Democratic, Republican lawmakers back $8 billion F-16 sale to Taiwan

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter taking part in the U.S.-led Saber Strike exercise flies over Estonia June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

By Bryan Pietsch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress should move quickly with an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan as China “seeks to extend its authoritarian reach” over the region, leading U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers said on Friday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, a Republican, said in a statement that he welcomed the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16 jets to boost Taiwan’s “ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which he said is “under increasing pressure” from China.

The deal “sends a strong message” about U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the region, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot and Michael McCaul, the panel’s ranking Republican, said in a joint statement.

They said the move will deter China as Beijing threatens “our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government.”

The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-governed island under its control.

Senator Marco Rubio urged Congress to move forward with the deal, which he said in a statement is “an important step in support of Taiwan’s self-defense efforts” as China “seeks to extend its authoritarian reach” in the region.

Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that it is critical “now more than ever” for Taiwan to boost its defense capabilities.

After the United States approved sales of tanks and Raytheon Co’s <RTN.N> anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Taiwan in July, China said it was “ready to go to war” if people “try to split Taiwan from the country.”

Beijing said it would impose sanctions on U.S. companies involved in any deals. The United States and China are embroiled in a wider trade war.

On Thursday, Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade, to T$411.3 billion ($13.11 billion.)

The United States has no formal ties with self-ruled and democratic Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself. China has repeatedly denounced U.S. arms sales to the island.

(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. bill seeks to give Americans more control over online data

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to reporters before a series of votes on legislation ending U.S. military support for the war in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio introduced a bill on Wednesday aimed at giving Americans more control over information that online companies like Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google collect on their location, financial data, job history or biometric data like fingerprints.

Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the tech giants and others over data breaches, a lack of online privacy options and concern about political bias.

Congress has been expected to pass some sort of online privacy bill to pre-empt a stringent law passed by California.

Rubio’s bill, which would pre-empt the California law if passed by Congress, would require consumer protection regulator the Federal Trade Commission to draw up rules for companies to follow that are based on the Privacy Act of 1974, with a goal of having them in place within 18 months of the Republican senator’s bill becoming law.

The bill won early praise from Marc Rotenberg, president of the independent Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Senator Rubio has put forward a very good proposal to address growing concerns about privacy protection. The federal Privacy Act is also the right starting point,” he said.

The 1974 measure requires government agencies to give public notice of what records they keep, prohibits most disclosures of records unless the person gives written consent and gives people a way to fix inaccurate records.

Three lawmakers on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee – Republicans John Thune and Jerry Moran and Democrat Richard Blumenthal – talked about potential privacy legislation last year.

The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology proposed a bill in December that strictly limits the collection of biometric and location information and calls for punishment by fines.

In November, Intel Corp began seeking public comment on a bill it drafted that would shield companies from fines if they attest to the FTC that they have strong data protection measures.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

‘Teachers’ Spring’ forcing lawmakers to find money for schools

FILE PHOTO: Participants take part in a march in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., April 26, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Christy Chavis/File Photo via REUTERS

(Reuters) – It has been called the “Teachers’ Spring” in the United States, with educators from five states staging an unprecedented wave of protests demanding increases in pay and school budgets.

Encouraged by progressive resistance to President Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement, the protests by the nation’s teachers, more than three-quarters of whom are women, mark the first statewide walkouts since the 1990s.

Some educators have likened their movement to the “Arab Spring”, a series of anti-government uprisings that hit Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East beginning in 2010.

The movement has already prompted lawmakers to allocate pay increases for teachers and more money for schools in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Colorado, while Arizona’s legislature is also trying to hammer out a deal.

WHY THEY BEGAN

The strikes started in West Virginia in February and then spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, all of them Republican-controlled states that put limits on education spending during the 2007-2009 recession and never fully removed them. Teachers in Colorado, which has a Democratic governor, walked out last week.

According to the National Education Association, a group representing public school teachers nationwide, the average teacher salary in the United States decreased by four percent from 2008‒09 to 2017‒18, after inflation adjustment.

The West Virginia strike, which shut schools for almost two weeks, ended with a five percent pay raise. Teachers in Oklahoma returned to classrooms after the legislature passed its first major tax increases in a quarter century, raising about $450 million in revenue for education.

Arizona teachers have sought a 20 percent pay rise. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Friday announced a deal with state legislative leaders to raise teachers’ pay 20 percent by 2020, but it was unclear how the money would be raised.

SUPPORT FOR TEACHERS

Teachers’ demands for pay increases have gained widespread public support and won bi-partisan attention from legislators ahead of November midterm elections.

But conservative groups, who oppose education funding increases through tax increases, point to data from education reform group EdChoice showing that nationwide, per-pupil funding adjusted for inflation rose 27 percent between 1992 and 2014 as schools added ranks of non-teaching support staff.

These conservative groups say school districts need to cut back on non-teaching staff rather than seek bigger budgets.

WHICH STATES COULD BE NEXT TO SEE A WALKOUT?

The protests have been largely driven by social media, rather than union leadership, allowing activists to organize rapidly. Arizona’s movement began with a Facebook page that encouraged teachers to show up for work wearing red – the color of the movement.

They have moved West through states where teacher pay is among the lowest in the country, per-pupil funding has fallen in real terms since the recession and where state legislatures largely control teacher salaries. Other states with a similar profile include Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, New Mexico, Utah and South Dakota, according to a study by Brookings Institution analyst Michael Hansen.

A teachers’ group in North Carolina has called for a march on the state capitol on May 16. At the same time, legislatures for states such as South Dakota and Alabama have recently voted to increase teacher pay, possibly heading off protests.

Walkouts crossed a political divide when they spread to Colorado, where Democrats control the governorship and lower house and Republicans hold the senate. Other states with mixed political control and relatively low teacher pay include New Mexico and Nevada.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Robert Birsel)

Students to walk out across United States in call for gun reform

People visit the Columbine memorial after teens kicked off a voter registration rally, a day ahead of the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) – Thousands of students across the United States will mark the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School on Friday by walking out of classes, in a show of unity intended to put pressure on politicians to enact tighter gun restrictions.

Students from more than 2,600 schools and institutions are expected to walk out of class at 10:00 a.m. local time, organizers say. They have been asked to wear orange, a color that has come to represent the movement against gun violence, and to observe a 13-second silence in honor of the victims killed at Columbine.

“This movement is here to stay. No more excuses. We want solutions,” organizers said on Thursday on Facebook.

On April 20, 1999, two Columbine seniors killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher before committing suicide. Since then, mass shootings have occurred with shocking frequency across the United States.

The second deadliest public school shooting in U.S. history took place in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, leaving 17 dead. The shooting set off a national student movement calling for an end to gun violence and tighter gun restrictions.

“We can end the daily bloodshed in our country, and we can make history while doing it,” an organizer of Friday’s walkout, Max Cumming, wrote in an open letter to young Americans.

“We can rise up together and declare, with one ringing voice, that the age of national indifference towards the ever-growing death toll is over. We can change America forever, all before we reach 20 years of age.”

Cumming is a senior at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut, near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where a mass shooting in December 2012 killed 26 young children and adults.

The walkouts, speeches and drive to sign up voters on Friday are aimed at pressuring U.S. politicians to enact tighter restrictions on gun sales in the run-up to November’s mid-term congressional elections.

On Thursday, Colorado gun control activists rallied near Columbine High School, calling for an end to gun violence.

Columbine has not held classes on April 20 since the massacre, a district spokeswoman said, so there would be no walkout at the school. Students were encouraged to take part in community service.

The latest national rally comes more than a month after tens of thousands of students from some 3,000 schools participated in the #ENOUGH National School Walkout to demand that lawmakers seek tighter gun control regulations.

It also follows “March For Our Lives” rallies in cities across the United States on March 24 that were some of the biggest U.S. youth demonstrations in decades, with hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters taking to the streets to demand tighter gun laws.

Dudley Brown, president of the Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights, said the gun-control movement seeks to have the government take away rights.

“The main objective of these students is to ban firearms completely, and confiscate the firearms of law-abiding Americans,” Brown said. “We will oppose them at every step.”

(Editing by Catherine Evans and Bernadette Baum)

CEO Zuckerberg says Facebook could have done more to prevent misuse

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the Facebook F8 conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

By Dustin Volz and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told Congress on Monday that the social media network should have done more to prevent itself and its members’ data being misused and offered a broad apology to lawmakers.

His conciliatory tone precedes two days of Congressional hearings where Zuckerberg is set to answer questions about Facebook user data being improperly appropriated by a political consultancy and the role the network played in the U.S. 2016 election.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said in remarks released by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Zuckerberg, surrounded by tight security and wearing a dark suit and a purple tie rather than his trademark hoodie, was meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Monday ahead of his scheduled appearance before two Congressional committees on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Zuckerberg did not respond to questions as he entered and left a meeting with Senator Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. He is expected to meet Senator John Thune, the Commerce Committee’s Republican chairman, later in the day, among others.

Top of the agenda in the forthcoming hearings will be Facebook’s admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

But lawmakers are also expected to press him on a range of issues, including the 2016 election.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm…” his testimony continued. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

Facebook, which has 2.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, said on Sunday it plans to begin on Monday telling users whose data may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica. The company’s data practices are under investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

London-based Cambridge Analytica, which counts U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign among its past clients, has disputed Facebook’s estimate of the number of affected users.

Zuckerberg also said that Facebook’s major investments in security “will significantly impact our profitability going forward.” Facebook shares were up 2 percent in midday trading.

ONLINE INFORMATION WARFARE

Facebook has about 15,000 people working on security and content review, rising to more than 20,000 by the end of 2018, Zuckerberg’s testimony said. “Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits,” he said.

As with other Silicon Valley companies, Facebook has been resistant to new laws governing its business, but on Friday it backed proposed legislation requiring social media sites to disclose the identities of buyers of online political campaign ads and introduced a new verification process for people buying “issue” ads, which do not endorse any candidate but have been used to exploit divisive subjects such as gun laws or police shootings.

The steps are designed to deter online information warfare and election meddling that U.S. authorities have accused Russia of pursuing, Zuckerberg said on Friday. Moscow has denied the allegations.

Zuckerberg’s testimony said the company was “too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference, and we’re working hard to get better.”

He vowed to make improvements, adding it would take time, but said he was “committed to getting it right.”

A Facebook official confirmed that the company had hired a team from the law firm WilmerHale and outside consultants to help prepare Zuckerberg for his testimony and how lawmakers may question him.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Dustin Volz; Editing by Bill Rigby)

Facebook says data leak hits 87 million users, widening privacy scandal

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File photo

By David Ingram

 

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Wednesday the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, up from a previous news media estimate of more than 50 million.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call with reporters that Facebook had not seen “any meaningful impact” on usage or ad sales since the scandal, although he added, “it’s not good” if people are unhappy with the company.

Shares rose more than 3 percent after the bell.

Zuckerberg told reporters that he accepted blame for the data leak, which has angered users, advertisers and lawmakers, while also saying he was still the right person to head the company he founded.

“When you’re building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things that you mess up,” Zuckerberg said, adding that the important thing was to learn from mistakes.

He said he was not aware of any discussions on the Facebook board about him stepping down, although directors would face a challenge if they wanted to oust him because Zuckerberg is the controlling shareholder.

He said he had not fired anyone over the scandal and did not plan to. “I’m not looking to throw anyone else under the bus for mistakes that we made here,” he said.

Facebook first acknowledged last month that personal information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg will testify about the matter next Tuesday and Wednesday during two U.S. congressional hearings.

London-based Cambridge Analytica, which has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign among its clients, disputed Facebook’s estimate of affected users. On Wednesday it said on Twitter it had received no more than 30 million records from a researcher it hired to collect data about people on Facebook.

Zuckerberg, on the call with reporters, said Facebook should have done more to audit and oversee third-party app developers like the one that Cambridge Analytica hired in 2014.

“Knowing what I know today, clearly we should have done more,” he said.

Facebook was taking steps to restrict which personal data is available to third-party app developers, he said, and it might take two more years to fix Facebook’s problems.

“We’re broadening our view of our responsibility,” Zuckerberg said.

Most of the up to 87 million people whose data was shared with Cambridge Analytica were in the United States, Facebook Chief Technology Officer  Mike Schroepfer wrote in a blog post.

Shares in Facebook closed down 0.6 percent on Wednesday to $155.10. They have tumbled more than 16 percent since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

The previous estimate of more than 50 million Facebook users affected by the data leak came from two newspapers, the New York Times and London’s Observer, based on their investigations of Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg said Facebook came to the higher estimate by looking at the number of people who had downloaded a personality quiz app created by Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan, or about 270,000 people, and then adding in the number of friends they had.

Cambridge Analytica has said that it engaged Kogan “in good faith” to collect Facebook data in a manner similar to how other third-party app developers have harvested personal information.

The scandal has kicked off investigations by Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office, Australia’s Privacy Commissioner and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and by some 37 U.S. state attorneys general.

Nigeria’s government will investigate allegations of improper involvement by Cambridge Analytica in that country’s 2007 and 2015 elections, a presidency spokesman said on Monday.

(Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru, Eric Auchard in London and Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Clarence Fernandez)

California lawmakers take anti-Trump stance as session ends

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Morristown municipal airport for a weekend at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster ahead of next week's United Nations General Assembly, New Jersey, U.S., September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California lawmakers voted to become a sanctuary state, tussled over hot-button environmental issues and urged other states to refuse to cooperate with President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission as their legislative year ended early on Saturday.

The majority Democratic lawmakers headed back to their districts having positioned the state in opposition to conservative policies proposed by the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump on immigration, the environment and other issues.

“It’s a purposeful positioning,” said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California. “We have a different political path and a different ideological path than the Republican-controlled Congress and White House have.”

This year, California lawmakers have strengthened protections for undocumented immigrants, increased the gasoline tax and extended a program aimed at compelling businesses to reduce air pollution, all in opposition to federal policies.

Early on Saturday, lawmakers gave last-minute support to a bill barring local governments from forcing undocumented immigrants to spend extra time in jail just to allow enforcement officers to take them into their custody.

The bill, a compromise from a version that sought to severely restrict interactions between law enforcement and immigration officials, does allow communities to notify the federal government if they have arrested an undocumented immigrant with a felony record. It also allows enforcement agents access to local jails.

It came a day after a federal judge barred the U.S. Justice Department from denying public-safety grants to so-called sanctuary cities in retaliation for limiting cooperation with the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

The bill goes now to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

Trump issued an executive order in January targeting funding for cities that offer illegal immigrants safe harbor by declining to use municipal resources to enforce federal immigration laws. A San Francisco judge blocked the order.

Illinois’ Republican Governor signed a bill last month protecting people from being detained because they are the subject of an immigration-related warrant.

FOSSIL FUELS

Although California lawmakers have enacted several environmental protections this year, a measure aimed at weaning the state’s power grid entirely off fossil fuels by 2045 died for the year after lawmakers adjourned without voting on it.

California’s three investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric <PCG_pa.A>, Southern California Edison <SCE_pe.A> and San Diego Gas & Electric [SDGE.UL], said the bill does not protect customers from the cost of switching from fossil fuels.

Assemblyman Chris Holden, who held the measure in his Utilities and Energy Committee, said he would consider it again when the legislature returns in January for the second half of their two-year session.

The legislature also passed a package of bills aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing in the notoriously expensive state, and approved a plan for spending $1.5 billion in income from the state’s cap-and-trade air quality program, which raises money by selling businesses limited rights to emit pollutants.

They passed a resolution condemning the election integrity commission, calling it an effort to suppress the voting rights of minorities and others, and voted to move up the state’s presidential primary from June to March.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

House speaker optimistic on tax reform prospects this year

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan walks through National Statuary Hall after making a statement at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017.

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to reassure business leaders on Tuesday that tax reform is on track for this year, despite repeated delays and a string of political distractions from President Donald Trump.

In what is billed as a major speech, House Speaker Paul Ryan will seek to dispel the notion that tax reform is adrift by describing what a U.S. tax code overhaul will look like, according to a source close to Ryan’s office.

The speaker will emphasize the importance of permanent reforms and reject the notion that legislation should do little more than reduce tax rates, the source said. He will underscore the need for international corporate tax reforms in remarks to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Aides said he is not expected to delve into the details of tax proposals.

The Wisconsin Republican delivered a similar optimistic message to lobbyists and campaign donors in Virginia over the weekend, adding that he expected Congress to finalize legislation to dismantle Obamacare by mid-summer, according to a source familiar with the Speaker’s comments.

Originally expected to unveil tax reform legislation in the spring, Republicans are under pressure from business lobbyists to make good on campaign pledges to reform the tax code and pass healthcare legislation.

Lawmakers also need legislative victories to stave off Democratic challenges in next year’s congressional mid-term elections.

“What Ryan needs to do is refocus folks on the rationale for having tax reform, not just the political rationale, but the economic rationale,” said Jeff Kupfer, a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Markets have been anticipating lower taxes. Major stock indexes have hit multiple record highs from Trump’s election to the end of the first quarter, on bets he would improve economic growth by cutting taxes and boosting infrastructure spending.

The tax reform debate has largely moved behind closed doors, where Ryan is trying to hammer out an agreement with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn and Republican chairmen of the two congressional tax committees. The aim is to unveil tax reform legislation in September.

Outside those discussions, lawmakers have begun to talk about legislation that would do little more than cut taxes, with temporary reductions financed by the federal deficit.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Chris Sanders and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. lawmakers press United on man dragged off plane

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (L) testifies next to UAL President Scott Kirby at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on "Oversight of U.S. Airline Customer Service," in the aftermath of the forced removal on April 9 of a passenger from a UAL Chicago flight, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By David Shepardson and Alana Wise

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers harshly criticized United Airlines Inc <UAL.N> on Tuesday, demanding answers from the carrier’s apologetic chief executive after a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight last month.

United CEO Oscar Munoz’s appearance before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was a test of how the Republican-led Congress would respond to an incident that enraged air passengers across the country.

Republicans largely back President Donald Trump’s push to undo rules and regulations they say hamper business growth. But Committee Chairman Bill Shuster told airline executives that Congress will take action if airlines do not act and added they “would not like the outcome.”

Shuster said the airlines owe the public answers. “Something is broken,” he said.

The hearing opened with a litany of complaints about air travel from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, many of whom travel back and forth to their districts weekly.

Munoz apologized again and took responsibility for a series of problems that led to the incident. He first apologized on April 11 in a letter to employees.

“In that moment for our customers and our company we failed, and so as CEO, at the end of the day, that is on me,” Munoz told lawmakers.

“This has to be a turning point.”

Munoz was joined at the hearing by United President Scott Kirby and executives from American Airlines <AAL.O>, Southwest Airlines <LUV.N> and Alaska Airlines <ALK.N>.

Consumer anger at cost-cutting airlines boiled over when David Dao, 69, was dragged from a United flight at a Chicago airport on April 9 to make room for crew members.

Fellow passengers recorded the incident, sparking backlash against the airline, which initially resisted taking blame.

United reached a settlement with Dao last week and changed its policies by reducing overbooked flights and offering passengers who give up their seats up to $10,000. The airline has promised to no longer call on law enforcement officers to deny ticketed passengers their seats.

Southwest said last week it would end overbooking altogether. The company will tell Congress it expects denied boarding incidents will fall 80 percent as a result of the change.

Alaska Airlines told the committee it is considering changes to its overbooking. But American Airlines said it would not end the practice.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday that Trump would not, at this point, weigh in on whether new airline regulations are needed.

“I’ll leave it up to Congress to decide whether it’s appropriate to address this legislatively. Once there was a piece of legislation, then we could have an opportunity to weigh in,” Spicer said on Monday.

But it is unclear how any new legislation would square with Trump’s deregulatory push.

Shortly after he took office, Trump directed federal agencies to do away with two old regulations for every new one. He asked airline executives in February to identify regulatory hurdles.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Amanda Becker in Washington; writing by Roberta Rampton and Amanda Becker; Editing by Mary Milliken and Meredith Mazzilli)

Venezuela’s opposition censures judges; 18 held after protests

Demonstrators scuffle with security forces during an opposition rally in Caracas, Venezuela. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Andrew Cawthorne and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition lawmakers, some carrying injuries from this week’s protests, on Wednesday sought the dismissal of Supreme Court judges whom they accuse of propping up a socialist dictatorship.

Newly militant opposition leaders also announced another round of demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro for Thursday, despite chaos and violence in Caracas on Tuesday that left 20 injured and 18 arrested.

The opposition, which won control of the National Assembly in late 2015, accuses Maduro of wrecking the South American nation’s economy and squashing democracy.

Maduro says his foes are seeking a coup with the help of Washington and compliant foreign media.

The opposition’s main demand now is to bring forward the next presidential election scheduled for the end of 2018.

But there is no sign authorities will concede, analysts and diplomats say, unless foreign pressure ramps up considerably or Venezuela’s powerful military sways the equation.

The political drama is playing out against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis, with Venezuelans suffering a fourth year of recession, widespread shortages of basic foods and medicines, the world’s worst inflation, and long lines at supermarkets.

Having been impeded from reaching the National Assembly on Tuesday, lawmakers headed to the building in downtown Caracas from dawn on Wednesday, some still nursing head wounds or bandaged arms from clashes in recent days.

“We are going to keep fighting for change, opposing repression and dictatorship,” lawmaker Juan Requesens, who had a gash on his head, said at 6:30 a.m. while en route to the session.

Often at the forefront of provocative demonstrations, Requesens received more than 50 stitches after being hit by a stone when pro-government supporters confronted protesters at the public ombudsman’s office earlier this week.

ARRESTS AND INJURIES

The Caracas-based Penal Forum rights group said 18 people were still behind bars on Wednesday after detentions around the country, but mostly in Caracas. At least 20 people were injured on Tuesday, its head, Alfredo Romero, told Reuters.

There was particular outcry over a musician caught and slapped by police with riot shields while apparently on his way to practice, according to a video of the incident. State ombudsman Tarek Saab called for a probe into the “brutal aggression.”

The head of the hemispheric Organization of American States and global rights group Amnesty International both condemned Venezuela for excessive repression.

But Interior Minister Nestor Reverol denied that, calling instead for one opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, to be prosecuted for blocking streets, including impeding an ambulance.

“The exemplary behavior, capacity and training of our citizens’ security organs prevented the unpredictable consequences of these terrorist groups,” Reverol added.

The oil-producing nation’s political standoff took a new twist last week when the Supreme Court ruled that it was taking over the legislature’s functions.

That touched off an international outcry, and the tribunal quickly scrubbed the offending clauses.

But dozens of previous rulings overturning National Assembly measures have left it powerless anyway, and opposition leaders say recent events have shown the world Maduro’s autocratic face.

Lawmakers passed one motion on Wednesday denouncing the “rupture” of Venezuela’s constitution and another asking for the removal of Supreme Court judges.

But that would be merely symbolic since congress requires the support of other institutions, which are behind Maduro, to dismiss the judges.

“Stop being ridiculous; you’re carrying out a parliamentary ‘coup,'” said Socialist Party lawmaker Hector Rodriguez, accusing opposition leaders of caring less about Venezuelans’ problems than their own competing presidential ambitions.

(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alistair Bell and Lisa Von Ahn)