Day: March 3, 2017

State Department releases human rights report, without Tillerson

The State Department released the 2017 human rights report to Congress on Friday, declaring that “our values are our interests when it comes to human rights” in a prefatory note.

“Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of U.S. foreign policy,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s preface said. “These values form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies. Standing up for human rights and democracy is not just a moral imperative but is in the best interests of the United States in making the world more stable and secure.”

That message was softened somewhat by Tillerson’s decision not to unveil the report personally, a break with the practice of past secretaries. A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity instead briefed reporters on the report’s contents, although much of the conversation focused on Tillerson’s absence.

“[T]he report speaks for itself,” the senior administration official said Friday. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here . . . the activists globally who find kind of solace, frankly, in the transparency of the information we present says to us that we shouldn’t wait even a day longer to get them out in the hands of policymakers and beyond to use to promote a better outcome for individuals globally.”

The State Department emphasized that the report provides an even-handed survey of human rights in countries around the world. “We include the information we get only when we consider the source and its methodology to be credible,” the senior administration official said. “So that’s what they are. What they are not is an effort by the U.S. Government to judge, nor are they U.S. policy documents. There is no ranking or comparison of countries in the reports. They do not draw legal conclusions.”

Tillerson didn’t give the report, despite urging from Sen. Marco Rubio. “For 1st time in a long time @StateDept #humanrights report will not be presented by Secretary of State,” the Florida Republican tweeted Thursday. “I hope they reconsider.”

Rubio pressed Tillerson during his confirmation hearing about issuing public condemnations of human rights abuses even in countries with delicate relations with the United States. “[Refusal to condemn human rights abuses] demoralizes these people all over the world and it leads people to conclude this — which is damaging and it hurt us during the Cold War — and that is this: America cares about democracy and freedom, as long as it’s not being violated by someone that they need for something else,” Rubio told Tillerson. “That cannot be who we are in the 21st century. We need a secretary of state that will fight for these principles.”

The State Department argued Friday that the 2017 report advances those goals. “I have spoken to activists at home and abroad who are seeking to improve conditions in their society, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families,” the official said. “They draw comfort and solidarity from our efforts in these reports and more broadly to know and to shine a light on the facts on the ground and to capture them accurately for both our policymakers and the public. We, in turn, draw inspiration and resolve from their courage.”

DHS mulling over proposal to separate illegal women, children at border

Also from the Washington Examiner

The change could deter some mothers from traveling to the U.S.

03/03/17 5:57 PM

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Democrats on Judiciary Committee want Sessions to testify again

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify again after questions were raised this week about his testimony during his confirmation hearing about his contacts with Russia.

In a letter to the committee’s chairman, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee’s Democrats wrote: “The attorney general’s responses to our questions during his confirmation process were, at best, incomplete and misleading.”

It was reported this week that Sessions had met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before, despite saying during his confirmation hearing he had not talked with the Russians during the campaign. Sessions defended himself Thursday by saying he meant he didn’t meet with anyone in his capacity as a campaign surrogate, not a U.S. senator.

“Unfortunately,” they continued, “he has not explained why he failed to come forward and correct the record before reports of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak became public, why there was a delay in recusing himself until those public disclosures, and why he only recused himself with respect to campaign-related investigations and not Russian contacts with the Trump transition team and administration.”

The Democrats added: “We therefore ask that you schedule a hearing for Attorney General Sessions to appear before the Committee.”

The committee’s Democrats include California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono.

On Thursday, Sessions said he would recuse himself from any probes over the Trump campaign.

“I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States,” Sessions said.

The Jewish community centers arrest is a reminder that pundits should shut up and wait

Also from the Washington Examiner

A man arrested in connection with the recent threats against Jewish groups is not who some in media guessed he would be.

03/03/17 4:34 PM

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Trump: Pelosi 'lying' about not meeting the Russian ambassador

President Trump accused House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of lying on Friday, after a photograph surfaced showing her meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., just hours after she denied ever meeting him.

“I hearby [sic] demand a second investigation, after [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it,” Trump tweeted, sharing a link to Politico report that had uncovered the 2010 image of Pelosi and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Pelosi tweeted back that Trump “doesn’t know [the] difference between official mtg photographed by press & closed secret mtg his AG lied about under oath.”

Kislyak’s contacts in Congress have received intense scrutiny this week following reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met twice with him in 2016. In January, Sessions said he never met with any Russian officials during the presidential campaign, but noted that the question was about his campaign activities, and he said this week he only met with Kislyak as part of his job as a senator, not as part of the campaign.

Still, Democrats quickly seized on the reports to call for his recusal in any Russia-related investigations and even, in some cases, for his resignation.

The attorney general announced Thursday afternoon that he would step back from any investigation that involved the Trump campaign.

Trump had taken to Twitter earlier Friday to call for an investigation into Schumer, whom he called a “total hypocrite,” after the discovery of a photograph of Schumer sharing coffee and donuts with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pence on private email use: 'There's no comparison whatsoever' with Clinton server

Also from the Washington Examiner

Pence said he allowed a third party to determine which emails should be turned over to the state government.

03/03/17 3:45 PM

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Pence: 'Finishing touches' left for Obamacare repeal bill

"It's just gonna start happening in just a few days," said Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

House Republicans are putting the “finishing touches” on major legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, with the plan expected to be out in the next few days, according to Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence spoke in Wisconsin on Friday alongside House Speaker Paul Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. His comments come a day after some Republicans and Democrats were angry that they haven’t been able to see the plan.

“It’s just gonna start happening in just a few days,” Pence said in Jaynesville, Wis., Ryan’s home town. “We are putting the finishing touches on our plan even as this weekend rolls out.”

Pence later told reporters that “in the matter of days we expect to see a very brisk pace of legislative activity.”

The details of the plan have not been announced, but several leaked drafts have shown that the bill likely would gut Obamacare’s taxes and mandates. It also would provide refundable tax credits to help with insurance costs for people who don’t get coverage through their job.

Pence noted that the plan would “make sure that Americans struggling with pre-existing conditions will have the care that they need.”

Republicans say they are focused on getting the bill out of committee over the next week or so.

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Trump gives Keystone XL a pass on American-made order

President Trump is giving the Keystone XL pipeline a pass when it comes to his “buy American” mandate, according to the White House.

The White House said the major cross-border pipeline, which became a symbol of the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change policies, does not meet the criteria to be made completely from American made steel.

“The Keystone XL pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipeline,” a White House spokeswoman told Politico.

The spokeswoman was citing a clause in Trump’s executive order on infrastructure development that was signed in January before he issued a separate memo to expedite the approval of the cross-border portion of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The lower half of the nearly 1,200-mile oil pipeline is already constructed and in use. The piece of the project that was denied by President Obama in November 2015, which Trump wants approved, would cross the border with Canada to connect that country’s oil sands production with U.S. refiners on the Gulf Coast.

The infrastructure order directed the Commerce Department to develop a plan to ensure that “all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipelines” be required to use American steel “to the maximum extent possible.”

But there is some question about how Trump has interpreted the standard, and what the president actually intended the American-made mandate to entail.

In recent remarks, Trump has said different things to different audiences. In a Feb. 23 remark to a steel industry executive, he said, “we approved, as you know, the Keystone Pipeline, but they have to buy steel made in this country and pipelines made in this country.”

During his Feb. 28 address to Congress he appeared to walk that previous comment back a bit, with a description of the American-made requirement that is closer to the language used in the January executive order.

EU calls for taking away US citizens' visa-free travel privileges

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American citizens are currently still allowed to travel to EU nations visa-free.

03/03/17 2:40 PM

In the address to Congress, Trump said, “new American pipelines be made with American steel.”

The Politico article suggests that the White House is sending this message to the company building the pipeline, TransCanada, so that it drops a lawsuit against the U.S. government for denying the project under the previous administration.

The litigation seeks $15 billion in damages from the U.S. under the bylaws of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Earlier this week, TransCanada suspended the lawsuit, but did not formally withdraw the litigation.

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Watch: Little girl on television show tells Nigel Farage 'my mummy says you hate foreigners'

(Screen shot)

A young girl who “knighted” Nigel Farage on a comedy show told the former UKIP leader “my mummy says you hate foreigners” in a clip going viral on the Internet on Friday.

Farage, a prominent supporter of Brexit in the United Kingdom and of President Trump in the United States, appeared on “Sam Delaney’s News Thing” on RT. At one point, the host brought in a young girl dressed as a queen and had her pretend to knight Farage.

“My mummy says you hate foreigners,” the girl told Farage.

“No, no, no I don’t think that’s quite right,” Farage responded.

“You’re not supposed to say that,” the host said. “That’s very naughty.”

Farage then quipped: “The Queen has to be non-political!”

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Yellen signals the Fed will hike rates in March, and move faster this year

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen confirmed Friday that the central bank is leaning toward raising interest rates at its meeting later this month, saying that a rate hike would be “likely be appropriate” if economic data holds up.

Yellen also suggested that the Fed might be more aggressive in tightening monetary policy this year, assuming no new shocks, saying that the pace at which the Fed moves away from ultra-low rates and emergency policies “will not be as slow as it was in 2015 and 2016.”

Picking up the pace is justified, Yellen noted, because the Fed is close to its goals, with unemployment, at 4.8 percent, near as low as Fed officials think it can go and inflation just below their 2 percent target.

In her remarks, prepared for a delivery to a group of business leaders in Chicago, Yellen also provided a brief history explaining why the Fed only raised rates once in 2015 and once in 2016, after keeping them near zero since 2008. During 2015-2016, Yellen explained, weak growth abroad, especially warning signs from China and Europe, increased demand for U.S. bonds, keeping market-determined rates low. Also, investor expectations of slow future growth pushing down on market interest rates, meaning the Fed had to target lower rates than historically normal.

This week saw a major shift in expectations regarding Fed policy, as comments from several of Yellen’s colleagues convinced investors that the central bank is likely to raise its interest rate target at its next meeting, which ends March 15.

Yellen’s comments Friday solidified the perception that a rate hike is imminent, with markets pricing in probabilities over 80 percent that the Fed would raise rates by a quarter percentage point in March, bringing the target range to 0.75 percent to 1 percent.

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Colin Kaepernick to take a knee during national anthems no more

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick plans to stay on his feet next season after taking a knee during the national anthem before every game last year to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

According to unnamed sources in an ESPN report, Kaepernick doesn’t want to risk damaging the positive impact he believes he made through the demonstration. He also reportedly believes his protest sparked a satisfactory level of national discourse and support from fellow athletes, some of whom also took a knee during the pre-game national anthem.

The protest was a controversial one. Though hailed as a success, critics saw the protest as an insult to the men and women who have served in the armed forces. As a candidate, President Trump took issue with Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem, calling it “terrible.”

Kaepernick explained the rationale behind his protest in an interview last August.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” the San Francisco 49ers quarterback told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick also pledged in November to donate $100,000 per month for 10 months to charities dedicated to fighting social injustice, after he promised to give $1 million to communities in need.

Kaepernick will reportedly opt out of his contract with the 49ers and become a free agent next week.

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The Pence email controversy is awkward as hell, but stop comparing it to the Clinton scandal

Vice President Mike Pence was unwise to use a personal email account when he served as governor of Indiana, but it’s a laughable to compare this new controversy to Hillary Clinton’s private email server scandal.

News that Pence used a private AOL email account to conduct official state business, and occasionally discuss homeland security issues, broke Thursday evening in a report published by the Indianapolis Star.

The vice president’s account was also “compromised by a scammer” last summer.

Interestingly enough, however, the report doesn’t mention until the eighth paragraph that the former governor acted within the law:

Indiana law does not prohibit public officials from using personal email accounts, although the law is generally interpreted to mean that official business conducted on private email must be retained for public record purposes.

Indiana law requires that government officials make all communications pertaining to official state business available for public information requests.

Though state servers capture all communications made with official email accounts, they don’t account for private addresses. Pence would have needed to take extra steps to make his private emails available to state officials, and the Indy Star reported he did just that last year when he left the governor’s office to become President Trump’s running mate.

The vice president’s office in Washington, D.C., defended his actions, saying in a statement to the Indy Star, “Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account.”

“As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act,” the statement added.

Two Republicans break ranks, call for Trump's taxes

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Reps. Jones and Sanford joined more than 160 Democrats on Friday in calling on President Trump to release his taxes.

03/03/17 11:02 AM

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms for what Pence did, including that it was imprudent and sloppy.

There are questions about how he was “compromised” by a scammer. There are questions about who did it, and questions about whether the governor made it easy for them. What data, if any, were stolen from Pence’s account? If information was stolen, how serious and sensitive was it?

There’s also the question about whether these sort of personal email accounts are used to skirt transparency laws and norms, which is a serious issue that Pence needs to address.

That said, attempts to compare the Pence story to the scandal in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regularly sent and received classified intelligence over an unauthorized homebrew server are ridiculous.

Clinton deleted classified information, which should have been archived, and she repeatedly lied about it. Clinton came under a federal investigation for what she did, and she faced tough scrutiny for flouting federal record-keeping laws.

Pelosi nostalgic about Bush

Also from the Washington Examiner

The minority leader touted a number of collaborative efforts with the former Republican president.

03/03/17 10:53 AM

Though the FBI ultimately recommended that no charges be brought against Clinton, bureau chief James B. Comey nevertheless said last summer that the former secretary of state was “extremely careless” with national security and high-level state secrets.

Comey also said his agency found several troubling details that conflicted directly with Clinton’s initial claim that she never deleted classified information.

“From the group of 30,000 emails returned to the State Department, 110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received,” the FBI chief told reporters.

He added, “Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional emails were ‘up-classified’ to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the emails were sent.”

In short, the are few similarities between the Clinton scandal and the Pence AOL story. What the vice president did was legal, whereas 2016’s failed presidential candidate has to account for the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act.

Lastly, to those who spent much of the 2016 election complaining that the Clinton email story was a non-scandal, but claim now that the Pence story is a serious issue: You need to make up your minds.

Do you care about those in power seemingly skirting transparency norms by using personal email accounts targeted by hackers?

If you do, please be consistent. But if you only care about the Pence story because it’s a delicious bit of tit-for-tat, you would do well to keep your eye on the ball. Focus your attention on bigger Trump administration controversies, including the commingling of the president’s personal business empire with the Oval Office and the fact that several high-ranking White House officials can’t seem to remember their recent conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

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Pelosi on Trump: 'I just don't know what he thinks'

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday brushed off President Trump’s criticism of her as a terrible leader, and said Trump knows so little, his judgment should be questioned on everything.

“When a person who doesn’t know the size of the crowd or the size of the vote makes a statement about my leadership, I don’t trust his judgment,” she told Politico in an interview.

She said she appeared to rile up Trump by comparing him to Yogi Berra.

“What does he, I use the word loosely, think about these things?” she asked. “I said… and I think this is what got under his skin, I said: ‘He reminds me of the story about Yogi Berra. When Yogi Berra was a little boy he had a bad report card. In those days you had to have mother and father sign the report card. And mother being a little more lenient, father being a little more demanding—so he went to his father with his report card, it was a terrible report card, he said: ‘Yogi, don’t you know anything? And Yogi said: ‘I don’t even suspect anything.'”

“So I just don’t know what he thinks or what he knows,” Pelosi said. “But what I do know is that got under his skin and that was his comeback.”

During his speech before Congress on Tuesday, Trump called on lawmakers to put aside petty fights and appeared to point straight at the one-time House speaker.

“I have a hard time just watching what’s going on,” Pelosi told Politico Friday when asked for her reaction. He was upset “because I said he’s done nothing, nothing,” she said.

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