Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In Podcast, Obama Says He Would Have Defeated Trump – Who Tweets “No Way!”

HONOLULU (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast on Monday that he would have won most Americans’ support if he had been able to run against Donald Trump for a third term.

“No way!” Trump countered in a tweet, citing as liabilities U.S. companies taking jobs overseas, the fight against Islamic State militants and Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Barred by the U.S. Constitution from seeking a third four-year-term, the president told his former adviser David Axelrod in a podcast that Americans would have backed Obama’s vision.

“I’m confident that if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama said, referring to his 2008 campaign message of hope and change.

A wealthy businessman, the Republican Trump will assume his first public office when he succeeds Obama on January 20. He defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton on November 8 with a promise to clean up Washington.

In a tweet, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said Obama would have beaten Trump and Clinton would have won if not for an FBI statement shortly before the election disclosing new material on Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state.

Clinton’s aides have said FBI Director James Comey’s announcement, which led to no charges, swung the election, a charge Trump’s team has dismissed.

Obama said Clinton “performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances.” He said she focused on Trump’s flaws and could have argued more that the Democratic Party agenda helped working people.

Trump garnered more than 270 of the 538 state-by-state electoral votes to win the presidency. Clinton won 48.2 percent of the popular vote compared with 46.1 percent for Trump, according to the Associated Press.

(Reporting and writing by Emily Stephenson with Obama in Hawaii; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)

Obama: It’s Been The ‘Privilege Of My Life’ To Serve As Commander In Chief

KANEOHE BAY, HAWAII (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Sunday it had been the “privilege of my life” to serve as U.S. commander in chief and promised his continued gratitude and commitment to service members and their families during a Christmas Day visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“Although this will be my last time addressing you as president, I want you to know that as a citizen, my gratitude will remain, and our commitment to standing by you every step of the way, that won’t stop,” Obama told several hundred people gathered in a mess hall decorated with Christmas trees and wreaths.

Obama said greeting service members and their families, some of whom held up cell phones for photos as he spoke, was one of his favorite traditions. He said that the day before, he called people deployed overseas, telling them Americans back at home understood they were fighting for freedom.

Obama, standing beside first lady Michelle Obama on a small platform, said when he leaves office in January, he will not be a stranger to those stationed in Hawaii, where he was born and still often spends vacations.

“We look forward to seeing you for many years to come, because I understand that I still have a little bit of rank as ex-president,” Obama said to laughs. “So I still get to use the gym on base and, of course, the golf course.”

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Obama Signs Defense Spending Bill, Criticizes Guantanamo Policy

HONOLULU (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law an annual defense policy bill, but in a lengthy statement he raised objections to parts of it, including policies blocking him from closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama pledged in his 2008 presidential campaign to close the military prison, but his efforts have been blocked by mostly Republican opposition in Congress. The Democratic president has instead reduced the population there by transferring prisoners to other countries.

The administration recently told Congress it would move up to 18 more prisoners of the 59 remaining at Guantanamo before Obama leaves office next month.

“During my administration, we have responsibly transferred over 175 detainees from Guantanamo,” Obama said in the statement on Friday. “Our efforts to transfer additional detainees will continue until the last day I am in office.”

President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, said during the campaign that he would keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open and vowed to “load it up with some bad dudes.”

The $618.7 billion defense spending bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress this month was a compromise version that dropped controversial language requiring women to register for the draft.

But it kept some Republican-backed initiatives Obama had opposed. The legislation boosts military spending when there has been no similar increase in non-defense funding, and it bars closures of military bases even though top Pentagon officials say they have too much capacity.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said on Friday the legislation would give U.S. troops a pay raise and praised the Guantanamo language.

“This ensures that, right up until his last hour in office, President Obama will not be able to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States,” Ryan said in a statement.

Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush opened the facility to hold terrorism suspects rounded up overseas following the Sept. 11 attacks. Under Bush, the prison came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to accusations of torture.

Obama has maintained for years that he considers “onerous restrictions” on his ability to transfer prisoners a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch. But he gave no indication he would try to override those restrictions.

Reflecting the growing migration of espionage and warfare into cyberspace, Obama also said on Friday that he favors splitting the U.S. Cyber Command, which conducts offensive operations, from the National Security Agency and making it independent, similar to the military’s European and Pacific Commands.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson, additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: U.S. Marines exit an amphibious assault vehicle during a simulated beach assault at Marine Corps Base Hawaii with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit during the multi-national military exercise RIMPAC in Kaneohe, Hawaii, July 30, 2016.  REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Donald Trump Congratulates Himself During ‘Thank You’ Tour

CINCINNATI (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump kicked off his post-election “thank you tour” on Thursday by railing against globalization, promising the return of manufacturing jobs to American workers, and vowing to shut U.S. borders to some Middle East migrants.

Speaking in an arena that was about three-quarters full, Trump rallied the crowd by repeatedly attacking the “extremely dishonest” media and invoking the populist message that resonated with millions of voters.

“There is no global anthem, no global currency, no certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag,” Trump said.

“From now on it’s going to be America first, okay?” Trump said as he stressed job-creation spurred by trade deals he intends to renegotiate, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The New York real estate magnate also announced that he would nominate Marine General James Mattis – calling him “Mad Dog Mattis” – to be his secretary of defense.

Noting an attack on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus earlier this week by a Somali immigrant, Trump said such threats against Americans were “created by our very, very stupid politicians; refugee programs.”

In order to keep the United States safe from further attacks, Trump said he will suspend immigration “from regions where it cannot be safely processed,” including some countries in the Middle East.

“People are pouring in from regions of the Middle East. We have no idea who they are, where they come from, what they’re thinking and we’re going to stop that dead, cold flat,” Trump said.

In the past, Trump also has said he would stop the entry of all Muslims into the United States.

In a Twitter message earlier on Thursday, Trump said: “ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations accused Trump of seeking to exploit the “tragic situation in Ohio.”

SAVING JOBS

Trump’s remarks came at the end of a day in which he also traveled to neighboring Indiana to celebrate a decision by the Carrier Corp., an air conditioner maker, to keep about 1,000 jobs in the United States rather than move them to Mexico.

That decision came after Trump, during the long presidential campaign, publicly called on the company to retain the jobs in Indianapolis and threatened to punish American companies that move operations abroad with stiff import tariffs.

The company, which is owned by United Technologies (UTX.N), still intends to move 1,300 other jobs from Indiana to Mexico.

In the run-up to his Jan. 20 swearing in as president, Trump is expected to tour cities in swing states, like Ohio, that contributed to his shocking election victory on Nov. 8.

During a nearly hour-long speech in this southwestern Ohio city, Trump promised to deliver new tax cuts to the middle-class, roll back federal regulations that he said hurt companies and build a wall along the southwestern border with Mexico.

While he promised in the speech to talk about the “action plan” that would guide the beginning of his administration, Trump did not provide new details on policies he has been pushing since announcing his White House run in 2015.

In mocking detractors who did not think he could burst through the “blue wall” of states that have typically voted for Democrats, Trump proclaimed to roaring cheers, “We didn’t break it, we shattered that sucker.”

Over the past few weeks, Trump has mainly been holed up in the Trump Tower in New York City, weighing who to name to top jobs in his incoming administration.

He has interviewed several candidates for secretary of state, including the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who attacked Trump throughout the 2016 campaigns but lately has spoken glowingly of the president-elect.

On Wednesday, Trump said he would nominate former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin to lead the Treasury Department. Trump named Wilbur Ross, a billionaire known for his investments in distressed industries, as his nominee for commerce secretary.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump said he has whittled a list of potential Supreme Court nominees down to “probably three or four” and that an announcement would be made soon.

A seat on the nine-member Supreme Court has been vacant since last February, when Justice Antonin Scalia died and the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider President Barack Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland.

Trump stirred controversy in recent days by suggesting that those who protest the United States by burning the American flag should possibly lose their citizenship or serve a jail sentence.

While flag burning is protected under the U.S. Constitution, according to a Supreme Court ruling, Trump nevertheless returned to the issue again on Thursday, telling his audience in Cincinnati: “If people burn the American flag, there should be consequences.”

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney and Simon Cameron-Moore)

IMAGE: U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump speaks at event at Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Bergin

Donald Trump Threatens To Sue Accusers After Election

GETTSYBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised on Saturday to foil a proposed deal for AT&T to buy Time Warner if he wins the Nov. 8 election, arguing it was an example of a “power structure” rigged against both him and voters.

Trump, whose candidacy has caused ruptures in his party, listed his policy plans for the first 100 days of his presidency in a campaign speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, near the site of a Civil War battlefield and a celebrated address by President Abraham Lincoln.

But he also defiantly raised personal grievances, describing how, if elected, he would address them from the White House in a way he said would benefit Americans.

The speech was billed by his campaign as a major outlining of his policies and principles. Many of the policy ideas Trump listed on Saturday were familiar, not least his promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico to deter illegal immigration and to renegotiate trade deals and to scrap the Obamacare health policy.

Moments after promising Americans that he represented a hopeful break from the status quo, he promised to sue nearly a dozen women who have come forward in the last two weeks to accuse him of sexual assault, calling them liars.

And he added a new threat to his repeated castigation of U.S. media corporations, which he says cover his campaign unfairly to help Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

“They’re trying desperately to suppress my vote and the voice of the American people,” Trump, who often rails against media outlets and journalists covering his events, told supporters in his speech. Trump has not provided evidence for his assertion that the election would be rigged.

“As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said.

Telecommunications company AT&T Inc has agreed in principle to buy Time Warner Inc, one of the country’s largest film and television companies, for about $85 billion and an announcement could be made as early as Saturday.

Trump also said he would look at “breaking” up the acquisition by Comcast Corp of the media company NBC Universal in 2013.

“Deals like this destroy democracy,” he said in explaining his apparent deviation from the traditional Republican position that seeks to minimize the taxation and regulation of American companies.

Amazon.com Inc, the online retailer, should also be paying “massive taxes”, Trump said, reminding voters that Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, a newspaper whose coverage Trump dislikes.

Trump, a wealthy New York building developer and television star, acknowledged in a debate with Clinton on Oct. 9 that he had used investment losses to avoid paying taxes. The New York Times reported on Oct. 1 that Trump‘s declared loss of $916 million in 1995 was so large that he could legally have avoided paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.

At a campaign event later on Saturday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Clinton criticized Trump‘s stance on news outlets, noting that she receives negative coverage too.

“When he blows up at a journalist or criticizes the press and goes on and on and on – you know, I get criticized by the press,” she said. “I believe that’s part of our democratic system.”

In a statement, Clinton spokeswoman Christina Reynolds described the speech as “rambling, unfocused, full of conspiracy theories and attacks on the media, and lacking in any real answers for American families.”

CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

Although Trump on Saturday described his plans at least in part as a response to his belief media organizations had treated him unfairly, he argued that less wealthy voters had even greater cause to worry.

“When a simple phone call placed with the biggest newspapers or television networks gets them wall-to-wall coverage with virtually no fact-checking whatsoever, here is why this is relevant to you,” he said. “If they can fight somebody like me who has unlimited resources to fight back, just look at what they could do to you, your jobs, your security, your education, your health care.”

Trump, who has said he may not accept the election’s outcome if he loses, is trailing Clinton in most polls – although he has narrowed the gap according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday. Clinton maintained her commanding lead in the race to win the Electoral College, however, and claim the U.S. presidency, a Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project poll released on Saturday showed.

Trump has bluntly said that Mexico will pay for the wall, an idea the Mexican government has scoffed at. He tweaked his language on Saturday, saying the United States would fully fund the wall with the understanding that Mexico would reimburse the cost.

Trump‘s campaign was thrown into crisis two weeks ago when a 2005 video was released showing him bragging about groping and kissing women, prompting several prominent Republicans to announce they would not vote for him.

Since then, at least 10 women have said Trump made unwanted sexual advances, including groping or kissing, in incidents from the early 1980s to 2007, all of which Trump has denied. On Saturday, Jessica Drake, an adult film actor, accused Trump of pressuring her to have sex with him 10 years ago when they met at a golf tournament. After that, she said a man, possiblyTrump, called her to offer her $10,000 if she would have sex with him, which she declined.Trump‘s campaign said the accusations were false.

Trump, 70, said he was being attacked because he was an outsider who had never previously run for office, which he argues is a virtue.

“The fact that Washington and the Washington establishment has tried so hard to stop our campaign is only more proof that our campaign represents the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime,” he said.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson and Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker in Pittsburgh; editing by Grant McCool)

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in Aston, Pennsylvania, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Pence Breaks Sharply With Trump On Russian Hacking And ‘Rigged Election’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence contradicted running mate Donald Trump on Sunday by saying evidence points to Russian involvement in email hacks tied to the U.S. election and that Moscow should face “severe consequences” if it has compromised U.S. email security.

Pence, appearing in television interviews, also said he and Trump would respect the outcome of the Nov. 8 election. But later the same day Trump stuck by his contention that the race is being “rigged” by the media and at voting locations.

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Russia is behind recent email hacks targeting Democratic Party officials, including the continuing dumps by Wikileaks of documents stolen from the email account of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

“I think there’s no question that the evidence continues to point in that direction,” Pence said. “There should be severe consequences to Russia or any sovereign nation that is compromising the privacy or the security of the United States of America.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview that aired on Sunday that the United States would respond but he gave no details. “We’re sending a message,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin this week said his country was not involved in trying to influence the U.S. election.

Trump, who has been criticized for appearing too close to Russia after he publicly praised Putin’s strong governing style, has questioned the reports of Moscow’s involvement. “Maybe there is no hacking,” he said during last week’s second debate with Clinton.

Trump also broke with Pence on Russia during that debate. Pence had said the United States should use military force in Syria if Russia continued airstrikes to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, but Trump said he disagreed.

Trump this week has said the election is being rigged against him by the Clinton campaign and the media, raising questions from both Republicans and Democrats about whether he would accept the outcome should he lose to Clinton.

Trump, a New York developer in his first political race, often has said the electoral process is skewed against him, including in the primaries, when he disputed the method for winning delegates to the Republican National Convention.

His current complaint of media bias stems from reports of allegations by women that he groped them or made other unwanted sexual advances, after a 2005 video became public in which Trump was recorded bragging about such behavior. He apologized for the video but has denied each of the accusations.

“Election is being rigged by the media, in a coordinated effort with the Clinton campaign, by putting stories that never happened into news!” Trump tweeted on Sunday, a sentiment he also expressed in posts and during rallies in Maine and New Hampshire on Saturday.

Trump said after the first presidential debate in September that he would “absolutely” accept the election outcome. But he later revised himself, telling the New York Times, “We’re going to see what happens.”

He has also urged his supporters to keep an eye on voting locations to prevent a “stolen” election, which some critics interpreted as encouraging them to intimidate voters.

On Sunday, Pence said on CBS’s Face the Nation that Republicans would accept the election result.

“We’ll respect the outcome of this election,” he said. “Donald Trump said in the first debate that we’ll respect the will of the American people in this election. The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of American history.”

The third and final debate between Trump and Clinton will be on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Additional reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Bill Trott)

IMAGE: Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks during a campaign event at the Des Moines Area Community College in Newton, Iowa, U.S. October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

Trump Hit By His Own Lewd Remarks About Women, Caught On Tape

By Emily Stephenson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Republicans on Friday grappled with a bombshell 2005 audiotape published by The Washington Post in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasted in vulgar terms about trying to have sex with an unnamed married woman and groping women, saying “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who slammed Trump’s comments as “horrific,” was also hit by a leak on Friday. Wikileaks published what appeared to be excerpts of her paid speeches to corporations, the transcripts of which the campaign has refused to release. The transcripts included comments by Clinton on trade that could be troubling for her.

The disclosures come just a month before the Nov. 8 presidential election, and two days before the second televised debate between Clinton and Trump. The disclosures threaten Trump’s already shaky standing with women and reinforce doubts among Democrats that Clinton will crack down on Wall Street.

Trump’s leaked comments spurred a flood of indignation and came at what some have seen as a potentially pivotal point. Sunday’s presidential debate, a town hall-style event, is seen as critical as Trump tries to rebound from a dip in some opinion polls after a rocky performance in the first debate.

“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican elected official, said he was “sickened” by the comments and said Trump would not attend a campaign event in Wisconsin with him on Saturday.

“I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests,” Ryan said in a statement

Trump in a statement shrugged off the leaked tape as “locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.”

In the recorded conversation, Trump was wearing a microphone and chatting on a bus with Billy Bush, then host of NBC’s “Access Hollywood,” ahead of a segment they were about to tape.

“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump said. “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there.”

Trump talked about his attraction to beautiful women. “I just start kissing them,” he said.

“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” he said.

“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Trump, who has brought up former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a criticism of Hillary Clinton, calling her a “total enabler,” responded to the audio.

“Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended,” Trump said.

“Access Hollywood” confirmed the video in its own report, saying it discovered the comments in its library.

Billy Bush, in a statement to Variety, said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” of his comments.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries – and who is a cousin to Billy Bush – tweeted that the comments were “reprehensible.”

Mitt Romney, who was the Republican candidate in the 2012 election – and who has long opposed Trump, said his comments were “vile degradations” that “demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”

Meanwhile, Wikileaks published what appeared to be speech excerpts that could give Trump new fodder for attacking Clinton, who in them voices support for open trade and borders and discusses taking different positions in public than in private.

The U.S. government on Friday formally accused Russia of hacking Democratic Party organizations ahead of the presidential election. Wikileaks has declined to name its sources.

A spokesman for the Clinton campaign declined to confirm whether the Wikileaks emails were authentic and noted that other hacked documents have been faked.

“Earlier today the U.S. government removed any reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has weaponized Wikileaks to meddle in our election and benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy,” said Glen Caplin, the spokesman.

The emails were among hundreds of messages Wikileaks published from the hacked account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Clinton has struggled with issues of trustworthiness after a lingering controversy over her use of a private email system while serving as secretary of State.

During her primary campaign against populist rival Bernie Sanders, she resisted calls to release transcripts of 92 paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs and other corporations for which she was paid more than $20 million.

In a 2013 speech to a trade group, she talked about the necessity of working with lobbyists, according to the hacked email.

“But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position,” she said, according to the leaked email.

“It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be,” she said.

Ninety minutes after his statement condemning Trump’s leaked remarks, the RNC’s Priebus issued another one slamming Clinton’s leaked excerpts.

“The truth that has been exposed here is that the persona Hillary Clinton has adopted for her campaign is a complete and utter fraud,” Priebus said in the statement.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Emily Flitter in New York, Ayesha Rascoe in Chicago, Eric Beech and Mohammed Zargham in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump meets with leadership members of the National Border Patrol Council while receiving the group’s endorsement during a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Trump Backs Off Fulsome Praise Of Russia’s Putin After Debate

By Emily Stephenson

HENDERSON, Nev. (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump backed off from praising Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, saying he was unsure of his relationship with the Russian president who he has described as a better leader than President Barack Obama.

The day after running mate Mike Pence appeared to break ranks with Trump during a vice presidential debate and called Putin “a small and bullying leader,” Trump adjusted his own previously warm rhetoric toward the Russian.

“I don’t love (Putin), I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works. We’ll see,” Trump told supporters during a campaign stop in the swing state of Nevada. “Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has criticized Trump, who often praises Putin, as being too cozy with the Russian leader and questioned the Republican’s business interests in Russia. Those charges were repeated by her vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine during a debate with Pence on Tuesday.

In response, Pence denounced Putin for his interference in Syria’s civil war and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States,” Pence said. “The greatest nation on earth just withdraws from talks about a ceasefire, while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria.”

The vice presidential encounter set the table for a second presidential debate on Sunday in St. Louis between Clinton and Trump, who needs to rebound from a rocky performance in his first debate, one that gave Clinton a boost in national opinion polls with the Nov. 8 Election Day only five weeks away.

In Nevada, Trump suggested Russia could be a valuable ally in the fight against Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS.

“I will say if we get along with Russia and Russia went out with us and knocked the hell out of ISIS, that’s okay with me, folks,” he said.

Trump celebrated a strong debate performance by Pence, the governor of Indiana, and said his running mate had won on style and on the issues.

“He’s getting tremendous reviews from me and everybody,” Trump told a group of pastors and leaders gathered at a Christian academy in Las Vegas.

The encounter between Pence and Kaine, a U.S. senator from Virginia, was the only such debate between the vice presidential contenders, and the two spent most of their time attacking each other’s running mates.

For more than 90 minutes at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, Pence sought to project an image as a reassuring presence, in contrast with the bombastic Trump, while Kaine tried to frighten voters away from Trump and make Clinton seem more trustworthy.

A CNN/ORC snap poll declared Pence the winner with 48 percent support, compared with 42 percent for Kaine, who frequently interrupted his opponent.

The television audience for the debate was 35.6 million viewers, according to preliminary data, about half the number who watched the first encounter between Trump and Clinton.

Republican strategists said Pence’s strong debate performance could provide lessons for Trump on how to approach the second debate – if he was willing or able to learn.

“Trump should hopefully learn a lesson – don’t get angry, don’t lose your cool, answer the question you want to answer,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “The biggest thing is to not get rattled and be able to smile when you are attacked.”

Clinton met with advisers at her Washington, D.C., home on Wednesday and did not appear on the campaign trail. An aide said she spoke by phone with Kaine and congratulated him on his debate performance.

“Mike Pence didn’t want to defend Donald Trump, and as Senator Kaine said, if you can’t defend the person at the top of the ticket, how can you ask people to vote for you,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters outside her house.

(This story corrects quote in 3rd paragraph to put Putin in parentheses)

(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: Republican nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Henderson, Nevada October 5, 2016.  REUTERS/David Becker

Hillary Clinton Proposes 65 Percent Tax On Billionaire Estates

By Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Thursday proposed raising taxes on inherited property to 65 percent for the largest estates as she bolstered plans for tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.

Known by conservative opponents as the “death tax,” the estate tax, levied on property such as cash, real estate, stock or other assets transferred from deceased persons to heirs, currently is imposed only on inherited assets worth $5.45 million or more for an individual.

Clinton’s plan, posted on her campaign’s website, would raise the estate tax from the current 40 percent to 45 percent, the rate that existed in 2009. But the biggest estates would face rates of up to 65 percent for property valued at more than $500 million for a single person or $1 billion per couple, under her proposal, an update of an earlier plan.

Clinton’s proposed top rate of 65 percent would be the highest estate tax since the 1980s, and is in line with a proposal made during the Democratic primaries by her former rival for the party’s presidential nomination, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

Her campaign said the boosted estate tax and a change in the rules to tax capital gains associated with inherited assets would help pay for other proposals to benefit middle-class people, such as expanding a tax credit for working parents.

Clinton’s campaign said the plan would hit only the wealthiest people.

“Hillary Clinton has made a commitment throughout this campaign to make sure there is a plan to pay for the progressive policies we have laid out,” said Mike Shapiro, an economic adviser to Clinton.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group focused on budget issues, said Clinton’s new tax proposals including the estate tax changes, taxes on capital gains of inherited assets and other provisions would together raise $260 billion in revenue over a decade.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, wants to eliminate the estate tax. Clinton’s proposal prompted criticism from conservatives ahead of her first debate with Trump on Monday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Jason Miller, a Trump spokesman, issued a statement decrying Clinton’s “dramatic hike in the death tax.”

Republicans want to eliminate estate taxes altogether because they believe the system penalizes families who want to pass down businesses, said U.S. Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the tax-writing House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

Brady said in a statement that Clinton’s plan was “dead on arrival.”

The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said this month that only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans, about two out of every 1,000 people who die, currently owe any estate tax because the first $5.45 million per person is exempt. Clinton would lower that exemption to $3.5 million.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson, Steve Holland and Amanda Becker; Editing by Will Dunham)

IMAGE: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gives a thumbs up as she boards her campaign plane in White Plains, New York, United States September 15, 2016, to resume her campaign schedule following a bout with pneumonia.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Trump Calls For New Civil Rights Agenda In Visit To Black Church

DETROIT (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stepped up his bid to win over minority voters by addressing a largely black church in Detroit on Saturday and calling for a new civil rights agenda to support African-Americans.

As scores of protesters outside chanted “No justice, no peace,” Trump said he wanted to make Detroit – a predominantly African-American city which recently emerged from bankruptcy – the economic envy of the world by bringing back companies from abroad.

Trump separately met with about 100 community and church leaders, his campaign said, in his latest push to peel away minority voters from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

His outreach to minorities over recent weeks comes as he seeks to improve his chances in the Nov. 8 election and shake off months of offending the sensibilities of black and Hispanic voters with his hard line on immigration and rough-hewn rhetoric.

“I fully understand that the African American community is suffering from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right,” Trump said at the church which was half-full. “I want to make America prosperous for everyone. I want to make this city the economic envy of the world, and we can do that.”

His address of over 10 minutes at the Great Faith Ministries International church received moments of applause, including when he said Christian faith is not the past, but the present and the future.

Accompanying Trump to the church was Ben Carson, the former Republican presidential hopeful who grew up in the city and whose childhood neighborhood Trump visited on Saturday.

Trump has argued that his emphasis on job creation would help minority communities in a way that Democrats have failed to. But Clinton has accused Trump of aligning himself with racists.

Opinion polls show Trump has low support among minorities.

“I believe we need a civil rights agenda for our time, one that ensures the rights to a great education, so important, and the right to live in a good-paying job and one that you love to go to every morning,” Trump said.

“That can happen. We need to bring our companies back,” he added.

Emma Lockridge, 63, said as she entered the church that she found his comments about Mexicans and Muslims “hateful.”

“That’s my major reservation with Mr. Trump is how he’s treated those particular sets of people,” said Lockridge, who is retired and an environmental activist.

But she said she also had concerns about Clinton’s support in the 1990s for crime legislation signed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, which many black Americans say contributed to high incarceration rates in their communities.

Vicki Dobbins, an activist protesting outside, said she was disappointed the church asked Trumpto speak.

“I believe that Trump coming to Detroit is a joke, and I’m ashamed of the pastor who invited him,” she said. “In my opinion, he stabbed everyone in the back.”

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Additional reporting by Emily Flitter in New York and Tim Branfalt in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Adler and W Simon)

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., September 3, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Trump Returns To Hardline Position On Illegal Immigration

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday that anyone who is in the United States illegally would be subject to deportation if he is elected, sticking with his hardline position after flirting with a softer approach.

In a major speech in the border state of Arizona, Trump took a dim view of the 11 million people who crossed into the United States illegally, a week after saying many were “great people” who had lived in the country for years and contributed to American society.

He said all people in the United States illegally would have “only one route” to gain legal status ifTrump were to win the Nov. 8 presidential election: “To return home and apply for re-entry.”

“Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country,” Trump said.

“People will know you can’t just smuggle in, hunker down and wait to be legalized,” he said. “Those days are over.”

Trump again vowed that Mexico would pay for construction of a “great border wall” between the two countries. He spoke hours after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto told Trump in a face-to-face meeting in Mexico City that Mexico would not pay for it.

“We will build a great wall along the southern border,” Trump said. “And Mexico will pay for the wall – 100 percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall.”

Trump said at a joint news conference with Pena Nieto that he and the Mexican leader did not discuss who would pay for the wall. Pena Nieto remained silent on the issue at the event, but said later on Twitter he did raise the issue.

“At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall,” Pena Nieto said in a tweet.

HARDLINE RETURN

Trump used the Phoenix speech to clarify his stance on illegal immigration after prevaricating on the issue last week. He returned to the hardline rhetoric that powered him to the Republican presidential nomination over 16 rivals, heartening those conservatives drawn to Trump by the issue.

Ann Coulter, a conservative activist who had fretted that Trump might be softening, tweeted: “I hear Churchill had a nice turn of phrase, but Trump‘s immigration speech is the most magnificent speech ever given.”

Correct The Record, an organization supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the Nov.8 presidential election, slammed Trump.

“Tonight confirmed what we knew all along – there is no ‘softening’,” Correct The Record spokeswoman Elizabeth Shappell said.

Trump‘s “America First” positions are aimed at rallying middle-class people who feel they have lost jobs to illegal immigrants or to the outsourcing of jobs abroad.

However, he may have put himself at risk of limiting his ability to broaden his base of support to include more Hispanic-Americans and more moderate Republican voters who do not think it is possible or practical to crack down on all illegal immigrants.

In his speech, Trump emphasized that his priority would be to  deport those among the undocumented population who have committed serious crimes.

“As with any law enforcement activity, we will set priorities,” Trump said. “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have a country.”

He said he would form a commission to study which regions or countries he would suspend immigration from, saying Syria and Libya would be high on his list. This would be his way of carrying out his proposed ban on Muslims from some countries without getting into their religious affiliation.

Trump said he would also establish a “deportation task force” to identify criminals subject to deportation, would triple the number of federal deportation officers, and increase the number of border patrol stations.

MILD REBUKE, PROTESTS

Trump is trailing Clinton in opinion polls and the New York businessman’s aides hoped the trip would make him look presidential and show he was willing to deal head-on with thorny issues such as relations with Mexico.

Pena Nieto said at the joint news conference with Trump in Mexico City that the many millions of Mexicans in the United States deserved respect. However, he offered only a mild rebuke ofTrump for his rhetoric.

“The Mexican people has felt aggrieved by comments that have been made, but I was sure his interest in building a relationship is genuine,” Pena Nieto said.

A few dozen demonstrators gathered beneath a monument to Mexican independence in the center of the capital to protest against the visit, some holding placards emblazoned with captions such as: “You are not Wall-come” and “Trump and Pena out.”

Trump has been pilloried in Mexico since he launched his White House campaign last year.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, said on Wednesday Trump could not paper over his previous harsh language against Mexico.

“It certainly takes more than trying to make up for more than a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours and then flying home again,” she told a convention of the American Legion military veterans’ group in Cincinnati.

(Additional reporting by Christine Murray, Ana Isabel Martinez and Dave Graham in MEXICOCITY and Alana Wise in WASHINGTON; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler and Paul Tait)

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 31, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Trump Calls Democrats ‘Party Of Slavery’ In Minority Outreach Effort

EVERETT, Washington (Reuters) – Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday night called Democrats the “party of slavery” and praised what he called the millions of African Americans with career success, as he tries to revamp his outreach to minority voters.

Trump has made much-maligned efforts to appeal to black and Hispanic voters, groups that generally support Democrats and are expected to vote heavily for Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election.

“The Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln,” Trump said at a rally in Everett, Washington.

“It is the Democratic Party that is the party of slavery, the party of Jim Crow and the party of opposition,” he said, referring to racial segregation laws that once existed in the American South.

The Republican nominee has said Democrats failed minority voters with economic policies that have not improved their job prospects, but his attempts have been criticized for painting a bleak view of the lives of all black and Hispanic Americans.

Clinton last week released an ad mocking Trump’s attempts to reach those groups and showing headlines about a racial discrimination lawsuit the New York real estate mogul faced in the 1970s.

A prominent supporter of Trump’s apologized on Tuesday for sending out a tweet that showed a cartoon image of Clinton in blackface.

Trump sought to correct course in Washington state on Tuesday, saying millions of black Americans “have succeeded greatly” in art, science, sports and other endeavors.

“But we must also talk about those who have been left behind, the millions suffering in disastrous conditions in so many of our inner cities,” he said.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Everett, Washington, U.S., August 30, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Trump Wants More Racial Profiling After Orlando Shooting

Republican Donald Trump said on Sunday the United States should consider more racial profiling, in response to a question about whether he supported greater law enforcement scrutiny of Muslim Americans after the Orlando mass shooting.

“I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country,” Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump made similar comments last December about profiling, the targeting of specific demographic groups for extra scrutiny, after a Muslim American and his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

Last week, Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for the Nov. 8 election, sparked criticism from many in his party for his comments on American Muslims after the Orlando attack on Sunday, in which a U.S.-born Muslim man killed 49 people at a gay nightclub.

In a speech on national security on Monday, Trump stood by his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and proposed a suspension of immigration from countries with “a proven history of terrorism.”

He also said the Muslim community had to “cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad.”

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has said the comments show Trump is unfit to be president.

The Florida gunman, Omar Mateen, was born in the United States to Afghan parents. During a three-hour siege at the club, he expressed support for Islamic State, but officials believe heas “self-radicalized.”

In his interview on Sunday, Trump said there were “red flags” around Mateen, who had been investigated twice by the FBI but ultimately cleared.

Trump also reiterated his support for more scrutiny of mosques, saying that could resemble a controversial New York City surveillance program that has been shut down.

“If you go to France right now, they’re doing it in France. In fact, in some instances they’re closing down mosques,” he said.

Police in France closed some mosques shortly after gunmen aligned with Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris in a series of attacks on Nov. 13.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan endorsed Trump but has said a Muslim ban is not in U.S. interests. In excerpts of an NBC interview released on Friday, Ryan, the top elected U.S. Republican, said Republicans weighing whether to vote for Trump should follow their “conscience.”

Trump brushed off the criticism on Sunday and said he would put up his own money for his campaign if needed. “It would be nice if the Republicans stuck together,” Trump said in an ABC interview. “I can win, one way or another.”

 

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

Photo: Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec

Trump Rules Out Presidential Debate With Sanders

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday ruled out a one-on-one debate with second-place Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, killing off a potentially high-ratings television spectacle.

The suggested debate would have sidelined likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton but given Sanders a huge platform ahead of California’s June 7 primary.

A day after saying he would welcome a debate with Sanders, Trump called the idea “inappropriate” because as the Republican presumptive nominee he should only face the Democrats’ final choice.

“I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton,” Trump said in a statement.

Sanders’ campaign has been aggressively advocating for a debate with Trump after the idea was raised during an appearance by the New York billionaire on a talk show this week.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, expressed disappointment on Friday.

“I heard that he was going to debate me, then I heard that he was not going to debate me, then I heard that he was going to debate me. Now you’re telling me that he is not going to debate me. Well, you know, I hope that he changes his mind again,” Sanders said in a video clip posted on an ABC News Twitter account.

Trump suggested broadcast networks were unwilling to go along with his demand that at least $10 million raised from the encounter be donated to charity.

“I’d love to debate Bernie,” he told a rally in Fresno, California. “But the networks want to keep the money for themselves.”

Sanders is trailing Clinton in the race to secure their party’s nomination. Opinion polls show he is slicing into Clinton’s lead in California.

Clinton has shown no interest in debating Sanders before the California primary, which will be part of a final slate of nominating contests. It is possible she will clinch the nomination by winning New Jersey earlier that day, making the outcome in California superfluous.

The former U.S. secretary of state has said she is looking forward to debating Trump later this year ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

Clinton leads Trump by 4 percentage points in the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, with their positions with voters basically unchanged since Trump’s support surged two weeks ago. Democrats nationally remain evenly split between Clinton and Sanders.

 

Reporting by Emily Stephenson in Fresno; Additional reporting by Alana Wise in Washington and Chris Kahn in New York; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Alistair Bell

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump jokes about how difficult he says it is for him to listen to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s voice, as he holds a rally with supporters in Fresno, California, U.S. May 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump Wins Christie Backing, Eases Toward Super Tuesday

By Emily Stephenson

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) – Republican candidate Donald Trump on Friday won the surprise endorsement of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the most prominent mainstream Republican to get behind the former reality TV star’s White House campaign.

Christie said the billionaire businessman had the best chance of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

The front-runner Trump’s unorthodox candidacy has stirred controversy and shaken the Republican Party at its roots but an increasing number of senior Republicans are becoming resigned to the idea he will be their candidate in November.

Trump is “rewriting the playbook,” said Christie, 53, who until two weeks ago was himself a rival of Trump for the Republican nomination.

Trump, 69, has never held public office and has campaigned as a political outsider. He is riding a wave of voter anger at the slow economic recovery, illegal immigration and what he says is America’s diminishing role in the world.

“The best person to beat Hillary Clinton in November on that stage last night is undoubtedly Donald Trump,” Christie told a news conference on Friday, a day after a Republican candidates’ debate.

A former prosecutor, Christie has been mentioned in Republican circles as a possible future attorney general, but he said he had not been offered a position in any future Trump administration.

The endorsement by the New Jersey governor gives Trump, from neighboring New York, a lift ahead of the March 1 Super Tuesday nominating contests.

Trump, a brash real estate magnate, has won three straight nominating contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, convincing some mainstream Republicans that he may have too much momentum to be stopped, especially if he wins big in the key southern U.S. primaries four days away.

Former Secretary of State Clinton is battling U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the Democratic nomination.

RUBIO ATTACKS

Trump has vowed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to halt illegal immigration, called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and promised to take a tough stance on trade against China.

Republican rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz ganged up on Trump at a raucous debate on Thursday in a last-ditch bid to keep the billionaire from winning in states on Super Tuesday that could set him up to clinch the presidential nomination.

Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, went on the attack again on Friday at a rally in Dallas. “Guys, we have a con artist as the front-runner of the Republican Party,” he said.

Attacks on Trump at the Republican debate in Houston only dented his momentum, based on opinion polls, social media comment and online betting markets.

PredictWise, a research project that analyzes opinion polls and betting markets, said Trump would comfortably win among Republicans in all but one of 11 Super Tuesday states that it measured. Cruz, 45, is likely to win in Texas, his home state, PredictWise said.

PredictIt, based out of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, on Friday gave Trump a 73 percent chance of winning the nomination compared with a peak 75 percent chance two days earlier.

Trump, in a post on Twitter, took aim at Rubio, a first-term senator, for his debate performance.

“Lightweight Marco Rubio was working hard last night. The problem is, he is a choker, and once a choker, always a chocker (sic)! Mr. Meltdown.”

Following Christie’s endorsement, the New Jersey governor was top trending on Twitter. There were roughly 17 tweets per second about him, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph.

Republican strategist Doug Heye said Christie may have opened the door for more mainstream Republican endorsements of a man whose chances of winning the White House were seen as nearly non-existent a year ago.

“If you’re the Trump campaign this is obviously very good news and it gives permission for others to endorse. But it also makes it hard (for Trump) to make the outsider argument.

“The best-known governor and the former chairman of the (Republican Governors Association) RGA?” Heye said in reference to Christie. “That’s not an outsider.”

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey in Washington and Melissa Fares in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller)

Photo: Donald Trump shakes hands with Chris Christie. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Rubio, Cruz Go On Attack Against Trump At Debate

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Republican rival Marco Rubio attacked front-runner Donald Trump at length for the first time at a debate on Thursday, targeting his wealth and absence of detailed policy plans to try to thwart the billionaire from making massive gains next week in the presidential race.

In perhaps his most aggressive performance to date, Rubio brought up Trump’s four past bankruptcies and his use of imported Polish workers to work at a Florida resort, and pointedly suggested the New Yorker would not be where he is today in the real estate business without a family inheritance.

Without the family money, the senator from Florida said: “You know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan.”

At the CNN-hosted debate at the University of Houston, Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas ganged up on Trump repeatedly at one of their last, best chances to try to derail the blunt-spoken political outsider before Super Tuesday, when 11 states hold Republican nominating contests.

Whether they can pull it off is an open question. Trump has won three out of four contests in the Republican selection of a presidential nominee and may reap big gains on Tuesday.

At the debate, Trump was his typical confident, pugnacious self, repeatedly defending himself and blasting Rubio and Cruz.

“This guy’s a choke artist and this guy’s a liar,” Trump said, pointing first at Rubio and then at Cruz.

The crossfire was so intense that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, looking for some extra time to talk, asked plaintively: “Can someone attack me please?”

Ohio Governor John Kasich, when given time to talk, offered an optimistic message.

Rubio, taking up the role of chief Trump attacker now that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has left the race, seemed to take joy in pointing out that Trump’s sole plan to replace and repeal President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law is to allow insurance companies to operate across state lines.

When Trump repeated the same point twice, Rubio interrupted.

“Now he’s repeating himself,” said Rubio, who was skewered at a debate in New Hampshire last month for robotically repeating his talking points.

Trump fired back: “I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago, and I gotta tell you it was a meltdown. I watched him melt down on the stage like I’ve never seen anybody.”

Even with his bombast, Trump turned in a more measured performance than usual, defending his moderate positions on Planned Parenthood and retaining popular parts of the Obamacare law, perhaps mindful that he is closing in on a victory in the Republican race.

He said he would not support a ceasefire deal about to go into effect in Syria and declared that Libya would be better off had Colonel Muammar Gadafhi not been toppled from power by a U.S.-backed uprising.

Pressed on whether he would release his tax records as 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney said he should do, Trump said he would eventually do so after a “routine audit” is completed.

This did not satisfy Romney, who tweeted that there was not legitimate reason for withholding them even if they were under audit.

Rubio went after Trump hard on illegal immigration. He said Trump may talk tough on illegal immigration now, but previously said Romney lost his race against Obama by promoting the idea that illegal immigrants should self-deport.

“A lot of these positions that he’s taken now are new to him,” Rubio said during the debate in Houston.

Trump said Romney lost in 2012 because he was a terrible candidate.

“Excuse me, he ran one terrible campaign,” Trump said.

Cruz, who needs to win his home state of Texas when it votes on Tuesday, also piled on Trump, saying his rival would be a weak Republican opponent to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 general election because he had donated to the Clinton Foundation.

Cruz said Clinton would say to him, “‘Gosh, Donald you gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. I even went to your wedding…’ He can’t prosecute the case against Hillary.”

Trump ridiculed Cruz for his inability to win more than the early voting state of Iowa and taunted him for being behind Trump in opinion polls in Texas.

“If I can’t beat her (Clinton), you’re really going to get killed aren’t you? … I know you’re embarrassed but keep fighting. Swing for the fences,” Trump said.

While Trump has scored early victories and is well ahead in national opinion polls, he has some ways to go to clinch the party’s nomination, which is decided by the number of delegates sent to the July party convention following the state-by-state nominating contests.

So far Trump leads the race with 81 delegates, with Cruz and Rubio well behind at 17 apiece. To secure the nomination, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates.

Super Tuesday will be critical because there are nearly 600 delegates at stake in Republican races that day.

 

(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and Valerie Volcovici in Washinton; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the debate sponsored by CNN for the 2016 Republican U.S. presidential candidates in Houston, Texas, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Stone