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Sunday
Mar262017

Trump shifts blame to conservatives on failure of health care bill

ABC News.(WASHINGTON) -- Two days after pointing his finger at Democrats for the failure of the GOP health care proposal, President Trump shifted the blame to conservative Republicans and said he is open to working with Democrats on health care reform.

President Donald Trump on Twitter called out the House Freedom Caucus, saying Democrats are “smiling” because the group of conservative lawmakers' opposition to the Republican health care proposal “saved” Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.

“Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” the president tweeted Sunday morning, referring to conservative organizations The Club for Growth and The Heritage Foundation that opposed the GOP health care bill.

Shortly after the president's tweet, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the White House is open to working with Democrats on health care reform.

"Look, Obamacare as we know is imploding and it is exploding, and every other adjective you can provide. It's going south. It would be nice to get the Democrats on board," Priebus told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." "At the end of the day, I believe that it's time for the party to start governing. I think that's important. I think that Democrats can come to the table as well and if you look at what the president said ... he said perhaps it's time for us to start talking to some moderate Democrats as well as come up with a bipartisan solution."

Trump's tweet about the Freedom Caucus marked a change from his reaction Friday after GOP leaders called off a vote in the House on the American Health Care Act because they didn't have enough support to pass the bill.

The president said then he didn't feel betrayed by the conservative lawmakers who opposed the bill.

“They’re friends of mine,” the president said of the Freedom Caucus. “I’m disappointed because we could have had [the bill pass]."

Instead, Trump on Friday laid the blame on Democrats. "We had no Democrat support," he said. "They weren't going to give us a single vote so it's a very difficult thing to do."

The next morning, on Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted to his followers, “Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M.,” and on the show hours later, Jeanine Pirro opened with a call for House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down in the wake of the health care bill's failure.

But a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan told ABC News on Sunday that the relationship between the speaker and president is "stronger than ever right now."

"The two spoke again today," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said. "The president was clear his tweet [about Pirro's show] had nothing to do with the speaker. They are both eager to get back to work on the agenda."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Mar262017

'No conversation’ happening on replacing Speaker Paul Ryan: House Freedom Caucus chair

Bill Clark/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said there is no talk of replacing House Speaker Paul Ryan after the Republicans' proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare was killed because it failed to garner enough GOP support.

On Saturday -- hours after Donald Trump tweeted to his followers, “Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M.” – Jeanine Pirro opened her show with a call for House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down in the wake of the health care bill's failure.

Along the same lines, the conservative website Breitbart raised the possibility that the head of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, could replace Ryan as speaker.

Pressed by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on whether he supports Ryan, Meadows said Sunday: "I can tell you there is no conversation going on right now with regard to replacing the speaker.”

The Freedom Caucus opposed the Republican health care bill, but Meadows said on ABC's "This Week" that conservative and moderate GOP lawmakers are going to have to work together to achieve their shared agenda.

"It's all hands on deck with regards to Obamacare, tax reform, the border wall," he said.

Stephanopoulos asked Meadows about Trump's tweet earlier Sunday morning that singled out the Freedom Caucus for its opposition the health care bill, with the president saying that Democrats are "smiling" over the failure to pass the legislation.

"Well, I mean, if they're applauding, they shouldn't," Meadows said. "I can tell you that conversations over the last 48 hours are really about how we come together in the Republican conference and try to get this over the finish line."

The congressman added, "This was not a final passage. This was one bill that was going to go to the Senate, get revised, and come back ... We are in the negotiation process."

Meadows said it is premature to think that the GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare is over: "It's like saying that Tom Brady lost at halftime … We may be in overtime, but I can tell you at the very end of the day, the most valuable player will be President Trump on this because he will deliver.” Trump has said the next big item on his agenda is tax reform, and Stephanopoulos asked Meadows whether any tax cuts would be balanced by spending reductions or other revenue increases.

“You say real tax reform. Does that mean any tax cuts must be fully paid for? You're not going to pass tax cuts that are not matched with other revenue increases or spending cuts?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Tax reform and lowering taxes, you know, will create and generate more income,” said Meadows. "Does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Mar262017

Roger Stone: ‘I’ve had no contacts or collusion’ with Russia

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Political strategist Roger Stone, longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, doubled down on his defense against allegations that he or others in the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia in its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“I have had no contacts or collusion with the Russians,” Stone told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” on Sunday. “There is no collusion, none -- at least none that I know about, in Donald Trump's campaign for president.”

Stone also slammed the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, saying he is “full of Schiff.”

At a public hearing last week, Schiff stated that Stone made comments in August 2016 about his communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and that questions remained about Stone's comments about Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and his contacts with a hacker persona known as Guccifer 2.0.

Stephanopoulos asked Stone about a tweet he sent on August 21 which read, “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

Weeks later, Podesta’s emails were hacked and posted to WikiLeaks. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the email hacking of Podesta and other Democrats.

“That was your tweet,” Stephanopoulos said to Stone on Sunday. “And two months later the emails came out.”

“Correct,” Stone said. But, he said his tweet made no mention of Podesta’s emails. Stone insisted he was referring to Podesta’s business dealings.

“I never made any reference to John Podesta’s email. There were a dozen stories about his business dealings published after that [tweet],” Stone said.

Stone has volunteered to appear before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and said he'd like to testify in a public hearing, rather than behind closed doors.

When Stephanopoulos asked if the committee has accepted his offer and whether Stone might receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, the GOP strategist would only confirm that the House committee has received his offer to appear.

In regard to his contacts with the hacker known as Guccifer 2, Stone questioned whether U.S. intelligence services are correct in their assessment that the hacker is tied to Russia.

“Number one, I don’t concede Guccifer is a Russian agent,” he said. “Just because the intelligence services say something, as we know from history, does not make it true.”

Further, Stone said he has made all of his communications with the hacker public and that any suggestion the exchanges amounted to collusion with Russians are “absurd.”

“The inference that my communication -- actually my exchange with Guccifer 2, which is entirely on Twitter, both public and private, and which I have now made entirely public, -- constitutes collusion with the Russians is absurd,” he said, adding that the communications occurred before Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails were hacked and leaked to the public.

“My brief exchange with [Guccifer 2] is six weeks after the hacking of the and publication of the DNC documents, which I'm accused of colluding with him on. In other words, I would need a time machine in order to collude,” he said.

Stephanopoulos also asked Stone about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whose name, like Stone’s, has come up in reports on the federal investigation of Russia’s election interference.

“I have been a friend of Paul Manafort's for, I don't know, almost 50 years. We go back to Young Republicans together. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and I choose to take him at his word,” Stone said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Mar262017

Schumer: Trump showed 'basic lack of competence' on health care bill

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized President Donald Trump after the GOP-backed health care bill failed to garner enough support for a vote on the House floor Friday, saying the president showed two unhelpful traits during negotiations.

"The first is basic lack of competence," Schumer told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos during an exclusive interview on “This Week” Sunday. "You cannot run the presidency like you run a real estate deal. You can't tweet your way through it. You can't threaten and intimidate and say I'll walk away. It's more complicated."

Schumer said the other failure of the GOP’s health care bill was that it gave too much to the rich instead of Trump’s working-class base – and predicted that any efforts on Trump’s next agenda item of tax reform that do the same will also fail.

"The president campaigned as a populist against the Democratic and Republican establishments. But he's been captured by the hard right wealthy special interests,” Schumer said. "That's who loved his proposal on the Trumpcare, because it gave huge tax cuts to the rich. If they do the same thing on tax reform, and the overwhelming majority of the cuts go to the very wealthy, the special interests, corporate America, and the middle class and poor people are left out, they'll lose again."

"The hard right is great at opposition. Now they're in charge. America is not where the hard right is," Schumer added on health care and tax reform.

After the White House-backed American Health Care Act was pulled from an anticipated vote Friday, Trump blamed Democrats for its failure, and specifically called Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California "losers."

"We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Friday.

Schumer disagreed with Trump's assessment, telling Stephanopoulos the president "never called" Democrats about the bill.

"I would say this – we Democrats, provided our Republican colleagues drop replace and stop undermining the ACA, are willing to work with our Republican friends," the New York senator said, referring to Affordable Care Act. "We have ideas, they have ideas, to try to improve Obamacare. We never said it was perfect. We always said we'd work with them to improve it. We just said repeal was off the table."

Schumer added that Trump’s statement Friday that he would wait for Obamacare to "explode" rather than working to fix the law would backfire.

"For the president to say that he'll destroy it, or undermine it, that's not presidential. That's petulance," Schumer said. "The job of the president is to make Americans' lives better. And if he, out of anger or vengeance or whatever, starts undermining ACA, it's going backfire on him."

But the Democratic leader said he would be willing to work with the president on other issues if Trump changes his approach. "It's not me, it's him," Schumer said on "This Week." He ran as a defender of the middle class. The minute he got into office… he moved so far to the hard right that it's virtually impossible for us to work with him. If he changes, he could have a different presidency."

Schumer also defended his promise to filibuster the president's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, telling Stephanopoulos, "60 votes should be the standard."

Schumer's threat to filibuster has led to talk of Republicans using the so-called nuclear option to confirm Gorsuch’s nomination, which would require him to be confirmed with a simple majority instead of 60 votes.

"If the candidate can't get 60 votes, if the nominee can't get 60 votes, you don't change the rules, you change the candidate," Schumer said.

Schumer also stood by his statement that Gorsuch shouldn’t be confirmed while the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was ongoing, saying, “let's see where this investigation goes for a few months and delay it.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Mar262017

New EPA chief slams Paris climate pact as 'a bad deal'

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt slammed the 2015 Paris accord to combat climate change as "a bad deal."

Pruitt also revealed in an interview with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that President Trump will this week sign a new executive order that will eliminate a signature Obama-era policy for combating climate change, the Clean Power Plan.

The policy, which the Supreme Court put on hold pending judicial review, aims to cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants.

But Pruitt said on ABC's "This Week" that the Obama administration had "a very anti-fossil fuel strategy, coal, natural gas and the rest" and that Trump aims to change that with the goal of producing jobs and lowering electricity rates for consumers.

The former Oklahoma attorney general also suggested the Paris climate accord is unfair to the U.S.

"China and India, the largest producers of [carbon dioxide] internationally, got away scot-free” in the climate pact, Pruitt said. “So we’ve penalized ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally. So Paris was just a bad deal, in my estimation.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Mar262017

White House official: Trump aide in charge of surrogate operations leaving post

ABC News.(WASHINGTON) -- Boris Epshteyn, the special assistant to the president in charge of surrogate operations is leaving his post, a senior Trump administration official told ABC News Saturday.

He may assume a different role in the White House, though. "We are exploring opportunities within the administration," the official said.

Epshteyn has served various roles, including senior adviser on the Trump-Pence transition team and director of communications for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

A lawyer who received his J.D. from Georgetown University, the Russian-born Epshteyn frequently appeared on TV: first as a surrogate during the campaign, then as a paid staffer.

Epshteyn has yet to publicly comment about departing his post.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Mar252017

Tax reform the next big ticket item on President Trump's legislative agenda

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The morning after President Donald Trump failed to deliver on his campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, he reassured the country a new plan would be on the way.

“ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” Trump tweeted.

 

 

Vice President Mike Pence issued a similar response during a speech in Charleston, West Virginia, a state where Trump was very popular in the 2016 election but that has a population that is heavily dependent on Medicaid for health care coverage.

"We will end the Obamacare nightmare and give the American people the world class healthcare they deserve," Pence said.

But after weeks of high pressure negotiations and closed door deals, where do Republicans go from here? Speaker of the House Paul Ryan listed off the big ticket items on the Republican agenda during a press conference on Friday afternoon.

"Now we're going to move on with the rest of our agenda because we have big ambitious plans to improve people's lives in this country," Ryan said. "We want to secure the border. We want to rebuild our military. We want to get the deficit under control. We want infrastructure and we want tax reform."

In the Oval Office on Friday, Trump told reporters passing tax reform is his first legislative goal.

"I would say that we will probably start going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform. That will be next," he said.

At an event hosted by Axios, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the administration thinks tax reform is possible by the August recess.

"We’re going to do tax reform as absolute," Mnuchin said. "We are reforming both personal and the corporate side."

But overhauling the nation's complicated tax code by the end of the year is an ambitious goal.

"I think it's a goal, and I think it's an ambitious one and I think it's one that we're going to try to stick to," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Friday when asked about an August deadline. "But I think tax reform is something that the president is very committed to."

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Saturday
Mar252017

Pence: Congress wasn't ready to repeal, replace Obamacare

ABC News(CHARLESTON, W.V.) -- Vice President Mike Pence said Congress "just wasn't ready" to repeal and replace Obamacare, joking that supporters of the House Republican health care plan could have used some WWE superstars.

Speaking in Charleston, West Virginia, following a listening session with local small business owners, and joined by Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, the former CEO of the WWE, said Trump worked "tirelessly" to get Congress to pass the American Health Care Act.

"I got to tell you, I was inspired by President Trump's determination and commitment to keep his promise to the American people," Pence said. "And the president and I are grateful for Speaker Paul Ryan and the House Republicans who stood with us in this effort to begin the end of Obamacare, but as we all learned yesterday, Congress just wasn't ready."

He said the bill failed because every Democrat and a "handful" of Republicans opposed it.

"We're back to the drawing board," Pence said, referring to the president's tweet this morning that the Obamacare victory won't last long.

"Yesterday wasn't a victory for the American people. It was a victory for the status quo in Washington, D.C., and it was a victory for the disaster of Obamacare. But I promise you, that victory won't last very long. The American people want Obamacare gone and the president said today, don't worry, America," he said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Mar252017

Alex Jones apologizes for propagating 'pizzagate' conspiracy theory

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Radio host Alex Jones, who helped propagate the fictitious "pizzagate" conspiracy theory that Washington, D.C., pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was a front for a child sex trafficking ring led by John Podesta, apologized to the restaurant owner, James Alefantis, Friday  night on "Info Wars."

"In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him. We were participating in a discussion that was being written about by scores of media outlets, in one of the most hotly contested and disputed political environments our country has ever seen," Jones said in a statement he posted to his website.

Jones said that "InfoWars" relied on third party accounts of activities at Comet Ping Pong, and relied on accounts from reporters who are no longer with his website.

In February, Alefantis sent Jones a letter asking for a retraction of statements made on air about him and his business. Alefantis' team considered taking legal action, which likely moved Jones to make a formal withdrawal of his claims.

The fake news story spread by far right commentators like Jones came to a dramatic climax when Edgar M. Welch drove from North Carolina to the restaurant with weapons and fired shots inside the establishment.

On Friday -- the same day Jones released his statement -- Welch, of Salisbury, North Carolina, said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington that he had agreed to plead guilty to interstate transportation of a firearm and assault with a dangerous weapon. As part of the guilty plea, prosecutors will drop a third charge, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, which had carried a mandatory minimum prison term of five years.

He faces a sentencing hearing scheduled for June 22.

In a statement, Alefantis said he hoped those who had spread the falsehoods would be held accountable.

"I am pleased that Mr. Jones has apologized and admitted that he and his employees repeatedly spread falsehoods about me and my restaurant," Alefantis said. "I wish that he would have made this admission and apology months ago. And his apology, while welcome, does nothing to address the harm he and his company have done to me, my business, and my community."

Meanwhile, people who believed the "pizzagate" theories that grew in conspiratorial corners of the Internet, gathered Saturday in protest outside the White House.

On a small stage in Lafayette Park, surrounded by signs that read "We demand a criminal investigation now!" and "Fake news? Decide for yourself," organizers continued to make their baseless claims that the pizza restaurant was a front for a national pedophilia and sex trafficking ring. They also brought up conspiracy theories involving everything from the DC Metro to the television show "Shark Tank."

The "pizzagate" scandal spread by websites like "InfoWars" became a prime example of the potential dangers of spreading false information. The story was picked up in discussion panels on the Internet, and made it all the way to people involved with the Trump transition.

Michael Flynn Jr., the son of former White House adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, played a role in circulating the bogus story involving Hillary Clinton and Podesta to his thousands of followers online. He was dismissed from his role in the Trump administration transition for his tweets.

In February, following the ouster of the senior Flynn from the White House, Clinton noted the connection.

"Philippe's got his own way of saying things, but he has a point about the real consequences of fake news," she said, retweeting Philippe Reines, who had tweeted: "Dear Mike Flynn & Mike Flynn Jr., What goes around COMETS around. And given your pizza obsession... https://jobs.dominos.com/dominos-careers/ … xo."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Mar252017

Sen. Cory Booker asks Mindy Kaling out for dinner on Twitter; she says 'yes'

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- What have we here? Senator Cory Booker just asked Mindy Kaling out for dinner on Twitter, and she happily accepted.

It all started when the New Jersey senator commented on Kaling's show, "The Mindy Project" in which the main character, Mindy Lahari, took a shot at the city of Newark, New Jersey, of which Booker was formerly mayor.

"Ouch! @MindyKaling, heard Dr. Lahiri dissed Newark last night... @VogueMagazine & I disagree," he wrote with a link to a Vogue magazine article raving about the New Jersey city. "(I still [heart] U!)"

Kaling, 37, replied minutes later, saying: "Senator, if Mindy Lahiri shades it, it means we know it's cool. Thanks for the [love]. It's mutual!"

Booker, 47, then said her response was "making my day! Thanks for the clarification."

Next, the senator made a bold request: "And If the [love] is really mutual... Come have dinner with me in Newark? #PleaseSayYes"

And she said...

It didn't take long for the official Twitter account for the PATH commuter train line between New Jersey and New York to help by offering the trains' schedules.

Still, Booker had a better plan.

"Thank you! PATH train is awesome when you are Jersey bound. But you are @Lyft worthy!" he wrote. "I will send one to you for the door to door."

There's no word on whether an actual date is set.

ABC News reached out to both camps, but mum is the word so far.

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