GOP embraces Trump as never before with anti-impeachment

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (California) speaks during a press conference with Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyoming) and Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (Los Angeles) at the US Capitol on December 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2019

GOP embraces Trump as never before with anti-impeachment

  • Moderate Democrats from swing districts seemed most at risk in the short term, with several of the 31 Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016 most vulnerable
  • But Trump’s Republican critics and Democrats said the House GOP’s solid backing inextricably bound Republican lawmakers to Trump and would ultimately inflict a damaging blow

WASHINGTON: House Republicans’ unbroken opposition to impeachment is their most unapologetic embrace of President Donald Trump yet, binding them to a president whose loyalty from his party’s core conservative voters is matched only by his opponents’ loathing for him.
Just three months ago, initial revelations of a phone call in which Trump tried squeezing Ukraine’s new president to announce an investigation into Democrats gave a handful of Republicans pause. By Wednesday, the Democratic-led House neared a vote to impeach Trump over expected unanimous GOP opposition, a moment spotlighting his hold on congressional Republicans and raising questions about the vote’s political impact.
“Trump is strong as a tank with Republicans,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a member of the House GOP leadership. He said that along with what he called Democrats’ weak evidence against Trump and unfair impeachment process, “The combination of the three make this one of the easier votes we’ll cast.”
In the short-term, it was moderate Democrats from swing districts who seemed most at risk. Nearly all were expected to back impeachment, which could cost some their careers in next November’s congressional elections. The most vulnerable include several of the 31 Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016, many of whom are freshmen.
“Today may be the only consequential vote they ever cast, because they won’t be back,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., one of Trump’s staunchest defenders.
But Trump’s Republican critics and Democrats said the House GOP’s solid backing inextricably bound Republican lawmakers to Trump and would ultimately inflict a damaging blow.
“You can play to the base and excite the base and turn an election here and there, but that’s not a long-term strategy. Demographics will take care of that” as anti-Trump younger, diverse voters join the electorate, said former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who declined to seek reelection last year after clashing with Trump for years. “There will be a time when we Republicans wake up from this and say, ‘We did this for this man?’”
“I don’t think the Republican Party nationally really exists anymore. It is now the Trump party,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon “When he goes at some point, it will be interesting to see how they define themselves, what they stand for.”
In Trump’s past pivotal fights — including his failed effort to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law — congressional Republicans strongly rallied behind him, but there were small but significant numbers of defectors.
A handful of Republican lawmakers had expressed concern when word of Trump’s pressuring Ukraine first emerged in September. While stopping short of abandoning him, several initially took a middle-ground position, saying they wanted to learn more about what happened.
Wednesday’s expected unanimous GOP vote was coming after party leaders held numerous impeachment briefings for lawmakers. Those sessions were aimed at making sure they were “getting information to people,” said No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalize of Louisiana.
Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., said early on that he wanted to learn more about what happened with Ukraine. After saying he was open to impeachment — and announcing his retirement the next day — he said Wednesday he was opposing impeachment after “agonizing over it” and deciding there was insufficient evidence to justify Trump’s removal.
Rooney said that Wednesday’s vote further aligns his party to Trump.
“And that’s not necessarily the Republican Party that I’ve been part of and been a funder for, for many years,” he said. “This is a different era that we’re in for Republicans, and I don’t know where it’s going to go.”
With the impeachment vote coming just 11 months before the next presidential and congressional elections, Republicans said they believed it was Democrats who would be hurt.
“Pelosi has made this the party of impeachment,” Scalize said of Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. ”Clearly this has been a personal vendetta they’ve been carrying out to please their most radical base.”
“What we’re defining ourselves as is defenders of the Constitution,” said Rep. Lynn Cheney, R-Wyoming, another member of House GOP leadership. Asked if it was risky for the GOP to unanimously align itself with Trump, she said, “There is absolutely zero peril for the Republican Party to align itself with the Constitution.’’
One freshman Democrat from a closely divided district is Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, who is supporting impeachment.
“It’s about the presidency and I think it’s about upholding rule of law,” she said when asked how the GOP’s solid support for Trump would affect that party’s reputation. “So their conscience and their oaths are their own to consider.”
Peter Wehner, a Republican who served in the White House under GOP Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, said the Republican vote against impeaching Trump would only strengthen the “absolute headlock” he has on his party.
“For some period of time, the brand is going to be the Trump brand, which is divisive, misogynistic and unethical,” Wehner said. “The trouble for Republicans is that brand, the searing impression it’s going to leave, is going to be most vivid for the rising generation of voters.”

S. Korean Christians facing ‘unprecedented challenge’ over virus spread claims: Church cleric

Updated 24 September 2020

S. Korean Christians facing ‘unprecedented challenge’ over virus spread claims: Church cleric

  • South Korean churches have been accused of ‘deliberately hampering’ COVID-19 response while groups say they are being made ‘scapegoats’

SEOUL: South Korean church leader, Rev. Lee Byung-seok, has become battle-weary over the country’s fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The cleric, who preaches at a small church in Suwon, in northwestern Gyeonggi province, has faced a tough time fending off claims that Christians were the main culprits for spreading the deadly virus.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in February, the religious community has been in the firing line for allegedly propagating the disease in the east Asian country which has to date recorded 23,216 cases and 388 deaths.

“The Christian sect in South Korea faces an unprecedented challenge,” the pastor told Arab News on Wednesday.

“Imagine police bursting into the chapel where prayers are at church, and the officer saying he’s responding to a call from a citizen who disbelievingly reported the church’s breach of a ban on gatherings. This happens at many churches. Except for a few churches, most have been observing health rules despite emotional and financial losses. Enforcing these restrictions upon all churches is too far,” he said.

Gatherings at churches have been tightly controlled by the South Korean government to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under updated quarantine rules adopted on Sept. 20, up to 50 worshippers are allowed to attend churches with a seating capacity of 300 or more. Smaller churches can only take a maximum congregation of 20.

The Sarang Jeil Church, in the capital Seoul, has been at the center of the controversy over claims that Christians were to blame for spreading COVID-19 in South Korea after hundreds of cases were linked to the religious group and the church’s pastor, Jun Kwang-hoon, led a massive anti-government rally on Aug. 15, the country’s Liberation Day.

“The Sarang Jeil Church does not represent the sentiment of the Christian sect here, and the church has been already politicalized to affect other churches,” Lee said.

Health authorities said that the protests in central Seoul, where tens of thousands of Jun’s followers had converged, triggered a second wave of COVID-19 resulting in nearly 1,200 infections in the capital area.

A conservative pastor, believed to be popular among opposition politicians, Jun was accused of “defying health rules” to hold services and anti-government protests, while some of his churchgoers were criticized for refusing to take part in COVID-19 testing.

The situation led to President Moon Jae-in vowing to hold churches accountable for impeding government efforts to contain the disease.

“Certain churches have refused the government’s quarantine guidelines and hindered efforts to tackle the virus spread,” he said during a meeting with representatives of 16 churches and related groups on Aug. 27.

“Prayers or services may bring peace of mind but cannot protect people from the virus. The quarantine is not the domain of God but that of science and medicine,” he added. Jun tested positive for the virus two days after the Aug. 15 demonstration and was jailed after his bail was revoked.

The cleric was also detained earlier this year on charges of violating election laws after he called the president a “North Korean spy.” He was later released on conditional bail which included a ban on him attending political rallies or protests.

On Sept. 18, the Seoul city government sued Jun and his Sarang Jeil Church for nearly $3.9 million in damages related to the COVID-19 cluster “connected to its adherents.”

The city said in a statement that Jun had deliberately hampered its response to the virus outbreak by “refusing to observe health rules and submitting fake records.”

Meanwhile, statistics from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) showed that at least 1,168 positive patients had been traced to the church cluster.

The numbers were second only to those linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, often regarded as a nationwide cult organization, whose 5,200 cases were at the center of the country’s first wave of infections in February.

“We will take all possible measures to prove the damages incurred by Rev. Jun’s illegal activities that caused damages to the ordinary citizens,” Hwang In-shik, spokesman for the Seoul city government, told Arab News on Wednesday.

He said citizens had faced many difficulties due to the introduction of enhanced social distancing measures following a recent resurgence of cases, as well as the negative impact of the outbreak on the national economy.

“This is a matter of quarantine for the sake of people’s health, not oppressing a certain religion nor a church,” he added.

However, the Presbyterian church has remained defiant, arguing that the left-leaning Moon administration had made it a “scapegoat” for political reasons.

“A key reason why the Moon administration oppresses us is that Jun and his followers have taken the lead in striking Moon’s communist policies,” Kang Yeon-jae, a spokeswoman for Jun, told Arab News.

“We advocate the liberal democracy, which is not a path Moon takes. In this ideological conflict of a free world versus communism, our church is taking the bullet when few stand against Moon’s political blunders and pro-North Korean policies.”

South Korean Protestant churches have deep roots with the US, as American missionaries brought the religion to Korea.

Many of the megachurches in South Korea were founded by Protestants who fled communist persecution in North Korea before the 1950-53 Korean War and benefited from postwar aid from Americans.