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Tea Party Groups Settle Lawsuits Over IRS Mistreatment

The Trump administration has settled lawsuits with tea party groups that received extra, often burdensome scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status, ending another chapter in a political scandal that dogged the Obama administration and remains a source of outrage for Republicans.

The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing to the groups as part of the proposed settlement agreements outlined in court filings Wednesday. The groups and the Justice Department are asking a judge to declare it illegal for the tax agency to discriminate based on political views, according to the agreements, which still must be approved by a judge.

Republicans erupted in 2013 after the IRS apologized for submitting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to intensive scrutiny, in part by zeroing in on groups with words like “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. Many had their applications delayed for months and years. Some were asked improper questions about their donors and even their religious practices, an inspector general’s report found.

Hundreds of organizations joined lawsuits, alleging their constitutional rights were violated.

Much of the agency’s leadership, including top official Lois Lerner, resigned or retired over the scandal. One of the proposed settlement agreements calls senior management “delinquent” in providing control and direction over the process. And it faults Lerner for failing to tell upper-level management of the long delays in processing applications from tea party and other conservative groups.

Still, the Obama Justice Department announced in 2015 that no one at the IRS would be prosecuted in the scandal, saying investigators had found mismanagement but no evidence that it had targeted a political group based on its viewpoints or obstructed justice.

Republicans had hoped the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions would reopen its case against Lerner. But officials told members of Congress last month they would not charge Lerner, saying “reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence.”

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More US Women Run for Office as Resources Are Found

When Jo Ann Davidson ran for the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, city council, she picked up a book that explained everything a candidate needed to know about running for office.  It had just three pages tailored for females.

“There really was nothing out there at the time,” said Davidson, “to help a woman candidate.”

Davidson lost that first race in 1965, but she returned strong. And won. And continued winning. She held that seat for 10 years until she was elected and re-elected to serve a total of 20 years as a state legislator. Her legislative peers elected her as the first female Speaker of the Ohio General Assembly — her enormous portrait graces the walls of the Ohio House Chamber and a second one is in the Ladies’ gallery. Davidson also served as co-chair of the Republican National Committee.  

Now, she holds an eight-month program to encourage and train Republican women about how to run for office.

‘I can do this’

With a strict application process and a cap of 25 students, the waiting list for The Jo Ann Davidson Leadership Institute is unending. Davidson says women sometimes lack confidence and knowledge of the political system. Her goal is for them to finish the training, fearlessly stating, “I can do this.”

Davison’s training is one of only a few geared toward Republican women. Dozens of training groups are aimed at women who are Democrats, non-partisan, or cater to specific gender, age or ethnic demographics. 

Gail Dixon is a founding member of Oasis, a Florida organization dedicated to empowering women. The three-day non-partisan conference, titled “Women Can Run,” is held in partnership through the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. While women are a slim majority of the U.S. population, CAWP figures show women hold just 19.6 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress and 24 percent of statewide offices.

Just ask them

“I think that the world changes in the halls of power,” said Gail Dixon, a founding member of Oasis. Dixon says those numbers are low because of how males are socialized to be leaders, making a steeper “trajectory for women in perceiving themselves to be to be entitled to a seat at the table.”

Samantha Politano, the youngest woman at the conference at age 18, says her fellow coeds at Florida State University have grown up believing they should maintain traditional female roles, like nursing. But she’s pleased to see more women running to prove, “We can take on masculine traits without fear of being less of a woman.” Politano says someday she may run for president of the United States.

The trainers who spoke with VOA said one basic motivation would encourage more women to run. They simply need to be asked. For Suzanne Van Wyk, that took several times. She’s now running her first campaign. “My husband has suggested, prodded and encouraged me to run for probably the last seven years.”  

2016 prompts female Democrats to run

For some women, the inspiration was Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party. 

“For me, it was definitely the last straw,” said Becky Anderson Wilkins, who’s running for Illinois’ 6th district. She’s running against Republican Representative Peter Roskam, who’s held that position since 2007. 

But what sets that Illinois race apart are the numbers. 

Anderson Wilkins is one of six women running against Roskam. They first have to win the Democratic Party primary in which one of the six — or one of the four male candidates — will advance to the general election.

Wilkins calls it “a slew” of women and that “it shows that we really care that we have to make a change.”

‘I’m going to run for this!’

The numbers of women entering politics are increasing, slowly, yet not as quickly as some had hoped.  But if you ask Jo Ann Davidson, with her more than 50 years in politics, how females have changed she sounds optimistic. 

“Younger women are getting better at stepping up,” the sprightly 90-year-old says with a smile,” and saying ‘I’m going to run for this!”

Katherine Gypson contributed to this report

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New US Study: Compromise Health Law Changes Would Have Little Effect

A bipartisan measure to stabilize the U.S. health insurance markets would save the government money, but do little to cut the cost of premiums for consumers or substantially change the number of people who have insurance to help pay their medical bills, a new independent study concluded Wednesday.

With Republican efforts stalled in Congress to dismantle national health policies championed by former President Barack Obama, two senators, Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, reached an accord to keep markets for individual insurance buyers from collapsing.

Good news, bad news

In the new analysis, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the compromise crafted by Alexander and Murray would cut the government’s deficit by $3.8 billion over the next decade, but “would not substantially change the number of people with health insurance coverage.” The CBO earlier said the Republican replacement plans would have cut 20 million or more people from insurance rolls.

While there is bipartisan support for the Alexander-Murray compromise in the Senate, Republican leaders who control the congressional legislative agenda have yet to commit that there will be a vote on it. Republicans have tried dozens of times over the past seven years, all unsuccessfully, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Their latest attempts to undermine the law failed in several key votes earlier this year.

However, key legislative leaders say the Alexander-Murray health care changes could be added to other measures that lawmakers will be debating as current government funding expires in early December.

Limited support

President Donald Trump has voiced some support for the Alexander-Murray pact, but said he wants other changes to curb payments to insurance companies as compensation for their providing lower-cost policies to poorer Americans.

About 20 million people who previously had no health insurance have gained coverage under Obamacare, but Republicans have long viewed the law as government overreach, chiefly because it requires virtually all Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine if they do not.

Most American workers get their health insurance coverage through their employers, while the government pays for much of the coverage for older and poorer people.

Individuals who buy their own insurance are most affected by the debate over the fate of Obamacare.

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Trump OKs Test Program to Expand Domestic Drone Flights

Americans could see a lot more drones flying around their communities as the result of a Trump administration test program to increase government and commercial use of the unmanned aircraft.

President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead Wednesday, signing a directive intended to increase the number and complexity of drone flights.

The presidential memo would allow exemptions from current safety rules so communities could move ahead with testing of drone operations.

States, communities and tribes selected to participate would devise their own trial programs in partnership with government and industry drone users. The administration anticipates approving at least five applications, but there is no limit on the number of communities that can join.

The Federal Aviation Administration would review each program. The agency would grant waivers, if necessary, to rules that now restrict drone operations. Examples include prohibitions on flights over people, nighttime flights and flights beyond the line of sight of the drone operator.

 

Among the things that could be tested are package deliveries; the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft; and technology to prevent collisions between drones and other aircraft and to detect and counter drones flying in restricted areas.

 

Drone-makers and businesses that want to fly drones have pushed for looser restrictions. Trump discussed the issue with industry leaders at a White House meeting in June.

In the past two years, the FAA has registered over 1 million drones. The majority of them belong to hobbyists. There are now more registered drones than registered manned aircraft in the U.S.

Safety restrictions on drone flights have limited drone use, and U.S. technology companies seeking to test and deploy commercial drones have often done so overseas. For example, Google’s Project Wing is testing drones in Australia, and Amazon is testing drone deliveries in the United Kingdom.

“In order to maintain American leadership in this emerging industry here at home, our country needs a regulatory framework that encourages innovation while ensuring airspace safety,” Michael Kratsios of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told reporters in a conference call.

The trial program will collect data on drone operations that will aid the government’s effort to develop a separate air traffic control system for low-flying unmanned aircraft, he said.

The test zones are expected to start going into place in about a year. The program would continue for three years after that.

Safety concerns over drones have risen recently after the collision of a civilian drone and an Army helicopter over Staten Island, New York, and the first verified collision in North America between a drone and a commercial aircraft, in Quebec City, Canada.

The test program doesn’t address complaints by local governments that low-flying drones present safety, privacy and nuisance risks. The FAA says it has the sole authority to regulate the national airspace, but some communities have passed their own restrictions.

Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy at the Consumer Technology Association, said the test program recognizes that “the federal government cannot manage policymaking and enforcement by itself” and must work with local governments.

“Public-private partnerships like those that would be created by the program are critical to realizing the economic benefits of drones,” he said.

The association, whose members include drone-makers, has estimated 3.4 million drones valued will be sold in the U.S. this year, 40 percent more than last year. Revenue from those sales is estimated at about $1.1 billion.

 

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Trainings at Full Capacity for Potential Female Candidates

There are 105 women in the US Congress. Out of a total of 535 members. That’s the highest number in history. Yet, the percentage is well below the number of women who live in the US. The Center for American Women and Politics lists 400 women who are running for national office next year. They, along with many other groups, are urging women to enter politics with training sessions with names like “Ready to Run,” “Elect Her” and “Teach a Girl to Lead.” VOA’s Carolyn Presutti reports

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AP Source: Clinton Camp Helped Fund Trump Dossier Research

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund a political research firm that produced a dossier of allegations about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

That’s according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke Tuesday evening to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential client matters.

The person says the arrangement, first reported by The Washington Post, was coordinated by a lawyer for the campaign and the DNC and his law firm. That lawyer, Marc Elias, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Tuesday.

The person says the political research firm, Fusion GPS, had approached Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, about doing continued research into Trump’s international business connections.

Representatives for Fusion GPS declined to comment.

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More Cracks Emerge Among Republicans

The White House and the Senate majority leader on Tuesday tried to cement over widening cracks in their governing Republican Party.

The most prominent new fissure came on the Senate floor when Jeff Flake of Arizona slammed the president’s behavior and announced he would not run for re-election next year.

Flake, a first-term senator, who previously served 12 years in the House of Representatives, said it is “profoundly misguided” to “stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters [the length of a Twitter message].”

Return to decency?

Flake said the Republican Party had fooled itself long enough that Trump would return to decency.

The unusually fierce attack by a sitting senator on a president from his own party came just hours as Trump tangled on Twitter with another Republican senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Corker, who has also decided not to run again for the U.S Senate where he has served for a decade, said the president’s staff had asked him to intervene when Trump was “getting ready to do something that was really off the tracks.”

Corker said, “someone of this mentality as president of the United States is something that is I think debasing to our country.”

Trump on Tuesday renewed his social media attack on Corker, calling him the “incompetent head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee” who would not be able to get elected “dog catcher.”

Corker responded with a tweet of his own: “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff”

During the time between the online insults exchanged with Corker and Flake’s surprise speech, the president made a rare trip to the Capitol to have lunch with Republican senators in an attempt to boost support for tax reform and other policy priorities.

Trump, on Twitter, said most of the Republican senators “are great people who want big Tax Cuts and success for U.S.” noting he received “multiple standing ovations” during the meeting.

McConnell stands clear

Afterward the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, refused to be drawn into the chasm.

“If there’s anything that unites Republicans, it’s tax reform,” he told reporters. “We’re going to concentrate on what our agenda is and not any of these other distractions.”

The Republicans enjoy a 52-48 majority in the Senate, but several other Republican senators — for various reasons — have also wavered on backing Trump on major issues such as health care reform and may also do so on tax policy, according to political observers.

There was no attempt from the White House briefing room podium in the afternoon to try to assuage Flake and Corker.

“It’s probably a good move,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Flake’s decision not to run again. And she accused Corker of “grandstanding on TV,” rather than getting on board with the president’s political agenda.

 

The pro-Trump Great America Alliance is hailing the Arizona senator’s announcement as a “monumental win for the entire Trump movement and should serve as another warning shot to the failed Republican establishment that backed Flake and others like them that their time is up.”

Populist wing takes control

What today’s developments make clear is the Trump populist wing, “equivalent to the radical right in Europe,” has now taken control of the party from the establishment Republicans, according to David Lublin, a professor of government at American University.

Flake’s speech, he contends, “raises the specter of impeachment” if the opposition Democrats can gain control of the House of Representatives next year because “it directly attacks him for his anti-democratic behavior.”

“At this point the question is less a crippled presidency than a crippled country … unable to manage our foreign alliances” as the United States is now viewed under President Trump as a “less reliable partner,” Lublin tells VOA.

Flake made reference to this in his speech, saying “despotism loves a vacuum. And our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership.”

On the brink?

Corker had earlier said Trump’s hostile rhetoric on North Korea and others could lead to World War III and suggested the president leave foreign policy “to the professionals.”

The White House takes umbrage with those characterizations.

History will look at Trump “as somebody who helped defeat ISIS, who built an economy that was stronger than it’s been in several decades, who brought unemployment to a 16-year low, who’s created over 1.7 million jobs since being elected,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday.

 

“I think those are the things that people actually care about, not some petty comments from Senator Corker and Senator Flake.”

 

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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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