Republican Moderates Hint Government Shutdown May be Short-Lived

Two moderate Senate Republican voices in Washington’s budget battle may offer hope the the U.S. government shutdown might be moving toward resolution.

Maine’s Susan Collins told reporters a group of 22 of her colleagues are determined to find a way out.

“A substantial number of senators are eager to find that path,” she said, while adding that details of their negotiations are still “in flux.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham said he believes there could be a “breakthrough” before the Senate’s scheduled vote on funding the government for at least another three weeks.

Graham told reporters there needs to be what he calls an “understanding” from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that after a temporary funding bill is passed,  the Senate would then tackle immigration — the issue that led to the impasse — as part of a longterm spending bill.

The House passed a budget to fund the federal government late last week.

But Senate Democrats have so far refused, demanding protection from deportation for the so-called “dreamers,” young immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children.

Republicans say they will not discuss immigration until the government reopens.

Each side blames the other for the government shutdown that has suspended all but essential services because there is no authority to spend any funds.

 

McConnell calls the Democrats’ demand for the dreamers “a political miscalculation of gargantuan proportions.” He said he considers it a “non-emergency” since President Donald Trump gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a solution to the matter.

McConnell echoed Trump by calling the standoff the “Schumer Shutdown, for Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Democrat Schumer calls it the “Trump Shutdown.”

He blamed the president for agreeing to sign an immigration deal last week, then changing his mind hours later.Schumer said during at a Friday White House meeting he offered Trump a deal to fund his top immigration priority – a wall along the border with Mexico –  in exchange for protection for the dreamers.

“I essentially agreed to give the president something he wanted (the wall) for something we both wanted (protection of the immigrants against deportation)” Schumer said. “He can’t take yes for an answer.”

Senator Graham appeared Sunday to blame the White House for the immigration standoff, specifically hardline Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

“Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said Sunday. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiation on immigration, we are going nowhere.”

Graham said Miller is out of the “mainstream” with his immigration views. There has been no response so far from the White House on Graham’s comments.

Trump tweeted Sunday, “Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border” with Mexico. “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.”

Federal agencies, meanwhile, prepared to idle employees and halt major portions of their operations if no agreement was reached Sunday or in the early hours of Monday.

The U.S. government partially shut down on several occasions over lawmaking and funding disputes. The most recent was a 16 day shutdown in 2013 in a partisan deadlock over health care policy.  About 850,000 federal workers were furloughed.

Services that stop or continue during a federal shutdown varies. But federal research projects could be stalled, national parks and museums closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed, and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

Marches Draw Hundreds of Thousands Across the US

Demonstrators gathered in cities across the United States, and around the world, to call for equal rights in pay and health care, to denounce sexual harassment and to encourage women to run for office. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, this year’s “Women’s March” isn’t just a protest. Organizers hope it’s a nationwide call to action.

Trump Campaign Ad on Murder Raises Heat in Shutdown Fight

U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign on Saturday issued a new video ad calling Democrats “complicit” in murders committed by illegal immigrants, during a government shutdown partly triggered by an impasse over immigration.

The Trump campaign released the ad, titled “Complicit,” on the anniversary of the Republican president’s inauguration.

It focuses on an undocumented immigrant, Luis Bracamontes, charged in the 2014 killings of two police officers in Sacramento, California. The man’s lawyers had questioned his sanity but a judge found him mentally competent to stand trial, according to a report last week in The Sacramento Bee.

“Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants,” the ad says.

The new ad is likely to anger Democrats and immigration advocates and could inflame tensions over the issue on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans were working through the weekend to reach an agreement that would reopen the government.

A news release announcing the ad blamed Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York for the shutdown, accusing him and Democrats of “holding lawful citizens hostage over their demands for amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Schumer’s spokesman said in an email, “This is a shameless attempt by the president to distract from the Trump shutdown. Rather than campaigning, he should do his job and negotiate a deal to open the government and address the needs of the American people.”

“It’s a campaign ad, which tend to be extreme, but this is completely divorced from reality and full of fear and hate,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president of the refugee agency HIAS.

Trump filed for re-election the day he took office, an unusual move that has allowed him to begin campaigning long before the November 2020 election. Historically, incumbent presidents have waited two years, until after the midterm elections, to file formally.

On Friday, most Senate Democrats opposed a bill that would have avoided the shutdown, because their efforts to include protections for hundreds of thousands of mostly young immigrants, known as Dreamers, were rejected by Trump and Republican leaders.

The Dreamers were brought illegally into the United States as children, and they were given temporary legal status under a program started by former President Barack Obama.

Official: ‘No Formal Decision’ on Florida Offshore Drilling

The Trump administration’s promise to exempt Florida from an offshore drilling plan is not a formal action, an Interior Department official said Friday in a statement that Democrats said contradicted a high-profile announcement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke has proposed opening nearly all U.S. coastline to offshore oil and gas drilling, but said soon after announcing the plan that he will keep Florida “off the table” when it comes to offshore drilling.

Zinke’s Jan. 9 statement about Florida “stands on its own,” said Walter Cruickshank, the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, but there’s been no formal decision on the five-year drilling plan.

No decision

“We have no formal decision yet on what’s in, or out, of the five-year program,” Cruickshank told the House Natural Resources Committee at a hearing Friday.

Zinke’s announcement about keeping Florida off the table, made during a Tallahassee news conference with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, will be part of the department’s analysis as it completes the five-year plan, Cruickshank said.

Democrats seized on the comment to accuse Zinke of playing politics by granting the Republican governor’s request to exempt Florida while ignoring nearly a dozen other states that made similar requests.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called Cruickshank’s comments “stunning” and said they confirm what he and other Democrats had suspected — that Zinke’s statement was “nothing more than a political stunt” to help Scott run for Nelson’s Senate seat.

Scott is a friend and ally of President Donald Trump, and Trump has urged him to run for the Senate.

Zinke’s promise to take Florida off the table was “just empty words” until he takes formal steps needed to publish a new draft plan that excludes Florida, Nelson said.

​Florida governor confident

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, called the claims by Nelson and other Democrats false. 

“Cruickshank simply said BOEM will finish the legally required analysis of the planning areas, as is always done for all planning areas,” she said in an email.

Scott said Friday he did not see Cruickshank’s comments but was confident the Trump administration will not allow drilling in Florida.

“Secretary Zinke is a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal. He promised me that Florida would be off the table, and I believe Florida is off the table,” Scott told reporters Friday.

States seek exemptions

Zinke announced plans two weeks ago to vastly expand offshore oil drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific oceans, including in more than a dozen states where drilling is now blocked. The five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies.

The plan has drawn bipartisan opposition by coastal state governors from California to New Hampshire, with at least 11 governors formally asking Zinke to remove their states from the plan. Seven governors from Massachusetts to North Carolina submitted a joint request for exemptions this week.

“Like Florida, each of our states has unique natural resources and an economy that is reliant on tourism as an essential driver,” the governors wrote. The letter was signed by Republican leaders of Massachusetts and Maryland and Democrats from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina.

By exempting Florida but not other states, Zinke showed he is “more concerned with politics than proper process when it comes to making key decisions that affect our coastal communities,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Zinke’s action may violate the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which governs drilling in U.S. coastal waters, Cantwell said. The law requires formal notice and a comment period before taking regulatory action.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., a member of the natural resources panel, told Cruickshank that the Interior Department has not offered “a single reason why Florida is more unique than California or Virginia or South Carolina or other coastal states.”

Oil industry groups have praised Zinke’s plan, while environmental groups say it would harm America’s oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.

Nelson said this week he is blocking three Trump nominees for high-level Interior jobs to protest the drilling proposal.

Anniversary of Women’s March Electrified by #MeToo Movement

One year after more than 4 million protesters rallied for the Women’s March in cities across the country, tens of thousands are expected here in Washington for an anniversary march. While the focus for the first march was the newly inaugurated president, this year’s march takes place at a time when women are speaking out more than ever, highlighting sexual harassment and the abuse of power. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look at the growth of the #MeToo movement.

US Health Agency Revokes Obama-era Planned Parenthood Protection

U.S. health officials on Friday said they were revoking legal guidance issued by the Obama administration that had sought to discourage states from trying to defund organizations that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials also said the department is issuing a new regulation aimed at protecting health care workers’ civil rights based on religious and conscience objections.

The regulation protects the rights of health care workers from providing abortion, euthanasia, and sterilization, the officials said during a media call with reporters.

On Thursday, HHS said it was creating a new division that would focus on conscience and religious objections, a move it said was necessary after years of the federal government forcing health care workers to provide such services.

HHS will issue a letter Friday to state Medicaid offices that will rescind the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance, which was issued after states including Indiana had tried to defund abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

The guidance “restricted states’ ability to take certain actions against family-planning providers that offer abortion services,” HHS said in a statement.

The Medicaid program, jointly funded by states and the federal government, provides health care services to the poor and disabled. Federal law prohibits Medicaid or any other federal funding for abortion services.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said the move encourages states to try to block access to care at Planned Parenthood.

“The law is clear, it is illegal to bar women from seeking care at Planned Parenthood. Longstanding protections within Medicaid safeguard every person’s right to access care at their qualified provider of choice,” Laguens said in a statement.

New rule

The rule will enforce existing statutes that guarantee these civil rights. Roger Severino, the director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS, said the office had received 34 complaints since President Donald Trump took office last January.

When asked by reporters if the rule would allow providers to deny care to transgender individuals based on religious objections, Severino said the rule refers to statutes that are based on providing procedures.

Experts on Thursday said the move to protect workers on religious grounds raised the possibility it could provide legal cover for otherwise unlawful discrimination, and encourage a broader range of religious objections.

US Embassies, Security Services Expected to Continue Functioning in Government Shutdown

The government has officially shut down 18 times since 1976, when the current federal budgeting process was instituted.

The last time was in 2013, in a deadlock over health care policy. The shutdown lasted 16 days and furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

What stops and what continues during a federal shutdown varies, but in 2013, 850,000 federal workers were furloughed, meaning they could not come to work. Technically, federal workers cannot be paid for those days, but in the past, they have been paid retroactively.

The 850,000 figure amounts to less than half of the federal civilian workforce of 2 million. Essential agencies, such the FBI, Border Patrol, and Voice of America, continue functioning with a skeleton staff. Air traffic controllers will stay on the job, as will federal security agents at airports.

Overseas, U.S. embassies also have “essential” staff members who will continue to perform basic duties; however, the State Department has not elaborated on what duties it could still perform in the event of a shutdown.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said his department is “ready” if the government shuts down. Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday that officials had yet to decide what services will continue but added, “We will be prepared for all contingencies.”

In 2013, immigration and citizenship services continued, but were limited. The U.S. Electronic Immigration System, which includes an “e-verify” system to help process employment applications, is expected to be unavailable during a shutdown.

U.S. mail services are expected to continue, but federal tax refunds could be delayed. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Friday that the national parks would be open this time, especially if services are provided by third parties. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters Friday the city will pick up the trash all around the monuments on the National Mall and bill the federal government.

The National Zoo would likely close to visitors, although workers would continue to feed and care for its residents — some 1,800 animals of about 300 different species.

Based on 2013, federal courts can be expected to remain open. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has said the federal court system can function for about three weeks without needing additional funds.

Medicare insurance for the elderly is expected to continue, but research programs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could be suspended until funding is restored.

Military personnel are expected to continue working, but civilian employees of the military would likely be placed on unpaid leave.

The Veterans Administration is expected to continue functioning, including operation of its hospitals.

Some agencies, like the federal courts and Department of State, can function for several weeks on their remaining funds. After that time, more services could be curtailed.

US Senate Resumes Debate on Spending Measure to Avert Shutdown

With a government shutdown looming at midnight, U.S. President Donald Trump has put off plans for a weekend trip to his Florida resort pending Senate approval of a temporary spending bill.

Trump had been scheduled to attend a fundraising dinner Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of his presidency, but with Senate approval of a House-passed funding bill in doubt, White House officials said the president would stay in Washington pending resolution of the budget showdown.

Officer of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney Friday said the chance of a shutdown had “ratcheted up” to 50-50 after chances of winning enough Democratic support for the measure seemed to deteriorate.

“We were operating under a sort of 30 percent shutdown up until yesterday, I think it’s ratcheted up now,” Mulvaney told White House reporters. “We’ve had our meeting just about a half an hour ago, a teleconference with a bunch of agencies to tell them to start to implement their lapse plan, the next step in preparing for a lapse in funding, that’s what we call a shutdown.

White House legislative director Marc Short told reporters Trump had been making phone calls Friday to try to negotiate a deal, but wouldn’t say whom the president had called. “We’re trying to keep it open,” he said.

The House-passed bill would keep the government open until February 16, but the Senate ended the day without a vote that would send the temporary funding measure to the president’s desk.

In a Friday morning tweet, Trump acknowledged that Democratic votes are needed to approve the measure; but, he suggested Democrats’ demands for immigration protection could derail chances for the bill’s passage, leading to a shutdown.

Many Democrats have banded together to demand inclusion of protections for beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in any short-term spending bill. The program shields from deportation some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. DACA recipients will lose protection from deportation within weeks unless Congress acts.

The White House Friday began a campaign to blame Democrats for any cut in government operations, calling it the “Schumer Shutdown” after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Budget Director Mulvaney rejected the contention of Democrats that the DACA issue needs urgent resolution.”There is absolutely no reason to have to insert a DACA discussion, an immigration discussion, into the funding bill today,” Mulvaney said

The office of House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement accusing Democrats of “reckless intent” to shut down the government.”

“Senate Democrats are the only ones standing in the way of a fully funded government and a reauthorized health insurance program for children. This is no time to play politics and force a shutdown,” the statement said. “This is wrong. I urge Senator Schumer and the Senate Democrats to reconsider their reckless intent to shut down the government.”

The temporary measure faces a tough road to passage in the Senate, where several Democrats must join the razor-thin Republican majority to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for it to pass. If the temporary measure is approved, lawmakers would use the interim period to negotiate a spending package to cover the rest of fiscal 2018, which ends September 30.

Eleven House Republicans voted against the spending bill Thursday, including Florida Representatives Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who vowed to vote against any legislation that did not include action for DACA recipients.

A third issue that is part of the legislation is children’s insurance. Trump objected to a measure that would extend children’s health insurance for the next six years, which had largely Democratic support but was being supported by some Republicans as a means of getting the bill passed.

The spending package being voted on did not include enough military spending to please some Republicans, it had no protections for the Dreamers, immigrants who aspire for permanent U.S. residence, and its children’s insurance provisions were less than what Democrats wanted.

House Democrats were uniformly opposed to the bill, forcing negotiations between House Speaker Ryan and the conservative House Freedom Caucus to ensure the bill would pass. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows secured commitments for future votes on military funding and a permanent legislative solution for the DACA program.

In September, President Trump ordered an end to the Obama administration program that shielded young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The U.S. government has shut down before. The last time was in 2013, in a deadlock over health care policy. The shutdown lasted 16 days and furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

What stops and what continues during a federal shutdown varies, but federal research projects could be stalled, national parks closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed, and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

The government has officially shut down 18 times since 1976, when the current federal budgeting process was instituted.

Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this article.

House Panel to Release Fusion GPS Testimony on Trump-Russia Probe

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has voted to release the transcript of its interview of Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the research firm that assembled the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

The transcript was expected to be released later Thursday.

Fusion GPS, based in Washington, was hired by a law firm that represented Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Fusion GPS in turn hired former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s business dealings with Russia.

The move comes on the heels of the release by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of Simpson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, had not agreed to the release.

Trump slammed Feinstein for the release, calling her “sneaky Dianne,” and calling the release “underhanded” and “possibly illegal,” a claim that legal experts and lawyers dismissed as untrue.

In the Senate transcript, Simpson said Steele uncovered “alarming” evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s team and that he gave the dossier to the FBI because he was “very concerned” about a potential national security matter.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the dossier, which was based on Steele’s investigation, calling it “bogus” and “discredited and phony.” The president also called the Russia probe the “greatest single witch hunt in American history” and urged congressional Republicans to “finally take control” of the investigation.

Feinstein said Simpson requested the transcript of his testimony be released to the public and that the American people deserved the chance to see his words and judge for themselves.

While special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s inner circle on behalf of the Justice Department, House and Senate investigations were also launched.

Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community released a report that stated Russia had meddled in the 2016 election, showing a preference for Trump over Clinton, his opponent. Russia denies meddling in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion.

Clock Ticks Down to Possible US Government Shutdown 

House Republicans, facing a Friday night deadline to approve funding that would keep the government running, voted 230-197 Thursday to pass a temporary spending measure.

The bill faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.

Lawmakers had two options: Either agree on a one-month temporary spending measure, known on Capitol Hill as a continuing resolution, or shut down the government until funding can be agreed upon.

If the temporary measure had been approved, lawmakers would be able to use the next month to negotiate a spending package to cover the rest of fiscal 2018, which ends September 30.

This is the fourth such vote taken in recent months.

Issues

Republican leaders in Congress were struggling to get enough support for the one-month spending measure. Some lawmakers were objecting to passing yet another temporary spending bill, and some others wanted more spending for military programs, even for a temporary bill.

Immigration was a second sticking point. A number of Democrats said they would oppose any spending plan that lacked protection for 800,000 young immigrants, known informally as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally while they were children. They were protected from deportation by an Obama-era program that President Donald Trump rescinded last year.

The third major issue was children’s insurance. Trump objected to a measure that would extend children’s health insurance for the next six years, which had largely Democratic support but was being supported by some Republicans as a means of getting the bill passed.

The spending package being voted did not include enough military spending to please some Republicans, it had no protections for the Dreamers and its children’s insurance provisions were less than what Democrats wanted.

Senate action

After passage in the House, the Senate could hold its vote on the bill Friday.

But passage in the Senate wasn’t certain. Two Republicans have announced they will not support the measure, meaning it needs support from at least 11 Democrats to reach the 60 votes required to pass.

The U.S. government has shut down before. The last time was in 2013, in a deadlock over health care policy. The shutdown lasted 16 days and furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers. 

What stops and what continues during a federal shutdown varies, but federal research projects could be stalled, national parks closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

The government has officially shut down 18 times since 1976, when the current federal budgeting process was instituted.

VOA’s Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.

New Trump Office Would Protect Conscience Rights of Doctors

Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.

The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers.

The religious and conscience division will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. Officials said it will focus on upholding protections already part of federal law. Violations can result in a service provider losing government funding.

No new efforts to expand such protections were announced, but activists on both sides expect the administration will try to broaden them in the future.

Although the HHS civil rights office has traditionally received few complaints alleging conscience violations, HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan painted a picture of clinicians under government coercion to violate the dictates of conscience.

“For too long, too many health care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder what future they have in our medical system,” Hargan told the audience.

“The federal government and state governments have hounded religious hospitals and the men and women who staff them, forcing them to provide or refer for services that violate their consciences, when they only wish to serve according to their religious beliefs,” Hargan added.

After Hargan spoke, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, provided an example of the kind of case the new office should tackle. McCarthy told the audience he has “high hopes” that the “arrogance” of a California law known as AB 775 “will be investigated and resolved quickly.”

That law, which requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to post information about abortion and other services, is the subject of a free-speech challenge brought by the pregnancy centers that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the HHS civil rights office traditionally has gotten a small number of complaints involving religious and conscience rights, the number has grown since Trump was elected.

Office director Roger Severino said that from 2008 to Nov. 2016, HHS received 10 such complaints. Since Trump won, the office has received 34 new complaints. Before his appointment to government service under Trump, Severino was an expert on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The new HHS office joins the list of administration actions seen as pleasing to social conservatives, including expanded exemptions for employers who object to providing contraceptive coverage, and the White House move to bar military service by transgender people. Those initiatives have run into legal challenges.

Critics voice concerns

Democrats, LGBT organizations and some civil liberties groups were quick to condemn the administration’s latest action.

“They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.”

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., pledged to keep a close eye on the new enforcement office. “Religious freedom should not mean that our health care providers have a license to discriminate or impose their beliefs on others,” Pallone said. He is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over many health care issues.

LGBT-rights organizations suggested some medical providers will be emboldened to shun gay, lesbian and transgender patients.

“LGBT people have already been turned away from hospitals and doctors’ offices,” said Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal. “The Orwellian ‘Conscience and Religious Freedom’ unit simply provides guidance on how they can get away with it.”

But conservatives said the new office will help maintain balance in the health care system. It’s a world that has become increasingly secular, even if many of its major institutions sprang from religious charity.

“In the context of health care, Americans have very deep, sincere differences on a number of ethical and moral matters,” said Heritage Foundation analyst Melanie Israel. “It’s these conscience protections that allow us to work and live alongside each other despite our differences.”

Monday marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Despite Lowest First Year Approval Rating, Rural Voters Stand Behind Trump

Recent surveys show that most Americans view President Trump as a divisive figure, and he ends his first year with the lowest average approval rating of any elected president in his first term — 39 percent, according to Gallup. However, many voters in rural America still support the president. They say politicians in both parties and the media are working to undermine Trump. Mike O’Sullivan paid a visit to rural Lassen County, California, one of the areas where Trump has strong support.

Trump to Pennsylvania, but Don’t Call it a Campaign Trip

President Donald Trump is tiptoeing around the first congressional election of the new year as he heads to southwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday to hail the Republican tax cuts he signed last year.

Trump will appear with the Republican nominee for a Pittsburgh-area House seat. But the White House said Trump won’t mention Rick Saccone in his remarks. And the event isn’t actually in the 18th Congressional District, which holds the special election March 13. 

Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t necessarily any more confident in the chances that lawyer and former Marine Conor Lamb can flip the district to their side.

The handling of the race shows both sides’ reluctance to put too much emphasis on one contest amid the high stakes of this midterm election year.

Saccone, a, 59-year-old state lawmaker, is trying to succeed Tim Murphy, who resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair. Lamb, 33, is looking for an upset in a union-heavy district Trump won by almost 20 points and where Murphy never got less than 58 percent of the vote in eight tries.

It’s not surprising that Trump, looking for wins after the embarrassment of losing a Senate seat last month in conservative Alabama, might embrace a favored Republican in Trump-friendly territory. 

“We’re in Trump country here,” Saccone said in an interview Wednesday, framing his candidacy as an extension of the agenda that propelled Trump. “It’s only natural to have him come out to see his core constituency and have us celebrate his successes with him.”

Yet the White House would confirm only that Saccone will greet the president at the airport and attend Trump’s tour of a local factory. 

Saccone, a retired Air Force officer with a doctorate in international affairs and experience in counterterrorism, said he didn’t know whether he’d be seated with the president or even get to spend any time one-on-one with him. “I don’t have any details,” he said after spending the day in Washington raising money alongside GOP House leaders.

Jesse Hunt of the National Republican Congressional Committee said, “We’re confident this seat will remain in Republican hands.” 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, has opened offices in the district with paid canvassers. Political groups bankrolled by the billionaire Ricketts family – owners of the Chicago Cubs – are airing television ads on Saccone’s behalf. Those are not the moves of party titans completely sure of victory.

Democrats aren’t exactly countering with exuberance. At the national party’s House campaign headquarters, spokeswoman Meredith Kelly praised Lamb’s “long record of public service to our country.” But the party hasn’t included the 18th District on its official list of GOP-held targets, which now includes 91 seats. Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to regain a majority in the House.

In 2017, Democrats managed surprisingly competitive races in four special congressional races in heavily Republican districts, only to lose all four. The trends pointed to Democratic enthusiasm, but still didn’t alter the partisan breakdown in Washington.

To flip that script, Lamb must “run a perfect campaign,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic campaign strategist who has run congressional races in the Pittsburgh area. “But it can be done,” Mikus added.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by about 70,000, a reflection of organized labor’s long influence in the district. But many of those union households embraced Trump’s populist, protectionist message in 2016, and Mikus noted they’re also culturally conservative. 

Still, Lamb and Democrats believe they have an opening that wasn’t available before, given that Murphy was among the few Washington Republicans who voted with labor unions and regularly got their endorsements. 

This time, the state AFL-CIO has endorsed Lamb, and he is trying to strike the tone Mikus says is necessary for a Democrat to win.

Lamb’s first television ad, set to air Thursday alongside the president’s arrival, notes he has refused “corporate PAC money” and believes both parties “need new leaders in Congress.” That’s a reference to his promise to not to back House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker; the California Democrat remains unpopular in many congressional districts and the GOP regularly uses her as a cudgel on Democratic nominees. 

The 30-second spot also tells voters that Lamb grew up in the district and says he “still loves to shoot.”

Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Subpoenaed in Russia Probe

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon refused to answer questions Tuesday from lawmakers who are investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Bannon spent hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee, one of several bodies conducting its own Russia probe.

The committee responded to Bannon’s refusal by issuing a subpoena. The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, said White House officials had instructed Bannon to not answer questions.

“No one has encouraged him to be anything but transparent,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

She said the Trump administration has been “cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations” and that the Congress has to consult with the White House before it can obtain confidential material.

Schiff said he expects Bannon to make another appearance before the committee.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia. 

Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get “incriminating” evidence against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve” and said, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump’s brand of populism.

Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions. 

“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news,” Trump said in a Twitter comment Tuesday, “but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!”

Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia, and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump’s objections, to take over the investigation. 

21 States Sue to Keep Net Neutrality as Senate Democrats Reach 50 Votes

A group of 21 U.S. state attorneys general filed suit to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to do away with net neutrality on Tuesday, while Democrats said they needed just one more vote in the Senate to repeal the FCC ruling.

The attorneys general filed a petition with a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to challenge the action, calling it “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion” and saying that it violated federal laws and regulations.

The petition was filed as Senate Democrats said they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal.

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement that all 49 Democrats in the upper chamber backed the repeal. Earlier this month, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she would back the effort to overturn the FCC’s move. Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

Override would be difficult

Trump backed the FCC action, the White House said last month, and overturning a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers. A two-thirds vote would be much harder for Democrats in the House, where Republicans hold a greater majority.

States said the lawsuit was filed in an abundance of caution because, typically, a petition to challenge would not be filed until the rules legally take effect, which is expected later this year.

Internet advocacy group Free Press, the Open Technology Institute and Mozilla Corp. filed similar protective petitions Tuesday.

The FCC voted in December along party lines to reverse rules introduced in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the issue would be a major motivating factor for the young voters the party is courting.

A trade group representing major tech companies including Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon said it would support legal challenges to the reversal.

The FCC vote in December marked a victory for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications and handed them power over what content consumers can access on the internet. It was the biggest win for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations.

Disclosure required

While the FCC order grants internet providers sweeping new powers, it does require public disclosure of any blocking practices. Internet providers have vowed not to change how consumers obtain online content.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, said in an interview Tuesday that he planned to hold a hearing on paid prioritization. He has urged Democrats to work constructively on a legislative solution to net neutrality “to bring certainty and clarity going forward and ban behaviors like blocking and throttling.”

He said he did not believe a vote to overturn the FCC decision would get a majority in the U.S. House. Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said Tuesday that his bill to reverse the FCC decision had 80 co-sponsors.

Paid prioritization is part of American life, Walden said. “Where do you want to sit on the airplane? Where do you want to sit on Amtrak?” he said.

Report: Special Counsel Subpoenas Former Trump Aide Bannon

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury in a probe of alleged ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

It was the first time Mueller is known to have used a subpoena against a member of Trump’s inner circle, the Times said. It cited a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment. Bill Burck, a lawyer for Bannon, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The reported subpoena of Bannon does not mean he is a target of Mueller’s criminal investigation.

Bannon, a champion of Trump’s “America First” agenda, was among the Republican’s closest aides during the 2016 election campaign, the presidential transition and his first months in office.

But the pair had a bitter public falling out over comments Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his recent book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

In the book, Bannon is quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting between Trump associates, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

The meeting came after Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that the Russian government had compromising information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, to which he replied: “I love it.”

Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Bannon was fired by the White House in August and returned to the right-wing news website Breitbart News. He continued to speak with Trump and tried to promote the president’s agenda.

But Trump accused Bannon of having “lost his mind” when news of his comments to Wolff surfaced earlier this month. Six days later, Bannon stepped down as executive chairman at Breitbart.

Pressure tactic?

Mueller’s subpoena, which was issued last week, could be a pressure tactic to induce Bannon to cooperate fully with his investigation.

Attorney Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said the most likely reason for a Mueller subpoena of Bannon was that “he thought having an attorney present and giving Bannon a more relaxed setting would not yield the same testimony as if he got him in the grand jury room with no attorney there and a more adversarial style of questioning.”

A witness is not permitted to bring an attorney into a federal grand jury proceeding, but can step outside to consult with counsel.

Separately on Tuesday, Bannon spent hours meeting behind closed doors with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. He was the latest high-profile figure to appear before the panel as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election.

After Bannon refused to answer questions about his time in the White House — as opposed to during the campaign — Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican chairman, authorized a subpoena during the meeting to press Bannon to respond.

“Of course I authorized the subpoena. That’s how the rules work,” Nunes told reporters.

Asked if the White House had told Bannon not to answer certain questions, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “As with all congressional activities touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.”

“We’ve been cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations and encourage the committees to work with us to find an appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains information necessary to its legitimate interests,” she said.

Later in the week, the panel will hear from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who served as Trump’s spokeswoman during his presidential campaign after a tenure with his Trump Organization real estate business, is also expected to be questioned by the committee this week, according to a congressional source.

Democrats on the committee have accused Republicans of rushing to wrap up the probe to help give the president political cover, despite their requests to interview more witnesses. Republicans have denied the charge.

Trump Continues to Criticize Democrats Over DACA Demands

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized Democrat lawmakers Tuesday, saying their demands to include protections for young undocumented immigrants in a bill that would prevent a government shut-down this week would cost the military.

“The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security.The biggest loser will be our rapidly rebuilding Military, at a time we need it more than ever.We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now!No more dangerous Lottery,” Trump posted on Twitter.

The White House-congressional talks about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are linked to urgent meetings this week about funding to keep the government operating beyond Friday midnight, when current spending authorization expires.

Democratic leaders have said they most likely oppose a measure that does not protect the young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” including the nearly 800,000 who have entered the United States under the DACA program.This has raised the ire of Trump, who again insisted on Twitter the spending bill must satisfy his demands for tighter border security. 

“We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!”

Deportation status

Even if legislators do not approve a program to protect the immigrants, deporting them will not be a top federal government priority, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen. 

“It’s not going to be a priority of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Nielsen told CBS News Tuesday. “If you are a DACA that’s compliant with your registration, meaning you haven’t committed a crime and you in fact are registered, you are not a priority of enforcement for ICE should the program end.”

Despite Nielsen’s remarks, Trump has greatly expanded the categories of people who can be prioritized for deportation, a move immigration advocates say puts DACA recipients who lose their status at risk.

Nielsen’s comments were made as the battle over an immigration agreement has been complicated by Trump’s controversial remarks at White House meeting last Thursday. 

Race issue raised

During the meeting, Trump was reported to have referred to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as coming from “s—hole countries,” as he asked why the United States is letting in immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa and said he wanted more from countries such as Norway.

During testimony under oath Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Secretary Nielsen was asked if she heard the vulgarity used.

Nielsen responded that she “did not hear”’ Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries, but added she doesn’t “dispute the president was using tough language.”

At one point after news surfaced about his remark, Trump tweeted, “Never said anything derogatory about Haiti.Made up by Dems.I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians.Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately no trust.”

Trump’s reported remarks has fueled Democrat charges he is a racist.On Sunday, Trump denied he is a racist, telling reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in the state of Florida, “I am the least racist person you will ever interview.” 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders continued the narrative Tuesday, saying claims Trump is racist are “outrageous.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday on CBS’s Late Show that Trump could demonstrate he is not a racist by signing an immigration bill that would protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Trump is tying an extension of DACA, a temporary program championed by his predecessor Barack Obama, to funding for a wall he wants built along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Building a wall to stop further illegal immigration was a campaign promise Trump made during his successful 2016 run to the White House. 

Many Democrats want extending DACA to be a separate issue from building a wall – something they oppose.Trump last September signed an executive order ending DACA, but gave Congress until March 5 to weigh in on the issue.

Late-2018 Start Seen for Trial of Ex-Trump Campaign Chairman

A mid-May date proposed by prosecutors for the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate is too soon, a federal judge said Tuesday, signaling that the politically charged proceeding could be pushed back to later in the year.

Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting the Russia investigation, had indicated in court papers filed last week that they would seek a trial date of May 14 for Manafort and former business partner Rick Gates. They told U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson on Tuesday that they needed about three weeks to try the case. 

But defense attorneys for Manafort and Gates argued that Mueller’s office had not presented them with all the evidence it possessed against their clients and that the proposed date would not give them enough time to go through everything.

“We need the time and are the least prepared of anyone here,” an attorney for Gates said. 

Judge concurs

Jackson agreed, saying the trial could be pushed back to as late as September or October.

“The discovery needs to get done and motions have to be filed,” Jackson said during a pre-trial hearing — known as a status conference — meeting with prosecutors and defense attorneys. 

In October, a federal grand jury indicted Manafort and Gates on 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements and other charges in connection with their lobbying for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russia political party. They’ve pleaded not guilty. 

The charges are unrelated to the Mueller investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and allegations of collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Manafort remains under house confinement. But Jackson later issued an order releasing Gates from home confinement, saying he had complied with her bond requirements.

Manafort’s attorneys filed a civil lawsuit this month against Mueller and the Justice Department, challenging the special counsel’s appointment and seeking the dismissal of the indictment. A prosecutor told Jackson that the special counsel intended to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the “proper procedure” to challenge the charges is through her court. Jackson gave the two sides until Friday to decide whether they want that case transferred and reassigned to her. 

The parties agreed to hold their next status conference with Jackson on February 14. 

Guilty pleas

In addition to bringing charges against Manafort and Gates, Mueller’s team has secured guilty pleas from two other former Trump associates.

In early October, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy consultant for the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty of lying to federal agents about his secret efforts to secure a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.

In December, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI about a series of phone conversations he had with Russia’s former ambassador to Washington during Trump’s transition.

Both are cooperating with Mueller’s team.

The special counsel has interviewed several current and former White House officials in connection with the Russia investigation. The New York Times reported Tuesday that former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had been subpoenaed to appear before the federal grand jury investigating the Russian election meddling.

Bannon on Tuesday met behind closed doors with members of the House Intelligence Committee as part of the panel’s own investigation of the Russian election meddling.

Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Questioned in Russia Probe

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief White House strategist, is being questioned Tuesday by lawmakers in their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Bannon, who was a key Trump campaign aide and for seven months a top White House adviser before he was ousted, is appearing behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee, one of several ongoing investigations in Washington about the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get “incriminating” evidence against Democratic Party Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve,” and said, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency.  When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”  Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump’s brand of populism.

The House Intelligence panel is likely to question Bannon about the June 2016 meeting set up by the younger Trump, who has told investigators the Russian lawyer produced no damaging information about Clinton.  Investigators are also looking into then candidate Trump’s role in writing a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, an explanation that quickly fell apart.

Bannon is also likely to be asked about his contention in Wolff’s book that special counsel Robert Mueller, head of the criminal investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, is focusing on alleged money-laundering by campaign officials.  Bannon could also be asked about his knowledge of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s talks with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump assumed power a year ago and whether Trump, despite his denials, has any intention of firing Mueller.

Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions yet.

“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news,” Trump said on Twitter Tuesday, “but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative.  The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems.  Public gets it!”

Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Mueller is also investigating whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump’s objections, to take over the investigation.

MLK Day Marked by Trump Criticism, Pledges to Fight Racism

Martin Luther King Jr.’s children and the pastor of an Atlanta church where he preached decried disparaging remarks President Donald Trump is said to have made about African countries, while protests between Haitian immigrants and Trump supporters broke out near the president’s Florida resort Monday, the official federal holiday honoring King.

At gatherings across the nation, activists, residents and teachers honored the late civil rights leader on what would have been his 89th birthday and ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with events aimed at coming to terms with its own history of slavery and by welcoming descendants of former slaves into the tribe.

Trump marked his first King holiday as president buffeted by claims that during a meeting with senators on immigration last week, he used a vulgarity to describe African countries and questioned the need to allow more Haitians into the U.S. He also is said to have asked why the country couldn’t have more immigrants from nations like Norway.

In Washington, King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, criticized Trump, saying, “When a president insists that our nation needs more citizens from white states like Norway, I don’t even think we need to spend any time even talking about what it says and what it is.”

He added, “We got to find a way to work on this man’s heart.”

In Atlanta, King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, told hundreds of people who packed the pews of the Ebenezer Baptist Church that they “cannot allow the nations of the world to embrace the words that come from our president as a reflection of the true spirit of America.”

“We are one people, one nation, one blood, one destiny. … All of civilization and humanity originated from the soils of Africa,” Bernice King said. “Our collective voice in this hour must always be louder than the one who sometimes does not reflect the legacy of my father.”

Church pastor the Rev. Raphael Warnock also took issue with Trump’s campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again.”

Warnock said he thinks America “is already great … in large measure because of Africa and African people.”

Trump protesters, supporters

Down the street from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday, Trump protesters and supporters yelled at each other from opposing corners. Trump was staying at the resort for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Video posted by WPEC-TV showed several hundred pro-Haiti demonstrators yelling from one side of the street Monday while waving Haitian flags. The Haitians and their supporters shouted “Our country is not a s—hole,” referring to comments the president reportedly made. Trump has said that is not the language he used.

The smaller pro-Trump contingent waved American flags and campaign posters and yelled “Trump is making America great again.” One man could be seen telling the Haitians to leave the country. Police kept the sides apart.

Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Nation tribe — one of the country’s largest — marked the King holiday on Monday with calls to service and by confronting its slave-owning past. A federal court ruled last year that the descendants of former slaves, known as Freedmen, had the same rights to tribal citizenship, voting, health care and housing as blood-line Cherokees.

“The time is now to deal with it and talk about it,” said Cherokee Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “It’s been a positive thing for our country to reconcile that during Dr. King’s era, and it’s going to be a positive thing for Cherokees to talk about that history as part of reconciling our history with slavery.”

One descendant of Freedmen, Rodslen Brown-King, said her mother was able to vote as a Cherokee for the first and only time recently. Other relatives died before getting the benefits that come with tribal citizenship, including a 34-year-old nephew with stomach cancer, she said.

“He was waiting on this decision,” said Brown-King, of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. “It’s just a lot of struggle, a lot of up and down trauma in our lives. It’s exciting to know we are coming together and moving forward in this.”

Republican Senator Set to Compare Trump’s Treatment of Media to Stalin

A Republican U.S. senator, who is one of President Donald Trump’s biggest critics, will this week deliver a speech comparing Trump’s treatment of the media to the behavior of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

According to excerpts of the speech obtained by media outlets, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona will say in the Wednesday speech that President Trump’s “assault” on the media is “unprecedented” and “unwarranted.”

“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake will reportedly say.

That is a reference to Trump’s February 2017 tweet, in which he declared major U.S. news outlets to be the “enemy of the American People.”

“It bears noting that so fraught with malice was that phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even [Stalin’s successor] Nikita Khruschev forbade its use,” Flake will say in the speech.

Senator Flake will speak Wednesday, just before Trump, a former reality television entertainer, announces what he calls the “Fake News Awards.”

According to Trump, award categories will include “dishonesty and bad reporting in various categories.”

Trump regularly lashes out against individual journalists and media outlets he thinks treat him unfairly, while praising those that give him positive media coverage.

“When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press,” Flake will say.

Flake has said he is not running for reelection in the Senate but he has refused to rule out the possibility that he will challenge Trump in 2020.

Trump’s Reported Slur Complicates Immigration Push in Congress

Fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported slur against impoverished, predominantly black nations further complicates a push for bipartisan immigration legislation that has eluded U.S. lawmakers for more than a decade. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, a failure to reach a deal on thorny immigration topics could make a partial U.S. government shutdown more likely by the end of this week, when federal funding expires.