Negotiators reach a deal to fund the federal government but deny Trump several key priorities

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


In ‘warm’ phone call, Trump invites Philippines’ Duterte to White House

President Trump placed a “warm” phone call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been widely criticized for a bloody anti-drug crackdown, and invited him to visit the White House, both countries said.

A White House statement late Saturday said the conversation between the two leaders was “very friendly,” and added that the U.S.-Philippine alliance was “heading in a very positive direction.”

In the Philippines, a presidential spokesman said Trump had expressed understanding of challenges facing Duterte, “especially on the matter of dangerous drugs.”

Human rights groups have expressed deep concern over Duterte’s harsh methods against suspected drug users and drug dealers during his tenure in office. Human Rights Watch estimated earlier this year that at least 7,000 people, an average of 30 a day, had been killed by death squads since Duterte became president in what appeared a deliberate campaign of extrajudicial executions.

Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, defended the invitation to Duterte, saying Sunday that the outreach was made largely in the context of calming regional tensions with North Korea and did not signal approval for Duterte’s methods in the drug war or a larger disdain for human rights.

“The purpose of this call is all about North Korea,” Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week.” He said that Trump has been “speaking a lot to all our partners in southeast Asia” amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Manila is about 1,800 miles from Pyongyang, and the Philippine navy is barely a coastal defense force, so it’s unclear how it would fit into a regional strategy for northeast Asia. Pyongyang regularly issues threats to South Korea and Japan, not the Philippines.

Duterte had been notably bellicose in his stance toward Trump’s predecessor, Barak Obama, and at one point threatened to essentially scrap the longstanding U.S.-Philippines military alliance and end cooperation on counter-terrorism. Duterte called Obama a Philippine epithet loosely translated as “son of a whore” after Obama criticized the brutal anti-drug crackdown.

It was not the first time Trump’s dealings with a foreign strongman have raised eyebrows.

Trump earlier in April hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi at the White House and praised him for doing a “fantastic job” despite Sisi’s jailing of thousands of political opponents after he took power in a military coup.

Also in April, Trump was alone among Western leaders in making a congratulatory phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after Erdogan claimed victory in a referendum that vastly enhanced presidential powers.

Critics called the Turkish referendum, whose results have been disputed by the leading opposition party, a blow to democracy.


Trump: ‘We’ll see’ if a North Korean nuclear test would trigger U.S. response

President Trump is warning North Korea not to conduct another nuclear test, saying “we’ll see” if such a step would trigger a U.S. military response.

Trump, in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” also said he believes China’s President Xi Jinping, with whom he met weeks ago in Florida, has been using Beijing’s leverage to restrain North Korea’s mercurial leader, Kim Jong Un.

In the interview, Trump said neither he nor Xi would be happy if Kim were to conduct a nuclear test, which would be North Korea’s sixth. There were some expectations earlier this month that the hermit kingdom might conduct such a test in connection with patriotic holiday observances.

The test did not take place, but North Korea has continued with other actions the U.S. and its regional allies regard as provocations, including a failed test on Saturday of a mid-range ballistic missile. Kim’s government is known to be working to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States.

Asked in the CBS interview if a North Korea nuclear test would prompt U.S. military action, Trump replied: “I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see.”

Trump appeared to offer grudging praise for Kim, noting that he took over North Korea when he was 26 or 27 after his father died and has consolidated power despite challenges from the military and members of his family.

“A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else,” he said. “And he was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie.”

In 2013, North Korea’s official news service reported that Jang Song Taek, Kim’s uncle by marriage, was executed for attempting to seize power. The report called Jang “worse than a dog.”

In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was asked if Trump was considering a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, especially if there were indications that it had developed a delivery system capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. “I don’t think so,” he said.

“I think we have to consider that option as the very last option,” said McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. He cited an array of dangers associated with any outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, including North Korea’s ability to strike Seoul with conventional artillery.

“The major lever on North Korea, maybe the only lever, is China,” he said.

Amid rising tensions with North Korea, the Trump administration has been sending mixed signals about its dealings with South Korea, long a bedrock regional ally.

Trump rattled many in South Korea last week when he said in at least two interviews that Seoul should pay $1 billion for a sophisticated missile defense system that the U.S. and South Korea have begun installing. The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, is intended to become operational within a matter of days.

South Korea’s presidential office said Sunday that Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, had offered reassurances that Washington would not try to make Seoul bear the cost. In an interview aired Sunday, McMaster confirmed that was the case — for now.

“What I told our South Korean counterpart is that until any re-negotiation, that the deal’s in place, we’ll adhere to our word,” McMaster said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Senior Trump administration officials are often put in the position of walking back Trump’s comments, including many on foreign affairs, without seeming to directly contradict the president.

In this instance, McMaster sought to put Trump’s comments in the context of looking at “appropriate burden-sharing” across all U.S. alliances.

“The question of what is the relationship on THAAD, on our defense relationship going forward, will be renegotiated, as it’s going to be with all our allies,” McMaster said. “Because what the president has said is, he will prioritize American citizens’ security and interests.”


Protest over climate change, and Trump’s rejection of issue, stoke rallies

(Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of demonstrators converged around the White House and in other cities Saturday to protest what they said was the Trump administration’s rejection of scientific claims on climate change and other environmental issues.

Trump has ordered the removal of numerous regulations imposed by previous administrations to protect the environment. That has motivated demonstrators to choose the president’s 100th day in office for mass protests .

“I am standing up for climate change,” said Lucy La Flamme, a Washington resident who held a large banner saying, “Resist,” at the demonstration.

“This is a critical tipping point,” said Kaitlin Jensco, 29, a teacher.

She and others expressed alarm at the Trump administration’s decision to remove from government websites any mention of climate warming and other keen environmental concerns.

Participants in the People’s Climate March said they objected to Trump’s rollback of restrictions on mining, oil drilling and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants, among other things.

In Washington, demonstrators braved one of the hottest April days on record to participate in the marches.


Trump will stage a 100-day rally for the voters who helped put him in the White House

(Ty Wright / Getty Images)

President Trump will skip the White House correspondents’ dinner Saturday night and instead celebrate his 100th day in office doing what got him there: taking his populist message directly to supporters in rural Pennsylvania, the state he turned from blue to red in his surprise electoral college win in November.

The nighttime rally will start in Harrisburg at the same time as the annual press dinner in Washington and give Trump a chance to publicly prod one of his favorite foils, the White House press corps, many of whom will be attending the black-tie event.

Trump’s speech wasn’t deliberately scheduled to upstage the dinner, a spokesman said.

“I respectfully suggest that it’s not just about the correspondents’ dinner; it’s rather an opportunity for him to talk to voters that elected him and [say] what he’s been able to accomplish in the first 100 days,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Friday.

Since the rally will take place 50 miles from where Trump made his 100-day compact with voters in October, the president likely will tick off what he considers his tally of accomplishments.

Chief among them: He placed a conservative justice on the Supreme Court, revamped orders to allow immigration agents to deport more people in the country illegally and has initiated a program to roll back regulations on businesses and environmental protection.

But more than half of his 30-plus executive orders simply told Cabinet agencies to study a problem and come up with recommendations.

Trump hasn’t repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act or torn up the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Iran nuclear deal, as he pledged last year.

After talking tough on Chinese trade practices, he’s agreed not to name China a currency manipulator as he promised. And his efforts to ban travel from select Muslim-majority nations have been blocked in court.

The White House announcement last week of an ambitious plan to cut taxes was rolled out as a one-page document with bullet points, not as a policy proposal to Congress.

Trump, who had no government or military experience before he ran for president, acknowledged this week that running the government is tougher than he expected.

“This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier,” Trump told Reuters in an interview Thursday.

During that interview, he handed out maps showing which parts of the country he carried in November. His advisors say he is still fixated on the daily news cycle and he often asks how a decision will play in the media before he chooses a path forward.

Trump will be the first sitting president to skip the correspondents’ dinner since Ronald Reagan didn’t attend after he was shot in 1981.

Trump was roasted by then-President Obama during the dinner in 2011 following several weeks of the billionaire businessman’s appearing on news shows spreading the false conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. People close to Trump, who was in the audience that night, have said his humiliation that night spurred him to consider a White House bid.

“I think that is the night he resolved to run for president,” Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone said in an interview last year on PBS’ Frontline. “I think he is kind of motivated by it: ‘Maybe I’ll just run. Maybe I’ll show them all.’ ”


Pentagon says two Army Rangers may have been killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan

Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, left, and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas were killed during a raid in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, left, and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas were killed during a raid in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army)

The Pentagon has launched an investigation into whether friendly fire killed two U.S. Army Rangers during a night raid against an Islamic State compound in eastern Afghanistan this week.

Due to the fierce fighting, it’s not clear if the two Rangers were shot by other Americans, by Afghan troops or by Islamic State fighters. U.S. commanders launched an official inquiry into the incident.

Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Ill., and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio, were killed during a three-hour battle Wednesday night in Nangarhar province.

The pair, assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Ft. Benning, Ga., both died of their injuries after they were evacuated from the battle. A third Ranger was wounded and expected to recover.

The raid, near the border with Pakistan, sought to capture or kill Abdul Hasib, Islamic State’s leader in Afghanistan.

About 50 Army Rangers and 40 Afghan special forces were dropped by helicopter at about 10:30 p.m. into the Mohmand Valley, according to the Pentagon.

Within minutes, the commandos came under intense fire from all directions and dug-in positions, the statement said.

“Based on reports from forces on the ground, the engagement was close-quarters from multiple compounds,” the statement said.

American AC-130 gunships, Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets and armed drones all launched air strikes during the battle, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said.

Up to 35 militants were killed although it is not clear if Hasib was among the dead.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised the two Rangers who died.

“Fighting alongside their Afghan partners, Josh and Cameron proved themselves willing to go into danger and impose a brutal cost on enemies in their path,” Mattis said in a statement. “Our nation owes them an irredeemable debt, and we give our deepest condolences to their families.”

Three U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan this year, all in Nangarhar.

On April 13, the Air Force dropped an 11-ton munition for the first time in combat on a cave-and-tunnel complex in Nangarhar that it said was a militant stronghold.

It wasn’t clear Friday if the latest U.S. casualties were in the same area as the so-called Mother of All Bombs.

A total of 1,835 American troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.


Donald Trump, 99 days into the presidency, returns to his favorite place: The campaign

President Trump has treated the 100-day mark of his presidency with anxiety -- downplaying its significance, criticizing the media for under-appreciating his achievements and rolling out a flurry of public announcements aimed at conveying a sense of action.

On Friday, Day 99, Trump chose to celebrate the occasion with a stroll down memory lane with a subject he enjoys far more, his historic campaign victory.

Trump addressed about 10,000 members of the National Rifle Assn. at a meeting in Atlanta, becoming the first sitting president to stand before the group since Ronald Reagan in 1983.

He recalled the breaking news announcements on election night, naming states he won one by one: Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania.

“We ran up the East Coast,” he said.

His face lighted up. His tone became buoyant.

“That was some evening.”

He said sports fans called it more exciting than a World Series, a Super Bowl or a boxing match. He went into details of the electoral map and praised the NRA, which may have been his most important ally in the conservative movement, for standing with him.

“You came through for me and I am going to come through for you,” Trump said, to thunderous applause.

Trump conceded in an interview with Reuters on Thursday night that the job has been more difficult than he expected. And when times have gotten tough for Trump, the election has served as his comfort zone.

In the speech, he touted reversals of 11th-hour rules imposed by the Obama administration that restricted ammunition on certain public lands. He highlighted the confirmation of conservative judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, saying the media had not given him adequate credit for the achievement.

He said his Cabinet secretaries, including Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, would get tough on criminals and immigrants who crossed the border illegally and would promote the rights of gun owners.

Then he returned to one of his favorite campaign themes of all, building a wall on the southern border.

But his rhetoric showed the differences between campaigning and governing. Trump recently relented on a demand to insert congressional funding for the wall into a must-pass spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown. And his administration has quietly conceded that the wall will not be the entire length of the border.

Trump said opponents were now trying to stop the wall by pointing to a 73% reduction in illegal border crossings since he took office, a number he has highlighted repeatedly.

“They’re trying to use this number against us,” Trump said to great applause. “But you need that wall to stop the human trafficking, to stop the drugs, to stop the wrong people.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Trump said, reassuring the crowd. “That’s an easy one.”

Trump omitted his other applause line, that Mexico would pay for the wall. The government has called that a nonstarter and Trump has yet to put forth a plan to compel the ally to pay for the wall.

But Trump was thrilled to invoke some of his other campaign lines.

“I see all of those beautiful red and white hats,” he said. “We will never forget our favorite slogan of all: Make America Great Again.”


Trump’s supporters and detractors have more in common than you might think


A lot can happen during 100 days. Here’s some of the biggest stories of Donald Trump’s first 14 weeks as president.

Over the last 100 days, thousands have graded President Trump’s performance in office. We reached out to some of those who submitted their appraisals, both supporters and opponents, to elaborate on their views. Here’s what they had to say:

“I have four friends who have asked me not to contact them again.” – Michael Taylor

Taylor, of San Diego, didn’t vote for Trump. He actually penciled in Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s name. But from what he’s seen so far, Trump doesn’t deserve the flak he’s gotten.

“It must be so difficult to sort of weather the storm and keep pushing forward with what one thinks is right,” said Taylor, who was born in North Carolina and grew up in Venezuela, then moved back to the U.S. for college.

The 70-year-old found it shocking when friends he’s known more than half his life wanted to sever their relationship over his support for Trump.

“I have a different view on politics. I’m not a serial killer. But I guess some people just feel so strongly,” he said.

He graded the president 11 out of the 14 weeks, each time giving him at least an A. His final grade? Still an A.

“This was the first time in my life that I didn’t cast a vote for president.” – Bill Mann

Mann, of South Pasadena, is a lifelong Republican. The first vote he ever cast was for Barry Goldwater in 1964. He doesn’t the party, but until November, he had always voted.

“I always felt that the Republican Party wanted people to stand on their own two feet. The Democratic Party was the party that felt people couldn’t do anything for themselves. But the Republican Party has flown so far to the right,” he said.

Mann, a 75-year-old Vietnam veteran and business owner who has fostered dozens of children over the years, said he is disappointed in Trump’s performance.

“He’s doing everything possible to destroy the things I hold dear the most.”

Overall, he gives Trump a D for his 100 days in office.

“We need jobs for the middle class. Trump is the only guy who understood that.” – Lee Roe

The Great Recession hit the 55-year-old Roe and her family hard. Her husband lost his job as an engineer, and when he finally got a new one he had to take a 60% pay cut, she said.

Now he works in Maryland and travels back to Pennsylvania every weekend to see Roe, who stayed at home with the kids.

Around the same time, her health insurance premiums went up. Roe, who suffers from a chronic illness, went from paying $700 a month for a family of four to $2,700 a month, she said.

The combination of factors pushed her to switch from longtime Democrat to Republican.

“Just because I’m a Trump supporter, doesn’t mean I’m a racist, bigot, misogynist, nasty person,” Roe said. “I really think that if we work together that our lives can be better.”

She gave Trump an A, but wants people who don’t support Trump to remember that they have more in common than the media portrays.

“We love our families. We want to take care of our families,” Roe said.

“It’s not about left or right. ... That seems to be the lesson that’s born out of this. The polarization is hurting everybody.” – Jeff Klarin

This is a tumultuous time, but it’s a time that needed to happen, said Klarin, a 57-year-old graphic designer in California.

The issues that matter to him? Obamacare (he’s on it) and immigration (he’s hired immigrant workers).

Although he disagrees with Trump on those fronts, he hopes this moment in history marks a positive turning point.

“Perhaps born out of this is more political activity that continues, and hopefully people realize that we need to work together to make our country better,” he said.

He gave Trump an F. But says it could change if Trump started to move toward the center, became more transparent and practiced less cronyism.


Analysis: At senators’ town halls, voters take an uneven measure of Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Any single event can mislead when it comes to deciphering the political environment. Many of the more than 18,000 people clamoring for Hillary Clinton on the Ohio State University campus in mid-October — her biggest audience to that point in the presidential campaign — probably did not foresee her blowout defeat in the state less than a month later. Nor did many see Donald Trump surviving the cataclysmic events that enveloped his presidential campaign.

But, with appropriate caution, it’s safe to say that last week’s Los Angeles town halls featuring Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris spoke to the crosscurrents among Democrats today and the different approaches by — and difficulties facing — California’s two senators.

Both town halls were held in politically active African American churches south of downtown: Feinstein’s at First African Methodist Episcopal and Harris’ at Holman United Methodist Church. The locations appeared calculated to set a floor of civility. At First AME, Feinstein spoke of the warmth she’d felt from that congregation going back decades; at Holman, the Rev. Kelvin Sauls reminded those gathered to see Harris that “we are in a sacred place.”

Warmth wasn’t all that greeted Feinstein, who heard catcalls throughout from a crowd far more demanding than the one that greeted Harris the following day.

The differences were obvious between the two Democrats, one starting her Washington career with more than five years to go before reelection, the other pondering whether to run for a fifth full term in 2018.

Read More


Trump thinks 100-day report cards are lame. Is he right?

(Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

On Saturday, President Trump will observe a milestone: his 100th day in office.

It’s also a millstone.

For nearly half a century, the marker has been used by pollsters, pundits and others who presume great wisdom to size up a fledgling White House and its still-green occupant.

Presidents of both parties have objected to the somewhat arbitrary nature of the evaluations, which, in truth, don’t always coincide with the longer view of history.

“You can use the first 100 days to try to understand some of the style of a presidency,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a Princeton scholar who has written extensively on presidents and politics. “But we really need to limit our analysis to that.”

Even so, birds fly, fish swim and political observers are going to issue their report cards whether the president likes it or not, which this one most certainly does not.

Here’s our take:

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Trump signs order that could open California coastal waters to new drilling

President Trump has signed an executive order that could open large parts of the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans to new oil and gas drilling, creating yet another clash with California, where leaders are vowing they will do everything in their power to block new drilling off the state’s shores.

Trump’s move, which is certain to face legal and political challenges, could undo a plan finalized late in President Obama’s second term that sought to limit fossil fuel development and fight climate change by not including new drilling leases off the coast of California or Alaska during the current five-year federal offshore plan, which extends through 2022.

Many leaders in California have long sought a permanent ban on new leasing offshore, and they reacted swiftly to the possibility that drilling could expand.

Trump promised the directive “will make America energy secure” and “create greater prosperity and security for all Americans.”

“It’s going to lead to a lot of great wealth for our country, a lot of great jobs for our country,” he said.


Trump heads to friendly NRA audience ahead of 100-day mark

(Olivier Douliery / TNS)

President Trump is scheduled to head to Atlanta on Friday afternoon to bask in the adulation of one of his friendliest audiences -- the National Rifle Assn. -- part of an effort to excite supporters and convey a sense of accomplishment ahead of the 100-day mark of his presidency.

The group, which is holding its annual leadership forum, backed Trump nearly a year ago, sooner and more forcefully than other major conservative organizations.

The organization called the Supreme Court vacancy the election’s most important issue, and Trump has not disappointed on that front. He and his advisors tout the selection and approval of Neil M. Gorsuch as Trump’s top legislative accomplishment ahead of Saturday’s 100-day mark.

Trump has made dismissive comments about the 100-day measurement, in large part because he has not passed any major laws and suffers from record-low approval ratings. But Trump has been eager to prove his administration’s efficacy nonetheless, putting out talking points, granting interviews and planning speeches. He plans to hold a rally Saturday night in Pennsylvania, a crucial electoral state and home to some of his most enthusiastic crowds during the election.

Trump has said in interviews that the presidency is not as easy as he once thought.

He raised alarms in one of his latest major interviews, Thursday night with Reuters, floating the possibility of conflict with North Korea over its nuclear program.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told the news agency.

“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said.

During his trip to Georgia, Trump is also scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in a House race that has been tougher for the party than expected. The race, featuring 30-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff, has galvanized Trump’s opponents at the national level.


Short of support, House won’t vote on revised GOP healthcare bill this week

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press )

The House won’t vote on Republican legislation that would scuttle much of President Obama’s healthcare law until at least next week, a GOP leader said late Thursday. The decision deals a setback to the White House, which has pressured congressional Republicans to pass the bill by Saturday, President Trump’s 100th day in office.

“As soon as we have the votes, we’ll vote on it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told reporters after leaving a meeting of the House GOP leadership that lasted nearly two hours. He said the vote would not occur Friday or Saturday.

White House and Republican leaders had labored all day to wring votes out of resistant moderate GOP lawmakers for the healthcare measure. But they remained shy of the number they’d need to revive a Republican bill that was withdrawn last month for lack of support, and it was uncertain when a vote on the revamped legislation might occur.

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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.
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.

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

(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)

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.


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.

Read More


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)

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)

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.

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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.
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.

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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)

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.


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.”

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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)

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.

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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.
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.


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

(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.


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.

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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.
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.


Trump wants to lower business rate to 15% in ‘biggest tax cut’ in U.S. history, Mnuchin says

President Trump wants to sharply reduce the tax rate for all businesses -- from multinational corporations to mom-and-pop shops -- to 15% in the “biggest tax cut” in U.S. history, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Wednesday.

But the Trump administration has not embraced a House Republican proposal to include a controversial border adjustment tax, Mnuchin said during a forum sponsored by the Hill newspaper.

The White House is set to announce “principles” for its tax overhaul later Wednesday although officials stressed it would not be a formal bill ready to go to Capitol Hill or to be formally analyzed by congressional number-crunchers.

Trump proposed a 15% business tax rate during the campaign and will push for that as he and congressional leaders negotiate legislation, Mnuchin said.

The current U.S. corporate tax rate is 35%, the highest among developed economies. Many smaller businesses don’t pay the corporate rate but funnel their income through the individual tax code. The highest individual rate is 39.6%.

Trump’s campaign proposal called for reducing the seven individual tax brackets to four, with the highest rate dropping to 25%.

“We want to make business competitive and we want to simplify the personal tax system, lower taxes and create economic growth,” Mnuchin said.

“So this is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country, and we are committed to seeing this through,” he said.

House Republicans have been working on a plan that would reduce the corporate tax rate to 20%. And the House plan would offset some of the lost revenue through a border adjustment tax that would bring in about $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

That tax would subject importers, including retailers, to higher taxes and produce breaks for companies that export. The proposal has split the business community.

Mnuchin said the administration likes some aspects of the border tax but is not backing it right now.

“We don’t think it works in its current form and we’re going to continue having discussions with them about revisions,” he said of negotiations with House leaders.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimated that Trump’s campaign tax plan, which includes eliminating the alternative minimum tax and other changes, would reduce federal revenues by $7.2 trillion over the first decade.

Mnuchin brushed off concerns that the tax cuts would balloon the federal budget debt by saying the plan would fuel stronger economic growth and produce more tax revenue.

The tax cuts will boost annual economic growth to 3% and “that growth will pay for the plan,” Mnuchin said.

Republicans plan to use controversial dynamic scoring, which assumes the effects of economic growth, to determine the tax plan’s budget impact.

While cutting the corporate rate is straightforward, assuring that other businesses that file individual tax returns pay a 15% rate is much more complicated.

Those companies are known as pass-through businesses because their income passes through the individual tax code, Many are small, owner-operated firms. But pass-throughs also can be large partnerships, such as hedge funds, law firms and some of Trump’s own businesses.

Mnuchin said the tax plan would be structured so the 15% rate “won’t be a loophole for rich people who should be paying higher rates.” He provided no details.

Democrats and many budget analysts are skeptical that Trump can slash business taxes without causing budget deficits to soar.

“We definitely need tax reform as a way to grow the economy,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

But she said higher economic growth won’t offset the plan’s lost revenues and it needs to be paid for by reducing tax breaks or other measures.

“What I don’t want to see is that this tax reform is going to be paid for by magic,” she said.


Cutting money for U.N. would harm U.S. power, ambassadors warn

(Associated Press)

Nine former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations on Tuesday warned against Trump administration plans to slash funding of the world body, portraying such a move as a grave danger to American power.

The ambassadors’ warning, contained in a letter to congressional leaders, came a day after President Trump received members of the U.N. Security Council at the White House and gave them an undiplomatic lecture on what they’ve been doing wrong.

Trump has threatened to drastically reduce the sizable U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping, health and other missions, which are made inefficient, as the president put it, by “bloat.”

Madeleine Albright, a former U.N. ambassador and the country’s first female secretary of State, said cutbacks at a time of numerous global crises would in fact weaken U.S. power and its position as a world leader.

“The United States needs to be doing more in the world, frankly, not less,” Albright said in a telephone briefing with reporters.

She was one of nine former ambassadors to the world body, from five Democratic and Republican administrations, who called on congressional leaders to resist the cuts Trump has outlined in budget proposals.

Withholding money, the ambassadors said, “undermines essential U.N. activities that promote core American interests and values,” deprives the U.S. of the moral authority to demand critical reform within the U.N. bureaucracy, and “costs us more over the long term.”

“It also cedes the agenda to countries that can be hostile to our interests and more than willing to see the U.S. give up its seat at the table,” the ambassadors said.

Albright said countries like Russia and China would be eager to fill any leadership void vacated by the United States. And she said the United States loses its ability to demand U.N. reform if it becomes the cause of a severe financial crisis at the organization.

The letter was signed by every living former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. since and including Andrew Young (1977-79), except for three: John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom served under Republican presidents.

Trump, in public remarks with the Security Council members on Monday, said he had long considered the U.N. an “under-performer” but that it has “tremendous potential.”

He scolded the members for not “taking on certain problems” like Syria’s chemical weapons and North Korea. (He failed to observe that it is Russia, a country Trump never criticizes, that has repeatedly vetoed U.N. resolutions against Syria.)

He said U.N. costs “have absolutely gone out of control.”

“We need the member states to come together to eliminate inefficiencies and bloat,” Trump said.


Trump backs off border wall fight for now, easing government shutdown threat

About that border wall with Mexico.

President Trump backed off demands that Congress fund his promised border wall with Mexico after the political opposition threatened a government shutdown, averting what could have been an embarrassing moment Friday on the eve of marking his first 100 days in the White House.

Trump’s reversal was welcomed on Capitol Hill as tensions cooled and negotiators continued talks Tuesday to reach an agreement. But it does not completely eliminate the drama surrounding the shutdown threat.

Congress will likely be forced to approve a stopgap measure allowing government offices to remain open while budget negotiations continue into next week.

Democrats welcomed Trump’s changed course, but it drew swift criticism from conservatives who support the wall as a way to curb illegal immigration, as Trump promised in one of the most prominent issues of his campaign.

“It looks like President Trump is caving on his demand,” talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said on his show.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that building the border wall remains a top priority for him, but the White House said the president was willing to shelve the fight until the next budget go-round in the fall.

“Nothing has changed on the president’s priorities,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “In that next budget, we’ll go for the next group of money.”

House and Senate negotiations have been working nonstop on a compromise to fund the government for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year by Friday’s deadline.

Even though Republicans have the majority in Congress, they are almost certain to need Democratic votes to pass the measure because their own party remains split over how much to spend on government functions.

Republicans submitted their latest proposal Tuesday — minus the $5-billion border wall funds, sources said — but outstanding issues remain.

Democrats want assurances that Trump won’t yank funding for subsidies to help some Americans afford healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, as he has suggested.

And both Democrats and Republicans are trying to salvage a coal miners’ pension fund that tanked during the Great Recession and now is at risk of going insolvent unless the government intervenes.

Dozens of miners, many of them retirement age, walked the halls of the Capitol complex in matching camouflage United Mine Workers of America T-shirts on Tuesday to urge support.

Republicans, meanwhile, are seeking to boost defense spending Trump has requested, and have also tried to include anti-abortion measures — including the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit public agencies that receive federal funds from blocking healthcare facilities or doctors who refuse abortion services.

Trump wanted $34 billion for the military, but talks now appear to be focusing on about half that amount, about $15 billion, sources said.

Instead of the wall money, the final deal will likely include about $1 billion for other security measures — possibly surveillance — on the border.

Trump has long promised that Mexico would pay for the wall along the southern border, something officials in that country have said is not going to happen.

Lawmakers in Congress had little interest in footing the bill — costs could be as high as $70 billion, according to one new report — and even less interest in shutting down the government over it.

The growing criticism of the border wall plan, along with the apparent lack of enthusiasm in Congress to funding it, haven’t yet caused any reassessment of the plan by Homeland Security, the agency that will be tasked to build it.

Spokesman David Lapan said Tuesday that the department will move forward with building barrier prototypes using $20 million redirected from the current budget.

“Our directive is to continue to find ways to meet the mission of building the border wall, but we need the funding to do that,” Lapan said. “We can’t do anything until funding is provided to continue construction.”

Actual construction will have to wait for the 2018 or 2019 budget years, he said.

“No one knows what the wall will cost,” he said.

Trump later Tuesday, though, insisted his wall with Mexico would become a reality.

“The wall’s going to get built, folks,” he said during a White House meeting with agriculture executives. “In case anybody has any questions, the wall is going to get built.”


How killing Energy Star could benefit Trump financially

Among the more puzzling cuts in the Trump administration budget proposal is the one that eliminates all funding for the popular -- and cost-effective -- Energy Star program, which awards its vaunted label to products and properties that utilize the most energy-efficient technologies.

The voluntary program is credited with saving consumers billions of dollars on their electricity bills, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging companies to innovate. The plan to eliminate it reflects the substantial influence in the administration of a small group of advocates in free-market think tanks who argue that even the voluntary measure reflects too much government interference in industry.

But it turns out those think tanks are not the only organizations that have an interest in seeing the program disappear. Trump’s businesses do too. A report on CNN details how Trump’s buildings consistently receive low Energy Star ratings, which diminishes their value. If the program goes away, so does that business problem.

Conflict of interest? “You bet your life that it is,” Norman Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN. The Trump Organization and the White House did not respond to the network’s requests for comment.


Trump solemnly marks Holocaust during National Days of Remembrance

President Trump delivered a sober and uplifting speech Tuesday recognizing the Holocaust and emphasizing the need to speak out against evil, two weeks after his press secretary apologized for a series of awkward remarks about the dark chapter in Jewish history.

Trump struck a far more formal tone than usual, sticking closely to written remarks in front of a group at the Capitol that included survivors and lawmakers as part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Days of Remembrance.

“We must never, ever shrink away from telling the truth about evil in our time,” Trump said.

“Evil can only thrive in darkness, and what you have brought us today is so much more powerful than evil,” he added. “You have brought us hope.”

Trump told stories of American soldiers liberating death camps, warned against those who would deny the Holocaust and praised survivors who offered hope to the world, including Elie Wiesel, a writer and intellectual who died last year.

“Through their suffering they have persevered, they have thrived and they have enlightened the world,” Trump said.

Trump also pledged to confront anti-Semitism and stand by Israel.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer attracted unwanted attention two weeks ago, the first day of Passover, when he inaccurately compared Adolf Hitler with Syrian President Bashar Assad, stating that Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II. Clumsy attempts to clarify included a reference to “Holocaust Centers,” likely referring to death camps.

The administration also neglected to mention Jews in a January statement observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And Trump personally lashed out at a reporter in February during a news conference when he was asked how the government would respond to an uptick in bomb threats against Jewish gathering places.

Tuesday’s remarks came a day after some Armenian Americans criticized the White House’s refusal to use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians in a statement commemorating the 102nd anniversary of the killings at the hands of Ottoman Turks.


Key lawmakers say Michael Flynn could be prosecuted for failing to disclose Russia, Turkey payments

Then-national security advisor Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing Feb. 1 at the White House.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

The senior members of the House Oversight Committee say classified military documents show that the Trump administration’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, did not ask permission or inform the U.S. government about payments he received for appearances before Russian organizations in 2015 and for lobbying that helped Turkey’s government.

Flynn’s failure to obtain permission from military authorities for the payments raises concern whether Flynn violated a constitutional ban on foreign payments to retired military officers. That’s according to Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings.

The two leaders of the oversight committee said there was no evidence Flynn complied with federal law. They said Flynn could be criminally prosecuted, and they said Flynn should surrender the money he was paid.


Trump wants a border wall, but few in Congress want to pay for it

A boy in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, looks at the area where a taller fence is being built along the U.S.-Mexico border near Sunland Park, N.M., on March 29.
A boy in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, looks at the area where a taller fence is being built along the U.S.-Mexico border near Sunland Park, N.M., on March 29.
(Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press)

It’s an open secret on Capitol Hill: President Trump wants a “big, beautiful” border wall, but few in Congress are willing to pay for it.

The standoff, between the White House and lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — has escalated tensions toward a possible government shutdown at midnight Friday as Congress races to meet a deadline to fund federal offices and operations.

Cooler heads will likely prevail. Talks are underway for a stopgap measure to keep the government running for another week or so while negotiations continue.

But the stalemate over Trump’s signature campaign promise — that he would build a wall along the border to deter illegal immigration and that Mexico would pay for it — remains a political divide.

It’s not that Trump’s Republican allies in Congress, who are the majority, don’t support the notions underpinning a border wall. Most of them do.

They just disagree with Trump’s approach for a physical barrier when other deterrents may prove more effective at stopping illegal crossings. And they don’t view the huge expenditure – as much as $70 billion by the latest estimate — a top priority right now.

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100-day milestone becomes millstone for the White House

(Molly Riley / Pool Photo)

In the closing weeks of his campaign last year, President Trump laid out what he called a “100-day contract” with voters — an ambitious flurry of administrative and legislative steps that he vowed would start the process of “draining the swamp” and protecting American workers.

With many of those promises as yet unfulfilled or abandoned, Trump and his aides scrambled Monday to present a glowing picture of vast accomplishment even as they downplayed the significance of the 100-day deadline looming Saturday.

Trump isn’t the first president to try to balance high expectations against harsh reality in the first months of a new administration. But the traditional temporal benchmark has become a case study for what the news cycle has come to mean in the Trump era.

The media — and cable news, especially — love a good round-numbered milestone, and Trump is a voracious consumer of cable news. So Trump’s aides are contributing to a spectacle that they simultaneously dismiss as meaningless, knowing it is a priority for their boss as he juggles bold campaign pledges against the difficulty of heading the vast U.S. government.

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