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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A North Korean mid-range ballistic missile apparently failed shortly after launch Saturday, South Korea and the United States said, the third test-fire flop just this month but a clear message of defiance as a U.S. supercarrier conducts drills in nearby waters.
North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned by the United Nations because they’re seen as part of the North’s push for a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the U.S. mainland. The latest test came as U.S. officials pivoted from a hard line to diplomacy at the U.N. in an effort to address what may be Washington’s most pressing foreign policy challenge.
President Donald Trump said on Twitter, “North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!” He did not answer reporters’ questions about the missile launch upon returning to the White House from a day trip to Atlanta.
North Korea didn’t immediately comment on the launch, though its state media on Saturday reiterated the country’s goal of being able to strike the continental U.S.
The timing of the North’s test was striking: Only hours earlier the U.N. Security Council held a ministerial meeting on Pyongyang’s escalating weapons program. North Korean officials boycotted the meeting, which was chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile flew for several minutes and reached a maximum height of 71 kilometers (44 miles) before it apparently failed.
It didn’t immediately provide an estimate on how far the missile flew, but a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said it was likely a medium-range KN-17 ballistic missile. It broke up a few minutes after the launch.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking after a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council, said the missile is believed to have traveled about 50 kilometers (30 miles) and fallen on an inland part of North Korea.
Analysts say the KN-17 is a new Scud-type missile developed by North Korea. The North fired the same type of missile April 16, just a day after a massive military parade where it showed off its expanding missile arsenal, but U.S. officials called that launch a failure.
Some analysts say a missile the North test fired April 5, which U.S. officials identified as a Scud variant, also might have been a KN-17. U.S. officials said that missile spun out of control and crashed into the sea.
Moon Seong Mook, a South Korean analyst and former military official, says that the North would gain valuable knowledge even from failed launches as it continues to improve its technologies for missiles. The South Korean and Japanese assessments about Saturday’s launch indicate that the North fired the missile from a higher-than-normal angle to prevent it from flying too far, he said.
“They could be testing a variety of things, such as the thrust of the rocket engine or the separation of stages,” Moon said. “A failure is a failure, but that doesn’t mean the launch was meaningless.”
The two earlier launches were conducted from an eastern coastal area, but Saturday’s missile was fired in the west, from an area near Pukchang, just north of the capital, Pyongyang.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry denounced the launch as an “obvious” violation of United Nations resolutions and the latest display of North Korea’s “belligerence and recklessness.”
“We sternly warn that the North Korean government will continue to face a variety of strong punitive measures issued by the U.N. Security Council and others if it continues to reject denuclearization and play with fire in front of the world,” the ministry said.
The North routinely test-fires a variety of ballistic missiles, despite U.N. prohibitions, as part of its weapons development. While shorter-range missiles are somewhat routine, there is strong outside worry about each longer-range North Korean ballistic test.
Saturday’s launch comes at a point of particularly high tension. Trump has sent a nuclear-powered submarine and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft supercarrier to Korean waters, and North Korea this week conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises on its eastern coast. The U.S. and South Korea also started installing a missile defense system that is supposed to be partially operational within days, while their two navies began joint military drills later Saturday.
The South Korean navy said the drills are aimed at “deterring North Korea’s provocations and displaying the firm alliance between the United States and South Korea.”
On Friday, the United States and China offered starkly different strategies for addressing North Korea’s escalating nuclear threat as Tillerson demanded full enforcement of economic sanctions on Pyongyang and urged new penalties. Stepping back from suggestions of U.S. military action, he even offered aid to North Korea if it ends its nuclear weapons program.
The range of Tillerson’s suggestions, which over a span of 24 hours also included restarting negotiations, reflected America’s failure to halt North Korea’s nuclear advances despite decades of U.S.-led sanctions, military threats and stop-and-go rounds of diplomatic engagement. As the North approaches the capability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, the Trump administration feels it is running out of time.
Chairing a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Tillerson declared that “failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”
His ideas included a ban on North Korean coal imports and preventing its overseas guest laborers, a critical source of government revenue, from sending money home. And he warned of unilateral U.S. moves against international firms conducting banned business with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, which could ensnare banks in China, the North’s primary trade partner.
Yet illustrating the international gulf over how best to tackle North Korea, several foreign ministers on the 15-member council expressed fears of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which was divided between the American-backed South and communist North even before the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended with no formal peace treaty. And while danger always has lurked, tensions have escalated dramatically as the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, has expanded a nuclear arsenal his government says is needed to avert a U.S. invasion.
No voice at Friday’s session was more important than that of China, a conduit for 90 percent of North Korea’s commerce and a country Trump is pinning hopes on for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis. Trump, who recently hosted President Xi Jinping for a Florida summit, has sometimes praised the Chinese leader for a newfound cooperation to crack down on North Korea and sometimes threatened a go-it-alone U.S. approach if Xi fails to deliver.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would adhere to past U.N. resolutions and wants a denuclearized peninsula. But he spelled out no further punitive steps his government might consider, despite Tillerson’s assertions in an interview hours ahead of the council meeting that Beijing would impose sanctions of its own if North Korea conducts another nuclear test.
Wang put forward a familiar Chinese idea to ease tensions: North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities if the U.S. and South Korea stop military exercises in the region. Washington and Seoul reject the idea.
Tillerson said the U.S. does not seek regime change in North Korea, and he signaled American openness to holding direct negotiations with Pyongyang. The U.S. also could resume aid to North Korea once it “begins to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile technology programs,” he said. Since 1995, he added, Washington has provided more than $1.3 billion to the impoverished country.
But the prospects for any more U.S. money going there appeared bleak. Even negotiations don’t seem likely.
Tillerson said the North must take “concrete steps” to reduce its weapons threat before talks could occur. Six-nation nuclear negotiations with North Korea stalled in 2009. The Obama administration sought to resurrect them in 2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon collapsed.
“In a nutshell, (North Korea) has already declared not to attend any type of talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment, nuclear disbandment,” Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press. His government declined to attend Friday’s council meeting.
AP writers Matthew Pennington and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this story.
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CAIRO (AP) — Military helicopters flew overhead and police fanned out in force Saturday as Pope Francis celebrated an open-air Mass for Egypt’s tiny Catholic community on the final day of a visit aimed at comforting Christians following a series of attacks by Islamic militants.
Despite the security concerns, Francis zoomed around the Cairo sports stadium in an open-topped golf cart before the start of Mass, evidence of his desire to be close to his flock at all costs.
The crowd cheered him wildly, waiving Egyptian and Holy See flags and swaying to hymns sung by church choirs. The defense ministry’s stadium has a capacity of 25,000, but only about 15,000 people attended — a reflection that Catholics represent less than 1 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people.
In his homily, Francis urged them to be good and merciful to their fellow Egyptians, saying “the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity!”
“Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!” he said.
It was a very pastoral message after Francis on his first day demanded that Muslim leaders renounce religious fanaticism that leads to violence. Francis made the appeal during a landmark visit to Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the revered, 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam learning that trains clerics and scholars from around the world.
Security was exceptionally tight around the stadium and in the upscale neighborhood where Francis spent the night, with uniformed and plain-clothed police stationed every meter (yard) or so along his motorcade route. Police used metal detectors to check vehicles for explosives and armed guards stood watch, some on rooftops, their faces covered.
But Francis decided to forego the bullet-proof “popemobile” that his predecessors used on foreign trips and drove through Cairo in a simple Fiat, his window rolled down.
“He is a messenger of peace, he is really a messenger of peace,” said Amgad Eskandr before the Mass got under way at the stadium. “All his words talk about peace, call for peace, push for peace which is great.”
His gestures sent a defiant message to the extremist Islamic State group, whose local affiliate in Egypt has vowed to target Egypt’s Christians to punish them for their support of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
As defense minister, El-Sissi had led the military ouster of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president whose one-year rule proved divisive.
Already, attacks against Christians in northern Sinai, the epicenter of the insurgency, have forced hundreds of families to flee the region, seeking refuge elsewhere in Egypt. Recent attacks on churches — one in Cairo in December and twin Palm Sunday attacks in cities north of the Egyptian capital — have claimed at least 75 lives and injured scores.
The attacks led to heightened security at churches nationwide and the declaration by el-Sissi of a state of emergency.
Francis strongly backed the government’s crackdown on the extremists Friday, saying Egypt was uniquely placed to bring peace to the region and “vanquish all violence and terrorism.”
He also paid tribute to the victims of a December bombing at central Cairo’s St. Peter’s church, which is located in close proximity to the St. Mark’s cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Blood on one of the church walls remains along with pictures of the victims in remembrance of the attack.
His visit drew praise from Egyptian Catholics, who haven’t seen a pope in their land since St. John Paul II visited in 2000.
“I think he is a man of peace and I think he will be like John Paul II, he will be a saint,” said Mariam Fayek from the stadium grounds.
What is at stake in Egypt, home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, is to prevent a repeat of what happened in Iraq in the years that followed the 2003 ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, when militants of al-Qaida — the IS forerunner in Iraq — systematically targeted the country’s ancient Christian minority and forced many to flee.
Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, is a close el-Sissi ally who has tirelessly advocated Muslim-Christian harmony. “Egyptians are united in pain and in joy,” he told Francis on Friday.
After Mass on Saturday, Francis meets with Catholic priests and seminarians before returning to Rome.
Associated Press writer Maria Grazia Murru contributed to this report.
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its small size belies a quiet expansion of its battle-hardened military into Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The seven-state federation ranks as one of Washington’s most prominent Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, hosting some 5,000 American military personnel, fighter jets and drones. But the practice gunfire echoing through the deserts near bases outside of Dubai and recent military demonstrations in the capital of Abu Dhabi show a country increasingly willing to flex its own muscle amid its suspicions about Iran.
Already, the UAE has landed expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and Yemen. Its new overseas bases on the African continent show this country, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calls “Little Sparta,” has even larger ambitions.
FROM PROTECTORATE TO PROTECTOR
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, only became a country in 1971. It had been a British protectorate for decades and several of the emirates had their own security forces. The forces merged together into a national military force that took part in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.
The UAE sent troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, giving its forces valuable experience working alongside Western allies in the field. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Emirati personnel there combined aid with Arab hospitality, working on infrastructure projects in villages and meeting with local elders.
Today, the UAE hosts Western forces at its military bases, including American and French troops. Jebel Ali port in Dubai serves as the biggest port of call for the American Navy outside of the United States.
The UAE decided in recent years to grow its military, in part over concerns about Iran’s resurgence in the region following the nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen.
In 2011, the UAE acknowledged working with private military contractors, including a firm reportedly tied to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, to build up its military. The Associated Press also reported that Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia, a program by several Arab countries, including the UAE.
“As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international law and relevant conventions,” Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, a senior Emirati military official, said in a statement on the state-run WAM news agency.
Media in Colombia have also reported that Colombian nationals working as mercenaries serve in the UAE’s military.
In 2014, the UAE introduced mandatory military service for all Emirati males between the ages of 18 to 30. The training is optional for Emirati women.
“Our message to the world is a message of peace; the stronger we are, the stronger our message,” Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wrote at the time on Twitter.
WAR IN YEMEN
In Yemen, UAE troops are fighting alongside Saudi-led forces against Shiite rebels who hold the impoverished Arab country’s capital, Sanaa. Areas where the UAE forces are deployed include Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt, and the port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is stationed.
Additionally, the UAE appears to be building an airstrip on Perim or Mayun Island, a volcanic island in Yemeni territory that sits in a waterway between Eritrea and Djibouti in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, according to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. That strait, some 16-kilometers (10-miles) wide at its narrowest point, links the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with the Gulf of Aden and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Dozens of commercial ships transit the route every day.
Already, the waters have seen Emirati and Saudi ships targeted by suspected fire from Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis. In October, U.S. Navy vessels came under fire as well, sparking American forces to fire missiles in Yemen in its first attack targeting the Houthis in the years-long war there.
“More incidents at sea, especially involving civilian shipping, could further internationalize the conflict and spur other actors to intervene,” the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy warned in March.
UAE forces and aid organizations have also set foot on Yemen’s Socotra Island, which sits near the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, after a deadly cyclone struck it. It too represents a crucial chokepoint and has seen recent attacks from Somali pirates.
The UAE has suffered the most wartime casualties in its history in Yemen. The deadliest day came in a September 2015 missile strike on a base that killed over 50 Emirati troops, as well as at least 10 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and five from Bahrain.
Meanwhile, Emirati forces were involved in a Jan. 29 Yemen raid ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL and 30 others, including women, children and an estimated 14 militants.
EXPANDING TO AFRICA
Outside of Yemen, the UAE has been building up a military presence in Eritrea at its port in Assab, according to Stratfor, a U.S.-based private intelligence firm. Satellite images show new construction at a once-abandoned airfield the firm links to the Emiratis, as well as development at the port and the deployment of tanks and aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters and drones.
“The scale of the undertaking suggests that the UAE military is in Eritrea for more than just a short-term logistical mission supporting operations across the Red Sea,” Stratfor said in December.
UAE officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its military operations or overseas expansion.
South of Eritrea, in Somalia’s breakaway northern territory of Somaliland, authorities agreed in February to allow the UAE open a naval base in the port town of Berbera. Previously, the UAE international ports operator DP World struck a deal to manage Somaliland’s largest port nearby.
Further afield, the UAE also has been suspected of conducting airstrikes in Libya and operating at a small air base in the North African country’s east, near the Egyptian border.
Meanwhile, Somalia remains a particular focus for the UAE. The Emiratis sent forces to the Horn of Africa country to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the 1990s, while their elite counterterrorism unit in 2011 rescued a UAE-flagged ship from Somali pirates. The unit has also has been targeted in recent attacks carried out by al-Qaida-linked militants from al-Shabab.
A UAE military expansion into Somalia is also possible, as Trump recently approved an expanded military, including more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab in the African nation. The UAE recently began a major campaign seek donations for humanitarian aid there.
Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.
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BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders vowed Saturday to stand shoulder-to-shoulder behind their negotiating team during the divorce proceedings with Britain and warned that demands from British Prime Minister Theresa May will be dealt with “firmly.”
The 27 EU leaders in Brussels finalized the cornerstones of their negotiating stance within minutes of starting a short summit, a month after the British leader triggered two years of exit talks on March 29. The negotiations themselves are to open shortly after Britain holds an early election on June 8.
“Guidelines adopted unanimously. EU27 firm and fair political mandate for the #Brexit talks is ready,” EU Council President Donald Tusk tweeted.
The leaders say there can’t be any discussions on the future relationship between the EU and Britain before some key issues are settled. Those include how much Britain owes the bloc, what to do about the Irish land border with Britain and, Tusk said, making sure the welfare of citizens and families living in each other’s nations will be a priority.
The guidelines halted British hopes of having future trade relations being discussed concurrently all through the talks. Tusk said “before discussing the future, we have to sort out our past. We will handle it with genuine care — but firmly.”
Some at the summit were already considering how to deal with possible British negotiating tactics.
“Maybe the British government will do its utmost to split the 27 nations and it is trap we need to avoid,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Ever since the June 23 referendum last year in which Britons narrowly voted to leave the bloc, the remaining 27 EU nations have shown a rare exceptional unity. In contrast, citizens in Britain have been divided because of the momentous event looming.
Now, the EU is also intent on making Britain pay the divorce bill, which some EU officials have put as high as 60 billion euros ($65 billion).
“If you are no longer part of a club, it has consequences. A Brexit for free is not possible,” Michel said.
To kick off the negotiations, Tusk wants to center on the millions of people living in each other’s nations who would be immediately affected.
All sides “need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides. This must be the No. 1 priority,” Tusk said. Some 3 million citizens from the 27 nations live in Britain while up to 2 million Britons live on the continent, all facing massive uncertainly on such issues as health benefits, pensions, taxes, employment and education.
Tusk said the sustained unity of the 27 will help May since she will have political certainty throughout the talks.
“Our unity is also in the U.K.’s interest,” he said. “I feel strong support from all the EU institutions, including the European Parliament, as well as all the 27 member states. I know this is something unique and I am confident it will not change.”
Over the past years, the bloc has often been bitterly divided over issues like the financial crisis, the euro debt crisis, bailouts to financially-strapped members like Greece, and how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of migrants entering the bloc.
At their summit, the leaders are set to acknowledge that Northern Ireland could join the bloc in the future if its people vote to unite with EU member state Ireland. The two share the same island, and the difficulties of re-establishing a land border are immense and politically fraught.
Two European officials said a statement on the Northern Ireland issue is likely to be added to the minutes of the summit, which is being held without May. The officials asked not to be identified because the issue was not yet settled.
Future relations between Ireland and Britain, including how the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would work with the U.K. outside the bloc, have emerged as a key problem to be addressed during the Brexit talks.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The administration officials who gave President Donald Trump’s tax plan a splashy debut in recent days seem to have caught the exaggeration bug from their boss.
A look at some statements by Trump and his aides over this past week, and the facts behind them:
TREASURY SECRETARY STEVE MNUCHIN, on Trump having “no intention” of releasing his own tax returns ever: “The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else. I think the American population has plenty of information.”
THE FACTS: Trump has released less than other presidents in modern times.
By withholding his tax returns, Trump has fallen short of the standard followed by presidents since Richard Nixon started the practice in 1969.
During last year’s election campaign, Trump argued that he couldn’t release his taxes because he was under an audit by the IRS. That reason didn’t hold up, because being under audit is no legal bar to a candidate from releasing tax returns. On Wednesday, Mnuchin seemed to abandon even that explanation.
What Trump has released are financial disclosure forms that list his assets and liabilities in broad ranges, required by law. But those forms don’t disclose precise numbers, and they include nothing about a person’s income or charitable giving — data disclosed only in tax returns.
The few Trump tax returns the public has seen weren’t released by him, but disclosed by news outlets. Two leaked pages of his 2005 return that came out in March didn’t include full details on income and deductions, but did show that he would have benefited massively by an elimination of the alternative minimum tax — a feature of his just-outlined tax plan. And three pages that surfaced last year showed he had claimed a $916 million loss on his 1995 return, which could be used to reduce his taxes by offsetting later gains.
MNUCHIN: “This is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country.”
THE FACTS: Apparently not. At first blush, the tax cuts look smaller than President Ronald Reagan’s in 1981, which were the biggest ever. That plan reduced federal revenues by almost 19 percent, according to a Treasury report. In today’s dollars, that would mean a tax cut of more than $600 billion a year or well over $6 trillion over the next decade.
An early analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates federal revenue would probably drop $5.5 trillion over a decade under the Trump plan, shy of Reagan’s record-breaker. That assumes all elements of the plan are approved by Congress, which is unlikely.
The biggest-ever claim is also made on the one-page outline of the plan. Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn, more realistically, called it “one of the biggest.”
MNUCHIN: The tax plan “will pay for itself with growth,” reduced deductions and “closing loopholes.”
THE FACTS: Tax experts are skeptical, and they’re backed up by history.
Reagan’s steep cut in 1981 contributed to years of deficits, even after he was forced to raise some taxes in subsequent years to stem the red ink. President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were also followed by large deficits.
“No tax cut has ever been self-financing,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
In its analysis of the Trump plan, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said “no achievable amount of economic growth could finance it” and it would drive the debt to 111 percent of the gross domestic product by 2027, compared with 77 percent now. The group advocates for deficit reduction as a pillar of economic growth.
Alan Cole, an economist at the right-leaning Tax Foundation, has calculated that Trump’s corporate tax cut alone would cut federal revenue by $2 trillion over 10 years. Growth would need to accelerate to 2.8 percent a year, from its current pace of about 2 percent, to pay just for that cut. But Cole forecasts growth would increase by only half that amount, resulting in ballooning deficits.
COHN: “We are going to cut taxes for businesses to make them competitive and we’re going to cut taxes for the American people, especially low- and middle-income families.”
THE FACTS: Based on the outline, there’s every reason to believe the wealthiest people in the United States will receive the biggest cuts under Trump’s plan, though many low- and middle-income families would benefit, too.
The lack of specifics makes it hard to say precisely how the cuts would be distributed. But the plan is similar in outline to Trump’s campaign proposal, which would have given nearly half its benefits to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, while middle-income households would have received barely 7 percent of the cuts.
The White House is also proposing to eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, both of which primarily impact upper-income Americans. The AMT is a separate tax calculation intended to ensure that richer people don’t avoid paying most or all of their taxes by claiming multiple deductions and credits. In 2005, Trump himself paid $36.5 million in taxes, mostly because of the AMT. Without it, he would have paid just $5.5 million, according to a leaked copy of that year’s return.
The biggest windfall for rich people could come from Trump’s plan to lower the top tax rate for small-business owners to 15 percent from 39.6 percent. The true effect will depend on how the Trump administration defines a small-business owner. If the tax cut applies to all business income reported on individual tax returns, it would be a huge benefit for many wealthy families.
Mnuchin said Trump will propose safeguards to prevent rich people from taking advantage of this tax cut, but provided no details on how that would work.
TRUMP: Pressing for South Korea to help pay for the billion-dollar THAAD anti-missile system the U.S. is providing for the country’s defense, “It’s phenomenal. It’s the most incredible equipment you’ve ever seen – shoots missiles right out of the sky. And it protects them and I want to protect them. But they should pay for that, and they understand that.” — Interview Thursday with Reuters.
THE FACTS: The president is clearly in sales mode here, because the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system isn’t as sure a bet as he portrays. It is being deployed in South Korea after at least a dozen successful tests, but “things that work well at home on the test range don’t always go as smoothly when deployed,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
A salvo of multiple North Korean short-range missiles, for instance, could overwhelm THAAD, said David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program. And the system will be deployed about 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Seoul, out of range of a greater metropolitan area that is home to 25 million people about an hour from the heavily armed border. “It cannot engage missiles fired at Seoul, so it offers no additional protection of the city,” Wright said.
TRUMP tweet on the tactics of the two jurisdictions that challenged his order to penalize cities that don’t cooperate with U.S. immigration officials: “They used to call this ‘judge shopping!’ Messy system.”
THE FACTS: It’s hard to argue this was judge-shopping. The two California governments that sued to block Trump’s order, San Francisco and Santa Clara County, routinely filed in the court in their neighborhood, which is in the federal system’s 9th Circuit. And they don’t get to choose a judge; that’s assigned through a system that more resembles a lottery.
TRUMP tweet: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where three of his orders have run into roadblocks, has “a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80 percent).”
THE FACTS: That’s misleading. The nature of the appeals system means that most circuits have high rates of being overturned. The fact the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case means it’s likely to overturn it. But other circuits have seen their decisions overturned at a higher rate.
In the most recent full term, the Supreme Court did reverse eight of the 11 cases it heard from the San Francisco-based court. But the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit went 0 for 3 — that is, the Supreme Court reversed all three cases it heard from there. And over the past five years, five federal appeals courts were reversed at a higher rate than the 9th Circuit.
The 9th is by far the largest of the 13 federal courts of appeals, which means that in raw numbers, more cases are heard and reversed from the 9th Circuit year in and year out. But as a percentage of cases the Supreme Court hears, the liberal-leaning circuit fares somewhat better, according to statistical compilations by the legal website Scotusblog.
Associated Press writers Christopher S. Rugaber, Josh Boak, Stephen Ohlemacher, Robert Burns and Mark Sherman in Washington and Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
Find all AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd
EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures
WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while China said the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.
Trump, speaking to Reuters on Thursday, said he wanted to resolve the crisis peacefully, possibly through the use of new economic sanctions, although a military option was not off the table.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” Trump said in an interview at the Oval Office.
“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said, describing North Korea as his biggest global challenge.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a danger that the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control, his ministry said.
Wang made the comments in a meeting with a Russian diplomat on Thursday at the United Nations, the ministry said in a statement.
China, the only major ally of North Korea, has been increasingly uncomfortable in recent months about its neighbour’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in violation on U.N. resolutions.
The United States has called on China to do more to rein in Pyongyang and Trump lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts, calling him “a good man”.
“I believe he is trying very hard. I know he would like to be able to do something. Perhaps it’s possible that he can’t. But I think he’d like to be able to do something,” Trump said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that China had asked North Korea not to conduct any more nuclear tests. Beijing had warned Pyongyang it would impose unilateral sanctions if it went ahead, he added.
“We were told by the Chinese that they informed the regime that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own,” Tillerson said on Fox News, without specifying what sanctions he was referring to.
Tillerson did not say when China made the threat and there was no immediate confirmation from Beijing. He is due to chair a meeting with U.N Security Council foreign ministers on Friday, where he said he would stress the need for members to fully implement existing sanctions as well as possible next steps.
China banned imports of North Korean coal in February, cutting off its most important export, and Chinese media this month raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to the North if it unleashed more provocations.
MISSILE DEFENCE, CARRIER GROUP
In a show of force, the United States is sending the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday. South Korea’s navy has said it will hold drills with the U.S. strike group.
Admiral Harry Harris, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, said on Wednesday the carrier was in the Philippine Sea, within two hours’ striking distance of North Korea if needs be.
Harris also said a U.S. missile defence system being deployed in South Korea to ward off any North Korean attack would be operational in coming days.
China has been angered by the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), complaining that its radar can see deep into China and undermines its security.
Trump said in the interview he wants South Korea to pay the cost of the THAAD, which he estimated at $1 billion. South Korea, one of Washington’s most crucial allies in the region, said the United States would have to bear the cost, pointing to possible friction ahead.
Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile, a capability experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and numerous missile tests, including one this month, a day before a summit between Trump and Xi in Florida.
North Korea, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, regularly threatens to destroy the United States and says it will pursue its nuclear and missile programmes to counter perceived U.S. aggression.
“Trump is recklessly resorting to the hackneyed methods, being utterly ignorant of the DPRK,” the North’s KCNA state news agency said on Friday, citing a commentary from the Rodong Sinmun newspaper and referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Unshakable is the faith and will of the army and people of the DPRK to build a socialist power … and no force can check their advance.”
Trump, asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational. He noted that Kim had taken over his country at an early age.
“As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on North Korea and other countries on Thursday to avoid behaviour or rhetoric that could increase tension.
Foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in the Philippines, called for the resumption of dialogue.
“ASEAN strongly urges the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations arising from all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and international laws in the interest of maintaining international peace and security,” they said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Matt Spetalnick, Eric Beech and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Denis Pinchuk and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Manuel Mogato in Manila and Ju-min Park and Vincent Lee in Seoul; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)
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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT) —- WASHINGTON — As a Friday night deadline approaches to prevent a government shutdown, one hot-button spending issue is a down payment to build a wall on the southern border, one of President Trump’s signature national security goals.
Mr. Trump appeared to soften his demand late on Monday, saying he would settle for additional funds for border security. But then on Tuesday, he insisted again, “The wall’s going to get built, folks.”
In the run-up to this divisive debate, John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, has escalated his rhetoric about threats facing the United States.
“The risk is as threatening today as it was that September morning almost 16 years ago,” Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, said in a speech last week at George Washington University. Mr. Kelly suggested that undocumented immigrants may not be the only threat coming across the border with Mexico, pointing to the possibility of terrorists using the same smuggling routes to infiltrate the United States.
“We have tremendous threats, whether it’s drugs, people, potential terrorists coming up from the south,” Mr. Kelly told CBS’s “Face the Nation” last Sunday.
The secretary’s comments raise several questions about the threat of terrorists sneaking across the border with the aid of cartels, the connection between drug smuggling and the recent surge in overdoses, and marijuana as a “gateway drug.”
Here’s what the experts say:
Is there a threat of ISIS or Qaeda terrorists entering through the southern border?
Not much, according to many terrorism specialists. Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s program on extremism, said there had been few instances of would-be terrorists using the southern border to enter the United States.
In some cases, he said, the opposite had occurred: Homegrown American jihadis have crossed the southern border to get out of the United States and catch a plane from Mexico, in an effort to avoid being detected on no-fly lists.
Mr. Hughes pointed to the case of Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, who is wanted by the F.B.I. for conspiring to support a terrorist organization in Somalia. A naturalized American citizen who lived in Minneapolis and worked as a taxi driver, Mr. Faarax went to Somalia to fight with the Shabab, a Qaeda affiliate, in 2007. He returned to the United States to try to recruit other fighters, and was last seen in October 2009 at a United States-Mexico border crossing. He is believed to be in Somalia.
Terrorism experts say the Mexican drug cartels have been loath to allow terrorists to cross the border through their territories into the United States, fearing that any American military and law enforcement response to that threat would significantly disrupt their lucrative businesses.
Are drugs smuggled across the border responsible for the surge in overdoses?
This is exaggerated. Cartels do smuggle in vast quantities of illicit drugs, and Mr. Kelly accurately said that 52,404 deaths were caused by a drug overdose in 2015, “the highest number of drug-related deaths our country has ever seen.” But it’s misleading to attribute all of these to Mexican cartels.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that about 33,000 overdose deaths involved opioids. Prescription drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin were the cause of nearly 15,000 of these deaths. Synthetic opioids accounted for another 10,000 deaths and heroin 13,000. (The categories do not add up to total opioid overdoses because a death may involve more than one drug.)
Prescription drugs can be obtained in the United States, but a border wall would not necessarily stop the flow of illicit opioids. Fentanyl, for example, typically originates from China and is sometimes trafficked directly into the United States or through Canada, according the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The most common way of transporting drugs like heroin into the United States, the D.E.A. reported in 2015, is stowing them in concealed compartments in vehicles through ports of entry. Other methods include using tunnels, drones, cargo trains and passenger buses — none of which would be prevented by a wall.
Is marijuana a gateway drug?
Mr. Kelly characterized marijuana as “potentially dangerous gateway drug” but there is no scientific consensuson this question. Somestudies have found that people who use marijuana are more likely to take other illicit drugs compared with those who do not, but that doesn’t mean cannabis causes users to seek other drugs.
The main active component in marijuana, THC, dulls the brain’s dopamine system, which can “prime” the brain and lead users to other drugs. But this is no different from those who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also notes that amajority of marijuana users do not use “harder” illicit drugs. Other factors like poverty, social environments, trauma, mental illness and individual characteristics are also critical factors for drug abuse and addiction.
Correction: April 27, 2017
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of an organization that researches drug use. It is the National Institute on Drug Abuse, not the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
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CHICAGO (AP) — Immigrant groups and their allies have joined forces to carry out marches, rallies and protests in cities nationwide next week to mark May Day, saying there’s renewed momentum to fight back against Trump administration policies.
Activists in major cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles expect tens of thousands of people to participate in Monday demonstrations, starting with morning neighborhood protests and culminating in rush hour events downtown. Activists also plan an overnight vigil in Phoenix, a farm workers demonstration outside Miami and a White House rally. In Seattle, pro-immigrant events are expected to give way to rowdier, anti-capitalist marches led by protesters who said they plan to shut down a major freeway through the city.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented amount of enthusiasm and activity,” said New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steven Choi. “It’s driven by the fact that Trump administration has made immigration the tip of the spear.”
Around the world, union members have traditionally marched on May 1 for workers’ rights. In the United States, the event became a rallying point for immigrants in 2006 when more than 1 million people marched against a proposed immigration enforcement bill.
While the current climate surrounding immigration may be similar to 2006 amid President Donald Trump’s hard-line approach to the issue, the immigrant rights movement has changed dramatically since then.
Advocacy groups that in 2006 were united in their determination to flood the streets to make a statement have fractured since then and pursued other efforts, such as voter registration, lobbying and fighting deportations.
However, activists expect a surge in participation this year, in part because immigrant rights groups have worked with Women’s March participants, Black Lives Matter and Muslim civil rights groups who are united by their opposition to Donald Trump. Also, businesses with immigrant ties are closing or allowing employees to take the day off without penalty.
Immigrant groups acknowledged there is some fear among people in the country illegally who are skittish about drawing attention to themselves in visible marches. But organizers are reminding them that it’s an important cause and there’s safety in numbers.
“If you are an immigrant in Los Angeles, the safest place you can be on Monday is in the action in downtown Los Angeles,” said David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West.
As Trump approaches his first 100 days, he has aggressively pursued immigration enforcement, including executive orders for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a ban on travelers from six predominantly-Muslim countries. The government has arrested thousands of immigrants in the country illegally and threatened to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, which limit cooperation between local and federal immigration authorities.
In response, leaders in sanctuary cities have vowed to fight back and civic participation has seen a boost, including February’s “Day Without Immigrants.” The travel ban and sanctuary order were temporarily halted by legal challenges.
“We will not be divided,” Pastor Don Taylor of an interfaith organizing group told Chicago supporters preparing this week for May 1. “It is a moral issue.”
Still, while there is opposition to Trump, activists aren’t focused on a single course of action.
In Illinois, they’re pushing legislative plans to essentially extend sanctuary protections statewide. Outside Miami, advocates are calling for an extension of temporary protected status for Haitians displaced by a deadly 2010 earthquake. In Detroit, the push is for immigrants’ constitutional rights, including due process.
In Los Angeles, organizers expect as many as 100,000. New York could see up to 50,000 participants. Chicago organizers estimate at least 20,000. In Pennsylvania, student groups are calling for strikes to demand a safe place for immigrants on campus, while in Las Vegas culinary workers will take to the casino-lined strip to show support.
In the Chicago area, dozens of restaurants and grocery stores planned to either close or allow workers to attend the demonstrations. In Portland, Oregon, unions, immigrants and others are urging people to skip work, school and shopping to highlight the importance of workers and the community’s strength.
Elsewhere, union leaders have asked employers to let workers participate. Google, for one, asked managers to be flexible in accommodating requests for time-off so employees can join marches.
Adonis Flores, an organizer with Michigan United, plans to participate for the first time on what’s long been known as International Workers Day.
The 28-year-old was brought to the country as a young child from Mexico and doesn’t have legal permission to stay. For four years, he’s received a work permit through an Obama administration program for young people, and doubts Trump’s assurances that his administration won’t target people like him for deportation.
“I don’t believe anything he says and don’t believe anybody should,” he said. “It’s getting to a point where the community is being tired and ready to take action.”
Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California. Astrid Galvan contributed from Phoenix.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump seems destined to serve his 100th day in office without House passage of a major Republican health care bill or enactment of a budget financing the government for the rest of this year. But at least the government probably won’t be shut down — for at least another week.
The House won’t vote on a reworked health care overhaul until at least next week, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters late Thursday. Party leaders made that decision after spending all day pressuring moderate GOP lawmakers to back that bill, but fell short of the votes they’d need to prevail.
“As soon as we have the votes, we’ll vote on it,” McCarthy said after leaving a nearly two-hour meeting of the House GOP leadership.
He ruled out votes on Friday or Saturday — which is Trump’s 100th day in the White House. That was a disappointment for the administration, whose officials had pressured House leaders all week to try completing the health measure by Saturday.
McCarthy also said Republicans would push through the House Friday a short-term spending bill keeping the government open for at least another week. They plan to pass it with only GOP votes, if necessary. Minority Democrats are threatening to withhold support unless there is a bipartisan deal on a massive $1 trillion measure funding agencies through Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends, and no final agreement has been reached.
“We’re working on the funding of government. We’re getting that through” on Friday, McCarthy said of the temporary spending measure.
Asked by reporters whether Republicans would have to pass the short-term bill without Democratic votes, McCarthy said, “Yeah.”
The struggle over both bills was embarrassing to the GOP, which has Trump in the White House and majorities in Congress. Republicans would have preferred to not be laboring to keep agencies functioning or approve a health care overhaul, the gold standard of GOP campaign promises for the past seven years.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said bargainers were “very close” to completing the $1 trillion budget package. But underscoring lingering battles over environmental and financial regulations, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blocked the Senate late Thursday from approving the short-term measure.
“No poison pill riders,” he said.
The bipartisan budget talks had progressed smoothly after the White House dropped a threat to withhold payments that help lower-income Americans pay their medical bills and Trump abandoned a demand for money for a border wall with Mexico.
With neither party savoring a federal shutdown, it seemed likely Congress would approve the week-long stopgap measure in time to keep agencies open.
On the separate health care bill, House Republican leaders are still scrounging for votes from their own rank-and-file to rescue it.
Republicans have recast it to let states escape a requirement under President Barack Obama’s 2010 law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. They could also be exempted from Obama’s mandate that insurers cover a list of services like hospitalization and substance abuse treatment and from its prohibition against charging older customers more than triple their rates for younger ones.
The overall legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate Obama’s fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies.
Centrist Republicans were the primary target of lobbying by the White House and GOP leaders seeking the 216 votes they would need to clinch passage of the health measure.
More than a dozen Republicans, mostly moderates, said they were opposing the legislation. Many others remained publicly uncommitted, putting party elders in a tough spot. If 22 Republicans defect, the bill would fail, assuming all Democrats opposed it.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wants to avoid an encore of last month’s embarrassment. He abruptly canceled a vote on a health care overhaul at that time because of opposition from moderates and conservatives alike.
On Wednesday, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus announced their support for the revised health legislation. That reversed the conservatives’ opposition to the earlier edition of the legislation.
AP reporters Erica Werner, Andrew Taylor and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
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BEIJING (AP) — China’s foreign ministry on Friday refused to confirm or deny U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assertion that Beijing has threatened to impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests.
Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang repeatedly avoided giving a direct answer when asked about the matter at a daily press briefing.
Tillerson said Thursday that China told the U.S. it had informed North Korea China would respond to a test by “taking sanctions actions on their own.”
China wants North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, but has opposed unilateral sanctions imposed without a U.N. mandate.
Beijing has come under growing U.S. pressure to use its leverage as North Korea’s largest trading partner and main source of food and fuel aid to compel Pyongyang to heed U.N. resolutions.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Neat certainties are rare in the North Korean nuclear crisis, which for decades has simmered and occasionally boiled over, without resolution.
So it was jarring to see the absolute confidence with which America’s top Pacific commander described the ability of a contentious U.S. missile defense system, scheduled to be up and running in days in South Korea, to shoot down North Korean missiles.
“If it flies, it will die,” Adm. Harry Harris Jr. told U.S. lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday.
Like nearly everything associated with the world’s last Cold War standoff, the truth is muddier.
To test the admiral’s assertion, The Associated Press asked a handful of specialists to weigh in on one of the biggest points of friction in Northeast Asia.
THAAD HAS LIMITS, UNKNOWNS
Harris does have some data to back up his bold statement.
After an early redesign, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, was reportedly successfully tested 12 times, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
A controlled test, however, is a much different matter than an actual war, where large numbers of missiles will be fired with little or no warning.
“Things that work well at home on the test range don’t always go as smoothly when deployed,” McDowell said.
A salvo of multiple North Korean short-range missiles, for instance, could overwhelm THAAD, said David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program.
THAAD will also be deployed about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Seoul, whose greater metropolitan area, about an hour from the heavily armed border, is home to 25 million. “It cannot engage missiles fired at Seoul, so it offers no additional protection of the city,” Wright said.
Some scientists are even blunter.
Harris’ comments about THAAD’s capabilities “are technically incorrect,” said Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The THAAD interceptor is very easily defeated by either causing a missile to tumble end over end, or by intentionally fragmenting a rocket into pieces.”
THAAD’s capabilities as a defense system “can be expected to be very low, probably zero or close to that,” Postol said.
THE POLITICAL ANGLE
Viewed one way, Harris’ declaration of confidence makes perfect sense.
A senior military official briefing lawmakers beholden to American taxpayers must show complete confidence in the very expensive piece of hardware that’s about to be deployed in a skittish U.S. ally living in direct range of North Korean missiles.
“Just imagine an Air Force general saying that his new jetfighters, designed for air superiority, will not stand a chance against the enemy fighters,” said Markus Schiller, a missile specialist in Germany. “The same is true for a missile defense system — once deployed, the commanding officer has to say it will work.”
The U.S. admiral may also have been looking to soothe South Korea.
THAAD is a big issue ahead of the May 9 presidential election, with the leading candidate, liberal Moon Jae-in, vowing to reconsider the deployment if he wins.
Some South Koreans wonder why the United States and the caretaker government that took over for recently removed President Park Geun-hye rushed key parts of THAAD into place before dawn this week, prompting violent clashes between local villagers and police.
THE CHINA ANGLE
Another subtext to the admiral’s comments on THAAD is China.
Beijing says THAAD’s powerful radar can be reconfigured to peer deep into its territory and monitor its flights and missile launches.
Seoul already sees moves by Beijing to retaliate, including limits on Chinese tour group visits to South Korea, which is increasingly dependent on Chinese tourism and demand for its industrial products.
Some experts are sympathetic with China’s argument.
Postol said THAAD’s radar can track Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles flying below the curved earth horizon of U.S. missile defense radars in Alaska. It could then send and receive critical missile defense information to U.S. monitors.
“This makes it possible for the THAAD radar to quickly acquire ICBMs launched from China well before the ICBMs rise over the horizon where they could be then seen by U.S. national missile defense radars,” Postol said.
Klug, AP bureau chief in Seoul, has reported on the Koreas since 2005. Follow on Twitter: www.twittter.com/@apklug
BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets were mixed Friday amid renewed jitters over North Korea and conflicting signals from President Donald Trump about U.S. trade policy.
KEEPING SCORE: London’s FTSE-100 index declined 0.2 percent to 7,219.36 while France’s CAC-40 gained 0.1 percent to 5,278.47 and Germany’s DAX advanced 0.1 percent to 12,454.93. On Thursday, the FTSE 100 lost 0.7 percent, the CAC declined 0.3 percent and the DAX lost 0.2 percent. On Wall Street, futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index were unchanged.
ASIA’S DAY: Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 lost 0.3 percent to 19,196.74 while the Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.1 percent to 3,154.66. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined 0.3 percent to 24,615.13 and Seoul’s Kospi shed 0.2 percent to 2,205.44. India’s Sensex retreated 0.3 percent to 29,944.03 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 was unchanged at 5,924.10. Benchmarks in New Zealand and Singapore gained while other Southeast Asian markets declined.
NORTH KOREA: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on the Fox News Channel that China has threatened to impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests. The Trump administration is trying to pressure Pyongyang with assistance from China, its main trading partner and aid donor, as the U.S. exerts economic and diplomatic pressure to push North Korea to change course from developing nuclear weapons.
TRUMP AND TRADE: The Trump administration rattled companies and investors this week by leaking a possible plan to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Hours later, Trump backtracked and said he would try to overhaul the deal and would only pull out if he couldn’t secure favorable terms. Earlier this month, Trump reversed course on China and dropped a campaign promise to declare Beijing a currency manipulator. Nor has he followed up on vows to punish American companies that move jobs overseas or on threats to tax Chinese and Mexican imports.
ANALYST’S TAKE: Market sentiment is lagging hard data that show better European and Japanese economic growth, falling U.S. unemployment and rising Chinese exports, DBS Group said in a report. “What’s the bottom line to all this? Simple: the hard data isn’t going to look a lot better in 2017 than it did in 2016 anywhere in the world. But that’s because 2016 was already experiencing a very significant improvement that most simply refused to recognize.”
TRUMP AND TAXES: Trump’s proposal to cut corporate and capital gains taxes could draw money out of Asian stock markets and financial industries. A proposal to encourage U.S. companies to bring home profits could cause capital to “flee away from emerging markets,” said Margaret Yang of CMC Markets in a report. She said the attractiveness of Singapore and Hong Kong as wealth management centers would be “significantly diminished” by a U.S. capital gains tax cut, which would encourage Americans to move money home.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude jumped 50 cents to $49.47 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 65 cents on Thursday to close at $48.97. Brent crude, used to price international oils, surged 44 cents to $52.26 in London. It lost 59 cents the previous session to $51.82.
CURRENCY: The dollar gained to 111.38 yen from Thursday’s 111.26 yen. The euro rose to $1.0938 from $1.0874.
(Editor’s note: Look, I just want you to read the interview and come up with your own conclusion. But, wow – this guy is totally unfit for the position of President of the United States. Seriously, we are in trouble.)
(PhatzNewsRoom / AP) —- A transcript of an Oval Office interview Friday with President Donald Trump by AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace. Where the audio recording of the interview is unclear, ellipses or a notation that the recording was unintelligible are used.
AP: I do want to talk to you about the 100 days.
AP: I want to ask a few questions on some topics that are happening toward the end of the interview.
TRUMP: Did you see Aya (Hijazi, an Egyptian-American charity worker who had been detained in the country for nearly three years) …
AP: Can you tell me a little bit about how that came about?
TRUMP: No, just — you know, I asked the government to let her out. …
TRUMP: You know Obama worked on it for three years, got zippo, zero.
AP: How did you hear about this story?
TRUMP: Many people, human rights people, are talking about it. It’s an incredible thing, especially when you meet her. You realize — I mean, she was in a rough place.
AP: Did you have to strike a deal with (Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah) el-Sissi over this?
TRUMP: No. No deal. He was here. He — I said, “I really would appreciate it if you would look into this and let her out.” And as you know, she went through a trial. And anyway, she was let go. And not only she, it was a total of eight people. …
TRUMP: Yeah, it’s funny: One of the best chemistries I had was with (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel.
(Crosstalk) AP: Really?
TRUMP: Chancellor Merkel.
TRUMP: And I guess somebody shouted out, “Shake her hand, shake her hand,” you know. But I never heard it. But I had already shaken her hand four times. You know, because we were together for a long time.
AP: Did you expect you would have good chemistry with her?
TRUMP: No. Because, um, I’m at odds on, you know, the NATO payments and I’m at odds on immigration. We had unbelievable chemistry. And people have given me credit for having great chemistry with all of the leaders, including el-Sissi. …
TRUMP: So it was a great thing to see that happen.
AP: Do you feel like you have changed the office of the presidency, how the presidency can be used to effect change?
TRUMP: I think the 100 days is, you know, it’s an artificial barrier. It’s not very meaningful. I think I’ve established amazing relationships that will be used the four or eight years, whatever period of time I’m here. I think for that I would be getting very high marks because I’ve established great relationships with countries, as President el-Sissi has shown and others have shown. Well, if you look at the president of China, people said they’ve never seen anything like what’s going on right now. I really liked him a lot. I think he liked me. We have a great chemistry together. …
TRUMP: I’ve developed great relationships with all of these leaders. Nobody’s written that. In fact, they said, “Oh, well, he’s not treating them nicely,” because on NATO, I want them to pay up. But I still get along with them great, and they will pay up. In fact, with the Italian prime minister yesterday, you saw, we were joking, “Come on, you have to pay up, you have to pay up.” He’ll pay.
AP: Did he say that? In your meeting? Your private meeting?
TRUMP: He’s going to end up paying. But you know, nobody ever asked the question. Nobody asked. Nobody ever asked him to pay up. So it’s a different kind of a presidency.
AP: Do you feel like that’s one thing that you’ve changed, that you maybe are actually asking the direct questions about some of these things?
TRUMP: Yeah. Let me give me an example. A little before I took office there was a terrible article about the F-35 fighter jet. It was hundreds of billions of dollars over budget. It was seven years behind schedule. It was a disaster. So I called in Lockheed and I said, “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to bid this out to another company, namely Boeing,” or whoever else. But Boeing. And I called in Boeing and I started getting competing offers back and forth. …
TRUMP: I saved $725 million on the 90 planes. Just 90. Now there are 3,000 planes that are going to be ordered. On 90 planes I saved $725 million. It’s actually a little bit more than that, but it’s $725 million. Gen. Mattis, who had to sign the deal when it came to his office, said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” We went from a company that wanted more money for the planes to a company that cut. And the reason they cut — same planes, same everything — was because of me. I mean, because that’s what I do.
TRUMP: Now if you multiply that times 3,000 planes, you know this is on 90 planes. In fact, when the Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe of Japan came in because they bought a certain number of those … The first thing he said to me, because it was right at the time I did it, he said, “Could I thank you?” I said, “What?” He said, “You saved us $100 million.” Because they got a $100 million savings on the 10 or 12 planes that they (bought). Nobody wrote that story. Now you know that’s a saving of billions and billions of dollars, many billions of dollars over the course of — it’s between 2,500 and 3,000 planes will be the final order. But this was only 90 of those 2,500 planes.
AP: And you expect those savings to carry out across that full order?
TRUMP: More. I’m gonna get more than that. This was a thing that was out of control and now it’s great. And the woman that runs Lockheed, Marillyn (Hewson), she was great. But all of a sudden it was a different kind of a thing. You know?
AP: Do you feel like you’ve been able to apply that kind of a relationship to your dealings with Congress as well?
TRUMP: I have great relationships with Congress. I think we’re doing very well and I think we have a great foundation for future things. We’re going to be applying, I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’re going to be announcing, probably on Wednesday, tax reform. And it’s — we’ve worked on it long and hard. And you’ve got to understand, I’ve only been here now 93 days, 92 days. President Obama took 17 months to do Obamacare. I’ve been here 92 days but I’ve only been working on the health care, you know I had to get like a little bit of grounding right? Health care started after 30 day(s), so I’ve been working on health care for 60 days. …You know, we’re very close. And it’s a great plan, you know, we have to get it approved.
AP: Is it this deal that’s between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus, is that the deal you’re looking at?
TRUMP: So the Republican Party has various groups, all great people. They’re great people. But some are moderate, some are very conservative. The Democrats don’t seem to have that nearly as much. You know the Democrats have, they don’t have that. The Republicans do have that. And I think it’s fine. But you know there’s a pretty vast area in there. And I have a great relationship with all of them. Now, we have government not closing. I think we’ll be in great shape on that. It’s going very well. Obviously, that takes precedent.
AP: That takes precedent over health care? For next week?
TRUMP: Yeah, sure. Next week. Because the hundred days is just an artificial barrier. The press keeps talking about the hundred days. But we’ve done a lot. You have a list of things. I don’t have to read it.
AP: You did put out though, as a candidate, you put out a 100-day plan. Do you feel like you should be held accountable to that plan?
TRUMP: Somebody, yeah, somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan. But yeah. Well, I’m mostly there on most items. Go over the items, and I’ll talk to you …
TRUMP: But things change. There has to be flexibility. Let me give you an example. President Xi, we have a, like, a really great relationship. For me to call him a currency manipulator and then say, “By the way, I’d like you to solve the North Korean problem,” doesn’t work. So you have to have a certain flexibility, Number One. Number Two, from the time I took office till now, you know, it’s a very exact thing. It’s not like generalities. Do you want a Coke or anything?
AP: I’m OK, thank you. No. …
TRUMP: But President Xi, from the time I took office, he has not, they have not been currency manipulators. Because there’s a certain respect because he knew I would do something or whatever. But more importantly than him not being a currency manipulator the bigger picture, bigger than even currency manipulation, if he’s helping us with North Korea, with nuclear and all of the things that go along with it, who would call, what am I going to do, say, “By the way, would you help us with North Korea? And also, you’re a currency manipulator.” It doesn’t work that way.
TRUMP: And the media, some of them get it, in all fairness. But you know some of them either don’t get it, in which case they’re very stupid people, or they just don’t want to say it. You know because of a couple of them said, “He didn’t call them a currency manipulator.” Well, for two reasons. Number One, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have — they’ve actually — their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula. And I said, “How badly have they been,” … they said, “Since you got to office they have not manipulated their currency.” That’s Number One, but much more important, they are working with us on North Korea. Now maybe that’ll work out or maybe it won’t. Can you imagine? …
AP: So in terms of the 100-day plan that you did put out during the campaign, do you feel, though, that people should hold you accountable to this in terms of judging success?
TRUMP: No, because much of the foundation’s been laid. Things came up. I’ll give you an example. I didn’t put Supreme Court judge on the 100 (day) plan, and I got a Supreme Court judge.
AP: I think it’s on there.
TRUMP: I don’t know. …
AP: “Begin the process of selecting.” You actually exceeded on this one. This says, “Begin the process of selecting a replacement.”
TRUMP: That’s the biggest thing I’ve done.
AP: Do you consider that your biggest success?
TRUMP: Well, I — first of all I think he’s a great man. I think he will be a great, great justice of the Supreme Court. I have always heard that the selection and the affirmation of a Supreme Court judge is the biggest thing a president can do. Don’t forget, he could be there for 40 years. … He’s a young man. I’ve always heard that that’s the biggest thing. Now, I would say that defense is the biggest thing. You know, to be honest, there are a number of things. But I’ve always heard that the highest calling is the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. I’ve done one in my first 70 days.
TRUMP: Our military is so proud. They were not proud at all. They had their heads down. Now they have their heads up. …
TRUMP: I’m rebuilding the military. We have great people. We have great things in place. We have tremendous borders. I mention the F-35 because if I can save $725 million — look at that, that’s a massive amount of money. And I’ll save more as we make more planes. If I can save that on a small number of planes — Gen. (Jim) Mattis (the defense secretary) said, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” because he had to sign the ultimate (unintelligible) … He had to sign the ultimate, you know. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before, as long as I’ve been in the military.” You know, that kind of cutting.
TRUMP: Now, if I can do that (unintelligible) … As an example, the aircraft carriers, billions of dollars, the Gerald Ford, billions and billions over budget. That won’t happen.
AP: Is that something you’re going to take on?
TRUMP: (unintelligible) But as we order the other ones, because they want to order 12, the other ones are going to come in much less expensive. …
AP: Can I ask you, over your first 100 days — you’re not quite there yet — how do you feel like the office has changed you?
TRUMP: Well the one thing I would say — and I say this to people — I never realized how big it was. Everything’s so (unintelligible) like, you know the orders are so massive. I was talking to —
AP: You mean the responsibility of it, or do you mean —
TRUMP: Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that’s involved,” because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away — and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet …. every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. (unintelligible) … This is involving death and life and so many things. … So it’s far more responsibility. (unintelligible) ….The financial cost of everything is so massive, every agency. This is thousands of times bigger, the United States, than the biggest company in the world. The second-largest company in the world is the Defense Department. The third-largest company in the world is Social Security. The fourth-largest — you know, you go down the list.
TRUMP. It’s massive. And every agency is, like, bigger than any company. So you know, I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility. You know, the human life that’s involved in some of the decisions.
AP: You’ve talked a little bit about the way that you’ve brought some business skills into the office. Is there anything from your business background that just doesn’t translate into the presidency, that just simply is not applicable to this job?
TRUMP: Well in business, you don’t necessarily need heart, whereas here, almost everything affects people. So if you’re talking about health care — you have health care in business but you’re trying to just negotiate a good price on health care, et cetera, et cetera. You’re providing health. This is (unintelligible). Here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government, involves heart, whereas in business, most things don’t involve heart.
AP: What’s that switch been like for you?
TRUMP: In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.
AP: What’s making that switch been like for you?
TRUMP: You have to love people. And if you love people, such a big responsibility. (unintelligible) You can take any single thing, including even taxes. I mean we’re going to be doing major tax reform. Here’s part of your story, it’s going to be a big (unintelligible). Everybody’s saying, “Oh, he’s delaying.” I’m not delaying anything. I’ll tell you the other thing is (unintelligible). I used to get great press. I get the worst press. I get such dishonest reporting with the media. That’s another thing that really has — I’ve never had anything like it before. It happened during the primaries, and I said, you know, when I won, I said, “Well the one thing good is now I’ll get good press.” And it got worse. (unintelligible) So that was one thing that a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought the press would become better, and it actually, in my opinion, got more nasty.
AP: But in terms of tax reform, how are you going to roll that out next week?
TRUMP: Well I’m going to roll (out) probably on Wednesday, around Wednesday of next week, we’re putting out a massive tax reform — business and for people — we want to do both. We’ve been working on it (unintelligible). Secretary Mnuchin is a very talented person, very smart. Very successful (unintelligible). … We’re going to be putting that out on Wednesday or shortly thereafter. Let me leave a little room just in case (unintelligible). … And that’s a big story, because a lot of people think I’m going to put it out much later.
AP: Do you have any details on that in terms of rates?
TRUMP: Only in terms that it will be a massive tax cut. It will be bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever. Maybe the biggest tax cut we’ve ever had. …
AP: Obviously, that’s going to come in a week where you’re going to be running up against the deadline for keeping the government open. If you get a bill on your desk that does not include funding for the wall, will you sign it?
TRUMP: I don’t know yet. People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I’ve always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the electoral college. The electoral college — but it’s a whole different campaign (unintelligible). The electoral college is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall, they want to see security. Now, it just came out that they’re 73 percent down. … That’s a tremendous achievement. … Look at this, in 100 days, that down to the lowest in 17 years and it’s going lower. Now, people aren’t coming because they know they’re not going to get through, and there isn’t crime. You know the migration up to the border is horrible for women, you know that? (Unintelligible.) Now, much of that’s stopped because they can’t get through.
AP: It sounds like maybe you’re beginning to send a message that if you do get a spending bill that doesn’t have border funding in there, you would sign it.
TRUMP: Well, first of all, the wall will cost much less than the numbers I’m seeing. I’m seeing numbers, I mean, this wall is not going to be that expensive.
AP: What do you think the estimate on it would be?
TRUMP: Oh I’m seeing numbers — $24 billion, I think I’ll do it for $10 billion or less. That’s not a lot of money relative to what we’re talking about. If we stop 1 percent of the drugs from coming in — and we’ll stop all of it. But if we stop 1 percent of the drugs because we have the wall — they’re coming around in certain areas, but if you have a wall, they can’t do it because it’s a real wall. That’s a tremendously good investment, 1 percent. The drugs pouring through on the southern border are unbelievable. We’re becoming a drug culture, there’s so much. And most of it’s coming from the southern border. The wall will stop the drugs.
AP: But, just trying to nail you down on it one more time, will you sign a spending bill if it doesn’t have —
TRUMP: I don’t want to comment. I just don’t know yet. I mean, I have to see what’s going on. I really do. But the wall’s a very important thing to — not only my base, but to the people. And even if it wasn’t, I mean I’ll do things that aren’t necessarily popular. … The wall is very important to stopping drugs.
AP: If you don’t have a funding stream, your message to your base is what?
TRUMP: My base understands the wall is going to get built, whether I have it funded here or if I get it funded shortly thereafter, that wall’s getting built, OK? One hundred percent. One hundred percent it’s getting built. And it’s also getting built for much less money — I hope you get this — than these people are estimating. The opponents are talking $25 billion for the wall. It’s not going to cost anywhere near that.
AP: You think $10 billion or less.
TRUMP: I think $10 billion or less. And if I do a super-duper, higher, better, better security, everything else, maybe it goes a little bit more. But it’s not going to be anywhere near (those) kind of numbers. And they’re using those numbers; they’re using the high numbers to make it sound impalatable (sic). And the fact it’s going to cost much less money, just like the airplane I told you about, which I hope you can write about.
TRUMP: They had a quote from me that NATO’s obsolete. But they didn’t say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, “And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.” You know, back when they did NATO there was no such thing as terrorism.
AP: What specifically has NATO changed?
TRUMP: (Cites Wall Street Journal article) … I did an interview with Wolf Blitzer, and I said NATO was obsolete — I said two things — obsolete, and the country’s aren’t paying. I was right about both. I took such heat for about three days on both, because nobody ever criticized NATO. I took heat like you wouldn’t believe. And then some expert on NATO said, “You know, Trump is right.” But I said it was obsolete because they weren’t focused on terror. …
It’s not fair that we’re paying close to 4 percent and other countries that are more directly affected are paying 1 percent when they’re supposed to be paying 2 percent. And I’m very strong on it and I’m going to be very strong on it when I go there in a month.”
AP: This morning you tweeted that after the possible terrorist attack in Paris, that it will have a big effect on the upcoming French election. What did you mean by that?
TRUMP: Well, I think it will have a big effect on who people are going to vote for in the election.
AP: Do you think it’s going to help Marine Le Pen?
TRUMP: I think so.
AP: Do you believe that she should be the president?
TRUMP: No, I have no comment on that, but I think that it’ll probably help her because she is the strongest on borders and she is the strongest on what’s been going on in France.
AP: Do you worry at all that by saying that, that a terrorist attack would have an impact on a democratic election, that it would actually embolden terrorists to try to —.
TRUMP: No. Look, everybody is making predictions who is going to win. I am no different than you, you could say the same thing. …
AP: I just wonder if you are encouraging, you are the president of the United States, so to say that you worry that it encourages terrorists …
TRUMP: No, I am no different than — no, I think it discourages terrorists, I think it discourages. I think what we’ve done on the border discourages it. I think that my stance on having people come in to this country that we have no idea who they are and in certain cases you will have radical Islamic terrorism. I’m not going to have it in this country. I’m not going to let what happened to France and other places happen here. And it’s already largely, you know — we have tens — we have hundreds of thousands of people that have been allowed into our country that should not be here. They shouldn’t be here. We have people allowed into our country with no documentation whatsoever. They have no documentation and they were allowed under the previous administrations, they were allowed into our country. It’s a big mistake.
AP: Just so that I am clear. You are not endorsing her for the office, but you are —
TRUMP: I am not endorsing her and I didn’t mention her name.
AP: Right, I just wanted to make sure I have that clear.
TRUMP: I believe whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well at the election. I am not saying that person is going to win, she is not even favored to win, you know. Right now, she is in second place.
AP: I have a question on the markets, actually. One thing that I think has been different about this White House is that you do point to the markets as a sign of progress. Do you worry, though — I mean, the markets go up and down.
TRUMP: You live by the sword, you die by the sword, to a certain extent. But we create a lot of jobs, 500,000 jobs as of two months ago, and plenty created since. Five hundred thousand. … As an example, Ford, General Motors. I’ve had cases where the gentleman from China, Ma, Jack Ma (chairman of Alibaba Group), he comes up, he says, “Only because of you am I making this massive investment.” Intel, only because of you. … The press never writes that.
AP: What about NAFTA? What’s the plan on NAFTA?
TRUMP: What would you like to know?
AP: I would like to know what your plan is in terms of renegotiating.
TRUMP: I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States, trading agreement for the United States. It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico. Most people don’t even think of NAFTA in terms of Canada. You saw what happened yesterday in my statements, because if you look at the dairy farmers in Wisconsin and upstate New York, they are getting killed by NAFTA.
AP: Is your plan still, though, to renegotiate the whole deal?
TRUMP: I am going to either renegotiate it or I am going to terminate it.
AP: Termination is still on the table.
TRUMP: Absolutely. If they don’t treat fairly, I am terminating NAFTA.
AP: What’s a timeline for that decision?
TRUMP: It’s a six-month termination clause, I have the right to do it, it’s a six-month clause.
AP: If I could fit a couple of more topics. Jeff Sessions, your attorney general, is taking a tougher line suddenly on Julian Assange, saying that arresting him is a priority. You were supportive of what WikiLeaks was doing during the campaign with the release of the Clinton emails. Do you think that arresting Assange is a priority for the United States?
TRUMP: When Wikileaks came out … never heard of Wikileaks, never heard of it. When Wikileaks came out, all I was just saying is, “Well, look at all this information here, this is pretty good stuff.” You know, they tried to hack the Republican, the RNC, but we had good defenses. They didn’t have defenses, which is pretty bad management. But we had good defenses, they tried to hack both of them. They weren’t able to get through to Republicans. No, I found it very interesting when I read this stuff and I said, “Wow.” It was just a figure of speech. I said, “Well, look at this. It’s good reading.”
AP: But that didn’t mean that you supported what Assange is doing?
TRUMP: No, I don’t support or unsupport. It was just information. They shouldn’t have allowed it to get out. If they had the proper defensive devices on their internet, you know, equipment, they wouldn’t even allow the FBI. How about this — they get hacked, and the FBI goes to see them, and they won’t let the FBI see their server. But do you understand, nobody ever writes it. Why wouldn’t (former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John) Podesta and Hillary Clinton allow the FBI to see the server? They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based.
TRUMP: That’s what I heard. I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian, that’s what I heard. But they brought in another company to investigate the server. Why didn’t they allow the FBI in to investigate the server? I mean, there is so many things that nobody writes about. It’s incredible.
AP: Can I just ask you, though — do you believe it is a priority for the United States, or it should be a priority, to arrest Julian Assange?
TRUMP: I am not involved in that decision, but if Jeff Sessions wants to do it, it’s OK with me. I didn’t know about that decision, but if they want to do it, it’s OK with me.
AP: On Iran, which is another thing you talked a lot on the campaign —
TRUMP: And the other thing that we should go after is the leakers. …
AP: On Iran, you also talked about it quite a bit on the campaign trail. And you said in the press conference yesterday that you think that Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement. When you say that, do you mean in terms of the actual nuclear accord, or do you mean what they are doing in the region?
TRUMP: In terms of what they are doing all over the Middle East and beyond.
AP: So you believe that they are complying with the agreement?
TRUMP: No, I don’t say that. I say that I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement. There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.
AP: In terms of what they are doing elsewhere in the Middle East?
TRUMP: In terms of what they are doing of all over.
AP: When you talk to European leaders, when you talk to Merkel, for example, or Teresa May, what do they say about the nuclear deal? Do they want you to stay in that deal?
TRUMP: I don’t talk to them about it.
AP: You don’t talk to them about the Iran deal?
TRUMP: I mention it, but it’s very personal when I talk to them, you know, it’s confidential. No, they have their own opinions. I don’t say that they are different than my opinions, but I’d rather have you ask them that question.
AP: At this point, do you believe that you will stay in the nuclear deal?
TRUMP: It’s possible that we won’t.
AP: Dreamers, you’ve talked about them, you’ve talked about heart earlier. This is one area where you have talked —
TRUMP: No, we aren’t looking to do anything right now. Look, the dreamers … this is an interesting case, they left and they came back and he’s got some problems, it’s a little different than the dreamer case, right? But we are putting MS-13 in jail and getting them the hell out of our country. They’ve taken over towns and cities and we are being really brutal with MS-13, and that’s what we should be. They are a bad group, and somebody said they are as bad as al-Qaida, which is a hell of a reference. So we are moving criminals out of our country and we are getting them out in record numbers and those are the people we are after. We are not after the dreamers, we are after the criminals.
AP: And that’s going to be the policy of your administration to allow the dreamers to stay?
TRUMP: Yes. Yes. That’s our policy. I am not saying … long-term, we are going to have to fix the problem, the whole immigration problem. But I will tell you: Right now we have a great gentleman, one of my real stars is Gen. (John) Kelly, now (Homeland Security) Secretary Kelly. We are down 73 percent at the border, we are cleaning out cities and towns of hard-line criminals, some of the worst people on earth, people that rape and kill women, people that are killing people just for the sake of having fun. They are being thrown in jails and they are being … all over the country and nobody’s ever done it like us, so we are being unbelievably thorough with that. We are out in Long Island cleaning out the MS-13 scum, they are all scum, that’s probably the worst gang anywhere on Earth. …
AP: A lot of the dreamers have been hoping to hear something from you. I don’t want to give them the wrong message with this.
TRUMP: Here is what they can hear: The dreamers should rest easy. OK? I’ll give you that. The dreamers should rest easy. …
(An aide talks about the president’s address to Congress.)
TRUMP: A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber.
AP: You seem like you enjoyed it.
TRUMP: I did. I did. I believed in it and I enjoyed it. It was a great feeling to introduce the wife of a great young soldier who died getting us very valuable information. Have you seen the tremendous success? … That’s another thing that nobody talks about. Have you seen the tremendous success we’ve had in the Middle East with the ISIS (an abbreviation for the Islamic State group)? When (current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al) Abadi left from Iraq, he said Trump has more success in eight weeks than Obama had in eight years. … We have had tremendous success, but we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it.
AP: Do you mean you don’t talk about it personally because you don’t want to talk about it?
TRUMP: I don’t talk about it. No. And the generals don’t talk about it.
AP: You had put a request into the Pentagon to put forward an ISIS plan within 30 days. I know they have sent that over. Have you accepted a plan? Are you moving forward on a strategy?
TRUMP: We have a very strong plan, but we cannot talk about it, Julie.
AP: So you have decided on a plan?
TRUMP: Remember how many times have you been to the speech where I talked about Mosul.
TRUMP. Right. Mosul. Four months we are going in, three months. We are still fighting Mosul. You know why? Because they were prepared. If we would have gone in and just done it, it would have been over three months ago.
AP: Can you say generally what the strategy is? Should people —
TRUMP: Generally is we have got to get rid of ISIS. We have no choice. And other terrorist organizations.
AP: Should Americans who are serving in the military expect that you are going to increase troop numbers in the Middle East to fight ISIS?
TRUMP: No, not much.
AP: In terms of the strategy, though, that you have accepted, it sounds like, from the generals —
TRUMP: Well, they’ve also accepted my strategy.
AP: Does that involve more troops on the ground, it sounds like?
TRUMP: Not many.
AP: So a small increase?
TRUMP: It could be an increase, then an increase. But not many more. I want to do the job, but not many more. … This is an important story. I’ve done a lot. I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days and I think the first 100 days is an artificial barrier. And I’m scheduled … the foundations have been set to do some great things. With foreign countries. Look at, look at President Xi. I mean …
AP: What do you think it was about your chemistry?
TRUMP: We had good chemistry. Now I don’t know that I think that’s going to produce results but you’ve got a good chance.
TRUMP: Look, he turned down many coal ships. These massive coal ships are coming where they get a lot of their income. They’re coming into China and they’re being turned away. That’s never happened before. The fuel, the oil, so many different things. You saw the editorial they had in their paper saying they cannot be allowed to have nuclear, you know, et cetera. People have said they’ve never seen this ever before in China. We have the same relationship with others. There’s a great foundation that’s built. Great foundation. And I think it’s going to produce tremendous results for our country.
AP: One more 100 days question.
TRUMP: That’s fine.
AP: … is do you think you have the right team in place for your next 100 days?
TRUMP: Yes. I think my team has been, well, I have different teams. I think my military team has been treated with great respect. As they should be. I think my other team hasn’t been treated with the respect that they should get. We have some very talented people, and very diverse people.
AP: Do you mean your White House team when you say that?
TRUMP: Yeah, my White House team. I think Reince (Priebus) has been doing an excellent job. I think that, you know, this is a very tough environment not caused necessarily by me. Although the election has, you know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the electoral college, as I said, is so skewed to them. You start off by losing in New York and California, no matter who it is. If, if Abe Lincoln came back to life, he would lose New York and he would lose California. It’s just the registration, there’s nothing you can do. So you’re losing the two biggest states, that’s where you start. OK. The Electoral College is so skewed in favor of a Democrat that it’s very, very hard. Look at Obama’s number in the Electoral College. His numbers on the win were … but the Electoral College numbers were massive. You lose New York, you lose Illinois. Illinois is impossible to win. And you look at, so now you lose New York, Illinois, no matter what you do, and California. Right. And you say, man. Now you have to win Florida, you have to win Ohio, you have to win North Carolina. You have to win all these states, and then I won Wisconsin and Michigan and all of these other places, but you remember there was no way to, there was no way to 270.
TRUMP: So she had this massive advantage, she spent hundreds of millions of dollars more money than I spent. Hundreds of millions … Yeah. Or more, actually because we were $375 she was at $2.2 billion. But whatever. She spent massive amounts of money more and she lost. Solidly lost, because you know it wasn’t 270, it was 306. So there’s anger. But there was massive anger before I got there, so it’s not easy for a White House staff to realize that you are going into a situation where you are going to be at no, where are going to get no votes. I mean, here’s a judge who is No. 1 at Columbia, No. 1 at Harvard and an Oxford scholar. And he got three votes.
AP: Three Democratic votes, but yeah.
TRUMP: Three Democratic votes. OK. He’s an Oxford scholar at the highest level. The No. 1, you know, one of the great academics, one of the great writers. No bad decisions with all … nothing. He’s like a …
AP: Do you think that you can break through that? I mean this —
TRUMP: Yeah, I do.
AP: Is one of the biggest challenges for a president.
TRUMP: I think (I) can to an extent. But there’s a, there’s a basic hard-line core that you can’t break though, OK, that you can’t break through. There’s a hard-line group you can’t break through, you can’t. It’s sad. You can’t. Look, I met with Congressman Cummings and I really liked him, a lot. Elijah Cummings (of Maryland). I really liked him a lot. And during the conversation because we have a very strong mutual feeling on drug prices. He came to see me, at my invitation, because I saw him talking about, he came to see me about drug prices because drug prices are ridiculous. And I am going to get them way, way, way down and he liked that. He said you will be the greatest president. He said you will be, in front of five, six people, he said you will be the greatest president in the history of this country.
AP: He disputed that slightly.
TRUMP: That’s what he said. I mean, what can I tell you?
TRUMP: There’s six people sitting here. What did he, what, what do you mean by slightly?
AP: He said, he said that he felt like you could be a great president if and then —
TRUMP: Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.
AP: And that’s one of the difficulties I think presidents have had is that you can have these personal relationships with people from the other party, but then it’s hard to actually change how people vote or change how people —
TRUMP: No I have, it’s interesting, I have, seem to get very high ratings. I definitely. You know Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it’s the highest in the history of the show. I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple. Chris Wallace, look back during the Army-Navy football game, I did his show that morning.
AP: I remember, right.
TRUMP: It had 9.2 million people. It’s the highest they’ve ever had. On any, on air, (CBS “Face the Nation” host John) Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It’s the highest for “Face the Nation” or as I call it, “Deface the Nation.” It’s the highest for “Deface the Nation” since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It’s a tremendous advantage.
I have learned one thing, because I get treated very unfairly, that’s what I call it, the fake media. And the fake media is not all of the media. You know they tried to say that the fake media was all the, no. The fake media is some of you. I could tell you who it is, 100 percent. Sometimes you’re fake, but — but the fake media is some of the media. It bears no relationship to the truth. It’s not that Fox treats me well, it’s that Fox is the most accurate.
AP: Do you believe that? That Fox —
TRUMP: I do. I get treated so badly. Yesterday, about the thing, you know when I said it’s a terrorism … it may be. I said it may be a terrorist attack and MSNBC, I heard, went crazy, “He called it a terrorist attack.” They thought it was a bank robbery. By the way, I’m 10-0 for that. I’ve called every one of them. Every time they said I called it way too early and then it turns out I’m … Whatever. Whatever. In the meantime, I’m here and they’re not.
AP: Do you feel that one of the things with cable is there’s such real-time reaction with everything you say?
AP: Can you separate that sometimes from that actual decision?
TRUMP: The one thing —
AP: That you have to do —
TRUMP: OK. The one thing I’ve learned to do that I never thought I had the ability to do. I don’t watch CNN anymore.
AP: You just said you did.
TRUMP: No. No, I, if I’m passing it, what did I just say (inaudible)?
AP: You just said —
TRUMP: Where? Where?
AP: Two minutes ago.
TRUMP: No, they treat me so badly. No, I just said that. No, I, what’d I say, I stopped watching them. But I don’t watch CNN anymore. I don’t watch MSNBC. I don’t watch it. Now I heard yesterday that MSNBC, you know, they tell me what’s going on.
TRUMP: In fact, they also did. I never thought I had the ability to not watch. Like, people think I watch (MSNBC’s) “Morning Joe.” I don’t watch “Morning Joe.” I never thought I had the ability to, and who used to treat me great by the way, when I played the game. I never thought I had the ability to not watch what is unpleasant, if it’s about me. Or pleasant. But when I see it’s such false reporting and such bad reporting and false reporting that I’ve developed an ability that I never thought I had. I don’t watch things that are unpleasant. I just don’t watch them.
AP: And do you feel like that’s, that’s because of the office that you now occupy —
AP: That you’ve made that change?
TRUMP: I don’t know why it is, but I’ve developed that ability, and it’s happened over the last, over the last year.
AP: That’s interesting.
TRUMP: And I don’t watch things that I know are going to be unpleasant. CNN has covered me unfairly and incorrectly and I don’t watch them anymore. A lot of people don’t watch them anymore, they’re now in third place. But I’ve created something where people are watching … but I don’t watch CNN anymore. I don’t watch MSNBC anymore. I don’t watch things, and I never thought I had that ability. I always thought I’d watch.
TRUMP: I just don’t. And that’s taken place over the last year. And you know what that is, that’s a great, it’s a great thing because you leave, you leave for work in the morning you know, you’re, you don’t watch this total negativity. I never thought I’d be able to do that and for me, it’s so easy to do now. Just don’t watch.
AP: That’s interesting.
TRUMP: Maybe it’s because I’m here. I don’t know.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dismissing concerns about ballooning federal deficits, President Donald Trump on Wednesday proposed dramatic tax cuts for U.S. businesses and individuals — outlining an overhaul his administration promises will spur economic growth and simplify America’s tangle of tax code rules.
His proposal, a one-page sketch short on detail, would reduce the top corporate tax rate by 20 percentage points and allow private business owners to claim the new lower rate for their take-home pay. It would whittle the number of tax brackets for individuals from seven to three, lower the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent and double the standard amount taxpayers could deduct.
It would eliminate the estate tax and reduce taxes on investments, typically paid by the rich. It would further reduce the tax burden for the wealthy by eliminating the catch-all alternative minimum tax, which takes an additional bite out of high-income Americans.
More lower-income Americans would pay no tax at all, and there would be relief — still undefined — for families with child care expenses.
The plan does not propose any budget cuts or tax increases that might offset the lost revenue, a choice that alarms some fiscal conservatives in Trump’s party who have spent years railing about the dangers of deficit spending.
It also does not fully embrace tax proposals backed by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, an essential ally if the president is to make good on his promise to deliver a tax overhaul that creates growth and brings jobs to struggling parts of the country.
Still, “I would never, ever bet against this president. He will get this done for the American people,” said Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council. “He understands that there are a lot people who work hard and feel like they’re not getting ahead.”
The president’s proposal marks a rehash of an economic theory popularized in the 1980s. Trump officials essentially argue that benefits from the tax cuts will trickle down from higher profits for companies into stronger pay raises for workers and greater consumer spending. This expected surge in growth, in theory, would be enough to keep the federal budget deficit from shooting upward.
Some economists agree, but most budget experts say it’s unlikely.
“Unfortunately, it seems the administration is using economic growth like magic beans — the cheap solution to all our problems,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “But there is no golden goose at the top of the tax cut beanstalk, just mountains of debt.”
Trump’s plan resembles aspects of the tax ideas he campaigned on last year. The right-learning Tax Foundation estimated that, even after accounting for growth, the Trump campaign plan would put a $2.6 to $3.9 trillion hole in the budget over 10 years.
“We know this is difficult,” Cohn said. “We know what we’re asking for is a big bite.”
Despite the details provided Wednesday, the proposal leaves significant open questions that could affect its impact on taxpayers and the economy.
The administration has yet to decide the incomes at which the new personal tax rates — 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent —would apply, meaning that some Americans might see their taxes increase if they get bumped into a higher bracket. It also has yet to spell out how the plan would stop wealthier Americans from exploiting a lower corporate rate to reduce their own taxes.
Administration officials intend to finalize details with members of the House and Senate in the coming weeks for what would be the first massive rewrite of the U.S. tax code since 1986.
The possibility of a deficit increase, unacceptable to some Republicans, means that Trump would need to attract Democratic support to make the overhaul permanent.
Senate Democrats say his plan tilts its benefits to the wealthy, including Trump himself. The real estate magnate might save millions of dollars in his personal taxes because of the changes.
“This is an unprincipled tax plan that will result in cuts for the one percent, conflicts for the president, crippling debt for America and crumbs for the working people,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, or Oregon, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee.
The Trump proposal would double the standard deduction for married couples to more than $24,000, while keeping deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest payments.
On the other hand, it would trim other deductions, including for state and local tax payments, a change that could alienate lawmakers in states such as California and New York with higher state taxes.
“It’s not the federal government’s job to be subsidizing the states,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
The administration has emphasized that the plan is focused on simplifying the tax code and helping middle class Americans. The median U.S. household income is slightly above $50,000 annually.
In a boon for wealthier taxpayers, it would repeal the 3.8 percent tax on investment income from President Barack Obama’s health care law
The proposal has yet to be vetted for its precise impact on top earners, as several specifics are still being determined.
On the corporate side, the top marginal tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 15 percent. Small businesses that account for their owners’ personal incomes would see their top tax rate go from 39.6 percent to that corporate tax rate of 15 percent. Mnuchin said the change for small business owners — a group that under the current definition could include doctors, lawyers and even major real estate companies — would be done in a way that would ensure wealthier Americans could not exploit the change to pay less than intentioned in taxes.
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea observers have long marveled at the ability of a small, impoverished, autocratic nation to go toe-to-toe with the world’s superpowers.
Part of the secret to North Korean success has always been the ruling Kim family’s mastery of the art of brinkmanship.
What looks to outsiders like bluster, bombast and recklessness is actually a proven technique that over the years has won North Korea grudging respect from Washington and its allies, and at times filled its coffers with aid offered by rivals relieved to see animosity on the Korean Peninsula ease.
In recent weeks, however, the roles may have reversed, with a new administration in Washington bulldozing its way to the brink before finally backing away.
Korean war jitters made global headlines after U.S. President Donald Trump issued repeated, ambiguous warnings about his willingness to take unilateral action and sent U.S. military vessels to Korean waters. This week, however, Trump announced a much softer policy that combines diplomacy and economic sanctions and is strikingly similar to what frustrated past presidents embraced.
North Korea used to employ a comparable method: Forcing the world to pay attention by staging nuclear and missile tests, issuing outrageous threats and occasionally lashing out with violence — and then offering up negotiations.
For decades, the tiny, Third World dictatorship sandwiched between rich behemoths played the game remarkably well. But some now see North Korea entering a frightening new phase, barreling across what were once considered red lines in a dash to build nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland.
Here is a brief examination of North Korea’s mastery of brinkmanship, and what might be coming next:
Brinkmanship can be defined as the technique of pushing a dangerous policy to the edge of safety before stopping.
Some Korea experts, analyzing what happened in recent weeks on the Korean Peninsula, believe that this time Washington engineered the brinksmanship.
Presumably worried that North Korea would soon conduct its sixth nuclear test, the Trump administration threatened a possible attack, ordered a supercarrier and nuclear-powered submarine to Korea and linked the recent U.S. bombing of Syria to North Korea.
“They were putting the idea of a surprise military action out there, which is the definition of a dangerous policy on the Korean Peninsula,” John Delury, an Asia expert and professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, said of the U.S. moves.
Trump seemed to think he could pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons and, if that failed, would then consider a pre-emptive strike, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
North Korea, for its part, was relatively restrained, analysts said.
Yes, North Korea expressed anger, as it does every year, over annual springtime joint military exercises by Seoul and Washington that the North calls invasion preparations.
But its response did not go beyond what happens most years. That included bellicose threats, a (failed) missile test linked to the celebration of the birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, and war games during the anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.
NUCLEAR AND MISSILE TESTS
A big part of North Korea’s past brinkmanship has always involved its weapons program. That may be changing.
The country is thought to have a small nuclear arsenal, and some analysts believe it can mount atomic warheads on short- and medium-range missiles that can target South Korea, Japan and spots in the Pacific.
Each new nuclear detonation and long-range rocket launch worries Washington because they put North Korea that much closer to its ultimate goal of a nuclear-armed long-range missile.
The tests have also served a political purpose in years past.
North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, under current leader Kim Jong Un’s father, the late Kim Jong Il, but the North took years between its subsequent tests and was willing to talk about giving up its nuclear program for security guarantees from the United States.
Some analysts believe that Kim Jong Un, who took over in late 2011, abandoned this pattern of brinkmanship in 2016 when North Korea sped ahead with nuclear weapons development, conducting two nuclear tests and a long-range rocket launch that year.
This may signal that Kim is now pursuing a nuclear arsenal, which North Korea calls its “treasured sword,” as a goal in itself, not as leverage for negotiation.
“The key to brinkmanship is to gradually push a threat, increasing the pressure in phases, but not to a point where you actually do what you’ve threatened to do,” said Koh. “Right now, North Korea is just dashing toward getting nuclear weapons.”
BLOODSHED AND THREATS
Earlier in Kim Jong Un’s rule, violence, or its threat, was also a part of his brinkmanship.
The spring of 2013 saw an extraordinary, near-daily barrage of North Korean threats, including warnings of nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington, following international criticism of the North’s third nuclear test.
North Korea then gradually dialed down its threats and sought improved ties with South Korea in what foreign analysts said was an ultimately futile attempt to lure international investment and aid.
A land mine blast, which Seoul blamed on North Korea, maimed two South Korean soldiers in 2015. The rivals threatened each other with war before they stepped away and agreed to hold high-level talks. Not long after those discussions fell apart, North Korea conducted the first of its two nuclear tests in 2016.
Perhaps North Korea’s relatively low-key response to Trump’s threats comes from its huge array of artillery and missiles aimed at the 25 million people in the greater Seoul metropolitan area, most of which is only about an hour’s drive from the border.
What is essentially one of the world’s most unique hostage situations must weigh on both the U.S. and North Korea whenever the rivals push toward the brink.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are nearing agreement on sweeping spending legislation to keep the lights on in government, after the White House backed off a threat to withhold payments that help lower-income Americans pay their medical bills.
It was the latest concession by the White House, which had earlier dropped a demand for money for President Donald Trump’s border wall. Even with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Trump administration is learning that Democrats retain significant leverage when their votes are needed on must-pass legislation.
A temporary funding bill expires Friday at midnight, and GOP leaders late Wednesday unveiled another short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend, something Republicans are determined to avoid.
There appears little chance of that as lawmakers worked to resolve final stumbling blocks on issues like the environment, though a short-term extension of existing funding levels is likely.
“The fundamental issue is keeping the government open, that’s our focus,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a top member of the vote-counting team in the House.
At the same time, House Republicans had a breakthrough on their moribund health care legislation as a key group of conservatives, the House Freedom Caucus, announced it would support a revised version of the bill. Freedom Caucus opposition was a key ingredient in the legislation’s collapse a month ago, a humiliating episode for Republicans that called into question their ability to govern given that they’ve been promising for seven years to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Yet whether the Freedom Caucus support would be enough remained uncertain. One key moderate, GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, dismissed the Freedom Caucus about-face as “a matter of blame-shifting and face-saving” for a bill going nowhere. Even if the legislation passes the House it will face major hurdles in the Senate and is certain to be extensively revised if it survives at all.
The changes in the bill would let states escape requirements under Obama’s health care law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates, and cover a list of specified services like maternity care. Conservatives embraced the revisions as a way to lower people’s health care expenses, but moderates saw them as diminishing coverage.
Despite some optimism among House leaders for a quick vote on the health bill, the outcome was difficult to predict. The White House has been exerting intense pressure on House GOP leaders to deliver any tangible legislative accomplishments ahead of Trump’s 100-day mark, something that has yet to occur aside from Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The massive spending measure, which would wrap together 11 unfinished spending bills into a single “omnibus” bill, represents the first real bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency.
Democratic votes are needed to pass the measure over tea party opposition in the House and to provide enough support to clear a filibuster hurdle in the Senate, which has led negotiators to strip away controversial policy riders and ignore an $18 billion roster of unpopular spending cuts submitted by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.
The outlines of a potential agreement remained fuzzy, but aides familiar with the talks said Trump would emerge with border security funding that’s unrelated to the wall and a $15 billion down payment for military readiness accounts on top of $578 billion in already-negotiated Pentagon funding. Democrats won funding for medical research, Pell Grants and foreign aid.
But negotiators rejected Trump’s demands for $1 billion to begin construction of his promised wall along the length of the 2,000-mile (3218.54-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border. And after a dispute between Mulvaney and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the administration agreed to keep funding cost-sharing payments under Obamacare that go to reimburse health insurers for reducing deductibles and co-payments for lower-income people.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement at this time, just hours after administration officials said he was considering a draft executive order to do just that.
The White House made the surprise announcement Wednesday in a read-out of calls involving Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” said the White House.
Trump said he believes “the end result will make all three countries stronger and better.”
The Mexican government confirmed the conversation in a statement issued late Wednesday.
“The leaders agreed on the convenience of maintaining the North American Free Trade Agreement and working together with Canada to carry out a successful renegotiation for the benefit of all three countries,” the statement read.
Trudeau’s office issued a brief statement saying “the two leaders continued their dialogue on Canada-U.S. trade relations, with the Prime Minister reinforcing the importance of stability and job growth in our trade relations.”
The White House announcement came hours after administration officials said Trump was considering a draft executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the deal — though administration officials cautioned it was just one of a number of options being discussed by the president and his staff.
Some saw the threat as posturing by Trump to gain leverage over Mexico and Canada as he tries to negotiate changes to the deal. Trump railed against the decades-old trade deal during his campaign, describing it as a “disaster.”
Senior White House officials had spent recent days discussing steps that could be taken to start the process of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA before the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking.
But the person, along with an administration official, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, had said a number of options remained on the table, and stressed discussions are ongoing about the best way to proceed.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on the order, which was first reported by Politico.
“The president has made addressing the problems of NAFTA a priority throughout the campaign, and once the president makes a decision about how he wants to address that, we’ll let you know,” he said.
The administration appeared to be divided Wednesday over how and when to proceed, as officials balanced a newfound cautiousness with the desire to rack up accomplishments before Trump’s 100th day on the job.
Some were gunning for Trump to sign a draft order this week, while others were weighing the complications surrounding withdrawing from or renegotiating the deal without Congress fully on board. The debate played out in the press Wednesday as some outlets quoted officials insisting the signing was imminent, while other officials dismissed the reports as “just a rumor.”
“My practice is to comment on things we’ve actually done or are doing as opposed to commenting on rumors,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters at an unrelated White House briefing Wednesday evening.
Trump could withdraw from NAFTA — but he would have to give six months’ notice. And it is unclear what would happen next. The law Congress passed to enact the trade pact might remain in place, forcing Trump to wrangle with lawmakers and raising questions about the president’s authority to raise tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports.
The decision came days after the administration announced it would slap hefty tariffs on softwood lumber being imported from Canada. Trump has also been railing against changes in Canadian milk product pricing that he says are hurting the American dairy industry.
Trump told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he planned to either renegotiate or terminate NAFTA, which he and other critics blame for wiping out U.S. manufacturing jobs because it allowed companies to move factories to Mexico to take advantage of low-wage labor.
“I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States, trading agreement for the United States. It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico,” he said.
Another senior White House official declined to comment on “rumors” of specific actions. But that official said NAFTA has been a top priority for the president since day one and said the administration has been working on it since taking office. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s thinking.
The Trump administration last month submitted a vague set of guidelines to Congress for renegotiating NAFTA, disappointing those who were expecting Trump to demand a major overhaul.
In an eight-page draft letter to Congress, acting U.S. Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn wrote that the administration intended to start talking with Mexico and Canada about making changes to the pact, which took effect in 1994.
The letter spelled out few details and stuck with broad principles. But it appeared to keep much of the existing agreement in place, including private tribunals that allow companies to challenge national laws on the grounds that they inhibit trade — a provision that critics say allows companies to get around environmental and labor laws.
Reports Wednesday of the possible move drew objections from some in Congress, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
“Withdrawing from #NAFTA would be a disaster for #Arizona jobs & economy,” he tweeted. “@POTUS shouldn’t abandon this vital trade agreement.”
Associated Press writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.
HONG KONG (AP) — World stock indexes were mixed Thursday as investors assessed the scant details of President Donald Trump’s U.S. tax overhaul. Japan’s central bank kept its monetary policy unchanged and forecasted steady growth for Asia’s No. 2 economy.
KEEPING SCORE: European shares fell in early trading. France’s CAC 40 lost 0.4 percent to 5,266.82, Germany’s DAX dipped 0.3 percent to 12,436.58, and Britain’s FTSE 100 shed 0.5 percent to 7,249.97. U.S. shares were poised to open slightly higher. Dow futures rose less than 0.1 percent to 20,922.00 and broader S&P 500 futures were up a fifth of a percent at 2,382.60.
TRUMP ON TAX: The White House unveiled broad outlines of Trump’s tax plan, omitting many details. Officials said they hoped to slash corporate taxes to 15 percent from 35 percent, but specifics are still to be negotiated. Shares have risen on hopes for big tax cuts and less red tape. Based on the few specifics spelled out so far, most experts suggested the plan would add little to growth while swelling the budget deficit and potentially handing large windfalls to wealthier taxpayers.
QUOTEWORTHY: “Trump’s big tax reforms and tax reductions on Wednesday proved to be not so big, at least from Wall Street’s perspective,” said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at FXTM. “The lack of details contained on Trump’s single piece of paper was perceived as a publicity stunt for the president as he celebrates his first 100 days in the Oval Office, and unfortunately, seemed more of a wish list than a serious starting point.”
JAPAN OUTLOOK: The central bank forecast growth in the world’s third-largest economy would remain steady over the next year as it keeps its ultra-lax monetary policy unchanged. The Bank of Japan said preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would support growth by spurring demand but warned of risks from geopolitical trends.
SOUTH KOREAN GROWTH: A recovery in exports helped the South Korean economy expand at the fastest pace in a year, the country’s central bank said. Asia’s No. 4 economy beat forecasts by growing 2.7 percent in the first quarter, defying a backlash from Chinese consumers over deployment of a U.S. missile defense system.
SAMSUNG IN THE MONEY: The South Korean electronics giant posted its fattest quarterly profits in more than three years, boosted by stellar performance at its semiconductor division. The first-quarter earnings, which come after a tough period for the company, leaped 46 percent over the year-ago period.
TAKATA SHARES RESUME TRADING: Shares in troubled airbag and seatbelt maker Takata Corp. fell 19.5 percent after a temporary trading halt. A company statement said restructuring talks are in progress but no decisions have been made, following a report in the financial newspaper Nikkei that Takata was planning to file for bankruptcy protection.
ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.2 percent to finish at 19,251.87 while South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.1 percent to 2,209.46. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5 percent to 24,598.48 and the Shanghai Composite index climbed 0.4 percent to 3,152.19. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.2 percent to 5,921.50. Taiwan’s benchmark rose but those in Southeast Asia mostly fell.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 63 cents to $48.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 6 cents to settle at $49.62 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell 59 cents to $51.82.
CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.0908 from $1.0905 while the dollar rose to 111.33 yen from 111.07 yen late Wednesday.
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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian state media blamed Israel on Thursday for an early morning missile attack on a military installation near Damascus International Airport that shook the capital with the force of the blasts.
Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz would not comment directly on the incident but said any similar strike would be in line with established policy to interrupt the transfer of weapons to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah from Iran and Syria.
“It absolutely matches our declared policy, a policy that we also implement,” Katz told Israel’s Army Radio.
Israel is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions. It rarely comments on such operations.
The widely followed Diaries of a Mortar Facebook page, which is run by activists in Damascus, reported several explosions at 3:42 a.m. that could be heard and felt across the capital.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said Israel had fired several missiles from inside the Occupied Golan Heights south of the capital striking a military installation southwest of the airport, which serves both military and civilian flights. It reported several explosions and material damage but no casualties. It was not clear how Israel was identified as the culprit.
The blasts were felt at least 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.
“The buildings shook from the force of the blast,” said a media activist who goes by Salam al-Ghoutawi, of the Ghouta Media Center, in the city’s opposition-held northeastern suburbs. He said he heard the roar of jets in the distance at the time of the blasts.
A string of explosions could be seen silhouetted against the night sky in a video published by the Ghouta Media center, with blazing debris flying out of the blast. The light of the explosions illuminated the sizeable blast cloud that took shape nearby.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar media station reported a blast at the fuel tanks and a warehouse next to the airport, which is 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of the city’s center. It speculated the blast was likely caused by an Israeli strike.
Hezbollah is a steadfast ally of the Syrian government and has sent thousands of its militants to fight alongside government forces in Syria’s six-year-long civil war.
The war between President Bashar Assad and his regional allies, against local and foreign opposition forces inside his country, has left more than 400,000 people dead.
Diary of a Mortar said the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now said the explosion was near the city’s Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.
The explosion comes a day after France said that the chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” Assad’s government and shows it was responsible.
Russia, a close ally of Assad, denounced the report, saying the samples and the fact the nerve agent was used are not enough to prove who was behind it.
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria (all times local):
Britain’s foreign secretary says Britain could join the United States in further military action against Syria if asked to do so.
Boris Johnson said Thursday it would be “very difficult to say no” if the U.S. seeks British help on a military mission against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
He did not specify whether Parliament would be asked to approve any military action ahead of time. He said that decision would be up to the government and Prime Minister Theresa May.
President Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile attack against a Syrian air base earlier this month in response to Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons against Syrians.
U.S. officials have said further attacks are likely if Assad uses banned chemical weapons again
Syria’s state media is reporting that Israel has attacked a military installation near the Damascus International Airport.
SANA says Israel fired several missiles from inside the occupied Golan Heights south of the capital at a military installation near the capital’s main airport, triggering several explosions and causing damage.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Residents reported feeling the blasts shortly before 4 a.m.
Israel’s intelligence minister says a large explosion near the Damascus airport is in line with Israeli policy but stopped short of taking responsibility for it.
Yisrael Katz wouldn’t comment directly on the strike Thursday morning but said “it absolutely matches our declared policy, a policy that we also implement.”
Israel has repeatedly warned against “game-changing” weapons reaching Hezbollah from Syria, which along with Iran supports the militant group. Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israel in the 2006 war.
The explosion was heard across the Syrian capital, jolting residents awake, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman said.
Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war. It has also carried out a number of airstrikes on suspected weapon convoys it believed were destined for Hezbollah.
Syrian opposition activists and a monitor say a large explosion has rocked the Syrian capital, followed by a fire near Damascus airport.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman says the explosion early Thursday has been heard across the capital, jolting residents awake. He says the explosion is reported to have occurred near the Damascus airport road.
The dawn explosion has also been reported by other activists’ networks but the source was unclear.
Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, says the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now says the explosion was near the city’s Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration hosted senators for an extraordinary White House briefing Wednesday at a perilous moment with North Korea, marked by the unpredictable nation’s nuclear threats and stern talk of military action, if necessary, from the United States.
All 100 senators were invited and transported in buses for the unprecedented, classified briefing. President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, defense secretary, top general and national intelligence director were to outline for them the North’s escalating nuclear capabilities and U.S. response options, officials said. The briefing team was to meet later with House members in the Capitol.
The unusual sessions don’t necessarily presage the use of force along one of the world’s most heavily militarized frontiers, and some lawmakers questioned whether the cross-Washington procession was largely show, with Trump expected to drop in on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building gathering of lawmakers.
But it certainly reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the U.S. mainland. And the recent flurry of military activity on and around the divided Korean Peninsula has put the world at high alert.
Tensions have escalated since Trump took office three months ago, determined to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile advances.
In the past two weeks, Trump has ordered high-powered U.S. military vessels, including an aircraft carrier, to the region in a show of force to deter North Korea from more nuclear and missile tests. The North on Tuesday conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong Un, as a reminder of its conventional threat to U.S.-allied South Korea.
And on Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious U.S. missile defense system against North Korean missiles that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.
America’s Pacific forces commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at U.S. forces would be destroyed.
“If it flies, it will die,” Harris said.
The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table. However, a U.S. pre-emptive attack isn’t likely, according to American officials. Instead, they’ve said the administration’s strategy focuses on increasing pressure on North Korea with the help of its main trading partner, China.
Sen. Ben Cardin, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, said he was hoping to hear the Trump administration’s game plan Wednesday.
The U.S. needs a strategy to change North Korea’s economic and security calculus for it to freeze and ultimately eliminate its nuclear and missile programs, he said, adding: There’s no “pretty military solution.”
U.S. officials said Wednesday’s briefings will center on three key issues: intelligence about the North’s capabilities; U.S. response options, including military ones; and how to get China and other countries to enforce existing economic sanctions on Pyongyang, along with ideas for new penalties. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly about plans for the closed-door briefings and requested anonymity.
“China is the key to this,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. “The purpose of this briefing is to tell us the situation and the intelligence we have and what (are) the options we have.”
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Harris said he expects North Korea, under Kim’s autocratic rule, to soon be able to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States, despite some spectacular failures in its ballistic missile program. “One of these days soon, he will succeed,” Harris said.
North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop the U.S.
On Wednesday, North Korea’s U.N. mission said it would react to “a total war” with the U.S. with nuclear war. It said it would win in a “death-defying struggle against the U.S. imperialists.”
A targeted U.S. attack to take out North Korea’s nuclear weapons program could spark a wider war on the Korean peninsula, lawmakers and experts have warned. Harris said the U.S. has “a lot of pre-emptive options,” but he declined to provide specifics in an open setting.
China has been urging restraint by both Pyongyang and Washington. In Berlin, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday that North Korea must suspend its nuclear activities, but “on the other side, the large-scale military maneuvers in Korean waters should be halted.”
China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea. The U.S. says it will only target North Korean missiles, but China and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said THAAD would upset the “strategic balance” in the region. He said China will take “necessary measures to defend our own interests.”
Klug reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul; Chris Bodeen in Beijing; Richard Lardner, Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump proposed dramatic cuts in corporate and personal taxes Wednesday in an overhaul his administration asserts will spur national economic growth and bring jobs and prosperity to America’s middle class. But his ambitious plan is alarming lawmakers who worry it will balloon federal deficits.
The plan would reduce investment and estate taxes, helping the wealthy. But administration officials said several other tax breaks that help well-to-do taxpayers would be eliminated and the plan would largely help the middle class.
The White House has yet to spell out how much of a hole the tax cuts could create in the federal budget, maintaining that the resulting economic growth would eliminate the risk of a soaring government deficit— if not actually cause the red ink to diminish.
The outlined changes to the tax code are the most concrete guidance so far on Trump’s vision for spurring job growth and fulfilling his promise to help workers who have been left behind by an increasingly globalized economy.
“He understands that there are a lot people who work hard and feel like they’re not getting ahead,” said Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council. “I would never, ever bet against this president. He will get this done for the American people.”
Still, the proposal leaves a series of open questions that could affect its impact on taxpayers and the economy.
The administration wants to reduce the number of tax brackets to three from seven, but it has yet to determine the income levels for people who would be put in each bracket. It also has yet to spell out how the plan would stop wealthier Americans from exploiting a lower corporate tax rate to reduce how much they pay. And the White House has downplayed the threat that the tax cuts could cause the deficit to surge, possibly eroding support for the plan among lawmakers in Trump’s own Republican Party.
Cohn said Trump and his administration recognize they have to be “good stewards” of the federal budget. But the plan as it currently stands could cause the federal deficit to climb, unless it sparks a massive and lasting wave of growth that most economists say is unlikely.
Administration officials intend to hash out additional details with members of the House and Senate in the coming weeks for what would be the first massive rewrite of the U.S. tax code since 1986.
“We know this is difficult,” Cohn said. “We know what we’re asking for is a big bite.”
As Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explained it in an interview, the plan would reduce the number of personal income tax brackets to three from seven: rates of 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. It would double the standard deduction for married couples to $24,000, while keeping deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest payments. The administration plans to provide tax relief for families with child care expenses, too, although the specifics have yet to be included.
On the other hand, the proposal would trim other deductions utilized by wealthier Americans. These would include deductions for state and local tax payments, a change that could alienate support from lawmakers in states such as California and New York with higher state taxes.
“It’s not the federal government’s job to be subsidizing the states,” Mnuchin said.
The administration has emphasized that the plan is focused on simplifying the tax code and helping middle class Americans. The median U.S. household income is slightly above $50,000 annually.
Still, the proposal could reduce the tax burden for the wealthy by substantial amounts, including by eliminating the catch-all alternative minimum tax, which takes an additional bite out of high-income taxpayers.
It would also repeal the estate tax and the 3.8 percent tax on investment income from President Barack Obama’s health care law. The proposal has yet to be vetted for its precise impact on top earners, as several details are still being determined.
On the corporate side, the top marginal tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 15 percent. Small businesses that account for their owners’ personal incomes would see their top tax rate go from 39.6 percent to the proposed corporate tax rate of 15 percent. Mnuchin said the change for small business owners — a group that under the current definition could include doctors, lawyers and even major real estate companies — would be done in a way that would ensure wealthier Americans could not exploit the change to pay less than intentioned in taxes.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The conservative House Freedom Caucus announced its support Wednesday for a newly revised GOP health care bill, a month after the group’s opposition forced Republican leaders to pull the legislation in an embarrassing retreat.
The group’s support, while significant, does not necessarily guarantee passage of the Republican bill to partially repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. A group of moderate Republicans was still reviewing the changes to the bill, and an unknown number remained opposed.
The developments came days ahead of the 100-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency, as the White House pushes for fast action to revive the stalled health care measure and make good on seven years of GOP promises to get rid of “Obamacare” and replace it with something better.
The proposed changes would let states get federal waivers to some coverage requirements Obama’s law imposed on insurers. The revisions were authored in part by Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, a leader of the Tuesday Group of House moderates, but a number of other members of the group feared the result could be to weaken important protections.
Underscoring centrists’ concerns, another Tuesday Group leader — Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. — opposes the proposed changes and said he was unaware of any moderate opponents of the health care bill switching to become supporters.
Dent suggested that the changes were “simply an exercise in blame-shifting” by conservatives because the health legislation would be “gutted” in the Senate. Many GOP senators oppose the House-written bill and its future should it reach that chamber is bleak.
Another nagging issue was the revelation that the legislation would allow members of Congress and their staffs to continue to receive certain benefits under the health law — even if their state opted out from the federal requirement to provide such services as maternity and newborn care, preventive care and wellness visits and prescription drug coverage.
In a statement, the Freedom Caucus said it could support the proposal as amended by MacArthur.
“While the revised version still does not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise to the American people to lower health care costs,” the statement said. “We look forward to working with our Senate colleagues to improve the bill. Our work will continue until we fully repeal Obamacare.”
Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the changes were helping the legislation gain support, but he stopped short of saying the plan has the votes the GOP would need to finally push the high-profile measure through the House.
Ryan spoke to reporters after leaders briefed rank-and-file Republicans on details of changes to the legislation aimed at breathing life back into one of Trump’s premier but most problematic priorities.
“We think it’s very constructive” Ryan said of the proposed revisions. “I think it helps us get to consensus.”
A White House looking for achievements has pressured GOP leaders to try pushing health care legislation through the House this week.
That seems unlikely, and Ryan reiterated that the House will vote when Republicans have enough support to win. Leaders want to avoid a replay of last month’s embarrassing retreat from a planned vote when they realized the measure would be defeated.
To gain support, bargainers from the GOP’s conservative and moderate camps have proposed letting states get federal waivers to Obama’s requirements that insurers charge seriously ill and healthy customers the same premiums, and that they cover specified services like maternity care.
The plan was crafted by MacArthur along with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the House Freedom Caucus. It’s also had the backing of Vice President Mike Pence, Republicans say.
Dent says the changes ignored his concerns that the health care bill would cut too deeply into the Medicaid program for the poor and leave many people unable to afford coverage.
Meanwhile, bipartisan talks on a separate $1 trillion budget bill aimed at preventing a partial government shutdown on Saturday were jarred over a disagreement about payments made to insurers under Obama’s health care law.
Both sides have been saying they were making strong progress toward a deal that would prevent a shuttering of federal agencies, after Trump abandoned his demand that the measure include money for his proposed wall with Mexico.
Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are wrestling over a Democratic demand that the must-pass spending bill keep money flowing under the health care law that helps low earners pay out-of-pocket medical costs. Pelosi is insisting on addressing those payments Trump threatened to cut them off as a negotiating chip. But Ryan told reporters that “we’re not doing that.”
AP reporters Erica Werner, Julie Bykowicz, Kevin Freking and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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NEW YORK (AP) — A Fox News Channel anchor who is black has joined a racial discrimination lawsuit against his company, saying Wednesday that the network marginalized him and has little interest in promoting diversity.
Kelly Wright, who primarily works an overnight shift at Fox, said at an emotional news conference that his efforts at promoting diversity at Fox have largely failed. He said former Fox host Bill O’Reilly rejected a piece Wright had prepared after racial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, because it showed blacks in “too positive” a light.
“This hurts,” Wright said.
The lawsuit adds to troubles at Fox that had largely been focused on the treatment of women. Former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes lost his job last summer and O’Reilly was fired last week after harassment charges surfaced. So far, there’s little evidence that the problems have affected cable news’ top-rated network with its audience. Fox said late Tuesday the latest lawsuit contained “copycat complaints” and denied its allegations, and didn’t have any comment after Wright’s news conference.
Wright said he was moved to speak after off-air colleagues complained publicly about racial hostility, primarily coming from a recently fired comptroller at the network, Judith Slater. She has denied any wrongdoing through a lawyer. Thirteen people — eight who still work at Fox — joined the lawsuit, which also expanded to include the behavior of others.
“I can no longer sit in silence, collect my paycheck and act like I didn’t experience racial bias on my own level as an on-air personality,” Wright said. He said he wasn’t part of any left-wing effort to hurt Fox and that he admires and likes many of the people there, “but I don’t like what they do.”
He said he was the only black male anchor at Fox and that his career had stalled with promised opportunities never materializing.
“Somewhere along the line there’s an inbred way of thinking that the audience we have attracted perhaps wants to watch only one color on the air,” he said. “I think we can definitely do better.”
A female anchor who is black, Harris Faulkner, has a prominent role on Fox’s daytime show “Outnumbered.”
The lawsuit alleges that Fox employees took their complaints about Slater in 2008 to Dianne Brandi, chief counsel at Fox, and were told that nothing would be done about her because Slater “knew too much” about the behavior of Ailes, O’Reilly and others. Fox has specifically denied the allegations against Brandi.
This charge led Douglas Wigdor, the plaintiff’s lawyer, to suggest that it was time to clean house among management at Fox. Ailes’ former top deputy, Bill Shine, is co-president of the network and Brandi still works there.
Wigdor said his law firm has heard from others at Fox even since the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx, and suggested it will expand further. His clients are looking for financial compensation, he said.
“Our hope is that Fox will take a more conciliatory approach,” he said, “although I doubt that.”
Among the new charges:
—A Bangladeshi man, Musfiq Rahman, said he mistakenly wandered into Ailes’ office in 2014, prompting the then-boss to build a wall to prevent other unauthorized entries. Rahman said he was no longer permitted on Ailes’ floor without an escort.
—A former financial worker, Mark LeGrier, said Slater retaliated when he complained to Brandi about her by subjecting him to “humiliating and weekly vicious attacks” about his performance. He left after nine months, “on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” the lawsuit said.
—After President Donald Trump announced a halt in immigration from seven countries, Slater allegedly asked black employees “who is going to Africa?” because she intended to start looking for replacements. Trump’s election prompted her to warn black employees that they would not be able to return to the country if they left, the lawsuit said.
—A financial employee who is black, Griselda Benson, alleged that when she returned from a surgery, Slater said that her “people” were high maintenance with their health and were driving up the company’s health insurance premiums.
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer fired a warning flare toward an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel coming near it in the Persian Gulf, an American official said on Wednesday, the latest tense naval encounter between the two countries.
The incident happened Monday as the vessel attempted to draw closer to the USS Mahan despite the destroyer trying to turn away from it, said Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.
The “Mahan made several attempts to contact the Iranian vessel by bridge-to-bridge radio, issuing warning messages and twice sounding the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts with the ship’s whistle, as well as deploying a flare to determine the Iranian vessel’s intentions,” McConnaughey said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The Iranian vessel came within 1,000 meters (1,100 yards) of the Mahan during the incident, the lieutenant said. The vessel later turned and sailed away.
Iranian authorities did not immediately report the incident on Wednesday.
The U.S. and Iran routinely have tense encounters in the Persian Gulf and the nearby Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Iran views the American presence as a provocation and its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shadows U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf, occasionally firing missiles or rockets nearby.
Since the nuclear deal with world powers, the hard-line Revolutionary Guard has stepped up its encounters with the Americans. The Navy recorded 35 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and/or unprofessional” interactions with Iranians forces in 2016, compared to 23 in 2015. With Monday’s event, there have been seven so far in 2017, McConnaughey said.
Of the incidents last year, the worst involved Iranian forces capturing 10 U.S. sailors and holding them overnight.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Leading House conservatives are saying good things about a plan to revive the GOP health care bill. But an influential GOP House moderate is opposing the proposal, leaving party leaders to assess whether the idea could help one of President Donald Trump’s premier but most problematic priorities spring back to life.
Republican lawmakers were meeting Wednesday to consider how to rescue the GOP drive to repeal much of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
That salvage effort comes as bipartisan bargainers edge toward agreement on a separate $1 trillion budget bill that would prevent a partial federal shutdown this Saturday. While erasing Obama’s statute is solidly opposed by Democrats, the budget measure will need support from both parties because GOP conservatives often oppose spending legislation.
Leaders of both parties cited budget progress Tuesday after Trump signaled he was abandoning his demand that the measure include money for his proposed border wall with Mexico, an idea strongly opposed by Democrats and many Republicans.
“We’re pleased he’s backing off,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
With Trump’s 100th day in office coming Saturday, a White House looking for achievements had pressured GOP leaders to try pushing health care legislation through the House this week. That seems unlikely now because an effort to sell the plan to rank-and-filed Republicans will likely take time. House leaders say they will hold a vote when they know they can win.
“This week, next week, we don’t know,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Tuesday. “Progress is being made and we’re feeling good about that process as of now.”
To gain support for the bill, bargainers from the GOP’s conservative and moderate camps have proposed letting states get federal waivers to ignore coverage requirements that Obama’s statute has imposed on insurers. These include an obligation that they charge seriously ill and healthy customers the same premiums and that they cover specified services like maternity care.”
Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus met Tuesday to consider the suggested changes. They were crafted by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., that caucus’ leader, and Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group, with the backing of Vice President Mike Pence, Republicans say.
The plan “has real merits worthy of consideration for all the Freedom Caucus folks,” said Meadows, whose group has roughly three dozen members.
“Generally speaking, there’s a lot of optimism,” Meadows said.
Another influential conservative and Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the plan was “a positive.” He and Meadows were among the conservatives who opposed the initial version of the bill last month — as did many moderates — forcing House leaders to withdraw it before a planned vote, in a mortifying retreat.
But moderate leader Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said the changes ignored his concerns that the health care bill would cut too deeply into the Medicaid program for the poor and leave many people unable to afford coverage. Dent is another leader of the Tuesday Group and is considered a good gauge of the views of many of its roughly 50 members.
“Same concerns, and this didn’t really address them,” said Dent, who like Jordan said he’d not yet seen legislative details.
Under the proposed revisions, states could not obtain exemptions to Obama’s requirements that insurers offer coverage to everyone and that family policies cover grown children up to age 26. States getting waivers so insurers could charge higher prices to people with illnesses would have to have high-risk pools, or government-subsidized funds to help those consumers cover costs.
Critics say allowing insurers to boost premiums on the ill means insurers can charge them exorbitant premiums, effectively making such coverage unaffordable. They also say high-risk pools have a history of being underfunded.
Reflecting the pressure on Republicans to pass a health overhaul, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that failing to do so is the GOP’s fault.
“That was the No. 1 issue in my campaign,” said McCain, who was re-elected last fall. “And when I don’t get it replaced, if it’s not replaced, then it reflects on my campaign.”
But an ABC News-Washington Post poll showed that the public wasn’t really on board. Sixty-one percent said Obama’s law should be retained and fixed, with just 37 percent favoring repeal.
In the separate budget bill, Trump seemed poised to procure about $15 billion to boost the military. Aided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Democrats were pushing to extend health benefits for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families whose medical coverage is set to expire at the end of April.
Another potential stumbling block to the budget bill also seemed to be fading.
Trump has threatened to scuttle payments the government makes to insurers under Obama’s law that help low-income people afford coverage, a move strongly opposed by Democrats. Both Schumer and White House officials flashed conciliatory signals on that dispute as well.
AP reporters Erica Werner, Julie Bykowicz and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Hours after a display of North Korean military power, rival South Korea announced Wednesday the installation of key parts of a contentious U.S. missile defense system meant to counter the North.
South Korea’s trumpeting of progress in setting up the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, comes as high-powered U.S. military vessels converge on the Korean Peninsula and as a combative North Korea signals possible nuclear and missile testing.
North Korea conducted live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday, the 85th anniversary of the founding of its million-person Korean People’s Army. On the same day, a U.S. guided-missile submarine docked in South Korea. And the USS Carl Vinson aircraft supercarrier is also headed toward the peninsula for a joint exercise with South Korea.
The moves to set up THAAD within this year have angered not only North Korea, but also China, the country that the Trump administration hopes to work with to rid the North of nuclear weapons. China, which has grown increasingly frustrated with North Korea, its ally, and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.
South Korea said in a statement Wednesday that unspecified parts of THAAD were installed. It said that Seoul and Washington have been pushing to get THAAD quickly working to cope with North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats. According to the Yonhap news agency, the parts include two or three launchers, intercept missiles and a radar.
Some people near the site in the country’s southeast are worried that THAAD may cause health problems, and thousands of police officers assembled Wednesday, blocking the main road, Yonhap reported. About 500 protesters rallied, and 13 villagers and police officers were injured in scuffles and treated at hospitals, reportedly for broken bones, according to the Seongju fire department.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that the system’s deployment would “disrupt the regional strategic balance and further aggravate the tension on the peninsula.”
Geng said “China will firmly be taking necessary measures to defend our own interests” but offered no details. China’s defense ministry has also repeatedly criticized THAAD’s deployment and said the military will take unspecified actions in response.
On Tuesday, North Korea conducted what it called its largest ever combined live-fire drills, near the east coast port city of Wonsan.
North Korea’s official media reported Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un personally observed the exercises, which involved the firing of more than 300 large-caliber artillery pieces and included submarine torpedo-attacks on mock enemy warships.
Along with sending U.S. military assets to the region in a show of force, President Donald Trump is leaning on China to exert economic pressure on North Korea. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke to Trump on Monday, is urging restraint from both North Korea and the U.S.
In Washington, top Trump administration officials are due to brief the entire U.S. Senate on Wednesday. A rapid tempo of North Korean weapons testing in the past year has pushed Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian nation closer to developing a nuclear-armed missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham voiced confidence that Trump won’t allow North Korea to reach that point. Graham, a defense hawk who dined with Trump on Monday night, said North Korea should not underestimate the president’s resolve.
The USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived Tuesday at the South Korean port of Busan for what was described as a routine visit to rest crew and load supplies. The U.S. 7th Fleet said two American destroyers were conducting simultaneous maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.
North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop it. An unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the U.S. administration’s policy to maximize pressure on North Korea was “little short of lighting the fuse of total war,” the state news agency reported Tuesday.
The streets of Pyongyang, however, were quiet for Tuesday’s anniversary, which was overshadowed by April 15 celebrations of the birthday of the nation’s late founder, Kim Il Sung, and were marked by a missile test the following day.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to chair a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
Tillerson will be “very vocal” about nations enforcing sanctions on North Korea, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Trump said Monday the council must be prepared to impose stronger sanctions.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul, South Korea; Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang, North Korea; and Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.