'Joker' Charged With Felony For Concealing His Face In Public

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Virginia isn’t joking about its mask laws.

Winchester police arrested a man dressed as the Joker on Friday and slapped him with a felony ― a grim reminder of the state’s strict mask law that bars almost anyone from concealing their face in public.

Jeremy Putman, 31, was called in for walking around town in the creepy clown villain makeup while carrying a sword, according to a press release. Responding officers were apparently less worried about the weapon, and focused instead on Putnam’s face, which was covered in white paint to emulate Batman’s rival.

“[Putnam] is charged with wearing a mask in public and is being held at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center under a $2,000 secured bond,” the release states. “Officers do not believe there are additional suspects, but want to remind the community of the seriousness of the crime.”

Indeed, the law, which makes it illegal for anyone over 16 to wear a mask or otherwise conceal their face, was put forth decades ago to combat robbers and the Ku Klux Klan, according to The Washington Post. Masks donned on Halloween, face coverings used during certain weather conditions, and masks worn during performances are some of the few exceptions.

But Virginia is just one of many states with mask laws and policies ― though they’re rarely enforced for their stated purpose.

In Detroit, a similar law was used to thwart protesters wearing Lone Ranger masks during a demonstration in 2000. In New York, police cited protesters during the Occupy Wall Street protests with a little-known mask law that forbids masked people in groups of two or more.

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Source: Huff Politics

Steve Bannon Thought He Could Bully Republicans On Health Care. He Couldn't.

Steve Bannon reportedly tried to force House Freedom Caucus members to back replacing the Affordable Care Act when he met with them days before Friday’s repeal vote.

He failed miserably.

In a report from Axios’ Mike Allen, sources said Bannon’s first words to the Republican members were that they would have “no choice” but to vote for the disastrous health care bill of President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“Guys, look,” Bannon reportedly said. “This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

Bannon apparently did not count on the fact that House Republicans knew that actually did have a choice in the matter. 

“You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old,” one of the members reportedly told Bannon. “And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

In a humiliating turn for Trump’s White House, the bill was pulled off the table just minutes before a vote was scheduled to take place on Friday.

Earlier in the day, The Daily Beast reported that anyone who didn’t follow Bannon’s orders would be put on a “shit list.”

“[Bannon] has told the president to keep a shit list on this,” one official reportedly told the publication. “He wants a running tally of [the Republicans] who want to sink this … Not sure if I’d call it an ‘enemies list,’ per se, but I wouldn’t want to be on it.”

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LGBTQ Advocates Horrified By Trump Administration's Civil Rights Health Pick

WASHINGTON ―While the nation was fixated on the meltdown of Trumpcare, the Donald Trump administration quietly appointed a former conservative think-tank staffer to head the Civil Rights Office at the Department of Health and Human Services, a move LGBTQ advocates fear will undermine the same civil rights protections the office is supposed to enforce.

The civil rights advocates are condemning the appointment of Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation staffer, who has argued that same-sex marriage threatens religious liberty and that civil rights protections should not extend to transgender patients.

“This appointment is horrifying,” said Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, which advocates for LGBTQ equality. “It is going to have a serious, probably devastating impact on LGBT people.”

An HHS spokesperson would not say when exactly he was appointed to his position, but civil rights groups drew attention to the job change this week, noting they had “grave concern” about the pick.

Severino has attacked the way the previous Barack Obama administration enforced civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community, particularly in regards to transgender people.

He claimed that allowing people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity will traumatize female sex abuse victims and be taken advantage of by men. (There is no evidence that gender-segregated restrooms are safer for cisgender women than unisex restrooms, according to Lambda Legal.) Severino has also opposed protections for gender identity when it comes to healthcare.

This is especially relevant to his new job, because the civil rights office at HHS is tasked with making sure people have equal access to healthcare. The office does this in part by collecting complaints of discrimination, investigating them, and enforcing the rules. And the Affordable Care Act has a nondiscrimination provision that the Obama administration, after seeking thousands of public comments, defined as including gender identity and sex stereotyping. (A federal court put the gender identity provision on hold last December.)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals face unique health challenges—like physical and sexual violence—as well as discrimination by physicians and insurance carriers. LGBTQ patients who feel like they have been discriminated against can always seek private counsel, but the Obama administration provided extra resources.

In 2015, for example, HHS’s Office for Civil Rights entered into an agreement with a Brooklyn hospital to ensure that transgender patients received equal care, like setting up a zero-tolerance policy for derogatory statements by staff.

Severino won’t be able to roll back protections overnight, and his office will still be required to look into every civil rights complaint. But he will have some discretion in terms of deciding what to prioritize, and what kind of resources to invest. (HHS Secretary Tom Price also has a history of opposing LGBTQ rights.)

It sends a dangerous signal “that someone would be placed in charge of enforcing some of our nation’s most important civil rights laws who doesn’t necessarily believe that discrimination against LGBTQ people is a problem,” said Robin Maril, associate legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, called the hire “appalling” in a statement. 

HHS and Severino did not respond to comment on how he plans to ensure LGBTQ patients do not face discrimination. In a statement, Heritage Foundation spokeswoman Marguerite Bowling said that Severino “has a distinguished record of fighting for the civil rights and freedoms of all Americans.”

Advocates also note that this appointment does not appear to reflect all of the progress that has been made on LGBTQ equality. 

“Given all the work that’s been done and the public understanding that’s been built, this is quite outrageous,” Pizer said. 

 

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Source: Huff Politics

Donald Trump Is Making Air Travel Even More Miserable

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The often frustrating process of air travel stands to become even more difficult for many people under President Donald Trump’s administration, and the hassles could take a major toll on the U.S. travel industry.

Acquiring a U.S. visa is already an extensive process for most non-U.S. citizens, taking months or even years. But Trump’s recent directives, including an electronics ban and a stricter visa application process, signal a push for “extreme vetting” measures likely to increase hassles for non-U.S. citizens traveling to the United States.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this month directed U.S. embassies to toughen visa screenings for “populations warranting increased scrutiny.” The order was issued in coordination with Trump’s second executive order on immigration and travel, which has been temporarily blocked by federal courts.

The move could complicate an already bureaucratic visa process and cost the country’s tourism industry millions of dollars, some experts say, because additional security measures could significantly delay visa approvals and discourage travel to the U.S.

Under the new rules, U.S.-bound travelers are subject to detailed background checks, as well a review of their social media history if they’ve ever been to a territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. 

Embassy officials are seeking approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget to ask applicants for a 15-year history of where they have lived, worked and traveled.

If applicants are unable to provide all of the required information, embassy officials could delay or reschedule the interview process. While there are valid reasons travelers could be denied a U.S. visa, some advocates worry people may be profiled for extra scrutiny because of their name or nationality, The New York Times reports.

The Trump administration did not publicly announce the new visa screening measures, which were sent to embassies March 15 to March 17. Reuters first published a story on the new rules Thursday after reviewing copies of the cables between Tillerson and embassy officials.

Mira Ghaziri, 30, who is from Beirut and works in Dubai as PepsiCo’s nutrition manager for the Middle East and North Africa, began traveling to the U.S. on business last year. She said she fears innocuous social media posts could unfairly impact Middle Eastern travelers.

“In the Middle East, politics is such a daily topic” and everyone makes “a political statement on social media,” Ghaziri told The Huffington Post on Friday. “But this by no means will translate to action or be considered as a threat, since it’s just an opinion.”

Ghaziri said working for an American company has made it easier to get a visa, though the immigration process at U.S. airports can take longer because of her nationality.

Applying “the needed scrutiny before anyone enters the country is common sense,” Ghaziri said, “but there should be a standard way to do it across all nationalities and religions.”

Tillerson acknowledged that stricter screenings could cause “backlogs to rise,” and recommended that officials interview no more than 120 applicants per day.

Greg Chen, the director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The New York Times that the the new rules could “impose a substantial burden” on applicants.

“It will make it much harder and create substantial delays,” Chen said.

Jonathan Grella, the executive vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, said a “painful” customs process could deter tourists from choosing the U.S. as a travel destination. 

“We’re very much pro-security, but are concerned that the actual overt or deliberate welcome to America is viewed as soft when in fact it’s very real because the economic fallout could be considerable,” Grella told HuffPost. “The security blinders are tempting … but that, obviously, comes at a risk.”

Grella said his organization hopes Trump will send a message to the world that “legitimate tourists” are still very much welcome.

It’s “naive to think, ‘We’re America and of course people will come here, and it if it’s a few less so be it. We’ve got security to tend to,’” Grella said. “That argument is flawed because that’s leaving money on the table needlessly.”

Trump’s first executive order on immigration and travel cost the U.S. at least $185 million business travel bookings, according to a February report from the Global Business Travel Association, which represents corporate travel managers.

There was too much uncertainty and a lack of clarity around the executive order, leading to general confusion,” the association wrote in a blog post. “The net effect was that business travel bookings were delayed or canceled.”

Travelers flying direct to the U.S. from 10 airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have also been hit with more restrictions.

Experts say the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to ban electronics larger than cellphones was likely based on legitimate threats, but it’s another layer of added stress to some travelers.

“I am a researcher, and, just like journalists, we carry data in our laptops,” Banu Akdenizli, an associate professor of communication at Northwestern University in Qatar, told HuffPost. “Checking that data in with luggage is a liability. What if it gets lost or stolen?”

Grella said he hopes Trump’s competitive nature will encourage him to “soothe” the concerns of apprehensive U.S.-bound travelers for the sake of the American economy.

“It does not cost a thing stylistically or substantively to say terror is not welcome, but legitimate tourists are,” Grella said. “We are open for business still, but closed to terror.”

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BREAKING: House Republicans

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If you like your health care, you can keep it … for now. Knowing the Democratic Party, it will probably bungle this political opportunity with an awkwardly staged press conference on the Capitol steps in which Nancy Pelosi annoyingly proffers her own variation of “Make America Great Again,” followed by some press releases with clumsily-inserted Hamilton references. And Donald Trump is skipping Mar-a-Lago this weekend, disappointing its members and the not insignificant number of waiters with tiny cameras in their bowties. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Friday, March 24th, 2017:

IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE REPUBLICANS HAD SEVEN YEARS TO GET THIS RIGHT – And they didn’t. Jeffrey Young and Jonathan Cohn: “House Republican leaders on Friday pulled their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, signaling defeat on what was supposed to be a major legislative accomplishment for President Donald Trump. The news was first reported by Robert Costa of The Washington Post, who spoke to the president directly, following a meeting between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Trump said he agreed to pulling the bill once Ryan made it clear the legislation lacked the votes to pass. In subsequent remarks, both Trump and Ryan indicated they were ready to move on from health care to other issues. .. ‘We came really close today, but we came up short,’ Ryan said at a press conference. ‘This is a disappointing day for us.’” [HuffPost]

TRUMP: FORGET THE STUFF I SAID BEFORE – Jordan Fabian: “President Trump on Friday blamed Democrats, not Republicans, for the stunning collapse of the GOP healthcare plan. ‘We were very close, it was a very tight margin. We had no Democrat support, no votes from the Democrats,’ Trump said, flanked by Vice President Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the Oval Office. ‘I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own ObamaCare,’ the president added, referring to the House and Senate Democratic leaders. … Trump sought to distance himself from the promise to repeal ObamaCare. ‘I never said repeal and replace it in 64 days,’ the president said.” [The Hill]

@SopanDeb: Trump, 11/1/16: “When we win on November 8th and elect a Republican Congress, we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare.”

It’s almost like this whole thing was rushed: “Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) is one of the moderate Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives who [planned] to vote against his party’s Obamacare replacement bill on Friday ― partly, he says, because the process of drafting the legislation has been too rushed.  Amodei said he hadn’t even had a chance to read the latest changes to the bill, which House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled on Thursday evening ahead of Friday’s vote.” [HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney]

Howard Fineman gives the president some free advice: “Among other things, President Trump has to learn that in Washington, you can’t simply build your own design. You have to build what other people want. Your job is to find consensus and entice others – many others ― into thinking that your vision is theirs. Projects get ‘built’ here more with rewards than threats. It is not a brutal game of ‘the last man standing.’ It’s ‘we’re all in this together,’ even when the ‘we’ is just your own party.” [HuffPost]

Et tu, Wall Street? “U.S. equities closed mixed Friday after a choppy trading session with NBC News reporting the House pulled a key health-care bill. ‘I think you will have a rally if he pulls the bill. He didn’t have the votes to get it done,’ said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at the NYSE for UBS. ‘They’ll now move on to tax reform. at least that’s what the market will believe and the market will move on.’” [CNBC]

TRUMP, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, DIDN’T SEEM TO LISTEN TO HIMSELF – Kind of like that time Barack Obama couldn’t get single-payer health care because he didn’t listen to the dreams of his father. Philip Bump: “There are, it seems, 11 core tenets to Trump’s dealmaking. Trump would be among the first to admit that his ability to come out on top was not foolproof; he did, after all, also write a book called ‘The Art of the Comeback” which doesn’t get quite the same amount of play as the first. But it may gain new currency over the next few weeks as Trump and his Republican allies try to figure out a way forward after their big push to overhaul Obamacare, the American Health Care Act, flopped on Friday. Why did the health-care bill founder? Perhaps in part because Trump — the guy who pledged during the campaign that only he could fix America’s problems, largely by making the best deals — didn’t adhere to those 11 key principles.” [WaPo]

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MEANWHILE, DEVIN NUNES IS STILL BIFFING IT – It seems to us that the intelligence committee is where lawmakers go to feel cool and in the loop. Devin Nunes seems to be neither at the moment. Jessica Schulberg and Alanna Horowitz Satlin: “The Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee called off a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday on possible ties between President Donald Trump’s associates and the Russian government, saying the group will hold a closed-door meeting first. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, called the decision by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) ‘a dodge’ and an ‘attempt to choke off public info.’ While Nunes characterized the change as a postponement, Schiff called it a cancellation. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan had agreed to testify in front of the committee on March 28. But Nunes said the public hearing was being postponed because the committee needed to first hear from FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers in a private setting.” [HuffPost]

Also: “The House Intelligence Committee will also interview Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who volunteered to meet with the panel amid unsettling new reports about his ties to Russia, Nunes said. Manafort, who stepped down as Trump’s campaign chair in August, worked for a close Kremlin ally to help advance Russia’s interests in the U.S., according to The Associated Press. Nunes did not say whether or not Manafort would testify publicly, but Schiff urged the former campaign manager to appear in both an open and closed setting.” [Ibid.]

MIKE FLYNN: EXTRAJUDICIAL ACTIVITY ADVOCATE AND TRUMP ADVISER – Don’t call it “kidnapping,” call it, “involuntary exfiltration.” James V. Grimaldi, Dion Nissenbaum and Margaret Coker: “Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting. The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed. Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.” [WSJ]

PRO-TRUMP OUTSIDE GROUP ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL – Maybe the employees are too busy spending their weekends at Mar-a-Lago. Gotta set examples for your people, y’know. Shane Goldmacher: “Amid the biggest policy showdown of Donald Trump’s presidency, top White House aides are perplexed that an outside group created to boost him at such critical junctions was missing in action. The pro-Trump nonprofit, America First Policies, has been gripped by its own internal headaches as two of the six announced members of its leadership team have left in recent days, according to two officials involved with the group…With the health care law hanging in the balance, there were no TV ads, no brushbacks of wayward GOP lawmakers and no pointed reminders in key districts that every Republican nationwide ran on a platform or repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s namesake health care law.” [Politico]

DISCORD IN #MAGA-LAND – In fairness, to Secretary Tillerson, his wife hasn’t told him to nix the Paris agreement. Chris D’Angelo: “Myron Ebell, the longtime climate-science denier who led President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team until Trump’s inauguration, says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is among the “swamp creatures” that have infiltrated the president’s administration.  Speaking Friday at a climate conference hosted by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, Ebell took issue with Tillerson voicing support for keeping the United States in the historic Paris climate agreement — a pact Trump has promised to withdraw the U.S. from. ‘Rex Tillerson thinks it’s really nice to be able to go to international meetings and pal around with his fellow foreign ministers,’ he said. ‘Tillerson may be from Texas and he may have been CEO of Exxon, but he’s part of the swamp.’” [HuffPost]

NEVER FORGET – “As congressional Republicans mark the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act by trying to repeal it, let us pause to reflect on a somewhat less auspicious anniversary. A year ago Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called Donald Trump a ‘sniveling coward.’” [HuffPost]

@seungminkim: Points for creativity: Dems led by Udall unveil the “Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness (MAR-A-LAGO) Act”

STAY CLASSY, CAPITOL POLICE – Daniel Marans: “Disability rights activists from across the country who were arrested this week at a Capitol building protest of the Republican health care bill will have to return to Washington to pay $50 fines. The 54 far-flung activists who converged on Capitol Hill Wednesday to demonstrate against Medicaid cuts in the GOP legislation must pay their fines in person within 15 days of their arrests, U.S. Capitol Police told The Huffington Post.” [HuffPost]

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR – Here’s a boy reconciling himself with llamas.

PIZZAGATE GUNMAN SENTENCED – Ending D.C.’s nightmare until Mike Cernovich suggests that there’s a vote buying operation being run out of Georgetown Cupcake. Ryan Reilly: “A conspiracy-driven man who fired his assault rifle inside a D.C. pizza restaurant pled guilty on Friday to federal and local charges. Edgar Welch, 28, reportedly entered the local Comet Ping Pong on Dec. 4, 2016, wielding his rifle and threatening the restaurant’s employees and customers. On Friday, he pled guilty to a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition as well as a local charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. Under a plea agreement, the government agreed to recommend a reduction in his sentence if Welch “clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility.” His plea agreement indicates that Welch was previously convicted of driving while impaired in his home state of North Carolina.” [HuffPost]

COMFORT FOOD

– The Trump administration’s eerie similarities to “Arrested Development.”

– Setting up a 1988 IBM desktop computer.

– Transform any image into a waving flag.

TWITTERAMA

@Alex_Roarty: GOP aide on CapHill: “I’m starting to think that while we’re pretty good at winning elections, we’re not great at the whole governing thing”

@BrandyLJensen: kinda fascinated by the interior lives of people who accuse me of body shaming the president

@aedwardslevy: HOW A BILL BECOMES A NAHHH

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Source: Huff Politics

Trump Worked A Few Weeks On Health Care. White House Claims He Gave It 'His All.'

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WASHINGTON ― The White House desperately tried to spin the looming failure of the GOP health care bill Friday afternoon, insisting that if it went down, it wouldn’t be the president’s fault because he put “his all” into it. 

“When you look at legislative efforts, I think the president has given it his all,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Friday. “And I think it shocked a lot of people, frankly, how very, very detail-oriented, how personal it was for him ― calling members, you know, as early as 6 in the morning and going to 11 at night the last several nights, sitting down meeting after meeting with them, coming back and revising it, having his team back and forth.”

Spicer added that Trump “used every minute of every day that’s possible to get this thing through” and “left everything on the field.” 

Trump has been in office for about two months. On March 6, Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act, their attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare after seven years of promising voters they would do just that. 

On Friday, that dream died, at least for now. Trump told The Washington Post Friday afternoon that instead of moving forward with what appeared to be a doomed vote, he had asked House GOP leaders to pull the legislation. He told The New York Times that he was pleased with his effort and wanted to just be done with it. 

The move was a stunning defeat for a man Spicer called “the closer” and who has made his negotiating skills a central part of his persona. 

The health care system and the politics of Washington seem to have gotten the best of Trump. In late February, as Republicans were coming up with their legislation, he seemed to acknowledge that he may be getting in over his head: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” 

There was, however, someone who knew: President Barack Obama

Health care was a major part of the 2008 campaign, including the Democratic primary. Obama first introduced his health care plan in May 2007, offering specific ideas on how to reform the system. While Trump campaigned on repealing Obamacare, he never offered his own plan with specific replacements.

In March 2009, Obama convened a summit at the White House, bringing together 120 representatives from the health care industry, along with members of Congress, to discuss ways to reform the system.

The Affordable Care Act was introduced in Congress on Sept. 17, 2009, and Obama signed it into law on March 23, 2010. During that time, Obama made health care reform his top priority, often facing criticism for expending so much time and political capital on the issue. There was a speech to Congress, visits to caucus meetings, calls with members, events across the country and outreach to local communities to explain the process. 

Obama and his aides traveled around the country promoting the legislation, even as conservative activists were coming out in the summer of 2010 for the famous tea party protests. 

“I remember driving in a small van with [HHS Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius from Portland, Maine, to Bangor, Maine, because I think there was one television station that was based in Bangor, and we wanted to do an event there to reach that portion of the state of Maine and communicate with as many people as we possibly could. It was literally a no-stone-left-unturned kind of operation,” recalled Nick Papas, who worked in the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services from the beginning of the administration until the Affordable Care Act passed. 

In February 2010, Obama brought lawmakers ― both Democrats and Republicans ― to Blair House for a seven-hour summit in an attempt to get bipartisan support for the legislation. Top Democrats, meanwhile, said Trump never reached out to them at all for their support on the American Health Care Act. 

“The president believed that this was incredibly important and the health and lives of millions of people were at stake,” Papas said of Obama. “It was a worthwhile investment of time and energy because it’s a piece of legislation that has literally saved people’s lives.”

Trump did bring GOP lawmakers to the White House in a last-minute attempt to figure out what changes would get them to support the bill, and he also went up to Capitol Hill to rally support. But he never gave a major speech on health care reform, nor did he barnstorm the country to get support. And in the end, he spent just a few weeks before giving up on what was supposed to be the GOP’s biggest priority.

“I think there’s nobody that objectively can look at this effort and say the president didn’t do every single thing he possibly could with his team to get every vote possible,” Spicer added Friday. “And I think that’s why, you know, I still feel good about this.”

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Obama's Top Civil Rights Official Takes Over 'Nerve Center' Of Trump Resistance

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WASHINGTON ― The former top official at the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is taking over the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a 67-year-old organization sometimes described as the lobbying arm of the civil rights movement.

Vanita Gupta, who ran the Civil Rights Division for the last two-plus years of the Obama administration, was named the next president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Thursday. Later this year, she will succeed Wade Henderson, who has served as president and CEO since 1996 and helped grow the organization into a coalition of more than 200 civil and human rights groups.

Gupta, 42, began her legal career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she fought for dozens of people in a tiny Texas town who had been locked up on the lies of a racist rodeo cowboy paid by police to conduct drug stings. She served as deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

In October 2014, just months after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Gupta was named acting head of the Civil Rights Division. On her watch, the Justice Department issued a damning report on the operations of Ferguson’s police department and municipal court in early 2015 and later released other critical reports on the Baltimore and Chicago police forces. The Justice Department reached deals with officials in Ferguson and Baltimore to improve their law enforcement practices, while a potential agreement with Chicago remains in question under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Gupta said initiatives that the Civil Rights Division championed during the Obama administration are “quite vulnerable” in the Trump era. The groups that make up the Leadership Conference, she said, are at the “heart of the resistance” fighting rollbacks of civil rights protections.

“We’re going to have to use the power of the field operation here at the Leadership Conference and the member organizations to mobilize an American public that right now is really eager to fight back and to resist assaults on the very values that we all hold dear,” Gupta said.

She sees the Leadership Conference as a “nerve center” for both defending civil rights on the federal level and pushing forward to advance civil rights on the state level.

The member organizations of the Leadership Conference have a crucial role to play during the Trump era in her view. “We can’t rely on Congress to be a check on the executive branch right now,” Gupta said.

It was gratifying, she added, to see people “of all stripes, religions and races coming together” in response to the Trump administration’s travel ban.

“I think this is a time of unprecedented solidarity among the groups that make up the Leadership Conference to recognize that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” said Gupta. “For me, this opportunity could not come at a better time, because I think we all know very well, and all too well, what’s at stake.”

Several civil rights leaders applauded Gupta’s appointment. Former Attorney General Eric Holder praised her “fearless advocacy for the rights of all Americans.” Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, called her a “once-in-a-generation leader.” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Gupta was at the “forefront of bold, imaginative and uncompromising civil rights leadership.”

Gupta, who worked closely on policing issues at the Justice Department, said she was troubled by the Trump administration’s indications that the department will pull back from the broad reform efforts pursued by the Obama administration.   

“It is a huge, radical departure for this Justice Department to step away from that work,” Gupta said.

But “even if this Justice Department is out of step with what’s happening around this country,” she said, civil rights advocates and policing organizations have an important role to play in pushing reform forward.

“The role of local community input in holding local officials accountable to enforcement has always been really important, and there will be a role for the Leadership Conference to play in lifting up those community voices and the member organizations that are really engaged on that,” Gupta said. 

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Source: Huff Politics

Senate Republicans Vote To Overturn Internet Privacy Protections

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted narrowly to repeal regulations requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s Google <GOOGL.O> or Facebook Inc <FB.O>.

The vote was along party lines, with 50 Republicans approving the measure and 48 Democrats rejecting it. The two remaining Republicans in the Senate were absent and did not cast a vote.

According to the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in October under then-President Barack Obama, internet providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and internal marketing.

The vote was a victory for internet providers such as AT&T Inc <T.N>, Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> and Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N>, which had strongly opposed the rules.

The bill next goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, but it was not clear when they would take up the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate was overturning a regulation that “makes the internet an uneven playing field, increases complexity, discourages competition, innovation, and infrastructure investment.”

But Democratic Senator Ed Markey said, “Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said consumers would have privacy protections even without the Obama administration internet provider rules.

In a joint statement, Democratic members of the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission said the Senate vote “creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements.”

Republican commissioners, including Pai, said in October that the rules would unfairly give websites like Facebook, Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> or Google the ability to harvest more data than internet service providers and thus dominate digital advertising. The FCC earlier this month delayed the data rules from taking effect.

The Internet and Television Association, a trade group, in a statement praised the vote as a “critical step towards re-establishing a balanced framework that is grounded in the long-standing and successful FTC privacy framework that applies equally to all parties operating online.”

Websites are governed by a less restrictive set of privacy rules overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for advocacy group Consumers Union, said the vote “is a huge step in the wrong direction, and it completely ignores the needs and concerns of consumers.”

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

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Source: Huff Politics

Trump's Agriculture Pick Sure Doesn't Seem Opposed To Food Stamp Cuts

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The long-delayed confirmation hearing of Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, finally arrived before the Senate on Thursday.

For two hours, members of the Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee peppered the former Georgia governor with questions mostly centered on elements of trade, crop insurance and forest policy, but largely avoided more controversial topics.

The most glaring omission was any real interrogation regarding the nutrition programs overseen by the USDA, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known colloquially as “food stamps.”

Perdue faced only one question on SNAP on Thursday. About an hour and a half into the hearing, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) asked whether he would commit “to focusing on how we can deliver more food to more families throughout this country” by supporting the program.

Perdue stopped short of making that commitment, appearing to suggest changes could be coming to the program, though he offered no detail on what sort of reforms he might support or anticipate.

“I hope we can do that even more efficiently and effectively than we have,” Perdue said. “It’s certainly important to the children and families of America. I hope we can work together to accomplish that.”

That response was a red flag to Mike Lavender, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists’s food and environment program.

“What’s left out of the conversation is just as important as what’s brought in,” Lavender told HuffPost Thursday. “You can read into that in a number of ways, but [Perdue’s comments] doesn’t increase my confidence that SNAP is going to be able to reach more people and get more healthy food to more people.”

The absence of further questions on SNAP or any questions on the agency’s other nutrition programs — such as the National School Lunch Program — belies the fact that these programs eat up about 71 percent of the agency’s annual spending.

Despite its well-documented success at reducing participants’ food insecurity, SNAP has also been the subject of numerous hearings exploring potential reforms, and has been viewed as a likely target for cuts under the Trump administration.

Other controversial topics were left entirely off the table at the Thursday hearing. Climate change — which Perdue has downplayed, despite the close link between farming and greenhouse gas emissions and the significant impacts it is having on farmers’ livelihoods — was not mentioned in any of the questions.

In addition, Perdue’s ethics record and potential conflicts of interests, which have been the subject of a series of detailed recent reports from a number of media outlets, were also left unaddressed.

Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a food futures campaigner at Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group, said she was “deeply concerned” that questions on these topics were avoided by committee members.

“With all of Perdue’s history on denying climate change and all his conflicts of interest that have come out, to have no mention of all these things is a complete missed opportunity,” Finck-Haynes said. “They are not fully fulfilling their duties to make sure he is actually fit for this role and that he is going to prioritize the interests of the American public and the environment over big agribusiness.”

Some of the committee members’ most pointed questions on Thursday concerned the president’s proposed slashing of the USDA’s budget, which is slated for a 21 percent reduction — percentage-wise, one of the largest cuts proposed for any federal agency.

Perdue said Thursday he was not consulted by the administration before they published the agency’s proposed budget. In response to a number of questions concerning those cuts, the nominee stated his support for some USDA programs that have been slated for funding reductions, such as the rural water program and conservation efforts like those impacting the Chesapeake Bay.

“Agriculture is in my heart,” Perdue said in response to a question from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). “I look forward to fighting for the producers of America. We know how vital it is and I will absolutely be a tenacious advocate and fighter [for agriculture] where necessary to do that.”

Committee members can still submit further questions to Perdue until the end of Friday, ahead of a full Senate vote on his confirmation. Finck-Haynes was hopeful senators will push for more detail from the nominee.

“We have very few answers on what he is actually going to do in terms of protecting farmers, consumers and our environment,” Finck-Haynes added. “The American public deserves to know where and what he’s going to do.”

It doesn’t appear likely that Perdue will face much additional grilling or pushback on his nomination, however. He has a wide base of support from farm industry groups who tout his farming background — Perdue grew up on a dairy farm, was trained as a veterinarian and has owned several agriculture related businesses — as evidence that he’s the right pick for the post.

Farm groups are antsy for Perdue’s confirmation. The National Farmers Union, the farming industry’s second-largest organization, reiterated its support for Perdue on Thursday, urging the Senate to move forward with the nominee.

“If confirmed, Sonny Perdue will be stepping into a position of great importance within this administration,” NFU president Roger Johnson said in a statement.“To this point, agriculture and rural America have not had a seat at the table in this administration.”

To date, Perdue is one of only two Trump Cabinet positions yet to be confirmed by the Senate. The other, Department of Labor nominee Alexander Acosta, was nominated in February following the withdrawal of Andrew Puzder. Acosta faced his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

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Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food, water, agriculture and our climate. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut@huffingtonpost.com.

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Source: Huff Politics

Thrillist Staff Votes To Unionize

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The vast majority of eligible staff at Thrillist have voted to unionize, adding the popular lifestyle and culture news site to the growing ranks of digital media outlets where employees enjoy collective bargaining rights.

Ninety-five percent of Thrillist’s staff voted to designate the Writers Guild of America, East, as their collective bargaining agent, the union announced on Wednesday. A total of 65 editorial, video and distribution workers in the union bargaining unit were eligible to vote online over a 24-hour period that ended on Tuesday evening. The final tally in the election was 56 to 3 in favor of unionizing, according to the guild.

Staff will now begin negotiations with Thrillist’s management to craft their first union contract.

“There is a powerful movement building in digital news, and the creative professionals at Thrillist are a vital part of it,” Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said in a statement. 

Anthony Schneck, Thrillist’s health editor and a member of the Thrillist union organizing committee, said he hopes bargaining will ensure more transparent communication from management, greater workplace diversity and better entry-level pay.

“It’s reassuring to know you have common ground with your colleagues and that that common ground can make you more secure in your job,” Schneck said. “This is probably the closest we’ve felt to our co-workers in a long time.”

Thrillist’s unionization is part of a wave of organizing that has swept the digital media industry in the past two years. The majority of news sites that have organized have sought representation with the Writers Guild of America, East, which now claims to have organized over 500 digital media workers. The Huffington Post, the largest digital media outlet to unionize, ratified its first union contract with Writers Guild representation at the end of January.

Unlike many other recently unionized workplaces, the Thrillist staff’s effort to form a union succeeded despite pushback from its management. A majority of staff signed cards announcing their desire for Writers Guild representation more than a month ago, but management declined to voluntarily recognize the union. Afterward, a top executive delivered prepared remarks to staff discouraging them from unionizing, according to Schneck. Staff finally launched a social media campaign lambasting management for refusing to recognize them.

Thrillist, whose parent company is the Discover Communications-owned Group Nine Media, subsequently agreed to recognize the union pending the results of an online election.

“We felt strongly that the entire team should have the opportunity to vote on whether or not they should form a union. They did and we respect their decision,” Thrillist president Adam Rich said in a statement.

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Source: Huff Politics