Strains grow in Republicans’ unhappy marriage with Trump

Trump took barely 18 months to conquer the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, swatting aside more traditional challengers as he seized the Republican White House nomination in last year’s US election.

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But six months into his presidency, his disconnect with many in his party is clear, after the departure of two party stalwarts from the White House and the public shaming of his own attorney general.

And after a recent humiliating defeat in the Senate on health reforms, party insiders are warning Trump can expect similar setbacks unless he learns to work constructively with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“His presidency will only be successful if he has allies throughout the government, and that includes the legislative branch,” said Alex Conant, a former senior aide to Senator Marco Rubio.

“If he spends his entire presidency at war with Congress, it will be a very unfulfilling four years,” added Conant, who classed the current relationship between party and president as “awkward.”

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With chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House spokesman Sean Spicer – both party insiders – exiting within a week of each other, few senior Republicans remain among Trump’s inner circle, besides Vice President Mike Pence.

And while Pence – a former lawmaker in the House – acts as a bridge to Congress, it’s far from clear how much the president is seeking his advice.

After the health debacle, instead of regrouping with Republican senators to find a common way forward, Trump rebuked them on Twitter, saying they would be “total quitters” if they abandoned his reforms.

Offence taken

Establishment Republicans have long winced at the probe into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential race and the swirling allegations into whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

More recently, they have taken offence at the president’s attacks on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Republican senator who has significant support among congressional conservatives.

As pressure mounts on Trump, senior figures are becoming bolder in their criticism.

Senator Jeff Flake has urged Republicans to speak out if the president plays to his populist base in ways that damage the party’s ability “to speak to a larger audience.”

As a former Republican National Committee chairman, Priebus had impeccable connections and so his ouster last week has deprived the White House of a valuable link with Capitol Hill.

Spicer – who went a week earlier – was also a long-time Republican insider who owed his position as Trump’s mouthpiece more to his party connections than his close relations with the president.

In Priebus’s place, Trump brought in John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who has little experience in dealing with Republican lawmakers in either the House of Representatives or Senate.

Other key White House staff – such as chief strategist Steve Bannon, a former head of the fiercely right-wing Breitbart News media outlet – are also far removed from the Republican establishment.

The president’s chief economic advisor, former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, is a registered Democrat who has donated to both parties.

Trump’s daughter and son-in-law Ivanka and Jared Kushner, both senior advisors, are self-styled New York progressives.

The little trust that existed in the first place between Trump and the Republican establishment may well have been shaken in the president’s first six months in office.

But Richard Keil, a former Washington-based strategist who now works with the Hill + Knowlton consultancy, said ties were not necessarily beyond repair as long as the two sides could identify shared goals, such as tax reforms.

“If he can help them deliver what they want, that repairs relations pretty quickly,” Keil said.

Decision looms for Bombers veteran Stanton

Essendon insist Jobe Watson’s future won’t be decided until after the season, but a call on fellow AFL veteran Brent Stanton could come sooner.

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A consistent performer throughout his 252-game career, Stanton has struggled in his return to senior football after serving a doping ban last season with 33 other past and present Bombers.

The 31-year-old has languished in the VFL for much of the season, with his last senior appearance coming in round 11.

Coach John Worsfold has confirmed Stanton is in ongoing discussions with the club about his future and an announcement could be made before the end of the season.

“It’s possible if we come to a decision before the end of the season, and that will just be the ongoing discussions with Brent (about) how he’s feeling and where we’re at,” Worsfold said on Wednesday.

“We’ll be really open and honest in terms of what his role may be at the club next year and how he’s feeling.

“If we get to that decision before the end of the season we’ll certainly announce that but I can’t say that it will (definitely) happen.”

With 10th-placed Essendon still in the race to make the finals, Worsfold said former skipper Watson remained on track to play out the season before making a call on his future.

The 32-year-old faced scrutiny for his poor performance during Essendon’s loss to the Western Bulldogs, with some pundits suggesting the game has passed him by.

While several high-profile veterans have recently confirmed their retirement plans ahead of season’s end, Worsfold didn’t expect Watson to map out his own farewell game.

“Hopefully not, because you can’t plan a farewell game in the finals, and that’s our aim,” Worsfold said.

“He hasn’t been best on ground every week but he hasn’t been poor. I’ve been pretty happy with the way Jobe’s bounced back to footy this year considering where he’s come from.”

Essendon must win every remaining game, including Saturday’s meeting with 17th-placed Carlton, in order to scrape into the top eight.

The long rivalry between the clubs, and the fact Carlton beat Essendon earlier in the season, will add extra intrigue to what Worsfold described as a “critical” match at the MCG.

Trump holds Maduro ‘personally responsible’ for jailed opponents’ health

Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were both already under house arrest when they were taken into custody, and the Venezuelan Supreme Court later alleged that they had been planning to flee, either into hiding in Venezuela or abroad.

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“The United States condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship,” Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

“Mr Lopez and Mr Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime.”

The senior US diplomat for the Americas, Acting Assistant Secretary Antonio Francisco Palmieri, tweeted that this was “another step in the wrong direction for Venezuela.”

“This action is further evidence of the Maduro regime’s authoritarianism,” he added, speaking one day after senior US officials declared for the first time that they now regard Maduro, who was elected as a socialist, as a dictator.

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State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also condemned the detentions, saying in a tweet that the United States is “deeply concerned.”

On Monday, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on Maduro, and National Security Adviser HR McMaster compared him to notorious strongmen Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

“The United States holds Maduro — who publicly announced just hours earlier that he would move against his political opposition — personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr Lopez, Mr Ledezma and any others seized,” Trump said.

“We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.”

0:00 UN calls for release of Venezuelan opposition leaders Share UN calls for release of Venezuelan opposition leaders

The raids, carried out in the dead of night, came just one day before a new assembly elected on Sunday is supposed to take office, superseding the opposition-controlled legislature.

In a statement, the Venezuelan Supreme Court said Lopez and Ledezma were sent back to prison because they had violated the terms of their house arrest by making political statements.

Authorities acted with urgency, it said, because they had received intelligence that the pair “had a plan to flee” — something the men’s lawyers vehemently denied.

In a video he pre-recorded in case he was sent back to jail, Lopez urged his supporters to keep fighting Maduro’s government.

“If you’re seeing this video, it’s because they illegally and unjustly came and returned me to prison. I’m a political prisoner,” he said.

“We must not give up the fight. We must never surrender. We must not tire of demanding a better Venezuela.”

Lopez, the Harvard-educated founder of the Popular Will party, also announced that his wife, Lilian Tintori, was pregnant, calling it “the best news” since he was arrested in 2014, and “one more reason to fight for Venezuela.”

The men are two of Venezuela’s most high-profile opposition leaders. Both had called for a boycott of Sunday’s vote for an all-powerful “constituent assembly” tasked with rewriting the constitution.

The United States, which has already slapped sanctions on Maduro and top officials, was scathing in its reaction to the latest news.

“Overnight, the regime of the Venezuelan dictator Maduro detained two leading opposition figures following its outrageous seizure of power through sham elections this weekend,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

“The United States condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship and we hold the regime responsible.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Maduro’s administration to “lower tensions” and “find avenues for political dialogue,” an appeal echoed by EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman.

Lopez and Ledezma were picked up by the intelligence service known by its acronym Sebin, their families said, adding that they held Maduro responsible for the men’s lives.

Related readingFamilies in the dark

“They just took Leopoldo away. We do not know where he is or where they are taking him,” Tintori said on Twitter.

She released home security camera footage in which four uniformed police officers and three others in civilian garb are seen putting her husband into a car and taking off, with other cars escorting them.

Ledezma’s family also released a cell phone video in which the mayor is seen being hauled from home in a pair of blue pyjamas as his neighbors scream.

Lopez, 46, was transferred to house arrest in July after serving three years and five months in prison as part of a 14-year term. He had been convicted of instigating violence during protests against Maduro in 2014 that left 43 people dead.

Ledezma, 62, was arrested in February 2015 on charges of conspiracy and racketeering and was placed under house arrest three months later for health reasons.

Opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara said the re-arrests were aimed at “frightening us and demoralizing us.”

Four months of street demonstrations since April against Maduro have left more than 120 people dead, including 10 over the weekend.

The new constituent assembly is to start working on Wednesday. It is made up only of members of Maduro’s Socialist party, including his own wife. The opposition has called for protests against the inauguration.

0:00 Maduro blasts ‘desperate’ US sanctions Share Maduro blasts ‘desperate’ US sanctions

‘Imperial orders’

Maduro has dismissed the US sanctions and criticism, retorting that he will not heed “imperial orders.”

Latin American nations including Colombia, Mexico and Peru joined the US in saying they did not recognize the results of Sunday’s election, while Brazil, Costa Rica and Panama joined the condemnation of Lopez and Ledezma’s arrest.

Officials say more than 40 percent of Venezuela’s 20 million voters cast ballots Sunday.

The opposition says turnout was closer to 12 percent — on a par with the population of state employees, who were under major pressure to vote.

According to polling firm Datanalisis, more than 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the new assembly.

GC casino halt will deter investors: LNP

The Palaszczuk government’s decision to reject a $3 billion casino plan on the Gold Coast will “send shockwaves” through the investment community, the state opposition claims.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Tuesday put a halt to development plans for the northern end of the Spit, announcing cabinet had rejected a proposal by Chinese-backed ASF to build an integrated casino and resort on the crown land.

Instead, the government will develop a master plan over the next 18 months for the area, including an enforcement of a three-storey height restriction on any development.

Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls on Wednesday said the decision would raise concerns among investors that government support for projects could suddenly fall away.

“You can consult for years, you can invest millions of dollars in good faith with the government … and then at the eleventh hour, with an election around the corner, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor can … pull up stumps,” he told ABC Radio.

Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate, however, will continue his push to have a terminal built on the ocean side of the Spit, at an estimated cost of between $170 and $450 million.

The idea was sparked early last year after the collapse of a Newman government proposal for a combined cruise ship terminal and casino in the Southport Broadwater.

The plan was rejected by the Palaszczuk government in 2015.

Cr Tate said Tuesday’s decision did not change the city council’s intention to put forward a business case for the cruise ship terminal shortly.

“The cruise ship terminal was a mandate that I took to both elections,” he told reporters.

“At the moment council’s working hard on environmental impact studies.

“We’ve got a few business case studies to plan, once they’re complete then I’ll be able to put forward a plan.”

Save Our Broadwater vice-president and former Labor state MP Judy Spence said the mayor already spent $3 million in ratepayer funds on feasibility studies and deviated from his original intended use for the terminal.

“He told us it was only going to be a day port and now he’s committed to building a home port,” Ms Spence told AAP.

“That is quite a different proposition because it involves immigration, it involves fuel depots, involves a whole lot of infrastructure that a day port doesn’t.”

Ms Palaszczuk said council was free to put forward its cruise ship terminal proposal, which will be considered as part of the master plan consultation.

“Of course we want the council to continue their work in relation the oceanside cruise ship terminal,” she told reporters.

Sydney terror raids: Man released without charge, lawyer says arrest ’caused damage’

Abdul Merhi, 50, was one of four men taken into custody on Saturday when five Sydney properties were raided by NSW and federal police.

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Authorities became aware of an alleged plot to “bring down” a plane using a home-made device and detained the men without charge under terror legislation.

Mr Merhi was released about 7pm Tuesday and his solicitor, Moustafa Kheir, said he endured days of intense questioning.

“It’s a very serious allegation to have against you,” he told AAP on Wednesday.

My client Abdul Merhi has been released without charge. Tough few days, but he’s relieved the truth is out. I will review police action.

— Moustafa Kheir (@Mouskheir) August 1, 2017

“There’s a lot of stress associated there, and not knowing, and he was shocked that he was being questioned.

“It’s just unfathomable that he would be associated with anything like this.”

Mr Merhi’s family was also in shock and his life had been “turned upside down”, Mr Kheir added.

“He just wants to go back to as normal life as possible now.”

Mr Kheir said he would review the actions of police.

“A lot of information was divulged, including his identity,” he said.

“That’s caused a lot of damage to him. We want to review all the information police had and what basis they had to do what they did.”

The three other men can be detained until Sunday evening under the terror legislation.

Federal police have spent days rifling through several properties across Sydney following the weekend raids in Surry Hills, Wiley Park, Lakemba and Punchbowl.

The other three men remain in custody under special powers which allow police to hold them for up to a week.

“This investigation remains ongoing, and further information will be provided at an appropriate time,” a joint statement from the AFP and NSW Police said on Wednesday.

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The alarming plot is reported to have allegedly involved an improvised device and the target was a plane, with one theory suggesting the would-be terrorists planned to use a meat grinder to conceal their home-made device.

Meanwhile, Etihad Airways on Tuesday confirmed it was helping Australian authorities with the investigation amid reports the arrests were made after a tip-off from foreign intelligence services.

News agency Reuters cited a US official as saying the plot was “fairly well along”.

Police have until Sunday to charge the men before they are released, however, it’s understood detectives might be able to apply for further detention provisions.

Huge queues at Sydney Airports T2 Domestic Terminal as passengers are subjected to increased security, Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 31, 2017. (AAP)AAP

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