Merkel said to kickstart German coalition talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting members of three smaller political parties to sound out their red lines. (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)
Updated 29 October 2017
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Merkel said to kickstart German coalition talks

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to meet with possible coalition partners on Sunday to kickstart the process of forming a government after talks got off to a rocky start last week, media reported.
Merkel, whose conservative alliance came first but lost seats in the Sept. 24 national election, is trying to forge a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and environmental Greens that is untested at a national level.
The process is proving tricky, with disputes about climate and immigration policy played out in German media over the weekend after what one negotiator described as a “big clash” between participants on Thursday.
Bild am Sonntag newspaper said Merkel would try to “rescue” the talks by meeting with Horst Seehofer, who heads the conservative Bavarian CSU party, two officials from the Greens and FDP leader Christian Lindner at an undisclosed location.
The political mood remained stormy.
Bild am Sonntag said Lindner, for instance, had argued that he should be allowed to bring a second FDP official to the high-level meeting since the Greens were also bringing both Cem Ozdemir and Katrin Goering-Eckardt.
The exploratory talks are due to continue Monday after the three sides failed to reach agreement on immigration and climate issues during an 11-hour session on Thursday.
The possible partners in a so-called Jamaica coalition — a name chosen because the parties’ black, yellow and green colors mirror those of the Jamaican flag — are at odds over ending coal production to lower carbon dioxide emissions and migrant caps.
Many conservatives want to take a harder line on immigration, blaming their election setback on Merkel’s decision to allow in more than a million migrants in 2015 and 2016. They want to limit refugee numbers, but the Greens reject such a cap.
Other issues such as pensions and labor regulations — which could be on the agenda on Monday — appear less contentious.
The three blocs are also moving toward agreement on the issue of legalizing marijuana through licensed distributors, such as pharmacies, the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper reported on Sunday.
Fritz Becker, head of the German pharmacists association, said his group was ready to take on the job, and had let the parties know its position.
Better to legalize marijuana with “consultation about risks and side effects, good customer service and clean merchandise,” he told the newspaper.
Alexander Lambsdorff, deputy leader of the FDP parliamentary group, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that exploratory talks on forming a coalition were in “a difficult phase” but said that was not unexpected at such an early stage in the negotiations.
“Of course there will still be different interpretations and the occasional rumble,” he said.
He said the FDP and Greens had “no choice but to talk to each other” given the current circumstances in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament.
“In the end, everyone will have to see if they can support the result. No one will be served if a coalition emerges that is at odds for four years,” he told the newspaper.
The Social Democrats, junior partner to the conservatives over the last four years, have vowed to stay in opposition.


Trump aims new blasts at McCain, claims credit for funeral

Updated 8 min 35 sec ago
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Trump aims new blasts at McCain, claims credit for funeral

  • Trump ranted without citing evidence that McCain had pushed for a war and failed America’s veterans
  • Not only the McCain family but the nation “deserves better” than Trump’s disparagement — Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia

WASHINGTON: Casting aside rare censure from Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump aimed new blasts of invective at the late John McCain Wednesday, even claiming credit for the senator’s moving Washington funeral and complaining he was never properly thanked.
By the time the president began his anti-McCain tirade in Ohio, several leading Republicans had signaled a new willingness to defy Trump by defending the Vietnam War veteran as a hero seven months after he died of brain cancer. One GOP senator called Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”
Trump then launched a lengthy rant in which he claimed without citing evidence that McCain had pushed for a war and failed America’s veterans.
“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted,” Trump told reporters at a campaign-style rally in Lima, Ohio. “I didn’t get (a) thank you but that’s OK.”
In fact, McCain’s family made clear that Trump was not welcome during the week-long, cross-country ceremonies that the senator had planned himself. Instead, McCain invited former Presidents George W. Bush, who defeated McCain during the 2000 GOP nomination fight, and Barack Obama, who defeated him in 2008, to deliver eulogies on the value of pursuing goals greater than oneself. Trump signed off on the military transport of McCain’s body, went golfing and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter during the Washington events.
Trump’s publicly nursed grudge against McCain has not appeared to alienate core supporters, some of whom had soured on the senator by the time of his death. Aware of this, GOP lawmakers until now have stayed subdued or silent though Trump sometimes infuriated them with his comments on their late colleague.
McCain’s allies suggested it was time for that to change.
“I hope (Trump’s) indecency to John’s memory and to the McCain family will convince more officeholders that they can’t ignore the damage Trump is doing to politics and to the country’s well-being or remain silent despite their concerns,” said Mark Salter, McCain’s biographer. “They must speak up.”
Trump has said for years that he doesn’t think McCain is a hero because the senator was captured in Vietnam. McCain was tortured and held prisoner for more than five years.
The president has never served in the military and obtained a series of deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, including one attained with a physician’s letter stating that he suffered from bone spurs in his feet.
One McCain Senate vote in particular is the thumbs-down Trump can’t seem to forget. The Arizona senator in 2017 sank the GOP effort to repeal Obama’s health care law. Trump was furious, and it showed even in the days after McCain’s death last August. The administration lowered the American flag over the White House to half-staff when McCain died on a Saturday, but then raised it by Monday. After public outcry, the White House flags were again lowered.
This week, Trump unloaded a new series of anti-McCain tweets in which he said he never had been “a fan” and never would be.
His relentless new targeting of the deceased senator seemed to cross a boundary for several Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called McCain “a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate.” McConnell tweeted, “His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes.”
The Kentucky Republican, who is up for re-election next year, never mentioned Trump, but others weren’t so shy.
Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said not only the McCain family but the nation “deserves better” than Trump’s disparagement.
“I don’t care if he’s president of the United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world,” Isakson told The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website. Later, Isakson called Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”
“It will (be) deplorable seven months from now if he says it again,” Isakson continued in remarks on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Political Rewind radio show, “and I will continue to speak out.”
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee whom Trump briefly considered nominating as secretary of state, tweeted praise for McCain on Tuesday — and criticism of Trump.
“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” Romney wrote.
Pushback also came from Sen. Martha McSally, a Republican Air Force veteran appointed to McCain’s seat from Arizona.
“John McCain is an American hero and I am thankful for his life of service and legacy to our country and Arizona,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve.”
That McSally declined to criticize Trump directly reflected the broader wariness among Republicans to cross a president famous for mobilizing his followers against GOP lawmakers he deems disloyal. But this week, Trump seemed to inspire a new determination among some to draw a line, however delicately.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who wept openly on the Senate floor after McCain died but has allied himself strongly with Trump, said, “I think the president’s comments about Sen. McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Sen. McCain.”
“A lot of people are coming to John’s defense now. ... I don’t like it when he says things about my friend John McCain.”
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, were eager to jump into the uproar.
“I look forward to soon re-introducing my legislation re-naming the Senate Russell Building after American hero, Senator John McCain,” tweeted Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York.