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Partial US Government Shutdown Enters Week 4

A partial U.S. government shutdown is in its fourth week, becoming the longest federal work stoppage in American history. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where finger-pointing abounds amid President Donald Trump’s continuing demand for border wall funding and congressional Democrats’ refusal to approve it.

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Trump: ‘Broken Border’ More Damaging Than Government Shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump contended Sunday that the damage from the country’s “badly broken border” with Mexico is “far greater” than the effects of the longest-ever partial government shutdown, now in its 23rd day.

“The building of the Wall on the Southern Border will bring down the crime rate throughout the entire Country!” Trump claimed on Twitter.

About 800,000 federal workers missed their first paychecks on Friday in the closures that have shuttered about a quarter of U.S. government operations.

The dispute centers on Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion to build a barrier along the 3,200-kilometer border with Mexico to thwart illegal immigration.

There was no movement toward a settlement, with Congress not meeting again till Monday.

Watch related video by VOA’s Michael Bowman:

“I’m in the White House, waiting,” Trump said. “The Democrats are everywhere but Washington as people await their pay. They are having fun and not even talking!”

Trump was ridiculing about 30 opposition Democratic lawmakers who flew to the sun-drenched Caribbean island territory of Puerto Rico for a charity performance of the hit Broadway show “Hamilton.”

Trump most recently has blamed Democrats for the government shutdown, but before it started Dec. 22, he said he said he would be “proud” to “own” it.

Numerous government services have been curtailed, while some museums and parks have been closed during the shutdown. The 800,000 federal civil servants who went without normal pay last week have been furloughed or ordered to work without pay, although they will be paid retroactively when the stalemate over Trump’s border wall plan is resolved.

Trump was asked late Saturday by Fox News talk show host Jeanine Pirro why he has not declared a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval as he signaled last week he was ready to do. But Trump said he wants to give Congress a chance to negotiate a deal.

“I want to give them a chance to see if they can act responsibly,” Trump said.

Trump walked out of a White House meeting last week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, when they refused to approve a border wall, even if he reopened the government and negotiated over border security for the next 30 days. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new border security funding, but none specifically for a wall.

Trump contended, “I’m ready, willing and able to get a deal done…. This country wants to have protection at the border. Many of our crimes, much — MS-13 comes through the border, drugs, a big proportion of the drugs from, you know, that we have from this country — in this country come through the border.”

New polls on wall, shutdown

Two new polls, by The Washington Post and ABC News, along with one from CNN, showed American voters blame Trump and Republicans more than Democrats for the partial government shutdown and oppose construction of the wall.

The Post-ABC poll said a slight majority (54 percent) opposes construction of the wall, with 42 percent favoring it. CNN’s poll said the split against was 56-39.

CNN said the public generally blames Trump for the shutdown, with 55 percent saying that he is more responsible to 32 percent for Democrats, with 9 percent saying both are responsible. The Post-ABC poll pegged the blame on Trump and Republicans at 53 percent to 29 percent on Democrats.

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Veterans Feel the Pinch, Weigh the Cost of Government Shutdown

It is more than three weeks into the partial government shutdown. Among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees affected by the political battle are military veterans. According to the latest government data, veterans make up about a third of the federal government’s civilian workforce.

Tyler Holmquist of Fredericksburg, Virginia, is a veteran and an employee of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He’s one of the federal workers furloughed in the government shutdown, unable to work or collect pay.

“You just start making adjustments. You start cutting eating out. You try to make less trips to town to save on gas,” Holmquist said.

Family legacy of service

Holmquist spent 24 years in the Marine Corps, continuing a family legacy of fighters that dates back to World War I.

And he views his job in the Department of Homeland Security as a continuation of his service.

“Support and defend the Constitution, support and defend the nation (is) something a Marine can easily get behind,” he said.

Carey Holmquist has been out of the workforce for years, opting to stay home to care for their children during her husband’s military deployments and the many family moves.

But that could change soon.

“Actually I may be applying for jobs because we don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said.

Border security, family security

Holmquist’s employer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is at the center of the political impasse fueling the furloughs.

“A lot of people that we’re talking about in terms of pay, they agree with me,” President Donald Trump said during a visit to the border Thursday.

Are the Holmquists among the people the president is referring to?

“I very much support a wall or barrier and better security,” Carey Holmquist said. “On the other hand, I’m starting to wake up at night and be stressed because we’re not getting a paycheck.”

They’re hoping elected leaders will quickly do their jobs, so Tyler can get back to his.

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Senator to Call for Vote Against Easing Sanctions on Russian Companies

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

“I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a news release.

The U.S. Treasury announced Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal.

The businessman, who has close ties to the Kremlin, also had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have showed.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit attached to a 2017 search warrant unsealed earlier this year that he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Deripaska.

On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions.

Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms.

Schumer said given Deripaska’s potential involvement with Manafort, and because of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia has not yet concluded, “It’s all the more reason these sanctions must remain in place.”

Passage of the resolution of disapproval of Treasury’s decision would require the approval of both the Democratic-majority house and the Senate, led by Trump’s fellow Republicans who are unlikely to break with his policy.

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Julian Castro, Ex-Obama Housing Chief Joins 2020 Campaign

Assailing President Donald Trump for “a crisis of leadership,” former Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro joined the 2020 presidential race Saturday as the rush of Democrats making early moves to challenge the incumbent accelerates.

Castro, who could end up being the only Latino in what is shaping up to be a crowded Democratic field, made immigration a centerpiece of his announcement in his hometown of San Antonio, less than 200 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Two days after the president visited the border to promote his promised wall, Castro mocked Trump for claiming that the U.S. faces an “invasion” from its ally to the south. 

“He called it a national security crisis,” Castro said. “Well, there is a crisis today. It’s a crisis of leadership. Donald Trump has failed to uphold the values of our great nation.”

Castro, the 44-year-old grandson of a Mexican immigrant, said he was running for president “because it’s time for new leadership, because it’s time for new energy and it’s time for a new commitment to make sure that the opportunities that I’ve had are available to every American.”

​Mayoral, Cabinet experience

He made the announcement as a government shutdown drags into the longest in U.S. history, and as the field of 2020 contenders widens and anticipation grows around bigger names still considering runs.

Castro was San Antonio’s mayor for five years and U.S. housing secretary in President Barack Obama’s second term. He became the second Democrat to formally enter race, after former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.

Others in the race

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has also started an exploratory committee for president.

Warren spoke Saturday in New Hampshire to about 450 people at Manchester Community College, taking aim at the “wealthy and well-connected” and championing economic reforms to benefit the middle and lower classes. She highlighted anti-corruption legislation she has proposed, and advocated for reforms to health care, student debt and the minimum wage.

She also called for an end to the ongoing partial federal government shutdown. And she told reporters that Democrats need to talk about their “affirmative visions” instead of the man they want to defeat, President Donald Trump.

Four other Democratic senators are taking steady steps toward running. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to Congress, said this week she is planning a bid, too.

​Early start

Castro is getting an early start in trying to stand out. His first trip as a candidate comes Monday, to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, where an outcry has begun as the White House considers diverting disaster funding to pay for the wall.

The impasse over paying for a border wall that Trump made a central part of his 2016 campaign has led to the partial federal closure. That stalemate, along with Trump’s hard-line immigration stands, drew sharp rebukes from Castro.

“There are serious issues that need to be addressed in our broken immigration system, but seeking asylum is a legal right. And the cruel policies of this administration are doing real and lasting harm,” he said.

He argued for securing the border in a “smart and humane way.”

“There is no way in hell that caging babies is a smart or a right or good way to do it. We say no to building a wall and say yes to building community. We say no to scapegoating immigrants,” he said.

Joining Castro at the campaign kickoff was his twin brother, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, chairman of the Hispanic congressional caucus and a frequent Trump critic. The Spanish-style plaza in the Castro twins’ boyhood neighborhood was packed with supporters who streamed through the gates between a mariachi band. Castro had said leading up to his announcement that a Latino candidate was a must in the 2020 field.

​Other hopefuls

That group of hopefuls is starting to take shape even though the first primary elections are more than a year away.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California this past week published a memoir, a staple of presidential candidates. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke is doing little to dim speculation that he might jump into a field that has no clear front-runner.

Castro is aware he lacks the name recognition of potential 2020 rivals or the buzz surrounding O’Rourke, whose flirtations with 2020 have tantalized donors and activists after a close race last year against Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Even some supporters at Castro’s announcement could be torn if O’Rourke gets in the race. Diana Delrosario, a social worker in San Antonio, warned she might cry while she recounted how Castro once went out of his way as mayor to help wheel her mother out of a restaurant.

“I have this heart for Julian. But it’s going to be a big discussion if Beto decides to run,” said Delrosario, 45.

Castro, who has repeatedly dismissed talk that an O’Rourke candidacy would complicate his own chances, has framed the neighborhood and his upbringing as the story of an underdog.

Convention keynote speaker 

He was raised by a local Latina activist, and after a brief career in law, was elected mayor of the nation’s seventh-largest city at 34. It wasn’t long before Democrats nationally embraced him as a star in the making, particularly one from Texas, where a booming Hispanic population is rapidly changing the state’s demographics and improving the party’s fortunes.

Castro delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Two years later, President Barack Obama picked him to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He was on the short list of Hillary Clinton’s potential running mates in 2016. During Castro’s trip this past week to Nevada, one state Latino business leader told Castro that he should again be a top contender for vice president if his campaign falls short.

Like other Democrats running, Castro has said he will not accept money from political action committees tied to corporations and unions, and he has sought to introduce himself to voters as a champion for universal health care and affordable housing.

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‘No Pathway’ to Grand Bargain Ending US Government Shutdown

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has all but given up efforts to negotiate a compromise to end the U.S. government shutdown that would fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall in exchange for extending legal protections for thousands of young undocumented immigrants and others who recently have lost legal status under the Temporary Protected Status program.

As late as Wednesday, Graham expressed hope that such a grand bargain could be reached.

“There is a deal to be had. It’s always been there. I think I have been boring you all for a month about how this movie ends. It’s got to be wall plus something else,” said Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina and close ally to Trump.

But on Thursday, Graham admitted that a legislative resolution to this standoff is likely out of reach, and indicated that President Donald Trump may soon invoke emergency powers to build the wall without congressional approval.

“There’s no pathway forward that I can see. The president believes that’s his power, seems to me the only way left is for him to exercise that authority. I don’t see any action in the Congress,” Graham said.

DACA and TPS

Graham’s proposal would have given President Trump the $5.7 billion he wants to build the border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, along with giving Democrats a significant concession by reaffirming former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that granted legal status to more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children.

The Trump administration attempted to terminate DACA in 2017, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently blocked the presidential rescission order, saying it was “arbitrary and capricious under settled law.”

The administration has appealed the matter to the Supreme Court, which is expected to decide in the coming days whether it will take the case.

TPS is in similar limbo. The program, which grants temporary legal status and work permits to citizens of countries suffering from natural disasters or armed conflict, was canceled by the Trump administration for about 400,000 people.

But a federal court ruled in October the U.S. government violated the law when it ended TPS for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. This case, too, may be taken up by the Supreme Court.

Last year, the Senate attempted to pass a similar bipartisan plan to extend the DACA population legal status and authorize $25 billion over the next decade for southern-border-security construction projects, including $18 billion for the wall. Various versions of proposed legislation ultimately were rejected, as some Democrats opposed the tough immigration restrictions included and many conservative Republicans objected to any form of amnesty being granted.

​Uncompromising Democrats

The sharp political divide in Washington has only deepened since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives this month, following the party’s gains in midterm elections. And neither the Democrats nor Trump seem willing to compromise to end the government shutdown.

Many Democrats don’t want to link support for legal status for young immigrants known as Dreamers, a position that most Americans support, to funding the border wall, which remains a highly controversial issue.

“That is not the negotiation we should be having. It doesn’t make any sense at all, to trade something that absolutely can and should be done for good policy and moral reasons, for something that actually should not be done for policy or moral reasons,” said Tom Jawetz, an immigration policy analyst at the Democratic leaning Center for American Progress policy institute.

The Democratic leadership, Jawetz says, does not trust Trump to support any deal, and believes the president wants to keep immigration and border security as divisive issues to energize his core supporters in the 2020 election.

Immigration opposition

Trump’s demand for border wall funding to end the government shutdown, after earlier indicating he would sign a short-term funding bill with no money for the wall, is seen by many as a reaction to conservative media criticism that he was capitulating on his central campaign promise to “build the wall.”

But some hard-line anti-immigration groups that support Trump, like the Center for Immigration Studies, view the wall as more symbolic than essential to significantly restrict illegal immigration. Granting a mass amnesty in exchange for the wall is a deal they would not support.

“A wall is not the most important enforcement procedure, and it’s also not the thing we want most in terms of immigration reform. So to give away something big like an amnesty for people who aren’t even supposed to be in the country, we would want some significant concession,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Increasing the number of agents, judges and detention facilities at the border, reforming the immigrations system to quickly deport most asylum-seekers that critics say are actually economic migrants, and increasing enforcement efforts to ensure U.S. businesses do not hire undocumented immigrants, Camarota says, would more effectively deter illegal immigration.

But the Trump administration may not have liked the linkage either. Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Thursday that DACA is not up for negotiation until the Supreme Court weighs in.

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Trump Finding It Difficult to Stop ‘Never-Ending Wars’

President Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria is underway, with the Pentagon confirming equipment has begun leaving the battlefield, but soldiers are staying for now. As White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara reports, President Trump is finding it difficult to fulfill his pledge to cut back on foreign military interventions.

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Shutdown Enters 22nd Day, Now Longest in US History

The federal government has entered Day 22 of a partial government shutdown, becoming the longest closure in U.S. history.

Nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments have not been funded. The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the government’s largest agencies, are the most notable exceptions and continue to operate since they were funded through Sept. 30.

The previous record for the longest shutdown occurred during Bill Clinton’s presidency. That one lasted from Dec. 15, 1995, through Jan. 6, 1996.

 

The current shutdown appears destined to last at least a few more days, Democratic lawmakers rejecting President Donald Trump’s demands to include $5.7 billion for a border wall in a spending bill.

 

The shutdown has furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced an additional 420,000 to work without pay. 

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Senator: King’s White Supremacy Remarks Damage GOP, Nation

U.S. Rep. Steve King says he’s not a racist, but the Iowa Republican faced intensifying criticism Friday over his remarks about white supremacy, including from a black GOP senator who said such comments are a blight on the nation and the party. 

For the second time in two days, King insisted that he is an advocate for “Western civilization,” not white supremacy or white nationalism. But he didn’t deny remarks published a day earlier in The New York Times in which he was quoted saying: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Within hours Thursday, the House’s top three Republicans condemned his remarks, and on Friday, GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina published his disapproval in an op-ed column.

King, who has denied being racist, appeared on the House floor after most lawmakers had left town.

‘My mistake’

“One phrase in that long article has created an unnecessary controversy. That was my mistake,” King told his colleagues. King said terms describing bigotry, such as racism, are unfairly applied to “otherwise innocent” people.

King, in his ninth House term, spoke as key members of his party publicly took issue with his remarks and as a Republican from back home lined up to challenge him in a GOP primary.

Scott, who is black, cast King’s remarks and those like them as a blemish on the country and the Republican Party, which has long had a frosty relationship with black voters.

“When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole,” Scott wrote.

King’s views, Scott added, are separate from the conservative movement and “should be ridiculed at every turn possible.”

“Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said,” Scott wrote.

In fact, House Republican leaders swiftly condemned King’s remarks as racist. And on Wednesday, King drew a 2020 primary challenger: Randy Feenstra, a GOP state senator.

But King’s position in the GOP had been imperiled even before then.

In 2017, he tweeted: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Then he doubled down on CNN, telling the network, “I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same.”

Shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, in which King was running, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, then the head of the GOP campaign committee, issued an extraordinary public denunciation of him.

King on Friday suggested he’s been misunderstood. He said the foundation of the Times interview was partly a Sept. 12 tweet in which he wrote: ” ‘Nazi’ is injected into Leftist talking points because the worn out & exhausted ‘racist’ is over used & applied to everyone who lacks melanin & who fail to virtue signal at the requisite frequency & decibels. But…Nazis were socialists & Leftists are socialists.”

On Friday, King said on the House floor that the interview “also was discussion of other terms that have been used, almost always unjustly labeling otherwise innocent people. The word racist, the word Nazi, the word fascist, the phrase white nationalists, the phrase white supremacists.”

King said he was only wondering aloud: “How did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that, how does it get done, how do they get by with laying labels like this on people?” 

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Legal Debate Rages Over US Presidential ‘Emergency Powers’

U.S. President Donald Trump is considering formally declaring the southern U.S. border a “national emergency,” likely clearing the way for him to authorize new funding for a permanent physical barrier.

The move could end a standoff with Congress over funding for the wall, but some legal analysts worry it will set a dangerous precedent for presidents trying to negotiate with Congress.

VOA spoke with John Hudak, Deputy Director of the Center for Effective Public Management at The Brooking Institute, about the legal issues around the president’s possible emergency declaration.

QUESTION: What powers does a president have to declare a national emergency? Could he simply order government funds to be used to build a border wall?

So there are really two questions here. First, under the National Emergencies Act, the president has a fairly broad power to declare a national emergency. Now the declaration of that emergency is simply that — a declaration. And according to a pretty firm reading of that law, it’s hard to see where there is an exception to the president’s ability to do it.

The next part of that, though, involves the powers that the president can exercise under that law and there are obvious limitations on that, constitutional limitations and other limitations within the law that the president can’t violate. And unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we haven’t experienced serious questions about presidential power in this space. So it’s really left as an open question right now, in terms of the extent of presidential power that courts will need to sort out.

Q: Could Democrats block this in Congress? Is there any constitutional precedent for presidents simply going around Congress to fund a priority policy item?

So there is, within the law, the ability of Congress to stop a national emergency. 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.

However, this is the type of exercise of executive power that leaves a lot of Republicans uneasy. And you’re already starting to see those conversations among Senate Republicans, saying that if we’re all right with President Trump doing this over a border wall, would we also be all right with a Democratic president doing this over climate change or other issues?

And so I think it remains to be seen whether Congress will have the votes to stop presidential action in this area, whether they’ll have the political will to do it. But they certainly have the power to stop this type of behavior.

To the second part of your question, you know, presidents have tried to go around Congress in terms of spending money in the past or even moving money around within or across budget lines or accounts in the past.

And frequently presidents are stopped because the spending power in the constitution rests with the Congress and so this creates a real challenge for President Trump if he wants to start moving funds or re-appropriating funds or using funds that are not even appropriated, pushing up against that constitutional protection against that power. So he might have the power to declare a national emergency, but he cannot usurp the Constitution in the exercise of powers during that emergency.

Q: On the politics of the current shutdown, is one side or the other winning? Which sides appears to have an advantage at the moment? How does it end?

Well, it’s clear one side is losing and that’s the American public, and particularly the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not being paid or who are not going to work. In terms of the political actors, you know, the polling that we have suggests that most Americans blame President Trump for the shutdown.

A smaller percentage of Americans blame congressional Democrats and smaller still blame congressional Republicans. 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?’ And I think it leaves a lot of Americans scratching their head. President Trump is playing to his base here, but unfortunately his base is a small percentage of the population. And most of the rest of the population is not with him on this issue of the wall.

Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report.

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