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Senate rejects bipartisan immigration plan and Trump’s, too

The Free Press WV

The Senate rejected both a bipartisan immigration plan and a more restrictive proposal by President Donald Trump on Thursday, suggesting the latest election-year debate on an issue that fires up both parties’ voters will produce a familiar outcome: stalemate.

Facing a White House veto threat and opposition from the Senate’s GOP leaders, the chamber derailed a plan by bipartisan senators that would have helped 1.8 million young immigrant “Dreamers” achieve citizenship. It also would have doled out $25 billion for Trump’s coveted wall with Mexico and for other border security measures, but it didn’t go as far as Trump wanted in curbing legal immigration.

It lost 54-45, six short of the 60 votes that were needed for passage. That scuttled what had seemed the likeliest chance for sweeping immigration legislation to make it through the Senate this year.

Trump’s own plan fared even worse as 60 senators voted no and just 39 voted for it — 21 shy of the 60 needed. The embarrassing outcome for the president underscored the feelings of Republicans concerned about election damage in swing states with high numbers of Hispanic voters.

Top Democrats had held out faint hopes that the bipartisan package would prevail, or at least force Trump to negotiate further. But he proved unwilling to fold on his demands for a tougher bill, reflecting the hard-line immigration stance that was a cornerstone of his 2016 presidential run.

In a written statement earlier Thursday, the White House labeled the bipartisan proposal “dangerous policy that will harm the nation.” It singled out a provision that directed the government to prioritize enforcement efforts against immigrants who arrive illegally beginning in July. Trump and GOP leaders said he’d already shown flexibility by offering a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for so many Dreamers, a key demand for Democrats and some Republicans.

Minutes later, the chamber voted against Trump’s proposal. Besides helping Dreamers achieve citizenship, the president’s measure would have provided wall funding in one burst, rather than doling it out over 10 years as the bipartisan plan proposed.

In addition, Trump’s bill would have prevented legal immigrants from sponsoring parents and siblings for citizenship and would have ended a visa lottery aimed at allowing more diverse immigrants into the U.S. The compromise bill would have left that lottery intact but barred Dreamers who obtain citizenship from sponsoring their parents.

“Dreamers” are immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children who risk deportation because they lack permanent authorization to stay.

Trump annulled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that President Barack Obama created that’s protected the Dreamers. He’s given Congress until March 5 to restore the program, though federal courts have blocked him temporarily from dismantling it.

Senate leaders opened the day’s debate by trading blame. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., assailed Democrats for failing to offer “a single proposal that gives us a realistic chance to make law.” Instead, he said, Democrats should back Trump’s “extremely generous” proposal.

Instead, Democratic leaders rallied behind the bipartisan plan. Eight Republicans joined most Democrats in backing that compromise, while three Democrats joined most GOP senators in opposing it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump has “stood in the way of every single proposal that has had a chance of becoming law.” He added, “The American people will blame President Trump and no one else for the failure to protect Dreamers.”

Overnight, the Department of Homeland Security said in an emailed statement that the bipartisan proposal would be “the end of immigration enforcement in America.”

That drew fire from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of eight GOP co-sponsors of the bipartisan plan. “Instead of offering thoughts and advice — or even constructive criticism — they are acting more like a political organization intent on poisoning the well,” Graham said in a statement.

The bipartisan compromise was announced Wednesday by 16 senators with centrist views on the issue and was winning support from many Democrats, but it faced an uncertain fate.

Besides opposition by the administration and leading Republicans, the bipartisan plan prompted qualms among Democrats. The party’s No. 2 Senate leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said some Democrats had “serious issues” with parts of the plan. Those concerns focused on its spending for Trump’s wall and its prohibition against Dreamers sponsoring their parents for legal residency.

The bipartisan measure’s sponsors included eight GOP senators. It was produced by a group led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that spent weeks seeking middle ground.

The moderates’ measure would not have altered a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing visas to other immigrants, including some who are admitted based on job skills, not family ties.

Also rejected was a more modest plan by McCain and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. It would have let many Dreamers qualify for permanent residency and directed federal agencies to more effectively control the border by 2020. But it didn’t offer a special citizenship pathway for Dreamers, raise border security funds or make sweeping changes in legal immigration rules.

A proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was killed that would have added language blocking federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” communities that don’t cooperate with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws.

Congress Investigating the Rob Porter Mess

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Having trouble keeping track of the Rob Porter story in regard to who knew what, when? Congress is, too. The House Oversight Committee has begun an investigation into how the ousted White House staff secretary kept his high-echelon post despite police and other records spelling out abuse allegations from his ex-wives. “How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?“ the panel’s chairman, Republican Trey Gowdy, asks CNN. “Again, I am biased toward the victim.“ Gowdy says he’ll ask FBI chief Christopher Wray to provide a detailed account of the agency’s investigation into Porter, as well as who at the White House was privy to it. He’s especially interested in the knowledge of White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn.

“I would want to know from Don McGahn and General Kelly and anyone else: What did you know, from whom did you hear it, to what extent did you hear it, and then what actions, if any, did you take?“ said Gowdy. “The chronology is not favorable from the White House.“ In a related development, three Democratic representatives were introducing legislation Wednesday that would allow Congress to more closely monitor the security clearance protocol at the White House, reports Politico. Among other things, the measure would require the White House to provide a list of people with clearances to Congress every three months.

FACT CHECK: Trump vastly overstates depth of labor pool

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As he envisions a manufacturing revival, President Donald Trump is telling lawmakers the U.S. has a vast, idle labor pool itching to go to work. That’s a mirage.

His remarks Tuesday at a meeting with members of Congress about trade:

TRUMP: “I do have to say that we do have a pool of 100 million people, of which some of them — many of them — want to work; they want to have a job. A lot of them do better not working, frankly, under the laws. And people don’t like to talk about it. But you’re competing against government. And they have great potential. They sort of want to work, but they’re making less if they work than if they stay home and do other things. So we have to address that situation. That’s a big problem. But we have a pool of 100 million people, a lot of whom want to work. ”

THE FACTS: “Some of them” is true. But that’s not true for most.

Out of Trump’s pool of 100 million (actually 95.7 million, according to the government), only about 5.2 million say they want to be working. The vast majority is made up of students aged 16 and over, the elderly and people who want to stay home to raise their children. That information comes from the same government survey used to calculate the unemployment rate.

The economy is already considered to be close to full employment, meaning it’s harder to find workers to fill new jobs — harder still if Trump succeeds in curbing immigration.

Few economists blame social programs keeping large numbers of people at home and out of work, as Trump appeared to do. Instead, recent economic research suggests opioid addiction is a key reason many Americans can’t get or keep jobs. And past episodes of widespread imprisonment are also a factor: Having a criminal conviction makes it hard for people to find work once they are out of jail.

Trump reasons that trade penalties he’s considering against other countries would spur domestic manufacturing if imports become too expensive. But Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and other lawmakers told him to tread carefully on trade sanctions because the tight U.S. labor market has existing manufacturers struggling to fill jobs.

U.S. intel sees signs of Russian meddling in midterms

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Three of the nation’s top intelligence officials confirmed Tuesday that they have seen evidence of Russian meddling in the upcoming midterm elections — part of what they say is Moscow’s escalating cyber assault on American and European democracies.

“We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate intelligence committee.

National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, agreed that Russia’s interference is ongoing. “This is not going to change or stop,” Rogers said.

They didn’t describe the activity, other than to say it was related to information warfare.

“This is pervasive,” Coats said. “The Russians have a strategy that goes well beyond what is happening in the United States. While they have historically tried to do these types of things, clearly in 2016 they upped their game. They took advantage, a sophisticated advantage of social media. They are doing that not only in the United States but doing it throughout Europe and perhaps elsewhere.”

U.S. intelligence concluded Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election, which has led to the current FBI investigation into possible Trump campaign connections. Russia denies the allegations and President Donald Trump has called the FBI probe a witch hunt.

The three testified in Congress on the same day that the intelligence community released its annual report on global threats. The report predicted Russian intelligence agencies will disseminate more false information over Russian state-controlled media and through fake online personas to spread anti-American views and exacerbate social and political divides in the United States.

Pompeo had said earlier that he expected that Russia would insert itself in the midterms in which Republicans and Democrats will vie for control of the House and Senate. And last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News that the U.S. is seeing “certain behaviors” of Russian meddling in elections in the Northern Hemisphere, including “in the U.S.” this year. But the latest testimony actually confirmed that it is occurring.

Coats said the details of any meddling needs to be shared with the American people. He said there should be a national outcry — that people need to stand up and say, “We’re not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how to run our country.”

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said it’s been more than a year since the 2016 election, but the U.S. still has no plan to battle foreign interference in elections. He criticized Trump for not issuing more sanctions against Russia in response to the meddling.

“He hasn’t even tweeted a single concern,” Warner said.

It’s unclear what the U.S. is doing covertly to battle back.

But Coats acknowledged that the U.S. is “behind the curve” in coming up with policies to penalize those who hack America’s critical infrastructure, interfere with elections, undermine the government or hit financial institutions.

Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, said he thinks the American people are better prepared to deal with Russian influence campaigns in the upcoming midterms and beyond. They have started to look askance at social media and attempts to influence their opinion, he said.

“The American people are smart people,” Risch said. “They realize that there’s people attempting to manipulate them, both domestically and foreign.”

Porn star who alleged Trump affair: I can now tell my story

The Free Press WV

Stormy Daniels, the porn star whom President Donald Trump’s personal attorney acknowledged paying $130,000 just before Election Day, believes she is now free to discuss her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, her manager told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, believes that Trump attorney Michael Cohen invalidated a non-disclosure agreement after two news stories were published Tuesday: One, in which Cohen told The New York Times that he made the six-figure payment with his personal funds, and another in the Daily Beast, which reported that Cohen was shopping a book proposal that would touch on Daniels’ story, said the manager, Gina Rodriguez.

“Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story,” Rodriguez said.

Daniels first detailed her account of an alleged extramarital affair with Trump in 2011, when the celebrity website The Dirty published it but then removed the material under the threat of a lawsuit, according to the site’s founder, Nik Richie.

Her story then remained largely out of public view until a month before the 2016 presidential election, when the website The Smoking Gun published an account that went mostly unnoticed by major news organizations.

In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that a limited liability company in Delaware formed by Cohen made the six-figure payment to Daniels to keep her from discussing the affair during the presidential campaign.

Cohen said Tuesday the payment was made with his own money, and that “neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

A campaign finance advocacy group, Common Cause, had complained about the payment to the Federal Election Commission, which is investigating.

A White House spokeswoman referred all questions about the payment to Cohen.

At issue is what transpired inside a Lake Tahoe, Nevada, hotel room in 2006 between the actress and Trump the year after his marriage to his third wife, Melania.

A lawyer for Daniels, Keith Davidson, has previously distributed statements on Daniels’ behalf denying there was any affair.

But in a 2011 interview with the gossip magazine In Touch Weekly, the actress — who the magazine said passed a polygraph exam — said the two had sex and she described a subsequent yearslong relationship. The AP has previously reported that In Touch held off on publishing her account after Cohen threatened to sue the publication. It published the interview last month.

In recent weeks the actress has played coy, declining to elaborate when pressed on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Rodriguez said her client will soon announce how and when she will tell her story publicly. The celebrity website The Blast first reported the contention that Cohen’s comments freed Clifford from her non-disclosure agreement.

Trump’s high-spending budget reverses longtime GOP dogma

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Donald Trump’s own budget director says if he were still a member of Congress he probably wouldn’t vote for the very budget plan he hawked Tuesday before the Senate Budget Committee.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told the panel that he “probably would have found enough shortcomings in this to vote against it.”

But Mulvaney, a deficit hawk during three terms as a tea party congressman from South Carolina, said his job now is to represent the president, who promises to avoid cutting retirement benefits like Social Security and Medicare.

Mulvaney drafted the $4.4 trillion budget plan released Monday. It would cut social safety net programs and greatly boost military spending, while putting the government on track to run trillion-dollar deficits for the next few years.

The president’s spending outline for the first time acknowledges that the Republican tax overhaul passed last year would add billions to the deficit and not “pay for itself” as Trump and his Republican allies asserted.

The open embrace of red ink is a remarkable public reversal for Trump and his party, which spent years objecting to President Barack Obama’s increased spending during the depths of the Great Recession. Rhetoric aside, however, Trump’s pattern is in line with past Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan who have overseen spikes in deficits as they simultaneously increased military spending and cut taxes.

“We’re going to have the strongest military we’ve ever had, by far,” Trump said in an Oval Office appearance Monday. “In this budget we took care of the military like it’s never been taken care of before.”

Trump’s budget revived his calls for big cuts to domestic programs that benefit the poor and middle class, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and student loans. Retirement benefits would remain mostly untouched, as Trump has pledged, though Medicare providers would absorb about $500 billion in cuts — a nearly 6 percent reduction. Some beneficiaries of Social Security’s disability program would have to re-enter the workforce under proposed changes to eligibility rules.

Trump’s plan was dead before it landed. It came just three days after the president signed a bipartisan agreement that set broad parameters for spending over the next two years. That deal, which includes large increases for domestic programs, rendered the Trump’s proposed 10-year, $1.7 trillion cuts to domestic agencies such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development even more unrealistic.

“The good news is this budget is going nowhere,” said Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Trump also is proposing work requirements for several federal programs, including housing subsidies, food stamps and Medicaid. Such ideas have backing from powerful figures in Congress, including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who promises action on a “workforce development” agenda this year.

Trump’s plan aims at other familiar targets. It would eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The administration wants NASA out of the International Space Station by 2025 and private businesses running the orbiting outpost instead.

But the domestic cuts would be far from enough to make up for the plummeting tax revenue projected in the budget.

Trump’s plan sees a 2019 deficit of $984 billion, though Mulvaney admits $1.2 trillion is more plausible after last week’s congressional budget pact and $90 billion worth of disaster aid is tacked on. That would be more than double the 2019 deficit the administration promised last year.

All told, the new budget sees accumulating deficits of $7.2 trillion over the coming decade; Trump’s plan last year projected a 10-year shortfall of $3.2 trillion. And that’s assuming Trump’s rosy economic predictions come true and Congress follows through — in an election year — with politically toxic cuts to social programs, farm subsidies and Medicare providers.

Last year Trump’s budget promised such ideas could generate a small budget surplus by 2027; now, his best-case scenario is for a $450 billion deficit that year, more than $300 billion of which can be traced to his December tax cut.

In stark numbers, the budget rewrites the administration’s talking points for last year’s tax plan, which administration figures such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin promised would more than pay for itself.

“Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,” Mnuchin declared in September.

Instead, Trump’s budget projects that tax revenues will plummet by $3.7 trillion through 2027 relative to last year’s “baseline” estimates.

The budget also includes $1.6 billion for the second stage of Trump’s proposed border wall, a 65-mile segment in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Trump’s request last year for 74 miles of wall in San Diego and the Rio Grande Valley is pending before lawmakers right now.

Once again, there’s no mention of how Mexico would have to pay for it, as Trump repeatedly promised during the presidential campaign and after his victory.

Trump’s plan promises 3 percent growth for the nation’s economy, continuing low inflation and low interest yields on U.S. Treasury bills despite a flood of new borrowing. That likely underestimates the mounting cost of financing the government’s $20 trillion-plus debt, many economists say.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said a surge in stimulus from higher government spending and tax cuts would boost growth but only for a short time.

“This will meaningfully raise the odds that after juiced-up growth in 2018 and 2019, we will get a much weaker economy, possibly a recession in the next decade,” Zandi said. “In good times, budget policy should be working to get the deficits down because bad times are sure to come.”

Trump threatens ‘tax’ on countries that exploit U.S. trade

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump says he’s planning to announce a “reciprocal tax” on countries that take advantage of the United States on trade, with more details to be released later this week.

Trump is noting his plans for the so-called tax in a meeting with state and local leaders. He says they’ll be hearing about it during the week and the coming months.

Trump is also addressing the ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement and says he’s hopeful it will be successful.

The president is complaining that Canada doesn’t treat the U.S. well.

Trump says the U.S. can no longer continue to be taken advantage by foreign countries. Trump is blaming “laziness” for trade deals he thinks are bad for America.

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