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Inside Trump (Feb 12th, 2018)

The White House is expected to release a budget blueprint on Monday, parts of which will likely contradict the latest spending bill passed by Congress. Trump's plan does call for increased spending on the military, $23 billion in new spending on border security and immigration enforcement, $13 billion to combat the opioid crisis and $200 billion for infrastructure improvements. The infrastructure proposal would also loosen environmental regulations, allowing new construction projects to begin more rapidly. Administration officials claim that the President's budget hopes to trim $3.6 trillion off of the national deficit over the next decade, largely through austerity measures. The budget has been revised, making some of these measures less strict, in light of last week's new "massive" federal spending bill. On Sunday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News that lawmakers "would not give us a single dollar worth of additional defense spending without giving us additional money for welfare spending, and that's just the world we live in." Unlike the President's recommendation last year, the new plan does not attempt to balance the budget.  – NYT

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Vice President Mike Pence claims that progress was made on US-North Korean diplomatic relations behind-the-scenes at the Winter Olympics. Pence told Washington Post columnist Josh Rogen that, over the course of two "substantive" conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a framework was laid out for further talks with North Korea - first by the South Koreans, and then later by Americans. Though the Trump administration will continue applying economic pressure on North Korea until it pursues denuclearization, in a break from previous policy, Pence now says the US will agree to meet with North Korean officials as this process is ongoing. A senior North Korean diplomatic source told CNN that Pence's appearance at the Winter Olympics was a "missed opportunity," and that his actions in Pyongchang "degraded the image of the United States as a superpower." During the opening ceremonies, Pence declined to stand for the united Korean delegation, which included athletes from both the North and the South. He later pointedly avoided shaking hands with Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state, during a reception at South Korea's presidential Blue House. – WAPO

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During an address to the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the office of sheriff "a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement." In the written version of the speech, the same line appears as "the sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage," suggesting that the use of Anglo-American was an off-the-cuff addition. The comment generated outcry on social media, where many felt Sessions was implying that the role of sheriff should only be filled by white individuals. CNN pointed out that the position of sheriff did originate in Anglo-Saxon England, combining the words "shire" (meaning county) and "reeve" (meaning protector). – CNN

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President Trump's various responses to the domestic violence allegations against former White House staffer Rob Porter dominated the news over the weekend. Porter resigned on Wednesday after two of his ex-wives publicly accused him of verbal and physical abuse during their respective marriages. On Friday, Trump released a statement praising Porter's job performance, and then on Saturday, the President lamented on Twitter that "peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation." (It was later suggested that this tweet may have referred to former Republican National Committee finance chairman Steve Wynn, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct in recent weeks.) Axios reported that, despite these public comments, in private, Trump has said he believes the accusations against Porter, and called him "sick." In an opinion piece for Time Magazine that ran over the weekend, Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, said she was "floored" by Trump's initial response. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Jake Tapper on CNN over the weekend that she has "no reason not to believe the women." Questions remain about who in the White House had knowledge of the allegations against Porter prior to the media reports last week. – CNN

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The Washington Post reported on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's preference for taking first-class flights and jets, a practice which cost taxpayers an estimated $90,000 in early June alone. On a June 5 trip from Washington, DC to New York, Pruitt paid $1,641.43 for a first-class seat, more than six times the cost of the coach seats for his two media aides. Later that week, Pruitt and staffers returned to New York from Cincinnati on a military jet, at a cost of $36,068.50. Pruitt then took a $7,003.52 first-class trip to Rome. In 2018, Pruitt has plans to travel to Israel, Australia, Japan, Mexico and potentially Canada. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Post that all of Pruitt's travel has been cleared by federal ethics officials. Various members of Trump's cabinet have faced criticism for excessive travel expenditures, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Tom Price resigned as secretary of Health and Human Services after reports indicated that he'd spent $400,000 on chartered flights during his tenure. – WAPO

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) dropped a lawsuit against a California payday lender accused of charging consumers 950% interest rates. CFPB director Mick Mulvaney, a Trump appointee who also heads the Office of Management and Budget, made the decision to drop the suit against Golden Valley Lending in January, apparently against the recommendation of senior CFPB administrators. It's part of an overall attempt to scale back the CFPB, which was created to protect consumers against financial industry malpractice during the Obama administration. – CNBC

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