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Zinke says Democrats holding Interior nominees 'hostage'

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 2:50 PM
Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 2:50 PM


            FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Zinke is complaining that Senate Democrats are holding the department's nominees
FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Zinke is complaining that Senate Democrats are holding the department's nominees "hostage" to a political agenda that includes opposition to Zinke's review of presidentially designated monuments. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says Senate Democrats are holding the department's nominees "hostage" to a political agenda that includes opposition to his review of presidentially designated monuments.

In a sharply worded letter to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Zinke said it's unfortunate that Democrats have placed holds on four Interior nominees, including the department's top lawyer and budget chief.

The nominees "have nothing to do with this monument review, yet they have been forced to sit on the sidelines" for months, Zinke wrote Thursday. "As a former Navy SEAL, this is not the type of hostage situation I am accustomed to."

Zinke offered to meet with Durbin, who requested a briefing last month along with other Democratic senators to discuss the monument review.

President Donald Trump ordered the review this spring following complaints by congressional Republicans that previous presidents had misused a century-old law intended to protect federal lands, creating oversized monuments that hinder energy development, logging and other uses. Trump called some monument designations by his Democratic predecessors "massive land grabs."

Zinke has recommended that Trump shrink four large monuments in the West, including the sprawling Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

Zinke also recommended that Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou monuments be reduced in size, although exact details remain unclear. The proposals have prompted an outcry from environmental groups and Democrats who accuse Trump and Zinke of engaging in a secretive process aimed at helping industry groups that have donated to GOP campaigns.

Opponents have promised to take the Trump administration to court to block any attempts to rescind or reduce the monument designations. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton designated the monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to protect sites considered historic or geographically or culturally important.

In a letter last month, Durbin and 15 other senators complained that Zinke's recommendations "threaten important natural, archaeological and cultural resources," especially Bears Ears, a 1.3-million acre site in southeastern Utah that is home to thousands of Native American artifacts, including ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

"National monuments have preserved our country's unique public lands, extraordinary history and our common culture as a people," the senators wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Trump. "We urge you not to reduce their boundaries in any way."

Durbin and several other senators wrote a separate letter to Zinke seeking a meeting about the monument review, which they said has been conducted virtually in secret.

Zinke responded Thursday that he visited the four monuments that are being shrunk and met with or talked to lawmakers and governors in all four states.

"While the review does not affect the state of Illinois, I nonetheless understand your interest in this matter, and I appreciate the written comments you and your colleagues provided throughout this review process," Zinke wrote to Durbin.

Durbin has placed holds on the nominees in his leadership role. Spokesman Ben Marter said Durbin looked forward to meeting with Zinke, although no date has been set.

"That was probably harder than it needed to be, but the secretary has now reached out to schedule a meeting and Sen. Durbin is looking forward to it," Marter said.

Durbin has placed holds on four Interior nominees: Susan Combs, nominated as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget; Joseph Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management; Ryan Nelson, solicitor; and Brenda Burman, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees dams and water projects in 17 Western states.

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Trump: GOP should give up on immigration until after 2018 elections

Published: Friday, June 22, 2018 @ 7:29 AM

A day after Republicans in the House defeated one more conservative immigration reform plan, and delayed action until next week on a second bill because of a lack of GOP votes, President Donald Trump on Friday suggested a different avenue entirely – urging Republicans in Congress to drop the issue until after the November elections.

“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” the President tweeted early on Friday morning, saying the answer was simple – get more GOP lawmakers in the 2018 mid-term elections.

“Elect more Republicans in November and we will pass the finest, fairest and most comprehensive Immigration Bills anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump pledged, as he blamed Democrats and the Senate rules, which would force him to get 60 votes to do what he wants on immigration.

Mr. Trump’s suggestion came as GOP leaders were still looking for a magic legislative formula on immigration reform, as the issue has divided Republicans in both the House and Senate.

The suggestion by the President that immigration efforts are a waste of time came as Republicans were trying to fine tune a second immigration bill in the House, with hopes of approving that next week, before lawmakers go home for a July Fourth break.

Many GOP lawmakers had been hoping that the President instead would come out very publicly in favor of those efforts, and help convince some reluctant House Republicans to get on board, and vote for the plan, despite misgivings about certain provisions.

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House defeats one GOP immigration bill, delays vote on second plan

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 3:04 PM

Struggling to find consensus on immigration reform, the House on Thursday rejected a more conservative Republican immigration reform bill, and then in a bid to salvage the effort, GOP leaders delayed action on a second immigration reform measure until Friday.

41 House Republicans voted against the first GOP bill, which was defeated on a vote of 231-193, as the plan received more votes than most GOP lawmakers had expected.

The Republicans who voted against the first GOP bill were a mixture of the Republican Party’s different flanks, featuring more conservative lawmakers who wanted to do more, and moderates who felt it went too far.

“This is a difficult issue,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who voted for this bill, but wouldn’t tell reporters whether he would support a second measure on Friday.

“Any jot or tittle one way or the other, you lose people because of the complexities, because of the sensitivities, and the emotions in this particular piece of legislation,” Meadows said.

Here is the list of the 41 Republicans who voted “No.”

One of the reasons more moderate Republicans voted against the first bill was because of the lack of a path to citizenship for younger illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

While that is in the bill to be voted on Friday, those provisions then could cause some other Republicans to vote against it, arguing it is nothing but amnesty.

“I’m a big fat no, capital letters” said Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), after the first vote.

“It doesn’t do anything to stop illegal immigration,” Barletta added.

In debate on the House floor, Democrats focused mainly on the more recent immigration battle over the separation of illegal immigrant families, blaming President Donald Trump for doing little to seek compromise.

“On this issue, God is going to judge you as well,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) said to Republicans who were backing the President’s get-tough effort on the border.

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Supreme Court: States can force online sellers to collect sales taxes

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 10:48 AM

In a decision that will impact online shopping for all Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a South Dakota law which required online companies to collect and remit state sales taxes, even if that company did not have a ‘physical presence’ in the state.

“Each year, the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 5-4 decision.

“These critiques underscore that the physical presence rule, both as first formulated and as applied today, is an incorrect interpretation of the Commerce Clause,” the majority wrote.

The ruling overturned previous Supreme Court precedents from the 1992 Quill case, which had theoretically made internet sales a tax-free zone in certain situations; over the years, that changed, but this ruling will now require online sellers to collect sales taxes for all states.

The decision allows state and local governments now to press online retailers to collect sales tax revenues – which some experts believe could bring in billions of dollars in additional revenues, which would be collected if the online seller had a ‘physical presence’ – a store – in that state.

Maybe the most interesting part of the ruling was the lineup of Justices, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined with Kennedy, and three more conservative Justices to provide the majority, while the Chief Justice sided with the remaining three more liberal Justices.

“This Court ‘does not overturn its precedents lightly,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the minority, as he said the Court was wrong to change the way states can deal with sales taxes and online sales, arguing the Legislative Branch should take that step.

“Any alteration to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development
of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress,” Roberts wrote.

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House to vote on two GOP immigration bills – both may fail

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 7:28 AM

After months of internal wrangling over how best to deal with illegal immigration, the House is poised on Thursday to debate and vote on two immigration reform bills written by Republicans – but because of fissures inside the GOP – it’s possible both measures may go down to defeat on Thursday afternoon.

“This is very good compromise legislation,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was struggling to convince more conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus to back a bill that some GOP lawmakers denounced as “amnesty” for illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

“The failed policies of previous administrations have catered to open border radicals and left Americans less free, less safe,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), one Freedom Caucus member reluctant to vote for a more moderate GOP measure.

The internal bickering boiled over on the House floor on Wednesday afternoon, when Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) appeared to engage in an angry back-and-forth with Speaker Ryan, during a vote on the House floor.

With no Democrats expected to back either of the GOP immigration bills – a rupture inside the GOP on these plans will lead to only one thing – defeat.

Two measures are on the schedule in the House – the “Securing America’s Future Act,” and the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act.”

The first bill is the more conservative measure, drafted mainly by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the head of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I’m a ‘yes’ ‘yes,'” Goodlatte said of how he would vote on both bills. “I want 218 votes.”

But the chances of getting a majority on either bill seemed slim – moderates think the conservative bill is too harsh, while conservatives think the more moderate measure doesn’t do enough.

The measures delve deeply into a number of subjects, how to treat illegal immigrant DACA “Dreamers,” reform the asylum system, a host of changes in interior immigration enforcement laws, ending the diversity visa lottery, reforms for temporary agricultural workers, measures to address so-called “sanctuary cities,” more aggressive efforts to return unaccompanied children and other migrants, and much more.

The Goodlatte bill runs 414 pages – the other plan backed by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo totals 299 pages.

The House debate comes a day after a rare retreat by President Trump on the issue of immigration, as he announced a hastily drawn executive order, designed to stop the forced separation of illegal immigrant families.

But Democrats said while the order stopped children from being taken away from their parents, it left many questions unanswered.

“The president’s order does not solve this problem”,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “It does nothing to reunify the 2,300 children who have been taken from their parents.”

“As a country, we are better than this! Separating children from their parents,” said Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)

Republicans also chided the White House.

“It is about time the Administration takes action to address this issue, but more needs to be done,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). “I want to make sure this practice is ended, unequivocally, and I strongly believe we still must take legislative action.”

“The President did the right thing by signing an executive order to keep families together at the border,” added Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

But despite all the talk, nothing on that seems likely to make it through the Congress anytime soon – as a possible double defeat for the GOP in the House on immigration reform seemed a strong possibility.

And it was obvious that a visit by President Trump on Tuesday night to the Capitol had done little to unify Republicans, as the President took another jab on Wednesday as Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), after mocking Sanford during the GOP meeting.

“I have never been a fan of his!” the President said of Sanford on Twitter.

“This was a classless cheap shot,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

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