US discussion – blame game continues

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Donald Trump blamed Democrats in Congress for the failure of the Republican health  care bill, then promoted in advance a Fox News criticism of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Now he has criticised conservative Republicans.

But Trump has been criticised for his lack of knowledge of details of the bill, with suggestions that he didn’t care about it.

Fox News: Trump hits Freedom Caucus, Washington conservatives for nixing ObamaCare overhaul

On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled the final vote for the ObamaCare replacement bill, upon concluding he didn’t have enough votes despite the chamber’s GOP majority.

Ryan, R-Wis., was purportedly about 20 votes short of the requisite 216, amid strong opposition from the chamber’s conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has 30 to 40 Republican members.

The conservative groups The Heritage Foundation and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth group also opposed the overall plan, written by Ryan and his leadership team and backed by Trump.

Perhaps it was an attempt to embarrass Ryan, but if the White House deliberately sabotaged the bill that would be of very dubious benefit to themselves and Trump, who had campaigned strongly on ditching Obamacare.

It looks like a White House/GOP disaster, and a bad start to Trump’s presidency.

What was it? Incompetence or serious GOP dysfunction?

Ex GOP chairman and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has joined the blame game and suggests a GOP own goal.

Fox News: Priebus on ObamaCare overhaul: It’s time for GOP to ‘start governing’

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Sunday acknowledged that Democrats are not the culprits in Republicans’ failed ObamaCare overhaul bill, saying it’s time for the GOP to “start governing.”

“You’re right,” Priebus said to questions on “Fox News Sunday” about President Trump calling out Democrats after the bill died Friday in the GOP-controlled House amid insufficient GOP support.

“At the end of the day, it’s time for the party to start governing,” Priebus continued. “I also think though, that Democrats can come to the table as well.”

Getting the Democrats to the table might take a bit of effort from the White House. Isn’t that something Presidents are supposed to do?

Trump relaxed terms of engagement or just more aggression?

The possibility has arisen that terms of engagement relaxed after Donald Trump wanted more aggression in the Middle East may have caused a surge in civilian deaths in Syria.

NY Times: U.S. Investigating Mosul Strikes Said to Have Killed Up to 200 Civilians

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Whether the terms of engagement have changed or not more aggression (perhaps reinforced with the attitude of the President) and more attacks is almost certain to result in more mistakes and more civilian casualties.

It will be interesting to see how Trump handles the world exposure of more aggressive IS actions.

Rules of engagement and civilian deaths

The ‘rules of engagement’ in modern warfare in relation to civilian deaths are a prominent factor in the ‘Hit & Run’ book and subsequent calls for an inquiry in New Zealand forces involved in attacks on two Afghan villages in 2010.

The US military played a prominent role, providing the faulty ‘intelligence’ that prompted the attacks, and also most of the fire power that caused the deaths and injuries of civilians and the destruction of their property.

Coincidentally this report from the Guardian: Mosul’s children were shouting beneath the rubble. Nobody came

Coalition bombs buried more than a hundred people in the ruins of three houses and raised fresh questions about US rules of engagement

By the time rescuers finally arrived no one was left alive. For almost a week desperate neighbours had scraped through the rubble, searching for as many as 150 people who lay buried after three homes in a west Mosul suburb were destroyed by coalition airstrikes.

Neighbours said at least 80 bodies had been recovered from one house alone, where people had been encouraged by local elders to take shelter. Rescuers were continuing to dig through the ruins, and the remains of two other houses nearby, which had also been pulverised in attacks that were described as “relentless and horrifying”.

This illustrates risks of modern asymmetric warfare, but civilian casualties have long been prevalent in conflict zones.

The US military said it was launching an investigation. Cololnel Joseph Scrocca, from the US-led command in Baghdad, said “the coalition has opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment on this allegation” from Mosul.

That sounds appropriate, but it is often difficult to get comprehensive evidence from a war zone still under fire.

Residents in Mosul Jadida say no Isis members were hiding among the civilians, although dozens of militants had been attempting to defend the area from an attack by Iraqi special forces.

Isis has been widely accused of using civilians as human shields by positioning guns and fighters on top of houses. Most residents at the scene said that while the group’s members were indeed on the roof of at least one of the homes, those who took shelter below did so willingly.

A very difficult situation.

‘Terms of engagement’ should indeed be rechecked.

And another thing – the US military has long had a reputation for it’s lack of subtlety in attack, it’s rip shit and bust blast to smithereens approach.

Might is not always the right way to do things.

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Since the health care bill was pulled:

That has reignited speculation but it could mean anything. Or nothing.

RCPTrumpAverage

The effects of the health bill failure haven’t kicked in yet.

US discussion – Trump pulls health bill

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Partisan split at House intel committee over canceled open hearing

“Yesterday, the counsel for Paul Manafort contacted the committee yesterday to offer the committee the opportunity to interview his client,” committee chairman Devin Nunes announced during a news conference.

Nunes also announced that the committee is bringing in FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers for a second briefing, this time behind closed doors so that they can provide more information. The committee is also delaying its March 28 hearing, a decision infuriating Democrats on the committee.

“Chairman just cancelled open Intelligence Committee hearing with (former Director of National Intelligence James) Clapper, (former CIA Director John) Brennan and (former deputy Attorney General Sally) Yates in attempt to choke off public info,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee tweeted moment before going to speak to the press Friday morning.

Schiff refused to say whether he thought Nunes should step down from his position, telling reporters, “What’s really involved here is the cancellation of this open hearing and the rest is designed to distract.”

It seems odd that Nunes is heading a committee investigating a campaign that he has been involved with.


Live updates: Will Obamacare be repealed under Trump?

House tees up repeal vote, 11:30 a.m. The House took a procedural step to set up final vote on Obamacare repeal. The chamber voted 230-194 to let debate move forward on the bill. Six Republicans voted no, but that doesn’t indicate how the vote on final passage will turn out.

New amendments can’t be offered on the floor, and debate will last four hours. That sets up a late afternoon vote on final passage.

This is only step one. One of the reasons some Republicans are reluctant to support the Bill is that they think the Senate will reject it.

Spicer doesn’t sound confident.

Spicer: Trump has given his all. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the White House still wants a vote Friday, as he defended Trump’s role in pushing the bill. Trump “has left everything on the field when it comes to this bill,” Spicer said. “The president and his team have committed everything they can to making this thing happen. And the speaker is going to continue to update him on the way forward.”

Spicer reiterated that negotiations on the bill are done and Republicans now have to decide whether to make good on their years-long pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“I think at the end of the day — you know, I said this yesterday — you can’t force people to vote,” he said. “But I think we’ve given them every single reason to fulfill every pledge that they’ve made, and I think this is the right thing to do.”

GOP lawmakers: The bill is dead, 4:15 p.m. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who chairs the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, is ready to move on. “We tried. We tried our hardest. There were people who were not interested in solving the problem. They win today.”

Greg Walden, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, also seems to be looking forward. “We have a lot of health care issues to deal with. We tried our best on this one.”

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Wall Street Journal editorial: A President’s Credibility

Trump’s falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad.

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world?

We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.

Fox News: Roger Stone: Democrats engaged in ‘fear-mongering’ on Russia claims

Roger Stone Jr., the legendary Miami-based political consultant and self-styled “dirty trickster,” found himself in the middle of the House Intelligence Committee hearing maelstrom earlier this week when top Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff questioned whether the FBI was investigating him and other Trump associates as part of its probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Now, Stone is firing back, telling Fox News that Democrats are engaged in “fear-mongering” and “new McCarthyism.”

“There is no proof of collusion between the Russians and Trump,” he told Fox News, calling the claims part of a “witch hunt.”

Fox News: Manafort confirms work for Russian billionaire, denies pushing country’s ‘political interests’

President Trump’s former campaign chairman acknowledged on Wednesday he had worked for a Russian billionaire about a decade ago, but he denied a report suggesting the lobbying efforts served Russian political interests.

The Associated Press report on Paul Manafort comes amid swirling accusations – and congressional and FBI investigations – of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Kremlin operatives.

The AP reported early Wednesday that Manafort worked for aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin and proposed a political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics. The report said the revelation may contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

But Manafort noted his advocacy for Deripaska predated his own association with Trump’s campaign and suggested his services did not amount to lobbying for Russian interests.

 

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Comey: no evidence supporting Trump’s wiretap accusations

FBI Director James Comey has just appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.

On Donald Trump’s tweeted accusations that then-President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign:

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI”.

He also said that that the Justice Department had also looked for evidence to support Trump’s  allegation and couldn’t find any.

And the Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers strongly denied allegations repeated by the Trump administration that he’d asked GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump.

Comey declined to say whether the FBI was investigating the potential leak of classified information related to now resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but said that such a leak would be taken very seriously.

Comey  confirmed that the FBI was investigating if Russia had meddled in the presidential election, including investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

The official presidential Twitter account responded:

BBC Live: FBI: No evidence Obama wiretapped Trump

Summary

  1. FBI director Comey confirms investigation into alleged Russian meddling in US election and any Trump links
  2. The law enforcement chief says there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump
  3. The Trump administration says ‘nothing has changed’ and ‘there is NO EVIDENCE of Trump-Russia collusion’
  4. The NSA’s head strongly denies Trump administration claims that he asked Britain’s GCHQ to spy on Trump
  5. Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, trade barbs at Senate hearing on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating any possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the election outcome.

US intelligence chiefs have previously said only that they believed Russia aimed to favour Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Comey also said neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice had evidence to support Trump’s claims that his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapped his phones ahead of the election.

And the Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers strongly denied allegations repeated by the Trump administration that he’d asked GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump.

Rogers said that would violate both US law and international spy agreements.

Chris Wallace at Fox News:

Wallace said it was “pretty startling” to hear the FBI director confirm that the Trump campaign – including President Trump – is under FBI investigation.

He added that Comey also said that the FBI has “no information” to support Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration during the presidential campaign.

“It’s been a bad day for the Trump White House,” Wallace said.

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