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Political Notebook

Biden has ‘complete confidence’ in Milley

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffSARAHBETH MANEY/NYT

President Biden has “complete confidence” in General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a White House spokeswoman said Wednesday, following a report that the country’s top military officer privately conferred with his Chinese military counterpart to avert armed conflict with the United States late in the Trump administration.

“I can assure you all ... that the president knows General Milley,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “He has been chairman of the Joint Chiefs for almost eight months of his presidency. They’ve worked side by side through a range of international events. And the president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism, and his fidelity to our Constitution.”

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Psaki’s comments came as Colonel Dave Butler, a spokesman for Milley, said that Milley had acted constitutionally and within his established responsibilities.

In a statement, Butler said Milley “continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution.”

Secret calls from Milley to General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army in October and January are detailed in a book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

Butler’s statement largely confirmed the reporting in the book.

The defense of Milley’s conduct came a day after former president Donald Trump, speaking on the conservative television network Newsmax, labeled the chairman’s reported actions “treason” and said, “I did not ever think of attacking China.”

According to the book, one of Milley’s calls took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by Trump supporters in a quest to overturn the vote.

The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.

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In the second call, placed to address Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6, Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him, “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes,” the authors write.

In his statement Wednesday, Butler said Milley “regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia.”

“These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of US national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict,” Butler said. “His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”

Washington Post

Kucinich misses the cut in Cleveland mayor’s race

Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio and twice-failed presidential candidate, came up short Tuesday in a bid to regain a job he held more than four decades ago as mayor of Cleveland.

Kucinich, 74, finished third in the city’s nonpartisan mayoral primary, from which the top two finishers will advance to the general election in November.

Nonprofit executive Justin Bibb was the top vote-getter, followed by Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley.

‘’I want everyone to know how proud I am of the campaign you have worked on,’’ Kucinich told supporters Tuesday night. ‘’And I think we can be proud of the campaign Justin Bibb has run.’’

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During his concession speech, Kucinich said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife and ‘’feeding and refreshing’' friendships forged during the election. His campaign focused on creating a safer, more peaceful Cleveland.

Kucinich was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977 at age 31 and served a tumultuous two-year tenure that included a recall election that he survived. Given his age, Kucinich earned the nickname ‘’the boy mayor of Cleveland’'

In 1996, Kucinich won an election to represent Ohio’s 10th district in the US House. He would serve eight terms, during which he emerged as one of Congress’s staunchest critics of the US invasion of Iraq. Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for starting the war.

Kucinich unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in both 2004 and 2008.

Washington Post

Pope says bishops must be pastoral and not political

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops must minister with “compassion and tenderness,” not condemnation, to politicians who support abortion rights and warned that clerics shouldn’t let politics enter into questions about receiving Communion.

Francis was asked en route home from Slovakia about the debate in the US church about whether President Biden and other politicians should be denied Communion because of their stances on abortion. US bishops have agreed to draft a “teaching document” that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.

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Francis declined to give a “yes” or “no” answer, saying he didn’t know the US case well enough. He repeated that abortion was “homicide,” and that Catholic priests cannot give the Eucharist to someone who is not in communion with the church. He cited the case of a Jew, or someone who isn’t baptized or who has fallen away from the church.

Most importantly, he said, was that priests and bishops must respond pastorally and not politically to any problem that comes before them. He said they must use “the style of God” to accompany the faithful with “closeness, compassion, and tenderness.”

“And what should pastors do? Be pastors, and not go condemning, condemning,” Francis said.

Francis recalled cases when the church had held fast to a principle on political grounds and it ended badly, citing the Inquisition-era condemnation of Giordano Bruno for alleged heresy. He was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori.

“Whenever the church, in order to defend a principle, didn’t do it pastorally, it has taken political sides,” Francis said. “If a pastor leaves the pastorality of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.’’

Francis said he had never denied Communion to anyone, though he said he never knowingly had a pro-abortion politician before him, either. And he admitted he once gave Communion to an elderly woman who, after the fact, confessed that she was Jewish.

Francis repeated his belief that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect’' but rather “a gift of the presence of Jesus in the church.’’ But he was unequivocal that it cannot be given to anyone who is not “in communion’' with the church, though he declined to say if a pro-abortion politician was out of communion.

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Associated Press