Stubborn partisan clashes face lawmakers as Congress returns

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 3:23 AM
Updated: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 3:22 AM


            The Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, as White House officials plan to meet with the Republican and Democratic leaders of both chambers to discuss the budget. Two new senators are being sworn in today, Minnesota Lt. Gov.Tina Smith, a Democrat, will take over from Al Franken who resigned, and Senator-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat of Alabama, succeeds Luther Strange. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, as White House officials plan to meet with the Republican and Democratic leaders of both chambers to discuss the budget. Two new senators are being sworn in today, Minnesota Lt. Gov.Tina Smith, a Democrat, will take over from Al Franken who resigned, and Senator-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat of Alabama, succeeds Luther Strange. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

There are familiar but stubborn clashes facing lawmakers Wednesday as Congress begins its 2018 session staring at the year's first potential calamity — an election-year government shutdown unless there's a bipartisan spending pact by Jan. 19.

Looking to prevent a closure of federal agencies, top White House officials planned to meet at the Capitol on Wednesday with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and each chamber's top Democrat.

Their goal is to find a compromise on raising limits on defense and domestic spending that eluded lawmakers before they left Washington for the holidays. In a statement Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump wants a two-year pact "that provides realistic budget caps and provides certainty for our national security," suggesting he was open to a bargain.

In one complication, Democrats have linked closure on the budget to protecting from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. Both parties have been divided over the so-called Dreamers.

Parachuting into this are two new Democratic senators whose arrivals are extraordinary.

Alabama's Doug Jones narrowly upended Roy Moore, a polarizing Republican even before women began accusing him of decades-old sexual misconduct, in a special election last month to become the first Senate Democrat in a quarter-century from one of the nation's reddest states. Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will replace Democrat Al Franken, the onetime TV comedian who was becoming one of his party's most familiar liberal voices but resigned after a succession of sexual harassment accusations. His last day in Congress was Tuesday.

Both new lawmakers will be sworn in when the Senate gavels into session Wednesday. The House returns next week.

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BUDGET BATTLE

Crunching budget caps imposed by a 2011 fiscal deal would cut spending for the Pentagon and nondefense Cabinet departments below last year's levels. Republicans are in control but need Democratic votes to boost the caps, a priority of the GOP and members of both parties who want additional spending for domestic programs like curbing opioid abuse.

A temporary spending bill expires Jan. 19 and federal agencies would begin closing their doors the next day without a budget pact or an agreement to keep talking. Boosting pressure on lawmakers to reach agreement, Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the Pentagon needs a full-year budget this month. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, concurred Tuesday in an interview, saying he was "trying to think of a word that adequately describes how vital" that is.

Even so, opposition is likely among GOP conservatives opposing higher domestic spending. Democrats want military increases to be matched with nondefense hikes.

The White House's Sanders called a budget deal "our biggest and number one priority."

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IMMIGRATION

Democrats have split over how far to push for legislation protecting Dreamers. Activists and some lawmakers have said they'd force a shutdown unless it's addressed, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote to colleagues Tuesday that she's "firmly committed" to quickly enacting protections.

More than a dozen Hispanic Democratic House members forced a meeting last month with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said Schumer assured the group that Democrats "will lay it all on the line" to protect the immigrants when Congress returns.

Trump has rescinded an executive order by former President Barack Obama that gives the Dreamers protected status. Trump gave lawmakers until March to reach a legislative solution and has indicated a willingness to seek a deal with Democrats.

But many Republicans oppose renewing the protections, and Trump has taken a harder line recently. He tweeted Tuesday that Democrats "are doing nothing" on immigration and are "just interested in politics." Days earlier, he said there would be no deal without money for the wall along the Mexican border that he touted during his presidential campaign. Democrats have said they're open to border security financing, not a wall.

McConnell said last month he'll bring immigration legislation to a vote if a bipartisan group of senators reaches agreement.

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GOP AGENDA

Trump, Ryan and McConnell meet at Camp David this weekend to discuss legislative plans.

It's unclear what can be achieved in an election year when Democrats have a chance to win congressional control. Ryan has talked up culling savings from benefit programs like welfare, but McConnell has shown little enthusiasm for that in a chamber he'll control by just 51-49 and would need a virtually unattainable nine Democratic votes to prevail.

The parties have suggested pushing a mammoth infrastructure bill, but Democrats haven't supported GOP ideas of financing it by cutting other programs.

Both parties want to renew expired financing for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides care for nearly 9 million low-income children. Also possible: revamping Obama's law overhauling financial market regulations, shoring up Obama's health care overhaul and renewing a foreign intelligence gathering program.

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DISASTERS

The House approved $81 billion last month for disaster aid, but the Senate is eyeing more. Democrats want additional aid for Puerto Rico, where only about half the territory has electricity months after Hurricane Maria slammed it. The powerful delegation from Texas wants guarantees their state will get funds for recovery and water projects.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking, Darlene Superville and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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This version corrects that budget "caps" would impose spending cuts unless lifted.

Trump cancels Florida trip as government shutdown looms

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 11:35 AM

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One in the rain at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach Monday afternoon, January 15, 2018.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One in the rain at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach Monday afternoon, January 15, 2018.

President Donald Trump will not make a planned trip to Mar-a-Lago today because of a looming federal government shutdown, a White House official told The Palm Beach Post on Friday morning.

>> Read more trending news

Trump was scheduled to arrive at Palm Beach International Airport tonight for a weekend trip that included a Saturday fundraiser for his 2020 re-election campaign at Mar-a-Lago. The official who confirmed today’s travel is off did not address the president’s plans for the remainder of the weekend.

5 Things to Know About Mar-a-Lago

Trump was planning to make the 12th Palm Beach visit of his presidency. But Congress has not reached a spending agreement to keep the federal government operating past midnight.

Saturday is the one-year anniversary of Trump taking office. The Trump campaign recently announced a “special sweepstakes” in which a winner will get to attend dinner Saturday at Mar-a-Lago with Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

Related

Trump physical results: 6 things to know

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 5:16 PM

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16:  U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he stops by a Conversations with the Women of America panel at the South Court Auditorium of Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. The three-part panel features ÒAmerican women from various backgrounds and experiences who will speak with high-level women within the Trump Administration, about what has been accomplished to date to advance women at home, and in the workplace.Ó  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he stops by a Conversations with the Women of America panel at the South Court Auditorium of Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. The three-part panel features ÒAmerican women from various backgrounds and experiences who will speak with high-level women within the Trump Administration, about what has been accomplished to date to advance women at home, and in the workplace.Ó (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is in excellent health and likely to finish his term in office without any medical issues, a presidential doctor said Tuesday at a news conference, four days after the president underwent a physical exam.

>> Read more trending news

“The president's overall health is excellent," White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson said Tuesday.

Here are six things to know about the results of the president’s physical:

Jackson: ‘He had great findings across the board’

Trump is in “very, very good health,” Jackson said Tuesday. 

“(I have) no concerns for his heart health,” the presidential physician said. “There are many good things that came from his exam, I think he had great findings across the board. “

>> White House physician releases official report

Jackson said Trump’s good health is likely to last through “the remainder of this tern, and even for the remainder of another term, if he’s elected.” He said he based his assessment on the president’s cardiac results.

“He falls into a category that portends years of event-free living,” Jackson said. “He has incredibly good genes, and that’s just the way God made him.”

Cognitive screening showed no issues

Jackson said he conducted a cognitive screening on Trump at the president’s request, although he felt the test was unnecessary.

“I’ve spent almost every day in the president’s presence,” said Jackson, whose office is near Trump’s. “I’ve got to know him pretty well and I had absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability or neurological functions.”

He said that in all his conversations with Trump, the president has been “very articulate.”

“I’ve never known him to repeat himself around me,” Jackson said. “He says what he wants to say and speaks his mind.”

Infamous slurred speech incident might have been caused by medication

A December incident in which the president sounded as though he was slurring his speech while announcing a policy shift in Israel was probably due to a medication, Jackson said.

>> Related: Trump’s slurred speech: Is it loose-fitting dentures, dry mouth or something else?

“We evaluated him, we checked everything out and everything was normal,” Jackson said, adding that the incident was likely caused because the president needed water.

He said prior to the Dec. 7 incident, he gave Trump Sudafed, which might have “inadvertently dried up his secretions.”

Why Did President Trump Slur His Words in a Recent Speech?

Trump working to lose 10-15 pounds

At 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, the president has a body mass index of 29.9, just under the number that would designate him as obese, according to information released Tuesday.

“The president, he and I talked and... I think a reasonable goal over the next year or so is (to lose) 10 or 15 pounds,” Jackson said, adding that a nutritionist would be meeting with White House chefs in the coming weeks and that Trump would be put on an exercise routine.

“He’s more enthusiastic about the diet,” Jackson said.

Jackson not concerned about Trump’s stress levels

Despite concerns from the public and reports that have painted a chaotic White House, Jackson said that he has no concerns about the president’s stress levels.

“I talk to him sometimes about stress just because I think it’s my job as his physician to bring it up on occasion,” he said. “I’ve never seen the president stressed out too much. ... He has a unique ability to push the reset button and he just gets up and he starts a new day. (I think it’s) made him healthier from a stress standpoint.”

Jackson did not test Trump’s hearing

Jackson said he didn’t have enough time to test Trump’s hearing, although he planned to conduct such a test in future physicals.

Related

Robert Mueller subpoenas Steve Bannon in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 11:57 AM

Who is Steven Bannon

Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to testify before a grand jury as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

>> Read more trending news

>> Related: Steve Bannon to testify before House Intel Committee in Russia probe

Steve Bannon to testify before House Intel Committee in Russia probe

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 11:19 AM

Who is Steven Bannon

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, will testify before the House Intelligence Committee next week in its probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

An unidentified source told Reuters on Thursday that the interview will take place Tuesday behind closed doors. It will focus on Bannon’s time as Trump’s campaign chief and not on his time in the White House, according to Reuters.

In preparation for the interview, Bannon hired Washington attorney Bill Burck to represent him, NBC News reported Friday. Burck was previously hired to represent former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House counsel Donald McGhan in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and its possible ties to the Trump campaign, according to Law360.

Burck is representing Bannon only before the committee and not in Mueller’s probe, NBC News reported.

Trump named Bannon, the former chairman of the conservative news website Breitbart News, as his campaign chief in August 2016. After his inauguration, Trump appointed Bannon to fill the newly created position of White House chief strategist.

He left the Trump administration in August 2017, almost exactly one year after joining Trump’s presidential campaign.

>> Related: Steve Bannon out as White House strategist

Days before his exit, Bannon faced scrutiny for an interview he did with the liberal magazine The American Prospect, contradicting the president's warnings to North Korea of "fire and fury" in response to threats. Tension between the pair intensified last week after Bannon was quoted in journalist Michael Wolff’s controversial tell-all book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

>> Related: 10 stunning claims about Trump White House from 'Fire and Fury'

Bannon told Wolff he thought a meeting set up by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others in June 2016 was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Trump slammed Bannon in a statement after the comments were made public, saying, “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

Bannon later apologized for the comments.

>> Related: Report: Bannon apologizes for comments about Trump family in new book

Bannon announced Tuesday that he would be leaving Breitbart News for the second time in two years.

>> Related: Report: Steve Bannon stepping down as executive chairman at Breitbart News

"You have not heard the last from me," he wrote in a Twitter post announcing his departure.