Secretary Mattis shoots down report Pres Trump wanted to expand US nuclear arsenal and Tillerson called president moron

Chief of Staff Kelly takes the podium

Reporting by John Roberts

John Kelly was the latest subject of palace intrigue stories with some reports suggesting he wasn’t long for the job. Like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did a week ago, Kelly himself came out to say—you got it wrong.

It was a surprise move in the daily briefing—White House Chief of Staff John Kelly meeting the White House press corps on the record for the first time to say reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

“I’m not quitting today,” Kelly told the room. “I don’t believe—and I just talked to the president, I don’t think I’m being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving.”

Kelly, long known in military circles as a no-BS, straight shooter, acknowledged that chief of staff is the hardest job he has ever had, but disputed the notion that certain aspects of the job are getting to him.

“I’m not frustrated. This is really, really hard working running the United States of America. I don’t run it, but I’m working for someone who is dedicated to serving the country in the way he’s talked about for a number of years. There are incredible challenges…I don’t mean any criticism to Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but there was an awful lot of things that were, in my view, kicked down the road that have come home to roost pretty much right now that have to be dealt with.”

Kelly did admit to being frustrated by news reports he said had little or no basis in reality, and had some advice for some members of the media.

The White House went out of its way to indicate Kelly is safe in his job. At an event to officially nominate Kelly’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kirsten Nielsen as the new DHS Secretary President Trump gave Kelly a shout out and singled him out for high praise.

“We are deeply fortunate that he [Kelly]  is now here at the White House as our chief of staff.”

Nielsen, who was also Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS, would become the 6th secretary and also the first former staffer to lead the department.

If confirmed, Nielsen would inherit the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Trump drew fire for a tweet about Puerto Rico Thursday when he wrote: “We cannot keep FEMA , the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

Democrats portrayed the tweet as heartless, but the chief of staff was quick to cover, saying “FEMA and the military can’t be there forever. We hope the military soon can withdraw and will show they are in the process of rebuilding.”

President Trump also drew fire Thursday for his plans to expand access to healthcare for small businesses and individuals in an executive order, directing his lieutenants at Treasury, Labor and HHS to allow small employers to band together and buy health insurance across state lines.

The plan would also give more people access to Short Term Limited Insurance (STDLI) and allow employers more flexibility with health reimbursement arrangements to pay for employees medical needs.

Democrats pointed out short term plans are exempt from Obamacare coverage protections. In a statement, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote: “This order couldn’t be further from the ‘great health care’ the president promised. It will send costs soaring for older Americans and those with preexisting conditions, and add further chaos to the markets.”

President Trump fired back at his critics saying it’s the Democrats who broke health care seven years ago and continue to block his efforts to fix it. The president also promised today more executive actions to chip away at Obamacare a piece at a time until he mounts another attempt to repeal it in the new year.

Iran Nuclear Agreement

Reporting by Jennifer Griffin

The Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says the United States should stay in the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

Chairman Ed Royce and his colleagues may soon play a larger role in this deal. The White House is expected to announce this week it will send the fate of the Iran Nuclear Agreement to Congress.

The administration is considering a plan to decertify and claim Iran is failing to comply with the major components of the nuclear deal. That starts a 60-day period where congress could restore nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.

If it does, the nuclear agreement falls apart.

On Capitol Hill today, former Obama Administration officials warned against that and so did one Democrat, Congressman Eliot Engel,  who two years ago opposed the agreement, saying “if we pullout of the deal I believe we lose whatever leverage we have to drive that agenda.”

The administration’s supporters argue the Iran Nuclear Agreement should also address Iran’s other behavior—ballistic missile development, promoting terrorism and cyber-attacks.

European allies, Russia and China, the other two countries in this agreement, warn against withdrawing from it.

Iran threatens to resume its nuclear program, with Iranian President Rouhani saying “if the US makes a mistake and backs out of the nuclear deal, I announce it openly that it will be a failure just for America, not us. We will not have any trouble and will push ahead on our path.”

Every 90 days the administration must certify whether Iran is complying with the bulk of the agreement—a requirement a Republican Congress created for the previous administration. The Trump Administration has until Sunday to certify—or not.

Las Vegas Investigation Continues

Reporting by Trace Gallagher

Other cities are responding to claims that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock may have considered targeting them as well.

Late today, Chicago police told FOX News that it believes Paddock booked two rooms at a hotel overlooking the Lollapalooza music festival this summer, also saying quote:

“We are aware of the media reports and have been in communication with our federal partners. As you saw earlier this week the city conducts extensive public safety planning and training around major events, in close coordination with our law enforcement partners, to ensure public safety.”

Last night, officials said Paddock may have also had additional Las Vegas targets. He rented a room in September near the Life is Beautiful music festival.

Investigators are acknowledging that they may never fully understand what pushed the man they’re calling “disturbed and dangerous” to carry out the worst domestic attack in U.S. history.

One thing they do believe—Paddock probably didn’t act completely on his own.

The FBI spent hours yesterday questioning Marilou Danley, Paddock’s girlfriend, after her return from the Philippines. Danley is cooperating and said she knew Paddock as a “kind, caring, quiet man.”

As hospitals continue to treat the injured, the death toll has remained at 58. All of the victims have been identified.

With so many questions still remaining, investigators are predicting a long road ahead.

Partisan divide over partisan issue: Supreme Court debates partisan gerrymandering

By Bill Mears

As expected, a familiar partisan divide at the Supreme Court developed Tuesday in a case over partisan gerrymandering-- efforts by political parties to manipulate electoral districts for maximum advantage.

In a lively hour of oral arguments, the justices appeared at odds over whether Wisconsin lawmakers created "extreme" legislative boundaries that benefited Republicans but were dramatically out of balance with the state's political makeup.

"It's okay to stack the decks so that for 10 years or an indefinite period of time one party, even though it gets a minority of votes, can get the majority of seats?" asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor rhetorically.

 "So what's this Court supposed to do, a pinch of this, a pinch of that? Or are we supposed to actually specify" a uniform standard," asked Justice Neil Gorsuch, who questioned whether such a court-mandated formula was possible or desirable.  "That doesn't seem very fair to the states to me, to know what they're supposed to do to avoid the kind of litigation we're talking about."

More importantly, the court is being asked to endorse a workable standard going forward that would apply nationwide. The stakes are huge: the balance of power in state legislatures and Congress could tip in coming years, particularly after the 2020 census, when voting boundaries will be redrawn based on population changes.

After having lost the White House and Congress in 2008, Republicans undertook a complex plan to win control of state legislatures around the country in the 2010 mid-terms, so they could shape congressional districts going forward. They were wildly successful, and Democrats now hope a high court ruling in their favor will help them chip away at GOP gains.

Lower federal courts struck down Wisconsin's 2011 voting boundaries and state officials then asked the high court for a "workable" legal standard to determine when partisan gerrymandering is impermissibly extreme.

In closely divided "purple" Wisconsin, the GOP has a 64-35 advantage in the state Assembly and a 20-13 edge in the state Senate. This despite President Trump winning the 2016 election by a single percentage point in that swing state.

The justices have traditionally been reluctant to wade too deeply into the gerrymandering issue, with several on the bench believing it is a political issue best handled outside the courts.

"The court is ultimately going to decide, number one: is this an issue we as a court can decide and resolve, or is it something best left to the political branches?" said Thomas Dupree, a former top Bush Justice Department official.  "And number two-- if it is something we can decide, what the heck  do we do?"

Justice Anthony Kennedy seems sure to be the decisive vote for any major intervention, with court watchers citing a 2004 concurrence. Kennedy said he "would not foreclose all possibility of judicial relief if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases."

In Tuesday's oral arguments Kennedy appeared open to the idea of this court getting involved. He repeatedly press lawyers representing Wisconsin to answer whether a constitutional violation was at issue, and what remedy was preferred.

Other members of the court were more vocally skeptical of the Wisconsin state plan.

"What's really behind all of this? The precious right to vote, if you can stack a legislature in this way, what incentive is there for a voter to exercise his vote?" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "Whether it's a Democratic district or a Republican district, the result, using this map, is preordained in most of the districts."

The increasing use of computer technology to create these maps has created competing analytical models that rely on such wonky metrics as "sensitivity testing" and "efficiency gaps." Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer both jokingly called it "gobbledygook," but the justices are being asked to embrace some kind of social science statistical model going forward.

Supporters of reform included members of both major political parties, including former GOP California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who attended the arguments. He said the current redistricting system unfairly favors incumbents.

"You know there is something wrong with the system, and they will not fix it, the politicians.," he said. "Both parties do the same thing... I say 'hasta la vista' to gerrymandering," quoting his famous movie line.

Misha Tseytlin, the state solicitor general in Wisconsin, called claims of politics gone amok to be "scare tactics not borne out by the data," and said legislators in his state acted within the law.

Justice Samuel Alito called gerrymandering "distasteful," but added, "if we're going to impose a standard on the courts it's going to have to be manageable."

Roberts worried what would happened if the high court gets involved in a every gerrymandering dispute.

"We'll have to decide in every case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win," said Roberts. "That is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this Court in the eyes of the country."

More than three dozen states rely on the state legislature to redraw boundaries. Other states such as California rely on an independent commission to create what supporters say would be less extreme districts. Two years ago Kennedy was the deciding vote in a ruling allowing Arizona voters to take put the process into such a commission.

Federal courts are deciding whether Maryland's Democrat-crafted maps go too far, and similar lawsuits challenge the GOP-controlled version in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The high court case is Gill v. Whitford (16-1161). A ruling is expected by next summer.

 

Trump lays out tax reform plan

Reporting by John Roberts

In Indiana today, where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly faces a tight race for re-election next year, President Trump laid out his plan for tax reform.

“This is the right tax cut and this si the right time. Democrats and Republicans in Congress should come together finally.”

While many of the details have yet to be filled in, President Trump is proposing three tax rates for individuals.

Trump would double the standard of deduction from $12,000 for an individual and $24,000 for a married couple.

The corporate rate would be slashed from 35 to 20%, which President Trump, who has repeatedly said he doesn’t set red lines, today insisted was a red line:

“Very much a read line. In fact, I wanted to start at fifteen so that we got twenty. It just—the numbers were— fifteen was so low. We did not take in the revenue, but I wanted fifteen so we got twenty. Twenty is my number I am not negotiating that number. I am really—I am not gonna negotiate.”

President Trump would also reduce the tax rate for small businesses—so called s-corps or “pass through” companies to 25% and increase child tax credit from its current level of $1000 per child, though he’s leaving it to Congress to determine the exact amount.

The plan is to eliminate most itemized deductions, but keep mortgage and cahritbale deduction. The president would also eliminate “marriage” penalty, eliminate “death tax” and eliminate alternative minimum tax.

But from Capitol Hill, a warning came from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch forecasting a difficult time getting tax reform through.

“So I would like to bring those rates down for basically everybody, including businesses as well. It’s gonna be tough to do. We’re so equally divided it’s going to be almost impossible to do without some democratic help. And I’m hopeful we can do that.”

As an enticement, President Trump today threated Senator Joe Donnelly and other vulnerable Democrats.

“If Senator Donnelly doesn’t approve because he’s on the other side. We will come here and we will campaign against him like you wouldn’t believe.”

President Trump also revealed today that he has yet another backup plan for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare—insisting he has the Republican votes, just not at the m moment.

“We have the votes for healthcare. We have one senator that’s in the hospital. He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital. We have two other votes that are coming, and we will have them.”

The president was referring to Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran who had been in the hospital, but is now home recuperating. President Trump says he can’t cobble together enough votes by the reconciliation deadline of this Friday, but that he will try again in the new year.

“We’re going to do it in January or February because, as you know, we have the votes but we can’t go longer than Friday.”

The president also revealed he will likely sign an Executive Order next week to allow insurance companies to sell healthcare policies across state lines. That would fulfill a major campaign promise and something Republicans have pledged for years.

But the president‘s health secretary may never see the changes implemented. Tom Price is on thin ice after it was revealed he spent more than $400,000 on private planes. President Trump today said he was not happy about it and let Price know it. As for Price’s job…the president had this to say:

“I am going to see. I’m going to look at that very closely. I am not happy with it. I will tell you I am not happy with it.”

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosello is hoping the federal government will waive the Jones Act

Reporting by Jake Gibson

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosello is hoping the federal government will waive the Jones Act, which would lift some restrictions on ships providing aid to the island which is now facing a potential humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Department of Homeland Security officials refute what they call erroneous reports that the department has rejected a waiver request. Rather, the Department of Homeland Security is presently reviewing a waiver request submitted by eight members of congress, led by Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

However, DHS officials also tell us that the current situation is having, “no impact on our ability to deliver supplies,” to Puerto Rico.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has also been outspoken about the need for the federal government to push besides the Jones Act in this situation, however we know of no official request from the Arizona Senator’s office.

The issue seems to be that if the Jones Act were waived the price of some goods might come down.

However, DHS officials point out that the only reason the department can issue a waiver is, “in the interest of national defense.” They add that if congress wants to change that law, they should go ahead and do so. “We don’t have the authority to issue a waiver simply to lower costs.”

A waiver was granted to lift the Jones Act during the days immediately following Hurricane Harvey. That was in response to a request from the Department of Defense, which has not requested a waiver in the case of Puerto Rico.

Part of the requirements for DHS to issue a waiver would be, “insufficient US-flagged vessel capability.” However, DHS officials tell Fox News, “There not presently a lack of availability of US-flagged vessels,” at this point.

A decision from DHS could be coming before the end of the week.

EXCLUSIVE: Iran did not launch a missile last weekend despite claims, US officials say

Reporting by Lucas Tomlinson

Iranian state television released video footage Friday claiming to show the launch of a new type of medium-range ballistic missile, a few hours after it was displayed during a military parade in Tehran. Senior Iranian officials declared a test-launch would occur “soon” afterwards.

Turns out Iran never fired a ballistic missile.

The video released by the Iranians was more than seven months old--dating back to a failed launch in late January--which resulted in the missile exploding shortly after liftoff, according to two U.S. officials.

Saturday evening, President Trump responded to the reported launch in a tweet, “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”

Last week in front of world leaders at the United Nations, Trump called the nuclear deal an “embarrassment” to the United States.  

“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” he said.

Trump later told reporters he had made up his mind about the deal, but would say whether or not he would pull the United States out of the nuclear accord with Iran.

Iran’s President Hassan Rohani spoke at the UN one day after Trump saying his country’s missile program was “solely defensive” in nature.  “We never threaten anyone, but we do not tolerate threats from anyone,” he added.  Rohani returned to Tehran two days later to preside over the missile parade featuring the new medium-range design and said his country would build as many missiles as necessary to defend itself.  

In late January, Iran attempted to launch its new Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile for the first time.  It flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle, officials said at the time. Iranian defense minister Brigadier Gen. Hossein Dehqan said a year ago that Iran would start production of the missile.

The missile took off from a well-known test site outside Semnan, about 140 miles east of Tehran, according to American officials.

The failed late January launch was first reported by Fox News and prompted the White House to put Iran “on notice” days later.

Iran’s new medium-range missile is based on a North Korean design—Pyongyang’s BM-25 Musudan ballistic missile, which has a maximum range of nearly 2,500 miles, putting U.S. forces in the Middle East and Israel within reach if the problems are fixed.  

Last weekend, a senior Iranian general said the missile had a range of less than 2,000 miles.

"The Khoramshahr missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers [1,250 miles] and can carry multiple warheads," Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Revolutionary Guards aerospace chief General Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying, more than 1,000 below U.S. estimates.

The missile “is capable of carrying multiple warheads,” Hajizadeh added.

“I am not sure why the Iranian’s are lying about the range,” said one U.S. official.  “I think they don’t want to piss the Europeans off.”

The official and others declined to be identified because they were not authorized to disclose sensitive information to the press.

“The very first missiles we saw in Iran were simply copies of North Korean missiles,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “Over the years, we've seen photographs of North Korean and Iranian officials in each other's countries, and we've seen all kinds of common hardware.”  

Experts say Iran possesses the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, with more than 1,000 short and medium range ballistic missiles.  Tehran has conducted over 20 missile test since 2015.

“Iran has also become a center for missile proliferation, supplying proxies such as Hezbollah and Syria’s al-Assad regime with a steady supply of missiles and rockets, as well as local production capability. Furthermore, Iran is likely supplying Houthi rebel groups with short-range missiles in the ongoing conflict in Yemen,” says the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.N. resolution 2231 -- put in place days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed -- calls on the Islamic Republic not to conduct ballistic missile tests, but does not forbid them from doing so, after Russia and China insisted on the watered-down language in order to pass the resolution.

Iran is "called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology," according to the text of the resolution.

Iran claims the tests are legitimate because they are defensive in nature.  

Investigation of Russian interference & new information regarding unmasking of Americans

Reporting by Catherine Herridge and Bret Baier 

A legal source confirms to FOX News that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has made a broad records request to the White House, covering multiple staffers, and includes actions taken by the president.

The New York Times reports the special counsel has thirteen areas of interest including the firing of the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as the firing of Former FBI Director James Comey.

The requests reportedly include the May Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, where the president met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where it is alleged by the New York Times, Mr. Trump said that firing Comey relieved the pressure on him.

Ty Cobb, a member of the president’s legal team, said “Out of respect for the special counsel and his process, the White House does not comment on any specific requests…I can only reaffirm that the White House is committed to cooperating fully with Special Counsel Mueller.”

In a separate development FOX News is learning new information about the rapid pace of unmasking in the final months of the Obama White House.

Two sources, not authorized to speak on the record, said the requests from Samantha Power, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, exceeded 260, with one request coming in the days leading up to the inauguration.

The House Intelligence Committee sent subpoenas in May for the unmasking requests by former CIA Director John Brennan, Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Power. Records were also requested for presidential adviser Ben Rhodes.

At a congressional hearing the same month, a senior committee Republican pressed the CIA director on the issue, without mentioning Power by name.

A spokesperson for Power had no comment on the numbers, or the timing of the requests, but in a previous statement emphasized that Power was acting in her capacity as a member of the National Security Council, and never leaked classified information.

Hurricane Maria knocks out all power to Puerto Rico

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