U.S. Republican leaders hunt for votes for healthcare bill

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks about healthcare at his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – House Republicans were making headway in efforts to build support for a reworked plan to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, but have not decided when to vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday.

Ryan spoke as Republican leaders scoured the U.S. Capitol in search of centrist Republican backing for the amended measure after it gained the approval on Wednesday of a group of hard-right Republican conservatives who had helped to sink the original version last month.

“We’re making very good progress,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference, saying the changes endorsed by conservative Freedom Caucus Republicans on Wednesday would also appeal to moderate Republicans.

The House could vote as early as this week on the legislation, aides said, meaning it could pass the House in time for President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office on Saturday.

It remained unclear whether the amended bill could attract the 216 votes needed to pass the House, given the united Democratic opposition. Its future is further clouded in the Senate.

“We’re going to go when we have the votes,” Ryan said.

Republicans in Congress have made repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, a central campaign promise for seven years. Republican President Donald Trump made it a top campaign promise.

But House Republicans are not keen to repeat last month’s debacle, when their leaders acquiesced to Trump’s demand for a floor vote on the bill, only to unceremoniously yank the measure after determining it could not pass.

The Republican healthcare bill would replace Obamacare’s income-based tax credit with an age-based credit, roll back an expansion of the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor and repeal most Obamacare taxes.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had estimated 24 million fewer people would have insurance under the original version.

The new amendment that has won over a number of conservatives, drafted by Representative Tom MacArthur, would allow states to seek federal waivers to opt out of some of the law’s provisions. That includes the highly popular provision mandating that insurers charge those with pre-existing conditions the same as healthy consumers, and that insurers cover so-called essential health benefits, such as maternity care.

Some centrists say the changes do not address their worries that the bill would hurt poor Americans in the Medicaid program. Others, including Republican Representative Dan Donovan of New York, said the loosening of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions was a major problem.

“It’s going to cost people with pre-existing conditions even more money to have coverage … It’s something that we shouldn’t be doing,” Donovan said on CNN.

House Democrats on Thursday threatened to oppose a short-term government funding bill if the Republicans try to bring the healthcare bill to the floor this week.

Ryan brushed off this threat, even though Republicans are expected to need some Democratic votes to pass the funding bill.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Trump was making Republicans “walk the plank” on a healthcare bill that was “wildly unpopular.”

Ryan dismissed the idea that some Republican lawmakers’ House seats were at risk if they vote for the healthcare bill. “I think people’s seats are at risk if we don’t do what we said we would do” and repeal Obamacare, he said.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Will Dunham; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Trump seeks to shrink federal role in education with new order

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on education as he participates in a federalism event with Governors at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S. April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to review the U.S. government’s role in school policy, which supporters cheered as the first step in creating more local control in education and critics worried could lead to lower quality schools in poorer neighborhoods.

DeVos has 300 days “to review and, if necessary, modify and repeal regulations and guidance issued by the Department of Education with a clear mandate to identify places where D.C. has overstepped its legal authority,” said Rob Goad, a Department of Education official, according to a transcript of a White House call with reporters.

The second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, California’s Kevin McCarthy, said the federal government had in recent years exceeded its legal authority in creating regulations and guidance

“Different people in different states and communities will have different goals and ways of achieving those goals. That is something we should celebrate and enable, not try to stop,” he said in a statement.

The Democratic National Committee, though, said the order was politically motivated, with Trump wanting something to show in school policy in his first 100 days.

The head of the American Federation of Teachers union, Randi Weingarten, said the current education law, Every Student Succeeds Act, already reduces federal power over schools, especially when it comes to standards and teacher assessments.

“What the new law doesn’t do is abandon the requirement for the federal government to protect the civil rights of our students, even if those rights run counter to what states and districts want to do,” she said in a statement.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Israel, White House discussing Trump visit: Israeli official

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to the media next to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue during a roundtable discussion with farmers at the White House in Washington, U.S. April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and the White House are in preliminary discussions about a visit to Israel by U.S. President Donald Trump as early as next month, an Israeli government official said on Wednesday.

A Trump visit would mark an early personal engagement by the new Republican president in efforts to resolve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Trump in the White House in February, one of the first foreign leaders to do so after the wealthy businessman took office in January, and has spoken of positive change in U.S. Middle East policy after years of friction with Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

“There are preliminary contacts between the (Israeli) Foreign Ministry and the White House and there is a 70 percent chance that a (Trump) presidential visit will happen,” the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a trip had not been finalised.

Trump has said he intends to pursue efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The last round of talks between the two adversaries collapsed in 2014. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to see Trump in Washington on May 3.

Praising U.S. policy since Trump entered the White House, Netanyahu has cited in particular a U.S. missile strike in Syria on April 6 in retaliation for what Washington charged was a Syrian government chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held area that killed scores of civilians. Damascus denied responsibility.

Netanyahu had an often tense relationship with Obama over the 2015 U.S.-backed Iran nuclear deal and Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.

His vision for a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfulfilled, Obama came to Israel twice in his eight years as president – in 2013 and last September for the funeral of Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres.

Trump, who appeared to surprise Netanyahu at their White House meeting by urging him to curb settlements, is due to make his first overseas visit as president, to Europe in May.

A senior U.S. administration official said last week a stop in Saudi Arabia might be added.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Trump slams federal court ruling on funding for ‘sanctuary cities’

People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday attacked a federal judge’s ruling that blocked his executive order seeking to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, vowing to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco was the latest blow to Trump’s efforts to toughen immigration enforcement. Federal courts have also blocked his two travel bans on citizens of mostly Muslim nations.

“First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!” Trump said in a tweet, referring to the San Francisco-based federal appeals court and its judicial district.

The Trump administration has targeted sanctuary cities, which generally offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Critics say authorities endanger public safety when they decline to hand over for deportation illegal immigrants arrested for crimes, while supporters argue that enlisting police cooperation to round up immigrants for removal undermines trust in local police, particularly among Latinos.

Dozens of local governments and cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have joined the “sanctuary” movement.

In his ruling, Orrick said Trump’s Jan. 25 order targeted broad categories of federal funding for the sanctuary cities and that plaintiffs challenging it were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

An appeal is likely to be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before it goes to the Supreme Court. Republicans view the appeals court as biased toward liberals, and Trump was quick to attack its reputation in his tweets.

It “has a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80%). They used to call this “judge shopping!” Messy system,” he wrote.

The appeals court raised Trump’s ire earlier this year when it upheld a Seattle judge’s decision to block the Republican president’s first travel ban on citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.

In May, the court will hear an appeal of a Hawaii judge’s order blocking Trump’s revised travel ban, which placed restrictions on citizens from six mostly Muslim countries. A Maryland judge also blocked portions of the second ban.

Trump has issued sweeping condemnations of courts and judges when they have ruled against him or his administration.

In February, he called the federal judge in Seattle who ruled against his first travel ban a “so-called judge.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump accused an Indiana-born judge overseeing lawsuits against the defunct Trump University of bias based on his Mexican ancestry.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Paul Simao)

Trump tax plan slashing business rates to test support in Congress

President Trump waves as he boards Air Force One. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will release a tax plan on Wednesday proposing some deep rate cuts, mostly for businesses, including a slashed corporate income tax rate and steeply discounted tax rate for overseas corporate profits brought into the United States, officials said.

Trump intends for his broad blueprint, which will fall short of the kind of comprehensive tax reform that Republicans have long discussed, to be a guidepost for lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

“We’re driving this a little bit more,” a senior White House official told a group of reporters late on Tuesday.

The plan is not expected by analysts to include any proposals for raising new revenue, potentially adding billions of dollars to the federal deficit.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has been leading the Trump administration’s effort to craft a tax package that can win support in Congress.

Though the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are both controlled by the Republican Party, some aspects of Trump’s proposals could be a difficult sell, including to some fiscal hawks in his own party. Trump’s plan will cut the income tax rate paid by public corporations to 15 percent from 35 percent and sharply cut the top tax rate by pass-through businesses, including many small business partnerships and sole proprietorships, to 15 percent from 39.6 percent, an official said.

Trump will also propose a repatriation tax on offshore earnings along the lines of his campaign proposal for a 10 percent levy, versus the 35 percent due on repatriated foreign profits under present law, the official said.

Trump’s proposal will not include a controversial “border-adjustment” tax on imports that was in earlier proposals floated by House Republicans as a way to offset revenue losses resulting from tax cuts.

Mnuchin has said the cuts will pay for themselves by generating more economic growth, but fiscal hawks, potentially some in Trump’s own Republican Party, along with Democrats are certain to question these claims.

Whether Trump will include provisions that could attract Democratic votes, such as a proposal to fund infrastructure spending or a child-care tax credit as proposed by his daughter Ivanka, is still the subject of speculation.

The senior white house official said Trump would like to see Congress pass tax reform by the middle of autumn.

The last overhaul of the U.S. tax code was in 1986 during the administration of former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Congress moves closer to deal to avert government shutdown

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump's overview of the budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2018 are displayed at the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) on its release by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Washington, U.S. on March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Eric Beech and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress was moving closer to crafting a deal to avoid shutting down at the stroke of midnight on Friday, but the details and even broad strokes of an agreement were still murky.

Some lawmakers are optimistic they can hammer out a budget bill to take the government to the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, while others see Congress putting a short-term spending resolution in place for a week, while talks continue.

Either way, the pressure is mounting to come up with a plan before Friday night. If lawmakers do not have one, funding for many federal agencies will abruptly stop and millions of government workers will be temporarily laid off.

Many policy makers are nervous about a repeat of 2013, when the government was shuttered for 17 days.

On Monday President Donald Trump eased up on demands to include funding for a southern border wall in any budget pact, clearing a major obstacle in the negotiations.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN late on Tuesday that the Trump administration had also informed Democrats on Monday it would move discussions on building a border wall to September, when the government must negotiate the budget for its next fiscal year.

“And we thought that was going to get a deal done and we’ve not heard anything from them today,” he said. “So I’m not sure what’s happening.”

Even though Trump’s fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they only have 52 seats in the Senate. To amass the 60 votes needed there to pass the budget, Republicans will have to bring Democratic lawmakers onto their side.

The most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said on Tuesday his party is concerned about the ratio of increase in defense and non-defense spending. Democrats prefer a one-to-one ratio, and boosting both sides of the budget equally could become a sticking point in negotiations.

Democrats also want provisions for more healthcare coverage for coal miners and appropriations for healthcare subsidies. Health insurance would abruptly become unaffordable for 6 million Americans who rely on cost-sharing subsidies under the national health plan commonly called Obamacare.

Democrats have been seeking immediate assistance for a funding gap in Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, federal health insurance for the poor, saying it is in such bad shape that 1 million people are set to lose healthcare.

Mulvaney also said Trump would not agree to including Obamacare subsidies in a spending bill.

He told CNN that Democrats “raised Puerto Rico for the first time a couple of days ago,” but did not give Trump’s stance on the Medicaid assistance.

Outside political pressure groups are watching for which “riders” may be added to any deal that emerges this week.

Spending resolutions primarily lay out how government money can flow, but often also include riders, smaller measures attached to the budget so they can become law.

Past riders have touched on areas such as banning the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose political donations.

Democrats said they were worried Republicans could try to attach language limiting family-planning funds, and Schumer expressed concerns about attempts to undo Wall Street reforms enacted after the 2007-09 financial crisis.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Nasdaq tops 6,000, Dow surges as earnings impress

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Yashaswini Swamynathan

(Reuters) – The Nasdaq crossed the 6,000 threshold for the first time on Tuesday, while the Dow registered triple-digit gains as strong earnings underscored the health of Corporate America.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq rose as much as 0.70 percent to hit a record level of 6,026.02, powered by gains in index heavyweights Apple <AAPL.O> and Microsoft <MSFT.O>.

The index had breached the 5,000 mark on March 7, 2000 and closed above that level two days later during the height of the tech boom.

Tuesday’s gains build on a day-earlier rally, which was driven by the victory of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the French presidential election. Polls show Macron is likely to beat his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in a deciding vote on May 7.

“Political headlines in Europe don’t tend to stick, but create buying opportunities more than having long-term consequences,” said Stephen Wood, chief market strategist at Russell Investments.

At 12:49 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> was up 235.96 points, or 1.14 percent, at 20,999.85, the S&P 500 <.SPX> was up 13.17 points, or 0.55 percent, at 2,387.32 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> was up 39.91 points, or 0.67 percent, at 6,023.73.

Investors are also keeping a close watch on the latest earnings season, hoping that companies will be able to justify their lofty valuations, which were spurred in part by President Donald Trump’s pro-growth promises.

Overall profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 11 percent in the first quarter – the most since 2011, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Trump, who had promised to make “a big tax reform” announcement on Wednesday, has directed his aides to move quickly on a plan to cut the corporate income tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent, a Trump administration official said on Monday.

The Dow outperformed other major sectors, largely due to a surge in Caterpillar <CAT.N> and McDonald’s <MCD.N> after they reported better-than-expected profits.

Eight of the S&P 500’s 11 major sectors were higher. DuPont’s <DD.N> 2.8 percent increase, following a profit beat, helped the materials sector <.SPRLCM> top the list of gainers.

Biogen <BIIB.O> jumped nearly 4 percent after the biotech company reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue on Tuesday.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,017 to 853. On the Nasdaq, 2,020 issues rose and 766 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 80 52-week highs and three lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 194 highs and 36 lows.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

Anti-Semitic acts spiked since Trump election win, watchdog says

DAY 33 / FEBRUARY 21: President Donald Trump delivered his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States after a new spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and the vandalism of about 170 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis (above). REUTERS/Tom Gannam

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Anti-Semitic incidents, from bomb threats and cemetery desecration to assaults and bullying, have surged in the United States since the election of President Donald Trump, and a “heightened political atmosphere” played a role in the rise, the Anti-Defamation League said on Monday.

A sharp increase in the harassment of American Jews, including double the incidents of bullying of schoolchildren and vandalism at non-denominational grade schools, was cited in the ADL’s “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.”

Overall, the number of acts targeting Jews and Jewish institutions rose 34 percent in 2016 to 1,266 in 2016 and jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017, the ADL said.

“The 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere played a role in the increase,” the ADL concluded in its report.

White House spokesman Michael Short said Trump consistently called for an end to anti-Semitism, as recently as Sunday in a speech on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We must stamp out prejudice and anti-Semitism everywhere it is found,” Trump told the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in New York.

Trump had been criticized for waiting until late February to deliver his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents, previously speaking more generally about his hope of making the nation less “divided.”

He later called such incidents “horrible … and a very sad reminder” of the work needed to root out hate, prejudice and evil.

The majority of anti-Semitic incidents were not carried out by organized extremists and should be seen in the context of a general resurgence of U.S. white supremacist activity, said Oren Segal, director of the League’s Center on Extremism.

“Anti-Semitism is not the sole domain of any one group, and needs to be challenged wherever and whenever it arises,” Segal said in a statement.

Among 34 election-linked incidents cited by the ADL was graffiti posted in Denver in May 2016 that exhorted readers to “Kill the Jews, Vote Trump.”

The League also noted an incident from November when an assailant told a victim in St. Petersburg, Florida: “Trump is going to finish what Hitler started.”

Technology that makes it easier to conduct harassment anonymously contributed to the rising numbers, the ADL said.

Michael Ron David Kadar, an 18-year-old Israeli-American, has been charged with making dozens of bomb threats to Jewish community centers in the United States earlier this year.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn)

Trump-backed Navy expansion would boost costs some $400 billion over 30 years: study

FILE PHOTO - Sailors man the rails of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as it departs its home port in San Diego, California August 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Expanding the U.S. Navy to 355 ships as recommended by military leaders and backed by President Donald Trump would cost some $400 billion more over the next 30 years than the currently planned 308-ship fleet, according to a study released on Monday.

The annual cost to build, crew and operate a 355-ship fleet would be about $102 billion, or 13 percent more than the $90 billion needed for the currently planned Navy, according to the study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The $102 billion cost of the 355-ship fleet is 33 percent more than Congress appropriated in 2016 for the current 275-ship Navy, the CBO said.

To achieve the larger force, the Navy would need $26.6 billion annually for ship construction, which is 60 percent more than the average amount that Congress has appropriated for shipbuilding in the past 30 years, the CBO study said.

The Navy’s 2017 shipbuilding plan called for boosting the size of the fleet to 308 ships, which was expected to cost $21.2 billion per year to implement over 30 years.

With Trump pressing for an expansion of the fleet to 350 ships during the presidential campaign last year, the Navy released a new force structure assessment in December seeking a 355-ship Navy.

Taking into consideration older ships being retired, creating a 355-ship fleet would require the Navy to buy about 329 new ships over 30 years, compared with 254 under its previous plan for a 308-ship fleet, the CBO study found. The Navy would have to buy about 12 ships per year under the larger fleet plan, versus about eight per year under the earlier plan.

The larger fleet would require more civilian and uniformed personnel and more aircraft, pushing up overall operating costs, the CBO said.

The increase in shipbuilding would force all seven U.S. shipyards to expand their work forces and improve their infrastructure in order to meet the demand for vessels, the CBO said. The greatest challenge would be building submarines to meet the force structure requirements, the report said.

The study said the earliest the Navy could achieve a 355-ship fleet would be the year 2035, or 18 years from now.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Bill Trott)

Lawyer urges Trump to press Iran on jailed U.S. father and son at nuclear talks

Lawyer Jared Genser and Babak Namazi, the brother and son of two prisoners in Iran, who hold both U.S. American and Iranian citizenship and who have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in Iran, address the media in Vienna, Austria, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA (Reuters) – The lawyer of an American-Iranian father and son jailed in Iran called on U.S. President Donald Trump to get his officials to press for the men’s release at nuclear talks with Tehran on Tuesday.

An Iranian court sentenced 46-year-old Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father Baquer Namazi to 10 years in prison each in October on charges of spying and cooperating with the United States.

The Namazis’ lawyer, Jared Genser, said he had traveled to the nuclear talks venue in Vienna with Siamak’s brother, Babak, to encourage Washington’s delegation to press the case, adding that he was worried about the detained men’s health.

The lawyer said a senior administration official in the U.S. delegation had told him on Monday that the case would be raised directly during the talks on the implementation of a deal reached in 2015 to shrink Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

A State Department spokeswoman did not comment directly on the case, but said: “We continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance overseas.”

Iran has not commented on the Namazis’ prison conditions but has repeatedly said that political prisoners are kept under standard condition in Evin prison with full access to medical care.

“In our view, something happening to the Namazis would be devastating not just to one side but to both sides,” Genser told reporters in a hotel near the venue.

“For either or both of the Namazis to die on (Trump’s) watch would be a public and catastrophic failure of his negotiating skills,”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps detained Siamak Namazi, a businessman, in October 2015 while he was visiting family in Tehran, relatives said.

The IRGC arrested his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, a former Iranian provincial governor and former UNICEF official in February lat year, family members said.

Soon after the sentencing and days before he won the presidential election, Trump said on Twitter: “Iran has done it again … This doesn’t happen if I’m president!”

(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Andrew Heavens)