All posts by MPolitics

Nominee for US Attorney General Vows to Protect Russia Probe

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

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Mueller Not Ready for Trump Aide’s Sentencing, Filing Says

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates will have to wait at least another two months for his sentencing date in the Russia investigation.

That’s according to a new court filing from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Prosecutors say they’re not ready for Gates’ sentencing because he is continuing to cooperate with “several” ongoing investigations.

Aside from the Russia probe, Gates is involved in probes of foreign lobbying and reportedly of Trump’s inaugural committee. It’s unclear if the delay is an indication of Mueller’s Russia probe timeline or a reflection of the status of the other investigations.

Gates pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and false statement charges related to Ukrainian lobbying and political consulting. Mueller’s team is asking for another 60 days to update the judge in his case.

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AP Sources: Gillibrand Moving Toward 2020 Bid in Coming Days

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is expected to move toward launching a 2020 presidential campaign within days by forming an exploratory committee, according to several people familiar with her plans.

The New York Democrat will likely announce her intentions ahead of a trip to Iowa this weekend, one person said. She will be a guest Tuesday night on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on Gillibrand’s timing. Gillibrand’s representatives didn’t comment Monday on her plans.

Gillibrand would become the fifth Democrat — and second senator — to jump into a presidential primary that could ultimately feature dozens of candidates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts along with former Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii are among those who have taken steps toward a 2020 run. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California could also enter the race soon.

While Gillibrand’s prominence as a face of her party has grown, she faces a tough battle to capture the attention of Democratic voters in a crowded field that’s expected to include multiple women. Several of her potential rivals have spent more time in critical primary states while Gillibrand has visited one — New Hampshire — in October to stump for the Democratic candidate for governor.

She’s expected to move quickly this week to make connections in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa. She’s scheduled to headline a meeting with Democratic activists in Sioux City on Friday evening. The event is to be held at a private home with top donors to the Woodbury County Democratic Party.

Gillibrand has been in touch with some Iowa Democrats and enlisted the help of Lara Henderson, who was finance director for Fred Hubbell, the 2018 Democratic candidate for governor. But she hasn’t built up a network in the state to the degree of prospective rivals, including Booker and Harris.

She was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to succeed Hillary Clinton, who became secretary of state, and she easily won re-election, most recently in November. She has $10.6 million in her campaign fund, which can be used to jump-start a presidential bid.

During her time in the Senate, Gillibrand has been a central figure in Washington’s reckoning with the #MeToo era.

In 2017, she was the first Senate Democrat to call on Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a fellow Democrat, to resign amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations. She has said President Bill Clinton should have stepped down after his relationship with a White House intern was revealed and has also called on President Donald Trump to resign over sexual assault allegations.

And before #MeToo, Gillibrand spent several years pushing for legislation addressing sexual assault in the military and on college campuses.

In recent weeks, Gillibrand has worked to expand her fundraising network and improve her standing among key voting blocs, including African-American voters.

 

 

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Trump: New Honduras Migrant Caravan Justifies Need for Border Wall

U.S. President Donald Trump contended Tuesday that a new migrant caravan leaving Honduras justifies his demand for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border to keep them from surging into the United States.

“A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border from Honduras,” Trump said on Twitter. He urged people to tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic leaders who oppose his demand that U.S. taxpayers pay for a wall, “that a drone flying around will not stop them. Only a Wall will work. Only a Wall, or Steel Barrier, will keep our Country safe!”

He told Pelosi and Schumer to “Stop playing political games and end the Shutdown!” — the record 25-day partial government closure spawned by the dispute over Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion to build a border barrier. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for improved border security, but none specifically for a wall.   

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or ordered to work without pay in the Trump stalemate with Democratic lawmakers, an impasse that has curtailed government services, such as airport security monitoring, and closed some museums and parks.

“Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?” Trump tweeted.

The White House said that it invited Republican and Democratic lawmakers to lunch to discuss the shutdown, but only Republicans accepted. “It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Trump said, “Polls are now showing that people are beginning to understand the Humanitarian Crisis and Crime at the Border. Numbers are going up fast, over 50%. Democrats will soon be known as the Party of Crime. Ridiculous that they don’t want Border Security!”

The Honduran caravan left the crime-ridden city of San Pedro Sula in the early hours Tuesday, with more migrants expected to join it later in the day. Thousands of other Hondurans and people from other Central American countries remain encamped in Tijuana, Mexico, just south of the U.S. border, blocked from entering the United States after walking thousands of kilometers as part of a caravan that started in October.

Although a majority of Americans blame the U.S. president and Republicans for the prolonged partial government shutdown, Trump on Monday said Democrats in Congress are squarely responsible. Trump last month, before the shutdown started, said he would be “proud” to “own” it in a fight over border security  

“They will not approve the measures we need to keep American safe,” Trump said of Democrats at a national convention of farmers in New Orleans.

“I will never ever back down” from efforts to keep America safe, Trump vowed in the speech to the 100th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He accused Democrats of refusing to approve money for a wall because they want to use it as an issue for next year’s presidential campaign when Trump faces re-election.

Six major polls indicate that half of or more Americans hold the president and his Republican Party responsible for the shutdown. And 63 percent of American voters support a Democratic proposal to reopen parts of the government that do not involve border security while negotiating funding for a border wall, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Monday.  

Earlier in the day, Trump told White House reporters he would not, at least for the moment, declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional authorization.

“I’m not going to do that,” Trump said as he left the White House for the New Orleans trip.

“We are open to resolution and negotiation,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told VOA News on Monday, indicating that communication is under way between the executive branch and Democrats, but she provided no details.  

Trump rejected a call by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his staunchest congressional supporters, to reopen shuttered agencies for three weeks while he holds more talks with Democratic leaders about his plan for a wall along the 3,200-kilometer southern U.S. border.

Graham told the Fox News Sunday television program he would still support a presidential emergency declaration to build the border wall after giving talks another chance.

“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off,” Graham said.

“I’m not interested,” Trump replied to a reporter’s query on Monday about Graham’s suggestion, contending that top Democrats in Congress could quickly end the stalemate.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives has passed several measures that would reopen the shuttered agencies while border security talks continue.

Another such bill is up for consideration Tuesday that would reopen the agencies through Feb. 1, and another that would open them through Feb. 28 is expected to go before the House on Thursday.

Pelosi on Monday used Twitter to blame Republicans for starting the shutdown, and called for Trump to allow the Senate to vote to end it, arguing furloughed federal workers, who have already missed one paycheck, “are facing a life or death situation” just so the president “can try to force taxpayers to fund a border wall he promised Mexico would pay for.”

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Democratic Minority Leader Schumer called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on legislation already approved by the House of Representatives to end the shutdown.

“How much more suffering must the president cause before leader McConnell realizes it’s time to move ahead without him? It seems clear to everybody but leader McConnell that Congress needs to move forward without the president,” Schumer said. “It’s time for leader McConnell to realize he has the power to break this impasse, passing the House legislation to reopen the government.”

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Democrats Eye Censure of Steve King Over Racist Comments  

The highest-ranking Republican in the U.S. Congress sharply denounced Congressman Steve King of Iowa for racially charged comments. 

“There is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday.

McConnell joined fellow Republicans in condemning King, as House Democrats announced plans to censure him. 

The fallout against King stems from an interview published in The New York Times last week in which King lamented, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

But his offensive remarks date back to 2006 when he compared immigrants to livestock.

Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois was the first of three House Democrats to propose a measure sanctioning King.

“As with any animal that is rabid, Steve King should be set aside and isolated,” Rush said in a statement that also called on Republicans to strip King of his committee memberships until he apologizes. 

“My resolution to censure Representative King sends a clear message to the American people — this Congress will not turn a blind eye to his repugnant and racist behavior,” Rush said.

Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, have also said they will introduce resolutions against King. 

On Friday, King said on the House floor that the interview with the Times “also was a discussion of other terms that have been used, almost always unjustly labeling otherwise innocent people. The word racist, the word Nazi, the word fascist, the phrase white nationalists, the phrase white supremacists.”

King said he was only wondering aloud: “How did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that? How does it get done? How do they get by with laying labels like this on people?”

Iowa Republican state senator Randy Feenstra has announced plans to challenge King in 2020. 

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Attorney General Nominee to Face Tough Questioning

President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, on Tuesday begins two days of confirmation hearings that are expected to delve into Barr’s criticism of the special counsel investigation and his expansive views of executive power.

Barr, who served as attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush, has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for a memo he wrote last year criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller for examining whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. 

In the 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation, Barr opined that Mueller’s probe of Trump for asking then-FBI director James Comey to “let … go” of a separate investigation and then firing him was “fatally misconceived” and “grossly irresponsible.”

The memo, written on June 8, came to light last month after Trump nominated Barr, 68, to succeed then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, whom he ousted over his recusal from oversight of the Russia investigation. Alarmed that Barr, a conservative Republican lawyer, might put limits on the investigation, Democrats have vowed to make the memo a key element of Barr’s nomination hearing. 

Seeking to mollify those concerns, Barr released his written testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, arguing that the memo was “narrow in scope” and did not address the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and other “potential obstruction-of-justice theories.”

In his testimony, Barr will say that he’ll allow the special counsel to complete his investigation without any interference.

“I believe it is in the best interest of everyone — the President, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the Special Counsel to complete his work,” Barr will say. “The country needs a credible resolution of these issues.”

Despite the seemingly reassuring tone of the statement, Democrats signaled they plan to grill Barr on the Mueller investigation as well as a range of other issues. 

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, a prominent member of the Senate judiciary panel, tweeted after the release of Barr’s statement that despite the attorney general nominee’s avowed support for the Mueller investigation, “serious questions remain.”

Question of authority

One question Barr left unanswered in his statement but will likely feature prominently during the confirmation hearing:  Does Barr think the president has the legal authority to ask the attorney general to shut down the investigation? It is an old legal question that has taken on real-world significance in the midst of the Russia investigation. 

William Yeomans, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Justice and a lecturer in law at Columbia University, said that Barr — a strong proponent of the “unitary executive” — takes the view that the president has the authority to shut down any criminal investigation.

“What he says in his statement is, to the extent that the decisions are his, he’ll support the completion of the Mueller investigation but he doesn’t rebut the notion that the president could tell him to shut down the investigation,” Yeomans said. “The Senate needs to ask him in some detail about how he’d react to various instructions from the president: to shut down the investigation, or curtail certain investigative steps.”

Oversight of Russia investigation

If confirmed, Barr will take over oversight of the Russia investigation from Rosenstein, who has indicated to associates in recent weeks that he’ll leave the Justice Department after a new attorney general is confirmed.

Yeomans said that Rosenstein has protected the Mueller investigation from “political interference” and he added that there is “an inherent problem in having this president select the person who’s going to oversee the investigation into this president.”

Friends and supporters of Barr described him as a straight-shooting lawyer who will not bend to Trump’s wishes. 

“Mr. Barr is a very independent fellow who has his own view of what’s right and wrong, and I’m sure he’ll execute that,” said Andrew McBride, a longtime Barr friend and a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie in Washington.  

McBride dismissed the notion that Barr is an “anti-Mueller zealot” out to upend the Russia investigation.

“The memo he wrote is about one part of the Mueller investigation and it’s a constitutional analysis,” he said. “It just says Mr. Barr believes in this one area the president had the authority to fire Mr. Comey and that it was not obstruction of justice. But it doesn’t comment on the Russian collusion aspect of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.”

McBride said Barr respects the uniquely American role of the attorney general.

“Bill has always thought there were two roles for the attorney general: one is as a cabinet officer who is loyal to the president, but one is as an independent law enforcement officer,” McBride said.

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2nd Judge Blocks Trump Rules for Birth Control Insurance Coverage

A second federal judge has blocked the Trump administration from letting businesses and others opt out of birth control coverage required by the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone handed down her ruling Monday in Philadelphia, blocking the Trump rules nationwide — a day after a federal judge in California issued an injunction affecting 13 states and Washington, D.C.

Both judges ruled that allowing employers to opt out of birth control coverage would force women to turn to the states for help, leading to such consequences as unwanted pregnancies.

There has been no reaction from the White House or Justice Department.

The Trump administration rules were to have taken effect this week. They would have let businesses and nonprofit groups opt out of the birth control requirement on moral grounds or if it violated religious beliefs.

Lawyers for those suing to block the rules argued that they violate women’s economic and reproductive rights.

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Top Trump Senate Ally Urges President to Reopen Shutdown Government

U.S. President Donald Trump is standing by his demand for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, as Democrats refuse to support what they call an expensive and ineffective measure while a partial government shutdown over the standoff hits its 24th day Monday.

Late Sunday, Trump issued a series of tweets quoting an editorial by conservative commentator Pat Buchanan in which Buchanan called for Trump to use executive authority to declare a national emergency to get the money he wants for wall construction.

Trump finished with his own comment: “The great people of our Country demand proper Border Security NOW!”

Earlier Sunday, one of Trump’s closest allies in the U.S. Senate urged him to at least temporarily reopen the shuttered federal government and negotiate with Democrats.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham told Fox News Sunday he would still support a presidential emergency declaration after giving talks another chance.

“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off,” Graham said.

Graham echoed Trump by blaming the three-week long government shutdown on Democrats — specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who joked she would give Trump money for a border wall — $1.

​”How do you negotiate with the speaker of the house when she tells you even if you open up the government, we are not going to give you but $1 for the wall? So until that changes, there’s not much left except the national emergency approach,” Graham said on Fox.

Declaring a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexican border would allow Trump to spend the $5 billion he wants for a wall without congressional approval — a move Democrats would immediately challenge in court.

Most Democrats say they agree on the need for border security, but say there is no national security crisis and believe a wall would be an impractical waste of money.

“I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said on Fox.

Coons blames the impasse on border wall funding that led to the shutdown on Trump. He said the president had accepted a border security package that included money for a wall, then changed his mind.

“The only crisis here is one that’s been created by the president’s abrupt change in position at the end of last year in the last days of a Republican-controlled Congress,” Coons said. He added that Trump should test the Democrats’ willingness to compromise by making the concessions he is willing to make clear to everyone.

Trump insists building a wall along the border will bring down the nation’s crime rate. He says illegal drugs are pouring into the United States from Mexico, even though security experts say most come through legal ports of entry.

Trump chided 30 congressional Democrats for heading to a Hispanic Caucus retreat in Puerto Rico to watch a charity performance of the smash Broadway show “Hamilton.”

Trump mocked them for “having fun” while he remains in snowy Washington.

But the lawmakers reportedly bought their own tickets to the show. They will also meet Puerto Rican officials on the recovery from Hurricane Maria — the powerful storm that devastated the island in 2017. They have also brought donated medical supplies.

Meanwhile, 800,000 federal employees are either furloughed or working without pay.

Congress says all affected federal workers will get back pay as soon as the shutdown is over, but that brings little assurance to those who have immediate expenses or little or no savings in case of an emergency.

While the Trump has said he “can relate” to their loss of income, he says a broken border is more damaging than a government shutdown.

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Top Trump Senate Ally Urges President to Reopen Shuttered Parts of Government

One of President Donald Trump’s closest allies in the U.S. Senate is urging him to at least temporarily reopen the shuttered federal government and negotiate with Democrats on a border wall.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham told Fox News Sunday he would still support a presidential emergency declaration after giving talks another chance.

“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off,” Graham said.

Graham echoed Trump by blaming the three-week long government shutdown on Democrats – specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who joked she would give Trump $1 for the border wall.

“How do you negotiate with the speaker of the house when she tells you even if you open up the government, we are not going to give you but $1 for the wall? So until that changes, there’s not much left except the national emergency approach,” Graham said on Fox.

Declaring a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexican border would allow Trump to spend the $5 billion he wants for a wall without congressional approval – a move Democrats would be expected to immediately challenge in court.

Democrats see waste of money

Most Democrats say they agree on the need for border security, but say there is no national security crisis and believe a wall would be an impractical waste of money.

“I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said on Fox.

Coons blames the impasse on border wall funding that led to the shutdown on Trump. He said the president had accepted a border security package that included money for a wall, then changed his mind.

“The only crisis here is one that’s been created by the president’s abrupt change in position at the end of last year in the last days of a Republican-controlled Congress,” Coons said. He added that Trump should test the Democrats’ willingness to compromise by the concessions he is willing to make clear to everyone.

Trump insists building a wall along the border will bring down the nation’s crime rate. He says illegal drugs are pouring into the United States from Mexico, even though security experts say most come through legal ports of entry.

He said he is in the White House waiting for Democrats to come and make a deal.

‘Having fun’

Trump chided 30 congressional Democrats for heading to a Hispanic Caucus retreat in Puerto Rico to watch a charity performance of the smash Broadway show “Hamilton.”

Trump mocked them for “having fun” while he remains in snowy Washington.

Watch related video by VOA’s Michael Bowman:

But the lawmakers reportedly bought their own tickets to the show. They will also meet Puerto Rican officials on the recovery from Hurricane Maria – the powerful storm that devastated the island in 2017. They have also brought donated medical supplies.

Meanwhile, 800,000 federal employees will begin their 24th day Monday either furloughed or working without pay.

Newspapers and TV newscasts across the country are filled with stories of government workers lying awake at night wondering how they are going to pay their bills.

Congress says all affected federal workers will get back pay as soon as the shutdown is over, but that brings little assurance to those who have immediate expenses and little or no savings in case of an emergency.

While Trump has said he “can relate” to their loss of income, he says a broken border is more damaging than a government shutdown.

 

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Congressman Blasted for Defense of White Nationalism

The leader of the Republican minority in the U.S. House of Representatives said Sunday that “action will be taken” against Congressman Steve King, a Republican lawmaker from rural Iowa who has questioned why the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” are offensive.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CBS News that he is holding a “serious conversation” with the 69-year-old King on Monday, reviewing whether King should be stripped of his House committee assignments, which would leave him all but powerless to shape legislation.

King has drawn widespread condemnation after last week telling The News York Times in an interview, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

After his remarks were published, King said, “I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define.” On Friday, in a House speech, he expressed regret for the “heartburn” his remarks had caused.

But McCarthy sharply condemned King’s comments.

“That language has no place in America,” McCarthy said. “That is not the America I know.”

McCarthy said he would be discussing King’s future role in the Republican party when he meets with the lawmaker.

“I will not stand back as a leader of this party, believing in this nation that all are created equal,” and let King’s remarks stand as representative of the Republican party, McCarthy said.

Senator Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, said in a Washington Post opinion article, “When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole.”

He said, “King’s views are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic majority, said Friday that the House would take some punitive action against King.

“We’ll see what we do about Steve King, but nonetheless, nothing is shocking anymore, right?” she told reporters. “The new normal around here is to praise white supremacists and nationalism as something that shouldn’t be shunned.”

 

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