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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

Congressional leaders on Sunday night reached a deal to fund the federal government through September, setting Congress up to vote on the legislation this week and avoid a government shutdown.

Democrats appeared to be happy with the compromise funding measure, which will not include money to build a border wall.

“This agreement is a good agreement for the American people, and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table. The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren’t used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education, and infrastructure,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted that the funding deal eliminates certain Republican riders – unrelated policy measures tacked onto the funding measure.

“From the beginning, Democrats have sought to avert another destructive Republican Government Shutdown, and we have made significant progress improving the omnibus bill.  We have eliminated more than 160 Republican poison pill riders, ranging from undermining a woman’s right to reproductive health to dismantling Dodd-Frank’s vital Wall Street consumer protections.  The omnibus does not fund President Trump’s immoral and unwise border wall or create a cruel new deportation force,” Pelosi said in a statement.

She also said that the funding measure increases funding for the National Institutes of Health, secures health benefits for coal workers, adds money to fight the opioid epidemic, and includes Medicaid funds for Puerto Rico.

Congress is expected to vote on the funding package providing about $1 trillion early this week, according to the Washington Post.

The deal comes after Congress had to pass a one-week stopgap funding measure to avert a government shutdown while leaders from both parties hashed out a final agreement to fund the government through September. Initially, demands from the Trump administration that the bill include funding for a wall along the southern border threatened negotiations on the funding measure, but the White House ultimately dropped that demand.

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President Donald Trump on Friday announced that he will appoint Charmaine Yoest, the former president of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, as the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

In her position, which does not require confirmation in the Senate, Yoest would help shape the department’s communications strategy.

Yoest is currently a fellow at American Values, a conservative group that opposes abortion and supports “traditional marriage.” She got her start in politics during the Reagan administration. From there she moved to the ultra-conservative Family Research Council and later served on Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

While she served as president of Americans United for Life, one of the most well-known anti-abortion groups in the country, Yoest was a prominent leader for the anti-abortion movement. As the New York Times noted in a 2012 profile of Yoest, AUL was responsible for one-third of state legislatures’ anti-abortion bills between 2011 and 2012.

In 2012, Yoest told the New York Times that she believes abortions can cause breast cancer. When the Times noted that data show that claim isn’t true, Yoest would not back down and said that scientists are “under the control of the abortion lobby.”

“As a breast cancer survivor, the spin on abortion and breast cancer really troubles me,” she told the Times. “Why can’t you report what the research actually shows?”

Yoest also told PBS in 2011 that she was unwilling to address birth control as part of her work at Americans United for Life when the host asked if she would support birth control as a way to prevent abortions.

“It’s really a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control. And that’s why we try to stay very clear on differentiating between the two, and what is and is not an abortion,” Yoest said on PBS. “Because that would be, frankly, carrying water for the other side to allow them to redefine the issue in that way.”

Asked again in 2015 by the Washington Post about studies showing that birth control reduces the abortion rate, Yoest said she hadn’t “seen anything” to convince her that was true.

Though Americans United for Life does not have an official stance on birth control, the New York Times reported in 2012 that Yoest personally opposed birth control and that she described IUDs as having “ life-ending properties.”

In a Time op-ed co-written with Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) in December 2016, Yoest characterized abortion as a “war on women.”

“We know that abortion is not a means of female empowerment; it is a heartbreaking choice that ends one life and can damage another—and that is the true war on women,” they wrote in the op-ed.

Roe v. Wade leaves a sad legacy in its wake. The lives lost are many, the emotional and physical damage to birthmothers is real, and the obstacles in our fight to restore a culture of life still loom large,” Yoest and Black add later in the op-ed promoting the March for Life.

Democrats and pro-choice groups quickly denounced Trump’s appointment of Yoest on Friday, with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) calling the appointment of a “an anti-abortion activist known for spreading misinformation” to the post “troubling.”

NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said that Yoest’s appointment “speaks volumes about the Trump administration’s continued disdain for reproductive freedom and women’s rights.” Dawn Laguens, an executive vice president at Planned Parenthood, said in a statement that it’s “unacceptable that someone with a history of promoting myths and false information about women’s health is appointed to a government position whose main responsibility is to provide the public with accurate and factual information.”

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump was ready to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but changed his mind this week during discussions with advisers and the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

“You know I was really ready and psyched to terminate NAFTA,” Trump told Reuters on Thursday.

But Trump said he was persuaded to reconsider his decision and work with Canada and Mexico after speaking with the leaders of those countries.

“I’m not looking to hurt Canada and I’m not looking to hurt Mexico. They’re two countries I really like,” Trump told Reuters. “So they asked to renegotiate, and I said yes.”

The President also listened to some of his advisers, who warned that nixing the trade deal could hurt some Americans, the Washington Post reported. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Trump that terminating NAFTA could hurt some areas of the country that rely on the agriculture and manufacturing industries — areas that supported Trump, per the Washington Post.

“It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good,” Trump told the Post, referring to a map Perdue showed to Trump. “They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also pushed Trump to reconsidering withdrawing from the trade deal, while chief strategist Stephen Bannon and trade adviser Peter Navarro pushed for Trump to pull out of NAFTA, per the Washington Post.

Trump indicated to the Post that it was a tough decision for him.

“In one way, I like the termination. In the other way, I like them — a lot, both of them. We have a very good relationship. And it’s very hard when you have a relationship, it’s very much something that would not be a nice act. It would not be exactly a friendly act,” he said.

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House Republicans told reporters late Thursday night that they would not take a vote on the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare on Friday, ensuring that Congress will not move forward on the legislation by President Donald Trump’s 100-day mark.

“We are not voting on health-care tomorrow,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Thursday night, according to the Washington Post.

“We’re still educating members,” he added, per the Washington Post. “We’ve been making great progress. As soon as we have the votes, we’ll vote on it.”

Confirmation that House Republicans will not try to push a vote on the American Health Care Act on Friday makes it more likely that the House will be able to pass a stopgap funding measure before the federal government shuts down at the end of the day Friday. Democrats in the House and the Senate had been threatening to vote against a temporary spending bill if Republicans tried to quickly push the AHCA through the House on Friday.

McCarthy’s comments also indicate that House Republican leaders have not whipped enough votes to ensure the bill’s passage.

An amendment to the AHCA offered by moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) brought additional conservative members on board with the Obamacare repeal bill and secured the official backing of the House Freedom Caucus. However, moderate Republicans in the House were skeptical of the amendment, and their opposition could keep the House from passing the bill.

Two key advocacy groups for the health care industry also came out against the amendment, which would allow states to apply for waivers from some Obamcare mandates.

Trump had pushed the House to revive its failed Obamacare repeal bill in the hopes that he could move a major piece of legislation within his first 100 days of office, but the President will not get his wish.

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President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he would like to defuse the standoff with North Korea over nuclear weapons with diplomacy, but he warned that “major” conflict is possible.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” he told Reuters on Thursday. “We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult.”

Asked if North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is rational, Trump said he had no opinion.

“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age,” Trump told Reuters. “I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational.”

Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his help in addressing North Korea.

“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man,” Trump told Reuters. “With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”

The President also said that he would like to renegotiate the United States’ trade pact with South Korea, telling Reuters that he would announce it soon.

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In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, President Donald Trump acknowledged that being president is tougher than he had imagined.

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” he told Reuters. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Trump said that he misses driving and noted how restricting it is to have constant Secret Service protection.

“You’re really into your own little cocoon, because you have such massive protection that you really can’t go anywhere,” he told Reuters.

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Two advocacy groups for the health care industry on Thursday came out against the new proposed amendment to House Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, arguing that the amendment could still put many Americans’ health coverage at risk.

The American Hospital Association said in a statement that the amendment would actually make Republicans’ legislation worse for patients.

“The amendment proposed this week would dramatically worsen the bill. The changes included put consumer protections at greater risk by allowing states to waive the essential health benefit standards, which could leave patients without access to critical health services and increase out-of-pocket spending,” the group said in a statement. “This could allow plans to set premium prices based on individual risk for some consumers, which could significantly raise costs for those with pre-existing conditions.”

The group also noted that the Congressional Budget Office has not yet determined how many people would lose or gain coverage with the new amendment. The CBO projected that the AHCA in its initial form would cost 24 million people their health insurance by 2026, and the AHA said that it’s “unlikely this amendment would improve these coverage estimates.”

“As the backbone of America’s health safety-net, hospitals and health systems must protect access to care for those who need it and ensure that the most vulnerable patients are not left behind. The AHCA continues to fall far short of that goal,” the AHA said in its statement.

The American Medical Association, the largest advocacy group for doctor’s in the United States, on Thursday sent a letter to House leaders expressing concern that the bill would still cost people their health insurance.

“As we have previously stated, we are deeply concerned that the AHCA would result in millions of Americans losing their current health insurance coverage.  Nothing in the MacArthur amendment remedies the shortcomings of the underlying bill,” James Madera, CEO of the AMA, wrote in the letter.  “The amendment does not offer a clear long-term framework for stabilizing and strengthening the individual health insurance market to ensure that low and moderate income patients are able to secure affordable and adequate coverage, nor does it ensure that Medicaid and other critical safety net programs are maintained and adequately funded.”

The amendment, offered by moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) and backed by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, would allow states to apply for waivers from certain Obamacare mandates.

Madera wrote that the AMA is “particularly concerned” that the new amendment would allow states to apply for a waiver from underwriting that Madera says “protects individuals from being discriminated against by virtue of their medical conditions.”

“Prior to the passage of the ACA, such individuals were routinely denied coverage and/or priced out of affordable coverage. We are particularly concerned about allowing states to waive this requirement because it will likely lead to patients losing their coverage,” he wrote.

“Although the MacArthur Amendment states that the ban on preexisting conditions remains intact, this assurance may be illusory as health status underwriting could effectively make coverage completely unaffordable to people with preexisting conditions,” Madera continued. “There is also no certainty that the requirement for states to have some kind of reinsurance or high-risk pool mechanism to help such individuals will be sufficient to provide for affordable health insurance or prevent discrimination against individuals with certain high-cost medical conditions.”

The AMA previously came out against the AHCA in its original form due to “the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations.”

The proposed amendment to the bill has brought conservative members of the House on board, but moderate members have approached the new amendment with skepticism. Some moderates who supported the initial bill are now taking a second look with the new compromise.

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Updated at 2:54 p.m. ET

The Defense Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into whether former national security adviser Michael Flynn sought the proper approval before accepting payments from a foreign government, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee announced Thursday morning.

“This office has initiated an investigation to determine whether Lieutenant General (LTG) Flynn, U.S. Army (Retired) failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving any emolument from a foreign government,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a letter to the Oversight Committee that was released by committee Democrats.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee also released an October 2014 letter to Flynn from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) informing him that he must seek approval from Congress before accepting payments from foreign governments.

In another letter to the Oversight Committee released by Democrats on Thursday, the DIA said that it had not found any records on Flynn’s foreign payments or on his request for approval of the payments.

Flynn, a retired general lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, received a payment from Russian state-backed media outlet RT in 2015 for a speech in Moscow.

The House Oversight Committee announced earlier this week that it has not found any evidence indicating that Flynn gave the federal government the appropriate disclosures about the speech and payments.

The documents released by House Democrats on Thursday give further indication that Flynn knew he needed permission from the federal government to accept money from a foreign source but that he failed to do so anyway.

In a Thursday afternoon statement, Robert Kelner, Flynn’s lawyer, pushed back on the release from House Democrats and said that the letter from the DIA to the Oversight Committee shows that Flynn made the DIA aware of his speaking engagement for RT.

“We respectfully disagree with Representative Cummings’ characterization of the April 7, 2017 letter from DIA to the Committee. DIA’s letter actually confirms, in a terse section that is partly redacted, that General Flynn provided information and documents on a thumb drive to the Department of Defense concerning the RT speaking event in Moscow, including documents reflecting that he was using a speakers bureau for the event. The Department was fully aware of the trip,” Kelner said in the statement.

The letter released on Thursday does mention a thumb drive regarding Flynn’s work with a speaker’s bureau, but any mention of RT or Russia cannot be seen in the redacted version of the letter, if at all. Kelner’s statement notably does not argue that Flynn sought permission to receive payments from a foreign government, just that he made the DIA aware of an upcoming event with RT and his use of a speaker’s bureau.

Kelner called on the DIA and the House Oversight Committee to release the unredacted version of the letter, as well as information on briefings Flynn had with DIA officials in September 2016 that were mentioned in the letter.

“We urge DIA and the Committee to release the full, unredacted letter, along with the documents that General Flynn provided to DIA during the briefings and details concerning the in-person briefings provided by General Flynn to DIA,” he said in the statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, previously announced on Tuesday that Flynn did not disclose the payment from RT on his application for a security clearance when he joined the Trump administration. Cummings noted that falsifying an application is a felony.

In a press conference announcing the release of the documents, Cummings noted that the letters from the DIA countered a statement from Flynn’s lawyer on Tuesday.

“As has been previously reported, General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of DoD, extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings,” Flynn’s lawyer said in the statement.

Cummings also slammed the White House for refusing to comply with a request from the House Oversight committee for documents regarding foreign payments received by Flynn.

“Earlier this week the White House refused, absolutely refused, to produce even a single document — not a single document in response to the bipartisan document request that I sent with our Republican chairman. Not one syllable,” Cummings said. “I watched Sean Spicer make all kinds of excuses about how hard it would be to comply with our requests. Come on, man. Look, General Flynn served in his position for 24 days, so that excuse at the White House will not fly.”

Cummings suggested that the White House is trying to hide information from Congress and the public.

“I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn. I don’t get it,” Cummings said. “So the President fired him for lying about communications with the Russian ambassador. They should be bending over backward to help us. It does not make any sense, and it makes the American people think the white house has something to hide.”

“There’s obviously a paper trail, ladies and gentlemen. There is a paper trail that White House does not want our committee to follow. But let it be known that we will follow it. We will follow it with everything we’ve got,” Cummings concluded.

Flynn was asked to resign from his post in the Trump administration for failing to disclose his communications with Russian officials.

Since then, the former national security adviser has come under intense scrutiny for his links to foreign governments. After leaving the Trump administration, Flynn registered with the federal government for lobbying work he did before the November election that may had aided the Turkish government. He also reportedly lobbied for a Turkish businessman with ties to Russia while he was working for the Trump campaign as an adviser.

Read the documents:

This post has been updated.

 

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Following criticism for a comment he made about Ivanka Trump on Tuesday night, Fox Host Jesse Watters announced Wednesday night that he will be on vacation for the rest of the week and the weekend.

“I am going to be taking a vacation with my family, so I will not be here tomorrow and Friday,” he said at the end of Fox News’ “The Five. “Try not to miss me too much.”

During the show on Tuesday night, Watters made a comment about Ivanka Trump’s participation in a women’s summit in German.

“You know, the left says they really respect women and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss,” he said.

“So I don’t really get what’s going on here but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone,” Watters added while making a fist and holding it up to his face.

The Fox News host denied that he was making a lewd comment about Ivanka Trump.

“During the break we were commenting on Ivanka’s voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ,” Watters said in a statement on Wednesda. “This was in no way a joke about anything else.”

Watters’ comment and vacation follows the departure of Bill O’Reilly, who was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by several women. Following a New York Times report earlier this month that multiple women had received settlements after accusing him of sexual harassment, O’Reilly went on a sudden, lengthy vacation. He did not return to the channel after Fox reviewed the allegations made against him.

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House Republicans on Wednesday night introduced a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open through May 5 while lawmakers work on a final agreement for legislation to fund the government through September.

The measure, introduced by House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), would keep the government open at current funding levels, according to a statement from Frelinghuysen’s office.

“This Continuing Resolution will continue to keep the government open and operating as normal for the next several days, in order to finalize legislation to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year,” Frelinghuysen said in the statement. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon. It is time that this essential work is completed so that critical programs and activities – including national defense –are properly and adequately funded for the year.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) issued a statement supporting the passage of the one-week spending measure.

“We’ve made substantial progress on an agreement to complete the 2017 appropriations process.  Let’s pass this new continuing resolution, and make good use of this extra time to enact overdue legislation to provide for national defense and meet our country’s needs,” Cochran said in a statement Wednesday night.

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House signaled to Democrats that it would continue paying Obamacare subsidies, which Democrats had demanded be guaranteed in the measure to fund the government through September.

With the administration also indicating that President Donald Trump is willing to sign a funding measure that does not include money for a border wall, Congress and the White House have resolved two major issues that threatened the funding legislation. However, Democrats have raised additional smaller issues that they need addressed before agreeing to a final funding package.

“Our major concerns in these negotiations have been about funding for the wall and uncertainty about the CSR payments crucial to the stability of the marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act.  We’ve now made progress on both of these fronts,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “More progress needs to be made on some of our priorities, and we continue to be concerned about poison pill riders that are still in this legislation.  Our appropriators are working in good faith toward a bipartisan proposal to keep government open.”

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