Trump faces grave consequences of Alabama election upset

US President Donald Trump ignored the advice of party leaders to throw his weight behind 70-year-old Roy Moore, seeing the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice as something of a kindred political spirit. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Trump faces grave consequences of Alabama election upset

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is scrambling to come to grips with a more perilous political reality, after a stunning Democratic election victory in America’s deeply conservative south threw the depth and breadth of his support into serious doubt.
Doug Jones’ win in an Alabama Senate race Tuesday — the first such Democratic victory in a quarter-century — cut the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, squeezing Trump’s ability to get legislation through Congress.
The finger of blame turned squarely to Republican candidate Roy Moore, who ran on an openly bigoted message, was plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls and ignored party calls to drop out.
Sensing the gathering storm, Trump tried to absolve himself of blame and urged Republicans to run “GREAT Republican candidates” in future.
“Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!” Trump tweeted, reminding Americans that Moore was not his first choice in the race.
He had unsuccessfully endorsed another candidate in the party primary.
But as the broader political autopsy commenced, Trump’s role in the race and the implications for his presidency came under the microscope.
Trump ignored the advice of party leaders to throw his weight behind 70-year-old Moore, seeing the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice as something of a kindred political spirit.
Like Trump, Moore had sought to win through a coalition of evangelical and white voters, betting that bedrock of support would be enough — and would shield him from any political scandal.
Moore — aided by Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon — also borrowed liberally from Trump’s playbook, reveling in racially charged statements such as casting doubt on the desirability of abolishing slavery, as well as constant attacks on the press and other “elites.”
In the run-up to the vote, Trump appealed to evangelicals by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and worked to pass tax reform, a central issue for Republicans.
But some in Trump’s inner circle now wonder whether Alabama shows the limits of his approach: If it does not work in deep red Alabama, where can it work?
The question is one that the White House will have to solve urgently. Next year sees mid-term legislative elections that offer Democrats a chance to regain control of both chambers of Congress.
For months, Republican donors have voiced concerns that the party may lose control of the House of Representatives.
After the upset in Alabama, even the Senate may be in play.
“It opens the door to an unlikely Democratic Senate takeover next year,” wrote Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s politics department.
Keeping control of both houses is key to Trump passing his agenda — and avoiding moves toward his own impeachment.
With an approval rating of 35 percent, Trump has faced one controversy after another during his 11 months in office.
Normally cautious paper USA Today all but called for Trump’s resignation after he suggested a female senator would do “anything” for campaign contributions.
“A president who’d all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes” the paper wrote in a searing editorial.
With 100 percent of Alabama precincts reporting, Jones won 49.9 percent of the vote compared to Moore’s 48.4 percent, a margin of nearly 21,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, according to figures posted by US media.
Jones, 63, is a former federal prosecutor who shot to local prominence when he convicted members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed a black church in the 1960s, killing four girls.
“We have shown the country the way that we can be unified,” Jones told ecstatic supporters at his election night party in Birmingham.
Alabama, which Trump won last year by 28 points, has been at a “crossroads” before, and sometimes did not take the correct path forward, Jones said.
“You took the right road,” he said.
Moore however refused to concede, declaring: “When the vote is this close, it is not over.”
He signaled he wanted a recount, but Alabama law only provides for an automatic recount if the margin is within half a percentage point. The current margin stands at 1.5 percent.
Alabama officials will certify the vote between December 26 and January 3. If no recount is ordered, Jones is expected to be seated in the US Senate in early January.
“In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race and we are awaiting certification by the Secretary of State,” Moore said late Wednesday.
“Abortion, sodomy, and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”


4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

Updated 23 April 2018
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4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, US: A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapon away.
Authorities were searching for the 29-year-old suspect, Travis Reinking, who they said drove to the busy restaurant and killed two people in the parking lot before entering and continuing to fire. When his AR-15 rifle either jammed or the clip was empty, the customer disarmed him in a scuffle.
Four people were also wounded before the gunman fled, throwing off his jacket.
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said there was no clear motive, though Reinking may have “mental issues.” He may still be armed, Anderson told a mid-afternoon news conference, because he was known to have owned a handgun that authorities have not recovered.
US Secret Service agents arrested Reinking last July for being in a restricted area near the White House, officials said. Special Agent Todd Hudson said Reinking was detained after refusing to leave the restricted area, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
State police in Illinois, where Reinking lived until last fall, subsequently revoked his state firearms card at the request of the FBI and four guns were then taken from him, including the AR-15 used in Sunday’s shooting as well as a handgun, authorities said.
Sheriff Robert Huston in Tazewell County, Illinois, said deputies allowed Reinking’s father to take possession of the guns on the promise that he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.” Huston added that, based on past deputies’ encounters with Reinking, “there’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved.”
While Huston said it was unclear how Reinking reclaimed the guns, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said that his father “has now acknowledged giving them back to his son.”
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered.
Meanwhile, authorities hailed the customer who intervened to stop a further bloodbath, 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr., as a hero — though the father of a 4-year-old girl demurred and said he was just trying to survive.
One hand bandaged, Shaw told reporters he first thought the gunshots fired around 3:25 a.m. were plates falling from a dishwashing station.
When he realized what was happening, he took cover behind a door as shots shattered windows. The gun either jammed or needed a new clip, and that’s when Shaw said he pounced after making up his mind that “he was going to have to work to kill me.”
Shaw said he was not a religious man, but “for a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him.”
They cursed at each other as they scuffled, Shaw said, and he was able to grab the gun and toss it over a counter. The gunman then ran away into the dark of the working- and middle-class Antioch neighborhood of southeast Nashville.
Authorities said he shed his jacket nearby and police found two AR-15 magazines loaded with bullets in the pockets. He was seen walking, naked, on a road, officials said, but later was spotted wearing pants but no shirt after apparently returning to his apartment.
Another witness, Chuck Cordero, told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the Waffle House when the chaos unfolded.
“He did not say anything,” Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as “all business.”
Cordero said Shaw saved lives. “There was plenty more people in that restaurant,” he said.
The dead were identified as 29-year-old restaurant worker Taurean C. Sanderlin, and restaurant patrons Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and Deebony Groves, 21. A police statement said Sanderlin and Perez were killed outside the restaurant, Groves was fatally shot inside, and Dasilva was critically wounded inside and later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Aaron, the police spokesman, said two of the wounded were being treated for gunshot wounds at the medical center, where spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.
Aaron said Reinking had been employed in construction and lived near the restaurant, and police used yellow crime scene tape to block public access to an apartment complex about a half-mile from the Waffle House. Reinking is originally from Morton, Illinois.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley described the shooting as “a tragic day” for the city.
“My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded,” Briley said in an emailed statement. “I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”
US Rep. Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on “widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons.”
Nashville Chief Anderson said there was no Tennessee law that would have barred Reinking from having guns, though weapons could be taken away if the suspect had serious mental health issues. That would require taking him to court and having his rights taken away because of illness, a sometimes lengthy and difficult process, Anderson said.
Police reports filed in Illinois showed past run-ins with authorities there.
In May 2016, Tazewell County deputies were called to a CVS parking lot where Reinking told officers that Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved, according to a report released Sunday. Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the report said.
Another report from the sheriff’s office said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Illinois, last June and jumped into the water wearing a pink woman’s coat over his underwear. Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.