Mark Esper breaks with Trump, opposes using military for protests – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Breaking with President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday he opposes using military forces for law enforcement in containing current street protests.

Esper said the Insurrection Act, which would allow Trump to use active-duty military for law enforcement in containing street protests, should be invoked in the United States “only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” He declared, “We are not in one of those situations now.”

Invoking the Insurrection Act has been discussed as Trump has talked about using the military to quell violent protests in U.S. cities. Esper has authorized the movement of several active-duty Army units to military bases just outside the nation’s capital, but they have not been called to action.

Just before Esper spoke, Trump took credit for a massive deployment of National Guard troops and federal law enforcement officers to the nation’s capital, saying it offered a model to states on how to stop violence accompanying some protests nationwide.

Trump argued that the massive show of force was responsible for protests in Washington and other cities turning more calm in recent days and repeated his criticism of governors who have not deployed their National Guard to the fullest.

“You have to have a dominant force,” Trump told Fox New Radio on Wednesday. “We need law and order.”

Esper, in his Pentagon remarks, strongly criticized the actions of the Minneapolis police for the incident last week that ignited the protests. In their custody, a black man, George Floyd, died after a white officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Esper called the act “murder” and “a horrible crime.”

Esper has come under fire from critics, including retired senior military officers, for having walked from the White House on Monday evening with Trump and others for a presidential photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had previously sustained damage from protesters.

Esper said that while he was aware they were heading to St. John’s, he did not know what would happen there.

“I was not aware a photo op was happening,” he said, adding that he also did not know that police had forcibly moved peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to clear the way for Trump and his entourage.

Trump put a political spin on his criticism of states with violence. He said, “You notice that all of these places that have problems, they’re not run by Republicans. They’re run by liberal Democrats.”

The Defense Department has drafted contingency plans for deploying active-duty military if needed. Pentagon documents reviewed by The Associated Press showed plans for soldiers from an Army division to protect the White House and other federal buildings if the security situation in the nation’s capital were to deteriorate and the National Guard could not secure the facilities.

But interest in exerting that extraordinary federal authority appeared to be waning in the White House. Though the crackdown on the Washington demonstrations was praised by some Trump supporters Tuesday, a handful of Republicans expressed concern that law enforcement officers risked violating the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The situation in Washington had escalated Monday, becoming a potent symbol of Trump’s policing tactics and a physical manifestation of the rhetorical culture war he has stoked since before he was elected. Nearly 30 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew in Washington, U.S. Park Police repelled protesters with what they said were smoke canisters and pepper balls.

“D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination,” Trump tweeted Tuesday, after a night in which heavily armed military forces and federal officers swarmed the city. Trump added, “(thank you President Trump!).”

The clampdown followed a weekend of demonstrations outside the White House. Trump had been furious about images juxtaposing fires set in the park outside the executive mansion with a darkened White House in the background, according to current and former campaign and administration officials. He was also angry about the news coverage revealing he had been rushed to the White House bunker during Friday’s protests.

In a Monday address in the Rose Garden, he called on governors to ramp up the National Guard presence to tamp down the protests. If they didn’t, Trump said, he would dispatch the military to their states — a step rarely taken in modern American history.

The federal government has provided affected states with a list of National Guard resources available to them, the White House official said. The official added that Trump’s message to governors was that if they don’t use all the tools in their arsenal, they shouldn’t expect a sympathetic response to any request for federal dollars to help with cleanup and recovery down.

On Monday, 715 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in the capital area in case the situation in Washington escalated. They are stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Two more 82nd Airborne battalions, totaling 1,300 soldiers, are on standby at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, according to documents reviewed by the AP. The plan is named Operation Themis.

The soldiers on standby in the Washington area are armed and have riot gear and bayonets. After the AP first reported the issuing of bayonets Tuesday, orders came down that soldiers would not need the knife-like weapons that can be affixed to rifles, according to two soldiers from the 82nd who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear they would be punished for commenting publicly. The idea that bayonets could be used in confronting civilians provoked an outcry on social media and among some members of Congress.

Administration officials were privately acknowledging that Monday’s events didn’t serve the administration well. Some Republican lawmakers, typically in lockstep with the president or at least refrain from publicly criticizing him, said Trump had gone too far in appearing to use force to clear the way for his visit to the church.

“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property, and no right to throw rocks at police,” said Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse. “But there is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said of Trump posing for photos holding up a Bible, “I just wish he opened it once in a while.”

It was Attorney General William Barr who gave the order for law enforcement to clear out the protest before Trump’s walk to the church ahead of Washington’s 7 p.m. curfew. A person familiar with the matter said the decision was made earlier Monday, but had not been executed by the time Barr arrived in Lafayette Park to survey the scene. He verbally gave the order at that time.

After the demonstrators had been pushed out of the park, Trump emerged from the White House with several officials, including Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Senior defense officials told reporters Milley was also not aware that the Park Police and law enforcement had made a decision to clear the square or that Trump intended to visit the church. They had been in Washington to coordinate with federal law enforcement officials but were diverted to the White House to brief Trump on military preparations, the officials said.

Sourcing & Methodology

Lemire reported from New York. James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, and Sarah Blake Morgan in West Jefferson, North Carolina, contributed.

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Coronavirus: Controversial border plans are ‘essential’ to save lives, Patel says

Ordering people arriving in the UK to quarantine for 14 days is “essential” to save lives, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said as she set out details of the government’s controversial border plan.

From Monday, all those travelling to the UK – apart from a short list of exemptions including road hauliers – will have to self-isolate for two weeks.

They will also be required to complete an online locator form to supply contact details, travel details and the address of where they will self-isolate.

UK border officials will perform “spot checks” to ensure travellers have completed the forms, and those who fail to do so could be fined £100.

Those who breach the 14-day self-isolation requirements could also be punished with a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution and an unlimited fine.

The government has pushed ahead with the imposition of quarantine measures at the UK border despite criticism of the plans from senior Conservative MPs, who fear the impact on the already struggling aviation and tourism sectors.

Critics have also questioned why quarantine measures are being introduced now and not at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Defending the policy in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms Patel said the UK was “now more vulnerable” to new coronavirus infections being brought in from abroad as international travel picks up from its record low.

The home secretary added: “These measures are backed by the science, supported by the public, and essential to save lives.

“We know they will present difficulties for the tourism industry, but that’s why we have an unprecedented package of support, the most comprehensive in the world, for both employees and businesses.

“But we will all suffer if we get this wrong. That’s why it’s crucial that we introduce these measures now.”

Ms Patel confirmed the first review of the quarantine measures would take place in the week beginning 28 June, with the government considering “international travel corridors” to allow future quarantine-free travel from destinations deemed safe.

She said: “Across government and with the sector we continue to explore all options for future safe travel.

“Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned.

“We need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe.

“We are not alone in our fight against this disease, or in the measures we have taken to stop it.”

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U.S. Senate leader hopes for quick passage of House coronavirus small business bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday he hoped the Senate would soon pass legislation already passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives easing terms of the coronavirus small-business loan program.

“I hope and anticipate the Senate will soon take up and pass legislation that just passed the House, by an overwhelming vote of 417 to one, to further strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program so it continues working for small businesses that need our help,” McConnell, a Republican, said.

Under the House-passed bill, businesses receiving forgivable loans under this new program would have 24 weeks, instead of the current eight weeks, to utilize the loans intended to help keep businesses operating and retain employees.

The legislation also contains other changes to provide more flexibility to the program as small businesses try to reopen following months of closures or curtailed operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants and hotels are among the largest beneficiaries of the Paycheck Protection Program created in late March.

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Nicola Sturgeon shamed: Scottish leader faces backlash for coronavirus care home crisis

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Bosses have accused ministers of presiding over “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities”. Tony Banks, chairman and founder of the Balhousie Care Group which runs homes across Scotland, said homes “may as well just have crossed our fingers” when hospital patients were being discharged from hospitals to their care without testing for coronavirus.

Mr Banks claimed testing in care settings has been “promised” but stressed that it had “simply not been delivered”.

Mr Banks, whose company operates 26 care homes with some 940 residents, said the decisions ministers had made meant hundreds of elderly people in homes had died “before their time”.

He said: “The strategy from the Scottish Government was clear from the start: to protect the NHS.

“And it was successful. But at the expense of this, hundreds of care home residents have passed away before their time.

“And as we navigate this unholy mess there are police investigations into Covid-19-related deaths, procurator fiscal referrals, and an announcement from the Scottish Government that ‘failing’ care homes face being taken under local authority control.

“I know I’m not alone in saying that private care home operators feel betrayed.”

Mr Banks claimed Scotland had seen “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities by the Scottish Government” during the pandemic, adding that in Scotland “the rate of Covid-19-related care home deaths is one of the highest in Europe”.

Scottish Government figures revealed more than 900 elderly patients were discharged from hospital into care homes in March.

This was before a requirement for them to be tested for COVID-19 was introduced.

At the time, no risk assessments were carried out before patients were sent to care homes, with Mr Banks saying: “We may as well just have crossed our fingers.”

He added: “We asked for the patients to be tested for Covid-19 before we took them and were told no.

“In at least one of our care homes we can directly attribute the first positive cases of Covid-19 to a new admission from hospital.”

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On the issue of testing he said this “was promised but has simply not been delivered”.

Mr Banks claimed: “It was 62 days between March 1 – the date of the first positive test in Scotland – and May 1 when the Scottish Government promised sample testing in homes without the virus, and testing of all residents and staff where there were cases.”

He stressed it was now “crucial” that there was “enough testing” for staff and residents in homes, and that this should be carried out continually, not just on a one-off basis.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended the decision to transfer elderly patients to care homes.

She also insisted the Scottish Government had “sought to take the best decisions we could based on the knowledge and information we had at the time”.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News yesterday, the First Minister said: “The older people that were in hospital, the so-called delayed discharges, they didn’t need to be in hospital, they had no medical need to be in hospital, we were expecting, and in some cases saw, an influx of coronavirus patients into our hospitals.

“It would have been unthinkable simply to leave older patients where they were in hospital, that would also have put them at serious and significant risk.

“What we did was put in place a system of risk assessment for older people being discharged from hospitals and gave guidance to care home providers about the isolation and infection prevention and control procedures they should have been following.”

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Biden staff donate to group that pays bail in riot-torn Minneapolis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Campaign staff for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are advertising their donations to a group that pays bail fees in Minneapolis after the city’s police jailed people protesting the killing of a black man by a white police officer.

At least 13 Biden campaign staff members posted on Twitter on Friday and Saturday that they made donations to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which opposes the practice of cash bail, or making people pay to avoid pre-trial imprisonment. The group uses donations to pay bail fees in Minneapolis.

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement to Reuters that the former vice president opposes the institution of cash bail as a “modern day debtors prison.”

But the campaign declined to answer questions on whether the donations were coordinated within the campaign, underscoring the politically thorny nature of the sometimes violent protests.

Bates instead pointed to Biden’s comments that protesters have the right to be angry but that more violence won’t solve justice problems.

President Donald Trump, a Republican who has described himself as a “law and order” president, on Friday criticized violent protesters as “thugs” and threatened to respond with deadly force.

Trump has also expressed sympathy over the case of George Floyd, who died on Monday after a police officer pinned him to ground by kneeling on his neck.

It is unclear how many people have been jailed after four nights of protests. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Saturday said many of those arrested have been from out of state.

Minnesota could be critical in determining the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Democratic candidate in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, narrowly won the state by a 1.5 percentage point margin. Trump hopes to win the state this year and held a large rally in Minneapolis in October.

Trump has struggled to attract African American voters, with only 8% of African Americans voting for him in 2016, according to a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll. However, a nationwide decline in black voter turnout in 2016 was widely seen as contributing to Trump’s victory.

Biden’s campaign staff, in their Twitter posts, called attention to U.S. inequities based on race and income.

“It is up to everyone to fight injustice,” Colleen May, who identified herself as an campaign organizer for Biden in South Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida, said in a Twitter post that included an image of her receipt from donating $50 to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

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House Democrats launch inquiry into Medicare stimulus payouts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. House of Representatives Democrats on Friday launched an inquiry into whether the Health and Human Services Department misdirected billions of dollars in coronavirus stimulus money to healthcare providers facing criminal or civil fraud investigations.

In a letter to Secretary Alexander Azar, Representatives Lloyd Doggett and Katie Porter accused the department of evading questions about how it decided to dole out $50 billion for its provider relief fund and demanded answers about how the funds will be clawed back from possible fraudsters.

Reuters reported exclusively this month that HHS had sent Medicare providers under criminal and civil investigations stimulus money, after it direct-deposited $30 billion into the bank accounts of any medical provider who billed Medicare for services in 2019.

Doggett and Porter cited Reuters’ reporting in their letter.

“Funds meant for frontliners went to hospitals previously closed, mega-corporations, and possible fraudsters,” Doggett said in a statement. “The Trump Administration should immediately provide a full accounting of how these millions landed, as they so often do with this Administration, in the pockets of corporate interests and those under investigation for fraud.”

An HHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Reuters could not determine what portion of the recipients are facing such inquiries.

After sending the funds, HHS asked all the providers to sign a lengthy attestation that stipulates they have been or will be treating patients suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Those who do not respond by HHS’ deadline will be assumed to have accepted the terms and conditions.

HHS previously told Reuters it has mechanisms in place to recoup the funds and address fraud.

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More Tory MPs call for Dominic Cummings to go – as minister warns public health messages ‘undermined’

Boris Johnson has failed to quell anger from Conservative MPs – including from government ministers – over his chief adviser Dominic Cummings’s actions during lockdown.

The prime minister appeared before a committee of senior MPs on Wednesday to insist it was time to “move on” from the row over alleged lockdown breaches by his senior aide.

However, despite Mr Johnson reiterating his support for Mr Cummings, the stream of Tory MPs calling for the adviser’s resignation continued.

At the same time as the prime minister was being grilled by the House of Commons liaison committee over Mr Cummings’s lockdown trip to Durham, Tory backbenchers Pauline Latham and Giles Watling joined those calling for the Number 10 aide to quit his role.

Fellow backbencher George Freeman also later called for Mr Cummings to resign, with more than 40 Conservative MPs now wanting the prime minister’s chief adviser to go.

It also emerged on Wednesday that Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt, who is Paymaster General, told her constituents in an email that it was clear the row over Mr Cummings had “undermined key public health messages”.

“There are some inconsistencies in his account of events and the reasons behind it,” Ms Mordaunt wrote, adding that she was “personally still not clear of the facts” despite Mr Cummings’s news conference on Monday.

Meanwhile, former chancellor Sajid Javid said in a letter to his constituents that Mr Cummings’s 260-mile trip from London to Durham was not “necessary or justified”.

“I do not believe Mr Cummings’ journey to County Durham to isolate on his family’s estate was necessary or justified,” Mr Javid said, as reported by his local Bromsgrove Standard newspaper.

“I remain unconvinced his visit to Barnard Castle could be considered reasonable.

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Emily Maitlis issues crushing put-down to Boris Johnson over Cummings row

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Ms Maitlis elaborated a concise summary of the recent events that caused chaos and divide among Government officials. The BBC Two presenter was praised on social media over her candid remarks.

Boris Johnson gave an address on Sunday evening explaining that Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, “had no alternative” but to travel 260 miles from London to County Durham with his family last month.

Addressing the audience Ms Maitlis said: “Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot.

“The longer ministers and the prime minister tell us he worked with them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.

“He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood, he tagged the lazy label of ‘elite’ on those who disagreed.

“He should understand that public mood. One of fury, contempt, and anguish.

“He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to feel like they can flout them.”

She added: “The prime minister knows all this, and despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls, and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it.”

Ms Maitlis said she did not expect to be joined by a government minister to explain the situation, but that the programme would continue to report on the latest developments.

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Members of the audience took to Twitter upon hearing the statement to praise the presenter’s ability to describe the situation.

“Absolutely no mucking about from @maitlis,” said James Clayton.

“Maitlis destroys Cummings in 20 seconds,” posted another user.

“A great journalist puts into words the things people feel,” tweeted Stefan Simanowitz.

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On Sunday’s address, the Prime Minster said that after “extensive face-to-face conversations” he resolved that Mr Cummings did not breach the rules.

He explained that Mr Cummings and his wife had been “travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus.”

He added: “Looking at the very severe childcare difficulties that presented themselves to Dominic Cummings and his family, I think what they did was totally understandable.

“There is guidance about that particular difficulty, about what you need to do, the pressures that families face when they have childcare needs.”

The guidance cited four “very limited purposes” for not abiding by the lockdown rules, specifically: “any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid injury or illness, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or help a vulnerable person.”

Number 10 issued a statement on Saturday advising that Mr Cummings and his wife believed that the guidelines meant that were allowed to drive north.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.

“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.

“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.

“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”

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Bye, bye Corbyn: Blairite appointment smuggles left-wing’s stranglehold of Labour

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Sir Keir Starmer established his grip as his favoured contender beat trade union backed candidates to become the new general secretary. David Evans, who worked for the party under Tony Blair, was picked by the party’s ruling body after a private vote last night. Sir Keir said Mr Evans will help the party work to “restore trust with the British people” and build a team that “can win the next election”.

The Labour leader added: “He brings a wealth of experience to this crucial role and a clear understanding of the scale of the task ahead of us.”

Six candidates made it on to the shortlist to replace Jennie Formby, who was a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn and quit by “mutual agreement” when Sir Keir took over.

But Mr Evans’ main rival was Byron Taylor, Labour’s former trade union liaison officer.

Some trade unions wanted a candidate from the left of the party but the more moderate GMB union helped to swing the vote in favour of the centrist candidate.

Mr Evans was Labour’s assistant general secretary between 1999-2001 and organised the election campaign that secured Mr Blair a second term.

He called for a “radical overhaul” of the party to “empower modernising forces” and marginalise the left in an internal report in 1999.

One of the first tasks Mr Evans will face is having to deal with the party’s response to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism under Mr Corbyn.

Mr Evans, who founded a political research company, said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed General Secretary of the Labour Party.

“We face a defining period in the history of our great party, with a global pandemic, an imminent recession and a mountain to climb to win the next election. Through the strength of our movement, I know we can rise to this challenge.

“I look forward to working with our party, trade unions and members to build a team that can win us the next general election and give us the opportunity to once again serve the British people in government.”

Andrew Fisher, who used to work for Mr Corbyn, Karin Christiansen, a former general secretary of the Co-operative Party, former MEP Neena Gill and Amanda Martin, president of the National Education Union, also ran.

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Pence's press secretary back to work after recovering from COVID-19

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller said on Tuesday she was back at work after recovering from COVID-19, a case that helped encourage White House officials to start wearing masks and take stricter safety precautions around President Donald Trump.

Miller, who is married to Trump’s hawkish immigration adviser and speech writer Stephen Miller, said she had returned after receiving three negative tests for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Thank you to all my amazing doctors and everyone who reached out with support. I couldn’t have done it without my amazing husband who took great care of his pregnant wife,” she said in a post on Twitter.

Miller contracted the virus in early May, raising alarm about the spread of the virus among Trump’s and Pence’s inner circle shortly after the president’s valet had also tested positive.

The two cases prompted the White House to direct staff to wear masks and take additional precautions.

Previously, despite admonitions to Americans to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, many administration officials were not doing so themselves at least at the White House, where testing has been taking place regularly.

“We’re very happy to see her recovered,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters about the vice president’s press secretary.

McEnany said Stephen Miller was also back at work after having self-quarantined. She said she did not know whether the military valet had returned and said she had no updates on whether anyone else on the staff had tested positive.

Trump, 73, is in an age group considered especially vulnerable to the virus. He has declined to wear a mask in public and has stepped up his travel schedule in recent weeks as he seeks to get the country’s economy reignited from its pandemic-related shutdown.

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