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National Politics

  • President Donald Trump tried on Tuesday evening to push Republicans in the House to pass an immigration reform bill later this week, basically telling GOP lawmakers he would support whatever they could pass, as Republicans struggled to find the votes to do that, and pressed the White House to back off a new policy that separates some illegal immigrant kids from their parents after being picked up at the border. “The system’s been broken for many years,” the President told reporters at the Capitol before the unusual Tuesday evening gathering. “The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad. system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. And we’re gonna try and see if we can fix it.” Earlier in the day, the President had told a gathering of business leaders that he would not back off his calls for major changes in U.S. immigration laws. “When people come up, they have to know they’re never going to get in, or else it’s never going to stop,” Mr. Trump said of the flow of illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico. President Trump: 'I'm asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.' pic.twitter.com/UllzH6rL4y — CSPAN (@cspan) June 19, 2018 But complicating matters for the President was the recent move to force the separation of children and parents, if the parents were being charged for illegally entering the United States, as that continued to draw stern opposition from GOP lawmakers of all stripes. “All of us are horrified at the images that we are seeing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “We ought to stop separating families,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS). “The Administration disagrees,” as GOP lawmakers said the conflict wasn’t really discussed during the Tuesday night meeting with Mr. Trump. “We can have strong border security without separating families,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). 13 GOP Senators signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the Trump Administration to “halt current policies leading to the forced separation of minor children from their parents,” but that missive fell on deaf ears at the White House, as GOP lawmakers scrambled for kind of legislative answer. If every Senator is willing to support it by unanimous consent, the Senate could pass a bill, before the end of the week, that would allow families charged with illegal entry to be kept together while awaiting an expedited hearing. I truly hope that is what we do. — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 19, 2018 House GOP leaders on Tuesday night posted two different immigration bills for possible House votes – one was a more conservative plan backed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), which was unlikely to get close to a majority; a second was a more moderate bill that lacked the support of conservatives. It left many unsure what would happen if votes occurred this week on the House floor. “I’m still working through whether I can vote for the compromise bill,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), as more conservative lawmakers withheld their support from the only all-GOP plan that has a chance for approval. Meanwhile, even as Mr. Trump tried to push Republicans to stick together on immigration, he managed to cause some internal GOP pain, as lawmakers said the President – during the closed door meeting with House lawmakers – took a verbal shot at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who lost his primary a week ago to a candidate backed by the President. “Is Mark Sanford here? I just want to congratulate him on running a great race,” the President reportedly said, drawing quiet groans and hisses from some GOP members. One Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) said later on Twitter, that the jab was uncalled for. “This was a classless cheap shot,” Amash wrote.

Local Politics

  • Two months ago, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered an outside review of a payment by a city-tied nonprofit to cover luxury airfare for former Mayor Kasim Reed and staffers who traveled to South Africa last year on a costly jobs mission. Now, people familiar with the matter have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News the probe has stalled, as city officials balked at the cost of outside attorneys’ fees. A May 8 engagement letter from law firm Sidley Austin said the firm’s rates for senior partners are as high as $1,200 per hour, though it’s unclear if the city agreed to rates that high. The city wants to reduce its legal costs, said the people who have knowledge of the situation but who are not being identified because they are not authorized to comment on the matter. RELATED CONTENT: EXPENSES Reed repays $12k after AJC requests his city credit card bills  Atlanta paid nonprofit to cover pricey airfare for Reed, staff  InvestAtlanta: $40k spent on Reed’s South Africa trip under review Legal experts questioned by the AJC were surprised by the potential price tag, and said as the city seeks to reduce legal costs, leaders must ensure any investigation remains independent. At issue is a $40,000 payment by a dormant nonprofit group called Partners for Prosperity, the fund-raising arm of city economic development agency Invest Atlanta. A federal grand jury subpoenaed the city in April seeking records related to the charity and Invest Atlanta CEO Eloisa Klementich. The demand for records came after the AJC and Channel 2 outlined an unusual transaction in which the city donated $40,000 to the nonprofit, which later wrote a check for the same amount to the city to pay for the business class tickets to South Africa. Mike Bowers, a former Georgia attorney general and partner at Balch & Bingham, said officials were right to question the cost of fees charged by law firm Sidley Austin. “That’s a ton of money for lawyers’ fees, whether it is in Washington, D.C., or Atlanta, Georgia,” Bowers said. But Bowers, who led the state investigation of standardized test cheating at Atlanta Public Schools, said the matter demands a thorough review. “It’s public money, a significant amount, being spent on a public official doing something that is questionable,” he said. “Those are the sorts of elements that wave a red flag and say, ‘Look at it.’” Bottoms’ office did not respond to requests for comment. >> MATT KEMPNER: Atlanta officials travel well, but how does that fix blight? The controversy surrounding Partners for Prosperity is part of a cloud of scandal that’s kicked up since Reed left office in January. The GBI opened a criminal investigation to City Hall’s handling of open records requests, and a federal grand jury probing corruption in Atlanta government issued new subpoenas, including one seeking records related to spending by Reed on his city-issued credit card. In spring of 2017, Reed and several staffers flew business class to South Africa to learn about filmmaking, urban agriculture and to recruit jobs. Reed caught flack for the high cost of the trip — about $90,000 — and promised to find nongovernmental funds to pay the $40,000 difference between coach and business-class airfare. In April, after an open records request by the AJC, the city provided records showing the little-known Partners for Prosperity covered the airfare difference. It was the first check the nonprofit ever wrote. Partners for Prosperity was created in 2015 by Invest Atlanta to “promote economic development and financial sustainability in distressed areas through job training and recruitment and financial literacy programs,” and to help create affordable housing. Last December, in the waning days of Reed’s term, his office convinced City Council to approve a $40,000 donation to Partners for Prosperity from an account that held salary Reed had deferred. But officials with Reed’s office didn’t inform council that the money would be used to pay for airfare he promised would be covered by private sources. On Dec. 29, days before he left office, Reed approved a new contract for Klementich, who also serves as chief financial officer of Partners for Prosperity. The three-year extension pays Klementich $309,000 a year and guarantees her two-years of salary if the new mayor replaces her. The same day, the city sent $40,000 to Partners for Prosperity. On March 1, then-city CFO Jim Beard sent a city invoice from his personal email address to Klementich’s seeking $40,000 from the nonprofit. Klementich signed a check dated four days later for $40,000, but Partners for Prosperity’s board didn’t formally approve the payment until early April. Reed, through a spokesman, has denied any wrongdoing. Reed’s spokesman has said the funds weren’t tax dollars, but money from a raise the former mayor earned and declined to accept. He instead devoted the money to college scholarships and economic development. Jessica Cino, a Georgia State University law professor, said the matter deserves an “arm’s length” review, and going outside city government would be best. Nina Hickson, the new interim city attorney, was formerly general counsel of the Atlanta Beltline before she was picked by Bottoms to be the city’s top lawyer. Invest Atlanta oversees the Beltline. “You don’t want it to look like anyone has an interest in any particular outcome, at least not on the investigation team,” Cino said. >> COMPLETE COVERAGE: Latest Atlanta City Hall investigative content

Latest from Jamie Dupree

Georgia Politics

  • Gov. Nathan Deal said the state will spend $100 million in bonds to build a series of four new bus-only interchanges along a 16-mile stretch of Ga. 400, hailing it as a “groundbreaking” state investment in mass transit. The sum is included in the governor’s 2019 budget - Deal cited a need to keep up with a “21st Century economy and workforce” - but until Tuesday it wasn’t clear where the money would be spent.  The project is part of a broader $1.8 billion overhaul of the highway designed to add new toll lanes and accommodate bus rapid transit interchanges.  He said the bustling Ga. 400 corridor, which links north Atlanta’s suburbs to the city’s urban core, was picked because it could quickly help eliminate congestion around economic hubs.  It is the first time the state, Fulton County and MARTA have directly partnered on a mass transit system, Deal said.  “We are introducing collaborative solutions for both transportation and transit, which is exactly what the ATL and Georgia’s commitment to improving mobility are all about,” he said. Georgia ranks 27th among the states in transit funding – spending about $14.5 million annually. But this is the second time in recent years the state has offered a big infusion of one-time cash for transit. In 2015, lawmakers approved $75 million in one-time grants for transit projects. That money helped pay for 11 projects ranging from an upgrade to Gwinnett County’s Sugarloaf Mills park-and-ride lot to a new audio-visual information system for MARTA rail stations. This year’s $100 million windfall was part of a banner year for mass transit in the General Assembly. Lawmakers also passed House Bill 930, which allows 13 metro Atlanta counties to impose new sales taxes for transit construction, if their voters consent. The law also creates a new board to oversee transit funding and construction in the Atlanta region, and re-brands the system as the ATL.  It’s part of a broader political shift that has led to one of the largest mass transit expansions since MARTA’s tracks were first laid. After decades of paltry state support, a growing number of Republicans are supportive of more transit funding, pitching it as a way to entice more business development. “This is a huge step, and it shows the sea change in attitudes by the Republican Party,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, a former chair of the Georgia GOP. “It shows that we can change, we can be flexible, and move forward with reality.” The new funding was celebrated by transit advocates across the state. Still, while $100 million sounds like a lot of money, it doesn’t go far when you consider the cost of a MARTA rail line through the Emory University area alone would exceed $1 billion.  

News

  • Two brothers accused of at least seven robberies across metro Atlanta in May are no ordinary criminals: they’re identical twins. Marquavious and Juntavious Burton, 20, were arrested in early June. According to Fulton County jail records, the twins have been arrested multiple times since 2015 on charges such as aggravated assault and theft by receiving stolen property. The latest charges include seven counts of armed robbery and a charge of participating in criminal street gang activity. Police believe they may be responsible for even more recent robberies. The Burton twins have also been accused of shooting at some of the robbery victims, Channel 2 Action News reported.  In other news:
  • Two Cobb County siblings were killed after their 17-year-old sister allegedly lost control of the family’s SUV on a South Carolina interstate, police said Monday.  Jessica Wolwark was driving a Chevrolet northbound on I-85 in Anderson County when she ran off the highway and the SUV overturned Saturday morning, according to police.  Wolwark and her mother, Natalia Anggraeni, were both wearing seat belts and were seriously injured in the crash. Two other family members died from their injuries after being ejected, police said.  Kirana “Kiki” Wolwark, 15, and 12-year-old Nate Wolwark were both killed, a family friend posted on a Go Fund Me page. The family was traveling from their Kennesaw home to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where the girls were to attend a religious retreat, according to Chrissy Concepcion, who set up the fundraising page for the family. The family does not have medical insurance, she said. The South Carolina medical examiner was unable to confirm the identities of those killed, but family friends confirmed the names and ages of the Wolwark siblings.  “Kiki was a joy to be around, and spread her love for animals to everyone she knew,” Concepcion posted. “Nate was the perfect boy; always helpful, caring, and accepting of everyone around him.” The driver and her mother were both taken by helicopter to a Greenville hospital, where both remained Monday. Anggraeni has a broken neck and several broken ribs, Concepcion said. Jessica Wolwark has torn ligaments in her arm, but is expected to be released from the hospital this week.  The South Carolina Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.  In other news: 
  • A stream of mourners has been leaving mementos at the spot where rapper XXXTentacion was killed as he left a Florida motorcycle dealership. They left behind flowers and candles and decorated the sidewalk with chalk art. Broward County authorities have announced no arrests in the Monday afternoon shooting that saw the 20-year-old rapper gunned down as he drove his electric BMW away from Riva Motorsports in suburban Fort Lauderdale. His attorney said Tuesday that investigators told him the shooting was a botched robbery and that XXXTentacion had withdrawn money from a bank to buy a motorcycle. The Broward Sheriff's Office says deputies are searching for two suspects who fled in a dark SUV. The rapper's real name was Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy. His stage name was pronounced 'Ex Ex Ex ten-ta-see-YAWN.
  • On scorching summer days, taking a nice cold bottle of water for your drive seems like a natural fit. But it could lead to startling consequences, firefighters say. >> Read more trending news One Oklahoma fire department and a power company in Idaho recently demonstrated how a partly filled water bottle could magnify the sun’s rays and start a fire. David Richardson, of the Midwest Fire Department in Oklahoma, told KFOR the sunlight “uses the liquid and the clear material to develop a focused beam, and sure enough, it can actually cause a fire.” “The sunlight will come through (the bottle) when it’s filled with liquid and act as a magnifying glass as you would with regular optics,” said Richardson. A test at the fire department, outside a car, showed sunlight going through a water bottle raised the temperature of a piece of paper to 250 degrees, KFOR reported. Representatives from Idaho Power also showed the same potential problem in a Facebook post in July, with a video showing direct sunlight going through a water bottle leaving smoke and burn marks in car seats before the bottle was removed. While the risk of fire is relatively small, officials recommend keeping water bottles out of unattended vehicles, KFOR reported. Read more at KFOR.  
  • President Donald Trump tried on Tuesday evening to push Republicans in the House to pass an immigration reform bill later this week, basically telling GOP lawmakers he would support whatever they could pass, as Republicans struggled to find the votes to do that, and pressed the White House to back off a new policy that separates some illegal immigrant kids from their parents after being picked up at the border. “The system’s been broken for many years,” the President told reporters at the Capitol before the unusual Tuesday evening gathering. “The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad. system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. And we’re gonna try and see if we can fix it.” Earlier in the day, the President had told a gathering of business leaders that he would not back off his calls for major changes in U.S. immigration laws. “When people come up, they have to know they’re never going to get in, or else it’s never going to stop,” Mr. Trump said of the flow of illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico. President Trump: 'I'm asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.' pic.twitter.com/UllzH6rL4y — CSPAN (@cspan) June 19, 2018 But complicating matters for the President was the recent move to force the separation of children and parents, if the parents were being charged for illegally entering the United States, as that continued to draw stern opposition from GOP lawmakers of all stripes. “All of us are horrified at the images that we are seeing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “We ought to stop separating families,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS). “The Administration disagrees,” as GOP lawmakers said the conflict wasn’t really discussed during the Tuesday night meeting with Mr. Trump. “We can have strong border security without separating families,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). 13 GOP Senators signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the Trump Administration to “halt current policies leading to the forced separation of minor children from their parents,” but that missive fell on deaf ears at the White House, as GOP lawmakers scrambled for kind of legislative answer. If every Senator is willing to support it by unanimous consent, the Senate could pass a bill, before the end of the week, that would allow families charged with illegal entry to be kept together while awaiting an expedited hearing. I truly hope that is what we do. — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 19, 2018 House GOP leaders on Tuesday night posted two different immigration bills for possible House votes – one was a more conservative plan backed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), which was unlikely to get close to a majority; a second was a more moderate bill that lacked the support of conservatives. It left many unsure what would happen if votes occurred this week on the House floor. “I’m still working through whether I can vote for the compromise bill,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), as more conservative lawmakers withheld their support from the only all-GOP plan that has a chance for approval. Meanwhile, even as Mr. Trump tried to push Republicans to stick together on immigration, he managed to cause some internal GOP pain, as lawmakers said the President – during the closed door meeting with House lawmakers – took a verbal shot at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who lost his primary a week ago to a candidate backed by the President. “Is Mark Sanford here? I just want to congratulate him on running a great race,” the President reportedly said, drawing quiet groans and hisses from some GOP members. One Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) said later on Twitter, that the jab was uncalled for. “This was a classless cheap shot,” Amash wrote.
  • U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson accused the Trump administration of a 'cover-up' after officials denied him entry Tuesday to a detention center for migrant children in South Florida where he had hoped to survey living conditions. Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both Florida Democrats, went to the contractor-run Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children following reports it was receiving detained children who had arrived in the country illegally. Wasserman Schultz said the facility was being used for an estimated 1,000 children, aged 13 to 17 — most of whom arrived as unaccompanied minors and about 10 percent of whom are children separated from their families at the border. She said two other South Florida facilities were being used for younger children. 'It is an affront as the senior senator of this state that an agency head would tell me that I do not have entrance into a federally funded facility where the lives and health of children are at stake,' Nelson said. President Donald Trump's immigration policies have drawn intense scrutiny following reports of the forced separation of migrant children from their parents. Democrats and some Republicans are urging an end to the practice at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of children split from their families at that border are being held in government-run facilities. Wasserman Schultz said her staff had spoken Tuesday with the Florida-based company, Comprehensive Health Services, contracted to run the facility. She said her staff was told the lawmakers would be 'welcomed warmly and allowed into the facility.' But Nelson said Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan told him it would take two weeks for them to gain access. 'I think what they're doing is a cover-up for the president,' Nelson said. Trump doesn't like the negative response he's received, even from fellow Republicans, Nelson said. 'Are they abusing these kids? Are they sleeping on the floor? Are they in cages, like we've seen in some videos?' Wasserman Schultz asked after being barred from the building. The Florida facility is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Department spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in an email Monday that it had reopened as 'a temporary unaccompanied alien children program facility.' He did not provide further details. Gov. Rick Scott's office, however, released documents Tuesday that showed that federal authorities in February notified state officials and members of Congress that the Homestead facility would be reopened. Federal authorities didn't give an exact date, but said the Homestead location would reopen after damage from Hurricane Irma was repaired. The release from HHS also stated that the facility would only be used for 'unaccompanied alien children' detained by immigration officials. Later Tuesday, Scott called on Trump's administration to stop separating the families. The Republican governor sent his request in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Scott's letter also requested that federal authorities notify state officials when they bring into Florida migrant children who have been separated from their families. Scott also wants to know what services are being provided to the children and whether they have had any health screenings. He said the information is needed to make sure that the children are being protected. An Associated Press reporter was denied access to Azar while he visited a Miami hospital Tuesday to talk with patients about drug costs. Spokesman Gavin Smith barred the AP reporter from asking Azar about the immigration facility because an interview with the secretary had not been pre-arranged. Several dozen children could be seen Tuesday playing soccer outside the building behind a chain link fence, mostly talking and shouting to each other in Spanish. Security officials would not let reporters near the facility or provide details on conditions inside. Mark Greenberg, a former head of the HHS Administration for Children and Families, said agency policy says requests to visit facilities for migrant children be submitted two weeks in advance. However, Greenberg said in the current state of heightened concern it behooves HHS to act rapidly on requests from lawmakers. Greenberg said much of the reason for lead time is logistical: the facilities are operated by federal contractors and government officials should be present for a congressional inspection. 'The current urgency of concerns about what is happening to children who have been separated from their parents makes it important to provide access as quickly as possible,' he said. Greenberg is currently a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank focused on immigration. ___ Reporter Gary Fineout contributed to this story from Tallahassee. See AP's complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration's policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration