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Monday
Mar272017

Inside Georgia's special election to fill Tom Price's House seat

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Polls opened Monday for early voting in the special election for Georgia's 6th congressional district.

Election Day is April 18 and it's a close race.

The 6th congressional district includes parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties north of the city of Atlanta.

Why the seat is open

The seat was formerly held by Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Price was elected to a sixth term in the 2016 election. But then President Donald Trump tapped Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Price was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 10, leaving a vacancy in the House.

Who are the candidates?

It's a rather crowded field -- 18 candidates are running to fill the vacant seat left by Price.

Out of the 11 Republicans, former state Sen. Dan Moody, who has the support of aides tied to Georgia's Perdue family, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel have emerged as front-runners.

Handel had launched unsuccessful bids for Georgia governor and for the Senate.

Jon Ossoff has emerged from the field of five Democratic candidates, despite not being a district resident.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a House Republican super PAC, made an attack ad against the 30-year-old Democratic candidate, using old college videos of Ossoff in college dressed up as Han Solo and singing parody songs, in an attempt to portray him as inexperienced.

Two independent candidates, Andre Pollard and Alexander Hernandez, are also on the ballot.

Why the race has garnered attention

Democrats, who see this race as a referendum on Trump's presidency, are making an effort to flip the seat.

Ossoff has the backing of prominent Georgia House members, Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, as well as Democrats' congressional strong arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“We should unite behind him and send a clear message that Donald Trump doesn’t represent our values," Lewis said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As of now, Republicans hold 237 seats in the House of Representatives. Obviously, one seat is not enough for Democrats to tip the majority. For Republicans, however, it could prove to be a small help when it comes down to the slim number needed to pass legislation in the House.

If necessary, a run-off election between the two top candidates will be held on June 20.

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Monday
Mar272017

Ryan reverses course, will continue Obamacare 'repeal and replace' effort

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of the defeat of the GOP overhaul of Affordable Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Obamacare was the "law of the land...for the foreseeable future" and that health care would be set aside as Republicans work towards tax reform this fall.

But Ryan -- who called his legislation, the American Health Care Act, "fundamentally flawed" -- told donors Monday that the effort to roll back the ACA is not over yet.

"We are going to keep getting at this thing," Ryan said, according to a recording obtained by the Washington Post. "We’re not going to just all of a sudden abandon health care and move on to the rest. We are going to move on with rest of our agenda, keep that on track, while we work the health care problem."

Ryan's comments are a reversal from his position on Friday, when he declared Obamacare "the law of the land."

"We still have a promise to keep, so the speaker wants members to continue discussing this issue until we can find a path ahead," Doug Andres, a spokesman for Ryan, explained in an email, confirming the intent behind the quotes reported by the Post.

The Post also reported that Ryan suggested that a plan was being developed in time to brief the donors at a retreat scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Florida.

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Monday
Mar272017

AG Jeff Sessions takes aim at sanctuary cities, says DOJ will cut funding 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise appearance at Monday's White House press briefing, slamming cities that are working to actively ignore the federal law to turn over people who are living in the country illegally.

Sessions said he "strongly urges" these cities, known as sanctuary cities, to "consider carefully" the damage they are doing to national security and public safety by refusing to enforce immigration laws.

“Unfortunately some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate the enforcement of immigration laws,” including refusing to detain nonfelons on federal detainer requests, Sessions said.

Sessions noted a Department of Homeland Security report out last week showing more than 200 criminal suspects released in one week despite U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers.

“Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe but putting dangerous criminals back on the streets,” he added.

"We intend to use all the lawful authorities we have to make sure our state and local officials … are in sync with the federal government,” Sessions said.

"Moreover, the Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with [relevant laws] as a condition of receiving those awards," he added.

In the current fiscal year, Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs is slated to award $4.1 billion in grants.

“I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to rethink these policies. Such policies make their cities and states less safe, public safety as well as national security are at stake, and put them at risk of losing federal dollars," he said.

 

 

He brought up the death of Kate Steinle, a woman who was allegedly shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant on a San Francisco pier last summer. President Donald Trump repeatedly cited Steinle's death during the campaign when he called for an end to sanctuary cities.

"We have simply got to end this policy," Sessions said.

The Obama administration previously said that cities that don't honor the detainer laws put forth by ICE could lose federal funds, so Sessions is not the first to make this particular threat.

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Monday
Mar272017

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner's power expanding with latest White House assignment 

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- One of President Trump's top advisers is getting an even more public role in the coming days.

Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son-in-law, has been a key player in the presidential campaign and inside the White House, but an announcement expected Monday will be the latest visible display of his growing power within in the administration.

Kushner, 36, will be named as head of the new White House Office of American Innovation, ABC News has learned. Few details have been released about the office, but it is believed to be tasked with taking ideas from the business world and using those theories to innovate in government. He is not drawing a salary.

Kushner's wife, President Trump's eldest daughter Ivanka, may be one of the more public faces of the administration. She regularly accompanies her father to public events, like his recent visits to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Boeing Co. plant in South Carolina. She also often posts pictures on her social media accounts of various business roundtable discussions she attends.

Her husband arguably keeps a lower profile, even though he is, technically, more senior in the administration, given his formal title as a government employee, which she is not, at least at the moment. Ivanka Trump, who is also not being paid, received a promotion of sorts last week when she was given security clearance, a government-issued communications device and an office in the West Wing. Her office is on the second floor of the West Wing, while Kushner's is steps from the Oval Office.

Kushner's influence appears to occur slightly more behind the scenes, which has been the case since the campaign.

Kushner, who, with his wife, practices Orthodox Judaism, helped write Trump’s first formal address of the campaign to the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March, campaign sources confirm.

During remarks before the speech, Trump said Kushner, "spoke to many of his friends from Israel."

One of the few public statements that Kushner made during the campaign came when he defended his father-in-law in July against allegations of anti-Semitism, after Trump shared an image on Twitter of Hillary Clinton with a pile of money and a star, which many interpreted as the Star of David, a symbol of Judaism.

Kushner wrote a 1,326-word op-ed in The New York Observer, the newspaper from which he has now divested, in which he described Trump as being "an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife."

In another example of Kushner’s influence, he was one of a handful of advisers who accompanied Trump on a controversial trip in August to Mexico, and sources inside the campaign told ABC News that he had been working to plan the trip for several weeks.

“Jared executed this thing beautifully from start to finish,” a senior level adviser with direct knowledge told ABC News.

Since Trump took office in January, his reliance on Kushner has become well-known. And prior to Monday’s expected announcement, which appears to focus on domestic economic growth, the president’s has turned to Kushner and his role on the international stage.

At an event for donors and Republican supporters the night before the inauguration, Trump addressed Kushner in his remarks and said, "If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also highlighting his longstanding ties to Kushner in a show of support for Trump when he visited the White House in February.

"Can I reveal, Jared, how long we’ve known you?" Netanyahu said while addressing Kushner, who was seated in the front row of the crowd.

"Well, he was never small. He was always big. He was always tall," Netanyahu said, alluding to Kushner's height, even as a young child.

"But I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump," he concluded.

Indeed, the close ties between Trump and Kushner are no secret. The first-son-in-law is constantly spotted in the Oval Office and joins Trump on his frequent weekend trips to the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. While they didn't go to Florida this weekend, the family ties were still on display: Kushner and Ivanka Trump were spotted having dinner with the president at the Trump Hotel in D.C., just down the road from the White House.

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Monday
Mar272017

Nunes was on White House grounds day before briefing Trump on alleged surveillance

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is leading a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and alleged contacts with the Trump campaign, went to White House grounds last week to meet a source at a secure location to view information regarding possible "incidental" surveillance of Trump associates by the U.S. intelligence community, his office confirmed to ABC News.

The visit came one day before Nunes made a surprise public announcement about the documents before sharing them with other members of the House Intelligence Committee and then proceeded to the White House to brief President Donald Trump in person.

"Chairman Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source. The chairman is extremely concerned by the possible improper unmasking of names of U.S. citizens, and he began looking into this issue even before President Trump tweeted his assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped," Nunes' spokesperson Jack Langer said in a statement provided to ABC News.

The committee Nunes chairs is conducting one of two ongoing congressional investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged links between Trump's campaign and the Russian government. The committee's ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had no comment.

On Friday, Nunes backtracked on some of the claims he said earlier in the week regarding the documents he reviewed.

When asked if he could clarify whether Trump or his associates were monitored or simply mentioned in the intelligence reports, Nunes said he won't know until he receives all the documentation.

The National Security Agency was supposed to deliver documents to the intelligence committee on Friday, but it's unclear whether that has happened yet.

It's also not clear why Nunes chose to go to White House grounds when there is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) on Capitol Hill to review sensitive information.

Nunes has not disclosed where he got the information from, not even to other members on the House Intelligence Committee.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday would not rule out that it came from the White House.

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Monday
Mar272017

White House adviser Jared Kushner to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A senior administrator official confirmed to ABC News that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has volunteered to speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its inquiry into ties between Trump associates and Russia.

"Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials," a senior administration official told ABC News. "Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman [Richard] Burr’s Committee, but has not yet received confirmation."

The news was first reported by The New York Times.

As ABC News has reported, Kushner and the now-former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Trump Tower in December.

"They generally discussed the relationship, and it made sense to establish a line of communication," White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement earlier this month about the meeting. "Jared has had meetings with many other foreign countries and representatives -- as many as two dozen other foreign countries' leaders and representatives."

ABC News also confirmed that a second meeting occurred, at Kislyak's request, between Kushner and Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, a bank that is among the Russian businesses affected by sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea.

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Monday
Mar272017

Trump shifts blame to conservatives on failure of health care bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sunday
Mar262017

Joe Biden says if he'd run for president he could have won

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann(HAMILTON, N.Y.) -- Is Vice President Joe Biden having second thoughts about not running for president in 2016?

Speaking to students at Colgate University in central New York before the weekend, Biden reflected on his decision not to enter the race.

"... I had planned on running for president. And although it would have been a very difficult primary, I think I could have won," he said.

Biden became emotional, according to the Observer-Dispatch of Utica, as he mentioned his son Beau's death from a battle with brain cancer as a reason he stayed out of the race.

"At the end of the day, I just couldn't do it," the former vice president said. "So I don't regret not running. Do I regret not being president? Yes."

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Sunday
Mar262017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday
Mar262017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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