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Trump rejects new lawsuit over foreign payments to his firms



NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday dismissed allegations in a new lawsuit by prominent constitutional and ethics lawyers that he is violating the U.S. Constitution by letting his hotels and other businesses accept payments from foreign governments.





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Trump has chosen Representative Price for health secretary: New York Times



WASHINGTON U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Republican U.S. Representative Tom Price of Georgia to be secretary of health and human services, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing a transition team official.


(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Green Party files for vote recount in Wisconsin: state election commission



WASHINGTON The organization behind the presidential campaign for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, along with one other group, on Friday filed a petition with the Wisconsin Elections Commission for a recount of votes in the Nov. 8 election, the commission said.

“The Commission is preparing to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for President of the United States, as requested by these candidates,” Commission Administrator Michael Haas said in a statement.


(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Chris Reese)

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Trump says 'making progress' to keep Carrier Corp in U.S.



WASHINGTON U.S. Republican President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday said he was “making progress” to keep Carrier Corp’s heating, air conditioning and refrigeration business in Indiana.

“I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving, trying to get Carrier A.C. Company to stay in the U.S. (Indiana). MAKING PROGRESS – Will know soon!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Carrier is part of United Technologies Corp’s (UTX.N) UTC Climate, Controls & Security unit.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Trump's Interior Department shortlist vexes employees, green groups


By Valerie Volcovici
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON President-elect Donald Trump’s shortlist of candidates to lead the U.S. Department of Interior has employees and environmental advocates fearful of a shift in the agency’s direction, from one focused on preserving public lands to one that would open them up to more drilling and mining.

The outcome will have implications for industry access to millions of acres of national parks, reserves and tribal territories stretching from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico and the viability of President Barack Obama’s efforts to keep the United States in line with international agreements to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Republican Trump, a New York real estate businessman who has never previously held public office, has leaned toward right-wing loyalists for the Cabinet since winning the Nov. 8 election.

He is considering oil drilling advocates like Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Alaska’s former governor Sarah Palin and Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas to run the Interior Department, media reports and Reuters sources said. Other contenders are several politicians from Western states who favor easier development of public lands.

Any of those picks could trigger battles with environmental groups and cause internal strife at an agency where many workers see themselves as land stewards after nearly eight years of conservation-minded policies under Democrat Obama.

“Public lands have been set aside to ‘preserve and protect’ cultural and scientific resources for future generations,” said Geoff Goins, a National Park Service ranger at the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, adding that with Trump coming in, “people are concerned about their jobs.”

Other Interior Department employees interviewed by Reuters said they were worried the agency’s environmental mandate would be weakened under Trump, and green advocates said they were bracing to resist those changes.

“Climate change is a major focus of conservation concern for national parks,” said one National Park Service employee in the Northwest who asked not to be identified. “If (Trump’s administration) gets in the way of scientists…we are all in deep trouble.”

During the election campaign, Trump tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” – a view that is at odds with most but a few scientists who study the impacts of rising global temperatures and extreme weather.

Maureen Finnerty, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, an organization of more than 1,200 current and former National Parks employees, said it was ready to launch a public relations campaign against Trump if he pursues an anti-environmental agenda.

“We will be vigilant and hope for the best,” she said.

The Interior Department employs more than 70,000 people across the United States and oversees over 20 percent of federal land.

‘KEEP THE LANDS GREAT’

Under Obama, the Interior Department played a big role in efforts to curb the effects of climate change by limiting fossil fuel development in some areas. Outgoing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell banned coal mining on public lands, canceled leases for drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic coasts, expanded wildlife protection and cracked down on industry methane emissions.

The Obama administration planned on using forest restoration on federal lands as a way to help the United States meet its long-term goals under the 2015 Paris agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement outlines how countries will deal with lowering greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020.

Trump has given mixed messages on his plans for Interior.

In an interview with Field and Stream magazine in January, Trump said: “I want to keep the lands great… We have to be great stewards of this land.”

But he has advocated strongly for boosting energy development on federal lands and has criticized Obama’s use of environmental regulation to check oil and gas development.

He picked renowned climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to run his transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said Trump could consider hiring as his energy secretary Harold Hamm, an oil and gas driller and a pioneer of developing shale oil resources.

One potential Interior Department head is Oklahoma Governor Fallin, who met with Trump on Monday. She has been an ardent supporter of Oklahoma’s drilling industry and has blocked attempts to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial drilling technology.

Fallin’s spokesman confirmed she is being considered for the post, but said there has been “no offer given.”

Also on the shortlist is Palin, who made famous the motto “Drill, Baby, Drill” when she was the vice presidential running-mate to Republican John McCain in 2008, and former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Trump supporter without experience in public lands policy.

Governor Butch Otter of Idaho, venture capitalist Robert Grady and U.S. Representatives Cynthia Lummis and Rob Bishop of Wyoming and Utah are also potential candidates for the job. All declined comment.

(Refiles to correct typographical error National Park Service instead of National Parks Service.)

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Grant McCool)



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Trump considering Dallas investor Ray Washburne for interior secretary: CNBC



President-elect Donald Trump is considering Dallas investor Ray Washburne as a possible interior secretary, CNBC reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources on Trump’s transition team.

Washburne’s company, Charter Holdings, is involved in real estate, restaurants and diversified financial investments. A top Republican fundraiser, Washburne has served as vice chair of Trump Victory Committee.


(Reporting by Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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Oklahoma Governor Fallin speaks to Trump about possible Interior Department job: spokesman



Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin met on Monday with President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence and discussed the possibility of serving in the new administration, including in the Department of the Interior, her spokesman said.

“It was a wonderful discussion … I was not offered a position,” Fallin told reporters in the lobby of the Trump Tower in New York. “It was just an initial meeting to address a wide range of topics.”

A spokesman said they discussed the possibility of Fallin serving at the Interior Department.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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Trump to meet Oklahoma governor, Democratic lawmaker Gabbard


WASHINGTON President-elect Donald Trump has meetings scheduled on Monday with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Democratic U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, according to his advisers.

Fallin and former Texas Governor Rick Perry were among those visiting the Republican president-elect at Trump Tower in New York, according to transition officials. Gabbard, of Hawaii, was on the schedule, as were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Elaine Chao, labor secretary under former President George W. Bush, they said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)



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Tech worker visas face uncertain future under Trump, Sessions


By Stephen Nellis
| SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO The main U.S. visa program for technology workers could face renewed scrutiny under President-elect Donald Trump and his proposed Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, a long-time critic of the skilled-worker program.

H-1B visas admit 65,000 workers and another 20,000 graduate student workers each year. The tech industry, which has lobbied to expand the program, may now have to fight a rear-guard action to protect it, immigration attorneys and lobbyists said.

Trump sent mixed signals on the campaign trail, sometimes criticizing the visas but other times calling them an important way to retain foreign talent.

Sessions, however, has long sought to curtail the program and introduced legislation last year aiming to make the visas less available to large outsourcing companies such as Infosys. Such firms, by far the largest users of H-1B visas, provide foreign contractors to U.S. companies looking to slash information technology costs.

“Thousands of U.S. workers are being replaced by foreign labor,” Sessions said at a February hearing.

A spokesperson for Sessions did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Trump transition team spokesperson declined to comment.

The H-1B visa is intended for specialty occupations that typically require a college education. Companies use them in two main ways to hire technology workers.

Tech firms such as Microsoft and Google typically hire highly skilled, well-paid foreign workers that are in short supply. They help many of them secure so-called green cards that allow them to work in the U.S. permanently.

By contrast, firms such as Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, both based in India, use the visas to deploy lower-paid contractors that critics say rarely end up with green cards.

Infosys did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Tata spokesman declined to comment.

LABOR LOTTERY

H-1B visas are assigned through a lottery once a year by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This year, companies filed 236,000 petitions for the 85,000 available visas, a cap set in U.S. law. They are awarded to employers – not employees – and tied to specific positions.

Both Democratic and Republican critics have argued that companies such as Walt Disney Co and Southern California Edison Co, a utility, have used the program to terminate in-house IT employees and replace them with cheaper contractors.

Sessions last year urged then-Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Southern California Edison’s use of H-1B visas in a letter than was also signed by Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders, Richard Durbin and Sherrod Brown.

Disney and Edison did not immediately respond to requests for comment but have said previously that they paid foreign contractors comparably with local staffers.

The Justice Department in 2013 settled a visa fraud case with Infosys for $34 million.

Federal investigators accused Infosys of using easier-to-obtain business travel visas to import foreign workers who were required to have H-1B visas. Investigators also alleged that Infosys told foreign workers to lie to U.S. officials about the cities where they would work.

In the settlement, Infosys denied the allegations but agreed to retain a third-party auditor for two years and to provide the government with detailed descriptions of what its visa holders were supposed to be doing in the U.S.

CALLS FOR CHANGE

Several constituencies have called for program reforms, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, that industry’s largest trade group. It wants the lottery ditched in favor of a system that would award visas to companies offering the highest-paying jobs, said Russ Harrison, director of government relations.

That could potentially shut out employers looking to mine the program for cheap foreign labor. Sessions included a similar measure in his 2015 bill.

Tech industry groups also want changes. FWD.us – the immigration lobbying group backed by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg – supports setting higher minimum wages and giving priority to companies that sponsor H-1B workers for green cards.

“We’re going to advocate for expanding the program, but we’re also going to advocate for reforming the program,” FWD.us President Todd Shulte said in an interview.

The current program mainly benefits big companies at the expense of both U.S. and immigrant workers, said Gaurav Mehta, a 32-year-old H-1B holder from New Delhi who works for a cybersecurity firm in San Francisco.

H-1B workers struggle to switch jobs without risking deportation, he said, which allows employers to pay them less.

“The current system is not working for Americans, and it’s not working for immigrants,” he said.

‘AMAZING PEOPLE’

Some Trump allies expect him to keep the program mostly intact, including Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar – an Indian-born Chicago businessman who donated $900,000 to his campaign.

“He has said to us that these are amazing people and it would be crazy to let them go,” Kumar said in an interview.

But Kumar has urged Trump to eliminate country-by-country quotas that create long waits for Indian and Chinese nationals to get green cards.

John Miano, an attorney with the Immigration Reform Law Institute – a conservative group that has been aligned with Trump – also supports prioritizing H-1B applications from companies offering higher pay.

Such a change would hit the outsourcing firms hard. The top 10 recipients of H-1B visas in 2015 were all outsourcing firms, according to government data compiled by the IEEE. Tata Consultancy Services topped the list by securing 8,333 H-1B visas.

Amazon, by contrast, ranked number 12 and was awarded just 826 H-1B visas. Google and Microsoft ranked No. 14 and 15, with Facebook at No. 24 and Apple at No. 34.

Some H-1B visa holders aren’t waiting. Sofie Graham – a marketer at the San Francisco startup BuildZoom.com and a dual Irish and British citizen – secured her H-1B visa last year. Although she could have worked for six years on the visa, she and the company decided to apply for a green card.

“Everywhere I looked, people were saying we should have fewer H-1Bs,” she said. “I just wanted to get a green card as soon as possible.”

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Brian Thevenot)



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Gun shops eye busy Black Friday despite Hillary Clinton loss


By Noel Randewich
| SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO Christmas came early for U.S. gun shop owners – who saw a rush of firearms purchases ahead of the presidential election – but they may now be hard-pressed to match last year’s record holiday sales.

Gun merchants had a record October, federal background check data shows, as gun enthusiasts snapped up pistols and rifles on fears that Democrat Hillary Clinton would win the White House and seek to restrict ownership.

Traffic has fallen off substantially since Republican Donald Trump, a gun rights supporter, won the presidency on Nov. 8. Shares of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp (SWHC.O) are down 15 percent since then, despite a rebound this week, while Sturm Ruger & Company’s (RGR.N) stock is 17 percent lower.

Like most other retailers, gun sellers thrive during the holidays. Last year’s Black Friday featured record activity for a single day, according background check data.

December 2015 was the second busiest month ever, topped only by December 2012, when President Barack Obama threatened to rein in gun rights after a deranged man killed 26 people, including 20 children, in a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Obama, a Democrat, never enacted any sweeping new gun restrictions because he faced opposition in a Republican-controlled Congress.

Now, with this year’s Black Friday just days away, gun dealers say traffic is regaining momentum after the post-election drop.

“I’m not expecting it to be any slower than our normal Black Friday,” said Kellie Weeks, owner of Georgia Gun Store in Gainesville, Georgia. “But if Hillary had won, we would have sold out already.”

After Obama was elected in 2008, November background checks jumped 48 percent compared to the prior November, according to background check data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. By comparison, checks rose a more modest 5 percent in November 2004 after Republican George W. Bush was re-elected.

Such checks are the best proxy for data on gun sales, which gun manufacturers do not publicly release. The foundation strips the data of applications for conceal-carry permits – typically made by people who already own guns – to give a better reflection of actual purchases.

Through October 2016, background checks are up 15 percent compared to the same amount of time last year, suggesting another a strong year of overall sales.

Wall Street expects Smith & Wesson’s revenue to increase 28 percent in 2016 and 11 percent next year, according to Thomson Reuters data. The Springfield, Massachusetts, company reports its October-quarter results on December 1.

Even after the recent selloff, Smith & Wesson’s stock is up 10 percent in 2016, better than the S&P 500’s 7-percent rise.

Gilbert’s Gun Shop in Frankfort, Kentucky, expects to sell fewer high-capacity magazines over the holidays because customers no longer fear they will be banned. But the shop and other gun stores consulted by Reuters remain hopeful that demand for newly launched compact and target pistols will help spur a busy holiday season.

“Some categories might be light,” he said. “But in general, sales through Black Friday and Christmas, I still think will be very strong.”

(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Dan Burns and Brian Thevenot)



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