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White House Predicts Congress Will Approve Government Financing Deal

The White House predicted Tuesday that Congress would approve a critical new agreement restoring the government’s ability to pay its bills for the next two years by suspending the country’s debt ceiling and at the same time setting annual spending limits through 2021.

“I think it’s a deal that will get through,” said White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow. “I think people are signing on. Democrats and Republicans. It isn’t everything we hoped for, but it got through the debt ceiling. That’s so important, we’re not going to default on American securities.”

The agreement reached Monday between President Donald Trump and top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders is likely to avert another partial government shutdown like the 35-day standoff that shuttered many operations late last year and into January. But contentious spending issues on specific items could still emerge in the days before 2019 budgets for government agencies expire at the end of September. 

FILE – White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow speaks with reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, June 27, 2019.

The pact calls for $1.37 trillion in agency spending in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and slightly more in 2021, with more funding for the military and domestic social programs.

Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers in Washington have railed against the country’s chronic overspending. The government has not had a balanced, no-deficit budget — when tax receipts equal spending — since 2001, and there have only been five such years since the 1960s.

With the country’s current $22 trillion debt ceiling lifted for two years, the long-term debt total will continue to increase as government spending in Washington surpasses the tax revenues it collects from individuals and businesses, perhaps adding another $2 trillion over the next two years.

‘Abdication of fiscal responsibility’

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in Washington, called the new agreement “a total abdication of fiscal responsibility by Congress and the president.” 

“It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history, proposed at a time when our fiscal conditions are already precarious,” she added.

FILE – Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, center, speaks during a news conference on deficit reduction at the National Press Club in Washington, Sept. 12, 2011.

According to MacGuineas, “Trump will have increased discretionary spending by as much as 22 percent over his first term, and enshrine trillion-dollar deficits into law.” She added that Congress should cancel its annual August recess and “return to the negotiating table for a better deal. If they don’t, those who support this deal should hang their heads in total shame as they bolt town. This deal would amount to nothing short of fiscal sabotage.”

Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative Texas lawmaker, also assailed the White House accord with congressional leaders, calling it “yet another missed opportunity to rein in excessive government spending.”

“This deal irresponsibly jacks up spending by $320 billion without real offsets [in spending cuts], and suspends the debt limit into 2021,” Cruz said. “Instead of finally dealing with our nearly $1 trillion deficit and $22 trillion debt, this deal just kicks the can down the road again.”

Praise for deal

Trump in the past sharply criticized big spending packages, but said on Twitter that he was pleased with the new deal.

“This was a real compromise in order to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!” Trump said on Twitter.

FILE – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., walk together at the Capitol in Washington, June 20, 2019.

The two top congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, said the deal “will enhance our national security and invest in middle-class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people.”

Kudlow said, “We were able to keep out any restrictions on our deregulation efforts, which is very important to us. Defense strength was maintained. No restrictions on border activity. So, it’s a pretty good deal under the circumstances, that’s the way I would put it.”

He described the spending increases, both for defense programs favored by Trump and Republicans, and domestic social welfare programs advanced by Democrats, as “very modest.”

“Right now jobs are booming and consumer spending is really booming,” Kudlow said, “so that bodes very well for the economy, for the prosperity cycle, and also to in the longer term get those deficits down.”

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US Senate Confirms Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to be secretary of defense, ending the longest period by far that the Pentagon has been without a permanent top official.

As voting continued, the Senate overwhelmingly backed Esper, a former lobbyist for weapons maker Raytheon Co., to be President Donald Trump’s second confirmed leader of the Pentagon.

Esper, 55, received strong bipartisan support despite some sharp questioning during his confirmation hearing by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren about his ties to Raytheon and his refusal to extend an ethics commitment he signed in 2017 to avoid decisions involving the company.

Warren, a 2020 presidential hopeful, was the only member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to voice opposition to Esper’s confirmation during the hearing.

Raytheon is the third-largest U.S. defense contractor.

There has been no confirmed defense secretary since Jim Mattis resigned in December over policy differences with Trump.

Many members of Congress from both parties have urged the Republican president to act urgently to fill the powerful position.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on members to support Esper as he opened the Senate on Tuesday morning.

“The nominee is beyond qualified. His record of public service is beyond impressive. His commitment to serving our service members if beyond obvious. And the need for a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense is beyond urgent,” McConnell said.

An Army veteran, Esper had served as a congressional aide and a Pentagon official under Republican President George W. Bush, before working for Raytheon. He has been Army secretary since November 2017.

Trump’s previous pick to be secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, withdrew from consideration on June 18 after reports emerged of domestic violence in his family.

 

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FBI Director: China No. 1 Counter-Intelligence Threat to the US

The FBI has more than 1,000 investigations of U.S. intellectual property theft in all 50 states with nearly all leading back to China, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, calling China the No. 1 counter-intelligence threat to the United States.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray described the threat as “more deep, more diverse, more vexing, more challenging, more comprehensive and more concerning than any counter-intelligence threat that I can think of.”

The Chinese threat ranges from cyber intrusions to corruption of insiders at U.S. companies small and large, Wray said, citing a series of recent Chinese economic espionage cases investigated by the FBI.  U.S. academia, he added, remains particularly vulnerable to Chinese spying efforts to steal publicly-funded proprietary research .     

“It’s an all tools approach by them,” Wray said.  “Therefore, it requires an all tools approach by us.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 23, 2019.

Asked about the upcoming 2020 U.S. elections, Wray reiterated previous comments that Moscow remains intent on interfering in them, calling Russia the No. 2 counter- intelligence threat to the United States.

The testimony comes one day before former special counsel Robert Mueller appears before two Democratic-controlled House panels to testify about his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Wray declined to directly answer questions about the Russia investigation but reiterated that the bureau is cooperating with a Justice Department inspector general inquiry into the FBI’s use of court-authorized surveillance during the 2016 election.

In April, Attorney General William Barr told Congress “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election and later assigned a federal prosecutor to examine the origins of the Russia investigation.

In May, however, Wray told lawmakers he did not view court authorized surveillance as spying and that he did not believe the bureau conducted illegal spying on the Trump campaign.

Wray, who took over as head of the FBI in 2017 after President Donald Trump fired then bureau director James Comey, said he’s turned virtually the entire leadership of the bureau over the past two years.

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Democrats to Press Republicans on Election Security Ahead of Mueller Testimony

Congressional Democrats will ask Republicans to pass legislation to improve election security, ahead of special counsel Robert Mueller’s planned testimony to Congress Wednesday on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

House and Senate Democrats are expected to issue their call Tuesday in a press conference at the Senate, and plan to highlight several House-passed bills and Senate proposals to increase security ahead of the 2020 elections. 
 
Congressional Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over how to address election security issues three years after Russia’s interference. 

Last month, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill requiring paper ballots at all polling stations. However, almost all House Republicans opposed the measure, arguing that paper ballots are more susceptible to tampering.

Several Republican-controlled Senate committees have been looking into election security issues, and the Judiciary Committee approved two election security bills in May. However, Senate Democrats accuse Republican leadership of blocking votes on the measures.

Election security has become highly politicized following the Mueller investigation, with both parties disagreeing over how to interpret the report’s conclusions into Russia’s  interference. 
 
Democrats are hoping to highlight the issue ahead of Mueller’s anticipated appearance before two House committees. 
 
Mueller has said he will not offer opinions in his congressional testimony beyond what is in the report, which concluded that Trump had not colluded with Russia to help him win the election, even though his campaign had numerous contacts with Russia.

Mueller reached no conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation, in part because of a Justice Department policy prohibiting charges against sitting U.S. presidents. However, Attorney General William Barr and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that no criminal charges were warranted against Trump. 

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House Democrats and Republicans Hope to Steer Mueller’s Testimony

As former special counsel Robert Mueller prepares to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on Wednesday, one thing appears certain: the veteran prosecutor and former FBI director won’t reveal anything that’s not in his final report to Attorney General William Barr. 

“The report is my testimony,” Mueller declared on May 29 at the Justice Department. 

But Democratic and Republican members of the two panels say that won’t stop them from peppering Mueller with tough questions to extract additional information and insights.  As for millions of Americans tuning in who’ve never read the special counsel’s 448-page report, they’ll be learning directly from Mueller troubling details of how Russia sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 election in favor of candidate Donald Trump and how as president, Trump made repeated efforts to interfere with the investigation. 

As political frenzy builds over one of the most highly anticipated congressional hearings in recent memory, we provide a reminder of the key findings of the report and  speculate on how members of Congress will try to steer the hearing to their advantage. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is photographed, April 18, 2019, in Washington.

What the report says: 

—   Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election “in a sweeping and systematic way.” This meddling was carried out through two discrete operations. First, Russian military intelligence officers hacked Democratic computers and networks, stealing private information and later releasing it through the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks with the goal of undermining Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.Second, a Russian entity called Internet Research Agency orchestrated a targeted social media campaign that “favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton.”

—  There were “numerous” contacts throughout the campaign between Trump campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government.These contacts included “business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations.”

—   While Moscow sought to influence the election and members of the Trump campaign expected to benefit from the information published by WikiLeaks, investigators found little evidence that the campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to change the outcome of the vote.

—  As part of their obstruction of justice investigation of Trump, Mueller’s team examined a series of 11 actions by the president.These ranged from Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey in May 2017 to his subsequent efforts to have Mueller dismissed.

—  Yet the special counsel left undetermined whether any of these actions constituted a crime. In explaining his decision, Mueller cited a long-standing Justice Department policy that says a sitting president can’t be charged with a federal crime. If the president couldn’t be indicted, he further explained, it would be “unfair” to recommend charges against him because he could not defend himself while in office. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” he wrote.

—  While the special counsel exonerated Trump of any criminal conspiracy with Russia, he said he could not do so with regard to obstruction of justice, writing that “if we had confidence he did not commit a crime, we’d have said so.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 24, 2017.

How the Democrats plan to approach the hearing

With Mueller unlikely to go beyond the report, Democrats who control the House say simply getting the special counsel to read from his report will serve the goal of informing the American public about the findings of an “incriminating” investigation. A recent poll found that just 3% of Americans have read the whole report. 

“It’s a pretty damning set of facts,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program on Sunday. “Who better to bring them to life than the man who did the investigation himself?” 

They also see the hearing as an opportunity to showcase “evidence” that Trump obstructed the investigation. If Mueller is unwilling to venture beyond his findings, they’ll simply reference the report by page and paragraph and ask the special counsel to interpret the statement. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2019.

“Look at page 344, paragraph two … does that describe obstruction of justice … did you find that the president did that, for example?” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. 

Mueller’s answer is likely to disappoint Democrats.  Nowhere in his report does he characterize any of Trump’s questionable actions as “evidence” of obstruction of justice. 

Some Democrats may also attempt to discredit Barr, who, in consultation with other Justice Department officials, determined that Trump had not obstructed justice. The decision infuriated Democrats. At a recent congressional hearing, Barr was asked whether Mueller agreed with his finding. He said he did not know. 

What about the Republicans? 

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress contend that after a 22-month-long investigation, Mueller found nothing incriminating on Trump and that the case should be closed. But they’ve also made clear they plan to question Mueller over what they say was a flawed investigation with dubious origins. 

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019.

“Remember, the Mueller report is a one-sided report,” Congressman Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“It has not been questioned from the other side. This is our chance to do that.”

Republican supporters of the president have long held that the Mueller investigation was launched on the basis of a largely discredited dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia. They’ve also claimed that the investigation was biased against the president, citing anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two former FBI officials who briefly served on the Mueller team and were romantically involved. 

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Knight Foundation Funding Studies on Media, Democracy

A foundation that specializes in journalism is pledging nearly $50 million for research in how social media and technology impacts democracy.

The grants announced Monday by the Miami-based Knight Foundation partly respond to the manipulation of tech giants like Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 election. Eleven universities and research institutions are recipients.

Besides trying to get a bead on social media’s impact on election campaigns, the grants include projects on the spread of disinformation and how newsrooms can address polarization in society. The foundation says it is time for society to understand the issues through data and not emotion.

Grants will go to New York University, Carnegie Mellon, George Washington, North Carolina, the University of Washington, Indiana, Stanford, Texas, Wisconsin, Yale and the Data & Society Research Institute.

 

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Education Key Campaign Issue for Younger Voters, But Not the Only One

Education has been a key issue for Democratic candidates running for president in the 2020 race, especially as they seek the support of younger Americans who have now replaced Baby Boomers as the country’s largest voting bloc. But education is not the only concern for these young voters.  Other social issues are likely to motivate them to go to the polls in 2020.  Sahar Majid has more in this report for VOA narrated by Kathleen Struck. 
 

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Mueller to Give ‘Substantial Evidence’ for Impeaching Trump, Top Democrat Says

This story was last updated on July 22 at 3:45 am.

A leading Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives says special counsel Robert Mueller will give “very substantial evidence” this week that will make the case for impeaching President Donald Trump.

“This is a president who has violated the law six ways from Sunday,” House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler told Fox television.

Mueller is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday about his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and if Trump obstructed justice in trying to derail the probe.

“We have to present, or let Mueller present, those facts to the American people…because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law,” Nadler said.

Mueller issued a report concluding there was not enough evidence to determine that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. But Mueller wrote he could not exonerate Trump of allegations of obstruction of justice, turning the matter over to Attorney General William Barr. Barr said he could find no evidence of obstruction. 

Trump was highly critical of the Mueller investigation, but does say the report clears him of any alleged criminal activity.

Mueller has said he chose the words in his report very carefully and would not provide any other information in any public testimony.

But Nadler said Sunday he does not expect Mueller’s appearance to be what he called a “dud.”

FILE – Robert Mueller, then-special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a meeting with lawmakers, in Washington, June 21, 2017.

“The president and the attorney general have lied to the American people about what was in the Mueller report…the president saying they found no collusion. That was not true, that it found no obstruction, that is not true.”

Nadler says lawmakers will ask Mueller some very specific questions about parts of the report.

“Look at page 344, paragraph two…does that describe obstruction of justice…did you find that the president did that, for example.”

Republicans are upset at what they see as Democratic efforts to keep what they regard as a one-sided but over and done investigation of the president on the front pages.

Congressman Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was also on Fox television Sunday and accused Democrats of “going after things that we’ve already known.”

“It’s like going back and finding a book on the shelf that looks new and then all of a sudden you begin to read and you find ‘wait, I’ve already read this before’,” Collins said.

He said Republicans will also have a few questions for Mueller.

“Let me tell you, Republicans have not forgotten how and where the investigation started and there’s going to be a lot of questions for what he did say, what he didn’t say, and how this thing started.”

 

 

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Trump Renews Attacks on 4 Congresswomen of Color

President Donald Trump has renewed his attacks aimed at four Democratic congresswomen of color, alleging Sunday they are not “capable of loving our Country.”   This follows days of similar statements by the president. Critics have deemed his recent comments about Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayana Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan as ‘racist.’

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Trump Relished Rally Chant, Ocasio-Cortez tells Constituents in Queens

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Saturday that President Donald Trump relished a chant by the crowd at a campaign rally this week that called for a Democratic congresswoman to be sent back where she came from. 

Trump renewed his criticism of four minority women lawmakers on Friday, saying that they had said horrible things about the United States, and defended himself from criticism over his comment that they should leave the United States if unhappy. 

A day after saying his audience in North Carolina went too far when they chanted “Send her back!” about Somalia-born Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, on Friday he defended the crowd members as “incredible patriots.” 

Appearing before her constituents in New York City for the first time since the latest flare-up between Trump and the four Democratic congresswomen, Ocasio-Cortez rejected the president’s statement that he had tried to quiet the crowd, saying he had egged them on instead. 

“Roll back the tape … He relished it. He took it in and he’s doing this intentionally,” the freshman U.S. lawmaker told about 200 constituents gathered for a town hall meeting on immigration at a school in the Corona section of Queens. 

Video of the crowd in North Carolina shouting “Send her back!” shows Trump pausing his speech and looking around the arena for about ten seconds. 

The president’s attacks on the four congresswomen – known on Capitol Hill as “the squad” – have been condemned by Democrats as racist, while many Republicans have shrugged them off. 

Last weekend Trump ignited a firestorm by tweeting the four should “go back” to where they came from if they do not like the United States. 

All four are American citizens. Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan were born in the United States while Omar came as a refugee from Somalia and is a naturalized citizen. 

All four are known as sharp critics of Trump’s policies as well as the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Ocasio-Cortez said the president’s comments had been hurtful, but “men like him” have been telling women like her to go back to their own country for a long time. 

“We’re gonna stay right here,” she said to applause “That’s where we’re gonna go,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.” 

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