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Nation and World briefs for March 18

Trump sidesteps blame over wiretap row with Britain

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump defiantly refused to back down Friday from his explosive claim that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones, and sidestepped any blame for the White House decision to highlight an unverified report that Britain helped carry out the alleged surveillance.

In brushing off the diplomatic row with perhaps America’s closest ally, Trump also revived another: the Obama administration’s monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls.

“At least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump quipped during a joint news conference with Merkel.

Merkel, who was making her first visit to the White House since Trump took office, looked surprised by the president’s comment, which he appeared primed to deliver. The Obama administration’s spying infuriated Germany at the time and risked damaging the U.S. relationship with one of its most important European partners.

Trump’s unproven recent allegations against his predecessor have left him increasingly isolated, with fellow Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers saying they’ve seen nothing from intelligence agencies to support his claim. But Trump, who rarely admits he’s wrong, has been unmoved, leaving his advisers in the untenable position of defending the president without any credible evidence.

Trump OKs changes in GOP health care bill, winning support

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump agreed to add fresh Medicaid curbs to the House Republican health care bill Friday, bolstering the measure with support from some conservative lawmakers but leaving its prospects wobbly. House leaders discussed other amendments calibrated to round up votes and scheduled a showdown vote Thursday.

“I just want to let the world know I am 100 percent in favor” of the measure, Trump said at the White House after meeting around a dozen House lawmakers and shaking hands on revisions. “We’re going to have a health care plan that’s going to be second to none.”

While the rapid-fire events seemed to build momentum for the pivotal GOP legislation, its fate remained clouded. One leading House conservative said the alterations were insufficient and claimed enough allies to sink the measure, and support among moderates remained uncertain.

“My whip count indicates that there are 40 no’s,” enough to defeat the bill, said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. He said the change “doesn’t move the ball more than a couple yards on a very long playing field.”

Across the Capitol, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., facing re-election next year, became the fourth Republican senator to announce his opposition. That left Senate GOP leaders at least two votes shy of what they’d need to prevail.

Military attack kills 42 Somali refugees off Yemen’s coast

HODEIDA, Yemen (AP) — The boat packed with dozens of Somali refugees was more than 30 miles off war-torn Yemen’s coast when a military vessel and a helicopter gunship swooped in, opening fire in the dead of night Friday, killing at least 42 people. The attack, which Yemen’s Shiite rebels blamed on a Saudi-led coalition, highlighted the perils of a heavily used migration route running from the Horn of Africa to the oil-rich Gulf, right through Yemen’s civil war.

The coalition has been heavily bombarding the nearby coast around the Yemeni port of Hodeida, where it accuses the rebels, known as Houthis, of smuggling weapons in small boats. There was no immediate coalition comment.

A Yemeni trafficker who survived the attack said the boat was filled with Somali refugees, including women and children, who were trying to reach Sudan from Yemen, which has been racked by conflict for more than two years.

Al-Hassan Ghaleb Mohammed told The Associated Press the boat left from Ras Arra, along the southern coastline in Yemen’s Hodeida province, and was 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the coast, near the Bab al-Mandab strait, when the military vessel open fire, followed by the helicopter gunship.

He described a scene of panic in which the terrified refugees waved flashlights, apparently to show they were not combatants. He said the helicopter then stopped firing, but only after dozens had been killed. Mohammed was unharmed in the attack.

Tillerson: Pre-emptive force an option with NKorea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States signaled a tougher strategy toward North Korea on Friday that leaves open the possibility of pre-emptive military action and rejects talks with the communist nation until it gives up its weapons of mass destruction.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”

Tillerson was speaking after visiting the heavily militarized border between the rival Koreas. His comments are likely to displease Beijing, where he travels this weekend. China has been advocating diplomacy to avoid a conflict on the divided peninsula.

Also Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

Past U.S. administrations have considered military options against North Korea and have publicly said that an attack on the U.S. or its allies would prompt a devastating response.

Running for president? Some states want tax returns public

HONOLULU (AP) — Lawmakers in nearly half the states want to add a requirement for presidential candidates: Show us your tax returns.

The issue has dogged President Donald Trump, who became the first presidential candidate in modern times to refuse to make his returns public. It flared anew this week after MSNBC said it had obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal return, prompting the administration to release the documents preemptively.

State lawmakers around the country, mostly Democrats, want to ensure transparency in future presidential campaigns so voters can evaluate candidates’ sources of income and any possible conflicts of interest. Most of the bills would require presidential contenders to release copies of their returns as a condition for appearing on that state’s ballot, although it’s unclear whether they could pass constitutional muster.

The aim is to find out about potential conflicts that candidates might have before they take office, said Hawaii Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat who introduced one of the Hawaii bills.

“With what we’ve seen so far with this administration, there are clear conflicts with respect to whether or not parts of the president’s business empire are directly benefiting from federal contracts to house Secret Service at his own hotels, for example, or pressuring foreign dignitaries or other corporations indirectly to patronize the businesses that the president or his children run,” Lee said. “And the real question is, What else don’t we know?”

 

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