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Tuesday
May152018

Trump invites family of fallen police officer onstage at annual memorial event

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump honored officers killed in the line of duty on Tuesday at the annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

“Today, every American heart bleeds blue,” Trump said.

And in an impromptu moment, Trump invited the family of Miosotis Familia on stage. Familia joined the New York Police Department in 2005 and was shot point blank last year in her car while on duty in the Bronx.

“These are special people,” Trump said, after calling Familia’s elderly mother, Adrianna Valoy, up to the stage, embracing her, kissing her on the forehead, and then holding her hand through the end of his remarks.

“We weren't going to bring you up, but I looked at you in the audience and I said, you have to come up because you're representing something so important. You understand that? She loved the department. She loved being a police officer. She loved her job. She was respected by everybody," Trump said as Familia's mother stood close by.

The annual Peace Officers' memorial service pays tribute to police officers killed in the line of service like Familia. In 2017, 129 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. This year’s ceremony also paid tribute to 70 officers, many who died of illnesses related to their service during the September 11 attacks, whose deaths went unrecognized. The 199 total names of police officers killed, the Roll Call of Heroes, was read out loud during the ceremony.

Thousands of law enforcement officers travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual event, founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. In 1982, the memorial service began as a small gathering in Senate Park. Today, the memorial service is broadcast on television and attended by over 20,000 officers and families.

Trump directly addressed the children of fallen police officers during his remarks and said they were among “the bravest who ever lived.”

“They're praying for you. They're grieving with you and pledging to you that we will never forget our heroes, ever,” Trump said, as he pointed up to the sky. “You know what I mean, they’re looking down and they’re proud of you and they love you so much.”

Trump condemned violence against police by the MS-13 gang and said that he's calling on Congress to secure the border, support border agents, and stop sanctuary cities.

"We don't want it any longer. We've had it. Enough is enough," Trump said.

Trump began his speech by saying first lady Melania Trump, who remains hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center after a pre-scheduled medical procedure, is “doing really well.”

Trump was joined onstage by Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
May152018

Trump lawyer enters White House with experience handling a presidency under fire

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s decision to hire “America’s Mayor," Rudolph Giuliani, to take over his legal defense has drawn widespread attention in recent weeks, but lawyers in Washington say it will likely be the other new lawyer joining the Trump legal team who will have an even greater impact.

Emmet Flood, a veteran defense attorney who has deep experience guiding American presidents, vice presidents, and governors through the treacherous shoals of scandal, has what colleagues and legal experts say are the unique set of talents needed to defend President Trump.

“He combines two things you don’t usually see in lawyers. The intellectual capacity to be a Supreme Court law clerk or to be a frontline fighter for his clients’ rights. He’s capable of both,” Brendan Sullivan Jr., a partner at Williams & Connolly LLP, told ABC News.

Flood, who rarely speaks on the record to the press, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Since special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last year to investigate Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, President Trump has had a difficult time keeping his legal team intact.

Trump went from his longtime attorneys from New York to a team of veteran white-collar D.C. defense lawyers who stressed cooperation with the special counsel.

And now the team consists of Rudy Giuliani – the hard-knuckled, showy New Yorker, and Flood, the low-key advisor who is deeply versed in the choreography of White House scandal.

Flood is a Republican whose politics are carved from his mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom he clerked. But he represented President Bill Clinton during his impeachment, an experience that will help him guide the Trump team’s approach to the special counsel probe, according to sources familiar with the plans.

He met with Trump earlier this year about potentially joining the legal team and officially started his new role at the White House last week. With the departure of White House Special Counsel Ty Cobb, Flood is expected to take a more aggressive approach with Mueller and his team.

Friends and former colleagues of Flood’s describe the veteran Washington attorney as “calm under fire” while also being a “frontline fighter” for his clients.

While those close to Flood predict he will be “aggressive” yet smart in his workings with the special counsel, some have questioned whether Flood’s conventional competence and experience will clash with the unpredictable pivots of Trump’s other top lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow.

“I know our entire legal team is looking forward to working with Emmet,” Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team told ABC News. “He is a brilliant lawyer who brings a depth of experience which will be of tremendous value to the Office of the President.”

Unlike working with Vice President Dick Cheney, who he represented in near secrecy when he was sued by former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in connection to her name being leaked to the public, Flood will have to contend with a president prone to acting out on Twitter to attack the Russia probe, and at times launching critiques of prosecutors, something members of Trump’s team have tried but been unable to contain.

Sources close to Cobb previously told ABC News that one reason he retired was that he grew uncomfortable with Trump’s tweets about the Russia investigation and the Mueller team. Trump’s advisers have told him for months to avoid mentioning Mueller in his tweets. While Flood enters this new role navigating what some attorneys have described as “uncharted territory,” many lawyers who know him well are confident in his ability to succeed.

“Emmet is a very, very good lawyer,” said David Kendall, who represented President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and during his impeachment trial.

“He’s truly one of the top lawyers in the country and the White House is very fortunate to have him,” said Richard Cullen, Vice President Mike Pence’s lawyer representing him in the Russia probe.

Flood graduated from Yale Law School, and several classmates said they remember him most for his humor, his “top-notch” intellect and his ability to navigate complex legal issues.

“At first I didn't think he would be a high performer,” said Vernon Grigg, one of the moot court coaches who judged some of Flood’s rounds at Yale Law. “He went on to win that competition.” Grigg, who serves as special counsel at Bunsow De Mory LLP added: “His humor gives him a certain kind of charisma.”

Cynthia Ward, a professor at William & Mary Law School, who knew and worked with Flood on the Yale Law Journal, remembered that she felt comfortable consulting Flood on complex legal issues, adding that he brought “sound judgment” and a “sense of balance and fairness.”

He has spent over 20 years at the Washington, D.C., law firm Williams & Connolly and is no stranger to White House political scandals. Flood was part of President Bill Clinton’s personal legal team, advising him during the 1999 impeachment trials. He worked to battle Republicans who were pushing for Clinton’s impeachment.

He later spent two years in the White House Counsel’s office as deputy White House counsel under President George W. Bush, where he specialized in the administration’s response to Congressional investigations.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell also sought legal advice from Flood in 2013. McDonnell was accused of accepting over $165,000 in lavish gifts and loans from a friend of the family.

Outgoing White House special counsel Ty Cobb is currently assisting Flood with the transition process before he retires at the end of the month. Cobb said he’s been assisting in getting Flood up to speed on the “current state of play and the historical decisions that got us to this point.” Cobb told ABC News he’s “confident the White House will be in good hands” with Flood.

A source familiar with the legal strategy said Flood’s job “requires managing the president and that’s where he may struggle. It requires saying no a lot and no is like a bullet to Trump,” describing the role as a “client management challenge.”

Flood is likely to advise the president on whether he decides to sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller for an interview.

Trump said recently he would “love to speak” to Mueller but would only do it on the condition he is “treated fairly.”

Giuliani told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos “I have a client who wants to testify...so he may testify and we may actually work things out with Bob Mueller,” however was still cautious about having his client sit down with him. “Not after the way they’ve acted,” Giuliani said of the special counsel’s team. “I can into this case with a desire to [have the president talk to Mueller] and they just keep convincing me not to do it.”

Advisers have feared the president could contradict himself during a potential wide-ranging interview with Mueller, sources have told ABC News.

Giuliani has also hinted at the possibility of Trump getting subpoenaed by the special counsel to testify. “We don’t have to” comply with a subpoena, he said.

“If Flood can’t find a way to stay on track, there will be subpoenas,” a source close to the legal team said, adding that if Trump doesn’t testify “that invites subpoenas.”

During a meeting in early March, Mueller told Trump’s legal team directly he could “compel” the president to testify via a grand jury subpoena if Trump declined a potential request for an interview, two sources familiar with the conversations said.

Sources familiar with Flood’s hiring say he is ultimately expected to assume the role of White House Counsel, a position that Donald McGahn – who is also a witness in the Russia investigation – currently holds. Sources say McGahn has advocated for Flood to take transition into his new role and eventually succeed him.

It’s unclear when McGahn plans to exit the White House, but sources tell ABC News he will likely return to his former firm, Jones Day, to work on campaign finance matters.

“The President is getting one heck of a lawyer with tremendous experience in and out of government,” said Paul Clement, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis who clerked alongside Flood for Scalia, told ABC News.

When news of his departure broke, Cobb told ABC News he has one piece of advice for his successor: Do the next right thing.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
May152018

First lady 'in good spirits and resting' following kidney procedure

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WSAHINGTON) -- First lady Melania Trump is continuing her recovery in the hospital following a kidney-related procedure Monday that her office said was long-planned.

"I want to start by saying that Melania is in the hospital doing really well," President Donald Trump said in remarks on Capitol Hill at National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service late Tuesday morning. "She's watching us right now. And I want to thank the incredible doctors, Walter Reed Medical Center. They did a fantastic job. So thank you and she sends her love."

Earlier in the day, President Trump also tweeted an update on his wife's condition, saying she's on track to leave the hospital "in 2 or 3 days."

The White House revealed Monday that the first lady underwent an "embolization procedure" to treat what it said was a "benign kidney condition." There were few details provided, however, on what the condition was, symptoms or concerns may have led to the procedure being necessary.

The president visited the first lady Monday afternoon after her surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., but didn't engage questions from reporters regarding the status of her condition.

Mrs. Trump's expected multi-day hospitalization will be the longest for a first lady since Nancy Reagan spent roughly a week in the hospital in 1987 following a mastectomy.

The surgery also comes at a time when the first lady has made a renewed push into the public spotlight with her unveiling last week of the "Be Best" initiative targeting bullying, drug use and suicide and how the issues affect children.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
May152018

After 16 months, Pompeo ends Tillerson's hiring freeze at State Dept

Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- It was one of the first moves of the new Trump administration – to implement a temporary hiring freeze across the federal government that would help "drain the swamp" by assessing payrolls and cutting back where necessary.

But at the State Department, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never lifted the freeze, even expanding it to include eligible family members who are often hired for necessary but hard to fill jobs at embassies and consulates around the world.

It was a move that infuriated and frustrated many of his employees but was finally ended Tuesday by his successor, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has promised to bring the department's "swagger" back.

In an email sent to staff Tuesday morning and obtained by ABC News, Pompeo announced he was lifting the freeze for all foreign service and civil service positions – and authorizing the department to hire at "current funding levels." In other words, he is disregarding the administration's own budget proposal, which once again called for slashing the department's funding by nearly one-third.

"We need our men and women on the ground, executing American diplomacy with great vigor and energy, and representing our great nation," Pompeo wrote. "By resuming hiring of the most gifted and qualified individuals, we will ensure that we have the right people with the right skills working to advance our U.S. national interests and executing the Department's mission in an increasingly complicated and challenging world."

Earlier in May, Pompeo also officially lifted the freeze on eligible family members, so that they "would be treated fairly in seeking to use their skills to deliver our mission," he wrote in the email Tuesday. Tillerson had announced the freeze would end during a town hall in December -- and his aides often countered criticism by saying he signed more than 2,400 exemptions and only denied a dozen or two.

There was no mention of Pompeo's predecessor or why the freeze was in place so long.

But President Trump has swatted down criticism of the department's "hollowing out," as some critics have framed it. In November he told Fox News, "I'm the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be."

In part, that's why there is a long list of other personnel issues ahead for Pompeo, in particular filling many key senior roles that are still vacant or filled by officials in an acting capacity.

Among those key positions are about three dozen ambassadorships, now vacant and awaiting nominations by the Trump administration, with the embassy's number two – the charge d'affaires – running the place. Those include key posts like the European Union, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.

In Washington, there are nearly a fourteen Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary roles that are either vacant or filled by someone in an acting capacity. Less than half have a nominee from the Trump administration.

Many of those vacancies languished because Tillerson and the White House battled over personnel. The former ExxonMobil CEO wanted to pick his own personnel, while the White House often vetoed individuals it said were not loyal or favorable enough to President Trump.

A senior State Department official said during Pompeo's first week that he was already conducting interviews for nominees.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
May152018

Exclusive: Former for-profit college executive shaped Education Department policy that could benefit former employers: Documents

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A senior U.S. Department of Education official hired straight out of the for-profit college sector helped dismantle regulations designed to protect student defrauded by for-profit colleges into taking out five-figure loans on promises that they would get good jobs — a move that could benefit his former employers, according to emails obtained exclusively by ABC News.

Education Department adviser Robert Eitel, hired by the Trump administration last February after four years in the for-profit college industry, played a role in suspending an Obama-era policy known as "borrower defense to repayment." The rule made it easier for students, enticed into taking out five-figure loans on promises that they would get good jobs, to file for debt relief. It also allowed the government to recoup the losses from the schools.

Ultimately, those potentially most impacted include many predominantly low-income, and minority students disproportionately represented at for-profit colleges and often saddled with high student loans and facing poor job prospects.

Education Department Staffing

Education policy changes involving for-profit colleges has been a touchy subject since Secretary Betsy DeVos, who entered office with investments tied to the for-profit college sector, took over the department following Trump’s election.

The revelations about Eitel's engagement in borrower defense policy come on the heels of a New York Times report that the department has been dismantling a team investigating widespread abuses by for-profit colleges. Education spokeswoman Liz Hill told the Times the group shrunk because of attrition and said no new hires with ties to the for-profit college industry had influenced the group's work.

Eitel, who had also worked as an Education Department attorney under President George W. Bush, isn't the only for-profit college executive DeVos has brought into the Department. The secretary also drew ire when she tapped Julian Schmoke, Jr., a former dean at the for-profit college DeVry, to lead the department's Student Aid Enforcement Unit last August.

There's no indication Schmoke was involved in the delay of the borrower defense rule.

Eitel — a former vice president at two for-profit college operators, Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp. — joined the Trump administration in February as part of a so-called "beachhead team" formed to usher the agency through the transition.

For two months, he worked at the Education Department while on unpaid leave from Bridgepoint, according to financial disclosure forms. He formally gave up his position at Bridgepoint in April, when he was hired on a permanent basis as a senior adviser to DeVos.

Although Education Departments ethics officials maintain working on borrower defense wouldn't have violated his ethics agreement, Eitel has up until now refused to say publicly whether he had a hand in the borrower defense delay.

Eitel's Involvement in Borrower Defense

On June 14, DeVos announced she was suspending the borrower defense rule, arguing that under the rule, "all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free-money."

Emails obtained by the executive branch watchdog group Democracy Forward and shared with ABC News show in the days leading up to the announcement, Eitel circulated borrower defense talking points to staffers, edited background documents, and even signed off on the official delay notice.

"I have attached the draft backgrounder... together with draft talking points," he wrote in one email to department staff about the borrower defense delay in June.

"I had approved a prior version but want to make sure that it reads the same," he said in another that same month.

Democracy Forward called Eitel's involvement in policy affecting his former employer "incredibly troubling."

"It obviously raises some serious problems for someone with his background to be involved," Rachael Klarman, the organization’s legal analyst, told ABC News. "I think there's a reason the administration has been cagey... it's literally foxes guarding the henhouse."

Asked for comment, Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill referred ABC News to correspondence between Betsy DeVos, ethics officials, and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Before he was hired, Eitel signed an ethics pledge, which he explained as a promise to "recuse myself from matters, particular matters, involving specific, prior employers that I've worked for in the past."

In a letter to Warren, DeVos said ethics rules didn't bar Eitel from working on borrower defense policy, as long as he recused himself from adjudicating specific borrower defense claims, including claims against his former employers.

Career Education Corp. is facing more than 1200 claims; Bridgepoint faces around 200.

Ethics rules forbid only "particular matters involving specific parties that are directly and substantially related to his former employers (e.g., a contract, litigation, a grant)," ethics officials noted in another letter to Warren.

"Bob Eitel is a true civil servant, so it’s disappointing to see ABC News carrying water for left-wing ideologues who are actively working to try and discredit the important work that Secretary DeVos is doing to repair the damage done by the prior administration," Education Department press secretary Liz Hill told ABC News when asked for comment on this story. "He has gone above and beyond what is required by law to recuse himself from matters involving his former employer and has operated in an ethical and transparent manner."

Bridgepoint and Career Education Corp. did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Cost of the Rule

For-profit college operators — including Bridgepoint, Bob Eitel's former employer — have said that dismantling the Obama rule could save them money.

According to Education Department estimates, students filing for discharge under Obama's borrower defense rule could have recovered billions of dollars — and experts say offending institutions could potentially be liable for the entire sum.

The borrower defense rule could "result in the imposition of significant restrictions on us and our ability to operate," Bridgepoint wrote in an SEC filing last March, adding that claims made under the rule "could damage our reputation in the industry and have a material adverse effect on enrollments and our revenues."

According to Tressie McMillan Cottom, a former for-profit college recruiter who says she left the industry because of its aggressive recruiting tactics, Eitel, Devos, and the rest of the education Department appear more focused on schools' concerns than on students.

"What I think Devos and this administration understand their role to be is, defend the schools," Cottom said. "In trying to make it an unfriendly, inefficient process, the administration is saying, we're going to protect these institutions."

"When you look behind the curtain and see what's going on, you have someone whose former employer stood to benefit from the decisions he made — did benefit from the decisions he made," Democracy Forward policy director Corey Ciorciair said.

Of course, for-profit colleges weren't the only institutions decrying the Obama-era borrower defense rule. Historically black colleges and universities argued that the increased scrutiny could prompt institutions to funnel money toward lawyers disputing frivolous claims, rather than spending it on educating the nation's neediest students.

Borrower Defense Explained

The revelations over Eitel's involvement come in the wake of a scandal over for-profit colleges' predatory recruitment of students qualifying for federal loans.

Following the closure of two major for-profit college operators, Corinthian Colleges in April 2015 and ITT Technical Institute in 2016, more than 70,000 students filed for federal loan forgiveness, claiming they'd been duped by colleges' fraudulent statements about job prospects or credit transfers.

The vast majority of these claims — more than 98 percent, according to report by a progressive think tank, the Century Foundation — were lodged against for-profit colleges like Corinthian, ITT Technical, the University of Phoenix, and Devry.

The Obama administration created an office to handle the problem and sought to shore up rules requiring fraudulent schools to reimburse the government, passed just three months before Obama left office and set to be implemented in July 2017.

"The borrower defense rule was acknowledging, for perhaps the first time in the history of higher education, that for a group of students, going to college had made their lives worse, because the debt outweighed any positive impact that these schools might have given them," explained Cottom, the former for-profit enrollment officer now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public research institution.

But according to an inspector general's report released in December, although the Education Department received more than 25,000 claims in the first six months of the Trump Administration — bringing the total number of outstanding claims to nearly 70,000 — the borrower defense unit was instructed "not to submit additional claims for approval... because borrower defense policies are being reviewed with the change in administrations."

Staffing was cut dramatically, from 30 people to just six, and the department did not approve a single claim.

Just before the regulations would have kicked in, Devos officially, indefinitely pressed pause.

Attorneys general from 19 states sued, claiming she "abruptly" violated federal law. The claim is still pending in federal court.

Meanwhile, the Education Department is in the midst of writing "new regulation that will treat students, institutions, and taxpayers fairly."

Eitel on the delay

In the months following DeVos' announcement, Eitel refused to tell lawmakers whether he had a hand in the delay.

At a congressional hearing in November, Eitel, citing the rulemaking in progress, said it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment on borrower defense regulations.

"Was the postponement your idea?" Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla, asked.

"To say that it was my idea would not be accurate. There is an entire infrastructure in place at the department that deals with borrower defense matters," Eitel replied.

"Are you involved in the rewrite?" Demings countered.

"It...no," he responded. "That matter is undergoing negotiated rulemaking as we speak, and I cannot comment on negotiated rulemaking that is occurring presently."

Stalling tactic?

Delaying the rule "is a shot across the bow to other for-profits that says, look, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos don't care if you go out and prey on vulnerable students," Ciorciair said.

Since the indefinite postponment of the Obama-era rules, the Department announced its ruling on 21,000 loan forgiveness claims under the old rules: 12,900 approvals and 8,600 denials.

Around 55,000 students await a decision.

Cottom said the administration's approach basically boils down to a "stalling tactic."

"There has been a lot of successful organizing amongst students pushing back on things like student loan debt and institutional fraud," she said. "The delays are really designed, I think, to blunt all of that activity."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
May152018

Pennsylvania highlights slate of four primaries Tuesday night

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A score of retirements, jammed-packed ballots, brand new district maps and rising political stars will all combine to make Pennsylvania one of the most interesting states to watch this primary season.

Primary voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Oregon also head to the polls Tuesday, but Pennsylvania will likely be the talk of the evening. One of the easiest ways for Democrats to take back the House would start with the party finding success in Pennsylvania in the fall; what happens Tuesday could help determine their chances.

Tuesday will also provide another benchmark of the 'Pink Wave' movement as a number of female candidates in House, Senate and gubernatorial races across all four states seek to advance to the November general election. In Pennsylvania, a record-breaking number of women will be on the ballot in 2018, with many running in open-seat races and facing favorable odds in in the Fall.

Here's what you need to know about Tuesday's primaries and what they mean for Washington, D.C. and the country.

The 'Pink Wave' and Pennsylvania

2018 has seen an influx of female candidates running for elected office, and Pennsylvania is no exception.

There is a female candidate on the ballot in 13 of the state's 18 congressional districts, are at least 20 women running for congressional seats in the state, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.

In Pennsylvania's 5th Congressional District alone there are seven women, six Democrats and one Republican, running in the newly drawn seat that encompasses suburban Delaware County and a small portion of the city of Philadelphia. That is the highest number of female candidates running in one congressional district in the country, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.

A number of female candidates running in the state, including Houlahan, have never run for elected office before. Both Houlahan and Rachel Reddick, Democratic candidates in the state's 1st Congressional District, are military veterans. Houlahan served in the U.S. Air Force and Reddick served as a Navy JAG lawyer for six years.

Molly Sheehan, 32, is a scientist and one of the six Democratic women running in the 5th Congressional District.

Pearl Kim, a former county prosecutor and deputy state attorney general, is both the only Republican woman in the 5th Congressional district race and the entire state of Pennsylvania.

But while a number of qualified female candidates look poised to advance to the November general election, male candidates still make up more than three-fourths of the candidates running for Congress in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics at Chatham University.

Redistricting

The decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this year to re-draw the state's congressional districts has generated a number of competitive House races, and a influx of candidates from both parties have launched campaigns in the state's six open-seat races.

As it stands, Pennsylvania's delegation in the House features 10 Republicans and six Democrats, but the shifting congressional lines, which are more geographically compact under the new map, provide an opportunity for Democrats to flip a number of GOP seats.

In its decision ordering the state's congressional map redrawn, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the map agreed to in 2011 violated the state constitution's guarantee that "elections shall be free and equal."

"An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not ‘free and equal,’" Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote in the court's majority opinion. The new map will officially take effect next January when the next session of Congress begins.

Districts considered at-play in November include multiple seats in the Philadelphia suburbs where an incumbent Republican is either retiring or has resigned another open seat in the Lehigh Valley area, and an incumbent-versus-incumbent match-up in the suburbs northwest of Pittsburgh, where recently elected Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb is poised to face off against Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus.

Further complicating matters are resignations of two Republican congressmen -- Reps. Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan -- which will likely trigger two November special elections under the state's old congressional map that will be held simultaneously with the elections under the new congressional map.

Yes, this is weird.

Redistricting continues to be a major priority for both parties this cycle because many of the governors and state legislators elected in 2018 will oversee the next round of congressional redistricting.

Voters in Ohio recently approved a ballot initiative reforming the state's redistricting process by requiring bipartisan cooperation in drawing new maps, and cases from North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Maryland have all made their way through the U.S. Supreme Court in the last year, signaling that more reforms to redistricting may lie ahead.

Retirements

A total of 23 Republican House members have announced retirements this session of Congress, the highest number of GOP retirements in one cycle going back to 1973, according to lists compiled by congressional reporting outlet Roll Call.

In Pennsylvania alone, five Republican congressmen are not running for re-election in 2018. Two of those Republicans, Meehan and Tim Murphy, already resigned their seats over sexual misconduct scandals.

The high number of open seats, without incumbents on the ballots, are likely to increase Democrats’ chances of flipping districts even further.

Rep. Ryan Costello's retirement in the 6th congressional district, for example, made this swing area west of Philadelphia even more competitive. Democrats are paying a lot of attention and eyeing the seat for a pick-up. They are placing their chips in the hands of Air Force veteran-turned-business executive Chrissy Houlahan.

Houlahan is running unopposed. Her opponent, in what will be one of the most closely watched races come November, is likely to be Republican Greg McCauley, who is also running uncontested Tuesday.

Rep. Bob Brady is the only Pennsylvania Democratic stepping away from the House of Representatives in November. Under the new map, his 1st congressional district is covered by much of the new 5th district where 10 Democrats will vie Tuesday for their party's nomination. The district is likely to remain blue come November.

Other retiring congressmen from the Keystone State include GOP Reps. Bill Shuster and Charlie Dent. Dent announced that he will be resigning his seat sometime in May, but has not set an official date. Rep. Lou Barletta is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate to take on incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey.

Pennsylvania races to watch

Governor: Three Republicans are vying for the opportunity to unseat Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who will be seeking his second term in November's general election. Consultant Paul Mango, attorney Laura Ellsworth and state Sen. Scott Wagner are the GOP candidates. Wagner and Mango have both hurled jabs at each other over who is the true conservative in the race, and have said they support President Donald Trump and would campaign with him.

U.S. Senate: Incumbent Pennsylvania Democratic Senator. Bob Casey is running unopposed in his primary but is likely face a decent challenge in November. Congressman Lou Barletta is the Republican favorite in Tuesday's primary for a chance to oppose him. Barletta, who made his name as the "tough on immigration" mayor of the town of Hazelton, has the president’s support, but must first still fend off state Rep. Jim Christiana.

1st Congressional District: The two-way Democratic race to take on GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is between wealthy attorney Scott Wallace, who loaned his campaign $2.5 million, and Navy veteran Rachel Reddick. Fitzpatrick is the lone Philadelphia-area congressman who is running for re-election this cycle, and the national party will no likely devote considerable resources to holding his seat. Wallace's grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather all served in presidential administrations in the first half of the 20th century. His grandfather, Henry Wallace, helped design the Social Security system under President Franklin Roosevelt.

5th Congressional District: The crowded Democratic primary for this newly drawn blue-tilting district will be a race to watch. The seat will likely flip blue in November after the resignation of sitting congressman Pat Meehan.

7th Congressional District: This Lehigh Valley seat will also be one of the more competitive races, and the Democratic primary has been rife with intra-party squabbling. Africa-American civil rights activist and Pastor Gregory Edwards, Northhampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and former Allentown City Solicitor Susan Ellis Wild are all battling for the nomination in this open seat race in what has become a microcosm of the battle between the more progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. Morganelli is seen by some as the least progressive candidate but has been elected Northhampton County DA since 1991. Wild has the support of EMILY's List in the race, and Edwards has the support of various progressive groups. The GOP race is between Lehigh County Commission Chair Marty Northstein and former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning.

14th Congressional District: State Rep. Rick Saccone, who was upset by Rep. Conor Lamb in a closely watched special election in March, is running again in a new district. The Republican primary winner is expected to be the strong favorite for this seat in November, but Pennsylvania has thus far demonstrated that big partisan swings are possible.

Despite Saccone's name recognition, he faces a stiff primary challenge from state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler. While Saccone continues to campaign on the support he garnered from Trump in his previous run, Reschenthaler received the endorsement of Sen. Pat Toomey, arguably the state's most prominent Republican.

Races to watch in Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon

There are also a number of competitive gubernatorial and U.S. House primaries in this trio of states that are mostly dominated by one political party.

Idaho Governor: The primaries in both parties to succeed term-limited GOP Governor Butch Otter are competitive in this mountain west state that voted for Trump by more than 30 points in 2016.

The Democratic race is between state representative Paulette Jordan, who has embraced more progressive policy positions and is the first Native American woman to run for governor in the state, and businessman A.J. Balukoff, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014.

The Republican race has been an expensive three-way battle of well-known Republicans — U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and businessman Tommy Ahlquist.

Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District: This is a district Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Donald Trump in 2016, and Barack Obama was able to capture in 2008, earning him one of the state's 5 electoral votes. The Democratic race to take on GOP Rep. Don Bacon is between Brad Ashford, who used to represent the district, and first-time candidate and non-profit executive Kara Eastman.

Nebraska U.S. Senate: GOP Senator Deb Fischer is not generally thought of as an incumbent Democrats are likely to defeat the cycle, but Democrats are hoping that Lincoln City Council Member Jane Raybould could recapture a seat that was held by Democrats for more than two decades by former Democratic senators Ben Nelson and Bob Kerrey. Raybould is not facing serious primary opposition in her bid to take on Fischer. Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, providing some evidence that a populist Democrat could appeal to the GOP-leaning electorate in the state.

Oregon Governor: Incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who succeeded former Governor John Kitzhaber following his resignation in 2015 and won a 2016 special gubernatorial election, is running for her first full term as governor. State Rep. Knute Buehler is the front-runner in the crowded GOP race to take on Brown but is facing a crowded slate of eight primary opponents, including wealthy businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate Sam Carpenter.



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Tuesday
May152018

McConnell comes to McCain's defense on Senate floor: 'You’d rather be on his side than not'

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mounted an impassioned defense of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on the Senate floor Monday in the wake of negative comments by a White House aide last week.

McConnell had tweeted earlier in the day that he visited with McCain, who is battling brain cancer, over the weekend and said, "I shared my gratitude -- all of our gratitude -- for his service and his sacrifice" as a member of the military.

According to multiple senior officials, White House aide Kelly Sadler said over the weekend that McCain's opposition to their CIA director nominee Gina Haspel "doesn't matter, because he's dying anyway." Sadler has not apologized publicly for the comments despite outrage from both sides of the aisle. The senator's daughter, Meghan McCain, said on ABC's "The View" that she asked Sadler to publicly apologize and she agreed to, but "I have not spoken to her since and I assume that it will never come."

McConnell has had a back-and-forth relationship with McCain, something he admitted to in his speech Monday, but he offered nothing but praise for the senator during his current plight.

McConnell said the two Republican senators have shared a friendship for 30 years. McConnell has served as senator from Kentucky since 1985, while McCain was elected just one year later to serve Arizona.

"We had some laughs and even reminisced about the battles; sometimes we were on the same side, and sometimes we weren’t," McConnell said from the Senate floor Monday. "But one thing about our colleague, John McCain -- you’d rather be on his side than not."

McConnell defended McCain's military history, as well. President Donald Trump criticized McCain for being captured while serving in Vietnam while on the campaign trail in July 2015, saying, "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured, OK?" Trump has never directly apologized for those comments. Trump was asked by ABC News' Martha Raddatz on "This Week" the next morning if McCain deserved an apology, to which the candidate responded, "No, not at all."

On Monday, McConnell took the opposite tact, praising the war "hero."

"We all know his story all too well: a genuine American hero. We admire the tenacity and the grit that it took to survive those 5 1/2 years in the 'Hanoi Hilton,'" McConnell said. "And the way he refused to go home early -- as he certainly could have -- given the prominence of his father’s position in the Navy."

It wasn't long ago that McCain and McConnell were feuding. Last summer, McConnell drove an effort to repeal Obamacare with a so-called "skinny repeal." McCain dramatically entered the Senate chambers and voted "no" -- which killed the repeal -- to the applause of Democrats and sour looks from Republicans, including McConnell. After the vote, McConnell called the defeat "a disappointment indeed."



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Monday
May142018

Leaks plague White House despite crackdown

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday that the "so-called leaks" from the White House are a "massive exaggeration" and that he will find out who the leakers are.

"The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!”

The president did not specify to which leaks he was referring or who on his own staff he considered "traitors and cowards." But the drama surrounding White House aide Kelly Sadler over the weekend highlighted the fact that the leaks to the press from inside the White House continue unabated despite Trump's aggressive and public pledges to crack down on chatty staff.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders scolded her staff on Friday for the derogatory comment about Sen. John McCain that was leaked from a closed-door meeting, according to multiple senior White House officials who shared details of that meeting to ABC News.

Sanders called the comment "unacceptable," but sources said she appeared to be more upset that the comment was leaked by a West Wing staffer to make another West Wing staffer look bad.

In an interview with Fox News Monday night, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked if she thought there would be any personnel changes in the White House as a result of recent leaks, to which she replied, "I do actually, yes I do."

"If you work at the pleasure of the president, like we all do here, and you have the privilege and the blessing of coming every day to work in this White House on behalf of the nation that we all love then you want to be competent, you want to be loyal and you ought to be able to reinforce the agenda that prevailed here," Conway told host Martha MacCallum.

The Sadler episode -- the latest in a series of damaging and embarrassing leaks -- highlights what has become an intractable problem for the Trump White House, which has said shutting down leakers is a top priority.

While every White House has been subjected to occasional leaks, Trump has presided over a near-constant flow of confidential information to media outlets. And the president himself has shared information with friends and associates that's later spilled into public view.

Trump declared last year that he personally called the Justice Department and asked them to "look into" leaks to the media.

"Those are criminal leaks," the president said during a press conference last February.

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci boldly declared last July that he would consider cleaning house to stop leaks to the press.

"I'm going to fire everybody, that's how I'm going to do it," he said. "You're either going to stop leaking or you're getting fired."

Following those remarks, Michael Short resigned his position as assistant press secretary in the first indication of a shake-up in the press office, however there was no indication Short was among those who had leaked information.

In January, chief of staff John Kelly ordered a new ban on personal cell phone use within the West Wing, with an eye on bolstering cyber-security protocols and curbing leaks.

Among recent leaks to the press were the Trump legal team's list of 49 questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask the president in a potential interview, alleged comments that Kelly called Trump an "idiot" in private meetings -- reports Kelly called "total BS -- and the president calling certain African countries "s---holes" during an Oval Office meeting.

Last June, U.S. intelligence agencies took the significant step of formally referring as many as six recent leaks to the Justice Department for criminal investigation amid multiple reports that linked Russian operatives to associates of Trump, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The president tweeted: "After many years of LEAKS going on in Washington, it is great to see the A.G. taking action! For National Security, the tougher the better!”

During that February press conference Trump suggested the leaks were coming from people who'd been appointed to positions during the Obama administration.

"I think you'll see it stopping because now we have our people in," he said, vowing to punish the leakers. "They're going to pay a big price for leaking."

A former White House official during the Obama administration called blaming those appointed during the previous administration an "excuse."

"Blaming phantom holdovers from a previous administration seems to be a feckless excuse for the clear disorder, lack of effective leadership and poor policies coming from the Trump White House," the former White House official said. "If the current White House is having trouble retaining information, those same individuals need not look further than their senior staff meetings or the mirror."

John Kelly has been a target of many damaging leaks, and has made an effort over the past year to crack down on private information flowing from the White House to the press.

Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka warned on cable television last year that Kelly told staffers "loose lips sink ships and if you leak there will be consequences."

One White House official didn't seem too confident the leaks would end.

"We can all hope," the official said.

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Monday
May142018

First Lady Melania Trump has kidney surgery

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House has announced that first lady Melania Trump underwent a procedure Monday morning at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to treat a kidney condition.

President Donald Trump tweeted late Monday afternoon that he was headed to visit her at the hospital in Bethesda, Md., but said nothing when reporters shouted questions as he left the White House.

Trump tweeted that his wife "is in good spirits. Thank you to all the well-wishers!"

Mrs. Trump had what is being called an "embolization procedure" to treat what the White House said is a "benign kidney condition," according to a release from the first lady's communications director Stephanie Grisham.

"The procedure was successful and there were no complications," the White House said.

"Mrs. Trump is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will likely remain there for the duration of the week. The First Lady looks forward to a full recovery so she can continue her work on behalf of children everywhere," the White House said.

The president and first lady spoke before Monday's procedure and he spoke to the doctor immediately following the procedure, a senior administration official told ABC News.

Notable with the news about Ms. Trump is the secrecy surrounding it. The White House chose not to announce the news at Monday's press briefing just hours before the first lady's office released a public statement.

Moreover, word of the diagnosis and the planned surgical procedure never leaked out of a White House defined by constant leaks.

Melania Trump's expected multi-day hospitalization would be the longest for a first lady since Nancy Reagan spent roughly a week in the hospital following a mastectomy in October 1987.

But Mrs. Trump is not the only recent first lady to face a serious medical condition while in the White House.

In 2006, Laura Bush had surgery to remove a squamous cell carcinoma tumor – or skin cancer – from her right shin; in 2007, she had surgery to alleviate pinched nerves in her neck. In both cases, Mrs. Bush did not spend the night in the hospital.

Seventeen years earlier, Barbara Bush revealed she'd been given a diagnosis of a thyroid condition known as Grave's disease, which affected her eyesight. Rosalynn Carter had surgery to remove a benign breast tumor in 1977 just three years after Betty Ford underwent a mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis.

A longer historical survey reveals other first ladies of the 19th and early 20th centuries experienced more serious ailments that include stroke, epilepsy, miscarriages, kidney disease, and heart disease. Jackie Kennedy had an extended hospital stay in the 1960s after a Caesarean-section.

Also notable with the news about Ms. Trump is the secrecy surrounding it. The White House chose not to announce the news at Monday's press briefing just hours before the first lady's office released a public statement. Moreover, word of the diagnosis and the planned surgical procedure never leaked out of a White House defined by constant leaks.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for updates.

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Monday
May142018

Former Senate leader Harry Reid undergoes surgery for pancreatic cancer

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer on Monday, according to a statement from Reid's family.

The Nevada Democrat, who's 78, had a tumor removed from his pancreas and his surgeons say they are confident the surgery was a success.

"Today, Former Democratic Leader Harry Reid underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center to remove a tumor from his pancreas. His doctors caught the problem early during a routine screening and his surgeons are confident that the surgery was a success and that the prognosis for his recovery is good," Reid's family said.

"He will undergo chemotherapy as the next step in his treatment. He is now out of surgery, in good spirits, and resting with his family. He is grateful to his highly skilled team of doctors and to all who have sent and continue to send their love and support," the statement reads.

Reid was first elected to the Senate in 1986 and retired in 2017, as the Senate's minority leader.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who himself is battling brain cancer, tweeted his well wishes to his former colleague.

"From one cantankerous senator to another, sending my prayers & best wishes to @SenatorReid as he recovers from a successful surgery," McCain tweeted.

The Senate's top Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, who succeeded Reid as minority leader, also weighed in.

"Spoken to family and it seems @SenatorReid's operation went well," Schumer tweeted. "We are all praying for dear Harry’s speedy recovery."

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