In a final effort to stall a new U.S. trade and travel crackdown, Cuba pressured its ally Colombia to suggest it might boycott a Latin American security summit called by U.S. officials if President Trump went forward Friday with announcing his new policy targeting the Raul Castro government.The complicated international power play started to unfold following a national security principals meeting Tuesday, according to congressional and senior government sources.Colombia began to express misgivings about how Trump’s Cuba announcement in Miami would coincide with the two-day U.S.-led Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that begins today, also in Miami, and suggested it might just skip out on the conference if Trump didn’t delay his announcement by a week, said an aide to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.Rubio, who has spent months quietly helping Trump craft his plans to restrict trade and travel with Cuba, was “appalled” at the news — although he knew the White House wouldn’t succumb to any threats for a delay, his aide said.Rubio nevertheless counseled the White House to send a message to the government run by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: the actions were jeopardizing the $450 million “Peace Colombia” initiative that President Obama pushed, but that remains in limbo under Trump. The underlying peace deal was negotiated with the Castro government, which has influence with the Colombian revolutionary guerilla group known as FARC. “Let me get this right: Santos is coming to us and asking for $400 million to fund his flawed peace plan, but he is threatening to pull out of an event that’s not even about them? It’s about El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” the senator told the White House, according to the Rubio aide. A U.S. government official familiar with the flare up confirmed the broad outlines of the situation described by Rubio’s office. Neither spoke on the record out of concern that it would upset either the Colombians or senior White House officials.An aide to another Miami Republican who’s advising Trump on Cuba policy, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, confirmed that the congressman got wind of the controversy and had his office call Colombia’s embassy to tell the country to stay out of the Cuba matter or face “consequences.”Rubio, who was informed of the Colombia situation in a call from the White House during the tail end of a Tuesday Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, went a step further. During a conversation that took place on his cellphone from the back of the committee room, Rubio said he would be at a press conference about Cuba on Friday — either with Trump announcing a rollback of Obama’s policies or holding a press conference with Castro-hating exiles from Venezuela and Cuba and with former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to denounce his successor, Santos.“You’re going to ruin your Friday either way,” Rubio told the White House official, according to his aide. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called later to make it clear to him that the White House had no intention of backing off its Friday announcement.Rubio’s office did not speak directly to Colombian officials and there’s some suspicion within the Cuban exile community that U.S. government career service staff, who oppose dis-engagement from Cuba, might have exaggerated the degree to which Colombia was serious about not attending the Miami summit.The behind-the-scenes tension and last-minute multilateral drama underscored the depth of the Cuban government’s fears that Trump will make good on his campaign promise to rollback Obama’s December 2014 decision to thaw relations with Cuba after decades of Cold War-era hostilities. The embargo remains in effect, but Obama loosened regulations and business restrictions to such a degree that more U.S. money has flowed to the island than ever before. But Trump, Rubio and Diaz-Balart say the level of repression has increased and the Cuban government hasn’t allowed enough financial prosperity to trickle down to the Cuban people. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to negotiate a better deal. But for months, nothing appeared to be happening, leading to doubts that the president would follow through.Then, after POLITICO and The Miami Herald reported last week that Trump would make his announcement this Friday, business and trade groups that support more commerce with Cuba ratcheted up their lobbying and public pressure campaigns, writing letters and warning of economic troubles and setbacks if Trump sought to alter the terms.The Cuban government, however, began sending messages through the news media and diplomatic channels that it was ready to negotiate. But Cuban officials claimed that a return to pre-Obama Cuba policies would hurt efforts to combat drug traffickers who have exploited immigrant smuggling routes through the Straits of Florida.Those twin issues — drug trafficking and immigration — are top concerns of the Trump administration and underpin the call for today’s Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America involving the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The summit was called by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and is co-hosted with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and their Mexican counterparts. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to make an appearance as well later today.While the United States is determined to see the summit to go off without a hitch, the Trump White House is more committed to following through on promises to tighten restrictions on Cuba, said a White House spokesperson familiar with the plan. “Never has there been any consideration of the White House canceling this event based on any international pressure,” said the spokesperson.
The late actor’s impact on the Rolling Stones was dramatic, influencing the way they looked, the circles they moved in and even their internal power structureThe most famous passage in Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, concerns the writing of Gimme Shelter. It is perhaps the most celebrated and visceral song among the catalogue of Rolling Stones tracks that appeared to soundtrack the curdling of the 1960s counterculture: an “end-of-the-world song”, as Mick Jagger once described it; a haunting, spectral guitar figure that builds into a brutal, muscular riff, topped with phantasmagorical visions of war, flood, rape and streets burning “like a red coal carpet”. But, Richards revealed, its apocalyptic mood had prosaic roots. He wrote the song while his then-partner Anita Pallenberg was out filming her most celebrated acting role, opposite Mick Jagger in Donald Cammell and Nick Roeg’s Performance. Richards was convinced the film’s love scenes weren’t simulated and that Pallenberg and Jagger were having an affair. In one of literature’s great examples of protesting too much, Richards spends the best part of six pages claiming he wasn’t upset by Pallenberg’s infidelity, a claim undermined by the bitterness that seeps through every page 40 years on – Cammell was “a pimp”, Performance “third-rate porn”, Jagger had a “tiny todger” – and through Gimme Shelter itself. Whatever else it may be, it doesn’t sound like the work of a man who wasn’t bothered. Continue reading...
THROWDOWN THURSDAY: COMEY’s legacy day -- TRUMP leaves hole in schedule during hearing -- THE RNC’S TALKING POINTS and 'suggested tweets' for today’s big event -- SPOTTED at Trump Int’l hotel -- B’DAY: Barbara Bush
We are told that James Comey will, at times, go beyond what he wrote in his statement.
Good Thursday morning. GET READY FOR THROWDOWN THURSDAY. James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intel Committee starts at 10 a.m. Today all the networks and all the cables will be live -- with a few of them offering up live streams for free online. And if James Comey’s much buzzed about statement is any indication of his savvy and willingness to dish, Trump will be more than tweeting today. He’ll be seething. Comey’s statement http://bit.ly/2rMG1bKFOLLOW POLITICO’s two reporters in the hearing room (Hart 216) today: Josh Gerstein (@joshgerstein) and Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney).THE PRESIDENT’S THURSDAY -- Trump speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to the Majority Conference at 12:15 p.m., and then will host governors and mayors at the White House for an infrastructure summit at 3:30.-- NOTES: The president has nothing before his 12:15 speech. Some of the newsiest bits of the hearing will be at the top. THE PRESS BRIEFING TODAY is with Sarah Huckabee Sanders and it will be off camera. Speaker Paul Ryan is holding his weekly press conference at 11:30 a.m. today in the Capitol.REMEMBER THIS -- Comey isn’t constrained by traditional political considerations. Today will shape his legacy. Our reporting tells us that members of Congress don’t expect him to accuse the president of a crime, but expect him to be extremely open about what transpired behind closed doors. We are told that he will, at times, go beyond what he wrote in his statement. THE BIG PICTURE -- NYT, A18 -- “Comey’s Political Shrewdness Is on Display in Tussle With Trump,” by Peter Baker and Glenn Thrush: “The morning, at least, seemed to go reasonably well for President Trump. He announced a new F.B.I. director, and two intelligence chiefs told Congress the president had never pressured them to interfere in the investigation into Russian election meddling.“And then James B. Comey … dropped the hammer. By authorizing the immediate release of the opening statement he plans to give in his much anticipated appearance before a congressional committee on Thursday, he instantly changed the conversation back to his assertion that the president tried to shut down part of the F.B.I. investigation.“Mr. Trump may be relatively new to Washington, but Mr. Comey is not. A savvy veteran of the capital who has worked in high positions in multiple administrations, he has usually emerged on top in any internal power struggle. And in the month since his dismissal, Mr. Comey has shown why presidents are normally loath to fire F.B.I. directors.” http://nyti.ms/2sGpeXFTHE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE sent an email at 9:56 p.m. last night to people around town with the subject line: “Talking Points and Digital Packet for Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing.” The first item under “top takeaway” is “President Trump feels completely and totally vindicated by Former FBI Director James Comey’s opening testimony and is eager to move forward.” It includes a “suggested tweets” section. The RNC talking points http://politi.co/2sGgWPA … WSJ: RNC says they’ve dedicated 60 aides to the pushback effort. http://on.wsj.com/2s6pNx0THE COUNTER ATTACK -- “West Wing aides fearful of directly attacking Comey: The White House has outsourced its counter-messaging effort during Comey’s testimony, as aides try to avoid more personal legal risk,” by Matt Nussbaum, Josh Dawsey, Darren Samuelsohn and Tara Palmeri: “‘It’s fair to say a storm is coming,’ one administration source said. ‘We’re boarding up the windows for the impending hurricane.’ ... The [RNC] is taking the lead in the response and has prepared a surrogate operation. ... Two former Trump White House officials — former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh and former communications director Mike Dubke — are helping coordinate the effort. Press secretary Sean Spicer was at the RNC on Wednesday as preparations took place. ... For official comment, the White House has directed all questions to the office of Trump’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz.“Kasowitz’s office, in turn, has directed inquiries to Emily Thall, the law firm’s director of business development and marketing. On Tuesday, Thall declined to comment in a brief conversation with POLITICO about Comey testimony. By Wednesday, inquiries to Thall were met with an automatic response: She would be out of the office on vacation until next week. By Wednesday night, Kasowitz’s firm had retained longtime political communications pro Mark Corallo to handle media inquiries.” http://politi.co/2rY3CYYQUOTE OF THE DAY – From the quadruple-byline story: “White House aides are trying to keep Trump busy Thursday morning with meetings so he won’t watch TV and tweet during the hearing. ‘But if he wants to watch it, it’s not like we can say, ‘oh, the TV doesn’t work,’’ one official said.”HOW IT’S PLAYING -- HUFFPOST banner, “COMEY BEFORE THE STORM” … DRUDGE as of 6 a.m., “MAY DAY” (about the UK election) … N.Y. POST, “‘I EXPECT LOYALTY’” http://nyp.st/2sGrBtM … N.Y. DAILY NEWS, “DON’S PLEA: COVERUP” http://nydn.us/2simZwi … EVEN TMZ IS IN ON THE ACTION -- They have videos of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) (http://bit.ly/2qYQTBX) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) (http://bit.ly/2s7kyNv).
Al Jazeera World - Lebanon: Fighters to Bikers This is the story of four bikers who fought on different sides of the Lebanese Civil War but who’ve now found friendship and a common cause in the local Harley-Davidson Club – which they founded. The fifteen-year war between 1975 and 1990 divided communities along sectarian lines, split a country and left deep scars. George Greige is Maronite, Marwan Tarraf Shia, Jamal Kahwaji Sunni and Ghassan Haider is Druze. The four now reflect on the senselessness of war, the dangers of power and greed; and their common passion for their saving grace…the Harley. They say they fought in the war not out of deep personal conviction but because they felt they had to pick a side and defend themselves. “At a crucial age we found ourselves in an atmosphere of war,” explains Ghassan Haidar. “We had to take part in the war to protect ourselves. Everyone was armed, regardless of their age. So why not us?” The war involved a mix of local, irregular militias, both Muslim and Christian – as well as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which arguably also drove a wedge between communities. The different factions were backed by regional and international powers that flooded the country with arms. More from Al Jazeera World on: YouTube - http://aje.io/aljazeeraworldYT Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AlJazeeraWorld Twitter - https://twitter.com/AlJazeera_World Visit our website - http://www.aljazeera.com/aljazeeraworld Subscribe to AJE on YouTube - http://aje.io/YTsubscribe
Gabriel Glickman Security, Middle East In June 1967 there was at first impression a clear picture on the ground in the Middle East after six days of war: Israel had taken possession of large swaths of Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian territory; Israeli tourists were crossing the border into previously off-limit Palestinian neighborhoods; Egyptian soldiers, some barefoot, were running in retreat through the Sinai desert to get across the Suez Canal; the scattered remnants of Egypt’s artillery and tanks littered a desert landscape that for three tense weeks had housed the operations of the most powerful Arab military in the modern world. A possible resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, one that could be brokered by the United States, appeared in the offing: Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser was on state television announcing his abdication of power due to a spectacular defeat by Israel; President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that Israel was, for the first time ever, in a powerful position to bargain for its security and to establish an unprecedented peaceful coexistence with its regional neighbors; while the Soviet representative to the United Nations looked foolish telling the security council that Israel had acted like Hitler and committed an illegal war to expand its national territory. These were the scenes of the day. But if there was anything more surprising than Israel’s quick routing of the Arab armies from all three sides of its borders in only six days, it was the throngs of Egyptians crowding the streets and crying for Nasser to retain his position at the helm of Egypt—even though enemy Israeli soldiers had gathered at the edge of Egypt’s legendary Suez Canal. Indeed, the Arab dictator, notwithstanding that he oversaw one of the greatest catastrophes to befall the Arab nationalist movement, was still seen as the best chance to protect the Arab heartland from further Western incursion. To be sure, in the eyes of the Arabs, Israel had delivered a setback to longtime plans for the liberation of Palestine, but the Jewish state could never be allowed to win the larger struggle. The Lyndon B. Johnson administration had painstakingly avoided taking Israel’s side during the three-week crisis leading up to the war. Some officials even saw it as America’s duty to take both sides and prevent war. Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent out a circular memo to all U.S. ambassadors in the Middle East, declaring, “We cannot throw up our hands and say that, in that event, let them fight while we try to remain neutral.” Beginning with the Kennedy administration in 1961, the United States had given massive amounts of economic aid to Egypt in order to turn Nasser inward—and away from Moscow. To walk away from all that in support of Israel seemed reckless to Johnson’s officials. Not surprising, after the war, Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol was frustrated with the Johnson administration. He said they promised “great things” to protect Israel in the face of a growing Arab encirclement from May 14 to June 4, but the expected support never materialized. Instead, the Johnson administration focused its efforts on how to stave off war and keep both sides content with the United States. The only problem was, Nasser was running things on the ground. And he had no intention of rewarding the United States for its diplomatic efforts. Indeed, it was only a few days previous to Nasser’s bogus “resignation” that acts of destruction in a little noticed sideshow to the Six-Day War quietly unfolded across the Middle East, which was representative of the dictator’s sweeping influence over the region. A majority of the American consulates and embassies in the Middle East were sacked. Nasser had labeled the United States as a co-conspirator with Israel because of its refusal to choose a side. Neutrality had backfired. This simultaneous destruction of American diplomatic property in such a short timespan was—and still is—unprecedented. More interesting is the fact that the extent of this event has gone unmentioned in history books about the war. The American consulates in Port Said and Alexandria were attacked by mobs, with the staff of the latter being forced to seek refuge in a locked vault. A similar scenario occurred at the embassy in Benghazi, where staff resorted to using tear gas in order to keep the mob at bay and from reaching the vault. The mission in Aleppo fared no better. The staff reportedly slid down a rope to escape a fire that eventually consumed the entire building. Likewise, American and British workers were forced to evacuate an oil refinery in Banyas. In Baghdad, the American library was ransacked. And in Basra, the empty mission compound was broken into and subsequently damaged by a mob. That such hostility translated into attacks against the American missions is hardly surprising in light of Nasser's hostility towards America in the run-up to the war. Local newspaper reports of “British-American-Israeli” collusion did little to quell an already stirred up population from lashing out at the nearest symbols of “American imperialism.” It was the opinion of American officials that the relative ease at which Egyptian soldiers decisively maintained their security posts outside of the American embassy in Cairo suggested that high-level orders were issued for the sackings at the other missions. Indeed, it was also the opinion of the American ambassador to Cairo that a controlled fire at the Alexandria consulate had been orchestrated by the Egyptian authorities themselves. At the end of the Six-Day War, Nasser remained defiant against the United States. He formally broke off diplomatic relations, and invited Soviet military advisors into Egypt. It didn’t matter that the United States had kept his regime afloat for the better part of the 1960s while he spent Egypt’s dwindling cash reserves on a disastrous expedition in Yemen—dubbed “Nasser’s Vietnam.” These competing snapshots of Nasser, a humbled leader in defeat versus an ambitious tyrant lashing out at an international power, demonstrate the limited capabilities of superpower nations like the United States. Though they may have unmatched military, economic and political strength, local leaders like Nasser can wreak havoc. Foreign policy is a goal. Strategy is the way to achieve that goal. But sometimes this means nothing in the international arena. Superpower nations beware: local strongmen may trample at will. Gabriel Glickman holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from King’s College London. He is currently working on a book provisionally titled Western Historiography of the Six-Day War: Rethinking the Road to War. Image: Israeli artillery fires on Syrian positions during the Arab-Israeli War. Flickr/Central Intelligence Agency
They are veteran Syrian rebels who for years tried to bring down President Bashar Assad. These days they’re doing little fighting with his forces as they struggle to find a place in Syria’s bewildering battlefield, where several wars are being waged at once.
They are veterans of Syria’s rebellion, trying for years to bring down President Bashar Assad. But these days they’re doing little fighting with his military. They’re struggling to find a place in a bewildering battlefield where several wars are all being waged at once by international powers.
Iranians took to the polls and overwhelmingly voted to re-elect incumbent and so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani in last week's presidential election. But can we expect his next four years on the international stage to be any different from the previous years? According to Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a close friend and ally of Rouhani, while the focus of the first term was on the nuclear issue, the second term will focus on regional diplomacy. "I think in the second term he would really like to focus on the regional issues to bring peace, cooperation, engagement, diplomacy with the neighbours," says Mousavian, who also headed the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. "The problem is whether Saudi Arabia would be ready … [they] now prefer to ally with Israel rather than Iran, to fight Iran." In this UpFront special, Mehdi Hasan challenges Iranian policymaker and former diplomat Hossein Mousavian to explain Iran's policies in the region and what some see as the double standards with regards to Yemen and Bahrain. For more on Iran's internal power dynamics and the extent of political reform, go to fb.com/ajupfront Editor's note: We covered human rights and the extent of democracy in Iran previously here: http://aje.io/pezl - Subscribe to our channel: http://aje.io/AJSubscribe - Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AJEnglish - Find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aljazeera - Check our website: http://www.aljazeera.com/
Political instability in Saudi Arabia is growing as King Salman bin Abdulaziz begins to overhaul the Saudi government, putting a long list of family members into positions of influence while increasing the power of his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. These actions have the potential to lead to a direct conflict with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The expected internal power collision, predicted by many analysts, finally seems to be heating up. The real surprise, however, is that it is taking place while King Salman is still alive…
It is a sign of the times that when we need to march in defense of facts, of women deserving equal rights, and of science not being a Chinese conspiracy, we also have to defend something as self-evident as the undeniable value of the nuclear deal with Iran from 2015. But in a post-fact era, even diplomatic triumphs that saved the United States from both the threat of nuclear weapons and another endless war in the Middle East face perpetual relitigation. The latest example is Josh Meyer’s article in the Politico claiming to reveal that the Obama administration gave previously undisclosed concessions to the government in Tehran as part of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The article is not news, but comes across as yet another hit piece against the nuclear deal, promoted and celebrated by those in Washington who are unrelenting in their commitment to killing it. Meyer argues, based largely on interviews with what appears to be disgruntled, mid-level officials at the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, that the Obama administration slow-walked investigations against alleged Iranian smugglers serving Tehran’s nuclear program and dropped charges against other Iranian operatives. And Obama apparently did this all behind the back of his own Justice Department. ... to the extent any concessions were made, they were made to win the release of Americans held in Iranian jails. From the outset, Meyer commits a critical error: He insinuates that any concessions in terms of dropping charges against potential Iranian smugglers were made as part of the nuclear deal. In reality, to the extent any concessions were made, they were made to win the release of Americans held in Iranian jails. The convolution appears intentional, as an article revealing additional concessions to win the release of innocent Americans lingering in Iranian jails would only receive a fraction of the attention of an article claiming those alleged concessions were made to secure the embattled nuclear deal. Few would like to adopt the line that the Obama administration shouldn’t have done what it took to win the release of journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine Corps and Iraq war veteran Amir Hekmati, and the other Americans held in Iran. Spinning the story to create a false link between these alleged concessions and the nuclear deal resolves that problem. The chronology of events and the mechanisms of the nuclear talks clarifies this. The nuclear negotiations concluded on July 14, 2015. Under the deal, the Iranians agreed to take the first steps to answer remaining questions by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in regard to their nuclear program by October 18. Once this was completed and verified by the IAEA, two simultaneous decisions were made: The Iranians began dismantling parts of their nuclear program, and the EU and the U.S. made a legally binding decision to lift or waive sanctions on Iran once the IAEA confirmed that Iran had fulfilled its commitments. This is a critical point: After October 18, the U.S. was obliged to lift sanctions as long as Iran implemented the final phase of the JCPOA roadmap. Meaning, having done all it was supposed to do, Iran had no remaining nuclear leverage to press the U.S. to give additional concessions on the prisoner issue. Indeed, even if the U.S. and Iran had not come to an agreement on a prisoner swap, the nuclear deal would have still proceeded as it was solely dependent upon the IAEA certifying Iran’s completion of the roadmap. This was formally done on January 16, 2016 ― Implementation Day ― after which the U.S. began waiving sanctions on Iran. Meyer writes that “administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal.” In reality, the swap was more chaotic than it was choreographed. Just days before Implementation Day, 10 American sailors accidentally wandered into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf and were apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Navy. The incident risked jeopardizing the prisoner swap, but was quickly resolved within just 16 hours. But contrary to the Politico article’s claim that the Iranians persistently extracted more concessions from the Obama administration, the Iranians released the American sailors without even demanding a single concession from the U.S. side. If the Iranian modus operandi was to link the prisoner swap with the nuclear issue and force Obama to give more and more to Iran since “the deal was sacrosanct [to Obama], and the Iranians knew it from the start,” as former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate told Politico, then why didn’t they use the 10 captured American sailors to bring Obama to his knees? In fact, as I describe in Losing An Enemy - Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, the prisoner swap was scheduled to take place earlier but ended up getting delayed as the negotiations proved difficult. And it was the Iranians who originally opposed ― for their own domestic political reasons ― having the swap coincide with Implementation Day. Eventually, though, that is what happened. But this begs a more important question: What if the Obama administration did drop charges against a few alleged Iranian smugglers in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons option? Why would such a trade-off cause a scandal in Washington? After all, for more than two decades, American and Israeli hawks claimed the Iranian nuclear program was an existential threat and that the heavens would fall if it wasn’t stopped. Yet, after the Obama administration put a lid on the Iranian program, the very same hawks now decry the nuclear deal on the (false) basis that as part of neutralizing this supposedly existential threat, charges were dropped against Iranian smugglers that the U.S. had no way of getting extradited anyway. One critic of the nuclear deal even told Politico that closing the investigations on these alleged smugglers did “significant and lasting damage” to America’s nonproliferation effort. Apparently, keeping hopeless procurement investigations open is more important to America’s credibility than blocking all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon. Even if the nuclear talks were the reason for the closing of the investigations, who wouldn’t trade several likely hopeless procurement investigations for an agreement that cuts off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and forces Iran’s nuclear procurement into an official channel subject to the approval of the U.S. and other international powers? The Politico article... gives a glimpse into the real reason some in Washington obsessively oppose the [Iran deal]. Still, the Politico article is very valuable. Not because it reveals anything nefarious about the nuclear talks, but because it gives a glimpse into the real reason some in Washington obsessively oppose the JCPOA. On the one hand, they oppose the very principle on which deal-making is based: That in order to get something, you have to give something. In their purist maximalist world, the United States should not have to offer any concessions to get concessions in return. Particularly not to a mid-size power such as Iran. To paraphrase arch-neoconservative Richard Perle, the only carrot the U.S. should provide is to offer not to bomb countries as long as they comply with American demands. If one approaches the rest of the world with such a bully-mentality, then closing investigations on alleged Iranian smugglers is unacceptable regardless of what the U.S. would gain in return. By definition, priorities cannot be established, because everything is equally important. Therefore, securing the freedom of American citizens does not take precedence over a procurement investigation ― not even blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon would. Meyer’s investigation claims that “many participants [in counter-intelligence operations] said the way forward is still sufficiently unclear that they can’t, or won’t, proceed.” But who are these participants? Is the off-the-record testimony of mid-level operatives in the Justice Department ― who might only see their own small piece of the picture ― on par with the assessment of senior administration officials with higher security clearances who have the benefit of seeing the larger picture? If you are ideologically opposed to the idea of give-and-take, then yes. The Politico investigation also sheds light on another point: To large parts of the Washington foreign policy establishment the details of the deal is unimportant. If Iran’s nuclear program truly was the existential threat they had claimed all along, they should be celebrating the nuclear deal ― as parts of Israel’s security establishment does today. Refusing to do so suggests that what these hawks really oppose is the very idea of striking a deal ― any deal ― with the government in Tehran. To them, losing Iran as an enemy is the existential threat ― not Iran’s nuclear program. So much for the decades old U.S.-Iran enmity solely being an ideological obsession of Iran’s notorious hardliners. Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy - Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
Robert G. Rabil Security, Middle East The prospect of an accidental military confrontation with Russia and its allies have never been greater No doubt, as reflected by many voices in Washington, DC corridors of power and media, the recent American cruise missile strikes against Syria’s al-Shayrat Air Base in response to the Assad regime’s chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province was hailed as the right thing to do. Moved by horrifying images of children losing their lives to the internationally banned Sarin chemical, President Trump apparently ordered the strikes to send a strong message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that, unlike his predecessor, he will not stand idly by when chemical red lines are crossed. But a string of statements by Trump administration officials on the heel of those strikes has created confusion over the nature and scope of American policy toward Syria. Those statements have also created a tense environment disposed to regional and international conflict. While en route to Moscow for a high level summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the reign of President Assad was “coming to an end.” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told CNN that “there’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer portrayed Assad as darker than Hitler. He said that [Hitler] didn’t use gas “on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Conversely, the Kremlin called the attack an “act of aggression,” and Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that the U.S. attack on an airfield in Syria was conducted “on the verge of a military clash” with Russia. Upon arriving to Moscow, Secretary Tillerson was given the cold shoulder. Read full article
The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Alliance Holdings GP, Arch Coal, Alliance Resource Partners and CONSOL Energy
The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Alliance Holdings GP, Arch Coal, Alliance Resource Partners and CONSOL Energy
The steps taken by the President Trump will no doubt boost the prospects of the coal industry.
James S. Brady Briefing Room 1:41 P.M. EDT MR. SPICER: Good afternoon. First, at the top, I wanted to note that the President has been briefed on the situation in London. He just spoke to Prime Minister May, and we’ll have a readout on that situation and that call soon. We obviously condemn today’s attack in Westminster, which the United Kingdom is treating as an act of terrorism. And we applaud the quick response that the British police and their first responders made to the situation. The victims in this are in our thoughts and our prayers. The City of London and Her Majesty's government have the full support of the U.S. government in responding to the attack and bringing those to justice who are responsible. We will provide you with further updates as warranted and, as I mentioned, a readout of the President's call with the Prime Minister. Turning to the events of today -- this morning, the President received his daily intelligence briefing. He stopped by the Women in Healthcare panel hosted by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems Administrator, Seema Verma. And also, that event was attended by the Vice President and the Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Tom Price. Healthcare professionals have seen the challenges of implementing Obamacare firsthand. They're a valuable asset to the President and his team as we continue to consider and enact policies, like the American Health Care Act, that will make healthcare more accessible and affordable for everyone. The women who were at the roundtable today represent the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and administrators who make sure that people around the country receive the necessary preventative and lifesaving care that they need every day. The doctors who attend to the patients in the family practices, emergency rooms, and clinics -- and those who support them on the administrative and technical sides -- are one of our country’s most treasured resources. With the passage of the American Health Care Act and the rest of the President’s healthcare reform agenda, everyone, regardless of their financial situation, will be able to take full advantage of this resource. That’s why, at last count, over 40 major associations have expressed their support for the American Health Care Act, with several of them, including the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce], the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and, just today, the National Taxpayers Union calling it a key vote. Following his appearance at the panel, the President and his legislative affairs team hosted several members of the House of Representatives for another meeting on the American Health Care Act. The President acknowledged, as he has before, that the AHCA is only one step in the larger process of fixing the broken healthcare system created by Obamacare, but it’s an essential first step. Undoing and fixing all of the misguided policies is going to require a holistic, multistep process. And that’s why the President and his team are fully committed to maintaining an open line of communication with Capitol Hill leadership throughout this entire process. Throughout the weeks since the AHCA was first introduced, they have been meeting with Republican members from across the political spectrum, many of whom we’ve seen move from “no” to “yes,” as they learn more about the legislation and amendments that have been adopted. Continued coordination between administrative and legislative actions will ensure that our new healthcare system is effective and efficient. This afternoon, the President will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus’s Executive Committee. The President has brought in and will continue to hear from representatives of all interests as he continues to note that he is the President of all Americans. Diversity makes our nation strong, and it also means that we don't necessarily agree on every policy item but that we continue to have a dialogue towards productive policies that help America move forward. The President looks forward to discussing the CBC’s policy priorities and finding ways that they can work together where those priorities align. This evening, the President will have dinner with Secretary of State Tillerson. Today at the State Department, Secretary Tillerson hosted the foreign ministers and senior leaders of the Global Coalition working to defeat ISIS for the first meeting of the full coalition of 68 members since December 2014. This meeting follows up on the defense ministerial Secretary Mattis hosted last month in Brussels. The coalition is united in the fight against ISIS, and this meeting seeks to accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIS in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria, while maximizing pressure on its branches, affiliates, and networks. This meeting is a part of our whole-of-government approach to defeating ISIS. The Trump administration will use all of the tools of national power, in coordination with our international powers [partners], to cut off ISIS’s funding, expand intelligence sharing, and deny ISIS geographic and online safe havens. Also today, over on the Hill, Judge Gorsuch [is] in his second day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee. During his nearly 12 hours of questioning yesterday -- now at least I know how someone else feels -- (laughter) -- the judge continued to prove himself an enormously qualified jurist that Americans will all be proud to see on the Supreme Court. It’s not surprising that Senate Democrats are failing to gain traction for any of their potshots and opposition to Judge Gorsuch. There’s simply not enough politicizing the Senate Democrats can do to hide the fact that Judge Gorsuch is an immensely qualified and thoughtful jurist with a lifelong dedication to our Constitution. A few administrative notes here before I take your questions: Last night, we formally announced that the President will travel to Brussels for the May 25th meeting of NATO heads of state and government. During this meeting, the President looks forward to reaffirming our strong commitment to NATO and discussing critical issues to the Alliance, especially Allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role against -- the fight against terrorism. The President will also host NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg to the White House on April 12th. Today, the President declared a major disaster exists in the state of Wyoming and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by a severe winter storm and straight-line winds that occurred in February. We also announced that the President will deliver this year’s commencement address at Liberty University on May 13th. The President is proud to call Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell, his wife Becki and their entire family, his friends, and looks forward to celebrating the success of this amazing graduating class on such a momentous occasion. Finally, a few minutes ago, many of you may have seen that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, gave remarks on the surveillance collected on individuals associated with the President. Let me quote him directly: “I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in the intelligence community reporting. And third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. And fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or [of] the Trump team.” My understanding is that Chairman Nunes is coming to the White House later to brief the President on this development, and we will have a readout for that meeting once it occurs. With that, I'll be glad to take your questions. Mara. Q Two questions. One on Nunes and then healthcare. Is your understanding that this -- none of these unmasked names were leaked? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I literally read the statement -- or heard the statement, came out and briefed it. It was wrapping up as we were beginning this. Q Okay. Today in the pool spray, the President said "keep your doctor, keep your plan" didn't work out that way. You didn't get your doctor. You don't get your plan. This is one of the reasons we have to repeal Obamacare. Is the President assuring people who currently like their plan or like their doctor that under the American Health Care Act they can keep their doctor and their plan? MR. SPICER: Well, that's the hope. And what I mean by that is not to be cute, but last time they were promised something that didn't turn out. I can't promise something that a doctor stays in a plan or a plan stays there. But that's a bit different. We understand that we're letting market forces come into play here. Competition. Doctors can change what insurances they take. Plans can come in and out of markets. What I think we can be assured of is a couple of things. One is that currently under Obamacare, premiums are set to continue to skyrocket. We've seen an average of 25 percent. We've noted before in Arizona, they've gone up 116 percent. I think there’s no question that the additional competition and amendments that have been brought into this discussion will help lower the trajectory of that, number one. Number two is I think that they're going to see greater choice. So I think those are the things that we're willing to talk about being part of this plan because you can't -- where they erred last time is went out and made promises that they couldn’t keep. And I think that one of the problems that they did is that they’ve tried to suppress market forces and competition. And instead of lowering costs and increasing choice, which is what they sought to do, it did the opposite. So that's where this is headed, and I think that's important. John. Q Thanks a lot, Sean. On the AHCA, Mark Meadows, who appears to be a firm no in terms of his opposition to the replacement bill, said that 25 members of the Freedom Caucus are opposed to this replacement bill. Do you dispute those numbers? MR. SPICER: I’m not going to share our whip count. I know we saw Lou Barletta, who was a hard no, come out and say he’s yes. Steve King I believe had been a no; he’s a yes. Member by member we're seeing tremendous support flow in our direction, and the count keeps getting stronger for us. So I’m not going to start to get into yes or nos. But I would just say that former Congressman Mulvaney, now Director of OMB Mulvaney, who is a leader in that caucus, has been a very strong advocate of this policy. As you know, he’s been up on the Hill talking to his former colleagues, assuring them of the effort and why the process has to go the way it does. But I’m optimistic in the sense of what we're seeing and the trajectory that this is going, and the number of votes that are flowing our way, not the other way. Q And on the confirmation hearing for Judge Neil Gorsuch, I have not seen any Democrat come out in support of Judge Gorsuch just yet. Do you anticipate that you’ll get Democratic support on this particular nomination? MR. SPICER: I hope and believe so. I think that there have been several that have been spoken very positively. I think he’s been extremely impressive throughout this confirmation process, and you've heard members both in the Senate, on the committee, and then a lot of outside voices comment on how well he’s done, how qualified he is. And I think it’s tough for anybody to say that he’s not immensely qualified for this position. Alexis. Q Sean, related to Congressman Nunes, can you explain why the White House has agreed to meet with him at all about what his findings are? And the reason I ask that is because the minute that Director Comey said that there was an official investigate, it might appear as if the White House is interfering with the investigation. And Congressman Nunes should present his information not to the White House but to the FBI. So why is anyone here at the White House agreeing to meet with him about his findings? MR. SPICER: We’ll have a readout for you after that meeting. I think he did this press conference. He made the announcement that he was coming up to see the President to share these findings. I don't know who else he’s shared them with. I don't know -- to your question, I don't know if he’s briefed anyone else on it in terms of the intelligence community -- either Admiral Rogers or Comey -- of whether this is something they shared with him. But I think after the meeting, hopefully depending on the classification level, we may be able to share more on that with you. Q Can I just add, is the President concerned at all that there will be an appearance immediately, today that he has interfered with an ongoing investigation -- whether it’s a congressional investigation or the executive branch investigation by meeting privately with a congressman who says he has information? MR. SPICER: So let me get this straight. Number one, we asked -- as you know, two weeks ago, we said this was the appropriate venue. Number two, you guys have asked us over and over again, why aren’t we meeting with certain individuals. The chairman of the committee that -- one of the two committees that we asked to look into this -- wants to share his findings, or what he knows. I think that is exactly how we’ve talked about this working. But I would leave it to Congressman Nunes to come up, and to brief and share his thoughts. I don’t know what his plan is. Obviously, he sat -- he briefed the media before he briefed us. He went down and talked about what he had found. So, you know, it’s interesting, I didn’t see any complaints from you guys when he went down and held a press conference for the umpteenth time talking about his findings and what he's found. There is no complaints from the media when he shares what he has found with you guys. But when he wants to come up here and tell us, this is where the investigation stands and here’s what I've unloaded -- or excuse me, learned -- there’s seems to be a little bit of an interesting double standard on that. Q Just to close the loop, because the President said that he had additional information that he believed the White House or he or his representatives would present, related to this investigation, what Congressman Nunes has is not related to that? MR. SPICER: I don’t -- you’re asking me questions that -- he has not briefed us. He has not briefed the President. You guys, as I noted -- he actually went down and spoke to the media before he shared this with us. So I would ask the colleagues that of yours that ask questions, more than you have -- you've had -- collectively, the media has more of an opportunity to ask questions and to hear what he has to say than we do at this point. So once we have more to understand what he said, to the extent that we can, I’m sure we’ll be glad to share it with you. But the media has more information than we do at this point. Jon. Q Sean, staying on that, didn’t we already know that there was incidental collection of intelligence involving some members of the transition team? And I point to -- MR. SPICER: Not the way you guys ask the questions. I mean, you questioned us every day about what we knew, and now you’re coming back to me saying, didn’t we already know this. Well -- I’m doing somewhat of an effective job. Q No, but didn’t we already know that Flynn was monitored in his conversations with Kislyak? MR. SPICER: Right. Q So we know -- MR. SPICER: Again, I guess my point, John, is I don’t know. He made a statement, went down to the press. Until we get briefed on this, until the President gets briefed, I don’t know what he knows. And so to ask -- until that occurs, and until we have the ability to share some of that in an unclassified nature, I don’t want to get ahead of it. I don’t know what he knows. That’s why, apparently, he’s coming up to share his findings with the President. At least that’s what he said. Again, let’s wait and see how this unfolds. Q And on the American Health Care Act, Mark Meadows says they don’t have the votes, they need to start over and do a new bill. That sounds like you’re in pretty serious trouble. MR. SPICER: No, that sounds like one member’s opinion. As I mentioned -- Q Who represents a large contingent of people who oppose the bill. MR. SPICER: No, no, no, but again, I just named a few of the members that are part of that caucus that have come on board. I think that -- look, every day, you see more and more of those members from that caucus and throughout the entire conference express their support for the bill. The President was up yesterday for a while talking to them. We’ve had members -- and the Vice President has been actively engaged -- Mick Mulvaney, Reince Priebus, Marc Short and Rick Dearborn, who lead our leg affairs team. These guys have been flooding the Hill. They’ve been on the phone, having meetings with them. There’s been a series of members up here all day. I think the trajectory is going very well for us. Q And Heritage Action says you can easily fix this bill simply by removing the regulatory framework -- the tax credits and all of that -- and you’ll get massive buy-in from conservatives. But can you do that? MR. SPICER: There are certain constraints that we have in the reconciliation process. And for those who are steeped in the arcane rules of the Senate, there's a thing called the Byrd Rule, and it does not allow policy to be recreated. It has to do with the budgetary nature of that vehicle to get -- that’s sustainable at 50 votes. Right now, there are certain things that I think a lot of people would like but that will not potentially get ruled in order by the Senate parliamentarian. So I understand what people want, but I think that we have created a vehicle to get this done. This is the only way that we will repeal and replace Obamacare. And again, I think people have to recognize that there is a three-step process to doing this. This is exactly how the Democrats enacted it, and this is exactly how we will unwind it and implement a much better system. That’s it, plain and simple. Margaret. Q Sean, I know you can’t get ahead of Nunes, but what he said was, incidental, legal surveillance using a FISA warrant, which would -- MR. SPICER: I don’t believe he said FISA warrant. Q He did. MR. SPICER: Did he? Okay. Q He did. And that’s why I’m asking this question, which is, does the Trump administration have the presumption that foreign leaders or foreign nationals will not be surveilled when they are in contact with -- MR. SPICER: No, look, again, as I said, I don’t want to start talking or guessing what he may say or may not say, or explain this. I think that we will have more information, or I hope to have more information once the President is briefed, and to find out what else has gone on in terms of additional information on this. But I do think it is a startling revelation and there's a lot of questions that need to get asked. I think it's interesting all of the questions are in the presumptive negative towards us, as opposed to "why was this taking place, why were people surveilled ostensibly; they were involved in the campaign." Because it's not -- Q Well, that's why I'm trying to clarify that -- MR. SPICER: No, no, the question is -- the question -- Q -- was your presumption that foreign nationals -- MR. SPICER: No, no, it's not a presumption. Actually, I'm not the one -- Q (Inaudible.) MR. SPICER: Right. Respectfully, I'm not the one with the presumption -- you guys are. I didn’t come up here presuming anything. I actually started my comments off by saying that -- Q Well, I would presume that foreign nationals are being monitored by U.S. intelligence when they are talking to anyone. MR. SPICER: And then the question -- I think there's a series of questions, which is, how many times was an individual picked up? Why were they picked up? Were they unmasked? Again, a lot of this, if they're picked up during a FISA warrant, is that American citizens are prohibited by law from being unmasked, from "having their name put out there." Why would someone's name get put out there? What ways were they described? There's a lot of questions that need to get asked. Those are the relevant issues that need to get asked. How many times was one individual followed? Did their name get unmasked, and why? But there's a lot of things that need to get followed up on. We're not at that position yet, as I've said now multiple times. The Chairman is going to come up here, brief the President, I don’t know to what extent and to what detail. But hopefully, as we move forward, we will have more. Q Is this what you've been -- because you've said there's more information to come, more information to come. Is this what you've been gesturing towards? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. For the eighth time, there is no -- we don’t know what he's going to come up here and explain and share. And until that happens, for me to talk about where we think this is headed -- again, we're not in the business of trying to get to this point yet. We say, this is what they have. We've asked that the investigation be conducted and that people gather up information. What they have and to what extent, we'll know soon. April. Q Sean, I have a series of questions on a topic. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, met with an official here at the White House yesterday. She's looking for fairness and justice in her son's case. What should we expect to come out of that meeting with this White House official? Should there be a push to make sure that there is an indictment of the police officer's -- MR. SPICER: I mean, that's a Department of Justice question. For us to get involved in a case, a specific case, would be highly inappropriate in terms of trying to guess what the outcome of a case should be. Q Well, along that line, the official, according to Ms. Carr, reached out to the Department of Justice, the civil rights division, had the wrong number; called another department, had the right number. Now, in previous administrations, to include the Obama administration and other administrations, the Department of Justice had limited the numbers of people to call over to the Department of Justice. Has the Attorney General, this Attorney General Sessions, changed that memo? What has he done? MR. SPICER: Well, it would have to be reissued. That's a separate issue in terms of -- every Attorney General issues a memo going back to, I think, Mukasey was the first one -- post-Watergate -- I'm trying to remember who issued the first one. But it has been a practice of I think almost every Attorney General to issue a memo spelling out the procedures that officials in the Justice Department contact the White House and who they can contact, and the nature of which and what their exceptions are, et cetera. Those memos get crafted by each administration, by each new Attorney General. I would refer you back to the Department of Justice on the status of that under this Attorney General. Q So how many officials here have that right, to call the Department of Justice, even if it's for -- MR. SPICER: I don’t know the answer. I would refer you to the Department of Justice. Q But was there wrongdoing in this effort to call over to the Department of Justice? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I don’t know the nature of -- I'll have to look into what you're asking. But I would, again, refer you back to the Department of Justice. Hunter. Q Yes. Thank you, Sean. I have two quick questions. Last November, President Trump dismissed reports he was trying to obtain security clearances for his children as "a typically false news story." Now there are reports Ivanka Trump is indeed attempting to obtain a clearance. What changed there? MR. SPICER: Well, at the time, it was not true. I mean, she wasn’t obtaining a security clearance, so it was not accurate then. There was no -- I think we addressed it during the transition. An official had actually just inquired. There was no actual attempt at the time. The official in question was removed from the transition team. They had merely made an inquiry into what it would take to get an SF-86 process moving forward. No paperwork was ever drawn, no account was opened, and that official was let go. At this time, as I mentioned yesterday, Ivanka has decided to go above and beyond, and act in certain ways to ensure that she complies with certain rules by maintaining the Federal Records Act, getting a security clearance so that if she is privy to any information that is classified, she has to abide by the same rules and regulations in terms of being in a room and how it's handled, et cetera. We have taken appropriate measures to do that. I mentioned the statement yesterday and will stick by it. Q And then the second question on Paul Manafort. The Associated Press has published a report based on documents that he had a plan to "benefit" Vladimir Putin for a client. And with him back in the headlines, I'm just wondering if you still stand by the comment that he had a "limited role" on the campaign. And if you could explain a little bit more about how spending months as the campaign's top official is a limited role. MR. SPICER: Yeah, thank you. I've tried to avoid commenting. I know I've talked to a lot of you about the individual stories, but I think obviously this one has started to catch a lot of buzz. So to comment briefly on this, I think nothing in this morning's report referenced any actions by the President, the White House, or any Trump administration official. I think that's got to be clear from the get-go. The report is entirely focused on actions that Paul took a decade ago regarding -- he's a former advisor of the campaign, and the actions that came to light this morning are about a client that he had last decade. I know I commented on this the other day, and clearly I should have been more precise with respect to Paul's role. So let me clarify this and kind of go through the facts. Paul was hired to oversee the campaign's delegate operation. He had played a significant role in the convention and delegate operations of four previous Republican nominees -- Bob Dole, former Presidents George H. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. And to be clear, he got the job done on the delegates. The President won the Republican nomination after months of speculation after a potentially contested contest -- convention. In total, he was involved with the campaign for a total of just under five months. He was first hired on March 28th to oversee delegate operations. He was made the chief strategist and campaign chairman on May 19th. And his relationship with the campaign ended on August 19th. The AP story focuses on his activities from the last decade. And to place in to context, Paul represented many foreign clients, according to publicly available data, in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Europe. His representation of foreign clients is public and similar to the work of Tony Podesta, a Clinton campaign fundraiser, whose brother John chaired Hillary Clinton's campaign. Last year -- not last decade -- Tony Podesta lobbied against sanctions for Russia's largest bank. And John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair, sat on the board of a Russian-based energy company. This was something tied to Hillary Clinton, who was the face of the failed Russia reset policy. So it's not even close -- what we're talking about now isn't even close to her most significant role with respect to Russia. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, along with the Obama administration, approved a deal that gave Russia one-fifth of America's uranium reserves. Hillary's husband, former President Bill Clinton, received over half a million dollars by a paid speech by a bank connected to the uranium deal. And Vladimir Putin personally called the former President and thanked him for giving the speech. So an individual who worked for less than -- the campaign for five months for the President's two-year long campaign, who worked with a Russian entity a decade ago, is the subject of rampant media speculation all day long, even though the Clintons had much more expensive -- extensive ties, while Secretary of State Hillary was crafting a policy she said was designed "strengthen Russia." And to be clear, the President has no personal financial dealings with Russia. His ties are limited to hosting a contest in Russia once, and selling a Palm Beach home to a businessman in 2005. That's it. And for members of the media trying to conflate Paul's role in activities with Monday's hearing, I have another reminder: Numerous individuals, including former Obama Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and acting CIA Director Mike Morrell and members of the intelligence community from both parties who have been briefed have said across the board that they have seen zero evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. And that's not going to be changed by former business dealings of a campaign staffer from a decade ago. Sara. Q Thanks, Sean. You and other senior administration officials have sought to assure skeptical Republican lawmakers that phase two of these regulatory modifications will address some of their concerns. So what is Secretary Tom Price waiting for? Why not roll out phase two now if the vote is looking like it's going to be a very close marker? MR. SPICER: I think in some of those cases -- and it's tied to -- it's all one package, and that's why I think you saw some of the stuff he is working on, some of the stuff he is doing. But I think the important piece is to get the phase-one part of it done. He has assured them and talked to them about different administrative actions. Again, part of this is sequencing. I mean, the same way that in Obamacare they didn’t just have Kathleen Sebelius then go out and start implementing things. They passed the bill first through the reconciliation process, got that done, and then she did the administrative piece. We're doing the same process because of how some of the sequencing has to occur. And then the same thing on the legislative front, we've introduced in the House -- all those pieces of legislation have been done. Leader McCarthy has started to talk about the, that do all of the prong -- three steps. So a lot of it is coming together, but part of it is, is a sequencing aspect that needs to get taken care of. But we are moving in the right direction. Can I go to John (inaudible) for the first question on Skype? Q Yes. Good afternoon, Sean, from (inaudible) in Newport. Sean, you have a lot of members of the media saying that President Trump -- the President to all the people. What does the President say -- (inaudible)? Yesterday, you had (inaudible) White House grandstanding at the confirmation hearing. We've had Elizabeth Warren (inaudible), the Boston Globe condemning the (inaudible). You had Rhode Island Governor, Gina Raimondo, boycott. You had (inaudible) while she fundraised around the country. What's the President saying to frustrated Trump supporters who don’t feel they're getting proper representation (inaudible) and in Congress? MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, I think with respect to Judge Gorsuch, which is I think -- pretty clear that's where you're headed on this -- Q Yes. MR. SPICER: Thank you. I just -- I mean, when you look at the praise, I mean, obviously I would love for it to be universal. And while we've gotten bipartisan praise from pundits and former law clerks in both parties, high number of jurists and former people -- legal scholars, members of Congress, we're not going to win everybody. And I think that Democrats have tried to score some points on the committee. They've largely fallen by the wayside. And we've seen very high praise for him. So I would just suggest that anybody who's got a problem with him, I'd love to hear it, because so far most of the issues -- no one seems to have a problem with his academic credentials, his record or anything else. So I'm pretty buoyed by a lot of what we've seen come out of Capitol Hill with respect to him. Blake. Q Sean, thanks. Do you take the House Freedom Caucus at their word, Mark Meadows at their word? There are at least two dozen or so who are "nos." So how do you get from this point right now policy-wise to tomorrow -- something, anything that maybe might flip that? MR. SPICER: I think we're doing it. I mean, piece by piece, member by member, we're getting there, and we're getting much closer. The last couple days we've continued to do that. But then today alone, I mentioned a couple of the other members. Slowly but surely we're getting there, and I feel confident that when the vote comes up, we'll have the votes. Q And let me ask you today, Patrick McHenry, congressman, deputy whip, described the President, as members of Congress were coming in here to the White House, as the "closer." Do you embrace that label? MR. SPICER: He is the closer. Q Do you embrace that label here as it relates to healthcare? MR. SPICER: Absolutely. Ayesha. Q You just said that you're confident that the healthcare bill will pass tomorrow. I want to get a sense of how confident you are. I don’t know if you want to rate your percentage on it. Like, how confident are you that the bill will pass? And if it doesn’t pass, is there a plan B? MR. SPICER: No, there is no plan B. There's plan A and plan A. We're going to get this done. Q And so you're confident -- 100 percent confident? MR. SPICER: We're going to get it done. That's it -- plain and simple. Q Thanks, Sean. I know you said you didn’t know what information you were going to find out today from Chairman Nunes, but my question for you is, when did the President know about this surveillance that the Congressman brought up today on Capitol Hill? He spoke late last week about -- we'll find out more information that would support these wiretapping claims. Is this the information he was talking about? MR. SPICER: Until Chairman Nunes briefs him, we don’t know what he knows versus what the President has been made aware of. And so how that jives, I don’t know. I hope to have more for you later. Q And a quick follow-up on healthcare and just a quick follow-up on Asia. Does the President believe the healthcare bill will pass the House tomorrow? MR. SPICER: Yes. Jonathan. Q Two questions on Paul Manafort. Did the President know that he had worked to advance Putin’s interests previous to becoming the campaign chairman? MR. SPICER: No, the President was not aware of Paul’s clients from last decade. No. Q But is that a problem? You know, now that all this is coming out and there is a whole lot scrutiny -- MR. SPICER: No, no, but what is coming up? What else don’t we know? I mean, where he went to school, what grades he got, who played he played with in the sandbox? Q Well, you didn’t know that Michael Flynn was -- MR. SPICER: Okay, I -- thanks, Peter. I’m answering a question -- Q We're all part of the conversation. MR. SPICER: No, you’re not, actually. The answer to your question is, I think to talk about someone having a client from 10 years ago that had a consulting company with clients from around the world -- Q He paid millions of dollars to advance Putin’s interests. I mean, that’s enough -- MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t know what he got paid to. If you listen to what Paul -- Q The documents said -- MR. SPICER: Hold on. I understand. I’m going to answer your question, if you give me a second. That he was a consultant, he had clients from around the world. There is no suggestion that he did anything improper. But to suggest that that President knew who his clients were from a decade ago is a bit insane. There is not -- he was not a government employee. He didn’t fill out any paperwork attesting to something. There is nothing that he did that suggests, at this point, that anything was nefarious. He was hired to do a job; he did it. That’s it -- plain and simple. Q I’m just saying, given that it was such a focus -- you brought it up just then with Hillary Clinton, that these were corrupt arrangements and that the Clinton Foundation was described as a criminal enterprise, and there was all this discussion of Russia. And you've pointed out -- MR. SPICER: There is a big difference between -- there was dollars -- hold on -- Q I understand. I'm not conflating the President. I’m just asking, is he disappointed, now that he has found this out, that there was this -- MR. SPICER: Found out what, Jonathan? That he had a client over a -- Q That he was working for Putin, for a lot of money. MR. SPICER: -- in the past decade, he had a client, and you’re worried about what? That he held -- I mean -- Q That he was doing work to advance Putin’s interests. MR. SPICER: I don’t know what work he was doing. So to suggest that just because he had a client in the past decade that no one is suggesting was anything improper -- he was hired to count delegates, which is what he did, and he was successful at it, as he had done for George Herbert Walker Bush, Gerald Ford, and Bob Dole. He was hired to do a job, and he did it, and he did it fine. So -- Steven. Q Sean, why did the President fire Paul Manafort? MR. SPICER: Well, for two reasons. One is, I think, that there were some issues coming up with his ties to Ukraine that were becoming a distraction. And secondly, he was, I think, sixteen points down at the time. And he was down in the 20s in women. And I think the President recognized that he needed to make a change for those two reasons. Q Second question on healthcare. As confident and as optimistic as you are -- if at this point tomorrow you don’t have the magic number -- should the Speaker pull the bill from the floor? MR. SPICER: No, this is it. If you want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, this is the vote, this is the time to act. This is what people have told the American people is going to happen. This vote needs to happen. If you’re waiting for your chance, this is it. We need to act. Cheryl. Q Thank you. Wall Street appears to be getting a little nervous about the possibility of tax reform this year. Can you say definitively that the President will present a package of tax reforms this year? MR. SPICER: Yes. Darlene. Q What time is the President expected to meet with Chairman Nunes this afternoon? MR. SPICER: I don’t -- I was walking out as the Chairman was reiterating -- I literally heard him on the streaming -- like, on the -- you know, his comments -- as he was saying them. So I don’t know that it was scheduled. The President was wrapping up a call with Prime Minister May at the time that I walked out, so I don’t know what was scheduled. Q And was there any consideration given to not meeting with the Chairman given the appearance -- MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I just know what the Chairman said he was doing. I walked out of here before anything had been finalized. He was still wrapping up the call with Theresa May at the time. Zeke. Q Thanks, Sean. You said the President is the closer, there is no plan B, tomorrow is it. So if you -- MR. SPICER: You’ve done a very good job, Zeke. (Laughter.) You guys better be careful, he’s going to put you out of work. Q So if tomorrow night’s outcome doesn’t go your way, if the vote fails, what should we then read into the President’s ability to negotiate and close deals; the White House’s ability to plant any sort of legislation and a legislative -- MR. SPICER: Look -- and I know what you’re trying to get me to -- but we feel very good about the trajectory of this. Members continue to come with us. The number is going higher and higher, not lower and lower. So the trajectory is great. As I mentioned, everybody is out there -- full court press on this, and this is opportunity for anybody who wants to see this done. But I just want to be clear, we have a robust agenda -- tax reform, as I just mentioned, trade, immigration. There’s a lot of other things that need to get done. And I think there’s continued to be widespread support. In a lot of cases, bipartisan support for the President’s agenda. And so we’re going to continue to roll on in that. But we feel very good about where we are now. Mark. Q Sean, I was going to ask, in terms of after the vote tomorrow night, for those Republicans who decide to not support the White House, what kind of relationship -- any change in the relationship -- would they see going forward? Would they expect to see maybe a primary challenge later on? Or this is one of those things where they can vote their conscience if they really believe this isn’t the bill? MR. SPICER: I think we’re obviously -- we believe that this is a great opportunity to achieve the principles that we laid out to the American people. We’re not looking -- this is not -- the President made clear yesterday when he visited with the conference, he’s not there to threaten them; he’s there to explain political landscape to them, and to explain that -- I think that when you keep your promise, no matter what business you’re in, you tend to be rewarded -- whether it’s your customers or your friends, your family, your voters -- that Washington for too long has suffered a deficit of trust, and that we made very clear to the American people, if you gave us this opportunity and this honor to govern, that we would get certain things done. And this was at the top of that list. And this bill represents the best chance of repealing and replacing Obamacare and instilling a patient-centric healthcare system that increases choice and lowers cost, and that this is the only train leaving the station. Jonathan. Q Thank you, Sean. Sean, would then-candidate Donald Trump have hired Paul Manafort, such an important and prominent position in his campaign, if he had known that he had had a $10 million contract with somebody so close to Vladimir Putin to “greatly benefit the Putin government”? If he had known that, would he have hired him? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I don’t want to -- Paul was hired, as I said, to count delegates. That’s why he was brought in, as he had been for George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole. He did his job. That’s what he was there for. And -- Q And to run the campaign. I mean, he was chairman of the campaign. MR. SPICER: No, no. After, what, May 19th or something. But again, I’m not going to -- Q And to run the convention. I mean, you’ll notch it was a very prominent role. MR. SPICER: Yeah -- as he had done for the other three. He had held very significant -- look, so again, you’re basically saying, hey, the work that he did, he had a client a decade ago, would he have -- I don’t know the answer to that -- Q $10 million to promote the interests of Vladimir Putin. MR. SPICER: The answer to your question -- I don’t know. To look back right now and to say, if we knew now what we know then, would we have done things different? I don’t know. That’s a question that the President would have to weigh at the time. Q But he definitely didn’t know. MR. SPICER: No. Q You’re saying he didn’t know. MR. SPICER: No, he did not know. Q He had not idea that Manafort had done this. MR. SPICER: Of course, not. To suggest that he -- I mean, that’s like -- you can think about how many people are involved in a campaign of some sort. And granted, in this campaign it was run lean and mean. But to suggest that everybody knew everybody’s background -- did they pay their taxes, how much did they pay, what deductions did they take, who did they work for in the -- Q Shouldn’t he have disclosed that? I mean, he did work for -- MR. SPICER: Disclosed what? That he had done -- Q He had worked on behalf of an adversary of the United States. He got a $10 million contract. MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not here to vouch for what he did or how -- I don’t know. Q -- but the President would want to know, wouldn’t he? MR. SPICER: Maybe. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know what the circumstances were at the time, and I don’t know what exactly -- so for me to start to infer that what he did or did not do was anything improper is not appropriate at this time. I don’t know what work he did. I know what he was hired to do, and he did his job. Shane. Q I want to ask about Paul Manafort here, too. Are you saying he wasn’t disappointed to learn, in the last 24 hours, that his chief strategist worked for Vladimir Putin’s -- MR. SPICER: I don’t -- no, no -- because again, you’re -- Q What was his reaction -- MR. SPICER: I don’t know, because the story that came out this morning said that he had had client. Paul has put out a statement that suggests this is what he did, this is how he handled it, there were -- I mean, you’ve all read the same. We have not spent a ton of time going to investigate what he did for that client a decade ago. Q Is the President disappointed to learn that this was -- MR. SPICER: I really have not discussed the President’s -- I know what he has made very clear: He hired him to do a job, he did the job well, he got him over the finish line. On August 19th, he was let go of the campaign for the reasons that I have mentioned. Q Can you say if Paul Manafort played any role in the hiring of any people in the federal government after the election? Did he advise the President? MR. SPICER: Not to my knowledge, at all. John. Q Thank you, Sean. Going back to the American Health Care Act, there was always nervousness that moving too quickly on it would leave some very dangerous points in the details. Several publications, including Sara’s, reported today that as a result of a change of a few words, veterans who benefitted from a program called Veterans Affairs, or had the option of getting tax credits, would not get neither under the new legislation, and that 7 million veterans would be cost healthcare. Is the administration following this, and is urging Congress to do anything about it? MR. SPICER: Most veterans get their healthcare either through TRICARE or through Medicare, if they’re over 65 or a combination thereof, correct? Q Well -- but there’s two programs. One is the Veterans Affairs program, and the other is the option -- this is under the current law -- to have tax credits. And my understanding, again, from Sara’s publication this morning and several others, is that 7 million veterans could possibly lose both under this program. MR. SPICER: I would have to follow-up with you. I’m not aware of any modifications to TRICARE in particular that would have that effect. Kristen. Q Sean, thanks. On Monday, the President accused former President Obama and Democrats of rushing through the healthcare law -- jamming it through -- when, in fact, they actually debated it for about a year. This healthcare law was rolled out about 15 days ago. So don’t you run the risk of rushing this through, of not giving it enough time for public debate? MR. SPICER: I think Republicans have talked about repealing and replacing Obamacare since 2010. We’ve campaigned on it in every election since. The principles that are in a lot of these have been very public for a long time. And -- Q Understood. But you just rolled out the specifics, Sean. You just rolled out the actual -- MR. SPICER: And it’s gone through three committees, two of which had unanimous Republican support. Q Just a few days ago. MR. SPICER: I understand that. But we’re working it through the process. This was something the President campaigned on, told the American people would be his top priority. Republicans who ran for the House and Senate said that it would be a top priority. It’s something that they talked about for seven years, Kristen. So to suggest that we’re rushing anything -- I think we’ve done this very, very, very deliberately, and very responsibly to make sure that people could read it. So again, with all due respect to the folks who tackled this in the past, we actually put the bill online, let everyone in the entire world read it, didn’t jam it through and, to quote former Speaker Pelosi, say, if you want to read the bill, wait until we pass it. We actually let the American people and the entire world read what was in it, watch the process occur, and I think that is a much more open and transparent process. Q Let me just ask you a quick question about the terror attack. You said that the President has been briefed. He also spoke with Prime Minister Theresa May. Can you give us any more information about who may have been behind it? And should Americans have any concern, or are there any security changes that they should expect -- MR. SPICER: No, that would be highly irresponsible at this point. I know the British government is investigating this as an act of terrorism at this moment. So for me to sort of get out and ahead of -- I know our homeland security team and our national security team are in contact with them. Secretary Tillerson has issued a statement, as has Homeland Security Secretary Kelly. So we are continuing to monitor the situation. We’re in touch with officials in the British government. As I mentioned, as I was walking out here, the President was finishing up a call with Prime Minister May, and so we’ll try to have an additional readout to you, to the extent that that’s possible. But we’re going to provide the assistance we can to the British government to help get to the bottom of this. At this time, it would be highly irresponsible for us to get out in front of British officials. Charlie. Q You mentioned that there is no plan B, that plan A is the only vehicle -- the only train leaving the station, I believe you said. Does that mean if the plan fails -- if the bill fails, will the President move on to other issues he’s concerned about, like trade, and leave Obamacare in place? And if so, how long is he comfortable with leaving it in place? MR. SPICER: Well, as I mentioned -- I mean, we’re not going to leave it in place because we’re going to repeal and replace it tomorrow, move it through the Senate, and the President will sign the bill. We continue to see the enthusiasm and momentum coming to our direction. So I’m not looking -- as I mentioned, we’re not looking at a plan B. We have plan A, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to go from there. Jessica. Q I’m going to talk about China for moment. Do you now have the ability to formally announce the dates for when President Xi visits the United States? MR. SPICER: I do not know at this time. Q Why not? MR. SPICER: Because that’s not how it works. Because that’s something that we continue to work with President Xi and the Chinese government to coordinate the final dates and times. And then obviously we coordinate the announcement with them as well. But trust me, when we’re ready, we’ll let you and everyone else know. Q And are you going to be prepared to talk about the parameters of the bilateral relationship at that time? MR. SPICER: I’m sure that -- my guess is there will be a lot to discuss at that time. Jeff. Q Sean, has the President asked the FBI director or the NSA or any other agencies involved to come here to the White House and brief him on this new information, or is it just the intel chair? And if so, why not? MR. SPICER: Well, Jeff, it just happened. So it’s a silly question to ask me, literally as I’m walking out here, when the Chairman was wrapping up an event saying that he is announcing that he is coming down here. It’s not like we picked up the phone and then called everyone else. The first step is to actually hear what he has to say and to find out who else he’s briefed, where he’s got that information from, and then we’ll take the next steps going forward. Q Is this the first of several meetings, though? Do you believe he would like to have the FBI director come in? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. It’s literally -- it literally just happened as I was walking out here. So to suggest that other steps have occurred, until that briefing occurs we’ll see what this leads to. I don’t know. Q What’s the state of his credibility tonight? The Wall Street Journal, which has been very supportive of his candidacy and agenda, simply raised a question that he is not doing very well, and they said he could be on the verge of being a “fake President.” What do you believe the state of his credibility is as we sit here today in week nine? MR. SPICER: I think the President has made several promises to the American people, and he’s kept them. He appointed Neil Gorsuch as the judge, which was one of 20 people on a list. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He established a five-year lobbying ban and a foreign ban on -- lifetime, which is all what he said he was going to do. He said he was going to cut regulations, and he did that. He said he was going to start to bring back jobs -- he did that. He said that he was going to start to pay real attention and respect taxpayers, bringing down costs. He’s already done that. He’s backed a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. We’ve talked about that ad nauseam. He’s talked about putting forth a budget that puts defense first -- he did that. He took action on Dakota and Keystone Pipeline -- he did that. I think when it comes to the President making promises to the American people and keeping them, he’s got a pretty high record of doing it. Peter. Q Sean, if I could ask you about the conversation we’ve been having about Paul Manafort, but not specific to Paul Manafort. When Michael Flynn’s name came up at the time, having not registered as a foreign agent, there was a lot of focus on the vetting process that goes into individuals. Back then you said, “We trust people to fill out the appropriate forms that they need to. He has been very” -- referring to the President -- “he has been very committed to making sure we institute high standards here and we’re held to them.” So given your words, is it sufficient to trust the information that the people you hire give you? And can you say with certainty with right now that there isn’t anybody else that’s working in the interests of another foreign government working for this government right now? MR. SPICER: It’s a good question, Peter, because there’s a big difference between working for a campaign or an entity where there’s no forms to fill out -- when you work for the United States government, especially here in the White House, you fill out a security clearance form, you fill out an employment form that asks certain questions under the penalty of law. Those questions -- Q And Michael Flynn still got through, I guess. MR. SPICER: Hold on. No, well -- but again, he filled out forms under the penalty of law. I don’t know what was on his forms or what not was on his forms. Remember, what the President let him go for was not being truthful to the Vice President, not necessarily for what was on a form, which I do not know what he filled out or did not fill out. If somebody fills out a form here, an SF-86, a security clearance form, or another employment document, and lies on that form or misleads, then they’re going to face the penalty of law on that. That’s a big difference between saying when someone was hired on a campaign or another entity, that they should disclose everything in their past whether or not they -- who their clients were. But again, I mean, if someone presented a résumé and it was faulty, sure, I think that if that was -- as you recall, there was another person during the transition that was named to a position that was discussed as not being truthful with some of their works. We let them go. People write things. They have jobs. They describe themselves a certain way. And every time that I’m aware of that we’ve had an incident where someone has not been forthright and truthful, we’ve let them go. But when you work for the United States government, you actually fill out security clearance forms, employment forms under the penalty of law. None of those cases occurred in the past. And to dredge up someone’s work from a decade ago -- it’s not that Paul wasn’t truthful, just to be clear -- you’re trying to conflate something that’s there. You’re trying to make the accusation that somehow he was dishonest or distruthful. Q I’m not asking about Paul Manafort -- MR. SPICER: No, you are. Q I’m not asking about Paul Manafort at all. MR. SPICER: Who are you asking about? Q In fact, what I’m asking is, can you say with certainty that right now -- that there’s nobody working for this White House that is presently working in the interest of a foreign government? MR. SPICER: I can tell you that every form has been filled out -- Q So you trust that the information is -- MR. SPICER: Absolutely. You’ve got to -- people who are filling out forms -- so to sit here and ask me whether I can vouch for -- whatever it is -- a few hundred people that have filled out everything, that would be ridiculous for me to stand here and suggest that I possibly could. What I can tell you is, under the penalty of law, every single person has filled out a form that is being vetted by whatever level of classification that they need to get by the appropriate law enforcement agencies or HR entities. But I can’t prevent somebody from fully disclosing everything on their taxes or filling out a form. What I can tell you is that -- and if there is an instance brought to our attention where someone has misled it, either they will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency or dismissed, or appropriate action will be taken. But yes, there is no tolerance for that. Q And then very quickly, in regards to Devin Nunes and the fact that he’s going to come today and the comments that you began the briefing by telling us -- on March 4th, the President tweeted: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Does the President stand by his statement that President Obama is a “bad (or sick) guy”? MR. SPICER: I think the President’s tweets stand for themselves. Q So he thinks he’s a “bad (or sick) guy.” MR. SPICER: I’m going to answer the question -- Q Okay, but you said it stood for itself, so I was asking. MR. SPICER: I know. I think the President’s tweets speak for themselves. As for the rest of the tweets, let’s see, as we’ve mentioned before, how this process evolves and what information we can further gather up. Q Thanks, Sean. On the executive order on energy independence, that’s been delayed for several weeks now. Can you -- MR. SPICER: Hold on, why would it be delayed? We never announced them. Q Your office said that it was going to be released several weeks ago. It wasn’t. And then there were reports consequently that said it would be released, and it hasn’t been. So can you give us -- MR. SPICER: I don’t -- with all due respect, I don’t believe I ever announced that that was scheduled to come out. Q Okay. Can you tell us when it will be released? MR. SPICER: No. Q And also, in it, it addresses the Clean Power Plan, which is the Obama-era climate change regulation. And there is apparently no replacement opportunity in that executive order. MR. SPICER: Can I just -- I’m going to cut you off here. We’ve discussed executive orders in the past. I’ve told before -- until they’re ready to be announced, I don’t comment on the scheduling or the -- Q This is a policy question -- MR. SPICER: I know it is, but you’re asking me the contents of it. It’s not a policy question. Q No, no, I just haven’t been able to finish my question. MR. SPICER: Okay. Q Thank you. So apparently there’s no replacement for it. That is the answer to a Supreme Court ruling in 2007. Does the administration feel that it is legally bound to regulate greenhouse gases? MR. SPICER: Let’s wait and see what the executive order says or doesn’t say. I don’t want to get into -- Q (Inaudible.) MR. SPICER: I understand the question. I’m not getting ahead of this at this point. Q Sean, will President Trump hold a news conference on the attack? And also, on his upcoming travel, do you have any guidance on other rallies that he may have? Because that’s where he sends his message out to the American people, including social media. MR. SPICER: He sends his message out in a lot of ways. If there are rallies, then I would refer you to the campaign website to get updates there. As for future press conferences, stay tuned on when the next one is going to be. Q Sean, when you learned that the members of the President’s team may have been in contact with someone who the intelligence community and a federal judge has deemed to be a little bit dodgy, does that give you any pause at all? MR. SPICER: Who are you referring to? Q The people who are subject to the FISA order. MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, can you rephrase the question? Q It’s a reference to Nunes. Members of the President’s team, whether it’s the transition or the campaign, are said to have been in contact -- being picked up by when they were in contact with someone who was the subject of a FISA order. Does that give you any pause at all given the things that you haven’t known before about Manafort and Flynn, et cetera? MR. SPICER: Not until we know further details. I think to get ahead of what we know -- until we know what the chairman is going to brief him on, for me to suggest what he is going to reveal to him about whom and when and how would be inappropriate, at this point, to comment on. I’m going to go to Elizabeth Crisp out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Q Hi, Sean, thanks. Last year, Louisiana suffered one of the worst flooding disasters in our nation’s history. Today, thousands of people remain displaced, and communities are struggling to rebuild. With support from the Obama administration, the state received about $1.6 billion in flood assistance through the CDBG program. The state is seeking $2 billion more in federal aid, and our governor has asked for President Trump’s support. So my question is twofold. What is the Trump administration’s position exactly on the federal government’s role in long-term disaster recovery efforts? And also, can Louisiana count on this administration’s support for additional flood recovery assistance? MR. SPICER: Thanks, Elizabeth. I believe the process works such that the governor makes a request to FEMA; FEMA then puts it through the process. I’m not aware of what the request is or where it stands in the process, and I would refer you back to FEMA on that. Q This is actually -- this is aid separate from FEMA. It’s the long-term part to this. MR. SPICER: Okay. So I know that the budget that was just presented allows for substantial funding for humanitarian assistance, including disaster refugee program funding in priority areas. I think at this point the budget process has just kicked off, and we will now begin the process of working with Congress on -- them draft a budget, and talk about our priorities and where they go forward. The President will have a full budget out in May, and so that will be an appropriate time to do that. But I would refer you back to the governor at this point, and figure out where that stands in the process. Cecilia. Q Can you say today, with certainty, that Paul Manafort never tried to pressure or encourage the campaign to take on a more pro-Russia position on any issues? MR. SPICER: Not that I’m aware of. I can’t -- but there’s nothing that suggests that that was the case. Q And on Nunes, from what you know about what he has said so far, is the White House viewing this, in any way, as vindication of the President’s wiretapping tweets? MR. SPICER: I would refer you to his comment specifically. Until we know what he is going to brief the President on, I don’t want to have to get ahead of this. I think, obviously, the suggestion that he made that people were what they call “unmasked,” meaning that an American citizen who is caught up in a surveillance has, by rule of law, has their name protected; the idea that individuals’ names were unmasked and let known suggests -- raises serious questions: Why was that name unmasked? What was the intention of doing that? There’s a lot of questions that I think his statement raises, and I hope that we can continue to get to the bottom of. But right now, we just don’t -- we’re not there yet. I think that there are a series of questions that need to get answered as to what happened, why it happened, and hopefully we will be able to share more with you going forward. Todd. Q Thanks, Sean. On the border wall, the President’s budget blueprint calls for a couple of dozen lawyers who are going to be dedicated to acquiring land. And I think people are wondering just how aggressive the eminent domain effort is going to be, and how that squares with respect for private property rights. MR. SPICER: As I recall, during the Bush administration similar efforts were undertaken to secure the appropriate property that would be where a fence or a wall, in this case, would be. So this is nothing new. This is the government doing what it has to do to protect its border. I think there’s nobody in America, and I daresay the world, that didn’t believe that the President was committed to building a wall. And I think that we’re going to take the steps necessary to fulfill that promise, to make sure that we have to. So I know that the steps are starting to be taken both in terms of the funding and the administrative steps, to see the President’s vision fulfilled on this pledge that he made to the American people. And we’ll go from there. Q Is there any update on how the wall will be financed? MR. SPICER: I think both the 2017 supplemental has some initial funding in it. The 2018 budget does, and has two -- Q But that's general. I’m talking about where the money will come from. MR. SPICER: Right. And I think that we’re going to continue to do it. Right now, the initial funding that was put in place will allow it to begin. The President has been very clear that using existing resources we’d go forward. There would be continuing discussions about the financing of the wall, both in terms of how we will pay for it and who will be the source of that payment. Q Has he given up on Mexico paying for it? MR. SPICER: No, not at all. Thank you guys, very much. I’ll see you tomorrow. We’ll try to have updates on the subjects that are currently pending. Thank you. END 2:40 P.M. EDT
AVDIYIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists appeared to be respecting a new ceasefire attempt on Monday after international powers called for shelling to stop and for the withdrawal of banned heavy weapons.