Tillerson slams reports he considered resigning, called Trump a 'moron'

Published: Wednesday, October 04, 2017 @ 11:23 AM

Tillerson Denies Reports He Considered Resigning, Called Trump a ‘Moron’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied on Wednesday that he has ever considered leaving his post after a report surfaced claiming he called the president a “moron” over the summer and thought about resigning.

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“My commitment to my president and our country is strong,” Tillerson said. “I serve at the appointment of the president and I’m here for as long as the president believes I can be useful.”

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GOP leaders unveil giant federal government spending plan

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 4:23 PM

After weeks of negotiations, Congress unveiled a $1.3 trillion funding measure for the federal government on Wednesday night, adding billions in new spending for both the Pentagon and domestic spending programs, adding in a pair of bills dealing with school safety and gun violence, but including no deals on some politically difficult issues like the future of illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

The 2,232 pages of bill text were quietly posted by GOP leaders after yet another day of closed door negotiations, which included a trip down to the White House by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“No bill of this size is perfect,” Ryan said in a written statement, as he touted the extra money in the plan for the U.S. military.

“But this legislation addresses important priorities and makes us stronger at home and abroad,” Ryan added.

Among the items included in the Omnibus funding bill:

+ The bipartisan “Fix NICS” bill, which would press states and federal agencies to funnel more information into the instant background check system for gun buyers.

+ The “STOP School Violence Act,” which would send grant money to local governments to help schools better recognize possible violent threats in schools and their communities.

+ A series of corrections to the recent tax cut law.

Even before the text of the bill was unveiled, a number of Republicans were not pleased, arguing the GOP has done little to merit the support of voters back home, saying it will mean more spending and a bigger government.

“That is not in any way close to what the election was about,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who argued the President should veto the bill.

Also causing some irritation was the fact that the bill was negotiated with little input from most lawmakers, and sprung on them just hours before the House and Senate were due to head out of town on a two week Easter break.

“There is not a single member of Congress who can physically read it, unless they are a speed reader,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

One of the many provisions in the bill included a $174,000 payment to the estate of the late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who died earlier this week.

Those type of payments are typical when a lawmaker dies while in office.

GOP leaders hope to vote on the Omnibus in the House on Thursday, as lawmakers are ready to go home for a two-week break for Easter.

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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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