Bidding Closes For Building Trump's Border Wall

A youth looks at a new, taller fence being built along U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the border from Sunland Park, N.M.

Rodrigo Abd/AP

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Rodrigo Abd/AP

Private contractors seeking to get in on the ground floor for construction of President Trump’s long promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border had until Tuesday to submit their bids for prototype designs.

At least 200 companies have expressed in interest in the project, but not all were expected to submit bids. Customs and Border Protection called for proposals for the border wall in March.

Several prototypes of the wall will be built on federally controlled land in San Diego. Customs and Border Protection chose that site for its accessibility and to evaluate the bids “as part of the larger existing border infrastructure,” said a CBP spokesperson. The agency said each wall prototype will be 30 feet long and range in height from 18 to 30 feet. Finalists will be announced in June with the expectation that prototype construction will be completed 30 days later.

The Associate Press, citing government sources, reports that the administration expects that four to 10 companies will be chosen to build the prototypes costing $200,000 to $500,000 each.

Customs and Border Protection has made it clear that is seeking prototypes for solid concrete barriers (or some with a see-through feature) and not designs that rely heavily on technology.

The border wall faces stiff opposition in Congress. During the presidential campaign, Trump insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall. But he has since asked Congress for the funds. Democrats oppose it and some Republicans are also skeptical, suspecting that American taxpayers would foot the bill. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated the cost of the wall at $21 billion. An MIT study puts the price tag at $38 billion.

The project faces other obstacles. The administration may have to resort to eminent domain to acquire privately owned land along the border which can be costly and time-consuming.

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On The Record: President Trump Vs. Private Citizen Trump On Syria

President Trump, seen crossing the South Lawn on March 2, has criticized his predecessor for his “weakness” in Syria — though Trump as a private citizen warned against action in the country repeatedly in 2013.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

In an official statement, President Trump described the recent chemical attack in Syria as “reprehensible” and went on to argue the “heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.” In other words, he blamed former President Obama.

Returning to a common theme of his campaign, Trump’s statement concluded, “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”

Trump’s criticism of Obama’s policy on Syria goes back to 2013. A private citizen at that time, he argued that the U.S. should not get involved in the conflict.

On Tuesday, Trump’s statement did not include what — if anything — his administration would do about the recent attack or what his posture will be toward Assad in light of it. Press secretary Sean Spicer said that the president’s statement “speaks for itself.” He said Trump is meeting with his national security team, is “alarmed” at what is happening and that there will be further discussions with allies about the appropriate action. He added, “I think, at this point, as things develop, I’m not ready to talk about our next step, but we’ll get there soon.”

Spicer also referenced Obama’s “red line” comment, in which the then-president said, “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

At the time, Trump didn’t say anything about it on Twitter. It wasn’t until Syria started dominating the headlines in the summer of 2013 that Trump began weighing in. Two days after the U.S. concluded the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, Trump tweeted that the U.S. “should stay the hell out of Syria.”

We should stay the hell out of Syria, the “rebels” are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS?ZERO

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2013

His message: Stay out, Syria is not America’s problem. And Trump was relatively consistent on that as the conflict in Syria intensified and the Obama administration contemplated an expanded U.S. role.

President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your “powder” for another (and more important) day!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2013

In late August 2013, the U.S. and international community concluded that the Syrian government had again used chemical weapons. The Obama administration was reportedly considering a military strike against Syria to send a message, and private citizen Trump questioned whether it was worth it.

What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013

And long before he was a candidate, Trump was critical of politicians — including Obama — for telegraphing their military strategy.

If we are going to continue to be stupid and go into Syria (watch Russia), as they say in the movies, SHOOT FIRST AND TALK LATER!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013

On Aug. 30, 2013, a U.S. intelligence assessment found more than 1,400 Syrians were killed in the chemical weapons attack. Trump’s tweets focused on how that made the U.S. look.

How bad has our “leader” made us look on Syria. Stay out of Syria, we don’t have the leadership to win wars or even strategize.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2013

The next day, Aug. 31, 2013, President Obama announced he would seek congressional approval to carry out strikes in Syria. This was widely seen as a way to back away from the red line Obama drew, putting the responsibility for a decision to escalate involvement in Syria on the shoulders of Congress.

President Obama’s weakness and indecision may have saved us from doing a horrible and very costly (in more ways than money) attack on Syria!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2013

If the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay. Stay away and fix broken U.S.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2013

It rapidly became clear that Congress wasn’t going to be able to agree on authorizing force — and that Congress really didn’t want the responsibility.

On Sept. 5, 2013, Trump’s concern was that Obama had set the “red line” in the first place.

President Obama put himself in a very bad position when he talked about Syria crossing the RED LINE. Amazingly, now he denies he said that!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013

The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria,fix U.S.A.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013

The next day, seemingly joking, Trump offered his own solution: Use Obamacare in Syria so “they would self-destruct.”

If Syria was forced to use Obamacare they would self-destruct without a shot being fired. Obama should sell them that idea!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry ultimately worked out a multinational agreement, including Russia, where Assad would agree to give up his chemical weapons. Trump’s assessment was not positive.

This new Russian strategy guarantees victory for the Syrian government-and makes Obama and U.S. look hopelessly bad. President in trouble!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2013

In the end, he concluded the way Obama handled Syria made America look weak.

That’s a view President Trump continues to hold, as evidenced by the statement he released on Tuesday.

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Pulse Check: Can The GOP Health Care Bill Be Saved?

Vice President Mike Pence is leading talks with House Republicans for the Trump administration to try and revive the failed health care bill.

Timothy D. Easley/AP

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Timothy D. Easley/AP

President Trump may have said he is ready to move on, but the House Freedom Caucus can’t let health care go.

The same firebrand conservatives who helped derail the GOP’s long-awaited legislation to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act are now trying to breathe new life into the bill with a long shot effort to bring it back for a vote in May.

Or at least keep it on life support through the two-week April recess when they’ll otherwise have to explain the bill’s derailment back home. “We’re on the eve of going home and spending two weeks with our constituents… and they know they’re going to get questions about this,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. “And for the people who were ‘no’ they’ll have justification to deal with.”

Womack, who was a ‘yes’ on the GOP’s American Health Care Act, said despite encouraging talk from some corners of the House, a revival was not in sight.

“I did not get the message from our conference this morning that we’re nearing the finish on health care,” he said. “It’s obvious those negotiations continue to take place — and there might be some movement in some areas that give leadership some hope we can get closer to the finish line — but I’m not suggesting at all that we are right there and this thing could change on a dime.”

The thirty-some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., are in active talks with the administration — in the wake of a skirmish between some of the group’s members and Trump over the failure of the health care bill. Those talks are being led by Vice President Mike Pence, who spent Monday and Tuesday in the U.S. Capitol huddling with different factions of House Republicans.

According to lawmakers and aides briefed on the negotiations, conservatives are talking with the White House about tweaking AHCA to allow states to seek waivers from Obamacare’s requirements on “essential health benefits,” or basic health care services all insurance plans must offer, as well as restrictions on “community ratings,” or how much insurers can charge for premiums based on age and gender.

Originally, conservatives wanted to repeal those aspects of the law entirely to allow for health plans with lower premiums. Now there are talks about keeping them in place but allowing states to appeal to the Department of Health and Human Services to waive them on a state-by-state basis.

It’s far less than conservatives had hoped for in negotiations. “It perhaps is as much of a repeal as we can get done,” conceded Meadows, according to the Associated Press. “That’s the calculation we have to make.”

The talks have not so far publicly brought on board any of the moderate Republicans who already opposed rolling back essential health benefits, or who worry that doing so would raise costs on people with preexisting conditions. The talks also ignore the fact that many of the GOP’s ‘no’ votes were based on the legislation’s sweeping changes to how Medicaid is funded, and the current negotiations don’t address those concerns at all.

It’s also unclear that including the updated proposal into the bill would even secure the votes of enough House Freedom Caucus members to pass it. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., is still a ‘no,’ and said his colleagues should not expect the conservative faction to vote as a bloc.

“For some reason, some in the media think that we vote lock step with each other. That is categorically not the case. If you were to think of us more as an intellectual conservative think tank with a backbone, that’s what we are,” Brooks told reporters.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., spoke cautiously of the effort, describing talks as in “the conceptual stage” and that any action before the April recess was highly unlikely. “We want to make sure that when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill,” he said.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer was similarly cautious. “I’m not going to raise expectations, but I think that there are more and more people coming to the table with more and more ideas about how to grow that vote.”

The House is operating under a tight timeline. Republicans on all sides of this debate agree that May is a make-or-break deadline for the bill because of budgetary constraints. The health care bill is moving under a process protected by this year’s budget resolution. Once Congress begins moving on next year’s resolution, the budget protections for their health care bill expire.

Even if the House can muscle up the votes to revive the bill next month, it still must clear the Senate, which is expected to make significant changes to the House bill, and then the House would have to pass it again.

Politically, most Republicans say they do not want to drag out the health care debate longer than they have to if it’s clear it can’t pass. The only thing worse than failing once to deliver on a central campaign promise, is failing twice.

“Let me just tell you what we can’t do — we can’t try again and fail,” Womack said. “So there will not be a try-again effort unless it is certain that we have the votes to pass it.”

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Gary Austin, Founder of the Groundlings Improv Group Dies

Groundlings comedy troupe founder Gary Austin has died at 75. Here he attends a January 2016 Groundlings event with actress Victoria Carrol-Bell in West Hollywood, Calif.

Araya Diaz/Getty Images for The Groundlings

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Araya Diaz/Getty Images for The Groundlings

Gary Austin, who created and led one of improvisational theater’s most influential troupes, the Groundlings, died Saturday at the age of 75 of cancer.

Austin was a writer, director, and musical performer whose students comprised a virtual Who’s Who of modern comedy, including many cast members of Saturday Night Live.

As Deadline Hollywood reported,

“As the group’s artistic director, performer and teacher of improv skills, Austin would help shape modern comedy, introducing to the world such performers as SNL‘s Newman, Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens (who, with Hartman by his side, developed his Pee-wee Herman character as Groundlings). Later Austin students included Paul Feig, Lisa Kudrow, Helen Hunt, Jennifer Gray, Mindy Sterling, Loretta DeVine, Daphne Zuniga, Helen Slater, Lindsay Crouse and Robert David Hall.”

Born in Oklahoma, Austin graduated from San Francisco State in 1964 earning a degree in theater arts. He was a stage manager and actor with the San Francisco-based improvisational comedy troupe The Committee. He later moved to Los Angeles joining the Comedy Store.

In 1972, Austin founded the Gary Austin Workshops where performers could practice improv, and two years later, the Groundlings. The group gained such a following that SNL producer Lorne Michaels recruited him to move to New York to direct the cast of that groundbreaking show. But Austin declined, choosing to stay in Los Angeles.

Austin left the Groundlings in 1979, although he continued his teaching at the Gary Austin Workshops.

“I learned about acting by watching evangelists,” Austin told an interviewer in 2015 describing his experience growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“I wanted to be three things as a kid. I wanted to be a preacher, I wanted to be a singing cowboy and I wanted to play centerfield for the Boston Red Sox. What do those three things have in common? They’re all in front of audiences.”

Austin is survived by his wife, Wendy McKenzie; his daughter, Audrey Moore; a sister; two brothers; a grandson; and three grandchildren.

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Hold Up: Beyoncé Just Released A New Thing For Us All To Obsess Over

Maybe you heard it too: murmurs of a “new Beyoncé song,” accompanied by whatever it is that gasping and genuflecting sounds like when transmitted via Twitter and Facebook, then the purr of a song playing through the headphones of the devoted everywhere, begun, as in a round, at slightly different moments.

In the end, we’d pretty much literally heard it before: The song in question, a ballad of devotion titled “Die With You,” has been around since at least 2015, but it’s newly packaged with a video depicting the endlessly dissected love affair between Beyoncé and Jay Z. (The video is available for viewing in full via Tidal, natch.) Ardent followers of Queen Bey, those who attend to her every announcement or outfit or vacation photo on Instagram (that’s all of us, right?) will know that today, April 4, is the couple’s ninth wedding anniversary, and “Die With You” is intended to function as a definitive statement that the state of their union is strong. Wedding rings, hands held, lovers in repose, adorable Blue Ivy… it’s all here.

So there you go. Just as your Tuesday afternoon seemed to be passing uneventfully, you’ve now got a new Beyoncé video for your cooing, swooning and/or think-piece-writing pleasure.

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When Sheriffs Refuse An ICE Detainment Request, They Get Called Out

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Phoenix, Ariz., on Apr. 28, 2010.

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John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has begun issuing weekly reports that name sheriffs, the agency claims, who are uncooperative when it comes to enforcing federal immigration laws. ICE says some sheriffs are refusing the federal government’s requests to hold people in their jails believed to be in the country illegally. But many sheriffs argue what they’re being asked to do is not constitutional.

For years, ICE made requests of sheriffs departments to hold people in their jails even after they were free to go on local charge; the request was called a detainer. “And we honored those for years believing that was legally correct,” says Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington State Sheriffs’ Association.

But, Barker says, a court ruling from April 2014 changed that. A federal judge in Portland ruled Oregon’s Clackamas County had violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Maria Miranda-Olivares. Miranda-Olivares, a non-citizen, had been arrested for allegedly violating a restraining order. While her criminal case was moving forward, the county received a notice from ICE requesting it detain her.

And it did.

“Even though she would’ve probably otherwise have been released the following day after her arrest, she ended up staying in jail for 16 days,” says Juliet Stumpf, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland.

Stumpf says the ruling found ICE detainers weren’t the same as going before a judge to get a warrant, meaning they weren’t a legally sufficient way to hold a person in jail.

“Since, according to the federal judge, the police had no authority to hold her at all, those 16 days, of detention, of custody, were completely unlawful, they were a violation of the Constitution,” she says.

Christopher Lasch, a law professor at the University of Denver, says there’s been an “explosion in the number of jurisdictions that sort of recognize this basic legal principal that a detainer doesn’t provide a legal basis for prolonging the detention of somebody who should otherwise be released.”

Months after the 2014 ruling, ICE did away with that type of detention request. Instead, it began asking sheriffs for what amounts to a heads up; ICE has also referred to these requests as detainers. Today, it’s common for law enforcement agencies across the country to provide information to ICE. Sometimes the agency uses that information to make its own arrests.

Lasch says the new weekly reports from ICE naming sheriff’s departments that don’t honor detainers is shaming law enforcement for something the courts have settled.

“Basically, these detainer requests are requests for local sheriffs to violate the law,” Lasch says.

Starting this month, ICE says it is using a new detainer form. The agency says, in addition to the detainer, it will also issue what’s called an administrative warrant. The problem with that, Lasch says, is the warrant is issued by ICE, not a judge — doing nothing, in his view, to address constitutional concerns.

ICE declined a recorded interview, but in an email a spokeswoman maintained detainers are a legal request local law enforcement can use to continue to hold someone for up to 48 hours.

But Pat Garrett, the sheriff in Washington County, Ore., disagrees.

“If you use the term detainer, it’s something that the federal courts have said is not constitutional,” Garrett says.

Garrett is frustrated the new reports from ICE make no mention of court rulings. “And that omission leads readers to conclusions about the legal framework around ICE detainers that are simply not accurate,” Garrett says.

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'I Think It's Hard To Be A Person': Aimee Mann On Compassionate Songwriting

Aimee Mann’s newest album, Mental Illness, is out now.

Sheryl Nields/Courtesy of the artist

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Sheryl Nields/Courtesy of the artist

Aimee Mann‘s music has always been characterized as melancholy. So on her new album, Mental Illness, she decided to lean into the stereotype.

“A friend of mine was asking me what the record was about,” Mann says, “And I said, ‘Oh, you know, my usual songs about mental illness,’ kind of being glib about it. And then my other friend said, ‘Maybe you should call it Mental Illness,‘ also being glib. It’s so bald, but also accurate and funny, so it really made me laugh. And I felt like if it’s making you laugh, there must be something accurate about it.”

Mann spoke with NPR’s Kelly McEvers about the inspirations for some of the songs on MentalIllness. Read interview highlights below, and listen to the full conversation at the audio link.

Interview Highlights

On the encounter that inspired “Patient Zero”

I met the actor Andrew Garfield at a party. I was a big fan of him, and he had just come to LA, I think to be in Spider-Man. I think he’s a real artist, I think he’s a very sensitive person and I worry about people like that sometimes in Los Angeles. When you’re dealing with big movies and big famous people and huge studios and large sums of money — sensitive, talented people tend to get caught beneath the wheel.

And so I sort of wrote this story based on the idea of somebody coming to Hollywood and getting ground down by it, which I did feel like, captured a certain Los Angeles despair. … The image I had was that narcissism is an infectious agent — and here comes this guy, steps off the plane, and his immune system is nonexistent to fight against that type of psychic germ.

On “Goose Snow Cone”


“Goose Snow Cone” is based on an image of a cat friend of mine named Goose. … I saw a picture of her, and her face looked like a little snow cone, and I started writing the song with the idea that I would replace that phrase with something else. But the song sort of became a rumination on loneliness and isolation and homesickness.

On empathy and the human condition

I think it is hard to be a person. It is really hard to negotiate relationships, it’s hard to negotiate loss, it’s hard to have perspective on your own problems, it’s hard to break out of the habits and dynamics of your childhood. … And people aren’t really naturally born with the skills to negotiate it. So I have a lot of compassion for people. Everyone’s struggling in some way.

Radio editor Monika Evstatieva contributed to this story.

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Fate Of Philadelphia's Soda Tax In Limbo As It Faces Legal Challenge

There was a lot of buzz when Philadelphia passed a soda tax, and there’s early evidence it’s led to its intended aim of reducing sugary drink consumption. But further expansion of the pre-K programs the tax is intended to fund is in limbo. That’s because the American Beverage Association and local businesses are suing to to abolish the tax. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for April 5. The case could end up in the state’s Supreme Court.

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50 Years Ago, MLK Delivers A Speech With Dark Vision Of The World

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered one of his most politically charged speeches from Harlem’s Riverside Church. In “Beyond Vietnam,” he not only condemns the Vietnam War, but also compares American tactics to those of Nazis. His speech paints a dark vision of the world, a contrast to the optimistic speech he had delivered 4 years earlier, “I Have a Dream.”

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