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Trump: ‘We Must Fight’ House Freedom Caucus And Democrats In 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump had fighting words on Thursday for conservatives in his own Republican Party who helped block a healthcare bill last week, saying he would oppose House Freedom Caucus members in 2018 elections if they did not get on board.

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump said on Twitter.

Trump, a real estate magnate who touted his skills as a dealmaker in his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal,” has accused Freedom Caucus lawmakers of snatching “defeat from the jaws of victory” with their rejection of the White House-backed healthcare bill to replace President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform bill.

Trump went farther on Thursday. He equated members of his own party with Democrats, reflecting the extent to which he may have felt betrayed by the conservative lawmakers after the collapse of his first legislative initiative.The mistrust between the White House and hardline conservatives in Congress has cast a pall over the next big item on the Republican agenda, tax reform.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said in an interview broadcast on Thursday he feared the Republican Party is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare.

“I don’t want that to happen,” Ryan told CBS “This Morning” program, referring to Trump’s offer to work with Democrats.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Alexander and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Ethics Office: White House Should Weigh Disciplinary Action Against Conway

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House should consider disciplinary action against presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway for appearing to violate government ethics rules by publicly endorsing Ivanka Trump products, the Office of Government Ethics wrote in a letter made public on Tuesday.

The letter, dated Monday and addressed to a White House ethics official, asked President Donald Trump’s administration to investigate the incident and gave it two weeks to provide its findings and detail any disciplinary steps taken.

Conway, Trump’s presidential campaign manager and now a senior counselor, said on Fox News last week that Americans should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” She spoke after retailer Nordstrom announced it was dropping the branded line of Ivanka Trump, the president’s older daughter.

Federal ethics rules prohibit executive branch employees from using their positions to endorse products.

“There is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted,” Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub wrote in the letter.

Stefan Passantino, the White House ethics official named in the letter, declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.

The ethics office has little enforcement power. It can formally recommend disciplinary action if the White House does not act, Shaub said in a separate letter to two U.S. lawmakers who sought a review of Conway’s remarks.

That recommendation would not be binding, and the process would take until late April or early May, Shaub said. If the ethics office does formally recommend discipline, it would be up to the White House to decide any steps against Conway.

Norman Eisen, who was ethics chief under President Barack Obama, said Congress also could call hearings or subpoena documents if the White House did not act.

Trump himself earlier attacked Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s brand. The ethics rules that bar endorsements do not apply to the president, though critics said his comments were inappropriate.

Nordstrom said it made the decision because sales had steadily declined, especially in the last half of 2016, to where carrying the line “didn’t make good business sense.”

In his letter to the White House, Shaub wrote that his office’s regulatory guidelines include an example violation in which a hypothetical presidential appointee promotes a product in a television commercial. He said Conway’s remarks closely mirrored that example of what not to do.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday that Conway had been “counseled,” but Shaub wrote that the Office of Government Ethics had not been informed of any corrective steps.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Timothy Ahmann, Ayesha Rascoe and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Grant McCool, Bernard Orr and Howard Goller)

IMAGE: Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks at the annual March for Life rally in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Trump Falsely Claims That Supreme Court Pick’s Criticism Is ‘Fake News’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S President Donald Trump on Thursday disputed multiple accounts that his nominee for the Supreme Court had expressed dismay over his attacks on judges, saying without evidence that Judge Neil Gorsuch’s comments had been misrepresented.

The Republican president has publicly vented his frustration with a court order last week that temporarily halted his travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, criticizing the judge who issued the order, the appeals process, and the wider judiciary.

Gorsuch’s remarks describing Trump’s attacks on the judiciary as “demoralizing” and “disheartening” were first disclosed on Wednesday by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who urged Gorsuch to go public.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist hired by the White House to guide Gorsuch’s nomination through the U.S. Senate, also said on Wednesday that the judge had made the comments to Blumenthal.

Former Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, who has been accompanying Gorsuch in meetings with senators on Capitol Hill as he seeks support for his confirmation, said on Thursday the judge had made similar remarks in his discussions with senators.

Trump, taking a personal swipe at Blumenthal, disputed the account in a Twitter post early on Thursday.

“Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” Trump wrote.

Appearing on CNN shortly after Trump’s tweet, Blumenthal said it was important for Gorsuch to make his private remarks public and that he would press him to do so during Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation hearing.

“We’re careening, literally, toward a constitutional crisis,” said Blumenthal, who sits on the Judiciary Committee that holds the hearing. “He’s been nominated by a president who has repeatedly and relentlessly attacked the American judiciary.

“He has to show the American people that he’ll be more than a rubber stamp for Donald Trump.”

Blumenthal said on MSNBC that Gorsuch told him he should feel free to make their discussion public, but that he felt the judge should go further.

After U.S. District Judge James Robart put on hold Trump’s Jan. 27 temporary travel ban, the president attacked Robart on Twitter as a “so-called judge” whose “ridiculous” opinion “essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country.” He has kept up his criticism of the judiciary since then.

The Trump administration appealed Robart’s ruling and an appeals court was expected to decide the issue in coming days.

U.S. presidents are usually hesitant to weigh in on judicial matters, and in particular avoid personal attacks, out of respect for a U.S. Constitution clause ensuring a separation of powers between the executive branch, Congress and the judiciary.

“I think President Trump is going to harm both Judge Gorsuch’s chances at confirmation and his standing as president if he continues to undermine the independence of the judiciary,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons told CNN on Thursday.

Trump nominated Gorsuch on Jan. 31 to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia on the nine-member court. Scalia died a year ago this month.

Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, tried to shift the focus to Blumenthal in two Twitter posts, resurrecting a years-old controversy over the senator’s Vietnam service.

As a Senate candidate in 2010, Blumenthal was criticized for saying he “served in Vietnam.” Blumenthal said he had used “misplaced words” about his Vietnam service but never meant to deceive voters.

Trump himself received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, including one for bone spurs in his heel, the New York Times reported in August.

In a statement on Thursday, Ayotte said Gorsuch, speaking generally, said “he finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)

Try As They Might, Senate Republicans Cannot Silence Elizabeth Warren

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Silenced on the Senate floor, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took her criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee out to the hallway — and found much larger platform.

Republican senators voted on Tuesday evening to end Warren’s reading of a letter written 30 years ago by Martin Luther King Jr’s widow that criticized Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee to lead the Justice Department, for his civil rights record.

The action prompted a tide of support on Facebook for Warren, a darling of the political left, under a hashtag #LetLizSpeak” after she went outside the chamber and read the letter in a video posted on the site that drew more than 5 million views by Wednesday morning.

“The Republicans took away my right to read this letter on the floor – so I’m right outside, reading it now,” she said.

The unusual rebuke of Warren came after the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday cleared the way for confirming Sessions as attorney general. A final vote was expected on Wednesday.

Warren took to the Senate floor to argue against the nomination, reading the letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986 about Sessions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately rejected his nomination to be a federal judge.

Sessions had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” when he prosecuted voting fraud cases when he was the U.S. attorney in Alabama,” according to the letter read by Warren.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut her off, saying that she broke a Senate rule that “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.” Senators voted 49-43 to silence Warren.

Warren has been a fiery critic of Trump since he launched his presidential campaign. Democrats have expressed concern about Sessions’ record of controversial positions on race, immigration and criminal justice reform.

“Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks,” the Massachusetts senator responded.

Many civil rights and immigration groups also have concerns about Sessions with the American Civil Liberties Union saying his positions on gay rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war should be examined.

Sessions was a federal prosecutor in 1986 when he became only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation as a federal judge. This came after allegations that he had made racist remarks, including testimony that he had called an African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.

Sessions said he was not a racist, but he said at his hearing in 1986 that groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union could be considered “un-American.” He also acknowledged he had called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Outgoing CIA Director Rebukes Trump For Twitter Use

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday issued a stern parting rebuke to Republican Donald Trump days before he assumes the U.S. presidency, advising him not to absolve Russia for its recent actions and warning him to watch what he says.

Brennan’s comments, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” laid bare the simmering tensions between the president-elect and the intelligence community he has criticized and is on the verge of commanding.

The CIA director said Trump needs to be mindful about his off-the-cuff remarks once he takes the oath of office on Friday, alluding to his penchant for making broad pronouncements on Twitter.

“Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests and so therefore when he speaks or when he reacts, just make sure he understands that the implications and impact on the United States could be profound,” Brennan said.

“It’s more than just about Mr. Trump. It’s about the United States of America.”

Trump last week accused the intelligence community of leaking information about an unsubstantiated report on compromising information the Russians have accumulated against Trump. On Twitter, he accused intelligence agencies of practices reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

“What I do find outrageous is equating intelligence community with Nazi Germany,” Brennan said. “I do take great umbrage at that.”

Brennan also questioned the message it sends to the world if the president-elect broadcasts he does not have confidence in the United States’ own intelligence agencies.

For months, Trump had publicly doubted U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia was behind cyber attacks against Democratic political groups before saying in a news conference on Wednesday that he thinks Russia was behind the hacking.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report presented to President Barack Obama and Trump last week that Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election by hacking and other means. It did not make an assessment on whether they were successful.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

IMAGE: CIA Director John Brennan prepares to testify to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on “Russia’s intelligence activities” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Ignoring Anti-Nepotism Law, Kushner To Be Named Trump Senior Adviser

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to the position of senior adviser to the president, media outlets reported on Monday, a potentially thorny choice in the face of anti-nepotism law.

The appointment of Kushner, first reported by NBC, had been anticipated but it had been unclear what his official role would be. The New York Times and ABC also reported the upcoming appointment. The Times reported that his title could be adjusted.

Like Trump, Kushner is a New York-based real estate developer with a wide net of business dealings that could pose potential conflicts of interest.

Kushner, who married Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, in 2009, helped guide Republican Trump to victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Kushner, 35, emerged as an important voice early in Trump’s campaign and was involved in almost every aspect of it, from key personnel decisions to strategy and fundraising.

Kushner spearheads his family’s real estate development company, Kushner Companies, and is the publisher of the New York Observer weekly newspaper, which he acquired at age 25.

It was unclear how any Kushner appointment would be affected by a federal anti-nepotism law that prohibits a president from hiring family members to serve in his administration.

Kushner is working with lawyers on how he would have to divest and distance himself from his family’s business if he were to take a role in the Trump administration, the New York Times reported.

China’s Anbang Insurance Group Co Ltd is in talks to invest in a project to redevelop a flagship New York City building owned by Kushner Companies.

The Times reported the deal on Saturday in an extensive article about Jared Kushner that detailed a November meeting between him and Anbang Chairman Wu Xiaohui just days after Trump was elected president.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Andrew Hay and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: Ivanka Trump arrives with husband, Jared Kushner, at the Vanity Fair party to begin the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York, April 17, 2012.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Trump Targets Another Indiana Company, Draws Sanders’ Criticism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump drew a rebuke from former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday, after turning his attention to another Indiana company planning a move to Mexico.

“Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers. This is happening all over our country. No more!” Trump said in a Friday night Twitter post.

Rexnord Corp, an industrial supplier based in Milwaukee, announced plans in October to move a bearing plant, and its 300 jobs, from Indianapolis to Mexico, employees told the Indianapolis Star at the time.

Company representatives on Saturday did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweet.

The Republican, who takes office on Jan. 20, warned on Thursday of consequences for companies that move jobs out of the United States but did not specify what they would be.

Trump, who campaigned on promises to keep manufacturing jobs from fleeing the country, claimed credit for a deal in which Indiana state officials agreed to give United Technologies Corp $7 million worth of tax breaks to encourage the company to keep around 1,000 jobs at its Carrier unit in Indianapolis instead of hiring in Mexico.

The agreement was less than a complete victory for Trump, as the air conditioner maker will still send an estimated 1,300 jobs there.

The deal does nothing to prevent other employers from shipping work out of state and has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike who call it corporate welfare.

Sanders, who attacked U.S. trade policy in his race against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Trump’s deal with Carrier set a “very dangerous precedent” of having taxpayers subsidize multi-billion dollar corporations to “beg them” to keep jobs in the country.

On Saturday, he challenged Trump over his Rexnord tweet.

“What are you going to do, @realDonaldTrump? Stand up for working people or give the company a massive tax break?” Sanders tweeted in response to Trump’s post.

Sanders supports tougher policies on corporations for outsourcing.

During the presidential campaign, Trump said his administration would put a 35 percent import tariff on goods made by American manufacturers that moved jobs offshore. He frequently pilloried Carrier for planning to move production to Mexico as he appealed to blue-collar voters in the Midwest, including in Indiana, whose governor, Mike Pence, is the vice president-elect.

It is unclear what steps would have to be taken by federal authorities before Trump could retaliate against individual companies shifting jobs abroad.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell, Richard Chang and Bill Rigby)

IMAGE: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders delivers a statement after his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron