Malcolm Turnbull and the United States’ stand-in for ambassador to Australia have both said they are “disappointed” that admiral Harry Harris will not be coming to take the role permanently.
Turnbull and the US charge d’affaires, James Carouso, have both sought to downplay claims that the Trump administration’s decision to redirect Harris to represent the US in South Korea amounts to treating Australia like a second-class ally.
On Thursday Carouso told ABC News Breakfast it was a “top priority” to bring a US ambassador to Australia but conceded that “we are all disappointed” Harris, the head of the US Pacific command, will not fill the role.
He asked Australians to look at the “bigger picture” in Korea, citing upcoming talks between Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to argue that the US needs an ambassador on the ground in South Korea.
Carouso said the US was sending Harris “because of the urgency of the situation in Korea” and applied a positive spin by claiming it “reflects the fact that the United States and Australia have worked together to apply pressure on Korea that has brought us to this point”.
Carouso said Australia’s relationship with the US was “incredibly broad and tight”, citing the fact that ministers can contact their US counterparts and more than 700 Australian officials had visited Washington and vice versa in the last year.
“Australia should have an ambassador here, there is no doubt … I don’t know the exact situation but I have been told this is the top priority to get the next person out here as quickly as possible,” he said.
Turnbull has not spoken to the US president since learning of the decision earlier this week but insists he is unperturbed.
“I’m disappointed that Harry’s not coming because he’s a really good friend, and I think Harry will be disappointed that he’s not coming to Canberra too because he loves Australia,” Turnbull told reporters in France.
“He is a guy of enormous experience and ability and, given the situation on the Korean peninsula, given the tensions there, I can well understand why the president has decided that the admiral’s expertise and experience is going to be able to be put to better use in Korea than in Australia.”
Turnbull praised the “fantastic job” being done by Carouso. The full-time Canberra post has been vacant since September 2016.
“The relationship between Australia and the United States, as you all know as well as I do, that is so deep and so intense and operates at so many levels,” Turnbull said. “The absence, if you like, of an ambassador is not really troubling the very strong relationship we have whatsoever.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, confirmed Harris would not be heading to Canberra after being notified by the acting US secretary of state, John Sullivan.
Bishop said Sullivan made it clear a new appointment to Canberra would be a priority for the next secretary of state.
“Based on the assumption he is confirmed by the Senate this week, I hope to have a conversation with Mike Pompeo as soon as possible,” she said.
Andrew Shearer, a senior policy adviser for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, has said it is “hard to escape a bit of a sense that Australia is being treated here as a second-class ally”.
A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Thomas Wright, told Fairfax Media the backflip sent a “terrible” and “unfortunate” message because it suggested Australia “is not a priority”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Judges Declare Ohio’s Congressional Map Unconstitutional
CINCINNATI (AP) — A panel of federal judges ruled Friday that Ohio’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally drawn by the Republicans for their political advantage, and it ordered a new map for the 2020 elections.
The ruling, if it stands, could prove an important victory for the Democrats, who are hoping redrawn boundaries will not only help them pick up House seats but also energize voters and boost turnout in this longtime battleground state, helping them defeat President Donald Trump. Republican officials said they would appeal.
The panel unanimously declared the current map an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander,” saying the GOP-controlled Ohio Legislature put the Democrats at a disadvantage by packing lots of them into four districts and scattering the rest across the remaining 12.
“Democratic candidates must run a significantly longer distance to get to the same finish line,” the judges wrote in a 301-page ruling.
The Republicans hold a 12-4 advantage in Ohio’s congressional delegation under the current map, which went into effect for the 2012 elections.
The Supreme Court is already considering a gerrymandering case that could lead to a major decision on how far politicians can go in drawing districts. It involves challenges to congressional maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and Maryland, created by Democrats.
Republican Attorney General Dave Yost said he will seek to stay the court order while appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also said Ohioans have already approved mapmaking reforms that will be in effect for redistricting after the 2020 census.
He called the opinion “a fundamentally political act that has no basis whatsoever in the Constitution.”
Some Democrats have said that after years of lopsided congressional races, newly competitive districts could generate voter excitement in a state that Trump won in 2016 after Barack Obama carried it twice. And that, in turn, could influence the White House race.
“That could very well change the turnout for the presidential race,” said Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper said. “It’s a bad day for Republicans in Washington, and it’s a bad day for Donald Trump.”
The Republican Party state chairwoman called the challenge to the map “a partisan political ploy.”
“When Democrats can’t win at the ballot box, they try to change the rules,” Jane Timken said.
The judges — two nominated by Democratic presidents, one by a Republican — ordered a proposed new map by June 14. They heard arguments in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati in March.
Voters’ rights and Democratic groups had sued Ohio Republican officials, saying redistricting after the 2010 census yielded a map that has produced an impenetrable GOP advantage. Among the examples cited was Cincinnati, a Democrat-dominated city split into two districts, both held by Republicans.
Another example was Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, which stretches in a long skinny line along Lake Erie and has been dubbed “the Snake on the Lake.” The judges described it as “a bizarre, elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties.”
Attorneys for the Republicans said the map was drawn with bipartisan support. Before it took effect, the GOP held a 13-5 advantage in Ohio’s congressional delegation. (Each party later lost one seat when the state’s representation in Congress was reduced because of population shifts.)
“This is called democracy in action,” said GOP attorney Phil Strach, adding that both parties supported “incumbency protection” — or making it more likely an incumbent will win — because that benefits all Ohioans by giving their delegation more clout in Washington.
In a case similar to Ohio’s, a three-judge panel ruled last week that Michigan’s congressional and legislative maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and ordered the state Legislature to redraw some districts for 2020. The judges wrote that the GOP created districts in 2011 with the goal of ensuring “durable majorities” for Republicans. Republicans have appealed that ruling.
The lawsuit challenging Ohio’s map called it “one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history,” one that has reliably done its job by allowing the GOP to capture 75% of the seats by winning a little more than half the state’s votes.
The longest-serving woman in House history was among the plaintiffs’ witnesses. Nineteen-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo said her district, the elongated 9th, was “hacked apart,” forcing her into a Democratic primary with veteran Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland in 2012. She won, knocking him out of Congress.
Political Newcomer Lori Lightfoot Becomes Chicago’s First Black Female, Openly Gay Mayor
CHICAGO (AP) — Political newcomer Lori Lightfoot has been elected Chicago mayor, becoming the first black female — and openly gay — leader of the city.
Lightfoot on Tuesday defeated Toni Preckwinkle, a former school teacher who served in the City Council for 19 years before becoming Cook County Board president in 2011.
The 56-year-old Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor who campaigned on ridding Chicago’s government of corruption. She also said she wanted to help low-income and working-class people she believes have been “left behind and ignored” by Chicago’s political ruling class.
Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were the top two vote-getters in the February general election that saw 14 vie to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He decided against running for a third term.
Lightfoot will be sworn in May 20.
GOP Candidate in Disputed U.S. House Race Not Running Again
Raleigh, N.C. (AP) — The Republican candidate whose narrow lead in a North Carolina congressional race was thrown out because of suspicions of ballot fraud announced Tuesday he will not run in the newly ordered do-over election, saying he needs surgery late next month.
The withdrawal of Mark Harris, a candidate hobbled by links to alleged ballot fraud, could help Republicans in their effort to keep the competitive seat in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
Harris announced his decision in a statement that focused on his health problems. He did not mention the alleged ballot fraud scandal.
Harris had led Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes after November’s election, but the outcome was never certified. State election officials grew concerned about reports that an operative working for Harris was illegally tampering with absentee ballots.
Harris last week stopped a special state elections board hearing by declaring he couldn’t continue to testify. He cited health problems caused by a blood infection that required hospitalization and led to two strokes. He also said he agreed that a new election should be called, despite his previous calls to be declared the winner.
Shortly after Harris spoke last week, the elections board ordered a new contest . A date for the new election has not been announced.
On Tuesday, Harris encouraged his supporters to rally around Stony Rushing, a commissioner in Union County. The local official from the Charlotte suburbs would “stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom,” Harris said.
Rushing, a firing range owner and licensed gun seller, has been a county commissioner off and on for more than eight years, first taking office in 2002. He didn’t return a phone call to his shooting range seeking comment on Tuesday.
Only one other GOP candidate — former state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County — has publicly expressed interest in running for the seat. In a phone interview, Tucker said he’s “95 percent sure” that he plans to run for the seat. He said he had no idea how Harris’ near-endorsement of Rushing would affect the campaign.
Former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated in last May’s primary, told The Associated Press in an interview that it was “good for the country and the party” that Harris wasn’t running. When asked why, he said simply: “I think it’s just obvious.”
Pittenger again closed the door on seeking his old job, saying he’s involved in a series of conferences on counter-terrorism and security issues.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday he wouldn’t seek the seat. He was previously mayor of Charlotte, a part of which is in the congressional district.
McCready has been assembling a new campaign staff and raising money to run again in the district that stretches from Charlotte through several counties to the east along the South Carolina border. His campaign finance report showed McCready raised $487,000 during the final five weeks of 2018. His campaign sent out a campaign fundraising plea late Thursday, citing the state elections board’s decision.
McCready formally announced his intention to run Friday before several dozen supporters at a brewery in Waxhaw, near Charlotte.
“Folks, there’s a lot of people that have had their confidence shaken in recent weeks because of the fraud conducted by Mark Harris’s campaign,” McCready said. “There’s a lot of people right now in North Carolina that are disillusioned in our electoral process.”
He told the crowd that he and his team were going to “knock on every door” in the district to earn votes and to reassure constituents that he’s the type of politician who will do the right thing.
“We’re going to talk to people about doing what’s right instead of what’s wrong,” he said.
Harris struggled during testimony last week over why he prepared for his primary election last year by seeking out and signing up Bladen County political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, a convicted felon who had been accused of ballot fraud in the 2016 elections. The state elections board turned over evidence of his actions in 2017 to federal prosecutors, who took no action.
According to testimony and other findings detailed at the hearing, Dowless conducted an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation: He and his assistants gathered up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.
Dowless’ workers in rural Bladen County testified that they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates.
It is generally against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a family member to handle someone’s completed ballot.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case . Dowless declined to testify last week after the elections board refused to grant him immunity from prosecution based on what he might say.
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