President Obama’s motorcade pulled past cow pastures and razor wire in central Oklahoma on Thursday morning, as he became the first sitting president to visit …
A federal judge Wednesday rejected Texas’ revised voter identification requirements, handing another court defeat to the state’s Republicans over voting rights.
Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law — which was among the strictest in the U.S. — and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011. Earlier this month, a separate federal court earlier found racial gerrymandering in Texas’ congressional maps and ordered two of the state’s 36 voting districts to be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected a watered-down version of the voter ID law that was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. The judge’s new ruling came three years after she struck down the earlier version of the law.
The new version of the law didn’t expand the list of acceptable photo identifications — meaning gun licenses remained sufficient proof to vote, but not college student IDs.
But the changes would allow people who lack a required ID to cast a ballot if they signed an affidavit and brought paperwork that showed their name and address, such as a bank statement or utility bill. The new version was supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which once opposed the law but has reversed its position since President Donald Trump took office.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling “outrageous” and said an appeals court should void it.
“The U.S. Department of Justice is satisfied that the amended voter ID law has no discriminatory purpose or effect. Safeguarding the integrity of elections in Texas is essential to preserving our democracy,” Paxton said in a statement.
But Gonazles Ramos said Texas didn’t go far enough with its changes and said that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters who, fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, simply won’t cast a ballot.
Nor was she swayed by Texas clarifying under the revised law, known as Senate Bill 5, that both U.S. passport books and cards would be accepted. “This feature remains discriminatory because SB 5 perpetuates the selection of types of ID most likely to be possessed by Anglo voters and, disproportionately, not possessed by Hispanics and African-Americans,” she wrote.
“From discriminatory gerrymandering to discriminatory voter ID laws, it has become entirely clear that Texas Republicans are rigging our election system,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
President Trump on Tuesday said that he is prepared to shut down the government if congressional lawmakers don’t present a spending bill that will pay for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Phoenix, where the crowd responded: “Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall.”
The Republican-controlled Congress has yet to pass a spending resolution to keep the government fully operational past Sept. 30.
And members will have just a few weeks after returning from August recess to complete the task and avoid a politically unpopular shutdown.
The House in late-July passed a spending bill that included $1.6 billion to build the wall, which has an estimated price tag of $12 billion.
However, Republicans have only a slight Senate majority, which means Democrats could demand that any budget resolution include no money for the wall, in exchange for their votes to pass the resolution and keep open the government.
(Voters bashed Republicans in 2013 for refusing to fund ObamaCare in a spending resolution that resulted in a 16-day shutdown.)
The idea that Trump would play hardball with Congress to get money for the wall to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and fulfill a major campaign promise has been an undercurrent in Washington for months, as the Oct. 1 deadline nears.
However, the idea resurfaced in recent weeks amid reports about the eventual ouster of White House political strategist Steven Bannon and how in his final weeks he urged the president to threaten the veto.
Senate Democrats estimate the wall could cost as much as $70 billion, and at least three have said they will not support a so-called continuing resolution, a placeholder for a full budget, if it includes money for the wall.
“If the president pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading towards a government shutdown, which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said Wednesday morning on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom”: “There would never be any discussion about shutting down the government if it were not for the fact Democrats in the Senate … take this process hostage through the filibuster.”
Trump also said Tuesday night: “Democrats would like us not to do it. Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America’s safety at risk. You’re doing that.”
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, two years after the state ended its contract with the group over videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group.
In a 2-1 ruling, an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel vacated preliminary injunctions a federal judge issued preventing the state from suspending any Medicaid payments for services rendered to patients from Planned Parenthood. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended the state’s Medicaid contract with the organization in 2015.
The court ruled the unnamed patients suing the state did not have the right to challenge the defunding decision. The panel did not directly address Arkansas’ reason for terminating the contract.
The decision could potentially lead to a showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court over efforts by Arkansas and several other states to defund Planned Parenthood that have been blocked by other courts. In a dissenting opinion to Wednesday’s ruling, Judge Michael Melloy noted that several other federal courts have ruled the opposite way on defunding and said the patients have a right to challenge the end of Planned Parenthood’s contract.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker initially ordered the state to continue the payments to three patients who had sued over the move and later expanded that order to anyone who seeks or wants to obtain services from the organization’s health centers in Arkansas.
Planned Parenthood said it’s evaluating options for challenging the appeals court’s decision. The ruling does not take effect until the court issues its mandate in about one to two weeks, and Planned Parenthood said it’s still serving Medicaid patients in Arkansas.
“We will do everything in our power to protect our patients’ access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other lifesaving care,” Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Extreme politicians are trying to defund and shut down Planned Parenthood — and this is not what Americans want. Every person deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy life and access care at a provider they know and trust, no matter who you are or where you live.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the court’s ruling.
“The Court found that Planned Parenthood and the three patients it recruited could not contest in federal court Arkansas’s determination that a medical provider has engaged in misconduct that merits disqualification from the Medicaid program,” Rutledge, a Republican, said in a statement. “All patients should have access to ethical, quality and responsible health care, and should never be beholden to a company that is only seeking to protect its profits.”
Hutchinson also praised the ruling, saying he blocked the funding because he believed there was evidence Planned Parenthood engaged in wrongful conduct.
“This is a substantial legal victory for the right of the state to determine whether Medicaid providers are acting in accordance with best practices and affirms the prerogative of the state to make reasoned judgments on the Medicaid program,” he said in a statement.
The state has said Planned Parenthood received $51,000 in Medicaid funds in the fiscal year before Hutchinson’s decision to terminate the contract. None of the money paid for abortions. Planned Parenthood operates health centers in Fayetteville and Little Rock.
Republican lawmakers and governors around the country targeted the organization after several videos were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. The center said the videos showed that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit.
Planned Parenthood said the videos were heavily edited and denied seeking any payments beyond legally permitted reimbursement of costs. A Texas grand jury that looked into the videos cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue
The decision is the latest in a series of federal court fights over efforts in solidly Republican Arkansas to limit abortion.
Baker last month blocked Arkansas from enforcing four new abortion restrictions, including a ban on a common second-trimester procedure. Another federal judge is weighing whether to halt another new law that would allow Arkansas to suspend or revoke an abortion clinic’s license for any violation. In a separate case, the 8th Circuit last month vacated another preliminary injunction Baker issued preventing Arkansas from enforcing new limits on how the abortion pill is administered.
Texas’ congressional maps are still flawed by racial gerrymandering and must be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections, a three-judge federal panel ruled Tuesday.
Courts have chided Texas in recent years for intentional racial discrimination in voting maps and a strict voter ID law, and the state must now quickly redo two of the state’s 36 congressional districts. One is held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin and the other by Republican Blake Farenthold.
But the ruling was not a complete victory for Democrats and minority rights groups, who sought more sweeping changes that could put more seats in play for the first midterm elections under President Donald Trump. Republicans currently hold 25 seats in Texas and Democrats have 11.
U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez of San Antonio concluded that “discriminatory taint” in the Texas maps has carried on for multiple elections since 2013. But the court preserved other districts that Democrats say deserved changes, including a historically swing district in South Texas that’s currently held by Republican Will Hurd.
Luis Vera, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, cheered the ruling but said it was unlikely to drastically change the partisan advantages in districts across Texas. Vera has helped lead a long-running lawsuit over the maps since 2011.
“My first impression is that it’s a great victory,” Vera said. “Just a little disappointed.”
The judges gave Texas until the end of the week to decide whether to give its GOP-controlled Legislature the first crack at making the changes or handle the revisions in court. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton signaled that the state will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For years, Texas has used court-tweaked maps that Republicans rushed to permanently adopt in 2013 after its original ones were thrown out as unconstitutional. But opponents have decried the adopted maps as a quick fix that didn’t purge all districts of the use of gerrymandering — the practice of drawing boundaries to favor one political party over another — in a racially biased way.
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department helped challenge some Texas voting rights laws, but the department has largely reversed that position under the Trump administration.
“We appreciate that the panel ruled in favor of Texas on many issues in the case. But the portion of the ruling that went against Texas is puzzling considering the Legislature adopted the congressional map the same court itself adopted in 2012, and the Obama-era Department of Justice did not bring any claims against the map,” Paxton said in a statement.
“We appreciate that the panel ruled in favor of Texas on many issues in the case. But the portion of the ruling that went against Texas is puzzling.”
The court is also expected to rule later on whether any changes are needed to Texas’ statehouse maps.
California is suing the Trump administration for threatening to withhold funds for sanctuary cities, accusing the Justice Department of “pure intimidation” and arguing the state – not the federal government – should be the one to allocate its law enforcement resources.
“When President Trump threatened to defund our local law enforcement’s ability to do its job and protect our people, he picked the wrong fight,” state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.
‘He picked the wrong fight.’
California, which could lose more than $28 million, is the first state in the nation to sue over sanctuary city restrictions on public safety grants.
“It’s a low blow to our brave men and women who wear the badge, and to the communities they serve,” Becerra said, when announcing the lawsuit.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed his own lawsuit against the DOJ, arguing the government is trying to unfairly force the city’s hand.
“These conditions do not appear in any federal statue, and they do not reflect the will of Congress in appropriating funds,” the lawsuit said. “To the contrary, the new conditions are simply the latest attempt by the Trump administration to coerce state and local jurisdictions into carrying out the federal government’s immigration enforcement priorities.”
The showdown over so-called sanctuary cities has been heating up in recent months as some local governments have refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, though a wave of smaller, cash-strapped communities have shed their sanctuary status.
The California suit comes on the heels of another filed in early August by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In that 46-page complaint, Emanuel claimed the DOJ, under the stewardship of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, wants to slap unfair conditions on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, a long-running federal crime prevention grant.
The DOJ fired back at the time, with a department spokeswoman reportedly saying “it’s especially tragic that the mayor is less concerned with that staggering figure than he is spending time and taxpayer money protecting criminal aliens.”
Calls to the DOJ for comment on the California suit were not immediately returned.
The crackdown on sanctuary cities lines up with Trump’s promised prioritization of the issue on the campaign trail. Members of his administration have repeatedly tried to link violent crime to illegal immigration – though mayors of sanctuary cities have pushed back on that assertion.
While not a technical term, “sanctuary cities” are places that have refused to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after detaining undocumented immigrants. By law, they are required to inform the feds when they have an illegal immigrant in custody, even if he or she has not been convicted of a crime.
There are an estimated 200 to 608 local and state governments with some sort of sanctuary policy in place – however, their degree of cooperation varies. Some work with federal authorities on felony convictions while others only comply in civil investigations. There are a few places that refuse to cooperate altogether.
The federal government has opened a civil rights investigation into the vehicular rampage that killed one woman and injured 19 other people during Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement Saturday night to announce the probe.
“The Richmond FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident that occurred earlier Saturday morning,” Sessions said in the statement. “The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and as this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.”
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James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, has been arrested in connection with the fatal crash, authorities said. The rally was organized by right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, who wanted to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. The event quickly turned chaotic, as white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters and police.
Sessions condemned the violence.
“When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated,” the attorney general said.
“I have talked with FBI Director Chris Wray, FBI agents on the scene, and law enforcement officials for the state of Virginia. The FBI has been supporting state and local authorities throughout the day,” Sessions said. “U.S. Attorney Rick Mountcastle has commenced a federal investigation and will have the full support of the Department of Justice. Justice will prevail.”
Earlier Saturday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had called upon the Justice Department to launch a probe.
“Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism,” Cruz said in a statement.
According to Virginia State Police, three other people were arrested in connection with the rally. They were identified as Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tenn., charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Louisa, Va., charged with assault and battery; and James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Fla., charged with carrying a concealed handgun.
Sessions’ statement drew mixed reactions on social media. Some praised the decision to make the case a civil rights investigation, while others saw the case as terrorism and murder, with race a nonfactor.
Meanwhile, the nation’s leading civil rights organizations issued a number of statements in reaction to Saturday’s events.
The NAACP called for President Trump to fire his adviser Steve Bannon, describing Bannon as a “well-known white supremacist leader.”
The National Urban League added: “We call on everyone with a voice on our national stage to condemn these demonstrations & racist sentiments in the strongest possible terms.”
The National Action Network said it “calls on President Trump to address the causes of these events, denounce the white supremacists at the very heart of this conflict, and start working towards peace.”
Protesters took to the streets of California cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland on Saturday night to decry what transpired in Charlottesville earlier in the day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt, who had been in charge of the automaker’s engineering and environmental center in the U.S., plans to plead guilty to some charges against him in a court hearing on Aug. 4, Reuters reports, citing a court spokesperson.
Schmidt, who was taken into custody by FBI agents in Florida earlier this year, had been charged with aiding and abetting wire fraud, violations of the Clean Air Act and conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and was one of six individuals indicted in connection with the VW diesel investigation. Schmidt was in Florida on vacation during the time of his arrest and had been interviewed by U.S. authorities voluntarily on several occasions prior to his arrest. It is believed Schmidt did not expect to be charged or arrested in the case since he traveled to Florida voluntarily, thereby bringing himself within the jurisdiction of U.S. federal authorities in the process.
Schmidt in January pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy in federal court in Detroit, several days before the start of the Detroit auto show, which renewed fears of arrests of executives.
In addition to Schmidt, U.S. authorities indicted former engine development boss Heinz-Jakob Neusser, regulatory manager Jurgen Peter, quality management chief Bernd Gottweis, engine development manager Jens Hadler and engineer Richard Dorenkamp. A seventh individual, VW engineer James Liang, has been cooperating with authorities since 2016 after pleading guilty to conspiring to defraud the U.S. Out of the five remaining indicted individuals, all of whom are currently believed to be in Germany, former engine development boss Neusser represents the most senior figure. It is believed that, absent travel to a foreign country, the five remaining individuals face no real risk of extradition to the U.S.
Some industry observers have suggested Schmidt was essentially a target of opportunity for U.S. authorities while visiting Florida and have expressed surprise about his inclusion within the ranks of the indicted executives and engineers.
Volkswagen Automotive Group settled a criminal case with the U.S. Department of Justice earlier in the year, agreeing to pay some $4.3 billion. The criminal settlement followed a much larger $14.7 billion civil settlement earlier in 2016 which included buyback and repair agreements with U.S. agencies and compensation for affected VW owners.
Volkswagen’s settlement with U.S. authorities has failed to calm the waters as its Audi and Porsche brands now face fresh investigations back home in Germany, with Porsche being the latest target of German prosecutors.
WASHINGTON – A new government analysis of President Donald Trump’s budget plan says it wouldn’t come close to balancing the federal ledger like the White House has promised.
Thursday’s Congressional Budget Office report says that Trump’s budget, if followed to the letter, would result in a $720 billion deficit at the end of 10 years instead of the slight surplus promised.
CBO said Trump’s budget would reduce the deficit by a total of $3.3 trillion over 10 years instead of the $5.6 trillion deficit cut promised by the White House. The nonpartisan scorekeeper estimated that deficits in each of the coming 10 years will exceed the $585 billion in red ink posted last year.
CBO says that Trump relied on far too optimistic predictions of economic growth and that Trump’s rosy projections are the chief reason his budget doesn’t balance as promised.
“Nearly all of that (deficit) difference arises because the administration projects higher revenue projections — stemming mainly from a projection of faster economic growth,” CBO said.
Trump’s budget predicts that the U.S. economy will soon ramp up to annual growth in gross domestic product of 3 percent; CBO’s long-term projections predict annual GDP growth averaging 1.9 percent.
“The CBO report shows that the president built his budget on fantasy projections,” said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Trump’s May budget submission proposed jarring, politically unrealistic cuts to the social safety net for the poor and a swath of other domestic programs. Many of its recommendations were deemed dead on arrival and are being ignored by Republicans controlling Congress.
CBO also said that the Trump budget contained too little detail to accurately predict its effects on the economy. The White House promised that its juiced-up economic projections will produce $2.1 trillion in deficit reduction, mostly from overhauling the tax code and reducing the burden regulations have on the economy. But Trump’s tax overhaul plan is so far so sketchy that it can fit on a single page.
The analysis came as the administration and Republicans controlling the House are struggling to unite Republicans behind an alternative congressional budget plan that’s a prerequisite for a hoped-for tax reform effort this fall.
The stakes on completing a budget are high for the Trump administration. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that the administration’s plans to cut taxes hinges on completing a 2018 budget, a procedural requirement so that the tax cuts can be passed without having to rely on Democratic support in the Senate.
“The tax reform concepts rely almost entirely on the budget resolution passing,” Mulvaney said at a breakfast with reporters.
Mulvaney said that discussion continues among House lawmakers about fashioning a package of cuts from so-called mandatory programs that can win support from both conservative and centrist Republicans.
But Mulvaney was quick to downplay calls for an aggressive timeline on the administration’s agenda. He said it was unreasonable to expect Congress to raise the government’s borrowing authority, replace the 2010 health insurance law and pass a 2018 budget in the “next couple of weeks.” Mulvaney said that the priority is completing the GOP’s rewrite of health care first.
CBO is the nonpartisan scorekeeper charged with giving lawmakers independent analysis of legislation, the budget and the economy. While the White House and many Republicans have criticized CBO’s coverage estimates for the Obamacare health law and the House and Senate GOP replacement plans, the White House hasn’t been critical of CBO’s budget predictions.
“While it does very well at times predicting things on budget — whether it’s revenue or spending, we don’t always agree that it does a great job predicting (health care) coverage,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters last month.
On Thursday, the White House budget office took heart that CBO credited it with $4.2 trillion worth of spending cuts over the upcoming decade, including $1.9 trillion from health care programs; it also says the administration would cut taxes by almost $1 trillion over that time, mostly because of its plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The deficit cuts may come up short of balance, but the White House noted they are still very ambitious.
“We are thrilled that CBO confirms that the president’s proposed budget resulted in the largest deficit reduction they have ever scored. CBO agrees that this is the largest deficit reduction package in American history,” said White House budget office spokeswoman Meghan Burris, promising that Trump’s economic agenda “will jumpstart the economy.”