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Former U.S. President Donald Trump recently addressed 15,000 ardent supporters in Arizona, making his first major public appearance since the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that sought to keep him in office despite having lost the 2020 presidential election. 

 

In 93 minutes of remarks late Saturday, Trump repeated the false claim that the election had been stolen from him and predicted a Republican victory in the 2024 presidential contest, hinting at what political observers already assume: that he is planning a bid to return to the White House. 

 

Trump is expected to hold more rallies in the months leading up to midterm elections in November that will determine control of Congress for the final two years of President Joe Biden’s term in office. In state after state, Trump aims to boost the fortunes of Republicans seeking office who are loyal to him and repeat his claims. 

Voters are taking notice. 

 

“He’s going to remain a factor in American politics for the next several presidential terms,” Robert Ellis, a New Orleans-based lawyer who voted for Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections, told VOA. “And he should remain a factor. He got results while president, and the more we see Biden’s failures, the more we see Donald Trump was correct.” 

 

By contrast, many moderate Republicans and independent voters – who are often pivotal in close elections – aren’t sure the former president’s continued politicking is good for the country or the Republican Party. 

 

Chelsea Jaramillo, an entrepreneur in Denver, is one such independent voter. 

 

“Honestly, I believe his presence hurts the Republican party,” she said. “Even many Republicans seem tired of his bull—- all the hate and blame that don’t benefit anyone but him.” 

 

Trump’s supporters 

In his remarks Saturday, the former president attacked his Democratic successor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. economy and international affairs. He also took gleeful aim at the handful of Republican lawmakers who voted with Democrats to impeach him after the Capitol riot and have either announced they will not seek reelection or face a bumpy road to remain in office. 

 

“They’re falling fast and furious. The ones that voted to impeach, we’re getting rid of them fast,” Trump said.

 

Robert Collins, professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans, said there wasn’t much in the speech he found surprising. 

 

“It was a lot of the same stuff from him,” he said. “But where it got interesting to me, is you could hear the crowd get excited when they perceived Trump was talking about running for president again in 2024.” 

 

A recent Marquette Law School Poll found that 60% of Republican voters believe he should run for president again in 2024.

 

“That’s more than enough voters to win the Republican nomination,” Collins said, “so it’s a real possibility should he decide to run.” 

 

Brandon Legnion, a New Orleans-based nurse, is open to the idea. His priorities, he said, include the issue of abortion and how America handles the pandemic. 

 “I don’t believe vaccines and masking are ‘anti-freedom’ like a lot of other conservatives seem to believe,” he told VOA, “but I do think Republican voters are more likely to listen to Trump instead of Biden when it comes to unifying around fighting COVID-19. I’d probably vote for him if he ran in 2024.” 

 

Turning the page 

While the large majority of Republican voters say they would vote for Donald Trump if he secured the party’s presidential nomination, some say they hope a different candidate emerges to lead the party. 

 

“Trump’s independent, patriotic attitude, and his work on border control, jobs and our economy, have all earned him a leading voice in our party,” said Republican voter Jerry Bell of Indiana, “but I do feel there should be a new presidential torchbearer in 2024. New blood to repatriate our conservative vision of governance so we can ‘Make America Great!’” 

 

A University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll conducted December 14-20 showed that 71% of Republicans falsely believe Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate – a contention Trump’s critics often refer to as “The Big Lie.” 

 

Trump addressed the label head-on in Arizona on Saturday, opening the rally by declaring, “The Big Lie is a lot of bull—-,” to wild applause from raucous crowd.

 

Legnion sees the focus on the past as counterproductive. 

 

“It’s time to move on,” he said. “To continue to beat past elections to death is not at all unifying for America.” 

 

Helping or hurting? 

Whether the former president and his obsession with the 2020 election helps the Republican Party in the midterms and in the next presidential election is a matter of ongoing debate among experts, politicians and voters. 

 

“The sitting president’s political party almost always loses the House of Representatives in the midterm elections during their first term,” explained Robert Collins of Dillard University. “So regardless of Trump’s involvement, you can pretty much bet everything you’ve got that that will happen this year.” 

 

The Senate is less of a certainty, he said.

 

“While every seat in the House is up for election every two years, only one third of the Senate is,” Collins said. “And among those, probably only five to eight of those seats will be competitive elections. Trump’s impact is more likely to be felt there.” 

 

The prevailing thought among experts such as Collins is that while Trump can generate excitement and voter turnout for Republican candidates who are loyal to him, some of those candidates – including several he lauded at the rally in Arizona – could struggle to win in swing states and districts with a more moderate electorate. 

 

“I’m not opposed to Donald Trump supporting midterm candidates,” said Ronald Robichaux of Tampa, Florida, who said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, “but I am fearful he’ll bring up voting irregularities that have thus far been unfounded and that that might turn some voters off. He can’t seem to bury the hatchet.” 

 

Collins suggested less bombast from Trump would be helpful for his political fortunes and those of Republicans more broadly. 

 

“People seem to forget that when Trump’s involved, elections tend to be an up or down vote on Trump,” he explained. “If I was working on his campaign, I’d spend time trying to rehabilitate his image and reign him in. But based on Saturday’s speech, that doesn’t seem to be their strategy,” he said. 

 

Collins added, “So if you’re a candidate running for office in the midterms, all that can be done now is decide if you want to keep your distance from Trump, or if you want to embrace him.”

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The rabbi of a Texas synagogue where a gunman took hostages during live-streamed services said Monday that he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hours-long standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely. 

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he let the gunman inside the suburban Fort Worth synagogue Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later, he heard a gun click as he was praying. 

Another man held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook on Monday. 

“First of all, we escaped. We weren’t released or freed,” said Cohen, who was one of four people in the synagogue for services that many other Congregation Beth Israel members were watching online. 

Cohen said the men worked to keep the gunman engaged. They talked to the gunman, he lectured them. At one point as the situation devolved, Cohen said the gunman told them to get on their knees. Cohen recalled rearing up in his chair and slowly moving his head and mouthing “no.” As the gunman moved to sit back down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled to run. 

“The exit wasn’t too far away,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.” 

Authorities identified the hostage-taker as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. 

The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the U.S. The statement followed comments Saturday from the agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.” 

Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. 

“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”

Video of the standoff’s end from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard. 

Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation. 

The investigation stretched to England, where late Sunday police in Manchester announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counterterrorism officers had made the arrests but did not say whether the pair faced any charges. 

President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a weapon on the streets. 

Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage-taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said. 

Akram traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa from Great Britain, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counterterrorism police were liaising with U.S. authorities about the incident. 

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her U.S. counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “the full support” of the police and security services in Britain in the investigation. 

Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. 

It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Siddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth. 

An attorney in Texas who represents Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connection to Akram. 

“She said from the beginning when she was sentenced that she does not want any violence done in her name and she doesn’t condone any type of violence being done,” said attorney Marwa Elbially. 

Akram, who was called Faisal by his family, was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he’d been “suffering from mental health issues.” 

“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, be it a Jew, Christian or Muslim, etc. is wrong and should always be condemned,” his brother, Gulbar Akram, wrote. 

Community organizer Asif Mahmud, who has known the family for 30 years and attends the same mosque, said the family was devastated by what happened in Texas. 

He “had mental health issues for a number of years,” Mahmud said. “The family obviously were aware of that … but nobody envisaged he would potentially go and do something like this.” 

Mohammed Khan, leader of the local government council in Blackburn, said the community promotes peace across all faiths. 

“Ours is a town where people from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths are welcomed, and it is a place where people get along and support one another,” Khan said in a statement. 

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A major winter storm blanketed a swath of North America in snow Monday as it sliced up the U.S. East Coast into Canada, disrupting travel and cutting power to thousands of homes. 

About 120,000 American customers were without power at 4:45 pm EST (2145 GMT), according to the website PowerOutage.us, with the largest concentration in the mid-Atlantic state of West Virginia and the southeastern states of North and South Carolina and Georgia. 

More than 1,600 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled by mid-afternoon Monday, in addition to the 3,000 the day before, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. 

Large parts of the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario remained under winter storm or blizzard warnings, according to a Canadian government website. 

In Toronto, up to 60 centimeters of snow was expected — “a historic storm for the city,” tweeted Anthony Farnell, chief meteorologist of Canadian TV channel Global News. 

Many schools were closed, and school buses were not operating in Quebec and in the south of Ontario, including the Toronto area. Students had been due to return to classrooms on Monday in both provinces after the holiday break.

Monday was a national holiday in the United States, so most schools and many businesses were already closed, though lots of people usually take the opportunity to travel during the long weekend. 

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) said earlier it expects the storm to “slowly wind down today,” but that snow will continue to fall through the evening in upper New York and New England. 

The heaviest snowfall of 0.7 meters (2 feet, 2.5 inches) was recorded in Ashtabula, Ohio, the agency said. 

“Significant impacts due to snow, ice, wind, and coastal flooding will persist across a large area,” NWS said in a tweet. 

The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida, while in the Carolinas and up through the Appalachian Mountains region, icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.

Powerful winds downed trees and caused coastal flooding, with a 3.6-meter storm surge reported in Boston. 

Transport was seriously disrupted; drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from the southern U.S. state of Arkansas all the way up to Quebec in Canada. 

A portion of busy interstate highway I-95 was closed in North Carolina. 

In Toronto, police tweeted that they had closed two sections of highway due to extreme weather, and asked drivers to stay home, “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“We’re seeing a number of cars having to stop and de-ice their windshield,” said the Quebec Transportation Ministry in a tweet Monday morning. “Heavy precipitation and gusts allow ice to form, despite windshield wipers — all the more reason to stay home!” 

U.S. officials also discouraged driving, and many states prepositioned teams to deal with the emergency, especially in the South where snow is much less common. 

The northeastern United States already experienced snow chaos earlier this month. When a storm blanketed the northeast, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on the I-95, a major highway linking to Washington, D.C. 

 

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The family of a delivery driver who died last month when a tornado collapsed the central Illinois Amazon facility where he worked filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Madison County.

The action on behalf of Austin McEwen, 26, claims that Amazon failed to warn employees of dangerous weather or provide safe shelter before a tornado slammed the Edwardsville facility on December 10, killing McEwen and five others.

It is believed to be the first legal action taken in response to the deaths. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation.

McEwen’s parents, Randy and Alice McEwen, allege that Amazon administrators knew severe weather was imminent but had no emergency plan nor evacuated employees from the fulfillment center.

“Sadly, it appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five,” Alice McEwen said at a news conference on Monday.

Amazon “carelessly required individuals … to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck,” the lawsuit says, and “improperly directed” McEwen and colleagues to shelter in a rest room, which it says the company knew or should have known wasn’t safe.

“They had people working up to the point of no return,” the McEwens’ lawyer, Jack Casciato, said. 

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel released a statement that countered that the lawsuit “misunderstands key facts,” including the differences among severe weather alerts and the condition and safety of the building.

“This was a new building less than four years old, built-in compliance with all applicable building codes, and the local teams were following the weather conditions closely,” Nantel said. “Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country, and while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down. We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued.” 

The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 from each of the four defendants named in the suit, which includes Amazon.com, the construction company that built the facility and the project’s developer. 

Nantel said the company would defend itself against the lawsuit but would continue to focus on “supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes.” 

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Funeral services were held Monday for nine children and three adults who died in a Philadelphia fire five days into the new year, the deadliest blaze in the city in more than a century. 

A funeral procession on the rain-soaked streets of the city Monday morning was followed by services at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, to which members of the community were invited and asked to wear white. 

Those in attendance at the three-hour service listened to Bible readings, official proclamations and music. Relatives spoke about their loss and their memories of their loved ones from two microphones behind tables bearing caskets amid white flowers and large pictures of the victims. 

“None of us know what to do with a funeral with 12 people,” said the Reverend Dr. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. “We’re in a space of grief and pain we wish on no one else.”

One speaker, an aunt of the children, tearfully said she believed there was “a family reunion in heaven.”

“I believe they’re with their dad. I believe they’re with my mother. I believe they’re with my father, their uncles and aunts,” she said. “The hurt is deep, but it will subside.” 

The victims of the January 5 fire were all on the third floor of a duplex north of the city center near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The three-story brick duplex was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which is the city’s public housing agency and the state’s biggest landlord. 

Three sisters — Rosalee McDonald, Virginia Thomas and Quinsha White — and nine of their children died in the blaze, according to family members. The city last week identified the other victims as Quintien Tate-McDonald, Destiny McDonald, Dekwan Robinson, J’Kwon Robinson, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson, Shaniece Wayne, Natasha Wayne and Janiyah Roberts. Officials did not provide their ages.

Investigators last week confirmed the fire started at a Christmas tree but stopped short of officially saying that it was sparked by a child playing with a lighter. 

The blaze had been the deadliest fire in years at a U.S. residential building but was surpassed days later by a fire in a high-rise in New York City’s Bronx borough that killed 17 people, including several children. 

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Descendants of slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and their supporters marched on Washington Monday to urge Senate Democrats to overcome Republican opposition and obstruction within their own ranks to push through a national overhaul of voting rights.

They rallied on the national holiday honoring King on the 93rd anniversary of his birth. The march occurred just days after two centrist Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, said they would oppose attempts to change legislative rules in the politically divided 100-member chamber to allow Democrats to set uniform national election rules over the objections of all 50 Republican senators.  

King’s son, Martin Luther King, III, his wife Arndrea Waters King, and their teenage daughter, Yolanda Renee King, joined several hundred activists as they walked in chilly weather across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, symbolizing recent congressional support for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure.

“You were successful with infrastructure, which was a great thing,” King told the crowd. “But we need you to use that same energy to ensure that all Americans have the unencumbered right to vote.”

Watch related video by Laurel Bowman:

U.S. President Joe Biden said in a video address that Americans must commit to the unfinished work of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering jobs, justice and protecting “the sacred right to vote, a right from which all other rights flow.”

“It’s time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand,” Biden said. “It’s time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for a vote as early as Tuesday on the legislation that would expand access to mail-in voting and early voting before the official election days in early November, strengthen federal oversight of elections in states with a history of racial discrimination and tighten campaign finance rules.

Democratic supporters say the legislation is needed to counter new restrictions on voting passed in 19 Republican-led states that some critics say would make it harder for minority and low-income voters to cast ballots. Republicans say the legislation is a partisan power grab by Democrats and would be a federal takeover of elections that the 50 states have typically managed with state-by-state rules.

But the legislation is almost certainly to be killed unless Sinema and Manchin suddenly reverse their opposition to ending use of the Senate filibuster rule that allows opponents of contentious legislation, either Republicans or Democrats, to demand that a 60-vote supermajority be amassed for passage.   

Marches supporting voting rights and other civil rights measures were planned in several U.S. cities on the King holiday.

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Millions of Americans hunkered down as a major winter storm hit the eastern United States with heavy snow and ice knocking power out for an estimated 130,000 customers as of early Monday.   

The National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was bringing a miserable combination of heavy snow, freezing rain and high winds, impacting the southeast and coastal mid-Atlantic before moving up to New England and southern Canada. 

A swath from the upper Ohio Valley north to the lower Great Lakes region could expect more than 30 centimeters of snow Monday, it warned. 

In all, more than 80 million people fell under the winter weather alerts, US media reported.

About 235,000 were without power Sunday but by early Monday that had fallen to around 130,000 along the east coast and Kentucky as supplies were restored, according to the website PowerOutage.US. 

The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida and flooding in coastal areas, while in the Carolinas and up through the Appalachians icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.    

Transport was seriously disrupted, with thousands of flights canceled, and a portion of busy interstate highway I-95 closed in North Carolina. 

More than 3,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled Sunday.   

Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina was the worst-affected with 95 percent of its flights grounded, according to the FlightAware website. A further 1,200 flights had been canceled early Monday.   

State of emergency

Drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from Arkansas in the south all the way up to Maine, on the Canadian border. 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had declared a state of emergency on Friday, and snowplows were at work before noon to clear the roads. 

Virginia and North Carolina also declared states of emergency.   

Virginia State Police said on Twitter they had responded to almost 1,000 crashes and disabled vehicles on Sunday. “Mostly vehicle damage. No reported traffic deaths,” the force said.   

A “multi-vehicle backup,” along with minor crashes, had earlier stopped traffic on a major interstate in the southern part of the state.  

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Twitter that up to a foot of snow had fallen in some areas by midday, and that “significant icing is causing trouble in the Central part of the state” as he reminded people to stay inside and avoid travel if possible.   

Also in North Carolina, students were shaken up after the storm caused the roof of a college residence hall to collapse, according to a local ABC news station, though no one was hurt.   

“Very scary,” Brevard College sophomore Melody Ferguson told the station. “I’m still shaking to this moment.” 

The NWS even reported some snow flurries in Pensacola, Florida, while usually mild Atlanta, Georgia also saw snow. 

The storm is expected to cause some coastal flooding, and the NWS warned that winds could near hurricane force on the Atlantic coast. 

The northeastern United States already experienced snow chaos earlier this month. When a storm blanketed the northeast, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on a major highway linking to the capital Washington.  

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Atlanta’s mayor, Georgia’s governor and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock are scheduled to attend the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service at King’s old congregation, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

The service at Ebenezer and other events surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorate what would have been King’s 93rd birthday. 

In a news release, the King Center in Atlanta said the 10 a.m. Monday service will be broadcast live on Atlanta’s Fox TV affiliate and on Facebook, YouTube and thekingcenter.org. 

The Rev. Natosha Reid Rice and Pastor Sam Collier will preside over the service. This year’s keynote speaker is the Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church. 

Musical performances are also planned, including Keke Wyatt, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Pastor Mike Jr., Le’Andria Johnson, and Emanne Beasha. 

“This year’s theme, ‘It Starts with Me: Shifting Priorities to Create the Beloved Community,’ reflects our belief that it is critical, and necessary for the survival of both humanity and Earth, that we shift our priorities for a strategic quest to create a just, humane, equitable and peaceful world,” King Center CEO Bernice King said in a statement. 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday March and Rally is also planned for Monday afternoon in downtown Atlanta. The march is scheduled to end on Auburn Avenue in front of The King Center, where a rally is planned. The King Center is also working with the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and Youth Service America on a voter registration drive Monday in Atlanta. 

“On this King Holiday, I call us up to shift our priorities to reflect a commitment to true peace and an awareness of our interconnectedness, interdependence, and interrelatedness. This will lead us to a greater understanding of our responsibilities to and for each other, which is crucial for learning to live together, achieving ‘true peace,’ and creating the Beloved Community,” Bernice King said in announcing the events. 

Martin Luther King Jr. — pastor, civil rights leader, one of the most beloved figures in the world — dedicated his life to achieving racial equality, a goal he said was inseparable from alleviating poverty and stopping war.  

King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech while leading the 1963 March on Washington, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis while assisting a strike by underpaid sanitation workers. He was 39. 

King’s example, and his insistence on nonviolent protest, continues to influence many activists pushing for civil rights and social change. 

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