Federal judge sides with Trump administration in travel ban case

A federal judge in Virginia ruled in favor of the Trump administration Friday, declining to join other federal courts that halted the President’s revised travel ban last week.

Two federal judges — one in Maryland and one in Hawaii — have blocked implementation of the core provisions of the travel ban, and it remains on hold nationwide. Drawing on a litany of then-candidate Donald Trump’s statements about Muslims during the presidential campaign, both of the judges concluded that the new executive order likely violates the establishment clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.

But Virginia-based US District Judge Anthony Trenga was not persuaded that Trump’s past statements automatically mean the revised executive order is unlawful, especially given the changes it made from the first version.

“This court is no longer faced with a facially discriminatory order coupled with contemporaneous statements suggesting discriminatory intent,” Trenga explained. “And while the President and his advisers have continued to make statements following the issuance of EO-1 (the first executive order) that have characterized or anticipated the nature of EO-2 (the revised ban) the court cannot conclude for the purposes of the motion that these statements, together with the President’s past statements, have effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority.”

The practical effect of Trenga’s decision is limited at this point because the travel ban is already frozen nationwide, but it adds another judicial voice in support of the legality of the executive order as it makes its way through further proceedings in federal appellate courts.

“The substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose,” Trenga added.

The Justice Department championed the news.

“As the court correctly explains, the President’s executive order falls well within his authority to safeguard the nation’s security,” said department spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores.

The lawsuit in Virginia was brought by a cohort of US citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals who claimed the revised executive order was discriminatory.

“Thankfully, this decision does not alter the injunctions that are already preventing the implementation of the Trump administration’s illegal executive order. We look forward to the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court weighing in on this matter, as those are the bodies that will ultimately decide whether the Constitution will protect the rights of Muslim Americans,” plaintiffs’ attorney Gadeir Abbas said in a statement to CNN.

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers appeals from district courts in Virginia, is set to hear the Justice Department’s challenge to the Maryland court’s decision in May.

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Federal judge sides with Trump administration in travel ban case

A federal judge in Virginia ruled in favor of the Trump administration Friday, declining to join other federal courts that halted the President’s revised travel ban last week.

Two federal judges — one in Maryland and one in Hawaii — have blocked implementation of the core provisions of the travel ban, and it remains on hold nationwide. Drawing on a litany of then-candidate Donald Trump’s statements about Muslims during the presidential campaign, both of the judges concluded that the new executive order likely violates the establishment clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.

But Virginia-based US District Judge Anthony Trenga was not persuaded that Trump’s past statements automatically mean the revised executive order is unlawful, especially given the changes it made from the first version.

“This court is no longer faced with a facially discriminatory order coupled with contemporaneous statements suggesting discriminatory intent,” Trenga explained. “And while the President and his advisers have continued to make statements following the issuance of EO-1 (the first executive order) that have characterized or anticipated the nature of EO-2 (the revised ban) the court cannot conclude for the purposes of the motion that these statements, together with the President’s past statements, have effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority.”

The practical effect of Trenga’s decision is limited at this point because the travel ban is already frozen nationwide, but it adds another judicial voice in support of the legality of the executive order as it makes its way through further proceedings in federal appellate courts.

“The substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose,” Trenga added.

The Justice Department championed the news.

“As the court correctly explains, the President’s executive order falls well within his authority to safeguard the nation’s security,” said department spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores.

The lawsuit in Virginia was brought by a cohort of US citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals who claimed the revised executive order was discriminatory.

“Thankfully, this decision does not alter the injunctions that are already preventing the implementation of the Trump administration’s illegal executive order. We look forward to the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court weighing in on this matter, as those are the bodies that will ultimately decide whether the Constitution will protect the rights of Muslim Americans,” plaintiffs’ attorney Gadeir Abbas said in a statement to CNN.

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers appeals from district courts in Virginia, is set to hear the Justice Department’s challenge to the Maryland court’s decision in May.

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Plane crashes into Georgia house

A private plane crashed into a residence in an Atlanta suburb Friday night, but the people inside the home got out safely, authorities said.

A Cessna Citation I aircraft went down about three miles northeast of Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field, north of Atlanta, around 7:20 p.m. ET, the FAA said. The plane had been headed to Fulton County Airport, about 20 south of McCollum Field, the FAA said.

The Cobb County Fire Department said the plane crashed into a home but everyone inside the house got out safely.

Photos posted by CNN affiliate WSB-TV showed a house in a suburban neighborhood burning.

Firefighters were still on the scene Friday night and no injuries or fatalities were confirmed.

It’s not known how many people were in the aircraft. The Cessna Citation I is a small jet, according to the Cessna website.

Neighborhood resident John Perry said he noticed his neighbors “were looking up in the sky and I see a plane going straight down, it was going down in a corkscrew fashion, it was really slow, I couldn’t hear an engine,” according to CNN affiliate WAGA.

FAA spokesman Rick.Breitenfeldt said the FAA will investigate. The National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause of the crash.

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Former Penn State President Spanier convicted in Sandusky case

The man who ran Penn State amid allegations that assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was molesting young boys may now face jail time.

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier was found guilty Friday of one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child. No date has yet been set for Spanier’s sentencing. His conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The jury in the Dauphin County courthouse acquitted Spanier of more serious allegations, including conspiracy charges and a felony count of child endangerment.

“There are zero excuses when it comes to failing to report the abuse of children to the appropriate authorities,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Friday in a press conference after the trial. “No one is above the law. Especially when it comes to the welfare of children.”

Spanier’s attorney, Sam Silver, said in a written statement that the former president intends to appeal the verdict.

“While we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict, we are gratified that it was of only a single misdemeanor count. We certainly respect and appreciate the jury’s hard work,” he said. “There always have been substantial questions in this case that need to be reviewed and resolved by the appellate courts, and we fully intend to pursue an appeal.”

Speaking to reporters after the verdict was announced, lead prosecutor Laura Ditka called the conviction “a major victory.”

Spanier’s conviction follows last week’s guilty pleas from former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz on misdemeanor charges of child endangerment.

Asked if she was disappointed by Spanier’s acquittal on felony endangerment charges and failure to make a report, Ditka said no.

“There’s been a conviction of Jerry Sandusky, a conviction of Graham Spanier, a conviction of Tim Curley and a conviction of Gary Shultz,” she said, “I’d be foolish to be disappointed.”

Penn State responded to the verdict in a statement posted on the university website.

“Penn State has extraordinary expectations of our leaders, who must set and maintain the example for reporting, ethics and compliance that reflect best practices,” it reads in part. “In the view of the jury, with respect to Spanier, and by their own admission, as to Curley and Schultz, these former leaders fell short. And while we cannot undo the past, we have re-dedicated ourselves and our University to act always with the highest integrity, in affirming the shared values of our community.”

Since the arrest of Curley and Schultz in 2011, and that of Spanier in 2012, questions have been raised about how officials handled multiple reports that Sandusky was acting inappropriately with young boys at Penn State facilities. Some reports alleged rape, some alleged nothing more than strange behavior.

Spanier made a name for himself in the world of academia by successfully raising millions of dollars and transforming Penn State into one of the most well-respected state institutions. He was also a fascinating character: He studied sociology and wrote papers about mate-swapping and extramarital behavior, which made for entertaining reading for students. He played the washboard at a local bar in town, and spent a night each semester sleeping in freshmen dorms.

But he was also notorious for his ego. Critics say he had a misperception of the world outside of his bubble and did not understand the implications of the Sandusky scandal when it broke. He didn’t appear to understand that the world was watching, telling people the news vans would soon leave campus and things would go back to normal in a few days.

He was wrong. Four days after Sandusky’s arrest on November 5, 2011, Spanier was fired, along with Paterno.

By the end of the following year, he’d been arrested and charged.

He has always maintained his innocence.

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Saving Obamacare is now up to Trump

Next move on Obamacare? It’s up to President Trump.

Minutes after House Republicans shelved their bill that was supposed to save the nation’s health care, Trump repeated that Obamacare was on the verge of collapse.

“Bad things are going to happen to Obamacare,” said Trump, calling out the large premium increases and insurer defections that plagued the exchanges this year. “There’s not much you can do about it. It’s not sustainable.”

While Trump is trying to shift the responsibility to the Democrats, it’s his administration that will largely have to decide whether 20 million people who gained coverage under the sweeping 2010 health reform law will remain insured.

It’s not at all clear that Obamacare is in a death spiral, but there’s no question the program is troubled. Insurers have found themselves with sicker and costlier customers than they expected, forcing them to raise rates and exit certain markets.

But carriers say it’s now largely in the hands of the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers as to whether they will participate next year. Over the past several months, insurers have urged officials to provide clarity on several key measures that they say will help shore up the exchanges.

“If Republicans want to stabilize the market, they have the tools to do so,” Dr. Mario Molina, chief executive of Molina Healthcare, which has just under 1 million exchange enrollees in nine states, told CNNMoney. “If they don’t act, they can’t say Obamacare exploded. They made the decisions that led to people losing their coverage. They can’t shift the blame anymore.”

Insurers must decide in coming weeks whether they’ll participate on the exchanges next year. At least one, Humana, has already said it won’t. Molina said he will decide in May.

Among the top priorities is having Congress fund the cost-sharing subsidies that reduce the deductibles for millions of low-income enrolleee. Lawmakers have delayed their decision at least until April.

Also, insurers want the Department of Health & Human Services to clamp down on special enrollment periods so that people can’t sign up when they become sick. And carriers want the agency to continue the Obama administration’s efforts to bolster the risk programs that insulate them from costly policyholders.

“There’s still a lot that can be done for market stability,” said Kristine Grow, spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a main trade association for insurers.

Trump officials have already started taking steps to stabilize the market, which they have had to do to fulfill their pledge not to have millions of people lose coverage as they tried to move to the Republican plan.

HHS is already working to tighten enrollment periods and require enrollees to pay any back premiums they owe before signing up again. The agency is also giving insurers a little more latitude in how much their policies must cover in the individual market. This proposed rule, which should be finalized soon, addresses several industry concerns.

Also, Health Secretary Tom Price has made it clear he is open to giving states more flexibility in how they administer their exchanges and their Medicaid programs.

Asked for a comment about the agency’s next steps, an HHS spokeswoman pointed to a recently-created website titled “Providing Relief Right Now for Patients.” It lists the measures HHS is taking to address Obamacare — originally intended to be one of a three-prong effort to overturn the law.

“Within what the law allows, HHS is taking action to stabilize the individual and small group insurance markets (the markets most affected by the ACA) so that they work better for everyone,” the site reads.

At the same time, some of the administration’s moves — and certainly the Republicans’ rhetoric — have damaged Obamacare.

Enforcing the individual mandate, which remains the law of the land since the GOP repeal bill failed, is one of the keys to keeping younger, healthier consumers in the market. The Internal Revenue Service has loosened its oversight slightly, citing Trump’s executive order to lift Obamacare’s financial burdens on Americans where possible.

Whether to step back more on the mandate is up to Trump.

“It’s a decision that can be traced directly to the White House,” said Molina, whose company is one of the few to have prospered in the exchanges.

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What the failed Obamacare repeal means for tax reform

President Trump, the dealmaker-in-chief, was unable to bring together a factionalized Republican Party to make good on their marquee promise of the past 7 years: To repeal and replace Obamacare.

But now Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan hope to move on to greener pastures.

“We’re going to go for tax reform, which I’ve always liked,” Trump said after Ryan pulled the Obamacare repeal bill from the House floor Friday afternoon.

As stunning a defeat as this is for Trump, Ryan and the Republican Party, Ryan asserted that it wouldn’t ruin their chance to do tax reform.

“Yes, it does make [tax reform] more difficult but not in any way impossible,” Ryan said in a briefing with reporters Friday.

What’s more, he noted, “every man and woman in this conference is motivated more than ever to step up our game.”

But not everyone is quite so sure that Republican tax reform efforts won’t suffer as a result of their failure on Obamacare.

“The defeat of health care reconciliation threatens to derail the entire Trump economic plan. Period. The balkanization of the GOP will continue. And Trump becomes an anchor around some GOP incumbents’ necks,” said longtime Senate Budget senior staffer Steve Bell, now an economic policy advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

In any case, when the GOP takes up tax reform in earnest, they may have to do so with more sobered expectations as to what they can accomplish, said Dean Zerbe, former senior counsel to the Senate Finance Committee chairman and currently national managing director at alliantgroup.

“It will all be more modest,” Zerbe said — noting for instance, Republicans may lower tax rates but they won’t be able to make them as low as promised.

While the word “reform” might be used it may not be a full overhaul of the tax system, either, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday morning asserted that that’s very much still the goal and the hope is still to get it done in 2017.

But both lawmakers and Wall Street have been overly optimistic about what can be accomplished this year on the tax front.

They’re underestimating how long it will take to get real buy-in from key players on something as complex as a tax code overhaul.

And they’ve disregarded the difficulty of getting agreement on a key question: Should the cost of the tax cuts in a reform package be paid for with tax increases elsewhere, and if so, where?

“The more you have to make up with revenue, the more enemies you’ll make,” Gray said.

At this point, Zerbe can see Republicans opting for a package of tax cuts and other changes that add a trillion dollars or two to deficits in the first decade.

Of course, Republicans will also rely on so-called dynamic scoring to help make any package of tax cuts look less costly. Dynamic scoring assumes tax cuts will generate some economic growth. That growth in turn will generate revenue and that can partly offset the loss of revenue from a tax cut.

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