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March 16, 2017 - 5:59 pm

TRUMP-BUDGET

Faint praise from GOP as top Democrats slam proposed budget cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's $1.15 trillion budget is being received with faint praise, at best, on Capitol Hill.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey reminds: "Congress has the power of the purse."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says big increases for the military and a U.S.-Mexico border wall at the expense of domestic programs doesn't reflect the importance of well-educated children, life-saving medical research and a healthy environment.

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee is slamming proposed budget cuts to the IRS, an agency that is down more than 17,000 employees since 2010.

Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts says: "We have seen in recent years that when IRS funding goes down, call wait times rise for taxpayers."

He adds that: "Congressional Republicans have been saying they want the IRS to be more focused on customer service, but slashing funding for the agency by hundreds of millions of dollars would result in the exact opposite outcome."

President Donald Trump proposed budget would cut the agency's funding by $239 million from this year's spending level. The agency's budget of about $11 billion is about $1 billion less than it was in 2010.

TRUMP-BUDGET-UNITED NATIONS

Haley says cut in US contributions to UN key

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says reforming the U.N. and cutting U.S. contributions were "a promise made to the American people and a goal to restore trust and value at the U.N."

In a statement, Halley said, "the U.N. spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries."

She said she looks forward to working with members of Congress "to craft a budget that advances U.S. interests at the U.N.," and to working with U.N. colleagues "to make the organization more effective and efficient."

The U.S. is the largest financial contributor to the U.N. and currently pays 22 percent of its regular budget and over 28 percent of its budget for the 16 peacekeeping missions, which are undergoing a review.

President Donald Trump's proposed budget calls for unspecified U.S. cuts in funding for the United Nations and its affiliated agencies, and caps American contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions at 25 percent of the total costs.

BUDGET-IMMIGRATION

Trump budget calls for border wall, border prosecutions

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's budget proposals on immigration enforcement read like a wish list for his most ardent supporters.

The budget requests for the Homeland Security and Justice departments call for billions of dollars for some of Trump's most high-profile and contentious campaign promises, including a $2.6 billion down payment for a border wall he insisted Mexico would pay for.

Trump plans to cut the overall Justice Department budget by more than $1 million but is still asking for hundreds of millions of dollars to hire 60 federal prosecutors and 40 deputy U.S. Marshals for border cases.

He also wants to boost immigration courts by $80 million and hire 75 more teams of judges to handle deportations and address a backlog of more than 540,000 pending cases.

CONGRESS-HEALTH OVERHAUL

'No palace intrigue,' Ryan says of health bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan says President Donald Trump is deeply involved in efforts to scrap Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and helping GOP leaders persuade reluctant lawmakers.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Ryan insisted that he and the White House are working together on the issue, dismissing reports that the two are at odds.

"No palace intrigue," Ryan said.

The Wisconsin Republican said the goal is to get a bill that can pass and the president is "making it easier and better for us" to pass their health care bill.

Republicans have been scrambling to salvage their bill after Congress' analysts said some 24 million would be shoved off insurance in the next decade under the GOP bill.

The House Budget Committee has voted to advance the Republican health care bill. Three conservative GOP lawmakers joined all the Democrats on the panel in voting against the measure.

TOWN HALL-MANCHIN

US Sen. Joe Manchin to voters: Fight Republican health plan

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says he opposes any legislation that takes health care away from people in his home state of West Virginia, including the bill proposed by House Republicans and supported by President Donald Trump.

Manchin told more than 200 people at a town hall meeting Thursday to bombard Trump with calls and emails in opposition. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in West Virginia by a wide margin.

Manchin says Trump needs to be enlisted to stop the immediate Republican push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the health care law backed by President Barack Obama that reduced the ranks of the uninsured in the U.S.

The law helped expand coverage to about 210,000 people in West Virginia, including 25,000 getting addiction treatment in the state ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

TRUMP-NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER

Documents detail Flynn payments from Russian interests

WASHINGTON (AP) — Documents released in a congressional inquiry show former national security adviser Michael Flynn was paid more than $33,750 by RT, Russia's government-run television system, for appearing at a Moscow event in December 2015. Flynn had retired months earlier as head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wants the Defense Department to recover the payments, saying they violate the Constitution's emoluments clause, which prohibits retired military officers from accepting gifts from foreign governments.

Russia's RT network was identified last year by U.S. intelligence as a propaganda arm of the Russian government.

Flynn was also paid $11,250 each by two other Russian firms, including a major cybersecurity company.

A Flynn spokesman said Thursday that Flynn informed the government before he went to Moscow and on his return.

TAX RETURNS-PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT

New Jersey OKs bill pressuring Trump to disclose tax returns

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump might not make it on the ballot in 2020 in New Jersey if he doesn't disclose his tax returns under a bill approved by lawmakers.

The Democrat-led Assembly on Thursday approved the legislation inspired by the Republican president's failure to disclose his tax returns. It now heads to Republican Gov. Chris Christie to sign or veto. Christie is a longtime Trump ally.

Last week, Hawaii became the first state to send similar legislation to a full floor vote.

The measure requires presidential and vice presidential candidates to release five years of federal tax returns to appear on the ballot.

Trump broke with nearly four decades of tradition by failing to release his tax returns. Democrats used the issue to raise questions about the contents of the documents.

SYRIA

Syrian activists say airstrike on mosque kills at least 20

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian first responders and activists say an airstrike on a mosque in a rebel-held area has killed at least 20 people.

The Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer paramedics known as the White Helmets, says first responders are racing to the scene after Thursday's airstrike in the Jeenah area, near the rebel-held province of Idlib.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 42 people were killed, mainly civilians.

Jeeneh is in the western Aleppo countryside, which along with Idlib is home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by fighting in other areas.

Russian and Syrian aircraft are known to operate in the opposition-held region.

ISRAEL-SETTLEMENTS

Israel blacklists Palestinian fund as US envoy visits

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has declared the Palestine Liberation Organization's main financial body to be a terrorist organization, infuriating the Palestinians as U.S. President Donald Trump's envoy wrapped up his first visit to the region.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday said "all necessary actions will be taken" to seize assets of the Palestinian National Fund.

The fund makes monthly payments to about 35,000 families of Palestinians killed and wounded in the conflict with Israel, including the families of suicide bombers and other militants.

It had a budget of $170 million in 2016 alone, according to Palestinian figures.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the move, calling it "an Israeli attempt to obstruct and sabotage U.S efforts" to relaunch peace talks.

OKLAHOMA SENATOR-INVESTIGATION

Oklahoma state senator surrenders to authorities

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Republican state senator facing child prostitution charges involving a 17-year-old boy has surrendered to authorities in Cleveland County.

State Sen. Ralph Shortey was booked Thursday into the Cleveland County Detention Center. His bond was set at $100,000.

He told reporters he had no comment on the charges but would release a statement later.

Shortey faces charges of engaging in child prostitution, transporting a minor for prostitution and engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of church. Police in Moore, acting on a tip from the teen's father, found Shortey and the teen in a hotel room last week.

Oklahoma's age of consent is 16, but its child prostitution statute applies to anyone under the age of 18.

JEWISH GROUPS-THREATS

Man accused of threatening Jewish centers indicted

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former journalist from St. Louis accused of threatening Jewish organizations nationwide has been indicted in New York on one count of cyberstalking.

Juan Thompson's indictment was announced Wednesday in St. Louis. He's been jailed in Missouri since his March 3 arrest. A New York hearing date hasn't been set.

Prosecutors allege Thompson made threats against at least eight Jewish community centers, schools or other facilities in an effort to harass an ex-girlfriend. They say in some cases he emailed threats using the woman's name. In others, he used his own name but asserted she was trying to falsely implicate him.

Thompson, who was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating story details, has not entered a plea. His attorney has declined comment.

PORT AUTHORITY-CRUDE EXPLOSIVE

Police: Man left improvised explosive at NYC bus terminal

NEW YORK (AP) — Police say a man left a crude explosive device in a briefcase at a New York City bus terminal, but it didn't detonate.

Thirty-nine-year-old Arsenio Mason was charged Thursday with possession of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance.

The criminal complaint says Mason left a briefcase on a chair inside a deli at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey bus terminal during Wednesday night rush hour. The terminal is a major thoroughfare for buses in and out of New York City.

A bomb squad detective said it contained a crude device. No injuries were reported.

Mason was arrested nearby. Police said they also found methamphetamine.

Mason is being held without bail on a separate criminal case in California. His attorney didn't immediately return a call.

FINANCIAL MARKETS

US indexes waver to mixed close

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks ended up little changed on Wall Street after an early morning rally faded away.

Health care stocks fell Thursday. Biotechnology drugmaker Biogen gave up 4.7 percent after two analysts downgraded their ratings on the company. Amgen lost 1.3 percent.

Technology companies rose. Business software company Oracle surged 6 percent after reporting better earnings than analysts expected.

High-end coat maker Canada Goose jumped 26 percent on its first day of trading in the U.S.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,381.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,934. The Nasdaq edged up a fraction to 5,900.

More stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

NCAA TOURNAMENT

Top-seeded Gonzaga avoids historic upset

Gonzaga slowly pulled away from South Dakota State for a 66-46 victory. And they avoided the first 1 vs. 16 upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

It looked possible for a while.

The Jackrabbits led for the first 17 minutes of Thursday's game in the West region and stayed in range for most of the game. Jordan Mathews scored 16 points to help Gonzaga pull away.

Gonzaga became the 129th straight No. 1 seed to beat a 16 since the bracket was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Other results from Thursday's first-round games:

Butler 76, Winthrop 64

Virginia 76, UNCW 71

Notre Dame 60, Princeton 58

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