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GOP Senator Flake, Vocal Trump Critic, Won’t Seek Re-election

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said Tuesday he would not seek re-election next year, delivering a forceful condemnation of the “flagrant disregard of truth and decency” and bemoaning political complicity in a Senate speech clearly directed at President Donald Trump.

Speaking to a rapt audience of other senators, the first-term Arizona lawmaker spelled out his frustration and disappointment in a floor speech before relaying the news that he would not be on the ballot in 2018. 

“There are times we must risk our careers,” Flake said. “Now is such a time.”

Flake, who has criticized the path that the Republican Party has taken under Trump, said the impulse “to threaten and scapegoat” could turn America and the GOP into a “fearful, backward-looking people” and a “fearful, backward-looking party.” Flake didn’t mention Trump by name, but clearly was directing his remarks at the president and his administration.

Flake, a former House member, is a conservative who favors limited government and free markets but one known to work on bipartisan legislation. Most notably, he has worked on immigration legislation aimed at finding a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally.

“A political career does not mean much if we are complicit in undermining these values,” he said. He received applause at the conclusion of his remarks.

His speech came shortly after Trump had joined Senate Republicans at their weekly policy luncheon, and came a few hours after the president had engaged in a war of words with another retiring Republican senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Republicans and Democrats were upset with the news.

“It is one of the most depressing things that has happened during my time in the Senate,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who called Flake a man of great integrity and principle.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she was “extraordinarily disappointed” and called Flake a “person of utmost integrity.”

Arizona politics

After bucking Trump in a state the president won, Flake is bottoming out in polls. Republicans may be left with a hard-core conservative challenger that might win the primary but lose in the general election.

Flake was facing a challenge from former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who failed in her effort to take out Sen. John McCain last year but has gained some traction this year. Last week, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon attended a fundraiser for her.

But mainstream Republicans in Arizona believe Ward cannot beat Rep. Krysten Sinema, who is running in her primary as the only well-known Democratic candidate. They’ve been searching for another candidate to take on Flake, and his decision to step aside opens the door wide for those efforts.

Besides Ward, other potential candidates for Flake’s seat include current state university regent Jay Heiler, former state GOP chairman Robert Graham, state treasurer and 2016 Trump campaign CFO Jeff DeWit. Other names that have been floated in recent weeks include Reps. Paul Gosar and Trent Franks, conservative stalwarts who sit in safe GOP seats.

Heiler announced early this month that he was considering a run. He was chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Fife Symington in the 1990s and has been involved in numerous political campaigns.

Former Gov. Jan Brewer was pushing Heiler as a candidate.

“I’ve known Jeff for a long time and I admire him for his service that he has given to our state,” she said Friday. “But I believe it is an opportunity for me to support a different candidate, someone that I’ve known for a long while, and somebody that I believe will serve Arizona the best.”

On Tuesday, she tweeted that “the 2018 Senate race about to get real interesting!”

Herschel Fink, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Flake’s retirement “further exposes the Republican Party’s civil war — which will continue in full force in Arizona as the GOP struggles with a field of candidates who go further and further out of touch with voters.” 

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Ivanka Trump: Tax Plan Addresses Needs of US Families

President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter on Monday channeled her roles as a working mother, entrepreneur and senior adviser to the president to help him sell his administration’s tax plan for reform, which she said is overdue to address the needs of the modern American family in an increasingly competitive global market.

Ivanka Trump joined U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza and former U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth of New York for an hour-long town hall-style meeting at a senior center outside Philadelphia. During the discussion, she called tax reform “critical” legislation and touted the proposed changes to the tax code as changes that will help everyday Americans.

“There are many elements of this tax plan that I think are squarely targeted at creating jobs and growth in this country and offering relief to our middle-income families,” she told the audience. “This is about the recognition that, as a country, we have to have policies that mirror our values. We have to encourage the next generation to be competitive and compassionate. For me, I think this couples together our core values as a country.”

The president has prioritized tax reform as his top agenda item and is urging Congress to pass legislation. He and other Republican leaders have crafted a proposal calling for steep tax cuts for corporations and potentially individuals, a doubling of the standard deduction used by most Americans, a reduction in the number of tax brackets from seven to three or four, and a repeal of the inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates. The tax system would be simplified, and most Americans would be able to file their income taxes on a postcard, according to the plan.

Ivanka Trump has been focused on promoting a plan to expand the child tax credit, which she highlighted Monday as “well-designed.” She drew on her life experience to connect with the audience as a mom who has an understanding of the challenges parents face with the rising cost of child care.

“Every parent has to manage the competing demands of raising a family and their passions,” she told the crowd. “I, too, had to manage that, but I am far more fortunate than most. I had help, and I recognized that I wouldn’t be able to do even a small fraction of what I was able to do professionally or as a parent … if I didn’t have access to the means to be able to put my children in a secure and safe and protected and nurturing environment.”

Increasing the child tax credit, she said, could mean the difference between sending a child to an after-school program or paying for quality day care — and could even aid some young couples wrestling with whether they can afford to start a family.

Trump received a hearty reception from the audience when she talked about how tax reform will benefit small businesses. While she said the need for some regulation is necessary, she argued that America’s tax system is too burdensome and expensive and is affecting the country’s ability to compete.

“If you level the playing field, nobody’s going to beat the spirit of the American worker,” she said. “No country is more innovative. But our corporate rates are dramatically higher than our prime competitors in the developing world. We want people to be choosing America not just because it’s their preferred place to locate but because it makes sense. I do think it can’t just be about cutting taxes. You want to fuel an incentivized growth that will lead to the long-term benefit of both.”

Details on how much the $1,000 child tax credit should increase have not been settled, and the president’s daughter has not publicly offered a number.

Later in the day, Fox News Channel planned to air an interview with her. She was expected to continue discussing taxes.

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Putin Critic Bill Browder Cleared for Travel to US, Customs Agency Says

A prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin says the United States revoked his authorization to travel to the U.S. after Moscow succeeded in getting him added to Interpol’s wanted list.

Bill Browder, who became a British citizen after giving up his U.S. citizenship in 1998 for tax reasons, tells VOA he hopes the action will soon be overturned, but that he cannot leave Britain until the issue is resolved. In a phone interview from London with VOA, the former banker who became a human rights activist, said he is not just barred from traveling to the U.S.

“In fact, it is worse than that. I am banned from traveling anywhere,” Browder said. “Any national border that I cross, I will be arrested based on the Russian’s illegitimate Interpol notice.”

However, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency spokesperson told VOA late Monday that Browder has been cleared for travel to the U.S. again.

“As the agency charged with preventing the entry of terrorists and other criminal actors from entering the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection regularly screens law enforcement systems in order to determine if any travelers present a security or law enforcement risk. This vetting is done on a recurrent basis and decisions on travel are made on the latest information available,” according to the CPB statement. “William Browder’s ESTA [visa waiver travel authorization] remains valid for travel to the United States. His ESTA was manually approved by CBP on Oct. 18 — clearing him for travel to the United States.”

Asked for comment, Browder said the timeline CBP is providing is not accurate, but he hopes that the issue has been resolved.

Earlier in the day, Browder had told VOA he reached out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for clarity on the issue.

“I spoke to somebody there who refused to give me any information on why this happened and encouraged me to write a Freedom of Information Act request if I really wanted to find out.”

Fifth time, says Browder

Browder said this is the fifth time Russia has had him added to Interpol’s list. Each time, he says Interpol has looked at the circumstances, determined they were illegitimate and lifted the notices.

The British activist said he had planned on coming to the U.S. for important meetings related to his ongoing work on Russian human rights violations. Browder would not say if he had planned to meet with prosecutors or lawmakers to discuss Russia’s interference in the 2016 American presidential elections, but he did say Moscow probably considered his planned meetings in the U.S.

“It is a beautiful way of grounding me and making me ineffective and I’m sure they thought that through when they did this,” he told VOA.

Browder is the founder of Hermitage Capital Management Foundation and was once the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia. His tax lawyer in Russia, Sergei Magnitsky, was jailed in Russia in 2008 under false charges of tax evasion after working to expose a purported tax fraud scheme by Russian officials.

Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being beaten and denied medical care, earning Moscow widespread condemnation from international human rights organizations. Browder, who was living in London at the time, spearheaded a campaign to get Western governments to punish those high-ranking Russians responsible for Magnitsky’s death.  

Sanctions on Russians

The United States, Estonia and Canada have imposed sanctions on Russians involved in Magnitsky’s death, infuriating Putin and the Kremlin. For years, the Kremlin denied beating and mishandling Magnitsky, saying he died of natural causes.

The Kremlin now claims Browder is responsible for Magnitsky’s death, saying he colluded with a British security service to talk Russian prison personnel into not helping Magnitsky. Browder rejects these new murder allegations as “absurd” and “farcical.”

Putin campaigned hard against the measure Browder pushed, known in the U.S. as the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act.” It denies visas and blocks access to American banks for Russians accused of having committed human rights abuses at home. After the resolution passed in the U.S. in 2012, Putin retaliated by ending American adoptions of Russian children.

‘Richest man in the world?’

On July 27, Browder testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that Putin was the “richest man in the world,” a result of “terrible crimes” Putin’s government committed without the threat of retribution.

“I believe he is worth $200 billion,” Browder said, testifying in the Senate panel’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “The purpose of the Putin regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money, and he doesn’t want to lose that money by having it frozen. So he is personally at risk of the Magnitsky Act.”

‘Remedy this error’

Browder’s visa being revoked had triggered criticism from some former diplomats and lawmakers. The ranking Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to rectify the situation.

“I urge you to immediately reverse the Department of State’s baffling decision to revoke Bill Browder’s visa and explain why the department took this misguided action,” Engel said. “This decision harms American credibility on the world stage, and it is unacceptable. I expect that you will remedy this error at once and explain to me and other lawmakers why this happened in the first place.”

Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin also called on U.S. officials to review the decision on Browser’s travel authorization.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul also weighed in Monday, tweeting:

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Bergdahl Defense Calls for Dismissal

The defense for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who could face life in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, has asked the judge to renew a motion to dismiss charges based on new comments made by President Donald Trump.

Trump, whose role as president includes the job of commander in chief, responded to a reporter’s question on Bergdahl last week by stating that he couldn’t say more on the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past.”

As a candidate for president, Trump called Bergdahl a “traitor” who deserved to be executed. He also promised that, as president, he would “review his case” if the soldier did not receive further punishment from the court.

The judge, Army Col. Jeffrey Nance, heard arguments Monday in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on the last-minute motion, which said Trump’s comments were “unlawful command influence” that prevent Bergdahl from getting a fair sentence.

Last week, Bergdahl pleaded guilty at a court martial hearing to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Nance is expected to rule of the motion when the court martial comes out of recess Wednesday morning. He said he “did not have any doubt whatsoever” that he could be fair and impartial.

However, Nance pointed out that “in spite of” Trump’s initial acknowledgement that he shouldn’t comment on the hearing, the president “goes on to say something” knowing that the sentencing for Bergdahl was still pending.

Trump’s comments on the campaign trail had previously been deemed by the judge as “disturbing” but not unlawful command influence because they were considered “political rhetoric” meant to embarrass his opponent.

However, Nance told the prosecution Monday that this reasoning “tend(s) to be eroded when the now president of the United States arguably adopts those statements.”

“What political opponent is he trying to embarrass when making statements in the (White House) Rose Garden?” the judge said.

Starting Wednesday, the hearing is expected to include testimony from soldiers injured in the dangerous search for Bergdahl after he left his post and was captured by the Taliban.  The judge is expected to weigh their testimonies along with factors such as Bergdahl’s willingness to admit guilt and his five years in Taliban captivity.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban shortly after he left his remote post in 2009, prompting an extensive manhunt. The soldier from Idaho previously explained his actions saying he merely intended to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.

Bergdahl was freed from captivity in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban detainees held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  His high-profile case drew national political attention.  President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans who claimed the prisoner trade jeopardized the nation’s security.  

Speaking last year in an on-camera interview by a British filmmaker, which aired Monday on ABC News, Bergdahl said Trump’s comments would make his chance for a fair trial impossible.

“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said.  “The people who want to hang me, you’re never going to convince those people.”

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McCain issues veiled criticism of Trump’s Vietnam deferment

U.S. Sen. John McCain has issued a veiled criticism of President Donald Trump’s medical deferments that kept him from serving in the Vietnam War.

 

In an interview with C-SPAN last week, McCain lamented that the military “drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say they had a bone spur.”

 

One of Trump’s five draft deferments came as a result of a physician’s letter stating he suffered from bone spurs in his feet. Trump’s presidential campaign described the issue as a temporary problem.

 

McCain spent six years as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967.

 

Trump derided McCain’s service in 2015, stating his fellow Republican wasn’t a “war hero” and adding “I like people who weren’t captured.”

 

McCain’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a request for comment Monday.

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Ivanka Trump to Talk Taxes in Pennsylvania

Ivanka Trump is heading to Pennsylvania to promote the Republican tax overhaul plan.

The White House says Trump will appear at a town hall in Richboro Monday, with U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza. The event will be moderated by former Rep. Nan Hayworth.

 

A key part of the conversation will be the proposal to expand the child tax credit, which the first daughter is backing. Ivanka Trump has been working on the plan to expand the $1,000 credit with the administration and lawmakers. Details on how much the credit should increase to have not been settled, and the president’s daughter has not publicly offered a number.

 

Later in the day, Fox News Channel will air an interview with Ivanka Trump by host Sean Hannity. She is expected to continue discussing taxes.

 

 

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Trump Urges House Republicans to Move Quickly on Budget, Tax Cuts

President Donald Trump urged House Republicans to move swiftly on passing a budget bill during a conference call Sunday, clearing the way for what he described as an historic push for tax cuts.

 

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both joined the House GOP call in which Trump called on members to adopt the budget passed by the Senate this week, so that they can move on to passing his tax reform plan.

 

Trump told the members they were on the verge of doing something historic, according to one Republican official on the call, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly what was intended as a private update for members.

 

Another GOP aide familiar with the conversation said that Trump told the members again and again that the party would have a steep price to pay in next year’s midterm elections if they failed to pass his plan, which would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and double the standard deduction used by most average Americans. The president also said multiple times that, beyond the looming elections, his plan was the right thing to do for country, the person said.

 

The Senate last week passed a budget that includes rules that will allow Republicans to get tax legislation through the Senate without Democratic votes and without fear of a Democratic filibuster.

 

Desperate for legislative victory

Republicans are desperate to rack up a legislative win after a series of embarrassing failures that have come despite the fact that the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

 

On the call, House Speaker Paul Ryan told members he hoped to pass a revised Senate budget bill this week to increase the changes that tax reform can be enacted by the end of the year.

Trump will also work to rally support for the plan on the Hill Tuesday at a lunch with Senate Republicans.

 

Congress also continues to wrestle with the health care system.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he’s willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor – if Trump makes clear he supports it. A proposal by two senators – Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington – would extend for two years federal insurance payments that Trump has blocked. But Trump has offered mixed signals, alternately praising and condemning the effort – confusing Democrats and Republicans alike.

 

Asked whether he would bring the bill to the floor, McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he was waiting “to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might sign.”

 

“If there’s a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign.  And I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I will be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it,” the Republican said. He added of Trump: “I think he hasn’t made a final decision.”

 

Compromise on health care?

The plan unveiled last week likely has 60 votes in the Senate, mostly from Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged McConnell to bring it to the floor “immediately, this week.”

 

“This is a good compromise,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He predicted it would pass “by a large number of votes” and that the president would ultimately sign it to avoid the blame for rising insurance premiums.

 

“If Republicans think that if premiums go up they’re going to avoid the blame, if Senator McConnell thinks that, he’s wrong,” Schumer said.

Trump at first suggested he supported the temporary fix as he continues to hold out hope for the passage of legislation that would repeal and replace former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have repeatedly failed to achieve. But White House officials said later that Trump would only sign an interim bill that also lifts the tax penalties that Obama’s health care law imposes on people who don’t buy coverage and employers who don’t offer plans to employees. The White House also wants provisions making it easier for people to buy low-premium policies with less coverage. Top Senate Democrats reject those demands.

 

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who was also spotted at Trump’s Virginia golf course Sunday, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump doesn’t want to back a plan “without also getting something for folks who are being hurt.”

 

“And I think the criticisms you’ve heard this week are like, ‘Look, I’m okay with doing a deal.’ This is the president now. ‘But I’m not getting enough for the folks who are getting hurt. So give me more by way of associated health plans. Give me more of the things that we know we can do for folks back home to actually help them,’” Mulvaney said.

 

“I think there’s actually a pretty good chance to get a deal,” he added. “It’s just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn’t far enough yet.”

 

McConnell, in his interviews, also but pushed back against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s efforts to recruit candidates to challenge Republican incumbents who support McConnell’s leadership, arguing that what Republicans need is candidates who can win.

 

“Look, this is not about personalities. This is about achievement. And in order to make policy, you have to actually win the election,” he said on Fox News. “And some of these folks that you’ve been quoting, as I said are specialists on nominating people who lose.”

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Debate Sharpens in Washington on Nuclear Pact with Iran

Debate is sharpening in Washington on the merits and potential pitfalls, the risks and possible rewards, of the United States possibly pulling out of the international nuclear accord with Iran. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the U.S. Congress has decisions to make now that President Donald Trump has withheld certifying Iran’s compliance with the pact co-negotiated by the Obama administration.

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Key US Senators Call for More Information on Niger Attack

Key U.S. senators called Sunday for the White House to be more forthcoming about the country’s military involvement in Niger after four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush there earlier this month.

In separate interviews on NBC’s “Meet the Press” news show, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senate leader Charles Schumer said they support an effort last week by Republican Senator John McCain to find out the details of the attack as well as the scope of the U.S. campaign against Islamic State in the west African country. Both Graham and Schumer said they had been unaware of the substantial number of the U.S. troops in Niger.

“I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Graham said. “This is an endless war without boundaries and no limitation on time and geography. You’ve got to tell us more.

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said. “So John McCain is going to try to create a new system to make sure that we can answer the question, why were we there, we’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.

“I can say this to the families,” Graham said. “They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies.”

Schumer said, “We need to look at this carefully. This is a brave new world. There are no set battle plans.”

He said that he would favor revisiting the current congressional authorization for overseas military action that is 16 years old, an agreement stemming from the 2001 terror attacks on the U.S.

“There is no easy answer but we need to look at it,” he said. “The answer we have now is not adequate.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Graham and McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last week that the military is shifting its counter-terrorism strategy to focus more on Africa. The defense chief said military leaders want to expand their ability to use force against suspected terrorists.

U.S. officials believe the Niger attack was launched by a local Islamic State affiliate, but the Pentagon is still investigating the circumstances of how it occurred.

 

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Trump Defends Frequent Twitter Bickering with US Officials

President Donald Trump is defending his frequent bickering on Twitter with officials across the U.S. political spectrum, saying it sometimes pushes officials “to do what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Trump told Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday, “Sometimes it helps, to be honest with you.”

Republican lawmakers have often suggested Trump end his frequent tweets, but he said, “I doubt I would be here if it were not for social media, to be honest with you.”

He said he views social media as way to present his views unfiltered by the mainstream national media, “because there is a fake media out there. I get treated very unfairly by the media. You have to keep people interested also.

“You know what I find,” he said, “the ones that don’t want me to are the enemies. The people who really don’t like what happened with me and winning the election and of all the things.

“I don’t think I want to take any chances,” Trump said. “And we do get points out there. I mean, we get tremendous points. I can express my views when somebody expresses maybe a false view that they said I gave.

“It works, it just seems to work. I mean, it is a little unconventional,” he said.

On Sunday, Trump continued his attacks against a Florida congresswoman, Democrat Frederica Wilson, who quoted Trump as telling the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger that he “knew what he was getting into” when he joined the military.

In a tweet, Trump said, “Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action & vote” for Republicans.

In the interview, Trump said he wants Congress to move quickly on tax cuts and reforms.

“I will say this,” Trump said, “I want to get it by the end of the year, but I’d be very disappointed if it took that long.”

 

 

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