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US Senate to Vote on Competing Plans to End Shutdown

The U.S. Senate is preparing for votes Thursday on separate Republican and Democratic proposals to end a partial government shutdown that is now in its second month.

A bill already passed by the Democrat-led House of Representatives would provide stopgap funding through February 8, allowing the shuttered agencies to reopen while the two sides debate border security. It does not contain money for President Donald Trump’s desired wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Republican plan is based on a Trump proposal to spend $5.7 billion on the wall and provide temporary protections for some immigrants. The White House said Trump is scheduled to discuss his plan Wednesday with conservative leaders as well as state and local leaders.

“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games. Must finally be done correctly. No Cave!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously refused to bring up any bills that would not have Trump’s support, urged lawmakers to vote in favor of the Republican proposal.

“The opportunity to end all this is staring us right in the face,” McConnell said, describing the bill as “the only proposal, the only one currently before us that can be signed by the president and immediately reopen the government.”

Democrats, who can block most legislation in the Senate, heaped scorn on the proposal, noting it would only temporarily suspend the threat of deportation for a fraction of immigrants brought illegally to America as children — a group placed at risk by Trump’s own executive orders.

“The president’s proposal is one-sided, harshly partisan, and was made in bad faith,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “Now offering some temporary protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise, it’s more hostage-taking…like bargaining for stolen goods.”

“What the president proposed is granting what he had already taken away,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “DACA recipients had their protections. The Temporary Protected Status, TPS, had their protection. The president took it away and now he’s saying ‘well I’ll give you this back temporarily if you give me a wall permanently.’ Open up government.”

​Pelosi said there is “no excuse” for Senate Republicans to not support the bill that has already passed the House, noting they previously supported similar legislation.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called for a compromise.

“This shutdown will tragically continue until there’s another side willing to negotiate,” he said. “It requires both sides to compromise. … The president has taken the first step.”

Even if the White House package cleared the Senate, it would be dead on arrival at the House. Pelosi has called it “a nonstarter” and promised House votes on border security bills that do not include wall funding. 

McConnell cautioned Democrats against a rush to judgment on the Senate Republican bill.

“To reject this proposal, Democrats would have to prioritize political combat with the president ahead of federal workers, ahead of DACA recipients, ahead of border security, and ahead of stable and predictable government funding. Is that really a price that Democrats want to pay to prolong this episode?” he said.

While the Republican bill appears unlikely to become law, it could be a starting point for further negotiations and deliberations, said one Democrat.

​”I do believe it is a proposal that deserves to be treated seriously,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said, adding that the bill should go through committee and be subject to amendments by senators of both parties in order to attract bipartisan support.

“These are issues we could debate. These are issues where amendments could be offered and we could find, I believe, a compromise,” Kaine said. “We ought to have that discussion and offer Democrats and Republicans the ability to take some sandpaper to it and try to make it better.”

The shutdown has furloughed 800,000 government employees, with at least 420,000 forced to continue working without pay and the remainder sent home, some of whom have been forced to look for temporary work elsewhere to help pay their household bills. All are set to miss their second biweekly paycheck on Friday.

WATCH: Shutdown continues

Some government services have been curtailed, as about 10 percent of airport security agents ordered to work have instead called in sick, some food inspections have been cut back, and museums and parks are closed. Federal courts could run out of money by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the Trump administration a setback by saying it would not immediately act on an administration request to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started by former President Barack Obama that protects nearly 700,000 so-called “Dreamers” from deportation.

Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.

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Senate to Vote on Rival Bills to End Shutdown

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders agreed on Tuesday to schedule a vote on President Donald Trump’s wall funding bill as well as a bill already passed by the House of Representatives to fund the government through February 8. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the vote on both proposals will take place on Thursday (January 24), a day before federal workers are likely to miss their second paycheck since the shutdown began December 22. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Elizabeth Warren Pledges Help During Visit to Puerto Rico

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren promised to help rebuild Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria and support laws to give the U.S. territory equal treatment and debt relief as she condemned President Donald Trump during a visit Tuesday to the island, which has become an obligatory stop for potential and presidential candidates.

Warren demanded the resignation of Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And she criticized Trump for denying the hurricane’s death toll and for considering the use of disaster recovery funds to build what she called a “dumb” border wall, provoking laughter and applause from a crowd of a couple hundred people gathered in a small theater.

“Puerto Rico has not been treated with respect,” she said. “It is insulting. It is disrespectful. This ugliness has gone far enough. Puerto Rico has suffered enough. We will not allow anyone to sabotage your recovery, not even the president of the United States.”

Democrats are using official trips to Puerto Rico as an opportunity to criticize the Trump administration for how it responded to the hurricane and its aftermath. Last week, former housing secretary Julian Castro, who has declared himself a candidate, visited the island and toured communities still struggling more than a year after the storm.

The visits have perplexed some and annoyed others in Puerto Rico, whose people are U.S. citizens who can vote in primaries but are barred from voting in presidential elections.

Janina Cabret, a 28-year-old San Juan resident who attended Warren’s event, said she hopes whoever wins isn’t delivering empty promises about helping the island.

“Even though they use it for marketing, at least it puts Puerto Rico on the map,” she said.

Warren’s comments

Warren said too many homes still lack a proper roof and too many insurance claims have gone unpaid, among other problems that persist more than a year after Hurricane Maria. She also said many people who fled Puerto Rico after the storm have not been able to find a job, housing or health care.

Warren reminded the crowd that she voted against a 2016 financial aid package that created a federal control board to oversee the debt-burdened island government’s finances, a body that some complain has imposed an excessive amount of austerity. She also referred to White House comments on Puerto Rico, including a recent one opposing $600 million in nutritional assistance as “excessive and unnecessary,” which angered Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s administration.

The senator also talked about the island’s political status, long a key issue for many Puerto Ricans, though five referendums over the years have shown no clear consensus for statehood, the current territorial status or independence.

“Puerto Rico deserves self-determination on this question, and I will support the decision of the people of Puerto Rico,” she said.

Warren also called for auditing Puerto Rico’s huge public debt, strengthening unions, protecting the island from climate change, and supporting full child tax credits, Medicaid funding and nutritional assistance for islanders, all things that many Puerto Ricans have long demanded.

“Puerto Rico’s experience in recent years reflects the worst of what Washington has become, a government that works great for the rich and powerful, and not for anyone else,” she said as she mentioned drug companies, student loan outfits, fossil fuel companies and Wall Street bankers. “We need to take back our federal government from the wealthy and well-connected and return it to the people.”

Crowd’s reaction

Warren said she would demand that anyone running for federal office post their tax returns online as she has and touted her anti-corruption legislation, which in part calls for ending lobbying and stopping federal lobbyists from giving money to elected officials.

She also charged that Trump’s administration has used its power to inflict cruelty on immigrants and people of color. “With Trump, cruelty is not an accident, it is part of the plan,” she said.

The audience gave Warren a standing ovation at the end of her speech, many of them tourists thrilled that their visit coincided with hers.

Vandy Young, a tourist from Maryland, said she is hopeful about a presidential bid by Warren.

“I’ve been waiting for her to run,” she said. “She’s one of the few candidates who can stand up to Trump. She’s not afraid of him.”

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Giuliani Fears His Tombstone Will Say, ‘He Lied for Trump’

Rudy Giuliani, the always colorful and outspoken lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, says he is afraid his tombstone some day will say, “Rudy Giuliani: He Lied for Trump.”

“I don’t think that will be it,” Giuliani told The New Yorker magazine in an interview. “But, if it is, so what do I care? I’ll be dead.”

Giuliani’s flip remarks about his gravestone came as the former New York mayor is again embroiled in controversy over comments he made about Trump’s links to Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Giuliani on Sunday told NBC’s Meet the Press that Trump’s discussions with Russian officials over construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow went on throughout the time he was campaigning for the White House leading up to the November election, months longer than previously acknowledged. The timeline was also at odds with then-candidate Trump telling voters three years ago that he was not doing any business in Russia.

“It’s our understanding that they went on throughout 2016,” Giuliani said of discussions former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen had with Russian officials, adding that there “weren’t a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can’t be sure of the exact date.”

Backtracking

By Monday, Giuliani sought to walk back his remarks.

“My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the president,” Giuliani said. “My comments did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions.”

Giuliani added, “The point is that the proposal was in the earliest stage and did not advance beyond a free non-binding letter of intent.”

Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s Moscow business deal, telling a congressional committee discussions ended in January 2016, to comport with what Trump was telling voters as he sought the Republican presidential nomination three years ago. But the New York lawyer more recently said he thought the talks about a Moscow Trump Tower ended in June 2016.

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Boys School Shuts Down Amid Fallout Over Washington Videos

A Kentucky boys’ school shut down its campus on Tuesday as a precaution and a small protest was held outside their diocese as fallout continued over an encounter involving white teenagers, Native American marchers and a black religious sect outside the Lincoln Memorial last week.

President Donald Trump tweeted early Tuesday that the students at Covington Catholic High School “have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be” but says he hopes the teens will use the attention for good, and “maybe even to bring people together.”

The recorded images that initially generated outrage on social media were tightly focused on the students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats who seemed to laugh derisively as they surrounded an elderly Native American beating a drum.

Longer videos from wider perspectives emerged later over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. They revealed that the drummer — Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips — had intervened between the boys and the religious sect, at a moment when the teens seemed to be getting rowdier and the black street preacher with a megaphone who had been making racist statements against both groups was escalating his rhetoric.

Soon, all sides were pointing fingers , speaking their own truths about feeling victimized and misunderstood.

“We just don’t know what the volatility of the situation is with these people that react and they don’t know the full story. And it’s very scary,” Jill Hamlin of Cincinnati, who was there to chaperone as the boys attended an anti-abortion rally, told FOX News Tuesday morning.

The American Indian Movement Chapter of Indiana and Kentucky held a small protest outside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, with activists outnumbered by the media. Meanwhile, the school’s principal, Robert Rowe, said that “after meeting with local authorities,” they decided to close the campus “to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

Phillips, for his part, offered Tuesday to come to the boys’ campus and join with them in a dialogue about cultural appropriation, racism and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures.

“Let’s create space for the teaching of tolerance to happen,” his statement said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I have faith that human beings can use a moment like this to find a way to gain understanding from one another.”

The diocese, which issued a weekend statement criticizing the boys’ behavior, was unavailable for comment Tuesday morning. Both the school and the diocese websites were taken offline.

Kentucky’s governor also weighed in, saying he was saddened by what happened.

“It was amazing how quick those who preach tolerance and non-judgment of others were to judge and label some high school students based on partial information,” Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted. “In a world where we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, we have increasingly little discernment and wisdom… Facts matter…The truth matters…Context matters… A little more genuine caring for one another and a little less digital vitriol would be good for all.”

 

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Pelosi Works Her Health Care Strategy From Ground Up

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is laying out her strategy on health care and first up is improvements to “Obamacare” and legislation to lower prescription drug costs. “Medicare for all” will get hearings.

Pelosi and President Donald Trump have been sounding similar themes about the need to address the high drug costs. But her plans to broaden financial help for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act are unlikely to find takers among Republicans.

Either way, Democrats believe voters gave them a mandate on health care in the midterm elections that returned the House to their control.

Pushing her agenda, Pelosi is working from the ground up through major House committees. Her relationships with powerful chairmen and subcommittee chairs stretch back years. She’s “playing chess on three boards at once,” said Jim McDermott, a former Democratic congressman from Washington state, who predicts Pelosi’s most difficult challenge will be “herding new members” impatient for sweeping changes.

Responding to written questions from The Associated Press, Pelosi called the ACA “a pillar of health and financial security,” comparing it to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“Democrats have the opportunity not only to reverse the years of Republicans’ health care sabotage,” she said, “but to update and improve the Affordable Care Act to further lower families’ premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and expand coverage.”

Legislation from Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Workforce and Education Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., would broaden the number of people who can get financial assistance with their premiums under the Obama health law, and undo the “family glitch” that prevents some from qualifying for subsidies. It would also restore the HealthCare.gov advertising budget slashed by Trump and block some of his administration’s health insurance alternatives.

Those issues are separate from legal questions raised by ongoing Republican litigation to overturn the health law. The Democratic-led House has voted to intervene in the court case to defend the law.

The 2010 health law belonged as much to Pelosi as to former President Barack Obama, said McDermott. “She’s taking `Obamacare’ and very carefully figuring out where you have to support it,” he said.

The House ACA package has little chance as a stand-alone bill. But parts of it could become bargaining chips when Congress considers major budget legislation.

On prescription drugs, Trump and the Democrats are occupying some of the same rhetorical territory, an unusual circumstance that could bring about unexpected results.

Both say Americans shouldn’t have to keep paying more for medications than consumers in other economically advanced countries where governments regulate prices.

The Trump administration has designed an experiment to apply international pricing to Medicare “Part B” drugs administered in doctors’ offices.

Pelosi wants to expand price relief to retail pharmacy drugs that seniors purchase through Medicare’s “Part D” prescription drug benefit, a much bigger move. A bill introduced by leading Democrats would authorize Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies using international prices as a fallback.

“President Trump said he’d `negotiate like crazy’ to bring down Medicare prescription drug prices, and since the midterm election he’s spoken about working with Democrats,” Pelosi wrote to AP. “We have an opportunity to enact the tough legislative negotiating authority needed to actually lower prescription drug prices for consumers.”

One of the top Senate Republicans on health care says he’s not inclined to do that. Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa says having private insurers negotiate with drug companies has worked.

“Part D is the only federal program I’ve been involved with that has come in under budget,” said Grassley. “If it’s working, don’t mess with it.”

Nonetheless, former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, a Republican, said Medicare is “a good example of places where the administration might surprise.”

“Prescription drug pricing is in a category where both the president and the Democrats have made a commitment,” Leavitt added. “There will be a lot of division, but in the end there is a very good chance they will find a way that they can both claim victory.”

But the biggest health care idea among Democrats is “Medicare for all,” and on that, Pelosi is cautious. To those on the left, “M4A” means a government-run health care system that would cover every American. That would require major tax increases and a big expansion of government.

Pelosi has tapped two committees, Budget and Rules, to handle “Medicare for all.” Health care legislation doesn’t usually originate in either of them.

Says Pelosi: “We’re going to have hearings.”

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Trump: US Civil Servants Working Without Pay Are ‘Great Patriots’

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday described hundreds of thousands of federal civil servants working without pay during the partial government shutdown as “great patriots,” but there was no movement toward ending the record 31-day closure of a quarter of U.S. government operations.

Trump renewed his call for a wall along part of the U.S.-Mexican border, on Twitter.

About 800,000 federal workers have been affected by the shutdown, with more than half ordered to continue working without pay and the rest sent home.

During the weekend, Trump offered a compromise to resolve the shutdown spawned by a dispute with opposition Democratic lawmakers over his demand for $5.7 billion to build the border barrier to thwart illegal immigration.

In exchange for wall funding, Trump’s plan calls for three years of protection against deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally when they were children, as well extensions of protected status for people who fled Latin American and African countries because of violence or natural disasters.

Democrats object to the border wall as ineffective and immoral, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Trump’s proposal is a “non-starter.

“They want Trump and Republicans to agree to reopen the government first and then discuss other border security initiatives, while offering $1.3 billion in new border security money, but none specifically for a wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to bring Trump’s proposal to a vote in his chamber this week, although he will need some Democratic support to win approval.

Pelosi said she is planning votes this week on adding more immigration judges and money for scanning vehicles and drugs at the country’s ports of entry.

The House has already passed several measures that would reopen the government, but McConnell has refused to bring them up for a vote in the Senate, saying he will not consider any bill that Trump would not support.

Trump assailed Pelosi on Twitter on Sunday.

Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement there is “simply no reason” for the shutdown to continue while the two sides “are engaged in a complex policy discussion.”

She said protecting the immigrants from deportation “is the right thing to do.

“But Lowey said Trump “is wrong to hold them hostage over money for a wasteful wall that could be better spent on more effective border security measures. The president’s trade offer — temporary protections for some immigrants in exchange for a border wall boondoggle — is not acceptable.”

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but major legislation in the chamber almost always requires a 60-vote majority. It is unclear if Trump will be able to convince at least seven Democrats to vote for his proposal.

Even if the Senate approves Trump’s plan, it would face defeat in the House. A Senate victory for Trump, however, could force new negotiations over his border wall plan and over reopening the government, as furloughed federal workers are set to miss their second paycheck next Friday.

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House Democrats Eager to Bring DeVos Under Closer Oversight

House Democrats are preparing to bring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos under the sharpest scrutiny she has seen since taking office.

DeVos has emerged as a common target for Democrats as they take charge of House committees that wield oversight powers, such as the authority to issue subpoenas and call hearings.

At least four committees are expected to push DeVos on topics including her rollback of regulation on the for-profit college industry.

Rep. Bobby Scott is a Virginia Democrat leading the House education committee. He says he’ll bring DeVos forward for hearings “as often as necessary.”

DeVos is also expected to face scrutiny from committees overseeing veterans’ affairs, government oversight and appropriations.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill says DeVos will work with any member of Congress who wants to rethink education.

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House Democrats Eager to Bring DeVos Under Closer Oversight

House Democrats are preparing to bring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos under the sharpest scrutiny she has seen since taking office.

DeVos has emerged as a common target for Democrats as they take charge of House committees that wield oversight powers, such as the authority to issue subpoenas and call hearings.

At least four committees are expected to push DeVos on topics including her rollback of regulation on the for-profit college industry.

Rep. Bobby Scott is a Virginia Democrat leading the House education committee. He says he’ll bring DeVos forward for hearings “as often as necessary.”

DeVos is also expected to face scrutiny from committees overseeing veterans’ affairs, government oversight and appropriations.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill says DeVos will work with any member of Congress who wants to rethink education.

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King Holiday Draws out Democratic Presidential Hopefuls

As Americans commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to the nation, Democratic presidential hopefuls are fanning out across the country to honor the civil rights leader.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., used the holiday to launch a presidential campaign that, if successful, would make her the first woman and the second black candidate to become president.

 

Meanwhile, an annual rally to observe King’s birthday held in the capital of South Carolina, a critical early-voting state in the Democratic primary, will feature two senators expected to seek the White House in 2020, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s weighing his own presidential bid, is set to speak at a King holiday event in Washington alongside former New York mayor and possible 2020 rival Michael Bloomberg. Two candidates who have already opened exploratory committees — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — will also appear at King-centered events.

 

While the Democratic field for 2020 is only beginning to take shape, the year that would have marked King’s 90th birthday gives the party’s prominent members a valuable opportunity to address race and, potentially, draw a contrast between their own views and those of President Donald Trump, whose approach to questions of racial justice has sparked criticism from multiple minority groups since he took office.

 

How Democratic contenders, both those officially in the race and those still mulling campaigns, celebrated the King holiday:

 

Kamala Harris

 

Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of Trump’s nominees, opened the holiday by declaring her bid on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential campaign.

 

“I love my country,” she said when asked what qualifies her for the presidency. “And this is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are. And that fight will always include, as one of the highest priorities, our national security.”

Harris, 54, is a daughter of immigrant parents who grew up in Oakland, California. She cited her years as a prosecutor in asserting: “My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe. It is probably one of the things that motivates me more than anything else.”

 

The senator plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland in a week and will have her headquarters in Baltimore. She’s already planning her first trip to an early primary state as a declared candidate. On Friday, Harris will travel to South Carolina to attend the Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, which is hosted by a South Carolina chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which Harris pledged as an undergraduate student at Howard University. The sorority, founded more than 100 years ago, is a stronghold in the black community.

 

 

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