House Backs Sanctions Against N Korea

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Determined to exert greater economic pressure on North Korea, the Republican-led House on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang targeting its shipping industry and use of slave labor.

Lawmakers approved the measure on a 419-1 as tensions continued to mount over North Korea's advancing nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the top American military officer in the Pacific, has warned lawmakers that it's a question of when, not if, Pyongyang successfully builds a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S.

The Senate must take up the measure next.

The bipartisan legislation is aimed at thwarting North Korea's ambitions by cutting off access to the cash the regime needs to follow through with its plans. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the committee's senior Democrat.

The bill bars ships owned by North Korea or by countries that refuse to comply with U.N. resolutions against it from operating in American waters or docking at U.S. ports. Goods produced by North Korea's forced labor would be prohibited from entering the United States, according to the legislation.

Anyone who uses the slave labor that North Korea exports to other countries would be subject to sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the bill states. At times when the nation is facing unusual or extraordinary threats, the president has wide authority under the law, including the power to block or prohibit transactions involving property located in the U.S.

Goods produced by North Korean forced labor would be barred from entering the United States, under the bill.

Royce said companies from Senegal to Qatar to Angola import North Korean workers, who send their salary back to Pyongyang, earning the regime billions of dollars in hard currency each year

"This is money that Kim Jong-un uses to advance his nuclear and missile program, and also pay his generals, buying their loyalty to his brutal regime," he said. "That is what the high-level defectors that I meet with say. So let's squeeze his purse."

The bill also requires the Trump administration to determine within 90 days whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a designation would trigger more sanctions, including restriction on U.S. foreign assistance.

In a separate but related move, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pressed Southeast Asian governments during a working lunch to ensure "leak-proof" enforcement of sanctions against North Korea and to prevent the pariah nation's diplomats from conducting business that could benefit its weapons programs.

Tillerson called on foreign ministers of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to "minimize" diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, "so that North Korea does not gain benefit from its diplomatic channels for its nuclear and missile aspirations," senior State Department official Patrick Murphy said after Thursday's meeting at the State Department.

That was the latest salvo in the Trump administration's push to get the international community to intensify diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program before it can pose a direct threat to the American mainland.

Last weekend, a North Korean midrange ballistic missile apparently failed shortly after launch, the third test-fire failure this month but a clear message of defiance. North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned by the United Nations because they're seen as part of the North's push for a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the U.S. mainland.

The launch comes as both sides in the escalating crisis are flexing their military muscle. President Donald Trump has sent a nuclear-powered submarine and the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to Korean waters. North Korea last week conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises on its eastern coast.

The U.S. and South Korea are installing a missile defense system and their two navies are staging joint military drills.

The missile defense system, known as THAAD, employs six truck-mounted launchers that can fire up to 48 interceptors at incoming missiles detected by the system's x-band radar.

Analysis: Health care victory builds Republicans' confidence

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Finally, a good day for Republicans.

Nearly four months into the era of Trump, Republicans gave weary supporters reason to think there's still hope for the bold promises of Campaign 2016.

With a House vote Thursday to repeal Barack Obama's health care law, the party showed it could pick up the pieces after a humiliating failure six weeks ago and demonstrated the first flicker of signs that it may be able to find consensus within its divided ranks.

The momentum appeared to carry over beyond health care. The House vote came hours after Trump signed an order to promote religious expression. GOP legislators moved closer to rolling back Obama-era financial regulations. The Senate approved a spending bill averting a government shutdown that would have been disastrous for the party with a monopoly on power.

But the hunger for a win may have come at a cost. House Republicans pushed through the health care bill with only a vote to spare and no Democratic support --- reminiscent of the passage of the so-called Obamacare law it unraveled. The bill's fate is uncertain in the Senate, which is sure to change it. Democrats quickly served notice they would hold Republicans accountable for what they predicted could be a disastrous impact on some of the sickest Americans.

But for one day, at least, Republicans decided to celebrate. Immediately after the health-care vote, House Republicans piled onto buses and headed to the White House for a sun-splashed Rose Garden celebration --- a rare event for a bill that has cleared only one chamber of Congress.

"This really helps," Trump said, saying that the vote had brought fractious Republicans together and laid the foundation for future victories on tax cuts and more.

Getting ahead of himself, Trump used the event as an opportunity to make the case, none too subtly, that this was a campaign promise kept.

"Make no mistake, this is a repeal and a replace of Obamacare," Trump said. "Make no mistake about it. Make no mistake."

The event was a sign of how badly they needed the boost. Trump's travel ban executive orders have been blocked in the courts, investigations into his campaign's contacts with Russians have been a big and ongoing distraction, and he's had to put off action on a wall at the Mexican border for now. Trump's first push for the long-promised health care repeal ended without a vote and with talk of moving on to a tax overhaul plan, a startling admission of defeat on a campaign promise that has animated his party for seven years.

"At the end of the day we needed to succeed and we needed to prove we could deliver on our promises to the American people, and this is proof that in the House, at least, we can," Rep Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Thursday.

Princeton historian Julian Zelizer said the day's development will help steel Republicans for battles ahead.

"There is nothing as satisfying in politics as a victory," Zelizer said. "It might embolden them to deal with the consequences and the fallout of the health care vote and energize them for other fights."

But there's a danger in reading too much into one good day.

Just as the 100-day mark was too early to pronounce the Trump administration a failure after early missteps and struggles, this newest mile marker also is too early to say the party has everything figured out.

The Senate is certain to make substantial changes to the bill, with some members concerned about its cuts to the Medicaid program for low-income people. And should a version of repeal get through the Senate and take effect, Trump is now responsible for the promises he flatly delivered in the Rose Garden:

"Premiums will be coming down," he said. "Deductibles will be coming down. It's a great plan."

In the Rose Garden, backed up a cheerleading squad of House Republicans, the new president seemed to be savoring the idea that he's finally come into his own.

"Coming from a different world, and only being a politician for a short period of time, how am I doing? ... Hey, I'm president, do you believe it, right?"

Oddly enough, it was the Democrats who did the chanting as the House vote for repeal was announced.

"Hey, hey, goodbye," they sang --- indicating that they are eager to hang the repeal vote around the Republicans' necks.

"You will glow in the dark," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned Republican legislators. She said the nearly party-line health care vote would be "tattooed" on GOP lawmakers and become "a scar" they will forever carry.

Democrats should know.

Obama's health care law also passed narrowly and without bipartisan support. And soon enough, GOP legislators turned "Obamacare" into a cudgel to use against Democrats in future elections.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez predicted: "Trump and Republicans will own every preventable death, every untreated illness and every bankruptcy that American families will be forced to bear if this bill becomes law and millions lose access to affordable health care."