Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:

How some of the Supreme Court's conservative opinions may lead to a liberal victory on sanctuary cities

President Trump speaks during a reception for law enforcement officers and first responders at the White House on Sunday. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
President Trump speaks during a reception for law enforcement officers and first responders at the White House on Sunday. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Liberal sanctuary cities in California and elsewhere may well win their legal battle against President Trump thanks to Supreme Court rulings once heralded by conservatives, including a 2012 opinion that shielded red states from President Obama’s plans to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income Americans.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked enforcement of Trump’s sanctuary city executive order, resting his ruling on high court decisions that protected states and localities from federal meddling.

CongressWhite House

Senate confirms Alex Acosta as secretary of Labor, completing Trump's Cabinet

 (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Alex Acosta as secretary of Labor, filling out President Trump's Cabinet as he approaches his 100th day in office.

The 60-38 vote confirms Acosta to the post. Once sworn in as the nation's 27th secretary of Labor, the son of Cuban immigrants will lead a sprawling agency that enforces more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.

Acosta has been a federal prosecutor, a civil rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He will arrive at the top post with relatively little clear record on some of the top issues facing the administration over key pocketbook issues, such as whether to expand the pool of American workers eligible for overtime pay.

Acosta wasn't Trump's first choice for the job. Former fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration last month, on the eve of his confirmation vote, after becoming a political headache for the new administration.

Puzder acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the United States and paying the related taxes years later — after Trump nominated him — and came under fire from Democrats for other issues related to his company and his private life.

Labor secretary is the last Cabinet post for Trump to fill. Trump's choice for U.S. trade representative, a job considered Cabinet-level, is awaiting a Senate vote.

Trump gives 'dirty war' records to Argentina's leader

Argentine President Mauricio Macri at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires. (AFP / Getty Images)
Argentine President Mauricio Macri at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires. (AFP / Getty Images)

President Trump on Thursday handed over to Argentine President Mauricio Macri a trove of declassified documents from the South American nation's military-led "dirty war."

The documents contain hundreds of pages of presidential notes, CIA memos, FBI reports and other records that in many cases chronicle human rights atrocities committed by Argentine military officials when they ruled the country from 1976 to 1983.

The dirty war was backed at least tacitly by U.S. officials during that era, historians say. An estimated 30,000 dissidents were killed, and untold thousands of children were kidnapped.

President Obama, during a visit last year to Buenos Aires, said he would give Macri the now-declassified material. Trump, receiving Macri Thursday at the White House, made good on Obama's promise.

It was the third batch to be released as the U.S. government gradually declassifies the material and came at Macri's request, the White House said.

The National Security Archive, a nonprofit organization that examines once-secret papers, welcomed the decision to release more information, saying it both helps to set the historical record straight and shows what U.S. officials knew at the time but often ignored.

It published several of the documents released Thursday, including one in which State Department officials described the notorious Operation Condor campaign by the secret police services of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in the 1970s to hunt down and "liquidate" opponents across international borders.

In another document, from 1977, State Department officials questioned whether they should continue to work with those same countries' security services, given the egregious human rights abuses committed by them.

Thursday's release "is another positive act of declassified diplomacy that began with Obama and is continuing under the Trump administration,” the National Security Archive's Carlos Osorio said in a statement.

“Historical accountability continues to play an important role in current U.S. foreign relations,” he said.

Watch live: Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds the daily briefing

CongressWhite House

Congress races to approve stopgap spending bill to avoid shutdown, but GOP's Obamacare repeal remains work in progress

Congress hopes to avoid a government shutdown by swiftly approving a stopgap spending bill Friday to allow negotiations to continue for another week on a longer-term funding deal.

Progress continued in the talks to finalize the must-pass legislation and avert a crisis as President Trump prepares to mark his first 100 days in office.

The deal is likely to include a sizable boost of about $15 billion in defense spending supported by both parties, about half the amount Trump was seeking for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

But negotiators Thursday were still trying to narrow a few unresolved issues -- a coal miners pension fund that's going broke, policy restrictions on abortion and aid to Puerto Rico.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) predicted Thursday the temporary measure to keep government running would be approved.

"I’m confident we’ll be able to pass a short-term extension," Ryan said.

The Republicans, though holding a majority, usually need Democrats' votes to pass bills funding the government because the most conservative GOP members often oppose any federal spending increases.

In one twist Thursday, Democrats threatened to withhold their votes if Republicans tried to link passage to the latest GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But that strategy never seemed to materialize. The GOP's Obamacare overhaul remained a work in progress.

Trump amplified tensions in a series of morning tweets trying to shift blame for any disruption in government operations onto Democrats.

"The Democrats want to shut government if we don't bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure," he tweeted, using shorthand for Obamacare. "NO!"

Democrats said they might withhold their votes on the stopgap measure -- forcing Republicans to rely on their majorities in the House and Senate to pass it without them -- if Republicans also voted on the GOP's latest emerging plan to dismantle the healthcare law.

But they, too, were already assigning blame, should the stopgap measure fail to pass.

"We are never going to shut the government down," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), putting the onus on Republicans. "Any shutting down of the government, the ball is in their court. They have a record of doing that on more than one occassion."

Pelosi said it would be the "height of stupidity" for Republicans to merge the issues, and suggested Trump is "making a fool" of Republicans by forcing the healthcare vote.

Republicans led government shutdowns when they had the House majority in the1990s and again in 2013.

As Trump’s 100-day milestone neared, some lawmakers said Republicans would stay in town later Friday or Saturday to vote on the latest version of the GOP healthcare overhaul, the American Health Care Act.

But the speaker was less certain about the schedule for those votes.

"We’re going to go when we have the votes," Ryan said.

The Republican healthcare bill remains highly unpopular, with estimates of 24 million more Americans going without health insurance if it becomes law.

In the latest version of the healthcare bill, Republicans are considering tacking on an amendment that was designed to win over the most conservative members of their majority by giving states the option of doing away with the so-called essential health benefits that Obamacare requires insurers to provide.

That means states could seek a waiver to end popular provisions in Obamacare, including coverage for mental health and maternity care and the ban on charging higher premiums to patients with pre-exisiting conditions.

Republicans argue this will allow states to offer cheaper insurance plans, bringing costs down for consumers. But Democrats say it will result in bare-bones policies with very limited coverage or policies that are too costly for those with medical problems.

While the amendment has been embraced by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, it is till being debated by more centrist lawmakers who worry about Americans losing health insurance. Both factions tanked the GOP's earlier version of the healthcare bill. 

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally, said new approach may be pushing centrist lawmakers away from the bill. “It’s probably moved some members from lean yes to lean no,” he said. “There’s no doubt there’s a frustration there.”

Prospects for the healthcare bill in the Senate remain highly uncertain.

"Even if it passes the House, the chances for survival in the Senate are small," said the chamber's minority leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Meanwhile, talks continue on a spending bill to keep government running through September.

At issue is whether to permanently fund a pension fund for retired coal miners that risks being gutted, eroding pension and health insurance payments, without government assistance.

Democrats and key Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) want to salvage the pension fund, but other Republicans are concerned about the costs and prefer propping it up for a shorter amount of time.

Another concern is over Puerto Rico's struggling Medicaid program, which is running short on funds and could lead to 900,000 residents losing healthcare coverage by the end of the year. Democrats want to provide Puerto Rico aid, but Trump called it a "bailout."

Republicans, meanwhile, are pressing for policy provisions, including one that will prevent the federal government from blocking funds or otherwise discriminating against healthcare providers that refuse to offer abortion services. 

Republicans are also interested in including a provision that would loosen regulations governing some financial services professionals.  

The temporary spending bill, expected for a vote Friday, would fund the government for another week, through May 5.

1:33 p.m.: This post has been updated with the latest developments.

This Democratic bastion flipped for Trump. Almost 100 days in, voters have no regrets

To read the polls and hear the pundits, President Trump’s first 100 days have been an utter disaster, ranking among the worst in history. But that’s not how Karen Malady sees it.

The 59-year-old accountant was drawn to Trump’s unconventional candidacy from the start, unlike other Republicans who came around reluctantly. She saw him as an outsider and disrupter, and his first months in office proved her right, she said, about that and other things too.

Like no matter how much he tries, some won’t ever give Trump a fair shake.

“He’s trying to build a foundation to protect this country, and they just pick apart the little things,” Malady said, as fading daylight slanted into the headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nonprofit charity. “ ‘This person was picked on, and, oh, by the way, this person is of that nationality, so that makes him a racist.’ ”

The anger and aggrievement that fueled Trump’s unlikely election, the sense of abandonment by a self-interested political establishment and sneering condescension from the know-it-alls hasn’t faded in the months since Trump took office.

If anything, it has deepened here in Pueblo County, a longtime Democratic stronghold that Trump narrowly won in November.

Two U.S. troops killed and one wounded in Afghanistan, near where massive bomb was dropped

A member of the U.S. military stands guard in July 2016 during a graduation ceremony for Afghan troops in Lashkar Gah, capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province. (Abdul Khaliq / Associated Press)
A member of the U.S. military stands guard in July 2016 during a graduation ceremony for Afghan troops in Lashkar Gah, capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province. (Abdul Khaliq / Associated Press)

The Pentagon said two American troops were killed and a third wounded Wednesday night during a raid against Islamic State’s affiliate in eastern Afghanistan, near the site where an 11-ton U.S. bomb was dropped earlier this month.

The service members were conducting an operation alongside Afghan forces in Nangarhar province, where a U.S.-backed offensive is underway against Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K. Khorasan is the historic name for a region that encompassed parts of modern-day Afghanistan.

"The fight against ISIS-K is important for the world, but sadly, it is not without sacrifice,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “On behalf of all U.S. forces and our coalition partners, I offer our deepest sympathies to the families, friends, and fellow service members of our fallen comrades.”

The deaths occurred as U.S. and Afghan forces were conducting a raid against a prison where Islamic State kept civilians as prisoners, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesperson for the Nangahar governor's office.

There now have been three U.S. service members  killed fighting Islamic State in Afghanistan in 2017 -- all in Nangarhar. 

That is the province where, on April 12, the U.S. military dropped the most powerful conventional bomb in its arsenal on a cave-and-tunnel complex that it said was used by Islamic State fighters.

The Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “mother of all bombs” and the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat — targeted the subterranean passages the militants used for weeks to evade an ongoing operation by U.S. and Afghan forces.

Afghan officials have said that 94 militants were killed in the bombing and another 40 killed in Wednesday night's operation.The U.S. military has refused to comment on battle casualties suffered by Islamic State, which is estimated to have about 700 fighters in Afghanistan.

Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, a 37-year-old Green Beret from Maryland, became the first American service member killed in combat this year in Afghanistan on April 8 after coming under fire in Nangarhar’s Achin district.  

There have been 1,835 American troops killed in action since U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

Economic reality and contradictions beset Trump's tax plan

Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, left, joins Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the White House briefing room on Wednesday. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, left, joins Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the White House briefing room on Wednesday. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

In proposing to slash business taxes and enact a tax reform of historic proportions, Trump administration officials say they will rely largely on economic growth to make up for the trillions of dollars of lost tax revenue.

But hardly any economist or tax policy analyst outside the administration thinks that the core business piece of President Trump’s plan — a reduction in the corporate income tax rate to 15% from the current 35% — will generate anywhere near the growth, job creation and investment needed to pay for itself.

That economic reality makes it highly unlikely that Trump will be able to get his tax proposal in its current form through Congress, even with support from his fellow Republicans. And it exposes some inherently contradictory elements in the president’s approach.

White House announces sweeping proposal to cut taxes, a plan likely to raise deficit

Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, left, joins Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, left, joins Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Bracing to convey a sense of momentum to President Trump’s sluggish legislative agenda, the White House unveiled a plan for what it called “one of the biggest tax cuts in American history” Wednesday, just ahead of the administration's first 100 days in office.

The one-page outline, touted as an overhaul of the tax code, bears the hallmark of other early Trump proposals: a broad-brush overview of bold goals that is intended to serve as an opening bid with Congress rather than a fully baked policy proposal.

The plan was immediately met with skepticism from budget groups and faces a daunting future on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties are wary that the White House hasn’t said how it would pay for the cuts, which likely would provide the greatest benefits to higher-income earners and corporations.

Congress

Pentagon is investigating whether Trump's former national security advisor accepted improper foreign payments

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), right, and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on April 25 discuss former national security advisor Michael Flynn's possible failure to disclose payments from foreign countries. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), right, and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on April 25 discuss former national security advisor Michael Flynn's possible failure to disclose payments from foreign countries. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA)

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's legal troubles worsened Thursday when a House committee disclosed that the Pentagon inspector general is investigating whether the retired Army three-star general violated military rules by accepting foreign payments.

Flynn was warned in 2014, when he was retiring from the military, not to accept payments from foreign governments without advance approval from the Pentagon, according to documents released Thursday by a House committee.

Flynn subsequently accepted more than $500,000 from a Russian government-owned broadcasting company and from a lobbying company representing Turkey, according to the committee.

The Pentagon inspector general is investigating whether Flynn “failed to obtain required approval” to accept those funds, Acting Inspector General Glenn A. Fine wrote in an April 11 letter to the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating Flynn’s foreign business ties.

Retired officers found to have violated the prohibition on accepting foreign payments can be ordered to return pension payments during the time of the violations, according to the Pentagon.

The committee probe is one of several in Congress looking at whether any of President Trump's current or former aides improperly coordinated with Russian operatives during last year's presidential campaign. The FBI is conducted a separate counter-intelligence investigation. 

Earlier this week, the House committee said that Flynn also failed to disclose the foreign payments when he signed a government disclosure form required to renew his security clearance in early 2016, shortly after he had returned from Moscow.

After leaving the military, Flynn opened a government relations company and became a top adviser to the Trump campaign last year. President Trump subsequently named him as national security advisor.

But Flynn was forced to resign after less than a month at the White House after news reports revealed he had misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about his conversations in December with Russia’s ambassador about easing U.S. sanctions on Russia.

Military officers, including retirees, are barred under the Constitution from accepting payments, gifts or items of value from foreign government without congressional permission.

The Defense Intelligence Committee, the Pentagon spy agency that Flynn headed before he retired, said in a letter to the House committee that it had found no evidence Flynn sought permission to accept foreign government payments.

The DIA did not locate any records of Flynn "seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source,” Christine Kapnisi, the agency’s acting head of congressional relations, said in an April 11 letter to the committee.

Flynn accepted a $33,750 fee to attend a December 2015 gala in Moscow sponsored by RT, a Russian state-run TV network, and to attend a lunch where he sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, also received $530,000 last fall — at the height of the presidential campaign — for work that benefited the government in Turkey, the committee has found. Flynn retroactively disclosed that work last month on a federal disclosure form.

Flynn was reminded when he retired that accepting unauthorized payments from foreign governments was prohibited, according to the DIA letter.

He "was advised of the legal restrictions concerning foreign compensations and instructed to report any potential receipt of compensations in advance,” DIA said.

Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said this week that his client told the DIA about his 2015 trip to Moscow. Kelner’s statement did not say if Flynn disclosed the fee he was offered by the Russian government TV network.

"As has previously been reported, General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency… extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings,” Kelner said.

Congress

House Republicans offer stopgap bill to fund government

Republicans controlling the House have unveiled a stopgap bill to keep the government open past a shutdown deadline of midnight Friday. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) says the one-week measure would buy time to wrap up talks on a $1-trillion-plus catchall spending bill that's the center of bipartisan talks on Capitol Hill. He says those negotiations are going well. 

The temporary bill is likely to come to a House vote Friday in the expectation the Senate would immediately send it to President Trump for his signature. 

Talks on the larger spending bill have progressed in fits and starts, with the Trump White House backing away from demands that it include money to begin construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — though other stumbling blocks remain. 

Trump says he won't pull out of NAFTA

President Trump has told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The White House made the surprise announcement in a read-out of calls Wednesday between the world leaders.

The White House says the president "agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time."

Instead, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation" of the trade deal to "the benefit of all three countries."

Read related: Trump slaps tariffs on Canadian lumber imports, escalating trade tensions >

Trump has blamed NAFTA for American job losses.

He says he believes "that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better."

CongressNorth KoreaWhite House

All 100 senators head to White House for classified briefing on North Korea

Senators board buses at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Senators board buses at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration hosted senators for an extraordinary White House briefing Wednesday at a perilous moment with North Korea, marked by nuclear threats from the unpredictable nation and stern talk of military action, if necessary, from the United States.

All 100 senators were invited and taken in buses for the unprecedented, classified briefing. President Trump's secretary of State, Defense secretary, top general and national intelligence director were to outline for them North Korea's escalating nuclear capabilities and U.S. response options, officials said. The briefing team was to meet later with House members in the Capitol.

The unusual sessions don't necessarily presage the use of force along one of the world's most heavily militarized frontiers, and some lawmakers questioned whether the cross-Washington procession was largely show, with Trump expected to drop in on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building gathering of lawmakers.

But it certainly reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea's progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the U.S. mainland. And the recent flurry of military activity on and around the divided Korean peninsula has put the world at high alert.

Tension has escalated since Trump took office three months ago, determined to halt Pyongyang's nuclear and missile advances.

America's Pacific forces commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday that a contentious missile defense system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at U.S. forces would be destroyed.

"If it flies, it will die," Harris said.

'We'll see them in the Supreme Court': Trump plans to defend his order threatening funding for 'sanctuary cities'

 (Mike Theiler / Pool)
(Mike Theiler / Pool)

President Trump plans to fight a U.S. judge's decision to freeze his order threatening funding to state and local governments that refuse to cooperate fully with immigration agents.

"We'll see them in the Supreme Court," Trump said Wednesday in response to a question from a reporter while signing an executive order to look into rolling back the designation of some national monuments.

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III ruled Tuesday that Trump's Jan. 25 order to cut some federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities and counties was unconstitutional.

The Trump administration plans to appeal the ruling from the district court, which falls under the U.S. 9th Circuit. If Justice Department lawyers lose the case before the left-leaning appeals court, they can ask the Supreme Court to weigh in.

Asked if he was surprised by the ruling, Trump said, "I'm never surprised by the 9th Circuit."

Ninth Circuit judges also knocked down Trump's order temporarily halting the U.S. entry of refugees and nationals from several countries in Africa and the Middle East.

On Twitter earlier Wednesday, Trump accused opponents of "judge shopping," bringing the case in front of judges that would give favorable ruling.

U.S. commander takes blame for wayward aircraft carrier: 'That's my fault'

Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on North Korea on Wednesday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on North Korea on Wednesday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific Ocean took personal responsibility Wednesday for a series of White House and Pentagon misstatements that led to global confusion about an aircraft carrier strike group supposedly headed to North Korea.

"That’s my fault," Adm. Harry Harris told the House Armed Services Committee. "I’ll take the hit for that."

The embarrassing episode began on April 8 when the Navy announced that the Carl Vinson strike force was being diverted north from Singapore as a show of force during rising tensions with North Korea.

The carrier group instead conducted exercises in the Indian Ocean for a week, and was still in Indonesian waters last weekend. It is now east of Okinawa, or about 1,000 miles southeast of North Korea, Harris said.

The carrier's announced detour north contributed to concerns that a conflict might be imminent, especially because it came shortly after the Trump administration had launched a missile strike in Syria and dropped the so-called mother of all bombs in Afghanistan.

Harris also told the committee that North Korea was making steady progress in its efforts to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States. It is believed to be several years away from reaching that goal.

Pyongyang has conducted five underground nuclear tests over the last 11 years. But it has not mastered the ability to produce a warhead small enough and hardy enough to withstand the extreme heat a ballistic missile reentering the atmosphere would be subject to.

In an April 15 parade, it showed off missile tubes that experts said appeared capable of crossing the ocean, but North Korea has not tested any of them yet.

Harris warned, however, that achieving the goals set by North Korea's leader is only a matter of time.

“With every test, Kim Jong Un moves closer to his stated goal of a preemptive nuclear strike capability against American cities," Harris told the House Armed Service Committee.

Regional tensions have soared in recent weeks with satellite photos indicating Pyongyang was planning a sixth nuclear test to mark a national holiday. It launched a mid-range missile instead that crashed into the ocean seconds after launch.

Several days later, Vice President Mike Pence stood on the deck of aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan docked in Japan and warned North Korea not to “test” the Trump administration.

The U.S. nuclear submarine Michigan arrived off Pusan, South Korea, on Tuesday in what is meant as a show of U.S. resolve, Harris said.

“As President Trump and [Defense Secretary James] Mattis have made clear, all options are on the table,” Harris said. “We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees.”

The entire U.S. Senate is scheduled to visit the White House on Wednesday for a briefing on North Korea amid questions about how the Trump administration intends to address Pyongyang’s advances.

Existing North Korean missiles are grossly inaccurate by U.S. standards. But they could still cause widespread casualties in South Korea and Japan, where the U.S. military has stationed more than 70,000 troops.

Harris acknowledged a "capability gap" over what North Korea could achieve with a missile attack, but said "we have to look at North Korea as if Kim Jong Un will do what he says."

The Pentagon recently moved a missile defense system, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, to South Korea, and Harris said it would be operational "in the coming days" to help protect the country.

He advocated expanding the U.S. ground-based missile defense system, possibly to Hawaii.

“We need more interceptors,” Harris said.

The current system, which is designed to shoot down incoming warheads in space before they reach the United States, has 37 operational interceptors -- 33 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

Watch live: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin expected to unveil Trump's tax plan

Healthcare repeal gets boost from House Freedom Caucus

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is backing the latest healthcare proposal as the White House tries to revive efforts to repeal President Obama's signature law. 

In a statement Wednesday, the 40 or so hard-line members who helped scuttle the earlier bill announced their support for the plan crafted by New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, a moderate, and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, head of the House Freedom Caucus. 

While the endorsement is a boost for the effort, some 50 moderate Republicans are still uncertain or oppose the latest plan. 

The group said the new proposal will give states flexibility — and while it isn't a full repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, they are prepared to support it. 

The proposed changes would let states get federal waivers to some coverage requirements Obama's law imposed on insurers, such as providing basic services including maternity and newborn care, and preventive and wellness visits. 

Trump's executive order jeopardizes some national monuments

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday intended to eventually reduce or eliminate some national monument designations, in particular those that are at least 100,000 acres.

The monuments received federal protection under Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the power to limit use of public land for historic, cultural, scientific or other reasons.

The order could affect more than two dozen monuments that have been established since 1996. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said one region in particular will get special notice: the remote desert canyon lands of southeastern Utah. At the time, the designations of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument prompted an angry backlash from Utah's leaders.

But the monuments have been widely praised by the outdoors industry, environmental groups and Native American tribes that have inhabited the area for thousands of years.

Watch live: President Trump signs the national monuments executive order

ImmigrationTrump budgetWhite House

Mexico's foreign minister calls Trump's wall 'a hostile act'

Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray says his country is prepared to retaliate against actions by the Trump administration if necessary. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray says his country is prepared to retaliate against actions by the Trump administration if necessary. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico's top diplomat called President Trump's proposal to build a border wall "an unfriendly, hostile act" that will further aggravate increasingly tense relations between the longtime allies.

While Trump has repeatedly vowed to build a wall and make Mexico pay for its construction, Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray told a meeting of Mexican legislators Tuesday that there is absolutely no way that will happen. 

"It is not part of a bilateral discussion, and we will not collaborate in the construction," Videgaray said. "It's a waste of resources."

Trump's repeated criticisms of Latino immigrants and trade deals with Mexico while a candidate and now as president have offended many south of the border, where a surge in nationalism can be felt in the increasingly heated rhetoric of politicians as well as in advertisements and the proliferation of Mexican flags. 

But Trump's vow to make Mexico pay for a border wall is viewed here not only as an insult, but as a direct challenge to Mexico's sovereignty. 

On Tuesday, Videgaray repeated earlier threats that the Mexican government will consider reducing cooperation with the U.S. on security issues if bilateral talks on immigration and trade go badly.

Trump has indicated that he will soon trigger the process to get congressional approval to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump had requested that Congress provide U.S. funds to begin the wall, but he signaled Monday that he would not insist on it, saying he might be willing to wait until September for the funding.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
78°