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Pelosi Optimistic About Agreement on US Budget, Immigration

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi said Monday that she remains optimistic about potential agreements with Washington Republicans on the budget and immigration, though she is skeptical that an upcoming White House meeting on immigration will produce a breakthrough.


The California lawmaker told reporters in her Capitol office that “we just have to come together and we will” on a long-delayed budget pact to boost funding for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies, which face a severe budget crunch otherwise.


She also said that there’s room for compromise on immigration, including protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally, border security and stricter rules sought by Republicans regarding preferential treatment for the relatives of legal immigrants who are seeking to join them in the U.S.


Pelosi spoke just 11 days before a government shutdown deadline and gave a surprisingly optimistic appraisal. Since a White House meeting last week, there has been no obvious progress, and the administration unveiled an $18 billion request for President Donald Trump’s long-promised border wall.


She was optimistic about efforts to protect younger immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who face deportation in the wake of Trump’s decision in September to cut off protections given by former President Barack Obama.


“I think we will” get an agreement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Pelosi said. Asked why, she said, “because we don’t want to shut down government and I don’t think they want to shut down government.”


But Pelosi was wholly dismissive of the chances of progress at a White House meeting on Tuesday, saying it was more of a show than a real negotiation.

“They’re not really inviting the people who have the most skin in the game, who know the issue. Surprising as it may seem to you, the more you know about the issue, the more you can compromise.”


“I don’t need to go to that kind of a meeting,” Pelosi said. “The Republicans in Congress will by and large vote for anything the president supports. So that’s where the negotiations are taking place.”


In the Senate, some Republicans suggested Trump would have to accept compromise on some of his demands.


“I don’t know how much the market will bear. I do want us to get to a solution,” No. 2 GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas told reporters. And Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he favored a broad immigration measure but said, “We can’t do that by March 5. This is a narrower fix.”


Trump has given Congress until March 5 to craft a bill protecting the Dreamers, though he could extend that deadline.


Two junior House members, Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said Monday they’d agreed to a plan that Hurd said could serve as a “foundation” for bipartisan bargainers seeking an immigration compromise. Congressional aides said party leaders had been kept informed of their work, but the proposals’ impact on ongoing talks was unclear.


Their measure would let certain Dreamers ultimately get permanent or conditional residence, and some could eventually qualify for citizenship. It also directs the government to deploy technology to control the border by 2020 and submit a plan to Congress detailing physical barriers and other steps that could be used.


On other topics, Pelosi sought to steer clear of any boomlet for a presidential campaign for media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who electrified a Hollywood audience at Sunday night’s Golden Globes awards, though she used the question to take a shot at Trump: “I will say this: Oprah has read books.”


Likewise, she steered away from questions raised about Trump’s mental health and fitness as president in the wake of a scathing assessment by author Michael Wolff, who claims Trump aides do not feel he is up to the job of president. Trump himself has called the book “phony” and said it was “full of lies.”


“I’m not going down that path” Pelosi said. “This is a strange situation. People have known it for a while. Now there’s a book.”

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Trump Takes Victory Lap on Taxes with Rural Americans

Connecting with rural Americans, President Donald Trump on Monday hailed his tax overhaul as a victory for family farmers and pitched his vision to expand access to broadband internet, a cornerstone of economic development in the nation’s heartland.

“Those towers are going to go up and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” Trump told the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Farm country is God’s country,” he declared.

Trump became the first president in a quarter-century to address the federation’s convention, using the trip to Nashville as a backdrop for a White House report that included proposals to stimulate a segment of the national economy that has lagged behind others. His Southern swing also included a stop in Atlanta for the national college football championship game.

Joined by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and a group of Tennessee lawmakers, Trump said most of the benefits of the tax legislation are “going to working families, small businesses, and who – the family farmer.”

The package Trump signed into law last month provides generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families. 

The president vastly inflated the value of the package in his speech, citing “a total of $5.5 trillion in tax cuts, with most of those benefits going to working families, small businesses and who? The family farmer.” The estimated value of the tax cuts is actually $1.5 trillion for families and businesses because of cuts in deductions and the use of other steps to generate offsetting tax revenue.

Tax reports

The president warned against voting for Democrats in this November’s midterm elections, saying they would undo the tax bill. “If the Democrats ever had the chance, the first thing they would do is get rid of it and raise up your taxes,” Trump said.

Trump also highlighted the doubling of the threshold for the estate tax – earning a standing ovation from the audience – and the ability for companies to immediately write off the full cost of new equipment. He said that “in every decision we make, we are honoring America’s proud farming legacy.”

Central to the report is the assessment that the “provider for an equalization among rural America is connectivity; that high-speed internet should remain a high priority for the administration,” said Ray Starling, the special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance. The report calls for expediting federal permitting to allow for broadband internet expansion in rural areas and for making it easier for providers to place cell towers on federal lands.

Trump signed an executive order following his speech on rural broadband, aimed at easing the process to put private broadband infrastructure on federal property. The White House described the move, along with a memorandum directing the Interior Department to work on a plan to increase access to their facilities for broadband deployment, as “incremental,” but the start of an effort to make progress on the issue.

White House officials said all work was in the early stages and did not offer an overall timeline. Officials noted the price tag for rural broadband expansion has been estimated at $80 billion, but said the administration had not determined a cost.

The president also took credit for working to roll back the Obama administration’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act, which had greatly expanded the list of bodies of water subject to federal regulation. The Farm Bureau ran a public relations campaign against the rule and called it “dangerous and unlawful.”

The Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force report highlights the importance of addressing the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately affected rural communities.

Trump also called on Congress to renew the farm bill this year, adding he supports providing for federal crop insurance. The massive federal legislation funds federal agriculture and food policy, and it offers assistance to rural communities.

Trump visits Atlanta

From Nashville, Trump was traveling to Atlanta to watch Alabama’s Crimson Tide and Georgia’s Bulldogs face off Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The game is set for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new $1.5 billion home field of the Atlanta Falcons.

Before departing for the game, Trump referenced his ongoing defense of the American flag and the national anthem, saying there was enough space for people to express their views. “We love our flag and we love our anthem and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

ESPN, which is televising the game, said Sunday that it appeared unlikely Trump would be interviewed during the game. Stephanie Druley, ESPN senior vice president for events and studio programs, said the network had been in contact with the White House and she did not “get the sense” that an interview would be arranged.

Trump criticized ESPN in October in response to “SportsCenter” host Jemelle Hill tweeting that the president was a “white supremacist.”

A network often seeks an interview with the president when he attends a game it’s televising.

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Trump, Aides Scorn Book Depicting Chaotic White House

U.S. President Donald Trump and aides on Sunday heaped scorn on a new book detailing his chaotic first year in the White House and suggestions that he is not mentally fit to be the U.S. leader.

Trump, in a Twitter comment, said, “I’ve had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President. Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author.”

Trump’s ire was aimed at journalist Michael Wolff, who, based on 200 interviews with Trump and numerous of his aides, described a dysfunctional White House in his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, released Friday.

Trump said that three decades ago, another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, was also faced with stories questioning his mental acuity “and handled it well. So will I!”

Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy adviser, assailed Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen Bannon for comments in the book alleging that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a key White House adviser, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort were “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for meeting in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign with Russians claming to have incriminating information about Trump’s challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Miller on CNN described Bannon as an “angry, vindictive person” whose “grotesque comments are so out of touch with reality.” Miller said the “whole White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments” in the book.

Miller said the Wolff book “is best understood as a work of poorly written fiction. The author is a garbage author of a garbage book. …The betrayal of the president in this book is so contrary to the reality of those who work with him.”

CNN anchor Jake Tapper abruptly ended the interview with Miller, calling him “obsequious” and concerned only about pleasing “one viewer,” Trump.

A short time later, Trump tweeted, “Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”

Two other Trump administration officials, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo also expressed support for Trump’s performance on Sunday news talk shows, a day after the U.S. leader described himself as “a very stable genius.”

Haley told ABC News that based on her once-a-week visits to the White House, “No one disrespects the president.” Pompeo told Fox News, “I have watched him take the information that the intelligence community delivers and translate that into policies that are of enormous benefit to America.”

Bannon has not disputed quotes Wolff attributed to him in the book but on Sunday voiced some regret over his role.

He told the Axios news site: “Donald Trump Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around.”

Bannon, who returned to Breitbart News, an alt-right website with nationalist views, after leaving the White House, also avowed his continuing support for Trump.

“My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda,” Bannon said, “as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama.

“I regret that my delay,” he added, “in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

Trump has claimed that he “authorized Zero Access” to Wolff at the White House to do his research for the book.

But Wolff told NBC that the president, personally, if reluctantly, allowed him to roam the corridors of the White House and conduct interviews with his aides, at one point saying, “Who cares about a book?”

But by Sunday, two days after its release, Fire and Fury was the top-selling book on the Amazon online retail site.






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Trump Washes His Hands of Insurgency Against GOP Incumbents

President Donald Trump says he’s done campaigning for insurgents challenging incumbent Republican members of Congress.

Trump told reporters after meeting GOP House and Senate leaders at Camp David on Saturday that he’s planning a robust schedule of campaigning for the 2018 midterm elections and that includes involvement in the Republican primaries. He’ll campaign for incumbents, he said, and “anybody else that has my kind of thinking.”


But after a stinging loss in Alabama, Trump said he’s done supporting challengers, declaring: “I don’t see that happening.” Trump had supported Roy Moore after he won the GOP primary. Moore’s defeat in the subsequent special election handed Democrats another seat in the Senate.


Trump spent much of Friday and Saturday morning hashing out his 2018 agenda with GOP House and Senate leaders, top White House aides and select Cabinet members at the presidential retreat at Camp David. He described the sessions as perhaps transformative in certain ways.


A long list of high-stakes topics were on the agenda, from national security and infrastructure to the budget and 2018 midterm election strategy. Though Democrats were not included in the discussions, the leaders — some dressed casually in jeans, khakis and sweaters — said they were optimistic that more Democrats would be working with Republicans.


“We hope that 2018’ll be a year of more bipartisan cooperation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, predicting a “significant number of Democrats” would be interested in supporting Trump’s agenda.


It’s a reflection of reality: Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate and will need Democrats’ support to push through most legislation. It’s unclear, however, the extent to which Trump is willing to work with Democrats to achieve that goal.


Trump, for instance, declared Saturday that he will not sign legislation protecting hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children unless Congress agrees to fund his promised border wall as well as overhaul the legal immigration system. Trump last year ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded more than 700,000 people from deportation and gave then the right to work legally in the country, and gave Congress until March to find a fix.


Trump said any deal must stop immigrants from being able to sponsor their extended family members and must end the diversity visa lottery, which draws immigrants from under-represented parts of a world. That’s in addition to funding for the southern border wall, a deeply unpopular idea among Democrats.


The administration on Friday unveiled a 10-year, $18 billion request for the wall that roiled the immigration talks and infuriated Democrats who’ve spent months in negotiations, increasing the prospect of a government shutdown.


But Trump appeared oblivious to the anger on Saturday. “We hope that we’re going to be able to work out an arrangement with the Democrats,” he said. “It’s something, certainly, that I’d like to see happen.”


Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, also expressed guarded optimism when he returned to his state after the retreat. “For a few weeks now it seems like there’s the ability to get an agreement reached but none has been finalized yet,” he said of the effort to protect the young immigrants who came under Obama’s program. “I think the framework is there and the president is fully engaged.”


Trump also appeared Saturday to back away from efforts to overhaul the welfare system, which just weeks ago had been identified as one of the White House’s top two legislative priorities, along with a massive infrastructure investment plan.


McConnell had argued that welfare reform was a no-go given Democratic opposition. And Trump appeared to have come around.


“It’s a subject that’s very dear to our heart,” Trump said. “We’ll try and do something in a bipartisan way. Otherwise, we’ll be holding it for a little bit later.”


Republicans are eager to build on the victory achieved late last year with the overhaul of the nation’s tax code. But before moving on to infrastructure and other items, Trump and his GOP allies first must navigate a tricky landscape of leftover legislation from last year that promises to test party unity in the coming weeks.


The need to work with Democrats on a spending package, for instance, is sure to whip up opposition from many conservatives to a hoped-for catchall spending bill slated for next month.


The Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains provides a woodsy respite from Washington. It’s a place where presidents and lawmakers can bond over meals, hikes and movie nights.


“There’s a feeling here that you don’t have in very many places. There was a bonding,” Trump said of the visit.


Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, told reporters Saturday that lawmakers and top White House officials had enjoyed “a couple of glasses of wine together last night” and gathered with Trump to watch the new movie “The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman. (He described it as “very, very entertaining.”)


Politics, too, were on the agenda, with talks about the midterm elections. Republicans are at risk of losing the majority they’ve held in the House since 2011, and could also lose seats in the Senate, though many more Democratic incumbents are up for re-election this year.


Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, became a self-styled leader of an insurgency against Republican incumbents, arguing that Trump’s agenda could only be passed with an influx of outsiders. But Bannon is on the outs with Trump and the president’s comments Saturday suggested he’s washing his hands of any such uprising. Trump said he needs more Republicans in Congress.





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Iran Parliament to Discuss Anti-government Protests

Iran’s parliament is set to hold a special session as soon as Sunday to discuss the anti-government protests that began Dec. 28 and continued through this week.

Iran’s ISNA news agency reported that Iran’s interior minister, head of intelligence and security council chief are all expected to attend. On the agenda are discussions of the root cause of the protests, as well as legal help for protesters jailed during the demonstrations.

The session was called by a group of reformist lawmakers, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In a letter, those lawmakers called for legal assistance for the detained and condemned any outside “interference” in the protests, calling out the United States in particular.

U.S. President Donald Trump is set to decide next week whether to continue waiving sanctions on Iran that were suspended under the 2015 international deal on Iran’s nuclear program. The waiver must be renewed every 120 days, according to U.S. law. Trump could decide not to renew, putting U.S. trade sanctions back into effect.

In Europe, supporters of the anti-government protesters in Iran have been gathering to show their support in The Hague, Berlin, Hamburg, Stockholm, London and Paris.

At least 22 people have died in the protests, and more than 1,000 have been arrested. Hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers in a sermon Friday that those arrested should be treated as enemies of Islam, particularly those who have burned the flag. 

“There should be no mercy for them,” he said.

Government official Mansour Gholami has told reporters that about a quarter of those arrested have been released, but he did not provide exact numbers.

UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Friday at the urging of the United States.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called the protests “a powerful exhibition of brave people who have become so fed up with their oppressive government that they are willing to risk their lives in protests.” She also addressed the Iranian government, saying, “the U.S. is watching what you do.”

In response, the Iranian ambassador, Gholamali Khoshroo, said it is a “discredit” to the Security Council to hold such a meeting on Iran in the face of the conflicts taking place in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East. He, along with a number of Security Council members, said the United States is meddling in Iran’s domestic affairs.

After the meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “The UNSC rebuffed the U.S.’s naked attempt to hijack its mandate. … Another FP (foreign policy) blunder for the Trump administration.”

Still, U.S. intelligence officials warn Tehran is at a crossroads, noting the protests are the biggest outpouring of public discontent since Iranians took to the streets in 2009 following a disputed presidential election.

“The protests are symptomatic of long-standing grievances that have been left to fester,” an intelligence official told VOA on condition of anonymity. “Will it address the legitimate concerns of its people or suppress the voices of its own populace?”

“What is clear is that these concerns are not going away,” the official said.

Critics of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani say he has abandoned the poor, pointing to rising prices for key commodities like fuel, bread and eggs.

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Trump Says No to Immigration Protection Bill Unless it Includes Border Wall Funds

U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated Saturday that he would not support legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation unless it included funding for a border wall and eliminates the visa lottery program and extended-family-based immigration.

“We all want DACA to happen, but we also want great security for our country,” Trump said of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which expires in March.

Trump spoke as he met with Republican lawmakers and members of his Cabinet to establish the administration’s 2018 legislative priorities and to devise a strategy for midterm elections in November. They were gathered at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

“We went into DACA and how we’re going to do it, and we hope that we’re going be able to work out an arrangement with the Democrats. I think it’s something that they’d like to see happen,” Trump told reporters.

In September, Trump rescinded DACA, which was instituted by former President Barack Obama. It protected nearly 800,000 immigrants from deportation, allowing them to legally live and work in the United States.

Trump gave Congress until March 5 to agree on legislation that would allow equivalent protections to those offered under DACA, provided the measure included funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, ended the visa lottery program, and ended extended-family-based immigration, in which immigrants from a particular area follow others from that area to specific U.S. cities or neighborhoods.

Trump also said the drug crisis in America had reached unprecedented levels and vowed his administration would make a “big dent” in resolving the problem this year.

“One of the things we are discussing very powerfully is drugs pouring into this country and how to stop it, because it’s at a point over the last number of years … it’s never been like this,” he said.

Trump said the drug problem is less difficult to deal with in countries that “take it very seriously, and they’re very harsh” — an apparent signal the U.S. is preparing to take a much tougher approach. 

“We are going to be working on that very, very hard this year, and I think we’re going make a big dent into the drug problem,” he said.

Trump said the Republican leaders also discussed the nation’s infrastructure needs and a variety of military issues.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was among those in attendance, did not elaborate on priorities for the the new year. But he told reporters 2017 would be “a tough year to top” and added, “If you are like those of us here at the podium, you’d like to see America be a right-of-center country.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and bolstering the military would be priorities this year, as well as ensuring “that everyone enjoys the economic growth that’s to come.”

Republican legislative priorities also will include the budget, welfare reform and the midterm elections. Additionally, Republicans have been eager to cut benefit programs like welfare and food stamps.

Congress must work quickly, however, to approve a funding plan by January 19 to avoid a government shutdown.

Republican priorities could be stopped in their tracks if the Democrats are successful during the midterm elections.

Trump has been facing increasing criticism about his presidential style. He begins the new year with the release of a bombshell book, Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, that describes the president as being like a child and in need of psychiatric help.

It remains to be seen how the book and other accounts of Trump’s mental status will affect the upcoming elections.

All 435 members of the House and one-third of the 100 members of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2018. 

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Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Anxiously Await Decision on TPS Future

Nearly 200,000 Salvadoran beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, anxiously wait as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security weighs a decision whether to end the designated security program. Given precedent with beneficiaries from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, TPS holders from El Salvador worry they may be next on Trump’s chopping block, despite a 16-year history of integration across multigeneration households. VOA spoke with one mixed-status family at their home in Virginia.

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‘Fire and Fury’ Author Defends Book’s Accuracy Against White House Pushback

‘Fire and Fury,’ a new tell-all book about intrigue in the Trump White House, is the talk of political Washington. VOA White House correspondent Peter Heinlein reports that President Donald Trump is said to be furious with former adviser Steve Bannon, who is quoted as making some damning comments about the president and his family.

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As Trump Administration Expresses Support for Iran Protests, Nuclear Deal Deadline Looms

The Trump administration this week has not shied away from expressing support for the thousands of Iranians who have taken to the streets to protest government corruption and economic hardship. And while U.S. officials have threatened targeted sanctions against those who crack down on demonstrators, President Donald Trump is facing a Jan. 13 deadline on whether to reimpose economic sanctions against Iran that were suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal. VOA’s Aru Pande has more from Washington.

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