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Trump to sign order establishing VA accountability office

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President Donald Trump will also announce the establishment of a new task force on waste, fraud and abuse. | Getty

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Trump puts aluminum imports in 'national security' crosshairs

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President Donald Trump will sign an order on Thursday directing the Commerce Department to complete the investigation of potentially unfair trade practices by China, Russia and others as “soon as possible,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. | AP Photo

The Trump administration has launched an investigation into whether to restrict imports of aluminum from China, Russia and other suppliers — including NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico — on the grounds that they threaten U.S. national security.

“Imports have been flooding into the aluminum industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters at a White House briefing on Wednesday evening in which he detailed the administration's second national-security-motivated trade probe in as many weeks.

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President Donald Trump will sign an order on Thursday directing the Commerce Department to complete the investigation as “soon as possible,” Ross said. Trump gave the same instructions last week in signing an order calling for an investigation into whether to restrict steel imports on national security grounds.

Free trade advocates criticized the actions, arguing that they could encourage other countries to begin blocking U.S. exports on national security grounds.

“When you go down this path of reverting to the national security exception, it really is the nuclear option in trade law,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “You’re basically saying, ‘You can’t argue with me. I think this is so important it threatens our national security.’ There’s no counterargument to that.”

The barrage of presidential orders comes as Trump nears the end of his first 100 days in office this week with little to show in the way of trade accomplishments, despite promising during the campaign to make big changes in trade policy.

In one sign of frustration, White House officials were said to be preparing an executive order on withdrawing from NAFTA , even though the Trump administration had already pivoted toward renegotiating the 23-year-old agreement rather than abandoning it. Asked about the potential NAFTA executive order, Ross dismissed it as “just a rumor — and my practice is to comment on things we’ve actually done or are doing, as opposed to commenting on rumors.”

But Ross told reporters that more national-security import probes could be coming for industries such as semiconductors and shipbuilding. “We’re obviously considering those," Ross said. "We’ve come to no conclusions as yet."

Ross, a former businessman who made his fortune turning around distressed companies, said import restrictions could be needed to ensure the U.S. continues to produce enough “high-purity” aluminum used in various military aircraft, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, the F-18 and the C-17, as well as armored vehicles, combat vessels and missiles.

“The problem we have is there’s only one American smelter that produces the high-purity aluminum needed for these uses. Just one. And that company has been having some problems," Ross said. "They, in fact, filed a trade case against dumping on their own."

The Aluminum Association, the main trade group for the U.S. aluminum industry,

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Chaffetz to take leave from Congress for medical procedure

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House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz said avoiding the procedure could put him "at risk for serious infection." | AP Photo

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Sessions vows to press legal fight on sanctuary cities

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AP Photo

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is promising to keep up the legal battle to carry out President Donald Trump's executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities, but the top lawman is stopping short of echoing Trump's pledge to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

In a statement Wednesday night, Sessions did not indicate whether the administration plans to appeal a district court judge's order Tuesday barring federal officials from using Trump's order to withdraw a broad array of federal funding from localities that decline to cooperate with enforcement of immigration laws.

"Actions that have always been understood to be squarely within the powers of the President, regardless of the administration, have now been enjoined," Sessions said. "The Department of Justice cannot accept such a result, and as the President has made clear, we will continue to litigate this case to vindicate the rule of law."

A department spokesman declined to elaborate on Sessions' statement.

However, the administration has several legal options open to it. One would be an immediate appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick's preliminary injunction. Another would be to ask Orrick to modify or narrow his injunction. Still another would be to allow the litigation to play out in the district court, with the hope that since the current injunction is preliminary in nature, Orrick might change his mind after more evidence is produced.

The administration could also take some time to see what happens in other pending cases. Orrick ruled on suits brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara County in California. Similar suits are pending in Seattle and Boston but have not yet been ruled on by judges there.

Sessions' new statement was more reserved than the stern denunciation of Orrick's decision that the White House issued Tuesday night, but the new comment from the attorney general was more critical of the judge's ruling than was a statement the Justice Department issued Tuesday emphasizing the government's continued latitude to act against sanctuary cities.

"The American people demand a lawful system of immigration. Congress has established a lawful system of immigration. At the heart of this immigration debate is disagreement over whether illegally entering this country is a crime. Our duly enacted laws answer that question," Sessions said Wednesday.

"This is the Trump era. Progress is being made daily, and it will continue. This will be the Administration that fully enforces our nation’s immigration laws.”

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The White House statement Tuesday blasted Orrick, an Obama appointee, for overstepping his bounds.

"Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation," the statement read. "This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge. Today’s ruling undermines faith in our legal system and raises serious

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Trump backs off NAFTA withdrawal

Trump backs off NAFTA withdrawal

In phone calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Donald Trump "agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time." | AP Photo

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