Trump signs order on police reform after weeks of protests about racial injustice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing criticism that his policies and inflammatory rhetoric have aggravated a racial divide in the United States, signed an order on Tuesday aimed at improving police practices and said that “Americans want law and order.” After weeks of protests against racism and policy brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed on May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis, Trump offered a policy response to rising concerns about racial injustice going into the Nov. 3 election in which he is seeking a second term. “Americans want law and order, they demand law and order,” Trump said at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden before signing the executive order. The Republican president offered his condolences to the families of victims of recent police and other violence, and vowed to pursue justice. In his public comments and on Twitter, Trump has called for crackdowns on protesters and emphasized a forceful and militarized response to the social unrest sparked by the death of Floyd and others. Opinion polls show widespread concerns among Americans about police brutality. The executive order encourages police departments to employ the latest standards for use of force, improve information sharing so that officers with poor records are not hired without their backgrounds being known, and add social workers to law enforcement responses to non-violent cases involving drug addiction and homelessness, officials said. Trump reiterated on Tuesday that he opposes calls to “defund the police” by reimagining or even dismantling police departments. Leading Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, have not embraced such calls, but Republicans have jumped on the issue. The Democratic-led House of Representatives is expected to vote later this month on sweeping legislation put forward by the Congressional Black Caucus to rein in police misconduct. Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their own legislation on Wednesday that concentrates more on data collection than on policy changes in areas involving lethal force. Democrats want to allow victims of misconduct and their families to sue police, an idea that Republicans oppose. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to reduce job protections for members of law enforcement unions. The two sides also are at odds over a Democratic proposal to ban police chokeholds. Some Republicans say the two sides are so far apart on key issues that no final action is likely until after the July 4 holiday. Attorney General William Barr, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Tim Scott, who is developing the Republican legislation, attended Tuesday’s White House signing. One civil rights group said Trump’s action did not go far enough. “While the order takes some steps forward, it is an inadequate response to a nation demanding sweeping, bold action,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.

Rep. Ilhan Omar’s father dies due to coronavirus

(Reuters) – Father of Somalia-born U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar died on Monday night of complications from the novel coronavirus, local media reported. “It is with tremendous sadness and pain to say goodbye to my father,” the Minnesota congresswoman tweeted late on Monday. “No words can describe what he meant to me and all who knew and loved him.” Omar and her father Nur Mohamed came to the United States as refugees in 1995 from Somalia during the country’s civil war and eventually settled in Minneapolis, according to Politico. Omar was elected along with Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib in November 2018 making them among the first two Muslim women to serve in the U.S. Congress. The Minnesota representative did not respond to Reuters request for a comment.

Trump says U.S. to pull some troops from Germany over NATO spending feud

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he would cut the number of U.S. troops in Germany to 25,000, faulting the close U.S. ally for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of America on trade. The reduction of about 9,500 troops would be a remarkable rebuke to one of the closest U.S. trading partners and could erode faith in a pillar of postwar European security: that U.S. forces would defend alliance members against Russian aggression. It was not clear whether Trump’s stated intent, which first emerged in media reports on June 5, would actually come to pass given criticism from some of the president’s fellow Republicans in Congress who have argued a cut would be a gift to Russia. Speaking to reporters, Trump accused Germany of being “delinquent” in its payments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and vowed to stick with the plan unless Berlin changed course. “So we’re protecting Germany and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense. So I said, we’re going to bring down the count to 25,000 soldiers,” Trump said, adding that “they treat us very badly on trade” but providing no details. NATO in 2014 set a target that each of its 30 members should spend 2% of GDP on defense. Most, including Germany, do not. Trump’s remarks were the first official confirmation of the planned troop cut, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and later confirmed to Reuters by a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. That official said it stemmed from months of work by the U.S. military and had nothing to do with tensions between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who thwarted his plan to host an in-person Group of Seven (G7) summit. Asked about Trump’s statement, German Ambassador to the United States Emily Haber said U.S. troops were in Europe to defend transatlantic security and to help the United States project its power in Africa and Asia. “This is about transatlantic security but also about American security,” she told a virtual think tank audience, saying U.S.-German security cooperation would remain strong and that her government had been informed of the decision. Related CoverageU.S. troops are in Europe to defend transatlantic security, German ambassador saysLast week, sources told Reuters that German officials as well a number of U.S. officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon were surprised by the Wall Street Journal report and they offered explanations ranging from Trump’s pique over the G7 to the influence of Richard Grenell, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and a Trump loyalist. “There is sure to be significant bipartisan opposition to this move in Congress, so it is possible any actual moves are significantly delayed or even never implemented,” said Phil Gordon of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, “This move will further erode allies’ faith in NATO and U.S. defense guarantees,” Gordon added, saying it may also “weaken the deterrence of Russia or anyone else who might threaten a NATO member.”

Trump says U.S. pulling some soldiers out of Germany over NATO spending feud

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday the United States would cut the number of U.S. troops deployed in Germany to 25,000, a reduction of about 9,500, in a move likely to upset both his fellow Republicans in Congress and NATO allies. In comments to reporters, Trump accused Germany of being “delinquent” in its payments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and vowed to stick with the plan unless Berlin changed course. “So we’re protecting Germany and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense. So I said, we’re going to bring down the count to 25,000 soldiers,” Trump said. His remarks reflected the first official confirmation of the cut, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on June 5 and later confirmed to Reuters by a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Related CoverageU.S. troops are in Europe to defend transatlantic security, German ambassador saysThat official said it was the result of months of work by the U.S. military leadership and had nothing to do with tensions between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who thwarted his plan to host an in-person Group of Seven (G7) summit this month. Emily Haber, German ambassador to the United States, told a virtual event on Monday that U.S. troops were not there to defend Germany but to defend transatlantic security, and added that Berlin was informed of the troop reduction plan. Last week, other sources familiar with the matter said a number of U.S. officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon were surprised by the decision and they offered explanations ranging from Trump’s pique over the G7 to the influence of Richard Grenell, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and a Trump loyalist.

U.S. troops are in Europe to defend transatlantic security, German ambassador says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. troops are in Europe to defend transatlantic security and to help project U.S. power further afield, German Ambassador Emily Haber said on Monday after President Donald Trump announced plans to cut U.S. troop levels there to 25,000. “Our cooperation on military and security matters has always been very close and will remain so,” Haber told a virtual event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “U.S. troops … are not there to defend Germany. They are there to defend the transatlantic security. … They are also there to project American power in Africa, in Asia.”

Trump administration is blocking COVID stimulus oversight: government watchdog letter

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration is hindering oversight of over $1 trillion in pandemic stimulus funds, according to a watchdog group tasked by Congress to detect fraud and misuse of federal aid aimed at mitigating economic fallout from coronavirus. Treasury Department officials have said the agency is not required to report key information to the inspectors general group, known as the Pandemic Response Accountability Commission (PRAC), regarding one of the funds it is tasked with administering under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, leaders from the PRAC told lawmakers in a letter seen on Monday. The letter to congressional leaders details one of the latest efforts by Trump administration to limit transparency and oversight of the unprecedented government stimulus package. It’s also the latest sign of friction between the Trump administration and the government watchdog community after the president removed several inspectors general from their roles. In the June 11 letter, PRAC leaders said a legal opinion from the Treasury officials could hurt the group’s ability to properly oversee huge swaths of taxpayer-funded aid programs, including cash that has been doled out to states and local governments, small businesses and airlines. The Treasury Department has pointed to other reporting requirements as alternatives, PRAC’s acting chair, Michael Horowitz, and executive director, Robert Westbrooks, told lawmakers ,including Democratic U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney and Republican Senator Ron Johnson. But those “alternatives do not address the full range of programs for which the PRAC is responsible, nor do they provide the breadth and depth of reporting needed for the PRAC to fully carry out the responsibilities” detailed in the legislation, Horowitz and Westbrooks said. A PRAC spokeswoman declined to comment, and the Treasury Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Separately on Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to speak with lawmakers about oversight of small business economic relief after previously resisting calls to reveal who received funds.

Trump campaign to give Tulsa rally-goers masks, fever checks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – People attending President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday will receive temperature checks, masks and hand sanitizer before entering the arena, the Republican president’s campaign said. The campaign said there have been more than 1 million ticket requests for the indoor rally, Trump’s first in the three months since the coronavirus curbed travel and shut down the economy. People lining up to get into the venue will face temperatures forecast to be up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Precautions will be taken against the heat and there will be bottled water, campaign spokesman Brad Parscale said on Monday on Twitter. The rally was postponed from Friday after a public outcry because it coincided with the Juneteenth holiday, when African Americans mark the end of U.S. slavery, and would be held in a city where one of the largest black massacres took place a century ago. Tulsa’s chief health official told a local newspaper on Saturday he was concerned about holding a large event of any kind indoors when coronavirus cases in the area were rising. Other health experts have expressed concern the event could be a “superspreader” for the virus, which is seeing a flareup in several states after their economies began to reopen.

Presidential candidate Biden, Democratic Party raise $81 million in May

(Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee jointly raised $80.8 million in May, the Biden campaign said on Monday, one-third more than they collected in April. The campaign has tripled its online donors since February and recorded an average online donation of $30. But President Donald Trump, a Republican, still holds a significant fundraising advantage. Biden and the DNC established a joint fundraising vehicle, the Biden Victory Fund, in May that allows them to collect larger sums from wealthy donors, after raising $60.5 million in April. Several top fundraisers told Reuters this month that they were seeing a swell of support as the country was gripped by widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody. The haul comes as Biden has opened up a lead over Trump in most national polls. The Trump campaign has not yet announced its May figures. In April, Trump and the Republican National Committee jointly brought in $61.7 million, just a shade more than Biden and the Democrats. The committee said it and the Trump campaign raised $14 million on Sunday, Trump’s 74th birthday. Last week, Trump attended his first in-person fundraiser in months, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden, who has only recently begun to travel outside of his home state of Delaware, has continued to hold virtual fundraisers, including one scheduled for Monday evening with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Exclusive: U.S. senators ask Pentagon if $1 billion in Afghan aid was cut

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two Democratic senators on Monday asked U.S. Defense Secretary Mike Esper what happened to $1 billion in aid for Afghanistan the Trump administration said it would cut nearly three months ago, according to a letter reviewed by Reuters. Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, demanded Esper explain whether the funds had been cut and if so from which accounts. “Will the execution of such funding cuts impact the U.S. military presence on the ground in Afghanistan?” they asked in the letter, requesting a reply by June 26. “If the administration has determined that this cut in security assistance does not diminish our ability to pursue our national security objectives, what conditions have changed to create such a sizeable surplus?” they added. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the reduction on March 23 to try to force Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah to end a feud that had helped stall U.S.-led peace-making efforts in Afghanistan. Ghani and Abdullah on May 17 signed a power-sharing deal, raising questions whether Washington would reduce the funding. After nearly two decades of fighting the Taliban, the United States is looking to extricate itself and to achieve peace between the U.S.-backed government and the militant group. But despite the pact between Ghani and Abdullah, peace talks between the government and the Taliban have yet to occur. Reuters reported on April 5 the reduction would come from funds for Afghan security forces and, on May 20, that the Pentagon had not withheld the money despite Pompeo’s March 23 vow to cut it “immediately.” On June 1, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said he thought the money had been cut and referred questions to the Pentagon. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.