Washington, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump walked out of his negotiating meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday — "I said bye-bye," he tweeted— as efforts to end the 19-day partial government shutdown fell into deeper disarray over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a negotiating session that was over almost as soon as it began, Democrats went to the White House asking Trump to reopen the government. Trump renewed his call for money for his signature campaign promise and was rebuffed. Republicans and Democrats had differing accounts of the brief exchange, but the result was clear: The partial shutdown continued with no end in sight.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will miss paychecks on Friday; a little more than half of them are still working without pay. Other key federal services are suspended, including some food inspections. And as some lawmakers expressed discomfort with the growing toll of the standoff, it was clear Wednesday that the wall was at the center.
Trump revived his threat to attempt to override Congress by declaring a national emergency to unleash Defense Department funding for the wall. He's due to visit the border Thursday to highlight what he declared in an Oval Office speech Tuesday night as a "crisis." Democrats say Trump is manufacturing the emergency to justify a political ploy.
That debate set the tone for Wednesday's sit-down at the White House.
Republicans said Trump posed a direct question to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: If he opened the government, would she fund the wall? She said no. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump slammed his hand on the table, said "then we have nothing to discuss" and walked out.
Republicans said Trump, who passed out candy at the start of the meeting, did not raise his voice and there was no table pounding. Pelosi said Trump "stomped" out of the room and was "petulant." Republicans said he was merely firm.
"The president made clear today that he is going to stand firm to achieve his priorities to build a wall — a steel barrier — at the southern border," Vice President Mike Pence told reporters afterward.
Trump had just returned from Capitol Hill, where he urged jittery congressional Republicans to hold firm with him. He suggested a deal for his border wall might be getting closer, but he also said the shutdown would last "whatever it takes."
He discussed the possibility of a sweeping immigration compromise with Democrats to protect some immigrants from deportation but provided no clear strategy or timeline for resolving the standoff, according to senators in the private session. He left the Republican lunch boasting of "a very, very unified party," but GOP senators are publicly uneasy as the standoff ripples across the lives of Americans and interrupts the economy.
Trump insisted at the White House: "I didn't want this fight." But it was his sudden rejection of a bipartisan spending bill late last month that blindsided leaders in Congress, including Republican allies, now seeking a resolution to the shutdown.
The effects are growing. The Food and Drug Administration says it isn't doing routine food inspections because of the partial federal shutdown, but checks of the riskiest foods are expected to resume next week.
The agency said it's working to bring back about 150 employees to inspect more potentially hazardous foods such as cheese, infant formula and produce. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency can't make the case that "a routine inspection of a Nabisco cracker facility" is necessary during the shutdown, however. He said inspections would have ramped up this week for the first time since the holidays, so the lapse in inspections of high-risk foods will not be significant if they resume soon.
Republicans are mindful of the growing toll on ordinary Americans, including disruptions in payments to farmers and trouble for home buyers who are seeking government-backed mortgage loans — "serious stuff," according to Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was among several senators who questioned Trump at the Capitol.
"I addressed the things that are very local to us — it's not just those who don't receive a federal paycheck perhaps on Friday, but there are other consequences," she said, mentioning the inability to certify weight scales for selling fish. The president's response? "He urged unity."
That unity was tested late Wednesday when the House passed a spending bill, 240-188, to reopen one shuttered department, Treasury, to ensure that tax refunds and other financial services continue. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting, defying the plea to stick with the White House.
Democrats said before the White House meeting that they would ask Trump to accept an earlier bipartisan bill to reopen the government with money for border security but not the wall. Pelosi warned that the effects of hundreds of thousands of lost paychecks would begin to ripple across the economy.
"The president could end the Trump shutdown and reopen the government today, and he should," Pelosi said.
Ahead of his visit to Capitol Hill, Trump renewed his notice that he might declare a national emergency and try to authorize the wall on his own if Congress won't approve the money he's asking.
"I think we might work a deal, and if we don't, I might go that route," he said.
Republicans are particularly concerned about such a threat, seeing that as an unprecedented claim on the right of Congress to allocate funding except in the direst circumstances.
"I prefer that we get this resolved the old-fashioned way," Thune said.
Trump did not mention the idea of a national emergency declaration Tuesday night. A person familiar with deliberations who was unauthorized to discuss the situation said additional "creative options" were being considered, including shifting money from other accounts or tapping other executive authorities for the wall.
Trump on Wednesday floated ideas for a broader immigration overhaul. Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has suggested a compromise that would include wall funding as well as protecting some immigrants — young "Dreamers" and those in Temporary Protective Status, two programs Trump is eliminating — from deportation.
Beijing, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Uncertainty over the outcome of China-U.S. trade talks cast a pall Thursday over Asian markets as both sides kept mum about what lies ahead.
Most Asian markets opened lower after the talks wrapped up the day before without clear indications of whether progress was made on resolving a dispute over Chinese technology policies that has the world's two biggest economies embroiled in a bruising trade war.
The three-day talks that started Monday were the first face-to-face meetings since Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed Dec. 1 to suspend further action against each other's imports for 90 days while they negotiate over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a statement saying the two sides had "detailed exchanges" and would "maintain close contact" but gave no details.
A statement from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative didn't characterize the tone of the talks or say what would happen next. It said U.S. negotiators would await "guidance on the next steps" after reporting back to Washington.
So far, the U.S. side has described the exchanges in a positive light.
Trump said late Tuesday on Twitter that the talks were "going very well!" On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Fox Business Network, "We're optimistic." She added, "we expect that something will come of this. I don't know the timing and exactly what that will look like, but what I can be sure of is that we are moving towards a more balanced and reciprocal trade agreement with China."
Still, the U.S. statement said the negotiations dealt with the need for any deal with China to be "subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement" — a comment that reflects U.S. frustration that the Chinese have failed to live up to past commitments.
The USTR also said the negotiations "focused on China's pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods and other products and services from the United States." Trump has complained repeatedly about the U.S. trade deficit with China, which last year likely exceeded the 2017 gap of $336 billion.
U.S. stocks surged Wednesday on optimism that the midlevel talks in Beijing will be followed up with discussions between higher-ranking U.S. and Chinese officials. Investors were encouraged that talks planned for two days were extended to three.
But the enthusiasm was wearing thin by Thursday, when Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.5 percent in early trading while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo dropped 1.4 percent.
Washington wants Beijing to change its plans to use government support to make Chinese companies world leaders in robotics and advanced technologies.
Chinese officials have suggested Beijing might alter its industrial plans but reject pressure to abandon what they consider a path to prosperity and global influence.
Neither side has given any indication its basic position has changed. Economists say the 90-day window is too short to resolve all the conflicts between the biggest and second-biggest global economies.
"We can confidently say that enough progress was made that the discussions will continue at a higher level," said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. "That is very positive." The council and other U.S. business groups have pressed for a resolution to the trade hostilities between the world's two biggest economies.
Chinese exports to the U.S. have held up despite tariff increases of up to 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports, partly due to exporters rushing to fill orders before more increases hit. Forecasters expect American orders to slump this year.
China has imposed penalties on $110 billion of American goods, slowing customs clearance for U.S. companies and suspending issuing licenses in finance and other businesses.
As the trade talks wound down, China's top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, met with CEO Elon Musk of electric car brand Tesla Inc.
"We hope you can get a firm foothold and expand the market," Li told Musk during the meeting at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature. "We hope your company can become an in-depth participant in China's opening and a promoter of the stability of Chinese-U.S. relations."
Tesla broke ground this week in Shanghai on its first factory outside the U.S. Musk said production of its Model 3 would start late this year.
China is the largest electric vehicle market and is strongly encouraging its development. Last year it ended restrictions on foreign ownership of EV producers to help spur the industry's growth, and in July, Tesla announced plans to build the Gigafactory 3 facility in Shanghai.
Beijing has offered concessions on investment regulations and stepping up purchases of American soybeans, natural gas and other exports, seeking to defuse complaints from the U.S. and other trading partners.
However, the U.S. side is pressing Beijing to scrap or change rules Washington says block market access or improperly help Chinese companies.
U.S. companies also want action on Chinese policies they complain improperly favor local companies. Those include subsidies and other favors for high-tech and state-owned industry, rules on technology licensing and preferential treatment of domestic suppliers in government procurement.
For its part, Beijing is unhappy with U.S. export and investment curbs, such as controls on "dual use" technology with possible military applications. They say China's companies are treated unfairly in national security reviews of proposed corporate acquisitions, though almost all deals are approved unchanged.
With cooling economic growth raising the urgency for a settlement, this week's talks went ahead despite tension over the arrest of a Chinese tech executive in Canada on U.S. charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions against Iran.
Beijing, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — U.S. and Chinese envoys have extended trade talks into a third day Wednesday after President Donald Trump said negotiations over their tariff war were "going very well!"
The two governments have announced no details, but Asian stock markets rose on news the negotiations that originally were planned for two days were extended.
The two sides are meeting face-to-face for the first time since Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on Dec. 1 to suspend further punitive action against each other's imports for 90 days pending negotiations over the fight sparked by American complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.
Trump said late Tuesday on Twitter that "Talks with China are going very well!" Earlier, an official Chinese newspaper warned Washington not to demand too much.
Washington, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — What to do with hundreds of foreign Islamic State fighters captured in Syria has become a critical and growing problem for the Trump administration as it prepares to pull troops out of the country.
A senior administration official said Tuesday that resolving the fate of these prisoners is a top priority as the government lays the groundwork with allies to comply with President Donald Trump's Dec. 19 order to withdraw the 2,000 American troops from Syria, where they have been working alongside the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces to fight the Islamic State group since 2015.
But there are no easy answers. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said releasing the fighters, among them Europeans and some U.S. citizens, would be "unacceptable" since they could simply rejoin the remnants of Islamic State fighters in Syria or elsewhere.
"This matters because SDF holds hundreds of IS fighters, including many European citizens, and they might go free if no solution is found," said Bobby Chesney, a national security law expert at the University of Texas.
European nations have been reluctant to take back citizens with ties to the Islamic State, not wanting the legal challenge of prosecuting them or the potential security risk if they are released.
And moving former fighters to the United States poses some of the same challenges the U.S. has faced with men detained at the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including whether it's feasible to prosecute militants captured on the battlefields of northern Syria, according to experts.
"It's one thing for the government to be very confident that an individual joined or tried to join ISIS. And sometimes it's still another thing for the government to be able to mount confidently a criminal prosecution against that individual," said Joshua Geltzer, a senior counterterrorism official under President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, the prisoner problem is only growing worse.
On Sunday, the Syrian Defense Forces announced the capture of five fighters, including two U.S. citizens, one of whom has been identified as a former school teacher from Houston.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just began a tour of eight Middle Eastern nations to discuss the withdrawal of the American troops. National security adviser John Bolton returned Tuesday from a meeting in Turkey, where he was seeking a guarantee of safety for the Kurdish fighters who have fought alongside U.S. troops against the Islamic State.
There are fears that the U.S. withdrawal will leave a door open for Turkey to assault the U.S.-allied SDF fighters. Turkey views them as part of a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders. SDF commanders have warned that they will be unable to hold the 700 prisoners if Turkish forces invade Syria following a U.S. withdrawal.
Administration officials so far do not have a plan for what to do with the prisoners, according to a separate U.S. official, who said that few countries have been willing to accept any of their captured citizens. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose the information publicly.
In a recent case of an American suspected of IS membership, U.S. officials wrestled for more than a year, never charged him and then ultimately released him in Bahrain.
The problem has been further complicated by conflicting reports of Trump's timeline for recalling the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. When he made his surprise announcement of the withdrawal three weeks ago, Trump said he wanted to complete it quickly. His abrupt decision led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat IS.
More recently, Trump and other administration officials have insisted they favor an orderly pullout. The senior administration official said the U.S. will defeat remaining IS fighters on the way out to prevent a resurgence and that the U.S. will oppose any mistreatment of opposition forces, such as the SDF, that fought with the United States against IS.
"These questions are hard enough, if you know the timeline on which you're making them — if you know what the U.S. involvement will or won't be over that timeline," Geltzer said.
One of the foreign fighters recently captured is Warren Christopher Clark, a former substitute schoolteacher from Houston, Texas, who was first identified by George Washington University's Program on Extremism. Researchers spent months investigating to confirm his identity through multiple sources. The program has identified more than 73 Americans, by their legal names, who are known to have joined jihadist groups.
"Clark is one of several dozen Americans to join the Islamic State out of the around 295 whom intelligence officials claim have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the terrorist group," according to Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism.
Clark was captured along with four other foreign jihadists — two from Pakistan, one from Ireland and a fourth man, Zaid Abed al-Hamid, who also is believed to be from the United States, although that has not been confirmed.
In a letter to IS that was obtained by the researchers, Clark submitted a resume noting that he had a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston, had worked as a substitute teacher at the Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, Texas, and had done teaching stints in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
"Dear Director, I am looking to get a position teaching English to students in the Islamic State," he wrote to the group in an accompanying cover letter. "Teaching has given me the opportunity to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and learning capabilities."
Washington, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump made a somber televised plea for border wall funding Tuesday night, seeking an edge in his shutdown battle with congressional Democrats as he declared there is "a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul."
Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for funding on security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid an extended partial government shutdown.
Trump called on Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him, saying it was "immoral" for "politicians to do nothing." Previous meetings have led to no agreement.
Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Schumer said Trump "just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration."
Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: "I've met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I've held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible."
The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.
Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the $5.7 billion he's requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night.
With his use of a formal White House speech instead of his favored Twitter blasts, Trump embraced the ceremonial trappings of his office as he tries to exit a political quagmire of his own making. For weeks he has dug in on a signature campaign promise to his base voters, the pledge to build an impregnable "beautiful" wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The partial government shutdown reached its 18th day, making the closure the second-longest in history. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay, and government disruptions are hitting home with everyday Americans.