Leading GOP moderate opposes plan to move House health bill

0
Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. points to a reporters during a media availability after a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON/April 26, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Leading House conservatives are saying good things about a plan to revive the GOP health care bill. But an influential GOP House moderate is opposing the proposal, leaving party leaders to assess whether the idea could help one of President Donald Trump’s premier but most problematic priorities spring back to life.

Republican lawmakers were meeting Wednesday to consider how to rescue the GOP drive to repeal much of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

That salvage effort comes as bipartisan bargainers edge toward agreement on a separate $1 trillion budget bill that would prevent a partial federal shutdown this Saturday. While erasing Obama’s statute is solidly opposed by Democrats, the budget measure will need support from both parties because GOP conservatives often oppose spending legislation.

Leaders of both parties cited budget progress Tuesday after Trump signaled he was abandoning his demand that the measure include money for his proposed border wall with Mexico, an idea strongly opposed by Democrats and many Republicans.

“We’re pleased he’s backing off,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

With Trump’s 100th day in office coming Saturday, a White House looking for achievements had pressured GOP leaders to try pushing health care legislation through the House this week. That seems unlikely now because an effort to sell the plan to rank-and-filed Republicans will likely take time. House leaders say they will hold a vote when they know they can win.

“This week, next week, we don’t know,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Tuesday. “Progress is being made and we’re feeling good about that process as of now.”

To gain support for the bill, bargainers from the GOP’s conservative and moderate camps have proposed letting states get federal waivers to ignore coverage requirements that Obama’s statute has imposed on insurers. These include an obligation that they charge seriously ill and healthy customers the same premiums and that they cover specified services like maternity care.”

Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus met Tuesday to consider the suggested changes. They were crafted by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., that caucus’ leader, and Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group, with the backing of Vice President Mike Pence, Republicans say.

The plan “has real merits worthy of consideration for all the Freedom Caucus folks,” said Meadows, whose group has roughly three dozen members.

“Generally speaking, there’s a lot of optimism,” Meadows said.

Another influential conservative and Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the plan was “a positive.” He and Meadows were among the conservatives who opposed the initial version of the bill last month — as did many moderates — forcing House leaders to withdraw it before a planned vote, in a mortifying retreat.

But moderate leader Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said the changes ignored his concerns that the health care bill would cut too deeply into the Medicaid program for the poor and leave many people unable to afford coverage. Dent is another leader of the Tuesday Group and is considered a good gauge of the views of many of its roughly 50 members.

“Same concerns, and this didn’t really address them,” said Dent, who like Jordan said he’d not yet seen legislative details.

Under the proposed revisions, states could not obtain exemptions to Obama’s requirements that insurers offer coverage to everyone and that family policies cover grown children up to age 26. States getting waivers so insurers could charge higher prices to people with illnesses would have to have high-risk pools, or government-subsidized funds to help those consumers cover costs.

Critics say allowing insurers to boost premiums on the ill means insurers can charge them exorbitant premiums, effectively making such coverage unaffordable. They also say high-risk pools have a history of being underfunded.

Reflecting the pressure on Republicans to pass a health overhaul, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that failing to do so is the GOP’s fault.

“That was the No. 1 issue in my campaign,” said McCain, who was re-elected last fall. “And when I don’t get it replaced, if it’s not replaced, then it reflects on my campaign.”

But an ABC News-Washington Post poll showed that the public wasn’t really on board. Sixty-one percent said Obama’s law should be retained and fixed, with just 37 percent favoring repeal.

In the separate budget bill, Trump seemed poised to procure about $15 billion to boost the military. Aided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Democrats were pushing to extend health benefits for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families whose medical coverage is set to expire at the end of April.

Another potential stumbling block to the budget bill also seemed to be fading.

Trump has threatened to scuttle payments the government makes to insurers under Obama’s law that help low-income people afford coverage, a move strongly opposed by Democrats. Both Schumer and White House officials flashed conciliatory signals on that dispute as well.

___

ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press

Organization Receives Additional Funding To Serve St. Louis Families

0

April 25, 2017 (STL.News) A national educational organization will be able to help more families in the city of St. Louis thanks to a state grant.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has awarded $319, 000 to Parents as Teachers National Center (PATNC).  The funding will be used to help 36 additional families in St. Louis.

“This funding allows Parents as Teachers National Center to provide direct services to families in St. Louis who can really benefit,” said Constance Gully, President and CEO of Parents as Teachers National Center.

“It’s just one more way that Parents as Teachers is fulfilling our mission to help all children learn, grow and develop to realize their full potential.” Gully added.

According to organization leaders, the additional funding comes at a time when the demand is high.  Since the beginning of the year, the Right from the Start initiative has served 124 families in St. Louis city, north St. Louis County, and Pemiscot County.  That program alone is already at maximum capacity.

“Our previous work in providing direct services to families in the St. Louis region shows that our methods are effective,” said Cheryle Dyle-Palmer, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Parents as Teachers National Center.

“We are so excited to get started and help support and strengthen our children and families.” Dyle-Palmer added.

Parents As Teachers was founded in Missouri in 1984.  The services provided to families consist of four components: home visits, group connections, periodic health and developmental screenings, and referrals to a network of other community services.

Since its inception, Parents As Teachers currently serves more than 195,000 children in all 50 U.S. states, more than 100 Tribal organizations, schools and communities, five other countries and one U.S. territory.  It’s also has been internationally recognized for its evidence-based model to deliver parent education primarily through personal visits and group meetings, equipping parents with knowledge and resources to prepare their children, from prenatal through kindergarten.

More information about Parents As Teachers is available online at www.ParentsAsTeachers.Org.

Sabers rattle amid Korean standoff, WH to brief senators

0
Koreas Tension
In this April 23, 2017 photo released by the U.S. Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Philippine Sea while conducting a bilateral exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. The aircraft carrier will be heading toward the Korean Peninsula for a joint exercise with South Korea. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/U.S. Navy via AP)

WASHINGTON/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — North Korea conducted live-fire artillery drills and a U.S. guided-missile submarine arrived in South Korea on Tuesday, as the Trump administration prepared an extraordinary White House briefing for senators on the escalating nuclear threat.

Fears North Korea could mark the 85th anniversary of its military’s founding with a nuclear test explosion or a ballistic missile launch proved unfounded. But the unpredictable communist nation rattled its saber all the same, with drills that served as a reminder of the threat it poses below the border to U.S.-allied South Korea.

The exercise in the area of east coast city of Wonsan involved 300 to 400 artillery pieces, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said. An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry couldn’t confirm such details.

North Korea’s official media reported early Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un personally observed the exercises. The drills near the port city of Wonsan on the east coast reportedly included submarine torpedo-attacks on mock enemy warships “while fighters and bombers made zero feet flight above the sea to drop bombs on the targets,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

President Donald Trump has sent more U.S. military assets to the region in a show of force while leaning on China to exert economic pressure on its wayward ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke to Trump on Monday, is urging restraint from both Pyongyang and Washington.

In Washington, top Trump administration officials are due to brief the entire U.S. Senate on Wednesday. A rapid tempo of North Korean weapons testing in the past year has pushed Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian nation closer to developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham voiced confidence Tuesday that Trump won’t allow North Korea to reach that point. Graham, a defense hawk who dined with Trump on Monday night, said the North should not underestimate the president’s resolve.

“We are probably in one of the most challenging situations since the Cuban missile crisis,” Sen. John McCain, another Republican who joined Trump for the dinner, told a congressional hearing Tuesday, referring to the 1962 standoff with the Soviet Union that pushed the superpowers close to nuclear confrontation. McCain said a North Korean nuclear missile capable of striking an American city was “an imminent danger.”

McCain said Trump is “exploring all options” on North Korea. A pre-emptive strike, he said, “would be the last one.”

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is headed toward the Korean Peninsula and will hold a joint exercise with South Korea. However, the deterrence effect of the operation may have been undermined by confusion over when the carrier arrives. The deployment was announced more than two weeks ago.

In the meantime, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived Tuesday at the South Korean port of Busan for what was described as a routine visit to rest crew and load supplies. The U.S. 7th Fleet said two American destroyers were conducting simultaneous maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.

At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers probed experts on the potential consequences of a pre-emptive U.S. military strike on North Korea. They heard sobering responses.

Princeton University professor Aaron Friedberg said North Korea could begin with a massive artillery barrage against Seoul, and unleash special forces and chemical and biological weapons, even if that would lead to the annihilation of Kim Jong Un’s North Korean dictatorship.

“A conflict on the peninsula would be unlike anything we have seen in decades,” Kelly Magsamen, a former senior U.S. defense official, said. “North Korea is not a Syria, it’s not an Iraq.”

“The consequences could be extremely high,” she said, warning that China could intervene.

Graham surmised there are “no good choices left.”

But he said, “if there’s a war today, it’s over there. In the future if there’s a war and they get a missile it comes here.” Left unsaid by Graham was that a war today could be disastrous for U.S. allies Japan and South Korea.

North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop it. An unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said the U.S. administration’s policy to maximize pressure on North Korea was “little short of lighting the fuse of total war,” the state news agency reported Tuesday.

The streets of Pyongyang, however, were quiet for Tuesday’s anniversary, which was overshadowed by April 15 celebrations for the birthday of the nation’s late founder Kim Il Sung and were marked by a missile test the following day.

The Trump administration is also upping the ante diplomatically.

On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Tillerson will be “very vocal” about nations enforcing sanctions on North Korea, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Trump said Monday the council must be prepared to impose stronger sanctions.

___

Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang, North Korea, Richard Lardner in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

AT&T sheds more lucrative wireless customers in 1Q

0
Earns AT T
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, file photo, the AT&T logo is positioned above one of its retail stores, in New York. AT&T Inc. reports earnings Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — AT&T Inc. on Tuesday said it lost more of its most lucrative wireless customers during the first three months of the year as the country’s biggest mobile carriers try to lure customers from each other with offers of unlimited data plans.

Most people already have a cellphone, and the four major wireless carriers have launched the unlimited plans and other features in a bid to poach customers from their rivals.

AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 and is in the process of buying Time Warner, home to the CNN, TBS and HBO networks and a movie studio, to help it expand beyond its traditional business lines. More mergers are expected in the wireless industry, with the Trump administration thought to view them more favorably than regulators during the Obama administration.

The Dallas-based telecoms and entertainment giant unlinked its unlimited plan from a DirecTV subscription in February, a few days after Verizon announced its plan. Sprint and T-Mobile have had theirs for a while.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said Tuesday that the company’s response to the return of unlimited plans “was probably a little slow,” but that the company’s network capacity positioned it well to offer the popular plans.

AT&T said that it shed 348,000 cellphone customers who get a bill each month in the first quarter; Verizon last week reported that it lost 289,000. Verizon introduced unlimited plans during the quarter because it was alarmed at how many customers it was losing.

T-Mobile, which has been cleaning up in the past couple years, added 798,000.

AT&T reported Tuesday that the average amount it gets from such customers’ service plans also ticked lower, to $58.09 a month from $59.53 a year earlier. The company also said that customers are holding on to their phones longer, pressuring equipment sales.

AT&T did add 282,000 prepaid customers, who pay less.

It lost 233,000 video customers, however, a deeper loss than the year before. Those are DirecTV and AT&T cable customers. AT&T added 115,000 home internet customers, more than a year ago.

Overall, the Dallas company reported first-quarter earnings of $3.47 billion, or 56 cents per share, down from $3.8 billion, or 61 cents, the year before.

Stripping out merger costs, per-share profit came to 74 cents, meeting Wall Street expectations.

Revenue fell 3 percent to $39.37 billion, short of Street forecasts. Twenty analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $40.66 billion.

AT&T shares we unchanged in after-hours trading. They closed the regular trading day Tuesday down 8 cents to $39.94 and are down 6 percent in 2017. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has increased nearly 7 percent.

_____

TALI ARBEL, AP Technology Writer

_____

Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on T at https://www.zacks.com/ap/T

Scott Baio explains remarks on Erin Moran after backlash

0
Scott Baio
FILE - In this July 18, 2016, file photo, actor Scott Baio speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Baio wrote on Facebook April 25, 2017, that he was responding to media reports when suggested the death of his former “Happy Days” co-star Erin Moran may have been due to substance abuse problems. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

NEW YORK (AP)(STL.News) — Scott Baio says he was responding to media reports when he suggested the death of his former “Happy Days” and “Joanie Loves Chachi” co-star Erin Moran may have been due to substance abuse problems.

Authorities in Indiana said Monday that Moran likely died from cancer at her home on Saturday at the age of 56.

Earlier in the day, Baio told New York’s WABC radio about Moran’s death that “if you do drugs or drink, you’re going to die,” but added that he didn’t know if drugs or alcohol were the cause.

Baio’s comments drew a backlash on social media. He clarified in a Facebook post that he had heard reports that Moran died of a heroin overdose and the radio interview took place before authorities mentioned her cancer.

Baio says he’s “heartbroken” over Moran’s death.

Google targets ‘fake news,’ offensive search suggestions

0
Google
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 23, 2010, file photo, the Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels. Google has sprinkled some new ingredients into its search engine in an effort to prevent bogus information and offensive suggestions from souring its results. Most of the changes announced Tuesday, April 25, 2017, are designed to reduce the chances that its influential search engine will highlight untrue stories about people and events, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “fake news.” Besides trying to block fake news, Google has reprogrammed a popular feature to omit derogatory search suggestions. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP)(STL.News) — Google has sprinkled some new ingredients into its search engine in an effort to prevent bogus information and offensive suggestions from souring its results.

The changes have been in the works for four months, but Google hadn’t publicly discussed most of them until now. The announcement in a blog post Tuesday reflects Google’s confidence in a new screening system designed to reduce the chances that its influential search engine will highlight untrue stories about people and events, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “fake news.”

“It’s not a problem that is going to go all the way to zero, but we now think we can stay a step ahead of things,” said Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president of engineering for search.

CORRECTING AUTOCOMPLETE

Besides taking steps to block fake news from appearing in its search results, Google also has reprogrammed a popular feature that automatically tries to predict what a person is looking for as a search request as being typed. The tool, called “autocomplete,” has been overhauled to omit derogatory suggestions, such as “are women evil,” or recommendations that promote violence.

Google also adding a feedback option that will enable users to complain about objectionable autocomplete suggestions so a human can review the wording.

Facebook, where fake news stories and other hoaxes have widely circulated on its social network, also has been trying to stem the tide of misleading information by working with The Associated Press and other news organizations to review suspect stories and set the record straight when warranted. Facebook also has provided its nearly 2 billion users ways to identify posts believed to contain false information, something that Google is now allowing users of its search engine to do for some of the news snippets featured in its results.

WHY GOOGLE CARES

Google began attacking fake news in late December after several embarrassing examples of misleading information appeared near the top of its search engine. Among other things, Google’s search engine pointed to a website that incorrectly reported then President-elect Donald Trump had won the popular vote in the U.S. election , that President Barack Obama was planning a coup and that the Holocaust never occurred during World War II.

Only about 0.25 percent of Google’s search results were being polluted with falsehoods, Gomes said. But that was still enough to threaten the integrity of a search engine that processes billions of search requests per day largely because it is widely regarded as the internet’s most authoritative source of information.

“They have a lot riding on this, reputation wise,” said Lucy Dalglish, who has been tracking the flow of false information as dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism department. “If your whole business model is based turning up the best search results, but those results turn up stuff that is total crap, where does that get you?”

To address the problem, Google began revising the closely guarded algorithms that generate its search with the help of 10,000 people who rate the quality and reliability of the recommendations during tests. Google also rewrote its 140-page book of rating guidelines that help the quality-control evaluators make their assessments.

GOOGLE AS REFEREE

Fighting fake news can be tricky because in some cases what is viewed as being blatantly misleading by one person might be interpreted as being mostly true by another. If Google, Facebook or other companies trying to block false information err in their judgment calls, they risk being accused of censorship or playing favorites.

But doing nothing to combat fake news would probably have caused even bigger headaches.

If too much misleading information appears in Google’s search results, the damage could go beyond harm to its reputation for reliability. It could also spook risk-averse advertisers, who don’t want their brands tied to content that can’t be trusted, said Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at Pace University in New York.

“Fake news is careening out of control in some people’s eyes, so advertisers are getting very skittish about it,” Chiagouris said. “Anything Google can do to show it is trying to put a lid on it and prevent it from getting out of hand, it will be seen as a good thing.”

Although it also sells ads on its other services and independently owned websites, Google still makes most of its money from the marketing links posted alongside its search results. Its new approach isn’t meant to placate advertisers.

Seoul: North Korea holds drill to mark military anniversary

0
South Korea Koreas Tension
In this photo provided by South Korean Defense Ministry, a South Korean navy sailor watches the destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer during a joint exercises between the United States and South Korea in South Korea's West Sea Tuesday, April 25, 2017. South Korea's military said Tuesday that North Korea held major live-fire drills in an area around its eastern coastal town of Wonsan as it marked the anniversary of the founding of its military. (South Korean Defense Ministry via AP)

PYONGYANG, North Korea/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — South Korea’s military said Tuesday that North Korea held major live-fire drills in an area around its eastern coastal town of Wonsan as it marked the anniversary of the founding of its military.

The exercise took place as a U.S. guided-missile submarine arrived in South Korea and envoys from the United States, Japan and South Korea met in Tokyo to discuss the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles program.

Experts thought North Korea might conduct a nuclear test or a ballistic missile launch to mark the anniversary, but as of Tuesday evening neither had occurred.

Crowds in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, laid flowers and paid respects at giant statues of the country’s former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, one day after the minister of defense reiterated that the North was ready to use pre-emptive strikes or any measures it deems necessary to defend itself against “U.S. imperialists.”

“The situation prevailing on the Korean Peninsula is so tense that a nuclear war may break out due to the frantic war drills of the U.S. imperialists and their vassal forces for aggression,” Gen. Pak Yong Sik told a meeting of thousands of senior military and civilian officials.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it was closely watching North Korean military action in the Wonsan city area, where it said the drills were being held. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the exercise involved 300 to 400 artillery pieces, but an official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry couldn’t confirm such details.

The streets of Pyongyang were quiet. Flower-laying and bowing at statues and portraits of the leaders is a regular routine on major anniversaries. People also gathered in open spaces to take part in organized dancing, another common way to mark holidays.

“Our great leaders founded and wisely led our revolutionary army, and just like that, now our respected Marshal Kim Jong Un is leading wisely, so even though the situation is tense, we are celebrating the day,” said Choe Un Byol, who came with his family to the bronze statues of the former leaders.

North Korea often also marks significant dates by displaying its military capability. It launched a missile one day after the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.

Recent U.S. commercial satellite images indicate increased activity around North Korea’s nuclear test site, and third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un has said the country’s preparation for an ICBM launch is in its “final stage.”

The USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived at the South Korean port of Busan in what was described as a routine visit to rest the crew and load supplies. Cmdr. Jang Wook from South Korean navy public affairs said there was no plan for a drill.

The submarine’s arrival comes as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier headed toward the Korean Peninsula for a joint exercise with South Korea. The U.S. 7th Fleet said two American destroyers were conducting simultaneous maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.

Despite the buildup, U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly settled on a strategy that emphasizes increased pressure on North Korea with the help of China, the North’s only major ally, instead of military options or trying to overthrow North Korea’s government.

Trump told ambassadors from U.N. Security Council member countries that they must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korea.

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not,” Trump said at a White House meeting Monday. “North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve. People have put blindfolds on for decades, and now it’s time to solve the problem.”

Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, said the United States is not looking for a fight with Kim and would not attack North Korea “unless he gives us reason to do something.” She praised China’s increased pressure on North Korea.

Asked about the threshold for U.S. action, Haley told American broadcaster NBC that “if you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that.”

But asked what if North Korea tests an intercontinental missile or nuclear device, she said, “I think then the president steps in and decides what’s going to happen.”

The United States, Japan and South Korea agreed Tuesday to put maximum pressure on North Korea, the South’s envoy for North Korea said after meeting his American and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo.

“We agreed to warn North Korea to stop any additional strategic provocation and take intolerably strong punitive measures against Pyongyang if it goes ahead with such provocations,” Kim Hong-kyun told reporters following his meeting with Joseph Yun of the U.S. and Japan’s Kenji Kanasugi.

Kim said they discussed ways to get more cooperation from China and Russia, which they agreed is crucial to applying effective pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He said they also recognized China’s recent steps toward that goal.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced that China’s envoy for North Korea, Wu Dawei, was arriving in Tokyo on Tuesday for talks with Kanasugi that may take place later this week.

___

ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press
KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

___

Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

A Busy Week for St Louis Restaurateurs and Diners

0
A Busy Week for St Louis Restaurateurs and Diners
A Busy Week for St Louis Restaurateurs and Diners

STL Restaurant News Weekly Recap April 16 – 22, 2017

St. Louis, MO/April 25, 2017 (STL.News) – St. Louis is a dynamic city that is rapidly becoming one of the culinary capitals of the U.S.  In fact, Condé Nast Traveler just named St. Louis as one of the six cities to watch in 2017 (http://www.cntraveler.com/gallery/6-us-cities-to-watch-in-2017).  The magazine noted the Gateway City’s BBQ prowess, but also said, “in recent years, it’s become a foodie paradise.”  Two St. Louis chefs are finalists for James Beard Foundation Best Chef Awards.  One of the most popular restaurant-focused reality TV shows is based in St. Louis.  Our craft breweries are garnering international acclaim. Yes, St. Louis’ culinary scene is vibrant and exciting.

Will all of this happening, we’re busy keeping our readers informed about the trends, changes, innovations, openings, and closings in a restaurant business that is ever changing.  We cover the whole St. Louis metropolitan area—from Belleville to St. Peters, Augusta to Maplewood, and Alton to the Ivory Triangle—we write about everything edible.  Our stories cover fine dining, brewpubs and wineries, mom and pop diners, ethnic cafés, food trucks, and everywhere St. Louis diners stop to nosh.

We also analyze customer preferences, and bring you the top 10 lists of St. Louis’ favorite places to eat.  Who serves the best brunch?  Who has the most extensive wines list?  The best craft beer selection?  This spring, we’ve checked customer reviews to share Top 10 lists covering everything from the best outdoor dining options, to STL’s favorite Asian fare and wine bars.

This week has been a busy week of restaurant openings and closings, international awards, promising collaborations, and delicious celebrations.  Here’s a taste of the biggest stories at STLRestaurant.news from the past week.

Starbucks & Anheuser-Busch are Brewing Up Something New

Two of the world’s largest beverage powerhouses, Anheuser-Busch and Starbucks, are teaming up on a new line of nonalcoholic, bottled Teavana tea drinks to capitalize on the rapidly growing tea sector.  Premium bottled tea is the fastest growing segment in the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) tea category, representing a substantial growth opportunity for both companies.  While Starbucks brings Teavana’s tea expertise, retail power and consumer engagement capabilities to the partnership, Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser and Bud Light beers, will oversee production, bottling and distribution to retailers nationwide through its already established network of wholesalers.  It’s a combination AB-InBev Chief Executive Officer Carlos Brito said will position this endeavor for success.

U-City Fortel’s Pizza Closes After Tax Suit

The Fortel’s Pizza Den franchise at 7358 Forsyth Blvd. in University City has closed.  The closure appears to be related to delinquent tax issues.  The move comes less than a month after owner Jeffrey Behrmann and his company JB2, LLC were sued by the State of Missouri over unpaid taxes.  The lawsuit, filed March 20, 2017, alleges that the restaurant owes the state $149,389.  The debt is allegedly a combination of sales taxes paid by customers on their purchases and earnings taxes withheld from employee paychecks, but never paid to the state. He state is now asking a St. Louis County judge to bar the restaurant from doing business or to consider putting it in receivership so that it can be closed permanently.  Fortel’s Pizza Dens are all franchises that are independently owned. The University City location is the only one involved in the tax suit.

Urban Chestnut Brewing Co’s Wheat Beer Ranked 2nd Best

St. Louis is one of the great beer brewing cities of the world, and that extends to the artisan brewers making some of the world’s best craft beers.  Paste Magazine, a quarterly lifestyles publication has just named Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.’s hefeweizen the second-best wheat beer on their list of the 59 best wheat beers/hefeweizens.  To find the best, Paste had professional beer writers, brewery owners, and beer reps do a blind-tasting of 59 American pale wheats and German hefeweizens to make that determination.  Urban Chestnut produces about 20,000 barrels of beer a year, making it the third largest brewer in St. Louis (behind Schlafly and AB-InBev).

Piccione Pastry Shop Celebrates Birthday

Piccione Pastry is turning four!  The Delmar Loop pastry shop spent the week celebrating by giving customers some special treats, discounts, drawings, and an epic All-You-Can-Eat- Cannoli Contest.  The winner gets free pastries for an entire year! Piccione Pastry first opened its doors on April 22, 2013.  It’s the only late-night Italian pastry shop of its kind in St. Louis.  The shop features single-serve Italian desserts, rich Italian coffees, locally handcrafted gelato and sorbet, and seasonal breakfast and lunch choices, including vegan, vegetarian, sugar-free and gluten-free options.

Noboleis & Other Wineries Celebrating 15th Annual Augusta Plein Air Art Festival

It’s time again for the Augusta Plein Air Art Festival.  The 15th annual event runs through April 30th.  It’s a collaboration featuring numerous artists from Missouri and across the country.  The festival provides artists with the opportunity to enhance their skills and receive recognition for their extraordinary works of art.  It also gives them the chance to create outdoors capturing the traces of natural light in the majestic Missouri Wine Country.  There will be unique events featured each day during the festival at a variety of locations including historic sites and from local wineries.  Noboleis Vineyard hosted events including the Plein Air Evening Paint and Noboleis Quick Paint.

1860 Saloon Building History

We began a three-part series on the history and legends of one of St. Louis’ favorite Soulard establishments, 1860 Saloon on South 9th Street.  This installment delved into the history of the building itself, beginning with its construction as a two-family townhouse in the latter part of the 19th century.  The building may have begun as a strictly residential endeavor, but it didn’t stay that way for long.  The unit on the south side was converted into a commercial space in the early 1900s, with the proprietors residing in the north side unit.  Over the years the commercial side of the building has been a bakery, butcher shop, confectionery, and even a storefront church (in the 1960s).  The two spaces were eventually combined, and the building became a tavern.  Today it’s home to the popular 1860’s Hardshell Café.  Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of the series.

Ivanka Trump in Berlin to talk women’s economic empowerment

0
Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump
President Donald Trump, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka Trump, talks via video conference with International Space Station Commander Peggy Whitson on the International Space Station, International Space Station, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

BERLIN/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Ivanka Trump is joining Chancellor Angela Merkel and others in Berlin on Tuesday for talks on encouraging women’s economic empowerment on her first international outing as a White House adviser.

The one-day visit, at the invitation of the chancellor, gives Merkel and other officials face-to-face access with the influential daughter of President Donald Trump at a time when world leaders are still trying to discern where his policies will lead.

Trump and Merkel are part of a panel discussion Tuesday at the W20 Summit, a women-focused effort within the Group of 20 countries, entitled “Inspiring women: Scaling up women’s entrepreneurship.”

Other participants include IMF director Christine Lagarde, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Netherlands’ Queen Maxima.

President Trump’s “America first” stance, including his questioning of multilateral trade deals, has left many wondering how the U.S. will proceed internationally. He has been critical of Germany’s large trade surplus with the United States, and moved Monday to impose a 20 percent tariff on softwood lumber entering the U.S. from Canada, intensifying a trade dispute between the neighbors.

Ivanka Trump, an unpaid White House adviser, has been a vocal advocate for policies benefiting working women and vocational training. She organized a discussion with Merkel, her father, and American and German executives about how companies can better train workers during the chancellor’s March visit to Washington.

Ahead of the trip, Ivanka Trump co-authored an op-ed piece in the Financial Times, calling for more global efforts to invest in women’s economic empowerment.

“The evidence is overwhelming that supporting women’s economic participation has enormous dividends for families, communities and whole economies,” Trump wrote with Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.

Merkel spokesman Georg Streiter said the chancellor had “great interest” in participating in the Tuesday panel, but that there was no one-on-one meeting planned with Ivanka Trump — though he did not rule it out.

“This is also a larger meeting — there is not only Ms. Trump, but also others,” Streiter said. “It is a meeting in the run-up to the G20 summit in Hamburg and part of the social dialogue; that is why the chancellor attaches such great importance to this.”

While in Berlin, Ivanka Trump will also visit a technology college run by the Siemens company and go to the German capital’s memorial to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. She converted to Judaism herself ahead of her 2009 marriage to Jared Kushner.

Trump stepped away from running her fashion brand to take on a role as an unpaid White House adviser in her father’s administration. She has spent time talking about women’s empowerment, often at White House forums and roundtables.

She has not yet offered specific legislation or publicly revealed how she plans to move forward with the child care and family leave policies she promoted during her father’s campaign. But a senior administration official says she and others have been working quietly behind the scenes to revise her campaign proposals and to build momentum.

The official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal policy talks, stressed that child care is a part of the White House tax policy conversation. The president is set to roll out tax reform priorities Wednesday, but the official declined to discuss those plans in advance.

____

DAVID RISING, Associated Press

____

Catherine Lucey contributed to this report from Washington and Geir Moulson from Berlin.

Missouri Launches New Program For The Disabled

0
Missouri Launches New Program For The Disabled
Missouri Launches New Program For The Disabled

April 25, 2017 (STL.News) Missouri has a new program to help those with disabilities plan for the future.

State Treasurer Eric Schmitt joined other advocates on Monday at Paraquad in St. Louis to launch the MO ABLE Program, which enables Missourians living with disabilities to save and invest through tax-free savings accounts without losing eligibility for federal benefits programs.

Schmitt sponsored this legislation in 2015 when he was state senator.

Schmitt says his 12-year-old son Stephen, who is disabled, inspired him to pursue this legislation. “In his smile, I see God and it’s important to do that work here on Earth and so our job is to forge a path, a path that is anchored by compassion and by love and by hard work.”

Stephen was the first in Missouri to have a MO ABLE account opened on his behalf.
“I’m proud to say individuals living with disabilities in our state finally have a flexible, secure, and accessible way to save for their long-term needs. The peace of mind MO ABLE will bring to Missouri families simply cannot be overstated.” Schmitt adds.

“The National Down Syndrome Society, the leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome, is thrilled to join Missouri in launching the MO ABLE program,” said Sara Hart Weir, President of the National Down Syndrome Society.

“ABLE accounts now offer an opportunity for all people with disabilities to achieve financial independence all while maintaining necessary benefits like Medicaid. ABLE is a game changer for our families and offers a private sector solution to allowing individuals with disabilities (and their families) to save funds for expenses related to the disability.” Weir added.

MO ABLE functions similarly to Missouri’s MOST 529 College Savings Plan. Missourians who contribute to MO ABLE accounts will be eligible for a tax deduction of up to $8,000 or $16,000 if married and filing jointly. State-based ABLE programs are made possible by the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014. Earnings in ABLE Accounts are not subject to federal income tax, so long as funds are spent on qualified disability expenses.

MO Able accounts can be open by an individual with a disability, a parent, guardian, or someone with power of attorney.

Only individuals whose disabilities occurred before the age of 26 qualify for the program.
More information about the MO ABLE program is available online at www.moable.com.

N. Korea watchers on why army’s big day has taken a backseat

0
North Korea New Big Day
In this Saturday, April 15, 2017, photo, bronze statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are paraded across Kim Il Sung Square during a military parade to celebrate the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea. The broad avenues of Pyongyang were, by authoritarian North Korea’s standards, fairly empty ahead of Tuesday’s 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, one of the biggest events on the country’s calendar. In recent years, the army commemoration has taken a backseat to the April 15th celebration of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, which saw thousands choking the avenues to prepare for the country’s biggest holiday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SEOUL, South Korea/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — The North Korean capital’s broad, clean avenues were, by the authoritarian nation’s usually over-the-top celebratory standards, fairly subdued ahead of Tuesday’s 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.

For years, the army celebration rivaled the April 15th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il Sung, in its pageantry. Army Day festivities saw immense displays of weaponry and military might, and thousands of people on the streets of Pyongyang in orchestrated shows of unity.

But since the rise of Kim Jong Un, the third generation of the Kim family to rule the country, the April 25 army commemoration has taken a backseat to Kim Il Sung’s birthday, which is celebrated with an unparalleled display of North Korean patriotism and power. The practice sessions alone for April 15 choke the avenues and public squares of Pyongyang with tens of thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles.

The Associated Press queried North Korea specialists from around the world for their views on why the newest Kim appears to have shifted focus from the era of his father, Kim Jong Il.

___

Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul:

Focusing on Kim Il Sung glorifies the nation’s founder and also “legitimizes the Kim bloodline succession,” she said. “This, however, does not necessarily mean Kim Jong Un is deemphasizing the importance of the North Korean military — the two days are not comparable. That said, we have witnessed both Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un try to empower or emphasize the Workers’ Party more so that the power base is not centered only around the military.

“Kim Jong Un has also tried to mimic his grandfather in looks and policies. He resurrected his grandfather’s ‘byungjin’ strategic line of parallel economic and military development, but has apparently repackaged the ‘military’ pillar to include nuclear development.”

“So it appears Kim Jong Un realized that the military-first policy of his father is not sustainable and that regime security also entails economic prosperity.”

___

Robert Kelly, a political science professor at Pusan National University, in Busan, South Korea:

“Kim Jong Un’s father nearly destroyed the North Korean economy by allowing the military a major policy and budgetary role,” Kelly said. This drained the budget, worsened a horrific famine during the late 1990s, and increasingly made North Korea economically dependent on China.

“Kim Jong Un’s rollback of military-first — purging KPA brass, eliminating the national defense commission, publicly emphasizing the founder Kim Il Sung instead of Kim Jong Il or the KPA — is likely intended to bolster economic growth in order to give the regime greater sustainability and keep it from becoming a Chinese economic satrapy with the obvious political vulnerability that implies.”

___

Hazel Smith, a North Korea scholar and professor at SOAS, University of London:

Smith doubts there is much political significance in a decreased focus on the April 25 celebrations.

North Koreans “are terribly pragmatic” and also have a serious labor shortage, she said. Since major celebrations require weeks of practice, draining the worktime of tens of thousands of Pyongyang residents, she believes the government may have simply decided to concentrate its attention on a single day in April.

“They have to decide where to marshal their pageantry resources, so to speak, and perhaps they’re concentrating on April 15 because it’s such an important holiday,” she said. “It could be as simple as that.”

___

Sue Mi Terry, a former Korean analyst for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency:

The intense focus in earlier years on April 25 celebrations came because Kim Jong Il “wanted to buttress his rule after he took over.”

“Now Kim Jong Un has returned to the party-centered governance of his grandfather’s era and has been focused on resurrecting the party’s power over the military,” Terry said.

To Kim Jong Un, “wrapping himself in the mantle of his still-popular grandfather, the ‘eternal president’ Kim Il Sung, makes sense. Kim Jong Un came to power, after all, at a young age in a communist but still a Confucian society that reveres age. Moreover, he is only the third son of Kim Jong Il, not the first. Thus he is likely insecure about any perceived illegitimacy of his rule.”

___

Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute in Seoul:

Kim Jong Un’s move to de-emphasize the KPA anniversary is a “definite break from his father’s era,” Go said.

“Under Kim Jong Il, the most important organ was the military; under Kim Jong Un the most powerful organ of the state is the Organization and Guidance Department of the Korea Workers’ Party.”

“The reason why Kim Jong Un emphasizes the ‘civilian’ aspect of the North Korean state is probably because Kim Jong Un feels he lacks sufficient political legitimacy. He is not the eldest son and he was hidden from the North Korean establishment up until 2008-9. He doesn’t want to be seen as imposed by Kim Jong Il but instead entrusted with leadership by the establishment thanks to his achievements (i.e. nuclear program).

“In sum, the de-emphasis of the military is not because Kim Jong Un is offering an olive branch to the world or wants to reduce the defense burden on the economy, but because Kim Jong Un wants to emphasize his political leadership of the North Korean state and the party.”

___

FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press
TIM SULLIVAN, Associated Press

___

Sullivan reported from New Delhi.

A budget deficit challenge for Trump’s tax plan

0
Steve Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin smiles while speaking to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — President Donald Trump plans to stick with his campaign pledge to slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, but the dramatic cut raises a problematic question for the White House: How can the president deliver the “massive” tax cut he promised without also blowing a massive hole in the budget?

A senior administration official confirmed the planned reduction to corporate rates, speaking on condition of anonymity in order discuss details of the plan the president is expected to unveil Wednesday.

Most outside economic analyses say the type of tax cuts being promoted by Trump would likely fuel even larger deficits for a federal government already projected to see its debt steadily rise. The lowered tax rates are also unlikely to generate Trump’s ambitious promised growth rate of 3 percent a year, roughly double the 1.6 percent growth achieved last year. These two factors are related because the Trump administration is counting on faster economic growth to produce additional tax revenues that could then close the deficit. The concept was popularized as “trickle-down” economics during the Reagan years.

The problem is that the economy can’t grow quickly enough to cover the likely hole in the deficit.

“There’s no pure tax cut that pays for itself,” said Alan Cole, an economist at the right-leaning Tax Foundation.

Trump has promised to release the outlines of his tax plan Wednesday and has said the plan would give Americans a tax cut bigger than “any tax cut ever.” During the campaign, he backed cutting the corporate tax rate — and the personal income tax rate to 33 percent from a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent.

Although he did not disclose details, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday the lower tax rates would generate so much economic growth that it would hold the deficit in check.

“The tax reform will pay for itself with economic growth,” Mnuchin said at the White House news briefing, adding that the overhaul would ideally let someone file taxes on a “large postcard.”

By running the risk of higher deficits, the Trump plan could damage the credibility of Republican lawmakers who spent years railing against the rising national debt under former President Barack Obama. Trump could also make it harder to pass lasting tax reform, since any policy that increases the debt above its baseline either requires Democratic support or — if passed by a slim majority of Republicans in the Senate — would expire in a decade. The House Republican tax blueprint tried to offset the lower rates by introducing a new tax system that applies to imports.

Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn are scheduled to meet with congressional leaders Tuesday evening to talk about the president’s tax plan. They are expected to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

Hatch and Brady will be key players in Congress as lawmakers try to tackle a tax overhaul.

Trump’s announcement Friday that he would unveil a tax plan this week caught lawmakers by surprise, despite regular conversations among Mnuchin, Cohn and congressional leaders, said a congressional aide. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.

Without a proposal on the table, the White House has been vague about the president’s support for ideas circulating in Congress.

It’s unclear whether the president favors the House Republican blueprint’s border adjustment tax system, which would lower corporate rates to 20 percent by essentially taxing imports and excluding U.S. exports.

Trump told Fox Business News that he prefers a “reciprocal” tax in which any tariffs, duties or taxes would match what trading partners charge.

Most economists say it’s unlikely that tax cuts can generate enough gains to avoid swelling the government’s red-ink problem — estimated to total $559 billion this year. They also have recent real-world examples to make their case: Tax cuts in Kansas made by Gov. Sam Brownback failed to deliver the expected boost, forcing the state into years of grueling budget battles and harsh spending cuts to make up the gap.

The benefits of the tax cuts could also be limited by economic forces beyond Trump’s immediate control.

The Federal Reserve could raise short-term interest rates, investors might charge the government higher borrowing costs and a stronger dollar could temper growth through exports, said Mark Doms, a senior economist at the bank Nomura.

“Doing some kind of tax cut might boost growth a bit, but there are forces that would counteract the tax cut,” Doms said.

Tax reform would likely have a modest effect on growth, almost surely not enough to match the administration’s 3 percent growth target, said Mark Mazur, director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and a former assistant treasury secretary for tax policy in the Obama administration. Major tax cuts might also provide a short-term boost, but they would likely produce additional debt that would dampen growth in the future.

“The laws of arithmetic kind of catch up to you,” Mazur said.

___

JOSH BOAK, The Associated Press
STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, The Associated Press

Gov’t shutdown, health bill rescue at stake in Congress

0
Congress Rdp
FILE - In this April 4, 2017, file photo, the Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington. Bipartisan bargainers are making progress toward a budget deal to prevent a partial federal shutdown this weekend, a major hurdle overcome when President Donald Trump signaled he would put off his demand that the measure include money to build his border wall with Mexico. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Bipartisan bargainers are making progress toward a budget deal to prevent a partial federal shutdown this weekend, a major hurdle overcome when President Donald Trump signaled he would put off his demand that the measure include money to build his border wall with Mexico.

Republicans are also vetting proposed changes to their beleaguered health care bill that they hope will attract enough votes to finally push it through the House.

Both efforts come with Congress back from a two-week break just days before Trump’s 100th day in office, an unofficial measuring stick of a new president’s effectiveness. With little to show in legislative victories so far, the Trump administration would love to claim achievements on Capitol Hill by that day — this Saturday.

The same day, federal agencies would have to close unless lawmakers pass a $1 trillion spending bill financing them or legislation keeping them open temporarily while talks continue. Republicans hope to avoid the ignominy of a government shutdown while their party controls Congress and the White House.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that administration negotiators including Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, “feel very confident” that a shutdown won’t occur.

Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass the budget measure, had a less charitable version of negotiations. In a conference call with reporters aimed at criticizing Trump’s first 100 days as ineffective, party leaders said the biggest shutdown threat was from Trump’s demand that the spending bill include funds for the barricade along the Mexican border.

That threat appeared to be lifting Monday evening when Trump told a gathering of reporters from conservative media that he would be willing to return to the funding issue in September. Two people in the room described his comments to The Associated Press.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., approved of Trump’s apparent shift. “The president’s comments this evening are welcome news given the bipartisan opposition to the wall, and the obstacle it has been to the continuing bipartisan negotiations in the appropriations committees,” she said in a statement late Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “It’s good for the country that President Trump is taking the wall off the table in these negotiations.” Both Democratic leaders had criticized Trump earlier Monday.

Trump had told supporters Mexico would pay for the wall, but with Mexico refusing to foot the bill he now wants Congress to make a down payment. The wall’s cost estimates range past $20 billion. Republicans are seeking an initial $1.4 billion in the spending bill, but many question the wisdom of an enormous wall.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said there was a need to boost border security funds, adding, “But a 2,200-mile wall, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of support for it.”

The other major budget stumbling block involved a Democratic demand for money for insurance companies that help low-income people afford health policies under President Barack Obama’s health law, or that Trump abandon a threat to use the payments as a bargaining chip. Supporters of the health law warn its marketplaces could collapse if those funds are taken away.

Separately, the White House and congressional Republicans are gauging whether a plan to revise the GOP’s stalled health care bill would garner enough converts to rekindle hopes for House passage of the legislation.

Their initial bill would repeal some coverage requirements under Obama’s law, offer skimpier subsidies for consumers to buy care and roll back a Medicaid expansion. GOP leaders avoided a planned House vote last month, which would have failed due to opposition from GOP moderates and conservatives alike.

The proposed changes would retain several requirements imposed by Obama’s 2010 statute, including obliging insurers to cover seriously ill customers.

But states could obtain federal waivers to some of those requirements. Those include mandates that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same premiums and cover specified services like hospitalization and emergency room visits.

Supporters say the proposal is significant because it would retain guaranteed coverage for people with costly illnesses. Critics say it would effectively weaken that assurance because insurers in states getting waivers could charge sky-high rates.

Those waivers may not help win moderate support. They have opposed the underlying GOP bill because of its cuts in Medicaid and to federal subsidies Obama’s law provides many people buying individual policies.

But it might persuade conservatives who felt the earlier Republican bill didn’t erase enough of the statute, though it’s unclear it will win over enough of them to achieve House passage.

The proposed changes were negotiated by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the centrist House Tuesday Group. Vice President Mike Pence also participated, Republicans say.

Those two groups plan to meet separately this week to consider the proposal.

___

ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press

In call to Trump, Chinese leader urges restraint over NKorea

0
Donald Trump, Xi Jinping
FILE - In this Friday, April 7, 2017, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pause for photographs at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. North Korea often marks significant dates by displaying military capability, and South Korean officials say there's a chance the country will conduct its sixth nuclear test or its maiden test launch of an ICBM around the founding anniversary of its military on Tuesday, April 25. Trump spoke by phone with both the Japanese and Chinese leaders Monday, April 24. China's official broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi telling Trump that China strongly opposed North Korea's nuclear weapons program and hoped "all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — As the world braces for a possible North Korean nuclear test, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday urged restraint in a call to President Donald Trump. America’s U.N. envoy warned of a strike if Pyongyang attacks a U.S. military base or tests an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Xi’s phone call with Trump came amid signs Pyongyang could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test explosion since 2006, or the latest in a rapid series of missile tests, further advancing its ambitions of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

In Washington, the Trump administration invited the entire 100-member Senate for a briefing Wednesday on the escalating crisis. Adding to the atmosphere of animosity, officials said North Korea has detained a third U.S. citizen.

Trump told ambassadors from U.N. Security Council members that the status quo in North Korea is “unacceptable” and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions.

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve. People have put blindfolds on for decades, and now it’s time to solve the problem,” he said at the White House.

North Korea poses one the sternest national security challenges facing the 3-month-old Trump administration. The administration has settled on a strategy emphasizing increased pressure on North Korea with the help of China, rather than trying to overthrow Kim Jong Un’s isolated government or use military force. But senior officials have repeatedly said that “all options” remain on the table.

China is a traditional ally of North Korea and fought on its side in the 1950-53 Korean War. Those ties have frayed, but Beijing remains the North’s economic lifeline. The Xi-Trump call on Monday morning Beijing time was the second time the two leaders have spoken by telephone since meeting in Florida earlier this month.

Xi told Trump that China strongly opposes North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, and hopes “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation” on the Korean Peninsula, China’s official broadcaster CCTV said.

A White House readout of the call said Trump criticized North Korea’s “continued belligerence” and the leaders “reaffirmed the urgency of the threat.” They committed to strengthening coordination to denuclearize North Korea, a statement said.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and ships in the strike group accompanying it are continuing to move toward the South Korea region, after completing a short naval exercise with Japanese ships in the Philippine Sea. But the ships are probably several days from arriving in the region.

In addition to the Carl Vinson, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered, guided-missile submarine, is due to arrive Tuesday on a routine port visit at Busan, South Korea, a U.S. defense official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the ship movement publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tuesday marks the founding anniversary of North Korea’s armed forces. It has marked such dates in the past with displays of its military capabilities.

Commercial satellite imagery suggests the North has been readying for weeks for an underground atomic explosion, and could conduct one at any time. Alternatively, a long-range missile test could show North Korean progress toward being able to fire a weapon at America. But any decision by Trump to resort to military action would be highly risky, principally because the capital of close ally South Korea lies within range of North Korea artillery and rockets.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, said Monday the U.S. wasn’t looking for a fight with Kim and wouldn’t attack North Korea “unless he gives us reason to do something.” She praised China’s increased pressure on North Korea.

Asked about the threshold for U.S. action, Haley told NBC’s “Today” that “if you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that.”

But asked what would happen if North Korea tests an intercontinental missile or nuclear device, Haley said, “I think then the president steps in and decides what’s going to happen.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the briefing to senators will be delivered by four top administration officials: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

The latest American held in North Korea is Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk. The 58-year old taught accounting for a month at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was detained on Saturday, according to Park Chan-mo, the university chancellor. No details on why Kim was detained have been released.

___

MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press

Wells Fargo to face irritated shareholders at annual meeting

0
Wells Fargo-Angry Shareholders
FILE - In this July 14, 2014, file photo, a man passes by a Wells Fargo bank in Oakland, Calif. On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, Wells Fargo’s top management and board of directors will face irritated investors for the bank’s first big shareholder meeting since the scandal over its sales practices led to an executive shake-up, fines and a dented reputation. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

JACKSONVILLE, FL/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Wells Fargo’s top management and board of directors will face irritated investors Tuesday for the first big shareholder meeting since the scandal over the bank’s sales practices led to an executive shake-up, fines and a dented reputation.

The bank has changed the way it pays branch employees, reclaimed promised compensation to several executives and apologized to customers after regulators imposed $185 million in fines last September. Authorities said Wells Fargo workers opened up to 2 million accounts without customer permission as employees tried to meet aggressive sales goals.

It’s likely that Wells Fargo’s top management will apologize to shareholders — a new, and arguably more patient, audience — following apologies already given to customers and employees. CEO Tim Sloan, who got that job in October, has repeatedly talked of making things right with customers. Whether the changes will be enough — Wells has seen a sharp decline in new customers and remains under investigation by various authorities — is a main issue to be decided Tuesday.

Wells Fargo’s executives are expected to face calls for their ouster. Shareholder proposals call for an overhaul of the bank’s corporate governance as well as more investigations into the pressure-filled corporate culture that some bank employees say pushed them to open the fake accounts.

An investigation by the bank’s own board of directors, released earlier this month, found that the problems at Wells Fargo and its overly aggressive sales culture date back at least 15 years, and that executives had little interest in dealing with the issue until it spiraled out of control. It also clawed back another $75 million in pay from former CEO John Stumpf and former community bank executive Carrie Tolstedt, saying both dragged their feet for years about the problems.

The big item to watch Tuesday will be whether Wells Fargo shareholders oust the board. Two major proxy advisory firms have advised shareholders to vote out at least some of the directors. One firm, Institutional Shareholder Services, is basically asking investors to clean house. Even two large California pension funds have come out against Wells Fargo’s board.

Another issue will be shareholder proposals. Wells’ board has advised shareholders to vote against at least two proposals that the proxy firms endorsed. One of them calls for yet another internal investigation into the bank’s sales practices.

The board will likely lean on its investigation, which said that both Stumpf and Tolstedt, when presented with the growing problems in the community banking division, were unwilling to hear criticism. It rescinded $47.3 million in stock options to Tolstedt, on top of $19 million the board had already clawed back. It took back $28 million more from Stumpf’s compensation, on top of $41 million already clawed back.

Along with the millions taken back from other executives earlier this year, the roughly $180 million in clawbacks are among the largest in U.S. corporate history. Wells Fargo has also said it will pay $142 million to customers for damages caused by any accounts opened without their permission, and expand its window for unauthorized accounts back to May 1, 2002.

The shareholder meeting, at a golf resort in Jacksonville, Florida, is being held about 2,800 miles from Wells Fargo’s headquarters in San Francisco. The company has not said why it chose that location.

___

KEN SWEET, AP Business Writer

Global markets gain higher as French election rally lingers

0
Japan Financial Markets
A man walks past an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. The worldwide surge in share prices sparked by the outcome of France’s vote Sunday carried into Asian markets early Tuesday. Japanese shares gained as the dollar remained near the 110 yen level, helping exporters.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Shares were higher Tuesday in Europe and Asia as the rally driven by the outcome of France’s vote persisted. Hopes for U.S. tax reform and a compromise on the U.S. budget deadline also lifted sentiment.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 edged 0.1 percent higher to 5,275.32, while the FTSE 100 of Britain jumped 2.1 percent to 7,264.68. Germany’s DAX was steady at 12,456.89. U.S. shares looked set for gains with Dow futures up 0.2 percent and S&P futures up 0.1 percent.

FRENCH FACTOR: Investors were encouraged that Emmanuel Macron, a candidate who investors see as pro-business, got the most votes in the first round of France’s presidential election. That raised expectations that the European Union may hold together, lifting shares in most world markets.

TAXES AND SPENDING: U.S. President Donald Trump promised to release Wednesday the outlines of a tax plan that a senior administration official confirmed would pledge to slash the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent. Meanwhile, lawmakers were making progress toward a budget deal to prevent a partial federal shutdown this weekend. That efforts was helped by Trump backing away from demands that money be included to build his wall on the border with Mexico.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “Global equities rejoiced over the French election results overnight,” Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a commentary. But he added that “investor focus remains on international tensions with North Korea; the tax reform plan slated for this Wednesday, and a possible government shutdown entering weeks’ end.”

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index climbed 1.1 percent to 19,079.33 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong jumped 1.3 percent to 24,455.94. South Korea’s Kospi added 1.1 percent to 2,196.85 and the Shanghai Composite index rose 0.2 percent at 3,134.57. Shares were higher in Taiwan and mixed in Southeast Asia. The Australian and New Zealand markets were closed for Anzac Day.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 16 cents to $49.39 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Monday the contract fell 39 cents to settle at $49.23 per barrel. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, added 22 cents to $51.82 a barrel. It fell 36 cents to $51.60 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro gained to $1.0893 from $1.0868. The dollar rose to 110.47 yen from 109.76 yen and the British pound climbed to $1.2815 from $1.2795.

___

ELAINE KURTENBACH, AP Business Writer

Tough court on immigration serves as model for Trump plans

0
Immigration Border Prosecutions
FILE - in this April 21, 2017, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, left, speaks as Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, right, listen during a news conference at the U.S.-Mexican border next to the Brown Field Border Patrol Station in San Diego. (Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

DEL RIO, Texas/April 25, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — One by one, the Mexican men stood in the jury box, shackles rattling as they fidgeted slightly and pleaded guilty to crossing the U.S. border illegally.

They had come for better jobs, many to earn more money to help raise their children, their defense lawyer told a federal magistrate in a quiet west Texas courtroom about 3 miles (5 kilometers) north of the Mexican border. The magistrate, Collis White, warned that a guilty plea would mean jail time and they couldn’t return to the United States legally for years. Speaking in Spanish, each of the 15 men said they understood and took their chances. They faced up to six months in jail, but most were sentenced to just a few days.

The men had the misfortune of landing in America’s toughest courthouse when it comes to dealing with people who cross the border illegally. In other jurisdictions, authorities routinely skip the criminal charges and simply order quick deportations. But for the last decade, just about everyone arrested near Del Rio gets prosecuted.

That tough approach is a model President Donald Trump hopes to replicate as part of his sweeping plans to stop illegal immigration, the cornerstone of his campaign. He wants to prosecute many more people caught crossing the border illegally.

Doing so wouldn’t be cheap. Immigration cases already account for more than half of federal prosecutions. Trump is seeking hundreds of million dollars more for more jail cells, prosecutors and marshals to transport prisoners. It’s unclear if Congress will give him the money.

Civil libertarians object to the prosecutions, saying those arrested are rushed through the legal system without having a chance to exercise their rights.

And a previous attempt to expand the Del Rio approach had mixed results. Prosecutions spiked at the end of the Bush administration and during the first few years of the Obama administration, but later declined. Part of the decline is likely because of the drop in arrests at the border. But limited resources, including jail space to house people and prosecutors to try cases, were also issues.

Still, Trump administration officials have made clear they plan to press ahead. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly made the point as they’ve been touring the border in recent weeks, saying that those who enter the United States illegally will be arrested, prosecuted and deported. Earlier this month, the Justice Department released a memo calling on prosecutors to appoint border security coordinators in every judicial district.

“This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Sessions said during a visit to the border in Nogales, Arizona, this month.

In White’s Del Rio courtroom each case of someone charged with crossing the border illegally was handled in under a minute. Only one was sentenced to more than a few days — a man who had been deported in 2013 was sentenced to 120 days in prison.

Each man was warned not to come back to the United States without the government’s permission.

“If you can find a legal way to come back, you’re more than welcome,” White told the shackled men, his words repeated in Spanish by an interpreter. “But it has to be just that.”

The new push for immigration prosecutions comes as the number of people crossing the border illegally has plummeted. Under President Barack Obama, there was a steady decline in arrests, a likely indication fewer people were trying to sneak into the United States. And in March, the second full month of the Trump administration, border agents reported the fewest border crossers in a single month in at least 17 years.

Illegal immigration straddles a line in federal courthouses. Being in the United States illegally — whether after crossing a border or overstaying a visa — is a civil offense, not a crime. But those caught crossing the border illegally, or violating a previous ban from returning to the U.S., can face criminal charges, though that generally doesn’t happen.

The Del Rio prosecution strategy followed an earlier push to secure the border and curb the flow of illegal border crossers. Before the effort launched, agents in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector arrested more than 68,000 people in a 12-month period.

Arrests dropped by more than 25,000 after the first year. Over the last decade, arrests in the area have averaged about 20,000 a year.

The acting chief patrol agent in Del Rio, Matthew Hudak, said the effort to prosecute just about every border crosser has worked well there for several reasons.

“Policy matters, enforcement matters, the work of agents matters,” Hudak said.

It helps that the Border Patrol’s sector there only covers one judicial district. In other areas, including El Paso, agents often work across state and judicial district lines, making it more difficult to coordinate prosecution, jail space and transportation.

The often-brief court proceedings that help make the Del Rio prosecutions appealing to the Trump administration alarm civil libertarians.

Celia Wang, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said border crossers facing prosecution are urged to plead guilty and don’t fully know the implications of that. Many immigrants lose their chance to make claims to stay in the United States, including under the asylum process.

“People have no idea what is happening,” Wang said. “It’s completely lost on (them),”

___

ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press

Pence cites ‘challenging times’ to troops in American Samoa

0
Mike Pence, Karen Pence
Vice President Mike Pence stands with his wife Karen as they pose for a photo with officials and U.S. service members during a refueling stop in Pago Pago, American Samoa, Monday, April 24, 2017. Pence stopped in American Samoa after leaving Australia en route to Hawaii. (AP Photo/Ken Thomas)

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa/April 24, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has thanked American service members based in American Samoa, citing “challenging times” for the military in the Asia-Pacific.

Completing a visit to the region and en route back to the United States, Pence addressed some 200 soldiers during a refueling stop in Pago Pago. He told the troops the Trump administration was seeking a large increase in military funding.

During his stop, Pence also dedicated a sign that will greet visitors at a veterans clinic. He met with American Samoan officials and troops and then flew to Hawaii at the last stop on a tour that included a visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea.

The trip offered evidence that Pence has become one of President Donald Trump’s chief emissaries on the world stage, patching up relations, reassuring allies still wondering what to expect from Trump and diving into international crises like North Korea.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that the vice president was shortening his stay in Hawaii to a few hours so that he could fly back to Washington in what promises to be a very busy week for the administration and Congress.

Pence’s office said he would depart Hawaii on Monday afternoon after meeting with U.S. Pacific Command leaders and troops stationed in Honolulu. Plans for a Tuesday visit to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor have been postponed, Pence’s office said.

Pence’s trip to Asia was planned weeks ago. But it dropped him in South Korea just in time to deliver North Korea a stern warning from the U.S.: that “all options are on the table” when it comes to curbing the North’s nuclear ambitions, and that the Trump administration will seek support from its allies to pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

His foray into the DMZ and his meetings with South Korean and Japanese leaders allowed Pence to shape a key American foreign policy issue, presenting a new challenge for a politician whose prior foreign policy experience was limited to trips to the Middle East as a congressman and trade missions to Japan, China, Israel and Europe as Indiana’s governor.

Pence’s early foreign travel schedule contrasts sharply with a mostly homebound Trump, who is not scheduled to travel overseas until late May for NATO meetings in Belgium and a gathering of the Group of Seven major industrial nations in Italy. Pence partly covered that ground when he visited Germany and Belgium in February.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had visited nine countries by late April 2009, his first three months in office, checking in with allies such as Canada, Britain and Germany. The last first-term president to wait until May to take his first foreign trip was Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Enter Pence, whose still-evolving diplomatic playbook includes several components, all steeped in humility, personal ties and his religious faith.

In some ways, Pence is the advance team: His earlier trip to Europe and his Asia trip that ends Tuesday are partly laying the foundation for journeys being planned for Trump. In other ways, Pence is the face of reassurance, offering in-person outreach to world leaders Trump has clashed with or who have doubted Trump’s commitment to them at the start of his presidency.

In meetings with his counterparts, Pence frequently passed along “greetings” from Trump and told his hosts how much America valued their alliance, language that’s commonplace in diplomacy but understated compared to the more free-wheeling Trump.

On Thursday, for example, Pence told Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo how “proud” he and Trump were to partner with him and spoke of their hopes of working together.

___

KEN THOMAS, Associated Press

 

Nearing 100-day mark, Trump says milestone not ‘meaningful’

0
Donald Trump, Jared Kushner
President Donald Trump speaks to White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, left, in the Oval Office in Washington, Friday, April 21, 2017. With his tweets and his bravado, Trump is putting his mark on the presidency in his first 100 days in office. He's flouted conventions of the institution by holding on to his business, hiring family members as advisers and refusing to release his tax returns. He's tested conventional political wisdom by eschewing travel, church, transparency, discipline, consistency and decorum. But the presidency is also having an impact on Trump, prompting him, at times, to play the role of traditional president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

 

WASHINGTON/April 24, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — For nearly 100 days, President Donald Trump has rattled Washington and been chastened by its institutions.

He’s startled world leaders with his unpredictability and tough talk, but won their praise for a surprise strike on Syria.

He’s endured the steady drip of investigations and a seemingly endless churn of public personnel drama.

“It’s a different kind of a presidency,” Trump said in an Oval Office interview with The Associated Press, an hour-long conversation as he approached Saturday’s key presidential benchmark.

Trump, who campaigned on a promise of instant disruption, indirectly acknowledged that change doesn’t come quickly to Washington. He showed signs that he feels the weight of the office, discussing the “heart” required to do the job. Although he retained his signature bravado and a salesman’s confidence in his upward trajectory, he displayed an understanding that many of his own lofty expectations for his first 100 days in office have not been met.

“It’s an artificial barrier. It’s not very meaningful,” he said.

Trump waffled on whether he should be held accountable for the 100-day plan he outlined with great fanfare in his campaign’s closing days, suggesting his “Contract with the American Voter” wasn’t really his idea to begin with.

“Somebody put out the concept of a 100-day plan,” he said.

One hundred days are just a fraction of a president’s tenure, and no president has quite matched the achievements of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who set the standard by which all are now judged.

Still, modern presidents have tried to move swiftly to capitalize upon the potent, and often fleeting, mix of political capital and public goodwill that usually accompanies their arrival in Washington.

Trump has never really had either.

A deeply divisive figure, he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton and had one of the narrower Electoral College victories in history. Since taking office on Jan. 20, his approval rating has hovered around 40 percent in most polls.

Trump’s early presidency has been dogged by FBI and congressional investigations into whether his campaign coordinated with Russians to tilt the race in his favor. It’s a persistent distraction that Trump would not discuss on the record.

Furthermore, his three months-plus in office have amounted to a swift education in a world wholly unfamiliar to a 70-year-old who spent his career in real estate and reality television.

For example, his two disputed travel ban executive orders are languishing, blocked by federal judges.

On Capitol Hill, majority Republicans muscled through Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, but had to blow up long-standing Senate rules to do so. Then there was the legislative debacle when Trump’s own party couldn’t come together to fulfill its long-sought promise of repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

H.W. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said Trump is learning that “the world is the way it is for a whole bunch of complicated reasons. And changing the guy at the top doesn’t change the world.”

Trump won’t concede that point.

But he acknowledged that being commander in chief brings with it a “human responsibility” that he didn’t much bother with in business, requiring him to think through the consequences his decisions have on people and not simply the financial implications for his company’s bottom line.

“When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria,” Trump said of his decision to strike a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. “I’m saying to myself, ‘You know, this is more than just like 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that’s involved because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved.'”

“Here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government involves heart, whereas in business most things don’t involve heart,” he said. “In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.”

As for accomplishments, Trump cited “tremendous success” on an undefined strategy for defeating the Islamic State group. He talked at length about saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on the price of F-35 fighter jets. Trump held meetings during the transition and in the White House with the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which produces the F-35, but the cost-savings were already in the works when he took office.

He promised a tax overhaul plan that would give Americans a tax cut bigger than “any tax cut ever.”

A man accustomed to wealth and its trappings, Trump has embraced life in the Executive Mansion, often regaling guests with trivia about the historic decor. With the push of a red button placed on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades, a White House butler soon arrived with a Coke for the president.

It’s too soon to say whether the presidency has changed Trump in substantive ways. He’s backpedaled on an array of issues in recent weeks, including his critiques of NATO and his threats to label China a currency manipulator. But his self-proclaimed flexibility means he could move back to where he started just as quickly.

Stylistically, Trump remains much the same as during the campaign.

He fires off tweets at odd hours of the morning and night, sending Washington into a stir with just a few words. Trump still litigates the presidential campaign, mentioning multiple times during the interview how difficult it is for a Republican presidential nominee to win the Electoral College.

He is acutely aware of how he’s being covered in the media, rattling off the ratings for some of his television appearances. But he says he’s surprised even himself with some recent self-discipline: He’s stopped watching what he perceives as his negative coverage on CNN and MSNBC, he said.

“I don’t watch things, and I never thought I had that ability,” he said. “I always thought I’d watch.”

For the moment, Trump seems to have clamped down on the infighting and rivalries among his top White House staffers that have spilled into the press and created a sense of paranoia in the West Wing. He praised his national security team in particular and said his political team in the White House doesn’t get the credit it deserves for their work in a high-pressure setting.

“This is a very tough environment,” he said. “Not caused necessarily by me.”

___

JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent

US Defense Sec’y Mattis in Afghanistan to discuss war needs

0
Jim Mattis
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis checks his watch as he arrives via helicopter at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan Monday, April 24, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

KABUL, Afghanistan/April 24, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Monday to assess America’s longest war as the Trump administration weighs sending more troops.

Kabul was the final stop on a six-nation, weeklong tour Mattis said was intended to bolster relations with allies and partners and to get an update on the stalemated conflict in Afghanistan. He is the first member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to visit Afghanistan.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander in Kabul, recently told Congress that he needs a few thousand more troops to keep Afghan security forces on track to eventually handling the Taliban insurgency on their own.

As part of the administration’s review of Afghan policy, Trump’s national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, visited Kabul last week to consult with Nicholson and with Afghan officials.

McMaster said in a TV interview after returning to Washington that the U.S. in recent years has scaled back its military effort against the Taliban. “Our enemy sensed that and they have redoubled their efforts, and it’s time for us, alongside our Afghan partners, to respond,” he said.

Among the questions facing the administration is how to maintain pressure on a resilient Taliban and keep up counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan without prolonging a stalemate that is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

The war began in October 2001. The U.S. has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan. They ended their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014 but are increasingly involved in backing up Afghan forces on the battlefield.

Mattis was visiting just days after a bloody Taliban attack that killed well over 100 Afghans on a base in the country’s north. The Taliban also controls key parts of Helmand province in the south. Officials say nearly a dozen of the attackers wore army uniforms and rode in military vehicles, raising concerns of help from inside the compound.

A senior American military official in Kabul said Monday that it appears likely the attack was either carried out by or planned by a Pakistan-based Taliban faction known as the Haqqani network, which is a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters, said it likely took four to six months to plan the attack. He said it also was likely that the attackers had help in advance from Afghan troops on the base.

The official said the latest Afghan estimate of 144 Afghan soldiers killed is likely to rise.

Afghan officials said earlier that the country’s army chief and the defense minister resigned following the weekend Taliban attack.

Two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The president’s official Twitter account also confirmed the resignations.

In addition to the Taliban insurgency, Afghanistan also is fighting to extinguish a small but troublesome presence in Nangarhar province of militants affiliated with the Islamic State group.

Two weeks ago, Nicholson created a stir by ordering an attack on an IS stronghold in Nangarhar using the military’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, the so-called “mother of all bombs.”

Mattis has declined to disclose details of damage done by that bombing, which former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called an “atrocity.”

___

ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Correspondent

As budget deadline looms, Trump pushes border wall funding

0
Donald Trump
President Donald Trump poses for a portrait in the Oval Office in Washington, Friday, April 21, 2017. With his tweets and his bravado, Trump is putting his mark on the presidency in his first 100 days in office. He's flouted conventions of the institution by holding on to his business, hiring family members as advisers and refusing to release his tax returns. He's tested conventional political wisdom by eschewing travel, church, transparency, discipline, consistency and decorum. But the presidency is also having an impact on Trump, prompting him, at times, to play the role of traditional president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON/April 24, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — With a budget deadline looming, President Donald Trump plans a whirlwind of activities seeking to highlight accomplishments while putting fresh pressure on congressional Democrats to pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, even if that pressure risks a possible government shutdown.

Trump approaches the symbolic 100-day mark for his administration this coming week juggling a renewed health care push and his demands that a must-pass government funding bill should include money for the wall.

In a tweet Sunday, Trump jabbed at Democrats, who vigorously oppose wall funding. “The Democrats don’t want money from budget going to border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members.”

He added: “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”

The 100-day mark falls on Saturday, the same day government could shut down without a budget deal. Trump has announced a rally in Pennsylvania that day.

Despite Trump’s dismissal that the 100-day marker is “artificial,” the White House has packed his schedule. Trump will sign executive orders on energy and rural policies, meet with the president of Argentina and travel to Atlanta for a National Rifle Association event. Top aides will also fan out around the country to promote the administration.

Trump also plans to outline an ambitious tax cut plan on Wednesday, telling The Associated Press last week that it would include a “massive” tax break for both individuals and corporations.

Aides stressed on Sunday talk shows that funding for a border wall and a vote on an effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law were immediate priorities. They asserted that both still could be accomplished in the coming week.

“I don’t think anyone foresees or expects or would want a shutdown,” said budget director Mick Mulvaney on “Fox News Sunday.”

Trump would like to revive a failed effort by House Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” He also hopes to use the $1 trillion catchall spending bill to salvage victories on his promised border wall, a multibillion-dollar down payment on a Pentagon buildup, and perhaps a crackdown on cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement by federal authorities.

So far, negotiations have proven difficult, with disputes over the wall and health law subsidies to help low-income people afford health insurance. House members received little information from leaders on a conference call this past Saturday.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s confident the spending bill will include something “satisfactory” to reflect Trump’s desire to build a wall. The legislation would keep the government running through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal 2017 budget year.

“We expect the priorities of the president to be reflected,” Priebus said, citing ongoing talks with the House and the Senate. “It will be enough in the negotiation for us to move forward with either the construction or the planning, or enough for us to move forward through the end of September to get going on the border wall and border security.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California described a border wall as “immoral” and “expensive” when asked if there was any scenario in which Democrats would agree to money for a wall.

“Democrats do not support the wall,” she said, speaking also on NBC. “Republicans on the border states do not support the wall.”

Pelosi noted that when Trump promised to build a wall during the presidential campaign, he never indicated he would “pass billions of dollars of cost of the wall onto the taxpayer.” With Republicans now controlling Congress and the White House, she said, the burden to keep government open “is on Republicans.”

Trump has repeatedly asserted that Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is necessary to stop the flow of immigrants crossing the border illegally, as well as drug smugglers.

On Obama’s health law, Priebus said he’d like to have a vote on the GOP repeal-and-replace bill in the House this week. But he insisted it didn’t make too much difference to the White House whether the vote came “Friday or Saturday or Monday.”

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Priebus said.

Trump tweeted a separate warning at Democrats on Sunday, saying: “ObamaCare is in serious trouble. The Dems need big money to keep it going — otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought.”

On Trump’s coming tax cut plan, Mulvaney said on Fox to expect “some specific governing principles, some guidance, also some indication on what the rates are going to be.” He added: “I don’t think anybody expects us to roll out bill language on Wednesday.”

The White House is eager to tout progress on the litany of agenda items Trump promised to fulfill in his first 100 days, despite setbacks including court bans on his proposed immigration limits and the high-profile failure in repealing and replacing “Obamacare.”

The president told the AP on Friday that he spent his first 100 days laying the “foundation” for progress later in his administration, including by building relationships with foreign leaders.

___

CATHERINE LUCEY, Associated Press
HOPE YEN, Associated Press