’ previous support for sanctions already violated the Iran deal, whose benefits for the Iranian people were almost entirely premised on relief from devastating sanctions. In December of 2018, high-profile Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren, called for the United States to return to the Iran nuclear deal. While such a move would certainly constitute a de-escalation, these calls were bereft of accountability for the role that Democrats played in emboldening Trump to impose even more sanctions — and ultimately walk away from the agreement.

These failures are consistent with a troubling pattern: Democrats tee up the ball for Trump’s aggressive maneuvers, and then express outrage when his administration takes a swing. The Trump administration has been on a course toward confrontation with Iran for three years. He’s hired notorious Iran war fanatics Gen. James Mattis, John Bolton, and Elliott Abrams. His biggest donor is anti-Iran, radical billionaire Sheldon Adelson. His State Department appears to have staffed out some of its Iran policy to the pro-Israel, right-wing think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He’s signaled from day one his goal was to march the United States toward war. Yet Democrats still padded his war budgets, voted for his appointments, baited him to have a tougher stance against Iran’s most important ally, Russia, and did nothing to curb his support for anti-Iran forces in the Middle East. Democrats have, for the most part, been not only unwilling to spend their political capital trying to change this course, but have actively encouraged it through their support for proxy battles against Iran in Syria and Iraq. And we must not forget that it was President Obama who, in 2014, sent troops back to Iraq as part of the war against ISIS.

Although many Democrats were quick to criticize Trump’s deadly drone strike, most of the statements were qualified with assertions about the murderous nature of Soleimani. “No American will mourn Qassem Soleimani’s passing,” begins Joe Biden’s statement. “He deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops and thousands of innocents throughout the region. He supported terror and sowed chaos.” Initial statements from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar began with similar declarations. The first statement that has even referred to the killing as an “assassination” has been from Bernie Sanders. Warren later followed up her initial statement with remarks that also used the language of assassination.

Some Democrats who voted for the NDAA and handed the Trump administration a blank check suddenly expressed concern about the president’s powers. “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” tweeted Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) — who voted or the bill. “The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

Other Democrats are also expressing concern that Trump is deploying the wrong strategy against a dangerous enemy, while accepting the premise that intervention could be justified. This approach is reflected in presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s statement, released yesterday: “Before engaging in military action that could destabilize an entire region, we must take a strategic, deliberate approach that includes consultation with Congress, our allies, and stakeholders in the Middle East.” This statement presumes that a destabilizing war of aggression could be justified, conceding Trump’s moral justifications, even as Buttigieg hand-wrings about the method.

We can’t stop a war with Iran unless we recognize US aggression is not the product of failed strategy, or the Republican Party alone. It’s the product of a system where it’s normal bipartisan politics to lay the building blocks of war with no public account of the profound harm that is being done. And then, on the eve of said war, those Democrats who have been setting its course feign outrage and shock — if a Republican is in the White House, that is. We saw this script play out with the Iraq War, and we’re seeing it again now. In a US political establishment where killing people abroad comes with little political cost, the politicians who contributed to the US climate of belligerence are never forced to face the consequences. It costs nothing to jockey for war, but everything to stand against it — including war’s precursors, such as sanctions, bloated military budgets, and CIA meddling. Our only hope is to change this.

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Trump tells evangelical rally he will put prayer in schools

MIAMI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said his Democratic opponents would tear down crosses and pledged to bring prayer to public schools at a re-election rally to shore up evangelical support.

Trump spoke on the outskirts of Miami at the King Jesus International Ministry, a “prosperity gospel” church that teaches that the faithful will be rewarded with health and wealth on earth.

“We are defending religion itself, it’s under siege,” Trump said. “A society without religion cannot prosper.”

More than 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election. But a crack in evangelical support opened up last month when the magazine Christianity Today wrote a blistering editorial on Trump’s “grossly immoral character.”

Attendees, some of them wearing Trump’s signature red campaign hats, nearly filled the room, which the church says holds 7,000. Some raised their hands in a sign of praise and swayed while music played loudly over the speakers before the president entered the room.

Pastors gathered around Trump on the stage for an opening prayer, while much of the audience remained standing with their hands aloft.

In his speech, Trump mocked Democratic challenger Pete Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor, for having what he said was an unpronounceable last name, and told attendees Democrats were waging war against religion.

“These angry radicals want to impose absolute conformity by censuring speech, tearing down crosses and symbols of faith and banning religious believers from public life.”

He got a big reaction from the crowd when he promised to bring religion into U.S. schools. A clause in the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting one religion over the other, which means public schools don’t promote prayer or religious symbols.

“Very soon I’ll be taking action to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools,” Trump said. “They want to take that right along with many other ones.”

Slideshow (15 Images)

According to a 2019 survey here by the Pew Research Center, 43% of U.S. adults, or some 110 million people, identify with Protestantism; 59% of those, or 64 million are born-again or evangelical Christians.

Christian support for Trump remained relatively constant from his inauguration until March of 2019, Pew Research shows. Some Christians believe that support has frayed since.

Friday’s rally “is Trump’s desperate response to the realization that he is losing his primary voting bloc — faith voters,” said Doug Pagitt, the executive director of Vote Common Good, a progressive Christian group, on Friday.

Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown