PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW STATESMEN
MATTIS SAYS AFGHAN FORCES FULLY ENGAGED FOR FIRST TIME
WASHINGTON (AP) – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Afghanistan security forces are fully engaged in offensive military operations for the first time during the 16-year-old war. During congressional testimony Tuesday, Mattis says the Afghan forces are suffering fewer casualties as they continue to improve. Mattis says more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops are being sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the roughly 8,400 American forces currently stationed there. President Donald Trump announced in August a plan to end America’s longest war and eliminate a rising extremist threat in Afghanistan. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, lectured Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford at the opening of the hearing. McCain says the Trump administration has failed to inform Congress of the details of the strategy spelled out by Trump.
GOP LEADER SAYS NRA-BACKED BILL SHELVED INDEFINITELY
WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republican leaders called for unity and prayer after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, but offered no new legislation to tighten gun laws and said a bill to ease regulations on gun silencers would be shelved indefinitely. “We are all reeling from this horror in Las Vegas,” Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference on Tuesday. “This is just awful.” Ryan said there’s no plan for the House to act soon on a National Rifle Association-backed bill to ease regulations on gun silencers. A House panel had backed the bill last month and lawmakers were expected to move ahead on the measure. The bill is “not scheduled right now. I don’t know when it will be scheduled,” Ryan said. Instead, Ryan and other GOP leaders urged prayers to unify the country and said a positive way to respond to the shooting is to donate blood. Ryan said the actions of the gunman who killed at least 59 people and wounded hundreds more will not “define us as a country. It’s not who we are.” Ryan’s comments came as Democrats renewed calls for gun safety legislation. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, pushed Congress to pass a universal background checks bill and “commonsense gun laws” to help prevent the next mass shooting. “Gun violence is a public health crisis. There is no single law or policy that would prevent every tragic shooting, but let’s start working together to do something,” Durbin said on the Senate floor. “We can’t stop the shootings that have already happened in Las Vegas, Chicago, Roseburg, Oregon, and across the nation. We failed to respond in time for those victims and their families. But if we work together, we can stop shootings in the future.” Besides the silencer measure, House GOP leaders had been moving forward with a bill to allow people with concealed-carry permits to take their weapons to other states. Republicans had been upbeat about prospects for legislation, but votes on both measures seemed unlikely. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who favors gun control, said Monday it was “time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.” In an outdoor news conference Monday, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grievously wounded in a 2011 attack, turned to the Capitol, raised her fist and said, “The nation is counting on you.”
SENATORS SEEK ‘DREAMERS’ FIX AFTER TRUMP ENDS PROGRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) – Senators of both parties pledged Tuesday to work toward a solution for “Dreamers” after President Donald Trump announced plans to end a program protecting the young immigrants brought illegally to this country as kids. And as the Senate opened its first hearing on the issue since Trump made his announcement last month, an administration official asserted that “Dreamers” are good for the country, and that Trump would like Congress to find a solution allowing them lawful permanent residence in the United States. “They are a benefit to this country,” testified Michael Dougherty, an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. “They are a valuable contribution to our society.” But highlighting the challenges ahead, the Senate Judiciary Committee featured Republicans demanding increased border security as part of any deal, while Democrats focused on the plight of the nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” themselves. These immigrants received temporary work permits and deportation protections under an Obama administration program, but now face a frighteningly uncertain future. When Trump announced last month he was ending the program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, he gave Congress six months to come up with a solution. If there is no action by March, the immigrants’ work permits will begin to expire and they will become subject to deportation, administration officials said as dozens of Dreamers wearing orange shirts watched from the audience. “Creating a legislative fix is the right thing to do, but there’s a big caveat,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who was among a small group of GOP lawmakers focused on the issue who dined with Trump at the White House Monday night. “Before we provide legal status to these young people we must reassure and actually regain the public confidence that we’re serious when it comes to enforcing the law and securing our border,” Cornyn said. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose home state of California is home to large numbers of “Dreamers,” countered that “These youths should not be political footballs.” “These young people have put their trust in the federal government and they have done everything asked of them. They are counting on us to put aside partisanship and find a solution to this problem,” she said.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
WELLS CEO FACES CONGRESS, A YEAR SINCE SALES SCANDAL BROKE
NEW YORK (AP) -Wells Fargo’s chief executive faced an angry Congress on Tuesday, saying yet again that the bank remains “deeply sorry” for its previous sales practices, and that since the scandal over them exploded it has substantially changed for the better. Tim Sloan appeared in front of the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, D.C., about a year since his predecessor did the same and was grilled about the sales practices that led employees to create millions of accounts without customers knowing about or authorizing them. “I apologize for the damage done to all the people who work and bank at this important American institution,” Sloan said. Wells Fargo has said that 3.5 million accounts were potentially opened without customers’ permission between 2009 and 2016. People may have had different kinds of accounts in their names, so the number of customers affected may differ from the account total. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a vocal critic of Wells Fargo, called for Sloan’s firing. “At best you were incompetent, at worst you were complicit,” in the sales practices, Warren said. The scandal was the biggest in Wells Fargo’s history. Sloan’s predecessor, John Stumpf, testified twice in front of Congress last fall. His poor performance was widely chastised, and the scandal led to his ouster. The bank’s once-sterling industry reputation was in tatters, and it ended up paying $185 million to regulators and settled a class-action suit for $142 million.
US DEFENDS DECISION TO KICK OUT CUBAN DIPLOMATS
WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. is working to “ensure equity” between the United States and Cuba by kicking out 15 of its diplomats. Tillerson is defending his decision to order Havana to withdraw the diplomats. He says the decision was made “due to Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats.” He’s referring to unexplained attacks in Havana that have harmed at least 22 American government workers and their family members. Tillerson says the U.S. is maintaining diplomatic relations and will cooperate with Cuba while the investigation continues. But he says his decision to withdraw 60 percent of U.S. diplomats from the embassy in Havana will remain in effect until Cuba can ensure that American diplomats there are safe. He says that move is needed to “minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm.” The United States has given Cuba a list of 15 of its diplomats that must leave the U.S. within seven days. A State Department official says the U.S. is “expelling” the Cuban diplomats. But the U.S. isn’t declaring them “persona non grata,” a designation that would prevent them from ever returning. The official says the U.S. isn’t blaming Cuba for attacks on Americans in Havana and is maintaining diplomatic relations. But the official says the decision was taken because Cuba has failed to protect American diplomats on its soil. The official also says that the American diplomats the U.S. is withdrawing from its embassy in Havana will be out of Cuba by the end of this week. The official briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity. Officials say the United States has confirmed another victim of the mysterious attacks plaguing U.S. personnel in Cuba, raising the total to 22 Americans. The Trump administration previously had spoken of 21 medically confirmed cases. The U.S. officials say the additional case will be announced later Tuesday. It’s unclear when the latest victim was attacked.
TAXPAYERS MIGHT FACE CHOICE OF PROPERTY TAX, HOME DEDUCTIONS
WASHINGTON (AP) – Homeowners would be forced to choose between two popular tax deductions for local property taxes or mortgage interest under a potential compromise that House Republicans are considering as they craft the evolving tax revamp. The nearly $6 trillion tax overhaul plan being pushed by President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress promises to retain the deduction of mortgage interest from federal income taxes — a cherished tax break used by about 30 million Americans that supporters say is a catalyst to home ownership. Republicans in high tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California are balking at the proposal from President Donald Trump and Republican leaders to eliminate the federal deduction for state and local taxes, fearing the economic impact on their constituents. The possible deduction trade-off is among several compromises being floated by Republican lawmakers to gain the support of their defecting colleagues from high-tax states. Their opposition threatens to derail tax legislation that’s seen as a political imperative for Republicans and President Donald Trump. Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., said Tuesday he and several other Republicans discussed possible ways around the current impasse on Monday with Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “It looks like we’re going to have some compromise” on state and local tax deductions, Collins said Tuesday at the Capitol. “I am confident there will be an accommodation for the high-tax states.” Other possibilities discussed included “some either-ors” like the home deduction trade-off and “maybe some capping,” Collins said. That could mean limiting the amount homeowners could deduct on their local property taxes, for example, to correspond with a maximum $1 million of the home’s value, he suggested. Or further reducing the cap on the federal mortgage interest deduction, which currently allows homeowners to deduct interest on up to $1 million in mortgage debt.
DEFENSE CHIEF SAYS US SHOULD STAY IN NUCLEAR DEAL WITH IRAN
WASHINGTON (AP) – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday the United States should remain in the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration that constrains Iran’s ability to build a nuclear arsenal. Sen. Angus King of Maine asked Mattis during a congressional hearing if he thinks it’s in the national security interests of the United States to stay a part of the international accord. Mattis said, “Yes, senator, I do.” President Donald Trump has called the deal the worst agreement ever negotiated by the United States. Trump has repeatedly said that he’s inclined not to certify Iranian compliance after having twice found the country compliant at earlier deadlines. Denying certification could lead the U.S. to reintroduce sanctions, which in turn could lead Iran to walk away from the deal or restart previously curtailed nuclear activities. Officials have said Trump might use the Oct. 15 deadline for certifying to Congress whether Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal to either declare Iran in violation or determine that the agreement is no longer in the national security interest of the U.S. ongressional Democrats are increasingly worried Trump’s distaste for the Iran nuclear deal will lead him to abandon the accord and imperil the ability to contain Iran’s nuclear program.
Mattis’ statement gave them a strong argument in the discussion. “If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly, we should stay with it,” Mattis said. “I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who dined with Trump Monday night along with several other lawmakers, said Tuesday that he discussed Iran with the president. “He didn’t tell me, he said he’s made a decision but he’s not telling anyone. I strongly urged him to not certify the deal,” Cotton said. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that Iran is adhering to its obligations under the nuclear agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He stressed that his concern is about Iran’s behavior in other areas, such as its development of ballistic missiles and its support for extremist groups. Dunford declined to say publicly what advice he has given Trump on whether to recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLL CALL
GOP PUSHES LATE-TERM ABORTION BAN TOWARD HOUSE PASSAGE
WASHINGTON (AP) – Most late-term abortions would be outlawed under legislation Republicans pushed toward House passage Tuesday, a bill that won’t reach an eager President Donald Trump because it faces certain defeat in the Senate. The measure is a top priority for anti-abortion groups and a major target for abortion rights organizations. House debate came a week after the collapse of a GOP effort to repeal much of President Barack Obama’s health care law. The repeal would have also blocked federal money for Planned Parenthood. “This is a moral obligation of this House and of our government,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. White House officials sent lawmakers a letter saying the measure “would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our nation aspires.” That praise was in contrast to the certain veto similar bills faced under Obama. He never had to act. The Democratic-controlled Senate didn’t even consider the bill after the House approved it in 2013, and a House-passed measure in 2015 was rejected by a GOP-run Senate. That same fate awaits it this year. Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority but overwhelming Democratic opposition means the measure would never reach the 60 votes it would need to pass. Asked this week if the Senate would consider the measure after House passage, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said, “That’s not a near-term priority.” Senate GOP leaders are now focusing on tax cuts.
THE LATEST: EXTRA TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN WILL COST $1B A YEAR
WASHINGTON (AP) – The nation’s top military officer says the thousands of additional U.S. troops President Donald Trump has ordered to Afghanistan will cost just over $1 billion a year. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the U.S. is spending $12.5 billion overall to wage America’s longest war. Dunford and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are testifying before congressional committees Tuesday. About 3,500 more American forces are being sent to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s new strategy. Dunford says the U.S. will “fight to win” by attacking enemies, “crushing” al-Qaida, and preventing terrorist attacks against Americans. The additional troops will augment the roughly 8,400 Americans currently stationed there. Dunford says about $5 billion of the total expense is required to support the Afghan security forces.