Trump gives support to embattled Speaker Mike Johnson at pivotal Mar-a-Lago meet

Trump gives support to embattled Speaker Mike Johnson at pivotal Mar-a-Lago meet
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson during a press conference at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on April 12, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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Trump gives support to embattled Speaker Mike Johnson at pivotal Mar-a-Lago meet

Trump gives support to embattled Speaker Mike Johnson at pivotal Mar-a-Lago meet
  • Trump flashed some criticism over efforts to oust the speaker calling it “unfortunate,” saying there are “much bigger problems” right now
  • Johnson and Trump underscored their alliance by pummeling President Joe Biden with alarmist language over what Republicans claim is a “migrant invasion”

PALM BEACH, Florida: Donald Trump offered a political lifeline Friday to House Speaker Mike Johnson, saying the beleaguered GOP leader is doing a “very good job,” and tamping down the far-right forces led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene trying to oust him from office.

Trump and Johnson appeared side-by-side at the ex-president’s Mar-a-Lago club, a rite of passage for the new House leader as he hitches himself, and his GOP majority, to the indicted Republican Party leader ahead of the November election.
“I stand with the speaker,” Trump said at an evening press conference at his gilded private club.
Trump said he thinks Johnson, of Louisiana, is “doing a very good job – he’s doing about as good as you’re going to do.”
“We’re getting along very well with the speaker — and I get along very well with Marjorie,” Trump said.
But Trump flashed some criticism over efforts to oust the speaker calling it “unfortunate,” saying there are “much bigger problems” right now.




Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and House Speaker Mike Johnson are seen together at the US Capitol in Washington as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived to address a joint meeting of Congress on April 11, 2024. (REUTERS)

The visit was arranged as a joint announcement on new House legislation to require proof of citizenship for voting, but the trip itself is significant for both. Johnson needed Trump to temper hard-line threats to evict him from office. And Trump benefits from the imprimatur of official Washington dashing to Florida to embrace his comeback bid for the White House and his tangled election lies.
“It is the symbolism,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative commentator and frequent Trump critic.
“There was a time when the Speaker of the House of Representatives was a dominant figure in American politics,” he said. “Look where we are now, where he comes hat in hand to Mar-a-Lago.”
While the moment captured the fragility of the speaker’s grip on the gavel, just six months on the job, it also put on display his evolving grasp of Trump-era politics as the Republicans in Congress align with the “Make America Great Again” movement powering the former president’s re-election bid.
Johnson and Trump underscored their alliance Friday by using similar wording to describe one part of their campaign strategy — pummeling President Joe Biden with alarmist language over what Republicans claim is a “migrant invasion.”
By linking the surge of migrants coming to the US with the upcoming election, Trump and Johnson raised the specter of noncitizens from voting — even though it’s already a federal felony for a noncitizen to cast a ballot in a federal election and exceedingly rare.
Trump called America a “dumping ground” for migrants coming to the US, and revived pressure on Biden to “close the border.”
The speaker nodded along. “It could, if there are enough votes, affect the presidential election,” warned Johnson, who had played a key role in challenging the 2020 election that Trump lost to Biden, previewing potential 2024 arguments.
In fact, Trump had made similar claims of illegal voting in 2016 but the commission he appointed to investigate the issue disbanded without identifying a single case. A previous voter crackdown risked striking actual citizens from the voting rolls.
Ahead of the meeting, the Trump campaign sent a background paper that echoed language from the racist great replacement conspiracy theory to suggest that Biden and Democrats are engaging in what Trump’s campaign called “a willful and brazen attempt to import millions of new voters.”
Some liberal cities like San Francisco have begun to allow noncitizens to vote in a few local elections. But there’s no evidence of significant numbers of immigrants violating federal law by casting illegal ballots.
In the Trump era, the sojourns by Republican leaders to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, have become defining moments, amplifying the lopsided partnership as the former president commandeers the party in sometimes humiliating displays of power.
Such was the case when Kevin McCarthy, then the House GOP leader, trekked to Mar-a-Lago after having been critical of the defeated president after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. A cheery photo was posted afterward, a sign of their mending relationship.
Johnson proposed the idea of coming to Mar-a-Lago weeks before Greene filed her motion to vacate him from the speaker’s office, just as another group of hard-liners had previously ousted McCarthy. The visit comes days before the former president’s criminal trial on hush money charges gets underway next week in New York City.
The speaker’s own political future depends on support — or at least not opposition — from the “Make America Great Again” Republicans who are aligned with Trump but creating much of the House dysfunction that has brought work there to a halt.
Johnson commands the narrowest majority in modern times and a single quip from the former president can derail legislation. He was once a Trump skeptic, but the two men now talk frequently.
“I think it’s an emerging relationship,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, who served as interior secretary in the Trump administration.
Even still, Trump urged Republicans this week to “kill” a national security surveillance bill that Johnson had personally worked to pass, contributing to a sudden defeat that sent the House spiraling. The legislation was approved Friday in a do-over but only after Johnson provided his own vote before departing for Florida.
“I can’t imagine President Trump being very happy about that,” said Greene.
Johnson understands he needs Trump’s backing to conduct almost any business in the House — including his next big priority, providing US aid to Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion.
In a daring move, the speaker is working both sides to help Ukraine, talking directly to the White House on the national security package that is at risk of collapse with Trump’s opposition. Greene is warning of a snap vote to oust Johnson from leadership if he allows any US assistance to flow to the overseas ally.
“We’re looking at it,” Trump said about the national security package.
On the issue of election integrity, though, Johnson is leading his House GOP majority to embrace Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election and laying the groundwork for 2024 challenges.
Trump continues to insist the 2020 election was marred by fraud, even though no evidence has emerged in the last four years to support his claims and every state in the nation certified their results as valid.
As he runs to reclaim the White House, Trump has essentially taken over the Republican National Committee, turning the campaign apparatus toward his priorities. He supported Michael Whatley to lead the RNC, which created a new “Election Integrity Division” and says it is working to hire thousands of lawyers across the country.
Tired of the infighting and wary of another dragged-out brawl like the monthlong slugfest last year to replace McCarthy, few Republicans are backing Greene’s effort to remove Johnson, for now.
But if Trump signals otherwise, that could all change.
 


First pilgrims from Philippines depart for Hajj 2024

First pilgrims from Philippines depart for Hajj 2024
Updated 6 sec ago
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First pilgrims from Philippines depart for Hajj 2024

First pilgrims from Philippines depart for Hajj 2024
  • About 5,000 Filipino Muslims are set to perform Hajj this year
  • Muslims make up 10 percent of majority Catholic Philippine population

MANILA: The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos sent off the first group of Hajj pilgrims on Thursday, marking the beginning of the annual pilgrimage season for Muslims from the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million Philippine population, with most living on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in the central-western province of Palawan.

With the Hajj this year expected to start on June 14 and end on June 19, many pilgrims depart early to make the most of the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

The Philippines’ first group of 150 pilgrims left early on Thursday morning from the main airport in Manila, making the first leg of their journey to Madinah via Oman.

“The Hajj is not merely a journey undertaken for personal fulfillment, it is a profound act of devotion symbolizing unity, equality and submission to the will of the Almighty Allah,” NCMF Secretary Sabuddin Abdurahim said during the sendoff ceremony.

NCMF is the body governing Muslim affairs in the Philippines, in charge of organizing the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

“As we bid farewell to our beloved pilgrims embarking on the sacred journey to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, my heart is filled with prayers for your safety, security and the smoothest of journeys,” Abdurahim said.

“I fervently pray that this year’s Hajj is free from any hurdles of challenges, ensuring a profound spiritual experience for each of you.”

About 5,000 Muslims have confirmed their travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage this year, the NCMF said.

Hapidz Yusop, a pilgrim from Sulu, said that he was fulfilling his dream of doing the sacred pilgrimage.

“It’s been my lifelong dream. I’ve been planning to do the Hajj for a long time, but I don’t have the means, I don’t have the money. But by the mercy of God and the help of our mayor in Talipao, I’m finally here,” he told Arab News, referring to how his arrangements for Hajj were sponsored by the local government in Talipao.

“It feels like we are born again, that we will be cleansed of all of our sins and be born again. May God give us mercy,” Yusop said.

Rahyan Tulawi Amaraja, a 30-year-old nurse from Sulu’s Jolo island, will embark on this year’s Hajj with her parents.

“It has been my aspiration since I was a child to perform my pilgrimage. Fortunately, I will perform my Hajj journey with my parents, which is one of my aspirations, too,” she told Arab News.

“I am overwhelmed with joy,” she said. “For this Hajj journey, I wish to have Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, and to be able to perform it well and successfully.”


Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment

Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment
Updated 10 min 37 sec ago
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Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment

Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment
  • News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left
  • “An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said

PHILADELPHIA: Protesters packed up their belongings and left a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University on Thursday after the school announced a decision to have police clear the encampment.
University President John Fry said in a statement that he decided to have campus police and public safety officers join Philadelphia police in clearing the encampment as peacefully as possible.
News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left. Protesters didn’t immediately comment.
Fry said the university is committed to protecting the community members’ right to assemble peacefully and express their views, but he has the responsibility and authority to regulate campus gatherings to ensure safety and fulfill the mission to educate students.
“An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said. “The language and chants coming from this demonstration, underscored by protesters’ repugnant ‘demands,’ must now come to an end.”
Protesters gathered their belongings as dozens of officers on bicycles arrived around 5:20 a.m., but in less than a half hour only a few items remained on the Korman Family Quad where the 35-tent encampment had been, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The campers picked up their belongings for the most part and left by their own free will,” Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp said.
The encampment had persisted despite Fry’s threat earlier this week to have the encampment cleared. Fry said Tuesday that classes would be held virtually for a third day on Wednesday after administrators tried to open a line of communication to the protesters but were rebuffed. News outlets reported that the university announced Wednesday night that the campus would return to normal operations Thursday.
In his statement early Thursday, Fry said previous requests for protesters to disperse had been ignored, but he was asking Drexel affiliates to leave the encampment so police could “escort any remaining trespassers off our campus.”
A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments on campuses has led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.
On Thursday, the leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University are expected to testify at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about concessions they gave to pro-Palestinian protesters to end demonstrations on their campus. The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also was scheduled to appear at the latest in a series of hearings looking into how colleges have responded to the protests and allegations of antisemitism.


Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change
Updated 51 min 35 sec ago
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Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change
  • Marina Tabassum is among Time’s most influential people of 2024
  • Her mosque in Dhaka received the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

DHAKA: With structures that “breathe” and are designed in tune with Bangladesh’s history and environment, Marina Tabassum’s work focuses on the local community and resilience in the country where every year millions of people lose their homes and livelihoods to climate change.

The award-winning founder of Marina Tabassum Architects came to the international spotlight after winning the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, which she designed, built and fundraised.

An architect and educator, she is also the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Soane Medal for Architecture, the 2021 Gold Medal by the French Academy of Architecture, the 2021 Arnold W. Bruner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2021, and the Lisbon Millennium Lifetime Achievement Award, which she received in 2022.

In 2024, she was featured on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for developing a “practice and a way of being that prioritizes local cultures and values, as well as the perils faced by our shared planet.”

One of the drivers of Tabassum’s work is a sense of responsibility.

“There is enormous disparity in our human condition in Bangladesh and I feel like it’s not just my responsibility, (but) it’s for everybody to take that, their own share of the responsibility, and to do something about it,” she told Arab News at her practice in Dhaka.

“And I am of a breed who has the knowledge, has the capacity, all the different things that are required to take the responsibility to reduce these differences.”

Throughout her nearly three-decade career, she has designed some of Bangladesh’s most famous structures, which, besides the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, are the Museum of Independence in Dhaka — a project with Kashef Chowdhury — as well as housing adapted to the environment, including a modular mobile house for climate victims in the country’s south and north.

The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which is personally very close to Tabassum, was built on land donated by her grandmother and with a modest budget raised through community contributions.

“I was not just designing it, but also constructing it, fundraising it, so that became a very intensely involved project. I would say it is an important milestone for me and also it gave me a lot of international acclaim, which definitely helps in many ways,” she said.

The prayer hall of Marina Tabassum's Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka. (Aga Khan Trust for Culture)

The building’s porous brick walls keep it ventilated and cool while natural light enters it through a skylight. For Tabassum, one of the most important features in her work is that it “has to be able to breathe without artificial aids,” especially in her own subtropical country.

“It’s important for us to have our buildings as open as possible so that we can have natural ventilation, air can come and pass through the buildings. That’s what I call the breathing of a building,” she said.

“That’s an absolutely crucially important phenomenon that we should integrate in our architecture.”

Another crucial factor is having her architecture rooted, as much as possible, in the local context, including by sourcing material locally and working with local craftsmen.

Working with local communities and “trying to make ourselves available to their service,” is the main focus of her projects now — inspired also by her parents and teachers.

“Till date, my father, who is 87 years of age, is still working as a doctor, giving treatment to people who cannot afford cancer therapy. I think that’s embedded in us, to some extent, to have that value of giving,” she said.

As an architect, she has been inspired by many different people — her professors at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Muzharul Islam, an architect and urban planner who is considered the grand master of modernism in South Asia.

“There’s a lot that I learned from him,” Tabassum said. “He always talked about how we have a small country and a huge population, how the entire country needs to be planned in a proper manner in terms of land use, in terms of housing, food production, and all the other things that a country requires, and every single space should be properly planned and designed — which we are still yet to do.”

In 2020, she established a new non-profit branch of her practice — the Foundation for Architecture Community Equity — dedicated to providing a home and humane living environment to Bangladesh’s low-income, landless, or climate-affected communities.

One of its flagship initiatives is Khudi Bari, which translates to “little house” in Bengali. Under the project, over 50 such bamboo-frame houses have already been built for the coastal communities where seawater regularly claims the land, and for flood-prone communities in the north, where swelling rivers cause catastrophic flooding during the monsoon season.

Marina Tabassum, center, and her colleagues from the Foundation for Architecture and Community Equity stand next to the frame of a house for low-income Bangladeshi communities affected by climate change. (FACE)

The cheap and light houses are made from materials that are widely available in the regions and are designed to be easily dismantled and moved when needed.

“Architecture is not a product, architecture has expanded and has always had that expanded idea of creating a proper environment, a good environment. And in order to create a good environment, you cannot just focus on a building, but you have to create, starting from planning to landscape to building (according) to people’s living conditions, economics,” Tabassum said.

“It’s about changing the mindset in many ways … The changes I would like to see (are) more about rootedness, more about sourcing locally, building responsibly, including people.”


Sunak and Starmer hit UK campaign trail after shock election call

Sunak and Starmer hit UK campaign trail after shock election call
Updated 23 May 2024
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Sunak and Starmer hit UK campaign trail after shock election call

Sunak and Starmer hit UK campaign trail after shock election call
  • Sunak’s Conservatives have trailed Labour by around 20 percentage points in opinion polls since he became PM in Oct. 2022
  • Sunak has shocked and angered many in his party when he gambled by calling a July 4 election, months earlier than expected

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Labour Party rival Keir Starmer kicked off their election campaigns on Thursday, each arguing that only they can snap the country out of its economic and political malaise.
Sunak, whose Conservatives have trailed Labour by around 20 percentage points in opinion polls since he became prime minister in October 2022, shocked and angered many in his party when he gambled by calling a July 4 election, months earlier than expected.
He argued on Thursday that the economy was turning a corner and he had a plan to tackle illegal immigration. But with prices in the shops up 21 percent in the last three years and the national health service buckling under record waiting times, it may be hard to persuade voters that Britain is on the right track.
“Even though there’s more work to do and I know it will take time for you to see the benefits, the plan is working,” Sunak told voters at an event with workers in central England.
The former investment banker announced his decision in the pouring rain in Downing Street on Wednesday, having to shout over protesters blaring the song “Things Can Only Get Better” — an anthem associated with Labour’s crushing 1997 election victory under Tony Blair that ended the last long period of Conservative rule.
Sunak also admitted on Thursday that the first flights sending illegal migrants to Rwanda, a flagship policy that is tangled in legal challenges, would not start before the vote.
He did receive one boost, however, when Nigel Farage, a former Brexit campaigner, said he would not seek election for Reform, likely blunting the appeal of the right-wing party and reducing its ability eat into the Conservatives voter base.
At stake is control of the world’s sixth largest economy which has endured years of low growth and high inflation, is still battling to make a success of its 2016 decision to leave the European Union, and is slowly recovering from twin shocks of COVID-19 and an energy price spike caused by the war in Ukraine.
That backdrop makes the economy one of the most important electoral battlegrounds. The two parties are also likely to focus on migration, defense, health and security.
POLITICAL TURMOIL
Polls show voters want change, even if they are not hugely enthused by Starmer and his Labour Party, after 14 years of Conservative government marked by unprecedented levels of political turmoil and so-called culture war issues.
Coffee shop worker Kitty McMurray, on her way to work, said the country needed an election because it felt like everything was falling apart. “Bring it on,” the 29-year-old said.
Starmer told voters at an event in Gillingham, southeast England, that he wanted to renew, rebuild and reinvigorate Britain. He focused on deprivation and the invisible barriers that prevent many from improving their lot.
Referencing children who live in inner-city areas where big corporations such as Google have a presence, he said: “they cannot imagine themselves ever making that journey from their school to those jobs. It’s a few hundred yards.”
Starmer is the country’s former chief prosecutor who has pulled Labour’s politics back to the center ground after it lurched to the left under his predecessor.
Were Labour to win, Starmer would become Britain’s sixth prime minister in eight years, the highest turnover since the 1830s, underscoring the level of turmoil that has gripped a country once known for its political stability and pragmatism.
While the electioneering gets underway, activity in parliament is expected to pick up too as the government works out which of the pieces of legislation currently in process will be rushed through, and which will fall by the wayside.
Laws currently under discussion include Sunak’s plan to impose some of the world’s strictest anti-smoking rules by banning anyone aged 15 and under from ever buying cigarettes.
With Sunak calling the election earlier than the October or November that most had expected, all parties were also racing to line up enough candidates to contest every seat.


Doctors treat hundreds of victims of heatstroke in Pakistan after heatwave hits the country

Doctors treat hundreds of victims of heatstroke in Pakistan after heatwave hits the country
Updated 23 May 2024
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Doctors treat hundreds of victims of heatstroke in Pakistan after heatwave hits the country

Doctors treat hundreds of victims of heatstroke in Pakistan after heatwave hits the country
  • People started arriving at hospitals on Wednesday after a heatwave began
  • Authorities on Thursday urged people to stay indoors, stay hydrated and avoid travel

ISLAMABAD: Doctors treated hundreds of victims of heatstroke at hospitals across Pakistan on Thursday after an intense heatwave sent temperatures above normal levels due to climate change, officials said.
Temperatures soared as high as 49 degrees Celsius the previous day in Mohenjo Daro. The city, known for its archaeological sites, is in southern Sindh province, which was badly hit by climate-induced monsoon rains and devastating floods in 2022. The heatwave is forecast to continue for at least a week.
Authorities have urged people to stay indoors, hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel. But laborers say they don’t have a choice because they need to work to feed their families.
“Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change. We have witnessed above normal rains, floods,” Rubina Khursheed Alam, the prime minister’s coordinator on climate, said at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.
Doctors say they treated hundreds of patients in the eastern city of Lahore, while scores of people were brought to hospitals in Hyderabad, Larkana and Jacobabad districts in the southern Sindh province.
“The situation has been getting worse since yesterday, when people affected by heat started coming to hospitals in the Punjab province,” said Ghulam Farid, a senior health official. Pakistan has set up emergency response centers at hospitals to treat patients affected by the heat.
The state-run ambulance service is now carrying bottled water and ice to provide emergency treatment to victims of the heat, health officials said.
Heatstroke is a serious illness that occurs when one’s body temperature rises too quickly, potentially causing some to fall unconscious. Severe heatstroke can cause disability or death.
This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall. Last month’s heavy rains killed scores of people while destroyed property and farmland.
Daytime temperatures are soaring 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) above May’s temperatures, raising fears of flooding in the northwest because of glacial melting.
The 2022 floods caused extensive damage in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, as 1,739 people were killed across the country.
Currently, Pakistan’s southwest and northwestern areas are also experiencing the heatwave.
Authorities have shut schools for a week in Punjab. In the city of Lahore people were seen swimming in the roadside canals. Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters.
Alam said recent erratic changes in weather patterns were the result of man-made climate change.