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Anti-Semitic Tweet Highlights Fissures Within the Democratic Party  

The Democratic party is not a monolith or a rubber stamp for any idea or policy position. That’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s oft-repeated way of describing the party she leads. But lately, a handful of House Democratic freshman have tested that approach to its limits, revealing cracks between the party’s traditional support of Israel and progressives’ vocal advocacy for Palestinians. 

Newcomer Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali-American, drew widespread condemnation for a tweet last Sunday implying Congressional support for Israel has been bought by money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a lobbying group that supports the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted late Sunday, asserting that politicians’ support of Israel is driven by money.

She touched off a firestorm of complaints from Democratic and Republican leaders alike, including Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Omar’s comment invoked offensive tropes about money or “Benjamins”  a reference to $100 bills — that are often used against Jewish people. Her remark was magnified because the freshman holds a coveted seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“It’s shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.’ I fully expect that when we disagree on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we will debate policy on the merits and never question members’ motives or resort to personal attacks,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York said in a statement this week that reflects many of his colleagues’ reactions to the tweet.

“Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds.” 

Omar apologized for her remarks Monday, tweeting “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” But she went on to say that AIPAC continues to be an issue of concern, although the highly influential  organization does not make campaign contributions. 

During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed Omar’s apology as “lame” and called on her to resign. Omar replied by calling the president a hypocrite who has “trafficked in hate your whole life  against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more.”

The weeklong dust-up underscored growing divisions within a Democratic Party that for decades provided unalloyed support to the state of Israel but that now must adjust to skepticism within its ranks about the Israeli government and that country’s policies towards the Palestinians. Trump and other Republican leaders are attempting to use their insistence on unqualified support for Israel as a litmus test to drive a wedge through the Democrats, according to media reports.

Omar, 37, was born in Mogadishu and spent her formative years in Somalia. She and her family were resettled as refugees in the United States in 1995, after the start of the Somalia civil war, and subsequently moved to Minneapolis, where she learned English and went to school. She studied political science and international affairs at North Dakota State University, before launching a career in politics. She won a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016 — which made her the first Somali-American elected to legislative office in the U.S. Then last November, she won an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Omar and Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, became the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress.

Omar has been accused of anti-Semitic language in previous tweets expressing support for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a movement that aims to end international support for Israel because of what the group calls “oppression of Palestinians.” Each time, Omar has apologized and said the controversy was an opportunity for her to learn. 

This week, Omar declined requests to speak with the media following her apology on social media for her “Benjamins” comment. But she showed no signs of backing down from courting controversy on Wednesday, when she challenged U.S. Special Representative to Venezuela Elliott Abrams on his human rights record during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. 

During the contentious exchange, Omar mistakenly referred to Abrams as “Mr. Adams” and told him she did not understand why “this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.” 

Omar is one of several high-profile Democratic freshman members of Congress who have publicly voiced their support for the BDS.

​Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from a heavily Democratic district in New York, has condemned “the occupation of Palestine.” Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, is currently seeking support for a congressional delegation trip or CODEL to Palestine later this year. AIPAC has a long history of organizing yearly congressional CODELs to Israel so that members can learn more about the situation on the ground. 

Rep. Brian Babin, a Republican from Texas, urged Democratic leaders in a letter sent Thursday to “please deny Rep. Tlaib’s request to sponsor and lead a CODEL to Palestinian territories and exercise your authority as chair to deny your consent to any member of your committee who seeks your approval to participate in such a misadventure.” 

Last month, 22 Senate Democrats voted against legislation that would facilitate penalties against American companies that boycott Israel. Six of those votes were from Senate Democrats who are running for president.  

Republicans see the growing support for Palestine on the part of younger, more progressive members of Congress as a possible opportunity to divide Democratic voters ahead of next year’s presidential nomination contest. 

A January 2018 Pew Research Center poll shows the partisan divide over Israel is at its widest point in four decades and that Democrats who sympathize more with Israel than with Palestinians has dropped from 38 percent to 27 percent since 2001. 

The House Republican leadership unexpectedly added a provision to unrelated legislation Wednesday condemning anti-Semitic language, forcing Democrats to go on the record against Omar’s remarks. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California called the vote a defining moment in Congress and for the country. 

“Amid the troubling rise of anti-Semitism, including attacks on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, it is our duty as a nation to stand firmly against intolerance and division,” McCarthy said in a statement. The provision passed unanimously, 424 to 0 vote. 

McCarthy has also faced criticism about comments invoking stereotypes about Jews. In a now deleted tweet just before the 2018 midterm elections, McCarthy accused three leading Jewish Democratic donors of trying “to buy this election.” 

Leadership in both parties will have to step carefully in the coming months, as a high-stakes 2020 presidential race heats up. Both sides will be looking for divisive tweets and off-the cuff remarks to run in campaign ads, firing up the more committed voters at the extreme ends of the parties who tend to show up at polls in early primary contests. 

Pelosi faces a tough dilemma. For the first time in decades of polling, the majority of Democrats identify themselves as liberal. The handful of progressive new House members are forcing policy discussions on a range of issues  from U.S. support of Israel to climate change to taxation rates  that is commanding media attention in a new way.

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US Judge Issues Gag Order in Trial of Former Trump Adviser Roger Stone

A U.S. judge on Friday limited the ability of people involved in the trial of Roger

Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, from speaking publicly about the case in a way that may influence the outcome.

The order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman prohibits lawyers involved in the case from speaking with news media, and prohibits other participants, like Stone himself, from making statements that may affect the case when they are near the courthouse.

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Transatlantic Rift Laid Bare as US Rebukes EU Allies Over Iran Deal

The United States has called on Europe to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Washington pulled out of last year.

At a two-day conference in Warsaw, attended by more than 60 nations Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused European allies of trying to break American sanctions against what he called “Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region and the world the security, peace and freedom they deserve,” Pence said at a news conference.

​Pompeo adds pressure

Also attending the conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said global pressure was mounting on Tehran.

“No country spoke out and denied any of the basic facts that we all have laid out about Iran, the threat it poses, the nature of regime. It was unanimous,” Pompeo said.

Unanimous, perhaps, among those countries attending the conference. Some U.S. allies, however, were notable for their absence, including the foreign ministers of France and Germany. Britain’s representative left the summit early.

All three allies have voiced strong support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and have launched a payment system to bypass U.S. sanctions on Tehran in an attempt to keep the agreement alive.

 

WATCH: U.S. Rebukes EU Allies Over Iran Deal

US-European divide

Warsaw-based analyst Piotr Buras of the European Council on Foreign Relations says summit host Poland and some other European states appear closer to Washington’s approach and the United States sees an opportunity.

“I have the feeling that the Trump administration doesn’t care much about Europe’s unity, or even more perhaps it really tries to exploit some divisions within Europe, or even deepen them,” he said.

Jonathan Eyal of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute argued Washington’s approach is in fact aimed at bridging transatlantic divides with European allies.

“The United States is willing to re-engage with them on a Middle East policy, especially on a very sensitive issue like the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran where the gulf between Europe and the U.S. is very big,” he sad. “And secondly it is also another attempt by the State Department to remind the White House that the friends in Europe are irreplaceable when it comes to most of America’s foreign policy objectives.”

The summit was attended by Israel and several Sunni Gulf states. Qatar, Turkey and Lebanon declined to take part. Iran, which did not attend the meeting, dismissed it as “dead on arrival.”

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Transatlantic Rift Laid Bare as U.S. Rebukes EU Allies over Iran Deal

The United States has called on Europe to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Washington pulled out of last year. At a conference in Warsaw attended by more than 60 nations, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused European allies of trying to break American sanctions against what he called Iran’s ‘murderous revolutionary regime.’ Several EU states have refused to attend the meeting, as Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Senators Demand to Know More About Saudi Journalist’s Killing

Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Senate asked the Trump administration Thursday to tell them more about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate last year, days after a missed deadline for a detailed report on his death prompted an angry bipartisan backlash.

Ten of the 12 Republicans from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman Jim Risch, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for more information.

“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is committed to pursuing all information available in its oversight role and, to that end, is in the process of arranging a classified briefing for the committee,” Risch said in a statement.

All 10 committee Democrats, led by senior member Bob Menendez, along with Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Pat Leahy, signed their own letter demanding that Pompeo brief Congress on why President Donald Trump’s administration missed last Friday’s deadline to report to Congress on whether Saudi government officials and members of the royal family, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were behind the death of Khashoggi, a legal U.S. resident.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, was killed at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. His death fueled simmering discontent with the Saudis among many in Washington angry over the kingdom’s human rights record and heavy civilian casualties in Yemen’s civil war, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

War powers resolution

Members of Congress have been introducing legislation for months to push back against Riyadh. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives approved a rare war powers resolution that would end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen. A Senate vote is expected within weeks.

While several Republicans had demanded more of a response from Trump last week, Risch told reporters Tuesday: “I’m really satisfied with the way they are answering questions and giving us information.”

Update provided

A State Department representative, commenting on the senators’ letters, said Pompeo had provided an update to Foreign Relations on Friday and would continue to consult with Congress.

After initially denying his death, Saudi Arabia has confirmed that its agents killed Khashoggi. Riyadh denies its senior leaders were behind the killing.

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Trump’s Big, Beautiful Shrinking Wall

“I will build a great wall,” declared Donald Trump in announcing he was running for president in June 2015. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

A wall at the U.S.-Mexico became Trump’s signature promise — a call and response at all of his campaign and post-campaign rallies, a symbol of his contempt for illegal immigrants and the centerpiece of his draconian immigration policies.

Yet, a­­s much as the billionaire former New York real estate investor says he wants it, there is still no trace of the towering, gleaming, all-encompassing border wall he originally promised.

More than two years into his first term, all Trump has to show is eight wall sections erected on a dusty plot of scrubland near San Diego. This month, previously planned construction begins on 9.5 kilometers of levee wall in the Rio Grande River Valley in Texas, marking the first wall construction during the Trump presidency.

The president’s insistence on $5.7 billion of U.S. taxpayer funds for the wall over Democrats’ objections and tepid­­ public support led to a 35-day partial government shutdown in December and January, and another one threatened for February.

The spending deal finally struck by Democratic and Republican negotiators — and expected to be approved by Trump — was an unmistakable setback for the president. It provided $1.375 billion for 88 kilometers of fencing, only a quarter of the money he sought, and a fraction of the 322 kilometers of new wall he demanded.

Trump said he was “not happy” with the compromise, but was unwilling to torpedo the agreement and trigger another shutdown. Instead, he hinted at seeking executive action to shift funding from other accounts to supplement the cost of a wall.

​​Actual wall and…

Currently, some kind of barrier exists on 1,127 kilometers of the U.S.-Mexico border, about a third of the 3,145-kilometer boundary.

While Trump’s focus on building a wall has not changed, the wall itself — or his idea of the wall — has steadily contracted.

What started out as a concrete barrier along the border “from sea to shining sea” has devolved into something “see-through” or built with metal slats, constructed where there are no natural barriers. Recently, Trump resolved to “just call them walls, and stop playing political games,” as if the term were merely a label that could be affixed to anything.

“The symbolism is more important than the reality,” the National Review’’s Jonah Goldberg wrote in December. “Immigration policy itself is something of an afterthought.”

Pundits have speculated on the symbolic meaning of Trump’s wall. “Shielding America from outside threats and uncertainty.” Trump’s “neediness.” “His presidency.” Proof that the “government is listening.” And “ruin.”

‘Big, beautiful wall’

Five days after he was sworn in as president, Trump issued an executive order authorizing the wall and earmarking whatever federal funds could be found to pay for it, to combat “a surge of illegal immigration.”

“’Wall’ shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier,” the order specified, to be built all along the southern border.

A month later, Customs and Border Protection announced it would accept design concepts from construction companies and award contracts after reviewing their bids.

By now, spurned by Mexican officials, Trump had abandoned his fantasy that the Mexican government would pay for it.

CBP didn’t have the money. Its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, could only find $20 million in existing funds for the wall, which it estimated would cost $21.6 billion.

​The money would cover only eight prototypes — with nothing left over for actual wall construction.

Trump vowed to renew the fight when the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget was discussed in September, and if necessary, shut down the government — a threat that would become a refrain until it became a reality.

​In defeat, double down

During the next two budget cycles, Trump exhibited a pattern: big demands, lots of posturing, and when rebuffed, an even bigger demand.

On Oct. 1, 2017, when the new budget would have taken effect, the government was operating on money provided by a short-term funding bill, the first of five that would keep the government running through March 2018, with the exception of two brief shutdowns.

In his original budget request, Trump asked for $1.6 billion as a down payment on the wall. This was approved by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives in July. But it wouldn’t pass the Senate, where the majority needed Democratic votes to clear parliamentary hurdles in passing spending measures.

Yet in early December, Trump pushed for $25 billion in wall funding.

Why had he so greatly increased his request, when Congress was already deadlocked?

A key issue at the time was the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which sheltered young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and allowed them to work.

​Trump was ending DACA in March unless Congress acted to save it. Democrats badly wanted a fix for the DACA program, which also allowed recipients to work and go to school. An obvious deal would be for Trump to support a legislative extension of DACA in return for Democratic support of wall construction.

Three’s a charm?

In the first three months of 2018, Trump had three chances to obtain full wall funding. He rejected them all.

The First. In mid-January, with the third short-term spending bill set to expire in hours, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with Trump over cheeseburgers to head off a government shutdown. Schumer reportedly offered $25 billion for the wall over 10 years in exchange for a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. Reports say he left thinking he had a deal. But White House Chief of Staff John Kelly later called and quashed it. A 69-hour shutdown followed. 

Three days later, Trump introduced his “Four Pillars” immigration reform plan: No deal without wall construction. An end to family-based migration. An end to the diversity visa. A solution for DACA.

The Second. In mid-February, Democrats and some Republicans introduced a bill that included $25 billion for the wall over a 10-year period, and DACA. While it contained additional immigration provisions, it did not address the other pillars.

The next day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put out a statement  threatening a Trump veto because the bill would “produce a flood of new illegal immigration.”

The bill subsequently failed in the Senate.

The Third. In March, with another funding deadline looming, Democrats offered $25 billion for the wall in a flat exchange for citizenship for DACA recipients. Republicans countered with a 2.5-year extension for DACA. Democrats rejected that offer as unbalanced because it called for permanent funding for the wall but only a temporary fix for DACA. 

By this time, the courts were keeping DACA going while its constitutionality was tested. There no longer was an urgency to preserve the program through congressional action.

When the budget was finally signed on March 22, lawmakers had approved only $1.375 billion for border security, none of which included construction of a border wall.

In a tweet, Trump threatened to veto the bill. But he signed the measure, vowing never to do it again.

‘Big fight’

If there was a silver lining to not getting wall authorization, it was that Trump could use the issue to whip up voters in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

​His depiction of escalating danger at the southern border was the core of his campaign stump speeches for Republican House and Senate candidates.

While chants for the wall were vehement as ever at campaign rallies, no big constituency showed up at the polls. Republicans won a few additional seats in the Senate, but Democrats swept the House and set up a new dynamic: a divided government.

In September, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had promised a “big fight” over wall funding. A few weeks after the election, here it was. Trump showed his hand: DACA and the other pillars had fallen away. All he wanted was $5.7 billion for the wall. Earlier, Congress had given tentative approval to $1.6 billion.

“I am firm,” Trump said. “Politically speaking, that issue is a total winner.”

​In a bizarre, mid-December squabble with Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive new House Speaker, and Schumer at the White House, Trump declared, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security. … I will take the mantle. … I won’t blame you (Schumer) for it.”

​As a result, he owned the 35-day partial shutdown that followed, leaving 800,000 government employees without paychecks, curtailing government services and costing the economy billions of dollars.

The high-profile political clash ended where it began: the president insisting on $5.7 billion for the wall, and Pelosi firmly declaring, “There’s not going to be any wall money.”

As another government shutdown loomed this week, a bipartisan committee of 17 Senate and House members agreed on a compromise that Trump has reluctantly agreed to sign.

Negotiating downward

Two years. Two budgets. Two prolonged fights over funding for the wall. In each case, the final compromise fell short — not only of what the president was demanding, but also short of what he could have had if he’d just taken what was initially offered.

In both FY2018 and FY2019, the White House began by seeking $1.6 billion for border security. After an exhaustive six months of posturing, negotiating and shutting down the government, lawmakers agreed to less in both years, and only 88 kilometers (or 55 miles) of fencing in all.

It was almost as if Trump — long touted as a master deal maker — were reverse negotiating.

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Bezos Allegations Against US Tabloid Tests Limits of Press Freedom

Accusations of extortion and blackmail made by the world’s richest man against a national gossip newspaper may have breached the legal limits of broad press freedoms protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, who owns both the Amazon online shopping site and The Washington Post newspaper, recently claimed that the publishers of the National Enquirer newspaper’s parent company, American Media Inc. (AMI), threatened to publish intimate photos of Bezos unless he halted an investigation into the tabloid’s aggressive coverage of his divorce.

The Amazon founder, who is reportedly worth $136 billion, said he would “spare no expense” to investigate how the Enquirer obtained his private text messages that were published in a story alleging an extramarital affair with former news anchor Lauren Sanchez before announcing his divorce from his wife of 25 years.

 

WATCH: Amazon Blackmail Allegations and US Press Freedom

​Legal liability

AMI has denied the charges and maintains it acted lawfully in its reporting.

“It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail. What happened was the story was given to the National Enquirer by a reliable source that had given information to the National Enquirer for seven years prior to this story. It was a source that was well-known to both Mr. Bezos and Miss Sanchez,” said Elkan Abramowitz, an attorney representing AMI.

There have been media reports speculating that Michael Sanchez, the brother of Lauren Sanchez, may have provided the Bezos texts to the Enquirer.

​Legal hot water

However, AMI chairman and CEO David Pecker and the media conglomerate could be in legal jeopardy if Bezos’ blackmail allegations can be proved, or if the Enquirer is found to have been directly involved in stealing private text messages.

“I don’t quite understand why AMI and its lawyers engaged in activity that potentially violates federal extortion laws and state criminal laws involving coercion. And potentially, depending on how they got the information, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is an anti-federal, anti-hacking law,” said Tor Ekeland, a federal criminal defense lawyer.

Last year, Pecker admitted that before the 2016 election, AMI paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump. The publishers avoided prosecution by agreeing to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating campaign finance violations. Prosecutors are now looking into whether the Bezos extortion allegations violate the previous deal that was conditional on AMI not committing further crimes.

​Partisan press

The Bezos investigation is also looking into the possible political motivations behind the Enquirer’s extensive coverage, which according to the Enquirer entailed sending reporters to follow Bezos and Sanchez “across five states and 40,000 miles,” and tracking them “in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides.”

Bezos suggested he may have been targeted by the Enquirer in retaliation for The Washington Post’s critical coverage of President Donald Trump, and of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged involvement in the killing of Saudi dissident and Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump has often criticized Amazon, The Washington Post and Bezos on Twitter, calling the newspaper “the Amazon Washington Post,” and its owner, “Bozo.”

Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump, reportedly also has ties to leaders in Saudi Arabia.

The White House and Saudi officials have denied any knowledge or involvement in the Enquirer coverage.

Press freedom

Bezos may find little legal recourse against charges he is being politically targeted by a media organization aligned with Trump.

The Enquirer’s salacious reporting on Bezos’ alleged affair, even if done for overtly partisan reasons, would likely be protected under the First Amendment.

“I have to separate out the sleaze here from the principle I think we’re trying to protect, which is, journalists have a right to publish what they know,” said Gene Policinski, director of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center.

And news organizations in the United States have a long history of political partisanship, of aligning with political parties and targeting opposition groups with more critical coverage.

“Political partnership, again, is part of our marketplace of ideas. It is part of what we’ve always accepted in the idea of, if you don’t like it, you can publish your own. Government stays out of the way,” Policinski said.

Bezos could also pursue a civil suit against AMI, but public figures have to cross a higher threshold to prove defamation in U.S. courts.

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Trump ‘Looking for Land Mines’ in Proposed Border Wall Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he has made no decision on whether to sign proposed bipartisan legislation for limited new barrier construction along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to avert another partial government shutdown Friday over the dispute.

“We’ll be looking for land mines [in the bill]” but “we have not gotten it yet,” Trump said in response to reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque. 

The president, however, indicated he was pleased with preliminary figures in the border security deal worked out by a committee of Republicans and Democrats, saying “total funding is almost up to $23 billion, it’s about 8 percent higher.”

Trump called Democrats stingy when it comes to funding for the wall.

“We’re building a lot of wall right now with money that we already have,” added Trump, explaining that there are “a lot of options” to complete the border barrier’s construction.

“We’re going to have a great wall, it’s going to be a great, powerful wall” with technology, including drones, explained the president. 

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing,” Trump said.

The bipartisan agreement reached by lawmakers gives Trump less than a quarter of the $5.7 billion he has been demanding for wall construction, which was a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, said earlier Wednesday, “It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president’s going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.”

Trump suggested Tuesday that he would tap other government funds for wall construction without express authorization from Congress. Such a move would invite a legal challenge from opposition Democrats and other groups.

Neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives has voted yet on the legislation as aides continue to craft final language in the measure. To avert a new shutdown, both chambers have to approve the legislation, and Trump has to sign it before Friday midnight, when numerous federal agencies, including Homeland Security — which controls border operations —again run out of money.

Under Trump, Congress has not authorized any funding for a wall, one of Trump’s prime pledges during his successful 2016 campaign for the White House. But wall repairs and replacements for deteriorating sections along the 3,200-kilometer border have been ongoing.

The top leaders in the Senate, Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Chuck Schumer, both called on Trump to sign the compromise barrier funding legislation.

“I strongly urge the president to sign this agreement,” Schumer said Tuesday. “No one gets everything they want in these agreements. But the president must sign it and not, not, not cause another shutdown.”

The package calls for new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, as well as technology upgrades for screening at border entry points, more customs officers and humanitarian aid.

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US Senate Panel Delays Vote on Nominee to Lead Immigration Agency

The U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee postponed a vote on Wednesday on whether to approve Ronald Vitiello, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Committee Chairman Ron Johnson did not elaborate on the reasons for the delay, but the postponement came one day after ICE’s employee union urged lawmakers to block the nomination amid concerns about past racially tinged and controversial comments Vitiello made on Twitter.

“We are going to hold over the ICE director nomination,” Johnson said. “There are some issues that continue on that, so we will not be voting on the ICE director.”

This is the second time the Senate panel has delayed voting on Vitiello’s nomination.

The committee postponed a vote last November after the union, the National ICE Council, first raised concerns about Vitiello’s fitness for leading the agency.

On Tuesday, union President Chris Crane sent a letter formally asking the panel to oppose Vitiello, saying his prior offensive tweets showed he “lacks the judgment and professionalism to effectively lead a federal agency.”

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