All posts by MPolitics

Sexual Allegations Roil US Senate Race

Allegations of sexual misconduct against a Republican Senate candidate have thrown the party into chaos at a critical time – as Republicans make a major push to overhaul America’s tax code and as President Donald Trump concludes a marathon Asia trip. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, many Republican lawmakers are denouncing or distancing themselves from firebrand Christian conservative Roy Moore, who, until last week, had been heavily favored to win next month’s special election for a Senate seat in Republican-leaning Alabama.

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Chairman: House Won’t Agree to Nix Property Tax Deduction

The chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee said Sunday that he’s confident that chamber won’t go along with the Senate’s proposal to eliminate the deduction for property taxes, setting up a major flashpoint as Republicans in the House and Senate aim to put a tax cut bill on President Donald Trump’s desk before Christmas.

 

The GOP is moving urgently to push forward on the first rewrite of the U.S. tax code in three decades, but key differences promise to complicate the effort.

 

Among the biggest differences in the two bills that have emerged: the House bill allows homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes while the Senate proposal unveiled by GOP leaders last week eliminates the entire deduction.

 

The deduction is particularly important to residents in states with high property values or tax rates, such as New Jersey, Illinois, California and New York. Congressman Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he worked with lawmakers in those states to ensure the House bill “delivers this relief,” and he was committed to ensuring it stays in the final package.

 

“It’s important to make sure that people keep more of what they learn, even in these high-tax states,” Brady, R-Texas, said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

 

Both the House and Senate bill would eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes and sales taxes paid. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Republicans should fully restore what is referred to as the SALT deduction, or millions of middle-class families would end up paying higher federal income taxes, not less.

 

“The House’s so-called ‘compromise’ would be saying to the middle class we’ll only chop off four of your fingers instead of all five,” Schumer said in a statement.

 

 

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In Florida, All Eyes on Puerto Rican Voters After Maria

The arrival of more than than 130,000 Puerto Ricans in Florida since Hurricane Maria has some officials anticipating a political shakeup in a battleground state dominated by the Republican party.

 

Both parties are actively courting new arrivals to Florida, which President Donald Trump won last year by 112,000 votes out of 9.6 million cast.

 

Many Puerto Ricans have expressed outrage over Trump’s handling of the storm but have applauded efforts by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to welcome them.

 

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can vote in federal elections when they move to the mainland. Newcomers must register as voters by next July 30 to vote in primaries ahead of the 2018 general election of a new governor to replace term-limited Scott and choose Florida’s congressional delegation.

 

Javier Gonzalez has joined a human tide of more than 130,000 U.S. citizens arriving in Florida since Hurricane Maria wrecked Puerto Rico, grateful for a place to start over but resenting how their island has been treated since the disaster.

 

More than a million Puerto Ricans — about 5 percent of Florida’s population — already call the state home, and given the outrage many feel over President Donald Trump’s handling of the storm, political observers say this voting bloc could loosen the Republican Party’s hold on this battleground state.

 

Gonzalez, 38, saw the storm destroy the restaurant he opened with his father five years ago. Without power or reliable water, he became violently ill from food poisoning for three weeks. Finally, he packed his bags, determined to make his future in Miami instead.

 

“There is resentment, and we feel abandoned compared to Texas and Florida,” Gonzalez said. “We were desperate for help.”

 

Like any Puerto Rican, Gonzalez can vote in all elections now that he’s moved to the mainland. He doesn’t plan to register for any party, but he follows the news and understands their platforms. He’s aware of Trump’s tweets.

 

“It’s not right that we’ve fought from World War I, to Vietnam and Afghanistan and that the first thing the president says is: ‘You have a large debt, big problems and have cost us millions,'” Gonzalez added.

 

Puerto Ricans are not the gift to the Republican Party that the anti-Castro Cuban diaspora has been historically. They’ve tended to favor Democrats, given their support for public education and social services. Around 70 percent of Florida’s non-Cuban Latinos voted for Hillary Clinton.

 

Both parties are courting the new arrivals to Florida, which Trump won last year by just 112,000 votes out of 9.6 million cast.

 

“There is an intent to grab those who are coming,” said Rep. Robert Asencio, a Democrat of Puerto Rican descent who represents Miami in the Florida House and leads the Miami-Dade Committee for Hurricane Maria Relief.

 

“A lot of my colleagues say they are not politicizing this, but there is an effort to bring people either to the Democratic or the Republican side,” Asencio said.

 

Newcomers must register by next July 30 to vote in 2018 for a new governor to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott and choose Florida’s congressional delegation, now 11 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson also defends his seat next year, and Scott, who has been applauded for helping evacuees, is expected to challenge him in what could be a close race.

 

Scott set up three disaster relief centers to help arrivals with driver’s licenses, job searches, and disaster aid applications. Scott also asked education officials to waive public school enrollment rules for evacuated islanders, and to give college-bound evacuees the same tuition breaks state residents get.

 

Asencio calls Scott’s actions “damage control,” given the multimillionaire governor’s close relationship with Trump, who offended Puerto Ricans by tweeting they wanted “everything to be done for them” rather than taking responsibility for their own recovery. They also resent Trump’s rating of his own disaster response as a “10 out of 10,” blaming his administration for delays that exposed their families to illness and misery.

 

The island still faces a lengthy and painful recovery after the storm took down the entire electrical grid, leaving hospitals in the dark and closing schools for several weeks. Initial projections that 95 percent of the people will have power restored by year’s end now look optimistic.

 

Maria’s evacuees are following waves of people frustrated by Puerto Rico’s unemployment and debt crisis who settled in Central Florida, shifting from New York, the favored destination of previous generations. Of the more than 140,000 islanders estimated to have left since the storm, more than 130,000 went to Florida, where Puerto Ricans may soon displace Cubans as the largest Latino group.

 

State Rep. Rene Plasencia, a Republican from Orlando, predicts that Scott’s warm welcome will leave a bigger impression on the newcomers than any Trump tweets.

 

“For whatever people think of the president, you have to take into consideration the actions of Governor Scott,” said Plasencia, whose mother and wife are from Puerto Rico. “People aren’t making decisions out of a sequence of tweets… It makes good news, but it doesn’t make political shifts.”

 

Billionaires Charles and David Koch also are involved, funding the Libre Initiative, which welcomed hundreds of evacuees on the first cruise ship to arrive from San Juan.

 

Cesar Grajales, who lobbies for Libre, says they’re helping evacuees learn English and connect with community and business leaders.

 

Democrats hope Colombian-American Annette Taddeo’s recent underdog state Senate victory against a well-funded Republican in South Florida shows her anti-Trump message will keep resonating.

 

“It is a strong indication that voters are paying attention, and they are angry,” said Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project. “We wouldn’t have the devastation and abandonment of Puerto Rico without Donald Trump. People will look at that.”

 

On the island, Puerto Rico’s lack of statehood means they can’t vote in general presidential elections, and can only send a non-voting representative to Congress. On the mainland, they’ll have more power.

 

“I know for a fact that we are well educated and we are going to come here to work,” Gonzalez said. “And yes, we are going to make a voice. We are going to make a bigger voice than before.”

 

 

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Lawmakers: Did CIA Watchdog Nominee Mislead Congress?

Two former CIA employees are accusing the Trump administration’s choice for CIA chief watchdog of being less than candid when he told Congress he didn’t know about any active whistleblower complaints against him.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Christopher Sharpley, the current acting inspector general who’s in line for the permanent job, about complaints that he and other managers participated in retaliation against CIA workers who alerted congressional committees and other authorities about alleged misconduct.

“I’m unaware of any open investigations on me, the details of any complaints about me,” Sharpley testified at his confirmation hearing last month.

He said he might not know because there is a process providing confidentiality to anyone who wants to file a complaint against government officials, who often are individually named in cases against management.

“No action or conclusions of wrongdoing have been made about my career or anything that I’ve done,” Sharpley added.

The committee is still considering Sharpley’s nomination.

​Senators skeptical

Sens. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Ron Wyden say they find it hard to believe Sharpley didn’t know about the complaints when he testified. They said one of the open cases is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog.

They say the inspector general’s office, which is looking into the CIA matter to avoid a conflict of interest, asked Sharpley in January for documents. The office asked to interview Sharpley on Oct. 12. Sharpley’s office said he wouldn’t be available until after Oct. 17, the day he testified to senators.

“How is it possible that he could have been unaware of any open investigations against him at the time he testified?” Grassley, R-Iowa, and Wyden, D-Ore., asked in a letter they wrote to Senate intelligence committee leaders.

​Committee vote delayed

GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, had planned a vote on Sharpley’s nomination last month. It has been delayed while the committee holds discussions about the whistleblower cases, according to someone familiar with the matter. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani defended Sharpley’s five-year tenure at the agency as deputy and then acting inspector general. He said Sharpley has 36 years of investigative and law enforcement experience and created two inspectors general offices from scratch within the federal government.

“Whether there are any complaints or investigations regarding Mr. Sharpley is not something we could confirm or comment on,” Trapani said. “What we can say is that Mr. Sharpley has had a sterling five-year career at CIA and there have never been any findings of wrongdoing or misconduct of any sort by Mr. Sharpley during his tenure here.”

Testimony challenged

Documents provided to the AP by attorneys representing two former CIA employees challenge Sharpley’s testimony.

They point to discord over several years within the CIA’s inspector general’s office, an independent unit created in 1989 to oversee the spy agency. It’s charged with stopping waste, fraud and mismanagement and promoting accountability through audits, inspections, investigations and reviews of CIA programs and operations — overt and covert.

John Tye, executive director of Whistleblower Aid, who is representing two of the complainants alleging retaliation by Sharpley and other senior managers, said some discord in the office stemmed from a case several years ago involving kickbacks from contractors.

The Justice Department announced in 2013 that three CIA contractors had agreed to pay the United States $3 million to settle allegations that they provided meals, entertainment, gifts and tickets to sporting events to CIA employees and outside consultants to help get business steered their way.

The criminal case fell apart after intelligence employees discovered that evidence in the case was being fabricated and witness statements were being altered. These employees secretly went around Sharpley and then CIA Inspector General David Buckley and contacted the U.S. attorney’s office. Tye said that after learning about the falsified evidence, a guilty plea in the case, which had been accepted by a judge, was voided at the request of the U.S. attorney.

Afterward, leaders at the CIA inspector’s office asked auditors across town at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to look into their in-house matter. It’s unclear why that agency — a place where Sharpley previously worked — was chosen to handle the matter. Results of that investigation haven’t been revealed.

In an Oct. 30 letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tye said that during the FHFA probe, Sharpley improperly “interrupted witness interviews, walking in special designated conference rooms to learn the names of the whistleblowers within his staff” who reported evidence tampering to outside oversight bodies. Tye said no one within the CIA inspector general’s office was prosecuted or disciplined for evidence tampering.

“Sharpley successfully identified some, but not all, of the whistleblowers,” Tye said. He said retaliation involved forcing administrative leave, security clearance decisions and other harassment.

Complainants’ stories

One complainant is Jonathan Kaplan, 59, a former special agent and investigator in the CIA’s inspector general’s office who spent 33 years at the agency. He claims that before he went to talk to staff at the House Intelligence Committee about the contactors case, he queried a computer in his office to refresh his memory on the details.

He later received a formal letter of warning for searching the computer system. That ultimately prevented him from renewing his security clearance, effectively ending his government career. He contacted an inspector general overseeing all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies and received a letter earlier this year acknowledging that office was handling the case.

A second complainant is Andrew Bakaj, 35, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office as a special agent from 2012 to 2015. He was instrumental indeveloping agency regulations governing whistleblower reprisal investigations.

When some of his colleagues came to him to allege misconduct in the office, he referred them to the same inspector general Kaplan went to. It was an office Bakaj and his colleagues had been told not to cooperate with.

He, too, searched on the office computer on a matter he was questioned about and had worked on as part of an investigation conducted by the inspector general that oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies. Two weeks later, superiors summoned him and put him on paid leave that lasted 15 months. He then resigned.

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Massachusetts Mill Town Puts 2 Cambodian-Americans in City Posts

Lowell, a Massachusetts mill town whose minorities nearly makeup a majority of its residents, has a history of all-white governing bodies. But in a citywide election this week, driven by a debate over the high school’s fate, voters elected two Cambodian-Americans, putting one on the City Council and the other on the School Committee.

The two victories in the city, which has the second-largest Cambodian-American community in the U.S. after Long Beach, California, came as voters nationwide elected a diverse group of candidates that included refugees, immigrants and members of the LGBT community, as well as racial and ethnic minorities. 

The electoral wins also came during a time of rising xenophobia and white supremacy in the country.

In Lowell, residents also made history Tuesday by electing the first minority to the School Committee, as the school board is called. Cambodian-American Dominik Hok Lay came in fourth in the vote for six open seats.

Vesna Nuon, a Cambodian-born candidate, garnered the most votes — 6,518 out of 90,756 — cast for the nine open Lowell City Council seats. Nuon previously served on the council for one term, 2011-2012.

‘We are one city’

“I think it is a historical day in the city,” said Rodney Elliott, an incumbent who was re-elected. He credited his victory, in part, to allies in the Cambodian community. “We have a Cambodian city councilor and we have a Cambodian School Committee person. It is good for the city.

“I think it is a strong message that we are one city, and that we are starting to come together and understand and work together,” Elliott said.

About 49.2 percent of Lowell’s population, which totals a little more than 110,000, form the minority bloc, of which Asian-Americans are the largest group. Since 1999, only four minority candidates have been elected to the City Council.

Tuesday’s success is important for the city’s almost majority.

In May, several minority citizens filed a lawsuit alleging the city’s at-large, or “winner-take-all,” voting system dilutes the minority vote and discriminates against candidates from minority communities.

On Oct. 17, at the first public hearing on Huot v. City of Lowell in U.S. District Court, Judge William Young denied the city’s motion to dismiss. This means Lowell may find itself headed to trial against some of its minority residents, unless the council decides to opt for a change from within.

Nuon, 50, came to the U.S. in 1982 as a Cambodian refugee. He said the victory is for Lowell residents, especially the Cambodian community, who he says have trusted in his leadership vision in the city.

“This success is not just for me, but for Cambodian community and Lowell residents as a whole,” Nuon said. “Now it is time to work together for a better Lowell.”

A single-issue election?

Although this was an election when minorities were expected to obtain representation on the two city panels, the future of Lowell High School, whether to build a new school in a new location or renovate the current downtown school, emerged as the largest issue that drew voters to the polls.

The high school issue was pervasive in all races. Of the 18 City Council candidates, 10 supported the estimated $350 million renovation, while eight wanted to spend an estimated $334 million to build a new school nearer to the outlying playing fields.

In June, the City Council voted 5-4 to relocate the high school to Cawley Stadium in Belvidere, a predominantly white and well-to-do enclave. Sixty percent of those who voted in the election Tuesday, which included a measure on the high school, came from Belvidere, according to an analysis in the local newspaper the Lowell Sun.

Sokhary Chau, a Cambodian-born American candidate, lost his bid for the City Council.

A first-time candidate who favored relocating the high school, Chau said he was disappointed with the results, saying the election was dominated by Belvidere voters, although he was proud of the two Cambodian winners, Nuon and Lay.

“This is democracy,” said incumbent Elliott, who supported the campaign to relocate the high school. People were “organized and they voted. It is good to go out and vote. It is good to exercise freedom of speech. It is all good.”

Another incumbent who was re-elected on Tuesday agrees.

Councilor William Samaras, a former mayor, told the local newspaper that the ballot-box battle over the high school’s future “wasn’t a neighborhood issue. It was a citywide issue and the results show it.”

Or as Nuon put it, “The people have spoken.”

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Moore Defiant as GOP Sees Alabama Senate Seat at Risk

His party suddenly and bitingly divided, Alabama Republican Roy Moore emphatically rejected increasing pressure to abandon his Senate bid on Friday as fears grew among GOP leaders that a once-safe Senate seat was in jeopardy just a month before a special election.

Moore, an outspoken Christian conservative and former state Supreme Court judge, attacked a Washington Post report that he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued three other teenagers decades earlier as “completely false and misleading.”

 

In an interview with conservative radio host Sean Hannity, he did not wholly rule out dating teenage girls when he was in his early 30s.

Asked if that would have been usual for him, Moore said, “Not generally, no.” He added: “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” As for the encounter with 14-year-old Leigh Corfman, as described by Corfman in Thursday’s Post article, he said, “It never happened.”

Supporters stand with Moore

The story has produced a wave of concern among anxious GOP officials in Washington but little more than a collective shrug from many Republicans in Alabama, which holds a special election on Dec. 12 to fill the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Humphrey Bogart started dating Lauren Bacall when she was a teenager,” said state Auditor Jim Ziegler, referring to the then-19-year-old actress.

“I’ll always vote for him,” said 28-year-old Erica Richard, of Altoona, Alabama, adding that she wouldn’t change her mind even if the allegations of sexual misconduct are proven true. “He’s a good man. I love him and his family, and they are all good people.”

Paul Reynolds, Alabama’s Republican National Committeeman, called it “a firestorm designed to shipwreck a campaign in Alabama. I think it’s sinister.”

Despite such support, experienced Republican operatives believe the Alabama Senate seat, held by the GOP for the last 20 years, is now at risk.

They fear the controversy could exacerbate the party’s broader Trump-era challenge in appealing to college-educated suburban voters — the same group that fueled a big Democratic victory in the Virginia governor’s race this week.

Those familiar with recent polling of the Alabama race suggest it was always going to be close despite the state’s strong Republican leanings — largely because of Moore’s controversial past.

National GOP leaders want Moore out

In the immediate aftermath of the Post report Thursday, a wave of national Republican leaders called for Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations are true. They included the White House, the head of the House Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

It got worse Friday.

The Senate GOP’s campaign arm formally ended its fundraising agreement with Moore.

The GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney condemned his colleagues’ caveat — only if the allegations are true.

“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman,” he said of the Alabama woman who said Moore molested her when she was 14. “Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”

Facing a tough re-election, Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., likened Moore to Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former Fox News executive Roger Ailes, all men accused of sexual misconduct.

“The defense from some of his supporters is beyond disgusting,” Comstock wrote. “Moore should not serve in the U.S. Senate.”

Yet there is no sign he is going away quietly. And the Alabama secretary of state’s office reported that it’s too late to remove his name from the ballot.

The Republican Party’s options, including the possibility of a write-in campaign, “are all being researched,” said Steven Law, who leads the pro-Republican Senate Leadership Fund.

Stands his ground

Those who think Moore should be replaced have little hope of that happening.

“I don’t think anyone expects Roy Moore to drop out of this race,” Law said. “I think he enjoys being an object of intense controversy. The fact that this has happened may make him even more committed.”

Moore was twice removed from his state Supreme Court position, once for disobeying a federal court order to remove a 5,200-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building, and later for urging state probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage.

He also previously said homosexuality should be illegal, and last week he refused to back off comments that Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., should not be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim.

Virtually the entire Republican establishment — including President Donald Trump — opposed Moore’s primary bid in September.

Democrats make their move … quietly

Democrats, meanwhile, were quietly stepping up their mobilization efforts in Alabama, though being careful not to publicly ignite partisan backlash by attempting to capitalize on the troubling allegations.

Democratic candidate Doug Jones stood to capitalize in places where Moore had shown weakness in past statewide elections. Some Republicans conceded that Moore would likely suffer in the state’s reliably, mainstream-Republican suburbs.

In Shelby and Baldwin counties — suburban Birmingham and Mobile — Moore ran more than a dozen percentage points behind Romney in his 2012 bid for the Alabama Supreme Court.

“It’s a bad situation,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from neighboring Mississippi. “Do people find it believable? If they do, he will lose.”

 

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Trump Wishes Happy Birthday to US Marine Corps

United States President Donald Trump on Friday wished a happy birthday to the Marine Corps, honoring its 242nd year in existence.

“On behalf of an entire nation, Happy 242nd Birthday to the men and women of the United States Marines!” Trump wrote on Twitter, in a post accompanied by several pictures of him posing with Marines.

Saturday will mark the first Veterans Day of Trump’s administration, and he spent Friday in Danang, Vietnam, where he met with American veterans who served in the Vietnam War.

“Our veterans are a national treasure, and I thank them all for their service, sacrifice and patriotism,” Trump said, noting that he signed a proclamation to honor veterans of the war.

Trump said he had met a few of the veterans and called them “tough, smart cookies” before inviting them to speak. Several of them praised Trump, including Max Morgan, who thanked Trump for his support of the military.

“Mr. President, from my heart, thank you for your support of the military, and it’s an honor to be here as one of seven Vietnam veterans representing the 58,000 heroes who never made it home,” Morgan said.

Trump is in Vietnam as part of his 12-day trip through Asia. Later, he will attend an international economic summit.

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Tillerson: US Opposes Action Causing Instability in Lebanon

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the U.S. opposes action that would threaten the stability of Lebanon, and he warned other countries against using Lebanon “as a venue for proxy conflicts.”

In a statement, Tillerson said, “There is no legitimate place or role in Lebanon for any foreign forces, militias or armed elements other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state.”

Tillerson also called Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri a “strong partner of the United States.”

“The United States urges all parties both within Lebanon and outside to respect the integrity and independence of Lebanon’s legitimate national institutions, including the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese armed forces,” he said.

Earlier Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of detaining Hariri and asking Israel to launch strikes against Lebanon.

“The most dangerous thing is inciting Israel to strike Lebanon,” Nasrallah said. “I’m talking about information that Saudi Arabia has asked Israel to strike Lebanon.”

While he said he saw war with Israel as unlikely, Nasrallah said it was clear “Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon.”

Nasrallah said he was certain Hariri, who resigned last week in an address from Saudi Arabia, was “forced” to make the announcement and called the resignation unconstitutional because it was “made under duress.”

Tillerson said Friday that there was “no indication” Hariri had been detained by the Saudis against his will or that he resigned under duress.

Tillerson added Hariri “needs to go back to Lebanon” to make the resignation official “so that the government of Lebanon can function properly.”

Government officials in Beirut have said they believe Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the front lines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia supported Hariri and his allies during years of political conflict in Lebanon with Iran-backed Hezbollah.

In his resignation speech televised from Saudi Arabia, Hariri denounced Iran and Hezbollah for sowing friction in Arab states and said he feared assassination. His father, a former prime minister, was killed in a 2005 bombing.

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US Immigration Enforcement Agency Seeks to Double in Size by 2023

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering a hiring surge that would more than double the agency’s size in the coming six years to nearly 46,000 employees, surpassing previously published estimates, according to a government contracting-related document released this week.

In a “Request for Information” Wednesday seeking input from the private sector about staffing services to support such an increase, ICE stated it could hire as many as 25,700 staff members by 2023, beginning in early 2018. The agency currently employs about 20,000 people and has a well-documented struggle with finding and keeping new hires.

The higher figure surpasses the 10,000 new immigration enforcement agents and deportation officers President Donald Trump called for in a January executive order; it also goes above the “more than 6,500 technical and operational support staff” the agency anticipated requiring.

Asked about the potential hiring surge, an ICE spokesperson twice referred to the agency’s Frequently Asked Questions site, specifically a section stating that in addition to hiring the 10,000 agents and officers, the agency would add “additional operational and mission support and legal staff necessary to hire and support their activities.”

The agency declined further comment.

Hiring challenges ahead

A Request for Information (RFI) is an initial step in the government contracting process to gauge the capabilities, interest and estimates of possible vendors, who in this case would be providing human resources support in “recruiting, examining, selecting and placing employees” at ICE.

The document lays out an estimated pace, saying its current estimated hiring need is 2,500 beginning March 2018; 7,000 hires each year from 2019 to 2021; and 2,200 hires in 2022.

An RFI does not guarantee a proposal and bidding process will follow; the document is careful to state that staffing services “may be needed.”

But if ICE follows through with an aggressive hiring plan, it will likely need outside help in the hiring process.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general in July estimated that in order to add 10,000 immigration agents and deportation officers to the current level of around 6,000, the agency would need to vet about a half-million applicants.

​Vacancies

ICE has also had difficulties in keeping up with vacancies from losing 795 employees annually through attrition; DHS has the most understaffed human resource services among larger federal agencies, according to a July DHS Inspector General’s report.

ICE will need about 200 more people who work in human resources to keep up with the hiring process for so many new employees. 

Another report from the Inspector General, issued this month, said the agency, along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “face significant challenges in identifying, recruiting, hiring and fielding the number of law enforcement officers mandated in the January 2017 Executive Orders.” 

Trump mandated CBP hire an additional 5,000 border officers in the same executive order as the ICE increase. There is no Request for Information announced for a CBP hiring surge.

But in the November report, the Inspector General noted neither agency “could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 agents and officers they were directed to hire,” calling into question the need for what Trump ordered.

The degree to which the hiring is carried out will depend on funding allocated by Congress, and also by presidential politics — Trump’s term ends in January 2021, in the middle of the anticipated increase to ICE’s ranks.

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