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Sunday
Apr232017

Government funding, health care top agenda as Congress returns before President Trump's 100th day

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress will return to Washington next week to confront a government shutdown deadline and a White House eager to notch some legislative victories, especially on health care.

The most pressing business is government funding: The House and Senate have until midnight Friday to cut a trillion-dollar spending deal to prevent a partial government shutdown on President Trump's 100th day in office.

While bipartisan negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, Trump is driving a hard bargain, insisting on money to begin construction on a border wall and boost defense spending.

Democrats insist they won't support a downpayment on the Southwest border wall, and are pushing back against Trump's threat of stopping key federal subsidy payments to health insurers under Obamacare.

Sources close to negotiations expect Congress to pass a short-term funding measure -– anywhere between one and three weeks -- to give appropriators more time to finalize a larger spending deal to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.

Beyond keeping the government's lights on, Republicans, encouraged by the White House, are still hoping to revive the GOP health care bill that was pulled from the House floor roughly a month ago.

Moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, has floated a proposed amendment that would give states the ability to request to opt out of certain Obamacare regulations while making essential health benefits –- the requirement that all plans cover things like prescription drugs and mental health services -– the federal standard.

Members are waiting to review legislative text for the proposal, and a vote could come midweek after members return to Washington on Tuesday.

Despite pressure from the White House to put points on the board ahead of Trump's 100th day in office, it's not clear that the underlying political dynamics that sank the health care bill initially have changed, and that the amended version could garner 216 votes on the House floor.

In a conference call with members Saturday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said legislative language for the MacArthur amendment is being finalized, according to a GOP source on the call.

He made clear that there will be a vote only when it's clear the bill has enough support, and that votes will drive the timing, according to the source.

Additionally, Trump has said that starting "next week" he will be unveiling his tax reform package with "massive" tax cuts for all Americans.

"It really formally begins on Wednesday," he told reporters on Friday.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said in a statement that his committee is "ready to work" with the White House, although it's not clear what exactly will materialize next week.

The White House and Republicans also have their sights on the Dodd-Frank Act signed by President Obama following the 2008 financial crisis. The House Financial Services Committee is holding a hearing this week on a GOP replacement to the law.

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Sunday
Apr232017

California Attorney General: 'We're ready' to fight Trump administration over sanctuary cities

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- California's top law enforcement officer said his state is "ready" to confront the Trump administration over its funding threats against so-called sanctuary cities.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded in an interview on ABC's This Week Sunday to warnings by the Trump administration that it could cut funding to sanctuary cities, which are places that limit how much local police forces can cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Becerra contrasted the role of the federal government with California’s law enforcement agencies.

"We fully respect that they have the responsibility to enforce immigration law," he told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. "We are in the business of public safety. We're not in the business of deportation."

He said California abides by federal laws on immigration and asserted that the U.S. government cannot order state or local jurisdictions to change their approach to public safety.

"We're going to continue to abide by federal law and the U.S. Constitution,” Becerra said. “And we're hoping the federal government will also abide by the U.S. Constitution, which gives my state the right to decide how to do public safety.”

The Trump administration on Friday sent letters to officials in California and major cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, warning them that they may lose coveted law-enforcement grant money unless they document cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Stephanopoulos asked Becerra about Sessions' remarks in an earlier This Week interview Sunday. "You heard him. He's saying, especially in California, you're not fulfilling that duty" of cooperation, Stephanopoulos said.

"We can prove anywhere we need to ... that we are protecting our people," Becerra responded. "And we're doing it by keeping families together, not separating them." Stephanopoulos also asked the attorney general about the apparently confusing messages from the Trump administration on the status of DREAMers, unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who are currently protected from deportation by orders signed by former President Obama.

Trump on Friday said DREAMers should "rest easy," but Sessions said on "This Week" that they, like all unauthorized immigrants, are "subject to being deported."

 "It's not clear what we can trust, what statement we can believe in" regarding DREAMers, Becerra said. "And that causes a great deal of not just anxiety, but confusion, not just for those immigrant families, but for our law enforcement personnel."

"I've been trying to reach out to Attorney General Sessions and to [Department of Homeland Security] Secretary Kelly, to get a sense of really what is their policy when it comes to the DREAMers," the California attorney general said. "We'd like to know, is it in fact a policy of this president and this administration and this Attorney General Sessions to abide by the ... policy that allows DREAMers to continue to go to school, to go to work, to believe that they're not going to be out there and be apprehended by [immigration] agents simply because they look like people who weren't born here?"

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Sunday
Apr232017

Sessions, unlike Trump, says DREAMers are ‘subject to being deported’

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Striking a different tone than President Trump on DREAMers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said they like “everyone that enters the country unlawfully” are “subject to being deported.”

The Trump administration has let stand former President Obama's order protecting so-called DREAMers, unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation. And President Trump said Friday that young people protected under this policy “should rest easy.”

Sessions, in an exclusive interview Sunday on This Week, told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, “There’s no doubt the president has sympathy for young people who were brought here at early ages.”

He also said the Department of Homeland Security's “first and strongest priority -- no doubt about it" is to arrest unauthorized immigrants who have committed crimes. "They’re focusing primarily on that,” he said.

“We don't have the ability to round up everybody and there's no plans to do that,” Sessions said. “But we're going to focus first, as the president has directed us, on the criminal element and we've got to get that under control.”

Pressed by Stephanopoulos on whether DREAMers can “rest easy” as the president said, Sessions said, “Well, we’ll see. I believe that everyone who enters the country illegally is subject to being deported.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Friday, President Trump said, “We aren't looking to do anything right now” about DREAMers.

When the president was asked if the official policy of his administration is to allow DREAMers to stay in the country, he gave a definitive “yes.”

“That's our policy,” Trump said. “Long-term we are going to have to fix the problem, the whole immigration problem ... Here is what they can hear: The DREAMers should rest easy. OK? I'll give you that. The DREAMers should rest easy.”

Striking a different tone than President Trump on DREAMers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported.”

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Saturday
Apr222017

President Trump awards Purple Heart to wounded service member 

Shawn Thew - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump made his first visit as president to Walter Reed Medical Center on Saturday, awarding the Purple Heart to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos.

"I heard about this and I wanted to do it myself," the president said before pinning the Purple Heart on Barrientos in a small ceremony at the military hospital facility also known as "The President's Hospital."

"Congratulations on behalf of Melania, myself, and the entire nation," the president told Barrientos, with the first lady and Barrientos' wife standing nearby. "Tremendous job."

Barrientos received the medal for wounds he received last month in Afghanistan. The injury resulted in the amputation of part of his right leg.

Following the ceremony, the president and first lady spent time away from cameras privately greeting other wounded warriors recovering at the medical facility.

The president announced his visit to Walter Reed shortly before departing the White House, saying in a tweet that he was "looking forward to seeing our bravest and greatest Americans!"

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Saturday
Apr222017

President Trump to hold rally in Pennsylvania on night of White House Correspondents Dinner

wellphoto/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump, who previously announced that he would not be attending the White House Correspondents Dinner next Saturday night, said today that he will instead hold a rally for supporters that night in Pennsylvania.

The president announced the rally in a tweet on Saturday.

The rally will take place at 7:30 p.m. the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In addition to the president's absence at the correspondents dinner, no members of the White House staff are planning to attend either.

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Saturday
Apr222017

Surgeon General removed from post by Trump administration, replaced by deputy

Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was removed from his post by the Trump administration and has been replaced temporarily by his deputy.

Murthy, an appointee of former President Obama, announced on Friday that he resigned.

A Department of Health and Human Services Spokesperson Alleigh Marré said in a statement to ABC News on Saturday that he was asked to step down.

"Dr. Murthy, the leader of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, was asked to resign from his duties as Surgeon General after assisting in a smooth transition into the new Trump Administration," said Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Alleigh Marré in the statement.

The statement continued, "Dr. Murthy has been relieved of his duties as Surgeon General and will continue to serve as a member of the Commissioned Corps. Secretary [Tom] Price thanks him for his dedicated service to the nation,"

Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, a nurse who served as Murthy's deputy, will serve as the acting Surgeon General, according to the statement.

Murthy, a physician, began serving in the post in December 2014.

He wrote in a Facebook post announcing his departure, "While I had hoped to do more to help our nation tackle its biggest health challenges, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served."

He continued, "For the grandson of a poor farmer from India to be asked by the president to look out for the health of an entire nation was a humbling and uniquely American story. I will always be grateful to our country for welcoming my immigrant family nearly 40 years ago and giving me this opportunity to serve."

"As my colleague Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams takes over as acting Surgeon General, know that our nation is in capable and compassionate hands," Murthy wrote.

As of Friday evening, Trent-Adams' photo had replaced Murthy's on the surgeon general's Twitter and Facebook pages, and her biography on the Surgeon General's website cited her new title.

In addition to her duties as deputy Surgeon General, Trent-Adams also served as the chief nurse officer of the U.S. Public Health Service from November 2013 through May 2016. In this role, she advised the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the recruitment, assignment, deployment, retention, and career development of Corps nurse professionals.

Prior to joining the Office of the Surgeon General, Trent-Adams was the deputy associate administrator for the HIV/AIDS Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration.

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Friday
Apr212017

House intel committee invites Obama admin officials to Russia hearings

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The House Intelligence Committee has invited a number of former senior Obama administration officials, including former acting attorney general Sally Yates, to testify before the panel in a public setting, the latest indication that the committee is working to put its Russia investigation back on track after Chairman Devin Nunes stepped away from the probe.

In a pair of letters, ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, (D-Calif.), and Rep. Mike Conaway, (R-Texas), invited FBI Director Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency to testify behind closed doors on May 2, and requested former CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Yates to appear in public before the panel at a later date.

Nunes withdrew from the committee’s broad investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as he faced a series of ethics complaints charging that he revealed classified information without authorization.

The California Republican has disputed the allegations, which were made after he announced that Trump campaign associates may have been picked up "incidentally in intelligence surveillance of foreign targets."

Several White House officials played a role in revealing the documents behind Nunes’s announcement, which he viewed on White House grounds the day before his comments.

The disclosure, and calls for his recusal, had stopped the committee’s work in its tracks several weeks ago.

As they return to Washington next week, Democrats and Republicans on the secretive panel hope to keep their heads down and conduct their investigation without political distractions.

"Let’s just get back to work," said Rep. Mike Quigley, (D-Ill.), in an interview after his trip to Cyprus to review Russian money laundering as part of the committee’s investigation. "There’s hopeful optimism that we get this back on track."

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Friday
Apr212017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions stands by his controversial Hawaii comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his recent comments about Hawaii that have been criticized by many as offensive or, at best, insensitive.

His reference this week to the state as “an island in the Pacific” when discussing the judge who blocked President Trump’s revised travel ban was not meant as criticism of the “judge or the island,” he told CNN Friday.

When asked whether he wished he had phrased his words differently, Sessions said, “Well, I don’t know that I said anything that I would want to phrase differently. Ah, no.”

The controversy started Tuesday when Sessions called into conservative radio host Mark Levin’s show to say, “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president from the United States what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Sessions was referring to U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, who in March issued a nationwide restraining order on President Trump’s revised executive order that calls for suspending the entire refugee program for 120 days and halting immigration from six countries in the Middle East and Africa for 90 days.

Sessions’ comments prompted backlash from Hawaii’s senators and one of its representatives who are all Democrats.

“The suggestion that being from Hawaii somehow disqualifies Judge Watson from performing his Constitutional duty is dangerous, ignorant, and prejudiced," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said in a statement Thursday. "I am frankly dumbfounded that our nation’s top lawyer would attack our independent judiciary. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is just the latest in the Trump Administration’s attacks against the very tenets of our Constitution and democracy.”

The other Democratic senator representing Hawaii, Brian Schatz, also tweeted Thursday, “Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge.” As a Republican U.S. senator representing Alabama, Sessions did indeed vote “yea” on Watson’s confirmation. Watson was confirmed 94-0 on April 18, 2013, after been nominated by President Obama.

Referring to the part of Hawaii where Watson issued the order from, Schatz added, “And that island is called Oahu. It's my home. Have some respect.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, tweeted that Sessions’ comments are "another reason Sessions should step down."

In responding to the criticism, a spokesman from the Department of Justice said in a statement that “Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific – a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born.”

“The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the President’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe,” the statement continued.

The attorney general himself responded to the backlash Friday during the interview with CNN.

“We're going to defend the president’s order,” Sessions said. “We believe it's constitutional. We believe there is specific statutory authority for everything in that order that he did and he has a right to do and protect this country.”

In an op-ed for CNN, Sen. Hirono wrote that, “In spite of the Justice Department's attempt to walk back the attorney general's comments, his words reflect this administration's discriminatory attitude.”

Sen. Schatz also seemed to be unsatisfied with the Department of Justice’s statement.

"Try: 'I'm sorry. That was offensive. I disagree with the ruling, but I respect the judiciary and shouldn't have taken such a cheap shot,'" Schatz tweeted.

In his interview on the “Mark Levin Show,” Sessions also said that the “very, very liberal 9th circuit,” which includes Hawaii, -has been “hostile to the order.”

“I think our president - having seen some of these really interpretations of the executive orders that he’s put out - I think he’s more understanding now that we need judges who follow the law, not make law,” Sessions said.

“Judges don't get to psychoanalyze the president and see if the law, the order he’s issued is lawful. It’s either lawful or it’s not.”

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Friday
Apr212017

Trump had undisclosed meeting with former Colombian presidents

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump had an undisclosed rendezvous with two former Colombian presidents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last week, and in the process injected himself into a contentious political battle over Colombia’s peace deal that seeks to end the Western hemisphere’s longest-running war.

The previously undisclosed encounter was confirmed today by the White House, with deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ saying that former Presidents Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe “were there with a member from the club and briefly said hello when the president walked past them.”

“There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello,” Sanders said.

She declined to answer why the meeting was not publicly disclosed. It’s unclear when it occurred.

Asked about the meeting during the daily White House press briefing Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “I don't have anything for you at this time.”

The encounter came to light last Friday when Pastrana tweeted, “Thank you to @POTUS @realDonaldTrump for the cordial and very frank conversation about problems and perspectives of Colombia and the region.”

Uribe and Pastrana are strong critics of a historic peace deal recently struck between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and the Colombian government, a strong U.S. ally in South America.

The two former presidents are also harsh critics of sitting President Juan Manuel Santos -- an architect of the peace deal -- who is expected to meet with Trump next month.

Santos’ spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s encounter with the former presidents when asked by ABC News.

Trump spoke by phone with Santos in February. “Both Presidents discussed U.S. support for Colombia's effort to create a just and lasting peace in its 52-year conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” the White House said at the time.

According to a VOA News article from the time, citing Santos’ aides, Santos asked Trump on the call for support in getting the U.S. congress to approve funding that would help facilitate the peace process.

The Obama Administration strongly supported the Colombian government’s efforts during the peace deal negotiations.

Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work on the peace deal.

Conflict between the Colombian government and the marxist FARC rebels has dragged on in varying intensity for more than 50 years. Estimates put the death toll at more than 220,000 people.

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Friday
Apr212017

Former President George HW Bush was hospitalized after Super Bowl coin toss

Al Bello/Getty Images(HOUSTON) — Former President George H.W. Bush's spokesman Friday disclosed that Bush was hospitalized after the Super Bowl earlier this year, making his most recent hospitalization the third since the start of the year.

Bush, who was hospitalized in January for 12 days after contracting pneumonia, had recovered enough to toss the coin for the Super Bowl held in Houston, Texas, Feb. 5. The former president was then hospitalized after the event, which was not disclosed at the time.

His staff did not announce that hospitalization until Friday, without clarifying why Bush, 92, needed medical attention.

The former president's January case of pneumonia was severe enough to require ventilation in the intensive care unit to help him recover. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, who was hospitalized around the same time for bronchitis, missed President Trump's inauguration because of the illness.

More recently, his staff announced that he was hospitalized last Friday "for observation due to a persistent cough that prevented him from getting proper rest. It was subsequently determined he had a mild case of pneumonia, which was treated and has been resolved."

He tweeted a picture of himself at the hospital Thursday joined by his son former President George W. Bush.

George W. Bush wrote on his Instagram account Thursday that his father looked "strong" and "ready to come home soon."

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