House to vote on health care bill Thursday
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House will vote Thursday on GOP legislation to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as Republicans finally aim to deliver on seven years of campaign promises that helped them gain control of Congress and the White House.
But the move announced late Wednesday by GOP leaders also carries extreme political risk, as House Republicans prepare to endorse a bill that boots millions off the insurance rolls and may not even survive the Senate.
“We will pass this bill,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., confidently predicted after a day of wrangling votes and personal arm-twisting by President Donald Trump.
Pressed by reporters as he exited a meeting in Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, McCarthy protested: “We’re gonna pass it! We’re gonna pass it! Let’s be optimistic about life!”
After an earlier defeat when Republican leaders were forced to pull the bill for lack of votes, the decision to move forward indicated confidence on the part of GOP leaders. Failure would be catastrophic. But a successful outcome would make good on the GOP’s No. 1 goal of undoing Obama’s signature legislative achievement, and provide a long-sought win for Trump, who has been in office more than 100 days without a significant congressional victory save Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court justice.
House passes $1.1T government spending bill, sends to Senate
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House easily passed a $1.1 trillion governmentwide spending bill on Wednesday, awarding wins to both Democrats and Republicans while putting off until later this year fights over President Donald Trump’s promised border wall with Mexico and massive military buildup.
The 309-118 vote sends the bill to the Senate in time for them to act to avert a government shutdown at midnight Friday. The White House has said Trump would sign the measure, which is the first major legislation to pass in Trump’s short, turbulent presidency.
House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the measure as bipartisan, and said the biggest gain for conservatives came as Democrats dropped longstanding demands to match Pentagon increases with equal hikes for nondefense programs.
“No longer will the needs of our military be held hostage by the demands for more domestic spending,” Ryan said. “In my mind, that is what’s most important here.”
Democrats also backed the measure, which protects popular domestic programs such as education, medical research and grants to state and local governments from cuts sought by Trump — while dropping a host of GOP agenda items found in earlier versions.
‘Really bad’ or ‘catastrophic’: Comey defends Clinton choice
WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director James Comey told Congress Wednesday that revealing the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email probe just before Election Day came down to a painful, complicated choice between “really bad” and “catastrophic” options. He said he’d felt “slightly nauseous” to think he might have tipped the election outcome but in hindsight would change nothing.
“I would make the same decision,” Comey declared during a lengthy hearing in which Democratic senators grilled him on the seeming inconsistency between the Clinton disclosure 11 days before the election and his silence about the bureau’s investigation into possible contacts between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
Comey, offering an impassioned public defense of how he handled the election-year issues, insisted that the FBI’s actions in both investigations were consistent. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI cannot take into account how it might benefit or harm politicians.
“I can’t consider for a second whose political futures will be affected and in what way,” Comey told the senators. “We have to ask ourselves what is the right thing to do and then do that thing.”
Persistent questions from senators, and Comey’s testimony, made clear that the FBI director’s decisions of last summer and fall involving both the Trump and Clinton campaigns continue to roil national politics and produce lingering second-guessing about whether the investigations were handled evenly.
3 shootings by police put spotlight on Justice Department
WASHINGTON (AP) — Three deadly police shootings of black people. Three sets of facts. Three potentially different outcomes.
On the same day a white former patrolman in South Carolina pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges for killing a motorist, word came down that the U.S. Justice Department would not prosecute two white officers in the shooting death of a man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And a white suburban Dallas officer was fired after fatally shooting a 15-year-old boy as the car he was riding in was driving away.
Civil rights activists are watching closely for clues to how the Trump administration’s Justice Department intends to handle racially charged shootings by police. But drawing any conclusions about the department from those cases is risky, in part because each one is different and because prosecutions of officers are difficult and rare no matter the administration.
And while Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he believes sweeping federal investigations of police departments can hurt officer morale and undermine crime-fighting, he has also promised his Justice Department will prosecute individual officers who break the law.
“I don’t really think you can read that much into it,” said Jonathan Smith, a civil rights attorney in the Obama Justice Department, noting that in two of the cases, the investigations began before Sessions took office.
Trump likely to sign order on political limits for churches
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is likely to sign an executive order Thursday targeting a rarely enforced IRS rule that says religious organizations and other non-profits that endorse political candidates risk losing their tax-exempt status.
Two administration officials said Wednesday that Trump would likely sign an order including language on the rule, but stressed nothing was finalized. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans in advance.
Trump will mark the National Day of Prayer at the White House Thursday and was hosting members of his evangelical advisory board at a dinner Wednesday night. Changing the IRS rule is favored by some of the Christian conservatives who helped fuel his rise to the presidency.
The news was first reported by The New York Times.
Christian conservatives have been hoping to see a sweeping executive order covering the protections Trump has promised for those with religious objections to same-sex marriage and abortion, which critics say could sanction discrimination against LGBT people. It was not clear if the order would address those concerns.
Le Pen and Macron clash in no holds-barred debate in France
PARIS (AP) — The only face-to-face televised debate between France’s presidential candidates turned into an uncivil, no-holds-barred head-on clash of styles, politics and personalities Wednesday.
Emmanuel Macron called his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen a “parasite” who would lead the country into civil war. She painted the former banker as a lackey of big business who is soft on Islamic extremism.
Neither landed a knockout blow in the 2½-hour prime-time slugfest — but not for lack of trying. The tone was ill-tempered from the get-go, with no common ground or love lost between the two candidates and their polar opposite plans and visions for France. Both sought to destabilize each other and neither really succeeded.
For the large cohort of voters who remain undecided, the debate at least had the merit of making abundantly clear the stark choice facing them at the ballot box Sunday.
Neither candidate announced major shifts in their policy platforms. They instead spent much of their carefully monitored allotments of time attacking each other — often personally.
Clashes in Venezuela as Maduro starts constitutional rewrite
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands of protesters were met with plumes of tear gas in Venezuela’s capital Wednesday, just a short distance from where President Nicolas Maduro delivered a decree kicking off a process to rewrite the polarized nation’s constitution.
Surrounded by top-ranking socialist officials, a riled-up Maduro told supporters dressed in red outside the National Electoral Council that the constitutional assembly was needed to instill peace against a violent opposition.
“I see congress shaking in its boots before a constitutional convention,” he said, referring to the opposition-controlled legislature, after dancing alongside the older brother of the late President Hugo Chavez.
Nearby, national guardsmen launched tear gas at demonstrators who tried to march toward the National Assembly. The confrontation grew increasingly violent, with anti-government protesters setting an officer’s motorbike on fire. At another point, an armored vehicle set aflame pushed into a crowd of demonstrators.
Freddy Guevara, the legislature’s first vice president, was whisked away by fellow protesters after apparently being struck in the foot by a tear gas canister. He later emerged with white bandages wrapped around the wound, vowing to stay in the streets until the opposition triumphs.
Trump on Mideast peace: ‘We will get it done’
WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite bleak prospects for success, President Donald Trump promised on Wednesday “to do whatever is necessary” to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
At a White House meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Trump pledged to reinvigorate the stalled Mideast peace process that has bedeviled his predecessors and said he would serve as “a mediator, an arbitrator or a facilitator” between the two sides. “We will get it done,” Trump confidently told Abbas.
“I’m committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement,” Trump said. “But any agreement cannot be imposed by the United States or by any other nation. The Palestinians and Israelis must work together to reach an agreement that allows both peoples to live, worship, and thrive and prosper in peace.”
The source of Trump’s optimism was not immediately apparent. He offered no details about his effort or how it would be any different from attempts over the past two decades during which former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all tried and failed. Palestinian officials said after the meeting that Trump had not raised any specific proposals to restart negotiations.
Asked what distinguishes Trump’s plans from previous attempts, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said merely: “The man is different.”
MLB reviews security at all parks after Fenway racial slurs
BOSTON (AP) — Major League Baseball is reviewing its security protocols in all 30 stadiums after Orioles outfielder Adam Jones complained of fans shouting racial slurs in Boston this week and other black players reacted by saying it’s a common reality when playing in several cities.
It’s not yet clear what changes might be made, but league officials are starting by figuring out how individual clubs handle fan issues and complaints.
“We have reached out to all 30 clubs to assess what their in-ballpark announcement practices are regarding fan behavior,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. “We are also reviewing text message and other fan security notification policies that are operating in the event there is an incident.”
All MLB teams have a mechanism for fans to alert security to issues, but individualized ballparks mean different protocols and practices in each stadium.
In Boston, Jones complained Monday night that he heard the N-word several times, then had a fan throw peanuts toward him in the dugout. Boston Red Sox officials apologized and said that only one of 34 fans kicked out of the game was ejected for using foul language toward a player, and it wasn’t clear whether that was toward Jones. Boston police said the peanuts hit a nearby police officer and Fenway security kicked the man who threw them out before he could be identified by authorities.
Kimmel’s touching monologue resonates on social media
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jimmy Kimmel’s tearful account of his newborn son’s heart surgery reverberated widely across social media, turning a monologue seen by a relatively small late-night TV audience into something far more potent.
While “Jimmy Kimmel Live” drew its average of about 2 million viewers Monday, the host’s comments earned an online megaphone that made it a top news story reaching all the way to Washington and the health-care debate.
It’s not uncommon for a sketch or other late-night TV moment to turn into online chatter, “but this was something else entirely,” said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture.
A video of Kimmel’s roughly 13-minute monologue on his Facebook page drew more than 14 million views within a day, news site Axios reported. It reached 18 million views by Wednesday, compared to his usual 1 million views.
On Kimmel’s Instagram page, the video had more than 142,000 views by Wednesday, more than twice his usual. And on Twitter, where Kimmel’s posts typically are retweeted several hundred times, the figure was 31,000-plus.