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Senate Minorrity Leader Schumer departs following meeting with Congressional leaders and Trump administration officials on Capitol Hill in Washington
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) walks past reporters outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office as he departs following a meeting between Congressional leaders and Trump administration representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The two top Democrats in Congress said on Tuesday that talks with Republican lawmakers and White House officials on federal spending were “productive.”

“We look forward to continuing to meet to discuss how we can best address the needs of hard-working families, as we again work across the aisle to avert sequestration,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by David Alexander)

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FILE PHOTO: Ashley Nicole Black arrives for the Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Ashley Nicole Black arrives for the Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

May 21, 2019

By Tim Reid

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A comedian who asked for help with her love life on Twitter said she was left “crying and shaking” from an inspirational phone call with Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday, after the two had connected on the social media platform.

Ashley Nicole Black, a 33-year-old comic based in Los Angeles who is a former writer for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” asked jokingly in a tweet on Saturday: “Do you think Elizabeth Warren has a plan to fix my love life?” Her message was a reference to one of the Democratic candidate’s campaign slogans, “I have a plan for that.”

Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, has one of the most detailed policy programs of the 23 Democratic candidates hoping to become their party’s nominee to take on Republican President Donald Trump in next year’s election.

On Sunday, Warren replied on Twitter: “DM me and let’s figure this out.”

Warren’s request to Black to direct message her set off a social media frenzy, with over 75,000 Twitter users “liking” Warren’s response and over 1,000 commenting on it by Tuesday.

Black tweeted out on Tuesday that the two had spoken, saying: “Guess who’s crying and shaking and just talked to Elizabeth Warren on the phone?!?!? We have a plan to get my mom grandkids, it’s very comprehensive, and it does involve raising taxes on billionaires.”

Warren, a progressive, proposes taxing the wealthiest 75,000 American families to pay for programs including free universal child care and student debt relief. Kristen Orthman, a campaign spokeswoman for Warren, confirmed in an email that Black and Warren had spoken.

Rachel Marie, one Twitter user, told Black: “I love her. I love you. This is magical!” Another user, Razan Ghalayini, declared: “She’s got my vote.”

According to polls, Warren leads a second-tier pack of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination, but is still well behind the frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden.

(Reporting by Tim Reid)

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U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during the town hall meeting in the Queens borough of New York City
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during the town hall meeting in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

May 21, 2019

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democratic Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez said on Tuesday it is time for Democratic leaders to allow an impeachment process to start against President Donald Trump, saying the administration’s obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight efforts gives them no choice.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far resisted calls for Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings, instead backing continued investigations of Trump and his administration by numerous congressional panels instead.

But more Democrats are openly discussing it, and liberals like Ocasio-Cortez, a leader of the progressive left since she beat an established Democrat in a surprise primary upset last year, are stepping up the pressure.

“I think it’s time for us to, at the very least, open an impeachment inquiry … we’ve been given no choice I think, in this scenario,” Ocasio-Cortez said outside the House of Representatives.

She said the Mueller report on Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign had described evidence of obstruction of the investigation by the executive branch, adding that the report had pointed directly to Congress as the body to take action.

The report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller stopped short of declaring that the president obstructed justice, but it also did not exonerate him.

“We now have the president actively discouraging witnesses from coming in to answer a legally binding subpoena from Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez added. Former White House counsel Don McGahn on Tuesday defied a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee, at the White House’s request.

“It’s getting to the point where we can’t even do our own jobs. And I think it is entirely appropriate, given this overwhelming amount of evidence and the continued actions from the executive branch, that we exert our power as a co-equal branch of government,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

She said she was not sure whether impeachment advocates were a majority of the Democrats in the House, but “I personally have not felt a very strong opposition to impeachment.”

Another Democratic lawmaker, Representative John Yarmuth, said on Tuesday he believed Pelosi realizes events are trending in the direction of impeachment, even as the Democratic leader argues for continued focus on House investigations of the Trump administration.

Pelosi listened as advocates of impeachment spoke at a Monday night meeting with senior Democrats, Yarmuth said.

“I think she realizes that the path is leading more and more inevitably toward an impeachment process. But she wants to let all these committees do their thing,” Yarmuth said outside the House.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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FILE PHOTO - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with reporters following the weekly policy luncheons on Capitol Hill
FILE PHOTO – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with reporters following the weekly policy luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

May 21, 2019

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he hoped Congress could reach by the end of the day a two-year agreement on federal spending limits that would also increase the nation’s debt ceiling.

“Our hope is to make a deal before the day is over,” McConnell, a Republican, told reporters. “The agreement would be a two-year caps deal, which would allow us to go forward with some semblance at least of a regular appropriations process. It would also in all likelihood include the debt ceiling.”

The U.S. Treasury later this year is expected to exhaust its statutory borrowing authority amid heavy deficit spending by the federal government. Democrats have been pushing for an increase in the debt ceiling as part of the negotiations on overall spending caps.

The four top Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, met for nearly two hours earlier on Tuesday in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office – a far longer meeting than had been anticipated.

Immediately after that meeting, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that progress was made but that there were differences to be resolved.

“We have certain domestic needs that are very important to us,” Schumer said.

At a press conference later on Tuesday, Schumer said it remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump would back a pact if one emerges from the negotiations.

In the past, Trump at the last minute has criticized some arrangements that congressional negotiators thought had his support.

Without a bipartisan deal on new budget caps, military spending would drop to around $576 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, a $70.8 billion reduction from this year.

Non-defense spending would fall to $543.2 billion, a nearly $53.8 billion cut from this year.

Failure to reach a bipartisan deal on spending could set up another showdown between Congress and the White House in September like the ones late last year and early this year that resulted in partial government shutdowns.

And without legislation to extend Treasury’s borrowing authority, Washington would be flirting with a U.S. default on its debt, which would shake global financial markets.

Even with an agreement for the next two years on overall spending levels, the House and Senate still have to pass a series of appropriations bills to carry out the accord.

(Reporting Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and Doina Chiacu; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Jonathan Oatis)

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FILE PHOTO - California Governor Jerry Brown's name and others are pictured on a railroad rail after a ceremony for the California High Speed Rail in Fresno, California January 6, 2015.
FILE PHOTO – California Governor Jerry Brown’s name and others are pictured on a railroad rail after a ceremony for the California High Speed Rail in Fresno, California January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – California on Tuesday sued the Trump administration after it confirmed last week it will withhold $929 million in high-speed rail funding awarded to the state in 2010.

California later on Tuesday plans to seek a temporary restraining order request asking a judge to prevent the Trump administration from repurposing the money, the governor’s office said. The U.S. Transportation Department, which did not immediately comment, said last week it had canceled the funding agreement after it said the state “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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FILE PHOTO - A TSA agent screens passengers at a security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta
FILE PHOTO – A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent screens passengers at a security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

May 21, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering tapping more than $230 million from the Transportation Security Administration to fund operations on the U.S.-Mexico border if Congress fails to approve additional funding, a person briefed on the matter said.

NBC News reported the plan earlier, citing documents of a contingency plan to fund $1.1 billion in southern border efforts.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee said on Tuesday it had not received any notification from DHS that it plans to shift existing funds.

NBC News said TSA could shift $50 million that had been set aside to buy advanced airport screening equipment and $64 million from a workers’ compensation fund for injured TSA employees.

The White House on May 1 asked Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency funds to address the rising number of people crossing the southwestern border with Mexico.

DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said Tuesday in a statement the agency “is considering all options to address the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. We will continue to work with our workforce to find dynamic solutions and funding to address this very serious problem.”

Houlton said the agency was exploring “fiscal mechanisms that will ensure the safety and welfare of both our workforce and the migrant population, which is also reflected in the supplemental request submitted to Congress.”

The American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing TSA workers, said in a statement that shifting TSA funds would cause “another Trump administration manufactured ‘crisis.’”

“TSA is already underfunded and understaffed, and diverting its resources just as we enter the busiest travel season will be an operational disaster,” said the group’s president, J. David Cox Sr.

Last week, TSA confirmed it planned to redirect staff to the U.S. southern border to assist with immigration duties and migrant flows.

A TSA spokesman said the agency was looking for volunteers to support efforts at the border with Mexico, where the government has said it is grappling with record numbers of people.

TSA staff will include 175 law enforcement officials, including air marshals, and as many as 400 security staff drawn from six unnamed U.S. cities, but will not include airport screeners, CNN reported last week, citing two additional unnamed sources.

Officers apprehended nearly 99,000 people crossing the border with Mexico in April, the highest figure since 2007, the U.S. government reported earlier this month. More than two-thirds of those were children or people traveling as families.

Earlier this month, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it was deploying an additional 186 CBP officers to assist Border Patrol agents at sectors on the southwestern border, after earlier shifting more than 300 officers from airports, northern border checkpoints and other locations.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

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FILE PHOTO: Tax preparation office pictured in Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO: A tax sign is pictured on an H&R Block tax office in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

May 21, 2019

By Karen Pierog

CHICAGO (Reuters) – April, typically a big revenue month for U.S. states that levy personal income taxes, was especially robust this year, making up for subpar collections in prior months, but analysts cautioned the tax surge underscores how state budgets face greater volatility from federal tax law changes and the stock market.

In California, where personal income taxes account for about 70% of the state’s general fund revenue, a year-over-year increase of 35.2% last month made up for lagging revenue from the tax in December and January, according to H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state’s finance department.

The state earlier this month boosted the forecast for the tax in its next budget by $1.78 billion.

The Republican tax overhaul known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which took effect in 2018 and included a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, created a big unknown for budgets, particularly in high-tax states.

Some taxpayers accelerated their tax payments into December 2017 to head off the cap, inflating states’ calendar year-end tax collections. As a result, December 2018 collections fell in comparison, stoking fears that revenue goals for state budgets may be missed. April’s revenue burst brought budgets back into balance, sometimes with money to spare, and lifted tax collection projections for the coming fiscal year.

Taxes on wages and investment income are a top revenue source for states that collect them. April is the most important revenue month due to the tax filing deadline and the tendency of taxpayers who owe money to wait until the last minute to pay.

“Moving forward, states should be cautious about income tax revenue and shouldn’t be expecting the strong growth they’ve seen in April,” said Lucy Dadayan, a senior research associate who tracks state revenue at the Urban Institute.

She said the stock market will play a significant role in terms of capital gains-related income tax revenue for states, along with the behavior of taxpayers, who continue to navigate tax law changes and figure out loopholes to minimize their tax liability.

It is not yet clear how much of a role wages, capital gains or other factors played in spurring the higher income tax collections – and whether that level of revenue would be ongoing.

“My guess is a lot of it is capital gains that have suddenly appeared and you can’t necessarily count on that for next year,” said Ronald Alt, senior manager of economic and tax research at the Federation of Tax Administrators.

STATES TWEAK REVENUE FORECASTS

While New York and other states challenge the constitutionality of the state and local tax deduction cap on constitutional grounds in federal court, their budgets are getting whipsawed.

New York State’s net personal tax revenue, which lagged December and January prior year’s collections by $5.28 billion, zoomed 57.4 percent higher last month to $9.21 billion from $5.85 billion a year ago. The state projected the tax will bring in $380 million more in its budget for the fiscal year that began on April 1 than previously forecast.

Based on a $1.5 billion April revenue increase, fueled largely by a 35.5 percent spike in personal income taxes, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker raised the state’s fiscal 2020 revenue forecast by $800 million and yanked a proposal to reduce pension contributions.

David Hitchcock, an S&P Global Ratings analyst, said in the future, the month of April could account for a higher proportion of states’ income tax collections because taxpayers have less of an incentive to accelerate their tax payments.

“It creates a little more uncertainty in forecasting revenue than before. It makes April a little more of a question mark,” he said, adding that uncertainty poses more risk for owners of state bonds.

Seven states – Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming – collect no income tax, and two – New Hampshire and Tennessee – tax dividend and interest income, but not wages.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Cuccinelli stands onstage with his wife and their family as he gives his concession speech at his election night event in Richmond, Virginia
Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli stands onstage with his wife Teiro Cuccinelli (R) and their family as he gives his concession speech at his election night event in Richmond, Virginia, November 5, 2013. Democratic Party insider Terry McAuliffe narrowly defeated Republican Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite, to win the nationally watched Virginia governor’s race on Tuesday, U.S. television networks reported. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to pick former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for an immigration policy position at the Department of Homeland Security, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Cuccinelli met with Trump on Monday, and the announcement of his appointment could come as early as this week, the official said. The New York Times first reported the expected pick on Tuesday.

News outlets have reported over the last two months that Trump was searching for an “immigration czar” to coordinate policy across the federal government.

Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned after 16 months managing Trump’s immigration agenda, which included separating migrant parents from their children at the U.S. southern border and forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their claims are heard.

As attorney general and a Virginia state senator, Cuccinelli developed a reputation as a conservative hardliner on a range of issues, including immigration. He has called for denying citizenship to U.S.-born children whose parents are in the country illegally, and authorized law enforcement officials to investigate the immigration status of anyone they stopped.

He lost a bid for governor in 2013, and recently has been involved with the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political group that supports right-leaning candidates.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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March for Reproductive Freedom in Montgomery
People listen at the Alabama State Capitol during the March for Reproductive Freedom against the state’s new abortion law, the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. abortion-rights campaigners, including several Democrats running for president in 2020, are set to rally in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday to protest new restrictions on abortion passed by legislatures in eight states.

Many of the restrictions are intended to draw legal challenges, which religious conservatives hope will lead the nation’s top court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, are among the presidential candidates expected to speak at Tuesday’s rally, according to media accounts.

The rally is one of scores being organized by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and other civil rights group in what they are describing as a Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action.

Some of the new laws passed by Republican state legislatures amount to the tightest restrictions on abortion seen in the United States in decades. Alabama passed an outright ban last week, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is in danger.

Other states, including Ohio and Georgia, have banned abortions absent a medical emergency after six weeks of pregnancy or after the fetus’s heartbeat can be detected, which can occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Those laws are in defiance of the Roe v. Wade ruling, which affords a woman the right to an abortion up to the moment the fetus would be viable outside the womb, which is usually placed at about seven months, or 28 weeks, but may occur earlier.

The bans have been championed by conservatives, many of them Christian, who say fetuses should have rights comparable to those of infants and view abortion as tantamount to murder. The Supreme Court now has a 5-4 conservative majority following two judicial appointments by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Civil rights groups are suing to overturn the bans as eroding a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and say they endanger women who seek riskier illegal or homespun means to terminate a pregnancy.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker in Washington, writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

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U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One as he departs for a campaign rally in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One as he departs for a campaign rally from the White House in Washington, U.S., May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday appealed a federal judge’s ruling against his attempt to block a House of Representatives committee from seeking his financial records, according to a court filing.

Lawyers for Trump and his company filed the appeal in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia one day after a U.S. district judge backed the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena for Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm Mazars LLP.

The lower court’s decision on Monday handed an early setback for the Republican president in his legal battle with congressional Democrats as lawmakers investigate various aspects of his administration.

The House Oversight Committee has said it needs Trump’s financial records to examine whether he has conflicts of interest or broke the law by not disentangling himself from his business holdings, as previous presidents did.

Trump’s lawyers argue the panel’s demand exceeded Congress’s constitutional limits. Mazars has said it will comply with its legal obligations but has taken no sides as the case plays out in court.

A real estate developer and former reality television star, Trump still owns the Trump Organization but has said he would leave its day-to-day operations to his eldest two sons while in office. Unlike previous modern U.S. presidential candidates, he did not disclose his tax returns during his run for the White House.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

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