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Congress, White House, strike 2-year budget deal for $300 billion spending increase

Published: Wednesday, February 07, 2018 @ 8:09 AM

Ending months of negotiations, Senate leaders on Wednesday announced an agreement with the White House to do away with restrictive budget limits for both the Pentagon and domestic spending programs, as the plan will add nearly $300 billion to the federal budget over the next two years.

“This bill is the product of extensive negotiations,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked together to find common ground.”

I believe we have reached a budget deal that neither side loves, but both sides can be proud of,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer rattled off a series of programs that would see extra money:

+ $2 billion for research at the National Institutes of Health
+ $20 billion for infrastructure
+ $4 billion for college affordability
+ $6 billion to fund the fight on opioids
+ $4 billion for work on veterans hospitals and clinics

The quick review from budget hawks in the House was not receptive.

Senate leaders also said the agreement would pave the way for approval of nearly $90 billion in disaster aid for areas hit hard by hurricanes and wildfires in recent months.

Lawmakers from Texas and Florida have been urgently pressing for action on that, arguing as well for more relief for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:39 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:53 PM

What You Need To Know: Rick Gates

Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

READ MORE: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates face new charges: report | Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probeWho is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

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Third Trump Campaign official pleads guilty in Russia investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 9:55 AM

Former Trump Campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. federal court on Friday to a pair of charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, becoming the third person from the President’s 2016 campaign to accept a plea bargain with investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

For weeks, news reports had said that Gates was under pressure to agree to cooperate with prosecutors, as he was the one-time right hand man to former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort. The feds say both men engaged in extensive efforts to avoid reporting millions of dollars in income from political work done for a pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine.

In new documents filed earlier in the day, the feds again set out a highly detailed and extensive series of financial transactions by Manafort, Gates – and several unnamed conspirators – to funnel “millions of dollars in payments” into foreign companies and bank accounts around the world.

Along with pleading guilty to charges of defrauding the United States by conspiring to avoid taxes on millions of dollars in payments , Gates acknowledged in this plea bargain to lying to investigators – just three weeks ago.

One additional note – on that day that Gates lied to investigators, February 1, his original attorney filed a motion with a federal judge to immediately withdraw as Gates’ lawyer.

The reason wasn’t known – as the details were filed under seal, and kept secret.

Gates is the fifth person to publicly plead guilty to a charge in the Mueller investigation; none of the allegations leveled by the feds against either Manafort or Gates have centered on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Gates also becomes the third member of the Trump Campaign to plead guilty in this probe, joining foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The plea bargain would seem to ratchet up the pressure on Manafort, as the two men have worked together for many years in the private sector as political consultants and lobbyists, and then for Mr. Trump in 2016.

Gates was originally indicted along with Manafort in late October 2017 on a 12-count indictment covering money laundering, false statements, and not registering as a foreign agent.

A superseding indictment was filed Thursday afternoon against Manafort and Gates, 32 criminal counts which featured charges of income tax evasion, bank fraud, and conspiracy.


In the latest indictment, the feds charge that Manafort and Gates made “tens of millions” of dollars
from their work with a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, and then “engaged in a scheme to hide income from United States authorities.”

The plea bargain by Gates comes a week after a federal grand jury indicted a group of Russians, as the feds set out the details of a well-financed operation that used social media to mainly support the candidacy of President Trump, and raise questions about the bid of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.

This was the reaction from Manafort to the Gates plea.

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Kasich, other governors announce health care reform plan

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 12:06 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 12:06 PM


            WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Gov. John Kasich (R) (R-OH) speaks as Gov. John Hickenlooper (L) (D-CO) listens during a press conference February 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. The three governors unveiled a blueprint for improved health care in the U.S. during the press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
            Win McNamee
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Gov. John Kasich (R) (R-OH) speaks as Gov. John Hickenlooper (L) (D-CO) listens during a press conference February 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. The three governors unveiled a blueprint for improved health care in the U.S. during the press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)(Win McNamee)

The national conversation may be centered on guns and immigration, but on Friday, a bipartisan group of governors that includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich tried to focus the nation’s attention, once again, on health care.

The group, which also includes Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and independent Bill Walker of Alaska, in D.C. for a meeting of the National Governors Association, released a six–page blueprint for improving the nation’s health care a document that a Kasich aide described as the best of the ideas that Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon.

RELATED: Governors push health care compromise

They argue that while much of the nation has argued about coverage, they’ve avoided a very crucial conversation about cost. Increased flexibility and reforms that drive the cost down, they say, will have to be implemented in order to avoid either a single-payer system or a two-tiered system in which the wealthy get great benefits and the poor scrape by.

“We cannot afford to lose sight of” the urgency around health care,” said Hickenlooper.

Added Kasich, “We’re all looking for ways to do what: Continue to provide great health care but at lower prices.”

The plan released includes guiding principles that have often been repeated during the health care debate: provide flexibility, encourage innovation, improve the regulatory environment, for example, but includes no legislative language, nor specificity on costs. Instead, it seems to be a “reboot” of a prior conversation, an attempt to steer the nation’s attention back to health care.

Among the steps the governors call for is to restore the cost sharing reduction payments that are given to insurers in order to keep premiums low; encourage consumers to sign up for coverage; and ensuring that Americans contribute “to their health care consistent with their financial capacity.”

“Please get going,” Kasich said at one point, appearing to address lawmakers whose efforts to reform health care have stalled. “Because if you don’t, a lot of your people are going to get the shaft and not the kind of health care that they ought to have.”

One thing the governors appeared to endorse was the idea of being able to tailor Medicaid coverage to their states. Ohio has an aging population, while Colorado’s is younger. Alaska, whose governor Bill Walker also attended the press conference, has tribal issues that might necessitate different requirements than Ohio’s population, for example.

RELATED: Liberal policy group unveils coverage for all plan

For his part, Kasich appeared to put an additional onus on businesses, saying they’ll need to help drive the debate by convincing insurance companies to give them a better deal for coverage.

“It has to be the businesses in this country who say they’ve had enough, and frankly, maybe they do, but I don’t think enough,” he said, adding that “great quality at a lower price…has to be demanded by the private sector in America.”

Kasich said he supported a requirement that some Medicaid recipients work, acknowledging “a sense out there” that some receive the federal benefits while others work hard and receive less. “Work requirements are fine with me,” he said. “It just has to be thought of in a way that’s going to work and be practical.” And Hickenlooper said he’s not opposed as long as the government considers those who aren’t healthy enough to work or those who are healthy, but must take care of a child or an elderly family member.

Friday morning’s press conference is one of a series of events that Kasich has scheduled for his time in Washington. He’ll also attend an event by the fiscally conservative Concord Coalition later today and attend a reception with fellow governors late Friday afternoon.

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Trump calls again for security changes in wake of Florida school shooting

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 6:19 AM

In a speech to a large gathering of conservative political activists outside Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump on Friday said he is committed to forcing security changes in America’s schools, which he says will cut down on the threat of mass school shootings, like the one last week in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people.

“We will act, we will do something,” the President said in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We will act.”

Mr. Trump on Friday again repeated his support for his call to allow certain teachers and administrators to carry a concealed weapon in school, all to form a line of defense.

“Why do we protect our airports and banks, but not our schools?” the President said.

“Our schools are essentially gun-free zones and that makes them very dangerous places,” Mr. Trump added.

Both at the speech, and earlier in the day at the White House, Mr. Trump said he was disappointed in the reaction of an armed deputy, who was stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but did not confront the gunman who was shooting inside.

“When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened. But he certainly did a poor job,” the President told reporters before boarding Marine One.

At CPAC, the President also expressed his support for more efforts to put mental health information into the current instant background check system for gun buyers, and said it’s time for police and authorities to do more about people who have mental health issues.

“We will really have to strengthen up background checks,” the President said. “We have to do that.”

Several times, Mr. Trump seemed to be publicly cajoling the National Rifle Association to accept his plans on guns and school security, as the President reminded his audience that he was a staunch defender of the Second Amendment.

“Let’s get it done right,” the President said of action on a variety of fronts to deal with school shootings. “We really owe it to our country.”

The President on Friday did not mention his call to raise the minimum purchase age for a gun like an AR-15 from 18 years old to 21 years old – that proposal has already drawn some concern from Republicans in the Congress, and reports of resistance inside the NRA as well.

Also in his CPAC speech, Mr. Trump ran through a familiar list of achievements during his first term in office, talking up a major package of tax cuts, the end of dozens of regulations, and the confirmation of conservative federal judges.

“Don’t get complacent,” the President urged the crowd, telling them a victory for Democrats in the Congress in the 2018 mid-term elections would endanger a number of his accomplishments.

“They will take away those massive tax cuts, and they will take away your Second Amendment,” the President said of Democrats.

“We’ve got seven years to go,” Mr. Trump said to cheers. “We’re finally rebuilding our nation.”

There was also a lighter moment, as President Trump noted that the big video boards in the convention hall might show something he tries to avoid.

“I try like hell to hide that bald spot,” the Preisdent said to cheers.

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