Posts Tagged ‘John McCain’

GOP closer to big win with House tax vote; Senate unclear

November 17, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have stretched closer to delivering the first big legislative victory for President Donald Trump and their party, whisking a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House. Thorny problems await in the Senate, though.

The House passage of the bill Thursday on a mostly party-line 227-205 vote also brought nearer the biggest revamp of the U.S. tax system in three decades.

But in the Senate, a similar measure received a politically awkward verdict from nonpartisan congressional analysts showing it would eventually produce higher taxes for low- and middle-income earners but deliver deep reductions for those better off.

The Senate bill was approved late Thursday by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Senate on a party-line 14-12 vote. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But it adds a key feature not in the House version: repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. Elimination of the so-called individual mandate under the Obama health care law would add an estimated $338 billion in revenue over 10 years that the Senate tax-writers used for additional tax cuts.

U.S. President Donald Trump has emerged from a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill, telling reporters on his way out, “the tax is going very well.” (Nov. 16)

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that repeal of the mandate would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027, making it a political risk for some lawmakers.

The Senate panel’s vote came at the end of four days of often fierce partisan debate. It turned angrily personal for Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he railed against Democrats’ accusations that the legislation was crafted to favor big corporations and the wealthy.

“I come from the poor people. And I’ve been working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance,” Hatch insisted.

After the panel’s approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way.”

The analysts’ problematic projections for the Senate bill came a day after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the first GOP senator to state opposition to the measure, saying it didn’t cut taxes enough for millions of partnerships and corporations. With at least five other Republican senators yet to declare support, the bill’s fate is far from certain in a chamber the GOP controls by just 52-48.

Even so, Republicans are hoping to send a compromise bill for Trump to sign by Christmas.

“Now the ball is in the Senate’s court,” Vice President Mike Pence said after the House vote. Speaking at a conservative Tax Foundation dinner in Washington, Pence said, “The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they’re going to be a challenge.”

“We’re going to get it done” before year’s end, he said.

A White House statement that “now is the time to deliver” also underscored the GOP’s effort to maintain momentum and outrace critics. Those include the AARP lobby for older people, major medical organizations, realtors — and, in all likelihood, every Senate Democrat.

Despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Republicans are still smarting from this summer’s crash of their effort to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care law. They see a successful tax effort as the best way to avert major losses in next year’s congressional elections. House Republicans concede they are watching the Senate warily.

“Political survival depends on us doing this,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “One of the things that scares me a little bit is that they’re going to screw up the bill to the point we can’t pass it.”

The House plan and the Senate Finance bill would deliver the bulk of their tax reductions to businesses.

Each would cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 20 percent, while reducing personal rates for many taxpayers and erasing or shrinking deductions. Projected federal deficits would grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

As decades of Republicans have done before them, GOP lawmakers touted their tax cuts as a boon to families across all income lines and a boost for businesses, jobs and the entire country.

“Passing this bill is the single biggest thing we can do to grow the economy, to restore opportunity and help those middle-income families who are struggling,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Ryan also said he’d seek to add tax breaks to help Puerto Rico recover from recent hurricanes to a House-Senate compromise.

Democrats said the tax measure would give outsized benefits to the wealthy and saddle millions of moderate-income Americans with tax increases. Among other things, the House legislation would reduce and ultimately repeal the tax Americans pay on the largest inheritances, while the Senate would limit that levy to fewer estates.

The bill is “pillaging the middle class to pad the pockets of the wealthiest and hand tax breaks to corporations shipping jobs out of America,” declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Thirteen House Republicans — all but one from high-tax California, New York and New Jersey — voted “no” because the plan would erase tax deductions for state and local income and sales taxes and limit property tax deductions to $10,000. Defectors included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who said the measure would “hurt New Jersey families.”

Trump traveled to the Capitol before the vote to give House Republicans a pep talk.

Besides Johnson, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the Senate plan would mean higher taxes beginning in 2021 for many families earning under $30,000 annually. By 2027, families making less than $75,000 would face tax boosts while those making more would enjoy cuts.

Republicans attributed the new figures to two provisions: one ending the measure’s personal tax cuts starting in 2026 and the other abolishing the “Obamacare” requirement that people buy health coverage or pay tax penalties.

Ending the personal tax cuts for individuals in 2026, derided as a gimmick by Democrats, is designed to pare the bill’s long-term costs to the Treasury. Legislation cannot boost budget deficits after 10 years if it is to qualify for Senate procedures that bar bill-killing filibusters.

Other features:

—Both chambers’ bills would nearly double the standard deduction to around $12,000 for individuals and about $24,000 for married couples and dramatically boost the current $1,000 per-child tax credit.

—Both would erase the current $4,050 personal exemption and reduce or cancel other tax breaks. The House would limit interest deductions to future home mortgages of up to $500,000, down from today’s $1 million. The Senate would end deductions for moving expenses and tax preparation.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Richard Lardner and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.



Obama health mandate now target of GOP in big tax bil

November 15, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama health care law’s requirement that Americans get insurance coverage is now pinned as a target of Republican lawmakers, as they look to end the individual mandate to help pay for deep cuts in their tax legislation.

Senate Republicans showed Tuesday they’re intent on scrapping the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate, and the idea was endorsed by scores of GOP lawmakers in the House.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee, confirmed late Tuesday he was revising the bill to include repeal of the insurance mandate “to help provide additional relief to low- and middle-income families.”

The surprise renewal of the failed effort to eliminate the health care law’s mandate came a day after President Donald Trump renewed pressure on Republican lawmakers to include the repeal in their sweeping legislation to revamp the tax system. It carries high political stakes for Trump, who lacks a major legislative achievement after nearly 10 months in office.

The move by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee upended the debate over the tax measure just as it was inching closer to passage following months of fine-tuning and compromise. It turned the debate into an angry partisan referendum on health care and President Barack Obama’s signature law, the Affordable Care Act.

House Speaker Paul Ryan joined a growing chorus of Washington Republicans calling upon Roy Moore to drop out of his embattled race for the U.S. Senate. Ryan also projected confidence about delivering on an overhaul of the nation’s tax code. (Nov. 14)

The Finance panel digs into a third day of work on the Senate tax bill on Wednesday. The completed House tax bill, pointed toward a vote in that chamber Thursday, does not currently include repeal of the health insurance mandate. Trump plans an in-person appeal to House Republicans before the vote.

Promoted as needed relief for the middle class, the House and Senate tax overhaul bills would deeply cut corporate rates, double the standard deduction used by most Americans and limit or repeal completely the federal deduction for state and local property, income and sales taxes. Republican leaders deem passage of the first major tax overhaul in 30 years as imperative for the GOP to preserve its majorities in next year’s elections.

Republican efforts to dismantle the health care law collapsed this past summer as moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in rejecting the repeal — a bitter disappointment for Trump, who lashed out at the Senate GOP for failing. Adding the repeal of the mandate to the tax measure would combine two of Trump’s legislative priorities.

Beyond Trump’s prodding, the repeal move was dictated by the Republicans’ need to find revenue sources for the massive tax-cut bill, which calls for steep reductions in the corporate tax rate and elimination of some popular tax breaks.

The “Obamacare” mandate requires most people to buy health insurance coverage or face a fine. Without being forced to get coverage, fewer people would sign up for Medicaid or buy federally subsidized private insurance. Eliminating the mandate in the tax legislation would save an estimated $338 billion over a decade, which could be used to help pay for the deep cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the requirement that people buy health coverage would mean 4 million additional uninsured people by 2019 and 13 million more by 2027.

It “will cause millions to lose their health care,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee.

Feeling ambushed without advance notice, minority Democrats warned that with fewer healthy people in the insurance risk pool, the price of premiums would rise.

“Rather than learning the lessons from their failure to repeal health care, Republicans are doubling down on the same partisan strategy that would throw our health care system into chaos,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “If the American people weren’t already outraged by this bill, injecting health care into it will certainly do the trick.”

To win over moderate Senate Republicans to the tax legislation, the Senate may take up at the same time a bipartisan compromise to shore up health care subsidies, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., indicated Tuesday. Thune is a member of the Finance panel.

Hatch’s revised version of the tax bill would double the child tax credit to $2,000 from the current $1,000 — a change that presidential daughter Ivanka Trump has pushed for. The credit would rise to $1,600 under the House bill.

Also, Hatch’s revision makes slight reductions in individual tax rates for three moderate income brackets, numbers three, four and five of a total seven. The rates are reduced from the original Senate bill and the current system. The new rates are 10, 12, 22.5, 25, 32.5, 35 and 38.5 percent. The House bill shrinks the current seven brackets to four: 12, 25, 35 and 39.6 percent.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Andrew Taylor and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.


Senate GOP Adds Health-Care Twist to Tax Overhaul Plan

November 15, 2017

Republicans add provision repealing health-law insurance mandate

Image may contain: 3 people, suit

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., at a news conference on Tuesday where they announced that the individual mandate to have health insurance would be repealed in the Senate GOP tax bill.   J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate Republicans attached a provision to their tax overhaul that would repeal the requirement that all Americans have health insurance, a new twist in the GOP lawmakers’ efforts to rewrite much of the U.S. tax code.

The insurance mandate is a centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Repealing it is a long-sought goal of Republicans, who see it as onerous. Moreover, eliminating the mandate could free up federal tax revenue because it would mean fewer households buying insurance and thus fewer applying for federal health-care subsidies or for Medicaid.

Republicans plan to use the money freed up by repealing the mandate to direct tax cuts to middle-income households. They want to increase their proposed $1,650 child tax credit to $2,000 per child and lower the tax rates in three brackets, dropping the proposed 22.5%, 25% and 32.5% rates to 22%, 24% and 32%, respectively, according to the proposal, released Tuesday night by the Senate Finance Committee.

Those alterations, which the committee will debate Wednesday, will help Republicans show more tangible benefits to families, and the bigger child credit was a priority for some GOP senators.

Under the changes announced late Tuesday, almost all of the individual tax cuts and the tax cuts for pass-through businesses would expire at the end of 2025.

That would help Republicans follow the fast-track process they are using, which lets them pass a bill without needing Democratic votes but prevents them from adding to projected budget deficits after 2027. However it opens them to Democratic arguments that they are prioritizing corporations’ permanent cuts over individuals. And Democrats will likely be able to point to significant tax increases for individuals in 2027

The updated version of the tax bill also would make more businesses eligible for a new special deduction, double a deduction for teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses and create a tax credit for businesses that offer paid family leave.

Including the health-policy change adds a new layer of complexity to an already labyrinthine tax debate. Republicans have been speeding ahead, powered by a political imperative to reach a big economic-policy goal. So far, in their effort to overhaul the tax code, they have made progress in overcoming internal frictions over deficits, taxes on the wealthy, state and local deductions, child tax credits and business taxation. But they haven’t solved all those challenges yet, and Tuesday’s move adds health care to that list.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he was confident in the tax bill’s chances. He contrasted it with the effort to repeal the ACA outright earlier this year. “Every meeting I had on health care was like a trip to get a root canal,” he said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council. “Nobody wanted to be there.”

A federal analysis showed repealing the mandate would increase by 13 million the number of people without health insurance by 2027 and increase premiums. It also complicates the economics of health coverage by shrinking the pool of healthy and younger people who are insured, making it harder to pay for those who end up with big health expenses. All that could spook moderate Republicans who balked at earlier attempts to repeal the ACA because it would raise the number of uninsured.

The repeal, though, would lower the federal deficit an estimated $318 billion over a decade. Moreover, Republican lawmakers have been pressed by President Donald Trump to knock down the mandate, a requirement that conservatives see as onerous and which the president could weaken through executive action even if GOP lawmakers don’t act.

Republican aides cautioned Tuesday that they couldn’t guarantee there were enough votes to pass a tax bill with the health-care provision attached. The Finance Committee aims to finish the bill this week, setting up a vote by the full Senate after Thanksgiving.

Democrats panned the move and pointed to Republicans’ insistence on cutting the corporate tax rate to 20%. “The tax bill is going to hit the American people with a health-care double whammy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), warning that millions of people would lose their health insurance or pay higher premiums.

House Republicans, who aim to pass their own version of a tax plan Thursday, began the day wary of moving too fast on taxes on their own. Among their worries was that Mr. Trump might criticize their effort, as he did during the health-care fight earlier this year. They also worried about whether Senate Republicans would be able to follow through and pass tax legislation, avoiding a repeat of the tensions that doomed their health-care bill earlier this year.

“We just want to know if we’re headed for the same rocks for being the first kid to go to the blackboard to try to spell the word,” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R., Nev.), who has told House Republican leaders that he is still undecided. “After the experience with health care, when we were first to go, it’s not that our product was perfect but it was like, you get absolutely shredded by the folks on the other side of the building, and even some of the president’s comments.”

Still, House leaders said they were confident they would limit defections and pass their own tax bill, which doesn’t address the individual mandate.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) indicated Tuesday evening that the House would wait to see if the Senate can pass a tax bill that repeals the individual mandate.

“We didn’t want to complicate tax reform and make it harder than it otherwise would be,” Mr. Ryan said at a Fox News town-hall meeting on taxes Tuesday evening.

Differences between the House and Senate plan will need to be reconciled in a conference committee if both bills pass.

“I want to support a good tax reform bill in one form or the other here. So I think it’s important we keep the House bill moving,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R., Calif.), who said the tougher vote will be on the final product of a House-Senate agreement. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Other differences between the House and Senate linger. For example, the House bill preserves a $10,000 deduction for property taxes; the Senate bill would repeal that, along with deductions for state and local income and sales taxes. Republican lawmakers had been debating for weeks whether to attach the individual mandate repeal to the tax bill, which lowers corporate tax rates, removes deductions and repeals the alternative minimum tax.

GOP lawmakers said repealing the mandate would mean fast relief to people who don’t get subsidies on the individual market, who otherwise might have to pay the significant premium increases next year.

But the aftereffects could haunt Republicans, and they involve the same concerns that prevented the Senate from passing a health bill. Health analysts warn that knocking down the insurance requirement would roil the individual markets. Average premiums for people who buy private insurance would rise by about 10% in most years of the coming decade, according to an estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans pitch it as a tax cut, saying the savings generated by the mandate’s repeal will go to lower taxes for middle-income households. “If we’re talking about doing the right thing for the middle class, we’re talking about doing the right thing for hardworking Americans, here’s a good place to start cutting their taxes,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.).

Focus in the Senate will now turn to Republicans who may be hesitant to vote for a package that raises the number of people without health coverage.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona haven’t indicated they would oppose the tax bill over the individual mandate. Both voted against the final Senate effort to dismantle the ACA in late July, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska). “My concern is that if we combine the health-care issues with tax reform, we make it far more controversial,” Ms. Collins told reporters Tuesday.

Mr. McCain said he needed to evaluate repealing the individual mandate as part of the broader tax bill.

Write to Stephanie Armour at and Richard Rubin at

Unruly GOP Tax Factions Put Senate’s Tax Plan in Jeopardy

November 13, 2017


By Sahil Kapur

  • Groups include fiscal skeptics, tax-cut fans and wildcards
  • Senate leaders will have to corral 50 votes quickly to succeed
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellPhotographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is about to face a legacy-defining test of whether he can keep his unruly caucus in line to deliver President Donald Trump’s coveted goal of “massive tax cuts” in 2017.

He needs 50 of 52 members, and they have a variety of competing demands. Some want to limit new deficits, while others want to deepest tax cut possible; some prioritize family tax breaks while others want to give businesses a boost; some have parochial concerns while others tend to be notoriously difficult to win on major pieces of legislation.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn says he wants a floor vote the week of Nov. 27. That’s two weeks away. Here are the factions McConnell and his team have to navigate:

The Fiscal Skeptics

The tax plan going before the Senate Finance Committee Monday would increase the federal deficit by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade — before accounting for any economic growth that it might spur. That complicates the plan’s prospects among some Republicans.

Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Oklahoma’s James Lankford have all warned against fiscal recklessness in the bill.

Corker says he doesn’t want a “penny” in new deficits or he’ll vote against the bill. Lankford says it should be revenue-neutral in the first decade and beyond. Both say they’re willing to assume “reasonable” economic growth that would cushion the deficit impact.

After the Senate plan’s rollout Thursday, Flake fired a warning shot: “I remain concerned over how the current tax reform proposals will grow the already staggering national debt,” he said.

Corker and Flake plan to retire next year, freeing them from political pressure to support their party or please GOP donors.

The Senate plan will change, but for now, one analysis says it would increase the deficit. On Friday, a conservative-leaning policy group, the Washington-based Tax Foundation, projected that plan would boost the deficit $516 billion over a decade, even after assuming economic growth.

The Businessmen

Georgia’s David Perdue is the former CEO of both Reebok and Dollar General. South Dakota’s Mike Rounds is a former partner for an insurance and real estate firm. For both, the business side of the tax plan is paramount.

If any new revenue measures went after businesses to boost offsets, that could be a problem for them.

So far, Congress’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent has gotten the most attention among business provisions. The House bill would deliver that cut next year, but the Senate plan would delay it until 2019. That won’t sit well with Perdue, who has said that “delays on tax would damage our economy.”

“We need to have a sense of urgency like never before in order get this done this year,” he has said of tax cuts.

Rounds said last month that he wants an “equitable” 25 percent tax rate for partnerships, limited liability companies and other so-called pass-through businesses — a provision that doesn’t include income limits on which firms get the low rate.

But the Senate plan would go a different route, providing a 17.4 percent deduction for such businesses’ non-wage income. That break would not be available to many types of service businesses — except for those whose taxable income falls below $150,000 for joint filers or $75,000 for all others.

The Cut, Cut, Cut Corps

President Donald Trump is reported to have suggested that the name of the tax legislation should be the “Cut, Cut, Cut” Bill. He might find common cause with Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Texas’s Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul.

All three senators have emphasized that they want the steepest and longest-lasting tax cut possible. Deficits are of less concern to them; they believe Congress should focus on boosting the economy and deal with deficits by cutting spending.
Toomey downplayed the tax plan’s estimated $1.5 trillion cost, saying Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the legislation would lead to “greater economic growth, a larger economy, and therefore, more revenue to the federal government.”

Paul, a libertarian purist who’s not fond of compromise, has called for a tax bill in which “everyone gets a tax cut” — ideally “at least 15% for every taxpayer.” McConnell and other GOP leaders have already said they can’t meet that standard, acknowledging that under a broad overhaul there will be outliers who see a tax hike.

Cruz last month urged his party to be “unapologetic” for tax cuts, arguing on CNBC that “we should be going much bigger and bolder” than the $1.5 trillion limit.

The Family Guys

Utah’s Mike Lee and Florida’s Marco Rubio insist their main tax priority is to double the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000. The Senate plan would raise it to $1,650. Both senators say that’s not enough.

“While we are glad to see an increase to the child tax credit, like the House bill, it is simply not enough for working families,” they said in a joint statement. The two senators also want to apply the credit against payroll taxes as well as income taxes.

Simply raising it to $1,650 costs $582 billion over 10 years, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. Going higher would only worsen the red ink, unless tax writers find other offsetting revenue.

Would Lee and Rubio scuttle a tax bill if they don’t get their way? That’s unclear, but they have staked out a position, and any retreat would come with some political cost.

“The Senate is not going to pass a bill that isn’t clearly pro-family,” the pair said in their statement.

The Moderates

Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski showed they’re not afraid to deal Trump or Republican leaders a devastating defeat this year when they cast pivotal votes to block an Obamacare repeal bill.

Collins has made a few tax-related demands that have already been met — including no repeal of the estate tax and no increase in the lowest individual income tax rate of 10 percent. But she also said people making over $1 million shouldn’t get a tax cut, and the Senate proposal would cut the top rate modestly to 38.5 percent from 39.6 percent.

Murkowski has said little about the tax effort so far, and she tends to be cryptic about her intentions on major legislation before casting her vote. Republican leaders gave her an enticement in the budget vehicle for the tax debate: a fast-track vote to permit oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Wildcards

Senator John McCain of Arizona showed his vote can’t be taken for granted with a momentous thumbs-down on the Senate floor that killed Obamacare repeal in July. He has a mixed record on taxes, having voted against Republican tax-cut efforts in 2001 and 2003, citing deficit concerns. McCain, 81 and battling brain cancer, has demanded a bipartisan process through regular order on a tax overhaul.

He tweeted Thursday that he’s “pleased” with the tax effort so far. “I’ve long believed we need to fix our burdensome tax system & am reviewing the Senate bill to ensure it benefits the people of #Arizona,” he wrote.

A different kind of maverick is giving Republican leaders heartburn lately, and he’s not even a senator — at least not yet.

Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for a Dec. 12 special election Alabama, is fending off allegations that he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl almost four decades ago. The former judge has denied those allegations, and others that he pursued dates with three other teenagers when he was in his 30s.

Recent polls show Moore slipping in the race against Democrat Doug Jones. A loss would cut the GOP’s margin for error in half — to just one senator.

One way to avoid that problem: Get both the House and Senate to hammer out compromise legislation before Moore — or his Democratic opponent — is sworn in.

Trump Creates Twitter Storm — Slams ‘haters’ over Russia — Snipes at North Korea’s Kim Jong-un — I would NEVER call him “short and fat”

November 12, 2017

US President Donald Trump unleashed a twitter storm from his Asia tour on Sunday, slamming “haters and fools” playing politics with US-Russia ties and declaring that he would never describe North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “short and fat”.

Currently on the Vietnam leg of a five-nation sweep through the region, the US president, who has been relatively quiet on Twitter since leaving Washington, put out half-a-dozen tweets in quick succession ahead of his official welcoming ceremony in Hanoi.

The missives covered a range of subjects from Mr Trump’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, China’s efforts to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, and a sarcastic tweet about his efforts to make “a friend” of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The US president, who met with Mr Putin several times on the margins of the just-concluded APEC summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang, took a fresh swipe at critics of his efforts to forge a close working relationship with the Russian leader.

When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!

“When will all the haters and fools out there realise that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he tweeted.

“There (sic) always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!” he added.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One while flying to Hanoi on Saturday, Mr Trump said he believed Vladimir Putin was being sincere when he denied meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Mr Trump, whose key former aides are under US investigation for possible collaboration with the Kremlin, said he had repeatedly asked Putin about the claims during their chats in Danang.

“He (Putin) said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again,” Mr Trump, who is marking one year since his shock election victory, told the reporters.

“I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” he added.

Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!

Mr Trump’s Sunday morning tweets also focused on North Korea and its nuclear weapons ambitions that have been a dominant theme on each leg of his Asia tour.

Taking exception to descriptions by North Korean officials and state media of him as an “old” man, Mr Trump declared himself disappointed by what he took to be a personal attack from the North’s young leader.

“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Mr Trump said.

“Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!” he added.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to any remarks – even if not meant seriously – that it sees as disrespectful of the country’ ruling Kim dynasty, whose members are revered as near deities.

Does the Fake News Media remember when Crooked Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.

Since becoming president, Mr Trump has engaged in an escalating war of words with Kim, trading personal insults and threats of military strikes and raising concerns about an outbreak of hostilities.

Over the past week, Mr Trump has urged Asian leaders to take a united front against the threat posed by the isolated North, warning at APEC that the region “must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies”.

Late Saturday, Pyongyang hit back, calling his Asia trip “a warmonger’s visit for confrontation” and saying it would only serve to accelerate Pyongyang’s push for nuclear statehood.

In another tweet Sunday, Mr Trump said Chinese leader Xi Jinping had agreed to toughen sanctions against North Korea, whose impoverished economy is hugely reliant on trade with China.

“President Xi of China has stated that he is upping the sanctions against (North Korea). Said he wants them to denuclearise. Progress is being made,” he wrote.

The US administration thinks China’s economic leverage over North Korea is the key to strong-arming Pyongyang into halting its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

China has made no sanctions announcement in recent days, and it was unclear if Mr Trump was referring to statements Xi may have made during their summit in Beijing on Thursday, or when they met at APEC.


Trump Says Putin ‘Means It’ About Not Meddling — Gets A Firestorm From U.S. Intelligence Community, John McCain

November 12, 2017

DANANG, Vietnam — President Trump said on Saturday that he believed President Vladimir V. Putin was sincere in his denials of interference in the 2016 presidential elections, calling questions about Moscow’s meddling a politically motivated “hit job” that was hindering cooperation with Russia on life-or-death issues.

Speaking after meeting privately with Mr. Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Mr. Trump said that he had again asked whether Russia had meddled in the contest, but that the continued focus on the issue was insulting to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump said it was time to move past the issue so that the United States and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, solving the Syrian civil war and working together on Ukraine.

“He said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again,” Mr. Trump told reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for more meetings. “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

Mr. Trump did not answer a direct question about whether he believed Mr. Putin’s denials, but his account of the conversation indicated he was far more inclined to accept the Russian president’s assertions than those of his own intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Mr. Putin directed an elaborate effort to interfere in the vote. The C.I.A., the National Security Agency, the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all determined that Russia meddled in the election.

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“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

His remarks came as the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia deepened, with disclosures over the past two weeks showing that there were more contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russians than were previously known, and that senior campaign officials were aware of them.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump seemed to walk his comments back a bit, saying that he did not dispute the assessment of the nation’s key intelligence agencies that Russia had intervened in the 2016 presidential election.

“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference in Hanoi alongside Vietnam’s president, Tran Dai Quang. “I believe in our agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.”

Mr. Trump’s earlier comments inspired immediate ridicule from Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the election.

Read the rest:


McCain slams Trump over siding with Putin on Russia meddling


  • McCain is a strong critic of Trump
  • This isn’t the first time he criticized Trump on Saturday

Washington (CNN) — Sen. John McCain slammed President Donald Trump on Saturday for saying he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin over senior US intelligence officials when he says his country didn’t interfere in the 2016 election.

“President Trump today stated that he believed Vladimir Putin is being sincere when he denies Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and reiterated that he hopes to cooperate with Russia in Syria,” McCain, a strong critic of the President, said in a statement. “There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community. There’s no ‘principled realism’ in cooperating with Russia to prop up the murderous Assad regime, which remains the greatest obstacle to a political solution that would bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.”
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John McCain, July 25, 2017. Credit Shawn Thew – European Pressphoto Agency
McCain was referencing remarks Trump made while describing his relationship with Putin and the ongoing investigations into 2016 meddling on Saturday. The president seemed to indicate to reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday that he trusts Putin’s denials more than the comments of former intelligence officials, like former high-ranking intelligence officials James Comey, John Brennan and James Clapper.
“I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks,” Trump said. “So you look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them.”
Trump told reporters as he flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam that he’s done confronting Putin over the issue and took him at his word that Russia did not seek to interfere in the election.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said.
Trump spoke to Putin three times on the sidelines of summit when the Russia meddling issue arose.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” Trump said. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
“I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump added.
McCain also criticized Trump’s performance earlier Saturday, calling it “sad” — a favorite word of Trump’s on Twitter — that the President didn’t address human rights during a stop in Vietnam.
“.@POTUS in #Danang & no mention of human rights – Sad,” McCain tweeted.
Trump defended his decision on the plane with reporters, saying he is addressing human rights but also “many other things.”
“Well, I do do it. But I also raise issues on many other things,” he said. “I mean I have an obligation — we lost last year with China, depending on the way you do your numbers, because you can do them a number of ways, anywhere from $350 to $504 billion. That’s with one country.”
McCain has stepped up his criticism of Trump in recent weeks. Last month, he warned against “half-baked, spurious nationalism” while accepting the Liberty Medal from former Vice President Joe Biden.
The Vietnam veteran, who was tortured during his more than five years as a prisoner of war, also appeared to mock Trump’s draft deferments when he criticized people from “the highest income level” who avoided the draft by finding a doctor who “would say that they had a bone spur.” He later said the comment was not specifically about Trump.

Mattis, Tillerson ask Congress for authorization of military force without end date

November 1, 2017
“We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner If we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday.
By James LaPorta  |  Updated Oct. 31, 2017 at 3:46 PM

Secretary of Defense James Mattis (left) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testify during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on October 30, 2017. Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI

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Oct. 31 (UPI) — As the 16-year debate rages on Capitol Hill over the legal authority sending the U.S. military to combat, a new bipartisan bill proposes a new legal authority to replace active authorities that date back to President George W. Bush‘s administration.

On Monday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cemented the White House’s reliance on a pair of 15-year-old authorizations for military force as the legal cornerstone permitting the executive branch to stage counter-terrorism operations.

A new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, has been proposed by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and is being considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The new AUMF would seek to replace two previous ones, the 2001 AUMF signed seven days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and the 2002 AUMF authorizing the invasion of Iraq. The two AUMFs, in addition to Article II of the U.S. Constitution, are seen by the Trump administration as legally authorizing the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said their new AUMF would sunset after five years and require the administration to notify Congress if it sends troops to new areas of operation not listed in it.

“I think they’ve done a pretty good job in laying that out,” Corker said of Kaine and Flake’s AUMF proposal. “Members are going to want to express themselves, and Sen. Cardin and I are two members that are going to want to do that also. Again, I think that the only area to me that left somewhat of a debate was the associated forces issue and just whether an actual sunset versus reversing that out and giving Congress an ability to weigh in.”

The “associated forces” issue refers to groups that align themselves with terrorist organizations named under the original AUMF, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Kaine and Flake’s AUMF draft defines associated forces as any group that supports al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban, and is engaged in hostilities against the United States. The bill also requires congressional notification when the administration adds a new terrorist group to the list.

Corker said he plans to hold more hearings on the issue in months to come, but admitted he sees little hope for progress.

“Moving ahead without significant bipartisan support would be a mistake in my opinion,” Corker said. “And right now, we are unable to bridge that gap.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said last week that he is working with Democratic members on crafting a bipartisan AUMF compromise, adding that he expects the results of those negotiations to be reveal in the near future.

“The next step most logically is to attempt to move to a markup and to actually try to pass an [authorization for the use of military force] out of committee,” Corker said, noting that he plans to work with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to begin a draft “fairly soon.”

“We want to discuss what provisions are most likely to make it through, but fairly soon,” he said. “I don’t know why we would wait. We had a great hearing. We had a good classified briefing. We all know the subject matter. If we’re ever going to attempt to do this, I don’t know why we would wait beyond the next several weeks.”

Mattis and Tillerson told senators that a new AUMF should not be time or geographically constrained due to the metastasizing nature of foreign terrorist organizations, as well as to avoid telegraphing a timeframe of U.S strategy or when that strategy will cease.

“Generally speaking, you don’t tell the enemy in advance what you’re not going to do,” Mattis told Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. “There’s no need to announce that to the enemy and relieve them of that concern.”

“We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner If we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting,” Mattis said.

The secretaries told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the current 2001 AUMF, which was instituted seven days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to authorize the Bush administration to go after al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban in Afghanistan — along with the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War — and Article II of the U.S. Constitution, give the Trump administration the proper legal authorities to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mattis and Tillerson both testified to Congress, however, that if a new AUMF were drafted and passed, it should not repeal the current AUMFs until the new authorization is in place. The goal would be to avoid operational conflict and continue running of the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Facebook, Google and Twitter testified on Capitol Hill — Some testimony is Orwellian

November 1, 2017

The Washington Post

October 31 at 5:07 PM

Representatives for Facebook, Twitter and Google testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Oct. 31 about Russian efforts to spread disinformation during the 2016 campaign.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Lawyers from Facebook, Google and Twitter are testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon amid mounting political pressure to fully investigate Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and reveal publicly what they find.

It is a rare moment in the political spotlight for companies that, despite large lobbying teams in Washington, generally seek to avoid such public and potentially unpredictable confrontations. A growing number of lawmakers have expressed concern in recent weeks about the Russian online influence campaign and are vowing both to expose what happened and work to prevent a recurrence, through legislation if necessary.

Tuesday’s hearing by a Senate judiciary subcommittee comes a day after the prepared testimonies of Facebook and Twitter revealed that the reach of the Russian-connected disinformation campaign on their platforms was much larger than initially reported.

As many as 126 million Facebook users may have seen content produced and circulated by Russian operatives. Twitter said it had discovered that 2,752 accounts controlled by Russians, and more than 36,000 Russian bots tweeted 1.4 million times during the election. And Google disclosed for the first time that it had found 1,108 videos with 43 hours of content related to the Russian effort on YouTube. It also found $4,700 worth of Russian search and display ads.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) opened the hearing by describing the dangers posed by the ability of terrorists to recruit followers over social media and foreign governments to meddle in American democracy.

“This is the national security challenge of the 21st Century,” Graham said.

But some senators pushed the tech companies to explain more about what their services can and can’t do — and what capabilities they have to prevent abuse. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) challenged Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch with a series of pointed questions. “I’m trying to get us down from La La land here,” Kennedy said. “You have 5 million advertisers that change every year, every month, probably every second… You do not have the ability to know about every one of those advertisers, do you?”

When Stretch acknowledged that advertisers likely can obscure their identities, Kennedy interrupted him to ask pointedly, “Do you have a profile on me?” Then he asked if Facebook knew the movies that his fellow senator Graham liked, the bars he visited, who his friends were?

Stretch replied that Facebook has systems to prevent such invasions of privacy. “The answer is absolutely not… We have designed our system to avoid exactly that.”

After Kennedy sharply reminded Stretch that he was under oath, Kennedy turned his attention to Google lawyer Richard Salgado. The senator demanded to know whether the company was essentially a newspaper, rather than merely a neutral platform, given its role in distributing news reports worldwide. The issue has important consequences because, under federal law, technology platforms do not have the same legal responsibility for material they carry as traditional news sources that employ journalists.

“We are not a newspaper. We are a platform that shares information,” replied Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security. “This is a platform from which news can be read from many sources.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) also took aim at Facebook, blasting the company for failing to discover the Russian online influence campaign sooner, especially given that many of the ads were paid for in rubles, the Russian currency. “American political ads and Russian money, rubles: How could you not connect those two dots!”

Stretch replied, “In hindsight we should have had a broader lens. There were signals we missed.”

Franken also demanded to know if Facebook would refuse American political ads in the future paid for in rubles or the North Korean currency, the won. Stretch said the company was going to seek to stop political manipulation by foreign actors, but the type of payment is not the most important factor.

“It’s relatively easy to change currencies,” he said.

The most important unanswered question going into the hearing, outside experts said, is whether the tech companies have evidence that might substantiate allegations that the Russians colluded with Donald Trump’s political campaign, which made Facebook in particular a focus of its election efforts in 2016. Trump and his campaign officials have repeatedly denied allegations of collusion, but questions about the role played by Russia are at the heart of investigations by Capitol Hill and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose first round of charges against Trump campaign figures were unsealed Monday.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said that his staff’s review of the 3,000 Russian-bought ads on Facebook suggests that most sought to sow discord around sensitive social issues, not try to convince Americans to vote for either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton. “Russia does not have loyalty to a political party in the United States. The goal is to discredit our democracy and divide us,” Grassley said.

Tuesday’s hearing offers lawmakers a direct and highly public opportunity to question tech company officials about how their platforms were manipulated, what they did in response, and what they plan to do to thwart similar efforts in the future. None of the companies are sending their top internal security researchers to the hearing, opting instead to send senior company lawyers. Also testifying will be Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and disinformation expert from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Michael S. Smith III, a terrorism analyst.

“We are trying in the Subcommittee to lay out the Kremlin playbook on election interference generally, since this is something that they do in a great number of countries,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel hosting the first of the three hearings, in an interview on Monday. “And we are looking to delve into which elements of the the Kremlin playbook were deployed in the United States specifically.”

Testifying at Tuesday’s hearing are Stretch, Salgado and Twitter’s acting general counsel Sean Edgett.

In his opening remarks, Stretch said, “The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible. That foreign actors, hiding behind safe accounts, abused our platform and other Internet services to try to sow division and discord — and to try to undermine the election — is an assault on democracy that is directly contrary to our values and violates everything Facebook stands for.”

Google’s Salgado said that while the company has found relatively small amounts of Russian manipulation on its services, “We understand that any misuse of our platforms for this purpose can be very serious.”

He also said the company would create a publicly accessible database of all election ads purchased on Google’s ad platforms and on YouTube. The company will also publish a transparency reports for election ads which will identify the purchasers and how much money was spent.

The hearing, as well as Wednesday’s hearings before the Senate and House Intelligence committees, comes amid pushes by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to pass new legislation forcing tech companies to disclose information about political ads sold and distributed on their networks. Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that colleagues on the committee chose to wait until they heard testimony of the tech companies before they signaled their interest.

The bill, dubbed the “Honest Ads Act,” would require digital platforms with more than 50 million monthly viewers to create a public database of political ads purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500. The public file would include the ad, a description of the targeted audience, the number of views it generated, the date and time it ran, its price and contact information for the purchaser.

During the hearing, Sen. Klobuchar pointedly asked each company executive  whether they would support the bill. None of them said yes.

At one point, Facebook was asked directly whether its service could affect the outcome of the election.

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asked Facebook’s Stretch if he can say definitively that Russian efforts did not influence the outcome of the election. When Stretch said no, she asked again, citing the closeness of the presidential contest, “Can you say that it didn’t have an impact on the election?

Stretch demurred.

“Senator, we’re not well positioned to judge why any one person or an entire electorate voted as it did,” he said.

Shortly after the election, in November, Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that fake news on Facebook could have impacted that election as “a crazy idea.”

But even as lawmakers move to prevent future manipulation, they will use the hearings to probe how foreign actors were able to disseminate propaganda. “Russia will be the star of the hearings,” said Darrell West, the director of the Brookings Center for Technology Innovation.

Beyond providing the public with a fuller picture of election meddling, experts said the hearings symbolize a broader recognition of the significance massive tech platforms hold in American discourse and politics.

“It’s hard to reconcile the tens of billions of dollars of profit they make with the lack of attention they’ve had with something that could possibly affect our democracy,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade organization that represents digital media companies. “The questioning is deeply uncomfortable for them because it gets to the root of their business model, which few people really understand.”


Who Will Rein In Facebook? Challengers Are Lining Up — Outsiders refuse to wait for Facebook to solve its own problems

October 30, 2017

Pressure is building, at home and abroad, as powerful outsiders refuse to wait for Facebook to solve its own problems

We’re treated to fresh reports nearly every day about how Facebook Inc.’s efforts to keep bad actors from abusing its platform fall short. The latest include U.K. legislators’ inquiry into whether Russians used Facebook to influence recent British elections, and reports that atrocities in Myanmar may be incited in part by fake news on Facebook.

Even before this wave, Facebook’s role in the spread of divisive messages and outright falsehoods had inspired soul-searching at the company, and a newfound humility at the top. In a string of blog posts, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg promised to do more, including hiring 1,000 additional people to review political ads purchased on Facebook. Meanwhile, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was recently dispatched to Washington, D.C., on a charm offensive.

Yet many outside Facebook refuse to wait for the company to solve these problems—and others yet to be uncovered—on its own. Pressure is mounting, at home and abroad, from legislators, regulators and activists, all looking for various ways to nudge and, in some cases, shove Facebook to acknowledge and act on its responsibility as the most powerful distributor of news and information on Earth.

While Twitter , Google’s YouTube unit and many other social-media platforms face similar problems, they don’t all command the same audience as Facebook. But what happens to Facebook will likely apply to them all.

Compared with mature industries, the internet giants—Facebook, Google, Twitter—are relatively unregulated by federal and state law. “That’s what I think Facebook is most nervous about,” says Ryan Goodman, a professor at the New York University School of Law who researches Facebook’s legal and moral responsibilities—that “the sleeping giant wakes up and realizes just how unregulated they are.”

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who represented the company in Washington, D.C., recently.Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/DPA/Zuma Press

That “sleeping giant” includes legislators of every kind in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. While the current Congress is loath to mint new regulations, that hasn’t stopped Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.) from proposing the Honest Ads Act, which would force internet companies to tell users who funded political ads. Most forms of mass media are required to do this, but the Federal Election Commission exempted Facebook and other internet sites in 2006, when online political discourse was still nascent.

The new bill is an obvious way to bring the tech giants in line with other media, with whom they clearly now compete, says Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

What it won’t solve is the even larger problem of Russia creating content on Facebook that’s compelling, aka enraging, enough to go viral without paid promotion. Researchers found that of the 470 sites created by Russia, the six which Facebook has disclosed were shared a total of 340 million times—suggesting a total reach for all Russian content of billions of shares.

Twitter recently announced all its ads would provide a trace: who paid for them, and how they were targeted at users. Facebook will also roll out tools for increased transparency of political ads and says they should be functional before the 2018 midterm elections.

At the state level, Facebook is already fighting a battle with regulators who would like to prevent the company from identifying our faces without our express permission. State regulators could succeed at holding Facebook accountable in ways Congress is unwilling to. Another possibility is that America’s increasingly active state attorneys general could go after the company.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is likely to open a Pandora’s box of potential liabilities for Facebook and all tech companies. Shown, Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin.Photo: Niall Carson/Press Association/Zuma Press

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who’s contemplating a run for Illinois attorney general and has expertise in Facebook’s potential liability in the Russian influence operations, says it’s entirely plausible that state AGs will pursue the company’s records while trying to determine Facebook’s culpability.

“I would be surprised if individual Facebook employees are criminally liable for anything that happened, but I think a strong argument can be made that if foreign powers advertise on Facebook, there should be disclosure of the source,” Mr. Mariotti says. “None of those ads on Facebook would have been very effective if they said ‘paid for by Russia.’ ”

Last but not least, there’s the impending threat of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Going into force in May 2018, it opens a Pandora’s box of potential liabilities for all tech companies around how they handle and exploit individuals’ data, guard against breaches and transfer information across national borders.

For Facebook, it will mean new rules about disclosing what it knows about its users. It will also mean sharp limits on what Facebook can do with that data. For everything Facebook wants to do with a user’s data, it will have to ask explicit permission, and it can’t re-use the data for new purposes in the future.

The regulation is so sweeping, it could force all U.S. tech companies to change how they operate everywhere, unless they build separate systems just for Europe, says David Carroll, an advocate for increased regulation of Facebook and an associate professor of media design at the New School’s Parsons School of Design.

The European regulations, which go into force in May 2018, could force U.S. tech companies to change a lot about how they operate everywhere, unless they build separate systems for Europe. From left, European Commissioners Andrus Ansip, Vera Jourová, Julian King and Mariya Gabriel, at a Sept. 28 news conference in Brussels about illegal online content.Photo: Olivier Hoslet/EPA/Shutterstock

In addition, EU citizens living in the U.S., and tourists from Europe traveling here, could have standing to sue U.S. tech companies.

Dr. Benkler at Harvard hopes Facebook will feel enough heat that it starts offering details of its inner workings. He’d like the company to share data (in a careful, anonymized way) about how information spreads on the network and how advertising is targeted. Independent researchers could then identify the extent of malicious or harmful activity on the site.

“Maybe it turns out that fake news isn’t a real concern, but at the moment there is no way for us to know,” Dr. Benkler says. “You need an independent understanding of whether the garden has occasional weeds, or whether the garden is overrun.”

Broad, sweeping changes are likely coming to America’s tech giants. “All industries eventually get regulated,” Mr. Carroll says. But that assumes regulators can outlast the tech giants, and not the other way around.

Write to Christopher Mims at

As militant threats shift, US Senate revives war authorization debate

October 30, 2017

Reuters | Published — Monday 30 October 2017

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This file photo taken on May 24, 2017 shows Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) talking about their introduction of a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (AFP)

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers will grill top Trump administration officials on Monday about a new authorization for the use of military force for the campaign against Daesh and other militant groups, Congress’ most significant step in years toward taking back control of its constitutional right to authorize war.

President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on the administration’s view of a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, known by the acronym AUMF.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have been arguing for years that Congress has ceded too much authority over the deployment of US forces to the White House in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But they are also divided over how much control they should exert over the Pentagon. Efforts to write a new AUMF have failed for years.

Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, has the right to declare war.

Concerns intensified this month after four US soldiers were killed in Niger. Several complained that the Pentagon had not been providing enough information about the ambush.

“What’s happening in Niger and more broadly in Africa suggests a greater urgency for an AUMF,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a leading advocate for a new authorization, told reporters on Thursday after a classified briefing on the Niger operation by Pentagon officials.

“I think the extent of the operation, the number of countries, will be surprising to people,” he said, adding that he would raise it at the hearing.

Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the chamber’s most famous war veteran, said last week he may consider issuing a subpoena because the White House had not been forthcoming with details of the Niger attack and threatened to block Trump nominees.

Congress has not passed an AUMF since the 2002 measure authorizing the Iraq War. But the legal justification for most military action for the past 15 years is an older AUMF, for the campaign against Al-Qaeda and affiliates after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Backers of a new AUMF say the 2001 authorization, which was not limited by time or geography, has let presidents wage war wherever they like, without spelling out any strategy for Congress, or the public. For example, Daesh did not exist when the 2001 AUMF was passed.

Trump’s fellow Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, but there are deep divisions over any AUMF within the party, as well as between Republicans and Democrats.

Many Republicans, like McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, do not want an AUMF that exerts too much control over the Pentagon. They argue that military commanders should decide how best to fight America’s enemies.

Many Democrats say they want an AUMF that imposes limits on why, where, and for how long US forces can be sent to fight. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Mary Milliken)