Lawmakers to vote on pulling US ‘back from brink’ on shutdown

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (C), alongside US Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R), Republican of Texas, and US Senator Orrin Hatch (L), Republican of Utah. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Lawmakers to vote on pulling US ‘back from brink’ on shutdown

WASHINGTON: The top senator from US President Donald Trump’s party urged lawmakers to “step back from the brink” as they gathered Sunday for a crunch vote to keep the government shutdown from stretching into the coming work week.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are set to stay home without pay as of Monday morning following the dramatic collapse Friday night of talks to agree on an urgent funding measure.
The shutdown cast a huge shadow over the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration as president and highlighted the deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that the shutdown would “get a lot worse” if federal workers have to stay home without pay.
“Today would be a good day to end it,” McConnell said from the Senate floor during a rare Sunday session aimed at hashing out a deal ahead of a vote he said would take place at 1:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, unless progress is made sooner.
Lawmakers have traded bitter recriminations for the failure to pass a stop-gap funding measure, and McConnell once again sought to pin the blame on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Trump early Sunday encouraged the Senate’s Republican leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” — a procedural maneuver to change the chamber’s rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.
“If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!” he tweeted, referring to the stop-gap funding measure.
But Senate leaders have been wary of such a move in the past, as it could come back to haunt them the next time the other party holds a majority.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on Sunday accused some Democrats of wanting to “deny the president sort of the victory lap of the anniversary of his inauguration” — echoing a complaint Trump made on Twitter the day before.
“There’s other Democrats who want to see the president give the State of the Union during a shutdown,” Mulvaney said on Fox, referring to the nationally televised address Trump is to deliver on January 30.
At the heart of the dispute is the thorny issue of undocumented immigration.
Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Trump’s populist base by refusing to back a program that protects an estimated 700,000 “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived as children — from deportation.
Schumer said he and Democrats were willing to compromise, but Trump “can’t take yes for an answer — that’s why we’re here.”
“I’m willing to seal the deal, to sit and work right now with the president or anyone he designates — let’s get it done,” Schumer said.
Trump has said Democrats are “far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border.”
Essential federal services and military activity are continuing, but even active-duty troops will not be paid until a deal is reached to reopen the US government.
There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one, in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave.
“We’re just in a holding pattern. We just have to wait and see. It’s scary,” Noelle Joll, a 50-year-old furloughed US government employee, told AFP in Washington.
A deal had appeared likely on Friday afternoon, when Trump — who has touted himself as a master negotiator — seemed to be close to an agreement with Schumer on protecting Dreamers.
But no such compromise was in the language that reached Congress for a stop-gap motion to keep the government open for four more weeks while a final arrangement is discussed. And Republicans failed to win enough Democratic support in the Senate to bring it to a vote.
Republicans have a tenuous one-seat majority in the Senate, and on Friday needed to lure some Democrats to their side to get a 60-vote supermajority to bring the motion forward. They fell 10 votes short.
The measure brought to Congress would have extended federal funding until February 16 and reauthorized for six years a health insurance program for poor children — a long-time Democratic objective.
But it left out any action on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that affects Dreamers.
White House officials insisted there was no urgency to fix DACA, which expires March 5.
Highlighting the deep political polarization, crowds estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands took to the streets of major US cities including Los Angeles, New York and Washington over the weekend to march against the president and his policies and express support for women’s rights.
Protesters hoisted placards with messages including “Fight like a girl,” “A woman’s place is in the White House” and “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”


South Korea dismantles guard posts with dynamite, excavators

Updated 40 min 51 sec ago
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South Korea dismantles guard posts with dynamite, excavators

  • Last week the two Koreas finished withdrawing troops and firearms from some of the guard posts along their border before dismantling them
  • The Koreas each agreed to dismantle or disarm 11 of their guard posts by the end of this month

CHEORWON, South Korea: South Korea exploded a front-line guard post Thursday, sending plumes of thick, black smoke into the sky above the border with North Korea, in the most dramatic scene to date in the rivals’ efforts to reduce animosities that sparked last year’s fears of war.
Last week the two Koreas finished withdrawing troops and firearms from some of the guard posts along their border before dismantling them. The steps are part of agreements signed in September during a meeting between their leaders in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.
On Thursday, South Korea’s military invited a group of journalists to watch the destruction of a guard post with dynamite in the central border area of Cheorwon. The journalists were asked to stay hundreds of meters (yards) away as black smoke enveloped the hilly border area. They later watched soldiers and other workers bulldoze another guard post.
While most of the South Korean guard posts are being destroyed with construction equipment for environmental and safety reasons, dynamite was used for the first structure because of its location on a high hill where it was difficult employ excavators, the Defense Ministry said.
North Korea is demolishing its guard posts with explosives, according to South Korean media.
The guard posts are inside the 248-kilometer (155-mile)-long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile)-wide border called the Demilitarized Zone. Unlike its name, it’s the world’s most heavily fortified border with an estimated 2 million land mines planted in and near the zone. The area has been the site of violence and bloodshed since the 1945 division of the Korean Peninsula, and civilians need special government approval to enter the zone.
The Koreas each agreed to dismantle or disarm 11 of their guard posts by the end of this month before jointly verifying the destruction next month. South Korea had about 60 posts inside the DMZ guarded by layers of barbed wire and manned by troops with machine guns. North Korea was estimated to have 160 such front-line posts.
Under the September agreements, the Koreas are also disarming the shared border village of Panmunjom and clearing mines from another DMZ area where they plan their first-ever joint searches for Korean War dead. They’ve also halted live-fire exercises along the border.
The deals are among a set of steps they have taken since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached out to Seoul and Washington early this year with a vague commitment to nuclear disarmament. The fast-improving inter-Korean ties have raised worries among many in South Korea and the United States as global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program has produced little recent progress.