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All sides claim budget win; immigration fight looks tougher

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 12:56 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 12:55 AM


            The Capitol Dome of the Capitol Building at sunrise, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, in Washington. After another government shutdown, congress has passed a sweeping long term spending bill which President Donald Trump is expected to sign later this morning. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Capitol Dome of the Capitol Building at sunrise, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, in Washington. After another government shutdown, congress has passed a sweeping long term spending bill which President Donald Trump is expected to sign later this morning. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republican leaders, top Democrats and President Donald Trump are all claiming big wins in the $400 billion budget agreement signed into law Friday. But the push to pass the massive legislation underscored enduring divisions within both parties, and those rifts are likely to make the next fight over immigration even more challenging.

In Washington's latest display of governance by brinkmanship, the bipartisan accord bolstering military and domestic programs and deepening federal deficits crossed the finish line just before dawn — but not before the government shut down overnight.

Passage left nerves frayed and Democrats with little leverage to force congressional action on their most high-profile priority: preventing deportation of hundreds of thousands of the young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and remain here without permanent legal protection.

Lawmakers rushed to limit the disruption and impact over the lapse in government funding, voting in the middle of the night to reopen agencies before workers were due to report to the office. It was the government's second shutdown in three weeks, and most lawmakers were eager to avoid a big show of dysfunction in an election year.

Sen. Rand Paul did not share the urgency. Late Thursday, the tea party leader and Kentucky Republican put the brakes on the bill in protest over Congress' sudden willingness to embrace big deficit spending. Paul noted that he and many in his party railed against deficit when Democrats held the White House, but now seemed willing to look the other way with Republicans in control.

He said he hoped his stand would teach conservatives "to not accept just anything because it comes from a GOP Congress."

Paul's call clearly angered Republican leaders — Sen. John Cornyn called it "grossly irresponsible" — and it exposed a contradiction that may come to haunt Republicans as they try to fire up conservatives in midterm elections.

The budget measure provides Pentagon spending increases sought by Trump and the GOP, more money for domestic agencies demanded by Democrats and $89 billion that both wanted for disaster relief. The two-year pact, which also continues the government's authority to borrow money, postpones any possible federal default or likely shutdowns until after the November elections.

But the 652-page budget bill says nothing about protection for the "Dreamer" immigrants. That omission largely explains why a quarter of Senate Democrats and two-thirds of House Democrats voted no, and why immigration now because the next battle. In January, after a three-day closure, Senate Democrats secured from GOP leaders the promise of a debate and vote on a deal to protect the younger immigrants from deportation.

"Democrats have fought hard but, in the end, many opted to say yes to other priorities and leave Dreamers behind," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration America's Voice. He called that decision plus opposition by many Republicans "inhumane and indecent."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set next Monday as the start of a free-wheeling immigration battle, a debate he promised when Democrats agreed to vote to reopen the government last month. Ryan hasn't scheduled House consideration, infuriating Democrats, but he said Friday, "We will focus on bringing that debate to this floor and finding a solution."

Democrats want to extend the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which lets the immigrants temporarily live and work in the U.S. but that Trump would end March 5. The Democrats also want to make the immigrants eligible for citizenship or permanent residence.

In exchange, Trump wants $25 billion to build his beloved, proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and other barriers. He also wants reductions in legal immigration, including limiting the relatives whom legal residents can sponsor and eliminating a lottery that offers visas to residents of diverse countries.

There's no obvious compromise that could win the 60 votes from Republicans and Democrats needed to prevail in the Senate. The most promising outcome may be a narrow bill extending DACA protections for a year or so and providing some border security money for Trump.

Whatever happens, this week's budget battle dealt a clear immigration defeat to Democrats, who'd initially vowed to block spending bills until there was a deal to help the Dreamers. The setback left party members divided.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, a leader in the immigration fight, said the budget pact "opens the door" for Senate votes on protecting the young immigrants. But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said anyone supporting the spending measure was "colluding with this president and this administration to deport Dreamers."

Such disputes won't help the party energize the Hispanic and liberal voters it will need as it tries capturing House and perhaps Senate control in November.

Immigration divides Republicans, too.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is preparing compromises to offer during his chamber's upcoming debate and says his party will suffer in November if the issue isn't addressed. No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana says Republicans still disagree about "how to handle this number of people that Barack Obama encouraged to come in here illegally."

With the immigration fight looming, Congress voted overnight to finance the government through March 23, giving budget-writers time to craft detailed legislation funding agencies through the rest of this fiscal year.

The House voted 240-186 to approve the bill just before dawn Eastern time, hours after the Senate approved the measure 71-28, with some of Congress' most conservative and liberal lawmakers voting no. Trump signed it as business hours began, and he couldn't resist a dig.

"This Bill is a BIG VICTORY for our Military, but much waste in order to get Dem votes," he tweeted. "Fortunately, DACA not included in this Bill, negotiations to start now!"

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

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This story corrects that about two-thirds, not one-third, of House Democrats voted against the bill.

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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

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“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

Vladimir Putin - Fast Facts

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Photo shows Michigan congresswoman playing Candy Crush during State of the Union

Published: Saturday, February 03, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

Highlights of President Trump’s First State of the Union Address

A Democratic congresswoman from Michigan was caught playing Candy Crush on her phone during Tuesday's State of the Union address.

A Getty photographer captured U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence playing the game on her iPhone during President Trump's address, the Detroit Free Press reported. Other photographs taken during the address show many legislators using their phones.

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Lawrence is a former mayor of Southfield, Michigan. She was elected to Congress in 2014 to represent Michigan's 14th District and is in her second term, the Free Press reported. Her office did not respond to the Free Press for a request for comment on the photo.

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