White House on Trump Battle with Media: Respect Is a ‘Two-way Street’
The White House press secretary on Tuesday defended President Donald Trump for labeling the press the “enemy of the American people” and accused some news organizations of purposely reporting biased, inaccurate information.
At the daily press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the president has “deep respect for the First Amendment and the role of the press,” but added “it’s a two-way street.”
Spicer slammed “certain outlets” he claimed had “gone out of their way not to be completely accurate and fair about what is going on.”
“It is a concern to him,” Spicer said.
Trump said in a tweet last week that the “FAKE NEWS MEDIA (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
The statement represented an escalation in Trump’s long-running quarrel with the media, which he has referred to as “dishonest,” fake” and even part of the “opposition party.”
Critics, including Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, defended media outlets.
“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press,” said McCain on NBC’s Meet The Press program.
Past U.S. presidents have battled the news media. But rarely, if ever, has the relationship between the media and the White House been so contentious.
On Tuesday, Spicer took specific aim at reports suggesting Trump had been careless with classified information during his response to North Korea’s recent missile test.
Various reports said Trump and other senior White House officials made phone calls and discussed other sensitive matters in the full view of private individuals at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Asked Tuesday about the incident, Spicer said Trump and other White House officials followed the appropriate security guidelines and had already been briefed in a secure location.
“It’s amazing that a photo gets out and the president has a piece of paper, and the immediate conclusion is that he’s got to be talking about classified information,” Spicer said.
“When you talk about coverage, we have a free press, we have the right to say and do as they believe, but at some point it is incumbent on people to try to get it right,” he said. “And in that case, it wasn’t even attempted.”
Rural America Speaks Out About President Trump
First, his oldest son left for Texas. Then his stepson headed south to join him. Then the two daughters moved out of state. Four out of five of Gary Steele’s children left their homestead in the midwest state of Kansas for jobs and a better economy.
“There’s nothing left here, you know.” And Steele told VOA the area needs jobs.
Yates Center is known as the Prairie Hay Capital of the World and Steele raises 400 hectares of it. A few years back he was getting $75 for two bales of hay. Now he gets about $50.
“First we had two good years of hay. Now, you have no market.”
Steele says the market is too crowded with hay farmers. He voted for President Donald Trump and thinks he’s off to a good start. He’d like to see the president lessen the overhead of farmers.
“Corn ought to be twice as much as what it costs to put it in., Steele said.”
Bring our jobs back
Steele drives 8 kilometers from his farm to eat lunch at what the waitress fondly calls “the male gossip table” at the Feedbunk Restaurant. The Feedbunk is the most popular spot in the tiny town, with today’s special of meatloaf sandwich, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coffee and dessert for $7.25.
His only child still living in Kansas, a 19-year-old step daughter, waits on him. The Feedbunk is one of few businesses open in Yates Center, the county seat of the poorest county in Kansas — Woodson County.
A picturesque red brick and white courthouse sits in the town square. It is bordered by four streets of closed businesses, with white paint peeling and plywood or paper covering the windows.
No ‘whipping boy’ for agriculture
Rodney Grisier claims he voted for Donald Trump because he brought “an outside voice and a voice of common sense” to Washington, DC. He believes the president will bring jobs to the area and can’t understand why industry has not come to the area, especially since Yates Center is “a small town near a major transportation hub.”
Grisier speaks over the sound of his tractor as it pulls a tank of anhydrous ammonia that fertilizes his 1,000 hectares of corn and soybeans, three times the average Kansas farm. He also owns 2,500 head of cattle.
“I don’t want agriculture to be the ‘whipping boy’ in our trade issues,” Grisier told VOA. He thinks America’s heartland elected Donald Trump because people there depend on the global economy and therefore see diplomacy through a bigger magnifying glass than urban America. “When they’re in the city, they have blinders on.”
In all my 81 years…
Katherine Weldin is finishing her piece of cake. It’s her 81st birthday and her friends are giving her a party. She voted for Hillary Clinton. She isn’t sure that Donald Trump can help Kansas. In her eight decades of life, Weldin says she’s never seen a president like him. “I just don’t think he stops and thinks about what could go on with his decisions.”
The one signal light in Yates Center is a blinking red light. It’s the only traffic signal in the entire county. Residents hope the new administration will help bring in new industry to change that.
US Marijuana Industry Anxiously Awaits New AG’s Cannabis Position
From marijuana-laced candy to body lotion infused with marijuana, this controversial plant is becoming a big business in the United States as more states make it mainstream.
Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is now legal in 28 U.S. states for either medical or recreational use. Of those states, four of them legalized recreational marijuana last November, including California. At a dispensary in Los Angeles, the experience for customers is more similar to a trip to the winery or high-end retail store.
There are cannabis plants on well-lit display and available for a smell test, as well as other edibles. It’s an effort to dispel pot’s stigma and normalize its use.
“It’s inevitable. Get with it,” said a customer who would only give his first name, Eric. He sees it as an herb with fewer side effects than prescription pain medicine.
Public opinion about legalization of marijuana has shifted in its favor. The Pew Research Center finds that 57 percent of those polled support the legal use of marijuana compared to 32 percent in 2006.
The cannabis industry is also growing. In 2016, the legalized marijuana business reached close to $7 billion. That number is expected to increase to more than $21 billion in five years, according to Arcview Market Research, which describes cannabis as the “fastest growing industry in the world.”
State vs. federal laws
Underneath the growing public support and booming industry, federal law still considers marijuana as illegal, even though state law may say otherwise. The administration of former President Barack Obama took a hands-off approach and left it up to the states to govern and prosecute the use of marijuana.
With the new Trump administration comes uncertainty.
“The marijuana industry is definitely an industry that is in flux and part of it is because of this very complex regulatory landscape. It’s legal at the state level, it’s illegal at the federal level and there are a lot of conflicting laws,” said Daniel Yi, a spokesman for MedMen, a management company for marijuana dispensaries.
“There are areas of law [in] which we have both federal and state laws. When those laws are in direct conflict, the federal law trumps – no pun intended of course – the idea being really the supremacy clause which is a clause in the United States Constitution that makes clear that the federal law is supreme,” said constitutional law and political science expert Martin Adamian at California State University, Los Angeles.
Adamian said even though federal agents can still enforce laws at a state level, federal law does not undo the state law if they conflict, making this a gray area and often confusing to the lay person. Ultimately, it is up to each administration to set enforcement priorities. The new Trump administration is creating uncertainty among those in the cannabis industry.
“There’s a lot of fear from those involved in the medical marijuana as well as the recreational marijuana industries. There’s a lot of fear about the uncertainty that exists. And so it may be the case that the Trump administration could decide to prosecute individuals on some level for violations of those laws,” said Adamian.
The new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has in the past been a critic of marijuana. In a 2016 Senate Drug Caucus hearing, Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
In his Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general, Sessions was vague when answering a question from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.
“Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people who are using marijuana in accordance with their state laws even though it may violate federal law?” questioned Leahy.
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy, but absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government,” replied Sessions.
“With enough independence and freedom to decide the direction he wants to go, somebody like Jeff Sessions may very well try to enforce federal marijuana laws which could lead to additional raids even within states that have approved marijuana use,” said Adamian.
Some players in the cannabis industry, however, are more hopeful, including Yi.
“If you go by the theory that government follows the will of the people, and the fact that the marijuana industry’s already thriving – It’s already growing and it’s functioning within the bounds of law and is showing it’s a possible industry, I think we feel pretty optimistic about the future.”
Congress is responding to the growing popularity of marijuana. Four members of Congress formed a bipartisan Cannabis Caucus to bridge the disconnect between state and federal government, and capitalize on the growing industry.
Six Teens Rescued From Central Park Pond After Falling Through Ice
Six teenagers have fallen through ice into an off-limits pond in New York’s Central Park but have been rescued.
It happened Monday evening at the southern end of the park.
Police say the 15- and 16-year-olds were on the ice when it gave way. A nearby sign said, “Danger Thin Ice Keep Off.”
Police and fire rescue units including divers responded and pulled the teenagers out of the water.
A police spokesman says the teens are expected to be OK.
On Maidan Anniversary US Demands Russia Honor Minsk Agreements
As Ukrainians mark the third anniversary of the Maidan uprising that toppled former president Viktor Yanukovich, the U.S. is demanding that Russia honor the Minsk agreements, intended to end the violence in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking to leaders gathered at Munich Security Conference, Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday “the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know President Trump believes can be found.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later told reporters that after a meeting with his counterparts from France, Germany and Ukraine, the four countries had agreed to try to implement a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine starting Monday, alongside the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line.
Fighting that started almost three years ago, after the Maidan uprising, has escalated again in recent weeks, threatening to sink the 2015 Minsk accords that aimed to secure a cease-fire and more autonomy for rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine.
Public protests erupted in Kyiv in November 2013 following the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend preparations for an association treaty with the European Union (EU) and to seek closer economic relations with Russia.
The protests, which soon escalated into a violent nationwide movement against the authorities, lasted for months and came to a head in mid-February 2014.
More than 100 people were killed and hundreds of others wounded in unprecedented clashes in Kyiv between February 18 and 20, 2014.
Saturday and Sunday, people waved Ukrainian flags and laid wreaths to pay respect to those who were gunned down during the uprising.
US Seeks ‘New Common Ground with Russia’
Vice President Mike Pence says the United States will “continue to hold Russia accountable,” but that President Donald Trump has directed a search for ways to find “new common ground with Russia.”
Pence’s comments came Monday in Brussels alongside European Union Council President Donald Tusk.
“In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force, we will continue to support efforts in Poland and the Baltic states through NATO’s enhanced forward presence initiative,” Pence said. “And with regard to Ukraine, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that Russia honor the Minsk agreements beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine.”
The vice president did not offer any details about potential closer ties with Russia, saying only that Trump believes they can be found. Pence also stressed the need for cooperation to achieve free and fair economies, saying that “strengthening our economic vitality will require hard but necessary choices.”
Pence is on his first trip to Europe since taking office, intending to reassure allies the United States remains a staunch friend amid concerns about the new administration’s “America First” strategy.
Tusk said Monday’s meeting was “truly needed,” and that he heard from Pence words that are promising about the future and explain the Trump administration’s approach.
“Too much has happened over the past month in your country and in the EU, too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations and our common security for us to pretend everything is as it used to be.”
Trump predicted in interviews with two European newspapers last month that other countries would follow Britain in leaving the EU.
Tusk stressed the importance of the EU, saying that “Americans know best what great value it is to be united.”
“We are counting as always in the past on the United States’ wholehearted and unequivocal – let me repeat unequivocal – support for the idea of a united Europe. The world would be a decidedly worse place if Europe were not united,” Tusk said.
Pence held talks earlier Monday with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said on Twitter the two had an “excellent meeting, good basis for our cooperation.”
In the afternoon, Pence meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to close his European trip.
Pence expressed support for NATO at the alliance’s security conference Saturday in Munich, adding reassurances after Trump’s campaign statements describing NATO as “obsolete.”
“The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance,” Pence said in his first major foreign policy address for the new administration.
Concentration camp visit
Pence, his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial early Sunday. The camp was established by the Nazi government in 1933 near Munich.
The Pence family paid tribute to the International Memorial at the center of camp, placing a wreath. They also visited a Jewish memorial and a Catholic memorial on the grounds, toured the barracks, a crematorium, and a gas chamber.
Mattis: US ‘Not in Iraq to Seize Anybody’s Oil’
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Monday the United States does not intend to seize oil from Iraq, something President Donald Trump has in the past advocated as “spoils” for U.S military activity there and to prevent the Islamic State group from selling it.
Mattis spoke to reporters traveling with him to Iraq for an unannounced visit, which came on the second day of a military offensive to push Islamic State from the western part of the city of Mosul.
“I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I’m sure that we will continue to do that in the future,” Mattis said. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”
His stop in Iraq includes meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other officials, as well as Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who commands the U.S.-led coalition working to defeat Islamic State.
Mattis is working on his own plan to accelerate the fight against Islamic State, which Trump ordered on January 28 be delivered to him within 30 days.
As the Mosul offensive began Sunday, Mattis said the U.S. role, which has been to conduct airstrikes and serve as advisors to Iraqi troops, will remain the same.
“The attack into the city is something I don’t want to go into details about because I owe confidentiality to the troops who are actually making the attack. At the same time we are very close to it if not already engaged in that, in that fight,” he said. “The U.S. forces continue in the same role that they were in East Mosul and the coalition forces are in support of this operation, and we will continue as you know with the accelerated effort to destroy ISIS.”
Iraqi troops pushed Islamic State out of the eastern part of Mosul last month after a campaign that lasted more than 100 days. Abadi announced the launch of the western Mosul operation Sunday, calling it a “new phase in the operation.”
“Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the militant group that seized Mosul in mid-2014. Abadi also urged security forces to respect human rights as the fight continues.
U.S. military officials have warned the fight for the western part of the city will likely be much tougher.
Iraqi special operations forces, regular army and federal police units are taking part in the offensive along with government-approved paramilitary forces.
The United Nations warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians are at risk in Mosul.
“The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble,” Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement. “We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes,” Grande said.
Two Senior US Senators Question Trump’s Grasp of Foreign Affairs Issues
Two key Republican U.S. senators on Sunday questioned President Donald Trump’s competency in handling foreign affairs, especially White House turmoil over national security operations and his seeming reluctance to confront Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, the losing 2008 Republican presidential contender, told NBC’s Meet the Press that he is worried about Trump’s “understanding of some” foreign affairs issues and “contradictory articulations. I think the rollout of the … immigration reform was an example of a need for an orderly decision-making process in the White House. And that, I think, is probably what’s plaguing them more than anything else right now.”
He said Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul turned Republican politician, has left European allies confused about his rhetoric and commitment to the NATO military alliance, even as Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday told the Munich Security Conference the United States would “hold Russia accountable” and was steadfast in its support of NATO.
“They are puzzled and they are concerned,” McCain said of European leaders. “They realize that the linchpin of the Western alliance is the United States of America. They worry particularly when they see increased testings of this union that’s being conducted by (Russian President) Vladimir Putin as we speak.”
McCain has called for a broad congressional investigation into the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, rejected by Moscow, that Russia hacked into the computer of the campaign chief of Democrat Hillary Clinton, the one-time U.S. secretary of state Trump defeated in the November election. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks subsequently released thousands of emails from the account, revealing sometimes embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton secure the Democratic presidential nomination.
Trump has repeatedly said he wants to improve relations with Russia, only reluctantly acknowledging the Russian hacking.
Senator Graham on Russia
But Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, speaking at the Munich conference, said the new American leader should be working with lawmakers to punish Moscow.
“2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress,” Graham declared.
He added, “My biggest concern with President Trump .., is that he’s never really looked the camera in the eye” and then say, “‘Even though it was the Democratic Party that suffered from Russian interference, I am now the leader of the free world and I can assure you they’re going to pay a price on my watch for trying to interfere in our election.'”
Trump last week fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, a retired Army general, after 24 days on the job for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to Washington before Trump took office a month ago. Trump then had his replacement choice turn down the strategic White House post, but was interviewing new candidates for the job on Sunday.
Trump has also promised to issue a new travel ban this week covering seven Muslim-majority countries where there has been terrorist activity to replace an earlier edict blocked by court rulings.