Politics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump intends to nominate Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, the White House said on Wednesday. Brownback, who previously served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, would assume the position created in the State Department by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, of which he was one of the key sponsors. In 2015, Brownback issued an executive order protecting the religious freedom of clergy and organizations that opposed same-sex marriage as Kansas began to comply with the landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage. “We … recognize that religious liberty is at the heart of who we are as Kansans and Americans, and should be protected,” Brownback, governor since 2011, said at the time of the order. He was re-elected in 2014 and is not eligible to serve a third consecutive term. Reporting by Washington …

BOSTON (Reuters) – A ruling by Massachusetts’ top court could influence other state courts to rule that police cannot detain illegal immigrants solely to give federal authorities time to take them into custody, state Attorney General Maura Healey said on Wednesday. Healey, a Democrat who has been part of a loose coalition of state officials mounting court challenges to President Donald Trump’s administration, said the Monday ruling on civil immigration detainer requests, the first to cover a full state, showed the power of state-level challenges. “We may see in other courts efforts to draw from that,” Healey said in a interview in her office. “In this age of some really adverse actions and a lot of fear-mongering, frankly, by Donald Trump and (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions and others, it is important to make clear what the law here is and that no one is above the law.” The Trump administration has stepped up immigration …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) is taking the lead on a decision about how many refugees to admit to the United States next year, two current and three former officials said, a move that may empower those who wish to reduce immigration. The council, which reports to U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser for policy Stephen Miller, an architect of Trump’s initial travel ban, is adopting a role traditionally handled by National Security Council and State Department officials. The shift may strengthen the hand of officials who, like Trump himself, wish to cut the number of refugees resettled in the United States, against foreign policy experts who view the issue through an international humanitarian lens and say taking them in is vital to getting others to keep their borders open. The bureaucratic maneuver appears to be part of a wider Washington fight over steps that the Trump administration has taken …

MOSCOW/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Russia warned it was edging closer to retaliation against Washington after the House of Representatives backed new U.S. sanctions on Moscow, while the European Union said the move might affect its energy security and it stood ready to act too. The lower house of the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on Moscow on Tuesday and to force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers’ permission before easing any punitive measures on Russia. “This is rather sad news from the point of view of Russia-U.S. ties,” said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman. “We are talking about an extremely unfriendly act.” He said President Vladimir Putin would decide if and how Moscow would retaliate once the fresh sanctions became law, while Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned the move was taking bilateral relations into uncharted waters, killing off any hope of improving them in the near future. The sanctions still need to be …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After a months-long struggle, Republicans have succeeded in bringing Obamacare repeal legislation, a centerpiece of their 2016 election campaigns, to a debate on the U.S. Senate floor. Now the hard part begins. Republicans, deeply divided over the proper role of the government in helping low-income people receive healthcare, eked out a procedural win on Tuesday when the Senate voted 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie, to allow debate to start on legislation. The outcome came as a huge relief to President Donald Trump, who has called Obamacare a “disaster” and pushed fellow Republicans in recent days to follow through on the party’s seven-year quest to roll back the law. But hours later, Senate Republican leadership suffered a setback when the repeal and replace plan that they had been working on since May failed to get enough votes for approval, with nine out of 52 Republicans voting against it. Usually, …

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The Trump administration’s refusal to publicly accuse Russia and others in a wave of politically motivated hacking attacks is creating a policy vacuum that security experts fear will encourage more cyber warfare. In the past three months, hackers broke into official websites in Qatar, helping to create a regional crisis; suspected North Korean-backed hackers closed down British hospitals with ransomware; and a cyber attack that researchers attribute to Russia deleted data on thousands of computers in the Ukraine. Yet neither the United States nor the 29-member NATO military alliance have publicly blamed national governments for those attacks. President Donald Trump has also refused to accept conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections using cyber warfare methods to help the New York businessman win. “The White House is currently embroiled in a cyber crisis of existential proportion, and for the moment probably just wants ‘cyber’ to …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry optimistically discussed expanding American coal exports to Ukraine and other energy matters during a lengthy phone call this month with a Russian prankster who Perry thought was Ukraine’s prime minister. Perry actually was talking with comedians known in Russia for targeting celebrities and politicians with audacious stunts, Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in a written statement. Pranksters Vladimir Krasnov and Alexei Stolyarov are sometimes called the “Jerky Boys of Russia,” after an American duo who put out recordings of their prank phone calls in the 1990s. They have made faux calls to British singer Elton John, who thought he was speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and others. “These individuals are known for pranking high-level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine,” Hynes said. During the …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to erase a new rule that lets bank and credit-card customers band together in lawsuits, as the agency that drafted the measure, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, moves closer to the center stage of congressional politics. The Republican-led House voted 231 to 190 along strict party lines to kill the rule barring financial institutions from forcing customers to agree to take future disputes to arbitration, instead of the courts, as a condition of opening accounts. It now goes to the Senate. Under the Congressional Review Act, both chambers can vote to repeal a new rule with simple majorities. The Republican majority in the Senate is slimmer. If the party loses just three lawmakers the CFPB rule, finalized 15 days ago, will survive. Also, the Senate calendar is currently full with healthcare and tax reform, and lawmakers may not get around to voting on …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Republicans on Tuesday shot down a legislative effort by Democrats to obtain Treasury Department documents that could show any ties between the finances of President Donald Trump, his inner circle and the Russian government. The bill was rejected amid intense sparring with Democrats openly wondering whether or not Trump, a Republican, is compromised by a foreign power and Republicans dismissing it as a political stunt. Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chair of the House Financial Services Committee that rejected the proposal, said the panel would not be spending any time exploring Trump’s financial network. Hensarling cited open investigations by congressional committees and a special counsel into conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election campaign to help New York businessman Trump win. Moscow has denied any meddling and Trump has denied and collusion between his campaign and Russian officials. The bill, known as a “resolution of …

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