Appeals court refuses to reinstate Trump travel ban
A three-judge federal appeals court panel on Thursday unanimously upheld a temporary suspension of President Trump's controversial immigration order, saying the administration had presented no evidence that anyone from the affected nations had committed terrorist acts in the U.S. The ruling will let previously barred refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries continue entering the U.S. Critics of the temporary ban said it discriminated against Muslims. Administration lawyers said Trump was lawfully exercising his power over immigration and national security matters to prevent terrorists from sneaking into the country. The Justice Department is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court, which often defers to presidents on immigration and national security matters but remains ideologically split, 4-4. "See you in court," Trump tweeted. [The Washington Post]
Conway under fire for urging Americans to 'buy Ivanka's stuff'
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway faced a barrage of criticism on Thursday after she was asked about a boycott of first daughter Ivanka Trump's clothing line on Fox & Friends, and urged Americans to "buy Ivanka's stuff." Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the endorsement was "a textbook violation of government ethics laws," and wrote to the committee's chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), requesting "review and potential disciplinary action." Chaffetz said Conway's remark was "clearly over the line" and "needs to be dealt with." White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had already been "counseled on that subject." [Politico, The Washington Post]
General says thousands more troops needed in Afghanistan
Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of the American-led international forces in Afghanistan, told Congress on Thursday that he needed a few thousand more soldiers to train and advise Afghan soldiers. There are about 13,300 foreign troops in Afghanistan now, 8,400 of them American. Afghan forces have struggled in recent months to prevent the Taliban from making gains. Asked by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) whether his forces were winning or losing, Nicholson said, "I believe we are in a stalemate." Nicholson also said Russia was legitimizing the Taliban by creating a "false narrative" crediting them with helping to fight the Islamic State. [The New York Times]
Trump denies Gorsuch called his judicial attacks 'demoralizing'
President Trump on Thursday escalated his attacks on Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) for saying that Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, had called the president's criticism of judges "demoralizing and disheartening." Trump said Blumenthal had "misrepresented" what Gorsuch said, and dredged up an old controversy over Blumenthal's false claim that he served in Vietnam to paint the senator as untrustworthy. However, two other senators and White House-appointed handlers helping Gorsuch through the confirmation process confirmed Blumenthal's account. Zac Petkanas, senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee, said the controversy was a stunt orchestrated by the White House to help Gorsuch "pretend he won't be a rubber stamp for the Trump administration." [The Associated Press]
Construction resumes on Dakota Access Pipeline
The company building the Dakota Access Pipeline resumed construction on Thursday after the Trump administration reversed former President Barack Obama's decision to halt the project. Energy Transfer Partners began drilling under a North Dakota lake even though the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has led opposition to the project, has filed a legal challenge. The tribe says the final 1,100-foot stretch of the 1,170-mile, $3.8 billion oil pipeline, which is to pass under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, would threaten the local water supply and sacred Native American sites. [Reuters]
Trump vows to honor 'One China' policy in call
President Trump reaffirmed the U.S. "One China" policy in a Thursday phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The White House said Trump's promise to honor the longstanding policy came at Xi's request in an "extremely cordial" conversation that touched on numerous topics. Trump's concession marked a reversal after he expressed openness to ending the 44-year-old policy recognizing Beijing as the only Chinese government, with no formal recognition of Taiwan, which Beijing considers to be one of its provinces. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed relations with China with White House officials on Thursday, and reportedly rejected Trump's suggestion that Taiwan could be used as a bargaining chip in broader talks with China. [The New York Times]
Senate confirms Rep. Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary
A bitterly divided Senate on Friday confirmed Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of Health and Human Services in a 52-47 vote. Price, an orthopedic surgeon and seven-term congressman, is a vocal opponent of ObamaCare, and he will now be expected to lead the effort to find a replacement for it. Democrats criticized Price for trading health care stocks while considering legislation affecting the companies, and said his policies would deprive many Americans of health insurance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Price "knows more about health care policy than just about anyone," and will help "bring stability to health care markets that ObamaCare has harmed." [USA Today]
Reports: Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia before Trump took office
Current and former U.S. officials say national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed Russia sanctions with Moscow's U.S. ambassador in the weeks before President Trump took office, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported late Thursday. Flynn on Wednesday denied discussing sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but some senior U.S. officials say the conversations amounted to an inappropriate and possibly illegal diplomatic signal from a private citizen, aiming to reassure Russia that it could expect the new administration to lift sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama in December. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]
Sessions vows to tackle 'crime problem'
Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general on Thursday. The former senator vowed to tackle America's "crime problem" and crack down on illegal immigration. "We need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down the wages of working Americans," he said. During the ceremony, President Trump continued a flurry of executive actions targeting crime and drug traffickers. Echoing Trump's inaccurate claim that the nation's crime rate is at an all-time high, Sessions declared the country's increasing rate of crime a "dangerous and permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk." [BBC News]
Iranians rally against U.S. on revolution's anniversary
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday to mark the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. The crowds carried "Death to America" signs and effigies of President Trump, who recently put Iran "on notice" and imposed limited new sanctions after its latest missile test. Some marchers carried banners saying, "Thanks Mr. Trump for showing the real face of America." Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said "inexperienced figures" in the U.S. and the region were "threatening Iran," but "should know that the language of threats has never worked with Iran." [Reuters]