Video director quits conservative site in protest

A video producer for the conservative media site Independent Journal Review is quitting over concerns with the direction of the company, a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO.

Colin Chocola, director of IJR’s video department, put in his two-week notice on Monday. Chocola is the second staffer to quit the site over its direction in recent weeks. Earlier this month congressional correspondent Joe Perticone quit because he felt as though his credibility as a reporter was damaged by the actions of other writers on the site.

Perticone’s decision to leave was directly tied to a since-retracted post published that attempted to draw a connection between former President Barack Obama’s trip to Hawaii and a Hawaiian judge’s ruling on President Donald Trump’s travel ban — a suggestion also pushed by conspiracy-theory sites like InfoWars.

Last week, the site suspended and issued other punishments to the three staffers who allowed the post to publish. The conspiracy-theory fueled post landed as IJR, which is owned by the heads of Republican consulting firm IMGE, was coming under increasing scrutiny after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hand-picked an IJR White House reporter to accompany him on his first trip to Asia as secretary. In a breach of decades of tradition and protocol, Tillerson chose not to allow the State Department press corps to travel with him, leaving them to follow him on their own and not spend time with him on his plane, when past press secretaries often cultivated relationships with reporters.

The person familiar with Chocola’s departure said his displeasure with the direction of IJR predates both the Obama post and Tillerson’s decision to favor the site over other media.

And other staffers at IJR share his concerns and are looking to leave, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

IJR spokesperson Matt Manda declined to comment on Chocola, instead pointing to four new hires the site has made including junior writer Josh Billinson, copy editor Ryan DesMarais, deputy of editorial operations Summer Ratcliff and breaking news writer Justin Baragona.

Hadas Gold is a reporter at Politico.

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Spicer compares GOP health care bill to a ‘bad deal’

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday likened President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the House Republican proposal to repeal Obamacare — which Trump had supported — to walking away from a “bad deal.”

“The president also recognizes that when there’s not a deal to be made, when to walk away,” Spicer told reporters at Monday afternoon’s daily briefing, describing how the president used his business acumen to make the call on the health care fight. “It’s not just about making deals. It’s knowing when to walk away from deals and knowing [that] when there’s a bad deal, that’s the only solution.”

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The first legislative battle of Trump’s presidency ended Friday with the GOP’s failure to make good on its seven-year pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

Trump had pushed for the Republican replacement legislation and initially demanded a vote on it, but it hemorrhaged support on Friday from both the party’s right and centrist flanks, prompting GOP leaders to pull it from the House floor. When he conceded defeat on the measure in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump still praised the failed bill, though he suggested without offering specifics that he thought it could have been improved.

Spicer, though, implied on Monday that Trump believed that passing the legislation would have required deviating from his “vision.”

“I think the president understood that where we were, that while you can get a deal at the time, that sometimes a bad deal is worse than getting a deal,” Spicer continued. “And I think he smartly recognized that what was on the table was not going to be keeping with the vision that he had, and so he decided that this was not the time and that a deal was not at hand.”

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Trump travel ban case could be on fast track to appeals court’s full bench

The full, 15-judge bench of a federal appeals court is considering taking up the legality of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban executive order.

A federal judge in Maryland blocked a key part of Trump’s directive earlier this month, prompting the Justice Department to appeal the injunction to the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Typically, appeals go to a three-judge panel, but in an order Monday the 4th Circuit asked both sides in the case to address whether the court’s full bench should hear the appeal in the first instance.

“The parties are directed to file responses to this order….stating their position on the appropriateness of initial en banc review in this case,” the court’s clerk said. The position papers are due by Thursday.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer representing the refugee-aid groups pursuing the lawsuit declined to offer an immediate comment.

The 4th Circuit had previously signaled that the appeal would be heard by a three-judge panel on May 8, although a ruling on a government request to stay U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang’s injunction could come sooner. If the 4th Circuit decides to take the case en banc, the timing of any argument could change due to the logistics involved in gathering a larger number of judges.

The 4th Circuit’s active judges consist of nine Democratic appointees, five Republican appointees and one judge who was recess appointed by President Bill Clinton, but later re-nominated and confirmed under President George W. Bush.

While Chuang blocked Trump’s halt to issuance of visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, a federal judge in Hawaii issued an even broader restraining order, blocking the visa ban, a suspension of refugee admissions worldwide and several internal studies Trump’s order demanded.

The Justice Department has yet to file an appeal as proceedings in that case go forward before the district court judge.

Last week, a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, declined to halt Trump’s second travel ban order. The plaintiffs in that case have vowed to file an appeal, which would also go to the 4th Circuit and might be consolidated with the Maryland case.

Josh Gerstein is a senior reporter for POLITICO.

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White House: Nunes has been ‘fairly open with the press’ about his surveillance source

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was cagey on Monday as he answered questions about the reasons for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ visit to the White House one day before his announcement of evidence showing officials from President Donald Trump’s transition team had been inadvertently surveilled.

Spicer downplayed any notion that the two were connected and generally referred questions about Nunes’s activities to the congressman’s office.

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“You can’t ask someone to do a review of the situation and then sort of create inferences that because they’re reviewing a situation that there’s something, you know, that’s not right about that,” Spicer said at his Monday press briefing. “He is reviewing a situation. He did exactly what — and I think he’s been fairly open with the press as far as what he was doing, who he spoke to and why.”

An aide to Nunes (R-Calif.) confirmed Monday that the intelligence committee chairman met a source on the “White House grounds” before making his announcement last week regarding surveillance of Trump transition aides. The aide said Nunes’ meeting was held at the White House in order to ensure access to a secure location. It remained unclear with whom Nunes met, but speculation has swirled that his source for last week’s announcement was the Trump administration.

Asked if he could rule out that Nunes’ source had been in the White House, Spicer declined to do so and said “anything is possible.” Citing Nunes’ public statements, Spicer said the California lawmaker had drawn on multiple sources that impacted his ultimate announcement.

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Spicer: Trump ‘eager’ for legislative wins

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“I think there’s a point at which both parties can look back and figure out whether or not it’s worth engaging,” Sean Spicer said. | Getty

After failing to shepherd a health care bill through a single chamber of Congress, President Donald Trump is “eager” to have major legislation advance through the House of Representatives, press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.

Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan suffered a political defeat at the hands of their own party last week when they pulled a Friday vote on a measure to repeal and replace Obamacare once it became clear that it lacked enough GOP support to pass.

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Trump has since blamed Democrats, despite their immediate and unanimous opposition, but signaled a willingness to work across the aisle to advance his agenda, which includes tax reform and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

“I think there’s a point at which both parties can look back and figure out whether or not it’s worth engaging,” Spicer told reporters Monday. “I think the president, as I mentioned, is eager to get to 218 on lot of his initiatives — whether it’s tax reform, infrastructure, there’s a lot of things, and I think that he is going to be willing to listen to other voices on the other side to figure out if people want to work with him to get these big things done, to make Washington work, to enhance the lives of the American people, then he’s gonna work with them.”

Spicer pointed to the president’s meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus last week as an example of Trump’s overtures to Democrats. The caucus met with Trump on Wednesday to discuss issues affecting the African-American community.

“I think he had a great meeting with the CBC the other day, for example, where he talked about infrastructure, he talked about loans and small business lending, education,” Spicer said. “There are things that he is willing to engage individuals with or groups or caucuses to get to 218 and further advance his agenda.”

Spicer rejected the notion that working with Democrats would undermine Ryan’s job security as House speaker by freezing out the House Freedom Caucus, the ultra-conservative bloc of lawmakers that essentially sank the GOP’s proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare and ousted former House Speaker John Boehner.

“It’s not about undermining anybody,” Spicer said. “It’s about moving the agenda forward and getting things done.”

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