U.S. government shutdown taking a bigger bite of the economy than people expected

The U.S. economy is taking a larger-than-expected hit from the partial government shutdown, White House estimates showed on Tuesday, as contractors and even the Coast Guard go without pay and talks to end the impasse seemed stalled.

The longest such shutdown in U.S. history dragged into its 25th day with neither Trump nor Democratic congressional leaders showing signs of bending on the topic that triggered it – funding for a wall Trump promised to build along the border with Mexico.

Coverage of the U.S. government shutdown on Globalnews.ca:

Trump insists Congress shell out $5.7 billion for wall funding this year, as about 800,000 federal workers go unpaid during the partial shutdown. He has refused to support legislation providing money for a range of agencies to operate until he gets the wall funds.

With the shutdown dragging on, federal courts will run out of operating funds on Jan. 25 and face “serious disruptions” if the shutdown continues, according to a court statement.

The Internal Revenue Service said it planned to bring more than 46,000 furloughed workers back to their jobs as the agency enters its peak season of processing tax returns and refunds.

Trump invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers for lunch to discuss the standoff, but the White House said Democrats turned down the invitation. Nine House of Representatives Republicans, none of whom are involved in party leadership, attended.

One attendee, John Katko, told CNN that Trump “wanted to continue to engage in negotiations.” He did not mention any new proposals Trump might pursue.

House Democratic leaders said they did not tell members to boycott Trump’s lunch but had pressed those invited to consider whether the talks would be merely a photo-op for Trump.

Separately, a bipartisan group of senators explored solutions. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican participant, told reporters in a Capitol hallway that the group had “momentum,” but gave no details.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democratic participant, said: “Anything can be part of the negotiations.”

Lawmakers were supposed to be in their districts and states next week after Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but the House and Senate planned to cancel the recess if theshutdown persists.

While the shutdown hit about one-quarter of federal operations, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that nearly four in 10 U.S. adults said they were either affected by the impasse or know someone who is. Fifty-one percent of those polled blamed Trump for the shutdown.

Seeking Coast Guard funding

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she was working with the White House and Congress to pass legislation to fund the Coast Guard. While the Pentagon is not affected by the shutdown, the Coast Guard budget is part of Nielsen’s department.

“Like the other branches of the U.S. military, active duty @USCG should be paid for their service and sacrifice to this nation,” Nielsen wrote on Twitter.

The Trump administration had initially estimated the shutdown would cost the economy 0.1 percentage point in growth every two weeks that employees were without pay.

But on Tuesday, there was an updated figure: 0.13 percentage point every week because of the impact of work left undone by 380,000 furloughed employees as well as work left aside by federal contractors, a White House official said.

The economic risk prompted hawkish Federal Reserve officials to call for the central bank to pause interest rate hikes.

The shutdown‘s effects have begun to reverberate across the country.

Longer lines have formed at some airports as more security screeners fail to show up for work.

Speaking on CNBC, Delta Air Lines Inc Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said the partial shutdown would cost the airline $25 million in lost revenue in January because fewergovernment contractors are traveling.

Food and drug inspections have been curtailed but about 400 U.S. Food and Drug Administration staffers returned to work, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. They focus on high-risk medical devices, drugs and food.

Democrats, who took over the House this month, have rejected the border wall but back $1.3 billion in other border security measures this year. They have insisted the government be fully open before negotiations occur.

House Democrats have passed a number of bills to end the shutdown, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said the chamber will not consider anything Trump would not sign into law.

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Democratic U.S. Senator Gillibrand to discuss potential White House bid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has been taking steps to prepare for a run for the White House in 2020, is scheduled to appear on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Tuesday night and is expected to discuss her political plans.

The senator from New York has hired several top political aides in recent weeks, fueling speculation her jump into the 2020 fray was imminent.

Her staff would not confirm details about her announcement. CBS News, citing an unnamed person familiar with Gillibrand’s plans, reported she is expected to launch her White House bid.

Gillibrand, 52, is known for spearheading efforts to change how Congress handles allegations of sexual harassment and became a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement.

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. But Gillibrand will have to compete against better-known candidates in a party still debating the best path forward after losing the White House in 2016.

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.

In December 2017, Trump 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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Asylum seekers should wait outside U.S., AG nominee tells Senate panel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr signaled Tuesday he is likely to align with the administration’s push to make it harder for people to seek asylum, telling a Senate panel he supports the idea of making people wait outside U.S. borders while their asylum claims are processed.

“Given the abuses of the asylum system right now, I would always prefer to process asylum seekers outside of the United States,” Barr said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Election speculation swirls as Alberta NDP announces throne speech for March 18

Could Alberta be heading to the polls in mid-April? Speculation is swirling as the province announced Tuesday that the legislature will sit on March 18 for an NDP throne speech.

By law, the 2019 provincial election has to be held between March 1 and May 31.


How do Alberta’s political parties vet their candidates?

Calgary pollster says signs point to early spring election in Alberta

Alberta legislature ends what could be last sitting before spring election

Pollster and political commentator Janet Brown said the government has a few options when it comes to Premier Rachel Notley‘s March throne speech, the first being to hold the speech and immediately call an election.

In that case, the election would happen four weeks later.

Another option on the table would be to hold the throne speech, have a short spring session and then call the election, Brown said.

The third option, as Brown sees it, would be that the government has the throne speech, a spring session where they pass a budget and then calls the election.

“Running on a budget is a risky strategy,” Brown said. “If you look at recent history, Jim Prentice dropped a budget and then lost the election. Alison Redford dropped a budget and then almost lost the election. But if you look at [Ralph] Klein years, Klein was sort of more famous for doing a throne speech and not doing a budget.”

According to NDP deputy director of communications Shannon Greer, it’s not known yet whether the throne speech will mean a budget, adding that “all options [are] still on the table.”

Brown said that passing a budget before calling an election might be difficult for the NDP, as people will want to “dissect” the document, calling the government to account for some of its decisions.

“Also, given the current state of the economy it’s probably not going to be a good news budget,” she said. “I think a lot of people think there’d be a risk in dropping a budget.”

However, Brown said if the NDP doesn’t drop a budget, they lose their position to call for the Opposition United Conservative Party to drop a “counter budget” heading into the election.

Brown said she’s leaning toward the possibility of a writ drop to accompany the throne speech, meaning the election would happen on or around April 15.

“I don’t think the election would go much later than that,” she said.

Brown added she’s heard a lot of rhetoric around how important it will be for the NDP to engage young people and post-secondary students as campaigning becomes ever more a priority. Considering students are still on campus and in classes in mid-March, Brown said that could also be a catalyst for holding the election then rather than in May when students are back in their home ridings.

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Supreme Court Concludes That Snatching a Necklace Is a Violent Felony

WASHINGTON — Purse snatching and pickpocketing can amount to violent felonies for purposes of a federal law, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 5-to-4 decision featuring unusual alliances.

The case concerned the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law that is a kind of three-strikes statute. It requires mandatory 15-year sentences for people convicted of possessing firearms if they have earlier been found guilty of three violent felonies or serious drug charges.

Figuring out what qualifies as one of those earlier offenses is not always easy. Tuesday’s decision considered a part of the law that defined violent felonies to include offenses involving the use or threat of physical force. The question in the case was whether minimal force, as in a purse snatching, is enough.

In analyzing whether given crimes qualify as violent felonies under the federal law, the Supreme Court does not look to what the defendant actually did. Rather, it considers whether the crime — in this case, robbery under Florida law — covers conduct that does not qualify as a violent felony.

The case involved Denard Stokeling, who pleaded guilty to possessing a gun after burglarizing the Tongue & Cheek restaurant in Miami Beach, where he worked. After he was identified based on surveillance video and witness statements, police found a gun in his backpack. He was prosecuted on federal gun charges.

Mr. Stokeling had three earlier convictions, and prosecutors invoked the sentencing law to argue he should serve a much longer prison term than the one the gun charge would ordinarily have warranted.

Mr. Stokeling objected, saying that one of his convictions, for robbery in Florida state court arising from a snatched necklace, did not amount to a violent felony. That meant, he said, that he should face only a maximum sentence of 10 years rather than a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said Mr. Stokeling’s robbery conviction counted as a violent felony for purposes of the federal law. The Florida law required proof the victim resisted, he wrote, and that was enough.

“The force necessary to overcome a victim’s physical resistance is inherently ‘violent,’” Justice Thomas wrote.

“This is true because robbery that must overpower a victim’s will — even a feeble or weak-willed victim — necessarily involves a physical confrontation and struggle,” Justice Thomas wrote. “The altercation need not cause pain or injury or even be prolonged; it is the physical contest between the criminal and the victim that is itself ‘capable of causing physical pain or injury.’ ”

The quoted phrase came from a 2010 decision, Johnson v. United States, that concluded that convictions under Florida’s battery statute did not qualify as violent felonies for purposes of the federal sentencing law.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who generally votes with the court’s liberal wing in closely divided cases, joined the majority opinion on Tuesday, as did Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying the majority opinion could not be reconciled with the 2010 decision or the reality of how little force is required to be convicted of robbery under the Florida law.

“A pickpocket who attempts to pull free after the victim catches his arm” qualifies, she wrote. “A thief who grabs a bag from a victim’s shoulder also commits Florida robbery, so long as the victim instinctively holds on to the bag’s strap for a moment.”

Justice Sotomayor added that locking up such offenders for long periods does not advance public safety. “Under Florida law, ‘robbers’ can be glorified pickpockets, shoplifters and purse snatchers,” she wrote.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the dissent in the case, Stokeling v. United States, No. 17-5554, as did Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

Had the court ruled for Mr. Stokeling, Justice Thomas wrote, convictions under at least 31 state robbery laws would have become ineligible to serve as qualifying offenses under the federal sentencing law.

Justice Sotomayor questioned the accuracy of that statement and said earlier decisions from the court had already substantially narrowed the scope of the sentencing law. “The majority, fearful for the camel, errs in blaming the most recent straw,” she wrote.

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Steve King’s Comments Prompt House Vote Condemning White Supremacy

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a resolution condemning white supremacy by a vote of 424-1, reflecting the anger in both parties over comments by Representative Steve King of Iowa questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.

The resolution begins by citing Mr. King’s remarks to The New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” It says that white supremacy and white nationalism are “contrary to the ideals of the United States of America,” and details the increase in racist hate crimes over recent years.

The resolution also cites recent deadly shootings by white supremacists in South Carolina and Pennsylvania, attacks that targeted black worshipers and Jewish congregants, respectively.

Mr. King, a Republican, took the House floor to say he would vote in support of the resolution.

The action was part of a still-evolving response that began to take form Monday when House Republican leaders voted to remove Mr. King, now serving his ninth term, from his committee assignments, including the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

[Read about how House Republicans removed Steve King from several powerful committees]

The resolution was brought by Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic House Majority Whip.

“I want to ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, let’s vote for this resolution,” Mr. King said on the House floor. “I’m putting up a yes on the board here because what you say here is right and is true and is just, and so is what I have stated here on the floor of the House.”

Mr. King maintains that his remarks to The Times were taken out of context. However, he has a long public history of demonizing immigrants and bemoaning the replacement of white culture — a bedrock principle of white nationalist and white supremacist ideology.

[Steve King has a history of making racist remarks. Read them and more here]

Other measures in the House related to Mr. King are still currently unresolved. Democrats have moved to formally censure the Iowa Representative, which would be only the 24th time that disciplinary action had ever been used in the House.

Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois cast the lone vote against the resolution, saying it was not strong enough and that “anything short of a censure” is shallow.

“We need to be clear to the American people that we use condemnation to express our disapproval of those not in the House,” Mr. Rush said in a statement. “We use censure for those in the House.”

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How your MP voted on Theresa May's Brexit deal

The results will be watched closely by party whips and MPs’ constituents as many Conservatives were expected to defy the prime minister and vote against her agreement.

This is how the votes stacked up:

To find out how your MP voted, put their name into the search field below.

If you don’t know your MP’s name, you can also search by constituency.

On Wednesday, MPs will vote in a no confidence motion in the government.

Prime Minister Theresa May has welcomed the challenge by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

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Trump to meet with Republican lawmakers at the White House: spokeswoman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Republican lawmakers at the White House later on Tuesday to discuss border security amid the ongoing partial government shutdown, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

“The president offered both Democrats and Republicans the chance to meet for lunch at the White House. Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend,” Sanders said.

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City politicians brainstorm vision for London, put rough ideas to public for feedback

Armed with markers and chart paper, city politicians drafted some rough ideas for what could become London’s strategic plan.

“A city of unlimited potential,” “a resilient community,” and a “bold leader” were some of the suggestions during the strategic priorities and policy committee meeting on Monday, where the expectation was that councillors would come up with a proposed version of the plan.

But instead, after breaking apart into groups and hashing out their ideas on chart paper, councillors debated whether the inspirational statements needed more work before being put to the public rather than debating the statements themselves.

“I wonder if it might be appropriate if this was to go to the community as some of the thoughts we’ve expressed in our own sessions,” Mayor Ed Holder said of council’s early brainstorming.

“There may be some members of the public, in particular, who are very good at synthesizing things, and may submit in part of their feedback, ‘Hey, here’s a way of stitching these things together,’” agreed Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer. “We do have the time.”

But other councillors cautioned against putting such rough work up for community consultation, with Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner calling the results a “raw product” that he didn’t think was best-suited for consultation.

“I think we have to have some sort of product that’s a little cleaner, and provide a few options that we put out for public consultation.”

Ward 3 Coun. Shawn Lewis agreed, suggesting council whittle down the ideas generated for each category: London’s vision, mission, and set of values.

“I think we’re selling ourselves and this process a little short if we don’t have some discussion as Committee as a Whole on this tonight,” he said.

“Within our own [breakaway] group, we boiled down multiple opportunities into single ideas that we presented. I think there’s an opportunity to do that, and maybe get these down to two, three, or perhaps four [ideas.]”

In the end, the committee — which includes all 15 members of full council — voted 10-5 to ask the community for insight on the vision statements without further in-house debate. City staff will report back at the end of the month with an early look at feedback generated online.

There will be more opportunities — both online and in person — for London to weigh in throughout the month of February before final review in March.

London’s strategic plan defines the city’s vision, mission, and set of values, and acts as a guide for council and civic administration for the rest of the four-year term.

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Live Updates: William Barr’s Confirmation Hearing for Attorney General

William P. Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is before the Senate Judiciary Committee for what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing centered on his expansive view of executive powers and the implications of his appointment for the special counsel investigation.

Mr. Barr, who served as attorney general under President George Bush, will pledge to allow the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to finish his investigation of Russia’s election interference, Mr. Trump and his associates.

Democrats plan to press Mr. Barr on an unsolicited memo he wrote criticizing Mr. Mueller’s examination of whether the president obstructed justice when he fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director. They are certain to ask how he would respond if Mr. Trump ordered him to curtail the investigation.

Barr will pledge to allow Mueller to finish his work.

Mr. Barr will use his opening remarks to the committee to clarify that he has no intention of firing Mr. Mueller before his work is done and to indicate that he would provide “as much transparency as I can consistent with the law” around the investigation’s results.

“It is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work,” Mr. Barr said in written testimony submitted to the committee on Monday.

Mr. Mueller is believed to be in the final stages of his inquiry, which he took over from the F.B.I. in May 2017 after agents opened it nearly two and a half years ago.

“The country needs a credible resolution of these issues,” Mr. Barr planned to say.

Nicholas Fandos

But there may be a catch: Barr’s sweeping view of presidential power.

Mr. Barr’s promise about Mr. Mueller had a subtle caveat, limiting his assurances to issues under his control. “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision,” he wrote.

That qualification could be important because Mr. Barr has long advanced an unusually sweeping view of executive power under which any executive branch decision is ultimately the president’s to make, and the president — not the attorney general — is the nation’s top law-enforcement official. The senators may press him on what he would do if Mr. Trump orders him to substitute a different judgment and under what circumstances he would disobey or resign, rather than acquiesce.

Mr. Barr developed his strong presidential powers ideology as part of a group of Reagan-Bush lawyers in the 1980s and early 1990s who, in response to post-Watergate battles with Congress and the Iran-contra scandal, sought to develop new constitutional theories of executive power that would increase the president’s unilateral authority and diminish the influence of Congress.

That philosophy was on display in the memo he wrote to Mr. Trump’s legal team in June arguing that Mr. Mueller could not investigate whether Mr. Trump had corruptly used his executive powers — like firing a subordinate, ordering a criminal investigation closed or pardoning people — because such authorities are beyond the reach of an obstruction-of-justice law approved by Congress.

Charlie Savage

Expect questions on Barr’s views on immigration.

With the government still partly shut down over an impasse over Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border, Mr. Barr’s views on immigration policy are also likely to figure prominently, as are his views on voting rights, domestic terrorism and recent changes to federal sentencing and prison laws.

Senators will want to know whether Mr. Barr supports initiatives by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that prompted condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocates, like family separations and a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings.

“In order to ensure that our immigration system works properly, we must secure our nation’s borders, and we must ensure that our laws allow us to process, hold, and remove those who unlawfully enter,” Mr. Barr will say, according to his prepared testimony.

Mr. Barr also planned to say that he would prioritize election integrity as well as fight violent crime and gangs, long a Trump administration concern. He also pledged to “diligently implement” a criminal justice overhaul that drew bipartisan support and that Mr. Trump signed into law late year. Mr. Sessions had opposed the legislation.

Though Mr. Barr also said he would fight hate crime, it was not clear whether he supported Mr. Sessions’s decisions to limit civil rights protections for people who identify as gay, lesbian and transgender.

— Katie Benner

Even with a divided Senate, Barr’s confirmation odds look good.

When Mr. Barr was nominated to serve as attorney general the first time in 1991, the Democratic Senate unanimously confirmed him by voice vote. He should not expect such a smooth ride this time around, but with Republicans in control of the chamber by a 53-to-47 majority, his confirmation appears to be on track.

Two wild cards could scramble the usual partisan divide.

A handful of moderate Republicans facing re-election fights in 2020 or simply skeptical of Mr. Trump’s intentions could theoretically swing against Mr. Barr if he fails to convince them that he would stand up for the special counsel. If these senators — Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah and others — banded together with a united Democratic caucus, they could kill the confirmation.

But Democrats may also be motivated to quickly move Mr. Barr through confirmation. They have been highly critical of the acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, a Trump loyalist whom they view as a direct threat to Mr. Mueller, and want him out of office as quickly as possible. If they view Mr. Barr as sincere in his public assurances about the investigation, it is a swap many Democrats might eagerly make.

Mr. Barr’s confirmation hearing technically lasts two days, but the second day will be reserved for outside witnesses. The Judiciary Committee and the full Senate are likely to hold votes on the nomination by mid-February.

Nicholas Fandos

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