U.S. to provide $2.5M in aid to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia

The U.S. Agency for International Development announced Tuesday that they will be providing $2.5 million in emergency assistance to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. 

USAID administrator Mark Green said in a statement that the food and medical aid will be distributed in the Colombian border communities hosting the refugees. 

Green said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration’s political mismanagement and corruption were to blame for the humanitarian crisis. 

“Even as people are suffering every day from hunger, lack of basic necessities, and preventable diseases, the Maduro regime continues to deny fundamental freedoms and access to basic humanitarian needs,” Green said

The United Nations estimates more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have been displaced. Colombian officials estimate about 600,000 were living in Colombia. USAID is partnering with the Pan American Health Organization and the UN World Food Program to provide the assistance.

The USAID announcement follows a visit by the former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to Colombia, where he met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss Plan Colombia and the crisis in Venezuelan. After Tillerson’s visit, Santos was in Cucuta, the largest Colombian city near the border with Venezuela, and promised to set up a center to help refugees. 

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Lawmaker accused of suggesting violence against Trump

Democratic congressman Tom Suozzi is facing criticism after comments he made last week were interpreted as a suggestion of violence against President Donald Trump.

Suozzi, a first-term congressman from New York, made the comments during a town hall in Huntington, New York, on March 12.

After being asked by a constituent about what consequences Trump would face if he broke laws, Suozzi replied that “it’s really a matter of putting public pressure on the President and making it public.”

“This is where the Second Amendment comes in quite frankly, because you know, what if the President was to ignore the courts? What would you do? What would we do?” Suozzi continued.

A member of the crowd asked what the Second Amendment was, to which Suozzi replied, “The Second Amendment is the right to bear arms. That’s why we have it.”

The answer was met with chatter and some nervous laughter.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Martin accused Suozzi of suggesting the Second Amendment could be used as a means of opposing Trump.

“When resistance and obstruction don’t work out, Tom Suozzi proposes violence. He’s completely out of touch,” Martin said in a statement to CNN.

A representative for Suozzi defended the comments, stating that “to suggest his comments meant anything else or that he was advocating for an armed insurrection against the existing President is both irresponsible and ridiculous.”

“Taking a page from such great Americans as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, Congressman Suozzi explained why our founding fathers created the Second Amendment as a way for citizens to fight back against a tyrannical government that does not follow the rule of law,” senior adviser Kim Devlin said in a statement.

Suozzi was elected to Congress in November 2016 and began his first term in January 2017. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee and previously served as the mayor of Glen Cove, New York, and as Nassau County Executive.

During the 2016 campaign, then-Republican nominee Trump set off similar controversy with remarks about the right to bear arms that were interpreted by many as a threat of violence against Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump said in August 2016.

At the time, Trump defended his comments, saying he was telling his supporters to use the power of their vote to stop Clinton from appointing justices who could restrict their Second Amendment rights.

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Negotiations continue as shutdown deadline looms

Republicans in the House of Representatives left a meeting on Capitol Hill Monday evening with few answers on what will be included in a massive spending bill to keep the government funded ahead of a looming Friday deadline.

Aides and members say lawmakers are scrambling to resolve a host of policy disagreements from a controversial rail program between New York and New Jersey to a health care market stabilization package that has become intertwined with the must-pass spending bill.

Lawmakers need to fund the government before midnight Friday to avert a federal government shutdown.

Health care measures not currently included

Among the top unresolved issues remain what to do about the Affordable Care Act and whether to attach legislation aimed at stabilizing the Obamacare marketplace and driving down insurance premiums.

Republican leaders and committee chairs who gave presentations Monday in the closed-door conference meeting pitched the $1.3 trillion bill as a “big win” to a skeptical conference, according to one lawmaker in the room.

Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Arkansas, reiterated that the bill wasn’t finished yet, but that at present he does not believe that stabilization measures for the Affordable Care Act marketplace will be in the bill because of fights over whether to include the Hyde Amendment, which is regularly attached to annual funding bills, and makes permanent a ban on federal agencies using funds for abortion services.

“No Hyde protections, no CSRs,” Womack said referring to the cost sharing reduction payments that go to insurers to help cover the cost of insuring low income people. Womack said that the payments were “not in there as we speak.”

According to a person in the room, there was applause when leadership told the room they wouldn’t compromise on the issue and that plans were to keep health care stabilization out of the proposal if Democrats wouldn’t agree on abortion restrictions.

Over the weekend, according to two people familiar with the call, President Donald Trump spoke directly with the legislation’s top sponsors Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and expressed his support for the plan. But Democrats have rebuffed abortion restrictions that Republicans want to include in it. And some conservatives have balked at spending money to prop up a health care system they tried to repeal last year.

“I’m still optimistic it’s going to be included,” Collins said Monday evening before House Republicans met. “It is the right thing to do. It would result in rate decreases that would provide substantial relief.”

Other issues up for debate

The meeting has also included presentations from House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry, who touted the major increase in defense spending, and House Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghusen, who walked through the key components of the bill.

Freylinghusen acknowledged the massive bill isn’t done yet as of Monday evening and there are still ongoing negotiations, the lawmaker in the room told CNN.

But health care is hardly the only issue causing tension in the negotiations. According to several aides who spoke with CNN, the omnibus isn’t expected to include legislation that would modernize the process victims on Capitol Hill undergo when they report harassment. Reports that it would not be included in the must-pass spending bill prompted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, to release a blistering statement.

“I am appalled that House and Senate leadership removed provisions from the omnibus bill at the last minute that would have finally brought accountability and transparency to Congress’s sexual harassment reporting process,” Gillibrand said. “It begs the question: Who are they trying to protect?”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman David Popp argued that nothing was removed last minute, but instead that the negotiations were ongoing.

Another issue that may go untouched is immigration. Some had hoped that the White House and Capitol Hill could find a way to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the spending negotiations.

But instead, a source familiar told CNN that the White House and congressional negotiators hit an impasse Sunday after the White House offered Democrats $25 billion in wall funding in exchange for a two and a half year continuation of DACA. A counter offer was made to demand a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA eligible individuals in exchange for full wall funding, but according to the source familiar with the discussion, the White House passed. Politico was the first to report the negotiation.

At this point, controversial riders may be scrapped rather than included in an effort to stave off any government shutdown. Republicans were still trying to find a way to correct some errors in their tax bill, but those negotiations were hitting headwinds as Democrats demanded concessions for the changes.

For now, the race is on to get the bill out the door and to the floor where it can get a vote before Friday.

“We’ll get there,” McConnell told reporters Monday evening.

This story has been updated to include additional developments.

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Mueller team gives Trump lawyers more details

As President Donald Trump’s reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller grows more irate by the day, attorneys on both sides sat down last week in a rare face-to-face discussion about the topics investigators could inquire of the President. It was the first in-person meeting after several weeks of informal discussions between the two sides, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

Mueller’s team added granularity to the topics it originally discussed with the defense team months ago, like the firing of FBI Director James Comey, according to one of the sources. This time around, for instance, the prosecutors said they would ask about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ involvement in the Comey dismissal and what Trump knew about national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016.

The meeting makes clear that Mueller’s investigation into contact between Russians and the Trump campaign and other criminal matters isn’t likely to end anytime soon and still may focus on Trump and what he knew. The meeting and its revelations also have unleashed a new level of Trump’s public hostility toward Mueller, even while some of the President’s advisers show a willingness to negotiate Trump’s testimony.

The President’s attorneys sent the special counsel a summary of evidence they had turned over to prosecutors already, a practice they’ve followed multiple times throughout the investigation. Mueller himself didn’t attend the meeting. But prosecutors including former Watergate prosecutor James Quarles III gave Trump’s lawyers enough detail that the President’s team wrote a memo with possible questions they expect to be asked of him.

One source familiar with the matter said the President has vacillated on agreeing to an interview in recent months. Trump was interested in speaking with Mueller’s team if the probe would end soon, as his lawyers had long promised, another source said. But once the President realized Mueller’s work isn’t nearing a conclusion, he’s become more agitated and has lashed out on Twitter.

“They (the legal team) created the expectation that the probe was going to be done in December,” and that expectation, plus the recent discussions and a subpoena of Trump Organization documents, set the President off.

Both sides could reach an agreement about the proposed sit-down interview — and whether they’ll even allow it — in the coming weeks, according to a source familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment Monday night.

CNN reported in January that Mueller’s team had given the President’s lawyers general topics for an interview, such as Trump’s request that Comey drop the investigation into Flynn, his reaction to Comey’s May 2017 testimony on Capitol Hill, and Trump’s contact with intelligence officials about the Russia investigation.

A source familiar with the talks said more recent discussions about Trump’s interview also touched on Sessions and Flynn. Sessions previously spoke to Mueller’s team while investigators looked into possible obstruction of justice. And during the transition, Flynn had spoken to Kisklyak about sanctions and the United Nations, then lied to investigators about the calls before Trump fired him. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with Mueller in December.

Trump repeatedly has publicly offered to speak with Mueller under oath and even said he looked forward to the opportunity. Yet behind the scenes, the President has wavered on his pledge as friends and advisers cautioned him of the risks of speaking to prosecutors who’ve already charged 19 individuals with criminal offenses, including lying. Until this point, Mueller’s prosecutors have made it clear they wanted to speak with Trump but had no formal discussion with the President’s lawyers about setting up the interview.

For months, Trump’s defense lawyer inside the White House, Ty Cobb, has downplayed Mueller’s need for the President’s testimony and the depth of the investigation. Yet the meeting last week made it clear to Trump that Mueller won’t wrap up soon.

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WaPo: Trump lawyers trying to get ahead of Mueller interview

Lawyers for President Donald Trump recently provided the special counsel’s office with documents in an attempt to limit the scope of an interview between Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Two people familiar with the situation told the Post that Trump’s attorneys are worried that Trump could get into trouble during a lengthy interview with the special counsel, and therefore provided “written descriptions” of moments under investigation to limit some of the questioning.

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