Talks on US government shutdown continue on Sunday

People walk past a sign announcing that New York funds are keeping the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open for visitors as the US government shutdown enters its third week. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2019

Talks on US government shutdown continue on Sunday

  • Democrats agreed there had been little movement Saturday, saying the White House did not budge on the president’s key demand
  • Donald Trump wants $5.6 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border

WASHINGTON: White House officials and congressional aides are returning to discussions Sunday to find a way to reopen the government after emerging from the first round of weekend talks without a breakthrough.

President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday: “Not much headway made today.” The president later tweeted that he planned to go to his retreat at Camp David, Maryland, on Sunday morning to discuss borders security and other topics with senior staff in a meeting separate from the negotiations.

Democrats agreed there had been little movement Saturday, saying the White House did not budge on the president’s key demand, $5.6 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

The White House said funding was not discussed in-depth, but the administration was clear they needed funding for a wall and that they wanted to resolve the shutdown all at once.

Accusations flew after the more than two-hour session led by Vice President Mike Pence. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” accused Democrats of being there to “stall.” Democrats familiar with the meeting said the White House position was “untenable.”

A White House official said the meeting included a briefing on border security by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Democrats sought written details from the Department of Homeland Security on their budget needs, which the White House said it would provide.

With talks stalled, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats plan to start approving individual bills to reopen shuttered departments starting with Treasury to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds.

“While President Trump threatens to keep the government shut down for ‘years’, Democrats are taking immediate further action to re-open government, so that we can meet the needs of the American people, protect our borders and respect our workers,” Pelosi said.

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” set to air Sunday, Mulvaney argued that the administration was willing to deal. He said Trump was willing to forgo a concrete wall for steel or other materials.

“If he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction,” Mulvaney said.

The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, referring to slats and other “border things.” But Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.

Trump had campaigned on the promise that Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico has refused. He’s now demanding the money from Congress.

Trump, who did not attend the discussions, spent the morning tweeting about border security.

Showing little empathy for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed or working without pay, Trump declared — without citing evidence — that most are Democrats. He also asserted: “I want to stop the Shutdown as soon as we are in agreement on Strong Border Security! I am in the White House ready to go, where are the Dems?”

One Democrat, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, said in his party’s weekly radio address that the shutdown “is part of a larger pattern of a president who puts his personal whims and his effort to score political points before the needs of the American people. ... He is pointing fingers at everyone but himself.”


Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago

Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

  • With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda
  • Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a colonialist mentality, prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.
With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda and pledging that delegates would hammer out “concrete measures” to tackle them.
Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a “colonialist mentality,” prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming.
“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit” in June, a French presidential official said.
As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.
Moves to prioritize the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were “heartbreaking” and offering help to put them out.
But in a sign of EU disagreement, Germany said Macron’s proposal to block the Mercosur deal was “not the right response.”
“Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil,” a German government spokesman told AFP.
So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil — the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.
“The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted late on Thursday, suggesting it be high on the summit agenda.
But Bolsonaro blasted the move to make it a G7 item without any participation by Brazil, saying it reflected a “colonialist mentality.”
The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.
Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy” for exiting the 2015 deal.
“President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet,” Zarif told AFP in an interview.
He said he had a “good discussion” with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals” in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.
But Trump appears to be the outlier among America’s G7 partners on Iran, despite speculation that Johnson, who claims a close personal rapport with the US leader, might be more amenable to endorsing his stance.
On Friday, a British diplomatic source said the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal, which it helped broker, as the “best way” of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran is just one of a host of issues over which G7 members are at loggerheads, upending a formerly cosy club of rich nations.
Trump will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.
Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.
But in a sign of the summit’s lowered ambitions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a joint declaration at the end, breaking a longstanding G7 tradition.