Archives
  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has reached a deal with Chinese telecom ZTE to lift economic sanctions on the firm, a move likely to frustrate much of Congress, two sources familiar with the arrangement have confirmed to ABC.The Commerce Department will lift a seven-year ban on ZTE’s ability to buy American parts, which was imposed after the company violated U.S. sanctions and did business with Iran and North Korea. The U.S. government is also concerned that the state-backed company was using its devices to spy on users.In a statement, a White House official said, “This is a law enforcement action being handled by Commerce. We are making sure ZTE is held accountable for violating U.S. sanctions, pays a big price, and that we are protecting our security infrastructure and U.S. jobs.”The effect of the action, however, weakens the existing sanctions on ZTE. The U.S. will instead require the company to pay a fine, install U.S. compliance officers and change board members.A spokesperson for the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. President Donald Trump has asserted that loosening sanctions on ZTE will strengthen the U.S. hand in broader trade negotiations with China and lead to China purchasing more American goods. Trump had previously tweeted that China was willing to increase agricultural imports from the U.S.Earlier this week, as President Trump tweeted his intention to execute this agreement, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio warned that the new deal would not be enough to change ZTE’s bad behavior. The U.S. has already fined the company $1.2 billion.“We're basically saying, we're going to give you the same deal you violated the first time, and by the way you can keep spying,” Rubio told ABC in an interview Tuesday.Democrats were also quick to condemn the move. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement linking the agreement to contemporaneous reports that China had agreed to fund the construction of a Trump-linked hotel in Indonesia, which White House officials have dismissed as unrelated.“The President’s ZTE deal is a staggering betrayal of the American people,” Pelosi said. “Although Trump pledged to fight for hard-working Americans, he is now using U.S. government resources to enrich a foreign company – right after the Chinese government reportedly agreed to funnel half a billion dollars into one of his family’s resorts.”Congress has already taken additional steps to block ZTE’s influence in the United States. A measure blocking the military from working with contractors that use ZTE devices and networks will likely soon pass as part of its annual defense authorization bill, and the Pentagon has already banned the sale of ZTE devices on U.S. bases.House and Senate committees are also working on bills to prohibit the Trump administration from unilaterally lifting the seven-year ban on ZTE’s ability to purchase U.S. supplies. The Senate measure, introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., passed the Banking Committee Tuesday by an overwhelming margin.Congress is also exploring ways to expand the U.S. government’s ability to review foreign transactions through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The Banking Committee also approved a bill by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., that would do just that.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
    Read more...
  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Friday that it has spent more than $3.5 million on Administrator Scott Pruitt's security team since taking office, significantly more than his two predecessors.As more ethical questions prompted investigations into the cost of Pruitt's security detail and travel, members of Congress have questioned whether the increased spending was justified.The agency says that Pruitt needed 24/7 security – more than previous administrators – in response to an "unprecedented number of threats" against him. Because of the threats, the EPA says, Pruit and his security team needed to fly first class and the total includes those costs.Documents released by the EPA show that the agency spent more than $2.7 million on payroll for the administrator's security detail between April 2017 and March 2018 and nearly $760,000 on travel for his detail during the same 12 months.Pruitt was sworn in in mid-February 2017. The agency spent almost $500,000 in that January - March fiscal quarter but it's not clear how much of that was after Pruitt was confirmed. The documents show that agency spent significantly less on the security detail for the two previous EPA administrators under the Obama administration, Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy. Payroll and travel for Jackson's detail cost about $1.9 million for her first year in office in 2009 and 2010. McCarthy's detail cost almost $2 million for her first year starting in July 2013. An EPA spokesman said the agency plans to proactively release security costs multiple times a year to be more transparent. The documents released this week are posted on a page of the EPA's website for materials frequently requested through the Freedom of Information Act.“Administrator Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and to provide transparency EPA will post the costs of his security detail and pro-actively release these numbers on a quarterly basis. Americans should all agree that members of the President’s cabinet should be kept safe from violent threats," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.Pruitt said he would tell his staff to switch him to more flights in coach earlier this year but the former head of his security detail has defended the decision to increase security. Investigations into threats against Pruitt that have been publicly released found no imminent threat to his safety, despite language like calling Pruitt "evil" or a message saying that they hope a family member would die.At least two investigations into reported threats against Pruitt are still ongoing.The agency released documents with the cost of both salary and travel for the administrator's protective detail on its website, with the total cost for each fiscal quarter going back to the 2009 fiscal year.Despite the criticism over the cost of his security detail President Donald Trump has defended Pruitt, saying that Pruitt received death threats. Documents released by the EPA inspector general, however, have questioned whether the threats were credible and properly vetted to justify upping Pruitt's security to 24/7. The inspector general also found that the agency decided to increase Pruitt's security before he took office, saying that one office was told "Pruitt requested 24/7 protection once he was confirmed as administrator."The EPA's inspector general is currently looking into the cost of Pruitt's security detail.
    Read more...
  • US House Office of Photography(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was already facing a tough re-election bid in California’s 48th Congressional District – with 15 candidates running against him, including a former protégé – when he told a delegation of Orange County realtors that it is acceptable to refuse to sell homes to LGBTQ people.“Every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone [if] they don’t agree with their lifestyle,” Rohrabacher told an Orange County Association of Realtors delegation at a May 16 meeting in Washington, D.C., Wayne Woodyard, a former Orange County Realtor president who was at the event, told the Orange County Register.Rohrabacher told the Orange County Register Thursday that homeowners should have "a right to choose who they do business with."“We’ve drawn a line on racism. But I don’t think we should extend that line," he told the paper. "A homeowner should not be required to be in business with someone they think is doing something that is immoral.”Rohrabacher’s campaign confirmed to ABC News the sentiments in the comments were accurate.Campaign spokesman Greg Blair said in a statement that the congressman "does not believe the federal government should force those with strong religious convictions into a personal or business relationship that is contrary to their religion.” Rohrabacher made the comments to a group of realtors including members of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) who were meeting with the congressman to seek his support for including LGBTQ protections under the Fair Housing Act, according to a letter sent by the group's founder, Jeff Berger, to the president of the National Association of Realtors. The National Association of Realtors had included Rohrabacher in its "President's Circle" – a list of candidates it prompted members to donate to this election cycle.The group pulled the congressman from this list after reports of the comments surfaced, telling ABC News "after reviewing all new, relevant information, it was determined that Representative Rohrabacher will no longer receive support from NAR’s President's Circle."Rohrabacher is seeking a 16th term in office – he's been in Congress for three decades – but his comments come as he faces his toughest primary yet in California's 48th Congressional District, which is centered in Huntington Beach in Orange County.The top-two primary, in which the two most-voted candidates will move on to the general election regardless of party, is June 5 – and Democrats had seen an opening as talk of a 'blue wave' in Southern California intensified in neighboring districts.Democratic candidate Harley Rouda, a favorite of national Democrats to win a place on the November ballot, took no time to condemn the congressman's comments."Rohrabacher's comments are appalling and unacceptable," said. "These comments show once again that Dana Rohrabacher has no right being in office and representing the people of this district."
    Read more...
  • iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The bill establishing Pentagon policy for the next fiscal year includes items on President Donald Trump's military wish list, including giving service members a pay raise, laying ground rules for a military parade and making progress on establishing a military branch focused on outer space.The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of a more than $700 billion military authorization bill Thursday and is now awaiting a Senate floor vote, while the House of Representatives has already passed its version, where some of Trump’s wish-list items are better detailed. The National Defense Authorization Act sets spending levels, but then Congress must pass a separate bill to actually allocate funds.Here’s a look at some of the items that President Trump will likely be paying closest attention to:SERVICE MEMBER PAY RAISE: In both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA service members get a 2.6% pay raise. The House version also extends special pay and bonuses to service members in high-demand fields. Earlier this year Trump erroneously said he gave service members their first pay raise in 10 years, when in fact they have had their salaries raised at least 1 percent every year for more than 30 years. What is correct is that this is the largest pay increase service members have seen in nine years.MILITARY PARADE: The House version of the NDAA gives the Secretary of Defense the authority to fund a military parade in Washington, D.C., to satisfy President Trump’s stated desire for an event like the Bastille Day parade he witnessed during his trip to Paris. In a statement, House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry said he “agrees with President Trump that it is appropriate to honor and celebrate 100 years of patriotic sacrifice in a way that expresses appreciation and admiration for our men and women in uniform, including a parade in the nation’s capital and a national celebration for that purpose.”But the bill also puts significant limits on the amount of military equipment and personnel that can be devoted to the parade – all at the Secretary of Defense’s discretion.Language in the House bill allows the Secretary of Defense to expend funds specifically “for the display of small arms and munitions” as well as the participation of ceremonial military units, but it also expressly prohibits the use of funds for “motorized vehicles, aviation platforms” and munitions other than those used for customary ceremonial honors. Thornberry’s statement added that his proposal would prohibit the use of operational units or equipment in the parade if the Secretary of Defense believes their inclusion would hamper readiness.The Senate version, named after Armed Services Committee chair John McCain, R-Ariz., does not contain any language covering President Trump’s desire for an elaborate military parade in Washington D.C. like the one he witnessed during a trip to Paris which commemorated Bastille Day. “There was discussion about it in committee but it ultimately was not added,” a Senate Armed Services Committee aide told reporters Friday.SPACE FIGHTING: President Trump has occasionally expressed his desire to see the United States’ military dominance expand in outer space, alluding to an eventual new military corps. "I said, 'Maybe we need a new force. We'll call it the Space Force,'” he said at an event in March. "And I was not really serious. And then I said, 'What a great idea. Maybe we'll have to do that. That could happen. That could be the big breaking story.”So far, Congress and the military haven’t caught up to Trump’s lofty plans, but they have been laying the groundwork. Last year, in fact, the House Armed Services Committee tried to establish a Space Corps within the Air Force, similar to the Navy’s Marine Corps, but the Senate committee sought to expressly prohibit a
    Read more...
  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Twenty-two Republicans have now signed onto a petition to force a freewheeling immigration debate in the House of Representatives, as Speaker Paul Ryan continues to warn that the rare procedural maneuver will not produce legislation President Donald Trump would sign into law. GOP Reps. Tom Reed of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania signed the discharge petition on Thursday, and with just a few more GOP signatures needed, that inches Congress closer to an immigration floor fight as soon as next month.Preferring not to team with Democrats on a DACA remedy, Ryan said he and his leadership team are “trying to find that sweet spot” on an alternate immigration package that would garner a majority vote behind only Republican ayes. “We’re having a very productive conversation with our members,” Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. “Obviously we don’t think a discharge petition is a good idea. It will not produce a result that will make it into law, and so we’re having very constructive conversations with our members about how we can find consensus on a bill that could actually solve the problem and make it into law.”House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer also signed the petition, pushing the total to 213 signatures - just five short of the 218 needed to succeed. If all 193 Democrats sign on, 25 Republicans would be needed to satisfy the threshold. Right now, two Texas Democrats, Reps. Filemon Vela and Vicente González, have maintained they won’t sign the petition, so in all likelihood, the effort needs five more Republican signatures to succeed.“If we go down this path or that path, meaning failed paths that are guaranteed no law gets made, it’s kinda an exercise in futility as far as I’m concerned,” Ryan said.The House Republican Conference will meet June 7 for a special immigration meeting to plot out a course of action, as leaders strive to find elusive consensus on legislation that will receive a vote before June 25, when the discharge petition fully ripens.In the case of the discharge petition, moderate Republicans and most Democrats are hoping to advance H.Res 744, bipartisan legislation introduced in March. The bill would allow the full House to debate as amendments a range of four competing DACA proposals, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s “Securing America’s Future Act.”House Republican leaders have worked for months to advance the Goodlatte bill, but concede they are far short of 218 Republican votes needed to send it to the Senate.Two more bills that would advance to the floor during the debate are the bipartisan “Dream Act of 2017, introduced by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.,” as well as the “USA Act of 2018,” fronted by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. That bill is essentially comprised of the DREAM Act with an extra $25 billion added for border security.Ryan would also be able to choose any other single piece of legislation to plug the fourth slot in the "Queen of the Hill" approach.Under Queen of the Hill rules, if more than one alternative obtains a majority, the winner is the one that receives the greatest number of votes. It is unclear if any of the competing measures would garner a majority.Despite Ryan’s pessimism, Pelosi believes the Queen of the Hill approach would at minimum produce a bipartisan product to send to the Senate.“Queen of Hill gives Congress a chance to work its will in the most generous way,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Everybody will have their chance to vote on, whether it's Goodlatte, the ‘Make America White Again’ bill, or it's pure DREAM Act, which would be ideal.”Ryan and the GOP leadership team have pressured rank and file Republicans to stay
    Read more...