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Tuesday
Jan162018

Trump's 'overall health is excellent' says doctor, weight loss a goal

ABCNews.com (WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's "overall health is excellent," and his cognitive health is normal, presidential physician Dr. Ronny Jackson said Tuesday.

Jackson shared the outcomes of Trump's physical with reporters at the White House press briefing, including his 75-inch height, 239-pound weight, total cholesterol of 223 and resting heart rate of 68 beats per minute. Given his height and weight, the president's body mass index falls just short of the defined threshold for obesity.

According to a calculator provided by the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Trump's BMI is 29.9. The marker for obesity is a BMI of 30, according to the institute. Despite the number, Jackson said that Trump's exercise stress echocardiogram was "above average based on age and sex."

Jackson said he discussed "diet, exercise and weight loss," among other topics, with the president and noted that a nutritionist would work with him in an attempt to change his eating habits, which are said to include a steady stream of fast food and red meat.

Asked how someone with Trump's diet and no known exercise routine could achieve such relatively strong physical results, Jackson said there was no definite answer.

"It is called genetics. I don't know," Jackson said. "Some people have just great genes. I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. I don't know."

Despite questions swirling about the president's cognitive abilities given reports that he sometimes repeats himself during meetings, Jackson said that Trump scored a 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment — self described as a "cognitive screening test designed to assist Health Professionals in the detection of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease." The doctor added that he doesn't believe appraisals of the president's mental state should be made by persons who have not examined him.

During the presidential campaign, Trump's personal doctor, Dr. Harold Bornstein, proclaimed: "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Jackson would not comment on that prior comparison Tuesday, saying that he could only assess Trump today.

Questioned by the press for nearly an hour, Jackson additionally shared that the president takes aspirin for "cardiac health;" Propecia, a medication intended to prevent hair loss; Soolantra Cream, to combat the skin disease Rosacea; and Crestor, a cholesterol-lowering drug. Trump's total cholesterol of 223 would be considered high under typical standards.

Jackson did admit that he thinks Trump "doesn't sleep much." The doctor said that he did not ask the president about his habits specifically, but guessed that he sleeps "four to five hours per night."

In total, Trump's physical last week lasted over four hours, said Jackson, who added he worked with 12 consultants on the evaluation.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan162018

Homeland Security secretary grilled over Trump 's---hole' comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen faced intense questioning about her memory of the Oval Office immigration reform meeting last week in which President Donald Trump referred to several nations as "s---hole countries," including by one of the senators also present for the meeting.

Nielsen, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, said she "did not hear" the word "s---hole," or one similar, as she was asked about her recollection of the bipartisan White House meeting, but did say she remembered "rough talk" and "tough language."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was singled out by Trump Monday for "misrepresenting what was said" during the conversation after he confirmed reports last week about the president's description of Haiti, El Salvador and several African countries pressed Nielsen for specific detail, but the secretary did not specifically assign attribution to Trump.

The president previously acknowledged "tough" language was used during the meeting but denied making "derogatory" remarks about Haiti in particular. A pair of senators also present last week — Sens. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., — claimed over the weekend that the media and Durbin misrepresented the president's comments.

"Apologies. I don't remember [a] specific word," Nielsen said. "What I was struck with, frankly, I'm sure you were as well, the general profanity used in the room by almost everyone."

Earlier during Tuesday's hearing, Nielsen was asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. about Trump's reported preference for European immigrants, including those from Norway. The president previously met with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg the day before the Oval Office meeting.

"Being from Norway is not a skill," Leahy said. "And with the standard of living in Norway better than ours, what does he mean when he says he wants more immigrants from Norway?"

"I don't believe he said that specifically," responded Nielsen, adding, "What he was specifically referring to is the prime minister telling him that the people of Norway work very hard. And so what he was referencing is from a merit-based perspective, we like to have those with skills who can assimilate to the United States."

"Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?" followed Leahy.

"I actually do not know that, sir," Nielsen said. "But I imagine that is the case."

Nielsen's answers faced criticism later during the hearing from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who called it "unacceptable" that she could not "remember the words of your commander-in-chief."

"Your silence and your amnesia is complicity," Booker said.

The reports of the meeting, which came amid continued debate over the country's immigration policies, renewed accusations by critics of the president on issues of race. In response, Trump told reporters Sunday he is "not racist."

"I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed," he said. "That I can tell you."

The meeting, held last Thursday, was part of ongoing talks between the White House and members of Congress to pass a permanent solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients -- a priority for Democrats since the president announced an end to the program in September.

The program, which began under President Obama, was scheduled to come a complete stop over the next couple of years, but the wind down is facing challenges in court.

Nielsen acknowledged to Sen. Booker that she has not met with DACA recipients or Dreamers either as Homeland Security secretary or prior.

“I personally, have not to my knowledge, met with a Dreamer," she later said.

A visibly frustrated Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was also in Thursday's meeting, implored the president to "close this deal" during the DHS hearing.

Graham, who has been a key negotiator, tried to get to the bottom of what changed between last Tuesday, when the president seemed to support a bipartisan bill of "love," and the Oval Office meeting on Thursday.

"Tuesday we had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood immigration had to be bipartisan," he said. "I don't know where that guy went. I want him back.”

He told Nielsen that the negotiations have "turned into an s-show."

"We need to get back to being a great country where Democrats and Republicans work together to do something that we should have done years ago,” he said.

Graham said that the "sweet spot" for a deal is to create a permanent fix for DACA recipients and an expanded group of Dreamers, along with making down payments on border security and moving to merit-based immigration system. That should be followed by phase two — moving towards greater border security, a pathway forward for the around 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., and a merit-based system based on economic need, as well as an increase in legal immigration.

He pointed out that Democrats are not going to agree to everything the Republicans want, if the only GOP concession is a fix for DACA.

In addition to border security, the president has said he wants and end to so-called "chain migration" or family reunification and and end to the diversity lottery.

Durbin said that during the meeting, Trump made it clear that one of the conditions for his agreement to protect DACA was $20 billion so he could build a wall in one year, telling Nielsen that it was "impossible" and unrealistic.

A southern border wall has been a promise of the Trump's since his presidential campaign began. So far, only prototypes have been built and funding has remained elusive.

"The president is insisting on something that is physically, legally impossible as a condition," said Durbin.

At one point, Nielsen was asked on whether the administration has arrangements for Mexico to pay for the wall — a longtime claim of the president's.

"I am not aware. I don't know what you mean by arrangement. We have a lot of agreements with them to increase border security," she said.

When Sen. Patrick Leahy pressed her again, she said,"my priority is to increase border security and to build that wall, that will work."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan162018

Meet President Trump's new doctor: White House physician Admiral Ronny Jackson

US Navy(WASHINGTON) -- The note from President Donald Trump's current doctor may be less effusive than the one from his last.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump had longtime physician Dr. Harold Bornstein release a letter in which he wrote that Trump "unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

Bornstein became something of a viral sensation after the rapturous report.

What the presidential physician who is treating Trump now may lack in colorful comments, he makes up for with a stacked resume.

Dr. Ronny Jackson, the presidential physician, is a rear admiral in the Navy and examined Trump last week at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

He attendedd Texas A&M University at Galveston for his undergraduate studies, majoring in Marine Biology, before going to medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch, according to his naval biography.

He has served in Virginia, Connecticut and Florida and was also assigned to work with an explosive disposal unit in Italy, as well as a platoon in Iraq. Jackson currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and three children, according to a biography page posted by Harvard University which ran a fellowship in disaster medicine with which he was involved.

When he was in Iraq in 2006, while serving as the physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a deployed platoon, Jackson was chosen as the White House physician.

His tenure started during the administration of then-President George W. Bush, who he examined. He also gave physicals to President Barack Obama and will now examine President Donald Trump.

Jackson's last examination of Obama came in February 2016, when he wrote a two-page memo to then-White House press secretary Josh Earnest, which was released by the White House.

The memo noted that it was the fourth exam that Jackson had performed on Obama and included details like his age, weight, height, body mass index, resting heart rate, a heart exam, gastrointestinal status and cholesterol rate. It also noted his social history, commenting on his "healthy lifestyle choices" including "healthy diet" and daily exercise.

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Tuesday
Jan162018

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon arrives on Capitol Hill to meet with House Intelligence Committee

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon arrived on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning for a closed door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee.

Bannon is expected to face questions about the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

This meeting comes after Bannon resigned as executive chairman of Breitbart News following the release of Michael Wolff’s tell-all Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. The book, which includes harsh comments from Bannon on the controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, renewed questions about Trump’s campaign activity.

Bannon, who joined the Trump campaign in August of 2016, brandished the Trump Tower meeting as "treasonous," according to Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.


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Tuesday
Jan162018

Maryland pastor attacks Trump with VP Pence sitting in front pew

Metropolitan Baptist Church/Facebook(LARGO, Maryland) -- A pastor in Maryland who had Vice President Mike Pence as a captive audience on Sunday took the opportunity to attack the politician's boss, calling President Donald Trump's comments on Haiti and Africa "hurtful," "dehumanizing" and "vulgar."

Dr. Maurice Watson, pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, Maryland, ripped into Trump's reported negative comments about Haiti and African countries, though he never specifically mentioned Trump's name.

Pence and his wife, Karen, were sitting in the front pew.

"It is alleged that a hurtful, dehumanizing, visceral, guttural, ugly adjective that I cannot repeat in church, was allegedly used to characterize some of the nations of Africa," Watson said in his Sunday sermon, which was posted on the church's Facebook page. "And a statement was made that we ought to welcome people from Norway more than we should welcome people from Haiti. I stand here today as your pastor to vehemently denounce and reject such characterizations. Whoever said it is wrong, and they oughta be held accountable.

"You are owed an apology, but you probably won't get one," Watson added.

The congregation loudly applauded Watson's words.

WUSA said Pence was left "red-faced" by the comments. A spokesperson for Pence denied that to The Associated Press. Pence and his wife were in attendance at the church for the congregation's honoring of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Trump has also denied he called Haiti and African nations "s---hole countries" in a meeting with various politicians who were trying to negotiate a deal on DACA last Thursday. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was in the meeting, said there was no question the president said these "hate-filled things."

Watson appeared on CNN on Monday night, where he said he didn't see the vice president's reaction to his comments, but said they had nothing to do with Pence being in attendance.

"It didn't have anything to do with the vice president, it had to do with the fact that I'm a pastor," Watson told CNN. "As a pastor, I have to speak up for my people. And the vice president just happened to have been there."

Pence did not refer to the visit on his social media pages, though he did share photos of he and wife wife laying a wreath at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., later in the day.

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Tuesday
Jan162018

Trump mocked for golfing in lieu of volunteering on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Twitter/@ColbertLateShow(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump found himself in the hot seat on Monday after he decided to go golfing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, breaking with a years-long tradition set by previous presidents who commemorated the holiday by performing civic duties.

The late-night shows found the topic rich for attack on Monday night.

"In the past, Presidents Obama and Bush did volunteer work on this day to honor Dr. King. President Trump today played golf to honor him," Jimmy Kimmel said Monday on Live. "He made his 95th visit since becoming president to one of the golf courses he owns: the Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach. Just as Dr. King would have wanted, which is especially glaring considering the fact people have been calling Trump a racist all weekend."

The criticism came just one day after Trump declared that he is "not a racist" as he denied reports that he referred to Haiti and African countries as "s---hole countries."

"No, no, I'm not a racist," Trump told reporters on Sunday. "I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you."

The comments were reportedly made during a closed-door meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration on Thursday.

According to the reports, Trump also said the United States should accept more immigrants from countries like Norway.

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, tried to find humor in the situation -- now referred to as 's---hole-gate.'"

"'I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed' seems like a ridiculous statement from Donald Trump, until you realize he was speaking to the chief reporter from the Klu Klux Kronicle," Noah said Monday evening.

He pointed out that two U.S. lawmakers claimed they personally heard Trump make the vulgar remark, but he said the president’s alleged vulgarity was not his main concern.

"Him having a poo-poo mouth is not the story for me," Noah said. "The president of the United States condemning entire groups of people as worthless and undesirable based on what country they happen to be born in, that's the story."

Over on The Late Show, host Stephen Colbert asked his guest, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., if he thought Trump made the controversial comments.

"I have no doubts," Schumer replied. "Donald Trump has lied so many times it's hard to believe him on anything let alone this.

"His comments over and over and over again can be described as nothing but racist and obnoxious," he added.

Schumer also presented the president with a challenge that he said would prove that he wasn't racist.

"Actions speak louder than words," Schumer said. "If you want to just begin the long road back to proving you're not racist or bigoted, support the bipartisan compromise three Democrats and three Republicans put on the floor, everyone gave, and get the Dreamers safety here in America.

"That's what he should do," he added.

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Tuesday
Jan162018

The Department of Justice has faced high profile criticism a year in Trump administration

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has long been a lightning rod for political criticism, but this past year brought it to a new level — with a Republican president taking sharp aim at the Republican attorney general he nominated.

Even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressed forward on some of President Donald Trump’s top priorities — such as immigration enforcement — Sessions was sharp criticism from Trump, who was reportedly angered by Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and alleged collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives.

For much of the summer of 2017, it was unclear if Sessions would last until fall.

But Sessions held on, and in doing so he was able to continue addressing issues he has championed such as going after so-called “sanctuary cities,” promoting marijuana enforcement, fighting the growing opioid epidemic and gang-related violence, and changing civil rights enforcement policies.

Early in his tenure as attorney general, Sessions backed a Trump administration decision to overturn Obama-era policies that said federal anti-discrimination laws meant students at schools across the country must be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. He has also made other moves that have angered the LGBTQ community.

At the same time, he has committed federal resources to investigate murders of transgender individuals around the country.

Sessions has gone further than any recent attorney general to target “sanctuary cities,” threatening to pull federal grants from any jurisdiction that doesn’t cooperate with federal authorities to detain and turn over undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department under Sessions is sending millions of federal dollars toward initiatives to help state and local police battle the opioid epidemic, which Sessions repeatedly notes is killing Americans at record levels. Sessions has also pushed U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country to refocus on prosecuting drug-related crimes.

Similarly, in early January, Sessions announced that the Justice Department was "rescinding" Obama-era guidance over how federal authorities should go after marijuana-related crimes, touting the move as "a return to the rule of law." However, senior Justice Department officials struggled to explain how the new policy would actually differ from that of their predecessors.

Over the past year, while Sessions has promised to go after gangs like MS-13, he has also faced tough questions over whether the federal government is doing enough to prevent gun violence like the deadly assault launched in Las Vegas last year. 58 people were killed and hundreds of others injured.

Many lawmakers and others have called for stricter regulation of “bump stocks,” which were used in the deadly Las Vegas attack and allow gunmen to turn semiautomatic rifles into near-automatic weapons.

During an event with Justice Department interns last summer, one intern asked Sessions why he supports "pretty harsh policies for marijuana and pretty lax gun control laws" when "statistically guns kill significantly more people than marijuana does."

In response, Sessions noted that more fatal accidents are now caused by drugs than by alcohol, and he said the American Medical Association "is crystal clear" that "marijuana is not a healthy substance." "I don't think America's going to be a better place if marijuana's sold in every corner grocery store," Sessions said.

This story is part of a weeklong series examining the first year of the Trump administration.

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Tuesday
Jan162018

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has mixed record under Trump presidency

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly one year after he took his own oath of office, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has defied all the major headlines about him: He’s still here.

But his record at the State Department is, at best, mixed, with fierce, vocal critics decrying his “hollowing out” of the esteemed agency and steady supporters praising him for being one of the “adults in the room” across from a president with whom he has major disagreements.

If either side makes one thing clear, it’s that Tillerson has a tough job working for a president who has made clear that he makes the decisions.

“The one that matters is me,” Trump told Fox News in November, when asked by the conservative commentator Laura Ingraham why he hadn’t appointed more of his own “people” at the State Department.

“We don’t need all the people that they want,” Trump continued. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

That’s a neat summary of where things stand at State — an agency with many of its top roles still unfilled, with what some describe as low morale and others say has an uncertain future, and with a leader who boldly barrels on, but is often undercut by his own boss.

Since the beginning, Tillerson and his team have had to do battle with the White House over personnel picks, slowing the process down. But a couple weeks shy of Tillerson’s one-year anniversary, there are still 54 senior positions vacant — although the secretary announced in August he would eliminate 20 of those in his “redesign” of the department.

But that redesign process has left many scratching their head — with a deeply unpopular hiring freeze still in place and the first wave of minor changes to personnel and IT policy announced only last month.

It’s led to some very public criticisms, from retired ambassadors or fleeing foreign service officers — and even the president of the foreign service union, who questioned if there were ulterior motives at work.

Among the other senior roles, 22 are filled by officials in an acting capacity. Although there are people doing the work, they do not enjoy the full legal authority of their role or the image of speaking on the administration’s behalf to the world. There were about a half dozen more, but they were in acting roles so long, that they were required to return to their original roles by law.

It’s not just in Washington either. Some 30 ambassador posts are still empty, with the embassy’s second-in-command, or charge d’affaires, leading the U.S. mission. Those include ambassadors to key allies where there is a desperate need for diplomacy, like South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

“People don’t know who to contact at State anymore or in the administration in general,” one European source told ABC News. “It’s hurting the U.S. diplomatically — and others are quick to step into that power gap.”

By year’s end, Tillerson had made some progress, according to top aides, who point in particular to the case of Susan Thornton. The acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs is a career diplomat who hit the ground running with Tillerson on the North Korea threat.

The two developed a rapport, but despite Tillerson’s intention to give her the job full-time, he was blocked by the Steve Bannon, and the nationalist-wing of the White House who saw her as too weak on China.

Last month, the White House announced Trump’s nomination of Thornton in what Tillerson aides touted as a victory — one symbolic of his intention to stay, they said.

That’s the looming question that has dogged the former ExxonMobil CEO for more than half of his tenure now. It’s no secret he disagrees with his boss on the Iran nuclear deal, climate change and the Paris accord, the Gulf crisis, North Korea, and Russia — among other things.

He has also been repeatedly undercut or caught off guard by Trump’s tweets and statements and, perhaps more critically, made some enemies in the White House, sources tell ABC News.

That lead to a series of leaks that painted an unflattering portrait of the Tillerson-Trump relationship, however accurate, that hit a low-point after NBC News reported that Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and threatened to quit after a meeting at the Pentagon. The press-averse Tillerson held a special press conference that morning to trash the report, although critics like to point out he refused to specifically deny calling Trump a “moron.”

The cycle was renewed in late November when the New York Times reported a White House plan to imminently fire Tillerson and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump favorite. Almost immediately, several other outlets, including ABC News, were able to confirm the report citing senior White House officials.

But Tillerson did not budge: “You all need to get some new sources because your story keeps being wrong,” he told reporters days later.

More than a month since then, he seems to be partially right, as he remains standing as secretary with no plans to quit: “I intend to be here for the whole year,” he told CNN in what aides say will be the first of many more interviews in 2018, as he prepares for a more public role, with two big trips planned to Latin America and Africa soon.

Still, it remains an open question how effective the nation’s top diplomat can be when he doesn’t seem to have the support of the president or his department’s people. 2018 will require a lot of work on both those relationships.

This story is part of a weeklong series examining the first year of the Trump administration.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan152018

Steve Bannon expected to meet with House Intel Committee

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is expected to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, a congressional source and two sources close to Bannon tell ABC News.

Bannon will field questions from congressional Russia investigators for the first time as he continues to face backlash for his comments in a controversial new book about the Trump White House by author Michael Wolff that has renewed questions about the president's mental fitness and campaign activity.

Bannon, who joined the Trump campaign in August of 2016, said the controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer thought to have dirt on Hillary Clinton was "treasonous," according to "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."

"The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers," Bannon said, according to Wolff. "Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic ... you should have called the FBI immediately."

In the book, he also suggested Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation would focus on money laundering - something the panel has spent time investigating abroad.

Bannon, who stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart News last week amid the fallout over his comments, has since regretted his comments in the book and has called Donald Trump Jr., one of the campaign officials who participated in the meeting, a "patriot and a good man."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the panel has questions about Bannon's comments in the book - including his suggestion that Trump Jr. brought the participants to meet with then-candidate Donald Trump.

“Specifically what's the basis for his assertion that the president met with the participants in the Trump Tower meeting,” Schiff said in an interview with ABC News' Pierre Thomas. “What [Bannon] knows about the president’s knowledge of that meeting, as well as his concerns over money laundering which has been a persistent concern of ours as well.”

The committee first reached out to Bannon with a request for documents and an interview before the release of "Fire and Fury." Trump's former political adviser is also expected to face questions about his knowledge of Russian contacts during the transition.

“We know from the Erik Prince testimony…that [Prince] had a meeting with Steve Bannon before he made that trip to the Seychelles traveling halfway around the world to have what he described essentially as a coincidental meeting with a Russian in a bar,” Schiff said. “Which just happened to be a head of one of the Russian Investment Banks, so we'd like to know whether Steve Bannon was involved in establishing any kind of a back channel of with the Russians.”

Bannon isn't the only Trump associate expected before the committee this week: Corey Lewandowski, Trump's first presidential campaign manager, is expected before the panel later this week.

"I have nothing to hide. I didn't collude or cooperate or coordinate with any Russian, Russian agency, Russian government or anybody else, to try and impact this election," he told WABC Radio's Rita Cosby in a recent interview.

Bannon's interview comes as the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees continue their investigations into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, are also seeking interviews with Justice Department officials involved with the Hillary Clinton email investigation and initial Russia probe.

So far there is no indication that Bannon is being investigated by the Special Counsel Mueller.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jan152018

Government shutdown looms with no DACA deal in sight

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Congress has until midnight Friday to strike a deal on a host of thorny issues before government funding is set to run out, but talks appear to be at a standstill and a stopgap spending bill is looking more likely.

At the heart of it: the fate of nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants.

Democrats insist that if Republicans want their support for a spending deal, it must include a legislative fix to help DACA recipients. Republicans maintain that DACA must be dealt with separately from spending negotiations.

While a bipartisan group of senators claimed to have struck a deal that would shield DACA recipients from deportations and address border security, President Donald Trump roundly rejected their plan at an Oval Office meeting late last week.

Talks got even more complicated after sources said -- and at least one Democratic lawmaker at the meeting publicly claimed -- that Trump had made disparaging remarks about accepting immigrants from African nations.

On Sunday, Trump emphatically denied calling them "s---hole countries," adding that he is the "least racist person" reporters "have ever interviewed."

He went on to blame Democrats for holding up negotiations, telling reporters, "Honestly, I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal. I think they talk about DACA, but they don't want to help the DACA people."

And on Monday Trump tweeted, "Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military."

With Congress heading towards another government shutdown, all eyes are on negotiators as they scramble to come up with a spending deal that will placate members on both sides of the aisle.

The spending bill

Just two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed confident Democrats and Republicans could work together on spending.

"I am optimistic that we can begin 2018 with a bipartisan, two-year funding agreement that meets several critically-important objectives," McConnell said at the beginning of the new year.

Congressional leaders are scrambling to negotiate a funding bill that sets spending caps, reauthorizes the Children's Health Insurance Program, and provides supplemental disaster relief for communities ravaged by hurricanes last fall.

Republicans and Democrats both want to lift spending caps, which limit the amount of money the government can spend without adding to the deficit.

While Republicans are calling for a boost in defense spending, Democrats insist that any military spending increase be matched by an equal increase in spending on domestic programs. Republicans have said this notion of “parity” is a non-starter.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said negotiators on both sides of the aisle are “making progress” on establishing spending caps, and downplayed the chances of a government shutdown.

But he acknowledged another short-term spending bill was likely in the cards in order to give lawmakers more time to strike a deal on a long-term spending bill.

“We will have to do something short-term,” Ryan admitted last week during remarks at the University of Wisconsin-Milwuakee.

GOP defense hawks say a short-term spending bill cripples the military and the country's national security.

Democrats, for their part, are loathe to support a spending bill that doesn’t include a legislative fix to help the so-called Dreamers – the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Fate of the Dreamers

The lone bipartisan plan to address DACA recipients and border security is now on the cutting room floor, but negotiators say they plan to whip up support from their colleagues.

"President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge. We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act—the areas outlined by the President. We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress," the bipartisan group of six senators said in a joint statement last week.

The Trump administration has set March 5 as the deadline to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young undocumented immigrants if Congress fails to come up with its own solution.

Republicans say Democrats are holding spending negotiations "hostage" and have said the DACA program must be addressed separately and in a standalone bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and other Democrats are pushing for a DACA fix to be included in a spending agreement this week because they fear if it's delayed any longer than that, Republicans won't put any legislation on the floor for a vote.

Republican leadership have said they intend to bring a vote to the floor in February or March.

"We’ve heard that before and it never happens," Schumer said last week.

Immigration hardliners in the Senate have already said their colleagues' bipartisan plan "isn't serious."

“There has been no deal reached yet on the future of DACA in the Senate. Some of our colleagues have floated a potential plan that, simply put, isn’t serious. It is disingenuous to discuss providing status to, potentially, millions of individuals without taking credible steps to truly protect our borders and secure the interior," Sens. Cotton, Grassley, and Perdue said in a statement last week.

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