White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney doubles down on denying he admitted to Ukraine quid pro quo

iStock(WASHINGTON) — White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney dug in on his claim that he had not admitted there was a quid pro quo in regard to U.S. military aid for Ukraine and investigating Democrats.

The admission days earlier, during a Thursday press briefing, had contradicted President Donald Trump’s consistent denials about a key subject of the House impeachment inquiry.

“That’s not what I said,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s what people said that I said.”

But at a press briefing at the White House on Thursday, Mulvaney had recounted that the president told him he didn’t want to send Ukraine “a bunch of money and have them waste it, and have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets.”

“Those were the driving factors,” Mulvaney told reporters in the White House briefing room. “Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.” (The “server” reference is to a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump has long clung to: that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked email server was being held in Ukraine — and that individuals in Ukraine were behind an effort to sabotage his 2016 election. Last month, Trump’s own former homeland security adviser called the theory “completely false.”)

“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?” ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked.

“‘Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation,” Mulvaney said. “And that is absolutely equivalent.”

“What you described is a quid pro quo,” Karl pressed. “It is: funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered.

Mulvaney issued a statement later Thursday evening after his admission set off a political firestorm, in which he claimed the press had decided to “misconstrue” what he had said — despite reporting using the actual words he spoke in the White House briefing room hours earlier.

On Sunday, Mulvaney pointed out that he himself never used the term “quid pro quo.”

“Reporters will use their language all the time,” he said. “So my language never said quid pro quo.”

Trump said Friday he thought Mulvaney had “clarified” his initial remarks. “I think he clarified it,” Trump said when a reporter asked him about Mulvaney’s comments, before pivoting to off-topic comments about a visit to Texas the day before.

On Sunday, Mulvaney also said he had listed just two reasons the Trump administration had held up aid for Ukraine — misgivings about corruption and concerns other countries had not contributed enough of their own aid to Ukraine. On Thursday, though, he had actually listed a third reason: wanting Ukraine to cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation into the 2016 election.

Mulvaney said he was referring to the DOJ’s investigation into the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. He suggested that the DOJ’s look at the origins, led by U.S. attorney John Durham, was examining the debunked conspiracy theory about the DNC server. The DOJ has not said it was looking into the issue of the DNC’s server, despite what Mulvaney said, and on Thursday, a senior DOJ official said that, “If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.”

On Sunday, Mulvaney said that the look at the DNC server was not linked to aid. “It wasn’t connected to the aid, and that’s why I think that people got sidetracked,” Mulvaney said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 20 Oct 2019

‘He fought them,’ father says of son killed on his birthday defending his family in Texas home invasion

iStock(NEW YORK) — Security video of a car speeding from the Texas home of a father gunned down on his 29th birthday while defending his wife and two young children from intruders was released by authorities desperate to identify the suspects and bring them to justice.

Brenton Estorffe, an Australian native raising his family in the Houston suburb of Katy, was shot to death early Wednesday while attempting to fight off at least two men who broke into his residence, according to Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office investigators.

“He wrestled those two blokes away from his wife and kids,” Estorffe father, Michael Estorffe, told The Australian newspaper before flying from Australia to Texas to be with his son’s grieving widow and children. “That’s when they shot him. Unfortunately, he paid the highest price.”

The killers remained on the run on Sunday. A $25,000 reward was offered by the Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers for information leading to the arrests and prosecution of the killers.

Estorffe’s death sent shockwaves from the Lone Star State to Australia, where the headline in Estorffe’s hometown newspaper, The Courier-Mail, screamed, “Australian man, Brenton Estorffe, shot dead in Texas home while confronting intruders.”

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls requested the public’s help in finding the owner of a light-colored, four-door sedan with a sunroof that was spotted on home security video arriving and speeding away from Estorffe’s block around the time of the shooting. He said the tail lights on what he described as a “vehicle of interest” may not have been operating properly.

Nehls said at least a dozen investigators are working around the clock to solve the homicide of a “loving husband and a loving father.”

“He gave his life in defense of his family. What more honor can you bestow upon an individual than that,” Nehls, a retired Army Reserve major and recipient of two Bronze Star medals, said of Estorffe.

“They’re going to pay for this,” Nehls said of the killers during a news conference on Friday, attended by Estorffe’s widow, Angeleanna.

Staring into a bank of news cameras, he told the killers to surrender, saying, “You came into the wrong county.”

Nehls said there could be more than two suspects involved in the homicide.

“There could have been another individual inside that vehicle of interest that might have been the getaway driver. We don’t know,” Nehls said.

Det. Thomas Cantu, the lead investigator on the case, described the two intruders Estorffe confronted in his home. He said one was about 5-foot-11, had a medium build, a dark complexion and was wearing a dark-colored hoodie with the hood covering his head. He said the other intruder was about 6 feet tall, had a slender build, a dark complexion and a buzz-cut hairstyle.

The slaying unfolded just after midnight on Wednesday when Estorffe and his wife were startled awake by glass breaking at the rear of their home, Nehls said. Estorffe’s children, 1-year-old Eliana and 3-year-old Asher, were asleep in the house.

“Try to put yourself through this: somebody breaks the glass. You hear glass breaking at the back of your home. Two individuals enter the home. They startle you. You wake up and then all of a sudden a confrontation takes place and then the next thing you hear are gunshots,” Nehls said.

“Brenton gets up, confronts two individuals inside the residence, at which point in time he was shot and killed,” Nehls said. “Brenton was there to protect his family.”

He said Estorffe’s wife and neighbors called 911. Estorffe was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Help me please … ohh … someone just broke into my house and shot my husband,” Angeleanna Estorffe said in the 911 call released by authorities. “I just heard glass shattering and then my husband jumped up and took off after them … and they just … they started shooting.”

“A few minutes later we have a vehicle of interest … leaving the neighborhood. We see the same vehicle entering the neighborhood before the 911 calls took place,” Nehls said, asking anyone who has seen the vehicle to contact investigators immediately.

Nehls and Cantu said it remains under investigation whether Estorffe and his family were targeted or if the culprits went to their home seeking the previous owners.

Cantu said Estorffe and his family moved into the home about six months ago.

Nehls said the intruders must have known the home was occupied and that children were inside the home because cars were parked in the driveway and the house was decorated for Halloween.

“Anybody would know that there were obviously children in that house. I mean there’s Halloween decorations. You almost got to make the safe assumption, these individuals knew somebody would be at home. But yet they still had the audacity to break a window and enter the home. That’s a little unusual,” Nehls said.

He said the neighborhood is generally “very quiet, very safe,” and added that of the seven homicides this year in the county, of which there are more than 500,000 residents, six of the cases have been solved.

Estorffe was originally from Mooloolaba on the Queensland’s Sunshine Coast of Australia, his family said. He moved to the United States in 2011 to attend college at Southern Virginia University, where he played football. At one point, according to his family, Estorffe had aspirations of someday playing in the NFL.

Estorffe got married in 2015 and he and his wife decided to settle down in Katy, Texas, and Estorffe took a job at a car rental company, his family said.

A crowdfunding page established for Estorffe’s family had raised more than $35,000 as of Sunday afternoon.

“We will stop at nothing,” Nehls said. “We will investigate, we will investigate, we will investigate until we can bring these individuals to justice.”

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Posted On 20 Oct 2019

Girls soccer team is yellow-carded after wearing ‘equal pay’ shirts

iStock(BURLINGTON, Vt.) — Players from a high school girls soccer team in Vermont were penalized after they revealed a message promoting equal pay under their team jerseys during a game, the team’s coach said.

The team had approached Burlington High School soccer coach Jeff Hayes several weeks ago with an idea to reverberate the message first promoted by their heroines, the U.S. women’s national soccer team, Hayes told “Good Morning America.”

For Friday night’s game, which was senior night, the entire team — as well as the coaching staff and members of the crowd — wore the custom-made white T-shirts adorned with #EQUALPAY, Hayes said. After the warmup, the girls placed their jerseys over the shirts to comply with the bylaws of the Vermont Principals’ Association, but after a late goal was scored with thee minutes left in the game, some players took off their jerseys in excitement.

“The fans were just absolutely going crazy,” and began chanting “equal pay,” Hayes said. However, the officials ran over and issued four yellow cards for unsportsmanlike conduct over the excessive celebration.

The penalized players had to sit out for some of the game but were eventually allowed back in, Hayes said.

Members of the team admitted that they got “carried away” by taking their jerseys “all the way off,” but said the message outweighed the penalties they received.

“It goes for everyone — every girl, every woman, the world,” player Helen Worden said. “It’s not just about sports.”

Friday night’s game ended in a tie, but the team feels as if they won in the spirit of spreading the message.

They have now sold more than 700 of the shirts, inviting men and boys to pay 16% more, which represents the average pay gap in Vermont, according to the team. The Burlington High School boys’ soccer team has even worn the shirts in solidarity.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife, Marcelle, were among the purchasers. Leahy tweeted a photo of the couple wearing the shirts, stating, “Marcelle and I stand with you!”

The referee who issued the yellow cards even bought a shirt after the game and told the players he’s excited to wear it, according to the team.The money made in the sales will go to support youth soccer leagues in the community.

“They did such an amazing job with getting involved in the community,” Hayes said.

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Posted On 20 Oct 2019

3 US Army soldiers killed during training at Fort Stewart in Georgia, officials say

iStock(FORT STEWART, Ga.)– Three U.S. Army soldiers were killed during training at Fort Stewart in Georgia, according to officials.

The soldiers, part of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, were pronounced dead on the scene after the Bradley Fighting Vehicle they were riding in was involved in an accident early Sunday morning, Patrick Husted, division public affairs officer, said in a news release.

Another three soldiers were injured and evacuated to the Winn Army Community Hospital for treatment. The extent of their injuries was not disclosed.

“Today is a heartbreaking day for the 3rd Infantry Division, and the entire Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield community, as we are all devastated after a training accident this morning on the Fort Stewart Training Area,” said Maj. Gen. Tony Aguto, commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division. “We are extremely saddened by the loss of three Dogface Soldiers, and injuries to three more. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the families affected by this tragedy.”

The incident is under investigation, Husted said. The circumstances surrounding the accident were not immediately clear.

The identities of the deceased soldiers will be released pending next of kin notification.

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Posted On 20 Oct 2019

G-7 summit won’t be at Trump National Doral Miami resort: Trump

iStock(WASHINGTON) — Two days after the White House said that President Donald Trump had directed next year’s Group of Seven summit to be held at Trump National Doral Miami resort, the president tweeted late Saturday that no, actually, it will not.

While Trump blamed the media and Democrats for having to make the switch, he had come under blistering criticism from across the political spectrum, including fellow Republicans, for pushing for government money to be spent at a resort owned by his own company — a violation, critics said, of legal restrictions against the president benefiting financially from the office.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders,” Trump tweeted. “I announced that I would be willing to do it at NO PROFIT or, if legally permissible, at ZERO COST to the USA. But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!”

White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday morning that Trump had been “surprised at the level of pushback” and had “wanted to put on a show” and “take care of folks” by holding next year’s G-7 summit at his own resort.

“At the end of the day, you know, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business, and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world, and he wanted to promote the absolute best show, the best visit that he possibly could,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He was very comfortable doing that at Doral.”

Trump, in his Saturday night tweets, listed Camp David as a possible replacement and said that the search for a new site was beginning “immediately.”

But the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who announced the selection of Trump Doral on Thursday, said at that time that there had already been an extensive search process that narrowed an initial list of about a dozen sites to four finalists: one in Hawaii, two in Utah and Trump’s resort in Miami.

It was unclear if the search would be limited to the three remaining finalists, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment Sunday morning. On Thursday, Mulvaney had criticized Camp David as a potential host site — noting that “they said it was a complete disaster” when a previous summit had been held there.

Mulvaney told reporters that Trump had been the one who initially suggested the Trump Organization-owned property to host the leaders of most of the world’s largest economies — and a White House spokesman told ABC News that the president had signed off on the final decision, too.

Trump’s about-face was a rare reversal for a president who does not like to admit mistakes.

Republicans on Capitol Hill had made clear the decision did not sit well with them, adding to a rising tide of anger with the president over his decision to pull back support for the United States’ Kurdish allies and increasing concern over his administration’s handling of military aid to Ukraine.

“I think it’s not a good thing to have the appearance — you know, in the law, there’s a canon that says, ‘Avoid the appearance of impropriety,'” Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., said, according to The Washington Post. “I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff.”

Democrats in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, introduced a bill Friday to specifically block Trump from holding the summit at Trump Doral, potentially forcing a vote that would have put Republican support — or disapproval — on the record. The decision to hold the summit at Trump’s resort was also going to be added to a lawsuit alleging Trump has illegally financially benefited from his office, a Democratic senator said.

Mulvaney said Thursday that Trump Doral would host the summit “at cost” — without defining exactly how the “cost” would be calculated — to argue that Trump would not profit. But the summit, which is scheduled to be held from June 10 to June 12 next year, would fill up Trump’s South Florida resort during the otherwise lagging off-season, according to statistics from the local taxpayer-funded tourism bureau.

The acting chief of staff also denied the diplomatic gathering — attended and supported by thousands of diplomats, journalists and law enforcement members, and receiving global media coverage — would present a marketing opportunity for Trump. He said the president’s brand was “probably strong enough as it is.”

However, a branding expert told ABC News that exposure for Trump hotels and resorts has in the past resulted in a boost for those properties.

“You want to know who benefits? The president benefits. His properties benefit,” said Robert Passikoff, the founder and president of Brand Keys, Inc. “And this is proven out over and over again in actual market studies.”

Democrats and ethics watchdogs harshly criticized the initial decision to hold the summit there.

“President Trump’s behavior in office is a continuing affront to the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the ethics watchdog group Constitutional Accountability Center, told ABC News in a statement. “By treating the G7 summit like a commercial for his businesses, inviting foreign governments to line his pockets and hold their next meeting at his Doral, FL golf course next year, he mocks the Constitution he swore to uphold.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 20 Oct 2019

Secretary Mike Pompeo defends deal brokered with Turkey to temporarily halt military operations in Syria

ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the “ceasefire” that he and Vice President Mike Pence brokered with Turkey and responded to criticism from both Kurdish fighters and Republicans on the Hill, on ABC’s “This Week.”

The U.S. and Turkey reached the agreement on Thursday to “pause” Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a buffer zone. If the withdrawal is complete after that time, Turkey will halt its operation and the U.S. will lift sanctions on Turkish officials. U.S. officials were calling the agreement a ceasefire while Turkish officials have referred to it as a pause.

Despite the deal taking effect on Thursday, eyewitnesses reported that shelling continued through Thursday night and into Friday morning.

“We put out a joint statement which we think will really save lives. It’s worked so far,” Pompeo said on Sunday, adding that he had just received a report from his senior advisers that indicated that there is relatively little fighting still in Syria.

But since the release of a joint statement between the two NATO allies, critics from across the political spectrum have panned it as a capitulation to Turkey or a vague resolution that does not fully address the crisis now unfolding in northeastern Syria with the departure of U.S. troops.

“The Turks said they got everything they wanted,” ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos said on Sunday.

“I was there. It sure didn’t feel that way when we were negotiating,” Pompeo said.

“It was a hard fought negotiation. It began before the vice president and I even arrived in Ankara,” he said. “We achieved the outcome that President Trump sent us to achieve.”

 Following the ceasefire announcement on Thursday, there were Republicans on Capitol Hill who were cautiously optimistic.

“The fact that the slaughter has stopped is good news,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “But I promise you this: five days from now, I will feel just as committed to making sure Turkey is out of Syria as I am today. I will feel just as committed to making sure we don’t abandon the Kurds as I am today. And I’m going to give it a chance — give a ceasefire a chance. Whether it results in peace, I don’t know.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had a different reaction.

“The administration and the president’s decision has undermined every single one of” America’s interests in Syria “and I think has done so in ways that we’re going to regret for a long time,” Rubio said on Thursday.

Pompeo responded to Rubio’s comments on Sunday, saying that the Trump administration was still “fully” committed to preventing the reemergence of the Islamic State, restraining Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s power and eliminating Iranian influence in Syria.

“Security, stability in the Middle East has increased because of the work we’ve done,” he said. “I’m very confident that this administration’s efforts to crush ISIS will continue.”

 Stephanopoulos also asked Pompeo about concerns raised about potential ethnic cleansing by Turkey.

“And Lindsey Graham raises the other concern as the Kurds are withdrawing from that border with Turkey, that it would lead to a military occupation that displaces hundreds of thousands,” Stephanopoulos said. “He says that’s not a safe zone, it’s ethnic cleansing. Can you assure the Kurdish people and the president’s allies in Congress that you will not be party to ethnic cleansing?”

Pompeo pointed to the joint statement that was released declaring the ceasefire.

“No fewer than three of the paragraphs were aimed squarely at ensuring that in this space, this Turkish-controlled space, between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, in that Turkish-controlled space that there wouldn’t be attacks on minorities,” he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 20 Oct 2019

‘I never saw that’: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Mulvaney quid pro quo admission

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he never saw the kind of quid pro quo that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney referred to on Thursday with regard to the decision-making process he was involved in.

“The conversation was always around what were the strategic implications,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Would that money get to the right place or would there be corruption in Ukraine and the money wouldn’t flow to the mission that it was intended for.”

After repeated denials by the administration — including by the president himself — Mulvaney told ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl during a briefing on Thursday that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine affair. He has since walked back those comments, writing in a statement that the press has “decided to misconstrue” his earlier comments.

When asked if he wanted to clarify on Friday, President Donald Trump said “I think (Mulvaney) clarified it.”

Last month, Pompeo was subpoenaed as a part of the impeachment inquiry against Trump and he has accused Democrats of attempting to “bully” State Department officials. He was listening to the July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — which is at the center of the complaint — ABC News reported earlier this month.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 20 Oct 2019

Trump administration betrayed Kurdish allies in Syria: Sen. Bob Menendez

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration betrayed its allies when it announced its withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I think (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) lives in a parallel, alternate universe,” the New Jersey Democrat said, following a separate interview with Pompeo on “This Week” Sunday. “What the president did was a betrayal of the Kurds, who fought and died along side us on the pursuit of ending the threat of ISIS.”

Menendez has strongly criticized Trump’s Oct. 7 announcement withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria, saying in a news release that the decision “set off a cascade of destabilizing and chaotic events.”

Along with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Menendez has introduced bipartisan legislation calling for sanctions against Turkey after the country launched a military operation against Kurdish militias soon after the U.S. troop withdrawal.

“I think there’s going to be a real threat to the Kurds of ethnic cleansing,” Menendez told ABC’s Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “If we send a global message, George, that, in fact, we will abandon those who have fought alongside with us, then others in the world, when we are asking them to fight with us or for us, will say, why should I do that, when you’re — when you’re finished using me, you’re going to let me die on the battlefield?”

The senator argued the administration’s actions in Syria risked giving increased influence to Russia in the Middle East.

“It’s a betrayal of our foreign policy to the Russians, who are the big winners of this,” Menendez said.

The senator’s comments come after Russia mediated an agreement between the Kurds and the Bashar al-Assad-led Syrian regime on Oct. 14.

“All roads lead to Russia with the president,” he said. “Every time that there is an issue or a conflict it seems Russia ends up winning.”

Menendez then pivoted to Wednesday’s raucous meeting at the White House on Syria.

He criticized what he sees as the administration’s retreat from global diplomacy saying, “I was at that White House meeting, and have to tell you, when the president of the United States says we shouldn’t worry about something that’s 7,000 miles away and those terrorists there. Well, on Sept. 11, they traveled those 7,000 miles and ultimately did the worst attack in our nation’s history.”

Congressional Democrats walked out of the White House meeting after participants say Trump began insulting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her a “third-rate politician” and suggesting she should like ISIS because the terrorist organization contains some ex-communists.

The meeting between Trump and Pelosi was the first since House Democrats began an impeachment inquiry into the president. Menendez told Stephanopoulos that he would not comment on the investigation. However, he said Trump’s actions were “extraordinary and extraordinarily wrong.”

“The president extorted or was seeking to extort President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy of Ukraine,” he added.

Responding to Pompeo’s separate interview on “This Week,” the New Jersey senator said he laughed when he heard the secretary say he would cooperate if called upon by Congress to testify.

“The secretary and the state department have done everything humanly possible to impede, to obstruct and not to provide information,” Menendez said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 20 Oct 2019

11-month-old clinging to life after being shot four times in back seat of car

iStock(PHILADELPHIA) — An 11-month-old baby is in extremely critical condition after being shot four times while seated inside the back of a car in Philadelphia.

The incident happened on Saturday night at around 8 p.m. in the Hunting Park neighborhood in Philadelphia.

The child was seated in the back of a car being driven by the baby’s stepmother when the woman reported that she heard shots being fired in the area.

The woman drove for a few blocks before turning around and realizing that her car had been shot and the baby had been hit by four bullets that penetrated the vehicle: once in the head, once in the chest, and twice in the back according to ABC’s Philadelphia station WPVI.

The child was then rushed to Einstein Medical Center where they were listed in critical condition. Police did not confirm whether the child was a boy or a girl.

Police canvassed the crime scene looking for shell casings and appealing for witnesses to come forward who heard shots in the area. As of now, no physical evidence has been found from where the crime occurred.

Only a few blocks away about an hour before the 11-month-old child was shot, police reported that three men were injured in a triple shooting.

Police confirmed to WPVI that a 28-year-old man was shot in the stomach, a 41-year-old man was shot in the back and a 35-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh. The three men are all expected to survive and are listed in stable condition.

It is unknown if the two incidents are related but police are investigating that possibility. No arrests have been made in either one of the cases.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 20 Oct 2019

Elizabeth Warren gets taste of what it really means to be a front-runner

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The spotlights at the fourth Democratic debate beamed down on the 12 candidates on stage, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., faced an especially hot glare getting her first taste of what it really means to be a front-runner.

She faced sharp questions from the moderators — and from rivals — fending off attacks about how she would pay for “Medicare for All”, her wealth tax and, generally, the infrastructure of her plan-heavy brand. Many of the remaining 2020 Democrats accused her of being “evasive” on some of the core points that buttress the narrative of her candidacy and her origin story.

Center stage and in her rivals’ crosshairs, Warren met their salvos in turn.

And while the sometimes fiery exchanges highlighted salient questions about her policy prescriptions, experts noted, and polling indicates, a deeper undercurrent to the conversation — and caveats to her ascendant star.

“We are accustomed to seeing a particular model of what it looks like to be a candidate for the presidency,” Kelly Dittmar, a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, told ABC News. “When it comes to perceptions of who is best to beat Donald Trump, voters make assumptions about who’s won before.”

She’s got a plan for that

A former Republican, she’s also a woman, as was the last Democratic nominee, former Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated by a major party to top a ticket. Clinton won the popular vote vs. Trump but lost in the electoral college.

But Clinton espoused more centrist ideals than Warren’s progressive platform. Moreover, this election cycle, Warren shares the primary ballot with other female candidates.

Still, Warren has surged in the polls, largely on voters’ enthusiasm for her ethos and ideology.

“Warren has an idea and she knows how she’s going to get there,” Lauren Polkier of Providence, Rhode Island, told ABC after meeting Warren at a recent primary state convention, citing how relatable she finds the candidate’s origin story.

“I think the biggest thing that inspires me is that she comes from this background very similar to mine — tight-knit family, lower-middle class — and she’s beat the odds — she’s come up and she’s made something for herself,” Polkier said. “She’s very charismatic, she has a clear and concise plan for every policy and every issue. … She’s very inspiring for me, and I want to see a woman in the White House, and I’m very excited to see that.”

People often drive hundreds of miles across state lines for one of Warren’s town halls, to see her, meet her, take a selfie with her. Warren’s thousandth selfie was a young mother with two little girls.

Melinda wore a bright red shirt that said, “Impolite arrogant women make history.”

“She inspires us, she gives us hope for the future — and we’re here because of our girls,” Melinda told ABC News.

Voters repeatedly say they’re fueled by how she’s a fighter, and they feel she’ll fight for them, that she’s not just a woman, she’s a woman with a plan. But at Tuesday’s fourth debate, as Warren’s stock rose, her 2020 rivals took aim at those plans — and at perceived gaps in them.

The fourth Democratic debate, at Otterbein University in Ohio, was the first time Warren faced other contenders after leading a major poll. That polling reflects her rise: She’s neck and neck with former Vice President Joe Biden, even topping him in some.

And her onstage rivals didn’t shy away from hammering Warren on her signature promises. She often grabs about “having a plan for that” — for everything — but onstage, her rivals pilloried her for the lack of detail, especially when it came to her most expensive, most expansive plan, Medicare for All, which, ironically, isn’t even hers and which Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., originated. Then, at times, she was accused of being in turns dishonest, punitive, naive and that she offered a “pipe dream” ethos of leadership.

Warren refused to say the word “taxes” when it came to paying for her version Medicare for All, as she’s consistently avoided.

Yet in immediate post-debate polling, she did well, scoring high in her performance grade.

“Remember, a lot of Democrats come in liking Warren in the first place,” FiveThirtyEight’s Galen Druke noted in the wake of Tuesday’s debate. Warren came in with high net-favorability rating. “And so Democrats come in kind of wanting to think the debate went well for Warren, so if it was kind of ambiguous, it might come out fine for her.”

Voters like her energy, her enthusiasm, and how she links her personal history to her policy ideas. She’s become a flesh-and-blood metonym for her plan-fertile platform.

High marks in most polls, so why don’t voters think she can win?

Recent polling reflects people think she does have the “best” ideas — by a wide margin.

Quinnipiac University’s poll, released the day before the fourth debate, found that Democrat and Democratic-leaning voters expressed they think Warren has the best policy ideas by a wide margin: 40% of respondents giving her that nod compared with just 16% for Biden’s ideas. However, those same voters said that when it comes to the imperative question of who has the best chance of beating Trump, Biden outpaced Warren by far, 48% to 21%.

When it comes to that crucial vote of confidence, Warren doesn’t win. Why?

“The expectation of who is both capable and likely to lead in presidential office has historically been associated, not only just with men, but with white men,” Dittmar said. “Candidates have had to do additional labor to push back against those expectations.”

Voters cast ballots based on whoever seems most likely to win, based on the statistics from the last go-round, converging on a middle ground and sweetening the odds for a candidate on whom both sides can compromise.

“That’s based on whether or not people assume other people have bias about who can and should lead and if they have certain perceptions of what other people will accept,” Dittmar said.

Facing ‘othering’ as a female front-runner

Warren may also face an additional undercurrent of “othering” as a female front-runner.

However, the issue of perception of which candidates voters say they think their friends or neighbors will cast ballots for is not new to the 2020 primary.

In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama faced questions about his race that were coupled with concerns over his being a relative newcomer to Washington and his campaign’s gamble on “hope” and “change.”

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, was highly experienced but a hard sell to some as “electable” in her quest to shatter the “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”

Even Donald Trump, a billionaire and proverbial Washington outsider, was not considered a politically serious option well into his campaign that promised to “Make America Great Again,” a message targeting many of those hit hardest by the recent recession.

But this time, a historically diverse group of Democrats is lining up against the man who promised to drain the swamp, and a flurry of women and minorities, young candidates and old candidates, may challenge voters’ very notions of electability.

‘How she weathers attacks to come matters all the more now’

Questioning candidates’ honesty is no novel territory, but it’s an even bigger issue for women.

Warren’s been scrutinized especially of late on several serious subjects, including discrepancies in her origin story told on the stump and whether she’d have to raise taxes to pay for her health care plan. Both are issues of her own making — moreso the more she hedges — and exacerbated as many Democrats seek a surefire winner over Trump.

“People have the belief and stereotype that women are supposed to be more honest — well, then, when a woman gets caught in a lie, it’s even more damaging,” said Michelle Swers, a professor of American government at Georgetown University. “If they start on a virtue pedestal, people assume better of them. But then if they’re knocked off that pedestal, the fall is longer and harder than it might be for men.”

It’s happened before: In 2016, when questions arose over Clinton’s ethics and honesty, that’s when the moniker “Crooked Hillary” stuck.

“Electability has often been interpreted through a gendered lens,” Swers said, with women “usually needing to prove themselves even more qualified — more credentialed.”

When it comes to Warren, Swers added, that shows in spades: “The whole premise of ‘I have a plan for that’ is to show, ‘I’m serious — I’m not just making it up on the fly.'”

“Any candidate will have to go up against the clear discrepancy that women and people of color face, but this was the first time Warren really weathered any attacks and it was really quite fascinating,” Democratic strategist Arshad Hasan said of Warren’s latest debate performance. “You could see her get a bit impatient, but it was clear she was really conscientious that if she’s seen as stern or angry, that would have an entirely different effect than for male candidates.”

Warren weathered her rivals’ wallops with composure, choosing her words very carefully. In a particularly prickly exchange with Biden over who deserves credit for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — Warren’s signature effort — Biden grew visibly heated, gesturing widely into Warren’s podium space.

“I agree with the great job she did, and I went on the [Senate] floor and got you votes!” Biden said, his tone rising. “I got votes for that bill. I convinced people to vote for it — so let’s get those things straight, too.”

Warren stood stock still, letting him finish, and responded in a measured tone: “I am deeply grateful — to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law. And I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it, and who helped pass it into law.”

“There was Joe Biden, not only attempting to take credit for Elizabeth Warren’s signature accomplishment, but then also to take her space. You don’t have to be a body language expert — any woman could see that Elizabeth Warren was being very considered in her reaction to Biden getting in her space and getting in her literal accomplishment,” Hasan told ABC News.

“You saw her slow down and be very considerate about her words – she said, ‘I. Am. Very grateful. For all the support — that I got from Barack Obama,” Hasan continued. “I mean, like, we all saw what she was doing — the way that she said it, she was controlling herself and she was being so deliberate. It was a very clear, cutting comment to say, ‘Do not — do not! — take my signature accomplishment, and take it over.”

Any “attack” for female candidates — taking it or giving it — must be wielded as a finely tuned, finely sharpened weapon. “It’s not as easy for you to just be purely angry, you have to be more strategic. Now, multiple female candidates on the stage show different elements of what is ‘allowed,’ and it’s widening the circle of what’s permissible behavior,” Swers said.

When her opponents onstage, and even some pundits post-debate, grew visibly frustrated with some of her artful dodges, Warren stayed mostly tempered, even as she ducked the questions.

“Claire Mckaskill called her petulant,” Dittmar said of the post-debate analysts. “You could say that about any of the candidates, but think about the effect when talking about a woman, who have historically been infantilized. So, will that cue play into existing negative stereotypes about women more easily?”

McCaskill, a former centrist democrat Missouri senator turned political analyst, knocked Warren for her tactics. But how will those affect voters’ perceptions?

“Voters and viewers have certain expectations about dynamics between men and women — about stereotypes of male dominance — men have to worry about coming across as a bully,” Dittmar said. “For Biden, he risks cuing some of those negative reactions, especially among women viewers, to see that sort of aggression and invasion of personal space as something that they themselves have experienced.”

Warren played the moment to her advantage, Dittmar said, let the pauses be pregnant — leaning back while Biden leaned in.

“She did that very well, she almost amplified his emotion, his aggression, by simply standing there very stoically. She played up the contrast in her body language and her tone,” Dittmar added.

But friction between female candidates played out differently. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called Warren explicitly by her first name.

“It’s just the slightest slight,” Hasan said, an index of familiarity, while still coming after Warren’s policies sharply, that perhaps a male candidate couldn’t have pulled off.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about how women engage on the trail, but it’s equally as important to think about how gender functions for men,” Dittmar added. In the wake of #MeToo “we’ve seen, and I think will see, men have to answer to this more than they have before.”

The contrast of a woman onstage versus Trump this time, with so much happening since 2016, may yet prove advantageous for a well prepared female candidate.

“This is Warren’s first day really at the top,” Hasan said. “And I think this is going to play out a lot more: She’s always been a woman, but she’s never been a front-runner before… and the question now is where that room to grow goes.”

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Posted On 20 Oct 2019