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Biden’s big test: Proving he can rally allies against Putin



Biden’s big test: Proving he can rally allies against Putin


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s effort to rally support, both at home and abroad, ahead of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest big test of his ability to bridge ideological gaps and balance competing interests to build effective coalitions.

His record so far as president suggests it’s no sure thing. Biden is trying to pull off the kind of alliance on the international front that has eluded him on his domestic agenda as he faces defeats on voting rights and his signature $2.2 trillion domestic and climate spending bill.

Now, he faces a complicated and globally more dangerous task: keeping the West unified as it faces what White House officials say is an increasingly likely further invasion of Ukrainian territory ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The pileup of difficult moments is providing a major test of the twin pillars of Biden’s 2020 candidacy: that he could get things done competently at home and restore America’s standing in the world after Donald Trump’s volatile four years in the White House.

“Starting with the messy end of the war in Afghanistan in the late summer, the upsurge in COVID cases into the fall, overlaid by economic concerns of inflation and labor shortages and his issues with his legislative agenda, Biden’s found himself with a weary American public who are seeing a number of unfulfilled promises,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College. “The situation in Ukraine presents another test of his competency.”

The latest crisis comes as Biden already has seen his public support dragging.

Only about a quarter of Americans have significant confidence in Biden to effectively manage the military or promote U.S. standing in the world. Close to 4 in 10 have little confidence in Biden in these areas, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll. Democrats are now less likely than they were as he took office to say they have “a great deal of confidence” (48% vs. 65%), according to the poll.

Administration officials have been scrambling to get NATO allies on the same page with a Russian attack seen as more likely.

Biden’s national security aides have been working with individual European nations, the European Commission and global suppliers on contingency plans if Russia interrupts energy supplies to the continent.

The president has said repeatedly that he will not send U.S. troops to Ukraine. But he has ordered 8,500 to be on heightened alert for deployment to the Baltic Region. And he warned again on Tuesday of “enormous consequences” and severe sanctions for Russia — as well as Putin personally — if Russia takes military action against Ukraine.

He said he’d spoken with every NATO ally “and we’re all on the same page.”

In fact, Biden, who met by secure video call with several key European leaders on Monday, claims there’s “total unanimity” in the Western alliance’s approach to the crisis. But there are signs of differences.

Germany declined to send military aid to Ukraine even as the U.S. and other NATO allies sent aid and looked to assist Kyiv further. The Germans argued that such aid could further inflame tensions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy bristled at Biden’s comment last week that a “minor incursion” of Ukraine would result in more limited consequences for Moscow. The president and White House quickly moved to clarify that the U.S. would impose severe sanctions against Russia for any invasion of Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian officials also complained that the U.S. State Department was “premature” in calling on families of American Embassy workers and nonessential employees in Ukraine to leave the country was “premature.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday it was a “good thing” that the U.S. and Russia have been talking, but he noted he did not see any concrete results. Macron said he planned to speak directly with Putin on Friday

Meanwhile, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic blamed the escalation of tensions on the Biden administration and the pressure from “hawks” on both sides of the U.S political scene. Croatia is a member of NATO, and its troops have taken part in the alliance’s missions abroad.

Biden’s task in wrangling a global community with such differing perspectives and motivations is somewhat similar to his challenge at home, where he’s been confronted by the realities of a 50-50 Senate and a Democratic coalition whose members don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Yet the stakes for Biden and the world are potentially much greater as he tries to reassert American leadership after Europe began looking inward during the Trump years.

At home, as the crisis has developed in recent weeks, Biden has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers who have pushed for the White House to preemptively levy sanctions against Moscow. Biden says the U.S. has made clear to Russia that sanctions would be unprecedented and severe, but officials argue that preemptively acting would undermine any chance of moving Russia to step back from action.

Skeptical Republicans have sought to remind voters about Biden’s decision last year to waive sanctions against the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The United States had long argued that the pipeline project would threaten European energy security by increasing the continent’s reliance on Russian gas and allowing Russia to exert political pressure on vulnerable Eastern and Central European nations, particularly Ukraine.

But Biden, who raised his own concerns about the pipeline dating back to his time as vice president, announced last year he would waive sanctions against German entities because of the damage they would have done to U.S.-German relations.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential 2024 White House contender, earlier this month made an unsuccessful legislative attempt to impose sanctions on the pipeline, which is completed but not yet operating. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other administration officials have said it is unlikely gas will flow through the pipeline if Russia invades.

Republican National Committee spokesman Tommy Pigott said, “Biden ignored his own advice and handed Putin a major geopolitical win by waiving sanctions on his pipeline.”

White House officials pushed back that GOP criticism ought to ring hollow after Trump tried unsuccessfully in his final months in office to dramatically scale back the U.S. troop presence in Europe, which they viewed as only emboldening Russian aggression in the region.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously criticized the Biden administration for not taking preemptive action against Moscow, offered a measure of support for the president on Tuesday. The senator called it “encouraging” that Biden was surging military aid and putting U.S. troops on heightened alert for deployment to NATO allies in the Baltics

“It appears to me the administration is moving in the right direction,” McConnell said.


Associated Press writers Jovana Gec, Bruce Schreiner, Josh Boak and Emily Swanson contributed.


David Banuelos’ impact with St. Paul Saints extends off the field



David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

The backgrounds of Saints players feature a wide variety of honors and accolades from high school, college and earlier minor league stops.

Such notoriety for 25-year-old catcher David Banuelos includes being one of the three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award (given annually to the best collegiate catcher) in 2017 while playing for Cal State Long Beach. Banuelos’ recognized talents led to him being selected in the fifth round of that year’s draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Being recognized for his work off the field has proven to be equally gratifying. Banuelos was the recipient of the Twins’ annual Harmon Killebrew Award in 2018, given to players on all levels of the organization for their community work.

David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

“I love giving back to the community,” said Banuelos, who has continued his community work in the Twin Cities, prior to Thursday night’s 8-1 win over Indianapolis at CHS Field. “It’s something I was always appreciative of growing up.

“You can make a big impact in a person’s life just with the title that you have. Just taking a couple of seconds out of your day can make a little kid’s day — or year. I’m grateful for being in the position to be able to talk to kids and have a positive impact.”

The award has extra meaning to Banuelos due to the fact that one of his friends back in his native Ontario, Calif., is Killebrew’s grandson.

“It was a really cool award to win because I know the family personally,” Banuelos said. “His mom congratulated me as well for winning an award that was named after her father.”

Banuelos credits his own parents with instilling in him the willingness to give back whenever he can.

Interestingly, Banuelos’ middle name is Clemente, the surname of baseball’s greatest humanitarians, Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Following his death, Major League Baseball established the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player for his commitment to community service.

While Banuelos was not named after Clemente (it’s his father’s first name), the Pittsburgh Pirates legend has had an impact on him, especially being in a position of influence.

“People like that inspire you to do things (to help),” Banuelos said, “because there are bigger things in the world than baseball. When people like us can give back to the community they appreciate those kind of things.”

Banuelos’ community work usually involves kids, and he and his wife, Jessica, have a son, Ezekiel, who just turned 1. Being a father also has impacted Banuelos’ life, including on the field.

“The way I think has completely changed,” he said. “I control my temper a little more now on the field. It’s made me think twice before I do things — maybe three times. Because there are consequences to everything.”


Royce Lewis moved over from his customary shortstop to play third base on Friday. He made a diving stop behind the bag and threw out the hitter in the fifth. He also had two hits, drove in a run and stole a base.

Alex Kirilloff had a two-run home run, a double and an RBI single. Spencer Steer also homered.

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage



Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage


Irma Garcia’s family was already reeling from her death in the Texas school shooting that targeted her fourth grade classroom and killed her co-teacher and 19 students.

Then, a mere two days after the attack, her grieving husband collapsed and died at home from a heart attack, a family member said.

Joe Garcia, 50, dropped off flowers at his wife’s memorial Thursday morning in Uvalde, Texas, and returned home, where he “pretty much just fell over” and died, his nephew John Martinez told The New York Times.

Married for 24 years, the couple had four children.

Martinez told The Detroit Free Press that the family was struggling to grasp that while the couple’s oldest son trained for combat in the Marine Corps, it was his mother who was shot to death.

“Stuff like this should not be happening in schools,” he told the newspaper.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed Joe Garcia’s death to The Associated Press. AP was unable to independently reach members of the Garcia family on Thursday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut — remained under investigation, with authorities saying the 18-year-old gunman had no known criminal or mental health history.

The rampage rocked a country already weary from gun violence and shattered the community of Uvalde, a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border.

The Garcias loved to barbecue, 48-year-old Irma wrote in an online letter to her students at Robb Elementary School. Irma enjoyed listening to music and traveling to Concan, a community along the Frio River about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Uvalde.

The couple’s oldest child, Cristian, is a Marine. The couple’s other son, Jose, attends Texas State University. Their eldest daughter, Lyliana, is a high school sophomore, while her younger sister is in the seventh grade.

The school year, scheduled to end Thursday, was Irma’s 23rd year of teaching — all of it at Robb. She was previously named the school’s teacher of the year and was a 2019 recipient of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education from Trinity University.

“Mrs. Irma Garcia was my mentor when I began teaching,” her colleague Allison McCullough wrote when Irma was named teacher of the year. “The wealth of knowledge and patience that she showed me was life changing.”

For five years, Irma co-taught with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.

The suspect, Salvador Ramos, was inside the classroom for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.

“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” Mireles wrote last year in an online letter to incoming students.


Associated Press journalist Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.


More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

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Twins blow late lead to Kansas City, squander terrific start by Devin Smeltzer



Twins blow late lead to Kansas City, squander terrific start by Devin Smeltzer

Minnesota sports fans, do you want the good news or the bad news first?

OK, the bad news is the Twins blew an eighth-inning lead on Thursday and lost, 3-2, to last-placed Kansas City to begin a four-game home stand against their American League Central rival. They have lost two in a row for the first time since getting swept by Houston May 10-12, and their 4½-game division lead on the Central was in danger of shrinking pending the White Sox’s game against Boston.

The good news was that spot starter Devin Smeltzer was terrific. Called up from St. Paul for his second stint with the big league team this season, Smetlzer did everything he could to convince the Twins to keep him around for a while.

A left-hander acquired in the trade that sent Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 but in camp this spring as a non-roster invitee, baffled the Kansas City Royals for seven shutout innings in front of an announced crowd of 17,657 at Target Field.

Smeltzer left with a 2-0 lead after seven innings but the Royals quickly turned the tables, touching right-hander Tyler Duffey (2-3) for three runs on three hits and a walk in the top of the eighth.

Throwing a five-pitch mix — fastball, curve, changeup, sinker and slider — Smeltzer tied a career-high with six strikeouts and allowed only two hits while throwing a season-high 80 pitches. He walked one batter, Andrew Benintendo on four pitches to start the fourth inning, but erased him on a double play groundeder by the next batter, Bobby Witt Jr.

It was a master class in deception. Smeltzer’s four-seam fastball topped out at 90.7 mph, and his curveball was routinely in the 75 mph range. None of his three base-runners reached second base.

Smeltzer, 26, missed all of last season because of a herniated disc in his beck that caused him, among other things, to lose feeling in some of his fingers. Taken off the 40-man roster in November, he went to Fort Myers, Fla., as a non-roster invitee and nearly made the Opening Day roster. But he wasn’t called up until May 14.

He started games against Cleveland and Kansas City, going 1-0 with a 1.74 earned-run average. After Thursday’s start, he has allowed 8 hits and four walks in 17⅓ innings and lowered his ERA to 1.04.

Whit Merrifield hit a two-run double to center off Duffey to tie the game with one out in the eighth inning, and Witt Jr. singled him home for the go-ahead run. Ryan Jeffers and Gilberto Celestino drove in runs for the Twins.

The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out against right-hander Joel Payamps in their half of the inning. Gary Sanchez reached when third baseman Emmanuel Rivera dropped the ball after fielding his grounder, and Gio Urshela and Jose Luis Arraez followed with singles.

Royals manager then called for his high-leverage reliever, right-hander Scott Barlow. With the infield drawn in, Barlow struck out Miranda and pinch-hitter Nick Gordon, then got Max Kepler to ground out weakly to first to protect the lead. He pitched the ninth for his fifth save, stranding the potential tying run at third base.

The Twins outhit the Royals, 11-6, and left 11 men on base.

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