Uncertain future for the EPA Houston lab assisting with Hurricane Harvey response

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- It's been nearly three weeks since Hurricane Harvey slammed into south Texas, and serious environmental and public health concerns remain for the region: Chemical plants have reported leaks and damage, toxic Superfund sites -- areas with hazardous substances and pollutants that the EPA determines require cleanup -- and city and state officials have warned that destructive flood waters could contain harmful bacteria and other contaminants.

The cleanup will take years, according to experts.

Enter the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 6 laboratory in Houston that's been assisting with the Harvey response -- and who's future is up in the air, after employees were told four months ago that the government will not renew the 41,000-square-foot space's lease when it expires in 2020.

The EPA last April publicly announced that as a part of an agency-wide effort to consolidate work space and limit rent costs, it would not renew the laboratory's building lease.

An EPA spokesperson insisted to ABC News that the agency is searching for a new space to move the roughly 50-person team, and that it does not plan to halt the work or function of the facility.

However, multiple sources from the local EPA office in Dallas, as well as the Houston laboratory told ABC News that during meetings with staff in April and June, agency officials did little to reassure the scientists in that the laboratory -- which serves five states -- would even remain in the state.

"It has been very demoralizing," Mark Ford, an attorney at the EPA's office in Dallas and vice president of the American Federation of Government Employee (AFGE) Local 1003, the union representing federal employees, told ABC News. He recounted the anxiety employees from Houston had expressed to his team. "'What should I do? Should I sell my house? Should I put in for a transfer? What about my children in terms of their education here in Houston?'" said Ford, rattling off the questions staff asked.

Clovis Steib, the president of AEFG Local 1003, echoed Ford's sentiments, telling ABC News, "People don’t feel valued, the morale has suffered. These people were living under this shadow knowing that they basically got a diagnosis that they have two years on their professional career. There are obligations wherein [the agency] has to offer you a job, but they don’t have to offer it in your area.”

According to Ford, Steib and a scientist from the Houston lab who spoke on the condition of anonymity, agency representatives conveyed to Houston staff that so far all attempts to find a new, alternative space in the city, had come up empty. During two meetings, first with top personnel from the local Region 6 headquarters and then with representatives from the EPA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., employees asked whether the Houston laboratory would be consolidated with another laboratory in region, one focused on research, located in Ada, Oklahoma. The representatives said it was too early to tell.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the plan to consolidate regional laboratories was introduced under President Obama.

“The Obama Administration started this plan to consolidate regional laboratories, which we are revisiting because Administrator Pruitt strongly believes in supporting states by providing laboratory and scientific expertise to better protect the environment," Wilcox said in a statement to ABC when asked about whether the Houston facility may be moved out of the area." To be clear, we do not plan to eliminate any laboratory jobs and there are no present plans to move the lab out of Houston."

The Houston EPA scientist who requested anonymity said, "If they move the lab to Ada, it is pretty much certain that 90 percent of our people won’t go. That means they are going to take all of that institutional knowledge, like 500 years of experience and it is all going to be gone.”

The scientist and union leaders also worry that the mission of the laboratory would fundamentally change if it were moved out the Houston area. The facility is responsible for analyzing air, water, soil and biological samples from Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, but since it is located in the heart of oil and gas country, its scientists are focused specifically on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the highest concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants in the U.S. are located.

In 2016, after an incident at a property owned by the Valero Energy Corporation put drinking water for over 30,000 residents in Corpus Christi, Texas, at risk, it was the Houston lab that was in charge of detecting toxins and determining when the water was safe to drink.

“You could not have a quick response to anything on the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast," Steib said. "Lives would be put in jeopardy. The farther you have to drive, the longest it takes to get a sample back to see what you are dealing is time that is going to be protecting public health and safety. Turnaround time is critical."

The EPA scientist echoed Steib's concern. “We think the importance of the proximity to the petrochemical industry is very apparent," he said. "It is our mission to be here in this area and to respond ... It will change the mission of the lab, if you’re in a different area,” the scientist went on.

The Houston site is not the only EPA laboratory in flux. In April, union leaders representing EPA employees in northern California received a memo about consolidating work space at the San Francisco laboratory too. The memo, obtain by ABC News, specifically talks about “budgetary reasons” for moving scientists and renting part of their building. “Region 9, along with all other regional and headquarter offices, has been asked to reduce the amount of leases space by the end of FY17,” the memo reads.

Steib said the memos to other regional offices, plus the headlines about the new administration and direction of the agency, has had the Houston employees especially on edge.

“You hear that and you hear the administration wants to reduce the workforce ... it doesn’t bode well,” he said.

The Trump administration initially recommended a 30 percent cut to the EPA budget, but congressional Republicans largely ignored that proposition. The current Republican in the House of the Representatives includes about a 5 percent cut to the agency’s operational funds.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


What are Trump's option for the Iran nuclear deal?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- President Trump faces a series of pivotal challenges at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, but among the most fraught foreign policy questions for the new president is what he will do with the Iran nuclear accord.

Trump blasted the agreement in his address to the international body Tuesday, calling it “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said, warning other world leaders, “I don't think you've heard the last of it.”

Trump must soon decide whether to recertify Iran’s compliance with the deal or set off a chain reaction that could end in the U.S. snapping sanctions back into place and effectively destroying the accord. But as America’s allies continue to support what’s formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, doing so could force America to once again stand alone on the world stage, with potentially disastrous consequences.

The next deadline

Trump signed waivers on nuclear sanctions against Iran again Thursday, keeping the U.S. in compliance with its end of the agreement that offered Iran relief from crippling international sanctions in exchange for inspections on its nuclear facilities and limits on its nuclear capabilities.

But all eyes are on the next deadline, Oct. 14, when the administration must certify to Congress that Iran is meeting its obligations under the agreement and that the deal remains in line with U.S. national security interests.

That certification is required every 90 days under U.S. law. And although it is not as part of the agreement itself, it is now in jeopardy by Trump’s own admission.

After the last certification in July, Trump told the Wall Street Journal he expected to not do so again the next time, saying, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.”

Option 1: Stop signing sanctions waivers

If Trump really wanted to end the deal, he could stop waiving U.S. sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program on his own, which would be a “material” breach of the agreement that would effectively destroy it and allow Iran to walk away. If that happens and the deal unravels, and Iran is able to (depending on who you ask) resume or accelerate its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, the administration would likely face the brunt of the blame.

This is a very unlikely move, sources tell ABC News, especially because it would also be deeply unpopular with U.S. allies and damaging to American credibility.

Option 2: Decertify the deal

Instead, the administration is more likely considering either not certifying the accord next month by claiming Iran has violated its end of the agreement, or vigorously enforcing the agreement as is while continuing to slap Iran with non-nuclear sanctions.

The decertification option was laid out by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in a speech earlier this month. If the administration does that, it punts responsibility to Congress, who would have 60 days to determine whether or not to vote sanctions back into place. The text of bill is already written, laid out in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, so it would only require a simple majority vote.

There is a secondary step to this option that the administration may be planning as well. Kicking the debate to Congress, some have argued, would also give the administration leverage with Iran –- a shot across the bow that sanctions could be imminent if they do not renegotiate the terms. The U.S. could give Iran 90 days to meet certain new conditions, including opening military sites to international inspectors, according to a memo obtained by Foreign Policy.

But the agreement is not just between the U.S. and Iran. Six other partners –- China, Russia, the U.K., France, Germany, and the European Union -- are all involved and have consistently said the deal is not up for renegotiation.

It’s unclear if threatening the return of U.S. sanctions is enough to leverage either option, especially when other countries who have already begun investing in Iran and would likely not follow suit unless Iran was clearly violating the existing deal.

"You can't achieve 125 percent of this deal with 80 percent -- or 90 percent even -- of the leverage we had before, so you would have to bring other things to the table, not just pressure," Colin Kahl, an adviser to Obama, told reporters Wednesday.

Option 3: Enforce the deal with zeal

The other option -- keeping the deal alive but enforcing it vigorously -- is one the administration seems loath to do, especially after Trump’s comments to the U.N. Tuesday. So far, this is exactly what the White House has done, continuing to uphold America’s obligations by waiving sanctions on Iran while adding non-nuclear sanctions to target Iran’s cyber espionage and sabotage programs, ballistic missile capabilities, human rights abuses, and support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.

Supporters of the accord say keeping it alive is crucial because it provides international oversight of Iran’s nuclear programs, a position advocated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior administration officials.

If the deal were to fall apart, "Iran would be back on the march to getting the potential for a nuclear weapon and the IAEA would lose all visibility into the program," Wendy Sherman, the lead negotiator of the accord under President Obama, told reporters Wednesday.

Part of this pathway could include adding to the agreement, something the administration is reportedly proposing to European allies, according to Bloomberg, including demanding an extension to limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment which will expire in 2025 and 2030.

But Trump told the U.N. the deal was being used as a cover for the pursuit of a nuclear warhead anyway, and Haley has charged that Iran has been caught in “multiple violations.” To them, the deal is not doing what it was intended to do, and the U.S. shouldn’t be held to it any longer.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore tweets affirmation of his 'reds, yellows' remarks

iStock/Thinkstock(GALLENT, Ala.) -- Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore tweeted Monday evening an apparent affirmation of remarks he made Sunday during a campaign speech, in which he seemed to characterize Native Americans and Asians as "reds" and "yellows."

In his speech, Moore referenced the U.S. Civil War while lamenting the current divisions within the country.

“We were torn apart in the Civil War — brother against brother, North against South, party against party. What changed?” Moore said. “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting."

"What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress?" Roy asked, and then answered, "No. It’s going to be God.”

Moore’s tweets Monday seem to indicate he was quoting the children’s Bible song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” by C. Herbert Woolston and George F. Root. Lyrics to that song include the verses: “Jesus loves the little children/all the children of the world/red, brown, yellow, black and white/they are precious in his sight.”

Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who was twice removed for defying court orders, is competing in a primary runoff next week for the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He will face incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was endorsed by President Trump and has the backing of a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.



Read President Trump's full remarks to the United Nations General Assembly

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump's full speech to the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017, as delivered.

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, world leaders, and distinguished delegates: Welcome to New York. It is a profound honor to stand here in my home city, as a representative of the American people, to address the people of the world.

As millions of our citizens continue to suffer the effects of the devastating hurricanes that have struck our country, I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to every leader in this room who has offered assistance and aid. The American people are strong and resilient, and they will emerge from these hardships more determined than ever before.

Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th. The stock market is at an all-time high -- a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before. Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time. And it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense.

Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been. For more than 70 years, in times of war and peace, the leaders of nations, movements, and religions have stood before this assembly. Like them, I intend to address some of the very serious threats before us today but also the enormous potential waiting to be unleashed.

We live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. Breakthroughs in science, technology, and medicine are curing illnesses and solving problems that prior generations thought impossible to solve.

But each day also brings news of growing dangers that threaten everything we cherish and value. Terrorists and extremists have gathered strength and spread to every region of the planet. Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II.

International criminal networks traffic drugs, weapons, people; force dislocation and mass migration; threaten our borders; and new forms of aggression exploit technology to menace our citizens.

To put it simply, we meet at a time of both of immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights, or let it fall into a valley of disrepair.

We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams, and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred, and fear.

This institution was founded in the aftermath of two world wars to help shape this better future. It was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security, and promote their prosperity.

It was in the same period, exactly 70 years ago, that the United States developed the Marshall Plan to help restore Europe. Those three beautiful pillars -- they’re pillars of peace, sovereignty, security, and prosperity.

The Marshall Plan was built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free. As President Truman said in his message to Congress at that time, “Our support of European recovery is in full accord with our support of the United Nations. The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members.”

To overcome the perils of the present and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation. This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is foundation for cooperation and success.

Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.

Strong, sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny. And strong, sovereign nations allow individuals to flourish in the fullness of the life intended by God.

In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch. This week gives our country a special reason to take pride in that example. We are celebrating the 230th anniversary of our beloved Constitution -- the oldest constitution still in use in the world today.

This timeless document has been the foundation of peace, prosperity, and freedom for the Americans and for countless millions around the globe whose own countries have found inspiration in its respect for human nature, human dignity, and the rule of law.

The greatest in the United States Constitution is its first three beautiful words. They are: “We the people.”

Generations of Americans have sacrificed to maintain the promise of those words, the promise of our country, and of our great history. In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign. I was elected not to take power, but to give power to the American people, where it belongs.

In foreign affairs, we are renewing this founding principle of sovereignty. Our government's first duty is to its people, to our citizens -- to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.

As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.

All responsible leaders have an obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.

But making a better life for our people also requires us to work together in close harmony and unity to create a more safe and peaceful future for all people.

The United States will forever be a great friend to the world, and especially to its allies. But we can no longer be taken advantage of, or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return. As long as I hold this office, I will defend America’s interests above all else.

But in fulfilling our obligations to our own nations, we also realize that it’s in everyone’s interest to seek a future where all nations can be sovereign, prosperous, and secure.

America does more than speak for the values expressed in the United Nations Charter. Our citizens have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom and the freedom of many nations represented in this great hall. America's devotion is measured on the battlefields where our young men and women have fought and sacrificed alongside of our allies, from the beaches of Europe to the deserts of the Middle East to the jungles of Asia.

It is an eternal credit to the American character that even after we and our allies emerged victorious from the bloodiest war in history, we did not seek territorial expansion, or attempt to oppose and impose our way of life on others. Instead, we helped build institutions such as this one to defend the sovereignty, security, and prosperity for all.

For the diverse nations of the world, this is our hope. We want harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife. We are guided by outcomes, not ideology. We have a policy of principled realism, rooted in shared goals, interests, and values.

That realism forces us to confront a question facing every leader and nation in this room. It is a question we cannot escape or avoid. We will slide down the path of complacency, numb to the challenges, threats, and even wars that we face. Or do we have enough strength and pride to confront those dangers today, so that our citizens can enjoy peace and prosperity tomorrow?

If we desire to lift up our citizens, if we aspire to the approval of history, then we must fulfill our sovereign duties to the people we faithfully represent. We must protect our nations, their interests, and their futures. We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea. We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture, and the peaceful engagement these allow. And just as the founders of this body intended, we must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil, and terror.

The scourge of our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based. They respect neither their own citizens nor the sovereign rights of their countries.

If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.

No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the wellbeing of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea. It is responsible for the starvation deaths of millions of North Koreans, and for the imprisonment, torture, killing, and oppression of countless more.

We were all witness to the regime's deadly abuse when an innocent American college student, Otto Warmbier, was returned to America only to die a few days later. We saw it in the assassination of the dictator's brother using banned nerve agents in an international airport. We know it kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea's spies.

If this is not twisted enough, now North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life.

It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict. No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles.

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.

It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future. The United Nations Security Council recently held two unanimous 15-0 votes adopting hard-hitting resolutions against North Korea, and I want to thank China and Russia for joining the vote to impose sanctions, along with all of the other members of the Security Council. Thank you to all involved.

But we must do much more. It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior.

We face this decision not only in North Korea. It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime -- one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.

The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. The longest-suffering victims of Iran's leaders are, in fact, its own people.

Rather than use its resources to improve Iranian lives, its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors. This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran's people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship, fuel Yemen's civil war, and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East.

We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it -- believe me.

It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran's government end its pursuit of death and destruction. It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations that they have unjustly detained. And above all, Iran's government must stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people, and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors.

The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran's people are what their leaders fear the most. This is what causes the regime to restrict Internet access, tear down satellite dishes, shoot unarmed student protestors, and imprison political reformers.

Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. Will they continue down the path of poverty, bloodshed, and terror? Or will the Iranian people return to the nation's proud roots as a center of civilization, culture, and wealth where their people can be happy and prosperous once again?

The Iranian regime's support for terror is in stark contrast to the recent commitments of many of its neighbors to fight terrorism and halt its financing.

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them.

We will stop radical Islamic terrorism because we cannot allow it to tear up our nation, and indeed to tear up the entire world.

We must deny the terrorists safe haven, transit, funding, and any form of support for their vile and sinister ideology. We must drive them out of our nations. It is time to expose and hold responsible those countries who support and finance terror groups like al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban and others that slaughter innocent people.

The United States and our allies are working together throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists and stop the reemergence of safe havens they use to launch attacks on all of our people.

Last month, I announced a new strategy for victory in the fight against this evil in Afghanistan. From now on, our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.

I have also totally changed the rules of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups. In Syria and Iraq, we have made big gains toward lasting defeat of ISIS. In fact, our country has achieved more against ISIS in the last eight months than it has in many, many years combined.

We seek the de-escalation of the Syrian conflict, and a political solution that honors the will of the Syrian people. The actions of the criminal regime of Bashar al-Assad, including the use of chemical weapons against his own citizens -- even innocent children -- shock the conscience of every decent person. No society can be safe if banned chemical weapons are allowed to spread. That is why the United States carried out a missile strike on the airbase that launched the attack.

We appreciate the efforts of United Nations agencies that are providing vital humanitarian assistance in areas liberated from ISIS, and we especially thank Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees from the Syrian conflict.

The United States is a compassionate nation and has spent billions and billions of dollars in helping to support this effort. We seek an approach to refugee resettlement that is designed to help these horribly treated people, and which enables their eventual return to their home countries, to be part of the rebuilding process.

For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region. Out of the goodness of our hearts, we offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region, and we support recent agreements of the G20 nations that will seek to host refugees as close to their home countries as possible. This is the safe, responsible, and humanitarian approach.

For decades, the United States has dealt with migration challenges here in the Western Hemisphere. We have learned that, over the long term, uncontrolled migration is deeply unfair to both the sending and the receiving countries.

For the sending countries, it reduces domestic pressure to pursue needed political and economic reform, and drains them of the human capital necessary to motivate and implement those reforms.

For the receiving countries, the substantial costs of uncontrolled migration are borne overwhelmingly by low-income citizens whose concerns are often ignored by both media and government.

I want to salute the work of the United Nations in seeking to address the problems that cause people to flee from their homes. The United Nations and African Union led peacekeeping missions to have invaluable contributions in stabilizing conflicts in Africa. The United States continues to lead the world in humanitarian assistance, including famine prevention and relief in South Sudan, Somalia, and northern Nigeria and Yemen.

We have invested in better health and opportunity all over the world through programs like PEPFAR, which funds AIDS relief; the President's Malaria Initiative; the Global Health Security Agenda; the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery; and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, part of our commitment to empowering women all across the globe.

We also thank --we also thank the Secretary General for recognizing that the United Nations must reform if it is to be an effective partner in confronting threats to sovereignty, security, and prosperity. Too often the focus of this organization has not been on results, but on bureaucracy and process.

In some cases, states that seek to subvert this institution's noble aims have hijacked the very systems that are supposed to advance them. For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The United States is one out of 193 countries in the United Nations, and yet we pay 22 percent of the entire budget and more. In fact, we pay far more than anybody realizes. The United States bears an unfair cost burden, but, to be fair, if it could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it.

Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell. But the powerful people in this room, under the guidance and auspices of the United Nations, can solve many of these vicious and complex problems.

The American people hope that one day soon the United Nations can be a much more accountable and effective advocate for human dignity and freedom around the world. In the meantime, we believe that no nation should have to bear a disproportionate share of the burden, militarily or financially. Nations of the world must take a greater role in promoting secure and prosperous societies in their own regions.

That is why in the Western Hemisphere, the United States has stood against the corrupt and destabilizing regime in Cuba and embraced the enduring dream of the Cuban people to live in freedom.

My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.

We have also imposed tough, calibrated sanctions on the socialist Maduro regime in Venezuela, which has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.

The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country. This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried. To make matters worse, Maduro has defied his own people, stealing power from their elected representatives to preserve his disastrous rule.

The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed. This situation is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch.

As a responsible neighbor and friend, we and all others have a goal. That goal is to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy. I would like to thank leaders in this room for condemning the regime and providing vital support to the Venezuelan people.

The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.

We are fortunate to have incredibly strong and healthy trade relationships with many of the Latin American countries gathered here today. Our economic bond forms a critical foundation for advancing peace and prosperity for all of our people and all of our neighbors.

I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis. We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela.

The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure. Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.

America stands with every person living under a brutal regime. Our respect for sovereignty is also a call for action. All people deserve a government that cares for their safety, their interests, and their wellbeing, including their prosperity.

In America, we seek stronger ties of business and trade with all nations of good will, but this trade must be fair and it must be reciprocal.

For too long, the American people were told that mammoth multinational trade deals, unaccountable international tribunals, and powerful global bureaucracies were the best way to promote their success.

But as those promises flowed, millions of jobs vanished and thousands of factories disappeared. Others gamed the system and broke the rules. And our great middle class, once the bedrock of American prosperity, was forgotten and left behind, but they are forgotten no more and they will never be forgotten again.

While America will pursue cooperation and commerce with other nations, we are renewing our commitment to the first duty of every government: the duty of our citizens. This bond is the source of America's strength and that of every responsible nation represented here today.

If this organization is to have any hope of successfully confronting the challenges before us, it will depend, as President Truman said some 70 years ago, on the "independent strength of its members." If we are to embrace the opportunities of the future and overcome the present dangers together, there can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations -- nations that are rooted in their histories and invested in their destinies; nations that seek allies to befriend, not enemies to conquer; and most important of all, nations that are home to patriots, to men and women who are willing to sacrifice for their countries, their fellow citizens, and for all that is best in the human spirit.

In remembering the great victory that led to this body's founding, we must never forget that those heroes who fought against evil also fought for the nations that they loved.

Patriotism led the Poles to die to save Poland, the French to fight for a free France, and the Brits to stand strong for Britain.

Today, if we do not invest ourselves, our hearts, and our minds in our nations, if we will not build strong families, safe communities, and healthy societies for ourselves, no one can do it for us.

We cannot wait for someone else, for faraway countries or far-off bureaucrats -- we can't do it. We must solve our problems, to build our prosperity, to secure our futures, or we will be vulnerable to decay, domination, and defeat.

The true question for the United Nations today, for people all over the world who hope for better lives for themselves and their children, is a basic one: Are we still patriots? Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take ownership of their futures? Do we revere them enough to defend their interests, preserve their cultures, and ensure a peaceful world for their citizens?

One of the greatest American patriots, John Adams, wrote that the American Revolution was "effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people."

That was the moment when America awoke, when we looked around and understood that we were a nation. We realized who we were, what we valued, and what we would give our lives to defend. From its very first moments, the American story is the story of what is possible when people take ownership of their future.

The United States of America has been among the greatest forces for good in the history of the world, and the greatest defenders of sovereignty, security, and prosperity for all.

Now we are calling for a great reawakening of nations, for the revival of their spirits, their pride, their people, and their patriotism.

History is asking us whether we are up to the task. Our answer will be a renewal of will, a rediscovery of resolve, and a rebirth of devotion. We need to defeat the enemies of humanity and unlock the potential of life itself.

Our hope is a word and world of proud, independent nations that embrace their duties, seek friendship, respect others, and make common cause in the greatest shared interest of all: a future of dignity and peace for the people of this wonderful Earth.

This is the true vision of the United Nations, the ancient wish of every people, and the deepest yearning that lives inside every sacred soul.

So let this be our mission, and let this be our message to the world: We will fight together, sacrifice together, and stand together for peace, for freedom, for justice, for family, for humanity, and for the almighty God who made us all.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the nations of the world. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

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Reactions to Trump's UN speech split along party lines

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea” at the United Nations Tuesday divided Republicans and Democrats, and the president's critics warned that his speech could escalate tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump said in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly as president. “The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary."

Shortly after the address, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the president's speech ran counter to the mission of the international organization.

“The goals of the United Nations are to foster peace and promote global cooperation,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Today, the president used it as a stage to threaten war.”

Feinstein, who’s still weighing whether to run for re-election in 2018, also criticized the president's rhetoric on North Korea.

“Trump’s bombastic threat to destroy North Korea and his refusal to present any positive pathways forward on the many global challenges we face are severe disappointments,” said Feinstein. “He aims to unify the world through tactics of intimidation, but in reality he only further isolates the United States.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders used Twitter to point out former President Obama’s remarks from a 2016 interview with CBS News that the U.S. “could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals.”

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who was critical of Trump during the election, praised the president for delivering a “strong and needed challenge” to the U.N. assembly “to live up to its charter and to confront global challenges.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was highly complimentary of the speech, which specifically highlighted what Trump described as Iran's efforts to export "violence, bloodshed and chaos."

"In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech," said Netanyahu. "President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity."

Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California slammed Trump’s speech on Twitter as “shockingly reckless,” arguing that Trump’s call to “totally destroy North Korea” would cost millions of lives.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., echoed the criticism, characterizing the president as having employed "dangerous rhetoric" and vowing to defend the Iran nuclear deal. In his speech Tuesday morning, Trump called the agreement "one-sided" and "an embarrassment to the United States," while hinting the U.S. could withdraw from it.

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Inside Graham-Cassidy, the last minute push by Senate Republicans to resuscitate Obamacare repeal

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Congressional Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare appeared to come to a standstill in July, after Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona., cast a "no" vote on the Senate floor, rejecting a bill backed by Senate Republican leadership.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan suggested that week they would turn their attention to tax reform. But Monday those efforts to fulfill a signature campaign promise sprung back with considerable momentum as several lawmakers expressed support for a new repeal and replace bill, spearheaded by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Introduced last week, Graham described the bill as Republicans’ last hope for rolling back President Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act.

“If you believe repealing and replacing Obamacare is a good idea, this is your best and only chance to make it happen,” said Graham last week at a press conference.

The bill is also sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

With 52 Republican Senators in Congress, the Graham-Cassidy bill can only afford to lose Republican two votes.

Here's what to know about the proposal:

The Graham-Cassidy plan

The Graham-Cassidy plan proposes distributing some federal funding currently available under the Affordable Care Act directly to states in the form of block grants. From 2020 to 2026, states would receive a set amount of federal funding to be used at their discretion for health care coverage, but cost-sharing subsidies the federal government pays to insurance companies to lower the cost of some plans on the individual insurance markets and money some states receives to expand their Medicaid rolls would go away.

The 31 states that applied for Medicaid expansion funding under the Affordable Care Act would see that money rolled back and eventually cut off. Graham and Cassidy say their plan would help balance Medicaid funding across the country, but Democrats say states with large Medicaid populations would struggle to provide coverage to their populations. Spending on Medicaid would be done per capita, meaning that less populous states like Maine and Alaska--home to two Senators currently on the fence about the plan--might struggle to foot the bill.

The plan would repeal two key parts of Obamacare, the individual and employer mandates, and states could apply for waives to alter what counts as an “essential health benefit” for insurance companies as they design their plan options. In addition, states could obtain waivers so that insurance companies could charge people with some pre-existing conditions more for some plans in their states. That practice is prohibited under current law. While insurers would likely still have to offer people with pre-existing plans choices, they could potentially limit coverage options as well under the proposed bill.

Graham-Cassidy would also allow people over the age of 30 to buy into catastrophic coverage plans, which have high deductibles but lower premiums and less benefits, as a way to get more healthy people covered. The bill would also allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more than younger Americans.

Obamacare taxes unpopular with Republicans, like the medical device tax, and tax on health savings accounts would also be repealed.

When will Congress vote?

McConnell assured Graham and Cassidy a vote would be scheduled with the condition that the Senators drum up the 50 votes needed to pass the bill. Republican leadership is hard at work trying to convince a small--but undecided--group to commit their support to the legislation.

McCain has raised procedural concerns over the bill, saying he is hesitant to support any legislation that has not been scrutinized in committee hearings.

“Why did -- why did Obamacare fail? Obamacare was rammed through with Democrats' votes only. Are we going to ram through our proposal with Democrats and the president? That's not the way to do it,” said McCain on CBS' "Face the Nation."

McCain is one of a handful of Senators, including Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito, R. W.Va., and Rob Portman, R- Ohio, who have not indicated their support for the bill.

Some have appeared to scrap repeal efforts altogether in favor of working towards the small, bipartisan solutions for the individual insurance market that have been introduced in hearings with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has remained strongly opposed to the Graham-Cassidy bill, even calling it “Obamacare-lite.” With one Senator already voting no, Republicans cannot afford to lose more than one more vote.

A primary roadblock for Graham and Cassidy has been the Congressional Budget Office, or C.B.O. The C.B.O. announced on Monday that while it plans to offer a “preliminary assessment” of the bill, it will not be able to provide a full score of the bill for “at least a few weeks.” The C.B.O. score indicates how much the legislation will affect the government’s deficit and is needed for the Senate to vote.

Graham pleaded for the C.B.O. to expedite its scoring process so he can present cost estimates to Senate colleagues before Sept. 30. But Democrats say the Senate should not vote on the legislation unless a full--not preliminary--score is released.

The political battle ahead

Ryan called Graham-Cassidy, “our best, last chance to get repeal and replace" on Monday at an event in Wisconsin. And Republican leaders, sensing an opportunity to knock down key parts of Obamacare, are moving full speed ahead with the bill.

Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey endorsed the bill on Monday, adding extra pressure for McCain to support a bill written by one of his closest allies and friends in the Senate.

In an interview with ABC News, Collins said she is still undecided. "I'm leaning no certainly, but I am still evaluating the bill and its text. We hadn't had it for very long and it's difficult to do without the assistance of the Congressional Budget Office."

Democrats say those cuts to Medicaid are unacceptable, with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Ct., tweeting that Graham-Cassidy “is an intellectual and moral garbage truck fire.”

Planned Parenthood, which would face a one-year freeze on Medicaid funding, called it ”the worst ACA repeal bill yet.”

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N. Korean ambassador skips Trump's UN speech

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The North Korean ambassador to the United Nations walked out of the General Assembly hall before President Donald Trump addressed the group Tuesday morning.

Trump's criticized North Korea and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, in his speech.

Ambassador Ja Song Nam was photographed at the General Assembly this morning, but he was seen leaving before Trump started speaking.

The front row seats assigned to North Korea were noticeably empty and the only individual sitting in the area was an unidentified man who appeared to be taking notes. He may be a lower-ranking member of the North Korean delegation.

Trump slammed "rocket man" Kim Jong Un during his first speech to the United Nations Tuesday morning.

"No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," the president said. "Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary."

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Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer and confidant, to appear before Senate investigators

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime confidant, will appear Tuesday before Senate investigators in the ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, where he will face questions about a once-confidential proposal to build Trump Tower Moscow.

Trump has repeatedly said that his company has “nothing to do with Russia,” but Cohen’s correspondence with Congress has painted a more nuanced picture of the mogul’s interests in the region. Specifically, he has said the potentially-lucrative Russian business deal being floated in the midst of the campaign had nothing to do with Trump’s political ambitions.

“The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign,” Cohen said in a written statement to Congress made public last month. “Both I and the Trump Organization were evaluating this proposal and many others from solely a business standpoint, and rejected going forward on that basis.”

One of the few people trusted with the secrets of the President’s business and personal life, Cohen was deeply involved in negotiations over the tower project in late 2015 and early 2016. Documents obtained by ABC News show the plan involved building what was to be the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Trump personally signed a non-binding letter of intent with a Russian developer to build the tower, a deal that would have included a $4 million initial payment to Trump had it gone forward, and 5 percent of the initial sales. Cohen said he nixed the proposal in January 2016.

Cohen will meet behind closed doors with investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is one of at least four congressional committees looking into aspects of suspected Russian interference in the election. The committee has studied classified documents and quietly interviewed dozens of officials involved in the 2016 campaign, with the goal of documenting any foreign interference in order to prevent similar episodes from occurring.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee’s top Democrat, told ABC News he is concerned about the apparent discrepancy between Trump’s public statements about having never engaged in Russian business activity and the negotiations Cohen oversaw with a Russian developer.

“Clearly if you believe the reports about Mr. Cohen and the effort to try to create Trump Tower Moscow, to me, that's a relevant piece of information,” Warner said. “It would contradict some of the statements that were made earlier, that there [was] no connection.”

Cohen used a Russian-born middleman with a criminal record, Felix Sater, to broker the deal. Email correspondence shared with congressional investigators suggests that, even if Cohen saw no link between the business dealings and Trump’s political ambitions, Sater had other ideas.

In one e-mail to Cohen, Sater wrote, “Buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

Cohen has said he briefed then-candidate Trump at least three times about the Moscow Tower deal but ultimately abandoned the project because of difficulties obtaining financing, a location, and the much-needed government approvals.

"Obviously he has been involved in so many areas of the president's business. It's not even clear to me ... where the lines are drawn between one area or another,” Ron Wyden, D-Ore., another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News. “It's crucial that we get a chance to look at some of the issues."

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Trump bashes N. Korea at UN: 'Rocket man is on a suicide mission'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump slammed "rocket man" Kim Jong Un during his first speech to the United Nations Tuesday morning.

At first, Trump did not directly name the North Korean leader, using his nickname for the "dear leader" instead.

"Rocket man is on a suicide mission," Trump said.

"The United States has great strength and patience but if it is forced to defend [itself and its allies]... [it will] have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump said.

He called on all nations to isolate the Kim regime in light of its "reckless pursuit" of nuclear weapons and treatment of its citizens.

Trump called it "an outrage" that some nations continue to trade with North Korea.

Earlier in his speech, Trump touted his "America First" views and the importance of national sovereignty.

"As president of the United States, I will always put America first just like you, as the leaders of your countries as always and should always put your countries first," Trump said.

"We can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a deal," he said.

He started his speech touting the strength of the U.S., praising the country's economic growth and stress the importance of individual nations' sovreignity.

He said that "companies are moving back creating job growth" and "our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been."

"In America we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather let it shine as an example for everyone to watch," he said.

Trump said that America stands for "principled realism rooted in shared goals... values."

"We must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos," he said.

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President Donald Trump has added another GIF to his history of controversial retweets. 

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The president on Sunday morning retweeted a fake GIF that shows him hitting a golf ball that slams Hillary Clinton in the back, knocking her down.

The tweet was captioned "Donald Trump's amazing golf swing #CrookedHillary" and was originally posted by a user who lists their name as "CNN SUCKS" and uses the handle @Fuctupmind.

The White House did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment about the GIF retweet.

This is not the first time that the president's sharing of a GIF with his 38.6 million Twitter followers has raised eyebrows.

In July, Trump retweeted a video mockup showing the president body-slamming a person whose head was a CNN logo.

The GIF was apparently created from a real video clip of a 2007 stunt in which the then-real estate mogul body-slammed and repeatedly punch World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Chairman Vince McMahon.

A Reddit user at the time, with the handle Han------Solo, claimed to have posted the original mockup of Trump body-slamming the CNN logo. The Anti-Defamation League published an analysis of that user's Reddit history which found a number of posts that the organization said expressed hate against African-Americans, Muslims and Jews.

The White House said the GIF the president retweeted of him body-slamming the CNN logo didn't come from Reddit but did not disclose where the image had originated.

The president's retweet Sunday of the GIF of him hitting a golf ball at Clinton was one of about eight retweets that he shared over the weekend.

Trump retweeted one user, who lists the name "Trumpism 9.0TM" and the handle @Team_Trump45, four times. Each of those tweets had a photo, including one of a train with a "Make America Great Again" hat and another of a cartoon of Trump appearing to drag industries, such as coal and car manufacturing, and individual companies, such as Carrier, Nabisco and Apple, presumably back to the U.S. from overseas.

It is hard to identify some of the Twitter users whom Trump retweets. The user who tweeted the GIF ofTrump’s golf shot hitting Clinton, for example, has listed as an account name "CNN SUCKS," and as a handle @Fuctupmind. The account’s bio is a series of hashtags like #Trump, #LockHerUp and #IStandWithHannity.

Similarly, the user Trumpism 9.0 uses as a profile image a photo of actor Mark Wahlberg in what looks like a military helmet, and the Twitter bio says only, "Trumpism epitomizes Conservatism, Capitalism, patriotism, & respect for the Constitution. #MAGA," with a link to a cancer treatment fundraising page, though it is unclear how the user may be associated with the fundraising effort.

Another Twitter user whom Trump retweeted twice over the weekend goes by the name "Lana del Fenty," which appears to reference both singers Lana del Ray and Rihanna. The profile picture is of model Kendall Jenner with a dog image filter from Snapchat.

The Twitter users retweeted by Trump have come under scrutiny before he was elected too. In January 2016, candidate Trump retweeted a post about his then-rival for the GOP nomination, Jeb Bush, by a user with the handle "WhiteGenocideTM." That account has since been suspended by Twitter.

Some accounts whose posts Trump has retweeted have posted anti-Semitic tweets in the past. Buzzfeed highlighted tweets in which @Fuctupmind, for example, blasted Hasidic Jews.

Trump does not follow any of the aforementioned Twitter users himself, but one way that he may have spotted the tweets he chose to retweet this past weekend is that the original posts tagged the president's handle. The president would be able to see all tweets that tag his handle in his Twitter notifications.

Trump only directly follows 45 accounts, among them relatives, businesses, members of his administration, Fox News accounts and personalities, and television producer Mark Burnett who helped create "The Apprentice."

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