Tag Archives: US Politics – Voice of America

US State Department Recalls Furloughed Employees Amid Shutdown

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was calling its furloughed employees back to work next week as it takes steps to pay salaries despite a partial shutdown of the government.

“As a national security agency, it is imperative that the Department of State carries out its mission,” Deputy Under Secretary of State Bill Todd said in a statement posted on the department’s website. 

“We are best positioned to do so with fully staffed embassies, consulates and domestic offices.” Todd said the department’s employees would be paid on Feb. 14 for work performed beginning on or after this coming Sunday. 

The department would review its available funds and “legal authorities” beyond the upcoming pay period to try to cover future payments, he said.

“Although most personnel operations can resume, bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs” given a lapse in congressionally appropriated funds, Todd added.

About one quarter of federal agencies have been shuttered since Dec. 22, with Democratic lawmakers refusing to accede to President Donald Trump’s demands to pay for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump is holding out for $5.7 billion for a border wall.

Democrats, who took over the U.S. House Representatives this month, have rejected his demands, saying there are cheaper, more effective ways of enhancing border security.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2ANGq3e

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Trump, Pelosi Trade Taunts Over Border Wall, Government Shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traded taunts Thursday, but there was no end in sight for the record 27-day partial government shutdown in a dispute over his demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi won’t let them negotiate,” Trump contended in a speech at the Defense Department. “The party has been hijacked by the open borders fringe within the party, the radical left becoming the radical Democrats. Hopefully Democrat lawmakers will step forward to do what is right for our country, and what’s right for our country is border security at the strongest level.”

Pelosi said Trump’s “insistence on the wall is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

She called for Trump to delay his scheduled Jan. 29 State of the Union address until the government reopens. He, in turn, said he was denying her use of military aircraft for her planned trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan because of the shutdown.

Pelosi said that 90 percent of illegal drugs and other contraband are brought into the United States at ports of entry, which would not be prevented by a wall. She called for more security spending that is “evidence based,” and filling 3,000 vacant border patrol jobs.

Trump argued that a quarter of government operations “remains shut down because congressional Democrats refuse to approve border security. We’re going to have border security. It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be strong.”

Pelosi called again for Trump to reopen the government while talks continue on border security, a plea Trump has rejected. She voiced concern for the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed by the shutdown or forced to work without pay, although Trump has signed legislation mandating retroactive pay when the impasse ends.

“Not only are these workers not paid, they are not appreciated by this administration,” said Pelosi, who leads the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. “We should respect what they do for their country.”

Pelosi, after suggesting Wednesday that the Republican president delay the State of the Union address out of security concerns because many security agents are furloughed or working without pay, on Thursday said bluntly, “Let’s get a date when the government is open.”

Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen said her agency and the Secret Service, which guards Trump and his family, “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.” Pelosi said Nielsen instead “should be advocating for her employees to be paid.”

Pelosi said the White House has been “very silent” about her call to delay the annual State of the Union address, but declined to say what Democrats would do if Trump holds to the Jan. 29 date.

Pelosi’s move drew sharp criticism from Senate Republicans.

“By disinviting POTUS for SOTU, Pelosi erased any pretext for her unwillingness to negotiate an end to the shutdown. It is personal, petty, and vindictive,” Senator John Cornyn from Texas Tweeted Thursday.

Some Republican lawmakers say that Pelosi is merely trying to keep Trump from pressing his case for a border wall by delaying the annual high-profile speech.

Pelosi said, “I’m not denying the president a platform,” just looking for a better date as soon as the government resumes full operations.

Trump has called for more than $5 billion in taxpayer funding for the wall, while Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new money for border security, but none specifically for a wall.

 

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2CqmEei

Ex Trump Lawyer Cohen Paid Man to Rig Online Polls

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted Thursday that he paid a man in 2015 to rig online opinion polls to favor Trump as he began running for the presidency.

Cohen confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that in early 2015 he paid the head of a small technology firm, John Gauger, to write computer script that would place multiple votes for Trump in an online poll of news broadcaster CNBC.

They repeated the effort in an online poll of website Drudge Report, which is popular with conservatives.

Cohen, who also paid Gauger to create a social media account to promote himself, confirmed the main elements of the Journal story.

“What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cohen, who was the real estate billionaire’s right-hand-man and fixer at the Trump Organization in New York at the time, pleaded guilty last year to charges that he violated campaign finance laws by arranging hush payments ahead of the 2016 election to women who claimed credibly to have had extramarital affairs with Trump.

Cohen implicated Trump in that crime, saying he directed the payments.

The New York lawyer, 52, was sentenced to three months in jail for the campaign finance violation and other charges.

But his incarceration has been delayed while he provides support to ongoing investigations into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia and Trump’s finances.

He is scheduled to testify to the newly Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee on February 7 on his work for Trump.

The Journal report said Gauger, who is chief information officer at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia, was paid over $12,000 in cash for the job, allegedly less than the $50,000 he was promised.

Cohen disputed that, insisting that Gauger was paid by check.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2TYD7NY

Giuliani: Trump Campaign May Have Colluded With Russia, but Not Trump

Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.

“I said the president of the United States,” he added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack” the opposition Democratic National Committee.

Giuliani’s new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.

Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow’s agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July’s Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump’s orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.

Giuliani’s acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.

But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone. “Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” he said

“He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article,” he added.

Challenging Mueller

Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.

“Let’s see if he’s got anything,” he said. “I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct.”

Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, “I never worked for Russia” and told a reporter, “I think it’s a disgrace you even asked that question.”

The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.

A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RxiXgZ

Giuliani: Trump Campaign May Have Colluded With Russia, but Not Trump

Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.

“I said the president of the United States,” he added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack” the opposition Democratic National Committee.

Giuliani’s new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.

Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow’s agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July’s Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump’s orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.

Giuliani’s acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.

But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone. “Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” he said

“He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article,” he added.

Challenging Mueller

Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.

“Let’s see if he’s got anything,” he said. “I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct.”

Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, “I never worked for Russia” and told a reporter, “I think it’s a disgrace you even asked that question.”

The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.

A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RxiXgZ

Giuliani: Trump Campaign May Have Colluded With Russia, but Not Trump

Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.

“I said the president of the United States,” he added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack” the opposition Democratic National Committee.

Giuliani’s new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.

Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow’s agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July’s Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump’s orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.

Giuliani’s acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.

But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone. “Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” he said

“He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article,” he added.

Challenging Mueller

Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.

“Let’s see if he’s got anything,” he said. “I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct.”

Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, “I never worked for Russia” and told a reporter, “I think it’s a disgrace you even asked that question.”

The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.

A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RxiXgZ

Giuliani: Trump Campaign May Have Colluded With Russia, but Not Trump

Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.

“I said the president of the United States,” he added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack” the opposition Democratic National Committee.

Giuliani’s new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.

Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow’s agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July’s Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump’s orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.

Giuliani’s acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.

But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone. “Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” he said

“He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article,” he added.

Challenging Mueller

Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.

“Let’s see if he’s got anything,” he said. “I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct.”

Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, “I never worked for Russia” and told a reporter, “I think it’s a disgrace you even asked that question.”

The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.

A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RxiXgZ

Giuliani: Trump Campaign May Have Colluded With Russia, but Not Trump

Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.

“I said the president of the United States,” he added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack” the opposition Democratic National Committee.

Giuliani’s new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.

Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow’s agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July’s Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump’s orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.

Giuliani’s acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.

But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone. “Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” he said

“He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article,” he added.

Challenging Mueller

Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.

“Let’s see if he’s got anything,” he said. “I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct.”

Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, “I never worked for Russia” and told a reporter, “I think it’s a disgrace you even asked that question.”

The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.

A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RxiXgZ

Analysis: US, Britain Mired In Political Crises With No End in Sight

The United States and Britain are mired in political crises with no end in sight. U.S. freshmen representatives urged the Senate on Wednesday to schedule a vote on the longest ever U.S. government shutdown and British Prime Minister Theresa May barely survived a second no-confidence vote in just over a month, after her Brexit deal suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke looks into the government gridlocks plaguing two allied nations across the Atlantic.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VXAygS

Analysis: US, Britain Mired In Political Crises With No End in Sight

The United States and Britain are mired in political crises with no end in sight. U.S. freshmen representatives urged the Senate on Wednesday to schedule a vote on the longest ever U.S. government shutdown and British Prime Minister Theresa May barely survived a second no-confidence vote in just over a month, after her Brexit deal suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke looks into the government gridlocks plaguing two allied nations across the Atlantic.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VXAygS

Report: North Korea’s Top Envoy Arrives in Beijing

North Korea’s top envoy involved in talks with the United States arrived in Beijing Thursday and is thought to be en route to Washington, South Korean news agency Yonhap said.

U.S. and South Korean media previously quoted unidentified sources as saying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were expected to meet in the U.S. capital Friday to discuss a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim arrived at Beijing airport Thursday on an Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang and was met by North Korea’s ambassador to China, Yonhap said. He is expected to board a flight to Washington in the evening, the news agency said.

Pompeo had planned to meet his North Korean counterpart to discuss a second summit last November, but the meeting was postponed.

Kim Yong Chol was last in Washington in June, when he delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump that opened the way for an unprecedented meeting between the leaders of the two countries in Singapore June 12.

CNN quoted a source familiar with U.S.-North Korea talks as saying that Kim Yong Chol would be carrying a new letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump in Washington.

Chinese and South Korean envoys on Korean Peninsula affairs are meeting in Seoul Thursday, the South’s foreign ministry said. Kong Xuanyou and Lee Do-Hoon are expected to discuss ways to achieve complete denuclearization and peace on the peninsula, as well as an expected second summit of U.S. and North Korean leaders.

In Singapore last year, Kim Jong Un pledged to work towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but there has been little significant progress since.

Contact was resumed after the North Korean leader delivered a New Year speech in which he said he was willing to meet Trump “at any time,” South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, told reporters last week.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2TWrFlF

Four Americans Killed in Islamic State Attack in Syria

At least four Americans were killed in a suicide blast in the northern Syrian city of Manbij Wednesday, doubling the number of American troops killed in action in Syria since the U.S. first entered in 2014. The attack also claimed the lives of a civilian and contractor working for the Defense Department, and more than a dozen others. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb has the latest.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2ssSaUg

Rights Groups Worry Barr Will Continue Sessions’ Policies

A day after reassuring members of Congress that he’d allow the special counsel to complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, attorney general nominee William Barr drew fresh criticism Wednesday over his support for the controversial policies of his ousted predecessor, Jeff Sessions.

A parade of character witnesses and subject matter experts appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to offer sharply divergent views of the nominee, a tough-on-crime former attorney general who has praised Sessions. While friends and associates lauded Barr’s integrity and commitment to the rule of law, civil rights leaders worried that he would carry on Sessions’ policies.

“For the past two years, the Justice Department has been led by an attorney general intent on restricting civil and human rights at every turn,”  said Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, a leading civil rights advocacy organization. “The nation needs an attorney general who will dramatically change course and enforce federal civil rights laws with vigor and independence. Based on his alarming record, we are convinced that William Barr will not do so.” 

NAACP opposition

Other major civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest, have opposed Barr’s nomination, which is widely expected to be approved by the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority.

Although Sessions was praised by many for cracking down on violent crime and illegal immigration, he was criticized by the NAACP and others for undoing key Obama-era Justice Department policies, including reform agreements with police departments involved in shootings and rights violations, as well as protections for LGBTQ students.

Barr has supported many of the initiatives enacted by Sessions. In an opinion piece he co-authored with two other former Republican attorneys general after Sessions’ ouster in November, he praised Sessions for “[restoring] law and order” by reinstituting tough sentencing guidelines for drug dealers, cracking down on illegal immigration, overseeing a record number of prosecutions of violent crime defendants and “refocusing” the Justice Department’s efforts to protect freedoms of expression and religion.

Asked whether he’d continue Sessions’ policies, Barr told lawmakers on Monday that he supported ending the police department reform agreements known as consent decrees and opposed a controversial decision by Sessions to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana use is legal. But he was noncommittal on other initiatives, saying he’d have to examine their legal bases before deciding which to keep.

Barr also offered strong support for enforcing civil rights statutes and laws against hate crimes, which have been on the rise in recent years. 

“We must have zero tolerance for such crimes,” he said. 

‘Prisons work’

Barr has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for his past opposition to criminal justice reform. In 1992, he said “our system is fair and does not treat people differently.” Also in 1992, the then-attorney general wrote the preface to a Justice Department report, The Case for More Incarceration, that argued “prisons work” and “we need more of them.”  As recently as 2015, he opposed bipartisan legislation on sentencing reform.

Under questioning, Barr defended his position, saying he advocated for incarcerating violent and chronic offenders at a time of rising crime in the country. He also acknowledged that heavy penalties for crack offenses had “harmed the black community.”

Barr also pledged to “diligently” enforce the First Step Act, a sweeping new criminal justice reform law that lowers some mandatory sentences and gives prisoners added opportunities to earn reductions in jail time.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VZNDWL

Trump EPA Chief Pick: Global Warming Not ‘Greatest Crisis’

President Donald Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency says he does not believe global warming is the “greatest crisis.”

Andrew Wheeler said at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday that while climate change is a “huge issue,” it is something that needs to be addressed globally.

A report by the EPA and several other government agencies concluded last year that climate change is a man-made phenomenon that will cost the U.S. billions of dollars a year and lead to more wildfires, stronger hurricanes, and other weather-related calamities.

Wheeler, who has been acting EPA chief since July, said he has not read the report but that a staffer briefed him on it.

He said the news media jumped on what he calls the report’s “worst-case scenarios.”

Criticism

Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey responded by saying Wheeler’s policies easing federal regulations on fossil fuel emissions are the problem.

“You are a former coal industry lobbyist that is sitting here. That’s the worst-case scenario, what you are proposing here. … You are putting up a smokescreen to ensure there is an advancement of Donald Trump’s dirty policies,” Markey said.

Other Democrats wondered if Wheeler’s job pushing pro-coal polices in Congress should disqualify him.

They also said his actions as acting EPA chief, including moves to roll back mileage standards for cars and trucks and lifting federal protection for wetlands and waterways, undermine the health and safety of the American people.

Praise

Wheeler’s Republican defenders praised him. They said federal regulations are a burden on industry, farmers and ranchers, and could cost jobs. They said they agree with Wheeler that states should take on much of that responsibility.

Wheeler said easing federal rules can still mean Americans can have clean air and water while the economy thrives.

Protesters yelling “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA,” briefly interrupted Wednesday’s hearing.

Wheeler was deputy EPA head when he took over the agency from Scott Pruitt, who was forced to resign last year over alleged ethics violations.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RBLxy8

Does US President Have to Give State of the Union Speech? No

The U.S. Constitution mandates in Article II, Section 3, that presidents “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But the Constitution offers no specifics on how that should be done. Indeed, the modern State of the Union address — the pageantry, the televised address and the agenda-setting message — is a far more recent phenomenon. And the practice of delivering an in-person address before a joint session of Congress has not always been the norm.

Here’s a look at the history of the State of the Union address as the White House weighs its response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that President Donald Trump delay this year’s address or give it in writing because of the partial government shutdown:

Q: Who delivered the first State of the Union address?

A: George Washington on Jan. 8, 1790, in New York.

Q: Does it have to be a speech?

A: No. For Thomas Jefferson’s first address on Dec. 8, 1801, he sent written copies to both houses of Congress to be read by each chamber’s clerks. Jefferson wanted to simplify what he believed was an aristocratic imitation of the British monarch’s speech from the throne, which he thought ill-suited for a republic.

The practice of sending written copies to Congress continued for more than a century, when Woodrow Wilson resumed the tradition of delivering the annual message in person on April 8, 1913. He’s also credited with transforming the speech from a report on executive branch activity into a blueprint for the president’s legislative agenda for the year.

​Q: When did the annual message become known as the State of the Union address?

A: Franklin D. Roosevelt applied the constitutional phrase “State of the Union” to both the message and the event. It became the popular terminology from then on and has officially been known as the State of the Union address since 1947. The speech was formally known as the “Annual Message” before that.

Q: How has the speech been affected by advances in communications technology? 

A: Calvin Coolidge delivered the first speech broadcast on radio in 1923. Harry S. Truman’s address in 1947 was the first broadcast on television. Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the importance of having a national audience when he moved the speech from midafternoon to prime time in 1965 to attract the largest number of TV viewers. George W. Bush’s 2002 speech was the first available as a live webcast on the White House website.

Q: Has the speech ever been postponed?

A: Yes, there have been several instances, though all appear to have been initiated by the White House, historians say.

Ronald Reagan’s 1986 address, for instance, was postponed after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in flight on Jan. 28 of that year. And in 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was scheduled to deliver his address on Jan. 11 but instead transmitted a written message because of his poor health.

Q: What about during a shutdown?

A: The State of the Union address has yet to coincide with a full or partial government shutdown since the beginning of the modern budget process in the late 1970s.

The closest the country has come was Trump’s 2018 State of the Union, which was delivered on Jan. 30, in the week after a two-day shutdown that ended Jan. 22. In 1996, Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union several weeks after the end of a 21-day shutdown that had previously been the country’s longest, offering to “all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again.”

Q: Is security really an issue?

A: In her letter, Pelosi raised concerns about holding the speech during a shutdown, citing the fact that the address has been designated a “national special security event” in which “the full resources of the federal government” must “be brought to bear.”

She noted that the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have been operating without funding, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejected that assessment, tweeting that DHS and the Secret Service “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”

About 5,978 of 7,222 Secret Service employees remain on the job.

Q: Can’t Trump just show up?

A: No. Anytime a president comes to speak, it must be at the request of Congress, said Donald Ritchie, the former historian of the Senate. “It’s a very inflexible arrangement,” he said.

A resolution agreed to by both chambers specifies a date and time for a joint session of the House and the Senate “for receiving such communication as the president of the United States shall be pleased to make to them.”

Q: Is there a State of the Union speech every year?

A: No. Recent presidents — Reagan in 1981, George H.W. Bush in 1989, Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush in 2001, Barack Obama in 2009 and Trump in 2017 — have chosen not to deliver official State of the Union addresses during their first years in office. Those speeches would have come soon after their inaugural addresses. However, many, including Trump, have delivered major speeches in front of Congress that have had the feel of the State of the Union without the title.

“It’s up to the president,” said Ritchie, “whether or not he wants to come at all.”

Q: Has the State of the Union speech always been delivered in person since Wilson resumed the practice?

​A: No. Truman sent his final message in print, as did Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 and Jimmy Carter in 1981. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Fla., that was broadcast nationwide. Richard Nixon sent a printed message in 1973; his staff said an oral message would have come too soon after his second inaugural address.

Q: Which presidents didn’t deliver a State of the Union message?

A: William Henry Harrison, who died 32 days after his inauguration in 1841, and James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881 after 199 days in office.

Q: Could Trump choose an alternative?

A: There’s no reason why not. Trump could deliver a speech from the Oval Office or organize an alternative event on Jan. 29 — the date Pelosi had originally invited Trump to deliver his address before a joint session of Congress. The White House also could choose to delay the speech, as Pelosi has suggested. It was unclear how the White House planned to respond.

But Ritchie said it would be to the president’s advantage to find a way to deliver the address.

“You don’t want to waste a dramatic moment,” he said.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, White House. 

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RASJdB

$5 Billion for the Border Wall and Standing Firm

President Donald Trump began insisting on $5 billion for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico at the end of November after submitting a budget that contained $1.6 billion for border security, including parts of the wall.

“I am firm,” Trump said of his $5 billion demand in November.

 

Twenty-six days into a government shutdown, he is still firm. But what is not clear is why he is holding firm at what he now says is $5.7 billion for a wall to “stop the crime at our southern border.”

 

“He totally changed his own budget,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told MSNBC news last week. “They asked for $1.6 billion. And now at the very last minute in December, they came back with this request.”

 

Trump first kicked around the $5 billion figure in July when it was buried in a Washington Post story about budget discussions between the administration and Republicans.

“Trump never formally requested $5 billion for the wall, instead communicating the number privately to lawmakers in recent weeks,” the Post said.

 

‘A big fight’

A few days later, Trump threatened to shut down the government.

 

“What the president wants to do is get a bigger down payment so it (the wall) can be built faster,” former House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a speech at the National Press Club in October. “We intend on having a full-fledged discussion about how to complete this mission of securing our border, and we will have a big fight about it.”

 

Locked in a stalemate since Dec. 22, the conflict between lawmakers and the president has shut down parts of the federal government for nearly a month. Newly elected House leader Nancy Pelosi is standing firm on zero dollars for the wall.

“The fact is, a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation,” she has said.

$5 billion worth

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that $5 billion would pay for 375 kilometers (234 miles) of a “new physical barrier” on the southern border with Mexico that stretches more than 3,100 kilometers (just under 2,000 miles).

 

“We know that a border wall system works,” a Customs and Border Patrol official told reporters at a briefing Wednesday, his wording suggesting that a wall would not work by itself.

 

The U.S. government oversight agency, the General Accountability Office, reported last year that CBP lacked the data to fully determine the cost-effectiveness of the border wall.

 

“CBP does not have complete information for prioritizing locations to use its resources in the most cost-effective manner,” GAO officials noted in August 2018, and not for the first time. The year before, another report by the agency spelled out similar problems.

 

CBP did not respond to a VOA request Wednesday for an update on the status of that data, which it had pledged would be completed by this month.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2T3kyIs

US Senate Upholds Lifting Sanctions on Russian’s Companies   

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday narrowly upheld a Trump administration plan to lift sanctions against three companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

 

Eleven Republicans in the Senate joined Democrats in an effort to enforce the sanctions against the giant aluminum firm Rusal and two companion companies, but their effort failed on a 57-42 vote, three short of the number needed to advance the measure. 

 

Numerous lawmakers had questioned the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision in December to lift the sanctions that were imposed on Deripaska’s core businesses — Rusal; its parent, En+; and the power firm EuroSibEnergo — in response to Moscow’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. 

 

Treasury argued that it was appropriate to lift the sanctions imposed last April because Deripaska had committed to curtailing his ownership of the companies and sever his control.   

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that Deripaska remains under sanctions, “his property and interests remain blocked, and any companies he controls are also sanctioned.” 

 

In pushing for the sanctions to be enforced, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “For a very long time, the Republican Party predicated its foreign policy on taking a tougher line against Russia and Putin. In so many campaigns for president, we Democrats were accused of not being tough enough on the Russians.”  

 

But now, Schumer said, “it seems that acquiescence to [President Donald Trump], a fear of breaking with the president, has held back too many of my Republican colleagues from supporting this resolution.” 

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reiterated that Deripaska’s influence over the companies was being limited and called the vote a “Democratic stunt,” even as the 11 Republicans joined Democrats in the unsuccessful effort to overturn Treasury’s action. 

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2Cr9v4F

Pelosi Suggests Trump Delay State of the Union Address

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Wednesday that President Donald Trump delay his State of the Union address later this month unless the record-setting partial government shutdown ends this week, or present the speech in writing.

Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, cited security preparations needed for the annual high-profile event before Congress, which is scheduled for Jan. 29.

In a letter to Trump, she noted the U.S. Secret Service, which guards Trump and his family, and the Homeland Security agency have not been funded during the 26-day shutdown, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.” Trump’s security detail has been working without pay.

But Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the agencies “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland.”

In asking Trump to delay his State of the Union address, Pelosi, a staunch opponent of his call for taxpayer funding of a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal migrants, said she would work with him to find a suitable date for the speech after the government is reopened or he could hand the speech in writing to Congress on Jan. 29.

The U.S. Constitution calls for presidents from “time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union.” Throughout the 19th century and until about a hundred years ago, the messages were delivered in writing. In recent years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used the nationally televised speeches to outline their legislative agendas, often leaving one party’s lawmakers cheering and applauding while the other’s sits silently.

Postponing the speech beyond the shutdown would deny the president a highly visible platform in which he could continue to pressure Democrats to meet his demand for more than $5 billion in taxpayer funding for the wall.  Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new border security funding, but none specifically for a wall.

Meeting with lawmakers

Trump and aides met Wednesday at the White House with Democratic and Republican lawmakers from a group that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus about the shutdown and his call for a wall. Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called it a “constructive meeting. …They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants. We look forward to more conversations like this.”

But there was no immediate end in sight for the shutdown, the longest in American history.

Financial strain

On Tuesday, Kevin Hassett, the chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, doubled the previous estimate of the cost of the shutdown, saying the country’s robust economy has already lost a half percentage point from the government closures, during which 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay. He said quarterly economic growth is being reduced by .13 of a percent each week the shutdown continues.

Trump is set Wednesday to sign a bill to guarantee that federal workers, regardless of whether they were forced to work or furloughed during the shutdown, eventually get paid their lost wages, as has been done during previous shutdowns during the past several decades. Workers for private contract companies hired by the government, however, are unlikely to recoup lost wages. If the shutdown lasts another week, government workers will miss their second paycheck this month.

Trading blame

While Trump and Democratic leaders blame each other for the situation dragging on, a number of recent polls have put more of the responsibility on the president.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday indicated 51 percent of respondents blame Trump and 34 percent blame congressional Democrats. In the same poll, 62 percent of people said they support adding more border patrol agents, and there was a roughly even split of 43 percent of people both supporting and opposing additional fencing at the border.

The Senate and House are to be in recess next week, but leaders in both chambers have said that break will be canceled if the shutdown is still in effect.

 

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2FySdq0

Now a 2020 Candidate, Gillibrand Builds Campaign on Gender

A day after she jumped into the presidential race from a glimmering Manhattan television studio, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand returned Wednesday to her upstate New York hometown to preview a campaign that is expected to put gender front and center.

Speaking outside a Troy diner she said is “a stone’s throw” from her family’s house, Gillibrand framed the campaign as an extension of motherhood.

“I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I will fight for your children as hard as I would fight for my own,” Gillibrand, 52, said as she was joined by her husband, Jonathan, their 10- and 15-year-old sons, and her mother, Polly.

That argument could resonate in a Democratic primary in which women will be a crucial voting bloc and comes on the heels of a midterm election that sent a record number of women to Congress.

But Gillibrand, who announced the creation of a presidential exploratory committee Tuesday on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” faces a series of hurdles. She won’t be the only woman seeking the White House — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii have already jumped into the race, and several other prominent women are expected to soon follow them. And there are persistent questions about whether — more than two years after Hillary Clinton fell short of the White House — Americans have grappled with sexism and are willing to support another woman running for president.

The first question Gillibrand received at her press conference Wednesday showed the scrutiny she and other women could face, as a reporter said a lot of people see her as “pretty likable.” The remark touched on a raging debate about why women in politics are held to a different standard than men regarding their perceived likeability.

First appointed to the Senate in 2009 to fill the seat vacated by Clinton, Gillibrand has been among the chamber’s most vocal members on issues like sexual harassment, military sexual assault, equal pay for women and paid family leave. But she angered some fellow Democrats in November 2017 when she said former President Bill Clinton should have resigned after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. She was also the first prominent Democrat to call on her Senate colleague Al Franken to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple women.

She defended her actions on Wednesday.

“I just couldn’t stay silent,” she said, referring to Franken. “My job was not to stay silent. I couldn’t defend it, and I had to do what was right. And if some wealthy individuals, that makes them angry, that’s on them.”

While Gillibrand’s forceful advocacy for gender issues could help her stand out in what is expected to be a historically crowded field, she will also face questions about her ideological evolution. Gillibrand first ran for office in 2006, defeating a four-term Republican incumbent in a conservative congressional district, a victory she readily touts today. She was a centrist Democrat who joined the Blue Dogs and had an A rating from the National Rifle Association during her time in the House. She has abandoned many of those early, more conservative positions during her Senate tenure.

Asked to square her past stances with her record today as one of the most liberal members of the Senate, Gillibrand said she would tell voters to “look at my heart” and that “it’s important to know when you’re wrong, and to do what’s right.”

As she campaigned for her second full term in the Senate last year, Gillibrand pledged she would serve out her six-year term if re-elected. Pressed Wednesday on what had changed, she said she had been moved by the “urgency of this moment,” and that it called for taking on Trump “directly.”

Gillibrand has been among Congress’s most prolific fundraisers, raising more than $56 million during her career, including more than $20 million from 2013 to 2018, according to aides. That’s helped her build a war chest but has also prompted criticism for being too close to Wall Street, especially following recent reports that she sought to gauge the interest of donors from the financial industry before launching a bid. She said Wednesday that those reports are not true.

“I think it’s important for people to know that my values are never for sale,” she said, adding that she has banned money from corporate political action committees and will not take contributions from federal lobbyists.

 Gillibrand’s fellow New York Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said earlier this month he believed former Vice President Joe Biden had the “best case” for the Democratic nomination because he has “the secret ingredient you need to win, which is credibility.”

Asked Wednesday if she planned to try to change Cuomo’s mind, Gillibrand appeared undeterred.

“I intend to try and change everybody’s mind,” Gillibrand said with a smile, adding that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that Biden is “an amazing guy.”

“I know a lot of people who love and respect him, and I’m one of them,” she said.

Gillibrand will base her presidential campaign in Troy, a move that could highlight her roots.

“I want to be here because this is where I’m from, because this is my story, because this is who I am,” she said, adding that like many other places in America, Troy has had its “ups and downs.”

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2HoXO4i

Senators Hear Praise, Criticism of US Attorney General Nominee

A Senate panel’s partisan divide came into focus regarding U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, who was lauded and sharply criticized Wednesday by a panel of legal experts, civil rights leaders and other witnesses on Capitol Hill.

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, expressed lingering doubts about Barr’s commitment to making public Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s forthcoming report on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russia, as well as Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential contest.

 

“I think it’s essential that Congress and the American people know what is in the Mueller report,” Feinstein said. “I am hopeful that that report will be made public, and my vote [on Barr’s nomination] depends on that.”

 

By contrast, the committee’s chairman, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, had nothing but praise for the nominee, whose long legal resume includes a previous stint as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration.

“I just can’t think of a better person to pick than Mr. Barr,” Graham said. “I don’t know who is going to do better than him in terms of experience, judgment, and temperament. If this guy doesn’t cut it, I’m at a loss of who we can pick.”

Testifying before the panel Tuesday, Barr said the Russia probe should be completed and its results made known to the public and to Congress. He also took issue with Trump’s labeling the investigation of his inner circle’s contacts with Moscow as a “witch hunt.”

 

“I don’t believe [special counsel Robert] Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” Barr said, adding that the special counsel could only be terminated for good cause and that “it’s unimaginable” Mueller would “ever do anything that gave rise to good cause.”

 

Democrats and some Republicans have long feared that Trump intends to shut down the Russia probe, which Barr would oversee if confirmed as America’s top law enforcement official.

 

Wednesday’s panel provided sharply differing views of Barr and whether he should return to the Justice Department.

 

“I don’t know of any nominee who has had his background and his credentials for this job,” Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, said. “He has done literally everything that you could possibly do, including serving as attorney general, to prepare him. He’s an honorable, decent, smart man.”

Civil rights leaders, meanwhile, expressed alarm.

 

“For the past two years, the Justice Department has been led by an attorney general [Jeff Sessions] intent on restricting civil and human rights at every turn,” National Urban League CEO Marc Morial said. “This nation needs an attorney general who will dramatically change course and enforce civil rights laws with vigor and independence.”

 

Morial added, “Based on his alarming record, we are convinced that William Barr will not do so. It’s clear that Mr. Barr intends to follow Mr. Sessions down the same regressive, anti-civil rights road map.”

 

Legal scholars disagreed on how Barr’s expansive view of executive authority would inform his decisions as attorney general.

 

“Mr. Barr’s theory of presidential power is fundamentally inconsistent with our Constitution and deeply dangerous for our nation,” Georgia State University law professor Neil Kinkopf warned.

 

“The attorney general appears on behalf of the constitution, not the president. I know that Bill Barr understands that distinction,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said. “He has maintained that position through his whole career. He’s a law nerd. I should know, because I’m a law nerd.”

 

One witness came with a simple plea regarding gun violence in America. Three relatives of Reverend Sharon Risher were slain in the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that claimed the lives of nine worshipers.

 

“I hope he [Barr] will make it a priority to prevent gun violence and work with Congress to update our laws and close loopholes that enable guns to get in the wrong hands,” Risher said.

 

Barr’s confirmation is considered likely by the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

VOA’s Masood Farivar and Wayne Lee contributed to this report.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2QTD9EK

Economic Fallout Mounts as US Government Shutdown Continues

The White House has doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost because of the partial government shutdown, now in a record 26th day with no end in sight to President Donald Trump’s standoff with opposition Democrats over his demand for taxpayer money to build a barrier at the southern border with Mexico.

Kevin Hassett, the chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, said Tuesday the country’s robust economy has already lost a half percentage point from the shutdown, during which 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay. He said quarterly economic growth is being reduced by .13 of a percent each week the shutdown continues.

Trump is meeting Wednesday with a group of nearly 50 Democratic and Republican lawmakers that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus, as he continues to make the case for more than $5 billion in funding for construction of the border wall aimed at stopping illegal migration into the United States. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new border security funding, but none specifically for a wall.

Taking to Twitter, Trump cited other examples of walls he argued were 100 percent successful.

Pelosi asks to delay State of Union speech

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and a staunch opponent of Trump’s call for a wall, asked him Wednesday to delay his scheduled January 29 State of the Union address before Congress unless the shutdown ends this week, or deliver his address in writing, a practice presidents followed more than 100 years ago.

Pelosi cited security concerns, noting that the U.S. Secret Service, which guards Trump and his family, and the Homeland Security agency have not been funded during the shutdown, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.”

About one-fourth of government operations has been impacted since December 22, closing some museums, curtailing airport security operations and limiting food inspections, among other government services.

The Trump administration recalled 50,000 federal civil servants on Tuesday, many of them to help process refunds during the country’s annual tax return filing season, but they, like other “essential” employees already working without being paid, also will not be compensated until the impasse over border wall funding ends.

Bill guarantees back pay

Trump is set Wednesday to sign a bill to guarantee that federal workers, regardless of whether they were forced to work or furloughed during the shutdown, eventually get paid their lost wages, as has been done during previous shutdowns over the last several decades.

Workers for private contract companies hired by the government, however, are unlikely to recoup lost wages. If the shutdown lasts another week, government workers will miss their second paycheck this month.

Helping hand for furloughed workers

Some financial institutions have adopted programs to help those workers deal with a sudden loss in income, while a number of Washington area restaurants are giving away meals to federal workers.

The charity World Central Kitchen, which is known for its work feeding people in disaster zones such as Puerto Rico after a hurricane devastated the U.S. territory in 2017, is opening a popup stand Wednesday in Washington to feed federal employees.

The site is on Pennsylvania Avenue, about halfway between the Capitol and the White House, and the group’s founder, chef José Andrés, said the location is symbolic of the need for Americans to come together.

“We’re going to be open for any federal family that needs food,” Andrés said in a Twitter video announcing the project. “We will have food for you to eat or food to take home. But also I hope it will be a call to action for our senators and congressman and especially President Trump to make sure that we end this moment in the history of America where families are about to go hungry.”

While Trump and Democratic leaders blame each other for the situation dragging on, a number of recent polls have put more of the responsibility on the president.

Most Americans blame Trump for impasse

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday indicated 51 percent of respondents blame Trump and 34 percent blame congressional Democrats. In the same poll, 62 percent of people said they support adding more border patrol agents, and there was a roughly even split of 43 percent of people both supporting and opposing additional fencing at the border.

The Senate and House were both due to be in recess next week, but leaders in both chambers have said that break will be canceled if the shutdown is still in effect.

“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump told supporters in a conference call Tuesday.

In Congress, the House has passed several bills that would follow Pelosi’s plan to reopen the government for now and debate the border later, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring up any legislation that Trump would not support.

McConnell vs Schumer

McConnell on Tuesday called on Senate Democrats to make “an important choice.”

“They could stand with common sense, with border experts, with federal workers, and with their own past voting records by the way, or they could continue to remain passive spectators complaining from the sidelines as the speaker refuses to negotiate with the White House,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump should “see the pain” the shutdown is causing.

“He’d benefit from listening to the stories of federal civil servants who were working without pay, locked out of their jobs, maybe then President Trump will understand the damage he’s causing by holding these people hostage until he gets what he wants,” Schumer said. “Meanwhile, Leader McConnell, Senate Republicans are hiding in the shadows as if they have some kind of aversion to doing their job when it involves the slightest break with the president.”

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2ANtpGS

White House Denounces Rep. King’s White Supremacy Remarks

The White House is describing comments by Republican Rep. Steve King about white supremacy as “abhorrent.”

Presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is praising the move by House Republicans to strip the nine-term Iowa lawmaker of his committee assignments.

King was quoted last week by The New York Times as saying: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Those comments were widely denounced as racist.

The House on Tuesday approved a Democratic measure rebuking King. In addition, a member of the Republican leadership suggested that King leave Congress.

At the White House, Sanders says King’s comments were, in her words, “abhorrent.”

When President Donald Trump was asked on Monday about King’s remarks, he said: “I haven’t been following it.”

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2MdEllG

Trump Economists Acknowledge Shutdown is Drag on Economy

With shutdown negotiations deadlocked, the White House planned further meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers Wednesday, as the Trump administration acknowledged the prolonged standoff over his border wall funding demands is having a greater economic drag than previously thought.

President Donald Trump has invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Problem Solvers caucus to talks, but it was far from clear the session would yield a breakthrough on the shutdown’s 26th day.

The president’s economists, meanwhile, said the shutdown was having a greater impact than previously projected.

 

In a call with reporters, White House Council of Economic Advisers chairman Kevin Hassett said Tuesday the shutdown is reducing economic growth more than predicted. He said the “hope is this resolves quickly and that it won’t have a major impact on the long-run outlook, even though it does have a major impact on individual lives.”

 

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that the economy remained strong.

 

“I know there has been some impact, but at the same time we’re focused on the long term economic principles the president has laid out,” she said.

 

The House and Senate have announced they will cancel an upcoming recess week if the shutdown continued, which seemed likely.

Trump has not moved off his demand to have Congress provide $5.7 billion to build his promised border wall with Mexico. Democrats say they will discuss border security once the government has reopened, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing money for the wall they view as ineffective and immoral.

 

The president, on a conference call with supporters, showed no signs of backing down.

 

“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump said. “We’ll be out for a long time.”

 

With some 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay, Trump suggested the partial shutdown, which has clogged airport security lines and shuttered federal agencies, was going smoothly.

 

“People are very impressed with how well government is working with the circumstances that we’re under,” Trump said.

 

Behind the scenes, though, the administration — and its allies on Capitol Hill — are warily eyeing the next payday, hoping to reach a resolution before next week’s Tuesday deadline, when they’ll need to prepare the next round of paychecks for workers who have been seeing zeros on their pay slips.

 

“There is definitely a sense that there is a deadline approaching, which would be next Tuesday, to make sure that we’re able to solve this problem,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a White House spokeswoman.

 

Trump, who a week ago seemed intent on declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall, has turned his attention back to Congress as polling shows he is taking much of the blame for the standoff.

 

On Tuesday, the White House had invited rank-and-file lawmakers to lunch with Trump at the White House as part of a strategy to build support from centrist Democrats and newly elected freshmen, including those from areas where the president is popular with voters. But none of the House Democrats took Trump up on the offer.

 

Trump ended up lunching with a handful of lesser-known House Republicans.

 

Trump urged his supporters to call the offices of Democratic lawmakers to press them to support the wall to reopen the government

 

Republicans complain that Democrats are the ones who are refusing to budge, and they say it’s up to Pelosi to bring Trump a new offer.

 

“The president — who is not well-known for flexibility — has been more flexible than the other side,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership.

 

Meanwhile, the effects of the partial government closure intensified around the country, with workers facing deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills.

 

Some lawmakers are reluctant to return home for next week’s planned recess — some were planning their first town halls of the new year — as the standoff deepens. JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon told reporters Tuesday that he expects U.S. economic growth to slow to nothing this quarter if the government shutdown continues.

 

“I hope it doesn’t go to the end of the week,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican. “I’d like to see us have a breakthrough here.”

 

But hopes of side deals being cut by the White House seemed unlikely, as did the prospect of groups of senators meeting privately to forge a compromise.

 

Said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., “The shutdown will eventually take us to a place where the average American is angry at and sick of all of us.”

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2stBU5g

Barr Seeks to Assure Senators he Won’t be a Trump Loyalist

Vowing “I will not be bullied,” President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general asserted independence from the White House, saying he believed that Russia had tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, that the special counsel investigation shadowing Trump is not a witch hunt and that his predecessor was right to recuse himself from the probe.

The comments by William Barr at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday pointedly departed from Trump’s own views and underscored Barr’s efforts to reassure Democrats that he will not be a loyalist to a president who has appeared to demand it from law enforcement. He also repeatedly sought to assuage concerns that he might disturb or upend special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as it reaches its final stages.

Some Democrats are concerned about that very possibility, citing a memo Barr wrote to the Justice Department before his nomination in which he criticized Mueller’s investigation for the way it was presumably looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Barr the memo showed “a determined effort, I thought, to undermine Bob Mueller.” The nominee told senators he was merely trying to advise Justice Department officials against “stretching the statute beyond what was intended” to conclude the president had obstructed justice.

 

Though Barr said an attorney general should work in concert with an administration’s policy goals, he broke from some Trump talking points, including the mantra that the Russia probe is a witch hunt, and said he frowned on “Lock Her Up” calls for Hillary Clinton. Trump has equivocated on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and assailed and pushed out his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing because of his work with the Trump campaign.

 

Barr stated without hesitation that it was in the public interest for Mueller to finish his investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to sway the presidential election. He said he would resist any order by Trump to fire Mueller without cause and called it “unimaginable” that Mueller would do anything to require his termination.

 

“I believe the Russians interfered or attempted to interfere with the election, and I think we have to get to the bottom of it,” Barr said during the nine-hour hearing.

 

He said that, at 68 years old and partially retired, he felt emboldened to “do the right thing and not really care about the consequences.” If a president directs an attorney general to do something illegal, he said, an attorney general must resign.

 

“I will not be bullied into doing anything that I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president,” Barr said.

 

Consumed by the partial government shutdown, Trump remained out of sight at the White House but also kept an eye on the news coverage of the hearing and told aides he was pleased with how Barr was handling himself, said two White House officials and a Republican close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal conversations.

 

On other topics, Barr echoed in part Trump’s hardline immigration stance and said the Justice Department would not go after marijuana companies in states where the drug is legal. He also would not rule out jailing reporters for doing their jobs, saying he could envision circumstances where a journalist could be held in contempt “as a last resort.”

 

Barr’s hearing continues Wednesday with a lineup of character witnesses, including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

 

Barr’s confirmation is likely, given that Republicans control the Senate. Even some Democrats have been looking to move on from acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who declined to remove himself the Russia probe and has faced scrutiny over his private dealings.

 

But he nonetheless faced skeptical questions from Democrats over whether he could oversee without bias or interference the remainder of Mueller’s probe.

 

Feinstein said the nominee’s past rhetoric in support of expansive presidential powers “raises a number of serious questions about your views on executive authority and whether the president is, in fact, above the law.” Barr, responding with a more moderate view, said he believed a president who ordered an attorney general to halt an investigation would be committing an “abuse of power” if not necessarily a crime.

 

Barr said under questioning from Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, that he wouldn’t interfere with a Mueller request to subpoena Trump for his testimony “if there was a factual basis.” But he also said he saw no reason to change Justice Department legal opinions that have held that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

 

Barr called Mueller a friend of 30 years and said “it is vitally important” that Mueller be allowed to complete his investigation.

 

“I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” he said when asked by the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

 

The special counsel is required to report his findings confidentially to the Justice Department. Barr said he then expected to produce his own report to Congress and said it was his goal to release as much information as possible to the public, though he stopped short of a direct pledge. He also noted the Justice Department does not typically disclose information about people it decides not to prosecute.

 

He disclosed having discussed Mueller with Trump during a meeting in 2017 when Barr declined to join his legal team. He said he and his wife had been “sort of looking forward to a bit of respite and I didn’t want to stick my head into that meat grinder.”

 

Trump wanted to know what Mueller, who worked for Barr when he led the Justice Department between 1991 and 1993, was like.

 

“He was interested in that, wanted to know what I thought about Mueller’s integrity and so forth and so on,” Barr said. “I said Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

 

He also defended his decision to send an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department in which he criticized as “fatally misconceived” the theory of obstruction that Mueller appeared to be pursuing with regard to Trump, including investigation into his president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.

 

He said he raised his concerns at a lunch with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller. Rosenstein didn’t respond and was “sphinxlike,” Barr recalled. He followed up with the memo in June. Barr sent the document to White House lawyers and discussed it with Trump’s personal attorneys and a lawyer representing Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, among others.

 

Barr said the memo was narrowly focused on a single theory of obstruction that media reports suggested Mueller might be considering.

 

He said he would consult with ethics officials on whether he would need to recuse because of the memo but the decision would be ultimately his.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2DdxAgG

Trump to Sign Back Pay for Workers as Shutdown Persists

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign a bill Wednesday that would guarantee federal workers will eventually be paid for the duration of the ongoing partial government shutdown, but when those paychecks may come is still a mystery as he and Democrats remain far from resolving the crisis.

Some 800,000 government employees have either been working without being paid or told to stay home since December 22. If the shutdown lasts another week, they will miss a second paycheck this year. Meanwhile, the Trump administration said Tuesday it has called tens of thousands of federal employees back to work without pay to process tax refunds, maintain flight safety, inspect food and drug supplies and other vital tasks to soften the impact of the shutdown. 

Financial companies have put in place programs to help those workers deal with a sudden loss in income, while a number of restaurants are giving away meals to federal workers.

The charity World Central Kitchen, which is known for its work feeding people in disaster zones such as Puerto Rico after a hurricane devastated the U.S. territory in 2017, is opening a popup stand Wednesday in Washington to feed federal employees. 

The site is on Pennsylvania Avenue, about halfway between the Capitol and the White House, and the group’s founder, chef José Andrés, said the location is symbolic of the need for Americans to come together.

“We’re going to be open for any federal family that needs food. We will have food for you to eat or food to take home. But also I hope it will be a call to action for our senators and congressman and especially President Trump to make sure that we end this moment in the history of America where families are about to go hungry,” Andrés said in a Twitter video announcing the project.

The shutdown goes on as Trump remains committed to getting congressional approval for $5.7 billion to fund his desired wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Democratic leaders have offered $1.3 billion for other border security efforts, saying adding more border patrol agents and technology upgrades would be more efficient and effective.

The Democrats want Trump and their Republican colleagues to agree to reopen the closed government agencies before the two sides continue the debate over what to do at the border, but so far Republicans have shown no interest in that path.

Trump invited rank-and-file Democrats for a lunch meeting Tuesday at the White House to discuss the situation, but none accepted. The White House schedule for Wednesday shows Trump having a meeting with a bipartisan group of members from the House of Representatives who call themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus.

In addition to federal workers not receiving paychecks, the effects of the shutdown are being felt in a number of ways throughout the country.

Some airport security screeners have not been showing up for work, leading to longer lines at airports. Some inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration are not conducting their usual checks to make sure food products are safe. A number of national parks and museums are closed, and the federal court system is warning it will soon run out of operating funds.

​The Internal Revenue Service is also calling 46,000 previously furloughed workers back to their offices so they can process income tax returns. The Trump administration has promised the shutdown would not affect tax refunds that many people are expecting.

While Trump and Democratic leaders blame each other for the situation dragging on, a number of recent polls have put more of the responsibility on the president.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday indicated 51 percent of respondents blame Trump and 34 percent blame congressional Democrats. In the same poll, 62 percent of people said they support adding more border patrol agents, and there was a roughly even split of 43 percent of people both supporting and opposing additional fencing at the border.

The Senate and House were both due to be on recess next week with members going back to their home districts, but leaders in both chambers have said that break will be canceled if the shutdown is still in effect. That outcome seems likely.

“We’re going to stay our for a long time, if we have to,” Trump told supporters in a conference call Tuesday.

In Congress, the House has passed several bills that would follow Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to reopen the government for now and debate the border later, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring up any legislation that Trump would not support.

McConnell on Tuesday called on Senate Democrats to make “an important choice.”

“They could stand with common sense, with border experts, with federal workers, and with their own past voting records by the way, or they could continue to remain passive spectators complaining from the sidelines as the speaker refuses to negotiate with the White House,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump should “see the pain” the shutdown is causing.

​”He’d benefit from listening to the stories of federal civil servants who were working without pay, locked out of their jobs, maybe then President Trump will understand the damage he’s causing by holding these people hostage until he gets what he wants. Meanwhile, Leader McConnell, Senate Republicans are hiding in the shadows as if they have some kind of aversion to doing their job when it involves the slightest break with the president,” Schumer said.

While leaders have been more prominent faces of the divide, there is no shortage of lawmakers on both sides advocating for something to change.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans aren’t getting paid because the president won’t give up his vanity project,” said Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris. “They’re forgoing insulin, borrowing money, or selling their cars — just to stay afloat. Let’s vote to reopen the government.”

​Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said all members of Congress should remain in Washington without pay until they agree on border wall funding.

“No excuses. If Democrats are ready to take border security seriously, there’s a compromise to be had,” Meadows said.

Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos accused McConnell and Trump of holding the House-passed spending bills “hostage to score political points.”

“By prolonging this shutdown and rejecting bill after bill to fund our government, the president is making us less safe by not paying for our border patrol and TSA agents,” Bustos said.

Republican Rep. Paul Gosar faulted the Democrats who did not agree to Tuesday’s White House meeting.

“Each day they refuse to find a solution — thousands are put in danger. I encourage my Dem colleagues to join Republicans in putting American priorities first,” Gosar said.

​Meanwhile, Trump called attention to the latest group of Central American migrants who are traveling in hopes of reaching the United States, citing them as evidence of the need for a border wall.

The group of several hundred people left from Honduras and made it into Guatemala on Tuesday.

About 6,000 migrants traveled to Tijuana, Mexico late last year after traveling from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Many said they left home because of poverty and fears over gang violence. Some are trying to seek asylum in the United States, while other accepted humanitarian visas in Mexico and others returned home.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has called on the United States to be part of a group of nations working to solve the underlying reasons people are leaving their countries.

Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been working on the issue since reaching a cooperation agreement in December and representatives met again Tuesday with a focus on addressing four parts of the migration cycle — origin, transit, destination and return, with an emphasis on the protection of human rights for the migrants.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RNq2cW

Nominee for US Attorney General Vows to Protect Russia Probe

William Barr, who was nominated by U.S. President Donald Trump to be the next attorney general says Russia is a “potent rival of our country,” but not as dangerous as China. Barr was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at the first of his confirmation hearings. He said Russia is less powerful than it was during the Cold War, but its president, Vladimir Putin, is working to increase Moscow’s influence in the world. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RLRHeh

When Mom’s Paychecks Stop, Kid Starts New Business

When Bella Berrellez learned her mother was furloughed, she looked for ways help the family.

Political bickering in Washington means Bella’s mom and hundreds of thousands of other U.S. federal employees won’t get paid until the dispute is resolved. Some federal workers have been sent home, while others work without pay.

Entrepreneur Bella, 11, created homemade body scrubs with various scents and sold them for $7 each to neighbors and online communities. In just two weeks, she has sold more than 400 jars.

“Some of them are from the area. Some are from all over the world. And some are from different parts of the country,” she said of her customers.

Many of them, including 16-year-old Lataija Bonner, are buying the products to show their support during the government shutdown.

“I send kudos to her, because I know a few young kids that are doing what she’s doing, and I’m really proud of her because I know me being 16 and Bella just turned 11 or 12, I know I probably wouldn’t have done it,” Bonner said. “I probably would have been like, ‘Oh sorry Mom. Sorry Dad.’ Like, I don’t know what to do.”

Bella’s mother works for the Food and Drug Administration and is currently furloughed. She is among the 800,000 federal workers who missed a paycheck on Jan. 11.

“My family is OK, and now I felt really, really happy and really good,” Bella said. “And now I’m putting my money back into the business and also donating my money to Nourish Now.”

Nourish Now is a nonprofit organization that collects food from donors like restaurants and cafeterias and distributes it to families in need. The organization also accepts financial contributions from the community.

“It’s amazing to see people from all ages, especially as young as Bella, trying to step forward and help her family out,” said David Joffee, chief program officer at Nourish Now. “It’s just admirable what she is doing. And as you can see in social media and the news, there are so many businesses and organizations out there that are willing to lend a hand. It’s great to see community members of different ages, types, sizes, etc., are willing to do this. It’s a really nice effort that we’ve seen so far.”

Recently, the organization set up a dinner for hundreds of people in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area impacted by the shutdown.

And Bella says she is happy that her effort is helping her family and others.

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RN8f5E

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Jumps Into 2020 Presidential Race

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand entered the growing field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders Tuesday, telling television host Stephen Colbert that she’s launching an exploratory committee. 

“It’s an important first step, and it’s one I am taking because I am going to run,” the New York senator said on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” She listed a series of issues she’d tackle as president, including better health care for families, stronger public schools and more accessible job training.

Gillibrand, 52, has already made plans to campaign in Iowa over the weekend, more than a year before the leadoff caucus state votes. 

Crowded field

She joins what is expected to be a crowded primary field for the Democratic nomination that could feature more than a dozen candidates.

Already, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has announced her own exploratory efforts, and decisions by a number of other senators are expected in the coming weeks.

Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, has been among the Senate’s most vocal members on issues like sexual harassment, military sexual assault, equal pay for women and family leave, issues that could be central to her presidential campaign. 

“I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own,” said Gillibrand, a mother of two sons, ages 10 and 15.

Funds available

As she works to distinguish herself from likely rivals, Gillibrand will be able to draw from the more than $10.5 million left over from her 2018 re-election campaign that she can use toward a presidential run. 

Gillibrand pledged during her Senate campaign that she would serve out her six-year term if re-elected.

She will use Troy, New York, where she lives, as a home base for her presidential efforts. 

Near the end of their interview, Colbert presented Gillibrand with a basket of campaign gifts, including an ear of yellow corn to wave in Iowa, a piece of granite for New Hampshire and a one-of-a-kind button that reads “I announced on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2Cp1U6p

No-cost Birth Control, Now the Norm, Faces Court Challenges 

Millions of American women are receiving birth control at no cost to them through workplace health plans, the result of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to contraception.

The Trump administration sought to allow more employers to opt out because of religious or moral objections. But its plans were put on hold by two federal judges, one in Pennsylvania and the other in California, in cases that could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

The judges blocked the Trump policy from going into effect while legal challenges from state attorneys general continue.

Here’s a look at some of the issues behind the confrontation over birth control, politics and religious beliefs:

A turning point — the Affordable Care Act

Well into the 1990s many states did not require health insurance plans to cover birth control for women.

“Plans were covering Viagra, and they weren’t covering birth control,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. 

By the time President Barack Obama’s health law passed in 2010, employers and insurers largely began covering birth control as an important part of health care for women. 

The ACA took that a couple of steps further. It required most insurance plans to cover a broad range of preventive services, including vaccinations and cancer screenings, but also women’s health services. And it also required such preventive services to be offered at no charge.

Employers and insurers were required to cover at least one of each class of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That included costly long-acting contraceptives, generally more effective than birth control pills.

It’s estimated that 55 million to more than 62 million women now receive birth control at no cost, with only a small share paying for contraception.

“The irony I find about this battle is that in the period of time this policy has been in effect, teen pregnancies have gone way down and the number of abortions has gone way down,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary under Obama. 

While those rates were already going down before the health law, the trend does continue.

Religious, moral exemptions

The Obama administration originally exempted a narrow group of employers — houses of worship —  from the birth control coverage requirement.

Following pushback from religious institutions and social conservatives, the Obama administration created an “accommodation.” Women employees of religious-affiliated social service organizations, universities and hospitals could continue to get birth control as part of their health care coverage but their employer would not have to pay. 

The Supreme Court broadened that work-around to include smaller private companies with a religious objection.

That didn’t go far enough for social and religious conservatives, a core component of President Donald Trump’s political base. Some religious organizations see Obama’s “accommodation” as morally objectionable because it facilitates contraception.

“It still forces religious people to provide a health plan that includes things that violate their religion,” said Mark Rienzi, senior lawyer for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which led opposition to the Obama policies.

The Trump administration’s regulations broadened the religious exemption to any employer with an objection based on religious beliefs and created a new exemption for certain employers with moral objections. The administration made Obama’s workaround optional for employers and instituted other changes.

“It’s definitely not a tweak,” Sebelius said. An employer can say “I don’t believe in birth control, and I’m not going to provide it,” she added.

Sebelius explained that Congress through the ACA clearly intended health plans to cover women’s health services. All HHS did was spell out how that would be done. If the Trump administration wants to change that, it would have to repeal the law, she added, not just change a regulation.

Rienzi said the Trump administration hasn’t pulled its policy “out of nowhere.” U.S. laws traditionally have protected people with religious and moral objections to government policies.

What’s next?

The Obama-era policy remains in place for now, with U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia placing a national hold on the Trump administration rules.

More than a dozen states are trying to reverse Trump’s policy, including California, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

The Justice Department hasn’t revealed its next move. It could ask federal appeals courts or the Supreme Court to lift the injunctions from lower-court judges and allow the Trump rules to go into effect while the cases continue.

The issue could eventually end up before the Supreme Court, which has become more conservative since the last time it considered the ACA’s birth control coverage requirement.

The Trump administration estimates that up to 126,400 women could be affected, having to find other ways to cover birth control if the rule is put into place.

But women’s rights groups say there’s no real way to know.

“The majority of employers want to cover birth control,” said Mara Gandal-Powers, a senior lawyer with the National Women’s Law Center. “We know that there are dozens of employers and entities that sued the Obama administration. But one of the problems with the (Trump administration) rule is that there is no master list of employers who object to birth control.”

 

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2CpzmtK

US Tax Agency to Bring 46,000 Furloughed Workers Back

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service said on Tuesday it intends to bring back more than 46,000 workers furloughed by the partial shutdown of the federal government to process annual tax returns and refunds and other tasks.

The federal tax agency, part of the Treasury Department, said in a shutdown contingency plan that the employees, about 57 percent of its 80,000-member workforce, would be designated “excepted or exempt” from the shutdown.

The 2019 tax filing season is set to begin on Jan. 28, with Americans having until April 15 to file their obligatory annual tax returns. Furloughed IRS employees returning to work will not be paid until government agencies reopen.

The shutdown, which began with President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, is now in its 25th day.

Trump and Democrats in Congress show no signs of budging, raising the prospects of a lengthy impasse that could leave the president and his Republican allies in Congress vulnerable to public criticism, especially if annual taxpayers’ refunds — which many people rely on financially — are delayed.

The 132-page IRS contingency plan sets out a legal rationale for handling returns and refunds during a shutdown, saying those operations are similar to Social Security payments that are unaffected by the disruption.

But the agency will not perform audits and other key functions until Trump and Congress agree on funding to reopen the one-quarter of the government affected by the shutdown, according to the document.

Lawsuit, hearings

The administration’s plan is already the target of a lawsuit by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which claims the plan is illegal because it obligates funds that have not been appropriated by Congress.

Democrats in the House of Representatives are also considering hearings on the shutdown’s impact on the IRS, including the agency’s ability to deliver tax refunds on time.

“There is no doubt the IRS needs to get ready for the 2019 filing season that starts Jan. 28, and IRS employees want to work,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.

“But the hard, cold reality is that they’ve already missed a paycheck and soon they’ll be asked to work for free for as long as the shutdown lasts.”

from US Politics – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2DcLHmo