Bernie Sanders has angered people, including fellow Democrats, with comments he made about Cuba in last night’s CBS News “60 minutes” interview.
While being asked about past comments on Cuba, he said: “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.
“You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Sanders did go on to condemn the imprisonment of political dissidents under Castro, but that wasn’t enough to prevent bipartisan criticism of the remarks.
“I’m hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro” tweeted Donna Shalala, a Democratic Party preresentative in the Florida Congress.
Marco Rubio also criticised the comments.
During the interview segment, Sanders attacked the current US president’s policy of being cosy with authoritarian regimes, saying “Unlike Donald Trump, I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.”
You can watch the whole interview here.
The president has now left the Taj Mahal in India, where he was accompanied by the first lady and by Ivanka Trump, and is heading for New Delhi on Air Force One. Someone has also obviously just handed his phone back to him, because his account has stopped tweeting in Hindi and he is tweeting about the Roger Stone case again.
The pictures coming out of the Trump visit to New Delhi are going to be a lot less welcoming than those this morning in Ahmedabad, which is in Indian prime minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
While a group of Hindu nationalists held a prayer meeting in which they put a vermilion mark on the forehead of Trumps photograph on a poster, blessing him, there have also been anti-Trump demonstrations on streets in several Indian cities.
While anti-Trump street demonstrations have been seen in the cities of Gauhati in the northeast, Kolkata in the east and Hyderabad in the south, it is in New Delhi where police have fired tear gas. Coinciding with the Trump visit, continuing clashes have erupted between hundreds of supporters and opponents of a new Indian citizenship law that provides fast-track citzenship for some foreign-born religious minorities living in the country, but explicitly not to Muslims.
At the rally early in Ahmedabad, Trump had praised India’s history of religious tolerance, saying many faiths “worship side by side in harmony.”
A survey of US business economists has suggested that they are a lot happier with the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy than the president is.
Trump has frequently tweeted his irritation about interest rates, and has in the past described Fed officials as “boneheads”. However nearly two-thirds of the economists asked by the National Association for Business Economics say that the Fed’s interest rate policy is “about right”.
Beginning last summer, the Fed cut its key rate three times in 2019, reducing it to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%, which is very low by historic standards. Trump has repeatedly suggested the Fed should cut rates further, to zero, or even into negative territory.
Confidence in the Trump economy seems high though. Just 13% of respondents forecast a downturn in 2020, which is down from 42% in last year’s survey. 37% still foresee a recession in 2021. The results reflect the views of 210 economists from companies, trade associations and academia.
Julian Assange has just stood up in court in London to speak
It is the first day of the court hearing into the US attempt to extradite Assange from the UK. My colleague Ben Quinn has filed this report of proceedings so far.
Jonathan Swan has an interesting looking exclusive for Axios, about Trump’s “Deep State” hit list of “disloyal government officials to oust — and trusted pro-Trump people to replace them.”
According to Swan’s reporting “a well-connected network of conservative activists with close ties to Trump and top administration officials is quietly helping develop these ‘Never Trump’/pro-Trump lists” and using them to suggest who the president should hire and fire.
They are said to be playing on Trump’s belief, after his impeachment acquittal, that “his government — from Justice to State to Defense to Homeland Security — is filled with ‘snakes.’ He wants them fired and replaced ASAP.”
You can read the piece in full here – it goes into quite a lot of specifics about three specific memos, and backs up what the New York Times’ Peter Baker wrote on Saturday, that “in some of the most critical corners of the Trump administration, officials show up for work now never entirely sure who will be there by the end of the evening — themselves included.”
It has not been a great few days in court for long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, who on Thursday was sentenced to forty months in prison by Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Stone’s attorneys had filed on Friday calling for her recusal.
On Sunday his attempt to get her removed failed when she rejected his lawyers’ arguments and vigorously defended her impartiality.
In the court filing she insisted that she had been fair to Stone “even after he took to social media to intimidate the Court, after he violated conditions imposed by the Court, after he was convicted at trial, and after he was sentenced to a term of incarceration.”
She went on to say that the attempt to remove her appeared to be “nothing more than an attempt to use the Court’s docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words ‘judge’ and ‘biased’ in it.”
In sentencing Stone, Jackson had said that the veteran Republican operative’s lies to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election amounted to a threat to American democracy. Stone was convicted of lying to the Intelligence Committee about his attempts to contact Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks.
Over on the Outside The Beltway blog James Joyner has some stinging words for Tom Steyer, who he describes as “the vanity candidate”
“I’ve long viewed Tom Steyer’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination as a bad joke. He has never held elective office and was pretty much a non-entity on the national scene before his announcement. He has spent millions of dollars manipulating the DNC’s insipid rules and managed to get on the debate stage, where he’s mostly been ignored. So far, that’s gotten him to 2.2% in the national polls.”
Joyner goes on to argue that Steyer’s presence as a spoiler in South Carolina risks, if not handing the nomination over to Bernie Sanders outright, at least doing enough to damage to any chance that Joe Biden could use South Carolina to pick up some campaign momentum.
Read in full: “Steyer as South Carolina Spoiler”
As Super Tuesday approaches and with his debate debut behind him, at the Guardian we’ve been taking a closer look at Mike Bloomberg – the billionaire candidate.
Here’s part two of our series on Bloomberg, from Amanda Holpuch in New York, asking “Can Mike Bloomberg buy his way to the White House?”
“A key issue with trying to buy the presidency is that if a candidate isn’t relying on small donors, it is more difficult to establish their actual popularity among the electorate. That’s why in normal election years, the parties would usually be leaning toward candidates who demonstrated how well-liked they are through many donations. But half a billion dollars goes a long way in a US election.”
It’s also worth noting today that the Bloomberg campaign has bought ad-space in the influential Axios newsletter. If you don’t catch the words “A message from Mike Bloomberg 2020” in the small-print, it looks like one of their top stories is “Bloomberg is the strongest Democrat to take on Trump in November”. Sanders, Biden, Warren and the rest would be sure to disagree.
There really are some incredible photos coming out of Trump’s visit to India today. This shot might give you an idea of the scale of the audience that Narendra Modi and the US president were addressing.
The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, where the rally took place, has a seated capacity of 110,000 and is the second largest sports stadium in the world. This image gives an indication of the security precautions placed around the two leaders.
My colleague Hannah Ellis-Petersen was there and has a full report.
“Archna Singh, 31, was among the locals from Ahmedabad who had turned out for the rally and had brought her two children. ‘This is a very exciting day for us, to have the US president here shows how India is a very important country,’ she said. ‘This good relationship will make us stronger.’”
The president’s visit has now moved on to the world famous Taj Mahal monument.
There is sometimes speculation on whether Trump actually writes some of the more official sounding tweets on his timeline in person, but I think we can safely assume that he isn’t typing these Hindi ones out himself today.
This one does sound very much like the president’s own words in translation though: “America and India will strengthen their countries, enrich their people, make big dreamers bigger and make their future brighter than ever … and this is only the beginning.”
Assange extradition hearing commences in London
Something to watch for in London today: Julian Assange is set for his latest face off with the US government as his extradition hearing begins in the British courts.
Assange is wanted on 18 charges over the publication of US cables a decade ago, and faces up to 175 years in jail. He is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
My colleague Ben Quinn is covering the case, reporting that in the opening exchanges lawyers acting for the US government have said “Reporting for journalism is not an excuse for breaking laws”, claiming that by disseminating material in an unredacted form, Assange knowingly put human rights activists, dissidents, journalists and their families at risk of serious harm in states operated by oppressive regimes.
As anticipated, there is a large presence of protestors outside the hearing – some even, it is reported, having crossed over from France to join the protests.
Today is only the next step in a lengthy process though. After opening arguments this week, the case is expected to be adjourned until May, when both sides will have an opportunity to lay out their evidence. The judge is unlikely to rule until several months after that, and whichever way the court decides, an appeal against the verdict is almost inevitable.
Away from Trump’s visit to India, people are still taking stock of the size of the Bernie Sanders victory in Nevada at the weekend. Here are Natasha Korecki and David Siders in Politico arguing that the Democratic establishment is truly beginning to panic about the prospect of a left-wing Sanders nomination.
“In 30-plus years of politics, I’ve never seen this level of doom. I’ve never had a day with so many people texting, emailing, calling me with so much doom and gloom”
Former candidate Andrew Yang believes that the Sanders lead may be insurmountable by the middle of March.
South Carolina is the next stop for the primaries. In 2016 Sanders was completely crushed by Hillary Clinton – she won with 73% of the vote to his 26%. It is going to be a very different story this time – with the Sanders opposition split between several candidates.
Yesterday CBS News issued a poll, taken before the Nevada result, of voting intentions in South Carolina. It places Joe Biden in the lead with 28%. Sanders, though, is a close second on 23%, with Tom Steyer (18%), Elizabeth Warren (12%) and Pete Buttigieg (10%) showing how divided the race is. And that is without factoring in the presence of Mike Bloomberg, whose strategy has been to not compete until Super Tuesday on 3 March.
Trump sings Modi’s praises at massive rally in India
Here are some video highlights of the speech that US president Donald Trump has given today at a huge rally attended by 100,000 people in Ahmedabad.
He said: “The first lady and I have just travelled 8,000 miles around the globe to deliver a message to every citizen across this nation – America loves India”
Trump heaped praise on Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, saying that “everybody loves him” but that he is “very tough”.
And he spoke of improving trade and military co-operation between the US and the world’s biggest democracy, saying: “The prime minister and I will also continue our important discussions about how to deepen the relationship between our two great countries. Both of us understand that when leaders put the interest of their own citizens first, we can forge strong and fair partnerships, to build a safer and more prosperous world.”
The “Namaste Trump” rally is a follow up to the “Howdy Modi” event that the Indian prime minister attended in Houston in September.
Before the rally in the stadium, the president, along with the first lady and Narendra Modi, attended the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. Trump wrote “To my great friend Prime Minister Modi…Thank you for this wonderful visit!” in the guest book.
Thousands of well-wishers lined the streets before the event waving flags, with a lot of support on display for president Trump and for the relationship between India and the US. At the rally Modi lead the crowd in a chant of “Long live India-U.S. friendship.”
In his speech, Trump called Modi a “tremendously successful leader” who has transformed the country. He announced more military sales to India, including helicopters, and said he is working with Modi on a trade deal. The huge audience cheered when Trump mentioned US strikes on radical Islamic extremists.
Nevada is already in the rear-view mirror for the Democrats after the resounding win by Bernie Sanders there in the caucuses. With nearly 90% of the vote counted, the leftwing senator has 47.1% of the vote. Joe Biden has picked up 21%, and Pete Buttigieg is on13.7%, with Elizabeth Warren (9.6%) and Tom Steyer (4.7%) coming in 4th and 5th.
But it is Steyer who is in the news, after he has qualified for Tuesday’s debate, as focus turns to the South Carolina primary which seems like it is Biden’s to lose.
The president, meanwhile is up and about on a visit to India and tweeting in Hindi.
He has been addressing a huge rally with India prime minister Narendra Modi, who he described as a “true friend”.
The gathering in Ahmedabad was expected to draw a crowd of 100,000. Trump’s visit, which he has described as the “biggest event’ India has ever had, will last 36 hours.