Two Democrats to be sworn in as senators, narrow GOP majority

File Photo: Democrat Doug Jones, who won the special US Senate election, speaks during a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, US. (Reuters)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Two Democrats to be sworn in as senators, narrow GOP majority

WASHINGTON: Two new Democrats will be sworn in to the US Senate on Wednesday, narrowing the Republican majority and complicating efforts by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to advance the White House’s legislative agenda before the midterm elections in November.
Doug Jones, the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter century, is one of two new members who will take the oath of office on the Senate floor at noon. The other is Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who was appointed to replace Al Franken following the Democrat’s resignation over accusations of sexual misconduct. Smith also plans to compete in the special election taking place in November to complete the final two years of Franken’s term.
They will narrow the Republican majority to 51-49.
Jones, 63, will represent one of the most conservative states in the nation and is stressing his desire to work with both parties. He will be under pressure to find some areas of agreement with Republicans and has cited the funding of infrastructure improvements as one possible avenue.
“I will be an independent voice and work to find common ground with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get Washington back on track and fight to make our country a better place for all,” Jones said after defeating Republican Roy Moore in a special election rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore. Jones will take the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Before the Senate seat belonged to Sessions, it belonged to the man Jones considered his mentor, the late Sen. Howell Heflin. Jones worked for Heflin as a staffer after graduating from law school in 1979. Heflin was the last Democrat to represent Alabama in the US Senate.
Jones said for that reason, Wednesday will feel something like a homecoming, bringing his career full circle. During the swearing-in, Jones will be wearing a pair of Heflin’s cufflinks. Jones plans to place one of Heflin’s cigar boxes in his office.
“To be able to have done the things I’ve done and end up back here is just a remarkable thing,” Jones said. “I am looking forward to getting my feet wet and getting to know my colleagues and jumping into the action.”
Jones said he is hopeful that he comes to the Senate with a “little bit of a voice” because of the attention on the Alabama race.
“There are a lot of people who didn’t vote for me, and I hope they will keep an open mind because I am going to try to be the best senator I can for the state to try to move the state forward as a whole and not just one particular group or philosophy,” he said.
Jones made it clear during the campaign that he was opposed to the GOP’s efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act. He said the efforts would drive up costs and lead to the closure of more rural health care facilities in the state. “That is a nonstarter,” Jones said.
Smith, 59, served as chief of staff to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton before becoming his No. 2 when the previous lieutenant governor declined to seek a second term.
Smith is known largely as a liberal Democrat who has maintained connections to the state’s large and politically powerful business community.
Once the senators take the oath of office, they reprise the event at a ceremony with family and friends in the Old Senate Chamber, once the home to the US Senate and later to the US Supreme Court from 1860 to 1935.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale is expected to join Smith at the ceremony.
Jones said former Vice President Joe Biden, who headlined Jones’ campaign kickoff rally, and former Attorney General Eric Holder are expected to be among his guests Wednesday.


US, Europe order emergency checks on engine type in Southwest Airlines accident

Updated 40 min 12 sec ago
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US, Europe order emergency checks on engine type in Southwest Airlines accident

  • The engine explosion on Southwest Airlines flight 1380 on Tuesday was caused by a fan blade that broke off — FAA
  • About 680 CFM56-7B engines globally, including about 350 in the United States, will be affected by the mandatory inspections

WASHINGTON/PARIS: US and European airline regulators on Friday ordered emergency inspections within 20 days of nearly 700 aircraft engines similar to the one involved in a fatal Southwest Airlines engine blowout earlier this week, citing risks of a similar mishap.
The directives by the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency for inspections of CFM56-7B engines, made by CFM International, indicated rising concerns since a similar failure in 2016 of the same type of engine.
The engine explosion on Southwest Airlines flight 1380 on Tuesday was caused by a fan blade that broke off, the FAA said. The blast shattered a window, killing a passenger, in the first US passenger airline fatality since 2009.
“The unsafe condition,” the FAA said in the order, “is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same design.”
The inspections ordered are a sharp step-up from actions by both the European and US regulators after a Southwest flight in August 2016 made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. The European agency had given airlines nine months to check engines, while US regulators still were considering what to do.
Ultrasonic inspections on fan blades that have been used in more than 30,000 cycles, or in service for about 20 years, will be required in the next 20 days, the agencies said on Friday. A cycle includes one take-off and landing.
That order will affect about 680 engines globally, including about 350 in the United States, the FAA said. The engine that blew apart on Tuesday’s Southwest flight would have been affected, since the company said it had 40,000 cycles.
The coordinated 20-day measure partially resolves a gap in previous responses to the 2016 accident by the world’s two largest and most influential aviation regulators, a person familiar with the discussions said and published documents show.
The FAA in August 2017 drafted an order giving airline up to 18 months to carry out checks, but it had not finalized the measure by the time of Tuesday’s fatal second accident.
The EASA had rejected a request by one airline to double the time allowed for checks to 18 months, matching the FAA’s roll-out, saying data did not justify that.
The divergence marked a rare difference of approach between the two agencies, especially on one of the world’s most-used aviation products. CFM, which is jointly owned by General Electric Co. and France’s Safran, produces the CFM56 engine in factories based both in the United States and in Europe.
“It happens that there are disagreements about the right way to go in some cases, and this was one of them,” the person familiar with the discussions said.
On Tuesday, however, when news broke that a second failure had taken place involving the same model engine, aircraft and airline — this time killing a passenger who was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat — the two agencies agreed to act quickly, the person said.
An FAA spokesman said the agency disputed that it had not agreed with European regulators on the response to the engine issue. An EASA spokesman declined to comment.
On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt, the chief investigator of US aviation accidents, said he could not yet say if the incident pointed to a fleet-wide issue. The NTSB declined to comment on Friday.
The FAA and NTSB have different roles. Investigators study the probable cause of single accidents and recommend possible changes to safety rules, while regulators have to assess whether safety risks could appear.
Several major airline officials said the order will primarily impact airlines with higher utilization of aircraft covering shorter routes like Southwest.
Southwest, which had opposed efforts by the engine maker last year to shorten the FAA’s earlier proposed deadline, on Friday said its maintenance program meets or exceeds the new requirements.
United Continental Holdings said that it had begun inspections earlier after a recommendation from CFM. American Airlines said it does not have any CFM56-7B engines with 30,000 cycles and would not be impacted by the 20-day order. Delta Air Lines said it had begun complying and did not expect any operational impact to customers
Approximately 14,000 CFM56-7B engines are in operation.
CFM had initially recommended the inspections.
The European order requires that after the first inspection, airlines should keep repeating the process every 3,000 cycles, which typically represents about two years in service.
More than 150 have already been inspected.
Inspections recommended by the end of August will affect an additional 2,500 engines.