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Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

Senate Republicans, back in Washington after a two-week recess, tip-toed around threats made by President Donald Trump to potentially shut down the government over funding a border wall, as lawmakers negotiate on spending bill that will need to be passed by the end of the week.

While stressing the need for technology and personnel, GOP senators hinted at a shift towards funding a broader border security measure, with the details for what funds actually go to a physical wall to be worked out later.

“I know it’s being generally referred to as a border wall, but I think it’s the efforts that border patrol can have adequate funding for the people, technology and infrastructure they think they need to secure it,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday. “I think we can be less prescriptive about exactly what the structure looks like, and more focused on the fact that we need to secure the border.”

Most Republicans withheld criticism of Trump’s calls for a border wall, which was a central campaign promise during his presidential run, but cautioned that the government funding bill will need Democratic votes to pass in the upper chamber.

“I wouldn’t mind funding a wall, but it’s a question of what we can do up here,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a member of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters. “We’ve got to do what’s doable, and not shut the government down.”

Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) didn’t go into much detail about the current status of negotiations, but said that “there is some language in there” when asked about the Trump administration’s demands for border wall funding.

Other Republicans were more explicit in declaring that a funding bill that included appropriations for a literal, full-length border wall would be a deal-breaker.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built. Period,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters, calling the wall a “a bridge too far,” whilst laughing about the mixed metaphor.

“[Trump] is never going to get appropriations for that. But he’s right to insist on more border security,” he added.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reiterated in a floor speech Monday that border wall funding would be a “non-starter” for Democrats.

In interviews and on Twitter, Trump has amped up his desire to fund a physical wall, which on the campaign trail he said Mexico would pay for. He and his deputies have floated using payments for Obamacare subsidies insurers as leverage to get Democrats to vote for a bill with border wall funding.

Asked Sunday on Fox News whether Trump would sign a spending bill that didn’t include border wall appropriations, his Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, “We don’t know yet.”

The pressure comes as Republican legislative leaders have signaled they were seeking to avoid poison bills in the funding legislation, which must be passed by Friday at midnight to avert a shutdown.

Before recess, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the Appropriations Committee who also is in Senate GOP leadership, said that funding for the wall would likely be dealt with outside this month’s must-pass legislation, as other explosive issues, such as the push to defund Planned Parenthood, were taken off the table as potential shutdown issues.

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), another Appropriations Committee member, said Monday that there are some areas of the border he would like to see a physical wall, but other areas where “you’ve got to have a bunch of technology down there” because “ it “would be very, very difficult to build a structure.”

“I want to get it done, I’m not really married to a particular part getting done first,” Boozman said.

Asked if the White House was on board going that direction, Boozman added, “I think that [Department of Homeland Security Secretary John] Kelly understands that.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will sign executive orders this week aimed at expanding offshore oil drilling and reviewing national monument designations made by his predecessors, continuing the Republican’s assault on Democratic President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy.

The orders could expand oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and upend public lands protections put in place in Utah, Maine and other states. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value to be “national monuments” and restrict how the lands can be used.

Administration officials on Monday confirmed the expected moves. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the president’s upcoming actions.

Obama used his power under the act to permanently preserve more land and water using national monument designations than any other president. The land is generally off limits to timber harvesting, mining and pipelines, and commercial development.

Utah Republicans were infuriated when Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument in December on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.

Republicans also objected when Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine last summer on 87,500 acres of donated forestland. The expanse includes part of the Penobscot River and stunning views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.

Republicans have asked Trump to reverse the two designations, saying they add an unnecessary layer of federal control and could stymie commercial development.

Trump’s staff has been reviewing the decisions to determine economic impacts, whether the law was followed and whether there was appropriate consultation with local officials.

Before leaving office in January, Obama designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.

The move was seen as an effort to put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.

Obama cited an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

White House officials said when Obama imposed the order they were confident it would withstand legal challenge, adding that the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to undo permanent withdrawals. Environmental groups say a similar logic applies to national monuments and note that no president has acted to undo a monument designation made by a predecessor.

The Atlantic waters placed off-limits to new oil and gas leasing are 31 canyons stretching off the coast of New England south to Virginia. Existing leases aren’t affected.

 

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

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the world braces for a possible North Korean nuclear test, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday urged restraint in a call to President Donald Trump. American’s U.N. envoy warned of a strike if Pyongyang attacks a U.S. military base or tests an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Xi’s phone call with Trump came amid signs Pyongyang could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test explosion since 2006, or the latest in a rapid series of missile tests, further advancing its ambitions of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

In Washington, the Trump administration invited the entire 100-member Senate for a briefing Wednesday on the escalating crisis. Adding to the atmosphere of animosity, officials said North Korea has detained a third U.S. citizen.

Trump told ambassadors from U.N. Security Council members that the status quo in North Korea is “unacceptable” and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions.

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve. People have put blindfolds on for decades, and now it’s time to solve the problem,” he said at the White House.

North Korea poses one the sternest national security challenges facing the 3-month-old Trump administration. The administration has settled on a strategy emphasizing increased pressure on North Korea with the help of China, rather than trying to overthrow Kim Jong Un’s isolated government or use military force. But senior officials have repeatedly said that “all options” remain on the table.

China is a traditional ally of North Korea and fought on its side in the 1950-53 Korean War. Those ties have frayed, but Beijing remains the North’s economic lifeline. The Xi-Trump call on Monday morning Beijing time was the second time the two leaders have spoken by telephone since meeting in Florida earlier this month.

Xi told Trump that China strongly opposes North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, and hopes “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation” on the Korean Peninsula, China’s official broadcaster CCTV said.

A White House readout of the call said Trump criticized North Korea’s “continued belligerence” and the leaders “reaffirmed the urgency of the threat.” They committed to strengthening coordination to denuclearize North Korea, a statement said.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and ships in the strike group accompanying it are continuing to move toward the South Korea region, after completing a short naval exercise with Japanese ships in the Philippine Sea. But the ships are probably several days from arriving in the region.

In addition to the Carl Vinson, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered, guided-missile submarine, is due to arrive Tuesday on a routine port visit at Busan, South Korea, a U.S. defense official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the ship movement publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tuesday marks the founding anniversary of North Korea’s armed forces. It has marked such dates in the past with displays of its military capabilities.

Commercial satellite imagery suggests the North has been readying for weeks for an underground atomic explosion, and could conduct one at any time. Alternatively, a long-range missile test could show North Korean progress toward being able to fire a weapon at America. But any decision by Trump to resort to military action would be highly risky, principally because the capital of close ally South Korea lies within range of North Korea artillery and rockets.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, said Monday the U.S. wasn’t looking for a fight with Kim and wouldn’t attack North Korea “unless he gives us reason to do something.” She praised China’s increased pressure on North Korea.

Asked about the threshold for U.S. action, Haley told NBC’s “Today” that “if you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that.”

But asked what would happen if North Korea tests an intercontinental missile or nuclear device, Haley said, “I think then the president steps in and decides what’s going to happen.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the briefing to senators will be delivered by four top administration officials: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

The latest American held in North Korea is Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk. The 58-year old taught accounting for a month at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was detained on Saturday, according to Park Chan-mo, the university chancellor. No details on why Kim was detained have been released.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

 

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

Former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros sued the network and a handful of its top executives Monday for allegedly carrying out a campaign of “illegal electronic surveillance and computer hacking” against her after she went public with claims of workplace sexual harassment and retaliation.

It is the second lawsuit Tantaros has filed against her former employer within the last year. The first lawsuit, involving her sexual harassment claims, was sent to arbitration, where it is pending.

In the new strongly worded complaint, filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, Tantaros’ lawyer accused Fox’s top-brass of “professional digital character-assassination.” They hacked her computer and cell phone, she alleged, and used an army of “sock puppet” social media accounts to subtly signal to her that she was being watched.

Tantaros alleged in the complaint:

As demonstrated below with accompanying exhibits, the Defendants in this case subjected Ms. Tantaros to illegal electronic surveillance and computer hacking, and used that information (including, on information and belief, privileged attorney-client communications) to intimidate, terroize, and crush her career through an endless stream of lewd, offensive, and career-damaging social media posts, blog entries and commentary and high-profile “fake” media sites which Fox News (or its social influence contractors) owned or controlled.

Ousted Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, Fox Co-President Bill Shine, Fox PR czar Irena Briganti, and Peter Snyder, head of a company called Disruptor Inc., are named as the defendants who allegedly collaborated to “emotionally torture” Tantaros, the lawsuit claims.

In one instance, she alleged she received a copy of her book “Tied Up In Knots” at her home address one day after receiving a message from a fan asking her to sign his copy. In another, she saw a tweet about her brother Daniel’s death the day after she spoke to her mother on the phone about plans to celebrate the third anniversary of his passing.

The complaint notes that journalists critical of Ailes and disloyal to Fox were surveilled and subjected to defamatory attacks in the past, and alleges that a forensic analysis of Tantaros’ computer showed surveillance viruses not typically found in mass malware.

According to her account, the harassment campaign began last summer when she sued Fox and its senior executives for pushing her out of the network and smearing her reputation after she complained about unwanted sexual advances by Ailes and recently fired anchor Bill O’Reilly. At the time, Fox accused Tantaros of kicking up a fuss to get publicity for her book.

Ailes and O’Reilly left the network with hefty payouts after mounting public pressure, but have strenuously denied the harassment allegations against them.

A New York Supreme Court Judge ruled in February that Tantaros’ initial suit would move to private arbitration, as Fox requested, because her claims were covered by the arbitration clause of her contract.

In a statement, Fox News’ outside counsel, Dechert, LLP, denied her latest allegations.

“Fox News and its executives flatly deny that they conducted any electronic surveillance of Ms. Tantaros,” the statement said. “They have no knowledge of the anonymous or pseudonymous tweets described in her complaint. This lawsuit is a flimsy pretext to keep Ms. Tantaros and her sexual harassment claims in the public eye after the State Supreme Court directed her to bring them in arbitration.”

Read the full complaint below:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Monday confirmed former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be agriculture secretary in President Donald Trump’s administration as the farming industry looks to Washington for help amid a downturn in the market.

The Senate voted to confirm Perdue 87=11. The son of a farmer from Bonaire, Georgia, he will be the first Southerner in the post in more than two decades. He has owned several agricultural businesses, but isn’t related to or affiliated with the food company Perdue or the poultry producer Perdue Farms.

At his confirmation hearing in March, Perdue assured nervous farm-state senators that he will advocate for rural America, even as Trump has proposed deep cuts to some farm programs. He also promised to reach out to Democrats.

Still, Perdue, 70, is getting a late start on the job. Trump nominated him just two days before his inauguration, and then the nomination was delayed for weeks as the administration prepared his ethics paperwork. Perdue eventually said he would step down from several companies bearing his name to avoid conflicts of interest.

As agriculture secretary, he’ll be in charge of around 100,000 employees and the nation’s food and farm programs, including agricultural subsidies, conservation efforts, rural development programs, food safety and nutrition programs such as food stamps and federally-subsidized school meal,

Perdue will take office as farm prices have been down for several years in a row and some parts of the industry, including cotton and dairy farmers, say they need the department and Congress to rewrite agricultural policy to help revive their business.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Perdue will help facilitate recovery in small American towns.

“I know he will put the needs of farmers, ranchers and others in rural America first,” Roberts said.

Perdue’s main task over the coming year will be working with Congress and coordinating his department’s input on the next five-year farm bill. Current farm policy expires next year, and lawmakers on the House and Senate agriculture committees will have to find a way to push it through Congress amid heightened partisan tensions and concerns over spending.

At his hearing, he pledged to help senators sustain popular crop insurance programs and fix problems with government dairy programs.

Perdue may also find himself in the uncomfortable position of defending agriculture in an administration that has so far given the issue limited attention, despite Trump’s strong support in rural areas. Trump has proposed a 21 percent cut in USDA programs and has harshly criticized some international trade deals, saying they have killed American jobs. But farmers who produce more than they can sell in the United States have heavily profited from some of those deals, and are hoping his anti-trade policies will include some exceptions for agriculture.

At the hearing, Perdue said he would be a “tenacious advocate and fighter” for rural America when dealing with the White House and other agencies and noted a growing middle class around the world that is hungry for U.S. products.

“Food is a noble thing to trade,” Perdue said.

Perdue will also be part of the administration’s response to a dispute with Canada’s dairy industry, which has a new lower-priced classification of milk product that Trump says is harming U.S. producers in dairy states like Wisconsin and New York. Canada changed its policy on pricing domestic milk to cover more dairy ingredients, leading to lower prices for Canadian products that compete with U.S. milk.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, voted for Perdue and encouraged him to come to Wisconsin to talk to affected farmers.

“I stand as a willing partner to work with Secretary Perdue and President Trump to address this urgent issue,” Baldwin said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also talked to Trump about the dairy issue last week in a rare phone call between the two men.

Trump has reached out to farmers on regulation, saying the government has too many rules that negatively affect farm country. That issue is expected to come up on Perdue’s first day in office Tuesday, when the president holds hold a round table discussion with farmers and sign an executive order “to provide relief for rural America,” according to the White House.

The White House hasn’t said when Perdue will be sworn in, but he is scheduled to speak to USDA staff Tuesday morning.

After Perdue, remaining nominees for Trump’s administration to be confirmed are Robert Lighthizer for U.S. trade representative and Alexander Acosta for labor secretary.

___

Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

 

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

Josh Earnest, formerly White House press secretary in President Barack Obama’s administration, said on Sunday that he does not “feel a ton of sympathy” for Sean Spicer, his counterpart in President Donald Trump’s White House.

“Sean’s not the victim of a bait and switch. It’s not like he met President Trump on his first day,” Earnest said in remarks at George Washington University, according to a report by CNN. “He knew what he was getting into.”

Earnest said that he doesn’t “feel a ton of sympathy” for Spicer as a result.

He also said that Spicer has a “very different set of responsibilities” to the ones Earnest had during his stint as top White House spokesman.

“He works for somebody who is famously thin-skinned and somebody who has demonstrated over and over again that he doesn’t care that much about telling the truth,” Earnest said. “And who, at least in some of his record, doesn’t appear to have much of an appreciation for how important independent journalism is in the success to our democracy.”

He noted that Spicer has to contend not only with his mercurial boss, but also with a deluge of internal leaks, many critical of him in particular.

“There have been number of times where Sean has been the center of some firestorm — where within 24 hours there are anonymous White House officials criticizing him,” Earnest said. “The job of being the White House press secretary is hard enough without having people that are supposed to be on your team criticizing you and undermining you in public.”

“I was very fortunate to be on a team of people that hung close together,” he added.

Top White House aide Sebastian Gorka abruptly departed from a Georgetown University cybersecurity conference Monday afternoon after undergraduate students subjected him to a round of tough questions.

A senior counterterrorism and cybersecurity adviser to President Donald Trump who came to government by way of Breitbart News, Gorka was invited to speak on a panel titled “News, Alternative Facts, and Propaganda: The Role of Cyber in Influence Operations.” Several attendees told TPM he appeared on the defensive from the start, using his prepared remarks to accuse journalists who use anonymous sources of engaging in fake news campaigns.

Jared Stancombe, a program manager for a global health care supplier, told TPM that his full-throated comments prompted attendees to check their mobile phones for information about his background. They found a number of articles about Gorka’s ties to the Order of Vitez, a Hungarian knightly order founded by a Nazi collaborator.

“After his tirade, which visibly made people uncomfortable, I saw people begin to pull up his bio and recent stories on his affiliations … ,” Stancombe said in an e-mail. “People began to look at each other, while the panel continued with other speakers.”

Gorka has adamantly denied belonging to the group, though he acknowledges his father was a member and that he sometimes wears the Order’s medal.

Tensions escalated once the question-and-answer session began. Students from J Street U, the Jewish Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association, many of whom carried signs expressing disapproval for Gorka’s ties to the Order and rhetoric about Muslims, came prepared to press the Trump aide on his views.

Roey Hadar, a senior at Georgetown, told TPM that he asked Gorka if he believed “harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and in government” fueled extremism and legitimized groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Gorka replied that Hadar was “committing cultural appropriation and arrogance,” according to Hadar’s account and those of several journalists present.

Andrew Meshnick, Hadar’s roommate who helped organize the protest, said Gorka was similarly “combative” and “defensive” in response to his question about how Trump created “fake news” by alleging, without evidence, that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice committed a crime by requesting that some names in intelligence reports be unmasked.

After a total of five students directed questions at him, Gorka departed, saying he wanted to give the rest of the panelists an opportunity to talk.

“He just stood up and walked out,” Meshnick said. “He was sitting in the middle of the panel and there was no evidence he was supposed to leave early. It was clear he was uncomfortable. He was huffing and puffing and just very angry.”

A Georgetown spokesperson said that Gorka was scheduled to leave at 1:30 p.m. ET, though it wasn’t announced to the audience.

“Before the panel began, Mr. Gorka alerted event organizers that he needed to depart by 1:30 p.m,” the spokesperson said. “Event organizers started the audience question and answer segment earlier than anticipated to ensure adequate dialogue while all panel participants were still present.”

Meshnick and Hadar said that the protesters remained respectful throughout the event and did not disrupt Gorka’s remarks.

“We just wanted to subject his views to scrutiny,” Hadar said. “I don’t think he’s subjected to skepticism very often given the kind of public appearances he usually makes.”

Hadar shared a short video of the event on his Twitter feed:

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A jury in Las Vegas convicted two men in an armed standoff that stopped government agents from rounding up cattle near Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch in 2014 but then deadlocked on federal charges against four others later Monday.

The six men were the first to be tried in the standoff, which was hailed as a victory by states’ rights advocates who want vast stretches of federal land in the U.S. West put under local control.

Their case was seen as a preview for an upcoming trial for Bundy; his eldest sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy; and two others who prosecutors have characterized as leaders.

The judge declared a mistrial for Richard Lovelien, Scott Drexler, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart and scheduled a new trial for June 26, the same day the Bundys are set to face charges in court.

Earlier, the same jury convicted Gregory Burleson, 53, of Phoenix, of eight charges, including threatening and assaulting a federal officer. Todd Engel, 49, of Boundary County, Idaho, was found guilty of obstruction and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion.

About 30 supporters gathered outside court, where Cliven Bundy’s wife, Carol, said before the mistrial that she believed the jury saw weakness in the government’s case.

“If they can’t decide, there’s doubt. If there’s doubt, there’s innocence,” she said.

The Bundys have become symbols in the long-running fight over government-owned land. The sons also were accused of leading a 41-day armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon last year. They were acquitted of all charges but kept behind bars to face trial in the earlier standoff near their father’s ranch.

The six answered a Bundy family call-to-arms three years ago in Bunkerville, Nevada, making them co-conspirators in a plan to commit a federal offense and impede or injure federal officers, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also characterized them as the least culpable of the 17 to be tried in the case.

Jurors heard testimony and saw photos of each defendant with an assault-style rifle during the tense standoff where more than 100 protesters shouted for heavily armed federal agents to release nearly 400 cows.

The government was enforcing court orders to get Bundy’s cattle off public lands for failing to pay grazing fees.

No shots were fired. But it is illegal to brandish assault-style weapons against federal agents, Acting Nevada U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said.

The defendants argued they came to Nevada to exercise constitutional rights of free speech and weapon possession after seeing accounts of Bundy family members met with police dogs, knocked down, stun-gunned and arrested in earlier scuffles with federal agents.

Parker was famously photographed lying on a freeway overpass, looking with his AK-47-style rifle through a seam in a concrete barrier toward agents below.

Stewart stood next to Parker with a rifle on his shoulder. Drexler lay at another seam in the barrier. Engel also was armed on the overpass.

Jurors heard that Burleson had previously been an FBI informant and saw him bragging about his role in the standoff during an interview with FBI agents posing as a documentary film crew.

A third trial for six others charged in the standoff is expected in the fall.

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

All 100 members of the U.S. Senate are scheduled to attend a briefing on the situation in North Korea this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Monday.

“The White House campus will play host to a briefing for all 100 U.S. senators on the subject,” Spicer said at the top of his daily briefing, referring to North Korea.

The briefers, he said, would be 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.

“This is a Senate briefing convened by the Majority Leader, not a White House briefing. We are just serving as the location,” Spicer added.

A spokesperson for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for information on who called for the briefing, and why.

Reuters reported earlier Monday that the briefing would take place at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, and also that congressional aides were working with the White House to schedule a similar briefing for members of the House of Representatives.

And the Washington Post reported, according to an unnamed senior administration official, that the Senate briefing would take place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. That is an unusual location for such briefings, which are typically held at secure locations on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, speaking on NBC’s “Today,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said “the United States is not looking for a fight with North Korea,” but would not rule out a military response to further North Korean missile or nuclear testing.

This post has been updated.

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