Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

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

Protesters interrupt James Comey during convocation speech at Howard University

More than 50 students at Howard University in Washington protested former FBI Director James Comey's convocation address to students on Friday.

After some delay, Comey delivered his speech and received a standing ovation. It was one of his few public appearances since he was fired by President Trump in May.

"Our country is going through one of those periods where we’re trying to figure out who we really are and what do we stand for," Comey told the historically black university. "It’s painful."

Before the event began, protesters shouted: "Get out James Comey! You're not our homie!" Many waved fists and sang "We Shall Not be Moved."

In response, Comey urged students to respect a back-and-forth dialogue.

"I love the enthusiasm of the young folks. I just wish they would understand what a conversation is. A conversation is where you speak and I listen. And then I speak and you listen. And then we go back in forth," he said.

The demonstration was organized by the Howard University resistance movement, which formed last spring. 

"James Comey represents an institution diametrically opposed to the interests of Black people domestically and abroad," the group said in a statement. 

In August, the university announced that Comey would deliver the convocation as well as five lectures on public policy during the school year.

Comey said he would donate the $100,000 fee to a scholarship fund for students from foster homes.

Comey is used to taking flak.

Democrats assailed him last year when he led an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of State, and then re-opened the probe 11 days before the November election. No charges were pressed.

Trump then attacked Comey, and ultimately fired him, for pursuing an FBI probe into Russian meddling in the election. The dismissal led to appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has significantly expanded the investigation. 

CongressWhite House

Sen. John McCain delivers a potentially fatal blow to GOP effort to repeal Obamacare

 (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) dealt a critical blow to Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to roll back the Affordable Care Act on Friday, announcing he will not vote for sweeping repeal legislation that GOP leaders plan to bring to the Senate floor for a vote next week.

“We should not be content to pass healthcare legislation on a party-line basis,” McCain said in a lengthy statement criticizing the GOP rush to pass a repeal bill without any hearings and little public scrutiny.

McCain’s move raises serious questions about whether Republicans have the votes to pass the latest repeal bill, authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

The party, which has 52 votes in the Senate, can lose only two or the bill will fail.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has already said he will oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, which he has criticized for maintaining too much of the current law’s government spending on healthcare.

And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a centrist Republican who helped sink the last GOP repeal effort in July, has signaled strong reservations about the current proposal.

McCain also opposed that previous effort, casting a dramatic middle-of-the-night vote against the measure and calling for his colleagues to stop trying to rush through major healthcare legislation.

McCain reiterated those calls Friday in announcing his opposition to Graham-Cassidy.

“As I have repeatedly stressed, healthcare reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment,” the veteran lawmaker said.

“That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.”

CongressWhite House

In Alabama, the heart of Trump country, many think he's backing the wrong candidate in Senate race

Senate candidate Roy Moore in Montgomery, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press) None
Senate candidate Roy Moore in Montgomery, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

President Trump will swoop into Alabama on Friday to bolster the campaign of Sen. Luther Strange, a soft-spoken former state attorney general now in danger of losing the seat he was tapped to fill just months ago after Jeff Sessions joined the administration.

But in this conservative state that overwhelmingly supported Trump and prides itself as the heart of Old Dixie, some think the president is backing the wrong man. And they’re not sure his visit will help.

Voter enthusiasm instead runs high for the more Trump-like candidate, Roy Moore, the state’s polarizing former chief justice. His far-right, Bible-quoting views twice resulted in him being forced off the bench for defying higher court decisions, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage. Die-hard supporters have no doubt he will be just as unwavering if they send him to Washington.

The GOP establishment has poured millions of dollars into Strange’s campaign, much from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s aligned Senate Leadership Fund.

But a rival group, run by allies of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump advisor, backs Moore, turning Tuesday’s GOP runoff into a trial run for several upcoming outsider-versus-establishment contests to be waged in Arizona, Nevada and other states ahead of the 2018 midterm election.

The race also marks a new kind of power struggle for the hearts and minds of Trump voters — one that pits Bannon, an influential figure in the president’s campaign, against Trump himself.

Trump’s endorsement was once seen as making Strange a shoo-in for the job. But now it’s unclear whether voter loyalty to the president can overcome skepticism about “Big Luther,” as Alabamans call the 6-foot-9 senator.

“I was a big Trump supporter -- and still am -- but he's wrong on this one,” said Jeff Hopper, a gun rights activist who brought his family to hear Moore speak at a Christian high school in Florence, Ala., where cotton grows in fields along the highway.

“Quite frankly I’m a little bit disappointed that Donald Trump has decided to come out on his side.”

CongressWhite House

The Republican tax plan is still more talk than action

President Trump meets at the White House with a bipartisan group of lawmakers about tax reform. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
President Trump meets at the White House with a bipartisan group of lawmakers about tax reform. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

They have a blueprint and principles. They’ve held countless strategy sessions for what could be the biggest tax overhaul in decades.

They even produced a handy desk calendar with daily inspirational messages and helpful tax statistics to drive home the need for reform.

All Republicans need now is an actual plan.

Despite months of promises and what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the GOP-led Congress and White House have yet to agree on how to revamp the tax code, including how much to reduce corporate and individual tax rates, how tax cuts would be paid for or whether they will be offset at all.

“There is no movement on tax reform,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, after Republicans huddled recently behind closed doors for the latest update.

“I’m sure they’re working, paddling like a bunch of ducks,” he said. “They just need to make some decisions.”

'Dotard' rockets from obscurity to light up Trump-Kim exchange, spark partisan war of words

President Trump fired off “rocket man.”

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the target of that verbal missile launch, shot back a flurry of taunts, calling America’s leader “a rogue,” “a frightened dog,” a “gangster fond of playing with fire.”

But it was one word that lit up social media, sent countless masses thumbing through dictionaries (or the online equivalent), one word that turned the back-and-forth between the brinksmen into a teachable moment: dotard.

White House

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinds Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual assault

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Friday rescinded controversial Obama-era guidelines that had prodded colleges and universities to more aggressively — some say too aggressively — investigate campus sexual assaults.

The decision left women's groups worried that victims of sexual assault will lose protections or face intimidation to remain silent, but critics of the former guidelines said the change could lead to a process that also considers the rights of those accused.

The department said it was withdrawing the Obama administration’s policy – which was spelled out in a 2011 letter to schools –  because of criticism that it placed too much pressure on school administrators, favored alleged victims and lacked due process for people who had been accused of sexual assault.

"Those documents have led to the deprivation of rights for many students – both accused students denied fair process and victims denied an adequate resolution of their complaints," the department's acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Candice Jackson, said in a letter Friday.

Jackson and DeVos have both been criticized for showing support for those who have been accused of sexual assault. Advocates for victims complained that the department has not spent enough time listening to survivors.

The department also released a new question-and-answer statement, replacing one issued by the Obama administration in 2014, to advise colleges and universities about how their responsibilities have changed. It emphasizes providing the same information, rights and opportunities to both parties in a sexual assault investigation.

It also allows schools to facilitate an informal resolution process if both parties agree, rather than adjudicate every case, as currently required.

The letter rescinds any suggested timeline for investigations. The former guidance recommended schools reach a decision in about 60 days, something critics said put too much pressure on administrators, particularly in cases that involved conflicting evidence.

The guidelines still require each school to have a coordinator and to report all incidents of sexual assault as required by the Clery Act,  separate guidance from 1990 that remains in place.

And the new guidance gives schools more flexibility for the standard of evidence used to investigate these cases. The previous guidelines suggested using a "preponderance of evidence," meaning the decision makers were more than 50% sure an assault occurred. Critics said a higher standard should be used, such as "clear and convincing evidence" of an assault, which will now be an option.

UPDATES:

8:38 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the new policy.

This article was originally published at 8 a.m.

Who are you calling a dotard? Trump keeps the war of words with Kim going

 (Wong Maye-E, Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Wong Maye-E, Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

President Trump isn't going to let Kim Jong Un get the last word. 

The North Korean leader continued the spat between Pyongyang and Washington on Friday, calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

The U.S. president responded with a Friday morning tweet,  labeling Kim "a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people."

North Korea

Kim Jong Un calls Trump 'deranged,' says he will 'pay dearly' for his threats

Kim Jong Un and President Trump (Wong Maye-E, Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
Kim Jong Un and President Trump (Wong Maye-E, Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called President Trump "deranged" and said that he will "pay dearly" for his threats, in a statement carried by the state news agency Thursday.

The comments came in response to Trump's combative speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

Kim said that Trump is "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country" and described the president as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire."

Kim said he is "thinking hard" about his response, but Trump will "pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying" North Korea.

Watch live: Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin expected to address North Korea sanctions

North Korea

Trump announces more sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear buildup

President Trump on Thursday announced plans for new sanctions against North Korea as he struggles to find ways to confront that country's nuclear buildup.

After threatening earlier this week to completely destroy North Korea if it uses its nuclear weaponry against U.S. territory or allies, Trump told reporters he was issuing a new executive order adding more sanctions to those that the United States and allies already have imposed.

He said the measures would target North Korea's textiles, fishing industry and shipping. In fact, sanctions against those industries are already in place, so it was not clear what was different about the additional ones.

"Do business with the United States ... or the lawless regime" of North Korea, he said.

"We seek ... a complete denuclearization of North Korea," the president said. Many observers call that standard all but impossible to meet, given the progress of Pyongyang's nuclear program to date.

Trump, on the margins of the annual United Nations General Assembly, was meeting Thursday with the presidents of Japan and South Korea, the two neighbors of North Korea with the most at stake in the showdown.

Already, the U.S. and the U.N. have imposed tough economic sanctions against North Korea that eat away at its export income, imports and revenue from workers it sends overseas. But none of those measures has curbed efforts by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to develop intercontinental missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the United States.

Analysis: Trump seeks to reassure loyalists even as he courts deals with Democrats

 (Richard Drew / AP)
(Richard Drew / AP)

As mainstream media outlets raised questions Tuesday about the wisdom of President Trump labeling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” from the lectern at the United Nations, the president’s message-making sped into gear.

“Trump supporters around the country should take pride in President Trump’s strong and principled speech before the world’s leaders at the United Nations today where he expressed profound and unwavering America First principles,” Michael S. Glassner, the executive director of Trump’s reelection organization, said in an email blasted out shortly after Trump’s U.N. address.

“The President described a new vision, putting Americans first…and condemning those who support rogue nations and terrorists.”

For two weeks Trump has been in a well-publicized dalliance with Democrats, cutting deals on the federal budget and debt ceiling and seeking an agreement on immigrants who entered the country illegally as young children. At the same time, he has sought to blunt any retribution from his supporters by flooding them with messages focused on why they backed him in the first place.

White House

Trump offers condolences and assistance to Mexico after devastating earthquake

 (AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump extended his condolences to Mexico's president and offered assistance on Wednesday, a day after an earthquake devastated central Mexico, including the capital, Mexico City, and killed more than 200 people.

Trump and President Enrique Peña Nieto had a lengthy telephone call in the morning, according to the White House, after Trump first tweeted his concern the night before -- prompt reactions that contrasted with his tardy response to disaster in Mexico earlier this month. 

"The president offered assistance and search-and-rescue teams, which are being deployed now," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement describing the call, and "also pledged to continue close coordination with Mexico as the two countries respond to the recent earthquakes and hurricanes." 

Trump did not extend condolences to Mexico for a week after a deadly earthquake in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas on Sept. 7. Trump blamed poor cellphone reception in the mountains of Mexico for the delay in reaching Peña Nieto.

Yet partly out of pique, by then Mexico had rescinded its offer to help the United States deal with damage in Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey, and focused instead on earthquake response.

Vice President Mike Pence also spoke of Mexico's plight, in remarks at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. 

"Our hearts and our prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico and the people of Mexico," he said, referring to damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Mexico's earthquake casualties.

On Twitter on Tuesday night, Trump wrote, "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.”

Obama says Republican healthcare plan would inflict 'real human suffering'

The latest Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would inflict "real human suffering" on millions of Americans, former President Barack Obama said Wednesday, speaking out in public defense of his signature healthcare reform effort.

The law has led to major increases in the number of Americans with healthcare coverage, Obama said, speaking in New York at an event on global development sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"When I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress for the 50th or 60th time," he said, "it is aggravating."

The Republican efforts would make coverage unavailable to cancer survivors, pregnant women, children with asthma and others with existing medical problems, he said, "without any ... common sense rationale."

"It's certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents," he added. "But typically, that's how progress is won, and how progress is maintained."

Federal Reserve will start reducing its stockpile of bonds

 (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

The Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday that it would start slowly reducing the trillions of dollars in bonds it purchased to try to stimulate the economy, another milestone in the central bank's efforts to return to a normal monetary policy after the Great Recession.

The long-awaited reduction in the Fed's $4.5-trillion balance sheet comes amid great uncertainty at the central bank. There are several vacancies on the Fed board and there could be a change in leadership early next year if President Trump decides not to renominate Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen.

On top of that, the devastation caused by recent severe hurricanes could make it difficult for Fed policymakers to get a solid read on the economy in the coming weeks as they decide whether to enact another small hike in a key interest rate.

"Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have devastated many communities, inflicting severe hardship," Fed officials said in a policy statement Wednesday after a two-day meeting.

"Storm-related disruptions and rebuilding will affect economic activity in the near-term, but past experience suggests that the storms are unlikely to materially alter the course of the national economy over the medium term," the Fed statement said.

CongressWhite House

Comedian skewers Republican Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill as failing to pass the 'Jimmy Kimmel test'

Late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel skewered the new Republican healthcare plan, a potentially devastating development as Senate GOP leaders struggle for support ahead of a possible vote next week.

Kimmel waded into the healthcare debate earlier this year when he choked up on TV recounting his newborn son's heart condition — and the high costs of healthcare that he can pay, but he knows other Americans cannot.

The "Jimmy Kimmel Live" host has become one of the most prominent celebrities to publicly advocate preserving Obamacare's insurance protections — so much so that Republicans themselves have aspired to meet "the Jimmy Kimmel test."

It says that patients like the child born with a congenital disease would get the care they need, with no caps on insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, regardless of costs.

On Monday night, Kimmel said the new bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — a one-time guest on the show who coined the Kimmel test phrase — failed the standard.

"This new bill actually does pass the Jimmy Kimmel test but a different Jimmy Kimmel test," the comedian said in his opening monologue.

"With this one, your child with the pre-existing condition will get the care he needs if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel. ... ," he said. "Not only did Bill Cassidy fail the Jimmy Kimmel test, he failed the Bill Cassidy test."

He said: "This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied to my face."

The reaction was swift and fierce, especially because Kimmel tweeted the Capitol switchboard number for viewers to call their senators urging a "no" vote.

Democrats and others opposed to the new bill quickly shared the message, ensuring phone lines lit up at Congress.

Cassidy, a medical doctor who has worked tirelessly on the new bill, mounted a vigorous defense Wednesday and said Kimmel was mistaken.

"I am sorry he does not understand," the senator said on CNN. "Under Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson, more people will have coverage, and we protect those with pre-existing conditions."

Experts analyzing the just-released bill, which Republicans are trying to pass before a Sept. 30 deadline, say it would more likely cut coverage for millions of Americans.

Under the plan, states that expanded Medicaid coverage for lower-income Americans with Obamacare would see their funding reduced and distributed more evenly with those that did not.

States also would have more leeway to apply for waivers from the kinds of Obamacare protections against spending caps and lifetime limits that were a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans have not yet secured the 50 votes needed from their slim 52-seat majority for passage.

Key GOP senators who opposed an earlier overhaul — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — have not said whether they will support the new bill.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said he will oppose it, and others may join him.

Kimmel's monologue could prove pivotal in influencing the debate.

Congress

An exercise in civil disobedience gets three congressmen arrested in New York

Sitting in the middle of Fifth Avenue got three congressmen hauled away by New York City police on Tuesday afternoon during a demonstration in front of Trump Tower to protest the president’s immigration policy.

Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), along with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, were among a group of about 10 protesters taken into custody, according to postings on social media.

“We’re making it clear to Trump, GOP & Dems: we will continue peaceful fight for #Dreamers & immigrants as long as it takes,’’ Guiterrez posted on Twitter in explanation of the protests.

Photographs showed the protesters sitting in the middle of the street holding a white banner, as a cordon of police stood above them. Trump was believed to be in Trump Tower after addressing the United Nations earlier in the day.

 

White House names former NFL player to lead initiative for historically black colleges

President Trump addresses officials from historically black colleges and universities in the Oval Office in February. (Aude Guerrucci / Getty Images)
President Trump addresses officials from historically black colleges and universities in the Oval Office in February. (Aude Guerrucci / Getty Images)

Amid criticism that it hasn’t lived up to its commitment to historically black colleges, the Trump administration has named Johnathan M. Holifield, a former NFL player, author and entrepreneur, to lead a White House initiative on the issue.

Advocates applauded the appointment and said they look forward to working with Holifield, who played for one season with the Cincinnati Bengals, in 1989. But some are still skeptical and called for more substantive changes, particularly a reversal of proposed budget cuts and a greater commitment to Title III of the Higher Education Act, which helps institutions of higher education support low-income students.

Holifield’s appointment was announced Monday at the annual White House conference for presidents and stakeholders at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. Some attendees said they hoped the event would be a first step to more cooperation with the administration.

Bipartisan group of governors voice opposition to latest Obamacare repeal effort in Congress

 (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The latest Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act has some resistance outside Washington: a bipartisan group of governors.

On Tuesday, nearly a dozen governors, including Bill Walker of Alaska, signed a letter opposing the new repeal legislation sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that in recent days has gained momentum in Congress.

The move by Walker could influence his state's senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, a key vote who has been silent on whether she supports the new legislation. In July, Murkowski, a Republican, voted with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), in opposition to the last Obamacare repeal effort.

Walker’s opposition comes a day after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he supports the legislation. (For his part, McCain, who has not said if he supports the new repeal bill, has said his vote would be influenced by Ducey’s position.)

In voicing their opposition, the group, led by Govs. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and John Kasich (R-Ohio), denounced the legislation for being crafted behind closed doors.

“Legislation should receive consideration under regular order, including hearings in health committees and input from the appropriate health-related parties,” the governors wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. 

Since the summer the bipartisan group of governors has expressed concerns about deep cuts to Medicaid in their states, which, among other things, helps provide funding for drug addiction treatment. 

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office said that it would not be able to produce a full analysis of the Cassidy-Graham bill, including cuts to Medicaid, for several weeks.

CongressWhite House

Trump is all in for GOP healthcare bill; sponsor Graham allies with 'Darth Vader' (a.k.a. Steve Bannon) for support

GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, left, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina confer on their last-minute measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, left, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina confer on their last-minute measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

President Trump is making a big push to revive the Republican healthcare overhaul days before a Senate deadline, dispatching Vice President Mike Pence from New York back to Washington on Tuesday to tell GOP senators: "This is the moment."

Senate Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass their latest legislation, from Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, with 50 votes plus Pence as the tie-breaker. On Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year, the threshold reverts to 60 votes — an impossible hurdle since there are 52 Republicans and the Democratic caucus is solidly opposed.

They face building pressure from angry conservative activists pushing Republicans to keep their promise to "repeal and replace Obamacare." But opponents of the bill, including major medical and patient associations, have mobilized against it.

Pence, who was in New York with Trump and other senior administration officials to attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting, returned to the Capitol to tell Republican senators: "Now is the time. We have 12 days," according to a media pool report from Air Force Two.

Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, both phoned Pence during his flight from New York. Graham told reporters on Pence's plane that Trump had called him on Monday evening to urge action. 

Cassidy and Graham have been working to salvage the party effort for an alternative health insurance program after the spectacular collapse last month of an earlier Republican bill to undo President Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Graham said Tuesday he has made an alliance with "Darth Vader" — referring to former Trump advisor Steven K. Bannon — for support to see the bill to passage. Bannon, who was portrayed as the villain on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," is back to running the website Breitbart, which is influential among conservatives, after being pushed out of the White House. 

"I have got Alan Greenspan, Jeb Bush and Steve Bannon" behind this bill, Graham said. "If anyone can do better, I'd like to meet them."

Even though some senators have been working separately on bipartisan legislation to improve the Affordable Care Act by stabilizing the health insurance marketplace, Pence planned to tell Republican senators that House Republicans would not support those efforts.

More Navy officers fired for collisions at sea that killed 17 U.S. sailors

The U.S. Navy destroyer Fitzgerald after a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant ship ACX Crystal in June. (Associated Press)
The U.S. Navy destroyer Fitzgerald after a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant ship ACX Crystal in June. (Associated Press)

Two senior Navy officers were fired Monday due to a “loss of confidence in their ability to command” after two collisions with civilian ships in the western Pacific killed 17 sailors at sea, the Pentagon said.

Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of the warships on patrol in the Asia-Pacific region, and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commander of guided missile destroyers in the region, were the latest leaders removed since the Navy launched an investigation last month into the deadly accidents.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon he was confident in how the Navy was examining the mistakes that have shaken the military and political leadership. In all, four U.S. warships had collisions or ran aground in the Pacific this year. 

The Navy has “a tradition of holding officers accountable, and they’ll do what they think is necessary,” he said.

In addition to the loss of life in the Navy, Mattis said he was concerned about a string of aviation crashes and other accidents during training exercises that have killed or injured more than 50 troops this year.

“We’re going to look at what happened on the demolition range and we’re going to look at what happened at seamanship on a ship and we’re going to look at what happened when an aircraft came out of the air,” he said.

A U.S. Army special operations service member was killed Thursday and several others were injured during a training incident at Fort Bragg, N.C.

A day earlier, 15 Marines were injured during exercise after their amphibious landing vehicle caught fire at Camp Pendleton.

“What has caused the compilation of these coming in?” Mattis said. “Right now I don’t have that broader knowledge.”

Mattis focused much of his comments on the Navy accidents because so many sailors died.

The Navy has fired several commanders related to the deadly collisions, including Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the Japan-based 7th Fleet that oversees all operations in the Asia-Pacific region

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, ordered a sweeping review last month to determine why trained crews on U.S. warships carrying radars and other high-tech sensors failed to avoid collisions while underway.

Richardson also announced a rare “operational pause” to give time to the Navy to assess its policies and procedures.

The stand-down was announced hours after the U.S. guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain collided on Aug. 21 with the Alnic MC, a Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker that is nearly three times its size.

Ten sailors were killed in the accident, which occurred at the entrance to the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, near Singapore.

Two months earlier, on June 17, the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald was rammed by a much larger Philippine-flagged container ship, the ACX Crystal, about 50 nautical miles from the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan. 

Seven sailors were killed in that accident. The commander and executive officer of the Fitzgerald were later relieved of command.

A guided-missile cruiser, Lake Champlain, collided with a South Korean fishing vessel on May 9 off the Korean Peninsula. Another guided-missile cruiser, Antietam, ran aground Jan. 31 and gushed oil into Tokyo Bay.

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