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VA Secretary Shulkin to pay back his wife’s Europe getaway expenses

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Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Thursday he would pay back the U.S. government costs related to a trip to Europe for his wife, but will not resign following a critical internal-watchdog report.

Shulkin was the subject of the recent internal investigation that revealed he owed the government more than $4,000 for his wife’s trip to Copenhagen and London.

The investigation claimed to have found Shulkin’s top aide, Vivieca Wright Simpson, doctoring emails to say her boss was getting “special recognition” in Denmark as a way to justify his wife’s taxpayer-funded travel.

“The investigation revealed serious derelictions” by Shulkin and his staff, according to the report, which cited “poor judgment and/or misconduct.” The report advised Shulkin to pay back $4,312 to the government.

Shulkin told reporters Thursday that he will follow the advice of the report and pay back any costs associated with his wife’s trip, including making a contribution to U.S. treasure equal to the cost of tickets to the prestigious Wimbledon Tennis tournament, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Everybody is concerned,” Shulkin said after appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. “Everybody knows how much work we have to do in the VA. We have to continue the progress.”

He added that he has spoken to President Donald Trump about the report’s findings and will meet White House officials to discuss the contents of the revelations.

In a testimony in Congress, Shulkin insisted the trip to Europe was necessary but the “optics of this were not good.”

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, a member of the committee, scoffed at the explanation, saying “It’s not the optics that are not good.”

Coffman was among the leading voices calling for Shulkin’s ouster from his position. “It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans,” the lawmaker tweeted earlier this week, adding that Shulkin “must resign now.”

GOP REP CALLS ON VA SECRETARY SHULKIN TO RESIGN OVER EUROPE TRIP EXPENSES

This is not the first time an official in the Trump administration came under fire for unauthorized taxpayer-funded trips. Former health secretary Tom Price was forced to resign in September after questions over his use of private jets for government trips.

The total cost of the 10-day trip in July last year was at least $122,000, the report found. Shulkin reportedly attended meetings in London and Copenhagen concerning veterans’ issues.

But the overseas trip also included “significant personal time for sightseeing and other unofficial activities” at taxpayers’ expense, including a tour of Westminster Abbey, a cruise on the Thames River, and attending the women’s final at Wimbledon tennis tournament with American Venus Williams.

Shulkin defended his wife’s presence on his work trip, telling the committee that he and his staff followed all the processes. “Everything was done properly, but I regret any of this is a distraction from what we should be doing and that’s the reason I’m following the inspector general’s recommendations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sturgeon’s SNP dream suffers blow as new poll shows lead for ‘no’ in IndyRef2 vote

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NICOLA STURGEON’S SNP are still on track to win next month’s elections – but a new poll shows an independence referendum would swing to the ‘No’s.

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'Deluded!' Britons brutally mock Alex Salmond's 'fantasy' bid to scrap pound in Scotland

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ALEX SALMOND has been branded “deluded” and “clueless” after he claimed Scotland should create its own currency if it leaves the UK – despite a warning it could be worth “half or less” what people expect.

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After Chauvin verdict, Senate optimism grows around police reform named for George Floyd

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WASHINGTON – The day after Derek Chauvin was found guilty for the murder of George Floyd, Republican Sen. Tim Scott expressed renewed optimism about the prospects of Congress passing a police reform bill.

“I’m confident that the issues that I’ve been discussing, as it relates to making progress on police reform are today — they have more traction than they had last year,” Scott, of South Carolina, said Wednesday speaking to reporters in the Capitol.

Sweeping police reform has been viewed as a policy area ripe for bipartisan cooperation since Scott joined the effort in 2015. Democrats have been clamoring for a federal overhaul since the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The Republican party’s libertarian wing has fueled it’s willingness to support limits on police.

But like most things in Congress, partisan division has stalled prior efforts and Republicans were chaffed that Senate Democrats blocked their last attempt to consider a reform bill.

The bill now being considered, named the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, passed the House in March, but stalled in the Senate because it lacks the support of at least 10 Republicans to clear the needed 60-vote threshold.

Negotiations have been ongoing between Scott, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., who sponsored the House bill, but the group has not reached a compromise or made significant progress.

But Scott says he sees a way to break the impasse.

“I think we are on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two depending on how quickly they respond to our suggestions,” Scott told reporters.

Democrats are warning that the verdict can’t be a substitute for legislative action

“We should not mistake the guilty verdict in this case as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved, or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged, it has not,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

Scott agrees.

“I don’t know that anyone will see the George Floyd verdict, as a transformative moment in our justice system. I think we should see it as a serious step in the right direction,” he said.

The House-passed bill bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants. It also creates a database of police officers who have acted inappropriately in the line of duty. No Republicans in the House supported the bill.

“We must do our job in this chamber, and make sure that we reform policing, which will make life better, not only for citizens, but for the police,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said.

Democrats have their own internal politics to navigate, including the risk that any compromise will be seen as too watered down by their base.

“I don’t think there is a path forward,” said Kat Calvin, a lawyer and progressive activist who founded the group Spread The Vote. She fretted that the Democratic Party, “within itself can’t agree on what it wants,” and said Republicans oppose policies “significant enough that it will make police stop killing people.”

She said Scott’s opposition to ending a legal protection known as “qualified immunity” for police officers means any compromise he reaches will be insufficient.

“Having Tim Scott lead these negotiations is not helpful,” she said. “Those of us who are dying — I’m Black in America. Everyone in my family is concerned about this issue.”

Scott, the only Black member of the Senate GOP, became the Republican leader on a police reform bill after the 2015 shooting in North Charleston, S.C., of Walter Scott, a Black man, by former police officer Michael Slager, who pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges. A police reform bill authored by Scott in 2020 was blocked by Democrats.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., thinks that Scott will be able to rally broad support among Republican senators for the deal he negotiates.

“He’s heavy into negotiations,” she said on Wednesday. “He would get broad-based support from the conference.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called police reform legislation “a huge priority.” He is a potential Republican to join Democrats on a compromise.

“The judicial system worked. But a man is dead. So that’s a very high price to pay,” Romney said. “I think the need to, to pass Tim Scott’s proposal with regards to police reform is as great as ever.”

Big policy disagreements remain between the two parties.

One major sticking point is qualified immunity, which protects officers from most civil lawsuits. Democrats want to allow on-duty officers to be sued as a form of accountability. Republicans, who generally support tort reform that makes civil litigation harder, say eliminating qualified immunity would make it impossible for police departments to recruit officers willing to take the financial risk.

Scott says he proposed to Democrats allowing police departments, not individual officers, to be sued.

Another sticking point is the prohibition of chokeholds. Scott’s previous legislation would just study the tactic instead of banning it.

Democrats also want to prohibit police from receiving decommissioned military gear, which Republicans oppose, arguing the items are not all lethal and sometimes necessary for disaster response.

Scott’s legislation received a vote last year when the Senate was controlled by Republicans, but was blocked by Democrats, who voted on party lines to prevent the bill from receiving the needed 60 votes. Now, Democrats control the Congress and the White House but lack the 60 votes needed to pass legislation without Republicans.

Schumer said passage is a priority.

“The Senate will continue that work as we strive to ensure that George Floyd’s tragic death will not be in vain,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We will not rest until the Senate passes strong legislation to end the systemic bias in law enforcement.”

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