Rashed Mian

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Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

GOP Considers Gutting Maternity & Preventive Services to Secure House Votes

health care

President Donald Trump’s promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and overhaul health care in America faces its biggest test yet, as GOP lawmakers weigh how repealing Obamacare will affect their constituents.

Several news outlets reported Thursday afternoon that House Republican leaders decided to delay the vote in the face of opposition from many in their own party, possibly for a day.

House Republicans are still on a mission to recruit undecided lawmakers who’ve held out for a variety of reasons. A group of about two dozen hard-line Republicans wants to further gut mandates imposed by the ACA, while more moderate lawmakers have expressed concern about how a change to Medicaid funding would impact their states.

The fight may come down to a provision in the ACA requiring health care plans to cover a range of benefits, including pregnancy, newborn care, substance abuse, prescription drugs and wellness services.

Conservative House members of the so-called Freedom Caucus argue that eliminating those requirements would bring down the cost of insurance premiums because insurers would no longer have to cover certain services. But people under the new plan would potentially have to pay for those benefits themselves if insurers offer leaner plans.

If House leadership agrees to dismantle essential benefits in the bill, it could mean that insurers would no longer have to provide breastfeeding support and counseling to new mothers or pay for preventive tests and screenings for blood pressure, high cholesterol, lung cancer, depression and other conditions.

Lawmakers were negotiating throughout the day ahead of a scheduled vote Thursday night on the bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act, though by mid-Thursday had reportedly postponed bringing it to the floor of the House. Republicans require 216 “yes” votes to move it out of the House and to the U.S. Senate, where some Republicans view the measure even more skeptically than their House peers.

A vote on Thursday would come on the seven-year anniversary of Obamacare, which Republicans have been arguing is unsustainable and is driving up costs.

The bill, which is the brainchild of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has the backing of the White House. President Trump has joined the fray on Capitol Hill in an attempt to appease some Republican lawmakers who remain on the fence. The president delivered an ultimatum to those so far opposed to the bill, warning that a “no” vote would come back to haunt lawmakers at the ballot box. But it’s unclear if Trump can use the bully pulpit to strike fear in the hearts of undecided House members, considering his historically low approval rating for a new president, and Obamacare’s increased popularity among Americans.

A Quinnipiac poll released this week found that Trump’s base is shrinking in support and that his job approval rating stands at a dismal 37 percent.

As for the GOP health care bill, Quinnipiac found that 56 percent of Americans disapprove of it, 26 percent remain undecided and only 17 percent support it. Additionally, a large majority of voters oppose the proposed elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which handles many women’s issues, such as breast cancer screening and reproductive health.

“Replacing Obamacare will come with a price for elected representatives who vote to scrap it, say many Americans, who clearly feel their health is in peril under the Republican alternative,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

On the eve of the expected House vote, several dozen demonstrators rallied outside Rep. Peter King’s office in Massapequa Park to pressure the veteran Long Island Republican Congressman to vote “no.”

Several people at the rally interviewed by the Press said they interpreted the act as an attack on the poor and other marginalized groups, and a gift to the rich and powerful through enormous tax breaks.

Despite the bone-chilling cold Wednesday night, demonstrators waved signs and yelled “No Trumpcare!” and “Don’t take away the ACA!”

“This health care bill is a bad deal for most people in the United States,” said Lisa Oldendorp, 70, of Massapequa. “The only people it is good for is the wealthy people who are getting an enormous tax break and the CEOs of the insurance companies, on the backs of the poor and middle class.”

“It fails the first test of everyone getting health care,” she added, referring to Trump’s “insurance for everybody” claim he made after the election.

Barbara Kaplowitz, an insurance broker, said she’s seen the benefits of the ACA firsthand. She said she knew of a couple who delayed opening their own business because at least one of them needed to get the health insurance through their employer to cover them both. Obamacare changed all that, she said.

Standing next to her was Ruth Cohen of Lake Grave, which is not in King’s district, who lamented that the new bill is “about making the rich richer…It has nothing to do with what’s good for people.”

Phil Esposito of Bayport said he fears the GOP health care plan is the beginning of an all-out assault on Medicare, the government program by which he receives health insurance.

“I think they’re screwing the poor people and giving a tax break to the rich,” he said.

King has not yet indicated which way he’d vote on the controversial measure. On Wednesday, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Selden) appeared to be leaning toward supporting the bill after an amendment was added by upstate Congressional Republicans that would eliminate all county funding of Medicaid in New York State, except for New York City.

House Democrats are all expected to deliver a resounding “no” vote. When Obamacare passed in 2010, not a single Republican on Capitol Hill supported it.

The impending vote has provoked a war of words between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and some New York Representatives after he blasted two upstate Republicans for including the provision cutting county Medicaid funding, which is currently capped at 13 percent. Cuomo called the amendment potentially “devastating” to the state and Long Island’s health care industry. Rep. John Faso (R-Albany) told the governor to “man up” and cover the Medicaid costs so the upstate counties no longer would have to chip in.

Cuomo’s staff delivered a barrage of emails predicting millions of dollars in losses in those Republican Congressional districts if the bill is passed, including a collective loss of $14.6 million for three hospitals in Rep. King’s district. The amendment would lead to a cut of $2.3 billion from Medicaid in upstate New York and on Long Island, Cuomo said.

That prompted Zeldin to admonish Cuomo for fear mongering.

“The amendment is a proposal to shift to the state the local share of Medicaid from the counties outside of New York City, including Suffolk County,” Zeldin said in a statement. “It does not propose a $2.3 billion cut. Governor Cuomo is choosing on his own to react to the amendment, by threatening a cut to scare people. Let’s call this for exactly what it is.”

But if the bill passes, the governor is saying that there’s no way for Albany to make up for the shortfall unless it raises taxes statewide or imposes drastic cuts in state-provided health care. According to the governor’s office, under the Trumpcare proposal, New York would lose $6.9 billion over the next four years.

Meanwhile, Zeldin’s New York Republican colleague, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island), has come out against his party’s bill.

“I do not believe that the legislation as currently written is in the best interest of the 740,000 people I represent in Congress and I believe we can do better,” he said.

“The proposed amendment exempts New York City, putting an unfair and disproportionate burden on City residents to fund the entire state’s share of the Medicaid bill,” he added in a lengthy statement. “That’s wrong. I cannot support a deal that gives our district short shrift.”

Israeli-American Arrested for Wave of JCC Threats

JCC threats

An Israeli-American teenager was arrested in Israel on Thursday as the main suspect behind scores of threats to Jewish Community Centers across the United States, according to reports.

A spokesman for the Israeli police confirmed the arrest in a Tweet Thursday morning but did not identify the suspect. He said the suspect is 19 years old and had allegedly made threats to “Jewish organizations, communities & JCC bomb threats in US.”

The suspect reportedly holds dual American and Israeli citizenship. Authorities have not yet released a motive.

Authorities in Israel collaborated with the FBI during the investigation, the spokesman said. American law enforcement agencies had been looking into the threats for months.

The Anti-Defamation League said there had been 165 threats against JCC schools, synagogues and ADL offices throughout the country since January.

Two Long Island JCCs were also the targets of menacing phone calls during the wave of attacks, which spread anxiety through Jewish communities. The Barry & Florence JCC in Oceanside received a threatening phone call in January and Mid-Island Y JCC fielded a similar threatening call a month later.

Officials in Nassau County called the threats “deplorable” and said they would not be tolerated. Nassau County police has maintained focused patrols on Jewish sites for months.

The Anti-Defamation League tracked 165 threats to Jewish institutions since January. (Credit: ADL)

Acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter last month said the pair of calls in the county shared similarities but did not elaborate. He said the Special Investigations Unit would lead the investigation, with help from the Major Case Bureau and intelligence officers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also ordered state police to assist local law enforcement agencies on their investigations and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas unveiled a new Hate Crimes Unit charged with investigating such crimes.

The wave of threats prompted condemnation from across the political sphere.

“We will not allow anyone to intimidate or strike fear in the state of New York,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said at the time. “The full force of government will be brought to bear in these efforts, and these perpetrators will be punished.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of only two Jewish Republicans in the House of Representatives, said “there must be zero tolerance of any kind for this rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad.”

The threat to Mid-Island Y JCC came shortly after President Donald Trump finally condemned anti-Semitic attacks, which anti-hate groups said had become increasingly prevalent during his presidential campaign.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center last month said the number of hate groups in the US increased for the second consecutive year, which they attributed to America’s “radical right” feeling emboldened by Trump’s messaging.

According to 2015 FBI statistics released in January, anti-Jewish attacks made up half of the 1,354 religious bias offenses reported to the agency. There was also a startling 67-percent rise in anti-Muslim attacks.

Thursday’s arrest is the second related to the JCC threats.

In March, authorities arrested a former journalist for allegedly calling in eight threats as part of a bizarre cyber-stalking campaign aimed at his ex-girlfriend.

Included in the anti-Semitic attacks over the past few months were the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

The Town of North Hempstead plans to hold a Town Hall meeting Thursday night with police and faith groups to address hate crimes.

Obamacare Advocates to Rally Outside Rep. Peter King’s Office

obamacare

Obamacare advocates planned to protest outside Rep. Peter King’s Massapequa Park office Wednesday on the eve of a key vote to President Donald Trump and House Republicans’ sweeping health care overhaul.

Residents of the congressman’s district, which spans four Long Island towns, said the rally was intended to convince Rep. King (R-Seaford) to oppose the legislation, billed as a repeal and replacement of former President Obama’s legacy health care law that gave coverage to millions of Americans who never had it before.

A grassroots organization called New York’s 2nd District Democrats, which emerged out of Trump’s election victory, has been tracking King’s remarks on key issues. In a Facebook event post, the group said the congressman’s office had indicated that he was leaning to vote “No,” which conflicts with recent reports that the veteran Long Island Republican was considering supporting the House bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), slated to come up for a floor vote Thursday.

Asked on Wednesday how King intends to vote, his spokesman said King is still looking at the legislation and has not come to a decision, adding that there were many moving parts—a reference to last-minute amendments mostly aimed at Medicaid coverage intended to appeal to certain GOP House members who had been waffling.

A report in CNN Wednesday suggested that King was possibly swayed to vote “Yes.” The same report said King was singled out by Trump, who referred to King’s congressional district as “conservative.” Registered Democrats actually hold a slim majority over registered Republicans in King’s district. King told CNN that he simply stared at Trump when the president said, “’You’re going to be with me, right?’”

In an interview with the Press last week, King said he had issues with the bill, specifically about the number of people who “are going to fall through the cracks and how big a fiscal impact it will have on New York.”

“I am certainly not convinced to vote for it,” he told the Press. “It’s going to cost New York billions of dollars, mainly because of the cuts in Medicaid as we go forward.”

Organizers of Wednesday’s demonstration ribbed King for his apparent “shout out” from Trump.

“If Pete King is going to make decisions that affect the lives of his constituents based on how often his buddy Trump points and smiles at him, we need to remind him who he works for!” they said on Facebook.

“Donald Trump’s campaign promise was to replace the Affordable Care Act with ‘something terrific,’” elaborated Liuba Grechen Shirley, founder of New York’s 2nd District Democrats, to the Press. “Denying millions of U.S. Citizens health care is not ‘terrific’ by any measure, and the last-minute tactics by the House Republicans are Washington politics at its worst.”

To garner support from two upstate Republican Congressmen, an amendment was added that would eliminate county funding of Medicaid in New York State exclusively. Currently, half of Medicaid expenses is paid for by the federal government and the rest by the state and county governments, whose contribution is currently capped at 13 percent. Although 16 states split Medicaid costs with their counties, this amendment only applies here.

“The New York State amendment injects partisan politics directly into the health care bill, using New York State taxpayers’ access to healthcare in a game of chicken with the State government,” Shirley added. “So much for ‘draining the swamp.'”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted the amendment as potentially “devastating” to New York and Long Island’s health care industry, because it only shifts the burden while curtailing the federal Medicaid component over time, forcing the state to come up with billions of dollars by 2020. Cuomo also noted that the new provision could cause nursing homes and hospitals on LI to shutter.

New York’s 2nd District Democrats joined others in a mass demonstration outside King’s Massapequa Park office in February to protest Trump’s controversial immigration policies.

Medicaid has become a big sticking point for many House Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan needs 216 votes to get it through the chamber so it can reach the U.S. Senate. As of Wednesday, it was still unclear whether Republicans would reach that threshold, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.

Leadership has acquiesced to some hard-leaning conservatives by instituting various changes to the bill, including one that would allow governors to require residents to work in order to receive Medicaid coverage.

As many as 2.7 million New Yorkers could lose health insurance under the Republicans’ repeal bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office. On Long Island, the number of people in danger of losing health insurance is estimated at 133,324 in Nassau and 152,631 in Suffolk.

According to Cuomo’s office, three hospitals in King’s district—Good Samaritan, Southside, and St. Joseph—would lose a combined $14.6 million in funding as a result of the amendment.

“I urge members of the community to call their member of Congress and demand that they vote ‘no’ on this unconscionable piece of legislation,” Cuomo said.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) exuberantly cheered the amendment in a statement, calling it “the single greatest act of fiscal relief ever provided to the County of Suffolk and its taxpayers.” State government, he added, “absolutely can and should” find a way to make it work. The proposition was reportedly the idea of Rep. Chris Collins, a Buffalo area Congressman, who was joined by Rep. John Faso, (R-Hudson Valley).

An outraged Cuomo has argued that Albany could not make up the $2.3 billion difference.

The last-minute push to placate New York’s somewhat more moderate Republicans comes as support for the long-promised “Repeal and Replace” bill is slipping nationwide.

A Politico/Morning Consult Poll released Wednesday found that 41 percent of respondents support the measure, down from 46 percent last week. A separate poll found that 57 percent of those surveyed said they prefer Obamacare over the Trump alternative.

Since its passage in 2010, Republicans have been bullish about keeping their promise to their base to repeal Obamacare. But now that they have control of both Congress and the White House, carrying it out has proved difficult, especially once many of their constituents started gaining coverage under the law and began to realize what they stand to lose.

In a last-ditch effort to move the bill forward, Trump himself met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning with the hopes of changing some minds.

His message: Vote “Yes” or pay the price at the voting booth.

Now, we wait.

Cuomo: GOP’s Health Care Changes Potentially ‘Devastating’ To New York

health care

An outraged Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday accused Republicans of punishing New Yorkers and potentially dealing a “devastating” blow to Long Island’s health care industry by pushing an amendment to President Donald Trump and the House Republicans’ health care repeal bill exclusively aimed at the Empire State.

Cuomo slammed House Republicans after the provision to scrap Medicaid payments from county governments and shift the cost to the state was added to the beleaguered health bill as a way to sway unconvinced Republicans in Congress to support the bill.

“The consequences will really be devastating to this state,” Cuomo said, adding that the amendment would cut $2.3 billion from Medicaid in upstate New York and on Long Island. New York would lose $4.6 billion over the next four years as a result, the governor said.

As it stands, half of all Medicaid funding in the state comes from the federal government, and the remaining half is split evenly between the state and county government and other localities. The amended bill would scrap county funding of Medicaid and would ban federal reimbursement for local governments outside of New York City, which would still have to pay its share of Medicaid costs.

With county funding removed from the equation entirely, there would be no one to make up the difference, argued Cuomo.

The governor went on a blistering attack against House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and two upstate House Republicans who authored the amendment.

“They’ve declared war on New York and this is just the beginning,” Cuomo said. “It started with health care, you’re going to see it with the budget that disproportionately hurts New York, you’re going to see it with their talk about ending state and local tax deductibility, it is nothing short of a targeted war on New York.”

“It is cheap politics at best, because what the Congresspeople say is, ‘Well, if the county doesn’t have to pay their share, then the county can reduce taxes,'” Cuomo added. “What they leave out is, if the county doesn’t pay its share, there’s another $2.3 billion cut to Medicaid on top of everything else, and that means less people are going to get health care assistance.”

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul continued the evisceration late Tuesday, accusing Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) of perpetuating a “political scam on New York.”

“If Mr. Collins wants to buy votes let the federal government pick up the share rather that the people of New York,” Hochul said in a statement. “Local county taxes or state taxes New Yorkers still pay. One way or another, it is still coming out of New York taxpayers’ pockets.”

Collins characterized the amendment as a victory for New Yorkers in his own statement Tuesday.

“This amendment will stop Albany from forcing its unfunded mandate down the throats of taxpayers, and help counties lower the property tax burden on hardworking families,” he said. “We understand the devastating impact New York’s reckless spending is having on everyday New Yorkers, and I’m proud to join with members of our delegation to bring vital tax relief to our constituents.”

As many as 2.7 million New Yorkers could lose health insurance under the Republicans’ repeal bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office. On Long Island, the number of people in danger of losing health insurance is estimated at 133,324 and 152,631 within Nassau and Suffolk counties, respectively.

Under the Affordable Care Act, New York, like many other states, expanded its Medicaid program, which experts say has helped lower the number of uninsured New Yorkers, which has been reduced from 10 to 5 percent since the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

Officials from Nassau and Suffolk counties both said they’re reviewing the current proposal. A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county paid $241,121,959 in Medicaid payments in 2016. Nassau did not provide a figure.

Health care experts on Long Island expressed concern over the new bill’s impact on Medicaid and what it would mean for hospitals even before the new provision came into play. Cuomo singled out hospitals and nursing homes on Long Island that could be in jeopardy if the bill as it currently stands passes.

Republicans have promised for years to repeal Obamacare. Now that they’re in control of both chambers of Congress, they’re in a position to do just that. But an unfavorable CBO report, combined with criticism from various medical associations, and an ideological split within their own party, has hampered those efforts.

The GOP this week put on a full-court press to avoid the bill from faltering in the House by instituting other changes to Medicaid to alleviate concerns from noncommittal members. Republicans need 216 votes to push the bill out of the House and to the Senate, where 51 votes are needed.

The mad dash to bolster support for the bill included a visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday by the president himself.

While the fight has focused on repealing Obamacare, locally there have been efforts to preserve the ACA.

Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature Tuesday held a press conference urging County Executive Ed Mangano to review the impact a repeal would have on residents. One day earlier, Suffolk County Democrats held a similar event, arguing that low-income families, seniors, and those suffering from addiction could be left out in the cold.

“Don’t be fooled: The plan right now will take people’s health care away, which will lead to death for many people,” said Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “Health care should be a right. What is happening right now in Congress is a travesty.”

Grassroots groups are also getting in on the action. Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin and New York’s 2nd District Democrats, two groups that emerged out of Trump’s election victory, planned separate rallies calling on Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) to vote “No” on the new bill. New York’s 2nd District Democrats plan to demonstrate outside King’s Massapequa Park office Wednesday night.

Related Stories:

GOP Health Care Plan Raises Serious Concerns For LI & NY, Say Rep. King & Experts

Cuomo: Obamacare Repeal Would Hurt Nearly 300K Long Islanders

Trump’s Repeal Of Obamacare Would Profoundly Impact Long Island

FBI Director Confirms Russia-Trump Campaign Probe, Refutes Obama Wiretap Claim

wiretap

 

 

FBI Director James Comey on Monday acknowledged an investigation into possible links between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government amid a larger probe into Russian interference while he also quashed claims that President Obama had directed surveillance at Trump or Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Appearing before members of the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said it’s atypical for the agency to comment on ongoing investigations aside from “unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so…this is one of those circumstances.”

Comey, who had drawn the ire of Democrats for his comments about Hillary Clinton’s email investigation during the presidential election, said the FBI has been investigating the Russian government’s alleged efforts to interfere in the election since July, along with possible links of any individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russia. He characterized Russia’s efforts as “loud” and warned they’d likely try to hack elections in the future.

Under questioning from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) about Trump’s charge that his predecessor wiretapped Trump Tower, Comey refuted the current president’s assertions.

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said, adding that the Department of Justice had arrived at the same conclusion.

That a sitting FBI director was called to address unfounded claims from a president that seemingly materialized out of nowhere was highly unusual.

The remarks set off a firestorm and led to similarly unfounded allegations of the Obama administration enlisting GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, to spy on Trump, which NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers testified was unsubstantiated.

“I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity,” Rogers said. The British agency called Trump’s claim “utterly ridiculous.”

The assertion that British intelligence was involved in spying operations on behalf of the United States first appeared on Fox News, which White House spokesman Sean Spicer repeated last week during a press briefing. Spicer’s remarks set off a political squabble that ended with the White House agreeing not to reference the claim again.

The hearing comes as the president continues to face questions about any ties his campaign had to Russia, which intelligence agencies believe was involved in the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential election. The leaks included emails from Clinton’s campaign chair and seemed to bolster public mistrust of Clinton, which dogged her throughout the campaign.

Comey’s acknowledgment of an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia ensures that the controversy will continue to hang over the administration just as it hoped to concentrate on its drastic health care overhaul and its pro-defense budget proposal. Comey could not offer a timetable as to when the probe will be completed. He also declined repeatedly to go into specifics or to discuss particular individuals.

He did, however, provide insight into how authorities obtain a so-called “FISA warrant” for electronic surveillance.

“It’s a rigorous, rigorous process,” said Comey, adding that authorities must show probable cause and a federal judge must sign off.

No president can unilaterally order electronic eavesdropping of any individual, the FBI chief testified.

Monday’s hearing marked the first occasion when Comey discussed the Russian investigation in public. At one point, he noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin held such disdain for Clinton that he wanted her opponent to win, comparing it to detractors of the New England Patriots, the NFL team which Comey said he loathes, rooting for the other side.

“They wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her and help him,” Comey testified, adding that one of Russia’s goals is to undermine American democracy.

In his press briefing Monday, Spicer did not back away from Trump’s claims. He said reporters were taking the president too literally when he referenced wiretapping. As for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, Spicer said no evidence was presented at the hearing to indicate any direct ties.

“Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things,” Spicer said.

While Democrats on the committee sought to undercut Trump’s remarks about Obama, Republicans tried to highlight the grave nature of the leaks regarding classified information and safeguards under FISA meant to protect identities of U.S. citizens. Specifically, some members were referring to Trump’s short-lived National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after just a few weeks in office when phone conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States came to light. The administration said Flynn’s ouster was related to his lying about the phone call to Vice President Mike Pence.

“I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information, is it?” asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

“It’s a serious crime,” Comey responded.

The FBI director has been the focus of criticism from Democrats over his handling of the Clinton e-mail scandal. The first round of critiques began in July when Comey slammed Clinton in a letter for her being “extremely careless” while clearing her of wrongdoing. Then, days before November’s presidential election, Comey said the Clinton investigation was reopened, only to yet again reveal that there was nothing wrong afoot.

In his opening remarks Monday in Congress, Comey cautioned the public not to make comparisons between current and past investigations, but he did so without referencing Clinton.

Pols: Brookhaven National Lab Possible Victim of Trump Budget Cuts

Brookhaven National Lab
The Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC (STAR) is a detector which specializes in tracking the thousands of particles produced by each ion collision at RHIC. Weighing 1,200 tons and as large as a house, STAR is a massive detector. It is used to search for signatures of the form of matter that RHIC was designed to create: the quark-gluon plasma. It is also used to investigate the behavior of matter at high energy densities by making measurements over a large area. (Photo Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Long Island’s premier scientific research center could lose millions in federal aid under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, lawmakers warned Friday.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held a press conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton in which he raised concern over the potential loss of funds as part of Trump’s proposed $900 million cut to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The lab, which falls under the purview of the Energy Department, employs close to 3,000 people, many of them decorated scientists. BNL in recent years has received more than $540 million in federal funds from the various agencies that support scientific research, including the Energy Department’s Office of Science.

“This major Department of Energy budget cut is a cut to our future, a cut to our knowledge, a cut to our research and a cut to good-paying Long Island jobs,” Schumer said. “Brookhaven National Lab is home to some of the world’s brightest minds and most cutting-edge innovations, which both advance human knowledge and spur our economy.”

Trump released the first budget proposal of his presidency this week, and it features more robust spending for defense and significant cuts to the State Department and environmental initiatives. A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Long Island and Connecticut have already called on new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, to ensure funding for Long Island Sound protection projects remains in place.

Among the signatories to the letter to Pruitt was Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) who on Friday said he “strongly” opposes potential cuts to BNL and other research centers in his district, including Stony Brook University.

“Throughout the years, we have seen some of the world’s greatest science research conducted at these facilities,” said Zeldin, adding that he supported more funding for national security and veterans care.

Federal funding for BNL helps the lab conduct cutting-edge research to improve the country’s energy security and is an important economic engine and job creator, Schumer argued.

Loss of federal aid could put a strain on projects like X-ray imaging and the lab’s highly touted Relativistic Ion Collider, which allows scientists from around the world to study the universe’s makeup as it was shortly after its creation.

The president’s budget still needs to go through the legislative process, and it’s possible the budget could take on a different form once Congress has an opportunity to scrutinize the package offered by the administration.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday came out in vehement opposition to Trump’s budget, criticizing certain cuts as anathema to American values.

“Enacting this bill would mark a fundamental transformation in what America stands for, and what role our country plays in the world,” Cuomo said. “We have always maintained a strong military, but we have always offered the world more than arms. The Lady in the Harbor does not brandish her fist at the world; she raises a light.”

Judge Uses Trump’s Own Words Against Him in Nationwide Halt of Travel Ban

Trump travel ban Getty Images

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, proclaimed that Islam hates the United States, and admitted months later that his proposed ban had morphed into “extreme vetting from certain areas of the world.”

Trump’s controversial remarks about a religion worshiped by 1.6 billion people worldwide endeared him further to his supporters, but those same words are coming back to haunt him now that he’s president.

In a stinging rebuke to his second attempt to block mostly Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii placed a temporary hold on the president’s executive order just hours before it was to go into effect. Overnight, a federal judge in Maryland overseeing a separate challenge to the ban put a hold on the order’s 90-day prohibition for new visas.

Watson’s sweeping decision marks yet another blow to the young administration’s attempt to restrict travel among immigrants, 15 months after then-candidate Trump first proposed his now infamous Muslim ban.

The executive order, which was signed March 6, would’ve prohibited for 90 days the issuance of new visas from six Muslim-majority countries and put a hold on the nation’s entire refugee resettlement program.

Watson not only considered the executive order as written, but surprisingly, its intent, which he ruled violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting religious hostility. The ruling is a win for not only the state of Hawaii, whose state attorney general sued the administration, but also civil rights groups who’ve remained adamant that the bans were implicitly biased against Muslims.

“[T]he Executive Order causes harm by stigmatizing not only immigrants and refugees, but also Muslim citizens of the United States,” Watson wrote in his 43-page decision.

The ruling surprised many observers, who considered the administration’s changes to the original order would’ve made it more difficult for potential plaintiffs to argue standing in court.

Watson considered 15 months worth of remarks on the topic made by Trump and his associates, including his senior advisor Stephen Miller and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

In his decision, Watson cited a handful of comments from Trump, including his Dec. 7, 2015 press release calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and the slayings in San Bernardino, Calif.

“I think Islam hates us,” Trump said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on March 9, 2016. Asked if there was a war between the West and Islam, Trump responded: “It’s very hard to separate because you don’t know who’s who.”

Pressed last July on whether he was softening his stance on Muslim immigration, Trump clarified his position.

“I don’t think it’s a [pull-back]. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion,” he said. “I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”

In a presidential debate last October, Trump was asked if he remained tethered to the concept of a Muslim ban.

“The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into a[n] extreme vetting from certain areas of the world,” he replied.

Trump was not the only person to undercut the administration’s argument in the eyes of the court.

Watson recalled Giuliani’s remarks on Fox News after the first ban was instituted, in which he admitted Trump sought advice on how to legally implement a “Muslim ban.”

“When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban,’” Giuliani said. “He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”

On Feb. 21, Miller, Trump’s senior advisor, told Fox News that the new ban mirrored the first.

“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court and those will be addressed,” Miller said. “But in terms of protecting the country, those basic policies are still going to be in effect.”

Remarkably, Trump on Wednesday night called the new ban a “watered down” version of the original, which could perhaps further undermine the administration’s ability to convince a future judge to overturn the restraining order. During a speech in Tennessee, Trump slammed the decision an example of “judicial overreach” and vowed to fight the ruling by taking the case “as far as it needs to go.”

That Watson so resoundingly disregarded the government’s argument was a surprise to some. The administration tried to avoid another unfavorable ruling by eliminating references to religious minorities, adding language to protect legal U.S. residents, including Green Card holders, and by shutting down entirely the nation’s refugee resettlement program.

The administration has argued that the president has broad authority to decide who’s allowed into the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Watson, however, said it was within the court’s powers to consider the motives of the government, which administration lawyers cautioned against.

“The government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the ‘veiled psyche’ and ‘secret motives’ of government decisionmakers and may not undertake a ‘judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts,’” Watson wrote. “The government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release:

“‘Donald Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.’”

Forecasters Warn of Frozen Slush on Long Island

Long Island polar vortex

Watch out for frozen snow and slush left over from Tuesday’s nor’easter.

That’s the message from forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Upton office, as temperatures will remain in the low 20s throughout the day.

“As a result, untreated surfaces will be very slippery, and extra caution should be used while out and about today,” the weather service said in a special weather statement.

Wednesday will also feature strong wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour capable of bringing down slush-covered branches and power lines, forecasters said. The evening forecast calls for a low of 17 degrees and continued wind gusts.

PSEG Long Island said only 2-percent of its customers lost power due to the storm. As of Wednesday morning, approximately 100 ratepayers were without power.

While Long Island escaped the worst of the storm’s wrath—a predicted 24 inches on LI—what was left over was a frozen mess, including a mixture of snow and slush. The storm featured a wintry mix that officials warned could pose a danger to drivers.

Wednesday’s commute appeared to get off to a good start with the Long Island Rail Road reporting normal service in the morning aside for temporary delays on the Port Washington branch.

The storm caused thousands of flight cancellations across the East Coast, including at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. On Wednesday, both airports were reporting weather-related flight disruptions.

For those flying out of LaGuardia, the airport urged travelers to “budget extra time” until Friday in order to accommodate rebooked passengers from cancelled flights.

Bus service is Nassau and Suffolk counties were running normal routes but delays are expected due to icy conditions.

As for the rest of the week, forecasters are calling for sunny skies Thursday with a high near 33 and wind gusts of up to 34 mph. The temperature will rise slightly Friday, peaking at 39 degrees. Saturday could bring a mix of rain and snow.

What’s Next for Long Island? Rain, Wind & Falling Temps

Long Island may have been spared the worst of the monstrous nor’easter whopping the East Coast but the wintry mix, strong wind gusts and impending plunging temperatures won’t make for a fun evening or, for that matter, a generally comfortable commute for those heading home.

As day transitions to night on Long Island, residents can expect rain and breezy conditions with gusts of more than 30 miles per hour. Meanwhile, the temperature will drop to a low of 21, with the wind chill between 10 and 20 degrees, forecasters said.

Officials throughout the day urged residents not to take the storm lightly, as the wintry mix that characterized most of the storm could transform into black ice. The message: Don’t be fooled by passable roads.

“The snow has actually turned into more of a sleet and rain and that is expected to continue throughout the day and into the evening,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a stopover in Dix Hills.

“That does not mean that it is safe to go out,” he continued. “The roads are very, very nasty and the roads are very dangerous. We are still clearing the roads, many of them are filled with sleet and slush and it is very important for us to get the roads cleaned before the weather drops tonight and that slush freezes.”

The consensus among officials Tuesday was that tightly packed slush creates less-favorable conditions than even more than a foot of snow. The concern is that the mixture of sleet, ice, and freezing rain could convert into all ice as the temperature drops, thus forming sheets of black ice.

Their concerns notwithstanding, officials expressed relief that predictions of blizzard conditions did not manifest.

“I for one am very happy when we have the occasional storm that comes in a little less than predicted and that’s what we’ve had here,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “We talked all day yesterday about the fact that we are on the edge of the storm here. Predictions up to 18, even two feet in some areas but this is what happens with the weather, it can shift, and we saw that happen here and the accumulations here were less than predicted just yesterday.”

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano noted how the Island “dodged the blizzard bullet,” while urging residents not to be deceived by the unimpressive snowfall.

“We’re fighting sleet, dropping temperatures, black ice,” said Mangano, who in October pleaded not guilty to bribery charges. “And those are the major concerns. There’s been a number of accidents in Nassau County.”

With numbers coming in from the Long Island Rail Road Tuesday, it appeared as if commuters heeded warnings to stay home. Ridership was only at 15 percent of what it usually is during the week, officials said. Despite the sustained wintry mix falling over the region, the LIRR operated Tuesday mostly close to schedule.

Later in the day, however, the LIRR was experiencing some weather-related cancellations and limited delays on at least two branches.

The storm impacted a large swath of the East Coast, knocking out power to thousands and paralyzing airports.

PSEG Long Island said more than 3,000 people were without power in the late afternoon.

Almost all flights were cancelled out of LaGuardia Airport Tuesday, and John F. Kennedy Airport saw two-thirds of its flights cancelled, with that number climbing.

Long Island and New York City escaped the worst of the storm’s wrath as it made a westward shift in the early morning.

The storm comes within less than a week left of winter and off the third-warmest February on record.

Mangano joked earlier in the day about the wild winter: 60 degrees one day, he said, and a winter storm the next.

“You know, extreme weather is a new reality,” said Cuomo. “My father was governor for 12 years. I’ve been governor for about six years. I’ve had twice the number of federal disasters than my father had in one half the time.”

(Photo credit: NY Governor’s office)

LI ‘Dodged Blizzard Bullet,’ But Officials Still Urge Caution

Officials on Long Island expressed relief Tuesday that a powerful nor’easter shifted, sparing nearly 3 million people of blizzard conditions, but they remained cautious about the threat posed by a wintry mix and powerful wind gusts.

“We basically dodged a blizzard bullet, but it’s still hazardous conditions out there,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said at a press conference Tuesday.

With high amounts of accumulation no longer posing a significant threat to the Island, officials warned of a false sense of security. The roads are treacherous due to a combination of ice, sleet, and freezing rain, and a possible conversion to snow later could make matters worse, officials said.

Mangano said police counted 30 car accidents, including an overturned vehicle, several fender benders, and spin outs. The county was also receiving reports of downed trees.

The storm has proved challenging because it was impacting northern and southern Nassau differently, said Mangano, who last year pleaded not guilty to bribery charges.

There’s always concern, he said, “until the storm stops.”

In Suffolk, county officials also welcomed the downgraded forecast but urged residents to remain off the roads so crews could continue to tackle the storm.

“This is different than the trend we’ve seen in most of the storms we’ve had this season, where the eastern end of Long Island…has gotten hit harder,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “So we’ve gotten a little bit of a break here. But I want to caution people who look out the window and see that the roads are passable, that there isn’t significant accumulation on the roads. Those roads are still slick and icy.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said 911 call volume was down, a product, he suggested, of people heeding warnings to remain indoors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the storm was less disruptive for Long Island and New York City, noting, however, that the nor’easter’s westward track did not bode well for upstate communities.

“Mother Nature can be an unpredictable lady, and she was once again today,” Cuomo said during a press conference in Dix Hills.

He cautioned residents not to be deceived by the lack of snow.

“That does not mean it is safe to go out,” he said. “The roads are very, very nasty and the roads are very dangerous.”

The concern now is that the wintry mix could freeze, creating sheets of black ice on roadways, Mangano said.

“It is hazardous out there on the roadway,” he said. “Sometimes the snow is better than this wintry mix.”

(Photo credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)