Americans back the Syria bombing. They’re much more divided on what comes next

(CNN)Nearly six in 10 Americans approve of President Donald Trump’s decision to strike at a Syrian air base from which chemical attacks were launched last week, according to a new CBS News national poll.

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April 11, 2017

Hate crimes focal point of new DOJ task force

(CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided an update on the Justice Department’s new crime reduction task force Wednesday, including new details on a subcommittee that will specifically focus on hate crime prevention.

In a letter to US Attorney’s offices across the country, Sessions explained that the Hate Crimes Subcommittee “will develop a plan to appropriately address hate crimes to better protect the rights of all Americans.”
“We must also protect the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate threats or acts of violence targeting any person or community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs or background,” Sessions added.
    Last year the FBI released statistics showing an alarming spike in the number of reported hate crimes — in particular a 67% increase in crimes against Muslim Americans.
    The new announcement is particularly noteworthy in light of Sessions’ previous opposition to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009 when Sessions was a US senator.
    “The hate crimes amendment is unwarranted, possibly unconstitutional — certainly, I believe it is unconstitutional in certain parts — and it violates the basic principle of equal justice under the law,” Sessions said back in 2009 on the Senate floor. “The hate crimes amendment to this bill has been said to cheapen the civil rights movement.”
    Despite Sessions’ reservations about the law as a senator, he said during his confirmation hearing: “The law has been passed, Congress has spoken, you can be sure that I will enforce it.”
    In addition to hate crimes, the DOJ task force will also undertake a review of the department’s existing marijuana enforcement policy — a subject that legalization advocates have been watching closely given Sessions’ fervent disapproval of the drug.
    “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” Sessions said last month. “Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.”

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    April 6, 2017

    Flynn seeks immunity for testimony

    (CNN)Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is willing to testify before federal and congressional investigators in their ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the US elections, but only if he is granted immunity, his lawyer said Thursday.

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    March 31, 2017

    Hoyer: Nunes should resign from intelligence committee

    Washington (CNN)The second-ranking House Democrat said that embattled Rep. Devin Nunes should not just recuse himself from the intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia, but resign from the committee altogether.

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    March 30, 2017

    Where does the House Freedom Caucus go from from here?

    Washington (CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan had just told his conference Friday that the Republican Party had failed to get enough votes for a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a seven-year campaign promise that had united Republicans and catapulted their Party into control of the House, the Senate and the presidency.

    The implicit message from leadership was it was time to move on to a different subject — and that the Republican House conference had some growing up to do.
    The room was somber, according to members.
      But not everyone was unhappy with the outcome.
      Racing out of the conference meeting to catch his plane, Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the defiant House Freedom Caucus — the group that had argued at every turn that the House bill didn’t go far enough — was pleased with the power his caucus had exhibited. If people had doubted the Freedom Caucus would remain an influential force under President Donald Trump, there was no questioning now their ability to exercise immense influence over not only their leadership’s agenda but their new president’s as well.
      “I would hope that the Freedom Caucus would get credit,” Brooks said. “What happened today was a very good thing for our country.”
      Now,the question is, after their major show of strength, what will become of the House’s most conservative and now despised contingent?
      Before the bill was pulled, one GOP leadership aide warned: “I’ve never seen it as bad as this is now. People are very angry and now you have a White House and president who are also very angry.”
      “If they actually took this down, they might feel like they flexed their muscles, but I feel like they’ve ostracized themselves like they haven’t ever done before,” the aide said. “I think this could be a breaking point for the membership of the Freedom Caucus.”
      The group’s a familiar foe for leadership — a cast of characters that has been front and center in showdowns over government spending bills and the ousting of House Speaker John Boehner. If the House Freedom Caucus had been a thorn in the side of leaders under President Barack Obama, they proved Friday that they wouldn’t yield just because they finally have a Republican president.
      From the beginning, members of the House Freedom Caucus had been among the most outspoken voices against House leadership’s bill. The group met repeatedly throughout the process, emerging from countless late-night meetings in the Rayburn office building to declare they had the votes to kill House leaders’ bill. Three members of their group — Reps. Dave Brat, Mark Sanford and Gary Palmer — had tried to stop it from advancing out of the House Budget Committee, where it narrowly passed 19 to 17.
      On Friday, Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, argued the House Freedom Caucus had done nothing more than exercise its authority to improve the legislation — despite dire warnings from the White House and leaders that voting against the bill could hurt the President’s agenda and threaten the party’s political future.
      “It’s in dictatorships where someone just comes up with a product and that’s it. That’s the final product. In our system, our constitutional republic, we tried something. It might fail then we try again,” he said.
      The chairman of the group, Rep. Mark Meadows, issued a statement declaring he still wanted to work with Trump on health care.
      “I promised the people of North Carolina’s 11th District that I would fight for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement with a market-driven approach that brings down costs and provides more choices for the American people,” Meadows said in the statement. “I remain wholeheartedly committed to following through on this promise. I know President Trump is committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system that works for American families, and I look forward to working with him do just that.”
      In the end, Republican leaders didn’t have the votes they needed to repeal and replace Obamacare — a position that members of both their conservative and moderate flanks had put them in. But the Freedom Caucus will no doubt take a large share of the blame in future retellings of the saga for having negotiated a side deal with the White House in the eleventh hour and then failing to get enough of their members to “yes.”
      House leadership had tried to declare early on that the House’s American Health Care Act wasn’t open for major, sweeping changes, a position that was later undermined by Trump’s signal to the caucus that he was open to large fixes.
      In the end, however, despite the White House trying to give members what they thought they wanted — a repeal of 10 Essential Health Benefits insurers are required to cover under the Affordable Care Act — the House Freedom Caucus still wanted more regulations repealed, which they argued would drive down costs. Members advocated to repeal Article 1, rules that dictated insurers had to allow adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and cover people with pre-existing conditions.
      “It’s fairly amazing that even after meeting with President Trump, they are holding out for removing health care from people with pre-existing conditions, something they know could never pass and goes against everything president Trump promised during the campaign,” one GOP aide familiar with the whip operation told CNN Thursday as it was growing increasingly clear that the Freedom Caucus wasn’t budging enough to make up the difference.
      There was some movement toward passage: Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, had given his blessing to get behind the bill Thursday, but it still wasn’t enough.
      Throughout the process, Meadows declared that progress was being made and he “desperately” wanted to get to “yes.” In the end, however, there weren’t enough Freedom Caucus members on board.
      When asked how the White House viewed the Freedom Caucus after the group had seemed to be move the goalpost, a member familiar with the whip operation, said: “As I told a freshman member when he complained to me that Meadows stabbed him in the back last year, ‘I’m sorry you had to experience what has already happened to the rest of us.'”

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      March 29, 2017

      Source: ICE is targeting ‘sanctuary cities’ with raids

      (CNN)Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been targeting so-called “sanctuary cities” with increased enforcement operations in an effort to pressure those jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration agents, a senior US immigration official with direct knowledge of ongoing ICE actions told CNN.

      A sanctuary city is a broad term applied to states, cities and/or counties that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation or involvement in the enforcement of federal immigration operations. More than 100 US jurisdictions — among them New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — identify as such.
      High-ranking ICE officials have discussed in internal meetings carrying out more raids on those locations, said the source.
        This week, a federal judge in Texas seems to have confirmed that tactic. US Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin revealed during an immigration hearing Monday that a mid-February raid in the Austin metro area was done in retaliation for a local sheriff’s recent decision to limit her department’s cooperation with ICE.
        “There’s been questions about whether Austin is being targeted. We had a briefing…. that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town. There was going to be a specific operation, and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin says in audio of the proceedings provided by the court.
        The judge’s comments came as he questioned an ICE agent about a recent unrelated arrest.
        Austin said that in a late January meeting, local ICE officials told him and another federal judge that an upcoming enforcement operation was being done in direct response to Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s adoption of a sanctuary policy in Travis County.
        Earlier this year, Hernandez announced that beginning in February, her department would no longer honor ICE detainers unless the individual was arrested for murder, sexual assault or human trafficking, or a warrant had been issued. A detainer is a 48-hour hold request placed on suspected undocumented immigrants in local jails until federal agents can come in and take over the case.

        A showdown in Travis County, Texas

        It is a significant shift in the county’s immigration enforcement policy that has put the newly elected Democratic sheriff at odds with pro-enforcement local and state officials, including the Texas Senate, which recently passed a bill that withholds state dollars from sanctuary cities and Gov. Greg Abbott, who cut $1.5 million in funding to the county.
        Days after Hernandez enacted the new measure, a series of immigration raids in Austin netted 51 arrests, fueling speculation that the city was being intentionally targeted. The judge’s comments in open court have further fanned those flames.
        “My understanding, what was told to us, is that one of the reasons that happened was because the meetings that had occurred between the (ICE) field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well,” said Judge Austin during the hearing. CNN reached out to the judge, but he declined to comment further.
        Hernandez refused to comment because she was not present at the meeting between the judges and immigration agents.
        ICE categorically denied any suggestion that planned operations were specifically aimed at the sheriff’s county.
        “Rumors and reports that recent ICE operations are specifically targeting Travis County, Texas, apart from normal operations, are inaccurate,” read a statement from ICE, although it did go on to say that “more ICE operational activity is required to conduct at-large arrests in any law enforcement jurisdiction that fails to honor ICE immigration detainers.”
        This increase in “operational activity” in sanctuary cities is one of the ways ICE is turning up on the heat on local authorities and part of a broader strategy to coerce cooperation, according to the senior immigration official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
        Officials in several sanctuary cities began complaining that they may be getting intentionally targeted after a series of raids around the country in February resulted in almost 700 arrests, but ICE described these operations as routine and said they were planned during the previous administration.
        The senior immigration official pointed out that the raids overwhelmingly took place in sanctuary jurisdictions.
        According to a representative from a pro-immigrant organization, during a recent meeting between ICE and some non-governmental organizations shortly after this operation took place, concerned pro-immigrant advocates were told by a high-ranking ICE official that if their agents were not going to be granted access to local jails, they had no choice but to carry out large-scale apprehensions in other public places or homes.
        She said the message was clear: cooperate or expect more raids. She was shocked to discover that for the first time, anti-illegal immigration, pro-enforcement groups, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, also had been invited to participate.
        Regular meetings between ICE and solely pro-immigrant groups were established in 2003 by the Bush administration in order to get the community’s input on enforcement actions and other concerns.
        ICE would not comment about those invited to the meeting.

        Enforcement actions are not random, ICE says

        ICE has denied that any enforcement operations are meant as retribution against sanctuary jurisdictions, and reiterates that the raids are a continuation of the agency’s normal actions aimed at keeping the public safe.
        “ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations across the country to enhance public safety and national security, and to ensure the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” the agency said in response to these allegations. “Our enforcement actions are not random and target specific violators based on prior intelligence.”
        What appears to be happening, however, is that the Trump administration has begun ratcheting up pressure on sanctuary cities.

        List of counties that declined detainers

        On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security published its first weekly report naming jurisdictions that refuse to hold and release immigrants who could be subject to deportation. Along with the nationwide list of places that have regularly failed to honor hold requests for individuals charged or convicted of a crime between January 28 and February 3, DHS also highlights the 10 counties that had the most declined detainers.
        Sheriff Hernandez’s Travis County in Texas is listed near the top. Based on the report, her jurisdiction had declined 128 ICE detainers and released dozens of inmates in that time period, a statistic that has intensified condemnations from her critics for her change in policy.
        The sheriff countered the report by saying that it covers the period just before her policy went into effect on Feb. 1, and that since then the number of declined detainer requests has gone down.
        President Donald Trump has argued that sanctuary cities endanger public safety and national security by harboring criminals and failing to turn over suspected and convicted criminals to federal authorities, thus the need for coordination with local authorities and enhanced enforcement operations.
        Throughout the campaign and since taking office, he has made cracking down on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities a top priority.
        Officials in most of these sanctuary cities have responded, however, by remaining steadfast in their commitment to sanctuary policies. But while some cities, including Los Angeles and New York, have recently adopted additional measures to protect their undocumented immigrant population, every indication is that they should brace themselves for more raids.

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        March 24, 2017

        Trump warns GOP: Don’t break your health care promises

        Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, in an attempt to sell the GOP Republican health care plan, warned Republicans about breaking all those promises to repeal Obamacare they’ve made over the years.

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        March 22, 2017

        Nikki Haley on North Korea talks: US has ‘been there, done that’

        Washington (CNN)UN Ambassador Nikki Haley offered a glimpse of the administration’s policy on North Korea as tensions mount in the region and the isolated nation continues to develop its nuclear weapons program.

        Haley’s comments in a Thursday interview on CNN’s Erin Burnett “OutFront” came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first trip on the job to Asia, where he derided the US approach to the country during the past two decades and pledged a new path. In the CNN interview, Haley also said the US plans to recalibrate on the issue.
        “We don’t want to get back into the six-party talks,” Haley said, referring to the previous negotiating structure. “We’re not willing to do that. Been there, done that.”
          She said she is not speaking with North Korea’s envoy to the UN, and instead plans to call on China and Russia to get North Korea to reverse course on its efforts to increase its nuclear capabilities and develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.
          “We need other countries, specifically China and Russia, to step up and show us that they are as concerned with North Korea as we are,” Haley said.
          Asked if a preemptive strike would be on the table should China and Russia not put pressure on North Korea, Haley said she wouldn’t speak in hypotheticals but also said all options were open.

          About her boss

          The UN ambassador also said President Donald Trump was not lying on purpose when he said former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign, even though members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have said there is no evidence for his claims.
          “He would never knowingly lie,” Haley said.
          As for whether she had Trump’s ear, Haley said she talks to him and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, adding that the President has allowed her freedom to speak her mind.
          “He allows me to do my job. He doesn’t tell me what to say,” Haley said.
          She also said that Trump had never told her how to approach Russia and that he was aware of what she said — which includes a great deal of criticism, especially regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
          During the campaign, the South Carolina governor criticized Trump on multiple occasions. Since joining the administration, though, Haley has defended Trump on a host of issues.
          She denied that his legally embattled executive order restricting travel from several Muslim-majority nations was a “Muslim ban,” and defended his use of Twitter.
          “I think he’s fine if he’s on Twitter,” Haley said. “You’re not going to stop him from tweeting any more than you’re going to stop me from tweeting.”

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          March 17, 2017

          Five Republican-nominated judges signal support for travel ban

          (CNN)Five Republican-appointed judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals signaled their support for the legal underpinnings of President Donald Trump’s travel ban late Wednesday in an unusual and unsolicited filing.

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          March 16, 2017

          Putting ‘America First,’ Trump said to plan lighter foreign travel than predecessors

          Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, who entered office vowing to prioritize American workers and issues, has told his advisers to plan a lighter schedule of foreign travel than his recent predecessors, according to people familiar with the conversations.

          Trump has told his team that he doesn’t want lengthy trips abroad to distract from his focus on domestic issues in the United States, according to people who have spoken to him about his travel plans.
          And he’s cited the negotiating advantage of meeting leaders at the White House — a symbol of American power — instead of on foreign turf as a reason to put off a major foreign tour.
            Scheduled to first travel outside the country in May for a Group of 7 meeting in Sicily, Trump will lag more than a month-and-a-half behind recent past presidents, who all left for diplomatic trips within the first three months of taking office.
            Trump has also agreed to attend a May summit meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, where the defense alliance is headquartered, and a G20 summit in Germany in July. In addition, he’s accepted invitations to visit the United Kingdom and Japan.

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            March 13, 2017