Washington, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump stood by his demands for funding for a border wall Sunday as another round of shutdown talks failed to break an impasse, while newly empowered House Democrats planned to step up the pressure on Trump and Republican lawmakers by passing legislation this week to reopen parts of the government.
Trump, who spent part of the day at Camp David for staff meetings, showed no signs of budging on his demand more than $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. White House officials affirmed that request in a letter to Capitol Hill after a meeting with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress.
The letter from Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought also formalized Trump's declaration that the wall would be built from steel, rather than concrete, asking for funding for a "steel barrier on the Southwest border."
The White House said the letter, as well as details provided during the meeting, sought to answer Democrats' questions about the funding request. Democrats, though, said the administration failed in both the meeting and the letter to provide a full budget of how it would spend the billions requested on the wall, money the president wants from Congress.
The letter includes a request for $800 million for "urgent humanitarian needs," a reflection of the growing anxiety over migrants traveling to the border — which the White House said Democrats raised in the meetings. And it repeats some existing funding requests for detention beds and security officers, which have already been panned by Congress and would likely find resistance among House Democrats.
Still, the request makes clear a wall is a top priority. Vought writes that a "physical barrier — wall — creates an enduring capability that helps field personnel stop, slow down and/or contain illegal entries."
Trump sought to frame a steel barrier as progress as he returned from the presidential retreat in Maryland, saying Democrats "don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel." The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, but Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.
With the partial shutdown in its third week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure people receive their tax refunds. That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.
The seemingly intractable budget showdown marks the first clash for Trump and Democrats, who now control the House. It pits Trump's unpredictable negotiating stylings against a largely united Democratic front, as many Republicans watch nervously from the sidelines and hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay.
Although Trump tweeted that the Sunday session had been "productive," two Democrats familiar with the meeting gave a different take, saying the White House had not provided the budget details they had requested and again declined to re-open government. One of the officials — neither was authorized to speak publicly — said no additional meetings were scheduled.
Trump said earlier in the day that he was hoping for "some very serious talks come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday." While insisting he wanted to make a deal, he also declared he would not give an inch in his fight for funding for a border barrier, saying: "There's not going to be any bend right here."
Among the Republicans expressing concerns was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.
"Let's get those reopened while the negotiations continue," Collins said on NBC's "Meet the Press." Democrats criticized McConnell for waiting on Trump's support, but Collins said she was sympathetic to McConnell's opposition to moving legislation without agreement from the president.
Several Republicans pushed the Interior Department to find money to restaff national parks amid growing concerns over upkeep and public safety. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested Sunday that pressure would only mount amid the shutdown, which he said is disrupting Transportation Security Administration operations, home loans and farmers in his state.
"Democrats and now a growing number of Republicans are coming together and saying let's open up the government and debate border security separately," Schumer told reporters in New York.
Adding to concerns, federal workers might miss this week's paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, "then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night."
Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit. Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.
Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on ABC's "This Week" that the executive power has been used to build military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but would likely be "wide open" to a court challenge for a border wall. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the idea a "nonstarter."
"Look, if Harry Truman couldn't nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn't have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border," said Schiff, D-Calif.
Trump also asserted that he could relate to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren't getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to "make adjustments" to deal with the shutdown shortfall. A day earlier, the president had tweeted that he didn't care that "most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats."
Mulvaney, sought to frame Trump's support for a steel barrier as progress in the negotiations, saying on NBC that "if he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, 'See? He's not building a wall anymore,' that should help us move in the right direction."
Trump said he planned to call the heads of American steel companies in hopes of coming up with a new design for the barrier he contends must be built along the southern border. His administration has already spent millions constructing wall prototypes near the border in San Diego.
Jerusalem, Jan 6 (AP/UNB)— President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said Sunday that the U.S. military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State group, and on Turkey assuring the safety of Kurdish fighters allied with the United States.
Bolton, who traveled to Israel to reassure the U.S. ally of the Trump-ordered withdrawal, said there is no timetable for the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria, but insisted it's not an unlimited commitment.
"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal," Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem. "The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement."
Those conditions, he said, included the defeat of remnants of IS in Syria, and protections for Kurdish militias who have fought alongside U.S. troops against the extremist group.
Bolton's comments mark the first public confirmation that the drawdown has been slowed, as Trump faced widespread criticism from allies and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for a policy that was to have been conducted within weeks.
Trump announced in mid-December that the U.S. will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria. Trump's move has raised fears over clearing the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria who fought alongside American troops against IS extremists. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.
Bolton, who is to travel on to Turkey on Monday, said the U.S. is insisting that its Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State group are protected from any planned Turkish offensive. He is to deliver a warning to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week.
"We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States," Bolton said. He said in meetings with Turkish counterparts, he will seek "to find out what their objectives and capabilities are and that remains uncertain."
Trump has stated that he would not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds, Bolton said. "That's what the president said, the ones that fought with us."
Bolton said the U.S. has asked its Kurdish allies to "stand fast now" and refrain from seeking protection from Russia or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. "I think they know who their friends are," he added, speaking of the Kurds.
He said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford would continue negotiations with his Turkish counterparts this week to seek protection for America's Kurdish allies in Syria.
Additionally, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who has been serving since August as the special representative for Syrian engagement and was named last week as the American special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, is to travel to Syria this week in an effort to reassure the U.S.'s Kurdish allies that they are not being abandoned, Bolton said.
Bolton said U.S. troops would remain at the critical area of al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region. He defended the legal basis for the deployment, saying it's justified by the president's Constitutional authority, adding "I'm a strong believer in Article II."
The U.S. is also seeking a "satisfactory disposition" for roughly 800 Islamic State prisoners held by the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition, Bolton said, adding talks were ongoing with European and regional partners about the issue.
Bolton is to have dinner Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Sunday evening to discuss the pace of the U.S. drawdown, American troop levels in the region, and the U.S. commitment to push back on Iranian regional expansionism. Bolton was expected to explain that some U.S. troops based in Syria to fight IS will shift to Iraq with the same mission and that the al-Tanf base would remain.
Bolton also was to convey the message that the United States is "very supportive" of Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, according to a senior administration official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss Bolton's plans before the meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bolton on Sunday also toured the ancient tunnels beneath the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. He watched a virtual reality tour of the historic site and dined there with his Israeli equivalent, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer.
Visiting American officials typically avoid holding official meetings in parts of east Jerusalem, which is contested between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump himself, however, also toured the area in a previous visit.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 war, a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Mexico City, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an ambitious plan Saturday to stimulate economic activity on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border, reinforcing his country's commitment to manufacturing and trade despite recent U.S. threats to close the border entirely.
Mexico will slash income and corporate taxes to 20 percent from 30 percent for 43 municipalities in six states just south of the U.S., while halving to 8 percent the value-added tax in the region. Business leaders and union representatives have also agreed to double the minimum wage along the border, to 176.2 pesos a day, the equivalent of $9.07 at current exchange rates.
Lopez Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1, said the idea is to stoke wage and job growth via fiscal incentives and productivity gains. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained that low wages in Mexico lure jobs from the U.S. Mexico committed to boost wages during last year's negotiations to retool its free trade agreement with the U.S. and Canada.
Speaking from Ciudad Juarez, a manufacturing hub south of El Paso, Texas, Lopez Obrador said Saturday he agrees with Trump that Mexican wages "should improve." He decried, for instance, that Mexican auto workers earn a fraction of what their U.S. counterparts take home, topping out at just $3 an hour versus a typical wage of $23 an hour in the U.S.
Yet the economic plan comes at a delicate moment for the border region. Trump threatened as recently as last week to close the U.S.-Mexico border "entirely" if Democrats refuse to allot $5.6 billion to expand the wall that separates the two countries.
Economy Minister Graciela Marquez noted Saturday that the border region targeted for economic stimulus accounts for 7.5 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product. And in recent years, she said, the 43 municipalities included in the plan have boasted combined economic growth of 3.1 percent, above the national average of 2.6 percent for the six years through 2017.
Much of that robustness owes to trade and proximity with the U.S., the world's biggest economy.
"We have to take advantage of this locomotive that we have on the other side of the border," she said.
Marquez expressed optimism that the stimulus plan will direct more Mexican and foreign investment into the border region. The plan for the border region is part of what Lopez Obrador calls "curtains of development" to shore up different corridors of the country so that Mexicans stay rather than migrating in search of better economic prospects.
California, Jan 5 (AP/UNB)- A late-night fight at a California bowling alley turned deadly Friday night, killing three men and injuring four.
The Torrance Police Department responded to calls of "shots fired" at the Gable House Bowl shortly before midnight.
Multiple victims were found with gunshot wounds inside Gable House Bowl, which is described on its website as a gaming venue that offers bowling, laser tag and a full arcade.
Police said three men died at the scene and four male victims were injured, two of whom were transported to a local hospital for unknown injuries. The other two injured victims sought out their own medical attention.
Authorities have not released details about what led to the shooting, but witnesses said it stemmed from a fight between two large groups of people at the bowling alley.
Wes Hamad, a 29-year-old Torrance resident, was at the bowling alley with his 13-year-old niece and cousin when he saw a "huge fight" break out. Hamad said the brawl, which lasted about five minutes, blocked the entrance of Gable House Bowl and devolved into "complete chaos."
"I grabbed my niece and started running towards the far end of the bowling alley," he said. "As we were running, we heard 15 shots."
As he was leaving, Hamad said he saw a woman weeping over a man who was riddled with multiple gunshot wounds in his head and neck.
Torrance, California, is a coastal city about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Los Angeles.
Sacramento, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — Xavier Becerra became perhaps the nation's most influential attorney general when he was named California's top lawyer two years ago, and he has since used his post atop what some call the "Resistance State" to pummel President Donald Trump's administration with dozens of legal actions.
Heading into 2019, he may turn up the heat even more, buoyed by his overwhelming endorsement from voters, a Democratic U.S. House and a more aggressive governor who takes office Monday.
Becerra kicked off the new year on Thursday by leading a coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general in appealing a recent ruling by a conservative federal judge in Texas that declared the Obama-era Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The law that Becerra called the "backbone of our health care system" will remain in place while the case is considered by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
In all, California's first Latino attorney general says he has filed or joined more than 100 briefs and other legal actions — including 45 lawsuits — against the Trump administration, mostly targeting its environmental and immigration policies. He has scored some significant victories, most notably in defending former President Barack Obama's "Dreamers" program that protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, and in defending the bulk of California's so-called sanctuary laws that limit state cooperation with federal immigration agents.
"We're going to keep respecting immigrant families, like my own, who work hard to build a better California," Becerra said at one of the numerous news conferences he has held in English and Spanish, sometimes twice in one day, to criticize Trump policies.
Trump once threatened to pull all immigration agents out of California, which he predicted would create a "crime mess like you've never seen."
Becerra, 60, was appointed attorney general by departing Gov. Jerry Brown, and in November won the support of nearly two-thirds of voters over Republican Steven Bailey, a retired judge. Bailey criticized Becerra for reacting to "every tweet coming out of Washington" instead of focusing on reducing crime.
In Democratic-dominated California, however, Becerra's biggest criticism from a Democratic primary opponent, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, was that he didn't sue Trump more.
Becerra's campaign website calls him the son of immigrants, although his father, Manuel, was born in Sacramento and grew up in Mexico. His mother, Maria Teresa, was born in Mexico and came to the United States after marrying his father.
Becerra says his father "was more immigrant than my mom" because he spoke Spanish on road construction crews, while his mother spoke English at her clerical jobs.
He mentions his parents at every opportunity and used to wear his father's wedding ring as his own.
Becerra's longtime friends also credit his parents for his success.
"Hard-working, commitment to education, strong integrity and character: He never wavered from those values," said former California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, a longtime state legislator who gave Becerra his first political job running Torres' state Senate office in Los Angeles.
Becerra quickly learned the benefits and pitfalls of L.A. Latino politics when he moved there in 1986 to take the job.
Within a few years he went from becoming an assistant attorney general to winning an open state Assembly seat after he says his wife, a perinatologist (an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies), told him to "get it out of your system."
He almost immediately began campaigning for an open congressional seat and was elected to the first of 12 two-year terms. There he made immigration and health care issues a priority as he rose to become Democratic caucus chairman before Brown picked him in 2016 to replace Kamala Harris, who won a U.S. Senate seat.
"It was really a meteoric rise," said David Ayon, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and an analyst at the political opinion research firm Latino Decisions. He has known Becerra since they attended Stanford University at the same time.
Becerra was among the first of a "new generation of Latino candidates in Southern California that were really highly educated — young, energetic and had the appearance of being these Boy Scouts," said Ayon, co-author of "Power Shift: How Latinos in California transformed politics in America."
Don Thomas, who has known Becerra since kindergarten, said Becerra learned to stay calm and self-controlled in high school as a varsity golfer and an exceptional poker player. Becerra studied the advice of famous golfers even as he practiced with a set of used clubs costing less than $100.
"I'm going to read about it, I'm going to study it, then I'm going to practice my ass off," Thomas said. "That's just the way he went about things."
Teachers and friends routinely mispronounced Xavier, sometimes nicknaming him "Zav" or "X." Becerra didn't start correcting them with the proper Spanish pronunciation, "HAH-vee-air," until college.
Unlike his father, Becerra recalls no overt discrimination but cringes when remembering how, nearly 30 years ago as a young politician, two women at a chamber of commerce reception told him, "We like you a lot; you blend so well."
Lori Kalani, co-chair of the Cozen O'Connor law firm's state attorneys general practice, represents business clients who often aren't particularly happy with California's aggressive environmental and consumer protection laws, like its nation-leading internet privacy law. But she credited Becerra with being a quick learner and being "extremely open-minded to opposing opinions."
Critics from both parties said his concentration on Trump means his office neglects other core duties, like combating opioid misuse or seizing guns from those no longer allowed to have them.
Becerra said he intends to devote more of his agency's time to priorities including white collar crime, elder abuse and human and sex trafficking. But he created new bureaus to protect the Affordable Care Act, women's reproductive rights and environmental laws, he said, "to defend the people, the values and the resources of our state."
The attorney general's office has long been a stepping stone for politicians, including Brown and Harris, and Becerra's rise fueled speculation about a future bid for governor or U.S. Senate. Becerra ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles mayor in 2001, explored a Senate run before his appointment, and was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016.
The attorney general's office gives him a "perfect platform" for moving up, said Torres.
"But I don't think he's in any rush to do so. He's very thoughtful, methodical, in how he proceeds," Torres said. "I don't think there's anything that's beyond his reach when he's ready to move."