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National Govt & Politics
President Trump back in Washington as 2018 gets underway
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President Trump back in Washington as 2018 gets underway

President Trump back in Washington as 2018 gets underway
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

President Trump back in Washington as 2018 gets underway

President Donald Trump returned to the White House from his Florida holiday retreat on Monday evening, making clear that he's ready for upcoming policy fights in 2018, as the President vows to press for action in Congress on money for a wall along the Mexican border, immigration law changes, welfare reform, and other GOP legislative priorities.

"Much work to be done, but it will be a great New Year!" the President tweeted on New Year's morning, as he headed out for a seventh straight day of golf at his West Palm Beach, Florida club.

Here's some of what we can expect as 2018 unfolds:

1. Look for the President - and Republicans - to trumpet new tax cuts. It was their biggest accomplishment of 2017, and with key mid-term elections for Congress set for November, it's likely that Mr. Trump and GOP lawmakers in Congress will use the new tax law as their biggest point of advertising in coming months. Many Republicans said in late December that they hope approval of the tax changes will provide some momentum for other legislative work in 2018 - but with pressure from upcoming elections, it will be interesting to see what else GOP leaders can get through the House and Senate.

2. GOP edge shrinks in the Senate. As Congress starts the second session of the 115th Congress on Wednesday, Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama will be sworn into office, cutting the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49. If you tuned out from the news over the holiday break, you missed Republican Roy Moore not only refusing to concede defeat, but filing a lawsuit to block Jones from being certified the winner of that Senate seat. The margin for Jones actually grew after military ballots, late absentees, and provisional ballots were tabulated, as Democrats will have their first Democratic Senator from the Yellowhammer State since Howell Heflin retired after the 1996 elections. The change makes it even more difficult for the GOP to get their agenda through the Senate.

3. Next government shutdown deadline - January 19. As lawmakers return to work - the Senate on Wednesday, and the House next week - they don't have much time to figure out a deal on funding government operations for the current fiscal year, which started in October. President Trump has made noise about forcing Congress to approve money for a wall along the Mexican border, but there still don't seem to be majorities in either the House or Senate for the border wall. Republicans want more money for the defense budget - as much as $54 billion more this year, and next year, as well. But Democrats have signaled that if the Pentagon is going to get more money, then they want extra for domestic programs as well. Since the GOP doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate, they can't push through a one-sided plan. It's not clear where this is going.

4. Legislative agenda for 2018 - welfare reform, infrastructure, and ?? With a package of GOP tax cuts for individuals and businesses now law, it's not exactly clear where Republicans and President Trump try to go next in the Congress. The President has talked about welfare reform - GOP leaders in the House have talked about cuts to entitlement programs like Medicaid; but both of those could be controversial. The President has talked about pushing for increased spending for new roads and bridges, but almost a year into the job, the GOP has not released an infrastructure plan, as many GOP lawmakers oppose the idea of such extra spending. It's not clear if Mr. Trump's campaign promise of $1 trillion in new infrastructure will get through Congress or not in 2018.

5. Will there be an immigration/DACA deal? Over the Christmas break, the President made clear that if there was going to be any legislative deal on illegal immigrant "Dreamers" who were protected under the Obama Administration's DACA program, then Democrats must accept some immigration measures that Republicans favor. For Mr. Trump and many other Republicans, three main issues are in play - money for a wall along the Mexican border, an end to so-called 'chain' migration, where extended family members are allowed to come to the United States to join someone who has been allowed in to the country legally, and what's known as the 'Diversity Visa Lottery" program. While Democrats aren't really interested in any of those, they don't have the leverage to force the President to just accept a plan to legalize the DACA Dreamers. This will be an interesting fight in the next two months.

6. A story you might have missed over the holiday break? As the Senate wrapped up work just before Christmas, dozens of nominations made by President Trump were returned to the White House by the Senate. While the Senate doesn't make public which Senators lodged an objection against which nominees, it was assumed in the halls of the Capitol that Democrats were responsible, as they have been locked in an endless struggle with the GOP over Trump nominations of all kinds. Most of the nominees weren't household names, but some were for big positions, like Alexander Azar to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to lead NASA. Starting Wednesday, once the second session of Congress convenes, then the President can re-submit those nominations, or find new picks for 100 different positions.

7. Russia investigation not going away anytime soon. With two indictments and two guilty pleas, Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems to only be at the beginning of his investigation. Probes of possible Russia links to the Trump campaign also continue in both the House and Senate Intelligence committees. The Inspector General of the Department of Justice is also reviewing how the FBI handled both the Clinton email investigation, and the start of the probe involving Russian interference in the U.S. elections in 2016. Meanwhile, two pairs of committees in the House are also looking at the FBI's conduct, the Trump dossier, the Clinton email probe, the Clinton Foundation, and the Uranium One deal during the Obama Administration. In other words, there is more than enough fuel to keep this story going for another year, no matter what supporters of the President may say.

8. Get ready for the 2018 mid-term elections. Democrats fully believe they can flip both the House and Senate in this year's elections, and most of the legislative tussling on Capitol Hill in coming months should be framed by the November elections. What we saw in 2017 was a big surge for Democratic turnout, and a slump in Republicans going to the polls - Alabama's Senate race is a perfect example. Poll after poll has shown an edge in the "generic ballot" for Congress, giving Democrats a double digit advantage, which should translate into large gains. A lot can still happen between now and November, but the conventional wisdom is that 2018 will be an uphill fight for Republicans in Congress, and President Trump. We'll see if that pans out, or not.

9. New Year begins with rising anger at press - from Democrats. One of the growing stories in recent months has been the growing discontent on the political left against the press. We already know the President believes there is a lot of "Fake News" written about him and his administration, a familiar talking point for Republicans. But now, more and more Democratic activists are joining the attacks on the press - their reasoning is a little different - as they feel the news media isn't being tough enough on the President. The focus of many of those feelings is the New York Times, which broke the Hillary Clinton email story, something that her backers feel should never have been a story worth a newspaper's ink. One side thinks we are too tough on President Trump. The other side thinks we aren't tough enough on President Trump. Here's an example from Brian Fallon, who was the national press secretary for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

10. Presidential golf was bad, then it was good. Let's establish one thing at the top - I am all for Presidents playing golf. I love the game of golf, and I think it's a great way for a President to get out of the White House and relax. But let's be honest. Even before he was a candidate for President - and then repeatedly during the 2016 campaign - Donald Trump ridiculed President Barack Obama for playing golf, instead of working on problems in Washington. "While our wonderful president was out playing golf all day, the TSA is falling apart, just like our government!" Mr. Trump tweeted in 2016. During 2009, Mr. Obama played golf 27 times in his first year in office - in 2017, Mr. Trump more than tripled that. On his recent trip to his Florida retreat at Mar-a-Lago, the President played golf nine of the ten days he was gone from the White House. At this pace, Mr. Trump might play more golf in just four years than Mr. Obama played in eight years. President Trump probably won't catch Woodrow Wilson, who played an estimated 1,200 rounds while President - but the second place figure of Dwight Eisenhower (over 800 rounds) could be within reach. One thing of note that changed a bit this past week - the White House several times made public who was playing golf with Mr. Trump. That information was rarely disclosed in 2017.

Stay tuned. 2018 should be a busy year in U.S. politics.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A local pet rescue organization is expanding and they need your help! Polka Dogz Pet Rescue stopped by the News 96.5 WDBO studios on Wednesday to introduce the staff to several of their dogs. President Heidi Hardman says they have been able to place more than 600 dogs in the 3 ½ years they have been operating. “We average about 200 a year and we’re growing from that and that is with a lot of seniors and special needs,” said Hardman. Polka Dogz is in the process of purchasing a new facility in Lake County that will give the dogs more room to roam and could allow the organization to take on more rescues. “We want suites in there, it’s not going to be cages, but the only time they’re going to be in their ‘rooms’ as we call them is for nap time and for overnights,” said Hardman. The home sits on 20 acres near Howey-in-the-Hills.  Hardman says they plan to build play yards and agility equipment.  Polka Dogz is accepting donations to help make the necessary upgrades to the property. To find out how you can help click HERE.   
  • Authorities in Illinois continued searching Wednesday for a 5-year-old boy who was last seen one week ago by family members. >> Read more trending news Officials on Wednesday focused the search for Andrew “AJ” Freund on a field just south of Woodstock in unincorporated McHenry County, WBBM-TV reported. Update 2 p.m. EDT April 24: Authorities are expected to update the public Wednesday afternoon at a news conference. Original report: Authorities are expected to provide more information at a news conference scheduled for 1 p.m. CDT. Earlier Wednesday, officials pulled several items from Andrew’s family’s home, including a large tub, paper bags, a shovel and a small mattress, The Chicago Tribune reported. A dog, identified by a neighbor as the family’s boxer Lucy, was also taken from the home, according to the newspaper. Crystal Lake police said they have interviewed Andrew’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, and his father, Andrew Freund Sr. However, police said Monday that Cunningham was no longer cooperating with investigators, WFLD reported. Officials previously said search crews were unable to find evidence Andrew left his home after his family reported him missing April 18. “The canine teams only picked up Andrew’s scent within the residence, indicating that Andrew had not walked away on foot,” police officials said.  >> Search for missing Illinois 5-year-old focused on boy’s own home, police say Family members told authorities they last saw Andrew around 9 p.m. April 17. “After waking up this morning and being unable to locate him in the home, Andrew’s parents contacted police and reported him missing,” Crystal Lake police said April 18 in a news release. CNN reported Andrew has not always lived with his parents and that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had been part of the boy’s life since his birth. Jassen Strokosch, a spokesman for DCFS, told the news network Andrew became a ward of the state as a newborn following allegations of neglect by his mother. Andrew was in someone else’s care for about two years before being returned to his parents. CNN reported that DCFS was called twice in 2018 based on allegations of neglect and abuse, but both incidents were determined to be unfounded claims. 
  • President Donald Trump plans to fight subpoenas issued by Democrats investigating him and his administration, framing them as politically motivated attacks aimed at winning his rivals the 2020 election. >> Read more trending news Speaking Wednesday with reporters, Trump called a subpoena issued this week by the House Judiciary Committee to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify “ridiculous.” >> Former White House counsel Don McGahn subpoenaed by House Judiciary Committee “We have been – I have been – the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far,” Trump said. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas. These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.” Trump’s comments came one day after Carl Kline, a former White House personnel security director who was subpoenaed by Democrats, failed to appear for a scheduled deposition before the House Oversight Committee. The committee subpoenaed Kline after one of his former subordinates told the panel that dozens of people in Trump's administration were granted security clearances despite 'disqualifying issues' in their backgrounds. >> Whistleblower says White House overruled 25 security clearance denials Administration officials also defied a demand Tuesday from the House Ways and Means Committee for six years’ worth of the president’s tax returns. In a letter to Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asked for more time to comply with the request and said he’d give the panel a final decision by May 6. >> Trump Administration and IRS miss deadline for tax returns Trump previously said he doesn't want former or current aides testifying in Congress, 'where it's very partisan — obviously very partisan.' The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Police in Memphis, Tennessee, arrested a woman after detectives said she raped a 4-year-old boy.  On Monday, police were called because two videos were circulating around social media of the woman and the boy, authorities said. >> Read more news stories The video descriptions listed in the police affidavit are too graphic to share.  Tamara Marion, 24, was identified as the suspect, police said.  She was arrested and charged with rape of a child and two counts of especially aggravated exploitation of a minor. Police said that while she was in custody, she admitted to being the woman in the videos. 
  • Nine explosions hit multiple churches, hotels and other locations in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 300 people and injuring hundreds more, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. >> Read more trending news  The victims included at least four Americans, State Department officials said Monday. Here are the latest updates:  Update 7:20 a.m. EDT April 24: Sri Lanka officials said 60 people have been arrested in connection with Sunday’s bombings, according to The Associated Press. A police spokesman said nine suicide bombers carried out the attacks, apparently contradicting government officials’ previous statement that seven bombers were involved, the AP reported. Ruwan Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, described the attackers as educated people from upper- and middle-class households,  the AP reported. Although authorities previously said the terror group National Towheed Jamaar was behind the attacks, Wijewardene said Wednesday that the perpetrators had split off from that group and another one called JMI, the AP reported. He did not say what the acronym stands for. Wijewardene also amended his earlier statement that the bombings were in retaliation for the deadly mass shootings at New Zealand mosques last month, saying Wednesday that the Christchurch attacks may have been a motivation but no evidence has confirmed the link, the AP reported. Read more here. Update 11:30 p.m. EDT April 23: Police said the death toll in the Easter attacks has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.  The prime minister warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large. Update 1 p.m. EDT April 23: Sunday’s bombings claimed the lives of 45 children, officials with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund said Tuesday in a statement. “Many children have lost one or both parents, and countless children have witnessed shocking and senseless violence,” UNICEF officials said. More than 320 people were killed and 500 injured in the bombings. Update 7:11 a.m. EDT April 23: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the deadly Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, the Guardian and the Washington Post are reporting. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. Update 5:55 a.m. EDT April 23: Sri Lankan officials said the death toll from Sunday’s bombings has risen to 321, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The news came as Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the attacks were “carried out in retaliation” for the deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand last month, according to The Associated Press. So far, at least 40 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, authorities said. Meanwhile, the country observed a day of mourning, including a three-minute moment of silence Tuesday morning. Mass burials also were held in Negombo, the Guardian reported. Officials have declared a state of emergency in Sri Lanka, giving military officials “enhanced war-time powers,” the AP reported. Authorities also are facing criticism amid reports that a top police official sent a letter April 11 to four security agencies warning that terror group National Towheed Jamaar was planning suicide bombings at churches, the AP reported. Update 9:45 p.m. EDT April 22: Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, issued a statement in response to the bombings.  “Today as a nation we mourn the senseless loss of innocent lives this past Easter Sunday. I would like to thank the military and police forces, the medical personnel and all those who have worked bravely and tirelessly without concern for their own safety, to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. It is imperative  that we remain unified as Sri Lankans in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.” A three-minute moment of silence for the victims of the explosions will be held at 8:30 a.m. local time, according to BBC reporter Azzam Ameen. Update 8 p.m. EDT April 22: The two Australians who officials said had been killed in the explosions have been identified by a family member. Sudesh Kolonne told Australian Broadcasting Corp. his wife, Manik Suriaaratchi, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexendria were killed in an attack in Negombo, which is north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Kolonne said he was outside when the explosion happened. “I heard a huge noise and I jumped into the church and I saw that my wife and my daughter were on the floor,” he said. “I just saw my daughter on the floor and I tried to lift her up, (but) she was already dead. And (then) exactly the same… next my wife is there.” Kolonne said he and his family moved from Melbourne to Sri Lanka in 2014 when his wife started a consultancy business.  “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “We used to go to that church every Sunday. We never expected this.” Update 4:50 p.m. EDT April 22: A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed to The AP that the agency is providing assistance with the investigation into the bombings. She would not provide specifics. Update 3:50 p.m. EDT April 22: In an email to parents, officials at Sidwell Friends, a private school in the Washington-area, confirmed one of their students was killed in Sunday’s bombings, The Washington Post reported. School officials identified the student as Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, a fifth-grade boy who had been on leave in Sri Lanka for the last year, according to the Post. “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year,” school officials said in the letter. “We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School.” State Department officials said earlier Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s attacks. Officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had also been killed in the bombings. Update 3 p.m. EDT April 22: Officials with the U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s bombings in Sri Lanka. The department said that in addition to those killed, several others were seriously injured. Officials gave no details about the identities of the victims, citing privacy concerns. Earlier Monday, officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had been killed in the bombings. Pearson CEO John Fallon said Dieter Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel in Sri Lanka for a business trip. Update 2:10 p.m. EDT April 22: President Donald Trump said he spoke Monday to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after a series of bomb attacks in the country. In a tweet, Trump said he told Wickremesinghe “the United States stands by him and his country in the fight against terrorism.” “(I) also expressed condolences on behalf of myself and the People of the United States,” Trump wrote. Earlier Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed the government would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Update 1:50 p.m. EDT April 22: Sri Lankan President Maithrpala Sirisena declared April 23 a national day of mourning in a statement obtained Monday by The Associated Press. In the statement, Sirisena said he planned to meet with foreign diplomats to seek international assistance. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier Monday that the U.S. would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Officials said nearly 40 foreign tourists from 11 countries were killed in Sunday’s attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.  Update 11:20 a.m. EDT April 22: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday mourned the victims of Sunday’s bomb attacks in Sri Lanka and promised the government would provide “all possible assistance” to Americans and Sri Lankans alike. Related: Sri Lanka attacks: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? “We urge that any evil-doers be brought to justice expeditiously and America is prepared to support that,” he Pompeo said. “We also stand with the millions of Sri Lankas who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please.” Pompeo confirmed that Americans were among those killed in Sunday’s attack, though he didn’t specify the number of American victims. “It’s heartbreaking that a country which has strived so hard for peace in recent years has been targeted by these terrorists,” he said. Related: Sri Lanka attack: Danish billionaire loses three of his four children in bombings Update 9:50 am. EDT April 22: A Denver man has been identified as one of the nearly 300 people killed Sunday in bombings in Sri Lanka, his employer confirmed Monday. Dieter Kowalski worked as senior leader of the operation technical services team for Pearson, an education management company. Though the company is based in England, Kowalski worked in Pearson’s Denver office, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.  “Colleagues who knew Dieter well talk about how much fun he was to be around, how big-hearted and full-spirited he was,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement shared with company employees and posted Monday on LinkedIn. “They tell of a man to whom we could give our ugliest and most challenging of engineering problems, knowing full well that he would jump straight in and help us figure it out. Dieter, they tell me, was never happier than cheer-leading for our customers and our company and inspiring people in the best way he knew how – by helping them to fix things and doing it with joy, happiness and grace.” Fallon said Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel Sunday for a business trip. Update 7:55 a.m. EDT April 22: Three children of Anders Holch Povlsen, who owns Bestseller clothing, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. The 46-year-old Danish billionaire, who is also the largest shareholder in ASOS, and his family were on vacation in Sri Lanka, the AP reported. Authorities said 39 foreigners were among the 290 people killed in Sunday’s attacks.  Meanwhile, a vehicle parked near St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the churches that was bombed Sunday, exploded Monday as police tried to defuse three bombs inside, according to the AP. At least 87 bomb detonators have been found in Colombo, officials said. Police have detained at least 24 suspects in connection with Sunday’s bombings. Update 5:15 a.m. EDT April 22:  Government officials said the National Thowheed, a Sri Lankan militant group, was responsible for Sunday’s deadly attacks, the Guardian is reporting. However, a government spokesman said an “international network” helped the attackers. Seven suicide bombers caused six of the nine explosions Sunday, a forensic analyst told The Associated Press. Authorities also said a second Chinese citizen and two Australian citizens were among those killed in Sunday’s attacks. So far, the dead include citizens of the United States, India, Britain, China, Australia, Japan and Portugal, the AP reported. Meanwhile, a Sri Lanka military official said crews defused a homemade pipe bomb discovered late Sunday on a road to the airport outside Colombo, the AP reported. Update 12:10 a.m. EDT April 22: The death toll in the bombings has increased to 290 and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. Among those killed are five Indians, who were identified in tweets from India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, The AP reported. China and Portugal also said they lost citizens, and the U.S. said “several” Americans were also killed in the bombings. The AP reported Sri Lankan officials said they would examine reports that intelligence failed to heed or detect warnings of a possible suicide attack.  “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence,” Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said in a tweet, according to The AP. “Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”  Update 9:50 p.m. EDT April 21: Japan has confirmed at least one citizen death and four injuries from the bombings. The country has issued a safety warning to Japanese people in the country, telling them to avoid mosques, churches and public places like clubs, malls and government offices, The AP reported. Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka and sent his condolences to victims of the explosions. He also said Japan was committed to “combating terrorism.” Update 5:40 p.m. EDT April 21: The Associated Press reported that, according to internet censorship monitoring group NetBlocks, social media has been blocked across the country after the attacks. Most services, including YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have been temporarily blacked out to curb false information spread, according to Sri Lankan officials. According to NetBlocks, such blackouts are usually ineffective. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Sri Lanka shuts down social media in wake of Easter attacks “We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms,” Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said in a statement to The AP. “People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.” Update 3:28 p.m. EDT April 21: Police have 13 suspects in custody, impounded a vehicle they believed was used by suspects and located a safe house used by the attackers.  Related: Photos: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens No one has claimed responsibility for what Sri Lankan officials have described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Update 9:28 a.m. EDT April 21: Police have so far arrested three people in connection to the blasts, The Guardian reported. A motive for the bombings is still unclear, investigators said.  Update 8:46 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 207 people were killed and 450 hurt in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Officials said eight blasts targeted three churches, three hotels, a guesthouse and an area near a Dematagoda overpass, the AP reported. Authorities reportedly have arrested seven people in connection with the incidents. Update 8:07 a.m. EDT April 21: Sri Lankan officials say at least 190 people, including at least 27 foreigners and two police officers, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the eight explosions, which rocked at least three churches and three hotels, as well as a guesthouse, officials said. Update 7:35 a.m. EDT April 21: President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to the Sri Lankan people Sunday morning. “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka,” Trump tweeted. “We stand ready to help!” Update 7:19 a.m. EDT April 21: Hours after explosions at Sri Lankan churches and hotels left dozens dead and hundreds more injured, Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his annual Easter message at the Vatican. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Pope denounces attacks during Easter blessing “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community (of Sri Lanka), wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” Francis told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, according to Vatican News. He later added: “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished, and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.” Every year after leading Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report:  Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Washington Insider

  • Aggravated by the efforts of House Democrats to continue to ask questions about the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his administration would not cooperate with those hearings in Congress, as Mr. Trump said a subpoena for testimony by his former White House Counsel was 'ridiculous,' calling on Democrats to move past Russia and on to domestic issues. 'We're fighting all the subpoenas,' the President said, casting the investigative efforts in Congress about Russia and the Mueller Report as nothing more than a political gambit by Democrats to damage his re-election chances. 'Look, these aren't impartial people,' he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. 'The Democrats are trying to win 2020.' Before leaving for events in Atlanta, the President again complained that Democrats were still focusing on the Russia probe, even after the release of a redacted version of the Mueller Report. 'I thought after two years, we would be finished with it,' Mr. Trump added, again declaring that the Mueller investigation found nothing. 'No collusion, no obstruction,' he said. Mr. Trump's comments came after a blitz of posts on Twitter Tuesday morning in which he denounced efforts by Democrats to further investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections, again arguing that only Democrats deserved scrutiny. The President's Wednesday comments echoed remarks he made in an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday night, in which he said his administration won't help Democrats with what he charged were 'partisan' hearings. On Tuesday, a former White House official defied a subpoena from a House committee to testify about security clearances granted to the President's son-in-law and other officials - despite red flags in their background checks. Tuesday also brought a second missed deadline to turn over seven years of Mr. Trump's tax returns, as the Secretary of Treasury said a final decision on the request would be made by May 6. “The president just made it clear that he is trying to stifle our investigation into his prior conduct,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO).