Beyond 100 Days, Trump Faces More Legislative Challenges

After more than three months in office without passing any major legislation, President Donald Trump faces a week that offers the possibility of averting a government shutdown and progress on health care.

Trump has spent his first 100 days coming to terms with the slow grind of government even in a Republican-dominated capital, and watching some of his promises – from repealing the nation’s health care law to temporarily banning people from some Muslim nations – fizzle.

 

Last week lawmakers sent the president a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open through Friday. Aides say lawmakers closely involved in negotiating the $1 trillion package over the weekend have worked through many sticking points in hopes of making the measure public as early as Sunday night. The House and Senate have until Friday at midnight to pass the measure to avert a government shutdown. The aides required anonymity because the talks are not final and the measure has yet to be released.

 

The catchall spending bill would be the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to advance during Trump’s short tenure in the White House. It denies Trump a win on his oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but gives him a down payment on his request to strengthen the military.

 

Lawmakers will continue negotiating this week on a $1 trillion package financing the government through September 30, the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Mixed messages on health care

Despite a renewed White House effort push, the House did not vote last week on a revised bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act.

 

After the original effort failed to win enough support from conservatives and moderates, Republicans recast the bill. The latest version would let states escape a requirement under Obama’s 2010 law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. The overall legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies. Critics have said the approach could reduce protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

 

But during an interview with “Face the Nation” on CBS aired Sunday, Trump said the measure has a “clause that guarantees” that people with pre-existing conditions will be covered.

 

Trump said: “Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, ‘Pre-existing is not covered.’ Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”

 

Trump said during the interview that if he’s unable to renegotiate a long-standing free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, then he’ll terminate the pact.

 

North Korea looming large

Trump also spoke about tensions with North Korea. Asked about the failure of several North Korean missile tests recently, Trump said he’d “rather not discuss it. But perhaps they’re just not very good missiles. But eventually, he’ll have good missiles.”

 

Trump also said he is willing to use the trade issue as leverage to get China’s help with North Korea. “Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.”

 

And he acknowledged the presidency is “a tough job. But I’ve had a lot of tough jobs. I’ve had things that were tougher, although I’ll let you know that better at the end of eight years. Perhaps eight years. Hopefully, eight years.”

 

Also this week, the president will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. And he’ll head to New York City on Thursday where he’ll visit the USS Intrepid to mark the 75th anniversary of a World War II naval battle.

 

On Sunday morning, Trump headed to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. The White House did not immediately clarify whether he was holding meetings or golfing.

 

Trump marked his 100th day in office Saturday with a rally in Harrisburg, where he continued to pledge to cut taxes and get tough on trade deals.

 

“We are not going to let other countries take advantage of us anymore,” he said Saturday in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center. “From now on it’s going to be America first.”

 

Trump’s rally Saturday night in Harrisburg offered a familiar recapitulation of what he and aides have argued for days are administration successes, including the successful confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, his Cabinet choices and the approval of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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First Cuban-American in US Congress to Retire

U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in office.

The 64-year-old Republican was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of southeast Miami-Dade County that is heavily Democratic. Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points, and Ros-Lehtinen was able to win it by 10 percentage points.

 

Her unexpected retirement will give Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018.

 

The Miami Herald first reported the retirement Sunday. The congresswoman’s spokesman Keith Fernandez confirmed the announcement with The Associated Press.

 

In Congress, Ros-Lehtinen staked her ground as a foreign-policy hawk, becoming the first woman to chair a standing congressional committee: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She currently chairs the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and sits on the intelligence committee.

 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, Republican-California, called her a “trailblazer.”

 

“She’s been a relentless advocate for human rights, and a powerful voice on the need to address the dangerous Iranian regime, defend allies like Israel, and so much more,” he wrote. “Ileana’s retirement is well-deserved, but I’m glad we are not losing her yet. We’ve got important work to do for the American people over the next year and a half, and I know Ileana will continue to play a leading role.”

 

Born in Havana, she is well-known for being a fierce critic of Cuban politics. The late Fidel Castro nicknamed her “la loba feroz” or “the big bad she-wolf.”

 

LGBTQ advocate

For years, Ros-Lehtinen represented the Florida Keys, including gay-friendly Key West, and advocated for LGBTQ rights. Eventually, her transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, made his way into the public spotlight. Last year, he and his parents recorded a bilingual public-service TV campaign to urge Hispanics to support transgender youth.

 

In her remaining 20 months in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen said she will keep pushing for one of her long-running goals for Germany to offer restitution to Holocaust victims.

“And I will continue to stand up to tyrants and dictators all over the world,” she told The Miami Herald. “I take that as a badge of honor, when they blast me and don’t let me in their countries.”

 

News of her retirement swept through Florida political circles.

 

“Not only is @RosLehtinen a tireless advocate for freedom & human rights – she is my friend. Florida will miss her,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican-Florida, who worked as an intern in her office 26 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott wrote on Twitter: “Congresswoman @RosLehtinen has fought hard for [Florida] families throughout her service in D.C. Her strong leadership will be greatly missed!”

 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used her announcement to criticize her party. “It’s been clear for years that the Republican party was out of step with the values of Miami families, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement announcement is testament to the fact she recognized how wide that gap had grown.”

Ros-Lehtinen is scheduled to have a news conference Monday, her spokesman said.

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Refugees Turn Skills From Home into New Business

Once they acclimate to their new environment, overcoming language, social and cultural barriers, refugees in the U.S. often thrive. Some translate their experiences into assets that are valuable to their new community, as did Parvin and Yadollah Jamalreza. VOA’s June Soh visited their popular tailoring shop in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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White House Press Corps Dinner More Sober, Less Glitz

The White House press corps gathered Saturday for its annual black-tie dinner, a toned-down affair this year after Donald Trump snubbed the event, becoming the first incumbent U.S. president to bow out in 36 years.

Without Trump, who scheduled a rally instead to mark his 100th day in office, the usually celebrity-filled soiree hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association took a more sober turn, even as it pulled in top journalists and Washington insiders.

Most of Trump’s administration also skipped the event in solidarity with the president, who has repeatedly accused the press of mistreatment. The president used his campaign-style gathering to again lambaste the media.

“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away,” he told a crowd in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, calling out The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC by name.

‘Not fake news’

In Washington, WHCA President Jeff Mason defended press freedom even as he acknowledged this year’s dinner had a different feel, saying attempts to undermine the media was dangerous for democracy.

“We are not fake news, we are not failing news organizations and we are not the enemy of the American people,” said Mason, a Reuters correspondent.

Instead of the typical roasts — presidents of both parties have delivered their own zingers for years — the event returned to its traditional roots of recognizing reporters’ work and handing out student scholarships as famed journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein presented awards.

“That’s not Donald Trump’s style,” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell told MSNBC, referring to the self-deprecating jokes presidents in the past have made despite tensions with the press.

Jokes for free speech

Instead, the humor fell to headline comedian Hasan Minhaj.

“We’ve got to address the elephant that’s not in the room,” Minhaj, who plays a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, told the crowd. “The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. It’s a very long flight. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.”

He also joked about Trump, despite organizers’ wishes, saying he did so to honor U.S. constitutional protection of free speech: “Only in America can a first-generation, Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”

Trump in Pennsylvania

Trump was indeed in Pennsylvania, having scheduled a rally in Harrisburg to mark his 100th day in office. He began his remarks with a lengthy if familiar attack on the news media while dismissing the dinner and its participants.

 

“A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now,” Trump said. He added: “And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people, right?”

Trump became the first president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 to skip the event — and Reagan was recovering from an assassination attempt. 

In a video message, actor Alec Baldwin, who has raised Trump’s ire playing him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” program also encouraged attendees.

Fewer celebrities

Few other celebrities graced the red carpet, although some well-known Washingtonians, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, appeared.

Trump attended in 2011, when then-President Barack Obama made jokes at the expense of the New York real estate developer and reality television show host.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Trump said he decided against attending as president because he felt he had been treated unfairly by the media, adding: “I would come next year, absolutely.”

In Pennsylvania, Trump told supporters the media dinner would be boring but was noncommittal on whether he would go in 2018 or hold another rally.

Late night television show host Samantha Bee also hosted a competing event — “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” — that she said would honor journalists, rather than skewer Trump.

Journalists honored

The WHCA awards and this year’s recipients: 

Aldo Beckman Memorial Award winner: Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post for stories on President Barack Obama’s speeches and policies that contrasted the realities of 2016 with the hopes of 2008. 
Merriman Smith Award winner for outstanding White House coverage under deadline: Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico for his coverage of the historic meeting between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
Edgar A. Poe Award winner: David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post for stories on Donald Trump’s philanthropic claims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trump: ‘Big Decision’ Coming on Paris Climate Agreement

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised “a big decision” on the Paris climate agreement in the next two weeks.

He spoke on his 100th day in office, at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He spoke in an arena that holds up to 10,000 people where his audience was supportive, greeting him with cheers of “USA! USA! USA!”

Early in the president’s speech, a protester was tackled and removed from the audience. 

“Get him out of here,” the president said, while the audience cheered again.

The president expressed relief at not having to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual charity event in Washington occurring at the same time as his rally.

He pointed to the media gallery covering his speech and said, “Look at the media back there. They would actually rather be here, I have to tell you,” he said.

The crowd booed at the mention of the media and cheered when Trump named a couple of television networks he considers “fake news.” He said he gives the media “a big, fat, failing grade” for its first 100 days covering him.

Turning to his first 100 days in office, Trump reeled off a list of accomplishments, saying his time in office has been “very exciting and productive,” putting coal miners back to work, protecting steel and aluminum workers, and “eliminating job-killing regulations.”

“We are keeping one promise after another and frankly the people are really happy about it, they see what’s happening,” he said.

“To understand the historic progress we’ve made, we must speak honestly about the situation that we, and I, inherited,” he continued. “The previous administration gave us a mess.”

Trump said the U.S. is part of “a broken system of global plunder at American expense,” and promised that he would make a “big decision” on the Paris Climate Agreement in the next two weeks. During his campaign, he threatened repeatedly to withdraw from the Paris Agreement or to “renegotiate” the United States’ participation in the global emissions-reduction pact.

“Build that wall”

Trump also emphasized his commitment to building the border wall he has promised between the United States and Mexico. He said his administration has already imposed “immigration control like you’ve never seen before.”

“People seeking admission into our country — they are going to be admitted because they love our country. They will not be admitted otherwise,” he said.

“We need the wall, sure as you’re standing there tonight,” he told his audience, which responded with chants of “Build that wall. Build that wall.”

The president also wrote an opinion item in The Washington Post Saturday evening, opening with, “One hundred days ago, I took the oath of office and made a pledge: We are not merely going to transfer political power from one party to another, but instead are going to transfer that power from Washington, D.C., and give it back to the people. In the past 100 days, I have kept that promise — and more.”

Earlier in the day, Trump signed an executive order at a shovel factory in central Pennsylvania, directing his administration to review the nation’s trade agreements. The order aims to determine whether the U.S. is being treated equitably by its trading partners in the 164-nation World Trade Organization.

White House correspondents

Also Saturday, the White House Correspondents’ Association in Washington held its annual black-tie dinner, an occasion that has earned the nickname “Nerd Prom.” The nickname plays off Washington’s reputation for politics and policy more than for glitz and glamour.

For the first time since Ronald Reagan skipped the dinner in 1981, the U.S. president is not attending the dinner, an affair that usually features jokes at the president’s expense. Trump boycotted this year’s dinner, citing his contempt for the media.

“I hope they have a good dinner,” he tweeted. “Ours is going to be much more exciting.”

Trump has called the media “fake” and “the enemy of the people.” 

Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said at the dinner, “Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy, undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic.” 

Mason said, “At previous dinners, we have rightly talked about the threats to press freedoms abroad. Tonight we must recognize that there are threats to press freedoms here in the United States. We must remain vigilant. The world is watching.”

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Real Estate Agent Sues Over Anti-Semitic Online Harassment

“Are y’all ready for an old-fashioned Troll Storm?”

Andrew Anglin, white supremacist and follower of what has been branded the alt-right in American political thought, wrote those words on his blog The Daily Stormer on December 16, 2016.

With that, the hate messages and death threats to Tanya Gersh and the people around her starting coming in — by email, by phone, on Twitter. Life for the Jewish real estate agent from Whitefish, Montana, her family, even her friends and co-workers, suddenly turned upside down.

Hate messages

“Merry Christmas, you Christ-killer.”

“You are a disgusting, vile Jew. You filthy & depraved Jews never learn; it is your people’s behavior responsible for our resentment of you, which pales in comparison to your hatred for us.”

“We are going to ruin you. … You will be driven to the brink of suicide. We will be there to take pleasure in your pain and eventual end.”

“If I was you I would suck the barrel of a shotgun.”

“The holocaust is coming.”

And, to her 12-year-old son’s Twitter account:

“WTF is wrong with you freaks?!”

He was also tagged in a tweet saying, “psst, kid, theres a free Xbox One inside this oven.”

There were calls to her workplace. There were calls to her husband’s workplace. There were calls to their home. The most chilling calls contained only the sound of gunshots.

Lawsuit

The whole thing caught Gersh by surprise. Soon after Anglin published Gersh’s contact information, she came home and found her husband “in a completely dark house” with suitcases packed, she told a reporter for The Guardian, a British newspaper. When asked why, he showed her Anglin’s post.

Since then, the Gershes have received more than 700 hate messages. Last week, Gersh and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sued Anglin.

“We knew Andrew Anglin had an online army primed to attack with the click of a mouse,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement. “We intend to hold him accountable for the suffering he has caused Ms. Gersh and to send a strong message to those who use their online platforms as weapons of intimidation.”

This lawsuit is different from any other that the SPLC has pursued before, Cohen said, because it specifically addresses online harassment. For the Gershes, the fact that many of the threats are online makes them no less real.

The lawsuit — a civil one, meaning the defendants face fines rather than criminal charges if convicted — cites invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act. They are asking for damages greater than $75,000 on at least three of the counts.

Neo-Nazi ties

The conflict behind the messages started with an investment property owned by Sherry Spencer, the mother of Richard Spencer, a white nationalist said by himself and others to have coined the term “alt-right.”

Richard Spencer’s mission is to capture the imagination of the online generation. He runs an Alexandria, Virginia, organization called the National Policy Institute.

Richard Spencer was caught on video in November at a Trump rally in Washington, D.C., giving the Nazi salute and saying, “Hail, Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Since then, he has called for war on Jews, blacks and anyone else who doesn’t fit his profile.

Residents of Whitefish, uneasy with Spencer’s notoriety, discussed protesting in front of Sherry Spencer’s Whitefish property — a mixed-use building housing small businesses and vacation rentals, nestled between a yarn shop and a youth hostel on a residential street.

Stories about the investment property differ: Tanya Gersh said she accepted a request from Sherry Spencer to help her sell it. Spencer, in a December 15, 2016, post on the website Medium, said Gersh tried to intimidate her into selling. Spencer accused Gersh of extortion.

Gersh’s lawyers say they think Richard Spencer may have ghostwritten his mother’s post, but no there is no verification. Anglin published his declaration of war the next day.

Since his initial post, Anglin has written about the Gershes at least 30 times, in a blog with hundreds of thousands of visitors each month.

He put photos of Gersh, her son and the leader of a local activist group on a flyer advertising a white-pride march he planned to hold in Whitefish in January. Anglin boasted that attendees would come from all over the world. He said there would be people carrying baseball bats, swords and machine guns. He said they would march right up to the Gershes’ door.

Eventually, he was forced to admit he had been denied a permit for the march. It was because of “some alleged technicality,” he wrote.

Consequences

While Anglin’s rhetoric may sound like the rantings of a melodramatic teenager, its effect has been deadly serious.

Gersh has stopped working and taken down all social media accounts. She says she struggles with how to explain to her children why this is happening. Most nights, she says, she cries.

Experts debate whether the online culture has sparked more hate or only makes it easier to spread.

Jeffrey McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University in Indiana, says the anonymity of online communications makes it easier to “engage in angry messaging from hidden locations with virtually no worry of repercussions.”

If the SPLC lawsuit is successful, that may change.

“I know I’m not the first person that Andrew Anglin has victimized,” Gersh told The Guardian last week. “I’m filing a lawsuit against him because he and his white nationalist followers terrorized me and my family for months, and my life is forever changed. My sense of safety is forever changed.”

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