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On Senate Health Bill, Trump Falters in the Closer’s Role – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump began his all-hands meeting with Republican senators at the White House on Tuesday by saying they were “very close” to passing a health care bill, just as efforts to fast-track a vote this week collapsed.

If Republicans do manage to broker a deal — as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, pledged to do during a lively East Room back-and-forth with the president — it is not likely to be because of Mr. Trump’s involvement. Until Tuesday afternoon, the president was largely on the sidelines as the fate of one of his most important campaign pledges played out.

Mr. McConnell, who kept the president at a polite arm’s length while he oversaw negotiations over the bill, asked Mr. Trump to arrange the meeting with all 52 Republican senators during a morning phone call, in part to show senators the White House was in fact fully engaged, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

When asked by reporters clustered on the blacktop outside the West Wing if Mr. Trump had command of the details of the negotiations, Mr. McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly.

Mr. Trump and his staff played a critical role in persuading House Republicans to pass health care legislation in May, with the president personally calling dozens of wavering House members. But the Trump team’s heavy-handed tactics have been ineffective in the Senate, and White House officials determined that deploying Vice President Mike Pence, a former congressman with deep ties to many in the Senate, was a better bet than unleashing Mr. Trump on the half-dozen Republicans who will determine the fate of the Senate bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Trump, who is fond of telling friends he is a “closer,” became more involved over the past few days, reaching out to a few reluctant conservatives like Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who emerged from an Oval Office meeting on Monday saying he was more optimistic about getting to a yes.

“The White House has been very involved in these discussions,” Mr. McConnell said in announcing that a vote on the bill was postponed until after the Fourth of July recess. “They’re very anxious to help.”

Yet over the past few weeks, the Senate Republican leadership has made it known that it would much rather negotiate with Mr. Pence than a president whose candidacy many did not even take seriously during the 2016 primaries. And some of the White House’s efforts have clearly been counterproductive.

Over the weekend, Mr. McConnell made clear his unhappiness to the White House after a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, after he said last week that he opposed the health care bill.

The majority leader — already rankled by Mr. Trump’s tweets goading him to change Senate rules to scuttle Democratic filibusters — called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two Republicans with knowledge of the tense exchange.

Mr. McConnell, who has been toiling for weeks, mostly in private, to put together a measure that would satisfy hard-liners and moderates, told Mr. Priebus in his call that the assault by the group, America First, not only jeopardized the bill’s prospects but also imperiled Mr. Heller’s already difficult path to re-election.

Mr. McConnell and “several other” Republican senators expressed their irritation about the anti-Heller campaign during the White House meeting, according to two people, one of them a senator, who were present.

The move against Mr. Heller had the blessing of the White House, according to an official with America First, because Mr. Trump’s allies were furious that the senator would side with Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, a Republican who accepted the Medicaid expansion under the health law and opposes the Republican overhaul, in criticizing the bill.

According to the senator, the president laughed good-naturedly at the complaint and signaled that he had received the message.

A few hours later, America First announced it was pausing its advertising assault against Mr. Heller, insisting it was doing so because of his willingness to come to the White House meeting with Mr. Trump.

America First was founded by a group of Mr. Trump’s loyalists — many of them with deep connections to Mr. Pence, including Nick Ayers, a Republican consultant who is regarded as the vice president’s top political adviser. The group compared Mr. Heller to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, and vowed a seven-figure advertising campaign against him.

Mr. Heller, the only Senate Republican who will face voters next year in a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, is the top target for Democrats facing a Senate map with few opportunities in 2018. And there were already seven groups — a mix of health care advocacy organizations and more partisan Democratic efforts — on the air in Nevada assailing the Republican health care overhaul, according to a Republican ad buyer tracking the ad traffic.

Neither Mr. McConnell’s office nor his top outside political advisers were warned about an impending attack on one of their most endangered incumbents. “They didn’t check in with anybody,” said Josh Holmes, Mr. McConnell’s former chief of staff. “There was no clearing of channels, no heads-up, nothing.”

Republican senators across the ideological spectrum have indicated their unease with the health bill. But Mr. Trump has few ties with the group, and several Republicans who remain on the fence have tangled with Mr. Trump, either during the presidential campaign or since.

Top Trump lieutenants like Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who lobbied members on the House bill, have been all but sidelined. Mr. Priebus has also played a much diminished role.

Mr. Pence has been far more active in seeking out Republican senators. Seema Verma, Mr. Pence’s former adviser in the Indiana Statehouse and now a top administration health care official, has also been trying to reassure senators that their states will have flexibility on Medicaid under the bill, while Mr. Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, now the White House legislative affairs director, has been quarterbacking the effort from his hideaway in the Capitol.

Until Tuesday’s meeting at the White House, Mr. Trump had spoken with only a few members of the Senate, according to an administration official. The pace was nothing like the dozens of calls he made to help pass the House’s health bill, aides said.

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.

Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal’s tax implications, the staff member added.

After the meeting, Mr. Trump played the role of cheerleader on Twitter, encouraging his weary Republican allies to keep working.

“I just finished a great meeting with the Republican Senators concerning HealthCare,” he wrote. “They really want to get it right, unlike OCare!”

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Sarah Palin Sues The New York Times – HuffPost

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has sued The New York Times over an editorial she alleges defamed her by tying her to the 2011 shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, then a Democratic representative from Arizona.

Palin filed the complaint over an editorial the Times published this month following the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) at a baseball game in Virginia. Titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” the piece initially linked activity by Palin’s political action committee to another shooting in Arizona in 2011 that killed six people and injured Giffords and a dozen others. That link was never established, and the Times issued a correction and apologized on Twitter for the error. 

Palin’s suit alleges the initial editorial defamed her “by publishing a statement it knew to be false: that Mrs. Palin was responsible for inciting a mass shooting at a political event.” 

We published an editorial last night on the shooting at the G.O.P. men’s baseball team practice field in Alexandria.

— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017

We got an important fact wrong, incorrectly linking political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Giffords. No link was ever established.

— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017

Following the editorial’s publication, Palin blasted the Times’ actions as “sickening” and said the “media is doing exactly what I said … should not be done.” She had earlier said she was exploring legal options.

“Despite commenting as graciously as I could on media coverage of yesterday’s shooting, alas, today a perversely biased media’s knee-jerk blame game is attempting to destroy innocent people with lies and more fake news,” she wrote on Facebook after the Virginia shooting. “As I said yesterday, I’d hoped the media had collectively matured since the last attack on a Representative when media coverage spewed blatant lies about who was to blame. There’s been no improvement. The NYT has gotten worse.”

The Times on Tuesday told CNN’s Dylan Byers it had not reviewed the suit, but said it would “defend against any claim vigorously.”

.@NYTimes spox tells me they have not reviewed @SarahPalinUSA’s claim yet “but will defend against any claim vigorously.” Full story to come https://t.co/KxpuOU4z6Q

— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) June 28, 2017

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Police in Helicopter Attack Venezuela’s Top Court, Dropping Grenades – New York Times

A rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme Court in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter, Venezuelan government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and economic crises.

A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.

Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men dressed in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.”

“We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists,” the man said. “This fight is not against other state security forces. It is against the impunity imposed by this government. It is against tyranny. It is against the death of young people fighting for their legitimate rights.”

It was not clear where the attackers were on Tuesday night or how much support, if any, they had. It could not be determined whether the attack resulted in casualties.

Elsewhere in Caracas, opposition members of Parliament said they were being besieged by armed government supporters.

Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela’s minister of communication and information, said on national television that President Nicolás Maduro had been briefed on “an act of violence” launched from a helicopter that belongs to a law enforcement agency.

Mr. Villegas characterized the event as an “uprising against the republic, the Constitution.”

Mr. Maduro condemned the attack in a televised address, calling it part of a “coup plot.”

He said the assailants launched grenades, including one that did not explode, while a “social event” was taking place in the court complex. He said the gunmen shot from the helicopter into offices and then flew over the building. “They could have left several dozen deaths,” he said. The president said he had “activated the entire national armed forces to defend people’s right to serenity.”

Mr. Maduro said, “Sooner or later we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack.” His remark suggested the assailants were at large and in control of the aircraft.

Venezuela has been rattled for weeks by protests against the government, some of which have turned violent. It has resorted to increasingly heavy-handed tactics, including torture, to beat back demonstrations, according to accounts by detained demonstrators and human rights activists.

The turmoil has created rifts in the governing party, most notably the defection of the attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with Mr. Maduro in March. She accused him of trampling on constitutional norms after the Supreme Court, which is packed with government loyalists, issued a ruling significantly weakening the powers of the opposition-dominated Parliament.

For more than two years, Venezuelans have been reeling from the country’s worst economic crisis in generations. The price of oil, which long bolstered the economy and paid for social programs, has plummeted. Inflation is at record levels, and supermarket shelves are empty.

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