Ryan urges Trump to make steel, aluminum tariffs more targeted

Published: Tuesday, March 06, 2018 @ 5:49 AM

Scrambling to head off what some GOP lawmakers fear would be economically counter-productive tariffs backed by President Donald Trump on imported steel and aluminum, House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday publicly called on the White House to focus such trade duties on specific countries, not on all countries sending those products to the United States.

“I think the smarter way to go is to make it more surgical and more targeted,” Speaker Ryan told reporters at a Tuesday news conference.

“Clearly there is over capacity, dumping and trans-shipping of steel and aluminum by some countries, particularly China,” Ryan added, acknowledging the need for some type of trade action by the Trump Administration.

The public appeal by the Speaker came as Republicans in Congress searched for a way to limit the President’s push for trade measures, concerned it could start a trade war.

“I’m against new tariffs,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) during an interview on Fox News. “They’re simply a tax on the consumer.”

“These tariffs are not a tax on foreign steel and aluminum producers, they are a tax on American citizens and business,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) at a Senate hearing. “The proposed tariffs would blunt the benefits of tax reform for all Americans.”

The appeals from GOP lawmakers – and from aides inside the White House – have not changed the President’s mind at this point; Mr. Trump said on Monday that he was not backing down, as officials reminded reporters and lawmakers alike that trade was one of the central issues in the 2016 campaign for President.

“We have a great relationship with Speaker Ryan,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday.

“But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”

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U.S. Senate passes Portman bill to crack down on sex trafficking

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 5:40 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 5:40 PM

            Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The U.S. Senate Wednesday passed a bill that would give victims and prosecutors the right to sue websites that allow posts selling women and young girls – the culmination of a three-year effort by Portman to stop online sex trafficking

The bill, which passed the House at the end of February, now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature. Trump has signaled he will sign it.

“It’s a really big week,” said Portman one day before the Senate passed the bill 97 to 2, with only Sens. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, opposing. Portman said after Trump signs the bill, prosecutions of online sex traffickers could begin “within weeks.”

“People could be saved from this,” he said.

RELATED: Portman, internet companies differ over sex trafficking approach

Portman, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, launched an investigation into sex trafficking in 2015. Before long he and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, had discovered a few things: One, that the overwhelming trafficker of women and children was an online marketplace called Backpage.com, and two, that a provision within the 1996 Communications Decency Act effectively gave websites like Backpage legal protection because it protected websites from liability based on third-party posts. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Backpage.com is involved in 75 percent of the online trafficking reports it receives from the public.

The investigation – which included a Supreme Court fight to subpoena information from a very resistant Backpage.com – ultimately found that Backpage.com was well aware that they were at times selling young girls for sex on their site, but tried to protect themselves by simply editing the language on the ads, rather than take the ads down altogether. “They didn’t remove the post because they didn’t want to lose the revenue,” Portman said on the Senate floor.

Portman and other lawmakers became convinced that amending the 1996 law could prevent Backpage and other sites from having essential legal immunity to sell people online.

RELATED: Senators going after website accused of aiding sex trafficking

“It became clear that there was a federal solution that could make a big difference,” Portman said.

His bill – which has been cosponsored by 68 members of the Senate – tweaks the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites that are essentially sex trafficking marketplaces can be sued, including by victims or law enforcement.

Among the bill’s cosponsors was Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. He said after the vote that he was glad to join his fellow Ohio senator to pass the bill. “We need to remain vigilant in rooting out human trafficking wherever it occurs,” Brown said.

Portman’s work on the issue – he ran ads highlighting the issue during his 2016 campaign – was featured in a Netflix documentary called “I am Jane Doe.”

That documentary also featured the story of Kubiiki Pride, an Atlanta mother whose daughter ran away from home. Pride looked on Backpage only to find her 14-year-old daughter being sold for sex, with pictures of her daughter in “explicit photographs.

Pride called Backpage.com and asked them to take down the ad. They refused, telling her that she didn’t post the ad nor pay for it, therefore could not take it down. Later, when she finally got her daughter back, she couldn’t sue because of the Communications Decency Act. So frustrated was the legal system by the provision in the law that at one point, a Sacramento judge threw out pimping charges against Backpage and directly called on Congress to act.

Portman said when he began pushing to change the provision, he was met by resistance from websites who told him, point-blank, that they would win.

“This law was considered sacrosanct,” he said.

But now, it’s on the verge of being changed.

“The internet has had a lot of positive aspects for society and our economy,” he said. “But there is a dark side.”

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21 states targeted by Russia in 2016 election still a mystery

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 8:01 AM

Reviewing the reaction of the Obama Administration to signs that Russia was trying to interfere in the 2016 election campaign, Senators on Wednesday expressed frustration at the refusal of the Obama and Trump Administrations to publicly reveal the names of at least 21 states targeted by Russian cyber attackers in 2016, arguing there is no reason to keep that information from the American people.

“America has to know what’s wrong,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “And if there are states that have been attacked, America should know that.”

In a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said states which were victimized prefer to remain anonymous, giving no hint that the identities of those states would be revealed any time soon.

“The 21 states themselves have been notified,” said Nielsen.

“But people have to know,” Feinstein countered.

Feinstein also pressed former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who defended efforts by the Obama Administration to both warn states – and warn the public about the Russian election threat.

“Senator, the American people were told,” Johnson said.

“Not sufficiently in any way, shape, or form,” Feinstein replied.

Johnson acknowledged that an early October 2016 warning about Russian actions – issued both by DHS and the broader U.S. Intelligence Community – did not get the press traction that he thought it deserved, mainly due to other breaking news about the campaign for President on that day.

“It was below the fold news, the next day, because of the release of the Access Hollywood video the same day,” Johnson said, referring to the tape of President Donald Trump in which he bragged about how he treated women, a revelation that roiled the 2016 campaign for the next several days.

At the hearing, Johnson did not mention what else was released on the same day – as just minutes after the Access Hollywood tape was made public, Wikileaks made the first release of hacked emails from John Podesta, a top aide to Hillary Clinton – all of that combining to overwhelm the U.S. government warning about Russian actions.

In hindsight, members of both parties said it was very obvious that – at the time – Russia was actively trying to cause trouble in the 2016 elections.

“Russian government actors scanned an estimated 21 states, and attempted to gain access to a handful of those,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“In at least one case, they were successful in penetrating a voter registration database,” Burr added.

Burr said his panel’s investigation showed that DHS and the FBI in 2016 did alert states of the Russian threat, but in a “limited way,” which resulted in most states not treating the information as an imminent threat.

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Winter storm threat shuts down federal government, cancels White House events

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 4:04 AM

While the calendar may say it is spring, another winter storm threatened the East Coast on Wednesday, prompting the federal government to close down offices in the Washington, D.C. area, and canceling public events for President Donald Trump at the White House.

While there was little snow on the ground as the sun came up on Wednesday, forecasters were warning of big snow totals from the nation’s capital, up the I-95 corridor through Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But as the morning commute continued, there was little evidence in some spots of that storm.

“Total accumulation so far 1” of Salt,” tweeted Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), as he documented empty streets on his commute to the U.S. Capitol, as lawmakers from the heartland subtly mocked the snow scare.

The biggest snowfall totals seemed to be to north of the Washington area, up near the Mason-Dixon line along the Maryland and Pennsylvania border, where as much as two feet of snow could fall.

But federal officials did not take any chances, as they closed government offices on Wednesday.

Despite the weather threat, Congress was in session today, though some committees had scrapped hearings set for Wednesday morning, worried about the snow.

Both the House and Senate were still going to be in session, as lawmakers were trying to finish a giant funding bill, facing a Friday night shutdown deadline.

At the White House, it was a snow day as well – even without any snow on the ground in the morning – as the President erred on the side of caution, and canceled two events, including a Cabinet meeting.

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Portman: Firing Mueller would be ‘big mistake’

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 7:33 PM

            Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today that it “would be a big mistake” for President Donald Trump to fire Independent Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian officials trying to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign had any ties to those officials.

“I’ve said all along it would be a mistake to do so,” Portman told reporters on a conference call. “I think you have to let Mueller do his work. The American people deserve an answer.”

RELATED: Portman calls on pension panel to shed partisanship

Portman’s comments follow those of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was quoted Tuesday as saying firing Mueller would “probably” be an impeachable offense. Graham had earlier said a Mueller firing would be “the beginning of the end” of the Trump presidency.

Portman said the intelligence community “has determined there was meddling in our election and we need to know more about it.”

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