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srfphoto/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Twice in the last two days, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have sent letters to President Donald Trump laying out their terms for negotiating across the aisle on health care. Yesterday, they said they would only come to the table if the Republicans agreed they were no longer seeking to “repeal” President Obama’s signature health care law.

Today, in a second letter, top Democrats from both the House and the Senate said the president needed to stop, in their opinion, actively work to undermine the current law.

“As President, you have a responsibility to protect and sustain the marketplaces and the coverage they provide to so many Americans,” Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wrote. “It is time to move forward for the American people. Honoring our responsibility to do no harm, we should take this opportunity to continue to lower costs, improve quality, and expand coverage, while continuing to improve the stability of the marketplaces.”

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump suggested he may turn to Democrats for to compromise on a new health care reform bill, but this morning during an interview Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he was not going out of his way to seek bipartisan support. Ryan added that the idea of Trump turning to Democrats, if Republicans could not get to an agreement on their own, worried him.

He said he and Pelosi were on “very different pages.”

Democratic strategists also remain unconvinced that President Trump really wants their party’s help and that a deal could be reached. The newly elected head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, was asked this week if he trusted the President’s overtures. “I can give you a one word answer: ‘no.’ I can give you a two word answer: ‘hell no,’” the former secretary of labor under Obama said during an interview with the Washington Post.

When asked what specifically Democrats would suggest to improve health care in this country, he went straight to one of the party’s boldest reform proposals: a public option.

Progressives, who have a loud voice in the party these days, are arguing that Democrats should start all negotiations by proposing an even farther-reaching policy: a “Medicare-for-all,” single-payer type system.

“The point is, let’s fight for the ideal and if republicans want a deal, then we will deal with them from there, but we are not going to back ourselves into a corner,” Neil Sroka, Communications Director for Democracy for America, told ABC News in an interview this week.

He argued the “old way” that Democrats used to strike deals was by laying out a compromise position to start and letting Republicans “whittle that away to nothing.” “It is not our job to help Republicans get out of the mess they created for themselves ... Our job is to do something but we have to have another side that wants to negotiate with us,” he added. “Trump actually needs to start looking for ways he can agree with Democrats and so far we have not seen that.”

Not all Democrats believe that the party should advocate for such a sweeping reform like Medicare for all.

Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, said she was also skeptical that the White House was prepared to negotiate. “If you want to negotiate with Democrats, don’t send Steve Bannon to the Hill,” she said. The controversial Chief Strategist at the White House has been seen on the Hill in meetings several times in the last few weeks discussing health care reform.

Pelosi did send a letter to all House Democrats this week urging input and ideas for ways to improve the current health care system in the county. The letter was titled, "All Hands on Deck – A Call for Suggestions to Improve the Affordable Care Act."

More moderate House Democrats say they turned down an invitation to go to the White House to meet with a staffer on the issue. “With all due respect to the folks there, if that particular staffer wants to meet, come meet with the Blue Dogs here," Rep. Henry Cuellar, (D-Texas), a moderate leader of the Blue Dog Caucus, told ABC.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, (D-Maryland), said his members did not want to trek down Pennsylvania Avenue to “be a prop.” He said he had not heard from the White House yet.

“I think we were for the public option we passed the public option so that everybody will have availability of policy. Republicans have complained that there’s only one option in a lot of places so having a public option in a lot of places would be a good option,” he added.

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SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two Democratic Senators announced they will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the first Democrats who have declared support for his nomination.

Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota both released statements today announcing their intentions to vote to approve Gorsuch.

Few Democrats are expected to support his nomination and some have promised to filibuster when the vote reaches the floor.

Both Senators have met with Gorsuch and cited his judicial record and praise from colleagues as some of the reasons for their support.

Manchin called him an "honest and thoughtful man" in a statement, saying "I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice."

Heitkamp cited Gorsuch's experience with tribal law and public lands issues, as well as endorsements from Native American organizations.

"He has a record as a balanced, meticulous, and well respected jurist who understands the rule of law," she said in the statement.

Heitkamp's statement also said her support of Gorsuch doesn't diminish how disturbed she was that Republicans blocked President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland.

"I was taught that two wrongs don’t make a right. There isn’t a perfect judge," Heitkamp said in the statement. "Regardless of which party is in the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court should be above politics."

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Kanoke_46/iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTE) -- North Carolina lawmakers approved a measure on Thursday to repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which critics have called the most anti-LGBT bill in the country.

Legislators have been eager to roll back the year-old law, which is estimated to have already cost the Tar Heel State millions of dollars in lost business, including from the cancellation of major sports events.

But LGBT activists have denounced the new legislation, which they say would still allow discrimination by leaving the state in charge of determining which public bathrooms transgender individuals can access and barring municipalities for several years from passing local laws to protect people from discrimination.

What is the ‘bathroom bill’?

The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, commonly known as House Bill 2 or HB2, was signed into law in North Carolina by Republican former Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23, 2016.

HB2, dubbed the “bathroom bill,” declares that state law overrides all local ordinances concerning wages, employment and public accommodations. Thus, HB2 bars local municipalities from establishing their own rules prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and public accommodations, such as public restrooms.

The law also directs all public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their “biological sex” as stated on their birth certificate. Under the law, transgender individuals are allowed to use bathrooms and changing facilities consistent with their gender identity only if they get the biological sex on their birth certificate changed.

The “bathroom bill” has sparked widespread backlash, boycotts, protests and even legal battles. The NBA, for example, announced in July 2016 that it was moving its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte over concerns about the law. Similarly, the NCAA announced in September 2016 it would relocate its 2016–17 season championship games out of the Tar Heel State.

The national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and a private law firm announced last year that they had filed a federal lawsuit challenging HB2 on behalf of four LGBT North Carolinians and members of the ACLU of North Carolina. The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, on May 10.

Why was HB2 passed and who supports it?

Republican lawmakers, who make up the majority of North Carolina’s General Assembly, passed HB2 in response to a then-newly approved ordinance in Charlotte that would have prohibited discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, testified before the state’s Senate last year, saying that the Charlotte ordinance "means men could enter women's restrooms and locker rooms -- placing the privacy, safety, and dignity of women and the elderly at great risk."

McCrory agreed in a statement he wrote after signing the bill.

"The basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte," he said at the time. "As a result, I have signed legislation passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette which was to go into effect April 1."

What is the ‘compromise’ bill?

After days of marathon negotiations, North Carolina’s Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger announced at a news conference late Wednesday night that they had reached “a major compromise agreement” with the state's new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, to repeal HB2. Cooper, who narrowly defeated McCrory in 2016, is a staunch critic of HB2.

The proposed bill would repeal HB2. But it would still prevent local governments, schools and others from regulating multi-stall bathrooms, showers and changing areas. Regulation of those facilities would still fall to the state legislature.

The compromise bill would also prohibit local governments from enacting their own nondiscrimination ordinances until December 2020. That temporary moratorium would allow time for pending federal litigation over transgender issues to play out, according to Moore and Berger.

"Compromise requires give and take from all sides, and we are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy," the two Republican lawmakers said in a joint statement Wednesday night.

The deal came after the NCAA had said North Carolina sites won’t be considered for athletic championship events for several years “absent any change” in HB2. It’s unclear whether the NCAA, which regulates athletics at more than 1,200 colleges nationwide, would be satisfied by the new proposal.

What the compromise bill doesn’t do is answer the issue at the heart of HB2 and the Charlotte ordinance. As The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board points out, the new legislation “dodges the whole bathroom question.”

They write, "Charlotte's ordinance allowed transgender individuals to use the public bathroom of the gender with which they identify. HB2 banned that. The new law does not specify what transgender people are to do."

What's next for the compromise bill?

The proposed bill cleared all of its hurdles today in North Carolina's legislature, passing through the Senate this morning and the House this afternoon.

The bill was sent to the governor, who supports the measure and is expected to sign it despite sharp criticism from activists, according to ABC-owned station WTVD in Raleigh.

Previous attempts to repeal HB2 have failed over the past year, including one during a special session in North Carolina’s legislature in December that fell apart amid partisan finger-pointing.

What are opponents saying?

LGBTQ rights groups and activists who have fought against HB2 blasted the compromise bill, particularly over its temporarily banning municipalities from passing their own anti-discrimination laws.

“At its core, it's a statewide prohibition on equality," Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin told reporters on Wednesday of the compromise bill. He said Cooper, whom gay rights activists supported in North Carolina’s gubernatorial election last year, could get the blame for backing a "dirty deal."

"This repeal is nothing but a replacement of the same discrimination of the original HB2,” ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio told ABC News in a statement today. “With so many trans young people facing discrimination, trans women of color being murdered, and real problems facing our country, it is a disgrace that North Carolina is acting once again to target our vulnerable community.”

"If you vote for this bill you are not a friend of the LGBTQ community," Equality North Carolina executive director Chris Sgro told reporters Thursday morning.

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Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ivanka Trump made it official, announcing Wednesday that she will serve as an unpaid employee in the White House and will be "subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees," according to a statement from her.

Trump plans to file financial disclosure forms and "be bound by the same ethics rules that she had planned to comply with voluntarily," said her attorney Jamie Gorelick.

Ethics experts gave this announcement a muted applause, telling ABC News that Trump was already a government "employee" who should be subject to ethics rules. Formalizing her role is a positive step, they said, but it does not eliminate all ethics concerns.

"The White House lawyers got it wrong when they tried to make her a nonemployee and pretended that she was exempt from the ethics rules. They were playing games and that's just not going to work," said Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush.

Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics expert and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said that the White House's former position was "indefensible" and that "that 'voluntary' language really obscured the point — they are claiming that she had a choice."

As a federal employee, Trump is subject to a criminal federal conflicts of interest law that prohibits most federal officials from participating in government matters in which they or their family have a financial interest. As president, her father, Donald Trump, is exempt from this rule.

Clark and Painter said that she is not required to divest from her company, but she should recuse herself from matters that could affect her economic positions, her company or her husband's businesses.

"For example, half of her business is based on jewelry, so pretend the administration is weighing an enormous tax on jewelry," Clark said. "That's something she would not be able to be in the room for if she doesn't fully divest. But it's unclear how broadly this would be applied."

In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Clark said, "The Department of Justice ruled that the U.S. response to the Iraqi invasion was so broad in scope that conflict of interest rules didn't apply to White House officials who had oil holdings."

Painter added that Ivanka Trump should stay away from any trade negotiations for countries with which she deals in the manufacturing of her clothes, as well as real estate matters.

But Gary Bass, an ethics professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy, said that this strategy is fraught.

"It's almost impossible to come up with simple recusals, because government matters are so interwoven," he said, pointing out that discussions about job creation or even maternity leavecould unexpectedly veer into policy talks that would affect her business.

The White House "is becoming a family operation, and there aren't a lot of rules about this," Bass added.

Trump's new position could also run afoul of an anti-nepotism law, some experts believe. But Painter told ABC News that other superseding laws, as interpreted by the Justice Department, essentially give the president "unfettered discretion to hire whoever he wants."

Yesterday, the White House released its own statement about the move, saying that it is "pleased."

"Ivanka’s service as an unpaid employee furthers our commitment to ethics, transparency, and compliance and affords her increased opportunities to lead initiatives driving real policy benefits for the American public that would not have been available to her previously."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- During the Senate Intelligence Committee's opening hearing on Thursday, an expert on Russia pointed to President Donald Trump's tactics during the campaign as the reason why Russia's attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election was effective.

"Part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents," said Clint Watts, a senior fellow for the Foreign Policy Research Institute Program on National Security. "Active measures" is a Soviet term for attempts to influence events, like political elections, to undermine an opponent.

Watts then pointed to several incidents in which Trump pushed theories that Russian news outlets had also promoted.

"He denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He claimed that the election could be rigged; that was the No. 1 theme pushed by RT Sputnik news," Watts said. "So part of the reason active measures works and it does today in terms of Trump Tower being wiretapped is because they parrot the same lines." The FBI director, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, have acknowledged that there’s no evidence to back Trump’s March 4 claim that President Barack Obama ordered his phones at Trump Tower be wiretapped during the campaign.

"But until we get a firm basis on fact and fiction in our own country, get some agreement about the facts ... we're going to have a big problem," Watts added.

Watts later said that his "biggest concern right now is I don’t know what America’s stance is on Russia.”

Watts added that Russia-linked Twitter accounts tweet at President Trump at "high volumes when they know he's online and they push conspiracy theories."

At one point, Watts told Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that his campaign for president had, in Watts' opinion, "suffered through these efforts" from Russia to sink the hopes of candidates "more hostile" to its country.

According to the experts who testified today, the Russia government is also attempting to interfere in other ongoing national elections, including in France and Germany.

Watts' testimony was part of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The committee will hold a second panel as part of its hearing later today and Gen. Keith Alexander, the former NSA director, is expected to testify then.

While the House Intelligence Committee is embroiled in controversy, the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, and vice chair, Sen. Mark Warner, vowed to get to the bottom of Russia's interference in the U.S. election and any possible collusion between Trump, his campaign aides and the Russian government.

"This investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads," Burr said Wednesday in a joint press conference with Warner. "So, it is absolutely crucial that every day we spend trying to separate fact from fiction."

The Senate Intelligence Committee sent requests to 20 individuals to be interviewed, and so far five are scheduled.

On the House side, Democrats are calling for Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to recuse himself from the committee's probe because of doubts that he would not be impartial in the investigation. Nunes has said he will not step aside.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's leaders made clear Wednesday they do not want to be associated with the House's investigation.

"We're not asking the House to play any role in our investigation. We don't plan to play any role in their investigation," Burr said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee held an open hearing in January in which intelligence leaders blamed the Russian government for the hacking of individuals and organizations involved in the 2016 presidential election.

"We have high confidence that President Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said at the time. "The goals of this campaign were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency. Putin and the Russian government also developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer invited the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees to the White House to view documents discovered by National Security Council staff, he announced at Thursday's press briefing.

Spicer would not confirm whether the documents he’s referring to were the same ones that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes viewed on White House grounds last Tuesday, saying the information could only be discussed in a classified setting.

"What I’m suggesting is that there has been information that has ... come to light and we want to make sure that the people who are conducting the review have the information, have access to it," said Spicer.

When asked by ABC News' Cecilia Vega whether the materials validate President Donald Trump's claim that he and his associates were wiretapped under order from former President Barack Obama, Spicer said he didn't know.

"I have not seen the materials. It's members of the National Security [Council] who have come across these documents that want to make them available to the members leading the review," Spicer said.

The press secretary would neither confirm nor deny a report by the New York Times earlier in the day that two White House officials were the sources of the intelligence provided to Nunes on the White House grounds last week -- information on which Nunes later returned to brief Trump.

A week ago Spicer questioned why Nunes "would come up to brief the President on something that we gave him" and said the situation "doesn't really pass the smell test." At Thursday's briefing Spicer said he "can’t get into" the chairman’s sources and again said he didn't know who let Nunes onto the White House grounds last Tuesday.

As he criticized the press for focusing on the "process" of the investigation rather than its "substance," Spicer maintained that the inquiry into Russia is being carried out in a "responsible way."

"I think this is being done in a responsible way where people are discussing what they know at an appropriate classification level and information is being shared," Spicer said.

Asked whether Trump had been briefed on the intelligence to be provided to the committee leaders, Spicer said he didn’t know.

Shortly after the White House briefing, Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed his "profound concern with how these materials are being made available to the committee."

He said that he had questions about the "circuitous route" that the individuals appear to have taken in sharing documents with Nunes.

"This issue is not going to distract us from doing our Russia investigation. If that's the object here, it's not going to be successful," Schiff said.

"There's no question that there is a cloud over the investigation as a result of the way the materials were provided," he said.

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US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Sen. Bob Corker criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan for warning Republicans that if they don't pass health care reform, President Trump may work with Democrats on the issue.

"We have come a long way in our country when the speaker of one party urges a president NOT to work with the other party to solve a problem," the senator from Tennessee tweeted Thursday in response to Ryan's comments to CBS News.

Corker appeared to be responding to the speaker's comments in an interview that aired Thursday on CBS This Morning, in which Ryan said Republicans should support the GOP legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare or risk that the president could work with Democrats.

Ryan said Trump was "deeply involved" and "really rolled up his sleeves" in last week's effort to pass the Republican health care bill in the House.

But, the Wisconsin Republican said, "What I’m worried about, if [Republicans] don’t do this, he’ll go work with Democrats to try to change Obamacare, and that’s hardly a conservative thing."

"I know he wants to get things done with the Republican Congress. But if this Republican Congress allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I worry we'll push the president into working with Democrats," the speaker said.

"I want a patient-centered system," Ryan said. "I don't want government running health care."

Ryan did not say whether he has reached out to House Democrats, including his counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, on health care.

"Nancy and I see things very, very differently," Ryan said.

The speaker clarified his remarks at a press conference later in the day after he was asked whether he was discouraging bipartisanship.

"We have long histories of working with Democrats, but I don't think it's a stretch of the mind to suggest that the Democrats disagree with us on repealing Obamacare," said Ryan. "They're not going to help us repeal Obamacare, that's my point."

President Trump initially blamed Democrats when Republican leaders last Friday pulled their health care bill from the House floor because of a lack of support. But days later, the president extended an olive branch to the opposing party.

“I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care, that's such an easy one, so I have no doubt that that's going to happen very quickly,” Trump said Tuesday night at a reception for U.S. senators at the White House.

The next day, ABC News asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer for the president's response to a letter from Senate Democrats offering to work with Trump on improving the Affordable Care Act, instead of, as the GOP wants, repealing the law.

Spicer affirmed that the White House goal is "to repeal the law and replace it," but also said, "We're willing to engage with people."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump took aim at the Freedom Caucus Thursday morning in a tweet, saying that it will do damage to the Republican Party.

Members of the caucus helped play a key role in the decision not to bring the GOP health care bill to a vote in the House last week.

"The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

 

The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017

 

"The president's tweet speaks for itself. We don't have anything to add at this time," according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House principal deputy press secretary.

Last week, press secretary Sean Spicer would not explicitly state whether the president would campaign against those who didn't support the health care bill.

This is not the first time that Trump has criticized the group. He criticized its members on social media two days after the bill was shelved.

"Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!" he wrote on March 26.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While the House Intelligence Committee is embroiled in controversy, the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, and vice chair, Sen. Mark Warner, are committed to getting to the bottom of Russian interference in the U.S. election and any possible collusion between President Trump, his aides and the Russian government.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold an open hearing Thursday and several witnesses, including Gen. Keith Alexander, the former National Security Agency director, are expected to testify.

Thursday's hearing will last about two hours and will look at "the policies that we think Russia is implementing and to look at the technologies that display their capabilities," according to Burr.

"This investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads," Burr said Wednesday in a joint press conference with Warner. "So, it is absolutely crucial that every day we spend trying to separate fact from fiction."

The Senate Intelligence Committee sent requests to 20 individuals to be interviewed, and so far five are scheduled.

On the House side, Democrats are calling for Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to recuse himself from the committee's probe because of doubts that he would not be impartial in the investigation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's leaders made clear Wednesday that they do not want to be associated with the House's investigation.

"We're not asking the House to play any role in our investigation. We don't plan to play any role in their investigation," Burr explained.

The Senate Intelligence Committee held an opening hearing in January in which intelligence leaders blamed the Russian government for the hacking of individuals and organizations involved in the 2016 presidential election.

"We have high confidence that President Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said at the time. "The goals of this campaign were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency. Putin and the Russian government also developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump has repeatedly sparked outrage among women since he entered the political fray in the 2016 race.

On one hand, he has garnered praise from some corners for promoting women to top positions within his company and to certain positions within his Cabinet, and can count women such as Kellyanne Conway, his former campaign manager, among his closest advisers.

On the other, he has drawn fire for his comments over the years, including a tape that surfaced just before the election that showed him bragging about groping women, for which he later apologized.

He also faced criticism for a lack of women in key positions in his administration, taking actions during his presidency that some say are detrimental to women's interests and appearing in pictures surrounded by men at forums and executive order signings.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer praised the work that Trump has done for women before his appearance at an event focused on women's empowerment this afternoon.

"Women's History Month is coming to an end, but the Trump administration is committed to empowering women in the workplace. The work that we started this month will not end at the end of this month, but will continue," Spicer said.

Here is a review of the clearest actions affecting women that have been taken by the Trump administration during the first 69 days of his presidency.

Taking action on abortion and women's health


On what Trump considered the first full day of work, Jan. 24, the president issued an executive memorandum reinstating the Mexico City policy, which bars federal funding for overseas groups that provide access to or counseling about abortions.

Introduced by President Ronald Reagan at a United Nations conference in Mexico City in 1984, the policy was dubbed the "Global Gag Rule" by abortion-rights groups.

The policy, which has been heavily criticized by Democrats, has been rescinded and reinstated multiple times since its inception.

Aside from the executive memorandum, the other ways in which the Trump administration would change health care for women were stalled with the decision not to vote on the American Health Care Act last week.

If the health care plan had been adopted, Planned Parenthood effectively would have been stripped of Medicaid clients and largely defunded, and individuals would have been banned from using their federal tax credits on plans that covered abortions, an incentive to insurance companies to stop offering the procedure.

Also, over the next few years, certain "essential health benefits," which currently include maternity care, would no longer be covered by Medicaid.

Photos showing Trump during signings and appearances related to women's issues have raised some eyebrows.

When he signed the Mexico City policy and when Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with Republican leaders about the health care plan on March 23, pictures showed Trump surrounded only by men. One photo that was tweeted by Cliff Sims, a special assistant to Trump, from the March 23 meeting shows that Conway was in the room, but the photo that Pence chose to share from the same meeting showed 25 men and no women.

Focus on working women


Trump has participated in several roundtable discussions about female entrepreneurs and women-run businesses. The issue is one known to be close to his daughter Ivanka's heart as well.

The topic was discussed at a meeting with women entrepreneurs with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 13 and earlier this week, Trump hosted a roundtable with women small business owners on Monday March 27.

"Empowering and promoting women in business is an absolute priority in the Trump administration because I know how crucial women are as job creators, role models, and leaders all throughout our communities," he said at the event.

He has also spoken about other issues that directly relate to women at various points in his presidency -- including his joint address to Congress on Feb. 28 -- though he has yet to take action on all of the issues in question.

"My administration wants to work with members of both parties to make childcare accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave to invest in women's health, and to promote clean air and clean water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure," he said.

Paid family leave, women's health issues and the promotion of clean air and water are issues that Ivanka Trump addressed during the campaign or met with experts about during the transition.

During her address to the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump said: "As President, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all."

Women in the White House


Conway, who became the first female campaign manager of a winning presidential campaign when Trump won, touted Trump's "natural affinity" for "promoting and elevating women."

"I believe that Donald Trump is someone who is not fully understood for how compassionate and what a great boss he is to women. He has been promoting -- he has been promoting and elevating women in the Trump Corporation -- in the Trump campaign, in the Trump Cabinet, certainly in the Trump White House. It's just a very natural affinity for him," she said.

While she is arguably the most prominent woman advising the president now, Conway and Ivanka Trump are the female figures who appear with Trump the most.

Until now, Ivanka Trump did not have a formal title in the administration but did recently have security clearance approved, received a government-issued communication device and an office on the second floor of the West Wing.

On Thursday, she released a statement announcing that she will have the title of special assistant to the president but will not receive a salary.

First lady Melania Trump decided to stay in New York through their son Barron Trump's school year, and she has only spoken at a handful of events since her husband took office including this morning, when she spoke about women's empowerment at the State Department.

The first lady also hosted the International Women's Day Luncheon on March 8.

Trump also counts among his close advisers Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff, Hope Hicks, director of strategic communications and Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser.

Trump was criticized earlier in his term for what some said was a lack of diversity among his Cabinet. Trump picked four women for cabinet-level positions -- Betsy DeVos (Education), Nikki Haley (U.N. Ambassador), Linda McMahon (Small Business Administration) and Elaine Chao (Transportation) -- which is the lowest number of women since George W. Bush's first cabinet, though he went on to appoint Condoleezza Rice as his secretary of State in his second term.

By contrast, Barack Obama had seven women in Cabinet-level positions at the start of his presidency and Bill Clinton had six; George H.W. Bush had two and Ronald Reagan had one.

For his part, Trump is proud of the women on his team.

“My Cabinet is full of really incredible women leaders,” Trump said Wednesday.

“I’m so proud that the White House and our administration is filled with so many women of such incredible talent,” he said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — It appears to be a tale of two Russian investigations.

There is the probe in the House Intelligence Committee that has been publicly marred by controversy over the actions of the chairman, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., once a member of the Trump transition team, and his wrangling with Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Then there is the Senate, where, by contrast Wednesday, the leaders of that body's Intelligence Committee presented a united front as they shared details of their ongoing inquiry into Russian interference, including possible collusion with a campaign, and vowed to "get to the bottom of this."

The probes, which are running simultaneously with an FBI investigation into potential collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials, represent a critical juncture in the nascent administration.

The investigations have split lawmakers largely along party lines, with the GOP honing in on leaks of classified information and the "unmasking" of Americans within the intelligence community and Democrats emphasizing Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice-Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., appeared together at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday and defined the scope of their committee's work.

"An outside foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical democratic process, the election of a president, and in that process, decided to favor one candidate over another," said Warner. "We're here to assure you, and more importantly, the American people who are watching and listening, that we will get to the bottom of this."

"This is one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here," said Burr.

Warner's invocation of his and Burr's long-standing working relationship during their appearance and shared "concern about what the Russians have done and continue to do around the world" stood in stark contrast to the current fracture at the top of the House Intelligence Committee where Nunes is being questioned about his impartiality, willingness to share information and methods in acquiring intelligence.

Since it was revealed Monday that Nunes traveled to the White House grounds last week in order to meet with a source who provided him with information that Americans were swept up in foreign surveillance efforts -- details about which he later briefed the press and the president on before consulting his committee -- a number of congressional leaders, and even one Republican, have called from his recusal from the investigation.

Nunes has refused to remove himself, a stance backed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

On Tuesday, Nunes cancelled all of this week's House Intelligence Committee meetings. The next day he said his committee has to hear from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers behind closed doors before the investigation can proceed, but a committee spokesperson said Schiff wouldn't sign the letter inviting Comey back to the Hill.

Schiff told CNN he expected to meet with Nunes Thursday. "We do need to get to the bottom of it. Otherwise there will be this permanent cloud hanging over our investigation," he said.

The intelligence leaders on the Senate side gave no indication Wednesday that they are facing any of the same cooperative difficulties. Burr -- himself an adviser on Trump's campaign who said his Intelligence Committee work "overrides any personal beliefs that I have or loyalties" he has -- ticked off a lengthy list of steps the committee is taking in its probe, including 20 interview requests that "may turn into private and public hearings."

"The staff has been provided an unprecedented amount of documents," said Burr. "Those documents include documents that, up to this point, have only been shared with the Gang of Eight [party and intelligence committee leaders] and staff directors on the house and senate side."

Nunes has yet to share the information he viewed on the White House grounds with members of his committee, though he indicated that he would like to. He apologized last week for how he shared the news of surveillance of Americans of which Trump said made him feel "somewhat" vindicated.

Burr and Warner lauded the diligence of their committee and its bipartisan nature in their remarks and noted that the intelligence community "has been very cooperative." Warner cautioned, however, against the spread of misleading details, not just in Washington but through the public via social media.

"The very technology that has made our lives simpler can be misused in ways to put false information for folks who potentially only get their news off a Twitter feed or a Facebook news feed," said Warner. "And that raises serious questions, even beyond this investigation."

The breadth of the inquiry led both senators to comment upon the amount of time it could take, with Warner saying that "getting it right is more important than getting it done quickly." Burr added that while the investigation is at this stage, it is too soon for anyone to assume definitive outcomes. White House press secretary Sean Spicer has consistently insisted that there is "no connection" between the administration and Russia.

"It would be crazy to try to draw conclusions from where we are in the investigation," said Burr, responding to whether the committee could "definitively rule out" whether there was "coordination between Trump officials and Russian officials during the election."

Moving forward, the senators gave an optimistic estimation of the final outcome of their work, pledging to keep the public abreast of developments and further reinforcing their commitment.

"I have confidence in Richard Burr that we together, with the members of our committee are going to get to the bottom of this," said Warner. "And if you get nothing else from today, take that statement to the bank."
 
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NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — New red flags about Jared Kushner’s business dealings have emerged with his recent disclosure of a December meeting he held with the chief of a Russian development bank, leading Democratic lawmakers tell ABC News.

"Mr. Kushner needs to come clean and be fully transparent with the public — immediately — about all of the businesses that he continues to profit from while he serves in the White House," Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told ABC News.

Kushner, 36, who is married to Ivanka Trump, played a central role in his father-in-law’s 2016 campaign and has since taken a job as one of President Trump’s senior advisors. He had already faced questions about a December meeting he held with the Russian ambassador when reports surfaced this week about a second contact. The White House confirmed that Kushner met in December with Sergei Gorkov of VneshEconomBank, or VEB Bank, at the suggestion of the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. But the substance of the previously undisclosed meeting remains something of a mystery.

A senior White House official said the conversation was "general and inconsequential" and that Kushner took the meeting as part of his campaign role of interfacing with foreign dignitaries. But the bank described the discussion to ABC News as a "negotiation" in which "the parties discussed the business practices applied by foreign development banks, as well as most promising business lines and sectors."

The December meeting came as the Kushner real estate firm was in the midst of what it has described in public statements as “active, advanced negotiations ... with a number of potential investors” about the redevelopment of the New York City skyscraper it owns at 666 Fifth Avenue.

On Nov. 16, Kushner dined with executives from the China-based Anbang Insurance Group to discuss a potential $4 billion redevelopment of the New York tower – a deal that reportedly fell apart this week, according to published reports. The rumored venture prompted a letter from Congressional Democrats who expressed concern about the company’s entanglements with the Chinese government, and about continued uncertainty about the extent to which Kushner had separated himself from the family real estate business he had until recently overseen.

"Even if Mr. Kushner has in fact divested from 666 Fifth Avenue, it appears his immediate family stands to benefit from a deal with Anbang, potentially violating federal ethics laws that bar '[a]n employee [from using] his public office for his own private gain ... or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity,'" said the March 24 letter signed by Cummings and Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Tom Carper (Del.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Gary Peters (Mich.).

To date, neither Kushner nor the family real estate firm has explained the nature of the meeting with VEB Bank. An official representing the Kushner firm responded to ABC News' questions Wednesday evening saying Kushner was the only executive from his family’s real estate firm to attend.

"VEB is not providing financing, lending, or any other services to Kushner Companies," the company official said.

The bank would not make a conventional choice as a business partner as it is operating under the shroud of U.S. sanctions imposed after Russian incursions into Ukraine. Adding to the troubling optics of the meeting, Democrats said, was the recent involvement of a senior VEB Bank executive in a bungled Russian spy ring in New York. In May, a VEB executive named Evgeny Buryakov was sentenced to 30 months in prison for gathering intelligence for the Russian Federation as an agent under non official cover, known as a “NOC.”

Senators overseeing the Russia investigation have already said they expect to ask Kushner about the meeting when he appears before the Intelligence Committee. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told ABC News he also wants Kushner to share more details about the meeting so the public can understand its nature and purpose.

"Mounting evidence implicates the Trump inner circle in possible collusion with Russian meddling," Blumenthal said. "The Trump White House seems increasingly to be an ethically flawed mix of family businesses, special interests, and foreign interference, putting private gain over public interest."

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Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday affirmed the independence of his agency, saying he didn't care whose "political ox is gored by our work."

Speaking at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Leadership dinner, Comey said if the FBI were ever to "start to think about who will be affected in what way by our decisions in a political sense, we're done."

The crux of his speech was focused on the nature of law enforcement and intelligence, but Comey was invariably asked questions about his role in leading investigations into both Hillary Clinton's email scandal and the Trump administration's alleged Russia ties.

"We are the same today as we were yesterday, we'll be the same tomorrow," Comey said about how the bureau operated, declining to comment on any specific cases or ongoing probes. "We are 'what are the facts?' We really don’t care whose political ox is gored by our work and that is the passion at the heart of the FBI."

Comey stressed that "we’re not on anybody’s side, ever.”

At the same time, Comey acknowledged that ideological polarization in Washington means that the FBI understands that its work will be seized upon by politicians.

"Now we’re not fools," he said. "I know that when I make a hard decision, a storm is going to follow, but honestly I don’t care."

He added, "Now the painful part is we confuse people and the reason we confuse people is most people see the world differently than we do, especially in a hyper-partisan environment."

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vchal/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A Russian opposition activist who has been hospitalized twice in the last year in alleged poisonings by the Putin regime testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, in a Senate hearing aimed at establishing counter-Russia funding.

Vladimir Kara-Murza was active in working for a U.S. law passed in 2012 that bans visas and freezes assets of Russian officials involved in repression and corruption. He splits his time between Moscow and Washington as Vice Chairman for Open Russia, an organization that advocates democracy and human rights inside Russia.

In his testimony before the Senate committee on Wednesday, Kara-Murza said the U.S. needs to take a harsher stance against Russia and Vladimir Putin's regime.

Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs was to make the case for a counter-Russia financial account that would help states and organizations fighting back against the Putin regime.

Kara-Murza opened his testimony by listing current issues of oppression in Russia including lack of free and fair elections, silencing independent media outlets and designating some non-profits doing work there as foreign agents or spies.

He said there are currently 100 political prisoners in Russia and, after tens of thousands of people marched through the streets in different cities across Russia over the weekend, more than 1,500 people were arrested.

Kara-Murza said he thinks the U.S. should be honest about what’s happening in Russia and not "enable corrupt or abusive behavior" and "continue to engage with Russia’s civil society."

He said he believes Western democracies have given Putin a pass to interfere in elections because they "have not taken a principled, firm stand against Russia's actions."

The size of protests in Russia last week show that young people the country no longer trust Putin's regime, he said, calling his regime "a dead end for Russia."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Russia in a few weeks and Kara-Murza noted that it will be interesting to see if Tillerson meets with opposition activists, saying it is vital to maintain lines of communication outside the Kremlin and that the U.S. has to play a role in countering propaganda.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Asked about the possibility of a presidential bid in 2020, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he isn’t ruling it out.

“You know my personality, go big or go home,” McAuliffe told ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the Powerhouse Politics podcast. “I’m not thinking about it, but I never take anything off the table.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has resurfaced from a period of post-election privacy, giving speeches at events in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. this week.

But does that mean Clinton’s considering throwing her hat in the ring again in 2020? McAuliffe, who was Clinton’s campaign chair when she ran in 2008, says “Hillary’s done with elected politics.”

"She has never been quiet about the issues, nor should she be,” he said, adding that people shouldn’t “read too much into it.”

He said she is an “important voice,” but that she will join the chorus of other progressives calling for change: “There is a choir going on out there and we need all those voices.”

McAuliffe also spoke out about the prospect for bipartisan cooperation on changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Last week, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare imploded in a last-minute failure to secure conservative votes. To those who wonder if Democrats might be willing to work with Trump on the second iteration, McAuliffe says, “it’s just not going to happen.”

“Let’s be clear, there is zero chance that one Democrat will work with this administration if it’s going to do anything to undermine or eliminate Obamacare,” McAuliffe said.

While there are areas where McAuliffe sees Democrats being willing to join hands with the new president -- particularly on infrastructure -- he says Trump has been uninterested in collaborating with Democratic governors on his policy initiatives, and that Virginia has suffered under the federal hiring freeze and the travel ban already.

“The president talks a great game on all these big issues, but then he takes the exact opposite approach,” McAuliffe said. “This man has been a one-man wrecking crew ... I’m facing very steep headwinds out of Washington. Get your act together and start doing things to help people.”

Now that the GOP health care bill is off the table, McAuliffe said he hopes to pass Medicaid expansion in his state and that “there are no more excuses” for the Republican-led state legislature.

While he’s not happy with the current administration, McAuliffe sees a light at the end of the tunnel in 2018 and possibly in 2020.

On whether Democrats can take back the House, he said “yes they can.” He pointed to the activism that has been happening at the grassroots level around the country in the wake of Trump’s election as a potential driving force for votes swinging back in Democrats’ favor.

“I've never seen such energy of people coming out to say I'm going to run,” McAuliffe said. “And I'll tell you it was the activists more than anybody -- forget elected officials -- who turned the course on this health care debate. These town halls that are going on across the country. Spectacular.”

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