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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    President Donald Trump's liaison to the black community, the former 'Apprentice' star Omarosa Manigault, says African-American activists aren't trying hard enough to work with the new administration. The White House aide delivered the pointed message in an interview with The Associated Press in advance of an appearance Thursday at the annual convention of an activist organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. 'We're here waiting, willing to work with the community,' Manigault said when asked about Trump's moves to slash programs that benefit minorities. 'This president wants to engage. It's not a one-way street.' She was more measured Thursday afternoon as she faced hundreds of black activists, who, like African-American voters across the nation last fall, overwhelmingly opposed Trump's presidency. Several participants refused to utter the president's name in convention sessions, referring to the 45th president only by the number 45. Trump got just 8 percent of the African-American vote last November, according to exit polls. 'I'm ready,' Manigault told the crowd as some murmured their disapproval. 'I know what I came into, and I ain't never scared.' She insisted she's spent her first 100 days in Washington fighting for the black community. She noted that Trump has met personally with the Congressional Black Caucus and the presidents of historically black colleges and universities. Manigault called on black leaders to help the struggling institutions as well. 'As I fight for you from the White House, I need you to fight on the outside,' she said from the podium of a Manhattan hotel ballroom. The audience listened to Manigault without interruption. Afterward, from the same podium, Sharpton expressed skepticism. He noted that Trump's proposed budget includes less money for historically black institutions than the final year of President Obama's presidency. Others previously complained that Trump plans to slash training, education and health care programs that benefit minorities. Sharpton told Manigault to deliver a message to the new president when she returned to Washington. 'I wish the president would respect us,' Sharpton said, dismissing Trump's early black outreach as little more than photo ops. He added, 'We, as blacks and women, are in the first 100 days seeing a disaster in Washington, D.C.
  • The Latest on Alex Acosta's confirmation as President Donald Trump's secretary of labor (all times EDT): 6:40 p.m. The Senate has confirmed law school dean Alex Acosta as President Donald Trump's secretary of labor. The 60-38 vote Thursday fills out Trump's Cabinet just ahead of the president's 100th day in office. Once sworn in, Acosta will be the nation's 27th secretary of labor, leading an agency that enforces workplace protections for about 10 million employers and 125 million workers. Acosta wasn't Trump's first choice for the job. That was former fast food CEO Andrew Puzder, who withdrew his name from consideration after becoming a political headache for the new administration. Acosta has been a federal prosecutor, a civil rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. Democrats have complained that Acosta's positions on overtime pay and other issues are unclear. ___ 2:20 p.m. The Senate is poised to confirm Alex Acosta as President Donald Trump's secretary of labor. The vote expected Thursday would make Acosta the only Hispanic in the Cabinet and complete Trump's Cabinet as he approaches the 100-day mark of his presidency. But the drive to fill the labor position was rocky for a president who had promised to advocate for American workers. Trump nominated Acosta only after his first choice, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration under a cloud of questions and criticism. The fast food CEO acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and belatedly paying the related taxes. The Senate already has approved Acosta, 48, three times previously, for positions in the Labor and Justice Departments.
  • President Donald Trump on Thursday created an office at the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve accountability and protect whistleblowers, calling it a 'bold step forward.' Trump, who made improving veterans' care a prominent issue in his presidential campaign, said the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection will make clear 'that we will never, ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans.' VA Secretary David Shulkin said the office will help identify 'barriers' that make it difficult for the department to fire or reassign bad managers or employees. Another function of the office will be to help shield whistleblowers from retaliation. 'With the creation of this office, we are sending a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable,' Trump said at the VA before signing an executive order to create the office. 'And at the same time, we will reward and retain the many VA employees who do a fantastic job, of which we have many.' The move follows Trump's signing last week of a bill that extends a VA program that allowed some veterans to seek medical care outside of the department's troubled health system. In 2014, as many as 40 veterans died as they spent months waiting for appointments at the VA medical center in Phoenix. Officials there were found to have manipulated appointment data and engaged in other schemes in attempt to cover up the backlog. Trump also joined veterans' groups in calling on the Senate to pass a pending accountability measure. The House has already passed a bill to make it make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct, but Senate continues to work on its version of the legislation. Shulkin said Trump's decision to create the office even before Congress sends him a bill speaks to his commitment to accountability at the VA. 'He's asking through his executive order for VA to do everything that it can internally,' Shulkin said Wednesday at a White House briefing. 'But we know that that's not going to be enough to get done what I want to get done, which is to be able to, once we identify people that need to leave the organization, to get them out quickly. So I do need legislative help as well.' The VA said it will have an executive director for the accountability office by mid-June. The director will help identify ways the VA secretary can discipline or terminate a VA manager or employee as well as reward top performers. The VA has often complained it can't discipline or remove employees due to a lengthy union grievance process. Shulkin also announced additional steps Thursday to improve VA care and to reduce waste, fraud and abuse at the department through a task force made up of private-sector and government groups. The VA also plans to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to allow medical professionals from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to help provide care to veterans at VA facilities in underserved areas. Shulkin has said that his reform effort includes building a more 'integrated' model of VA care that uses private doctors and doctors from other federal agencies. The VA will also exempt state-owned veteran nursing homes from federal requirements to remove red tape and offer veterans more services, Shulkin said. Meanwhile, veterans' groups want the Senate to act soon to send the accountability legislation to Trump for his signature. 'The longer the Senate waits, the longer veterans will suffer,' said Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America. The new VA office will also investigate reports of retaliation against VA employees who expose illegal or unethical conduct, Shulkin said, adding that 'we will take actions' if it is determined that an employee whistleblower has been subjected to retaliation for coming forward. No new hiring will be done for the office. Existing VA employees will be transferred there, despite department-wide employee shortages and a decision to leave thousands of VA positions unfilled. Shulkin said he didn't have dollar figures for how much the office would cost, but said it will require a 'substantial commitment.' The executive order is one of several Trump is signing this week as he seeks to score accomplishments before Saturday, his symbolic 100th day in office. ___ Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap and http://www.twitter.com/hopeyen1
  • U.S. diplomats used a meeting with their Iranian counterparts to press the release of Americans being detained in Iran, the Trump administration said Thursday. It is the first public acknowledgment of direct U.S.-Iranian discussions since President Donald Trump took office. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the talks occurred on the sidelines of a meeting in Vienna this week that focused on implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has railed against the seven-nation accord that President Barack Obama's administration led to completion in 2015. But Trump's aides recently certified that Iran was upholding its commitment to not advance its nuclear program toward weapons capability. Although Trump and his top advisers have publicly criticized Iran for its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Yemeni rebels and militant groups throughout the Middle East, American officials haven't spoken about any continuation of U.S.-Iranian conversations that became routine under the Obama administration. At Tuesday's meeting in Austria, Toner said, 'the U.S. delegation raised with the Iranian delegation its serious concerns regarding the cases of U.S. citizens detained and missing in Iran, and called on Iran to immediately release these U.S. citizens so they can be reunited with their families.' Toner cited the detentions of Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, who are serving 10-year prison sentences for 'cooperating with the hostile American government.' The younger Namazi has been detained since October 2015 and his father was taken into custody in February 2016. Their supporters deny the charges and say the two are being held as leverage against the United States. Iran has detained dual nationals to use as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West, most notably in a controversial 2016 prisoner swap with the U.S. that coincided with American sanctions being removed as part of the nuclear deal and a $1.7 billion payment by Washington to settle a decades-old dispute with Tehran over a frozen Iranian account. Both Namazis appear to be ensnared by hard-liners within Iran's security services who oppose Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the nuclear deal he struck with world powers. Toner also noted it has been more than a decade since the disappearance of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, a CIA contractor in 2007 traveling on an unauthorized mission to collect intelligence. The only photos and video of Levinson emerged in 2010 and 2011. He appeared gaunt and bearded with long hair, and was wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. 'Iran committed to cooperating with the United States in bringing Bob home and we call on Iran to fulfill this commitment,' Toner said, though Tehran has been providing such commitments previously. 'The United States remains unwavering in its efforts to return Bob to his family.' Toner made no mention of an Iranian-American who was recently released on bail from his long prison sentence in Iran for 'collaboration with a hostile government.' While Robin Shahini of San Diego was let go from prison, it was unclear if he would be permitted to leave Iran. Shahini traveled to Iran to see his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, and was detained last July. In December, a human rights group reported that Iranian-American art gallery manager Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife also were detained.
  • The Latest on Veterans Affairs (all times EDT): 5 p.m. President Donald Trump is creating an office at the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve accountability and protect whistleblowers. Trump says the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection's creation sends 'a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable.' Trump signed an executive order creating the office during a visit Thursday to the VA. The office's eventual head will report directly to VA Secretary David Shulkin. He says the office will help identify 'barriers' that make it difficult to fire or reassign employees who are no longer considered fit to work there and serve veterans. In 2014, as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the VA's medical center in Phoenix. ___ 3 a.m. President Donald Trump is signing an executive order to create an accountability and whistleblower protection office at the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA Secretary David Shulkin says the eventual head of the office will report to him and help identify 'barriers' hindering the department's ability to reassign employees who are no longer deemed fit to work in service of the nation's veterans. The House has passed a bill to make it easier to fire VA employees. Shulkin says Trump's decision to create the office by executive order speaks to his commitment to accountability at the VA. The office is a byproduct of a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the VA's medical center in Phoenix.
  • Since arriving in Washington in 2009, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz has been a political mainstay, doggedly investigating Democrats, frequently appearing on cable TV and regularly updating his legions of social media followers with photos of himself, his family and even his dog, Ruby. His Twitter handle reminds people that of the 435 members, he's @jasoninthehouse. Not for the next few weeks though. The Utah congressman said late Wednesday in Instagram and Twitter posts that he will be away from the Capitol for up to 4 weeks. Chaffetz needs immediate surgery to remove screws and pins from a foot he shattered 12 years ago. True to form, he posted X-ray images showing the 14 screws and a metal plate in his foot, which he injured during a fall from a ladder at his home. 'I'm sorry to miss the important work we are doing in Washington, but medical emergencies are never convenient,' Chaffetz said. Chaffetz' recent moves have drawn scrutiny in Washington and back home, and left a few people wondering what's next for the dark-haired, 50-year-old who kicked for Brigham Young's football team. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee the past two years, Chaffetz gained a high-profile as an investigator — some would say antagonist — of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Chaffetz famously promised before the election to investigate Clinton 'for years' even as he declined to go after President Donald Trump. Frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for Senate or governor, Chaffetz shocked the political world last week by announcing he will not seek election to any office in 2018. Chaffetz surprised Washington again on Tuesday when he appeared alongside Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings to criticize former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Chaffetz said he had seen no evidence that Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, had requested or received permission to accept tens of thousands of dollars from Russian organizations after a trip there in 2015. Chaffetz and Cummings asked the Army to investigate whether Flynn broke the law — the first hint of bipartisanship amid a flood of complaints by Democrats that Republicans have failed to scrutinize Trump and his associates. But two days after appearing alongside Cummings, Chaffetz again found himself a target of partisan criticism, as Cummings blasted him for failing to follow up on his initial criticism of Flynn. Cummings complained that despite requests from Democrats, Chaffetz has not pressured the White House to release documents or called Flynn to testify. 'Republicans are not helping us — and they could help us,' Cummings said at a news conference Thursday, singling out Chaffetz and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. 'You cannot allow situations where the Congress requests documents and basically the White House says, 'Take a hike.' That's simply unacceptable, and it sets a very dangerous precedent,' he said. Chaffetz was in Utah Thursday preparing for surgery, but he said Tuesday that he did not believe the White House was acting in bad faith. 'I don't feel like they have withheld any information. It really doesn't involve the White House and, if it did, it would be the Obama White House,' where Flynn was a top intelligence adviser before being ousted in 2014, Chaffetz said. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a longtime friend, said he is sorry to see Chaffetz leave Congress. 'He's got boundless energy. He never stops thinking, never stop wondering. It's refreshing,' said Lee, who worked with Chaffetz a decade ago when both were aides to then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Chaffetz, who famously sleeps in a cot in his congressional office, has long talked about returning to Utah, Lee said. 'I respect him for it. He's given the job everything he's got. It's time to go.' In Chaffetz's congressional district, voters have mixed opinions on his motivations and whether he should push harder to investigate Trump. Patsy Jones, a 78-year-old retiree who voted for Chaffetz, said she thinks he performs well under pressure and is sad to see him leave Congress. Jones, an unaffiliated voter, said she thinks Chaffetz always intended to look into Trump's business ties and is ramping up his efforts now because he might not have much time left in office. Chaffetz has said he may leave office early to pursue private interests but has not set a firm timetable. David Kliger, a 69-year-old retired dentist and self-described 'elite liberal,' said Chaffetz is finally investigating Trump because he needs to show he's doing something. 'He's an opportunist and basically, he was looking forward to just beating up on Hillary Clinton. And because Trump is president ... he's sort of caught in a bind,' said Kliger. Kim Massey, 53, an unaffiliated voter who moved to suburban Salt Lake City last year, voted for Trump, but now regrets it and said she's glad Chaffetz appears to be stepping up his investigation. 'I think he feels liberated. I think he probably doesn't feel the pressure,' she said of Chaffetz. 'He's probably like, 'I don't have anything to lose so might as well do what I intended to do.'' ___ Associated Press writer Michelle Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.
  • A president's first 100 days can be a tire-squealing hustle from the starting line (Franklin Roosevelt), a triumph of style over substance (Jimmy Carter), a taste of what's to come (Ronald Reagan) or an ambitious plan of action that gets rudely interrupted by world events (pick a president). Here's a snapshot of the first 100 days for presidents back to the one who set the standard for getting big things done fast: FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, 1933 Roosevelt came to office in the Great Depression, with one in four workers idle, more than 80 percent of the stock market's value gone, farmers destitute, urban dwellers in breadlines, and banks failing at an alarming rate, eliminating the savings of millions. Fellow Democrats controlled the House and Senate. FDR immediately declared a temporary national closure of banks to stop panic withdrawals, called a special session of Congress and won passage of an emergency law to stabilize the banking system. He came forward with a flurry of legislation that set the pillars of the New Deal in place within his first 100 days, 'the most concentrated period of U.S. reform in U.S. history,' say Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer in 'The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency.' More than a dozen sweeping laws were enacted in that time as FDR threw the public purse behind the cause of industrial recovery, agricultural renewal and public works, expanding federal powers in the process. Social Security and much more came later. FDR's burst of productivity gave rise to U.S. history's 100-day benchmark for new presidents. ___ HARRY TRUMAN, 1945 'I felt as if I had lived five lifetimes in those first days as president,' Truman said of his ascension from vice president upon FDR's death, April 12, 1945, during World War II. On May 7, Germany surrendered; Japan pressed on. On Truman's 116th day as president, Aug. 6, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, then on Nagasaki three days later.  Japan surrendered Aug. 14. ___ DWIGHT EISENHOWER, 1953 The war hero came to power without plans to overturn the status quo in domestic policy and his 100 days unfolded without much of a mark. The armistice ending the Korean War happened later that year and the domestic achievement for which he has become most known, the interstate highway system, later. ___ JOHN KENNEDY, 1961 A master orator, JFK was not a high achiever in his first 100 days, a period marked by the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by U.S.-trained Cuban exiles and the Soviet Union's launch of the first human into outer space. Kennedy proved more sure-footed in Cold War brinksmanship that followed, declaring a quarantine on Soviet shipping to Cuba to prevent the establishment of missile bases able to strike the U.S.  The Soviets relented in 1962, defusing a crisis that had brought the nuclear powers perilously close to war. ___ LYNDON JOHNSON, 1963 LBJ's priority when Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 made him president was stability, unity and security. Those goals, and efforts to pass items on JFK's agenda, dominated his early days. Johnson fiercely wheeled and dealed behind an agenda of his own as time went on. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and, after he won the presidential election that year, Medicare, Medicaid and other pillars of his Great Society fell into place, even as his escalation of the Vietnam War eroded his standing with the public. ___ RICHARD NIXON, 1969 On the surface, Nixon's early months offered few clues to the foreign policy strides that would register in history or to the dark scheming that would destroy his presidency. He visited Europe for eight days in his first full month, three years before his groundbreaking visit to China. In March, he ordered a secret and sustained bombing campaign on Cambodia — its eventual revelation further drove opposition to the Vietnam War. Nixon's main domestic initiatives were down the road, as was the Watergate scandal and related machinations against political adversaries that ultimately drove him from office under a looming impeachment. ___ GERALD FORD, 1974 Nixon's resignation in disgrace made Ford president on Aug. 9, when he declared 'our long national nightmare is over.'  A burst of relief and popularity followed but his decision a month later to pardon Nixon sank the public's estimation of him and that never recovered. Inflation was raging and the economy was worsening but he lacked the clout in Congress to achieve a quick fix. Before his 100 days were done, midterm elections handed Democrats stronger majorities in both houses of Congress. ___ JIMMY CARTER, 1977 The Democrat's first 100 days were largely about tone. Although he sent lawmakers ambitious legislation on economic stimulus, energy conservation, immigration and more, he got little of it despite Democratic control of Congress. Brinkley and Dyer write that Carter set out to demystify the presidency by ending the playing of 'Hail to Chief' at his events, donning a cardigan sweater for a televised address, having his Cabinet members drive their own cars and asking Americans to recognize that 'even our great nation has its recognized limits.' ___ RONALD REAGAN, 1981 Reagan took office with fellow Republicans in control of the Senate, Democrats in control of the House, and big plans brewing to put the government on a conservative path. He got off to a fast start — but not by achieving a mountain of legislation in the first 100 days. Rather, he used his powers of persuasion with lawmakers and the public to soften the ground for the most consequential tax, spending and government-overhaul Congress had seen in decades. After more than two months in office, Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt that nearly killed him — a shocker that rallied support behind him even as he was temporarily sidelined by surgery and convalescence — and never completely recovered. Congressional approval of his sweeping plan came later that year. ___ GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 1989 His priority was to get out of Reagan's shadow. Despite only modest achievements in his first 100 days, like a bipartisan budget agreement, Bush capped the period with a six-state tour to talk about his goals and successes. Momentous times were unfolding — the Berlin Wall came down that November and the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, a Cold War resolution for which Reagan got the most credit in the U.S. Bush, though, unleashed a massive U.S. military effort and broad international coalition to reverse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. ___ BILL CLINTON, 1993 With Congress under Democratic control, Clinton promised to put legislation in play within 100 days to overhaul health care, guaranteeing coverage for everyone. That became a drawn-out failure, ultimately collapsing in late 1994. Surrounded by figures from his days as Arkansas governor, Clinton got off to a rocky start negotiating the ways of Washington.  The Democrat's early months were dominated by controversies over his appointments; his first two choices for attorney general flopped, as did his first choice to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. His pledge to end discrimination against gays in the military drew attention away from central parts of his agenda in the early going. But his 100 days were not without results: He won passage of a law guaranteeing 12 weeks of unpaid family leave at larger companies for child care and family illnesses. ___ GEORGE W. BUSH, 2001 The Republican who eked into office after the closest U.S. presidential election in history dealt with a Republican-controlled House and a Senate that was evenly divided (as if the presidential vote wasn't dramatic enough). Republicans held the tie-breaking vote in the Senate until June, when a GOP lawmaker switched to vote with Democrats. Bush did not get much more in his 100 days than a House vote backing central elements of his big tax cuts. A dispute with China intervened over a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter plane that killed the Chinese pilot and resulted in the detention of the U.S. crew. The tax cuts came later. Then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which changed everything. ___ BARACK OBAMA, 2009 Obama came to office in the worst economic crisis since the Depression and both houses of Congress in the hands of fellow Democrats. Financial institutions had been failing, the auto industry was in trouble and unemployment was on the rise, over 8 percent in February 2009 on its way to more than 10 percent before the end of the year. Lawmakers from both parties were inclined to act quickly and did, even as they fought over the details of how to respond to the tanking economy. Obama signed a massive stimulus package into law in his first month. He also achieved laws expanding health care for children and advancing equal pay for women in his first 100 days, leaving the epic struggle over 'Obamacare' for later in the year and 2010. ___ DONALD TRUMP, 2017 Of 10 major pieces of legislation Trump promised to put in play in his first 100 days, none was achieved and only one made it formally to Congress — the failed first effort to replace his predecessor's health law. The contours of another, a big package of tax cuts, were announced this week. The confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court stood as his biggest achievement with fellow Republicans in control of Congress. Trump moved aggressively with promised executive orders, most of which have limited effect, and courts blocked a key pledge to freeze entry to the U.S. of people from certain Muslim-majority countries. ___ This story has been corrected to reflect the year of the 9/11 attacks.
  • President Donald Trump's plan to overhaul the nation's tax code could provide significant tax cuts for the working-class voters who elected him, but the unknowns could end up hurting many of these core supporters of the president. A look at how Trump's tax plan could affect families at different income levels: ___ THE WORKING CLASS These are the people who have been left behind by an increasingly globalized economy. Trump's proposal, a one-page outline short on detail, says he would double the standard tax deduction, which could provide significant relief to working-class families. But Trump's top economic adviser used some bad math to describe the proposal, raising questions. Gary Cohn said the standard deduction for a married couple would be doubled to $24,000. But that's not double. The standard deduction for a married couple is $12,700, so double would be $25,400. Cohn said the deduction would create 'a zero tax-rate for the first $24,000.' That sounds great, but very few families making $24,000 a year pay federal income tax, said Roberton Williams, a fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. In fact, 44 percent of all U.S. households pay no federal income tax, though most pay other taxes. Trump's one-page sketch is silent on whether the tax code would still include the personal tax exemption, which allows most families to exempt $4,050 in income for each spouse and dependent child. In big families, this tax exemption can add up. During the campaign, Trump released a tax proposal that would eliminate the personal exemption. Also during the campaign, Trump proposed getting rid of the 'head of household' filing status, which is mainly used by single parents. This filing status provides a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction than filing as a single person. Trump's new plan is silent on this issue as well. ___ THE MIDDLE CLASS The median household income in the U.S. is about $55,000, though people living in high-cost areas can make much more than that and still feel like they are in the middle class. Doubling the standard deduction — or at least raising it to $24,000 — could provide significant tax relief to middle-income families. But whether they pay more or less depends largely on details that have yet to be released. One of those pesky details is how Trump will structure the tax rates on individual income. Trump has proposed reducing the number of tax rates from seven to three — 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. But the administration has yet to determine the income levels for people who would be put in each bracket. ___ HIGH-INCOME FAMILIES Trump's plan has the potential to provide big tax cuts to high-income families — unless you live in a state with high state and local taxes. Trump calls for eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was enacted in 1969 to prevent high-income people from paying no income tax. It has evolved over the years and now impacts about 5 million households, most of them making between $200,000 and $1 million a year. In 2005, Trump himself paid $36.5 million in taxes, mostly because of the AMT. Without it, he would have paid just $5.5 million, according to a leaked copy of that year's return. On the flip side, Trump wants to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, a big tax break that benefits millions, especially people living in Democratic-controlled states with high local taxes such as New York, New Jersey and California. Last year, more than 43 million families claimed the deduction, saving them nearly $70 billion. ___ THE SUPERRICH These are the 1 percenters, people like Trump who make millions a year and are worth even more. Trump is proposing big tax cuts for the superrich, including repealing the estate tax. The federal estate tax is widely misunderstood. The fact is it affects very few estates. If your parents' estate is worth less than $10.9 million, you don't have to worry about this tax. This year, about 5,200 estates will pay the tax, according to the Tax Policy Center. Trump also wants to reduce the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. But perhaps the biggest windfall for rich people could come from Trump's plan to lower the top tax rate for small business owners from 39.6 percent to 15 percent. Rich people, including Trump, tend to report a lot of business income, Williams said. But the true effect of this tax cut will depend on how the Trump administration defines a small business owner. If the tax cut applies to all business income reported on individual tax returns, it would be a huge windfall for many rich families. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump will propose safeguards that would prevent rich people from taking advantage of the tax cut, but he provided no details on how that would work. ___ Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/stephenatap
  • The Environmental Protection Agency chief on Thursday pulled out of a Republican fundraiser after a Democratic senator raised ethics concerns. A spokesman for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would not be attending next week's Oklahoma Republican Party gala. Pruitt, who previously served as Oklahoma's elected attorney general, had been scheduled as the keynote speaker. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse filed an ethics complaint against Pruitt on Tuesday. The Rhode Island Democrat says Pruitt's participation would violate the Hatch Act, which limits political activity by executive branch employees. The invitation for the May 5 fundraiser sent out by the state GOP specifically praised Pruitt's support for cutting federal regulations limiting planet-warming carbon emissions. Before joining the Trump administration, Pruitt often raised campaign money from fossil-fuel companies and their executives. 'You do not want to miss Pruitt at this year's OKGOP Gala, as he discusses his plans to slash regulations, bring back jobs to Oklahoma, and decrease the size of EPA!' said a flyer for the event sent out by the state party. 'Make sure to purchase your Gala tickets so you don't miss out on Administrator Pruitt's future plans and how he will continue to Drain the Swamp!' EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said the agency did not approve of the legally questionable wording on the flyer. 'We worked closely with our ethics counsel to ensure compliance, and when we received the invitation, we understood immediately that it did not conform to our rules and acted accordingly,' Freire said. The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from using their government position or tittle 'while participating in a political activity' or 'in connection with fundraising activities.' Sponsorship levels for the upcoming GOP gala range from $2,000 to $5,000. Individual tickets for the dinner cost $100, with special 'VIP' access available for another $50. In his complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Whitehouse said the GOP's invitation promoting Pruitt's appearance constitutes a 'blatant violation' of the Hatch Act. The senator said Thursday a 'thorough investigation' should go forward even though Pruitt is no longer going. 'Scott Pruitt has a long record of dark money fundraising and cozy relationships with big, fossil-fuel political donors,' said Whitehouse, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 'The American people need to know whether he is using his position at EPA to promote the political actors who support him.' ___ Follow Associated Press environmental writer Michael Biesecker at www.Twitter.com/mbieseck
  • Donald Trump, darling of the National Rifle Association, has custody of the Oval Office. The Republican-controlled Congress already has ditched one Obama-era rule to tighten access to guns. And an emboldened NRA has much more ambitious plans afoot for easing state and national gun laws as its annual convention unfolds this weekend in Atlanta. But gun control advocates do not want your pity, thank you very much. In the face of daunting presidential election results and a formidable NRA, the groups that stand in opposition to looser gun laws say they are ready to rumble. 'We have become the David to the NRA's Goliath,' says Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America following the 2012 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. The group is now part of Everytown for Gun Safety, which is backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and is the largest organization fighting gun violence in the U.S. 'We feel much more invigorated because we know how important this is, given that Donald Trump is president' and the NRA spent more than $30 million to help him get there, says Watts. Count on similar sentiments from other groups seeking tighter gun rules as the NRA enjoys a post-election payoff moment Friday when Trump becomes the first president to appear at an NRA convention since Ronald Reagan in 1983. 'Actually, having lost any sense of control in Congress and in many states facing bills that are irresponsible allows us in the gun violence prevention movement to organize and provide resistance,' says David Chipman, a senior adviser to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband after she was shot in the head in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that left six people dead. 'Often times, it's easier to get people engaged when there's a fear of something bad happening,' says Chipman. Likewise, Barack Obama's presidency produced a spike in gun sales, and NRA memberships ticked up after the elections of Obama and Bill Clinton, amid fears of new restrictions on guns. With Trump's election, there's no shortage of material to motivate gun control advocates. After the Republican won the White House, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre declared it time to 'defeat the forces that have aligned against our freedom once and for all.' The NRA is pushing for federal legislation to make any state's concealed-carry permits valid everywhere else, which opponents say would effectively turn the weakest gun standards in the nation into the law of the land. And the NRA is out to eliminate gun-free zones at schools and reduce state requirements for background checks, among other things. In one early sign of the changed environment, the GOP-led Congress in February passed a resolution to block a rule that would have kept guns out of the hands of certain people with mental disorders, and Trump quickly signed it. 'There's no doubt that the election of Donald Trump was a major setback for the gun control movement,' says Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and expert on gun policy. 'Although President Obama was not able to get any new gun control legislation passed, under President Trump the NRA is going to be looking to loosen gun laws and is likely to succeed.' Groups advocating tougher gun laws acknowledge there's little prospect for them to make gains at the national level. But they point to increasing success in recent years in the states, where they have enacted a number of measures to require universal background checks and tighten access to guns for domestic abusers. After too often looking for a knock-out punch that wasn't attainable, the groups 'finally took something out of the playbook of the other side that was quite successful' for the NRA, says Harry Wilson, a Roanoke College professor who has written extensively on gun politics. With the NRA also notching state-level gains, the result is a patchwork of laws meaning that 'when it comes to guns, red states are getting redder and blue states are getting bluer,' says Winkler. Everytown President John Feinblatt says a top priority for gun control groups right now is defeating NRA-backed efforts to enact a national 'concealed-carry reciprocity' law that would require all states to recognize other states' concealed carry permits. Gun control groups helped beat back such proposals in Congress in 2009, 2011 and 2013, and once again 'we're planning for this never to get to the president's desk,' says Feinblatt. The legislation is the chit that 'the NRA wants the most from Donald Trump' after spending millions on his behalf, says Feinblatt. As for Everytown, adds Feinblatt, 'we're building a counterweight to the gun lobby. Despite the popularly held belief that the NRA and the gun lobby is invincible and despite the popular belief that they speak for the people, actually, when there is a counterweight on the other side, the counterweight more often than not is going to win.' Part of the challenge for those seeking tougher gun laws, though, is to make their message stand out when Trump opponents have so much they're worried about. They're concerned about health care, climate change, worker rights and so much more. Gun rights supporters, meanwhile, tend to be more passionate about gun policy as their make-or-break voting issue, polls show. Watts says she wondered what would happen to the effort to tighten access to guns after Trump's election but she says volunteers in 'Moms Demand Action' T-shirts now number close to 50,000 and have become a familiar presence in statehouses around the nation, where the 5-million-member NRA once operated virtually unchallenged. 'People talk about this intensity gap all the time,' says Watts. 'I don't feel that. ... I'm seeing us building to match an organization that's been around for 30 years.' ___ Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/nbenac

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • As if traffic on I-4 near the attractions isn't enough on it's own, a depression opened up in the median near World Drive Thursday, causing additional slow downs.   As emergency personnel arrived to investigated the incident, drivers slowed down to get a better look as well.   The depression, which is about 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep, was reported just before 5 p.m. rush.   The Florida Department of Transportation was evaluating the situation and had not released any information on what would be done to mitigate the depression.   No other details were immediately released.
  • Prosecutors are building a money trail of deposits, withdrawals, and lavish spending allegedly benefiting former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, through the testimony of an FBI Special Agent. But Brown’s defense says, at no time, did she have control of the account in question. Deputy Chief of the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section Criminal Division Eric Olshan’s questioning of FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly has spanned two days of Brown’s federal fraud trial. Stelly was assigned to this investigation as part of her work in the white collar crime division. She told the court she had worked through bank and business records for Brown, as well as the alleged sham charity One Door For Education, which Brown and a few others are accused of funneling money through. Stelly confirmed that at no time was One Door registered in either Virginia- where it was incorporated as a business- or Florida to solicit charitable donations as a 501(c)(3) organization. One Door’s President, Carla Wiley, opened a bank account for the organization in 2011, but it closed about a year later because of a negative balance. Wiley opened another account with a $250 initial deposit, and there was no activity until August 2012, when Stelly says there was a $25,000 check deposited by a Political Action Committee based in Virginia. That PAC is backed by a lobbying firm where Brown’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, works. Corrine and Shantrel Brown share a home in Virginia. One of the points that prosecutors are trying to hammer in is that there was a habit of using One Door donations for the personal expenses of Brown and a few others. To do that, Olshan first walked Stelly through repeated instances where bank records show hundreds of dollars at a time being taken from the One Door account at an ATM near the home of Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, with a like sum soon after deposited in one of Brown’s accounts- also in Laurel, Maryland, where Simmons lived. Prosecutors further showed surveillance of Simmons making at least one withdrawal and deposit. Prosecutors alleged Simmons would sometimes withdraw the cash and give it directly to Brown, and there was a surveillance photo of Brown herself making one deposit. Another focus is a trip by Brown and her daughter to the Bahamas, and later Los Angeles. A July 2013 check for $3,000 from the One Door account made out to a specific Bank of America bank account said in the memo line that it was for children’s summer camps. Stelly says bank records show $3,000 being deposited around the same time in to Shantrel Brown’s bank account, and $1,000 being transferred from Shantrel Brown’s account to that of her mother. At the same time, Stelly says bank records show several cash withdrawals from One Door’s account in Simmons’ city of residence amounting to $3,000, the same sum which was then deposited in to Brown’s account as well. This all happened as Brown and her daughter first spent time at a resort in the Bahamas and then traveled to the Los Angeles-area, where they did a significant amount of shopping, according to Stelly’s analysis. When Stelly’s testimony resumed Thursday, the focus turned to more than $330,000 in One Door funds that the US Attorney’s Office says funded events hosted by Brown or in Brown’s honor which didn’t actually result in any kind of scholarship fundraising. There were several events Stelly says were represented as being paid for by another group, like Friends of Corrine Brown, but actually had at least some One Door dollars. Still other events were almost entirely funded by One Door, but raised no scholarship dollars. Brown’s attorney, James Smith III, led questioning where Stelly admitted that at no time did One Door apparently solicit donations claiming it would only be for scholarships. He added that some of those events, including an annual reception held in DC, could provide for good networking opportunities with lawmakers and other important parties. Additionally, Stelly confirmed that Brown herself did not have control over the One Door accounts and was not ever formally affiliated with the organization. This is a developing story that will be updated as testimony continued in to the afternoon. WOKV is inside of the federal courtroom and will bring you new information as it comes in.
  • A pair of protective hawks has residents in one central Florida neighborhood ducking and running for cover this week. The birds are attacking people who get too near their nests in Oviedo in suburban Orlando, local news outlets reported. >> Read more trending news It hits me on the side of the head, not just hit, but grabbed, knocked me to the ground. I had to kind of shake my head loose,' resident Beverly Bonadonna told WPLG-TV.  'At that point, I started screaming for my husband ... then it flew away, it finally let go. >> Related: Man allegedly stuffed puppies into pillow cases, left them in drain Bonadonna had to go to the hospital for treatment of puncture wounds and a tetanus shot, but she said more than anything she was terrified during the attack. 'I have never been attacked by one; never even considered that I could be. I have never, I mean, they swoop real low over our head but never considered it was really a possibility,' she told WPLG. Bonadonna isn’t the only victim. Another resident in the same neighborhood, Don Cochran, has a hawk nest in tree next to his house and has been attacked twice. 'He scratched me right in the back of the head, but if you weren't thinking about him, he could have knocked you down because he weighs about 5, 6 pounds,' Cochran said.' >> Related: Florida Fish and Wildlife searches for monkey on the loose Cochran says he now uses an umbrella to go to the mailbox and hasn’t been attacked since. Hawks and their nests are protected under Florida law and can’t be moved or harmed.  Sarah Elsesser contributed to this story.
  • A wildfire has grown to 250 acres this afternoon in Volusia County, crossing State Road 44 after the wind shifted. Called the Damascus Fire, it forced the Florida Highway Patrol to close a section of the road between DeLand and Samsula, so fire plows could safely work in the area. Julie Allen with the Florida Forest Service said 14 tractor plows are trying to keep the flames from spreading further, with assistance from local fire departments. Federal personnel are also on the scene. “We had a sudden wind shift in the midst of the battle, and it caused a little bit of an issue with spotting over,” she explained. Cause of the fire is not known, but gusty winds help it to spread in the mostly rural area.
  • Its not clear why he went up there, but a naked man spent hours on a 140-foot utility tower in New Orleans East. Firefighters were able to raise a ladder and rescue him about 3 p.m. He was seen being placed in ambulance. Power was cut off to prevent him being electrocuted during the rescue.  The tower is near a Luzianne plant, but on Entergy property.