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White House Doctor Continues Fight to Be Veterans Chief

The White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, has decided to continue his fight to win Senate confirmation to take over the country’s huge Veterans Affairs agency, even as lawmakers investigate allegations of professional misconduct and excessive drinking.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was leaving it up to Jackson to decide whether to walk away from his nomination to the Cabinet position, while appearing to nudge him toward withdrawing. But Jackson later met with Trump and told him he was not ending his bid to head the department that oversees health care for 13 million U.S. veterans and has 377,000 employees.

The White House pushed for his confirmation Wednesday, with Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling Jackson a “very highly qualified, highly respected person in the military and the medical community.” She said Jackson had discussed the allegations with Trump.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers indefinitely postponed Jackson’s scheduled Wednesday confirmation hearing as they investigate so-far unsubstantiated charges he has overseen a toxic work environment at his White House office and drank on the job.

Several news outlets reported that Jackson was known as the “candy man” for over-prescribing drug prescriptions, while CNN said in one 2015 incident, during President Barack Obama’s presidency, Jackson drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee in the middle of the night on an overseas trip. The U.S. Secret Service intervened to stop Jackson, according to the report, so then-President Obama would not be awakened.

Senator Jon Tester, the lead Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee considering Jackson’s nomination, told National Public Radio the lawmakers have heard complaints about Jackson from more than 20 current and former military members.

“We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk while on duty, where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world,” Tester said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Jackson has declined to publicly comment on the accusations, but has rejected some of the claims to senior aides and says he is being unfairly attacked.

Trump said at a Tuesday news conference he continues to support Jackson’s nomination, but he had asked Jackson, “What do you need it for?”

“The fact is I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said. “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country, I really don’t think personally he should do it, but it’s totally his decision.”

“I don’t want to put a man through — who’s not a political person — I don’t want to put a man through a process that’s too ugly and too disgusting,” Trump said.

Jackson, who currently serves as Trump’s physician, already was facing scrutiny over his lack of experience managing an agency as large as the VA, the government’s second biggest.

Trump scoffed at that concern, saying, “You could run the biggest hospital system in the world and it’s small time compared to the Veterans Administration. So nobody has the experience.”

Jackson gained a degree of fame unusual for White House physicians earlier this year when he took questions from the White House press corps on national television, gushing at length about Trump’s health after conducting the president’s physical exam.

Trump, the oldest first-term president in American history, was plagued at the time by questions about his physical health, weight and mental stability. But Jackson gave the president a top rating. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” Jackson declared at the time.

Trump unexpectedly picked Jackson to replace a holdover from the administration of former President Obama, David Shulkin, whom Trump fired. Several lawmakers have complained that the White House did not properly vet Jackson’s background before Trump announced Jackson’s appointment.

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White House Doctor Continues Fight to Be Veterans Chief

The White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, has decided to continue his fight to win Senate confirmation to take over the country’s huge Veterans Affairs agency, even as lawmakers investigate allegations of professional misconduct and excessive drinking.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was leaving it up to Jackson to decide whether to walk away from his nomination to the Cabinet position, while appearing to nudge him toward withdrawing. But Jackson later met with Trump and told him he was not ending his bid to head the department that oversees health care for 13 million U.S. veterans and has 377,000 employees.

The White House pushed for his confirmation Wednesday, with Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling Jackson a “very highly qualified, highly respected person in the military and the medical community.” She said Jackson had discussed the allegations with Trump.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers indefinitely postponed Jackson’s scheduled Wednesday confirmation hearing as they investigate so-far unsubstantiated charges he has overseen a toxic work environment at his White House office and drank on the job.

Several news outlets reported that Jackson was known as the “candy man” for over-prescribing drug prescriptions, while CNN said in one 2015 incident, during President Barack Obama’s presidency, Jackson drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee in the middle of the night on an overseas trip. The U.S. Secret Service intervened to stop Jackson, according to the report, so then-President Obama would not be awakened.

Senator Jon Tester, the lead Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee considering Jackson’s nomination, told National Public Radio the lawmakers have heard complaints about Jackson from more than 20 current and former military members.

“We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk while on duty, where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world,” Tester said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Jackson has declined to publicly comment on the accusations, but has rejected some of the claims to senior aides and says he is being unfairly attacked.

Trump said at a Tuesday news conference he continues to support Jackson’s nomination, but he had asked Jackson, “What do you need it for?”

“The fact is I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said. “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country, I really don’t think personally he should do it, but it’s totally his decision.”

“I don’t want to put a man through — who’s not a political person — I don’t want to put a man through a process that’s too ugly and too disgusting,” Trump said.

Jackson, who currently serves as Trump’s physician, already was facing scrutiny over his lack of experience managing an agency as large as the VA, the government’s second biggest.

Trump scoffed at that concern, saying, “You could run the biggest hospital system in the world and it’s small time compared to the Veterans Administration. So nobody has the experience.”

Jackson gained a degree of fame unusual for White House physicians earlier this year when he took questions from the White House press corps on national television, gushing at length about Trump’s health after conducting the president’s physical exam.

Trump, the oldest first-term president in American history, was plagued at the time by questions about his physical health, weight and mental stability. But Jackson gave the president a top rating. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” Jackson declared at the time.

Trump unexpectedly picked Jackson to replace a holdover from the administration of former President Obama, David Shulkin, whom Trump fired. Several lawmakers have complained that the White House did not properly vet Jackson’s background before Trump announced Jackson’s appointment.

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Republican Wins US House Race in Arizona GOP Stronghold

Republican Debbie Lesko has won the special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, keeping the U.S. House seat in GOP control. 

The former state senator on Tuesday defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician. Tipernini had hoped to replicate surprising Democratic wins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and other states in a year where opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies have boosted the party’s chances in Republican strongholds. 

Lesko replaces former Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned in December amid sexual misconduct allegations. 

The district sprawls across western Phoenix suburbs, covering some of the most conservative areas of the red state, including the retirement community of Sun City. 

National Republican groups spent big to back Lesko, pouring in more than $500,000 in the suburban Phoenix district for television and mail ads and phone calls to voters. National Democratic groups hadn’t committed money to the race, a sign they didn’t believe the seat was in play. Still, the influential Cook Political Report moved the race from solid Republican to likely Republican the week before the election. 

In the Feb. 27 primary, two out of every three ballots were cast for a Republican. 

The seat became open when Franks stepped down after acknowledging that he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child as a surrogate and offered her $5 million. 

Tipirneni was seen as a fresh Democratic face with relatively moderate views that could get support in the district. Making a push for older voters, she had said Lesko would vote to go after entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy. She’s pushed a plan to allow some people to buy into Medicare. 

Lesko slammed Tipirneni as being out of touch with voters who oppose government-run health care. She called the Democrat too liberal for the area, and pointed to Tipirneni’s opposition to a wall on the Mexican border. 

Several Republican voters who spoke with AP said they backed Lesko primarily because she supported President Donald Trump’s border security plans. 

David Hunt, a 64-year-old retired construction and warehouse worker from Glendale, said he cast his vote Tuesday for Lesko because he believed that immigrants in the country illegally are creating unfair competition for jobs for recent high school students in Arizona. 

“She’s the best candidate to deal with the porous border,” Hunt said. 

His views were echoed by Larry Bettis, a retiree from Glendale. 

“Immigration – the fence,” Bettis said. “That’s all I really care about.” 

Democrats said they wanted to send a message to Trump and supported Democratic health care plans. 

“I don’t like the president and felt it was time to take a stand,” said Nikole Allen, a 45-year-old medical assistant from New York now living in Glendale. “It’s time for us to vote the Republicans out.” 

Lance Ostrander, a registered Democrat who works for Maricopa County and lives in Peoria, said he’d be happy if Tipirneni wins. 

“We’d really like a change,” he said. “Trump had a lot of good ideas at first but a lot of people feel like they were hoodwinked.”

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Republican Wins US House Race in Arizona GOP Stronghold

Republican Debbie Lesko has won the special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, keeping the U.S. House seat in GOP control. 

The former state senator on Tuesday defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician. Tipernini had hoped to replicate surprising Democratic wins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and other states in a year where opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies have boosted the party’s chances in Republican strongholds. 

Lesko replaces former Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned in December amid sexual misconduct allegations. 

The district sprawls across western Phoenix suburbs, covering some of the most conservative areas of the red state, including the retirement community of Sun City. 

National Republican groups spent big to back Lesko, pouring in more than $500,000 in the suburban Phoenix district for television and mail ads and phone calls to voters. National Democratic groups hadn’t committed money to the race, a sign they didn’t believe the seat was in play. Still, the influential Cook Political Report moved the race from solid Republican to likely Republican the week before the election. 

In the Feb. 27 primary, two out of every three ballots were cast for a Republican. 

The seat became open when Franks stepped down after acknowledging that he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child as a surrogate and offered her $5 million. 

Tipirneni was seen as a fresh Democratic face with relatively moderate views that could get support in the district. Making a push for older voters, she had said Lesko would vote to go after entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy. She’s pushed a plan to allow some people to buy into Medicare. 

Lesko slammed Tipirneni as being out of touch with voters who oppose government-run health care. She called the Democrat too liberal for the area, and pointed to Tipirneni’s opposition to a wall on the Mexican border. 

Several Republican voters who spoke with AP said they backed Lesko primarily because she supported President Donald Trump’s border security plans. 

David Hunt, a 64-year-old retired construction and warehouse worker from Glendale, said he cast his vote Tuesday for Lesko because he believed that immigrants in the country illegally are creating unfair competition for jobs for recent high school students in Arizona. 

“She’s the best candidate to deal with the porous border,” Hunt said. 

His views were echoed by Larry Bettis, a retiree from Glendale. 

“Immigration – the fence,” Bettis said. “That’s all I really care about.” 

Democrats said they wanted to send a message to Trump and supported Democratic health care plans. 

“I don’t like the president and felt it was time to take a stand,” said Nikole Allen, a 45-year-old medical assistant from New York now living in Glendale. “It’s time for us to vote the Republicans out.” 

Lance Ostrander, a registered Democrat who works for Maricopa County and lives in Peoria, said he’d be happy if Tipirneni wins. 

“We’d really like a change,” he said. “Trump had a lot of good ideas at first but a lot of people feel like they were hoodwinked.”

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Judge Opens Door to New DACA Applicants

A U.S. federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to keep in place deportation protection for 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.”

In a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s efforts to end the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, District Judge John Bates also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to accept new applicants to the program.

The 2012 policy enacted under former President Barack Obama allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors, were enrolled in or completed high school and did not have a serious criminal record to live and work in the country for two-year renewable periods without the fear of deportation.

DHS rescinded the program in 2017, arguing the prior administration lacked the legal authority to create it. 

Trump gave lawmakers a March deadline for coming up with a permanent fix for DACA recipients, but the Republican-led Congress has not acted. Several federal courts have also ruled existing DACA protections must remain in place while the overall legal challenges continue.

Judge Bates wrote in the Tuesday decision that the DHS decision to rescind DACA was “arbitrary and capricious because the department failed to adequately explain its conclusion that the program is unlawful.”

He put his ruling on hold for 90 days to give the department a chance to “better explain its rescission decision.”

There was no immediate response from the Trump administration.

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Judge Opens Door to New DACA Applicants

A U.S. federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to keep in place deportation protection for 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.”

In a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s efforts to end the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, District Judge John Bates also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to accept new applicants to the program.

The 2012 policy enacted under former President Barack Obama allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors, were enrolled in or completed high school and did not have a serious criminal record to live and work in the country for two-year renewable periods without the fear of deportation.

DHS rescinded the program in 2017, arguing the prior administration lacked the legal authority to create it. 

Trump gave lawmakers a March deadline for coming up with a permanent fix for DACA recipients, but the Republican-led Congress has not acted. Several federal courts have also ruled existing DACA protections must remain in place while the overall legal challenges continue.

Judge Bates wrote in the Tuesday decision that the DHS decision to rescind DACA was “arbitrary and capricious because the department failed to adequately explain its conclusion that the program is unlawful.”

He put his ruling on hold for 90 days to give the department a chance to “better explain its rescission decision.”

There was no immediate response from the Trump administration.

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s Oft-told Tale of US Payout to Iran

President Donald Trump likes to tell a story about the U.S. paying out billions of dollars to Iran as part of the multinational deal freezing its nuclear program and easing sanctions against it. What he doesn’t say is that most of that money was Iran’s to begin with. The rest relates to an old debt the U.S. had with Iran.

 

The numbers and some details change in his retelling — dating back to the 2016 campaign — but his bottom line is always the same: The Obama administration was hoodwinked into giving Iran all that money, some of it in a huge and hidden bundle of cash.

 

The latest iteration of his claim Tuesday and the reality behind it:

 

TRUMP: “The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That’s actual cash, barrels of cash. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made. But we will be talking about it.” — remarks before a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. At a news conference Tuesday, he spoke about “giving them, Iran, $150 billion at one point.”

 

THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury. The money he refers to represents Iranian assets held abroad that were frozen until the deal was reached and Tehran was allowed to access its funds.

 

The payout of about $1.8 billion is a separate matter. That dates to the 1970s, when Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured.

 

That left people, businesses and governments in each country indebted to partners in the other, and these complex claims took decades to sort out in tribunals and arbitration. For its part, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and businesses.

 

The day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the claim over the 1970s military equipment order, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest. The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.

 

Read more AP Fact Checks.

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s Oft-told Tale of US Payout to Iran

President Donald Trump likes to tell a story about the U.S. paying out billions of dollars to Iran as part of the multinational deal freezing its nuclear program and easing sanctions against it. What he doesn’t say is that most of that money was Iran’s to begin with. The rest relates to an old debt the U.S. had with Iran.

 

The numbers and some details change in his retelling — dating back to the 2016 campaign — but his bottom line is always the same: The Obama administration was hoodwinked into giving Iran all that money, some of it in a huge and hidden bundle of cash.

 

The latest iteration of his claim Tuesday and the reality behind it:

 

TRUMP: “The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That’s actual cash, barrels of cash. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made. But we will be talking about it.” — remarks before a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. At a news conference Tuesday, he spoke about “giving them, Iran, $150 billion at one point.”

 

THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury. The money he refers to represents Iranian assets held abroad that were frozen until the deal was reached and Tehran was allowed to access its funds.

 

The payout of about $1.8 billion is a separate matter. That dates to the 1970s, when Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured.

 

That left people, businesses and governments in each country indebted to partners in the other, and these complex claims took decades to sort out in tribunals and arbitration. For its part, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and businesses.

 

The day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the claim over the 1970s military equipment order, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest. The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.

 

Read more AP Fact Checks.

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EPA Proposes to Bar Use of Confidential Data in Rulemaking

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule Tuesday that would stop it from relying on scientific research underpinned by confidential data in its making of regulations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt billed the measure as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency’s ability to protect public health by putting key medical and industry data off limits.

“The science that we use is going to be transparent, it’s going to be reproducible,” Pruitt told a gathering at the EPA.

“It’s going to be able to be analyzed by those in the marketplace, and those that watch what we do can make informed decisions about whether we’ve drawn the proper conclusions or not,” said Pruitt, who has been pursuing President Donald Trump’s mission to ease the regulatory burden on business.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back.

Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA’s often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted.

But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

“Other government agencies also use studies like these to develop policy and regulations, and to buttress and defend rules against legal challenges. They are, in fact, essential to making sound public policy,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe, former assistant administrator for air and water, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last month.

The new policy would be based on proposed legislation spearheaded by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who denies mainstream climate change science.

Emails obtained through a public records request last week showed that Smith or his staff met with Pruitt’s staff in recent months to craft the policy. Those emails also showed that Pruitt’s staff grappled with the possibility the policy would complicate things for the chemicals industry, which submits reams of confidential data to EPA regulatory programs.

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EPA Proposes to Bar Use of Confidential Data in Rulemaking

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule Tuesday that would stop it from relying on scientific research underpinned by confidential data in its making of regulations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt billed the measure as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency’s ability to protect public health by putting key medical and industry data off limits.

“The science that we use is going to be transparent, it’s going to be reproducible,” Pruitt told a gathering at the EPA.

“It’s going to be able to be analyzed by those in the marketplace, and those that watch what we do can make informed decisions about whether we’ve drawn the proper conclusions or not,” said Pruitt, who has been pursuing President Donald Trump’s mission to ease the regulatory burden on business.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back.

Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA’s often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted.

But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

“Other government agencies also use studies like these to develop policy and regulations, and to buttress and defend rules against legal challenges. They are, in fact, essential to making sound public policy,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe, former assistant administrator for air and water, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last month.

The new policy would be based on proposed legislation spearheaded by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who denies mainstream climate change science.

Emails obtained through a public records request last week showed that Smith or his staff met with Pruitt’s staff in recent months to craft the policy. Those emails also showed that Pruitt’s staff grappled with the possibility the policy would complicate things for the chemicals industry, which submits reams of confidential data to EPA regulatory programs.

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