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.


About 20 Nigerian soldiers missing after Boko Haram ambush — Reuters sources

Updated 16 July 2018
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About 20 Nigerian soldiers missing after Boko Haram ambush — Reuters sources

  • Soldiers say their missing comrades were taken by the militants during an ambush
  • Military command denies losing troops, saying the terrorists in fact lost 22 of their men in fighting
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: About 20 Nigerian soldiers are missing after a clash with Boko Haram militants in the northeast of the country, security sources said on Monday, though the military denied reports that some troops could not be found.
The confrontation between militants and troops took place on Saturday in the Bama area of Borno, the state worst hit by the jihadist group which has killed more than 30,000 people since 2009 when it launched an insurgency to create an Islamic caliphate.
Three soldiers told Reuters more than 20 were missing.
“We lost some of our soldiers in the attack. It is possible those missing are dead. We haven’t seen about 23 of them now,” said an officer who did not want to be named.
Another soldier involved in the clash said the troops were ambushed while conducting a “clearance operation,” adding that “over 20 soldiers have not been seen up till now.” He said five military vehicles were taken.
The militant group carries out suicide bomb attacks in crowded places, such as markets, as well as gun raids and attacks on military bases.
At a news conference on Monday, the military said media reports of the soldiers being missing were untrue.
An army spokesman said suspected Boko Haram militants had tried to seize military vehicles in an attempted attack on troops in Bama but they had been repelled by troops backed by the air force.
“About 22 members of Boko Haram terrorists were neutralized while several others escaped with gunshot wounds. Efforts are being intensified by the troops to get the fleeing members of the Boko Haram terrorists,” said a military spokesman.
Boko Haram held territory around the size of Belgium in northeast Nigeria for several months until being pushed off much of that land in early 2015 by Nigeria’s army and troops from neighboring countries.
Bama, about 60 km (40 miles) southeast of Borno’s state capital Maiduguri, was held by Boko Haram from September 2014 until March 2015.
Nigeria’s government has said since December 2015 that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated.” Yet attacks continue in the northeast while another group, a Daesh ally that split from Boko Haram in 2016, holds territory.