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Inside his veto fight with the GOP, Trump may have found ‘a gift’



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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump promised to fight Democrats and Republicans in Washington, and, with his first-ever veto Friday, he did just that.

“Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it,” he said as he sent a measure that would have terminated his declaration of a national emergency — and the transfer of billions of dollars to build his promised border wall — right back to Capitol Hill.

The day before, a dozen Republican senators had joined with Democrats to pass the measure, an unusually large number of GOP defections from Trump’s line.

While Trump played down the fracture Friday — “I didn’t need the votes,” he said — it showed that by engaging in a battle with Congress over the power of the purse, he has weakened institutional support for the wall, and for his authority, among Washington Republicans.

That is, even some Republicans who say they’re for the wall are drawing the line at Trump declaring a national emergency and seizing spending decisions from Congress to do it.

But some Republicans say that may not be a bad thing for Trump as he heads into the 2020 election.

On the surface, it suggests he’ll have a much tougher time winning budget battles with a Congress that is obviously increasingly inclined to assert its own prerogatives and restrain his. But Trump doesn’t have any domestic policy agenda items that approach the political importance of the wall, and he wants to campaign against Washington again.

It’s all the better if he can run, at least a little bit, against both parties, said Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally and chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“They gave him a gift,” Schlapp said of Congress sending him the resolution. “The president is at his strongest when he is fighting and he is seen as credible when he is fighting members of his own party…especially when the principles are on his side.”

Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and frequent Trump critic, noted that the president said Friday he wasn’t upset with Republicans who defected. Steele said he sensed a little bit of public theater playing out on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the boulevard that runs between the White House and the Capitol.

“On the vote itself, there’s a lot of high-minded drama about what these senators did,” he said, noting that there was no chance of the president’s veto being overridden and that most of the Republicans who defected aren’t up for re-election next year. “I’m not convinced.”

As for Trump, Steele added, “he loves the fight, he doesn’t care who he’s fighting, it doesn’t matter if it’s Republicans or Democrats … for him, politically, it reaffirms for his base why they sent him to Washington.”

Ultimately, the courts will decide whether Trump’s spending gambit passes constitutional muster. For now, Democrats and some Republicans argue that his decision to grab money from existing projects and rededicate it to build the wall is a violation of Congress’ constitutional primacy in spending matters.

“The House and Senate resoundingly rejected the President’s lawless power grab, yet the president has chosen to continue to defy the Constitution, the Congress and the will of the American people,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement released after the veto.

Some Republican critics of the president’s methods, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have raised constitutional concerns, while others have simply worried that a future Democratic president would use the precedent set by Trump to spend money on pet projects not approved by Congress.

Rachel Bovard, the policy director at the Conservative Policy Institute and a former aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who cited constitutional concerns in voting against the president Thursday, said that the emergency declaration doesn’t violate the separation of powers principle.

“The Constitution is not in crisis. The border is,” Bovard said in a text exchange with NBC. “The president’s declaration follows the law that Congress passed. They’ve appropriated money and authorized a law that allows this wall to be built. If Congress wants to change the law that disallows future presidents from taking this action, they are well within their rights to do so.”

To Bovard, the question is a political one, not a legal one.

“Trump is using the power that Congress gave him to secure the border — which is more than Congress is apparently willing to do,” she said. “So what’s truly at stake is whether or not Republicans are going to be united on border security going into 2020.”

The movement of power toward the executive branch, and away from Congress, is a long-running trend, said Mack McLarty, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

While he sees Trump’s use of executive power in this instance — including the veto and the original decision to shift money around — as “unique” because it “interferes with Congress’ rights …in terms of appropriations funds,” he said Friday’s action makes sense in the context of the emphasis Trump has put on the wall.

“This is a priority issue for him, and this is why he’s using the veto pen,” McLarty said.

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Dueling briefings on Capitol Hill focus on Trump’s Iran policy



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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As questions mount over President Donald Trump’s tough talk on Iran, top national security officials headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday to brief Congress. But skeptical Democrats sought out a second opinion, holding their own briefing with former Obama administration officials.

The competing closed-door sessions Tuesday, unusual and potentially polarizing, come after weeks of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf that have raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with Iran. Lawmakers are warning the Trump administration it cannot take the country into war without approval from Congress, and the back-to-back briefings show the wariness among Democrats, and some Republicans, over the White House’s sudden policy shifts in the Middle East.

Trump, veering between bombast and conciliation in his quest to contain Iran, threatened Monday to meet provocations by Iran with “great force,” but also said he’s willing to negotiate.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he would “explain the prudent steps we’re taking to deter violence, protect American interests and support the brave Iranian people.” And Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan suggested the U.S. military response to Iranian threats has already had an effect.

Shanahan said military moves by the United States have given Iran “time to recalculate” and as a result the potential for attacks on Americans is “on hold.”

He cautioned that that doesn’t mean the threats have gone away.

The U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group, four bomber aircraft and other assets to the region, and is moving a Patriot missile battery to an unnamed country in the area. The Trump administration has evacuated non-essential personnel from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration says are linked to Iran.

Trump inconsistencies have “multiplied the risks” from Iran, according to House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who spoke to reporters after Democrats received a closed-door briefing from former CIA Director John Brennan and former State Department official Wendy Sherman, who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.

Brennan told House Democrats Iran believes Trump wants regime change and while Tehran wants to avoid conflict, the country’s leadership will not capitulate to Trump. Sherman warned that reckless behavior by the Trump administration in Iran is hurting credibility and undermining moderates in the country, according to a person in the room who was not authorized to discuss the private meeting.

House Democrats invited Brennan and Sherman after the administration announced Secretary of State Pompeo, Shanahan and other top brass, including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, would appear for closed-door briefings Tuesday afternoon with both the House and Senate.

Schiff declined to comment on what was said in the meeting with Brennan. The California Democrat said he has received the key intelligence assessments, but he still has questions for the Trump administration on Iran.

“What I’m interested in more right now is what the administration’s strategy is — if they have one — to keep us out of war.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the committee, said the intelligence demonstrates an undeniable threat from Iran and suggested lawmakers who say otherwise are doing so for political reasons.

“It’s unacceptable for anyone to put Americans in the region and U.S. national security interests at risk by politicizing, ignoring or downplaying the Iranian regime’s real and grave threats,” Rubio said in a statement Tuesday.

Top Democrats say Trump escalated problems by abruptly withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, a complex accord negotiated during the Obama administration to prevent Iran from nuclear weapons production.

“I have yet to see any exhibited strategy,” said Democrat Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia as she left the meeting with Brennan. Spanberger, a former CIA officer, said she finds many of the administration’s recent statements on Iran to be “deeply troubling.”

Trump’s allies in Congress, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, say the threats from Iran are real. Graham urged Trump to “stand firm” and said he received his own briefing over the weekend from John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser.

“It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq,” Graham tweeted. “If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response.”

Graham’s reference to Iran having attacked ships appeared to be a further indication that the U.S. military has concluded that Iran was behind the reported attack May 12 on four commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

At the outset of an investigation into those apparent attacks, which damaged vessels of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway but caused no injuries, U.S. officials had said they appeared to be carried out by Iran.

A U.S. official said Monday the probe was finished and evidence still pointed at Iran, although the official did not provide details. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Sunday, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured.

Defense officials said no additional Iranian threats or incidents had emerged in the days since the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group arrived in the Arabian Sea late last week.

Iran, meanwhile, announced that it has quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity. Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.

Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.

Trump’s remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements, which he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration’s intentions.

He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, “It’s probably a good thing because they’re saying, ‘Man, I don’t know where these people are coming from,’ right?”

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Brexit BOMBSHELL: Boris Johnson to charm ‘Remainer’ Rudd into supporting leadership bid



BORIS JOHNSON is planning to charm ‘one nation’ Conservative MPs into supporting his leadership bid.

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Virginia Gov. Northam’s medical school to release findings in racist yearbook investigation



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By Erik Ortiz

The results of an independent investigation launched in the wake of a racist photograph discovered on the page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook will be announced Wednesday, school officials said.

The probe’s completion comes more than three months after the image surfaced online in February — and plunged Virginia politics into weeks of chaos after separate scandals engulfed Northam’s fellow top Democrats, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Northam, who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School, initially said he was in the photo, which shows a man in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and apologized during a news conference.

A photo on Ralph Northam’s page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook appears to show a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.Eastern Virginia Medical School

But he defied members of his party who demanded that he step down, and said later in an interview with CBS News that he “overreacted” when he first apologized.

He said he “had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, ‘This is not me in the picture.'” He has admitted to darkening his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance competition in 1984.

Northam, meanwhile, has pledged to focus his term more closely on issues of race and equality.

After the picture came to light, Eastern Virginia Medical School enlisted former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen of the McGuireWoods law firm to determine “historic facts and practices related to yearbooks and more broadly the culture at EVMS.”

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