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Associated Press

First day goal? Make White House feel like home for Donald Trump

It’s supposed to feel just like home when Donald Trump steps inside the White House residence for the first time as president on Inauguration Day.

His clothes will be hanging in the closet. The kitchen will be stocked with his favorite foods. Windows will have been washed, carpets vacuumed or replaced, and fresh linens and towels will be in all the bedrooms and baths. No packed or half-empty boxes will be lying around either, unlike a typical home move.

Trump and his wife, Melania, can thank the nearly 100 butlers, maids, plumbers, electricians and other staffers who maintain the private living areas of the White House. The crew will have just the hours between Trump’s swearing-in and the end of the inaugural parade to remove all traces of President Barack Obama and his family and make the Trumps feel at home.

“I’ve called it, for years, organized chaos,” says Gary Walters, a former White House chief usher who oversaw the move in-move out process for four presidents.

The “chaos” breaks out moments after the outgoing president and the president-elect depart the White House for the oath-taking ceremony at the Capitol. However, the process itself starts after the November election when the White House chief usher reaches out to the incoming president’s team to begin coordinating the new First Family’s big move.

Melania Trump toured the living quarters in November when she accompanied her husband to the White House for his postelection meeting with Obama.

Trump, the businessman and reality TV star, now lives primarily at his three-story penthouse at Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and may continue to spend considerable time there because his wife and their 10-year-old son, Barron, plan to remain in New York until the school year ends.

The Obamas started packing up their belongings weeks ago. Crates and boxes lined hallways and filled the East Room last week. Mrs. Obama isn’t doing a lot of packing herself, but she recently said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that “I’m doing a lot of pointing” to indicate what needs to be boxed up.

Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he’s taking books, clothes, mementos and furniture bought since he became president. He and the first lady didn’t bring many large items with them because they left their home in Chicago intact. They also won’t be going far when they leave the White House.

After vacation in Palm Springs, California, the Obamas will settle into a rented mansion in Washington’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood. In a break with tradition, they plan to stay in the capital for a few years so their 15-year-old daughter, Sasha, can graduate from her private high school.

One of their new neighbors will be Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared, who will become a senior adviser to his father-in-law. The couple plan to move into a mansion in the same neighborhood with their three young children.

As the transition of power takes place at the Capitol on Friday, the White House residence staff oversees the transition from one family to another in a manner befitting an HGTV special.

Moving trucks for each family are positioned nearby and are directed through tight security to the White House when they get the all-clear.

Residence staff members are broken up into groups and given specific assignments. Some will pack the Obama family’s remaining items, and another group will carry them out to the truck. Other staffers will bring the Trumps’ things into the White House while still others unpack and put them in their designated places.

All the while, “you’re changing sheets and you’re changing towels and the housekeepers are working feverishly,” said Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush.

But, adds Walters, “the end product is that when the new president and first lady come through the North Portico door after the parade that they walk into their home. Everything is in place.”

For Trump, a real estate mogul whose brand is flashy luxury, the move may mean bringing some of his flamboyant style to the White House. Trump’s penthouse in Manhattan and his hotels are known for their marble columns, crystal chandeliers and gold.

Earlier, before welcoming the president-elect for a pre-inaugural reception, the outgoing president, the chief usher and the residence staff traditionally meet for what often is an emotional goodbye. Over the years, the staff often becomes attached and protective of the president and his family, particularly those who serve two terms. In Obama’s case, many of those assigned to the residence are people of color and have been especially proud to serve America’s first black president and his family.

Trump is expected to follow tradition and stay at Blair House, the government guest house across from the White House, before the inauguration.

But how might he spend his first night at the White House?

Trump is thinking about sleeping in the famed Lincoln Bedroom. He said so during a recent lunch with historian Douglas Brinkley and other guests at Trump’s South Florida club. A guest at the lunch recalled the conversation and Brinkley confirmed its accuracy.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Black Americans weep for the Obama era and uncertain future

On the night in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected the country’s first black president, many black Americans wept. Eight years later, they weep again for the end of an era some thought they would never live to see — and for the uncertain future they face without him.

In Obama, many African-Americans felt they had a leader who celebrated their culture and confronted their concerns. In his wife, Michelle, they saw a national role model who epitomized style and grace with brown skin.

Now some regard the election of his successor as the price of black progress and the culmination of years of racist rhetoric directed at the Obamas — at times stoked by President-elect Donald Trump himself.

“There’s a great deal of melancholy and fear and despair,” said Lester Spence, professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University. “This is a dynamic that the vast majority of black America has only read about or seen in movies. They don’t understand the potential of what’s coming.”

Not all African-Americans are sad to see Obama leaving the White House. But blacks overwhelmingly voted for the president in 2008 and 2012, and fewer than 1 in 10 black voters supported Trump.

For many, the events of the final days of Obama’s presidency added to the sense of gloom.

With his inauguration fast approaching, Trump took to Twitter last week to bash Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Trump said Lewis was “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

On Monday, the president marked his last Martin Luther King Jr. holiday before he himself enters the annals of history. On Friday, he will be replaced by a chief executive who questioned Obama’s birthplace and offended many blacks during his campaign by describing dangerous “inner cities” in need of “law and order.”

Perhaps nowhere was the surreal moment more evident than at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, where a sea of black faces gathered to say goodbye and to celebrate a history of struggle and progress.

“This year marks the most significant, most poignant and really the most important Martin Luther King Jr. celebration of my lifetime,” said James Peterson, professor of English and Africana studies at Lehigh University. “There’s never been a clearer case, in terms of presidential politics and the general direction of the country, where King’s edicts are more pertinent than they are now.”

Some in the crowd were descendants of slaves. Some survived segregation. Others were too young to have known anything other than a black president. Many made a deliberate decision to be there on this holiday at the end of a historic presidency.

For black Americans, the museum offers “proximity to black culture, black history and the power of black social movements. You can steel yourself,” Peterson said. “There’s a reason folks will find solace in just being there.”

Throughout the museum are milestones of black suffering and achievement. Watching a video of the 1963 March on Washington, Charles Phillips of Philadelphia worried about whether dark days lay ahead.

“I think we’re going to be in for some bad things,” said Phillips, who wore an Obama T-shirt he bought during the president’s first term. “To come to a place like this, it touches you, to see what we went through — and are hopefully not going to go through in the next four years.”

Looking at an exhibit with photos of a smiling, waving Obama family during the 2008 inauguration, Kim Taylor became emotional. Though she had visited the museum five times since it opened in September, she cried for the first time as she reflected on the progress of the civil rights movement and Obama’s historic presidency.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever have another black president,” said Taylor, of Capitol Heights, Maryland. “I made a point to be here. I just wanted to be a part of history, to have that closeness with other black people.”

Jerrod Lemmons and his wife, Dee, were in town from Waxahachie, Texas, for the weekend, taking their daughter on a college tour of Howard University. But stopping by the museum was also important. Being there during Obama’s last days in the White House was humbling and bittersweet, Jerrod Lemmons said.

His head dropped at the thought of Trump taking office at the end of a week that began with King’s birthday.

“I don’t believe he supports us,” Lemmons said of the president-elect. “He doesn’t see value in who we are as a people.”

Sitting outside of the exhibit on sports, he reflected on African-Americans’ sacrifices, failures and victories.

“It all comes down to: What are we going to do?” Lemmons said. “We all have a responsibility to each other. This museum reminds us exactly of that.”

Jewelle Mason, also visiting from Philadelphia, came to the museum hoping, just maybe, that Obama might show up. He didn’t. But she let out a contented sigh that she was able to be there on King Day, savoring the final days of Obama’s presidency.

“It’s nice to know that now he’s a part of the history,” Mason said. “That’s something they can never take away from us.”

Republished with permission of The Associated press.

Donald Trump steps into security bubble; will he bring his phone?

A few hours after President-elect Donald Trump was briefed by intelligence officials about Russian meddling in the election, an Associated Press reporter called his cellphone seeking an interview.

The call went to voicemail and the reporter did not leave a message. About an hour later, Trump called back.

It’s hard to imagine many politicians — particularly one about to become president of the United States — calling back an unknown number on their cellphone.

With Trump, it’s simply how business gets done, whether he’s fielding calls from real estate partners and longtime friends or foreign leaders and congressional lawmakers in the weeks after the election.

But as Trump prepares to take the oath of office Friday, the future of his ever-present Android smartphone is now a matter of national security. On Thursday, he told a friend that he had given up his phone, as security agencies had urged him to do. It was unclear whether he was following the lead of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first cellphone-toting president, who exchanged his personal device for a Blackberry heavily modified for security purposes.

The friend who spoke with Trump spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity in order to disclose the private conversation.

The presidency has long been a lonely, isolating office, with security concerns keeping the commander in chief at a distance from the public. Under Obama, worries about cyber intrusions — particularly by foreign governments — pulled the president’s technology deeper into the security bubble as well. Many of the functions on Obama’s Blackberry were blocked and only a handful of people had his phone number or email address.

Trump doesn’t email, but he uses his phone to tweet — something he’s made clear he plans to continue in office. He’s known to make calls early in the morning and late at night, often seeking input from multiple sources when making a decision. Sometimes he leaves a voicemail.

Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a friend of the president-elect, described Trump’s phone etiquette, as “just like one of his speeches, it’s very stream of consciousness.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called Trump “amazingly accessible,” saying the president-elect picks up his phone even when he doesn’t know who is calling.

“My phone says, No Caller ID, so I’m not saying that it has anything to do with me,” Corker said. “Nobody knows who it is that’s calling when I’m calling.”

Foreign leaders and diplomats took advantage of Trump’s accessibility in the days after his election as they scrambled to find ways to reach him. Some called into Trump Tower hoping to be transferred to the president-elect’s office. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull got Trump’s cellphone number from the golfer Greg Norman.

Trump’s accessibility can create headaches for his aides, who can’t always control who he’s speaking to or what he’s saying. After actress Meryl Streep blasted Trump during a Golden Globes speech earlier this month, a New York Times reporter called the president-elect at midnight to get a response. Trump’s criticism of Streep dominated the news the following day, overshadowing his team’s planned agenda.

For Obama, getting to use a Blackberry in office was considered a victory. He later switched to an iPhone that allowed him to send and receive email from a limited group of people, surf websites and read the news.

But Obama wasn’t known to use his cellphone to make or receive telephone calls, according to individuals familiar with his technology use. Even senior government officials didn’t have the number and instead reached the president through the White House switchboard.

The president also used the switchboard to place his calls, said the individuals, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Obama had a phone in his control that he used to tweet, one of the only devices with access to the official presidential Twitter feed due to hacking concerns. But Obama rarely hit “send” on a tweet himself, and never without coordinating it with his staff, the individuals said.

If Trump does get rid of his cellphone, it could end up with a home not far from the White House.

Curators at the Newseum, which chronicles the First Amendment and the evolution of electronic communication, reached out to Trump’s campaign in November about the prospect of acquiring his Android phone. They haven’t heard back, said Carrie Christoffersen, the museum’s curator of collections.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s America: Families differ as Ronald Reagan country changes

The week after Donald Trump was elected president, Dr. Mai-Phuong Nguyen and two dozen other Vietnamese-Americans active in liberal causes gathered in a circle of folding chairs, consoling one another about an America almost beyond comprehension.

Now, days before Trump takes the oath of office, Nguyen sits in a restaurant booth in Orange County’s neon-lit Little Saigon and studies perhaps the most confounding face of the divide exposed by the election — her father’s.

“All I know is, if a man makes $100 million he is really something,” Son Van Nguyen, 76, says of Trump.

Here in a county transformed by waves of newcomers, the elder Nguyen — a government translator airlifted from South Vietnam with his family in 1975 as Communist forces pressed in on the capital — built a new life as a record-setting life insurance salesman, watching people strive and struggle.

Dr. Mai-Phuong Nguyen, right, and her father, Son Van Nguyen, 76, pose for a photo in the Little Saigon area of Westminster, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The elder Nguyen _ a government translator airlifted from South Vietnam with his family in 1975 as Communist forces bombarded the capital _ built a new life as a record-setting life insurance salesman. “… I know a lot of people out there sit there and wait for welfare,” he says, explaining his hopes that Donald Trump will rein in such spending and create jobs. The younger Nguyen counters, “But he is trying to prevent other people from coming in and enjoying some of the same things you came here for, Dad.” (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

“And I know a lot of people out there sit there and wait for welfare,” he says, explaining his hopes that Trump will rein in such spending and create jobs.

“But he is trying to prevent other people from coming in and enjoying some of the same things you came here for, Dad,” says his daughter, a 47-year-old physician who pushed for health care reform and fears Trump will take away the medical coverage it extended to millions of Americans. “If he does wrong, are you going to support him?”

Their disagreement is a reminder that for Orange County, just as for the rest of the country, there has never been a moment quite like this one.

When Hillary Clinton won this county of 3.2 million in November, it marked the first time the OC had backed a Democrat for president since Franklin Roosevelt. Best known for Disneyland, and long a hothouse of conservatism in a blue state, it was the largest county in the country to flip.

The shift was expected eventually. Orange County’s citrus groves turned to tract housing decades back to welcome a mostly white influx from Los Angeles and Midwestern states. Today, though, Santa Ana’s quinceanera shops reflect a county that is a third Latino. One in five Orange Countians is Asian.

The hopes and anxieties stirred by Trump’s inauguration spotlight even more complicated tensions.

Most Vietnamese traditionally voted for Republicans, viewed as opponents of communism. But many of their adult children, also refugees, see Trump as rejecting American ideals and people like them.

Local Republicans, who once embraced the John Birch Society and recently erected a statue of Ronald Reagan in the park where he launched two White House bids, long espoused a muscular conservatism. Most voted for Trump, but not without soul-searching.

At Jimmy Camp‘s house, a “No Trump” sign made by Camp’s son still hangs in the window. Heading out to feed his family’s goat and potbellied pig, Camp recalls his start in Republican politics three decades ago — knocking on doors for candidates to earn cash.

Jimmy Camp feeds his goat and pig outside his home in an unincorporated area in Orange County, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Camp who started in Republican politics three decades ago, renounced his party membership in 2016 because of his disgust with Donald Trump. “If you go through and look at everything Jesus said in the Bible, this guy is opposite of it,” said Camp, 52, a pastor’s son. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Camp played guitar in a rock band then and embraced platforms calling for government to stay out of people’s lives. He’d always loved the outdoors in a county that stretches from the ocean to the Santa Ana Mountains. After meeting county native Richard Nixon, he read up on the disgraced president’s often forgotten chartering of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Camp became one of the state’s busiest Republican political consultants. Then, last summer he emailed fellow Republicans, renouncing his party membership because of his disgust with Trump.

“If you go through and look at everything Jesus said in the Bible, this guy is opposite of it,” says Camp, 52, a pastor’s son.

Jimmy Camp poses for a photo in an unincorporated area in Orange County, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Camp, who has friends from Iran and Egypt, cringes at a president who would castigate Muslims as supposedly tied to terrorists, though he doubts Donald Trump will fulfill his most extreme rhetoric. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Camp, who has friends from Iran and Egypt, cringes at a president who would castigate Muslims as supposedly tied to terrorists, though he doubts Trump will fulfill his most extreme rhetoric.

“I hope he doesn’t drive us off a cliff,” Camp says. “I hope that we survive the next four years. I think we will.”

Jimmy Camp poses for a photo in an unincorporated area in Orange County, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Camp was one of the state’s busiest Republican political consultants. Then, in the summer of 2016, he emailed fellow Republicans, renouncing his party membership because of his disgust with Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Others voice confidence in Trump.

Gloria Pruyne says her family had reservations about Trump’s morality early on. But the conservative activist ended up knocking on more than 500 doors to get out the vote. Now Pruyne, 78, says she wants Trump to install a conservative Supreme Court justice, revoke an Affordable Care Act she blames for a $500 increase in her family’s monthly insurance bill, and back Israel.

“We’re looking forward to a radical change with this president,” she says.

With the inauguration approaching, Ron Brindle has no plans to remove the 5-foot-square portrait of Trump from his oil well fronting a main road in Huntington Beach. Brindle bought this land for his tree nursery business more than 40 years ago. Today, it is surrounded by tract homes, many owned by Asian families.

Ron Brindle poses for a photo in front of a portrait of Donald Trump hanging on his oil derrick in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Brindle bought this land for his tree nursery business more than 40 years ago. Today, it is surrounded by tract homes, many owned by Asian families. “Now I don’t have anything against any of them, but what happened to the country?” Brindle says. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The first thing Trump should do, he says, is close the border so Americans no longer have to foot the bill to care for foreigners. But Brindle also hopes that Trump will reach out to skeptics.

Steven Mai is ready to listen. Mai, a 42-year-old registered Republican, rejected Trump for criticizing the Muslim parents of a slain American soldier.

Steven Mai poses for a photo in the little Saigon area of Westminster, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. Mai, a 42-year-old registered Republican, rejected Trump for criticizing the Muslim parents of a slain American soldier. But Trump will be his president, he said. “I just hope he’s going to be the president that my parents were thinking,” Mai said. “If he can be a good president, then we all benefit.” (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

But Trump will be his president, Mai says.

Still, if Trump really wants to lead, he should come to places like Orange County, says Mai’s wife, Tammy Tran. He could work in a sandwich shop for a few hours, or see what it’s like to care for an elderly person. Maybe then, the couple say, Trump will understand his responsibility to the many Americas.

“I just hope he’s going to be the president that my parents were thinking,” Mai says. “If he can be a good president, then we all benefit.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Barack Obama commutes 330 drug sentences on last day as president

In a last major act as president, Barack Obama cut short the sentences of 330 federal inmates convicted of drug crimes on Thursday, bringing his bid to correct what he’s called a systematic injustice to a climactic close.

With his final offer of clemency, Obama brought his total number of commutations granted to 1,715, more than any other president in U.S. history, the White House said. During his presidency Obama ordered free 568 inmates who had been sentenced to life in prison.

“He wanted to do it. He wanted the opportunity to look at as many as he could to provide relief,” Neil Eggleston, Obama’s White House counsel, said in an interview in his West Wing office. “He saw the injustice of the sentences that were imposed in many situations, and he has a strong view that people deserve as second chance.”

For Obama, it was the last time he planned to exercise his presidential powers in any significant way. At noon on Friday, Obama will stand with President-elect Donald Trump as his successor is sworn in and Obama’s chapter in history comes to an end.

Even as Obama issued the commutations, the White House had been mostly cleared out to make way for Trump. In between carrying out their last duties, the few remaining staffers were packing up belongings as photos of Obama were taken down from the walls of the West Wing corridors.

The final batch of commutations — more in a single day than on any other day in U.S. history — was the culmination of Obama’s second-term effort to try to remedy the consequences of decades of onerous sentencing requirements that he said had imprisoned thousands of drug offenders for too long. Obama repeatedly called on Congress to pass a broader criminal justice fix, but lawmakers never acted.

For Bernard Smith, it’s a long-awaited chance to start over after 13 years away from his wife and children.

Smith was working at a restaurant in Maryland in 2002 when his brother asked him to obtain marijuana for a drug deal. Though it was his brother who obtained the crack cocaine that the brothers then sold along with the marijuana to undercover officers, Smith was charged with the cocaine offense, too.

His 22-year sentence was far longer than his brother’s, owing to what the court called Smith’s “extensive criminal history” prior to the drug bust. Smith still had 10 years on his sentence when he was notified Thursday that the president, on his last day in office, was giving him another chance.

“He’s looking to turn his life around,” said Michelle Curth, his attorney. “He’s a good person who, like so many people, got involved in something he’s been punished for already.”

Curth said that Smith had learned his lesson and owned up to his crime — he asked for a commutation, she noted, not a pardon, which would have erased the original conviction. She said Smith hopes to get licensed in heating and air conditioning maintenance and has lined up family members to help with his adjustment.

But freedom for Smith is still two years away. Rather than release him immediately, Obama directed that he be set free in January 2019 — two years after Obama has left office — and only if Smith enrolls in a residential drug treatment program.

To be eligible for a commutation under Obama’s initiative, inmates had to have behaved well in prison and already served 10 years, although some exceptions to the 10-year rule were granted. They also had to be considered nonviolent offenders, although many were charged with firearms violations in relation to their drug crimes.

Obama personally reviewed the case of every inmate who received a commutation, often poring over case files in the evenings or calling his attorneys into his office to discuss specifics. Although a backlog of cases remains as Obama leaves office, his administration reviewed all applications that came in by an end-of-August deadline, officials said.

Eggleston said Obama had been particularly motivated to grant clemency to inmates who had turned themselves around in prison. He said one inmate had trained and obtained a commercial driver’s license through a prison program, despite having a life sentence that all but assured he’d never get to use it.

“The ones who really stuck home for the president and me are the ones who got their GED, they worked, they took courses in anger management, they took courses in getting over drug abuse issues, they remained in contract with their families,” Eggleston said.

Obama has long called for phasing out strict sentences for drug offenses, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and incarceration rates unseen in other developed countries. With Obama’s support, the Justice Department in recent years directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums.

Earlier in the week, Obama commuted most of the rest of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning‘s sentence, arguing the Army intelligence analyst had shown remorse and already served a long sentence.

Yet Obama will leave office without granting commutations or pardons to other prominent offenders who had sought clemency, including accused Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He also declined to pardon former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump arrives in Washington with a wave and a salute

Ready for his big moment, Donald Trump swept into Washington on a military jet Thursday and quickly set to building better ties to the Republican Congress as he kicked off three days of inaugural festivities. Washington braced for an onslaught of crowds and demonstrators — with all the attendant hoopla and hand-wringing.

Trump was quickly taking on more of the trappings of the presidency, giving a salute to the Air Force officer who welcomed him as he stepped off the jet with wife Melania at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.

His first stop was a luncheon in a ballroom at his own hotel, where he gave a shout-out to GOP congressional leaders, declaring: “I just want to let the world know we’re doing very well together.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, he said, will finally have someone to sign legislation into law. Then Trump veered into the territory of the unknowable to declare his Cabinet selections had “the highest IQ.”

Just blocks away, the White House was quickly emptying out. President Barack Obama‘s schedule was clear beyond his daily briefing and his final weekly lunch with Vice President Joe Biden.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in a tweet, called Inauguration Eve “a momentous day before a historic day,” as security barricades and blockades went up around Washington in preparation for Friday’s swearing-in ceremony and all of the hoopla and hand-wringing that comes with it.

“We are all ready to go to work,” Pence said at a morning news conference. “In fact, we can’t wait to get to work for the American people to make it great again.”

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’d be putting on his “favorite DHS jacket” and taking to the streets to inspect security preparations for the inaugural festivities.

He told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that areas where inaugural crowds will congregate will be “extra fortified this year with dump trucks, heavily armored vehicles to prevent anybody who’s not authorized from being in the area from driving something in there.” He said there was “no specific credible threat” related to the inauguration.

Trump’s public schedule for the inaugural celebration starts with an afternoon wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. Next, a welcome concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial ending with fireworks.

The two-hour concert, open to the public, was to feature country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore, actor Jon Voight and The Piano Guys. Also performing: Lee Greenwood, DJ RaviDrums, 3 Doors Down, and The Frontmen of Country, featuring Tim Rushlow, Larry Stewart and Richie McDonald.

It won’t include singer Jennifer Holliday, originally announced as one of the headliners. She backed out after an outcry from Trump critics.

Before departing for Washington, Trump announced his final Cabinet choice: former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the president-elect was continuing to make “edits and additions” to the inaugural address he’ll deliver at Friday’s swearing-in.

Never mind about Trump’s gilded private plane: He arrived on a Boeing 757 that is part of the fleet of military planes that become Air Force One whenever the president is aboard. The president-elect, who flew to Washington without any press on his plane, was joined on the trip by a gaggle of his children, grandchildren and other members of his extended family. Also spotted: bags of dresses and formalwear for the coming days’ festivities.

At the luncheon, Trump invited his future first lady to speak, and Melania Trump told the crowd, “Tomorrow we’re starting the work,” adding that “there’s “a lot of possibility and a lot to take care of.”

The president-elect made sure to work in a plug for his hotel, saying, “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place.” Reporters covering Trump’s remark were removed from the room before the president-elect finished speaking.

Ebullient Trump fans were ready for a three-day party.

Eleanor Haven, 83, of Alexander City, Ala., was among those drawn to Washington for what she said would be a “wonderful” inauguration. She and her son, Scott Haven, 56, said they had never been to an inauguration before, never even been to a political rally before attending a Trump “thank you” event in Alabama.

“He fought hard for the American people,” Scott Haven said, adding “I think he really has an earnest view of trying to help the working people of America and I think that’s the attraction of him.”

New York Republicans kicked off their inauguration festivities with a breakfast Thursday morning at a downtown hotel.

The crowd, smushed into a ballroom to hear former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, roared as New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox boasted that a kid from Queens was going to be the next president of the United States.

“It’s going to be a remarkable couple of days,” Gingrich said. “Certainly this is the inauguration that no one in the news media was ready for.”

He went on to describe Trump as “part P.T. Barnum” and predicted he would be one of the country’s most accomplished presidents.

Keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast for Inauguration Day, the National Park Service announced that it was easing its “no umbrella” policy for Friday, allowing collapsible umbrellas along the parade route and on the National Mall.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Amid packing boxes and tears, staffers leaving White House

They line up near the Oval Office, down the hallway toward the Cabinet Room, trailed by their spouses and young kids in their finest clothes. When it’s their turn, the White House staffers enter for a few private moments with President Barack Obama, a photo and a farewell hug from the boss.

There’s a mass exodus underway this week at the White House. As Obama holds his last news conference Wednesday, his staff is busy packing up their offices and turning in their BlackBerrys. For some who joined Obama’s team right out of college, it’s the end of the only professional experience they’ve ever known.

The finals days of any president’s administration are always bittersweet and heavy on nostalgia, as officials face the transition back to being “civilians” who will no longer have their hands on the nation’s levers of power. Yet there’s added sadness this time for Obama staffers who are mostly horrified by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

“You’re always aware that it’s a special privilege to work there and not something to take for granted,” said Nate Lowentheil, who worked on Obama’s National Economic Council for the last three years. “It’s particularly hard knowing the next wave of people coming are going to be working to reverse the things you were working to advance until your very last hour.”

There were tears on the faces of some White House aides on Tuesday as press secretary Josh Earnest appeared in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for his final press briefing – his 354th as press secretary, Earnest said. Even former staffers were invited to return to the White House witness Earnest’s last round of jousting with reporters.

“I’m going to miss it,” Earnest said. “It will take some getting used to seeing somebody else standing up here doing it.”

“Or not,” he added, in a nod to the prospect that Trump’s team may make changes to the daily briefing.

In between closing out final projects and typing up reports on the work they’ve done, White House staffers are packing away their knickknacks, coffeemakers and photos. The boxes stack up in offices already vacated by staffers who have departed over the past few weeks.

By Thursday night, all must be gone to make way for Trump’s team.

Before they leave the building for the final time, they’ll go through a checklist that completes their formal separation from the White House: cell phones handed in, computers locked and papers properly filed to be archived. The last step, aides said, is the hardest: handing in the badge that provides access to the complex day or night.

Then they depart the building and make what for many is a jarring transition from 18-hour workdays and little personal time to unemployment. Lowentheil said that since his last day less than two weeks ago, he’d read three novels, slept 10-12 hours a night and, for the first time in years, didn’t set a morning alarm.

Emails announcing a staffer’s last day stream in at a faster and faster pace as Jan. 20 approaches. They share with colleagues a personal email address and cell phone number, a thank you and maybe a brief reflection on their time at the center of it all.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of it. And yeah, I’m interested in what happens here. And I’ll continue to follow it,” Earnest said. “But I will be relieved to not have the burden to follow it as closely as this job has required over the last two-and-a-half years.”

A few White House staffers have found new jobs already, but most are taking some time off to ponder next steps.

Some are going home to visit family they haven’t spent much time with in years. One said he was spending two months driving across the country, unsure of what he’d do next. Others are taking long vacations to places like New Zealand and Iceland, unencumbered by the need to constantly check in with the office.

“This is the only world I’ve known,” said Clay Dumas, who took time off from college to work for Obama’s 2008 campaign, then interned at the White House before being hired four years ago. He said he was searching for a job that would allow him to continue advancing values and policies he worked on in the White House. “Whatever I do next will be a huge continuation of that.”

Reprinted with the permission of The Associated Press. Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

 

Orlando gunman’s widow pleads not guilty to aiding husband

The widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of aiding and abetting her husband’s support of the Islamic State group and hindering the investigation of the attack that killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

Noor Salman, 30, entered her plea in an Oakland, California, courtroom two days after she was taken into custody at the home she shared with her mother in suburban San Francisco.

Her arrest came after she was interviewed numerous times by FBI agents investigating the June 12 attack in Florida.

Federal prosecutor Roger Handberg said in court Tuesday that Salman knew about the plan by her husband Omar Mateen to attack the gay nightclub and then lied to investigators after it was over. Mateen was killed at the scene by authorities.

Handberg declined further comment on the indictment outside court, and no further details of the charges have been disclosed.

Salman will return to court Feb. 1 to argue for her release pending trial on the counts that could result in a life sentence if she is convicted.

Salman’s uncle Al Salman has defended his niece, saying she is an innocent person who was physically and mentally abused by Mateen.

He said she remained in the marriage because she feared losing custody of the couple’s 4-year-old boy.

Noor Salman was living with Mateen in Fort Pierce, Florida when he proclaimed his allegiance to Islamic State and attacked the nightclub.

The indictment charges her with aiding and abetting Mateen in providing material support and resources to Islamic State between April and June of last year. She was also charged with obstruction, accused of misleading and lying to police and the FBI during their investigation.

Charles Swift, her lead attorney, declined comment Wednesday outside court. He is director of the Texas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America.

Salman told The New York Times in an interview published in November that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but that she was “unaware of everything” regarding his intent to shoot up the club. Salman also said he had physically abused her.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida man charged with making online threat against Donald Trump

A South Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill President-elect Donald Trump in a video posted online.

A Miami Beach police report released Wednesday identified the suspect as 51-year-old Dominic Puopolo. Jail records show Puopolo is being held without bail on state charges of threatening harm against a public servant. Court records do not list a lawyer for him.

The police report says Puopolo on Monday posted a video on his Twitter account stating that he would “be at the review/inauguration and I will kill President Trump, President-elect Trump” while in Washington.

The report says he was arrested a short time later at a Miami Beach Subway restaurant and admitted to officers he had posted the threatening video. Police say Puopolo told them he is homeless.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Sierra Club challenges nearly $1 billion electric rate hike

An environmental group is challenging a rate hike for Florida’s largest electric utility.

The Sierra Club on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to reject an $811 million hike that was approved last year for Florida Power & Light. FPL has about 4.8 million customers in the state.

FPL initially wanted a $1.3 billion hike but scaled it back during settlement negotiations. The hike was approved by the Florida Public Service Commission, and part of it took effect this month.

Company officials said the higher rates would help pay for improvements, including a new natural gas plant.

But Sierra Club officials maintain state law required FPL to present “substantial evidence” to prove the gas plants were needed. They assert the company never showed if it considered options such as solar.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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