Category Archives: News

Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together

Solomon Lartey spent the first five months of the Trump administration working in the Old Executive Office Building, standing over a desk with scraps of paper spread out in front of him.

Lartey, who earned an annual salary of $65,969 as a records management analyst, was a career government official with close to 30 years under his belt. But he had never seen anything like this in any previous administration he had worked for. He had never had to tape the president’s papers back together again.

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law.

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Larkey and his colleagues to reassemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.

Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

Lartey did not work alone. He said his entire department was dedicated to the task of taping paper back together in the opening months of the Trump administration.

One of his colleagues, Reginald Young Jr., who worked as a senior records management analyst, said that during over two decades of government service, he had never been asked to do such a thing.

“We had to endure this under the Trump administration,” Young said. “I’m looking at my director, and saying, ‘Are you guys serious?’ We’re making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this. It felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans.”

The White House did not comment on the president’s paper-ripping habit. According to Young and Lartey, staffers in the records department were still designated to the task of taping together the scraps as recently as this spring.

Lartey and Young described a system that stands in stark contrast to how records management was conducted under the Obama administration, which ran a structured paperwork process.

“All of the official paper that went into [the Oval Office], came back out again, to the best of my knowledge,” said Lisa Brown, who served as President Barack Obama’s first staff secretary. “I never remember the president throwing any official paper away.”

Brown described a regimented process for dealing with presidential records. She said all paper that was going to the president “would go in a folder with labels — one color for decision memos, for example, and another one for letters. Documents would go out to the president and then come back to the staff secretary’s office in the same folder for distribution and handling. It was a really structured process.”

Brown said Obama had an eye on preserving documents for history — even ones he was not technically required to send to the National Archives. “I remember the day he sent down to me his race speech from the campaign, handwritten,” she said. “All of the campaign material didn’t need to come into the White House or go to Archives.”

Trump, in contrast, does not have those preservationist instincts. One person familiar with how Trump operates in the Oval Office said he would rip up “anything that happened to be on his desk that he was done with.” Some aides advised him to stop, but the habit proved difficult to break.

Despite the president’s apparent disregard of the Presidential Records Act, sources said, aides around him have tried to take an overly inclusive approach to what would be considered a presidential record.

Anything that’s not purely personal — even just a note handed to an aide at a rally that was passed on to Trump — has been considered a record deemed worthy of being sent to records, where staffers could make sure the White House was being compliant with the law.

That team is now smaller, after many of the career officials were cleared out earlier this year.

Lartey, 54, and Young, 48, were career government officials who worked together in records management until this spring, when both were abruptly terminated from their jobs. Both are now unemployed and still full of questions about why they were stripped of their badges with no explanation and marched off of the White House grounds by Secret Service.

Irene Porada, the head of human resources who personally terminated both men, did not respond to an email requesting comment. A White House spokesman also did not respond to a request for comment about the terminations.

Young agreed to speak to POLITICO after this reporter contacted him to inquire about his termination. He then put this reporter in touch with Lartey, whose story of his dismissal — and the work he was asked to do during his final year of work under the Trump administration — corroborated Young’s account.

Both men originally agreed to speak to POLITICO for a story about why they believe they were unfairly terminated from jobs they expected to hold onto until they retired. Both said they were forced to sign resignation letters without being given any explanation for why they were being dismissed.

In the course of explaining what their work at the White House entailed, however, both described in detail the process of taping back together scraps of paper that the president had ripped up and thrown out. Both said they were happy to discuss the oddity of a job they began to view as a sort of punishment.

They did not, however, approach a reporter with the intent to leak embarrassing information about the president.

Lartey said he was fired at the end of the work day on March 23, with no warning. His top-secret security clearance was revoked, he said. Later, five boxes of his personal belongings were mailed to his home.

“I was stunned,” he said. “I asked them, ‘Why can’t you all tell me something?’ I had gotten comfortable. I was going to retire. I would never have thought I would have gotten fired.” He signed a pre-written resignation letter that stated he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. But he is still unemployed.

Young, who was terminated April 19, said he fought back and had his official status changed from “resigned” to “terminated.”

“I was coerced to sign a resignation letter at that time,” he said. “Then they escorted me to the garage and took my parking placard.”

He described the firing as traumatic and frustratingly Kafkaesque. “The only excuse that I’ve ever gotten from them,” he said, “was that you serve at the pleasure of the president.”

Facebook reveals data-sharing deals with Huawei, other Chinese tech makers

Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with Chinese electronics companies including Huawei, a telecommunications giant that’s been flagged to the U.S. as a national security threat, the social media giant said Tuesday.

“Huawei is the third largest mobile manufacturer globally and its devices are used by people all around the world, including in the United States. Facebook along with many other US tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones,” Francisco Varela, Facebook’s VP of mobile partnerships, said in a statement.

Facebook controlled and approved any use of Facebook data on Huawei devices “from the get go,” Varela added, and all user information stayed on the devices rather than being sent to Huawei’s servers.

Varela said Facebook had similar deals in place with China’s Lenovo, OPPO and TCL, which make a range of consumer electronics and telecom devices.

The company has said it’s winding down its data sharing partnerships. Doubts are growing in Washington over Facebook’s handling of user data after a New York Times report disclosed the partnerships with device makers, which also include Apple and Samsung.

Blowback over border separations amps up tensions inside Trump administration

The White House was thrown into turmoil after a handful of photographs of school-aged immigrant children, held behind fences in detention centers, ignited on social media.

President Donald Trump and top aides including policy adviser Stephen Miller felt deeply frustrated that these images, which dated back to the Obama administration, were getting pinned on them, according to people familiar with the reaction. So they created a special working group to do what this White House does best — push back and shift blame to Democrats through presidential tweets and a rare on-the-record briefing by Miller.

In reality, Trump’s own administration has increased the likelihood of family separation with a new policy to refer anyone suspected of crossing the border illegally for prosecution, including asylum seekers. The change is in keeping with the “shock and awe” tactics favored by top White House policy aide Stephen Miller, the architect of last year’s travel ban, which was initially blocked by courts after creating widespread chaos at airports.

The shift has brought tensions to a boil between some administration officials and the White House over how far they can push immigration policy, both legally and politically. Interviews with 16 current and former administration officials, immigration experts, and close White House advisers reveal a potentially thorny political quandary for the president: how to balance promises to his base, which favors a tough approach to border security, with efforts to appeal to moderate, independent, and suburban voters who may be turned off by visual images of immigrant parents separated from their kids.

“From the president’s standpoint, it is a double standard. He gets hit hard even though he feels he is just doing what the previous administration had done. The media is so quick to validate a false narrative,” said one former campaign official. “You can’t blame Trump because past administrations never dealt with illegal immigration.”

But some current and former administration officials see the renewed border crackdown as the latest example of enacting an aggressive policy without enough resources in place to deal with the resulting logistics – in part because the chaos may have the desired effect of scaring would-be migrants and deterring them from crossing the border in the first place.

“My sense is that they see what happened with the Muslim travel ban as a pretty good success story,” said one DHS official. “Why try to do the first draft correctly if you get so many bites at the apple?”

Miller has worked closely with a web of political appointees throughout the administration, including Sessions’ son-in-law John Walk, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, as well as lawyer Chad Mizelle; Thomas Homan, the soon-to-retire head of ICE; Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Gene Hamilton, a former staffer to Sessions on Capitol Hill who’s now at the Department of Justice.

These hardliners feel that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a close ally of White House chief of staff John Kelly, isn’t being creative or tough enough in using executive authority to carry out the president’s immigration agenda.

“From my conversations with many officials, both career and appointed, it is apparent that they are concerned about the lack of progress in curbing these illegal entries and making the system work, and their efforts and ideas have been ignored,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors lower levels of immigration.

Nielsen’s allies argue that such an aggressive approach often ignores legal boundaries or court decisions. And, they point out, when the administration’s immigration moves get challenged, it will be Nielsen and her team, not Miller, who get dragged before Congress or into court to explain.

Even before the latest policy change, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action complaint in San Diego on behalf of a Congolese mother separated from her 7-year-old daughter for more than four months, as well as others in similar situations.

Two DHS officials said they had not seen any legal analysis making the case for the new prosecution strategy before Sessions announced it in May — a standard part of rolling out policy.

“In a normal administration, you make an analysis of the law and the policy change,” said one of the DHS officials. “The notion is to reduce litigation around it.” This person added: “It’s not clear to me that any of that foundational legal work has been done.”

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley rejected the suggestion that the administration lacks the legal authority for stepped-up prosecutions of alleged border crossers.

“For years, the Department of Homeland Security has apprehended and referred tens of thousands of illegal aliens to the Justice Department, which then prosecutes them — just like other federal crimes,” he said in a written statement. “It is unclear how these anonymous sources arrived at the conclusion or insinuation that it is illegal for the attorney general and DHS secretary to prosecute those who break the laws passed by Congress — and which keep our nation and its citizens safe — but I assure you that both are well within their authority to do so.”

One senior administration official said any differences between Nielsen and Miller and other immigration hardliners were not over policy but over style.

“She is smart enough to understand the situation she is in and smart enough to know not to work against the president,” said another administration official.

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said “there is no daylight between the White House and Homeland Security on the measures needed to protect our nation. Secretary Nielsen is implementing bold reforms to save and defend innocent American lives.”

DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton added that Nielsen and Trump are “clearly on the same page” when it comes to national security. “Any accusations to the contrary are simply false,” he said, citing DHS’ enhanced vetting of visitors to the U.S., the deployment of National Guard troops to the southwest border, and the move to refer all suspected border crossers for prosecution.

But top government officials have acknowledged that the Health and Human Services Department is almost at capacity with shelter beds for unaccompanied minors, while advocates have raised questions about whether the agencies have enough staff and resources to care for immigrant children, including toddlers.

Shelters for unaccompanied minors, which are overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, historically have been geared more toward teenagers, who came into the country alone, and who can live in dorm-like settings – not to children who need cribs, formula, help getting dressed or going to the bathroom. Advocates worry about the length of time these children could be held in custody away from their parents, as well as the difficulty of reuniting families held in different parts of the country.

A backup plan exists to help with the resources: the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement maintains 1,218 reserve beds and could open temporary facilities, including one in Homestead, Fla. If the department exceeds its $1.3 billion budget to house unaccompanied minors, it may need to transfer funds from other parts of its budget, which it’s done in the past.

“There’s no way HHS has the capability to handle this kind of influx of children, especially small children,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney representing the plaintiffs in the San Diego case. “I think it’s only going to get worse.”

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the HHS Administration for Children and Families, said the agency “routinely [evaluates] the needs and capacity of an existing network of approximately 100 shelters in 14 states” to care for unaccompanied minors, but the department did not comment on whether facilities are prepared to handle a surge of young children.

DHS referred roughly 29 percent of adults suspected of illegal entry and illegal reentry to the Justice Department for prosecution during a nearly seven-month period through mid-April, according to data provided by a DHS official. The number of suspected border crossers referred for prosecution doubled in the past month, according to the official.

That would mean the department is referring roughly 60 percent of suspected border crossers for prosecution – a dramatic increase, but still short of 100 percent Sessions targeted on May 7.

For immigration hardliners, the new “zero-tolerance” strategy — and its effect on migrant families — is a long-overdue step to deter illegal immigration and phony asylum claims.

“When the only consequence of sneaking across the border is you’re just sent back and can try again, there’s no reason not to try again,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He likened adults bringing children to the border, who include people fleeing the violent Central American cartels the Trump administration routinely demonizes, to petty criminals: “If you rob a liquor store, you’re going to be separated from your kids.”

Lujan Grisham misstated her income in 2013 financial disclosures

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham earned more from her role as co-owner of the company that runs New Mexico’s high-risk insurance program than she stated on her congressional financial disclosure forms for 2013, according to a review of the report and newly released tax returns.

In annual financial disclosures required for members of Congress, Lujan Grisham initially reported receiving between $50,001 and $100,000 in dividends in 2013 from the Delta Consulting Group, which she co-founded in 2008 with a political ally who went on to get elected to the New Mexico Legislature. But her tax returnsshow she earned nearly $138,000 in so-called “passive income” from the company that year.

A spokesperson for her office said the discrepancy was “an honest mistake” and a letter was sent to the House Clerk to amend the 2013 financial disclosure.

Lujan Grisham’s tax returns, released just days before she faces two Democratic opponents in the gubernatorial primary, provide a more precise and up-to-date window into her earnings. Between 2013 and 2017, she reported roughly $376,000 in income from Delta.

Critics contend that New Mexico kept its high-risk pool open, even though Obamacare offers similar coverage at a lower cost, because of the clout of Lujan Grisham and her co-owner, Debbie Armstrong. Both Lujan Grisham and Armstrong deny playing roles in the state’s decision to maintain the pool.

Lujan Grisham sold her 50 percent stake in the firm last June, six months after she announced she would run to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Armstrong is now the sole owner of the company.

New Mexico’s high-risk pool continues to cover roughly 2,400 people with serious medical conditions and is one of only nine such state programs that still accepts new enrollment. The program was created in 1987 when, as in many other states, officials aimed to provide a lifeline to the sick before insurers were barred from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But critics question why it should remain open now that Obamacare has opened the door for people with pre-existing conditions to receive coverage in the private market.

The pool is a major part of Delta’s business, but its other clients include a nonprofit with ties to Democratic politics and various health-care lobbying organizations. Backers of the high-risk pool in New Mexico say it should remain open partly because removing all enrollees who qualify for Obamacare coverage could cause price spikes in the broader insurance market.

Big Tobacco vs. San Francisco in vaping vote

SAN FRANCISCO — A major tobacco company is pouring millions of dollars into a ballot initiative that would repeal the country’s strongest effort yet to ban the sale of flavored tobaccos, which are attracting a whole new generation of users including children and teens.

A $12 million campaign primarily funded by R.J. Reynolds is urging San Francisco voters next Tuesday to reject the city’s ban on selling flavored vaping products, hookah tobacco and menthol cigarettes. The flavored tobacco comes in brightly colored packages and tastes like bubblegum, mango or chicken-and-waffles, which public health advocates say are designed to entice young people.

Anti-tobacco advocates see the massive R.J. Reynolds campaign as a warning shot to other local governments eyeing similar restrictions as concern mounts about the hazards of vaping. The ballot initiative is a key test of attitudes about e-cigarettes and vaping — specifically whether the public will support a new wave of regulations to limit their use.

“This is clearly the most restrictive measure in the country on flavored tobacco,” said Larry Tramutola, a political strategist running the San Francisco campaign in support of the ban. “If this passes, it will have ripple effects around the country.”

With smoking rates at an all-time low, tobacco companies are increasingly banking on e-cigarettes and other flavored products to boost their bottom lines. New players have also entered the vaping market.

While the industry argues the devices help adult smokers kick the habit, public health advocates contend the flavored products are also getting young people to try nicotine products. Studies also show that young people who vape — inhaling a heated vapor instead of smoking cigarettes — are more likely to go on to become smokers. They’re also ingesting some of the same cancer-causing chemicals in regular cigarettes, research shows.

Often a trendsetter on public health, San Francisco’s supervisors unanimously approved the tough flavor ban last year. It was supposed to go into effect in April but was put on hold after R.J. Reynolds, which owns Newport, the top menthol cigarette brand, secured enough signatures to get the repeal initiative on Tuesday’s ballot.

The company has vastly outspent supporters of the ban, who have received funding from billionaire philanthropist and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The $12 million spent to fight the ban includes both monetary donations and some in-kind services such as consulting and staff time for phone-banks.

The local battle comes as FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is stepping up federal regulation of tobacco and is considering options to regulate flavored products.

That makes the industry all the more eager to stop what’s happening in San Francisco.

The effort to overturn the ban, known as the “No on Proposition E Campaign,” has blanketed the airwaves with ads that appeal to the progressive city’s libertarian streak, framing the ballot measure as a matter of consumer freedom.

The campaign argues that the ban is a government overreach in a state that already raised the smoking age to 21 and banned the sale of these flavored tobacco products to kids. Repeal backers also argue it will hurt small businesses and create a black market for these products.

“San Francisco voters should say enough is enough and adults should be free to make their own consumer choices,” a longtime San Francisco libertarian activist known as Starchild told those gathered at a “No on Prop. E” rally on the steps of City Hall on Thursday — which also happened to be World No Tobacco Day.

Shawn Richard, a San Francisco resident and founder of Brother Against Guns, called the ban “dangerous,” describing a situation in which young people may turn to selling menthol cigarettes on the black market.

“We don’t want the San Francisco police … having the ability to harass young men of color in our communities,” he said, amid supporters holding signs with such saying as “Ban menthol but not all tobacco products? Another black tax?”

R.J. Reynolds, which in addition to Newport owns Vuse vaping products, did not respond to requests for comment.

The tobacco battle in San Francisco is playing out as Gottlieb signals he’ll pursue tougher regulation of e-cigarettes, citing the “troubling reality” they’ve become popular with kids. The agency earlier this year dinged more than 40 retailers for selling e-cigarettes to kids in a sting that targeted Juul e-cigarettes, a popular device resembling a USB thumb drive that’s flooding schools across the country.

Besides San Francisco, other cities have enacted lesser restrictions on flavored tobacco. In Oakland and Santa Clara County, sales of flavored tobacco products are banned everywhere but stores that predominately sell tobacco. Chicago bans flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of schools. Some other cities, including New York, have exempted menthol products for their bans.

Anti-tobacco activist say fruit and candy flavors are essential to the industry’s mission and future. “The product is designed like a syringe and a needle. You’ve got to get the nicotine in to get the addiction going, and you’ve got to usurp free will,” said Jeffrey Wigand, a tobacco industry scientist who became a whistleblower in the 1990s.

There’s no reliable polling to indicate how San Francisco might vote on Tuesday. But the funding advantage is clearly with No on Prop E campaign, which has raised more than four times as much as public health advocates favoring the ban. About $1.8 million of the $2.3 million raised by supporters of the flavor ban has come from Bloomberg, who has bankrolled other public health campaigns to support soda taxes and smoking bans, among other issues.

The flavor ban has gotten strong pushback from corner shop owners and small business leaders, who warn that their sales will drop steeply if they can no longer carry flavored tobacco products. They also argue that young people are more likely to buy these products online than in stores.

Carlos Solórzano, head of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, supports enforcing the existing laws — but doesn’t want the new one. “If a shop owner sells to a minor, fine them,” he said. “We all can agree this [nicotine addiction] is a health issue that needs to be dealt with, but not in this way.”

Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, supports vaping as way to wean smokers off more dangerous combustible cigarettes. But he admits that siding with the tobacco industry by voting against the measure could be tough for voters.

Still, he said, “I would hope the majority of San Francisco voters would see through the ideological war that’s going on and not try to see a brand new prohibition go into effect.”

Tramutola, the Yes on Prop E campaign manager who previously led successful efforts to tax sugary drinks, said he believes the vote will be close, despite San Francisco’s reputation as a healthy city.

“There’s a certain element that is going to vote no for just whatever reason — either they like to smoke or think it’s an intrusion,” he said.

Henry M. ‘Scoop’ Jackson is born, May 31, 1912

Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, a Democrat from Washington state who served in the House from 1941 to 1953 before going on to spend the next three decades in the Senate, was born on this date in Everett, Washington, to Norwegian immigrants. He was the fifth and youngest of the Jackson children. As a child, Jackson was nicknamed “Scoop” by a sister, after a comic strip character that he was said to have resembled. The moniker stuck.

Throughout his career in public life, Jackson’s political credo combined support of civil rights, human rights and safeguarding the environment, with an equally strong commitment to oppose totalitarian doctrines, especially domestic communism and the Soviet Union. He co-sponsored the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which denied normal trade relations with the United States to countries with restrictive emigration policies and was directly aimed at the Kremlin.

While never losing a congressional election, Jackson was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, in 1972 and 1976.

In 1935, when he graduated from law school, he began to practice law in Everett. While still in his 20s, he was elected as the prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County, where he successfully went after bootleggers and gamblers.

In 1961, Jackson — after being labeled by Time magazine the Senate’s “most eligible bachelor” — married Helen Hardin, a 28-year-old Senate receptionist. For the next several years, when away from the capital, the couple lived in Jackson’s childhood home in Everett with his unmarried sisters.

Jackson joined the U.S. Army when the nation entered World War II in 1941, but left when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered members of Congress to return to their legislative duties or resign their seats.

In 1952, Jackson relinquished his House seat to run for the Senate, defeating Republican Sen. Harry Cain. He was Washington’s first senator to be born in the state. Although Jackson opposed the excesses of Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), who went to Washington state to campaign against him, he also criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for, as he saw it, not spending enough on national defense.

During the 1960 Democratic presidential primary season, Jackson was Sen. John F. Kennedy‘s first choice for running mate. However, JFK became convinced that a Southerner would give him a better chance of winning. (Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas, the majority leader, joined the ticket.)

While still serving in the Senate, Jackson died suddenly on Sept. 1, 1983, at age 71. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) said, “Henry Jackson is proof of the old belief in the Judaic tradition that at any moment in history goodness in the world is preserved by the deeds of 36 just men who do not know that this is the role the Lord has given them. Henry Jackson was one of those men.”

California rebukes Trump with health care push for immigrants

California is poised to become the first state in the nation to offer full health coverage to undocumented adults even as the Trump administration intensifies its crackdown by separating families at the border.

The proposal — which would build on Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2015 decision to extend health coverage to all children, regardless of immigration status — is one of the most daring examples yet of blue-state Democrats thumbing their nose at President Donald Trump as they pursue diametrically opposed policies, whether on immigration, climate change, legalized marijuana or health care.

“California has never waited for the federal government, or for a political climate, to be able to take leadership on a whole host of issues,” state Sen. Ricardo Lara, author of the state Senate bill to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults, told POLITICO.

But at a time when Trump is already attempting to re-energize state Republican voters — he met with California conservatives at the White House last week to strategize against the state’s sanctuary policies — the initiative might be risky. For starters, it will be costly: The annual price tag to expand Medicaid benefits to poor adult immigrants without legal status is projected at $3 billion annually. Some also worry that extending health coverage could make California a magnet for undocumented immigrants from other states.

“It would give Republicans relevance in California they would never have before,” said David McCuan, a political analyst and political science professor at Sonoma State University. He suggested the proposal would energize Republican voters, who make up a quarter of the electorate, as well as conservative-leaning unaffiliated voters.

Any meaningful opposition could slow the plan’s progress through the state Legislature despite its strong backing from Democrats, providers and advocates for the poor.

Brown, who is leaving office later this year and has not yet committed to the plan, is required by law to sign or veto bills passed this session by Sept. 30, just five weeks before the midterm elections. And the injection of immigration politics into the universal health care debate will likely provide talking points for both parties.

“It seems to me astounding that California could consider an expansion like this at this particular moment,” said Paul Ginsburg, director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. He described the plan as “fiscally very dangerous” given California’s fragile long-term financial outlook and the potential negative effects of the Republican tax overhaul on the state’s budget.

But Lara, the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who grew up without health coverage, contended the state is already paying for health care for the undocumented in the most expensive way possible, through hospital emergency rooms. He pushed unsuccessfully for a single payer health plan for California last year, and argues California needs to be a laboratory for social change by taking the lead on progressive causes.

“We are trying to address the fact that, whether you like it or not,” he said, “our undocumented community needs the care, and we are paying for it anyway.”

Democrats say they want to build on the coverage gains made under Obamacare by targeting the state’s nearly 3 million remaining uninsured — about 60 percent of whom are undocumented immigrants and 1.2 million of whom would qualify for the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, based on their incomes. Companion bills in the state Assembly and Senate have easily passed their respective health committees with party-line votes.

Three survivors after airliner with 110 aboard crashes in Cuba

HAVANA — A 39-year-old airliner with 110 people aboard crashed and burned in a cassava field just after taking off from the Havana airport Friday, leaving three survivors in Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades, officials said.

The Boeing 737 went down just after noon a short distance from the end of the runway at Jose Marti International Airport while on a short-hop flight to the eastern city of Holguin. Firefighters rushed to extinguish the flames that engulfed the field of debris left where Cubana Flight 972 hit the ground.

“There is a high number of people who appear to have died,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said from the scene. “Things have been organized, the fire has been put out, and the remains are being identified.”

Relatives of those aboard were ushered into a private area at the terminal to await word on their loved ones.

“My daughter is 24, my God, she’s only 24!” cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on the plane.

State TV said the jet veered sharply to the right after takeoff, and Diaz-Canel said a special commission had been formed to investigate the cause of the crash.

“The only thing we heard, when we were checking in, an explosion, the lights went out in the airport and we looked out and saw black smoke rising and they told us a plane had crashed,” Argentine tourist Brian Horanbuena told The Associated Press at the airport.

Skies were overcast and rainy at the airport at the time of the incident, with winds reportedly around 4 mph.

Authorities said there were 104 passengers and six crew members on the flight operated by the Cuban state airline. Mexican authorities said the Boeing 737-201 was built in 1979 and rented by Cubana from Aerolineas Damojh, a small charter company that also goes by the name Global Air.

A statement from the country’s Transportation Department identified the pilot and co-pilot as Capt. Jorge Luis Nunez Santos and first officer Miguel Angel Arreola Ramirez. It said the flight attendants were Maria Daniela Rios, Abigail Hernandez Garcia and Beatriz Limon. Global Air said maintenance worker Marco Antonio Lopez Perez was also aboard.

In November 2010 a Global Air flight originating in Mexico City made an emergency landing in Puerto Vallarta because its front landing gear did not deploy. The fire was quickly extinguished, and none of the 104 people aboard were injured. That plane was a 737 first put into service in 1975.

In Mexico City, two women who said they were relatives of Global Air crew members appeared at the company’s offices. They declined to identify themselves or their relatives and said they were still awaiting information from Global Air.

Cubana has had a generally good safety record but is notorious for delays and cancellations and has taken many of its planes out of service because of maintenance problems in recent months, prompting it to hire charter aircraft from other companies.

Four crash survivors were taken to a Havana hospital, and three remained alive as of mid-afternoon, hospital director Martinez Blanco told Cuban state TV.

State media reports stopped short of openly declaring the rest on board were dead, but there was no word of other survivors by Friday evening.

Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa had met with Cubana officials on Thursday to discuss improvements to its service. The airline blames its spotty record on a lack of parts and airplanes because of the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-run country.

It was Cuba’s third major aviation accident since 2010.

Last year a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight soldiers. In 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in what was the country’s worst air disaster in more than two decades.

The last deadly accident involving a Cubana-operated plane was in 1989, when a charter flight from Havana to Milan, Italy, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board and at least two dozen on the ground.

Cubana’s director general, Capt. Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that the airline’s domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned between January and April.

He said 64 percent of flights took off on time, up from 59 percent the previous year.

McCain unlikely to tank Trump’s CIA pick

When John McCain speaks, his fellow senators listen. Yet his call to reject Gina Haspel may not halt momentum for her bid to lead the CIA.

The Arizona Republican declared that Haspel’s “refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying” as he urged the defeat of President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee. As a decorated veteran who endured brutal interrogations as a prisoner of war, his moral authority has an undeniable hold on still-undecided senators.

But Haspel’s prospects for confirmation had already significantly brightened before McCain spoke out. Just hours earlier, she secured two critical swing votes from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who were pleased with her performance at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.

In order to bring down her nomination, Haspel critics now have to keep other politically vulnerable red-state Democrats in the “no” camp and persuade one more Republican to join Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in opposition. The veteran CIA official has drawn resistance from most Democrats for her involvement in the harsh interrogation program of the George W. Bush era.

Among the crop of potential GOP opponents is Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a close friend of McCain’s.

“I’m glad he’s spoken up, and this is consistent with how he’s always felt on the subject,” Flake said Thursday. He added that he didn’t speak to McCain about Haspel during a recent visit with his state’s senior senator, who is absent from Washington while receiving cancer treatment.

Asked whether he would consider voting against Haspel as a proxy for McCain, who is unlikely to be able to return to the Capitol for the vote, Flake said: “I have my own franchise, but I certainly respect his voice on this and always have. I’ve always shared his views, so his voice is important.”

Both Collins and Manchin also acknowledged McCain’s outsized influence on the Senate — particularly on military and intelligence matters. Still, neither suggested that his entrance into the debate would change their position.

“His words always have a powerful impact, particularly given his experience in Vietnam,” Collins said. “Each senator has to make his or her own decision.”

Before his return to Arizona in December, McCain used his influence to rally opposition to Steven Bradbury, a Trump administration nominee who had authored memos that provided legal underpinning for the use of waterboarding and other means of torture against detained terrorist suspects. Though Bradbury ultimately won confirmation as general counsel of the Transportation Department, a personal call from McCain changed Manchin’s mind on the nomination.

Manchin, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, left little room for a similar turnabout on Haspel on Thursday even as he hailed McCain for “what he has done for our country.”

“We’re all very sensitive about that,” Manchin told reporters. “But I happen to see, in a deep dive, the things that gave me the confidence to vote for Gina. And I think she’s the right person for the job.”

Had McCain been well enough to return to Washington for the confirmation hearing, he would have been able to ask Haspel questions as an ex officio member of the committee.

Some in the Trump administration are dismissing McCain’s opposition. “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” special assistant Kelly Sadler said at a White House communications meeting Thursday, according to a source in the room. Sadler’s comments were first reported by The Hill.

Sadler called Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter, on Thursday to discuss the remarks but the call did not go well, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), also on the intelligence panel, said there is “no way to be able to tell” if McCain’s comments on Haspel would affect the outcome in the Senate, where a final vote is expected as soon as this month.

“I wish he could have been here to be able to meet with her face to face,” Lankford said in an interview. He also criticized Democrats by noting the support they gave to John Brennan, former President Barack Obama’s CIA chief, despite his status as a senior spy agency official during the Bush-era interrogation program.

“I think there are a lot of people making much ado about something that has already been resolved and that they didn’t make about John Brennan,” Lankford said.

Haspel returned to the Senate Thursday for meetings with Ohio Republican Rob Portman as well as three still-undecided Democrats: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Another Democrat up for reelection whom Haspel supporters consider a potential “yes” vote, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, plans to meet with her next week but said in a brief Thursday interview that he “would use any piece of advice from Sen. McCain.”

The intelligence committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said that he would submit written questions to Haspel before making his decision on her nomination.

“Listen, I have huge respect for Sen. McCain, but we all have to reach an independent judgment,” Warner told reporters.

Perhaps McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, said Thursday that he and the Arizonan didn’t discuss Haspel during a visit earlier this week. “He knew where I was,” said Graham, who backs the CIA nominee.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) affirmed that he is still undecided but “reading a lot” about Haspel’s background. Similarly, Heitkamp said that she has “just started” reviewing classified material about Haspel that the CIA has made available. Among the few Republicans still seen as potentially swayable to vote “no,” beyond Flake, is Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Flake wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking that all senators get access to another classified Haspel document, a Department of Justice report from a special prosecutor who declined in 2010 to charge CIA officials in connection with the destruction of 92 videotapes said to depict brutal detainee interrogations.

Haspel wrote the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes and has acknowledged that she supported that move — which was reportedly opposed by White House lawyers — but she said Wednesday that she would not make the same decision again.

“Experience is a good teacher, and the piece that was missing from the tapes was making sure that we had all the stakeholders’ concurrence,” Haspel told senators during her confirmation hearing. Haspel, who oversaw a secret CIA prison where detainees were waterboarded, also pledged that she would not restart the program if confirmed.

Members of the intelligence panel and party leadership are currently permitted to read the DOJ report on the tapes‘ destruction, but not other senators, according to Flake and a half-dozen Democrats who have made the same plea.

While Haspel continues to make the rounds in the Senate, opponents who align with McCain are left to hope that one of the chamber’s last larger-than-life figures might be able to make the difference.

“I don’t see, right now, her losing. I mean, I think she’ll have the votes,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who joined McCain in authoring a 2015 amendment that formally restricted CIA interrogations to the Army Field Manual and effectively banned torture. “But this is a very big consideration, and we are essentially then putting somebody in charge of the CIA that participated in the torture program, which is looked at very badly in terms of what American values are by people abroad.”

McCain is “the conscience of the Senate when it comes to this,” Feinstein said. “So we’ll see how many people listen to the conscience.”

Golden spike marks transcontinental breakthrough, May 10, 1869

Workers for the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads on this day in 1869 watched as a golden spike was driven into the rails at Promontory Summit, Utah. Coming some four years after the Civil War, the event marked completion of the first transcontinental railroad: Henceforth, the United States would be connected by rail from coast to coast, cutting a prior journey of at least four months to a week.

In anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60, known as the Jupiter, locomotives were drawn up face-to-face. It’s not known how many people attended the event; estimates range from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000.

Under the aegis of Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, the Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, prepared the first maps and reports describing the topography of the trails and passages from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

From 1835 onward, many Americans wrote and spoke about their belief that it was the “manifest destiny” of the United States to expand its territory over the whole of North America to extend and enhance the nation’s political, social and economic influence.

Congress, buying into the need for westward expansion, authorized a Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. In the 1850s, the Senate ordered the printing of 10,000 copies of topographical surveys, known as the Pacific Railroad Route Reports, including one by John Charles Fremont, a member of the corps.

Expansionist-minded legislators such as Sen. Thomas Hart Benton (D-Mo.), Fremont’s father-in-law, saw that railroad builders would rely on such reports to cross the continent and unify the nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Congressional leaders also recognized that, in the event of a war between the North and the South, whichever side had the best transportation system and access to the West would hold a military advantage.

Several members of Congress owned stock in The Credit Mobilier of America, formed in 1864 as the agent for the construction of the Union Pacific Railway’s portion of the transcontinental line. In 1868, Rep. Oakes Ames (R-Mass.) distributed shares to his fellow lawmakers, along with cash bribes — though the scandal did not come to light until 1872.

Leland Stanford, president of Southern Pacific Railroad and, beginning in 1861, Central Pacific Railroad, drove the golden spike. Stanford also served as a Republican governor and senator from California. He founded the prestigious university that bears his name. The spike is now displayed in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford.

Nowadays, the Golden Spike National Historic Site, 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, receives some 60,000 visitors yearly. The site features auto tours, a hiking trail, and, from May 1 through Columbus Day, steam locomotive demonstrations. This year, on Saturdays and holidays during the summer months, volunteers will reenact the 149th anniversary of the historic linkage.