German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier is pictured during an interview with Reuters in his ministry building in Berlin
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier is pictured during an interview with Reuters in his ministry building in Berlin, Germany, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

June 18, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will support three company alliances with earmarked funds of 1 billion euros for the domestic production of battery cells in an effort to reduce carmakers’ dependence on Asian suppliers, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Reuters.

Among the more than 30 companies that applied for state funding at the German Economy Ministry are carmakers Volkswagen and BMW, as well as German battery maker Varta and Swedish battery manufacturing startup Northvolt.

France and Germany have already asked the European Commission to approve state subsidies for a cross-border battery cell consortium including carmaker PSA, its German subsidiary Opel and French battery maker Saft.

“We’ve now reached a point where we can say that there is likely to be not only one battery cell consortium, but probably three,” Altmaier said in a Reuters interview.

The Economy Ministry will submit all necessary state aid documents to the European Commission once it has completed its selection process, Altmaier said.

The European Union allows state aid under certain conditions under its rules for Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI).

Europe’s Energy Commissioners Maros Sefcovic and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager have signaled support for the battery cell initiative.

“We hope that by the end of the year we will have clarity from Brussels,” Altmaier said, adding that the growing interest of the industry in the scheme showed that Berlin was right in pushing ahead with its new industrial policy plan.

Altmaier denied to comment on which companies have the best chances to get the earmarked state funds.

Northvolt and Volkswagen have said earlier this year that they are planning to set up a joint venture to build a battery plant in Salzgitter, Germany.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editingy by Joseph Nasr)

Source: OANN

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It’s been 27 years since an incumbent U.S. president lost re-election, and judging by the health of the economy and other traditional metrics, Donald Trump looks unlikely to break the trend.

In addition to presiding over sustained growth and low unemployment, Trump enjoys a nation at relative peace, a well-funded campaign and the strong backing of the Republican Party. And yet, as he prepares to formally kick off his 2020 re-election bid with a prime-time speech in Florida, he has reason to be circumspect, Shannon Pettypiece and Mike Dorning report.

Most private forecasters expect the economy to slow entering the election year, as U.S. trade disputes threaten global commerce — hurting core voters like farmers — and the fiscal stimulus from Trump’s 2018 tax cut fades.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into election meddling by Russia, alongside other controversies that have dogged Trump’s administration, are also potential liabilities.

Trump trails six of his Democratic rivals in hypothetical head-to-head contests, a poll showed last week. And no president since 1952 has been re-elected with an approval rating below 48%. Trump has not exceeded 46% in Gallup polls since taking office.

Much hinges on the Democrats. The question is whether they can select a challenger able to attract the funding and support in battleground states needed to deny Trump a second term.

Global Headlines

Iran under pressure | The Pentagon plans to send about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, even as Trump described as “very minor” the recent attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. The Pentagon also released new photos and a timeline it said bolstered the case that Iran was behind the incidents. Tehran denies any involvement.

Click here to read how Trump’s campaign vow to get the U.S. out of costly foreign entanglements is colliding with the messy reality of commitments in the Middle East.

Trade turmoil | The chairwoman of the world’s biggest bicycle maker delivered an ominous message to China that its days as a global manufacturing hub may be numbered. Giant Manufacturing started rolling production of its U.S.-bound orders back home to Taiwan when Trump made his tariff threats last year, Cindy Wang reports. Trump’s top trade envoy, Robert Lighthizer, is due to appear before Congress this week to account for the trade conflict.

Scottish dilemma | Scots didn’t vote for Brexit and neither did they elect the Conservatives. So the likelihood of a Brexiteer such as Boris Johnson winning the race to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister is forcing some hard choices north of the border. As Alan Crawford and Rodney Jefferson report, the sense in Edinburgh is that another referendum on Scottish independence is now inevitable.

As the Conservative field narrows further today, Alex Morales profiles Rory Stewart, the lesser-known candidate suddenly making waves.

Fall from grace | The holding company of the Brazilian construction and energy giant at the center of a massive Latin America graft probe has filed for bankruptcy protection. Odebrecht has struggled since the “Carwash” investigation, which started in 2014 and brought the construction industry to a halt as access to government projects was cut and executives jailed. The political fallout is still reverberating from Ecuador to Mexico, Peru and Brazil.

Waiting game | Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi still hasn’t named a cabinet five months after taking office, leaving investors in the mineral-rich nation facing endless delays. After a disputed election, Tshisekedi’s protracted talks with his coalition partner have almost paralyzed a nation ranked by the World Bank as one of the most difficult and corrupt places to do business.

What to Watch

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam today apologized for backing a bill to allow extraditions to China, as she seeks to defuse protests that have rocked the city. She declined to resign or withdraw the bill completely — key demands of protest leaders. Rights groups have urged a transparent probe into the death of Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood foot soldier who became Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president. He collapsed during a court hearing over an espionage case, with state-run media saying he suffered a “sudden heart attack.” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s candidate to head the European Commission — Manfred Weber, a German lawmaker in the European parliament — is struggling for momentum, which means she may need to instead focus on getting her preferred person into the European Central Bank’s top job. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo meets today with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Washington. Mogherini said yesterday the EU will not support Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan without a two-state solution included.

And finally…You used to catch only rare glimpses of them in public — a waiter willing to risk jail time might accept them for the right price, street hawkers making offers for them under their breath. Today, U.S. greenbacks are widely used in Venezuela’s supermarkets and bodegas. As Andrew Rosati reports, with the bolivar devalued into irrelevance by Nicolas Maduro’s regime, the cash printed by the gringos he rails against is king. 


–With assistance from Karl Maier and Jon Herskovitz.

To contact the author of this story: Kathleen Hunter in London at

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Visitors lined up at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday morning as the justices prepared to hand down decisions. J. Scott Applewhite/AP hide caption

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

With less than two weeks left in the U.S. Supreme Court’s term, the justices handed down four decisions on Monday. Defying predictions, three were decided by shifting liberal-conservative coalitions.

Here, in a nutshell, are the results, as well as the fascinating shifting votes:

Dual sovereignty upheld, with Ginsburg, Gorsuch dissenting

In a 7-2 vote, the court reaffirmed its 100-year-old rule declaring that state governments and the federal government may each prosecute a person separately for the same crime, without violating the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause. Dissenting were the court’s leading liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and one of its most conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch.

Racial gerrymandering case thrown out with a mix of liberals, conservatives

Spurning pleas from Virginia Republicans, the court let stand decisions by lower courts finding that 11 state House districts were racially gerrymandered in violation of the Constitution. The Supreme Court said the Republican-dominated Virginia House of Delegates had no legal standing to appeal to the Supreme Court on its own when the state Senate and the state’s attorney general had decided against appealing.

Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority. She was joined by conservative justices Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas and liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Dissenting were conservative justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as liberal justice Stephen Breyer.

Uranium ban upheld again with an ideological mix

The court upheld Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. In a 6-3 vote, the justices said that the state law was not superseded by the federal Atomic Energy Act.

Writing for the court’s majority, Gorsuch said the Atomic Energy Act gives the federal government the authority to regulate nuclear safety but not the authority to regulate mining itself. Fellow conservatives Thomas and Kavanaugh joined the Gorsuch opinion in full, but liberal justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan agreed only with his bottom line. They refused to sign on to Gorsuch’s broad language about matters that they said, “sweep well beyond the confines of this case.”

Dissenting were Roberts, Breyer and Alito.

One traditional 5-4 split

The only classic conservative-liberal split on Monday came in a case testing whether a private corporation that runs a public access TV channel in New York City is a public forum that, like a public park, cannot discriminate against speakers.

The court, in a 5-4 vote, concluded that the public access channel was owned by Time Warner, not by the city. And because it was privately owned, the channel could not be sued for refusing to air a movie.

Kavanaugh wrote the decision for the five conservative justices, declaring that “[M]erely hosting speech by others is not a traditional, exclusive public function.”

Therefore, channel operators cannot be sued for violating the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. At first blush, at least, the decision would seem to preclude First Amendment lawsuits against private platform operators, like Twitter and Facebook, though Kavanaugh warned that the decision should not be read “too broadly.”

Dissenting were the court’s four liberal justices.

What’s still left?

On Thursday, the court is expected to hand down more of the 20 remaining decisions on its docket. Among those are the three blockbuster cases of the term:

  • The American Legion v. American Humanist Association: a case from Maryland that tests whether a giant World War I memorial in the shape of a Latin cross is, as the challengers maintain, a symbol of Christianity that violates the Constitution’s ban on establishment of religion. The objectors are seeking its removal to private property and an end to taxpayer funding of the cross.
  • Rucho v. Common Cause (North Carolina) and Lamone v. Benisek (Maryland): cases from North Carolina and Maryland that test whether there is any constitutional limit to extreme partisan gerrymandering that serves to entrench one-party domination of congressional seats in states that are more narrowly divided.
  • Department of Commerce v. New York: State and local governments are challenging the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Census Bureau’s own experts have warned that adding the question will lead to a serious and uneven undercount of the population, with potentially profound political consequences.

These three decisions (and 17 others) remain in the wings.

FILE PHOTO: Logo of Sotheby's auction house is seen in Zurich
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Sotheby’s auction house is seen at a branch office in Zurich, Switzerland October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

June 17, 2019

By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

PARIS/BOSTON (Reuters) – Patrick Drahi, the billionaire behind telecoms and media group Altice, agreed on Monday to buy Sotheby’s in a deal worth $3.7 billion, marking the storied art auction house’s return to private ownership after 31 years.

The acquisition will allow avid art collector Drahi to join rival French billionaire Francois Pinault at the top of the art world and New York society, with Pinault’s holding company Artemis owning a majority stake in Sotheby’s rival Christie’s.

Rival French billionaire and LVMH boss Bernard Arnault is equally active in the arts world via his Louis Vuitton foundation.

Drahi’s expansion in the United States also has echoes of former Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier, who helped Vivendi move into entertainment via the Universal business.

Sotheby’s said it would be acquired by BidFair USA, an acquisition vehicle set up by Drahi, which had offered $57 in cash per share to buy out Sotheby’s.

The offer represented a premium of 61% to Sotheby’s closing price on Friday, and gives Sotheby’s a market capitalization of $2.6 billion.

It will result in Sotheby’s returning to private ownership after 31 years as a public company. Founded in London in 1744, Sotheby’s had the distinction of being the oldest company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

It also marks a new chapter for the auction house that became a destination for a new generation of wealth created on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and around the world, art experts said.

By having been public, in many ways, Sotheby’s operated at a competitive disadvantage to its main U.S. rival, Christie’s, which was already private, experts said.

“Now the company can become more flexible and nimble as a privately-held enterprise and it will be interesting to see the changes that will be made,” said Abigail Asher, a partner at international art consultants Guggenheim, Asher.


The art world has been a favorite in recent times for investors looking to make extra returns in a world of ultra-low interest rates, with the prices of many expensive works of art having steadily increased.

A report published by Swiss bank UBS and Art Basel in March said that the global art market had enjoyed another uptick in 2018.

Drahi said he would be funding the takeover through financing arranged by French bank BNP Paribas and by equity provided by his own funds. Drahi has also been selling non-core assets in recent years to ease concerns over the debt levels of his businesses.

Drahi said he would not be selling shares in his Altice Europe business, but would be cashing in a small stake in his Altice USA division. Shares in Altice USA fell around 2% on Monday.

“I am making this investment for my family, through my personal holding, with a very long-term perspective,” said Drahi, adding that the takeover also further highlighted how his family had been settling down in the United States.

About five years ago Sotheby’s ended a long-running fight with activist investor Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point, by asking Loeb and two associates to join Sotheby’s board, and Loeb was instrumental in hiring Smith as CEO.

Loeb, a prominent art collector, on Monday praised the sale.

The price “affirms the value we saw when we first invested in Sotheby’s, and rewards long-term investors like Third Point who believed in its potential,” Loeb told Reuters.

BNP Paribas and Morgan Stanley advised Drahi, while LionTree Advisors worked on behalf of Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s was founded in London in 1744, and expanded overseas in the 20th century, moving to New York in 1955, Asia and then France in 2001.

Famous items sold by Sotheby’s include the collections of the late Duchess of Windsor, the personal collection of artist Andy Warhol and Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” in 2012.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Nivedita Balu; Editing by Deepa Babington and Ed Osmond)

Source: OANN

After receding from the national stage, the free college movement is resurfacing as a central rallying point for Democrats as they set their sights on the White House.

At least 18 of the party’s 23 presidential contenders have come out in support of some version of free college . Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises free tuition at public colleges and universities. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota says it should be limited to two years of community college. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York wants to provide free tuition in exchange for public service.

The candidates are responding to what some say is a crisis in college affordability, an issue likely to draw attention in the first primary debates later this month. Year after year, colleges say they have to raise tuition to offset state funding cuts. Students have shouldered the cost by taking out loans, pushing the country’s student debt to nearly $1.6 trillion this year. Even for many in the middle class, experts say, college is increasingly moving out of reach.

Free college, a catchall term for a range of affordability plans, is increasingly seen as a solution. Nearly 20 states now promise some version of free college, from Tennessee’s free community college program to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which offers up to four years of free tuition at state schools for residents with family incomes below $125,000 a year.

But research on the effectiveness of state programs has been mixed. Critics say the offers are often undermined by limited funding and come with narrow eligibility rules that exclude many students.

“This is a problem that has not gone away but has gotten worse in many communities,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research for Demos, a liberal think tank. “It’s enough of a problem that people expect some action on it, and they expect some plan for how to get there.”

Plans from Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Obama housing chief Julian Castro aim to eliminate tuition at all public institutions. The candidates say that would open college to a wider group of Americans and greatly reduce the need for loans. Warren argues that college, like other levels of schooling, is “a basic public good that should be available to everyone with free tuition and zero debt at graduation.”

Others, including Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden, have backed more moderate plans to provide two years of free tuition at community colleges, similar to an idea pushed by President Barack Obama in 2015.

And there are some who say students should be able to graduate without debt. To do that, several candidates want to help students with tuition as well as textbooks and living costs. Such “debt-free” plans, which aim to steer money toward students with lower incomes, are supported Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, among others.

Proposals for free college nationwide started to gain popularity among Democrats during the Obama administration and in the 2016 primary race. That discussion stalled after the election of President Donald Trump, who is seen as hostile to the idea. His administration blames colleges for the debt crisis, saying they ramp up tuition because they know students have easy access to federal loans.

Before Trump was elected, Sanders was credited with bringing the issue to the fore when he campaigned on a promise to make tuition free at public colleges. Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee, initially criticized the idea but later adopted a similar plan. Now, early in the 2020 race, Democrats have been quick to show their support. Instead of debating whether it should be free, most are weighing which model is best and how to achieve it.

“It’s striking how much the debate has shifted over the past decade,” Huelsman said. “If you look at the 2008 election, 2012, it was not something that was necessarily a prominent part of the debate.”

For most candidates, free college is just part of the solution as they confront student debt and college access. Several also promise to help borrowers refinance loans at lower interest rates; some want to wipe away huge chunks of the nation’s student debt.

Those types of proposals are likely to be popular among the growing share of voters paying off student loans, said Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane University who has studied the effectiveness of free college.

“Something like 1 in 5 voters has college debt, which is a huge percentage,” he said. “And when you have a huge number of people affected by something, then that certainly gets people’s attention.”

One of the major sticking points over free college is the price. Warren’s total education plan is estimated to cost $1.25 trillion over a decade. Sanders’ free college plan would cost $47 billion a year. Both call on the federal government to split the cost with states while also raising taxes on Wall Street or the wealthiest Americans.

Some Democrats, though, say that kind of spending is untenable. Klobuchar has rejected the idea of free college for everyone, saying the country can’t afford it. Instead she backs two years of free community college as a way to help prepare workers and fill shortages in the job market.

“When I look at the jobs that are available right now out there, we have a lot of job openings in areas that could use a one-year degree, a two-year degree, and we’re just not filling those jobs,” Klobuchar said at a March town hall in Iowa. She added that students can attend community college and then “later go on to complete their four-year degree.”

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke supports free community college for all Americans, along with debt-free college at four-year institutions for students with low and modest incomes. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he would make community college free “for those who can’t afford it.”

Many free college supporters see promise in a federal plan that could bring more funding and share the cost with states. But in Congress, that kind of plan has yet to take hold.

In March, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, reintroduced his Debt-Free College Act, which calls for a partnership with states to make sure students can afford all college costs without borrowing loans. The idea died in the previous session and has yet to be taken up in this one, but the new bill has gained wider support from Democrats.

Among those backing the plan are four 2020 candidates: Gillibrand, Harris, Warren and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.


Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at

FILE PHOTO: A “Made in USA” label is pictured on the back of a tie Medford, Massachusetts January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

June 17, 2019

(Reuters) – Hundreds of U.S. businesses from local bridal shops to multi-billion dollar retailers have submitted comments to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office opposing President Donald Trump’s plan to slap tariffs on another $300 billion of Chinese imports.

The higher tariffs would affect everything from apparel and footwear to fireworks and cellphones, and was likely to raise prices for U.S. consumers, the companies warned in submissions ahead of the start of seven days of public hearings on Monday.

Diane Cheatham, owner of Diane’s Formal Affair, an Alabama-based women’s boutique, said new tariffs would completely shut down her American suppliers, who will be unable to come up with the funding to cover the additional 25% they would need to pay to import their products.

“I am writing this letter pleading with you to keep our industry out of the next round of tariffs,” Cheatham said. “I stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of business owners in this plea. Help us make AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

Cheatham’s comments were echoed by many more U.S. business owners who said the new levies would hurt consumers and cause job losses.

Spirit of 76, a fireworks company that imports 100% of its product from China, said the tariffs would cause significant harm to its business where profit margins are already razor thin.

It said it would have to raise prices and the resulting loss in sales would impact hiring and expansion plans.

Large public companies, many of whom’s shares sank in May on concern over the impact of tariffs on growth, also warned in broad terms of the trouble an outright trade war would cause.

“We strongly oppose the imposition of additional tariffs,” Ralph Lauren Corp said in a letter addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The luxury retailer asked for apparel and footwear to be removed from the tariff list, arguing that a rise in duties will lower sales and lead to U.S. workers losing their jobs.

Roku Inc, Tommy Hilfiger owner PVH corp and Best Buy are among a number of companies who have asked to testify at the hearings.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham)

Source: OANN

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s early strength in Florida on the night of the 2016 election was the first sign that he was about to score an upset victory. In an otherwise bleak 2018 for the GOP, the state was again a bright spot for Republicans who won the governor’s mansion and flipped a Senate seat.

But as another campaign heats up, Democrats aren’t ceding the Sunshine State.

Though the state has trended, by the narrowest of margins, toward Republicans in recent elections, both parties are mobilizing for a fierce and expensive battle in Florida.

Democratic candidates, including early front-runner Joe Biden, have visited the state to tap donors and connect with voters, and will come to Miami later this month for their first round of debates.

Trump returns on Tuesday for his latest reelection announcement. In anticipation, a Democratic super political action committee, Priorities USA, is beginning a six-figure digital advertising effort to “help cut through his noise and give voters a look at the truth about Trump’s policies.”

The attention is a recognition that, despite its expensive media markets and polarized politics, neither party can ignore Florida.

For Trump, there are few ways for him to remain in the White House without keeping Florida’s 29 electoral votes. For Democrats, a win here would validate the party’s emphasis on building diverse coalitions, not to mention all but obliterate Trump’s reelection prospects.

Florida Democrats say it’s wrong to interpret recent election results as the state slipping away.

“I don’t think we’re red. I don’t think we’re purple. I think we’re simply unorganized,” said former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor who lost by fewer than 33,000 votes.

Gillum’s race was one of several in recent years decided by a tiny sliver of the electorate, leaving the state a veritable graveyard of broken Democratic dreams.

Earlier this year, he launched Forward Florida, a political group meant to help Democrats retake the state in 2020, to keep Florida from being left by the wayside as Democrats try to sort out how the Trump-era political realignment has remade the presidential map.

While both parties seem convinced of the importance of the upper Midwest, fresh questions are being raised over whether the path to the White House must still run through other long-standing battlegrounds and whether others might be emerging. The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA revealed last month that its polling shows Ohio, an erstwhile swing state, now appears safer for Trump than deep-red Texas.

Still, Florida remains a key target for both parties, and Democrats have a lot of ground to make up.

Republicans have maintained an uninterrupted presence in the state since 2014, and have trained 3,000 local organizers it calls fellows, who can amplify, or in some cases replace, the voter registration and turnout work of its paid field staff.

“This is something that can’t be made up with a few checks by a failed gubernatorial candidate,” said RNC spokesman Rick Gorka.

Taking a page from the GOP’s playbook, progressive group For Our Future has been organizing in the state continuously since 2016, trying to keep Democratic voters engaged between elections. “When you lose within the margins continuously the way that we did, I think that’s an indicator that this state can still be won, but we need to do more work,” said Justin Myers, the organization’s CEO. “And that work comes from real on-the-ground organizing in the communities that matter.”

Trump has made more visits to Florida as president than to any other state, in part because he maintains a number of private golf clubs here. But advisers also said he has an affinity for the state’s avid Trump fans who have attended some of his most raucous rallies.

It’s for those reasons that in February 2017 he chose Florida to announce his bid for reelection earlier than any American leader and now 28 months later he’s returning to the state Tuesday to do it one more time.

Trump has boasted that as many as 100,000 people have tried to enter the 20,000-person Amway Center in Orlando, and the campaign has announced an outdoor “45 fest” for the overflow crowd.

The president has used the power of his office to pay special attention to Florida. During a campaign rally in Panama City Beach last month, Trump promised voters new disaster relief funding for the hurricane-hit portion of the state and additional funding for a bridge project if he was re-elected.

A string of both public and private polling has some in the president’s orbit acknowledging that carrying Florida will not be simple. Surveys by Priorities USA found that in Florida, like nationally, Trump gets high marks on the economy. But voters also believe the president cares more about the wealthy than about the average American.

AP Votecast’s survey of 2018 voters in the state found them roughly evenly divided on approval of Trump. And the Trump campaign’s own recent internal polls showed him trailing Democrats in early head-to-head matchups.

Most of the Democratic candidate focus on the state has been on its well-heeled donors or with an eye toward its delegate-rich primary in March, set for two weeks after Super Tuesday.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, hailed the state last month as “one of the most remarkably diverse places in the country.”

“I’m making sure that we reach out not only to the many different parts of the Latino community here, to the black community, but to people of all ages and all backgrounds,” he said.

President Trump announced his candidacy four years ago Sunday to the cheers of paid actors in Trump Tower and to the horror of many conservative leaders, who vowed to defeat him.

On Tuesday, Trump will launch his reelection bid before about 20,000 supporters in a Florida arena, and to applause from many former skeptics who say they misjudged him.

In 2016, Trump nearly toppled the Republican “big tent.” Wide-eyed social conservatives noted he used to back abortion rights. Security hawks gaped at dovish remarks on the Mideast and Russia. Free-market conservatives called him a protectionist who supported single-payer healthcare.

But as president, Trump has quieted concerns, winning deep tax cuts, appointing conservative judges, and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, while wowing hawks by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

“Who would have thought a supporter of Planned Parenthood would be the strongest pro-life president in history?” marveled Brent Bozell, the Media Research Center president and nephew of conservative icon William F. Buckley. “At the end of the day I think that Trump has done more for the concept of American exceptionalism than any president since Ronald Reagan.”

In 2016, Bozell contributed to the conservative National Review’s “Never Trump” edition, an effort to halt Trump’s momentum in the Republican primaries, featuring condemnation from Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol, Dana Loesch, and others.

“I think that people were looking at his record, which was in the opposite direction of the rhetoric, and a lot of people were Doubting Thomases,” Bozell told the Washington Examiner.

For the magazine, Bozell wrote that “Trump might be the greatest charlatan of them all,” expanding on Fox News that Trump was “a shameless self-promoter, a huckster.”

“God help this country if this man were president and he continued on in this way,” Bozell exclaimed at the time.

Many, but not all, of Bozell’s fellow Trump skeptics have changed their tune, including Loesch, a syndicated radio host and author, who scoffed in 2016 at Trump’s recent “conversion” to conservatism and worried about his business dealings.

“He has checked so many boxes for conservatives and Republicans, I don’t know how anyone can be dissatisfied,” Loesch said, praising Trump’s rollback of regulations, support for the military, and the roaring economy.

“With all of my concerns, I was really hoping to be wrong. I wasn’t one of those individuals so self-centered I hoped the country would do poorly,” said Loesch, who works with the National Rifle Association but commented in a personal capacity.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s former critics on national security issues, said Friday that Trump “has exceeded every expectation I had.”

“I ran out of things to say about him in the campaign. I voted for somebody I wouldn’t know if they walked in the door, Ed McMullin,” Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, another former skeptic.

“Everything that you and I and people who were pooh-poohing Trump about, he’s proven to have risen to the occasion, to be a commander in chief that has our military’s back, that I respect,” Graham said, citing the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and new military funding.

The feeling isn’t universal. Trump’s conservative independent challenger in 2016, Evan McMullin, whose name Graham garbled, is pushing for impeachment proceedings over Trump allegedly obstructing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“Too many in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, are letting partisan politics get in the way of doing the right thing,” the ex-CIA operative said recently.

Bozell said some Never Trumpers “are so offended by his personality and what they would see as a lack of decorum that I don’t think they will ever support him.”

Indeed, some conversions were slow. Beck last year said he would back Trump for reelection. Erick Erickson, editor of The Resurgent, got a call from Trump in January praising him for an article he wrote about a proposed border wall. Weeks later, Erickson declared, “I will vote for Donald Trump.”

Bozell said that despite his own criticism in 2016, he actually urged Trump to run in early 2015, before realizing to his disbelief that Trump was catching fire with the electorate. He thought Trump would lose but make a dent in the landscape. “I didn’t think he could win. But … I thought he might win in the future if he got out his dirty laundry,” Bozell said.

Loesch said she advises fellow conservatives that “if you have a problem with Trump the person, you have to look at the issues. How are your issues being advanced?”

“This is an avatar for our issues,” she said of Trump.

The federal government has yet to pay more than $7 million in expenses from President Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

Washington, D.C., was forced to use money from funds that typically cover annual security costs for protecting the city from terror threats, during demonstrations and hosting visits from foreign dignities and state funerals, the Washington Post reports.

The report comes as Trump plans to speak at the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July, an event which will have security costs of its own.

A senior Trump administration official said the nation’s capital was given the funding it originally requested to cover inauguration costs. When the costs were higher than anticipated, the administration “worked closely with D.C.” and decided to use money from the security fund. The official said the city has not asked for additional money.

City officials disputed that was the case. They said they asked for more money before and after the inauguration.

TRUMP tells George Stephanopoulos “there isn’t anything wrong with listening” to foreign info about rivals, what do you think?

Trump says he ‘would want to hear’ info on 2020 rivals from foreign governments – and outrage follows
Democrats are outraged after President Trump said in an interview Wednesday that he would be willing to listen to foreign governments if they approached him with information on a political rival. “I think I’d want to hear it. … I See More think you might want to listen. There isn’t anything wrong with listening,” he said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Trump added he would not necessarily contact the FBI if such an approach was made, fueling Democrats’ ire. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a 2020 candidate for president, tweeted, “It’s time for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.”

Still, Trump supporters point out that Democrats may be hypocrites on this issue, as they failed to condemn fellow Democrats, including representatives of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), for funding the creation of the infamous and discredited anti-Trump “Steele dossier” by former British spy Christopher Steele. Fox News’ Sean Hannity called the Trump-Stephanopoulos interview a “nonstory” and a “genius setup”by Trump for his foes in the “media mob.” The interview was released hours after House Judiciary Committee Democrats announced that former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks has agreed to testify before the panel next week on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Brother of ‘Shark Tank’ star Barbara Corcoran found dead in Dominican Republic hotel room
The intrigue surrounding vacation spots in the Dominican Republic deepened Wednesday with the news that Jonathan Corcoran, a retired New Jersey businessman and brother of ABC “Shark Tank” judge Barbara Corcoran, was found dead in a hotel room there in April. Jonathan Corcoran’s death was first reported by the gossip site TMZ and confirmed to Fox News by Emily Burke, Barbara Corcoran’s assistant. The revelation comes as the popular Caribbean vacation spot is making worldwide headlines with a recent rash of suspicious deaths of U.S. tourists plus the shooting of retired Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. It was unclear where Corcoran stayed at the time of his death. TMZ said no one knows exactly what led to his death, though Barbara Corcoran told the outlet that she was told he had a heart attack.

Six suspects, including alleged gunman, in custody in David Ortiz shooting
Six suspects have been detained in the shooting of former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, including the alleged gunman, authorities in the Dominican Republic said Wednesday. Four other suspects were being pursued in the shooting, which witnesses said was carried out by two men on a motorcycle and two other groups of people in cars, the country’s chief prosecutor, Jean Alain Rodríguez, told a news conference. Authorities identified the alleged shooter as Rolfy Ferreyra, aka Sandy. Police Maj. Gen. Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte said the coordinator of the attack also was among the suspects in custody. He claimed the man was offered 400,000 Dominican pesos, or about $7,800, to carry out the shooting Sunday evening at a popular Santo Domingo bar.

Two oil tankers damaged in suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman, crew evacuated
Two oil tankers were damaged in a suspected attack off the Gulf of Oman early Thursday, according to multiple reports. The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet told Reuters it was assisting two tankers in the Gulf of Oman after receiving two distress calls. “We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second one at 7:00 a.m.,” Joshua Frey of the Fifth Fleet said. The Fleet did not blame anyone for the attack..

Tonight: Fox News town hall with 2020 Dem Julian Castro 
Fox News is scheduled to host 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary, for a town hall at 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday. “Special Report” host Bret Baier and “The Story” host Martha MacCallum will moderate the one-hour event live from Phoenix.

Baier and MacCallum recently moderated similar events with 2020 hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and potential candidate Howard Schultz. Their Fox News colleague Chris Wallace moderated a town hall with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s also in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Tune in to Fox News tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET. 

52 years in the making: St. Louis Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup championship
The St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Wednesday night’s deciding game for the Stanley Cup, to win their firstchampionship. The victory was 52 years in the making. Ryan O’Reilly scored for the fourth straight game and rookie Jordan Binnington stopped 32 shots in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Alex Pietrangelo added a goal and an assist and Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford also scored for St. Louis. The Blues’ championship run is remarkable because it was so unthinkable just five months ago. The team woke up on New Year’s Day with the worst record in the league but then won 30 of their final 49 regular-season games and soared through the playoffs to reach the final for the first time since 1970.

12 white men sue San Francisco PD for racial, gender bias in promotions. 
Nation’s first black priest, an ex-slave, may be on his way to sainthood.
‘X-Men’ director Bryan Singer to pay $150G to settle sex assault claim: report.

General Motors to put $150M toward Michigan plant to ramp up production, company says.
This is how Americans spend their money based on their education level.
Top five vacation spots targetedby online booking scams: report.

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