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Trump praises Putin for holding back in U.S.-Russia spy dispute

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.

Putin earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the U.S. expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.

Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

"We will not expel anyone," Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.

"Further steps toward the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out," he said.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether he would seek to roll back Obama's actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," Trump said on Thursday, though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama's executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration "a group of embittered and dim witted foreign policy losers."

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks and that is was possible to impose many sanctions.

"When you attack a country, it's an act of war," McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel "1+1" while on a visit to Kiev.

"And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy." added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.

Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.

A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.

Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies, said Eugene Rumer, who was the top U.S. intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.

But that might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy institute. "If Mr. Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.

As part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the United States that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for "intelligence-related purposes."

Russia was given until noon on Friday to vacate both premises. Convoys of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare.

 

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Trump looking to add Hispanic to Cabinet: report

President-electDonald Trump wants his Cabinet to include a Hispanic official, Politico reported Thursday. Trump has only a handful of Cabinet positions left unfilled and is seeking to increase diversity in his administration.Trump's team is primarily looking at Agriculture secretary to add a Latino, but also could do so with Veterans Affairs secretary and the U.S. trade representative, the report said.

“I can tell you now I have spoken to numerous folks on the transition, and they say that he’s absolutely looking for qualified Latinos for a Cabinet post,” said Mario Rodriguez, who sits on Trump’s Hispanic advisory committee.

“President-elect Trump was very impressed with the candidates [he’s considered]. He wants to put a Latino in the Cabinet, he’s not doing it just for show.”

Trump met Wednesday with two Hispanic people whom he is considering to lead the Agriculture Department: Dr. Elsa Murano, a former U.S. agriculture undersecretary for food safety, and Abel Maldonado, a former California lieutenant governor and the current co-owner of Runway Vineyards.

Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans "rapists" and made a U.S.-Mexico border wall one of the central proposals of his campaign. He also feuded publicly with Spanish-language media outlets such as Univision and attacked a U.S.-born federal judge for having Mexican heritage.

 

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Trump on Putin's criticism of Hillary Clinton and Democrats: 'So true!'

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his agreement with Vladimir Putin on Friday evening, after the Russian president said top Democrats were humiliating themselves by blaming their election loss on alleged Russian hacking. "Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: 'In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.' So true!" Trump tweeted.

Putin had criticized Clinton and the Democrats at a press conference on Friday, claiming that the allegations of Russian interference during the election was an "affront to their own dignity."

"They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame," Putin said. "It is important to know how to lose gracefully."

It wasn't the first time on Friday that Trump gushed over remarks made by Putin. Earlier, Trump released a statement saying he received a "very nice letter" from the Russian president, adding that Putin's "thoughts are so correct."

The letter, dated Dec. 15, offered Putin's "warmest Christmas and New Year greetings" and stressed the importance of US-Russia relations in "ensuring stability and security of the modern world."

Putin continued: "I hope that after you assume the position of the president of the United States of America we will be able — by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner — to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring out level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level."

 

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Majority Want Monday’s Electoral College Vote Postponed In Wake Of Russia Scandal: New Poll

A majority of American voters favor delaying the December 19th Electoral College vote until electors can be fully briefed on Russian interference in the election, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov.

The survey, sponsored by the progressive advocacy group Avaaz, found 52 percent of people supportive of stalling the vote, set to take place Monday.

A surprisingly high number of people ― 46 percent ― were also willing to support so-called “faithless electors,” the name given members of the Electoral College who spurn the vote of their home state and vote for a different candidate instead.

Trump opponents have been pressuring electors to break with their state’s voters, and a law firm has even offered pro bono, confidential legal advice to any elector curious about his or her options. Avaaz has collected thousands of signatures on a petition calling for the vote to be delayed.

Donald Trump won a fairly wide Electoral College victory on Election Day, but Hillary Clinton is on pace to beat him in the popular vote by some three million. In a sign of how divided the country is, however, more than 1 in 4 Republicans believe that Trump in fact bested Clinton in the popular vote. That belief may stem from a false claim Trump himself made on Twitter, when he said that he would have won the popular vote had millions of people not voted illegally. That came after a separate claim from Trump, that he could have won the popular vote if he wanted to, by campaigning in highly populated states like California and New York.

Some states mandate that electors vote the way their state instructs, but the the 10th Circuit Court ruled late on Friday that such laws are unconstitutional. The court covers the region of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Only one elector has publicly said he will be breaking from Trump.

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HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

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Rural Hispanic voters — like white rural voters — shifted toward Trump. Here’s why.

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Many observers contend that Hispanic voters will shape the future of American politics. But it’s not yet clear exactly what their influence will be. There’s been debate about whether they may portend a permanent Democratic majority; vote according to ethnic backgrounds — Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban American; or hold political points of view that vary by economics or region, much like other Americans.

With the 2016 election, we have a new set of data to help us investigate this question. My county-by-county comparison of election results in 2016 and 2012, drawn from data available at CNN.com, Politico.com, PBS.org and other sites, shows that rural white and rural Hispanic voters have a lot in common.

Or to put it another way, the election of 2016 revealed an urban/rural divide that was as strong as the white/Hispanic divide.

Election analysts have noted that Donald Trump ran up the vote in rural, largely white counties in the Rust Belt and the Midwest. He flipped or narrowed Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in others. Because these rural voters came out so strongly, states that hadn’t helped elect a Republican for a long time — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and most likely Michigan — delivered his electoral victory, however narrowly.

And here’s the surprise: many rural Southwestern counties with large Hispanic, predominantly Mexican populations, moved in Trump’s direction as well.

That wasn’t true in Southwestern states as a whole. States like New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas remained blue or became less red. Hillary Clinton got strong Hispanic turnout in Sun Belt metropolises like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

But if you look closely at many largely Hispanic rural areas in these states, you find that Trump did better — and Hillary did worse — than did Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Voting in these counties was much like that in similar counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

There’s been contention about how Hispanics voted

When postelection reports suggested that Trump performed surprisingly well among Hispanic voters, the polling firm Latino Decisions rejected the claim. The firm specializes in polling Latino voters, and enumerated the risks of relying on exit polls to understand that electorate’s behavior. The firm vigorously defended its own election eve polls, which suggested that Clinton would rack up historically wide margins from Latinos.

But Latino Decisions, in defense of polls it conducted leading up to the election, has focused on overwhelmingly Hispanic precincts in more urban areas, not the rural communities that tell a different story.

In dozens of rural counties throughout the Southwest, Clinton performed worse in 2016 than Obama did in 2012, as you can see in the figure below. In Guadalupe County, N.M., about an hour’s drive east of Albuquerque, she received 17 percent less of the vote than Obama did four years ago — 53 percentcompared with Obama’s 70 percent. In several other counties where Hispanics accounted for half to nearly all of the population — Rio Arriba, N.M.; Costilla, Colo.; Greenlee, Ariz.; and Duval, Tex., for example — Clinton took home roughly 10 percent fewer votes than did Obama in 2012. In many more heavily Latino counties, her votes lagged behind Obama’s by 3 to 8 points.

 

Even in the South Texas counties that Latino Decisions has named bulwarks of Clinton support — the Rio Grande Valley below San Antonio, where she won between 70 and 85 percent of the vote — she didn’t do as well as Obama had done four years earlier. In Brooks County, which, according to the 2015 American Community Survey, is 89.5 percent Hispanic, Clinton’s tally was 3.9 percent less than Obama’s. In Zavala County, which is 93.1 percent Hispanic, it was 5.6 percent less. In Duval County, which is 88.8 percent Hispanic, it was 9.8 percent less.

Meanwhile, as you can see below, Trump did much better among Hispanics in the rural Southwest than Romney did. He received a greater share of the vote than Romney had in more than a dozen counties with large Hispanic populations: six percent more than Romney in Starr County, Tex., which is 95.8 percent Hispanic; 7.5 percent more in Costilla County, N.M., which is 63.6 percent Hispanic; and 9.1 percent more in Duval County, Texas, which is 88.8 percent Hispanic.

 

Clinton may have received more votes than Obama did in many parts of South Texas, where, as a politically-motivated student at Yale Law School, she knocked on doors in predominantly Mexican neighborhoods for the McGovern campaign. But Trump also received more votes in South Texas than Romney did. Clinton rallied thousands more voters, but so did Trump. His supporters there matched the enthusiasm of Clinton’s, just as they did in dozens of rural counties with large Hispanic populations in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.

In fact, two Colorado counties where Hispanics constitute about half the population flipped from blue to red. Conejos County, which is 53.7 percent Hispanic, went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. So did Las Animas County, which is 42.6 percent Hispanic. In both counties, turnout was lower for Clinton than it had been for Obama, and higher for Trump than it was for Romney.

To be sure, some of these rural Southwestern counties are extremely small compared with the big cities where Hispanic support for Clinton was strong. In small counties, the Hispanic vote adds up to hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands — while in cities, it totals hundreds of thousands. Therefore, rural Hispanics won’t be credited with moving the needle much in one direction or the other.

So yes, there was a Hispanic “surge” in big Southwestern cities that helped Clinton hold on to New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, and helped make Trump’s margin of victory in Arizona and Texas narrower than it had been for any Republican in two decades. But that ignores the vote in rural counties across the country — including those that are largely Hispanic — that led to Trump’s victory.

Why would Hispanics vote for Trump, despite his many anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican statements?

One answer: poverty. The Hispanic communities in the rural Southwest that moved toward Trump were some of the poorest in their states.

Take San MiguelGuadalupe, and Mora Counties in New Mexico, whose populations are 77.1, 79.2, and 80.2 percent Hispanic, respectively. These three counties have New Mexico’s lowest median household income, highest rates of unemployment, and lowest rates of labor market participation. The median income in these counties for families with a head of household between the ages of 25 and 44 is between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, or about half the national median income ($55,000) for families with heads in the same age range. These counties lost, on average, about 5 percent of their population between 2010 and 2015.

In other words, they’ve suffered the same tough economic circumstances as did some of the Midwestern counties that handed Trump the election. They’re more similar to than different from other forgotten counties across the United States, where voters upended the predictions of pollsters and shouted against the status quo.

Ruben Navarette Jr. wrote in The Daily Beast that the election “boiled down to a brutish tug-of-war between Latinos in the battleground states of the West … and working class whites in the Rust Belt” — let’s add the upper Midwest — and “in the end, Trump found enough white voters to offset losses with Latinos.”

 

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