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How MB2 Dental Solutions Approaches Practice Management

Dental practice management firms are by and large very staid and boring. Dr. Chris Villanueva and his business partners opened MB2 Dental Solutions with a goal of injecting some life into this industry. They embrace a youth culture and having fun during the day while still being highly professional. Employees are encouraged to be innovative and come up with procedures that allow them to be more efficient and more helpful to the dentists they work with.At MB2 Dental Solutions they have a deeper connection to the dental practices they work with. The dentist and MB2 Dental Solutions become partners in running the dental practice. However, this partnership stops at the exam room door as the dentists have complete autonomy when it comes to treating their patients. Dentists are also able to decide what technology they want to incorporate into their practices including in the front office.

The dentists that partner with MB2 Dental Solutions have a wide variety of resources available to them. Some dentists want to be involved in most aspects of running a practice while others take a bit more of a hands-off approach and have MB2 Dental Solutions run more of the business side of their practice. They can avail themselves of many services such as IT, payroll services, accounting, training, and more.When partnering with MB2 Dental Solutions the dentists also get to decide things such as what insurance they are willing to accept and what their payor mix will be. Because no two dentists are the same the services offered by MB2 Dental Solutions are completely flexible to meet whatever the dentist is looking for.

MB2 Dental Solutions has also come up with ways to create a community of dentists. The dentists they work with often network so that they can become better dentists, run their practices more efficiently, and learn how to be the best stewards of the dental profession. Dr. Chris Villanueva, who operates as the chief executive officer, has set up annual retreats for their partnered dentists where they can get to know each other better in a fun setting such as in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico or on a white-water rafting trip.MB2 Dental Solutions also acts as a family in other ways. For instance, many of their partnered dentists and their employees were affected by Hurricane Harvey. They raised $100,000 to help these people as well as food and other supplies they had trucked to Houston.

Pot smoking vs. spousal abuse: Security clearance double standard alleged

From speeding to pot smoking to, in one case, ownership of a Canadian brewery, rank-and-file government employees often see their security clearances challenged, denied or revoked for issues they consider relatively minor.

Which makes them all the more frustrated to see White House staffers with major red flags in their backgrounds given permission to handle classified information.

Lawyers say they’ve seen government workers and federal contractors run into serious clearance problems over occasional marijuana use, routine debts or small-scale foreign investments while top Trump officials like former staff secretary Rob Porter worked with a clearance for about a year despite allegations of spousal abuse. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, continues to hold a clearance despite owing tens of millions of dollars in debt — some owed to a German bank.

“They’re getting away with murder,” said Sheldon Cohen, a Virginia attorney who spent two decades representing workers in clearance fights. “What is going on in the White House, if it was taking place involving people at agencies or in private industry, they would never get a clearance.”

During the Obama administration, one Defense Department contractor had his clearance proposed for denial on the grounds that he had investments in Canada, according to the man’s lawyer.

“They issued a statement to deny him his clearance because he was the owner of 50 percent of a brewery in Canada and had a warehouse full of beer and other alcohol up there,” said Mark Zaid, who represented the contractor. The clearance was eventually granted after Zaid protested through the Defense Department process.

White House chief of staff John Kelly issued a five-page memo last week owning up, in general terms, to a poorly run process. He’s ordered a crackdown of sorts, particularly on interim clearances. The changes could put Kelly in conflict with Kushner, who has reportedly been working with an interim clearance, unless Trump grants his son-in-law and adviser a special dispensation.

Porter resigned earlier this month as questions swirled about how he’d remained at the White House in a senior role with access to classified information.

The Porter scandal and scrutiny of Kushner’s clearance has cast a bright light on the White House’s approach to clearance, one that lawyers in the field say smacks of special treatment.

“If Kushner or these other folks were just regular employees, there’s no way they would have gotten interim clearances. They’re receiving some special dispensation somewhere up the food chain,” said Elaine Fitch, an attorney in Washington who handles cases for government employees. “It’s absolutely not fair. … Most of our clients are treated much worse than what’s going on with these folks in the White House.”

The FBI conducts background investigations of White House officials seeking security clearances and makes recommendations that the White House can overrule. Employees for other departments and agencies are typically assessed by Office of Personnel Management investigators or contractors.

One CIA contractor whom Cohen represented found his clearance canceled after he was charged with child endangerment for driving too fast with his children in the car, even though a judge dismissed the charges at a trial.

“He immediately reported it and had to go get counseled. The charges were thrown out by a circuit court in Virginia,” Cohen recalled. “We tried to get the clearance reinstated, but the agency would never reinstate it. He lost his job at that contractor and couldn’t get clearance anywhere else.”

Asked how fast the man was driving, Cohen said: “It wasn’t like 150 miles an hour or anything. … I think he said he was late for Thanksgiving dinner.”

While the FBI generally excuses past use of recreational drugs like marijuana, so long as the applicant is honest about it, any drug use after a clearance is issued can be a death knell — even for pot smoking in states or cities where it is legal.

Fitch said one of her clients “smoked pot two times while they had clearance, and that was the end of that.”

Cohen recalled the case of an Obama White House aide who was immediately escorted off the grounds for suspected drug use.

“I represented someone who was on the White House staff and failed a random drug test. He was out before the end of the day,” the attorney said.

Lawyers cited debt as another recurring problem. Clearances are often denied for failure to pay debts on time, or for money owed to foreigners. Sometimes just the sheer amount of money owed is grounds for a denial, even if someone isn’t in arrears.

“I’ve had people denied clearance based upon school debt that they had, about $300,000 to $400,000 in combined college and grad school debt, even though they were timely in paying it,” said Zaid, who also handles national security cases including Freedom of Information Act litigation for POLITICO reporters.

A recently released financial disclosure by Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, showed that during the early months of 2016, Kushner’s indebtedness increased under three separate unsecured lines of credit. The changes took the couple’s reported debts to a range of approximately $31 million to $155 million last June from a range of between about $19 million and $98 million reported last March.

How their financial picture has changed since last summer is unknown.

One of the credit lines, valued at $5 million to $25 million in both the March and June reports, is from Germany-based Deutsche Bank. A portion of Kushner’s financial holdings was sold to a family trust last year, but many assets are still owned by him. His family’s real estate projects have incurred even larger loans from Deutsche Bank as well as partnerships with investors in Israel and financing from Chinese nationals.

Experienced security clearance lawyers say the debts and various foreign ties could be an insurmountable problem for Kushner’s clearance if he were applying via one of the various intelligence agencies.

However, Kelly issued a statement Tuesday suggesting that despite his promise to crack down on interim clearances, a way would be found to let Kushner do his work related to Middle East peace, Mexico and other issues. The chief of staff also appeared intent on playing down the notion that the issue has spurred personal tension between the two men.

“As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Kelly said.

“Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the president’s agenda,” Kelly said of Kushner. “There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise.”

A source familiar with the situation told POLITICO on Wednesday that it will be difficult for Kelly to abide by his newly announced policy and still approve a full, permanent clearance for Kushner.

“If that policy is held to, Jared would not be able to see top security information. And I don’t know if he’d be able to work in the building,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “He’s either going to get an exemption which causes a big news story, or he’ll have to do something else. From what I’m seeing, they’re fighting like hell to push Kelly out to get an exception.”

President Trump — who has final say on any clearance matter — may ultimately have to resolve the issue himself. “This is one of those tough calls for the president,” the source said.

Many clearance lawyers welcome Kelly’s memo on tightening up the White House clearance process.

“Recent events have exposed some remaining shortcomings,” the chief of staff observed. “Now is the time to take a hard look at the way the White House processes clearance requests.”

Kelly also stressed the need “for the process to continue functioning without political interference.”

One of his assertions did trigger sharp dissent. Kelly claimed that agencies across the government use different standards to grant clearances. Lawyers who work in the field say that, by and large, that is not true, and that agencies use the same standard to rule on clearance requests.

“The system isn’t broken,” Zaid said. “It’s the White House system that’s broken.”

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Trump offers plenty of ideas but no concrete plan on guns

Arming teachers. “Hardening” schools. Strengthening background checks. Raising the age for gun purchases. Banning bump stocks. Reopening mental institutions. Even revisiting the rating system for video games and movies.

That was the dizzying array of suggestions President Donald Trump threw out in just one meeting Thursday for how to deal with gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But it wasn’t clear how he planned to transform any of his ideas into reality. Trump told the gathering of law enforcement officials in the White House’s Roosevelt Room that he’d reached out to lawmakers in recent days who signaled a willingness to consider background checks – it wasn’t immediately clear who – and asserted that the minimum age for long gun purchases should be raised to 21, a move long opposed by the National Rifle Association. “And the NRA will back it,” the president said – even though the organization said the opposite just this week.

The comments came a day after Trump surprised aides during a listening session with school shooting survivors by advancing the idea of rolling back gun-free zone restrictions at schools to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons as a deterrent, a proposal long promoted by the NRA.

Yet as with health care and immigration, Trump has appeared to search for a clear agenda, offering sometimes contradictory prescriptions.

Trump heartily backed gun rights on the presidential campaign and boasted as recently as his State of the Union address about his efforts to protect the Second Amendment—but since the shooting, he has shown an inclination to take steps in response as student survivors and bereaved parents have become omnipresent on cable news demanding change.

At the White House event, Trump called the suspected Florida gunman “a sicko” and said there is a “tremendous feeling” toward making changes in the wake of the Parkland attack, “including at the NRA.”

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said at a briefing Thursday that Trump spoke last weekend with Chris Cox, the head of the NRA’s legislative arm.

“In dealing with school safety issues, we don’t expect to agree with the NRA on every single issue,” Shah said. “It’s going to be part of an ongoing conversation [with] their stakeholders along with family members, students, parents, teachers who the president heard from yesterday, local officials who he talk to today. So he’s going to get opinions from a lot of folks and he’s going to come to the right steps that are necessary.”

Shah added: “He’s going to take input from a lot of folks and come forward with proposals that we think can improve school safety.”

Trump has already called on the Justice Department to act on bump stocks, gun accessories that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, though a government review of the accessories was already underway. Legislation similar to Trump’s background-checks idea has stalled in Congress because Republicans want to pair it with language expanding rights to carry concealed weapons.

Yet even as Trump flirted with some ideas that the gun lobby is wary of — particularly raising the legal age for buying guns like the assault rifle used in the Parkland shooting, something Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said this week he’d support — the president also went out of his way to flag his support for the NRA, which has been staunchly supportive since the 2016 campaign.

“Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots,” Trump tweeted early Thursday. “They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

At both Thursday’s event and the one with families on Wednesday, Trump adopted many of the gun lobby’s arguments. “I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump said, borrowing a line that was used by NRA head Wayne LaPierre in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday morning.

“What President Trump thinks are the solutions to gun violence are straight out of the NRA playbook,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “He is an anti-gun reform, anti-gun safety president.”

The Brady Campaign and other organizations calling for gun control have laid out priorities including universal background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and enacting a national “extreme risk law,” a restraining order-type law that would allow a judge to temporarily revoke someone’s firearms and ability to purchase weapons under certain criteria.

Trump has not endorsed any of those ideas.

At Thursday’s meeting, he brushed off comments by Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart about active-shooter drills, calling the exercises — which are practiced in many schools — “a very negative thing” and “very hard on children.”

He said his preference would be for a “hardened school” where children could be kept safe.

Trump also continued to push the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

“I never said ‘give teachers guns’ like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @nbc,” Trump tweeted. “What I said was to look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience – only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.”

“Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A ‘gun free’ school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!” he tweeted.

It’s a position he has tried to defend before. In May 2016, as a candidate, Trump said, “I don’t want to have guns in classrooms, although in some cases teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly.” He later told CNN that “school resource officers” or trained teachers should have weapons.

He accused his opponent at the time, Hillary Clinton, of misinterpreting his position, remarking that “the way she said it meant like every student should be sitting there carrying guns.”

The idea of arming teachers has prompted opposition from education groups, who say it would not prevent violence. The high school in Parkland, Florida had an armed security official who did not encounter the shooter. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said at a town hall event hosted Wednesday night by CNN that he does not support arming teachers.

In states that have let school districts decide about allowing firearms on campus, few school boards have been interested.

The NRA backs the idea. LaPierre expressed support for the push to arm school officials during his CPAC speech, calling on educators to scrap “gun-free zones,” which he said created “wide-open targets” for shooters.

“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said.

Rubio knocked down the idea of bringing guns on school campuses during a CNN town hall Wednesday with students and parents from Stoneman Douglas. “I would admit to you right now, I answer that as much as a father as I do as a senator, the notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with,” Rubio said.

Trump’s legislative push appears to be in its early stages. Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been a leading voice calling for gun control since the Sandy Hook shootings, had not yet heard from the president, though his office said White House staff reached out on Thursday.

He has said he opposes Trump’s idea for putting guns on campuses.

“That’s an insane idea that will make our schools less safe, not more safe,” he told CNN. “It’s a creation of the gun lobby. The gun industry, for years, has called on societies to arm themselves in order to protect themselves, which belies all the evidence that tells us that communities and homes that have more guns are more likely to be subject to gun crimes. But it has the benefit of allowing the gun industry to sell more guns.”

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Trump praises NRA leaders as 'great American patriots'

President Donald Trump called the leaders of the National Rifle Association “Great People and Great American Patriots” on Thursday as the gun lobbyist faces a wave of backlash after last week’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The president, who vowed to “come through” for the NRA at its annual conference last year, said he believed the organization would “do the right thing” in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 and injured more than a dozen.

“What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne, Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots,” Trump tweeted in reference to Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive vice president and its executive director for legislative action, respectively.

The president added: “They love our Country and will do the right thing.”

On Wednesday, Trump expressed support for measures at odds with the NRA’s legislative agenda during a listening session at the White House with Stoneman Douglas students, gun control advocates, D.C.-area education officials and others. He vowed that his administration would be “very strong” on age requirements for gun sales of assault weapons, a measure the NRA said in a statement it opposed.

In a Thursday morning Twitter spree, Trump pledged to push “Comprehensive Background Checks” and end the sale of bump stocks, the gun accessory used in the deadly Las Vegas shooting. He also emphasized the need to improve mental health.

But at Wednesday’s listening session, Trump also voiced support for measures previously promoted by the major gun-rights lobbying organization, including backing “concealed carry” by some teachers and trained officials on school campuses.

The president received the endorsement of the NRA during the 2016 presidential campaign.

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Mueller adds new tax, bank fraud charges against Manafort, Gates

Special counsel Robert Mueller turned up the pressure on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates, as a federal grand jury returned a new indictment Thursday charging the two men with tax and bank fraud.

The new 32-count indictment returned by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia comes after Mueller separately charged the pair in Washington last year with money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents for their work related to Ukraine.

The new indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of dramatically understating their income on federal tax returns filed from 2010 through 2014. The pair is also accused of bank fraud totaling more than $20 million tied to three loans Manafort applied for in connection with various homes he owns.

In all, Manafort and Gates laundered more than $30 million in income, chiefly from their Ukraine work, the new indictment alleges.

None of the charges currently facing the pair appears to relate directly to the core of Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the special counsel has jurisdiction to pursue any crimes he finds in the course of his probe, and the new charges Thursday show he is ramping up pressure on the former aides to President Donald Trump.

Some of the alleged bank fraud appears to have overlapped with the Trump campaign. Manafort and Gates joined the campaign in the spring of 2016 to help plan for the Republican National Convention, and Manafort was campaign chairman from May until he resigned on Aug. 19. But the White House has subsequently tried to distance itself from him, with Trump saying at one point that Manafort only worked for him for a “very short period of time.”

The scrutiny of the pair so far has focused on their lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2006 to 2015. The initial indictment claimed they generated tens of millions of dollars through that work, which was then laundered through “scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.”

Prosecutors claim in the new indictment that Manafort made various misrepresentations to obtain loans, including forging profit-and-loss statements for his consulting businesses.

No new defendants were charged in the latest indictment, but it alleges that the men had a “conspirator” at at least one of the lenders from which Manafort obtained the loans.

In response to one of the profit-and-loss statements provided in connection with a loan request, the unnamed “conspirator” allegedly replied that the document was too obviously faked.

“Looks Dr’d. Can’t someone just do a clean excel doc and pdf to me?” the indictment quotes the bank employee as replying.

Based on the description of the loan in the court document, the lender appears to be Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Bank. A spokesman there declined to comment on Thursday.

Prosecutors said the case against Manafort and Gates filed in Washington in October will continue, although it appears a few charges from that indictment are being moved to the Virginia case. Defendants in tax cases have the right to insist on being charged in their home district. Mueller’s team said they were willing to consolidate the case in Washington, but either Manafort or Gates declined to agree to be prosecuted on those charges in Washington.

The parallel legal cases will increase the complexity and cost of the legal defense for Manafort and Gates.

Gates’ legal team has been in flux recently, with his existing lawyers, Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack and AnneMarie McAvoy, seeking to withdraw for reasons that have not been explained publicly.

Longtime Washington defense lawyer Thomas Green of Sidley Austin formally entered an appearance in the case Thursday and consented to the other lawyers departing.

Lawyers for Manafort and Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new charges. The judge in the Washington case has imposed a gag order, but the Virginia case will be heard before another judge, T.S. Ellis.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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Senate swamp awaits gun control push

Sen. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are looking for quick action on guns.

The Senate is likely to disappoint them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is loath to allow any debate that splits his caucus, and it’s hard to find one more divisive than guns. Already, proposals backed by the Florida Republican and the president are running into headwinds in the slow-moving Senate.

Rubio’s attempts to quickly pass an NRA-backed bill to improve the background-checks system may be blocked by fellow Republicans next week. A more controversial measure suggested by Trump and Rubio — raising the minimum age to buy some rifles from 18 to 21 — is already running into internal GOP opposition and resistance from influential pro-gun groups.

“More gun control is not the answer,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said via a spokeswoman. “Thousands of young Montanans are responsible gun owners. It simply does not make sense to deny these young men and woman their 2nd Amendment rights.”

Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Gun Owners of America, said Trump “likes to be adulated by the people in front of him … he may feel better in the short term” by pressing to raise the age limit for some rifles. “But in the long term, I think what Republicans do on this issue will determine how the 2018 election goes.”

His argument: Trump’s base will punish the president and Republicans in November, probably by not voting at all, if they try to push even modest gun control legislation through Congress. The National Rifle Association also opposes changing the age at which people can buy rifles.

In addition to the heavy political lift any significant gun bill would require, the Senate’s plodding pace will make it difficult to quickly pass even narrow new gun legislation while the Florida massacre is still top of mind. Republicans familiar with the Senate GOP’s dynamics said Trump-backed legislation designed to improve the background-check system’s record-keeping could take lots more work — and may be the most ambitious thing the Senate can do this year.

In the end, it will be up to McConnell whether to allow votes on a broader package of new gun laws, focus on a less controversial bill to improve the background checks system — or hold off altogether.

“Only Mitch McConnell can bring it to the floor,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who supports raising the age limit on some rifle purchases. “This is not something [Republican leaders are] going to want to have linger during the primary electoral season and into the general. And this one seems different with these high school kids” leading the charge for new gun laws.

Democrats would face big risks of their own by allowing the GOP to take up that narrow background-checks bill, which their members uniformly support but view as a laughable Band-Aid on the broader nationwide problem of gun violence. If Democrats let Trump’s party score a win on a small-ball gun bill and then move on, they risk inflaming their own liberal base.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he “cannot imagine a bill that would make a difference that the NRA supports.” But some Democrats are willing to see how the debate plays out.

“I’m not in the business of drawing lines in the sand right now. Something is clearly happening out there, and Republicans are realizing that doing nothing is no longer acceptable politically for them,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Indeed, there are signs of politicians in both parties changing their long-held views on guns.

Rubio said on Wednesday evening that “if you are 18 years of age you should not be able to buy a rifle.” He was joined on Thursday by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who said “nobody under 21 should have an AR-15,” according to the Wichita Eagle. Likewise, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is “inclined to support legislation that would raise the minimum purchase age for rifles like the AR-15 from 18 ,” an aide said.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is reconsidering his opposition to an assault weapons ban, taking a fresh look at the latest version from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), according to aides. And after being raked by Senate Democrats for opposing universal background checks in 2013, Flake is talking with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) about whether there’s a version of that bill he can support.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a longtime GOP deal-maker, said he wants to first improve the background-check system, ban bump stocks that transform guns into nearly automatic weapons, get more counselors in schools and implement a new mental health law. But he said through a spokeswoman that he’s also “willing to consider other reasonable ideas to prevent future tragedies while preserving constitutional rights.”

Still, many in Washington are frozen by the gun debate.

POLITICO contacted all 51 Republican Senate offices about Trump’s suggestion to change the age at which people can buy rifles, and only a handful responded during this congressional recess week. And other than Bennet, the handful of Senate Democrats who have opposed assault weapons bans were also quiet.

Trump will have to make a sustained push to move the GOP, which is filled with stalwart defenders of gun rights and senators supported by the NRA. On Thursday, he also discussed giving teachers bonuses for carrying firearms and lavished praise on the gun rights group.

“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!” Trump tweeted.

But the president’s scattered approach is unlikely to translate into quick action in the Senate — or with the methodical majority leader.

“Despite the president’s words, this is going to be harder than he might think,” said a Senate Republican aide.

The narrow bill, which would encourage states and federal agencies to send more information to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is already opposed by three Senate Republicans as written: Mike Lee of Utah, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky. And the Gun Owners Association, which is more hard-line than the NRA, also opposes it.

“We have due process concerns with the bill as it is currently written, and we are working on a staff level to address those concerns,” said a spokesman for Lee.

One senator can block quick passage of legislation. And if Senate Republicans can steer the narrow background-checks bill past internal resistance, it’s set for serious trouble in the House. GOP leaders in that chamber have combined the background-checks measure with looser concealed-carry rules for firearms that hace no chance of passing the Senate, and they’ve promised conservatives that those provisions won’t be separated.

The hill is even steeper for the rifle age proposal. Feinstein and Flake are working to write a bill that would restrict only certain types of rifles for people under 21, hoping to assuage GOP concerns that such a ban would be too broad. But conservative opposition is already building.

Meanwhile, many Republicans are going to wait and see where Trump and GOP leaders end up. But the retiring Flake said congressional action is all but inevitable.

“I feel confident on this. I do. I don’t know how you can justify restricting handguns for someone under 21 but not restricting an AR 15. I just think that’s a bridge too far for the NRA and others,” Flake said. “I don’t know that [GOP leaders] can avoid it, given public sentiment.”

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Twitter purges accounts, and conservatives cry foul

Twitter has pruned more suspected trolls and fake accounts from its platform, prompting several of its most outspoken conservative users to complain Wednesday that they had lost thousands of followers overnight.

Conservatives quickly decried what they called the “#twitterlockout,” adding it to their list of grievances against what they see as an ideologically liberal tech industry. The topic also got heavy promotion among Twitter accounts that some researchers have linked to Russia’s online influence campaigns.

Twitter’s move came just days after the federal indictments of 13 Russians connected with a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” heightened the pressure on social media companies to clamp down on the plague of fake accounts that marred the 2016 presidential election.

Twitter said Wednesday that it was simply cleansing its platform of objectively “spammy behavior,” an effort it had announced late last year. “As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse,” a spokesperson told POLITICO.

Users complaining about the move included political provocateur James O’Keefe, who’s best known for exploits like trying and failing to get The Washington Post to publish fake sexual abuse allegations against former Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. His group Project Veritas also released a compilation video last month that it claimed showed Twitter employees, filmed without their awareness, admitting to silencing conservative voices.

“Looks like thousands of Twitter users committed the thought crime of tweeting about ‘God,’ ‘the American flag,’ and ‘guns,’ and were taken off the platform,” O’Keefe tweeted Wednesday.

According to data pulled from the social analytics tool CrowdTangle, O’Keefe lost about 2,400 followers between Tuesday and Wednesday, a drop of just more than half a percent after weeks of constant growth. That still left him with about 385,500 followers — and by early Wednesday evening, he had regained all his losses.

Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who appears as a frequent commentator on Fox News and elsewhere, tweeted a similar complaint: “@Twitter is discriminating against conservative voices & banned me,& many others,from posting ads while wiping out 1000s of followers.”

Michael Flynn Jr., the son of former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, likewise questioned Twitter’s motives.

“I’d give them benefit of doubt but they’ve been caught too many times censoring conservative accounts #TwitterLockOut,” tweeted Flynn, whose follower count in the CrowdTangle analysis had dropped a little more than 2 percent overnight.

The Twitter spokesperson said the company’s tools are “apolitical” and the platform’s rules are enforced “without political bias.” The person added that with problematic accounts, the company takes steps to determine whether “a human is behind it,” such as by attempting to verify a valid phone number.

“That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone,” said the spokesperson.

At least one group of experts sees Russian help in making the “#twitterlockout” hashtag go viral.

The “Hamilton 68” website, created by the organization Alliance for Securing Democracy and affiliated with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, listed “twitterlockout” Wednesday afternoon as the most-used and fastest-spreading hashtag “promoted by Russia-linked influence networks on Twitter” during the past 48 hours.

That network includes Twitter accounts “likely controlled by Russian government influence operation,” those that “amplify themes promoted by Russian government media” and “users who have been influenced by the first two groups,” the alliance says in its explanation of its methodology.

The skirmish is yet another example of the blowback that Twitter and other social media companies have taken since the 2016 election, especially after congressional investigators and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office laid out the details of how they say Russian forces leveraged the companies’ platforms to meddle in American politics.

In December, Twitter announced that it would begin taking steps to more aggressively enforce its rules against “hateful conduct and abusive behavior.” That provoked the first objections from some on the right who called the steps a “#twitterpurge.”

The company conceded at the time that “we may make some mistakes and are working on a robust appeals process.”

Conservatives have escalated their criticisms of Twitter and other social media companies in recent months, accusing them of wielding the power granted by their enormous user bases to silence conservative voices. Liberals, meanwhile, have accused Twitter of allowing fake and abusive accounts to fester in order to maintain a high user count, an important stat for investors.

Twitter does not disclose precisely how many users it has, but analysts looking at company information have estimated the number at around 330 million active users a month.

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Trump floats expanding concealed carry on school campuses

President Donald Trump boosted the idea of having teachers and staff carry weapons on school campuses on Wednesday during a White House listening session with students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, their families and local school officials.

The president lamented the death of a Stoneman Douglas sports coach who died protecting students from gunfire to illustrate his case.

“If he had a firearm he wouldn’t have had to run, he would’ve shot and that would’ve been the end of it,” the president said.

Trump did not name the official, but appeared to reference assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who died while shielding students during the shooting spree at the Parkland, Florida school last week.

The president said his administration would “certainly” discuss the option, which he acknowledged was “controversial,” along with a series of other initiatives. For the measure to be enacted, the president cautioned, school officials would need to be skilled in handling rifles and be trained on deploy them on campus.

As a presidential candidate, Trump pledged to “get rid of gun-free zones on schools” as well as on military bases, a proposal he said he’d enact his first day in office. But the later wavered on the proposal, heavily-opposed by gun-control advocates, telling CNN he’d only support removing gun-free zones in schools “in some cases.”

The proposal was met by pushback from some attendees, who argued gun-wielding teachers would not protect students.

“School teachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life,” said Mark Barden, a member of Sandy Hook Promise. Braden’s wife is an education official and his child died at the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Trump opened the event vowing to take action, decrying the lack of response to past mass shootings.

“It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past,” the president said at the White House event alongside Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other administration officials. “It’s been going on too long, too many instances, and we’re going to get it done.”

Trump said the administration would be “very strong” on background checks for gun purchases and on mental health, though he declined to provide specific details on policy proposals. The president added their approach “very strong” on “age of purchase,” a potential reference to the push to limit who can purchase assault weapons like the one used by Cruz in Parkland.

Some students from the Parkland, Florida high school where the shooting occurred have become outspoken critics of existing gun restrictions. Trump this week urged the Justice Department to finishing reviewing a possible ban on a weapons accessory used in last year’s Las Vegas shooting, though the moves he’s endorsed so far have been backed by the National Rifle Association.

The White House billed the listening statement as an opportunity for the president to “hear from students, parents and educators who have directly experienced these horrific tragedies.”

The list of participants included members of Rachel’s Challenge and Sandy Hook Promise, two groups founded by the families of students lost during school shootings in Colorado and Connecticut.

The event also featured remarks from students and families connected to Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, as well as families from three D.C.-area schools, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, Friendship Public Charter School and Parkmont School.

Participants at the event expressed diverging views of how to respond to the attack, with some fending off calls for increased gun laws while others bemoaned congressional inaction in the face of continued mass shootings.

“How is that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy?” said Stoneman Douglas student Samuel Zeif. “We need to do something. That’s why we’re here.”

Trump and other administration officials largely deferred to the attendees during the discussion, which spanned over an hour and included moments of raw emotion.

“I’m never going to see my kid again. I want you all to know that,” said Andrew Pollack, who was pictured last week looking for his daughter wearing a Trump 2020 t-shirt. “Never, ever, will I see my kid. I want it to sink in. It is eternity. My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see again. It is simple.”

Pollack called on the group to work in unison toward a “fix” on gun violence, a message echoed by the president.

“This is a long-term situation we have to solve. And we’ll solve it together,” Trump said.

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Students march on Tallahassee as Florida GOP considers gun limits

TALLAHASSEE — Survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting in suburban Fort Lauderdale descended on Florida’s capitol Wednesday as the Republican-majority Legislature — normally friendly territory for the National Rife Association — moved toward considering new limits on gun access.

The students-turned-lobbyists met with a long list of Florida’s top leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, state Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Senate President Joe Negron and state House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The frenzied action in the Capitol this week is a sharp contrast to how state lawmakers reacted after a gunman slaughtered 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. In a significant move toward gun control, a deal is taking shape among Florida Republicans that would call for age limits and waiting periods for assault rifles as well as a new program to arm school personnel to prevent future classroom slaughters.

“When the people clamor at the rate that they have in the shadow of a terrible massacre like we saw, you see a reaction that you otherwise would not see,” said state Rep. José R. Oliva (R-Miami Lakes) who’s set to take over the House after this legislative session and acknowledged that he never expected to move gun control in the chamber.

Oliva said, however, that the students who traveled to Tallahassee to urge action on gun control will probably be “disappointed” because lawmakers won’t ban military-style semi-automatic rifles.

Oliva said he’s not locking down Republican members to vote for the legislation, which he’ll likely unveil later this week or early next week, because “it’s a conscience vote and a Constitutional issue that every member has to decide.” But House members say the fact that the second-most powerful man in the top-down House will carry the legislation helps ensure its passage.

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican leading the talks on the Senate side, said that removing schools as so-called gun-free zones has gone a long way to bringing Republicans along to support age and wait period increases for semiautomatic rifles, such as AR-15’s.

Survivors, meanwhile, held a press conference in the rotunda, recounting their harrowing experiences and expressing frustration with state lawmakers.

Ryan Deitsch, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior, accused the Legislature of “political double-talk.”

“I know I’ve been walking into office after office after office, and I’ve spoken to maybe three representatives, two of which already agreed with me,” said Dietsch. “I want to see those people who shot down that bill [banning assault weapons], who did not let it get past committee. I want to see those people. I’m not here for a fight, I’m not here to argue with you. I just want to see your face and know why.”

Hundreds of people joined a number of the students for a two-hour long rally on the old Capitol steps, periodically chanting about politicians who refuse to act, “Vote them out! Vote them out!”

Soon after, about a hundred people insisted on seeing Scott as they delivered petitions calling on him to take action on gun control. After being told he was unavailable, they began chanting “You work for us!” and “Knock-knock, Scott.” Scott attended a funeral in South Florida earlier in the day, and met with students later in the day.

“I just want to be a part of the movement for gun control, mental health reform, for anything we can do to prevent more kids, more teachers and more innocent lives being lost to mass shootings and to gun violence,” Olivia Feller, a junior at Marjory Stoneman, told POLITICO. “I just really hope that Stoneman Douglas can be the last and that students from my school, that we together can push forward and actually make the change.”

She said she’d support a ban on assault rifles, along with more armed school resource officers and measures to address mental health.

“We are, honestly at this point, begging them to do something, to save our lives, to save teachers’ lives,” she said.

Feller was discouraged when she heard the House on Tuesday turned down a chance to bring an assault weapons ban straight to the floor.

“It was just so disappointing it wasn’t even close,” she said. She said she wants to ask legislative leaders, “which do you value more: guns or kids’ lives?”

Last week’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people, including 14 students, dead and more than a dozen others hospitalized after a lone gunman opened fire at the school. The suspected gunman later confessed and has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Florida’s worst school shooting turned grieving students into political activists. Over the weekend, students spoke at a rally in Fort Lauderdale that drew thousands and national media attention.

The Stoneman Douglas students are pushing a bipartisan message in the hopes of spurring lawmakers to act. And in Tallahassee, they got a crash course in lobbying from one the state’s most influential lobbyists, Ron Book.

It’s not about political parties, Book told the students Tuesday night — “it’s about how you advocate and present your message. And presenting your message is about your story.”

“There is going to be a package and it is going to pass. I can’t tell you we’re going to get everything we want,” he added.

State Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) coordinated the students’ visit to Tallahassee. She said she personally paid for the cost of the buses and meals for the students.

Cindy Damien, a fourth grade teacher at Park Trails Elementary in Broward County and the mother of a senior and a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, said lawmakers aren’t doing enough to keep schools safe.

“There’s too many … cracks, there’s just too many,” she said. “If they’re not going to tighten up those laws, then we need to tighten up our gates.”

Students met with state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart Wednesday morning. Melissa Camilo, 15, a freshman who said she was in the building when the shooting happened, told reporters she thought one of the most important things the students spoke about with Stewart was the locks on classroom doors.

“Teachers shouldn’t have to go on the outside to lock the door, because that takes so much time. Within those seconds, someone could get hurt,” she said.

Dozens of students wearing blue shirts that stated “We call B.S.” in the Senate gallery Wednesday. It was a reference to a speech last week made by Stoneman Douglas senior Emma Gonzalez slamming political leaders for their failure to prevent the tragedy.

The roughly 100 high school students who met with Corcoran questioned if he would spearhead meaningful gun control. In response, he highlighted measures in a comprehensive bill the House planned to file in response to the mass shooting.

Some of those measures include increasing the age limit for rifle purchases, expanding the scope of background checks and $108 million in mental health funding.

“We want the result of the talks we’re having to be the end of it,” Corcoran said. “It’s a position where we can say this is the end of it, that’s our goal.”

One student asked why he wouldn’t outright ban the AR-15 assault-style rifle, which the shooter used to spray hundreds of bullets into crowds of students and faculty members in six minutes.

Corcoran said he would restrict access to the powerful gun, but he would never ban it. He explained that such prohibitions gave government too much power.

“The first job of anyone elected to government is to keep people safe,” Corcoran said. “And what can be dangerous if a government with too much authority.”

Sergio Bustos and Arek Sarkissian contributed to this report.

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Trump on course for clash with House GOP over gun control

President Donald Trump’s tentative embrace of a narrow background-checks bill is about to hit a towering hurdle: members of his own party.

The White House is signaling support for a bipartisan bill that would enhance reporting of violent criminals to the FBI’s background-check database in order to stop them from buying firearms. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) is trying to round up support for it along with the White House — a formidable duo from a party that typically shuns any talk of stricter gun measures.

But House conservatives are unwilling to sign on, unless the measure is coupled with so-called “concealed-carry” legislation backed by the NRA. Combining the two ideas would have the net effect of loosening gun controls.

The House in December passed a bill that yoked the pair of proposals. Before the vote, House GOP leaders promised conservatives that they would not decouple the background-checks bill from the concealed-carry language, according to four leadership and conservative sources familiar with the whip effort.

That sets up the possibility of a clash between House and Senate Republicans. Trump will likely have to decide how hard he wants to push for the standalone background-checks bill, at the risk of antagonizing his pro-gun base and GOP allies in the House.

If Senate Republicans don’t separate the two measures, the package is bound to run aground, since concealed-carry is a non-starter for Democrats. It would allow gun owners with concealed-carry permits in their home states to bring their weapons across state lines.

Senate Republicans have made no firm decisions on when or how to take up the background-checks bill. But Cornyn has made clear he would prefer to separate it from the concealed-carry language in order to preserve its chances of passing. On Wednesday morning, the Texan’s office reinforced that stance by circulating a Wall Street Journal editorial that implored the House to “let that [concealed-carry] provision die.”

Both Hill and White House sources told POLITICO that Senate passage of the background-checks bill, which would add penalties for federal agencies that don’t follow the reporting rules and encourage more states to comply, is a real possibility in the coming days.

If that happens, Speaker Paul Ryan will have to decide whether to even allow a vote on the House floor.

The House Freedom Caucus has sent a warning shot to leaders before the debate heats up.

The background-check legislation “would allow bureaucrats and administrators to take away an individual’s Second Amendment liberties, and something that fundamental you’ve got to have a court make that decision to give due process to American citizens,” House Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in an interview Tuesday.

A vote on the background checks bill alone would be “a big problem,” he added. “We were told when they combined them, [leadership] said — in the event that there is another terrible tragedy, and the Democrats in the Senate won’t go for the [concealed-carry proposal] … our leadership said, ‘No, we’ve got to keep these together.’”

The looming battle over an incremental bill — one that Democrats say doesn’t begin to address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence — is a reminder of the political realities of Washington. Polls show growing support for gun control measures, including 97-percent backing for universal background checks in a Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday.

But the spate of mass shootings — from the 2012 mass murder of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, to Friday’s massacre of 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school — has done little to move the gun debate in Congress. That’s because the two parties fundamentally disagree about the cause of the bloodshed: Democrats blame guns, Republicans blame individuals.

Trump is the wild card. The president was moved by news coverage of the aftermath of last week’s shooting, and doesn’t want to be seen as sitting on his hands. He surprised even some of his own staff Tuesday when he ordered Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft a regulation banning “bump stocks” that convert semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons.

Republicans on Capitol Hill broadly support regulating bump stocks, which a shooter used to mow down nearly 60 people at a Las Vegas concert in October. The Wall Street Journal editorial suggested that the House GOP “throw in a ban” on bump stocks when it considers the bipartisan background-checks bill, an approach that would take effect more quickly than the bureaucratic process Trump directed Sessions to initiate.

But the White House has also said it’s open to gun control measures that go well beyond the ones that have been discussed in recent days. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Tuesday that increasing the legal age limit for purchase of an AR-15, the weapon used in last week’s Florida shooting, is on the table — as is a return of the assault weapons ban.

Those ideas will go nowhere with Republicans on Capitol Hill. And Democrats are already pressing the GOP to go further than the background-checks measure it’s struggling to coalesce behind.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a small step,” said the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York. “It shouldn’t be characterized in any way to a solution to the gun violence.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday urged Senate Republicans to “avoid making the same mistake as their House colleagues” and toss aside the concealed-carry sweetener. Schumer added to reporters that if Trump supports closing current background-check loopholes, a step much further than the small-scale information-sharing plan Trump has endorsed, the idea would have a “nexus of a chance” at passing.

Behind the scenes, top White House officials have been gauging whether Capitol Hill conservatives would support separating the concealed-carry language from the background-checks bill. They’ve also been reaching out to gun groups to see what could earn their support.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has yet to meet in person with Cornyn and his committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, to discuss a path forward for the legislation.

In the House, it’s not just Freedom Caucus members who want to keep the concealed-carry measure attached. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the sponsor of the House concealed-carry bill, told POLITICO in a statement that he hopes the Senate does not unlink the two.

As Republicans grasp for a workable strategy to pass even a modest bolstering of the background-checks system, their math problem in the Senate remains clear. When a similar concealed-carry plan came to a Senate vote in 2013, it got support from seven sitting Democrats. That would not be enough to reach the 60 votes needed for passage now, especially since one of those Democrats, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, has since renounced his backing.

Only six House Democrats supported the combined background-checks and concealed-carry legislation last year, with the rest arguing that it would infringe on individual states’ control of who can carry concealed weapons and create, essentially, a national gun license.

The background checks legislation would not have stopped Nikolas Cruz from purchasing the semi-automatic weapon he used to kill 17 students and teachers last week, and gun-control advocates say it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“It’s certainly not proportional to the problem,” Peter Ambler, executive director of the gun-control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), said in an interview. “And it’s embarrassing for the president that he would present this tiny piece of legislation as something that would adequately respond to the shooting in [Florida] specifically, and the broader problem of gun violence.”

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