Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics

Associated Press

Donald Trump takes aim at Barack Obama’s efforts to curb global warming

Moving forward with a campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama‘s sweeping plan to curb global warming, President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Tuesday that will suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels.

As part of the roll-back, Trump will initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The regulation, which was the former president’s signature effort to curb carbon emissions, has been the subject of long-running legal challenges by Republican-led states and those who profit from burning oil, coal and gas.

Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax” invented by the Chinese, has repeatedly criticized the power-plant rule and others as an attack on American workers and the struggling U.S. coal industry. The contents of the order were outlined to reporters in a sometimes tense briefing with a senior White House official, whom aides insisted speak without attribution despite President Trump’s criticism of the use of unnamed sources in the news media.

The official at one point appeared to break with mainstream climate science, denying familiarity with widely publicized concerns about the potential adverse economic impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather.

In addition to pulling back from the Clean Power Plan, the administration will also lift a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.

The Obama administration had imposed a three-year moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change.

Trump accused his predecessor of waging a “war on coal” and boasted in a speech to Congress that he has made “a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations,” including some that threaten “the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.”

The order will also chip away at other regulations, including scrapping language on the “social cost” of greenhouse gases. It will initiate a review of efforts to reduce the emission of methane in oil and natural gas production as well as a Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule, to determine whether those reflect the president’s policy priorities.

It will also rescind Obama-era executive orders and memoranda, including one that addressed climate change and national security and one that sought to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change.

The administration is still in discussion about whether it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. But the moves to be announced Tuesday will undoubtedly make it more difficult for the U.S. to achieve its goals.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, alarmed environmental groups and scientists earlier this month when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The statement is at odds with mainstream scientific consensus and Pruitt’s own agency.

The overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed studies and climate scientists agree the planet is warming, mostly due to man-made sources, including carbon dioxide, methane, halocarbons and nitrogen oxide.

The official who briefed reporters said the president does believe in man-made climate change.

The power-plant rule Trump is set to address in his order has been on hold since last year as a federal appeals court considers a challenge by coal-friendly states and more than 100 companies who call the plan an unconstitutional power grab.

Opponents say the plan will kill coal-mining jobs and drive up electricity costs. The Obama administration, some Democratic-led states and environmental groups countered that it would spur thousands of clean-energy jobs and help the U.S. meet ambitious goals to reduce carbon pollution set by the international agreement signed in Paris.

Trump’s order on coal-fired power plants follows an executive order he signed last month mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution. The order instructs the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.

While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data shows that U.S. mines have been shedding jobs for decades under presidents from both parties as a result of increasing automation and competition from cheaper natural gas. Another factor is the plummeting cost of solar panels and wind turbines, which now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal.

According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 70,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy — including wind, solar and biofuels — now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs.

The Trump administration’s plans drew praise from business groups and condemnation from environmental groups.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue praised the president for taking “bold steps to make regulatory relief and energy security a top priority.”

“These executive actions are a welcome departure from the previous administration’s strategy of making energy more expensive through costly, job-killing regulations that choked our economy,” he said.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy accused the Trump administration of wanting “us to travel back to when smokestacks damaged our health and polluted our air, instead of taking every opportunity to support clean jobs of the future.”

“This is not just dangerous; it’s embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and U.S. leadership,” she said in a statement.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Florida officials: Aggressive efforts to stop Zika continue

Florida officials say they’re continuing aggressive efforts to stop the spread of the Zika virus.

Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with Miami-Dade County officials to discuss Zika preparedness ahead of Florida’s rainy season, when mosquitoes are most prevalent.

Officials said fewer travel-related cases are being reported in Florida so far this year, compared with last spring.

Officials also said state labs and Miami-Dade mosquito control operations added staff since last year’s Zika outbreak. Counseling also is available for families affected by the virus that can cause severe brain-related birth defects.

Florida has reported two locally acquired Zika infections in 2017. Health officials said both patients likely contracted the virus last year in Miami-Dade County.

Zika mainly spreads by mosquito bites but can also spread through sex.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Judge says Pulse lawsuit may be tossed out of federal court

A judge says a lawsuit brought by victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre against the gunman’s employer and wife may be tossed out of federal court.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra last week issued an order raising questions about whether federal court was the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit. The judge gave the plaintiffs 10 days to file a revised lawsuit or he said he would dismiss the complaint.

Attorneys for the Pulse victims didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Sunday.

Almost five dozen victims and families of the deceased filed the lawsuit last week in federal court in South Florida against security firm G4S and the wife of Omar Mateen, claiming they could have stopped the gunman before the attack last June but didn’t.

Forty-nine people died in the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history, and dozens more were injured.

The lawsuit was seeking an undisclosed amount of money.

The complaint said that G4S bosses knew Mateen was mentally unstable yet continued to employee him as a security guard and didn’t seek to have his firearms license revoked, even after he was investigated by the FBI in 2013 for telling co-workers he had connections to terrorists and a mass shooter. He later told his bosses he had made that up to get his co-workers to stop teasing him about being Muslim and the FBI determined he was not a threat.

A spokeswoman for G4S last week said the lawsuit was without merit and that the company would vigorously defend itself. A company spokeswoman on Sunday didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiry.

The lawsuit also said that Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, knew her husband was going to carry out the killings ahead of time yet did nothing. Salman currently is in jail awaiting trial in a separate criminal case. She has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of aiding and abetting her husband, and obstruction of justice.

The federal judge said cases should be brought to federal court because of “diversity jurisdiction” only if the lawsuits are between residents of different states, U.S. residents and residents of a foreign nation or residents of different states in which other parties may be subjects of foreign countries.

Although G4S is a British company, its principal place of business is in Florida, the judge said. He added that Salman was a Florida resident, as were many of the Pulse victims and their families, raising question about whether federal court is the proper venue.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

In this era of Trump, Florida legislators take on hard-line immigration policies

The election of President Donald Trump is giving new impetus to Florida state lawmakers in pushing measures seen as tough on immigration but that have gone nowhere in the Legislature in recent years.

Legislators are moving ahead with bills – some of which could face constitutional challenges – that call for harsher sentences for people living in the U.S. illegally, penalties for local governments with “sanctuary” policies, and a halt to the state’s voluntary participation in the federal refugee resettlement program.

Even as Trump promises to ramp up enforcement of immigration policies, state lawmakers are pushing for more. Rep. Dane Eagle sees his bill on sentencing as a backup plan in case federal authorities fail in their mission to deport people who commit crimes while in the country illegally.

“The bill keeps them locked up longer so they are not committing crimes and perhaps when the federal government does decide to step up, they will know where they are,” Eagles said.

Foreign nationals make up about 4 percent of Florida’s inmate population, and the Corrections Department does not break down that figure between those who are documented and those who are not.

Mark Schlakman, a Florida State University law professor, said Eagle’s bill would most likely be challenged in court because it would turn a person’s immigration status into a criminal enhancement rather than what the federal government says it is: a civil penalty.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Coral Springs who opposes the bill, said the legislation is not based on a need in the law, but rather prompted “on emotion.”

The perception that immigrants and refugees without legal permission to live in the U.S. pose a threat has also inspired policy that could affect other groups of people.

If the Legislature decides to pull out of the federal refugee resettlement program, for example, Cubans and Haitians who have been granted special immigration status and victims of human trafficking would lose refugee benefits they receive under the program.

But perhaps the most heated debate is over a measure that penalizes state and local government officials who have adopted policies or practices that block them from fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Violations would include not holding detainees who are wanted by federal immigration authorities past their release date, for example.

State Rep. Daisy Baez, a Democrat who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a child, said during a House committee debate that the ban on “sanctuary” policies was a misguided effort based on “paranoia and persecution.”

“I achieved the American Dream, I suppose, and if you think this story is unique and beautiful and one of achievement, I have to tell you it’s not. It’s every immigrant’s story,” she said holding back tears. “I have never felt as unwanted and as vilified as I do now.”

In recent years, similar hard-line immigration policies have stumbled in the Legislature.

Gov. Rick Scott came into office in 2011 promising to adopt Arizona-style immigration laws such as requiring authorities to investigate the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The effort was defeated after thousands of Floridians flooded the State Capitol in protest.

Three years later, Scott signed pro-immigrant laws that granted an immigrant living in the U.S. without legal permission the right to practice law in Florida and extended in-state tuition rates to children of such immigrants. Republicans are seeking to reverse the latter this year.

Francesa Menes, director of policy from the Florida Immigration Coalition, said there’s a nexus between the spike in “anti-immigrant bills” and Trump’s candidacy announcement in late 2015.

“With immigration unfortunately it’s always about the political climate and what is advantageous to whoever is running, and the Legislature flip-flops on the issue,” Menes said. “Is that what our Legislature wants to do again this session? Spend our time and our resources debating and approving bills that separate families and threaten our economy?”

A Florida International University’s Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy report estimates that immigrants who live in the U.S. without legal permission contribute $544 million in local and state taxes to Florida’s metropolitan areas.

Republican lawmakers have dismissed critics who say some of the immigration measures open up municipalities to litigation for going against federal court rulings or even the U.S. Constitution. Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant urged lawmakers to pass what they think is right, and let the courts tell “us that we are wrong.”

NAACP urges Rick Scott to return case to prosecutor

The Florida NAACP conference on Saturday urged Florida’s governor to return an officer-murder case to a prosecutor who had it taken away after she said her office will no longer seek the death penalty in any cases.

NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze said that the group’s members don’t support Gov. Rick Scott‘s decision to take the Markeith Loyd case away from State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Television station WKMG reports Nweze spoke at a news conference held Saturday at the group’s quarterly meeting in Orlando.

“The death penalty, killing people, is not the way that we end crime in this state,” said Leon Russell, the chairman of the NAACP national board of directors.

Loyd is charged with first-degree murder in the killings of his ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

Scott gave Loyd’s case to another prosecutor after Ayala said she would no longer seek the death penalty.

In explaining her decision earlier this month, Ayala said there is no evidence that shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, and it’s costly and drags on for years for the victims’ families.

Ayala said Scott overstepped his authority by taking Loyd’s case away from her, and she has asked for the right to make an argument before a judge about why she should get the case back. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

NAACP officials said Saturday that the death penalty does not stop crime and is expensive. They said money spent on the death penalty should go to other areas.

“Criminal justice spending is outstripping education spending throughout the nation, so why don’t we focus on those things that are actually building our community?” said Ngozi Ndulue, the NAACP national senior director of criminal justice.

Donald Trump’s young presidency perilously adrift

Just two months in, Donald Trump‘s presidency is perilously adrift.

His first major foray into legislating imploded Friday when House Republicans abandoned a White House-backed health care bill, resisting days of cajoling and arm-twisting from Trump himself. Aides who had confidently touted Trump as the deal’s “closer” were left bemoaning the limits of the presidency.

“At the end of the day, you can’t force somebody to do something,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

On its own, the health care bill’s collapse was a stunning rejection of a new president by his own party. And for Trump, the defeat comes with an especially strong sting. The president who campaigned by promising “so much winning,” has so far been beset by a steady parade of the opposite. With each setback and sidetrack, comes more concern about whether Trump, the outsider turned president, is capable of governing.

“You can’t just come in and steamroll everybody,” said Bruce Miroff, a professor of American politics and the presidency at the State University of New York at Albany. “Most people have a modest understanding of how complicated the presidency is. They think leadership is giving orders and being bold. But the federal government is much more complicated, above all because the Constitution set it up that way.”

The ambitious agenda Trump vowed to quickly muscle through has now been blocked by both Congress and the courts. Whole weeks of his presidency have been consumed by crises that are often self-inflicted, including his explosive and unverified claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper. Earlier this week, the FBI director confirmed that Trump’s campaign is being investigated for possible coordination with Russia during the election, an investigation that could hang over the White House for years.

Trump’s advisers say some of the churn is to be expected from a president with an unconventional style and little regard for Washington convention. They counter the notion of a White House in crisis by pointing to Trump’s well-received nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. They appeal for patience, noting that the administration is indeed in its early days.

But early missteps can be difficult to overcome, particularly for a president like Trump, who took office with historically low favorability ratings and has continued to lose support since his inauguration. According to Friday’s Gallup daily tracking poll, 54 percent of Americans disapprove of his performance on the job.

James Thurber, who founded the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, blamed Trump for an apparent “misunderstanding or ignorance of how the separation of powers works” that is hurting him at a time “where he should have much more success.”

Trump is hardly the first president to stumble through his early days in arguably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Bill Clinton‘s presidency got off to a chaotic start and was quickly shrouded by an ethics controversy involving the firing of employees at the White House travel office. Jimmy Carter, another Washington outsider, clashed with his own party. Richard Nixon struggled to unite a deeply divided nation.

“There have been moments like this in history in terms of where the country is, in terms of the president kind of having a chaotic couple of months,” said David Greenberg, a historian at Rutgers University. Still, he said Trump’s challenges are exacerbated by his “complete inexperience in the political arena, his personality and style.”

Indeed, many of Trump’s early struggles have been clearly avoidable. His courting of chaos undercuts his campaign promises to bring business efficiency to Washington. Infighting and gamesmanship among top White House aides, sometimes egged on by the president himself, consume a striking amount of attention in the West Wing. His wiretapping allegations against Obama put his advisers in the untenable position of trying to justify an allegation for which there is no evidence.

His first, hastily written ban on travel to the U.S. from several countries was blocked by the courts, as was a rewrite, and judges cited his own campaign rhetoric in their rulings.

The president’s advisers had hoped the health care measure would give the White House a much-needed burst of momentum and prove to wary Republicans that it was worth sticking with Trump in order to accomplish something the party had sought for seven years.

Hardly a policy wonk, Trump embraced the plan put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan and promised Republican leaders he would invest his own political capital into rounding up votes. He did, spending hours working the phones with lawmakers, often early in the morning and late at night. His advisers held bowling and pizza nights for GOP lawmakers at the White House.

But Ryan’s decision to pull the bill Friday underscored Trump’s limitations. His powers of persuasion couldn’t overcome the ideological concerns of conservatives who are more popular in their home districts than Trump or the political fears of moderates worried about attaching themselves to an unpopular president.

Trump, who has privately lashed out at his staff and publicly berated the media during other rough patches in his young presidency, was surprisingly sanguine in defeat.

“We learned a lot about the vote-getting processes,” Trump said. “For me, it’s been a very interesting experience.”

Donald Trump blames Democrats for health bill’s failure

The Latest on an effort in Congress to pass a health care bill (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump says his health care reform fell short because it lacked support from Democrats.

Trump made his first comments about the failure of a signature legislative item Friday in the Oval Office a short time after a House vote on the bill was canceled.

Trump told reporters “we were very close” and tried to blame Democrats, through Republicans control both the House and the Senate.

He also predicted the Affordable Care Act would soon implode, forcing Democrats to join the Republicans at the negotiating table.

3:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump has marked Greek Independence Day with a rather ominous message.

At a White House reception, Trump said that in the years to come “we don’t know what will be required to defend our freedom.”

But he says it will take “great courage, and we will show it.”

Greek Independence Day commemorates the start of the 1821 war that led to Greece’s independence after nearly 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire. It’s celebrated annually on March 25.

Trump told the crowd, “I love the Greeks.” He also introduced Greek-American members of the White House staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus (ryns PREE’-bus).

Trump said Priebus is “really terrific and hard-working,” along with being “one of the top Greeks in the country.”

Republican leaders have abruptly pulled their troubled health care overhaul bill off the House floor, short of votes and eager to avoid a humiliating defeat for President Donald Trump and GOP leaders.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., withdrew the legislation after Trump called him and asked him to halt debate without a vote, according to Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. Just a day earlier, Trump had demanded a House vote and said if the measure lost, he would move on to other issues.

1:55 p.m.

The White House is no longer expressing confidence that the upcoming House vote on health care will be successful.

Instead, spokesman Sean Spicer says President Donald Trump is confident that the White House has done “every single thing possible” to corral the 216 votes needed to pass legislation to repeal the Obama-era health care law.

House lawmakers and aides say the bill is short of support before the vote Trump insists be held.

The White House says it expects that vote at 3:30 p.m., as scheduled.

___

1:30 p.m.

The White House says it still remains optimistic about a troubled Republican-led health care bill to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says President Donald Trump is looking forward to the House passing the bill and it expects the House to vote on the bill later Friday.

Spicer says the president is meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan to “discuss the way forward” on the bill.

He says the president has “left everything on the field” on the bill.

According to GOP lawmakers and congressional aides, House Republican leaders were short of the votes needed for the bill to pass.

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1:20 p.m.

House Republican leaders were short of the votes needed for their health care overhaul bill hours ahead of a vote demanded by President Donald Trump.

That’s the word Friday from GOP lawmakers and congressional aides as Speaker Paul Ryan met with the president at the White House to deliver the sobering news.

Separately, Vice President Mike Pence was meeting near the Capitol with recalcitrant members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus in a last-ditch effort to secure support.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., told reporters, “As of right now, I’m not sure that we are across the finish line. We’ve still got three or four hours and there’s still discussions happening.”

___

12:40 p.m.

Democrats and some veterans’ groups say a provision of the Republican health care bill could raise costs for millions of veterans who use tax credits to buy private insurance. An amendment to the bill would make veterans who are not enrolled in government care ineligible for health-care tax credits.

Republicans said the veterans’ provision could be added back into the bill later.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who lost both legs in combat in Iraq, said Republicans either were “intentionally sacrificing veterans and putting them on a chopping block” or wrote the bill so “haphazardly” they don’t know what’s in it.

Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs panel, called the GOP plan “shameful” and said it would leave many veterans without affordable insurance options.

___

12:30 p.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is at the White House to brief President Donald Trump on the state of play on the health care bill.

The visit comes ahead of a planned showdown vote on the legislation later in the day Friday.

The outcome was looking dicey with the legislation apparently still short of votes around midday, and few public signs that the situation was changing.

A group of conservative hold-outs had yet to swing in favor despite lobbying from Trump and others, while opposition also came from moderate-leaning and rank-and-file Republicans.

The legislation is the GOP’s long-promised bill to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Trump decided Thursday that negotiations were over and it was time to vote.

___

12:25 p.m.

House Democrats are trying to make the vote on the House GOP health plan personal for their Republican counterparts.

After each Republican speaks on the House floor in favor of the bill, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., cites the number of people in their congressional district who will lose health insurance under the bill.

Under the bill, 24 million fewer people will have health insurance by 2026, according to congressional estimates.

Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican from Louisiana, proclaimed that a vote against the bill is “a vote against freedom.”

Yarmuth replied that the bill would result in 50,100 people from his Higgins’ congressional district losing health coverage.

Republicans disputed the numbers. They noted that Yarmuth got his congressional district estimates from the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group.

___

11:05 a.m.

Republicans have pushed the GOP health care overhaul past an initial procedural hurdle in the House. That moves the chamber toward a climactic final vote that’s a big gamble for President Donald Trump and congressional leaders.

Friday’s procedural vote was 230-194.

The early vote inserted changes into the measure that leaders hoped would win over unhappy Republicans. It would improve Medicaid benefits for some older and handicapped people and abolish coverage requirements President Barack Obama’s 2010 law imposes on insurers.

It remained uncertain whether GOP leaders had enough votes to prevail on final passage.

Conservatives complain the Republican bill doesn’t do enough to erase Obama’s law. GOP moderates are unhappy that it would cause millions of voters to lose coverage and boost medical costs for others.

Democrats were solidly opposed.

___

10:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump says, “we’ll see what happens,” in response to a question about what happens if the vote on the Republican-backed health care bill fails in the House.

Trump is offering his support for House Speaker Paul Ryan at a White House event announcing the presidential permit about the Keystone XL pipeline. Asked if Ryan should remain as speaker if the bill fails, Trump says, “Yes.”

The administration is trying to steer a GOP-backed health care bill through the House. The White House and Republican leaders say the vote will be tight and it’s unclear if the legislation will pass.

___

8:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is telling lawmakers who oppose abortion that a vote against the health care bill would favor Planned Parenthood.

The president tweeted Friday, “the irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!”

In a bid to coax support from conservatives, House leaders proposed a fresh amendment repealing Obama’s requirement that insurers cover 10 specified services like maternity and mental health care.

Lawmakers will vote later Friday.

Conservatives have demanded the removal of those and other conditions the law imposes on insurers, arguing they drive up premiums.

The president met with members of the Freedom Caucus Thursday in an effort to win them over. But the vote was postponed after administration officials fell short.

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8:25 a.m.

President Donald Trump is endorsing the Republican proposal on health care as “a great plan,” ahead of a make-or-break vote in the House.

The president tweeted Friday that “After seven horrible years of ObamaCare (skyrocketing premiums & deductibles, bad healthcare), this is finally your chance for a great plan!”

The vote had been scheduled for late Thursday but was postponed after administration officials failed to convince skeptical conservative Republicans to support the bill.

Trump claimed he was finished negotiating with GOP holdouts and determined to pursue the rest of his agenda, win or lose.

Barring any further delays, the vote is expected to take place later Friday.

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7:50 a.m.

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney says he has “a lot of confidence” in President Donald Trump’s ability to salvage a congressional Republican health care plan, but warns that Trump “also wants to move on” if the deal collapses.

Mulvaney said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” of the president: “He’s a tremendous closer. I wouldn’t count him out.”

Mulvaney delivered a similar message to House Republicans Thursday night, warning that Trump would turn to other priorities such as a tax overhaul if the health plan pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan is rejected by rebels in his own party.

Mulvaney also rejected a new Congressional Budget Office analysis that warns the latest health plan version would reduce cost savings by $200 billion. “The CBO score is just wrong on that,” Mulvaney said.

___

7:55 a.m.

A lack of women in a photo of negotiations over the GOP health care bill that was tweeted out by Vice President Mike Pence is drawing criticism from Democrats.

The photo shows Pence at the center of a conference table during negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus. About two dozen men can be seen in the photo and not a single woman.

Washington U.S. Sen. Patty Murray drew attention to the absence of women in the room by retweeting the photo and sarcastically adding, “A rare look inside the GOP’s women’s health caucus.”

A repeal of a maternity care requirement is among the concessions the Freedom Caucus is demanding in exchange for support of the bill.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Speaker Paul Ryan says the nation will be ‘living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future’

Speaker Paul Ryan says the nation will be ‘living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future’

In a humiliating setback, President Donald Trump and GOP leaders pulled their “Obamacare” repeal bill off the House floor Friday after it became clear the measure would fail badly.

It was a stunning defeat for the new president after he had demanded House Republicans vote on the legislation Friday, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if the vote failed. The bill was withdrawn minutes before the vote was to occur.

The president’s gamble failed. Instead Trump, who campaigned as a master deal-maker and claimed that he alone could fix the nation’s health care system, saw his ultimatum rejected by Republican lawmakers who made clear they answer to their own voters, not to the president.

Republicans have spent seven years campaigning against former President Barack Obama‘s health care law, and cast dozens of votes to repeal it in full or in part. But when they finally got the chance to pass a repeal bill that actually had a chance to get signed, they couldn’t pull it off.

What happens next is unclear, but the path ahead on other priorities, such as overhauling the tax code, can only grow more daunting.

And Trump is certain to be weakened politically, a big early congressional defeat adding to the continuing inquiries into his presidential campaign’s Russia connections and his unfounded wiretapping allegations against Obama.

The development came on the afternoon of a day when the bill, which had been delayed a day earlier, was supposed to come to a vote, come what may. But instead of picking up support as Friday wore on, the bill went the other direction, with some key lawmakers coming out in opposition.

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chairman of a major committee, Appropriations, said the bill would raise costs unacceptably on his constituents. Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, a key moderate Republican, and GOP Rep. David Joyce of Ohio also announced “no” votes.

The defections raised the possibility that the bill would not only lose on the floor, but lose big.

In the face of that evidence, and despite insistences from White House officials and Ryan that Friday was the day to vote, leadership pulled back from the brink.

The GOP bill would have eliminated the Obama statute’s unpopular fines on people who do not obtain coverage and would also have removed the often-generous subsidies for those who purchase insurance.

Republican tax credits would have been based on age, not income like Obama’s, and the tax boosts Obama imposed on higher-earning people and health care companies would have been repealed. The bill would have ended Obama’s Medicaid expansion and trimmed future federal financing for the federal-state program, letting states impose work requirements on some of the 70 million beneficiaries.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican bill would have resulted in 24 million additional uninsured people in a decade and lead to higher out-of-pocket medical costs for many lower-income and people just shy of age 65 when they would become eligible for Medicare. The bill would have blocked federal payments for a year to Planned Parenthood.

Democrats were uniformly opposed. “This bill is pure greed, and real people will suffer and die from it,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida cities among the biggest population gainers

Three metro areas in Florida were among the nation’s 10 biggest gainers in the number of people moving there last year, and another three Florida metro areas were in the top 10 for overall growth rates.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said the Tampa area had the nation’s fourth-highest gain from people moving there last year. Some 58,000 new residents moved there.

South Florida had the nation’s seventh-highest gain from migration, adding about 48,000 residents who moved there.

Orlando added nearly 47,000 residents through migration, placing it at No. 8.

Those three metro areas also were in the nation’s top 10 for overall population growth — which includes natural population increases and migration.

South Florida grew by nearly 65,000 residents from births and migration, and its population stood at more than 6 million last year.

The Tampa area grew to 3 million residents last year, adding 61,000 residents through natural increases and migration. Orlando grew overall by nearly 60,000 residents and had a population of 2.4 million residents last year.

The Villages community northwest of Orlando had the nation’s highest overall growth rate last year at 4.3 percent.

Fort Myers had the fifth highest at 3.1 percent. Punta Gorda’s 3 percent rate placed it at No. 8.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Mickey vs. the tax man: Disney, Universal fight tax bills

It takes a lot of land to accommodate Cinderella’s castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Epcot’s 11-country World Showcase — and a hefty purse to pay the property taxes on it.

To cut tax bills in the tens of millions of dollars, the specialists at Orlando’s famous theme parks have employed methods from the creative — placing cows on undeveloped land and claiming an agricultural exemption — to the traditional — negotiating or appealing to a county board.

Over the past couple of years, however, such tactics aren’t quite doing the job: Property assessments and taxes have jumped — and so has the number of lawsuits the theme parks and other businesses have filed against Orange County’s property appraiser. That’s Rick Singh, who was re-elected to a second four-year term last fall despite the thousands of dollars in donations park officials gave his opponent.

Park guests relax and cool off with a water mist under the globe at Universal Studios City Walk in Orlando, Fla.

In lawsuits filed last year, the theme parks said Singh’s office had failed to use proper appraisal methodology. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts issued a statement describing increased assessments on some of its properties for 2015 as “unreasonable and unjustified.”

Beyond such terse statements, officials from Disney, the development arm of Universal Orlando and SeaWorld of Florida are saying very little about an issue they hope to resolve in court.

But they have spoken loudly with their wallets. Groups affiliated with all three companies gave $19,000 to Singh’s Republican opponent. Singh, a Democrat, got only $5,000 from the groups.

“If the single mother who is working two jobs has to be held accountable to pay her fair share, so should everybody else.” — Rick Singh, Orange County property appraiser

The backlash isn’t surprising, said Doug Head, chairman of the watchdog group Orange County Watch. Head said the appraiser’s position has traditionally been a cushy post for local politicos waiting to retire, but Singh is one of the first to have substantial professional training.

“He uses professional expertise, and he clearly figured out there is a lot more value than is properly being reflected,” Head said. “He did what he needed to do, and people accustomed to the way business was done weren’t happy.”

Singh said his methods for assessing properties are no different than those of his predecessors — except when looking at resorts and hotels. Then, he considers their income statements and the local “bed tax” paid by hotel customers, which he said his predecessor didn’t use. Income isn’t considered when assessing theme parks.

“It’s a matter of being fair and equitable,” Singh said. “If the single mother who is working two jobs has to be held accountable to pay her fair share, so should everybody else.”

The importance of the three theme parks to Orange County, which includes Orlando, can’t be overstated: The properties owned by Disney, Universal and SeaWorld are valued collectively at about $10.7 billion. Properties owned by the largest resort and timeshare companies are worth another $6.3 billion.

The three theme park companies pay 7 percent of the county’s property taxes — more than $135 million last year. That revenue helps to mitigate the impact of hosting 66 million visitors in 86,000 hotel rooms and 15,500 timeshare units every year, and to finance law enforcement, schools, parks and public health programs. Disney also pays property taxes to a private government established by the Florida Legislature that provides the Disney parks and resorts with services including utilities, roadways and firefighters.

Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, left, at an election party in Orlando, Fla.

Property values for the theme parks, resorts and other large commercial properties are set by a team of almost two dozen of the county’s seasoned appraisers in what Singh calls “the most complex tax roll in the world” due to the constant growth.

Singh said the appraisers use a “cost approach” when evaluating theme parks. Tax bills go up not just from rising property values but also from new construction, which is constant at the parks.

“What does it cost to improve the land? What does it cost to build this? … What is the labor cost? Factor in all that and then it depreciates, and that’s your cost approach,” he said.

But the results are meeting a wall of resistance. Last year, Disney, Universal and SeaWorld filed a dozen lawsuits against Singh’s office, the tax collector and the state Department of Revenue. Several other Orlando resorts also have sued.

The companies pay taxes only on their properties’ “assessed” values; the “market” values reflect what the properties could be sold for.

SeaWorld is fighting the market and assessed values of its flagship SeaWorld Adventure Park, its Aquatica water park and Discovery Cove, an animal-encounter park. In a separate lawsuit the property appraiser’s office filed against SeaWorld in 2015, Singh’s office listed a market value of $192.5 million; SeaWorld listed it at $143.4 million.

Universal is disputing the market value of its 20,000-vehicle parking garage, which has nearly doubled in two years, from $148.6 million in 2014, to $297 million in 2016. The garage’s assessed value only went up 10 percent a year during that time, however, from $145 million to $175 million.

The entrance to Sea World, in Orlando, Fla.

Disney, whose total properties in Orange County have a market value of $8.2 billion, is not saying publicly what it thinks the value should be. But the company’s tax bill from Singh’s office jumped from $84.5 million in 2014 to $97.2 million in 2015 to $102.6 million in 2016, an average increase of about 10 percent a year. Those numbers exclude what Disney pays its private government in property taxes.

“Similar to other property owners in Orange County, we have no choice but to take action to dispute these errors by the property appraiser,” Disney’s statement said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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