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Trump lifts ban on U.S. lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba

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Trump lifts ban on U.S. lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A Cuban flag hangs outside a hotel in Havana, Cuba, April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

The major policy shift, which the State Department said could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billion of dollars, is intended to intensify pressure on Havana at a time Washington is demanding an end to Cuban support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

But President Donald Trump’s decision, which was quickly denounced by Cuba as “an attack on international law,” could also further strain economic relations with U.S. allies in Europe and Canada, whose companies have significant interests on the island.

“Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement,” Pompeo said at a news conference.

“Cuba’s behavior in the Western Hemisphere undermines the security and stability of countries throughout the region, which directly threatens United States national security interests,” he said.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, will discuss the administration’s decision in a speech on Wednesday in Miami, where he will also announce new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries he has branded a “troika of tyranny,” a senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Trump decided to allow a law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996 to be fully activated, permitting Cuban-Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system with a flood of lawsuits.

“I strongly reject the announcement of State Secretary Pompeo,” Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a message on Twitter. “This is an attack on international law and the sovereignty of Cuba and third states. Aggressive escalation of #USA against #Cuba will fail.”

The move, which could deal a blow to the Cuban government’s efforts to attract foreign investment, marks a further step by Trump to roll back parts of the historic opening to Cuba, an old Cold War foe, under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Pompeo said the Obama administration had played “a game of footsie with the Castros’ junta” and accused the Cuban government of widespread human rights abuses. “Detente with the regime has failed,” he told reporters.

PUSHBACK FROM EU, CANADA

Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. U.S. companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.

It was unclear, however, how such property claims, some of which involve complex legal matters, will fare in U.S. courts.

“The EU will consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a joint statement.

A joint EU-Canada statement said the U.S. move was “regrettable” and will have an “important impact on legitimate EU and Canadian economic operators in Cuba.”Kim Breier, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the administration had been in close contact with allies in Europe and elsewhere before the Cuba decision and that a “vast number” of European firms operating there would not have any problems.

She said, however, that a U.S. government commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a current value, including interest, of about $8 billion.

“There could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims … and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars,” Breier added. “It will depend on whether claimants decide to pursue legal cases or not.”

U.S. officials left no doubt that the Helms-Burton decision, which takes effect on May 2, is part of the Trump administration’s effort to force Cuba to abandon Maduro, something Havana has insisted it will not do.

Washington says Havana’s security and intelligence support is critical to Maduro’s grip on power amid Venezuela’s economic and political crisis.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before a Senate foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department budget request in Washington, U.S. April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency.

The United States and most Western countries have backed Guaido as head of state. Maduro, backed by Cuba, Russia, China and the Venezuela military, has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.

Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Sarah Marsh in Havana,Philip Blenkinsop and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels, Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Tom Brown

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Hundreds of decks of playing cards arrive for Washington state lawmaker who criticized nurses

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Washington state lawmaker riles nurses by saying that some spend 'considerable' time playing cards

The Washington state senator who suggested that some nurses “play cards” during a “considerable” portion of their shifts received more than 600 packages of playing cards Tuesday as backlash over her remarks continued to grow.

The United Parcel Service location in Tumwater, Wash., said that it received 667 packages of playing cards addressed to state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, after an open letter criticizing her remarks circulated on Facebook last week and included Walsh’s P.O. box address, Seattle’s KOMO-TV reported.

“You said that not all nurses deserve breaks as they just sit around playing cards while on shift anyway,” the letter read. “I know nurses who can go all night without food or a bathroom break. I know nurses with nerve damage and back pain from doing whatever it takes to take care of patients. I know nurses who cry in their cars. Do you think that’s where they play cards, Senator Walsh?”

WASHINGTON STATE LAWMAKER RILES NURSES BY SAYING SOME SPEND ‘CONSIDERABLE’ TIME PLAYING CARDS

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

The letter went on to predict that after the next election cycle Walsh may find herself with “plenty of time to play cards and plenty of cards to play with.”

Walsh first drew criticism from nursing professionals while debating a bill last week that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and would also provide mandatory overtime protections for them.

She pushed for an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the provision, arguing that such small facilities struggle to provide 24-hour care as it is.

“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

Despite the bill being passed with Walsh’s amendment, her ill-received comments sparked a flurry of social media posts mocking her.

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Walsh addressed the issue Monday, apologizing to those who were offended and saying she would spend a day shadowing a nurse throughout his or her 12-hour shift.

“I want to offer my heartfelt apologies to those I offended with my comments on the Senate floor last Tuesday. I was tired, and in the heat of argument on the Senate floor, I said some things about nurses that were taken out of context – but still they crossed the line.”

In 2012, some comments by Walsh on a different subject also went viral, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported. That year Walsh bucked most other members of the state GOP by speaking out in support of same-sex marriage. The state’s House subsequently backed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Bernie Sanders wrong about prisoners and voting, ex-con released under Trump reform law says

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Bernie Sanders wrong about prisoners and voting, ex-con released under Trump reform law says

The first man released from prison under President Trump’s criminal justice reform law reacted to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., saying that prisoners should be permitted to vote by noting the “logistical” problems of allowing prisoners serving a sentence to vote and backing prisoners who served their time to have their rights restored.

“I do know while you’re incarcerated you do lose some of your liberties. But my thing is, once a person has been completely released and they paid their debt to society and they are back in society actually functioning, paying taxes, then they should have their rights restored to vote,” Matthew Charles, who was released from prison under the First Step Act, said on Fox News’  “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

KAMALA HARRIS BACKTRACKS, NOW SAYS CRIMINALS LIKE BOSTON BOMBER ‘SHOULD BE DEPRIVED’ OF RIGHT TO VOTE

“But during the period they’re incarcerated, it’s going to be like a complex issue because of the logistics. You got people incarcerated in states that they actually are not from.”

Sanders opened himself to scrutiny this week after saying that not only should incarcerated prisoners be permitted to vote but that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should also be permitted to vote.

“If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they will be punished. But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people,” Sanders said Monday on a CNN Town Hall.

Trump’s re-election campaign called out Sanders Wednesday, describing his idea “deeply offensive.”

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“The extremity and radicalism of the 2020 Democrats knows no bounds,” Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News.

“Giving imprisoned terrorists, sex offenders, and murderers the right to vote is an outrageous proposal that is deeply offensive to innocent victims across this country, some of whom lost their lives and are forever disenfranchised by the very killers that 2020 Democrats seek to empower,” she said.

Fox News’ Sally Persons and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.

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George Conway praises Hillary Clinton for her op-ed on Mueller probe: ‘I’m with her’

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George Conway calls Trump a cancer that needs to be removed in blistering op-ed

The husband of top White House official Kellyanne Conway expressed solidarity with Hillary Clinton after the former secretary of state wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Congress to pursue the findings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, telling his followers on Twitter, “I’m with her.”

In the piece published Wednesday afternoon, Clinton called for holding President Trump “accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law” but insisted that choosing between “immediate impeachment or nothing” was a “false choice.” She also referred to the Mueller report as “road map” for Congress.

“It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not,” Clinton wrote. “Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.”

George Conway, who has made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, praised the 2016 presidential candidate on Twitter and highlighted a portion from her op-ed, where she acknowledged that some may say she’s “not the right messenger.”

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“Perhaps so. Probably so. But if she’s with the Constitution, I’m with her,” Conway tweeted.

Conway regularly slams the president and repeatedly has questioned his mental fitness. The president fired back on Twitter last month.

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