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Published: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 11:17 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 11:17 AM
WASHINGTON — After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader.
The meeting would be unprecedented during seven decades of animosity between the U.S. and North Korea. The countries remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.
"Great progress being made," Trump tweeted after the South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, announced the plans to reporters in a hastily called appearance on a White House driveway.
Trump added that sanctions will remain in place until there's a deal.
Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland, a goal that Pyongyang is on the cusp of reaching. He's oscillated between threats and insults directed at Kim that have fueled fears of war, and more conciliatory rhetoric.
The historic announcement comes during a period of unparalleled tumult in the West Wing, with the president's policy agenda stalled and morale sinking as staff departures proliferate and disrupt efforts to instill more discipline and order.
Trump clearly relished the news of the planned summit. He had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Thursday afternoon to alert reporters of a "major statement" on North Korea by South Korea. When asked by an ABC reporter if it was about talks with North Korea, he replied: "It's almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit."
Earlier Thursday, Chung had briefed Trump and other top U.S. officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital. During that meeting, the rival Koreas agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April, the first in a decade.
Kim "expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible," Chung told reporters. "President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization."
The White House said Trump's meeting with Kim would take place "at a place and time to be determined."
"Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze," Trump said in a tweet. "Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time."
It marks a dramatic shift in Trump's stance toward North Korea. He has threatened the pariah nation with "fire and fury" if its threats against the U.S. and its allies continued. He has derided Kim by referring to him as "Little Rocket Man." Kim has pilloried Trump as "senile" and a "dotard."
After Kim repeated threats against the U.S. in a New Year's address and mentioned the "nuclear button" on his office desk, Trump responded by tweeting that he has a nuclear button, too, "but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"
North Korea appeared to confirm the summit plans. A senior North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York, Pak Song Il, told The Washington Post in an e-mail that the invitation was the result of Kim's "broad minded and resolute decision" to contribute to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.
By the "great courageous decision of our Supreme Leader, we can take the new aspect to secure the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region," Pak wrote.
On Tuesday after leaving Pyongyang, Chung had publicized that North Korea was offering talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties. But the proposal for a summit still came as a surprise, and will raise questions about whether the two sides are ready for such a high-level meeting.
Just a few hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is traveling in Africa, had said the adversaries were still a long way from holding negotiations.
Chung, who credited Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign for the diplomatic opening on the nuclear issue, said Kim understands that routine U.S.-South Korea military drills "must continue."
The drills were suspended during the Winter Olympics recently hosted by South Korea, which provided impetus for the inter-Korea rapprochement. The drills are expected to resume next month and had widely been seen as an obstacle to talks. North Korea has long protested the military maneuvers south of the divided Korean Peninsula as a rehearsal for invading the North.
When the South Korean delegation briefed Trump in the Oval Office, he was joined by a number of top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, chief of staff John Kelly and the director of national intelligence, among others, according to a senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters after the announcement. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the sensitive diplomatic issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no letter from Kim to Trump, just an oral briefing from the South Korean officials.
The planned summit was welcomed by arms control advocates, but got varying responses from Republican lawmakers.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce said the invitation was a sign that sanction pressure was working but he was skeptical of North Korea's motives. Sen. Lindsey Graham warned Kim that "the worst possible thing you can do is meet with President Trump in person and try to play him. If you do that, it will be the end of you — and your regime."
Darryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said it was too much to expect a single Trump-Kim summit could immediately resolve the nuclear issue that has bedeviled U.S. administrations since the early 1990s, when the North first began producing fissile material for bombs.
"But if the U.S. works closely and intensively with our South Korean allies in its approach to North Korea, a summit offers the potential for starting a serious process that could move us decisively away from the current crisis," Kimball said.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
WASHINGTON — Congress has passed a massive spending bill which includes $700 billion for defense, spends billions more on aircraft, ships and tanks and provides a 2.4 percent pay hike for troops.
The $60 billion increase in military spending is the biggest in 15 years.
The budget plan also includes $300 million to continue cleaning the Great Lakes, $400 million for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, and millions of dollars for Ohio to combat opioid addiction.
The $1.3 trillion measure, which was passed by the House on Thursday and the Senate on Friday, keeps the federal government open until the end of September. But Friday morning, President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday after he threatened to veto it because it did not include money for a resolution for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and failed to fully fund a wall across the country’s southern border.
The Air Force share of defense spending is $183.6 billion, which also aims to add 4,000 airmen by 2020, Air Force officials have said. It includes nearly $25 billion for procurement of aircraft, space vehicles, missiles, and ammunition and more than $49 billion for operations and maintenance, budget documents show.
“For the Air Force, the higher level of spending in the budget bill offers an opportunity to fix nagging readiness problems while moving forward with long delayed plans to replace Cold War aircraft,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said in an email. “It also provides seed money for a transformation in how the Air Force will assure U.S. air and space superiority in the future.”
The spending bill includes $1.08 billion to upgrade the Abrams M-1 tank. Most of that money will be spent at the JSMC plant in Lima.
Across all research, testing and technology accounts, it adds $25.6 billion, documents show.
Impact at Wright-Patterson
The influx of dollars is a particular windfall for research spending at the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson, observers said.
“For Wright Patterson, the impending budget increase signals a surge in research spending to unprecedented peace time levels,” Thompson said. “This could be the beginning of a golden age for the Air Force’s premier research and modernization site if Washington can find a way of keeping spending levels high in the years ahead.”
AFRL’s budget could exceed last year’s level of $4.8 billion, which was nearly split between government appropriations and sponsored research.
This time, about $1.2 billion of that in government appropriations is headed to Wright-Patterson, according to spokespersons in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.
A breakdown of other budgets at Wright-Patterson was not yet available, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Thursday.
But in some research accounts, such as materials and aerospace vehicles, spending could rise as much as 20 percent, said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.
The budget boost bodes well for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, with money beyond the president’s request to procure more aircraft and will jump start new contracts that had been on hold without a permanent budget, Gessel said.
“The larger, overall funding level provided by this bill, which is accompanied by additional flexibility on spending authority, will relieve many budgetary pressures as the funding makes its way from Washington to field operations, including Wright-Patterson,” Gessel said in an email.
“There are provisions which give more flexibility in personnel management of civilian defense workers. This is important to Wright-Patterson because of the large percentage of civilians who work on the base.”
The bill provides $3 billion to reduce opioid addiction, of which $1 billion is set aside for grants that will go directly to the states. Fifteen percent of the state grant money has been earmarked for states which have been hardest by opioids, such as Ohio.
“This is good news for Ohio and good news for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle with addiction,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes $60 million for states to develop an infant plan of safe care to help newborns exposed to opioids and their families.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “while we know there is more work to be done,” the money in the bill “is a meaningful step forward for Ohio.”
The money for the Great Lakes was inserted into the bill after the White House did not include any money for the program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program has strong bipartisan backing from lawmakers from both parties, such as Portman and Brown.
Both Brown and Portman pushed for more money to continue the cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus. The $400 million, Brown said, should guarantee no additional layoffs at the facility.
How Ohio lawmakers voted
The House passed the measure by a vote of 256-to-167 with local Republicans Mike Turner of Dayton and Steve Chabot of Cincinnati voting yes.
Republicans Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy voted no.
In an interview on Fox News, Jordan complained that the 2,200-page bill “grows the government at a $1.3 trillion price tag which will lead to a trillion dollar deficit,” adding “this may be the worst bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”
By contrast, Columbus-area Congressman Steve Stivers said the measure “provides critical funding for our military and veterans, resources for opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and resources for our schools to keep our kids safe.”
The Senate must approve the bill because lawmakers from both parties were unable to agree on a budget for the 2018 spending year which began on October 1 and ends on September 30. By passing the bill, the Senate guarantees the government will remain open for next seven months.
Get the latest news from our team on our Ohio Politics Facebook page and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics
Published: Friday, March 23, 2018 @ 9:43 AM
Creating a bit of legislative drama, President Donald Trump threatened on Friday to veto a massive $1.3 trillion spending
bill, and then after a few hours of leaving Congress in limbo, Mr. Trump backed off and signed the bill into law, expressing
his frustration over limited funding for his campaign vow to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
"There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill," the President told reporters, as he vowed, "I will never sign another bill like this again."
The 2,232 page plan had been unveiled by GOP leaders in Congress on Wednesday night, and then rushed through the House and Senate – with bipartisan support – but the President made clear he didn’t like the final product, stacked high on a table next to him.
“Nobody read it and it’s only hours old,” the President fumed.
In expressing his frustration, the President called on Congress to give him line-item veto authority, so he could strike out specific items in spending bills – but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that power can only be given to the President by an amendment to the Constitution.
The President also turned his ire on the rules of the Senate, demanding again that Senators end the requirement to get 60 votes to end filibusters – that does not have the support of a number of GOP Senators.
The Friday drama was a complete surprise to Republicans on Capitol Hill, as the White House had made clear that the President would sign the bill – no matter some of his reservations – as lawmakers left town yesterday and today for a two week Easter break.
And then, the President tweeted just before 9 am.
On the issue of DACA and the border wall, Mr. Trump has accused Democrats of not helping resolve the status of illegal immigrant ‘Dreamers’ in the United States, while Democrats say he’s at fault.
“DACA was abandoned by the Democrats,” the President said in an earlier tweet. “Would have been tied to desperately needed Wall.”
But while the White House accused Democrats of standing in the way of a DACA deal, they argued Mr. Trump had multiple chances to accept an agreement, as Democratic leaders had offered him $25 billion to build the wall, in exchange for a plan that would put the Dreamers on a 10-12 year path to possible U.S. citizenship.
The President rejected that, leading to the negotiation of the $1.3 trillion funding bill, which gave $1.6 billion to work on the wall.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats blasted the President.
“One of the best things we Democrats have going for us is that Trump really has no idea what he’s doing,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA).
Published: Friday, March 23, 2018 @ 5:17 AM
A day after top White House budget officials said the President supported a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill approved by the Congress, President Donald Trump threw Capitol Hill into turmoil on Friday morning, saying he was thinking about issuing a veto against the plan, because it did not include enough money for his plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and no deal on what to do with illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”
Unable to reach a deal in the past two months with Democrats on DACA, the President again blamed that on Democrats, expressing frustration with the $1.6 billion in the bill that would go to his border wall.
“Please do, Mr. President,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said of the President’s veto threat against the Omnibus funding bill, which combined all 12 spending bills for the federal government, along with a series of unrelated legislative measures.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 8:40 PM
Just over 24 hours after GOP leaders unveiled the details of massive plan to fund the federal government, the House and Senate gave easy bipartisan approval to the $1.3 trillion spending measure, even as members in both parties grumbled about the actions of their leaders, the process, the size of the bill, the amount of money involved, and the specifics.
The final Senate vote – which took place soon after midnight – was 65 to 32 in favor of the over 2,000 page bill, which no lawmaker claimed to have read from start to finish.
“Washington has reached a new low,” complained Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who ridiculed the increase in spending agreed to by both parties.
“This is beyond pathetic. It is irresponsible, and a danger to our Republic,” Perdue added.
“Our congressional budget process is badly broken, and this Omnibus bill is just another symptom of Washington’s sickness,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).
Among the many items in the final bill:
+ A big boost in defense spending, giving the Pentagon $700 billion in 2018, an increase of over $60 billion.
+ A substantial increase in domestic spending, highlighted by money for infrastructure, medical research and more.
+ Two bills pressed in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting – the “Fix NICS” bill that would funnel more information into the instant background check system for gun buyers, and the “STOP School Violence Act,” which would help schools better recognize possible threats of violence in the future.
A rush to a final vote in the Senate was first delayed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who spent hours going through the bill, tweeting out what he found – but after about 600 of the 2,232 pages, the Kentucky Republican called it quits.
“I will vote no because it spends too much and there’s just too little time to read the bill and let everyone know what’s actually in it,” Paul tweeted.
“Every Republican would vote against this disgusting pork bill if a Democrat were President,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “This spending kegger is a wildly irresponsible use of the taxpayers’ money.”
At the White House, officials acknowledged that if the GOP had 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster, they would have designed a much different bill to the fund the operations of the federal government through the end of September.
But they still argued the measure funded a number of the President’s priorities.
“It funds national defense,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney. “It funds opioids, it funds school safety.”
Earlier on Thursday, the House approved the bill on a vote of 256-167, as the two parties switched arguments from several years ago – when it was Republicans complaining about Democrats bringing a big bill to the floor with little time for review.
This time, it was Democrats echoing the Tea Party line of, “Read the bill!”
When the bill reached the Senate, Senators were ready to quickly approve the plan, and head out of town on a two-week break for Easter.
But the fine print caused some troubles, as Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), reportedly objected to a provision put in the bill that would rename a park in his state after a former Governor, Cecil Andrus, described in home state press reports as a past rival.
In the hallways off the Senate floor, Risch was not interested in discussing the Idaho dust up with reporters.
The hours of waiting, which included a procedural vote that called on the Sergeant At Arms to request the presence of absent Senators – left one short-timer aggravated.
“This is juvenile,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is not running for re-election this year.
“This is a ridiculous process that we go through where people extort us, until we get so tired, that we are willing to do whatever it is that they wish for us to do,” said Corker just before the clock struck midnight.
Corker said it would have been better to come back at 8 am and vote, but he backed off that threat, and allowed Senators to finish work on the Omnibus, which funds the government only through September 30.