Harrisburg, Mar 27 (AP/UNB) — The first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives said Tuesday she was offended by a colleague's decision to open a voting session with a prayer a day earlier that "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow."
Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell of Philadelphia said she felt the remarks by Rep. Stephanie Borowicz shortly before Johnson-Harrell took the oath of office on Monday used her religion against her.
"I thought that for the most part, the entire invocation was offensive," Johnson-Harrell told reporters, noting that her own religion respects Jesus. "But to use Jesus as a weapon is not OK."
Borowicz, a Republican and associate pastor's wife who was elected to represent a rural central Pennsylvania district in November, also thanked President Donald Trump during the Monday invocation for standing behind Israel.
Johnson-Harrell said she respects everyone's right to praise the president, but "we cannot weaponize what's going on with Israel and Palestine."
Prayer should not be among the things that Republicans and Democrats fight about, she said.
"It was directly a political statement, and I think we need to be very, very clear that everybody in this House matters, whether they're Christian, Muslim or Jew, and that we cannot use these issues to tear each other down," Johnson-Harrell said. "And not only that, it was made during my swearing in."
Johnson-Harrell won a special election earlier this month to fill a seat vacated by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, who had been re-elected in November after being convicted of bribery.
Her swearing-in drew 55 guests, a majority of them Muslim. A Muslim prayer was said from the House dais during the ceremony.
Borowicz defended her remarks Monday, saying, "I pray every day. I prayed." She did not immediately return a message seeking a response to Johnson-Harrell's comments Tuesday.
"At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord," Borowicz said on Monday.
Her floor remarks drew a rebuke from Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County, who called Borowicz's invocation "beneath the dignity of this House" and asked that a group be set up to review the procedure.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he was "horrified" by Borowicz's invocation and apologized to Johnson-Harrell on behalf of all Pennsylvanians.
"I was horrified. I grew up in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn on the basis of freedom of conscience. I have a strong spiritual sense. This is not a reflection of the religion I grew up in," said Wolf, a Methodist.
Another Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia, opened the session on Tuesday by reading from the Quran. His invocation was followed by applause.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, who controls the daily invocation process, lost a federal court decision last summer that halted his policy of preventing nonbelievers from making the invocations. Turzai is appealing that ruling , and currently has the invocations performed by state representatives themselves.
After Borowicz's comments on Monday, Turzai read for House members the guidance that has previously been provided to religious professionals about keeping remarks respectful of all religious beliefs and refraining from commenting on extraneous matters.
Orlando, Mar 27 (AP/UNB) — A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max made a safe emergency landing Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, after experiencing an engine problem, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The crew declared an emergency after taking off from Orlando International Airport around 2:50 p.m., and returned to the airport safely. No passengers were on board, and the aircraft was being ferried to Victorville, California, where Southwest is storing the airplanes.
The 737 Max was grounded in the U.S. March 13 after a deadly crash involving a Max in Ethiopia on March 10. It was the second fatal crash involving the airplane. U.S. airlines are allowed to shuttle the planes but cannot carry passengers.
The FAA says it's investigating but the emergency was not related to anti-stall software that is suspected as a cause of the two fatal crashes including one last year involving a plane from Indonesia.
Airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell says one of the airport's three runways was shut down for cleaning after the landing. She says its standard procedure to check a runway for debris after an emergency landing. It wasn't clear if any parts actually fell off the plane.
Fennell says the airport's other two runways remained open, and normal operations weren't affected.
Southwest said the plane's pilots reported a "performance issue" with an engine shortly after taking off for the California airport, where it was flying to be in short-term storage. The Max 8 jet was to be moved to Southwest's Orlando maintenance facility to be checked, a company statement said.
Washington, Mar 26 (AP/UNB) — House Democrats pressed the Justice Department to provide the full report from special counsel Robert Mueller even as Republicans gleefully called for them to "move on" from the Russia investigation. President Donald Trump accused those responsible for launching Mueller's probe of "treasonous things against our country" and said they "certainly will be looked into."
Trump said the release of Mueller's full report "wouldn't bother me at all," and Democrats quickly put that statement to the test, demanding that his administration hand over the entire document and not just Sunday's four-page summary from Attorney General William Barr.
Six House Democratic committee chairmen wrote to Barr that his summary is "not sufficient" and asked to be given Mueller's full report by April 2. They also want to begin receiving the underlying evidence the same day. The information is "urgently needed by our committees to perform their duties under the Constitution," they wrote, implying that the information would be subpoenaed if it is not turned over by the deadline.
Barr said in his letter to Congress that Mueller did not find that Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election — knocking down arguments from Democrats who have long claimed there was evidence of such collusion.
But he also said Mueller reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the federal investigation, instead setting out "evidence on both sides" of the question and stating that "while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Absent a recommendation from Mueller, Barr stepped in and decided there wasn't sufficient evidence to establish that the president obstructed justice. Democrats said Barr's judgment is not the final word.
"All I'm interested in is them releasing the full report, the full Mueller report," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Despite Mueller's refusal to exonerate Trump, his spokesmen and leading congressional Republicans all claimed total vindication for the president anyway. Questioned by reporters, Trump said he welcomed Mueller's results but complained he had been abused by the investigation occurring at all and taking too long.
"We can never let this happen to another president again," he said. "There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country."
"Those people will certainly be looked at. I've been looking at them for a long time. And I'm saying, why haven't they been looked at? They lied to Congress. Many of them you know who they are."
He didn't name names, but Trump has spent months railing against former Justice Department officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, accusing them of an illegal witch hunt for the purpose of delegitimizing his presidency. He has also falsely claimed that the investigation was based on memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and even blamed former Sen. John McCain, who died last year, for passing the memos to the FBI.
The investigation began months before the FBI saw the dossier — and the FBI already had a copy by the time McCain turned it in.
On Monday, after a series of evening strategy meetings, Democrats vowed to continue their multiple investigations into Trump, perhaps with shifted focus. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who has become a focus of Republicans' post-Mueller ire, said he is "circumspect about how much more we will be able to find on issues that he thoroughly investigated," but said Mueller's conclusion would not affect his own committee's counterintelligence probes.
"There may be other corrupt meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russians, there may be other profound financial conflicts of interest that are not mentioned in the Mueller report, and there may be unanswered questions even within what he did examine," Schiff said.
Democrats also signaled that they will curtail some public focus, at least, from their investigations of Trump and try to keep attention on their policy goals. Schiff postponed an open hearing with Felix Sater, a Russian-born former business adviser to Trump who helped him negotiate an ultimately unsuccessful deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, while the intelligence committee tries to get a look at Mueller's report.
Pelosi, meanwhile, was scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday on health care legislation, Democrats' top campaign issue.
Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a member of Democratic leadership, said he has been encouraging colleagues to talk about those policy issues like health care and infrastructure.
"We need to talk about the work we are doing on these really important economic issues that matter in people's lives," Cicilline said. "We're doing the work, but we need to be more effective about sharing that" and not just responding to questions about corruption and Mueller's investigation.
Democrats seem more likely to focus on those issues, and their ongoing investigations, than engaging in the talk of impeachment that has been amplified on Pelosi's left flank. As the release of Mueller's report loomed, she recently tried to scuttle that talk by saying she's not for impeachment, for now.
But Mueller's report hasn't dissuaded some of Trump's fiercest critics among the new Democratic lawmakers who helped flip the House from Republican control. By the end of the month, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is still planning to introduce her resolution calling for the Judiciary Committee to investigate grounds for Trump's impeachment.
Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers called for Congress to move on. "This is done with," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. "It is time for the country to move forward."
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, said Democrats don't want facts, "They just want to change the outcome of the 2016 election."
At the same time, however, Republicans followed Trump's lead in looking into how the investigation began. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham promised to "unpack the other side of the story" of the Russia investigation.
Graham, who spent the weekend with Trump in Florida, said his committee will probe the actions of the Justice Department. Still, he said the investigation was legitimate and had to happen in order to answer questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The South Carolina Republican also had a warning for Trump using his pardon power to help those who were ensnared by Mueller's investigation.
"If President Trump pardoned anybody in his orbit, it would not play well," Graham said.
Among those whom Mueller charged during the course of his investigation were the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.
Washington, Mar 25 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of U.S. policy.
Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Trump made formal a move he announced in a tweet last week. The president said it was time for the U.S. to take the step after 52 years of Israeli control of the strategic highlands on the border with Syria.
Netanyahu had pressed for such recognition for months. Trump's action gives him a political boost weeks before what's expected to be a close Israeli election.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war but its sovereignty over the territory is not recognized by the international community.
"Today, aggressive action by Iran and terrorist groups in southern Syria, including Hezbollah, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks against Israel — very violent attacks," Trump said.
"This should have been done numerous presidents ago," Trump said.
The two leaders met as the Israeli military was striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket that hit a house north of Tel Aviv and wounded seven people.
"Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression," said Netanyahu, who planned to return to Israel to manage the attack following his meeting with Trump and other U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.
He added: "Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate it."
In a speech earlier Monday, Pence said the rocket attack "proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace." Pence told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that "Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel, and the United States will never negotiate with terrorist Hamas."
The rocket destroyed a residential home in the farming community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba. The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, from their sleep shortly after 5 a.m., sending them scurrying to bomb shelters. A strong sound of an explosion followed. The Israeli military quickly mobilized troops and called up reserves, setting the stage for a potential major conflagration shortly before Israel's upcoming elections.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Sunday for what was to have been a three-day visit.
In his remarks, Pence also took issue with comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that he said were anti-Semitic. Omar, a first-term lawmaker who is one of two Muslim women in Congress, has alleged that congressional support for Israel reflected "allegiance to a foreign country" and that Israel "has hypnotized the world." She also has accused Americans who support Israel of being bought off by campaign donations.
"Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States, and any member who slanders those who support the historic alliance between the United States and Israel with such rhetoric should not have a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee," Pence said.
New York, Mar 25 (AP/UNB) — A media narrative declaring President Donald Trump the clear victor of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian electoral tampering investigation settled in Sunday before more than a handful of Mueller's actual words has become public.
Poised for news on the investigation for months, news organizations jumped on Attorney General William Barr's summary of Mueller's report. Barr said that Mueller had determined there was no evidence connecting Trump and his campaign staff to Russia's effort to influence the 2016 election. While Mueller made no conclusion about whether Trump had obstructed justice, Barr and his team decided there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute on this charge.
Expressions that it was a very good day for Trump came quickly, and from all directions:
—"A huge cloud lifted today for the president," said CNN's Pamela Brown.
—"A clear victory for him legally and politically," Al Sharpton said on MSNBC.
—"No matter your loyalty, no matter your ideology ... this is a good day for America," Fox News Channel's Bret Baier said.
The question remains how much of the public will draw this conclusion and move on, even before it is determined when and how much of Mueller's full report on Russia's attempt to manipulate the 2016 presidential election will become public.
The New York Times and Washington Post both headlined the finding of no conspiracy between Trump and Russia on the top of their web sites Sunday evening, although in both cases they were careful to attribute the declaration of Mueller's findings to Barr.
Both newspapers also had the same secondary headline, noting Barr said Mueller's report did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice.
That issue is "considerably more ambiguous," noted CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Despite that, the president was quick to declare that Mueller had cleared him on both charges — first in a statement by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, then in a tweet, then in remarks to reporters before he departed from a weekend in Florida.
When Fox News Channel's Shannon Bream summarized the news both at the top and end of her 5 p.m. newscast, she similarly did not make the point that Mueller had not made a determination of obstruction of justice.
"Again, the letter from the attorney general saying zero collusion found by the special counsel, also exonerating the president of any obstruction of justice. That's the bottom line," she said.
The finding on conspiracy dominated the cable news discussions.
CNN's David Gergen, veteran analyst and aide to several presidents, said that the news was good for the country because it's "important for us not to believe our president is a crook."
"Overall, it is very clear and a very significant decision in favor of the president, and is probably one of the most important things that is going to happen in this term," Gergen said. "It doesn't change who he is — his temperament, his fitness for office and other issues — but this has obvious and clear implications for the 2020 race."
Fox's Baier predicted the Mueller conclusion will quickly be highlighted in a Trump rally and campaign ad.
On MSNBC, Chuck Todd said Barr's summary gives Trump's team such a head start that he questioned whether Democrats would be able to regain the momentum for further investigation of the issue.
"This was about as clear cut as Mike Tyson beating Spinks in the first round," MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said, reference a famous boxing knockout. "I know that the Trump attorneys are shocked. I know that the Democrats are shocked. Nobody expected this sort of exoneration on collusion."
Democrats continue to insist upon a full release of Mueller's report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both questioned Barr's impartiality in his determination that there was not enough evidence to pursue obstruction-of-justice charges.
Barr "made it clear that this is what he wants everyone to come away with," said CNN's Dana Bash. "We don't know the substance underneath all of these conclusions because we haven't seen the full report."
Pelosi and Schumer are attempting to take back control of the narrative, she said.
"It is not going to be easy," Bash said.