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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

As several Cabinet heads came under scrutiny for their use of non-commercial planes to attend official events in late September, Energy Secretary Rick Perry took a charter plane to Ohio to visit a decommissioned uranium enrichment facility, Reuters reported Wednesday evening, citing PMH Aviation, the company that runs the Portsmouth airport in Ohio.

Perry took the charter plane from the Hazleton Regional Airport in Pennsylvania to Ohio on Sept. 28. The next day, Tom Price resigned as health and human services secretary due to his extensive use of private planes to fly up and down the East Coast.

Reuters noted that while commercial flights do not fly to or from the Hazleton airport, commercial airlines serve airports in Pennsylvania about an hour away.

Several members of Trump’s Cabinet have come under scrutiny over the past month for their use of private or government planes, including Price, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Their travel has triggered inspector general probes and an investigation in the House Oversight Committee.

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Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) on Wednesday said Congress should ban the sale of bump stocks, add-ons that make semi-automatic guns behave like automatic weapons, 12 of which were found on rifles in the Las Vegas gunman’s hotel room.

“In my view of the world, anything that makes a semi-automatic weapon behave like an automatic weapon ought to also be illegal,” Flores said in a Wednesday interview with Texas radio station WTAW. “I do think we need to take a look at making those illegal or somehow become controlled—subject to tight controls. I don’t see a reason for the average gun owner to have a bump stock.”

“I think we can do that and still protect the Second Amendment,” he added.

The Texas congressman followed up in an interview with The Hill and said that bump stocks should be banned.

Flores, a former chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, is the first Republican in Congress to call outright for a ban on bump stocks.

Other Republicans on Capitol Hill have said they would be open to hearings on bump stocks and potentially to legislation addressing them, suggesting that Congress could move forward with some kind of gun control measure in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told reporters Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill that Congress should hold hearings on bump stocks once the investigation into the shooting has been completed.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dean Heller (R-NV) also believe Congress should look into bump stocks, according to NBC News.

“One of the concerns that I have is the ability to manipulate a semi-automatic rifle and turn it into a fully automatic rifle,” Heller said, as quoted by NBC. “There has to be a way to be able to stop this.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who would have jurisdiction over the issue as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated he won’t move quickly for a hearing on bump stocks, if he pushes for a review of them at all.

He told reporters in Iowa that the Senate is unlikely to move forward with any gun control legislation, noting that a bill would need the support of 60 senators to go anywhere. He also argued that it’s premature to consider legislation before the investigation into the shooting is completed.

“We’re still learning what really happened there,” Grassley said, according to the Des Moines Register. “We need to wait and see what the police reports say. Were loopholes exploited? We need to study everything before we make some judgment.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee who’s long advocated for an assault weapons ban, on Wednesday introduced a bill to ban bump stocks.

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Now that Tom Price has resigned as health and human services secretary amid a slew of reports about his spending on private and government plane travel, totaling $1 million this year, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has come under scrutiny for the flights she took with Price.

White House Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to Conway asking her to detail her air travel since Trump’s inauguration and how much those flights cost.

Politico reported that Conway joined Price on a charter plane for a trip to Philadelphia. She also joined Price on a trip to four different states, flying on a private jet with the ousted secretary, Politico revealed.

In his letter, Cummings noted that Price apologized for his trips on private planes and pledged to pay back the government for the cost of his seat—but Conway has yet to address the matter.

“Despite the fact that you joined Secretary Price on several of these flights, you have not made any similar public statements indicating whether your own actions were appropriate, whether you will continue to take such flights at taxpayer expense in the future, or whether you plan to personally repay the taxpayers for the costs of your seats on these flights,” Cummings wrote in the letter.

The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Trump administration officials’ use of non-commercial planes to attend official events last week. In addition to Price and Conway, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have come under scrutiny for their travel on non-commercial planes.

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A federal judge on Tuesday said that prosecutors misled the court in the corruption case against ex-Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), and ordered prosecutors to go back and review all of the documents they’ve submitted to the court for accuracy.

U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce said that prosecutors in the case initially denied speaking with members of a grand jury about whether the disgraced former congressman would testify, as Schock’s lawyers had claimed. The prosecution then changed its story more than six months later, the judge noted, admitting that they did discuss Schock’s potential to testify with grand jurors.

“The recent revelation puts this court in a somewhat difficult position as it is now aware that it was misled by the Government,” Bruce wrote in a Tuesday filing. “Unfortunately, this court relied upon, and even quoted, the Government’s inaccurate statement, which it now knows to be false, in a previous order.”

The judge ordered the government to “review all claims and statements made in its current filings to ensure that there are no more false or misleading claims,” as well as to detail to the court any additional false or misleading claims prosecutors have made.

Defense attorneys have made several attempts to dismiss the case against Schock—known as the “Downton Abbey congressman”—since he was indicted in 2016 on 24 counts, including improper use of campaign funds. Schock’s lawyers in March accused prosecutors of improperly turning a former staffer for the congressman into an informant, arguing that allowed prosecutors to obtain information they could not otherwise access. Defense lawyers also argued that prosecutors violated the Constitution’s separation of powers provisions. Then in August, Schock’s lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the charges while accusing prosecutors of inappropriately quizzing witnesses about Schock’s romantic relationships and sexuality, sometimes in front of grand jury members.

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The inspector general’s office at the Department of Veterans Affairs will review VA Secretary David Shulkin’s taxpayer-funded trip to Europe over the summer with his wife, where he attended official events and spent time touring, CNN reported Tuesday night.

The probe marks the fifth inspector general review of a Cabinet head’s travel. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and ousted Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have all come under inspector general review for their use of private or government planes.

During a July trip to Europe, Shulkin met with British and Danish officials about veterans’ health. However, he also spent time on the trip attending Wimbledon, touring Westminster Abbey, and relaxing on a cruise on the Thames, the Washington Post reported last week. The government paid for Shulkin and his wife to fly to Europe and also gave them both a per-diem to pay for their meals and other expenses, according to the Post.

It’s not clear just how much the government paid for flights for Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, but if the government paid the full per-diem for each of the 10 days that Bari was in Europe, the government could have spent up to $3,600 for her meals and expenses, per the Washington Post.

VA press secretary Curt Cashour told the Post that Shulkin’s itinerary on the trip had been approved by the agency’s ethics office.

“These were important trips with our allies to discuss best practices for taking care of veterans,” Cashour said. “The secretary has been transparent on his down-time activities that were similar to what he would have done with his family over a weekend in the U.S.”

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After saying Tuesday morning that the Las Vegas shooting was “in many ways a miracle” due to the police response, Trump on Tuesday night echoed that comment, again calling the law enforcement effort a “miracle.”

It’s not entirely clear what Trump aimed to achieve with the tweet. It may have been an attempt to clarify that his remark calling the shooting a “miracle” was in reference to the law enforcement.

The President has claimed twice that the law enforcement response to the shooting was quick. However, it took police a little over an hour to breach the gunman’s hotel room after they received the first 911 call about the shooting, according to reports from NBC News and Newsweek.

The mass shooting on Sunday night was the deadliest in U.S. history, leaving 59 dead and more than 500 injured. The gunman showered bullets on the crowd at a Las Vegas music festival from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that he will have to wipe out Puerto Rico’s debt as the island rebuilds from the destruction caused by two hurricanes.

“We are going to work something out. We have to look at their whole debt structure,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News that aired Tuesday night. “You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We’re gonna have to wipe that out. That’s gonna have to be — you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.”

Puerto Rico has $74 billion in debt and has begun to default on its debt over the past couple years as the island has struggled with budget deficits. Puerto Rico’s financial situation leaves the island in a poor position to pay for a large recovery effort without help from the federal government.

Since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, Trump has placed a lot of emphasis on the island’s debt. The President has complained that Puerto Rico is not willing to manage the recovery on its own and even remarked that the recovery effort there will throw off the federal budget.

Trump did not make similar comments about the burden of paying for recovery after hurricanes swept through Texas and Florida, which Democratic leaders have noted.

Watch the interview via Fox News:

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Shortly before the White House announced that Tom Price would resign from his role as health and human services secretary, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) reportedly made a plea to reconsider the decision to fire Price.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Ryan just minutes before the White House made the announcement on Friday afternoon to let him know that Price would step down, Politico reported, citing two people with knowledge of the call.

Ryan then asked Kelly to reconsider firing Price and noted the former secretary’s work in Congress and in the Trump administration, per Politico; however, Kelly told Ryan that the decision had already been made.

Ryan’s statement about Price’s resignation Friday did not mention the former health secretary’s extensive use of private jets. Instead, it offered praise for Price.

“Tom Price is a good man. He has spent his entire adult life fighting for others, first as a physician and then as a legislator and public servant,” Ryan said in the statement. “He was a leader in the House and a superb health secretary. His vision and hard work were vital to the House’s success passing our health care legislation. I will always be grateful for Tom’s service to this country and, above all, his continued friendship.”

Price stepped down following reports that he spent about $1 million of taxpayers’ dollars to fly to official events on either private or government planes.

His use of expensive travel options, as well as the non-commercial flying habits of other Cabinet members, have prompted department watchdogs and Congress alike to launch probes into Trump administration officials’ travel habits. The White House also issued a memo reminding officials to find the the least expensive mode of transportation possible when booking their travel.

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After dining with President Donald Trump on Monday night, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said Tuesday that the President wants legislation restoring the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to only apply to those who currently have DACA status.

“The president was very clear. Any effort to codify DACA needs to, one, be limited to DACA so the first criteria under the law should be you have a DACA permit today,” Cotton told Politico.

“Second, any deal has to end chain migration. And then third, it ought to include some kind of enhanced measures, whether it’s on the border or interior enforcement or what have you,” the senator added.

Cotton and several other Republican lawmakers joined Trump for dinner Monday night at the White House to discuss immigration. It appears that conversation differed from his talks with Democratic leaders.

Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in September about a legislative deal to restore DACA, which gives some undocumented young people work permits and shields them from deportation. Trump said that he was “close” to a deal with the Democratic leaders on restoring those protections, though he clarified at the time that he’s not interested in the legislation including “amnesty” or a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

The most recent version of the DREAM Act, favored by Democrats, would provide legal status to all undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before they turned 18 and have been in the U.S. for four straight years before the legislation’s enactment, not only to those who already have DACA protection. So a push to limit a bill to current DACA recipients could rankle Democrats.

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In brief comments Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump said that the deadly shooting in Las Vegas was “in many ways a miracle” because of the law enforcement response to the shooting.

“Look, we have a tragedy. We’re going to — what happened in Las Vegas is in many ways a miracle. The police department has done such an incredible job, and we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by,” Trump told reporters outside the White House before traveling to Puerto Rico. “But I do have to say how quickly the police department was able to get in was really very much of a miracle. They’ve done an amazing job.”

Trump said that the police were able to “quickly” get into the hotel, however it took police a little over an hour from getting the first call about the shooting to breaching the gunman’s hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, according to reports from NBC News and Newsweek.

The mass shooting was the deadliest in U.S. history and left 59 dead and more than 500 others injured. The gunman opened fire on 22,000 people attending a music festival in Las Vegas from a room on the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel.

Trump also told reporters Tuesday morning that the gunman is a “demented man.”

“He was a sick man. A demented man, a lot of problems I guess. We are looking into him very seriously. We are dealing with a very, very sick individual,” he said.

 

 

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