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Press pool left in darkness as Trump dines at his hotel


President Donald Trump's press pool remained in a van outside the hotel until Trump's motorcade departed the hotel several hours later. | AP Photo


Sources: U.S. considers quitting U.N. Human Rights Council


No immediate withdrawal is expected ahead of the council’s next session, but discussion of abandoning the council is likely to alarm international activists already worried that the United States will take a lower profile on global human rights issues under President Donald Trump. | Getty

The body has been accused of unfairly targeting Israel, and Trump aides are questioning its usefulness.

By Nahal Toosi and Eliana Johnson

02/25/17 08:52 PM EST

The Trump administration is considering pulling the United States out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body that has been accused of being biased against Israel and criticized for including abusive governments, according to two sources in regular contact with former and current U.S. officials.

No immediate withdrawal is expected ahead of the council’s next session , which starts Monday, but discussion of abandoning the council is likely to alarm international activists already worried that the United States will take a lower profile on global human rights issues under President Donald Trump.

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A final decision on membership in the council would likely involve Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and of course the president himself.

A former State Department official briefed on the discussions said while the council's targeting of Israel is likely part of the debate, there also are questions about its roster of members and doubts about its usefulness overall.

Countries known for human rights abuses, such as China and Saudi Arabia, have managed to snag seats on the council, which was established in 2006.

"There’s been a series of requests coming from the secretary of state's office that suggests that he is questioning the value of the U.S. belonging to the Human Rights Council," the former official said.

In a recent meeting with mid-level State Department officials, Tillerson expressed skepticism about the council, which has a number of powers, including the ability to establish panels that probe alleged human rights abuses.

Supporters of Israel have accused the council of being overly focused on the Jewish-majority state, by pushing critical resolutions, for example.

Spokesmen for Tillerson and Haley did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. White House press aides also did not immediately offer comment.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. felt it was more useful to be part of the council and try to influence it from the inside, including by speaking out in support of Israel.

However, Israel had a difficult relationship with the Obama administration overall, one that hit a new low late last year after Obama decided not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlement construction.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear he looks forward to working with Trump, while Haley also has been very public about America's plans to shield Israel from critics at the United Nations.

The Human Rights Council’s membership is laced with political symbolism. Last year, Russia lost its seat on the body after


GOP governors split on Obamacare replacement

John Kasich is pictured. | Getty

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said a draft House Republican bill that would gut major pieces of the health care law, including Medicaid expansion, was “inadequate” and “not acceptable.” | Getty

At the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, leaders from 33 GOP-controlled states say they’re trying to find consensus.

By Rachana Pradhan and Brianna Ehley

02/25/17 08:17 PM EST

Republican governors are split over an Obamacare replacement plan -- just like their counterparts in Congress.

The big problem is how to make sure a repeal of the health law doesn't penalize red states that took billions of dollars in federal funds to add low-income residents to Medicaid rolls -- or those who shunned the extra money.

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Leaders of 33 GOP-controlled states gathered for the National Governors Association Winter Meeting said they're working to present a consensus plan to Congress. But Republican designs on capping Medicaid, the health entitlement for the poor, are making it difficult to come up with a system that doesn't create winners and losers.

”This is still fairly gelatinous,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said Saturday. “There's a lot of ideas, a lot of moving parts, a lot of governors with different ideological perspectives-- all of that is in the cauldron right now.”

“A solution must be there,” he added. “Repealing alone serves no purpose.”

The governors are split on whether to ask Congress to preserve the federal funding boost Obamacare made available to cover millions of additional low-income adults and broader structural changes.

“We’re working through many different ideas,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, one of about a dozen governors trying to craft a compromise. Fallin, whose state did not expand its program, said it would be “very challenging” for her to revamp the program if Oklahoma winds up with less federal money than it currently gets.

The federal government paid states' full cost of expanding Medicaid for the first three years under Obamacare and is on the hook to pick up at least 90 percent going forward. Several expansion state governors want to ensure the flow of funds continues, but those in holdout states haven't signed off as a group or agreed on conditions for tapping the higher level of federal funding.

One option in a reshaped system would be for states to receive a block grant, or lump sum, that wouldn't be adjusted to reflect economic downturns or population growth. A second would be to cap how much the federal government gives states for each Medicaid beneficiary. A third path being discussed would allow states to keep covering those who signed up under Obamacare with less federal money. The governors also are wrestling with whether to apply any spending caps to the entire Medicaid population or only those people who enrolled under the health law.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a consensus yet. But I think that’s something we’re certainly trying to work towards,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. “We certainly want a recognition that some of the larger states -- big states


GOP pitbull urges Republicans to demand 'transparency, accountability' from Trump


"My view is: it's extremely important that Congress point the guns at the same direction that they were pointed,'' Rep. Darrell Issa said. | Getty

SACRAMENTO — California Rep. Darrell Issa, an enthusiastic backer of Donald Trump — and the past chair of the House Oversight committee who once termed the Obama administration "the most corrupt in history" — Saturday called on Congress to "show leadership'' by being equally vigilant and demanding in its oversight of the Trump Administration.

"My view is: it's extremely important that Congress point the guns at the same direction that they were pointed,'' said Issa, who as the powerful House Oversight chair was a GOP pitbull who lead dozens of headline-making investigations on Obama administration matters ranging from the "Fast and Furious" gun sting to Benghazi and IRS' oversight of grassroots conservative organizations.

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Under the Trump White House, Republicans must continue to "demand what we were demanding: transparency, accountability,'' Issa said in an interview with POLITICO. "We do need a government that is accountable to us.

"And this is the best time to show leadership.....we need to seize the opportunity and really push hard to have access so that no sacred cows are protected," he said. "For credibility, we have to hold this president to the level of transparency that the last president took every effort to thwart.''

The comments came just 24 hours after Issa called for a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into the Trump camp’s pre-election contacts with Russia.

Issa's eyebrow-raising comments suggest the congressman, long a conservative darling in California, is is undergoing a political evolution — or may have gotten a wake-up call from constituents after his enthusiastic backing of Trump nearly ended his political career in this solidly blue state last November.

In November, the eight-term Republican emerged just 1,621 votes — less than a percentage point — ahead of Democratic political neophyte retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate, who has already declared his intention to challenge Issa in the 2018 midterms.

At a luncheon address to hundreds at the statewide GOP convention at the Hyatt Regency Saturday, Issa delivered a conciliatory message to the GOP grassroots, telling them that the best hope for GOP gains in California is to reach out to Democrats and independents, and listen to their concerns.

"Let’s forget the past of Barack Hussein Obama..let’s open a new book,’’ he told them. “We do believe in free speech...we do believe that the other side should be heard...that’s the Republican Party I belong to, it’s the one I believe in."

“Our future will be in no small part based on being the party that listens,'' he said.

But Issa did not address the potentially incendiary topic of the Russian investigation before the crowd of party activists.

Later, in an interview, he told POLITICO that whether Russia conferred with members of the Trump Administration — as well as who leaked the information to media, perhaps illegally, and how to keep Russia from interfering in


Trump adviser: Democrats should 'move on' from Garland SCOTUS snub

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"This is a good opportunity for them to move on. Whether they do that or not is a different question," Leonard Leo said. | AP Photo

The White House has a message for Democrats still harboring bitterness about the treatment of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland: get over it.

"If I was a Democratic senator who was angry about the way Judge Garland was treated, I would move on," an adviser to President Donald Trump, Leonard Leo, said in an interview set for broadcast on C-SPAN Sunday.

Leo, who played a key role in the process that led to Trump's selection of Neil Gorsuch for the same Supreme Court vacancy, insisted it's time for both sides in the judicial confirmation wars to lay down their arms.

"I think what we have seen over the course of the past 10 or 15 or even 20 years is that things have just continued to escalate. And part of the reason why they’ve escalated is that no one has been prepared to just say, 'Look, we’re spiraling downward here with this process. Somebody has to make the first move. Somebody has to extend the olive branch. Somebody has to finally bring some sanity into this process.' And if I were a Democrat, I would try to do that in this instance," Leo said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers." "This is a good opportunity for them to move on. Whether they do that or not is a different question."

Democrats will surely look skeptically on Leo's suggestion that a truce be called at a moment when Republicans control both the White House and the Senate, but Democrats ultimately have little power to control the outcome: if they try to obstruct Gorsuch's confirmation, Republican leaders in the Senate will likely kill off the filibuster altogether and approve Gorsuch's nomination along party lines.

Leo, on leave from his post at the conservative Federalist Society in order to work with the White House on Gorsuch's confirmation, said he considers a filibuster a possibility in part due to Democratic voters' anger over the outcome of last November's presidential election.

During the interview, conducted by the author of this blog and by Wall Street Journal Supreme Court reporter Jess Bravin, Leo said he expects the Justice Department will release some records about Gorsuch's work as the principal deputy associate attorney general for two years under President George W. Bush.

"I would expect that those will be requested by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee—memos or email," Leo said. "Of course, there will have to be some level of negotiation regarding what aspect of those can be disclosed if there are national security issues, but, yes, I think those requests will be made and I won't be surprised if some of that material becomes part of the record ... here's a long tradition of culling through that kind of material and trying to provide whatever would be most illuminating for the Senate."

A Justice Department spokesman had no

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