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Posts tagged ‘Elections in U.S.’

Minority candidates see both success and veiled racism

November 08, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the many successes among candidates of color, the midterm elections also proved to some the enduring power of racism, with minority politicians’ intelligence and integrity called into question by their opponents and President Donald Trump in what were widely seen as coded appeals to white voters.

Several Democratic strategists said Wednesday that the outcome showed the need for the party to recalibrate its strategy heading into 2020 and beyond. To win, they said, the party must expand its base of black and brown voters while also calling out racism more directly and doing more to persuade white voters to reject bigotry.

“At some point, voters have to stop rewarding racist behavior,” said activist Brittany Packnett. During the campaign cycle, Trump referred to black Tallahassee mayor and Democratic candidate for Florida governor Andrew Gillum as “a thief” because of an undercover FBI investigation into his acceptance of Broadway tickets. Trump also branded Gillum’s city “corrupt.”

And he framed Yale Law School graduate, veteran lawmaker and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a black woman, as incompetent. Republican Ron DeSantis, who beat Gillum on Tuesday, began the campaign by cautioning Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for the Democrat — a remark that was also decried as racist.

In the end, Gillum came within less than 56,000 votes of DeSantis. In Georgia, the contest for governor was still too close to call on Wednesday. There were also campaigns around the country where allegations of racism were not enough to knock the candidate out of the running. In Iowa, Republican Rep. Steve King won a ninth term despite condemnation from his own party over his ties to white supremacists.

“Progressives have to have a better rebuttal to Trump’s tribalism than they have right now,” said Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher. “We have to give moderate white voters who are bothered by a sense of division some skin in this racism game. That’s not pivoting to health care. That’s talking about how this tribalism will affect them and their children. You don’t fix racism by not taking it on.”

In an often-combative morning-after news conference Wednesday, Trump rejected any suggestion that he emboldened white nationalists recently by describing himself as a “nationalist.” The president repeatedly said the question, posed by a black journalist, was itself racist.

On the plus side of the ledger for minorities Tuesday, a lot of the organizing during the midterm cycle was focused on minority voters, and record early turnout and long lines on Election Day suggested those efforts paid off.

Organizers pointed to the election to Congress of blacks and Latinos such as Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas’ Veronica Escobar, and the passage of a constitutional amendment in Florida that will restore the right to vote to more than a million former felons.

They also cited the defeat of GOP conservatives like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kansas Gov. Kris Kobach as evidence that coalitions with liberal and centrist whites can work. Likewise, congressional candidates such as Illinois’ Lauren Underwood and New York’s Antonio Delgado showed that blacks can win in majority-white districts.

Packnett said there was a lot to be hopeful for going into 2020. “I’m saddened that the white women who also possess a marginalized identity are not voting in their interests more,” she said. “But just because we didn’t get all the wins in our column that we wanted doesn’t mean that there were not people who learned better and did better this election.”

Pressley, elected from a liberal, diverse Boston district as Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman, said candidates of color ignited and expanded the electorate in this year’s midterms. But she said America is not yet at the point where candidates of color are assumed to be capable or experienced.

“When we’re characterized as a fad or a trend or a fluke, that’s a disservice to our leadership,” she said.

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Historic voter turnout drives Democrats’ win in House, governor’s races

NOV. 7, 2018

By Clyde Hughes

Nov. 7 (UPI) — For the first time in nearly a decade, the House of Representatives will be controlled by Democrats — after the party made substantial gains in the lower chamber in a number of key midterm races, many marked by record voter turnout.

With several races still unsettled Wednesday, Democrats had surpassed the 219-seat threshold it needed to wrest control from Republicans — a gain of 26 seats. Key additions in Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida races helped push the Democrats over the top.

The new majority will formally begin when lawmakers take office in January.

Democrats also performed well in gubernatorial races across the country, gaining at least six governorships in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada. Republicans have picked up no gubernatorial races so far.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is also projected to lose, which would total seven Democratic pickups. Races in Georgia and Connecticut have not yet been settled.

Republicans fared better in the Senate, winning three new seats.

Mike Braun convincingly beat Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana; Kevin Cramer defeated Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in South Dakota; and Josh Hawley knocked off incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to unseat incumbent Bill Nelson, though Nelson had not yet conceded.

The vote tallies follow what appears to be historic voter turnout nationwide.

The U.S. Election Project, run by Michael McDonald from the University of Florida, estimated that 111.56 million Americans cast votes in the midterms this year, easily making it the most participated midterms this century. The next highest total came in 2010 when 90.91 million ballots were counted around the country.

Eight million ballots were cast in Florida, an increase from 6 million for the last midterm in 2014, Time magazine reported. In 2010, 5.5 million voted in the state.

Every county in central Florida experienced higher voter turnout, and in Orange County, 59.7 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, an increase of 15 percent.

Many of the ballots, about 5 million, were early or mail-in ballots.

Arizona saw record turnout, as well. About 2.18 million voters participated, or 58.6 percent of all registered voters — the most in state history for midterms.

More than 2.6 million voters in Wisconsin topped the turnout for the hotly contested 2012 recall against Walker, and amounted to more ballots than some states recorded in the 2016 presidential election.

In Maryland, WUSA-TV reported turnout was so strong in Prince George’s County that at least four polling places ran out of ballots.

Buoyed by the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine and GOP challenger Corey Stewart, Virginians cast almost 3.3 million ballots, an increase of more than 1 million over 2014.

Almost 2.8 million votes were cast in New Jersey, beating its 2014 midterm total of fewer than 2 million, and Kentucky narrowly topped its 2014 turnout.

Texas saw its 2014 midterm totals beaten during early voting. The Houston Chronicle reported the state, which had ranked last in the United States in voter participation, saw 4.8 million early voters — higher than any of its last four midterms.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2018/11/07/Historic-voter-turnout-drives-Democrats-win-in-House-governors-races/6081541599925/.

Democrats gain governors’ seats, but GOP holds some states

November 07, 2018

Democrats tried Tuesday to fight their way back to power in state capitols across the country by reclaiming governor’s seats in several key states, marking significant steps in their nationwide strategy to reverse years of Republican gains in state capitols.

Still, their victories in Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Maine and New Mexico were balanced by Republicans holding on to one of the top prizes, Florida, and the governor’s offices in Ohio and Arizona. All three states will figure prominently in the presidential map in two years.

Other closely watched governors’ races in Georgia and Wisconsin remained too close to call Tuesday night. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, upending years of Republican control in the state. The former legislative leader will become the second female governor in a state where Democrats heavily targeted other statewide and legislative offices.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois lost his bid for a second term to Democrat J.B. Pritzker. The billionaire appears to have capitalized not only on Rauner’s lack of popularity but broader dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. In Kansas, Democratic state lawmaker Laura Kelly defeated Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close ally of Trump.

New Mexico also tipped into the Democratic column, with voters choosing Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The campaign had been defined by conflicts over struggling public schools and high poverty rates.

In Maine, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills won the race to succeed combative Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was term-limited after eight years in office. Democrats Andrew Cuomo in New York and Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania easily won re-election, as did two Republicans in Democratic-leaning states — Larry Hogan in Maryland and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds broke the Democrats’ run of Midwest success by being elected to a full term. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate and Trump ally, was seeking a third term in a race that remained too close to call.

In all, voters were choosing 36 governors and 6,089 state legislators in general and special elections that have attracted record amounts of spending from national Democratic and Republican groups. Republicans are in control more often than not in state capitols across the country, but Democrats were trying to pull a little closer in Tuesday’s elections.

The political parties are trying not only to win now, but also to put themselves in strong position for the elections two years from now that will determine which party will have the upper hand in redrawing congressional and state legislative districts.

Voters in Colorado, Michigan and Missouri approved ballot measures Tuesday overhauling the redistricting process in ways that are intended to reduce the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering by either major party. A redistricting ballot measure also was on the ballot in Utah.

Republicans entered Tuesday’s election with a sizable advantage, controlling two-thirds of the 99 state legislative chambers and 33 governors’ offices. The GOP held a trifecta of power in 25 states, compared with just eight for Democrats.

Democrats likely will gain full control in Illinois and New Mexico by winning the governor’s races. The Democratic victories in Kansas and Michigan will break up Republican trifectas. Republicans were largely on defense but also were angling for gains in a few traditionally Democratic states, such Connecticut.

The governor’s races have extra emphasis in 28 states where the winners will serve four-year terms with the potential power to approve or reject district boundaries drawn for Congress or state legislatures.

The Democratic Governors Association had focused on nine swing states — Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where it believes the governorships could be pivotal in congressional redistricting.

As of mid-October, the Democratic Governors Association and its affiliated entities had raised $122 million during the past two years — a record outdone only by the Republican Governors Association’s new high mark of at least $156 million.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee, which focus on state races, also set record fundraising targets. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, has pumped additional money into state races viewed as critical in future redistricting decisions.

Although most state lawmakers responsible for redistricting will be elected in 2020, voters on Tuesday were electing more than 800 state lawmakers in about two dozen states to four-year terms where they could play a role in approving new congressional or state legislative districts.

Election Day: State, Congress races a referendum on Trump

NOV. 6, 2018

By Clyde Hughes

Nov. 6 (UPI) — Americans have one last chance to go to the polls on Election Day Tuesday, casting ballots according to their contentment or disgust with how things are going from the White House on down.

Many see Tuesday’s congressional and state races as a referendeum on President Donald Trump and his agenda.

The election has already set records for turnout with more than 30 million votes cast during early voting.

Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who researches American elections, said on Twitter 28 states and the District of Columbia have surpassed their 2014 early voting totals.

In two of those states, Nevada and Texas, early voting surpassed all ballots cast in the midterms four years ago.

There’s a lot riding on the congressional and gubernatorial races — leaders who will have the power to reshape district maps after the 2020 Census. Here are some of the highlights of what’s at stake o Tuesday.

The Trump referendum

Trump has been active on the campaign trail trying to rally his base to the polls. He has taken a personal interest in the U.S. Senate race in Montana, where he’s traveled four times since July.

Democratic incumbent Jon Tester is in a tight race to keep his seat against Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. With Trump’s help, Rosendale has closed the gap on Tester, who had led the race by 9 points in a poll last month (47-38).

Trump has also campaigned in recent days in West Virginia and Indiana, where vulnerable Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly are holding on to slim leads.

Trump vowed to unseat Tester after he led a Democratic effort to block former White House doctor Adm. Ronny Jackson from being appointed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In most of his rallies, Trump has played up immigration issues, like the caravan of Central American migrants in Mexico headed for the United States — and the tax cuts from Republicans this year.

In political ads around the country, perhaps no one has been mentioned more than Trump. According to a survey of television and Facebook ads by the Wesleyan Media Project, the president has been mentioned in about 13 percent of all television ads and 17 percent of Facebook ads.

Republicans have targeted Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in ads. His name has been invoked in 11.3 percent of Republican television ads this season. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has been mentioned in 7.1 percent of GOP ads.

“The economy is so good right now: highest wage increases in a decade, 250,000 new jobs, manufacturing jobs, hospitality, construction,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement last week.

“We are on a comeback and all Democrats want to do is stop that. … It’s a no-brainer, and we need to close strong and tell voters it is the economy, economy, economy.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have mentioned Trump in 10 percent of their ads — and have made taxes the top issue in their political advertising.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, countered McDaniel’s positive economic news, arguing that voters feel squeezed by rising prices and are not feeling the economic progress.

“If you get $1 more on your paycheck and the cost of gasoline, the cost of healthcare, the cost of housing goes up by $3, you’re not better off,” Perez said Sunday. “We created more jobs in the last 21 months of the Obama administration than the first 21 months of the Trump administration. People need to feel that if they work a full-time job, they actually able to feed their families and not tread water.”

Historical votes

History might be made in two states. In Florida, voters are deciding if Andrew Gillum will become the first African-American governor — and in Georgia, Stacey Abrams could be the first black female governor anywhere in the country.

While Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, has held a slim lead in the last five state polls, he has consistently led GOP opponent Ron DeSantis.

Trump has hit Florida hard with two campaign trips this past week in an effort rally his base for DeSantis and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

In the same StPetePolls.org survey, Scott leads Nelson 49.1 percent to 47.5.

The latest Georgia polls gave Abrams and her opponent, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, split results.

The Georgia race has been marred by voter suppression charges against Kemp and how he is applying the state’s “exact match” voter identification law. A federal judge said Friday the state must change its procedures to make it easier for some people affected by the policy to vote, pointing out how the policy affected minorities disproportionately.

In Vermont, known for its independent streak, Democrat Christine Hallquist is fighting Republican incumbent Phil Scott to become the first openly transgender woman elected as governor. Experts have Scott leading by double-digits.

House in reach of Democrats

The House of Representatives is in play for the first time since President Barack Obama’s first term. According to the latest polling, the Democrats have a shot of winning the 23 seats needed to seize the majority in the lower chamber.

Analysis website FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 7-in-8 chance to taking back the House.

“The House playing field is exceptionally broad this year, because of Republican retirements, an influx of Democratic cash and other factors,” Nate Silver, the creator, and editor of FiveThirtyEight, said in a statement Saturday.

One of the “must-have” House races for both parties is in Florida’s 26th District, where Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is fighting off a strong challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Recent polling has them neck-and-neck.

Curbelo had tried to separate himself from Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric in recent days, saying in a television interview he believed sending 15,000 U.S. troops to the country’s southern border was an “overreaction.”

Mucarsel-Powell, in the meantime, charged that Curbelo was trying to burnish his moderate credentials while voting with the Trump administration and Republicans 85 percent of the time.

Republicans feel better about Senate

While the House could flip, many Republicans feel more secure about keeping the Senate when the votes are officially counted Tuesday night.

FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 5-in-6 chance of holding the Senate majority, based on changes in several key races.

A KNXV-TV-OH Predictive Insights poll last week showed Arizona Republican Martha McSally with a seven-point lead over Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who held a slim lead in previous polls for the seat to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.

OH Predictive chief pollster Mike Noble said McSally’s support for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his nationally-televised hearing appeared to be the turning point in the race.

“If Kavanaugh didn’t happen, I think it’d be an extremely tight race,” Noble told KNXV-TV. “If not, I’d actually say the edge would go to Sinema but after seeing the polling – seeing the results — everything else — I think that McSally will end up winning coming election night.”

While there’s been plenty of buzz around Sen. Ted Cruz and challenger Rep. Beto O’Rouke, experts say Cruz is likely to hold onto that seat — as he leads by an average of 6 to 10 percent.

“O’Rourke is within striking distance, but time is running out,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement last week.

“Sen. Cruz is ahead due to his winning the ‘gender gap.’ He wins men 56-39 percent, while Representative O’Rourke can manage only a 52-45 percent edge among women.”

Republicans may also be in position to pick off some Democratic seats. In South Dakota, incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp trails GOP challenger Kevin Cramer by double-digits in some polling. In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill was tied with challenger Josh Hawley in recent polling.

Big day for marijuana

The growing U.S. marijuana industry is hoping to expand even more Tuesday, with voters in four states weighing in on various legalization measures.

North Dakota will vote on allowing residents to grow, use and possess as much pot as they want, without government oversight. Michigan will vote on legalizing, taxing and regulating recreational-use pot, along with three other laws to allow medical use.

Missouri will vote on three plans to allow residents to grow, manufacture, sell and use marijuana with varying degrees of taxation and other provisions. Utah will vote whether to approve a medical cannabis measure.

Some 30 states have already legalized marijuana and the District of Columbia has legalized medical-use cannabis.

Other issues

Alabama will decide a constitutional amendment defining “personhood” at conception, in a key abortion rights measure.

Oregon and West Virginia will vote on amending their constitutions to limit Medicaid abortion funding only to cases where the life of the mother is in danger, rape and incest.

Colorado, Michigan and Utah will decide on creating independent commissions for redistricting. Those states currently have legislators draw their own lines, like most states.

Florida will vote on expanding voting rights to felons, which could give an estimated 1.5 million their right to vote back.

Michigan and Nevada will decide on making voter registration automatic, and Maryland will decide on approving same-day registration and voting.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Election-Day-State-Congress-races-a-referendum-on-Trump/8011541435519/.

Trump thrusts abortion fight into crucial midterm elections

May 19, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration acted Friday to bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, energizing its conservative political base ahead of crucial midterm elections while setting the stage for new legal battles.

The Health and Human Services Department sent its proposal to rewrite the rules to the White House, setting in motion a regulatory process that could take months. Scant on details, an administration overview of the plan said it would echo a Reagan-era rule by banning abortion referrals by federally funded clinics and forbidding them from locating in facilities that also provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood, a principal provider of family planning, abortion services and basic preventive care for women, said the plan appears designed to target the organization. “The end result would make it impossible for women to come to Planned Parenthood, who are counting on us every day,” said executive vice president Dawn Laguens.

But presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that the administration is simply recognizing “that abortion is not family planning. This is family planning money.” The policy was derided as a “gag rule” by abortion rights supporters, a point challenged by the administration, which said counseling about abortion would be OK, but not referrals. It’s likely to trigger lawsuits from opponents, and certain to galvanize activists on both sides of the abortion debate going into November’s congressional elections.

The policy “would ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Social and religious conservatives have remained steadfastly loyal to President Donald Trump despite issues like his reimbursements to attorney Michael Cohen, who paid hush money to a porn star alleging an affair, and Trump’s past boasts of sexually aggressive behavior. Trump has not wavered from advancing the agenda of the religious right.

Tuesday night, Trump is scheduled to speak at the Susan B. Anthony List’s “campaign for life” gala. The group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion. It says it spent more than $18 million in the 2016 election cycle to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton and promote a “pro-life Senate.”

The original Reagan-era family planning rule barred clinics from discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled it was an appropriate use of executive power. The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule took effect requiring “nondirective” counseling to include a full range of options for women.

The Trump administration said its proposal will roll back the Clinton requirement that abortion be discussed as an option along with prenatal care and adoption. Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women a year through clinics, costing taxpayers about $260 million.

Although abortion is politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report .

Abortion remains legal, but federal family planning funds cannot be used to pay for the procedure. Planned Parenthood clinics now qualify for Title X family planning grants, but they keep that money separate from funds that pay for abortions.

Abortion opponents say a taxpayer-funded program should have no connection to abortion. Doctors’ groups and abortion rights supporters say a ban on counseling women trespasses on the doctor-patient relationship.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the administration action amounts to an “egregious intrusion” in the doctor-patient relationship and could force doctors to omit “essential, medically accurate information” from counseling sessions with patients.

Planned Parenthood’s Laguens hinted at legal action, saying, “we will not stand by while our basic health care and rights are stripped away.” Jessica Marcella of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents clinics, said requiring physical separation from abortion facilities is impractical and would disrupt services for women.

“I cannot imagine a scenario in which public health groups would allow this effort to go unchallenged,” Marcella said. But abortion opponents said Trump is merely reaffirming the core mission of the family planning program.

“The new regulations will draw a bright line between abortion centers and family planning programs, just as … federal law requires and the Supreme Court has upheld,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a key voice for religious conservatives.

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said, “Abortion is not health care or birth control and many women want natural health care choices, rather than hormone-induced changes.” Abortion opponents allege the federal family planning program in effect cross-subsidizes abortions provided by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventive care. Hawkins’ group is circulating a petition to urge lawmakers to support the Trump administration’s proposal.

Abortion opponents say the administration plan is not a “gag rule.” It “will not prohibit counseling for clients about abortion … but neither will it include the current mandate that (clinics) must counsel and refer for abortion,” said the administration’s own summary.

Associated Press writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

Putin heads to Hungary, his 1st trip to EU since US election

February 02, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — On his first trip to the European Union since the U.S. presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday is heading to Hungary, the nation whose leader has cozied up to Moscow despite Russia-West tensions.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist dubbed “little Putin” by his opponents, has been critical of the U.S. and of EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its action in Ukraine. Speaking ahead of Putin’s visit, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the EU sanctions against Russia have failed to achieve their objectives and cost Hungary some $6.7 billion in export opportunities. He also pointed at what he described as the previous U.S. administration’s pressure on Hungary to prevent it from warming up to Moscow.

“The whole world is noticeably holding its breath while waiting to see if there will be rapprochement … in American-Russian relations and if so, to what depth and dimension,” Szijjarto said. U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to mend ties with Russia, which have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections. For the first time since his inauguration, Trump on Saturday had a phone call with Putin, which both the White House and the Kremlin described in strongly positive terms.

“If American pressure has been taken off European countries in terms of the sanctions, and there seems to be a good chance for this, I believe all of those who emphasized pragmatic relations and talked about the need to reevaluate the sanctions will be more courageous and that will be a new basis for debate,” Szijjarto said Wednesday.

Hungary has also voiced hope for better ties with Washington under Trump. Orban has criticized the past administration for what he described as attempts to influence Hungary’s domestic policies, such as a ban on entering the U.S. for six Hungarians, including the then-head of the Hungarian tax office, because of corruption allegations.

Orban, who has faced EU criticism for building a barbed-wire fence along its borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop migrants, has a sympathetic interlocutor in Putin, who has warned that flows of migrants could destabilize Europe.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov hailed what he described as “good personal ties” between the Russian and Hungarian leaders. Putin last visited Hungary in February 2015, and Orban traveled to Moscow a year ago. Discussions focused on long-term supplies of Russian natural gas to Hungary and a deal to expand Hungary’s Soviet-built nuclear power plant with a 10 billion-euro loan provided by Russia.

Ushakov said during this visit the parties will discuss the possibility of extending prospective Russian pipelines to Hungary, as well as the Paks nuclear plant deal. The plant, launched in the 1980s, now accounts for about 40 percent of Hungary’s energy consumption, and building two new reactors there will double its output, Ushakov said. The project is still awaiting permission from the European Commission, which Ushakov said has stymied it with “quibbles.”

Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed.

Trump election puts pressure on Merkel to take liberal lead

November 17, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Can Germany, the country that once unleashed Nazism, lead the free world? The idea that the former home of militarism and nationalism could become a beacon for human rights and peaceful international cooperation within one lifetime may seem far-fetched.

But with outsider Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president and the rising strength of far-right and populist movements in Europe, some have suggested that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is left as the last powerful defender of liberal values in the West.

Since taking office in 2005, Merkel has been a fixture of the international summit circuit, often providing the only dash of color in row upon row of grey suits. She has outlasted most of her contemporaries — save for Russian President Vladimir Putin — and won plaudits for successfully steering her country through the turmoil of the global financial crisis.

Along the way, the trained physicist has deftly maintained relations with allies as they gained new leaders, including prime ministers and presidents whose positions were very different from her own. Merkel navigated embarrassing moments, too, such as when U.S. President George W. Bush caused her to recoil in shock by playfully rubbing her neck at a G8 summit in 2006 and after former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was quoted making sexually explicit comments about her.

Merkel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama hit a stumbling block when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been monitoring her cellphone, but both leaders weathered the strain.

Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, noted that the uncertainty surrounding another country’s new administration usually makes people think “cooperation won’t work anymore.”

With the German chancellor having demonstrated otherwise, “there is a certain opinion that maybe it would be good if Angela Merkel would remain as an anchor of stability among the statesmen of the Western world,” Tauber said.

Merkel departed from the usual diplomatic script after Trump’s election last week by suggesting that respect for liberal values was a precondition for Berlin’s continued good relations with Washington. Many commentators saw her remarks as a sign that the chancellor was thrusting Germany into the forefront of international politics.

As if to drive home her point, Merkel repeated Monday that Germany was prepared to “protect the dignity of every person, and that’s independent of religion, origin, sexual orientation, gender or other attributes.”

Obama himself reinforced the image of passing the baton to Merkel by choosing to spend two days in Berlin during his final foreign trip as president, and declaring that the German chancellor had “probably been my closest international partner these past eight years.”

Rather than bid farewell to Europe in Paris, the capital of America’s oldest ally, or in Britain — which prides itself on a having a “special relationship” with Washington — Obama’s choice signals recognition that the heart of the old continent now lies in Berlin.

The leaders of Europe’s other major powers — Britain, France, Italy and Spain — will meet Obama in the German capital Friday, a day after he confers at length with Merkel. “The phrase ‘leader of the free world’ is usually applied to the president of the United States, and rarely without irony,” Timothy Garton Ash, a historian and professor of European studies at Oxford University, wrote Friday in Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper. “I’m tempted to say that the leader of the free world is now Angela Merkel.”

Yet skeptics point out that Merkel may not be suited to rally the West. Her decision last year to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty was seized upon by European nationalists and featured prominently in Britain’s debate over quitting the European Union — which the ‘leave’ camp narrowly won.

European allies blame her for earlier stoking popular unrest by insisting on the need to cut public spending during the continent’s debt crisis. And in Ukraine, Merkel’s recent efforts to maintain a united European front in the face of Russian aggression are looking increasingly fragile.

Domestically, Merkel is battling a new nationalist foe in the form of Alternative for Germany, a party that has surged in popularity by railing against refugees. Rather than confronting the party head-on, Merkel has instead stuck to her measured mantra of “We will manage.”

“Germany can’t replace the United States as the leader of the free world,” Josef Braml, an expert on international affairs at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said. “At best, it can protect Europe from nationalist tendencies and remind America that the liberal world order it established is also in the economic interests of the United States. That’s something the new businessman in the White House should be able to understand.”

Close allies say Merkel — who is expected to declare her intention to run for a fourth term in the coming days — is conscious both of her responsibility and the limits of her power. “She is absolutely determined, willing and ready to contribute to strengthen the international liberal order,” said Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “But we can’t see the chancellor of Germany as last man standing. This will only work together, within Europe, and if we can have the backing of the trans-Atlantic alliance.”

For now, German officials are hoping Trump, who called Merkel’s immigration policy “a catastrophe” while campaigning, will tone down his rhetoric once he’s inaugurated. They are conscious that Berlin is in no position to solve problems such as climate change and crises in the Middle East without American help.

In the meantime, Germany hopes that its post-war history will at least serve as an example to other nations. “Our country embodies, perhaps more than any other country in the world, the experience that war can become peace, division can become reconciliation, and that the mania of nationalism and ideology can eventually be replaced by political sanity,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday.

Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin and Maria Danilova in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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