Trump advisers would recommend he veto four spending bills over border security: statement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisers would recommend he use a veto if he is presented with four spending bills while there is no agreement on border security, the White House Office of Management and Budget said on Wednesday.

“Moving these four bills without a broader agreement to address the border crisis is unacceptable,” the office said in a statement on the 19th day of a partial government shutdown triggered by disagreement over the Republican president’s demand for funds to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

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Billionaire environmentalist Steyer will not enter 2020 White House race

(Reuters) – Billionaire donor and liberal activist Tom Steyer, who has led an effort to impeach President Donald Trump, announced on Wednesday he will not seek the Democratic presidential nomination and instead will continue his effort to oust the president.

Steyer, 61, made his announcement in Iowa, the traditional starting point for the presidential nominating contests that will kick off early next year, after months of openly exploring his own presidential campaign, his staff confirmed.

“The impeachment question has reached an inflection point,” Steyer wrote on Twitter. “That’s why I just announced that I will be dedicating 100% of my time and effort in 2019 toward Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.”

Steyer’s decision not to enter the race also leaves the deep-pocketed donor available to support one of as many as two dozen Democrats who are weighing 2020 presidential bids.

Steyer plans to spend $40 million this year to pressure the U.S. House of Representatives, which Democrats won control of in the November 2018 elections, to begin impeachment proceedings, and to encourage Democrats vying for the White House to support Trump’s impeachment.

Steyer has been a force in Democratic fundraising over the past decade. NextGen America, a political nonprofit he formed in 2013, has poured millions into elections, focusing on climate change, immigration and access to affordable healthcare, among other issues.

Steyer said he spent $120 million on the 2018 elections, investing heavily in youth turnout, which he called an untapped source of Democratic support. He also spent more than $90 million during the 2016 elections, when he backed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Some of his money has gone to his Need to Impeach campaign against Trump. Steyer has accused the Republican president of colluding with Russia to win the White House in 2016 and obstructing investigations into their efforts, allegations that Trump has denied.

“I will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to remove this president,” Steyer wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

In a tweet in October, Trump dismissed Steyer as a “crazed & stumbling lunatic who should be running out of money pretty soon.”

Steyer amassed a fortune estimated by Forbes at $1.6 billion by founding the investment firm Farallon Capital in the mid-1980s and serving as a partner at the San Francisco private equity firm Hellman & Friedman.

Early opinion polls showed the environmentalist and philanthropist, who is based in San Francisco, trailing other Democrats in name recognition and support.

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Air travel fears mount as U.S. government shutdown drags on

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airport security workers and air traffic controllers working without pay warned that security and safety could be compromised if a government shutdown continues beyond Friday, when some workers will miss their first paychecks.

On the 19th day of a partial government shutdown caused by a dispute over funding President Donald Trump wants for a border wall, the president stormed out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders, complaining the meeting was “a total waste of time.”

As the effects of the shutdown began to ripple out, the Trump administration insisted that air travel staffing was adequate and travelers had not faced unusual delays.

But union officials said some Transport Security Administration (TSA) officers, who carry out security screening in airports, had already quit because of the shutdown and others were considering quitting.

“The loss of (TSA) officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires,” American Federation of Government Employees TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas said. “If this keeps up there are problems that will arise – least of which would be increased wait times for travelers.”

Aviation unions, airport and airline officials and lawmakers will hold a rally on Thursday outside Congress urging an end to the shutdown.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the organization was hiring officers and working on contingency plans in case the shutdown lasted beyond Friday, when officers would miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

“There has been no degradation in security effectiveness and average wait times are well within TSA standards,” he said.

He added that there had been no spike in employees quitting and that on Tuesday 5 percent of officers took unscheduled leave, up just slightly from 3.9 percent the same day last year. It screened 1.73 million passengers and 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes, the TSA said.

But U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, questioned how long adequate staffing at airports could continue.

“TSA officers are among the lowest paid federal employees, with many living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Thompson wrote. “It is only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts, since no employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay.”

Airports Council International-North America, which represents U.S. airports, urged Trump and congressional leaders in a letter to quickly reopen the government.

“TSA staffing shortages brought on by this shutdown are likely to further increase checkpoint wait times and may even lead to the complete closure of some checkpoints,” the group said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) noted that the number of controllers was already at a 30-year low, with 18 percent of controllers eligible to retire.

If a significant number of controllers missed work, the Federal Aviation Administration could be forced to extend the amount of time between takeoffs and landings, which could delay travel, it said.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said controllers often must work overtime and six-day weeks at short-staffed locations. “If the staffing shortage gets worse, we will see reduced capacity in the National Airspace System, meaning more flight delays,” Rinaldi said.

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Joshua Tree National Park will stay open after all, officials say

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Joshua Tree National Park will stay open during the partial U.S. government shutdown, officials said on Wednesday, reversing an announcement earlier this week that the famed desert preserve in California would close because of sanitation issues and damage.

The National Park Service (NPS) said in a statement they had determined that funds generated by recreation fees could be used to pay maintenance crews so that Joshua Tree could remain open.

“The park will also bring on additional staff to ensure the protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred during the lapse of appropriations,” the statement said.

U.S. national parks have not been given a blanket order to close during the budget showdown between President Donald Trump and Democrats in the House of Representatives, now in its 19th day, that has hit a broad swath of the U.S. government.

Some parks have been closed to the public due to a lack of staffing, while others have kept gates open but were not providing any staff or services.

Operations and access to northern parks, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, are typically scaled back during winter because of snow.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah said on Twitter this week its visitor center would remain open until Jan. 10 due to a donation from a non-profit group.

Yosemite National Park also said earlier this week the John Muir and Mist Trails to Vernal and Nevada Falls, as well as Tuolumne and Merced Groves, would be closed from Jan. 5 for “safety and human waste reasons.”

Joshua Tree, named after the spiky yucca plants that grow across its desert expanse, had remained open, with many visitors taking advantage of the unstaffed entrance to skip the usual $30 fee.

In announcing on Tuesday that it would close, the NPS cited sanitation issues and said motorists were also caught driving off roads, destroying trees and other park features.

The news angered conservationists and others, who took to social media to express disgust that visitors would damage the park.

Trump has vowed to keep the government partially closed until Congress approves funding for an expanded barrier along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The president walked out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday over funding for the border wall and said on Twitter the White House meeting had been a “a total waste of time.”

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Why John Bercow’s Brexit amendment ruling was so controversial

 John Bercow sparked furious Commons scenes as MPs argued over the potential process of how to bring forward a Brexit plan B.

The Commons Speaker faced a backlash from Conservative MPs after selecting a proposal from Tory former minister Dominic Grieve, which attempts to speed up the process for the Government to reveal what it will do next if Theresa May’s deal is rejected.

Mr Grieve’s amendment was tabled against a Government motion detailing the timetable for the Brexit deal debate, which Tory MPs argued was "unamendable".

But Mr Bercow stood by his decision to allow a vote on the amendment – which was ultimately approved by 308 votes to 297, majority 11 – amid personal criticism and calls for him to go from Tory MPs during more than 60 minutes of points of order.

The furore over the Speaker’s decision to allow a vote on a Brexit amendment leads many of the front pages on Thursday.

Here are the key questions after a dramatic day in Westminster.

What happened?

Mr Bercow selected a proposal from former minister Dominic Grieve, which attempts to speed up the process for the Government to reveal what it will do next if Theresa May’s deal is rejected.

What did the amendment say?

Mr Grieve’s amendment was tabled against a Government motion detailing the timetable for the Brexit deal debate.

It said the Government should return with a revised EU exit plan within three sitting days if the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated next week.

MPs heard the original process outlined in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which requires a statement within 21 days, takes precedence.

How did the vote go?

Mr Bercow allowed a vote on the amendment which was ultimately approved by 308 votes to 297, majority 11.

What was the problem?

Ministers argued that the Government-tabled motion was not amendable and so Mr Grieve’s amendment should not have been tabled for a vote.

The original business motion was put "forthwith", which was previously taken to mean that it should be dealt with without a debate or chance of amendment.

The Speaker, who presides over the House of Commons, makes decisions based on the rules of the House and can be advised by Parliamentary Clerks.

What did Mr Bercow say?

Following criticism from the Conservative benches, he said "I’m trying to do the right thing and make the right judgments. That is what I have tried to do and what I will go on doing."

During various points of order, he said he allowed the amendment to be voted on "not because I am setting myself up against the Government, but because I am championing the rights of the House of Commons".

What have critics of Mr Bercow said?

Crispin Blunt was among those to question the Speaker’s lack of bias, saying many will have the "unshakeable conviction that the referee is no longer neutral".

The Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said there were "some concerns" about his decision and asked him to confirm it was taken with "full advice" from the Commons clerk Sir David Natzler.

Mr Bercow said he had consulted privately with the clerk and other officials, but did not confirm his decision was taken with agreement from Sir David.

What do the Thursday papers say?

From "out of order!" to "Speaker of the Devil", many papers have levelled criticism at Mr Bercow.

The Daily Mail has called him an "egotistical preening popinjay (who) has shamelessly put his anti-Brexit bias before the national interest – and is a disgrace to his office", while the Daily Express accused Mr Bercow of "flouting rules to thwart Brexit".

The Daily Telegraph accuses Mr Bercow of "ignoring legal advice and parliamentary precedent" but the paper’s leader says it may turn out to be a positive move, writing: "Even if he has done it for the wrong reasons, the decision to bring matters to a head is arguably the correct one."

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Montreal, Pierrefonds-Roxboro mayors face off over snow removal

Fleets of snow removal trucks hit the roads in Montreal on Wednesday, with almost 2,200 snow-clearing vehicles deployed to clean the over 10,000 kilometres of roads and sidewalks.

Yet, as the city launched its first full-scale snow-clearing operations, Mayor Valérie Plante faced some tough criticism from one of her West Island counterparts.

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Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Jim Beis said he’s unhappy that Plante has requested post-mortems from city workers in order to see which boroughs need to improve their operations.

“I have a problem with that,” he told Global News.

“How do we make sure when all the boroughs say: ‘We’re good, we put salt everywhere,’ when in some situations, you have to do it twice?”

Beis said he feels the city could learn a thing or two from the West Island.

“We need to tone it down and talk around a table,” he argued.

“It’s been over a year this administration has been in power, and not once have we had communication with the mayor’s cabinet to discuss day-to-day operations.”

Plante insists conversations are ongoing.

“We did consult. His directors were part of that. We did consultations last year to be ready for this year,” she said.

“It is complex, in a way, because we’re negotiating with 19 boroughs. Yes, the mayor [of Pierrefonds, Jim Beis] was consulted.”

For the latest updates on snow removal, the city is encouraging residents to consult Info-Neige.

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Jo Cox's name being used to 'intimidate' MPs, says widower

Brendan Cox called on “all people” not to be “cowed” by what happened to his wife Jo.

He urged them to use her name as a synonym for kindness and generosity – not as a threat.

Writing in the Guardian after Conservative MP Anna Soubry was called a “Nazi” and encircled by protesters as she walked into parliament, Mr Cox said his late wife’s name was “being used as a threat by more mainstream voices”.

“MPs are told by national commentators to remember before voting for or against a deal, or for or against a referendum, to remember what happened to Jo,” he said.

“Even some MPs and government ministers seem to be using the threat of violence as a warning to others to do their will…

“Please do not use Jo’s name as a threat.

“If Jo’s name is to become a synonym for anything, it should be for her kindness, generosity, optimism and her fundamental belief that we have more in common than that which divides us.

“That’s what sums her up, that captures who she was and the spirit we’ll need more than ever when the current political decisions have played out.”

The harassment of MPs outside Westminster was condemned by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in parliament on Thursday.

Labour MP Alison McGovern, a friend and colleague of Ms Cox echoed her widower’s call for no-one to “use what happened” to her to “threaten others”.

“Democracy cannot be stopped by intimidation”, she said.

“Jo’s life was a demonstration against despair. She believed that politics was not just a talking shop but an activity in which we could change the world for the better.”

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Trump walks out of talks on shutdown, bemoans 'total waste of time'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump walked out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday over funding for a border wall with Mexico and ending a government shutdown, complaining the meeting in the White House was “a total waste of time.”

On the 19th day of a partial government shutdown caused by the dispute over the wall, a short meeting that included Trump, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi ended in acrimony with no sign of a resolution.

“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier?” Trump wrote. “Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”

Exasperated Democrats called Trump’s behavior a “temper tantrum” and said the meeting broke down when they refused to commit to funding his proposed southern border wall.

Schumer told reporters that Trump asked Pelosi if she would fund his wall. “She said no. And he just got up and said: ‘Then we have nothing to discuss,’ and he just walked out.”

“Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer added. “That is sad and unfortunate. We want to come to an agreement. We believe in border security. We have different views.”

The breakdown in talks could strengthen the possibility that Trump will declare a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border if no deal with Congress can be reached on his request for $5.7 billion for the project.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said he had the authority to declare a national emergency that would let him pay for the wall with military funds, and Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that Trump is still considering that option.

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Asked what Trump had gained by walking out of the talks, Pence said: “I think the president made his position very clear today: that there will be no deal without a wall.”

House Democrats plan to test Republicans’ willingness to stick with Trump on the issue by advancing a bill to immediately reopen the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been partially shut down since Dec. 22.

They are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service – at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans – and voting to keep it partially shuttered.

In a countermove, the Trump administration said that even without a new shot of funding, the IRS would somehow make sure those refund checks get sent.

Trump attended a lunch meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday and emerged to declare unwavering support for the tough stance he has taken on funds for the wall.

Asked afterward if he got the impression in the meeting that the shutdown would end soon, Republican Senator Tim Scott said: “I did not. I think we’re going to be here a while.”

DEMOCRATIC TACTICS

Later in the week, Pelosi plans to force votes that one-by-one provide the money to operate departments ranging from Homeland Security and Justice to State, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor.

By using a Democratic majority to ram those bills through the House, Pelosi is hoping enough Senate Republicans back her up and abandon Trump’s wall gambit.

The political maneuvering comes amid a rising public backlash over the suspension of some government activities that has resulted in the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Other “essential” employees are being required to report to work, but without pay for the time being.

On Thursday, Trump travels to the border to highlight an immigration “crisis” that his base of conservative supporters wants him to address.

With tempers running high over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion just for this year to fund wall construction, there are doubts Pelosi’s plan will succeed in forcing the Senate to act.

McConnell has not budged from his hard line of refusing to bring up any government funding bill that does not have Trump’s backing even as a few members of his caucus have called for an end to the standoff.

The funding fight stems from Congress’ inability to complete work by a September, 2018, deadline on funding all government agencies. It did, however, appropriate money for about 75 percent of the government by that deadline – mainly military and health-related programs.

U.S. airport security workers and air traffic controllers working without pay have been warning that security and safety could be compromised if the government shutdown continues, but the Trump administration said that staffing is adequate and travelers have not faced unusual delays.

Union officials said some TSA officers have already quit because of the shutdown and many are considering quitting.

Ratings agency Fitch warned that it could cut the U.S. triple-A sovereign debt credit rating later this year if the shutdown proves prolonged and Congress fails to raise the legal limit on the nation’s debt in a timely manner.

“If this shutdown continues to March 1 and the debt ceiling becomes a problem several months later, we may need to start thinking about the policy framework, the inability to pass a budget…and whether all of that is consistent with triple-A,” Fitch’s global head of sovereign ratings James McCormack said at an event in London.

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Ministers back down on charging forced marriage victims for their own rescue

British women forced into marriages abroad will no longer have to pay for their own rescue after the Foreign Office backed down.

It follows outraged response to news that victims were being made to take out emergency loans to cover the cost of their repatriation.

The government had previously said said it had an obligation to recover money spent on repatriating victims when public money is involved, such as the cost of a flight back to the UK.

But responding to a question in the House of Lords, Foreign Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “Today the Foreign Secretary has announced that victims of forced marriage, who are helped to return to the United Kingdom by the forced marriage unit, will no longer be asked to take out a loan for their repatriation costs.

“Furthermore, no individual assisted by the forced marriage unit, who would have previously been offered a loan, will have to cover the cost of their repatriation.”

Former lord speaker and independent crossbencher Baroness Hayman, who had raised the issue, said: “I am extremely grateful for that answer and very glad that I don’t have to berate the minister… on an issue which frankly was a disgrace.

“I’m glad to, to understand that the debts that are still around the necks of some of these very vulnerable woman who have been repatriated to this country will be wiped out.

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Varadkar: 'I don’t believe in building walls, I believe in building bridges'

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has responded to US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico saying: “I don’t believe in building walls, I believe in building bridges”.

He also said the only place such a wall has been effective is Israel’s barrier with the Palestinian Territories and it’s “awful”.

Mr Varadkar’s remarks come after Mr Trump’s Oval Office address to the American people where he urged Congress to give him $5.7bn to build the wall.

Mr Trump blamed the Democrats for a partial government shut-down in the US amid the row over the wall.

He said the situation at the US border with Mexico is a “humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul”.

Mr Trump said 90pc of the heroin sold in the US comes from Mexico and also referred to cases of Americans “savagely murdered in cold blood” by immigrants.

Mr Varadkar was asked about Mr Trump’s plans for the wall during his visit to Africa.

He said: “Generally speaking I don’t believe in building walls, I believe in building bridges.

“And when we’ve been discussing Brexit and the need to avoid a hard border, among the people who have intuitively understood the issue are of course the Germans because of their history of partition and of course because a wall was put up between West and East Berlin.”

He said he believes it’s one reason Ireland has had such strong support from Germany during the Brexit process.

Mr Varadkar added: “Obviously any decision on whether a wall is built between Mexico and the United States is a matter for the US Government and the Mexican Government, of course, but my experience is that walls don’t stop people.

“People dig tunnels and people use ladders, and unless it is highly fortified and highly policed, it is not going to be effective.

“There is an effective wall between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but I don’t think anybody would want to see that kind of wall built anywhere else in the world. I’ve seen it and it’s awful.”

Mr Varadkar said he wouldn’t like to see a wall like that anywhere else in the world but added: “that’s not my call”.

He said: “It’s a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland that I’m working on avoiding at the moment. That’s my priority.”

Mr Varadkar said there’s been no contact from the White House about plans for a Presidential visit to Ireland.

There had been plans for Mr Trump to visit Ireland last November but they were cancelled.

Mr Varadkar said: “I will be in the White House in March to meet President Trump, but we have had no contact from them about a renewed visit to Ireland at this stage.”

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