Washington, Jan 18 (AP/UNB) — She imperiled his State of the Union address. He denied her a plane to visit troops abroad.
The shutdown battle between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is playing out as a surreal game of constitutional brinkmanship, with both flexing their political powers from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as the negotiations to end the monthlong partial government shutdown remain stalled.
In dramatic fashion, Trump issued a letter to Pelosi on Thursday, just before she and other lawmakers were set to depart on the previously undisclosed trip to Afghanistan and Brussels. Trump belittled the trip as a "public relations event" — even though he had just made a similar warzone stop — and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.
"Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative," wrote Trump, who had been smarting since Pelosi, the day before, called on him to postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union address due to the shutdown.
Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker — let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the White House, traveling to a combat region — is very rare. Lawmakers were caught off guard. A bus to ferry the legislators to their departure idled outside the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.
The political tit-for-tat between Trump and Pelosi laid bare how the government-wide crisis has devolved into an intensely pointed clash between two leaders both determined to prevail. It took place as hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and Washington's routine protocols — a president's speech to Congress, a lawmaker's official trip — became collateral damage.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker planned to travel to Afghanistan and Brussels to thank service members and obtain briefings on national security and intelligence "from those on the front lines." He noted Trump had traveled to Iraq during the shutdown and said a Republican-led congressional trip also had taken place.
Trump's move was the latest example of his extraordinary willingness to tether U.S. government resources to his political needs. He has publicly urged the Justice Department to investigate political opponents and threatened to cut disaster aid to Puerto Rico amid a spat with the island territory's leaders.
Some Republicans expressed frustration. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted, "One sophomoric response does not deserve another." He called Pelosi's State of the Union move "very irresponsible and blatantly political" but said Trump's reaction was "also inappropriate."
While there were few signs of progress Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner dashed to the Capitol late in the day for a meeting with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And the State Department instructed all U.S. diplomats in Washington and elsewhere to return to work next week with pay, saying it had found money for their salaries at least temporarily.
For security reasons, Pelosi would normally make such a trip on a military aircraft supplied by the Pentagon. According to a defense official, Pelosi did request Defense Department support for overseas travel and it was initially approved. The official wasn't authorized to speak by name about the matter, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said the president does have the authority to cancel the use of military aircraft.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California slammed Trump for revealing the closely held travel plans. "I think the president's decision to disclose a trip the speaker's making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way," Schiff said.
Trump's trip to Iraq after Christmas was not disclosed in advance for security reasons.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wanted Pelosi to stay in Washington before Tuesday, a deadline to prepare the next round of paychecks for federal workers.
"We want to keep her in Washington," Sanders said. "The president wants her here to negotiate."
The White House also canceled plans for a presidential delegation to travel to an economic forum in Switzerland next week, citing the shutdown. And they said future congressional trips would be postponed until the shutdown is resolved, though it was not immediately clear if any such travel — which often is not disclosed in advance — was coming up.
Trump was taken by surprise by Pelosi's move to postpone his address and told one adviser it was the sort of disruptive move he would make himself, according to a Republican who is in frequent contact with the White House and was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
While he maintained a public silence, Trump grew weary of how Pelosi's move was being received on cable TV and reiterated fears that he was being outmaneuvered in the public eye. Trump was delighted at the idea of canceling Pelosi's trip, believing the focus on the resources needed would highlight her hypocrisy for cancelling his speech, according to the Republican.
Trump has still not said how he will handle Pelosi's attempt to have him postpone his State of the Union address until the government is reopened so workers can be paid for providing security for the grand Washington tradition.
Pelosi told reporters earlier Thursday: "Let's get a date when government is open. Let's pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it's OK not to pay people who do work. I don't."
Trump declined to address the stalemate over the speech during a visit Thursday to the Pentagon, simply promising that the nation will have "powerful, strong border security."
Pelosi reiterated she is willing to negotiate money for border security once the government is reopened, but she said Democrats remain opposed to Trump's long-promised wall. "I'm not for a wall," Pelosi said twice, mouthing the statement a third time for effect.
In a notice to staff, the State Department said it can pay most of its employees beginning Sunday or Monday for their next pay period. They will not be paid for time worked since the shutdown began in December until the situation is resolved, said the notice.
The new White House travel ban did not extend to the first family.
About two hours after Trump grounded Pelosi and her delegation, an Air Force-modified Boeing 757 took off from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington with the call sign "Executive One Foxtrot," reserved for the first family when the president is not traveling with them. It landed just before 7 p.m. at Palm Beach International Airport, less than two miles from the president's private club.
A White House spokesperson did not answer questions about the flight.
Washington, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration will roll out a new strategy Thursday for a more aggressive space-based missile defense system to protect against existing threats from North Korea and Iran and counter advanced weapon systems being developed by Russia and China.
Details about the administration's Missile Defense Review — the first compiled since 2010 — are expected to be released during President Donald Trump's visit to the Pentagon with top members of his administration.
The new review concludes that in order to adequately protect America, the Pentagon must expand defense technologies in space and use those systems to more quickly detect, track and ultimately defeat incoming missiles.
Recognizing the potential concerns surrounding any perceived weaponization of space, the strategy pushes for studies. No testing is mandated, and no final decisions have been made.
Specifically, the U.S. is looking at putting a layer of sensors in space to more quickly detect enemy missiles when they are launched, according to a senior administration official, who briefed reporters Wednesday. The U.S. sees space as a critical area for advanced, next-generation capabilities to stay ahead of the threats, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details of the review before it was released.
The administration also plans to study the idea of basing interceptors in space, so the U.S. can strike incoming enemy missiles during the first minutes of flight when the booster engines are still burning.
Congress, which ordered this review, already has directed the Pentagon to push harder on this "boost-phase" approach, but officials want to study the feasibility of the idea and explore ways it could be done.
The new strategy is aimed at better defending the U.S. against potential adversaries, such as Russia and China, who have been developing and fielding a much more expansive range of advanced offensive missiles that could threaten America and its allies. The threat is not only coming from traditional cruise and ballistic missiles, but also from hypersonic weapons.
For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled new strategic weapons he claims can't be intercepted. One is a hypersonic glide vehicle, which could fly 20 times faster than the speed of sound and make sharp maneuvers to avoid being detected by missile defense systems.
"Developments in hypersonic propulsion will revolutionize warfare by providing the ability to strike targets more quickly, at greater distances, and with greater firepower," Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last year. "China is also developing increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile warheads and hypersonic glide vehicles in an attempt to counter ballistic missile defense systems."
Current U.S. missile defense weapons are based on land and aboard ships. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both emphasized space-based capabilities as the next step of missile defense.
Senior administration officials earlier signaled their interest in developing and deploying more effective means of detecting and tracking missiles with a constellation of satellites in space that can, for example, use advanced sensors to follow the full path of a hostile missile so that an anti-missile weapon can be directed into its flight path.
Any expansion of the scope and cost of missile defenses would compete with other defense priorities, including the billions of extra dollars the Trump administration has committed to spending on a new generation of nuclear weapons. An expansion also would have important implications for American diplomacy, given long-standing Russian hostility to even the most rudimentary U.S. missile defenses and China's worry that longer-range U.S. missile defenses in Asia could undermine Chinese national security.
Asked about the implications for Trump's efforts to improve relations with Russia and strike better trade relations with China, the administration official said that the U.S. defense capabilities are purely defensive and that the U.S. has been very upfront with Moscow and Beijing about its missile defense posture.
The release of the strategy was postponed last year for unexplained reasons, though it came as Trump was trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
While the U.S. continues to pursue peace with North Korea, Pyongyang has made threats of nuclear missile attacks against the U.S. and its allies in the past and has worked to improve its ballistic missile technology. It is still considered a serious threat to America. Iran, meanwhile, has continued to develop more sophisticated ballistic missiles, increasing their numbers and their capabilities.
Caracas, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress has declared President Nicolas Maduro "illegitimate," moving a step closer to implementing a plan to challenge the socialist leader by declaring a caretaker government and calling early elections.
A resolution adopted Tuesday accuses Maduro of "usurping" power and says his administration's acts will no longer carry legal authority. Another resolution seeks to pry the military's loyalty away from Maduro by offering protection to members of the armed forces who support any transitional government.
"This is a historic accord," said National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who in less than two weeks on the job has managed to revitalize the often out-maneuvered opposition.
However, though weakened by Venezuela's economic collapse, Maduro so far has retained the support of the generals and other government institutions, including the courts, which previously ruled actions by the National Assembly invalid.
In invoking an article of the constitution about the transfer of power, lawmakers promised to hold early elections if and when Maduro steps aside, immediately drawing support from foreign capitals.
In Washington, Sen. Marco Rubio, an influential voice on U.S. policy toward Latin America, said it was time for the Trump administration to recognize Guaido as interim president — a title that Guaido has not claimed so far.
Vice President Mike Pence called Guaido and said the U.S. strongly supports his decision to "declare the country's presidency vacant."
Tensions in the oil-rich nation have been rising since Maduro took the oath of office Jan. 10 to begin a second, six-year term that many foreign governments considered illegitimate because most popular opposition parties were banned from running in the May presidential election and leading opposition politicians were jailed or driven into exile.
Guaido said last week that he is ready to step into the presidency temporarily and call for new elections, but only if he sees support from the military and common Venezuelans in nationwide street demonstrations set for later this month.
The resolution adopted Tuesday laying out a roadmap for a political transition led by the National Assembly came amid a frenzy of legislative activity. Among other measures approved was the one aimed at weakening military support for the president.
Maduro has cultivated a stronghold within the military by appointing generals to powerful government posts as Venezuela collapsed into a historic economic and political crisis, creating steep challenges for the anti-Maduro politicians.
"It's not going to be simple after 20 years of repression," Guaido said about the military.
Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuela analyst with the London-based consulting firm IHS Global Insight, said the military would be a key player behind the scenes to drive any regime change. The opposition is offering the armed forces incentives to break away rather than continue supporting Maduro, he said.
"They're laying the institutional grounds for both the military and the police in an eventual transition," Moya Ocampos said. "It gives them incentives to defect rather than to collaborate with the Maduro regime."
But so far there is little sign that support within the top ranks of the armed forces is fraying.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Tuesday that he was "worried" about attempts to subvert the constitution not by Maduro but his opponents.
"We must tell the Venezuelan people every day that the Bolivian Armed Forces deeply love the ideas of the commander Hugo Chavez," he said standing alongside Maduro, referring to the president's mentor and predecessor.
Maduro has largely ignored congress, arguing that it is outranked by a pro-government constitutional assembly. The pro-Maduro Supreme Court earlier ruled that acts of the opposition-dominated congress are invalid.
"Anyone who wants to mock the constitution and play politics, well, he'll have to face the constitution, the laws and the courts," Maduro said without mentioning Guaido. "The courts will put things in their place as always."
Congress also approved a resolution calling on dozens of foreign governments to freeze bank accounts controlled by Maduro's government to protect assets that legislators say belong to the Venezuelan people and which are being squandered through corruption and mismanagement.
Washington, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Monday denied he ever worked for Russia against U.S. interests, addressing an extraordinary question that has haunted his presidency and shows no sign of going away.
Speaking from the South Lawn, Trump issued a flat denial: "I never worked for Russia." He blasted former FBI and Justice Department officials and repeated his claim that the investigation into his ties to Moscow is a hoax.
Trump raised eyebrows over the weekend when he didn't directly answer the Russia question in an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a personal friend.
He was asked about a New York Times report that law enforcement officials began investigating, in 2017, whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against U.S. interests.
Trump said the question was "insulting," but did not directly deny it.
Monday's clear denial demonstrated the unprecedented pressure Trump faces as the special counsel's Russia investigation shows possible signs of wrapping up. After two years in office, the president is still being questioned about whether he was compromised by Russian intelligence agencies and he is still struggling to answer clearly.
White House aides expressed regret over the weekend that the president did not more clearly and forcefully deny being a Russian agent on Saturday when asked by the usually friendly Fox News host, according to three White House aides and Republicans close to the White House. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.
When Pirro asked if he had ever worked for Russia, Trump said it was "the most insulting thing I've ever been asked."
"I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written, and if you read the article you'll see that they found absolutely nothing," he said.
Trump went on to assert that no president has taken a harder stance against Russia than he has.
"If you ask the folks in Russia, I've been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other ... probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents," he said.
On Monday, Trump also defended his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, a move that has drawn Mueller's scrutiny. Trump called the Russia probe "a whole big fat hoax."
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Russian election interference and whether Trump's campaign coordinated with the Russians. He also is investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
Washington, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — With the government mired in shutdown week four, President Donald Trump rejected a short-term legislative fix and dug in for more combat Monday, declaring he would "never ever back down."
Trump rejected a suggestion to reopen the government for several weeks while negotiations would continue with Democrats over his demands for $5.7 billion for a long, impregnable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president also edged further away from the idea of trying to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress.
"I'm not looking to call a national emergency," Trump said. "This is so simple we shouldn't have to."
No cracks were apparent in the president's deadlock with lawmakers after a weekend with no negotiations at all. His rejection of the short-term option proposed by Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham removed one path forward, and little else was in sight. Congressional Republicans were watching Trump for a signal for how to move next, and Democrats have not budged from their refusal to fund the wall and their demand that he reopen government before border talks resume.
The White House has been considering reaching out to rank-and-file Democrats rather than dealing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to try and chip away at Democratic opposition to the wall. A White House official said plans were in the works to call freshman representatives, especially those who initially did not support Pelosi's bid for the speakership.
It was uncertain whether any Democrats would respond to the invitation.
Separately, around a dozen senators from both parties met Monday to discuss ways out of the shutdown gridlock. Participants included Graham and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was aware of the group's effort but added, "I wouldn't go so far as to say he's blessed it." The odds of the group producing an actual solution without Trump's approval seemed slim. In the past, centrists of both parties banding together have seldom resolved major partisan disputes.
Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill late Monday "discouraged," as GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota put it, as all signals pointed to a protracted fight.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the GOP chairman of the Appropriations Committee, compared the shutdown saga to the play "Waiting for Godot."
"And Godot never shows up," Shelby said. "We could be protracted here for a long time. There's nobody on the horse coming to rescue us ... that I know about."
Meanwhile, the impact of the 24-day partial government closure was intensifying around the country. Some 800,000 federal workers missed paychecks Friday, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills, and about half of them were off the job, cutting off some services. Travelers at the Atlanta airport, the nation's busiest, dealt with waits of more than an hour Monday as no-shows by security screeners soared.
Trump spent the weekend in the White House reaching out to aides and lawmakers and tweeting aggressively about Democratic foes as he tried to make the case that the wall was needed on both security and humanitarian grounds. He stressed that argument repeatedly during a speech at a farming convention in New Orleans on Monday, insisting there was "no substitute" for a wall or a barrier along the southern border.
Trump has continued to insist he has the power to sign an emergency declaration to deal with what he says is a crisis of drug smuggling and trafficking of women and children at the border. But he now appears to be in no rush to make such a declaration.
Instead, he is focused on pushing Democrats to return to the negotiating table — though he walked out of the most recent talks last week — and seized on the fact that a group of House and Senate Democrats were on a retreat in Puerto Rico. Democrats, he argued, were partying on a beach rather than negotiating — though Pelosi and Schumer were not on the trip.
White House officials cautioned that an emergency order remains on the table. Many inside and outside the White House hold that it may be the best option to end the budget standoff, reopening the government while allowing Trump to tell his base supporters he didn't cave on the wall.
However, some GOP lawmakers —as well as White House aides— have counseled against it, concerned that an emergency declaration would immediately be challenged in court. Others have raised concerns about re-routing money from other projects, including money Congress approved for disaster aid. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also warned that acting under an emergency order would set a troubling precedent for executive power.
For now, Trump apparently sees value in his extended fight to fulfill a key campaign pledge, knowing that his supporters — whom he'll need to turn out in 2020 to win re-election — don't want to see him back down.
Trump was taking a wide range of advice on both sides of the issue, including from his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Rep. Mark Meadows, as well as outside political advisers.
In the House, Democrats look to keep the pressure on Trump by holding votes this week on two bills: one that would reopen the government until Feb. 1, and a second that would reopen it until Feb. 28.
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the bills offer "additional options" to end the shutdown and would give lawmakers time for negotiations on border security and immigration.
A key question is how long Trump is willing to hold out in hopes of extracting concessions from Democrats.
Recent polling finds a slight majority of Americans opposed to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — and few see the situation at the border as a crisis — but views are predictably divided by partisanship.
Polls also show that Americans are more likely to fault Trump for the shutdown. A large majority of Democrats put responsibility on Trump, while a slightly smaller majority of Republicans blame Democrats. A modest share of Republicans either hold Trump responsible or say both sides are at fault.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Jan. 13 found that 54 percent of Americans oppose a wall along the border, while 42 percent express support for it. Fully 87 percent of Republicans favor the wall, compared with about as many Democrats (84 percent) who are opposed.