WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump took a victory lap on Capitol Hill Tuesday, emboldened by the end of the special counsel’s Russia probe, even as Democrats demanded the release of Robert Mueller’s full report and intensified their focus on health care and other policy disputes.
A Justice Department official said it will take Attorney General William Barr “weeks, not months” to finish reviewing Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation report and make a version available for the public. It’s not clear how much of what is made public will be in Mueller’s own words and taken from his underlying report and how much might reflect Barr’s summary or synthesis of the special counsel’s findings.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday to discuss the Justice Department’s planning.
Radiating a sense of vindication, Trump strode into the Senate Republicans’ lunch flanked by party leaders. GOP senators applauded.
“It could not have been better,” Trump said of the summary of the Mueller report by Attorney General William Barr, which did not find the president colluded with Russia over the 2016 elections.
He told senators he was given a “clean bill of health,” according to those in the room.
But Trump cut short the celebration by quickly turning senators focus on the challenges ahead, claiming, “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch!”
Inside the meeting, he urged Republicans to figure out a way to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and replace it with a GOP version, a major Trump goal that has eluded the party during the first years of his presidency.
“I was a little surprised he came out of the chute in health care,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., after the meeting “He wants us to try again.”
“He’s in a very good mood. He’s in a good form,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “He’s always high energy. He had a little extra today.”
Trump’s trip to Capitol Hill came right after his administration said late Monday it would not defend the Affordable Care Act in a court challenge — and as the House Democrats, led by Pelosi, were unveiling a sweeping measure to rescue the program, also known as “Obamacare.”
At her own closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, Pelosi urged rank-and-file Democrats to “be calm” and focus on policy promises that helped propel them to the House majority last fall. That means advocating for a robust policy agenda to improve health care and pay while conducting the oversight of the Trump administration many voters want.
“Let’s just get the goods,” Pelosi said, according to an aide in the room granted anonymity to discuss the private caucus meeting.
The advice was reinforced by Obama, who counseled freshman Democrats at a reception Monday night.
Obama advised the newly elected lawmakers to listen to constituents — and also identify issues they feel so strongly about that they’d be willing to lose their House seats in fights over them, according to multiple people at the private party.
The former president recalled that as a state legislator he gave priority to his constituents, which helped keep his popularity high enough in Illinois that he could advocate for bold policy ideas.
The challenges for Democrats come as Trump has made clear he’s fired up to go on offense against those who propelled the narrative that he colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
Even before he arrived in the Senate, Trump tweeted his message about health care. When he walked into a cloistered parlor to lunch with Republicans, they applauded him.
Ahead of the Senate meeting, Trump was in a combative mood. He tweeted against the “mainstream media” as “corrupt and FAKE” for pushing the “Russian Collusion Delusion,” previewing attacks on other opponents to come.
He has promised to go after those who did “evil” things, perpetuating the collusion narrative.
Attorney General Barr’s summary said the special counsel’s probe didn’t find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to tilt the 2016 presidential election. Mueller did not determine whether Trump obstructed justice in the investigation, but Barr and his team said no prosecution was warranted.
Trump allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have encouraged him to use the political capital he’s now gained to accomplish policy goals. “Let’s go on about governing the country,” said Graham, who spent the weekend with the president in Florida.
The chairman of the intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., stood up at the closed-door meeting and told his colleagues the most important thing now is the work on the ACA, according to those in the room.
Other leaders backed up the focus on policy.
“I believe that the Mueller report has been done. That’s a chapter that’s closed,” House Democratic Whip James Clyburn said on CNN. Health care, he said, “is the number one thing on people’s minds.”
On the Trump-Russia track, Democrats pressed the Justice Department to provide the full report from Mueller, saying Barr’s four-page synopsis was insufficient.
“I haven’t seen the Mueller report. I’ve seen the Barr report. And I’m not going to base anything on the Barr report,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
“The president is saying he’s been completely and totally exonerated by the report. The one sentence we’ve seen from the report says this is not an exoneration of the president.”
Many Democrats say Barr is conflicted because of his views — expressed in a memo to the administration before becoming attorney general — that the president cannot be charged with obstruction since he oversees the Justice Department.
“You can’t move forward on a four-page memo,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. “It’s hard for me to accept that as an objective opinion.”
Trump said the release of Mueller’s full report “wouldn’t bother me at all,” and Democrats quickly put that statement to the test.
Six House Democratic committee chairmen wrote to Barr and asked to have Mueller’s full report by April 2. If not, they have suggested subpoenas could be issued.
WASHINGTON (AP) — An Ohio teen defied his mother’s anti-vaccine beliefs and started getting his shots when he turned 18 — and told Congress on Tuesday that it’s crucial to counter fraudulent claims on social media that scare parents.
Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, said his mother’s “love, affection and care is apparent,” but that she was steeped in online conspiracies that make him and his siblings vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases like the ongoing measles outbreaks.
“I grew up under my mother’s beliefs that vaccines are dangerous,” Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He’d show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that “instill fear into the public.”
Last December, despite his mother’s disapproval and realizing that “my school viewed me as a health threat,” Lindenberger began catching up on his missed immunizations. He told lawmakers it’s important “to inform people about how to find good information” and to remind them how dangerous these diseases really are.
This year is shaping up to be a bad one for measles as already, the U.S. has counted more than 200 cases in 11 states — including about 70 in an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.
Measles is one of the most contagious viruses, able to be spread through coughs and sneezes for four days before someone develops the characteristic rash. It’s dangerous: 1 in 20 patients get pneumonia, and 1 in 1,000 get brain swelling that can lead to seizures, deafness or intellectual disability. While deaths are rare in the U.S., measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017 — and unvaccinated Americans traveling abroad, or foreign visitors here, can easily bring in the virus.
The vaccine is highly effective and very safe, John Wiesman, Washington state’s health secretary, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.
In fact, a massive 10-year study of more than 650,000 children born in Denmark offered fresh reassurance that there’s no risk of autism from the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. An autism-vaccine link was long ago exposed as a fraud but still is cited by vaccine opponents. In Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday, researchers compared vaccinated and unvaccinated tots and concluded: “Our study does not support that MMR vaccination increases the risk for autism, triggers autism in susceptible children or is associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination.”
In the U.S., more than 90 percent of the population nationally is properly vaccinated but there are pockets of the country, including in Wiesman’s hard-hit state, where fewer children get immunized on time or at all. They in turn are a hazard to people who can’t get vaccinated — babies who are too young or people with weak immune systems.
Vaccination against a list of diseases is required to attend school, but 17 states, including Ohio, allow some type of non-medical exemption for “personal, moral or other beliefs,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The hearing came a day after the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Pinterest to better counter vaccine misinformation spread through their sites.
“We have an opportunity, and in my view, an obligation, to work together to solve this public health crisis,” wrote Dr. Kyle Yasuda, the group’s president.
Lindenberger created national headlines after he posted on Reddit several months ago that, “my parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme” and “god knows how I’m still alive.” He asked how to go about getting vaccinated on his own.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a how-to-list for youths ages 7 to 18 who’ve missed childhood shots.
Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that that she was proud of how her son carried himself even though “I didn’t agree with anything he said.” Wheeler said she feared her children having a bad reaction if they were vaccinated, and questioned why a teen was given a national platform to discuss the topic. “They’ve made him the poster child for the pharmaceutical industry,” she said.
Tuesday, the high school senior told the Senate panel that parents aren’t the only ones who need better education. “Most of my friends didn’t even understand they could get vaccinated despite their parents’ wishes,” Lindenberger said.
CINCINNATI (AP) — Unlike President Donald Trump, Otto Warmbier’s parents don’t believe North Korea’s leader.
The parents of the American college student who was sent home from North Korea in a vegetative state spoke out Friday, after Trump’s comment this week that he takes Kim Jong Un “at his word” that he was unaware of any mistreatment during the young man’s 17 months of captivity. Warmbier died at age 22 soon after his return in June 2017.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who have expressed appreciation of Trump in the past and were guests at his 2018 State of the Union address, said in a statement Friday they had been respectfully silent while Trump and Kim met in Vietnam.
But no longer.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity,” they said. “No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
The president said Friday afternoon he was being misinterpreted.
“Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death,” he tweeted, without mentioning Kim.
Trump praised the Warmbiers as “a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength” and said he loves Otto and thinks of him often.
The Republican president also took credit for gaining his release along with three other detainees and noted that Democrat Barack Obama was in office when Warmbier was seized.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, of New York, said in a tweet that Trump owes the Warmbiers an apology for “simply deciding to take a cruel and brutal dictator at his word.”
Warmbier’s parents have accused North Korea of torturing the University of Virginia student, who was detained for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster as he prepared to end a visit to the country with a tour group.
Fred Warmbier described to Fox News in 2017 Otto’s condition when he returned: making an “involuntary, inhuman sound,” ”staring blankly into space, jerking violently,” and was blind and deaf, with his head shaved.
Doctors in Cincinnati said he had suffered severe brain damage, although they weren’t sure what led to it. North Korea denied mistreating him, saying he fell into a coma that resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill.
A federal judge in December ordered North Korea to pay more than $500 million in a wrongful death suit filed by Warmbier’s parents. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell harshly condemned North Korea for “barbaric mistreatment” of Warmbier.
During a news conference Thursday , Trump was asked if he and Kim had discussed Otto and whether he had asked the North Korean leader to take responsibility for what happened to him.
Trump said that “something very bad happened” to Warmbier, but that he didn’t believe Kim knew about it or would have allowed it to happen.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said.
Some people who have followed the Warmbiers’ ordeal were stunned.
“Trump offers Warmbiers a slap in the face,” read a headline on a column by Byron McCauley in The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who like the Warmbiers lives in the Cincinnati area, has kept in contact with them since Otto’s detention began.
“His treatment at the hands of his captors was unforgivable, and it tells us a lot about the nature of this regime,” Portman said Thursday on the Senate floor. “We can’t be naive about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime that would do this to an American citizen.”
Another Cincinnati-area Republican, U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, said: “Otto Warmbier’s imprisonment and death were heinous crimes at the hands of the brutal Kim Jong Un regime.”