US shutdown: Senate rejects bills to reopen government

Federal workers protest in a Senate office building on Wednesday

The US Senate has rejected two bills to end the government shutdown, leaving no end in sight to the record-breaking closure of federal agencies.

The Republican legislation failed by 50-47 and the Democratic bill followed suit by 52-44. Both measures were long shots, needing 60 votes to pass.

Meanwhile, 800,000 federal workers who are struggling to cover their bills will miss another payday on Friday.

At 34 days with no end in sight, this is the longest shutdown in US history.

Six Republican defectors – including former White House candidate and Utah Senator Mitt Romney – voted for the Democratic bill. It would have reopened the government until 8 February.

One conservative Democrat backed the Republican measure, which would have provided the $5.7bn (£4.4bn) that President Donald Trump wants to build a southern border wall. It would also have temporarily shielded from deportation some US residents who entered the country without documentation as children.

Afterwards, Mr Trump told reporters at the White House that he would only sign a bill if it included a “down payment” on a border barrier.

But the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the Republican president’s request was not reasonable.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, held brief talks after the votes failed, but there was no sign of a breakthrough.

Boy sells art to help mother through shutdown

The political imbroglio frayed tempers on the Senate floor on Thursday.

Before voting began, Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, shouted at Texas Republican Ted Cruz, accusing him of shedding “crocodile tears” over unpaid workers while supporting the president’s plan for “a medieval barrier”.

Meanwhile, multi-millionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross questioned why unpaid civil servants have been visiting food banks, saying they should just take out a bank loan.

Speaker Pelosi accused Mr Ross of a “‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude”.

Ahead of the vote, an Associated Press opinion poll reported that the shutdown had negatively impacted Mr Trump’s popularity.

Just 34% of Americans in the survey supported Mr Trump overall – down from 42% a month earlier. But his approval among Republican voters was close to 80%.

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Something has to give

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher

Now it’s back to square one. Democrats in the House of Representatives suggest they could pass a package with border security – but no direct wall funding – as a compromise.

That’s a change from the no-negotiation position they held for over a month, but the president has previously said this was not sufficient.

Something has to give.

Will Mr Trump’s sagging polls ratings and these latest signs of dissent in the party’s Senate ranks be enough to change his mind?

While the president boasts about never conceding defeat, he surprised many by abruptly backing away from the recent showdown over the State of the Union Address. He also reversed course last year on his family separation policy at the border following public outcry.

A break, if it comes from the president, could happen quickly. The Democratic position would have to erode over time – and, for the moment, the party remains fairly united.

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Also on Thursday, former White House chief of staff John Kelly and four other former homeland security secretaries wrote to lawmakers and the president, calling for the agency to be funded again.

They said it was “unconscionable” that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees were working unpaid on matters of national security.

The letter said those civil servants “should not have to rely on the charitable generosity of others for assistance in feeding their families and paying their bills”.

Just why has the US government partially shut down?
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How is the shutdown biting?

  • FBI: A report from agents nationwide has warned the bureau’s resources are at breaking point, which has delayed sensitive investigations and compromised operations
  • Flight safety: This week, air traffic, pilot and flight attendant union leaders released a statement saying they “cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play”
  • Food shortages: A food bank for Coast Guard families in the north-western US state of Washington ran out of meals amid high demand
  • Immigration delays: More than 42,000 immigration hearings have been suspended, adding to a court backlog of over 800,000 cases

Read more: The impact of the government shutdown

As Shutdown Grinds On, Senate Debates Anti-Abortion Bill

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On Capitol Hill, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote Thursday—not on a bill to end the government shutdown, but on a legislation to restrict abortion rights for low-income women. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would have permanently barred federal funds from paying for abortions. It stalled after it failed to muster the 60 votes needed.

US federal shutdown becomes longest in history

Polls show Trump getting most of the blame for the shutdown, as he continues standoff with Democrats over border wall.

The partial government shutdown became the longest closure in the history of the United Stateswhen the clock ticked past midnight on Friday as President Donald Trump and nervous Republicans scrambled to find a way out of the mess.

A solution could not come soon enough for around 800,000 federal workers who got pay statements on Friday but no pay.

The House and the Senate voted to give federal workers back pay whenever the federal government reopens and then left town for the weekend, as the shutdown entered its 22nd day.

While Trump privately considered one dramatic escape route, declaring a national emergency to build the wall without a new stream of cash from Congress, members of his own party were fiercely debating that idea, and the president urged Congress to come up with another solution.

“What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” Trump said. He insisted that he had the authority to do that, adding that he’s “not going to do it so fast” because he’d still prefer to work a deal with Congress.

With polls showing Trump getting most of the blame for the shutdown, the administration accelerated planning for a possible emergency declaration to try to get around Congress and fund the wall from existing sources of federal revenue.

The White House explored diverting money for wall construction from a range of other accounts. One idea being considered was diverting some of the $13.9bn allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers after last year’s deadly hurricanes and floods.

That option triggered an outcry from officials in Puerto Rico and some states recovering from natural disasters and appeared to lose steam on Friday.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement that it was “time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier”. But other Republicans have expressed doubts, given the potential legal hurdles such a move may face.

‘Shame on the Senate’

Earlier, on Thursday, federal workers across the country rallied against the shutdown.

At a Washington rally, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions, called the shutdown a “lockout”.

“Shame on the Senate. Shame on the White House,” he told the crowd. “This lockout has to end, and it has to end now.”

In Detroit, federal worker Gregory Simpkins told the Associated Press news agency, “Next week, it’s going to be a panic mode. How are we going to pay rent? How are we going to pay out bills? How in the hell are we going to eat?”

In New York, furloughed Park Ranger Kathryn Gilson said if the shutdown goes much longer, it will probably cause her to go into a depression. “I’m kind of just sitting and staring at the wall and trying not to lose my mind,” she said.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

US Senate rebukes Saudi Arabia over Yemen war, Khashoggi murder

Vote condemning kingdom comes as bipartisan group of senators vows to apply sanctions pressure on it in 2019.

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Washington, DC – As the US Senate moved to vote on Thursday on a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for its conduct of the war in Yemenand the assassination of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a bipartisan group of senators vowed to impose concrete sanctions on the kingdom in legislation next year.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said on Wednesday that the group plans to advance legislation imposing financial penalties and prohibiting arms sales when the new Congress begins in January.

In some of their strongest comments to date, senators signalled they would like to see Saudi Arabia remove Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from power.

“To our friends in Saudi Arabia, you are never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change. And it’s up to you to figure out what that change needs to be,” Graham, a congressional ally of President Donald Trump, told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.

“From my point of view, the current construct is not working. There is a relationship between countries and individuals. The individual, the crown prince, is so toxic, so tainted, so flawed that I can’t ever see myself doing business in the future with Saudi Arabia unless there is a change there,” Graham said.

Members of Congress have said US intelligence has tied the October 2 murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to Prince Mohammed, who also launched a Saudi-led military campaign in neighbouring Yemen in 2015.

The Senate voted 60-39 on Wednesday to advance debate on a war powers resolution that would force the Trump administration to withdraw US military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, where an estimated tens of thousands of people have been killed in what has been described by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

A final vote on the measure is expected on Thursday, in a largely symbolic action that legislators said is designed to send a firm rebuke to both Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration.

“Our legislation doesn’t say it’s the end of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Menendez told reporters. “We are saying Saudi Arabia has to change.”

Sentiment voiced in both the House and Senate this week signals a shift in congressional support for Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed. In addition to the war in Yemen and the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, legislators cited the 2017 forced detention in Riyadh of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the unilateral embargo of Qatar, which hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East.

They characterised Saudi foreign policy in the region as irrational and Prince Mohammed’s leadership as unstable.

“What’s happening in Yemen and the humanitarian disaster there is unacceptable,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the future Saudi sanctions bill.

“This is not going away. People who are responsible have to be held accountable. This is a bipartisan effort that will continue.”

In a sign of potential Republican support, Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho politician who will be chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, was among 11 Republican senators who voted in favour of the war powers resolution on Wednesday. Menendez will be the top Democrat on the committee.

“We will find a way, a process, a procedure to make sure we get a vote. I think that will send the most defining action we can to Saudi Arabia,” Menendez said. The bipartisan legislation set for next year is co-sponsored by Menendez and Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican.

“The resolution sends a very clear signal to this administration and to Saudi Arabia that, if this administration doesn’t reorient our policy toward Saudi Arabia, then Congress is going to do it,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat whose state is home to several key US weapon manufacturers.

“Saudi Arabia is our ally, but when your ally jumps into a pool of sharks, you are not obligated to follow. And Saudi Arabia crossed a line, I would argue, long ago,” Murphy said, citing evidence the Saudis are using American-made bombs to deliberately target civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen.

The House of Representatives will not take up the war powers resolution despite Senate approval after a narrow 206-203 procedural vote on Wednesday. In any case, the White House had threatened a presidential veto. Trump on Tuesday reiterated his support for Prince Mohammed’s leadership, telling the Reuters news agency in an Oval Office interview, “He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally.”

The US Congress is rushing to complete its business for the year in a “lame duck” session and focus on Capitol Hill is beginning to turn to 2019. Democrats will control the House of Representatives when the new Congress is seated in January, while Republicans will retain control of the Senate until the next election in 2020.

Threats, bipartisanship, and a CNN spat: Trump reacts to midterms

US president threatens Democrats while pledging to work with them on a number of issues in erratic press conference.

Trump campaigned for numerous Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, which he saw as a success [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
Trump campaigned for numerous Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, which he saw as a success [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

US President Donald Trump has held his first press conference since Tuesday’s midterms elections, spinning the vote in which his Republican party lost control of the House of Representatives as a victory and getting into a spat with a CNN reporter.

The Republicans retained control of US Senate, following a divisive campaign marked by inflammatory rhetoric over race and immigration, but the loss of the House means Trump will face added obstacles to pushing through his policy goals, and the possible threat of investigation over his ties to Russia.

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Trump called on the Democrats to work with him to “keep the economic miracle” going.

“There are a lot of great things we can do together,” Trump said, while warning the party against investigating him over his relationship with Russia.

In a tweet posted before the press conference, Trump threatened the Democrats with an investigation of his own over unfounded claims that the Democrats were leaking classified intelligence.

“If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!” Trump wrote in the post.

Senior Democrat and likely House leader, Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats would work with Republicans by issue but warned they would not serve to “rubber stamp” Trump’s policies.

She described the election as a “vote to restore the health” of US democracy.

“Under the constitution the legislative branch is the Article One, the first branch of government…it’s a co-equal branch of the other branches of government,” she said, adding it is a “check and balance on the other branches of government.

“We as Democrats are here to strengthen the institution in which we serve and not to have it be a rubber stamp for President Trump”

Clash with reporters

Trump dodged questions in the press conference regarding his role in contributing to the rise of white nationalism in the US, at one point accusing a journalist who asked him about the topic of racism.

When asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta about whether he had demonised immigrants with a controversial campaign advert describing Latin American migrants as invaders, Trump called the reporter “rude” and ordered an aide to physically remove the mic from the journalist.

“You are the enemy of the people,” Trump said during the tense exchange.

A White House staff member reaches for the microphone held by CNN’s Jim Acosta as he questions US President Donald Trump [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Analysis – James Bays, Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor

It was quite a chaotic and extraordinary news conference and when you cut away all the other stuff, there was a clear message coming from the president.

He said that he thought it was probably better that Republicans haven’t got a slight majority in the House, and instead the Democrats have the majority. He can have a negotiation with Democrats in the House, he can come up with legislation, and he can get it through the Senate with the Democrats, and some of the Republicans, supporting it.

I think this might terrify some in his own party that he’s going to work so closely with the Democrats.

 

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

US mid-terms latest: Five key things we learned

The story of election night in two minutes

The dust is settling on the results of the US mid-term elections, and it’s a tale of two chambers.

In the end, it was very much as expected – Democrats took control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, and Republicans held the Senate.

There were no major shocks, but plenty of intrigue, and indications of what might happen over the next two years.

Here are our main conclusions.

The number of women running for election this year was at an all-time high, and an unprecedented number ended up winning.

Before Tuesday, there were 107 women in Congress, and that figure has been passed.

Among the many firsts: the first two Muslim congresswomen (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar); the youngest women ever elected to Congress in New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Iowa’s Abby Finkenauer; and the first Native American women in Congress, New Mexico’s Debra Haaland and Sharice Davids of Kansas.

While we’re talking about notable firsts, it’s also worth mentioning Jared Polis of Colorado, who became the first gay governor in the US.

It’s also important to point out the part Democratic women played in flipping Republican districts. It turns out voters quite like some new energy on the scene.

At about 19:45 EST, Democrat Jennifer Wexton claimed Virginia’s 10th district, that had been held by Republicans since 1980.

At that time, it seemed like a sign of a “blue wave”, the term used for when Democrats have a particularly good set of results.

It didn’t exactly work out that way.

There was a blue wave of sorts, but in the end it rolled in gently to shore. It was a Democratic victory in the House that was totally in keeping with expectations, with no major shocks.

It won’t feel like the tsunami many on the left were hoping for, but a steadily rising tide is still lifting Democrats to enough victories to give them control of the House for the first time in eight years.

With that comes the ability to stop the Trump legislative agenda in its tracks. It also puts some teeth in congressional oversight of his administration.

The comfortable margin of victory matters for Democrats, because the more of them there are in the House, the easier it will be for them to pass votes.

But campaigns that had provided inspiration to progressives – Beto O’Rourke’s Senate race against Ted Cruz, the candidates for governor in Florida and (almost certainly) Georgia – came to naught, even if the results there ended up being closer than expected.

On a more local level, the party’s fresh blood did well, but we’re no clearer to seeing whether Democrats will rally around a progressive candidate for 2020.

It was a mixed night – the loss of the House but the Republican majority in the Senate probably increasing. The House could now launch investigations into the president, demand his tax returns, and could, though may well not, choose to impeach him.

In his first two years in office, both chambers of Congress, held by his party, have largely given him an easy ride. Not any more.

Trump is certain to savour the battle he faces in pushing through his agenda, and will surely enjoy having a bogeyman to blame.

But it was a night of gains too. Republicans were able not only to hold on to their lead but increased it. President Trump himself called it a “tremendous success”.

This was a referendum on Trump himself. A CBS poll released on Tuesday indicated the president was a factor for 65% of people as they took to the polls (39% of whom opposing him, 26% supporting him).

Trump barnstormed the critical Senate battleground states in the final days of the campaign, effectively making the contests as much about him as they were about the individual candidates.

It appears to have been an effective strategy in places like Indiana and Tennessee.

For the most part, areas that backed Trump strongly in the presidential election did so again this year.

This was very much the election of the rural against the suburban that further confirmed the gulfs that are emerging over the country.

The Democrats’ House victory was thanks in no small part to educated suburban districts that had long voted for Republicans, but contained voters that may have been uneasy with Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric.

Look at what happened in parts of Virginia, where the Republican-held 10th and seventh districts in the House outside Washington and Richmond fell to Democrats.

It was a similar story repeated in states across the country, in often surprise results in Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania, for example.

So what does this mean?

It could be a sign of a fight to come for Republicans in the 2020 presidential election. College-educated suburban Republicans backed Trump in 2016, perhaps reluctantly. They appear not be doing so any more. So how does the party bring those people back on board?

There were some interesting developments in the governors’ races. Some states that voted overwhelmingly in favour of Trump in 2016 did not back his party this time around.

Illinois – with almost 13m people and the country’s third-biggest city, Chicago – switched to the Democrats under governor JB Pritzker. In Kansas, Trump ally Kris Kobach didn’t come close in the race for governor.

But in another way, it’s good news for Trump. Vocal supporters of the US president won governorships in Georgia and Florida, after campaigns laced with racist overtones, and stand in good stead to lend him support in the 2020 presidential election.

Republican governors also held Iowa and Ohio, key swing states in presidential elections. Bear in mind that governors are able to help raise funds and volunteers before presidential elections, and this is good news for Trump.