POLITICO - TOP Stories
Florida legislator's aide fired after calling Parkland students 'crisis actors'
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
Congress: All the latest news
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
Trump accuser says the president 'should be afraid'
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM

A woman who claims President Donald Trump forcibly kissed her in 2006 told CNN on Tuesday night that she was “not surprised” that the president called her a liar in a tweet and that “he should be afraid” of the truth coming out.

"It is the first time, I guess, he's attacked me personally on Twitter, but his whole approach to this has been to deny the allegation of myself and, like you said, almost 20 women who have come forward. So it's not surprising," Rachel Crooks said in an interview. "But I would think as our president he would have more important things to do than tweet at me and try to discredit my story. I know what's true, he knows what's true and I think he should be afraid of that."

Crooks has been among the most vocal of the at least 16 women who have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against the president, accusations that the president has vehemently denied. Crooks is running this year for a seat in Ohio’s state legislature and her story was featured in a Washington Post story earlier this week with the online headline “Is anyone listening?”


Seemingly incensed by the story, Trump lashed out online, accusing Crooks of lying about him and his accusers of being paid to level damaging allegations against him.

“A woman I don’t know and, to the best of my knowledge, never met, is on the FRONT PAGE of the Fake News Washington Post saying I kissed her (for two minutes yet) in the lobby of Trump Tower 12 years ago. Never happened! Who would do this in a public space with live security cameras running,” Trump wrote online. “Another False Accusation. Why doesn’t @washingtonpost report the story of the women taking money to make up stories about me? One had her home mortgage paid off. Only @FoxNews so reported...doesn’t fit the Mainstream Media narrative.”


Playbook: INSIDE REPUBLICANS’ THINKING on the gun debate
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
Washington plunges into a discussion about entering into what many believe to be a common-sense debate: should Congress enact tougher regulations on guns?
Poll: Few voters report seeing bigger paychecks after tax changes
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM

Most voters aren’t noticing more money in their paychecks under the new tax law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

Just a quarter of registered voters, 25 percent, say they have noticed an increase in their paycheck, the poll shows. A majority, 51 percent, say they have not.

Among employed voters — those working in the private and public sectors, plus those who are self-employed — a larger percentage, 37 percent, have noticed an uptick on their pay stubs. But 53 percent say they haven’t.

Self-identified Republicans are more likely to say they have seen a larger paycheck under the new law (32 percent) than Democrats (21 percent) or independents (22 percent).

Opponents have attacked the new tax law as primarily benefiting the wealthy and corporations, and there is some evidence in the new poll that higher-income voters are seeing more benefits in the early days of the law’s enactment.

“Our polling shows high-income earners are more likely to have noticed an increase in their paychecks as a result of the tax bill," said Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer. “For example, 40 percent of voters who earn more than $100,000 said they have noticed a pay increase in the past several weeks. In contrast, 33 percent of voters who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 and 16 percent of voters who earn under $50,000 said the same.”

While other public surveys suggest the tax law is getting more popular over time, the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll support is stagnant, though still exceeding opposition. In the new poll, 45 percent of voters support the law enacted late last year, and 35 percent oppose it. The remaining 19 percent are undecided or have no opinion.

That is identical to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll last month that also showed support at 45 percent and opposition at 35 percent. (There were slight differences in question wording: Last month’s poll asked about “widespread changes to the tax system recently passed by Congress,” while this month’s poll asked about “widespread changes to the tax system recently signed into law by President [Donald] Trump.”)


The poll also shows a slight downtick in Trump’s approval rating, one week after it equaled the percentage who disapproved of his job performance for the first time since last April. In the new poll, 45 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, down slightly from 47 percent last week. The percentage of voters who disapprove increased more substantially, to 51 percent in the new survey from 47 percent last week.

The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll was conducted February 15-19, surveying 1,989 registered voters. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.

More details on the poll and its methodology can be found in these two documents — Toplines: http://politi.co/2FfOCKB | Crosstabs: http://politi.co/2sJ7T4w


What Happens When Your Town Lands on the Hate Map
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
You freak out. You try and clear your name. You get nowhere.
Steven Seagal’s Weird, Anti-Obama, Deep State Conspiracy Theory
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
Sheriff Joe Arpaio says the story is 'a hair’s breadth from the frightening truth of what is actually happening today.'
Wall Street could get its #MeToo moment
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM

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NEW YORK — Sallie Krawcheck has some ideas for why the testosterone-fueled world of Wall Street has not yet had a #MeToo moment.

It could be the multimillion-dollar settlements requiring that women don’t talk about sexual harassment allegations. Or the arbitration agreements requiring Wall Street workers to settle disputes in-house. Perhaps some of the worst abuses got drummed out in the 1980s. Or maybe there is a floodgate still waiting to open.

“We haven’t seen as much of it come forward out of Wall Street, and there are a bunch of hypotheses as to why,” Krawcheck, a former top executive at Citigroup and Bank of America and now CEO of women-centered investment platform Ellevest, said in the latest edition of the POLITICO Money podcast. “There have been more reporters who have called me and asked, ‘OK, who is the Harvey Weinstein of Wall Street?’ If I knew it, I’d tell you. It could be that we will have that moment, that someone’s been waiting.”

Krawcheck began her Wall Street career at Salomon Brothers before going on to become CEO of research firm Sanford C. Bernstein. She ran the brokerage firm Smith Barney and served as chief financial officer at Citigroup and later ran brokerage operations at Merrill Lynch after its acquisition by Bank of America during the financial crisis. Along the way, she says, she dealt with regular sexual harassment.

“It was bad,” she said. “I was young. I would show up every day and see Xeroxed copies of male genitalia on my desk. I’d lean over a desk and there would be laughter and somebody behind me pretending to perform a sex act.”

Krawcheck said she doesn’t believe Wall Street has improved its leadership structure much since the financial crisis. There are still no female CEOs of big Wall Street banks and few women in top leadership positions.


“Post the financial crisis, you would have thought that diversity would have increased. After all, it was the white gentlemen who were in power when the financial crisis occurred,” she said. “Wouldn’t you want to try something different? No, the opposite occurred. The industry has been less diverse over the past few years than it was during the financial crisis.”

And she suggested that lack of diversity increases the risk of another financial crisis. “As a society, we have this perception that women are emotional,” she said. “The research, however, tells us that on trading floors that poor risk rises and falls with testosterone levels, and these trading floors are 85 percent, 90 percent male and these gentlemen tend under periods of stress to show off for each other. That’s dangerous.”

When launching Ellevest, Krawcheck said she had the difficulties of hiring financial advisers “man-splained” to her by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m sorry, I ran Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch. I’ve managed more financial advisers than anybody except maybe one person on the whole planet and actually did a pretty good job of it, and here you are instructing me on how to do it?’”

She said diversifying Wall Street’s senior ranks is not simply a matter of political correctness. “It’s not gender diversity for the sake of gender or diversity of skin color or educational background,” she said. “It’s really driving toward cognitive diversity. What you really want in a leadership team is not eight people who think exactly alike.”


Anna Deavere Smith: Washington must play ‘big part’ in criminal justice reform
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
The former ‘West Wing’ star discusses her social justice work, art in the Trump era and her latest work with Shonda Rhimes.
Coming soon: Another showdown over Dreamers in Congress
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
A massive, must-pass spending package is likely to reprise the fight over DACA and Donald Trump's wall.
Shooting roils gun politics in NRA-friendly Florida
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
Major moves unlikely, but 'nonstarters are now in play,' says top Republican.
Insurgents jolt Illinois governor's race
February 21st, 2018, 05:52 AM
Long-shot challengers turn Democratic and Republican primaries upside down.
Shulkin says he has White House backing to purge VA
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
The embattled Cabinet head said he's investigating what he called 'subversion.'
Clinton press secretary spars with Sanders over Trump media criticism
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

Former Bill Clinton spokesman Michael McCurry urged White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to reconsider the Trump administration’s critical stance toward the press on Tuesday, stressing that reporters “are not the enemy of the people.”

“Your president has got to change the way he talks about the media — he has to,” McCurry said to Sanders during a panel on the relationship between the presidency, the public and the press hosted by the White House Correspondents' Association and the White House Transition Project.

Sanders and McCurry, who served as press secretary under Clinton from 1994 to 1998, found common ground in bemoaning that media outlets often eschewed substance and policy for scandal and palace intrigue.

But the two White House spokespeople broke in their views of Trump’s frequent verbal attacks on the press.

“You cannot have a president that describes them as the enemy,” McCurry, speaking alongside Sanders, said.

Sanders pushed back, arguing that respect between the commander and chief and those who seek to hold him accountable is “a two-way street.”


“The idea that this is — you’re going to lay the blame at the feet of the president I find far-fetched,” Sanders said.

The Trump spokeswoman also downplayed the notion that the president’s media criticisms were tantamount to warfare — an assertion the former Clinton aide disputed.

"We have not declared war on the press,” she said.

“Yes, you did,” McCurry replied.

Sanders and McCurry found themselves in agreement in lamenting the effect televising the daily White House press briefing has had in the substance of the questions asked.

“Now it’s theater … not a briefing,” McCurry said. “What we need is more transparency.”

“I do agree that I think a lot of times the theatrics of it take away from the news component,” Sanders concurred.

Sanders charged that the “amount of substance was much higher” last year when the White House opted to temporarily halt on-camera briefings, though she stressed she was not advocating for a return to off-camera podium outings.

Sanders returned to the press podium on Tuesday after a week’s absence. The lack of press briefings, despite a flurry of political activity inside and outside Washington led reporters to vent their frustrations on social media and-on-air.

The dearth of a question and answer session with reporters came as the White House faced questions over their response to the Robert Porter domestic violence scandal, the mass shooting at Florida high school, allegations of infidelity against the president and new indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling.


“Memo to the White House, you cannot avoid us. Stop trying to dodge us,” CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin said Tuesday as the press briefing was delayed over an hour after the week-long absence.

Shortly after the two officials concluded their discussion, Trump took to social media to taunt cable news networks over their viewership.

“Bad ratings @CNN & @MSNBC got scammed when they covered the anti-Trump Russia rally wall-to-wall,” Trump tweeted. “They probably knew it was Fake News but, because it was a rally against me, they pushed it hard anyway. Two really dishonest newscasters, but the public is wise!”


Report: Pence agreed to secret meeting with North Korean officials before last-minute cancellation
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

Vice President Mike Pence was set to hold a secret meeting with North Korean officials during his visit to South Korea for the Olympics before the other side pulled out at the last minute, Pence’s office told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Pence was to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as well as with the head of state, Kim Yong Nam, Pence’s office told The Post. But they pulled out less than two hours before the scheduled meeting after Pence spoke in favor of sharp sanctions and denounced the North Korean leadership during a tour of Asia.

“North Korea dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics,” Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, told The Post.

He added: “North Korea would have strongly preferred the vice president not use the world stage to call attention to those absolute facts or to display our strong alliance with those committed to the maximum pressure campaign. But as we’ve said from day one about the trip: This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics.”

The White House and the vice president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


The Trump administration has taken a hard line against North Korea, with President Donald Trump in particular taking an aggressive tact with the hermit nation’s leader. He has called for further international efforts to isolate North Korea and taunted Kim as “Rocket Man” on Twitter, alluding to his nuclear ambitions.

During his trip to Asia, Pence spoke about tough new sanctions on the country.

Pence traveled to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the opening ceremony of the Olympics earlier this month. He sat near both Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam in a VIP section, but didn’t interact with either of them during the event.


Republican challenge to Pennsylvania map likely to fail
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
For Republicans, it’s not clear yet what legal avenue they plan to proceed with first, or the relief for which they will ask.
Trump scrambles to respond to school massacre
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
The president wants to take action without angering his pro-gun base. The steps he’s moving toward are backed by the NRA.
How Trump Could End Up Diminishing His Own Power
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
When Mueller calls, Trump is going to have a choice: Accept the interview or risk curbing his own authority—and that of other presidents in future.
Trump IRS seeks millions in Obamacare fines even though law is 'dead'
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
Hundreds of companies have been warned of penalties for failing to provide coverage.
Ex-Clinton aide reveals why she made mystery bid for California governor
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

LOS ANGELES — Amanda Renteria, the former top Hillary Clinton campaign aide whose mysterious late entry into the California gubernatorial race befuddled political observers, said Tuesday she is seeking to change “the culture of politics” and its fixation on money with her insurgent campaign.

Distinguishing herself from two of several high-profile Democrats who have already raised millions of dollars for the contest — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — Renteria told POLITICO, “I’m very different than they are, right? Whether it’s the way I launched my campaign, whether it’s that I have been the girl doing the work.”

Renteria, a former aide to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Debbie Stabenow, said, “A lot of career folks talk about the idea of the politician versus the public service folks, and the politicians are the ones who are doing all the talking. … There is a big difference when you’re sitting there and you’ve got to figure out how do I … execute on this vision.”

Renteria’s remarks came as she spoke to news outlets for the first time Tuesday, after several days of unusual silence following her filing for the gubernatorial race last week.


Renteria, who served as national political director of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, is joining the contest less than four months before the June primary. Several higher-profile Democrats have been raising money, securing endorsements and debating for more than a year.

Renteria said she has been considering the gubernatorial race since November. She said questions about how much money a candidate can raise — a mainstay of statewide elections, especially in a state with California’s expensive media markets — is “a really unfortunate conversation that people have.”

“We will have enough to get our message out,” she said.

In her last bid for elected office, in a Central Valley House contest in 2014, Renteria was defeated by incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao by more than 15 percentage points. Renteria said the political landscape has changed since then, with voters becoming more engaged.

“People are watching," she said, “and I think that’s what makes something different possible.”


Renteria dismissed as “crazy” accusations by allies of Villaraigosa that her candidacy was orchestrated to draw support away from Villaraigosa among Latinos and voters in the Central Valley — potentially helping Newsom.

“Absolutely not,” she said.

The suggestion, Renteria said, is “exactly the kind of cynicism that’s out there that really makes me sad about where our politics are.”

Renteria said she did a “gut check” about whether she could win.

“My answer to that was, ‘Yes,’” she said.


AR-15 auction removed from fundraiser with McMorris Rodgers
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM


Organizers of a fundraiser featuring Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) reversed course and pulled their plan to auction off an AR-15 rifle — the style of weapon used to kill 17 in last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida — shortly after a POLITICO report on the event on Tuesday.

After POLITICO contacted the committee on Tuesday afternoon, the Stevens County Republican Party removed mentions of the AR-15 and a plan to offer a Ruger 10-22 .22-caliber rifle as a door prize from the event's website. The organization was still considering how to proceed with the auction, its chair said.

Then, after the POLITICO report was published on Tuesday evening, the committee made a final decision to nix the AR-15.

The northeast Washington state event is set for March 24, the same day surviving students have planned a nationwide demonstration, including a march in Washington, D.C., calling for stricter gun laws.

"We want the public to understand that the plan to once again offer this popular item was made prior to the terrible incident in Parkland, Florida, and our initial public advertisement of this event began several days before the shooting. We grieve with the community and the nation. We stand by the 2nd Amendment, but we also recognize that in the current environment, publicizing a means to acquire a semi-automatic AR-15 has the potential to insert more separation into our political discourse. Therefore, we have decided we will not be including this firearm at our event; instead the winner of our final door prize will receive a gift certificate to a local business," said Stevens County Republican Central Committee chair Lori Larsen in a statement to POLITICO.


"We support the decision made by the local Republican leadership in Stevens County," said Ashley Stubbs, a McMorris Rodgers campaign spokeswoman.

The fundraising event, which will proceed, is set to feature McMorris Rodgers, the House Republican Conference chair, and Caleb Heimlich, the Washington State Republican Party chairman.

Republican candidates and conservative organizations have raised money using weapon auctions in the past, but McMorris Rodgers is a high-ranking member of Republican leadership, and the event was scheduled for just over one month after the shooting.

"For many years, the SCRCC has featured auction items related to shooting sports and 2nd Amendment rights, including a top-valued auction item of a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. In every case, we have coordinated auction winners/purchasers with authorized gun dealers to remain in full compliance with legal requirements including background checks when it comes to actual acquisition of any firearm," Larsen said in her initial statement.

In September, a school shooter in Spokane, which is in McMorris Rodgers' district, tried using an AR-15, but it jammed. He killed one fellow student and injured three others using a handgun, according to local reports. Weapons in styles related to the AR-15 were used in the recent mass shootings in Orlando; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas; and Newtown, Connecticut, among others.

Prior to the reversal, Washington Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski called the event "unbelievable and shameful."


"This is a slap in the face to the families of the students and teachers killed in Parkland, the parents who are living in fear that their children will be among the next victims of gun violence, and those of us who are working diligently to find a solution to an incredibly complex problem," she said in a statement to POLITICO.

Lisa Brown, a Democrat running against the seven-term lawmaker, called for McMorris Rodgers to scrap her plans to attend the event in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon.


White House blasts critics of Trump's Russian hacking response
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

The White House on Tuesday sharply rejected accusations that President Donald Trump has done little to protect the country from future Russian election meddling and cyber intrusions.

“President Trump and the administration have made it clear that interference in our elections will have consequences, and we’re going to continue to impose consequences in response to Russian cyberattacks,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

Trump has come under renewed fire for his response to the hacks and disinformation campaign that roiled the 2016 election in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians accused of spreading pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton messages on social media during the election.

Democrats and former national security leaders over the weekend admonished Trump for attempting to discredit Mueller's election meddling probe instead of rallying policymakers to better secure the country's election infrastructure and ensure that social media platforms aren't misused to sow discontent ahead of the 2018 midterms.


Sanders argued that the White House was actually taking the lead on combating Kremlin meddling efforts, pointing to recent meetings between DHS and various members of the elections community, including voting technology vendors and local election officials. And she noted that the government last week blamed Russia for a devastating June 2017 cyberattack on Ukraine.

“It was one of the first times that you’ve seen something like that take place,” Sanders said, referring to the U.S. blaming Russia for the NotPetya malware attack, which trashed computers at Ukraine's central bank and the main airport in Kiev before spreading quickly around the world. “We’re going to continue doing things like that.”

On the election security front, DHS and its partners “are discussing this process and going through and looking every single day at the best ways forward,” Sanders said.

Trump had lunch on Tuesday with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to discuss these efforts, the White House said.

The White House has even raised the issue "with multiple foreign heads of state," Sanders added.

Sanders also hinted that there would be another White House rebuke of Russia's behavior announced "in the coming days." The incident will illustrate “another way that this president was tough on Russia," she vowed.


In the days after Mueller's indictments were unsealed on Friday, the president falsely insisted that he had never disputed the idea that Russia meddled in the election, saying that his “hoax” comments referred only to allegations of collusion between the Russian government and members of his campaign, which Mueller is also investigating.

And Trump asked why former President Barack Obama didn’t “do something” about Russia’s digital attacks.

While Obama has received bipartisan criticism for not acting more aggressively to combat Russia's interference efforts during the 2016 race, the former president did expel Russian diplomats and sanction Kremlin intelligence operatives during his final days in office.

Sanders echoed Trump’s attack on Obama.

“Everybody wants to blame this on the Trump administration,” she told reporters. “Let’s not forget that [the Russian meddling] happened under the Obama administration.”


How the House Intel Committee Broke Bad
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
It’s not just Devin Nunes. The House’s dysfunctional oversight has been decades in the making.
White House: Kushner's work status will not change
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

The White House said on Tuesday that the work status of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, would not change because of upcoming changes to the security clearance process.

“I haven’t spoken to the president about whether or not that would be necessary, but again, as I said, Mr. Kushner’s work that he has done will not be impacted and he’s going to continue to do the work that he’s done over the last year,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during the daily briefing.

Though the White House imposed a ban on interim security clearances last year, nearly three dozen staffers, including Kushner, were still operating in the White House with such clearance.


Chief of staff John Kelly unveiled a series of initiatives last Friday to improve the Trump administration’s security clearance process, which drew a backlash following staff secretary Rob Porter’s resignation amid allegations of domestic violence. Kelly said the administration “must do better” in vetting individuals who will be working closely with the president and sensitive security information.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, requested from the White House a list of all top aides who had interim security clearances. That appeal came after Gowdy launched an investigation into the White House’s handling of Porter’s situation to determine when the administration became aware of the abuse allegations.


Trump directs DOJ to craft ban on 'bump stocks' as shooting response evolves
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

The White House on Tuesday left the door open to supporting a ban on assault rifles and directed the Justice Department to craft regulations to ban “bump stocks,” the accessory used to simulate fully automatic fire in the deadly Las Vegas attack, as the Trump administration’s response to the fatal school shooting in Florida began to take shape.

President Donald Trump announced his directive for Attorney General Jeff Sessions on bump stocks and other weapons accessories a day after the White House signaled that he was also open to bolstering background checks on gun sales.

The attention to the issue comes less than a week after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by a gunmen using an AR-15 assault rifle.

“We can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children,” the president said during a White House event honoring local authorities and first responders on Tuesday.


The push to regulate bump stocks gained prominence in October, when Stephen Paddock used the accessory to unleash a rapid-fire barrage on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 58 and wounding hundreds of others. The attack prompted nine Republican senators to ask the Trump administration to reconsider an Obama-era decision to not pursue regulating bump stocks.

Trump’s order for new bump stock limits follows a recently finished Justice Department review of potential regulations on the devices that began in December.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms determined in 2010 that existing law prohibited it from regulating bump stocks because the devices are firearm parts rather than weapons in and of themselves. The ATF began seeking public comments on potential regulations in December, but the issuance of new regulations on the devices is likely to require further work by the Justice Department.

A spokesperson said the department “understands this is a priority for the president and has acted quickly to move through the rulemaking process.” The spokesperson added: “We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed.”

At the White House briefing on Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration had not “closed the door” on supporting a ban on assault-style rifles like the one allegedly used by Nikolas Cruz in Parkland.

Sanders was pressed during the White House on whether the president still backed blocking the sale of such weapons, as he had proposed in book his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve.”

“I don’t have any specific announcements, but we haven’t closed the door on any front,” she replied.

Sanders added that the administration was open to discussing a federal age restriction for those seeking to purchase AR-15 assault weapons.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up,” she said.


Nearly two decades ago Trump wrote that while he “generally” opposed gun control, he was in favor of banning assault weapons. But he has since shifted his stance, arguing in his 2015 book, “Crippled America,” that too often detractors used “scary descriptive phrases” to push bans on assault-style rifles.

Trump irked gun control advocates when he failed to mention the weapon used in Florida during his national address in response to the shooting last week. The White House opted instead to emphasize the need to improve mental health and school safety.

But the administration’s decision to signal support for a narrow bipartisan proposal to improve the federal background check database left some congressional advocates of gun control hopeful of a political tide shifting in their direction.

The White House on Tuesday also downplayed Trump’s stinging rebuke of the FBI response to the Florida shooting over the weekend, when he suggested the bureau missed signals that Cruz had the potential of carrying out a school shooting because it was “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

“I think he was speaking not necessarily that that is the cause,” Sanders said at the press briefing, the first in a week. “I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people.”


White House walks back Trump's criticism of FBI over Florida shooting
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that President Donald Trump was not attacking the FBI when he wrote on Twitter last weekend that the bureau spent “too much time trying to prove Russian collusion” and that it “missed all of the many signals” from the man police say killed 17 people at a high school in Florida last week.

“I think he was speaking not necessarily that that is the cause,” Sanders said at the White House press briefing, the first in a week. "I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people."

“That is the responsibility of the shooter, certainly not the responsibility of anybody else," she said.

Trump has complained about the ongoing investigation — now led by special counsel Robert Mueller — into allegations that his presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. His willingness to wade in has broken with a longstanding White House tradition dictating that presidents allow the Justice Department to operate independently.


"Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter," Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday. "This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!"

Pressed on the tweet, Sanders said Trump was "making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the trump campaign and its involvement."


Ethics Committee weighs full investigation of Duncan Jr.
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

The House Ethics Committee is weighing whether to launch a full-scale investigation into Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), the panel revealed Tuesday.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog, referred an undisclosed inquiry on Duncan to the House ethics panel in January, triggering a 90-day review to determine whether to launch an official probe. Under House procedures, the Ethics Committee has until April 4 to decide.

Though the announcement doesn't reveal the nature of the investigation, Duncan has faced questions about his campaign finance arrangements in recent months, including payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to family members over the years. He announced last July that he wouldn't seek reelection.

In a statement, Duncan said he doesn't know who filed the ethics complaint against him but said it was "obviously very political and done by someone who was afraid I was going to run or reelection."


Duncan said OCE reviewed all of his campaign spending for the last decade, all of which he emphasized was reported publicly, as required. None of the expenditures involved taxpayer money, he said.

"Every expenditure I have ever made out of my campaign funds has been done to help me politically and to assist in my campaigns," he said. "That is what campaign funds are for. I have never taken one penny personally other than to pay for meals when I was eating with campaign workers, supporters, or constituents visiting Washington. This is perfectly legal."

"The OCE, after going over these thousands of expenditures, felt it should be left up to the Ethics Committee to decide whether a very few of the larger expenditures were political and allowed to be paid for by campaign funds," he continued. "I can and will assure the committee, if asked to do so, that they were all political and helped me in my campaigns."

Duncan added that his staff and family's work on his campaign has helped him "run some of the cheapest congressional campaigns in this country."

"I am confident the Ethics Committee will resolve this matter in my favor," he said.


Will the Parkland Kids Change the Gun Debate?
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
I've been covering mass shootings for decades. I've never seen a phenomenon like these students.
Haley to Palestinian leaders at the UN: 'I will not shut up'
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM
Latest Mueller target pleads guilty
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Trump proposal boosts skimpy insurance plans, again undercutting Obamacare
February 20th, 2018, 05:52 AM

The Trump administration is proposing to expand the availability of short-term health insurance plans that some deride as “junk insurance” — an effort that could give consumers cheaper coverage options but undermine Obamacare's marketplaces and popular protections for pre-existing medical conditions.

Proposed rules issued this morning follow an executive order from President Donald Trump this fall seeking to expand access to more affordable health insurance alternatives to comprehensive, but pricey Obamacare plans. The HHS proposal, released weeks after the Trump administration issued a rule encouraging small businesses to find coverage outside the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, represents the administration's latest effort to unwind the health care law with repeal efforts stalled in Congress.

"We need to be opening up more affordable alternatives," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on a call with reporters today. “Today’s action represents an important promise kept by the president.”

But many health care experts fear expanding the availability of the health plans, which are exempt from Obamacare's robust consumer protections, could further destabilize the law's wobbly insurance markets. Critics say the plans offer just the illusion of coverage, and enrollees often don't realize how limited their benefits are until it's too late.

Short-term plans maintain cheaper prices than traditional insurance by refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, in some cases, and some medical services. Unlike Obamacare coverage, the short-term plans typically cap payouts, which could leave enrollees with catastrophic illnesses or injuries on the hook for huge medical bills


“The way that you get to lower premiums is to reduce benefits,” said Kevin Lucia, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “It’s a quick fix, but ultimately those products don’t help consumers who need them.”

The new rules are a reversal of the Obama administration's efforts to limit short-term plans. It reduced the plans’ maximum length from one year to three months, hoping to steer more people into comprehensive Obamacare coverage.

The new proposal from Trump's health, labor and treasury departments would restore the 12-month limit on short-term plans. The administration projects that between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals now in Obamacare plans would instead opt for short-term plans in 2019.

“You’ll get such low prices for such great care,” Trump said at the signing of his October executive order on health care. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

Supporters of short-term plans say they are an affordable insurance option for people who don't want robust coverage and have been priced out of the individual market — especially middle-income customers who don't qualify for Obamacare's insurance subsidies. The Trump administration on Tuesday pointed out that the number of individuals purchasing plans without subsidies fell by 2 million, or nearly 25 percent, between 2016 and 2017, and one in four customers had access to just a single insurer selling coverage this year.

"Basically what they're doing is giving people options who are already trying to jump off the ship," said Edmund Haislmaier, a health policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

UnitedHealthcare, which withdrew from the Obamacare marketplaces after mounting financial losses, was "excited" by Trump's health care executive order, chief financial officer Dan Schumacher said on an investor call in October. He cited the company's history of selling short-term plans and touted it as an attractive option for people "in between coverage."


The Trump administration last month also proposed expanding the availability of association health plans, in which small businesses and self-employed individuals band together to purchase coverage. The association plans are exempt from some Obamacare rules, such as the requirement to cover a set of 10 health benefits the law deemed "essential," including prescription drugs and emergency care.

Trump's insurance proposals come shortly after the GOP tax overhaul scrapped Obamacare's individual mandate starting in 2019. The administration is also taking steps to expand exemptions to coverage requirement while it's still in effect this year.

Taken together, the administration's moves are expected to weaken the law's insurance marketplaces since individuals with few medical needs are likely to gravitate to the cheaper coverage. That would leave a disproportionately sicker, more expensive population in the Obamacare plans, further driving up already-rising premiums. Most low-income Obamacare customers would be protected from the resulting premium increases thanks to the law's hefty insurance subsidies, meaning the marketplaces likely can still survive.

“There won’t be a death spiral, but the people who really lose in that scenario are basically middle class people who are sick," said Michael Miller, policy director of consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst.

States supportive of Obamacare are likely to take steps to curb the proliferation of short-term and association plans. In California, for example, state lawmakers this year have already offered legislation that would prohibit the sale of short-term plans.

The proposed rule will be open for comments until April 23.

Rachana Pradhan contributed to this report.


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