WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — Larry Mitko voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But the Republican from Beaver County in western Pennsylvania says he has no plans to back his party’s nominee for Senate, Dr. Mehmet Oz — “no way, no how.”
Mitko doesn’t feel like he knows the celebrity heart surgeon, who only narrowly won his May primary with Trump’s backing. Instead, Mitko plans to vote for Oz’s Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a name he’s been familiar with since Fetterman’s days as mayor of nearby Braddock.
“Dr. Oz hasn’t showed me one thing to get me to vote for him,” he said. “I won’t vote for someone I don’t know.”
Mitko’s thinking underscores the political challenges facing Trump and the rest of the Republican Party as the former president shifts to general election mode with a rally Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the first of the fall campaign.
Hours before Trump was to speak, the crowd streamed into the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena. Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s hard-line nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, was already there, as was Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga..
While Trump’s endorsed picks won many Republican primaries this summer, many of the candidates he backed were inexperienced and polarizing figures now struggling in their November races. That’s putting Senate control — once assumed to be a lock for Republicans — on the line.
Among those candidates are Oz in Pennsylvania, author JD Vance in Ohio, venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona and former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia.
“Republicans have now nominated a number of candidates who’ve never run for office before for very high-profile Senate races,” said veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres. While he isn’t writing his party’s chances off just yet, he said, “It’s a much more difficult endeavor than a candidate who had won several difficult political races before.”
The stakes are particularly high for Trump as he lays the groundwork for an expected 2024 presidential run amid a series of escalating legal challenges, including the FBI’s recent seizure of classified documents from his Florida home. Investigators also continue to probe his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
This past week, President Joe Biden gave a prime-time speech in Philadelphia warning that Trump and other “MAGA” Republicans — the acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan — posed a threat to U.S. democracy. Biden has tried to frame the upcoming vote, as he did the 2020 election, as a battle for the “soul of the nation.” Biden’s Labor Day visit to Pittsburgh will be his third to the state within a week, a sign of Pennsylvania’s election-year importance.
While Republicans were once seen as having a good chance of gaining control of both chambers of Congress in November, benefitting from soaring inflation, high gas prices and Biden’s slumping approval ratings, Republicans have found themselves on defense since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights.
Some candidates, like Mastriano, are sticking with their primary campaign playbooks, hoping they can win by turning out Trump’s loyal base even if they alienate or ignore more moderate voters.
Mastriano, who wants to outlaw abortion even when pregnancies are the result of rape or incest or endanger the life of the mother, played a leading role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election and was seen outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as pro-Trump rioters stormed the building.
But others have been trying to broaden their appeal, scrubbing from their websites references to anti-abortion messaging that is out of step with the political mainstream. Others have played down Trump endorsements that were once featured prominently.
The shifting climate has prompted rounds of finger-pointing in the party, including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who last month cited “candidate quality” as he lowered expectations that Republicans would recapture control of the Senate.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said those who complain about the party’s nominees have “contempt” for the voters who chose them.
Trump, too, fired back, calling McConnell a “disgrace” as he defended the party’s candidate roster.
Democrats have also piled on.
“Senate campaigns are candidate versus candidate battles and Republicans have put forward a roster of deeply flawed recruits,” said David Bergstein, the Senate Democratic campaign committee’s communication director.
He credited Trump with deterring experienced Republicans from running, elevating flawed candidates and forcing them to take positions that are out of step with the general electorate. A Trump spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans are hoping Oz’s shortcomings as a candidate will be overshadowed by concerns about Fetterman, who suffered a stroke just days before the primary and has been sidelined for much of the summer. He continues to keep a light public schedule and struggled to speak fluidly at a recent event.
Republicans acknowledge that Oz struggles to come off as authentic and was slow to punch back as Fetterman spent the summer trolling him on social media and portraying him as an out-of-touch carpetbagger from New Jersey.
While Fetterman leads Oz in polls and fundraising, Republicans say they expect the money gap to narrow and are pleased to see Oz within striking distance after getting hammered by $20 million in negative advertising during the primaries.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is helping finance a new round of Oz’s television ads, and the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned super political action committee, says it added $9.5 million to its TV buy — boosting its overall commitment to $34.1 million by Election Day.
A super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says it has made $32 million in television ad reservations in the state.
Oz has won over some once-skeptical voters, like Glen Rubendall, who didn’t vote for the TV doctor in his seven-way primary — a victory so narrow it went to a statewide recount — but said he’s come around.
“I’ve been listening to him speak, and I have a pro-Oz view now,” said Rubendall, a retired state corrections officer.
Traci Martin, a registered independent, also plans to vote for Oz because she opposes abortion, despite ads that aired during the primary featuring past Oz statements that seemed supportive of abortion rights.
“I hope he is (anti-abortion),” Martin said, “but the sad part is we live in an age when we see politicians say one thing and do another.”
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.
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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A labor court in Bangladesh’s capital Monday sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws.
Yunus, who pioneered the use of microcredit to help impoverished people, was present in court and was granted bail. The court gave Yunus 30 days to appeal the verdict and sentence.
Grameen Telecom, which Yunus founded as a non-profit organization, is at the center of the case.
Sheikh Merina Sultana, head of the Third Labor Court of Dhaka, said in her verdict that Yunus’ company violated Bangladeshi labor laws. She said at least 67 Grameen Telecom workers were supposed to be made permanent employees but were not, and a “welfare fund” to support the staff in cases of emergency or special needs was never formed. She also said that, following company policy, 5% of Grameen’s dividends were supposed to be distributed to staff but was not.
Sultana found Yunus, as chairman of the company, and three other company directors guilty, sentencing each to six months in jail. Yunus was also fined 30,000 takas, or $260.
Yunus said he would appeal.
“We are being punished for a crime we did not commit. It was my fate, the nation’s fate. We have accepted this verdict, but will appeal this verdict and continue fighting against this sentence,” the 83-year-old economist told reporters after the verdict was announced.
A defense lawyer criticized the ruling, saying it was unfair and against the law. “We have been deprived of justice,” said attorney Abdullah Al Mamun.
But the prosecution was happy with what they said was an expected verdict.
“We think business owners will now be more cautious about violating labor laws. No one is above the law,” prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan told The Associated Press.
Grameen Telecom owns 34.2% of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecom giant Telenor.
As Yunus is known to have close connections with political elites in the West, especially in the United States, many think the verdict could negatively impact Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S.
But Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Monday said relations between Bangladesh and the U.S. would likely not be affected by an issue involving a single individual.
“It is normal not to have an impact on the state-to-state relations for an individual,” the United News of Bangladesh agency quoted Momen as saying.
The Nobel laureate faces an array of other charges involving alleged corruption and embezzlement.
Yunus’ supporters believe he’s being harassed because of frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s government has denied the allegation.
Monday’s verdict came as Bangladesh prepares for its general election on Jan. 7, amid a boycott by the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch-enemy. The party said it didn’t have any confidence the premier’s administration would hold a free and fair election.
In August, more than 170 global leaders and Nobel laureates in an open letter urged Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against Yunus.
The leaders, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more than 100 Nobel laureates, said in the letter that they were deeply concerned by recent threats to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.
Hasina responded sharply and said she would welcome international experts and lawyers to come to Bangladesh to assess the legal proceedings and examine documents involving the charges against Yunus.
In 1983, Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which gives small loans to entrepreneurs who would not normally qualify for bank loans. The bank’s success in lifting people out of poverty led to similar microfinancing efforts in other countries.
Hasina’s administration began a series of investigations of Yunus after coming to power in 2008. She became enraged when Yunus announced he would form a political party in 2007 when a military-backed government ran the country and she was in prison, although he did not follow through on the plan.
Yunus had earlier criticized politicians in the country, saying they are only interested in money. Hasina called him a “bloodsucker” and accused him of using force and other means to recover loans from poor rural women as head of Grameen Bank.
In 2011, Hasina’s administration began a review of the bank’s activities. Yunus was fired as managing director for allegedly violating government retirement regulations. He was put on trial in 2013 on charges of receiving money without government permission, including his Nobel Prize award and royalties from a book.
Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his military should “thoroughly annihilate” the United States and South Korea if provoked, state media reported Monday, after he vowed to boost national defense to cope with what he called an unprecedented U.S.-led confrontation.
North Korea has increased its warlike rhetoric in recent months in response to an expansion of U.S.-South Korean military drills. Experts expect Kim will continue to escalate his rhetoric and weapons tests because he likely believes he can use heightened tensions to wrest U.S. concessions if former President Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election in November.
In a five-day major ruling party meeting last week, Kim said he will launch three more military spy satellites, produce more nuclear materials and develop attack drones this year in what observers say is an attempt to increase his leverage in future diplomacy with the U.S.
In a meeting Sunday with commanding army officers, Kim said it is urgent to sharpen “the treasured sword” to safeguard national security, an apparent reference to his country’s nuclear weapons program. He cited “the U.S. and other hostile forces’ military confrontation moves,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim stressed that “our army should deal a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate them by mobilizing all the toughest means and potentialities without moment’s hesitation” if they opt for military confrontation and provocations against North Korea, KCNA said.
In his New Year’s Day address Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he will strengthen his military’s preemptive strike, missile defense and retaliatory capabilities in response to the North Korean nuclear threat.
“The Republic of Korea is building genuine, lasting peace through strength, not a submissive peace that is dependent on the goodwill of the adversary,” Yoon said, using South Korea’s official name.
At the party meeting, Kim called South Korea “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state” whose society is “tainted by Yankee culture.” He said his military must use all available means including nuclear weapons to “suppress the whole territory of South Korea” in the event of a conflict.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry warned in response Sunday that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, South Korean and U.S. forces will punish it overwhelmingly, resulting in the end of the Kim government.
KCNA said North Korean officials held talks on Monday to implement an order by Kim to disband or reform organizations handling relations with South Korea to fundamentally change the principle and direction of the North’s struggle against the South. There was no immediate explanation of how that might alter inter-Korean relations, which have been stalled for an extended period.
Experts say small-scale military clashes between North and South Korea could happen this year along their heavily armed border. They say North Korea is also expected to test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. and other major new weapons.
In 2018-19, Kim met Trump in three rounds of talks on North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal. The diplomacy fell apart after the U.S. rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited step, in exchange for extensive reductions in U.S.-led sanctions.
Since 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, prompting the U.S. and South Korea to expand their joint military exercises. North Korea has also tried to strengthen its relationships with China and Russia, which blocked efforts by the U.S. and its partners in the U.N. Security Council to toughen U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its weapons tests.
KCNA said Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged New Year’s Day messages on Monday on bolstering bilateral ties. North Korea faces suspicions that it has supplied conventional arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine in return for sophisticated Russian technologies to enhance the North’s military programs.
Estimates of the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal vary, ranging from about 20-30 bombs to more than 100. Many foreign experts say North Korea still has some technological hurdles to overcome to produce functioning nuclear-armed ICBMs, though its shorter-range nuclear-capable missiles can reach South Korea and Japan.
Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John Fetterman acknowledges having “dark conversations” about harming himself before he hit “the emergency brake” and sought treatment for depression.
He remembers thinking about his three school-age kids. “I can’t be a blueprint for my children. I can’t let them be left alone or not to understand why he would have done that,” the first-term Pennsylvania Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in a deeply personal and introspective interview taped before the broadcast that aired Sunday.
So he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, last Feb. 15. “There was nowhere else to go,” he said, describing how he often felt during his stay that “there wasn’t any hope sometimes and like, ‘What do I have left?’”
He also wondered whether he would survive politically.
“When it got released where I was and where it was going, it was a big story. And so, I had assumed that that would be the end of my career,” he said
When he sought treatment for clinical depression, Fetterman was still coping with the effects of the stroke he had in May 2022, during his campaign for one of the Senate’s most contested seats. “My heart technically stopped, and it was a very touch-and-go situation,” said Fetterman, 54. A pacemaker was implanted with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy.
His victory over Republican Mehmet Oz had helped Democrats keep control of the Senate and made him a national figure. It was the height of his political career. But he couldn’t make it out of bed at his home in Braddock, in western Pennsylvania.
“I really scared my kids, and they thought, ’You won, Dad. Why aren’t we enough? Why are you still so sad? Why are you even more sad?’ And it was hard for — to explain why I was. And, of course, a 9-year-old child wouldn’t understand that. And it was awful,” Fetterman said.
So much so that he said he “pleaded not to go down to D.C.” later that November for orientation sessions in Washington for newly elected lawmakers.
His favorite holiday was nearing, yet he was unable to think about getting Christmas presents for his children and “dreading” his swearing in on Capitol Hill early in the new year.
Within two months, he was at Walter Reed. Aides had described the new senator as being withdrawn and uninterested in eating, discussing work or the usual banter with staff.
“This is a conversation that I’ve had with myself and anybody that knows they’re unable to address their depression, is they start to have dark conversations with themself about self-harm,” Fetterman said. “And things continued to kind of tick off the list. And then I kind of hit the emergency brake.”
He added, “I knew I needed help.”
Before checking into Walter Reed, Fetterman had never publicly discussed his battle with depression. He has since said that he has experienced it on and off throughout his life.
He left Walter Reed at the end of March after six weeks of inpatient treatment with his depression “in remission,” according to a statement from his office.
Doctors describe “remission” as when a patient responds to treatment so that they have returned to normal social function and they are indistinguishable from someone who has never had depression.
Fetterman has since become a visible presence in the Capitol, bantering with reporters, joking with Senate colleagues and speaking up at Senate hearings.
To others who are now “facing a really dark holiday time,” Fetterman offered this guidance: “I know that last year’s was desolate. And this year’s might be desolate. Next year’s can be the best ever. And that’s what happened for me.”