• ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  A friend and confidante of President Donald Trump says he believes that the administration has “been doing too much,” and that “they’ve got to slow down” and tone down its confrontation with the media.Chris Ruddy, CEO of conservative outlet Newsmax Media, has been a friend of Trump’s for nearly 20 years, much of that time as a member of the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. He told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the "Powerhouse Politics” podcast that the administration has been experiencing “messaging problems” during the first month in office, but calling those issues chaos “overstates it.”Ruddy said that all of the cabinet members are “A or A+ people,” but that Trump’s inexperience as a politician means he’s on a “learning curve.”“He is used to being very reactive, shooting from the hip and just telling people what he thinks,” Ruddy said. “I think there’s a view within the inside that they’ve been doing too much, that they’re stepping all over themselves.”  Ruddy said he believes Trump is still in “campaign mode,” and that more people with the president’s ear will begin pushing back on his use of Twitter.Ruddy also thinks that Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, will likely be key to maintaining an “even-keeled pace” in the White House, but that “[Secretary of Defense James Mattis] is the most influential person in the government right now.”As for Trump's ongoing battle with the press, Ruddy said he does not believe it is a reflection of his ability to handle criticism and that the press is “baiting” the president. However, he thinks the White House’s continued complaints about what they perceive as media antagonism are a bad idea.“I think it’s a mistake on the administration’s part to be so confrontational with the media,” Ruddy said. “They know he’s very reactive and he gets angry, so they are just enjoying this rising of the tension.”He said he think it’s in Trump’s best interests to return to policies that will garner bipartisan public support, such as banning lobbyists in government.“I personally have encouraged him to be more consensus and populist driven,” Ruddy said. “Everybody agrees people that work for the government, it shouldn’t be a revolving door… and nobody knows about it because they did the Muslim ban roll out.”His biggest words of advice to Trump: use his speech at the joint session of Congress on Feb. 28 to reach across the aisle and work to get major legislation passed.“Trump has all these things he wants to do,” Ruddy said. “It seems to me he had an opportunity to really reach out to the Democrats and create a consensus-driven administration, and they are losing that as each day goes by.”As for Mar-a-Lago serving as the “Winter White House,” Ruddy said he doesn’t think that’s a conflict of interest, adding that “it’s a myth” that membership at the club means automatic access to Trump.“There’s a virtual security area around him when he’s sitting at his table, you can’t just walk up to him,” Ruddy said. “Where in the past he used to talk business, I don’t ever see him talking about business at all.”Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration on Wednesday night rescinded an Obama-era directive instructing schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.In a letter sent to schools on Wednesday, the Justice and Education Departments said the Obama administration's guidance -- which cited Title IX -- did not explain how it was consistent with the law.The letter claimed that the directive caused confusion and lawsuits over its enforcement. Anti-bullying safeguards will not be affected, according to the letter."All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment," the letter reads.Instead, the letter suggests that the states should take a "primary role" in establishing policy.  "As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level," the White House said in a statement, adding that today's letter "paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators."Last April, Trump weighed in on the North Carolina "bathroom law" -- HB2 -- that banned people from using public bathrooms or locker rooms that don't match the sex on their birth certificate.State lawmakers should “leave it the way it is,” Trump said in an interview with NBC, adding that people should "use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.""We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos -- who has supported accommodations for transgender people in the past -- said in a statement Wednesday."Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Wednesday. " The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment."Responding to early reports in the media about the Trump administration reversing those rules regarding transgender bathrooms, the Human Rights Campaign released a statement on Monday.Transgender young people face tragically high rates of discrimination and bullying, and they need a government that will stand up for them -- not attack them," HRC President Chad Griffin said in the statement.He added, "It's shocking that this kind of harm would even be a subject of debate for the president. We call on Trump to immediately and permanently affirm the Obama Administration’s guidance and protect transgender students."
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  The White House is preparing its first budget with an eye on conservative budget outlines authored by the Republican Study Committee and Heritage Foundation, according to sources familiar with the process.Both the RSC and Heritage Foundation's most recent blueprints aim to balance the budget in less than 10 years, balancing domestic cuts with entitlement reform.Both take aim at frequent conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. They also limit funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development partnership between the federal and local governments in Appalachia, along with the Environmental Protection Agency. Asked about the details of the upcoming budget and whether the same programs could be targeted in the White House budget, Office of Management and Budget spokesman John Baker said nothing has been "predetermined.""While crafting the budget, we use our own internal expertise and that process is ongoing," he said in an email.The New York Times reported last week that OMB could eliminate the domestic programs. The savings from those domestic programs -- a few hundred million dollars each -- would do little to curb government spending in a $4 trillion annual budget."The actual spending in those programs is fairly small compared to the whole budget picture," said Romina Boccia, who studies federal spending at the Heritage Foundation.A common frustration among many conservatives is the apparent hypocrisy that Republicans only care about the debt during Democratic administrations, but spending is good during Republican administrations. Republican aides stress that lawmakers must tackle entitlement reform in order to successfully address the annual budget deficit and produce a balanced blueprint.White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today that the administration will release its budget plan around mid-March. According to an administration official, the initial plan will be a slimmed-down budget blueprint that would be followed by a larger, more detailed budget proposal.Another GOP aide on Capitol Hill said lawmakers have been told to expect the proposal around March 14.OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman tasked with preparing the budget proposal to present to Congress, was confirmed only last week.Ed Lorenzen, a senior adviser for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said the "really big question" for the administration is "how they balance all their initiatives and priorities with the goal of decreasing the debt."Trump's campaign-trail promises of a border wall with Mexico and a massive infrastructure spending bill will be tough to square with longstanding GOP principles of balancing the budget, Lorenzen said. Trump has said he wants to increase military spending as well."A balanced budget is fine, but sometimes you have to fuel the well in order to really get the economy going," Trump recently told Fox News. "I want a balanced budget eventually, but I want to have a strong military.""The challenge is showing how he can make all his campaign promises fit together in a budget that adds up," Lorenzen said.The White House is also considering relying on "rosy" economic growth projections to pay for their initiatives, a controversial budgeting practice first reported by The Wall Street Journal.Meanwhile, frustration is mounting among congressional Republicans who believe their leadership is deferring too much to the administration -- leaving Congress without any meaningful votes through two months of legislative activity while waiting for President Trump to specify what he wants to accomplish.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  More than 7,000 pages of emails from Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt indicate a cozy relationship with oil and gas producers, fossil fuel companies, electric companies, as well as political groups tied to the Koch Brothers during his time as Oklahoma Attorney General.The emails -- made public Wednesday by an Oklahoma judge in response to a lawsuit by liberal watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy -- indicate coordination between Pruitt and these Koch-backed groups with the goal of undermining the Obama administration's efforts to help curb carbon emissions and prevent climate change.Pruitt was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate (52-46) to be the EPA's administrator Friday after a contentious confirmation process while facing protests from Democrats and environmental groups not only because of his ties to energy companies, but because as Oklahoma’s attorney general he sued the EPA 14 times.Some emails show that companies like Devon Energy in 2013 provided Pruitt's office with draft letters to send to government regulators in an attempt to block those regulations. Some of this was publicly known because some of the emails were previously released to the New York Times in 2014.“Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste when encouraging States to file comments on the SSM rule,” wrote a lobbyist at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utility companies. The SSM rule relates to industrial emissions.Democrats attempted to hold off on Pruitt’s confirmation until these emails were released, but they were unsuccessful.“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” reads another email sent to Pruitt from an executive at the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!”The emails also show how Pruitt’s office appeared to work with these companies to draft these letters for Pruitt to sign to try and prevent new regulations.“Any suggestions?” a deputy solicitor general in Pruitt’s office wrote in May 2013 to an executive at Devon Energy, an oil and gas production company. The email to the executive, Bill Whitsitt, included a draft Pruitt’s office appeared to be planning to send to the EPA regarding proposed emissions regulations.Whitsitt replied with what looks like proposed changes: “Please note that you could use just the red changes, or both red and blue (the latter being some further improvements from one of our experts) or none.”The deputy solicitor general replied the next day telling Whitsitt he had sent the letter, writing “Thanks for all your help on this.”In another email in January 2013, Pruitt’s chief of staff at the time gushed to Whitsitt: “You are so amazingly helpful!!! Thank you so much!!!”"Our engagement with Scott Pruitt as Attorney General of Oklahoma is consistent – and proportionate – with our commitment to engage in conversations with policymakers on a broad range of matters that promote jobs, economic growth and a robust domestic energy sector," a spokesperson for Devon Energy told ABC News. "In some cases, we serve as a resource with useful information and expertise for decision-makers ... It would be indefensible for us to not be engaged in these important issues."Lincoln Ferguson, the press secretary for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office released a statement writing that their office has "complied with a Court’s order regarding a January 2015 Open Records Act request.”"In fact, the Office went above and beyond what is required un
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  Just after taking office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that called for a huge shift in enforcement priorities and the hiring of thousands of federal immigration officers -- striking fear among many immigrants that the administration had begun to amass a deportation force.On Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued two memorandums detailing how DHS, which will have primary authority over implementation, will execute the president's executive order. Critics said these were just another step toward mass deportation.Kelly’s memos begin to solidify the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement goals, but there are still many questions left unanswered -- questions of funding, staffing and operational tactics, among others.Most of the policies and programs being implemented are now under thorough review, according to sources with the department. However, there are some key differences between the Obama administration immigration policies and the new plans under Trump. Here’s some of what’s changed and what has stayed the same:Enforcement prioritiesUnder the executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which was signed on Jan. 25, ICE will “not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement.”Kelly's memos make it clear that anyone who is in violation of immigration laws may be subject to arrest, detention and deportation from the U.S.White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that the message from the White House is that those who "pose a threat to our public safety or have committed a crime will be the first to go," adding the administration will aggressively make sure this happens.When asked if mass deportation is a goal of the Trump administration, Spicer, said, “No. What we have to get back to is understanding a couple of things. There is a law in place that says if you are in this country illegally that we have an obligation to make sure the people who are in our country are here legally.”But critics disagree."These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy," said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.In 2014, the former DHS secretary under President Barack Obama instructed all of the relevant agencies to exercise prosecutorial discretion -- deciding whom to stop, arrest, detain, grant parole, etc. -- while enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.Then-Secretary Jeh Johnson wrote that "due to limited resources," law enforcement officers and federal attorneys should prioritize illegal aliens who pose a threat to national security, border security and public safety.The second priority was aliens with misdemeanor convictions and recent border crossers. All other immigration violators, even those with final orders of removal, were the last priority.Resources were dedicated to deporting people by priority.Under the new order, all removable immigrants are eligible for deportation. However, ICE has been instructed to continue to "prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense."“If these laws are not good laws then I would highly encourage the legislators in our country to change the law. Until they are changed, people like me and ICE and other private citizens can’t pick and choose the laws they are gonna obey,” Kelly told ABC News during a tour of the southern border earlier this month.In practice, ICE will continue to carry out targeted operations of criminals and national security threats, but if other undocumented immigrants come into contact with ICE, they too could be deported or put into de
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  • ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  The backlash by constituents at GOP town hall meetings across the country is a mix of genuine concern and "manufactured" anger instigated by "professional" protesters, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday."Is he suggesting this is manufactured anger? That this is not real anger and real concern?" ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked during the press briefing."I think there's a hybrid there," Spicer replied. "I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there."Trump tweeted Tuesday asserting that "so-called angry crowds" at GOP town hall meetings nationwide are "actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists." Several Republican town hall meetings in districts nationwide were filled with angry constituents who blasted elected officials and at times derailed the meetings.
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