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Trump Retains Explosive Wildcard in Battle Over Border Security

President Donald Trump’s planned trip Monday to the border city of El Paso, Texas comes days before U.S. government funding is due to lapse once again and as suspense builds over Trump’s vague but persistent threat to declare a national emergency if Congress declines to pay for wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The president really does believe that there is a national security crisis and a humanitarian crisis at the border, and he will do something about it,” White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press program. “He’s going to do whatever he legally can to secure that border.”

“I do expect the president to take some kind of executive action, a national emergency is certainly part of that … if we [lawmakers] don’t reach a [border security] compromise,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said on CBS’ Face the Nation program. “This president is going to build a wall one way or another.”

Democrats insist there is still time for a politically divided Congress to forge and pass a spending bill that strengthens America’s southern border.

“Nobody wants a shutdown, nobody wants the president to use some kind of emergency powers,” Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said on Fox News Sunday. “We just need to do our job, and we can do it.”

‘I’ll get it built’

Trump was resolute at last week’s State of the Union address to Congress.

“Where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down,” the president said. “I’ll get it built.”

So far, no deal has been reached by a bipartisan bicameral conference committee tasked with finding a compromise on border security before U.S. government funding expires on Friday. But Trump holds a wildcard – his authority as commander-in-chief to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress altogether.

“I don’t think anybody questions his legal authority to declare a national emergency,” Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said late last week.

“That would be a gross abuse of power, in my view,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told VOA. “It’s pretty clear you can’t declare an emergency just because you can’t get your way 100 percent in the Congress. So let’s try and work this out through the normal process.”

In the abstract, the president’s authority to declare a national emergency is not in question.

“It turns out that the federal statute books are actually littered with hundreds of places where a president can declare national emergencies in various contexts,” George Washington University law professor Paul Schiff Berman said, who added that some statutes do allow a president “to move around money within the federal budget to address the emergency.”

The catch

But there is a catch: the very concept of an emergency as a sudden and dire situation.

“All of these statutes were written it appears with the idea that every once in a long while, there would be a true crisis—could be a natural disaster, could be a foreign invasion, something like that—where the need to act quickly was so important that the president would need these national emergency powers because there just wouldn’t be enough time for Congress to convene,” Berman said. “None of those [envisioned situations] would apply in a case like building a wall which is going to take many, many years, if it ever happens at all.”

A national emergency declaration from Trump would almost certainly trigger swift lawsuits as well as congressional action to overturn it.

“There is, within the law, the ability of Congress to stop a national emergency,” political analyst John Hudak of the Washington-based Brookings Institution said. “It requires both houses of Congress to vote to say that the national emergency is over. Now Democrats can certainly do that alone in the House. They cannot, however, do it alone in the Senate; it would require several Republican votes.”

‘Serious constitutional question’

Already, some Republicans have expressed unease about Trump suggesting he might act on his own.

“The whole idea that presidents — whether it’s President Trump, [hypothetically] President [Elizabeth] Warren or [hypothetically] President [Bernie] Sanders – can declare an emergency and somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress being involved, is a serious constitutional question,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters last week.

By contrast, Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott warmed to the prospect.

“[House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi said there is not going to be funding for a wall. I think the president ought to use his emergency power to try to secure the border and, if he’s going to do that, I think he ought to look at trying to get a permanent fix to DACA [protections for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children] and TPS [protected status for refugees and others fleeing hardship].”

Democrats, meanwhile, are united in opposition.

“Declaring a national emergency, particularly when there is no national emergency, would be a significant mistake. It is clear that a growing number of Republicans share that view, and I hope the president doesn’t go that route,” Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told VOA.

Trump appeared undeterred, tweeting on Saturday, “The Wall will get built one way or the other!”

Urgency questioned

The president has argued that America’s safety is imperiled as a result of illegal narcotics and migrants entering the United States. Some observers note that America’s border security deficiencies are hardly new or sudden.

“I think a lot of Americans look at this skeptically and say, ‘What has changed between the beginning of the president’s term and now that makes this such a dire emergency?’” Hudak said.

Some see grave potential risks if Trump goes forward with an emergency declaration.

“[I]f it is misused, it essentially becomes like a president declaring martial law and taking over the powers of Congress. It’s the sort of thing that we would look at another country doing and say that’s a big problem,” Berman said.

Nevertheless, the president faces intense pressure to deliver on his border wall promise, according to Brookings Institution political analyst William Galston, who says, politically, Trump is “in a box.”

“The president has used the issue of the wall to cement the bond between himself and his core supporters and he would probably incur significant political damage if he were seen by them to be standing down, surrendering, or accepting a compromise that they don’t think he should,” Galston said.

 

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US Facing Friday Deadline to Avert New Government Shutdown

The U.S. government is facing a Friday deadline for funding about a quarter of its operations, struggling to avert another shutdown after a record 35-day closure was ended last month.

Construction money for a barrier at the U.S. southern border with Mexico remains at the center of the dispute, with President Donald Trump asking for $5.7 billion in funding and opposition Democrats apparently ready to offer some money, but much less than the president wants.

Several lawmakers said late last week they were close to reaching a deal, even as it remained unclear what Trump would agree to.

But on Sunday, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the lead Republican on a 17-member congressional panel trying to reach agreement on border security funding, told Fox News, “I think the talks are stalled right now. I’m not confident we’re going to get there.”

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told NBC News  another shutdown “absolutely cannot” be ruled out. He said whether lawmakers are close to reaching a deal on border security funding “depends on who you listen to.”

Mulvaney added, “The president really does believe that there is a national security crisis and a humanitarian crisis at the border and he will do something about it. He is going to do whatever he legally can to secure that border.”

He said if Trump does not win approval for as much money as he wants he is likely to say, “I’ll go find the money someplace else,'” by tapping other government funds, a move sure to draw a legal challenge from Democrats.

Trump is set to travel to the border at El Paso, Texas, for a rally Monday night to focus on his demands for a wall to curb illegal migrants from entering the U.S.

When the five-week closure ended Jan. 25, a bipartisan group of 17 Republican and Democratic lawmakers was created to hammer out details of what border security operations would be funded and how much money would go toward Trump’s demand for a wall, perhaps his most popular pledge from his successful 2016 campaign for the White House.

Democrats initially offered no funding for a wall, but now lawmakers familiar with the negotiations say Trump’s opponents appear ready to agree to some border barrier funding, perhaps as much as $2 billion, along with provisions for heightened controls at ports of entry to thwart drug smuggling and increased use of drones and other technology to try to halt illegal entry into the country.

Lawmakers have often said since the shutdown ended that a second closure would be prevented, but Trump has refused to rule it out if he does not like the border security agreement they present him.

He has not publicly stated what level of funding he would accept as a compromise to build a barrier along a relatively small portion of the 3,200-kilometer U.S.-Mexican border.

“The Democrats just don’t seem to want Border Security,” he said Saturday on Twitter. “They are fighting Border Agents recommendations. If you believe news reports, they are not offering much for the Wall. They look to be making this a campaign issue . The Wall will get built one way or the other!”

Trump has signaled that he could declare a national emergency to build a wall without congressional approval, by tapping funds approved for other projects. But key Republican lawmakers have warned the president not to, fearing the next time a Democrat is in the White House, he could declare an emergency to combat some problem at odds with the views of many Republicans, such as banning the use of some types of guns.

Democrats are also certain to file suit against any emergency that Trump declares, which could lead to months of court fights over the wall.

 

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Booker Focuses on Race Relations in Initial 2020 White House Swing

U.S. Senator Cory Booker made the nation’s complicated history with race relations and racial disparities a focal point at events in the key state of Iowa during his first 2020 presidential campaign swing over the weekend.

Booker, 49, a former Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey, frequently discussed incarceration and employment disparities, while also telling his parents’ story of trying to buy a house in an unintegrated New Jersey suburb in the late 1960s with the help of a volunteer civil rights lawyer.

Booker’s focus was an overture to the coalition of young, diverse voters that twice elected former Democratic President Barack Obama, while also differentiating his style from that of the first black U.S. president, who rarely discussed race during his campaign.

Booker’s emphasis on his personal and mayoral past, as well as his work as a senator on criminal justice issues, may also set him apart in a crowded field of Democratic candidates aiming to take on Republican President Donald Trump in what could be an historic election.

There are already four Democratic candidates vying to be the country’s first woman president, including U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, a former top prosecutor in the city of San Francisco and the state of California, who would also be the first black woman.

“Right here in Iowa, people meeting in barns — white folk and black folk — built the greatest infrastructure project this country has ever seen: the Underground Railroad,” Booker told a packed crowd at a brewery in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday,

referring to a network of safe houses used to assist black Americans fleeing slavery states to free states ahead of and during the U.S. civil war in the 1860s.

In Iowa, which hosts the first presidential party-nominating contest, African Americans make up just 3.8 percent of the population, according to government statistics. But black voters are a crucial Democratic bloc in states like South Carolina, which also hosts an early nominating contest.

Booker’s trip to Iowa occurred as prominent Democratic officials in Virginia faced calls to resign due to past racist photos and sexual assault allegations. Booker is set to campaign in South Carolina on Sunday.

At a roundtable in Waterloo, Iowa, on Friday, two-thirds of the panelists Booker’s campaign assembled were African-American community leaders. A subsequent forum at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids included Iowa City Council member Mazahir Salih, a Sudanese refugee.

Diane Lemker, 64, attended the Marshalltown brewery event and plans to participate in next year’s Democratic nominating caucuses for the first time. She liked Booker’s message of unity and inclusivity.

“Obama won the caucus in Iowa in 2008 and that’s what set him off — people couldn’t believe that a primarily white state would launch his candidacy and it did,” Lemker told Reuters.

Andrew Turner, an up-and-coming Democratic activist and strategist in Iowa who managed successful Des Moines City Council and state auditor races, said he thought Booker hit the right notes on his first trip to the state.

“He really got the rising leaders in the party,” Turner said of Booker’s campaign roundtables. “They crushed this.”

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Gun-seizure Laws More Popular Since Parkland Shooting

In the year since the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school, a number of states have passed laws making it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence against others, and courts are issuing an unprecedented number of seizure orders across the country. 

 

Supporters say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the U.S. Gun advocates, though, say such measures undermine their constitutional rights and can result in people being stripped of their weapons on false or vindictive accusations. 

 

Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to 14. Several more are likely to follow in the months ahead. 

 

More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized for weeks, months or up to a year were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others, according to data from several states obtained by The Associated Press. The actual number is probably much higher since the data were incomplete and didn’t include statistics from California. 

 

The laws gained momentum after it was learned that the young man accused in the Florida attack, Nikolas Cruz, was widely known to be mentally troubled yet had access to weapons, including the assault-style rifle used to kill 17 students and staff members last Valentine’s Day at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

 

“Parkland would never have happened if Florida had a red flag law,” Linda Beigel Schulman said during a recent news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign his state’s new law any day. Her son, Scott Beigel, was a teacher and coach killed during the Parkland attack. 

​Where laws were passed

 

Florida passed a red flag law as part of a gun-control package in the wake of the shooting. Aside from New York, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont also have adopted variations since then. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington already had similar laws. 

 

Several states are debating them this year, including New Mexico, where two students were killed in a school shooting in December 2017. Mike Heal, police chief in the town of Aztec, responded to the shooting at the local high school and testified in support of the red flag proposal, saying, “I know I cannot keep everyone safe, but give me the tools to try.” 

 

The laws are being invoked frequently in many of the states that have them. 

 

Authorities in Maryland granted more than 300 petitions to temporarily disarm individuals in the three months after the state’s law went into effect Oct. 1. Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said the cases included four “significant” threats of school shootings, and that a majority of the people who were subjects of the orders were suffering from mental health crises. 

 

“These orders are not only being issued appropriately, they are saving lives,” Popkin told lawmakers last month. 

 

In Vermont, a prosecutor obtained an order to strip gun rights from a teenager released from jail after being accused of plotting a school shooting. 

1,000-plus court orders in Florida

Florida courts granted more than 1,000 orders in the first nine months of its new law. Broward County, which includes Parkland, has been at the forefront, accounting for roughly 15 percent of cases statewide.  

Among the first people subjected to the law was Cruz’s younger brother, who authorities said was showing signs of violence after allegedly trespassing at the high school after the shooting. In another case, Florida authorities took dozens of firearms from a bailiff accused of threatening other courthouse employees. 

 

Connecticut has the nation’s longest-standing red flag law, which went into effect in 1999 after a mass shooting at the state lottery office. Authorities there say new awareness of the law contributed to a spike in 2018 in warrants issued to take away weapons — 268, the highest total on record, according to court data. 

 

The rise reflects the more aggressive posture police have adopted since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and other attacks. 

 

One study found that the Connecticut law reduced gun suicides by more than 10 percent in recent years and that a similar law in Indiana led to a 7.5 percent drop. 

 

“It really gives us a unique opportunity as prosecutors to come in before the violence has occurred. Often we are tackling it on the other side,” said Kimberly Wyatt, a prosecutor in King County, Wash., who has been seeking one or two such orders per week in and around Seattle. 

 

She said authorities use the best available research and their judgment, looking at whether a person has talked about suicide, threatened others, stalked someone or shown signs of a mental health crisis. 

Unfair enforcement feared

 

Gun-rights advocates argue that the laws can be used unfairly based on unproven accusations. 

 

“In today’s society, the police are going to err on the side of caution. The threshold for issuing these types of warrants has been lowered,” lamented Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. 

 

Debates in state legislatures often turn on how much due process gun owners should receive and who can petition for the orders. In some states, only police can file the petitions. Other states allow members of the person’s household, relatives, school officials, employers and health care providers to do so. 

 

Most states allow for temporary orders that are issued for days or weeks. Judges then hold hearings to decide whether to extend them for up to one year. 

 

During the debate in New Mexico, Army veteran Rico Giron testified that people could see their guns seized over grudges between family members or neighbors. 

 

“It’s incredibly dangerous because it opens the door for vindictiveness and revenge,” Giron said. 

 

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely, said he wants parents to have another option if they have a child suffering from mental illness. 

 

“The state has an obligation to say, ‘Yes, there is something we can do for you,’ ” Ely said. 

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Warren Makes Presidential Bid Official With Call for Change

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren made her bid for the presidency official on Saturday in this working-class city, grounding her 2020 campaign in a populist call to fight economic inequality and build “an America that works for everyone.”

Warren delivered a sharp call for change at her presidential kickoff, decrying a “middle-class squeeze” that has left Americans crunched with “too little accountability for the rich, too little opportunity for everyone else.” She and her backers hope that message can distinguish her in a crowded Democratic field and help her move past the controversy surrounding her past claims to Native American heritage.

Weaving specific policy prescriptions into her remarks, from Medicare for All to the elimination of Washington “lobbying as we know it,” Warren avoided taking direct jabs at President Donald Trump. She aimed for a broader institutional shift instead, urging supporters to choose “a government that makes different choices, choices that reflect our values.”

Warren announced her campaign in her home state of Massachusetts at a mill site where largely immigrant factory workers went on strike about 100 years ago, a fitting forum for the longtime consumer advocate to advance her platform.

She was scheduled to travel later in the day to New Hampshire, home to the nation’s first primary, where Warren could have an advantage as a neighboring-state resident with high name recognition. She intended to spend Sunday in Iowa, where the leadoff caucuses will be the first test of candidates’ viability.

Warren was the first high-profile Democrat to signal interest in running for the White House, forming an exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve.

She was introduced Saturday by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., who has endorsed her in the primary. The backing could prove valuable for Warren, given his status as a rising young Democratic star and his friendship with one of her potential 2020 rivals, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas.

Warren enters the race as one of the party’s most recognizable figures. She has spent the past decade in the national spotlight, first emerging as a consumer activist during the financial crisis. She later led the congressional panel that oversaw the 2008 financial industry bailout. After Republicans blocked her from running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she helped create, she ran for the Senate in 2012 and unseated a GOP incumbent.

She has $11 million left over from her commanding 2018 Senate re-election victory that can be used on her presidential run.

Still, Warren must compete against other popular Democrats who will be able to raise substantial money. A recent CNN poll found that fewer Democrats said they’d be very likely to support Warren if she runs than said the same of former Vice President Joe Biden or Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Still, about as many Democrats said they’d be at least somewhat likely to support Warren as said the same of Harris or Sanders.

That challenge is on display this weekend as Democratic presidential contenders — or those considering a run — fan out across the crucial early-voting states. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is in Iowa, while New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is visiting South Carolina. Another possible presidential rival, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, planned to be in New Hampshire on Saturday.

And Warren’s launch comes at a challenging moment for the 69-year-old senator. She’s apologized twice over the past two weeks for claiming Native American identity on multiple occasions early in her career. That claim has created fodder for Republicans and could overshadow her campaign.

The campaign launch will test whether the controversy is simply a Washington obsession or a substantive threat to her candidacy. Doug Rubin, a Boston-based strategist who advised Warren during her first Senate run in 2012, said in an interview that most voters will respond to “the powerful message she’s been talking about,” in terms of battling social and economic injustices, rather than the back-and-forth over her personal identity.

Another threat could come from a fellow senator who has yet to announce his own plans for 2020: Sanders. They’re both leaders of the Democrats’ liberal vanguard, but some Sanders supporters are still upset she didn’t support him during his 2016 primary run against Hillary Clinton. And as a senator from Vermont who won the New Hampshire primary, he would likely go into the Granite State as an early favorite if he decided to run again.

Despite their similarities, Warren and Sanders have taken somewhat divergent paths in recent months as they prepare for the primary. After proposing an “ultra-millionaire tax” that would hit the wealthiest 75,000 households in America, Warren told Bloomberg News last week that she continues to “believe in capitalism” but wants to see stricter rules to prevent gaming the system — a marked contrast with the self-described democratic socialism of Sanders.

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Trump’s Year 3 Aims for Dramatic Sequels to Rival Originals

As President Donald Trump prepares to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for a second time, he’s out to replicate the suspenseful buildup, make-or-break stakes and far-flung rendezvous of their first encounter. The reality star American president will soon learn if the sequel, on this matter and many others, can compete with the original.

In his third year in office, Trump is starting to air some reruns.

Trump is headed into fresh negotiations with North Korea, is still pushing for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and is considering a new round of tax cuts. The focus on his greatest hits in part reflects Trump’s desire to fulfill campaign promises and energize voters for his 2020 re-election campaign. But it’s not without risks.

“The danger is the public starts recognizing this is Groundhog Day,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “You keep thinking there is a win and there is no win. It’s not clear Trump is scoring durable history points.”

With his reality TV background and instinctive sense of how to control a news cycle, Trump has long micromanaged the staging of his image, eager to project power and drama.

Those instincts were on full display during the recent scrap over his second State of the Union address. Trump rejected his aides’ suggestions that he deliver the address from an alternate site after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., withdrew her invitation for him speak at the Capitol during the government shutdown. Trump opted to wait for the real deal.

“There is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber,” he tweeted.

In his dealings with North Korea, both past and future, Trump has been intent on ginning up excitement.

After months of trading escalating nuclear threats with the North, Trump memorably popped his head into the White House briefing room last March to hint at big news to come. Not long afterward, officials announced that a Trump-Kim meeting was in the offing.

From there, Trump teased dates and locations, threatened to cancel it — and did so at one point — before signing off on the plan for the historic meeting in Singapore last June.

Trump was delighted that the first summit received round-the-clock cable TV coverage for days, something he had hoped to repeat last summer when he met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private matters. But Trump saw the Putin coverage take a negative turn after he refused to side with U.S. intelligence agencies over the Russian president in a post-summit news conference.

This time, Trump has again tried to draw out the suspense, teasing the possibility of another meeting with Kim for months and waxing poetic about his relationship with the authoritarian leader. But Trump has glossed over the fact that the first meeting produced little in the way of tangible results toward denuclearization, instead stressing that North Korea’s threats have fallen off and suggesting there is an opportunity for further progress.

Aides counseled the president that a second summit would probably not carry the same drama as the first, and needed more concrete results, but Trump urged them to push forward before deciding to announce it during this past week’s State of the Union address. He insisted to advisers that the Vietnam summit would still be must-see TV, and told one confidant that the idea of “good vs. evil” would be irresistible.

Brinkley noted there is precedent for requiring more than one summit to make a deal, citing the repeated arms control meetings between the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. But he argued that those were a better investment, given that “Russia is a great power” while “North Korea is a rogue actor.”

As for other White House sequels, Trump would be happy to produce Tax Cut 2.0. He oversaw a massive tax cut at the end of 2017 and teased the possibility of another in the runup to the 2018 midterm elections. Economic adviser Larry Kudlow pushed back on the suggestion that it was simply a pre-election ploy as he spoke to reporters at the White House this past week.

“We’re kicking it around,” said Kudlow. “We’re looking at a couple of very interesting things that may wind up surprising folks.”

You can also count on Trump to continue the tough immigration rhetoric that defined his campaign and became a central part of his midterm election push. He forced the government into a 35-day partial shutdown over his demand to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and views his immigration efforts as key to his re-election campaign.

Brinkley said of Trump’s repeat performances: “He’s a child of the 1970s with boxing matches. It’s like the rematch with Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier.”

 

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Time Running Out for Trump, Congress to Reach Border Security Solution

Time is running out for U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional lawmakers to compromise on a border security deal that would prevent another partial government shutdown next Friday. Just days after Trump repeated his call for $5.7 billion in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a bipartisan committee is expected to present a compromise proposal. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

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White House Throws Bipartisan Camp David Retreat

Can the presidential retreat that produced the landmark Camp David Mideast peace accord do anything to help bridge the divides in polarized Washington? 

White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney isn’t setting any lofty goals, but he’s invited a bipartisan mix of legislators to the rustic Maryland campus for an informal get-together this weekend as he tries to build relationships across the aisle.

 

WATCH: Time Running Out for Border Security Solution

While President Donald Trump hasn’t shown much interest in spending time at Camp David, it’s at least the third time Mulvaney has used the remote complex in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park as neutral ground for Washington political figures. He huddled there with Republicans last month after Trump agreed to the short-term budget deal that re-opened the government, and he held a White House staff retreat at the property not long after taking charge.

White House officials stressed the latest gathering had “no agenda,” even as it comes in the midst of the ongoing budget stalemate over Trump’s long-promised border wall. Instead, Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina, sees the sleepover as an opportunity to build bipartisan relationships at the quiet retreat.

“Camp David is a perfect setting for the chief of staff to rekindle some old friendships, forge new ones, and have a free exchange of thoughts and ideas between America’s policy makers, regardless of political party,”  White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in statement. 

He added in a Fox News interview that, “There’s no agenda, there’s no set conversation about border security,” although the issue was sure to come up.

Among those confirmed to attend are several members of the committee working to negotiate a border deal, including Reps. Tom Graves, R-Ga., Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and border state Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas.

Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, will also be attending the get-together, as will the panel’s top Republican, Steve Womack of Arkansas. Others attending include Republican Reps. Rob Woodall of Georgia and Roger Williams of Texas.

Yarmuth said the getaway was pitched as “a bipartisan group to see if there were bipartisan opportunities moving forward.” He didn’t know the agenda, but said Mulvaney did call him Thursday “to see if I had any dietary restrictions.”

Yarmuth said he and Mulvaney “get along really well. We don’t agree on anything, except we both love golf.” Back when Mulvaney was being tapped as Trump’s budget director, Yarmuth said he was asked to write a letter of recommendation.

“I wrote short and sweet,” he recalled. “I wrote: `Mick Mulvaney and I agree on nothing, but he is a man of principle and character and intelligence.”‘ He said the note continued, “I know we would have an amicable working relationship.”

A few weeks after Mulvaney got the job, Yarmuth texted him and said: “Mick, I guess you owe me big time. Oh, that’s right, you don’t believe in debt. Seriously, congratulations, I’m happy for you.”

Mulvaney texted back: “Actually I do owe you. I’ve been told your comments made a difference. I’ll be repaying you with rounds of golf at Doral. Apparently, I now know the owner.”

Mulvaney extended some of the Camp David invitations as he mingled with his former colleagues on the House floor during Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday. Members’ spouses have also been invited to the get-together, which was set to kick off Friday evening. Several of those attending said they weren’t sure what would be on the agenda, but welcomed the visit.

“My response is, look, there’ve been a lot of peace accords at Camp David — we worked on a lot of different things there,” said Fleischmann, who has known Mulvaney for years. “It’s a great opportunity.” 

Fleischmann, who was part of the same 2011 Tea Party class that took control of the House as Mulvaney, and played with him on the congressional baseball team, expressed hope the get-together would be fruitful.

“Dialogue — and maybe talking about some of the things that are out there,” said Fleischmann, who is the top Republican on the Appropriation Committee’s subcommittee on Homeland Security, and a member of the panel trying to negotiate the border wall deal. “I think the group that they’re picking are people who are generally peace makers, if you will.”

Yarmuth was more skeptical about the potential.

“I’m not sure in this environment,” he said, “it matters what the members do.”

And, yes, while Camp David did produce the landmark 1978 peace accord between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, 40 years later there is still plenty of work to be done to achieve Mideast peace.  

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Washington State Considers Vaccine Bill Following Measles Outbreak 

Lawmakers in the U.S. Northwestern state of Washington, which is battling a measles outbreak, are considering a bill that would prohibit parents from claiming a personal or philosophical exemption to their children receiving vaccinations.

Hundreds of people opposed to the bill lined up early Friday to attend a hearing in Olympia, the state capital, where lawmakers heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of the proposed bill.

The measure came after health officials reported at least 52 known cases of the measles in the state and four cases in the neighboring state of Oregon.

Current law

Washington state law requires children to be vaccinated for nearly a dozen diseases, including measles, before they can attend schools or child care centers. However, exemptions are allowed for parents based on personal beliefs, including medical, religious and philosophical views.

The proposed bill would eliminate that personal exemption, meaning all children would have to be vaccinated for a range of diseases before enrolling in schools or child care facilities.

The bill has the support of the state medical association as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared a state of emergency last month because of the measles outbreak. 

Opponents testifying against the bill Friday included environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has questioned vaccine safety standards.

The Associated Press cited state Department of Health records that showed 4 percent of Washington secondary school students had nonmedical vaccine exemptions. The records showed that 3.7 percent of those exemptions were personal, while the remainder were religious exemptions.

Arguments for, against

Proponents of eliminating the personal exemption argue that schools must be safe and protect vulnerable children. Opponents of the eliminating the exemption argue that the vaccines come with a medical risk and that therefore people must have a choice about whether to use them. 

Both California and Vermont have removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren.  

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