Tom Price: ObamaCare replacement ‘has to be done’

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told Fox News Thursday night that repealing and replacing ObamaCare “has to be done.”

“We’ve got prices going up, we’ve got deductibles going up, premiums going up,” said Price, a former Republican congressman. “We’ve got people who have an insurance card but they don’t have any care because they can’t afford the deductible. So, where we are right now is in a terrible place in the individual and small group market. That’s what we’re trying to fix.”

Price spoke to Fox News’ “Hannity” hours after Senate Republicans released a draft of their bill to undo former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation.

“We’ll make certain that every single American has the opportunity to purchase the kind of coverage that they want,” Price vowed. “The American people are going to be appreciative of the fact that they’re going to be the ones in charge, not Washington D.C.”

The Senate bill was criticized by four Republican senators who said they would not vote for it in its current form: Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. 

“Is it everything that everybody wants? Absolutely not,” Price said. “But we’ve got 52 senators and we’re working to try to make certain that it is able to pass the Senate and then have the House support it.”

 

 

Trump nominates ambassadors to UK and Belgium

President Trump has nominated Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, to become the U.S. Ambassador to the UK.

The White House made the announcement Thursday evening following speculation in January that Trump would nominate the billionaire for the position.

Johnson, who raised money for Trump’s presidential campaign and donated funds to help pay for inaugural festivities, will still need to be confirmed by the Senate before heading to London.

Additionally, Trump has nominated Jamie McCourt to become the Ambassador to Belgium. McCourt, an attorney, used to be a co-owner, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Senate health care bill: 4 key Republicans come out against GOP plan

Key Republican senators came out against the Senate Republican health care plan on Thursday, and their opposition is enough to defeat the package before a vote.

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said they would not vote on the Senate Republican plan in its current form.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” the statement said. “There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system but it does not appear this draft, as written, will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal ObamaCare and lower their health care costs.” 

Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday that if members who support the bill know they don’t have the votes needed, discussion would begin earlier. 

“I didn’t run on ObamaCare lite,” Paul said. “I think we can do better than this –my hope is not to defeat the bill, but to make the bill better.” 

Paul added: “Now the discussions begin — I think it could take longer than a week.” 

Cruz acknowledged that he had not yet had “the opportunity” to fully review the bill in its entirity, but said “there are components that give me encouragement and there are also components that are a cause for deep concern.” 

“I have been clear from day one that I want to get to yes,” Cruz told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday. “Nobody has fought harder against ObamaCare in the Senate than I have, but we have to actually have legislation that fixes the underlying problem.”

Cruz said the current draft doesn’t do “nearly enough,” and would be a “disaster politically.” Cruz said that key components to “get everyone to yes” are lowering premiums, and giving the states flexibility. 

Senate Republicans released a 142-page draft of their version of a “repeal and replace” health care plan on Thursday titled, “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017,” which eliminates a majority of ObamaCare provisions, already drawing backlash from Senate Democrats, and even some congressional Republicans.

The bill could go to a vote as early as next week, after the Congressional Budget Office reviews and gives a score to the new plan, but McConnell did not announce a specific timeline for consideration. The Congressional Budget Office expects to have a score for the draft “early next week.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who rolled out the legislation, needs 50 votes to pass the bill to the House, with Vice President Mike Pence serving as the tie-breaking vote. But without the support of Paul, Cruz, Lee, and Johnson, passage of the bill in its current form will be nearly impossible, unless Republicans can manage to draw two Democratic votes, which is highly unlikely. 

The bill repeals key components of ObamaCare, and manages to maintain some “crucial” conservative items congressional Republicans were looking for, like a cut to Planned Parenthood funding.

GOP SENATORS UNVEIL OBAMACARE OVERHAUL

But despite the early GOP-opposition, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he’s “glad the process is moving forward.”

“The Senate discussion draft is available for everyone to review,” Grassley said. “There will be a full debate before the Senate, with the ability for senators of both parties to offer amendments.”

But Democrats, as expected, are slamming the bill—and most are hanging on comments made by President Trump earlier this week, suggesting the House bill, called the American Health Care Act, was “mean.”

“The President said the Senate bill needs heart, the President says the House bill was mean,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Thursday after the bill was rolled out. “The Senate version is meaner—the House bill is a wolf, but this bill is a wolf with sharper teeth — it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

At the White House, the president remained consistent in his comment from earlier in the week, and said he hoped to get “something done” with “heart.”

“We’d love to have some Democratic support, but they’re obstructionist,” Trump said. “Hopefully we’ll get something done and it’ll be something with heart and very meaningful.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the bill is “even worse than expected” and called it “by far the most harmful piece of legislation I have seen in my lifetime.”

“Our job now is to rally millions of Americans against this disastrous bill to make sure it does not pass the Senate,” Sanders said.

Despite Sanders’, and other Democrats’ criticisms, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the bill makes “no change” in current law when it comes to “protecting people with pre-existing conditions.”

McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday that Democrats “made it clear early on” that they “did not want to work with us,” but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he had “never been asked.”

“It is not just a fiction, it is a gross fiction,” Wyden said.

Still, many members have yet to read the 142-page legislation in its entirety, with some Republicans hesitant to “forecast” votes, prior to reading the bill in full.

WHAT’S IN THE SENATE PROPOSAL: KEY PROVISIONS OF BETTER CARE RECONCILIATION ACT OF 2017

“I don’t know,” Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., told Fox News. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, already has “a number of concerns,” according to her spokesperson, and plans to read the bill in full.  

“She has a number of concerns and will be particularly interested in examining the forthcoming CBO analysis on the impact on insurance coverage, the effect on insurance premiums, and the changes in the Medicaid program,” Collins’ spokeswoman Annie Clark said.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he had been briefed on the legislation, and is not going to “opine” the Senate’s process.

“I know how hard this process is from personal experience — Last thing I want is to be disrespectful of the process ahead of them,” Ryan said. “We made a promise to repeal and replace — eager for them to pass it but not going to opine on the details as they go along.”

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who authored a key amendment to the House’s plan, seemed satisfied with the Senate’s draft proposal.

“I am glad to see the Senate further improve the AHCA and put us one step closer,” MacArthur said.

McConnell said that when legislation comes to the floor, it will present Senate Democrats “another opportunity to do what’s right for the American people.” 

Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.

Brooke Singman is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Chaffetz replacement: Who are the Utah congressional candidates?

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, will resign from his congressional seat at the end of June — and the district certainly is not lacking people willing to replace him.

Chaffetz had previously proclaimed that he would not run for reelection in 2018, but by the middle of May, the 50-year-old lawmaker announced his decision to cut his time in the House short.

“My life has undergone some big changes over the last 18 months. Those changes have been good,” Chaffetz said in a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announcing his decision. “But as I celebrated my 50th birthday in March, the reality of spending more than 1,500 nights away from my family over eight years hit me harder than it had before.”

“Though the time away and the travel have been a sacrifice, our family has always been united that public service was the right thing to do,” he continued.

With Chaffetz’s resignation nearing, the deadline to file to replace Chaffetz in Utah’s third congressional district fell on May 26 — and 22 people made their bids official.

Fifteen Republicans, four Democrats, two independents and one Libertarian filed. Republicans and Democrats selected their candidates at their respective conventions during the weekend, but additional Republicans filed enough signatures to force a primary scheduled for Aug. 15.

In Utah, a candidate must either be selected by a party convention or garner enough signatures in order to appear on the ballot. For this race, candidates must collect 7,000 viable signatures, a spokesperson for the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office said.

Here’s a look at the candidates vying to replace Chaffetz.

Tanner Ainge, Republican

Tanner Ainge, the son of Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge, is one of the remaining Republican candidates left. Ainge received enough signatures to qualify for the August primary.

Ainge, an investment advisor, has worked for the firm HGGC, as an executive in the health care industry and as a lawyer for Kirkland & Ellis LLP, according to his campaign website. He graduated from Brigham Young University, studied Mandarin Chinese at Cornell and received his J.D. from Northwestern University’s school of law, the campaign website states.

CHAFFETZ TO RESIGN FROM CONGRESS IN JUNE

Ainge’s political career is fairly limited, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. He volunteered for former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who also lives in Utah, for one year.

What he lacks in his political resume, he can make up for by name recognition, David Magleby, a political science professor at BYU, told the Tribune.

Ainge, 33, has the advantage of “being the son of a highly recognized and highly regarded local favorite,” he said.

Danny Ainge tweeted on May 18 that he was “encouraging” his son to run for Congress. Less than a week later, the younger Ainge had filed the necessary paperwork and updated his social media accounts to promote his candidacy.

Ainge’s Twitter account is filled with photos of him meeting with voters in the district, pictures of local restaurants and trivia about Utah’s third district.

Ainge and his wife Heidi have five children.

Kathie Allen, Democrat

Allen, a Utah physician, already broke fundraising records with her underdog campaign — thanks in part to Chaffetz.

After Chaffetz said during a March television interview that Americans should choose between buying health care or the latest iPhone, Allen’s fundraising website saw a massive spike in donations, Mic reported.

TREY GOWDY TAPPED FOR HOUSE OVERSIGHT CHAIR

In just one day, Allen raked in more than $40,000, breaking a Crowdpac record for fundraising.

To date, Allen has raised more than $522,000 on her Crowdpac page, and she reportedly has more than $650,000 in campaign funds.

Allen, 64, was overwhelmingly chosen to be her party’s nominee at its June convention, Deseret News reported.

“I’m delighted. I’ve been working on this since February, and I think I have the right message for this district,” Allen said following her victory. “I have the right work ethic, and I’m ready to kick it up to the next level.”  

It only took one round of voting to secure Allen as the Democrats’ nominee; Allen won almost 76 percent of the vote, pushing her ahead of fellow Democrats Benjamin Frank and Carl Ingwell.

In a piece for the liberal Daily Kos site, Allen wrote that she planned to run for Chaffetz’s seat in order to take on insurance companies and health care corporations “to insure that our patients are treated with dignity and fairness.”

She said she also wants to “bring back civil discourse.”

Allen worked as a congressional aide for former Rep. Shirley N. Pettis, R-Calif., for three years. As a physician, she now works for a privately run clinic for Utah’s transit workers and their families, according to her campaign website.

She is an ardent critic of President Trump and blames “extensive red-state gerrymandering around the country” for “directly [leading] to the Trump administration,” her campaign website states.

UTAH SENATOR, MAYOR TOP CANDIDATES TO REPLACE CHAFFETZ

The issues she is focused on includes: climate change, equal pay, education, election financing and LGBT rights.

On Twitter, Allen says she is “a different kind of Democrat.”

“I’m a healer, which this [government] sorely needs,” she said. “I’m a truth teller.”

Joe Buchman, Libertarian

Joe Buchman, 59, is a lifelong libertarian, according to his campaign website. He is the current chair of the Libertarian Party of Utah and has also served as the party’s national platform committee chair.

A retired full-time professor, Buchman has authored multiple textbook chapters. He has also served as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, Sundance Film Festival, Sonoma International Film Festival and Landmark Worldwide, his campaign website states.

“Where the two old parties offer fear, mutual slander and individual self-destruction, Libertarians share our commitment to rigorous financial integrity, peaceful social acceptance and individual personal liberty,” Buchman said on his website. “Now is the time to vote out of love for the principles you know to be true: free agency, self-ownership, non-initiation of aggression and not in reaction to what you fear.”

CHAFFETZ: SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR RUSSIA NOT NEEDED

Buchman unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in 2016.

Buchman and his wife Cindy have four children.

Jason Christensen, Independent American

Jason Christensen is self-employed and works with consumer electronics and audio systems, according to Deseret News.

This isn’t the first time the 37-year-old has campaigned for office; Christensen unsuccessfully ran for Utah state Senate in 2016 and Utah state House in 2014.

Christensen is not planning on actively campaigning for the seat, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Instead, he said he “just wanted [his] name out there as an option against” Republicans and Democrats.

CHAFFETZ TO TAKE A LEAVE OF ABSENCE FOR FOOT SURGERY

While he was a candidate for state Senate, Christensen had to apologize after he made offensive comments online regarding a teenager’s suicide.

At the time, Christensen commented on a Facebook post about a young gay man who had committed suicide. He said he hoped “God will have mercy on both sins that this boy committed” and listed homosexuality and murder as those sins.

Later in the thread, Christensen argued that suicide is murder.

John Curtis, Republican

Provo Mayor John Curtis, 57, announced his candidacy for Utah’s third congressional district at the end of May. He was able to get enough signatures to qualify for the Republican primary.

Curtis said on social media that his team was able to get more than 15,000 signatures to put him on the ballot.

“For the last two weeks, I’ve heard two things that could not be done,” Curtis told his volunteers on the day he turned in his signatures. “One is, you can’t get this many signatures in this amount of time, and the other is, you can’t make any difference in Washington. So I’m here to tell you, this is proof we can.”

Curtis had previously announced that he would not seek a third term as mayor of Provo and wanted to leave politics altogether.

“Those of you who know me well know that I spent a long time trying to decide if this was the right thing to do,” Curtis said when he announced his candidacy at an event in Provo. “I had to know in my heart that this was the right thing for me, for my family and for the district. I’m here to tell you that I bring experience, engagement and effectiveness that nobody else can.”

As mayor, Curtis cut $5.5 million in the city’s budget within his first year. He also brought Google Fiber to Provo and is known to be transparent through the use of social media and his blog, Utah Valley 360 reported.

Should he be elected to take over Chaffetz’s seat, Curtis says he will focus on health care reform, tax reform, balancing the budget and national security, according to his campaign website. He is also an advocate for states’ rights and stronger borders.

Curtis graduated from Brigham Young University with a business management degree; he can also speak Mandarin Chinese.

Curtis and his wife Sue have six children.

Christopher Herrod, Republican

Former state Rep. Christopher Herrod was selected by the Utah Republican Party to be its nominee during the party’s convention over the weekend.

After five rounds of voting, Herrod — who had the backing of former GOP presidential contestant and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — defeated state Sen. Deidre Henderson.

“The Republicans have been given in congress a unique opportunity to have the presidency and the House and the Senate,” Herrod told KSTU. “I think they’re squandering that. I’ll go back and remind them they’ve got to get to work.”

Herrod is an outspoken candidate, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

While in the state legislature, Herrod was known for his criticism of illegal immigration. And in a recent interview during which he discussed his candidacy to replace Chaffetz, Herrod reportedly denounced Islam and criticized Republican Sen. John McCain.

Herrod has the backing of Jeremy Friedbaum, who withdrew from the race on June 7. Friedbaum said he would rather support Herrod than “split the vote among candidates who are loyal to constitutional principles.”

Herrod unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Orrin Hatch’s seat in 2012. The Republican has held the Senate seat since 1977.

Herrod spent some time teaching at Kharkov State University in the Ukraine. It was there that he met his wife Alia. They have five children.

The former Utah lawmaker writes for a blog called the “UnConventional Conservative.”

Russell Paul Roesler, Write-in

Sean Whalen, Unaffiliated

Sean Whalen turned in at least 300 signatures needed to be on the general election ballot. The names have already been verified by county clerks, according to Deseret News.

Withdrew

Here are the people who have withdrawn their candidacy:

  • Jeremy Friedbaum, Republican
  • Faeiza Javed, Democrat

Here are the former candidates who were voted out in party conventions:

  • Debbie Aldrich, Republican
  • Brad Daw, Republican
  • Margaret Dayton, Republican
  • Paul David Fife, Republican
  • Benjamin Frank, Democrat
  • Aaron Heinemen, Independent American
  • Deidre Henderson, Republican
  • Carl Ingwell, Democrat
  • Damian Kidd, Republican
  • Keith Kuder, Republican
  • Mike Leavitt, Republican
  • Stewart O. Peay, Republican
  • Shayne Horton Row, Republican

Another Republican, Brigham Rhead Cottam, failed to collect the requisite number of signatures, according to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office.

An unsuccessful filing

One man who was unable to complete his filing filed a lawsuit against the state on June 21.

Jim Bennett, son of the former Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, attempted to file as a member of the United Utah Party, of which he is the executive director. However, the United Utah party is not yet officially recognized as a legitimate political party in the state, KSTU reported.

“Not only has the Utah Elections Office refused to allow Bennett to file, it has also not yet certified the party itself, despite the fact that the United Utah party submitted the necessary documentation and signatures to become a qualified political party with the Utah Elections Office more than three weeks ago,” the party said in a statement.  

Bennett’s new party turned in the requisite signatures to become an official party on the special election ballot the day before the candidates’ filing deadline. As the signatures could not be verified by the Lt. Governor’s Elections office before the filing deadline was up, it was not recognized as an official party.

Still, Bennett tried unsuccessfully to file with the new party.

Tale of 2 Princes: Trump, Saudi king rely on son, son-in-law

Half a world apart, in a theocratic monarchy and a democracy, a king and a president are relying on their thirtysomething son and son-in-law to help consolidate power and push their policies.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman this week elevated his son Mohammed bin Salman to crown prince, setting him on course to become the next Saudi king. President Donald Trump relies heavily on son-in-law Jared Kushner to advance his agenda, the closest thing to a royal assist that the U.S. can muster.

Kushner was in the Mideast this week meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to restart dormant peace talks. For that effort to succeed, Kushner will need the backing, or at least the quiet support, of Saudi Arabia — now under the reins of the crown prince, also known as MBS.

In this tale of two princes, Trump’s son-in-law and Saudi Arabia’s new heir to the throne have skyrocketed to power and been entrusted with a wealth of responsibilities and wide-ranging duties, even though neither had the experience that comes with years of government service. The two have been presented to the public as outsiders who bring youthful energy and fresh ideas to sluggish bureaucracies with aging infrastructures.

For Trump, 71, and Salman, 81, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Both have promised to deliver dramatic reforms to an antsy public.

Kushner and MBS have built a relationship of increasingly profound importance since Trump took office. Kushner, 36, and MBS, 31, talk on the phone and dined together for several hours during Trump’s trip to Riyadh in May, administration officials said. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss the private working relationship.

While in Washington in March, MBS lunched with Trump and Kushner in the State Dining Room. That visit helped ingratiate the young royal to Trump, and Saudi Arabia to the new administration in Washington.

It also laid the groundwork for Trump’s maiden voyage overseas as president last month, when Trump became the first U.S. president to make his first official trip to a Muslim nation with a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Trump and Salman also witnessed the signing of a nearly $110 billion defense deal, which administration officials say Kushner helped negotiate. The Obama administration had previously stalled on the deal because of concerns over Saudi aggression in Yemen.

Kushner emerged as a top adviser to Trump in the bruising 2016 presidential race. He spearheaded the campaign’s data operation, had a hand in some policy speeches, and was often the last person Trump spoke to before making major decisions. Prior to assuming his role as Trump’s adviser, Kushner ran his family’s real estate and construction business.

Within hours of King Salman’s ascension to the throne in January 2015, the monarch named MBS as defense minister, which helped catapult the young prince into power and sidelined more experienced and older princes. Two months later, MBS led Saudi forces into war in Yemen, becoming the face of a conflict framed in the Saudi media as a battle against Shiite-led Iran’s ambitions for regional dominance. The war whipped up nationalist fervor around the new king and his son.

The Saudis paint the Yemen conflict as a fight against terrorism and border security — something that resonates with the new U.S. administration. Trump takes a bullish approach to defeating “radical Islamic terrorism,” as he frequently refers to it, and is advocating for a border wall along America’s southern border.

In Saudi Arabia last month, Trump conceded that he would only succeed in his goal of fighting terrorism with the partnership of Saudi Arabia and all other Muslim nations.

That’s where Kushner and MBS come in.

Kushner’s growing duties as White House adviser have seen him serve as a point person for a range of contacts with countries from China to Mexico, develop ideas for infrastructure and criminal justice reform, oversee a new Office of American Innovation and, this week, try to broker Middle East peace — a goal that relies heavily on Saudi support.

MBS’ portfolio includes oversight of defense and security, and transforming the kingdom’s economy to become less reliant on oil exports for revenue.

His rise to power was accelerated after he visited Washington in March and met Trump. The visit helped reset bilateral relations after years of strained ties under President Barack Obama over the nuclear accord with Iran, which Saudi Arabia strongly criticized.

Kushner and MBS are expected to collaborate on a more bullish policy on Iran, which both the U.S. administration and the Saudi monarchy view as a threat to regional stability.

Eric Pelofsky, a former Obama administration official now at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, said that a number of domestic interests, “coupled with a robust visit and a very warm and direct relationship with the Trump White House,” contributed to MBS’ rise.

“Neither one by itself would have probably been enough, but it appears that together it was enough to move MBS up,” he said.

While close family ties are not unusual in U.S. politics, Trump has maintained a tightly knit inner circle that has been influenced significantly by Kushner and his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

The Middle East is no stranger to nepotism, with much of the Arab Gulf boasting hereditary rule, and monarchies still ruling over Jordan and Morocco. Syria’s President Bashar Assad is also part of a perceived “dynasty.”
 

Photos Of The Southwest’s Record-Setting Heat Wave

Trump to sign VA accountability bill on Friday

The White House says President Donald Trump will sign a bill Friday to make it easier to fire Department of Veterans Affairs employees.

The measure has broad bipartisan support and is part of an effort encouraged by Trump to fix an agency that provides health care and other services to millions of veterans. The bill was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting for care.

Trump promised as a candidate to fire VA employees “who let our veterans down.”

VA Secretary David Shulkin supports the measure. The bill cleared the House last week by a vote of 368-55, and the Senate by voice vote.

Trump is to sign the measure during a ceremony in the White House East Room.

US officials to lift Yellowstone grizzly bear protections

Protections that have been in place for more than 40 years for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area will be lifted this summer after U.S. government officials ruled Thursday that the population is no longer threatened.

Grizzlies in all continental U.S. states except Alaska have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, when just 136 bears roamed in and around Yellowstone. There are now an estimated 700 grizzlies in the area that includes northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the population has recovered.

“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.

Grizzly bears once numbered about 50,000 and ranged over much of North America. Their population plummeted starting in the 1850s because of widespread hunting and trapping, and the bears now occupy only 2 percent of their original territory.

The final ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the list of endangered and threatened species will give jurisdiction over the bears to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by late July.

That will allow those states to plan limited bear hunts outside the park’s boundaries as long as the overall bear population does not fall below 600 bears.

Hunting bears inside Yellowstone would still be banned. The bears roam both inside and outside the park, and their range has been expanding as their numbers have grown.

The Obama administration first proposed removing grizzlies as a threatened species by issuing an initial ruling in March 2016. The 15 months that have passed since then have been used to by federal officials to evaluate states’ grizzly management plans and respond to themes of concern generated by 650,000 comments from the public, including wildlife advocates and Native American tribal officials who are staunchly opposed to hunting grizzly bears.

Some 125 tribes have signed a treaty opposing trophy hunting grizzly bears, which Native Americans consider a sacred animal.

Thursday’s ruling is certain to be challenged in court by conservation groups that argue the Yellowstone bears still face threats to their continued existence from humans, climate change and other factors. Tim Preso, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice, said his organization will look closely at the rule.

“We’re certainly prepared to take a stand to protect the grizzly, if necessary,” he said. “There’s only one Yellowstone. There’s only one place like this. We ought not to take an unjustified gamble with an iconic species of this region.”

Matt Hogan, the deputy regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s eight-state Mountain-Prairie Region, said he is confident that the science behind the decision and the management plans the states will follow will withstand any lawsuit.

“We feel like this species is more than adequately protected in the absence of (Endangered Species Act) protections,” Hogan said.

Endangered Species Act protections set strict rules meant to protect species from being killed or their habitat being harmed, as opposed to state management practices that can include hunting or trapping as a means to keep an animal’s population in check.

Wildlife officials in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have been managing the bear population alongside federal government officials for decades. Those states have submitted management plans that have been approved, and will follow strict regulations to keep a viable population of above 600 bears, Hogan said.

Scientists also studied the effects of climate change on grizzly bears and their food sources, such as the nuts of whitebark pine trees, which are in decline.

“They found grizzly bears are extremely resilient, extremely flexible and adaptable,” Hogan said.

That adaptation has meant switching from nuts to a meat-based diet. That carries the risk of bringing the bears into greater conflict with ranchers protecting livestock and hunters searching for elk and deer, and grizzly deaths caused by human conflicts are on the rise, said Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney for the wildlife advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity.

“Added to those threats will be trophy hunting,” she said.

The federal agency will continue monitoring the grizzly population over the next five years, and certain factors would prompt a new federal review of the bears’ status, such as a high number of female deaths for three consecutive years.

The ruling does not directly affect other populations of grizzlies that are still classified as threatened but which wildlife officials consider recovered, such as the estimated 1,000 bears in the Northern Continental Divide area of Montana and Idaho.

Federal resources used to prepare the final rule on Yellowstone’s bear population will be shifted to planning for lifting protections for the bears living in the Northern Continental Divide, Hogan said.

Republican Assemblyman to run for California governor

A California Assemblyman announced Thursday that he’s running for governor in 2018, an uphill climb for a Republican in a state dominated across statewide offices by Democrats.

Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach said while the numbers are not in his favor, he’s running because Democrats have controlled the state for too long, enacting burdensome tax increases and policies that are soft on crime. Allen is leading a ballot initiative to repeal the gas tax increase approved largely by Democratic lawmakers earlier this year.

“Over and over again I hear the same failed policies and tired excuses,” Allen told The Associated Press in an interview. “There is a myth in California that the Democrat party is invincible.”

Forty-five percent of California voters are registered as Democrats while just 26 percent are registered Republicans. Democratic candidates Lt Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have generated the most buzz in the governor’s race so far. All have raised millions of dollars for their campaigns.

Venture capitalist John Cox, a Republican, and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, a Democrat, are also running.

Allen has served three terms in the Assembly representing a predominantly Republican coastal district in Orange County.

In the Legislature, he’s often a vocal opponent of regulations and tax increases.

In May, Allen launched a ballot initiative campaign to repeal the gas tax hike approved by lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year. The campaign hasn’t yet been approved to begin collecting signatures. It must collect more than 365,000 signatures by December to qualify for the 2018 ballot. But Allen said the ballot measure campaign has already raised money from thousands of donors.

Fixing California roads should still be a priority, Allen said, but instead of raising taxes, he would cut the number of government workers and pay them less.

Allen said he would also reverse the hostile stance the state’s Democratic leaders have taken toward President Donald Trump’s administration. Legislative leaders have vowed to lead the “resistance” against Trump’s immigration, environment and health care policies.

Allen said he would cooperate more with the president.

He announced his run via Facebook.

“I believe that California’s leaders should communicate directly with the people of California and not hide behind their political party or friendly press,” he told AP.
“Californians deserve straight talk and real solutions.”

Allen previously worked as a financial planner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at California State University Long Beach.

Trump: I didn’t tape James Comey conversations

President Trump tweeted on Thursday “I did not make, and do not have” any recordings of conversations with ex-FBI Director James Comey, ending speculation — that he started — about whether he had taped private talks with the since-fired Comey.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets.

Bloomberg broke the news that Trump didn’t have any tapes just minutes before Trump tweeted.