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With shutdown over, House-Senate talks start on border security funding

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 08:00

As part of last week’s deal to end a 35 day partial government shutdown, House-Senate negotiators formally convene their talks Wednesday on border security funding, as the two sides try to deal with pressure not only from their supporters on what needs to be in a deal – but also from President Donald Trump – as lawmakers try to forge an agreement before a February 15 shutdown deadline.

“It could be a barrier, it doesn’t have to be a wall,” said House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), as much of the political fight over any border funding package might be more semantics than anything else, as Democrats have expressed support for fencing in the past, but many oppose the President’s talk of a border wall.

“We support additional investment in infrastructure, particularly as it relates to our legal ports of entry,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the head of the House Democratic Caucus.

How all of that gets sorted out in the next two-plus weeks is anyone’s guess, as lawmakers face a clear deadline for action, with the chance of another shutdown looming just two weeks from Friday.

“I’m very optimistic of it, I really am,” @RepTomGraves says as Homeland Security Conference committee about to get underway. Adds that this shouldn’t be about anyone winning or losing but finding common ground, hope can bridge differences

— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) January 29, 2019

If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019

The basic starting point for negotiations is simple – this is on the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which funds border security, immigration, the Coast Guard and more.

In the first two years of the Trump Administration, Democrats joined with Republicans in approving $1.6 billion two different times for border security – with some of that money specifically directed for border fencing.

For example, in the Omnibus funding bill which passed in 2017 – a few months into President Trump’s time in office – the House and Senate agreed to use some of that border money to build “approximately 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.”

Then in 2018, when lawmakers finally finished up their spending work, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a series of border fencing projects near San Diego, along the Rio Grande, and in other border regions.

This was the money set aside specifically in the 2018 funding for the Department of Homeland Security:

While Democrats have not as yet set out the details of their own security spending plan, they have made clear they want these talks to focus on more than just the border fence/barrier/wall discussion.

“I will keep fighting for humane immigration policies that secure our borders, hold our agencies accountable for mistreatment of migrants, keep families together, end child detention, reduce the number of detention beds,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), one of three California Democrats on the conference committee.

One unknown at this point is the ultimate scope of any agreement – normally, the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees would only deal with spending – how much to spend on a border fence, how much to spend on immigration judges, how much to spend on ICE agents and border patrol agents, etc.

But President Trump has also proposed temporary protections for about 700,000 younger illegal immigrants under DACA, and for 300,000 others at risk of deportation after having their “Temporary Protective Status” revoked. Usually, those type of policy decisions would not be settled in a spending bill.

“The focus of this right now is border security,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “We’d like to see that happen. And the President would love to deal with the overall problem of illegal immigration, fixing a number of the loopholes that would prevent some of those things from happening so that we could move forward with a system that actually works and functions.”

Something to keep in mind: The members of the new conference committee charged with coming up with a deal in three weeks are all appropriators. Not judiciary or other panels. Suggests this will deal with not range into, for instance, DACA or broader immigration issues.

— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) January 26, 2019

One interesting wild card in the midst of negotiations will be next week’s State of the Union Address, which will certainly give President Trump a chance to set out his demands for any border security deal, in a speech now set for February 5.

“It needs to be fixed and the President is going to do what it takes to address it,” Sanders said on Monday.

After shutdown, Democrat says DHS Secretary won’t testify before Congress

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 23:40

A top House Democrat blasted the Secretary of Homeland Security on Tuesday for refusing to testify before a House committee next week on issues dealing with illegal immigration, as Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said it was unacceptable for Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to say that she was unavailable for an oversight hearing about security along the southwest border. Nielsen’s office said it was a scheduling issue, and not an effort to avoid lawmakers.

“As Secretary of Homeland Security, you should be prepared to testify on border security, the very issue that caused the recent shutdown, at any time,” Thompson wrote in a letter released on his committee’s website.

Democrats have pressed to hear from Nielsen for several weeks, especially after press reports showed that more illegal immigrant children were separated from their parents than had been previously acknowledged by the Trump Administration – and by Nielsen in her own past testimony.

Per House Homeland chair Bennie Thompson, Kirstjen Nielsen declined to testify before his committee next week, citing the shutdown https://t.co/eh0Oo1eMWi

— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) January 29, 2019

“Your failure to engage Congress only makes averting another shutdown more difficult,” Thompson wrote.

In a written statement sent to reporters on Wednesday morning, Nielsen’s office disputed the story put out by Thompson, characterizing the lack of a hearing date as a timing matter, not a question of whether the Secretary would appear before the House Homeland Security Committee.

“We are disappointed in Chairman Thompson’s misleading letter,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, the Press Secretary for DHS. “To be clear, the Secretary did not ‘refuse’ the Chairman’s invitation to testify. In fact, she accepted the invitation and proposed alternative dates in February, as the proposed date of February 6 was unworkable.”

In his statement, Houlton said the shutdown had delayed efforts to set a hearing date, “because such functions were legally restricted during the shutdown.”

“Unfortunately, instead of calling the Department or reaching out to the Secretary to identify a mutually workable alternative date, the Chairman chose to release a letter falsely claiming the Secretary was refusing to testify,” Houlton added, who labeled Thompson’s charge, ‘unproductive and unhelpful.’

It was not the first time that Democrats have encountered difficulties from Cabinet members of the Trump Administration since taking charge of the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Just last week, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin refused to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee about the shutdown’s impact on the workings of the Internal Revenue Service.

In a letter, Mnuchin said he would not testify before the House Ways and Means Committee until “the President’s Budget has been released.”

On Tuesday, White House officials said that because of the 35 day partial shutdown, that budget submission would not be released until mid-March, instead of the usual deadline of the first Monday in February.

Earlier this month, HHS Secretary Alex Azar refused to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which wanted answers about how HHS had handled care for separated illegal immigrant children.

Last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross agreed to appear before a House panel to answer questions about why the Trump Administration tried to add a citizenship question to the Census – but that hearing won’t take place until March 14.

This in hindsight was a predictable gambit by administration officials to threat of greater oversight by House: they always have the option of stalling, delaying, refusing, fighting subpoenas — and before you know it, it's the August recess https://t.co/aVYf05GICf

— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) January 29, 2019

Democrats have also set a February 8 hearing with Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker; the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the nomination of William Barr to be Attorney General on February 7.

Stacey Abrams to give Democrats’ response to Trump State of the Union

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 19:56

With talk of a possible bid for the U.S. Senate in 2020, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams has been tapped by Democratic leaders in Congress to give the response to next week’s State of the Union Address by President Donald Trump, as Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said Abrams would be a welcome messenger for the party next Tuesday night on February 5.

“I was very delighted when she agreed,” Schumer told reporters just off the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon. “She is just a great spokesperson, she is an incredible leader.”

Abrams rose to national prominence in 2018 with her failed bid to win the race for Governor in Georgia, as a post-election vote fight netted her even more attention and support from national Democrats and party leaders.

“She has led the charge for voting rights, which is at the root of just about everything else,” Schumer added.

Sen Schumer says Stacey Abrams of Georgia has agreed to give the response to President Trump's State of the Union Address

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) January 29, 2019

President Trump was originally scheduled to give the State of the Union on January 29, but that was delayed in the fight over the partial government shutdown.

Schumer said he had spoken to Abrams some three weeks ago about doing the response – an often thankless job which is usually remembered only for miscues – and that Abrams had accepted.

U.S. Intelligence sees little chance of North Korea ending nuclear program

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 16:26

Even as President Donald Trump eyes a second summit meeting late next month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, top intelligence officials told Senators on Tuesday that there is little evidence the Pyongyang regime is going to suddenly drop its nuclear weapons program, something the President continues to publicly hold out as a distinct possibility.

“North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival,” said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as he told Senators that Kim Jong Un is ‘unlikely to completely give up’ his nation’s nuclear weapons.

“We continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization,” Coats wrote in a report to Senators. “In addition, North Korea has for years underscored its commitment to nuclear arms, including through an order in 2018 to mass-produce weapons and an earlier law — and constitutional change — affirming the country’s nuclear status.”

DNI Dan Coats in Senate hearing contradicts Trump, saying U.S. intel agencies do not believe North Korea has any intention of giving up its nuclear weapons. (Trump in June declared North Korea "no longer a nuclear threat," citing his talks with Kim) – h/t @KenDilanianNBC

— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) January 29, 2019

The Intelligence Community review is at odds with President Trump’s public declarations about U.S. efforts to get Kim Jong Un to denuclearize.

Mr. Trump has said he will meet with the North Korean leader in late February – no date or location has yet been announced – as the President has argued he is making progress.

“Pyongyang has not conducted any nuclear-capable missile or nuclear tests in more than a year,” Coats said in his testimony, a point that President Trump has repeatedly noted in the aftermath of his June 2018 summit with Kim.

The Fake News Media loves saying “so little happened at my first summit with Kim Jong Un.” Wrong! After 40 years of doing nothing with North Korea but being taken to the cleaners, & with a major war ready to start, in a short 15 months, relationships built, hostages & remains….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019

…back home where they belong, no more Rockets or M’s being fired over Japan or anywhere else and, most importantly, no Nuclear Testing. This is more than has ever been accomplished with North Korea, and the Fake News knows it. I expect another good meeting soon, much potential!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019

Despite the President’s optimism, the Intelligence Community remains unconvinced.

“North Korea retains its WMD capabilities, and the IC continues to assess that it is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities,” Coats and his colleagues told Senators on Tuesday.

More than a shutdown stalemate – Trump agenda sputters in Congress

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 09:00

As President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress try to settle their differences over funding for border security and immigration following a bitter 35 day partial government shutdown standoff, there is little moving forward in the Congress on President Trump’s legislative agenda, which has essentially been on hold since before the 2018 election.

While the President was able to win approval in 2017 of his signature tax cutting plan, his record on other big items has been more mixed, as the GOP-led Congress was unable to do anything to dramatically change the Obama health law, and did little to win money for Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall.

Here are five items where swift action isn’t happening for the White House:

1. New NAFTA deal still not before Congress. President Trump keeps talking about how the new trade deal among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will bring in more money to the U.S. economy – and in a sense – “pay” for a border wall. Except the problem with that logic is simple – you can’t have a new trade agreement in place if it’s not approved by the Congress. So far, the President has not submitted the language to lawmakers for their approval, as he has threatened to withdraw from the existing NAFTA deal in order to force the hand of Congress. “If he withdraws from NAFTA it would be crushing to U.S. agriculture,” said American Farm Bureau chief Zippy Duvall. While the President talks a lot about the new NAFTA – the USMCA – he still hasn’t handed it off to lawmakers yet in the House and Senate. It was signed on November 30, 2018.

Trade deals usually take years to be hashed out. USMCA text hasn't been sent to Congress yet by the administration. https://t.co/45biAlLN5O

— Colin Wilhelm (@colinwilhelm) January 2, 2019

2. Trump backed plan for new tariff powers falls flat in Congress. With lawmakers in both parties already aggravated by President Trump’s trade actions – which have resulted in retaliatory tariffs on farmers, the steel and aluminum industries, and caused collateral economic problems for businesses linked to those – the Trump Administration has asked for new powers in a bill called the “Reciprocal Trade Act.” The 17 page plan is fairly simple – if the U.S. finds that other countries are charging higher tariffs than we are on certain products, then the President can quickly move to raise import duties on identical items being imported into the United States. The idea was denounced by the conservative group Club for Growth in recent days, arguing the bill allows the President to “unilaterally increase taxes on Americans who buy goods and services from foreign sources.” And the group went after the 18 GOP lawmakers who endorsed it.

The following Members will see their @Club4Growth 2019 score decrease because they have cosponsored the bill: @Rep_Hunter @RepRickCrawford @RepPeteKing @michaelcburgess @USRepLong @CongPalazzo @RepDavidRouzer

— Club for Growth (@club4growth) January 24, 2019

3. Only one federal judge confirmed since mid-October. While Republicans have rightly celebrated the strong pace of judicial confirmations by the Senate in 2017 and 2018, that’s come to a screeching halt in recent months. Since the Senate left town in October for the November eletions, only one federal judge nominated by President Trump has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The end of the 115th Congress meant the President had to start over again with his nominees, further delaying action. The work begins anew on Tuesday, as the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the nominations of 44 different judges picked by President Trump. The White House had hoped to get more judicial nominees approved at the end of 2018 – but like a bill to fund the government – that didn’t happen.

There will NOT be a package of Trump judges in a year-end deal, per a Senate Democratic aide with knowledge.

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) December 19, 2018

4. Still no signs of a Trump infrastructure bill. The President has been in office for over two years now, and has often talked up his plans for a major infrastructure bill – but nothing to pump new money into road and bridge construction has surfaced from the Trump Administration, other than talk of a public-private investment partnership, which was never acted on by the GOP Congress in 2017 or 2018. There were recent press reports that the President was again talking about unveiling a plan – but that’s been the story since he took the oath of office in January of 2017. Democrats have talked about a bipartisan compromise with the President infrastructure, but that still seems to be a long shot, given opposition to the idea of new road and bridge spending among many Republicans in Congress.

(In the middle of a shutdown.)

REUTERS: President Donald Trump is reviving efforts to win approval for a significant infrastructure plan lasting up to 13 years … as the administration seeks to bring a long-stalled campaign promise back to life. https://t.co/Je7LGWE2TN

— Jim Stinson (@jimstinson) January 18, 2019

5. Senate at a standstill for almost all of January. As GOP leaders spent the last few weeks fending off efforts by Democrats to vote on measures related to the partial government shutdown, nothing else of note was acted upon by Senators. Republicans had hoped to start the month by acting on a foreign policy bill dealing with the Mideast, but Democrats blocked that, arguing that nothing should be addressed on the Senate floor except the shutdown. Finally, last Thursday, the Senate Majority Leader allowed votes related to the shutdown – and now that Mideast policy bill should come up this week. This bill was on the schedule at the start of this year, but hasn’t seen the light of day because of the shutdown. It’s a reminder that many lawmakers feel shutdowns aren’t the best way to exert legislative leverage on Capitol Hill.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio: “I don’t think shutdowns are good leverage … I think it’s important to separate the ta… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 27, 2019

Will the showdown over money for border security be different? Lawmakers – and the White House – face a February 15 funding deadline for an agreemnet, or there could be another partial government shutdown.

After delay, President Trump to give State of the Union on February 5

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 00:36

With a partial government shutdown over for now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited President Donald Trump to give his 2019 State of the Union Address to a Joint Session of Congress on February 5, a week later than the originally scheduled speech, which was delayed by the Speaker in the midst of a 35 day funding lapse for about one quarter of the federal government.

“It is my great honor to accept,” President Trump wrote in a letter back to the Speaker. “I look forward to seeing you on the 5th.”

The calm exchange of letters came a week after the Speaker refused to pass the necessary resolutions in Congress to allow for a State of the Union Address, as Pelosi told the President he needed to first allow the federal government to fully re-open.

In her letter, the Speaker also indicated that the two had spoken on Monday, something that had not been happening during much of the partial shutdown.

With government now re-opened, I have invited @realDonaldTrump to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 5. #SOTU https://t.co/RHq3nWH9nm pic.twitter.com/MCy4A4IYdy

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 28, 2019

Letter from President Donald J. Trump to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi pic.twitter.com/uAbcaupMNA

— White House Photos (@photowhitehouse) January 28, 2019

The agreement on a State of the Union Address came as the Congressional Budget Office said the partial shutdown – the longest ever for the federal government – would definitely have a negative economic impact.

“Although most of the real GDP lost during the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 will eventually be recovered, CBO estimates that about $3 billion will not be,” the CBO wrote in a new report issued on Monday.

While the White House disputed the CBO’s economic assertion, Democrats grabbed on to it.

“Not only did the #TrumpShutdown inflict needless pain on 800,000 federal workers, it also dealt an irreparable blow to the nation’s economy,” tweeted Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA).

“These are the economic consequences of shuttering the government for 35 days, and we cannot let the President do it again,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

According to a new nonpartisan report, as a result of the senseless government shutdown:

– The economy lost $11 billion ($3 billion that won't be recovered)
– An untold number of businesses lost revenue

We cannot afford another shutdown.

— Sen. Maggie Hassan (@SenatorHassan) January 28, 2019

“This should never happen again because of a policy difference,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL).

The timing of the President’s speech on February 5 – 10 days before the next funding deadline of February 15 – will give Mr. Trump the chance to set out his goals for a border funding deal, as official House-Senate negotiations are set to begin on Wednesday.

Congress sets border talks as Trump threatens unilateral action on wall

Sat, 01/26/2019 - 09:00

While President Donald Trump backtracked on Friday to end a controversial five week partial government shutdown, Congressional leaders kick started work on a border security funding agreement, even as the White House threatened to use a national emergency declaration if no border wall money is approved by a February 15 funding deadline.

“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” the President said Friday in remarks from the White House Rose Garden, as he announced the deal to fund the government for three weeks.

“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” the President added.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized that option in a tweet posted later on Friday night, sending a clear signal that if House-Senate negotiators don’t give the President money for a border wall, then he will likely act to declare a national emergency – and try to move money around in the federal budget to fund the wall unilaterally.

In 21 days President @realDonaldTrump is moving forward building the wall with or without the Democrats. The only outstanding question is whether the Democrats want something or nothing https://t.co/dMaDfBOIuT

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 26, 2019

Some more conservative GOP voices in the Congress seemed ready to sign on to that option.

“If Democrats refuse to work with us to tackle this national priority over the next few weeks, President Trump will do what is necessary to protect America,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), a key Senate ally of the President.

“Compromise is important, but not required, to secure our border and protect American families,” added Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), maybe the closest Trump ally in the House.

The decision by Mr. Trump to allow the government to be funded capped five weeks of turmoil for 800,000 federal workers, as they missed a second paycheck on Friday, and will likely have to wait well into next week to receive their back pay.

After watching some of the news coverage about his latest moves, President Trump did not seem pleased.

“This in no way was a concession,” the President tweeted Friday night, even as he did what Democrats wanted.

I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2019

The statements of the President and the White House presented negotiators with an ultimatum of sorts, even before they began their work on border security funding.

“The President has agreed to our request to open the government and then debate border security,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, as President Trump agreed to do exactly what Democrats had been calling for as a way to end a 35 day partial government shutdown.

“I hope over the next three weeks we can bridge our differences with a common goal to protect our country and end the humanitarian crisis, while keeping government open,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), one of the House GOP negotiators.

Many Democrats alternated between mocking Mr. Trump and condemning his actions, arguing he had needlessly put thousands of federal workers through financial stress and strain with the shutdown – only to finally back off his demand that the government would not be funded until Congress approved money for his border wall.

35 days shut down, 2 paychecks missed for 800,000 federal employees, and countless other hardships and national security threats… and the President has just agreed to an offer he could have accepted back in December.

— Rep. Brendan Boyle (@CongBoyle) January 25, 2019

“No one should applaud his recent actions – he created the crisis,” said Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA).

“Americans don’t care whether or not you call your speech a concession,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). “No President should ever threaten to hurt, or actually hurt, Americans as a negotiating tactic.”

“Holding federal employees’ livelihoods hostage in order to get Congress to meet an unreasonable border policy demand was always a bad idea,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

More moderate Republicans also said the shutdown should not have been an option for the President.

“Ultimately, this shutdown never should have happened,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Trump backs down on shutdown, agrees to fund government for 3 weeks

Fri, 01/25/2019 - 19:36

Hours after flight delays attributed to a 35 day partial government shutdown began to slow airline travel at major airports on the East Coast, President Donald Trump agreed to sign off on a bill to fund and re-open the government through February 15, ensuring that 800,000 federal workers would get back pay after missing a pair of paychecks, and giving lawmakers extra time to negotiate a spending package on border security.

“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” the President said in the White Hous Rose Garden.

While the President sought to put the best light on the developments, it was a major shift for Mr. Trump, who had repeatedly refused to open the government, and allow for negotiations on border security to go forward – as his decision on Friday basically accepted what Democrats had called for since before Christmas.

The President finished his remarks by saying if there’s no deal by February 15 on a border wall, then he would use his powers to declare a national emergency, and move money around in the federal budget to build a wall.

President Trump: "I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government."

Full video here: https://t.co/JCDBtMxOuO pic.twitter.com/ABv6ZccTnu

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 25, 2019

The announcement came on the 35th day of the partial government shutdown, which began before Christmas when the President rejected a plan which he had previously agreed to – a short term plan to keep the government open until February 8 – sparking a standoff over funding for the President’s plan to build a border wall.

Democrats said the bottom line of the President’s announcement was simple – President Trump had backed down, unable to convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in the Congress to give him money for his border wall.

“After he said, “re-open the government,” I think everyone stopped listening,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA).

“This is a recognition by Pres Trump that his forced shutdown is hurting America and is the wrong way to try to change policy,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).

“This is not a major legislative achievement, and the President should never have inflicted pain on America for 35 days, but this is a first step,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“It’s about damn time,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

As for Congressional Republicans, some quickly pointed the finger of blame at more conservative GOP lawmakers in the House, who pressed the President to force this shutdown fight.

Senior R: “I hope the president remembers this when the Freedom Caucus types tell him what to do next time. They only have a first move – start a fight. They never have a second move.”

— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) January 25, 2019

“It’s long past time to open our government again,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), one of a group of more moderate Republicans who had expressed public disdain for the shutdown strategy.

Just yesterday, the President had demanded a ‘down payment’ on a border wall in any short term funding deal – but that fell flat as well with Democrats.

The only agreement the White House was able to get was that the House and Senate would proceed to negotiations on a bill to fund border security.

“Democrats don’t usually remain this firm, but thanks to Pelosi, they did,” said Democratic strategist Brian Fallon. “And they won.”

Shutdown Day 35: 800,000 miss second paycheck

Fri, 01/25/2019 - 09:00

The financial impact of the partial government shutdown hits home even harder on Friday, as 800,000 federal employees won’t be paid for the second time this month, as Democrats in Congress and President Donald Trump remained at odds over funding for one-quarter of the federal government, with Democrats flatly saying they would not support money for the President’s border wall.

“We have to have security, we have to have a wall in order to have border security,” President Trump said after his border wall plan ran aground in the U.S. Senate, as lawmakers deadlocked over two different plans to end the funding impasse.

“And if we don’t strengthen those borders, we’re going to have a big problem in the future,” the President added.

But Mr. Trump’s familiar arguments – and the pressure of the almost five-week old shutdown – did not divide Democrats in the Senate as Republicans had hoped, as only Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted for the President’s immigration plan.

Meanwhile, a half dozen GOP Senators broke ranks and backed a Democratic package which would fund the government through February 8, to pay federal workers, re-open shuttered agencies, and allow more time for border funding negotiations.

“We need to take our armor off, leave our weapons at the door, walk in and shake hands,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), one of the six to vote for the Democratic funding plan, as he appealed for both sides to find a deal to re-open the government.

Earlier, Isakson and other GOP Senators had reportedly vented their frustration about the shutdown in a closed door meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, as GOP Senators tried to keep the heat on Democrats, but found that Republicans were the ones seemingly under more public pressure.

Along with Isakson, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine broke ranks on the GOP side.

“This shutdown – the longest in our history – must come to an end,” Collins said soon after Thursday’s votes, which were the first this year, after Senate Republicans had refused for weeks to act on bills related to the shutdown, hoping Democrats would fold under public pressure.

But that plan did not work, as Democrats kept up a drumbeat of stories about federal workers being harmed by the shutdown all over the country, as all but a handful refused to give in to the President’s demands on the border wall.

A #VA10 constituent sold her house & was supposed to close on a new one on Monday. Now she's been denied her mortgage because she's furloughed. They say she's unemployed.

Her family is now essentially homeless.

Have you made America great yet, @realDonaldTrump & @senatemajldr? pic.twitter.com/Z0BI1waXQx

— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) January 25, 2019

“Federal workers are struggling to put food on the table and pay their mortgages because of the President’s reckless shutdown,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

“What the GOP is doing to the American people is disgraceful,” said Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), who chanted on the House floor, “Pay these workers now!”

House Democrats were reportedly ready to offer over $5 billion in border security funding on Friday – but signaled clearly that none of the money would go for a border wall.

“The President and the Republicans either do not notice or do not care about the real effects of this shutdown on real people,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as Democrats denounced Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s comments, in which he seemed puzzled that furloughed workers would be seeking food assistance.

It wasn’t clear late on Thursday night whether negotiations would produce a settlement, as many expected the shutdown to move into an unprecedented sixth week.

GRIDLOCK: Senate blocks shutdown plans from both parties

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 20:37

The U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon failed to move ahead on plans from each party to force an end to an almost five-week partial government shutdown, as neither side was able to muster the 60 votes needed to advance measures to fund the operations of agencies which lost funding back before Christmas, all but insuring that the shutdown would continue into the weekend and beyond.

“The least we could do is re-open our government,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), as he sparred with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on the floor over who was responsible for the shutdown.

“The President has been at the negotiating table, ready to talk and fix this,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Democrats have made the opposite political calculation.”

But McConnell was unable to rally enough support, as the Senate voted 50-47 – short of the 60 votes needed – to advance the President’s immigration plan.

Dem Senator Joe Manchin votes YES on Trump proposal
Republican Senator Tom Cotton votes NO
Republican Senator Mike Lee votes NO

— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) January 24, 2019

Senate blocks Democrats' short-term CR proposal 52-44. Six Republicans voted yes on cloture: Romney, Collins, Murkowski, Alexander, Gardner, Isakson

— Jared Halpern (@JaredHalpern) January 24, 2019

The Senate also failed to get 60 votes for a plan from Democrats, as the Senate voted 52-44 to proceed – but it received more votes than the President’s alternative, as six Republicans broke ranks to back the plan, which would have extended funding for shuttered agencies through February 8.

The Senate votes – the first this year on the shutdown – came after GOP Senators met behind closed doors for over an hour with Vice President Mike Pence, as both parties tried to hold together in this shutdown fight.

“Shutdowns are always stupid, this is a particularly stupid one,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who urged President Trump to back a short-term funding measure to re-open the government, and allow for talks on border security – an idea that sounded much like the argument of Democrats.

But Portman refused to vote for the Democratic plan, as he chided his colleagues.

“We’re talking past each other,” the Ohio Republican told reporters.

As the Senate votes began, a group of House members marched from their side of the Capitol over to the Senate floor to watch the proceedings – but their presence did not alter the outcome.

VIDEO: House Democrats march over to Senate to urge clean vote to reopen government pic.twitter.com/vyA4ZP4cM2

— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) January 24, 2019

What’s next? Senators of both parties vowed to try to press ahead with their own negotiations, as the President entertained the idea of a three-week short term funding plan, to give lawmakers extra time to figure out a deal, as the White House said it wanted a ‘down payment’ on a border wall.

Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Schumer are meeting now to see whether or not they can work out of the deadlock. As was made clear to Senator Lindsay Graham, the 3 week CR would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall.

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 24, 2019

“We’re talking,” Senate Democratic Leader Schumer told reporters multiple times, as he left the office of the Majority Leader.

“We’ve got to figure out a path forward,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), part of a large bipartisan group which spoke on the Senate floor after the pair of votes. While many of them talked about compromise – it wasn’t immediately clear where the middle ground might be.

Ex-TSA chief: There is a ‘breaking point’ for federal workers over shutdown

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 16:48

As a partial government shutdown dragged on through a 34th day, a former head of the Transportation Security Administration said he feared there is only so long that members of the Coast Guard, the TSA, and hundreds of thousands of other federal workers can keep working without pay, as Democrats rebuked a top Trump Administration Cabinet official who seemed puzzled by stories of federal workers going to food banks in search of assistance because they haven’t been paid in almost four weeks.

“There is a point at which there is a breaking point,” said Peter Neffenger, the TSA chief during the Obama Administration, and a former Vice Admiral of the Coast Guard, who said he had spoken with a number of Homeland Security workers during the shutdown, praising them for still showing up to work every day.

“To fail to pay people who have done these hard things, I think is unconscionable,” Neffenger added.

Neffenger’s comments to a Capitol Hill symposium organized by House Democrats came as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross set off a political firestorm with an appearance on CNBC, which Democrats said was proof that top Trump Administration officials were out of touch with those 800,000 federal employees who aren’t getting paid.

. @CommerceGov Secretary Wilbur Ross on federal workers going to homeless shelters for food during #shutdown: “Well I know they are and I don't really quite understand why” suggesting gov't employees take out loans through banks or credit unions pic.twitter.com/QFs4UySNcH

— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) January 24, 2019

Asked about reports that federal workers were going to food banks and getting other aid, Ross – a very wealthy man himself – seemed puzzled.

“I know they are and I don’t really quite understand why,” the Commerce Secretary said, as he advised federal workers to get a loan to tide them over financially.

Ross also criticized some workers who have been calling in sick due to financial issues caused by the shutdown, and the lack of pay.

“It’s kind of disappointing that the air traffic controllers are calling in sick in pretty large numbers,” Ross said in the CNBC interview.

Democrats quickly attacked.

“Another ‘Let them eat cake’ moment from the Trump Administration,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross' comments: "Is this the 'let them eat cake' kind of attitude, or 'call your father for money?'" https://t.co/0clmHPKcVi pic.twitter.com/ttvG2a9mkz

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 24, 2019

“Secretary Ross’s comments are the 21st Century equivalent of, ‘Let them eat cake,'” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

“This Administration doesn’t understand the struggles of middle-class families and they won’t even try,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

Senate finally ready to take first votes on ending government shutdown

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 04:05

As the U.S. Senate prepared to cast votes for the first time on Thursday to end the partial government shutdown which began before Christmas, the two parties remained defiantly at odds in Congress over how best to resolve the impasse over the President’s call to fund a wall along the Mexican border, as lawmakers predicted the two plans being voted on in the Senate would both fail to get the necessary 60 votes to advance.

“Open up the government, and then let’s talk,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, summing up the main hurdle between the two parties after almost five weeks, as Democrats won’t negotiate until the government is fully funded, while Republicans refuse to fund shuttered agencies until they get a deal on border security.

“It’s just pure politics,” said brand new Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who accused Democratic leaders of being in favor of doing nothing on border security.

Meanwhile, back home, the stories were piling up of federal workers who were in financial difficulty, along with businesses who were feeling the pinch of the shutdown.

Hey @realDonaldTrump, we are an American-owned company and we want to distribute a new beer, but the shutdown includes the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau… so we currently can't move forward. Please help. The people want the beer. #beer2020

— Prairie Artisan Ales (@prairieales) January 7, 2019

The first vote the Senate will take Thursday is on a bill which would fund all operations of the federal government, and include the immigration changes proposed on Saturday by President Donald Trump.

“I think the President’s plan is a reasonable one,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “And that’s why I plan to support it.”

“You don’t have to agree on everything in it – but he did put something new on the table,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), as Republicans decried another round of votes in the House on plans from Democrats to fund the government.

“It’s one more pointless exercise,” Cole said – the House will vote Thursday on one more plan to fund the government, this time through February 28; that will make 10 funding bills sent to the Senate.

“Ten times now the House of Representatives has done our job and voted, without preconditions, to end the shutdown and reopen the government,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

The latest vote came as hundreds of federal workers who have been furloughed from their jobs rallied in Senate office buildings on Wednesday, as they homemade signs written on paper plates.

“Feed my family,” read one. “ENOUGH,” said another. “Do your job,” was one more.

The one wildcard on Thursday is on the second vote which Senators will take, on a Democratic plan which combines money for disaster aid with funding for the government through February 8 – some Democrats hoped that a number of GOP Senators would vote for that plan, possibly seeing it as a way to end the deadlock, and pay federal employees who haven’t seen a check since late December.

“We always hold out hope,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), as the House and Senate seemed ready to go home on Thursday afternoon without any resolution to the border funding impasse, likely sending it into a sixth week, by far the longest shutdown ever for the federal government.

If that does happen, 800,000 federal workers would miss a second paycheck on Friday, as the Senate is not expected to get 60 votes for either of the two plans being voted on Thursday afternoon.

Pelosi to Trump: No State of the Union until shutdown is over

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 19:58

In an escalating personal confrontation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told President Donald Trump on Wednesday that he would not be allowed to give his scheduled State of the Union Address to a Joint Session of Congress until a partial government shutdown has ended, an option that the President said would be ‘very sad’ for the nation.

“I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” the Speaker wrote in a letter to the President, as she said the House would not approve a resolution authorizing a speech by Mr. Trump in the House chamber at this time.

Pelosi’s response came several hours after the President had sent his own letter to the Speaker, making clear that he planned to show up to speak to lawmakers on January 29.

“It would be so very sad our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” the President wrote.

BREAKING: Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the US House will not pass a resolution for the State of the Union until the government is reopened https://t.co/U2x43V9U1S pic.twitter.com/DXl4y2rTof

— CNN International (@cnni) January 23, 2019

President Trump’s letter to Speaker Pelosi on the State of the Union pic.twitter.com/B4QN9hDJnv

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 23, 2019

The dueling letters came amid the increasingly bitter debate over the longest government funding lapse in modern history, which seems likely to block paychecks again on Friday for some 800,000 federal workers.

“I’m not surprised,” the President said during a White House photo opportunity when asked about the Speaker’s response. “It’s really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats. They’ve become radicalized.”

In the halls of Congress, GOP lawmakers saw no reason why the President shouldn’t be allowed to speak to the nation from the House chamber.

“He asked me yesterday what I thought about that,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). “I think he ought to come, I think he ought to give the State of the Union.”

President Trump: "The State of the Union speech has been cancelled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth. She doesn't want the American public to hear what's going on." #sotu pic.twitter.com/2wqHEZf4iW

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 23, 2019

Democrats saw something different.

“My instinct is that this exchange of letters is an intentional distraction from the fact that people are about to miss their second paycheck and the economy is slowing down,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

The first missed paycheck for most federal workers was on January 11; the next one will be this Friday.

Democrats: No State of the Union next week if shutdown continues

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 15:46

With no resolution of an over month-long partial government shutdown that has blocked paychecks for over 800,000 federal workers, Democratic leaders in the House said on Wednesday that they would not sign off on the scheduled State of the Union Address by President Donald Trump next Tuesday, unless shuttered federal agencies are re-opened, even as the President sent the House Speaker a letter saying he would show up next Tuesday as scheduled.

“I look forward to seeing you on the evening (of) January 29th in the Chamber of the House of Representatives,” President Trump wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It would be so very sad our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” Mr. Trump added.

President Trump’s letter to Speaker Pelosi on the State of the Union pic.twitter.com/B4QN9hDJnv

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 23, 2019

But on Capitol Hill, Democrats weren’t ready to say that the speech would go on next Tuesday as originally scheduled.

“Unless the government is re-opened, it is highly unlikely the State of the Union will take place on the floor of the House,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the head of the House Democratic Caucus.

The comments of Jeffries came just after a closed door meeting of House Democrats, in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged rank-in-file Democrats to stick together on the shutdown, as Democrats continue to argue that no negotiations should take place on funding border security until the government has been funded.

In private caucus meeting, Pelosi urged her caucus to stay united and stick with the plan, referring to reopen government first before border security talks, per sources. She emphasized to caucus that they are more powerful when they are united, not when they are freelancing.

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 23, 2019

While Democrats want the government to open first, Republicans, and the President, say the opposite should take place – that negotiations on border security should go first, before the partial government shutdown is ended.

GOP leaders scoffed at the idea that the State of the Union should be postponed simply because of the funding dispute, which began before Christmas.

“It doesn’t matter what crisis America had in the past, we were able to still have a State of the Union,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House Republican leader.

House GOP leaders argued that Democrats were at fault for the partial shutdown – which has now stretched for 33 days – as they demanded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offer a plan for extra border security measures.

Not one time has Nancy Pelosi come forward with an alternative,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the second-ranking Republican in the House.

.@GOPLeader: "I think the speaker asking not to have the State of the Union is just playing politics." https://t.co/UFr9sPp9ok
CSPAN (@cspan) January 23, 2019

While the House on Wednesday was ready to approve more funding bills from Democrats to fully fund the government, most eyes were still on the Senate, where leaders set two votes for Thursday – one on a GOP plan that mirrored the President’s immigration proposal set forth last weekend, and a second plan from Democrats which would fund the government until February 8.

The White House has already threatened to veto that Democratic plan; officials on Wednesday morning issued a letter in which they said President Trump would sign the GOP proposal.

But Republicans would need the votes of seven Democrats to get 60 votes to proceed to that bill; for now, that seems unlikely.

Senate sets votes Thursday on rival plans to end partial shutdown

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 09:00

With no evidence that President Donald Trump’s weekend speech on immigration and a border wall had changed the dynamic in Congress related to a partial government shutdown, Senate leaders set a pair of votes on competing plans from Democrats and Republicans for Thursday afternoon, the first time Senate Republicans have allowed votes to end the shutdown since before Christmas.

“The President’s made a comprehensive and bipartisan offer,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s a strong proposal, it’s the only thing on the table.”

“It was not a good faith proposal. It was not intended to end the shutdown,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. “The President’s proposal is one-sided.”

The political jousting came as representatives of federal workers – who seem likely to go without a paycheck again this Friday – urged the Congress and the President to fully fund the government, and then settle their differences over border security spending.

Your Coast Guard leadership team & the American people stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty, resilience, & that of your families. I find it unacceptable that @USCG members must rely on food pantries & donations to get through day-to-day life. #uscg pic.twitter.com/TZ9ppUidyO

— Admiral Karl Schultz (@ComdtUSCG) January 23, 2019

“Every family in the FBI has mortgages, car payments, bills that come in at the end of the month,” said Tom O’Connor, the head of the FBI Agents Association.

“You have to pay those. Try doing that without a paycheck,” O’Connor told a Washington news conference.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration announced it was calling more federal employees back to work – as the Department of Agriculture said Farm Service Agency offices would resume operations on Thursday.

“The FSA provides vital support for farmers and ranchers and they count on those services being available,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Farmers have complained for weeks that the lack of FSA offices was hampering all sorts of work, like applying for bailout payments related to retaliatory tariffs against the U.S., filing paperwork for operating loans, and a variety of other crop programs.

But those Farm Service Agency workers won’t be paid until the Congress resolves the shutdown.

Good News: @USDA just announced that all Farm Service Agency offices will reopen beginning Thursday, January 24th and offer expanded services to #Ag producers.

More information and a list of services here: https://t.co/o8oiQkdnaS

— Senator Deb Fischer (@SenatorFischer) January 22, 2019

Back on Capitol Hill, there were no signs that the President’s immigration offer from Saturday was going to break the gridlock over Mr. Trump call for $5.7 billion in border security funding.

But the mere fact that there were going to be votes in the Senate related to the shutdown – the first votes on government funding since before Christmas – was seen by some as a welcome event.

“I’m pleased that the gears of the legislative process are moving,” said Matt Glassman, a fellow at the Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute.

Senate leaders agreed to two procedural votes on Thursday – with 60 votes needed – first on the President’s border plan, plus funding for the federal government, and then on a Democratic plan which combines disaster aid with a plan to simply fund shuttered agencies through February 8.

For Glassman and a few others – the decision to set those votes so that Republicans would go first, and then Democrats second, raised questions about whether GOP Senators might vote first to approve money for a border wall, and then also vote to re-open the government, despite the President’s opposition.

1/ My Twitter feed tells me it's folly to think that Thursday's second cloture vote (open government with a 2-week CR) will get 60 votes (47 D + 13 R). I'm not so sure. Just because only 10 GOP signed a bipartisan letter doesn't mean that's the full lid on GOP votes.

— Sarah Binder (@bindersab) January 22, 2019

A spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader rejected that idea, saying that Sen. McConnell was against the Democratic plan – but the schedule on Thursday does give GOP Senators the option to first vote for the border wall funding – and when that fails – then vote to re-open the government for about two weeks.

White House briefings disappear – and that’s fine with President Trump

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 21:19

After just over two years in office, President Donald Trump’s White House has clearly decided that the televised White House briefing – a regular staple since Bill Clinton came into office – is no longer needed, as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has not formally taken questions from reporters at the podium in the Brady Briefing Room in over a month.

“I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway!” President Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Before the briefings became a daily televised event in the Clinton Administration, White House briefings were mainly what’s known as ‘pen and pad’ gatherings – that is, no television, no radio recording, a throwback to the days when newspaper and magazine reporters dominated those covering the White House.

The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the “podium” much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press. I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2019

The number of briefings dwindled throughout 2018 – for example, Sanders held only three in July, only once in both November and December.

The last formal briefing was on December 18.

Critics of the briefings say it’s become a place for reporters to grandstand – the President in his tweet today said reporters acted ‘rudely’ – but it’s also been an important venue over the years for a President, in order to get out the message of that administration.

Before the Clinton White House – with Communications Director George Stephanopoulos and Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers – made the briefing into a daily televised event which kept the focus on the White House, standard procedure allowed for only a few minutes of televised proceedings at the start of a briefing.

After about five minutes, the TV lights would be turned off, the microphone would go silent, and the briefing would continue to be on the record, but not for broadcast.

The White House Correspondents Association on Tuesday urged the President to reconsider.

Statement on White House news briefings from WHCA President Olivier Knox. pic.twitter.com/jhQjVrz1bC

— WHCA (@whca) January 22, 2019

While Sanders has not been on television much in recent months, the President has made himself available repeatedly, often entertaining questions as he departs the White House, or in photo opportunities with reporters.

Mr. Trump has held only two formal, solo news conferences; the last one – the day after the November elections – included a verbal showdown with CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

U.S. Supreme Court to consider possible appeal in mystery grand jury case

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 14:49

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to allow an unknown foreign company – owned by an unknown foreign government – to ask the justices to hear a legal challenge to a still-secret federal grand jury subpoena, which could be related to the Special Counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, as the High Court released new information about the case and its appeal, indicating the unidentified country is a ‘witness’ in this mystery investigation.

In two simple orders issued by the Justices this morning, the Supreme Court allowed the mystery foreign company to submit documents which would not be made public, but also required “redacted copies for the public record,” as the company challenges a request for information as part of an unknown federal investigation.

At this point, the Supreme Court has not accepted the case for argument, but is allowing the unknown company to request a hearing before the Supreme Court – what is known as a writ of certiorari – as the foreign corporation is challenging lower court rulings which forced the company to turn over documents related to a federal grand jury investigation.

“Earlier this year, the U.S. Government served a grand jury subpoena on Country A,” lawyers for the unidentified company wrote in their redacted brief, which was posted online by the Supreme Court.

“Country A understands that it is a witness in the investigation,” the brief added – without giving any details on exactly what is at issue.

NEW: Supreme Court granted mystery company's motion to file its appeal under seal in grand jury maybe-Mueller case. A redacted version of the petition will be made public soon

— Lawrence Hurley (@lawrencehurley) January 22, 2019

The brief revealed that the unidentified country – not the company, but the country – was fined $50,000 per day for refusing to comply with the subpoena, but that financial penalty was put on hold.

In a 55 page brief, which was redacted in parts, lawyers for the foreign country argue that U.S. courts have no power to sanction the unidentified company, or the country which owns the corporation – and that to do so – would risk retaliatory moves against the United States on a broad range of legal fronts.

“Ironically, it comes at a time when the United States is leading the resistance against certain countries’ efforts to restrict immunity in the criminal context,” the anonymous lawyers wrote.

Even with few details available, the mystery case has attracted widespread attention in recent months, as it quickly weaved its way through the federal courts in Washington, D.C. – in almost complete secrecy.

At one point in December, an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington was sealed off to allow for arguments before a three-judge appeals panel.

So far, the company – owned by a foreign government – has lost at every level.

There will seemingly be no quick action by the U.S. Supreme Court on this matter, as the Justices gave the government – possibly the Special Counsel – until February 21 to file a response.

You can read the three judge appeals panel’s 28 page decision on the case

GOP unveils 1,301 page plan to end partial government shutdown

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 02:59

Two days after President Donald Trump unveiled his compromise plans to provide funding for his border wall in exchange for halting deportations for about 1 million people in the U.S. illegally under a pair of immigration programs, Senate Republicans on Monday night fleshed out the details as they released a 1,301 page bill which would also fully fund the government and end a partial government shutdown which has stretched for a month.

“For the good of the country, I encourage my Democratic colleagues to either join us in passing this legislation or come to the negotiating table with constructive solutions of their own,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Saying no to everything will not move our country forward,” Shelby added in a late night statement on Monday night.

The plan not only includes the legislative text of the President’s immigration proposals, but also the language of seven different spending bills, which would fund all agencies of the federal government and end the shutdown that began back on December 22.

New: Senate Republicans release 1,301-page bill to reopen the government and fund the wall, modeled on Trump’s proposal.

TEXT: https://t.co/SMMukFI9az

SUMMARY, via Approps GOP: https://t.co/eMeu364qJP

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 22, 2019

As with previous legislation from Republicans about border security, the phrase “border wall” is not to be found at any point in either the legislative text, or the report language about the bill.

Instead, the GOP plan would approve $5.7 billion for a ‘physical barrier system,’ intended to complete work on the ten highest priority border projects as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

Also included are the items spelled out by the President in his speech to the nation on Saturday:

+ The “BRIDGE” Act – legislation which would provide about 700,000 DACA recipients with a three year legal status in the United States, but no pathway to citizenship.

+ Also getting temporary legal status would be 300,000 who were once protected by the TPS program, allowing them to avoid deportation for three years.

+ The bill also would create a new plan which allows people to apply from asylum from their home country, rather than try to make the arduous trip from Central America, through Mexico, and into the United States.

Critics said those asylum changes are not minor.

Wow. Massive asylum restrictions is right. This bill appears to ban asylum for Central American Minors who try to apply at the US border! It says that if you're a CAM, you MUST apply in your country or you are ineligible for asylum. And then the bill sets a cap! https://t.co/Y1Z2hayrXV

— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) January 22, 2019

The plan also includes $12.7 billion in disaster relief aid for a variety of agricultural problems, including money to cover “cover blueberry and peach crop losses resulting from freezes and producers impacted by Tropical Storm Cindy,” $600 million to help the Marine Corps repair damage to installations in North Carolina, and for the Air Force to fix Tyndall Air Fore Base, in Florida, damaged by Hurricane Michael.

The disaster aid section includes the following spending:

+ $480 million in Emergency Forest Restoration
+ $125 million in Emergency Watershed Protection
+ $150 million in Rural Community Facilities grants
+ $600 million in Economic Development assistance programs
+ $50 million to improve hurricane, flooding, and wildfire forecasts
+ $150 million for fishery disasters harming coastal communities
+ $28 million to replace damaged federal prison facilities.
+ $15 million for Legal Services Corporation to prove storm-related legal help.
+ $740 million in new Army Corps of Engineers flood and storm damage reduction projects.
+ $225 million for water projects on the Mississippi River and its tributaries
+ $350,000 for the Central Utah Project for wildfire remediation
+ $526 million for Coast Guard repairs
+ $312 million to repair damaged infrastructure in national parks and wildlife refuges.
+ $414 million in wastewater and drinking water projects as a result of 2018 hurricanes and wildfires.
+ $720 million to repay borrowed funds for FY 2018 wildfire work
+ $49.5 million in economic recovery from the Dislocated Worker National Reserve program
+ $246 million for the Department of Health and Human Services
+ $165 million for the Department of Education to help students affected by natural disasters
+ Over $850 million for military construction projects to replace items damaged by Hurricanes Florence and Michael
+ $10.5 million for Federal Transit Administration emergency relief

House Democrats this week will also be pushing ahead with legislation to fund the government; the House last week approved $12.7 billion in disaster aid, though most Republicans opposed the plan, because the underlying bill did nothing about the border security issue.

So far, no Democrats have endorsed the new effort from Republicans in the Senate.

Federal agencies help with jobless benefits as shutdown goes over a month

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 02:08

With no evidence that a quick resolution is in sight for a partial government shutdown spurred by a dispute over funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall, federal agencies have started helping their workers apply for unemployment benefits in a bid to ease the financial pain of the shutdown, as more than 800,000 federal workers face the prospect of missing a second paycheck at the end of this week, with little evidence that Congress will forge a bipartisan solution to end this increasingly bitter political brawl.

“Take this form with you if you go to file a claim,” states a document given to workers at the Commerce Department in recent days, advising them of how to file for unemployment benefits during the shutdown.

“DO NOT DELAY filing a UI claim,” the document tells employees, “if you wait, your unemployment benefits may be reduced or you may not qualify for any benefits.”

The financial pinch of the shutdown was taking a public toll on airport security screeners, as the Transportation Security Administration reported that 10 percent of its workforce took an sick day on Sunday,” as ‘unscheduled absences’ jumped over the long federal holiday weekend.

Just spoke with an air traffic controller who is working without pay and driving for Uber on the side to make ends meet. This is insane.

— Rep. Mike Levin (@RepMikeLevin) January 21, 2019

On Capitol Hill, there was no sense that President Trump’s Saturday speech – in which he offered an immigration deal to Democrats – had changed the dynamic of the shutdown politics at all.

Senate Republicans were still planning to vote by Thursday on the President’s plan – as Republicans on Monday released a 1,301 page bill which covers the President’s immigration plans, as well as the seven major government funding bills which have not yet been approved by the Congress.

Republicans would need all 53 GOP Senators to stick together – and then get the votes of seven Democrats.

That seemed unlikely as lawmakers headed back to Washington, D.C.

“This coming Friday is going to be the second paycheck missed for hundreds of thousands of public servants,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “There are multiple bills that could pass the House and Senate with a massive majority.”

One GOP lawmaker suggested that both Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate allow a fully open debate in both chambers – after voting to re-open the government.

Ways to break shutdown stalemate:
1. @SpeakerPelosi and @senatemajldr open up process, allow amendment votes, and send compromise to president to sign or veto, or
2. @POTUS agrees to sign one-week CR every week while parties negotiate.

First is best but unlikely.
Second is easy.

— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 21, 2019

House Democrats were planning two different votes this week – one on a package of bills to fund the government, and the second on a separate measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

But those plans from Democrats did not include one thing that the President wants more than anything else – billions of dollars to fund the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

“Democrats are kidding themselves (they don’t really believe it!) if they say you can stop Crime, Drugs, Human Trafficking and Caravans without a Wall or Steel Barrier,” the President tweeted on Monday.

The President’s plan includes $5.7 billion for border security – with some of that going to a wall; it would also shield around 700,000 DACA recipients, and another 300,000 people who had overstayed their temporary permission to be in the U.S., giving them a three-year legal status, allowing them to avoid being deported.

Democrats have grumbled about the President’s offer to shield 1 million people from deportation, arguing that Mr. Trump was the one who tried to take away their immigration protections in the first place.

“Unscheduled absences” during shutdown for airport screeners hit 10 percent

Mon, 01/21/2019 - 22:03

With no end in sight to the partial government shutdown, and the possibility that 800,000 federal workers will miss another paycheck at the end of this week, the Trump Administration reported Monday that ‘unscheduled absences’ by TSA airport screeners hit 10 percent on Sunday, with that number jumping over the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, as security screeners continue to work without pay because of a battle between the President and Democrats in Congress over funding for a border wall.

“TSA experienced a national rate of 10 percent of unscheduled absences compared to a 3.1 percent rate one year ago on the same weekday,” the Transportation Security Administration reported, again using the same language in a daily news release that “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”

The number of absent screeners had held around 6 percent much of last week, but the TSA reported the number of screeners not showing up for work as planned hit 7 percent on Friday, 8 percent on Saturday, and then 10 percent on Sunday.

.@TSA says that 10 percent of its workforce had an "unscheduled absence" Sunday, compared to just 3.1 percent on the same day last year; that means more than 3,000 TSA agents called off #GovernmentShutdown

— Gabe Gutierrez (@gabegutierrez) January 21, 2019

The TSA said in a news release that ‘99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes’ to go through airport screening on Sunday.

But on Saturday, excessive sick calls by TSA airport screeners forced officials at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to use emergency plans to deal with the lack of airport screeners, closing a major security checkpoint early at the airport.

That major checkpoint for Southwest Airlines flights wasn’t closed for just a few hours – but remained shut down on Sunday and Monday as well, because of a lack of security screeners.

“It is important to clarify that it is not unusual for TSA and BWI Marshall to open or close one of our security checkpoints,” the airport said in a written statement.

“This will have minimal, if any, impact on passengers and no impact on airport operations,” the BWI statement read.

.@TSA in collaboration with airport authorities & servicing airlines will be exercising a contingency plan at @BWI_Airport due to excessive callouts. Checkpoint A will be closing at 5:35pm. Passengers should arrive early for evening flights. Contact airport & airlines for updates

— TSA (@TSA) January 19, 2019

Earlier this month, press reports of airport screeners calling in sick because of the government shutdown – and the lack of pay for screeners – was denounced as ‘fake news’ by a top Department of Homeland Security spokesman, as well as the White House.

Like other federal workers, TSA screeners have been coming to work since the partial government shutdown started on December 22; they were paid as scheduled on December 29, but missed a check on January 11, and a second check may not be paid on January 25.