China Rejects U.S. Target for Narrowing Trade Gap

Beijing officials offer to step up purchases, but refuse to commit to Trump administration’s specific $200 billion cut from bilateral deficit

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking at the White House on May 18, said China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by ‘at least $200 billion.’
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking at the White House on May 18, said China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by ‘at least $200 billion.’ PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A last-ditch effort by the Trump administration failed to get China to accept its demand for a $200 billion cut in the U.S. bilateral trade deficit, as Chinese officials resisted committing to any specific targets after two days of contentious negotiations.

The two days of deliberations in Washington ended with both sides arguing all night on Friday over what to say in a joint statement, people briefed on the matter said. The Chinese had come willing to step up purchases of U.S. merchandise as a measure to narrow China’s $375 billion trade advantage. But U.S. negotiators pushed the Chinese delegates to approve a specific target of $200 billion in additional Chinese purchases. The Chinese refused any such target in specific dollar amounts, and the matter is now in the hands of President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, the people said.

The two sides released a joint statement shortly after the Chinese delegation was scheduled to return home, but it made no reference to the specific purchasing amounts that the U.S. had wanted.

“Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports,” the statement said, adding that “the delegations also discussed expanding trade in manufactured goods and services. There was consensus on the need to create favorable conditions to increase trade in these areas.”

Chinese officials were wary of appearing to make concessions to Washington, and insisted the statement note that any Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services are intended to “meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people.”

China on May 18 said it is dropping antidumping and antisubsidy investigations into imported U.S. sorghum.
China on May 18 said it is dropping antidumping and antisubsidy investigations into imported U.S. sorghum. PHOTO: SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Beijing negotiators had come to Washington to settle a feud resulting from the Trump administration’s impatience with China’s large trade advantage. The U.S. side is also frustrated over allegations China pressures U.S. firms to transfer advanced technology and steals U.S. intellectual property. Washington has demanded China address these issues, under threat of U.S. tariffs on as much as $150 billion in Chinese goods. Should the U.S. make good on those threats, Beijing has promised to respond with its own tariffs on U.S. imports.

The procedural steps toward implementing the first tranche of threatened U.S. tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports could be completed by as early as next week, but in the joint statement, the two sides agreed to continue talking.

Souring the mood among Chinese officials were some U.S. media reports that China had accepted a U.S. request that Beijing slash its vast merchandise trade surplus by $200 billion, an amount that would cut by more than half the U.S. trade deficit with China. The Chinese side saw those reports as a last-minute effort by Trump administration officials to pressure Beijing into a public agreement that would meet U.S. objectives.

Early Friday, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, had told reporters that China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by “at least $200 billion.” Mr. Kudlow also said “they are meeting many of our demands. There is no deal yet, to be sure.”

While Beijing has been wary of committing to numerical targets of specific purchase amounts, it has in general offered to buy more U.S.-made autos, energy and agricultural products as a way to ease the trade tensions between the two nations that have rattled global financial and commodities markets.

The Chinese delegation was headed by Vice Premier Liu He, who impressed Washington officials, Mr. Kudlow said in a Friday interview with White House reporters, adding Mr. Liu is a “smart guy, a market guy.”

One of Washington’s central demands is that China reduce its merchandise trade surplus by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020, even though economists in both nations say the trade deficit is affected by investment and savings patterns in both nations—not trade policy. Beijing has rejected most U.S. demands in the past and has continued to hold firm.

The U.S. Agriculture Department recently asked agriculture companies to come up with a list of products whose production could be ramped up rapidly for export to China, a person following the talks said. At the same time, China put together a list of high-tech products that are barred by U.S. export controls for sale to China but are allowed by other nations.

Beijing argues that if the U.S. would ease the export controls on these items, it would purchase more from the U.S., the person briefed on the matters said. Even so, some U.S. officials believe, the additional Chinese purchases would only total $50 billion to $60 billion in the next year or two, far short of the U.S. goal.

One Chinese request is for a reprieve on China’s ZTE Corp. from crippling U.S. sanctionsover its trade with Iran and North Korea. Mr. Trump said early last week that he would work with Mr. Xi to get the telecommunications-equipment maker “back into business,” defending such a move as part of a trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with China.

However, “there is no firm agreement on ZTE as of yet,” a person familiar with the discussions said. U.S. lawmakers from both parties have criticized any effort to ease restrictions on the company, calling ZTE a security threat, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) tweeting on Saturday: “If we don’t wake up & start treating this as a national security issue, China is going to win again.”

Settling the trade fight is taking on a degree of urgency as the tensions start hurting businesses in both countries. U.S. goods, including sorghum, soybeans and cars, have faced growing hurdles when entering China, while a U.S. order banning American companies from selling components to ZTE not only threatens the survival of the company but also that of other state-owned Chinese companies.

Responding to Mr. Trump’s promise of a reprieve for ZTE, Beijing has made a number of conciliatory gestures. China’s antitrust regulators had delayed for months U.S. private-equity firm Bain Capital’s $18 billion deal for Toshiba Corp.’s memory-chip unit, but on Thursday, the Japanese firm said regulators had allowed the deal to proceed. Chinese regulators also promised this week to restart their review of U.S. chip maker Qualcomm Inc.’s bid for NXP Semiconductors NV.

China has also offered to hold back penalties on a variety of U.S. agricultural products it announced in early April as retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum exports. China is a top buyer of U.S. farm products. On Friday, China’s Commerce Ministry announced an end of its antidumping investigation into imported U.S. sorghum.

Write to Bob Davis at and Lingling Wei at

Inside the secret U.S. stockpile meant to save us all in a bioterror attack

Look inside the nation’s secret stockpile of life-saving drugs

The $7 billion Strategic National Stockpile, a government repository of drugs and supplies, is ready for deployment in a terrorist or nuclear attack. 

A SECRET LOCATION OUTSIDE WASHINGTON, D.C. — From the outside, it looks like an ordinary commercial warehouse, only much bigger, about the size of two super Walmarts. Inside it’s dark except when motion sensors are triggered. When the lights come on, hundreds of thousands of shrink-wrapped boxes of medicines emerge from the gloom, stacked on shelves nearly five stories high.

This is quite a different kind of warehouse. It and several others across the country are part of the $7 billion Strategic National Stockpile, a government repository of drugs and supplies ready for deployment in a bioterrorism or nuclear attack, or against an infectious disease outbreak — of either a known pathogen or some unknown threat with pandemic potential, which global health officials dub “Disease X” — or other major public health emergency. There are antibiotics, including the powerful medication Ciprofloxacin, vaccines for smallpox and anthrax and antivirals for a deadly influenza pandemic.

The need for biodefense has become more clear in the wake of outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa, Zika in the Americas, devastating wildfires and hurricanes, and the poisonings of the North Korean leader’s half brother in Malaysia and former Russian spies in England with nerve and radiological agents. Last year, the federal government added three new chemicals to its list of high-priority threats, including chlorine and blister agents, such as mustard gas, that have been used in deadly chemical weapons attacks in Syria. On Monday, officials announced plans to add more anthrax antitoxin.

For nearly two decades, the repository has been almost exclusively managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That will change under a Trump administration plan to shift oversight of the $575 million program to a different part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Doing so, proponents say, will keep the program intact but streamline decision-making and create “efficiencies.”

But some public health officials and members of Congress in both parties worry the move will disrupt a complex process that relies on long-standing relationships between the federal program and the state and local agencies responsible for distributing the medicine. During a congressional hearing last week, lawmakers expressed concern that a change could risk the government’s ability to deliver lifesaving medical supplies to what public health officials call “the last mile” — to people in need during a disaster.

“You have spent years planning and exercising and training because you need to know what to do if 100,000 doses of Cipro showed up in your state,” said Ali Khan, who used to oversee the program and now is dean at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health. “How would you get it out? Who would dispense it? These parts are as critical as maintaining the medicines in pristine condition.”

He and other public health experts also question whether the administration’s plan will politicize decision-making about products bought for the stockpile. The office of the assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR)oversees the process by which the government awards contracts to private biotechnology companies that develop and manufacture medicines such as anthrax vaccine. The CDC then is responsible for buying and replenishing the materials. Eligible medicines are tested by the Food and Drug Administration to check if, and for how long, the expiration date can be extended.

Come October, however, the ASPR will be in charge of choosing the products and then purchasing them for the stockpile. Proponents say the shift makes sense operationally to place key decisions about the repository under one office.

“I think this is a very good move,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “It will help coordinate and organize the delivery of vital medical responses.”

But critics say it will allow biotech companies to lobby for more of their specialized, and often more expensive, drugs to be included because the federal government is often the only purchaser. Just because the government can buy these products, they say, doesn’t mean it should do so given the parallel need for medications, like antibiotics, that have much broader use.

And it’s not clear, they caution, whether the new structure will make Americans safer.

The stockpile should contain “the stuff we need for the disasters we know we’re going to have — like gloves, syringes, Cipro, penicillin, antibiotics, and influenza vaccines — versus the newest, sexiest version of the anthrax vaccine,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who was Maryland’s health secretary during the 2001 terrorist and anthrax attacks.

Officials won’t say how many stockpile warehouses exist. But there are at least six, according to a 2016 independent report. All the locations are secret, including this one in an industrial complex off a busy highway. A reporter allowed to tour the facility had to agree not to disclose the location. No camera, video equipment or cellphone is permitted inside.

Inside one of the warehouses of the Strategic National Stockpile are containers of medical supplies ready for shipment in the event of a large-scale public health incident. These supplies can be sent out within 12 hours of a federal decision to deploy. (CDC)

In the early hours of a crisis, the warehouse can send an affected city or region a “12-hour push package,” a pre-configured cache of 130 containers of antibiotics, syringes and oxygen tubing, enough to fill the belly of a widebody plane. “About 50 tons of materiel,” said Shirley Mabry, the stockpile’s chief logistics officer.

In the section of the warehouse where biologic drugs such as botulism antitoxins are stored at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit, workers wear full-body insulated suits. Because of the intense cold they are limited to 20 minutes inside the two enormous freezers, just enough time to drive a forklift in and retrieve a pallet of medicine. An intensely loud vibrating sound makes conversation impossible.

Nationwide, the repository contains enough medical countermeasures to add up to more than 133,995 pallets. Laid flat, they’d cover more than 31 football fields — or 41 acres of land. They contain enough vaccine to protect every person in America from smallpox.

The stockpile program was created in 1999 under President Bill Clinton to respond to terrorist events, including the first World Trade Center bombing, the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and the Oklahoma City bombing. The original goal was to be ready for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. The repository includes nearly 2,000 caches of nerve agent antidotes, known as Chempacks, that are stored and maintained separately from the warehouses at more than 1,300 locations around the country where they can be accessed quickly.

Over time, the stockpile’s mission has expanded to include natural disasters and emerging infectious disease threats. The stockpile deployed antiviral medicine during the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic, and vaccines, portable cots and other supplies during the hurricanes that devastated Houston and Puerto Rico last year. As the only source of botulism antitoxin in the United States, it also sends medicine for about 100 cases a year of severe food poisoning.

The inventory exceeds 1,000 categories of drugs and other items, but CDC’s budget hasn’t always been able to keep up with the program’s ever-growing list of needs.

Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center became a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“It’s a mission among many pressing missions among the CDC,” said Tara O’Toole, who was undersecretary for science and technology under President Barack Obama and chaired a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee in 2016 that reviewed the challenges facing the program. “Bottom line, it’s a good idea to lay the responsibility of the cost of maintaining it on the same people who decide what to put in the stockpile.”

The group of federal agencies making decisions about what goes in the repository is led by the ASPR office, which is headed by former Air Force physician Robert Kadlec. He is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush on biodefense and former deputy staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Kadlec stresses that the impending change has nothing to do with CDC’s performance. “The question here is whether we can get better efficiencies,” he said in an interview. At the same time, he said he will be able to advocate most effectively for the program to give it greater visibility, which could lead to more funding.

“Quite frankly, by the back of the envelope, they need more money,” he said.

When the stockpile was established, CDC was the only major public health agency in the federal government. The ASPR office, created in 2006 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to manage emergency responses across the government, was historically focused on natural disasters and threats from dirty bombs or crude biological or chemical weapons, he said. But since then, the world has changed, with many more unpredictable threats. The ASPR office needs to change to meet these threats. “The decision to move the stockpile, I think, was just a natural one,” Kadlec said.

Yet Congress has some bipartisan concerns about the stockpile’s future. Republican and Democratic appropriators, who just gave the program budget a slight boost for this year, signaled their unease as part of the recently passed spending bill. They specifically highlighted CDC’s “unique expertise in public health preparedness and response, science-based policy and decision-making, public health communication, and coordination with state and local groups.” Lawmakers also “strongly urged” HHS Secretary Alex Azar to “maintain a strong and central role for CDC” in the program.

Kadlec testified April 18 at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on next year’s HHS biodefense budget. Rep. Tom Cole, (R-Okla.), who chairs the health subcommittee, told Kadlec his main concern is “that we make this organizational change in a way that makes [the stockpile] stronger, not one that’s duplicative, let alone something that might disrupt the relationships we have.”

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, faults the administration for failing to get “any input from Congress” despite the fact that lawmakers are in the process of reauthorizing the law that includes the Strategic National Stockpile.

“We have yet to see proof this large-scale public health program with complex state, local and federal partnerships would be better served at ASPR than at CDC,” Murray wrote in a letter in February to Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director. At the CDC, she said, the program “may be better protected from politicization and therefore better able to be scientifically driven.”

Mulvaney defended the plan in his response, saying it will “streamline operational decisions during responses to public health and other emergencies and improve responsiveness.” It is unlikely Congress could derail the move, but appropriators have to fund it and still can provide direction and oversight.

At CDC, the program’s current director is hoping its planned move this fall will provide new ways to improve the stockpile’s capability. Regardless of where it is located within HHS, Greg Burel said, in an emergency “we will not change the way we respond.”

Read more:

CDC seeks new labs for bioterror pathogens to replace aging facility

In emotional speech, CDC’s new director vows to uphold science

This woman is first human infected with rare eye worm

Angela Merkel and Donald Trump stress unity amid differences

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump emphasized the importance of transatlantic ties at a press conference on Friday. Iran, trade and defense spending were high on the agenda.

Watch video00:58

Trump welcomes Germany’s Merkel at the White House

US President Donald Trump afforded German Chancellor Angela Merkel a warm welcome at the White House Friday, calling her an “extraordinary woman.”

But Merkel’s “working trip,” which follows French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to the United States, did not appear to bring significant progress on a range of disagreements, including US tariffs and Trump’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

Read more: US-German conflicts — what you need to know

What they said:

Iran: Trump said “we must make sure that this murderous regime does not get nuclear weapons.” Merkel said the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was a “first step” toward curtailing Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East. “But we also think … that this is not sufficient in order to see to it that Iran’s ambitions are curbed and contained,” she added.

US tariffs: Merkel said the two leaders had “an exchange of views” on whether the US would extend an EU exemption for US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, but gave no further details. “The decision [on whether to grant the extension] lies with the president,” she said.

Defense spending: Trump said NATO allies need to “spend 2 percent and hopefully much more of GDP on defense,” he added without explicitly mentioning Germany. Merkel said Germany’s defense budget would increase in 2019 and that it was on its way to meeting the 2 percent goal.

Trade deficits: Trump said the US wants a “fair and reciprocal” trade with European countries and cited the US’s trade deficit with the European Union. Merkel said Germany wanted “fair trade” in line with global trading rules. She also hinted at opening negotiations on a bilateral US-EU trade deal.

North Korea: Trump thanked Merkel for helping the US in its “maximum pressure” campaign toward North Korea. He added that the US is “not going to be played” in peace talks with Pyongyang. Merkel credited Trump for remaining vigilant in maintaining sanctions on North Korea and said she would work with Trump to stop the North’s nuclear program.

Read more: North and South Korean leaders end summit with nuclear pledge

President Donald Trump welcomes German Chancellor Angela MerkelThis year, Merkel did receive a handshake from Trump

In Macron’s footsteps

French President Emmanuel Macron Emmanual spent three days in the US earlier in the week in a state visit to the US. The French president used his trip to lobby Trump to stay in a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and refrain from slapping tariffs on goods from allied countries.

Read more: France’s Emmanuel Macron urges Donald Trump not to ditch Iran deal

Protecting free trade from Trump

The US enacted tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in late March, but temporarily exempted European imports from the measures at the last minute. Germany’s exporting companies called on Merkel to convince Washington to maintain the exemption beyond May 1.

Protecting the Iran deal from Trump

Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and threatened to withdraw the US from it unless changes are made by May 12. The agreement suspended international sanctions in return for Iran promising to halt its nuclear program. Merkel and Macron want to save the deal.

Merkel’s gift

During her visit, Merkel gifted Trump a framed map created in 1705 that depicts the Palatinate region in western Germany. Some of Trump’s ancestors emigrated from the city of Kallstadt in the region to the United States.

Steffen Seibert


Kanzlerin hat @POTUS einen Kupferstich von 1705, eine Landkarte der Rheinpfalz, mitgebracht. Von dort stammen seine Vorfahren.

Merkel’s cheeseburger

The German chancellor ate a cheeseburger with bacon and French fries after she arrived in Washington on Thursday evening, according to a waiter from “J. Pauls” restaurant. The waiter, who told German broadcaster n-tv about the meal, said Merkel washed it all down with a Pinot Grigio.

Read more: Can Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron save the Iran nuclear deal?

amp/rt (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)


Washington no more: Palestine turns to Moscow for future Israel talks

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Washington no more: Palestine turns to Moscow for future Israel talks
It is no secret that Palestinian trust in Washington as an impartial broker and mediator in future peace talks with Israel has been shredded.

And given the Trump administration’s reckless, not to mention illegal, decision to declare Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, who can blame them?

This historic rupture with Washington on the part of the Palestinian Authority was articulated by President Mahmoud Abbas, at the start of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

“We [the Palestinians] state that from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the US in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions,” he said.

With these sentiments, the Palestinian leader provides more evidence of damage to Washington’s moral standing and political authority in the Middle East due to the actions of the Trump administration. Consequently, it is to Moscow that Abbas and the Palestinians are now looking to help mediate future diplomatic initiatives with Israel.

Of course, no one with even the most basic understanding the tortuous history of the Palestinian struggle for justice will have been under any illusions when it comes to Washington’s bias in favor of its close ally Israel when it comes to this issue. However, President Trump has removed even the patina of impartiality that Washington had sought to maintain, deciding for transparently domestic reasons to go where no previous US president had dared go in acceding to the likewise-domestic agenda of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital city.

With Netanyahu now on the verge of being indicted in Israel on corruption charges, perhaps we gain a deeper understanding of not only the domestic context in which the recognition of Jerusalem was so crucial to him in December, while the police investigation into these corruption allegations was ongoing, but also Israel’s aggressive posture in Syria of late.

None of this, of course, does anything to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians, whose rights continue to be negated on a daily basis by Israel in the form of its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the siege of Gaza, which falls under the category of collective punishment.
It should be noted that the Palestinians still foresee a role for the US in future talks and peace initiatives, but from now only on a multilateral basis in conjunction with Russia, along with, it is to be presumed, the EU and the UN with the region. The involvement of the UN in future talks is especially necessary, despite its authority of having been consistently subverted by Washington and Israel of late.

Regardless, it would be folly for either to believe that there is any scope for a unilateral or bilateral approach when it comes to resolving this issue. Illusions of this sort will only succeed in dragging the world back to 19th-century colonial and imperialist norms, and would be disastrous for stability, peace and the security of all.

When it comes to the pressing matter of where we are and the challenge of navigating towards any kind of workable resolution that can satisfy the Palestinians’ righteous demand for justice and Israel’s need for security, along with the overall stability of the region upon which both depends, we encounter the salient truth that only the strong can compromise and only equals can reach agreement.

Often lost in the avalanche of obfuscation and dissembling that has traditionally suffused this seemingly intractable question is the simple fact that it is Israel occupying Palestinian territory not the Palestinians occupying Israeli territory. It is Israelis building and expanding illegal settlements on Palestinian territory, not the Palestinians building and expanding illegal settlements on theirs. And it is the Israelis who are currently holding close to 2 million Palestinians under siege (in Gaza) not the Palestinians holding close to 2 million Israelis under siege anywhere.

Clearly, in a perfect world international law would be equally applied and equally respected by all states and nations no matter the size of the economy, military might or historical weight said state or nation enjoys. But such a perfect world is not the one we live in.

The challenge then lies in persuading Israel that justice for the Palestinians, which is now long overdue, is also in its own strategic and security interests, regardless of the self-evident morality involved.

Oppression breeds resistance, and by any objective measure the Palestinians are an oppressed people. If history proves anything it is that until those who are oppressed are free, neither will those who oppress them be free.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

US Congress passes tax overhaul bill

The measure now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature. The biggest rewrite of the US tax code in more than 30 years marks the first major legislative achievement of Trump’s presidency.

Washington Protest gegen US-Steuerreform (Reuters/J.L. Duggan)

Both houses of the US Congress approved a sweeping tax reform bill on Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory.

The House of Representatives by passed the bill 224-201 Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the bill passed through the Senate 51-48 along party lines. All Democrats voted against Trump’s tax overhaul, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. It also lowers rates for families at all income levels, but the biggest benefits go to America’s wealthiest.

The corporate tax cut is permanent but all of the voters’ tax cuts will fade out by 2026 to comply with Senate rules.

Read more: US tax reform breaks global rules, EU says

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the Senate Chamber in case he needed to break a tie vote. After the bill passed the Senate floor, Pence proclaimed to loud cheers that “the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has passed.”

Shortly after the Senate approved the bill, Trump took to Twitter, saying: “The United States Senate just passed the biggest in history Tax Cut and Reform Bill. Terrible Individual Mandate (ObamaCare) Repealed.”

Delay in the vote

Republicans had already passed the sweeping tax reform measure in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, but were forced to send the bill back for revision after it appeared to violate Senate rules.

Watch video01:23

Set to boost business, tax bill divides US

‘Mad dash’

The offending provisions related to educational savings accounts for home schooling and private university endowments.

“In the mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors, our Republican colleagues forgot to comply with the rules of the Senate,” Democrat Senators Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden said in a joint statement after the blunder emerged.

About an hour after the bill passed the House on Tuesday, the Senate voted along party lines to debate the legislation.

The $1.5-trillion (€1.27-trillion) package will provide steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy and more modest cuts for middle- and low-income families starting in January and February 2018. It revamps how the US taxes multinational companies, and introduces a new tax deduction for the owners of “pass-through” businesses, ranging from mom-and-pop stores to large real estate and financial enterprises.

Initial jubilation

President Donald Trump initially celebrated the bill’s passing by the House on Twitter, congratulating House Speaker Paul Ryan along with Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who he called “great House Republicans who voted in favor of cutting your taxes!”

Congratulations to Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Kevin Brady, Steve Scalise, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and all great House Republicans who voted in favor of cutting your taxes!

Ryan hailed the package, saying “today, we give the people of this country their money back.”

The House initially voted largely along party lines: 227-203, with zero Democrats voting in favor. Pence postponed a trip to the Middle East in case he was needed to break a tie vote.

US stocks fell on Tuesday over concern about the bill’s effect on years of monetary policy stimulus and the future of interest rates.

GOP Senate leader McConnel: ‘Public will learn to love it’

Despite passing in both chambers, Trump’s tax reform package remains deeply unpopular with most of the public, who see the bill’s biggest benefits going to the wealthy. The Republicans’ drive to slash taxes is also expected to push the US’ national debt even higher.

Democrats have labelled it a “giveaway” to corporations, whom they don’t see hiring more workers or raising wages on the back of the breaks.

Read more: S&P sounds alarm over US debt ceiling

Nevertheless, Republicans insisted that the public would benefit and eventually respond positively. “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

“The proof will be in the paychecks,” Rob Portman, a Republican Senator from Ohio, said during the nighttime debate. “This is real tax relief, and it’s needed.”

Democrats, however, continued to chide the bill after it passed the Senate, with New York Senator Chuck Schumer telling Republicans “This is serious stuff, we believe you are messing up America.”

Democrats are expected to seize upon the bill’s unpopularity ahead of next year’s congressional elections.

“Every fundraiser, every fat check from a billionaire, and every champagne and caviar party has been about getting to this day, the day when the politicians they put in charge of Washington would pay them back with a $1.5 trillion giveaway,” said Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Watch video01:25

US Tax Reform – welcome gift or lump of coal?

bik, dm, aw/cmk (AP, Reuters)


Juggalos march in Washington to protest FBI gang classification (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Juggalos march in Washington to protest FBI gang classification (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Juggalos are holding a mass march in Washington, D.C. to protest their designation by the FBI as a gang.

‘Juggalos’ is the the collective term for fans of Detroit hip-hop duo the Insane Clown Posse. Juggalos can be easily identified by their distinctive black and white face paint and numerous tattoos.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Most of the signs at the  stick to their rallying call: FBI de-list them as a criminal gang

However in 2011 fans of the group were designated a “loosely organized hybrid gang” in the FBI’s 2011 Gang Task Force report. Juggalos claim that since then they have been “subjected to various forms of discrimination, harassment, and profiling simply for identifying as a Juggalo.”

Thousands of Juggalos are expected to travel from all over the country for Saturday’s march, meeting outside the Lincoln Memorial from 1pm. Scheduled until 2am, the event will feature guest speeches and musical performances, most notably by Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope themselves.

READ MORE: Insane Clown Posse takes on FBI and loses: Juggalos classified as gang

The organizers have laid down a series of strict rules for ‘Juggalo Family’ members to abide by on Saturday, including, no littering, no vandalism, no weapons (or anything that could be construed as a weapon), no alcohol, marijuana or drugs, no vehicles of any kind and no signs or flags that promote violence or threats.

Republican Shadow Campaign for 2020 Takes Shape as Trump Doubts Grow


Vice President Mike Pence appears to be cementing his status as President Trump’s heir apparent, promoting himself as the conduit between Republican donors and the administration.CreditEric Thayer for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.

The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term.

But the sheer disarray surrounding this presidency — the intensifying investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the plain uncertainty about what Mr. Trump will do in the next week, let alone in the next election — have prompted Republican officeholders to take political steps unheard-of so soon into a new administration.

Asked about those Republicans who seem to be eyeing 2020, a White House spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, fired a warning shot: “The president is as strong as he’s ever been in Iowa, and every potentially ambitious Republican knows that.”

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But in interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning.

“They see weakness in this president,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “Look, it’s not a nice business we’re in.”

Mr. Trump changed the rules of intraparty politics last year when he took down some of the leading lights of the Republican Party to seize the nomination. Now a handful of hopefuls are quietly discarding traditions that would have dictated, for instance, the respectful abstention from speaking at Republican dinners in the states that kick off the presidential nomination process.

In most cases, the shadow candidates and their operatives have signaled that they are preparing only in case Mr. Trump is not available in 2020. Most significant, multiple advisers to Mr. Pence have already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not.

Mr. Kasich has been more defiant: The Ohio governor, who ran unsuccessfully in 2016, has declined to rule out a 2020 campaign in multiple television interviews, and has indicated to associates that he may run again, even if Mr. Trump seeks another term.

Mr. Kasich, who was a sharp critic of the Republicans’ failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act with deep Medicaid cuts, intends to step up his advocacy by convening a series of policy forums, in Ohio and around the country.


Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has declined to rule out a 2020 campaign in multiple television interviews.CreditMark Wilson/Getty Images

“He’ll continue to speak out and lead on health care and on national security issues, trade policy, economic expansion and poverty,” John Weaver, a political adviser of Mr. Kasich’s, said.

In the wider world of conservative Trump opponents, William Kristol, editor at large of The Weekly Standard, said he had begun informal conversations about creating a “Committee Not to Renominate the President.”

“We need to take one shot at liberating the Republican Party from Trump, and conservatism from Trumpism,” Mr. Kristol said.

It may get worse, said Jay Bergman, an Illinois petroleum executive and a leading Republican donor. Grievous setbacks in the midterm elections of 2018 could bolster challengers in the party.

“If the Republicans have lost a lot of seats in the Congress and they blame Trump for it, then there are going to be people who emerge who are political opportunists,” Mr. Bergman said.

Mr. Pence has been the pacesetter. Though it is customary for vice presidents to keep a full political calendar, he has gone a step further, creating an independent power base, cementing his status as Mr. Trump’s heir apparent and promoting himself as the main conduit between the Republican donor class and the administration.

The vice president created his own political fund-raising committee, Great America Committee, shrugging off warnings from some high-profile Republicans that it would create speculation about his intentions. The group, set up with help from Jack Oliver, a former fund-raiser for George W. Bush, has overshadowed Mr. Trump’s own primary outside political group, America First Action, even raising more in disclosed donations.


Here are a few of the political events that Vice President Mike Pence has attended:

  • Party-affiliated events:

    He has been the keynote speaker for at least eight Republican events since February.

  • Outside groups:

    He has attended at least eight events since February for politically active groups, including his own group, the Great American PAC.

  • Donor cultivation:

    He was the driving presence behind at least four events in June and July, and hosted private gatherings at his residence earlier this year.

Mr. Pence also installed Nick Ayers, a sharp-elbowed political operative, as his new chief of staff last month — a striking departure from vice presidents’ long history of elevating a government veteran to be their top staff member. Mr. Ayers had worked on many campaigns but never in the federal government.

Some in the party’s establishment wing are remarkably open about their wish that Mr. Pence would be the Republican standard-bearer in 2020, Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said.

“For some, it is for ideological reasons, and for others it is for stylistic reasons,” Mr. Dent said, complaining of the “exhausting” amount of “instability, chaos and dysfunction” surrounding Mr. Trump.

Mr. Pence has made no overt efforts to separate himself from the beleaguered president. He has kept up his relentless public praise and even in private is careful to bow to the president.

Mr. Pence’s aides, however, have been less restrained in private, according to two people briefed on the conversations. In a June meeting with Al Hubbard, an Indiana Republican who was a top economic official in Mr. Bush’s White House, an aide to the vice president, Marty Obst, said that they wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020 and that Mr. Pence would need Mr. Hubbard’s help, according to a Republican briefed on the meeting. Reached on the phone, Mr. Hubbard declined to comment.

Mr. Ayers has signaled to multiple major Republican donors that Mr. Pence wants to be ready.

Mr. Obst denied that he and Mr. Ayers had made any private insinuations and called suggestions that the vice president was positioning himself for 2020 “beyond ridiculous.”

For his part, Mr. Pence is methodically establishing his own identity and bestowing personal touches on people who could pay dividends in the future. He not only spoke in June at one of the most important yearly events for Iowa Republicans, Senator Joni Ernst’s pig roast, but he also held a separate, more intimate gathering for donors afterward.

When he arrived in Des Moines on Air Force Two, Mr. Pence was greeted by an Iowan who had complained about his experience with the Affordable Care Act — and who happened to be a member of the state Republican central committee.

The vice president has also turned his residence at the Naval Observatory into a hub for relationship building. In June, he opened the mansion to social conservative activists like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and representatives of the billionaire kingmakers Charles G. and David H. Koch.

At large gatherings for contributors, Mr. Pence keeps a chair free at each table so he can work his way around the room. At smaller events for some of the party’s biggest donors, he lays on the charm. Last month, Mr. Pence hosted the Kentucky coal barons Kelly and Joe Craft, along with the University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, for a dinner a few hours after Ms. Craft appeared before the Senate for her hearing as nominee to become ambassador to Canada.

Other Republicans eyeing the White House have taken note.

“They see him moving around, having big donors at the house for dinner,” said Charles R. Black Jr., a veteran of Republican presidential politics. “And they’ve got to try to keep up.”

Mr. Cotton, for example, is planning a two-day, $5,000-per-person fund-raiser in New York next month, ostensibly for Senate Republicans (and his own eventual re-election campaign). The gathering will include a dinner and a series of events at the Harvard Club, featuring figures well known in hawkish foreign policy circles such as Stephen Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser.

Mr. Cotton, 40, a first-term Arkansas senator, made headlines for going to Iowa last year during the campaign. He was back just after the election for a birthday party in Des Moines for former Gov. Terry E. Branstad and returned in May to give the keynote speech at a county Republican dinner in Council Bluffs.

Mr. Sasse, among the sharpest Senate Republican critics of Mr. Trump, has quietly introduced himself to political donors in language that several Republicans have found highly suggestive, describing himself as an independent-minded conservative who happens to caucus with Republicans in the Senate. Advisers to Mr. Sasse, of Nebraska, have discussed creating an advocacy group to help promote his agenda nationally.


Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been among the sharpest Senate Republican critics of Mr. Trump.CreditTom Williams/CQ Roll Call

He held a private meet-and-greet last month with local Republican leaders in Iowa, where he lamented the plodding pace of Capitol Hill and declined to recant his past criticism of Mr. Trump.

Jennifer Horn, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party who hosted Mr. Sasse in the first primary state last year, said she saw the senator as speaking for conservatives who felt that Republicans in Washington had not been delivering on their promises.

“There are a lot of people in New Hampshire who have developed a lot of respect for him, and I’m one of them,” she said.

James Wegmann, a spokesman for Mr. Sasse, said the only future date that Mr. Sasse had in mind was Nov. 24, 2017, when the University of Iowa meets the University of Nebraska on the football field.

“Huskers-Hawkeyes rematch,” Mr. Wegmann said, “and like every Nebraskan, he’s betting on the side of righteousness.”

Beyond Washington, other up-and-coming Republicans are making moves should there be an opening in 2020. Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations and a former governor of South Carolina, put her longtime pollster on the payroll, has gotten better acquainted with some of New York’s financiers and carved out a far more muscular foreign policy niche than Mr. Trump.

“She sounds more like me than Trump,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a hawkish Republican from South Carolina.

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