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Associated Press

Frank Brogan to retire from Pennsylvania’s public university system

Frank Brogan, Florida’s former lieutenant governor and the head of Pennsylvania’s state-owned university system, announced he is leaving after four years on the job.

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education said Monday that Brogan, the system’s chancellor, will retire Sept. 1 from the position that pays him $346,000 a year.

Brogan, who is 63 years old, told the board of his decision last week, shortly before a meeting in which the system received a consultant’s report that was highly critical of its leadership.

The report by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems says the 14-school system needs better top management to address a climate of distrust, non-transparency, confrontation and competition.

Brogan served as the chancellor of Florida’s State University System from 2009 until 2013, when he left to take the same job in Pennsylvania. He played a key role in developing the Florida’s performance funding model, and led the development of a strategic plan that included 39 benchmarks.

He spent much of his adult life working in Florida’s education system, beginning his career as a teacher at Port Salerno Elementary School in Martin County. He would also serve stints as the Martin County superintendent and, in 1995, he was elected Florida’s Commissioner of Education.

He was named the the president of Florida Atlantic University, a position he held until 2009.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

Health care bill collapse leaves divided GOP at crossroads

The implosion of the Senate Republican health care bill leaves a divided GOP with its flagship legislative priority in tatters and confronts a wounded President Donald Trump and congressional leaders with dicey decisions about addressing their perhaps unattainable seven-year-old promise of repealing President Barack Obama’s law.

Two GOP senators — Utah’s Mike Lee and Jerry Moran of Kansas — sealed the measure’s doom late Monday when each announced they would vote “no” in an initial, critical vote that had been expected as soon as next week. Their startling, tandem announcement meant that at least four of the 52 GOP senators were ready to block the measure — two more than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had to spare in the face of a wall of Democratic opposition.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said in a late evening statement that essentially waved a white flag.

It was the second stinging setback on the issue in three weeks for McConnell, whose reputation as a legislative mastermind has been marred as he’s failed to unite his chamber’s Republicans behind a health overhaul package that’s highlighted jagged divides between conservatives and moderates. In late June, he abandoned an initial package after he lacked enough GOP support to pass.

The episode has also been jarring for Trump, whose intermittent lobbying and nebulous, often contradictory descriptions of what he’s wanted have shown he has limited clout with senators. That despite a determination by Trump, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to demonstrate that a GOP running the White House and Congress can govern effectively.

Now, McConnell said, the Senate would vote on a measure the GOP-run Congress approved in 2015, only to be vetoed by Obama — a bill repealing much of Obama’s statute, with a two-year delay designed to give lawmakers time to enact a replacement. Trump embraced that idea last month after an initial version of McConnell’s bill collapsed due under Republican divisions, and did so again late Monday.

“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Trump tweeted.

But the prospects for approving a clean repeal bill followed by work on replacement legislation, even with Trump ready to sign it, seemed shaky. Trump and party leaders had started this year embracing that strategy, only to abandon it when it seemed incapable of passing Congress, with many Republicans worried it would cause insurance market and political chaos because of uncertainty that they would approve substitute legislation.

McConnell’s failed bill would have left 22 million uninsured by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a number that many Republicans found unpalatable. But the vetoed 2015 measure would be even worse, the budget office said last January, producing 32 million additional uninsured people by 2026 — figures that seemed likely to drive a stake into that bill’s prospects for passing Congress.

That would seem to leave McConnell with an option he described last month — negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. That would likely be on a narrower package aimed more at keeping insurers in difficult marketplaces they’re either abandoning or imposing rapidly growing premiums.

“The core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said in a statement. He said Republicans “should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Similar to legislation the House approved in May after its own setbacks, McConnell’s bill would repeal Obama’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and cut the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and nursing home residents. It rolled back many of the statute’s requirements for the policies insurers can sell and eliminated many tax increases that raised money for Obama’s expansion to 20 million more people, though it retained the law’s tax boosts on high earners.

Besides Lee and Moran, two other GOP senators had previously declared their opposition to McConnell’s bill: moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins and conservative Rand Paul of Kentucky. And other moderates were wavering and could have been difficult for McConnell and Trump to win over because of the bill’s Medicaid cuts: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Dean Heller of Nevada, probably the most endangered Senate Republican in next year’s elections.

The range of objections lodged by the dissident senators underscored the warring viewpoints within his own party that McConnell had to try patching over. Lee complained that the GOP bill didn’t go far enough in rolling back Obama’s robust coverage requirements, while moderates like Collins berated its Medicaid cuts and the millions it would leave without insurance.

McConnell’s revised version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding tens of billions of dollars to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs. His efforts did not achieve the intended result.

FEC sues ex-Rep. David Rivera over 2012 campaign financing

The Federal Election Commission has sued a former Florida Republican congressman over allegations he secretly funneled thousands of dollars to a little-known Democratic candidate in 2012.

The lawsuit claims ex-Rep. David Rivera secretly and illegally contributed $69,400 to Justin Sternad in an attempt to weaken the rival Democratic campaign of Joe Garcia, who eventually won the seat. The lawsuit filed last week in Miami federal court seeks more than $480,000 in penalties.

Sternad and Rivera associate Ana Alliegro pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the scheme. Rivera has never been charged with a crime and has long denied any wrongdoing.

Rivera did not immediately respond Monday to an email seeking comment. Rivera last year narrowly lost a bid for a Florida state House seat but is running again in 2018.

Gov. Scott: No active Zika zones in Florida so far this year

Florida’s governor says no Zika transmission zones have been identified in the state so far this year.

But Gov. Rick Scott also warns that people visiting and living in Florida must help prevent another outbreak of the virus by wearing mosquito repellent and draining containers that collect rainwater.

Scott was in Miami on Monday to discuss Zika preparedness planning with state and local health administrators, mosquito control officials and officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida confirmed 285 Zika infections were contracted in the state last year. Six additional cases confirmed this year all were linked to exposure to the virus in 2016.

This year, 81 travel-related Zika cases have been confirmed in Florida, and most of those cases are in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Florida county axes homework for elementary school kids

Elementary schools in Marion County will say goodbye to everyday homework in the coming school year after Superintendent Heidi Maier said research shows it does not enhance learning.

The Tampa Bay Times reports Maier, who took office in November, notified parents and teachers of the change at the district’s 31 elementary schools recently. The new rule will not apply to high school and middle school students.

District public information officer Kevin Christian says the district is calling on parents to replace traditional homework assignments with 20-minute reading sessions in hopes of getting parents and students involved in something they can do together and enjoy.

Teachers will still have the authority to assign homework, but will be encouraged to do so sparingly, for larger projects like a science fair.

Feds give Florida $3 million grant for treatment drug courts

The federal government is giving the state $3 million for drug court programs in the wake of an opioid epidemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Friday the funds will bolster drug court programs for those in the criminal justice system with substance use disorders and mental health problems. The programs have been praised for connecting people struggling with addiction to treatments with oversight from the courts to make sure they are following through.

Proponents say drug courts improve recovery outcomes and reduce burdens on the criminal justice system.

The announcement comes as some lawmakers fear that proposed Medicaid cuts under an Obamacare overhaul would leave them without enough resources to fight the opioid crisis.

 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added a revision that gives states $45 billion to combat opioid misuse, but the bill’s fate is uncertain.

Rooted in Florida: German, Irish top ancestries in state

When it comes to ancestral roots, it turns out the Germans have a leg up in Florida.

New U.S. Census data released last week shows that about 10 percent of Florida’s 20 million residents say they have German ancestry.

About 9 percent of Floridians claim Irish roots, more than 7 percent claim English ancestry and 7 percent claim Cuban roots.

The ancestral roots with the smallest representation in Florida were Somalis, Ugandans and people from Sierra Leone.

The data comes from 2015, the most recent year available.

Donald Trump in Paris: The curious case of his friend Jim

For all things Paris, President Donald Trump’s go-to guy is Jim.

The way Trump tells it — Jim is a friend who loves Paris and used to visit every year. Yet when Trump travels to the city Thursday for his first time as president, it’s unlikely that Jim will tag along. Jim doesn’t go to Paris anymore. Trump says that’s because the city has been infiltrated by foreign extremists.

Whether Jim exists is unclear. Trump has never given his last name. The White House has not responded to a request for comment about who Jim is or whether he will be on the trip.

Trump repeatedly talked about the enigmatic Jim while on the campaign trail, but his friend didn’t receive widespread attention until Trump became president. For Trump, Jim’s story serves as a cautionary tale — a warning that even a place as lovely as Paris can be ruined if leaders are complacent about terrorism.

Jim’s biggest moment in the spotlight was during a high-profile Trump speech in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. Trump explained that Jim “loves the City of Lights, he loves Paris. For years, every year during the summer, he would go to Paris. It was automatic, with his wife and his family.”

Trump one day asked Jim: “How’s Paris doing?”

“’Paris?” Jim replied, as relayed by Trump. “‘I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.’”

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, responded by tweeting a photo of herself with Mickey and Minnie Mouse inviting Trump “and his friend Jim” to France to “celebrate the dynamism and the spirit of openness of #Paris.”

France’s then-Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also took to Twitter, noting that 3.5 million American tourists had visited France last year.

The Jim story highlights differences on immigration between Trump and major European leaders, including Trump’s host in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trump has put immigration at the core of his anti-terrorism strategy. He proposed a Muslim ban during the campaign and is fighting in the courts to temporarily bar travelers from six Muslim-majority nations as well as refugees.

Macron is an outspoken critic of discriminatory policies against France’s Muslim population. He favors strong external European Union borders and he’s also called for a united European policy on immigration so that countries like Greece are not disproportionately affected by the influx of refugees.

Trump believes European policies fall short of any credible efforts to protect the public. He has vowed to push forward with a plan to build a wall along America’s southern border with Mexico and he advocates for “extreme vetting” to “keep terrorists out.”

Trump never endorsed Macron’s election opponent, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, but in an interview with The Associated Press, he noted that terrorist attacks in France would “probably help” her win since “she’s the strongest on borders and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

Trump has criticized several European leaders, accusing them of lax counterterrorism policies. He lashed out at London Mayor Sadiq Khan after an attack on London Bridge last month. In a February speech, Trump denounced Sweden’s policies and talked about “what’s happening last night in Sweden.” Swedish officials sought clarification because there were no known attacks in their country that night.

Trump took to Twitter to explain: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

‘Morning Joe’ host Joe Scarborough explains why he’s leaving GOP

“Morning Joe” host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough is blaming the GOP’s loyalty to President Donald Trump and its failure to live up to its promises for his decision to leave the party and become an independent.

Scarborough first announced the switch during an interview with CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night. He appeared as a guest with his co-host and fiancee, Mika Brzezinski, who recently was attacked in sharply personal terms by the Republican president.

On Wednesday’s “Morning Joe,” Scarborough accused Republicans of abandoning their fiscal principles. He also referred to Trump, saying Republicans are “kowtowing to somebody who — inexplicably — shows them no loyalty whatsoever.”

Scarborough was elected to four U.S. House terms from Florida starting in 1994.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

As Russia scandal touches his son, Donald Trump privately rages

The snowballing revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during last year’s presidential campaign have broadsided the White House, distracting from its agenda as aides grapple with a crisis involving the president’s family.

The public has not laid eyes on the president since his return from Europe Saturday. But in private, Trump has raged against the latest Russia development, with most of his ire directed at the media, not his son, according to people who have spoken to him in recent days. The only comment from Trump on the matter for much of the day came in a brief statement via spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said Tuesday that the president believes his son is “a high-quality person.”

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that his son was “open, transparent and innocent,” again referring to the investigation as “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history.” The president also questioned the sources of the media reporting on the story.

The bombshell revelation that Trump Jr. was eager to accept information from the Russian government landed hard on weary White House aides. While staff people have grown accustomed to a good news cycle being overshadowed by the Russia investigations, Trump aides and outside advisers privately acknowledged that this week’s developments felt more serious.

Trump Jr. released four pages of emails Tuesday in which he communicates with an associate trying to arrange a meeting with a Russian lawyer. In the emails, the intermediary says the attorney has negative information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that is part of the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump in the campaign. The then-candidate’s son responds: “I love it.”

This new setback raises new questions about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow during the election, a charge the president has denied for months. And it points those questions more directly at the inner circle of Trump’s own family.

As has been the pattern for Trump’s White House, the controversy has sparked a new round of recriminations among the president’s team. Nearly a dozen White House officials and outside advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the mood in the West Wing.

The president, in conversations with confidants, has questioned the quality of advice he has received from senior staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus. However, Priebus has been a frequent target of criticism for months and even those taking aim at him now said it did not appear as though a shakeup was on the horizon.

There has also been a difference of opinion within the West Wing has to how to handle the crisis, with some aides favoring more transparency than others. Some of the unhappiness centers on Trump’s legal team, which is led by New York attorney Marc Kasowitz.

An unusual statement Saturday night from the legal team’s spokesman Mark Corallo appeared to claim Trump Jr., [JaredKushner and [PaulManafort were duped into meeting with the Russian lawyer, and was viewed as particularly unhelpful by senior White House officials.

The revelations come at a pivotal moment for Trump and the Republican Party, as GOP senators race to finish work on a health care overhaul that has divided the party. Trump has largely stayed on the sidelines of the policy negotiations on the measure, but has still publicly pressed GOP senators to wrap up work on legislation this summer and fulfill one of the party’s central promises to voters.

On Capitol Hill, some Republican lawmakers cast the snowballing Russia controversy as a distraction from the health care debate.

“We ought to be disciplined and not be distracted by things that may be legitimate but not right now in our lane,” said Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The matter has also distracted from a brief stretch in which some White House advisers believed they were finding their footing.

Trump aides, who view clashes with the media as central to the president’s agenda, were emboldened when three journalists from CNN resigned after the network withdrew a story about a Trump ally. Trump’s allies were also heartened by his trip to Europe last week, feeling that his speech saluting national pride in Poland was a high point of his presidency and believing that he held his own during meetings with foreign leaders at an international summit in Germany.

But the afterglow of Trump’s trip quickly vanished, replaced once again with questions about the swirling federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s election meddling.

And Trump allies took notice Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence distanced himself from the revelation by the president’s son. In a statement, Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the vice president “was not aware of the meeting,” adding Pence was “not focused on stories about the campaign especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.”

Pence was named Trump’s running mate in the middle of July 2016, several weeks after the meeting involving the president’s son.

Trump Jr, who is running the family business with his brother, huddled with friends and close business associates after the first stories dropped, his mood shifting from worry to defiance over the story’s lifespan, according to confidants. He has told those close to him that while he realizes the optics of the meeting aren’t ideal, he has echoed his father in believing that the media have overblown the matter and, despite some opposition among his allies, has said he wants to publicly fight back.

But White House aides struggled with bringing forth a strong defense against the scandal that also touched Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser who attended the 2016 meeting. Though Sanders called charges of collusion “ridiculous,” the White House press briefing remained off-camera for the second consecutive day, limiting the power of her pushback.

And the president himself was slated to stay out of sight. He had no public events scheduled for Wednesday until he departs for another overseas trip, this time to France.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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