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National Govt & Politics

    The Supreme Court appears ready to strike down a Tennessee provision that requires people to live in the state for two years before obtaining a license to sell alcohol. Several justices said the restriction unconstitutionally discriminates against out-of-state economic interests, despite strong state interests in regulating liquor sales. A ruling invalidating the residency requirement would be a victory for a family that bought a Memphis liquor store and moved to Tennessee from Utah in search of a healthier climate for their disabled adult daughter. Justice Neil Gorsuch was among justices who worried that getting rid of the residency law would be help enable online alcohol sales with no state regulation. Gorsuch told a lawyer for a chain of stores that 'you want to be the Amazon of liquor.
  • Democrat Julian Castro, in the early primary state of New Hampshire for the first time as a presidential candidate, told voters on Wednesday that he believes 'everyone counts' and accused the Trump administration of 'picking and choosing' who has chances to succeed. The 44-year-old former Obama administration housing chief spoke at the 'Politics & Eggs' event at Saint Anselm College four days after he kicked off his campaign in his hometown of San Antonio. In between, he squeezed in a campaign trip to Puerto Rico. Castro said he visited the U.S. territory 'because I want every single American to know that everyone counts.' He said that 'if we've faced any crisis over these last two years, it's that we have an administration that doesn't believe that, that is picking and choosing who gets opportunity and who doesn't based on what you look like, based on your faith, based on how long you've been in this country. We need to get back to an America where everyone counts.' As San Antonio mayor, Castro pushed through a sales tax increase to pay for prekindergarten programs, an accomplishment he cited in New Hampshire, which has prided itself on having neither a sales nor income tax and only recently began providing significant state money for full-day kindergarten. Castro drew applause when he promised to enact universal preschool as president and said he would work toward tuition-free college degrees, apprenticeships and certificates. Castro expressed support for a higher minimum wage and a comprehensive immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for those living in the country illegally. He also supports a Medicare-for-all health care system, but offered no specifics when asked by an audience member how he would pay for it. He said those details would come later, but probably would involve looking at how to reduce costs within the health care system. Castro later told reporters that he will review tax provisions that benefit the wealthy and corporations. Castro is part of what is becoming a crowded field for the Democratic nomination. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York launched her exploratory committee Tuesday, and the field could grow to more than a dozen candidates. Castro, who could end up being the only Latino candidate, said he often gets asked whether he believes that largely-white Iowa and New Hampshire should remain first in the nominating calendar. 'Do I wish in the first two states we had more diversity in those states? Yeah, I do. However, the thing I do appreciate about Iowa and New Hampshire is that people take politics and policy very seriously, and these are relative small states as far as states go, so you can actually meet people one on one and get to know them,' he said.
  • On each side of the abortion debate, legislators and activists emboldened by recent political developments plan to push aggressively in many states this year for bills high on their wish lists: either seeking to impose near-total bans on abortion or guaranteeing women's access to the procedure. For abortion opponents, many of whom will rally Friday at the annual March for Life in Washington, there's a surge of optimism that sweeping abortion bans might have a chance of prevailing in the reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court that includes Donald Trump's appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Legislators in at least five states — Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida and South Carolina — are expected to consider bills that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, possibly just six weeks into a pregnancy. Conversely, results of the midterm elections buoyed supporters of abortion rights in several states, including New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and New Mexico. Abortion-rights groups there are now hopeful that lawmakers will pass bills aimed at protecting access to abortion even if the Supreme Court eventually reversed or weakened the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion. Tuesday will mark the 46th anniversary of that ruling. 'With big electoral victories in state legislatures and governorships, many states are now primed to provide the last line of defense for a woman's ability to control her body, life and future,' said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. Here are some of the notable bills likely to be considered: ___ PROTECTING ABORTION ACCESS NEW YORK: For years, Republicans who controlled the New York Senate blocked efforts to codify abortion rights in state law as a bulwark against any undermining of Roe v. Wade. However, Democrats, who have long controlled the legislature's lower chamber, took control of the Senate in the midterms, and are expected to swiftly enact the long-sought protections. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, easily re-elected to a third term, says the legislation is among his top priorities. In a recent speech, Cuomo said Trump's Supreme Court nominees 'don't even pretend to be objective jurists. They've already announced their intention to impose their morality on the nation and roll back Roe v. Wade.' RHODE ISLAND: Although abortion is readily available in Rhode Island, the state has never removed some decades-old laws that sought to restrict abortion rights. A bill to scrap those old laws, and reinforce the right to abortion in case Roe is reversed, has been reintroduced in the 2019 session after failing the past two years. A co-sponsor, Sen. Gayle Goldin, says chances are better this year because the midterms increased the number of abortion-rights supporters in the legislature. MARYLAND: Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch says lawmakers will take up a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Maryland, in case protections are overturned or weakened by the Supreme Court or federal government. Maryland passed legislation in 1991 to protect such rights, but supporters of the proposed amendment say it would be a stronger guard against any future legislative efforts to restrict abortion. If the measure wins legislative approval in the Democrat-controlled legislature, it would go before voters in a future election. MAINE: A new Democratic governor who supports abortion rights, Janet Mills, has succeeded anti-abortion Republican Paul LePage. Mills would likely sign a recently introduced bill that would require Maine to fund some abortions that are not covered under Medicaid. Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. NEW MEXICO: Democratic legislators — who control both chambers — are backing a bill that would remove New Mexico's criminal ban on abortion. A 1969 statute made it a felony for an abortion provider to terminate a pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, birth defects and serious threats to a women's health — though the law has been unenforceable since the Roe decision. Newly inaugurated Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — who succeeded Republican Susana Martinez — favors overturning the dormant abortion ban. ___ RESTRICTING ABORTION ACCESS OHIO: During eight years in office, GOP Gov. John Kasich signed more than 20 anti-abortion bills, but twice vetoed the most draconian measure to reach his desk — the so-called 'heartbeat bill' that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. But Kasich has now been succeeded by fellow Republican Mike DeWine, who suggests he will sign a heartbeat bill. And the proposal has finally won the endorsement of Ohio Right to Life, which previously considered it too contentious but now believes it has a chance of prevailing in court. 'With the additions of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, we believe this is the most pro-life court we have seen in generations,' said Ohio Right to Life board chairman Marshal Pitchford. 'Now is the time to pursue this approach.' KENTUCKY, MISSOURI, SOUTH CAROLINA, FLORIDA: Lawmakers in these states, where Republicans control the legislature and governor's office, also have drafted heartbeat bills for consideration this year. The South Carolina and Florida measures would require testing for a detectable fetal heartbeat prior to an abortion; anyone performing an abortion after a heartbeat was detected would be guilty of a felony. A similar measure has been filed in Missouri; its potential punishments include fines and suspension or withdrawal of medical licenses. Kentucky already is entangled in three abortion-related court cases, but Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said he would be pleased if the heartbeat bill triggered additional litigation. 'I would be proud if it's Kentucky that takes it all the way up to the Supreme Court and we challenge Roe v. Wade,' Thayer told reporters. 'That would be absolutely the pinnacle of my career in the legislature.' ARKANSAS: Like Kentucky, some of Arkansas' previously approved anti-abortion laws remain caught up in legal fights. But two new measures were filed ahead of the 2019 session: One would toughen requirements for reporting abortion-related complications to state health officials; the other would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion if they know the woman seeks it solely because the fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio previously enacted bans on Down syndrome abortions which have been blocked in federal court. Indiana is asking the Supreme Court to review its case. North Dakota enacted a similar ban in 2013 that has not been challenged; the state's sole abortion clinic says the issue hasn't arisen under its policy of not performing abortions after 16 weeks into a pregnancy. OKLAHOMA: A Republican state senator, Joseph Silk, has filed a bill that would include abortion in the state's definition of felony homicide, potentially punishable by life in prison. Its chances of advancing are uncertain, but Oklahoma lawmakers did approve a bill two years ago that would have outlawed abortion and imposed prison sentences of up to three years on anyone performing the procedure. That bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Mary Fallin. She has been succeeded by fellow Republican Kevin Stitt, who declined comment on Silk's bill after it was filed. ___ Associated Press writers Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
  • With a partial government shutdown showing no signs of being resolved, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday basically ‘disinvited’ President Donald Trump from a scheduled January 29 State of the Union Address, saying that the Secret Service and Homeland Security Department should not be tasked with such a major event while they are in a shutdown status. “Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened,” Pelosi wrote in a letter sent to the President on Wednesday morning. There was no immediate reaction from the White House or the President. The President gives the State of the Union at the invitation of the Congress, as the House and Senate must agree to use the House chamber for such an event. The reaction in Congress split down party lines. “It is very ironic that Democrats reference security concerns in their latest grandstanding tactic, delaying the State of the Union, but will not address the security concerns that are creating a humanitarian crisis at the border,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN). “We know the state of our union,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), as Democrats said there should be no speech from the President while the partial shutdown continues. In an interview with NBC News, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the President had been “disinvited” by Pelosi.
  • The Latest on the partial government shutdown (all times local): 12:30 p.m. Seven Democratic lawmakers, including newly elected freshmen, have arrived at the White House ready to ask President Donald Trump to reopen the government while talks continue over border security. It's the first group of rank-and-file Democrats to meet with Trump during the shutdown, which stretched into its 26th day Wednesday. The White House has been trying to peel lawmakers away from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (puh-LOH'-see), but invitations to Democrats earlier this week were declined. Those arriving Wednesday for the midday meeting in the Situation Room included five freshmen, several of whom did not back Pelosi as speaker. They represent areas where Trump remains popular. They're from a bipartisan group called the Problem Solvers Caucus. Ahead of the meeting they wrote there is 'strong agreement that if we reopen the government, the possibility exists to work together and find common ground.' Trump is seeking $5.7 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, but Pelosi opposes the wall. ___ 12:10 p.m. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is temporarily reopening an agency that provides resources to farmers and ranchers. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Wednesday the department has called back 2,500 employees to reopen Farm Service Agency offices on Thursday, Friday and next Tuesday to process existing farm loans and provide tax documents. The office will not process any new applications for loans or trade aid payments. Perdue says the USDA is examining its 'legal authorities' to ensure it's providing services to its customers during the partial government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history. The USDA last week announced its feeding programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, will run through February. But if the shutdown extends into March funding will become uncertain. ___ 9:55 a.m. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked President Donald Trump to postpone his State of the Union address to the nation — set for Jan. 29 — until the government reopens. The White House hasn't immediately responded to a request for comment about Pelosi's request, which she made in a letter to the president. Pelosi says the partial shutdown is raising concerns about security preparations for the speech. The California Democrat notes that the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security have been without funding for almost four weeks. The annual speech is perhaps the president's biggest opportunity to present his agenda directly to the public. Pelosi writes that 'given the security concerns and unless government reopens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has re-opened.' She's also raising the possibility that Trump deliver the message in writing, as presidents once did. ___ 12:55 a.m. Congress is planning to skip next week's planned recess if the partial government shutdown continues. And there's every indication it will drag on. Neither side is showing signs of backing down. President Donald Trump has told supporters in a conference call that the shutdown will continue, in his words, 'for a long time' if it has to. And Trump contends that people are impressed at how well the government is working. Democrats remain opposed to Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. They say they'll discuss border security once the government has reopened. An effort by the White House to divide House Democrats fizzled when centrist and freshmen Democrats didn't accept a White House invitation to lunch with Trump on Tuesday.
  • The White House is describing comments by Republican Rep. Steve King about white supremacy as 'abhorrent.' Presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is praising the move by House Republicans to strip the nine-term Iowa lawmaker of his committee assignments. King was quoted last week by The New York Times as saying: 'White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?' Those comments were widely denounced as racist. The House on Tuesday approved a Democratic measure rebuking King. In addition, a member of the Republican leadership suggested that King leave Congress. At the White House, Sanders says King's comments were, in her words, 'abhorrent.' When President Donald Trump was asked on Monday about King's remarks, he said: 'I haven't been following it.
  • The Latest on acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler (all times local): 10:32 a.m. A top Senate Democrat is describing President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency as 'just as extreme' as his predecessor. Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler is appearing Wednesday before a Senate committee considering his nomination to head the agency. Democratic Sen. Tom Carper told Wheeler and other senators that Wheeler's environmental policies in six months at the agency's acting head were 'just as extreme' as those of Scott Pruitt, who resigned last July amid ethics investigations. Carper cited rollbacks in car mileage standards and toxic mercury emissions under Wheeler as examples of unsafe deregulation, saying they went beyond what industries themselves wanted. Wheeler was defending his record at EPA over the chants of environmental protesters who shouted, 'Shut down Wheeler.' __ 9:30 a.m. President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is describing himself as a champion of deregulation and the environment. Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has been leading the EPA since Scott Pruitt resigned amid ethics scandals in July. He is to appear Wednesday before a Senate committee considering his nomination. Wheeler's prepared remarks call protecting human health and the environment his most important responsibility. He cites EPA progress cleaning up Superfund sites and other pollution, including work that was begun under the Obama administration. Wheeler also boasts of the Trump administration's regulatory rollbacks at the EPA, saying the administration has finished 33 major deregulatory actions. Wheeler is expected to face questioning on the health impacts of those rollbacks and on his past lobbying work. ___ 12:55 a.m. Acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler's past lobbying work is expected to draw scrutiny at his confirmation hearing for the permanent post. A Senate committee on Wednesday will consider Wheeler as President Donald Trump's nominee for EPA administrator. Wheeler has served as the agency's acting head since Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid allegations over Pruitt's spending and alleged favor-seeking. Environmental groups want senators to question Wheeler about his lobbying for coal interests and others just before he joined the EPA. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed an ethics complaint alleging Wheeler improperly oversaw regulatory rollbacks benefiting coal and others he had lobbied for. EPA spokesman John Konkus calls that 'baseless.' Konkus says Wheeler consults closely with ethics officials at the agency.
  • The Latest on the Russian foreign minister's annual news conference (all times local): 1:30 p.m. Russia's foreign minister says that Moscow expects the Syrian government to take over territory in the country's east following the U.S. military withdrawal. Sergey Lavrov told a news conference that it's necessary to fully restore Syria's sovereignty, adding that Turkey's plan to create a buffer zone on the border with Syria should also be seen in that context. He added that representatives of the U.S.-allied Kurdish units have engaged in negotiations with the Syrian government, noting that the U.S. military facilities in the area should go under Damascus' control once U.S. troops leave. Lavrov said that the situation in Syria will be on the agenda for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's talks in Moscow next week. ___ 1:05 p.m. Russia's foreign minister says Moscow isn't considering a possibility of swapping an American arrested on suspicion of espionage for any of the Russians held in the U.S. Sergey Lavrov says that Paul Whelan's brother is in Moscow and has been briefed about prison conditions. The U.S. Embassy wouldn't comment. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Moscow last month on suspicion of espionage. Lavrov rejected the allegations that Russian authorities could have arrested Whelan in order to swap him for one of the Russians held in the U.S., saying 'we don't do such things.' He said Whelan was caught red-handed and the investigation is ongoing. Whelan holds citizenship from U.S., Britain, Ireland and Canada, and Lavrov said Russia will allow consular visits. ___ 12:40 p.m. Russia's foreign minister has ridiculed allegations that U.S. President Donald Trump could have worked for Moscow's interests. Sergey Lavrov has told a news conference that U.S. media reports claiming that Trump might have been a Russian agent reflect a dramatic plunge in standards of journalism. Trump said this week he never worked for Russia. Asked if Russia could release the minutes of Trump's one-on-one negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov dismissed the idea, saying it defies the basic culture of diplomacy. He said such requests reflect illegitimate meddling in the U.S. president's constitutional right to conduct foreign policy. Lavrov also scoffed at the charges leveled against Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying that he only talked to the Russian ambassador in a bid to protect U.S. interests. ___ 12:25 p.m. Russia's foreign minister says that the U.S. has ignored Moscow's proposal to inspect a Russian missile that Washington says has violated a nuclear arms treaty. Sergey Lavrov says that Russia offered during talks in Geneva earlier this week that U.S. experts see the missile. He said the U.S. negotiators stonewalled the offer, repeating Washington's demand that Russia destroys the weapon it claimed violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Lavrov charged that the U.S. refusal to consider the Russian offer to have a close look at the missile reflects Washington's intention to abandon the INF treaty, U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson said in Tuesday's statement that 'the meeting was disappointing as it is clear Russia continues to be in material breach of the treaty.
  • Top Russian officials on Wednesday ridiculed allegations that U.S. President Donald Trump could have worked for Moscow's interests, dismissing them as 'absurd' and 'stupid.' Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference that U.S. media reports claiming that Trump might have been a Russian agent reflect a dramatic plunge in standards of journalism. Trump said this week that he never worked for Russia and repeated his claim that the investigation into his ties to Moscow is a hoax. Asked if Russia could release the minutes of Trump's one-on-one negotiations with President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov dismissed the idea, saying it defies the basic culture of diplomacy. He added that such requests reflect illegitimate meddling in the U.S. president's constitutional right to conduct foreign policy. Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, similarly derided the claims in the U.S. that Trump might have worked for Russian interests. 'What kind of nonsense are you asking about?' Ushakov snapped when asked if Trump was a Russian agent. 'How can one comment on such a stupid thing? It has reached such a scale that it's awkward to even talk about it.' 'How can a president of the United States be an agent of another country, just think yourself,' Ushakov said at a briefing. The Kremlin's hopes for better relations with the U.S. under Trump have been shattered by ongoing investigations into the allegations of collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. Ushakov noted that Russia-U.S. relations are currently at a level that 'can't be worse.' Lavrov, who was speaking at a separate news conference, noted that a probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller has produced no evidence of Trump's collusion with Russia. He particularly scoffed at the charges leveled against Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying that he only talked to the Russian ambassador in a bid to protect U.S. interests. 'It's quite obvious that the situation is absurd,' Lavrov said about the U.S. investigation. He also sharply criticized Washington for its intention to opt out of a key nuclear pact over alleged Russian violations. Lavrov noted that earlier this week the U.S. has ignored Moscow's proposal to inspect a Russian missile that Washington claims has violated a nuclear arms treaty. He said that Russia made the offer during talks in Geneva earlier this week but the U.S. negotiators stonewalled the proposal, repeating Washington's demand that Russia destroys the 9M729 missile it claimed violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. 'Our questions why the Americans don't want to examine our proposals and get first-hand information about specific parameters of the missile were left unheard,' he said. U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson said in Tuesday's statement following the talks in Geneva that 'the meeting was disappointing as it is clear Russia continues to be in material breach of the treaty.' Lavrov charged that the U.S. refusal to consider the Russian offer to have a close look at the missile reflects Washington's intention to abandon the INF treaty. Turning to last month's arrest in Moscow of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, on suspicion of espionage, Lavrov said the man's brother has visited Moscow and has been briefed about prison conditions. The Interfax news agency later carried the Foreign Ministry's statement saying that Whelan's brother isn't in the Russian capital. The U.S. Embassy wouldn't comment. Lavrov rejected the allegations that Russian authorities could have arrested Whelan in order to swap him for one of the Russians held in the U.S., saying 'we don't do such things.' He said Whelan was caught red-handed and the investigation is ongoing. Whelan holds citizenship from U.S., Britain, Ireland and Canada, and Lavrov said Russia will allow consular visits. Speaking on other issues, Lavrov insisted that Moscow isn't taking any sides in the controversy over Britain's exit from the European Union. He rejected allegations that Russia was gloating in the turmoil, saying that Russia is interested in seeing a 'united, strong and, most importantly, independent European Union.' Commenting on the situation in Syria, Lavrov said that Moscow expects the Syrian government to take over territory in the country's east following the planned U.S. military withdrawal.
  • President Donald Trump’s choice to be U.S. Attorney General told Senators on Tuesday that he favors stronger measures by the federal government to insure that people who suffer from mental illness are not able to purchase firearms in the future, arguing that would be the simplest way to strengthen efforts to stop gun violence in America. “The problem of our time is to get an effective system in place that can keep dangerous firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people,” Attorney General nominee William Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That should be priority number one, and it’s going to take some hard work,” Barr said, as the former Attorney General for President George H.W. Bush made clear that while he’s no advocate for gun control, something must be done when it comes to mental health and gun purchases. “There is room for reasonable regulation,” Barr said, even as he praised the Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, which reinforced the right of people to own a firearm for self-defense. Barr's response to Sen. Feinstein's question on if he believes more gun control won't stop more gun crime: We have to put the resources in to get the system built up the way we did many years ago on the felon records and so forth. We have to get the system working. pic.twitter.com/SWCMELAK6g — Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) January 15, 2019 In questioning from Senators of both parties on guns, Barr endorsed the basics of what are known as ‘Red Flag laws,’ which allow family members or police to go to court in a bid to take guns away from someone who could be a danger. While Barr made clear his support for the Second Amendment, some gun rights supporters object to “Red Flag” laws, worried that it will lead to more gun seizures than backers advertise. “Let’s get down to the real problem we’re confronting, which is keeping these weapons out of the hands of people who are mentally ill,” Barr said, shrugging off much of the debate over guns. Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and then Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Barr rejected the idea of a new ban on assault weapons, saying the current instant background check system must have more information from state and federal sources when it comes to mental health questions. Barr says core priority of gun control efforts should be keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) January 15, 2019 “All the rest of this stuff is really esssential just rhetoric until we get that problem dealt with,” Barr added.