NO WIN: Senate rejects rival Dem, GOP plans for reopening government

WASHINGTON (AP) — A splintered Senate swatted down competing Democratic and Republican plans for ending the 34-day partial government shutdown on Thursday, leaving President Donald Trump and Congress with no obvious formula for halting the longest-ever closure of federal agencies and the damage it is inflicting around the country.

In an embarrassment to Trump that could weaken his position whenever negotiations get serious, the Democratic proposal got two more votes than the GOP plan. There were six Republican defectors, including freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who’s clashed periodically with the president.

There were faint signs that lawmakers on both sides were looking for ways to resolve their vitriolic stalemate. Moments after the votes, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., went to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But Thursday was mostly a day for both parties, in conflicting ways, to show sympathy for unpaid federal workers while yielding no ground in their fight over Trump’s demand to build a border wall with Mexico.

The Senate first rejected a Republican plan reopening government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he’d long promised Mexico would finance. The 50-47 vote for the measure fell 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.

Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through Feb. 8 with no wall money. That was eight votes short. It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting paychecks to 800,000 beleaguered government workers who are a day from going unpaid for a second consecutive pay period.

Flustered lawmakers said the results could be a reality check that would prod the start of talks. Throughout, the two sides have issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump has refused to reopen government until Congress gives him the wall money, and congressional Democrats have rejected bargaining until he reopens government.

Thursday’s votes could “teach us that the leaders are going to have to get together and figure out how to resolve this,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader. He added, “One way or another we’ve got to get out of this. This is no win for anybody.”

For now, partisan potshots flowed freely.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of a “let them eat cake kind of attitude” after he said on television that he didn’t understand why unpaid civil servants were resorting to homeless shelters for food. Even as Pelosi offered to meet the president “anytime,” Trump stood firm, tweeting, “Without a Wall it all doesn’t work…. We will not Cave!” and no meetings were scheduled.

As the Senate debated the two dueling proposals, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Democratic plan would let that party’s lawmakers “make political points and nothing else” because Trump wouldn’t sign it. He called Pelosi’s stance “unreasonable” and said, “Senate Democrats are not obligated to go down with her ship.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the GOP plan for endorsing Trump’s proposal to keep the government closed until he got what he wants.

“A vote for the president’s plan is an endorsement of government by extortion,” Schumer said. “If we let him do it today, he’ll do it tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.′

Still smarting from its clash with Pelosi over the State of the Union, the White House closely monitored the Senate votes and Trump spoke with lawmakers throughout the day. He was waiting to see if many Democrats crossed over to back his plan, but West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin proved to be the only one.

Even so, there were suggestions of movement.

Vice President Mike Pence attended a lunch with GOP senators before the vote and heard from lawmakers eager for the standoff to end, participants said. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said their message to Pence was “Find a way forward.”

In consultation with their Senate counterparts, House Democrats were preparing a new border security package they planned to roll out Friday. Despite their pledge to not negotiate until agencies reopened, their forthcoming proposal was widely seen as a counteroffer to Trump. Pelosi expressed “some optimism that things could break loose pretty soon” in a closed-door meeting with other Democrats Wednesday evening, said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.

The Democratic package was expected to include $5.7 billion, the same amount Trump wants for his wall, but use it instead for fencing, technology, personnel and other measures. In a plan the rejected Senate GOP plan mirrored, Trump on Saturday proposed to reopen government if he got his wall money. He also proposed to revamp immigration laws, including new restrictions on Central American minors seeking asylum in the U.S. and temporary protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

In another sign of hope, Thursday’s vote on the Democratic plan represented movement by McConnell. For weeks, he’d refused to allow a Senate vote on anything Trump wouldn’t sign and has let Trump and Democrats try reaching an accord. McConnell has a history of helping resolve past partisan standoffs, and his agreement to allow Thursday’s vote was seen by some as a sign he would become more forcefully engaged.

With the impacts of the shutdown becoming increasingly painful, however, lawmakers on both sides were trumpeting their willingness to compromise in the battle over border security and immigration issues, such as protection against deportation for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

“We can work this out,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

At a panel discussion held by House Democrats on the effects of the shutdown, union leaders and former Homeland Security officials said they worried about the long-term effects. “I fear we are rolling the dice,” said Tim Manning, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official. “We will be lucky to get everybody back on the job without a crisis to respond to.”

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to the contents of this report.

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HELL FREEZES OVER: Schumer applauds Trump over move of US embassy to Jerusalem

Washington, D.C. (The Hill) — In a rare moment of agreement with President Trump, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday praised the president for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem. Every nation should have the right to choose its capital,” Schumer said in a statement. “I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.”

The statement echoed a sentiment Trump expressed in a video message presented at the embassy opening, in which the president said the move had “been a long time coming.”

But the embassy’s official opening Monday was also marked by a bloody day on Israel’s border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The New York Times reported that at least 41 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,700 injured at the border’s barrier.

Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy to the city which is considered holy by three major religions has been met with widespread criticism from global leaders due to Jerusalem’s disputed status.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Some view this part of the city as occupied territory and Palestinians hope to make it the capital of a future independent state.

The Trump administration argues the embassy move rightfully recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, while critics have cautioned the decision could cause unrest in the region.

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FRANKENGATE: Democratic Senator Al Franken hit with allegations of sexual assault

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Democratic Senator Al Franken was hit with allegations Thursday of kissing and groping a woman without her consent.

Leeann Tweeden, a radio news anchor with KABC in Los Angeles, said she met Franken in December 2006 while on USO tour to entertain military members, and it was then that the sexual assault occurred.

“In December of 2006, I embarked on my ninth USO Tour to entertain our troops, my eighth to the Middle East since the 9/11 attacks. My father served in Vietnam and my then-boyfriend (and now husband, Chris) is a pilot in the Air Force, so bringing a ‘little piece of home’ to servicemembers stationed far away from their families was both my passion and my privilege,” Tweeden said in a statement (http://www.kabc.com/2017/11/16/leeann-tweeden-on-senator-al-franken/).

“(Franken) put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Tweeden claims. “All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.I felt disgusted and violated.”

In a lengthy statement, Franken admitted to the incident and said he regretted any pain it may have caused.

“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women,” the junior United States Senator from Minnesota wrote.

“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” he continued. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

The allegations against Franken are just the latest in a series of accusations against high ranking members of the government and entertainment industries.

Over the course of the past month, Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore, actor/director Woody Allen and media mogul Harvey Weinstein have been accused of sexual assault by women who claim they were too intimidated to come forward before.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic sides have called for an investigation into the allegations against Franken.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called the accusations “troubling” and said
“sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated.”

 

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WHITE HOUSE DEFENDS TRUMP BUDGET PLAN AMID SLAMS FROM THE LEFT

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House on Tuesday stepped up their defense of the president’s newly unveiled budget plan amid attacks from Democrats that the plan will hurt the nation’s poor.

Democrats say the $4.1 trillion budget proposal, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” cuts too deeply into programs such as welfare and disability funding and will result in undue suffering for America’s needy.

However, White House budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that Trump’s plan (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2018-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2018-BUD.pdf) boosts military and border security spending and reflects Trump’s campaign promises “put on paper.”

“There’s not a single thing [cut] from Social Security or Medicare,” Mulvaney said during a press conference at the White House. “Why? Because that’s what he promised.”

When challenged on what impact the budget plan will have on funding for Medicaid and food stamp programs, Mulvaney said Republicans see the budget opportunity with a different set of eyes than Democrats.

“We look at spending differently,” said Mulvaney. “We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but the number of people we help get off of those programs.”

Mulvaney said the budget plan is based on the prospect of “sustained, 3% economic growth” and that every aspect of the economic plan is based on that forecast.

“Everything that we do in this administration, every single time I am called into the Oval Office … the focus is sustained 3% economic growth,” he said, arguing that the president and his administration “reject(s) that pessimism” that the economy can’t sustain that amount of growth each year.

The budget proposal was sent to Congress on Tuesday, but even before the plan was released, Democrats had come out swinging against it.

“Eliminating domestic programs is unconscionable,” said New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who as leader of the House Democratic Caucus says he and his colleagues will use the “terrible” plan to regain majority in 2018.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was also quick to lay into the plan.

“The Trump budget takes a sledgehammer to the middle class and the working poor, lavishes tax breaks on the wealthy and imagines all of the deficit problems away with fantasy math,” Schumer said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

But by an overwhelming margin, Republicans praised Trump’s economic plan as a new fiscal day in America.

“We can finally turn the page on the Obama era of bloated budgets that never balance,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said of the proposed budget. “President Trump has proven his commitment to fiscal responsibility with a budget that … prioritizes American taxpayers over bureaucrats in Washington.”

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GOING NUCLEAR: GOP DEFIES DEM FILIBUSTER TO ASSURE GORSUCH CONFIRMATION

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans in the Senate ignored the complaints of their Democrat counterparts on Thursday by evoking the so called “nuclear option” to ensure confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

The move to do so came after Democrats initially blocked Gorsuch’s next steps toward confirmation in a filibuster earlier in the day.

Although four Democrats, Sens. Michael Bennet, (D)-Colo.; Heidi Heitkamp, (D)-N.D.; Joe Donnelly, (D)-Ind.; and Joe Manchin, (D)-W.Va. broke rank and voted to confirm Gorsuch, Republicans still fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.

Saying he must do so “for the sake of our country,” Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell said going nuclear (overriding Senate rules so that the president’s nominee could move toward final confirmation with a simple majority of just 51 votes) was necessary in order to “restore norms” move forward after what he called an “unprecedented” Democratic filibuster.

“This is the latest escalation in the left’s never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet and it can not and will not stand. There cannot be two sets of standards, one for the nominees of a Democratic president and another for the nominees of a Republican president,” said McConnell. “Few outside New York or San Francisco believe Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the mainstream, but Neil Gorsuch is not.”

“This will be the first and the last partisan filibuster of the Supreme Court nomination,” he added.

Democrats, angry that Merrick Garland, former president Barack Obama’s pick to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia after Scalia’s death in 2016, was not given a hearing due to the then president’s outgoing status, were quick to criticize the move.

“We believe what Republicans did to Merrick Garland was worse than a filibuster,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D)-New York. “We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “In 20 or 30 or 40 years, we will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court, a day when we irrevocably moved further away from the principles our founders intended for these institutions: principles of bipartisanship, moderation and consensus.”

Shumer’s comments were echoed by Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D)-Illinois, who said “The nuclear option was used by Senator McConnell when he stopped Merrick Garland. What we’re facing today is the fallout.”

In the end, Republicans supported the nuclear decision, voting to eliminate the 60-vote requirement.

A final vote to confirm Gorsuch is expected on Friday.

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DEMOCRAT STANDOFF: SCHUMER WARNS OF SHOWDOWN WITH REPUBLICANS OVER TRUMP BORDER WALL

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate minority leader Charles Schumer warned Republicans on Monday that Democrats will not go along with president Donald Trump’s plans to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexican border, and that Democrats will shut down the government, if necessary, to stop him.

Schumer, an outspoken critic of president Trump, says there is no way Democrats will approve the funding that would be necessary if the verbiage appears in April’s government funding bill.

“We believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of the Congress to avert a government shutdown so early in President Trump’s Administration,” Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, wrote in a letter circulated Monday (http://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/democrats-warn-shutdown-showdown-trumps-mexican-border-wall).

The letter was directed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., but was targeted specifically at Trump.

At issue, say Dems, is that Trump has not unveiled any specifics as to how he plans to get Mexico to pay for the building of the wall, a vow that he campaigned heavily on during his time as the Republican nominee.

Instead of approving funding for the construction of the wall, Schumer’s panel says Democrats say they want all of the 12 remaining spending bills to be completed despite pposition to what they called “noxious policy riders”.

“They should not include poison pill riders such as those that roll back protections for our veterans, environment, consumers, and workers and prohibit funds for critical healthcare services for women through Planned Parenthood,” the Democrats wrote. “We strongly oppose the inclusion of such riders in any of the must-pass appropriations bills that fund the government.”

Calls for comment to the White House have not yet been returned.

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