House committee grills Comey and Rogers on Trump and Russia: key points

FBI director confirms investigation of Trump campaigns ties to Russian government and smacks down several of the presidents tweets

The House intelligence committee hearing on Russian tampering in the US election has wrapped, as has day one of judge Neil Gorsuchs confirmation hearings. Heres what happened.

  • FBI director James Comey announced for the first time that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian governments efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russias efforts.
  • Trump campaign figures mentioned at the hearing included Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, JD Gordon, Jeff Sessions and Kellyanne Conway. Comey declined to say whether the president was or is being personally investigated.
  • Comey knocked down Trumps assertion on Twitter that Barack Obama had wire tapped him. We do not have any information that supports those tweets, Comey said.
  • Republican chairman Devin Nunes admitted: We know there was not a physical wiretap at Trump Tower. However it is possible that other surveillance technology was used against President Trump and his associates.
  • Tweets sent from the @potus account during the hearing mischaracterized Comeys testimony and that of NSA director Michael Rogers. One tweet said the witnesses had told Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.
  • Comey was asked about the tweet. Weve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact, because its not something weve looked at, Comey said. It certainly wasnt our intention to say that today.
  • Rogers denied a White House claim that the Obama administration asked GCHQ to conduct surveillance on Trump, saying it would have been a violation of US law to ask the British to conduct such an operation.
  • Republicans called for punishment for anyone who leaked classified information to the press, concerning Flynns contacts with Russian operatives or other issues.One member promised to grill former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper about leaks next week.
  • It emerged that the FBI investigation of Russian tampering was launched in late July, although the public did not learn of the investigation for months, well after the FBI saw fit to announce its investigation of Hillary Clintons emails.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/20/key-points-house-committee-hearing-trump-russia-comey

Democrats seek 9/11-style commission to investigate Russian hacking

Members of both houses of Congress call for 12-member, bipartisan panel but no Republicans currently back bill, making passage unlikely

Democratic members of the US Congress called on Monday for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russias attempts to intervene in the 2016 election, similar to the September 11 panel that investigated the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Their Protecting our Democracy Act would create a 12-member, bipartisan independent panel to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas and receive public testimony to examine attempts by Moscow and any other entities to influence the election.

The panel members would not be members of Congress.

The legislation is one of many calls by lawmakers to look into Russian involvement in the contest, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House race, confounding opinion polls. Republicans also kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives by larger-than-expected margins.

US intelligence agencies on Friday released a report saying that President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered an effort to help Trumps electoral chances by discrediting Clinton.

Russia has denied the hacking allegations. A Kremlin spokesman said on Monday they were reminiscent of a witch-hunt.

There is no question that Russia attacked us, Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told a news conference.

Versions of the bill were introduced in both the Senate and House. In the Senate it has 10 sponsors. In the House it is backed by every member of the Democratic caucus, said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee.

However, no Republicans currently back the bill, so its prospects are dim, given Republican control of both houses of Congress.

While a few Republicans, notably Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have supported calls for an independent investigation, party leaders have resisted the idea, saying that investigations by Republican-led congressional committees are sufficient.

McCain and Democratic senators Ben Cardin and Robert Menendez said on Monday they would introduce legislation to impose comprehensive sanctions on Russia over its attempts to influence the 2016 US election.

Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar, who just returned from a trip to the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia with Graham and McCain, said Russias actions justified an investigation by an independent panel of national experts.

This is not just about one political party. Its not even about one election. Its not even about one country, our country. It is a repeated attempt around the world, to influence elections, Klobuchar said.

After September 11, 2001, Congress established an independent commission to look into the attacks and make recommendations about how to prevent similar actions in the future. Many of the recommendations were adopted into law.

The American people felt good about what they did, Cummings said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/09/democrats-911-style-commission-investigate-russian-hacking

Republicans ready to dismantle Obamacare amid replacement concerns

Mitch McConnell says party is acting quickly and an alternative will come soon but observers fear replacement process could take years

After seven years of failed attempts to repeal Barack Obamas healthcare law, Republicans finally have their chance.

This week, Republicans on Capitol Hill will press ahead with their plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act despite growing resistance to the repeal and replace later approach.

Were acting quickly because Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight, and things will continue to get worse otherwise, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, wrote in an op-ed for Fox News published on Monday. That doesnt mean the law will end overnight. There will be a stable transition period, and once repeal is passed we will turn to replacement policies that cost less and work better than what we have now.

After a clean sweep of Congress and the White House, Republicans will have no problem dismantling the 2010 law that they vehemently opposed from the outset. The much more complicated question one Republicans have yet to agree on is how to overhaul the system without eliminating coverage for the 20 million people who now have insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

On Sunday, McConnell said the timeline between repealing and replacing the law should be short, and that Republicans would produce an alternative soon.

You have to both repeal and replace, and I think there ought not to be a great gap between the first step and the second, McConnell said on CBS on Sunday. Pressed on whether someone who is currently covered under the healthcare law would have insurance after it was repealed, McConnell demurred.
In the op-ed, McConnell called for Democratic support in the repeal process. We want their ideas to improve our healthcare system. We want to find ways to work together on this important issue.

Last week, Obama said he would support the repeal of his biggest legislative achievement if Republicans came up with something better.

I am saying to every Republican right now, if you in fact can put together a plan right now that is demonstrably better than what Obamacare is doing, I will publicly support repealing Obamacare and replacing it with your plan, Obama said in an interview with Vox on Friday. But I want to see it first.

Republicans do not have the votes to pass an outright repeal of the law. They are using an expedited process known as a budget reconciliation that will enable Republicans to dismantle key provisions of the law with a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate.

They have so far not formed a consensus around an Obamacare replacement, a debate some say could take years. And they will probably need Democrats help to pass a new healthcare law, but the party has so far shown no willingness to help.

They want to repeal it and then try to hang it on us, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said during a press conference after a meeting with Obama last week. Not going to happen. Its their responsibility, plain and simple.

Only a handful of Democrats from conservative states have indicated that they could work with Republicans to replace the law.

While popular opinion is split over the merits of the healthcare law, many of its provisions continue to enjoy high levels of support from voters of both parties, according to a November tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Donald Trump has expressed support for certain provisions, including measures that bar insurance agencies from refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allow young people to stay on their parents health insurance until age 26. Last week, Trump pledged in a tweet to replace the healthcare plan with something less expensive & FAR BETTER!

Yet Republicans and the president-elect have yet to agree on a viable alternative to Obamacare. The Republican senator Rand Paul split with his party last week in a vote on legislation that would abolish the law.

Healthcare leaders have warned with increasing alarm that repealing the law without an alternative plan in place could leave millions of people without insurance and bring chaos to the $3tn-a-year healthcare system.

Without expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the cost of uncompensated care for the newly uninsured could reach $1.1tn over a decade, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

Last week, KellyAanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, said it was correct that people currently covered by the law would not lose their insurance.

We dont want anyone who currently has insurance to not have insurance, Conway said on MSNBC. Also, we are very aware that the public likes coverage for pre-existing conditions. There are some pieces of merit in the current plan.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/09/obamacare-repeal-replacement-plan-mitch-mcconnell

Republicans say Obama’s new overtime rules will stifle economic mobility

Members of non-profit and higher education sectors testify to House committee that new salary threshold for overtime pay could prove too burdensome

Barack Obamas new overtime rules would significantly affect non-profits and higher education institutions, representatives from the industries told Congress on Thursday.

The new overtime rules, introduced by the Obama administration last month, raise the threshold for the salary workers could earn and still be eligible for overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,776 a year.

The new rules are expected to go into effect on 16 December. The regulations were last updated 12 years ago, and if they had kept up with inflation, the threshold would have been closer to $57,000 by now.

The US Department of Labor expects that the new rule could affect as many as 4.2 million workers.

While the rules have been lauded by workers rights organizations and advocacy groups, small businesses, non-profits and even universities have raised concerns about its potential costs.

Because of this rule, many Americans will soon realize they have fewer job prospects, less flexibility in the workplace, and fewer opportunities to climb the economic ladder, Tim Walberg, a Republican congressman from Michigan, said at the beginning of the House education and workforce committees hearing into the rules on Thursday. John Kline, a Republican congressman from Minnesota, described the rule as being full of regulatory landmines.

Tina Sharby, human resources officer at Easter Seals, a non-profit organization that provides services to people with disabilities, told the hearing that the new overtime rule would mean they would have to strictly enforce a 40-hour working week on their employees to avoid overtime costs and stay on budget.

This would not only limit their flexibility, Sharby said, but could also potentially limit the availability of the services offered by the non-profit some of which are used by veterans in need.

Michael Rounds, associate vice-provost for human resources management at the University of Kansas, told the hearing that any additional costs the school incurred from the new overtime rule could be passed on to the students. While some lawmakers noted that similar concerns had been raised by other higher education institutions in their districts, others pointed out that this was symptom of a larger issue: cuts to state funding.

The witnesses from the non-profit and education sectors, as well as some lawmakers, noted that those who chose to work in such fields often did so for reasons other than money.

The people I have spoken to find it demoralizing to be asked to put in extra hours for no pay, said Alma Adams, a Democratic congresswoman from North Carolina who taught art history at Bennett College for 40 years.

Prior to the meeting, more than 200 professors at colleges and universities across the US rounded up by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and National Employment Project signed a letter in support of the new overtime rules.

The impact on higher education and the non-profit sector could be much smaller than it appears, according to Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Only about 3.4% of the education labor force receives salaries between the current and the new threshold, Bernstein told Congress on Tuesday. Once those who do not work more than 40 hours a week are discounted, that number shrinks to just 0.5%, and for non-profits 0.8%.

The new overtime rule should cost both the non-profit and education sectors less than a tenth of one percent of their payroll, said Bernstein. He said that a number of educators also fit into the exemptions laid out by the labor department.

Bernstein noted that currently employees earning salaries under the new threshold get paid nothing for any hours they work beyond 40 a week, which benefits their employers.

Workers are not being fairly compensated and thats helped to boost profit margins. Thats not a bad thing profit margins are good but profit margins should afford you to be able to pay middle-class wages to workers who are working over 40 hours a week, he said.

The hearing got quite heated when Earl Leroy Buddy Carter, a Georgia congressman, asked Bernstein if he himself had ever run a small business.

Dr Bernstein, have you ever signed the front of a paycheck? You sign the back of the paycheck, you dont sign the front of the paycheck, he said in reference to where employers and employees sign checks, moving right along even as Bernstein tried to interject. There is a big difference. I doubt that anyone who has had an impact on these rules signs the front of the paycheck, they sign the back of the paycheck.

Prior to Tuesdays hearing, the US labor secretary, Tom Perez, appeared alongside Bernstein and several Democratic lawmakers and referred to Republicans as calamity howlers, reiterating the administrations stance on the issue.

We refuse to believe that low wages and vast inequality are unavoidable costs of modern capitalism, Perez said. For far too many people, its meant exactly that. So many people, despite working harder and harder, can barely get by, let alone get ahead, because they havent had a meaningful raise in years.

Perez added that the overtime rule was based on a very simple proposition: middle-class jobs should pay a middle-class wage.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/jun/09/new-overtime-rules-republicans-economy-universities-nonprofits