State Department Meeting With Congress on Refugee Cap

The U.S. State Department says it is scheduling meetings with members of Congress, after the country’s top diplomat this week proposed a record-low cap on refugees coming to the United States in the next year.

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday told reporters the “proposed” cap would be 30,000 refugees for Fiscal Year 2019, lawmakers and refugee advocates swiftly criticized the announcement.

What Pompeo did not explain — and it took the State Department a day to clarify in a news conference with the agency’s chief spokesperson Heather Nauert — is that Pompeo’s announcement was a proposal included in an annual report submitted to Congress, not the final number.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA on Wednesday that the agency sent the report, with the proposed refugee ceiling, to Congress on Sept. 17, the same day as Pompeo’s announcement.

“We are working to schedule an in person consultation with Members and a briefing for their staffs as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement to VOA.

The report is created by the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of the president.

Every year, the president sets the so-called “ceiling” on refugees — the maximum number that will be allowed in over the 12-month period starting Oct. 1 — by a “presidential determination.” Part of the process is a consultation with Congress before the figure can be finalized.

The president has until the end of the month to make the presidential determination on the refugee ceiling. The full report is expected to be made public in the coming days, the State Department spokesperson added.

If the president sticks to the 30,000-refugee cap for FY2019, it will be the lowest ceiling on record since the U.S. refugee program began in the early 1980s.

The decision will come after a series of Trump administration decisions that have whittled down the program, citing unproven national security concerns.

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State Department Meeting With Congress on Refugee Cap

The U.S. State Department says it is scheduling meetings with members of Congress, after the country’s top diplomat this week proposed a record-low cap on refugees coming to the United States in the next year.

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday told reporters the “proposed” cap would be 30,000 refugees for Fiscal Year 2019, lawmakers and refugee advocates swiftly criticized the announcement.

What Pompeo did not explain — and it took the State Department a day to clarify in a news conference with the agency’s chief spokesperson Heather Nauert — is that Pompeo’s announcement was a proposal included in an annual report submitted to Congress, not the final number.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA on Wednesday that the agency sent the report, with the proposed refugee ceiling, to Congress on Sept. 17, the same day as Pompeo’s announcement.

“We are working to schedule an in person consultation with Members and a briefing for their staffs as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement to VOA.

The report is created by the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of the president.

Every year, the president sets the so-called “ceiling” on refugees — the maximum number that will be allowed in over the 12-month period starting Oct. 1 — by a “presidential determination.” Part of the process is a consultation with Congress before the figure can be finalized.

The president has until the end of the month to make the presidential determination on the refugee ceiling. The full report is expected to be made public in the coming days, the State Department spokesperson added.

If the president sticks to the 30,000-refugee cap for FY2019, it will be the lowest ceiling on record since the U.S. refugee program began in the early 1980s.

The decision will come after a series of Trump administration decisions that have whittled down the program, citing unproven national security concerns.

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Canada Wants to See Flexibility in NAFTA Talks With US

Canada said on Wednesday that it would need to see movement from the United States if the two sides are to reach a deal on renewing NAFTA, which Washington insists must be finished by the end of the month.

Although the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and its allies are increasing pressure on Canada to make the concessions they say are needed for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear he also wanted to see flexibility.

“We’re interested in what could be a good deal for Canada but we’re going to need to see a certain amount of movement in order to get there and that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

Shortly afterwards, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for their fourth set of talks in four weeks with the two sides still disagreeing on major issues.

Trump has already wrapped up a side deal with Mexico and is threatening to exclude Canada if necessary. Canadian officials say they do not believe the U.S. Congress would agree to turn NAFTA into a bilateral treaty.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said it would be extremely complicated, if not impossible, for the administration to pull off a Mexico-only agreement.

“If Canada doesn’t come into the deal there is no deal,” Donohue told a media breakfast in Washington.

Donohue said he believed that if the administration wanted to end the current NAFTA, such a move would be subject to a vote in Congress, which would be difficult to get.

The Chamber, the most influential U.S. business lobby, wants NAFTA to be renegotiated as a tri-lateral agreement, citing how highly integrated the three member nations’ economies have become since the pact came into force in 1994.

Negotiators are arguing over cultural protections, dispute resolution, and a U.S. demand for more access to Canada’s protected dairy market. Sources say Ottawa has made clear it is prepared to make concessions, which would anger the influential dairy lobby.

“For American farmers the Canadian market is a drop in the bucket. For us it’s our livelihood,” Dairy Farmers of Canada vice president David Wiens told reporters in Ottawa. Concessions in past trade deals had already hurt Canadian farmers, he said.

“The dairy sector cannot be negatively impacted again by a new trade agreement,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

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Canada Wants to See Flexibility in NAFTA Talks With US

Canada said on Wednesday that it would need to see movement from the United States if the two sides are to reach a deal on renewing NAFTA, which Washington insists must be finished by the end of the month.

Although the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and its allies are increasing pressure on Canada to make the concessions they say are needed for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear he also wanted to see flexibility.

“We’re interested in what could be a good deal for Canada but we’re going to need to see a certain amount of movement in order to get there and that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

Shortly afterwards, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for their fourth set of talks in four weeks with the two sides still disagreeing on major issues.

Trump has already wrapped up a side deal with Mexico and is threatening to exclude Canada if necessary. Canadian officials say they do not believe the U.S. Congress would agree to turn NAFTA into a bilateral treaty.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said it would be extremely complicated, if not impossible, for the administration to pull off a Mexico-only agreement.

“If Canada doesn’t come into the deal there is no deal,” Donohue told a media breakfast in Washington.

Donohue said he believed that if the administration wanted to end the current NAFTA, such a move would be subject to a vote in Congress, which would be difficult to get.

The Chamber, the most influential U.S. business lobby, wants NAFTA to be renegotiated as a tri-lateral agreement, citing how highly integrated the three member nations’ economies have become since the pact came into force in 1994.

Negotiators are arguing over cultural protections, dispute resolution, and a U.S. demand for more access to Canada’s protected dairy market. Sources say Ottawa has made clear it is prepared to make concessions, which would anger the influential dairy lobby.

“For American farmers the Canadian market is a drop in the bucket. For us it’s our livelihood,” Dairy Farmers of Canada vice president David Wiens told reporters in Ottawa. Concessions in past trade deals had already hurt Canadian farmers, he said.

“The dairy sector cannot be negatively impacted again by a new trade agreement,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

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Kenya’s Finance Minister Cuts Spending, Money Transfer Taxes to Rise

Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich has cut the government’s spending budget by 55.1 billion shillings ($546.90 million), or 1.8 percent, for the fiscal year from July this year, a Treasury document showed on Wednesday.

The government is facing a tough balancing act after a public outcry over a new 16 percent value added tax on all petroleum products forced President Uhuru Kenyatta to suggest to parliament to keep the VAT and cut if by half.

In the document detailing the new spending estimates, Rotich said the budget had to be adjusted because of the amendments to tax measures brought by lawmakers when they first debated it and passed it last month.

The proposed halving of the VAT rate on fuel has left the government with a funding shortfall, hence the cuts in spending.

Parliament will vote on a raft of proposals, including the 1.8 percent cut on spending, in a special sitting on Thursday.

Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by 6 percent this year, recovering from a drought, slowdown in lending and election-related worries that cut growth in 2017, but investors and the IMF have expressed concerns over growing public debt.

While the next election is still four years away, the government’s economic policies are chafing with citizens angered by increasing costs of living. Fuel dealers protested when the VAT on fuel kicked in this month and citizen groups have gone to court to try to block new or higher taxes.

Separate documents sent by Kenyatta to parliament ahead of Thursday’s sitting underscored the debate in government over how to boost revenues without hurting the poor.

His government has to reduce a gaping fiscal deficit while boosting spending on priority areas such as healthcare and affordable housing.

In order to balance the government’s books after the reduction of the fuel tax, he is trying to reinstate several tax measures struck out by parliament, including a 2 percentage hike on excise duty for mobile phone money transfers to 12 percent.

Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator Safaricom said in June it was opposed to any tax rise on mobile phone-based transfers, arguing that it would mainly hurt the poor, most of whom do not have bank accounts and rely on services such as its M-Pesa platform.

The president also asked parliament to double the excise duty on the fees charged by banks, money transfer services, and other financial institutions to 20 percent.

Parliament in August threw out an earlier version of proposed fees on bank transfers, a so-called “Robin Hood” tax of 0.05 percent on transfers of more than 500,000 shillings.

The president has not yet signed the budget due to the dispute over the planned tax hikes. Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and its allies have a comfortable majority in parliament.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry this month said the government should widen the tax base. It also urged the state to cut expenditure, reduce wastage of public funds and deal with corruption, which some studies have found lose the government about a third of its annual budget.

 

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Kenya’s Finance Minister Cuts Spending, Money Transfer Taxes to Rise

Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich has cut the government’s spending budget by 55.1 billion shillings ($546.90 million), or 1.8 percent, for the fiscal year from July this year, a Treasury document showed on Wednesday.

The government is facing a tough balancing act after a public outcry over a new 16 percent value added tax on all petroleum products forced President Uhuru Kenyatta to suggest to parliament to keep the VAT and cut if by half.

In the document detailing the new spending estimates, Rotich said the budget had to be adjusted because of the amendments to tax measures brought by lawmakers when they first debated it and passed it last month.

The proposed halving of the VAT rate on fuel has left the government with a funding shortfall, hence the cuts in spending.

Parliament will vote on a raft of proposals, including the 1.8 percent cut on spending, in a special sitting on Thursday.

Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by 6 percent this year, recovering from a drought, slowdown in lending and election-related worries that cut growth in 2017, but investors and the IMF have expressed concerns over growing public debt.

While the next election is still four years away, the government’s economic policies are chafing with citizens angered by increasing costs of living. Fuel dealers protested when the VAT on fuel kicked in this month and citizen groups have gone to court to try to block new or higher taxes.

Separate documents sent by Kenyatta to parliament ahead of Thursday’s sitting underscored the debate in government over how to boost revenues without hurting the poor.

His government has to reduce a gaping fiscal deficit while boosting spending on priority areas such as healthcare and affordable housing.

In order to balance the government’s books after the reduction of the fuel tax, he is trying to reinstate several tax measures struck out by parliament, including a 2 percentage hike on excise duty for mobile phone money transfers to 12 percent.

Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator Safaricom said in June it was opposed to any tax rise on mobile phone-based transfers, arguing that it would mainly hurt the poor, most of whom do not have bank accounts and rely on services such as its M-Pesa platform.

The president also asked parliament to double the excise duty on the fees charged by banks, money transfer services, and other financial institutions to 20 percent.

Parliament in August threw out an earlier version of proposed fees on bank transfers, a so-called “Robin Hood” tax of 0.05 percent on transfers of more than 500,000 shillings.

The president has not yet signed the budget due to the dispute over the planned tax hikes. Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and its allies have a comfortable majority in parliament.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry this month said the government should widen the tax base. It also urged the state to cut expenditure, reduce wastage of public funds and deal with corruption, which some studies have found lose the government about a third of its annual budget.

 

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Amazon’s Use of Merchant Data Under EU Microscope

EU regulators are quizzing merchants and others on U.S. online retailer Amazon’s use of their data to discover whether there is a need for action, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager came as the world’s largest online retailer faces calls for more regulatory intervention and even its potential break-up because of its sheer size.

Vestager said the issue was about a company hosting merchants on its site and at the same time competing with these same retailers by using their data for its own sales.

“We are gathering information on the issue and we have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full,” Vestager told a news conference.

“These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture.”

Seattle-based Amazon had no immediate comment.

Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules.

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Amazon’s Use of Merchant Data Under EU Microscope

EU regulators are quizzing merchants and others on U.S. online retailer Amazon’s use of their data to discover whether there is a need for action, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager came as the world’s largest online retailer faces calls for more regulatory intervention and even its potential break-up because of its sheer size.

Vestager said the issue was about a company hosting merchants on its site and at the same time competing with these same retailers by using their data for its own sales.

“We are gathering information on the issue and we have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full,” Vestager told a news conference.

“These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture.”

Seattle-based Amazon had no immediate comment.

Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules.

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Trump Rips Attorney General Over Russia Probe, Other Issues

U.S. President Donald Trump launched an array of attacks Wednesday on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, disparaging Sessions’ performance as the country’s top law enforcement official.

“I’m disappointed in the attorney general for many reasons,” Trump told reporters at the White House. His remark came hours after a television interview with HillTV aired in which Trump declared, “I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad.”

Trump for more than a year has railed against Sessions, the first senator to declare his support for then-candidate Trump in 2016. Trump continues to vent his anger at Sessions for removing himself from oversight of the long-running investigation of Russia links to Trump’s campaign and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Sessions has said that he was required by Justice Department dictates to recuse himself from overseeing the probe because he staunchly backed Trump’s campaign and also had two contacts in 2016, when he was a senator from Alabama, with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington. Oversight of the Russia probe then fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who in turn, over Trump’s objections, appointed Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as special counsel to head the investigation.

Mueller has now won several convictions of top Trump aides and continues to investigate Trump’s campaign and his actions as president.

In the television interview, Trump attacked Sessions on a range of issues. The Justice Department, which Sessions heads, declined to comment. But Sessions, after another Trump attack on him last month, pushed back, saying, “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

‘We’ll see how it goes’

Even though Sessions has proved to be a hardline foe of illegal immigration into the U.S., Trump said, “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just” Sessions’s removal of himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.

Trump suggested he did not foresee what would happen when he named Sessions as attorney general.

“I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me. He was the first senator that endorsed me. And he wanted to be attorney general, and I didn’t see it,” he said.

“And then he went through the nominating process and he did very poorly,” Trump recalled. “I mean, he was mixed up and confused, and people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him, but he was giving very confusing answers. Answers that should have been easily answered. And that was a rough time for him.”

Despite his frequent complaints about Sessions, Trump has refrained from firing him, warned by Republican lawmakers that Trump would have great difficulty winning Senate confirmation for any replacement who did not pledge to allow Mueller to complete the Russia probe, an investigation that Trump derides on almost a daily basis.

Some Republican lawmakers have said they might be open to Trump replacing Sessions after the November 6 national congressional elections.

One Republican lawmaker who talks frequently with Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham, said recently, “The president’s entitled to having an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that is qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”

Trump recently said Sessions was safe in his job until after the elections.

In the television interview, he said, “We’ll see what happens. A lot of people have asked me to [fire him]. And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did.”

“And my worst enemies, I mean, people that, you know, are on the other side of me in a lot of ways, including politically, have said that was a very unfair thing he did,” Trump said.

“We’ll see how it goes with Jeff,” Trump concluded. “I’m very disappointed in Jeff. Very disappointed.”

 

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Trump Rips Attorney General Over Russia Probe, Other Issues

U.S. President Donald Trump launched an array of attacks Wednesday on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, disparaging Sessions’ performance as the country’s top law enforcement official.

“I’m disappointed in the attorney general for many reasons,” Trump told reporters at the White House. His remark came hours after a television interview with HillTV aired in which Trump declared, “I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad.”

Trump for more than a year has railed against Sessions, the first senator to declare his support for then-candidate Trump in 2016. Trump continues to vent his anger at Sessions for removing himself from oversight of the long-running investigation of Russia links to Trump’s campaign and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Sessions has said that he was required by Justice Department dictates to recuse himself from overseeing the probe because he staunchly backed Trump’s campaign and also had two contacts in 2016, when he was a senator from Alabama, with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington. Oversight of the Russia probe then fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who in turn, over Trump’s objections, appointed Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as special counsel to head the investigation.

Mueller has now won several convictions of top Trump aides and continues to investigate Trump’s campaign and his actions as president.

In the television interview, Trump attacked Sessions on a range of issues. The Justice Department, which Sessions heads, declined to comment. But Sessions, after another Trump attack on him last month, pushed back, saying, “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

‘We’ll see how it goes’

Even though Sessions has proved to be a hardline foe of illegal immigration into the U.S., Trump said, “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just” Sessions’s removal of himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.

Trump suggested he did not foresee what would happen when he named Sessions as attorney general.

“I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me. He was the first senator that endorsed me. And he wanted to be attorney general, and I didn’t see it,” he said.

“And then he went through the nominating process and he did very poorly,” Trump recalled. “I mean, he was mixed up and confused, and people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him, but he was giving very confusing answers. Answers that should have been easily answered. And that was a rough time for him.”

Despite his frequent complaints about Sessions, Trump has refrained from firing him, warned by Republican lawmakers that Trump would have great difficulty winning Senate confirmation for any replacement who did not pledge to allow Mueller to complete the Russia probe, an investigation that Trump derides on almost a daily basis.

Some Republican lawmakers have said they might be open to Trump replacing Sessions after the November 6 national congressional elections.

One Republican lawmaker who talks frequently with Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham, said recently, “The president’s entitled to having an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that is qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”

Trump recently said Sessions was safe in his job until after the elections.

In the television interview, he said, “We’ll see what happens. A lot of people have asked me to [fire him]. And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did.”

“And my worst enemies, I mean, people that, you know, are on the other side of me in a lot of ways, including politically, have said that was a very unfair thing he did,” Trump said.

“We’ll see how it goes with Jeff,” Trump concluded. “I’m very disappointed in Jeff. Very disappointed.”

 

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