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.”


Nigeria’s candidates blame each other in surprise vote delay

Nigeria's main opposition party presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar speaks to reporters, after the postponement of the presidential election in Yola, in Adamawa State, Nigeria February 16, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 min 5 sec ago
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Nigeria’s candidates blame each other in surprise vote delay

  • The party backing top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of “instigating this postponement” with the aim of ensuring a low turnout

KANO, Nigeria: Nigeria’s top candidates on Saturday condemned the surprise last-minute decision to delay the presidential election for a week until Feb. 23, blaming each other but appealing to Africa’s largest democracy for calm.
The decision, announced five hours before polls were to open, is a costly one, with analysts at SBM Intelligence estimating an economic hit of $2 billion, plus a blow to the country’s reputation. Authorities now must decide what to do with already delivered voting materials in a tense atmosphere where some electoral facilities in recent days have been torched.
Electoral commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told observers, diplomats and others that the delay had nothing to do with insecurity or political influence. He blamed “very trying circumstances” including bad weather affecting flights and the fires at three commission offices in an apparent “attempt to sabotage our preparations.”
If the vote had continued as planned, polling units could not have opened at the same time nationwide. “This is very important to public perceptions of elections as free, fair and credible,” Yakubu said, adding that as late as 2 a.m. they were still confident the election could go ahead.
The new Feb. 23 election date is “without equivocation” final, he said.
Bitter voters in the capital, Abuja, and elsewhere who traveled home to cast their ballots, including from Nigeria’s vast diaspora, said they could not afford to wait another seven days, and warned that election apathy could follow. Some anguished over rescheduling weddings, exams and other milestones.
If the electoral commission knew about complications, why wait until the final moment to announce a delay, asked Godspower Egbenekama, spokesman for the Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta state in the restive south. “This shows that someone is pulling the strings from somewhere.”
The party backing top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of “instigating this postponement” with the aim of ensuring a low turnout. It urged Nigerians to turn out in greater numbers a week from now.
“You can postpone an election, but you cannot postpone destiny,” Abubakar tweeted.
Buhari said he was “deeply disappointed” after the electoral commission had “given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections.” His statement appealed for calm and asserted that his administration does not interfere in the commission’s work.
A spokesman for the president’s campaign committee, Festus Keyamo, accused Abubakar’s party of causing the delay to try to slow Buhari’s momentum.
But a ruling party campaign director in Delta state, Goodnews Agbi, said it was better to give the commission time to conduct a credible vote instead of rushing into a sham one “that the whole world will criticize later.”
A civic group monitoring the election, the Situation Room, blasted the “needless tension and confusion” and called on political parties to avoid incitement and misinformation.
Nigeria’s more than 190 million people anticipate a close race between Buhari and Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president. Both have pledged to work for a peaceful election even as supporters, including high-level officials, have caused alarm with warnings against foreign interference and allegations of rigging.
When Buhari came to power in 2015 — after a six-week election delay blamed on extremist insecurity — he made Nigerian history with the first defeat of an incumbent president. The vote was hailed as one of the most transparent and untroubled ever in Africa’s most populous country, which has seen deadly post-election violence in the past.
Now Buhari could become the second incumbent to be unseated. This election is a referendum on his record on insecurity, the economy and corruption, all of which he has been criticized by some Nigerians for doing too little too slowly.