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Trump washes hands of lingering border separation crisis

President Donald Trump speaks to the media as

President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he walks to Marine One before leaving Washington on Tuesday for a week-long trip to Europe with stops in Brussels, London, Scotland and Helsinki.  Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/SAUL LOEB

The buck stops there

Donald Trump says don't blame him for the government's fitful, stumbling efforts to rewind his abandoned policy of separating migrant parents from their children at the Mexican border.

"Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That's the solution," Trump said when asked about blown deadlines as he was leaving on his trip to Europe. The mess won't be cleaned up before he returns next week.

About 50 children separated from their parents at the Mexican border were due to be back with their moms and dads Tuesday, but thousands more will have to keep waiting.

The government said it could arrange reunions for only about half of the children younger than 5 who were supposed to be returned to their parents under court order. Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego said there had been “real progress,” but warned Justice Department lawyers: "These are firm deadlines. They're not aspirational goals."

The government faces a more daunting deadline — July 26 — for reuniting the 2,000 or so children age 5 and older. Nine kids in that category being cared for at MercyFirst in Syosset are in “a holding pattern,” its president, Gerard McCaffery, told Newsday’s Bart Jones.

“The focus has been to reunite the kids under 5,” McCaffery said, so little progress has been made on reuniting the older ones.

On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles rejected the administration's efforts to detain immigrant families for an extended period. A longtime court settlement says children who cross the border illegally cannot be detained for more than 20 days. The bid to change that, said Judge Dolly Gee, was "a cynical attempt" to shift responsibility to the court "for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate."

Friends like these

The table is set for a food fight at the NATO summit in Brussels. Trump suggested on his way out of Washington that he is looking forward more to meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin than with the allies.

 “So I have NATO, I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?” 

Trump, asked if Putin was a “friend or foe” to the United States, said he regarded the Russian leader as “a competitor." He praised British pol Boris Johnson, who just quit Prime Minister Theresa May's government, as a "friend," and said he might speak to him while there.

The Europeans expect to get an earful from Trump for coming up short on military spending and unfair trade. Their response might be: Right back at ya.

In a speech before Trump arrived, European council president Donald Tusk said: “Dear America, appreciate your allies. After all you don’t have that many." Alluding to Trump's courtship of Putin, Tusk said the U.S. president should know "who is his strategic friend and who is his strategic problem."

For more on Trump's trip, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Roads to Moscow 

Back when other institutions shied away from financing a sputtering Trump organization, Deutsche Bank stepped in. And as frequently noted in the context of current federal investigations, the bank  has strong ties to Russia and a cooperation agreement with a Russian-owned state bank.

So it was intereresting to hear Trump early Wednesday cite Germany's joint pipeline venture with Russia to buttress another of his evidence-free accusations -- that the government of Prime Minister Angela Merkel is "totally controlled" and "captive to Russia." 

Merkel responded: "I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.

"That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany.”

Full-court press

Democrats declared an all-out battle to block the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — who could become the court’s decisive conservative vote — as he began making the rounds Tuesday on Capitol Hill, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

“I’m going to fight this nomination with everything I’ve got,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) 

Along with concerns that Kavanaugh would become a decisive vote to roll back abortion rights and health care protections, Schumer said the nominee's writings suggest he would be "a barrier" if special counsel Robert Mueller tries to subpoena Trump in the Russia investigation.

Two crucial GOP moderates, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and a handful of Democrats remained open to supporting Kavanaugh.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was confident Kavanaugh could be confirmed in the fall. Democrats could try to prolong the process by demanding access and review of  thousands of Kavanaugh's records from his time as a prosecutor, a White House aide under George W. Bush and a federal judge.

They did start the fire

Trump pardoned two Oregon ranchers whose imprisonment for setting fires on public lands led armed anti-government sympathizers to seize a federal wildlife refuge in a 41-day standoff.

A statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and prosecutors during the Obama administration were "overzealous" in pressing for Dwight and Steven Hammond to serve the 5-year mandatory minimum sentences for arson.

"The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West," she said.

Prosecutors said Steven Hammond set one of the fires to cover up an illegal deer hunt on federal land. A wildlife group leader hoped the pardon "is not seen as an encouragement to those who might use violence to seize federal property and threaten federal employees in the West."

Pfizer tastes Trump's medicine

Pfizer announced on Tuesday it would postpone drug price hikes after an "extensive" conversation between the company's CEO and Trump, who ripped the pharmaceutical company on Twitter a day earlier.

The company said it would defer price increases effective July 1 to give Trump "an opportunity to work on his blueprint to strengthen the health care system and provide more access for patients."

Trump had touted imminent "massive, voluntary" drug price cuts back in May, only to see costs move in the opposite direction.  

"We applaud Pfizer for this decision and desire other companies do the same," Trump said in a new tweet.

 What else is happening:

  • The U.S. Embassy in London issued an alert to Americans there to “keep a low profile” during Trump’s visit to the U.K. in case protests against him turn violent. More than 50,000 people have signed up to demonstrate in London on Friday.
  • Why was Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross more than eight months late in divesting one of  the stock holdings he had pledged to sell? He told the Office of Government Ethics that he overlooked the stock, worth between $50,000 and $100,000, because it was under the name Wilbur L. Ross, while the others didn’t have his middle initial, The Washington Post reported.
  • Trump said he still has the CD of Elton John's "Rocket Man" that he wants to give to North Korea's Kim Jong Un. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought it with him to Pyongyang last week, but didn't get to see Kim. "I have it for him, they didn't give it, but it will be given at a certain time," Trump said.
  • At the request of Mueller’s office, a federal judge agreed to put off the sentencing of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is cooperating with prosecutors as part of his plea deal for having lied to investigators. Meanwhile, an international lobbying firm said it had hired Flynn and then pulled back the announcement hours later, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Rudy Giuliani's continued work on behalf of foreign clients while serving as Trump’s personal attorney raises conflict-of-interest concerns and could run afoul of federal ethics laws, experts on the subject told The Washington Post.
  • A Senate committee, on a voice vote, approved Trump's nomination of Robert Wilkie, now a Pentagon undersecretary, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. There was no Democratic opposition. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was absent, asked to be recorded as a no.

 

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