Category Archives: World

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Trump Urges House Republicans to Move Quickly on Budget, Tax Cuts

President Donald Trump urged House Republicans to move swiftly on passing a budget bill during a conference call Sunday, clearing the way for what he described as an historic push for tax cuts.

 

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both joined the House GOP call in which Trump called on members to adopt the budget passed by the Senate this week, so that they can move on to passing his tax reform plan.

 

Trump told the members they were on the verge of doing something historic, according to one Republican official on the call, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly what was intended as a private update for members.

 

Another GOP aide familiar with the conversation said that Trump told the members again and again that the party would have a steep price to pay in next year’s midterm elections if they failed to pass his plan, which would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and double the standard deduction used by most average Americans. The president also said multiple times that, beyond the looming elections, his plan was the right thing to do for country, the person said.

 

The Senate last week passed a budget that includes rules that will allow Republicans to get tax legislation through the Senate without Democratic votes and without fear of a Democratic filibuster.

 

Desperate for legislative victory

Republicans are desperate to rack up a legislative win after a series of embarrassing failures that have come despite the fact that the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

 

On the call, House Speaker Paul Ryan told members he hoped to pass a revised Senate budget bill this week to increase the changes that tax reform can be enacted by the end of the year.

Trump will also work to rally support for the plan on the Hill Tuesday at a lunch with Senate Republicans.

 

Congress also continues to wrestle with the health care system.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he’s willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor – if Trump makes clear he supports it. A proposal by two senators – Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington – would extend for two years federal insurance payments that Trump has blocked. But Trump has offered mixed signals, alternately praising and condemning the effort – confusing Democrats and Republicans alike.

 

Asked whether he would bring the bill to the floor, McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he was waiting “to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might sign.”

 

“If there’s a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign.  And I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I will be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it,” the Republican said. He added of Trump: “I think he hasn’t made a final decision.”

 

Compromise on health care?

The plan unveiled last week likely has 60 votes in the Senate, mostly from Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged McConnell to bring it to the floor “immediately, this week.”

 

“This is a good compromise,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He predicted it would pass “by a large number of votes” and that the president would ultimately sign it to avoid the blame for rising insurance premiums.

 

“If Republicans think that if premiums go up they’re going to avoid the blame, if Senator McConnell thinks that, he’s wrong,” Schumer said.

Trump at first suggested he supported the temporary fix as he continues to hold out hope for the passage of legislation that would repeal and replace former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have repeatedly failed to achieve. But White House officials said later that Trump would only sign an interim bill that also lifts the tax penalties that Obama’s health care law imposes on people who don’t buy coverage and employers who don’t offer plans to employees. The White House also wants provisions making it easier for people to buy low-premium policies with less coverage. Top Senate Democrats reject those demands.

 

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who was also spotted at Trump’s Virginia golf course Sunday, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump doesn’t want to back a plan “without also getting something for folks who are being hurt.”

 

“And I think the criticisms you’ve heard this week are like, ‘Look, I’m okay with doing a deal.’ This is the president now. ‘But I’m not getting enough for the folks who are getting hurt. So give me more by way of associated health plans. Give me more of the things that we know we can do for folks back home to actually help them,’” Mulvaney said.

 

“I think there’s actually a pretty good chance to get a deal,” he added. “It’s just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn’t far enough yet.”

 

McConnell, in his interviews, also but pushed back against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s efforts to recruit candidates to challenge Republican incumbents who support McConnell’s leadership, arguing that what Republicans need is candidates who can win.

 

“Look, this is not about personalities. This is about achievement. And in order to make policy, you have to actually win the election,” he said on Fox News. “And some of these folks that you’ve been quoting, as I said are specialists on nominating people who lose.”

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Debate Sharpens in Washington on Nuclear Pact with Iran

Debate is sharpening in Washington on the merits and potential pitfalls, the risks and possible rewards, of the United States possibly pulling out of the international nuclear accord with Iran. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the U.S. Congress has decisions to make now that President Donald Trump has withheld certifying Iran’s compliance with the pact co-negotiated by the Obama administration.

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Key US Senators Call for More Information on Niger Attack

Key U.S. senators called Sunday for the White House to be more forthcoming about the country’s military involvement in Niger after four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush there earlier this month.

In separate interviews on NBC’s “Meet the Press” news show, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senate leader Charles Schumer said they support an effort last week by Republican Senator John McCain to find out the details of the attack as well as the scope of the U.S. campaign against Islamic State in the west African country. Both Graham and Schumer said they had been unaware of the substantial number of the U.S. troops in Niger.

“I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Graham said. “This is an endless war without boundaries and no limitation on time and geography. You’ve got to tell us more.

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said. “So John McCain is going to try to create a new system to make sure that we can answer the question, why were we there, we’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.

“I can say this to the families,” Graham said. “They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies.”

Schumer said, “We need to look at this carefully. This is a brave new world. There are no set battle plans.”

He said that he would favor revisiting the current congressional authorization for overseas military action that is 16 years old, an agreement stemming from the 2001 terror attacks on the U.S.

“There is no easy answer but we need to look at it,” he said. “The answer we have now is not adequate.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Graham and McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last week that the military is shifting its counter-terrorism strategy to focus more on Africa. The defense chief said military leaders want to expand their ability to use force against suspected terrorists.

U.S. officials believe the Niger attack was launched by a local Islamic State affiliate, but the Pentagon is still investigating the circumstances of how it occurred.

 

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Trump Defends Frequent Twitter Bickering with US Officials

President Donald Trump is defending his frequent bickering on Twitter with officials across the U.S. political spectrum, saying it sometimes pushes officials “to do what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Trump told Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday, “Sometimes it helps, to be honest with you.”

Republican lawmakers have often suggested Trump end his frequent tweets, but he said, “I doubt I would be here if it were not for social media, to be honest with you.”

He said he views social media as way to present his views unfiltered by the mainstream national media, “because there is a fake media out there. I get treated very unfairly by the media. You have to keep people interested also.

“You know what I find,” he said, “the ones that don’t want me to are the enemies. The people who really don’t like what happened with me and winning the election and of all the things.

“I don’t think I want to take any chances,” Trump said. “And we do get points out there. I mean, we get tremendous points. I can express my views when somebody expresses maybe a false view that they said I gave.

“It works, it just seems to work. I mean, it is a little unconventional,” he said.

On Sunday, Trump continued his attacks against a Florida congresswoman, Democrat Frederica Wilson, who quoted Trump as telling the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger that he “knew what he was getting into” when he joined the military.

In a tweet, Trump said, “Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action & vote” for Republicans.

In the interview, Trump said he wants Congress to move quickly on tax cuts and reforms.

“I will say this,” Trump said, “I want to get it by the end of the year, but I’d be very disappointed if it took that long.”

 

 

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Democratic Chairman: Trump ‘Most Dangerous’ President Ever

Trying to quell accusations that he is ousting activists from the party’s left flank, Democratic Chairman Tom Perez told fellow Democrats on Saturday that unity is crucial in the fight against President Donald Trump, whom he lambasted as an “existential threat” to the nation.

“We have the most dangerous president in American history and one of the most reactionary Congresses in American history,” Perez said as he addressed the first Democratic National Committee gathering since his February election.

The former Obama Cabinet official blistered “a culture of corruption” that he said extends to Trump’s Cabinet, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he warned that internal ruckuses over party priorities and leadership would distract from the goal of winning more elections to upend Republicans’ domination in Washington.

The chairman’s plea comes amid a rift over his appointments to little-known but influential party committees and the 75 at-large members of the national party committee. Perez and his aides plug his choices as a way to make the DNC younger and more diverse, but the moves also mean demotions for several prominent Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries and then supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez in the postelection race for party chairman.

Perez spent time during this week’s proceedings meeting privately with frustrated DNC members, including some he did not reappoint. He apologized publicly Saturday for not reaching all of those members before he announced his appointments, but he defended his overall aim.

“If someone ever asks you which wing of the party you belong to, tell `em you belong to the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party,” he said, “because you’re trying to get s— done. That’s what we’re trying to do here, folks. We’re trying to move the ball forward.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have exalted in the internal wrangle, painting the DNC as incompetently discordant.

“The Democratic Party’s message of doom and gloom has left them leaderless and nearly extinct in most of the country,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “If Tom Perez wants his party to stick with that same failed strategy, Republicans will gladly keep working to help the middle class by cutting their taxes and fixing our broken health care system.”

To some extent, the Democrats’ developments reflect routine party politics after an unusually contentious chairman’s race, but they also fit into the ongoing philosophical tussle on the left.

Sanders’ backers accused the DNC in 2016 of stacking the nominating process in Clinton’s favor and shutting out the Vermont independent who still seeks to pull the party toward his ideology. Those frustrations carried over into the DNC chair race between Perez, the former labor secretary, and Ellison.

Now, Perez’s appointees will hold sway over setting the primary calendar in 2020 and, perhaps most importantly, whether the party’s superdelegates, including the 75 at-large members, will continue to cast presidential nominating votes at Democratic conventions without being bound to any state primary or caucus results.

Democrats are looking next month to hold the Virginia governor’s seat and wrest the New Jersey governor’s seat from Republican control. Next year, Democrats need to flip at least 24 Republican congressional seats to regain control of the House. They face an uphill battle in gaining control of the Senate, because they must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won last November. Democrats also want to increase their gubernatorial roster from the current 15 state executives.

Separately, former Attorney General Eric Holder urged the party to play the long game necessary to overcome Republican advantages scored when GOP-run legislatures drew congressional and legislative districts around the country after the 2010 census.

Holder leads a political action group, with fundraising support for former President Barack Obama, to back candidates in states where gerrymandering gives Democrats an uphill path to majorities. He singled out Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, among other states, where Republicans “picked their voters” with districts that “are impressive in their geographic creativity but they are destructive to representative democracy.”

The Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case challenging the Wisconsin districts. Legal analysts expect Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, will decide whether the court for the first time declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

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Trump Plans to Help With Russia Legal Bills

President Donald Trump intends to spend at least $430,000 of his own money to help pay the legal bills of White House staff and campaign aides related to the investigations into Russian election meddling in the 2016 election.

A White House official confirmed the plan, which was first reported by the website Axios.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the president’s plans.

Trump has dismissed multiple ongoing investigations into whether his campaign colluded with Russia as a “witch hunt” made up by Democrats to explain Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss.

Intelligence officials have concluded that Russia had a clear preference for Trump in the 2016 campaign and tried to help him win.

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2 Former Presidents Break With Tradition to Denounce Trump

Former presidents are shedding a traditional reluctance to criticize their successors, unleashing pointed attacks on the Trump White House and the commander in chief – but without mentioning him by name.

Remarks on the same day by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama raise the prospect that more dissenters will follow in defiance of President Donald Trump and his policies.

In separate speeches, Bush and Obama both rejected cruelty and bigotry.

Bush drew his biggest applause when he said, “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”

Obama used a similar approach to denounce Trump’s brand of politics.

Presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday the White House does not believe the former presidents’ remarks were aimed at Trump personally.

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Improved US-India Ties: A Tricky Balancing Act

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week makes his first trip to South Asia since the White House laid out a new strategy for the region. The visit includes a stop in India, whose relationship with the U.S. has evolved into what is effectively an alliance, much to the suspicion of New Delhi’s neighbors, as VOA’s Bill Gallo reports.

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US Shutters Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan Office

With the Trump administration’s revised South Asia strategy still in its infancy, the curtain has silently fallen on the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), ending months of speculations that the State Department planned to eliminate the unit.

The office of the special envoy was tasked with heralding reconciliation efforts with the Taliban and other political factions in Afghanistan.

State Department officials, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, told VOA the core SRAP team focused on Afghan reconciliation was dissolved on Sept. 29. The unit will be integrated into the broader South and Central Asia Bureau.

Most of the office’s employees, according to officials, were temporary civil servants who lost their jobs because their contracts were not renewed.

Remaining staff

A State Department spokesperson told VOA that former SRAP staff remain at the department and are reporting to Alice Wells, who serves as the acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and as the acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.  

 

“She [Wells] will also work to integrate SCA Bureau and SRAP operations. State Department employees arrive and depart from positions regularly, and we have well-established mechanisms to transfer their expertise and contacts to successors,” the spokesperson told VOA.

Current and former U.S. diplomats say the SRAP office focused on three specific areas.

First, the unit took the lead in pursuing Afghan reconciliation, specifically talks with the Taliban. Second, the office was tasked with building support for its efforts within the international community, including at EU and NATO summits. And lastly, the SRAP office took steps to facilitate the success of Afghanistan’s national unity government, including putting together the Ashraf Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah political deal in Afghanistan.

State Department officials say Wells is tasked with heading efforts to integrate SRAP operations within the broader South and Central Asia Bureau.

The consolidation began in June, with the departure of then-acting SRAP Laurel Miller.

Integration

A State Department spokesperson told VOA, “We are at the beginning of a process to determine the bureaucratic and management steps required to integrate the SCA bureau and SRAP operations. But no decisions have yet been made with respect to the timeline and process of this integration.”

This lack of clarity has added to the apparent sense of uncertainty within the State Department, which is already dealing with proposed budget cuts and a number of unfilled positions.

Some former senior U.S. diplomats are skeptical about the timing of the decision to roll back SRAP, saying disbanding the policy team and losing crucial expertise increases risk at a time when the United States is renewing its commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan and promoting reconciliation.

“Unfortunately, I think with the closure of SRAP office or really a departure of temporary employees, we have lost a great deal of expertise and institutional knowledge — deep domain expertise about the Taliban and how to attempt to negotiate with the Taliban,” said former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson.

Olson, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, noted, “There continues to be a need for some kind of special envoy, special representative — whatever you want to call it — someone who is focused full time on Afghan reconciliation that is pursuing political settlement.”

 

He added if the U.S. is going to get a diplomatic initiative going, “you can’t wait till you have the initiative to build the team.”

Olson, however, acknowledged that the integration of SRAP’s duties into a broader bureau may add some clarity to South Asia strategy.

“The disadvantage to SRAP was putting India and Pakistan in separate bureaucratic domains, which tended to reduce the coherence of U.S. policy toward South Asia,” he said.

Now a lost relic of former President Barack Obama’s administration, the SRAP post was created in the wake of a troop surge in the Afghan war, with Richard Holbrooke appointed to lead U.S. policy in the volatile Afghan-Pakistan war zone.

Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.

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