Nancy Pelosi’s Political Flex

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We’re less than a month into the new Congress, but one thing has already become clear: Don’t mess with Nancy.

Over the past week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been flexing her muscle all over Washington. The latest, and perhaps most glaring, example came on Wednesday, when Ms. Pelosi requested that President Trump delay — or skip altogether — his State of the Union address.

“The date of the State of the Union is not a sacred date. It’s not constitutionally required; it’s not any president’s birthday; it’s not anything,” she told reporters this morning. “It is a date that we agreed to — it could have been the week later.”

Her comments clearly got under the president’s skin. Late Thursday afternoon, he revoked her military transport for a secret trip to Afghanistan — a visit to a war zone that Mr. Trump derided as a “public relations event.” He suggested Ms. Pelosi, third in line for the presidency, fly commercial. To Afghanistan.

Ms. Pelosi’s aides and supporters quickly pointed out that her plans included thanking the troops and meeting with the commanders of the war that Mr. Trump is trying to end. Mr. Trump, in fact, made his first visit to a warzone during this same shutdown.

Now, none of the fighting over flights gets the country any closer to ending a government shutdown that’s crippling the finances of 800,000 federal workers and starting to have economic impacts far bigger than even the White House anticipated.

But it is some awfully crafty politics by Ms. Pelosi.

A 78-year-old, wealthy San Francisco liberal, Ms. Pelosi is nobody’s idea of an everyman politician. Forget fast food — Ms. Pelosi eats dark chocolate ice cream for breakfast. Her campaign superpower involves twisting the arms of rich donors. She doesn’t really use Twitter, never mind Instagram.

And yet, right now, she might just be the most powerful politician in the country.

Dozens of Democrats spent months campaigning against supporting Ms. Pelosi as speaker. (Worth noting: G.O.P. attacks on her far outpaced mentions of any other congressional leader in campaign ads for the last three cycles.) In the end, after a weekslong campaign by Ms. Pelosi put down any hint of rebellion, only 15 members cast ballots against her.

Now, she’s getting her revenge, wielding one of the most powerful tools in her disposal: committee assignments.

Ms. Pelosi kept Representative Kathleen Rice’s name off the list of suggested members for the Judiciary Committee, a powerful spot that will be at the center of investigations into Mr. Trump — and any possible impeachment. Ms. Rice was one of Ms. Pelosi’s most outspoken critics.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, who pushed against Ms. Pelosi but ultimately voted for her for speaker, got a perch on the influential Financial Services Committee, a particularly plum assignment for a freshman member.

It’s yet another savvy move by Ms. Pelosi to help keep a restive progressive caucus on her side — a unity that’ll be crucially important for the battles with Mr. Trump that are sure to come.

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Wait, can they do that?

Divided government, a special counsel investigation, the longest government shutdown in history, the biggest Democratic primary field in decades, secretive meetings with Russia — at this point in the Trump administration, we’ve written “unprecedented” so much that it’s become a cliché. To help explain the constant craziness, we’re inaugurating a new feature today. This is, “Wait, can they do that?”

Our first topic: Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking President Trump to scrap or delay his State of the Union address.

Can she do that? Well, yes, actually.

The Constitution mandates some kind of update from our chief executive, saying the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But notice what it doesn’t mention: Cable commentary, invited guests and a walk down the red carpet— er, the aisle of the House floor.

After George Washington gave the first address on Jan. 8, 1790, in New York, the practiced continued for about a decade. In 1801, eager to simplify what he thought was a monarchal tradition, Thomas Jefferson mailed in copies to both houses of Congress that were read by the chamber’s clerks.

It went that way for more than a century, until Woodrow Wilson revived the in-person address in 1913 (though presidents continued to occasionally submit their speeches in writing; Jimmy Carter was the last to do it, in 1981). The fact that it has become a prime-time spectacle over the last 50 years is mostly a product of modern media — and political ego.


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Fleg’s Book Club

In the latest — and perhaps most unusual — dose of the 2020 tea leaves, Beto O’Rourke published a nearly 2,000-word blog post on Medium chronicling his travels along U.S. Route 54.

While all of Washington is consumed with the crippling government shutdown, Mr. O’Rourke is spending his days jogging, meeting with students, eating a blackberry cobbler and ruminating on the “funk” he’s been “in and out of” lately. (Perhaps he should talk to some unpaid T.S.A. agents about their “funks.” But I digress.)

I reached out to our in-house Beto expert, political reporter Matt Flegenheimer, to try and figure out what is up with that guy. Like good New York Times employees, we Slacked about it.


What to read tonight

An internal investigation has found that the Trump administration likely separated thousands more children from their parents at the Southern border than was previously believed.

It’s clear that climate change poses environmental risks beyond anything seen in the modern age. But we’re only starting to come to grips with the potential economic effects. Here are four big questions experts are thinking about.

In 2014, Tommy Tomlinson weighed 460 pounds. His brutally honest tale of trying to regain control of his weight — and his life — makes for moving reading.


… Seriously

A new story from The Wall Street Journal on President Trump’s former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen is loaded with juicy nuggets: Mr. Cohen trying (and failing) to rig early polls in Mr. Trump’s favor, paying the tech firm he hired with a Walmart bag full of cash and trying to cover some of the costs with a boxing glove.

But the craziest piece of it all? Mr. Cohen asked the same firm to create a Twitter account called @WomenForCohen, purportedly written by female fans, which described him as a “sex symbol,” lavished him with praise, and promoted the job he was doing helping the Trump campaign.


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‘I am not a racist,’ says dumped Liberal candidate at chaotic press conference

The story of embattled former federal Liberal candidate Karen Wang took another twist Thursday, as she held a chaotic press conference in a bid to clear the air around the social media post that ended her candidacy.

Wang stepped down as the Liberal candidate for Burnaby South Wednesday, a day after she posted to social media app WeChat that highlighted her Chinese background in contrast to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, “of Indian descent.”

The press conference got off to a rocky start when it emerged Wang hadn’t secured permission to hold it on Burnaby Public Library property, prompting an employee to tell her she would have to move.

Reporters were also greeted by Wang’s tearful mother and sister.

“Recently I have been labelled as a racist, which really, really makes me hurt,” Wang, still wearing a Liberal Party pin, told reporters. “I am not a racist.”

Wang went on to tell reporters that the WeChat message was, in fact, posted by volunteers on her team because she was so busy preparing for her campaign launch.

Pressed by reporters about why the post singled out her and Singh’s ethnicities, Wang said it was not an intentional slight.

“It’s a culture and language, you know, habit or tradition,” she said.

Former Liberal candidate Karen Wang told she can’t hold press conference at Burnaby library

“Chinese people, whenever you see the news about the candidate, news on Chinese media, they normally point to that he has a Chinese background and she has a Korean background, things like that,” Wang said, “but Korean or Chinese background, it means Chinese Canadian or Korean Canadian.”

Speaking at SFU on Thursday, Singh said race had no place in the campaign.

“We need to focus in on politics that bring people together. And divisive politics, politics that divide along racial lines hurt our communities,” he said.

“They’re not where we want to go, its not the kind of community we want to build, we’re all proud of the fact that Canada is a diverse place, and we’re better for it.”

What comes next for Wang politically is unclear.

On Thursday, the Liberal Party rejected her overtures for a second chance at candidacy. And she denied reports she had previously been rejected as a Conservative candidate, claiming that she, in fact, had rejected the party because it did not align with her values.

Will former Liberal candidate Karen Wang run as an independent?

Wang told reporters she hadn’t yet decided on whether she’d run as an independent.

Asked whether she thought her political career may be over, Wang said “probably.”

“But you know it doesn’t matter [if] I have a political career or not, this is not my consideration at all, this is not my first priority of all,” she said.

Wang has until Feb. 4 to decide if she wants to register as an independent candidate.

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Read the Letter Trump Sent to Pelosi on Her Foreign Trip

President Trump on Thursday responded to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California one day after Ms. Pelosi wrote him suggesting a delay to the annual State of the Union address because of the government shutdown.

[For more coverage of Mr. Trump’s letter, read here.]

The following is the text of Mr. Trump’s letter as released by the White House.


Dear Madame Speaker:

Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.

I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive the attention, funding, and security it so desperately deserves!


Donald Trump

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U.S. legislation steps up pressure on Huawei and ZTE, China calls it 'hysteria'

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced bills on Wednesday that would ban the sale of U.S. chips or other components to Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], ZTE Corp or other Chinese telecommunications companies that violate U.S. sanctions or export control laws.

The proposed law drew sharp criticism from China where Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the U.S. legislation “hysteria”, intensifying a bitter trade war between Beijing and Washington.

The bills were introduced shortly before the Wall Street Journal reported federal prosecutors were investigating allegations that Huawei stole trade secrets from T-Mobile U.S. Inc and other U.S. businesses.

The Journal said that an indictment could be coming soon on allegations that Huawei stole T-Mobile technology, called Tappy, which mimicked human fingers and was used to test smartphones.

Huawei said in a statement the company and T-Mobile settled their disputes in 2017 following a U.S. jury verdict that found “neither damage, unjust enrichment nor wilful and malicious conduct by Huawei in T-Mobile’s trade secret claim”.

Hua urged U.S. lawmakers to block the bills.

“I believe the action of these few representatives are an expression of extreme arrogance and an extreme lack of self-confidence,” Hua said.

“Actually the whole world can see very clearly that the real intent of the United States is to employ its state apparatus in every conceivable way to suppress and block out China’s high-tech companies,” she added.

The legislation is the latest in a long list of actions taken to fight what some in the Trump administration call China’s cheating through intellectual property theft, illegal corporate subsidies and rules hampering U.S. corporations that want to sell their goods in China.

Related Coverage

  • China calls proposed U.S. legislation against Huawei, ZTE 'hysteria'


In November, the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled an initiative to investigate China’s trade practices with a goal of bringing trade secret theft cases.

At that time, Washington had announced an indictment against Chinese chipmaker Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co Ltd for stealing trade secrets from U.S. semiconductor company Micron Technology relating to research and development of memory storage devices.

Jinhua, which has denied any wrongdoing, was put on a list of entities that cannot buy goods from U.S. firms.

On Capitol Hill, Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Mike Gallagher, both Republicans, along with Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Ruben Gallego, both Democrats, introduced the bills that would require the president to ban the export of U.S. components to any Chinese telecommunications company that violates U.S. sanctions or export control laws.

The bills specifically cite ZTE and Huawei, both of which are viewed with suspicion in the United States because of fears that their switches and other gear could be used to spy on Americans. Both have also been accused of failing to respect U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“Huawei is effectively an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party whose founder and CEO was an engineer for the People’s Liberation Army,” Cotton wrote in a statement. “If Chinese telecom companies like Huawei violate our sanctions or export control laws, they should receive nothing less than the death penalty – which this denial order would provide.”

The proposed law and investigation are two of several challenges that Huawei, the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker, faces in the U.S. market.

In addition to allegations of sanctions-busting and intellectual property theft, Washington has been pressing allies to refrain from buying Huawei’s switches and other gear because of fears they will be used by Beijing for espionage.

Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, denied this week that his company was used by the Chinese government to spy.

Canada detained Ren’s daughter, Meng Wanzhou, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer, in December at the request of U.S. authorities investigating an alleged scheme to use the global banking system to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.

For its part, ZTE agreed last year to pay a $1 billion fine to the United States that had been imposed because the company breached a U.S. embargo on trade with Iran.

As part of the agreement, the U.S. lifted a ban in place since April that had prevented ZTE from buying the U.S. components it relies on heavily to make smartphones and other devices.

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White House Redefines Who Is Essential to Get Parts of Government Moving Again

WASHINGTON — As the government shutdown stretches into its fourth week, the Trump administration is reinterpreting longstanding rules to open the federal government piece by piece, forcing thousands of workers to report to work without pay, many of them in sectors that could minimize damage to the president’s base.

Federal farm service offices will open to help farmers and ranchers. With tax season underway, the Internal Revenue Service is calling more than half of its 80,000 employees back to work. Thousands of furloughed safety inspectors have been told to report to airports and runways. And dozens of Interior Department employees will head to the country’s coastline to sell oil and gas leases.

“It’s time for the Democrats to negotiate,” Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget who helped lead the effort to recall I.R.S. employees, recently said. “In the meantime, we will make this shutdown as painless as possible, consistent with the law.”

That last phrase — consistent with the law — has proved crucial for a team of 12 lawyers working under Mr. Vought. In past shutdowns, only workers deemed “essential” to protecting life and property — a category that would include people like Secret Service agents — were allowed to work.

But the budget office is now focused on Justice Department guidance, issued by previous administrations, that would broaden who is considered essential, using lesser known exceptions to call back thousands of employees to perform duties like preparing taxes or opening mail.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said lawyers were relying on guidance issued during past shutdowns, including a Clinton-era contingency plan that allows exceptions for workers whose duties do not rely on yearly appropriations.

After using this rationale to bring back tax workers, lawyers at the budget office are now reviewing requests to reopen parts of the government agency by agency, according to Trump administration officials. That would essentially reverse how previous administrations interpreted the rules as lawyers look to minimize the effect of a protracted shutdown that the president has no plans to end, the officials said.

Critics said the Trump administration was building a specious legal case that interprets an exception to the law in the broadest possible terms. Its actions have already drawn at least five lawsuits from labor groups representing thousands of federal employees, including the I.R.S. and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Gregory O’Duden, the general counsel of the National Treasury Employees Union, which has sued the administration on behalf of 70,000 of the I.R.S.’s work force of 80,000, accused administration officials of manipulating laws to keep Americans happy and score political points.

“A law that was intended to be a narrow exception they’re treating as a wide open path for them to run through,” Mr. O’Duden said. The White House, he said, “has concocted what we think is an untenable rationale that will require tens of thousands of employees to come back and not be paid.”

Former administration officials who have examined the same sets of rules in previous shutdowns — and landed on different interpretations — are puzzled by the White House’s actions.

John A. Koskinen, who retired as I.R.S. commissioner in 2017, questioned whether the efforts violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government from spending money for any reason that Congress has not appropriated. He suggested that the Office of Management and Budget was using a loose interpretation of government regulations that say unfunded government operations could only continue during a shutdown if needed to “protect life and property.”

“What they’re doing is trying to eliminate as much of the backlash against the shutdown as they can,” said Mr. Koskinen, who was the point person at the budget office during the 1995 shutdown. “There’s nothing wrong with that, theoretically, as long as you’re doing it according to what is legal.”

Mr. Koskinen said that it was possible the administration would argue that tax refunds were a “continuing appropriation,” but that it would be hard to make the case that taxpayers face real hardship if their refunds are delayed, as they are with Social Security payments.

That is exactly the comparison Trump administration officials say they are trying to make in enforcing their own contingency plan.

In some cases, the administration has said that essential duties can now include opening mail: On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department said that it would reopen Farm Service Agency offices for three days to provide “limited services” to farmers and ranchers who needed assistance processing farm loans. The 2,500 workers will also help open mail to identify important items. (They will not have to work on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, according to the agency.)

The I.R.S. remains the most prominent example, as the Treasury Department updated its shutdown contingency plans this week and recalled more than 40,000 employees to process refunds at the tax collection agency. The I.R.S., which is already understaffed, is three months away from Tax Day, when millions of American will be grappling with how to file under the new tax law.

This maneuver directly reverses actions taken during previous administrations. A letter sent by the Treasury Department to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and reviewed by The New York Times pointed out that the Obama administration had been told by budget office lawyers that such a step could not be taken.

“Although in 2011 the Office of Management and Budget directed the I.R.S. not to pay funds during a lapse,” the letter read, “O.M.B. has reviewed the relevant law at Treasury’s request and concluded that the I.R.S. may pay tax refunds during a lapse.”

The Trump administration has also faced criticism for recalling clerks to the I.R.S. to process tax transcripts that home buyers need to verify their income. The decision came after an intense lobbying campaign by the mortgage lending industry.

Former government officials said the actions seemed politically motivated, as the administration tries to prevent Americans who rely on the federal government from feeling the shutdown’s pain.

“This is going on so long that the political pressure and the hardships are really starting to mount and rather than sticking to the rules, they are clearly relaxing them for political purposes,” said G. William Hoagland, a former Republican staff director on the Senate Budget Committee.

And efforts to mitigate the effect of the shutdown could actually serve to extend it by reducing the political costs of inaction.

Alice Rivlin, who served as the budget director under President Bill Clinton, noted that President Trump was taking the opposite tack than the one that her administration had during the shutdown of 1995 and 1996 that was incited by a fight over which economic forecasts would be used for budgeting.

“We wanted people to notice that they weren’t getting government services to put pressure on Congress to get something done,” Ms. Rivlin said. “This seems to be a different approach — letting it be as easy as possible so there won’t be much protest.”

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request to issue an injunction or temporary restraining order to stop the Trump administration from calling back workers whose jobs are not related to the health and safety of Americans, but said that he would hear arguments at the end of the month.

In the meantime, the president signed legislation on Wednesday promising that workers would be repaid.

Shortly after, in a list of talking points the White House circulated to supporters, officials wrote that the administration was “expanding the use of funds not appropriated through annual appropriations” to provide services to farmers, and framed the I.R.S. recall as a success compared with the Obama administration.

“Unlike the 2013 shutdown,” according to the email, which was reviewed by The Times, “the Trump administration will still process tax refunds.”

In that email, the White House made no mention of the people who will be doing the work.

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U.S. investigating Huawei for alleged trade secret theft: WSJ

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors are investigating Huawei Technologies[HWT.UL], the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. businesses and could soon issue an indictment, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal said that one area of investigation is the technology behind a device that T-Mobile U.S. Inc (TMUS.O) used for testing smartphones. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

The action is the latest in a long list taken to fight what some in the Trump administration call China’s cheating through intellectual property theft, illegal corporate subsidies and rules hampering U.S. corporations that want to sell their goods in China.

The investigation arose out of civil lawsuits against Huawei, the Journal said, including one in Seattle where Huawei was found liable for misappropriating robotic technology from T-Mobile (TMUS.O).

A Huawei spokesman and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in the western district of Washington declined comment.

T-Mobile alleged in a 2014 lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, that Huawei employees stole technology relating to a smartphone-testing robot T-Mobile had in a lab in Bellevue, Washington.

The robot, Tappy, used human-like fingers to simulate tapping on mobile phones.

According to T-Mobile’s lawsuit, Huawei employees photographed the robot and attempted to remove one of its parts.

In May 2017, a jury said Huawei should pay T-Mobile $4.8 million in damages.

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As shutdown lingers, Pelosi pushes Trump to delay State of Union address

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the partial U.S. government shutdown dragging into its 26th day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday urged President Donald Trump to reschedule his State of the Union address – a move that could deny the president the opportunity to use the pageantry of the speech to attack Democrats in their own chamber over the impasse.

With Trump’s address set for Jan. 29, Pelosi wrote him a letter citing security concerns because the Secret Service, which is required to provide security for the address, has not received funding during the dispute.

The standoff was triggered by Trump’s demand for a round of funding for his promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Presidents traditionally deliver the address, which lays out the administration’s goals for the upcoming year, in the House of Representatives chamber before a joint session of Congress and the majority of the Cabinet.

Democrats took control of the House after last November’s congressional elections. During the shutdown, Trump has routinely blamed them for the stalemate, although he had earlier said he would take responsibility.

Pelosi, speaking to reporters, suggested that if Trump would not agree to reschedule the speech until the government reopens, he could deliver it from the Oval Office instead, a setting that would lack the grandeur of a congressional address.

The White House had no immediate comment on Pelosi’s request, and her letter appeared to have taken aides by surprise. It pointed out that she had invited Trump to make the State of the Union address at the Capitol but said the shutdown complicated the situation.

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“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress,” Pelosi wrote.

In response, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Twitter her department and the Secret Service were prepared to handle a presidential speech at the Capitol.

Representative Jim Jordan of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans allied to Trump, said Pelosi’s move showed Democrats are “more focused on stopping the president than they are on serving the country.”


Meanwhile, both sides in the long-running conflict sought to ratchet up the pressure.

Democratic senators huddled on the outdoor steps leading to the Senate in 39-degree (3.9-degree Celsius), windy Washington weather, holding large photographs of constituents furloughed by the shutdown or otherwise affected by it.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “is using these men and women as pawns. Using them in an extortion game saying, ‘I am going to hurt these people unless I get my way.’”

At the same time, the president hosted a bipartisan group of House members to discuss finding a solution to the impasse. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the meeting was constructive.

Democratic members who met with Trump said they called on him to end the shutdown and then talk about the issues dividing them.

“Our singular message was we’ve got to reopen the government and then in good faith we can have negotiations,” said Dean Phillips, a freshman representative from Minnesota, told reporters.

A handful of Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham and Lisa Murkowski, were circulating a bipartisan draft letter to Trump asking him to support a measure that would reopen the government for three weeks while they work on funding legislation that would address his concerns about border security.

A Democrat who signed the letter, Chris Coons, said it would not be sent unless a substantial amount of Republicans supported it.

Trump on Wednesday was expected to sign legislation that would ensure 800,000 federal employees will receive back pay when the government reopens.

Some government employees are being asked to return to work after being initially told to stay home during the shutdown, although they will not be paid on schedule.

Both the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday said they would call back nearly 50,000 employees to handle tax returns, refunds and other tasks or to work in aviation safety inspection.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it was recalling about 2,500 furloughed employees to assist farmers with existing loans and ensure the agency meets a deadline for providing tax documents.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22 after Trump insisted he would not sign legislation funding the idled government agencies unless it included more than $5 billion for the border wall.

The wall was a signature campaign promise of his before the 2016 presidential election. Trump said at the time Mexico would pay for it but has since reversed himself, denying that he ever said Mexico would directly pay the bill.

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Varadkar dines out on steak amid beef backlash

The Taoiseach ate a “very nice Hereford steak” hours after he said he was cutting back on red meat, comments that have caused an angry backlash.

Leo Varadkar has been accused of being “reckless” and “flippant” after he revealed he was reducing his meat consumption for health reasons and to decrease his carbon footprint.

Farming groups and Opposition TDs have reacted furiously to his comments at a Fine Gael party think-in.

However, during heated exchanges in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar insisted: “I was specifically asked what I was doing on climate change and I said that I was trying to eat less red meat – not giving it up.

“I had a very nice Hereford steak last night.”

The Irish Independent understands Mr Varadkar took Fine Gael colleagues to an upmarket Dublin restaurant specialising in steaks that evening.

But Mr Varadkar’s comments have been described as “reckless in the extreme”, “flippant” and “hurtful” at a time when farmers are threatened by Brexit.

The Taoiseach however stood by the remarks he made on Monday and said he had a “very nice Hereford steak” hours after he made them.

Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil that he’s trying to eat less red meat for two reasons – health and climate change.

In the face of heavy Opposition criticism, he said: “It’s not flippant. It is a fact that red meat increases instance of cancer and also contributes more to climate change.”

Mr Varadkar’s initial comments came at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meeting where he said tackling climate change is the “next big progressive cause” the party wants to champion.

It prompted a wave of criticism from farmers groups, with Irish Cattle and Sheep Association president Patrick Kent saying they were “reckless in the extreme”.

Mr Kent added that the Taoiseach would be better served putting his efforts into preventing vast quantities of inferior meat products entering the EU from the other side of the world. He called upon Mr Varadkar to clarify that he wasn’t suggesting people should eat less sustainably produced Irish beef and lamb.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat McCormack said Mr Varadkar’s “timing couldn’t be worse” due to Brexit. He defended the environmental record of the Irish beef and dairy industries. On Mr Varadkar’s linking of red meat to cancer, Mr McCormack appealed to him to “pause for a minute and think about the impact of his remarks on the reputation and standing” of the agricultural sector.

Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy said the remarks were “disappointing” and he argued that Irish farmers have increased their output without increasing emissions.

He said farmers will seek a clarification on Mr Varadkar’s remarks when he attends their AGM later this month.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill accused Mr Varadkar of making a “flippant comment” that was “totally inappropriate for a head of government and damaging to a hugely important industry”.

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae accused Mr Varadkar of not understanding the anger his comments had caused and said they were “hurtful” to farmers.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he had said he was trying to eat less meat, “not giving it up”.

“I can reassure deputies I have not become a vegan or anything like that and I’m very happy to eat fish landed in Donegal and poultry and turkeys and pork meat and all of the wonderful products that Irish farmers of all sorts produce.”


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Murphy leaves Madigan's plan for lower property tax for rich on table

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has left a Fine Gael colleague’s proposal to charge a lower property tax rates for homes in affluent areas on the table.

Fianna Fáil is demanding clarity on the Government’s plans for the Local Property Tax (LPT) and accused Fine Gael of “playing games” on the issue.

The Departments of Finance, Housing and the Taoiseach, along with the Revenue, are reviewing the LPT system. Officials are to report to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in the coming months.

The rates paid by households are based on valuations after the economic crash but prices have risen considerably since then. There are fears people will be hit with massive LPT hikes next year if the system is not changed.

But Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, says she wants to see a lower LPT rate in areas with the highest house prices.

“Residents of south Dublin, for example, should be entitled to reliefs as they could be most affected,” she said. The proposal sparked criticism from Opposition politicians.

Property prices in parts of Mr Murphy’s own Dublin Bay South constituency like Ranelagh and Ballsbridge are also among the highest in the country. However, he has refused to comment on whether or not he supports Ms Madigan’s suggestion, thereby leaving the proposal on the table.

A spokesman said: “Minister Murphy is involved in the review of the LPT and so cannot comment on specific proposals.”

Ms Madigan is not the only minister who has entered the debate over the future of LPT.

Her constituency rival, Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross, has sought exemptions for pensioners who are on a fixed income.

Fianna Fáil criticised the Government for not providing clarity on the future of the LPT for householders and local authorities, saying an announcement had been expected in last October’s Budget. Its housing spokesman, Darragh O’Brien, claimed: “There’s no reason why this review shouldn’t have been published already and Fine Gael has been playing games with this.”

He raised suspicions that Fine Gael is planning to time an announcement that property taxes won’t increase just before the local elections.

Party colleague Michael McGrath argued that ministers like Ms Madigan and Mr Ross are calling for changes the Government is responsible for bringing about.

He said the Government “needs to be coherent and businesslike on this issue”, to agree a collective position and explain it to the public.

Mr McGrath was asked about comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that changes in the bands and rates in LPT could mean people could see no increase or perhaps a modest increase or decrease in 2020 after the revaluation.

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman said: “Talk is cheap. We are now in 2019. People want to know where they stand.”

Mr Donohoe has said any changes will be “affordable and predictable”. Last night, a Department of Finance statement said the review of the LPT is being finalised by officials and will be presented to the minister shortly. It said the residential property revaluation date is November 1.

“The Government will make its position clear so that households will know well advance what its plans are for LPT,” it added.

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Democratic Senator Gillibrand to launch 2020 White House bid

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that she would file paperwork on Tuesday night to explore a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2020 election.

Colbert, during the taping of an episode that will air on Tuesday night, asked Gillibrand, who has been taking the steps to begin a presidential campaign, if she had anything she would like to announce.

“Yes,” the lawmaker from New York said. “I’m filing an exploratory committee for president of the United States tonight.”

The formation of an exploratory committee will allow Gillibrand, 52, who is known for spearheading efforts to change how Congress handles allegations of sexual harassment and became a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement, to begin fundraising and organizing her campaign.

“I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own,” Gillibrand said to applause.

She has hired several top political aides in recent weeks, fueling speculation her jump into the 2020 fray was imminent.

There is no dominant early front-runner in what is expected to be a crowded Democratic nominating race to take on President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee.

Texas Democrat Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and top U.S. housing official, formally launched his White House bid on Saturday. Former U.S. Representative John Delaney has been running for more than a year. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts formed an exploratory committee last month and Representative Tulsi Gabbard said Friday that she will run for president.

Some in the party believe an establishment figure who can appeal to centrist voters is the way to victory. Others argue a fresh face, and particularly a diverse one, is needed to energize the party’s increasingly left-leaning base.

Gillibrand was a member of the centrist and fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition while in the House of Representatives. Her positions became more liberal after she was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton in New York when Clinton became former President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

Gillibrand then won the seat in a special election and was re-elected to six-year terms in 2012 and 2018. She has attributed the ideology shift to representing a liberal state versus a more conservative district.

As a senator, Gillibrand was outspoken about rape in the military and campus sexual assault years before the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault first arose in 2017.

In late 2017, as she pushed for a bill changing how Congress processes and settles sexual harassment allegations made by staffers, some prominent party leaders criticized her for being the first Democratic senator to urge the resignation of Senator Al Franken, who was accused of groping and kissing women without their consent.

During the same period, Gillibrand said Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, should have resigned from the White House after his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment by the House. Some criticized the senator for attacking the Clintons, who had supported her political career.

Gillibrand backs a Medicare-for-all bill championed by Democratic Party liberals. She was the first senator to call in June 2018 for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amid controversy over Trump’s separation of families entering the country at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I believe healthcare should be a right and not a privilege,” Gillibrand told Colbert.

In a dig at Trump, Gillibrand said the first thing she would do if elected to the White House is “restore what’s been lost” like the “integrity and compassion of this country.”

“You have to start by restoring what’s been lost, restoring our leadership in the world, addressing things like global climate change and being that beacon of light and hope in the world,” Gillibrand said.

Trump and Gillibrand have sparred publicly in the past. In December 2017, the president targeted her with a sexually tinged tweet, calling her a “total flunky” who had “come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them).”

Gillibrand shot back immediately on Twitter.

“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office,” she wrote.

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