Puzder withdraws nomination for labor secretary

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WASHINGTON (AP) Developments on Wednesday, Feb. 15, about President Donald Trump and his administration (all times Eastern Standard Time).

  • 3:40 p.m.

Andrew Puzder said he has withdrawn as the president’s nominee for labor secretary.

The fast food executive said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that he was “honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity.”

“While I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team,” Puzder said.

Puzder’s confirmation hearing was scheduled for Thursday. But some Republicans had raised concerns about his failure to pay taxes for five years on a former housekeeper who wasn’t authorized to work in the U.S.

Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc.

  • 2:45 p.m.

President Trump planned to hold one of his signature rallies in Florida this weekend.

Trump promoted the event with a tweet — inviting people to join him at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport for the event at 5:00 p.m. Saturday.

It’ll be Trump’s first rally since he took office — and his first since he took a “thank you tour” in December through states that he won in the election the month before. That swing ended Dec. 17 in Alabama.

Trump’s large and raucous rallies were a key part of his unconventional campaign.

  • 12:35 p.m.

The president said his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is a “wonderful man” who has been treated “very, very unfairly” by the media.

An administration official said Trump fired Flynn late Monday following reports that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump was sworn into office.

Flynn and other administration officials originally denied the topic had been discussed. Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Flynn had lost the president’s trust.

But Trump said in a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he thought “it’s really a sad thing” that Flynn “was treated so badly.”

He also said he was going after those who have leaked information to the press, describing it as a “criminal act.”

  • 11:05 a.m.

Trump told the heads of several of the largest U.S. retailers — including Target, Best Buy, and Gap — that people will “love” his planned tax reforms.

The president provided scant details about his tax overhaul, but he assured retail CEOs that tax rates would be lowered and simplified in a “massive” plan that “will be submitted in the not too distant future.”

“Other than H&R Block, I think people are going to love it,” the president said.

But during the public portion of the meeting, Trump provided no insight as to whether he still intended to levy a border tax on imports. Trump threatened a border tax in order to protect U.S. factory jobs, but retailers have warned that it could cause higher prices for consumers.

  • 10:40 a.m.

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump plan to host Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and his wife for dinner.

An administration official said Rubio and his wife Jeanette were expected to join the Trumps at 6:30 p.m.

The Florida senator was one of the large field of Republican candidates Trump beat on his way to the White House. Trump famously dubbed him “little Marco” during the primary battle.

Trump hosted another 2016 candidate Tuesday. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., and his wife Mary Pat were at the White House for lunch.

  • 9:00 a.m.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called a meeting of Democratic senators to discuss the president’s former national security adviser and published reports about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Another leading Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pressed the Democrats’ case for an independent investigation. He and other Democrats said that would be the best way to answer questions about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

Republican leaders continued to refuse to consider that option and said three congressional investigations underway were enough.

Durbin told MSNBC that it’s a “graveyard” for investigations when congressional intelligence committees get involved because their work is largely done outside of public view.

  • 8:00 a.m.

President Trump appeared to fault the Obama administration for being “too soft” on Russia, pointing to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine during President Barack Obama’s watch.

“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” he tweeted.

In that and a series of other morning tweets, Trump appeared to be trying to distance himself from any appearance of close ties with Russia following published reports that U.S. agencies had intercepted phone calls in 2016 between Russian intelligence officials and his 2016 campaign team.

Trump denounced “this Russian connection non-sense” as “merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.”

  • 6:45 a.m.

The president renewed his attack on the “fake news media” amid the widening controversy surrounding the ouster of his national security adviser and talk of congressional investigations of purported Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

Trump posted a predawn message on his verified Twitter account complaining, “The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred.”

He added in the post that “@MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!”

The latest tweet followed a pattern of social media messages that Trump has sent, chastising news organizations both during his campaign for the White House and in the more than three weeks since his inauguration.

  • 6:30 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., likened President Trump to Andrew Jackson, and said he’s what the American people wanted when they elected him.

McConnell told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that voters “wanted a different kind of president.” He added that “I like what he’s doing,” particularly his emphasis on lessening government regulation of business.

McConnell also said he considered Neil Gorsuch, the man Trump picked to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, to be “the single best circuit court judge in the nation.”

He did disagree with Trump, who has asserted that millions of illegal votes in the election caused him to lose the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton. “There is voter fraud in the country,” McConnell said. “But there is no evidence that there was significant enough vote fraud to affect the outcome of the election.”

“I’m more interested in what he’s doing than what he’s tweeting,” McConnell said.

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