Petraeus: We pull out of Iran deal, we likely isolate ourselves more than Iran

Former CIA Director David Petraeus said Wednesday that if the U.S. decides to nullify the 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers, the move would likely isolate the U.S. more than it does Tehran.

Trump has called the agreement “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Reuters reported that the Trump administration is reviewing the deal, which could take months.

Petraeus, now a chairman of the KKR Global Institute, made the remarks at the Montgomery Summit, a tech investors meeting in Los Angeles. Petraeus pointed to some positives from the deal, including the reduction of Tehran’s atomic activities.

Yukiya Amano, the head of the U.N. agency monitoring the Iran nuclear deal, said Monday that he emphasized the benefits of the pact in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He said he is confident his message was heard.

The issue is important because Trump promised to “tear up” the pact during campaigning, saying it fell short of the aim of sufficiently crimping Tehran’s nuclear programs.

Amano said he told Tillerson last week that because of the deal the IAEA now has the “strongest verification” tools to monitor Tehran’s atomic activities. As well, he said, “the nuclear activities of Iran are reduced.”

The Associated Press contribute to this report

Jennifer Lopez Liked This Photo of Alex Rodriguez Hours Before News of Their Relationship Broke

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Alex Rodriguez/Instagram

Jennifer Lopez is really into her new beau.

The singer liked a photo Alex Rodriguez posted on Instagram on Wednesday, just hours before it was revealed the two superstars were dating.

The Shades of Blue star, who follows him on Instagram, has liked several of the former baseball player’s posts on the social media app, especially photos where he appears with his daughters, Natasha, 12, and Ella, 8.

Rodriguez has yet to follow the “Get Right” singer on Instagram.

RELATED VIDEO: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez Are Dating

A source confirmed the relationship to PEOPLE, saying the two “have been dating for a few weeks.”

“She seems excited,” a source close to Lopez told PEOPLE. “He has been around her family and she really likes that he is a dad. She is aware, though, that he is a ladies’ man too and is being cautious. For now, it’s just fun. She is single and enjoys dating.”

A rep for Rodriguez had no comment while a rep for Lopez has yet to comment.

Rodriguez, 41, recently ended his relationship with Silicon Valley CEO Anne Wojcicki in February after dating for just under a year. He has previously dated Kate Hudson andCameron Diaz, among other high profile A-listers.

Meanwhile, Lopez broke things off with Drake after a source who knows both of the entertainers told PEOPLE it was never an official relationship.

Even though Lopez is in a new relationship, she revealed in a recent appearance on The Real that her children, twins Max and Emme, 9, are her main priority.

“You know, they’re always first,” Lopez says in the clip. “When you put them first, then everybody else understands the hierarchy.”

Illegal border crossings decrease by 40 percent in Trump’s first month, report says

The number of people illegally crossing the U.S. southern border has dropped 40 percent in President Trump’s first full month in office, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported that the number of illegal border crossings dropped from 31,578 to 18,762 persons. Kelly said border agents usually see a 10 to 20 percent increase in illegal immigrant apprehensions from January to February.

“The drop in apprehensions shows a marked change in trends,” Kelly said. “Since the administration’s implementation of executive orders to enforce immigration laws, apprehensions and inadmissible activity is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years.”

The new numbers are welcoming news for Trump who campaigned on illegal immigration crackdown.

Trump signed an executive order increasing border security and authorizing the construction of his promised border wall along the southern border in the first few days of his presidency. Trump also seeks to hire about 5,000 additional border patrol officials and 10,000 ICE agents and seeks to fast-track deportations.

“We will remain vigilant to respond to any changes in these trends, as numbers of illegal crossings typically increase between March and May,” Kelly said. “However, the early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact.”

House panel approves GOP ObamaCare replacement bill

Republicans on a pivotal House committee scored an initial triumph in their effort to scuttle former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, using a pre-dawn vote Thursday to abolish the tax penalty his statute imposes on people who don’t purchase insurance and reshaping how millions of Americans buy medical care.

Yet the Ways and Means panel’s approval of health care legislation only masked deeper problems Republican backers face. Hospitals, doctors and consumer groups mounted intensifying opposition to the GOP health care drive and the White House and Republican leaders labored to rally a divided party behind their high-stakes overhaul crusade.

The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and AARP, the nation’s largest advocacy group for older people, were arrayed against the measure. Seven years ago their backing was instrumental in enacting Obama’s health care statute, which President Donald Trump and Republicans are intent on erasing.

The hospitals — major employers in many districts — wrote lawmakers complaining about the bill’s cuts in Medicaid and other programs and said more uninsured Americans seem likely, adding, “We ask Congress to protect our patients.” Groups representing public, children’s, Catholic and other hospitals also expressed opposition.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, representing insurers, praised the legislation’s elimination of health industry taxes but warned that proposed Medicaid changes “could result in unnecessary disruptions in the coverage and care beneficiaries depend on.”

In epic sessions that began Wednesday morning, Ways and Means worked till nearly 4:30 a.m. EST before approving the final batch of tax provisions in a party-line 23-16 vote. The Energy and Commerce Committee panel continued working, tackling a reshaping of Medicaid.

GOP leaders faced rebellion within their own ranks, including from conservative lawmakers and outside conservative groups claiming the bill took too timid a whack at Obama’s law. Numerous GOP centrists and governors were also antagonistic, worried their states could lose Medicaid payments and face higher costs for hospitals having to treat growing numbers of uninsured people.

Top Republicans knew if the upheaval should snowball and crush the legislation it would be a shattering defeat for Trump and the GOP, so leaders hoped approval by both House committees would fuel momentum.

In words aimed at recalcitrant colleagues, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters: “This is what good, conservative health care reform looks like. It is bold and it is long overdue, and it is us fulfilling our promises.” The last was a nod to campaign pledges by Trump and many GOP congressional candidates.

Outnumbered Democrats used the panels’ meetings for political messaging, futilely offering amendments aimed at preventing the bill from raising deficits, kicking people off coverage or boosting consumers’ out-of-pocket costs. They tried unsuccessfully to insert language pressuring President Donald Trump to release his income tax returns, and failed to prevent Republicans from restoring insurance companies’ tax deductions for executive salaries above $500,000 — a break Obama’s law killed.

There were signs of growing White House engagement, and perhaps progress.

Trump met at the White House late Wednesday with leaders of six conservative groups that have opposed the GOP legislation, and several voiced optimism afterward.

“I’m encouraged that the president indicated they’re pushing to make changes in the bill,” said David McIntosh, head of the Club for Growth, though he provided no specifics.

Underscoring Trump’s potential impact, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said of GOP holdouts, “A lot of them, they maybe haven’t felt the inertia that comes with Air Force One landing in their district.”

The legislation would defang Obama’s requirement that everyone buy insurance — a provision deeply disliked by Republicans — by repealing the tax fines imposed on those who don’t. That penalty has been a stick aimed at pressing healthy people to purchase policies. The bill would replace income-based subsidies Obama provided with tax credits based more on age, and insurers would charge higher premiums for customers who drop coverage for over two months

The extra billions Washington has sent states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program would begin ending in 2020, and spending on the entire program would be capped at per-patient limits. Around $600 billion in 10-year tax boosts that Obama’s statute imposed on wealthy Americans and others to finance his overhaul would be repealed. Insurers could charge older customers five times more than younger ones instead of the current 3-1 limit, but would still be required to include children up to age 26 in family policies, and they would be barred from imposing annual or lifetime benefit caps.

“We will answer President Trump’s call to action,” said Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, adding later, “Relief is on the way.”

Democrats said the Republicans would yank health coverage from many of the 20 million Americans who gained it under Obama’s statute, and drive up costs for others because the GOP tax breaks would be skimpier than existing subsidies. And they accused Republicans of hiding bad news by moving ahead without official estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on the bill’s cost to taxpayers and anticipated coverage.

“You can expect more town hall meetings you won’t want to go to,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., a reference to liberal activists who hounded Republicans during last month’s recess.

Tuning out Trump’s tweets? Time for journalists to come out of denial

We are somehow submerged again in a pointless debate that I thought had been settled: Should media people ignore Donald Trump’s tweets?

The answer, in my view, is obvious: He’s the president of the United States, everything he says is news, it doesn’t matter whether the form is a 140-character message, a YouTube video, a radio address or an answer to a shouted question while walking to Marine One.

But the argument has taken on new resonance after Trump’s tweetstorm about Barack Obama having ordered him wiretapped during the campaign, a claim for which neither he nor his top aides have offered any evidence.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper told Stephen Colbert that “I’ve actually muted the president on Twitter” because “I just don’t want to have that drama in my life.” But that was more of a joke, and Cooper made no claim that the tweets weren’t news.

Rachel Maddow told The Wrap that on her MSNBC show, “We developed sort of an informal, internal mantra… which is that we basically cover them as if they are a silent movie. I stopped covering the Twitter feed.” The reason, she said, is that “the White House and its chief spokespeople have been called out saying stuff that’s not true over and over and over again.”

Of course, Maddow and everyone else wound up covering “the Twitter feed” when Trump uncorked the wiretap allegation, because there was such an avalanche of reaction from members of Congress, the intelligence community, the media, and reporters and anchors questioning White House officials about the claim.

Now comes Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com, with a National Review piece that makes a different argument from the right.

The administration “seems divided along two channels: the rhetorical (the Sunday shows, Trump’s Twitter, Sean Spicer’s eminently watchable press conferences, profiles of Steve Bannon in Time) and the active (the executive orders, curbing of regulations, military action abroad).”

Both provide a real picture of the White House, but “here’s a suggestion. Instead of treating Trump’s rhetoric seriously, wouldn’t America be better off if we did ignore it? What if instead of going nuts over a half-baked Trump tweet for a week, we all just recognized that the tweet is what it is: a half-baked Trump tweet? What if we returned to the notion of the president as a constitutional officer with prescribed duties?”

Now it’s true, as Shapiro explains, that before FDR and the rise of modern communications, Americans didn’t know much about what their presidents were saying day to day. But we live in a real-time world now.

My problem with the forget-the-tweets approach is that journalists shouldn’t be in the business of decreeing that a president’s words aren’t news. Whether the president is saying something half-baked, quarter-baked or fully baked, such postings provide an insight into his thinking and approach to the job. And they can have an immediate impact on markets, companies, political institutions and other countries.

Even more important is the question of accountability. What if the press had decided to put off-limits some provocative, controversial or fact-challenged tweets by Barack Obama? Wouldn’t there have been an uproar on the right about how the media were protecting Obama, even censoring his words?

Shapiro does make a telling observation: “Most Americans don’t care about Trump’s rhetoric any more. He and the media have been shouting at each other so long that it all sounds like white noise now.”

Journalists often forget that everyone’s not on Twitter, everyone’s not watching cable all day, everyone’s not following all the nuances of political and policy debates. And yes, the press doesn’t need to go haywire if Trump fires off a tweet about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s demise as the “Apprentice” host.

Ultimately, the president will be judged on his performance. But it’s not the job of the press to say that his words don’t matter.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz” (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz. 

O’Reilly, Bob Woodward square off over Trump administration leaks

Bill O’Reilly and Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward faced off in a testy debate Wednesday over the Post’s reporting of classified information in stories about the Trump administration on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.”

At one point, O’Reilly asked Woodward if he believed the Post was being “used” when details of then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone calls to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. were leaked to the paper.

“Oh, wait a minute,” Woodward answered. “Come on. That’s BS.”

“Well, who put it out, Bob?” O’Reilly asked. “Who put it out?”

“I don’t know,” Woodward eventually responded, later adding “this isn’t about being used. This is about what’s true.”

Woodward, best known for helping to break the Watergate story that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, insisted that recent stories the paper had published about Flynn as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions had “been verified and … presented in a careful way that does not harm national security.”

“It’s impossible to report on foreign affairs or intelligence or what the Pentagon is doing and not deal with classified information,” Woodward told O’Reilly.

“I don’t believe that,” the host responded.

“I’ve had presidents in Republican and Democratic administrations provide information that is technically classified,” Woodward said. “And the question is, here, can it be done in a careful and fair way and I believe it has.”

“Here’s the question from me,” O’Reilly asked to close the discussion. “Does it damage the country? That’s the question from me.”

Speaker Ryan: ‘I’m really excited’ about GOP’s ObamaCare replacement

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., defended congressional Republicans’ health care bill from conservative criticism Wednesday night, telling Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that “all House Republicans participated” in drafting the legislation. 

“We spent a year working on this plan,” Ryan told host Tucker Carlson. “We all ran for Congress in 2016 on that plan … This is the legislative text of that plan that we ran in 2016 on what we would replace ObamaCare with.”

Ryan added that the plan was modeled after legislation proposed by then-Rep. Tom Price, now secretary of Health and Human Services.

House Republican leaders Wednesday began driving the bill through two key committees — Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce — but neither panel seemed close to approving the bill as the clock ticked toward midnight in Washington. 

The plan has been criticized by key industry, consumer and conservative groups — as well as the House Freedom Caucus, a group of more than 40-plus Republican lawmakers who say the bill does nothing to lower healthcare costs. 

When pressed, Ryan told Carlson that “12 Freedom Caucus members were the co-sponsors of that bill as recently as December.”

“We are going through what I would call the sort of typical growing pains from being an opposition party fighting Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to a governing party,” the Speaker added, “and now we’re translating that legislation – that plan into a bill. Look, I’m really excited.”

Utah lawmakers pass bill to lower DUI limit to 0.05 percent

Utah could soon have the strictest DUI threshold in the nation after state lawmakers on Wednesday night voted to lower the limit for a driver’s blood-alcohol content to 0.05 percent, down from 0.08 percent.

The measure heads to Utah’s governor, who has said he supports the legislation.

If Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signs the bill, it would take effect Dec. 30, 2018 — an unusual effective date for Utah laws that would ensure the harsher standard is in place before alcohol-laden celebrations on New Year’s Eve.

Supporters of the legislation said it would save lives by keeping people off the road if they’ve been drinking. A mix of lawmakers, including Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, opposed the measure. Some cited concerns that it could hurt tourism as the heavily Mormon state grapples with its reputation as an unfriendly place for drinkers.

More on this…

The proposal would mean that a 150-pound man could get a DUI after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could get one after a single drink, according to the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade group that opposes the bill. A number of factors, including how much food is in someone’s stomach, could impact how much a drink will raise someone’s blood-alcohol content.

American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell said in a statement Wednesday night that the proposal will do little to make roads safer because more than 77 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths in Utah come from drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 and above. “Utah legislators missed an opportunity today to target the hard-core drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of drunk driving fatalities and instead decided to criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” Longwell said.

Lawmakers in Washington are considering lowering the limit for blood-alcohol content this year, while a similar proposal recently died in Hawaii’s Legislature.

Across the country, the blood-alcohol content limit for most drivers is 0.08, but limits vary among states for commercial drivers or drivers who have had a past DUI conviction.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who sponsored Utah’s measure, said it’s important because a person starts to become impaired with the first drink. He notes a number of foreign countries have blood-alcohol content thresholds at 0.05. or lower.

At a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent, a driver may have trouble steering and have a harder time coordinating, tracking moving objects and responding to emergencies, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For several years, the National Transportation Safety Board has encouraged states to drop their blood-alcohol content levels to 0.05 or even lower, though local officials have not adopted the standards, in part because of pressure from the hospitality industry.

The tougher stance on DUIs comes as Utah legislators passed changes Wednesday easing other liquor laws that deal with the preparation of alcoholic drinks in restaurants. That measure, waiting for approval from the governor, would let diners see their drinks being poured or mixed if restaurants set up child-free buffer zones around bars.

News Briefs: ‘Bad Boys 3’ Now Needs Director


Bad Boys 2


Bad Boys 3: The third installment in the Bad Boys franchise needs a director. Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) was slated to pick up where Michael Bay left off but decided to exit the project, either due to scheduling conflicts or creative differences. Carnahan also wrote the most recent version of the script and the report suggests that a new writer may be hired as well. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence (above in Bad Boys 2) are still expected to reprise their roles. [THR]


 


Drew Goddard


Bad Times at the El Royale: Drew Goddard (above), who earned an Academy Award nomination for adapting The Martian, will direct Bad Times at the El Royale, based on his own original script. The premise for the movie has not been revealed. Goddard made his directorial debut with The Cabin in the Woods; recently he’s also been lending his writing expertise to Deadpool 2. [Deadline]


 


Steven Spielberg / J.J. Abrams


Syrian Refugee Drama: Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams will team to produce a Syrian refugee drama. The movie will be based on A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming. The book relates the true story of a young Syrian woman who fled from Egypt and headed to Sweden, only to suffer shipwreck along the way with two small children in her charge. [The Wrap]


 


The Lost City of Z


The Lost City of Z Trailer: A new international trailer for The Lost City of Z suggests the many perils that await an epic search for a mysterious city in South America in the 1920s. Charlie Hunnam, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson star; the movie will open in the U.S. on April 21. [Movieclips]


Harry Potter Actor Jim Tavaré Suffers Survives Broken Neck, Punctured Lung from Car Accident

Harry Potter actor Jim Tavaré — who played Tom, the owner of the Leaky Cauldron — was involved in a serious car accident that left him with multiple injuries, including a broken neck, a punctured lung and 15 broken ribs.

His wife, Laura, took over the actor’s Facebook page on Tuesday, writing, “This is Laura here. Now that his family have been informed, Jim has asked me to let you all know that he was involved in a serious car accident yesterday, a head on collision.”

“He’s had 2 blood transfusions so far and is about to go in for his first surgery,” she continued. “This is for real, not a movie role. Please hold some good thoughts for him as he fights his way out of this.”

Tavaré appeared in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England, the comedian also cowrote and starred in the BAFTA-winning series The Sketch Show.

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Warner Bros.

His wife did not release details as to where the car accident took place, but the actor spends most of his time in Los Angeles, according to The Guardian.