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(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO) —- This past weekend, The Washington Post published a new account of the Obama administration’s struggle to respond to Russian covert activity during the 2016 election — and new details on the intelligence and internal debate about retaliation.
One fascinating revelation is that the White House did not simply punish Russia symbolically by expelling “diplomatic” personnel. It also fought fire with fire via a covert, retaliatory cyber operation.
On its face, a secretive and ambiguous action seems an unlikely choice for deterrence. As when President Trump used the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, standard U.S. procedure is to issue loud and clear warnings to adversaries. While the details of Obama’s cyber operation remain classified, The Post’s reporting suggests that it was designed to be detected by Moscow and to imply Washington’s ability to inflict severe damage should Russia’s meddling increase. Thus, this particular covert response may have allowed the White House to threaten its adversary without creating a public spectacle and the domestic and international consequences.
Russian behavior and the American response is not the first instance of private, secret measures during the coercive contests that often arise in world politics. New research sheds light on why leaders sometimes prefer covert coercion and why such efforts may — or may not — work.
Coercion means bending the enemy’s will
Coercion refers to any attempt to alter another government’s decision-making through the threat of future costs. Such efforts need two essential ingredients to be effective:
1. Intelligibility — A threat of future costs must be expressed in a way that makes sense to the adversary you are trying to influence. This is particularly important if a government coerces through physical action rather than an explicit, verbal “do this or else” statement.
2. Credibility — Anyone can bluff. But, as Thomas Schelling points out, success requires laying out a believable course of action that will be triggered only if the target fails to act as desired.
Leaders have a large coercion toolkit. Usually coercion takes the form of highly visible and symbolic military maneuvers, such as the periodic repositioning of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to East Asia. On land, military mobilizations in the run-up to World War I signaled the resolve of Russia and Germany but also helped propel escalation. As The Post reports, Obama aides generated a “menu” of options that focused on cyber, economic and diplomatic punishments.
Choosing coercive tools with broad visibility can have credibility benefits. As Schelling originally argued, rattling one’s saber in front of a wide audience makes it harder to sheath the saber. Leaders that make threats and then visibly do not follow through can suffer “audience costs,” or a loss of popular support. Knowing this, adversaries may be more likely to believe the threat in the first place. While the significance of audience costs has been challenged by international relations scholars, the fact remains that most coercion efforts are high-visibility verbal and military threats.
The art of coercion in secret
Less well-understood is the art of “backstage” coercion. Privately communicated verbal warnings are one version, which Obama apparently used in a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin last fall. Easily dismissed as “cheap talk,” these kinds of private warnings, as recent scholarship suggests, can carry diplomatic weight, especially when communicated in meetings among leaders face to face.
Governments can also use covert or otherwise nonvisible military actions to send a targeted message to an adversary. In the Korean War, the Eisenhower administration repositioned bombers used to deliver atomic bombs to quietly nudge the Soviet Union into a negotiated settlement. Eisenhower also used quiet military preparations only detectable by Soviet leaders to demonstrate resolve regarding Berlin in the late 1950s.
During the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration similarly manipulated U.S. air assets to simulate a nuclear alert in the hopes of pressuring Moscow and North Vietnam into a peace deal. The Carter administration paired public protests of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with a covert arms supply program intended to show Moscow its resolve to impose costs for aggression.
Do these efforts work? The track record is mixed. While Eisenhower’s atomic diplomacy may have helped with the Korean War armistice, historians have found little evidence that Moscow saw Nixon’s “madman alert” as credible — or even understood it.
Why is coercion harder to do in secret? For one thing, intelligibility is more challenging in the covert sphere. Success requires a careful design that functions like a dog whistle, inaudible and undetected by one set of observers (i.e., the public and third-party leaders) but audible and detected by the target — the adversary.
Making a quietly conveyed message credible is also tricky to pull off. As Keren Yarhi-Milo and I argue, this second ingredient can come from the costs and/or risks generated by a coercive covert action. Although it tends to be more subtle than overt alternatives, covert operations can still provide tangible proof their sponsor is willing to expend precious resources and incur political and other risks, including the risk of inadvertent exposure.
Israel’s covert strike against a suspected Syrian nuclear site in 2007 is a good illustration. The strike showed Israel’s willingness to significantly raise the risks of war and wide exposure to stop suspected nuclear proliferation, even as secrecy helped maintain face-saving opportunities for Damascus to react conservatively.
Assessing the Obama response to Russia
Detecting an ongoing Russian covert operation left the White House balancing competing demands, as The Post’s story describes. Obama needed to deter Russia from further sabotage on Election Day and similar operations in the future. Yet the administration also feared creating a spectacle that would have serious partisan implications at home and risks of a dangerous spiral abroad.
The need to show resolve and cope with constraints helps explain why the White House ultimately opted to pair symbolic public actions with covert cyber-retaliation. By targeting a government system and avoiding public acknowledgement, this cyber operation, like others, had a low public profile.
And how did the Obama operation do in terms of intelligibility and credibility?
Regarding the first ingredient, it seems quite plausible Moscow got the message. By “implanting computer code in sensitive computer systems that Russia was bound to find,” as The Post reported, the designers of the U.S. cyberattack clearly anticipated the need to create a dog whistle effect. The actions Russia was being warned to avoid were likely either clearly intelligible or clarified in private warnings.
Judging the second ingredient of credibility is more difficult. Did Russia find it believable that U.S. leaders would ever exploit cyber-vulnerabilities? A one-off cyber operation seems low cost. The more likely source of credibility is risk. Obama’s reprisal may have been perceived by Russia as representing a new level of cyber-aggressiveness by Washington. Alternatively, it may have simply been seen as a clever but ultimately empty “hello” message by an outgoing president, carrying little risk.
Because of its covert nature, assessing the success of the Obama administration’s response to Russian cyber-meddling will have to wait a few decades for the opening of government archives on both sides. Still, in its messaging structure, the Obama cyber-reprisal closely parallels nuclear alerts and other cases of covert coercion in the Cold War. Yet the 2016 election episode does suggest a larger lesson: Cybertechnology deployed by states may be ushering in a renaissance in the art of covert coercion.
Austin Carson is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author with Keren Yarhi-Milo of “Covert Communication: The Intelligibility and Credibility of Signaling in Secret.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — A scaled-back version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban is now in force, stripped of provisions that brought protests and chaos at airports worldwide in January yet still likely to generate a new round of court fights.
The new rules, the product of months of legal wrangling, aren’t so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries. Refugees are covered, too.
Administration officials promised that implementation this time, which started at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), would be orderly. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage said his agency expected “business as usual at our ports of entry,” with all valid visa holders still being able to travel.
Still, immigration and refugee advocates are vowing to challenge the new requirements and the administration has struggled to explain how the rules will make the United States safer.
Under the temporary rules, citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen who already have visas will be allowed into the United States. But people from those countries who want new visas will now have to prove a close family relationship or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business in the U.S.
It’s unclear how significantly the new rules will affect travel. In most of the countries singled out, few people have the means for leisure travel. Those that do already face intensive screenings before being issued visas.
Nevertheless, human rights groups girded for new legal battles. The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups challenging the ban, called the new criteria “extremely restrictive,” ″arbitrary” in their exclusions and designed to “disparage and condemn Muslims.”
The state of Hawaii filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce the ban against relatives — such as grandparents, aunts or uncles — not included in the State Department’s definition of “bona fide” personal relationships.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer met with customs officials and said he felt things would go smoothly.
“For tonight, I’m anticipating few issues because, I think, there’s better preparation,” he told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday night. “The federal government here, I think, has taken steps to avoid the havoc that occurred the last time.”
Much of the confusion in January, when Trump’s first ban took effect, resulted from travelers with previously approved visas being kept off flights or barred entry on arrival in the United States. Immigration officials were instructed Thursday not to block anyone with valid travel documents and otherwise eligible to visit the United States.
Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said the rules “would slam the door shut on so many who have waited for months or years to be reunited with their families.”
Trump, who made a tough approach to immigration a cornerstone of his election campaign, issued a ban on travelers from the six countries, plus Iraq, shortly after taking office in January. His order also blocked refugees from any country.
Trump said these were temporary measures needed to prevent terrorism until vetting procedures could be reviewed. Opponents noted that visa and refugee vetting were already strict and said there was no evidence that refugees or citizens of those six countries posed a threat. They saw the ban as part of Trump’s campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the United States.
Lower courts blocked the initial ban and a second, revised Trump order intended to overcome legal hurdles. The Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated the revised ban but exempted travelers who could prove a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. The court offered only broad guidelines.
In guidance issued late Wednesday, the State Department said the personal relationships would include a parent, spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States. It does not include other relationships such as grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles. On Thursday, the State and Homeland Security departments had both expanded the range of bona fide relationships to include fiancés.
Business or professional links must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban. Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules.
Refugees from any country will face similar requirements. But the U.S. has almost filled its quota of 50,000 refugees for the budget year ending in September and the new rules won’t apply to the few remaining slots. With the Supreme Court set to consider the overall ban in October, the rules could change again.
The travel ban may have the largest impact on Iranians. In 2015, the most recently available data, nearly 26,000 Iranians were allowed into the United States on visitor or tourist visas. Iranians made up the lion’s share of the roughly 65,000 foreigners from the six countries who visited with temporary, or non-immigrant visas that year.
American journalist Paul Gottinger said he and his Iranian fiancee applied for a visa nearly a year ago but are still waiting on a decision. Gottinger says they were to wed at a Japanese garden in his parents’ home state of Minnesota this month but postponed the ceremony until August because they had not yet received the visa.
Now, he expects they will have to delay again.
“Every twist and turn of the courts, we’re holding our hearts and our stomachs are falling to the floor,” he said by phone from Turkey.
The new regulations are also affecting the wedding plans of Rama Issa-Ibrahim, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.
She is Syrian-American and had planned to get married this fall. While her father in Syria may be able to get a visa, her aunts and uncles may well be blocked.
“I would love for them to be at this wedding, and unfortunately, they aren’t going to be able to be here,” she said, adding that the ceremony would be postponed.
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles and Michael Noble in New York contributed to this report.
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BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday strongly protested a U.S. plan to sell $1.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan and demanded that the deal be canceled.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the sale would severely damage China’s sovereignty and security interests and run counter to Washington’s commitment to a “one-China” policy.
He asked the U.S. to immediately stop the sale to avoid harming relations with Beijing.
“We stress that nobody could sway our determination to uphold our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Lu said at a regular daily briefing. “We oppose any external interference in our internal affairs.”
The U.S. State Department approved the arms sale on Thursday, the first such deal with Taiwan since President Donald Trump took office.
The sale was broadly welcomed on Taiwan as a show of U.S. support, despite concerns about the strain on finances and Beijing’s angry response. Taiwan’s defense department said the sale would enhance the island’s self-defense capability.
China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has long opposed any arms sales to the self-governing island by foreign entities. It insists on eventual reunification, through force if necessary.
The U.S. State Department’s approval of the sale — the first since December 2015— follows a tense year between China and Taiwan.
Beijing cut ties with the government of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after she took office in May last year and has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and economic pressure. Her ruling Democratic Progressive Party says it wants stable relations with Beijing, but hasn’t followed her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, in endorsing the “one-China” principle.
China’s hostility toward Tsai is a big concern, said Lee Chun-yi, a ruling party legislator. “Most people will support this arms sale because we need to strengthen our defense” amid strained relations between the sides, he said. The party favors a stronger Taiwanese identity.
About 66 percent of Taiwanese oppose unification with Beijing, a Taiwan Indicators Survey Research poll found in May 2016.
“How can we not do anything?” said Chu Chen-tsai, 57, a blue-collar worker in Taipei. “We hope to get high-quality weaponry to defend ourselves.”
In the southern city of Kaohsiung, citizens feel vulnerable to a Chinese attack through the shipping port, said George Hou, a media studies lecturer at I-Shou University in the city.
“We need to maintain a balance with China, so for that stability the arms sale will be helpful,” Hou said. “People here will consider it goodwill from the United States.”
Many in Taiwan had been wondering whether Trump was sidelining Taiwan to form stronger relations with Beijing, in part to seek its help in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program. Trump had raised hopes on the island when he broke with diplomatic precedent in December by taking a phone call from Tsai, but in February he assured Beijing he supported its “one-China” policy.
“The timing (of the arms sale proposal) is good politically, because a lot of people say Trump doesn’t like Taiwan,” said Huang Kwei-bo, associate professor of diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Now people are saying ‘hey look, the U.S. government still supports us.’”
But some people are concerned it could lead to an arms race with China, Huang said.
The arms approved by the U.S. government for sale to Taiwan include torpedoes, technical support for early warning radar, anti-radiation missiles and missile components, officials from the two governments said.
Taiwanese officials indicated they would pursue the U.S. arms package. The defense ministry plans to start discussions “as soon as possible” about quantities, prices and delivery times, it said in a statement.
“President Trump has been in office for five months and just approved the first arms package for Taiwan,” the foreign ministry in Taipei said. “That amply shows Taiwan’s security is a priority.”
Jennings reported from Taipei, Taiwan.
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi troops were clearing up a key neighborhood in Mosul on Friday, commanders said, a day after making significant gains against Islamic State militants in the city and after the country’s prime minister declared an end to the extremist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi and Lt. Col. Salam Hussein told The Associated Press their forces were continuing to clear territory in the Old City after retaking the hugely symbolic al-Nuri Mosque on Thursday, following a dawn push into the Mosul neighborhood.
Al-Saadi said his forces were also continuing to push forward from the Old City and on Friday reached within 700 meters (766 yards) of the Tigris River, which roughly divides Mosul into an eastern and western half.
The mosque and its famed 12th century minaret were blown up by IS last week — an indication, the Iraqi government said, of the militants’ imminent loss of Mosul.
Later Thursday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the full liberation of the city is near and that Iraq’s “brave forces will bring victory.”
The operation to retake Mosul, closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition, was launched in October, with the Iraqi government initially pledging the city would be liberated in 2016.
But instead, it has been a long and deadly fight — eight months on, IS holds less than two square kilometers (0.8 square miles) of the city. Clashes have displaced more than 850,000 people, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The Old City, with its tightly packed houses and narrow alleys, has seen some of the most difficult urban combat yet. Damaged and destroyed houses dot the areas retaken by Iraqi forces and the stench of rotting bodies rises from beneath collapsed buildings.
While the Islamic State group has not confirmed any Mosul losses, its media arm, the Aamaq news agency, carried reports of fierce fighting Friday on the city’s outskirts and in the neighborhoods of Bab Jadid, al-Mashahda and Bab al-Beidh, claiming IS fighters killed more than 50 Iraqi soldiers.
Though IS claims are often exaggerated, the fact that the reports made no mention of the Old City was significant and could be interpreted as indirect confirmation of the losses there.
Some 300 IS fighters are thought to remain holed up inside the last Mosul districts, along with an estimated 50,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.
The al-Nuri Mosque, taken Thursday, was a symbolic win — the site is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance in July 2014, declaring the self-styled Islamic “caliphate” encompassing territories then-held by IS in Syria and Iraq.
But IS destroyed the mosque and its iconic leaning minaret last week, Iraqi and coalition officials said. IS blamed a U.S. airstrike for the blasts, a claim rejected by a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition who said coalition planes “did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.”
Al-Baghdadi’s fate remains unknown. Earlier this month, Moscow announced that he may have been killed in a Russian airstrike in late May on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa, which is being encircled by an array of anti-IS forces. Russian officials stressed, however, that the information was still “being verified through various channels.”
On Thursday, Iranian official Ali Shirazi, a representative of the country’s supreme leader in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, also suggested that al-Baghdadi had been killed, the official IRNA news agency reported. He did not elaborate. Iran and Russia are both staunch allies of Syrian president Bashar Assad.
The civilians who managed to escape Mosul on Thursday fled on foot, in waves. Soldiers shouted at men to lift their shirts to show they were not wearing explosives and rummaged through the few possessions people carried with them: identify papers, family photos, baby formula, diapers and clothing.
Nearly 1,000 civilians fled the Old City on Thursday, according to Col. Ali al-Kenani, an Iraqi intelligence officer at a west Mosul screening center. Families covered in dust huddled in the shade of half-destroyed storefronts waiting for flat-bed trucks to move them to camps.
Associated Press Writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — An investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed Friday that sarin nerve gas was used in a deadly April 4 attack on a Syrian town, the latest confirmation of chemical weapons use in Syria’s civil war.
The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province left more than 90 people dead, including women and children, and sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.
“I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”
The investigation did not apportion blame. Its findings will be used by a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation team to assess who was responsible.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement issued Thursday night after the report was circulated to OPCW member states that “The facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.”
President Donald Trump cited images of the aftermath of the Khan Sheikhoun attack when he launched a punitive strike days later, firing cruise missiles on a Syrian government-controlled air base from where U.S. officials said the Syrian military had launched the chemical attack.
It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons. His staunch ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said earlier this month that he believed the attack was “a provocation” staged “by people who wanted to blame him (Assad) for that.”
Both the U.S. and the OPCW were at pains to defend the probe’s methodology. Investigators did not visit the scene of the attack, deeming it too dangerous, but analyzed samples from victims and survivors as well as interviewing witnesses.
“A rigorous methodology was employed for conducting an investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons that took into account corroboration between interviewee testimonies; open-source research, documents, and other records; and the characteristics of the samples including those provided by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the OPCW said in a statement.
The Syrian government joined the OPCW in 2013 after it was blamed for a deadly poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb. As it joined, Assad’s government declared some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and precursor chemicals which were subsequently destroyed in an unprecedented international operation.
However, the organization still has unanswered questions about the completeness of Syria’s initial declaration, meaning that it has never conclusively been able to confirm that the country has no more chemical weapons.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Senate Republicans may try preserving a tax boost on high earners enacted by President Barack Obama in a bid to woo party moderates and rescue their sputtering push to repeal his health care overhaul.
The break from dogma by a party that has long reviled tax boosts — and most things achieved by Obama — underscores Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s feverish effort to yank one of his and President Donald Trump’s foremost priorities from the brink of defeat. The money would instead be used to bolster proposed health care subsidies for lower-income people.
The change, proposed by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would give a more populist flavor to the bill. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that as the legislation now is written, it would boost out-of-pocket costs for many poor consumers and produce 22 million uninsured people while cutting around $700 billion in taxes over a decade — largely for richer people and the health care industry.
“You’re increasing the burden on lower-income citizens and obviously alleviating the burden on the wealthy. That is not an equation that works,” Corker said. He said he was “very confident” that leaders would address the issue in the updated bill.
Top Republicans also considered an amendment pushed by conservatives to let insurers offer plans with low premiums and scant benefits. To do so, a company would also have to sell a policy that abides by the consumer-friendly coverage requirements in Obama’s 2010 statute, which the GOP is struggling to repeal.
Both proposals were encountering internal Republican opposition, and it was uncertain either would survive. But the effort underscored how McConnell, R-Ky., needed to mollify both wings of his divided party to rescue his health care legislation, which he wrote secretly but has floundered.
McConnell postponed a vote on an initial version Tuesday because of opposition from conservatives and moderates alike. By this week’s end, he wants to nail down changes that would assure the bill’s passage after Congress’ weeklong July 4 recess. No more than two of the 52 GOP senators can oppose the measure for him to prevail, and there were no indications he’d achieved that margin as senators left town Thursday.
“We’re kind of at a stalemate right now, I’d say,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who with Ohio GOP Sen. Robert Portman and others wants to forestall reductions the measure would make in Medicaid. Discussions about easing those cuts were continuing, but progress so far was “not enough for me,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
The Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people has grown dramatically in their states and others, but the Republican bill would cut it, with reductions growing over time.
The CBO says Medicaid cuts in the Senate Republican health care bill would take a 35 percent bite off the program’s projected spending by 2036.
Under Corker’s proposal, the bill would retain Obama’s 3.8 percent tax increase on investment income for married couples making more than $250,000 a year and individuals making more than $125,000. Keeping that increase would save $172 billion over 10 years, and moderates want to use that money to make coverage more affordable for poorer consumers.
“If it takes something like that to get our members on board to move this process forward, I think we have to consider that,” said No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota.
Conservatives said they opposed the idea, along with the chairmen of Congress’ two tax-writing committees: Senate Finance chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
Also in play was a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to let insurers offer skimpier policies, which conservatives say would lower premiums.
Moderates oppose that, especially if it lets insurers raise premiums on people with pre-existing medical problems. No. 2 GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas suggested the proposal might not survive because Senate rules won’t allow it on the bill.
The leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus suggested the Senate bill would be doomed if it excluded something like Cruz’s plan or House-approved provisions letting insurers charge higher prices to people with serious diseases. Many expect the House to try for quick passage of any health care bill the Senate approves, foregoing potential problems of negotiating a bicameral compromise.
“Is failure an option? Absolutely not,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “Is failure on the doorstep knocking? Absolutely. So we’ve got to make sure we don’t answer that door.”
Republicans also said party leaders agreed to add $45 billion for battling opioids abuse to their bill. They were also considering a proposal by conservatives to let people use tax-advantaged health savings accounts to pay health care premiums.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Mary Clare Jalonick, Kevin Freking and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — With President Donald Trump’s travel ban taking effect, the White House declared victory on the first major policy push of his presidency. But it could not have been the win Trump imagined.
What was once described as a blanket ban on Muslims, and then became a temporary ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries, is now a list of confusing new visa restrictions. Trump’s eye-popping campaign promise to deliver security by limiting entry into the U.S. has become the incredible shrinking travel ban, a plan rewritten, tweaked, watered down and litigated nearly beyond recognition.
All but lost in the five-month editing process and court fight is the president’s stated aim: keeping dangerous people out of the U.S. Trump initially billed the temporary ban on visitors from certain countries and refugees as an urgent and necessary tool to keep out would-be terrorists while the government crafted new “extreme vetting” procedures. But five months and no ban later, the administration has made little effort to build a stronger case and offered scant new evidence to back up its claims.
The restrictions that took effect Thursday evening, reinstated temporarily by the Supreme Court, are a far cry from Trump’s initial executive order, which sparked protests, chaos at airports and legal challenges in his administration’s earliest days. That order was withdrawn after being replaced with a version that Trump himself described as “watered down” and “politically correct.”
“What the Supreme Court did was watered it down even further,” Kari Hong, an immigration law expert at Boston College Law School, said of the version that took effect.
The justices’ ruling exempts people if they can prove a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. Under State Department guidelines, visa applicants from six Muslim-majority countries for the next 90 days need to show close family or business ties to the United States. Citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen with a parent, spouse, fiance, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States could be allowed to enter.
Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid, formal invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. are exempt from the ban.
The same requirements, with some exceptions, apply for the next 120 days to refugees from all nations who are still awaiting approval.
Experts aren’t expecting large numbers of people to be immediately affected. Temple University law professor Peter Spiro, an immigration law expert, noted the numbers are difficult to predict because of likely legal challenges over the interpretation of the term “bona fide,” which the court did not define.
While Trump declared the court ruling a “win,” his administration did not lay out a clear case for the national security merits of the plan.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, only one of five administration officials — one representing the White House — couched the Supreme Court order as a step that will have a marked impact on improving national security. The other four officials, from the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security, described the actions more narrowly.
Asked specifically how the measures would improve security, a State Department official said only, “The guidance we have from the president is to put a pause on certain travel while we review our security posture.”
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity despite describing a public executive order.
The White House sees the Supreme Court decision as a temporary measure, and is confident it will win on the merits when the court hears the case later this year.
John Malcolm, a vice president at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Supreme Court’s decision to allow parts of the ban to take effect and to hear the case was a good sign for those who support the ban.
“I think it sends a strong signal that the president is likely to prevail. As I think he should,” Malcolm said, adding that he believed the court was allowing “90 percent” of what the president initially set out to do to take effect.
But it remains unclear whether even the original ban would have improved security.
National security experts have warned that the proposal alienated moderate Muslims and turned off allies whom the U.S. relies on in the fight against extremist groups.
The Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found in February that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” for a terrorism threat to the United States. A draft report obtained by The Associated Press said few people from the six countries affected by the ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The government said the draft report was “from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document” and said it was incomplete.
Spiro said the travel ban has been “absurd from the get-go and it’s no less absurd now.” He argued that any national security ends could be accomplished with a much narrower focus on people who have historically posed a risk. “It’s all about politics. It has nothing to do with security and counter-terrorism activities,” he said.
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
Follow Colvin and Caldwell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj and www.twitter.com/acaldwellap
TOKYO (AP) — Shares slipped in Asia on Friday, tracking an overnight decline on Wall Street. Strong Chinese manufacturing data failed to lift benchmarks in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index dropped 1.1 percent to 20,000.88 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.9 percent to 25,730.74. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.4 percent to 2,384.97. The Shanghai Composite index lost 0.3 percent to 3,179.22 and Australia’s S&P ASX 200 lost 1.4 percent to 5,739.60.
WALL STREET: Despite some encouraging news on the U.S. economy, as the Commerce Department said the nation’s gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, increased at an annual rate of 1.4 percent in the first quarter, investors unloaded technology stocks as investors bet central bankers may be ready to lift rates. That spurred many traders to move out of growth sectors, like technology, and into value stocks, such as banks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.9 percent to 2,419.70. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 0.8 percent to 21,287.03 and the Nasdaq composite lost 1.4 percent to 6,144.35.
ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “After yesterday’s broad lift for Asian indices, markets are expected to pare back gains today as the positive sentiment subsides,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary.
CHINA MANUFACTURING: A survey showed China’s manufacturing activity accelerated in June, helped by stronger foreign demand for Chinese goods. The monthly purchasing managers’ index issued by the Chinese statistics bureau and an industry group on Friday rose to 51.7 from May’s 51.2 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show activity expanding. The Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said it was the 11th straight month of improvement.
JAPAN DATA: Japan’s factory output rose in May from a year earlier and the number of jobs per job seekers climbed to a 43-year high, reflecting labor shortages as the economy gains momentum thanks to stronger exports to the rest of Asia. Despite the high ratio of jobs to job seekers, at 1.49 to 1 the highest since February 1974, government said the unemployment rate rose to 3.1 percent from 2.8 percent in April as workers quit to seek new jobs in a labor-short market.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 31 cents to $45.24 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained 19 cents to settle at $44.93 a barrel on Thursday. Brent, the international standard, gained 36 cents to $47.99.
CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.83 yen from 112.18 yen late Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.1442 from $1.1440. The British pound rose to $1.3018 from $1.2999. European currency markets have been volatile in recent days after leading central bankers appeared to hint at a turn in monetary policy soon.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans are stymied over health care. But after seven years of promising to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s law, they risk political disaster if they don’t deliver.
Republicans anticipate a major backlash from GOP voters if they don’t make good on the promises that swept them to control of the House and Senate and helped propel Donald Trump to the White House in last year’s elections.
Trump himself could turn on his congressional allies if they fail, some Republicans fear, and take his supporters with him just as the 2018 midterm elections loom.
And, passage of health care legislation would set the stage for the next major item on Trump’s to-do list: rewriting the loophole-ridden U.S. tax code. Republicans are counting on the nearly $1 trillion in tax cuts in the health care bill to allow them to write a new tax code that raises less money.
Perhaps most importantly, after making it through six months without a single marquee legislative achievement, health legislation now looms as a make-or-break test of the GOP’s ability to govern now that it controls the levers of power in Washington.
“I think it is an absolute imperative that they get health care done,” said Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
After making “Obamacare” repeal a core campaign promise, “it is deeply ingrained in the primary electorate, and failure to address it will be extremely difficult to justify,” Holmes said. “I also think that governing is going to be on the ballot, and even beyond the specifics of the health care issue, the ability to get difficult things done is something that Republicans have taken pride in.”
GOP senators are keenly aware of such considerations in the wake of McConnell’s decision to cancel votes planned for this week on his bill to repeal core elements of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yet even with a need to act, the gap between moderates and conservatives in McConnell’s caucus looks extremely difficult to bridge. Moderates like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine view McConnell’s bill as overly harsh in stripping health insurance from millions, while conservatives like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah think it doesn’t go far enough in repealing Obama’s law in full.
Navigating between those two poles requires a delicate balance that looks elusive for now.
And with a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, McConnell can lose only two Republican senators and still pass the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Democrats are unanimously opposed.
McConnell is spending the remainder of this week in search of a deal, and hopes to bring reworked legislation up for a vote after the July 4 recess. “We know that we cannot afford to delay on this issue,” McConnell said Wednesday. “We have to get this done for the American people.”
The House passed its version of the health bill in May, after its own near-death experience when the bill was pulled from the floor short of votes, but subsequently revived. Leaders in both chambers hope to send a final compromise bill to Trump before Congress’ annual August recess, then move on to other issues.
In addition to tax legislation, lawmakers face looming deadlines on must-pass budget bills and will have to raise the government’s debt limit or face an unprecedented default.
“There’s a sense of urgency to get this done,” said Sen. David Perdue of Georgia. “You’ve got the debt ceiling, you’ve got a budget, you’ve got to appropriate for FY18, and then you’ve got the tax deal — and all that has to happen this year. I can tell you there’s some heavy lifting.”
But even as they face powerful incentives to act on the health legislation, for some lawmakers the disincentives are powerful, too.
The GOP bill, which would eject 22 million people from the insurance rolls over a decade, polls poorly, while Obama’s law has grown steadily more popular. Democrats are convinced that the health care issue will be a political winner, especially if the GOP bill does become law, and they’re practically salivating at the prospect of using it against Republicans in the midterms.
Most medical groups are lined up against the GOP legislation, including hospitals which are major employers in many districts. The AARP opposes the bill, as do a number of GOP governors, including Nevada’s popular Brian Sandoval, John Kasich of Ohio and Maine’s Paul LePage. The cuts in Medicaid funding contained in the bill coincide with the opioid epidemic ravaging some areas of the country, including in states like West Virginia and Ohio, where vulnerable residents rely on government health coverage.
These factors and others have pushed senators like Dean Heller of Nevada, who faces a tough re-election campaign, and Rob Portman of Ohio, who was just re-elected, into opposing the bill.
It remains to be seen whether those lawmakers and others will get to “yes,” and allow the GOP to make good on seven years of campaign promises, with all the risks and rewards that might bring.
“I don’t know what happens next. I just think it can be improved and I hope it will be. I’ve made my points clear for several months now,” Portman said, adding: “It’s tough to get 52 of us moving in the same direction.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Erica Werner has covered Congress since 2009.
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers will be key players in putting President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban into effect on Thursday, affecting visitors from six mostly Muslim countries.
They are the officers dressed in blue who are stationed at airports and border crossings and screen people coming into the U.S. They stamp passports, inspect travel documents, confiscate drugs and other illicit items and make sure belongings and purchases are properly declared.
Customs and Border Protection officers were embroiled in chaos when an earlier version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect, forcing them to turn away visa holders who were later allowed in. They will be in the mix again for the new ban affecting visitors from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen.
Here’s a look at what they do:
WHAT IS CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION?
The agency was created as part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 after attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Its largest division — the Office of Field Operations — admits people and goods at 328 airports, land crossings and seaports. They admitted 390 million travelers during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, including 119 million at airports.
Much of the work done by the agency is at border crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The busiest point of entry is San Diego’s San Ysidro crossing with Tijuana, Mexico, with 31.8 million admissions during the latest 12-month period, an average of 87,000 a day. El Paso, Texas, across from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was second-busiest with 28.8 million admissions, followed by San Diego’s Otay Mesa crossing (17.8 million), Laredo, Texas (17.7 million), and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (15.9 million).
The travel ban will mostly affect airports because that’s how visitors from the six countries generally arrive. Aside from JFK, the only airports to crack the top 20 in passenger volume are Miami International (No. 11), Los Angeles International (No. 12) and San Francisco International (No. 20).
HOW WILL OFFICERS ENFORCE THE TRAVEL BAN?
The Trump administration on Wednesday set new criteria for visa applicants from the six countries and all refugees that require a “close” family or business tie to the United States.
Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the State Department say that new applicants from the six countries must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible. The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations that are still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S.
Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancees or other extended family members are not considered to be close relationships, according to the guidelines that were issued in a cable sent to all U.S. embassies and consulates late on Wednesday. The new rules take effect at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday (0000GMT on Friday), according to the cable, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The task falls largely to the State Department but Customs and Border Protection officers would get involved if someone from one of the six countries arrived without a visa or there was a reason to question the validity of their documents.
WHAT ILLEGAL ACTIVITY DO OFFICERS FIND?
Agents primarily seize drugs and stop people seeking to enter the country illegally.
Drugs — increasingly heroin and methamphetamine — are commonly smuggled into the United States by car from Mexico. People enter the country illegally by hiding in trunks or by using someone else’s travel documents.
Officers denied admission 274,821 times at airports, land crossings and seaports during the latest fiscal year, an increase of 8 percent from the same period a year earlier. They seized 257 tons of marijuana, 26.3 tons of cocaine, 18.8 tons of methamphetamine and 2.1 tons of heroin.
An estimated 40 percent of people in the country illegally overstay their visas, and one of the agency’s top priorities is to better track them. The absence of a system for people to check out when the leave the country makes that a daunting and expensive endeavor. Homeland Security said in May that nearly 740,000 foreigners overstayed visas during the latest fiscal year, and that was only for those who arrived by plane or ship.
IS IT DIFFERENT THAN BORDER PATROL?
The Border Patrol is another division within the agency. Customs and Border Protection agents wear blue uniforms and patrol ports of entry. Border Patrol agents work areas between and wear green uniforms.
Customs and Border Protection is the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, with about 60,000 employees and an annual budget of $13.5 billion. Trump has requested 21 percent spending increase, partly to build a wall on the border with Mexico and hire more Border Patrol agents.
WHAT ABOUT THE STAFFING SHORTAGE?
The Trump administration said this month that it has 1,400 vacancies for officers at ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection has struggled to fill jobs for years, largely because an unusually high number of applicants fail a pass a polygraph that has been a hiring requirement since 2012. One official recently said 75 percent failed, more than double the average among law enforcement agencies surveyed by The Associated Press.
The House of Representatives passed a bill this month to waive the polygraph requirement for many veterans and some other applicants. Customs and Border Protection recently said it was easing some physical fitness and language requirements in hiring.
The administration has called for expanding the Border Patrol by 5,000 agents but has not proposed any increase in officers at airports, land crossings and seaports.
Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a platform most politicians can only hope for: A captivated, 6,000-person crowd and more than an hour of live, prime-time television coverage to hype the Republican vision for a new health care system.
But when President Donald Trump got around to talking about the Republican plan — about 15 minutes into his speech — he was wildly off message. Instead of preaching party lines about getting the government out of Americans’ health decisions and cutting costs, he declared: “Add some money to it!”
The moment captured a major dilemma for Republicans as they look for ways to jumpstart their stalled health care overhaul. A master salesman, Trump has an inimitable ability to command attention, and that could be used to bolster Americans’ support for Republican efforts and ramp up pressure on wavering lawmakers. But some lawmakers and congressional aides privately bemoan his thin grasp of the bill’s principles, and worry that his difficulty staying on message will do more harm than good.
“You know, he’s very personable and people like talking to him and he’s very embracing of that, so there will be certain people he’d like to talk to,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “But I’d let Mitch handle it,” he continued, referring to the lead role Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has played thus far.
McConnell delayed a vote on the health legislation this week after it became clear he couldn’t muster enough Republican support to offset the unanimous opposition from Democrats. GOP leaders are now hoping to pass a bill in the Senate and reconcile it with an earlier version approved by the House before lawmakers head home for their August recess.
Trump has largely ceded the details to McConnell, deferring to the Kentucky lawmaker’s legislative expertise. He has spent some time talking privately to wavering senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, testing his powers of persuasion. But he’s invested no significant effort in selling the American people on the impact the Republican bill would have on their health care coverage, beyond making sweeping declarations about how wonderful he expects it to be.
“We’re looking at a health care that will be a fantastic tribute to your country,” Trump said during a White House event Wednesday. “A health care that will take care of people finally for the right reasons and also at the right cost.”
His approach is a contrast to former President Barack Obama, who delivered an address to Congress on health care and held town halls around the country about the Democrats’ legislation in 2009. The Obamacare measure barely cleared Congress and became a rallying cry for Republicans, something Obama blamed in part on a failure by his party to communicate its virtues clearly to the public.
At times, even Trump’s largely generic health care commentary has left Republicans fuming. Some lawmakers were particularly irked by Trump’s assertion that the House bill — which he robustly supported and even celebrated with a Rose Garden ceremony — was “mean.”
One Republican congressional aide said that comment left some lawmakers worried that the president — who had no real ties to the GOP before running for the White House — could turn on them if a bill passes but the follow-up becomes politically damaging. The official insisted on anonymity in order to describe private discussions.
Newt Gingrich, the former GOP House speaker and a close Trump ally, said Republicans have struggled to communicate about the complexities of health care policy because “nobody has served as a translator.” He said Trump is well-positioned to take the lead, but acknowledged that the real estate mogul-turned-politician would need some help from policy experts in formulating a sales pitch.
“Trump will be able to repeat it with enormous effectiveness once somebody translates it,” Gingrich said.
The White House disputes that Trump isn’t steeped in the details of the Obamacare repeal efforts. Economic adviser Gary Cohn and other officials on the National Economic Council have convened several meetings with him to explain differences between the House and Senate bills. One senior White House official described the president as “fully engaged” in the process.
During a private meeting Tuesday with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is strongly opposed to the current Senate bill, Trump said his priority was to increase the number of insurance choices available to consumers and lower monthly premiums, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the discussion. The official said the president also specifically highlighted the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s projection that average premiums would be 30 percent lower in 2020 if the Senate bill took effect.
To some Trump allies, more public engagement on a substantive policy debate like the future of the nation’s health care system would also be a welcome reprieve for a president whose approval ratings have tumbled amid the snowballing investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.
“I think his numbers would go up if he had a couple of addresses,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser. “If he communicates directly with the American people, he cuts through the noise.”
AP writers Ken Thomas and Josh Boak in Washington, and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has set new criteria for visa applicants from six mainly Muslim nations and all refugees that require a “close” family or business tie to the United States. The move came after the Supreme Court partially restored President Donald Trump’s executive order that was widely criticized as a ban on Muslims.
Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the State Department Wednesday said that new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible. The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations that are still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S.
Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancees or other extended family members are not considered to be close relationships, according to the guidelines that were issued in a cable sent to all U.S. embassies and consulates late on Wednesday. The new rules take effect at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday (0000GMT on Friday), according to the cable, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
As far as business or professional links are concerned, the State Department said a legitimate relationship must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban. Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules, the cable said. A hotel reservation or car rental contract, even if it was pre-paid, would also not count, it said.
Consular officers may grant other exemptions to applicants from the six nations if they have “previously established significant contacts with the United States;” ″significant business or professional obligations” in the U.S.; if they are an infant, adopted child or in need of urgent medical care; if they are traveling for business with a recognized international organization or the U.S. government or if they are a legal resident of Canada who applies for a visa in Canada, according to the cable.
Meanwhile, the Middle East’s biggest airline says its flights to the United States are operating as normal as new travel guidelines come into effect for travelers for six mainly Muslim nations. Dubai-based Emirates said in response to questions on the travel ban Thursday that it “remains guided by the US Customs and Border Protection on this matter.”
The carrier reminded passengers that they “must possess the appropriate travel documents, including a valid US entry visa, in order to travel.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court partially lifted lower court injunctions against Trump’s executive order that had temporarily banned visas for citizens of the six countries. The justices’ ruling exempted applicants from the ban if they could prove a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity, but the court offered only broad guidelines — suggesting they would include a relative, job offer or invitation to lecture in the U.S. — as to how that should be defined.
Senior officials from the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security had labored since the decision to clarify the ruling and Wednesday’s instructions were the result. The new guidance will remain in place until the Supreme Court issues a final ruling on the matter. Arguments before the justices will not be held until at least October, so the interim rules will remain in place at least until the fall.
Shortly after taking office, Trump ordered the refugee ban and a travel ban affecting the six countries, plus Iraq. He said it was needed to protect the U.S. from terrorists, but opponents said it was unfairly harsh and was intended to meet his campaign promise to keep Muslims out of the United States.
After a federal judge struck down the bans, Trump signed a revised order intended to overcome legal hurdles. That was also struck down by lower courts, but the Supreme Court’s action Monday partially reinstated it.
The initial travel ban led to chaos at airports around the world, but because the guidelines exempt previously issued visas, similar problems are not expected. After a judge blocked the original ban, Trump issued a scaled-down order and the court’s action Monday further reduced the number of people who would be covered by it. Also, while the initial order took effect immediately, adding to the confusion, this one was delayed 72 hours after the court’s ruling.
Under the new rules, would-be immigrants from the six countries who won a coveted visa in the government’s diversity lottery — a program that randomly awards 50,000 green cards annually to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States — will also have to prove they have a “bona fide relationship” with in the U.S. or are eligible for another waiver or face being banned for at least 90 days. That hurdle may be a difficult one for those immigrants to overcome, as many visa lottery winners don’t have relatives in the U.S. or jobs in advance of arriving in the country.
Generally, winners in the diversity lottery only need prove they were born in an eligible county and have completed high school or have at least two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two other years of training or experience.
Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report.
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Leonard Larkins and nearly 4,000 other segregated black soldiers helped build a highway across Alaska and Canada during World War II, a contribution largely ignored for decades but drawing attention as the 75th anniversary approaches.
In harsh conditions and tough terrain, it took the soldiers working from the north just over eight months to meet up with white soldiers coming from the south to connect the two segments on Oct. 25, 1942. The 1,500-mile (2,400-kilometer) route set the foundation for the only land link to Alaska.
The project to build a supply route between Alaska and Canada used 11,000 troops from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers divided by race, working under a backdrop of segregation and discrimination. The soldiers connected the road in Canada’s Yukon Territory east of the border of what was then the U.S. territory of Alaska. A photo of a smiling black soldier shaking hands with a cigarette-dangling white soldier became emblematic of their effort.
State lawmakers voted this year to set aside each Oct. 25 to honor black soldiers who worked on the Alcan Highway, now called the Alaska Highway. They note the soldiers’ work became a factor in the integration of the Army in 1948.
With the anniversary of the highway’s completion approaching, its history is gaining attention with multiple events in Alaska this summer.
Larkins, now 96 and living in New Orleans, applauds lawmakers for finally recognizing their role.
“It’s way past time,” said Larkins, who recently was back in Alaska for commemoration events.
A road link between Alaska and the Lower 48 was long a dream for territorial officials, but disagreements over a route and necessity caused delays until December 1941. The Japanese attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor sparked an urgency to build the link out of concern that the U.S. territory and West Coast shipping lanes also were vulnerable. The southwest tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain is just 750 miles (1,206 kilometers) from Japan.
Larkins worked on both sides of the border with the 93rd Engineers, one of several black regiments sent north to help cut and hack through virgin wilderness. Along the way were clouds of mosquitoes, boggy land, permafrost and temperatures ranging from 90 degrees to minus 70 during one of the coldest years on record.
The soldiers slept in tents or in military metal structures called Quonset huts between duties like road cleanup and bridge building, Larkins said. He wasn’t directly touched by the racial discrimination of the time, although he remembers black soldiers doing all the work, while white officers supervised them.
His most vivid recollection remains the bone-chilling temperatures — shocking to the young man from Louisiana.
“So cold,” Larkins recalled in a phone interview. “You can’t stand there too long, you know. It’s entirely too cold.”
Black soldiers also faced racism from military leaders and were kept away from Alaska settlements. The Army’s Alaska commander at the time, Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., a Confederate general’s son, wrote that he feared the soldiers would settle in the state and have children with “Indians and Eskimos,” according to a letter cited by historians.
Before the project, black soldiers were considered incapable of front-line duty or sensitive deployments and were largely relegated to housekeeping and clerk duties, said historian and author Lael Morgan, who researched the project for its 50th anniversary. However, a shortage of men prompted the deployment of black soldiers to help carve out the initial route, said Morgan, who is largely credited with introducing their story to modern audiences.
The gravel road opened to supply trucks and other vehicles in November 1942. The following year, contractors worked on the permanent road, following much of the original route. A 1944 military documentary called it “one of the wonders of the modern world.” The highway, which runs from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Alaska’s Delta Junction, opened to general civilian traffic in 1948.
But little more than a historical footnote mentioned the black soldiers, with only a fraction of photographs showing them.
“I’m delighted that credit is finally going to where credit is due,” Morgan said. “We owe them for a job well done.”
The recognition didn’t come without dissent. Several people testified in favor of honoring all who worked on the highway — a stance adopted by Republican state Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, who cast the only no vote. Singling out a group for their race is another form of segregation, in his view.
State Sen. Tom Begich said the point of the recognition was not to minimize anyone’s work but to acknowledge a group that played a role in the battle for integration, whose contribution was historically downplayed.
“We often acknowledge the construction of the Alcan,” the Anchorage Democrat said. “This is simply going a step further and saying there was a contribution made by African Americans as well.”
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican Party’s long-promised repeal of “Obamacare” stands in limbo after Senate GOP leaders, short of support, abruptly shelved a vote on legislation to fulfill the promise.
The surprise development leaves the legislation’s fate uncertain while raising new doubts about whether President Donald Trump will ever make good on his many promises to erase his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced the delay Tuesday after it became clear the votes weren’t there to advance the legislation past key procedural hurdles. Trump immediately invited Senate Republicans to the White House, but the message he delivered to them before reporters were ushered out of the room was not entirely hopeful.
“This will be great if we get it done, and if we don’t get it done it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK and I understand that very well,” he told the senators, who surrounded him at tables arranged in a giant square in the East Room. Most wore grim expressions.
In the private meeting that followed, said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the president spoke of “the costs of failure, what it would mean to not get it done — the view that we would wind up in a situation where the markets will collapse and Republicans will be blamed for it and then potentially have to fight off an effort to expand to single payer at some point.”
The bill has many critics and few outspoken fans on Capitol Hill, and prospects for changing that are uncertain. McConnell promised to revisit the legislation after Congress’ July 4 recess.
“It’s a big complicated subject, we’ve got a lot discussions going on, and we’re still optimistic we’re going to get there,” the Kentucky lawmaker said.
But adjustments to placate conservatives, who want the legislation to be more stringent, only push away moderates who think its current limits — on Medicaid for example — are too strong.
In the folksy analysis of John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate GOP vote-counter: “Every time you get one bullfrog in the wheelbarrow, another one jumps out.”
McConnell can lose only two senators from his 52-member caucus and still pass the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote. Democrats are opposed, as are most medical groups and the AARP, though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the bill.
A number of GOP governors oppose the legislation, especially in states that have expanded the Medicaid program for the poor under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Opposition from Nevada’s popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval helped push GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who is vulnerable in next year’s midterms, to denounce the legislation last Friday; Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich held an event at the National Press Club Tuesday to criticize it.
The House went through its own struggles with its version of the bill, pulling it from the floor short of votes before reviving it and narrowly passing it in May. So it’s quite possible that the Senate Republicans can rise from this week’s setback.
But McConnell is finding it difficult to satisfy demands from his diverse caucus. Conservatives like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah argue that the legislation doesn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare. But moderates like Heller and Susan Collins of Maine criticize the bill as overly punitive in throwing people off insurance roles and limiting benefits paid by Medicaid, which has become the nation’s biggest health care program, covering nursing home care for seniors as well as care for many poor Americans.
GOP defections increased after the Congressional Budget Office said Monday the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than Obama’s 2010 statute. McConnell told senators he wanted them to agree to a final version of the bill before the end of this week so they could seek a new analysis by the budget office. He said that would give lawmakers time to finish when they return to the Capitol for a three-week stretch in July before Congress’ summer break.
The 22 million extra uninsured Americans are just 1 million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version. Trump has called the House bill “mean” and prodded senators to produce a package with more “heart.”
The Senate plan would end the tax penalty the law imposes on people who don’t buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama’s so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don’t offer coverage to workers.
It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama’s expansion of the program.
Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ken Thomas, Andrew Taylor, Michael Biesecker and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for political consulting work he did for a Ukrainian political party, acknowledging that he coached party members on how to interact with U.S. government officials.
Manafort says in a Justice Department filing Tuesday that his firm, DMP International, received more than $17 million from the Party of Regions, the former pro-Russian ruling party in Ukraine, for consulting work from 2012 through 2014.
Manafort is the second member of the Trump campaign to register as a foreign agent. In March, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn registered with the Justice Department for work his consulting firm performed for a Turkish businessman that he said could have aided the Turkish government. Both registrations came after the work had been completed.
Manafort helmed Trump’s campaign for about five months until August and resigned from the campaign immediately after The Associated Press reported on his firm’s covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party. He is one of several people linked to the Trump campaign who are under scrutiny by a special counsel and congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and potential coordination with Trump associates.
Manafort has denied any coordination with Russia and has said his work in Ukraine was not related to the campaign.
The Washington Post first reported Manafort’s registration and posted a copy of his filing online Tuesday. The filing does not bear the date and time stamps showing that it has been formally received by the Justice Department’s FARA unit. But Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed to several news outlets that Manafort had gone through with the registration.
Maloni did not respond to phone calls or emails from AP seeking comment.
His registration came more than two months after Maloni told the AP that Manafort would be registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Maloni later backed off that statement, saying in late April that Manafort was still considering his options after receiving guidance from the Justice Department.
Under federal law, people who represent foreign political interests and seek to influence U.S. public opinion and policy are required to register with the Justice Department before they perform any work. Manafort’s registration comes more than three years after he completed his work.
The Justice Department rarely prosecutes violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Instead, as in Manafort’s case, they often work with lobbyists to get in compliance.
In addition to Manafort, his deputy, Rick Gates, also registered for the Ukrainian political work. Gates also served in the Trump campaign. He could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday evening.
In the filing, Manafort said that his company’s work was mostly focused on domestic Ukrainian politics as part of its work for the Party of Regions, which was led at the time by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The filing repeatedly states that Manafort’s firm worked “to advance the goal of greater political and economic integration between Ukraine and the West.”
Manafort’s firm also acknowledged that it had some involvement with a Brussels-based nonprofit called the European Centre for Modern Ukraine, saying that it provided “advice” to the entity.
Last August, the AP reported that emails show that Manafort’s firm and Gates directed the efforts of Washington lobbying firms that were working on behalf of the center.
The emails show Gates directing lobbyists from Washington firm Mercury LLC to set up meetings between a top Ukrainian official and senators and congressmen on influential committees involving Ukrainian interests. Gates also had the firms gather information in the U.S. on a rival lobbying operation and directed efforts to undercut sympathy for Yulia Tymoshenko, an imprisoned rival of Yanukovych.
Both of the lobbying firms involved in the work— Mercury and The Podesta Group — have since registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents.
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LONDON (AP) — British prosecutors charged six people Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 soccer fans died, many of them crushed to death — the first criminal charges in the tragedy that changed English soccer forever.
Those charged include the police commander on the day, David Duckenfield, who is accused of gross negligence manslaughter in the deaths of 95 men, women and children. Prosecutors declined to charge the manslaughter of the 96th casualty because he died four years after the April 15, 1989 tragedy.
The former chief of South Yorkshire Police, Norman Bettison, is charged with misconduct in public office for lying about the disaster and its aftermath.
Graham Henry Mackrell, the secretary and safety officer for the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club at the time, was charged with failing to carry out health and safety duties
Peter Metcalf, the attorney for the South Yorkshire Police, was charged with acting “with intent to pervert the course of public justice” relating to changes in witness statements during an inquiry into the tragedy. Former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster were charged for their involvement in the same matter.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial,” said Sue Hemming, the head prosecutor for special crime and counter terror. “It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”
The tragedy at the stadium in Sheffield unfolded when more than 2,000 Liverpool soccer fans flooded into a standing-room section behind a goal, with the 54,000-capacity stadium already nearly full for the match against Nottingham Forest. The victims were smashed against metal anti-riot fences or trampled underfoot. Many suffocated in the crush.
At the time, hooliganism was common, and there were immediate attempts to defend the police operation. A false narrative circulated that blamed ticketless and rowdy Liverpool fans — a narrative that their families have challenged for decades.
The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death. But the families challenged it and succeeded in getting the verdicts overturned in 2012 after a far-reaching inquiry that examined previously secret documents and exposed wrongdoing and mistakes by police.
Some 23 suspects, including individuals and organizations, had faced the possibility of charges.
The Hillsborough disaster prompted a sweeping modernization of stadiums across England. Top division stadiums were largely transformed into safer, all-seat venues, with fences around fields torn down.
Barry Devonside, who lost his son Christopher in the disaster, met the news with mixed emotions, but insisted it was “only right and proper that we fought for our loved ones.”
“I was frightened we were going to be let down again,” he told Sky News. “We have been smacked in the face on a number of occasions. The families have acted with the utmost of dignity.”
FILE – In this April 15, 1989 file photo, police, stewards and supporters tend and care for wounded supporters on the pitch at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, England. British prosecutors on Wednesday June 28, 2017, are set to announce whether they plan to lay charges in the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough stadium crush _ one of Britain’s worst-ever sporting disasters. (AP Photo, File)
This story corrects the former chief of South Yorkshire Police’s last name to Bettison.
Jill Lawless contributed to this story.
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CHICAGO (AP) — Three Chicago police officers have been indicted on charges that they conspired to cover up and lie about what happened when a white police officer shot a black teenager 16 times — an incident that prompted outrage when a video of the killing was finally released.
The indictment handed down Tuesday alleges that one current and two former officers lied about the events of Oct. 20, 2014, when Officer Jason Van Dyke killed Laquan McDonald.
The officers’ version of events contradicts what can be seen on police dashcam video, in which the teenager spins after he was shot and falls to the ground — seemingly incapacitated — as the officer continues to fire shot after shot into his body. The indictment further alleges that officers lied when they said McDonald ignored Van Dyke’s verbal commands and that one of the officers signed off on a report that claimed the other two officers were, in fact, victims of an attack by McDonald.
“The co-conspirators created police reports in the critical early hours and days following the killing of Laquan McDonald that contained important false information,” says the indictment in which the three are charged with felony counts of obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.
The indictments mark the latest chapter in what has been one of the most troubling events in the history of a police force dogged by allegations of racism, brutality and the protection of officers who brutalize African-Americans. The video sparked massive protests, cost the police superintendent his job and left the city scrambling to implement reforms to regain shattered public trust.
In January, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report that found the department had violated the constitutional rights of residents for years, including by too often using excessive force and killing suspects who posed no threat.
Around the country, there are renewed questions whether the legal system is willing to punish officers, particularly after two police officers — one in in Milwaukee and the other in Minnesota — were acquitted and a mistrial was declared in Cincinnati in the shootings of blacks that were captured by video.
Patricia Brown Holmes — appointed special prosecutor last July to investigate officers at the scene and involved in the investigation of the shooting — said in a news release that the three — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — “coordinated their activities to protect each other and other members of the Chicago Police Department,” including by filing false police reports, ignoring contrary evidence and not even attempting to interview keys witnesses.
“The indictment makes clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ’code of silence,” Holmes said in the statement. “It alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth.”
The officers allegedly began to conspire almost immediately on the day of the shooting, “to conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald” and “to shield their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution.”
The indictment alleges that the officers understood that, if video and other evidence became public, “it would inexorably lead to a thorough criminal investigation by an independent body and likely criminal charges.”
Jeffrey Neslund, an attorney who helped negotiate a $5 million settlement with the city on behalf of the McDonald family, welcomed the indictments.
“This is the same thing that our investigation showed back when we were negotiating with the city in 2015, that there was a cover-up,” he said.
Van Dyke was charged more than a year after the shooting with first-degree murder on the same day that the city — under orders from a judge — made public the dashboard camera video. He has pleaded not guilty.
His attorney Dan Herbert released a fiery statement late Tuesday, alleging the indictment will silence potential witnesses and is “further proof that the government is determined to prevent” Van Dyke from having a fair trial.
If convicted, the three officers could face years in prison. The official misconduct charge alone carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The officers weren’t arrested and will be allowed to show up on their own accord at their arraignment on July 10, Holmes said. Asked why, she told a news conference later Tuesday “it’s very typical for a situation like this to give a courtesy call to the defendants” and, if they’re not deemed dangerous or a flight risk, to let them appear at their future arraignment.
HONG KONG (AP) — Shares skidded in Europe and Asia on Wednesday as investors fretted over the possibility of a policy shift toward tightening by central banks. The delayed health care vote and comments by the U.S. and European central bank chiefs spurred the retreat.
KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX fell 0.7 percent to 12,579.01 while the CAC 40 of France lost 0.6 percent to 5,228.03. Britain’s FTSE 100 edged 0.1 percent higher, though, to 7,444.10. Dow futures were nearly flat while S&P futures inched lower, suggesting a tepid start to trading on Wall Street.
CENTRAL BANKING: Upbeat comments by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi about prospects for the 19-country eurozone were taken as a hint that policy change may be in the pipeline even though he did not mention plans to dial back stimulus measures. Meanwhile, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, in a speech in London, said she didn’t foresee another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.” Market watchers also noted that she didn’t say anything to contradict earlier statements about plans to gradually remove stimulus and raise rates if economic conditions continue to improve, indicating those plans are still on track.
MARKET INSIGHT: “The net effect of last night’s speeches by Yellen and Draghi has been to reinforce a view that markets are now embarking on a phase of global policy tightening with the ECB potentially moving faster relative to the Fed than many had expected,” Ric Spooner, chief analyst at CMC Markets, said in a commentary.
U.S. POLITICS: A decision by Republican leaders in the Senate to put off until after their July 4 recess a vote on a health care overhaul bill spurred a sell-off. The delay added to investor worries about political gridlock and what it could mean for President Donald Trump’s plans for health care reforms and other economy-boosting measures.
ASIA’S DAY: Hong Kong’s Hang Seng led declines, falling as much as 0.7 percent. By late afternoon it was down 0.6 percent at 25,683.50 while Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.5 percent to 20,130.41. South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.4 percent to 2,382.56. The Shanghai Composite index in mainland China lost 0.6 percent to 3,173.20, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7 percent to 5,755.70. Shares fell in Taiwan and most of Southeast Asia.
ENERGY: Oil futures fell, with benchmark U.S. crude slipping 8 cents to $44.16 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 86 cents, or 2 percent, to settle at $44.24 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 1 cent to $46.91 per barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 112.17 yen from Tuesday’s 112.15 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1360 from $1.1374.
SEATTLE (AP) — On again, off again, off again, off again and now, partly back on: That’s the peculiar route of President Donald Trump’s travel ban after a Supreme Court decision Monday allowing a limited version to take effect.
The high court said the president’s 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced pending arguments scheduled for October as long as those visitors lack a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
But much remains murky: What exactly is a bona fide relationship? Who gets to decide? Will the travel ban even still be an issue by the time the justices hear arguments?
Here’s a look at some key issues surrounding Trump’s executive order:
WHO’S THE WINNER?
After the lower courts found the travel ban unconstitutionally biased against Muslims and contrary to federal immigration law, Trump hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a “clear victory for our national security.”
It was a legal win for the administration — to an extent. Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch — said they would have allowed the travel ban to take effect as written.
But the other six kept blocking it as it applies to those traveling to the U.S. on employment, student or family immigrant visas as well as other cases where the traveler can show a “bona fide” connection to the U.S.
That’s no minor exception, according to immigrant groups, who say relatively few people come to the U.S. from the affected countries without such close ties.
Likewise, the justices said, refugees can travel to the U.S. if they demonstrate those connections — contrary to the part of Trump’s executive order suspending the nation’s refugee program.
“This decision is a true compromise,” said Kari Hong, an immigration law expert at Boston College Law School. “It is true that the travel ban is allowed to go into effect, but the Supreme Court substantially narrowed who could be denied entry.”
Immigrant rights advocates welcomed the ruling for showing that the president’s authority on immigration is not absolute and ensuring people with connections in the U.S. will be allowed to enter. But they said they are worried about other immigrants, including refugees who may be desperate for help but lack U.S. relations.
BUT WHAT’S ‘BONA FIDE’?
The court’s majority laid out the “bona fide” relationships it had in mind. For individuals, a close family relationship is required: A spouse or a mother-in-law would be permitted. So would a worker who accepted a job from an American company, a student enrolled at a U.S. university or a lecturer invited to address a U.S. audience.
What’s not bona fide? A relationship created for purposes of avoiding the travel ban, the justices said.
“For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion,” the court wrote.
Still, Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch found that guidance confusing and unworkable.
“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Thomas wrote.
It also could lead to legal challenges amid the “struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a ‘bona fide relationship,’ who precisely has a ‘credible claim’ to that relationship, and whether the claimed relationship was formed ‘simply to avoid’” the travel ban,” he wrote.
MORE AIRPORT CHAOS TO COME?
Trump’s initial travel ban, issued without warning on a Friday in January, brought chaos and protests to airports nationwide as travelers from seven targeted countries were barred even if they had prior permission to come to the U.S. The State Department canceled up to 60,000 visas but later reversed that decision.
A federal judge in Seattle blocked the order a week later, and Trump eventually revised it, dropping Iraq from the list and including reasons people might be exempted, such as a need for medical treatment.
The limited ban will take effect Thursday morning, the State Department said Monday.
Airports may be less likely to see the same sorts of demonstrations given the advance warning, that those with prior permission to enter are not affected and the months people have had to reach the U.S. since the first ban was blocked.
Matt Adams, legal director of the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which filed one of many lawsuits against the policy, said he still expects some confusion at airports, at least initially. Eventually, people likely will be barred from boarding planes to the U.S., he said.
“With many groups, it’s clear-cut from the type of visa: Anyone coming in on family visa or employment visa, by their terms it’s clear they have a bona fide relationship,” he said. “What’s more difficult is if you’re coming in on a tourist visa. I think you’re going to be going through a lengthy inquiry, and we’ll have to see how that plays out.”
NEXT LEGAL STEPS
The Supreme Court would not hear arguments on the legality of the ban until October. But by then, a key provision may have expired, possibly making the review unnecessary.
That’s because Trump’s order only sought to halt travelers from the six countries for 90 days, to give the administration time to review the screening procedures for those visa applicants.
The administration has argued that the ban would not go into effect until court orders blocking each provision were lifted. The Supreme Court has asked for more arguments about whether the challenges to the travel restriction became moot in June.
David Levine, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, said the justices likely will not sidestep a ruling on the executive order on those grounds.
“The underlying issue of presidential power is too important and too likely to occur in the future,” he said.
Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Alicia Caldwell in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed White House allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 militants were also killed in the airstrike that happened on Monday in the Deir El-Zour province. The activist-run Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet said at least 60 civilians were killed.
The two groups said the U.S.-led coalition was behind the strike. Russia and Syria also carry out airstrikes in Deir el-Zour, and it was not clear how the activists identified the aircraft responsible. The coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, meanwhile dismissed a White House statement Monday that warned Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government against carrying out another chemical attack. Haidar told The Associated Press the charges foreshadowed a new diplomatic campaign against Syria at the U.N.
The Kremlin also dismissed the White House statement, which had warned that Assad and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it goes ahead with the attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.”
Russia is Assad’s key backer and sided with him when he denied responsibility for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Idlib province on April 4. Days later, President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.
Peskov criticized the Trump administration for using the phrase “another chemical weapons attack,” arguing that an independent investigation into the April attack was never conducted despite Russia’s calls for one.
The statement by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”
He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before the attack in April, but provided no evidence or further explanation.
Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.
The officials weren’t authorized to discuss national security planning publicly and requested anonymity.
A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and allied forces have faced recent setbacks.
A senior Russian lawmaker dismissed the U.S. warning as “provocation.”
Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, accused the United States of “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces.”
The U.S. strike in April was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president.
Trump said at the time that the chemical attack crossed “many, many lines,” and called on “all civilized nations” to join the U.S. in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.
Syria denied using chemical weapons. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory.
The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.
The U.S. is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Washington would continue to provide weapons after the Raqqa battle is over. His comments were likely to anger Turkey, which views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the insurgency raging in its southeast.
On Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.
Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked earlier Monday about the need to secure a cease-fire in Syria, fight extremist groups and prevent the use of chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, followed up Spicer’s statement with a Twitter warning: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”
Less than an hour after Spicer issued the statement, Trump was back to tweeting about the 2016 campaign, denouncing investigations into potential collusion between Moscow and his campaign aides as a “Witch Hunt!”
Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Vivian Salama and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s decision to partially reinstate President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban has left the effort to keep some foreigners out of the United States in a murky middle ground, with unanswered questions and possibly more litigation ahead.
The justices ruled Monday in an unsigned opinion they would hold a full hearing on the case in October. In the meantime, the administration can bar travelers from six majority-Muslim countries from the U.S. if they don’t have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship” with someone or some entity in the country.
It’s unclear what will ultimately constitute a “bona fide relationship,” though the ruling suggested that an American job, school enrollment or a close relative could meet that threshold. Equally unclear is how many foreigners will be affected from the six countries: Syria, Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
The ruling was seen as at least a partial victory for Trump in the biggest court case of his presidency. Trump claims the temporary ban is needed to prevent terrorist attacks. Opponents reject that and argue it’s a backdoor way to bar Muslims from entering the United States, as Trump promised in his campaign.
The early indications are that the administration will use the decision to take a tough line on travelers from those countries. A senior U.S. official familiar with the situation said the Trump administration has plans in place to relaunch the stalled ban and tourists will be among those kept out.
Under these plans, largely orchestrated by White House adviser Stephen Miller, tourists from those countries and any academics, lecturers or others invited to speak or make presentations in the U.S. will be barred. Those groups are regarded as unable to show a substantial and pre-existing tie to a person or institution in the United States.
The official who described the plans was not authorized to discuss them publicly by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
But some immigration lawyers and advocates said relatively few people would fall under the ban because these travelers tend to have sufficient relationships with people or institutions in the United States.
Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council, said most Iranians who visit the United States have relatives here or are coming to work or study. He said his group has no idea how the administration plans to judge family relationships and a hard line could mean a significant number of Iranians will be kept out the country for the time being.
It could also mean more lawsuits if advocates for immigrants believe the administration is going beyond the Supreme Court’s guidelines in barring visitors to the United States.
Like the fate of would-be tourists and scholars, the immediate future for refugees is murky.
In its opinion, the court partially reinstated Trump’s temporary prohibition on refugees from any country, using criteria similar to that used in the travel ban. The effect on refugees could be greater because they are less likely to have family, school or business relationships in the United States.
Lavinia Limon, CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said she was dismayed by the ruling, but insisted that her agency has “an existing relationship with incoming refugees, certified and arranged through the Department of State.”
“Travel plans are in process, beds have been made and staff around the country plan to meet new Americans at the airports today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks and months,” Limon said.
Trump’s initial travel ban caused panic and chaos at airports around the world in late January as it took effect immediately after being signed. Refugees, legal U.S. residents and visa holders were turned back at airports or barred from boarding U.S.-bound planes. A federal court blocked it about a week later.
There may be less confusion as the ban is partially reinstated. The administration has revised its travel ban to exclude legal residents and visa holders. Also, the government said last week the ban would go into effect 72 hours after the Supreme Court ruling — which would be Thursday morning in Washington.
Associated Press reporters Ted Bridis and Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap. Find her work at http://apne.ws/2svihLQ.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — One by one, Denver Simmons recalled, he and his partner lured inmates into his cell. William Scruggs was promised cookies in exchange for doing some laundry; Jimmy Ham thought he was coming to snort some crushed pills.
Over the course of about a half-hour, four men accepted Simmons’ hospitality. None of them made it out alive.
Calmly, matter-of-factly, the 35-year-old inmate told The Associated Press how he and Jacob Philip strangled and beat their blockmates to death and hid their bodies to avoid spooking the next victims. They had nothing against the men; one of them was even a friend, Simmons admitted.
Why did they do it?
Convicted in the cold-blooded shootings of a mother and her teenage son, Simmons knew he would never leave prison alive. Tired of life behind bars, a failure at suicide, he hoped killing these criminals would land him on death row.
Officials say Philip and Simmons have confessed to the April 7 slayings of Ham, 56; Jason Kelley, 35; John King, 52; and Scruggs, 44. But until Simmons talked to the AP, no motive had been made public.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections doesn’t allow in-person interviews with inmates. So the AP wrote letters to the two men. Philip’s attorney responded with an email: “Jacob is a severely mentally ill young man who has been so adjudicated by the court. Accordingly, I would ask that you make no further efforts to interview him or contact him.”
Simmons, though, called the AP three times, once using another inmate’s time slot. And he described a twisted compact between two men who had “a whole lot in common” from the moment they met — most important, both despair and a willingness to kill again.
“I’d always joke with him — from back in August and September and October of 2015 — that if we weren’t going to kill ourselves, that we could make a name for ourselves, so to speak, and get the death penalty,” Simmons, told the AP. “The end of March of this year, he was willing to do it. So, we just planned to do it. And we did it.”
Each man was serving life without the possibility of parole for a double murder.
In May 2010, Simmons shot an acquaintance, 45-year-old Sheila Faye Dodd of Round O, an unincorporated community northwest of Charleston. Prosecutors say he ate a pizza he’d bought with the dead woman’s debit card, picked her 13-year-old son, William, up from school and killed him.
Simmons agreed to plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table.
In August 2015, Philip pleaded guilty but mentally ill to strangling his girlfriend, Ashley Kaney, 26, and her 8-year-old daughter, Riley Burdick, two years earlier. At the time, he’d been attending the U.S. Navy’s nuclear training school in nearby Goose Creek.
Both men were sent to Kirkland Correctional Institution, a maximum security facility a few miles from the state capitol in Columbia. They were being housed in a unit for inmates who need significant mental health help but whose conditions aren’t serious enough to require hospitalization.
Simmons said spending the rest of his life in prison would be a meaningless life of fear and boredom. Inmates are always scheming to take advantage or hurt fellow prisoners and guards only see the men behind bars as numbers.
“It’s just not a good place to live, you know, day in and day out,” Simmons said.
Because of their relatively clean records in custody, Simmons said he and Philip, 26, were named “dormkeepers” for their unit. That meant their doors remained open when others were on lockdown.
Just two officers were assigned to the dorm, which housed 139 inmates, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told lawmakers in April. He said pay that starts at $33,600 and chronic low funding from the Legislature make it almost impossible to even approach the national standard of four officers for every 30 inmates.
About 9:30 the morning of April 7, Simmons said, he hung a “flap” over the narrow window to his room — in this case, a clear trash bag on which he’d scrawled the words, “Using restroom. Don’t open.”
“You’re not supposed to keep a flap,” Simmons said. “But if you’re using the restroom, you know, they turn a blind eye to it.”
Simmons said the original plan was to wait until cells were being cleaned, “where ALL the doors were open.” But that morning, they opted for a different strategy.
“We just decided, you know, we’d use my room,” he said. “Until it was full. And then we’d use Jacob’s. And that’s just how it started.”
So, how did they choose their victims?
“This is the part that’s gonna sound bad,” Simmons said. “They, they trusted us. We talked to these people every day. One of them was a friend of both of ours. And they just trusted us. We come up with something for each one.”
The first name on the list was King, who was in for burglary, theft and larceny.
They knew King liked coffee. And there was a bonus, in Simmons’ mind: At 5-foot-4 and just 132 pounds, he was the smallest.
“He was older, but he was small,” Simmons said. “And he wouldn’t offer much resistance.”
Since Philip was the experienced strangler, he took the first turn, Simmons said.
“He took his from behind and put his arm on his neck and just choked him,” he said. “It happened really fast.”
They slid King’s body under the lower bunk and went looking for their next victim in the common area known as “the Rock.”
William Scruggs, killer of a disabled veteran, was waiting in line for the restroom. Simmons knew him as a lifer who did laundry in exchange for goods from the canteen.
“I said I had some cookies for him. ‘Just come up to my room,’” Simmons said. Scruggs showed up a few minutes later, and Simmons said Philip dragged him to the floor.
Unlike Philip, Simmons said, he’d never strangled anyone.
“It’s totally different than killing somebody with your hands,” he said.
Simmons said he grabbed an extension cord from a lamp and wrapped it around Scruggs’ neck. Scruggs was facing him, but his eyes were closed.
“And, you know, he didn’t suffer a long time, man,” Simmons said. “I know that sounds lame. But he didn’t suffer a long time.”
The two placed Scruggs’ body, the cord still tied around his neck, on the lower bunk. They hung a sheet from the top bunk to conceal the corpse, then went in search of their next victim.
Simmons said Philip chose Jimmy Ham, who was to be released in November after serving nearly a decade for aggravated assault and battery, grand larceny and two counts of burglary.
“I didn’t want him on the list, because I knew he would fight,” Simmons said. “And Jacob, as big as he is, he’s not a fighter.”
But Philip prevailed, and Ham was invited in to snort some drugs.
Simmons said Philip told their guest to break up the tablets on a stool that was in the room. As Ham bent over the stool, Simmons said, Philip pounced — but he slipped.
Simmons said Ham had Philip pinned down on his back. As the two men struggled on the floor, Simmons said he grabbed a broken broom handle that he’d hidden in his room and hit Ham twice in the head with it. In the struggle, Simmons tried to silence Ham by jamming the broomstick in his mouth (“there could be no noise”) and Ham “just died. I mean, he died very fast.”
Simmons said they placed Ham’s body on the bunk beside Scruggs and let the curtain fall back into place.
“And we just went on the Rock,” Simmons said with a sigh, “and Jacob said, ‘Who’s next?’”
Simmons chose Jason Howard Kelley, who was serving time for stabbing his teenage stepson.
Everything about Kelley “was just annoying,” Simmons said. But unlike the others, he considered Kelley a friend.
Once in the cell, Simmons said, Philip told Kelley, “Look behind the curtain.”
“And he literally peeked behind and he said, ‘What the?’” Simmons recalled. “And Jacob grabbed him and threw him down.”
Simmons said he climbed on top of his friend and pressed the broomstick against his throat until he stopped struggling. And as Kelley lay there — dead or just unconscious, Simmons couldn’t tell which — Simmons thrust the stick in his ear.
By then, the murderers were too tired to bother with hiding Kelley’s body. When they stepped outside, Simmons said, he asked Philip, “Who do you want to do now?”
“I’m tired,” Philip replied, according to Simmons. “I don’t want to do anymore.”
“And I said, ‘Are you sure? Because this is going to be our only chance,’” Simmons recalled. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’”
It was just before 10 a.m., about 15 minutes before the next head count. Simmons said they walked down to the guard station and told what they’d done.
The Department of Corrections referred the AP’s questions to the State Law Enforcement Division, which has declined to comment on the case.
Simmons was asked why he did not commit suicide, if prison life was unbearable.
He said he’d tried several times: “You know, killing yourself is, it sounds easy. It’s really hard. Your body even fights you when you cut yourself.”
He said he’d even discussed having Philip “choke me out.”
“The original plan was that if I decided that I wanted to do it, I would be the last person,” he said. “And I’ll be honest with you. After I saw how it works, I guess you would say I was scared. I just couldn’t see myself going through with it.”
Simmons expressed no remorse for the killings.
“Honestly, we could have got staff members,” he said. “But they’re just there doing their job, you know? The people we killed, whether they deserved it or not, were not fine, upstanding members of society. You know, none of us are, or we wouldn’t be in where we’re at.”
And the more you kill, he said, the easier it gets.
“The second time, the third time, it’s just, I guess you’re desensitized to it.”
In retrospect, he said, the plan was not well thought out.
“Because Jacob’s not going to get the death penalty either way,” he said. “He’s legitimately mentally ill.”
As for himself, South Carolina hasn’t carried out an execution in six years, and court challenges likely will keep capital punishment on hold for the foreseeable future. Even a recently confessed killer of seven got life without parole, he noted.
Simmons said he imagines he’ll do the next 10 years in solitary and probably get another four life sentences tacked onto the two he was already doing.
“I did it all, I did it for nothing,” he said. “So that makes it especially bad for me, you know?”
Breed, an Associated Press national writer, reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Rebellious Republican senators are forcing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to scramble to rescue the party’s health care bill before debate even begins. The dissension is swelling after Congress’ nonpartisan budget referee said the high profile measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than President Barack Obama’s law, which the GOP wants to scrap.
McConnell, R-Ky., was hoping Tuesday to staunch his party’s rebellion, a day after the Congressional Budget Office released its report. He’s been aiming at winning Senate passage this week, before a weeklong July 4 recess that leaders worry opponents will use to weaken support for the legislation.
The CBO analysis suggested some ammunition GOP leaders could use, saying the Senate bill would cut federal deficits by $202 billion more over the coming decade than the version the House approved in May. Senate leaders could use some of those additional savings to attract moderate votes by making Medicaid and other provisions more generous, though conservatives would rather use that money to reduce red ink.
“You don’t want to bring something up unless you know you have the votes to pass it. But I also think we may not know if we have the votes to pass it until we bring it up,” said No. 3 GOP Senate leader John Thune of South Dakota.
The projected boost in uninsured people fed concerns by moderate Republican lawmakers that the Senate measure, annulling parts of Obama’s 2010 overhaul, was too drastic. Yet conservatives were unhappy that it didn’t do enough to dismantle Obama’s law and lower premiums by repealing coverage requirements, leaving McConnell with little margin for error — the bill fails if three of the 52 GOP senators vote no.
The 22 million extra Americans were just 1 million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version. President Donald Trump has called the House bill “mean” and prodded senators to produce a package with more “heart.”
Minutes after the report’s release, three GOP senators threatened to oppose a procedural vote to begin debate expected Wednesday — enough to derail the legislation.
Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would vote no. She tweeted that she favors a bipartisan effort to fix Obama’s statute but added, “CBO analysis shows Senate bill won’t do it.”
Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would oppose that motion unless the bill was changed. And fellow conservative Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he had “a hard time believing” he’d have enough information to back that motion this week.
Moderate Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., on Friday said he’d oppose the procedural motion without alterations.
Those rebels were just part of McConnell’s problem. Two other conservatives — Texas’ Ted Cruz and Utah’s Mike Lee — have also said they’d vote no without revisions, and several other moderates have expressed worries about the bill’s Medicaid cuts and reductions in people with coverage.
The budget office report said the Senate bill’s coverage losses would especially affect people between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200 percent of poverty level, or around $30,300 for an individual.
In one example, the report says that in 2026 under Obama’s law, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 would pay premiums amounting to $1,700 a year, after subsidies. Under the Senate bill, that person would pay $6,500, partly because insurers would be able to charge older adults more.
The Senate plan would end the tax penalty that law imposes on people who don’t buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama’s so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don’t offer coverage to workers.
It would let states ease Obama’s requirements that insurers cover certain specified services like substance abuse treatments, and eliminate $700 billion worth of taxes over a decade, CBO said, largely on wealthier people and medical companies that Obama’s law used to expand coverage.
It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama’s expansion of the program. Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.
CBO said that under the bill, most insurance markets around the country would be stable before 2020. It said that similar to the House bill, average premiums around the country would be higher over the next two years — including about 20 percent higher in 2018 than under Obama’s statute — but lower beginning in 2020.
But the office said that overall, the Senate legislation would increase out of pocket costs for deductibles and copayments. That’s because standard policies would be skimpier than currently offered under Obama’s law, covering a smaller share of expected medical costs.
In another troublesome finding for the legislation, the budget office warned that in some rural areas, either no insurer would be willing participate in the individual market or the policies offered would be prohibitively expensive. Rural America was a stronghold for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Vice President Mike Pence invited four GOP senators to dinner Tuesday to discuss the bill, his office said: Lee and Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ken Thomas and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.