Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report - Mobile

Newsclips - December 9, 2018

Lead Stories

Washington Post - December 8, 2018

‘Siege warfare’: Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency — and threatens to consume the rest of the party as well.

President Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come. Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him. But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad. Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for reelection, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony. The White House is adopting what one official termed a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe. But some allies fret that the president’s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most arduous phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” and cast the president’s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated. “The Democrats are going to weaponize the Mueller report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses,” Bannon said. “The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts .?.?. They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.” This portrait of the Trump White House at a precarious juncture is based on interviews with 14 administration officials, presidential confidants and allies, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss private exchanges. Rather than building a war room to manage the intersecting crises as past administrations have done, the Trump White House is understaffed, stuck in a bunker mentality and largely resigned to a plan to wing it. Political and communications operatives are mostly taking their cues from the president and letting him drive the message with his spontaneous broadsides.

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Politico - December 7, 2018

Year of the woman? Dozens of female political operatives say they weren’t invited to the party.

When Jody Casey came aboard as Beto O’Rourke’s campaign manager in late summer 2017, she faced a dilemma. She was a political novice and O’Rourke family friend who had quit her sales job at General Electric to join the campaign.

She was stationed in El Paso, the most remote of major American cities. She was leading a U.S. Senate campaign that would grow into a $70 million operation in the most scrutinized race in the country. And when she looked for a political mentor—a Democrat who had led a campaign of roughly similar scale and could help guide her—she could not find a single woman who fit the bill. “I met many great women in politics who were in supporting function roles, like fundraising or communications, but I was challenged to find a female mentor who had run a campaign of our size,” Jody Casey told POLITICO. “I did find mentors along the way,” she added. “I just am someone who looks for people in similar circumstances that I’m in—working mom, two kids: How do you juggle? How do you balance?” Casey’s predicament exposed a huge and overlooked problem for women in politics, even in 2018, even after a woman won the popular vote in a presidential election: They rarely get to run campaigns, or fill top roles in campaigns. And the women who do work in politics often feel belittled and cut out of the major strategic roles and decisions—even in this, the “Year of the Woman,” with 42 new women elected to the Senate and the House. POLITICO Magazine interviewed more than 50 women for this article, seeking to understand how and why they feel shut out of the high profile and often lucrative business of politics. Most of the women spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing business—or worse, clout. They are Democrats and they are Republicans. They are pollsters, spokeswomen, television ad makers, fundraisers, direct-mail vendors, digital strategists, donors, lobbyists, candidates and even sitting members of Congress. Over and over in interviews, they portrayed an enraging, often futile struggle to be taken seriously by colleagues and candidates alike—including by candidates who are themselves women. “There’s a sense of shame in feeling like you’re just not wanted,” said a former Democratic fundraiser. They frequently describe themselves as left out of the most important big picture decisions on campaigns—“they won’t let us in on the sexy part of politics” is how the former Democratic fundraiser put it. They fret about the opportunities they’ve been denied on major statewide campaigns, if not presidential races. They shudder at the thought that sexism has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) over the course of their careers. They stew about the solid advice and creative ideas they’ve offered that have been ignored in favor of those from men. But mostly, they are mad as hell. Mad at losing out on business. Mad at watching younger men surpass them in stature without merit. Mad at having male colleagues talk down to them at every turn. Mad at being relegated to the world of fundraising, the only female-dominated sector of campaign consulting. Mad at the men around them taking credit for their work. Mad at the consulting firms that feign diversity by hiring the wife of one of the company’s male partners rather than filling the spot with a qualified, independently successful woman. Mad at the men on their campaign staffs not taking what they say seriously. Mad at colleagues, consultants, party staffers and candidates of both genders who they believe have reinforced a structural sexism that undermines the collective goal of any campaign: to win and to govern.

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McAllen Monitor - December 8, 2018

Presumptive Texas House Speaker excites Valley lawmakers

During a time when Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on much, many lawmakers in Texas have agreed on supporting Dennis Bonnen to be the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Bonnen, a Republican, 20-year veteran state representative from the small Gulf Coast town of Angleton, has conjured the support from most of the Rio Grande Valley delegation, which is made up entirely of Democrats. In an attempt to visit colleagues, Bonnen has been barnstorming across the state in recent weeks to sure up his ascension to the speakership. One of his first stops recently was the Valley, where most of the delegation, and the Border Health Political Action Committee, met with Bonnen. The group talked about infrastructure and health care needs in South Texas. And Bonnen emphasized that public school finance is his top priority. This was welcome news to the South Texas delegation. “There’s a big need in the Valley with infrastructure and education and health care, and his top priority is school finance,” State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, said. “That’s something the legislature has kicked down the road over the years. Republicans have focused on social issues rather than more important issues for Texas.” Martinez and his colleagues emphasized Bonnen’s willingness to help the Valley. “The presumptive Speaker seems not only engaged but extremely hands-on when it comes to not only addressing but helping the Valley achieve its legislative priorities,” State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said. Canales added that he told Bonnen about the need for more roads connecting to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge. “This is not just a South Texas priority, it’s a national priority,” Canales said. “It’s disheartening that it’s taken this long, but I believe it’s finally going to come to fruition under presumptive Speaker Bonnen’s leadership.” State Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was not able to attend the meeting, but spoke with Bonnen before and after. “We’re lucky that we have an ongoing dialogue with the presumptive speaker, so if there’s something we support, he’ll help us get there,” Longoria said in an interview. “And he’s very open and tries to make himself very available.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2018

No more snubs: Ted Cruz repays John Cornyn's endorsement as Texas Democrats gain traction

The alliance between Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz drew tighter Friday as Cruz issued an early and enthusiastic endorsement, warning that with his narrow re-election a month ago, Democrats are emboldened in their quest to reclaim Texas.

"John and I have made a very strong team here in Washington, and I hope that we can keep working together so that together, we can uphold the principles that have long embodied the Texas can-do spirit," Cruz says in a two-minute video released by the senators' campaigns. Cornyn will seek a fourth six-year term in 2020, and explicit support from a colleague more closely aligned with the tea party and the Trump base would be helpful in solidifying Republican support. The senators, both conservatives, share much the same agenda. But in Cruz's early years in the Senate, they were often at odds on legislative and political tactics, as Cruz encouraged insurgent tea party-style candidates and bucked Cornyn and others in the party's leadership. They've kept their distance in elections until this year, when Cornyn threw his weight behind his colleague in what turned out to be a nail-biter against El Paso Rep. Beto O'Rourke. Cruz prevailed with less than 51 percent of the vote, the worst showing for Republicans in decades in a state where Democrats haven't won a statewide race since 1994. As a candidate for the Senate in 2012, Cruz refused to say if he would support Cornyn for re-election to his post as majority whip, the party's No. 2 leadership job. He would wait to see how many "constitutional conservatives" got elected, he told The Dallas Morning News.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2018

In Senate District 6 race, leading contenders agree on policy, differ in legislative approach

The political domino effect began over dinner last November, when longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green told a handful of possible successors he would not seek re-election.

More than a year later, the political ramifications of Green’s decision continue to play out through Tuesday’s “expedited” special election to fill the Texas Senate seat vacated by Sylvia Garcia, who resigned shortly after winning Green’s seat. Though four candidates — three Democrats and a Republican — are competing to represent the heavily gerrymandered district, state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez appear best positioned to finish atop the field, campaigning for months and tapping into their deep ties among Houston’s political circles to raise funds. Without much ideological separation, the Houston Democrats differ in how inclined they are to work with Republicans, a distinction they finally addressed head-to-head during a recent debate. Set off by a question about her lack of House chairmanships, Hernandez suggested Alvarado had compromised her Democratic principles to gain leadership roles under Republican Speaker Joe Straus. Alvarado later snapped back that “promises don’t equate to much if you don’t have the results to back them up.” On the campaign trail, Hernandez emphasizes her background as a once-undocumented immigrant and single mother. Her door hangers include a photo of herself and her son, Gregory Eli, and while canvassing the 74 percent Hispanic district, she tends to lead conversations with her backstory. “As an immigrant, as an attorney, as a mother of a 6-year-old boy, I go through similar challenges to the rest of the communities in Senate District 6,” she said in an interview. Alvarado’s pitch focuses on her wide-ranging resume, particularly working as Green’s legislative aide and serving on City Council before joining the Texas House. Where prudent, she raises her track record of carrying bipartisan legislation, as she did while courting a Republican voter on a recent block walk. Between door knocks, she recounted carrying the bills of a handful of Republican state senators, including Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston. “There are bills that they could have given to other Republicans, but they I think had trust and confidence in me, being a Democrat, that I could get it passed,” she said, also citing a collaboration with Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, on a law that authorizes courts to bar parental rights of parents who commit rap

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 9, 2018

Abbott and lawmakers have the power to improve care for sick and disabled Texans. Will they use it?

Texas spends $22 billion every year to buy health care for its most vulnerable residents. But taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth. As The Dallas Morning News reported this year, thousands of elderly and disabled Texans can’t get the medical care they need. Many chronically sick children have to fight for life-sustaining treatments. Countless foster kids can’t get doctors’ appointments.

Under a program called Medicaid managed care, health care companies promise to save taxpayer money and to help patients by hiring care coordinators to connect them with doctors and treatments. But Texas cannot prove it is saving money, and the state’s own analysts found that most patients aren’t getting much — or any — care coordination. The good news is that Texas leaders can fix this mess. We interviewed more than a dozen experts, looked at what’s working in other states, and identified eight specific steps that could mend the state’s broken public health-care system and protect vulnerable Texans. Some require action from lawmakers, who convene in Austin in January. But most could be implemented by Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration now. Abbott, who ultimately controls the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, has defended managed care and hasn’t publicly offered any clear solutions. Last month, The News provided Abbott’s office detailed explanations of the reforms that experts recommend. But his spokesman, John Wittman, repeatedly declined to address our inquiries. State health officials, meanwhile, have taken some steps in response to our reporting. Those fixes include hiring 100 more regulators and nurses to ensure patients get the care they qualify for; changing the way the health commission monitors the networks of doctors that health-care companies advertise; and improving the way it handles appeals from patients who are denied doctor-ordered treatments. But if Abbott and lawmakers want to improve care and crack down on companies that fail, experts say they should consider more substantial reforms include ending the incentive to deny care, actually coordinating care, investigating, tracking and penalizing bad behavior, making sure vulnerable people have access to doctors and treatments, fixing the state’s unfair appeals system, giving foster kids another option, taking control of medical guidelines and letting sick and disabled kids opt out.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

Botham Jean family's lawyer Lee Merritt acquitted on 16 counts of criminal contempt

Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said Friday he is free to assist victims of police misconduct after a judge dismissed charges accusing him of practicing Texas law without a state license.

Merritt, who is from Los Angeles, faced 16 counts of criminal contempt for practicing state law without a Texas law license. A judge concluded her dismissal of all 16 charges, including 14 that were dismissed outright before rebuttal. The Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee is considering appealing Thursday's ruling by Judge Cynthia Wheless, according to committee member Leland de la Garza. Merritt has represented the families of Botham Jean and Jordan Edwards, among other Texas victims of alleged police brutality. He said in a prepared statement that state authorities had wasted taxpayer resources over two years investigating each of Merritt’s Texas cases, and had thereby exposed the state’s justice system as a tool to “suppress the rights of the most vulnerable.” De la Garza said the committee’s purpose was the opposite, and that it existed to protect the people by ensuring no one without the required expertise can offer legal services in Texas. Merritt is not licensed to practice state law in Texas, but he said he practiced federal law in all of his dealings with Texas clients, specifically relating to federal civil rights laws. “It was an ironic honor to be investigated by the Texas State Bar,” Merritt said, citing civil rights icons who were targeted by legal authorities for their work. Merritt later clarified he meant the Texas Supreme Court, which oversees the UPLC. The UPLC continues to believe Merritt violated the terms of a prior agreement to refrain from practicing state law in Texas, de la Garza said. He said that while the judge may believe Merritt’s involvement in state law practice was unintentional, the UPLC does not. De la Garza emphasized that the UPLC could not target Merritt because its investigations are always complaint-driven, as was the case for Merritt. The initial complaint of unlawful practice was filed by Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson. The 16 charges ultimately filed by the UPLC each sought six months of jail time. An indictment on any charge could have jeopardized Merritt’s ability to practice federal law in Texas in the future.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2018

Dallas County GOP condemns 'white nationalist' Republican from North Texas

The Dallas County Republican Party released a statement calling on Ray Myers, a Kaufman County Republican with Dallas roots, to apologize after Myers declared himself a white nationalist on social media last month.

The local party released a statement Friday disavowing white nationalism and denouncing any relationship between that movement and the Republican Party. “As the Party of Lincoln, the Dallas County Republican Party stands for our core values of freedom, liberty, equality and opportunity for all Americans,” the statement said. Republicans "need to understand that our Party has no room for bigotry and discrimination.” The statement refers to a since-deleted Nov. 28 Facebook post in which Myers declared himself a white nationalist and “very proud of it.” Myers, 74, is on the Republican Party of Texas’ permanent platform committee. The Dallas County party said he has previously been a delegate to the Republican Party of Texas' state convention. Myers helped write the state party's 2018 platform, which includes planks that support the repeal of hate-crime laws, the abolition of the refugee resettlement program, the use of English-only ballots and the use of profiling to fight terrorism.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

Texas should end the ban on hemp to help farmers, not potheads, says Ag Commissioner Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is calling on Congress to lift the ban on hemp production. In a press release Thursday afternoon, Miller urged Congress to pass the 2018 Farm Bill, which negotiators have revealed includes a provision to remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

"This is all about taking the shackles off the American farmer," Miller said in a statement. "It is time to finally end the ban on industrial hemp and free Texas farmers to produce this valuable commodity. In today's economy, our farmers need maximum flexibility to diversify their production and thrive. When our farmers do well, they can provide for their families, grow our rural communities and ensure we have the food, clothing and medicine we all need." Support for lifting the ban on hemp, a fast-growing form of cannabis with low or untraceable amounts of the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, has enjoyed growing support among conservatives in recent years. The Republican Party of Texas included it in this year's convention platform, which also backed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Miller, a staunch Republican known for his bombastic social media presence, clarified in his statement that supporting hemp production did not amount to loosening marijuana laws. "This is not the backdoor to legalizing marijuana," Miller said. "Hate to break it to the potheads, but marijuana is still illegal in Texas and under federal law. Ending the ban on hemp won't change that. This is about giving farmers another opportunity to thrive." About 40 states have passed some form of hemp legislation, and 19 states have begun cultivating it, according to Vote Hemp, a national advocacy group. Hemp products are sold at wellness stores and many grocery chains, such as Austin-based Whole Foods. Hemp can be used to make protein powders and body care items, such as lotions, and its seeds as a garnish for food. Home builders, clothing companies and automakers have used hemp because it's lightweight and fibrous.

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

Players, coaches, fans, fellow owners pay final tribute to Texans owner Bob McNair

As Houston concluded a week of reflection and remembrance Friday, the normal tumult of NRG Stadium gave way to the strains of hymns and gentle words of praise for Bob McNair, the soft-spoken but deeply influential owner of the Texans.

With Texans players and coaches and several of his fellow NFL owners in attendance, McNair, who died Nov. 23 at 81, was eulogized by former Secretary of State James Baker, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and others as one who embodied the same traits as the late President George H.W. Bush of honesty, hard work and love of country. With McNair’s death in such close proximity to that of the late president, Baker said, “Houston has lost two of its very greatest and most admired adopted sons.” Baker’s remarks were the keynote of an hour-long service attended by about 1,000 people seated on the floor of the stadium — descried by Baker as “the house that Bob McNair built” — that Sunday will host the Texans’ game against the Indianapolis Colts. With a victory Sunday, the Texans will extend their winning streak to 10 games and take another step toward a playoff berth and what several speakers described Friday as McNair’s ultimate goal for his adopted hometown. And while the focus of the service was on McNair’s faith, philanthropy and love of family and of Houston, of course there had to be at least a little football talk. “Not to put any more pressure on you, coach, or the team,” Goodell said, referring to Texans coach Bill O’Brien, “but you know how much Bob wanted to win a Super Bowl.” And, given McNair’s love of politics dating to his college days, it wasn’t out of place for Baker to note that both he and McNair were converted from Democrats to Republicans by George H.W. Bush. The memorial service for McNair, who paid $700 million in 1999 to bring the NFL back to Houston, prompting the construction of NRG Stadium as a home for the NFL and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, reflected his characteristic traits of which Baker and others spoke. Friday’s eulogies were preceded as guests arrived by a montage of photos of McNair and his wife Janice, with Texans players and fans, including the late president and President George W. Bush. Among those on hand were Dom Capers, the team’s first head coach, and Charley Casserly, its first general manager, along with the current players and coaches, who filed onto the stadium floor en masse minutes before the memorial service began. “He was a good boss,” Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt said of McNair after the service. “He was always around. He wanted to know how things were going. “All he wanted was to win, and that is why it’s fun to be on a nine-game winning streak, because we know that is what he would want. We hope we can keep it going.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

San Antonio Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro steps into key role on immigration policy

As the new head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquin Castro said he intends to press for immigration legislation early in the new Congress while paying close attention to President Donald Trump’s border policies.

Castro, of San Antonio, also intends to be a main participant when the Intelligence Committee, under Democratic control starting next month, reopens an investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections with the aim of identifying Americans who may have played a role. “We’re going to go in there and figure out gaps in information, and from there we should have a much clearer understanding of what happened, who was involved and whether a foreign nation has leverage over the president of the United States — or not,” he said. For Castro, 44, elected last month to a fourth term, the new duties are part of an expanding profile in both lawmaking and Democratic politics. He is also an adviser — likely the main adviser — to his twin brother, Julián, who is contemplating a bid to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Julián Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and Obama administration housing secretary, is expected to announce his intentions soon. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which elected Castro as chair last week, gained clout after the robust participation of Latinos in many midterm elections. He succeeds outgoing Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the governor-elect of New Mexico. Latinos made up an increasing share of the U.S. electorate in the midterms and 7-of-10 voted for Democrats in congressional races, according to exit polls. About a quarter of Hispanics who cast ballots said they were voting for the first time. In Texas, Democrats comprised 30 percent of eligible voters. The Hispanic Caucus, which grew to 39 from 31 members after the midterms, has been quick to make demands, and Castro vows to be aggressive when he takes over in January. “We’re intent on playing a central role in the major policy issues that go through the House of Representatives,” Castro said. “They (Democratic leaders) understand that you’ve got a very energized community out there that is watching what the Congress does.”

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Star-Telegram - December 8, 2018

Cleburne mayor is concerned about waste dumping near his city’s water supply

The city of Cleburne is embroiled in a legal battle to stop a waste disposal company from dumping human waste from septic tanks near the city’s drinking water source and has also sued the state agency that issued the permit allowing the practice.

The city has court cases pending against both Harrington Environmental Services based in Joshua and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that issued the permit to allow the company to dump the waste. Last week, a state district judge in Johnson County issued a temporary injunction against Harrington Environmental Services on the basis that the company was violating the terms of its permit. The company was accused of dumping waste when it rained and when the ground was saturated, heightening concerns that the waste could seep into Lake Pat Cleburne, where the city with 30,000 residents gets its drinking water. The lake is also a flood control reservoir and a popular recreation spot in Johnson County. The 68-acre site at 7501 County Road 1009 is near the area where Joshua, Cleburne and Godley meet. It is about eight miles upstream from the lake along the Wallace tributary of the Nolan River. Thomas Harrington, a spokesman for the company, called the allegations false and said he won’t back away from a fight. “This is not a landfill, and it is not a dump site,” Harrington said, referring to the land near Cleburne. “This is a recycling program sanctioned by the state which is why we were able to get our permit,” he said. Harrington said the process his company uses involves treating liquid waste from septic tanks which is mixed with the soil to enrich it. “We believe in property rights,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, we have a right to do this as long as it doesn’t harm anyone.” Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said witnesses saw the dumping occur when it was raining and when the ground was saturated, which is why the city took legal action. “That is why we were so dogmatic about this issue. People can rest assured that Cleburne with the help of Johnson County will aggressively protect and defend Cleburne’s water source,” he said. “If our water is contaminated, the results would be catastrophic for us economically, as our businesses would be forced to shut down,” he said.

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Star-Telegram - December 9, 2018

After 34 years, a post-scandal Joe Barton leaves Congress in January. What’s next?

Life is about to change for Joe Barton. Next month, for the first time in more than three decades, he will no longer be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The 69-year-old Republican will move home to Ennis and look for a job.

And — either in the next week or the next six months — he plans to marry his fiance, Desiray Ayres. “I might get married this coming week, maybe,” he told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board on Friday. “We are looking to get married in the House Prayer Room in the Capitol. But that hasn’t happened yet. “It’s got to be approved by the Speaker and you have to get the marriage license from the District of Columbia,” he said. “There’s a lot of red tape to getting married in Washington.” If that doesn’t work out, Barton said he and Ayres definitely will be married by April at a different location. Barton has represented the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties, since 1985. After coming under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones he exchanged with a female constituent, Barton did not seek another term in office. Tarrant County Tax-Assessor Collector Ron Wright, a Republican, was elected in November to replace Barton in Congress. Barton said he knows that his life will dramatically change Jan. 3, when members of the next U.S. Congress are sworn into office — and he won’t be there. “There are days I think ‘Hallelujah, Hallelujah, I’m free again,’ ” he said. “And there are days I think I’m really going to miss it. “Half my life, two-thirds of my adult life, I’ve been in Congress.” When Barton first arrived in Congress, Republicans were in the minority — and had been for years. Then the Republican revolution arrived in 1994, giving Barton and others in the GOP majority status. A hallmark of his tenure was serving as chairman of the House Energy Committee for two terms. He once picked up the nickname “Smokey Joe” for defending industries against tighter pollution controls. Many point to his work in the energy field, particularly the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that put in place the largest reform of the country’s energy program in decades. He said he’s proud of many bills that he carried or supported through the years, including the energy policy, 21st Century Cures legislation and a key measure to improve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. His biggest disappointment is that “we are not even close to balancing the budget,” Barton said. “The national debt is terrible.” And his biggest disappointment in his district is that the area didn’t get the supercollider. “We almost made it,” Barton said. “Had (George H.W.) Bush won re-election, we would have made it. That project would have made North Texas the high-tech research capital of the world.” Barton will miss many things, but most of all, he said he will miss the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. He recalled a time, decades ago, when he received a postcard from a Burleson boy upset about a three-wheel ATV that fell on his older brother in their front yard, crushing and killing him. The boy wrote Barton and asked: “What are you going to do about it?” Barton called him and said he would see what he could do. He began a congressional effort to investigate the use of those ATVs. Within a year or two, a consent decree was signed by the ATV industry and others that took those bikes off the market for a decade. When that time period expired, the ATVs weren’t brought back on the market. “That saved 200 to 300 lives a year and thousands of injuries because of one little boy’s letter to his congressman,” Barton said. “I picked up my phone and did something about it.

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McAllen Monitor - December 7, 2018

Bipartisan bill aims to identify missing migrants’ remains

Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation that seeks to help border counties better identify the remains of missing migrants and alleviate the associated costs. U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Will Hurd, R-Helotes, as well as U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act of 2018 Thursday in the House and Senate.

The bill seeks to amend existing federal laws to expand grant funds for local law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories, medical examiners offices and nonprofit organizations that work to find, report and identify migrants that die or go missing in the U.S. The cost of transporting, preserving and autopsying a migrant’s remains ranges from $1,500 to $4,000, according to Gonzalez’s office. This year alone, the Missing Migrants Project, an initiative of the International Organization for Migration, has recorded 368 deaths along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. “I believe that the job of finding, identifying and keeping a database of migrants that come into our country undocumented and unidentified should be the federal government’s responsibility,” Gonzalez told The Monitor. “And at this time we have a lot of counties and municipalities that are picking up the tab on doing this work and they don’t have the resources and the training …” One of these counties is Brooks, whose sheriff’s office has discovered the remains of 47 migrants this year. Since 2009, the county has recovered 681 deceased migrants. Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez knows what it’s like not to have funds to cover the costs of storing and identifying migrant remains. State funding for these tasks didn’t become available until 2013, and he said the county spent approximately $682,000 of its own money to conduct autopsies on migrants and collect fingerprints and other DNA evidence between 2009 and 2012. “It has really alleviated a lot of the strains we felt,” Martinez said of the availability of state funds. The act would also require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to submit annual reports of all unidentified remains discovered, including the cause and manner of death; the deceased migrant’s sex, age and country of origin; and the location where the body was found. Additionally, the bill ensures that DNA samples in which family members of missing migrants submit to the FBI’s national DNA database “may be used only for identifying missing persons and unidentified remains … (and) may not be disclosed to a federal or state law enforcement agency for law enforcement purpose.”

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Tyler Morning Telegraph - December 7, 2018

Governor Abbott orders increased readiness of State Operations Center

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday ordered the Texas State Operations Center (SOC) to elevate its readiness level as severe weather such as flooding and winter weather, including snow and ice, were expected to hit parts of the state over the next few days.

The SOC increased its readiness level from level IV (normal conditions) to level III (increased readiness) Friday morning, and Abbott said state resources would be available to assist local officials. “As severe weather approaches, it is imperative that Texans heed all warnings from first responders and local officials,” Abbott said in a news release. “I encourage all Texans to stay alert to potentially hazardous road conditions and changing weather patterns. Texas is prepared to respond and offer the necessary assistance to local communities as they deal with the impact of this storm.”

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HuffPost - December 9, 2018

Lawsuit urges court to make Blake Farenthold’s employer stop paying him

Drama has been following former Rep. Blake Farenthold ever since he abruptly quit Congress in April amid a sexual harassment scandal. A Texas newspaper sued his new employer, the Calhoun Port Authority in Port Lavaca, in May for possibly hiring him illegally.

And on Tuesday, in response to the port authority’s lawyers dragging out the case, the newspaper filed an emergency motion urging the court to either make the agency immediately stop paying Farenthold his $160,000 taxpayer-funded annual salary or hurry up and rule on the case. The Victoria Advocate is suing the port authority for not giving public notice that it was hiring the former congressman or that it was creating a lobbyist job for him. Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, public entities must give notice of actions being taken at upcoming meetings and allow for public comment. The port did give notice of its May 9 meeting, after which Farenthold was hired, but it used vague language about personnel matters. “The Advocate requests that this Court enter a temporary order staying the payments made to Mr. Farenthold as a result of his hiring following Appellee’s May 9, 2018 board meeting,” reads the motion, filed Tuesday. John Griffin, the newspaper’s attorney, said port authority lawyers have been appealing the case for months because they don’t want to go to trial, where the public would learn the details of how and why Farenthold was hired despite his baggage. “Not pretty,” Griffin told HuffPost. “The newspaper wants this done as quickly as possible, since the public is still in the dark about this, and the port still acts as if it can conduct government business in the dark.”

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KUT - December 6, 2018

CDC to conduct first of its kind study of scooter injuries in Austin

The city says it's working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study dockless scooter-related injuries and incidents in Austin – a first for the nation's public health institute.

Austin Public Health and the Austin Transportation Department is partnering with three CDC epidemiologists to look at the health risks of dockless scooters. The details of the study were presented to the city's Mobility Committee this afternoon. The study will focus on 37 EMS calls and 68 scooter-related injuries reported over a 60-day period between Sept. 5 and Nov. 4 this year at Austin area hospitals. Data collected will, ideally, be used to educate riders – and the city itself – on the best safety practices in Austin and beyond. The city adopted rules for deployment and operations of the scooters last month after its initial pilot program expired. Dockless bikes and scooters began officially rolling out on to Austin streets this year, starting with bikes in February. Scooters outpaced that growth quickly, but have also prompted safety concerns and sidewalk congestion. Austin is currently home to seven dockless mobility companies who own or operate more than 11,000 bikes and scooters; bikes account for a mere 850 of those. Recently, the city called out Lime for packing its scooters into the downtown area, forcing it to reduce its fleet by 20 percent (1,000 scooters) for violating its agreement with the city. The city says, in October alone, riders took nearly 293,000 dockless scooter and bike trips, with scooters accounting for 94 percent of those rides. After the study and public input is gathered over the next few months, the Austin City Council could vote on tweaks to the rules as soon as March or April next year.

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Beaumont Enterprise - December 6, 2018

Phelan bill would encourage cooperation on flood projects

A bill to encourage local governments to cooperate on large-scale flood planning and mitigation projects is just one indicator the state may be ready to take on lessons learned during Hurricane Harvey. House Bill 478, filed Thursday by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, suggests a new way for local governments to request money to fund such projects.

Meanwhile, the Texas Water Development Board on Thursday provided recommendations that showed it likely will cost more than $31.5 billion over the next 10 years to curtail damaging flooding across Texas. The recommendations include moving away from piecemeal projects to focus one regional ones — something Phelan’s bill encourages. The Legislature found that the creation of a fund specifically to award or loan state dollars to government bodies that cooperate with each other would “encourage the development of nonstructural and structural flood mitigation in the state,” according to the bill text. To be eligible the group has to have “acted cooperatively with other political subdivisions to address flood control needs in the area.” Additionally, all governmental bodies substantially affected by the project must participate in developing the projects, conduct public meetings and meet other requirements. The bill didn’t specify how much cooperation is enough or what qualifies as substantially affected. Although Phelan’s bill comes after Harvey, which first made landfall near Port Aransas as a Category 4 hurricane, and Phelan hails from an area devastated by subsequent flooding, he said in an interview that the measure is designed so the entire state can benefit from the flood mitigation opportunities. Bodies that cooperate could get a loan at or below market interest rates or a grant to provide matching funds for federal programs. They could also have other opportunities. The program is proposed to be funded by appropriations from the Legislature, proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for the program and repayments of loans made from the fund, among other sources. “I don’t want to say there won’t be a problem with funding, but there’s more than enough sentiment” to use state dollars for hurricane recovery, Phelan said. For the program to be successful, he said, the state will need to provide leadership, funding must be available and local government officials must be willing to trust the state and their peers. Coastal and river flooding alone is expected to cause more than $6.8 billion in property losses over the next five years, according to an Associated Press report about the Water Development Board’s flood assessment. The agency suggests a three-pronged approach: updating flood mapping and modeling, establishing comprehensive planning instead of piecemeal efforts and enacting policies and procedures to aid mitigation.

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Associated Press and Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2018

Air Force failed 6 times to report Sutherland Springs church gunman, report says

The Air Force failed six times to report information that could have prevented the ex-airman who killed more than two dozen people in a Texas church from purchasing a gun, according to a government report released Friday.

The Department of Defense inspector general's report details Devin Patrick Kelley's decade-long history of violence, interest in guns and menacing of women. That history culminated in Kelley's November 2017 attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the church his wife and mother-in-law attended. The dead included several children, a pregnant woman and a 77-year-old grandfather. Kelley served almost five years in the Air Force, during which he was court-martialed and sentenced to one year's confinement for assaulting his wife and stepson. He was able to purchase four firearms after being discharged in 2014, three of which he carried into the church. The Air Force was blamed immediately after the shooting for not reporting the assault to the FBI. The conviction would have been a red flag in the mandatory background check when Kelley tried to purchase a gun. Friday's report says Air Force investigators who spoke to Kelley failed four separate times to fingerprint him and turn those prints over to the FBI. The report also says the Air Force failed twice to submit its final report of the case to the FBI. Air Force investigators were not trained to submit fingerprints or the final report to the FBI, the inspector general found. The Air Force squadron that investigated the assault "used on-the-job training as its primary method of instruction for fingerprint collection and submission," the report says. "However, this training was insufficient and was not based on any established curriculum or policy requirements." The Air Force said in a statement Friday that "corrective action has already been taken." It has reviewed all case files since 1998, and "all criminal history reporting requirements that would preclude someone from purchasing a firearm have been updated."

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Voice of Texas - December 8, 2018

More than 1,000 soccer balls contributed for detained immigrant children

An effort to deliver a little bit of Christmas joy to detained immigrant children in El Paso County spearheaded by the office of Sen. Jose Rodriguez became bipartisan this week and as of Saturday morning has now raised more than 1,000 items so far.

There are 2,400 kids and the deadline to get this done is next Thursday, Dec 13. “The children are not allowed visitors, gifts of any kind, or even hugs. However, for this holiday season, the Office of Senator José Rodríguez has received permission to provide a gift of a soccer ball,” per the senator’s office. Overnight, Republican Representatives Jeff Leach, Matt Krause, and Jason Villalba joined with the Democratic senator’s effort by purchasing soccer balls for the kids along with hundreds of other people after the toy drive began to circulate on social media. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus chipped in, purchasing 16 of them Other members of the Texas Legislature who have chipped in include Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-El Paso, and Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas. Rep. Poncho Nevarez said he was donating on Saturday as well. Former Texas House Chairman Jim Keffer, a veteran Republican from Eastland, said he was contributing $200 worth of the soccer balls for the kids.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

Millions spent on incentives failed to get better teachers in high-need HISD schools

Houston ISD has spent millions of dollars on incentive pay and bonuses during the last two years to recruit and retain more high-quality teachers at it longest-struggling campuses. It has not worked.

The salary incentives have had virtually no impact on shifting highly-rated teachers to schools covered under HISD’s Achieve 180 campus turnaround initiative, where students historically have performed worse academically under the tutelage of lower-scoring educators, according to staffing data provided by HISD. As a result, students in HISD’s 40-plus Achieve 180 schools remain twice as likely as peers in non-Achieve 180 campuses to have teachers rated “ineffective” or “needs improvement.” They also are half as likely to have a teacher rated “highly effective.” HISD spent $6.87 million on teacher incentives tied to Achieve 180 in 2017-18, and it is expected to spend a similar amount this year. “Whatever we’re doing, teachers are not biting,” said HISD Trustee Wanda Adams, one of six school board members who has approved budgets with dedicated funding for Achieve 180. “I think we need to revisit those incentives. Just like any evaluation, if I want to give you a bonus, there needs to be a reason why we give that bonus.” Even with little change in the distribution of teachers by rating, Achieve 180 received mostly positive reviews after its first year. Seven campuses earned a “B”-level grade from the state, and 15 met Texas academic standards after missing the mark last year. At the same time, 10 of the 42 fell short of state standards, and many posted progress scores well below state averages. In an effort to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing campuses, former HISD superintendent Richard Carranza pitched Achieve 180 as his signature campus turnaround plan in the spring of 2017, asking trustees for $22 million in dedicated funding. Board members ultimately approved $16 million for the initiative. Achieve 180 encompassed many reforms designed to raise student achievement, including replacing several campus principals, implementing more professional development opportunities for teachers and hiring dozens more staff focused on students’ social welfare and emotional needs. A key pillar of Achieve 180 also involved “selective hiring, development, compensation and strategic assignment of talented teachers” to those campuses, which traditionally have been staffed with less experienced and lower-rated educators. To entice higher-rated educators to work in Achieve 180 schools, HISD offered $5,000 bonuses to all nearly all teachers employed at those campuses. District officials did not tie the incentive to any performance metrics. Headed into 2017-18, the first year of implementation, HISD saw dramatic staffing turnover in Achieve 180 campuses through a combination of attrition and strategic staffing moves. Twenty-five of the 42 schools covered under Achieve 180 in its first year replaced at least 40 percent of their employees. Several campuses saw turnover exceeding 60 percent. However, HISD officials did not require new teachers to possess a “highly effective” rating before moving into an Achieve 180 campus.

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 9, 2018

Why are the ‘yellow vests’ still protesting in France? His name is Macron.

Act Four in the weekly “yellow vest” protests unfolded Saturday in Paris amid a now-familiar backdrop of tear gas and chants, but also brought further clarity on where the rage is headed: directly at President Emmanuel Macron.

What began as opposition to a carbon tax designed to curb climate change has morphed into a working-class revolt against Macron, who now faces the first major test of his presidency and whose approval ratings have plummeted to all-time lows. The crowds on Saturday — several thousand demonstrators — appeared smaller than in past weeks. But the increased focus on Macron and his elitist image point to deeper divisions in France that reach beyond the protests and could become defining features of the opposition as Macron’s popularity slumps. Chants of “Macron resign!” echoed along the grand Champs-Elysees on Saturday as protesters decried him as the “president of the rich” who has ignored struggling regions around the country. Remarkably, some of those in the crowd had backed Macron’s improbable campaign in 2017. But they say they feel betrayed by an agenda that they see as merely concerned with protecting the economic interests of the elite. In neighboring Belgium, meanwhile, anti-government protests adopted the same yellow vest uniform Saturday during confrontations with riot police near the headquarters of the European Union. More than 400 people were detained, the Reuters news agency reported. Last week in Paris, the protests reached a level of violence unseen since the student uprisings of 1968, with participants destroying shop windows across the capital and vandalizing national monuments, notably the Arc de Triomphe, an enduring symbol of the French Republic. This Saturday, police barricaded access to the monument at the top of the Champs-Elysees to avoid a repeat of last week, when protesters smashed parts of the Arc and scrawled graffiti on its gray limestone. The protest on the Champs-Elysees did not feature levels of violence of the week before, although riot police did frequently use tear gas to disperse large crowds of protesters, and disturbances spilled over into other areas. Arrests, however, were at a record high: The Paris prefecture announced by midafternoon that authorities had detained more than 670 people. In total, more than 1,380 people were arrested across France. The movement — whose name is taken from the trademark high-visibility yellow vests that protesters wear — has since come to represent a deeply rooted social anger that has more to do with the personality of Macron than it does with any particular policy.

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Washington Post - December 8, 2018

Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee celebrates his 99th birthday in the co-pilot’s seat

Climbing to 16,000 feet over the Virginia countryside Saturday, Charles McGee looked intense but at ease. From the co-pilot’s seat, he gazed at the horizon, the Potomac River to his left.

It was one day after his 99th birthday, 76 years after his first plane ride in Tuskegee, Ala., and decades since he served as a pioneering fighter pilot in World War II, after the U.S. government long held black people lacked the mental capacity to fly airplanes. Now, with fellow Air Force veteran Glenn Gonzales in the pilot’s seat to his left, McGee put his hands on the yoke in front of him and began gently guiding the blue-and-white HondaJet through the morning sky, easing it a bit to the right, then to the left, getting a feel for the aircraft as Gonzales kept his fingers on the controls as well. Before setting out for a day’s journey that was part epic birthday celebration, part reunion with machines he used to destroy stereotypes as much as enemy aircraft, McGee looked at a family portrait sitting above the fireplace at his brick home in Bethesda, Md. There was his wife and eldest daughter, who hadn’t been able to join him at an air base in Kansas after he returned home — even after his wartime heroics — because housing remained segregated. And there were his two other beloved children, who have also lived their lives inspired by a man with standards and heart.

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New York Times - December 8, 2018

Prosecutors’ narrative Is clear: Trump defrauded voters. But what does it mean?

The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.

In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law. The prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo filed on Friday that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory. On Saturday, Mr. Trump dismissed the filings, and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, minimized the importance of any potential campaign finance violations. Democrats, however, said they could lead to impeachment. In the memo in the case of Mr. Cohen, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York depicted Mr. Trump, identified only as “Individual-1,” as an accomplice in the hush payments. While Mr. Trump was not charged, the reference echoed Watergate, when President Richard M. Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury investigating the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the prosecutors wrote. “He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” they continued. “In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.” The exposure on campaign finance laws poses a challenge to Mr. Trump’s legal team, which before now has focused mainly on rebutting allegations of collusion and obstruction while trying to call into question Mr. Mueller’s credibility. “Until now, you had two different charges, allegations, whatever you want to call them,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview on Saturday. “One was collusion with the Russians. One was obstruction of justice and all that entails. And now you have a third — that the president was at the center of a massive fraud against the American people.”

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New York Times - December 9, 2018

With Brexit vote looming, Britons on both sides rally in London

With questions swirling about how the British government would try to salvage its plan for leaving the European Union, protesters from the left and the far right marched through central London on Sunday preaching starkly different visions of the country’s future.

In a march led by the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, hundreds of people waved the Union Jack, chanted Mr. Robinson’s name and wore vests reading, “Brexit means exit.” Warning that they would quit the Conservative Party if Prime Minister Theresa May did not fully sever ties with the European Union, many lashed out at immigrant workers in Britain. “In seven years on building sites I’ve worked with four English builders,” Lee Windsor, 51, of London, said as a crowd marched toward Westminster ringing a liberty bell on a cart. “The rest are from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, wherever. The difference is I pay tax and they get paid in tax.” “And when I go to the pub,” he added, “I don’t see any of these guys spending money there.” A couple of miles away, anti-fascist organizers gathered for a competing march that they said was about proving Britain could navigate its departure from the European Union without feeding the far right’s hate-filled politics. Carrying placards that said, “Stand up to Racism,” Brexit supporters and opponents alike warned that Mr. Robinson was trying to co-opt a movement that at its core was driven by dissatisfaction with austerity economics and out-of-touch politicians. “They’re using Brexit to get more support for people feeling left behind by neoliberal institutions like the European Union,” said Lauren McCourt, 24, a member of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union. Standing beside her, Claire Trevor, 30, of Leicester, said the march on Sunday was about proving, especially to young people, that Mr. Robinson represented a small minority of Britons, no matter how much attention he got. “A lot of young people are scared,” Ms. Trevor said. Parliament is expected to vote on Tuesday on Mrs. May’s plan for extracting Britain from the European Union. With the strongest proponents both for leaving and staying in the bloc lining up against the deal, some British news outlets reported on Sunday that Mrs. May would try a last-ditch appeal to win more concessions from European Union leaders to mollify conservatives who want a cleaner split. Those reports raised the prospect that Mrs. May would delay the vote to avoid an embarrassing defeat in Parliament. And support for a second referendum on Britain’s departure appeared to be gathering steam among both Labour and Conservative lawmakers. The marches on Sunday, though, were as much about long-simmering forces in British politics as about the wrangling over Mrs. May’s deal. The U.K. Independence Party, which played a major role in building support for leaving the bloc before the 2016 referendum, recently appointed Mr. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, as an official adviser. That has spurred resignations from the party and prompted fears that the far right, already emboldened by the referendum result, would capitalize on frustrations with Mrs. May’s deal.

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Wall Street Journal - December 7, 2018

CIA names first woman to lead clandestine operations

CIA Director Gina Haspel has chosen an agency veteran and close ally to be the first woman to run the part of the agency that recruits spies overseas, gathers intelligence and engages in covert actions authorized by the White House, an agency spokesman said Friday.

Elizabeth Kimber will assume control of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations, until recently a male-dominated bastion also known as the clandestine service. The CIA’s other major branch is the Directorate of Analysis, which is responsible for analyzing classified and unclassified information from multiple sources, and preparing reports for the president and other top U.S. policy makers. “With nearly 34 years of experience and a proven ability to deliver with impact on CIA’s operational mission, Beth Kimber will be an exceptional leader of our Directorate of Operations,” Brittany Bramell, CIA’s director of public affairs, said. Little is known publicly about Ms. Kimber’s CIA career, most of which she spent in the operations branch and which included stints dealing with Russia and terrorism, a person familiar with the matter said. Her LinkedIn page, which describes her merely as a “senior executive” in the U.S. government, says she received a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in New York and speaks French. Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA officer who worked with Ms. Kimber, said “she has a very high intellect—not just when it comes to the operational tradecraft on which our work is based, but also on understanding the world.” Mr. Hoffman, who served as a CIA station chief and whose overseas duty included considerable time in Russia, said he didn’t expect the operations branch to have difficulty accepting a female leader. “I think pretty much those days are gone,” he said. Ms. Kimber’s appointment comes as more women have filled senior leadership ranks across national-security agencies during the Trump administration. In addition to Ms. Haspel, who is the first woman to head the CIA, Sue Gordon serves as the principal deputy director of National Intelligence and had been rumored to be in consideration for director of the CIA if Ms. Haspel’s nomination failed to earn Senate confirmation.

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Wall Street Journal - December 9, 2018

Details emerge in China-U.S. trade truce

A week after President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping struck a trade truce in Buenos Aires, details of the cease fire are becoming clear—big Chinese purchases, tough negotiations and shifting deadlines to finish a deal.

Interviews with officials in both countries, briefed on the Trump-Xi talks, give a fuller picture of the agreement the two men reached. The two sides agreed on a negotiating period of about 90 days, during which the U.S. won’t raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25%, as it had planned to do on Jan. 1. Beijing and Washington also agreed that China will purchase large amounts of goods and services, with China pledging to announce soybean and natural-gas purchases in the coming weeks, said officials in both nations. Beijing is also considering reducing tariffs on U.S. automobiles. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Sunday noted “some very positive, promising statements” out of Beijing. He also said some 35 Chinese agencies and the country’s supreme court were “working on new legislation to deal with the IP theft issues.” “When you piece it together...there’s a lot of good things out there,” Mr. Kudlow said, speaking on Fox News Sunday. Under the terms of the understanding, purchases and tariff reductions aren’t required until a deal is struck, but both sides believe that early purchases would serve as a kind of down payment and give a boost to negotiations. Beijing wants to convince the U.S. to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods. The heart of the negotiations will deal with much thornier issues, officials say, including broader access for U.S. firms to Chinese markets, prohibitions on intellectual property theft and an end to alleged Chinese pressure on U.S. firms to share technology when doing business in China. In the Dec. 1 talks between Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump, he and aides laid out how they might handle technology issues, say officials. Trade talks, though, could run aground after the arrest in Canada of the daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies Co., Meng Wangzhou, for allegedly helping the telecommunications giant evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. The U.S. wants Ms. Meng extradited to the U.S. The imbroglio has produced a nationalist backlash in China that could make it difficult for Mr. Xi to make concessions to the U.S. In a hearing in Vancouver on Friday Ms. Meng’s attorney said the U.S. allegation would be “hotly contested.”

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The Guardian - December 8, 2018

Mob mentality: how Mueller is working to turn Trump's troops

Before the curtain lifts on the final act of the Robert Mueller investigation – which is not necessarily to say the final act of the Donald Trump presidency – there has been a a scramble for seats as second-tier figures in the drama choose sides.

Some of the players have agreed to work with the special counsel as he investigates possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Others are standing by Trump. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort vowed never to work with Mueller, then agreed to work with Mueller, then allegedly tried to put one over Mueller. Like the methodical prosecutor he is, Mueller has forced each target of his investigation, one by one, to pick a side, offering reduced penalties to cooperators such as Michael Flynn and hammering Manafort, whom Mueller accused Friday of lying to investigators about maintaining contacts inside the White House as recently as May. Trump, for his part, has been trying to disrupt the process, praising former aides who “refused to break” and “still have guts” while slamming his former attack dog Michael Cohen, who has been cooperating with Mueller, as a “weak” liar and a bad lawyer to boot. The secret of why, exactly, Trump appears to be growing so desperate in the face of his former aides’ mutiny – by midday Friday, the president had tweeted seven times about Mueller – promises to be revealed in the final act. The drama, meanwhile, has heated up aggressively in the last week, with former Trump adviser Roger Stone invoking fifth amendment protections to maintain his silence, and Mueller unveiling the extent of Cohen’s co-operation, writing approvingly of Flynn’s conduct, and explaining to a judge how Manafort allegedly tried to outsmart him. To a certain set of federal prosecutors, the visible struggle between Trump and Mueller for the loyalty of former Trump aides is familiar, because it is straight out of the playbook for prosecuting organized crime. “The decision to cooperate with prosecutors always comes down to loyalty,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the southern district of New York who helped dismantle the Sicilian mafia. “Who are you going to prioritize?” Honig said. “Are you going to cooperate and minimize your own exposure, and likely minimize the pain, and emotional and financial hardship on your family – or are you going to stay loyal to the people who you committed crimes with?” Controversially, owing to its potentially disastrous erosion of the rule of law coming from the mouth of a president, Trump has objected to Mueller’s tactic of “flipping” witnesses – Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Cohen, Manafort (temporarily) and counting – arguing that it amounts to an enticement to lie. “You know they make up stories, people make up stories,” Trump told Fox News in August. “This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30 to 40 years I’ve been watching flippers … It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair.” But Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino family boss John Gotti, said not only is “flipping” a witness fair, it is “exceedingly common” in group investigations. “This is what you do when you’re investigating the Gambino crime family, or a motorcycle gang, or any other group of criminals that are engaged in a conspiracy,” said Cotter. “You’ve got to get inside. And usually you need somebody on the inside to tell you what’s going on, and that opens up some doors.”

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The Guardian - December 9, 2018

2018 is worst year on record for gun violence in schools, data shows

This year has been by far the worst on record for gun violence in schools, the advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise said, citing research by the US Naval Postgraduate School.

The NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security counted 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, a near 60% increase on the previous high, 59, an unwanted record set in 2006. The NPS database goes back to 1970 and documents any instance in which a gun is “brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason”, regardless of the number of victims or the day of the week. In 2018, high-profile attacks in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, have intensified a national conversation about gun violence in schools. Seventeen students and staff members were killed in Parkland. Ten students and teachers died in Santa Fe. “This is beyond unacceptable,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. “It is inexcusable. Everyone has the power to stop violence before it starts, and we want to arm as many people as possible with the knowledge of how to keep their schools and communities safe.” Hockley’s six-year-old son, Dylan, was shot dead at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in December 2012, with 19 other children and six adult members of staff. In response to the NPS findings and to mark the sixth anniversary of Sandy Hook, on 14 December, Sandy Hook Promise will release a jarring public service announcement. The short film, the group says, “reveals the many warning signs and signals exhibited by an at-risk individual that can lead to gun violence – signs that SHP wants to train individuals to recognize and intervene upon before a tragedy can occur”. The video, made by director Rupert Sanders and Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, among others, shows a series of interactions between high school students from a first-person perspective. Near the end, a student appears to retrieve an assault rifle from a bag.

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Associated Press - December 9, 2018

FBI probe of Russia initially looked at 4 Americans

The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia initially focused on four Americans and whether they were connected to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, former FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers during hours of closed-door questioning.

Comey did not identify the Americans but said President Donald Trump, then the Republican candidate, was not among them. He also told the House Judiciary Committee that, contrary to Trump’s claims, he was “not friends in any social sense” with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now leading the Russia investigation. Trump has repeatedly portrayed the men as exceptionally close as part of a long-running effort to undermine the investigation and paint the lead figures in the probe as united against him. “I admire the heck out of the man, but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names,” said Comey, who added that he had “never hugged or kissed the man” despite the president’s insistence otherwise. “A relief to my wife,” he deadpanned. The committee released a transcript of the interview on Saturday, just 24 hours after privately grilling the fired FBI chief about investigative decisions related to Hillary Clinton’s email server and Trump’s campaign and potential ties to Russia. Comey largely dodged questions connected to the current Mueller-led probe, including whether his May 2017 firing by Trump constituted obstruction of justice. The Republican-led committee interviewed Comey as part of its investigation into FBI actions in 2016, a year when the bureau — in the heat of the presidential campaign — recommended against charges for Clinton and opened an investigation into Russian interference in the election. The questioning largely centered on well-covered territory from a Justice Department inspector general report, Comey’s own book and interviews and hours of public testimony on Capitol Hill. But the former FBI chief also used the occasion to take aim at Trump’s frequent barbs at the criminal justice system, saying “we have become numb to lying and attacks on the rule of law by the president,” as well as Trump’s contention that it should be a crime for subjects to “flip” and cooperate with investigators. “It’s a shocking suggestion coming from any senior official, no less the president. It’s a critical and legitimate part of the entire justice system in the United States,” Comey said. In offering some details of the investigation’s origins, Comey said it started in July 2016 with a look at “four Americans who had some connection to Mr. Trump” during that summer and whether they were tied to “the Russian interference effort.” The campaign itself, he said, was not investigation at that time.

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Associated Press - December 9, 2018

Disputed North Carolina congressional race puts spotlight on 'ballot harvesting'

An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting.

It's a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud. The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters - often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full. In North Carolina, election officials are investigating whether Republican political operatives in parts of the 9th Congressional District harvested ballots from minority voters and didn't deliver them to the election offices. In some cases they are accused of harvesting ballots that were not sealed and only partially filled out. Ballot harvesting is illegal under state law, which allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter. Investigators are focusing on areas in the district where an unusually high number of absentee ballots were not returned. They want to know whether some ballots were not turned in as promised to the local elections office, were unsealed or only partially filled out. Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the state elections board has refused to certify the results. The head of the state Republican Party said Thursday that he would be open to holding a new election if there is evidence of fraud. Supporters of ballot harvesting say they worry the North Carolina election may give an important campaign tool an unnecessary black eye. These groups see their mission as helping voters who are busy with work or caring for children, and empowering those who are sick, elderly and poor. Collecting ballots to turn in at a centralized voting hub also has been an important tool for decades on expansive and remote Native American reservations. "Sometimes we think of voting as this really straightforward process and we often forget that all voters, but for new voters in particular, there's a lot of confusion when voting about when they actually have to vote by, where they have to take their ballot to," said Rachel Huff-Doria, executive director of the voter advocacy group Forward Montana. Several states have tried to limit ballot harvesting by restricting who can turn in another person's ballot. In Arizona, a video that showed a volunteer dropping off hundreds of ballots at a polling place prompted a debate that led to an anti-ballot harvesting law in 2016. "I think at any level, Republican, Democrat or anything, it's wrong. It's a terrible practice," said former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, who backed the law. "People should be responsible for their own votes."

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NPR - December 7, 2018

Poll: Republicans are only group that mostly sees Mueller probe as a 'witch hunt'

President Trump continues to rail against special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump has, for example, used the words "witch hunt" in tweets nearly a dozen times in the month since Election Day.

The phrase appears to have stuck with his base, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, but not with others beyond that. Seven in 10 Republicans agree with him, while a majority of independents and 4 in 5 Democrats see the investigation as "fair." "The base is solidified, but that doesn't get you more than that," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. The polarized views on the special counsel persist amid a recent flurry of developments in the Russia probe, following relative quiet around the midterms. In federal courts on Friday, Mueller's team is expected to detail how former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly breached his plea deal and to provide sentencing recommendations for ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted last week to lying to Congress. In the poll, for the first time, more Americans said they view Mueller more negatively than positively, 29 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable. That's a net 7-point decline from the summer, when Mueller was 33 percent positive and 30 percent negative. Mueller's decline is fueled by Republicans — 58 percent have an unfavorable view of him in the most recent polling, up from 46 percent in July. (Just 8 percent have a favorable opinion of him, down from 15 percent in July.)

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Stateline - December 6, 2018

States are struggling to meet foster care needs. New federal rules could help.

Amid an opioid crisis that has increased the need for foster care, states are struggling to find enough foster families to take in kids. A shortage of affordable housing in many places is making the problem even worse.

But some foster care advocates hope new federal guidelines will make it easier for many foster care parents to get licensed, giving a boost to recruiting efforts, particularly among extended family members. The new proposed regulations, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collected public comment on for several months this summer and fall, don’t include a square-footage requirement or a minimum number of bedrooms — rules that many states have enforced for years. Instead, they talk about “sleeping spaces” that apartment-dwelling foster families might carve out of their living rooms. The suggested standards also propose that states not require foster parents to own a car, as long as they have access to reliable public transportation. That change would make it easier for city residents to become foster parents. Many of the suggested rules are more flexible, and will enable more foster families to get licensed while protecting the safety and well-being of children who’ve already been traumatized, said Ana Beltran, special adviser for Generations United, a Washington-D.C. based advocacy and research group. “Standards will be more focused on common-sense safety requirements, rather than standards based on some suburban, middle-class ideal of a home, that’s not necessarily the best home for a child,” said Beltran, whose group suggested some of the changes to HHS. To be sure, many foster care advocates and state agencies praised some of the new flexibility but also raised concerns in their public comments about some of the proposed rules, including specifics on swimming pool barriers, languages spoken, immunization schedules, transportation options and physical and mental health exams for foster parents. “The proposed national model includes standards that will create a barrier for many applicants,” wrote the California Department of Social Services. “Additionally, due to the critical shortage of available foster homes, we urge HHS to reconsider the requirements … to encourage, not discourage, those interested in becoming foster parents.” The public comment period ended in October, and states and 12 Native American tribes will have until April to explain how they are aligning their foster care standards to the federal model. California and South Carolina already have revamped their licensing standards to make it easier for more families to qualify as foster parents. Last year, in a massive overhaul of its child welfare system, California sped up the process for grandparents and other extended family members — so-called kinship caregivers — to become licensed and therefore eligible for the same benefits as non-relative foster parents.

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PBS News Hour - December 6, 2018

Pelosi rejects wall funding ahead of Trump meeting

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday rejected the idea of paying for President Donald Trump’s border wall in exchange for helping hundreds of thousands of young immigrants avoid deportation.

Funding for the wall — a top Trump priority — and legal protections for so-called Dreamers, a key Democratic goal, should not be linked, Pelosi said. “They’re two different subjects,” she said. Her comments came as the House and Senate approved a stopgap bill Thursday to keep the government funded through Dec. 21. The measure, approved by voice votes in near-empty chambers, now goes to the White House. Trump has promised to sign the two-week extension to allow for ceremonies this week honoring former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30. But he wants the next funding package to include at least $5 billion for his proposed wall, something Democrats have rejected. Trump is set to meet Tuesday at the White House with Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. Pelosi, who is seeking to become House speaker in January, said the lame-duck Congress should now pass a half-dozen government funding bills that key committees have already agreed on, along with a separate measure funding the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border. Funding for the homeland agency should address border security and does not necessarily include a wall, Pelosi said. Most Democrats consider the wall “immoral, ineffective, expensive,” Pelosi said, noting that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for it, an idea Mexican leaders have repeatedly rejected. Even if Mexico did pay for the wall, “it’s immoral still,” Pelosi said. Protecting borders “is a responsibility we honor, but we do so by honoring our values as well,” she added. Schumer said Thursday that a bipartisan Senate plan for $1.6 billion in border security funding does not include money for the 30-foot-high (9-meter-high) concrete wall Trump has envisioned. The money “can only be used for fencing” and technology that experts say is appropriate and makes sense as a security feature, Schumer said. “This is something Democrats have always been for: smart, effective, appropriate border security,” he said on the Senate floor. If Republicans object to the proposal because of pressure from Trump, Schumer said lawmakers should follow Pelosi’s advice and approve six appropriations bills and a separate measure extending current funding for Homeland Security. Either option would avert a partial government shutdown, which lawmakers from both parties oppose, he said.

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ABC News - December 9, 2018

Trump says chief of staff John Kelly will leave at the end of the year

President Donald Trump announced that his chief of staff, John Kelly, will leave at the end of the year. A replacement will be named, possibly on an interim basis, Trump told reporters Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for the Army- Navy football game.

"John Kelly will be leaving, I don’t know if I can say retiring. But he’s a great guy," Trump said, adding he would announce Kelly's replacement "over the next day or two." The leading candidate to take over would be Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, sources told ABC News. The president, who has fired some of his closest advisors with a tweet, gave Kelly a more graceful exit with his South Lawn announcement, noting that Kelly has been with him in two different roles: DHS Secretary and Chief of Staff. "I appreciate his service very much," Trump said. Kelly’s departure, long-rumored around Washington, represents yet another dramatic shift in power dynamics and management style inside a notoriously tumultuous West Wing. Just a few months ago, Trump had asked Kelly to stay on as chief of staff through his 2020 re-election campaign, and Kelly accepted, several White House officials confirmed to ABC News. At a separate meeting with Cabinet-level communications staff at the time, a senior administration official said Kelly voiced his intention to stay on in the role for far longer -- through 2024 -- should the president be elected to a second term. But the president, increasingly exerting direct control of West Wing operations, has marginalized Kelly's role and influence. Kelly has also chafed at the president's private disparagement of one of his closest allies and confidantes, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Ayers, 35, is seen by Trump and his closest allies as a loyalist and prominent advocate for the administration’s policies and political efforts. And Ayers’ role as the right-hand man to Pence over the past year has put him in close proximity to some of the moments of the Trump presidency.

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Newsclips - December 7, 2018

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

U.S. becomes net exporter of oil for first time in nearly 70 years

The United States has become a net exporter of petroluem products for the first time in nearly 70 years as the nation shipped record volumes of crude oil to foreign markets — and there’s lots more where that came from.

As OPEC and its allies negotiated production cuts in Vienna, two government reports on Thursday underscored United States emergence as the world’s new energy power, in large part due to the Permian Basin in West Texas. The Energy Department said that oil producers exported a record 3.2 million barrels of crude a day last week — more than double the volume a year ago — while the nation shipped out 211,000 more barrels a day of petroleum products than it imported. It was the first time petroleum exports exceeded imports since 1949. The Interior Deparment, meanwhile said the Permian Basin's Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations in West Texas and New Mexico hold the most potential oil and gas resources ever assessed. The two formations hold an estimated 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. "It's good news for Texas economically and signals a lot more activity ahead in the Permian," said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones in St. Louis. "With the exports, it's growth for the whole Gulf Coast." The Permian Basin has driven the record oil output in the United States, accounting for nearly one-third, or 3.7 million barrels a day, of the estimated 11.7 million barrels a day produced in the nation, according to the Energy Department. The Permian Basin, with an estimated 493 drilling rigs in operation, accounts for more than half the nations’s active oil rigs. An older basin, the Permian has become the center of the oil and gas world in recent years through the combination of horizontal drilling techniques and modern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technologies. Much of the new activity is in Permian’s western lobe, known as the Delaware Basin, which encompasses the Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations Interior’s assessment of those formations is based on undiscovered oil and gas that's considered technically recoverable based on these modern extraction methods.

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New York Times - December 6, 2018

Making President Trump’s bed: A housekeeper without papers speaks out

Because of the “outstanding” support Victorina Morales has provided during Mr. Trump’s visits to the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Ms. Morales in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name. Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.

Ms. Morales’s journey from cultivating corn in rural Guatemala to fluffing pillows at an exclusive golf resort took her from the southwest border, where she said she crossed illegally in 1999, to the horse country of New Jersey, where she was hired at the Trump property in 2013 with documents she said were phony. She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally. Sandra Diaz, 46, a native of Costa Rica who is now a legal resident of the United States, said she, too, was undocumented when she worked at Bedminster between 2010 and 2013. The two women said they worked for years as part of a group of housekeeping, maintenance and landscaping employees at the golf club that included a number of undocumented workers, though they could not say precisely how many. There is no evidence that Mr. Trump or Trump Organization executives knew of their immigration status. But at least two supervisors at the club were aware of it, the women said, and took steps to help workers evade detection and keep their jobs. “There are many people without papers,” said Ms. Diaz, who said she witnessed several people being hired whom she knew to be undocumented. Mr. Trump has made border security and the fight to protect jobs for Americans a cornerstone of his presidency, from the border wall he has pledged to build to the workplace raids and payroll audits that his administration has carried out. During the presidential campaign, when the Trump International Hotel opened for business in Washington, Mr. Trump boasted that he had used an electronic verification system, E-Verify, to ensure that only those legally entitled to work were hired. “We didn’t have one illegal immigrant on the job,” Mr. Trump said then. But throughout his campaign and his administration, Ms. Morales, 45, has been reporting for work at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, where she is still on the payroll. An employee of the golf course drives her and a group of others to work every day, she says, because it is known that they cannot legally obtain driver’s licenses. A diminutive woman with only two years of education who came to the United States speaking no English, Ms. Morales has had an unusual window into one of the president’s favorite retreats: She has cleaned the president’s villa while he watched television nearby; she stood on the sidelines when potential cabinet members were brought in for interviews and when the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, arrived to confer with the president. “I never imagined, as an immigrant from the countryside in Guatemala, that I would see such important people close up,” she said. But Ms. Morales said she has been hurt by Mr. Trump’s public comments since he became president, including equating Latin American immigrants with violent criminals. It was that, she said, along with abusive comments from a supervisor at work about her intelligence and immigration status, that made her feel that she could no longer keep silent. “We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” she said. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”

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CNBC - December 6, 2018

Beto O'Rourke's team has been talking to Obama political operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire as 2020 momentum builds

Democratic rising star Beto O'Rourke's team has been fielding calls from senior operatives who worked on President Barack Obama's campaign in the pivotal states of Iowa and New Hampshire as the Texas congressman considers running for president in 2020, CNBC has learned.

Led by chief of staff David Wysong, O'Rourke's inner circle has been engaging with political players from the states, which hold the earliest contests of the presidential primary season. These people include leaders of Obama's campaign operations in the states, according to multiple people with knowledge of the conversations. While people close to O'Rourke insist that the discussions have not led to any hires, a former senior Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is clear O'Rourke will have the consultants in place to help guide him if he chooses to make a run for the White House. "This is the phase for someone exploring a presidential campaign in that they're doing everything they can to decide who they may want to run an organization and who they could turn to if he enters the race," the former Obama aide said. O'Rourke is fresh off a surprisingly close defeat at the hands of GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in reliably Republican Texas. He has been credited with lifting fellow Texas Democrats in House races to victory last month as the party flipped about 40 seats to take the majority. O'Rourke broke fundraising records and galvanized young voters in his Senate campaign, a possible indication of the kind of appeal Democrats will need to take on President Donald Trump. Yet, the fact that he lost a statewide race is giving some in the Democratic Party pause about a potential O'Rourke run. "You don't promote a loser," Chicago Mayor and former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said recently.

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The Guardian - December 6, 2018

Samuel Freedman: What Democrats can learn from Newt Gingrich, the man who broke politics

Nearly a month after 2018’s nominal election day, the last votes have been tallied in the last swing district in the United States. A Democratic defeat of a Republican incumbent in California’s Central Valley has given the blue party wave a cumulative gain of 40 seats in the House of Representatives, adding to the majority it had seized back on November 6.

In addition, the American public’s rebuke of an unpopular president two years into his first term has supplied a piquant historical analogy, one that the Democratic party ought to be studying and heeding. In November 1994, it was Republican insurgents led by Representative Newt Gingrich who delivered the stunning upset, capturing control of both the House and Senate from President Bill Clinton’s party. Gingrich’s performance in the months before and the year after his ascent to speaker of the House and de facto leader of the national Republican party offers two vital lessons for today’s Democrats – one salutary, and the other cautionary. Admittedly, by the standards of Newt Gingrich in 2018, as an adviser to President Trump and a freelance blowhard, it can be hard to conceive that he has anything worthwhile to teach Democrats, whether of the progressive or centrist sort. These days, Gingrich has been widely and not incorrectly reviled as “the man who broke politics”, as a recent Atlantic article put it, with his ferociously partisan style. Yet the Gingrich who masterminded the Republicans’ 1994 triumph came equipped with ideas and a program. He called it the Contract With America, and it consisted of 10 pieces of proposed legislation, all of which had tested well in focus groups. The topics ranged from child tax credits to tort reform to work requirements for welfare recipients, and even constitutional amendments on congressional term limits and a presidential line-item veto over the federal budget. About six weeks before the 1994 midterms, Gingrich unveiled the contract at a rally outside the Capitol, where the legislative package was endorsed by 367 Republican candidates for Congress. Even before the election, Gingrich had succeeded in pushing Clinton rightward to collaborate on a harsh anti-crime bill. And when the voters delivered their verdict in November, Gingrich had orchestrated a 54-seat GOP gain in the House and a nine-seat pick-up in the Senate. Republicans held both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1953–55. His bomb-throwing image notwithstanding, Gingrich delivered his first address as speaker in January 1995 with both erudition and generosity. He likened his impending push for legislation to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first 100 days, the birth of the New Deal. He saluted Democratic liberals for having led the nation forward on civil rights. Over the next several months, Gingrich pushed through all but one item on his 10-point program, and many of the measures passed with substantial Democratic support. It is true that most faltered in the Senate or were vetoed by Clinton, but the effect was still palpable – in the pre-election crime bill, in the welfare-reform law ultimately signed in 1996, in Clinton’s concession in his 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over”. It is already too late for 2018 Democrats to have run their campaigns on a consensus platform along the lines of the Contract With America. But there is still time, before the new Congress is seated in January, to identify a series of popular liberal bills to be rapidly approved.

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Governing - December 5, 2018

ALEC outlines 2019 agenda to erode union power

When Mark Janus was introduced at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Washington, D.C., last week, he was hailed as a conquering hero.

Lisa Nelson, the group’s CEO, called him “the successful plaintiff of one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of the year” -- a man who helped achieve “a Herculean feat for employees' rights.” Tennessee Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey later told the crowd that the Janus v. AFSCME decision, which ruled that non-union employees can opt out of paying fees to unions representing them in budget negotiations, was “the biggest win for workers’ rights and workers’ freedom in over a generation.” But when Janus took the stage, soft-spoken and unassuming in his glasses and white mustache, the former Illinois state worker stressed that the fight was just beginning. He urged legislators at the conference to champion ALEC’s “very, very positive” model bills that would further restrict public and private unions' power in their states. The Supreme Court's ruling gives the conservative group and others new momentum when pursuing that mission in state capitals. “Get girded for a fight,” former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett told state lawmakers at the conference, “because it’s gonna take place. ... It will now be fought out on the ground, in the places you know best.” ALEC's “Public Employee Rights and Authorization Act,” for instance, would codify the Janus decision at the state level, establishing a “right to work” for public employees and declaring that these employees have to give “affirmative consent” for their union to collect payments from them. More than half the states already have similar laws. Under the “Union Recertification Act,” what ALEC calls “worker voting rights,” workers in unions would have to vote every couple of years on whether they want to continue with their current union representation. Typically, there is no such opportunity for public employees, unless they go through a very involved and rare “decertification” process. Similar laws have already passed in Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, according to F. Vincent Vernuccio, a senior fellow at the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Then there are “workers’ choice” bills, the “Public Employee Choice Act” and the “Comprehensive Public Employee Freedom Act,” which would allow government workers to opt out of union representation and represent themselves in negotiations with their employer. These type of bills have yet to be passed anywhere, though they've been introduced in states like Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, says Vernuccio. Other ALEC bills would increase transparency in union spending and ban “release time,” in which a public employee draws a public salary while working on union recruiting and representation activities.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

UT to re-erect statue of James Hogg, after removing it in 2017 because of Confederate ties

A statue of Texas's first native-born governor James Hogg, the son of a Confederate general, will be re-erected on the University of Texas campus, after being removed in 2017 along with three other statues of historical figures with ties to the Confederacy.

UT President Gregory Fenves made the announcement in a letter to campus on Thursday, lauding Hogg's contributions to the state, while acknowledging that he was a "child of the Civil war" with a "complicated and nuanced legacy," for his role in signing the state's first Jim Crow bills into law. Hogg was Texas governor from 1891 to 1895. Fenves had four statues quietly removed from their pedestals in the middle of the night in August 2017, after white supremacists holding torchlights rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a counter protester was killed. Statues depicting Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States army, Albert Sidney Johnston, a general in the Texas, U.S. and Confederate armies, and John Reagan, a Confederate postmaster general were also removed. At the time he explained his actions to the campus. "The events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism," Fenves said in 2017. He noted at the time the Hogg statue would be considered for re-installation at another site on campus. The Lee, Johnston and Reagan statues were added to the school's Briscoe Center for scholarly study. "The statues represent the subjugation of African Americans," Fenves wrote after the statues were removed. "That remains true today for while supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry." In his letter to campus, Fenves' condemnation of the statue had significantly softened since his 2017. He called Hogg a "champion of public and higher education," and noted that he created the state's Railroad Commission. Hogg also proposed some of the country's first anti-lynching laws to the Texas Legislature. But, Fenves acknowledged, Hogg also allowed a law to pass reinforcing segregation in railroad cars -- "legislation that provided the legal basis for segregated facilities and services that would usher in the Jim Crow era in Texas."

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

Texas board rejects Confederate group’s proposed license plate featuring rebel soldier

Texas drivers won't be able to display a rebel soldier on a specialty license plate proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board voted 5-3 Thursday to reject the plate's design, which featured a soldier carrying a Texas regiment's special flag at the Civil War battle of Antietam in 1862.

Debate centered on how the design is similar to an existing plate that raises money for BikeTexas.org, not on whether it celebrates 19th-century Texans fighting to preserve slavery. At a brief hearing, three officers of the Southern historical group testified that their proposed plate would raise money for scholarships and placing flags on Confederates' graves. The department charges a $30 fee for a specialty plate. Of that, $22 goes to a selected cause. Robin Stallings, executive director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition Education Fund, or BikeTexas.org, objected. He said his group's "God Bless Texas" plate also displays on the left side a furled Texas flag. "The plates are very similar," he told the board. "It could cause a lot of confusion." From several car lengths behind, Stallings told a reporter, "it's the same -- just a spitting image of ours." BikeTexas' plate, sponsored by the Texas Education Agency, raises between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to help pay for bicycle safety courses for children, Stallings said. Sales could suffer, and the cycling-safety group wants no part of "the controversy" that could be stirred by the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate, he said. State law and DMV regulations permit the board to reject a specialty plate if the design might be offensive or too similar to an existing design and could compete with sales, said Jeremiah Kuntz, director of the agency's vehicle title and regulation division. John McCammon of Boerne, lieutenant commander of the Texas division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Thursday that he was disappointed but not deterred by the denial, which "wasn't because of anything controversial." "We'll probably resubmit using another Texas flag," he said. "There were several Texas flags used during the [Civil] War, and we can use one of those."

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2018

70,000-acre West Texas ranch coming to market is the largest up for grabs in Texas

A huge West Texas spread is up for grabs, and property brokers say it's the largest ranch on the market in the state. The Lely Ranch near Big Bend State Park has more than 70,000 acres. The sprawling Presidio County property has been owned by a foreign dairy magnate since the 1960s.

"Rarely do we see ranches in the same family for 50 years for sale," Dallas-based property broker Icon Global said about the property. "Truly the last frontier and a chance to buy your own Big Bend. This landscape is vastly unexplored and uninhabited wild country." The Lely Ranch comes with its own airstrip. The mountainous property has the 4,286-foot Cerro Tren Peak, creeks and arroyos. And there's a brick headquarters home on the property. Lely Ranch is about 45 miles from Marfa and northwest of Big Bend National Park. That's the same part of Texas where the classic movie Giant was filmed in the 1950s. The property is one of two big ranches Icon Global is marketing in that area. The Dallas-based real estate firm is also marketing the 37,000-acre KC7 Ranch near Interstate 10 in the foothills of the Davis Mountains. Icon Global has handled some of Texas' biggest rural land sales, including the 535,000-acre ranch W.T. Waggoner Ranch near Wichita Falls.

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Dallas Morning News - December 7, 2018

Beto O'Rourke's bid against Ted Cruz ended up raising record $80M, a sum sure to stoke 2020 buzz

Rep. Beto O'Rourke ended up raising an astonishing $80.1 million in his failed bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, putting an exclamation point on the El Paso Democrat's record-setting Senate fundraising haul.

The final tally, released late Thursday, is sure to intensify speculation that O'Rourke could mount a campaign in 2020 against Republican President Donald Trump. Despite his relatively lean political resume, O'Rourke has received perhaps the most buzz of any potential Democratic contender for the White House. Even former President Barack Obama hailed him last month, right after the two reportedly met at Obama's office in D.C. Much of the attention on O'Rourke has focused on a frenetic campaign style that helped him come within three points of toppling Cruz — the best a Democrat has done statewide in Texas in years — and a social-media-friendly charisma that captivated liberals all over the U.S. But there's no overlooking the El Pasoan's herculean ability to muster up campaign cash. O'Rourke's latest campaign finance report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, showed he hauled in $10.1 million from Oct. 18 to Nov. 26, a period that covers roughly the three weeks before and the three weeks after the Nov. 6 election. That final push only upped the dollar figure on O'Rourke's Senate campaign record, a sum that came despite his decision to reject donations from political action committees. O'Rourke instead built his war chest with individual contributions, collecting more than $61 million alone via ActBlue, an online portal that has made it easy for Democrats across the country to make recurring, small-dollar gifts to their favorite candidates. "Future campaigns will be won, influenced by the one we built," O'Rourke said last month in a thank-you email to supporters. "Candidates will run who otherwise wouldn't have. Some will take heart in knowing that you don't have to accept PAC money." O'Rourke ended up far outpacing Cruz in the money race, even though the Republican raised a substantial amount in his own right.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos resigns

Texas’s top elections official, Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, told Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday that he is resigning to return to private law practice. Pablos has been in the position for two years.

"With the midterm elections successfully behind us, and the 86th Legislative Session around the corner, I believe this would be a good time to begin the process of transitioning out of my position and passing the baton to the next secretary of state,” Pablos said in a statement to the media. “Serving Texans as secretary of state has been the opportunity of a lifetime, but I feel the need at this time to turn my attention to my private practice." In addition to overseeing elections, the secretary of state maintains business and commercial records for the state and is a senior adviser and liaison to the governor on Texas border issues and affairs with the Mexican government. Pablos, an attorney who practices business, administrative and international law, previously served as chair of the Texas Racing Commission and had been a Public Utility commissioner. The secretary of state is appointed by the governor but subject to confirmation through the Texas Senate. Pablos received a salary of nearly $133,000 a year.

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2018

Ted Cruz’s margin of victory over Beto O’Rourke was even slimmer than we thought

As newly updated election results showed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s victory was even tighter than first realized, Democratic-led voter registration groups are saying they’ve never felt closer to turning Texas into a true battleground.

Cruz’s margin of victory fell to just 214,921 votes, according to official results certified by Gov. Greg Abbott this week. That is about 5,000 votes closer than unofficial results showed last month. Cruz won the race 50.9 to 48.3 percent — the closet U.S. Senate race in Texas since 1978. While O’Rourke lost, groups like Battleground Texas say that margin of defeat is nearly four times closer than they thought was even possible and it has them itching to get to work on 2020. “We can register that gap,” said Oscar Silva, executive director of Battleground Texas, a group that runs an aggressive registration program targeting potential Democratic voters. The state saw twice that number of voters just registered between March and October, and Silva noted that every year 300,000 more Texas high school students come of age to register. He said while many people suggest that 2018 was a one-year blip because of O’Rourke’s campaign, groups like Battleground Texas have been on the ground building an infrastructure that has lasting implications. “That is sustainable,” he told the American Association of Political Consultants at a conference in Austin on Wednesday. Battleground Texas said its data shows that, during early voting, nearly one out of every 25 voters under age 35 was registered by the group. Silva added that 69 percent of the people the group registered this year were voters of color, helping the electorate to begin to look more like the state’s overall minority-majority population. Republicans have noticed their work too. In the summer, Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign team used training sessions for volunteers to warn that Harris County and other big metro areas in Texas have been trending toward Democrats, thanks in part to the work of Battleground Texas volunteers. Battleground Texas was first created in 2013 with the help of former campaign operatives who worked for former President Barack Obama. Their mission was to more aggressively register voters in Texas, a place that has a history of making it difficult to register to vote, Silva said. He said the group made gains in voter registration despite Texas laws that he says “criminalizes voter registration.” In Texas, groups cannot help voters register unless they go through specific training in counties they want to work in. If someone wants to register voters in another of the 254 counties in the state, they must get retrained in that county. And the training sessions vary from county to county. Silva said his group has more than 22,000 people who are certified to register people to vote in Texas. But Texas law requires all of those certifications to expire at the end of the cycle. All of those people must go through a new round of training to start registering voters again.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Group sues over Texas Driver Responsibility Program, says fines trap poor in cycle of debt

After being arrested for drunken driving in 2017, Nathan Alexander, 35, paid court fees and attended residential alcohol treatment. Then he learned he would have to pay thousands of dollars in additional surcharges because of the Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program, which charges fees to drivers who commit certain driving-related infractions.

On Wednesday, attorneys from the Austin Community Law Center along with Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on income bias, sued Texas officials over the DRP, alleging it has trapped Alexander and tens of thousands of vulnerable Texans in a modern day debtor’s prison. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, described the DRP as a “mean and cruel” system, adding he looked forward to reading and supporting the lawsuit. “Sometimes it takes a lawsuit for the state to do the right thing,” he said. “Maybe this is one of those times.” The program’s fees, which are assessed annually for three years, can range as high as $2,000 a year. That was far more than Alexander could handle, since he was working as a dishwasher while he got back on his feet. Prior to his conviction, he had held down a $70,000-a-year job in construction. Now, a year after his arrest, the fees have prevented him from obtaining a drivers license and have kept him mired in homelessness and blocked his to return to his old profession, despite two job offers. The suit was brought in San Antonio federal court against Gov. Greg Abbott and four top officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety. It seeks a judgment to prevent DPS from issuing or processing driver’s license suspensions for unpaid surcharges under the DRP and the reinstatement of licenses previously suspended for failure to pay DRP surcharges. Equal Justice Under Law Executive Director Phil Telfeyan said Texas’ most impoverished residents particularly are harmed by the system because they often are unaware that they owe additional charges under the DRP. “Individuals who cannot pay will often lose their job and their home — becoming homeless — for a minor ticket that wealthier drivers simply pay and forget,” he said, in a news release. The class action lawsuit argues the DRP violates Texans’ due process rights, unfairly impacts the state’s poorest residents, and violates their rights to equal protection under the law. It names Abbott, DPS Director Steven McCraw, as well as DPS Chairman Steven Mach; Skylor Hearn, DPS’ deputy director of Administration and Services; and Amanda Arriaga, division director of the driver license division. Abbott’s office declined to comment. Officials with DPS did not respond to a request for comment.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Global oil demand will 'plateau, not peak' in about 15 years

Population growth and rising demand for plastics from emerging countries will help to prevent oil demand from peaking in the next 15 years, an analysis from RS Energy Group suggests.

As the world shifts away from fossil fuels and the use of more fuel-efficient cars, some analysts have predicted global demand for oil will peak around 2035 and then fall. But others say additional factors at play will keep strong fossil fuel demand afloat. "We don't think oil demand will peak, instead it will plateau," said Al Salazar, analyst with RS Energy speaking to a crowd of a few hundred industry professionals at the Post Oak Hotel in Houston. The Calgary research firm hosted an event Tuesday on the future of the oil and gas industry. The future of fossil fuel demand has huge implications for the Houston economy, where tens of thousands of workers are tied to the oil and gas industry. Today, global oil demand is growing by about 1.3 million barrels per day. RS Energy expects that growth to about 250,000 barrels per day in growth by 2035 and plateau there. By 2035, the global population will have increased by about 1 billion e people, and about 98 percent of those people will be in developing nations, Salazar said. Global economic growth typically supports growth in oil demand. Rising in incomes in developing nations will likely increase the consumption of plastics. The growth in the plastics and the petrochemicals that make that possible could partially offset flattening demand in the transportation sector, he said. Salazar said the relatively high cost of electric vehicles and concerns about the supply of cobalt for electric car batteries will likely dampen the impact that electric vehicles has on global oil demand for the time being.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2018

Houston Chronicle: Texas is No. 1 all right — for uninsured children. No Texan can be proud of this

If you’re a Texan who likes to wrap yourself in the Lone Star flag, wrap your head around this: more ubiquitous than any Texas-shaped tattoo, tortilla chip or waffle is something far less deserving of our Texan pride: Kids without health insurance.

Once again, Texas has the largest share of uninsured kids in the nation, accounting for 1 in every 5 in the United States, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. Texas’ uninsured rate among kids was 10.7 percent in 2017 - more than double the national average of 5 percent. An estimated 835,000 Texas children went without health insurance, an increase of about 80,000 from the year before. No Texan can be proud of this. Yet, after 20 years of ranking at or near the bottom for insured kids, nobody in power seems to care enough to address it. Neither Gov. Greg Abbott nor Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — regardless of their touted “pro-life” credentials. Nor lawmakers who lead health committees in the Texas Legislature. For all the lip service Abbott gives to pre-K, for all the passion with which Patrick fights for private school vouchers, for all the talk among lawmakers about improving Texas’ schools, they seem to miss one thing. It doesn’t matter how much we invest in public education if we don’t invest in public health. Kids need to stay healthy to attend school. They need eyeglasses to see the chalkboard. They need immunizations to protect all of us from disease. Kids with asthma need access to preventative care. Kids with cancer need a fighting chance at survival. Texas was late to embrace the Children’s Health Insurance Program, approved by Congress in 1997, and we’ve lagged ever since. Now the problem has gotten worse, exacerbated in part by federal policies that have brought progress in other states to a halt, and in some states, backward. For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of uninsured children in the United States increased, according to the Georgetown report. We’d expect the opposite in a time of economic strength when more children are covered by employer-sponsored insurance. But some working families can’t afford that option. Many kids rely on government programs, which are increasingly at risk. States such as Texas, where leaders like Abbott refuse to expand Medicaid and have actively worked to thwart the Affordable Care Act, have fared the worst.

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Cleburne Times-Review - December 6, 2018

SBOE pushing Legislature for full-day pre-K funding

Officials with the State Board of Education are making a recommendation to the Texas Legislature to fully fund full-day pre-kindergarten. The state board recently approved a new Long Range Plan for Public Education, according to the Texas Education Agency. The plan creates recommendations to be achieved by 2030.

“The goals of access and equity serve as the overarching vision of the proposed plan,” according to the TEA. “These goals refer to funding, as well as access to advanced courses and modern technology.” Also included in the plan is a recommendation to implement “quality early learning programs through third grade, including a formula-funded full-day pre-kindergarten, [that] will be fully funded, supported and recognized as the building blocks to future academic and social success ...” Last year, Cleburne ISD piloted full-day pre-K at three elementary schools. After analyzing data collected from both students and teachers, the CISD board of trustees approved to implement the program at all seven elementary schools for the 2018-19 school year. CISD Community Relations Director Lisa Magers said they recognize the importance of early childhood education, as reflected in the decision by the district and the board of trustees in implementing the full-day pre-K for eligible participants this year. “Our data has shown the educational impact a full-day program has, not only on in that initial pre-kindergarten year, but also in classroom abilities and academic performance as those experiencing the full-day format have transitioned into kindergarten and first grade,” Magers said. Coleman Elementary School pre-K teacher Jennifer Rigoulot said students in pre-K cover an array of subjects including social and emotional skills, writing and pre-reading skills, math skills, physical development, fine arts and technology. “Some specific guidelines suggests that by the end of pre-K, students can identify 20 upper and 20 lower case letters as well as 20 sounds,” Rigoulot said. “Students should be about to count to 30 and count up to 10 items with one to one correspondence.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 6, 2018

Bulldozers to soon plow through National Butterfly Center for Trump’s border wall

Bulldozers are expected to soon plow through the protected habitat of the National Butterfly Center along the Rio Grande to clear the way for President Trump’s border wall, which got a green light from the Supreme Court this week.

Hundreds of thousands of butterflies flit through the center’s 100-acre sanctuary. But 70 percent of the land will eventually be on the other side the wall, said Marianna Wright, the executive director. “We do not know exactly how much of (the land) we will retain access to and how much of it will be left intact,” she said. The wall could be up to three stories tall, with 18-foot steel beams, called bollards, rising from a concrete base. Construction through the refuge could start in February. The high court let stand a ruling that lets the administration bypass 28 federal laws, mostly to protect the environment, to build the wall in the Rio Grande Valley. Three organizations, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, had sued the government. Some of the laws waived for the construction include the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Environmental activists argue the wall could lead to the extinction of endangered species such as the ocelot, contamination of drinking water and destruction of indigenous historical sites. “The border wall and the border region is an area of tremendous biodiversity and wildlife,” said Tony Eliseuson, a senior staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “It’s a very rich environmental area, and this border wall will have a devastating impact on both the environment and many, many species.” By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court upheld a February ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel in favor of the government. At the time, Trump took to Twitter to celebrate Curiel’s ruling, despite having questioned his impartiality — calling the Indiana-born judge “Mexican” — when Trump was a presidential candidate. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson said in an October notice that the flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs along the border demonstrated “an acute and immediate need” for a wall. The immigration reform act of 1996 and a 2005 update, the Real ID Act, grants the government broad powers to waive federal laws to expedite construction projects on the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, the Butterfly Center sued the government after contract workers appeared unannounced on its property in July 2017. Chainsaws in hand, they began clearing out protected habitat where the border wall was planned. “That is criminal. And unconstitutional,” Wright said.

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The Eagle - December 7, 2018

President George H.W. Bush is laid to rest at his library at Texas A&M

As the train carrying George Herbert Walker Bush, who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94, slowly made its way past Kyle Field on Thursday afternoon, the hundreds lining the east side of Wellborn began to wave small American flags and cheer. To the west, a large section of Bush School students and faculty, as well as other VIPs, looked on as well.

The locomotive arrival in Aggieland capped a day that began with a 1,000-person funeral at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in the Tanglewood neighborhood of west Houston. In Navasota, Magnolia, Plantersville and other towns from Houston to College Station, thousands lined the railroad tracks, all to catch a glimpse of, and say goodbye to, a president who came to call Texas home. Before his death, Bush had talked at length with family and close friends about how he wanted to be remembered. The decision to have his body brought to its final resting place by train recalled similar funeral trains in 1865, 1945 and 1969 for Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, respectively. As the train slowed, former president George W. Bush -- the late Bush's eldest son -- waved at passers-by. After the train stopped, George W. Bush processed from the train to a staging ground with his wife, Laura, both escorted by Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard. Jeb and Columba Bush, George P. Bush and other family members and close friends closely followed. Military members lined the path on both sides. As pallbearers removed Bush's casket from the train, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band began Hail To The Chief -- played just a hair slower than usual -- as attendees on both sides of the train held right hands to their hearts. The Aggie Band then played The Aggie War Hymn, another request of the late president, and a roaring "whoop" erupted from all sides. Two balloons soared into the sky from the east side of Wellborn. After the song's conclusion, pallbearers slowly carried the flag-draped coffin past the Bush family and the A&M group, and into the waiting hearse. Hundreds of Texas A&M Corps of Cadets members lined the route of the motorcade as it traveled from the Wellborn train area along George Bush Drive. The U.S. Navy conducted a 21-strike fighter aircraft flyover for the president, who himself was a naval aviator in World War II. The number three aircraft in the final flight executed the "Missing Man" maneuver from south to north over the Bush Library and Museum, where the president was laid to rest next to his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, who died April 17, and their daughter Robin, who died at the age of 3 from leukemia, in a private ceremony.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 6, 2018

How a lack of state oversight leaves children in day cares across Texas unwatched

Each day, hundreds of thousands of parents send their children to Texas day care facilities. But more often than publicly posted state numbers indicate, children are victims of molestation, physical abuse or neglect at child care sites with long histories of trouble.

Some children have died or been hurt at day care facilities that had already been punished for similar violations, but which the state had allowed to keep operating. A yearlong American-Statesman investigation for the first time reveals in stark detail the dangerous conditions that exist inside many Texas day care sites, leaving hundreds of children with serious injuries and nearly 90 dead as a result of abuse or neglect since 2007. Meanwhile, hundreds of children have been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of those entrusted with their care – an alarming aspect of child care dangers that has never been comprehensively examined by the state. Although the blame for many of those incidents falls largely on those responsible for the children’s care, state regulators have also failed to take necessary steps to ensure child safety. In fact, in recent years they have rolled back efforts designed to do so. The state of Texas has reduced its surveillance of the deadliest day care facilities – the underground, illegal centers that watch thousands of children – and, until recently, failed to use its own data in ways that could help identify problems before they lead to dangerous conditions. The Statesman analyzed 40,000 inspection records in which facilities had received state sanctions. The newspaper built a database to look for patterns among injuries and obtained data on injuries and violations that had never previously been released by the state. Among the newspaper’s findings: More than 450 children – almost one a week – suffered sexual abuse inside a day care facility during the past 10 years. During that same time, child care facilities were cited more than 3,200 times for abuse and neglect of the children they were watching. Nearly half of the children who died of abuse and neglect in day care facilities, 42 out of 88, were in illegal centers. But last year the state shut down its unit designed to track down these day care sites, saying in part that they weren’t finding enough to justify the effort. The numbers prove otherwise. Texas’ regulations for day care staffing levels – a key predictor of classroom safety and child brain development – are among the worst in the country, and state officials have repeatedly refused to change them. In 2016, they went so far as to pull out of a study analyzing the impact of staffing levels on injury rates, effectively shutting it down before researchers could produce specific recommendations. Texas child care inspectors are hamstrung when it comes to disciplining day care facilities and in some cases, the state’s enforcement strategy has failed to correct dangerous caregiver behavior before injury or death. Usually, there are no financial penalties or extra training ordered when children are abused, neglected or wrongly punished. And the legislatively set fines that are levied – mainly for background checks – are paltry, averaging $112, even as day care sites with scores of violations are allowed to continue operating. Provided with a copy of the Statesman’s findings, Gov. Greg Abbott promised to take action during the upcoming legislative session. “Governor Abbott’s top priority has always been the safety of Texans, especially when it comes to our children,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said. “Any allegation of child abuse or neglect must be taken seriously, and the governor will not tolerate it in Texas. He will work with the Legislature and key stakeholders to identify strategies and solutions to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future.”

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Construction Citizen - December 6, 2018

Houston leads the country for construction growth in construction jobs

Of the nearly 400 metro areas tracked by the General Contractors of America, Houston had the most job growth in the industry during the last year.

The region added roughly 25,000 construction gigs in the last 12 months, the AGC said. That's a 12 percent jump in the Houston area alone. Construction employment grew between October 2017 and October 2018 in 78 percent of those 358 metro areas, according to the AGC. "Construction employment has been increasing at a greater rate than overall employment in many metros," said AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson. "But many contractors report they are having difficulty filling hourly craft worker positions, even though construction pay exceeds the average for the overall economy, Simonson said, underscoring one of the top challenges of construction firms nationwide. Other areas that saw big growth in construction jobs were Phoenix, which added 16,700; Dallas, which added about 13,000; and Orlando where 11,700 were added.

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Dallas Observer - December 6, 2018

Texas legal fight over redistricting isn't over

It turns out the nearly decade-long fight over Texas' legislative districts didn't actually end with the Supreme Court's ruling against the plaintiffs in June.

Late Friday afternoon, the coalition of voting rights groups that have fought the state for fairer legislative districts since the last round of redistricting in 2010 filed a pair of new briefs with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. They seek to have the state forced back into federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. States subject to the VRA's preclearance provision must seek and receive federal approval for any changes they make to any law that applies to voting. Texas has been free from the requirement since 2013, when the Supreme Court cleared the list of states subject to preclearance, but could be placed back on the naughty list if federal courts determine that the state is intentionally discriminatory in its voting laws. The groups argue that returning Texas to preclearance status for at least the next five years is the only thing that will stop state legislators from drawing unconstitutional district boundaries during the state's next round of redistricting following the 2020 elections. "[T]his vital, but time-limited remedy — this Court’s imposition of a preclearance requirement and retention of jurisdiction — is the most statutorily appropriate and equitable action that can ensure the State’s next redistricting plans do not discriminate against minority voters, particularly in light of this Court’s identification of the recent intentional discrimination employed by the State in redistricting and the persistent pattern of discriminatory governmental action in Texas directed at minority voters for generations," the plaintiffs write.

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National Stories

Washington Post - December 6, 2018

McConnell tells White House little chance of Senate vote on criminal justice bill

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told allies there is little chance that the Senate will consider a bipartisan criminal justice bill in the waning days of year, even as his own Republicans say there is more than enough support for the legislation favored by President Trump.

He doesn’t like the bill,” Republican donor Doug Deason, a key White House ally, said of the measure. Referring to the former Alabama senator and ex-attorney general, Deason added: “He's a Jeff Sessions-style, lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key kind of guy.” White House officials say McConnell doesn’t want to have a vote unless the overwhelming majority of Republicans will vote for it — although Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-IA, said this week that 28 or 30 GOP senators support the bill. There are 51 Senate Republicans, and nearly all of the 49 Senate Democrats — if not all — are expected to back it. McConnell said at a Wall Street Journal event this week that more than half of his conference either oppose the bill or are undecided. “It’s extremely divisive inside the Senate Republican conference,” McConnell, who deplores fights that split his ranks, said Monday evening. Lawmakers have to take up a farm bill extension and legislation to fund parts of the government before the end of the year, and McConnell would also like to confirm as many judges as possible before then, his allies say. When asked about McConnell’s private remarks, a spokesman said the legislation was still being drafted and he could not predict the outcome on an unfinished bill. In turn, McConnell’s reluctance has frustrated White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and others in the administration who believe the votes are there but that McConnell is dragging his feet. In recent days, Kushner has ramped up his private push among senators — visiting Republican lunches, strategizing with the bill’s key authors and even sending out a thick packet of material promoting the criminal justice bill to Senate Republican offices. The book includes letters from advocacy groups backing the bill, media coverage of it and a summary of the legislation.

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Washington Post - December 7, 2018

‘Pop-up’ super PACs spent millions on the 2018 election, including for O'Rourke, without disclosing donors, FEC filings show

A mysterious Texas-based super PAC that received $2.3 million from undisclosed donors to run last-minute ads in support of Democrat Rep. Beto O’Rourke was funded by the Senate Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC, according to new federal election filings made public Thursday evening.

SMP donated the money to the super PAC, Texas Forever, in a way that circumvented federal election deadlines that trigger donor disclosure — an increasingly common tactic employed by both Democrats and Republicans this election cycle that, while legal, critics say violate the spirit of disclosure requirements for super PACs. The O’Rourke campaign raised another $10 million in donations after mid-October — bringing his total fundraising for his failed Senate bid to a record-high $80.5 million and making him one of the most successful fundraisers in American politics. Half of the $10 million came from donations under $200. O’Rourke’s campaign spent $19 million in the five weeks since Oct. 18, and had less than $480,000 in cash on hand after his campaign ended, new records show. The flurry of last-minute activity to support O’Rourke in the Senate race underscores the national attention and deep fundraising base for the 46-year-old three-term congressman's campaign, despite the fact that his incumbent opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, consistently led in the polls leading up to the election. O’Rourke is now weighing a 2020 presidential bid, though the new FEC filings show he would start nearly from scratch to raise money for a potential presidential run. The work of super PACs like Texas Forever injected millions to boost his candidacy and that of others running in the most high-profile and competitive races across the country in the 2018 election, which was the costliest midterm in U.S. history. One major trend involving super PACs this cycle was the number of “pop-up” super PACs that ran ads for or against campaigns just before Election Day without disclosing their donors. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on politics, but must disclose their donors and spending. More than a dozen super PACs launched or paid for political ads in a way that allowed them to withhold from the public who was spending money to influence voters until a month after the November elections, new filings show. Some of these groups were tied to well-known national groups, but others were funded by just a handful of wealthy donors.

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Washington Post - December 6, 2018

Republican officials had early warnings of voting irregularities in North Carolina

When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss. The congressman turned to a group of friends and family who had gathered with him on election night at a steakhouse near Charlotte and blamed the “ballot stuffers in Bladen,” according to three people at the gathering.

In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions. GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said. Their accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes. A spokesman for the NRCC denied that Pittenger’s campaign raised the possibility of fraud in the primary. Allegations of fraud in November’s general election have now put the outcome of the 9th Congressional District race in limbo. State investigators are examining the activities of a political operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who ran a get-out-the-vote effort for the Harris campaign during the primary and general elections. While the investigation continues, the elections board has declined to certify the 9th District race, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, according to unofficial results. On Thursday, McCready told television station WSOC that he was withdrawing his concession and accused Harris of bankrolling “criminal activity.” Dowless, who has worked on political campaigns in Bladen for at least a decade, touts his ability to mobilize voters to cast ballots by mail, according to people who know him. He has been under scrutiny by state officials since 2016, when allegations surfaced about illegal ballot harvesting in that year’s campaigns, leading to a public hearing. Dowless, who told the Charlotte Observer that he did not commit any wrongdoing, declined to comment Thursday. “I’m just not giving any comment at this time,” he told reporters and photographers in front of his house in Bladenboro, adding, “No disrespect to anybody.” The Harris campaign has said it was not aware of any illegal activities.

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Wall Street Journal - December 6, 2018

Stocks stage recovery after Dow drops over 700 points

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled as much as 785 points Thursday before sharply paring those losses in the final hour of the session, another example of the volatility that has rocked markets since the start of the fourth quarter.

Major indexes opened modestly lower and continued falling throughout the morning as the arrest of a top Chinese technology executive and a decline in oil prices exacerbated recent concerns about global growth. But stocks pared their declines after The Wall Street Journal reported Federal Reserve officials are considering whether to signal a new wait-and-see mentality after a likely interest-rate increase at their meeting in December, which could slow down the pace of rate increases next year. U.S. investors were awaiting a speech later Thursday from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, which will be scrutinized for signals related to the central bank’s interest-rate policy. Officials still think the broad direction of short-term interest rates will be higher in 2019, the Journal reported pointing to recent interviews and public statements. But as they push up their benchmark, they are becoming less sure how fast they will need to act or how far they will need to go. Investors will turn their attention to Friday’s highly anticipated employment report. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect employers added 198,000 jobs during November and unemployment held at 3.7 percent. Economists expect a further acceleration in average hourly earnings, estimating wages advanced 3.2 percent for the month from a year earlier. Hourly wages rose 3.1 percent in October from a year earlier, the best annual growth rate since 2009. Markets started the week on a high note after President Trump reached a 90-day trade truce with his Chinese counterpart over the weekend, but that optimism turned to caution Tuesday, when the Dow industrials plunged nearly 800 points on renewed fears about the pace of economic growth. U.S. markets were closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2018

Documents show Facebook used user data as competitive weapon

Internal Facebook documents released by a U.K. parliamentary committee offer the clearest evidence yet that the social network has used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.

Parliament's media committee accused Facebook on Wednesday of cutting special deals with some app developers to give them more access to data, while icing out others that it viewed as potential rivals. In other documents, company executives discussed how they were keeping the company's collection and exploitation of user data from its users. That included quietly collecting the call records and text messages of users of phones that run on Google's Android operating system without asking their permission. The U.K. committee released more than 200 pages of documents on the tech giant's internal discussions about the value of users' personal information. While they mostly cover the period between 2012 and 2015 —the first three years after Facebook went public — they offer a rare glimpse into the company's inner workings and the extent to which it used people's data to make money while publicly vowing to protect their privacy. The company's critics said the new revelations reinforced their concerns over what users actually know about how Facebook treats their data. "These kinds of schemes are exactly why companies must be required to disclose exactly how they are collecting and sharing our data, with stiff penalties for companies that lie about it," Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement. Facebook called the documents misleading and said the information they contain is "only part of the story." "Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform," the company said in a statement. "But the facts are clear: We've never sold people's data." In a Facebook post, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to put the documents in context. "Of course, we don't let everyone develop on our platform," he wrote. "We blocked a lot of sketchy apps. We also didn't allow developers to use our platform to replicate our functionality or grow their services virally in a way that creates little value for people on Facebook." The U.K. committee seized the documents from app developer Six4Three, maker of a now-defunct bikini-picture search app. Six4Three acquired the files as part of a U.S. lawsuit that accuses Facebook of deceptive, anti-competitive business practices. The documents remain under court seal in the U.S. In a summary of key issues pertaining to the documents, the committee said Facebook "whitelisted," or made exceptions for companies such as Airbnb and Netflix, that gave them continued access to users' "friends" even after the tech giant announced changes in 2015 to end the practice.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2018

Mexico's new leader says relations with Trump good

Mexico's leftist new president said Wednesday that relations with U.S. President Donald Trump are "good," and the two will probably talk soon about the immigration issue.

Many analysts had been expecting President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to run into headlong conflict with Trump, especially since a caravan of about 7,000 Central American migrants set up camp on the U.S. border last month. The caravan's presence, and an attempt to cross the border en masse, led Trump to threaten to close the border. But Lopez Obrador said he is hopeful the two sides can agree on development aid for Central America and southern Mexico to create jobs so people won't have to emigrate. "We are in constant communication, and the communication is good," Lopez Obrador said Wednesday "Relations are good." "It is very likely that in coming days we will talk with President Donald Trump about this issue in particular, the immigration issue," he said. Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard has been in Washington for talks on the issue. But Lopez Obrador sidestepped questions about whether Mexico will agree to house migrants while their asylum claims are processed in the United State, as U.S. officials have reportedly proposed. Still in his first week in office, Lopez Obrador also said he is weighing what steps to take in regard to his extremely loose personal security arrangements, which have been widely criticized. "We are looking at this issue," the president said, "My friends, family, civic activists, you (the press) are constantly bringing it to my attention."

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Associated Press - December 7, 2018

Bomb scare forces evacuation of CNN offices

Police gave the all-clear after a phoned in bomb threat forced the evacuation of CNN’s offices in New York.

Police said a man with a southern accent called CNN just after 10 p.m. Thursday and said five bombs had been placed throughout the facility inside the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. Police said the building was evacuated and building security did a preliminary search. Police units then swept the building with the NYPD bomb squad on standby. Outside the building, CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon continued to broadcast. Lemon said fire alarms rang and a loudspeaker told them they needed to evacuate during his live show. In October, the building was partially evacuated after a suspicious package containing a crude pipe bomb was delivered to the company.

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CNBC - December 6, 2018

Huawei is one of China's most important tech companies — here's what it does and why the Canadian government arrested its CFO

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is under arrest in Vancouver and may soon be extradited to the United States to face charges for violating U.S. sanctions that prevent Huawei from selling equipment to Iran.

Huawei is a major global technology company, but it isn't as well known in the U.S. since most of its products aren't sold there. Back in 2012, U.S. lawmakers began to work to prevent American wireless carriers from buying equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese company. The U.S. government was concerned about Huawei's ties to the Chinese government and worried that equipment from both companies could eventually be a national security threat if it was deployed across the United States. Those ties to the Chinese military begin with the CEO. Huawei's founder, billionaire Ren Zhengfei, was an engineer in China's People's Liberation Army before he left the service in 1983 and started Huawei four years later. Huawei has always denied its equipment is any more vulnerable to spying than that provided by other companies. Most recently, AT&T abandoned its plans to launch a Huawei flagship smartphone in the U.S. in January. The Information news site reported at the time that AT&T canceled the launch after the House and Senate Intelligence committees raised concerns over the partnership. The U.S. isn't the only country worried about Huawei's potential ability to use its hardware for spying. Australia has banned its wireless carriers from using Huawei equipment for new 5G networks. The U.K.'s spy chief also raised concerns about Huawei earlier this week. Finally, earlier this year the FBI, CIA and NSA warned U.S. consumers to avoid buying phones built by Huawei and its sub-brand "Honor" that were sold through retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon.

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NBC News - December 6, 2018

Three new Mueller filings may show some of what ex-Trump aides have told investigators

Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump's former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators.

A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel's Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's cooperation in their ongoing investigations. And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the "crimes and lies" that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Legal experts say it's likely that both documents will contain sections that are blacked out, as was the case with the sentencing memo Mueller filed Tuesday in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The theory that Mueller would use these documents to inform the public about the progress of his ongoing investigation into Russian election interference and related matters did not pan out in the case of the Flynn memo. Key sections of that memo were redacted, including crucial questions about what Trump knew and when about Flynn's lies to the FBI — and a whole page describing a separate criminal investigation. Mueller's decision to withhold that information shows, some experts say, that the former FBI director does not feel that his investigation is at risk of being derailed by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had expressed open hostility toward it before his appointment. "He disclosed so little in the Flynn memo that it led me to conclude two things," said former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner, an NBC News legal analyst. "One, he doesn't have a sense of urgency, and two, he probably has a lot more investigating to do. If he was ready to show his cards, he wouldn't have redacted all this stuff."

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NBC News - December 6, 2018

Senior adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris resigns after report of $400,000 harassment settlement

A top aide to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., resigned on Wednesday after a report surfaced of a $400,000 harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016.

Harris' office said in a statement to NBC News that it was unaware of the settlement. Larry Wallace, a senior adviser to Harris, stepped down after The Sacramento Bee reported about the settlement on Wednesday. The alleged incident occurred in 2016 when Wallace was working as the director of law enforcement under Harris, who was serving as the California attorney general at the time, the paper reported. Lily Adams, a spokeswoman for Harris, confirmed the resignation in a statement to NBC News on Thursday. "We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening (Wednesday), Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it," Adams said. Harris, who is currently considering a 2020 presidential run, has been an outspoken advocate against sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement. She was among a group of Democratic women lawmakers who called for the resignation of Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota in December 2017 after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Harris tweeted at the time, "Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere." She also introduced a bill this past June to curb workplace harassment. Wallace's settlement took place in May 2017, after Harris had been sworn-in as senator and he had been hired as a senior adviser, based in Sacramento.

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Reuters - December 6, 2018

Former U.S. Attorney General Barr may return to job

Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who served under former President George H.W. Bush, is the leading candidate for the job as a permanent replacement for Jeff Sessions, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported earlier on Thursday that President Donald Trump could choose his nominee for attorney general in coming days, and that Trump had told advisers he plans to nominate Barr. Sessions departed from the role last month, and Trump named Matthew Whitaker as the government’s top lawyer on an interim basis. With the current session of Congress set to soon end, anyone Trump nominates may have to wait until well into 2019 for confirmation. Barr has worked in the private sector since serving as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, retiring from Verizon Communications in 2008.

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Reuters - December 6, 2018

Rejecting suggestions of delay, UK PM May's team says Brexit vote will go ahead

Parliament’s vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead on Dec. 11, her office said on Thursday, rejecting suggestions from lawmakers that she should seek ways to avoid a defeat so big it might bring down the government.

May has been trying to win over critics of an agreement that would keep close economic ties with the European Union when Britain leaves in March, but her warnings that it’s her deal, no deal or no Brexit have fallen flat so far. With parliament mid-way through a five-day debate on the Brexit deal before the vote on Tuesday which will define Britain’s departure from the EU and could determine May’s future as leader, she looks set to lose the vote. A defeat could open up a series of different outcomes to Britain’s departure from the EU, the country’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years, ranging from leaving without the deal to holding a second referendum on membership. The Times newspaper reported that senior ministers were urging May to delay the vote for fear of a rout and several lawmakers said they suspected the government may try something to postpone what would be a game-changing defeat. “The vote will take place on Tuesday as planned,” May’s spokeswoman said. The House of Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, also told parliament the vote would go ahead on Dec. 11. Graham Brady, chair of the so-called 1922 committee which represents Conservative lawmakers, said he would welcome a delay to the vote to help May provide clarity over one of the most contentious parts of her plan - the Northern Irish backstop. But any such delay would anger lawmakers. Both opponents and allies alike have spent days criticizing the agreement, especially the backstop, intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

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NPR - December 6, 2018

Trump's EPA plans to ease carbon emissions rule for new coal plants

The Trump administration plans to eliminate an Obama-era requirement that new coal-fired power plants have expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

This latest administration effort to boost fossil fuel industries comes as leaders from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poland to discuss how to keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. And amid reports that CO2 emissions are rising again, as well as the administration's own report that climate change is causing more severe weather more frequently and could eventually hurt the U.S. economy. The Environmental Protection Agency proposal would revise its "New Source Performance Standards" for coal power plants, allowing coal-fired generators to emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. This would ease an Obama-era rule that was a central target in critics' accusations of a "war on coal." The coal industry argues the existing Obama administration requirements made it all but impossible to build new coal power plants, by requiring costly technologies such as carbon capture and storage. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, echoed that argument in announcing the proposed rule change. "By replacing onerous regulations with high, yet achievable, standards, we can continue America's historic energy production, keep energy prices affordable, and encourage new investments in cutting-edge technology that can then be exported around the world," said Wheeler. Environmental groups argue that in order to reduce climate change risks, the world will have to stop burning coal. They blasted the EPA's announcement. "This is just one more foolhardy move by a misguided administration that will be judged harshly by future generations," said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Today's proposal is nothing more than another thoughtless attempt by the Trump Administration to prop up their backwards and false narrative about reviving coal at the expense of science, public safety, and reality," said Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. In fact, it's not at all clear if the change would help the ailing coal industry. In recent years it has stopped building new plants and been shutting down old ones instead.

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Marketwatch - December 6, 2018

Why pro athletes may lose a fortune because of the new tax law

Because of changes to the tax law that went into effect this year, professional athletes might need to put their CPAs on speed dial. That’s because players in sports leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, WNBA and NHL have traditionally been able to deduct tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for things that they no longer can.

“One of my players makes $2 million a year, and it will cost him $80,000 more now because he can’t deduct state taxes [over $10,000], agent fees, workout clothes, meals and entertainment, and his cellphone,” says Steven Goldstein, a CPA with Grassi and Co. in New York who works with over a dozen professional athletes and celebrities. And players who make tens of millions of dollars a year will potentially pay hundreds of thousands more a year in taxes. The reason athletes are taking this hit is because individuals can no longer deduct more than $10,000 for state and local taxes (SALT) or declare miscellaneous itemized deductions for work-related expenses and investment fees. And these changes, especially the latter, will cost pro athletes more than most people. Of course, the median household income in the U.S. is about $63,000, so why should most people care about these tax hits that still leave the majority of pro athletes incredibly well paid? In reality, not all of them make millions of dollars a year. As Goldstein points out, a third of NFL players make the league minimum, which this year is $480,000, and the average NFL career is only about three years. Plus many pros are in the minor leagues, where they can make less than minimum wage. But admittedly the tax hits mentioned in this article are largely an issue for “the one percent.”

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Daily Beast - December 6, 2018

Fox Business Network apologizes for Louie Gohmert spreading anti-Semitic George Soros conspiracy

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas on Thursday morning managed to turn a Fox Business Network discussion about Google and China into a bizarre attack on the right’s favorite bogeyman George Soros. Fox Business later apologized for the congressman’s comments.

“You mention Orwell, it also reminds me of another George—George Soros,” Gohmert said, making a clumsy transition during his segment. “Because Google is born in a free country and then they go over and help oppress another country.” “George Soros is supposed to be Jewish, but you wouldn’t know it from the damage he’s inflicted on Israel and the fact that he turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they own.” That wild accusation—or as Gohmert put it “fact”—went unchallenged by host Stuart Varney, who helped steer the conversation back to China. Gohmert’s comments echo a common right-wing conspiracy theory that Soros—a liberal, billionaire philanthropist—was a Nazi sympathizer or worse during World War II. Born in Hungary in 1930, Soros was just nine years old at the start of the war and 14 when it ended. But that hasn’t stopped far-right firebrands like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza and now sitting Rep. Louie Gohmert from spreading lies about him. Beck’s comments drew a condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League. As the fact-checking website Snopes wrote in its piece debunking the myth, “the simple truth is that George Soros neither said nor did anything resembling what he has been accused of. In no sense was Soros, who turned 14 years old not long after the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, a ‘Nazi collaborator.’ At no time did he confiscate (or help confiscate) the property of Jews, ‘identify Jews to the Nazis,’ or help ‘round up’ people targeted for deportation or extermination by the Germans (to answer just a few of the accusations leveled against him).”

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France 24 - December 6, 2018

France prepares for new 'Yellow Vest' protests despite reversal on fuel tax

France will deploy more than 65,000 security forces amid fears of new rioting at protests Saturday in Paris and around the nation, despite President Emmanuel Macron's surrender over a fuel tax hike that unleashed weeks of unrest.

Police unions and local authorities held emergency meetings Thursday to strategize on how to handle the weekend protests, while disparate groups of protesters did the same thing, sharing their plans on social networks and chat groups. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told senators Thursday that the government will deploy "exceptional" security measures for the protests in Paris and elsewhere, with additional new forces on top of the 65,000 security officers already in place. Some "yellow vest" protesters, members of France's leading unions and prominent politicians across the political spectrum called for calm Thursday after the worst rioting in Paris in decades last weekend. Many shops and restaurants in the center of Paris plan to shut down Saturday, fearing a repeat of the violence. Macron on Wednesday agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, part of his plans to combat global warming, but protesters' demands have now expanded to other issues hurting French workers, retirees and students. In a move questioned by both critics and supporters, the president himself has disappeared from public view. Scores of protesting teens clashed with police at a high school west of Paris on Thursday, according to French news reports, as part of nationwide student protests over new university admissions procedures and rising administrative fees. Drivers wearing their signature yellow safety vests continued to block roads around France, now demanding broader tax cuts and wider government social benefits. A small union representing police administrators called for a strike Saturday, which could further complicate security measures. Two police union officials told The Associated Press they are worried that radical troublemakers from both the far-right and far-left will hijack the protests to cause even greater damage this Saturday. The risks are multiple in the face of a movement with no clear leaders. French police have come under criticism for failing to prevent damage to the Arc de Triomphe and stores along the famed Champs-Elysees in central Paris last weekend - as well as for violence against protesters. Videos on social media of police beating protesters at a Burger King near the Champs-Elysees have stoked the anger. A police spokeswoman said Thursday that an investigation is underway into that incident and police are examining other videos online for possible violations. Macron, the central target of the protests, has been largely invisible all week. After winning election overwhelmingly last year, the 40-year-old pro-business centrist has sought to make France more competitive globally. But his efforts have alienated many of his own voters with tax cuts for the rich to spur investment and other badly explained reforms - and what many see as his elitist, out-of-touch attitude.

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The Hill - December 7, 2018

Advocates see state legislatures as next frontier for pot legalization

After a run of success at the ballot box, proponents of recreational marijuana are turning their attention to new allies in governors’ offices as they eye new pushes toward legalization in states that will require politicians, rather than voters, to issue the final sign-offs.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is pushing his legislature to adopt recreational marijuana in the coming session. Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, also a Democrat, has said he will ask his Democratic-controlled legislature to legalize marijuana. “We want to create businesses owned by people in Illinois. There’s an opportunity to create jobs, dispensaries, production facilities in Illinois, owned by Illinoians, so the profits are staying in Illinois,” Pritzker said in an interview. He estimated legal marijuana could bring in at least $700 million, and as much as $1 billion, in badly needed revenue for his cash-strapped state. Pritzker won a powerful ally last month, when Democratic state House Speaker Mike Madigan — arguably the most powerful political figure in Illinois — said he would support a push for legalization. Murphy tried to push legalization through the New Jersey legislature last year, just after he took office. He was blocked by some Democratic legislative leaders, though he said he will try again this year. Opponents of legalization have created grassroots organizations in both states to persuade legislators. In both states, those opponents include prominent African American politicians and community leaders who say legalization would be especially harmful to minority communities. “I contextualize it as big business versus the poor,” said the Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston, a civil rights activist who heads the Coalition for a New Chicago. “I see this as a huge profit-maker. We already have two vices, alcohol and cigarettes. Why add a third vice for revenue?” The new focus on legalizing marijuana through state legislatures, rather than by ballot initiatives, is an indication of just how much the debate over pot has evolved since the beginning of the century — both for voters and for politicians. When Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, both Democratic governors opposed the ballot measures. Outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, opposed California’s legalization initiative when it appeared on the 2016 ballot. But voter opinions of legal marijuana have evolved quickly. In 2000, the Pew Research Center found 60 percent of Americans opposed making marijuana legal. Today, 62 percent believe it should be legal, according to an October Pew survey.

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Religion News Service - December 6, 2018

George H.W. Bush’s ‘quiet faith’ remembered at cathedral funeral

Former President George H.W. Bush was recalled as a man of “quiet faith” during a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral, a fitting site to memorialize the longtime Episcopalian.

“With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother George for burial,” intoned Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the start of the Wednesday (Dec. 5) ceremony as the 41st president’s casket was carried by military members into the cathedral. All of the living former and current presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — joined the 3,000 dignitaries, family and friends at the invitation-only ceremony. The senior Bush’s eldest child, former President George W. Bush, gave an emotional tribute to his father, highlighting his service to country and his focus on giving back to others. “Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family,” the 43rd president said. “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.” Other family members took turns reading Scripture, including Jenna Bush Hager — daughter of the 43rd president — who touched her grandfather’s flag-draped casket before she read from Revelation 21, whose first verse begins: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” The Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, said the elder Bush made Levenson’s job as his pastor for almost a dozen years an easy one because of the late president’s concern more for others than for himself. “Jesus Christ, for George Bush, was at the heart of his faith, but his was a deep faith, a generous faith, a simple faith in the best sense of the word,” said Levenson in his homily. “He knew and lived Jesus’ two greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor.” In another tribute, presidential historian Jon Meacham noted that Bush frequently wondered why God had spared him when his other Navy comrades were lost after their plane was attacked during World War II. “The workings of Providence are mysterious but this much is clear: The George Herbert Walker Bush who survived that fiery fall into the Pacific three-quarters of a century ago made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer and nobler,” said Meacham, a biographer of George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush recalled how his father dealt with another tragedy, the loss of daughter Robin at age 3 to leukemia, which occurred early enough in George W.’s and brother Jeb’s lives that they did not understand the extent of their parents’ agony. “We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily,” said his son. “He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of her mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.”

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CNN - December 6, 2018

Trump expected to name Heather Nauert next UN ambassador, sources say

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to be his new ambassador to the UN, positioning a relatively inexperienced newcomer in one of the most high-profile positions in US diplomacy, according to an administration official and a second source.

The announcement is expected to come on Friday, two officials say. In an administration rife with internal conflict and deeply distrustful of the UN, Nauert's nomination would place a less senior person at the international agency than outspoken current ambassador Nikki Haley, who reportedly sparred with other administration officials. The former Fox News host's precipitous rise since arriving at the State Department in 2017 sets the stage for a potentially tough Senate confirmation hearing, where Democrats will likely grill Nauert on her qualifications for the position. Nauert's appointment would realign power dynamics within the President's national security team. Pompeo has told aides he wants the UN position downgraded from the Cabinet-level job Haley had insisted on, an official familiar with his remark told CNN. Elevating Haley to a Cabinet level post broke with the tradition of previous Republican administrations. National security adviser John Bolton has been said to want the role downgraded as well, according to people familiar with his thinking. A former UN ambassador himself, Bolton has taken an interest in some UN matters, such as the International Criminal Court. The shift means Nauert would wield less clout than her predecessor, both at the UN and within the administration, and as a result, would pose nowhere near the challenge to Bolton, White House chief of staff John Kelly or Pompeo. The nomination was first reported by Bloomberg News.

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New York Magazine - December 6, 2018

Inside the nation’s first charter school strike: ‘30K Is not a livable wage in Chicago’

Complaining of low wages, overcrowded classes, and insufficient support services for bilingual and special education students, roughly 550 unionized educators employed by the Acero Schools charter network are walking picket lines after management failed to re-negotiate their contract with the Chicago Teachers Union by the December 4 deadline.

Contract negotiations with Acero — which is one of Chicago’s largest charter-school networks, serving more than 7,000 students — have been underway for six months. Martha Baumgarten, who teaches social studies and English language learners at the Acero charter network’s Carlos Fuentes Elementary School sits on the bargaining committee of United Educators for Justice (UEJ), which represents Acero educators within CTU, and she voted to approve a strike. So did Andy Crooks, UEJ president and a special education paraprofessional, or trained teacher’s aide, for Acero schools. Crooks told New York that paraprofessionals start with base pay of $32,100. Seven percent of that sum is allocated for pensions, which leaves paraprofessionals with an actual base salary of under $30,000. Crooks himself makes slightly more, due partly to seniority, but he added, “$30,000 is not a livable wage in the city of Chicago.” As the New York Times reported, Acero CEO Richard Rodriguez makes around $260,000 per year to manage a network of 15 schools — a figure roughly equal to the salary earned by Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice K. Jackson, who is responsible for over 500 schools. In a statement released Tuesday morning, the CTU cited low pay for paraprofessional staff as a principal sticking point in its negotiations with Acero, saying the charter operator’s management refused “to provide a penny more in compensation to paraprofessionals, their lowest-wage workers.” They aren’t the only Acero workers being paid less than they’re due, according to CTU: Acero teachers earn, on average, $13,000 less than their peers in Chicago’s traditional public schools while also working around 20 percent more hours, the union says. CTU said that a financial audit Acero provided to the union revealed that it pays $1 million less in salary costs than it did in 2017, and currently possesses unrestricted cash resources of $24 million. The Acero charter network disputed the union’s characterization of its position on paraprofessional raises and increased special-education services and staffing; a spokeswoman said the network is still “working through what those final numbers will be” as part of its negotiations. Acero attributes its fiscal situation to Chicago Public Schools releasing a budget at the end of fiscal year 2017 that would have cut funding for charters. However, the final budget ended up allocating more funding for charters, and that, combined with Acero’s internal spending cuts, left the charter network with a financial surplus of $24 million. “Acero created 40 new union positions and 17 school support positions after CPS increased funding,” said Acero’s spokesperson. Nevertheless, the union says Acero rejected its demands to increase educators’ pay, reduce class sizes, extend school lunch time to 40 minutes, and increase the availability of special-education services.

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Fox News - December 7, 2018

Clinton Foundation whistleblowers have come forward with hundreds of pages of evidence, House Freedom Caucus chair says

Three people have come forward with hundreds of pages of evidence of potential wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation, including misappropriation of funds and allegations of quid-pro-quo promises made to donors during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, told Fox News on Thursday.

Meadows, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is also the chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations. The panel is set to hold an investigative hearing next week on the status of the Foundation case. U.S. Attorney John Huber was tasked to investigate the foundation last year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Clinton Foundation consistently has maintained that it is a charity, and never traded on Hillary Clinton's position as America's top diplomat, which she held from 2009-2013. The organization has a four-star rating from the watchdog site Charity Navigator and has touted its mission "to create economic opportunity, improve public health, and inspire civic engagement and service." However, The Hill reported Thursday that prosecutors working for Huber recently requested documents from a private investigative firm that also has been looking into the foundation. The firm, MDA Analytics LLC, reportedly has contacted the IRS, the Justice Department and the FBI's Little Rock office with evidence from its own investigation. In addition, The Hill reported that a whistleblower submission filed with the FBI and IRS in August 2017 included internal legal reviews that the Clinton Foundation conducted between 2008 and 2011. Those reviews raised concerns about legal compliance and improper mingling of personal and charity business. According to the Hill report, MDA investigators met with Clinton Foundation CFO Andrew Kessel in late November 2016. During the meeting, Kessel said that "one of the biggest problems was [former President Bill] Clinton’s commingling and use of business and donated funds and his personal expenses." A separate interview memo stated that Bill Clinton "mixes and matches his personal business with that of the foundation. Many people within the foundation have tried to caution him about this but he does not listen, and there really is no talking to him."

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