Thousands rally in Georgia as parliament debates ‘foreign influence’ law

Tbilisi, Georgia — Georgian lawmakers on Tuesday agreed on an early draft of a controversial “foreign influence” bill, sparking fresh street protests against the legislation criticized for mirroring a repressive Russian law.

The bill has sparked outrage in Georgia and concern in the West, with many arguing it undermines Georgia’s bid for European Union membership.

Lawmakers voted 78 to 25 to move the draft bill on for further debate.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is at loggerheads with the ruling party, condemned the move as “against the will of the population.”

It “is a direct provocation — a Russian strategy of destabilization,” she said.

Thousands rallied in the evening outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, blocking traffic on the main thoroughfare of the Georgian capital, whistling, and shouting, “No to the Russian law!”

Riot police cordoned off entrances to the legislature, and demonstrators briefly scuffled with them, attempting to push against the police line, an AFP journalist witnessed.

Police used pepper spray against the crowds, and several protestors were detained. A water cannon was also on standby.

The Interior Ministry said one police officer had been injured.

In chaotic scenes past midnight, riot police chased protesters in the labyrinth of narrow streets near parliament, beating them and making arrests.

Several local media outlets said police had attacked their journalists.

University student Kote Tatishvili, one of the demonstrators, said, “Georgians will never accept this Russian law.” 

“We, peaceful demonstrators, will prevail, we will force Russian stooges in the Georgian Dream [ruling party] to withdraw the law,” he said.

A day earlier, police had detained 14 demonstrators as some 10,000 people took to the streets.

The European Union has called on Tbilisi not to pass the legislation, saying it contradicts the democratic reforms the country is required to pursue to progress on its path towards EU membership.

Renewing Brussels’ criticism of the proposals, EU chief Charles Michel said Tuesday: “The draft Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence is not consistent with Georgia’s EU aspiration and its accession trajectory.”

It “will bring Georgia further away from the EU and not closer,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Amnesty International urged Georgian authorities to “immediately stop their incessant efforts to impose repressive legislation on the country’s vibrant civil society.”

It said the draft law “poses a direct threat to the rights to freedom of association and expression.”

‘Derail from European path’

The ruling Georgian Dream party controls 84 seats in the 150-member legislature and can pass the law without opposition backing.

If adopted, the bill would require any independent NGO and media organization that receives more than 20% of funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

That was a change from last year’s proposal, which used the term “agent of foreign influence.”

The term “foreign agent” is rooted in the Soviet past and suggests such people are traitors and enemies of the state.

A similar law is used in Russia to punish government critics and suffocate independent media.

In December, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status but said Tbilisi would have to reform its judicial and electoral systems, reduce political polarization, improve press freedom, and curtail the power of oligarchs before membership talks are formally launched.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said last week that passing the law would “derail Georgia from its European path.”

The ruling party was forced to drop a similar measure last year, following mass protests that saw police use water cannon and tear gas against demonstrators.

Then in a surprise move ahead of October’s parliamentary elections seen as a key democratic test, it reintroduced the bill in parliament earlier this month.

A former Soviet republic, Georgia has sought for years to deepen relations with the West, but the current ruling party is accused of trying to steer the Black Sea nation toward closer ties with Russia.

Once seen as leading the democratic transformation of ex-Soviet countries, Georgia has in recent years been criticized for perceived democratic backsliding.

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Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame baseball manager in US, dies at 92

NEW YORK — Whitey Herzog, the gruff and ingenious Hall of Fame manager who guided the St. Louis Cardinals to three pennants and a World Series title in the 1980s, and perfected an intricate, nail-biting strategy known as “Whiteyball,” has died. He was 92. 

Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said Tuesday that the team, based in the U.S. state of Missouri, was informed of Herzog’s death by his family. Herzog, who had been at Busch Stadium on April 4 for the Cardinals’ home opener, died on Monday, according to Bartow. 

“Whitey Herzog devoted his lifetime to the game he loved, excelling as a leader on and off the field,” Jane Forbes Clark, chair of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, said in a statement. “Whitey always brought the best out of every player he managed with a forthright style that won him respect throughout the game.” 

A crew-cut, pot-bellied tobacco chewer who had no patience for the “buddy-buddy” school of management, Herzog joined the Cardinals in 1980 and helped end the team’s decade-plus pennant drought by adapting it to the artificial surface and distant fences of Busch Memorial Stadium. A typical Cardinals victory under Herzog was a low-scoring, 1-run game, sealed in the final innings by a “bullpen by committee,” relievers who might be replaced after a single pitch, or temporarily shifted to the outfield, then brought back to the mound. 

The Cardinals had power hitters in George Hendrick and Jack Clark, but they mostly relied on the speed and resourcefulness of switch-hitters Vince Coleman and Willie McGee, the acrobatic fielding of shortstop and future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, and the effective pitching of starters such as John Tudor and Danny Cox and relievers Todd Worrell, Ken Dayley and Jeff Lahti. For the ’82 champions, Herzog didn’t bother rotating relievers, but simply brought in future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter to finish the job. 

Under Herzog, the Cards won pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987, and the World Series in 1982, when they edged the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games. Herzog managed the Kansas City Royals to division titles in 1976-78, but they lost each time in the league championship to the New York Yankees. 

Overall, Herzog was a manager for 18 seasons, compiling a record of 1,281 wins and 1,125 losses. He was named Manager of the Year in 1985 and voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee in 2010, his plaque noting his “stern, yet good-natured style,” and his emphasis on speed, pitching and defense. Just before he formally entered the Hall, the Cardinals retired his uniform number, 24. 

Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog was born in New Athens, Illinois, a blue-collar community that would shape him long after he left. He excelled in baseball and basketball and was open to skipping the occasional class to take in a Cardinals game. Signed up by the Yankees, he was a center fielder who discovered that he had competition from a prospect born just weeks before him, Mickey Mantle. 

Herzog never played for the Yankees, but he did get to know manager Casey Stengel, another master shuffler of players who became a key influence.  

Like so many successful managers, Herzog was a mediocre player, batting just .257 over eight seasons and playing several positions. His best year was with Baltimore in 1961, when he hit .291. He also played for the Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics and Detroit Tigers, with whom he ended his playing career, in 1963. 

“Baseball has been good to me since I quit trying to play it,” he liked to say. 

Herzog is survived by his wife of 71 years, Mary Lou Herzog; their three children, Debra, David and Jim, and their spouses; nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. 

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South Korea cautiously optimistic about US-Japan military upgrades

WASHINGTON — South Korea is cautiously optimistic about alliance upgrades that the U.S. and Japan have planned to bolster security in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the ministry “noted” that the U.S. and Japan, at their summit in Washington last week, spoke of “the defensive nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance” and emphasized “peace and stability” in the region.

The spokesperson continued via email to VOA’s Korean Service on Friday that “South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are making efforts to institutionalize expanded trilateral cooperation through agreements made at Camp David last year” and “to strengthen rules-based international order.”

The three countries held a trilateral summit at Camp David in August after Seoul and Tokyo mended ties frayed by disputes rooted in Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

At their bilateral summit held in Washington on April 10, Washington and Tokyo announced wide-ranging plans to revamp their military ties. 

The plans include preparations for Japan to develop and produce with the U.S. military hardware, including hypersonic missile interceptors.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel toured a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries F-35 fighter jet factory near Nagoya on Tuesday. He underlined the importance of Japan’s role in manufacturing weapons as U.S. supplies run thin amid crises in Europe and the Middle East.

The plans announced at the summit also call for Japan’s possible involvement in the AUKUS Pillar II security pact, enabling it to develop quantum computing, hypersonic, undersea and other advanced technologies. 

AUKUS is a defense and security group of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. AUKUS Pillar 2 refers to a suite of cooperative activities conducted by the three nations to develop and field “advanced capabilities.” 

Japan will hold trilateral exercises with the U.S. and the U.K. starting in 2025 as the Indo-Pacific and Euro-Atlantic regions become “ever-more linked,” according to the joint statement. 

The plans call for Japan to expand its security role and arms buildup in tandem with efforts to implement a national security strategy issued in 2022. That called for an increase in Japan’s defense budget and a shift from a defense-only policy to one that includes counterstrike capabilities amid threats from North Korea and China. 

In December, Japan eased its arms export control regime that had allowed it to sell components but not completed weapons. 

Cho Han-Bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said “Japan’s arms reinforcement can be viewed as a double-edged sword.”  

In an interview Monday with VOA’s Korean Service, he said the arms buildup significantly helps to deter threats from the Chinese military and North Korean nuclear weapons, but that it concerns South Korea.

Due to unresolved historical disputes from Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945, “trust” between the militaries of the two countries “is not restored fully,” even as they cooperate together now, he said.

South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. conducted a two-day joint naval exercise in the East China Sea from April 11 to 12. The exercise included anti-submarine warfare drills to counter North Korea’s underwater threats and interdiction drills aimed at blocking the North’s weapons shipments. 

South Korea, under President Yoon Suk Yeol, has been pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Tokyo, and has aligned itself closely with Washington in countering Beijing’s economic and military coercion.  

Under the previous administration of Moon Jae-in, Seoul relied for its security on the U.S. while bolstering economic relations with China. Ties with Tokyo remained tense. 

Much of the anti-Japanese sentiment still runs high in South Korea, despite Yoon’s outreach to Tokyo, especially among progressives who increased their majority in an April 10 parliamentary election. 

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry lodged a protest on Tuesday against Japan’s claim over a disputed island that sits midway between the two countries, called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan. 

Won Gon Park, an adjunct professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said South Korea now has to “make a choice” whether to work more closely with Japan to counter threats from North Korea and China.

He said in an interview with VOA’s Korean Service that this might be necessary, as the U.S. builds a regional security structure to bolster defenses against China. 

At their summit, the U.S. and Japan also announced a planned revision of the command structure of U.S. forces in Japan. This will complement Japan’s plan to establish a joint operations command to improve coordination of its air, ground, maritime forces by 2025. 

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, said Washington “is increasingly anxious to have global partners” step up their arms manufacturing because the U.S. is not producing enough military hardware to counter all the threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Speaking with VOA by telephone on Friday, Bennett said what was announced at the summit was that “Japan would be a global partner,” enabling the U.S. to share highly sensitive “information, technology and other capabilities in exchange for taking responsibility with security and stability in the regions that go outside Northeast Asia.”

He added, “The U.S. recognizes South Korea can’t afford to send multiple divisions to other areas around the world because of the North Korean threats” but is “anxious” to have South Korea play a deeper global role, especially in the Indo-Pacific. 

Kim Hyungjin contributed to the report.

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House Republicans send Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate, forcing trial

Washington — House impeachment managers walked two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas across the Capitol to the Senate on Tuesday, forcing senators to convene a trial on the allegations that he has “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws.

While the Senate is obligated to hold a trial under the rules of impeachment once the charges are walked across the Capitol, the proceedings may not last long. Democrats are expected to try to dismiss or table the charges later this week before the full arguments get underway.

Republicans have argued there should be a full trial. As Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, signed the articles Monday in preparation for sending them across the Capitol, he said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, should convene a trial to “hold those who engineered this crisis to full account.” 

Schumer “is the only impediment to delivering accountability for the American people,” Johnson said. “Pursuant to the Constitution, the House demands a trial.”

Majority Democrats have said the Republicans’ case against Mayorkas doesn’t rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” laid out as a bar for impeachment in the Constitution, and Schumer likely has enough votes to end the trial immediately if he decides to do so. The proceedings will not begin until Wednesday.

Schumer has said he wants to “address this issue as expeditiously as possible.”

“Impeachment should never be used to settle a policy disagreement,” Schumer said. “That would set a horrible precedent for the Congress.”

Senators will be sworn in Wednesday as jurors, turning the chamber into the court of impeachment. The Senate will then issue a summons to Mayorkas to inform him of the charges and ask for a written answer. He will not have to appear in the Senate at any point.

What happens after that is unclear. Impeachment rules generally allow the Senate to decide how to proceed.

The House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the border. House Republicans charged in two articles of impeachment that Mayorkas has not only refused to enforce existing law but also breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure. It was the first time in nearly 150 years a Cabinet secretary was impeached.

Since then, Johnson has delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, has said the Senate needs to hold a full trial where it can examine the evidence against Mayorkas and come to a final conclusion.

“This is an absolute debacle at the southern border,” Thune said. “It is a national security crisis. There needs to be accountability.”

House impeachment managers — members who act as prosecutors and are appointed by the speaker — previewed some of their arguments at a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday morning on President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department.

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who is one of the managers, told the secretary that he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress and you have breached the public trust.”

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.”

Other impeachment managers are Michael McCaul of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Michael Guest of Mississippi, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Laurel Lee of Florida, August Pfluger of Texas and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

After the jurors are sworn in, Senate Republicans are likely to try to raise a series of objections if Schumer calls a vote to dismiss or table, an effort to both protest and delay the move. But ultimately they cannot block a dismissal if majority Democrats have the votes.

Some Republicans have said they would like time to debate whether Mayorkas should be impeached, even though debate time is usually not included in impeachment proceedings. Negotiations were underway between the two parties over whether Schumer may allow that time and give senators in both parties a chance to discuss the impeachment before it is dismissed. 

While most Republicans oppose quick dismissal, some have hinted they could vote with Democrats

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican representing Utah, said last week he wasn’t sure what he would do if there were a move to dismiss the trial. “I think it’s virtually certain that there will not be the conviction of someone when the constitutional test has not been met,” he said.

At the same time, Romney said he wants to at least express his view that “Mayorkas has done a terrible job, but he’s following the direction of the president and has not met the constitutional test of a high crime or misdemeanor.”

In any case, Republicans would not be able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office. Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they appear to be united against the impeachment effort. Not a single House Democrat supported it, either.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who is facing a tough reelection bid in Ohio, called the impeachment trial a “distraction,” arguing that Republicans should instead support a bipartisan border compromise they scuttled earlier this year.

“Instead of doing this impeachment — the first one in 100 years — why are we not doing a bipartisan border deal?” he said.

If Democrats are not able to dismiss or table the articles, they could follow the precedent of several impeachment trials for federal judges over the last century and hold a vote to create a trial committee that would investigate the charges. While there is sufficient precedent for this approach, Democrats may prefer to end the process completely, especially in a presidential election year when immigration and border security are top issues.

If the Senate were to proceed to an impeachment trial, it would be the third in five years. Democrats impeached former President Donald Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and a second time in the days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The Senate acquitted Trump both times.

At a trial, senators would be forced to sit in their seats for the duration, maybe weeks, while the House impeachment managers and lawyers representing Mayorkas make their cases. The Senate is allowed to call witnesses, as well, if it so decides, and can ask questions of both sides after the opening arguments are finished.

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Yellen warns of new sanctions against Iran following attack on Israel 

German chancellor urges China to use ‘influence’ to end Ukraine war

US, China defense chiefs hold first call since 2022

Pentagon — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday, the first dialogue between the two countries’ defense chiefs in nearly 17 months.

The Pentagon said Austin and Chinese Admiral Dong Jun discussed “defense relations” and global security issues from Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine to recent provocations from North Korea. A press release said Austin stressed the importance of “respect for high seas freedom of navigation as guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.”

Beijing has asserted its desire to control access to the South China Sea and bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary. President Joe Biden has said U.S. troops would defend the democratically-run island from attack.

Tensions have risen between China and U.S. ally the Philippines in the South China Sea as well, with China’s coast guard using water cannons this month to threaten Filipino fishing ships. China has also used collision and ramming tactics, undersea barriers and a military-grade laser to stop Philippine resupply and patrol missions.

A senior defense official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of the talks, said the call between Austin and Dong was an “important step” in keeping lines of communication open between the two military powers.

“These engagements provide us with opportunities to prevent competition from veering into conflict by speaking candidly about our concerns. That includes the PRC’s behavior in the South China Sea, as well as the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said the senior defense official. PRC is the acronym for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.

The call marked the first time Austin has ever spoken to Dong, who has served as China’s minister of national defense since December. It also marked the first time that Austin has spoken at length with a PRC counterpart since November 2022, when he met with then-Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe in Cambodia.

China’s previous defense minister, General Li Shangfu, was subjected to U.S. sanctions that China deemed an obstacle to having him communicate directly with Austin. The only engagement Austin had with General Li was a handshake at the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore last year.

The senior defense official said conversations between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders “ensure that the PRC has a clear understanding of our positions on all of the regional and global security issues.”

The talks come as the Pentagon said it had indications that a Chinese surge of weapons technology sales to Russia is helping ramp up Moscow’s defense production as it continues to attack its neighbor, Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in response to a question from VOA Monday that China had sold “significant quantities” of machine tools, microelectronics, optics, drones and cruise missile technology to Russia, which Moscow is using to make propellants for weapons.

“So this support is actively enabling Russia’s war in Ukraine and poses a significant threat to security — international security,” Ryder added.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that two senior Biden administration officials said that about 90% of Russia’s microelectronics in 2023 and nearly 70% of Russia’s machine tool imports in the last quarter of 2023 came from China. Russia used that technology to make missiles, tanks and aircraft.

Chinese and Russian entities have jointly produced drones inside Russia, and China-based companies are providing optical components for use in Russian tanks and armored vehicles, the officials also told AP.

The call between Austin and Dong is the latest in a series of recent conversations between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders. The top U.S. general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, spoke with his Chinese military counterpart in December.

Earlier this month, the U.S. and Chinese militaries held working-level Military Maritime Consultative Agreement talks in Hawaii for the first time since 2021.

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Facing Republican revolt, House Speaker Johnson pushes ahead on US aid for Ukraine, Israel

Washington — Defiant and determined, House Speaker Mike Johnson pushed back Tuesday against mounting Republican anger over his proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies, and rejected a call to step aside or risk a vote to oust him from office.

“I am not resigning,” Johnson said after a testy morning meeting of fellow House Republicans at the Capitol

Johnson referred to himself as a “wartime speaker” of the House and indicated in his strongest self-defense yet he would press forward with a U.S. national security aid package, a situation that would force him to rely on Democrats to help pass it, over objections from his weakened majority.

“We are simply here trying to do our jobs,” Johnson said, calling the motion to oust him “absurd … not helpful.”

Tuesday brought a definitive shift in tone from both the House Republicans and the speaker himself at a pivotal moment as the embattled leader tries, against the wishes of his majority, to marshal the votes needed to send the stalled national security aid for Israel, Ukraine and other overseas allies to passage.

Johnson appeared emboldened by his meeting late last week with Donald Trump when the Republican former president threw him a political lifeline with a nod of support after their private talk at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida. At his own press conference Tuesday, Johnson spoke of the importance of ensuring Trump, who is now at his criminal trial in New York, is re-elected to the White House.

Johnson also spoke over the weekend with President Joe Biden as well as other congressional leaders about the emerging U.S. aid package, which the speaker plans to move in separate votes for each section — with bills for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region. He spoke about it with Biden again late Monday.

It’s a complicated approach that breaks apart the Senate’s $95 billion aid package for separate votes, and then stitches it back together for the president’s signature.

The approach will require the speaker to cobble together bipartisan majorities with different factions of House Republicans and Democrats on each measure. Additionally, Johnson is preparing a fourth measure that would include various Republican-preferred national security priorities, such as a plan to seize some Russian assets in U.S. banks to help fund Ukraine and another to turn the economic aid for Ukraine into loans.

The plan is not an automatic deal-braker for Democrats in the House and Senate, with leaders refraining from comment until they see the actual text of the measure, due out later Tuesday.

House Republicans, however, were livid that Johnson will be leaving their top priority — efforts to impose more security at the U.S.-Mexico border — on the sidelines. Some predicted Johnson will not be able to push ahead with voting on the package this week, as planned..

Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican representing Arizona, called the morning meeting an “argument fest.”

She said Johnson was “most definitely” losing support for the plan, but he seemed undeterred in trying to move forward despite “what the majority of the Conference” of Republicans wanted.

When the speaker said the House Republicans’ priority border security bill H.R. 2 would not be considered germane to the package, Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican representing Texas and a chief sponsor, said it’s for the House to determine which provisions and amendments are relevant.

“Things are very unresolved,” Roy said.

Roy said said Republicans want “to be united. They just have to be able to figure out how to do it.”

The speaker faces a threat of ouster from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representing Georgia and the top Trump ally who has filed a motion to vacate the speaker from office in a snap vote — much the way Republicans ousted their former speaker, Kevin McCarthy, last fall.

While Greene has not said if or when she will force the issue, and has not found much support for her plan after last year’s turmoil over McCarthy’s exit, she drew at least one key supporter Tuesday.

Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing Kentucky, rose in the meeting and suggested Johnson should step aside, pointing to the example of John Boehner, an even earlier House speaker who announced an early resignation in 2015 rather than risk a vote to oust him, according to Republicans in the room.

Johnson did not respond, according to Republicans in the room, but told the lawmakers they have a “binary” choice” before them.

The speaker explained they either try to pass the package as he is proposing or risk facing a discharge petition from Democrats that would force a vote on their preferred package — the Senate approved measure. But that would leave behind the extra Republican priorities.

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Day 2: Judge dismisses more prospective jurors in Trump hush money case

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators shut down highways and bridges in major US cities

CHICAGO — Pro-Palestinian demonstrators blocked roadways in Illinois, California, New York and the Pacific Northwest on Monday, temporarily shutting down travel into some of the nation’s most heavily used airports, onto the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges and on a busy West Coast highway.

In Chicago, protesters linked arms and blocked lanes of Interstate 190 leading into O’Hare International Airport around 7 a.m. in a demonstration they said was part of a global “economic blockade to free Palestine,” according to Rifqa Falaneh, one of the organizers.

Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area was snarled for hours as demonstrators shut down all vehicle, pedestrian and bike traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge and chained themselves to 55-gallon drums filled with cement across Interstate 880 in Oakland. Protesters marching into Brooklyn blocked Manhattan-bound traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. In Eugene, Oregon, protesters blocked Interstate 5, shutting down traffic on the major highway for about 45 minutes.

Protesters say they chose O’Hare in part because it is one of the largest airports. Among other things, they’ve called for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Anti- war protesters have demonstrated in Chicago near daily since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people. Israeli warplanes and ground troops have since conducted a scorched-earth campaign on the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 33,700 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

O’Hare warned travelers on the social platform X to take alternative forms of transportation with car travel “substantially delayed this morning due to protest activity.”

Some travelers stuck in standstill traffic left their cars and walked the final leg to the airport along the freeway, trailing their luggage behind them.

Among them was Madeline Hannan from suburban Chicago. She was headed to O’Hare for a work trip to Florida when her and her husband’s car ended up stalled for 20 minutes. She got out and “both ran and speed walked” more than 1.6 kilometers (1 mile). She said she made it to the gate on time, but barely.

“This was an inconvenience,” she said in a telephone interview from Florida. “But in the grand scheme of things going on overseas, it’s a minor inconvenience.”

While individual travelers may have been affected, operations at the airport appeared near normal with delays of under 15 minutes, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Inbound traffic toward O’Hare resumed around 9 a.m.

Near Seattle, the Washington State Department of Transportation said a demonstration closed the main road to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Social media posts showed people holding a banner and waving Palestinian flags while standing on the highway, which reopened about three hours later.

About 20 protesters were arrested at the Golden Gate Bridge demonstration and traffic resumed shortly after noon, according to the California Highway Patrol. The agency said officers were making arrests at two points on the interstate, including one spot where roughly 300 protesters refused orders to disperse,

“Attempting to block or shut down a freeway or state highway to protest is unlawful, dangerous, and prevents motorists from safely reaching their destinations,” the agency said in a statement.

Oregon State Police said 52 protestors were were arrested for disorderly conduct following the Interstate 5 protest in Eugene, Oregon, about 177 kilometers (110 miles) south of Portland. Six vehicles were towed from the scene.

New York Police made numerous arrests, saying 150 protesters were initially involved in the march around 3:15 p.m., but that number quickly grew. The bridge was fully reopened by 5 p.m.

In Chicago, dozens of protesters were arrested, according to Falaneh. Chicago police said Monday that “multiple people” were taken into custody after a protest where people obstructed traffic, but they did not have a detailed count.

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Maui Fire Department to release after-action report on deadly Hawaii wildfires

HONOLULU — The Maui Fire Department is expected to release a report Tuesday detailing how the agency responded to a series of wildfires that burned on the island during a windstorm last August — including one that killed 101 people in the historic town of Lahaina and became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

The release comes one day before the Hawaii Attorney General is expected to release the first phase of a separate comprehensive investigation about the events before, during and after the Aug. 8 fires.

The reports could help officials understand exactly what happened when the wind-whipped fire overtook the historic Maui town of Lahaina, destroying roughly 3,000 properties and causing more than $5.5 billion in estimated damage, according to state officials.

The Western Fire Chiefs Association produced the after-action report for the Maui Fire Department. After-action reports are frequently used by military organizations, emergency response agencies, government entities and even companies to help identify the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s response to an emergency.

A similar after-action report was released by the Maui Police Department in February. It included 32 recommendations to improve the law enforcement agency’s response to future tragedies, including that the department obtain better equipment and that it station a high-ranking officer in the island’s communications center during emergencies.

Hawaiian Electric has acknowledged that one of its power lines fell and caused a fire in Lahaina the morning of Aug. 8, but the utility company denies that the morning fire caused the flames that burned through the town later that day. But dozens of lawsuits filed by survivors and victims’ families claim otherwise, saying entities like Hawaiian Electric, Maui County, large property owners or others should be held responsible for the damage caused by the inferno.

Many of the factors that contributed to the disaster are already known: Strong winds from a hurricane passing far offshore had downed power lines and blown off parts of rooftops, and debris blocked roads throughout Lahaina. Later those same winds rained embers and whipped flames through the heart of the town.

The vast majority of the county’s fire crews were already tied up fighting other wildfires on a different part of the island, their efforts sometimes hindered by a critical loss of water pressure after the winds knocked out electricity for the water pumps normally used to load firefighting tanks and reservoirs. County officials have acknowledged that a lack of backup power for critical pumps made it significantly harder for crews to battle the Upcountry fires.

A small firefighting team was tasked with handling any outbreaks in Lahaina. That crew brought the morning fire under control and even declared it extinguished, then broke for lunch. By the time they returned, flames had erupted in the same area and were quickly moving into a major subdivision. The fire in Lahaina burned so hot that thousands of water pipes melted, making it unlikely that backup power for pumps would have made a significant impact.

Cellphone and internet service was also down in the area, so it was difficult for some to call for help or to get information about the spreading fire — including any evacuation announcements. And emergency officials did not use Hawaii’s extensive network of emergency sirens to warn Lahaina residents.

The high winds made it hard at times for first responders to communicate on their radios, and 911 operators and emergency dispatchers were overwhelmed with hundreds of calls.

Police and electricity crews tried to direct people away from roads that were partially or completely blocked by downed power lines. Meanwhile, people trying to flee burning neighborhoods packed the few thoroughfares leading in and out of town.

The traffic jam left some trapped in their cars when the fire overtook them. Others who were close to the ocean jumped into the choppy waters to escape the flames.

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Ukraine downs 9 drones from Russian attacks

Biden meets Iraqi PM amid escalating Mideast tensions

As President Joe Biden hosted Iraq’s prime minister on Monday, all eyes were on Iran, which over the weekend made a historic first strike on Israel. That attack has inflamed concerns of a wider regional war, something the two leaders focused on during their Oval Office meeting. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from the White House.

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Biden hosts Czech leader to promote Ukraine aid amid delay in Congress

washington — President Joe Biden urged the U.S. House to immediately take up Senate-passed supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel on Monday as he hosted Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office. 

The visit came as Biden aimed to highlight the efforts other nations are making to support Ukraine. It followed the Czech government’s announcement that it is sending 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine, which Kyiv says is badly needed on the battlefield against Russia’s invasion. 

“As the Czech Republic remembers, Russia won’t stop at Ukraine,” Biden said. He appealed to Congress to pass the supplemental funding so the U.S. could do its part to help Ukraine. “They have to do it now,” he said. 

Fiala praised the U.S. president for his leadership in support of Ukraine, adding, “We are also doing our best.” 

He said, “In 1968 I saw Russian tanks in the streets of my town, and I don’t want to see this again.” 

Biden called the Czech Republic a “great ally” in NATO, as Fiala said his country’s decision to purchase F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. will “make our cooperation and security much stronger.” 

Fiala told reporters following his meeting with Biden that he would meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to further discuss Ukraine aid. 

“The support from U.S., the help from U.S., is very important,” Fiala said. 

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Zelenskyy calls for same defense from allies as for Israel

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Ukraine, Israel aid to hit US House floor as separate bills soon

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives will consider aid to Israel and Ukraine as separate legislation this week, Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said on Monday, more than two months after the Senate passed a bill combining the two.

Leaving a meeting of House Republicans on Monday evening, Johnson said the narrowly divided chamber would consider four bills altogether that would also include aid to Taiwan, U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific and U.S. national security priorities.

“We know that the world is watching us to see how we react,” Johnson told reporters. “They’re watching to see if America will stand up for its allies and in our own interest around the globe. And we will.”

U.S. aid has been delayed by Johnson’s unwillingness to consider a $95 billion bipartisan bill the Senate passed in February, including $14 billion for Israel as well as $60 billion for Ukraine.

Also included were billions to strengthen allies in the Indo-Pacific, where China is becoming more assertive, and for international humanitarian aid.

Johnson said the new House bills provide roughly the same amount of foreign aid as the Senate bill but would include differences including some aid in the form of a loan.

Republicans aim to release legislative text as early as Tuesday morning but will observe a 72-hour review period before voting. Johnson said votes on passage could come late on Friday.

The push to pass the aid gained urgency after Iran’s weekend missile and drone attack on Israel despite fierce opposition in the deeply divided Congress.

Three of the four bills Johnson suggested would cover Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. The makeup of the fourth was not immediately clear.

Backers had insisted the broad foreign aid measure passed with 70% support in the Senate would have received similar support in the House. However, Johnson had given a variety of reasons to delay, among them the need to focus taxpayer dollars on domestic issues and reluctance to take up a Senate measure without more information.

Johnson also faces a threat from a hard-right Republicans to oust him as speaker if he allows the Ukraine aid to move ahead. Many on the right, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, who has been skeptical of assisting Kyiv in its fight against Russia, fiercely oppose sending billions more dollars to Ukraine.

The House Freedom Caucus – a group of Republican hardliners with about three dozen members – released a statement on Monday calling for aid to Israel, but not to Ukraine, and rejecting as “bogus” any suggestion that the attack on Israel should help ease the path toward more funds for Kyiv.

Representative Andy Biggs, a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters he liked the idea of separate bills, but had to see them before committing to voting for them.

Defense industry watching

The issue is closely watched by industry. U.S. defense contractors could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other U.S. partners if the additional funding passes. Aid supporters stress that approving the Ukraine bill would create many American jobs.

The White House has been pushing Johnson to allow a vote, as have Senate Republicans and Democrats. “If House Republicans put the Senate supplemental (spending bill) on the floor, I believe it would pass today, reach the president’s desk tonight and Israel would get the aid it needs by tomorrow,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate on Monday.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told his fellow lawmakers: “It’s also time for Congress to deliver the urgent investments that our industrial base, our forces, and our partners will need to meet and out-compete the growing and linked threats we face.”

The top House Democrat, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, sent a letter to his caucus on Monday spelling out the need to support Ukraine as well as Israel.

“The gravely serious events of this past weekend in the Middle East and Eastern Europe underscore the need for Congress to act immediately. We must take up the bipartisan and comprehensive national security bill passed by the Senate forthwith,” Jeffries wrote.

Ukraine appealed again to allies on Monday for “extraordinary and bold steps” to supply air defenses to help defend against waves of Russian airstrikes that have targeted its energy system in recent weeks.

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German chancellor promotes fair competition, warns against overproduction during China visit

Gun supervisor gets 18 months in prison for fatal movie set shooting by Alec Baldwin

santa fe, new mexico — A movie weapons supervisor was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of the Western film “Rust,” during a hearing Monday in which tearful family members and friends gave testimonials that included calls for justice and a punishment that would instill greater accountability for safety on film sets.

Movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March by a jury on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and has been held for more than a month at a county jail on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

Prosecutors blamed Gutierrez-Reed for unwittingly bringing live ammunition onto the set of “Rust” where it was expressly prohibited and for failing to follow basic gun safety protocols.

Gutierrez-Reed was unsuccessful in her plea for a lesser sentencing, telling the judge she was not the monster that people have made her out to be and that she had tried to do her best on the set despite not having “proper time, resources and staffing.”

Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer for “Rust,” was pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal on a movie set outside Santa Fe in October 2021 when the revolver went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He is scheduled for trial in July at a courthouse in Santa Fe.

The sentence against Gutierrez-Reed was delivered by New Mexico Judge Mary Marlowe Summer, who is overseeing proceedings against Baldwin. The judge said anything less than the maximum sentence would not be appropriate given that Gutierrez-Reed’s recklessness amounted to a serious violent offense.

“You were the armorer, the one that stood between a safe weapon and a weapon that could kill someone,” the judge told Gutierrez-Reed. “You alone turned a safe weapon into a lethal weapon. But for you, Ms. Hutchins would be alive, a husband would have his partner and a little boy would have his mother.”


Gutierrez-Reed teared up as Hutchins’ agent, Craig Mizrahi, spoke about the cinematographer’s creativity and described her as a rising star in Hollywood. He said it was a chain of events that led to Hutchins’ death and that had the armorer been doing her job, that chain would have been broken.

Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred read a statement by Hutchins’ mother, Olga Solovey, who said her life had been split in two and that time didn’t heal, rather it only prolonged her pain and suffering. A video of a tearful Solovey, who lives in Ukraine, also was played for the court.

“It’s the hardest thing to lose a child. There’s no words to describe,” Solovey said in her native language.

Defense attorneys for Gutierrez-Reed requested leniency in sentencing — including a possible conditional discharge that would avoid further jail time and leave an adjudication of guilt off her record if certain conditions are met.

Gutierrez-Reed was acquitted at trial of allegations she tampered with evidence in the “Rust” investigation. She also has pleaded not guilty to a separate felony charge that she allegedly carried a gun into a bar in Santa Fe where firearms are prohibited.

Defense attorneys have highlighted Gutierrez-Reed’s relatively young age “and the devastating effect a felony will have on her life going forward.”

They said the 26-year-old will forever be affected negatively by intense publicity associated with her prosecution in parallel with an A-list actor, and has suffered from anxiety, fear and depression as a result.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey urged the judge to impose the maximum prison sentence and designate Gutierrez-Reed as a “serious violent offender” to limit her eligibility for a sentence reduction later, describing the defendant’s behavior on the set of “Rust” as exceptionally reckless.

Defense attorneys argued Monday that Gutierrez-Reed was remorseful and had breakdowns over Hutchins’ death. They also pointed to systemic problems that led to the shooting.

“Rust” assistant director and safety coordinator Dave Halls last year pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm and completed a sentence of six months unsupervised probation. “Rust” props master Sarah Zachry, who shared some responsibilities over firearms on the set of “Rust,” signed an agreement with prosecutors to avoid prosecution in return with her cooperation.

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Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri win Boston Marathon

BOSTON — Sisay Lemma scorched the first half of the Boston Marathon course on Monday, setting a record pace to build a lead of more than half of a mile. 

Then the weather heated up, and the 34-year-old Ethiopian slowed down. 

After running alone for most of the morning, Lemma held on down Boylston Street to finish in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 17 seconds — the 10th fastest time in the race’s 128-year history. Lemma dropped to the pavement and rolled onto his back, smiling, after crossing the finish line. 

“Until halfway through I was running very hard and very good. But after that it was getting harder and harder,” said Lemma, who failed to finish twice and came in 30th in three previous Boston attempts. “Several times I’ve dropped out of the race before. But today I won, so I’ve redeemed myself.” 


Hellen Obiri defended her title, outkicking Sharon Lokedi on Boylston Street to finish in 2:27:37 and win by eight seconds; two-time Boston champion Edna Kiplagat completed the Kenyan sweep, finishing another 36 seconds back. 

Obiri also won New York last fall and is among the favorites for the Paris Olympics. She is the sixth woman to win back-to-back in Boston and the first since Catherine “the Great” Ndereba won four in six years from 2000 to ’05. 

“Defending the title was not easy. Since Boston started, it’s only six women. So I said, ‘Can I be one of them? If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard,'” she said. “And I’m so happy because I’m now one of them. I’m now in the history books in Boston.” 

Lemma, the 2021 London champion, arrived in Boston with the fastest time in the field — just the fourth person ever to break 2:02:00 when he won in Valencia last year. And he showed it on the course Monday, separating himself from the pack in Ashland and opening a lead of more than half of a mile. 

Lemma ran the first half in 1:00:19 — 99 seconds faster than Geoffrey Mutai’s course record pace in 2011, when his 2:03:02 was the fastest marathon in history. Fellow Ethiopian Mohamed Esa closed the gap through the last few miles, finishing second by 41 seconds; two-time defending champion Evans Chebet was third. 

Each winner collected a gilded olive wreath and $150,000 from a total prize purse that topped $1 million for the first time. 

On a day when sunshine and temperatures rising into the mid-60s left the runners reaching for water — to drink, and to dump over their heads — Obiri ran with an unusually large lead pack of 15 through Brookline before breaking away in the final few miles. 


Emma Bates of Boulder, Colorado, finished 12th — her second straight year as the top American. Again, she found herself leading the race through the 30-kilometer mark, slapping hands as she ran past the Wellesley College students chanting her name before fading on the way out of Heartbreak Hill. 

“I thought last year was crazy loud, but this year surpassed that completely,” Bates said. “It was such a nice day for the spectators. Not so nice for the runners; it was pretty hot.” 

CJ Albertson of Fresno, California, was the top American man in seventh, his second top-10 finish. 

Switzerland’s Marcel Hug righted himself after crashing into a barrier when he took a turn too fast and still coasted to a course record in the men’s wheelchair race. It was his seventh Boston win and his 14th straight major marathon victory. 

Hug already had a four-minute lead about 18 miles in when he reached the landmark firehouse turn in Newton, where the course heads onto Commonwealth Avenue on its way to Heartbreak Hill. He spilled into the fence, flipping sideways onto his left wheel, but quickly restored himself. 

“It was my fault,” Hug said. “I had too much weight, too much pressure from above to my steering, so I couldn’t steer.” 


Hug finished in 1:15:33, winning by 5:04 and breaking his previous course record by 1:33. Britain’s Eden Rainbow-Cooper, 22, won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:35:11 for her first major marathon victory; she is the third-youngest woman to win the Boston wheelchair race. 

The otherwise sleepy New England town of Hopkinton celebrated its 100th anniversary as the starting line for the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon, sending off a field of 17 former champions and nearly 30,000 other runners on its way. Near the finish on Boylston Street 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) away, officials observed the anniversary of the 2013 bombing that killed three and wounded hundreds more. 

Sunny skies and minimal wind greeted the runners, with temperatures in the 40s as they gathered in Hopkinton rising to 69 as the stragglers crossed the finish line in the afternoon. As the field went through Natick, the fourth of eight cities and towns on the route, athletes splashed water on themselves to cool off. 

“We couldn’t ask for a better day,” former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, the grand marshal, said before climbing into an electric car that would carry him along the course. “The city of Boston always comes out to support, no matter the event. The weather is perfection, the energy is popping.” 


The festivities began around 6 a.m., when race director Dave McGillivray sent about 30 Massachusetts National Guard members off. Lt. Col. Paula Reichert Karsten, one of the marchers, said she wanted to be part of a “quintessential Massachusetts event.” 

The start line was painted to say “100 years in Hopkinton,” commemorating the 1924 move from Ashland to Hopkinton to conform to the official Olympic Marathon distance. The announcer welcomed the gathering crowds to the “sleepy little town of Hopkinton, 364 days of the year.” 

“In Hopkinton, it’s probably the coolest thing about the town,” said Maggie Agosto, a 16-year-old resident who went to the start line with a friend to watch the race. 

The annual race on Patriots’ Day, the state holiday that commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War, also fell on One Boston Day, when the city remembers the victims of the 2013 finish line bombings. Before the race, bagpipes accompanied Gov. Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and members of the victims’ families as they laid a pair of wreaths at the sites of the explosions.

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US citizen arrested in Moscow on drug charges appears in court

Moscow — A U.S. citizen arrested on drug charges in Moscow amid soaring Russia-U.S. tensions over Ukraine appeared in court on Monday.

Robert Woodland Romanov is facing charges of trafficking large amounts of illegal drugs as part of an organized group — a criminal offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He was remanded into custody in January, and the trial began in the Ostankino District Court in late March. A new court hearing is scheduled for next week.

In January, the U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports of the recent detention of a U.S. citizen and noted that it “has no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” but refrained from further comment, citing privacy considerations. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a similar statement at the time.

Russian media noted that the name of the accused matches that of a U.S. citizen interviewed by the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda in 2020.

In the interview, the man said that he was born in the Perm region in the Ural Mountains in 1991 and was adopted by an American couple when he was two. He said that he traveled to Russia to find his Russian mother and eventually met her in a TV show in Moscow.

The man told Komsomolskaya Pravda that he liked living in Russia and decided to move there. The newspaper reported that he settled in the town of Dolgoprudny just outside Moscow and was working as an English teacher at a local school.

Arrests of Americans in Russia have become increasingly common as relations between Moscow and Washington sink to Cold War lows. Washington accuses Moscow of targeting its citizens and using them as political bargaining chips, but Russian officials insist they all broke the law.

Some have been exchanged for Russians held in the U.S., while for others, the prospects of being released in a swap are less clear.

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Review says 2021 deadly Kabul bombing wasn’t preventable 

Philippines says it will not grant US access to more bases

Tax Day reveals a major split in how Joe Biden and Donald Trump would govern

Washington — Tax Day reveals a major split in how Joe Biden and Donald Trump would govern: The presidential candidates have conflicting ideas about how much to reveal about their own finances and the best ways to boost the economy through tax policy.

Biden, the sitting Democratic president, plans to release his income tax returns on Monday, the IRS filing deadline. And on Tuesday, he is scheduled to deliver a speech in Scranton, Pennsylvania, about why the wealthy should pay more in taxes to reduce the federal deficit and help fund programs for the poor and middle class.

Biden is proud to say that he was largely without money for much of his decades-long career in public service, unlike Trump, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars from his father and used his billionaire status to launch a TV show and later a presidential campaign.

“For 36 years, I was listed as the poorest man in Congress,” Biden told donors in California in February. “Not a joke.”

In 2015, Trump declared as part of his candidacy, “I’m really rich.”

The Republican former president has argued that voters have no need to see his tax data and that past financial disclosures are more than sufficient. He maintains that keeping taxes low for the wealthy will supercharge investment and lead to more jobs, while tax hikes would crush an economy still recovering from inflation that hit a four-decade peak in 2022.

“Biden wants to give the IRS even more cash by proposing the largest tax hike on the American people in history when they are already being robbed by his record-high inflation crisis,” said Karoline Leavitt, press secretary for the Trump campaign.

The split goes beyond an ideological difference to a very real challenge for whoever triumphs in the November election. At the end of 2025, many of the tax cuts that Trump signed into law in 2017 will expire — setting up an avalanche of choices about how much people across the income spectrum should pay as the national debt is expected to climb to unprecedented levels.

Including interest costs, extending all the tax breaks could add another $3.8 trillion to the national debt through 2033, according to an analysis last year by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Biden would like to keep the majority of the tax breaks, based on his pledge that no one earning less than $400,000 will have to pay more. But he released a budget proposal this year with tax increases on the wealthy and corporations that would raise $4.9 trillion in revenues and trim forecasted deficits by $3.2 trillion over 10 years.

Still, he’s telling voters that he’s all for letting the Trump-era tax cuts lapse.

“Does anyone here think the tax code is fair? Raise your hand,” Biden said Tuesday at a speech in Washington’s Union Station to a crowd predisposed to dislike Trump’s broad tax cuts that helped many in the middle class but disproportionately favored wealthier households.

“It added more to the national debt than any presidential term in history,” Biden continued. “And it’s due to expire next year. And guess what? I hope to be president because it expires — it’s going to stay expired.”

Trump has called for higher tariffs on foreign-made goods, which are taxes that could hit consumers in the form of higher prices. But his campaign is committed to tax cuts while promising that a Trump presidency would reduce a national debt that has risen for decades, including during his Oval Office tenure.

“When President Trump is back in the White House, he will advocate for more tax cuts for all Americans and reinvigorate America’s energy industry to bring down inflation, lower the cost of living, and pay down our debt,” Leavitt said.

Most economists say Trump’s tax cuts could not generate enough growth to pay down the national debt. An analysis released Friday by Oxford Economics found that a “full-blown Trump” policy with tax cuts, higher tariffs and blocking immigration would slow growth and increase inflation.

Among Biden’s proposals is a “billionaire minimum income tax” that would apply a minimum rate of 25% on households with a net worth of at least $100 million.

The tax would directly target billionaires such as Trump, who refused to release his personal taxes as presidents have traditionally done. But six years of his tax returns were released in 2022 by Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee.

In 2018, Trump earned more than $24 million and paid about 4% of that in federal income taxes. The congressional panel also found that the IRS delayed legally mandated audits of Trump during his presidency, with the panel concluding the audit process was “dormant, at best.”

Biden has publicly released more than two decades of his tax returns. In 2022, he and his wife, Jill, made $579,514 and paid nearly 24% of that in federal income taxes, more than double the rate paid by Trump.

Trump has maintained that his tax records are complicated because of his use of various tax credits and past business losses, which in some cases have allowed him to avoid taxes. He also previously declined to release his tax returns under the claim that the IRS was auditing him for pre-presidential filings.

His finances recently received a boost from the stock market debut of Trump Media, which controls Trump’s preferred social media outlet, Truth Social. Share prices initially surged, adding billions of dollars to Trump’s net worth, but investors have since soured on the company and shares by Friday were down more than 50% from their peak.

The former president is also on the hook for $542 million due to legal judgments in a civil fraud case and penalties owed to the writer E. Jean Carroll because of statements made by Trump that damaged her reputation after she accused him of sexual assault.

In the civil fraud case, New York Judge Arthur Engoron looked at the financial records of the Trump Organization and concluded after looking at the inflated assets that “the frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience.”

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Ukrainian officials report deadly Russian shelling in eastern Ukraine 

At birthplace of Olympics, performers at flame-lighting ceremony feel a pull of ancient past

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece — No one knows what music in ancient Greece sounded like or how dancers once moved.

Every two years, a new interpretation of the ancient performance gets a global audience. It takes place in southern Greece at a site many still consider sacred: the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

Forty-eight performers, chosen in part for their resemblance to youths in antiquity as seen in statues and other surviving artwork, will take part Tuesday in the flame-lighting ceremony for the Paris Olympics. 

Details of the 30-minute performance are fine-tuned — and kept secret — right up until a public rehearsal Monday.

The Associated Press got rare access to rehearsals that took place during weekends, mostly at an Olympic indoor cycling track in Athens. 

As riders whiz around them on the banked cycling oval, the all-volunteer Olympic performers snatch poses from ancient vases. Sequences are repeated and re-repeated under the direction of the hyper-focused head choreographer Artemis Ignatiou.

“In ancient times there was no Olympic flame ceremony,” Ignatiou said during a recent practice session.

“My inspiration comes from temple pediments, from images on vases, because there is nothing that has been preserved — no movement, no dance — from antiquity,” she said. “So basically, what we are doing is joining up those images. Everything in between comes from us.”

Ceremonies take place at Olympia every two years for the Winter and Summer Games, with the sun’s rays focused on the inside of a parabolic mirror to produce the Olympic flame and start the torch relay to the host city.

Women dressed as priestesses are at the heart of the ceremony, first held for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Leading the group is an actress who performs the role of high priestess and makes a dramatic appeal to Apollo, the ancient god of the sun, for assistance moments before the torch is lit.

Over the decades, new ingredients have been progressively added: music, choreography, new colors for the costumes, male performers known as “kouroi” and subtle style inclusions to give a nod to the culture of the Olympic host nation.

Adding complexity also has introduced controversy, inevitably amplified by social media. Criticism this year has centered on the dresses and tunics to be worn by the performers, styled to resemble ancient Greek columns. Faultfinders have called it a rude departure from the ceremony’s customary elegance.

Organizers hope the attire will create a more positive impression when witnessed at the ruins of ancient Olympia.

Counting out the sequences, Ignatiou controls the music with taps on her cell phone while keeping track of the male dancers at the velodrome working on a stop motion-like routine and women who glide past them like a slowly uncoiling spring.

Ignatiou has been involved with the ceremony for 36 years, as priestess, high priestess, assistant and then head choreographer since 2008. She takes in the criticism with composure.

She’s still moved to tears when describing the flame lighting, but defers to her dancers to describe their experience of the five-month participation at practices.

Most in their early twenties, the performers are selected from dance and drama academies with an eye on maintaining an athletic look and classic Greek aesthetic, the women with hair pulled back in neat double-braids.

Christiana Katsimpraki, a 23-year-old drama school student who is taking part at Olympia for the first time, said she wants to repay the kindness shown to her by older performers.

“Before I go to bed, when I close my eyes, I go through the whole choreography — a run through — to make sure I have all the steps memorized and that they’re in the right order,” she said. “It’s so that the next time I can come to the rehearsal, it all goes correctly and no one gets tired.”

The ceremony is performed to sparse music, and final routine modifications are made at Olympia, in part to cope with the pockmarked and uneven ground at the site.

Dancers describe the fun they have in messaging groups, the good-natured pranks played on newcomers and fun they have on the four-hour bus ride to the ancient site in southern Greece — but also the significance of the moment and the pull of the past.

“I’m in awe that we’re going there and that I’m going to be part of this whole team,” 23-year-old performer Kallia Vouidaski said. “I’m going to have this entire experience that I watched when I was little on TV. I would say, ’Oh! How cool would it be if I could do this at some point.’ And I did it.”

The flame-lighting ceremony will start at 0830 GMT Tuesday. A separate flame-handover ceremony to the Paris 2024 organizing committee will be held in Athens on April 26. 

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