Opinion

Capitol Ink | Kapitol Domes

By Robert Matson
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Protesters won’t get to displace bleachers at a key inauguration parade spot on Pennsylvania Avenue so they can stage an anti-Donald Trump demonstration, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, known as ANSWER, had pressed a lawsuit seeking access to Freedom Plaza with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A three-judge panel ruled that the government has the authority to restrict demonstrations in the public space located between 13th and 14th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

“The First Amendment requires that any reasonable, content-neutral regulation limiting expression along the parade route leave ample space available for peaceful demonstrations,” the ruling states. “The First Amendment does not, however, support ANSWER’s claim of a right to displace spectator bleachers with it’s own demonstration at Freedom Plaza.”

ANSWER had argued that excluding any dissenting voice from the plaza creates a “free-speech exclusion zone” at the one location along the route where people can rally and speak as a group. It is also a highly visible spot on the parade route, located in front of the National Theatre. Stands for media broadcasts will be erected there, because its location at the bend on Pennsylvania Avenue offers the best view down the parade route with the U.S. Capitol in the background.

[Protest Group Fights for Access to Key Inauguration Spots]

The D.C. Circuit wrote that government regulations leave 70 percent of the footage along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue open to the public. Of the 30 percent that is not open, 13 percent is for Inaugural Committee bleachers.

ANSWER says it has a permit to demonstrate Inauguration Day at the Navy Memorial, on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th St. and 9th St. NW, starting at 7 a.m.

The protest could draw thousands and the group is soliciting donations to cover the cost of buses, leaflets, placards and other expenses. Other protests are expected at the inauguration parade, and the next day.

[Trump's Inaugural Parade Is Becoming Its Own Controversy]

Protest organizers applied for 1,200 permits to park buses at RFK Stadium for the Woman’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, The Washington Post reported last week. There are 200 permits for bus parking at the stadium for Inauguration Day, the newspaper reported.

The inauguration parade route has another spot rife with potential conflict between protesters and parade-goers — the Trump Hotel at 11th St. NW and Pennsylvania Avenue.

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President-elect Donald Trump used his first post-election news conference on Wednesday to opine Russia hacked Democratic Party email systems, refuse to divest his business holdings and vow to unveil a replacement for the 2010 health care law in a few weeks.

Nine days before he is to be sworn in, Trump started subdued but turned defiant, engaging in an angry exchange with a CNN reporter and refusing to answer his question. “Not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible. Quiet. Quiet. Don’t be rude. You are fake news,” Trump shot at correspondent Jim Acosta.

Acosta, with a raised voice, responded Trump’s behavior was “not appropriate.” The night before, CNN prominently featured a report on a purported appendix to a U.S. intelligence assessment that concludes the Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.

It was far from the only noteworthy moment. The president-elect and his lawyer sidestepped questions on a range of issues, including whether he will roll back the Obama administration’s recent sanctions on Russia for its alleged hacking of Democratic Party email systems. Trump said he does not believe the administration’s penalties went too far, but he took no position on next steps.

[Contrast Shows With Trump in Obama’s Farewell Address]

Trump seemed ready to point the finger squarely at the Kremlin, saying, “I think it was Russia.” But he then added: “I think we get hacked by other countries and other people,” including China. And he again engaged in victim-blaming, charging the Democratic National Committee had weak cyber defenses while praising the Republican National Committee for having stronger safeguards.

Trump said he hopes to get along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling a warm relationship “an asset, not a liability.”

He asked rhetorically if reporters believe Hillary Clinton would have been tougher on Russia had she won the election. “Give me a break,” he said with a vigorous shake of his head.

Trump separately again declined to release his tax returns to dispel concerns about possible business dealings inside Russia, but asserted he has “no deals in Russia.”

Trump continued his verbal feud with U.S intelligence agencies, saying the document about Trump being “cultivated” by Moscow’s intelligence service might have been leaked by those very agencies. Such a move would create “a tremendous blot” on the agencies’ records, Trump added.

Trump also appeared to address the growing number of Republican lawmakers expressing concern about the prospect of repealing the 2010 health care overhaul before their party produces a replacement plan.

He said he intends to propose an Obamacare replacement plan “shortly” after Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IDF-8khS3w

“It’ll be repeal and replace,” he said. The so-far undefined replacement plan could be unveiled “the same day or week” that Price takes office, then adding it might even come in “the same hour.”

On Capitol Hill, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that he thinks Trump “has no concept of how difficult this task will be.”

Describing Obamacare as a “complete and total disaster,” Trump said the system the law put in place is “imploding” and added the health system will go through a “catastrophic” 2017 because of Obama’s law.

“The easiest thing to do is let it implode in 2017,” he said, adding such a move allow the Republican Party to implement just about any replacement plan it wanted. Instead, Trump vowed to move much faster.

The lengthiest segment of the news conference was devoted to a plan the incoming president laid out that his camp says will prevent conflicts of interest stemming from his privately owned company, The Trump Organization, and its far-flung holdings.

Trump announced that his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., will run the company once he is sworn in as president — though he will continue to own it. His lawyer, Sheri Dillon, told reporters that Trump plans to step down from all official roles and duties. The company and its individual businesses will be placed in a trust.

But Trump won't set up a blind trust, nor totally divest his holdings, as many ethics experts had recommened. And he, at the end of the press conference, signaled a desire to return to the The Trump Organization once he leaves the presidency.

“You cannot have a totally blind trust” when there is an operating business, Dillon told reporters, adding he “cannot unknow” that he owns things like Trump Tower. She also said Trump will only learn about new deals through the media, and that the firm would limit its activities to inside the United States. She did not address what topics would be off limits for discussion between Trump and his children, who are extremely close to their father.

[Kremlin Calls Reports It ‘Compromised’ Trump ‘Total Nonsense’]

Good government groups and ethics experts were quick to criticize Trump’s plan.

“President-elect Donald Trump has failed his ethics test. Now, America will suffer the consequences,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said in a statement. “There is only one way to avoid the conflicts of interest that will engulf his presidency and America: He must sell the family business.

“Unfortunately, President-elect Trump has today declined to take this simple step,” Weissman added. “The measures he plans to put in place will do nothing to solve the most serious conflict problems.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder called Dillon’s notion that Trump will have zero knowledge of his company’s dealings “absurd.”

“He will know what they are and what legislation, regulations, or actions will benefit or hurt them,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “He’s not worried about conflicts of interest because the statutes don’t apply to the president. If that sounds familiar, it was the position Nixon took when he told David Frost, ‘When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.’ Just because it’s not illegal, does not mean it is right or moral. Every decision he will make as president will be followed by the specter of doubt.”

Norman Eisen, a former Obama White House ethics official, told MSNBC that the business and ethics arrangement Trump laid out would set up a “constitutional crisis” the moment he is sworn in.

Lindsey McPherson and Kate Ackley contributed.Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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Heard on the Hill

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The American public is split on how Congress should address the future of health care, according to a new poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Forty-seven percent of people who were polled don’t think that Congress should repeal the 2010 health care overhaul. Another 28 percent of people responding do want it repealed but want to see a replacement plan before a repeal vote is taken, while 20 percent favor an immediate repeal vote with plan details to be worked out later.

The feelings about the next steps reflect how people view the health law in general, with 46 percent saying they view it unfavorably, compared to 43 percent who have a favorable view. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was conducted in the third week of December among 1,204 adults.

Whatever happens, most polled don’t think the changes won’t personally affect them. Fifty-seven percent of respondents think that the quality of their health care will stay the same if Obamacare is repealed, and 55 percent don’t think it will change their ability to obtain insurance.

On cost, about 43 percent say costs will be about the same if Obamacare is repealed, 28 percent think costs will rise and 27 percent think they will decrease.

People who currently have some kind of health condition are more likely to say that their health care will get worse if the law is repealed. Fifty-four percent of households with an individual suffering from a pre-existing condition are worried that they won’t be able to afford services if the law is repealed, and 43 percent worry they will lose their health insurance.

Despite the split over the health care law itself, the poll found that across the political spectrum, 67 percent of Democrats, Republicans and independents think that the cost of health care needs to be a top priority of the new Congress and administration. Sixty-one percent also say that lowering the cost of prescription drugs should be a top priority.

A more partisan view returned, however, when respondents were asked whether or not they were confident in President-elect Donald Trump’s ability to create a better health care system at a reduced cost. Fifty-one percent said they were not confident, compared to 47 percent who said they were. Most Americans, 62 percent, also prefer that the health system guarantee a certain amount of coverage and financial assistance for lower-income Americans and seniors, even if it comes at a cost for the federal government, but they were split among party lines again: 79 percent of Democrats favor this approach, compared to 38 percent of Republicans. Most Republicans, 53 percent, think that the federal government’s role should be decreased even if it means limiting assistance for seniors and the poor.

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Opinion

Capitol Ink | The Best of 2016

By Robert Matson
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