Why the White House doesn’t think Jerusalem move will kill peace plan - Axios
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Why the White House doesn’t think Jerusalem move will kill peace plan

Palestinians burn a poster of Trump in protest of his Jerusalem decision. Photo: Mahmoud Illean / AP

Just hours before President Trump's highly anticipated speech on Jerusalem, the White House is engaged in damage control. The challenge Trump and his team are facing: how to fulfill his campaign promise of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and still get a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians — and prevent a wave a violence across the West Bank and the Middle East.

Between the lines: White House officials think Trump's decision to follow through on his campaign promise — even if only partially — strengthens his credibility around the world as a someone who stands by his word, isn't intimidated by threats, and doesn't cave to international pressure.

What we're hearing: Trump believes that even if other world leaders don't like the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and start the process of moving the U.S. embassy to the city, they will nevertheless respect him for doing what he said he would do.

  • As a senior administration official told me: "The president will reiterate in his speech how committed he is to peace. While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time."

Trump's peace team – mainly senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt — supported Trump's decision. The peace plan Kushner and Greenblatt are working on is still in the making, and is expected to be presented in the next few months.

Behind the scenes: Trump's peace team sees the current crisis with the Palestinians as a bump in the road. The White House expected the Palestinians to get mad at Trump's decision, and also expected the angry statements by Arab governments. Kushner and Greenblatt are planning to put their heads down for a while, keep working quietly on the peace plan and wait for the dust to settle in order to make a renewed push.

Notable: The Trump speech will have something for the Palestinians too. A senior administration official said Trump will say for the first time since he won the Oval Office that he is prepared to support a two-state solution if both Israelis and Palestinians agree to it.

Why it's a big deal:

  • A statement by Trump in support of a two-state solution was one of the main demands the Palestinians made in the last few months.
  • By saying that, Trump will align himself with his three predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
  • The Trump peace team sees this part of the president's speech as something that can contribute to the re-launch of peace talks.

What to watch: The White House is concerned about possible escalation of tensions as a result of Trump's decision, but hopes the president's good relations with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan will help in calming down the situation as soon as possible.

Senior U.S. officials said Trump asked King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Jordan's King Abdullah II to help in lobbying the Palestinians to refrain from violence and return to peace talks. This might not be that easy. Israeli officials say the Israel Defense Forces and Shin-Bet see riots and escalating violence as a likely scenario and are getting prepared.

Be smart: Trump's decision on the embassy will fulfill his campaign promise only symbolically. On the ground, not much is going to change. The planning and building of a new embassy might take at least three to four years, according to senior U.S. officials.

Until then, Trump will continue to sign waivers to delay the move once every six months — as the previous presidents did — and the U.S. embassy will stay at its current location on the golden beaches of Tel Aviv. If Trump wants to inaugurate the new embassy, he will probably have to win a second term in office first.

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White House, Democrats settle lawsuit over ACA payments

The action could signal an end to a long-running conflict. Photo: AP file

The Trump administration, House Republicans and Democratic attorneys general have settled a lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers, Bloomberg reports. The court filing doesn't give any details of the settlement, per Bloomberg, except to say that it's "conditional."

What to watch: It's hard to know the true significance of the settlement when zero details are available. The only way to know is to watch for the next actions from the Trump administration — to see if it restarts the payments it had stopped — or Congress, to see if it passes the bipartisan bill to fund the payments. Either action could satisfy the Democratic attorneys general, who intervened in the lawsuit to try to preserve the subsidies.

From a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan: "We are gratified that as a follow-up to the executive branch’s acknowledgement that making Obamacare payments to insurers without a congressional appropriation was unlawful, the parties have now agreed to resolve this lawsuit while leaving in place the district court’s legal rulings vindicating the House’s constitutional powers."

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Federal judge blocks Trump from changing contraception rules

A month's supply of hormonal birth control pills. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP

The Trump administration's decision to roll back access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act has been blocked temporarily by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, Buzzfeed reports. The new rules went into effect in October and allowed employers and universities to decline providing birth control coverage for "religious or moral" reasons.

Why it matters: The ruling is one of several recent court orders blocking a Trump administration law. Trump's series of travel bans as well as his order preventing transgender troops from serving in the military have also been halted in court.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone agreed to grant Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling that the Trump administration’s decision could potentially result in “enormous and irreversible” harm to the women of Pennsylvania. The injunction is applicable to all 50 states.

What's next: The block will remain in place until all arguments in the case are heard, which means the ACA requirement that all employers pay for contraception will stay in effect in the interim.

The Pennsylvania ruling joins a handful of similar lawsuits, including one in California, filed against the Trump administration's contraception rules.

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Battery exec leaves Dyson two years after $90 million buyout

Michigan entrepreneur Ann Marie Sastry has left vacuum-maker Dyson, two years after it acquired her controverial lithium-ion battery company, Axios has learned. The $90 million all-cash buyout remains one of the richest lithium-ion deals ever.

Quick take: Sources with knowledge of the situation were not certain of the circumstances of Sastry's departure. But it comes eight months after Dyson relinquished Sakti3's core battery patents, and doubts remain in the field regarding her main claim, asserted repeatedly — that she was on the verge of commercializing much-sought-after solid state battery technology.

Why it matters: For the last two years, Dyson founder James Dyson has spoken of ambitious plans to spend $1 billion to $3 billion to revolutionize batteries and electric cars. He has said said his electric car will ready for the road by 2020. At the time, Dyson's October 2015 purchase of Sakti3 was the spearpoint of the mission, and Sastry's departure suggests more internal turmoil than he has let on.

  • Sastry's Linkedin page says she left Dyson last month. She identifies herself as the founder and CEO of a company called Amesite, which a source said is involved with artificial intelligence and education.

In September, Dyson told Bloomberg that he had created two competing battery teams—Sakti3, plus another that was attempting a different approach to solid state. One explanation for Sastry's departure was that the other team won. In an interview with the Guardian, Dyson said the company's batteries were already more efficient than those in commercial electric vehicles.

At the time of the October 2015 deal and since, numerous leading U.S. battery researchers told me they wondered why Dyson had bought Sakti3. Despite Sastry's robust claims of the company's progress with solid state, she had revealed very little publicly and, since no one else had made much progress, the deep suspicion was that she was exaggerating. Indeed, in reporting for a story at the time of the buyout, former Sakti3 executives told me that the doubters were correct—the company's technology was rudimentary and nowhere near commercial.

Dyson said Sastry is no longer with the company but declined to comment further. Sastry could not be reached.

Dan Primack contributed to this story.

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Bob Corker flips to "yes" on tax reform

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the only holdout on the Senate's initial tax bill, announced Friday that he will vote "yes" on the GOP's tax cuts bill, less than an hour after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he will also vote yes.

Why it matters: Corker's vote essentially cements the tax bill's passage before the Christmas deadline.

His statement:

"After many conversations over the past several days with individuals from both sides of the aisle across Tennessee and around the country — including business owners, farmers, chambers of commerce and economic development leaders — I have decided to support the tax reform package we will vote on next week.

"This bill is far from perfect, and left to my own accord, we would have reached bipartisan consensus on legislation that avoided any chance of adding to the deficit and far less would have been done on the individual side with items that do not generate economic growth.

"But after great though and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss. While many project that it is very possible over the next ten years we could be at least $500 billion short on a $43 trillion policy baseline, I believe this bill accompanied with the significant regulatory changes that are underway, and hopefully, future pro-growth oriented policies relative to trade and immigration , could have significant positive impact on the well-being of Americans and help drive additional foreign direct investment in Tennessee.

"In the end, after 11 years in the Senate, I know every bill we consider is imperfect and the questions becomes is our country better off with or without this piece of legislation. I think we are better off with it. I realize this is a bet on our country's enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make."

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Release of texts between FBI officials to media was unauthorized

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

The Department of Justice said that some members of the media received early copies of the texts between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and that the release was not authorized by the department, Business Insider reports.

Why it matters: The texts are part of an ongoing investigation; they were shared with lawmakers on Tuesday night, prior to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, and were shared with reporters afterwards. But DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said some reporters had already received them.

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Rubio officially yes on tax bill

Sen. Marco Rubio Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Sen. Marco Rubio's office has confirmed to reporters that the senator will be voting for the GOP tax cuts bill now that the child tax credit has been enhanced to meet his standards.

Why it matters: This thing looks ready to pass.

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Report: FCC to fine Sinclair $13 million over undisclosed ads

AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File

The FCC plans to fine Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation milions of dollars over undisclosed cancer ads that aired during newscasts over a six-month period in 2016, Reuters reports.

The news comes one day after reports surfaced that the DOJ wants Sinclair to divest roughly 12 local broadcast stations in order for its $3.9 million merger with Tribune Media Company to be approved. It also comes as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is being attacked for what is seen as a close relationship with Sinclair.

The fine addresses roughly 1,700 commercials that aired for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. According to the report, Sinclair has previously told reporters that the violations were unintentional.

Reuters reports that the fine was approved by the five-member FCC but has not yet been made public. Sinclair's management has always been right-leaning and conservative-leaning Pai has been accused by progressives as being favorable to the broadcaster.

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White House says Western Wall will stay in Israel

Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a 2014 meeting in Israel. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO via Getty Images

A senior White House official told reporters today that the Trump administration believes the Western Wall in East Jerusalem will remain part of Israel in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The issue came up during a briefing to reporters on Vice President Mike Pence's upcoming visit to Israel.

Why it matters: The statement risks further infuriating the Palestinians at a time when the administration is trying to cool down the crisis created by President Trump's Jerusalem speech. The Western wall was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967 and was never recognized as part of Israel by any country around the world.

Context: During previous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the U.S. supported the Israeli position that the Western Wall should stay part of Israel, but it was never articulated publicly.

What to watch: The official said Pence will visit the Western Wall during his trip to Israel, and he will do it as the vice president and not as a private citizen. "We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not [be] part of Israel," the official said. "But as the president said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement."

The bottom line: After the briefing ended, the White House official noted that the U.S. "cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall."

What's next: In the meantime, White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt will arrive in Israel early next week. It is unclear whether Greenblatt is going to meet any Palestinian officials. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas announced he does not see the U.S. as an honest broker and said the Palestinians will not meet with Pence during his visit.

While in Israel, Greenblatt will meet Fernando Gentilini, European Union envoy for Middle East peace. The 28 leaders of EU member states announced yesterday they see Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine — pushing back against Trump's announcement that the U.S. recognizes it as the capital of Israel.

The White House official added that given the timing, Greenblatt will stay on for Pence’s visit to provide any relevant support.

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Facebook admits that some social media use can be harmful

The Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad. Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

In a new installment of its "Hard Questions" series, Facebook acknowledges that social media can have negative (or positive) effects on people, depending on how they use it.

Why it matters: This might be the first public acknowledgment from the company that its product — and category in general — can have detrimental effects on people.

Facebook is also addressing the topic shortly after two former executives publicly criticized the company for what they described as exploiting human psychology.

Good and bad use, according to research cited by Facebook:

  • Bad: Passive use of social media — reading information without interacting with others — makes people feel worse. Clicking on more links or "liking" more posts than the average user also leads to worse mental health, according to one study.
  • Good: Active use — interacting with people, sharing messages, posts, comments, and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improved well-being.
  • It takes two: Interacting with other users is key, according to research. Simply posting on Facebook without interacting with other people isn't enough.

But: This isn't a capitulation from Facebook, admitting that it may be doing some harm. Instead, the company is simply telling us that we just need to use its social network in more positive ways.

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Law school is the popular choice again

Two law students hug after oral arguments in a moot court competition. Photo: Rogelio V. Solis / AP

The number of people planning to attend law schools next fall has increased by 12%, there have been 14% more law school applications and 23 law schools reported 40% increases in applications, according to data from the Law School Admission Council.

Why it matters: Interest in law school has been declining since before the recession, Wall Street Journal reports. Law school deans and advisors told WSJ that the upturn is at least in part due to the legal issues arising from Trump's administration, better discounts at law schools and a revived economy.