By Michelle Conlin NEW YORK (Reuters) - One Sunday two years ago, Pastor Rob McCoy, who believes in banning abortion and gay marriage and putting prayer back in schools, stood at the pulpit of his California mega church and announced he was endorsing a political candidate: himself. “Every single person in this room has been inculcated and trained to think that any time a pastor opens his mouth to talk about politics from the pulpit, somehow that’s wrong,” said the 51-year-old McCoy. "You’ve been taught incorrectly. There should be no other place that you should speak of it but from the pulpit.” McCoy lost his bid for the California State Assembly but, with the help of 650 volunteers, mostly from his church, he later won a seat on the Thousand Oaks, California, city council. McCoy represents a tactical shift within a Christian far right seeking to regain its political influence after losing several big battles in the so-called culture wars, including the Supreme Court ruling this year allowing gay marriage. That shift is being brought into sharp focus as activists prepare the battleground for the 2016 general election. Aiming to motivate conservative Christians, they are focusing on smaller political races, local ballot initiatives and community voter registration drives. At the center of the effort is the American Renewal Project, an umbrella group that says it has a network of 100,000 pastors. It is headed by evangelical Republican political operative David Lane, who wants to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for elected office in 2016. So far, roughly 500 have committed to running, Lane told Reuters. “This is a fundamental shift in strategy,” said John Fea, a history professor at Christian Messiah College, who is nevertheless skeptical the effort will produce the desired results. “Rather than forcing this from the top down, this is about a grassroots approach to changing the culture by embedding ministers in local politics from the ground up,” he said. In some instances, pastors are trumpeting their candidacies or those of other evangelicals directly from the pulpit, in violation of Internal Revenue Service rules governing tax-exempt churches. Some are launching church-wide voter registration drives. One, Brad Atkins, pastor of South Carolina's Powdersville First Baptist Church, said he has just finished registering every eligible voter in his church of 300. “I even lick the envelope and stick on the stamp for them,” said Atkins. Several of the pastors in Lane’s network were instrumental in last month’s defeat of Houston's “transgender bathroom bill,” the local ordinance that banned discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity in public places. The pastors united to decry the measure and encourage congregants to sign a petition that eventually put the new law to a ballot initiative, where it was voted down. ALL-EXPENSES PAID RETREATS White evangelicals make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, and have long represented a key voting bloc for Republicans. While less organized as a national and cultural force than in the 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, evangelicals still reliably turn out for presidential elections. In 2004, they were instrumental in President George W. Bush's re-election bid, when strategists made a concerted effort to mobilize them and used some of the voter registration strategies Lane advocates today. They turned out in similar numbers in 2008 and even 2012, when Mitt Romney, a Mormon who many evangelicals considered too moderate, was the Republican nominee, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. In the runup to November 2016, Lane says he is holding conferences in hotels across the country nearly every week, bringing together thousands of far right pastors and their wives for two-day, all-expenses paid retreats. There are lectures on running political campaigns, turning out voters, and injecting sermons with a healthy dose of politics. They are lessons pastors such as Beryl Amedee put into practice after attending one of the gatherings over the summer, where she learned how to deal with the media and fend off attacks on her religion. In November, Amedee won a seat as a Louisiana state representative, beating out an 8-year incumbent. “In the 1970s, our attitude was, 'We are not of this world, Jesus is coming, so why bother with government?',” said Amedee. “Now, we know we are the government.” Helping fund the events are political donors like the billionaire Wilks brothers, who have given up to $10 million according to sources close to the family. The Wilks, together with their wives, have also given $15 million to a Super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a favorite of evangelicals. "THE LORD IS LEADING ME" Cruz, who has shown up at about 10 of the events this year alone, appears to be the candidate who may benefit most from Lane's drive. He attended a recent gathering at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, where about 200 pastors and their wives listened to a series of speakers. Lane's speakers paint a picture of an America where religious freedom is under assault by secular forces. One case often cited is that of the Washington state flower shop owner who was sued for discrimination because she declined to provide arrangements for a gay wedding. After attending several of Lane’s events last spring, Pastor Jack L. Martin went on to announce to his congregation in November, “I feel the Lord is leading me to enter the congressional race here in the Florida 11th District,” he said. Critics say openly discussing politics from the pulpit - even announcing plans to run for office - threatens the concept of separation of church and state. It is also prohibited by the IRS, if churches want to remain tax exempt. Since 2012, about 900 preachers from evangelical fundamentalist churches across the United States have made recordings of politically infused sermons and sent them to the IRS. The federal tax agency, which declined to comment, has yet to take any action. Lane and his network of pastors say they are well within their rights to bring politics into the church. “The founding fathers never meant for the church not to participate in government,” said Lane. “They meant for the government not to interfere with the church. (Editing by Paul Thomasch and Ross Colvin)
- Yahoo News
David Cohen, who helped spearhead CIA modernization efforts, could be Biden's pick for the agency's post-Trump future
Cohen is reportedly being considered as one of President-elect Joe Biden’s candidates for CIA director amid pushback from human rights experts and progressives opposed to Michael Morell, Biden’s original top choice.
- Yahoo News 360
Media reports suggest President Trump is eyeing another bid for the White House in four years. Will Trump 2024 become a reality?
- Associated Press
The European Union’s aviation safety agency has extended a ban imposed on Pakistan's state-run airline this year barring it from flying to Europe after a plane crash that killed 97 people in the port city of Karachi, a spokesman said Friday. At the time — and while the probe into the May 22 Airbus A320 crash was still underway — authorities acknowledged that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots, 260 out of 860, had cheated on their pilot’s exams. Pakistan International Airlines subsequently grounded 150 of its pilots while a probe by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority into the other pilots is still ongoing.
Iran plans to install hundreds more advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges at an underground plant in breach of its deal with major powers, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Friday, a move that will raise pressure on U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. The confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters said Iran plans to install three more cascades, or clusters, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in the underground plant at Natanz, which was apparently built to withstand aerial bombardment.
- USA TODAY
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been a top official dealing with the pandemic.
- The Week
President Trump reportedly needs no encouragement to start praising the dangerous, baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.The most pressing matter for federal Republicans right now is the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia, which will determine control of the body. But in a meeting with advisers and top Senate Republicans about that matter, Trump totally derailed the conversation by bringing up QAnon, people familiar with the discussion tell The Washington Post.Trump is reportedly not thrilled with Georgia and that fact that it flipped for President-elect Joe Biden, and is publicly upset with Republican leaders in the state who haven't somehow overturned the election for him. So even though Republican advisers say Trump's help is "key to convincing his die-hard supporters to vote for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue" in the January runoff election, the president isn't thrilled about doing so, the Post reports. "Advisers say he has been frustrated at how some GOP senators have criticized him," leading Trump to appear "disinterested" when discussing Senate campaign plans, the Post continues.That was clear in a recent meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), and other aides. As they discussed Georgia's Senate races, Trump brought up the QAnon-supporting soon-to-be congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene. Trump mispronounced the name of the group as "Q-an-uhn," and then said supporters of the theory that purports Democrats are a cannibalistic, pedophilic cabal "basically believe in good government," people familiar tell the Post. Everyone reportedly went silent until White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows mentioned he had "never heard it described that way," the Post reports.Trump has been asked to denounce QAnon several times, but usually gives the theory his tacit approval instead.More stories from theweek.com What Trump is doing isn't politics. It's something much worse. 5 absurdly funny cartoons about Trump's desperate fraud claims The Donald goes down to Georgia
- FOX News Videos
Progressive ‘Squad’ blasts former President Obama on 'Defund the police' statement; Fox News political analyst Gianno Caldwell with reaction.
- Associated Press
The Army Corps of Engineers reversed course on an Obama-era proposal to charge for water drawn from reservoirs the Corps manages, North Dakota’s attorney general said Friday. Attorneys general from a dozen Western and Plains states sent a letter last year to the Trump administration asking that the proposal be withdrawn. Republican North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem headed the effort, which was backed by attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Russia protested on Friday after Latvia charged several journalists from the Rossiya Segodnya news agency with violating European Union sanctions. The journalists were charged because of their association with Dmitry Kiselyov, who heads Rossiya Segodnya, said Sputnik Latvia, a subsidiary of Rossiya Segodnya. The Kremlin media mogul was sanctioned by the EU for his role in Russia's seizure of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
- The Independent
President-elect Joe Biden laid out his vision for his soon-to-be vice president’s role, saying Kamala Harris will be asked to take on “the urgent need of the moment” rather than pursue her own policy agenda. “I headed the  recovery act not because that’s what I said I wanted to do,” Mr Biden said Thursday night of his tenure as vice president – but because then-President Barack Obama instructed him to be the lead negotiator with Congress. “I have confidence in turning to her” to handle the “urgent need of the moment.”
- The Week
There appears to be growing support among Senate Republicans for a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill introduced earlier this week, reports The Washington Post.The $908 billion package — championed by moderate Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (D-Maine), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — is in between what Democratic leadership is pushing for and what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested. The moderates suggested an unemployment boost and money for state governments, but no stimulus checks.While McConnell on Thursday continued to resist the bipartisan bill, pushing instead for his version, which the White House has endorsed, other Republican senators got on board with the package. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) signaled they were open to the bipartisan bill.Democratic leaders said they believed the $908 billion package should be the basis for negotiations. Several Republicans echoed that, saying it wasn't exactly what they wanted but it made for a good starting point.McConnell didn't comment directly on the bipartisan proposal, but instead urged lawmakers to pull the trigger on his version, which he called "a serious and highly targeted relief proposal including elements which we know the president is ready and willing to sign into law."More stories from theweek.com What Trump is doing isn't politics. It's something much worse. 5 absurdly funny cartoons about Trump's desperate fraud claims The Donald goes down to Georgia
- The Telegraph
Michel Barnier is accustomed to being universally praised on his regular tours of the EU's capitals to preach the gospel against Brexit. On Tuesday, he was in the unfamiliar position of coming under friendly fire for the first time in three years as the EU's chief negotiator. It was an uncomfortable moment for Mr Barnier, who was headquartered at the Hotel Conrad in Westminster and is enmeshed in intensive Brexit negotiations with his UK counterpart David Frost. Expectation had been building that a trade agreement with Britain was close and a damaging no deal avoided. A fitting legacy for a politician who had dedicated decades of service to the EU was in Mr Barnier's grasp. He was far from the poisonous briefings in Brussels that were going on behind his back – but bad news travels fast. The chief negotiator was going soft on Britain, EU diplomats in the Belgian capital sniped. He risked giving too much away.
- USA TODAY
Five executions are scheduled before Joe Biden, who opposes capital punishment, takes office. Ninety current and former law officials want a halt.
A Chinese official's tweet of an image of an Australian soldier that sparked a furious reaction from Canberra was amplified across social media by unusual accounts, of which half were likely fake, an Israeli cybersecurity firm and Australian experts said. The digitally altered image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child was tweeted by China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday. Twitter declined Australia's request to remove the tweet.
- Associated Press
President-elect Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure to expand the racial and ideological diversity in his choices for Cabinet and other top jobs. Of the nine major picks Biden has made so far, only two — Secretary of State choice Antony Blinken and chief of staff Ron Klain — are white men.
- The Independent
Educator says she wants to keep on teaching when Joe Biden becomes president
- Business Insider
Attorney for Jared Kushner and a Trump fundraiser investigated by DOJ in alleged bribery-for-pardon scheme
The New York Times reported that a lawyer for President Trump's son-in-law was investigated by the Justice Department this summer.
Firefighters battled to tame a wildfire on hillsides southeast of Los Angeles late on Thursday, some 24 hours after it broke out in a wooded canyon, apparently triggered by a faulty domestic generator. Two of some 500 firefighters deployed to control it had been hospitalized with injuries, the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. The Bond Fire, named for the street in Silverado Canyon where it started, ignited late on Wednesday evening and was quickly whipped up by dry Santa Ana winds.
- Associated Press
Lebanon's Hezbollah said Friday it is suing a former Christian lawmaker and a website affiliated with a Christian political party for defamation, after they accused the Shiite militant group of being responsible for the devastating explosion at Beirut's port this summer. Hezbollah’s legal representative Ibrahim Mussawi said the accusations, leveled by Fares Souaid and the website of the right-wing Lebanese Forces party, were misleading. Mussawi, also a Hezbollah lawmaker, told a press conference outside the courts house that blaming the group threatens to disrupt social peace in Lebanon, at a time when the United States is exerting maximum pressure on his party and its allies.
- The Telegraph
China is conducting "human testing" to create "biologically enhanced soldiers," the head of US intelligence has claimed as he warned that Beijing poses the biggest threat to America's national security. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, warned that the US must be prepared for an "open-ended" confrontation with China which he likened to the Cold War. Mr Ratcliffe, who oversees America's intelligence agencies, said he believed China's intention was to "dominate" the planet in every sense: economically, militarily and technologically. He claimed that US intelligence showed China has "conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities". "There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power," he said. Mr Ratcliffe said his unique vantage point on the current security threats facing the US had led him to conclude that "the People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II". He went on to outline in granular detail China's strategy of economic espionage, which he framed as: “rob, replicate and replace.” “China robs US companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology, and then replaces the US firms in the global marketplace,” he said.