senate

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday the Pentagon stands ready to dispatch more troops to the border region if President Trump follows through with his pledge to increase the military presence along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.

Trump said after touring a section of recently upgraded border fencing in Calexico, Calif., last week, “We’re going to bring up some more military” to deal with what he said were more than 70,000 illegal migrants rushing the border.

Shanahan said the Pentagon has had conversations with the Department of Homeland Security but has yet to receive a formal request.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ll provide more support to the border,” he said in response to a reporter’s question as he prepared to meet with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “Our support is very elastic, and given the deterioration there at the border, you would expect that we would provide more support.” Shanahan said he anticipates the support will be similar to what the military has already provided with several thousand troops, barrier construction, transport, and surveillance.

Shanahan will meet with a planning team at the Pentagon over the weekend to prepare for the potential request, he said.

“It will follow up with where are we on barrier construction, where do we stand on troops deployed, and then in the areas we anticipate, what type of preliminary plans should we be doing prior to receiving a request for assistance,” he said.

Democrats have been highly critical of the deployment of active-duty troops to the border, and many have cited a leaked internal memo the Marine Corps commandant sent to the Navy secretary warning that unexpected expenses, such as hurricane damage and border operations, could force him to cancel routine training and degrade combat readiness.

But in Senate testimony this week, Gen. Robert Neller insisted his memo was being misconstrued. “To say that going to the border was degrading our readiness is not an accurate statement,” Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

Neller’s March 18 memo listed eight categories of unfunded and unexpected expenses. Hurricane recovery was at the top of the list, but a number of expenses were included, such as the raise for civilian employees, which was not in the budget.

“We have a shortfall of just under $300 million, of which the border mission is less than 2 percent,” Neller said. “So my intent was to just simply lay out for my boss what these were and ask for support in trying to figure out how we might fund them.”

Pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Neller conceded some Marines, who are not doing the jobs they would normally do, could see a small degradation in their unit readiness, but he said it depended on the unit.

“Some of the units have gone down there and they’ve done tasks that are more in line with their core mission. Like engineer units or MP units. Aviation units that were assigned to that early on have actually improved their readiness because they are able to fly certain profiles and things,” he testified.

Neller reports to his civilian boss, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who requested the memo and jumped to Neller’s defense at the hearing.

“The main stress that we were dealing with at the time, senator, was the hurricane, which was imposing the greatest cost on the Marine Corps,” Spencer told Warren. “Five hundred men for a month at the southern border is $1.25 million. In my mind, is that affecting my readiness stress? No, it’s not.”

Neller said so far border operations have cost the Marine Corps $6.2 million.

Thousands of Twitter accounts known as “bots” targeted Bernie Sanders supporters to rally support for the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election after Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary.

Researchers at Clemson University collaborated with the Washington Post on a report that found tens of thousands of tweets sent from bot accounts controlled by Russian agents drew parallels between the populist, working-class messages of the Trump campaign and that of Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.

“#BlackMenForBernie Leader Switches to Trump! I will Never Vote for Hillary, Welcome aboard the Trump Train,” said one tweet sent by a Russian bot. The account described itself as a “Southern., Conservative Pro God, Anti Racism” Twitter user from Texas.

Another Russian bot, called “Red Louisiana News,” tweeted: “Conscious Bernie Sanders supporters already moving towards the best candidate Trump! #Feel the Bern #Vote Trump 2016.”

In an effort to have Sanders’ supporters defect from Clinton’s Democratic Party, the bots also highlighted questionable tactics Sanders’ supporters claimed took place in order to rig the Democratic nomination process for Clinton.

“I think there is no question that Sanders was central to their strategy. He was clearly used as a mechanism to decrease voter turnout for Hillary Clinton,” said Darren Linvill, researcher and Clemson University associate professor of communications.

The analyzed tweets “give us a much clearer understanding of the tactics they were using. It was certainly a higher volume than people thought.”

Nearly 12% of voters who supported Sanders in the Democratic primary crossed party lines and voted for Trump in the general election, according to a post-election survey by NPR. The numbers are particularly stark in light of Trump’s upsets in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which clinched the election for him.

Last month, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary committees, briefing them of the “principal conclusions” in Mueller’s Russia investigation. The summary said the special counsel did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Outrage by liberals and Democrats over Attorney General William Barr noting that “spying did occur” on the 2016 Trump campaign is a sorry example of moving the goal posts. Last year, the active debate was not over whether spying occurred — which it did by a reasonable use of the word — but whether it was justified. Barr was careful not to weigh in on that debate. Yet Democrats, spurred on by their liberal base and supported by the media, have been out to portray Barr’s statement as some sort of shocking betrayal of his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

“Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fumed in calling for Barr to retract his statement. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s statement, “strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”

Yet last year, it wasn’t being disputed that among other things, that the FBI conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official, that included wiretapping after obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. In a 2018 memo by none other than Schiff, minority Democrats on the intelligence committee argued, “DOJ and FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”

At the time, Republicans had been arguing that the FBI launched the investigation into Russian interference on the basis of a dossier that was based on research funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign. Democrats were arguing that “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Instead, they argued that it began with information the FBI received that Russians were wooing a different Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.

Outside Congress, the debate also focused on whether there was “probable cause” for the FISA warrant, which those pushing back against Trump and Republicans argued that there was.

“Commentators like National Review’s Andrew McCarthy try to discredit the Mueller investigation by sliming the process to spy on a former Trump advisor,” argued an op-ed from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Here’s why they’re wrong.”

So, the issue they were taking with conservative McCarthy was that he was attacking “the process” that was used “to spy on a former Trump advisor” — rather than arguing about whether the spying occurred.

Indeed, the article itself is a case that the FISA warrant was totally justified.

“Now that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for an order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page has been released in heavily redacted form, the attacks on the FBI’s application have been predictably loud yet incorrect,” the op-ed read. “They miss the critical question related to such an application: Was there probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power?”

So, the “critical question” concerned not whether there was surveillance, but whether there was probable cause, to which the Brennan Center argued, “the unredacted portions easily meet this probable cause standard and support the FISA court’s multiple orders.”

The surveillance and wiretapping was thus indisputable, as was the fact that it allowed investigators to go back to when Page did work on the Trump campaign. It also doesn’t even get into the fact that, according to the New York Times, “Agents involved in the Russia investigation asked [Stefan] Halper, an American academic who teaches in Britain, to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.”

This is all perfectly consistent with what Barr said.

“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified before Congress. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”

The only part he’s stating unequivocally is that there was spying. He is not making a claim that the FISA warrant was illegally obtained on the basis of a Clinton-funded discredited dossier. He just said it was worthy of looking into to make sure the process was proper.

So then the only real argument is if Barr was wrong to use the word “spying” rather than saying “surveillance did occur” or “wiretapping did occur.”

But, even if people want to litigate this issue, it should be seen as a reasonable use of the word. My colleague Byron York noted several examples of the New York Times describing wiretapping as spying.

After the House voted to reauthorize FISA last year, the Brennan Center issued a press release headlined, “U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans.” The bill, it warned, would “endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications.” The release quoted co-director of the Brennan Center, Elizabeth Goitein, as saying, “The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans.”

This isn’t to say it’s hypocritical, as in this case, the discussion was about allowing warrantless access, whereas in the previous case, the argument was that there was probable cause for a warrant. But again, a debate over whether a warrant is justified on the basis of probable cause is different than whether the underlying government activity can be described as spying. It’s reasonable to argue that yes it can.

This week before the Senate Appropriations Committee Attorney General William Barr gave testimony that is guaranteed to induce panic throughout the D.C. swamp. Regarding spying on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, he testified as follows:

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Source: Real Clear Politics

President Trump says he considered his his daughter Ivanka Trump to lead the World Bank, saying “she’s very good with numbers,” though he ultimately went with another nominee.

“I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank … She would’ve been great at that because she’s very good with numbers,” Trump said in an interview with the Atlantic released Friday. In the interview, Trump discussed Ivanka Trump’s role in the White House as a senior adviser and spoke about what her next steps may be beyond the Trump administration.

The World Bank presidency has been vacant since February after American physician Jim Young Kim, an Obama appointee, announced in January that he leave the post after seven years at the organization’s helm.

The board of executives governing the World Bank Organization, which represents the 189 member nations, must approve the final decision in choosing the new president, though generally the board accepts the nomination put in place by the U.S. president.

“She’s got a great calmness … I’ve seen her under tremendous stress and pressure,” Trump added. “She reacts very well — that’s usually a genetic thing, but it’s one of those things, nevertheless.”

Trump nominated longtime Treasury and state official David Malpass to lead the World Bank instead.

In the interview, Trump also said that his daughter “would’ve been great at the United Nations,” referencing the the vacancy that resulted from Nikki Haley’s resignation last year. Trump argued that critics would incessantly call the move an example of nepotism and that the controversy would cause a distraction from her ability to do the job.

[ Related: Ivanka Trump helping to pick US nominee for World Bank president]

However, Trump insisted that his consideration of Ivanka Trump for the job was not nepotism, but rather his confidence in her to succeed in the role. “It would’ve had nothing to do with nepotism. But she would’ve been incredible,” he said.

While speculation grew over Trump choosing his daughter to lead the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Ivanka Trump withdrew her name from any consideration via Twitter within days after Haley’s resignation.

“It is an honor to serve in the White House alongside so many great colleagues and I know that the President will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me,” Ivanka Trump wrote in October.

Trump announced this year his nomination of Kelly Craft, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada and a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to serve as U.N. ambassador.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is declining to say whether he thinks his chamber would confirm Herman Cain to join the Federal Reserve board, casting doubt on the former Republican presidential candidate’s prospects should President Donald Trump advance him for the post.

Asked Thursday if a Cain nomination would face problems , McConnell, R-Ky., noted that successful nominees must pass background checks and have a likelihood of confirmation.

“And, as you know, some of my members have expressed concern about that nomination,” McConnell told reporters. “But as far as I know, it hasn’t been made yet.”

Trump’s interest in potentially nominating Cain along with another political ally, conservative commentator Stephen Moore , has sparked questions among lawmakers from both parties in Congress about the president’s influence on the central bank.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated the importance of the Fed’s independence during a talk Thursday evening with House Democrats meeting in Virginia for their annual issues retreat, according to a source in the room unauthorized to discuss the private session.

Powell told lawmakers that he saw his role as totally apolitical. He also said the Fed does not consider political pressure in its decision making, the source said. Another source in the room confirmed the remarks.

The chairman fielded questions from lawmakers during a question-and-answer session in Lansdowne, but declined to comment on the president’s potential picks.

Powell was Trump’s choice to lead the Fed, but the president has been critical of him for raising interest rates.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said elevating Cain and Moore to the Fed would risk politicizing the nation’s central bank and endangering the economy.

“These two appointments to the Fed are the worst, ill-suited appointment that the president could come up with,” she told reporters.

Three GOP senators — Utah’s Mitt Romney, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer — told The Associated Press they’d likely vote against Cain. With Republicans controlling the Senate 53-47, it would take opposition from just four GOP senators to sink the nomination, assuming all Democrats are also “no” votes.

As he did earlier this week, McConnell also sidestepped a question about whether he would back Cain or Moore, a Fed critic and former Trump campaign aide, for the board. Trump has said he will nominate both men.

“We’ll see who’s actually nominated,” said McConnell.

Cain has run into concerns by lawmakers from both parties that, as a Trump loyalist and deeply conservative political figure, he would threaten the Fed’s traditional political independence. Trump himself has taken a nontraditional approach to the Fed, repeatedly accusing it of mismanaging the economy by not pushing hard enough for low interest rates.

The White House offered no fresh comment Thursday about Trump’s intentions, referring reporters to his earlier comments about Cain.

Trump initially called Cain “a very terrific man” who would “do very well there.” But he said earlier this week that he didn’t know how Cain was faring in the vetting process and that Cain “will make that determination” whether to continue.

Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He dropped out of the race after allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity, which he denied. Last year, in September, he helped found a pro-Trump super political action committee, America Fighting Back PAC, whose website says, “We must protect Donald Trump and his agenda from impeachment.”

Cain formerly served on the board of the Fed’s Kansas City regional bank. He has also called for a return to the gold standard to control inflation, which most economists consider unworkable.

Moore is a conservative commentator and another Trump political ally.

Source: NewsMax Politics

The last time a Democrat won an open Senate seat in Arizona, he was helped along by a GOP candidate who never recovered from a campaign misstep in which he “shot a burro in the ass,” as the winning candidate’s campaign manager memorably put it recently. That candidate, Dennis DeConcini, was last elected in 1988. He retired after that term.

So how will liberal activists reward Kyrsten Sinema for becoming the first Democratic senator from Arizona since DeConcini? If Fight for the Future, a net neutrality pressure group, has its way, thanks will come in the form of a giant billboard “at one of the busiest intersections in Phoenix” calling Sinema “corrupt” and in the pocket of “corporate donors.” Her infraction is to be the only Democrat not to sign on to a net neutrality bill and instead to work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan bill that stands a chance of passing.

In this political climate, bipartisan cooperation is an unforgivable sin, and Sinema is repeatedly guilty of it.

Arizona has a new maverick.

Sinema, 42, has a compelling personal story that’s unique in one way: It informs her centrism, rather than serving as a platform for radicalism. By the time Sinema was 5, her middle-class Tuscon family was fracturing, her father mired in debt. He and her mother divorced, and Sinema was put into poverty. For a time, her Florida home was an old, remodeled gas station. “She’s a survivor,” former Democratic caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said in 2015. “I think she’s smart about how she does it. I think a lot of people underestimate her.” The comment rings prophetic; in 2018, Crowley lost his own reelection bid against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the phenom freshman. In the same year, Sinema turned one of Arizona’s Senate seats blue for the first time in three decades.

[ Related: Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally have one thing they agree on: They hate each other]

During that winning campaign, she emphasized her credibility as a independent Democrat rather than a party hack. Asked by an Arizona radio station if she considered herself a “proud Democrat,” she responded: “Gosh, it’s hard to say proud. I don’t know that — I’m not sure that people are even proud of parties anymore, because I feel like the parties are not doing a good job. So I would say that I’m a proud Arizonan. That’s something I’m very proud of. And I’m proud of the work that I have done in Washington, D.C., and the work I’ve done in the state Senate and the statehouse before going to Congress. But I’m not particularly proud of the parties.”

Sinema was, according to the Arizona Republic, one of two members of the state’s Democratic House delegation who “sided with President Donald Trump’s agenda more in the past three months than most Republicans in the state’s House delegation.” But those three months weren’t much of an outlier for Sinema. In 2015, she opposed President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. She didn’t buy into the aggressive selling point that the only alternative to it was war. “I think it’s hyperbole and I think it’s not necessarily true,” Sinema told the Huffington Post. “It’s possible that if the deal didn’t go through, war could be one option and it could become more likely. But it doesn’t mean we don’t have options in front of us. I’m frustrated by these false dichotomies.”

Sinema also is a dissenter from left-wing orthodoxy on big banks. When, as senator-elect, she was given a spot on the Senate Banking Committee, the Washington Examiner wrote, “Sinema was long a friend of big banks in the House, and the committee appointment represents the return on a well-made investment. … During her Senate race against Republican Rep. Martha McSally, Sinema was in the top 20 of recipients of campaign contributions from both the banking and the finance sectors.Washington Examiner Commentary Editor Timothy P. Carney explained: “Sinema fought for the realtors and against Arizona’s taxpayers (disdain for whom she has repeatedly shown). Those efforts may explain why the realtors have spent $34,000 on ads supporting her Senate bid — the most they’ve spent on any Senate race this fall. In the House, one of Sinema’s core crusades was saving and expanding the Export-Import Bank. … Ex-Im is a corporate welfare agency that extends taxpayer-backed financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.”

[ Also read: Sinema forging paid leave plan deal with GOP]

And then there’s the issue that’s always a touchstone for Arizonans, immigration. In the House, Sinema had voted for legislation that would impose stiffer penalties on undocumented immigrants who reenter after being deported, as well as forcing immigrants who seek a healthcare tax credit to verify their status with the government first. Sinema took a harder line on asylum-seekers and, in October, backed Trump’s call to station more military personnel on the border with Mexico.

One advantage, according to Democratic campaign strategist Brad Todd, is that “she has been everything from a socialist anti-war protester to a vote against Nancy Pelosi, depending on what advanced her most in the moment.” Todd told the Washington Examiner that this worked especially well in 2018 because “Arizona’s Democratic talent bench was short and its base desperate for victory.”

Her Senate victory over McSally, who was later appointed to fill the seat of the original “maverick,” the late Republican Sen. John McCain, seemed only to reinforce her independent streak. In addition to her net neutrality sacrilege, Sinema is joining Republican colleagues to address paid family leave. According to Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is leading the effort, Sinema was the first to cross the aisle on it, making it “the first bill that is bipartisan” on the issue. The plan, Cassidy told the Washington Examiner in early April, is likely to involve Social Security, perhaps allowing people to take benefits earlier to pay for family leave in return for delaying retirement.

Sinema signed on to an effort led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to get the Commerce Department to release a classified report on auto tariffs and national security. She took heat from pro-abortion groups for supporting one of Trump’s judges, Arizona District Court nominee Michael Liburdi, in February. She was also one of only three Democrats to back the confirmation of Attorney General William Barr. She defended her vote in a statement: “As Arizona’s senior Senator, I will evaluate every presidential nominee based on whether he or she is professionally qualified, believes in the mission of his or her agency, and can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law as it exists. After meeting with Mr. Barr and thoughtfully considering his nomination, I believe Mr. Barr meets this criteria.”

Perhaps most significant, however, was Sinema’s reaction to the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Omar is one of the members of the “Squad,” most notably the freshman trio of Omar, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ocasio-Cortez, who has turned her social media fame and grassroots devotion into an ability to set congressional Democrats’ priorities. An example is her climate boondoggle, the Green New Deal. It’s opposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but that didn’t stop Democratic presidential hopefuls from signing on to it. This tension really came to a head over Israel, however.

Omar has repeatedly accused American Jews of dual loyalty. On one occasion, she claimed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, was paying off politicians to put Israel’s welfare before America’s. Tlaib had made similar dual-loyalty insinuations. Ocasio-Cortez stood by her colleagues, and when Pelosi tried to pass a resolution criticizing Omar’s anti-Semitism, Ocasio-Cortez and the grassroots led a revolt and won. The resolution was broadened far beyond anti-Semitism, and the final version was aimed at white nationalists more than anyone else. In March, the pro-Israel lobbying group held its annual conference, and Omar pushed Democrats to avoid it.

What was Sinema’s reaction to all this? The day of Omar’s tweet about the group, Sinema was at its regional dinner. The next morning, she tweeted: “Our support for a secure Israel as a beacon of democracy must remain unwavering. Proud to speak at @AIPAC‘s Phoenix dinner last night about strengthening and deepening this alliance.” She also spoke at the group’s national conference on March 25.

With Democrats increasingly souring on the alliance with Israel, Sinema is determined to stand athwart history shouting “Stop.”

Is her maverick status sustainable, or will pressure to conform amid increasing polarization be too strong? “My guess is if she’s going to have a primary challenge,” Brad Bannon, president of the D.C.-based Bannon Communications Research, told the Washington Examiner, “it’ll be more likely she gets a primary challenge from a Latino, because of the demography of the state, more than an ideological challenge.” Bannon says, “Politics is very much a function of the state you represent.” And Sinema “represents a state that is about as closely divided, in partisan terms, as you can get.”

Perhaps being a maverick in the McCain mold is the way to survive in Arizona statewide politics. For Sinema, that required transcending her reputation for radical anti-war politicking in the early 2000s. She was up to the task. “Few blue state politicians have the range to pull off that transformation, or the electoral room to pull it off,” says Todd. More Democrats, Todd told the Washington Examiner, should be taking notes: “I have been surprised [Alabama Sen.] Doug Jones has not tried it. Or that [former Missouri Sen.] Claire McCaskill didn’t try it.”

Despite the heat Sinema is taking from her left flank, Bannon thinks Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other party floor leaders will happily shrug off left-wing complaints: “My guess is Chuck Schumer doesn’t care. He’s trying to assemble a Democratic Senate majority, and in order to do that, he’s going to accommodate Kyrsten Sinema and other Democrats like her who may be running for either open seats or GOP seats in 2020.” Party leaders understand reality, Bannon told the Washington Examiner, and “the reality is, you can have a caucus that is monolithically liberal or monolithically conservative, but you can’t have a monolithic caucus if you’re in the majority.”

For that reason, Bannon says, “they’re willing to accommodate mavericks like Kyrsten Sinema.”

Seth Mandel is executive editor of the Washington Examiner magazine.

When it comes to the possibility of a sweeping infrastructure package, it’s all about the money. Despite some gridlock between the White House and Congress, lawmakers are hoping for a bipartisan infrastructure package sometime this year. What that package would look like, and more importantly what the price tag would be, is still very much up for discussion.

At a recent Democratic retreat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled hope for the prospects of Republicans and Democrats coming together to embrace some sort of sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package. She said Democrats are looking for up to $2 trillion in funding for the project.

“It has to be $1 trillion. I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion,” Pelosi said.

That number is high, but lawmakers are exploring funding options, including the possibility of raising the federal gas tax, which sits at 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1993. There have been multiple reports that President Trump, behind closed doors, supports raising the federal gas tax by 25 cents, but he has yet to acknowledge those reports publicly.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also said last month that “everything is on the table” when asked about the possibility of increasing the tax. A 25 cent increase is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Since 2013, more than two dozen states have raised gas taxes in response to federal inaction on the matter.

As talk of an increase in the gas tax grows, some are pushing back. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity will begin running ads in April in 20 states, urging members of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee not to push for an increase in the tax.

Another idea floated for increasing funding is a “vehicle miles traveled” tax. With that policy, motorists would be taxed based on how far they travel rather than on the gas their cars consume. This is an appealing idea to some, as cars have become increasingly fuel-efficient, further reducing revenue from gas taxes.

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has signaled support for a vehicle miles traveled tax, while acknowledging full implementation would be a long way off. During testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 6, Graves called the tax “the most promising long-term solution.”

“A VMT has the potential to be a true user-funded program that captures everyone and gets the Highway Trust Fund back to where it needs to be to maintain our network and improve it,” Graves told the committee. However, he also acknowledged some trepidation about the idea, including privacy concerns about the data that would be collected in order to determine a vehicle’s miles traveled.

Joseph Kane, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution, confirmed to the Washington Examiner that support for an infrastructure package is ultimately going to come down to funding.

“Funding is still the most vexing question for policymakers in Washington and throughout the country,” Kane explained. “A $1 trillion investment has been referenced in several previous proposals, and is likely to keep coming up — as a talking point if nothing else. But for Congress, the White House, and many other agencies and groups to actually act on such a proposal will take a level of coordination not seen up to this point.

“The energy and visibility are there, but there are still serious questions on where this money will come from and how it will be deployed effectively. The next few months will hopefully lead to more details on that front,” Kane added.

Despite lingering questions over funding, Democrats are determined to try to work with the president to build support for a plan. Pelosi said during the March 11 retreat that she would be personally reaching out to Trump on the matter. Having voiced her preference for a price tag between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, she said that she and the president would “talk about what the number would be.”

“Even if it isn’t 100%, there is plenty of area of common ground to move forward,” Pelosi said. “I think the president wants to do that, and I think the president needs to do that.”

Trump made rebuilding U.S. infrastructure a major pillar of his 2016 campaign, and now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has concluded, the White House is beginning to look ahead to other issues.

Both the White House and Republican lawmakers are looking for ways to narrowly change the nation’s immigration policy to stop a massive surge in illegal immigration along the southern border.

The GOP senator leading the charge is Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Johnson told the Washington Examiner he plans to introduce legislation “shortly” after lawmakers return from a two-week recess in April that would address the way immigration officials determine who can claim asylum to remain in the United States.

He hopes the measure can be bipartisan and believes, based on comments from the Democrats on his committee, that both parties will be on board.

“I was very encouraged by a number of Democrats walking by me, on the dais, just basically saying lets get to work on this, we have to fix this,” Johnson said.

Johnson held a hearing last week to examine the latest surge of illegal immigration along the southwest border. At the hearing, Johnson displayed a chart he’s been distributing around the Capitol lately as he tries to draw attention to the ways in which illegal immigration surges are tied to the nation’s immigration policy.

So far this year, Johnson’s chart points out, 240,000 migrants have been apprehended, some at ports of entry but most at points in between along the southwest border.

[Related: US expands program returning asylum seekers to Mexico]

Much of the increase, the chart notes, accelerated after July 2015, when a federal judge ruled that illegal immigrant parents must be released with children soon after they are apprehended.

The court ruling attracted mass family migration from Central America as adults learned bringing children to the U.S. border would prevent them from being detained or immediately sent home.

The White House is moving along a parallel track in seeking ways to make changes that would discourage mass migration. The Trump administration is planning changes that don’t require congressional approval, which, despite Sen. Johnson’s optimism, could prove to be difficult to obtain in the House where Democrats are in charge.

Trump kicked off the effort to reform the Department of Homeland Security by ousting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Her departure was soon followed by the resignation of other top DHS officials. The purge has caused bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill.

According to a senior administration official, the Homeland Security Department will be directed to employ a higher threshold for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States under the “credible fear” standard. Up to 90% of Central American migrants are allowed to remain in the United States initially after making such a claim to agents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

[Also read: Facts not fear: Here’s what DOJ stats say about asylum seekers and court dates]

Only 10-15% of those making such claims are ultimately determined to qualify for asylum when their cases are more thoroughly reviewed by asylum officers. More than 90% of those initially let go under the “credible fear” claim end up staying in the country illegally.

“Individuals conducting the exam are part of the problem,” the senior administration official said. “One of the biggest frustrations is that USCIS hasn’t changed its culture from the Obama years. The reflexive tendency is to believe stories even if they don’t stand up to fact.”

The Trump administration is also seeking new regulations that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold families and children for much longer than 20 days in order to provide time for a more thorough review of asylum claims.

Johnson said he is working with the Senate Judiciary Committee to craft legislation that would alter the nation’s asylum policies and the law governing how long illegal immigrant families can be detained.

“Right now, when 85% of asylum claims are denied, there is something wrong with that initial determination,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s not in favor of changing the current standard for granting asylum in the United States, “but change the bar for that initial determination.”

Johnson has the backing of Senate Republican leaders, who have criticized Trump for his recent purge at Homeland Security but have long agreed with him that the surge in illegal immigration along the border is rooted in bad policy and has to be fixed.

“We desperately need some immigration legislation,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week on Fox News “Special Report.” “The president’s entirely correct about the crisis at the border and the fact that our immigration laws do not allow us to deal with the crisis at the border.”

President Trump’s first two years in office saw a fourfold increase in criminal leak referrals to the Justice Department, and experts say a spike in prosecutions is poised to follow.

Few of the 120 suspected criminal leaks referred by federal agencies in 2017 resulted in charges, but experts say it often takes nine to 18 months, meaning arrests are likely imminent after referrals rocketed up from just 37 in 2016 and 18 in 2015, remaining high in 2018 with 88.

“I think the number of prosecutions will certainly increase in light of more investigations,” said Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower defense attorney whose Obama-era clients included former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and former agency senior executive Thomas Drake.

So far under Trump, only two journalistic sources have been prosecuted using the notoriously harsh Espionage Act, compared to eight over President Barack Obama’s eight years. Others were prosecuted under less strict laws under both administrations.

“It’s a good bet that we will start seeing in the near-term some prosecutions,” said attorney Barry Pollack, whose clients have included several prominent alleged leakers as well as WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who was arrested April 11 for publishing military and diplomatic secrets in 2010.

“Knowing the emphasis of the administration on this area and knowing it takes some period of time to put together these cases, we can expect to start seeing a number of them,” Pollack said.

Obama’s use of the Espionage Act to target leaks was unprecedented, with more journalistic sources prosecuted than under all prior administrations combined. The effort was made easier by digital footprints.

“In the ’90s, the government never would catch people. It was impossible. There was no paper trail,” said national security defense attorney Mark Zaid, who has handled several leak cases.

Newly widespread encrypted communication platforms can only go so far in protecting leak confidentiality, Zaid said, as authorities can circumvent secure platforms by accessing devices or forcing companies to hand over records.

Still, the government doesn’t always bring charges. FBI agents must determine who had access to information, then connect the leak to a suspect. Then prosecutors must decide if a case is worth pursuing, balancing factors such as whether prosecution will possibly expose even more secrets at trial.

“If they do something, it’s either something they are really pissed off about, or someone is taking it really personally,” Zaid said. “A lot of people who are prosecuted are low-level people and tend to be younger. … They choose their battles wisely.”

Under Trump, National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner and former FBI agent Terry Albury were charged under the Espionage Act. Faced with potential decades in prison, both pleaded guilty. Winner, who leaked about Russian attempts to hack election systems, received more than five years in prison. Albury got four years for leaking documents, including a guide to informant recruitment and rules for seizing journalist records.

Separately, former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with journalists, and Treasury Department employee Natalie Edwards was charged with leaking “suspicious activity reports” on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others.

The latest records on leak referrals were acquired by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood believes federal workers view Trump less favorably than they viewed Obama, and therefore may be more likely to leak.

“The referrals from 2017 and the resulting investigations should be ripe this year, so it’s possible that surge would bear its unhappy fruit around now, but so far we haven’t seen it happening,” he said.

Potential leak cases include the release of Trump’s calls with leaders of Mexico and Australia and a leak revealing surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, which House Republicans have requested be investigated.

One person prosecuted under Obama, former CIA employee John Kiriakou, scoffs at some anti-Trump leaks, saying they are designed to embarrass, rather than expose waste, fraud, and abuse.

“A lot of people are calling these White House people whistleblowers, and I think they are not,” said Kiriakou, who served nearly two years in prison for giving a journalist contact information for two colleagues linked to post-9/11 tactics critics call torture.

“A leaker leaks because it’s exciting or they want to feel important or they want to feel they are the center of attention. And that’s not what a whistleblower does,” Kiriakou said. “If the policy is to target leakers, I think that’s the correct policy.”


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