Trump Indicates Support for Moore in Alabama Senate Race

U.S. President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Tuesday, saying the former state judge “totally denies” allegations that he sexually molested underage girls years ago.

“I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Moore’s opponent in the Senate race, Democrat Doug Jones, has a record that is “terrible on crime, it’s terrible on the border, it’s terrible on the military,” Trump said.

Trump said he would announce next week whether he will campaign on the Republican candidate’s behalf.

Moore’s campaign has been in turmoil since The Washington Post published a story detailing the accounts of three women who claimed he pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Three more women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Moore has adamantly rejected accusations of sexual abuse, but prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and two former presidential candidates, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have called for him to end his candidacy.

Trump, himself the subject of sexual abuse allegations during his 2016 presidential campaign, which he said were false, had said little about the accusations against Moore until Tuesday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump thought it was “up to the people of Alabama who their next senator will be.”

But earlier, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway described Jones as a “doctrinaire liberal” who would vote against tax cuts the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

Asked whether the White House was asking people to vote for Moore, Conway deflected the question, but said, “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

One of Moore’s accusers, Leigh Corfman, told NBC on Monday that it took her decades before she regained her sense of trust and confidence in herself after the 1979 encounter she alleges she had with him.

Now 53, Corfman said she was “a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world” but that she “didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon” her.

“I was expecting candlelight and roses; what I got was very different,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame.

“I met him around the corner from my house — my mother did not know — and he took me to his home,” Corfman said. “After arriving at his home on the second occasion that I went with him, he basically laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to … seduce me, I guess you would say.”

Corfman’s accusations against Moore first appeared in the Post more than a week ago.

She told the newspaper that Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear before she ended the encounter. She asked him to take her home, and he did.

Moore leads an expanding list of lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct. On Monday, the website BuzzFeed alleged that longtime U.S. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, paid $27,000 to a woman who alleged that he’d fired her from his Washington staff after she rebuffed his sexual overtures.

Conyers, 88, at first denied the report, then on Tuesday he acknowledged the settlement, which he said he made to avoid protracted litigation. But he continued to deny he had sexually harassed the woman.

Ryan, the leader of the majority Republicans in the chamber, called the allegation “extremely troubling. People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination.”

Leaders of the House Ethics Committee said they were opening an investigation into the allegations, including whether Conyers had used official resources for impermissible personal purposes. Conyers said he would fully cooperate.

White House Asks Supreme Court to Uphold Travel Ban

The White House is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a ban on travelers from six countries after an appeals court in California last week allowed only parts of the president’s order to go into effect.

The request on Monday is the most recent salvo in an ongoing legal skirmish between plaintiffs in federal court and President Donald Trump’s administration, which has issued three variations of an executive order since January in an attempt to block travelers from some countries from coming to the United States.

The state of Hawaii, which sued to block the restrictions, argued that federal immigration law did not give Trump the authority to impose a ban on six of the eight countries included in the third and most recent ban, issued in September.

U.S. officials say Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are not in compliance with certain security screening measures. They are also Muslim-majority countries — a sticking point for the previous two versions of the order, first in January then in March — and the subject of related lawsuits.

The Hawaii lawsuit did not challenge restrictions toward people from the two other countries listed in Trump’s most recent ban, North Korea and Venezuela.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 13 partially granted a Trump administration request to block at least temporarily a judge’s ruling that had put the new ban on hold. It ruled the government could bar entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries with no connections to the United States.

Meanwhile, in a document obtained by Politico, and first reported late Monday, Inspector General John Roth at the Department of Homeland Security said the federal agency, which oversees many of the practical aspects of the travel bans, such as security at ports of entry, made several missteps while trying to carry out the orders.

Roth, an internal watchdog at the agency, said in a letter to members of Congress who requested the review of the travel bans, that senior DHS officials have also been slow to release the findings of his report sent to them Oct. 6.

In summarizing the report, he noted that while federal officials “largely complied” with the court orders restricting how the travel ban was implemented, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had violated two of them. CBP lacked clear guidance from senior officials during a hastily executed process, Roth said in the letter.

“During the early period of the implementation of the order, neither CBP nor the Department was sure of the answers to basic questions as to the scope of the order, such as whether the order applied to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), a significant percentage of the affected travelers and a fundamental question that should have been resolved early in the process,” Roth wrote.

DHS issued a press statement on the report Tuesday, saying it is in the midst of a “sensitivity review” and has not yet decided “whether it will invoke the attorney-client privilege or deliberative process privilege over portions of the report, which would prevent release of significant portions to the Congress and the public.”

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

With Christmas Tree Delivered, White House to Unveil Holiday Decor Monday

Melania Trump and son Barron joined in a time-honored tradition of receiving the official White House Christmas tree, which will become the showstopper for a president who has vowed to put Christmas back at the center of the winter holidays.

A military quartet played holiday tunes Monday as a horse-drawn wagon carried the 19 1/2-foot (5.9-meter) Balsam fir from Wisconsin up the White House driveway.

The first lady, wearing a red turtleneck and a coat draped over her shoulders, and 11-year-old Barron, in a dark suit coat, white shirt and dark slacks, circled the tree and then visited with growers Jim and Diane Chapman. The Chapmans own a Wisconsin Christmas tree farm and won an annual contest sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association.

“This is a beautiful tree. Thank you so much. We will decorate it very nicely,” the first lady told the Chapmans and other family members. “I hope you can come and visit with us.”

The White House grounds superintendent and the chief usher, who oversees the residence, picked out the tree during a September scouting trip.

After Mrs. Trump and Barron gave their symbolic approval, the tree was carefully carted off to the Blue Room where, after a slight trim and the removal of a monstrous chandelier, it will take center stage.

President Donald Trump has been eagerly waiting to celebrate a Trump Christmas at the White House. During last year’s presidential campaign, he railed against the habit of saying “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” characterizing it as a “chipping away at Christianity.”

“And we’re not going to let that happen anymore, folks. I’ll tell you,” the then-candidate said at a March 2016 news conference in Florida. “A lot of times I’ll say at the rallies around Christmastime we’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. You know, they don’t say it anymore. The department stores don’t put it up. We’re going to start saying it again.”

Invitations to dozens of holiday parties hosted by the Trumps are going out. The subject line of one emailed invite references a White House “Christmas reception” while the language of the invitation itself refers to a “holiday reception.”

The tree for the Blue Room usually arrives the day after Thanksgiving, but it was delivered early this year to accommodate the Trumps, who are spending the holiday at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

While the Trumps are away, a small army of volunteer decorators and florists from around the country will descend on the White House on Friday and spend the holiday weekend transforming the 132-room mansion for Christmas, complete with a tree in every public room.

The White House kitchens will go into overdrive preparing all the food and cakes, cookies and pies that are typically served at the parties, along with the gingerbread White House — which, for health reasons, is never eaten. In recent years, cookies in the image of former President Barack Obama’s dogs Bo and Sunny were always among the first items to be slipped into purses for the trip home.

Trump does not have a pet.

The White House plans to unveil the holiday decor Monday, and the first lady will also welcome children and students from Joint Base Andrews for a holiday arts and crafts event. The president plans to light the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse on Thursday.

FCC Chairman Sets Out to Repeal ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday followed through on his pledge to repeal 2015 regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally, setting up a showdown with consumer groups and internet companies who fear the move will stifle competition and innovation.

The current rules, known as net neutrality, impose utility-style regulation on ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from favoring their own digital services over those of their rivals.

Pai said that he believes the net neutrality rules adopted during the Obama administration discourage the ISPs from making investments in their network that would provide even better and faster online access.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement.

Pai distributed his alternative plan to other FCC commissioners Tuesday in preparation for a Dec. 14 vote on the proposal. He promised to release his entire proposal Wednesday.

The attempt to repeal net neutrality has triggered protests from consumer groups and internet companies. More than 22 million comments have been filed with the FCC about whether net neutrality should be rolled back.

The Internet Association, a group whose members include major internet companies such as Google and Amazon, vowed to continue to fight to keep the current net neutrality rules intact.

“Consumers have little choice in their ISP, and service providers should not be allowed to use this gatekeeper position at the point of connection to discriminate against websites and apps,” the group’s CEO Michael Beckerman said in a Tuesday statement.

Consumers Union predicted a repeal of net neutrality would allow ISPs to raise their prices and give preferential treatment to certain sites and apps.

“Strong net neutrality rules are vital to consumers’ everyday lives and essential to preserving the internet as we know it today _ an open marketplace where websites large and small compete on equal terms and where information and ideas move freely,” said Jonathan Schwantes, the advocacy group’s senior policy counsel.

Two of the FCC’s five voting commissioners signaled they will oppose Pai’s plan.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel derided Pai’s plan as “ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the internet every day.”

Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn skewered Pai’s proposals as “a giveaway to the nation’s largest communications companies, at the expense of consumers and innovation.”

Rosenworcel and Clyburn are the lone Democrats on the FCC.

Pai’s proposal on net neutrality comes after the Republican-dominated commission voted 3-2 last week to weaken rules meant to support independent local media, undoing a ban on companies owning newspapers and broadcast stations in a single market.

US Judge Blocks Trump Order on Sanctuary Cities

A federal judge has further blocked the Trump administration’s order to cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities.

The move by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in San Francisco made permanent Monday his earlier ruling from April that temporarily stayed the order. Orrick agreed with plaintiffs who argued the order violates the constitution.

The city and county of San Francisco and Santa Clara County filed the suit.

“The Counties have demonstrated that the Executive Order has caused and will cause them constitutional injuries by violating the separation of powers doctrine and depriving them of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights,” Orrick wrote in his order.

The January 25 executive order called for federal funding to be withheld from sanctuary jurisdictions, and the judge said the president cannot put new conditions on money already allocated by Congress.

But the administration has argued that sanctuary cities, which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to detain illegal immigrants arrested in criminal cases, often for minor offenses, pose a threat to the safety of their residents.

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Wednesday, urging all jurisdictions “found to be potentially out of compliance” to reconsider “policies that undermine the safety of their residents. Sessions’ statement accompanied a list 29 jurisdictions that the Justice Department says may be in violation of a statute that promotes immigration enforcement. The list includes both Santa Clara County and the city and county of San Francisco.

The city of Chicago has also sued the federal government over threats of cuts to funding. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. government from denying the public safety grants in September.

US Ending Temporary Permits for At Least 50,000 Haitians

After years of being shielded from deportation from the United States while their country recovers from a devastating 2010 earthquake, tens of thousands of Haitians will lose that security status.

“It was assessed overall that the extraordinary but temporary conditions that served as the basis of Haiti’s most recent designation has sufficiently improved such that they no longer prevent nationals of Haiti from returning safely,” a senior Trump administration official said during a briefing.

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, will be revoked for at least 50,000 Haitians living and working in the U.S.

The announcement came in advance of a Thursday deadline for the decision to be made regarding Haiti’s TPS benefits.

The protection will expire July 22, 2019, giving Haitians living in the U.S. an 18-month window to go back to their homeland or legalize their status in the United States.

Haitians with TPS status have a 60-day window to submit an application to renew their status until the 2019 deadline. When that time comes, they will revert to their prior immigration status. Administration officials said Monday evening that Haitians with TPS would not be subject to deportation proceedings until the deadline.

In making the announcement, officials said that conditions on the ground in Haiti resulting from the 2010 earthquake that first let to the establishment of TPS “no longer exist.”

However, advocates argue that Haiti is in no condition to handle the influx, seven years after the 7.0-magnitude quake created billions of dollars in damages, and left 300,000 dead, 1.5 million injured and an equal number internally displaced.

The country was also recently hit by Hurricane Matthew, which created $2.8 billion in damages last year, followed by damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria. Haiti also is battling a deadly cholera epidemic.

Last week, the Office of Civil Protection confirmed that at least five people had died and 10,000 homes were flooded after days of rain.

In May, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for Haitians for six months, not the one-year extension advocated by Haiti’s government.

Kelly said at the time that the extension “should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, told VOA at the time that the Caribbean country, while glad to welcome back “our brothers and sisters,” was not ready to absorb tens of thousands of returnees “overnight.”

Fear of deportation sparked an exodus of at least several thousand Haitian immigrants this summer, who illegally crossed the Canadian border seeking asylum in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

According to a recent study by the Center for Migration Studies, most Haitians on TPS have been living in the United States for 13 years and have 27,000 U.S.-citizen children among them. More than 80 percent are employed, while 6,200 have mortgages. Haitian immigrant communities primarily are in South Florida, New York, New Jersey and eastern Massachusetts.

TPS was ended for Sudan last month. On January 8, the administration will have to make a decision about more than 130,000 TPS holders from El Salvador.

Earlier this month, in terminating the TPS program for thousands of Nicaraguans who fled to the U.S. after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and deferring a decision on 57,000 similarly affected Hondurans until July, the acting secretary of homeland security, Elaine Duke, acknowledged the “difficulties” families would face and called on Congress to find a permanent solution.

Elephant Advocates Sue Trump Administration on Trophy Hunting

Conservation groups sued the U.S. government on Monday over a plan to allow hunters to bring home elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, following changing statements about the possible move by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The lawsuit in federal court in Washington was the latest move in a saga that began last week when a trophy hunting group said at a conference in Africa that the White House was ready to overturn a rule banning the import of elephant trophies, sparking a surge of criticism from wildlife advocates.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement that their lawsuit intended to resolve “contradictory announcements” by the Republican administration about trophy imports of the at-risk species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said it had concluded that Zimbabwe and Zambia had developed conservation plans that would allow sustainable hunting of the endangered species, an announcement that came the same week that Zimbabwe was rocked by a coup. A proposal published on Friday would have allowed both elephant and lion trophies shot in Zimbabwe, but not Zambia, to be imported into the United States.

“These two final agency actions are arbitrary and capricious, as the conclusions that trophy hunting of elephants and lions in Zimbabwe enhances the survival of the species are not supported by the evidence,” the conservation groups said in their 34-page lawsuit Monday.

The lawsuit asked a judge to rule the move illegal and named as defendants Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Interior Department referred queries about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the release of the proposed Zimbabwe rules, the White House said it had made no decision to allow trophy imports.

“Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

Africa’s elephant population plunged by about a fifth between 2006 and 2015 because of increased poaching for ivory, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year.

Wildlife activists argue that corruption is endemic in impoverished Zimbabwe, and that money generated by big game hunting and meant for conservation has been diverted to crooks and poachers.

Alabama Candidate’s Sexual Abuse Accuser Says She Took Decades to Recover

The Alabama woman who has accused Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually abusing her four decades ago when she was 14 and he was 32 said Monday it took her decades before she regained her sense of trust and confidence in herself.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, told NBC’s Today show that she was “a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world” when Moore, then a local prosecutor, initiated the 1979 encounter with her.

“I was expecting candlelight and roses, what I got was very different,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go.”

Corfman’s accusations against Moore first appeared in The Washington Post more than a week ago, but her NBC appearance was her first televised account.

Corfman said she “didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon” her.

“I met him around the corner from my house, my mother did not know and he took me to his home,” Corfman said. “After arriving at his home on the second occasion that I went with him he basically laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to … seduce me, I guess you would say.”

She had told the newspaper that Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear before she ended the encounter. She asked him to take her home, and he did.

Franken allegations

Meanwhile, a second woman has accused Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota of groping her.

The woman, Lindsay Menz, told CNN that while she posed for a picture with Franken at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair, he “pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear. It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.”

Last week, Los Angeles radio newscaster Leann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her in 2006 while they were on a Middle East tour to entertain U.S. troops, then grabbing her breasts while she slept on the flight home. She posted a photo offering evidence of the latter accusation on her radio station’s website.

Franken apologized to Tweeden. Franken said that while he does not remember having a picture taken with Menz, “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”

In Alabama, Moore has repeatedly denied the accusations and rebuffed calls from prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and two former Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain, to end his candidacy in the December 12 election. However, the deadline to withdraw from the contest has long since passed and Republican calls for a write-in candidacy of anyone as an alternative to Moore have faltered.

Corfman’s allegations of sexual abuse against Moore, as well as those from another woman, and recollections of Moore’s pursuit of other teenage girls in the late 1970s, have dominated Moore’s attempt to win the contest in the southern state of Alabama against Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor. The election is to fill the last three years of the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned from it to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement position.

Since the allegations first surfaced, Trump has largely avoided commenting on them, with the White House at first saying Moore should drop out of the race if the accusations were true. Trump had pushed for Republicans to nominate Luther Strange, the appointed senator now holding the seat, but when Strange lost to Moore in a party primary in September, Trump voiced his support for Moore on Twitter.

The White House signaled Monday it wants Moore to win the contest.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, in interviews with CNN and Fox News, described Jones as a “doctrinaire liberal” who would vote against tax cuts the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

Asked if the White House was asking people to vote for Moore, Conway deflected the question, but said, “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump believes it is “up to the people of Alabama who their next senator will be.”

Voter surveys in Alabama have shown that Jones has pulled ahead of Moore by about 5 to 8 percentage points.

US Envoy to Russia Slams Moscow’s Pending Curbs on US-funded News Outlets

The U.S. ambassador to Russia on Sunday attacked Moscow’s move toward forcing nine United States government-funded news operations to register as “foreign agents” as “a reach beyond” what the U.S. government did in requiring the Kremlin-funded RT television network to register as such in the United States.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman said the Russian reaction is not “reciprocal at all” and Moscow’s move toward regulation of the news agencies, if it is implemented, would make “it virtually impossible for them to operate” in Russia.

WATCH: Ambassador Jon Huntsman

He said the eight-decade-old Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) under which RT has registered as a foreign agent is aimed at promoting transparency, but does not restrict the television network’s operation in the United States.

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved amendments Wednesday to expand a 2012 law that targets non-governmental organizations, including foreign media. A declaration as a foreign agent would require foreign media to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.

Media outlets also may be required to disclose on their social platforms and internet sites visible in Russia that they are “foreign agents.” The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.

The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.

“It isn’t at all similar to what we’re doing under FARA — it’s a reach beyond,” Huntsman said. “And, we just think the principles of free media, in any free society and democracy, are absolutely critical to our strength, health, and well-being. Freedom of speech is part of that. So, that’s why I care about the issue. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. And, it’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted, very very carefully, because we’re concerned about it.”

The Justice Ministry said the new requirements in Russia were likely to become law “in the near future.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett said last week that if Russia imposes the new restrictions, “We can’t say at this time what effect this will have on our news-gathering operations within Russia. All we can say is that Voice of America is, by law, an independent, unbiased, fact-based news organization, and we remain committed to those principles.”

RFE/RL President Tom Kent said until the legislation becomes law, “we do not know how the Ministry of Justice will use this law in the context of our work.”

 

Kent said unlike Sputnik and other Russian media operating in the United States, U.S. media outlets operating in Russia do not have access to cable television and radio frequencies.

“Russian media in the U.S. are distributing their programs on American cable television. Sputnik has its own radio frequency in Washington. This means that even at the moment there is no equality,” he said.

Serious blow to freedom

The speaker of Russia’s lower house, the Duma, said last week that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.

However, since the law’s language is so broad, it potentially could be used to target any foreign media group, especially if it is in conflict with the Kremlin. “We are watching carefully… to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented,” said Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The Russian amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a U.S. accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on U.S. citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the media channel denies.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine American democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win the presidency. A criminal investigation of the interference is underway in the United States, as are numerous congressional probes.

The foreign registration amendments must next be approved by the Russian Senate and then signed into law by Putin.

RT, which is funded by the Kremlin to provide Russia’s perspective on global issues, confirmed last week it met the U.S. Justice Department’s deadline by registering as a foreign agent in the United States.

New Orleans Elects Its First Woman Mayor

LaToya Cantrell, a City Council member who first gained a political following as she worked to help her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina, won a historic election Saturday that made her the first woman mayor of New Orleans.

 

The Democrat will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. 

 

“Almost 300 years, my friends. And New Orleans, we’re still making history,” Cantrell told a cheering crowd in her victory speech.

Immigrant wins council seat

Voters also made history in a New Orleans City Council race. 

 

Cyndi Nguyen defeated incumbent James Gray in an eastern New Orleans district. An immigrant who fled Vietnam with her family when she was 5 in 1975, Nguyen is the organizer of a nonprofit and will be the first Vietnamese-American to serve on the council.

 

Mayor’s race

In the mayor’s race, Cantrell was the leader in most polls before the runoff election, she never trailed as votes were counted.

 

Her opponent, former municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, conceded the race and congratulated Cantrell late Saturday. Later, complete returns showed Cantrell with 60 percent of the vote. 

 

The two women led a field of 18 candidates in an October general election to win runoff spots. 

 

Landrieu earned credit for accelerating the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in an administration cited for reduced blight, improvements in the celebrated tourism economy and economic development that included last week’s announcement that a digital services company is bringing 2,000 new jobs to the city. 

 

But Cantrell will face lingering problems. Crime is one. Another is dysfunction at the agency overseeing the city’s drinking water system and storm drainage — a problem that became evident during serious flash flooding in August. 

 

About 32 percent of the city’s voters took part in last month’s election. It was unclear whether turnout would surpass that on Saturday.

 

Cantrell faced questions about her use of a city credit card. Charbonnet had to fight back against critics who cast her as an insider who would steer city work to cronies.

 

Katrina a theme

Katrina was a theme in the backstory of both candidates. Cantrell moved to the city from California. Her work as a neighborhood activist in the aftermath of Katrina in the hard-hit Broadmoor neighborhood helped her win a seat on council in 2012. 

 

Charbonnet, from a well-known political family in New Orleans, was the city’s elected recorder of mortgages before she was a judge. In the campaign she made a point of saying hers was the first city office to re-open after Katrina, providing critical property records to the displaced.

 

Former state civil court Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished third in last month’s race, endorsed Cantrell, as did Troy Henry, a businessman who also ran for the post last month. 

 

University of New Orleans political science professor Edward Chervenak said the endorsements appeared to help Cantrell overcome revelations that she had used her city-issued credit card for thousands of dollars in purchases without clear indications that they were for public purposes. The money was eventually reimbursed, but questions lingered about whether she had improperly used city money for personal or campaign expenditures. 

U.S. General Says He’d Resist ‘Illegal’ Nuclear Strike Order From Trump

The top U.S. nuclear commander was quoted as saying Saturday that he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.

CBS News said Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada, that he had given a lot of thought to what he would say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

CBS said Hyten, who is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, explained the process that would follow such a command.

“As head of STRATCOM, I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” he said.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up [with] options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

Hyten said running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order was standard practice, and added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hyten’s remarks.

They came after questions by U.S. senators, including Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s authority to wage war, use nuclear weapons, and enter into or end international agreements, amid concern that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs could lead to hostilities.

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and threatened in his maiden U.N. address to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if it threatened the United States.

Some senators want legislation to alter the nuclear authority of the U.S. president, and a Senate committee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing in more than four decades on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike.

Sexual Harassment, Other Claims in Congress Cost $17 Million Since 1997

The government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money during the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.

The Office of Compliance released the numbers amid a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of entertainment, business and politics that consumed Capitol Hill this past week.

Two female lawmakers described incidents of sexual harassment, one in explicit detail, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized to a woman who said he forcibly kissed her and groped her during a 2006 USO tour.

Franken faces a likely investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

264 settlements

In a statement on the office’s website Friday, it said “based on the volume of recent inquiries about settlements reached under the Congressional Accountability Act, the executive director is releasing awards and settlement figures for 2015, 2016 and 2017 that would have been released as part of the OOC Annual Report early.”

 

The independent office doesn’t break the figures down, meaning there’s no way to determine how many of the 264 settlements and awards dealt specifically with cases of sexual misconduct brought by legislative branch employees. The office, which was created in 1995 by the Congressional Accountability Act, said the cases may involve violations of multiple statutes.

The claims range from sexual harassment complaints, allegations of religious and racial discrimination, and overtime pay disputes, according to the office. The money has been paid out between 1997 and 2017. The largest number of settlements, 25, occurred in 2007 when just more than $4 million was paid out, according to the figures. The money comes from an account in the U.S. Treasury.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the House will move ahead on legislation requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. The Senate has voted for mandatory training for senators, staff and interns.

​Move to overhaul reporting process

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have introduced legislation to overhaul the process of reporting sexual harassment. Victims of sexual misconduct are currently required to undergo counseling, mediation and a 30-day “cooling off period” before filing a formal complaint with the compliance office.

The bill would eliminate nondisclosure agreements as a condition of initiating mediation and create a public list to identify offices that have sexual harassment complaints pending.

The bill would also protect interns and fellows, make mediation and counseling optional, rather than required before a victim can file a lawsuit or formal complaint, and require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to pay back the Treasury for the amount of the award.

Kushner’s Lawyer Pushes Back on US Senate Committee Request

A lawyer for White House adviser Jared Kushner pushed back Friday after a Senate committee said he had not been fully forthcoming in its probe into Russian election interference.

 

Lawyer Abbe Lowell said Kushner encouraged others in President Donald Trump’s campaign to decline meetings with foreign people who “go back home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves.”

 

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Kushner, who is Donald Trump’s son-in-law, on Thursday asking him to provide additional documents to the committee, including one sent to him involving WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.”

 

The senators noted they have received documents from other campaign officials that were copied to or forwarded to Kushner, but which he did not produce. Those include “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks.” It was revealed this week that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., corresponded with WikiLeaks that month and later sent an email to several Trump campaign advisers to tell them about it.

Lowell wrote Friday to Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. He said the email from Donald Trump Jr. referring to his contact with WikiLeaks was forwarded to Kushner, but he did not respond.

 

Apparently referring to the email that the senators called a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” Lowell said that was part of an email chain that included biographies of various individuals. Lowell wrote that “there is a reference to one of these people suggesting an idea that somewhere, sometime (before the words ‘Russia’ or ‘Putin’ were politically charged or relevant in the campaign), someone thought candidate Trump should visit Russia.”

 

Lowell goes on to quote Kushner’s response to that email: “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings. Most likely these people go home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves. Be careful.”

The senators’ request is part of the panel’s probe into the Russian election meddling and whether the Trump campaign was involved. The Judiciary committee is one of three congressional committees looking into the issue, along with the Senate and House intelligence panels. The committees have separately requested and received thousands of documents from people associated with the Trump campaign, and have interviewed dozens of individuals. Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller is also looking into the meddling.

 

In the letter to Kushner, the senators noted they had asked him to provide documents to, from, or copied to him “relating to” certain individuals of interest to investigators, but Kushner responded that no emails had been found in which those individuals were sent emails, received emails, or were copied on them.

 

Lowell replied that Kushner had provided the Judiciary panel with the same documents he had provided the intelligence panels, believing that would be enough to satisfy the Judiciary request.

 

The Senate and House intelligence committees interviewed Kushner in July. The Judiciary panel has also sought an interview with Kushner, but his lawyers offered to make the transcripts available from the other interviews instead, according to the letters. Grassley and Feinstein say those panels haven’t provided them with those transcripts, and ask Lowell to secure that access.

 

“I do not understand why these committees would not provide the transcripts to you, but we do not have those transcripts,” Lowell wrote, adding that it would be “duplicative” if the committees did not share their transcripts.

Texas: Disaster Aid ‘Inadequate’; White House Replies: ‘Step Up’

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday criticized as “completely inadequate” the Trump administration’s $44 billion request to Congress for disaster relief in his hurricane-ravaged state and other areas hammered by storms. The White House shot back that Texas may want to foot more of the bill for its own recovery.

Abbott has lavished praise on the federal government since Hurricane Harvey killed more than 80 people, triggered historic flooding in Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, and caused an estimated $180 billion in damage. On Friday, he refused to criticize President Donald Trump by name, but said his administration’s request “is completely inadequate for the needs of the state of Texas, and I believe, does not live up to what the president wants to achieve.”

“The president has told me privately what he’s said publicly, and that is he wants to be the builder president,” Abbott said at a news conference inside his Texas Capitol office. “The president has said that he wants this to be the best recovery from a disaster ever.”

​White House bristles

A short time later in Washington, however, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to contradict that, suggesting that Texas hasn’t put up enough of its own money for Harvey recovery.

“We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process,” Sanders said. “We did a thorough assessment and that was completed and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.”

The request is Trump’s third since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria hit Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. If approved, it would bring the total appropriated for disaster relief this fall close to $100 billion, and that doesn’t include most of the money to rebuild Puerto Rico’s devastated housing stock and electric grid.

The request followed lobbying by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who pressed the White House for far more. There are sure to be attempts to add to the measure as it advances through the House and Senate.

 

“This request does not come close to what local officials say is needed,” said New York Rep. Nita Lowey, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Abbott complained that Congress approved more funding, more quickly to areas affected by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 “which was half the storm of what Hurricane Harvey was.”

“You can see that this falls short,” Abbott said. “Hopefully, this is just one of multiple steps along the pathway.”

​Cornyn vows a fight

Abbott has visited Washington repeatedly in recent weeks, lobbying for $61 billion in disaster relief he says his state needs just for infrastructure, including ambitious projects meant to combat future floods. Not only is Friday’s request far less than that, but Texas will have to share it, which didn’t sit so well with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chamber’s powerful majority whip.

“It’s really time for the federal government to live up to its responsibilities,” Cornyn said at the same Austin news conference.

He recalled that Puerto Rico’s governor requested more than $90 billion, just for his island’s recovery.

“Just imagine, given the size and scope of our great state, extrapolate that,” Cornyn said. “We’re not asking for that. We are asking to be treated fairly. And we intend to fight for that.”

Puerto Rico’s Rossello has requested $94 billion, including $18 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $31 billion for housing. The White House anticipates sending another request focused on the needs of the island territory but hasn’t indicated when that would be.

The Florida congressional delegation asked for $27 billion. 

At the same time, Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director asked lawmakers to consider $59 billion in spending cuts to pay for the aid, including $44 billion from benefit programs.

At the same event, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that $5 billion was being allocated to Texas in federal grants that will help meet the long term needs of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Harvey. But even that may be a relative drop in the bucket since Abbott has said that, ultimately, his state will likely seek more than $50 billion in federal housing funding alone.

Pentagon Releases Base-by-base Sexual Assault Report Data

The U.S. military on Friday disclosed for the first time base-by-base data on sexual assault reports, showing a higher number of reports at big military installations like Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia as well as overseas hubs like South Korea.

Sexual assault in the military, which is defined as anything from groping to rape, is believed to be significantly higher than the number of reports. The Pentagon said it estimates that, in 2016, less than a third of service members who experienced a sexual assault reported it.

Still, that was an improvement in reporting from previous years, the Pentagon said.

According to the newly released data, a collection of U.S. bases in South Korea had a combined 211 reports of sexual assault while Norfolk had 270 reports of sexual assault in the 2016 fiscal year, which began in October 2015 and ended in September 2016. That is down slightly from 291 cases at Norfolk in 2015.

The Pentagon did not elaborate on the data but noted that the reports showed where a victim reported a sexual assault, not necessarily where the sexual assault occurred.

Sexual assault reports from other big bases in 2016 included: Fort Hood in Texas with 199 reports; Naval Base in San Diego, California, with 187 reports; Camp Lejeune in North Carolina with 169 reports; Camp Pendleton in California with 157 reports, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina with 146 reports.

The Pentagon announced earlier this year a record total of 6,172 sexual assault reports in 2016, compared with 6,082 the previous year. This was a sharp increase from 2012, when 3,604 cases were reported.

The U.S. military said it believes that a biannual anonymous survey provides a more accurate estimate of the number of sexual assaults. According to the latest survey, 14,900 service members experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2016, down from 20,300 in 2014.

State Department Battles Criticism of Tillerson’s Management

The State Department is hitting back at the growing bipartisan criticism of Rex Tillerson’s leadership and accusations he is presiding over a debilitating brain drain of the nation’s diplomatic corps.

 

In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican chairman, the department said Tillerson’s reorganization plans aren’t crippling the agency as reports have claimed. Top ranks aren’t being intentionally gutted through attrition, mass retirements and buyouts, it said, and a planned 8 percent reduction of its nearly 75,000 employees had been mandated by the Office of Management and Budget and is proceeding under that order.

 

In the letter sent to Sen. Bob Corker late Thursday, the department said there are only 108 fewer foreign service officers now than in 2016. The tally is still 2,000 more than there were in 2008, it said.

 

It said a widely cited figure that 60 percent of diplomats at the highest level had left the foreign service since January is a “distortion” because only six people held the rank known as “career ambassador.” Two remain, it said. Since 1980, only from one to seven career ambassadors have ever served at the same time.

 

Nevertheless, the letter seems unlikely to stem the criticism of Tillerson. Critics also point to departures of senior and mid-level foreign service officers and a hiring freeze of entry level diplomats that has been relaxed only to take on about 100 new employees in the current budget year. That’s about a third of recent yearly intakes.

 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers also oppose Tillerson’s proposal to cut the department’s budget by nearly 30 percent, suggesting there will be rancorous exchanges on staffing levels in coming months.

 

The letter follows an intense week of criticism of Tillerson.

 

Since taking office, the former ExxonMobil CEO has been targeted by frequent attacks from Democrats, former diplomats and pundits on the left and the right. In recent days, Corker and a fellow prominent Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, joined the chorus.

Corker on Tuesday echoed comments of his committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin, who spoke of “alarming” reports that America’s diplomatic corps is being decimated by the reorganization. Corker said the concerns were “bipartisan in nature” and lamented that a briefing about the reorganization with State Department officials had been “very unsatisfactory” and incomplete.

 

A day later, McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, wrote a letter with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen criticizing the department for management decisions “that threaten to undermine the long-term health and effectiveness of American diplomacy.”

 

The entire minority membership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee followed, writing to Tillerson to say they’re “profoundly concerned about what appears to be the intentional hollowing-out of our senior diplomatic ranks and the entire State Department with no apparent goal.”

 

The criticism followed a highly critical missive from the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing U.S. diplomats.

 

Its president, Barbara Stephenson, likened senior staff reductions to a “decapitation” that would be met with public outcry if it had occurred in the military.

 

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” she said.

The State Department feels the criticism is unfair. In its letter to Corker, the agency said there are only 20 fewer senior foreign service officers now than there were a year ago (1,048 compared with 1,068). This year’s retirements are five fewer than in 2016, it said. Buyouts to induce early retirement of more than 600 diplomats are consistent with a directive to reduce the federal workforce.

 

It said reorganization is a work in progress, appealing for patience as officials make the department “more efficient and effective within a sustainable budget.”

 

“A project such as this demands careful execution and we are committed to doing just that and notifying Congress as required,” the State Department said.

US Senate Candidate Moore’s Wife Says ‘He Will Not Step Down’

The wife of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama said on Friday her husband would not end his campaign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, dismissing reports about his past behavior toward some women as political attacks.

“He will not step down,” Kayla Moore said at a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery. “He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama.”

The former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice’s campaign has been in turmoil since the Washington Post published a story last week detailing the accounts of three women who claim Moore pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

More women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the accusations.

Before the allegations came to light, Moore was heavily favored to defeat Democrat Doug Jones in the special election next month.

Two polls this week showed Moore now trailing Jones. Fox News released a poll on Thursday putting Jones ahead with 50 percent to 42 percent for Moore.

But Moore’s embattled candidacy also got a boost on Thursday, when the Alabama Republican Party said it would continue to support him, putting it at odds with Republican leaders in Washington who want him to withdraw.

Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Friday told reporters she would vote for Moore, emphasizing the importance of keeping Republican control of the U.S. Senate.

Asked whether she believed the women accusing Moore of sexual improprieties or unwanted romantic overtures, Ivey said, “the timing is a little curious but at the same time I have no reason to disbelieve them.”

The White House has said President Donald Trump finds the allegations troubling and believes Moore should step aside if they are true.

White House legislative director Marc Short on Friday said Trump previously backed Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, in the primary contest and that Moore’s explanations “so far have not been satisfactory.”

“At this point, we believe it is up to the people of Alabama to make a decision,” Short told CNN. “The president chose a different candidate.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, several women went public with accusations that Trump had in the past made unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate personal remarks about them.

Trump denied the accusations, accused rival Democrats and the media of a smear campaign, and went on to be elected president.

Kayla Moore noted that the Washington Post endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in last year’s election, accusing it of being part of a concerted effort to push back against anti-establishment conservative candidates.

“All of the very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us,” she said.

The Post’s editorial board, which endorsed Clinton, works separately from the reporters and editors who work on news stories, as is common at most newspapers.

 

US Senator in Trouble After Being Accused of Sexual Harassment in 2006

A U.S. senator from Minnesota is the latest in a string of well-known personalities from entertainment and politics to be accused of sexual harassment. Democrat Al Franken is under fire after a radio newscaster said he kissed and groped her without consent during a tour to entertain U.S. troops in the Middle East in 2006. Meanwhile, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama is battling charges of sexual abuse of underage girls. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

US Towns, Cities Fear Taxpayer Revolt if Republicans Kill Deduction

From Pataskala, Ohio, to Conroe, Texas, local government leaders worry that if Republican tax-overhaul plans moving through the U.S. Congress become law, it will be harder for them to pave streets, put out fires, fight crime and pay teachers.

A tax plan approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday would sharply curtail a federal deduction that millions of Americans can now claim for tax payments to state, county, city and town governments.

Ending that deduction, the local leaders say, could make their taxpayers, especially in high-tax communities, less likely to support future local tax increases or even tolerate local taxes at present levels.

The proposed repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction is part of an “assault on local governments” by Republicans in Washington, said Elizabeth Kautz, the Republican mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota, near Minneapolis.

“My hope is that we look at being thoughtful about what we’re doing and not ram something through just to get something done before the year is out,” Kautz said of the plan being rushed through Congress by her own party.

In the United States, local governments run schools, operate police and fire departments, and maintain streets, parks and libraries, among other essential services. The federal government’s role at that level is limited.

Cities, towns, counties and states collect their own property, sales and income taxes. Under existing law, payments of those taxes can be deducted, or subtracted from federal taxable income, lowering the amount of federal tax due.

The House tax bill just approved would eliminate the deduction for individuals and families of state and local income and sales tax, while capping property tax deductions at $10,000.

A bill being debated in the Senate, with Republican President Donald Trump’s support, would kill the SALT deduction entirely for individuals and families, although businesses would keep it. The fate of that bill is uncertain.

Ending the SALT tax break is part of a package of changes to deductions that would help Republicans raise more than $1.2 trillion in new federal tax revenues over 10 years.

That increase would help offset the $1.4 trillion in revenue that would be lost from cutting the corporate tax rate, another part of both the Senate and House plans.

Police concerns

Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 325,000 law enforcement officers nationwide, wrote a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday.

“The FOP is very concerned that the partial or total elimination of SALT deductions will endanger the ability of our state and local government to fund these [law enforcement] agencies,” said the letter, distributed to reporters.

Emily Brock, a director at the Government Finance Officers Association, said if SALT deductions were killed by Congress, voters could revolt. “Can you blame an individual taxpayer?” she asked. “They try to minimize their individual tax liability.”

Those who want to curb the century-old SALT deduction argue it only motivates local governments to seek more tax increases and spend more money. “Maintaining the deduction encourages government overspending and taxation,” argues the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit group of conservative state legislators and private activists.

Various other groups are fighting on Capitol Hill to defend the SALT deduction, such as the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Brady’s district

Steve Williams, chief financial officer for Conroe, Texas, said its rapid growth demanded new fire stations, schools, roads and public safety services.

Conroe is near Houston and in the congressional district of Republican Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the House tax committee and a champion of restricting the SALT deduction.

“Tax reform comes with picking winners and losers and I think in the final analysis, the people in [congressional] District 8 will be losers,” Williams said.

Conroe is part of Montgomery County, which voted 75 percent to 22.5 percent for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

In Pataskala, Ohio, near the state capital, Columbus, city finance director Jamie Nicholson said the local police department needed a new station. It now works out of an early 1900s building with no holding cell for suspects who are under arrest. “They get handcuffed to a chair,” he said.

Given the past difficulty Pataskala has had convincing taxpayers to approve new taxes, he said, eliminating or paring back the SALT deduction might trigger demands for chopping local taxes and blow a huge hole in his budget.

Greg Cox, a Republican member of the San Diego County, California, Board of Supervisors, echoed similar concerns about the impact on his community.

He said the Republican plan was unfair partly because it let businesses keep the SALT deduction, while taking it away from individuals and families.

McCain Warns Trump Over Staffing Pentagon With Industry Insiders

Senator John McCain warned President Donald Trump on Thursday against nominating any more defense industry insiders to top Pentagon posts, as his committee questioned an executive from Lockheed Martin about potential conflicts of interest.

Concern over the close relationship between the Pentagon and arms manufacturers has existed for decades but appears to have intensified under Trump. He has drawn scrutiny for filling posts throughout his government with high-ranking executives. The latest example was his naming this week of former pharmaceutical executive and lobbyist Alex Azar to become Health and Human Services secretary.

McCain, chairman of the Senate’s armed services committee, said he was troubled by the number of Defense Department nominees drawn from the defense industry. He said he would oppose any more such nominations after John Rood, Trump’s pick for the Pentagon’s No. 3 job, who appeared before the committee on Thursday.

“From this point forward, I will not support any further nominees with that background,” McCain said in a statement.

Rood ran into trouble during the hearing over his nomination to become undersecretary of defense for policy. As a Lockheed senior vice president, Rood’s job is to expand the company’s international business.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed him to say if he would recuse himself from discussions with U.S. allies that could benefit Lockheed, the largest U.S. defense contractor with business in 70 countries.

Rood said he did not intend to participate in talks about the sale of Lockheed products but did not give the “yes or no” reply sought by Warren, triggering a charged exchange with the committee.

McCain joined Warren in demanding a direct answer and warned Rood that otherwise, he was “going to have trouble getting through this committee.”

’Ducking the answer’

McCain told Rood to submit his response in writing “because obviously you are ducking the answer here.”

The uproar came a day after the Senate confirmed Trump’s choice for Army secretary, Mark Esper, who was a top executive at Raytheon, another U.S. defense industry giant. He committed to recusing himself from matters tied to Raytheon.

Trump’s Pentagon also has officials who previously worked at Boeing and Textron Systems.

U.S. arms manufacturers like Raytheon, whose shares have risen more than 30 percent since December, are expected to benefit in the coming year from an increase in defense spending.

The Pentagon says it has 38 unfilled positions for civilian defense leadership roles that require Senate confirmation, and at least 23 nominees whose names have already been submitted to the Senate.

It was unclear from McCain’s remarks whether he would oppose any of the already-announced nominees, although he seemed to be warning about future Pentagon picks.

Trump Tack on China Likely to Shift from Sweet to Sour After Asia Trip

Fresh off his first visit to Asia, included a two-day stop in China that some argue was heavy on flattery and lacking in substance, analysts say President Donald Trump is now poised to do what he’s long promised: get tough on Beijing over its unfair trade practices.

While in China, Trump said he gives Beijing “great credit” for taking advantage of the United States, which left some perplexed.

Speaking at signing ceremony for deals that totaled some $250 billion he said: “I don’t blame China … who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?”

But that was only the first half of a key message of his trip.

The rest came in his speech at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and was echoed again at the White House on Wednesday.

“We can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs, wealth and intellectual property. The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over,” Trump said.

 

WATCH: Leaders of US and China Offer Asia Business Leaders Divergent Paths

​Sweet and sour

Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he sees a domestic political strategy in the broader message that Trump conveyed during his trip.

By saying that China is not to blame and that it is doing what any country should do to protect its interests, Trump has given himself license to do for America what other leaders have not done.

Paal notes that early next month two key trade investigation reports are due and, unless something knocks them off course, they are going to lead to high tariffs on some products and maybe even outright bans.

And the Chinese will retaliate as they feel appropriate, he said.

“So we will go from the good feeling, high emotions of this state visit, which we’d call the sweet, to sour in December on trade. And that would be more suitable to the way Trump thinks about his political constituency and the debt he owes that constituency for his election,” Paal said.

Paal added the outcome of such an approach and impact on America is widely uncertain, but what is clear is that Trump will stick to his domestic political calculation until it proves to be wrong.

​Trade investigations

In addition to a section 301 investigation into China’s use of policies to force foreign companies to hand over intellectual property in exchange for market access, the Trump administration has also launched a section 232 investigation to determine whether cheap Chinese aluminum and steel imports threaten national security.

Both would allow the administration to levy tariffs on Chinese goods. Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 was a popular trade tool that was used in the 1980s against Japan, and it allows the president to impose tariffs or other restrictions to counter unfair trade practices.

China has called the launch of the investigation “irresponsible” because it is based on a domestic U.S. law that could be applied outside of the framework of the World Trade Organization.

Some have warned that the use of such measures could trigger a trade war between the two countries. Others, however, argue that the trade war began a long time ago and that the difference is that previous administrations did not do enough about it.

“I think there are very few people who would say that the previous administrations, whether it was the Obama administration or the Bush administration, were overly aggressive in enforcing trade law. Many people would say that they were insufficiently aggressive in enforcing U.S. law when it comes to unfair trade practices of U.S. trading partners,” said Ross Feingold, senior adviser with the American political risk manager DC International Advisory.

Economic bullets

In addition to the investigations, there is a bipartisan push by lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives to bolster the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS.

If the draft legislation is approved, it would not only broaden the scope of the interagency body’s review of foreign investments in the United States, but expand it to include joint venture investments overseas as well.

CFIUS evaluates investments in the United States for potential threats to national security. Some lawmakers have proposed expanding the review domestically and to include investments overseas as well. A proposal that is likely to not sit well with big American multinational corporations.

Ethan Cramer-Flood, associate director of The Conference Board’s China Center and Asia Programs, said that over the past year there has been an enormous amount of tactical preparation and economic bullets for eventual economic confrontation.

And while that is no guarantee that will happen, the trade investigations and proposed CFIUS legislation are all part of that effort.

“The Trump trade team and their allies in Congress are loading up the chamber,” Cramer-Flood said. “That doesn’t mean they are going to fire the bullets, but they are creating a sort of legal arsenal, so that rather than just rhetoric and yelling, there are things the U.S. side can do to cause real pain on the Chinese side.”

What the Trump administration is aiming to do, Cramer-Flood said, is accumulate leverage and create a legitimate concern from the Chinese perspective, in hopes of bringing about change.

Without that kind of pressure, China is unlikely to have any interest in changing the status quo, which has been working very well for it for the past 30 years, he added.

Joyce Huang contributed to this report.

Trump Renews Focus on Tax Reform Amid New Political Landscape

President Donald Trump has shifted his focus back to domestic issues after returning from a 12-day trip to Asia. Trump is urging congressional Republicans to pass a tax reform measure to follow through on one of his key campaign promises. But the president and his Republican allies in Congress face a new political landscape in the wake of last week’s election victories by Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Trump Claims ‘Tremendous Success’ of Recent Trip to Asia

In his speech Wednesday, a day after returning from a 12-day Asia trip, U.S. President Donald Trump boasted of “tremendous success” in pushing America’s interests forward. During stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, Trump pursued his “America First” philosophy, calling for more favorable trade deals for the U.S. He also urged North Korea not to test the U.S. resolve to defend itself and its allies. VOA’S Zlatica Hoke reports.