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AP FACT CHECK: Trump Is off the Mark About Maria

When it comes to grading hurricanes, President Donald Trump is off the mark about Maria.

First, he won’t let go of the false claim that Puerto Rico was hit by a Category 5 hurricane. He also errs in citing high grades from a Clinton-era official for the way he’s responded to the island’s plight.

TRUMP: “They got hit dead center — if you look at those maps — by a Category 5. Nobody’s ever heard of a 5 hitting land. Usually by that time it’s dissipated. It hit right through — and kept to a 5 — it hit right through the middle of the island, right through the middle of Puerto Rico. There’s never been anything like that.” — comments Thursday after a White House meeting with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello

THE FACTS: That account is wrong. Maria made landfall on Puerto as a Category 4 storm at 6:35 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, with winds of 155 mph (249 kph), just short of the 157 mph (253 kph) of a 5. Nor did it rake across the island as a Category 5. It weakened, and left the island some seven hours later as barely a Category 3.

The fact Maria fell just short of a 5 is of no comfort to people on the devastated island, but Trump is distorting the historical record with his persistent mischaracterization.

Past hurricanes, such as Andrew in 1992, have sometimes been upgraded from Category 4 to 5 after further review of damage on the ground, but as of now, the National Hurricane Center lists Maria as an upper limit Category 4.

TRUMP: “We keep being given credit. You know, it’s very nice that the gentleman who worked for Bill Clinton, when he was president, gave us an A-plus. And that included Puerto Rico. Gave us an A-plus. And I thought that was really very nice. And I think — I really believe he’s correct. We have done a really great job.” — comments after Rossello meeting

THE FACTS: James Lee Witt, the Clinton administration emergency chief cited by Trump, says he never gave Trump an A-plus for his Puerto Rico efforts because it is too early to judge them. Trump might be forgiven for thinking he got that praise from Witt, because published reports suggested he did.

But Witt said in an AP interview and in a statement that his praise regarded hurricanes Harvey and Irma only. He thought the Trump administration responded effectively to them.

But Maria? “Even today it is yet to be determined whether the ultimate response to that hurricane will get an A, C or F or something else,” he said. “As time goes by that will become apparent.”

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Obama, Bush Deplore Country’s Political Divisiveness

During a speech Thursday in New York, George W. Bush said, “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of our children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.” He spoke at the Bush Institute’s National Forum on Freedom, Free Markets and Security.

Bush deplored the country’s political divisiveness, saying that “at times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” he said.

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said. “Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

“Bigotry seems emboldened,” he added. “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Obama campaigns

Barack Obama took on the issue in Richmond while speaking at a campaign rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. 

“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities,” he said. “Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry. To demonize people who have different ideas.”

​No names

Neither of the former leaders mentioned U.S. President Donald Trump by name, but their messages seemed aimed at him.

“Our identity as a nation, unlike other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood, …” Bush said in New York. “This means that people from every race, religion, ethnicity can be full and equally American. It means that bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed.”

“Too often,” he added, “we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, and forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

“If you have to win a campaign by dividing people,” Obama said at the Virginia rally, “you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later. We are at our best not when we are trying to put people down, but when we are trying to lift everybody up.”

Both former presidents have made infrequent public policy statements, in keeping with presidential tradition.

Last year, Bush supported the unsuccessful presidential campaign of his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, one of a large field of Republican contenders Trump defeated for the party’s presidential nomination before winning the November election. Obama campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

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Senator Mccain Says Subpoena May Be Required to Get Answers on Niger Ambush

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday that he may consider issuing a subpoena because the White House has not been forthcoming with details of an ambush in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were killed.

The attack earlier this month, which U.S. officials suspect was carried out by a local Islamic State affiliate, has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counter terrorism mission in the West African country, which has about 800 U.S. troops.

The U.S. military is investigating the incident to find out what went wrong and what, if any, changes need to be made.

“It may require a subpoena,” McCain said when asked what steps his committee might need to take to determine what happened to the four troops.

Asked what information the committee still needed, McCain said “everything.” When questioned if the White House had been forthcoming with the information needed by the committee, he added, “of course not”

He said he had a good conversation with President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and hoped the White House would eventually provide the information needed by the committee.

From initial accounts, the 40-member patrol, which included a dozen U.S. troops, came under swift attack by militants riding in a dozen vehicles and on about 20 motorcycles.

The mission had been seen as a relatively lower-risk endeavor for America’s elite commandos and there was no armed air cover at the time that could carry out airstrikes if necessary.

Under heavy fire, U.S. troops called in French fighter jets for air support, but the firefight was at such close quarters that the planes could not engage and were instead left circling overhead.

U.S. officials have said French aircraft were overhead within 30 minutes.

The U.S. military’s Africa Command said the soldiers were in the area to establish relations with local leaders and deemed it unlikely that they would meet resistance.

A diplomat with knowledge of the incident said French officials were frustrated by the U.S. troops’ actions, because they had acted on only limited intelligence and without contingency plans in place.

U.S. forces do not have a direct combat mission in Niger, and instead provide assistance to its army that includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations.

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Trump Nearly Certain Senate Republicans Have Enough Votes to Pass Budget Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he is nearly certain Senate Republican leaders have secured enough support to pass a budget bill that would help them approve tax legislation.

“Republicans are going for the big Budget approval today, first step toward massive tax cuts. I think we have the votes, but who knows?,” Trump tweeted.

Later Thursday, Trump told reporters at the White House, “I think we have the votes for the budget, which will be phase one of our massive tax cuts and reform.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution to establish a federal budget framework for fiscal year 2018. The measure contains a legislative tool that would enable the 100-seat Senate, which Republicans control by a 52 to 48 margin, to approve a tax bill with a simple majority vote instead of the generally required 60 votes.

Unless there are Republican defections, the measure could be approved without Democratic support.

After failing to pass a Trump-supported effort to dismantle the nation’s health care law, commonly known as Obamacare, Senate Republicans are under pressure to approve the tax cut bill that is under consideration. The tax bill would clear the path for tax legislation that could add up to $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade to pay for tax cuts.

The Senate and the House of Representatives must agree on a budget resolution for the next fiscal year in order for Republicans reach their goal of enacting a tax bill that would be submitted to Trump for his signature by the end of this year.

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Twitter, Facebook Lawyers to Testify Before Congress on Russia Election Meddling

Lawyers for the social media companies Twitter and Facebook will testify next month at hearings before congressional committees investigating what, if any, effect Russian trolls may have had on the 2016 election.

Google also will send a representative to the hearings, though it has not yet said who would represent the company. Facebook and Twitter will send their general counsels, Colin Stretch and Sean Edgett, respectively.

The lawyers will testify before the Senate and House intelligence committees — two of the congressional panels searching for evidence that Russia sought to interfere in the U.S. election or potentially colluded with the Donald Trump campaign.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with the Russians, and to date, no evidence has emerged to suggest there was collusion. U.S. officials also have said Russia’s alleged meddling didn’t go so far as to change any votes in the election.

Facebook revealed last month that a group with alleged ties to the Russian government ran $100,000 worth of ads on the platform promoting “divisive” causes like Black Lives Matter. U.S. media reports also indicate Russians purchased similar ads on Google.

Facebook has turned the alleged Russian ads over to Congress, and last week, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said she “absolutely” supports the public release of the advertisements.

In releasing the ads to Congress, Sandberg said, “It’s important that [the investigators] get the whole picture and explain that to the American people.”

In response to the Russian ad buys, Sandberg said Facebook is hiring 4,000 new employees to oversee ads and content. She said the company also is using “machine learning and automation” to target fake accounts that spread fake news.

In addition, Twitter has taken action against suspected Russian troll accounts, suspending 22 accounts that corresponded with fake accounts used on Facebook.

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Florida University Braces for Speech by White Nationalist, Protests

The University of Florida campus in Gainesville was on edge Wednesday, a day before white nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak there.

The school has called in hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and city sources in an effort to avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that erupted in August at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The University of Florida initially denied Spencer’s request to speak there but later university president Kent Fuchs said the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution required it to allow the event.

Fuchs estimates the school will spend $600,000 on security for Spencer’s speech Thursday.

The National Policy Institute, which is run by Spencer, is paying $10,564 to rent space for the speech.

“I fully understand freedom of speech cannot be burdened legally with the full cost of this, but on the other hand we’re being burdened,” Fuchs said Wednesday. “So taxpayers are subsidizing hate speech.”

In anticipation of trouble, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, saying a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the school is located.

In his order, Scott cited several Spencer appearances that have resulted in violence and “civil unrest,” including in Charlottesville where a counterdemonstrator was killed.

Carrying torches, Spencer’s supporters were joined by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis at the “Unite the Right” rally to protest the removal of a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee. They clashed with local law enforcement officials as well as counterprotesters that included the so-called antifa movement (short for anti-fascists).

After Scott’s emergency declaration, Fuchs said the school received many calls from parents concerned about safety.

“Parents want to know, ‘Why is the governor declaring a state of emergency and yet you, President Fuchs, are saying my son or daughter should be going to class?’ That (announcement) elevated that tension, locally with parents and brought a national visibility to this,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs said he hopes the event will end up bringing the community closer together, and that it can be used to create a dialogue about race.

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Top GOP Consultant Charged With Illegal Lobbying, Conspiracy

A top Republican political consultant and two former state representatives have been indicted in a corruption scheme in South Carolina’s Legislature.

Solicitor David Pascoe announced Wednesday the State Grand Jury had indicted Richard Quinn with criminal conspiracy and failure to register as a lobbyist. Former Reps. Tracy Edge and Jim Harrison face several charges, including criminal conspiracy and misconduct.

Grand jurors also issued new indictments for two lawmakers already charged. Rep. Rick Quinn, the elder Quinn’s son, was charged with criminal conspiracy. Sen. John Courson was charged with statutory misconduct in office. Both men already faced other misconduct charges.

Richard Quinn is a longtime political consultant who has advised some of South Carolina’s top Republicans. In March, state police agents raided a Columbia office that housed his consulting shop.

 

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Mike Pence’s Brother Plans to Run for Congress

Greg Pence, one of Mike Pence’s older brothers, has filed a tax document indicating he will seek the eastern Indiana congressional seat that the vice president and former governor represented for 12 years.

He formed the Greg Pence for Congress Committee on Monday, according to a filing with the Internal Revenue Service that was obtained by The Associated Press.

Greg Pence, who once ran the family’s now-bankrupt chain of Tobacco Road convenience stores, previously said he had been courted to run for the district, which covers a broad swath of central and southeastern Indiana, including Muncie and Columbus.

As the vice president’s brother, he is likely the hands-down favorite to win in the overwhelmingly Republican district. He has a famous name, owns an antique business in the area and even bears a striking resemblance to his brother, with a close-cropped head of white hair.

It’s likely he will also be able to tap into the same fundraising network his brother enjoyed in the state — if not nationally.

 

Bob Grand, a major Republican fundraiser and powerbroker in Indiana politics, previously told the AP that Greg Pence would be an ideal candidate.

 

“He’s a community leader, he’s been involved in this community, he’s obviously got good name ID. I think all those things are positive,” Grand said in June when Greg Pence’s name was first floated as a possibility.

 Greg Pence lives in Columbus, Indiana. That’s the same town the family grew up in after the Pence’s father, Edward, relocated from Chicago and later built a gas station empire.

 

Greg Pence eventually took over the company, Kiel Brothers Oil Co., from his father. But the business, which operated a chain of convenience stores under the name Tobacco Road, went bankrupt under Greg Pence’s watch in 2004.

 

That wiped out more than $673,000 of Mike Pence’s net worth, according to Pence’s 2006 tax filings, which he has publicly released.

 

 

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.  

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”

Molly McKitterick contributed to this report.

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Canada: NAFTA’s Proposed Changes ‘Troubling’

Canada’s foreign minister says there are “unconventional” and “troubling” proposals on the table as Canada, the United States and Mexico seek to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The fourth round of talks on revising the 23-year-old NAFTA deal wrapped up Tuesday, with more talks set for Mexico next month and additional discussions early next year.

Canada’s Chrystia Freeland said proposals created “challenges,” and “turn back the clock” on NAFTA. Failure could threaten jobs across North America, she said. In addition, ending NAFTA could hurt the North American teamwork that produces cars efficiently and makes them competitive with products from other regions, she added.

Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said it was clear from the beginning that the talks would be tough and “we still have a lot of work to do.” He also said all nations “have limits.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the United States faces a large trade deficit, and blamed NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs. He expressed frustration that his negotiating partners were not willing to make changes to reduce those deficits. 

NAFTA was harshly criticized by candidate Donald Trump, and press reports say Washington has since proposed renegotiating the deal every five years, requiring more U.S.-made content in automobiles, and scaling back a mechanism to resolve disputes. Trump has blamed what he called poorly negotiated agreements for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs that hurt the U.S. economy. He promised to drive harder bargains in trade deals. 

The Brookings Institution’s Dany Bahar said trade deficits are not the cause of job losses, and called the U.S. focus misplaced. He said NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanism and some other provisions could use some updating. However, he told VOA that NAFTA is closer to collapse than in previous rounds of talks. Such a collapse would mean U.S.-made cars would become more expensive and less competitive on world markets, likely making the United States the “biggest loser” if the trade deal fails, he said.

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