Trump plans to make ‘major announcement’ on US government shutdown, border

US President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign spending bills that lack $5.7 billion he wants to start constructing that wall has prompted the shutdown. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Trump plans to make ‘major announcement’ on US government shutdown, border

  • Donald Trump’s refusal to sign spending bills that lack $5.7 billion he wants to start constructing that wall, which Democrats oppose, has prompted the shutdown

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said he’ll be making a “major announcement” on the government shutdown and the southern border on Saturday afternoon as the standstill over his border wall continues into its fifth week. Democrats are now proposing hundreds of millions of dollars for new immigration judges and improvements to ports of entry from Mexico but nothing for the wall, a House aide said, as the party begins fleshing out its vision of improving border security.
After days of bitter clashes between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it was unclear if the twin developments represented serious steps toward resolving the nasty partisan fight or posturing. But they were the first tangible signs of movement in a dispute that has caused a partial government shutdown, which Saturday was entering its record 29th day.
Trump’s refusal to sign spending bills that lack $5.7 billion he wants to start constructing that wall, which Democrats oppose, has prompted the shutdown.
The White House declined to provide details late Friday about what the president would be announcing. But Trump was not expected to sign the national emergency declaration he’s been threatening as an option to circumvent Congress, according to two people familiar with the planning.
Instead, Trump was expected to propose the outlines of a new deal that the administration believes could potentially pave the way to an end to the shutdown, according to one of the people. They were not authorized to discuss the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The move, amid a shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without paychecks, represents the first major overture by the president since Jan. 8, when he delivered an Oval Office address making the public case for his border wall. Democrats have said they will not negotiate until the government reopens, raising questions about how Trump might move the ball forward.
Democrats were proposing $563 million to hire 75 more immigration judges, who currently face large backlogs processing cases, and $524 million to improve ports of entry in Calexico, California, and San Luis, Arizona, the Democratic House aide said. The money is to be added to spending bills, largely negotiated between the House and Senate, which the House plans to vote on next week.
In addition, Democrats were working toward adding money for more border security personnel and for sensors and other technology to a separate bill financing the Department of Homeland Security, but no funds for a wall or other physical barriers, the aide said.
It was possible Democrats would unveil that measure next week as the cornerstone of their border security alternative to Trump’s wall, the aide said. Earlier Friday, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee, said in an interview that some Democrats were asking leaders, “What is our plan?“
The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the details publicly. The Democrats’ spending plans were first reported by The New York Times.
In a video posted on his Twitter feed late Friday, Trump said both sides should “take the politics out of it” and “get to work” to “make a deal.” But he also repeated his warnings, saying: “We have to secure our southern border. If we don’t do that, we’re a very, very sad and foolish lot.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said only that Trump was “going to continue fighting for border security” and “going to continue looking for the solution” to end what the administration had repeatedly referred to as a “humanitarian and national security crisis at the border.”
While few would argue that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding at the US-Mexico border, as the demand for entry by migrants and the Trump administration’s hard-line response overwhelm border resources, critics say Trump has dramatically exaggerated the security risks and argue that a wall would do little to solve existing problems.
Trump will be speaking from the Diplomatic Room at 3 p.m.
Trump’s Friday evening tweeted announcement came after Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday canceled her plans to travel by commercial plane to visit US troops in Afghanistan, saying Trump had caused a security risk by talking about the trip. The White House said there was no such leak.
It was the latest turn — and potentially the most dangerous — in the high-stakes brinkmanship between Trump and Pelosi that has been playing out against the stalled negotiations over how to end the partial government shutdown.
And it showed once again the willingness of the former hard-charging businessman to hit hard when challenged, as he was earlier this week when Pelosi suggested postponing his State of the Union address until after the shutdown.
It was an unusually combative week between the executive and legislative branches.
Tensions flared when Pelosi suggested Trump postpone the annual State of the Union address, a grand Washington tradition — and a platform for his border wall fight with Democrats — that was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 29.
Trump never responded directly. Instead, he abruptly canceled Pelosi’s military flight on Thursday, hours before she and a congressional delegation were to depart for Afghanistan on the previously undisclosed visit to US troops.
Trump belittled the trip as a “public relations event” — even though he had just made a similar stop in a conflict zone during the shutdown — and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.
Pelosi, undeterred, quietly began making her own preparations for the overseas trip.
But on Friday, Pelosi said her plan to travel by commercial plane had been “leaked” by the White House.
“The administration leaked that we were traveling commercially,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol. She said it was “very irresponsible on the part of the president.”
She said the State Department told her “the president outing” the original trip made the scene on the ground in Afghanistan “more dangerous because it’s a signal to the bad actors that we’re coming.”
The White House said it had leaked nothing that would cause a security risk.
Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker — let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president, traveling to a combat region — is very rare.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California slammed Trump for revealing the closely held travel plan, calling it “completely and utterly irresponsible in every way.”
Some Republicans expressed frustration. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted, “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.” He called Pelosi’s State of the Union move “very irresponsible and blatantly political” but said Trump’s reaction was “also inappropriate.”


Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

Updated 42 min 3 sec ago
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Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

  • Authorities have said Notre Dame was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry

PARIS: Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.
A French judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation, said the cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks.
Earlier in the afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving for nine hours starting Monday evening. Authorities have said Notre Dame, which dates from the 12th century, was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry.
Fire responders also rescued many of the important relics and works of art inside the cathedral.
“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.”
Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion.
As the ceremony took place, investigators continued seeking clues to what sparked the fire. The huge cathedral, including the spire that was consumed by flames and collapsed, was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration.
Investigators so far believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Fire officials warned that the building remains unstable and extremely dangerous, including for the construction workers who rushed to secure an area above one of the rose-shaped windows and other vulnerable sections of the fire-damaged structure.
Workers using a crane were removing some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, and to keep them from falling, since the section lacked the support of the massive timber roof that burned up in the devastating blaze.
Police, citing “important risks” of collapse and falling objects, officially closed Thursday a large swath of the island in the Seine River on which Notre Dame sits. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.
Paris City Hall also was holding a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Monday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which began during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.
Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who says he was falsely credited with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.
The chaplain said a team of rescuers broke the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code to unlock the protection finished the job. Fournier told France Info on Thursday that his own team arrived on the heels of the salvaging and praised the action “to preserve this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”
However, Fournier told the daily Le Parisian that he himself was able to save the most precious thing for Catholics from the fire, the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he felt especially proud of another personal salvaging operation: “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral.
For Catholics, consecrated hosts are the body of Christ.
Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the site for hours for just this moment.
“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”
The building would have burned to the ground in a “chain-reaction collapse” had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s Culture Ministry, said Wednesday.
An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m., as a Mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered already consuming the roof.
Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts say the vast scale of the work to be done could easily take 15 years, since it will take months, even years, just to figure out what should be done. Nearly $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration.
Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there.
“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said.