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

Despite No Evidence, Trump Stands By Outrageously False Voter Fraud Belief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump stands by his belief that millions of people voted illegally in the U.S. election, the White House said on Tuesday, despite widespread evidence to the contrary.

“The president does believe that,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters.

State officials in charge of the Nov. 8 election have said they found no evidence of widespread voter fraud and there is no history of it in U.S. elections. Even House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the most senior Republican in Congress, said he had seen no evidence to back up Trump’s claims.

Republican Trump won the Electoral College that decides the presidency and gives smaller states more clout in the outcome, but he lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by about 2.9 million.

Trump has repeatedly said he would have won the popular vote, too, but for voter fraud. He has never substantiated his claim.

The comments were the latest in a series of distractions in the opening days of the Trump administration that run the risk of overshadowing his legislative goals and efforts to advance policy proposals.

On Saturday, the day after his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, Trump complained about media coverage of the crowds that attended his swearing-in ceremony and described journalists as “among the most dishonest people on Earth.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Timothy Ahmann; editing by Grant McCool)

IMAGE: Citizens vote on a basketball court at a recreation center serving as polling place during the U.S. general election in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

President Obama Surprises Vice President Biden With Medal Of Freedom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama surprised Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction in an emotional White House ceremony that celebrated their partnership over eight years in office.

“This is an extraordinary man,” Obama said of his friend and running mate at a surprise ceremony with staff, family and friends of the vice president.

“For the past eight years, he could not have been a more devoted or effective partner in the progress that we’ve made.”

Biden, who was unaware that the ceremony would take place, became visibly moved when Obama said he would bestow on him the highest civil honor in the United States.

It will be the last such award that Obama gives before he and Biden leave office on Jan. 20.

“I had no inkling,” Biden, 74, said after receiving the medal. “I get a lot of credit I don’t deserve,” he said, proceeding to give a roughly 20-minute impromptu speech thanking Obama and honoring the extended Biden family.

Biden and Obama became close friends during their time in the White House. Biden was a U.S. senator from Delaware when Obama chose him to be his running mate in his 2008 presidential campaign.

The vice president told an anecdote about Obama offering to help the Bidens financially during Biden’s son Beau’s illness. Beau Biden died of brain cancer at age 46 in 2015.

First lady Michelle Obama and the Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha, also attended the ceremony.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Yes We Can: Obama Defends American Values In Emotional Farewell

CHICAGO (Reuters) – With a final call of his campaign mantra “Yes We Can,” President Barack Obama urged Americans on Tuesday to stand up for U.S. values and reject discrimination as the United States transitions to the presidency of Republican Donald Trump.

In an emotional speech in which he thanked his family and declared his time as president the honor of his life, Obama gently prodded the public to embrace his vision of progress while repudiating some of the policies that Trump promoted during his campaign for the White House.

“So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are,” Obama told a crowd of 18,000 in his hometown of Chicago, where he celebrated his election in 2008 as the first black president of the United States.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall on the border with Mexico, upending a global deal to fight climate change and dismantling Obama’s healthcare reform law.

Obama made clear his opposition to those positions during fiery campaign speeches for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but has struck a more conciliatory tone with Trump since the election.

In his farewell speech, he made clear his positions had not changed and he said his efforts to end the use of torture and close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were part of a broader move to uphold U.S. values.

“That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said in a clear reference to Trump that drew applause.

He said bold action was needed to fight global warming and said “science and reason” mattered.

“If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our healthcare system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it,” he said in another prodding challenge to his successor.

Trump has urged the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal the law right away.

RACE AND NOSTALGIA

Obama, who came to office amid high expectations that his election would heal historic racial divides, acknowledged that was an impossible goal.

“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America,” he said. “Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”

However, Obama said he remained hopeful about the work that a younger generation would do. “Yes we can,” he said. “Yes we did.”

In an indirect reference to the political work the Democratic Party will have to do to recover after Clinton’s loss, Obama urged racial minorities to seek justice not only for themselves but also for “the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.”

Trump won his election in part by appealing to working-class white men.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, and many current and former White House staff members and campaign workers attended the speech. Obama wiped his eyes as he addressed his wife and thanked his running mate. They all appeared together on stage after the address.

The Chicago visit is Obama’s last scheduled trip as president, and even the final flight on the presidential aircraft was tinged with wistfulness.

It was the president’s 445th “mission” on Air Force One, a perk he has said he will miss when he leaves office, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

All told, Obama will have spent more than 2,800 hours or 116 days on the plane during his presidency.

Obama plans to remain in Washington for the next two years while his younger daughter, Sasha, finishes high school. Sasha, who has an exam on Wednesday, did not attend the speech but her older sister Malia was there.

The president has indicated he wants to give Trump the same space that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, gave Obama after leaving office by not maintaining a high public profile.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney, Richard Borsuk and Paul Tait)

IMAGE: President Barack Obama (R) is joined onstage by first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia, after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In Emotional Valediction, First Lady Praises America’s ‘Glorious’ Diversity

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – First lady Michelle Obama made an impassioned case for embracing diversity and welcoming all religious groups on Friday in a not-so-veiled message to her husband’s successor two weeks ahead of Inauguration Day.

In what was billed as her last formal speech before President Barack Obama leaves office, the first lady said at an event honoring high school counselors that the United States belonged to people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

“Our glorious diversity – our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds – that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are,” she said.

The remarks were reminiscent of her vigorous campaign speeches in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. President-elect Donald Trump has proposed building a wall along the border of Mexico and temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country.

“If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition: the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation, that has made us the greatest country on earth,” Mrs. Obama said.

“If you are a person of faith, know that religious diversity is a great American tradition, too … And whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh – these religions are teaching our young people about justice and compassion and honesty.”

Mrs. Obama gave a series of high profile speeches at campaign events for Clinton last year and made clear her disapproval of Trump for questioning President Obama’s citizenship and for the New York businessman’s treatment of women after a recording was released in which he bragged about groping women.

Trump was a leader of the so-called birther movement that questioned whether President Obama, who was born in Hawaii, had been born in the United States.

Mrs. Obama has kept a lower public profile since the election.

Choking up on Friday, she said being first lady had been the greatest honor of her life.

“So that’s my final message to young people as first lady. It is simple. I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong,” she said. “Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, editing by G Crosse)

Obama To Deliver Farewell Address In Chicago On January 10

HONOLULU (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver a farewell address on Jan. 10 to reflect on his time in office and say thank you to his supporters, he said in an email statement released on Monday.

Obama, noting that the first president of the United States, George Washington, had penned a farewell address in 1796, said he would deliver his speech in his hometown of Chicago.

“I’m thinking about (the remarks) as a chance to say thank you for this amazing journey, to celebrate the ways you’ve changed this country for the better these past eight years, and to offer some thoughts on where we all go from here,” he said.

Republican Donald Trump will be sworn in to office on Jan. 20. During his campaign for the White House, Trump pledged to undo many of Obama’s signature policy measures, including his healthcare law.

Obama, who campaigned hard for Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, has sought to ensure a smooth transition of power despite major policy differences with his successor. He also leaves his party without a clear figurehead as he leaves the White House.

“Since 2009, we’ve faced our fair share of challenges, and come through them stronger,” Obama said in the email, likely foreshadowing a theme for his speech.

“That’s because we have never let go of a belief that has guided us ever since our founding – our conviction that, together, we can change this country for the better.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Paul Tait)

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama waves from the door of Air Force One as he ends his visit to Cuba, at Havana’s international airport, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria 

Japanese Prime Minister Offers ‘Everlasting Condolences’ At Pearl Harbor

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined U.S. President Barack Obama for a symbolic joint visit to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, commemorating World War Two dead and pledging that Japan would never wage war again.

The visit, just weeks before Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office, was meant to highlight the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance in the face of a rising China and amid concerns that Trump would have a more complicated relationship with Tokyo.

Abe and Obama commemorated the dead at the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship. Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial, a centerpiece of the historic site.

“We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken,” Abe said.

“To the souls of the servicemen who lie in eternal rest aboard the USS Arizona, to the American people, and to all the peoples around the world, I pledge that unwavering vow here as the prime minister of Japan,” he said.

Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, pounding the U.S. fleet moored there in the hope of destroying U.S. power in the Pacific.

Abe did not apologize for the attack.

Obama, who earlier this year became the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in 1945, called Abe’s visit a “historic gesture” that was “a reminder that even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and a lasting peace.”

The two leaders stood solemnly in front of a wall inscribed with the names of those who died in the 1941 attack and they took part in a brief wreath-laying ceremony, followed by a moment of silence.

“In Remembrance, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan” was written on one wreath and “In Remembrance, Barack Obama, President of the United States” on the other.

They then threw flower petals into the water.

After their remarks, both leaders greeted U.S. veterans who survived the attack.

Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the United States amid concerns about China’s expanding military capability.

The leaders’ meeting was also meant to reinforce the U.S.-Japan partnership ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Trump, whose opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and campaign threat to force allied countries to pay more to host U.S. forces raised concerns among allies such as Japan.

Abe met with Trump in New York in November and called him a “trustworthy leader.”

Obama called for a world without nuclear arms during his visit to Hiroshima. Trump last week called for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability and reportedly welcomed an international arms race.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama (L) participate in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S., December 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama Orders Review Of Election-Related Hacking

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama ordered intelligence agencies to review cyber attacks and foreign intervention into the 2016 election and deliver a report before he leaves office on Jan. 20, homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco said on Friday.

Monaco told reporters the results of the report would be shared with lawmakers and others.

“The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process … and to capture lessons learned from that and to report to a range of stakeholders, to include the Congress,” Monaco said during an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Monaco said cyber attacks were not new but might have crossed a “new threshold” this year.

When she was working as a senior FBI official in 2008, she said, the agency alerted the presidential campaigns of then-Senator Obama and Republican Senator John McCain that China had infiltrated their respective systems.

“We’ve seen in 2008 and in this last election system malicious cyber activity,” Monaco said.

In October, the U.S. government formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Obama has said he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about consequences for the attacks.

Asked if Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team was not concerned enough about Russia’s influence on the election or about other threats to the United States such as infectious disease outbreaks, Monaco said it was too soon to say.

As a presidential candidate, Trump praised Putin and called on Russia to dig up missing emails from his opponent, Hillary Clinton, from her time as secretary of state under fellow Democrat Obama.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history that took place in Orlando, Florida, at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Clinton Slams Trump For Commenting On Fed Policies

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized Republican rival Donald Trump on Tuesday for making comments about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies, which she said should be off-limits for U.S. presidents and presidential candidates.

“You should not be commenting on Fed actions when you are either running for president or you are president,” Clinton told reporters on her campaign plane. “Words have consequences. Words move markets. Words can be misinterpreted.”

Trump, who has previously accused the U.S. central bank of keeping interest rates low to help Democratic President Barack Obama, said on Monday that interest rates should change.

“They’re keeping the rates down so that everything else doesn’t go down,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s request to address a potential rate hike by the Federal Reserve in September. “We have a very false economy.”

Clinton criticized the New York real estate magnate in her second press conference in as many days.

“He should not be trying to talk up or talk down the economy, and he should not be adding the Fed to his long list of institutions and individuals that he is maligning and otherwise attacking,” she said.

Clinton, a former U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state, also said that daughter Chelsea Clinton’s involvement in the Clinton Foundation charity will be decided after the Nov. 8 election.

“These issues will be decided after the election. And we will decide the appropriate way forward,” she said.

Earlier, she told ABC News that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, should not have to step down before the election from his position at the foundation.

“I don’t think there are conflicts of interest,” Clinton said in the ABC interview. “I know that that’s what has been alleged and never proven. But nevertheless, I take it seriously.”

Her use of a private email server while secretary of state and questions about improper influence involving donors to the Clinton Foundation have been thorny topics for Clinton as the presidential campaign headed into its final months.

Clinton dismissed the latest call for a new investigation into her email practices.

“The FBI resolved all of this. Their report answered all the questions,” she said.

Clinton also brushed off polls that show the race tightening between her and Trump.

“We’re sticking with our strategy. We feel very good about where we are. But we’re not taking anything for granted,” she said.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu and Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answers questions from reporters on her campaign plane enroute to a campaign stop in Moline, Illinois, United States September 5, 2016.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Coming Full Circle, Obama Hits The Campaign Trail For Clinton

In her June 2008 concession speech for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton pledged to do all she could to propel Barack Obama to the White House. On Tuesday he returns the favor.

After months of waiting on the sidelines while his former secretary of state battled Senator Bernie Sanders to be this year’s Democratic nominee, the president hits the campaign trail on Tuesday in what is likely to be the first of many trips to urge voters to make his one-time rival his successor.

Obama endorsed Clinton last month with a forceful video in which he stated that no one had been so qualified for the job. But a planned joint appearance shortly thereafter was postponed after the shooting at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida.

“I have seen her judgment, I’ve seen her toughness, I’ve seen her commitment to our values up close,” the president said in the video. “I’m with her. I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Hillary.”

He starts in North Carolina, a state the president won in the 2008 general election but lost narrowly in 2012. Clinton wants to reclaim it for Democrats in 2016.

Obama‘s first campaign appearance with the former first lady will close a circle of sorts on a relationship that started cordially as colleagues in the U.S. Senate, grew tense as rivals in the 2008 race, and became close as partners in the Obama administration when she served as his top diplomat.

“(He) has developed a deep appreciation for her toughness under fire and her commitment to a set of values that the president shares… Those values are principally the reason the president believes that she is the best person to succeed him,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday.

Obama‘s focus on Clinton’s strength of character is meant to shore up support among voters who find her untrustworthy, a weakness that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has sought to exploit.

Clinton also needs Obama to woo young and left-leaning voters who backed Sanders and made up part of the president’s voting coalition in 2008 and 2012.

The president, meanwhile, needs a Clinton victory on Nov. 8 to preserve his legacy on a range of issues including healthcare, climate change, and immigration.

The North Carolina trip is reminiscent of a joint appearance Obama and Clinton made in Unity, New Hampshire, following their divisive primary fight in 2008.

Now Clinton is the candidate and the president, who leaves office in January, is her advocate.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walk back to the Oval Office after a statement following the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and others, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, September 12.2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Exclusive: Obama Administration Not Pursuing Executive Order To Shut Guantanamo – Sources

The Obama administration is not pursuing the use of an executive order to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison after officials concluded that it would not be a viable strategy, sources familiar with the deliberations said.

The conclusion, reached by administration officials, narrows the already slim chances that President Barack Obama can fulfill his pledge to close the notorious offshore prison before leaving office in January.

The White House has said repeatedly that Obama has not ruled out any options on the Guantanamo center, which has been used to house terrorism suspects since it was set up in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Obama is eager to fulfill his 2008 campaign pledge to close the prison and could still choose to use his commander-in-chief powers, but the option is not being actively pursued, the sources said.

Without executive action, the chances of closing the prison would hinge on convincing a resistant Congress to overturn a long-standing ban on bringing possibly dozens of remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States.

White House lawyers and other officials studied the option of overriding the ban but did not develop a strong legal position or an effective political sales pitch in an election year, a source familiar with the discussions said.

“It was just deemed too difficult to get through all of the hurdles that they would need to get through, and the level of support they were likely to receive on it was thought to be too low to generate such controversy, particularly at a sensitive (time) in an election cycle,” the source said.

Republicans in Congress are opposed to bringing Guantanamo detainees to U.S. prisons and have expressed opposition to transfers to other countries over concern that released prisoners will return to militant activities. They have vowed to challenge any potential Obama executive action in court.

At its peak, the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba housed nearly 800 prisoners, becoming a symbol of the excesses of the “war on terror” and synonymous with criticism of detention without trial and accusations of torture. Obama has called it a recruitment tool for terrorists.

 

OPTIONS NARROW

The number of Guantanamo detainees has fallen to 80 now, the lowest since it was opened.

The administration is focusing on getting the number of detainees at the prison down to such a low number, perhaps 20, that the cost of keeping it open could prove unpalatable to Congress. Republican lawmakers remain unswayed.

The Guantanamo prison and associated military commissions cost $445 million in fiscal year 2015. That works out to more than $5.5 million a year for each of the 80 remaining prisoners.

Thirty of the remaining detainees at Guantanamo have been approved for transfer to foreign countries and the State Department says it will move all of them out this summer. Those who would be left include 10 being prosecuted in military commissions, and other detainees deemed too dangerous to release or transfer.

“The administration’s goal is to work with Congress to find a solution to close Guantanamo,” said Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

He said the government had made “substantial progress” moving prisoners to foreign countries and was working to identify more countries for additional transfers. Reviews to determine whether certain prisoners need to remain detained to prevent a threat to U.S. security had been accelerated and would be completed in the coming months, he said.

Obama, who issued an order to shut the prison within a year on his first day in office, released his latest plan to close it to Congress in February, but it has not gained traction.

The White House has not publicly ruled out the executive order option in part to keep pressure on the Pentagon to move prisoners who have been cleared for release to other countries, one of the sources said.

“If Congress … would finally say no to the president’s plan and the executive order option wasn’t on the table, there was a concern that the wheels could grind to a halt,” said the source familiar with discussions at the White House.

Gregory Craig, who served as Obama’s first White House counsel, said that without an executive order, Obama would likely need the cooperation of Congress to shut down the prison.

“I think the odds are probably challenging,” Craig said.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

The United States flag decorates the side of a guard tower inside of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Camp VI at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba March 22, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Obama Honors Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ Victims; Faults U.S. On Human Rights

BARILOCHE, Argentina (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said the United States was too slow to condemn human rights atrocities during Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship as he honored victims of the “Dirty War” on Thursday, but he stopped short of apologizing for Washington’s early support for the military junta.

Obama’s state visit to Argentina coincided with the 40th anniversary of the coup that began a seven-year crackdown on Marxist rebels, labor unions and leftist opponents, during which security forces killed 30,000 people.

“There has been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days,” Obama said while visiting a memorial park in Buenos Aires dedicated to victims of the dictatorship.

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for. And we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here,” he said.

Obama’s trip, winding up later on Thursday, is part of a wider effort to deepen ties and bolster U.S. influence with Latin America after years of frosty relations with left-leaning governments in the region.

With South America’s leftist block now in disarray amid graft scandals and economic recession, Argentina’s new center-right leader, Mauricio Macri, offers Obama a new ally in one of the Americas’ biggest economies.

Obama traveled to Argentina from Cuba, where he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit in 88 years and opened a new chapter in engagement with the Communist-ruled island after decades of hostilities.

That policy shift has boosted Washington’s standing in a region long wary of being treated as the U.S. “backyard”, although U.S. foreign policy under Obama has still been dominated by the Middle East.

 

Death Flights

At the memorial by La Plata River, Obama and Macri walked along a stark wall that is known as the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism and is inscribed with 20,000 names.

On a pier overlooking the river, they dropped white roses into the water to commemorate the dead. Obama bowed his head and stood with Macri in silence.

Survivors of the crackdown say one of the military rulers’ tactics was so-called “death flights”, where political opponents were tossed into aircraft, stripped and then thrown alive into the river and the Atlantic Ocean to drown.

Washington’s early support for the military rulers reflected Cold War thinking, which sometimes put the United States on the side of brutal right-wing governments in Latin America. In a gesture toward Argentines still angry over that legacy, Obama has promised to declassify U.S. military and intelligence records related to the dictatorship-era.

But the U.S. leader was criticized by some rights activists. One group of victims’ relatives said the timing of his visit was a provocation.

“We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda,” the Buenos Aires-based Center for Human Rights Advocates said in a statement.

Some Argentines welcomed Obama’s gestures. “Obama is not going to say outright ‘forgive us’, but he’s saying it through his actions,” said Daniel Slutzky, a 75-year-old college professor.

Obama praised Argentina for taking on its past. “Confronting crimes committed by your own leaders, by your own people – that can be divisive and frustrating, but it is essential to moving forward,” he said.

Speaking after Obama, Macri said: “We have to reaffirm our commitment to the defense of democracy and human rights. Every day, somewhere in the world they are jeopardized.”

Thousands later gathered at the Casa Rosada presidential palace to honor the victims of the junta. The rally and others around the country are held every March 24, a national holiday.

Obama’s visit to Argentina is a show of support for Macri’s sharp turn away from the nationalist policies of his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez, who frequently railed against the United States and Wall Street. Obama praised Macri on Wednesday for his rapid economic reforms.

The U.S. president was due to head back to Washington on Thursday night. Before setting out, he and his family flew to the Patagonian city of Bariloche for some sightseeing and hiking.

Thousands of people lined the route from the airport through the lakeside mountain city, waving as the motorcade sped by. Several hundred people gathered for a protest near the city center, holding signs and making obscene gestures.

One sign depicted the national flag and the phrase “For Sale” crossed out, a rallying cry of Fernandez supporters who believe Macri is selling out the country with his market-friendly policies.

During his trip to Cuba, the U.S. president challenged President Raul Castro on human rights and political freedoms even as the two men sought to move on from more than half a century of animosity that began soon after Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

 

(Writing by Richard Lough and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama throws flowers in the River Plate while visiting with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri (R) the Parque de la Memoria (Remembrance Park) where they honored victims of Argentina’s Dirty War on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup that initiated that period of military rule, in Buenos Aires, March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Soft Shoe Diplomacy: Obama Dances The Tango At Argentine State Dinner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has made headlines for unexpectedly crooning a song or two in public since coming to the White House. Now he can add dancing the tango to his list of hidden talents.

At the end of a state dinner in Buenos Aires with Argentine President Mauricio Macri on Wednesday, Obama and his wife, Michelle, watched with rapt attention as a male and female pair glided and turned in graceful precision across a small patch of open floor in front of their table.

Willing to give it a try, the president got up and sashayed from one side of the tiny space to the other with the female dancer, while the U.S. first lady teamed up with her male counterpart for a spell.

Then the leader of the free world appeared to have second thoughts.

Getting back to the other side of the dance floor, Obama stopped to wave at the dinner guests as if to conclude.

But his partner would have none of it, taking his hand back in hers and doing a number of turns before allowing the president to spin her around for a finale that ended with her leg drawn up high against his.

The music stopped, the crowd applauded, and the Obamas had done the tango.

 

(Editing by Paul Tait)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama dances tango during a state dinner hosted by Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri at the Centro Cultural Kirchner as part of President Obama’s two-day visit to Argentina, in Buenos Aires March 23, 2016.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria 

Blame Me For Trump? No Way, Says Obama

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – He has been attacked over countless issues in partisan Washington, but U.S. President Barack Obama drew the line at this one: the idea that he is responsible for the rise of Donald Trump and the attendant Republican Party disarray.

“I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party (nominee) is novel,” Obama told a news conference on Thursday.

“What I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crack-up that’s been taking place is… a consequence of actions that I’ve taken,” the Democratic president said.

Obama had been asked how he viewed being identified as the cause of Trump’s ascent to front-runner in the Republican race to pick a presidential candidate for the Nov. 8 election. Obama seemed to relish the question, replying with both serious criticism of Republicans and some pointed mockery of Trump.

The New York billionaire is well ahead in the Republican race after the first six weeks of primary nominating contests but his bombastic style and statements on Muslims, immigrants and trade have dismayed many in the party establishment. Many party leaders worry Trump would lose to the eventual Democratic nominee in November’s election to replace Obama.

Obama, whose White House tenure has been marked by steady resistance to most of his policies by Republicans in Congress, has said previously he regretted not being able to reduce the polarization between the two parties in Washington. But he scoffed on Thursday at the suggestion that his presidency had fueled the chaos among the Republicans.

Conservative news outlets on television, radio and the Internet had convinced the Republican political base for seven years that cooperation with him was a “betrayal” and that “maximalist absolutist” positions were advantageous, Obama said. He was holding a joint news conference with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In a clear dig at Trump, Obama said he had not prompted critics to question his U.S. citizenship or birth in Hawaii. Before he launched his longshot presidential run last year, Trump was a high-profile leader of the so-called “birther” movement, which believed Obama was born abroad and not eligible to be president, until he produced his Hawaii birth certificate to put the issue to rest.

“What you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts over a course of time creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive,” Obama said. For good measure, he took a swipe at two of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination, saying the real estate magnate’s position on immigration was not much different from that of U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Obama urged conservatives who were troubled by the party’s position to “reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire.”

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the White House Rose Garden in Washington March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Obama Scolds Senate Republicans For Supreme Court Threat

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to pick an indisputably qualified nominee for the Supreme Court and chided Republicans who control the U.S. Senate for threatening to block him from filling the pivotal vacancy.

Obama told senators he has a constitutional duty to nominate a new justice after Saturday’s death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and reminded them of their constitutional obligation to “do their job” and vote to approve or reject his nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the seat on the nation’s highest court should remain vacant until Obama’s successor takes office in January so voters can have a say on the selection when they cast ballots in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there,” Obama said.

“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now,” Obama, a former constitutional law professor, told a news conference at the close of a two-day meeting with leaders from Southeast Asia.

In Washington, Scalia’s chair in the court’s ornate chamber was draped with black wool crepe in accordance with court tradition following a justice’s death.

The court said Scalia’s body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court building on Friday before his funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Saturday.

Obama’s nominee could shift the balance of power on the court, which had five conservatives and four liberals before Scalia’s death.

The president said he understood the high stakes for Republican senators under pressure to vote against his pick for the lifetime appointment, who conceivably would be the deciding vote in cases where the court is split.

‘Venom’ and ‘Rancor’

Obama said the “venom and rancor in Washington” has led to the Senate routinely blocking his nominations for lower courts and other posts but said the Supreme Court is too important to get trapped in political gridlock.

“It’s the one court where we would expect elected officials to rise above day-to-day politics,” he said.

But Republicans have pointed out that Obama and members of his cabinet, who were then in the Senate, were not above trying to block the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Samuel Alito by then-President George W. Bush in 2006.

“While he complained about filibusters today, he joined filibusters while in the Senate,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Asked about his record, Obama acknowledged Democrats have played politics with nominations, too, through what he described as “strategic decisions” that ultimately did not block the president’s nominee.

“But what is also true is Justice Alito is on the bench right now,” Obama said.

Obama’s Strategy

Obama shed little light on whom he would choose or how the White House will try to finesse his choice through Congress.

“We’re going to find somebody who is an outstanding legal mind, somebody who cares deeply about our democracy and cares about rule of law,” Obama said.

“I’m going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat, and any fair-minded person, even somebody who disagrees with my politics, would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court,” he added.

Asked directly if that meant he would choose a moderate candidate, Obama said, “No.”

He said there was “more than enough time” for the Senate to hold hearings and vote on his nominee without the White House needing to resort to a procedure known as a recess appointment to get around the Senate when it is not in session.

But he did not explicitly rule out a recess appointment.

Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, whose panel weighs Supreme Court nominations, said on Tuesday he will wait until Obama names his pick to fill the vacancy before deciding whether to hold confirmation hearings.

Grassley has offered mixed messages since Scalia’s death on how the Senate should proceed on the vacancy, alternating hardline views on blocking any nominee with comments not ruling out hearings.

“I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions” about confirmation hearings, Grassley said, according to Radio Iowa. “In other words, take it a step at a time.”

 

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Richard Cowan, Ayesha Rascoe, Julia Edwards and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama looks up during the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations  (ASEAN) summit at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California February 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque