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Infinite Menus, Copyright 2006, OpenCube Inc. All Rights Reserved. Friday, February 24, 2017
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ABC News(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — President Trump made a victorious return to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, where he sought to assure cheering audience members that they now have a top advocate for their policy priorities in the White House while also taking aim at his favorite target, the media.

"All of these years we've been together and now you finally have a president, finally," Trump said.

Trump was notably absent from the annual conservative gathering during his presidential run in 2016 and was skewered by his opponents in the GOP primary for skipping.

"I would have come last year but I was worried that I'd be at that time too controversial," Trump told the enthusiastic crowd Friday. "We wanted border security. We wanted very, very strong military. We wanted all of the things that we're going to get, and people considered that controversial, but you didn't consider it controversial."

'The dishonest media' and unnamed sources

Trump also doubled down on his attacks on the media, repeating his recent assertion that the "fake" news is the "enemy of the people," zeroing in on the use of unnamed sources.

"I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources," Trump said. "They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there."

The president's renewed criticism of the media comes as there are press reports that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus privately asked the FBI to knock down news stories of Trump campaign officials communicating with Russian intelligence agents. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday morning that Priebus only asked FBI officials to go public with information that they had first privately provided to him which cast doubt on the media reports.

The president seemed at times in his address to want to qualify his attack on the press, saying he's not against all media.

"I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news," said Trump. "It's fake, phony, fake."

Referring to a tweet he posted a week ago, which said the "fake news media… is the enemy of the American people," the president said that criticism was itself misrepresented by the press.

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017

"In covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people. The fake news," said Trump. "They dropped off the word 'fake.' And all of a sudden, the story became, the media is the enemy. They take the word 'fake' out."

The president neglected to mention that his tweet named several mainstream media organizations.

Before he was president

Trump's speech marked his fifth time addressing the annual gathering of right-wing organizers and activists.

The conference hosted by the American Conservative Union began in 1974 and has since grown into a four-day-long event with thousands of attendees. Trump's appearance Friday marks the fourth visit by a sitting president.

Trump on Friday reminded the audience of what he called his "first major speech" at CPAC in 2011. That year, Trump floated the possibility of a run for the 2012 Republican nomination, a race ultimately won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"America today is missing quality leadership and foreign countries have quickly realized this," said Trump in 2011.

"[The] theory of a very successful person running for office is rarely tested because most successful people don't want to be scrutinized or abused," he added. "This is the kind of person that the country needs and we need it now."

Six years later, Trump is the U.S. president and was the conference's main attraction.

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway; his chief strategist, Steve Bannon; White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; and Vice President Mike Pence were a few of the major figures to speak at the conference on Thursday.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump signed an executive order for regulatory reform on Friday, directing government agencies to set up task forces to look into ways to eliminate or scale back regulations.

Trump said that the order is “one of many ways” the administration will remove “job-killing regulations.”

"This directs each agency to establish a regulatory reform task force which will ensure that every agency has a ... real team of dedicated people to research all regulations that are unnecessary, burdensome and harmful to the economy and therefore harmful to the creation of jobs and business. Each task force will make recommendations to repeal or simplify existing regulations,” the president said.

Trump explained that any existing or proposed regulation will have to meet certain conditions.

"Every regulation should have to pass a simple test: Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it and getting rid of it quickly. We'll stop punishing companies for doing business in the United States; it will be absolutely just the opposite,” he said. “They'll be incentivized to doing business in the United States. We're working hard to roll back the regulatory burden so that coal miners, factory workers, small business owners and so many others can grow their businesses and thrive.”

The new order is not the first by Trump aiming to reduce federal regulations.

In January, the president signed an executive order that he said will “dramatically reduce federal regulations” on businesses. That order mandates that for every new regulation implemented by federal agencies, two existing regulations must be cut.

Trump called that order the "largest ever cut, by far, in terms of regulations."

Last week, the president also rolled back the stream protection rule, a regulation designed to protect waterways from surface mining.

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RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been maintaining his silence during his first weeks on the job, as has the department he heads. But some of that veil of silence will be lifting early next month.

The daily State Department briefing -- a fixture at Foggy Bottom since the Eisenhower administration and watched closely in Washington and in capitals around the world -- has not resumed under Tillerson. But "regular" briefings are set to resume on March 6, acting spokesperson Mark Toner said Friday, though it is unclear if they will still be daily or televised.

Tillerson concluded his second overseas trip Thursday night, this time with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and he was only spotted in public three times -- getting off his plane Wednesday night, getting on his plane Thursday afternoon, and a three-and-a-half minute public statement that he read in between.

He was heard even less. In Mexico, as in Germany last week, he took no questions. And unlike Germany, there were no photo ops and no "pool sprays" -- opportunities for a small group of reporters or photographers to meet with an official. There wasn't even a read-out -- the official version of the discussion -- of his dinner with the Mexican foreign secretary Wednesday night, let alone of all his meetings Thursday.

Tillerson’s reticence on the trip comes after a wave of negative headlines asking where he is and if he’s being silent, sidelined, or is in over his head.

The bad press finally sparked something else the news media has not gotten a lot of lately -- an official State Department statement. It was a strongly worded comment that came Wednesday night and pushes back hard on those reports, sent on behalf of Toner, a career foreign service officer who assumed the role under President Obama and has so far stayed on for the Trump administration:

“The Department of State continues to provide members of the media a full suite of services. The Department has answered 174 questions from reporters in the United States and around the globe in the past 24 hours alone. The Secretary continues to travel with representatives of the media, the Department continues to provide readouts from the Secretary’s calls and meetings, the Department continues to release statements regarding world events and reporters continue to be briefed about upcoming trips and initiatives,” the statement said.

“In addition to regular press briefings conducted by a Department spokesperson, reporters will soon have access to additional opportunities each week to interact with State Department officials. The Department is also exploring the possibility of opening the briefing to reporters outside of Washington, DC via remote video capabilities," Toner's statement added.

Amid the reticence, here’s what we do know:

No briefing

As Toner’s Wednesday statement said, “regular” press briefings will be back “soon,” possibly with reporters Skyping in, like the White House briefing now has. Toner said Friday that those briefings will resume on March 6, but no word yet on whether they will still be televised or happen daily.

Three public statements

After more than three weeks on the job, Tillerson has made only three public statements: His address to the department on his first day; his 30-second prepared remarks after meeting the Russian foreign minister, and that statement he read Thursday in Mexico.

He has not taken any questions, and he has not granted any interviews. The most the press has heard from him was in response to shouted questions during a marathon day of meetings in Germany last week -- all one-sentence (or half-sentence) responses.

No readouts

It’s not just that Tillerson has been quiet; the State Department has been unusually silent, too.

It hasn't been providing readouts of the secretary’s calls to world leaders. Without them, the public doesn’t even know that they’re happening. Instead, America is now relying on the Russians or the Iraqis to say when they happen and what they discussed -- even on the most benign topics.

For example, the Russians said Tillerson called to express condolences after the death of their ambassador to the United Nations, and the Iraqis said he called to praise the Iraqi army’s performance in the fight against ISIS. All the State Department would tell the press is that the calls took place. Not even who called whom.

Many vacancies

Turnover between administrations is of course common, but a month after inauguration, multiple top roles at the State Department have yet to be filled -- from the secretary’s two deputies, to four out of the six undersecretaries, several assistant secretaries, and many key ambassadorships, including to major allies like Canada, France and Germany.

Conservatives have celebrated the “blood bath," but these positions help keep U.S. foreign policy running. And the lack of personnel has left many at the State Department stretched thin or feeling unsure about what’s to come, sources told ABC News.

Of the two undersecretary positions currently filled, one is also the acting deputy secretary and the other is in an “acting” capacity himself. And on Tillerson’s first trip abroad, five of eight senior officials were in acting roles.

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Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear will deliver the Democratic response to President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday,

Astrid Silva, an immigration activist from Nevada and one of the so-called "dreamers," will deliver the Democrats' Spanish-language response to Trump's speech.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the speakers for the Democratic response Friday, indicating that Beshear was selected to counter GOP plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Silva to address the president's actions on immigration.

As a Democratic governor of a red state, Beshear embraced Obamacare and expanded Medicaid for his constituents.

“Governor Beshear’s work in Kentucky is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act works; reducing costs and expanding access for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians,” Schumer said in a statement.

Silva came to the U.S. when she was 5. Her story as an unauthorized immigrant who was brought to the country as a child was mentioned by President Obama when he announced his executive action on immigration in 2014.

Silva also spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
 
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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus made a personal appeal to a top FBI official to dispute reports that multiple senior members of President Trump's campaign had communicated with Russian agents during the 2016 election, a senior White House official confirmed to ABC News on Friday.

Priebus had reached out to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in an effort to knock down reports of talks between campaign officials and Russia following a New York Times report on the matter last week, the official said.

Priebus only made the request after the FBI had told the White House there were accuracy issues with the Times' report, the official said.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that U.S. intelligence found through intercepted calls and phone records that Trump campaign members and associates repeatedly had contact with Russian intelligence agents.

Priebus' intervention is drawing heavy scrutiny from Democrats who argue that the communications break with precedent that ensures the FBI remains independent from White House influence. A White House official would not comment on whether Priebus’ communication was appropriate.

The FBI has so far declined to comment on the story to ABC News.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., a ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, argued that Priebus' actions should "concern all Americans, regardless of party."

"This is deeply troubling because of the inappropriate attempt to influence the FBI and because it may reveal a broader effort by the Trump White House to cover up malfeasance during the campaign," Conyers Jr. said.

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ABC News(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — In his primetime speech to conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday night, Vice President Mike Pence spoke out against the backlash Republicans are seeing in districts across the country, dismissing the "best efforts of liberal activists," while promising an orderly transition from Obamacare to a GOP replacement.

"Despite the best efforts of liberal activists around the country, the American people know better," Pence told CPAC attendees at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Pledging an "orderly transition," he added, "America's Obamacare nightmare is about to end."

The vice president, appearing after President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon torched the media in a rare public appearance, also criticized the media and "elites" for missing Trump's victory.

"They're still trying to dismiss him," he said.

Pence also praised Trump's first month in office, calling his cabinet secretaries the "A-team" and praising Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

"You have elected a man for president who never quits, and never backs down. He is a fighter, he is a winner," he said.

Pence thanked the crowd for their support and urged them to remain active.

"Our fight didn't end on November the 8th ... the fight goes on," Pence said. "This, my friends, is our time."

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ABC News(NEW YORK) --  Democratic party officials will vote Saturday for a new chair of the Democratic National Committee, but heading into the weekend, the race is still neck-and-neck and hotly contested.

Democrats may be united against President Donald Trump, but they remain deeply divided about who is best to lead and represent them.

The crowded field of candidates vying for the job narrowed this week, but those who dropped out only solidified the fault lines in the race.

It remains to be seen whether the drawn-out campaign for this role will help the party as it looks to rebuild itself. Insiders, party staff and many voting members fear it may have hurt it. They feel they have been handicapped at the start of the new Trump administration. In conversations, they say they are anxious to have a leader in place and the organization fully operational again.

"The biggest issue I hear right now is they want to get this part over with and they want to start fighting, we are how many days into his administration already and we are still trying to decide who are leadership is," the party's current finance chair, Henry R. Muñoz, told ABC News. "Four years from now we should get this over at the end of the year."

Last weekend, New Hampshire Party chair Raymond Buckley bowed out and threw his support behind Minnesota congressman and Progressive Caucus chair Keith Ellison. Buckley praised Ellison’s commitment to investing in local parties, a promise all the candidates have made, as well as his impressive backing from large progressive organizations, including Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

 “Now, many candidates have spoken about these issues, but Keith's commitment to the states and a transparent and accountable DNC has stood out. He knows elections are not won and lost in the beltway, but on the ground across the country,” Buckley wrote in his statement. In a fundraising email a few days later for a progressive group, he wrote, that with Ellison as chair the “grassroots will be the top priority.”

Plenty of Democrats inside Washington and elsewhere fear Ellison lacks the management experience needed for the job and that picking him could send the wrong message to voters about the lessons the party needs to learn after the election in November.

Ellison is a firebrand, African-American Muslim who was one of the first to back Senator Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary. Sanders and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in turn, immediately backed Ellison’s bid for chair. He is often asked if the party is moving too far to the left and he never hesitates to emphatically say it's not. He is quick to reject the idea that he only appeals to certain fractions of the party.

“My district is 63 percent white, mostly working class people," he told ABC News. "They elect me year after year and they know what my religion is and they can look at me and see what color I am. It's not a problem. People are only a demographic until you know them, then they become people. Whether you talk to white working class voters or you talk to people of color, women, they don’t feel that either one of them was talked to well enough.”

The other front-runner for the job is President Obama’s former Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez. Thursday, in a statement closely resembling Buckley’s, the state party chair from South Carolina, Jamie Harrison, exited the race and backed Perez, adding to the long list of party officials and members of Obama’s former cabinet who have lined up behind him.

 Perez argues that his experience running a large federal agency like the Department of Labor makes him uniquely qualified to oversee the national party. "Who has a track record of turning around organizations of that scale? That’s what we need to do," he told ABC News in a recent interview. "The Department of Labor is a big organization 16,000 strong and a 45 billion dollar budget and I had a good track record of making sure it was firing on all cylinders."

Like Buckley did for Ellison, Harrison praised Perez for promising to put grassroots activism front and center and strengthening state party chapters, but also emphasized Perez’s experience in Washington.

"Tom Perez has brought integrity, passion, and tenacity to every job he’s ever had," Harrison wrote. "These qualities are why Barack Obama and Joe Biden trusted him to spearhead an economic agenda that brought us out of the recession. They are why Eric Holder trusted him to enforce our civil rights and voting rights laws so that everyone is treated equally under the law and has access to the ballot box. And they are why I trust Tom to lead the Democratic turnaround as Chair of the DNC."

Neither Perez nor Ellison will confirm whether or not they have the majority of votes needed to win right now. Only 447 people will vote Saturday and most likely, the election will continue to be an iterative process with multiple rounds of ballots and debate, which could leave room for leader to emerge.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has received endorsements from five former DNC Chairs, including Howard Dean this week. Dean said Buttigieg, who turned 35 last month, brings a young perspective the party needs.

But Buttigieg -- an openly gay former Naval officer who served in Afghanistan -- entered the race relatively recently and lacks the national profile or name recognition like Ellison or Perez. Still, with his impressive resume, members have given him a look and he is quickly developing a following.

“Most important thing he is the 'outside of the beltway’ candidate,” Dean said this week of Buttigieg. "This party is in trouble. Our strongest age group that votes for us is under 35. And they don't consider themselves Democrats. They elected Barack Obama twice. They didn't elect Hillary Clinton but voted 58 percent for her and don't come out for the midterms or down ballot candidates."

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  Ivanka Trump hosted Republican members of Congress at the White House last week to discuss some of her personal legislative priorities -- a childcare tax proposal and paid maternity leave, according to a White House official and a Senate GOP aide.

News of the White House meeting was first reported by Bloomberg News.

It is unusual for the child of a president -- with no formal role in her father's administration -- to host a policy meeting with lawmakers inside the West Wing.

The White House official noted that Ivanka has been long been passionate about the issue and that it remains a priority.

 A spokesperson for Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, said the senator attended the Wednesday evening meeting in the Roosevelt Room, where the group of GOP lawmakers discussed Trump's proposed childcare tax benefit and paid leave. Fischer introduced a paid leave bill earlier this month.

Ivanka has back-channeled with members of Congress on the issues she trumpeted during her father's campaign. This fall, she met with female Republican lawmakers at the RNC for a discussion on the same topic.

Members of the Trump transition team discussed the childcare tax proposal with staff on the tax-writing House Ways and Mean Committee in a phone call last month.

Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said his committee staff has had "productive" discussions with the Trump team about the proposal.

“We've had some preliminary and very productive discussions with the Trump transition team and their desire to make child care more affordable for families," he said to reporters recently. "So we’re exploring a number of options. They’ve brought some ideas forward, and it’s early in those discussions, but we’re having them."

Asked by ABC News' Cecilia Vega about Ivanka Trump's role in the administration following her participation in several White House meetings, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the first daughter's role is "to provide input" on issues about which she has deep personal concern -- particularly as it relates to women.

"I think her role is to provide input on a variety of areas that she has deep compassion and concerns about especially women in the work force and empowering women," Spicer said. "She has as a lot of expertise and wants to offer that especially in the area of trying to help women, she understands that firsthand an I think because of the success she's had her goal is to try to figure out any understanding she has as a business woman, to help and empower women with the opportunity and success she's had."

On Thursday, Ivanka participated in several meetings at the White House with President Trump and top White House officials, as they met with business leaders. A day earlier, she met with minority business owners in the Baltimore area.

The president's eldest daughter also participated in a roundtable with female business leaders when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House earlier this month.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News last month, Ivanka Trump dismissed speculation that she would take on some of the first lady's responsibilities in the White House.

“There is one first lady, and she’ll do remarkable things,” she told ABC News’ 20/20.

Trump has also walked away from her personal businesses, while in Washington.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.

The withdrawal of the opinion was revealed in court documents filed this week by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency that requested the review late last year.

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

The 35-page legal analysis of the pipeline’s potential environmental risks and its impact on treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous tribes was authored in December by then-Interior Department Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins, an Obama appointee who was -- at the time -- the top lawyer in the department.

“The government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Tribes calls for enhanced engagement and sensitivity to the Tribes' concerns,” Tompkins wrote. “The Corps is accordingly justified should it choose to deny the proposed easement.”

 Tompkins’ opinion was dated Dec. 4, the same day the Obama administration announced that it was denying an easement for the controversial crossing and initiating an environmental impact statement that would explore alternative routes for the pipeline. Tompkins did not respond to a request by ABC News to discuss her analysis or the decision made to withdraw it.

On his second weekday in office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that directed the Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve” the pipeline in an expedited manner, to "the extent permitted by law, and as warranted, and with such conditions as are necessary or appropriate." “I believe that construction and operation of lawfully permitted pipeline infrastructure serve the national interest,” Trump wrote in the memo.

Two weeks later, the Corps issued the easement to Dakota Access and the environmental review was canceled.

The company behind the pipeline project now estimates that oil could be flowing in the pipeline as early as March 6.

The analysis by Tompkins includes a detailed review of the tribes’ hunting, fishing and water rights to Lake Oahe, the federally controlled reservoir where the final stretch of the pipeline is currently being installed, and concludes that the Corps “must consider the possible impacts” of the pipeline on those reserved rights.

“The Tompkins memo is potentially dispositive in the legal case,” Hasselman said. "It shows that the Army Corps [under the Obama administration] made the right decision by putting the brakes on this project until the Tribe’s treaty rights, and the risk of oil spills, was fully evaluated."

Tompkins’ opinion was particularly critical of the Corps’ decision to reject another potential route for the pipeline that would have placed it just north of Bismarck, North Dakota, in part because of the pipeline’s proximity to municipal water supply wells.

“The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservations are the permanent and irreplaceable homelands for the Tribes,” Tompkins wrote. “Their core identity and livelihood depend upon their relationship to the land and environment -- unlike a resident of Bismarck, who could simply relocate if the [Dakota Access] pipeline fouled the municipal water supply, Tribal members do not have the luxury of moving away from an environmental disaster without also leaving their ancestral territory.”

Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, has said that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on local water supply are unfounded” and “multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route.”

The decision to temporarily suspend Tompkins' legal opinion two days before the easement was approved was outlined in a Feb. 6 internal memorandum issued by K. Jack Haugrud, the acting secretary of the Department of the Interior. A spokeswoman for the department told ABC News today that the opinion was suspended so that it could be reviewed by the department.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes are continuing their legal challenges to the pipeline. A motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard on Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The Corps has maintained, throughout the litigation, that it made a good faith effort to meaningfully consult with the tribes.

The tribes contend, however, that the Trump administration’s cancellation of the environmental review and its reversal of prior agency decisions are “baldly illegal.”

“Agencies can’t simply disregard their own findings, and ‘withdrawing’ the Tompkins memo doesn’t change that,” Hasselman said. “We have challenged the legality of the Trump administration reversal and we think we have a strong case.”

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Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --  The White House indicated Thursday that the enforcement of federal laws on recreational marijuana will increase during President Donald Trump's tenure in office.

Press secretary Sean Spicer, responding to a question at Thursday's press briefing about the Department of Justice's role when federal marijuana laws conflict with state statutes, said he believes there is a wide difference between recreational and medicinal marijuana use.

 "I do believe you will see greater enforcement of [federal restrictions on recreational use]," said Spicer.

As for the drug's medicinal benefits, Spicer explained that Trump "understands ... the comfort" that medical marijuana brings to some sufferers of terminal diseases but Spicer showed concern for "encouraging" drug use "when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming around the states in the country."

Marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule I substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration under the Controlled Substances Act, defined by the government as "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

In 2012, President Barack Obama told ABC News that there were "bigger fish to fry" than recreational users of the drug in states like Colorado and Washington.

"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," said Obama.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  President Donald Trump on Thursday renewed his call to expand the country's nuclear weapons cache so that the U.S. is the "top of the pack," according to an interview with Reuters.

Trump's comments echoed statements he offered in December when he tweeted about "expand[ing]" the nation's "nuclear capability" and told MSNBC that he was willing to engage in an "arms race."

Trump told Reuters today he wants the country's cache of weapons to be "top of the pack," a notion expanded upon by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at his daily press briefing.

"The U.S. will not yield its supremacy in this area to anybody," said Spicer. "That’s what he made very clear [during the interview], and that if other countries have nuclear capabilities, it’ll always be the United States that [has] the supremacy and commitment to this."

On Dec. 22, Trump -- who indicated during the campaign that some nuclear proliferation might be good -- advocated in a tweet for bolstering American capabilities.

The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016

The next day, speaking by phone to Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Trump said he'd be open to competing with other countries to accumulate weapons.

“Let it be an arms race,” said Trump. “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

In Thursday's Reuters interview, Trump brought up both Russian cruise missile usage and North Korean missile tests and told the news outlet that the U.S. "has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity."

The U.S. has a total of 4,571 warheads in its functional stockpile, a State Department official said. Of those, 1,367 are deployed, while Russia has 1,796 deployed. Both countries have until 2018 under the 2011 New START agreement to limit deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550.

The Pentagon has begun a modernization of the American nuclear program which former Defense Secretary Ash Carter said earlier this year will cost $350 - $450 billion to update beginning in 2021.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  With the House of Representatives out of session this week, many members have headed back to their home districts to engage with constituents and, in some cases, hold town hall meetings. Some of these events have turned contentious, drawing a response from the White House Wednesday as citizens continue to voice displeasure with their representatives.

Responding to a question from ABC News' Jonathan Karl, who quoted President Donald Trump's description of these audiences as "so-called angry crowds," White House press secretary Sean Spicer portrayed meeting-goers as a "hybrid" of two groups.

"I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there," said Spicer, who provided no evidence to support the claim. "Obviously, there are people that are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts ... it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident."

 A number of events are still scheduled for the remainder of the week, but here's a list of notable interactions from the events:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz told to do his job

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, attracted attention in 2015 and 2016 for his committee's investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. Back in Utah, he faced a packed crowd of over 1,000 people at a high school auditorium, where he was serenaded with heckles and chants of "do your job" during a town hall on Feb. 9.

Chaffetz attracted continued attention afterward when he told local paper the Deseret News that he believed some of the attendees were brought in from out of state.

"Absolutely. I know there were," Chaffetz told the newspaper, classifying the commotion as "more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate." He did not offer any evidence as to support the claim.

Russia on the mind of Rep. Tom Reed's constituency

At two different town halls on Saturday in upstate New York, Rep. Tom Reed pushed back on the suggestion that the Trump administration's connections to Russia needed to be investigated. Over a chorus of boos and objections from some members of his own party in the audience, Reed expressed his opinion that "there is no evidence" of wrongdoing in the executive branch.

In a moment that received some of the loudest cheers, a man told Reed that he hoped the lawmaker would stand up to President Trump.

"Checks and balances are crucial to the American system,” the man said. "You are the checks and balances."

Rep. Scott Taylor sees green and red in his purple district

Less than three weeks into his tenure representing Virginia's 2nd congressional district, Rep. Scott Taylor returned home Monday to a packed crowd, many of whom wore their zip codes on name tags to preemptively combat claims that they arrived from elsewhere.

As Taylor fielded questions about health care, connections between the Trump administration and Russia and his willingness to speak out against the president, some attendees held up green and red signs to show when they agreed or disagreed.

Afterward, Taylor told ABC News that he empathized with fellow legislators who chose not to hold events out of safety concerns, but said he was "not one to shy away from these things."

"I think it is important to give people a seat at the table," said Taylor. "Long term, if safety precautions are taken, I would encourage my colleagues to do the same thing.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell speaks out on the Supreme Court and Twitter

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not hold a town hall Tuesday, rather a private, ticketed event, but it still didn't stop a crowd from showing up to protest the Kentucky Republican.

"Why are they protesting? They didn't like the results of the election … people in our state had a chance to express themselves and they did pretty overwhelmingly," said McConnell inside the event. "They had their shot at the election and they had their shot in Kentucky … winners make policy and losers go home." He added, however, that he was "proud" of protesters and that they had the right to speak out.

McConnell received a number of pointed questions, including one from a woman who said she would sit down "like Elizabeth Warren" if he could answer her question -- alluding to the Senate voting to silence Warren during a debate over Jeff Sessions' nomination for attorney general.

The majority leader mostly ignored questions he disagreed with, but didn't shy away from critiques of the new president, saying of Trump's use of Twitter, "Am I a fan of all of the tweets? ... Use your imagination."

McConnell also admitted that he "thought the next president was going to be Hillary Clinton," in defending his decision not to hold confirmation hearings on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Because he thought the Democrat would prevail, he said he "wasn’t necessarily achieving any particular advantage for my side."

Sen. Tom Cotton questioned about health care, public broadcasting

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton faced a passionate crowd in his deep red state Wednesday, who questioned the first-term lawmaker on a wide range of issues.

In two moments that went viral shortly afterward, Cotton heard from a woman whose husband is battling dementia and Alzheimer's, and a young boy seeking to protect his favorite television programs.

"You want to stand there with [my husband] at home, expect us to be calm, cool, and collected." said the first woman, seeking to protect her health-care coverage. "Well, what kind of insurance do you have?"

The young boy, who first explained that he and his family "like Mexicans," told the senator that Congress shouldn't divert funding from the Public Broadcasting Service to pay for reinforcement at the border. As the new administration prepares its first budget, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could be targeted for cuts, sources familiar with the process have said.

"You shouldn't do all that stuff for just a wall," said the child.

Cotton responded by saying, "You can still have one and have the other."

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US Senate(WASHINGTON) --  Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era memo aimed at reducing and ultimately ending the Justice Department's use of private prisons.

The memo, penned in August 2016 by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates -- who was fired by President Trump last month after she refused to defend his immigration order -- suggested that private correctional facilities "compare poorly" to federal facilities, and instructed officials to begin "the process of reducing, and ultimately ending, our use of privately operated prisons."

Citing declining inmate numbers and an Inspector General's report showing private institutions experience more security incidents per capita than government-run prisons, Yates directed the Bureau of Prisons to decline to renew private contracts, or "substantially reduce" their scope.

In his letter to the Bureau of Prisons, however, Sessions claimed Yates' guidance "changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system," and directed officials to "return to its previous approach."

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MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, pounced on the media during the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, repeating his attack that the press is the "opposition party" that is "always wrong" about the administration.

"I think if you look at, you know, the opposition party," said Bannon, referring to the media, during his appearance at the conference with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. "How they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and how they're portraying the administration -- it's always wrong."

Bannon, who once was the head of the conservative outlet Breitbart News, took issue with descriptions of the White House as "chaotic," "disorganized" and "unprofessional," saying that the same terms were used against the ultimately-victorious campaign. Now, with Trump as president, both Bannon and Priebus made the argument that he is following through on his promises, despite distractions.

 "All President Trump does every day is hit his agenda every single day, whether it's TPP, deregulation, Neil Gorsuch, his promise is coming through every day,” Priebus said.

"[Everything] he's doing is laid out an agenda with the speeches on the promises he made and our job is get the paths of what he's executed, and he is maniacally focused on that,” Bannon added.

The setting of the conversation -- CPAC -- was a foreign one for Bannon. In past years, Breitbart sponsored discussions that ran counter to the event, called "The Uninvited." The chief strategist poked fun at his attendance at the main event Thursday.

"I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC,” said Bannon, who portrayed his appearance at the convention, and his working relationship with Priebus, as the marriage of conservatism and the Republican party establishment.

Priebus, the former chair of the Republican National Committee, joined in on the media criticism when it came to his relationship with Bannon, which a number of outlets, including Breitbart, have classified as rocky.

"In regard to us two, I think the biggest misconception is everything that you're reading," said Priebus. "We share an office suite together, we're basically together from 6:30 in the morning until about 11:00 at night."


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ABC News(WASHINGTON) --  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she supports President Trump's rollback of Obama administration guidelines on transgender students' choice of bathrooms in schools.

During a Q&A at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, DeVos said the previous president's guidance issued last year to public schools was a "very huge example of the Obama administration's overreach."

She added, however, "It's our job to protect students" and "to protect personal freedoms."

The charter school advocate was making her first in-person comments on the issue since The New York Times and Washington Post reported that she and Attorney General Jeff Sessions differed on the rollout of the new policy given disagreements on timing and language. ABC News has not independently confirmed those accounts.

In a written statement released Wednesday night, DeVos expanded on the views she expressed at CPAC, saying she has dedicated her career to protecting “all students, including LGBTQ students.”

Before DeVos addressed the new bathroom guidance onstage, she deflected several questions from ABC News and other outlets about whether or not she voiced her dissent on the issue to Sessions or President Trump.

“We’re here to say hi to the folks out the front,” she said as she entered an area reserved for speakers.

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