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Trump Delays Announcement on Whether US Embassy to Be Moved to Jerusalem

President Donald Trump will not announce a decision on Monday on whether he will again delay moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a White House spokesman said, despite Monday’s deadline for doing so.

An announcement on the decision will be made “in coming days,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump was returning from a trip to Utah.

Temporary order expected

Trump had been due to decide whether to sign a waiver that would hold off relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, as every U.S. president has done since Congress passed a law on the issue in 1995.

Senior U.S. officials have said that Trump is expected to issue a temporary order, the second since he took office, to delay moving the embassy despite his campaign pledge to go ahead with the controversial action.

No final decision yet  

But the officials have said Trump is likely to give a speech on Wednesday unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a step that would break with decades of U.S. policy and could fuel violence in the Middle East. They have said, however, that no final decisions have been made.

“The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go; that it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Gidley said.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on all of the city, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.


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Immigrants Become Illegal While Waiting to Serve in US Military

They have raised their right hands, and sworn an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. They have college degrees, and have enlisted in the U.S. Army.

They have also fallen out of their immigration status, exposing them to deportation.

“I did everything I could to stay with valid status,” A.M., an Army reservist, told VOA.

A.M., 35 years old, who asked not to be identified because she is afraid of deportation, enlisted in the Army in March 2015 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI.

MAVNI was launched in 2009 to bring immigrants with medical or language skills into the armed services.

The program also allowed foreign-born military recruits to earn a fast-track path to American citizenship.

But nearly two years after enlisting, A.M. is still waiting to ship out to basic training and her student visa has expired.

The reason: The Pentagon, citing national security concerns, ordered intensive background checks on MAVNI service members and recruits.

In September 2016, the U.S. government retroactively required background checks on anyone who enlisted in the military through the MAVNI program, including anyone who was currently serving or waiting to be shipped to basic training. The government also stopped recruiting legal aliens.

October 2016 was when A.M. was scheduled to leave for basic training.

A.M. was told she had to maintain her visa status until a shipping date. She did. But her first shipping date was canceled. Her second shipping date, April 2017, has come and gone — and she has fallen out of status.

Without basic training, A.M.’s expedited naturalization process does not move forward. 

“Ever since I raised my hand, I go to every single drill,” A.M. said.

VOA spoke to seven people who have enlisted as active and reserve Army members and have also fallen out of status. All have signed enlistment contracts, have gone through the necessary background checks and have been waiting for more than two years to ship out.

Backlog on background checks

Everyone who wants to serve in the military has to go through background checks.

“They check to make sure you are not a criminal or a terrorist. They check your credit records. They run your fingerprints. They ask you a whole bunch of questions. That’s required before you can sign an enlistment contract,” Margaret Stock, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who created the MAVNI program back in 2008, told VOA.

With the MAVNI’S, she said, the government expanded the background check.

“I should tell you they already were doing a lot more background checking on the MAVNIs anyway. They are the most checked group of people that entered the U.S. military,” Stock said.

The MAVNIs, in addition to the regular screening, were being individually approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

“DHS was approving every single one of the enlistments individually. After checking all their immigration documents. … They were also doing something on the MAVNIs called a single scope background investigation, which is not done on most U.S. citizens who join the military,” Stock said.

This is an investigation normally done on someone getting top-secret clearance with the U.S. government.

These additional checks were being done before September 2016, when the Pentagon decided to run counterintelligence screening on each MAVNI.

“Basically, this caused the system to collapse. Because the government doesn’t have enough resources to do all these types of background checks on 10,000 people [the number accepted to MAVN],” Stock said.

The Department of Defense estimates it has a clearance backlog of 700,000, a figure that also includes civilians and contractors.

The backlog is causing “extreme” delays in shipping people to basic training. MAVNIs are not allowed to go to training until they have gone through these checks.

“But they didn’t have the resources to do them. So it caused two years, three years delays in people being shipped to training. And as of today, they still haven’t completed the background checks on everybody,” Stock said.

Without completed background checks, MAVNIs cannot ship to basic training. Without basic training, they do not qualify for expedited U.S. naturalization.

Changes in expedited citizenship

In mid-October, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters that an assessment of MAVNI found the program had problems.

“We are taking the steps, obviously, to save the program if it can be saved, and I believe it can,” he said.

Within days, the U.S. Department of Defense toughened the requirements for expedited naturalization, requiring enlistees to serve at “least 180 consecutive days of active-duty service, or at least one year of satisfactory service in the selected reserve.”

This is a change from the current practice, where a service member would qualify for “expedited naturalization” after one day of service.

Stock says there are legal reasons why the one-day policy was the original choice.

“They deploy overseas a lot. Sometimes they might go to their own original country and, if they’re not American citizens, they would be subjected to that country’s laws,” she said.

And naturalization could always be taken away. “If you don’t serve honorably for five years, you can lose your citizenship. … That’s a trade-off. They can let you have it right away, but you can lose it,” Stock said.

Staying legal

A.M. moved to the U.S. in 2005 with a J-1 visa to work as an au pair. After that, she got a sponsor, attended college and changed to an F-1 student visa.

“I saw as an opportunity to start a life here, to study, and from there maybe other doors would open for me to stay here,” A.M. said.

In Brazil, her home country, A.M. had a bachelor’s degree in translation. In the U.S., she earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education.

“Once I graduated, I started to teach. … I had my own classroom. The kids, they were wonderful, and working with parents, it was a great job,” she said.

She was eligible to work in the U.S. under Optional Practical Training, temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.

During that time, she worked on getting a sponsor for a longer-term work visa.

“I taught [for] about 10 months because I was trying to get a work visa, but the school I was working did not want to sponsor anybody,” she said.

A.M. heard about MAVNI in 2015.

“After I enlisted, I had to keep my student visa so I went back to school once again,” she said.

A.M says all together, she spent about $50,000 in American schools to keep her student visa valid.

There were times, she said, things were “so difficult that I was eating food from the dollar store, so that I could pay for college and could stay here.

“I am so close, though. But at the same time, I am so tired because my life is on hold,” she said. “At this point I was supposed to be a citizen already. I never thought it would take this long, and all the stress we’re going through.”

A.M.’s biggest worry is her enlistment contract being terminated since she has yet to go to basic training. The Washington Post reported in September that U.S. Army recruiters had “abruptly canceled enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born military recruits.”

A.M. fears deportation.

“I’m a very independent person here,” she said. “I see so much violence in my home country, so much injustice. … My life is here.”

VOA reached out to the U.S. Department of Defense, but the department did not respond to a request for comment.

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Mattis Urges Pakistan to Redouble Efforts Against Terrorists

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday insisted his country is “committed” to the war against terrorism. The comment came during a meeting in Islamabad with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Outwardly, there were no signs of tension between the two men. However, it’s a different story behind the scenes, reports VOA’s Bill Gallo, who is traveling with the Pentagon chief.

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Trump Tweets About Russia Probe Spark Warnings From Lawmakers

A series of tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump about the investigation into contacts between his 2016 campaign and Russia prompted concerns on Sunday among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying Trump could be wading into “peril” by commenting on the probe.

“I would just say this with the president: There’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” Graham said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril,” he added.

On Sunday morning, Trump wrote on Twitter that he never asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser – a statement at odds with an account Comey himself has given.

That tweet followed one on Saturday in which Trump said: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President (Mike Pence) and the FBI.”

Legal experts and some Democratic lawmakers said if Trump knew Flynn lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then pressured Comey not to investigate him, that could bolster a charge of obstruction of justice.

Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, told Reuters in an interview on Sunday that he had drafted the Saturday tweet and “made a mistake” when he composed it.

“The mistake was I should have put the lying to the FBI in a separate line referencing his plea,” Dowd said. “Instead, I put it together and it made all you guys go crazy. A tweet is a shorthand.”

Dowd said the first time the president knew for a fact that Flynn lied to the FBI was when he was charged.

Dowd also clouded the issue by saying that then-acting U.S. attorney general Sally Yates informed White House counsel Don McGahn in January that Flynn told FBI agents the same thing he told Pence, and that McGahn reported his conversation with Yates to Trump. He said Yates did not characterize Flynn’s conduct as a legal violation.

Dowd said it was the first and last time he would craft a tweet for the president.

“I’ll take responsibility,” he said. “I’m sorry I misled people.”

Yates did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a lawyer for McGahn did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Continual tweets’

The series of tweets came after a dramatic turn of events on Friday in which Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations last December with Russia’s then-ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak, just weeks before Trump entered the White House.

Flynn also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors delving into contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russia before the president took office.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she believed the indictments in the investigation so far and Trump’s “continual tweets” pointed toward an obstruction of justice case.

“I see it most importantly in what happened with the firing of Director Comey. And it is my belief that that is directly because he did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. That’s obstruction of justice,” Feinstein said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The president knew [Flynn] had lied to the FBI, which means that when he talked to the FBI director and asked him to effectively drop this case, he knew that Flynn had committed a federal crime,” Adam Schiff, senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told the ABC program “This Week.”

The Russia matter has dogged Trump’s first year in office, and this weekend overshadowed his first big legislative win when the Senate approved a tax bill.

Flynn was the first member of Trump’s administration to

plead guilty to a crime uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. election and potential collusion by Trump aides.

Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has said there was no collusion.

Comey, who had been investigating the Russia allegations, was fired by Trump in May. He told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in June he believed his dismissal was related to the Russia probe, and said Trump asked him to end the investigation of Flynn.

“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

On CBS, Graham criticized Comey, saying he believed the former FBI director made some “very, very wrong” decisions during his tenure. But Graham also said Trump should be careful about his tweets.

“I’d be careful if I were you, Mr. President. I’d watch this,” Graham said.


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2 Polls Split on Who Is Winning US Senate Race in Alabama

Four-decade-old sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama Republican Roy Moore are playing a major role for voters in his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, but nine days ahead of the election two major polls are split whether he is ahead of Democrat Doug Jones.  

A CBS News/YouGov poll on Sunday said Moore, twice deposed from the Alabama Supreme Court for failing to adhere to federal court rulings, is ahead of Jones, a former federal prosecutor, by a 49-to-43 percent margin among likely voters.  A day earlier, The Washington Post-Schar School survey showed Jones ahead, 50-47.

The December 12 contest has been roiled by accusations from two women who alleged that Moore, when he was a local prosecutor in early 30s, sexually abused them when they were teenagers, while other women, now also in their 50s, said that Moore pursued them for dates when they were teens.

The CBS poll said that Republicans, by a 71-17 percent margin, think the allegations are false and that they believe Democrats and the media are behind the accusations.  One of the accusers, one of whom was 14 at the time, first told her account in the Post, while a second woman held a news conference.  The Post’s poll similarly showed Republicans’ disbelief about the allegations, with fewer than one in six Republican-leaning likely voters believing that Moore made unwanted sexual advances against the girls.

The CBS poll said half of Moore’s supporters are backing him because they want a senator who would cast votes for conservative causes, rather than because they think he is the best candidate in the election.  The Post said its survey showed that a quarter of voters say moral conduct will be the deciding factor if how they decide to vote, with Jones winning such voters over Moore by a 67-30 margin.

The election is for the last three years of the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned it to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement official.

Trump has said Jones would prove to be an unwanted liberal vote in the Senate representing a deeply conservative state.  Other key Republicans have called for Moore to drop out of the race, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan and two former Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain.

Some Republicans say that Moore, if he wins and is seated in the Senate, should then be immediately expelled because of the sexual misconduct allegations.  McConnell on Sunday said it is up to Alabama voters to decide the election and that should Moore win, it would be up to the Senate Ethics Committee to consider the women’s accusations.

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Trump Says Former FBI Chief Comey Lied to Congress

U.S. President Donald Trump, in a series of Sunday morning tweets from the White House, attacked his own Federal Bureau of Investigation and said he never asked then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating his one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.


The FBI’s reputation is “in Tatters – worst in History,” but the Trump administration will “bring it back to greatness,” the president declared on Twitter.


In a separate tweet on Comey’s sworn testimony before Congress that the president had asked him to stop the probe of Flynn, Trump said “Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie.”

The tweets come two days after Flynn pleaded guilty in Washington to lying to FBI agents about conversations he had with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump assumed power in January.

Trump, on Sunday on the same social media platform, also attacked the FBI amid revelations that an agent, who had written emails favoring Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, was dropped from the probe after the emails were discovered.

“Now it all starts to make sense!” Trump said.


“The president should have no comment whatsoever on either of these investigations,” said Republican Senator Susan Collins on the NBC News “Meet the Press” program on Sunday. “And the only thing that he should be doing is directing all of his staff and associates to fully cooperate.”


A tweet sent out Saturday on the @realDonaldTrump account is also attracting significant scrutiny.


Trump tweeted that he “had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”


That suggests the president was aware that when he fired Flynn on February 13 – after less than a month as his national security advisor – the president was aware the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency had lied to the FBI when agents interviewed him weeks earlier.


The president’s personal lawyer says he wrote that tweet and told the Axios news website on Sunday that it was “my mistake” that he passed along in a draft to White House social media director Dan Scavino.

“I’m out of the tweeting business,” John Dowd said with a chuckle, according to Axios. “I did not mean to break news.”

To many the tweet implies that the president is admitting obstruction of justice.

And many are questioning Dowd’s explanation of it.

“It seems as implausible as it is convenient to President Trump,” says Ned Price, who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama on the National Security Council staff.

“The idea that a lawyer would draft that – without any input from or clearance by Trump – doesn’t strike me as believable,” Price, a former CIA senior analyst and spokesperson, tells VOA. “Add that to the long list of cover-ups.”

As part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow, he is looking into whether the president obstructed justice in asking Comey to curb his investigation of Flynn and then later by firing the FBI director.

Flynn faces up to five years in prison following Friday’s guilty plea but has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation.


“I do believe he will incriminate others in the administration. Otherwise, there was no reason for Bob Mueller to give Mike Flynn this kind of deal,”  Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” television program said, adding that, “whether that will ultimately lead to the president, I simply don’t know.”


Mueller is formulating a case of obstruction of justice against the president, according to the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s judiciary committee.


I think we see this in the indictments, the four indictments and pleas that have just taken place, and some of the comments that are being made. I see it in the hyper-frenetic attitude of the White House: the comments every day, the continual tweets,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”


“And I see it, most importantly, in what happened with the firing of Director Comey and it is my belief that that is directly because he did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation,” according to Feinsten. “That’s obstruction of justice.”


Flynn was one of Trump’s close confidants during last year’s presidential campaign in which the Republican nominee pulled off a stunning upset over Clinton.


Flynn, who was also previously fired by President Barack Obama as DIA director, gained widespread public attention at the Republican National Convention when he led chants of “Lock her up,” referring to Clinton.


Outside the Federal District Courthouse in Washington on Friday, where he entered his perjury guilty plea, Flynn was taunted with chants of “Lock him up.”

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Trump Changes Story on Why He Fired Flynn

U.S. President Donald Trump  seemed Saturday to change his story on why he fired Michael Flynn as his national security advisor. Initially, the president said he let Flynn go because Flynn was not honest with Vice President Michael Pence about his contacts with Russians during the presidential transition.

But then Trump tweeted Saturday: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies.  It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful.  There was nothing to hide!”

The tweet suggested that the president knew Flynn had lied to the FBI, as well as the vice president, about his Russians contacts.  Trump had not mentioned the FBI before in his tweets about Flynn and the Russians.

It is against the law to lie to the FBI.

Trump also tweeted Sunday morning that “I never asked (FBI director James ) Comey to stop investigating Flynn.  Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!”

The president’s tweets have resulted in a climate of confusion about what the president knew and when he knew it about Flynn’s contact with the Russians.  

An Associated Press report says that the president did not write the tweet about the FBI, but that it was instead written by John Dowd, one of Trump’s attorneys.

Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to federal agents, and he has agreed to cooperate with investigators examining allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Earlier Saturday, in his first remarks since Flynn entered the guilty plea, Trump said there was “absolutely no collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia.

“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for New York.

Appearing before a federal judge in a packed courtroom in Washington, Flynn, a 59-year-old retired army general, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a series of private conversations he had in December 2016 with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.


The charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, but under U.S. sentencing guidelines the average sentence for the offense ranges from zero to six months.

The guidelines are advisory, but prosecutors agreed to seek a reduced sentence if Flynn provides “substantial assistance” with the investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. No sentencing date was announced.

Guilty plea

As part of his guilty plea, Flynn agreed to “cooperate fully” with  Mueller’s team of investigators, answering questions, providing written statements, taking polygraph exams, and “participating in covert law enforcement activities.” In return, Mueller’s office agreed that Flynn “will not be further prosecuted criminally.”

Flynn is the fourth member of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to be charged by Mueller’s team and the first former White House staff member to plead guilty in connection with the Russia investigation.

On Oct. 30, Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, another senior campaign official, were charged in a 12-count indictment unrelated to the Russia investigation.


Another Trump campaign surrogate, George Papadopoulos, secretly pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government and is cooperating with the special counsel as well.

Flynn’s decision to cooperate with a probe that could implicate others close to Trump marks a dramatic turnaround for a man who staunchly campaigned for the real estate mogul and promised a hard edge in U.S. foreign policy before being fired.


White House reaction

The White House sought to play down the significance of Flynn’s guilty plea.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said Flynn’s plea does not implicate “anyone other than Mr. Flynn” and added Flynn was a “former Obama administration official” who served in the Trump White House for only 25 days.

But the plea agreement provided an indication that Mueller sees Flynn’s cooperation as critical to his investigation.

“The trick is we won’t know perhaps for some time how significant it is,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas who closely follows the Russia investigation. “But it’s a strong sign that more is coming. And what’s coming down the pipe probably involves more senior officials and individuals closer to President Trump himself.”

In a statement released after his court appearance Friday, Flynn said, “The actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

Flynn was swept up in the Russia probe as the FBI began examining contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials.

Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI about the conversations he had with the Russian ambassador at the behest of senior Trump transition officials shortly after the election.  

The conversations focused on two foreign policy issues the Trump transition team sought to influence before coming into office: a pending U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its settlement activities in Palestinian territories and a possible Russian retaliation to sanctions imposed by then-President Barack Obama.  

In two separate conversations – Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, 2016 – Flynn, directed by a “very senior” member of the Trump transition team, called Kislyak to urge him that Russia “vote against or delay” the Security Council resolution. Kisliyak later called back to say Russia would not vote against the resolution.

‘Very senior’ member of transition team

Several U.S. news outlets have identified as the “very senior” member of the transition team as Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser who is leading the White House’s Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Five days later, on Dec. 28, after Obama announced punitive sanctions against Russia over its interference in the election, Kislyak called Flynn, according to prosecutors.

The next day, Dec. 29, Flynn contacted an unnamed senior transition official who was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to discuss what to tell Kislyak about the sanctions.

The two discussed the impact of sanctions on Trump’s foreign policy. Immediately after the conversation, Flynn called Kislyak and urged him to “refrain from escalating the situation.”

On Dec. 31, the day after Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate to the U.S. sanctions, Kislyak called Flynn to say that “Russia had chosen not to retaliate” in response to Flynn’s request.  

When confronted by the FBI four days after Trump’s inauguration, Flynn, then the president’s national security adviser, denied everything, according to court documents filed on Friday.

The filing also says Flynn falsely stated he did not remember Kislyak informing him the Kremlin had decided to “moderate its response to those sanctions” in response to Flynn’s request.

The court document says Flynn also falsely claimed the Russian ambassador never described Moscow’s response to that request.

Kushner is scheduled to make public comments about the administration’s Middle East strategy on Monday in Washington, his first expected public remarks since Flynn pleaded guilty, according to VOA’s  Nike Chiang.

“Jared Kushner will speak publicly for the first time about the #Trump administration’s approach to the #MiddleEast on Sunday at the Saban Forum in Washington, an annual conference organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at  @BrookingsInst focused on U.S.- #Israel relations.”


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Palestinians to US: Don’t Recognize Jerusalem as Israeli Capital

The Palestinians are warning the United States against recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mahmoud Habash, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Saturday that if President Donald Trump were to do so, it would amount to a “complete destruction of the peace process.”

Speaking in Abbas’ presence, Habash said “the world will pay the price” for any change in Jerusalem’s status.

Officials in Washington say Trump is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a way to offset his likely decision to delay his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy there. 

Israel regards Jerusalem as its capital, a position nearly the entire world rejects, saying its status should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians. The Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their future capital.

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Trump Applauds Senate Passage of Republican Tax Overhaul Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump praised the Senate’s early Saturday morning passage of an immense Republican tax overhaul bill, telling reporters outside the White House the measure calls for “the biggest tax cuts in the history of our country.”

Later Saturday at a Republican fundraiser in New York, Trump attributed passage of the bill to semantics.

“For years I said I wonder why they (lawmakers) use the word reform. Because nobody knows what reform means. Reform could mean your taxes are going up. And I said to my guys, I called everybody and we had a meeting — senators, Congress, everybody. I said we have to use the word, ‘tax cuts.’”

Earlier Saturday, Trump praised two top Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, for securing enough votes for passage.

“We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America. Special thanks to @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell and Chairman @SenOrrinHatch for shepherding our bill through the Senate. Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas!,” Trump said on Twitter.

The Senate passed the legislation by a 51 to 49 margin without a single Democratic vote, a development Trump said was a political mistake that will haunt Democrats in the 2018 midterm election.

“We got no Democratic help and I think that’s going to cost them very big in the election because basically they voted against tax cuts. And I don’t think politically it’s good to vote against tax cuts.”

The Senate passed the legislation without Democratic support and congressional reaction was also divided along party lines.

House Speaker Paul Ryan commended the Senate and urged congress to act quickly to get a final bill signed into law.

“I look forward to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to the president’s desk,” the Republican lawmaker tweeted.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted that the bill is a “scam” and would result in “Tens of millions of middle class families” being “slapped with a tax hike.”

“In passing the #GOPTaxScam, @SenateGOP has sealed its betrayal of the American middle class.”

Many Democrats, including Senator John Tester, were angry over the way Republicans approved the hastily-written bill in the wee hours of the morning without any public debate.

“I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can’t be read. This is Washington, D.C. at its worst.  Montanans deserve so much better,” Tester wrote on Twitter.

A few more hurdles must be overcome before a final tax package can become law. The Senate bill and a version passed earlier by the House of Representatives must now be reconciled. The reconciled measure must then be approved by both chambers of Congress before it is submitted to the president for him to sign into law.  

Negotiations over the tax measures will take place as Congress simultaneously tries to meet a December 8 deadline for government funding to expire, putting additional pressure on Republicans to get a new tax law on the books before Christmas as requested by Trump.

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