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California officials fight Trump’s bid to pull funding for high-speed rail project

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California officials fight Trump's bid to pull funding for high-speed rail project

The head of California’s controversial high-speed rail project hit back this week at President Trump’s bid to halt federal funding to the railway and force the state to pay back money already doled out.

Calling the administration’s move not only illegal but “disastrous” and “wasteful,” California Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly penned two letters to the Federal Railroad Administration amid a heated debate over whether or not the $77 billion project is living up to expectations.

“Governor [Gavin] Newsom I committed to building a transformative, visionary high-speed rail project in full compliance with federal grant requirements,” Kelly wrote in one of his letters. “Second, the California High Speed Rail Authority is making progress and has met its commitments under its federal grants agreements.”

CALIFORNIA BULLET TRAIN PROJECT ON TRACK TO BLOW THROUGH BILLIONS OF MORE DOLLARS 

So far, the FRA has given California $2.5 billion to construct a high-speed railway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with another $929 million pledged. But federal authorities – and the president – claim the terms of the grant have not been met and have threatened to withhold any future payments while demanding repayment for the funds already doled out to California.

The project, long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule with the latest estimate for completion set for 2033.

Tensions between Sacramento and the White House over the project flared when Newsom declared during his State of the State address last month that, for the time being, he was shelving plans for the Los Angeles-San Francisco line and instead focusing on construction of a high-speed railway through the state’s Central Valley.

CALIFORNIA’S BULLET TRAIN AND BIGGEST BOONDOGGLE IS OVER BUDGET BY BILLIONS 

Trump was quick to label the entire high-speed rail project a “disaster” and call for Sacramento to return the funds given to the state by the federal government.

“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump tweeted in February. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”

Later in the month, the administration announced it is exploring “every legal option” to reclaim the federal funds spent by California on the rail project, and intends to cancel $928 million in federal grants not yet paid for the project.

In his letter to the FRA, Kelly issued a point-by-point rebuttal to claims that California had violated the grant agreement – noting that Newsom had no plans to totally abandon the project to link the state’s two largest metropolitan areas, but that the Central Valley line, connecting Merced to Bakersfield, was “a pragmatic approach to using the funding now committed to this project.”

“Laying this groundwork will enable us to ultimately connect a revitalized Central Valley to Silicon Valley and Southern California,” he added.

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After it was widely reported that Newsom planned to pull the plug on the high-speed rail connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a spokesman for the governor clarified that the administration is only prioritizing the Central Valley line first and will “continue undertaking the broader project.”

Kelly noted that the state could not finish the Merced-Bakersfield line without the federal funding and requested that a dialogue be opened between state and federal officials to clear up any confusion over funding.

“We owe it to the residents of the Central Valley, state and federal taxpayers, and the nation as a whole to continue cooperating on our historic and transformative high-speed rail project,” Kelly wrote.

Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.

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U.S. judge rebuts Trump on transgender troop limits

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U.S. judge rebuts Trump on transgender troop limits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge on Tuesday contradicted the Trump administration’s “incorrect” claim that no legal blocks remain for it to enforce a contentious policy to restrict many transgender individuals from the U.S. armed forces starting on April 12.

FILE PHOTO – Members of the Army march up 5th Avenue during the Veterans Day Parade in New York November 11, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

In a three-page notice, U.S. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said an injunction that she issued against the policy in 2017 remains in place.

“Defendants were incorrect in claiming that there was no longer an impediment to the military’s implementation” of the transgender policy, the judge wrote.

A spokeswoman for Pentagon said it was consulting with the U.S. Justice Department, which declined to comment.

Three other injunctions issued by judges in separate cases have already been lifted, in part by a Jan. 22 U.S. Supreme Court decision and subsequent action by a federal judge in Maryland.

That prompted the U.S. Defense Department to sign a memo on March 12 that would enforce its service limitations on transgender people, effective one month later.

Kollar-Kotelly’s injunction, however, had been set aside by a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 4. The panel said it would hold off on issuing a “mandate” to finalize the higher court’s decision until it resolves any request by the plaintiffs who challenged the transgender policy as a violation of the U.S. Constitution to rehear their appeal.

“The Trump administration cannot circumvent the judicial process just to fast track its baseless, unfair ban on transgender servicemembers,” said attorney Jennifer Levi of the anti-discrimination group GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, who represents the plaintiffs.

President Donald Trump in 2017 announced a plan to ban transgender people from the military, reversing Democratic former President Barack Obama’s policy of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and get medical transition care.

In March 2018, Trump backed a revised policy from then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It banned, in some circumstances, transgender people with gender dysphoria, or distress due to internal conflict between physical gender and gender identity.

The Mattis policy also banned transgender people who seek or have undergone gender transition steps.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Richard Chang

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Judges lean toward Trump in hotel ’emoluments’ case

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Judges lean toward Trump in hotel 'emoluments' case

(Reuters) – A three-judge U.S. appeals court panel signaled sympathy toward President Donald Trump on Tuesday in his appeal in a Democratic-backed lawsuit that accuses him of violating anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution with his Washington hotel.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. flags fly over the Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S., August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The judges on the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals indicated they may dismiss the lawsuit filed against the Republican president in June 2017 by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Maryland-based U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte last year allowed the lawsuit to proceed, a ruling that Trump appealed to the 4th Circuit. All three of the judges who heard the appeal were appointed by Republican presidents. Trump’s lawyers told the appeals court that Messitte, a Democratic appointee, should have dismissed the case.

The judges raised concerns about Messitte’s findings on the Constitution’s “emoluments” clauses, which prohibit a president from accepting gifts from foreign countries and U.S. states without congressional approval.

Trump opened the Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, shortly before he was elected in 2016. Unlike past presidents, he has retained ownership of numerous business interests, including the hotel, while serving as president.

Since his election, the hotel has become a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting the U.S. capital. The lawsuit alleges that, in failing to disengage from the hotel, Trump has made himself vulnerable to inducements by foreign governments seeking to curry favor, violating the Constitution.

The Trump Organization, the president’s company now run by his sons, has pledged to donate to the U.S. Treasury profits that its hotels make from foreign governments. The company has reported making such donations, while also saying it is “impractical” to require customers representing foreign countries to identify themselves.

In his ruling, Messitte embraced a broad definition of emoluments. Messitte said the provision encompasses any “profit, gain or advantage” received “directly or indirectly” from a foreign government, U.S. state government or federal agency.

The appeals court judges indicated that Messitte’s definition was too broad. Judge Dennis Shedd said Messitte’s definition could deter from public service “anybody who has grown something successfully or has business interests.”

Judge Paul Niemeyer said requiring the president to divest his financial interest in the hotel would not remove the Trump name from it, and foreign officials would still use it.

The attorneys generals said in a joint statement they “will keep fighting to stop the president’s daily violations of our nation’s original anti-corruption laws, because Americans should never have to wonder if the president is working on their behalf or in his personal financial interest.”

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham

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Democrats face a 2020 choice problem

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Democrats face a 2020 choice problem

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On the roster: Democrats face a 2020 choice problem – Beto, Warren call abolish the Electoral College – Report: Deutsche Bank loaned Trump over $2 billion – Keep an eye on Andrew Yang – Better late than never?

DEMOCRATS FACE A 2020 CHOICE PROBLEM
Boston Globe: “With the party’s first national debates less than three months away, and the New Hampshire primary less than 11 months away, the big challenge for … [candidates:] how to stand out in such a crowded pack, without doing anything so bold it could backfire. …  A big field without an obvious front-runner could shake out in any number of ways, but history suggests it will most likely end up following one of two paths. The first is the long, (mostly) collegial search for a consensus candidate. That’s what we saw with the relatively large Democratic field in 1988 (11 candidates, plus a few fringe). In that race, the big names either sat out or flamed out early, and the campaign turned into a slow-moving grind… The 2004 campaign started out in similar fashion… The model for the second possible path is a lot more recent: The Republicans in the 2016 campaign. … After all, what an effective primary campaign does is put the candidates through a punishing stress test that toughens and strengthens them, giving everyone confidence that they have identified the strongest possible contender for the general election. … So this is the tightrope that Democratic contenders will have to walk: They’ll need to be unfiltered and distinctive enough to break out of the pack, but not so candid that they get disqualified by the wrath of summary judgment on social media.”

California’s early primary poised to pull 2020 Democrats further left – Fox News: “Unlike past elections, California will hold its primary early in the season – on March 3, 2020. That means the West Coast state, and its famously liberal voters, will hold extra influence this cycle. And while the 2020 candidates still have to connect with supporters in earliest-voting Iowa and New Hampshire – with their more moderate-leaning electorates – California’s combination of an early primary and massive delegate count could motivate the field to run decisively in the progressive lane from the start. … In another sign of California’s emerging influence this cycle, putative front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to visit the state this week. … Not only is California’s primary now slated for Super Tuesday in March, but early voting is set to start around the time of the Iowa caucuses. With that in mind, Sanders’ visit this week is likely the start of a political gold rush of sorts, as the 2020 candidates look west for electoral gold.”

THE RULEBOOK: MORE THE MERRIER
“The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68

TIME OUT: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A GOOD BOY PROBLEM
Atlantic: “To be clear, NASA’s ambitious plans for missions to the moon and Mars do not include dogs. … But dogs have been to space. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union strapped dogs into capsules and launched them into the sky. … But [NASA] suggests that, unlike the Soviet dogs, a canine on Mars would not be a lab animal, but a valued companion on the journey to a distant land. … Designing a spacesuit for a dog wouldn’t be the hard part… NASA has decades’ worth of experience in manufacturing spacesuits, which are like little spacecraft of their own… The problem is the dog’s experience inside that spacesuit, which would circulate the same air over and over. … The enclosed environment of a spacesuit would be stifling. … There’s also the question of the dog relieving itself. Astronauts wear adult diapers during spacewalks; Mars explorers would have to train their canine companions to become comfortable with a similar arrangement.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -12.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.8 points 
[Average includes: CNN: 43% approve – 51% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve – 57% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve – 52% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve – 55% disapprove; IBD: 41% approve – 53% disapprove.]

BETO, WARREN CALL ABOLISH THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
Fox News: “Another 2020 Democrat has come out against the Electoral College. After addressing students at Penn State University on Tuesday afternoon, Beto O’Rourke lamented Hillary Clinton’s failure to take the White House despite winning the popular vote, adding there is ‘a lot of wisdom’ in calls for change. ‘I think there’s a lot to that. Because you had an election in 2016 where the loser got 3 million more votes than the victor,’ O’Rourke said in a video posted online. … ‘If we really want everyone to vote, to give them every reason to vote, we have to make sure their votes count and go to the candidate of their choosing. So I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.’ O’Rourke’s support for potentially abolishing the Electoral College came one day after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pushed a similar proposal. ‘Every vote matters and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College,’ Warren told an audience at the historically black Jackson State University in Mississippi.”

History shows Dems’ call isn’t all that surprising – WaPo: “Defenders of the electoral college system argue that it mandates visits to states like those above which might otherwise be overlooked. … That debate aside, there’s certainly no reason to be surprised that Warren would call for the electoral college system to be thrown out. There have been four elections since 1860 in which the electoral vote has given the presidency to the candidate who lost the popular vote: 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has pointed out, Republicans have won the popular vote only once in her lifetime, but have held the White House for 10 years. In each of those four elections where the popular vote winner lost the electoral vote, the losing candidate was a Democrat.”

Court-packing is another test on the left – The Hill: “Whether or not to expand the Supreme Court is emerging as a key litmus test in the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field. Once dismissed as a fringe idea, reforming the nation’s highest court is gaining traction with a growing number of Democratic 2020 candidates as progressive outside groups and high-profile officials, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, have vaulted the idea into the national spotlight. The courts have emerged as a lightning rod during the Trump administration for the Democratic Party’s resurgent base, which remains deeply bitter over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) decision to block Merrick Garland, President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee. Supporters argue that sweeping reforms, including expanding the number of justices, are needed to counteract Trump and McConnell, who they say have ‘packed’ the judicial system with conservative judges — including two Supreme Court justices and a record number of influential appeals court picks.”

REPORT: DEUTSCHE BANK LOANED TRUMP OVER $2 BILLION
NYT: “Mr. [Donald] Trump and Deutsche Bank were deeply entwined, their symbiotic bond born of necessity and ambition on both sides… Then Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, and the German bank shifted into damage-control mode, bracing for an onslaught of public scrutiny, according to several people involved in the internal response. … More than two years later, Mr. Trump’s financial ties with Deutsche Bank are the subject of investigations by two congressional committees and the New York attorney general. Investigators hope to use Deutsche Bank as a window into Mr. Trump’s personal and business finances. Deutsche Bank officials have quietly argued to regulators, lawmakers and journalists that Mr. Trump was not a priority for the bank or its senior leaders and that the lending was the work of a single, obscure division. But interviews with more than 20 current and former Deutsche Bank executives and board members, most of them with direct knowledge of the Trump relationship, contradict the bank’s narrative.”

FOX TO HOST HOWARD SCHULTZ TOWN HALL
Politico: “He may not yet be a 2020 presidential candidate, but Fox News is already treating former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz like one, complete with his own town hall event scheduled for next month. Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will host the event, which is scheduled for for April 4 in Kansas City, Missouri, the network announced Tuesday. The town hall event will focus on ‘Schultz’s potential candidacy and the issues he plans to tackle,’ Fox News said. Schultz sparked a wave of criticism from the left earlier this year when he announced he would explore a possible run for president as a centrist, independent candidate. In touting his potential bid, Schultz trashed the Democratic Party, of which he was previously a member, criticizing its lurch to the left in recent years. He argued that he could garner the votes of centrist Democratic and Republican voters unhappy with President Donald Trump but uncomfortable with voting for a liberal Democrat.”

Keep an eye on Andrew Yang – FiveThirtyEight: “[Andrew] Yang is the only 2020 candidate thus far to put a universal income front and center, and his campaign says it’s been key to attracting support. But it’s probably not a strong enough issue to propel Yang to victory on its own. A Gallup poll from 2017 found the concept to be divisive — 48 percent supported a universal basic income, while 52 percent opposed it. … That said, if Yang does indeed make the debate stage, he could succeed in making the issue a part of the national conversation. … We’d expect Yang to get a good deal of support from The Left; most Americans think providing a universal income is a socialist position (though it has conservative adherents as well), and Yang has taken progressive views on a host of other issues. But he may not speak the language of The Left: He’s frank in saying ‘I’m a capitalist,’ and his campaign manager, Zach Graumann, says that the campaign doesn’t subscribe to the ‘capitalist/socialist dichotomy.’ Yang’s strongest constituencies might be Millennials and Hispanic and Asian voters.”

Klobuchar lists accomplishments while facing obstacles – NPR: “Minnesotans like Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. … She’s hoping that strong support in her home state… But on the way, Klobuchar faces some obstacles: her moderate politics (at least, relative to many of her competitors for the nomination) may turn off some Democratic primary voters, as may some of the reports that she has mistreated her staff. … Her route to ‘universal health care’ doesn’t mean putting everyone on a government-administered insurance plan. Rather, she first supports a … bill, which ultimately failed, would have stabilized the Obamacare exchanges. In addition, Klobuchar has said that she wants to allow people to buy into Medicaid via a bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii — a ‘public option’ plan. That said, Klobuchar explains that she’s not exactly against Medicare for All.”

Booker swipes at candidates for bragging about marijuana use – WaPo: “Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) appeared to take a swipe at two of his fellow 2020 presidential hopefuls during an MSNBC interview Monday night in which he criticized ‘senators bragging about their pot use.’ Booker did not mention anyone by name during the ‘Hardball’ interview with host Chris Matthews. But he suggested that it was inappropriate for lawmakers to make light of the issue when some in society face legal repercussions for similar actions. ‘We have presidential candidates — senators — bragging about their pot use while there are kids who can’t get a job because they have a nonviolent offense,’ Booker said. In a radio interview last month, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) … laughingly acknowledged that she has used marijuana in the past… Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another 2020 candidate, has also recently spoken about having used marijuana, although his comments were not as widely reported as Harris’s. … Booker’s remarks in the MSNBC interview come one day after he made a similar statement during a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa.”

Bernie announces top staffers in wake of shakeup – Fox News: “One month after Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his second straight bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, his campaign is announcing major staffing decisions. The independent senator from Vermont on Tuesday formally announced a slate of national staffers. The move comes just four days after Sanders highlighted that his presidential campaign would be the first in history to unionize. And the announcements come three weeks after a major shakeup at the campaign, with several top advisers from Sanders’ 2016 White House bid heading for the exits. … Regardless of the shakeup, Sanders came out of the gate in strong position. He drew large crowds to his first two rallies in New York City and Chicago and along with former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s likely to announce his bid next month, is near the top of the public opinion polls.”

Give this a read: ‘The politics of Beto and Amy O’Rourke’s marriage’ – WaPo: “Then, there’s Amy and Beto. They are at once the most modern and most conventional of the families running for president in 2020. They are pioneers of social media, broadcasting much of their lives in real time; affluent, white and traditional — the political equivalent of ‘The Truman Show.’ They captured the hearts and minds of the left in their 2018 run for the Senate, but now, Beto won’t call himself a progressive. Amy, before putting her career on the back burner for her husband, ran a charter school. … In truth, even though Amy is fully on board, this isn’t the life she would have chosen. She recently finished Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming.’ Like Michelle, Amy says of being first lady, ‘I wouldn’t put it on the list of things that I’ve ever aspired to.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump 2020 looks like another Facebook election Axios

Nadler ‘encouraged’ by documents provided in Trump obstruction probePolitico

Pergram: ‘Border wall standoff could lead to another government shutdown this fall’Fox News

SupCo rules in favor of Trump’s immigration detentionReuters

Cornyn prepares for 2020 fight Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan joins board of new Fox Corp.Bloomberg

Trump admin proposes news limits on student loansAP

AUDIBLE: BUT HAVE YOU TRIED A CHAI TEA LATTE?  
“I broke up with sleep last night and I’m dating coffee this morning. . . I appreciate her warmth and stimulating company.” – A series of old tweets from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., from over the years have resurfaced about his on and off again relationship with sleep.

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?
Fox News: “A New Jersey man has finally returned a school library book he checked out 53 years ago. Harry Krame, of Fair Lawn, said he recently discovered ‘The Family Book Of Verse’ by Lewis Gannet while cleaning the basement of his home. ‘When he asked my name I told him I can’t give it to him because I was in the witness protection program,’ Krame, 65, told WCBS-TV. ‘I took it out to read and never brought it back.’ Krame checked out the novel when he was 13 years old in 1966. When he realized he still had the book all these years later, he said he felt guilty for ‘a few seconds. … It was like, I still have (it), sorry about that.’ Dominick Tarquinio, the vice principal of Memorial Middle School, told the news outlet he was shocked when a former student returned his late book. He said that at today’s rate, Krame would owe around $2,000 in late fees. However, he said: ‘We’re not looking to collect.’”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Regarding terrorism, we’ve developed a fairly reasonable balance. But it took time. With Ebola, we don’t have time. Viruses don’t wait. The sooner we reset the balance — the sooner we get serious — the safer we will be.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing for the Washington Post on Oct. 16, 2014.

Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

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