U.S. ‘It’s hard to believe’: President Trump surveys Alabama tornado damage, comforts victims Michael Collins and John Fritze and Kirsten Fiscus•Donald Trump visits 23 crosses left for Alabama tornado victims BEAUREGARD, Ala. – President Donald Trump toured tornado-ravaged Alabama on Friday nearly a week after storms ripped through a small town, killing 23 people.The president touched down in Lee County near where a massive tornado spun winds as high as 170 mph on Sunday. Trump had signed a major disaster declaration for the county earlier this week, freeing federal assistance to the region.The president and first lady Melania Trump viewed the damage caused by the storm as they flew aboard Marine One. The president also met victims in Opelika, Alabama, and received a briefing from the Lee County Emergency Management Agency.As his motorcade wound through the county, Trump passed through entire neighborhoods that were destroyed, passing by empty lots with broken pieces of metal, wood and what appeared to be scattered clothing.Trump, alongside Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, surveyed the destruction wreaked across Beauregard on foot before meeting with victims’ families.“I saw this. And it’s hard to believe,” Trump said. “You saw things that you wouldn’t believe.”President Donald Trump greets residents during a tour of tornado-affected areas on March 8, 2019 in Beauregard, Alabama.At one stop, Trump visited with the family of Sheila Creech and Marshall Lynn Grimes, who were killed in the storm. Trump hugged their survivors, and one member of the family showed him Grimes’s motorcycle vest and Bible.At Providence Baptist Church, Trump met privately with nearly a dozen families who were victims of the storm. Afterward, he thanked dozens of community volunteers in the church auditorium, which was filled with clothes, toiletries, diapers and school backpacks. Trump signed several hats and Bibles, including one belonging to a 12-year-old boy.Emergency crews are doing an „A-plus job,” Trump told the crowd, adding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will remain onsite as long as it’s needed.One of the volunteers, Ada Ingram, who said she knows 10 of the people killed in the storm, said Trump’s visit will bring the community closer together.”I think it’s a godsend,” she said of the presidential visit. „The situation is bad. And there are going to be people who will say, ‘Why did he come to my town?’ I don’t know why. I don’t know why the hurricane happened. But there is a reason.”Before leaving, the Trumps stepped out of the motorcade to stand before 23 crosses erected in front of the church in remembrance of those lost to the tornado. The Trumps held hands and paused for several moments in front of each of the crosses, which were decorated with hearts, stuffed animals, flowers and personal messages.Earlier, before the presidential entourage arrived in Alabama, Conner Moulton, 7, carefully crafted each marker stroke as he signed a short message on a banner thanking Trump for coming to Beauregard.”I wrote the ‘Beauregard Strong’ and ‘thank you for your help,'” the second-grader said. „Then I put my first name and my last name. He’s helping the people who got affected and lost their homes in the tornado.”President Donald Trump tours a tornado-affected in Beauregard, Alabama, on March 8, 2019. With him are first lady Melania Trump and Ben Carson (center-right), US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on March 8, 2019 in Beauregard, Alabama.Lana Ledbetter, a Beauregard resident who did not have any home damage but knew several people who did, came to the high school to put her mark upon the banner.”It’s just amazing that he’s showing his support for our little tiny community. We’re just very thankful for the funding and just for him taking his time to come and show that support for us.”Trump was accompanied on his Air Force One flight to Georgia by members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Mike Rogers, both Republicans.President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Fort Benning, Georgia, March 8, 2019 en route to areas in Alabama affected by recent tornado damage. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP)Trump has made several trips to visit victims of natural disasters in recent months, including to California after last year’s wildfires and to the Carolinas following Hurricane Florence.Trump tweeted about the storms on Monday, vowing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide “A plus treatment” to the state.Contributing: The Montgomery AdvertiserMore: As Trump visits tornado victims in Alabama, is he playing politics with disaster relief?‘More: Alabama tornado victims revealed; area braces for weekend storms – and possible severe weatherMore: 6-year-old boy is youngest victim of Alabama tornado that left 23 deadThis article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘It’s hard to believe’: President Trump surveys Alabama tornado damage, comforts victims
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is an outspoken critic of President Trump. But she’s also critical of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
“We can’t be only upset with Trump,” Omar told Politico for a profile that was published Friday. “His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.
“That’s not what we should be looking for anymore,” she continued. “We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”
Omar, a Muslim and a Somali refugee who wears Islamic dress in public, noted the “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border and the “droning of countries around the world” — for which Trump has been criticized — happened on Obama’s watch too. Obama’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Obama was widely criticized for expanding the use of armed drones, authorizing at least 542 strikes during his presidency that caused an estimated 3,797 deaths, including 324 civilians, according to data from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Yet Trump’s drone program was even more active than Obama’s in his first two years as commander in chief. According to U.S. government data released last November, Trump authorized 238 drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, compared with 186 authorized by Obama during his first two years in office.
It’s unclear how many civilians were killed in drone strikes authorized by Trump. On Wednesday, Trump revoked an Obama-era order that required the intelligence community to publicly report the number of CIA drone strikes outside of war zones and the number of civilians killed by them.
And Trump has been harshly criticized on both sides of the aisle for his administration’s zero tolerance illegal immigration policy that has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the children separated from their families were held in detention centers. In one such facility, hundreds of children were seen in a series of enclosures made of metal fencing, which have also been characterized as cages.
During the Bush and Obama administrations, immigrants caught crossing the border with children were largely treated as civil rather than criminal cases. Under Obama, parents were removed from their children if they were arrested on other charges or had an outstanding warrant — resulting in some children being held in detention centers. But the number of such cases was small compared to the number under Trump.
Meanwhile, Omar has come under fire for comments that critics construed as anti-Semitic. On Thursday, the House passed a broad resolution condemning hate that originated from her remarks.
By Tulay Karadeniz
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is running out of time to avert a showdown with the United States over its plans to buy advanced Russian air defenses and spurn a counter-offer from its NATO partner, raising the chance of U.S. sanctions against Ankara.
The last diplomatic crisis between the two countries contributed to driving the lira to a record low in August. Disputes over strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff remain unresolved, and the issue of missile defense threatens to widen the rift again.
This week, despite the Central Bank maintaining interest rates well above inflation, Turkey’s currency has fallen 1.5 percent – largely due to renewed concerns over relations with Washington, traders say.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has missed a ‘soft deadline’ set by Washington to decide whether to buy a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co. Patriot missile shield system. The formal offer expires at the end of this month, U.S. officials have said.
Without publicly rejecting the U.S. proposal, Erdogan has repeatedly said he will not pull out of a contract for Russia’s S-400 defense system, due to be installed in October. Washington says Ankara cannot have both.
If it goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also risks losing delivery of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets and could face sanctions under a U.S. law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
In one of the strongest comments on the topic yet, the U.S. Pentagon warned on Friday of „grave consequences” in the military relationship between the United States and Turkey if Ankara takes the S-400.
„They would not have access to Patriot and the F-35,” Acting Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers said.
But Erdogan has ruled out cancelling the deal with Russia, an increasingly powerful regional force which is building a nuclear power plant in Turkey and a gas export pipeline across Turkish territory to Europe.
„It’s done. There can never be a turning back,” Erdogan responded this week when asked about the S-400 contract. „This …would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”
Ankara may even seek to procure Russia’s next generation S-500 system, he said.
NO BACKING DOWN
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday U.S. officials have told Turkey it would be impossible for Congress to approve the sale of F-35 jets if Ankara buys the S-400, but that Turkey is working to overcome those problems. [A4N1Y101V]
Turkey says it has already paid Moscow some of the bill, and analysts say Erdogan, who is campaigning for March 31 local elections, would find it hard to back away from the Russian deal now.
„They have not once said they could change their mind,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara.
Turkey does not want to jeopardize efforts to find common ground with Russia on Syria, and has little time remaining for second thoughts as the S-400s’ delivery date approaches, he said.
That means the chance of U.S. sanctions are increasing, defense analyst Can Kasapoglu said, adding that „diplomatic room for maneuver is narrow.”
The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said this week it intended to end a preferential trade system for Turkey.
It cited the country’s economic development, suggesting the decision was not political, but it first announced a review of Turkey’s eligibility after Ankara set retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods at the height of their dispute last year.
If Washington imposes sanctions under CAATSA, it could affect the combat readiness of Turkey’s existing fleet of U.S. F-16 jets, Kasapoglu wrote in a report in January. The jets have spearheaded Turkey’s air operations against Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria.
While bilateral tensions are focused for now on missile defense, other unresolved disputes continue to erode trust.
In addition to policy disagreements focused on the Middle East, the two countries are at odds over Venezuela. Washington backs its opposition leader Juan Guaido while Ankara endorses President Nicolas Maduro.
In that climate, even apparently innocent gestures can stoke tension.
A visit this week by U.S. First Lady Melania Trump to a pre-kindergarten class in Oklahoma raised hackles in Turkey. Turks believe the school she toured is linked to supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup. Gulen has denied any involvement.
Retired Turkish diplomat Uluc Ozulker said Turkey now finds itself backed into a corner.
„The United States on the one hand, Russia on the other… We are stuck between the two,” he said. „Turkey cannot exit this crisis.”
(Editing by Dominic Evans and John Stonestreet)