Trump gets first physical as president

By Karen DeWitt   
President Donald Trump hinted that he had tapes of conversations with ousted FBI Director James Comey. (

WASHINGTON —  President Donald Trump at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington for a physical examination today, his first as president.

The public will learn more about his health from White House physician Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, who also treated former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Questions about Trump’s mental health have been raised recently after Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, revealed that White House aides questioned the president’s mental acuity in the face of increasingly erratic behavior.


U.S. Ambassador to Netherlands under fire for anti-Muslim remarks

The State Department distanced itself from anti-Muslim comments made by the Trump administration’s ambassador to the Netherlands, insisting that the envoy’s remarks did not reflect the position of the agency, according to The Hill.

Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, said at a press briefing,

“Those comments were not the position of the State Department, and you will never hear those words from this podium or in any form.”

But, when pressed during the briefing on whether the State Department considered Ambassador Pete Hoekstra’s past remarks on Muslims in Europe to be inaccurate, Goldstein would not label them as such.

Hoekstra came under fire this week after comments he made on Dutch television in 2015 resurfaced. In those comments, Hoekstra claimed that an Islamic movement was generating chaos in Europe and that extremists in the Netherlands were burning cars and politicians.

Hoekstra, who was confirmed as the ambassador to the Netherlands in November, faced intense questioning from Dutch reporters during which he refused to discuss his past comments.


Mueller interview fraught with peril for Trump, report says

President Trump could face the greatest political and legal peril of his life if he agrees to an interview with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to The Hill.

Mueller would likely confront Trump over whether he obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey. The special counsel could also force Trump to answer tough questions about his knowledge of some of the most controversial events related to the Russia probe.

In addition, the president would almost certainly be required to speak under oath with the FBI or members of Mueller’s team, meaning he could open himself up to a perjury charge by making false statements.

Depositions are familiar territory for Trump, who claims he has testified more than 100 times in thousands of lawsuits over the course of his business career. But Trump may try to avoid a turn in the interview room with Mueller’s team because of the tremendous risks he now faces as commander in chief, some legal experts say.


Democrats weigh response to State of the Union address

Democratic Party leaders are balancing a complex political calculus and a host of competing egos as they consider who they will choose to respond to President Trump’s first State of the Union address Jan. 30, according to The Hill.

More than 30 party strategists, leaders and members of Congress said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi  of Californua must decide what message they want the prime-time address to convey.

They may decide to feature the message Democrats will take to voters in November’s midterm elections. They might opt to highlight a specific issue on which they contrast with Trump and the Republican Congress. Or they could pick a rising star to thrust into the spotlight, someone who conveys a new and different tone for a party that lacks a mega-star.

State of the Union responses are notoriously fraught events, where the tiniest slip-up becomes a career-defining headline. No one remembers what GOP Sen. Marco Rubio  of Florida said when he responded to former President Obama’s 2013 address. Everyone remembers that he took a sip of water in the middle of his moment in the spotlight.


Obama first guest on new Letterman show, mum on Trump

Former President Barack Obama opens up about everything from racism to sending his daughter off to college in an interview with David Letterman, billed as the former president’s first TV talk show appearance since leaving the White House.

But the one topic Obama doesn’t get into: President Trump.

The former president is the inaugural guest on Letterman’s new Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs no Introduction,” premiering today.


FCC maintains fee for copies of documents

The Federal Communications Commission said its fee for copying a document will remain at 10¢ per page in 2018 —the amount charged by most government agencies since the 1970s—and $5 for a computer disk.

The fees can add up, though, depending on the number of hours needed to conduct research, and on who is doing the research. Research fees are scaled from $15.70 per hour if done by a GS-1 level employee, to $87.84 per hour if done by a GS-15 level employee.


Civil rights panel decries inequitable school funds

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said in a report—Public Education Funding Inequity in an Era of Increasing Concentration of Poverty and Resegregation—that inequities in public school funding are “pervasive,” “vast,” and “profoundly unequal.”

“Vast funding inequities are a significant factor in rendering education available to public school students profoundly unequal,” the report said, adding “This reality of American schooling is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideal of public education as a means to equalize life opportunity, regardless of resident, race, economic status, or life circumstance.”


Gotham’s alleged mobsters nabbed on racketeering charges

Five members of New York City’s Genovese crime family — Vincent Esposito, 50, Steven Arena, 60, Frank Giovinco, 50, Frank Cognetta, 42, and Vincent D’Acunto Jr., 49 — were arrested on racketeering charges, including extortion, honest services fraud, and bribery, the Department of Justice said.

According to the indictment, the mobsters extorted cash payments from an officer of a labor union by using threats of violence. Cognetta, also a labor union officer, was also charged with soliciting bribes and steering union benefit plans into investments in exchange for kickbacks.


Court upholds licensing of African-style hair braiders

In Missouri, a person who provides African-style hair braiding in return for payment of a fee must be licensed as a barber or cosmetologist.

The state licensing requirement was upheld as constitutionally valid by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Two hair braiders challenged the requirement on various grounds, but the Court held that Missouri had a right to impose educational and licensing requirements to protect consumers and ensure public health and safety.


Border agent sentenced for human smuggling

Sabas Salinas, 55, of Weslaco, Tex., was given a 2-year prison sentence for using his position as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent to help a human smuggler transport an illegal alien into the U.S.

Salinas agreed to perform a perfunctory inspection at the Progreso Port of Entry, and allow the alien’s entry. However, CBP said, other agents recognized the alien, Asiano Uresti-Segundo, 46, of Reynosa, Mexico, as a previously deported Mexican national.


Sinaloa drug cartel leader pleads guilty

Damaso Lopez-Serrano, 29, of Culiacan, Mexico, pleaded guilty in federal court to drug distribution and importation charges. Last July, Lopez-Serrano surrendered to law enforcement authorities at the Calexico West Port of Entry.

The Department of Justice said that Lopez-Serrano’s plea concludes an investigation of a small-scale drug operation that began in San Diego County and spread into “a massive multi-national, multi-state probe” that resulted in scores of arrests and the seizures of 1,397 kilograms of methamphetamine, 2,214 kilograms of cocaine, 17.2 tons of marijuana, and $27.8 million in currency.


Women in power revolution

Women have reached a high mark in the Virginia General Assembly this year, taking 38 out of 140 seats and starting to reshape the culture of a Southern capital often seen as an old boys’ club., according to an article in The Washington Post.

The surge was part of November’s Democratic sweep in the House of Delegates that flipped 15 seats, replacing 11 men with women. Women now hold a record 28 of 100 seats in the chamber, up from 17 last year. They make up nearly half of the Democratic caucus.

The achievement in Virginia may be the start of something greater, as a record number of women around the country run for governor and Congress this year.

Many are Democrats invigorated by Hillary Clinton, who would have been the first female president, and her loss to President Trump despite his history of lewd and disparaging comments about women.


Bezos donates $33 million for ‘dreamers’ scholarship program

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is donating $33 million to a scholarship program for young, undocumented immigrants, as lawmakers struggle to strike a deal for codifying legal protections for the immigrants, known as “dreamers,” according to The Hill.

Bezos and his wife MacKenzie will donate the money to TheDream.US, a fund that awards college scholarships to dreamers – undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

The $33 million donation is the largest contribution to the program, which was established in 2014 by Donald Graham, the former publisher of The Washington Post. Bezos bought the newspaper in 2013.

The money will fund 1,000 college scholarships, TheDream.US said in a statement.

In the statement, Bezos noted that his father came to the U.S. from Cuba when he was 16, and that he wanted to help “today’s Dreamers” with the donation to the scholarship program.


Trump, Mnuchin thinking about taking  the roof off the budget

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said today that he and President Trump are mulling how to change the method through which the U.S. government caps the federal debt.

Mnuchin said it was “ridiculous” that lawmakers needed to regularly raise the legal limit on how much debt the U.S. government can hold or risk triggering a global crisis.

The Treasury secretary said he and Trump are discussing ways to make sure all spending appropriated and authorized by Congress would not be affected by the federal debt.

The U.S. federal debt exceeded $20 trillion last year and is currently over the federal debt limit. Treasury will likely be able to stave off a potential default on U.S. debt by diverting and delaying internal payments until March.

A failure to raise the debt ceiling past that point could risk financial turmoil, though credit analysts say a temporary breach of the debt ceiling won’t destabilize the economy.

Republicans have long insisted on attaching spending cuts to any bill to raise the debt ceiling, while Democrats have called such measures unnecessary.

Trump has floated eliminating the debt ceiling altogether, which some Democrats have supported. GOP lawmakers are largely opposed to the idea.


Flake to Trump: No Dems are ‘intent on having people and drugs pour into’ US

GOP Sen. Jeff Flake  of Arizona today pushed back on President Trump’s claim that Democrats “are intent on having people and drugs pour” into the U.S.

Flake tweeted, “I’ve served with ‘The Democrats’ for 17 years, and not one has ever been intent on ‘having people and drugs pour into our country.”Flake’s tweet came after Trump claimed Democrats were willing to risk “thousands of lives” by allowing “people and drugs” to cross into the U.S. from Mexico.

In his tweet, Trump reiterated his call for “a Great Wall” along the U.S. southern border, as well as an end to chain migration and visa-lottery programs.

Trump’s tweets come as lawmakers struggle to reach an immigration deal that would protect those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Some lawmakers on Thursday said they had reached the parameters of a deal, but Trump and some conservative Republicans rejected the proposal.

Flake has been among Trump’s most vocal Republican critics, blasting the president in a book published last summer and delivering sharp criticism of Trump in a speech last fall announcing his retirement from the Senate.


New watchdog group focuses on HHS reproductive health

A new watchdog group focused on reproductive health care is taking on the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mary Alice Carter, the executive director of Equity Forward, which officially launched today, said the nonpartisan group will hold accountable organizations and individuals they argue limit access to reproductive health care.

Its first project, HHS watch, will include a full audit of decision makers at the agency, digging into their positions and backgrounds and monitoring their actions.

Carter said, “Americans deserve to know when their government is hiring people with backgrounds antithetical to the mission of the offices in which they serve,.”

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