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US Senate Awaits Vote on Immigration Reform

 U.S. Senate deliberations on immigration reform descended into chaos Thursday as a war of words erupted between the White House and a bipartisan group of lawmakers over a proposal to help young undocumented immigrants and boost border security.

The White House signaled its intention to veto the measure if it ever got to the president’s desk. “That bill is officially, if it wasn’t already obvious, DOA (dead on arrival),” said a senior administration official in a background call with reporters referencing the bipartisan #ImmigrationReform proposed legislation.

In an earlier statement, the White House said the measure “would produce a flood of new illegal immigration” and “undermine the safety and security of American families” by “weakening border security and undermining existing immigration laws.”

Late Wednesday, 16 senators unveiled compromise legislation that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, boost border security funding by $25 billion, and focus immigration enforcement efforts on criminals, threats to national security, and those arriving illegally after the end of June.

“This is the one and only bill that deals with immigration issues with broad bipartisan support,” Republican Susan Collins of Maine said at a news conference.

“This is a narrow bill designed to confront two (immigration) issues,” Maine Independent Angus King said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. This is the only bill that has a chance to get through the United States Senate.”

Hours earlier, the Department of Homeland Security slammed the Senate proposal’s directive on which undocumented immigrants should be targeted for removal as “the end of immigration enforcement in America.”

“Who the hell wrote this?” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said. “It sounded like it came from a political hack, not DHS.”

Graham added that so long as immigration hardliners dominate in the Trump administration, “We’re going nowhere fast (on immigration reform) at warp speed.”

President Donald Trump backs sweeping reforms that include limits on family-based immigration and prioritizing newcomers who have advanced work skills.

Trump’s immigration agenda is encapsulated in legislation Republican lawmakers introduced earlier this week. Democratic senators countered with a proposal that pairs help for young immigrants with limited border security enhancements.

Neither partisan bill is expected to get the three-fifths backing required to advance in the chamber, and conservative Republicans joined the Trump administration in criticizing the bipartisan compromise, calling it a de facto amnesty for million of current and future undocumented immigrants.

“The race is on,” Oklahoma Senator James Lankford said. “If you can get into the country and across the border by June 30 of this year, you are in and you have amnesty. That (covers) every single individual in the country unlawfully.”

Democrats, meanwhile, accused Trump of blocking bipartisan solutions.

“President Trump … has stood in the way of every single proposal that has had a chance of becoming law,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “Now President Trump seems eager to spike (defeat) the latest bipartisan compromise, potentially, with a veto. Why? Because it isn’t 100 percent of what the president wants on immigration.”

Schumer added: “That’s not how democracy works. You don’t get 100 percent of what you want in a democracy, maybe (you do) in a dictatorship.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, argued the president’s case for major changes to immigration law.

“The DACA issue is just a symptom of our broken immigration system,” McConnell said. “So the president has made clear, and I strongly agree, that any legislation must also treat the root causes and reform legal immigration. And it must also include common sense steps to ensure the safety of the American people.”

Last year, the president rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration policy that allowed young undocumented immigrants to work and study in the United States. Trump gave lawmakers six months to craft a permanent legislative replacement.

Trump put an end to DACA benefits beginning March 5. While two courts have acted to extend the deadline, DACA beneficiaries could be at risk of deportation unless Congress acts.

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US Senate Stalled on Immigration Solution

The US Senate began debate on a multitude of immigration proposals Wednesday but appeared no closer to a solution for the 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. With a March 5 deadline for those DACA recipients and a limited pledge to keep debate open from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, time appears to be running out. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

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2018 Congressional Elections Seen as Referendum on Trump

2018 is a congressional election year in the United States with all 435 seats in the House of Representatives at stake and 34 of the 100 Senate seats. Midterm elections historically have not been kind to sitting presidents. On average, the president’s party loses 30 House seats and about two Senate seats. As VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington, President Donald Trump is urging his supporters to defy history, much as they did when he won the White House in 2016.

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2018 Congressional Elections Loom as Referendum on Trump

2018 is a congressional election year in the United States, and President Donald Trump is urging his supporters to get motivated to vote as both parties prepare for November.

“The people who voted for us become complacent a little bit, they are happy,” Trump told supporters during a recent speech on tax reform in Cincinnati. “They sort of take it for granted, they sit back and then they get clobbered because the other people are desperate and they get out, and they have more energy.”

Trump predicted that Republicans will do better than expected in November when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are at stake and 34 of the 100 Senate seats.

“I think because of what we’ve done, because of the tremendous success we’ve had, I have a feeling that we are going to do incredibly well in ’18, and I have to say this, history is not on our side,” he said.

Midterm blues

The president is right. History is not on his side. Midterms are typically unkind to the president’s party, which on average loses about 30 House seats and a handful of Senate seats.

The losses are worse if the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, which could be the case this year. Trump’s approval rating has ticked up in recent weeks, but the average has him just above 40 percent, not a strong position with a midterm looming.

“You know, you have a very unpopular president. And if Democrats take a broad path, they should win lots and lots of seats,” said Jim Kessler of Third Way, a center-left advocacy and research organization.

Presidential approval

Gallup has noted historically that presidents with an approval rating above 50 percent lose an average of 14 House seats in midterms, while those below 40 percent can expect to lose about 36 seats.  Democrats need to gain 24 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate to regain the majority in both chambers.

Trump hopes to rebound from a year of historically-low poll ratings by emphasizing the strong economy and boasting about the impact of his tax cut bill, something Republicans agree with.

“My view of this is, if we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the wake of the passage of the tax bill.

Democrats energized

But Democrats believe they have more than history on their side this year. They are especially encouraged after statewide victories last year in Alabama, New Jersey and Virginia.

Party activists are making Trump the central issue in this year’s campaign, including Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who has launched a $30-million effort to help Democrats retake the House.  Steyer hopes that will result in Trump’s impeachment.

“My fight is in removing Donald Trump from office and from power and that starts with taking the House back in 2018,” Steyer said at a recent news conference.

Republicans are counting on the economy to boost Trump’s poll ratings over time, and they hope he takes a more measured approach to his Twitter account.

“And he’s taking an optimistic tone. He’s following up on the indications that the economy is growing at a pretty healthy rate,” said Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute.

Referendum on the president

But many voters, especially the president’s critics, are likely to see the midterms as a referendum on Trump, fitting the historical pattern.

“The president will be the defining factor in the 2018 election,” said Brooking Institution analyst John Hudak. “There are many out there who argue that Democrats won’t be successful in 2018 because they don’t have this broad, well-defined agenda. But in reality, ‘out’ [opposition] parties don’t need to.”

Republicans did get some good news in the latest Morning Consult Politico poll, which found the president’s approval rating had risen to 47 percent, with an equal 47 percent disapproving of his performance. That is Trump’s lowest disapproval mark in that survey since April.

The poll also found Republicans with a 39-to-38 percent edge in the so-called generic ballot question, which asks voters which party they would support if the election were held today.

Democrats have held a big advantage on that question in several polls in recent months, though the margin has dropped into the single digits in several recent surveys.

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House Panel Launches Probe into Trump Aide’s Employment Amid Domestic Abuse Allegations

The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation Wednesday into why President Donald Trump’s staff secretary Rob Porter was able to keep his White House job for months after the FBI handed officials reports of Porter’s two former wives accusing him of domestic violence.

Porter resigned last week, but Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers earlier this week that investigators had briefed White House officials as far back as March 2017 about the spousal abuse allegations against Porter, who helped oversee an array of documents and policies sent to Trump for review.

In an acknowledgement of a White House shortcoming, Vice President Mike Pence said, “I think the White House could have handled this better.”

At the center of the new investigation is the role played in the oversight of Porter by White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general and Porter’s boss, and when he first knew of the accusations against Porter. The White House says Kelly only learned of the abuse allegations last week after they were detailed in a British tabloid, the Daily Mail.

Pence praised Kelly’s “remarkable job” as chief of staff, but dodged answering a question whether he felt Kelly had been “fully transparent” in disclosing what he knew about the accusations against Porter and when.

In a letter to Kelly, Congressman Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight panel, asked for information on “the date on which any White House employee became aware of potential derogatory or disqualifying information on Porter … and which individual was so notified.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday that at the time Porter resigned, the allegations and recommendations on Porter’s bid for a permanent White House security badge were still being reviewed by the White House personnel security office and had not been sent to higher-level officials. The Oxford- and Harvard-educated Porter was working at the White House under an interim security clearance.

In an interview on CNN, Gowdy said, “I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment whether there’s a security clearance or not. I’m troubled by almost every aspect of this.

“I didn’t hire him,” Gowdy said, “but who knew what, when and to what extent” about the abuse allegations? “If you knew in 2017 and the bureau briefed them three times, then how in the hell was he still employed?

“The chronology is not favorable to the White House,” said Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who has announced he is not seeking re-election in the November congressional elections.

Trump publicly praised Porter after his resignation and wished him a successful career in the years ahead, but had not made any public comment about the allegations made by Porter’s former wives or domestic abuse more generally. Sanders had said during a daily press briefing earlier this week that Trump condemns such violence.

On Wednesday, however, Trump finally condemned domestic violence. Answering reporters’ questions at the end of a meeting in the Oval Office, he said, “I’m opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that. I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So now you hear it, you all know it.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, said, “Clearly we all should be condemning domestic violence.” He added, “If a person who commits domestic violence gets in the government, then there’s a breakdown in the system.” Such a breakdown, Ryan said, needs to be “addressed.”

Allegations from ex-wives

Porter’s two former wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, have said they told FBI investigators details of their troubled marriages to the 40-year-old Porter in January 2017. Holderness provided a photo alleging that she sustained a black eye when Porter punched her in the face while they were on a vacation to Italy in 2005 and Willoughby offered proof that she obtained a restraining order against Porter in 2010.

Wray, in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to discuss the content of the FBI’s reports on Porter sent to the White House, but said investigators “submitted a partial report on the investigation” in March last year, and then a completed background check in late July.

He said the White House asked for “follow up inquiry” and that the FBI provided that information in November. Wray said the FBI administratively closed its investigation file in January, but “received some additional information” it passed on to the White House earlier this month.

“I am quite confident that in this particular instance the FBI followed the established protocols,” Wray said.

After the story about Porter was published, Kelly and Sanders both released effusive statements about Porter’s White House performance. But Porter’s tenure at the White House unraveled quickly after publication a day later of a picture of Holderness with her black eye.

Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.

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Trump’s Proposed Military Parade Could Cost Up to $30M

U.S. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney estimates President Donald Trump’s proposed military parade would cost taxpayers as much as $30 million.

“I’ve seen various different cost estimates of between $10 and $30 million depending on the size of the parade,” he told the House Budget Committee Wednesday.

The administration reportedly is considering holding the parade on Veteran’s Day, observed annually in the U.S. on November 11.

Mulvaney told lawmakers funding for the event was not included in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget because discussions about it had just recently begun. Mulvaney said the Trump administration would have to collaborate with Congress “if we decide to move forward” with the parade.

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters the Pentagon is in the early stages of planning and still considering options. Trump proposed holding a parade in Washington after seeing a Bastille Day military demonstration in Paris in July.

There is bipartisan opposition to the proposal in Congress, much of it from lawmakers who say a parade would be perceived around the world as dictatorial.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he would agree to a parade that honors members of the armed forces, but that a “Soviet-style” parade featuring large military weapons would be a sign of “weakness.”

Senator John Kennedy, also a Republican, told reporters one week ago, “I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud.” Kennedy added: “America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.”

Other lawmakers who oppose a parade have said money for a parade would be put to better use on services to help disabled veterans.

 

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Trump Lawyer Says He Paid Porn Actress Out of his Own Pocket

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney said Tuesday he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to a porn actress who allegedly had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006.

Michael Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times that he was not reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign for the payment to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Cohen wrote, “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

Cohen told the Times he had delivered a similar statement to the Federal Election Commission in response to a complaint filed by Common Cause, a government watchdog group. 

Common Cause had asked the FEC to investigate the source of the $130,000 payment and determine whether it represented an excessive campaign contribution. Cohen told the Times, “The allegations in the complaint are factually unsupported and without legal merit.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Cohen had arranged the payment to Clifford in October 2016 to keep her from publicly discussing the alleged sexual encounter during the presidential campaign.

A week later, In Touch magazine published a 2011 interview with Clifford in which she claimed she and Trump had a sexual encounter after meeting at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, a year after Trump’s marriage to his third wife, Melania.

At the end of January, Daniels said in a statement that the alleged affair never occurred. But in a TV appearance the same day, Daniels appeared to disown the statement, saying she didn’t know where it came from and the signature didn’t look like hers.

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Here’s How Points-based Immigration Works

The Senate is beginning its immigration debate with a bill that encapsulates all of President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities.One of those is a shift from an immigration system based largely on family reunification to a policy that would be points-based, sometimes called merit immigration.

Points-based systems are not new. Britain has one, and Germany is starting a pilot immigration program based on points.The two oldest points-based systems are in Canada and Australia.

Here is what those programs look like and how they stack up against the current U.S. system and the one Trump proposes:

Canada, Australia, U.S.

In 1967, Canada became the first nation to establish a points-based system. It allows 100 possible points for education, work experience, job offer, age of applicant and family adaptability. In the Canadian system, applicants can get the greatest number of points, 28, for language proficiency in English and French.

WATCH: Points-Based Immigration: How It Compares

To qualify as one of Canada’s skilled immigrants, an applicant must accrue 67 points and pass a medical exam.

In 2017, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada planned for more than half of its total immigrants to come through its workers’ program (172,500) and a smaller number (84,000) to be admitted as family members.

Australia’s points system was instituted in 1989 as a departure from the country’s previous racial- and ethnic-based policy. 

To gain entry, applicants must accrue 60 points for such attributes as English proficiency, skilled employment, educational background and ties to Australia. Australia awards the greatest number of points (30) to people of prime working age. Applicants must also pass a medical exam and character test.

In 2016-17, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported that “123,567 places were delivered in the skill stream; 56,220 places were delivered in the family stream.”

In contrast, the United States has had a system based on family reunification since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. There are 480,000 family visas allotted every year, while work visas are set at 140,000.

Pluses, minuses

Supporters of Trump’s plan argue the family-based approach brings in low-skilled workers compared with a point system. His proposal and one in the Senate would reward points based on high-salary job offers, past achievements, English language ability and education. The plans would also cut legal immigration by about 50 percent.

Critics say a points system would cost more; the government would have to review the applications and pay resettlement costs that are currently covered by sponsoring families. 

Results

In 2016, the United States admitted almost 1.2 million immigrants.The top five countries they came from were Mexico, China, Cuba, India and the Dominican Republic.

That same year, Canada took in about 296,000 immigrants. The top five countries of origin were the Philippines, India, Syria, China and Pakistan.

In 2016-17, Australia admitted 184,000 immigrants. India, China, Britain, the Philippines and Pakistan were the leading countries of origin.

The Australian Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in November 2016, “The unemployment rate for recent migrants and temporary residents was 7.4 percent, compared with 5.4 percent for people born in Australia. Migrants with Australian citizenship had an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, temporary residents 8.6 percent and recent migrants on a permanent visa 8.8 percent.”

Statistics Canada reported an overall unemployment rate of 5.4 percent in 2017. For immigrants who had just landed it was 6.4 percent, and for those in the country for five years or less, it was 9.6 percent. For those in the country more than 10 years, the unemployment rate approached the national average at 5.6 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2016, the unemployment rate for the foreign-born population, both new and longtime residents, was 4.3 percent, which was lower than the 4.9 percent rate for the population in general.

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Much Senate Sniping, Little Action on Immigration

Partisan sniping dominated U.S. Senate deliberations one day after the chamber voted to launch debate on immigration reform, including the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on Tuesday signaled his intention to conclude the immigration debate by week’s end and accused Democrats of needlessly delaying floor action.

“If we’re going to resolve these matters this week, we need to get moving,” McConnell said.

Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York objected when McConnell moved to begin floor debate on legislation cracking down on so-called “sanctuary cities” — municipalities that do not cooperate with federal authorities in identifying and handing over undocumented immigrants.

Schumer said the proposal “doesn’t address Dreamers, nor does it address [U.S.] border security,” and “would be getting off on the wrong foot.”

Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, received temporary permission to work and study in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration program that President Donald Trump rescinded last year.

Trump challenged Congress to pass a law addressing DACA beneficiaries’ legal status, reigniting an immigration debate that reached the Senate floor this week.

“The key here is an immigration debate, not a DACA-only debate, not an amnesty-only debate,” Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said. “An immigration debate has to include a discussion about enforcement measures … how to remove dangerous criminal aliens from our country.”

Trump has proposed a path to eventual citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, but also demanded funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a reduction in the number of legal immigrants America accepts, and prioritizing newcomers with advanced work skills.

“Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.”

‘We’re on the verge’

Trump set March 5 as the termination date for DACA, after which former beneficiaries would be at risk of deportation unless Congress acts.

Any immigration proposal will need three-fifths backing to advance in the Senate, and Democrats argued that only a narrowly-tailored bill focusing on areas of general bipartisan agreement — a DACA fix and boosting border security — can pass.

“We can get something done, we’re on the verge,” Schumer said. “Let’s work toward that.”

Senate Republicans have unveiled a proposal that encompasses Trump’s immigration priorities, including “merit-based” legal immigration that gives preference to those who can best contribute to U.S. economic output.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said such criteria would have excluded his relatives who came to America from Lithuania.

“My grandparents and my mother didn’t come to this country with any special skills or proficiency. They came here with a determination to make a better life, and they did — for themselves and for me,” Durbin said. “That’s my family’s story. That’s America’s story.”

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Tillerson: Keep Focus on Defeating Islamic State

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Tuesday of the need to remain focused on an “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State group, even though the militants have largely been ousted from the areas the once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Tillerson spoke at a conference in Kuwait for members of the coalition the United States set up in late 2014 with a multi-prong strategy of countering Islamic State, including through U.S.-led airstrikes and working to cut off the group’s financing and flow of foreign fighters.

“ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe,” he said, using an acronym for the group.

Tillerson said the militants are no longer in control of 98 percent of the territory they held at their height in 2014 when they declared the establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but that they now pose a different threat.

“In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa and others it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens,” he said.

Tillerson announced $200 million in new aid to liberated areas of Syria. Later Tuesday, he is taking part in a donor conference aimed at rebuilding areas of Iraq.

Ahead of the meeting, a senior State Department official said “the eyes have to be on the prize” when describing the need to focus on defeating Islamic State, and highlighted recent conflicts in the Afrin area of northern Syria between Turkish forces and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as a distraction from that goal.

The official, and Tillerson in his Tuesday comments, recognized Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish militants it considers a threat.

“We believe there’s a way to work through, walk through, these problems, and that’s why the secretary is going to Ankara, to have those discussions,” the official told reporters.

Tillerson is on a five-nation trip in the region, which began in Egypt and includes stops in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

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