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Associated Press

Florida looks to expand gun rights in wake of Pulse shooting

Florida Republicans are more determined than ever to pass bills expanding gun rights in the wake of the deadly Pulse nightclub and Fort Lauderdale airport shootings.

They say law-abiding gun owners should be allowed to take their weapons to airports, government meetings and state universities, and would be in a better position to protect themselves and others if a mass shooting should erupt in one of those places.

“Anytime you create a gun-free zone, you essentially are creating a safe haven for mass shooters and the criminal element and you put law-abiding people at a disadvantage,” said Marion Hammer, who has lobbied for the National Rifle Association for more than 42 years.

There are about two dozen gun-related bills filed ahead of next month’s 60-day legislative session and the vast majority would expand gun rights so they can be carried, as one opponent said, “pretty much everywhere.”

“If it’s a reaction to the Pulse shooting and Fort Lauderdale, it’s a very odd reaction,” said Patti Brigham, a vice president at the League of Women Voters of Florida and co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s like bad gun bills on steroids.”

While Democrats have responded to the mass shootings by proposing more restrictions, including a ban on assault-style rifles and large capacity ammunition clips, they have virtually no chance of passing while Republicans dominate both legislative chambers.

Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, whose bill would ban assault-like rifles, said expanding areas where guns can be carried isn’t the right approach. “Their solution is, ‘We want guns everywhere, all the time, by every person,’ which is not going to address these problems. It’s going to make them worse,” he said.

Republican Rep. Jake Raburn of Valrico said many of this year’s Republican proposals were easily approved in the House last year and will likely pass the chamber again this year. And he sees a better chance that the Senate will pass gun-right expansions, especially since the chamber’s top advocate, Sen. Greg Steube, chairs the Judiciary Committee – the first stop for gun legislation.

Raburn is sponsoring the bill to allow guns at airports, an issue he proposed before the Fort Lauderdale shooting. He said hypothetical arguments against the idea just don’t hold weight, such as police not knowing which person holding a gun is an active shooter and which is a permit holder defending himself.

“Florida is one of only six states that doesn’t already allow that,” he said. “We haven’t seen any of these ‘what if?’ scenarios of law abiding permit holders being a problem in airports.”

The following is a look at gun-related legislation that has been filed by Republicans and Democrats.

Bills filed by Republicans would:

— Allow licensed handgun owners to openly carry their weapons.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry a gun in nonsecure areas of airports.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns at any legislative meeting or committee meeting.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on state university campuses.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns at county and municipal government meetings.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns at career centers.

— Allow members of the state Cabinet who have concealed weapons permits to carry guns anywhere not prohibited by federal law. Reduce the penalty the violating the current open carry ban from a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine to a noncriminal civil fine of $25.

— Holds business owners who ban guns from their property liable for injuries suffered by a concealed weapon permit holder who is attacked

— Allows concealed weapons permit holders to bring guns to courthouses and temporarily surrender them to security. The courts must keep the weapons in locked storage space.

— Expand the “stand your ground” to give more protection to people using the self-defense claim by placing the burden of proof on prosecutors to prove people charged with assaulting or killing someone else wasn’t acting in self-defense.

— Place on the November ballot a measure asking voters to exempt law enforcement officers from the 72-hour waiting period to buy personal handguns.

Bills filed by Democrats would:

— Ban semi-automatic assault-type rifles like AR-15s and AK-47 and detachable ammunition magazines that hold more than 7 rounds.

— Bans guns at performance arts centers and theaters.

— Removes exceptions to a law requiring guns in homes occupied by minors be stored in locked boxes or with trigger locks.

— Increases the penalties for displaying concealed weapons in a threatening manner on or near school properties or activities from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Increases penalties for people who fail to store a gun in a way to prevent access by minors.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Thousands of demonstrators across U.S. say ‘Not My President’

Thousands of demonstrators turned out Monday across the U.S. to challenge Donald Trump in a Presidents Day protest dubbed Not My President’s Day.

The events on the federal holiday didn’t draw nearly as many people as the million-plus who thronged the streets following the Republican president’s inauguration a month earlier, but the message was similar.

Thousands of flag-waving protesters lined up outside Central Park in Manhattan. Many in the crowd chanted “No ban, no wall. The Trump regime has got to fall.” They held aloft signs saying “Uphold the Constitution Now” and “Impeach the Liar.”

A rally in downtown Los Angeles also drew thousands. Demonstrators there called attention to Trump’s crackdown on immigration and his party’s response to climate change and the environment. Organizers said they chose to rally on the holiday as a way to honor past presidents by exercising their constitutional right to assemble and peacefully protest.

In Chicago, several hundred rallied across the river from the Trump Tower, shouting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”

Rebecca Wolfram of Chicago, who’s in her 60s, said concerns about climate change and immigrant rights under Trump prompted her to start attending rallies.

“I’m trying to demonstrate as much as possible until I figure out what else to do,” said Wolfram, who held a sign that said “Old white ladies are really displeased.”

Several hundred demonstrated in Washington, D.C. Dozens gathered around the fountain in Dupont Circle chanting “Dump Trump” and “Love, not hate: That’s what makes America great.”

Dozens marched through midtown Atlanta for a rally named with a Georgia flavor: “ImPEACH NOW! (Not My) President’s Day March.”

Hundreds of protesters chanting “This is what democracy looks like” marched through Salt Lake City.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the crowd marched to push back against Trump and his administration’s stance on such issues as the environment, immigration, free speech and Russia.

Some people raised signs that said “Not My President,” while others held up a large American flag. Protester Reg Brookings warned the crowd that Trump is trying to divide the country by making such groups as immigrants the enemy.

A small but unruly group of protesters faced off with police in downtown Portland, Oregon.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the police confronted the crowd in front of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building. Police took some people into custody.

Hundreds of Trump opponents and supporters turned out in Rapid City, South Dakota.

A larger anti-Trump faction stood on a street corner as part of a “Not My President” protest, similar to other demonstrations being held across the country. A group supporting the president lined up on a different corner at the same intersection.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

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Donald Trump taps military strategist as national security adviser

President Donald Trump has tapped Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a prominent military strategist known as a creative thinker, as his new national security adviser, replacing the ousted Michael Flynn.

Trump announced the pick Monday at his Palm Beach, Florida, club and said McMaster is “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.”

The president’s choice further elevated the influence of military officers in the new administration. Trump, who has no military or foreign policy experience, has shown a strong preference for putting generals in top roles. In this case, he tapped an active-duty officer for a post that’s sometimes used as a counterweight to the Pentagon. McMaster, who wore his uniform for the announcement, joins Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, both retired generals, in Trump’s inner circle of national security advisers. The White House said Monday McMaster plans to remain on active military duty.

He will take on the challenge of leading a National Security Council that has not adjusted smoothly to Trump’s leadership. The president suggested he does not trust holdovers from the Obama administration and complained about leaks to reporters. His decision to put his top political adviser on the senior committee of the National Security Council drew sharp criticism. On Friday, the head of the council’s Western Hemisphere division was fired after he criticized Trump’s policies and his inner circle of advisers.

Trump said Monday that retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who had been his acting adviser, will now serve as the National Security Council chief of staff. He also said he would be asking John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to work with them in a “somewhat different capacity.”

McMaster is viewed as soldier-scholar and creative thinker. He has a doctoral degree in history from the University of North Carolina and has been heavily involved in the Army’s efforts to shape its future force and its way of preparing for war. He is currently the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, a sort of military think tank, at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Outside of the Army, he may be best known for his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” a searing indictment of the U.S. government’s mishandling of the Vietnam War and an analysis of what he called the “lies that led to Vietnam.” The book earned him a reputation for being willing to speak truth to power.

McMaster commanded troops in both American wars in Iraq — in 1991, when he fought in a storied tank battle known as the Battle for 73 Easting, and again in 2005-2006 in one of the most violent periods of the insurgency that developed after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He is credited with using innovative approaches to countering the insurgency in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar when he commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He later served as a special adviser to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

McMaster was Trump’s second choice to replace Flynn, who has been under FBI investigation for his contacts with Russian officials. Trump dismissed Flynn last week after revelations that the adviser had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his discussion with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential transition. Trump said in a news conference Thursday that he was disappointed by how Flynn had treated Pence, but did not believe Flynn had done anything wrong by having the conversations.

Trump’s first choice to replace Flynn, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the offer.

Trump announced his choice sitting between McMaster and Kellogg in a luxurious living room at the resort property. The president told reporters that Vice President Mike Pence had been involved in the process, but he did not elaborate.

Trump brought four candidates for the position to Mar-a-Lago over the weekend for in-person interviews, McMaster among them. McMaster called the appointment a “privilege.”

It was not clear how closely McMaster’s and Trump’s views align. On Russia, McMaster appears to hold a much dimmer view than Trump of Moscow’s military and political objectives in Europe.

In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in May 2016, McMaster said Russia managed to annex Crimea and intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine “at zero cost” from the international community.

McMaster said Moscow’s broader goal is to “collapse the post-Cold War security, economic and political order in Europe and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

In his current role, McMaster has been studying the way Russia developed and executed its campaigns in Crimea and Ukraine, where it used what some call “hybrid warfare” — part political, part disinformation, part military.

Sen. John McCain, an increasingly vocal Trump critic, called McMaster an “outstanding” choice.

“He is a man of genuine intellect, character, and ability. He knows how to succeed,” he said in a statement. “I give President Trump great credit for this decision, as well as his national security cabinet choices.”

The position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida prosecutors can seek death penalty despite questions

Florida prosecutors can seek the death penalty in ongoing cases despite a state Supreme Court ruling that found a new death penalty law unconstitutional.

The court ruled Monday that the death penalty can be applied as long as there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

The court ruled last October that a new state law requiring at least a 10-2 jury recommendation is unconstitutional.

But Monday it said other aspects of the law are constitutional and prosecutors can proceed in capital punishment cases.

Prosecutors had been in limbo wondering whether the death penalty could be applied. Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the court to clarify.

The court released an opinion last month saying the death penalty couldn’t be applied in pending cases, but then withdrew the opinion hours later.

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Mike Pence tries to reassure anxious Europeans on U.S. support

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence moved Monday to assuage European Union fears about the strength of Washington’s support for the union and its commitment to European security through the NATO military alliance.

During meetings in Brussels, Pence said he was acting on behalf of President Donald Trump “to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union.”

“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all the same purpose: to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” he told reporters after talks with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Trump’s benevolence toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and campaign rhetoric that included branding NATO obsolete and vowing to undo a series of multinational trade deals has sparked anxiety in Europe. Trump was also supportive of Britain’s vote last year to leave the 28-nation EU, a withdrawal known as Brexit. And he has suggested that the EU itself could soon fall apart.

Tusk, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said he had been reassured after “open and frank talks” with Pence, but made clear that the bloc would watch closely to ensure the U.S. acts on its words of support.

“I heard words which are promising for the future, words which explain a lot about the new approach in Washington,” Tusk said.

He underlined that “too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations — and our common security — for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be.”

“We are counting, as always in the past, on the United States’ wholehearted and unequivocal — let me repeat, unequivocal — support for the idea of a united Europe,” Tusk said. “The world would be a decidedly worse place if Europe were not united.”

He asserted: “The idea of NATO is not obsolete, just like the values which lie at its foundation are not obsolete.”

Tusk added, “Both Europeans and Americans must simply practice what they preach.”

After talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg across town, Pence reiterated the administration’s strong support for the alliance, but warned that Trump wants to see “real progress” by the end of the year on boosting defense spending.

NATO leaders agreed in 2014 that alliance members needed to start spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product by 2024. Only five nations currently do so: the United States, Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece.

“The truth is many others, including some of our largest allies, still lack a clear and credible path to meet this minimum goal,” Pence said.

Asked what the administration would do if allies failed to meet the defense spending target, Pence said, “I don’t know what the answer is to ‘or else,’ but I know that the patience of the American people will not endure forever.”

Pence’s meetings in Brussels were aimed at assuring European leaders that his words reflected the views of Trump and would not easily be swept away at the whim of the U.S. president or undermined by statements issued on Twitter.

Pence, as he did in an address Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, also said Trump would demand that Russia honor its commitments to end the fighting in Ukraine.

“In the interest of peace and in the interest of innocent human lives, we hope and pray that this cease-fire takes hold,” he said.

The vice president also noted the “heartbreaking” suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and subway system in March 2016, and said the U.S. would continue to collaborate with EU partners to address safety and combat terrorism.

“The United States’ commitment to the European Union is steadfast and enduring,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump’s Florida visits puts small airport in tailspin

President Donald Trump wants small businesses to thrive, but his frequent Mar-a-Lago visits have flight schools and other companies at a nearby airport in a financial nosedive.

The Secret Service closed Lantana Airport on Friday for the third straight weekend because of the president’s return to his Palm Beach resort, meaning its maintenance companies, a banner-flying business and another two dozen businesses are also shuttered, costing them thousands of dollars at the year’s busiest time. The banner-flying company says it has lost more than $40,000 in contracts already.

The airport, which handles only small, propeller-driven planes and helicopters, is about 6 miles southwest of Mar-a-Lago, well within the 10-mile circle around the resort that’s closed to most private planes when he’s in town. Trump flies into Palm Beach International Airport, which is 2.5 miles from Mar-a-Lago, and remains opens as it handles commercial flights. Small private planes can also use that airport during presidential visits if they meet certain stringent conditions.

The Lantana owners are pushing compromises they say will ensure Trump’s security while keeping their businesses open. They involve letting pilots fly in a closely monitored corridor headed away from the resort until they are outside a 10-mile ban around Mar-a-Lago and a 30-mile zone where flying lessons are restricted. Pilots, planes and cargo would undergo preflight screening by Transportation Security Administration agents.

“None of us are suggesting that we shouldn’t do everything to keep the president safe but we believe there are things that can be done to keep us in operation,” said Jonathan Miller, the contractor who operates the Palm Beach County-owned airport.

The airport and its 28 businesses have an economic impact of about $27 million annually and employ about 200 people full-time, many of them making about $30,000 a year. They don’t get paid when the airport is closed.

Miller is already losing a helicopter company, which is moving rather than deal with the closures. That will cost him $440,000 in annual rent and fuel sales.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham directed questions to the Secret Service. The agency also declined comment. Flight restrictions have long been standard around buildings where a president is staying to protect him from an airborne attack.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat who represents the area, met with the business owners this week. She said she will meet with the Secret Service next week to see if a compromise can be reached.

Lantana Airport opened in 1941 as a Civil Air Patrol station, with planes flying along the coast during World War II to spot German submarines attempting to sink cargo ships. Today, the 300-acre, three-runway facility handles an average of 350 arrivals and departures daily, peaking on winter weekends as tourists enjoy South Florida’s temperate weather. Summer, with its stifling, visitor-repelling heat and the constant threat of plane-grounding thunderstorms, is not nearly as lucrative.

Marian Smith, owner of Palm Beach Flight Training, said her 19-year-old business is losing 24 flights daily when closed and three students cancelled. She lost $28,000 combined the last two weekends and will lose $18,000 on this President’s Day weekend. She estimates her 19 instructors are each losing up to $750 a weekend.

“What’s frustrating is that we get little notice when this is going to happen,” she said.

This week, rumors began Monday. The closure notice arrived Wednesday.

David Johnson, owner of Palm Beach Aircraft Services, said his 27-year-old repair and maintenance business generates $2 million in sales annually, but has taken a hit over the last month and he fears it will cascade if flight schools like Smith’s close. He has written a letter he hopes gets delivered to Trump this weekend asking him, one businessman to another, to help resolve the conflict.

“Even if the TSA had to screen every pilot going out of here, we would be open to that,” Johnson said. “But so far, we’ve gotten nothing.”

Jorge Gonzalez, owner of SkyWords Advertising, a banner towing service, said his company lost four contracts totaling $42,500 because of Trump’s visits. He wants exceptions made for three pilots to fly within the restricted zone when the president visits because it is where thousands of residents live and tourists stay.

“We have spent 10 years building this business,” said Gonzalez’s wife, Hadley Doyle-Gonzalez. “We just can’t pick up and move.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump says Sweden comment followed TV report

Swedes have been scratching their heads since President Donald Trump suggested that some kind of major incident had taken place in their country Friday night. Trump is now clarifying his comments, saying he was referring to something he saw on television.

Trump first referenced Sweden during a Florida rally on Saturday as he talked about past terror attacks in Europe. He told supporters, “Look what’s happening last night in Sweden.”

In Sweden, the remark raised eyebrows and sparked derision about a fact-challenged president. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said that the government wasn’t aware of any “terror-linked major incidents.”

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that his statement was in reference to a story broadcast on Fox News concerning immigrants and Sweden.

The president may be referring to a segment aired Friday night on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that reported Sweden had accepted more than 160,000 asylum-seekers last year but that only 500 had found jobs. The report went on to say that a surge in gun violence and rape had followed the influx of immigrants.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says that Trump was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.

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Donald Trump rallies Florida crowd with some old themes, renewed attack on media

Just four weeks into his administration, President Donald Trump appeared at a campaign rally that mirrored the months leading up to Election Day, complete with promises to repeal the health care law, insults for the news media and a playlist highlighted by the Rolling Stones.

“I want to be among my friends and among the people,” Trump told a cheering crowd packed into an airport hangar in central Florida, praising his “truly great movement.”

Trump promised anew to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, reduce regulations and create jobs. He also pledged to “do something over the next couple of days” to address the immigration order that has been blocked in the courts. Said Trump: “We don’t give up, we never give up.”

Insisting he was the victim of false reporting, Trump said his White House was running “so smoothly” and that he “inherited one big mess.” The president has been trying refocus after reports of disarray and dysfunction within his administration.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One before the rally, Trump said he was holding a campaign rally because “life is a campaign.”

“To make America great again is absolutely a campaign,” he said. “It’s not easy, especially when we’re also fighting the press.”

And he’s also had to contend with crowds of protesters. Thousands of them were out on the streets of Dallas and Los Angeles to oppose immigration enforcement raids and to support immigrants and refugees generally. In Los Angeles, an organizer urged local authorities not to spend money on immigration enforcement.

Trump, who held a rally in the same spot in Florida in September, clearly relished being back in front of his supporters, welcoming the cheers and letting one supporter up on stage to offer praise for the president. He also enjoyed reliving his surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

First Lady Melania Trump introduced her husband at the rally, reciting the Lord’s Prayer before offering her own pledge to act in the best interest of all Americans as she pursues initiatives she says will impact women and children around the world.

The event had the familiar trappings of a Trump campaign rally, including red Trump caps, “Make America Great Again” and “Trump/Pence” signs and at least one sign reading “Hillary for Prison.” Some of the speakers ahead of Trump’s appearance called for repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law, criticized the news media or lobbed barbs at Clinton, other constants of last year’s rallies.

The music playlist preceding Trump’s appearance included rally favorites like Free’s “All Right Now.” As Air Force One rolled up to the hangar, the theme to the Harrison Ford movie “Air Force One” signaled its arrival. Trump and the first lady appeared as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played. And his 45-minute remarks were followed by another 2016 campaign favorite, the 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones.

The rally came during Trump’s third straight weekend at his private south Florida club, Mar-a-Lago. It was another working weekend for the president, who planned to interview at least four potential candidates for the job of national security adviser, a position unexpectedly open after retired Gen. Michael Flynn‘s firing early this week.

Trump said Saturday “I have many, many that want the job, they want to really be a part of it. I’ll make a decision over the next couple of days.”

Scheduled to discuss the job with the president were his acting adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith KelloggJohn Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster; and the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the four interviews were expected to take place Sunday at the private estate.

Finding a new national security adviser was proving to be a challenge for Trump. His first choice, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the offer.

Trump had also expressed interest in former CIA Director David Petraeus, but Spicer said Saturday that Petraeus was not a finalist. The retired four-star general resigned as CIA director in 2012 and pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information relating to documents he had provided to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Flynn resigned at Trump’s request Monday after revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about discussing sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the transition. Trump said in a news conference Thursday that he was disappointed by how Flynn had treated Pence, but did not believe Flynn had done anything wrong by having the conversations.

Trump has lurched from crisis to crisis since the inauguration, including the botched rollout of his immigration order, struggles confirming his Cabinet picks and a near-constant stream of reports about strife within his administration.

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680 Cubans returned home since end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’

About 680 Cubans have been returned to the island from various countries since then-President Barack Obama ended a longstanding immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident, state television reported Friday.

Cuba’s government had long sought the repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which it said encouraged Cubans to risk dangerous voyages and drained the country of professionals. The Jan. 12 decision by Washington to end it followed months of negotiations focused in part on getting Havana to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.

Cuban state television said late Friday that the returnees came from countries including the United States, Mexico and the Bahamas, and were sent back to the island between Jan. 12 and Feb. 17. It did not break down which countries the 680 were sent back from.

The report said the final two returnees arrived from the United States on Friday “on the first charter flight especially destined for an operation of this type.”

Florida’s El Nuevo Herald newspaper reported that the two women were deemed “inadmissible” for entry to the United States and placed on a morning flight to Havana.

Wilfredo Allen, an attorney for one of the women, says they had arrived at Miami International Airport with European passports. The women requested asylum and were detained.

The repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy was Obama’s final move before leaving office in the rapprochement with the communist-run country that he and Cuban President Castro began in December 2014. The surprise decision left hundreds of Cubans stranded in transit in South and Central America.

Before he assumed the presidency on Jan. 20, Donald Trump criticized the detente between the U.S. and Cuba, tweeting that he might “terminate” it.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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A month into presidency, Donald Trump prepares for a campaign rally

President Donald Trump is holding a campaign rally Saturday in politically strategic Florida — 1,354 days before the 2020 election.

The unusually early politicking follows a pattern: Trump filed his paperwork for re-election on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. By comparison, President Barack Obama didn’t make his re-election bid official with the Federal Election Commission until April 2011.

Huge rallies were the hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign. He continued to do them, although with smaller crowds, throughout the early part of his transition, during what he called a “thank you” tour.

The Florida event will be his first such one as president.

“I hear the tickets — you can’t get them,” Trump said Thursday during a meeting with lawmakers. “That’s OK, that’s better than you have too many.”

Trump responds well to the supportive crowds, who often chant, cheer and applaud enthusiastically when he speaks. The rallies serve a practical purpose by enabling his campaign to continue building a list of supporters. To attend, people must register online, giving their email address and other personal information that the campaign can use to maintain contact and raise money.

Trump’s upcoming evening event is set for an airport hangar in Melbourne, Florida, and it comes as he makes another weekend trip to what he calls his “Winter White House,” his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

Trump also said he would play golf this weekend with Ernie Els, a South African professional golfer. It will be his Trump’s third consecutive weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the rally is “being run by the campaign.” It follows an official trip Friday to South Carolina, where Trump will visit a Boeing facility in North Charleston.

Spicer and others at the White House have not responded to repeated questions about why Trump’s embryonic campaign is organizing this rally, or about who will pay for the event and transportation to and from it. Presidents regularly hold large campaign-style events to build support for their policies. Those events are often considered part of their official duties and organized by the White House.

Michael Glassner, executive director of Trump’s campaign committee, also did not respond to questions.

Trump’s campaign is running the event because Trump does not want to spend taxpayer dollars on it, a person close to him said. The person requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Although Trump is getting started far earlier than his predecessors, it’s common for presidents to combine political and governing events into the same trip. When that happens, the campaign picks up the tab for part of the trip and taxpayers for the rest.

Trump’s campaign account had more than $7.6 million in the bank at the end of the year, according to fundraising reports. He’s continued raising money postelection by selling popular merchandise, such as the ubiquitous red “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

On Thursday, as the president wrapped up a confrontational press conference with the media — during which he repeatedly referred to coverage as “unfair” and “fake news” — one of Trump’s campaign accounts emailed a “media survey” to his supporters.

The 25 multiple-choice questions included: Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement? Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?

After clicking through the survey, there’s a prompt to donate money.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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