Senator Corker mocks White House as ‘public relations firm’ for Saudi Crown Prince

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Corker mocks White House as ‘public relations firm’ for Saudi crown prince

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday criticized the White House for acting like a “public relations firm” for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman after President Trump issued a statement defending U.S.-Saudi relations.

“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Corker wrote in a retweet of Trump’s statement questioning whether the crown prince was responsible for the death of U.S.-based dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Corker, who is set to retire as chairman of the Foreign Relations panel at the end of the year, recently criticized the White House for not sharing intelligence about the details of Khashoggi’s murder. He was killed last month by a team of Saudi agents after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The CIA recently concluded that Prince Mohammad was involved in the plan to kill Khashoggi based on an intercepted phone call and other evidence, according to multiple reports.

Trump, however, on Tuesday noted that King Salman and the crown prince have vigorously denied any knowledge of the planning or execution of Khashoggi’s murder.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in his statement.

Corker was the third prominent Senate Republican to criticize Trump’s statement on Tuesday.

He called earlier this month for sanctions against Saudi Arabia that went beyond the punishments the Trump administration has leveled against the 17 Saudi agents found to be directly involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

Corker praised those individual sanctions as “a significant step in that process that hopefully will involve additional action as well.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate’s State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, earlier on Tuesday issued a statement warning Trump not to look past Saudi Arabia’s behavior.

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Graham said in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon.

Graham argued Tuesday that the Senate should act by voting on sanctions legislation.

“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” he said in his statement.

“While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince — in multiple ways — has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic,” he added.

Graham is one of several Republican cosponsors of the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, which would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, prohibit U.S. planes from refueling Saudi coalition aircraft involved in the civil war in Yemen, and require a report on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

The other GOP cosponsors are Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, earlier on Tuesday criticized Trump’s statement as promoting a “Saudi Arabia First” policy instead of an “America First” doctrine, as the president claimed.

Paul has called for a vote on legislation blocking an arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump has valued at $110 billion.

 

Lindsey Graham: ‘Impossible to believe’ Saudi Crown Prince was unaware of Khashoggi killing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Lindsey Graham: ‘Impossible to believe’ Saudi Crown Prince was unaware of Khashoggi killing

“He is irrational, he is unhinged, and I think he has done a lot of damage” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Graham said.
Image: Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham speaks with Chuck Todd on Meet The Press on Nov. 18, 2018.NBC News

 / Updated 
By Kailani Koenig

WASHINGTON — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday harshly condemned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his alleged role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling him “unhinged” and pointedly refusing to work with the prince in the future.

“The fact that he didn’t know about it is impossible for me to believe,” Graham said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.” The South Carolina senator said he hasn’t been given an official briefing on the matter, but maintained that the conclusion that the crown prince had a role in Khashoggi’s murder should be clear to anyone with knowledge about the country.

“If he is going to be the face of Saudi Arabia going forward, I think the kingdom will have a hard time on the world stage,” Graham added. “They are an important ally, but when it comes to the crown prince, he is irrational, he is unhinged, and I think he has done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and I have no intention of working with him ever again.”

The United States announced sanctions this week against 17 Saudi Arabian officials over the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

NBC News reported on Friday that the CIA has concluded that the crown prince himself ordered the assassination.

Graham said he doesn’t want to let the individuals who carried out the killing to become “the fall guy,” but instead, “I am going to do whatever I can to place blame where I believe it lies: I am going to put it at the feet of the crown prince who has been a destructive force in the Mideast.”

The senator noted that he previously had a lot of hope for the prince’s potential as a reformer in the region, but “that ship has sailed as far as Lindsey Graham is concerned.”

Graham’s language on Saudi Arabia stands in stark contrast to President Trump, who repeatedly told “Fox News Sunday” this weekend that the crown prince has continually denied involvement in the incident.

Asked whether the prince was lying, Trump responded, “he told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times at different points.”

The president also asked, “Will anybody really know? He did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved.”

On Sunday, Graham was asked about the bond between the crown prince, Trump, and Jared Kushner, and he said, “I’ll leave it up to the president to find out how to handle Saudi Arabia from the executive branch side.”

“From the legislative branch side, we’re going to do as much as we can, as hard as we can, to send a signal to the world,” he continued. “This is not how we expect an ally to act. What happened in Turkey violates every norm of civilized society and it will not stand. And if John McCain were alive today, he’d be the first one saying that.”

Graham also maintained that the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, should not be allowed back in to the United States as ambassador.

Also on “Meet The Press,” Graham publicly called on the president to move forward on the issue of criminal justice reform, asking him to “pick up the phone” and lobby Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring their bill on the issue to the floor.

“The Republicans are the problem here, not the Democrats,” Graham said.

Lindsey Graham, Brett Kavanaugh, and the unleashing of white male backlash

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF VOX NEWS)

 

Lindsey Graham, Brett Kavanaugh, and the unleashing of white male backlash

“I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should just shut up, but I will not shut up.”

Friday morning, during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said probably the most honest thing about this hearing that a Republican has said during the entire process.

“I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should just shut up, but I will not shut up,” Graham said.

Graham is elevating the stakes of the Kavanaugh hearing. No longer is this about Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, or what he may have done to her in suburban Maryland in 1982. It’s about beating back the challenge from feminists and people of color demanding a seat at the table; it is about showing that white men in power are not going anywhere — that they will not listen, will not budge, and will not give ground to #MeToo or the Black Lives Matter movement.

This was always the subtext of the Republican approach to the sexual assault allegations. But now Graham has officially made it the text: Voting “yes” on Kavanaugh is the battle cry of the reactionary man.

Lindsey Graham, Donald Trump, and backlash politics

Donald Trump’s 2016 election is now widely understood among social scientists to be a kind of backlash to social progress. The backlash against a black president gets the bulk of the attention, but there’s also good evidence that a sexist backlash to the prospect of a woman president played a major role.

Research by three political scientists — Brian Schaffner, Matthew MacWilliams, and Tatishe Nteta — found extremely strong correlations between an individual’s scores on measures designed to estimate racist and sexist sentiments and their likelihood of supporting Trump:

Brian Schaffner/Matthew MacWilliams/Tatishe Nteta

There is not a single, discrete backlash in the United States in the Trump era. There’s a more wholesale one, directed not just against racial minorities but decades of social progress for all sorts of different marginalized groups. Trump is a living, breathing avatar of this kind of politics. But at the outset of his presidency, it was an open question as to how far Republican members of Congress would be willing to buttress the president on these points.

Graham just showed that he’s pretty willing indeed.

The specific language that he used — “I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I’m just supposed to shut up” — is a direct reference to one of the core arguments used by feminists and social justice activists: that white men in positions of privilege don’t have direct experiences with hostile sexism or racism, and should listen to the people who have.

Graham is saying he cannot, and will not, listen: He will vote for Kavanaugh regardless of what Ford said, and will defend him in the face of any criticism about the gender and power dynamics at work.

“I will not shut up” is a perfect mantra for Trumpian backlash politics. There is no risk that white men are, in mass, going to be silenced: They occupy the commanding heights of power in every walk of American life. The demands that they be quiet at times are a response to the over representation of their voices, that they understand what life is like for more vulnerable people and then change the way they act accordingly.

But Graham is not willing to give even that little ground. His rage on this point, one shared by Trump’s base, has been palpable throughout this process. During Thursday’s hearing, he interrupted Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor that Republicans had deputized to ask questions during the hearing, to deliver a furious rant in defense of Kavanaugh.

“To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” Graham said during Thursday’s hearing.

After Graham spoke, Mitchell was denied a single additional question. The Republicans on the committee, all white men, took turns apologizing to Kavanaugh for what he had gone through.

The literal silencing of Mitchell, and the stolid refusal to credit Ford’s account of Kavanaugh’s behavior, shows just how much contempt the modern Republican Party has for the idea of taking women’s equality serious seriously. The Kavanaugh confirmation has been a defiant attempt to show that #MeToo does not speak for the country, and a declaration that the white men the movement has targeted will not back down.

There is no better epitaph for this whole sorry episode than a white man from South Carolina saying he will not shut up.

John McCain just dealt the GOP’s latest healthcare bill a critical blow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

John McCain just dealt the GOP’s latest healthcare bill a critical blow

John Kerry John McCainSen. John Kerry, D-Mass. listens at left as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speak during a news conference on on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, to urge Senate approval of an international agreement for protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. AP

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican who delivered the final blow to the previous attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, came out against the Graham-Cassidy bill Friday afternoon, dealing the legislation a potentially fatal blow.

In a statement, McCain said the lack of regular order in crafting the legislation is what pushed him away.

“I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment,” McCain said. “But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30 budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.”

“We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009,” McCain added. “If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.”

McCain’s opposition puts the bill on the brink of defeat. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, said Friday she was leaning against voting for it. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has come out strongly against the legislation. Republicans can only afford two defections for the legislation to pass.

McCain also pointed to the lack of clarity surrounding future impacts of the bill if it were to become law. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office announced they would not be able to provide a full estimate of the bill’s impact by the September 30 deadline in which the GOP would try to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

The longtime Arizona lawmaker also said he believes Sens. Bill Cassidy and Linsdey Graham were making a genuine attempt to fix what he believes is a broken healthcare system, but the process by which it was being conducted was not in accordance with how the upper chamber should operate.

“I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can,” McCain said.

New GOP health care bill could allow cheaper plans with fewer benefits

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

New GOP health care bill could allow cheaper plans with fewer benefits

  • Cruz’s so-called Consumer Freedom amendment is contentious among Republicans
  • The amendment would allow insurers to sell cheaper plans with fewer benefits

Washington (CNN) Senate Republicans unveiled their newest health care bill Thursday as they continue to search for the majority needed to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Now, it’s up to senators to decide if they like it.
The new bill includes major changes to the original. One of the most significant was the inclusion of an amendment by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, which would allow insurers offering Obamacare plans to also offer cheaper, bare-bones policies. The amendment was included in an effort to earn more conservative support, but could also drive away some moderates who fear the amendment could drive up premiums for those with pre-existing conditions.
It also contains significant new funding for opioid treatment and money for states meant to lower premiums for high-cost enrollees. But it would keep two Obamacare-era taxes on the wealthy and maintains significant cuts to Medicaid, meaning 15 million fewer people could insured by the program by 2026.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still in search of the 50 votes he needs to pass the bill — he can only afford to lose two senators — but the hope for leadership is that a few changes may be able to finally get Republicans on a path to repeal and replace Obamacare after seven years of campaign promises.
Already on Thursday Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he wouldn’t even support the motion to debate the bill on the floor.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, also told reporters that she would not vote for the motion to proceed unless she saw significant signs from the nonpartisan scoring agency — the Congressional Budget Office — that the cuts to Medicaid would be less severe than she anticipated.
“The only thing that can change that is if the CBO announcement, which come out on Monday, indicates that there would be far fewer in Medicaid than I believe there are now,” Collins said.
Emerging from a meeting with fellow senators Thursday, Republicans were cautiously optimistic with many saying they needed to sit down to read the bill before they made any final decisions.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said he was “still thinking” as reporters swarmed him.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said “I always want to say I criticized Nancy Pelosi for saying ‘we got to pass the bill to know what’s in it.’ I want to know what’s in it before I say I’m gonna pass the bill.”
Moderates from Medicaid expansion states continued to voice their concerns about the new bill. West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said she was “very much undecided” and would meet once again with McConnell this afternoon.
“I still think there’s a lot of unanswered questions particularly coming from a state that has a high percent of people with pre-exiting conditions,” she said.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the GOP holdouts, was unhappy that reporters had seen a summary distributed to lobbyists before she had seen the bill.
Asked if she was upset by how the process unfolded, she said “yes.”
“I think that as a courtesy to those of us who are actually making the decisions that we would actually have an opportunity to see it first,” Murkowski added.
A major question remains whether President Donald Trump can use his bully pulpit to actually move senators.
Trump has lobbied for Republicans to move quickly. The President said Wednesday he would be “very angry” if Republicans can’t pass the bill.
“I don’t even want to talk about it because I think it would be very bad,” Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “I will be very angry about it and a lot of people will be very upset.”

What’s new?

The revised legislation has $45 billion in opioid treatment funding — a top request from senators like Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — as well as in state stabilization money aimed at lowering premiums for high-cost enrollees.
But another concern for moderate senators — that the Senate bill makes steep cuts to Medicaid funding — was not addressed in the new version. The original bill calls for slashing $772 billion from Medicaid by 2026, compared to current law, leaving 15 million fewer people insured by the program.
In a retreat from a key GOP promise, the bill would also keep two Obamacare-era taxes on the wealthy. That came as members said they worried about the optics of cutting taxes for the rich while also slashing funding for subsidies that go to help low-income people to buy insurance. Retaining the taxes, which saves the federal government $230 billion over 10 years, provides McConnell money to help boost the stabilization fund, sources said. But it is also likely to infuriate conservative lawmakers and lobbying groups.
The legislation would allow consumers to use their health savings accounts to pay their premiums for the first time, which Cruz called “very significant.”

Graham plan

Also Thursday, GOP Sens. Cassidy and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proposed an alternative approach to replacing Obamacare that would keep much of the federal taxes in place and sending that money to the states to control.
They say that one of the primary reasons Republicans are having such a hard time agreeing is because they are working from the Obamacare template — particularly federal control of health insurance.

Cruz amendment

Cruz’s so-called Consumer Freedom amendment is considered contentious among Republican senators with some moderates having raised concerns that it could hurt those with pre-existing conditions. The amendment would allow insurers that offer Obamacare plans on the exchanges to also sell policies that are exempt from certain of the law’s mandates. That could allow carriers to provide less comprehensive plans with lower premiums, which would likely attract younger and healthier Americans.
But that would leave the sicker, more expensive consumers in the Obamacare plans, causing their premiums to spike.
Offering Obamacare plans will also make insurers eligible for new federal funding aimed at helping insurers pay for high-cost enrollees.
Sen. Mike Lee — a Utah Republican and close Cruz ally — tweeted Thursday morning to say that he has not seen the newest version of the Cruz amendment included in leadership’s health care bill and was unsure if he could support it.
There’s also no guarantee the Cruz amendment — in whatever form — will even get a Senate vote. It could be stripped from bill at any time as GOP leaders negotiate and work their way through Senate rules.
Insurers, who have largely stayed on the sideline in the health care debate, voiced strong opposition to the amendment, saying it would destabilize the individual market. Two major lobbying groups said this week that it would create two sets of rules and make coverage unaffordable to those who are sick.
“I’m writing to make clear my view on how the ‘Consumer Freedom Option’ is unworkable as it would undermine pre-existing condition protections, increase premiums and destabilize the market,” Scott Serota, CEO of Association of Independent Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans, wrote to Senators Cruz and Lee earlier this week.

President Trump is ‘considering’ firing Mueller

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN AND PBS)

Trump’s friend Christopher Ruddy says President ‘considering’ firing Mueller

Washington (CNN) One of President Donald Trump’s friends said Monday he believes the President is considering dismissing special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to lead the FBI investigation into Russia’s potential ties to the 2016 election.

“I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel,” Christopher Ruddy — who was at the White House Monday — told PBS’ Judy Woodruff on “PBS News Hour.” “I think he’s weighing that option.”
A source close to the President said Trump is being counseled to steer clear of such a dramatic move like firing the special counsel.
“He is being advised by many people not to do it,” the source said.
However, a White House official said Ruddy did not speak to the President about potentially terminating Mueller.
And deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said simply: “Chris speaks for himself.”
Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media, based his Mueller comment on a television interview with one of Trump’s lawyers. When asked about the interview by CNN, Ruddy said: “My quote is accurate.”
He told Woodruff he thinks firing Mueller “would be a very significant mistake, even though I don’t think there’s a justification … for a special counsel.”
“Chris speaks for himself,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary.
Mueller was appointed FBI Director by President George W. Bush in 2001 and served until 2013, when Comey took over as head.
Since being appointed special counsel in May, he has built a team of formidable legal minds who’ve worked on everything from Watergate to Enron. He has long been widely respected by many in Washington from both sides of the aisle, with many lawmakers praising Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein’s pick.
Still not everyone is a fan.
Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich reportedly told radio host John Catsimatidis that Congress should “abolish the independent counsel.”
“I think Congress should now intervene and they should abolish the independent counsel,” the former House speaker said. “Because Comey makes so clear that it’s the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation by the FBI director leaking to The New York Times, deliberately set up this particular situation. It’s very sick.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, disputed that report.
“I don’t think Newt said that,” Graham told reporters. “I think it’d be a disaster. There’s no reason to fire Mueller. What had he done to be fired?”
After news of Ruddy’s interview surfaced on the web, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, echoed that sentiment on Twitter.
“If President fired Bob Mueller, Congress would immediately re-establish independent counsel and appoint Bob Mueller,” the California lawmaker tweeted. “Don’t waste our time.”
Schiff later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump was considering ousting Mueller.
“You have to hope that common sense would prevail,” Schiff said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me at all, even though it would be absolutely astonishing were he(Trump) to entertain this. The echoes of Watergate are getting louder and louder.”
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