Trump offers to help Pakistan, calls PM Sharif a ‘terrific guy’: Islamabad

By Drazen Jorgic | ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD U.S. president-elect Donald Trump offered to help solve Pakistan’s problems and praised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a “terrific guy” in the first call between the two men, the Pakistani leader’s office said.

Historical allies in the region, Islamabad and Washington have seen relations sour in recent years over U.S. accusations that Pakistan shelters Islamist militants, a charge denied by the South Asian nation.

Sharif’s office said late on Wednesday the Pakistani premier called Trump to congratulate him on his victory and issued a read out of the call. Trump’s team confirmed the two men talked and issued a brief statement.

“President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way,” said the statement issued by Sharif’s office.

“I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems. It will be an honor and I will personally do it.”

The prime minister’s office did not elaborate on the kind of problems Trump offered to solve. The statement also did not clarify why exactly Trump was impressed with Sharif.

Pakistan’s sputtering economy has rebounded since Sharif was elected in 2013 and security has vastly improved amid greater efforts by the army to tackle militants such as the Pakistani Taliban.

But security remains a problem as Islamist groups continue to stage mass attacks and Islamic State radicals have sought to gain a foothold inside Pakistan, claiming responsibility for several high-profile attacks. The economy is also facing acute challenges, including energy shortages.

Trump’s office said the two leaders had a “productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future”. 

“President-elect Trump also noted that he is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship with Prime Minister Sharif,” the statement added.

STRAINED TIES

Detailing the conversation, Sharif’s office added that Trump told the Pakistani premier to feel free to call him any time before he assumes office on January 20.

“As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long,” the statement added, paraphrasing Trump’s comments.

Sharif’s office often releases read outs of his conversations with foreign heads of state but they are seldom so full of praise for the Pakistani premier, especially during calls with Western leaders.

Sharif invited Trump to visit Pakistan, according to the statement, and the incoming U.S. leader agreed.

“Mr Trump said that he would love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people. Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people,” said the statement.

Few details are known about Trump’s planned policy for South Asia but the warm words between the leaders suggests ties could be reset under Trump’s presidency and will ease concerns in Islamabad that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric in the run up to the poll will not lead to unfriendly policies towards Pakistan.

At one point Trump proposed banning Muslims from the entering the United States, remarks that alarmed the predominantly Muslim nation of 190 million people.

Islamabad has also been concerned about warmer ties between the United States and India, fearful that Washington is pivoting towards New Delhi at a time of heightened tensions between the nuclear armed neighbors who have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947.

Trump also has business ties in India, which has stoked concerns in Pakistan that under his presidency the United States may accelerate its shift towards New Delhi.

Pakistan continues to receive aid as well as military funding and training from the United States, but the U.S. Congress has recently held back some help due to frustrations about Pakistan’s unwillingness to act against elements of the Afghan Taliban.

Relations hit new lows in May when a U.S. drone killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban movement, on Pakistani territory.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Partial Recount Ordered in North Carolina Governor’s Race

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Gov. Pat McCrory took the stage in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 9 with his wife, Ann, to announce that the decision in the tight governor’s race would have to be postponed. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

RALEIGH, N.C. — Acceding to the wishes of the embattled Gov. Pat McCrory, the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Wednesday ordered a recount of roughly 94,000 votes in Durham County, a move that could help resolve a contested governor’s race here that remains undecided three weeks after Election Day.

Mr. McCrory, a Republican, has trailed by a thin margin in the unofficial statewide count since the Nov. 8 election. He has declined to concede the race to his opponent, Roy Cooper, a Democrat and the state’s attorney general.

Mr. McCrory’s campaign has raised questions about voting irregularities in dozens of counties, but Democrats have dismissed them as frivolous or inaccurate. Until Wednesday night, many of the rulings of the state elections board and 100 county boards — all of which are controlled by Republicans — have tended to go against Mr. McCrory.

Mr. Cooper’s campaign and liberal groups have been urging Mr. McCrory to concede.

On Wednesday, the three Republicans on the five-member state board voted to order Durham County, the liberal redoubt that is home to Duke University, to recount votes from five early voting sites and one regular voting site that had been troubled by a software problem that forced election officials there to enter results manually. The ruling kept hope alive for Mr. McCrory, who, by the unofficial state count, trailed by 10,257 votes as of Wednesday night.

“Look, folks, today is a great day for the democracy of North Carolina,” said Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the state Republican Party. “These issues were raised the night of the election, and they have continued to hover over this election for a month.”

Under North Carolina law, Mr. McCrory can demand a statewide recount if he trails by 10,000 votes or fewer once all 100 counties have certified their vote totals. Four counties had not yet certified their totals on Wednesday night.

Last weekend, the McCrory campaign issued a statement that said that if the Durham County recount were to proceed, and if it provided the same results as the original count, the campaign “will be prepared to withdraw its statewide recount request in the governor’s race.”

Mr. Cooper’s lead has been growing since election night, as thousands of provisional ballots are tabulated. When the unofficial statewide tally showed him up by 10,000 votes for the first time on Wednesday, the Cooper campaign reiterated its call for Mr. McCrory to give up the fight.

“It’s clear there is no path to victory for Governor McCrory. It’s time for Governor McCrory to accept the election results and respect the will of the voters,” Trey Nix, Mr. Cooper’s campaign manager, said in a statement. After the ruling, Mr. Nix predicted the outcome would be the same after the Durham County recount.

The Durham County Board of Elections had previously rejected the challenge concerning the 94,000 votes, and on Wednesday the state board was taking up an appeal of that ruling. After hearing significant testimony from the local board, lawyers and others, the two Democrats on the state board said they saw no reason to question the results. The three Republicans saw no harm in allowing a recount to proceed.

One of the Republicans, James Baker, said Durham County’s trouble tabulating the large tranche of ballots meant that those votes, which heavily favored Mr. Cooper, showed up in an instant in the unofficial state results just before midnight on Election Day. He recalled looking at the vote totals that night and seeing Mr. McCrory ahead with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Then, suddenly, he was behind.

The software problems, Mr. Baker said, “were enough of an irregularity to make people wonder” if something suspect may have happened. “I don’t want it to look like we’re for some reason trying to hide something or protect something,” he said.

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Trump Saved Jobs at Carrier, but More Midwest Jobs Are in Jeopardy

Indeed, Rexnord, the ball bearing factory in Indianapolis where Mr. Jones went to work straight out of high school nearly 40 years ago, said in October it would be moving to Mexico. It is just a mile from the Carrier plant.

The mayor of Indianapolis, Joe Hogsett, and Senator Joe Donnelly, both Democrats, tried to exert Trumplike pressure to force Rexnord to rethink its plans, but so far the company has not shown any sign it will change course.

“On a personal level at Carrier, it is huge,” said Jerry N. Conover, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “But by itself, the disappearance or retention of 1,000 jobs is a small slice of the total economy in Indiana.”

“I think there will be continued downward pressure on employment in factories because of trends toward automation especially and moving to lower-cost areas for production,” he added.

Carrier, in its official statement on the deal on Wednesday, said that it thought the agreement it negotiated with Mr. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence “benefits our workers, the state of Indiana and our company.” But it said that incentives provided by Indiana, where Mr. Pence is governor, “were an important consideration.” It added that “the forces of globalization will continue to require solutions for the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. and American workers.”

Those 1,000 Carrier jobs saved represent just 0.2 percent of total manufacturing employment in the state. And despite a rebound since the aftermath of the Great Recession, at just over half a million positions, factory employment in Indiana this year is still down by more than 20 percent since 2000.

The good news is that Indiana has been doing well economically, with an unemployment rate below the national average and steady gains in employment like food service, retail and logistics.

But those service jobs pay well below the $20 to $25 an hour that veteran Carrier employees — with only a high school diploma — can earn building furnaces and fan coils in Indianapolis. The typical manufacturing worker in the state earns $59,000 a year, about $20,000 a year more than the typical service job.

And for less credentialed workers, that margin is the difference between having a shot at a middle-class life, including owning a home and sending children to college, and having to struggle to make ends meet.

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What It Means for Trump to Save 1,000 Jobs in Indiana

How the president-elect’s deal measures up to U.S. manufacturing job losses.

OPEN Graphic


“These are truly irreplaceable jobs,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an advocacy group, and a native of Rensselaer, Ind. “A manufacturing job is one of the only ladders to fulfilling the American dream for a worker without a college degree.”

“A manufacturing worker who loses their job at Carrier will be resigned to facing a lower standard of living and leaner retirement years,” Mr. Paul added. “Carrier is special because it happened at the right time and the right place and it gained a high profile. But obviously, Donald Trump and Mike Pence can’t intervene every time a plant closes.”

The economic fortunes for this group have been shrinking for years, which is a major reason the story of Mr. Trump and Carrier has resonated so deeply.

In Indiana, in particular, as in other so-called Rust Belt states, there are a lot of people who are less educated: Just 16.5 percent of the state’s residents ages 25 to 64 have a bachelor’s degree, half the rate for the country over all. And while about 30 percent have an associate degree or some college, the remaining 44 percent of Indiana residents have only a high school diploma — or less.

Nor has manufacturing remained the sole domain of whites. It provides a crucial source of higher-paying jobs for minorities.

In the popular imagination, the Indianapolis factory where 1,400 Carrier workers build furnaces and fan coils looks like a scene out of “The Deer Hunter” or “Norma Rae.” Blue-collar guys walking through the plant gate, lunch pail in hand, or white women barely getting by after years on the line.

But the reality at the Carrier plant that Mr. Trump will visit on Thursday is very different. About half the workers are African-American, making it a much more diverse workplace than many white-collar settings.

Women account for a substantial portion of the work force as well, but the wages are anything but subsistence: over $20 an hour plus benefits for workers with just a high school diploma. That is an almost unheard-of level of pay for Indiana workers with that level of education in other sectors like food service and retail or even many health care jobs.

Carol Bigbee, 59, who has worked at Carrier for over 13 years, earns $22 an hour. Her daughter has a bachelor’s degree and works in a medical lab, but earns one-third less.

“You have to be really blessed to find a job that pays that kind of money,” she said.

In southern Indiana, where the Manitowoc Foodservice factory will close next year, good-paying blue-collar jobs are just as rare.

But Rich Sheffer, vice president for investor relations and treasurer at the company, said it had little choice but to relocate to Mexico.

“This company has 20 percent excess manufacturing capacity,” he said. A few of the jobs are being transferred to Covington, Tenn., he said, but the Sellersburg plant “would have required a massive investment in automation. And we have to deal with profit margins that are trailing the industry.”

Mr. Sheffer said his company’s situation was different from that of Carrier, which has profitable operations in Indiana but could make more money in Mexico.

“Our motivation is completely different, but,” he added, “we haven’t been contacted by anybody in the Trump administration.”

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Democrats Claim to Win Senate Seat on Long Island, but G.O.P. Disagrees

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State Senator Michael Venditto, a Republican, has not conceded to John Brooks, a Democrat, who held a 41-vote lead on Wednesday. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Painstaking vote counts. Talk of possible fraud. Suggestions of racism and ageism, and disparaging comments about people with disabilities. And none of it had anything to do with Donald J. Trump.

With the presidential election fast receding into the past, there was still campaign drama unfolding on Wednesday on the South Shore of Long Island, where the race for New York State Senate’s Eighth District has been contested with the ardor and election board intrigue of the Bush-Gore contest in Florida in 2000.

The race pitted the incumbent, Michael Venditto, a first-term Republican with some family political baggage, against John E. Brooks, a former insurance executive who now seems tantalizingly close to capturing a seat that few Democrats thought was winnable until recently.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Brooks — a longtime Republican running as a Democrat — had declared victory after a count of absentee and affidavit ballots. With more than 130,000 votes now recorded, Mr. Brooks had a razor-thin lead of 41 votes, according to David J. Gugerty, the Democratic commissioner of elections in Nassau County, which makes up the bulk of the district.

Mr. Brooks issued a statement announcing himself “humbled and honored,” though state Republican officials did not concede, noting that the validity of 1,000 or so uncounted ballots was being challenged by both sides.

“There are still more than a thousand ballots to be examined beginning next week under the supervision of a judge,” Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said. “Despite an effort by the Democrats to shut this down prematurely, this race is far from over.”

Still, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who leads the Senate Democrats, was confident enough that Mr. Brooks had won to call on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, “to step up and unify the members of his party.”

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Mr. Brooks Credit James Escher/Newsday

With a victory, Democrats would have a numeric majority in the 63-seat Senate, though Republicans, led by John J. Flanagan of Long Island, have been clinging to power by dint of the continuing defection of Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who sits and votes with the Republicans.

“Once again, a majority of our state senators in New York are Democrats, and for some reason there is the mind-boggling question about who controls the Senate,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins said. “At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, it is more important than ever that Democrats stick together to hold the line against expected draconian efforts out of Washington to roll back and prevent progressive achievements.”

Ms. Stewart-Cousins’s remarks were echoed by good government and liberal groups, including the Working Families Party, which has had a fraught relationship with the governor. Bill Lipton, the party’s state director, said that Mr. Cuomo should take the lead in turning the Senate Democratic and in offering “a clear progressive alternative.”

“If the governor wants to help lead the national opposition to Trump,” Mr. Lipton said, “he can start in his own backyard.”

Mr. Cuomo’s office said on Wednesday that it was monitoring the vote count in the Eighth District.

The state Republicans cheered when Mr. Venditto jumped to an early lead of some 400 votes as the count began. In recent days, however, ballots have been counted in more heavily Democratic areas, giving Mr. Brooks’s an advantage.

The counting has also led to some unsavory accusations on both sides. Mr. Reif, the Senate Republican spokesman, said on Wednesday that Democratic lawyers monitoring the count at the Nassau County Board of Elections were discriminating against older, infirm Republicans by challenging their ballots.

“Democrats are objecting to permanently disabled elderly Republican voters, claiming their signatures don’t match what is in the books,” Mr. Reif said. “This is a new low.”

Democrats denied that claim, and leveled an accusation of their own: that lawyers working on behalf of Mr. Venditto had been purposely challenging ballots coming out of heavily black and Latino parts of the district, owing to those groups’ traditional support of Democratic candidates.

Mike Murphy, a Democratic spokesman, said the objections were “for almost no reason, except that they are in minority areas.” About two-thirds of the objections came from Republicans, suggesting that Democrats were more confident about their chances of maintaining a lead in the race.

“Our objections are legitimate and real,” Mr. Reif said, “and are of much higher quality than the Democrats.”

Despite such disputes, the impact of a win for Mr. Brooks was unclear, in large part because of Mr. Felder, who represents a district that is heavily Orthodox Jewish and who confirmed last week that he would continue to conference with the Republicans.

Also complicating the math is the seven-member Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx and Westchester County, who has been working in what he calls a “bipartisan coalition” with Republicans for the past four years. That coalition has repeatedly said it would remain separate from the rest of the elected Democratic senators led by Ms. Stewart-Cousins, who were disappointed by their performance in November.

With Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, winning the state easily, Ms. Stewart-Cousins and others in her party had hoped to win enough seats to secure a solid Senate majority. (The State Assembly is dominated by Democrats.) But New York Republicans, who saw Mr. Trump win handily in rural and some suburban areas, actually gained a seat, winning in Buffalo.

The race in the Eighth District was an outlier: It had long been thought to be a lock for Mr. Venditto, as the district has typically voted Republican. But in October, Mr. Venditto’s father, John, the town supervisor of Oyster Bay, was arrested on federal corruption charges that also swept up a fellow Republican, Edward P. Mangano, the Nassau County executive.

Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman, said he was confident that Mr. Brooks had enough votes to clinch the Eighth District seat, despite pending challenges, including 727 from Republicans and 346 from Democrats.

“Right now our team is projecting a Brooks win by more than 300,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Then again, we projected helping Hillary out on her transition.”

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Trump’s Economic Cabinet Picks Signal Embrace of Wall St. Elite

Mr. Mnuchin will join Wilbur L. Ross Jr., a billionaire investor in distressed assets, who has been chosen to run the Commerce Department, and Todd Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, who has been picked to be deputy commerce secretary. All are superwealthy and to be overseen by the first billionaire president in United States history.

That two investors — Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Ross — will occupy two major economic positions in the new administration is the most powerful signal yet that Mr. Trump plans to emphasize policies friendly to Wall Street, like tax cuts and a relaxation of regulation, in the early days of his administration.

While that approach has been cheered by investors (the stocks of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have been on a tear since the election), it stands in stark contrast to the populist campaign that Mr. Trump ran and the support he received from working-class voters across the country.

Anthony Scaramucci, a hedge fund executive and member of the Trump transition team, insisted on Wednesday that appointing wealthy investors did not contradict the campaign’s populist message.

“The working-class people of the United States, they need a break,” Mr. Scaramucci said. “And we need to switch them from going from the working class into the working poor into what I call the aspirational working class, which my dad was a member of.”

Still, Democrats were quick to attack the latest nomination.

“Steve Mnuchin is just another Wall Street insider,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in a joint statement. “That is not the type of change that Donald Trump promised to bring to Washington — that is hypocrisy at its worst.”

So far, none of the nominees who will be shaping economic policy have any significant experience in government.

Mr. Mnuchin, 53, and Mr. Ross, 79, are both familiar with buying distressed properties and selling for a profit. But they are political neophytes with scant experience in managing large organizations. They will oversee two government agencies that together employ about 130,000 people around the world.

In the case of Mr. Mnuchin at Treasury, his experience as a principal investor who made large sums of money through high-risk, high-return wagers suggests that he will look critically at the thicket of regulations that now constrain the risk-taking activities of investment banks.

That could mean a reassessment of what has come to be known as the Volcker Rule, part of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul that followed the 2008 financial crisis. The rule forbids banks to make certain speculative investments with their own capital.

“I would say the No. 1 problem with the Volcker Rule is it’s too complicated and people don’t know how to interpret it,” Mr. Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. “So we’re going to look at what to do with it as we are with all of Dodd-Frank. The No. 1 priority is going to be to make sure that banks lend.”

In the interview, Mr. Mnuchin also said he would look to cutting corporate tax rates as a way to increase economic growth. And he said the wealthy would not see a big tax cut.

“Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class,” Mr. Mnuchin said in the interview. “There will be a big tax cut for the middle class, but any tax cuts we have for the upper class will be offset by less deductions that pay for it.”

There is a Washington tradition of presidents calling on a Goldman Sachs luminary to take the reins of the economy, including the Democrat Robert E. Rubin in 1995 and Henry M. Paulson Jr., a Republican, in 2006.

Mr. Mnuchin’s Goldman pedigree is as good as it gets, given that his father, Robert, was a pioneer in stock trading who spent 35 years at the firm.

While the Goldman brand may have initially attracted Mr. Trump, for the broader financial community it is Mr. Mnuchin’s track record at hedge and private equity funds, which is where the real money is made on Wall Street these days, that makes him appealing.

“Mnuchin as Treasury secretary is somebody who can speak to bankers — Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, James Gorman and Brian Moynihan. He can speak their language,” said Gary Kaminsky, a former vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, referring to the chief executives of JPMorgan Chase, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. “He comes from a trading desk, and that’s something that is very strong,” Mr. Kaminsky, who has attended fund-raisers for Mr. Trump, added.

While there is little doubt that Mr. Mnuchin can speak the language of Wall Street, he has had little experience running large, complex bureaucracies. Mr. Rubin and Mr. Paulson had ascended to the top at Goldman, and had many years of experience managing people and organizations under their belt.

Mr. Mnuchin did assume a leading role in the restructuring and reinventing of IndyMac, now known as OneWest, a California mortgage giant that collapsed in 2008. He and partners acquired the firm and later made billions.

After he moved from New York to the West Coast, Mr. Mnuchin was targeted by protesters who claimed that the bank was too quick to foreclose on struggling homeowners. Last year the bank was sold to the CIT Group, a small-business lender run at the time by another Goldman Sachs alumnus, John A. Thain.

In a statement announcing his economic appointments, Mr. Trump highlighted the deal. “He purchased IndyMac Bank for $1.6 billion and ran it very professionally, selling it for $3.4 billion plus a return of capital,” he said of Mr. Mnuchin. “That’s the kind of people I want in my administration representing our country.”

Mr. Mnuchin has faced other controversies. In 2010, he and his brother, Alan, were sued over their mother’s early investment with Bernard L. Madoff, an investor who was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme. The lawsuit, filed by a trustee for Madoff victims, alleged that $3.2 million of the money Mr. Mnuchin withdrew from his mother’s account shortly after she died belonged to other victims. The lawsuit was dropped last year because of a time limit.

Hollywood has been another reinvention for Mr. Mnuchin.

In 2006, he and a partner, Chip Seelig, struck a deal through their company Dune Entertainment to invest $325 million in 28 movies produced by 20th Century Fox. It was a successful partnership; Fox delivered hits (made in part with Dune’s money) like “Avatar,” which took in $2.8 billion worldwide in 2009.

After breaking with Mr. Seelig in 2012, Mr. Mnuchin teamed up with a company called RatPac, owned by the rowdy filmmaker Brett Ratner and the Australian billionaire James Packer. Mr. Ratner was then notorious in Hollywood; he resigned as a producer of the Academy Awards in 2011 after using an anti-gay slur at a public event and making frank remarks about his sex life on Howard Stern’s radio show. (He apologized.) But together the three men formed a vehicle to invest $450 million in an extensive array of Warner Bros. movies.

Some have been major hits, like “Gravity,” which took in $723.2 million. But there have also been money losers, including “Pan” and “In the Heart of the Sea.”

Still, Mr. Mnuchin has clearly enjoyed a Hollywood lifestyle, whether attending celebrity-filled parties at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc during the Cannes Film Festival or going in with a movie industry friend to buy a Dassault Falcon 50 jet (since sold). He can currently be seen in a cameo — playing a Merrill Lynch executive — in Warren Beatty’s new movie “Rules Don’t Apply.”

Beyond the entertainment industry, there other similarities between Mr. Trump and Mr. Mnuchin. They are both twice divorced, and their third partners are decidedly younger. (Mr. Mnuchin’s fiancée is Louise Linton, a 34-year-old actress from Scotland.) They also both have a taste for landmark Manhattan real estate: Trump Tower for the president-elect and 740 Park Avenue for Mr. Mnuchin.

But there are differences, too. Despite his Hollywood appetites, Mr. Mnuchin is described by people who know him as slightly awkward and not one to command a room. Friends of the two men describe them more as social and professional acquaintances than close friends.

The names of flashier prospects had been floated as possible candidates for Treasury, according to a fund manager close to the president-elect’s economic brain trust. Among them: Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company, Jonathan Gray of Blackstone, Jamie Dimon, Mitt Romney, and Thomas J. Barrack Jr. of Colony Capital, a Los Angeles-based real estate investor who has been close to Mr. Trump for decades.

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Trump says he will back away from business to focus on White House

By Steve Holland and Melissa Fares | NEW YORK

NEW YORK U.S. President-elect Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to step back from running his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest but gave few immediate details as concern over his dual role mounts ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Trump, a real estate magnate who owns hotels and golf resorts from Panama to Scotland, said he would spell out at a Dec. 15 news conference how he will separate himself “in total” from his worldwide business holdings, which include a winery, modeling agency and a range of other businesses.

After Trump won the Nov. 8 election, his company, the Trump Organization, had said it was looking at new business structures with the goal of transferring control to Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump – three of his adult children who are involved with the company.

Trump gave few details in a series of early morning tweets but said that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations” and that his children would attend the news conference. He did not say what the planned change might mean for ownership of his businesses.

Although Trump’s fellow Republicans generally take a more laissez faire stance toward business than Democrats, the president-elect will travel to Indiana on Thursday to formally announce a deal he reached with United Technologies Corp to keep close to 1,000 jobs at its Carrier Corp air conditioner plant in Indianapolis rather than have them moved to Mexico.

Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, railed against Carrier on the campaign trail, using the company’s outsourcing move as an example of how trade agreements hurt American workers.

‘HE NEEDS TO SELL THE BUSINESSES’

Critics have raised questions about the role of Trump’s children, who are on the executive committee of his White House transition team. His daughter Ivanka joined a telephone call her father had with Argentine President Mauricio Macri earlier this month and attended a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, creating concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

A brand name around the globe, Trump previously argued he had no need to separate himself from the Trump Organization, which includes a hotel down the street from the White House, a Manhattan tower where he lives and is running his transition to office, and a New Jersey golf course where he interviewed Cabinet candidates earlier this month.

Trump said on Wednesday he was not required by law to alter his relationship with his business, but added: “I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”

As the Republican heads toward taking over the White House from Democratic President Barack Obama, scrutiny of potential conflicts has grown. Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill called for hearings on the issue.

Rules on conflict of interest for executive branch employees do not apply to the president, but Trump will be bound by bribery laws, disclosure rules and the U.S. Constitution, which bars elected officials from taking gifts from foreign governments.

The nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, a government office that oversees ethics programs for the executive branch, issued a statement saying it applauded Trump’s aims and appearing to suggest that he completely shed his holdings.

“Divestiture resolves conflicts of interest in a way that transferring control does not,” it said.

Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer to former Republican President George W. Bush, concurred.

“He needs to sell the businesses not just have someone else manage them for him,” Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, said in an emailed comment.

WALL STREET PICKS

Trump, a former reality TV star, has spent much of the past few weeks setting up his Cabinet and interviewing candidates for top jobs in his administration.

On Wednesday, Trump said he would nominate his chief campaign fundraiser, Steven Mnuchin, to lead the U.S. Treasury. Mnuchin said the administration would make tax reform and trade pact overhauls top priorities as it seeks a sustained pace of 3 percent to 4 percent economic growth.

Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, also signaled a desire to remove U.S. mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government ownership, a move that could have wide-ranging ramifications for how Americans pay for their homes, and said banking regulations should be eased to spur lending.

Trump named Wilbur Ross, a billionaire known for his investments in distressed industries, as his nominee for commerce secretary. Both nominees will require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Trump is also considering Goldman Sachs President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn, a former commodities trader, to head his White House budget office or to fill another position, a Trump transition official said.

The economic picks were praised by the Business Roundtable, a group that represents America’s largest corporations.

But U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren called Mnuchin “just another Wall Street insider.”

“That is not the type of change that Donald Trump promised to bring to Washington – that is hypocrisy at its worst,” Sanders, a Vermont independent who ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a joint statement.

Trump pledged during his campaign to “drain the swamp” in Washington. A spokesman said giving top economic jobs to Wall Street figures was not inconsistent with that vow.

“You want some people that are insiders and understand the system and some outsiders that are creative thinkers, out-of-the-box thinkers and disruptors,” said Anthony Scaramucci, an asset manager who is on Trump’s transition committee.

Trump is also working to fill out his foreign policy team, but no decision appeared imminent on who the next secretary of state would be.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder and Eric Walsh in Washington and Melissa Fares in New York; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

House Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Health Measure

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Representative Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania, left, with Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, at a news conference on the 21st Century Cures Act at the Capitol on Wednesday. Credit Susan Walsh/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly passed a far-reaching measure on Wednesday to increase funding for research into cancer and other diseases, address weaknesses in the nation’s mental health systems and help combat the prescription drug addictions that have bedeviled nearly every state.

The bill, known as the 21st Century Cures Act, also makes regulatory changes for drugs and medical devices, which critics argue lower standards to potentially perilous levels.

Passage of the bill in the Senate next week appears likely, even though Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has taken to the floor twice to criticize the bill as a windfall for drug companies, with too few safety provisions. “The American people are not clamoring for the Cures bill,” Ms. Warren said on Wednesday, calling it the sort of measure that explains “why people hate Washington.”

The bill, which passed 392 to 26, was the product of three years of work, largely in the House, with former and current officials from the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health — two of the biggest beneficiaries of new funding in the bill — as well as scientists, health care advocates and others. It aims to streamline the federal drug regulatory structure to keep up with advances in biotechnology and other forms of medical research.

“We have listened to every group out there,” said Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which shepherded the bill. “I think we have a pretty good bipartisan bill that’s going to meet everyone’s test of how legislation should be done.”

The bill authorizes billions of dollars in new funding for N.I.H. research, much of it directed for Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, including money for the cancer “moonshot” sought by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose son died from complications of a brain tumor last year. The F.D.A. is expected to receive a half-billion dollars, in part to help expand its staff to speed up processes at that agency. States could tap into roughly $1 billion over two years to fight the opioid epidemic.

It also folds in another large piece of legislation designed to improve the nation’s mental health services.

Language that would have exempted some speaker fees from a requirement compelling doctors to report payments received from the pharmaceutical industry was excised at the last minute.

Democrats are unhappy with the way the bill is funded. It authorizes $6.3 billion in money taken from a preventive health care fund and other sources, but funding must be appropriated annually. Democrats wanted the funding to be automatic each year.

“We have assurances from Republicans that they want to spend this money,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, who traveled around the country with Mr. Upton to build support for the bill. “I actually feel confident that the money will be spent on that because this is a goal that is shared by both parties.”

Critics of the bill say it lowers standards for drug and device approvals at the Food and Drug Administration, in exchange for a badly needed funding increase for the National Institutes of Health.

“I think this takes us backward,” said Susan Wood, an associate professor of health policy at George Washington University and a former assistant commissioner for women’s health at the F.D.A. “It was a trade-off that was never worth doing.”

Others argue that the bill falls short because it elevates measures of a drug’s success called surrogate end points that can be misleading — for example, if a drug shrinks a tumor but does not ultimately prolong life. “This legislation pressures the F.D.A. to rely more on surrogate end points instead of results that matter to patients, living longer or feeling better,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research in Washington.

Ms. DeGette said that although the bill contained provisions she did not like, “there is nothing in this bill that the F.D.A. says would undermine safety or efficacy of drugs.” She and other Democrats said they would get no better a deal next year under President Donald J. Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress.

In talks among House Republicans, Mr. Upton said, “someone said, ‘Why don’t we let Trump have this victory?’

“But we can’t delay it for political reasons,” he continued. “Who knows what would have happened if we had to start from scratch next year?”

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Chris Christie Fights Naming of Special Prosecutor in Lane-Closing Complaint

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Gov. Chris Christie in the New Jersey State House this week. Lawyers for the governor and other state officials argued on Wednesday that a special prosecutor should not be named in connection with a citizen’s complaint accusing Mr. Christie of misconduct in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

HACKENSACK, N.J. — A special prosecutor should be appointed in connection with a criminal misconduct complaint against Gov. Chris Christie over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal to ensure that he is held “to the same standards as everyone else,” the man who filed the complaint told a state judge on Wednesday.

Judge Bonnie J. Mizdol of Superior Court heard arguments from William J. Brennan, a Wayne resident and former Teaneck firefighter, who filed the complaint accusing Mr. Christie, a Republican, of failing to order the reopening of bridge access lanes in Fort Lee in September 2013. A different judge ruled in October that there was probable cause to let the complaint proceed. Judge Mizdol said she would issue a written ruling by the end of the week.

Mr. Christie has denied any wrongdoing in the lane-closing matter and has not been charged in what prosecutors say was a political payback scheme to create traffic jams at the bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York and is the world’s busiest. Two of the governor’s former allies were convicted in a federal trial in the case, and a third pleaded guilty and testified against them. According to testimony by the two of the three, Mr. Christie was told about the lane closings — if not necessarily the motive behind them — both in advance and while they were going on.

Mr. Brennan, representing himself, argued on Wednesday that a special prosecutor was necessary to remove the appearance of a conflict of interest. Mr. Christie appointed both Christopher S. Porrino, New Jersey’s attorney general, and Gurbir Grewal, the Bergen County prosecutor, and while both have recused themselves from the case, Mr. Brennan argued that their subordinates should also be subject to recusal.

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William J. Brennan, who brought a citizen’s complaint against Mr. Christie, at the State House this week. Credit Mel Evans/Associated Press

“The conflict is real and it’s palpable,” he said as he pointed to lawyers for Mr. Christie, the prosecutor’s office and the attorney general’s office who were sitting at a table. “They’re all on the same side, figuratively, literally and visually.”

Craig Carpenito, a lawyer representing Mr. Christie, accused Mr. Brennan of grandstanding and “seeking to prolong his 15 minutes in the public eye.” The attorney general’s office has argued that Mr. Brennan, as a citizen making a complaint, lacked the standing to call for a special prosecutor and that there was no legislative mechanism for appointing one. Mr. Carpenito said that Mr. Brennan’s claim that assistant county prosecutors could not be fair “insults the process.”

Judge Mizdol said that though she was “very mindful” of the heightened concern over a potential conflict of interest in the case, she was bound to uphold the applicable statutes and the State Constitution.

Mr. Brennan contended that the case was novel because it involved a sitting governor as a defendant and had no guiding legal precedent.

He told Judge Mizdol that “the eyes of the world are on this courtroom” and urged her to grant his motion. “Then, and only then,” he said, “will the citizens believe the governor is being held to the same standards as everyone else.”

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Trump keeps DC swampy

Story highlights

  • The picks are designed to move the gears of Washington, but come from a stable of DC power brokers
  • Chao and Price join earlier picks that drew from the Beltway
Donald Trump's first 100 days: A breakdown of his plan
Trump picked his top fundraiser and former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin to the Treasury Department, pulling from a Wall Street world he once criticized as having “total control” over his campaign opponents. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire businessman, will be his Commerce secretary. Tuesday’s announcements of Georgia Rep. Tom Price to run the Department of Health and Human Services and Elaine Chao to lead the Department of Transportation added two more Washington movers and shakers to the Trump Cabinet.
Trump pledged in his campaign to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but has also repeatedly said that he will look to people who understand the capital to help him govern. His selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a former congressman, as vice president and chairman of his transition and choosing long-time political powerbrokers like GOP fundraiser Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education is part of that pattern.
Grassroots supporters of Trump acknowledge fulfilling his legislative agenda requires Washington know-how.
“I think that what our people in Tea Party Patriots are seeing right now is that he’s pulling from people who are committed to the promises he made on the campaign trail, and as far as ‘draining the swamp’ actually goes, I think the first thing and biggest thing to making that happen is to keep that contract with the American voter and turn that into a legislative reality,” said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the grassroots conservative Tea Party Patriots group.
Democrats were happy to point out the irony of Trump nominating a Wall Street stalwart as his Treasury secretary.
“So much for draining the swamp. Nominating Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury Secretary — a billionaire hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs alumnus who preyed on homeowners struggling during the recession — is a slap in the face to voters who hoped he would shake up Washington,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Adam Hodge in a statement. “Trump is already heading into office as the most corrupt, conflicted, and unpopular president-elect in history, and now he’s breaking his signature promise to the voters who elected him.”
When Trump’s transition team was stocked with lobbyists and former lobbyists, Pence took over as chairman and instituted a policy that anyone working on the transition would have to cut ties with lobbying in the policy arena they were working on for the administration. But that only extends so far. Trump’s Cabinet picks are stacked with insiders.
Hill GOP split on how to roll back Obamacare
Price has been a fierce critic of Obamacare and will likely help lead the administration’s efforts to fulfill its promise to repeal and replace the signature health care law. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Price a “very close friend” in a radio interview Tuesday.
Chao was secretary of Labor during the George W. Bush administration. She’s also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a major force behind his political career.
A transition source says Chao was a no-brainer for the administration when she expressed interest, and having a proven leader at the Department of Transportation will be key as Trump pursues a massive infrastructure building plan.
Chao and Price join earlier picks that drew from Washington.
One of Trump’s first nominees was Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, a longtime senator and a staunch anti-immigration, border hawk. As attorney general, Sessions would oversee the enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, as well as civil liberties moversight.
Trump tapped retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser. While Flynn had a long record in the Department of Defense, he was also pushed out for his reportedly combative leadership style, and has often been at odds with mainstream defense thinking.
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo has been named for the post of CIA director. Pompeo is a favorite of conservatives, and was a harsh critic of Hillary Clinton on the House Benghazi Committee. He has called for strengthening America’s surveillance apparatus, which was reformed after the revelations of Edward Snowden.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been named White House chief of staff — a key post in getting policy through Congress and coordinating the administration’s agenda. He’s a longtime friend of Ryan, and knows Republican officials well.
But even when Trump goes outside the Beltway, the names are familiar within the GOP.
Education secretary nominee DeVos is a Michigan-based school choice activist and major Republican donor. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is Trump’s nominee for the ambassador to the UN. Mnuchin and Ross both come from the world of investing and big money.
“There’s a balance here,” said Mike Shields, a CNN commentator and former GOP chief of staff who serves as president of the Congressional Leadership Fund. “This is a President-elect who is known for writing a book that is called ‘The Art of the Deal,’ and he is going to seek deals. And sometimes amongst conservatives, striking a deal can sound like a bad term.”
But, Shields added: “No matter who he brings in, he himself is such an outsider, he’s going to bring an outsider perspective to every decision he makes.”
Former Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who now works for lobbying and law firm DLA Piper, said Trump has picked people who can get things done — the most important thing to getting policy in place.
“I think what he’s done so far shows two things. Number one: He has picked people that know how the system works and are willing to make the commitment to him and his policies to make sure the trains run on time and the train stays on the track, and I think that’s very important, particularly for someone who ran as an outsider,” Chambliss said. “Secondly, I think most importantly, he’s picking talent.”
The three women of color Trump has appointed, so far
Many picks are still to come, experts point out, and could further indicate Trump’s thinking. His national security team is still only partially installed, with the State Department and Department of Defense still in flux. Haley, Pompeo and Flynn all have different shades of conservativism, and whether Trump fosters a diverse group on national security or tries to make more of a coherent thread remains to be seen.
Democratic strategist and Obama administration alum David Axelrod, who is also a CNN commentator, said there’s no way to staff an administration without people who have DC experience.
“The fact of the matter is he had no cadre of experienced advisers, so it was axiomatic that he was going to draw on some familiar Washington names,” Axelrod said. “The fact that Mike Pence is leading the transition makes that more true, because he is a creature of Washington in many ways.”
This story has been updated.

Donald Trump hasn’t released tax returns – but Democrats want to force his Cabinet picks to do so

President-elect Donald Trump has refused to release his personal tax returns, but Democrats plan on trying to force his Cabinet picks to do so.

On Thursday, the top Democrats on Senate committees that will hold confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet nominees will announce plans to require the picks to release three years of tax information before being referred to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.

It’s unclear whether such a rule could pass in Republican-controlled committees that will hold confirmation hearings, but it’s the opening salvo of Democratic attempts to put GOP colleagues on the record of either siding with or bucking Trump, especially on the unpopular aspects of his personal background and policy positions.

In this case, Democrats see an opportunity to call attention to Trump’s refusal to release tax information despite public opinion polls showing that most Americans believe he should.

Polls showed that a majority of Republicans believed Trump should release his returns. Several senior GOP lawmakers said so publicly, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who told Business Insider last May: “For the last 30 or 40 years, every candidate for president has released their tax returns, and I think Donald Trump should as well.”

But so far, Trump has refused to release his returns, saying he will do so after an Internal Revenue Service audit is completed. There are no rules barring someone from releasing their tax returns during an IRS audit.

Currently, just three Senate committees — the Budget, Finance, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panels — have the authority to require Cabinet picks to release their tax returns. The others do not.

Democrats on Thursday plan to announce that they will introduce what amounts to a housekeeping rule in each of the other committees requiring Cabinet picks to release tax returns. Such rule changes are introduced during an organizational meeting that will be held when the new Congress convenes next year and are subject to an up-or-down vote.

An advisory of the event noted that despite Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp,” many of his Cabinet picks so far are “wealthy insiders and extremists that would only help strengthen special interests’ grip on Washington Republicans and that providing Committees with tax returns will allow for greater and much-needed oversight and scrutiny.”

If this move by Democrats seems menial, well, it is, but there’s not much more Democrats can do to slow the confirmation process and try drawing political blood along the way.

That’s because Democrats changed Senate rules in 2013 and eliminated the 60-vote filibuster requirement for the confirmation of executive branch and judicial nominees. (The rule still applies to confirmation votes for the U.S. Supreme Court.) Republicans warned at the time that Democrats would regret their decision — and have reminded them of those warnings in recent weeks.