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Monthly Archives: July 2017

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Tropical Storm Emily: Power outages, rain, fishermen rescued

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Emily weakened to a tropical depression Monday afternoon as it slogged eastward across the Florida peninsula, spreading drenching rains, causing power outages and leaving two fishermen to be rescued from Tampa Bay.

The National Hurricane Center said Emily made landfall late Monday on Florida’s Gulf Coast south of Tampa Bay and then began moving east toward the Atlantic coast. Emily spent only a few hours as a tropical storm, losing strength as it marched inland across the central Florida peninsula toward the Atlantic coast.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at an afternoon news briefing in the state capital of Tallahassee that about 18,000 homes and businesses lost power, mostly in hard-hit Manatee County. Scott, who was on vacation in Maine and returned to the state when the advisory changed, said the storm was a reminder that severe weather can strike the state at any time.

State emergency management officials also said that the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay, which was closed for a few hours y because of high winds, had since reopened. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) as it crawled ashore but was down to top winds of 35 mph (55 kph) hours later.

No injuries have been reported along the Gulf Coast, although two fishermen were rescued from Tampa Bay while clinging to a channel marker light after their boat sank.

Coast Guard officials said they were called Monday morning about the two brothers, who had been out fishing when their boat engine died. While the brothers worked on the inoperable pump, the boat drifted and struck the range light, according to a Coast Guard statement. The brothers tied their boat off to the light and were forced to cling to the navigation aid and call for help when the vessel sank. A boat from Coast Guard station St. Petersburg rescued the men.

At 5 p.m. Monday, Emily was moving inland over west-central Florida about 30 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Sebring in south-central Florida. Forecasters said Emily was expected to dump between 2 to 4 inches (50 to 100 millimeters) of rain in some areas, with isolated amounts up to 8 inches (200 millimeters) possible in spots. Lesser amounts were predicted elsewhere.

On Treasure Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico west of St. Petersburg, a normally packed beach parking lot was almost empty of tourists Monday. Only a handful of people were on the white sand beach and a few bodysurfed small waves in an area that doesn’t normally get waves. Some took selfies amid a mix of clouds and patches of blue sky on the northern fringe of the storm system.

Kevin Baker, a 53-year-old retiree who takes his walks daily at Treasure Island, said he decided to venture out despite the storm “to watch the clouds to go by.”

“This morning was pretty bad. It rained pretty hard. I got a little leak in my Jeep even,” said Baker. But though the weather there had briefly improved at midday, he added, “we’re supposed to get hit again.”

A flood watch is in effect for much of the Tampa area, raising the threat of some scattered street flooding in low-lying areas. Law enforcement agencies urged motorists to drive with caution on a day that began as a miserable Monday morning commute for many. A few Tampa area communities, such as Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs, offered residents sandbags to stave off any flooding.

Earlier Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency for 31 of the state’s 67 counties as a precaution. He also headed to the state’s Emergency Operations Center for a briefing on the storm and issued a news release urging those in the path of the storm to be vigilant.

Forecasters also warned of possible isolated tornadoes and offshore waterspouts spinning off of the system, which sent swirling rain bands across parts of south Florida. A tropical storm warning from Anclote River to Bonita Beach on the Gulf Coast was lifted once the storm headed inland Monday.

Venezuela defiant as US moves to sanction president

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s socialist government on Monday claimed a popular mandate to dramatically recast the country’s political system even as condemnations of the process poured in from governments around the world and the opposition at home.

The United States added President Nicolas Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions, escalating a tactic that has so far failed to alter the Venezuelan government’s behavior. The Trump administration backed away from earlier threats to sanction Venezuela’s oil industry — a move that could undermine Maduro’s government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

Venezuelan police set fire to motorbikes belonging to the press, after police were targeted with an explosive device. The government promised citizens that the election for a constitutional assembly would go on as usual Sunday despite boycotts. (July 30)

Electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing Maduro’s ruling party with virtually unlimited powers — a figure widely disputed by independent analysts.

The official result would mean the ruling party won more support than it had in any national election since 2013, despite a cratering economy, spiraling inflation, shortages of medicine and malnutrition. Opinion polls showed 85 percent of Venezuelans disapproved of the constitutional assembly and similar numbers disapprove of Maduro’s overall performance.

Independent analysts and opposition leaders estimated the real turnout at less than half the government’s claim in a vote watched by government-allied observers but no internationally recognized poll monitors.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the governor of the central state of Miranda, urged Venezuelans to protest Monday against an assembly that critics fear will effectively create a single-party state.

Maduro has said the new assembly will begin to govern within a week. He said he would use the assembly’s powers to bar opposition candidates from running in gubernatorial elections in December unless they sit with his party to negotiate an end to hostilities that have generated four months of protests that have killed at least 120 and wounded nearly 2,000.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office reported 10 deaths in new rounds of clashes Sunday between protesters and police. Seven police officers were wounded when a fiery explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.

Maduro says a new constitution is the only way to end such conflicts.

“The people have delivered the constitutional assembly,” Maduro said on national television. “More than 8 million in the middle of threats … it’s when imperialism challenges us that we prove ourselves worthy of the blood of the liberators that runs through the veins of men, women, children and young people.”

National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout in Sunday’s vote was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people.

The electoral council’s vote counts in the past have been seen as reliable and generally accurate, but the widely mocked announcement appeared certain to escalate the polarization and political conflict paralyzing the country.

“If it wasn’t a tragedy … if it didn’t mean more crisis, the electoral council’s number would almost make you laugh,” opposition leader Freddy Guevara said on Twitter. Maduro has threatened that one of the constitutional assembly’s first acts would be jailing Guevara for inciting violence.

An exit poll based on surveys from 110 voting centers by New York investment bank Torino Capital and a Venezuela public opinion company estimated 3.6 million people voted, or about 18.5 percent of registered voters. “The results thus suggest that the government maintains an important loyal core of supporters that it can mobilize in both electoral and non-electoral scenarios,” the report concluded.

The same pollsters noted that Venezuela has an estimated 2.6 million government employees, “suggesting that a large fraction of the votes could have not been voluntary.”

The European Union and nations including Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Spain, Britain and the United States criticized Sunday’s vote. The Trump administration again promised “strong and swift actions” against Venezuelan officials, including the 545 participants in the constitutional assembly, many of them low-ranking party members.

Maduro said he had received congratulations from the governments of Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua, among others.

Opposition leaders had called for a boycott of the vote, declaring it rigged for the ruling party. Ahead of the vote, the opposition organized a series of work stoppages as well as a July 16 protest referendum that it said drew more than 7.5 million symbolic votes against the constitutional assembly.

The president of the opposition-led National Assembly, Julio Borges, told Venezuelan news channel Globovision Monday that Maduro’s foes would continue protesting until they won free elections and a change of government.

He said Sunday’s vote had given Maduro “less legitimacy, less credibility, less popular support and less ability to govern.”

Maduro called the vote for a constitutional assembly in May after a month of protests against his government, which has overseen Venezuela’s descent into a devastating crisis during its four years in power. Due to plunging oil prices and widespread corruption and mismanagement, Venezuela’s inflation and homicide rates are among the world’s highest, and widespread shortages of food and medicine have citizens dying of preventable illnesses and rooting through trash to feed themselves.

The 545-seat constituent assembly will have the task of rewriting the country’s constitution and will have powers above and beyond other state institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

Maduro made clear in a televised address Saturday that he intends to use the assembly not just to rewrite the country’s charter but to govern without limitation. Describing the vote as “the election of a power that’s above and beyond every other,” Maduro said he wants the assembly to strip opposition lawmakers and governors of constitutional immunity from prosecution — one of the few remaining checks on ruling party power.

Declaring the opposition “already has its prison cell waiting,” Maduro added: “All the criminals will go to prison for the crimes they’ve committed.”

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Matthew Lee in Washington and Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia contributed to this report.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Entertainment: Sam Shepard, Pulitzer-winning playwright, is dead at 73

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NEW YORK (AP) — Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated actor and celebrated author whose plays chronicled the explosive fault lines of family and masculinity in the American West, has died. He was 73.

Family spokesman Chris Boneau said Monday that Shepard died Thursday at his home in Kentucky from complications related to Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The taciturn Shepard, who grew up on a California ranch, was a man of few words who nevertheless produced 44 plays and numerous books, memoirs and short stories. He was one of the most influential playwrights of his generation: a plain-spoken poet of the modern frontier, both lyrical and rugged.

In his 1971 one-act “Cowboy Mouth, which he wrote with his then-girlfriend, musician and poet Patti Smith, one character says, “People want a street angel. They want a saint but with a cowboy mouth” — a role the tall and handsome Shepard fulfilled for many. But in soul-searching plays, his portrait of the West was a disillusioned one, peopled by broken characters whose realities fell far short of the American Dream.

“I was writing basically for actors,” Shepard told The Associated Press in a 2011 interview. “And actors immediately seemed to have a handle on it, on the rhythm of it, the sound of it, the characters. I started to understand there was this possibility of conversation between actors and that’s how it all started.”

Shepard’s Western drawl and laconic presence made him a reluctant movie star, too. He appeared in dozens of films — many of them Westerns — including Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” ″Steel Magnolias,” ″The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and 2012′s “Mud.” He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983′s “The Right Stuff.” Among his most recent roles was the Florida Keys patriarch of the Netflix series “Bloodline.”

But Shepard was best remembered for his influential plays and his prominent role in the Off-Off-Broadway movement. His 1979 play “Buried Child,” about the breaking down of an Illinois family, won the Pulitzer for drama. Two other plays — “True West,” about two warring brothers, and “Fool for Love,” about a man who fears he’s turning into his father — were nominated for the Pulitzers as well. All are frequently revived.

“I always felt like playwriting was the thread through all of it,” Shepard said in 2011. “Theater really when you think about it contains everything. It can contain film. Film can’t contain theater. Music. Dance. Painting. Acting. It’s the whole deal. And it’s the most ancient. It goes back to the Druids. It was way pre-Christ. It’s the form that I feel most at home in, because of that, because of its ability to usurp everything.”

Samuel Shepard Rogers VII was born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in 1943. He grew up on an avocado ranch in Duarte, California. His father was an alcoholic schoolteacher and former Army pilot. Shepard would later write frequently of the damage done by drunks. He had his own struggles, too. Long stretches of sobriety were interrupted by drunk driving arrests, in 2009 and 2015.

Shepard arrived in New York in 1963 with no connections, little money and vague aspirations to act, write or make music. “I just dropped in out of nowhere,” he told the New Yorker in 2010. But Shepard quickly became part of the off-off-Broadway movement at downtown hangouts like Caffe Cino and La MaMa. “As far as I’m concerned, Broadway just does not exist,” Shepard told Playboy in 1970 — though many of his later plays would end up there.

His early plays — fiery, surreal verbal assaults — pushed American theater in an energized, frenzied direction that matched the times. A drummer himself, Shepard found his own rock ’n roll rhythm. Seeking spontaneity, he initially refused to rewrite his drafts, a strategy he later dismissed as “just plain stupid.”

As Shepard matured as a playwright, he returned again and again to meditations on violence, masculinity and family. His collection “Seven Plays,” which includes many of his best plays, including “Buried Child” and “The Tooth of Crime,” was dedicated to his father.

“There’s some hidden, deeply rooted thing in the Anglo male American that has to do with inferiority, that has to do with not being a man, and always, continually having to act out some idea of manhood that invariably is violent,” he told The New York Times in 1984. “This sense of failure runs very deep — maybe it has to do with the frontier being systematically taken away, with the guilt of having gotten this country by wiping out a native race of people, with the whole Protestant work ethic. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s the source of a lot of intrigue for me.”

Shepard was married from 1969 to 1984 to actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he had son Jesse Mojo Shepard.

His connection to music was constant. He joined Bob Dylan on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975, and co-wrote the song “Brownsville Girl” with him. Shepard and Patti Smith were one-time lovers but lifetime friends. “We’re just the same,” Smith once said. “When Sam and I are together, it’s like no particular time.”

Shepard’s movie career began in the late ’70s. While making the 1982 Frances Farmer biopic “Frances,” he met Jessica Lange and the two remained together for nearly 30 years. They had two children, Hannah Jane and Samuel Walker. They separated in 2009. Lange once said of Shepard: “No man I’ve ever met compares to Sam in terms of maleness.”

Shepard worked occasionally in movies (among other things, he wrote Wim Wenders’ 1984 Texas brothers drama “Paris, Texas”) but took acting gigs more frequently as he grew older. One movie, he said, could pay for 16 plays.

Besides his plays, Shepard wrote short stories and a full-length work of fiction, “The One Inside,” which came out earlier this year. “The One Inside” is a highly personal narrative about a man looking back on his life and taking in what has been lost, including control over his own body as the symptoms of ALS advance.

“Something in the body refuses to get up. Something in the lower back. He stares at the walls,” Shepard writes. “The appendages don’t seem connected to the motor — whatever that is — driving this thing. They won’t take direction — won’t be dictated to — the arms, legs, feet, hands. Nothing moves. Nothing even wants to.”

Shepard’s longtime editor at Alfred A. Knopf, LuAnn Walther, said Shepard’s language was “quite poetic, and very intimate, but also very direct and plainspoken.” She said that when people asked her what Shepard was really like, she would respond, “Just read the fiction.”

The playwright is survived by his three children and two sisters: Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.

In Shepard’s 1982 book “Motel Chronicles,” he said that he felt like he never had a home. That feeling, he later, acknowledged, always remained.

“I basically live out of my truck,” Shepard said in 2011. “I feel more at home in my truck than just about anywhere, which is a sad thing to say. But it’s true.”

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Associated Press Entertainment Writer Mark Kennedy and National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.

Joe Arpaio convicted after refusing to end immigrant patrols

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PHOENIX (AP) — Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of a criminal charge Monday for refusing to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants, marking a final rebuke for a politician who once drew strong popularity from such crackdowns but was ultimately booted from office as voters became frustrated over his headline-grabbing tactics and deepening legal troubles.

The federal judge’s verdict represents a victory for critics who voiced anger over Arpaio’s unusual efforts to get tough on crime, including jailing inmates in tents during triple-digit heat, forcing them to wear pink underwear and making hundreds of arrests in crackdowns that divided immigrant families. Arpaio is vowing to appeal.

Arpaio, who spent 24 years as the sheriff of metro Phoenix, skirted two earlier criminal investigations of his office. But he wasn’t able to avoid legal problems when he prolonged his signature immigration patrols for nearly a year and a half after a different judge ordered him to stop. That judge later ruled they racially profiled Latinos.

The lawman who made defiance a hallmark of his tenure was found guilty of misdemeanor contempt-of-court for ignoring the 2011 court order to stop the patrols. The 85-year-old faces up to six months in jail, though attorneys who have followed the case doubt someone his age would be incarcerated. He will be sentenced Oct. 5.

Critics hoped Arpaio’s eight-day trial in federal court in Phoenix would bring a long-awaited comeuppance for lawman who had managed to escape accountability through much of his six terms.

Prosecutors say Arpaio violated the order so he could promote his immigration enforcement efforts in an effort to boost his 2012 re-election campaign and even bragged about his continued crackdowns.

He had acknowledged prolonging his patrols but insisted it was not intentional. He also blamed one of his former attorneys in the profiling case for not properly explaining the importance of the court order.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton rejected all Arpaio’s key arguments, saying it was clear he knew of the order but still chose to continue the patrols.

“Not only did defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” Bolton wrote, citing TV interviews and press releases in which Arpaio said his agency was still detaining immigrants who were in the country illegally.

She said an attorney had clearly informed him of the order, and a top aide also read a portion of it aloud Arpaio during a staff meeting.

Arpaio’s lawyers said they will appeal the verdict, contending their client’s legal fate should have been decided by a jury, not a judge. They also said Bolton violated Arpaio’s rights by not reading the decision in court.

“Her verdict is contrary to what every single witness testified in the case,” his lawyers said in a statement. “Arpaio believes that a jury would have found in his favor, and that it will.”

His defense focused on what his attorneys said were weaknesses in the court order that failed to acknowledge times when deputies would detain immigrants and later hand them over to federal authorities.

Unlike other local police leaders who left immigration enforcement to U.S. authorities, Arpaio made hundreds of arrests in traffic patrols that sought out immigrants and business raids in which his officers targeted immigrants who used fraudulent IDs to get jobs.

The efforts are similar to local immigration enforcement that President Donald Trump has advocated. To build his highly touted deportation force, Trump is reviving a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Arpaio’s immigration powers were eventually stripped away by the courts and federal government.

The contempt-of-court case marked the first time federal authorities had prosecuted Arpaio on a criminal charge, though his office had been the subject of past investigations.

Federal authorities had looked into Arpaio’s misspending of $100 million in jail funds and his criminal investigations of political enemies. Neither investigation led to prosecution of the sheriff or his employees.

Arpaio’s criminal charges are believed to have contributed heavily to his crushing defeat in November to little-known retired Phoenix police Sgt. Paul Penzone.

Arpaio was ousted in the same election that sent Trump to the White House. Trump used some of the same immigration rhetoric that helped make Arpaio a national figure in the debate over the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud .

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This story has been corrected to show that Arpaio faces up to six months in jail, not six years.

IS targets Iraq Embassy in Kabul; all 4 attackers killed

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Islamic State group targeted the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul on Monday, with a suicide bomber blowing himself up outside the gates, followed by three gunmen who stormed into the building. The assault set off a four-hour firefight that ended only after Afghan security forces said they had killed all the attackers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told reporters that two Afghan employees of the Iraq Embassy died in the attack. Three police were injured, he said.

As the attack unfolded there were conflicting reports of casualties, with a witness saying he saw bodies of at least two policemen lying on the road outside the embassy soon after the attack began.

In its claim of responsibility, the Islamic State group said its fighters had killed seven guards but the militant group often exaggerates its claims on the number of casualties inflicted. The IS attack likely meant to distract attention from the militants’ massive losses in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks.

Also, IS said only two of its followers were involved in the attack, not four as Kabul officials said, adding to the conflicting reports.

Earlier Danish said only one policeman was wounded and that there were no fatalities among the security forces or civilians. Danish told The Associated Press over the phone that all the embassy staffers were safe but that the building had suffered extensive damage with windows broken and several rooms badly burned.

It wasn’t until the attack ended that both the embassy and the interior ministry realized two of their Afghan staff had died in the daring assault.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and said it was the government’s responsibility to provide protection to international missions.

In Baghdad, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal condemned the assault as a “terrorist attack”.

The attack began with a big explosion that rocked central Kabul shortly before noon, followed by gunfire that lasted for several hours, and two or three more subsequent large explosions.

Police quickly cordoned off the area, barring reporters from coming too close to the scene.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said a suicide bomber first started the attack, blowing himself up at the embassy gate, after which three attackers stormed inside.

Earlier, Afghan officials who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media, had said a car bomb started the assault. Later on, it became clear the suicide bomber was on foot and not driving a car.

The ministry statement said Afghan security forces quickly deployed to the scene, rescuing all the embassy diplomats and employees and taking them to safety.

While the attack was still underway, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility in a statement carried by the IS-linked Aamaq news agency.

A police officer in the area, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said the gunfire was initially intense but later became more sporadic. The area was surrounded by armored vehicles and a large contingent of police and Afghan soldiers.

At least one eyewitness, a store owner who goes by the name of Hafizullah — many Afghans use only one name — said he saw the bodies of two policemen on the ground before armored personnel carriers and police arrived to cordon off the area.

More than an hour into the attack, witnesses reported hearing another powerful explosion and said they saw black smoke billowing skyward. It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused the later explosion.

“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana.

The Iraq Embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.

By comparison, the Iraqi Embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses.

After Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group earlier in July, the Iraq Embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local IS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the militant group’s losses in Iraq.

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Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Sinan Salah in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Scaramucci out of White House job as John Kelly takes charge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Anthony Scaramucci is out as White House communications director after just 11 days on the job — and just hours after President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, was sworn into office.

Hoping to turn the page on a tumultuous opening chapter to his presidency, Trump had insisted earlier Monday that there was “no chaos” in his White House as he swore in the retired Marine general as second chief of staff.

Not long after, Scaramucci, who shocked many with his profane outburst last week against then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, was gone.

President Donald Trump is convening his Cabinet for a kickoff meeting with new chief of staff John Kelly. (July 31)

In the words of the White House announcement, he was leaving because he “felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.” The two-sentence release concluded, “We wish him all the best.”

Earlier, in an Oval Office ceremony, Trump predicted Kelly, who previously served as Homeland Security chief, would do a “spectacular job.” And the president chose to highlight the rising stock market and positive jobs outlook rather than talk about how things might need to change in his White House under Kelly.

Trump on Friday ousted Priebus as chief of staff and turned to Kelly, who he hopes will bring military discipline to an administration weighed down by a stalled legislative agenda, infighting among West Wing aides and a stack of investigations.

The re-shuffling continued Monday with word that Scaramucci, on the job from less than two weeks, will no longer serve in the White House’s top communications post.

While Trump is looking for a reset, he pushed back against criticism of his administration with this tweet: “Highest Stock Market EVER, best economic numbers in years, unemployment lowest in 17 years, wages raising, border secure, S.C.: No WH chaos!”

In fact, economic growth averaged 2 percent in the first half of this year, a pace Trump railed against as a candidate and promised to lift to 3 percent. The stock market first hit a record under President Barack Obama and has kept growing. The unemployment rate, too, started to decline on Obama’s watch. And wage gains have been weak.

Trump on Monday convened his first Cabinet meeting with Kelly at his side, telling his team it is “doing incredibly well” and “starting from a really good base.” On how he would deal with rising tensions with North Korea, Trump said only: “It will be handled.”

Seated across from Trump was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has stayed on the job while Trump has publicly savaged him in interviews and on social media.

Kelly’s success in a chaotic White House will depend on how much authority he is granted and whether Trump’s dueling aides will put aside their rivalries to work together. Also unclear is whether a new chief of staff will have any influence over the president’s social media histrionics.

Former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, who was ousted from the campaign in June 2016, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected Kelly would “restore order to the staff” but also stressed that Trump was unlikely to change his style.

“I say you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for,” Lewandowski said. “And anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”

Kelly’s start follows a wild week, marked by a profane tirade by Scaramucci, the president’s continued criticism of his attorney general and the failed effort by Senate Republicans to overhaul the nation’s health care law.

In addition to the strains in the West Wing and with Congress, Kelly starts his new job as tensions escalate with North Korea. The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea, following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. The U.S. also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that she hopes Kelly can “be effective,” and “begin some very serious negotiation with the North and stop this program.”

Another diplomatic fissure opened Sunday when Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by several hundred under new sanctions from Moscow. In a television interview, Putin indicated the cutback was retaliation for new sanctions in a bill passed by Congress and sent to Trump.

Trump plans to sign the measure into law, the White House has said. After Putin’s remarks, the State Department deemed the cutbacks “a regrettable and uncalled for act” and said officials would assess the impact and how to respond to it.

While Trump is trying to refresh his team, he signaled that he does not want to give up the fight on health care. On Twitter Sunday, he said: “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace.”

The protracted health care fight has slowed work on Trump’s other policy goals, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure investment. But Trump aides made clear that the president still wanted to see action on health care. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” that senators “need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”

Asked if nothing should be voted on in Congress until the Senate votes again on health care, Mulvaney said: “Well, think — yes. And I think what you’re seeing there is the president simply reflecting the mood of the people.”

The House has begun a five-week recess, while the Senate is scheduled to work two more weeks before a summer break.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Analysis: Putin’s Bet on a Trump Presidency Backfires Spectacularly

(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-    A little more than a year after the Russian effort to interfere in the American presidential election came to light, the diplomatic fallout — an unraveling of the relationship between Moscow and Washington on a scale not seen in decades — is taking its toll.

President Vladimir V. Putin bet that Donald J. Trump, who had spoken fondly of Russia and its authoritarian leader for years, would treat his nation as Mr. Putin has longed to have it treated by the West. That is, as the superpower it once was, or at least a major force to be reckoned with, from Syria to Europe, and boasting a military revived after two decades of neglect.

That bet has now backfired, spectacularly. If the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week sent any message to Moscow, it was that Mr. Trump’s hands are now tied in dealing with Moscow, probably for years to come.

Just weeks after the two leaders spent hours in seemingly friendly conversation in Hamburg, Germany, the prospect of the kinds of deals Mr. Trump once mused about in interviews seem more distant than ever. Congress is not ready to forgive the annexation of Crimea, nor allow extensive reinvestment in Russian energy. The new sanctions were passed by a coalition of Democrats who blame Mr. Putin for contributing to Hillary Clinton’s defeat and Republicans fearful that their president misunderstands who he is dealing with in Moscow.

So with his decision to order that hundreds of American diplomats and Russians working for the American Embassy leave their posts, Mr. Putin, known as a great tactician but not a great strategist, has changed course again. For now, American officials and outside experts said on Sunday, he seems to believe his greater leverage lies in escalating the dispute, Cold War-style, rather than subtly trying to manipulate events with a mix of subterfuge, cyberattacks and information warfare.

But it is unclear how much the announcement will affect day-to-day relations. While the Russian news media said 755 diplomats would be barred from working, and presumably expelled, there do not appear to be anything close to 755 American diplomats working in Russia.

That figure almost certainly includes Russian nationals working at the embassy, usually in nonsensitive jobs. (A 2013 State Department inspector general’s report, the last concrete numbers publicly available, said there were 934 “locally employed” staff members at the Moscow Embassy and three consulates, out of 1,279 total staff members. That would leave roughly 345 Americans, many of whom report regular harassment by Russian officials.) And of course there are many nondiplomats working for the United States government in Russia at any given time — experts from departments across the government, from energy to agriculture, and a large station of spies, some working under diplomatic cover.

“One of Putin’s greatest goals is to assure Russia is treated as if it was still the Soviet Union, a nuclear power that has to be respected and feared,” said Angela Stent, the director of Eurasian, Russian and East European studies at Georgetown University. “And he thought he might get that from Trump,” said Ms. Stent, who was the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia during the administration of George W. Bush.

But now, she added, the Russians look at the chaos in the White House “and see a level of unpredictability there, which makes them nervous.” The reaction, she said, was to retreat to old habits — and the expulsion of diplomats is, of course, one of the oldest.

Those in the administration who served during the Cold War are also returning to that terminology. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told a security conference in Aspen, Colo., this month that he had no doubt that the Russians “are trying to undermine Western democracy.” His boss has never uttered a similar phrase.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on what has become one of the most sensitive diplomatic problems facing the Trump administration, said the White House had not given up hopes for a better relationship. Mr. Putin’s interview on Russian television, in which he announced the reduction in staff, was free of bombast, the official noted. Russia seems uncertain about the direction of the relationship, leaving open the possibility of a reversal.

“The Russians would have preferred not to head down this path, but Putin didn’t feel he had a choice but to respond in the classic tit-for-tat manner,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who has served in a number of senior intelligence roles for the United States, including in Russia. “We’ve been in a new Cold War for some time now. Any hope for a short-term improvement in relations is gone.”

That downturn accelerated in the last days of the Obama administration, he argued, “when emotions took over the relationship.” Now, said Mr. Mowatt-Larssen, who recently became director of intelligence and defense projects at the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, “fear has replaced anger in dealing with Russia.”

Sergey V. Lavrov, the savvy Russian foreign minister, has struck a measured tone in his conversations with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. In public, he has blamed not Mr. Trump, or the investigation into the Russian influence operation around the election, but Congress. “The latest developments have demonstrated that the U.S. policy turns out to be in the hands of Russophobic forces that are pushing Washington toward confrontation,” the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, after the passage of the latest sanctions act.

Forty-eight hours later, Mr. Putin announced the huge reduction in diplomatic staffing. He said the order would take effect Sept. 1. That leaves time for haggling.

But the fundamental issue will not go away by then. Mr. Putin has now concluded that his central objective — getting relief from the American and European sanctions that followed the annexation of Crimea in 2014 — is years away. Once new sanctions are enshrined in law, like the ones Congress passed and Mr. Trump has reluctantly agreed to sign to avoid an override of his veto, they generally stay on the books for years.

Moreover, Washington is awash in warnings that the attacks on the election system last year are just a beginning. “They are just about their own advantage,” James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee just before he was fired by Mr. Trump. “And they will be back.”

James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence and a veteran of the Cold War, echoed that thought recently and mixed in more than a few issues that sounded straight out of the 1980s nuclear competition. “What we don’t mention very often is the very aggressive modernization program they’re embarked on with their strategic nuclear capability,” he said.

And that, in the end, is the real risk. With the exception of Syria — where the militaries of both nations have had sporadic, if mutually suspicious, contact — there is virtually no military-to-military conversation of the kind that took place routinely during the Cold War. And with Russian and American forces both operating near the Baltics, and off the coast of Europe, the chances for accident and miscalculation are high.

This latest plunge in relations comes at the 70th anniversary of “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” an article George Kennan, the architect of Cold War strategy, published in Foreign Affairs in July 1947 under the pseudonym “X.”

It defined the strategy that dominated Washington for the next four decades, captured in Mr. Kennan’s line that the “United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”

That was not the approach Mr. Trump had in mind a year ago. It may now be the approach forced upon him.

Transgender soldier fears life setback after Trump’s tweet

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BERATZHAUSEN, Germany (AP) — The U.S. Army soldier took a deep breath before hitting the button that sent the email to more than 200 fellow troops.

“All considered, I am, and have been, traversing what is essentially a personal matter, but is something I must address publicly,” the email stated. “I am transgender.”

The April 13 email officially ended the secret that burned inside Capt. Jennifer Sims, who was known as Jonathan Sims. But the feeling of relief swiftly turned to unease last week after President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people were no longer welcome in the U.S. military.

“I read the tweets while I was at work and you know it was devastating because I still have work to do and here I am reading basically what sounds like the president of the United States — who is the commander in chief, he is the ultimate boss of the military — telling me and anybody else that is transgender that we are fired,” Sims said.

Pentagon officials say the policy will remain unchanged without official White House guidance. But for Sims, the uncertainty has been upsetting.

“So in the initial moments after the tweet, I saw myself forced into the state that I was in before I started transitioning — a state of depression, exhaustion and inability to enjoy things,” said Sims, 28, who spoke to The Associated Press on her own behalf and not on that of the Army.

The reversal of the Obama administration policy that allows transgender people to serve openly and receive military medical coverage for transitioning from one gender to another also could affect her physically.

Sims has been on hormone therapy by her military doctor since November. If she interrupts the treatment, her body will revert to being male.

“It would be very difficult to have to go through that,” said Sims, who is based at Hohenfels, a U.S. Army garrison in the German state of Bavaria.

Growing up in Minnesota and Florida, Sims, a high school football player, never felt comfortable being male. The son and grandson of military veterans quietly came to terms with identifying as a woman a year after joining the Army R.O.T.C., but outwardly kept it a secret “because I wanted to continue serving,” Sims said.

Sims stopped socializing, feeling drained over worries about being masculine enough, and instead focused on work, serving in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Germany. Her sister, Natasha Sims, 24, said she saw “emptiness” in her eyes.

After the Defense Department announced in 2015 that it was considering allowing transgender troops to serve openly, Sims told Natasha and their parents. When the policy became official in June 2016, Sims said she felt the meaning of the word freedom personally after spending years fighting for it for her country.

“It was the best day of my life really,” Sims said.

Sims made an appointment with the behavioral health office, was given a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and started hormone therapy in November.

Five months later, she decided to tell fellow troops.

She first told her two closest colleagues, Capt. Brandon Shorter and another infantry officer.

They were at a loss for words.

After Shorter got home, allowing it to sink in, he texted Sims about how that was brave.

“Infantry officers are best described as brutish. So Capt. Sims pulled me and another brute aside face to face. That took a lot of courage and that’s the first thing that went through my mind, mixed in with surprise,” Shorter said.

Sims then announced the “personal change” to more than 200 other troops.

It was not an emotional email. The seasoned military officer wrote how a lifetime of discomfort had peaked three years ago. Sims meticulously explained gender dysphoria, announced she was Capt. Jennifer Sims, not Jonathan, and outlined the steps she would take to fully transition to a woman.

“Officially in DEERS, my gender will remain male until my medical transition is complete, which means I will still comport to male standards and use male facilities,” she wrote, referring to the acronym for the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, a kind of HR database for U.S. military personnel.

“While it is my preference for people to refer to me with female pronouns, if you are uncomfortable with this, there is no requirement to do so, I only respectfully request you refer to me by my proper name, Captain Sims,” the email stated.

Sims assured her unit the change “if anything, will only make me more productive and capable, as I no longer have to live two personas.”

Five soldiers sent emails back with words of encouragement. Most didn’t respond. For a few days, there were murmurs of “hey did you see the email?”

The force had just undergone training explaining what was expected in regards to transgender soldiers.

Sims is the first transgender person Shorter has known.

The unit is basically full of “young men wanting to chew on nails and prove how tough they are and rightly so since they are infantry men,” Shorter said. There are only about eight women among the 500 soldiers in the battalion.

He had a lot of questions “being naturally curious and wanting to be a good friend because we didn’t really have a personal relationship. He’s, excuse me, she’s — see I still slip up sometimes — a single captain, I’m married with two daughters. Our lives are different.”

Shorter, 32, of Alanson, Michigan, describes himself as conservative. He said he struggles with his beliefs about what’s appropriate. An assistant operations officer for the battalion, Shorter is concerned about how Sims — whom he considers to be the best signal officer he’s seen in the Army — cannot deploy while undergoing medical procedures.

But Shorter, speaking on his own behalf and not that of the Army, said he would be “incredibly disappointed” if Sims were kicked out.

After Trump’s tweet, a few soldiers, including Shorter, asked Sims how she was doing. She didn’t know what to say.

Her pills will run out in three months. Doctors recommend 12 months of hormone therapy before surgery. The cost of her surgery can run close to $50,000, which Sims was expecting the military would help cover.

Army officials told her nothing will change without official guidance.

“I had waited so long just to be able to tell the world this is who I am,” Sims said.

_____

Watson reported from San Diego.

Trump’s new chief of staff takes over a White House in chaos

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff is entering a West Wing battered by crisis.

Retired Gen. John Kelly, previously the Homeland Security secretary, takes over Monday from the ousted Reince Priebus. Trump hopes Kelly can bring some military order to an administration weighed down by a stalled legislative agenda, a cabal of infighting West Wing aides and a stack of investigations.

Still, Kelly’s success in a chaotic White House will depend on how much authority he is granted and whether Trump’s dueling aides will put aside their rivalries to work together. Also unclear is whether a new chief of staff will have any influence over the president’s social media histrionics.

Former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, who was ousted from the campaign in June 2016, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected Kelly would “restore order to the staff” but also stressed that Trump was unlikely to change his style.

“I say you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for,” Lewandowski said. “And anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”

Kelly’s start follows a tumultuous week, marked by a profane tirade from the new communications director, Trump’s continued attacks on his attorney general and the failed effort by Senate Republicans to overhaul the nation’s health care law.

In addition to strain in the West Wing and with Congress, Kelly starts his new job as tensions escalate with North Korea. The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea, following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. The U.S. also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that she hopes Kelly can “be effective,” and “begin some very serious negotiation with the North and stop this program.”

Another diplomatic fissure opened Sunday when Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by several hundred under new sanctions from Moscow. In a television interview, Putin indicated the cutback was retaliation for new sanctions in a bill passed by Congress and sent to Trump.

Trump plans to sign the measure into law, the White House has said. After Putin’s remarks, the State Department deemed the cutbacks “a regrettable and uncalled for act” and said officials would assess the impact and how to respond to it.

While Trump is trying to refresh his team, he signaled that he does not want to give up the fight on health care. On Twitter Sunday, he said: “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace.”

The protracted health care fight has slowed Trump’s other policy goals, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure investment. But Trump aides made clear that the president still wanted to see action on health care. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” that senators “need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”

Asked if nothing should be voted on in Congress until the Senate votes again on health care, Mulvaney said: “well, think — yes. And I think what you’re seeing there is the president simply reflecting the mood of the people.”

On Saturday, Trump threatened to end required payments to insurance companies unless lawmakers repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law. He tweeted that if “a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

The payments reduce deductibles and co-payments for consumers with modest incomes. Trump has guaranteed the payments through July, but has not made a commitment going forward.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump would make a decision on the payments this week.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who opposed the efforts to move a health bill forward this week, said on CNN that cutting the payments would “be detrimental to some of the most vulnerable citizens” and that the threat has “contributed to the instability in the insurance market.”

The House has begun a five-week recess, while the Senate is scheduled to work two more weeks before a summer break.

Putin lays down a number: US must cut 755 Moscow diplomats

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded the United States cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people, underlining his displeasure with U.S. sanctions and heightening tensions between Washington and Moscow.

The U.S. State Department called Putin’s move “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”

Putin’s announcement Sunday came three days after the U.S. Congress approved sanctions against Russia and just hours after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence landed in Estonia, which borders Russia, for talks with the country that holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Russian’s Foreign Ministry on Friday ordered a reduction by Sept. 1 in U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455 people in response to a new package of American sanctions. The White House says President Donald Trump will sign those sanctions into law.

The sanctions, which also target Iran and North Korea, seek to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

“We had hoped that the situation will somehow change, but apparently if it changes, it won’t be soon,” Putin told Rossiya 1, explaining why Moscow decided to retaliate. “I thought it was the time to show that we’re not going to leave it without an answer.”

Russia is open to cooperating with the U.S. on various issues, including terrorism and cybercrime, but instead it “only hears unfounded accusations of meddling in U.S. domestic affairs,” he said.

Putin said more than 1,000 people are currently employed at the Moscow embassy and three U.S. consulates in Russia. They include both Americans and Russians hired to work in the diplomatic offices.

The Russian leader did not explain how the figure of 755 positions was calculated.

In a statement, the State Department said: “This is a regrettable and uncalled-for act. We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it. We have no further comment at this time.”

The State Department declined to give an exact number of American diplomats or other U.S. officials in Russia, but the figure is believed to be about 400, some of whom have families accompanying them on diplomatic passports.

The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia, including the embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, are local employees.

Asked about the potential for additional sanctions against Washington, Putin described the reduction in diplomatic staff as “painful” and said he currently opposes further measures.

“We certainly have something to respond with and restrict those areas of joint cooperation that will be painful for the American side, but I don’t think we need to do it,” he said, adding that such steps could also harm Russian interests.

Putin mentioned space and energy as the main areas where Russia and the United States have successfully pursued projects together.

Along with the cap on the size of the U.S. diplomatic corps in Russia, the Russian foreign ministry on Friday said it also was closing down a U.S. recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow as well as warehouse facilities.

The diplomatic tit-for-tat started under former U.S. President Barack Obama. In response to reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian recreational retreats in the U.S.

____

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

White House: Trump to decide soon on ending health payments

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is insisting that the Senate resume efforts to repeal and replace the nation’s health care law, signaling that President Donald Trump stands ready to end required payments to insurers this week to let “Obamacare implode” and force congressional action.

“The president will not accept those who said it’s, quote, ‘Time to move on,’” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said.

Those were the words used by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after the stunning early Friday morning defeat of the GOP bill to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. McConnell is already moving to other business, having scheduled Senate consideration later Monday on a judicial nomination.

Conway said Trump was deciding whether to act on his threat to end cost-sharing reduction payments, which are aimed at trimming out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people. “He’s going to make that decision this week, and that’s a decision that only he can make,” Conway said.

For seven years, Republicans have promised that once they took power, they would scrap Obama’s overhaul and pass a replacement. But that effort crashed most recently in the Senate Friday.

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, where no Democrats voted for the GOP bill and three Republicans defected in the final vote Friday. One of the GOP defectors, Sen. John McCain, has since returned to Arizona for treatment for brain cancer.

“Don’t give up Republican senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace,” Trump said in a tweet.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, when asked Sunday if no other legislative business should be taken up until the Senate acts again on health care, responded “yes.”

While the House has begun a five-week recess, the Senate is scheduled to work two more weeks before a summer break. McConnell has said the unfinished business includes addressing a backlog of executive and judicial nominations, coming ahead of a busy agenda in September that involves passing a defense spending bill and raising the government’s borrowing limit.

“In the White House’s view, they can’t move on in the Senate,” Mulvaney said, referring to health legislation. “They need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”

Trump warned over the weekend that he would end federal subsidies for health care insurance for Congress and the rest of the country if the Senate didn’t act soon. He was referring in part to a federal contribution for lawmakers and their staffs, who were moved onto Obamacare insurance exchanges as part of the 2010 law.

“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Trump tweeted.

The subsidies, totaling about $7 billion a year, help reduce deductibles and copayments for consumers with modest incomes. The Obama administration used its rule-making authority to set direct payments to insurers to help offset these costs. Trump inherited the payment structure, but he also has the power to end them.

The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans over whether the health law specifically included a congressional appropriation for the money, as required under the Constitution. Trump has only guaranteed the payments through July, which ends Monday.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the three Republican senators who voted against the GOP health bill on Friday, said she’s troubled by Trump’s claims that the insurance payments are a “bailout.” She said Trump’s threat to cut off payments would not change her opposition to the GOP health bill and stressed the cost-sharing reduction payments were critical to make insurance more affordable for low-income people.

“The uncertainty about whether that subsidy is going to continue from month to month is clearly contributing to the destabilization of the insurance markets, and that’s one thing that Congress needs to end,” said Collins, who wants lawmakers to appropriate money for the payments.

“I certainly hope the administration does not do anything in the meantime to hasten that collapse,” she added.

Trump previously said the law that he and others call “Obamacare” would collapse immediately whenever those payments stop. He has indicated a desire to halt the subsidies but so far has allowed them to continue on a month-to-month basis.

Conway spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Collins was on CNN as well as NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Afghan police: Car bombing targets Iraq Embassy in Kabul

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A car bombing targeted the Iraqi Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, followed by gunfire, Afghan police officials said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The attack was still underway as witnesses reported hearing gunshots and several subsequent explosions in the area of the embassy. Details were sketchy as police cordoned off the area of the firefight.

Two police officials told The Associated Press that the car bomb exploded outside the embassy, followed by an attempt by gunmen to enter the building, which is located in the center of the Afghan capital. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Interior Minister spokesman Najib Danish told the AP that the Iraqi diplomats were safe and had been rescued. He said it’s believed three gunmen were involved in the attack.

A police officer in the area, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said the gunfire was initially intense but was now sporadic. The area was surrounded by armored vehicles and a large contingent of police and Afghan soldiers.

More than an hour later, witnesses reported hearing another powerful explosion and saw black smoke billowing skyward. It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused the last explosion.

At least one eyewitness, a store owner who goes by the name of Hafizullah — many Afghans use only one name — said he saw the bodies of two policemen on the ground before armored personnel carriers and police arrived to cordon off the area.

“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana.

The Iraq Embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.

By comparison, the Iraqi Embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though both the Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate have previously carried out such attacks in Kabul.

After Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group earlier in July, the Iraq Embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local IS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the militant group’s losses in Iraq.

Chinese official says no link between US trade and N. Korea

BEIJING (AP) — A senior Chinese trade official said Monday the issue of China-U.S. trade should be kept separate from the issue of North Korean security threats, pushing back on statements from President Donald Trump.

Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming’s remarks came after Trump over the weekend complained that China had benefited massively from trade with the U.S. while providing no help resolving problems with North Korea.

“North Korea’s nuclear issue and the issue of trade between China and the United States are two different issues. They are not related. You cannot speak about them together,” Qian told reporters at a news conference to announce new trade data.

Qian also emphasized the mutual benefits of China’s trade and investment with the U.S., rebuffing Trump’s repeated claims that Beijing has exploited liberal U.S. trade policies to its own advantage.

Trump sent a pair of tweets on Sunday, saying: “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley joined in the criticism, saying China “must decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step” of getting tough on the North.

China is the North’s biggest trade partner and food and fuel aid source, leading the U.S. and others to press Beijing to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang’s behavior by cutting off assistance or agreeing to harsher sanctions. Chinese companies also have a virtual monopoly on investments in North Korea’s economy, particularly natural resources.

China however says its influence with Pyongyang is overblown and has declared repeatedly that it would not agree to measures that could bring about the collapse of the regime and create chaos along its border.

Also Monday, Qian said China reported trade volume rose in the first half of 2017 against the same period last year, ending a two-year decline. Imports rose 19.6 percent in the period from January to June, while exports rose 25.7 percent.

Business: Global shares mostly higher as investors eye 2Q earnings

TOKYO (AP) — Shares were mostly higher in Europe and Asia on Monday as investors awaited a fresh flurry of corporate earnings reports. Chinese markets shrugged off weaker manufacturing data, while Japan’s Nikkei index sagged as the yen surged against the dollar.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX gained 0.1 percent to 12,179.72 and the CAC 40 of France added 0.1 percent to 5,137.39. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.5 percent to 7,403.30. Dow futures gained 0.2 percent to 21,823.00 and S&P 500 futures edged 0.1 percent higher to 2,472.70, auguring an upbeat start for the week on Wall Street.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.2 percent to 19,925.18 and the Kospi in South Korea was flat at 2,402.71. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index jumped 1.3 percent to 27,323.99 and the Shanghai Composite index climbed 0.6 percent to 3,273.03. The S&P ASX 200 of Australia gained 0.3 percent to 5,720.60 and India’s Sensex added 0.6 percent to 32,485.48. Shares in Southeast Asia were mostly lower.

EARNINGS WATCH: Some 350 companies were due to release second quarter earnings on Monday just in Japan, and investors are watching for more upbeat reports following earlier strong results in the region, as well as in the U.S. Results from a little more than half of the companies in the S&P 500 have been mostly encouraging.

ANALYST COMMENT: “With 57 percent of the companies on the comprehensive S&P 500 index reported so far, it is unavoidable for us to discuss earnings performances. On a broad level we have seen both sales and earnings surprise largely match up to the strong Q1 performance, keeping the markets going,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary. “The new week brings another one-fourth of the companies on the S&P 500 index which could see the focus slightly moderate and shift toward earnings here in Asia instead.”

NORTH KOREA: The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea following an intercontinental ballistic missile test late Friday. The U.S. also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said spoke with President Donald Trump and agreed to take further action against North Korea. Abe said Japan would join with the U.S. in pursuing concrete steps to fortify its defense system and capabilities and do its utmost to safeguard national security. Tensions over North Korea helped push the Japanese yen, viewed as a “safe haven” currency, sharply higher against the U.S. dollar, hurting exporters’ shares.

CHINA FACTORY DATA: A manufacturing survey showed Chinese factory activity eased in July as demand for exports weakened. The monthly purchasing managers’ index released Monday slipped to 51.4 last month from 51.7 in the previous month. The reading is based on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 indicate expansion. It was still the 12th straight month that factories reported expansion, according to the data compiled by the Federation of Logistics & Purchasing posted on China’s official statistics website.

ENERGY: The price of oil fell back after capping its best week since early December last week, when it gained 9 percent. Benchmark U.S. crude lost 10 cents to $49.61 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It climbed 67 cents Friday to settle at $49.71 per barrel and touched its highest level since May. Brent crude, the international standard, added gave up 6 cents 23 cents to $52.16 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 110.63 Japanese yen from 110.67 yen on Friday. The euro slipped to $1.1729 from $1.1756, and the British pound dropped to $1.3109 from $1.3135.

GOP dealt stiff blow in Senate’s bid to repeal ‘Obamacare’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Dealing a serious blow to President Donald Trump’s agenda, the Senate early Friday rejected a measure to repeal parts of former President Barack Obama’s health care law after a night of high suspense in the U.S. Capitol.

Unable to pass even a so-called “skinny repeal,” it was unclear if Senate Republicans could advance any health bill despite seven years of promises to repeal “Obamacare.”

“This is clearly a disappointing moment,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “I regret that our efforts were not enough, this time.”

The Senate has rejected a measure to repeal parts of former President Barack Obama’s health law, dealing a serious blow to President Donald Trump and the GOP agenda. The final vote was 51-49. (July 28)

“It’s time to move on,” he said. The vote was 49-51 with three Republicans joining all Democrats in voting ‘no.’

McConnell put the health bill on hold and announced that the Senate would move onto other legislation next week.

Trump responded on Twitter: “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”

A key vote to defeat the measure was cast by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who returned to the Senate this week after receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer. In an impassioned speech the day he returned, McCain had called for bipartisanship on major issues of national concern, and a return to the “regular order” of legislating by committee.

Two other Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — joined McCain and all Democrats to reject the amendment, which would have repealed a mandate that most individuals get health insurance and would have suspended a requirement that large companies provide coverage to their employees. It would have also suspended a tax on medical devices and denied funding to Planned Parenthood for a year.

On Twitter, McCain said the repeal bill “fell short of our promise to repeal & replace Obamacare w/ meaningful reform,” adding, “I hope we can rely on humility, cooperation & dependence on each other to better serve the people who elected us.”

The amendment was a last resort for Senate Republicans to pass something — anything — to trigger negotiations with the House.

“It’s time to turn the page,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York. “We are not celebrating. We are relieved.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a statement that the Trump administration would pursue its health care goals through regulation. “This effort will continue,” Price said. But insurers, hospitals, doctors, and consumer groups are pressing the administration to guarantee billions of dollars in disputed subsidies to help stabilize insurance markets around the country.

Buoyed by a signal from House Speaker Paul Ryan, McConnell had introduced a pared-down health care bill late Thursday that he hoped would keep alive Republican ambitions to repeal “Obamacare.”

McConnell called his measure the Health Care Freedom Act. It was not intended to become law, but to open a path for a House-Senate conference committee to try to work out comprehensive legislation Congress could pass and send to Trump.

The Congressional Budget Office said the amendment would have increased the number of uninsured people by 16 million, the same problem that vexed all the “repeal and replace” measures Republicans have offered. Obama’s law extended coverage to some 20 million people, reducing the nation’s uninsured rate to a historic low of around 9 percent.

Still, Ryan, R-Wis., had seemingly opened a path for McConnell earlier Thursday by signaling a willingness to negotiate a more comprehensive bill with the Senate. Some Republican senators had been concerned that the House would simply pass McConnell’s “skinny bill” and send it to Trump. That would have sent a shock wave through health insurance markets, spiking premiums.

Ryan sent senators a statement saying that if “moving forward” requires talks with the Senate, the House would be “willing” to do so. But shortly afterward, his words received varied responses from three GOP senators who’d insisted on a clear commitment from Ryan.

“Not sufficient,” said McCain, who returned to the Capitol Tuesday. The 80-year-old McCain had been home in Arizona trying to decide on treatment options for brain cancer.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., initially said “not yet” when asked if he was ready to vote for the scaled-back Senate bill. But later, he told reporters that Ryan had assured him and others in a phone conversation that the House would hold talks with the Senate.

“I feel comfortable personally. I know Paul; he’s a man of his word,” said Graham.

As the convoluted developments played out, the slender 52-48 GOP majority was divided among itself over what it could agree to. Democrats were unanimously opposed.

After a comprehensive “repeal and replace” bill failed on the Senate floor, and a straight-up repeal failed too, McConnell and his top lieutenants turned toward the “skinny repeal.”

It was to have been the ticket to negotiations with the House, which had passed its own legislation in May.

Opponents mobilized quickly against McConnell’s new strategy.

The insurance company lobby group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, wrote to Senate leaders Thursday saying that ending Obama’s requirement that people buy insurance without strengthening insurance markets would produce “higher premiums, fewer choices for consumers and fewer people covered next year.”

And a bipartisan group of governors including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada also announced against it. So did the American Medical Association.

Numerous polls had shown little public support for the GOP’s earlier proposals to repeal and replace Obama’s law. A recent AP-NORC poll found only 22 percent of the public backing the Republican approach, while 51 percent were opposed.

In the end the misgivings of a few Republican senators derailed the GOP’s seven-year quest to roll back “Obamacare.” It remains to be seen whether a bipartisan deal can now be reached to stabilize insurance markets that have been rattled by rising premiums and insurer exits.

The dizzying series of legislative maneuvers this week left even veteran senators puzzled.

“We’re in the twilight zone of legislating,” said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

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Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Stephen Ohlemacher and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif resigns after Supreme Court order to disqualify him – statement

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — A five-judge panel of Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday disqualified thrice-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding office over allegations of corruption against him and his family.

The court in a unanimous decision said Sharif was disqualified for not remaining “truthful and honest” after considering evidence against him. It also ruled Sharif could no longer serve as a member of the National Assembly, a powerful lower house of the parliament.

General elections are to be held in Pakistan next year and the Supreme Court ruling ensures he won’t be in the running.

The court asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to issue notification of Sharif’s removal. But Sharif quickly stepped down, saying he did it to show his respect for the country’s judiciary.

Sharif’s resignation created a murky legal mess with constitutional experts at a loss to explain who is in charge in Pakistan until his successor is nominated. It wasn’t immediately clear when that would be or who it would be.

The court also directed the country’s anti-corruption body to file corruption charges against Sharif, his two sons and daughter in the next six weeks for concealing their assets.

Sharif’s party expressed its disappointment over the court order.

“This decision is not surprising but we are disappointed,” Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters shortly after the ruling. She said their Pakistan Muslim League ruling party will issue a detailed reaction after consulting Sharif’s advisers.

Legal experts say Sharif will now nominate a lawmaker of his choice to replace him under the provisions of the constitution. They say Sharif’s nominee would be elected by the National Assembly, where the ruling party enjoys majority.

“The Supreme Court has disqualified Nawaz Sharif for concealing his assets,” Hashmat Habib, a legal expert said. He said the court’s order was binding and Sharif and his family may not challenge it.

It was not the first time the judiciary has ordered the dismissal of an elected prime minister. In 2012, the court convicted the then-Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.

The current case against Sharif and his family dates back to 2016, when documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm indicated that Sharif’s sons owned several offshore companies.

Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz at the time acknowledged owning offshore companies but insisted they used legal money to set up businesses abroad.

However, the court-appointed investigators in July concluded a significant disparity existed between the Sharif family’s declared wealth and its known sources of income.

Opposition lawmakers, who petitioned the court for disqualification of Sharif, welcomed the court decision, saying it was a victory for justice.

Sirajul Haq, who heads Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami party, told reporters that he had been fighting a legal battle to ensure the accountability of the “corrupt ruling elite.”

White House tensions catch fire with Scaramucci interviews

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s new communications director exploded the smoldering tensions at the White House into a full-fledged conflagration Thursday, angrily daring Trump’s chief of staff to deny he’s a “leaker” and exposing West Wing backstabbing in language more suitable to a mobster movie than a seat of presidential stability.

In a pull-no-punches, impromptu CNN interview that he said was authorized by the president, Anthony Scaramucci went after chief of staff Reince Priebus in graphic terms. “The fish stinks from the head down,” he said. “I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, and that’s me and the president.”

As new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly attacks chief of staff Reince Priebus on Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t answer repeated reporter questions about whether Trump has confidence in him. (July 27)

Not even a week into his new job, Scaramucci accused unidentified senior officials of trying to sabotage him and committing a felony by leaking information. But the personal financial information that he said someone had “leaked” about him had simply been obtained through a public records request.

Then in an interview published by The New Yorker late Thursday, an angry Scaramucci used an expletive to accuse Priebus of being a “f—— paranoid schizophrenic” and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon of trying to burnish his own reputation.

He also threatened to fire White House staffers who leaked about a dinner he had with the president.

“They’ll all be fired by me,” Scaramucci told the magazine. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.”

By day’s end Scaramucci sounded calmer, though not regretful.

“I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump’s agenda. #MAGA,” he tweeted. The tag at the end stands for Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”

He also blamed the reporter, Ryan Lizza. “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter,” he added later. “It won’t happen again.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred reporters to the first tweet.

The president’s senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, had earlier speculated in a Fox News interview that unnamed forces were out to get Scaramucci, saying: “Somebody is trying to get in his way and scare him off.”

“There are leaks and then there are people using the press to shiv each other in the ribs,” she said.

Meanwhile, no one in the White House took up for Priebus — including Priebus himself. Sanders avoided giving a direct answer when asked whether Trump has confidence in Priebus.

The past 24 hours provided the clearest evidence yet that Scaramucci and Trump, both brash New Yorkers, are cut from the same cloth. One of their shared techniques: publicly shaming members of their own team.

Scaramucci’s goading of Priebus came as Trump continued to fume publicly and privately about his attorney general. Trump has been critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department investigation into whether the president’s campaign had anything to do with Russian interference in the election last fall.

“It hasn’t been my best week … for my relationship with the president,” Sessions acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press in El Salvador, where he was on a mission to increase international cooperation against gangs.

He said he would stay in his post and fight for Trump’s agenda “as long as he sees that as appropriate.”

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and frequent outside adviser to Trump, said in an interview that Scaramucci’s attacks on Priebus are problematic.

“They’ve got to get this sorted out between the two of them, and it would be nice if they didn’t do it in public,” he said.

Yet after Scaramucci’s call-in CNN performance — a move lifted from his boss’ playbook — it was difficult to see how the two could mend fences.

“I don’t know if this is repairable or not — that will be up to the president,” Scaramucci said on air. He compared their relationship to that of brothers who are “rough on each other,” invoking Cain and Abel. One of those biblical brothers murdered the other.

The bad blood stems from Scaramucci’s view that Priebus was insufficiently supportive of Trump at the end of the election campaign and his belief that Priebus persuaded the president to keep him out of the White House in January. Six months later, Scaramucci’s close relationship with the president trumped the opposition of Priebus and Bannon.

Scaramucci’s arrival in the West Wing last Friday marked the first in a series of falling dominoes that seemed to be leading toward Priebus. Press secretary Sean Spicer, a close ally of Priebus, resigned last week. Scaramucci then forced out another communications aide close to Priebus.

Scaramucci then tweeted that someone had illegally leaked financial information about him, conspicuously mentioning Priebus’ Twitter handle. Scaramucci later deleted that tweet and said he had only mentioned Priebus to show that all senior leaders are taking leaks seriously.

“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony, I will be contacting @FBI and the @JusticeDept #swamp @Reince45,” his since-deleted tweet read.

Scaramucci’s financial disclosure form wasn’t leaked at all. It was released after a public records request by a Politico reporter.

In the CNN interview, Scaramucci said he’d be reaching out to his “buddies” in the FBI about the matter.

If Scaramucci tries to direct the FBI to conduct a leak investigation, that could brush up against the Justice Department’s obligation to function independently from the White House, said Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer in Washington.

“It starts to potentially smell and approach an inappropriate line,” Zaid said.

Brad Gerstman, a New York lobbyist and public relations executive, said it probably doesn’t matter to Trump that Scaramucci and Priebus don’t get along. Gerstman has done projects for the Trump Organization and is a neighbor and longtime friend of Scaramucci’s.

“In my experience, he’s of the belief that sometimes a little friction in the ranks is how you surface the best ideas,” Gerstman said of Trump.

But another rule of thumb in Trump’s inner circle is that it’s never wise to outshine the president.

Trump has reacted angrily when certain aides — including Bannon and, briefly, son-in-law Jared Kushner — received outsized media attention.

Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary under George W. Bush, said, “Ask Steve Bannon what happens if you get too much publicity and go too far.”

“It reminds me of Icarus flying too close to the sun.”

___

Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Vivian Salama, Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Russia hits back over sanctions, orders U.S. diplomats to leave

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(PhatzNewsRoom / Reuters)   —-    Russia told the United States on Friday that some of its diplomats had to leave the country in just over a month and said it was seizing some U.S. diplomatic property as retaliation for what it said were proposed illegal U.S. sanctions.

Russia’s response, announced by the Foreign Ministry, came a day after the U.S. Senate voted to slap new sanctions on Russia, putting President Donald Trump in a tough position by forcing him to take a hard line on Moscow or veto the legislation and anger his own Republican Party.

President Vladimir Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia had so far exercised restraint, but would have to retaliate against what he described as boorish and unreasonable U.S. behavior.

Relations between the two countries, already at a post-Cold War low, have deteriorated even further after U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russia of trying to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election, something Moscow flatly denies.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the United States had until Sept. 1 to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, the same number of Russian diplomats it said were left in the United States after Washington expelled 35 Russians in December.

It said in a statement that the decision by Congress to impose new sanctions confirmed “the extreme aggression of the United States in international affairs.”

“Hiding behind its ‘exceptionalism’ the United States arrogantly ignores the positions and interests of other countries,” said the ministry.

“Under the absolutely invented pretext of Russian interference in their domestic affairs the United States is aggressively pushing forward, one after another, crude anti-Russian actions. This all runs counter to the principles of international law.”

It was not immediately clear how many U.S. diplomats and other workers would be forced to leave the country.

An official at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, who declined to be named because they were not allowed to speak to the media, said there were around 1,100 U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia. That included Russian citizens and U.S. citizens.

Most staff, including around 300 U.S. citizens, work in the main embassy in Moscow with others based in outlying consulates.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was also seizing a Moscow dacha compound used by U.S. diplomats to relax from Aug. 1 as well as a U.S. diplomatic warehouse in Moscow.

The outgoing Obama administration seized two Russian diplomatic compounds – one in New York and another in Maryland – at the same time as it expelled the Russian diplomats in December.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned it would respond in kind if Washington decided to expel any Russian diplomats.

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(Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov)

Pentagon, border wall covered in $788B House spending bill

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —-    WASHINGTON — The House has passed a $788 billion spending bill that combines a $1.6 billion down payment for President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall with Mexico with a whopping budget increase for the Pentagon.

The 235-192 vote both eases a large backlog of unfinished spending bills and gives Trump and his House GOP allies political wins heading into the August recess. Challenging hurdles remain because the measure will meet with more powerful Democratic opposition in the Senate.

The 326-page measure would make good on longtime GOP promises to reverse an erosion in military readiness. It would give veterans programs a 5 percent increase and fund a 2.4 percent military pay raise.

GOP leaders used the popularity of the Pentagon and veterans programs to power through money for Trump’s border wall.

“Every single dime the President requested to start building a wall on our southern border he’s going to get,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “Most importantly, we’re sending more to the VA to fix veterans’ health care and reform outdated VA systems.”

Still, a potential government shutdown battle over the U.S.-Mexico wall looms with Senate Democrats this fall. The generous defense spending increases also run afoul of strict spending limits set by an earlier budget law, and there’s been no progress on a bipartisan budget deal that would be a prerequisite for the higher spending to take full effect.

The House added Trump’s wall funding by a 230-196 procedural vote that denied angry Democrats an up-or-down vote. The wall gets low marks in public opinion polls and is opposed by many of the GOP’s more moderate lawmakers.

Trump promised at nearly every rally and campaign event that Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico said no, and U.S. taxpayers will have to provide the money.

“The president has promised this funding, the American people want this funding, and today the House is making good on that promise,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.

Critics say that existing fencing is more than enough and that the portions of the border without it are too remote for crossings and that tribal law, environmental requirements, and personal property rights have blocked fencing for most of the rest.

“Nobody would know it from the President’s hysterical rhetoric, but there are already 700 miles of fence down there on the border — vehicular fencing, pedestrian fencing,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C. “I know about it because most of that fencing was built when I was chairman of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee.”

At issue are the spending bills passed by Congress each year to fund the day-to-day operations of federal agencies. Trump is pushing for a sweeping increase for the Pentagon and commensurate cuts of more than $50 billion, or 10 percent, from domestic agencies and foreign aid. House Republicans are responding by adding even more for defense but have significantly scaled back Trump’s cuts to domestic programs like community development grants and medical research.

GOP leaders had hoped to advance a broader “omnibus” package that would have included each of the 12 individual spending measures. But the GOP rank and file balked, so Republicans devised a smaller bill anchored by the Pentagon budget, funding for veterans programs, and money for the wall.

But most of the sweeping Pentagon increases — which total about $60 billion above current levels and almost $30 billion higher than Trump’s budget — would evaporate next year unless there’s a bipartisan agreement to raise budget “caps” set by a 2011 budget pact. A two-year agreement that eased those “sequestration” spending limits expires in September.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate want additional funding for domestic programs. Democrats have lots of leverage because their votes are needed to pass the funding measures. For now, the Senate is working in a bipartisan fashion on a sharply different set of bills that, on average, are frozen at current levels.

Earlier this year, Congress and Trump came together on spending bills for the current budget year that largely stuck to work done last year under former President Barack Obama. Trump reluctantly signed a $1.2 trillion catchall spending bill in May after his demand for border wall money looked like it would stall the measure.

The current bill, however, reflects the changed balance of power in GOP-controlled Washington. Weapons procurement is a top priority, including two additional littoral combat ships above Trump’s request and 14 unrequested next-generation F-35 fighters.

Democrats said the big gains for now are illusory since automatic budget cuts known as sequestration remain in place.

“We do not give certainty to our defense or confidence to our troops when we legislate with phony numbers, when we refuse to make honest choices about our Defense budget,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Instead of giving certainty to our heroes in uniform, this bill would breach the sequester spending limit by more than $70 billion, forcing a mandatory 13 percent cut to all defense accounts.”

Business: Asian, European shares slide as tech sell-off worries sprea

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian and European shares slid Friday as investors assessed corporate earnings reports, with a sell-off in Wall Street tech stocks pressuring sentiment.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares sagged in early trading. France’s CAC 40 lost 1.3 percent to 5,117.88 and Germany’s DAX shed 0.6 percent to 12,133.16. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.6 percent to 7,403.09. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures were down 0.1 percent to 21,713.00 and broader S&P 500 futures sank 0.3 percent to 2,465.10.

EARNINGS SEASON: A swoon in technology stocks on Wall Street was setting the tone for trading in markets more broadly. Twitter plunged 14 percent after it reported no growth in users while Amazon fell 0.7 percent as profit missed expectations. Investors were also assessing other earnings reports, including by Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co., which reported trading quarterly profit dipped 1 percent on rising costs and slowing growth in China even while sales of its alliance with Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. took the global lead in vehicle sales.

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Orders for durable U.S. factory goods posted their biggest gain in nearly three years last month. The uptick in orders are a good sign for the U.S. economy, though the figures aren’t as impressive as they first appear because most of the increase comes from a big jump in aircraft orders, which are typically volatile. Looking ahead, markets are expecting the estimate of U.S. second-quarter GDP growth later Friday followed by the latest China and U.S. monthly purchasing managers’ indexes and a U.S. jobs report, all of which the Fed will take into account when deciding on interest rates.

MARKET VIEW: “We’re just in one of those patches where there’s a lot of conflicting signals coming through the markets and we’re stuck in the cross currents,” said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA. “People are really having a tough time coming to grips and obviously the data points are going to be the key pivot points” for market sentiment, he added.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index sank 0.6 percent to close at 19,959.84 and South Korea’s Kospi slumped 1.7 percent to 2,400.99. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.6 percent to 26,979.39 while the Shanghai Composite index in mainland China edged 0.1 percent higher to 3,253.24. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 tumbled 1.4 percent to 5,702.80. Benchmarks in Southeast Asia were mixed.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude dipped 1 cent to $49.03 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 29 cents to settle at $49.04 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, the international standard, slipped 1 cent to $51.51 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 111.19 Japanese yen from 111.27 yen late Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1704 from $1.1679.

His future clouded, Sessions opens mission to El Salvador

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With his future as the nation’s top prosecutor in doubt after a week of blistering public scorn from the president, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is flying to El Salvador on Thursday seeking ways to stamp out the brutal street gang MS-13.

As the Trump administration tries to build support for its crackdown on illegal immigration, it has increasingly tried to make the gang with Central American ties the face of the problem. Recent killings tied to its members have stoked the national debate on immigration.

Trump praised Sessions when he announced his mission to eradicate the gang in April. But the attorney general has since fallen out of favor with his onetime political ally.

In day after day of public humiliation, Trump rued his decision to choose Sessions for his Cabinet and left the former Alabama senator’s prospects dangling. Trump’s intensifying criticism has fueled speculation that the attorney general may step down even if the president stops short of firing him. But Sessions is showing no outward signs that he is planning to quit, and on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Trump “wants him to lead the department.”

“Look, you can be disappointed in someone and still want them to continue to do their job,” she said.

Forging ahead with the tough-on-crime agenda that once endeared him to Trump, Sessions plans to meet his Salvadoran counterpart, Attorney General Douglas Melendez, before convening with other law enforcement officials on what his program calls a transnational anti-gang task force. He will tour a detention center and meet former members of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, which Sessions has called a top threat to public safety in the U.S.

The gang is an international criminal enterprise, with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states. The gang originated in immigrant communities in Los Angeles in the 1980s then entrenched itself in Central America when its leaders were deported.

The gang is known for hacking and stabbing victims with machetes, drug dealing, prostitution and other rackets. Its recruits are middle- and high-school students predominantly in immigrant communities and those who try to leave risk violent retribution, law enforcement officials have said.

Its members have been accused in a spate of bloodshed that included the massacre of four young men in a Long Island, New York, park and the killing of a suspected gang rival inside a deli. The violence has drawn attention from members of Congress and Trump, who has boasted about efforts to arrest and deport MS-13 members across the country.

Both he and Sessions have blamed Obama-era border policies for allowing the gang’s ranks to flourish, though that administration took unprecedented steps to target its finances.

The trip was planned before Trump’s broadsides against his attorney general, and it remains to be seen whether his work in El Salvador will help mend their fractured relationship. Their shared view, rare among the political class, that illegal immigration was the nation’s most vexing problem was what united Sessions and Trump.

Scaramucci mentions Priebus in since-deleted tweet on leaks

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly-appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci has promised to contact investigators over what he says is an illegal leak of his financial disclosure form. The comment came in a since-deleted tweet that mentioned the Twitter handle of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Scaramucci tweeted Wednesday night: “In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony, I will be contacting @FBI and the @JusticeDept #swamp @Reince45.” After removing the tweet, Scaramucci denied that it was a threat to Priebus, writing that the deleted tweet was “was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks.”

Politico reported earlier Wednesday on the former Wall Street financier’s financial holdings. The report was based off of Scaramucci’s financial disclosure form.

According to a Politico report, Scaramucci’s financial disclosure, which was filed with the Office of Government Ethics, shows that the former Wall Street financier earned $4.9 million from his stake in Skybridge Capital, the investment firm he founded in 2005, between Jan. 1, 2016 and the end of June 2017, when he joined the Export-Import Bank.

The disclosure also shows that Scaramucci earned more than $5 million in salary during the same period of time.

Scaramucci’s tenure at the Export-Import Bank was brief, and he had been on unpaid leave since his first day at the agency, June 19, according to Politico.

The Wall Street financier and longtime ally of President Trump was tapped to lead the White House communications team on Friday – a move that forced the resignation of White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

In his new role, Scaramucci has vowed to crack down on leaks coming out of the White House. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in an interview aired Wednesday that he plans to take “dramatic steps” to stymie such leaks.

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Thirty-five percent of Americans approve of President Trump’s job performance, according to a Reuters poll released Wednesday. Fifty-nine percent disapprove of the job the president is doing. The new data mark a bit of a drop in Mr. Trump’s poll numbers: less than two weeks ago, on July 14, the president’s approval rating in the same Reuters survey stood at 42 percent, and his disapproval rating stood at 55 percent.

A Gallup poll released Wednesday had similar findings: just 37 percent of Americans nationwide said they approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing as president, while 58 percent said they disapprove.

The president’s numbers were a bit better — but still underwater — in an Economist survey released Wednesday. In that poll, Mr. Trump’s approval rating among registered voters was 41 percent, and his disapproval rating was 54 percent.

Watch: Dan Senor on the impact of President’s poll numbers Views on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation

The Economist poll also documented how Americans view Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice to oversee the investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump has, in recent days, publicly criticized both Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation preceded the appointment of a special counsel. The president’s criticism has led to speculation that he may be preparing to fire Mueller or Sessions, or both.

Only 17 percent of registered voters in the Economist poll said they believe Mr. Trump should fire Mueller. A majority — 51 percent — said the president should not fire the special counsel.

Fifty-four percent said they approve of the Justice Department’s decision to appoint Mueller to head the investigation. Twenty-six percent said they disapprove of that move.

Make sure you tune into Face the Nation this Sunday for an in-depth look at new poll numbers from our CBS News/YouGov Nation Tracker survey.

The Reuters poll surveyed 1,532 Americans over a five-day period, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent. The Gallup poll surveyed 1,500 Americans between July 23 and July 25, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent. The Economist poll surveyed 1,232 registered voters nationwide between July 23 and July 25, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

State fair to open without rides after deadly malfunction

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio State Fair will open Thursday one day after a man was killed and seven other people were injured when a thrill ride broke apart, but the rides won’t be running until they all are deemed safe, officials state.

Video captured by a bystander at the fair Wednesday evening shows the Fire Ball ride swinging back and forth like a pendulum and spinning in the air when it crashes into something and part of the ride flies off. Screams are heard as passengers are thrown to the ground.

A swinging and spinning amusement park ride called the Fire Ball broke apart on the opening day of the Ohio State Fair in Columbus on Wednesday, killing one man and injuring seven other people, officials said. (July 27)

“The fair is about the best things in life, and tonight with this accident it becomes a terrible, terrible tragedy,” said Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Officials said the man who was killed was one of several people who were thrown to the ground when the ride malfunctioned. They have not released his name. Ohio State Medical Center said three of the injured were being treated there. Two of them were in critical condition, the hospital said Thursday.

Officials did not know what caused the ride to break apart, saying the investigation was ongoing.

“Of course we want to get to the bottom of this,” Kasich said, noting that there could be things to be learned that could help other fairs and amusement parks. “Make no mistake about it, it’s a very, very sad night for all of us.”

Kaylie Bellomy was in the next group waiting to board the Fire Ball.

“It was going for a minute and it was at its highest point and I saw somebody fall on the ride, and then a minute later the whole like row of seats fell off and hit the ground,” Bellomy told WCMH-TV.

It was chaos afterward, she said. “Everybody was running. I got ran over trying to get out of the way.”

A company providing rides at the Ohio State Fair this year describes the Fire Ball as an “aggressive thrill ride.”

The accident prompted California State Fair officials to shut down the Fire Ball ride there. Barry Schaible, an inspector with a company hired by the fair, told KCRA-TV in Sacramento, “We shut down the ride immediately, unloaded it and it’s closed right now.”

On its website, Amusements of America said that since its debut in 2002, the Fire Ball, which was manufactured by KMG, had become “one of the most popular thrill rides on the AOA Midway.” The company’s description of the ride said it swings riders 40 feet (12 meters) above the midway, while spinning them at 13 revolutions per minute.

Amusements of America did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Ride inspectors did not notice anything out of the ordinary when they conducted their inspections and cleared the Fire Ball for passengers, said Director of Agriculture David Daniels. All of the rides at the fair are checked several times when they are being set up to ensure they are set up the way the manufacturer intended, he said.

“We started out today with 11 rides that did not open because the inspection work was not done on them,” said Daniels. Four rides will not be operating because they do not meet the mechanical test, he said.

Officials said none of the rides would be open until they are all fully inspected.

“Our hearts are heavy for the families of those involved in last night’s tragic accident,” the fair said early Thursday morning in a statement posted on its Twitter page. “We have shut down all rides until the state has inspected each and every ride again and deemed them to be safe.”

The Ohio State Fair, which is one of the largest state fairs in the U.S., runs through Aug. 6.

GOP eyes narrow bill to advance goal on Obamacare repeal

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WASHINGTON (AP) — They couldn’t pass a repeal of “Obamacare,” or find the votes for a White House-backed replacement. So now Senate Republicans are lowering their sights and trying to unite behind a so-called “skinny repeal” that would merely undo just a few of the most unpopular elements of Barack Obama’s law.

The “skinny bill” is an admittedly lowest-common-denominator approach, and it may not even have the votes to pass, either. But as Republicans search for how to keep their years-long effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” alive, they’re coming to believe that the “skinny bill” may be the only option left.

The Republican-run Senate has rejected a GOP proposal to scuttle President Barack Obama’s health care law and give Congress two years to devise a replacement. (July 26)

“It still keeps it in play,” said Sen. Steve Daines of Montana. “It’s threading a needle at the moment, trying to get 51 in the United States Senate.”

The strategy emerged after Republicans barely succeeded earlier this week in opening debate on health legislation in the narrowly divided Senate, winning the procedural vote to do so thanks only to Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.

Hours of debate followed, as well a few amendment votes that starkly revealed Republicans’ divisions. On Tuesday, on a 57-43 vote with nine GOP defections, the Senate rejected a wide-ranging proposal by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to erase and replace much of the Affordable Care Act. Then on Wednesday, a straightforward repeal measure failed 55-45 with seven Republicans joining Democrats in voting “no,” even though nearly identical legislation had passed Congress two years earlier.

At that time, Obama was in the White House and vetoed the repeal bill. But now, with President Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office and itching to sign it, Republican senators demonstrated they didn’t have the stomach to go through with passing a measure that would end insurance coverage for more than 30 million Americans over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In the wake of those two telling votes Republican senators have few options left, and that’s led them to look to the “skinny repeal.” The measure has not been finalized, but senators say it could eliminate Obamacare’s two mandates — for individuals to carry insurance and for employers to offer it — along with an unpopular tax on medical devices, and perhaps contain a few other provisions.

The purpose of passing such legislation would be to get something, anything, out of the Senate, so that talks could begin with House Republicans who passed their own more comprehensive repeal-and-replace bill in early May. The House and Senate bills would need to be reconciled by a “conference committee” into one final piece of legislation that both chambers would have to pass again.

“We’ve got to move it along and get it to conference,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

A few GOP aides suggested that perhaps the House would pass the Senate’s “skinny bill” as-is, which would allow Republicans to claim at least a partial victory and move on to other issues. With tax legislation and other priorities waiting in the wings, Republicans are eager to move along after spending the first six months of Trump’s presidency trying unsuccessfully, so far, to fulfill their years of promises to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

However the House might be unwilling to agree to the “skinny bill” as-is. Conservatives were already ruling that out.

“There would not be enough votes to pass it and send it to the president,” said Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, head of the conservative Freedom Caucus. “But to use it as a vehicle to continue negotiations is certainly welcomed.”

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering came as the Senate moved through 20 hours of debate on repeal legislation, with Democrats unanimously opposed to the GOP efforts. Under the complex rules governing how the legislation is being considered, the debate will culminate at some point Thursday afternoon or evening in a bizarre exercise called a “vote-a-rama” during which unlimited amendments can be offered by all sides in rapid succession.

The vote-a-rama will likely last into the wee hours of Friday morning, or until “people get tired,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

And by the time it’s over, Republicans hope they will have found something, anything, that can get enough votes to pass.

“I think it is quite likely we will be here much of the night, if not all night,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “And at the end of it hopefully we’ll have a bill that can bring us together.”

___

Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Trump’s transgender troops ban divides veterans in Congress

This gallery contains 1 photo.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s decision to ban transgender service in the armed forces drove a wedge through military veterans in Congress, with one camp standing squarely behind the commander in chief and the other decrying his order as an ugly attack on dedicated troops.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a former Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs and partial use of her right arm during the Iraq war, called Trump’s announcement discriminatory.

“When my Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender or anything else,” she said. “All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.”

Duckworth said if a person’s willing to risk their life as a member of the armed forces “and you can do the job, you should be able to serve — no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation or race.”

Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., said Trump’s decision is understandable given the mounting concern among members of Congress over the amount of money the Pentagon is required to spend on gender transition surgeries and hormone therapy. Russell, a retired Army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said service members undergoing these medical procedures often aren’t ready to deploy.

“I’m not surprised that the administration has come out like this,” Russell said on C-Span’s Washington Journal.

Trump’s tweets announcing the ban came as the administration and House GOP leaders were trying to work out a problem involving medical costs for service members seeking to transition to another gender while serving in the military, an issue that had created problems for a sweeping spending bill.

Social conservatives, led by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., were pressing for an amendment to the spending bill blocking funding for such costs, including reassignment surgery. The House narrowly defeated Hartzler’s measure last week, yet she and other conservatives were trying to revive it. That sparked a battle with Republican moderates who had threatened to block the House from turning to the spending bill.

According to a senior Republican aide, House leaders were taken by surprise when Trump announced the broader ban; they had been pressing for a more narrow response. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to publicly discuss internal talks.

In the Senate, John McCain, R-Ariz., a Navy pilot during the Vietnam war, blasted Trump’s decision and criticized the president for making the announcement over Twitter.

“There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity,” said McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

But Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Trump made the right call by reversing an Obama administration directive issued in 2016 that allowed transgender service members to serve openly in the armed forces.

“National security should trump social experimentation, always,” Hunter said. “It’s about time that a decision is made to restore the warrior culture and allow the U.S. military to get back to business.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., echoed Hunter’s remarks.

“I think back to my days in the military and wonder how it would work,” Inhofe, an Army veteran, said of the intensely close living and working quarters that service members inhabit.

“It’s a housing problem. There are other problems,” Inhofe said. “Those of us who have been in the service can see that it would be a difficult thing to deal with.”

But Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., called Trump’s transgender ban “a divisive political move” and a “retreat in the march toward equality.”

Reed, a West Point graduate who later served in the 82nd Airborne Division, added that Trump announced the ban on the anniversary of President Harry Truman’s order desegregating the U.S. military.

“This discriminatory policy denies Americans, no matter how skilled and qualified they are, the opportunity to serve,” said Reed, the top ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

___

Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

___

Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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