Lawyers Near Deal to Settle Weinstein Co. Civil Lawsuits

A tentative deal has been reached to settle multiple lawsuits brought against the television and film company co-founded by Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by scores of women.

Attorneys involved in the negotiations told a federal bankruptcy court judge during a hearing in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday that a breakthrough in a still-unfinished mediation had put a settlement within reach.

The amount of the deal wasn’t revealed in court, but a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press it was worth $44 million. The person wasn’t authorized to reveal details of the discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We now have an economic agreement in principal that is supported by the plaintiffs, the (New York attorney general’s) office, the defendants and all of the insurers that, if approved, would provide significant compensation to victims, creditors and the estate and allow the parties to avoid years of costly, time consuming and uncertain litigation on all sides,” Adam Harris, a lawyer for studio co-founder Bob Weinstein, told the judge.

He cautioned that there was still “a lot of work here to do.” But, he added, “I personally am very optimistic.”

The size of the settlement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

At least 15 lawsuits

More than 15 lawsuits have been filed accusing Harvey Weinstein or the company of misconduct. The settlement would cover many of them, including a class action by alleged victims that accuses the film company of operating like an organized crime group to conceal widespread sexual harassment and assaults.

It would also resolve a civil suit by the New York attorney general alleging that Harvey Weinstein’s media company, in enabling his mistreatment of women, violated labor laws.

The New York attorney general’s office declined to comment on the amount of the settlement.

Any settlement would need to be approved by the courts.

Criminal charges unaffected

Harvey Weinstein also faces criminal charges in New York of rape and performing a forcible sex act. His trial is scheduled to begin in September. The settlement wouldn’t resolve his criminal case.

Weinstein denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

An attorney who represents unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy of the Weinstein film studio, Robert Feinstein, told U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Mary Walrath that mediation talks that had broken down a few months ago had recently been restarted.

A global settlement of the class action lawsuit and all other legal action against the Weinstein Co. seemed to become possible only in the past few days, he said, though he cautioned that many details remained to be resolved.

Harris said the settlement was complex because of the number of claims, and insurance companies, involved.

“We’re dealing with potential claims here that go back more than 25 years,” he said, adding that the nature of the allegations had also made for “a highly charged environment, with very strong feelings on all sides.”

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DHS Cites Insufficient Resources in Deaths of Migrant Children

The Trump administration has blamed the escalating humanitarian and security crisis at the southern U.S. border for the deaths of several migrant children. The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told a Senate panel Thursday that the number of arrivals has accelerated in recent months, making it hard to process families and unaccompanied children. VOA’S Zlatica Hoke reports the deaths of the children while in U.S. custody have caused a public outrage.

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Trump Considering Troop Deployment to Deter Iran

The White House is considering a plan presented by the Pentagon Thursday to send thousands more troops to the Middle East to deter potential Iranian threats. Earlier this week, Trump administration officials told lawmakers the U.S. is not trying to provoke Tehran. Many are concerned that mixed messages from the administration may increase the risk of conflict and lessen the chance of persuading Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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3 Killed in Missouri as Tornado Strikes State Capital

A tornado caused heavy damage in Missouri’s capital city as severe weather swept across the state overnight, causing at least three deaths and injuring nearly two dozen people as homes and businesses were ripped apart.

The National Weather Service confirmed that the large and destructive tornado moved over Jefferson City shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

“Across the state, Missouri’s first responders once again responded quickly and with strong coordination as much of the state dealt with extremely dangerous conditions that left people injured, trapped in homes, and tragically led to the death of three people,” Gov. Mike Parson said. 

Missouri Public Safety said the three were killed in the Golden City area of Barton County, near Missouri’s southwest corner, as the severe weather moved in from Oklahoma, where rescuers struggled to pull people from high water. The tornado hit during a week that has seen several days of tornadoes and torrential rains in parts of the Southern Plains and Midwest.

No deaths were reported in the capital, but Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said about 20 people were rescued by emergency personnel. 

 

The weather service reported that a “confirmed large and destructive tornado” was observed over Jefferson City at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday, moving northeast at 40 mph (64 kph). The capital city has a population of about 40,000 and is located about 130 miles (209 kilometers) west of St. Louis.

“It’s a chaotic situation right now,” Williams said.

Williams spoke from the Cole County Sheriff’s office, where debris including insulation, roofing shingles and metal pieces lay on the ground outside the front doors. Authorities were discouraging people from beginning clean-up efforts until power is safely restored. Area hospitals set up command centers in case the need arises.

Missouri Public Safety tweeted that there was a possibility of more tornadoes and flash flooding.

Austin Thomson, 25, was in the laundry room of his complex of two-story apartment buildings to do his wash and noticed the wind started picking up. He saw sheets of rain coming down and a flagpole bend and then slam to the ground. The windows broke and he dove behind the washers and dryers.

After it calmed down, he walked outside to check the damage, and retrieved a stuffed animal for his daughter from his damaged apartment.

“There’s basically one building that’s basically one story now,” he said. 

 

The weather service said it had received 22 reports of tornadoes by late Wednesday; some could be duplicate reporting of the same twister.

One tornado skirted just a few miles north of Joplin, Missouri, on the eighth anniversary of a catastrophic tornado that killed 161 people in the city. The tornado caused some damage in the town of Carl Junction, about 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) north of the Joplin airport, where several injuries were reported.

The severe weather was expected to continue Thursday as the storms head east. Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center say parts of the Ohio Valley and the Mid-Atlantic could see tornadoes, large hail and strong winds. Forecasters say the area most at risk for bad weather Thursday includes Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Flooding and runaway barges

Storms and torrential rains have ravaged the Midwest, from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. Authorities urged residents of several small towns in Oklahoma and Kansas to leave their homes as rivers and streams rose.

Two barges broke loose and floated swiftly down the swollen Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma, spreading alarm downstream as they threatened to hit a dam. A posting on the official Facebook page of the river town of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, said the runaway barges posed a dire threat to its 600 residents: “Evacuate Webbers Falls immediately. The barges are loose and has the potential to hit the lock and dam 16. If the dam breaks, it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!”

Authorities located the barges Thursday morning, stuck on rocks in the swollen river. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says the barges were still tied together, and crews were working to secure them.

Still, the Interstate 40 bridge and a state highway bridge remain closed over the Arkansas River at Webbers Falls as a precaution, according to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Over Memorial Day weekend in 2002, a barge struck the Interstate 40 bridge pier at Webbers Falls, causing part of the bridge to collapse into the Arkansas River. Fourteen people died after their vehicles plunged into the water.

Weather-related deaths

Deaths from this week’s storms include a 74-year-old woman found early Wednesday morning in Iowa. Officials there say she was killed by a possible tornado that damaged a farmstead in Adair County. Missouri authorities said heavy rain was a contributing factor in the deaths of two people in a traffic accident Tuesday near Springfield.

A fourth weather-related death may have occurred in Oklahoma, where the Highway Patrol said a woman apparently drowned after driving around a barricade Tuesday near Perkins, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma City. The unidentified woman’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office to confirm the cause of death. Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said she isn’t yet listed as what would be the state’s first storm-related death.

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FAA Chief Has No Timetable for Boeing 737 MAX Approval

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday he does not have a specific timetable to approve Boeing Co’s 737 MAX for flight after two fatal crashes since October prompted the plane to be grounded worldwide.

The FAA is meeting with more than 30 international air regulators including China, the European Union, Brazil and Canada on Thursday to discuss a software fix and new pilot training that Boeing has been developing to ensure the jets are safe to fly.

“It’s a constant give and take until it is exactly right,” Deputy FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters of the discussions with Boeing. “It’s taking as long as it takes to be right,” he said, adding: “I’m not tied to a timetable.”

The plane was grounded in March following a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash just months after a similar Lion Air disaster in Indonesia which together killed 346 people.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have both canceled flights into August because of the 737 MAX grounding, while United Airlines has canceled flights into July.

Asked if it is realistic that the 737 MAX could be flying again by August, Elwell declined to be specific.

“If you said October I wouldn’t even say that, only because we haven’t finished determining exactly what the training requirements will be,” Elwell said. “If it takes a year to find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the (grounding) order so be it.”

Elwell said he plans to share the FAA’s “safety analysis that will form the basis for our return to service decision process” on Thursday. But he said the agency is still waiting for Boeing to formally submit the software upgrade for approval, and emphasized the FAA has not decided on the revised training requirements, including whether to require simulator training.

Global airlines that had rushed to buy the fuel-efficient, longer-range aircraft have since canceled flights and scrambled to cover routes that were previously flown by the MAX.

​Elwell rejected any idea that he was trying to win consensus with international regulators over the path to re-approving the MAX at the meeting. “We have to be the first to lift the order. We are the state of design,” he said.

He said he would explain the FAA’s thinking to international regulators but added: “I’m not going to try to persuade anybody.”

At the same time, he also denied there was friction. “We have peace with other regulators. We’re talking to them constantly. You want to make this like, ‘We at war with the other countries over this.’ We’re not,” Elwell said.

Foreign regulators have signaled disagreements over measures to end the grounding, with Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau calling in April for pilots to receive simulator training for the MAX, rather than just computer courses. 

Canada and Europe said on Wednesday they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms if their specific concerns are not addressed.

“From our point of view, if we all work together and we all reach the same aim, fine. If we don’t, we’ll choose our own time to decide when the planes are safe to fly again,” Canada’s Garneau told Reuters in an interview.

A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said on Wednesday that it would complete an additional independent design review of the plane once the FAA approves Boeing’s proposed changes and establishes “adequate training of Boeing MAX flight crews.”

Elwell told Congress last week the FAA is working closely with other civil aviation authorities “to address specific concerns related to the 737 MAX.” United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz said on Wednesday that FAA approval is only the first step, with public and employee confidence key to deciding when to fly its 14 MAX jets again.

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Study: Children of Opioid Users More Likely to Attempt Suicide

The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry published by the American Medical Association found children whose parents were prescribed opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as the offspring of people who did not use those drugs.

The latest study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh is the first research attempting to tie rising suicides among U.S. children to the opioid crisis.

“I think that it’s obvious in many ways; it’s just that we were able to put it together and prove it,” said Dr. David Brent, one of the authors of the study.

Brent, of the University of Pittsburgh, said he believes some opioid users might display less care, monitoring and affection for their children, which would explain the higher suicide rate in those kids.

Suicide increased across all ages in the United States between 1999 and 2016, spiking by over 30% in half the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year.

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007.

In the latest study, researchers used medical insurance data from 2010 to 2016 for more than 300,000 children ages 10 to 19, and broke that group down into those whose parents were prescribed opioid drugs and those whose parents were not.

Among the children of parents who used opioids, 0.37% attempted suicide, compared to 0.14 % of the children of non-users, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The parents were all legally prescribed opioids that they used for at least a year. The study did not identify which of those users may have been abusing painkillers, as opposed to using them in line with doctor recommendations.

Challenges for children of drug users

Children of opioid users still had a significantly higher risk of attempting suicide after researchers adjusted for factors such as depression and parental history of suicide.

Some researchers have suggested social media could harm children’s self esteem and increase their suicide risk.

But Brent and his co-authors noted social media is prevalent in countries that have not seen a rise in child suicide.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017 and has promised to hold drugmakers accountable for their part in the crisis.

Nearly 400,000 people died of overdoses between 1999 and 2017 in the United States, resulting in the lowering of overall life expectancy for the first in more than 60 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eric Rice, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s school of social work, said other research has found children of drug users face challenges.

“A doubling in the suicide rate is a pretty shocking manifestation of that, I’ve got to be honest,” Rice said. “But to hear that there are impacts on children which are negative is not a surprising thing,” said Rice, who was not involved with the study.

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What Baby Names Say About America

“Emma” rules the West Coast, while “Liam” reigns supreme in the American Midwest.

In the southeastern part of the United States, parents prefer the name “William” for boys and “Ava” for girls, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, which compiled a list of 2018’s most popular baby names.

At the top of the list nationwide are “Liam” for boys (for the second year) and “Emma” for girls (continuing a 5-year streak). The names “Noah” and “Olivia” come in second.

While naming a child might feel like one of the most personal decisions a person can make, that choice is often heavily influenced by outside forces.

“Names say more about the parents than the kids,” Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told VOA in an email. “How unique parents want to be, where in the country they were when the child was born, and what influences around them shape their lives.”

Today’s digital media-saturated world means new parents are exposed to a much broader range of potential baby names than ever before. They might be influenced by celebrities or characters from movies and television shows.

For example, the name “Arya,” from a beloved character on the “Game of Thrones” television series, ranked 119th on the list, well ahead of traditional names like “Angela” (264), “Jennifer” (345) and “Alexis” (179).

“Khaleesi,” another iconic character from the hit show, was the 549th most popular name for newborn girls, beating names like “Lisa” (891), “Christine” (926) and “Anne” (599).

“Increasingly, parents may feel that they want to — and are able to — make their own choices about forenames for their children in an expression of their sense of their own individuality and the desire to endow a distinctive and unique individuality in their children as they grow up,” sociologist Jane Pilcher, an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University in England, told VOA via email.

She refers to names as “workhorses” because they can reveal significant information about a person. But that can also have a downside.

“A forename can tell us about a person’s sex and gender, ethnicity and nationality, social class and cohort,” Pilcher says. “These social identities, unfortunately, are each linked to discrimination and inequality. So, a forename can very much impact upon a person’s experiences and opportunities.”

A 2012 study found that when science faculty from research universities were given identical applications for a laboratory manager position, they rated candidates named “John” more highly than candidates named “Jennifer.”

A person’s name often reflects their culture, and is a marker of when and where they lived, and of the prevailing social trends at the time of their birth.

Berger found that names starting with “K” became more popular after Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic damage in New Orleans in 2005. Parents heard the name on the news so often, that its sounds or syllables became more familiar and therefore more appealing.

“Names are more likely to become popular when other, similar names have been popular recently. So, if ‘Katy’ and ‘Katherine’ have been popular, other names that start with a hard ‘K’ like ‘Kevin’ are more likely to take off,” says Berger. “Hearing a name more often makes people like it more, but if something is too popular, people avoid it.”

So, ultimately parents look for the comfort of familiarity, while also searching for a name that stands out.

American-born Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, recently named their son Archie, a name which ranked 992nd in the U.S. in 2018. It remains to be seen if that royal seal of approval will influence Archie’s U.S. popularity in 2019.

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‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh to Be Released

John Walker Lindh, the young Californian who became known as the American Taliban after he was captured by U.S. forces in the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, is set to go free after nearly two decades in prison.

But conditions imposed recently on Lindh’s release, slated for Thursday, make clear that authorities remain concerned about the threat he could pose once free.

Lindh converted to Islam as a teenager after seeing the film “Malcolm X” and went overseas to study Arabic and the Quran. In November 2000, he went to Pakistan and from there made his way to Afghanistan. He joined the Taliban, and was with them on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The U.S. attacked Afghanistan after the country failed to turn over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Lindh was captured in a battle with Northern Alliance fighters in late 2001. He was present when a group of Taliban prisoners launched an attack that killed Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, a CIA officer who had been interrogating Lindh and other Taliban prisoners.

Television footage of a bearded, wounded Lindh captured among Taliban fighters created an international sensation, and he was brought to the U.S. to face charges of conspiring to kill Spann and providing support to terrorists.

Eventually, he struck a plea bargain in which he admitted illegally providing support to the Taliban but denied a role in Spann’s death. Lindh received a 20-year prison sentence. He served roughly 17 years and five months, including two months when he was in military detention. Federal inmates who exhibit good behavior typically serve only 85 percent of their sentence.

His probation officer asked the court to impose additional restrictions on Lindh while he remains on supervised release for the next three years. Lindh initially opposed but eventually acquiesced to the restrictions, which include monitoring software on his internet devices; requiring that his online communications be conducted in English and that he undergo mental health counseling; and forbidding him from possessing or viewing extremist material, holding a passport of any kind, or leaving the U.S.

Authorities never specified their rationale for seeking such restrictions. A hearing on the issue was canceled after Lindh agreed to them.

The Bureau of Prisons said Lindh rejected an interview request submitted by The Associated Press, and his lawyer declined comment. But there have been reports that Lindh’s behavior in prison has created cause for concern. Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2017 that an investigation by the National Counterterrorism Center found that Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”

A former inmate who knew Lindh from the time they spent at the same federal prison said he never heard Lindh espouse support for al-Qaida or indicate he’d be a risk for violence, but he found Lindh to be antisocial and awkward around others, with an unyielding, black-and-white view of religion.

The inmate spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wanted to avoid further stigmatization from his time in Lindh’s prison unit.

Michael Jensen, a terrorism researcher at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, said it’s clear the government has concerns about Lindh’s mindset.

“For three years he’s going to be watched like a hawk,” Jensen said.

He said Lindh represents an interesting test case, as he is on the leading edge of dozens of inmates who were convicted on terror-related offenses in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and are eligible for release in the next five years.

He said there’s little research to indicate the efficacy of deradicalizing inmates with connections to radical Islam, but he said the research shows that recidivism rates for those connected to white supremacy and other forms of extremism are high.

Lindh was housed in Terre Haute, Indiana, with other Muslim inmates convicted on terror-related charges. The rationale was to keep those inmates from radicalizing others in the general prison population, Jensen said. Those inside the unit were supposed to be limited in their ability to communicate with each other.

“But the reality is these guys still talk to each other,” he said.

Lindh, for his part, admitted his role and his wrongdoing in supporting the Taliban, but he and his family have bristled at any notion that he should be considered a terrorist. When he was sentenced, Lindh said he never would have joined the Taliban if he fully understood what they were about. He also issued a short essay condemning acts of violence in the name of Islam that kill or harm innocent civilians.

Lindh’s time in prison has provided only a few clues about his current outlook. He filed multiple lawsuits, which were largely successful, challenging prison rules he found discriminatory against Muslims.

In the more recent lawsuits he used the name Yahya Lindh. One lawsuit won the right to pray in groups at the prison in Terre Haute. A second lawsuit reversed a policy requiring strip searches for inmates receiving visitors, and a third won the right to wear prison pants above the ankle, which Lindh said is in accordance with Islamic principles.

Some have criticized Lindh’s pending release. In March, the legislature in Alabama, where Spann grew up, adopted a resolution calling it “an insult to Agent Johnny Micheal Spann’s heroic legacy and his remaining family members.”

In addition, Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan wrote a letter last week to the Bureau of Prisons expressing concern.

“We must consider the security and safety implications for our citizens and communities who will receive individuals like John Walker Lindh who continue to openly call for extremist violence,” they wrote.

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Angry Trump Walks Out of Infrastructure Meeting with Democrats

A rare bipartisan commitment between the White House and Congress to make a sweeping agreement on infrastructure has dramatically collapsed.

U.S. President Donald Trump refused to shake hands with lawmakers or sit for a scheduled Oval Office meeting with Congressional Democrats on Wednesday morning, according to those in the room. He then berated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her comments, earlier in the day, accusing him of a “cover up.”

A visibly angry Trump left after three minutes heading into the Rose Garden to inform a hastily arranged news conference, “I don’t do cover ups.”

He accused Democrats of holding a meeting the same morning to discuss “the I word” – impeachment.

The president said he told Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that he wanted to make an infrastructure deal more than they did, but “you can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”

The president, in the Rose Garden, termed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation “a take-down attempt at the president of the United States.”

The outdoor event, steps away from the Oval Office, had obviously been planned far enough in advance to give time to print a placard to place in front of the lectern that denounced the Mueller investigation as a waste of time and money that resulted in “NO Collusion/NO Obstruction.”

Schumer and Pelosi, moments later back on Capitol Hill, accused the president of orchestrating the walkout as an excuse not to negotiate on infrastructure.

“To watch what happened in the White House would make you drop,” said Schumer. “He came up with a pre-planned excuse.”

Schumer said Trump was forced to run away when he could not say how he would pay for an infrastructure bill.

Pelosi accused the president of being unable to “match the greatness of the challenge before him.”

“He just took a pass,” she said.   “I pray for the president and for the United States of America.” 

Later, in remarks to the Center for American Progress, Pelosi said: “This is why I think the president was so steamed off this morning: Because the fat is in plain sight, in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he’s engaged in a cover up. And that could be an impeachable offense.”

White House officials say several aides close to the president attempted to persuade him not to leave the meeting with the lawmakers.

Trump had become angry, officials confirm, just prior to the meeting when Pelosi accused the president of “a cover up” by not cooperating with Congress in requests for testimony from former staff and to hand over documents related to various investigations into his 2016 election campaign and his presidency.

Trump, the previous evening, had sent a letter to Pelosi and Schumer saying there could not be an infrastructure deal until Congress approved the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement, which was the first indication Wednesday morning’s White House meeting with lawmakers would be contentious.

After Trump made his statement to reporters, he took a couple of questions from them and then walked away from the lectern, ignoring further press queries.

The door to the Oval Office slammed shut as the president returned to the Resolute Desk.

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Trump to Democrats: Pass Trade Deal, Then Infrastructure

President Donald Trump is telling Democratic leaders that he believes Congress should first pass a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico before taking up a bill to boost the nation’s infrastructure.

The president made his request in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer before a White House meeting Wednesday.

The Democratic leaders and Trump are aiming for a $2 trillion bill to address roads, bridges and other priorities.

Trump says he remains committed to passing a bill, but he wants Pelosi and Schumer to spell out their priorities and how much money they would provide to each. He says Democrats have “expressed a wide-range of priorities, and it is unclear which ones have your support.”

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