By Paul Taylor BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban took it as a joke but his supporters at home were furious when European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saluted him with an audible "hello dictator" before the world's cameras last month. The unorthodox greeting at a summit with the European Union's eastern partners in Riga on May 22 was one of those rare moments when the underside of politics appears fleetingly on the surface. Banter aside, the EU authorities have proved largely ineffective in curbing the conservative nationalist Orban's drive to tighten his grip on the central European state. "Juncker has Orban on his watch list," says an aide to the head of the EU executive, which is in charge of upholding the bloc's treaties, including civil rights. But Orban, who espouses "illiberal democracy", has mostly outfoxed efforts to restrain his reshaping of the judiciary, data protection, media and non-governmental organizations, EU and Hungarian officials say. He used his two-thirds parliamentary majority to ram through a new constitution, shrugging off warnings from EU colleagues against using his supermajority powers. He relishes confrontation with his critics in the European Parliament, seizing the opportunity of a debate on the situation in Hungary to flaunt his economic success, sweeping electoral mandates and contempt for the EU's migration policies. Viviane Reding, who spearheaded legal action against Orban's government until last year as the EU's justice commissioner, is frank about what her activism achieved. "I prevented worse," she said in an interview. "It did not change dramatically the nationalistic course of the Hungarian prime minister, but at least it stopped him dismantling the independence of the courts and the independent data authority." The Hungarian government rejects accusations that it has taken authoritarian steps, saying its parliamentary majority and popular support allowed it to make constitutional changes. "Hungary can be regarded as the European Union member state which has been screened more than any other by the X-ray machine of constitutionality," Orban told EU lawmakers. The fact that his ruling Fidesz party sits in the European People's Party (EPP), the biggest center-right group in the European Parliament, has shielded Orban from harsher condemnation over alleged breaches of rights. "It was always the political parties which helped the prime ministers I was acting against - the Socialists with (Romanian Prime Minister Victor) Ponta, and the EPP when I acted against Hungary," said Reding, herself now an EPP lawmaker. There has been informal discussion in the EPP of suspending or expelling Fidesz, she said, but no action. Juncker's aide said Fidesz's EPP membership gave leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel a lever to exert pressure in private and to keep Orban out of the arms of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he has friendly ties. Reding won two cases against Hungary in the European Court of Justice over the enforced mass retirement of judges at 60 and the dismissal of the independent data protection supervisor. But the judges and the watchdog were not reinstated, and Reding had to use age discrimination rules because the EU had no legal basis at the time for sanctioning a member state over the independence of the judiciary. Objections from Brussels have led Budapest to amend other legislation, including parts of a media law that critics say inhibits media freedom. Rights campaigners are pressing the Commission to take stronger action by triggering a Framework for the Protection of Fundamental Rights, created under Reding, that would entail an audit of civil rights in Hungary, a structured dialogue with Budapest and possibly issuing EU recommendations. Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International's EU office, accused Brussels of doing too little, too late and of taking a technocratic approach. "Why have they not invoked Article VII of the treaty which allows sanctions to be taken in case of breaches of fundamental rights?" McGowen asked in an interview, noting that the EU was tougher with third countries than with its own. Reding said Article VII, which can lead to the suspension of a state's EU voting rights, was a "nuclear option". She also insisted that the EU needed a strong legal case before prosecuting a member state for rights abuses. EU governments are haunted by the precedent of a French-led boycott of high-level bilateral contacts with Austria in 2000 after the far-right People's Party of the late Joerg Haider joined a ruling coalition. The snub backfired, boosting public support for Haider and was dropped after an expert panel reported the government had not taken any action that contravened European values. Orban's EU critics thought they had finally found an issue on which to nail him when he called last month for a renewed discussion of the death penalty, abolished under EU and Council of Europe charters. But he quickly assured European Parliament President Martin Schulz he had no intention of restoring it. The sensitive task of trying to rein in Hungary now falls to Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, a Dutch Socialist who co-signed a 2013 letter by four foreign ministers calling for a more effective mechanism to safeguard fundamental values, including cutting off EU funds. Timmermans told Orban in the European Parliament: "You cannot use an electoral victory or economic success as a condition to say we don't then have to observe the rule of law." Campaigners say would-be autocrats in neighboring countries are watching how Hungary is treated. But experts say the EU's tools to influence members' behavior remain weak. (Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
- Yahoo News
Republicans built up QAnon backer Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, but now are they afraid of what they created?
On the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the combative Georgia Republican known for her association with QAnon, was back on Twitter after a 12-hour suspension, and back to making waves.
- The Independent
‘It’s unfortunate’: Ashley Biden confirms first lady snubbed her mother on traditional White House handover
"I think we’re all OK with it,' says incoming first daughter in first ever TV interview
- The Week
Feds arrest Capitol rioter who allegedly broke into Pelosi's office, stole laptop, wanted to sell it to Russia
A woman who participated in the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol surrendered to authorities in Pennsylvania on Monday night, the Justice Department said. Riley Williams, 22, was charged with illegally entering the Capitol, violent entry, and disorderly conduct, but the FBI said it is also investigating a tip from the suspect's former "romantic partner" that Williams broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office during the siege, stole a laptop, and "intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service."The transfer of the laptop to Russian intelligence "fell through for unknown reasons," the former partner, identified only as Witness 1, told the FBI, "and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it." Williams was captured on video urging fellow rioters to go upstairs in the Capitol, toward Pelosi's office, the FBI said. Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, confirmed after the siege that "a laptop from a conference room was stolen," but said "it was a laptop that was only used for presentations."Williams lived with her mother, who identified her as the woman in an ITV video of the Capitol raid, the FBI said. The mother also told authorities that her daughter had taken a sudden interest in President Trump's politics and "far-right message boards." Williams had traveled to the pre-riot protest with her father, but he said they were separated before the Capitol siege, the FBI said, and after they returned to Pennsylvania, Williams deleted her social media accounts, changed her phone number, and fled.More stories from theweek.com Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly wants no part of Trump's impeachment trial 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's White House staff and alumni are reportedly using the same excuse to skip his big sendoff
- National Review
Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) warned on Tuesday that the U.S. is not taking China’s actions against Uyghur Muslims seriously enough. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced earlier in the day that the U.S. will classify China’s treatment of Uyghurs as a “genocide.” China operates a network of internment camps where over a million Uyghurs are imprisoned, and the Chinese government has implemented a program of forced sterilizations for Uyghur women. Sasse said that the genocide designation came “late,” and implied that both the Trump administration and incoming Biden team have not done enough to confront China. “This decision is good and right, but it’s late. The United States isn’t taking the Uyghur genocide seriously.” Sasse said in a statement. “A lot of folks in the Trump Administration wanted to talk about China primarily in terms of a trade deficit, and a lot of folks in the Biden Administration want to talk about China as merely a competitor.” Sasse added, “The Chinese Communist Party is a genocidal dictatorship and Chairman Xi [Jinping] is evil. The United States has an obligation to meet this challenge head on and take the side of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang who are raped and tortured.” China also reportedly uses Uyghurs and other Muslims for forced labor, including harvesting cotton in Xinjiang Province. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol banned the importation of cotton from Xinjiang last week. The province is the source of 20 percent of the world’s supply of raw cotton. Earlier on Tuesday, Biden’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told senators that she supported an “aggressive” stance toward China. “Our approach to China has to evolve and essentially meet the reality of the particularly assertive and aggressive China that we see today,” Haines said. “I do support an aggressive stance, in a sense, to deal with the challenge that we are facing.”
- NBC News
Court documents recounted the man's telling his children that he would consider them "traitors" if they contacted authorities.
Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken said at a confirmation hearing on Tuesday that it was “extraordinary how frightened Vladimir Putin seems to be of one man” — Alexey Navalny.Why it matters: Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, Navalny, returned to Russia on Sunday and was swiftly arrested. He spent the previous five months recovering in Germany after being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. His detention poses an early foreign policy challenge for the Biden administration.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.What he’s saying: Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Navalny served as a voice for millions of Russians, “and their voice needs to be heard in Russia.” * “The attempts to silence that voice by silencing Mr. Navalny is something that we strongly condemn,” Blinken added, noting that Navalny's arrest and other points of tension with Russia would be “very high on the agenda for an incoming administration.” * Incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan previously called for Navalny's immediate release.The latest: Navalny was ordered to remain in pre-trial detention for 30 days. He was officially arrested for violating the conditions of a suspended prison term by missing an appointment in December.Worth noting: Blinken praised Sen. Mitt Romney, who serves on the committee, for being “prescient” on Russia. Romney was mocked for referring to Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” in a 2012 presidential debate with Barack Obama, including by Obama himself.Go deeper: Bill Browder on Russia-U.S. relations after Alexei Navalny's arrestGet smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- FOX News Videos
Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen questions the loyalty of the National Guard troops deployed to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration; West Point graduate and Army veteran Jeremy Hunt responds.
- Associated Press
Vice President Mike Pence will be returning to his southern Indiana hometown Wednesday afternoon following the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. The Republican former Indiana governor and his wife Karen are expected to attend Biden’s inauguration and will then fly into the Columbus Municipal Airport, where they will be greeted by some supporters, the Indiana Republican Party said Tuesday. Pence grew up in Columbus and some family members still live there.
A boy who was killed in an alleged murder-suicide by his father has been identified as 9-year-old Pierce O’Loughlin. Family tragedy: The boy and his father, Stephen O'Loughlin, 49, were both found dead at their home on Scott Street, Marina District in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, SF Chronicle reports. The boy’s mother, Lesley Hu, asked authorities to check on her son after learning that he did not show up for school that day.
- The Week
Anthony Scaramucci was right: The White House appears to be having trouble rounding up a sizable crowd for President Trump's official send-off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday."In what looks like a desperate attempt to build a crowd for the crowd-obsessed president, an email has been making the rounds to current and former White House officials inviting them, and as many as five plus-ones, to Trump's elaborate exit ceremony," Politico reported Tuesday morning. "The go-to excuse for skipping out has been the 6 a.m. call time at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. But truly, many just don't want to be photographed sending off their former boss."Trump's current staffers have a good reason to avoid their outgoing boss. "Former White House officials and campaign staffers who would typically land plum jobs in corporate America after serving their time are now out in the cold," Politico says. One former White House official who got out early put it this way: "No one wants to touch them, they're just toxic." Another former Trump aide, pointing to the fallout from the Jan. 6 insurrection, was more blunt, telling Politico: "They're f---ed."Trump will be the first president since Andrew Johnson, another member of the tiny impeached president club, to skip the inauguration of his successor. "Johnson snubbed Ulysses S. Grant in 1869," The Washington Post notes. More stories from theweek.com Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly wants no part of Trump's impeachment trial 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump tried to act like a mob boss. Instead he's just a thug.
- Architectural Digest
Mercedes-Benz’s Hyperscreen, General Motors’ Bright Drop, and Jeep’s Electric Wrangler were among the unveils that turned headsOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- NBC News
Suspect William McCall Calhoun Jr. faces a host of charges stemming from the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol Building.
Secretary of State designate Tony Blinken said in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the Biden administration is "a long way" from executing its plan to return to the Iran nuclear deal, and plans to consult with Israel and the Gulf states before doing so.Why it matters: America's partners in the Middle East have been publicly raising their concerns about a possible return to the 2015 agreement and calling on the Biden administration to consult with them first.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.The state of play: President-elect Biden's plan is to return to the deal, by lifting sanctions, if Iran returns to compliance with the restrictions on its nuclear program. In the next stage, Biden wants to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting agreement. * Blinken said those negotiations would include Iran’s missile program and regional activity.What they're saying: Blinken said Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal left Iran closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon because Tehran began to breach its terms. “Iran’s breakout time, which was a year under the nuclear deal, is only 3-4 months today," Blinken said in the hearing. * Yes, but: While Blinken stressed that the U.S. would live up to its commitments if Iran did, he said the new administration wouldn't rush back into the deal before assessing whether Iran was prepared to return to full compliance.Worth noting: Blinken said he “didn’t shed tears” about the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassim Soleimani by the U.S. one year ago, but added that he believes it made America less safe.Go deeper: * Netanyahu aides fret that "Obama people" will shape Biden's Iran policy * Netanyahu may appoint envoy to Biden administration on Iran * Israel to push Biden to take it easy on Saudi Arabia, UAE and EgyptBe smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- National Review
President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary of health, setting her up to become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. Levine, a pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, will serve as the top deputy to Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Xavier Becerra. “Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a press release. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said that Levine is “a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people.” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, appointed Levine to her current position in 2017. She was confirmed by the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate for her roles as health secretary and physician general. Levine, a graduate of Harvard University and Tulane University School of Medicine, has become the public face of the state’s coronavirus pandemic response. She faced calls to resign from her post last spring after reports that she had removed her 95-year-old mother from her personal care home after ordering all nursing homes and long-term facilities in the state to accept coronavirus patients from hospitals, despite concerns about older people’s vulnerability to the virus. She defended the decision, saying her mother who is “more than competent to make her own decisions” had requested the move.
- The Telegraph
The arrest of an Egyptian woman for baking and selling cupcakes bearing iced genitals sparked national debate across Egypt on Monday when the state’s security apparatus turned its full attention to the “cupcake incident”. The baker, whose identity has not been released by the authorities, was arrested on Monday reportedly on charges of ‘violating family values’ after photos of the adult cakes went viral on Facebook. She was later released on bail worth EGP 5,000 (£233). A group of “older” women had been enjoying the cakes at a birthday party at Cairo’s elite Gezira Sporting Club and posted the photo in the club’s Facebook group. Though the photos were taken down by the club’s management after complaints, they went viral on social media after being leaked outside of the private group days later. This led to the involvement of MPs and the formation of a legal committee to investigate the crime. According to Egypt’s Youm7 newspaper, the baker denied making the graphic decorations on top of the cakes. It is unclear from reports whether the group of women ordered the cakes, were sent them by accident, or decorated them themselves. The incident has garnered massive attention across Egypt’s state-controlled media, with the female baker being made an example of, in the country’s latest attempt at controlling public morality. The scandal quickly became the top-trending topic on Egyptian social media and prime-time TV hosts began to condemn the women on air, adding to the growing debate over cupcake gate. An Egyptian MP on Monday evening called for Dr Ashraf Sobhy, the minister of youth and sport (as the incident took place in a sporting club) to be summoned to provide an explanation. The minister quickly announced he had formed a legal committee to investigate the incident. According to newspaper Akhbar el-Yom, fines may be issued against the group of women - who were not arrested alongside the baker - if the investigation finds them guilty. The newspaper also reported claims that the toppers had been imported from America. From TikTok influencers to actresses, belly-dancers and novelists - the arrest of the baker is the latest in a string of charges and jail-time brought against Egyptians in recent years for harming public morals. Earlier this month two female TikTok influencers, who had served time in jail also for “violating family values” were acquitted, in the continued struggle for freedom of expression in the conservative country.
- The Week
Constitutionally-speaking, Chief Justice John Roberts is meant to preside over President Trump's impeachment trial, but he apparently wants out, Politico reports.Multiple Republican and Democratic sources have reportedly told Politico that Roberts is seeking a way to avoid the job because of how things played out when he oversaw Trump's first impeachment trial last year. Roberts, Politico notes, has worked hard to keep the Supreme Court apolitical during his tenure, so he was reportedly displeased that he "became a top target of the left" during the proceedings. "He wants no further part of this," one source told Politico, although there's been no official word from Roberts' camp about what he'll ultimately do.Trump's trial is a bit of a constitutional oddity. On the one hand, it's a presidential impeachment, but on the other hand, the trial will take place after he leaves office, which is why there's a chance Roberts may have some wiggle room. Historically, either the vice president or the longest-serving member of the Senate have taken up the mantle for lower-level impeachments, per Politico. That means Vice President-elect Kamala Harris or Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) could be the choice. Read more at Politico.More stories from theweek.com 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's White House staff and alumni are reportedly using the same excuse to skip his big sendoff Trump tried to act like a mob boss. Instead he's just a thug.
- NBC News
Election experts have uniformly declared that the 2020 election was conducted fairly.
- Associated Press
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office on Wednesday using Bibles that are laden with personal meaning, writing new chapters in a long-running American tradition — and one that appears nowhere in the law. The book, several inches thick, and which his late son Beau also used when swearing in as Delaware attorney general, has been a “family heirloom” since 1893 and “every important date is in there,” Biden told late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert last month.
U.S. President Donald Trump at this point is opting not to issue a pardon for himself as he prepares an expansive list of more than 100 pardons and commutations for release on Tuesday, a source familiar with the effort said. White House advisers have said Trump has privately debated with advisers whether to take the extraordinary step of issuing a pardon for himself but some administration officials have cautioned Trump against a self-pardon because it would make him look guilty. Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last week on charges of inciting the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by pro-Trump protesters.
- The Telegraph
A valuable 16th century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Saviour of the World has been recovered by Italian police in a cupboard in a flat in Naples. The museum from which it was stolen had no idea it was missing. The copy of Salvator Mundi, which depicts Christ with one hand raised in a blessing and the other holding a crystal orb, is believed to have been painted by a pupil of Leonardo. It was stolen some time in the last few months from a collection of art works inside the Basilica di San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. The painting was of “inestimable value”, Italian police said in a statement. It was found “hidden in a bedroom” in an apartment in Naples. The owner of the flat, a 36-year-old man, was arrested not far from the property on charges of receiving stolen goods, police said. The oil painting, which dates to the early 1500s, is believed to be by artist Giacomo Alibrandi, a member of the artistic school of Leonardo. The museum had not noticed its theft because it had been closed for three months as a result of Italy’s coronavirus lockdown measures. Police are trying to ascertain how it was stolen, said Giovanni Melillo, a Naples prosecutor. “It is plausible that it was a theft commissioned by an organisation working in the international art trade," he said.