Politics

EPA finalizes power plant rules to replace Obama's signature climate change policy

Skyhobo/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Environmental Protection Agency finalized its replacement for Obama's signature climate policy on Wednesday with a rule officials say will still reduce greenhouse gas emissions but critics say is not aggressive enough to slow the effects of climate change.

The Clean Power Plan, which never went into effect, was a signature policy proposed by President Barack Obama to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The policy would have required states to submit extensive plans on how they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by requiring power plants to install new technology or switching to more renewable energy sources.

But under President Donald Trump, the agency says the Clean Power Plan went too far.

The replacement, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, would let states set their own goals on targets to reduce releases of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. States can choose from a list of EPA-approved options to improve existing coal-fired power plants, a provision that critics say could make it easier for utilities to keep the facilities open instead of moving to cleaner energy sources and eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Democrats and environmental activists have called for the government to take a more aggressive role in combating climate change, including reducing the use of fossil fuels and drastically reducing emissions of CO2.

The EPA says its proposal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than the original Clean Power Plan when compared to 2005 levels, but former EPA officials who worked on that plan say that the Trump administration can't take credit for those reductions. Many utility companies have made the decision to close coal-fired power plants in favor of cheaper options, such as natural gas, and critics of Trump's EPA argue the reductions would be even more dramatic if the government pursued harsher regulations.

"To the extent that the agency is either explicitly or implicitly, through its analysis, taking credit for reductions that are occurring as a result of private sector business decisions, that represents a kind of abdication of responsibility on the part of EPA," Joe Goffman, former EPA administrator for climate under Obama told reporters on Monday.

Under Trump, the EPA has also discounted the benefits of the Clean Power Plan that would reduce other kinds of pollution like tiny particles that contribute to smog. The requirements proposed in the original plan would have required new technology on coal-fired power plants that limit all kinds of pollution but the EPA now says that goes outside the scope of a rule intended to limit carbon dioxide emissions and is covered separately under more specific rules.

Democrats and environmental groups will likely challenge the rule in court.

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Hope Hicks arrives to face questions before House panel

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director and one of President Donald Trump's closest aides, arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to be questioned behind closed doors before the House Judiciary committee as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into potential obstruction of justice by the president.

She did not answer when asked how she would respond to committee questions.

Shortly after Hicks arrived, the Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, emerged to tell reporters that Hicks was "answering questions put to her" in the committee interview.

Later, while Hicks was still facing questions, Democrats coming in and out of the room didn't appear satisfied with her answers. While she was answering questions about her time on the campaign, they said, she was not answering any questions about her time at the White House.

Committee lawyers and members were prepared to question Hicks about her time in the White House and instances of potential obstruction detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller's report as part of his probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The committee announced Hicks' agreement to appear last week and has said it plans to release transcripts from the hearing shortly after its conclusion.

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House sent a letter to Nadler that stated that Trump has instructed Hicks not to answer questions related to her time serving as a senior adviser in the White House, claiming she was "absolutely immune" from being compelled to testify" about her White House service.

"Because of this constitutional immunity and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of President, the President has directed Ms. Hicks not to answer questions before the Committee relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the President," White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote.

White House lawyers used the same argument to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying on similar matters before the committee.

Nadler responded in a letter Tuesday afternoon, saying "I reject that assertion."

"Questions will be posed to her and we will address privilege and other objections on question by question basis," Nader said.

A member of the White House counsel's office was in the room during her appearance Wednesday.

While the White House does not use the "immunity" argument as it relates to Hicks' time on the campaign, Cipollone addressed the committee's expressed interest in questioning Hicks about her time during the presidential transition.

"Much of Ms. Hicks's work during this period involved discussions with the President-elect and his staff relating to the decisions the President-elect would be making once he assumed office," Cipollone wrote. "Accordingly, her responses to specific questions about this period would likely implicate executive branch confidentiality interests concerning that decision-making process."

Last week, the White House directed Hicks not to comply with document requests from late May for White House records issued by the committee related to the Trump campaign and transition, though she did turn over some materials related to the campaign.

In a letter to the panel, Robert Trout, a lawyer representing Hicks, detailed some of the campaign-related materials provided to the committee. Trout noted that Hicks had previously turned over similar records March 22.

Documents related to Hicks' time in the White House and presidential transition were not turned over, Trout maintained, arguing the decision to release documents originating with the White House and transition "is not hers to make.”

Cipollone made a similar point in a previous letter to Nadler, writing that the documents "include White House records that remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege. Because Ms. Talley and Ms. Hicks do not have the legal right to disclose the White House records to third parties, I would ask that the Committee direct any request for such records to the White House, the appropriate legal custodian."

Annie Donaldson, McGahn's former chief of staff, has also been subpoenaed to appear before the committee next Monday.

In a statement released last week, Nadler said his committee will attempt to resolve any privilege disagreements "while reserving our right to take any and all measures in response to unfounded privilege assertions."

A House Judiciary Committee aide suggested the panel would not find it acceptable for Hicks not to answer any questions about her time in the White House.

Hicks, who served as a Trump Organization employee and the press secretary for the 2016 Trump presidential campaign before assuming her roles in the White House, was one of Trump's closest confidantes on the campaign trail and in the early half of his presidency.

This will not be her first closed-door appearance before a House committee -- she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for an eight-hour, closed-door session in February 2018 and told the panel her work for Trump occasionally required her to tell "white lies."

She also was asked about the controversial Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer in June 2016. She resigned from her position in the White House the following day.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the time that Hicks' departure had little to do with the testimony.

Hicks, who is mentioned in the special counsel's report dozens of times, also was a witness in Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia during the 2016 election, having sat for two days of closed-door interviews with the special counsel's team.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, Danny Glover join renewed debate over reparations on Capitol Hill

drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Steps away from the U.S. Capitol -- a building built by slaves -- the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Wednesday will hold its first hearing in more than a decade on the hot-button topic of reparations for the descendants of Africans brought to America, enslaved and impacted by discriminatory policies including segregation.

The hearing, timed to coincide with "Juneteenth," a date when the last slaves in Texas learned they were free, brings to the forefront the centuries-old debate over what, if anything, is owed.

At the end of the Civil War formerly enslaved families were promised by Union leadership 40 acres and a mule -- an offer never fulfilled. Centuries later, the debate over reparations is playing out on the campaign trail as many 2020 presidential presidential candidates weigh in on the topic and lawmakers press the case with perennial legislative efforts.

Actor Danny Glover and award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2014 essay "The Case for Reparations" thrust the divisive topic onto the national stage, are expected to testify, lending celebrity status to an issue that has been wending through Congress for decades.

Former Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., first introduced reparations H.R. 40 legislation in 1989 aimed at creating a commission to "make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long-delayed process of atonement for slavery." The measure has been reintroduced every congressional last session since then and was re-introduced this year by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

The measure has drawn support from NAACP President Derrick Johnson whose organization backed the measure starting in 2014.

"Here we are in 2019 talking about it again. It is a sore spot for this nation," Johnson told ABC News in April. "It is something that we must address, so we can get past this moment in time in a way in which the legacy of slavery, the legacy of segregation, the legacy of institutional racism can once in for all be done away with and we can all prosper as a nation as one whole community."

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist who will speak at the hearing, told ABC News that "reparations is an idea whose time has come."

Many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have tackled the issue head-on, with the majority weighing in at several presidential forums this year including Rev. Al Sharpton's annual National Action Network convention.

Jackson Lee's bill has more than 50 cosponsors, including at least three House Democrats running for president: Eric Swalwell of California, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Gabbard was one of the earliest 2020 candidates to sign onto H.R. 40. She worked as a congressional legislative aide to her mentor the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who in 1993 spearheaded a resolution, passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, apologizing for America's illegal role in overthrowing Hawaii's Queen Lili'uokalani in 1893.

Gabbard, in an interview in New Hampshire with WMUR-TV, talked about reparations: "I think something similar needs to take place for other indigenous people and for the dark tragedy of slavery that occurred in our country's history.”

In early April, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., held a joint press conference with Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to promote a 10/20/30 funding bill outside of the U.S. Capitol, a measure that seeks to allocate 10 percent of federal funds to invest into counties that have had a poverty level of at least 20 percent for over 30 years.

When asked by ABC News if the bill was a form of reparations, Booker declined to comment, but Clyburn, the dean of the South Carolina congressional delegation, said that he "absolutely" feels it is.

Days later, Booker, who also will testify on Wednesday, tweeted that he planned on introducing H.R. 40 in the Senate as part of a companion bill.

Another 2020 candidate who's been talking about reparations since 1997 is spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, who told ABC News Monday, "The whole idea of reparations, to me, has been an extension of a moral principle."

Williamson said reparations tackles "the economic gap that existed at the end of the Civil War and has never been closed."

Williamson added: "The reason I feel strongly about reparations is because there is an inherent mea culpa, there's an inherent acknowledgment, that a wrong that has been done."

While support for the measure has gained momentum among several 2020 candidates, the Senate's most prominent Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voiced blunt opposition to the idea of reparations on Tuesday.

"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," McConnell told reporters at a press conference. "We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, by electing an African American president."

He said that another issue is that it would be hard to "figure out" whom to compensate.

"We've had waves of immigrants, as well, who have come to this country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another," he said. "So, no, I don't think reparations are a good idea."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Trump breaks out 2016 playbook in 2020 campaign kickoff

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday night in Orlando, Florida, with a sprawling, intense, fiery speech that nearly lasted an hour and a half. But in listening to the president's words, you'd swear you were right back in 2015 watching the billionaire businessman descend down that golden escalator in Trump tower.

Throughout the president's speech in front of a packed Amway Center, he heavily echoed many of his 2016 campaign speeches, attacking 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, lamenting the "fake news" media and calling for building a wall on the Southern border.

When it came to Clinton, the president offered a familiar refrain, going after his former rival for "deleted and acid-washed 33,000 emails." The president argued that if he "deleted one email, like a love note to Melania, it's the electric chair for Trump."

The president went after Clinton so often on Tuesday night one could be mistaken in assuming he was running against her in 2020.

But when it came to the president's actual 2020 Democratic opponents,Trump offered little time or breadth, not naming many besides former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom he attacked.

And in perhaps one of the loudest moments inside the Amway Center all night, the crowd erupted into "Sarah" chants as the president mentioned the outgoing press secretary.

"This has been truly the honor of the lifetime ... watching you drastically change this nation," Sarah Sanders said in front of the roaring rally crowd.

Trump, as Sanders left the stage, added: "We're gonna miss her. Incredible. A warrior."

Trump campaign staff said the president's performance was exactly what his supporters wanted.

"This rally is further proof that Donald Trump can motivate voters like no other candidate in history," communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News.

In promoting Tuesday's festivities at and around the Amway Center, aides indicated the president's campaign has never really stopped. They told ABC News that this rally in a critical swing state is meant to add to momentum.

"He can't win the White House without Florida, and we're going to step up big time to make sure he gets it," Joe Gruters, chairman of the state Republican Party, said.

In his reelection address, Trump spent most of his speech looking to position himself not as an incumbent president running on a number of accomplishments but as an underdog victimized by conspiracies designed to undercut his political movement, dating back well before he took the oath of office.

"Our patriotic movement has been under assault from the first day," Trump told the crowd. "We've accomplished more than any president has in the first 2 1/2 years and under circumstances that no president has had to deal with before … nobody has done what we have done."

"We went through the greatest witch hunt in political history -- the only collusion was committed by the Democrats, the fake news media and their operatives, and the people who funded the phony dossier, crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC," he said. "It was all an illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election, spy on our campaign, which is what they did, and subvert our democracy."

Vice President Mike Pence took the stage prior to the president and said, "We're here for one reason and one reason only: America needs four more years of President Donald Trump."

The crowd began chanting, "Four more years!"

"It's on everybody," Pence said. "Time for round two."

While Pence didn't name any of the 2020 Democrats running for president, he looked to define the Democratic opposition as far-left radicals who want "more taxes, more regulation and less freedom."

"Today, Democrats openly advocate socialism -- an economic system that has impoverished millions of people around the world and stole the liberty of generations," Pence said. "The choice in this election will not just be a choice between two candidates, but a choice between two futures."

First lady Melania Trump walked out with the president and briefly spoke to the crowd.

"It has been my honor to serve this country for the past two years. And I'm excited to do it for six more," she said. "I'm proud of all that my husband, this administration and our entire family have done on behalf of the American people in such a short time. He truly loves this country and will continue to work on your behalf as long as he can. All of us will."

Since Friday, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have been hosting a "National Week of Training" across the country for 16,325 attendees at more than 970 events, including "Trump Victory Leadership Initiative" training sessions and "MAGA Meet-Ups," according to numbers provided to ABC News by the campaign.

America First Policies also kicked off its voter registration drive in Orlando on Tuesday with the aim of spending more than $20 million and registering voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.

"There are millions of patriotic Americans who believe in the America First movement, but aren't registered to vote," America First Policies President Brian O. Walsh said.

Trump flipped Florida red in 2016 with just 1.2 percent more votes than Clinton. It was the first time the state supported a Republican president since President George W. Bush's 2004 reelection.

While they've taken a beating from Republicans in the Sunshine State since 2016, Florida Democrats don't believe the state has slipped out of their grasp in 2020.

"Democrats are still very competitive here," Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., told ABC News.

Trump beat Clinton for Florida's 29 electoral votes by 112,911 votes, a greater margin of victory than President Barack Obama's 2012 win over now-Sen. Mitt Romney., R-Utah.

Last year's hard-fought midterm election -- so close that it prompted a recount -- ended with Democrats losing every statewide race except agriculture commissioner: Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race, and then-Gov. Rick Scott unseated Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the only Democrat besides Obama to win statewide since the 1990s.

Despite the recent string of defeats, state Democrats point to their success in flipping two House seats in South Florida, and the razor-thin margins in the last few statewide contests.

"At the end of the day, it will be a close race, and it will be dog-eat-dog," said Nelson, who's endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. "The state has been influenced by Trump, utilizing the powers of the president as well as Republican administrations in Florida. You combine all of that in what is effectively a 50-50 state, and you see the trends that occurred in the last two elections."

As part of their push to take back Florida, Democrats are investing in the state earlier than ever before.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Democratic National Committee officials said the party already has 90 field organizers on the ground and has spent millions to register 200,000 voters ahead of 2020.

The party is also centering its message against Trump on health care, including the administration's decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, a winning issue for the party in 2018 and one that wasn't on the table in 2016.

Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, launched a six-figure digital advertising campaign in Florida ahead of Trump's visit on Tuesday, targeting the president on health care and the Republican tax cut that he signed into law in 2017.

For Our Future, a progressive super PAC backed in part by billionaire Tom Steyer, is directing its $80 million budget toward organizing in Florida and other battleground states. The group, modeled on some of the conservative organizing groups funded by the Koch Brothers, has worked to keep Democratic voters engaged in between cycles and around issues.

One of the group's focuses in Florida will be activating some of the 1.4 million ex-felons who are now eligible to vote in the state, according to CEO Justin Myers.

Multiple 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Biden, have traveled to the state. The party plans to hold its first round of primary debates in Miami later this month.

In Orlando, only 20,000 attendees were allowed inside the Amway Center, where some Trump supporters had lined up nearly 40 hours before the event.

The festivities began well before the president even traveled to Florida on Tuesday, with "45 Fest," an outdoor event at the Amway Center beginning in the morning and featuring food trucks, live music and massive TV screens for the overflow crowd that was expected to descend on downtown Orlando.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Cheney spar over 'concentration camp' comment

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s characterizations of detainment centers along the southern border as “concentration camps” sparked a war of words on Tuesday with her GOP colleagues.

The Trump administration has received criticism for their treatment of migrants at the border after a Homeland Security inspector general report released in June found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement failed to meet government standards for housing migrant detainees at multiple facilities last year.

In the review of facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, the government watchdog found migrants were kept in "standing-room-only conditions" for days or weeks at a time and observed spoiled and moldy food in kitchen refrigerators.

Tuesday’s debate was sparked when the freshman lawmaker from New York took to Twitter to say, “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying.”

This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying.

This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis ⬇️https://t.co/2dWHxb7UuL

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 18, 2019

She linked to an article in Esquire magazine, which sites author Andrea Pitzer as defining a concentration camp system as "mass detention of civilians without trial.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s statements in a tweet suggesting that she should “spend just a few minutes learning some actual history.”

“Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this,” Cheney tweeted.

Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this. https://t.co/NX5KPPb2Hl

— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) June 18, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez fired back at Cheney with a tweet of her own.

“Hey Rep. Cheney, since you’re so eager to “educate me,” I’m curious: What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial? How would you dress up DHS’s mass separation of thousands children at the border from their parents,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin also took to Twitter to call out the freshman lawmaker for her remarks and said that she should focus on working with her Republican colleagues.

“@AOC needs to stop trying to draw these crayon parallels between POTUS & Hitler! Try working WITH your colleagues on BOTH sides of the aisle to secure our border & fix this rather than desperately trying to promote mass hysteria w this disgusting & woefully false comparison,” Zeldin tweeted.

In response to what Ocasio-Cortez called “shrieking Republicans,” she sent another tweet doubling down on her previous statements.

“And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps. Concentration camps are considered by experts as ‘the mass detention of civilians without trial. And that’s exactly what this administration is doing,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

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Shanahan welcomes opportunity to be Defense secretary, 'but not at the expense of being a good father'

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a surprise development, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has decided not to move forward with the confirmation process to take the job permanently, President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Trump said while Shanahan "has done a wonderful job, he has decided not to go forward...so that he can devote more time to his family."

In a second tweet, the president named Army Secretary Mark Esper as his next acting Pentagon chief -- a job which has now been vacant since former Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in December. Talking to reporters on the White House lawn on Tuesday, Trump said he was "most likely" to name Esper to the post permanently.

The decision for Shanahan to step down coincides with media reports from USA Today and the Washington Post which detail episodes of domestic violence that occurred in Shanahan's family over a decade ago. According to a U.S. official, Shanahan's aides were growing concerned that his nomination process could be hampered by the reporting.

Trump said that he didn't ask for Shanahan to withdraw from the confirmation process and only learned about the issues in Shanahan's past for the first time on Monday. A senior White House official told ABC News that the White House had been aware of the issues for months, but the official was unaware of how long the president knew.

 The Post, which interviewed Shanahan on Monday evening, detailed two incidents: one in which Shanahan's now ex-wife was arrested for punching him in the face and another in which his son was arrested for hitting his mother with a baseball bat, which ABC News has confirmed through Sarasota County, Florida, court records.

ABC News has been unsuccessful in attempts to reach Shanahan's ex-wife.

In a statement the Pentagon issued Tuesday afternoon, Shanahan said, "The confirmation process should focus on securing our nation against threats, readiness and the future of our military, and ensuring the highest quality care and support for service members and their families."

"After having been confirmed for Deputy Secretary less than two years ago, it is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process," he said. "I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority."

"I would welcome the opportunity to be Secretary of Defense, but not at the expense of being a good father," the statement continued. "After significant reflection, I have asked to be withdrawn from consideration for Secretary of Defense and will resign my position as Deputy Secretary of Defense. I will coordinate an appropriate transition plan to ensure that the men and women in harm's way receive all the support they need to continue protecting our great nation."

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, had served as deputy defense secretary and stepped into the role in an "acting" capacity on Jan. 1 after Mattis resigned over policy differences with the president. Shanahan will resign effective midnight Sunday and conclude his service in the Department of Defense at that time, Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesperson, said.

Officials have not determined who from the department will represent the U.S. at the NATO meeting of defense ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Mark Esper, who has served as Army Secretary since November 2017, will then become the acting defense secretary. He is a former senior executive at Raytheon, who also has extensive experience working on Capitol Hill. Esper graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986 -- the same year as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- and served in the Army for over a decade, including a deployment to the Gulf War.

He has traveled with Trump several times over the last six months, including a January visit to the southern border where thousands of soldiers have been deployed to support Customs and Border Protection. Esper was also with Trump when the president toured an Abrams tank facility in Lima, Ohio in March.

"Mark Esper is a highly respected gentleman with a great career. Westpoint, Harvard, a tremendous talent," Trump told reporters on Tuesday afternoon, adding, "I think he will do very well. He was secretary of the Army. I got to know him very well. He's an outstanding guy."

The following Pentagon jobs are now vacant or occupied in an "acting" capacity: defense secretary, deputy defense secretary, Army secretary, Air Force secretary, and chief management officer.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Trump's plan to deport 'millions' likely not feasible

Marcus Moore/ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s promise on the eve of a campaign rally to deport next week “millions” of people living in the U.S. illegally is raising the issue of how the administration could feasibly launch such a massive operation because it's out of space to hold them.

Also in question would be whether the administration would further abandon its past focus of deporting undocumented migrants convicted of crimes in order to deport families, which at least one top official said was inevitable. Another concern would be that families could be separated, possibly leaving thousands of young children in limbo without guardians, particularly those with mixed immigration status such as children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents.

John Cohen, a former senior Homeland Security Department official and current ABC News contributor, said the logistics of such an operation would require diverting law enforcement from high priority criminal targets and put a significant strain on limited resources.

“There’s no way operationally they are going to be able to do it,” said John Cohen, a former senior Homeland Security Department official and current ABC News contributor.

Trump’s plan, announced via Twitter, left administration officials in charge of immigration policy and enforcement scrambling to respond to questions about what would happen next.

Law enforcement officials said they don’t discuss enforcement operations publicly in advance. One senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said mass deportations were “not imminent.”

A statement released Tuesday by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement noted that officials there would “continue” to enforce immigration law “without exemption,” adding, “This includes routine targeted enforcement operations, criminals, individuals subject to removal orders, and worksite enforcement.”

But the statement did not address whether operations would expand.

Trump has clearly favored the idea of targeting the hundreds of thousands of families arriving at the border in recent months, as well as those already settled inside the U.S. His new pick to head ICE hinted at it last month in a meeting with reporters.

“Our next challenge is going to be interior enforcement,” Morgan said. “We will be going after individuals who have gone through due process and who have received final orders of deportation.

“That will include families,” Morgan said, adding that ICE agents will deport them “with compassion and humanity.”

Among the top challenges of such a plan would be bed space, enforcement personnel and other resources to arrest, detain and deport people.

Last year, ICE deported 256,000 people, the highest level since 2014. But federal officials have said it's unlikely that much more can be done with existing resources. During the Obama administration, ICE and DHS officials testified that the most that could be deported in any given year would be about 400,000 people.

One issue, in particular, is bed space. As of the end of May, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had nearly 52,400 people in its custody – including nearly 1,000 families at residential centers. While ICE is given some flexibility, this year’s budget provides money for less than 45,300 beds. More detention space would require Congress' approval, which is unlikely so long as Democrats control the House.

Trump even acknowledged the lack of bed space earlier this year in remarks he made last March in Florida.

"We have run out of space, we can't hold people anymore and Mexico can stop it so easily,” he said.

The White House has openly sparred on the issue of detention space with congressional Democrats, who support limiting the bed space as a way of forcing the federal government to focus deportations on convicted criminals. The issue was hotly debated earlier this year in negotiations over government funding which resulted in the longest federal shutdown in American history.

"A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump Admin to prioritize deportation for criminals and people posing real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants contributing to our country," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says slavery reparations are not a 'good idea'

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed reparations for descendants of slaves, because no one "currently alive was responsible for that."

"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years -- for whom none of us currently living are responsible -- is a good idea," McConnell told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.

"We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, by electing an African American president," he said.

McConnell's remarks come just one day before a House Judiciary subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the topic of reparations -- the first hearing on the issue in over a decade. The hearing will "examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice."

Several prominent Democratic presidential candidates have also weighed in on the issue, saying the topic deserves to be studied further.

"I think we're always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive was responsible for that," McConnell said.

He said that another issue is that it would be hard to "figure out" who to compensate.

"We've had waves of immigrants, as well, who have come to this country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another," he said. "So no, I don't think reparations are a good idea."

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Katharine Gorka expected to take over as Customs and Border Protection press secretary

jetcityimage/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Katharine Gorka, who has been serving as an adviser for the Department of Homeland Security, is expected to take over as press secretary for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, department officials confirmed to ABC News on Tuesday.

In her new role, Gorka will work more directly with federal immigration enforcement as a liaison between border agents and the public. The news was first reported by CNN.

"We look forward to her continued service with the Department in her new position at CBP as we work to secure the border and enforce our nation’s immigration laws," a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told ABC News in a statement.

Gorka's husband is Sebastian Gorka, a controversial Trump adviser who was fired from the White House in August 2017.

The two Gorkas have contributed to Breitbart, a far-right opinion outlet, and are known for controversial remarks connecting Islamic religious beliefs to violent extremism.

“Presidents Bush and Obama both publicly declared Islam to be a religion of peace, which has struck a sour chord for many,” Katharine Gorka wrote in a 2014 post for Breitbart. “American and Western leaders have preemptively shut down any debate within Islam by declaring that Islam is the religion of peace and that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam."

When asked about her tenure as a DHS adviser, a department spokesperson said that her work was focused on national security and counterterrorism efforts "regardless of ideology."

In her role as an analyst for a group called the Westminster Institute, Katharine Gorka criticized the Department of Homeland Security for referring to Islam as "a religion of peace."

"This has driven many of today’s experts underground," she claimed. "They have had to learn to speak cautiously and in coded language."

Katharine Gorka was the subject of a lawsuit from a liberal watch dog group earlier this year after DHS did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for specifics about her role.

“We’re suing to find out whether her extreme and biased views are driving Homeland Security resources away from real threats," said Charisma Troiano, a spokesperson for Democracy Forward, in a statement at the time.

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Stewart fires back at McConnell for calling him 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 first responders

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- On Monday's The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, comedian Jon Stewart fired back at Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after McConnell said Stewart was 'bent out of shape" over wanting Congress to move faster on taking care of 9/11 first responders with health problems.

Stewart drew national attention last week when he made an emotional appeal before the House Judiciary Committee for making the Victims Compensation Fund permanent, at one point almost shouting, “They responded in five seconds, they did their jobs, with courage grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours!"

While the committee voted to advance the proposal to fully and permanently fund the program, its fate in the Senate is unclear. In 2015, the original funding bill was held up by McConnell, only to be passed as part of last-minute negotiations over an overall year-end spending deal.

In his testimony, Stewart took aim at McConnell, promising that he and other advocates won’t allow a “certain someone” in the Senate to use the program as a “political football” in spending negotiations.

McConnell responded on Fox and Friends on Monday, saying he didn't know why Stewart was "bent out of shape," denied he was moving slowly on the issue and said the extension would pass when it came up for renewal.

"I'm not bent out of shape, I'm fine. I'm bent out of shape for them," Stewart responded on CBS' The Late Show.

"These are the first heroes and veterans and victims of the great trillions of dollars War on Terror. And they are currently dying, suffering and in terrible need. You know you would think that would be enough for Congress to pay attention, but apparently, it's not." he said.

"Listen, senator. I know that your species isn't known for moving quickly," he said.

Colbert then asked him, “Would that be a turtle reference Jon?”

It was "a little red meat for the base," Stewart answered.

Jon Stewart pops out from under the desk to address Mitch McConnell. #LSSC https://t.co/MEFv1okFqv pic.twitter.com/EmBYFhnS3T

— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) June 18, 2019

"But damn, senator. You're not good at this argument thing. Basically, we're saying you love the 9/11 community when they serve your political purposes. But when they're in urgent need, you slow walk. You use it as a political pawn to get other things you want," Stewart said.

"Just understand the next time we have a war or you're being robbed or your house is on fire and you make that desperate call for help, don't get bent out of shape if they show up at the last minute with fewer people than you thought were going to pay attention and don't actually pull it out. just leave it there, smoldering for another five years 'cause that's how sh--'s done around here mister. I'm sure they'll put it out for good when they feel like getting around to it. No offense," he concluded.

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Justice Department acknowledges rare intervention to prevent Rikers Island transfer for Paul Manafort

Alexandria (Va.) Sheriffs Office(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been spared from an expected transfer to Rikers Island prison in New York following a rare intervention by the Department of Justice, a DOJ official confirmed to ABC News.

Trump has previously complained about how Manafort was being treated and has suggested he might pardon him.

Manafort, 70, who is currently serving out a federal prison sentence in Pennsylvania, was expected to be transferred to the infamous Rikers complex as he waited to face mortgage fraud and other state charges brought by the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

But in a statement to ABC News Monday evening, a senior DOJ official acknowledged that the department stepped in to prevent the move last week after Manafort's attorneys raised concerns "related to his health and personal safety." During his federal trial, Manafort's physical condition appeared to be deteriorating and at times during hearings he had to use to a wheelchair or a cane.

The New York Times reported Monday that among the DOJ officials to get directly involved was Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who was confirmed to his position as the department's number 2-ranked official last month.

"Mr. Manafort’s attorneys proposed that he remain in federal custody and be made available to the state when necessary," the official said. "The Department requested the views of New York prosecutors, who did not object to Mr. Manafort’s proposal. In light of New York’s position, and Mr. Manafort’s unique health and safety needs, the Department decided to err on the side of caution by keeping Mr. Manafort in federal custody during the pendency of his state proceedings."

Manafort has since been transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan ahead of his expected arraignment on the state charges.

His attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Several former Obama-era federal prosecutors raised issue with the high-level DOJ intervention, noting it ran counter to typical rules governing detention for federal inmates facing state charges in New York.

Calling this highly unusual doesn’t even begin to capture how strange it is for the no. 2 official at DOJ to intervene in a state custody issue. https://t.co/oX8gXwPVs4

— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) June 17, 2019

It is very unusual - perhaps entirely unprecedented - for such a high-ranking DOJ official to be involved in the specific prison designation for a particular inmate. Anyone else in this situation goes to Rikers and that’s that.https://t.co/wtHrP66hCp

— Elie Honig (@eliehonig) June 18, 2019

President Trump has repeatedly expressed his objections to the treatment of Manafort by federal prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

After the Manhattan District Attorney announced separate state charges against Manafort in March of this year, Trump reacted telling reporters, "on a human basis, it's a very sad thing."

The White House did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the DOJ decision.

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Gov. Steve Bullock, after missing out on June Democratic debate, qualifies for July face-off

William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Despite missing the cutoff for the first Democratic debate scheduled for later this month, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock might get a shot at the second round of debates in July, the Democratic National Committee confirmed Tuesday.

An Iowa poll conducted by CBS News and YouGov qualified the governor for the debate under the DNC's rules, a DNC spokesperson told ABC News.

POLITICO first reported the governor's qualification, which was immediately celebrated by Bullock's team.

"As the only candidate who has won a Trump state, we are excited that Gov. Steve Bullock’s important voice will be on the stage for the second debate," Bullock's campaign manager Jenn Ridder said in a statement.

The Montana governor's qualification for the debate does not, however, guarantee Bullock's place on the stage -- a nuance triggered by the DNC's participant cap for the debates, which stands at only 20 candidates. Bullock is the 21st Democratic candidate to qualify for the July debate in Detroit, which means tie-breaker rules outlined by the DNC are expected to come into play to decide which of the candidates actually take the stage.

The 20 candidates who qualified for the first debates in late June in Miami will also qualify for the second debates, which fall under the same rules: a candidate must either net at least 1 percent in three national or early-state polls conducted between January 2019 and two weeks before a given debate, or receive donations from over 65,000 people across 20 states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state. Two other 2020 candidates, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, also did not meet the thresholds for the June debate and have yet to qualify for July.

The DNC's tie-breaker rules favor candidates who have higher polling averages. The deadline to qualify for the second debates is two weeks before candidates take the stage on July 30 and 31 in Detroit, meaning that more candidates have time to cross the threshold and qualify.

Based on an ABC News analysis, the tie-breaker at this time would be between California Rep. Eric Swalwell and Bullock. Both candidates have identical polling averages and have narrowly crossed the threshold in only three qualifying polls. Neither campaign has released details on their donor base, nor announced if they have met the donor threshold. As of the first debates, Swalwell did not cross the donor threshold.

It has been a rocky road for Bullock, who narrowly missed the cut-off for the first Democratic debate scheduled for June and was, at one point, considered qualified by news outlets, including ABC News. It was only after a late rule change by the DNC, which eliminated one of the polls thought to qualify Bullock for the debate, that Bullock was knocked off the list of candidates. For that debate, too, he would've been the 21st candidate and triggered tie-breaker rules.

Bullock's campaign has attempted to capitalize on the exclusion from the debate by painting the governor, who was elected by the same Montanan voters who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, as an outsider, accusing the DNC of not learning "the right lesson from the 2016 election."

"If we’re going to take back the places we lost — and then do the hard work to get our country back on track — we can’t let the DNC’s new rules exclude the perspectives of leaders who have done this before," Bullock said in an op-ed last week.

Bullock, who entered the race just about a month ago, has said he entered late because he "had a job to do" as Montana's governor. The state legislature was in session until late May and one of his hallmark achievements as governor, Medicaid expansion for about 10 percent of the state's population, was up for renewal.

The DNC's confirmation of these polls comes a day after Bullock announced he will appear in a pair of locally televised town halls in Iowa and New Hampshire on the same days as next week's first debates.

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ICE will begin removing 'millions of illegal aliens' next week, Trump tweets

VallarieE/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter late Monday night that Immigration and Customs Enforcement next week would begin "removing the millions of illegal aliens" from the U.S. "as fast as they come in."

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ABC News that the deportations described by the president in Twitter aren’t imminent.

ICE does not normally unveil operational details in advance.

Separately, an administration official said Tuesday morning that enforcing final deportation orders "is a top priority."

"Countless illegal aliens not only violate our borders but then break the law all over again by skipping their court hearings and absconding from federal proceedings. These runaway aliens lodge phony asylum claims only to be no-shows at court and are ordered removed in absentia," the official told ABC News.

"There are more than 1 million illegal aliens who have been issued final deportation orders by federal judges yet remain at large in the country. These judicial removal orders were secured at great time and expense, and yet illegal aliens not only refuse to appear in court, they often obtain fraudulent identities, collect federal welfare, and illegally work in the United States. Enforcing these final judicial orders is a top priority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement — willful defiance of our laws, and the defrauding of the American People with fraudulent asylum claims, will not be tolerated,” the official said in a statement.

Less than two weeks after signing a deal with Mexico to avoid another trade war, Trump said America's neighbor to the south now is "doing a very good job of stopping people long before they get to our Southern Border."

Guatemala, Trump added, is close to signing a "Safe-Third Agreement," which means migrants fleeing from Honduras and El Salvador would be required to seek asylum there first before in the U.S.

....long before they get to our Southern Border. Guatemala is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement. The only ones who won’t do anything are the Democrats in Congress. They must vote to get rid of the loopholes, and fix asylum! If so, Border Crisis will end quickly!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019

Earlier on Monday, the State Department reported that it would freeze $185 million in aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala "until the department is satisfied the Northern Triangle countries are taking concrete actions to reduce the number of migrants."

Trump's tweets came a day before he's expected to kick off his 2020 campaign at a major event in Orlando, Florida.

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Trump vows 'phenomenal' new health care plan

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News, President Donald Trump declared he would be announcing a “phenomenal” new health care plan within the next two months, and said health care would be a priority leading up to his 2020 re-election campaign.

"We almost had health care done. Health care's a disaster …” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, apparently referring to the GOP effort to overturn Obamacare that failed when Sen. John McCain cast a deciding vote against it, much to Trump's continuing annoyance.

"If we win back the House, we're going to produce phenomenal health care. And we already have the concept of the plan, but it'll be less expensive than Obamacare by a lot."

The president has long promised to cut health care costs and cover more Americans, while still preserving core Obamacare expansions like guaranteeing coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

When Trump was pressed for more details about his new health care plan, Trump said his administration would be announcing changes “in about two months. Maybe less.”

But senior White House officials have told ABC News that they’re far away from putting together an actual health care bill.

Instead, these officials say, the administration is crafting a set of “high-level principles” that outlines the president’s vision and could from the basis for future legislation.

The process is being headed up by the president’s Domestic Policy Council, with input from the Department of Health and Human Services among other executive offices, according to officials.

A draft of the principles is circulating within the administration, according to one official, who could not offer a timeline of when it might be made public because the process is in the early stages.

One official said the principles outlined will be similar to past proposals supported by the White House on past failed attempts to reform the healthcare system, saying it will seek to address affordability, premiums, and protections for pre-existing condition protections.

The president outlined his vision Tuesday night for Republicans to campaign on his plan in the 2020 election and then vote on it right after the election, assuming Republicans hold the White House and Senate, while also regaining the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday blasted the president for working on a new health care plan.

“The American people already know exactly what the President’s health care plans mean in their lives: higher costs, worse coverage and the end of lifesaving protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” Pelosi said in a statement.

"President Trump has waged an assault on health care since the start, and continues to order the Justice Department to ask the courts to destroy protections for people with pre-existing conditions and strike down every other protection and guarantee of affordable health care for America’s families. And since Day One, the Trump Administration has worked relentlessly to push families into disastrous junk plans, increase their health care costs and gut their health care protections," she continued.

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was “anxious” to see Trump’s new plan.

“We’re anxious to see what the president recommends,” the Kentucky Republican said Monday during an interview with "Fox and Friends."

“There’s a space there for the president to advocate for something and we’re looking forward to seeing what he’s going to recommend,” he said.

“What he’s doing is through the executive branch, through regulations, expanding health care for a lot of Americans, which he can do on his own,” he said.

He added: “He has said he’s going to lay a plan out, and he has said it would be dealt with after the election when we get a Congress that’s more sympathetic to our approach to health care.”

Earlier in the year, McConnell and several Senate Republicans had signaled their unwillingness to tackle health care anytime soon, after their numerous attempts at taking down Obamacare amounted to nothing.

In April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he had smacked down Trump’s hopes for a renewed fight to replace Obamacare.

“We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon... I made it clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate," McConnell said of health care reform.

The Republican Leader told reporters that he reminded the president of “Senate Republicans view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives," and that they had been unable to achieve health care reform during the last GOP-controlled Congress.

"As he later tweeted, [the president] accepted that and that he would be developing a plan that he would take to the American people during the 2020 campaign and suggests that that's what he would be advocating in a second term if there were a Republican Congress," he said.

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Harvard reportedly rescinds Parkland shooting survivor's admission over alleged racist comments

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A survivor of the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting revealed on Monday that Harvard College rescinded its admissions offer as a result of alleged racist comments he made months before the 2018 shooting massacre.

Kyle Kashuv, 18, disclosed the news on Twitter, claiming the school rescinded its offer after screenshots surfaced showing him allegedly using racial slurs at the age of 16, just a few months before a gunman stormed into the Parkland, Florida, school and killed 17 people.

The recent graduate posted two letters purportedly from the school: one asking him explain the comments and another notifying him that the offer had been rescinded after serious consideration of "the qualities of maturity and moral character."

"As you know, the Committee takes seriously the qualities of maturity and moral character," William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, wrote in a June 3 letter made public by Kashuv. "After careful consideration the committee voted to rescind your admission to Harvard College."

"We are sorry about the circumstances that have led us to withdraw your admission, and we wish you success in your future academic endeavors and beyond," the letter added.

Kashuv, who became a gun rights advocate in the wake of the massacre and landed a White House meeting with first lady Melania Trump, said the school rescinded the offer three months after accepting him.

 A Harvard spokesperson said the college could not comment "on the admissions status of individual applicants," but one of the things the spokesperson noted was that the school "reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission" under conditions that are "clearly expressed to students upon their admission."

The school's admissions policy states that an admitted student could have their admission withdrawn if he or she "engages or has engaged in behavior that brings into question their honesty, maturity or moral character."

Kashuv acknowledged that he had made “abhorrent racial slurs” when he was 16 years old "in an effort to be as extreme and shocking as possible."

He said he’d given up "huge scholarships" in order to attend Harvard, according to a Monday tweet.

“I had given up huge scholarships in order to go to Harvard, and the deadline for accepting other college offers has ended," Kashuv said. "In the end, this isn’t about me, it's about whether we live in a society in which forgiveness is possible or mistakes brand you as irredeemable, as Harvard has decided for me."

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