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Portland protest peaceful after federal presence reduced

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than a thousand people showed up in downtown Portland early Saturday to peacefully protest, about three days after the announcement that the presence of U.S. agents there would be reduced — a deal that Oregon officials hope will continue to ease tensions as the city tries to move on from months of chaotic nightly protests.

Friday’s overnight protest mimicked that of Thursday, which was the first time in weeks that demonstrations ended without any major confrontations, violence or arrests. The change in tone outside a federal courthouse that’s become ground zero in clashes between demonstrators and federal agents came after the U.S. government began drawing down its forces in the liberal city under a deal between Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration.

As of midnight on Saturday, no federal agents had emerged from the courthouse, which has been the center of protests for weeks, and there was no noticeable law enforcement presence surrounding the area.

The fence that has separated protesters and U.S. agents stationed at the courthouse was decorated with balloons and upside down American flags sewn together with “BLM” painted across, an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

At one point in the night a small firework was shot over the fence. As it sizzled out on its own, protesters pleaded with others to remain peaceful. Later, a few small fires were occasionally started outside the courthouse, with at least one put out by other protesters.

Unlike previous weeks, protesters were not centered mainly outside the courthouse, but scattered throughout downtown.

A group identified as “Firefighters for Black Lives Matter” gathered in a small park a couple miles west of the courthouse. Another group, “Unemployed Workers for Black Lives” began to march towards the federal building around 8 p.m. People stood next to a makeshift memorial, with the pictures and names of Black people killed by police, at the Waterfront Park. A parade of cars with Black Lives Matter signs taped to their windows slowed traffic in the city.

Just after midnight, the crowd had grown to over 1,000 people who remained outside chanting “Black Lives Matter” and shouting the names of Black people killed by police. Groups were also standing together engaging in conversations about social injustice. In a news release early Saturday, the Portland Police Bureau described the crowd as subdued and said there was no police interaction with protesters.

As agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement pulled back, troopers with the Oregon State Police took over. Since then, there have been no visible signs of any federal law enforcement presence outside the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.

In a tweet, President Donald Trump Friday night reiterated that the Department of Homeland Security “is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”

“Last night, the world was watching Portland,” Brown said in a tweet Friday. “Here’s what they saw: Federal troops left downtown. Local officials protected free speech. And Oregonians spoke out for Black Lives Matter, racial justice, and police accountability.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler also struck an optimistic tone but cautioned that there was much work to be done after more than 60 days of protests — and not just in cleaning up downtown Portland.

Leaders in Oregon are pushing for a raft of measures that would address systemic racism in everything from policing to housing. Those proposals could be fast-tracked for consideration in a special legislative session later this summer.

The governor also announced the creation of a Racial Justice Council to advise her on criminal justice reform and police accountability, health equity, economic opportunity, housing and homelessness, and environmental justice.

Portland’s City Council also voted this week to refer a ballot measure to voters in November that would create a police review board independent from any elected official or city department.

The scene outside the federal courthouse stood in sharp contrast to the violent clashes between protesters and the agents that Trump sent to Oregon’s largest city in early July. Protests have roiled Portland for more than two months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

And while thousands have marched and rallied peacefully, Portland’s federal courthouse became a target for some protesters. Smaller numbers of demonstrators tried to tear down a fence erected to protect it, lit fires at the courthouse entryway and hurled fireworks, flares and bricks at the agents holed up inside. Most nights, the agents responded by firing tear gas.

Under the deal announced by the governor, the agents will withdraw in phases.

The U.S. government had arrested 94 people as of Wednesday, the most recent accounting. Since the protests began, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said local police made more than 400 arrests.

Trump's faith outreach aims to cast Democrats as the enemy

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is courting religious voters in part by seeking to portray Democrats as a threat to religious freedom — a pitch amplified by disputes over the issue during the coronavirus pandemic.

During an event last week outside Atlanta hosted by the campaign’s evangelical outreach effort, Christian surrogates touted the president’s record on advancing devout conservatives’ priorities while casting Democrats as captive to an anti-religious agenda. Two speakers singled out restrictions on singing in church imposed by California’s Democratic governor to help stem the spread of the virus, limits that prompted lawsuits from some pastors.

White House faith adviser Paula White-Cain appealed to Christians to trust the president over “a very deceptive media.” White-Cain, a fixture in Trump’s circle of religious conservative advisers, asserted that Democratic presidential hopeful and lifelong Roman Catholic Joe Biden was helping liberals to silence people of faith.

Biden is “a Trojan horse for a very radical left agenda that is behind him that wants to take down our churches,” White-Cain, often described as Trump’s personal pastor, said during an event that tied religion to love of country with the title “Praise, Prayer, and Patriotism.” A second of those events is set for Thursday in Las Vegas.

White-Cain’s appearance last week was her third in four days on behalf of Trump, after an online meeting with evangelical backers and a food distribution visit with presidential daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump as part of an administration pandemic aid program. The pastor’s presence comes as the campaign steps up its faith outreach with a stark message: Support the president or lose ground on religious freedom.

Richard Lee, founding pastor at First Redeemer Church in Atlanta, told attendees at the Trump event that governors and mayors are “bossing the churches around … to see what you will do in case (Biden) gets in office and they can come after you.”

Biden’s campaign has built a religious outreach effort of its own that’s seen as more robust than that of 2016’s Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. It is even hoping that his long history of personal faith will help him persuade some Christian conservative voters to abandon Trump.

But White-Cain blasted the former vice president for shifting leftward on abortion, an issue that promises to hurt Biden with some religious voters.

“The Democratic Party today has been taken over by the spirit of the anti-Christ. It’s an evil party,” Lee told Trump supporters, adding that Democrats are not evil but “wonderful people” who have “been deceived.”

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University, said Trump has made a “not so subtle” attempt to sour Christian voters on Democrats.

“Trump wants to tap into that very base feeling of ‘white Christianity is under attack,’” Burge said. “It’s all posturing to set up this God gap, where if you’re a Christian — especially a white Christian — the Republican Party is going to protect you.”

The tactic is “not based in any sort of reality,” Burge noted, “because Democrats have not elected atheists or nominated atheists in any systematic way.”

Foreign threats loom ahead of US presidential election

NEW YORK — As the Nov. 3 presidential vote nears, there are fresh signs that the nation’s electoral system is again under attack from foreign adversaries.

Intelligence officials confirmed in recent days that foreign actors are actively seeking to compromise the private communications of “U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets” while working to compromise the nation’s election infrastructure. Foreign entities are also aggressively spreading disinformation intended to sow voter confusion heading into the fall.

There is no evidence that America’s enemies have yet succeeded in penetrating campaigns or state election systems, but Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign confirmed this week that it has faced multiple related threats.

The former vice president’s team was reluctant to reveal specifics for fear of giving adversaries useful intelligence.

Because of such secrecy, at least in part, foreign interference largely remains an afterthought in the 2020 contest, even as Republicans and Democrats alike concede it poses a serious threat that could fundamentally reshape the election at any moment. Biden’s campaign is increasingly concerned that pro-Russian sources have already shared disinformation about Biden’s family with President Donald Trump’s campaign and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill designed to hurt the Democratic candidate in the days leading up to the election.

When asked directly, the Trump campaign refused to say whether it had accepted materials related to Biden from any foreign nationals. Trump was impeached last year after being caught pressuring Ukrainian leaders to produce damaging information about work Biden’s son did in the country, even though repeated allegations of corruption against the Bidens have been widely discredited.

A Biden spokesman said “absolutely not” when asked if the campaign had received any materials from foreign actors.

Joe Biden nears final decision on running mate

WASHINGTON — As Joe Biden nears the announcement of his vice presidential choice, the top contenders and advocates are making final appeals.

The campaign hasn’t finalized a date for naming a running mate, but three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans said a public announcement likely wouldn’t happen before the week of Aug. 10. That’s one week before Democrats will hold their convention to officially nominate Biden as their presidential nominee.

Biden told reporters this week that he would “have a choice in the first week of August.” He stopped short of saying when he would announce that choice.

Running mates are often announced on the eve of a convention. As Biden prepares to make his choice, a committee to vet running mates has provided him with briefing materials. Biden will likely soon begin one-on-one conversations with those under consideration, which could be the most consequential part of the process for a candidate who values personal connections.