Posts Tagged ‘John McCain’

With Timing Tight for GOP’s Graham-Cassidy Health-Law Effort, Opponents Rush to Mobilize

September 21, 2017

Critics step up attacks on latest bill amid narrow window for Senate vote

Opponents of a Republican plan to dismantle most of the Affordable Care Act are scrambling to ramp up a resistance campaign before a possible Senate vote next week on a bill many never expected would gain traction.

With such a narrow window, consumer and other groups are seeking to pressure specific GOP senators they see as most likely to waver. They also assert that Republicans are trying to ram through a bill outside the normal…

The latest Republican stab at overhauling the Affordable Care Act manages to be both more timid and more sweeping than previous efforts to replace Obamacare. Known as Graham-Cassidy, it was written by a quartet of Republican senators led by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

In the timid sense, the proposal would keep much more of Obamacare’s taxes and spending in place than previous Republican plans this year. Yet Graham-Cassidy makes more sweeping changes by turning money currently used on insurance subsidies and the Medicaid expansion into block grants to states. This change would give states more flexibility to design their own health care systems.

The prospects for Graham-Cassidy remain in doubt, but the battle over whether states or the federal government should have more control over health care policy will remain no matter what happens in the coming weeks. There is a strong case for a system that takes a less Washington-centric approach to health care and turns more decisions over to the states.

Commentators often bemoan how divided the nation is, pointing to our bitter elections and the toxic nature of political discourse. But the current level of partisan and regional polarization is a natural consequence of a political system that cedes so much power to the federal government. When distant lawmakers and unelected bureaucrats are in a position to make decisions that have enormous implications for the entire nation, the stakes of any decision become much higher. This is especially true when it comes to health care policy, which has the most personal and life-altering effects on individuals and their families.

A more flexible system would give states latitude to pursue health care programs that are a better fit for their populations’ ideological sensibilities. And there are practical reasons to think of health care as a state-based issue: Every one has its own demographics, health challenges and other unique characteristics.

For instance, median household income is much higher in New Hampshire than in Arkansas; heart disease and obesity are much bigger problems in Mississippi than in Colorado; the opioid epidemic is much worse in West Virginia than in Nebraska. Relatively sparsely populated areas struggle with the closings of rural hospitals, leaving large geographic areas underserved, while urban areas have a high concentration of large hospitals, many of which struggle with overcrowding.

Some states have both major cities and vast rural areas. Some skew younger while others skew older. State-specific factors help explain why even under the centralized Obamacare, premium increases and the participation of insurers have varied widelyacross the country. It makes sense to allow states to set their priorities and direct their resources based on the characteristics of their populations.

As states come up with innovative solutions to their health care problems, it means there are 50 opportunities to experiment. States can test solutions that worked elsewhere, or steer clear of ideas that failed. This path makes more sense than having politicians and distant regulators impose one giant experiment on the entire nation that is harder to undo if it fails.

The idea of turning more power over to the states has long been advocated by conservatives, but there are compelling reasons for liberals to get behind devolving power from the federal government.

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it left many of the details to the discretion of the Department of Health and Human Services, giving vast powers to the secretary to determine everything from fast-food menu labeling requirements to when individuals could purchase insurance. During the Obama years, the administration used its regulatory discretion — pushing and arguably exceeding the limits of the law — to prop up the president’s signature legislative accomplishment as the program ran into implementation problems.

When President Trump took office, he appointed Tom Price, a longtime foe of Obamacare during his time in Congress, to run H.H.S. In the past several months, liberals have shouted “sabotage” as they have witnessed Mr. Price take actions such as slashing Obamacare’s advertising budget, tweaking the rules on the types of plans insurers are allowed to offer and cutting in half— to six weeks — the program’s open enrollment period. Mr. Trump himself has created uncertainty over whether he will continue to authorize payments to insurers that congressional Republicans sued Mr. Obama over.

Any national health care system that assumes one party will control Washington for all eternity is doomed to fail. New Yorkers would have much less to fear about a Trump presidency if the president didn’t control agencies that set policies for the entire country.

From the perspective of somebody who wants to see genuine federalism in health care, Graham-Cassidy leaves a lot to be desired. Because it keeps many of Obamacare’s regulations on the books at the national level, it limits the amount of innovation that can occur at the state level. The fact that it keeps most of Obamacare’s taxes means that states preferring to take a more free market approach will still be paying for a big government footprint in other states. Under one scenario, for instance, Texans could be subsidizing single-payer health care in Vermont.

But the idea of giving states more control over their health care systems should survive no matter what happens with Graham-Cassidy.


McConnell Plans Vote on GOP Health Bill Next Week

September 20, 2017

Senate leader is still trying to secure enough Republican votes for Graham-Cassidy measure

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The latest proposal, written by Sens. Lindsey Graham (left) and Bill Cassidy (center), would turn federal health insurance funding into block grants for states. | Alex Brandon/AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote next week on the latest GOP effort to unwind the Affordable Care Act, his spokesman said Wednesday, even though Republicans haven’t yet secured enough support to pass the legislation.

“It is the leader’s intention to consider Graham-Cassidy on the floor next week,” David Popp, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said Wednesday. The statement didn’t commit the Senate to a vote,…

McConnell spokeswoman: Senate to vote next week on Graham-Cassidy

The majority leader’s office does leave some wiggle room, however.


The Senate will vote next week on the latest bill to repeal Obamacare — but the outcome is anything but certain.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to put a bill written by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to a vote, hoping that a looming Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill with just 50 votes will create enough pressure to finally pass a repeal of the health care law, his office said.

“It is the leader’s intention to consider Graham/Cassidy on the floor next week,” a spokeswoman said.

McConnell has told colleagues he will only bring up the bill if it will succeed. The statement does leave some wiggle room to not proceed with a vote.

It’s still anyone’s guess whether the bill’s backers can get to 50 votes.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are viewed as hard “no’s.” And Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who opposed a previous iteration of repeal in July, are not sold on the proposal.

In an interview, McCain sounded like he could end up tanking a bill written by Graham, his close friend.

“Nothing has changed. If McConnell wants to put it on the floor, that’s up to McConnell,” McCain said. “I am the same as I was before. I want the regular order.”

Asked if that means he’s a “no” vote, McCain said: “That means I want the regular order. It means I want the regular order!”

The latest proposal would turn federal health insurance funding into block grants for states, wind down Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and rescind the law’s coverage mandates. Notably, there will be no complete analysis by the Congressional Budget Office by the time a vote comes up, leaving lawmakers unsure what the bill’s effects on premiums and coverage will be.

That uncertainty has kept many center-right senators on the sidelines, including McCain, Murkowski and Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Graham and Cassidy spent Wednesday morning meeting with McConnell and working on Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), hoping to overcome their concerns that block grants could slash funding to Alaska.

“We’re very interested in helping Alaska because Alaska has 750,000 people. And a land mass bigger than Texas,” Graham said.

Most of the whipping will focus on McCain and Murkowski. Both took an immense political risk in rejecting the GOP’s “skinny” repeal in July, and Republican senators believe that if the two of them support the bill, the rest of the undecided Republicans will fall in line.

“It’s going well,” Cassidy said of the discussions with McCain and Murkowski. “I don’t want to say in play … but they are open to these discussions.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan Criticizes Donald Trump’s Pardon for Joe Arpaio

August 27, 2017

Republican joins two GOP senators from Arizona in opposing the move

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said ‘law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.’
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said ‘law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.’ PHOTO: BILL CLARK/CQ ROLL CALL/NEWSCOM/ZUMA PRESS

Aug. 26, 2017 5:12 p.m. ET

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday criticized President Donald Trump for pardoning a former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, becoming the highest-ranking Republican to object to the move.

“The speaker does not agree with the decision,” said Ryan spokesman Doug Andres.

“Law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr. Ryan’s statement.

 In this Jan. 26, 2016, file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix.

In this Jan. 26, 2016, file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix. (AP)

On Friday, the White House announced that the president had pardoned Mr. Arpaio, known as an immigration hard-liner who had been sheriff of Maricopa County for 24 years before he lost a re-election bid last year.

Mr. Arpaio, an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, was convicted last month for disobeying a 2011 federal court order to halt immigration raids. He was to be sentenced in October and faced up to six months in jail.

As sheriff he took aggressive measures to curb illegal immigration, including hunting people who crossed the border illegally in remote parts of his county, launching workplace raids and conducting traffic stops.

In a tweet Friday, the president described Mr. Arpaio as a “patriot” who “kept Arizona safe.”

A statement from the White House Friday said:

“Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our nation, he is a worthy candidate for a presidential pardon.”

Mr. Arpaio didn’t respond to a request for comment, but in several tweets after the pardon he thanked the president and his supporters, while also asking for donations to his legal fund.

The pardon is the latest point of friction between the president and Mr. Ryan, who have sparred periodically since the campaign. On Thursday, Mr. Trump sent a pair of tweets faulting Mr. Ryan and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for their legislative strategy in raising the debt ceiling.

By failing to tie the debt-ceiling measure to a popular veterans-affairs bill, the pair missed a chance to resolve the issue and created “a mess,” Mr. Trump wrote.

Mr. Ryan, in an interview with CNBC, said he didn’t take offense. “I don’t really take it as going after me,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said Saturday the pardon is a “White House question.”

Other Republicans also criticized the pardon, including Arizona’s two U.S. senators. Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted that he would have “preferred that the president honor the judicial process and let it take its course.”

Sen. John McCain said that in granting the pardon the president “undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”

Also weighing in was Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who competed with Mr. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Citing Mr. McCain’s statement, Mr. Bush tweeted: “John McCain is right on the mark.”

But Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, tweeted: “The president did the right thing—Joe Arpaio lived an honorable life serving our country, and he deserves an honorable retirement.”

Kelli Ward, who is challenging Mr. Flake in Arizona’s GOP Senate primary in 2018, said in a statement on her Facebook page that the pardon will help “counter the politically motivated assault on Sheriff Arpaio’s heroic efforts to enforce the nation’s #immigration laws.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at


Trump pardons Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio one month after conviction

August 26, 2017

AFP and Reuters

© Scott Olson / Getty Images North America / AFP | This file photo taken on January 26, 2016 shows Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump prior to a rally in Marshalltown, Iowa.


Latest update : 2017-08-26

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday granted a pardon to controversial former Arizona lawman and political ally Joe Arpaio less than a month after he was convicted of criminal contempt in a case involving racial profiling.

“Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration,” said a White House statement announcing Arpaio’s pardon, the first of Trump’s administration.

Arpaio, 85, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” lost a bid for re-election in Arizona’s Maricopa County in November after 24 years in office.

He is known for his crackdown on undocumented immigrants and investigating unfounded Trump-supported claims questioning former President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

“I have to thank the president for what he has done, that’s for sure,” Arpaio told Reuters in a brief telephone interview from his Arizona home. “He’s a big supporter of law enforcement.”

Arpaio said his lawyer was sent a copy of the pardon on Friday afternoon and he planned a press conference to discuss what he said were new details in the case. He declined to say if he would run again for sheriff.

“I’m not going away,” added Arpaio.

Arpaio told Reuters that he would reveal more about the case on Monday or Tuesday and detail the “real story” behind the case that brought him to trial. He has long maintained that the prosecution by the administration under President Barack Obama was political, aimed at helping oust him from office.

He said his attorney delivered the good news the same day as his wife’s birthday, adding “he came over to give my wife a birthday gift and it was a pretty good one,” said Arpaio, alluding to the pardon, as he was about to leave for her celebration dinner.

‘Disrespects rule of law’

Civil rights advocates slammed Trump’s decision as an endorsement of racist and unlawful immigration policies.

President Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is a presidential endorsement of racism. 

Photo published for ACLU Comment on Trump Pardon of Joe Arpaio

ACLU Comment on Trump Pardon of Joe Arpaio

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASENEW YORK — President Trump has pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for deliberately violating a federal…

“Once again, the president has acted in support of illegal, failed immigration enforcement practices that target people of color and that have been struck down by the courts,” said American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang, who sought the court injunction against Arpaio.

The pardon sent “a dangerous message that a law enforcement officer who abused his position of power and defied a court order can simply be excused by a president who himself clearly does not respect the law”, Vanita Gupta, president of the

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement.

Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), said: “President Trump pardoned a terrorist tonight. Joe Arpaio intentionally terrorized immigrant communities across Arizona for decades and traumatized an entire generation of Arizonans…

“The only proper place for him is in a jail cell,” Gomez said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said it was “disheartening that he set the bar so very low for his first pardon… The ex-sheriff is a self-aggrandizing braggart who promoted racist law enforcement practices and cost taxpayers millions, and that is a reason they did not reelect him.

“After the racism and hate in Charlottesville, our country needs to come together and heal. But that healing will not come from a president who only exploits divisions and fears,” Leahy said in a statement.

Controversy over racial profiling

Arpaio, who campaigned for Trump in 2016, was convicted on July 31 by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who ruled he had willfully violated a 2011 injunction barring his officers from stopping and detaining Latino motorists solely on suspicion that they were in the country illegally.

By pardoning Sheriff Arpaio, Trump has again made clear he will use the powers of the presidency to defend racism and discrimination.

Arpaio admitted to inadvertently disobeying the court order but said his behavior did not meet a criminal standard. He said the prosecution was a politically motivated attempt by the Obama administration to undermine his re-election bid.

Arpaio had been scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and faced a fine and maximum sentence of six months in jail.

His controversial tenure as sheriff brought Arpaio national headlines for massive roundups of suspected illegal immigrants and for the way he ran the Maricopa County jail.

He reinstated chain gangs, made inmates wear uniforms that were pink or old-fashioned black and white stripes and forbade them coffee, salt and pepper.

Critics said as sheriff Arpaio spent too much time courting publicity and not enough on basic policing. The East Valley Times newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2009 series showing that arrests in the county had dropped while many violent crimes were not investigated and response call times had increased.


Afghanistan and Economic Growth — We Can Get It Done: The most important difference is President Donald J. Trump is the Commander in Chief

August 24, 2017

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23 Aug 2017

I have seen the devastation of war. I have witnessed the final moments of young men in distant lands, far from all they love and hold dear. I have watched my daughter deploy to combat in Afghanistan and soon might my son. I recognize the personal courage required to make difficult decisions. I know the cost of war. More importantly, I know the price of freedom.

Monday night President Trump announced to the Nation the recommitment of America’s will, military, and diplomatic might to the fight in Afghanistan. He signaled to all that this Nation will not back away from hard sacrifice to ensure our safety. Undoubtedly, you will hear the hue and cry from the President’s detractors recalling a need to withdraw from Afghanistan and their rallying cries of failed campaign promises and abandonment of America First. Do not listen to them.

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Make no mistake, I have been with the President since nearly the beginning, well before he was the Republican Presidential nominee. I wrote on the campaign trail that he was the leader who will take us forward and I still deeply believe that today. In the less than 24 hours since President’s Trump speech, there have been dozens of articles and opinion pieces touting that this is more of the same. They could not be more mistaken. They are overlooking the most important difference: President Donald J. Trump is the Commander in Chief.

Our President’s decision reflects an understanding that the promise to Make America Great Again must include cleaning up the mess left behind in Afghanistan from the fits and starts of the past 15 years. The President does not have the luxury of starting from nothing, of beginning from scratch. There is no such thing as a clean slate. However, there is now the opportunity for fresh perspectives, new ideas and the outsider advantage.

Over the past several months, I have been privileged to see and listen as the President has taken the time for counsel and to weigh different options for Afghanistan and the region. He has heard from his commanders in the field and, yes, he has listened to his Generals. I have heard him ask the tough questions and demand accountability from those responsible for leading our men and women in harm’s way. He has listened to strong recommendations from his National Security team and has engaged them in deep and thoughtful discussions. He has demanded a way forward placing primacy on the safety of America and her citizens.

From the beginning, President Trump has sworn to put America First. Monday, he outlined a course that places us closer to that vision than ever before. The path forward is not more of the same. Through strength we seek a negotiated political settlement that protects our interests. We do not seek territorial conquest or occupation. We do not intend to create a government after our own image. We will not set arbitrary timelines. We will use our integrated military, political, and economic efforts to promote stability in the region. We will demand that nations ultimately provide for their own security. Those that harbor terrorist networks must eliminate them.

We will fight those that threaten us wherever they may be. We will fight them at night, in the day, in their supposed sanctuaries. We will give them no rest nor will we grow weary. While our brave men and women in uniform are waging battle on the ground and from the air, President Trump will be using every diplomatic and economic tool at his disposal to bring about an end state that does not allow another country to become a breeding ground for radical Islamic terrorism.

The President has made the necessary hard decision. It is what all of us, as Americans, expect from our Commander in Chief. President Trump has demonstrated the courage to lead, the confidence in our military to deliver results, the trust in our diplomats to bring peace, and faith in our citizens’ patience to see our Nation to victory.

LTG (Ret) Keith Kellogg is Assistant to the President, Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council. A highly decorated Vietnam War Veteran, he served over 30 years in the United States Army to include serving as Commanding General of the U.S. Army’s elite 82d Airborne Division and as the Director for Command, Control and Communications on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. He joined the Trump Campaign as a National Security advisor in February of 2016.

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Tillerson says US could punish Pakistan if no cooperation

August 23, 2017

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s plan to end America’s longest war and eliminate Afghanistan’s rising extremist threat involves sending up to 3,900 additional U.S. troops, senior officials said Tuesday. The first deployments could take place within days.

In a national address Monday night, Trump reversed his past calls for a speedy exit and recommitted the United States to the 16-year-old conflict, saying U.S. troops must “fight to win.” He warned against repeating what he said were mistakes in Iraq, where an American military withdrawal led to a vacuum that the Islamic State group quickly filled.

Trump would not confirm how many more service members he plans to send to Afghanistan, which may be the public’s most pressing question about his strategy. In interviews with television networks Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence similarly wouldn’t give any clear answer, but he cited Pentagon plans from June calling for 3,900 more troops.

“The troop levels are significant, and we’ll listen to our military commanders about that,” Pence said.

Although the Pentagon’s plans are based on 3,900 additional troops, the exact number will vary as conditions change, senior U.S. officials said. Those officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the figures and demanded anonymity.

In outlining the pillars of his strategy to address Afghanistan, President Trump said the US is not about nation building, but rather, “killing terrorists.” He also said the US “can no longer be silent” about terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. (Aug. 21)

They said the Pentagon has told Trump it needs the increase, on top of the roughly 8,400 Americans now in the country, to accomplish Trump’s objectives. Those goals, he said Monday night, include “obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

Speaking to reporters in Iraq, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declined to confirm a precise number Tuesday, saying he was waiting for more input from Gen. Joseph Dunford, America’s top military official. Mattis said he will “reorganize” some U.S. troops in Afghanistan to reflect the new strategy.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East said he expects the first reinforcements to arrive “pretty quickly,” within days or weeks.

“What’s most important for us now is to get some capabilities in to have an impact on the current fighting season,” Gen. Joseph Votel, who spent last weekend in Afghanistan, told reporters traveling with him to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Most of the new forces will train and advise Afghan forces to improve their combat abilities, or provide security for American adviser teams in the field, Votel said. U.S. counterterror forces will make up a smaller portion, as will other support forces and medical personnel.

About 460 of the total troops will help the U.S. train more Afghan special commandos in more locations, said U.S. Maj. Gen. James Linder, commander of U.S. and NATO special operations forces in Afghanistan.

Before he was a presidential candidate, Trump argued for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan and called the war a massive waste of U.S. “blood and treasure.” On Monday, he suggested an open-ended commitment rather than a “time-based” approach.

“Conditions on the ground — not arbitrary timetables — will guide our strategy from now on,” Trump said.

At its peak involvement in 2010-2011, the U.S. had roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama then started bringing them home, drawing criticism for the public timetables he provided for his planned drawdown and ultimate withdrawal of forces.

Trump was among those who argued that Obama was aiding the enemy by telegraphing U.S. intentions. On Monday, Trump said he wouldn’t discuss troop numbers, military tactics or timetables. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out,” he said.

However, the American public may insist on knowing how many of its citizens are waging a war overseas.

The administration invariably will have to provide updates to Congress, which pays the military’s bills, and to key U.S. allies, whose troop contributions it seeks.

Obama, too, had reversed himself on withdrawing from Afghanistan as security worsened. Taliban militants have made gains, and the fractious Afghan government currently controls about half the country.

Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government welcomed Trump’s strategy, with President Ashraf Ghani saying it will help stabilize the region.

Allies responded positively, too.

Germany, which contributes 950 troops in northern Afghanistan, approved the U.S. readiness for a “long-term commitment” and agreed the military’s continued deployment should be “linked to the conditions on the ground.”

Trump offered few specifics of how his strategy would be implemented. He didn’t say how the U.S. would get Pakistan to crack down on militant sanctuaries on its soil — long a point of contention that has led Washington to restrict aid to the country.

Insisting that the U.S. was intent on “killing terrorists” rather than “nation building,” Trump gave little indication of how the U.S. would use other instruments of American power to end the conflict.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that after an effective military effort, a political settlement including some Taliban might be possible, echoing language of the Obama years. He said the U.S. would support peace talks with the Taliban “without preconditions.”

On Pakistan, Tillerson said Tuesday that the U.S. could consider sanctions or cutting off Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally if it doesn’t crack down on the Taliban and other extremist groups.

U.S. lawmakers reflected the division among Americans about whether to press on with the Afghan conflict or pull back.

Republican John McCain of Arizona, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who’d criticized Trump for delays in presenting a plan, said Trump was “now moving us well beyond the prior administration’s failed strategy of merely postponing defeat.”

Maryland’s Ben Cardin, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, said he failed to see how another “surge” of forces in Afghanistan would turn the tide on the insurgency. He expressed concern that Trump was ceding significant responsibility to his defense secretary.


Baldor reported from Muscat, Oman, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Baghdad, Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.


Trump’s Afghan strategy wins praise but won’t win the war against the Taliban — “The Americans have made clear they will not be fooled” — After this, the insurgency will endure

August 22, 2017

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US President Donald J. Trump (left) greets military leaders before his speech on Afghanistan at the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia, USA on Aug 21, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

By Nirmal Ghosh

US Bureau Chief
The Straits Times

WASHINGTON – The new US strategy for Afghanistan announced by President Donald Trump late on Monday sets no time limits on its involvement, a change from past roadmaps for US military involvement.

The strategy seeks to take the fight back against the resurgent Taliban; pressures Pakistan to reduce its support for the Islamic militants and other terrorist groups; and asks India to step up its financial commitments to Afghanistan.

The strategy for what is now America’s longest war won praise from Republicans. Senator John McCain in a statement called it “long overdue”.

Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that basing the strategy on ground conditions rather than arbitrary numbers and timelines was the right approach.

Analysts noted that it avoided the mistake former President Barack Obama made when he signalled a time frame for the US’s withdrawal, emboldening the Taliban which the US drove out of power in 2001 in response to its sheltering of Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Trump’s strategy also won praise for naming Pakistan as a safe haven for the Taleban. “The Americans have made clear they will not be fooled, they know what is happening on the ground,” an Asian security analyst told The Straits Times.

Analysts noted the inherent limits of military options, stressing that real stability depends on a wider regional diplomatic effort over a country which has historically been a graveyard for superpowers, and is a potential vortex drawing in other powers like China and Iran.

Nisha Biswal, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, now with the consultancy Albright-Stonebridge Group, wrote in an email: “While the President did reference Pakistan and India, he failed to address at all the important influence wielded by China, Russia, Turkey and Iran. In addition, the Central Asian States, a number of whom border Afghanistan, and others like Kazakhstan… were also ignored.”

“However, for Afghanistan to be successful, stable and economically viable, there must be a robust regional diplomatic strategy,” she wrote.

At worst, deploying around 4,000 additional troops and advisers and training the Afghan government’s regular forces and air force, will maintain the status quo with the Taleban.

At best it will push back the Taleban to some degree. The militants now control roughly 40 per cent of the country.

“The Taleban cannot seize power again in Kabul or in provincial capitals with the US staying in Afghanistan,” said the Asian analyst, who asked not to be named.

“The US is the main factor ensuring the Afghan government’s survival. General Nicholson wants additional troops on the ground to break the stalemate,” he said. General John Nicholson is commander of US troops in Afghanistan.

“Continued US presence at current or near current levels, while not enough to stabilise Afghanistan, can at least keep it from collapsing entirely,” Ms Biswal wrote.

“The President’s announcement will provide some reassurances to the region which feared a US vacuum.”

The US has also – though not for the first time – said an eventual negotiated solution would possibly include elements of the Taliban, but that would be for the Afghan government to decide.

But reconciling inherent contradictions remain a huge challenge. President Trump put Pakistan on notice over safe havens for the Taliban and other terrorist groups, but did not say what the consequences would be if the government did not acquiesce.

Getting Pakistan to reduce its support for the Taliban requires the Pakistani military leadership to shed its deep-seated strategic fear, unfounded or not, of Indian encirclement via Afghanistan.

Enhancing the capacity of Afghanistan’s regular forces presents the possibility of striking the Taliban inside Pakistan, across a border that is in many places disputed; this will feed Pakistani insecurities, analysts say.

India could raise developmental aid to Afghanistan but that alone is unlikely to dramatically alter the strategic goals of the Taleban and will also feed Pakistan’s fears. Pakistan, in response, can turn more to China, with which it building an increasingly close relationship.

“In his speech on Afghanistan, Trump mentions India, but not China. Beijing is far more critical to Afghanistan’s stability than New Delhi,” Tweeted Arif Rafiq, Fellow at the Washington-based Center for Global Policy. “China, not India, shares a physical border (with) Afghanistan.”

Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, wrote in an email: “Sending several thousand more troops to Afghanistan won’t win the war. But it’s wrong to reflexively dismiss the utility of a modest troop increase.”

“More US troops can help enhance a training mission in Afghanistan that has actually made very real progress. It can focus on plugging the capacity gaps that remain, like intelligence collection and air support.”

But he added: “So long as Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary to the Taliban leadership, the insurgency will endure. Figuring out the Pakistan problem goes hand in hand with figuring out the overall Afghanistan problem.”

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision

August 19, 2017

The Hill

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision
© Getty

President Trump on Friday again deferred on choosing a path forward for the 16-year-old Afghanistan war, despite a high-level meeting at Camp David to discuss options with his core national security team.

The meeting included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Vice President Pence cut short a trip to South America to attend the meeting.

This is not the first time the president was widely expected to make a decision on an updated strategy for the war in Afghanistan but held off, frustrating top national security and defense officials as well as lawmakers.

Administration officials expected Trump to pick a path in May prior to attending the NATO summit in Belgium. And Mattis in June promised lawmakers that a decision would likely come in July.

A variety of reasons are driving the delay, including the complexity of the conflict and the president’s hesitation to make a decision that may ultimately prove to be the wrong move, according to James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation

“We need a strategy that’s going to be sustainable maybe eight years. There is no short answer here,” said Carafano, who was a member of the Trump transition team.

“The burden really is on the national security team to show Trump they have the most effective strategy to do that, because this is then going to be his war, his responsibility.”

Members of the administration still hold disagreements on the best path forward for Afghanistan, which will include how to handle conflicts along the border of Pakistan. Military leaders are pushing for additional U.S. troops, but Trump has reportedly been wary of continued American presence in the region.

Mattis and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. HR McMaster want to send 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to the country to combat the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda. Recently ousted chief strategist Stephen Bannon, however, had urged against it, saying that would amount to nation building.

Other options on the table include using private contractors, withdrawing altogether or keeping the current strategy, which consists of the existing 8,400 U.S. troop continuing to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions.

In July, Trump showed his reluctance to side with his military advisors by increasing troop numbers.

“We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas,” Trump told reporters.

When asked about a possible troop increase, Trump only said, “We’ll see.”

The immobility on a plan also has bothered lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this month unveiled his own strategy for Afghanistan.

“Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain said in a statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president is deeply frustrated with his list of military options, a complex formula that depends upon the backing of the Afghan government.

Foreign policy experts have expressed doubt that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be able to stop corruption and effectively use American aid to bolster the Afghan National Security Forces. Pentagon leaders would depend on the forces to keep out terrorist groups once U.S. troops leave.

Image result for President Ashraf Ghani, photos

President Ashraf Ghani

“The Afghan government is very divided, it’s weak,” Cordesman said. “Even if [Trump] does all the military recommends, there is a 50-50 chance that the Afghanistan response is going to be effective enough. Everything we’re doing depends on the Afghans.”

Cordesman also suggested that Trump’s reported criticism of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, “likely stems from Nicholson told him the truth and the truth is unpleasant.”

Trump in July 19 meeting with his national security team pushed to fire Nicholson, NBC News reported earlier this month.

“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained during the meeting. “We are losing.”

“The options are so uncertain and so complex and confusing,” Cordesman said. “Not the kind of forward, positive proposal that [Trump] may be used to.”

Cordesman added that the longer Trump waits to make a decision, the worse it will be for soldiers on the ground. Afghanistan’s fighting season lasts into the fall. With no plan yet given as of late August, “nothing you do now is going to be effective, you lost pretty close to a year to actually influence the situation on the ground.”

Even with no decision yet made, Carafano said it was significant that Trump and his national security team went off site to Camp David to discuss options.

“Obviously I wish the process had gone on sooner, I think part of that is the difficulty of the decision. Afghanistan involves a lot of moving pieces and you have to make a commitment that will stick longer over time,” he said.

Mattis, meanwhile, promised again Thursday that the administration is “coming very close to a decision, and I anticipate it in the very near future.”

Earlier this month, Trump assured reporters of the same thing at his club in New Jersey.

“We’re getting close. We’re getting very close,” Trump said. “It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy.”


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Newt Gingrich: Donald Trump’s Presidency Is In Trouble — Needs to make “serious changes” if he’s going to survive

August 18, 2017

By Peter Hasson

The Daily Caller

Former Speaker of the House and longtime Trump supporter Newt Gingrich is seriously worried about the future of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Gingrich, who has consistently been one of Trump’s most optimistic supporters, said Friday morning that Trump is more isolated than he realizes and needs to make “serious changes” if he’s going to have a stable presidency.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich shakes hands with Donald Trump during a rally at the Sharonville Convention Center July 6, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich shakes hands with Donald Trump during a rally at the Sharonville Convention Center July 6, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)

“I think he’s in a position right now where he’s much more isolated than he realizes,” Gingrich said in an interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer. “On the Hill, he has far more people willing to sit to one side and not help him right now, and I think that he needs to recognize that he’s taken a good first step with bringing in General Kelly, but he needs to think about what has not worked. You don’t get down to 35 percent approval and have people in your own party shooting at you and conclude that everything’s going fine.”

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“How many times have we had this conversation? It was John McCain, Gold Star families and Access Hollywood. Is this week that much different than the numerous other situations?” Hemmer asked.

“It is only different in that you go through little ground, little ground, little ground, and after a while you have enough different people pull back that you are in a qualitatively different position and right now, that if he wants to get his agenda enacted that if he wants get things done and have a presidency that is stable, he is going to have to have a couple of serious changes,” Gingrich said. “I think ‘The Art of the Comeback,’ which is a fascinating book that he wrote in 1997, is a really helpful reminder and he needs to think of what hasn’t been working and what he will do that is more effective in the rest of the presidency.”


Trump Aims for “Merit Based” Immigration with New Legislation

August 2, 2017

Image result for crossing from mexico to the U.S., photos

FILE Photo: United States Border Patrol agents detained undocumented immigrants after they crossed into the United States from Mexico near McAllen, Tex. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

Aug 2, 2017, 8:57 AM ET


ABC News

President Trump is introducing legislation today with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., aimed at cutting legal immigration to the United States, a White House official confirmed.

The effort, following his campaign pledge to reform the country’s immigration system, expands on a bill introduced by the senators in February to cut the number of legal immigrants into the U.S. by 50 percent over 10 years. That bill, which has stalled for months in the Senate, would eliminate diversity lottery visas and limit the number of refugees offered permanent residency in the country each year.

Sen. David Perdue (L) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R) are pictured. (AP Photo)

Supporters of the proposal say it would help low-skilled American workers compete for work. Some Republicans and business groups have criticized the measure.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1,051,031 immigrants gained permanent residency in the United States in 2015.


Trump pushes for a ‘merit-based’ immigration system that slashes the number of legal immigrants

By Brian Bennett
The Los Angeles Times

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

President Trump is pushing forward with his promise of a harder line on legal immigration, endorsing on Wednesday a Senate proposal to slash the number of immigrants admitted to the United States while favoring those with certain education levels and skills.

Trump announced his support for such an overhaul of immigration law during an event at the White House with conservative Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.

The changes proposed in the bill, called the RAISE Act, would be the “biggest change in 50 years” to the immigration system, Trump said, and reflect the Trump administration’s “compassion for struggling American families that deserve an immigrant system that puts their needs first.”

For weeks, White House staff have been working closely with Cotton and Perdue on legislation to restrict how the United States admits immigrants and to move to what Trump has described as a “merit-based” system similar to that used in Australia and Canada.

The propsoal “ends chain migration,” Trump said, referring to the preference for uniting family members in the current immigration system, and would implement a points-based system for awarding lawful permanent residency, or green cards.

Foreign applicants would receive a higher score if they “speak English,” can financially support themselves and have skills that “can contribute to our economy,” Trump said.

The proposal has been praised by hard-line immigration groups, including NumbersUSA and the Federation of Immigration Reform, that advocate for lower immigration levels. But immigration advocacy groups are opposed, as are many economists who say the nation, with an aging population and low fertility rate, should be encouraging an influx of younger workers to spur economic growth.

The current U.S. immigration system favors uniting family members with relatives already in the country. It was built on the premise that any person, regardless of how much education or money they have, can come to the United States and create a productive life for themselves.

The prospects for the proposed immigration overhaul are dim. Any such changes would require support from moderate Republican senators such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and many Senate Democrats oppose making partial changes to immigration law without creating a pathway to legal status for immigrants who arrived in the country illegally and put down roots.

For Trump, supporting the proposal is something of a reversal. He has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to reduce the total number of immigrants admitted each year, yet the proposal by Cotton and Perdue would cut legal immigration by more than half.

Trump has also been reluctant to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, started by President Obama, which provides work authorizations to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Trump called the program “unconstitutional” during the presidential campaign, but also has expressed sympathy toward people who are in this country illegally through no fault of their own and were raised here.

At a rally in Ohio last week, Trump praised Cotton and Perdue and said he was working with the senators to replace “today’s low-scale system, just a terrible system where anybody comes in.”

“We want a merit-based system, one that protects our workers, our taxpayers, and one that protects our economy. We want it merit-based,” Trump said.