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Air Force to push Congress for military housing tenant bill of rights

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Aiming to grant military families far greater say to challenge hazardous housing, the U.S. Air Force told Reuters Monday it will push Congress to enact a tenant bill of rights allowing families the power to withhold rent or break leases to escape unsafe conditions.

The proposed measure, outlined in an interview at the Pentagon by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein, follows complaints from military families who say they are often powerless to challenge private industry landlords when they encounter dangerous mold, lead paint and vermin infestations.

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“Clearly there are areas where we have issues,” Goldfein said.

Added Secretary Wilson: “That could put a little more leverage into the hands of the renters.”

The Air Force push adds to a drumbeat of reforms to emerge in recent weeks following a Reuters series, Ambushed at Home, that documented shoddy housing conditions at bases nationwide and described how military families are often empowered with fewer rights than civilian tenants.

Wilson said the Air Force is actively working with the Army and Navy to push a tenant bill of rights that would give military families a stronger hand in housing disputes. She wants to strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law that includes active duty housing protections. As one example, Wilson proposed expanding the act to allow base families to end their lease or withhold rent if their landlords fail to correct health and safety problems.

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Beyond that effort, she said wing commanders of each U.S. Air Force base have been directed to inspect all 50,000 privatized family housing units in the force’s portfolio by March 1. She cited housing breakdowns at Air Force bases including Tinker in Oklahoma, Maxwell in Alabama, MacDill in Florida and Keesler in Mississippi.

In addition, she said, the inspector general’s office will launch a review of how Air Force bases respond to housing health and safety complaints.

Last week, the U.S. Army vowed to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting residents. And on Friday, the Army issued a letter directing senior commanders to conduct inspections of all housing within the next 30 days.

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The military action plans follow a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this month in which members of Congress sharply questioned private industry landlords and Defense Department leaders over conditions at U.S. bases.

Wilson said the Air Force is also considering working with Congress to renegotiate its contracts with housing companies to allow the service to withhold all incentive fees from low-performing landlords.

Additional reporting by Joshua Schneyer. Editing by Ronnie Greene

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‘The transcript has to come out’: Fox News pundit unloads on Trump over his Ukraine scandal

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A Fox News pundit on Monday said the Trump administration had no choice but to release a transcript of a controversial call with Ukraine's president, in which Trump allegedly pressured the foreign country to investigate his potential Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Trump has insisted that the call with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskiy was "largely congratulatory" and focused on corruption. But the Trump administration attempted to block a whistleblower complaint about the conversation.

"Look, the administration made a serious error in excessive secrecy. If it is what the president says it is, then the effort to conceal it makes it worse, right?" said Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt.

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Explosive report shows how foreign entities are bombarding US servicemembers with pro-Trump propaganda

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Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter played a critical role in helping Russia-affiliated trolls disseminate propaganda to divide and manipulate voters in the 2016 presidential election.

But it hasn't stopped. A new report from the Vietnam Veterans Association has uncovered an ongoing two-year effort by actors in several foreign countries, including Russia, to target U.S. veterans and servicemembers.

The report shows that "These foreign admins have created individual social-media accounts that purport to belong to American veterans working at reputable veterans organizations," and use the accounts both to "send friend requests to the relatively small community of veteran advocates and connect with its prominent members who work to shape federal policy" and "spread propaganda and false news, while shaping and moderating/censoring the conversations of the unsuspecting community of American veterans who follow or join these groups and pages."

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‘Quiet!’ Trump snaps at reporters as he rants about his ‘perfect phone call’ to Ukraine

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President Donald Trump on Monday snapped at reporters after he was asked about his alleged attempts to have Ukraine's president fabricate dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

As Trump arrived at the U.N., he was asked how seriously he took the impeachment threat.

"Not at all seriously," the president said dismissively. "I had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine. Everybody knows it. It’s just a Democrat witch hunt. Here we go again. They failed with Russia, they failed with recession and everything, and now they’re bringing this up."

According to Trump, "the one who's got the problem is Biden."

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