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Jan. 16 2017 8:32 PM

At Least 35 Democratic Lawmakers Plan to Skip Trump’s Inauguration

 

The list keeps growing. Ever since President-elect Donald Trump harshly criticized civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, more Democrats have said they will not go to Friday’s inauguration. The latest to join his name to the skip list? Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is one of the top contenders to become the new head of the Democratic National Committee. “I will not celebrate a man who preaches a politics of division and hate,” Ellison wrote on Twitter.

 

 

Some of the Democrats who have said they won’t attend didn’t exactly say it was because of Trump or as a sign of support for Lewis, but most did. As of Monday evening, these are the Democratic lawmakers who have said they won’t be going to the inauguration:

 

 

Rep. John Lewis (Georgia): “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said on NBC’s Meet the Press, adding that it would be the first inauguration he misses since he became a congressman.

 

 

Rep. Lucille Roybal Allard (California): "I thought long and hard about attending the Inauguration because I value our democracy and respect the office of the presidency, regardless of party. However, the disparaging remarks the President-elect has made about many groups, including women, Mexicans, and Muslims, are deeply contrary to my values,” she said in a statement.

 

Rep. Mark Takano (California): “I stand with @repjohnlewis and I will not be attending the inauguration,” Takano wrote on Twitter.

Jan. 16 2017 6:59 PM

Before Running for President, Trump Described Russia as “Our Biggest Problem”

President-elect Donald Trump has certainly changed his tune about Russia over the past three years. In his news conference last week, Trump showed he “continues to behave like a press secretary for Russia,” as Slate’s William Saletan put it. But Trump was sounding a very different tune in March of 2014, when he gave a number of interviews in which he said Moscow was the country’s biggest problem and expressed agreement with Mitt Romney who described Russia as the United States’ top “geopolitical foe,” according to a recent review of the president-elect’s past interviews carried out by CNN.  

“Well, Mitt was right, and he was also right when he mentioned in one of the debates about Russia, and he said, 'Russia's our biggest problem, and Russia is, you know, really something’,” Trump said on Fox and Friends on March 24, 2014. Trump noted that “everybody laughed” at Romney “including certain media” but “it turned out that he’s absolutely right.” He also warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “rebuilding the Russian empire.”

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That same month he spoke positively about the idea of sanctions against Russia. “We should definitely do sanctions and we have to show some strengths,” Trump said on NBC. “I mean, Putin has eaten Obama’s lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time.”

Now though, he's not so sure about sanctions. Last week, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that while the current sanctions against Russia will stay put “at least for a period of time” he also said things could change if Moscow starts helping the United States with other priorities, such as fighting terrorism. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody's doing some really great things?” Trump said. In an interview with The Times and Germany’s Bild tabloid, Trump seemed to suggest he could be open to lifting sanctions as part of a nuclear weapons reductions deal. This was the exchange:

Do you support European sanctions against Russia?
Well, I think you know — people have to get together and people have to do what they have to do in terms of being fair. OK? They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But you do have sanctions and Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.

This latest review of Trump’s interviews comes almost a week after CNN reported that top intelligence officials had shown Trump a two-page synopsis of a salacious dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent that alleges Moscow had compiled compromising information about the president-elect. Buzzfeed (and Slate) published copies of the memos. Trump has vehemently denied all the allegations, calling them "fake news."

Jan. 16 2017 4:42 PM

FBI Arrests Widow of Orlando Nightclub Shooter

The FBI has come to the conclusion that the wife of Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen isn’t quite as innocent in the attack as she claims. Noor Salman was arrested in a San Francisco suburb on Monday, charged both with obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization in what was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Prosecutors had been analyzing whether to charge Salman for months after her husband opened fire and killed 49 people at gay nightclub Pulse. Dozens others were injured. Salman will be making her first court appearance on Tuesday.

“I am glad to see that Omar Mateen’s wife has been charged with aiding her husband in the commission of the brutal attack on the Pulse nightclub,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement. “Federal authorities have been working tirelessly on this case for more than seven months, and we are grateful that they have seen to it that some measure of justice will be served in this act of terror that has affected our community so deeply.”

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Law enforcement agents repeatedly questioned Salman after the June 12 massacre to figure out what role she might have played in the attack. She repeatedly denied knowing anything and often described herself as a victim of her husband’s abusive behavior. But investigators say she gave conflicting details of what she knew about the attack before it took place. One law enforcement official tells CNN that the evidence that will be presented in court will clearly show she was complicit and knew her husband was up to something.

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An undated photo from a social media account of Omar Mateen.

Handout via REUTERS

Her lawyer denies that is the case. "Noor Salman had no foreknowledge nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night," Salman’s attorney, Linda Moreno, said in a statement. "Noor has told her story of abuse at his hands. We believe it is misguided and wrong to prosecute her and that it dishonors the memories of the victims to punish an innocent person."

Salman spoke to the New York Times last year and said she was “unaware of everything” relating to the attack. She acknowledged that she had gone with her husband to buy ammunition at Walmart but didn’t think anything was strange about that because he was a security guard who regularly went to the shooting range. Salman was also with her husband on at least one scouting trip to the club before the attack. Salman insists she thought Mateen was with a friend on the night of the attack and says the Father’s Day card she bought that night shows how she expected him to get back home.

The arrest demonstrates how “investigations do continue long after they’re publicly discussed,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on MSNBC. “We said from the beginning we were going to look at every aspect of this case, every aspect of this shooter's life—to determine not just why did he take these actions, but who else knew about them, was anyone else involved, is there any other accountability that needs to be had here in this case."

Jan. 16 2017 2:10 PM

Monica Crowley Won’t Join Trump Administration After Plagiarism Reports

Monica Crowley won’t be taking the high-profile job in President-elect Donald Trump’s National Security Council after all. The former Fox News analyst had been tapped by Trump to be the director of strategic communications for the NSC. “After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” Crowley said in a statement. “I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal.”

Crowley decided to not take the government job a little more than a week after CNN first reported that it had found more than 50 instances of plagiarism in her 2012 book, What the (Bleep) Just Happened. Shortly thereafter, Politico reported that Crowley had plagiarized several sections of her Ph.D. dissertation.

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"The NSC will miss the opportunity to have Monica Crowley as part of our team," Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn said in a statement. "We wish her all the best in her future."

The Trump team had vociferously defended Crowley when the charges of plagiarism first surfaced, calling the CNN report a “politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing the country.” But last week, publisher HarperCollins said it would stop selling Crowley's book. "The book, which has reached the end of its natural sales cycle, will no longer be offered for purchase until such time as the author has the opportunity to source and revise the material," HarperCollins said in a statement.

Crowley thus becomes the second person who was announced as a member of the incoming administration but who backed out before Trump was sworn-in. Earlier, Jason Miller, who had been tapped to be the communications director, also backed out of the job.

Jan. 16 2017 11:40 AM

Trump Shocks European Leaders With Indifference to EU, NATO Criticism

Leaders in Europe were reeling Monday after President-elect Donald Trump expressed doubts about the way NATO operates and said he didn’t really care either way whether the European Union stays united. “This day will be influenced if not determined by the statements of the American president-elect, which caused here in Brussels astonishment and agitation,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. The minister spoke after Trump called NATO “obsolete” and said he thinks more countries will follow Britain’s lead and leave the E.U.

In an extensive joint interview with British newspaper The Times and German tabloid Bild, Trump seemed to suggest his presidency would usher in a major shift in the U.S. relationship with Europe. Trump said that the “U.K. was so smart in getting out” of the E.U., which he described as “a vehicle for Germany.” He said “others will leave” the European Union because “people want their own identity.” The president-elect also said NATO is “obsolete because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago” and countries aren’t paying their fair share of dues. “That being said, Nato is very important to me,” he added.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of several European leaders who said the interview showed why the continent needs to stick together. "We Europeans have our fate in our own hands," Merkel told reporters in Berlin when asked about Trump's criticisms. The German leader also suggested she would wait until Trump is actually inaugurated before making any substantive comments about his statements.

“If the Europeans want to be protagonists, and not just spectators, they have to work closer together and accelerate on a common security and defense policy,” Sandro Gozi, Italy’s junior minister for European Affairs, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “I don’t share his prediction that there are other Brexit-type departures from the E.U. on the horizon.”

One of the aspects of Trump’s interview that most concerned European leaders was his description of the E.U. as a way to damage U.S. trade interests. If Trump is serious about what he said, it could mark a dramatic shift in the way Washington deals with the country's European allies considering that U.S. leaders have long seen the E.U. as beneficial to the United States for both economic and national security reasons.

The ties between the United States and Europe are so deep that “the full ramifications of a breakdown in transatlantic relations are so extensive they are difficult to total,” notes the Washington Post. The paper explains:

U.S. guarantees underpin European security. The United States and the European Union, with a population of 500 million, are each other’s most important trading partner. For decades, European nations and the United States have worked tightly together on issues of war, peace and trade.

Yet for all their shock, European leaders also caution that they really don’t know what the U.S. policy toward the continent will be once Trump moves into the White House. Many are now quick to point out that James Mattis, who was nominated to become defense secretary, put forward much more traditional views in his confirmation hearing that included broad support for NATO.

It wasn’t just politicians who were surprised by Trump’s words as shares in German automakers took a dive after the president-elect warned cars built in Mexico would be taxed at 35 percent in the United States. “If they want to build cars for the world I would say wish them luck,” Trump said, specifically mentioning BMW’s plan to build a plant in Mexico. “They can build cars for the U.S. but they’ll be paying a 35 per cent tax on every car that comes into the country.” The German car industry is taking a wait-and-see approach, predicting lawmakers would stand in the way of higher duties. “We take the comments seriously, but it remains to be seen if and how the announcements will be implemented by the U.S. administration,” Matthias Wissmann, president of German auto industry association VDA, said.

Jan. 16 2017 8:38 AM

Trump’s Solution to Replace Obamacare? “Insurance for Everybody”

President-elect Donald Trump is getting ready to unveil a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a clear goal: “Insurance for everybody.” Trump told the Washington Post that his plan will also not involve cuts for Medicare and will target pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” There’s no reason to be worried because those who will be covered under the new law “can expect to have great health care” that will be “much less expensive and much better.”

How does the president-elect plan to do all this? He wouldn’t say. Trump gave no details on the plan itself or what it could cost. He also wouldn’t say how he plans to convince congressional Republicans to get behind his plans but he did say he would be unveiling the plan—that is “very much formulated to the final strokes—with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, suggesting he’s got support from key GOP leaders. Still, Trump’s words would appear to fly in the face of what many Republicans have been advocating while using the term “universal access” to describe their goals rather than “universal coverage.”

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Trump was coy about his plan to convince Congress to pass his plan: “I think we will get approval. I won’t tell you how, but we will get approval.” The president-elect seemed to reference a series of recent Twitter posts that got Republicans to back away from a plan to decimate an ethics office—“You see what’s happened in the House in recent weeks”—as a way to illustrate his powers of persuasion.

Even as Trump suggests he’s in a rush to repeal and replace Obamacare, lawmakers appear increasingly skittish. Although Congress did take the first step last week to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the harder part of putting together a plan is still to come. The reason for the concern is obvious: some 20 million people are covered and many aspects of the law are quite popular. "I'm very concerned on the policy side specifically, that the replacement occur either simultaneously or as close to simultaneously as possible," Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania told CNN last week. "If we don't provide a credible replacement plan, my main concern is that there would not be gaps in coverage for people who are currently subsidized. Also concerned about how the insurance markets might react."

Republican lawmakers aren’t alone. At least five Republican governors are also pushing their colleagues on the federal level to think carefully about what their decisions could mean for health coverage in their states.

Trump, however, has said he won’t let Congress get in the way of his agenda: “The Congress can't get cold feet because the people will not let that happen.”

Update at 3 p.m.: It didn’t take long for Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer to come out to clarify the president-elect’s position on health care, noting that when Trump said everyone would have health insurance it was more figure of speech than a literal promise.

The goal, he said, is “to get insurance for everybody through marketplace solutions, through bringing costs down, through negotiating with pharmaceutical companies, allowing competition over state lines." Spicer insisted in an interview with NBC that Trump’s plan wouldn’t mean an expansion of government-run health care. But he did say that Trump sees health care as the most important issue and will be at the top of his to-do list once he takes office.

Just like his boss, Spicer was short on details about what Trump’s plan would entail only saying that “competition is sorely missing.” Trump, he said, “knows how to negotiate great deals, and at this point, he can now use his negotiating skills to benefit the American people and give them a much better health-care system than they have.”

Jan. 15 2017 8:06 PM

Thousands Join Rallies Across the United States to Save Obamacare

Democrats joined forces on Sunday to get their voices heard far from Washington, D.C. and took part in dozens of rallies in cities across the country to protest against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. At each of the rallies, speakers talked about specific men and women whose health and/or finances were saved by the ACA in an effort to build up opposition to the Republican repeal efforts. Beyond the message itself, the rallies are largely seen as a sign of how Democrats will try to build up their grassroots operations at a time when they will soon have little power left in Washington.

Thousands braved freezing temperatures in Michigan to hear Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has emerged as one of the strongest voices in favor of Obamacare. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer was also there and labor unions also made their presence felt among people carrying signs that read “Save our Health Care.” "This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. It is time we got our national priorities right," Sanders said.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stands on stage during the rally at Macomb Community College on January 15, 2017 in Warren, Michigan.

Rachel Woolf/Getty Images

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The choice of Warren, Mich. for one of the key rallies of the day was filled with symbolism. NPR explains:

It's no accident that Sanders and Schumer chose to hold their event in Warren. Surrounding Macomb County tells the story of Democrats' 2016 woes. It went narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but last year Donald Trump carried Macomb County by more than 10 points over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump's raw vote total in the largely white, working-class county—about 48,000 votes—was more than four times his margin of victory in the once-reliably Democratic state.
Both Sanders and Schumer believe Democrats can recapture economy-focused working class voters, and holding a rally in Macomb County to defend a healthcare program is one way to show voters who supported Trump that the Democratic Party is attentive to their concerns.

In Boston, more than 6,000 people also went out despite the subfreezing temperatures to hear Sen. Elizabeth Warren deliver a spirited defense of the law, describing the rallies as the first of many to come. “We knew these fights were coming, and now the first one is here,” Warren told the crowd, “We will fight them every step of the way.”

In Utah, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley led a sing-along at the State Capitol while House minority leader Nancy Pelosi spoke at a rally in San Francisco.

On ABC News’ This Week, Sanders said Republicans shouldn’t be moving to repeal Obamacare if they have nothing else to take its place. "The vast majority of the American people agree with me and many others," he said. "You don't simply repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement."

Speaking on CNN, Sen. Rand Paul gave broad details about what could be in the Obamacare replacement package but pointedly did not say whether the almost half a million people in his state that have insurance under the current law would be able to keep it. “The replacement bill that we put together, our goal is to insure the most amount of people, give access to the most amount of people, at least the amount of cost,” he said. Paul noted that one of the key measures of the bill is “we’re going to legalize the sale of inexpensive insurance” and he hinted that states would no longer get expanded Medicaid. "That's the big question," Paul said. "And I don't think that's going to be in the replacement aspect."

Jan. 15 2017 6:49 PM

Facebook Launches Tool to Flag Fake News in Germany Ahead of Election

The world’s largest social network appears to be tacitly recognizing that it plays a critical role in helping to spread fake news stories ahead of contentious elections. In its first big test outside the United States, Facebook is rolling out a tool over the next few weeks that will allow users to flag fake news stories. "Last month we announced measures to tackle the challenge of fake news on Facebook," the company said in a statement. "We will put these updates in place in Germany in the coming weeks."

Facebook will be replicating a test it unveiled last month in the United States that makes it easy for users to flag suspected articles. Articles that are tagged as fake will be sent to Correctiv, a German non-profit investigative journalism organization, to confirm. If the group determines the story is fake, Facebook will then mark it as “disputed” with an explanation. That will automatically make it less likely for the story to appear in users’ news feeds and those who share the story will receive a warning message.

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The tool is likely to be unveiled in more countries in the future. “Our focus is on Germany right now but we’re certainly thinking through what countries will unveil next,” a company spokesman tells the Financial Times.

The move comes as German political leaders, and even the country’s intelligence agency, have warned about the proliferation of fake news ahead of the election expected for September. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said in an interview with the New York Times in December that there was “growing evidence for attempts to influence the federal election next year.” More recently, a story made the rounds claiming that Germany’s oldest church was set on fire. It was so popular and spread so quickly on Facebook that police were forced to clarify that it was all false. Politicians have warned that the problem has gotten so bad that Facebook could be fined, along with any other company that disseminates hate messages or fake news.

BuzzFeed recently analyzed the news content that was popular on Facebook last year and describes a proliferation of false and misleading pieces about German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Echoing what was seen during the US election, many of these sites mix legitimate partisan political content with false and conspiratorial information, especially about refugees and Islam, in order to inspire passion and increase social engagement. Large right-wing pages in the US are also increasingly sharing anti-Merkel content, helping it gain wider distribution on Facebook.

Jan. 15 2017 3:24 PM

China Pushes Back Against Trump: Taiwan Policy Is “Non-Negotiable”

The Chinese government sent a clear message to President-elect Donald Trump this weekend: the “One China” policy is not up for debate. In fact, Beijing went as far as to say that not challenging China on the status of Taiwan as a renegade province “is the political foundation” of bilateral relations with the United States. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry issued the statement in response to Trump telling the Wall Street Journal that “everything is under negotiation including ‘One China’.”  

“The 'One China' principle is the political foundation of Sino-US relations and it is non-negotiable. We urge the relevant side in the US to recognize the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue and abide by the pledges by successive US administrations from both parties,” spokesman Lu Kang said. In the brief statement, the spokesman also summarized the “facts recognized by the international community” on the issue: “There is but one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The government of the People's Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing China.”

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The state-run Global Times published an unsigned piece under the headline, “Inexperienced, complacent Trump stuns public.” The tabloid known for its sensationalistic headlines had earlier in the week harshly criticized Trump’s pick for secretary of state Rex Tillerson, saying his views risked a “large-scale war” with China.

The interview with the Journal was only the latest example of how Trump has locked horns with China even before taking office. First there was accepting the congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president, which broke with more than three decades of diplomatic protocol. At the time, Beijing seemed to try to downplay the move, characterizing Trump as the victim of a “little trick pulled off by Taiwan.” But the president-elect then publicly criticized China on several issues, including currency manipulation and North Korea.

Analysts in China are apparently eager to see Trump’s words as a simple negotiation tactic to get some concessions from Beijing, rather than an effort to upend decades of foreign policy. “Trump has been very smart. He is using the Taiwan issue as a bargaining chip with China,” one analyst tells the South China Morning Post. “Trump has a relatively simple agenda. He cares only about the domestic economy. His issue is to create jobs. He believes that sorting out the trade ­issues with China can help him to create jobs inside the US.”

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus essentially acknowledged Trump was using Taiwan as a bargaining chip, telling ABC’s This Week that “there are no plans to change the ‘One China’ policy” but the issue will be “on the table if China doesn’t also come to the table and work with us on trade, work with us on the South China Sea.”

Other experts say that Trump’s tough will likely die down once he “contends with the complexity of intertwined economies and the reality of China’s military expansion,” notes the Washington Post.

Jan. 15 2017 1:46 PM

GOP Congressman, Overwhelmed by Constituents Concerned About ACA Repeal, Sneaks Out of Event Early

On Saturday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held an event for his constituents at a public library in Aurora, Colorado. At least 150 constituents showed up, most of them hoping to ask Coffman about his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his plans for a replacement. But only about 70 people got to meet with Coffman: Despite booking a large room with ample space, Coffman allowed in only four constituents at once for five minutes at a time. When the crowd grew restless, police put up crime scene tape and Coffman snuck out the back door—six minutes before the event was scheduled to end.

Coffman recently co-authored a Denver Post op-ed urging the full and immediate repeal of the ACA. About 419,000 Coloradans have gained health care coverage since the enactment of the law, and many of them stand to lose their insurance if it is repealed. Yet Coffman has not proposed a clear replacement for the law, an issue constituents hoped to ask him about on Saturday. “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance,” Berthie Ruoff told NBC 9 while she waited to meet with her representative. “I've had a preexisting condition. I've had breast cancer. What's going to happen to me? My spouse who had health insurance passed away. What do I do? You know, what am I supposed to do?”

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