Extras

GOP House leaders delayed their planned vote on a long-promised bill to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” in a stinging setback for House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump in their first major legislative test.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued his attack on a Republican amendment in Congress that would end New York counties’ requirement to pay a portion of Medicaid, calling it unconstitutional and threatening to sue.

Trump’s administration is asking a U.S. court to quickly hear its appeal of a ruling that blocked the president’s revised travel ban.

Bill Hammond fact checks some of the many statements made by Cuomo and several members of New York’s congressional delegation about how the AHCA would impact the state.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, faced a critical blow as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would join with other Democrats in attempting to filibuster the nomination — a move that could complicate his confirmation and lead to a total revamp of how the U.S. Senate conducts its business.

Schumer said he decided to vote “no” on Gorsuch, and will encourage fellow Democrats to do the same, because he thinks the 10th Circuit Court jurist has a “deep-seated conservative ideology” and lacks “a strong independent backbone.”

Israeli police arrested a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man as the primary suspect in a string of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and other institutions in the U.S., marking a potential breakthrough in the case after an international manhunt with the FBI.

According to more than a dozen former colleagues and longtime friends interviewed on and off the record, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara isn’t running for any public office – no matter how many reports to the contrary are published.

New York State’s private sector job count increased by 12,300, or 0.2 percent, to 8,045,400, a new all-time record high, according to preliminary figures released today by the state Department of Labor.

A New York City agency charged with investigating police wrongdoing forced an employee to resign after discovering that the employee had leaked the disciplinary history of the officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.

Cristina Cuomo, wife of CNN’s Chris Cuomo and sister-in-law of the governor, is starting a new media business and glossy magazine centered on the monied East End of Long Island.

Due to ongoing state budget talks, the governor won’t be making a trip to the Mohawk Valley this week, as planned.

The governor tweeted: “I am directing @nyspolice to coordinate with NYPD + FBI to determine if the senseless murder of Timothy Caughman is part of larger pattern.”

Donald Trump Jr. is facing criticism for a tweet sent in the hours after yesterday’s London attack that included a months-old comment from London Mayor Sadiq Khan that terror attacks are part of living in a big city, but left out that Khan was noting residents need to “be prepared.”

The Westbury schools superintendent, one of the highest paid educators on Long Island, has resigned with one more school year left on her five-year contract, Board of Education members confirmed.

Senate and Assembly lawmakers in their budget resolutions have come out against a proposal to add a Medicare surcharge for so-called high income public sector retirees, similar to what the federal government imposes.

Rensselaer County DA Joel E. Abelove filed a civil complaint in state Supreme Court that seeks to overturn an executive order Cuomo signed two years ago giving the state attorney general the authority to usurp local district attorneys in cases in which unarmed civilians are killed during confrontations with police.

In other news…In what’s being considered one of the biggest “wine and cheese busts” in recent Italian history, a group of 10 people have been arrested by police for stealing more than $250,000 in fine wines and gourmet cheeses.

More Sexual Harassment Funds Spent

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Thursday announced an additional $45,000 in payments related to either independent counsel for sexual harassment investigations or development policy for harassment situations was approved for the state Assembly.

The Assembly was given the approval for $42,000 in spending for Rossein Associates, a law firm that is developing sexual harassment policy for the chamber. At the same time, the law firm Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux was approved for a $3,000 payment after it was hired for outside counsel for independent investigates.

The firms were retained after then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was criticized for his handling of sexual harassment allegations leveled against Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who later resigned after a report concluded he broke the public officers’ law.

In addition to the law firm payments, DiNapoli’s office announced $504,000 in spending was

Department of Economic Development was approved for a $504,000 payment to Mary Elizabeth Mooney for Brand USA’s development of multimedia advertising services.

Cuomo: Medicaid Amendment Complicates Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the possibility Thursday of suing the federal government over a proposal that would shift county Medicaid costs onto the state.

At the same time, Cuomo said the amendment backed by Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso in the American Health Care Act has complicated the state budget picture as the spending plan is expected to be approved next week.

“It has added an uncertainty and chaos to the state’s finances that makes doing the budget a much more difficult exercise because you just don’t know what’s down the road,” Cuomo said. “If we’re facing a $6 billion hole, we have to know that.”

The Medicaid cost itself, however, would not take effect until 2020.

Cuomo in a conference call with reporters insisted the budget wouldn’t be late, but he indicated some changes may be made as a contingency to a potential federal health care overhaul.

“You have to have a budget,” Cuomo said. “The question is what is in that budget if you don’t know the basic financial future of aid and revenues from Washington. That we have to see. We’re evaluating it as it goes.”

Cuomo has railed against the Medicaid takeover for the last several days, issuing a series of statements that could fill a textbook blasting the measure and warning of its potential implications for New York’s taxpayers.

Cuomo’s $152 billion budget proposal released in January does not contain a specific proposal that would be triggered if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. New York is among the states that participated in the Medicaid expansion.

But the governor has sought to make changes to the budget after it is approved, language Democrats and Republicans alike in the state Legislature insist is a non-starter.

“I will be talking to the leaders about it because if you don’t know the immediately financial future, it is very hard to do an intelligent budget,” he said on Thursday in the call.

Once again, Cuomo warned against the dire implications of the Medicaid takeover, saying it would amount to a crippling tax increase that he doesn’t want to impose.

A deal maker with the Legislature in Albany himself, Cuomo knocked the effort to use the amendment as a way to trigger more votes for the House bill, whose passage on Thursday is in serious doubt.

“It’s outrageous quite frankly that Collins and Faso were buying votes and giving the IOU to the state of New York,” he said. “If they wanted to buy votes, as despicable as that is, they’re buying votes and don’t want to pay for it themselves.”

As for the potential lawsuit, Cuomo suggested his argument would rest on a state sovereignty claim.

“We are seriously considering a lawsuit on behalf of the people of the state of New York to show what kind of a scam the delegation is trying to perpetrate on the people of the state,” he said.

Felder Not Ruffled By Ortt Indictment

Sen. Simcha Felder has no plans to change sides should Sen. Robert Ortt lose his seat in the narrowly divided chamber.

Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who sits with the Republican conference in the chamber, gives them the needed 32nd vote to attain a working majority in the state Senate.

Ortt, a Republican from western New York, faces a three-count fraud indictment unsealed in Albany on Thursday. If Ortt is convicted on any of those counts, he is automatically removed from office.

But Felder insisted he believes both Ortt will have his legal troubles put behind him and has no plans to bolt the GOP conference.

“We live in the best country in the world, where people are assumed not guilty,” Felder said. “He will be vindicated and he will be back.”

Felder indicated he’s not looking at the Senate math at this point.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t believe in any parties. I’m not a religious believer in the Republican or the Democratic or any other party. I only believe in serving my constituents, period.”

As for if anything changes in the Senate member-wise, Felder insisted he wouldn’t do anything to hurt his Brooklyn constituents.

“If this dynamic exists, the only thing that makes sense for me is to remain with the Republicans and caucus with the Republicans,” he said. “Changing it in any way would mean I’m a masochist and I’m trying to hurt my constituents.”

Flanagan Says He’s Standing By Ortt

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Thursday said he is standing by Sen. Rob Ortt, who faces a three-count fraud charge stemming from his wife receiving a no-show job.

“Absolutely,” Flanagan said when asked if he’s sticking with the western New York lawmaker. “I believe in our system of jurisprudence and I have great faith in Rob Ortt.”

The Senate GOP has a narrow majority in the chamber with the inclusion of Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the conference and gives them 32 members in the chamber, a working majority.

Ortt defiantly on Thursday said he would not resign his seat, plans to fight the charges and blasted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s prosecution of the case.

Flanagan declined to say whether the case against Ortt is politically driven.

However, Flanagan praised Ortt’s work as a committee chair, his advocacy for those with disabilities and military service.

“I’m going to continue to work here with Rob,” Flanagan said. “The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I’m concerned about is getting the New York state budget done in a timely fashion.”

Maziarz Pleads Not Guilty To 5 Count Charge

Republican former Sen. George Maziarz pleaded not guilty on Thursday to five felony counts of filing a false instrument in a case related to the corruption case of his successor in Albany, Sen. Robert Ortt.

Ortt pleaded not guilty earlier in the day to three charges of filing a false instrument; he faces expulsion from the Senate if found guilty on any of them.

Ortt is accused of having his wife receive payments through a no-show job after his own pay as mayor of North Tonawanda in western New York was reduced by $5,000.

Maziarz, in an indictment unsealed in Albany County Court on Thursday, is accused of playing a role in a “multilayered pass through scheme” that had him using campaign funds and the Niagara Conuty Republican Committee to funnel payments to a former Senate staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

Maziarz did not speak with reporters after the court appearance on Thursday. His attorney, Joe LaTona, insisted Maziarz would be vindicated.

Prosecutors say both the county GOP committee and the Maziarz campaign paid the former staffer $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 between 2013 and 2014.

The payments were concealed to avoid scrutiny through pass-through entities in filings with state Board of Elections.

Both Maziarz and Ortt used the same pass-through entity to allegedly conceal the payments.

“Campaign finance disclosure ensures New Yorkers have confidence that their elected officials are serving them honestly and with transparency, said Risa Sugarman, Chief Enforcement Counsel for the New York State Board of Elections.

“The public has the right to know how their representatives spend the contributions they receive and that the disclosures are honest and accurate. We will continue to work together with the attorney general to assure New Yorkers that violations of the public trust do not go unpunished.”

Both Ortt and Maziarz are due back in court May 8.

Former Niagara County GOP Chairman Pleads Guilty To Elections Violation

It’s a smaller, but maybe not insignificant, element of the George Maziarz probe that’s led to the indictment of the former state Senator and his successor Rob Ortt. Former Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek pleaded guilty Wednesday to an unclassified misdemeanor for failing to file disclosure forms between 2012 and 2013.

His attorney Patrick Brown said the charges against Wojtaszek were generally-related to the probe. Brown said Wojtaszek has been cooperating throughout the investigation and he expects he will continue to do so moving forward.

Sentencing is later this year and the attorney said he expects a conditional discharge with a fine.

Ortt Pleads Not Guilty, No Plans To Step Down

A defiant Robert Ortt on Thursday morning pleaded not guilty to three charges of felony filing a false instrument in Albany County Court and vowed to fight the charges.

Ortt, a western New York Republican first elected in 2014, insisted he would not step down from his state Senate seat.

“I am not guilty,” he said after a 10-minute court appearance with his attorney, Steve Coffey. “I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated.”

The charges unsealed in court stem from Ortt’s time as the mayor of North Tonawanda. Prosecutors allege Ortt’s wife was given a no-show job, being paid $21,500 between 2010 and 2014, in order to make up for a $5,000 reduction in his annual pay as mayor.

“No show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials-not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust – and we will hold those responsible to account.”

Ortt faces up to 1-1/3 to 4 years on each count.

Ortt and Coffey both blasted Schneiderman following the court appearance.

Ortt, in a statement to the press after the appearance, insisted he is the victim of a partisan witch hunt.

“I haven no doubt the only reason why I am involved in this case, part of this investigation, is to further Eric Schneiderman’s partisan agenda,” Ortt said. “The people of the 62nd district know me. They know what kind of person I am and they know what kind of public servant I have been.”

He added: “I am guilty of nothing. I will fight these charges and I will prevail.”

Schneiderman, a former state senator and a Democrat, has prosecuted cases involving members of both parties, including Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon and former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat.

Former Sen. George Maziarz is due in court later today and is expected to be charged as well. Coffey said he did not know how Maziarz’s case was related to Ortt’s charges.

Ortt would not respond on Thursday when asked if he had spoken to Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flangan. In 2015, Ortt had called on then-Majority Leader Dean Skelos to step down from his leadership post following corruption charges.

One of Ortt’s GOP colleagues in the Senate, Fred Akshar, tweeted his support for the embattled lawmaker, posting that he is a “dedicated and distinguished public servant who has proudly served our country and the people of SD62.”

The indictments come as state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are negotiating a state budget that is due to pass by the end of next week.

Senate Democrats in the mainline conference used the news of the indictment to call for ethics reform.

An Ill-Timed Indictment

From the Morning Memo:

There’s no such thing as a well-timed indictment, but the charges faced by Republican Sen. Rob Ortt and his predecessor, Republican former Sen. George Maziarz, come at a particularly inconvenient time for some at the Capitol.

Ortt, who plans to fight the indictment, is due in court today in Albany. In a defiant statement issued on Wednesday night, Ortt made clear he’ll fight the case and has no plans to resign.

But the indictment comes as Senate Republicans hold a narrow majority in the state Senate. They currently have 32 members in their conference, counting Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn.

An Ortt resignation or removal from office — triggered if he’s convicted on a felony charge — would leave Republicans with 31 members, requiring them to seek out a coalition with the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference.

That’s the long-term issue.

In the short term, there’s the state budget, which is expected to pass next week.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders had done nothing significant in public to suggest a grand bargain on ethics reforms like those contained in the package he first laid out in December and largely revived in January in his State of the State agenda.

On Tuesday in New York City at a press conference, Cuomo indicated he’s still pushing for those issues, but they will have to wait until after the budget.

“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said.

“If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”

The Medicaid War, Continued

From the Morning Memo:

The feud over the Republican-backed proposal to have New York assume county Medicaid costs continued on Wednesday and even dragged in a pet project of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s: The Buffalo Billion.

Rep. John Faso, who had pushed to have his amendment with Rep. Chris Collins aded to the overall health care package to be voted on later today in Washington, questioned why Cuomo is so staunchly opposed to the Medicaid takeover when his administration has spent so heavily on economic development.

“Well, speaking of fairies, its very interesting because I’ve watched Cuomo budgeting process for a number of years and I do think he has a few fairies that fund some of his projects,” Faso said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “I noticed a Buffalo Billion. Two weeks ago he announced a Brooklyn Billon and now a Bronx billion.”

“So the notion that out of a $160 billion budget in Albany that the governor and the legislature cannot with two and a half years to plan cannot takeover the cost that is destroying upstate communities defies logic and common sense.”

That led to a rebuke from Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who in a statement blasted Faso for having done “nothing to help western New York” while in the Assembly. Faso a Hudson Valley Republican, representing a district on the opposite side of the state.

“Faso’s tone deaf and ignorant dismissal of the progress that has been made, all while he and his sidekick Chris Collins try to dismantle the region’s healthcare network, should tell you everything you need to know about their priorities,” Hochul said.

“Faso and Collins are not fighting for Western New York, they’re not fighting for New York, they’re only fighting for their billionaire benefactors and Paul Ryan’s radical anti-Middle Class agenda.”

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, a two-term lawmaker from Long Island, released a 1,000-plus word statement on Wednesday night denouncing Cuomo’s opposition to the Medicaid takeover plan.

In the statement, Zeldin revealed he and the governor spoke “one-on-one” for 30 minutes about the plan.

“As I have stated previously, the Governor really needs to dedicate way more of his time getting his own house in order, because it’s a house of cards right now that is filling Albany’s swamp rather than draining it,” Zeldin said.

At the moment, the fate of the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act is a tenuous one. Rep. Dan Donovan, a Staten Island Republican, announced Wednesday afternoon he is opposed to the bill, citing in part the Faso-Collins amendment’s impact on New York City.