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Saturday
Feb252017

No winner for DNC chair on first ballot

MANDEL NGAN,BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez fell one vote short of becoming chair of the Democratic National Committee on the first ballot on Saturday.

Top Democrats gathered in Atlanta will now have a second round of voting.

Perez earned 213.5 votes and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison won 200 votes. Candidates needed 214.5 votes to win. Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown scooped up 12 votes, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg got 1 vote despite dropping out before the vote and Jehmu Greene won 0.5 votes.

All candidates but Perez and Ellison have dropped out of the race.

"We need a chair who can not only take the fight to Donald Trump, make sure we talk about our positive message," Perez told the crowd before the vote. "We also need a chair who can lead turnaround and change the culture of the Democratic Party and DNC."

The next chair will be key in trying to unify and rally a party still reeling from its presidential election defeat and crippled by down-ballot losses across the country over the last decade.

"We're in this mess because we lost not one election but a thousand elections," Ellison said. "We gotta go to the grassroots, ya'll. Unity is essential. We gotta walk out of here with unity."

Many in the party's progressive wing had rallied around Ellison, expressing their frustration with the status quo of the party. They felt strongly that Ellison better identified with the grassroots movement growing across the country in opposition to Trump.

After emails leaked last summer revealed former chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had purportedly influenced the presidential primary, many activists who sided with Sen. Bernie Sanders were left feeling betrayed and disillusioned by the party establishment. Those leaks last summer forced Wasserman Schultz to step down.

Perez is backed by many from former President Obama's political orbit, including former Vice President Joe Biden, while Ellison garners support from liberals like Sanders. But the lines are not hard and fast. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is also backing Ellison, while Perez has the support of some labor groups.

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Saturday
Feb252017

Barack Obama and daughter Malia attend 'The Price' on Broadway

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic via Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Former President Barack Obama surprised Broadway theater-goers Friday when he and daughter Malia attended the evening performance of The Price.

The daddy-daughter duo headed backstage after the play -- a new revival of the Arthur Miller classic -- and met with the cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Danny DeVito, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht.

The Roundabout Theatre Company tweeted a photo of the pair with the cast, writing, "We are so honored to have had President @barackobama in our theater this evening for #ThePriceBway!"

The president and Malia were spotted leaving the American Airlines Theatre through a stage door, and were greeted by catcalls and shouts of "there he is!" by passers-by.

In The Price, a police officer feels that life has passed him by while he took care of his late father. He and his estranged brother must reunite to sell off their father's possessions.

The Obama clan is no stranger no Broadway, having attended several shows during his presidency, including Hamilton, A Raisin in the Sun, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Memphis, Kinky Boots, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Sister Act, The Trip to Bountiful, Motown the Musical and The Addams Family.

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Friday
Feb242017

News outlets excluded from White House press secretary's gaggle

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Multiple news outlets were excluded from a White House gaggle with press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday afternoon, according to reporters present, sparking criticism from the White House Correspondents' Association and other observers.

The move comes amid President Donald Trump's ongoing battle with many news organizations, which he has characterized as "fake news" and the "enemy of the American People," an assertion which he doubled down on Friday during the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The gaggle, which took place in Spicer's office, was being held in lieu of a traditional briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, which seats 49 reporters but is often filled with others who line the sides and back of the room.

The outlets invited to join Spicer on Friday included the Washington Times, One America News Network and Breitbart News, as well as television networks including ABC, CBS, Fox News and NBC, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, among others.

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Politico and CNN were among the group excluded from the meeting. Upon learning of the restrictions, reporters from the Associated Press and Time boycotted the gaggle.

The session was recorded and ultimately distributed to the White House press pool, including those excluded.

ABC News' Cecilia Vega challenged Spicer about the move, questioning if the outlets were excluded because the White House did not like their coverage.

"Because we had a pool and then we expanded it," Spicer responded. "And we added some folks to come cover it."

Vega noted that there was space in the room for other outlets.

"I understand that there are way more than six that wanted to come in. We started with the pool and we expanded it," Spicer responded. "I think we've gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility and openness and getting folks, our officials our team, and so respectfully I disagree with the premise of the question."

In a statement, the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) blasted the move.

"The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how [Friday's] gaggle is being handled by the White House," said Jeff Mason of the WHCA board. "We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff."

Earlier in the day during a speech at CPAC, Trump attacked the media for reporting what he labeled as "fake news," and said he wanted the press barred from using unnamed sources, in particular. This, despite his administration's use of background briefings and insistence upon the exclusion by the media of officials' names when reporting on the information from the briefings.

Trump did note, however, that he is a supporter of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

"I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me. Nobody," said Trump.

White Houses' taking on the press or specific outlets is not unprecedented.

The Obama administration battled with Fox News, excluding anchor Chris Wallace from a round of Sunday show interviews with Obama in 2009.

“We simply decided to stop abiding by the fiction, which is aided and abetted by the mainstream press, that Fox is a traditional news organization,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the deputy White House communications director, according to a New York Times report from the time.

Fox was also excluded from a network pool round robin interview with former pay czar Ken Feinberg on Oct. 22, 2009, but ultimately relented when other organizations boycotted.

According to a Mediaite report at the time, the Treasury Department denied that Fox was excluded.

And former President Richard Nixon was privately recorded in the Oval Office in 1972 saying "the press is the enemy," according to a Times report. The tapes were later released.

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Friday
Feb242017

President Trump renews attacks on media amid news of FBI-White House contact

ABC News(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — President Trump made a victorious return to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, where he sought to assure cheering audience members that they now have a top advocate for their policy priorities in the White House while also taking aim at his favorite target, the media.

"All of these years we've been together and now you finally have a president, finally," Trump said.

Trump was notably absent from the annual conservative gathering during his presidential run in 2016 and was skewered by his opponents in the GOP primary for skipping.

"I would have come last year but I was worried that I'd be at that time too controversial," Trump told the enthusiastic crowd Friday. "We wanted border security. We wanted very, very strong military. We wanted all of the things that we're going to get, and people considered that controversial, but you didn't consider it controversial."

'The dishonest media' and unnamed sources

Trump also doubled down on his attacks on the media, repeating his recent assertion that the "fake" news is the "enemy of the people," zeroing in on the use of unnamed sources.

"I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources," Trump said. "They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there."

The president's renewed criticism of the media comes as there are press reports that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus privately asked the FBI to knock down news stories of Trump campaign officials communicating with Russian intelligence agents. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday morning that Priebus only asked FBI officials to go public with information that they had first privately provided to him which cast doubt on the media reports.

The president seemed at times in his address to want to qualify his attack on the press, saying he's not against all media.

"I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news," said Trump. "It's fake, phony, fake."

Referring to a tweet he posted a week ago, which said the "fake news media… is the enemy of the American people," the president said that criticism was itself misrepresented by the press.

 

 

"In covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people. The fake news," said Trump. "They dropped off the word 'fake.' And all of a sudden, the story became, the media is the enemy. They take the word 'fake' out."

The president neglected to mention that his tweet named several mainstream media organizations.

Before he was president

Trump's speech marked his fifth time addressing the annual gathering of right-wing organizers and activists.

The conference hosted by the American Conservative Union began in 1974 and has since grown into a four-day-long event with thousands of attendees. Trump's appearance Friday marks the fourth visit by a sitting president.

Trump on Friday reminded the audience of what he called his "first major speech" at CPAC in 2011. That year, Trump floated the possibility of a run for the 2012 Republican nomination, a race ultimately won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"America today is missing quality leadership and foreign countries have quickly realized this," said Trump in 2011.

"[The] theory of a very successful person running for office is rarely tested because most successful people don't want to be scrutinized or abused," he added. "This is the kind of person that the country needs and we need it now."

Six years later, Trump is the U.S. president and was the conference's main attraction.

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway; his chief strategist, Steve Bannon; White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; and Vice President Mike Pence were a few of the major figures to speak at the conference on Thursday.

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Friday
Feb242017

President Trump's history of using anonymous sources

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump used part of his speech at an annual gathering of conservatives Friday to take aim at reporters' use of anonymous sources, despite using unidentified sources himself in the past.

"They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name," Trump said in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The president didn't mention that his White House like every previous administration has officials serve as unnamed sources frequently as a way of informing reporters of policy and operational matters. The media also uses anonymous sources to protect the identity of people who might fear retribution for sharing sensitive information.

Hours before the president spoke at the conservative conference, for instance, the White House invited reporters to a "background briefing" where it was insisted upon that the media not reveal the names of officials holding the information session.

There are also examples from before, during and after Trump's presidential campaign when he made claims without attributing his sources.

His birther claims

Over several years, Trump used unidentified sources to claim that former President Obama was not born in the United States, which if true would have made him unqualified to be president.

For example, Trump tweeted in August 2012: "An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud."

Not until September 2016, after Trump became the Republican nominee for president, did he publicly acknowledge that Obama was born in the U.S.

Unsupported claims during the campaign

Another example of Trump's making a claim without specific sources came in November 2015, when he asserted that he saw "thousands" of people in the United States cheering the attacks on Sept. 11 that brought down the World Trade Center.

During an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Trump said he "watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."

At a campaign event the day after the interview, he doubled down on that assertion.

"Lo and behold I start getting phone calls in my office by the hundreds, that they were there and they saw this take place on the internet," Trump said in Ohio.

ABC News checked a variety of footage from the time of the attacks and the weeks after, finding no basis for his claim.

Months later in May 2016, Trump repeated an unverified report from The National Enquirer -- which based its story on anonymous sources -- that the father of one of his GOP primary opponents, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, had been photographed with Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald killed former President John F. Kennedy.

"I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?" Trump said during an interview with Fox News. "It's horrible."

The Cruz campaign immediately denied the claims made by The Enquirer and criticized Trump for his remarks.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb242017

Trump signs executive order to help remove 'job-killing regulations' 

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump signed an executive order for regulatory reform on Friday, directing government agencies to set up task forces to look into ways to eliminate or scale back regulations.

Trump said that the order is “one of many ways” the administration will remove “job-killing regulations.”

"This directs each agency to establish a regulatory reform task force which will ensure that every agency has a ... real team of dedicated people to research all regulations that are unnecessary, burdensome and harmful to the economy and therefore harmful to the creation of jobs and business. Each task force will make recommendations to repeal or simplify existing regulations,” the president said.

Trump explained that any existing or proposed regulation will have to meet certain conditions.

"Every regulation should have to pass a simple test: Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it and getting rid of it quickly. We'll stop punishing companies for doing business in the United States; it will be absolutely just the opposite,” he said. “They'll be incentivized to doing business in the United States. We're working hard to roll back the regulatory burden so that coal miners, factory workers, small business owners and so many others can grow their businesses and thrive.”

The new order is not the first by Trump aiming to reduce federal regulations.

In January, the president signed an executive order that he said will “dramatically reduce federal regulations” on businesses. That order mandates that for every new regulation implemented by federal agencies, two existing regulations must be cut.

Trump called that order the "largest ever cut, by far, in terms of regulations."

Last week, the president also rolled back the stream protection rule, a regulation designed to protect waterways from surface mining.

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Friday
Feb242017

Rex Tillerson stays silent as State Dept. set to resume 'regular' briefings

RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been maintaining his silence during his first weeks on the job, as has the department he heads. But some of that veil of silence will be lifting early next month.

The daily State Department briefing -- a fixture at Foggy Bottom since the Eisenhower administration and watched closely in Washington and in capitals around the world -- has not resumed under Tillerson. But "regular" briefings are set to resume on March 6, acting spokesperson Mark Toner said Friday, though it is unclear if they will still be daily or televised.

Tillerson concluded his second overseas trip Thursday night, this time with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and he was only spotted in public three times -- getting off his plane Wednesday night, getting on his plane Thursday afternoon, and a three-and-a-half minute public statement that he read in between.

He was heard even less. In Mexico, as in Germany last week, he took no questions. And unlike Germany, there were no photo ops and no "pool sprays" -- opportunities for a small group of reporters or photographers to meet with an official. There wasn't even a read-out -- the official version of the discussion -- of his dinner with the Mexican foreign secretary Wednesday night, let alone of all his meetings Thursday.

Tillerson’s reticence on the trip comes after a wave of negative headlines asking where he is and if he’s being silent, sidelined, or is in over his head.

The bad press finally sparked something else the news media has not gotten a lot of lately -- an official State Department statement. It was a strongly worded comment that came Wednesday night and pushes back hard on those reports, sent on behalf of Toner, a career foreign service officer who assumed the role under President Obama and has so far stayed on for the Trump administration:

“The Department of State continues to provide members of the media a full suite of services. The Department has answered 174 questions from reporters in the United States and around the globe in the past 24 hours alone. The Secretary continues to travel with representatives of the media, the Department continues to provide readouts from the Secretary’s calls and meetings, the Department continues to release statements regarding world events and reporters continue to be briefed about upcoming trips and initiatives,” the statement said.

“In addition to regular press briefings conducted by a Department spokesperson, reporters will soon have access to additional opportunities each week to interact with State Department officials. The Department is also exploring the possibility of opening the briefing to reporters outside of Washington, DC via remote video capabilities," Toner's statement added.

Amid the reticence, here’s what we do know:

No briefing

As Toner’s Wednesday statement said, “regular” press briefings will be back “soon,” possibly with reporters Skyping in, like the White House briefing now has. Toner said Friday that those briefings will resume on March 6, but no word yet on whether they will still be televised or happen daily.

Three public statements

After more than three weeks on the job, Tillerson has made only three public statements: His address to the department on his first day; his 30-second prepared remarks after meeting the Russian foreign minister, and that statement he read Thursday in Mexico.

He has not taken any questions, and he has not granted any interviews. The most the press has heard from him was in response to shouted questions during a marathon day of meetings in Germany last week -- all one-sentence (or half-sentence) responses.

No readouts

It’s not just that Tillerson has been quiet; the State Department has been unusually silent, too.

It hasn't been providing readouts of the secretary’s calls to world leaders. Without them, the public doesn’t even know that they’re happening. Instead, America is now relying on the Russians or the Iraqis to say when they happen and what they discussed -- even on the most benign topics.

For example, the Russians said Tillerson called to express condolences after the death of their ambassador to the United Nations, and the Iraqis said he called to praise the Iraqi army’s performance in the fight against ISIS. All the State Department would tell the press is that the calls took place. Not even who called whom.

Many vacancies

Turnover between administrations is of course common, but a month after inauguration, multiple top roles at the State Department have yet to be filled -- from the secretary’s two deputies, to four out of the six undersecretaries, several assistant secretaries, and many key ambassadorships, including to major allies like Canada, France and Germany.

Conservatives have celebrated the “blood bath," but these positions help keep U.S. foreign policy running. And the lack of personnel has left many at the State Department stretched thin or feeling unsure about what’s to come, sources told ABC News.

Of the two undersecretary positions currently filled, one is also the acting deputy secretary and the other is in an “acting” capacity himself. And on Tillerson’s first trip abroad, five of eight senior officials were in acting roles.

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Friday
Feb242017

Former Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear to give Democratic response to Trump's first address to Congress

Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear will deliver the Democratic response to President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday,

Astrid Silva, an immigration activist from Nevada and one of the so-called "dreamers," will deliver the Democrats' Spanish-language response to Trump's speech.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the speakers for the Democratic response Friday, indicating that Beshear was selected to counter GOP plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Silva to address the president's actions on immigration.

As a Democratic governor of a red state, Beshear embraced Obamacare and expanded Medicaid for his constituents.

“Governor Beshear’s work in Kentucky is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act works; reducing costs and expanding access for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians,” Schumer said in a statement.

Silva came to the U.S. when she was 5. Her story as an unauthorized immigrant who was brought to the country as a child was mentioned by President Obama when he announced his executive action on immigration in 2014.

Silva also spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
 
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Friday
Feb242017

White House chief of staff urged FBI to dispute Trump-Russia report

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus made a personal appeal to a top FBI official to dispute reports that multiple senior members of President Trump's campaign had communicated with Russian agents during the 2016 election, a senior White House official confirmed to ABC News on Friday.

Priebus had reached out to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in an effort to knock down reports of talks between campaign officials and Russia following a New York Times report on the matter last week, the official said.

Priebus only made the request after the FBI had told the White House there were accuracy issues with the Times' report, the official said.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that U.S. intelligence found through intercepted calls and phone records that Trump campaign members and associates repeatedly had contact with Russian intelligence agents.

Priebus' intervention is drawing heavy scrutiny from Democrats who argue that the communications break with precedent that ensures the FBI remains independent from White House influence. A White House official would not comment on whether Priebus’ communication was appropriate.

The FBI has so far declined to comment on the story to ABC News.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., a ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, argued that Priebus' actions should "concern all Americans, regardless of party."

"This is deeply troubling because of the inappropriate attempt to influence the FBI and because it may reveal a broader effort by the Trump White House to cover up malfeasance during the campaign," Conyers Jr. said.

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Friday
Feb242017

Pence downplays town hall backlash, rallies conservatives at CPAC

ABC News(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — In his primetime speech to conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday night, Vice President Mike Pence spoke out against the backlash Republicans are seeing in districts across the country, dismissing the "best efforts of liberal activists," while promising an orderly transition from Obamacare to a GOP replacement.

"Despite the best efforts of liberal activists around the country, the American people know better," Pence told CPAC attendees at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Pledging an "orderly transition," he added, "America's Obamacare nightmare is about to end."

The vice president, appearing after President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon torched the media in a rare public appearance, also criticized the media and "elites" for missing Trump's victory.

"They're still trying to dismiss him," he said.

Pence also praised Trump's first month in office, calling his cabinet secretaries the "A-team" and praising Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

"You have elected a man for president who never quits, and never backs down. He is a fighter, he is a winner," he said.

Pence thanked the crowd for their support and urged them to remain active.

"Our fight didn't end on November the 8th ... the fight goes on," Pence said. "This, my friends, is our time."

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