Democratic Debates: Comments by Each Candidate

The fifth Democratic presidential candidate debates took place Wednesday in Atlanta. The candidates answered questions on a range of issues, including the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, foreign policy and health care.

Here are some comments from each candidate:

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Nov. 20, 2019.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, in answering a question about recent “Lock him up!” chants directed at Trump, said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea that we mock that, that we that we model ourselves after Trump and say, lock him up.’ … It’s about civility. We have to restore the soul of this country. That’s not who we are. That’s not who we have been. That’s not who we should be.”

Senator Cory Booker, in arguing against a “wealth tax” being pitched by Senator Elizabeth Warren, said, “I don’t agree with the wealth tax the way Elizabeth Warren puts it,” saying the Democratic Party should discuss how to “give people opportunities to create wealth, to grow businesses. … That’s what our party has to be about as well.”

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg points to his wedding ring from his marriage to his husband, Chasten, as he talks about civil rights in the United States during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in talking about climate change, said, “American farming should be one of the key pillars of how we combat climate change. I believe that the quest for the carbon-negative farm could be as big a symbol of dealing with climate change as the electric car in this country. And it’s an important part of how we make sure that we get a message out around dealing with climate change that recruits everybody to be part of the solution, including conservative communities where a lot of people have been made to feel that admitting climate science would mean acknowledging they’re part of the problem.”

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, in criticizing the Democratic Party, said, “It is a party that has been and continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment in Washington, represented by Hillary Clinton and others’ foreign policy, by the military industrial complex and other greedy corporate interests. I’m running for president to be the Democratic nominee that rebuilds our Democratic party, takes it out of their hands and truly puts it in the hands of the people of this country.”

Senator Kamala Harris, in answering whether she would make concessions to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said, “In all due deference to the fact this is a presidential debate, Donald Trump got punk’d. He has conducted foreign policy since day one borne out of a very fragile ego.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Nov. 20, 2019.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, in addressing Saudi Arabia and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said, “When the president did not stand up the way he should to that killing and that dismemberment of a journalist with an American newspaper, that sent a signal to dictators … and that’s wrong.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, says he’s “pro-Israel “but that he is concerned about conditions for the Palestinians. “I am pro-Israel, but we must treat the Palestinian people as well with respect and dignity that they deserve,” he said. “What is going on in Gaza right now where youth employment is 70 or 80% is unsustainable.”

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Nov. 20, 2019.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and environmentalist, discussed his plan to implement “structural reforms” to put power back in the hands of the American people through election reform and break the corporate stranglehold over government. “It’s time to push power back to the American people and take power away from the corporations who bought our government,” he said. “And I’m talking about structural reform in Washington, D.C. — term limits. You’re going to have to have new and different people in charge. I’m the only person on this stage who will talk about term limits.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, in discussing her proposed “wealth tax,” a tax on the country’s wealthiest people to pay for, among other things, her health care plan, said, “Doing a wealth tax is not about punishing anyone. It’s about saying, You built something great in this country? Good for you’ … All of us helped pay for it.”

Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Nov. 20, 2019.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, in answering a question about child care and paid family leave, said, “There are only two countries in the world that don’t have paid family leave for new moms: the United States of America and Papua New Guinea. That is the entire list and we need to get off this list as soon as possible.”

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Susan Choi, Sarah M Broom Win National Book Awards

Susan Choi’s novel “Trust Exercise,” in which a high school romance is spun out into a web of memories and perspectives, has won the National Book Award for fiction.

Sarah M. Broom’s family memoir “The Yellow House” won in nonfiction and Martin W. Sandler’s “1919 The Year That Changed America” for young people’s literature. The winner for best translated book was Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s “Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming,” translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. In poetry, the winner was Arthur Sze’s “Sight Lines.”

The 70th annual National Book Awards were presented Wednesday night at a dinner benefit gala in downtown Manhattan, with winners each receiving $10,000. Finalists were chosen by panels of authors, critics, booksellers and others in the literary community. Publishers submitted more than 1,700 books for consideration.

Choi expressed gratitude not just for the award, but for the writing life, saying that writing and teaching showed her that the word was “its own reward.” Her other books include the Pulitzer Prize finalist “American Woman” and the PEN/Faulkner finalist “A Person of Interest.”

Other speakers offered emotional tributes to loved ones and cited the written word as a source of healing, action and community in an unsettling world. Kraszahorkai praised his translator, Muzlet, and marveled how the change from one language to another could make one “feel at home in the United States of America.”

Broom singled out her mother for awe and gratitude, remembering how she raised 12 children and absorbed words everywhere from the grocery store to package labels, “always wolfing down words. Insatiable.”

The prolific Sandler is an Emmy-winning television writer who has written dozens of books, and vows to write 60 more. Sze called poetry an “essential language,” helping us all to “slow down, see clearly, feel deeply” and understand what “truly matters.”

Honorary awards were given to Oren Teicher, longtime head of the American Booksellers Association, and Edmund White, the pioneering gay writer. Each celebrated the literary life in their own fashion.

Teicher, introduced warmly by author-bookseller Ann Patchett, spoke of his ever-renewing joy in helping bookstores commit a sacred, timeless “act of magic”: placing the “right book in a reader’s hands.” Teicher will soon step down after a decade as CEO of the independent sellers trade group and quoted W.B. Yeats: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends; and say my glory was I had such friends.”

White was introduced, mischievously, by the filmmaker-author John Waters, who celebrated his longtime friend with dirty jokes, entendres that mean one thing only and high praise for a man who “pissed off” both Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag.

White’s medal is for “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters,” but he was here to dish, joking that a writer’s typical 8-hour “work” day was maybe a half hour of actual writing and otherwise a well-met schedule of gossip, “too many emails,” cooking, pornography and drinking.

“So many writers are alcoholic because they can get away with it,” he said.

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Sondland Confirms Quid Pro Quo Between Trump, Ukraine

Wednesday was the most explosive day yet in the House impeachment hearings and perhaps a crucial moment for the Trump White House when U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testified that there was a quid pro quo between President Donald Trump and Ukraine.

Trump has been denying allegations that he held up nearly $400 million in badly needed military aid to Ukraine until Kyiv promised to investigate Joe Biden, a possible rival of Trump’s in the 2020 presidential election, for alleged corruption.

In his opening statement, Sondland said impeachment investigators “have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously … the answer is yes.”

According to the ambassador, “it was no secret” and a number of senior Trump administration officials were “in the loop,” including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and former national security adviser John Bolton.

Sondland talked about long and complicated behind-the-scenes machinations that started in April, with the election of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and September, when the aid to Ukraine was finally released after a 55-day delay.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, center, gives his closing remarks as U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testifies before the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 20, 2019.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, center, gives his closing remarks as U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testifies before the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 20, 2019.

Sondland said he joined Energy Secretary Rick Perry and special envoy Kurt Volker in following Trump’s “orders” to work with the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and alleged Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election to help Democrats.

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said. “Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine.”

WATCH: Sondland to US Lawmakers: Trump Conditioned Aid to Ukraine on Investigations

Sondland to US Lawmakers: Trump Conditioned Aid to Ukraine on Investigations video player.

Sondland said Giuliani was acting at Trump’s behest when the lawyer told Ukrainian officials that the president wanted Zelenskiy to publicly commit to investigating the Bidens and the Democrats.

Sondland said efforts to push for the investigations were a quid pro quo in arranging a White House meeting for Zelenskiy.

Sondland said that while Trump never told him directly that military aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the investigations, he later concluded that had to be the reason because Sondland said there was no other credible reason Ukraine was not getting the money it had been promised.


Aid released after whistleblower complaint

Republicans on the impeachment inquiry have argued there could not have possibly been a quid pro quo with Ukraine because the military aid was eventually released and there were no investigations of Biden and the Democrats. They also say Ukraine was unaware that the money was being held up.

But in later testimony Wednesday, Pentagon official Laura Cooper said Ukrainian officials began asking questions about the aid in July. 

“It’s the recollections of my staff that they likely knew,” she said.

Trump released the aid to Ukraine on September 11 after reports emerged that an intelligence community whistleblower told the inspector general he was concerned about a July phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden. That whistleblower complaint is what led to the impeachment probe.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said that Sondland’s testimony “made clear” that in his calls with Trump, the president “clearly stated that he ‘wanted nothing’ from Ukraine, and repeated ‘no quid pro quo’ over and over again. The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelenskiy. Democrats keep chasing ghosts.”

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Ukraine got the money and there were no investigations only because Trump got caught.

FILE - President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks to reporter's on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, May 30, 2018.
FILE – President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks to reporter’s on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, May 30, 2018.

No evidence of Biden wrongdoing

Trump has alleged that when Biden was vice president, he threatened to withhold loan guarantees to Ukraine unless it fired a prosecutor looking into corruption in Burisma, a gas company where Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board.

No evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens has ever surfaced. Allegations that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to help Democrats are based on a debunked conspiracy theory that likely originated in Russia.

Two more witnesses are set to testify in the impeachment inquiry Thursday, including David Holmes, an aide to the U.S. ambassador, who says he overheard Trump talk about investigations in a telephone call the president had with Sondland.

July call central to inquiry

Trump’s July 25 White House call with Zelenskiy, in which the U.S. leader asked Zelenskiy to “do us a favor,” to undertake the politically tinged investigations, is at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry against Trump.

It is against U.S. campaign finance law to solicit foreign government help in a U.S. election, but it will be up to lawmakers to decide whether Trump’s actions amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the standard in the U.S. Constitution sets for impeachment and removal of a president from office. Trump could be impeached by the full Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in the coming weeks, which would be similar to an indictment in a criminal trial. He then would face a trial in the Republican-majority Senate, where his conviction remains unlikely.

Sondland confirmed the essence of a cellphone conversation he had with Trump on July 26, the day after Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy, as he sat at a Kyiv restaurant with other State Department officials.

David Holmes, a career diplomat and the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukaine leaves the Capitol Hill, Friday, Nov…
David Holmes, a career diplomat and the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine leaves Capitol Hill, Nov. 15, 2019, in Washington, after a deposition before lawmakers.

Late last week, David Holmes, an aide to William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, told impeachment investigations in private testimony that he overheard the Trump-Sondland call because Trump’s voice was loud and Sondland held the phone away from his ear.

Holmes said Sondland in the call assured Trump that Zelenskiy “loves your ass,” which Sondland said “sounds like something I would say.”

“So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Holmes quoted Trump as asking. Sondland, according to Holmes, replied, “He’s gonna do it,” while adding that Zelenskiy will do “anything you ask him to.”

Holmes said he later asked Sondland if Trump cared about Ukraine, with the envoy replying that Trump did not “give a s**t about Ukraine.” Sondland said he did not recall this remark but did not rebut Holmes’ account.

“I asked why not,” Holmes recalled, “and Ambassador Sondland stated that the president only cares about big stuff. I noted that there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation.”‘

President Donald Trump talks to the media on his way to the Marine One helicopter, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, as he leaves the White House in Washington, en route to Texas.
President Donald Trump talks to the media on his way to the Marine One helicopter, Nov. 20, 2019, as he leaves the White House in Washington, en route to Texas.

Disdain from Trump

Before Sondland revised his testimony last month to say there had been a quid pro quo — the military aid for the Biden investigation — Trump had called Sondland a “great American.” But after Sondland changed his testimony, Trump said, “I hardly know the gentleman.”

Trump has repeatedly described the July 25 call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and denied any wrongdoing. Trump has often assailed the impeachment inquiry but did not immediately comment on Twitter about Sondland’s testimony.

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Experts: North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons, Missiles Make It Less Secure

Contrary to Pyongyang’s belief that nuclear weapons and missile programs safeguard its security and ensure its survival, experts said they make the country less safe because they leave it prone to U.S. military targets.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “thinks that nuclear weapons are the guarantee of his regime survival,” said Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp. research center. “In reality, they’re the guarantee of his regime destruction.”

Although Kim promised he will commit to denuclearization since he began engaging with the U.S. in 2018, North Korea has not shown a serious willingness to reach a deal agreeing to forgo nuclear weapons.

Experts said North Korea’s reluctance to reach a denuclearization deal stems from its dogmatic view of nuclear weapons as essential for its security.

Evans Revere, a former State Department official who had negotiated with North Korea extensively, said, “I am convinced that North Koreans believe nuclear weapons guarantee their security.”

“And as long as that is the case, there is no chance that Pyongyang will give them up,” he added.


Rather than committing itself toward reaching a viable denuclearization deal with Washington, Pyongyang has been stalling while blaming Washington for refusing to make concessions.

North Korea said on Monday it is not interested in having another summit with the U.S. in an apparent response to President Donald Trump’s Sunday tweet urging Kim to “act quickly” to “get a deal done.” 

Mr. Chairman, Joe Biden may be Sleepy and Very Slow, but he is not a “rabid dog.” He is actually somewhat better than that, but I am the only one who can get you where you have to be. You should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2019

North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan said, “We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us,” in a statement carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).“As we have got nothing in return, we will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of.” 

Progress on denuclearization talks has been stalled since the Hanoi Summit held in February failed when Trump denied Kim’s request for sanctions relief in exchange for partial denuclearization. Trump, instead, asked Kim to fully denuclearize before any lifting of sanctions can be granted.

After months of stalled negotiations, working-level talks were held in Stockholm in October, but the talks ended quickly without a deal reached when North Korea walked away from the negotiating table.

Revere said North Korea had used negotiations in the past as a cover-up to further develop its nuclear weapons.

“Even when negotiations seemed to be moving in a positive direction, such as in 1994 and 2005, we now know that the North Koreans are determined not to give up their nuclear weapons and used the negotiations to cover their continued pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Revere said.

While North Korea has been engaged with the U.S. this year, it demonstrated it has been developing advanced missile technologies through a series of missile tests it conducted since May.

Missile launches

Amid a flurry of missile launches in August, Pyongyang said it “will never barter the strategic security of the country” even for the sanctions relief it has been seeking since the Hanoi Summit, apparently referring to nuclear weapons when it said the security of the country.

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said, “Kim Jong Un, like his father and other North Korean leaders view nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent against the U.S.” He continued, “That’s why they have poured so much of their scarce resources into their missile and nuclear programs over the past four decades.”

According to experts, Pyongyang adheres to the doctrine of nuclear security because it does not think the U.S. will launch an attack against a country that has nuclear weapons to retaliate.

“The North Koreans have long believed that nuclear weapons are an insurance policy against an attack or invasion by the United States,” Revere said. “They have convinced themselves, with good reason, that the United States will not attack a country that has the ability to respond to a U.S. attack with nuclear weapons.”

Thomas Countryman, former acting undersecretary of arms control and international security at the State Department, said, “The DPRK has developed nuclear weapons because it believes this is the ultimate effective deterrent against what it sees as a risk of U.S.-ROK attacks on the DPRK.”

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name in English, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The ROK is an acronym for South Korea’s official English name, the Republic of Korea.

Furthermore, Pyongyang thinks even if it were to launch an attack against South Korea targeting American troops stationed there, the U.S. will not retaliate against North Korea or defend South Korea, Bennett, of Rand Corp., said.

This view, he said, comes from Choi Ju Hwal, a high-ranking military official of the North Korean army who defected to South Korea in 1995 and testified to the U.S. Congress in 1997.

In the testimony Choi said, “Some Americans believe that even if North Korea possessed the ability to strike the United States, it would never dare to because of the devastating consequences.”

Choi continued that North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father, “believes that if North Korea creates more than 20,000 American casualties in the region, the U.S. will roll back and the North Korea will win the war.” Kim Jon Il ruled North Korea from 1994 until 2011.

Bennett said, “I worry that we have not tried to convince Kim Jong Un that that’s a wrong view because an even more senior military defector much more recently has told me that that view continues within the North Korean regime.” ((ACT 2))

‘Alliance of convenience’

Bennett said Pyongyang holds this view because it believes the alliance of the U.S. and South Korea is “an alliance of convenience” rather than “an alliance of commitment.”

“If indeed, [North Korea] were to kill 20,000 Americans, which is more than 10 times the number of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor, I think you get an idea of what the Americans are likely to do to [North Korea],” Bennett said, pointing out the U.S. policy toward North Korea in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review

The U.S. policy, according to the review, is to end the regime if North Korea were to use nuclear attacks against the U.S. or its allies.

“Our deterrent strategy for North Korea makes clear that any North Korean nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of that regime,” the review said. “There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive.”

It also said the U.S. will target North Korea military forces hidden underground and in natural terrains “at risk.”

Manning, of the Atlantic Council, said, “Any North Korean use of nuclear weapons would be suicidal, as would a major conventional attack on the ROK.” He continued, “Any nuclear use would mean their demise.”

Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, said, “Once North Korea uses forces in large measure against Seoul, the U.S. would likely take steps to end the North Korean regime.”

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MTV Launches 2020 ‘+1thevote’ Campaign to Mobilize Millennial, Gen Z

In 1990, a bikini-clad Madonna wrapped in a U.S. flag urged MTV viewers to vote in Senate elections as the youth television network partnered with a “Rock the Vote” campaign that mixed pop culture and politics.

Thirty years on, with Millennials and Gen Z poised to outnumber the Baby Boomer generation for the first time in a U.S. presidential election, MTV on Tuesday launched its most ambitious turnout campaign ever, reaching beyond celebrities to tap into burgeoning youth activism.

The year-long “+1thevote”  initiative across MTV’s multiple TV platforms, social media and live events includes plans to open new polling stations at college campuses, sponsor school proms that host registration drives, and integrate voting messages into shows.

“You need to look no further than the climate change strikes and what is happening in the streets to see that this is a fired-up generation,” said Brianna Cayo Cotter, SVP of social impact for MTV and its affiliate platforms VH1, CMT and Logo.

“But they have to vote in this election to take that passion and turn it into political power. That’s the aim of this campaign – how do we help young people, who are so passionate but for whom voting today was not really designed,” she told Reuters.

The campaign is aimed at first time voters, especially the 4 million Americans who will turn 18 in time for the Nov. 8 presidential elections. It aims to make voting an experience to be shared with friends, or a “plus one.”

Millennials and Gen Z – those born between 1981-96 and after 1996, respectively – will make up 37 percent of the U.S. electorate, according to a January report from the Pew Research Center, outnumbering for the first time Boomers born between 1946-64.

FILE - Various logos of the different cable channels from the MTV Networks are pictured at the Cable Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California, July 13, 2006.
FILE – Various logos of the different cable channels from the MTV Networks are pictured at the Cable Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California, July 13, 2006.

MTV, a unit of Viacom, is well-placed to catch their attention as the most-watched non-sports U.S. cable network in primetime with 18-34 year olds, according to Nielsen data.

The past three years have seen a boom in youth activism on issues ranging from climate change, partly inspired by 16 year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, to gun control, civil rights and immigration.

Yet for the two generations raised on the internet and smart phones, the process of registering and voting can seem bewildering, MTV found during months of research.

“People have questions that are like, ‘What do I wear to vote?’, and ‘Where do I go?’ To young people who can order anything on their phones automatically, the fact that in a lot of places they would have to go to a post office and get a stamp feels crazy,” said Cayo Cotter.

Part of the +1thevote campaign involves a partnership with Campus Vote Project and two other grassroots groups to create dozens of new polling stations on college campuses and in local communities nationwide to make youth voting more accessible.

Voters cast their ballots in state and local elections at Pillow Boro Hall in Pillow, Pennsylvania, Nov. 5, 2019.
Voters cast their ballots in state and local elections at Pillow Boro Hall in Pillow, Pennsylvania, Nov. 5, 2019.

Some 1,200 polling stations have been shut down across the Southern United States since 2014, according to a September report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The MTV initiative also includes a drive to integrate voting messages in TV shows across the industry and plans to register voters waiting in line at MTV events like the Video Music Awards.

“If we can use our platforms’ superpowers to reach an untapped and largely ignored audience, we’re going to be able to unlock an incredible amount of first time voters that otherwise would probably sit this election out,” said Cayo Cotter.


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EU’s Tusk: Croatia’s EU Presidency Comes at Critical Time

Croatia’s first-ever presidency in the European Union will come at come at a “critical period” for the 28-nation bloc, outgoing EU leader Donald Tusk said Tuesday.

The EU’s newest member could end up in charge of launching the bloc’s post-Brexit negotiations with Britain, the European Council president said after talks with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, takes over the bloc’s six-month rotating chairmanship at the beginning of January while Britain’s departure from the bloc is now set for Jan. 31.

“Your task is not easy,” said Tusk. “It will be a critical period for the EU and we will be relying on your steady leadership.”

Tusk expressed confidence in Croatia’s preparation for the job, adding that Croatia also needs to focus on the EU’s enlargement agenda and the volatile Western Balkans.

EU aspirations in the Western Balkans have been dealt a blow after France and the Netherlands blocked the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

“I deeply believe that you (Croatia) will do everything in your power to restore EU unity and enlargement while demonstrating positive EU engagement in the region,” Tusk said.

Tusk was in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, for a meeting of the European People’s Party, the main center-right bloc in the European Parliament. The Polish politician is expected to be elected the leader of the alliance during the two-day gathering.

“I am leaving the EU in good hands,” he said.


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US, S. Korea Break Off Defense Cost Talks Amid Backlash Over Trump Demand

South Korean and U.S. officials broke off talks on Tuesday aimed at settling the cost burden for Seoul of hosting the U.S. military, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, amid a public backlash over a U.S. demand for a sharp increase in the bill.

Officials had resumed a planned two-day negotiation on Monday, trying to narrow a $4 billion gap in what they believe South Korea should contribute for the cost of stationing U.S. troops in the country for next year.

“Our position is that it should be within the mutually acceptable Special Measures Agreement (SMA) framework that has been agreed upon by South Korea and the U.S. for the past 28 years,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, referring to the cost-sharing deal’s official name.

“The U.S. believes that the share of defense spending should be increased significantly by creating a new category,” the ministry said in a statement.

Negotiators left the table after only about one hour of discussions while the talks were scheduled throughout the day, South Korean media reported, citing unnamed foreign ministry officials.

South Korean lawmakers have said U.S. officials had demanded up to $5 billion a year, more than five times the 1.04 trillion won ($896 million) Seoul agreed to pay this year for hosting the 28,500 troops.

U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed the number, but Trump has previously said the U.S. military presence in and around South Korea was “$5 billion worth of protection.”

The negotiations are taking place as U.S. efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs appear stalled, ahead of a year-end deadline from Pyongyang for the U.S. to shift its approach.

Lee Hye-hoon, head of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee, said in a radio interview on Tuesday the U.S. ambassador to South Korea talked to her at length earlier this month about how Seoul had been only paying one-fifth what it should have been paying for the cost of stationing U.S. troops.

Under South Korean law, the military cost-sharing deal must be approved by parliament.

Ruling party lawmakers have said this week they will “refuse to ratify any excessive outcome of the current negotiations” that deviate from the established principle and structure of the agreements for about 30 years.

Trump has long railed against what he says are inadequate contributions from allies towards defense costs. The United States is due to begin separate negotiations for new defense cost-sharing deals with Japan, Germany and NATO next year.

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Union Raises Money to Help US Diplomats Pay Impeachment Legal Bills

The union representing U.S. diplomats said on Monday it has raised tens of thousands of dollars in the last week alone to help defray the legal costs of foreign service officers who have testified in U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) also issued a statement defending U.S. diplomats after Trump criticized several of those who have appeared before Congress and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said nothing specific in their support.

“These patriots go abroad to every corner of the world and serve the interests of the American people,” AFSA President Eric Rubin said in a statement. “They do so with integrity and have no partisan or hidden agenda.”

“We should honor the service of each and every one of them.”

Separately, Rubin said: “We have raised tens of thousands of dollars in the past week alone” in the union’s Legal Defense Fund to help defray lawyers’ bills. He did not provide details.

One person caught up in the inquiry said he had already run up a legal bill of more than $25,000.

Neither the State Department nor the White House responded to requests for comment. A State Department spokesperson has previously said the agency planned to provide legal assistance to employees called to testify but did not give details.

FILE – Jennifer Williams, special adviser for Europe and Russia in the Office of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives on Capitol Hill for a closed-door hearing in Washington, Nov. 7, 2019.

Trump lashed out on Sunday at Jennifer Williams, a U.S. diplomat and foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence who has testified that some of Trump’s comments on a July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart were “inappropriate.”

The call is at the heart of the Democratic-led House of Representatives’ inquiry into whether Republican Trump misused U.S. foreign policy to undermine former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, a potential opponent in the 2020 election.

Writing on Twitter, Trump accused Williams of being a “Never Trumper” who should “work out a better presidential attack.”

Trump has denied wrongdoing and branded the probe a witch hunt aimed at hurting his re-election chances.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, Nov. 18, 2019.

Asked on Monday why he had not spoken in support of his employees, Pompeo said he would talk about U.S. policy toward Ukraine but not about the impeachment inquiry.

Pressed, he said nothing specific: “I always defend State Department employees. It’s the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world. Very proud of the team.”

Asked if he shared Trump’s view, expressed on Twitter, that “everywhere (former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine) Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Pompeo replied: “I’ll defer to the White House about particular statements.”



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