Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

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“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

Vladimir Putin - Fast Facts

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Local Congressman Jim Jordan could become one of most powerful D.C. players

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, speaking here to a group of business leaders in Urbana, founded the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers that at times has been able to influence legislation in Congress. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, speaking here to a group of business leaders in Urbana, founded the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers that at times has been able to influence legislation in Congress. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

With the 2018 midterm elections months away, experts are eyeing two scenarios for House Republicans: One: they lose the House majority. Two: They keep the majority, but it shrinks.

For U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, the first scenario is a nightmare.

The second could make him one of the most powerful people in Washington.

Jordan, who saw his two endorsed GOP candidates for Ohio U.S House seats fall in the May 8 primary elections, nonetheless has not lost any political capital with their defeat. Most of the roughly three dozen members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which he founded, are in safe seats heading into November.

RELATED: Jordan considers run for speaker

Instead, it’s House GOP moderates who are more likely to lose their seats, meaning that even with the primary defeats of Melanie Leneghan and state Rep. Christina Hagan in Ohio, Jordan stands to gain ground next year, providing, of course, that House Republicans keep their majority.

That may not mean that Jordan becomes the next House speaker — an idea the Urbana Republican floated in the aftermath of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to retire at the end of this Congress. But it may mean having enough votes to be the deciding factor in what does and doesn’t pass the House.

That power was on display Friday when Jordan and the Freedom Caucus helped defeat a Republican farm bill over an immigration dispute.

Should the GOP hang onto the majority, said one Ohio Republican political strategist, Jordan “has a little more influence, absolutely. He can prevent us from getting to 218 (votes necessary to pass a bill) or he can help us to get 218. And we’ll need him every time we need to get to 218.”

RELATED: Military force in Syria should be on the table, Jordan says.

Odd math

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said there is a ceiling on Jordan’s power.

“I have a hard time seeing how Jordan will have the votes to be speaker,” Kondik said. “It’s not like he needed one Melanie Leneghan to do that. He probably needed 50 Melanie Leneghans.”

In the odd math of politics in Washington, however, ultraconservatives like Jordan gain when the party loses seats.

“The reality is the only time we really have power with Republicans is when it’s close,” said Tom Zawistowski, a tea party leader from Portage County in northeast Ohio. “The worst thing that happens is we hold all the state offices and a supermajority in the House and Senate because then they don’t need you, they don’t need your vote…you’re better off with 51 votes in the Senate, because if they have 60, they can tell (Kentucky Sen.) Rand Paul to go pound salt.”

RELATED: Jordan says Boehner is angry, bitter

Influential caucus

Jordan, a former wrestler elected to the House in 2006, founded the House Freedom Caucus in 2015. Since then, that caucus – which numbers only two or three dozen – has held an out-sized influence on the House Republican caucus, which often needs their votes in order to reach the 218 majority threshold.

Their lack of support for a GOP replacement bill to the 2010 health law known as Obamacare contributed to Ryan’s decision to pull the bill. More recently, the group was among those who voted against a mammoth spending bill. But they were also key in the passage of the 2017 tax overhaul, which Jordan calls one of the few legislative achievements of this Congress.

In 2015, the Freedom Caucus’ demands were one of the reasons then-Speaker John Boehner decided to resign. Boehner, in an October 2017 interview with Politico, called the group “anarchists” who “want total chaos.” He’s been quoted as calling Jordan a “legislative terrorist.”

Whether it is as speaker — Ryan has endorsed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for the speakership — or in some other capacity, Jordan’s focus is on pushing the agenda to the right.

“What we’re trying to do is impact policy in a way that we told voters we are going to do, in a way consistent with the mandate entrusted to us in 2016,” Jordan said.

RELATED: Turner urges EPA administrator to release chemical study

Divisive figure

The Republican speaker battle won’t take place if Democrats capture the House in November. But conservative groups are already touting Jordan for the post.

Noah Wall, vice president of advocacy for FreedomWorks, a tea party-affiliated organization, said his organization has received 25,000 signatures on a petition they’ve circulated calling for Jordan to run for speaker. He called Jordan “kind of a cult hero” to the group’s activists.

But others in the party see him as more of a divisive figure.

“With Jim Jordan, everyone has a strong opinion of him,” said one Ohio Republican political strategist who spoke on a condition of anonymity. “Nobody is ambivalent. Nobody doesn’t care. And the problem with that is there are 30 people who love him and a whole bunch of people who don’t like him.”

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Trump targets ex-Obama CIA chief in fresh attacks on Russia probe

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 8:28 AM

For a second straight day, President Trump used Twitter to go on the attack over the probe into links between Russian interference into the 2016 elections and his own campaign for President, this time targeting a former CIA Director in the Obama Administration, John Brennan, who publicly ridiculed the President and GOP leaders in Congress on Sunday, after Mr. Trump launched a Twitter barrage over the fairness of the Russia probe.

“John Brennan is panicking,” the President said of the former CIA chief. “He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community.”

In his tweets, Mr. Trump placed Brennan at the center of a conspiracy to use the ‘Steele Dossier’ to start what the President says was a politically motivated investigation of the Trump Campaign.

“This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle,” the President wrote, quoting Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Florida and Maryland.

“This was a Political hit job,” the President wrote.

Mr. Trump’s tweets came just a few hours before he was going to the CIA to swear in the new Director of Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, who was confirmed to the post last Thursday by the U.S. Senate.

Ironically, Brennan has been a strong public supporter of Haspel, breaking with many Democrats, who had pressed for her rejection in the Senate.

Brennan, who was CIA Director during the second term of the Obama Administration, earned the ire of the President with a Sunday tweet that not only slammed the President, but as GOP leaders in Congress, accusing them of doing nothing in the face of an effort by Mr. Trump to interfere in a lawful investigation of Russian meddling in 2016.

Brennan has sniped at Mr. Trump on Twitter before, accusing him earlier this month of lying about the Iran nuclear deal, and arguing he has diminished the office of the President of the United States.

“Your hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Brennan tweeted in late April, when Mr. Trump accused former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of leaking the Steele Dossier to CNN and lying about it.

The tweets by the President on Monday morning did not rival his outburst on Sunday, in which he savaged the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and said he would demand a review of whether the investigation was political in nature.

Top Justice Department officials responded on Sunday evening by saying they would have the Inspector General review Mr. Trump’s claims.

It was not immediately clear if that move satisfied the President, who made this declaration Sunday afternoon on Twitter:

Democrats derided the President’s outburst on Twitter, again saying the Mueller investigation should be allowed to go forward without interference.

“Trump can wriggle and squirm and spew on Twitter all he wants, but in America the law will run its own course,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

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Trump explodes on Twitter, demands new review of 2016 investigation

Published: Sunday, May 20, 2018 @ 3:12 PM

Venting his frustration in a series of tweets on Sunday, President Donald Trump again demanded to know how the Justice Department, FBI, and Obama Administration handled questions of Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying he would request a new review specifically to see if an investigation was opened for ‘political purposes’ involving his campaign.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” the President said.

It was one of a number of tweets where Mr. Trump flashed aggravation with the investigation into questions of Russian interference in the 2016 elections this weekend, as he repeated his charge that the feds had gone easy on Hillary Clinton and Democrats, while focusing investigative resources on his own campaign.

What seemingly set off Mr. Trump on Sunday was a report in the New York Times, which said Donald Trump Jr. had held a meeting at Trump Tower in the months before the elections, to hear an offer of help from emissaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia – so now they’re looking at the rest of the World,” the President tweeted.

The President’s call for a review of how the FBI handled questions about Russian interference is already the subject of a review inside the Justice Department – it wasn’t clear how this request would be dealt with by officials.

“There are rules,” said Carrie Cordero, a former Justice Department national security lawyer, who is now a professor at Georgetown University Law School.

In Congress, Democrats saw the President’s tweets as a signal of one thing – that he’s worried about what investigators are finding out about the 2016 probe, as they raised questions of whether the President is trying to exert political pressure on the Justice Department.

“The President has sent 8 tweets in 5 hours on Hillary and the Mueller investigation,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “He is unhinged.”

“A President who has nothing to hide would not have done another series of tweets this Sunday Morning smearing the DOJ investigation,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

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Farm bill derailed over House GOP battle on immigration

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 4:13 PM

Unable to broker an agreement on a schedule for votes on bills dealing with immigration, a simmering internal fight among Republicans on that hot button issue boiled over on the House floor Friday, resulting in the defeat of a major farm policy bill, with the outcome raising the chances that the House will have a wide open showdown over DACA and illegal immigrant “Dreamers” in June.

A frustrated House Speaker Paul Ryan stood with his arms folded in the Well of the House as the 213-198 rejection of the Farm Bill was an embarrassing reminder of the inability of GOP leaders to forge an immigration bill that can pass Congress – and get the support of the President.

“I don’t know if the Freedom Caucus is ever going to say ‘yes’ to anything,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), as many Republicans blamed the group of more conservative GOP lawmakers for opposing the Farm Bill, in an effort to get a vote on an immigration bill that they would support.

“We had an agreement yesterday,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA). “They pulled back off of that agreement.”

There were 30 Republicans who voted against the Farm Bill, for a mixture of reasons. Some over immigration, some because it spent too much, while there was also a group of more moderate Republicans who opposed changes in work requirements in the food stamp program.

“It doesn’t actually save money,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). “In the first five years of the bill, it spends more money.”

For others, their opposition had nothing to do with farm policy.

“I think at this point, we really just need to deal with immigration,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the head of the House Freedom Caucus. “Hopefully we’ll fix the Farm Bill and the immigration bill.”

“My main focus was making sure we do immigration policy right,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

Those type of comments sparked finger pointing from fellow Republicans.

“When you have people like Jim Jordan taking down the Farm Bill for other issues, they’re acting just like Chuck Schumer and the Democrats over in the Senate,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).

In the aftermath of the vote, Republicans who have pressed a ‘discharge petition’ to force action on immigration said their efforts were not over.

“What we have been working on most of the week is a timeline, a date certain, when we bring most of this up,” Rep. Denham told reporters, as he predicted there would be 218 signatures soon, which would force action on immigration.

Under the plan, four different immigration bills would be in order, giving all sides an opportunity to bring up their issues – but Denham says the final outcome must be something that allows “Dreamers” a pathway to citizenship, and includes serious border security measures.

“We are now working on the substance of that bill, and trying to come together on a 218-bipartisan bill,” Denham added, saying he was working with the White House as well.

“Ultimately we want to have something we not only put on the President’s desk, but one the President will actually support,” Denham said.

Once there are 218 signatures, that will start a clock for action in June.

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