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Senators had one question remaining on Wednesday after visiting the White House for a briefing on the situation in North Korea: Why?

All 100 members of the U.S. Senate traveled to the White House by bus Wednesday afternoon to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. That meeting didn’t seem to provide many answers on President Donald Trump’s policy on North Korea.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said afterward only that “it was an OK briefing,” according to a report by CNN.

Per CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he had been “heavily briefed before” and “didn’t hear anything new.”

And one unnamed Republican senator told the Washington Post that senators did not get “straight answers on what the policy is regarding North Korea” during the briefing.

“Several senators asked specifically, ‘What is the policy?’ and the briefers gave us very, very few details,” the senator said.

“There was very little, if anything new,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told the Washington Post. “I remain mystified about why the entire Senate had to be taken over to the White House rather than conducting it here.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said the briefing contained “no revelations.”

“I think the White House wanted to convey to the Congress that they’re serious about North Korea,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin reported that one unnamed Democratic senator was less than impressed by Trump’s appearance at the briefing.

A few senators, however, appeared to find the briefing valuable.

On MSNBC, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) called the briefing “clear-eyed, sober and serious.”

“I learned a few new things,” he said. “I won’t go into too much detail.”

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) called the meeting “very consequential” but did not offer any further insight into the Trump administration’s policy.

President Donald Trump floated the idea of breaking up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday, misidentifying it yet again as the court responsible for the nationwide injunction issued Tuesday against his executive order regarding so-called sanctuary cities.

“There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit,” Trump told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “It’s outrageous.”

On Tuesday, Judge Williams Orrick III of the Northern District of California issued a preliminary nationwide injunction against part of an executive order that threatened to withhold federal funding from localities that refused to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.

On Wednesday, Trump misidentified Orrick as a judge on the 9th Circuit, when in fact the sanctuary cities case would only move to the 9th Circuit if the government chose to appeal Orrick’s decision.

Trump told the Washington Examiner that opponents of his policies had gone “judge shopping” in the circuit. Many Republicans who want to break it up say that it is too liberal. The Examiner noted that 18 of the circuit’s 25 active judges were appointed by Democratic presidents.

“Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit,” he said. “And we have a big country. We have lots of other locations. But they immediately run to the 9th Circuit. Because they know that’s like, semi-automatic.”

A major impasse to Congress coming to a deal to keep the government funded past Friday was overcome on Wednesday, with signals from the White House that it would continue to pay Obamacare subsidies that Democrats wanted explicitly guaranteed in the funding legislation being negotiated. Earlier in the day, House Speaker Paul Ryan said appropriating the payments wouldn’t be in the funding bill.

Democratic leaders issued statements Wednesday afternoon that seemed to confirm reports that the White House had offered assurances to lawmakers that the payments would continue, at least in the short-term, despite President Trump’s previous suggestions that he would use them as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

“It is good that once again the president seems to be backing off his threat to hold health care and government funding hostage,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)  said in a statement, adding that there other issues still being resolved in the government funding negotiations.

“I am pleased that the White House confirmed what I’ve been asking for: that they will uphold their commitment under the law to continue making cost sharing reduction payments,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in his own statement.

House Republicans sued the Obama administration in 2014 over the subsidies, which were being made out of the Treasury Department, alleging they were illegal because they were not explicitly appropriated by Congress. A federal judge agreed last year but allowed them to continue while her decision in favor of the Republicans was appealed by the Obama administration.

The payments became a flashpoint in the current government funding battle after Trump, earlier this month, speculated that if he withheld the payments Democrats would come to the table on replacing Obamacare. Dems responded by making the payments a priority in their funding negotiations, though this week some Democrats were waffling on whether they would shut down the government over them.

The payments subsidize insurers for keeping out-of-pocket costs down for low-income consumers, as mandated by the ACA. If eliminated, it’s anticipated that insurers would be forced to jack up premiums to make up the revenue shortfall or withdraw from ACA exchanges entirely, risking a collapse of the individual market.

Even though the government funding crisis over the payments appears to have been averted, that still doesn’t answer questions about their longterm fate, specifically where the lawsuit is concerned.

Since Trump was elected, it has been unclear whether the Justice Department under his administration was going to continue to defend them, and a pause on the legal proceedings was granted by the appeals court until May for the parties to figure out their next move.

Hoyer, in his statement, pointed to the current legal uncertainty and argued that it was now “incumbent upon House Republicans to withdraw their lawsuit that seeks to block these payments.”

A top insurer group echoed his desire for a more action to be taken on cementing their longterm fate.

“We continue to need clarity,” Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in an email to TPM in response to the Dems’ statements.

Meanwhile, some Republicans pointed to the legal case as reason for the White House not to continue the subsidies.

“The Constitution provides that ‘No money may be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of Appropriations made by Law.’ Congress has made no appropriation for Obamacare cost sharing reduction payments,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said in a statement. “Therefore, we believe making these payments without congressional approval is both clearly illegal and unconstitutional, as the district court held in House v. Price.”

 

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter on Wednesday called the University of California at Berkeley a “radical thuggish institution” after she canceled a speech at the school originally scheduled for Thursday amid concerns about violence.

“It is a dark day for free speech in America,” Coulter tweeted. “It’s sickening when a radical thuggish institution like Berkeley can so easily snuff out the cherished American right to free speech.”

In fact, Coulter canceled the appearance after the conservative group backing her, Young America’s Foundation, dropped its efforts to secure a room for her speech. In a statement posted Tuesday on its website, the group cited concerns about “leftist thugs who have terrorized Berkeley’s campus.”

“Ms. Coulter may still choose to speak in some form on campus, but Young America’s Foundation will not jeopardize the safety of its staff or students,” the group said.

In February, UC Berkeley canceled an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, then an editor at Breitbart News, after protesters started fires, threw Molotov cocktails, pushed metal barricades into windows and threw rocks and fireworks at police, per a statement by the school.

At least 20 people were arrested earlier in April after violence broke out between rallies for and against President Donald Trump in downtown Berkeley.

“There’s nothing more I can do,” Coulter said in an email to Fox News on Wednesday. “I looked over my shoulder and my allies had joined the other team.”

Administrators at the school canceled Coulter’s appearance last week, saying they were “unable to find a safe and suitable venue” for the event.

A day later, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks reversed that decision and proposed to reschedule Coulter’s speech to May 2. She rejected that offer.

 

 

Thirteen current or former Fox News employees of color, including a current anchor, have joined two racial discrimination lawsuits against the network, CNN reported Wednesday. Those dozen-plus plaintiffs are just the beginning, their lawyer predicted.

“This lawsuit will continue to grow, I suspect,” attorney Douglas Wigdor said at a press conference, according to CNN, noting that he has received calls from additional on-air Fox employees since he filed an amended version of the complaint Tuesday.

In a statement, Wigdor accused the network of “systemic race discrimination” and expressed hope that the litigation would prompt the network to take swift action.

“When it comes to racial discrimination, 21st Century Fox has been operating as if it should be called 18th Century Fox,” the statement read.

Kelly Wright (pictured), a black reporter and anchor who has spent 14 years at the network, is now lead plaintiff on the class action suit, which was filed last month in state Supreme Court in the Bronx on behalf of two former payment department employees.

Wright alleged in the complaint that he was “effectively sidelined and asked to perform the role of a ‘Jim Crow’—the racist caricature of a Black entertainer,” according to CNN.

An award-winning journalist who serves as co-anchor of America’s News Headquarters, a Saturday program, Wright contended he’s been kept off of the network’s marquee programs, like “The O’Reilly Factor.”

He alleged his effort to do a series of stories about black communities in America was rejected by the show because “it showed Blacks in ‘too positive’ a light,” according to the complaint obtained by CNN.

Wright joins a complaint first brought by Tichoana Brown and Tabrese Wright, who alleged that Fox’s recently fired comptroller, Judith Slater subjected them to “top-down racial harassment.” This involved Slater demanding that black employees arm-wrestle white colleagues, mocking how black employees pronounced words like “ask” and “mother” and suggesting black men were “women beaters.” Fox News, its parent company, 21st Century Fox, Slater, and Fox’s general counsel Dianne Brandi are named as defendants, according to the New York Times.

Another former employee, Adasa Blanco, filed a related, separate complaint on Tuesday against Fox News, Slater and Brandi, alleging that top executives at the network ignored employees’ repeated complaints about racial discrimination, CNN reported.

Through a spokesperson, Fox News strenuously denied all of the allegations against the network and Brandi, calling them “copycat complaints” and vowing to “vigorously defend these cases.”

Slater was fired in February after the network learned about the allegations. Her attorney Catherine Foti told CNN in a statement that the racial discrimination complaints “are completely false.”

The beleaguered conservative news network currently faces two additional lawsuits from former on-camera employees accusing the network and its senior executives of sexual harassment and illegal surveillance, respectively.

Two top Trump administration officials announced a number of gigantic proposed tax cuts Wednesday, but did not go into detail about the White House’s plans for working with Congress to bring the ambitious proposal to fruition.

One of the officials, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, also said that President Donald Trump had “no intention” of releasing his tax returns, even though they would show how the President would be affected by the cuts. “I think the America population has plenty of information,” he said.

Mnuchin joined fellow Goldman Sachs alumnus Gary Cohn, now director of the National Economic Council, to announce the President’s ambitious but vague tax plan in a joint press conference, just under the administration’s 100-day wire. Mnuchin pledged at one point that economic growth and cutting deductions and loopholes would pay for what he described earlier in the day as “the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country.”

A single page handed out to reporters laid out the basics, with a significant political slant.

Yet, on any one of these points, Mnuchin and Cohn had few answers to reporters’ questions.

Mnuchin said that “we will make sure that there are rules in place” so that wealthy individuals did not exploit lower corporate tax rates to shield personal wealth, but he did not specify what they would be.

What rate would be charged on profit being repatriated into the United States from overseas? one reporter asked.

“We’re working with the House and Senate on that, Mnuchin said.

“You’re going into very micro details,” Cohn added, though the details in question would affect hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue. “A very important one, we agree. Very important,” he admitted, after reporters protested the comment. 

Asked about the income definitions of the simplified brackets for individuals, Cohn said “we have outlines.”

“We have a broad brush view of where they’re going to be,” he continued. “We’re running an enormous amount of data on the proposals right now. 

“If you don’t replace some of the revenue with a border adjustment tax,” one reporter wondered, “how will you make up for the deficit caused by the reduction in the corporate tax rate? 

“Ok, well, again, today we’re putting out the core principles, which include rates, because we think that’s a very important part of the plan,” Mnuchin said. “We will be working very closely, as I said, with the House and the Senate to turn this into a bill that can be passed and the President can sign and there’s lots and lots of details that are going into how that will pay for itself.”

The broad basics, though, were clear: Slash the corporate rate to 15 percent. Repeal the estate and alternative minimum taxes. Double the standard deduction. 

How would the plan affect a median income family of four? one reporter asked toward the briefing’s end, lobbing a softball. “What does it mean for them?”

“It’s going to mean a tax cut,” Cohn said.

“How much?” the reporter asked.

“It’s going to mean a tax cut,” Cohn said again. “Look, look, you’re asking the same question we got asked over here. We will let you know the details at the appropriate moment. We’re in very robust discussions with the Senate, with the House leadership. They are progressing very quickly.” 

Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

Not long after conservative hardliners in the House signaled they would be supporting a new version of the GOP’s failed Obamacare repeal bill, the group of the conference’s moderates known as the Tuesday Group emerged from a meeting Wednesday skeptical of the proposed changes to the legislation, which would allow states to essentially gut the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions protections.

Many moderates, including those who were previous “yes” votes on the original bill, as well as those who had come out against it, said they would need to see more information about the proposed amendment. More concerning for Republicans hopeful for a deal on Obamacare repeal, some former “yes” votes said that they were now undecided on the larger legislation due to the changes.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty. Most people don’t understand exactly what’s in the legislation,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) told reporters. “We need an analysis, we need an explanation of how this is all going to work.”

The amendment was worked out between Tuesday Group co-chair Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who was supportive of the original bill, and Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC), who had led the conservative opposition to the previous iterations of the legislation. The proposal would allow states to opt out of certain  Affordable Care Act mandates on insurers, with some mandates able to be waived only if specific conditions were met.

The concession for moderates was that the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits requirement—which mandates 10 broad coverage areas insurers must offer—was no longer fully gutted as it was in the original bill but rather optional for states. However, at least a dozen moderates opposed the original bill for other reasons, like how it structured its tax credits for insurance or how drastically it scaled back Medicaid. Those issues weren’t addressed in the new deal.

“Too many people have viewed this health care reform process as a speed bump on the road to tax reform,’ said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a co-chair of the Tuesday Group who opposed the original bill and the new changes as well.

Dent said that no whip count had been conducted in the Tuesday Group meeting, but it was his sense that the moderates who were “no’s” before remained no.

Other previous “no” votes, such as Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) said their positions remained unchanged Wednesday.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who came out against the original bill before it was pulled from the floor, said that she did not have “adequate” information yet to say whether the amendment would change her vote.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) (pictured) said he was previously yes on the bill but now considers himself undecided with the new changes.

“With the prior bill, I supported that publicly before it went down. This is a different twist and I have got to re-examine it,” he said.

The House Freedom Caucus announced Wednesday that its was supportive of the amended health care bill—meaning that at least 80 percent of its 40-or-so members were likely to vote for it—as outside conservative groups withdrew their opposition to the legislation given the proposed changes.

Asked about the pressure now on the moderates to fall in line, Dent said, “I can deal with pressure any way it comes.”

Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel on Wednesday said that voters will hold the GOP accountable in the 2018 midterm elections if President Donald Trump fails to keep one of his most consistent campaign promises and build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

“Let’s talk about the wall, because it was a little confusing yesterday,” conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham asked McDaniel in an interview flagged by CNN’s KFILE.

Ingraham cited an interview Tuesday in which Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that Trump would be willing to sign a temporary funding measure that did not include funding for his proposed wall.

“But the President comes out yesterday and says there’s going to be a wall,” she said. “So what is the RNC doing specifically to push the Trump agenda and help it get traction in Congress?”

“I know that our voters are going to hold us accountable in 2018 if we do not keep the campaign promises that were made,” McDaniel replied.

“That wall was, that promise is just something, that’s not something there’s a lot of wiggle room on, or any wiggle room,” Ingraham said. “That thing doesn’t get built for whatever reason, and I can see the campaign commercials already being cut.”

McDaniel said that members of Congress who don’t vote to advance Trump’s agenda will “lose the trust of our base.”

“If we don’t keep our promises, our base is going to walk away,” she said. “They’re going to feel like, ‘Hey, you said one thing on the campaign trail to get elected and you didn’t act on it.'”

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Suspended Alabama Chief Justice and gay marriage opponent Roy Moore announced Wednesday he is running for U.S. Senate.

The fiery Republican jurist, who was suspended from the bench on accusations that he urged defiance of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing gays and lesbians to marry, said he will seek the Senate seat previously held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He made the announcement in a news conference on the steps of the Alabama Capitol.

Moore told supporters he believes in the vision of President Donald Trump

“We can make America great again, we’ve got to make America good again,”Moore said.

He charged that families are being destroyed by divorce and the US Supreme Court has destroyed the institution of marriage.

Moore made the announcement surrounded by about two dozen supporters who waved American flags, a Christian flag and signs from Moore’s past campaigns.

He is joining what’s expected to be a crowded GOP primary field in the Aug. 15 primary.

Moore has twice won statewide elections for chief justice, and twice been removed from those duties by a judicial discipline panel. His other election bids have fallen flat, including in 2010 when he finished fourth in the Republican primary candidate for governor.

The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Luther Strange. He was appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley who resigned this month amid fallout from an alleged affair with a top staffer. Bentley had planned to hold the Senate election in 2018, but the state’s new governor, Kay Ivey, moved it up to this year, setting off a stampede of contenders in what’s expected to be a four-month demolition derby among Republicans, the dominating political party in the state.

Moore, now 70, was a little known judge in Etowah County in the 1990s until the American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully sued him over a handmade wooden Ten Commandment plaque he hung on his courtroom wall. The fame helped catapult him to the office of chief justice in the 2000 election.

The Court of Judiciary, the panel that disciplines judges, removed Moore as chief justice in 2003 after he disobeyed a federal judge’s order to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument that he installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building. He called the order unlawful, saying he had a right to “acknowledge God.” He was re-elected as chief justice in 2012, a victory he described as a vindication.

Moore quickly found a new fight: Same-sex marriage.

In a Jan. 6, 2016 memo to probate judges Moore wrote that a 2015 Alabama Supreme Court order to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples remained in “full force and effect.”

His memo came six months after the highest court in the nation ruled that gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry.

The judiciary panel in September suspended Moore for the remainder of his term, saying he had violated judicial ethics by urging probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples.

Moore denied the charge of urging defiance, and said he was only giving a status update on the 2015 state order. However, he also called his ouster a politically motivated effort from “homosexual and transgender groups” because of his opposition to gay marriage.

Moore has been a divisive figure inside and outside of Alabama. He enjoys a loyal following of social conservatives but has also butted heads with some in the state GOP’s business wing.

“The people of Alabama have watched Judge Moore, time and again, stand up to the federal courts and defend the Godly principles that have made this nation great. … Alabama will become ‘Ground Zero’ in the political and cultural war,” Dean Young, a longtime Moore supporter, told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the complaints that led to Moore’s removal, calls Moore the “Ayatollah of Alabama” who has been unable to separate his personal religious beliefs from his judicial responsibilities.

While Moore is best known for his religious stances, he’s also been an outspoken advocate of sentencing reform. In a 2015 court writing, he criticized a sentence of a life without parole for a 76-year-old man who grew marijuana for personal use.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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