Despite budget deal, Congress heads into an overnight government shutdown

Published: Thursday, February 08, 2018 @ 6:57 PM

For the second time in less than a month, the federal government officially ran out of money to operate, as the latest shutdown began at the stroke of midnight here in Washington, D.C., though Congressional leaders were hopeful that the federal government would be fully open for business by breakfast, as the House and Senate were poised to act after midnight.

The lapse in funding occurred despite an agreement on a two-year budget deal, which also included full funding for the Pentagon, and a temporary funding plan for the rest of the federal government, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked action on the measure in the Senate.

“I don’t advocate for shutting the government down, but neither do I advocate for keeping it open, and borrowing a million dollars a minute,” Paul said on the Senate floor, as he repeatedly denounced the plan, which he said would create huge amounts of new deficit spending.

Fellow Republicans tried repeatedly to get Paul to agree to a vote before the midnight deadline, arguing in vain that the result would be no different.

“I don’t understand why the Senator from Kentucky wants to insist on shutting down the federal government,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the Senate.

But Paul stood his ground, leaving his colleagues aggravated, as he demanded a more open budget process, and accusing his fellow Republicans of embracing a huge increase in spending, which he said might lead to a $1 trillion deficit this year.

“If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” Paul asked on the Senate floor.

Paul ridiculed the budget deal, which will increase defense spending by $165 billion over two years, and add $131 billion in non-defense spending in that same period.

The budget deal also includes $89 billion in hurricane disaster relief, as it totals close to $400 billion in new spending.

Some Republicans were ready to join Paul, frustrated by the details of the agreement.

“This budget deal shows the American people exactly how broken our budget and appropriations process is,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

“It does not address our runaway deficits, and actually takes major steps backwards in the fight to reign in Washington’s overspending appetite,” Lankford added.

With Sen. Paul blocking action on a funding plan, Democrats were more than happy to blame the GOP more broadly for the shutdown – no matter how short it lasts.

Senators were expecting a final vote in the Senate by around 3 am; the bill would then be rushed right to the House, for action there by sunrise.

“At this point, we expect next votes in the House to occur at very roughly 3:00-6:00 a.m.,” Republicans were told by their leadership.

A number of more conservative GOP lawmakers in the House were ready to vote against the bill, but Republicans were counting on a number of Democrats to vote for the plan, and keep it on track.

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Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

The charges against lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

READ MORE: Who is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Files First Charges

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White House: President Trump open to series of gun control ideas

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 11:20 AM

In the wake of the mass shooting at a high school in Florida last week, the White House told reporters on Tuesday that President Donald Trump is ready to discuss a range of gun restrictions that have been championed by Democrats in Congress, while also stressing that there is no quick legislative answer to such mass shootings.

Asked about the President’s past support for a ban on assault weapons, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not rule that out.

“I don’t have any specific announcements, but we haven’t closed the door on any front,” Sanders told reporters.

Along with supporting a bill to funnel more information into the instant gun buyers background check system, Sanders said the President favors tighter background checks, and did not oppose the idea of supporting new age limits for when someone can buy a weapon like an AR-15.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up in the next couple of weeks,” Sanders told reporters, though she sounded a clear note of caution.

“Everybody wants a quick and simple answer,” Sanders added.  “But there isn’t one.”

Asked about banning ‘bump stocks’ – a device which makes semi-automatic weapons fire at a faster rate – Sanders hinted that action would soon happen administratively.

“I can tell you the President supports not having the use of bump stocks, and that we expect further action on that in coming days,” Sanders said.

“School safety is a top priority for my administration,” the President said moments later at a Medal of Valor ceremony at the White House.

“We must do more to protect our children,” Mr. Trump added, without going into any detail on what he might consider.

Back in the daily briefing, Press Secretary Sanders was asked about a tweet sent out by the President in recent days, where he said the FBI had failed to pick up a tip about the Florida shooter because of an excessive focus on the Russia investigation.

“I think he’s making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax, in terms of investigating the Trump Campaign,” Sanders said.

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Mueller unveils new indictment, charging lawyer with lying to investigators

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 5:04 AM

The probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections produced another indictment on Monday, as the feds charged a man with making false statements to investigators working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, also accusing the lawyer of deleting emails, and not cooperating with the probe.

The initial document released by a Washington, D.C. federal court showed Alex Van Der Zwaan lied about his interactions with Rick Gates, who has already been indicted by Mueller’s office.

Gates, who once worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign, already faces charges of a money laundering conspiracy, and failure to file as a foreign agent.

Even though there were only two pages of information released on Tuesday morning, the details of the indictment raised a series of interesting items.

+ Van Der Zwaan was accused of secretly recording phone calls before the 2016 elections:

+ The mention of Rick Gates comes as Gates has reportedly been in discussions with the Special Counsel’s office about a plea bargain agreement.

+ This new indictment includes references to a “Person A” and a “Law Firm A.”

The latest indictment came as the President again took to Twitter to talk about the Russia investigation.

Back at the White House after a long weekend in Florida, Mr. Trump on Tuesday once more suggested that the Russia investigation was mainly sour grapes about his defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016:

The New York Times had reported last September that the Skadden law firm in New York had been asked to produce information to the Mueller investigation.

Reportedly at the urging of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, the firm had helped put together a report on the political situation in Ukraine, which was used to help the country’s Moscow-backed leader.

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While Trump backs bipartisan gun bill, there’s no guarantee of action in Congress on guns

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:53 PM

The White House on Monday signaled that President Donald Trump is willing to back at least one bipartisan measure to strengthen the national instant check system for those who buy firearms, as Democrats in the House and Senate continued to argue that action by the Congress on gun violence is long overdue.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In a written statement sent to reporters, Sanders said the President spoke to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday; the Texas Republican has a bipartisan bill with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), which would force states and federal agencies to submit more information into the instant gun check system.

After a mass shooting last November in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 25 people died, the Air Force acknowledged that the killer – who received a ‘bad conduct’ discharge from the military – should not have been able to buy guns, but those records were never placed in the instant check system.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said in November when he introduced this bipartisan gun measure.”

Democrats had hoped there would be action on that measure – just like they had hoped there would have been action to ban “bump stocks” after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, action on the “No Fly, No Buy” measure after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and then the “FixNics” bill after the Texas shooting.

Last week’s shooting in Florida simply put all of those requests for legislation to deal with guns on repeat for Democrats.

“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “And so, I’m asking – no, demanding – we take action now.”

Democrats would certainly like to do much more than the ‘FixNics’ bill, or banning bump stocks, as other ideas have popped up in recent days, like not allowing anyone under age 21 to buy weapons like an AR-15.

But as the President returned to Washington on Monday evening from a long weekend at his Florida retreat, it wasn’t clear if his support for one bipartisan plan would actually mean action – as GOP leaders have not put such measures on the fast track to a vote in the House and Senate.

On Sunday, when the President met with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Florida, the two men discussed a series of issues, including “the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.”

The White House statement on their meeting did not characterize whether legislative action was discussed.

No action will happen on anything gun-related this week – as the Congress won’t be back on Capitol Hill for votes until February 26.

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