The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: reuters

Judge Blocks Texas Plan To Cut Planned Parenthood Medicaid Funds

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Austin issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday halting Texas’ plan to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the state did not present evidence of a program violation that would warrant termination.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said state health officials “likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause.” He said the preliminary injunction will preserve the court’s ability to render a meaningful decision on the case’s merits.

“Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider,” wrote the judge who was appointed by Republican former President George H.W. Bush.

The reproductive healthcare group has said the threatened funding cut, by terminating Planned Parenthood’s enrollment in the state-funded healthcare system for the poor, could affect nearly 11,000 patients across Texas as they try to access services such as HIV and cancer screenings.

Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization’s funding since an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.

Texas investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos and a grand jury last January cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists who made the videos for document fraud but the charges were dismissed.

The state took no further criminal action against Planned Parenthood after that but has repeated its accusations that the abortion provider may have violated state law.

Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing and sued the anti-abortion activists who made the videos.

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would appeal.

“Today’s decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency,” he said in a statement.

In fiscal 2015, Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received about $4.2 million in Medicaid funding, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission said. Planned Parenthood said the amount for 2016 was estimated at around $3 million.

None of the money that the group received went for abortions, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Texas and the Medicaid defunding plan have said.

Planned Parenthood has 34 health centers in Texas, serving more than 120,000 patients, 11,000 of whom are Medicaid patients, it said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is seen in Austin, Texas, U.S. on June 27, 2016.   REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman/File Photo

In A Nod To The Energy Industry, Pruitt Says EPA Can Also Be Pro-Jobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that America need not choose between jobs and the environment, in a nod to the energy industry, as the White House prepares executive orders that could come as soon as this week to roll back Obama-era regulation.

“I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment,” Scott Pruitt said in his first address to staff. “We don’t have to choose between the two.”

Critics of the agency have complained that regulations ushered in by former Democratic President Barack Obama have killed thousands of energy jobs by restricting carbon emissions and limiting areas open to coal mining and oil drilling.

Democrats, environmental advocates, and many of the EPA’s current and former staff worry President Donald Trump’s appointment of Pruitt signals a reversal in America’s progress toward cleaner air and water and fighting global climate change.

Both Trump and Pruitt have expressed doubts about climate change, and Trump vowed during his 2016 presidential campaign to pull the United States out of a global pact to fight it. The Republican president has promised to slash environmental rules to help the drilling and mining industries, but without hurting air and water quality.

Pruitt sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times while attorney general of Oklahoma to stop federal rules. He did not mention climate change in his 12-minute speech at the EPA’s headquarters in Washington.

He struck a conciliatory tone in the address, saying he would “listen, learn, and lead” and that he valued the contributions of career staff.

Trump is expected to sign executive orders aimed at reshaping environmental policy as early as this week. Those orders would lift a ban on coal mining leases on federal lands and ease greenhouse gas emissions curbs on electric utilities, according to a report by the Washington Post.

They would also require changes to Obama’s Waters of the United States rule that details which waterways fall under federal protection, the report said.

The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the Washington Post story.

Pruitt was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week after contentious hearings that focused on his record as the top prosecutor of the oil- and gas-producing state of Oklahoma.

Democrats had sought to delay Pruitt’s confirmation over questions about his ties to the oil industry. Some 800 former EPA staff also signed a letter urging senators to reject him, and about 30 current EPA staff joined a protest set up in Chicago by the Sierra Club environmental group.

In Oklahoma, a state judge ruled last week that Pruitt would have to turn over emails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, sued for their release.

The judge will review and perhaps hold back some of the emails before releasing them, a court clerk said.

Nicole Cantello, a representative of the union that represents EPA workers, said that despite Pruitt’s record, she was hoping for the best.

“One would hope that the administrator would learn about what we do and would then not treat as lightly the EPA’s mission and accomplishments, and what it is required to do under the statutes,” she said.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it looked forward to working with Pruitt, the administration and Congress “on policies that will keep energy affordable, create jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Virginia Governor Vetoes Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have blocked funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other health services.

The bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature would have barred the state from providing funds to clinics that perform abortions not covered by Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, said the measure would harm thousands of Virginians who relied on Planned Parenthood healthcare services and programs. He vetoed a similar measure last year.

“Attempts to restrict women’s access to health care will impede the goal of making Virginia the best place to live, work, and run a business,” he said in a statement.

Advocates for the law had said it would underpin organizations that provide the widest range of services.

Planned Parenthood draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides abortions. Republican President Donald Trump has pledged to defund the organization.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: Democratic nominee for Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe stands onstage during a campaign rally in Dale City, Virginia, October 27, 2013.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Trump Issues First Public Condemnation Of Anti-Semitic Incidents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States on Tuesday after a new spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers around the country and vandalism in a Jewish cemetery.

Several of the centers were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving the threats, the JCC Association of North America said, and another center was evacuated on Tuesday morning in San Diego, California, according to police.

Also, vandals toppled about 170 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, over the weekend.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump told reporters.

He was speaking at the end of a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which Trump said showed “why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”

The comments marked a change for Trump, who had not explicitly and publicly condemned the threats against Jews when asked last week. Instead, he spoke more generally about his hopes of making the nation less “divided.”

The president reacted with anger at a news conference last week when a journalist from a Jewish magazine asked how his government planned to “take care” of a rise in threats.

Trump berated the reporter for asking a “very insulting” question, appearing to believe the reporter was accusing him of being anti-Semitic.

“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” the president said, adding that he was also the least racist person. Trump has often noted that one of his daughters is a convert to Judaism, he has Jewish grandchildren and he employs many Jews in his business.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a close adviser to her father who practices Orthodox Judaism, responded to the latest threats in a message on her Twitter account on Monday evening.

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance,” she said. “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”

On Tuesday, Trump again declined to answer a question about what action he would take to address the threats to Jewish organizations. Sean Spicer, a White House spokesman, said later that Trump would respond through “deed and action” over the coming months and years.

‘BAND-AID’

Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black, and anti-Muslim ideologies. It also drew greater media attention to fringe extremist groups.

Trump has disavowed their support. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is the former publisher of Breitbart, a news website popular among right-wing extremist groups.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, which has criticized the Trump administration repeatedly over anti-Semitism, said his comments were too little too late.

“The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” Steven Goldstein, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Spicer rejected the characterization.

“I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area,” he told reporters when asked about Goldstein’s comment. “Hopefully as time goes by they’ll recognize his commitment to civil rights.”

Jewish groups criticized the White House for omitting any mention of Jews in its statement marking Holocaust Memorial Day last month. The White House said the omission was deliberate since the Nazis also killed people who were not Jews, if in smaller numbers. The stated goal of the Nazis was the extermination of Jews.

One day after speaking at a security summit in Munich, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spent Sunday morning walking through the grounds of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany with a camp survivor.

Over the course of Presidents’ Day on Monday, bomb threats were sent to 11 Jewish community centers, including ones in the Houston, Chicago, and Milwaukee areas, according to the JCC association. They were found to be hoaxes, as was another threat that forced the evacuation of a center in San Diego on Tuesday morning, according to police.

No arrests were made. The FBI has said it is investigating recent threats as “possible civil rights violations.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent Muslim human rights group, has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone behind the threats, saying Muslims felt a duty to support any targeted minority group.

The incidents on Monday followed three waves of bomb threats so far this year. In all, at least 69 incidents at 54 Jewish community centers in 27 states and one Canadian province have been reported, according to the JCC association.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Tom Gannam in St. Louis and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe)

IMAGE: Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017.  REUTERS/Tom Gannam

Under New Immigration Guidelines, ‘Dreamers’ Are Safe — For Now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration will leave protections in place for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, known as “dreamers,” but will consider all other illegal immigrants subject to deportation, according to guidance released on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security guidance is the implementation plan for executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement that Trump signed on Jan. 25, days after taking office.

The Republican president campaigned on a pledge to get tougher on the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, playing on fears of violent crime while promising to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to stop potential terrorists from entering the country.

DHS officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a conference call with reporters, said that although any immigrant in the country illegally could be deported, the agency will prioritize those deemed as posing a threat.

These include recent entrants, those convicted of a crime, and people charged but not yet convicted.

However, many of the instructions to immigration agents outlined in the guidance will not be implemented immediately because they depend on Congress, a public comment period or negotiations with other nations, the officials said.

For example, the DHS will need to publish a notice in the Federal Register subject to review in order to implement one part of the plan that calls on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to increase the number of immigrants who are not given a hearing before being deported.

The new guidance would subject immigrants who cannot show they have been in the country for more than two years to “expedited removal.” Currently, only migrants apprehended near the border who cannot show they have been in the country more than 14 days are subject to rapid removal.

The memos also instructs ICE to detain migrants who are awaiting a court decision on whether they will be deported or granted relief, such as asylum. DHS officials said they are reviewing what jurisdictions may have laws in place that prevent the amount of time immigrants can be held.

The agency also plans to send non-Mexican migrants crossing the southern U.S. border back into Mexico as they await a decision on their case. The DHS officials said this plan would be dependent on partnerships with the Mexican government and would not be implemented overnight.

Trump’s planned measures against illegal immigrants have drawn protests, such as an event last week that activists called “A Day Without Immigrants” to highlight the importance of the foreign-born, who account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 40 million naturalized American citizens.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: A young boy holds U.S. flags as immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration in Washington, November 20, 2015.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  

Facing An Uncertain Future In Trump’s America, Refugees Flee U.S. For Canada

HEMMINGFORD, Quebec (Reuters) – Canadian police said on Monday they had bolstered their presence at the Quebec border and that border authorities had created a temporary refugee center to process a growing number of asylum seekers crossing from the United States.

The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, said at a news conference that it had converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing center. Both the border agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reassigning staff from other locations in the province, as needed, to accommodate rising demand.

The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec-U.S. border crossings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.

The influx is straining police, federal government, and community resources from the western prairie province of Manitoba, where people arrive frostbitten from hours walking in freezing conditions, to Quebec, where cabs drop asylum seekers off meters away from the Quebec-U.S.border, the border agency said.

Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

A Reuters reporter on Monday saw RCMP officers take in for questioning a family of four — two men, a woman, and a baby in a car seat — who had walked across the snowy gully dividing Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, from Chemin Roxham in Hemmingford, Quebec.

“Please explain to her that she’s in Canada,” one Canadian officer told another officer.

Police take people crossing the border in for questioning at the border agency’s office in Lacolle, Quebec, which is the province’s biggest and busiest border crossing. Police identify them and ensure they are not a threat or carrying contraband.

They are then transferred to the CBSA for fingerprinting and further questions. If people are deemed a threat or flight risk, they are detained. If not, they can file refugee claims and live in Canada while they wait for a decision

“It’s touching, and we are not insensitive to that,” Bryan Byrne, the RCMP’s Champlain Detachment commander, told reporters near the border. “Some of these people had a long journey. Some are not dressed for the climate here.”

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada’s policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings. But as U.S. President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants, Amnesty International and refugee advocacy groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is no safe haven.

On Monday, Montreal, Canada’s second most populous city, voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” making it the fourth Canadian city to protect illegal immigrants and to provide services to them.

(Additional reporting and writing by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)

Jewish Centers Report Bomb Threats Across U.S.

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Several Jewish community centers (JCC) across the United States were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving bomb threats, the latest wave of threatened attacks against them this year, the national umbrella organization said.

Some 11 centers including those in the Houston, Chicago, and Milwaukee areas received phoned-in bomb threats that were later determined to be hoaxes, said David Posner, a director at JCC Association of North America who advises centers on security.

No arrests were made and no one was injured. All of the centers returned to normal operations, Posner said in a statement.

The FBI was investigating the incidents, Posner said.

Officials at the FBI were not immediately available for comment.

Officials at the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee, received a bomb threat at 10:15 a.m. local time, the second such incident at the center over the last three weeks, it said on Twitter.

“Taking very cautious measures, we are sheltering in our gym, as has been recommended,” the Milwaukee JCC said in a text message sent to parents of children who attend the preschool at the center, according to an NBC affiliate in Milwaukee.

The center reopened two hours later, the center said on Twitter.

Monday’s incidents come after three waves of bomb threats in 2017. In all, 69 incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states and one Canadian province have been reported, according to the JCC Association of North America.

“We are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” Posner said.

Jewish community centers typically offer after-school activities, fitness programs, and various other services.

Over the weekend, the headstones at the graves of about 170 Jews were vandalized in the St. Louis area, the Washington Post reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

IMAGE: Demonstrators hold a banner during a “Muslim and Jewish Solidarity” protest against the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Grand Central Terminal in New York City, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

‘CEO’ Tillerson Faces Internal Skeptics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of Rex Tillerson’s first directives as U.S. secretary of state was an order to senior staff that his briefing materials not exceed two pages.

It was a reflection of Tillerson’s management style honed at the helm of Exxon Mobil, an oil company known for its relentless focus on efficiency, and one reason his closest aides at the State Department refer to him as “the CEO” rather than “the Secretary.”

More than a dozen current and former U.S. officials familiar with briefing procedures said Tillerson’s predecessors would typically request far more detailed information. His aide R.C. Hammond said the directive reflected Tillerson’s focus on key facts rather than lack of interest in finer points of foreign policy.

“He is asking people to be efficient with their information,” Hammond said, adding that if Tillerson needed more information he would ask for it. “He is a decision-maker and he needs the facts in front of him.”

As a first-time government official with no prior diplomatic experience, Tillerson faces close scrutiny over how successful he will be in managing both the State Department bureaucracy and its relations with Donald Trump and his administration.

Senior State Department officials who have attended meetings with Tillerson say they find him sociable and a man of substance, whose direct manner and probing questions reflect his training as an engineer seeking to solve problems rather than play politics.

The veteran oil executive also made a good impression on his first foreign trip to a Group of 20 summit in Bonn, Germany, last week. Four senior diplomats who met him told Reuters they were relieved to find that he was pragmatic and open to dialogue.

Yet a key concern for U.S. diplomats is how effective his team can be in shaping foreign policy in the new administration. Just two State Department positions of 116 key posts requiring executive branch nomination have been filled, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service – Tillerson’s and that of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

For example, Tillerson still has no deputy after Trump rejected his top choice, Elliott Abrams.

“People want to back him,” one veteran senior official said about the former Exxon Mobil boss. “But people are feeling that this building is being stripped,” said the official, referring to a sense that with so many top positions vacant, the State Department is not fully equipped to help make policy in the new administration.

There is also unease over possible deep staff cuts and the future of some departments. Two people said employees in the Bureau of Management and Resources were told to apply for other positions within the State Department. Hammond, Tillerson’s aide said no decision had been taken to close that division.

IN OR OUT OF THE LOOP?

On one recent matter of longstanding U.S. foreign policy, Tillerson appeared to be sidelined.

On Feb. 14, while Tillerson was at a dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a State Department dining room, news headlines emerged suggesting the United States was backing away from supporting a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

The two-state solution is the bedrock of the international community’s policy for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, but Trump suggested last week he was open to abandoning it if both sides agree.

“No one had been informed of any changes in policy and the Secretary was about to leave on his first major trip,” said one senior State Department official, referring to Tillerson’s visit to Bonn.

Tillerson’s acting deputy Tom Shannon also did not take part in Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu at the White House the following day when his boss was on his way to Europe, according to one U.S. official.

It was unclear whether Tillerson had been left out of the loop deliberately or by accident, said two officials.

A White House official told Reuters he did not know whether Tillerson was briefed in advance. In response to broader concerns about communication between the State Department and the new administration, he said both coordinated “very well.”

“There are open lines of communications in both directions,” the official, who declined to be named, said. “The White House and the State Department coordinate closely across a full range of issues that concern both organizations.” To be sure, on another important issue, Tillerson had his say in persuading Trump to back Washington’s stance on “One China” policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of it. Trump has in the past appeared to question whether the United States would continue to respect that.

Hammond said Tillerson was on the phone with Trump several times a day.

“This is the general style of the president to have quick check-ins with people, get people’s advice on things,” he said. “Information for CEOs flows up, and as a former CEO (Tillerson) understands that.”

Tillerson has said little publicly since he started and his aides are quick to draw a contrast between him and predecessor John Kerry, a former senator and presidential candidate who reveled in extensive foreign travel and deal making.

“Tillerson is not John Kerry, it is unfair to compare the two,” said Hammond. “He will quietly go about his job as a counselor and advisor to the president.”

For Tillerson’s State Department the concern is how to maintain a similar degree of communication with an administration grappling with a succession of crises, nine officials involved in foreign policy and security issues, said.

Over the past month the White House has faced legal setbacks over its immigration orders, the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, and an investigation into possible links between his campaign and Russian intelligence.

Monday’s resignation of Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for just 24 days, in particular created a vacuum at the National Security Council, which acts as a key partner for the State Department in formulating Washington’s foreign policy.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland in Washington and Andrea Shalal in Bonn. Editing by Warren Strobel and Tomasz Janowski)

IMAGE: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens during an opening session meeting of G-20 foreign ministers at the World Conference Center February 16, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool