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Christie poised to do Trump a favor by vetoing N.J. tax return requirement

Christie poised to do Trump a favor by vetoing N.J. tax return requirement

Christie is widely expected to veto the measure, which passed with only minimal Republican support. | AP Photo

Gov. Chris Christie was passed over by Donald Trump for vice president. He didn’t get to be attorney general nor White House chief of staff. He and his closest allies were purged from Trump’s transition team.

Yet Christie, whose best known job offering from the Trump White House was to be labor secretary after Trump’s first nominee failed, is in position to do the president a favor.

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New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a bill ( S3048 ) last week that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns on order to get on the ballot in the state in 2020 and beyond. Trump has refused to release his returns, breaking decades of tradition.

If signed, New Jersey would be the first state to enact such a law, though 22 other states have similar legislation pending. But it’s almost certainly not going to be signed — at least not this year. Christie is widely expected to veto the measure, which passed with only minimal Republican support. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Christie was an early and ardent supporter of Trump and has been reluctant to criticize the president, even as Trump’s proposed budget would have major implications for New Jersey.

It jeopardizes funding for the Gateway project — a vital train tunnel between New Jersey and New York City to replace the existing century-old tunnels. (A spokesman for Christie said last week he will "fight any federal funding cut.") It also slashes the Environmental Protection Agency , which could be especially troublesome for New Jersey, which has the most Superfund sites in the nation. And a proposed flood insurance surcharge to make up for a cut to the national Flood Insurance Program’s flood hazard mapping program would sock shore homeowners with higher rates.

“Christie has to know that Donald Trump is going to fight tooth and nail against releasing his taxes, and so he’s going to back his buddy,” said Matt Hale, a professor of political science at Seton Hall University.

Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat who sponsored the tax return legislation, acknowledged Trump was the impetus for the bill.

“It all gets down to someone running for president of the United States — their federal tax returns should be released to the public so the public can make informed decisions, so a vetting process can move forward,” said McKeon, who represents Essex and Morris counties.

But the bill leaves Christie with plenty of ammunition in a veto message, should he choose to write one.

State lawmakers aren’t required to release their tax returns. Instead, they file vague financial disclosure forms that list their sources of income but do not specify the amounts over $50,000. Democrats have rebuffed Christie in the past when he has tried to strengthen their financial disclosures.

There’s also no law requiring the governor release his tax returns, though Christie


Trump faces the Freedom Caucus for decisive Obamacare meeting


President Donald Trump will huddle with the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus at the White House, just hours before Speaker Paul Ryan is set to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump will engage in the most high-stakes negotiation of his young presidency Thursday, as he tries to sell hard-line conservatives on a GOP Obamacare replacement they despise.

Trump will huddle with the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus at the White House, just hours before Speaker Paul Ryan is set to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

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There were daunting obstacles to a deal heading into the decisive meeting.

A number of Freedom Caucus members have suggested Trump’s latest concession — repealing Obamacare's mandate that insurance plans provide a minimum level of "essential" benefits — isn’t enough. The group wants a complete repeal of all Affordable Care Act regulations — including popular provisions Trump promised he would maintain.

The conservatives' target list encompasses a prohibition against discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and a requirement that adults up to age 26 can remain on their parents’ health insurance.

“Repealing [essential health benefits], w/out making other substantial changes, would make the bill worse, not better,” tweeted Freedom Caucus member Justin Amash (R-Mich.). “It would hurt the sickest people on exchanges.”

If Trump fails to clinch an agreement with the group, the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare will be all but dead.

Ryan (R-Wis.) can afford to lose only 22 votes on the floor. The House Freedom Caucus has three dozen members, who have vowed to block the bill unless they get what they want. Roughly a dozen centrist Republicans also have come out against the bill.

The Freedom Caucus has been a constant thorn in the side of House GOP leadership, sinking bills its members believe were too accommodating to Democrats. The group was expected to fall in line behind Trump after he won. Its refusal to do so on the health care bill has moved the legislation toward the far right.

But now, the Freedom Caucus has to decide whether it's truly willing to deliver a stinging defeat to the Republican president.

Many House Republicans are furious at the Freedom Caucus, saying the group keeps moving the goal posts, and they argue that the group really just wants to sink the health care bill altogether.

“The president is good at negotiating, but he has to have someone who wants to get to yes,” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), an ardent Trump supporter, told POLITICO. “I was never able to sell a car or a truck to someone who didn’t want a car or a truck. It just doesn’t work. And that’s where we are right now. I don’t think they’re really interested in getting to an ‘end.’”

He then added: “Maybe the ‘end’ is: making sure it doesn’t pass.”

Group insiders contend they haven’t changed their demands at all. They said they’ve always needed a repeal of all Obamacare


Nunes apologizes for going directly to White House with monitoring claims

Nancy Pelosi calls the Intelligence Committee chairman a 'stooge for the president of the United States.'

By Austin Wright and Nolan D. McCaskill

03/23/17 11:16 AM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 12:21 PM EDT

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to members of his panel Thursday for not informing Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, before going public with allegations that Trump transition messages were inadvertently intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies.

A committee aide said that Nunes apologized "for not sharing information about the documents he saw with the minority before going public” and that “he pledged to work with them on this issue.”

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The apology from Nunes came as congressional Democrats on Thursday slammed him for his perceived allegiance to the Trump administration, questioning whether he is fit to lead to an impartial investigation into possible ties between Trump’s associates and Russian officials.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Thursday that committee members still haven’t been privy to the information Nunes shared with the White House. Nunes has said he is not in possession of the information yet and that he hopes it will be delivered to his committee on Friday.

“At this point the only people who do know are the chairman and the president. And given that the president’s associates are the subject in part of the investigation, that’s wholly inappropriate, and, unfortunately, I think it really impugns the credibility of the chairman in terms of his ability to conduct an independent investigation,” Schiff said.

During an earlier, brief exchange with reporters Thursday morning, Nunes was asked if the information he alluded to Wednesday came from the White House. Nunes stressed that “we have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet” and defended his “judgment call” to brief the president while other committee members were left in the dark, despite Trump and his associates being part of the focus of multiple investigations.

“The president didn’t invite me over. I called down there and invited myself because I thought he needed to understand what I saw and that he needed to try to get that information because he has every right to see it,” Nunes told reporters.

Committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she believed Nunes' accusations on Wednesday had been directed by the White House. She pointed to an interview Trump did with Fox News earlier this month in which he said his administration would be "submitting things" to the House Intelligence Committee "very soon."

"I am of the opinion that this was orchestrated either from the White House or by ... someone associated with the White House," Speier said. "This is a three-act play, and we're now seeing it."

On Wednesday, Nunes held a news conference and then briefed Trump on evidence he had been shown by a "source" that, following November's election, Trump transition team members were caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign targets. He said the identities of


Trump's Obamacare repeal concessions likely can't pass Senate

Trump's Obamacare repeal concessions likely can't pass Senate

President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan are pushing the AHCA to the right, making it less likely to pass in the Senate. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are considering throwing red meat at the right to push their Obamacare repeal bill through the House. But senators from both parties are signaling those conservative goodies will have a hard time surviving the Senate.

Democrats say they are certain they can kill any language in the repeal bill that erases Obamacare’s mandate for minimum benefits in insurance plans. And top Republicans are making no promise that the last-ditch changes to win over conservatives will fly in the more centrist Senate, which is beginning to write its own health care plan that’s likely to look far different from what the House is set to vote on Thursday night.

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“We’ll certainly try if the House sends it to us,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) in an interview. “I don’t think there are any guarantees in this process. The only guarantee is we’re going to do our best.”

Senate Republicans may simply oppose the effort to sweep aside requirements that health insurance plans cover items like mental health care and maternity care — not to mention another proposal being floated in the House to allow insurers to once again block people with pre-existing conditions from coverage and no longer allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health care plans. Those Obamacare provisions are popular among Senate Republicans and likely to remain in any final bill.

But parliamentary rules could be the bigger problem. The budget reconciliation procedure being used by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has strict rules that could kill language added by the House that does not have a direct budgetary effect. And that could ruin an attempt to pass a repeal on a simple majority, party-line vote.

In an interview, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said that the House is now indiscriminately rewriting its legislation with no regard for what can become law. Democrats are confident they can win the parliamentary battle on several key provisions in the repeal process.

“I’m pretty sure it will come out,” Murray said of the latest possible changes to the bill. “They are selling not only the wrong policy but they are selling the House Republicans something that isn’t ever going to see the light of day.”

It’s a process that cannot start in earnest until the House passes its repeal bill and the legislation is before the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans will haggle with parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough over what is acceptable under reconciliation — a critical “Byrd bath” process that will determine whether portions of the health care proposal will need 60 votes to survive.

“There’s only so much they can get through over there. And we’ll have to see what we can do,” said Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “It has to


GOP Rep. Massie: Health care bill is ‘worse than Obamacare’

GOP Rep. Massie: Health care bill is ‘worse than Obamacare’

Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted that he planned to vote "HELL NO" on the AHCA. | AP Photo

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