Hoping to appeal to more conservative members of Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) submitted amendment packages to the Republican health-care plan on Monday night, three days before the scheduled vote on the House floor.
The changes include sharper cuts to Medicaid, including giving states the ability to impose work requirements for recipients; repealing tax increases this year instead of in 2018; and letting the Senate approve tax credits for people between the ages of 50 and 64. While Ryan's camp believes this will help him get to the 216 votes needed to pass the bill to the Senate, several conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus say there still are not enough votes. Catherine Garcia
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to pull funding from "sanctuary" jurisdictions unless those cities, counties, and states comply with a 1996 law that prohibits blocking communications between local police or sheriffs and federal immigration authorities about the immigration status of suspects in custody. Sessions also said the Justice Department will take steps to "claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction" that violates federal law, noting that the DOJ will dole out more than $4.1 billion in such grants this year.
Sessions was acting under an executive order President Trump signed in January, but he didn't actually announce any new policy. Instead, The New York Times says, he was mostly restating aggressively grant eligibility rules former President Barack Obama issued last July. The law doesn't require local jurisdictions to honor "detainer" notices from federal immigration officials — requests to hold undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours, without a warrant.
"Despite what Attorney General Sessions implied this afternoon, state and local governments and law enforcement have broad authority under the Constitution to not participate in federal immigration enforcement," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, nevertheless calling Trump's tactics "draconian." Tom Jawetz at the liberal Center for American Progress said Sessions' threat might not actually affect any U.S. city or county. "This is not really about enforcing the law, this is about driving policy through bullying and fear mongering," he said.
From Austin to Seattle, sanctuary jurisdictions said the Trump crackdown wouldn't affect their policies, most of which specifically state that law enforcement must comply with the law, U.S. Code 1373. There is no set definition of what a "sanctuary" jurisdiction is, and each city or county that refuses to comply with some aspect of Trump's immigration policy does so differently. CNN has a pretty good primer on what sanctuary cities actually do (and don't do):
The larger issue is how much the federal government can compel state and local law enforcement to do carry out federal immigration policy. The 10th amendment offers some protection to local jurisdictions, but the ACLU cautions that cities that do sign on to become part of Trump's "deportation force" face their legal risks, too. "Because ICE does not seek a judicial determination of probable cause, these requests put local police in the position of holding people in jail without the legal authority to do so, which violates their constitutional rights," says the ACLU's Domenic Powell. Peter Weber
Democratic congressman doubts Nunes' explanation for White House visit: 'This is what a cover-up to a crime looks like'
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) isn't buying House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes' (R-Calif.) explanation for his trip to the White House grounds last week, the day before he announced communications involving President Trump and his team may have been unintentionally swept up in routine surveillance by intelligence officials. Nunes claimed he was on White House grounds because he needed a secure location to receive the classified information from his source, who remains anonymous. He denied having traveled to the White House to coordinate with Trump ahead of his surveillance announcement.
But Swalwell, also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, made his skepticism clear during his appearance Tuesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "It's not an internet cafe," Swalwell said, referring to the White House. "You can't just walk in and receive classified information."
While Nunes has suggested "people in the West Wing" may have "had no idea" he was there, Swalwell noted that typically whenever a member of Congress comes to the White House "everyone in the building knows that you're there in the building." Swalwell also pointed out that there is a "secure facility" at the Capitol for exchanging classified information.
"This was done because the White House wanted it to be done," Swalwell said. "And this is what a cover-up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now."
Watch the interview below. Becca Stanek
The State Department has abruptly stopped holding on-camera press briefings, The Wall Street Journal reports. It took the department an entire six weeks to get the briefings up and running after Trump's inauguration, and the briefings only lasted for three weeks. Officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will resume the briefings when he hires a permanent spokesperson. As a result, briefings aren't expected to resume for at least another two weeks.
Tillerson has faced criticism for his inaccessibility; earlier this month, he traveled to Asia with just one reporter from a conservative-friendly outlet in tow. Daily press briefings have long been a fixture for U.S. secretaries of state, dating back to when John Foster Dulles held the role in the 1950s. But when Tillerson's State Department briefly resumed the briefings, they occurred just twice a week with alternating phone briefings.
In the period before the spokesperson is put in place, the State Department will "hold background briefings, in which unnamed officials will brief intermittently on specific topics," The Wall Street Journal writes. Fox News' Heather Nauert is expected to fill the role as the permanent spokesperson, but she has not yet been officially named and her security clearance has not yet been approved. Jeva Lange
With the Trump administration still smarting from the failure of the GOP health-care bill, Republicans are now considering yanking money from the border wall in order to avoid a government shutdown at the end of April. "The Trump administration can't have another disaster on its hands," a senior House Republican official told Politico. "I think right now they have to show some level of competence and that they can govern."
The White House requested $1.4 billion for the border wall as part of a defense spending package; the total price of the wall is ultimately expected to be more than $20 billion. But Republicans are concerned about how they might look if they force a government shutdown on the heels of the health-care defeat.
If Congress truly were to refuse to fund the border wall, it would be its own unique defeat for the administration as the infrastructure was a central promise of President Trump's campaign. But for the budget to pass, the House cannot lose more than 22 Republican votes, assuming Democrats vote along party lines. And even then, at least eight Senate Democrats would be needed to break a filibuster.
Already, many moderate Republicans are voicing concerns about the wall. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called it "probably not a smart investment." Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has also hinted at putting the wall off until the future, perhaps late 2019. And as the House Freedom Caucus proved with health care, they are ever a wild card.
But as one senior Republican pointed out to Politico: "This is [Trump's] signature issue. I cannot imagine a scenario where the Trump administration loses on the border wall funding. If I were them, I'd dare the Democrats to shut down the government over this." Jeva Lange
As the White House pointedly moves on from its failed health-care bill, it is looking ahead to fulfill another of President Trump's ambitious promises: tax reform. But top officials warn that such an enormous project isn't going to be a walk in the park either and "they don't see how they can change the House Republican math that killed health reform," Axios reports.
As one Republican put it, the GOP is at risk of "looking like a clown car." Another official described making the same miscalculation with tax reform efforts that was made with health care would be "the definition of insanity."
The first hurdle will be the April 28 deadline for the budget. If it is not passed — and one top Republican close to the White House told Axios it is "more likely than not" to fail — the government will shut down on April 29, President Trump's 100th day in office.
The Secret Service does not have "the time or money" to keep a record of who attends the president's Mar-a-Lago club, Politico reports being told by former officials. Additionally, when first lady Melania Trump and Trump's son, Barron, are staying at Mar-a-Lago, there are no weapons or background checks, allowing unscreened visitors to get within view of the presidential family for the price of a $300 ticket.
This is not the first time concerns about Mar-a-Lago's security have been raised; the president was also criticized for discussing a response to a North Korean missile test with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in full view of gawking guests. Now Democrats are taking aim at what they call a "national security concern" with the Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act, or "Mar-a-Lago Act," which would require the president to collect information for public release on who comes and goes from his private properties. (For the record: The page for the public White House visitor logs is also currently blank.)
A recent GOP gathering at Mar-a-Lago highlights some of the concerns:
[Attendees] didn't have to submit to the kinds of rigorous background checks required if they'd been entering the White House in Washington. And there were no weapon screenings or bomb-sniffing dogs checking vehicles of the sort that have long been routine at public restaurants or other places where the president or first lady is present.
Mar-a-Lago also doesn't keep tabs on the identity of guests who come and go on a routine basis, even while the president is in residence. Club members call the front desk to give the names of their guests, including for parties held in the ballroom. But they don’t have to submit details, like a middle initial or birthdate or Social Security number, that are standard for visitor logs or background checks — which neither the club nor the Secret Service do at the resort. [Politico]
Amnesty International warns U.S. coalition about Mosul civilian deaths, as U.S. investigates airstrikes
On Tuesday, human rights group Amnesty International said a recent sharp uptick in civilian deaths in Mosul, Iraq, suggests that the U.S.-led coalition isn't taking adequate care to avoid civilian casualties, a potential "flagrant violation of international humanitarian law." The U.S. military says it is investigating a March 17 airstrike in Mosul's Old City, called in by Iraqi forces trying to take the Western part of the city from the Islamic State; Iraqi officials say the death toll from that strike could hit 200 or more, making it one of the deadliest civilian attacks by the U.S. in Iraq.
The U.S. has confirmed the strike but not the casualties. "It is very possible that Daesh [ISIS] blew up that building to blame it on the collation," U.S. Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters in Baghdad on Monday. "And it is possible the collation airstrike did it." Amnesty International said another U.S.-led airstrike on Saturday killed "up to 150 people." British monitoring group Airwars says that for the first time, alleged U.S.-led strikes in Syria are affecting more civilians than Russian strikes, with the reported increase in U.S.-linked civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria starting under former President Barack Obama and picking up sharply when President Trump took office in January.
1) Given record Coalition civilian casualty claims - with 1,000 deaths already alleged in March - Airwars is making some major changes pic.twitter.com/nbTIbB8b5Q
— Airwars (@airwars) March 24, 2017
Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Monday that unlike America's adversaries, "we go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people." That hasn't changed since Trump signed an order on Jan. 28 telling the military to explore relaxing Obama's restrictions aimed at protecting civilians, says Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. "Our processes are good and we want to make sure we live by those processes."
On the ground in Mosul, New York Times reporters say the civilians whose homes and families were flattened clearly blame the U.S. airstrikes, noting that U.S. and Iraqi forces dropped leaflets on numerous occasions urging them to stay in the homes and not to flee. They say Iraqi forces called in strikes on entire residential units because of one ISIS sniper on a roof. Iraqi commanders told the Times they appreciate the new responsiveness from the Americans. "There used to be a delay, or no response sometimes, on the excuse of checking the location or looking for civilians," said Gen. Ali Jamil, an Iraqi intelligence officer. You can watch the BBC News dispatch from Mosul below. Peter Weber