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Published: Wednesday, February 07, 2018 @ 2:21 PM
WASHINGTON — Senate leaders Wednesday forged a two-year budget agreement that boosts defense spending by $80 billion this year while providing for increased federal spending for hurricane disaster relief and domestic programs dealing with opioid addiction and community health centers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the agreement shortly early Wednesday afternoon, a move that could end a protracted series of temporary spending bills that have kept the federal government open since the end of September.
The deal, which provides an additional $85 billion for defense in the second year, is a major relief for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. If Congress approves the agreement, not only would defense spending be increased, but thousands of workers at the base would not face the threat of being furloughed by a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said called the budget deal “a huge win for our men and women in uniform, including those at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We are finally delivering them what we’ve promised: stable funding they can rely on to address this readiness crisis and rebuild our military.”
The bill also includes an additional $6 billion during the next two years to deal with the opioid crisis and $20 billion for roads, bridges, waste-water treatment and rural broadband.
Budget hawks may balk at the deal. The two-year agreement would increase federal spending by as much as $400 billion at a time when budget deficits are already expected to dramatically increase, in part because of a $1.5 trillion tax cut approved late last year by congressional Republicans and signed into law by President Donald Trump.
“This budget compromise is a terrible deal,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said in a statement. “Hiking spending 13 percent and ballooning the deficit is irresponsible and not what we were elected to do.”
Senate approval seems almost certain, however, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Wednesday were touting various aspects of the spending plan. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the $6 billion over two years to battle opioids “is a good start for Ohio communities in desperate need of resources.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he was “pleased to see” both parties come together on a plan that increases military funding and makes “key investments to address this opioid crisis while keeping our government running.”
Speaking on the Senate floor, Schumer called the budget deal “a genuine breakthrough. After months of fiscal brinkmanship, this budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship. And it should break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled this Congress and hampered our middle class,” he said.
The agreement breaks the restrictions on federal domestic and defense spending established by a 2013 law. That law limited defense spending this year to $549 billion and domestic spending to $516 billion. The law did not restrict federal spending for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Many Democrats and Republicans have objected to the spending restrictions, with GOP lawmakers calling for more defense dollars and Democrats insisting on more spending for domestic programs. Both sides seemed to get some of what they wanted in the deal announced by McConnell and Schumer.
In addition to the $165 billion boost in military spending over two years, domestic spending would increase by $63 billion in the 2018 federal spending year and $68 billion in the 2019 spending year.
In a floor speech, McConnell said in “the face of continuing and emerging threats,” spending for national defense under the old caps “have left us unable to realize the potential of our missile defense capabilities. They whittled down our conventional forces … and shrunk our fleet to its lowest ship count in nearly three decades.”
A government shutdown looms if both houses don’t vote by midnight tonight or pass another temporary extension.
One of those most unhappy with the deal was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. For hours Wednesday, Pelosi stood on the House floor and blasted the fact that the agreement does not include legal protection for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were children.
Pelosi and other House Democrats are pushing for a commitment for a vote to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which is set to expire next month. Without an extension, the roughly 700,000 people with DACA status nationwide could lose protection under the law and face possible deportation.
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:53 PM
The White House on Monday signaled that President Donald Trump is willing to back at least one bipartisan measure to strengthen the national instant check system for those who buy firearms, as Democrats in the House and Senate continued to argue that action by the Congress on gun violence is long overdue.
“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
In a written statement sent to reporters, Sanders said the President spoke to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday; the Texas Republican has a bipartisan bill with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), which would force states and federal agencies to submit more information into the instant gun check system.
After a mass shooting last November in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 25 people died, the Air Force acknowledged that the killer – who received a ‘bad conduct’ discharge from the military – should not have been able to buy guns, but those records were never placed in the instant check system.
“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said in November when he introduced this bipartisan gun measure.”
Democrats had hoped there would be action on that measure – just like they had hoped there would have been action to ban “bump stocks” after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, action on the “No Fly, No Buy” measure after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and then the “FixNics” bill after the Texas shooting.
Last week’s shooting in Florida simply put all of those requests for legislation to deal with guns on repeat for Democrats.
“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “And so, I’m asking – no, demanding – we take action now.”
Democrats would certainly like to do much more than the ‘FixNics’ bill, or banning bump stocks, as other ideas have popped up in recent days, like not allowing anyone under age 21 to buy weapons like an AR-15.
But as the President returned to Washington on Monday evening from a long weekend at his Florida retreat, it wasn’t clear if his support for one bipartisan plan would actually mean action – as GOP leaders have not put such measures on the fast track to a vote in the House and Senate.
On Sunday, when the President met with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Florida, the two men discussed a series of issues, including “the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.”
The White House statement on their meeting did not characterize whether legislative action was discussed.
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 4:04 PM
Updated: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 4:04 PM
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the nation mourned, President Donald Trump kept largely silent about the Florida school shooting victims and the escalating gun control debate, instead raging at the FBI for what he perceived to be a fixation on the Russia investigation at the cost of failing to deter the attack.
From the privacy of Mar-a-Lago, Trump vented about the investigation in a marathon series of tweets over the weekend. He said Sunday “they are laughing their asses off in Moscow’” at the lingering fallout from the Kremlin’s election interference and that the Obama administration bears some blame for the meddling.
Trump was last seen publicly Friday night when he visited the Florida community reeling from a school shooting that left 17 dead and gave rise to a student-led push for more gun control. White House aides advised the president against golfing so soon after the tragedy, so Trump spent much of the holiday weekend watching cable television news and grousing to club members and advisers.
Trump met Sunday afternoon with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, discussing immigration, taxes, infrastructure and the Florida shooting, the White House said.
Amid a growing call for action on guns, the White House said Sunday the president will host a “listening session” with students and teachers this week, but offered no details on who would attend or what would be discussed.
On Monday, 17 Washington students plan a “lie-in” by the White House to advocate for tougher gun laws. Students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are planning a march on Washington next month to pressure politicians to take action on gun violence.
Some lawmakers said it would take a powerful movement to motivate Congress.
“I am not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress that we’re going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Throughout the weekend, the president’s mind remained on Russia after an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday charged 13 Russians with a plot to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.
Trump viewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s declaration that the indictment doesn’t show that any American knowingly participated as proof of his innocence and is deeply frustrated that the media are still suggesting that his campaign may have colluded with Russian officials, according to a person who has spoken to the president in the last 24 hours but is not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
He has fumed to associates at Mar-a-Lago that the media “won’t let it go” and will do everything to delegitimize his presidency. He made those complaints to members who stopped by his table Saturday as he dined with his two adult sons and TV personality Geraldo Rivera.
Initially pleased with the Justice Department’s statement, Trump has since griped that Rosenstein did not go far enough in declaring that he was cleared of wrongdoing, and grew angry when his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, gave credence to the notion that Russia’s meddling affected the election, the person said.
Trump’s frustration bubbled over on Twitter, where he stressed that the Russian effort began before he declared his candidacy, asserted that the Obama administration bears some blame for the election meddling and insisted he never denied that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. campaign.
James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president was not focusing on the bigger threat.
“Above all this rhetoric here, again, we’re losing sight of, what is it we’re going to do about the threat posed by the Russians? And he never — he never talks about that,” said Clapper. “It’s all about himself, collusion or not.”
Trump tweeted about the nation’s “heavy heart” in the wake of the shooting and noted the “incredible people” he met on his visit to the community. But he also sought to use the shooting to criticize the nation’s leading law enforcement agency.
Trump said late Saturday that the FBI “missed all of the many signals” sent by the suspect and argued that agents are “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”
The FBI received a tip last month that the man now charged in the school shooting had a “desire to kill” and access to guns and could be plotting an attack. But the agency said Friday that agents failed to investigate.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, called that tweet an “absurd statement” on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that the “FBI apparently made a terrible mistake, and people should be held accountable. But we need leadership out of the executive.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stressed on ABC’s “This Week” that the indictment was not the end of the Mueller probe.
Published: Sunday, February 18, 2018 @ 4:01 AM
In the wake of a fresh round of indictments in the wide-ranging investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday and Sunday to repeatedly express his frustration with the probe, again proclaiming his innocence, attacking his critics, and demanding attention instead on actions of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton.
“I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” the President tweeted on Sunday morning – though Mr. Trump has been very slow to embrace the concept that Russia was at fault, as he derided the investigations into Russian interference in 2016.
“They are laughing their asses off in Moscow,” the President said on Twitter. “Get smart America!”
Those were just a sampling of a number of tweets from this weekend, as the President let off steam on a number of fronts.
The President even rebuked his own National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, over a point that Mr. Trump and his supporters have zeroed in on repeatedly – a lack of evidence that ties any Russian operation to the Trump Campaign.
“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians,” as the President again tried to switch the attention of the moment to questions that the GOP has raised about Hillary Clinton, the Steele Dossier, and the Democratic National Committee.
“The Fake News Media never fails,” the President wrote on Saturday, repeatedly making the argument that any Russian interference in 2016 did not tip the scales of the election in his favor.
“Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President,” the President added.
“The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!” he tweeted.
Critics of the President noted what was missing in his Saturday and Sunday tweets about the Russia investigation was any pledge by Mr. Trump to implement tougher sanctions against Russia which were approved by the Congress, or to order tougher measures to stop any Russian meddling.
Last week, the nation’s top intelligence officials all agreed that Russia was going to try to repeat their 2016 effort in the 2018 election – asked by Democrats if there was any specific order from the President to focus on that threat, the intelligence chiefs only indicated that they were focused on the matter.
“Look, this is pretty simple,” said retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency. “The Russians objective was to mess with our heads.”
“Based on his late PM – this AM joint Twitter meltdown, it’s safe to say “Trump” is having a nervous breakdown as Mueller’s walls close in,” said John Schindler, a former U.S. intelligence official who has been highly critical of the President’s statements on the Russia probe.
Late on Saturday night, the President also drew in the Russia investigation to criticize the FBI over the mass shooting at a high school in Florida last week.
” They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign,” the President said.
Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 12:13 PM
The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for President on Friday presented some of the first official government evidence of actions taken in the campaign, as a federal grand jury returned an indictment against 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities, alleging that they used social media to support President Donald Trump, and oppose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The highly detailed 37 page indictment covered everything from social media ads taken out by the Russian ‘Internet Freedom Agency,’ to efforts to help with Trump rallies in Florida and other states – and even a post-election foray into anti-Trump events.
Here is some of what we learned on Friday:
1. Russian interference no longer a “hoax.” For months, President Trump has complained that the Russia investigation is a hoax. But now, the feds have laid out a highly detailed indictment, alleging that 13 Russians and 3 different Russian entities used social media to buy political ads against Hillary Clinton (“Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”), and for Donald Trump (“Trump is our only hope for a better future!”), organized actual rallies to support Mr. Trump (“Florida Goes Trump”), and much more. “If you had any doubt that Russia meddled in our 2016 elections, this is your wake-up call,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). Back in September, the President derided the idea that Russian groups had bought social media ads in the 2016 campaign. “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook ,” he tweeted. But Friday, the President seemed to finally accept that there had been Russian interference.
2. Rosenstein takes the lead on new indictments. While Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is officially the boss of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Rosenstein has not participated in any of the earlier indictment or guilty plea announcements. But today, the ‘DAG’ was front and center at the Justice Department. He laid out the basics of the indictments of 13 Russians and described the outlines of the effort to meddle in the 2016 election. Rosenstein took only a few questions.
3. Trump – and his supporters – proclaim “NO COLLUSION.” On Twitter, and then in a statement issued by the White House on Friday afternoon, the President made clear that the latest indictments showed nothing in the way of collusion between Russians and his campaign. (The all-caps “NO COLLUSION” was in the White House statement.) But what was really said by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein? “Now, there is no allegation – in this indictment – that any American was a knowing particpant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said, as he used “in this indictment” several times.
4. No names revealed of who Russians contacted. As the indictment detailed efforts by the Russians to set up events for Trump supporters in Florida, there were contacts made with people on the Trump Campaign. The indictment doesn’t list the names of those who were contacted by the ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ account – instead, they are referred to as “Campaign Official 1,” “Campaign Official 2” and so on. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Why not reveal who those people were? Is it really that big of a deal?
5. Mueller reveals some of his evidence. At one point in the indictment, the feds quote an email from one of the Russians, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, in which she said: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke).” While that jumps off the page of the indictment, it is also seems to send a message – that the FBI has a lot more information, from the social media accounts that were used by the Russians, to emails and more. Could some of this also be from intelligence efforts? We’ll see.
6. Hillary Clinton in a cage – Russian supported? In the indictment, it talks about how the Russians moved “to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting (Hillary) Clinton in a prison uniform. That jangled the memory of several reporters, who found stories about such a scene in Florida, during the 2016 campaign. And others remembered the Hillary-in-a-cage routine from other states.
7. After the election, the Russians play both sides. The indictment also revealed that after the election was over – and President Trump had been declared the victor – the Russians even went into the business of anti-Trump rallies in New York and Charlotte, North Carolina. “Trump is NOT my President,” was the rally in New York – while at the same time, the group was organizing an event to “support President-Elect Donald Trump.”
8. Another guilty plea as well for the Mueller probe. Minutes after the indictments against the 13 Russians was released, the Special Counsel also revealed a recent guilty plea, from February 2, of Richard Pinedo, from California. Pinedo was charged with “Identity Fraud,” which may be related to efforts by the Russians indicted on Friday to use American identities while engaging in their work on the 2016 Presidential election. It wasn’t exactly clear how Pinedo fits in, though it seems that he is the first American to be charged with directly helping the Russian operation to influence the 2016 campaign – but there is no evidence presented that he knew that was happening. Documents show Pinedo could face up to 15 years in prison.