US government shutdown averted with little time to spare as Biden signs funding before midnight

US government shutdown averted with little time to spare as Biden signs funding before midnight
The cloud of uncertainty that loomed over the US Capitol Building has lifted after Congress on Saturday voted to pass a short-term, bipartisan funding bill that could avert a government shutdown just hours before a midnight deadline. (Getty Images/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 02 October 2023
Follow

US government shutdown averted with little time to spare as Biden signs funding before midnight

US government shutdown averted with little time to spare as Biden signs funding before midnight
  • The rushed 45-day package drops aid to Ukraine, but increases federal disaster assistance by $16 billion, meeting Biden’s full request
  • The package was approved by the House 335-91, while Senate passage came by an 88-9 vote

WASHINGTON: The threat of a federal government shutdown suddenly lifted late Saturday as President Joe Biden signed a temporary funding bill to keep agencies open with little time to spare after Congress rushed to approve the bipartisan deal.
The package drops aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of GOP lawmakers, but increases federal disaster assistance by $16 billion, meeting Biden’s full request. The bill funds government until Nov. 17.
After chaotic days of turmoil in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy abruptly abandoned demands for steep spending cuts from his right flank and instead relied on Democrats to pass the bill, at risk to his own job. The Senate followed with final passage closing a whirlwind day at the Capitol.
“This is good news for the American people,” Biden said in a statement.
He also said the United States “cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted” and expected McCarthy “will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”
It’s been a sudden head-spinning turn of events in Congress after grueling days in the House pushed the government to the brink of a disruptive federal shutdown.
The outcome ends, for now, the threat of a shutdown, but the reprieve may be short-lived. Congress will again need to fund the government in coming weeks risking a crisis as views are hardening, particularly among the right-flank lawmakers whose demands were ultimately swept aside this time in favor of a more bipartisan approach.




This image from US Senate video shows the vote total, 88-9, on a temporary funding bill in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington on Sept. 30, 2023. (Senate Television via AP)

“We’re going to do our job,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said before the House vote. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”
If no deal was in place before Sunday, federal workers would have faced furloughs, more than 2 million active-duty and reserve military troops would have had to work without pay and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast would have begun to face shutdown disruptions.
“It has been a day full of twists and turns, but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief: There will be no government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The package funds government at current 2023 levels until mid-November, and also extends other provisions, including for the Federal Aviation Administration. The package was approved by the House 335-91, with most Republicans and almost all Democrats supporting. Senate passage came by an 88-9 vote.
But the loss of Ukraine aid was devastating for lawmakers of both parties vowing to support President Volodymyr Zelensky after his recent Washington visit. The Senate bill included $6 billion for Ukraine, and both chambers came to a standstill Saturday as lawmakers assessed their options.
“The American people deserve better,” said House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, warning in a lengthy floor speech that “extreme” Republicans were risking a shutdown.
For the House package to be approved, McCarthy was forced to rely on Democrats because the speaker’s hard-right flank has said it will oppose any short-term funding measure, denying him the votes needed from his slim majority. It’s a move that is sure to intensify calls for his ouster.
After leaving the conservative holdouts behind, McCarthy is almost certain to be facing a motion to try to remove him from office, though it is not at all certain there would be enough votes to topple the speaker. Most Republicans voted for the package Saturday while 90 opposed.
“If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy said of the threat to oust him. “But I think this country is too important.”
The White House was tracking the developments on Capitol Hill and aides were briefing the president, who was spending the weekend in Washington.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has championed Ukraine aid despite resistance from his own ranks, is expected to keep pursuing US support for Kyiv in the fight against Russia.
“I have agreed to keep fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine,” McConnell, R-Kentucky, said before the vote.
Late at night, the Senate stalled when Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, held up the vote, seeking assurances Ukraine funds would be reconsidered.
“I know important moments are like this, for the United States, to lead the rest of the world,” Bennet said, noting his mother was born in Poland in 1938 and survived the Holocaust. “We can’t fail.”
The House’s quick pivot comes after the collapse Friday of McCarthy’s earlier plan to pass a Republican-only bill with steep spending cuts up to 30 percent to most government agencies and strict border provisions that the White House and Democrats rejected as too extreme. A faction of 21 hard-right Republican holdouts opposed it.
“Our options are slipping away every minute,” said one senior Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.
The federal government had been heading straight into a shutdown that posed grave uncertainty for federal workers in states all across America and the people who depend on them — from troops to border control agents to office workers, scientists and others.
Families that rely on Head Start for children, food benefits and countless other programs large and small were confronting potential interruptions or outright closures. At the airports, Transportation Security Administration officers and air traffic controllers had been expected to work without pay, but travelers could have faced delays in updating their US passports or other travel documents.
The White House has brushed aside McCarthy’s overtures to meet with Biden after the speaker walked away from the debt deal they brokered earlier this year that set budget levels.
Catering to his hard-right flank, McCarthy had made multiple concessions including returning to the spending limits the conservatives demanded back in January as part of the deal-making to help him become the House speaker.
But it was not enough as the conservatives insisted the House follow regular rules, and debate and approve each of the 12 separate spending bills needed to fund the government agencies, typically a months-long process. In the Senate, all the no votes against the package came from Republicans.
McCarthy’s chief Republican critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, has warned he will file a motion calling a vote to oust the speaker.
Some of the Republican holdouts, including Gaetz, are allies of former President Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in the 2024 race. Trump has been encouraging the Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even to “shut it down.”
At an early closed-door meeting at the Capitol, several House Republicans, particularly those facing tough reelections next year, urged their colleagues to find a way to prevent a shutdown.
“All of us have a responsibility to lead and to govern,” said Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York.
The lone House Democrat to vote against the package, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, said, “Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest.


Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies

Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies
Updated 4 sec ago
Follow

Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies

Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies
  • India expected to become Saudi Arabia’s top tourism source market by 2030
  • Promotional strategy bears fruit with Indian tourists seeking out Kingdom’s heritage sites

NEW DELHI: The number of Indians traveling to Saudi Arabia has grown by 50 percent following a series of strategic initiatives in 2023, the Kingdom’s tourism authority said, as it participated in India’s main international travel show over the weekend.

The 2024 edition of the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange — Asia’s leading platform for the tourism and hospitality industry — took place in Noida in the Indian capital region on Feb. 22-24.

The Saudi Tourism Authority established a huge pavilion at the venue, promoting the Kingdom’s ancient heritage sites and new tourism destinations.

“This marks Saudi Tourism Authority’s third year participating in one of the most prominent tourism trade shows in South Asia,” Alhasan Al-Dabbagh, STA president for Asia-Pacific markets, told Arab News.

“SATTE has been successful as it gave us the opportunity to strengthen our partnerships, share insights and grow together with our trade partners with one unified goal, which is to bring Saudi to life and make its experiences and packages bookable.”

The Saudi exhibition this year was bigger than in the fair’s previous editions, also reflecting the increasing success of its promotional strategy in India.

“We hosted over 1.5 million Indian inbound travelers in 2023, making a substantial 50 percent increase in visitation from 2022. This surge is attributed to strategic initiatives, including a successful partnership with the Indian Premier League, (and) enhanced air connectivity,” Al-Dabbagh said.

Alhasan Al-Dabbagh, STA president for Asia-Pacific markets, speaks at the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange on Feb. 22, 2024. (SATTE)

In February last year, the STA signed a partnership agreement with the IPL — the men’s T20 franchise that is the world’s most-watched cricket league — becoming its official sponsor and tapping into a strong sports fanbase in both countries.

Saudi and Indian airlines have also added new flights in 2023, connecting Indian cities directly to the Kingdom, while immigration procedures have been streamlined with additional visa-processing centers.

“Last year, we opened 10 VFS Tasheel offices across India, with plans to expand into tier-two cities. We launched our first-ever free 96-hour stopover visa early last year in collaboration with SAUDIA and flynas, our national carriers,” Al-Dabbagh said, adding that it is now “easier than ever” for Indians to visit the Kingdom.

Indians have been drawn mainly to the growing number of cultural attractions, with archaeological works in full swing and the development of leisure infrastructure.

The top destinations are currently Madinah, Riyadh, Jeddah, and AlUla — one of the Kingdom’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“Saudi has been promoting its rich cultural and historical heritage through key initiatives like the restoration and preservation of heritage sites such as AlUla and Diriyah and the development of cultural festivals and events,” Al-Dabbagh said.

“To offer Indian travelers a plethora of accommodation options and recreational activities tailored to their preferences, we have invested heavily in developing tourism infrastructure, including hotels, resorts, and entertainment facilities, to accommodate the growing number of visitors.”

Tourism is a booming sector in Saudi Arabia under the Vision 2030 diversification plan. A key part of the vision is to position the Kingdom as a dynamic, diverse, year-round tourism destination and market that will contribute 10 percent of the gross domestic product by 2030.

In the three two years, India has emerged as a key tourism source market, and the STA expects it to become its largest in the next few years.

“By 2030, India is anticipated to become the number one inbound market for Saudi, underlining the growing importance of Indian tourists,” Al-Dabbagh said.

“Our aim is to welcome 7.5 million Indian visitors by 2030, aligning with our ambitious goals to enhance and diversify the tourism sector while fostering stronger connections between the two nations.”


India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law

India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law
Updated 35 min 16 sec ago
Follow

India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law

India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law
  • Eighty-nine year law allowed marriage involving underage Muslims 
  • Leaders of India’s Muslim community decry move as discriminatory

GUWAHATI, India: India’s Assam state has scrapped an 89-year-old law that allowed marriage involving underage Muslims, against opposition from leaders of the minority community who called the plan an attempt to polarize voters on religious lines ahead of elections.

Assam, which has the highest percentage of Muslims among Indian states at 34 percent, has previously said it wants to implement uniform civil laws for marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance, as the state of Uttarakhand did earlier this month.

Nationwide, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other groups follow their own laws and customs or a secular code for such matters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised a Uniform Civil Code, opposed by Muslims.

Assam repealed the Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935, effective from Feb. 24, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote on X on Saturday.

“This act contained provisions allowing marriage registration even if the bride and groom had not reached the legal ages of 18 and 21... This move marks another significant step toward prohibiting child marriages in Assam.”

Asked by Reuters on Sunday whether the northeastern state would implement a Uniform Civil Code before general elections due by May, Sarma said: “Not immediately.”

Many Muslims in Assam trace their roots to the neighboring Bengali-speaking and Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh. Tension often flares between the Muslims and ethnic Assamese, who are mostly Hindu.

The BJP, the governing party in Assam — and Uttarakhand — calls itself the champion of ethnic communities.

Muslim opposition leaders said repealing the colonial-era law was discriminatory.
“They want to polarize their voters by provoking Muslims, which Muslims will not let happen,” Badruddin Ajmal, a lawmaker from Assam who heads the All India United Democratic Front that mainly fights for Muslim causes, told reporters on Saturday.

“It’s a first step toward bringing a Uniform Civil Code, but this is how the BJP government will come to an end in Assam.”


Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills

Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills
Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills

Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills
  • The former president faces four criminal trials and was recently ordered to pay about $540 million in judgments in two civil cases
  • “The RNC’s job is to win elections. It’s not to pay the legal bills for any leading candidate,” says the Republican National Committee member

NEW YORK: A Republican National Committee member has submitted resolutions that would prohibit the party from paying presidential candidate Donald Trump’s legal bills, according to a draft, but the measures must get more backers soon to move forward.

Mississippi RNC committeeman Henry Barbor drafted the resolution on Trump’s legal expenses and another requiring the party committee to stay neutral in the presidential race until he receives enough delegates to secure the nomination.
“The RNC’s job is to win elections. It’s not to pay the legal bills for any leading candidate. He’s got to fight his own legal fight,” Barbor told Reuters on Saturday.
Barbor needs to get two cosponsors from 10 states to join the effort by Tuesday for the resolutions to proceed to a full vote by the RNC’s 168 committee members. That vote could come in March and would require a simple majority to pass. But Barbor predicted they would be defeated if they reach that point.
Former President Trump, who denies all wrongdoing, faces four criminal trials and was recently ordered to pay about $540 million in judgments in two civil cases.
A Trump super PAC reported paying more than $47 million in legal expenses for him in 2023.
Trump is seeking to cement his status as Republican presidential nominee and gain more control over the RNC, including by nominating daughter-in-law Lara Trump as co-chair.
Lara Trump has said it is “a big interest to people” to pay fees for her father-in-law’s criminal and civil cases.
Barbor said pro-Trump forces were “jumping the gun” by seeking to declare Trump the party’s presidential nominee while longshot challenger Nikki Haley remains in the race for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election. Trump is on course for another easy win in South Carolina’s primary on Saturday.
The resolutions were first reported by The Dispatch. Trump campaign co-manager Chris LaCivita, who Trump has proposed serve as the RNC’s chief operating officer, on Saturday said in a statement that it is “the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House.”
On Friday, he said the RNC would not use raised funds to pay for Trump’s legal bills.


British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets

British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets
Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets

British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets
  • The European Union, US, Japan and Canada froze some $300 billion of Russian central bank assets in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine
  • Sunak also urged the US to continue to provide financial and military support for Ukraine

LONDON: Western nations should be bolder about confiscating Russian assets which they froze after the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
Sunak, in an article in an early edition of the Sunday Times to mark two years since the start of the conflict, said Ukraine continued to need more long-range weapons, drones and munitions, as well as other assistance.
“We must be bolder in hitting the Russian war economy .... And we must be bolder in seizing the hundreds of billions of frozen Russian assets,” he said .
Last month British Investment Minister Dominic Johnson met US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo to discuss the seizure of frozen Russian assets, but stressed this needed to be done in accordance with international law.
The European Union, US, Japan and Canada froze some $300 billion of Russian central bank assets in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Group of Seven countries have been studying a possible seizure of the assets as a way to have Russia pay for the damage its invasion caused in Ukraine.
Sunak also urged the US to continue to provide financial and military support for Ukraine.
“We should never underestimate what America has done for Ukraine and for Euro-Atlantic security. I urge them to continue that support, and I am confident they will,” he wrote in the article.
Britain’s defense ministry announced 245 million pounds ($311 million) of aid to fund Ukrainian artillery ammunition on Saturday.


Trump notches easy win over Haley in march to Republican nomination

Trump notches easy win over Haley in march to Republican nomination
Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Trump notches easy win over Haley in march to Republican nomination

Trump notches easy win over Haley in march to Republican nomination
  • Haley vows ‘not giving up,’ saying while Trump is strong within the party, he cannot win a general election
  • Poll says 32 percent of voters in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary contest think Trump would not be fit for the presidency if he were convicted of a crime

CHARLESTON, United States: Donald Trump cruised to a decisive victory Saturday in the South Carolina Republican primary, blitzing rival Nikki Haley in her home state and continuing his march to the nomination and a White House rematch with Joe Biden.

Nonetheless, Haley vowed to fight on Trump may have strong support for the Republican nomination, she has better chances of winning in the presidential race than Trump.

“I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run... I’m a woman of my word. I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” she said.

Trump completed a sweep of the first four major nominating contests, converting a year of blockbuster polls into a likely insurmountable lead going into the “Super Tuesday” 15-state voting bonanza in 10 days.

While Haley repeatedly questioned the 77-year-old former president’s mental fitness and warned another Trump presidency would bring “chaos,” her efforts appeared to do little to damage his standing among Republicans.

The margin of victory was not immediately clear but it was expected to be significant, with major US networks calling the race within seconds of the polls closing.

Haley, a popular governor of South Carolina in the 2010s and the only woman to have entered the Republican contest, was looking to outperform expectations in her own backyard and ride into Super Tuesday with wind her sails.

But she was never able to compete in a battleground that preferred Trump’s brand of right-wing “America first” populism and personal grievance over the four indictments and multiple civil lawsuits he faces.

Meanwhile, some 32 percent of voters in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary contest think Trump would not be fit for the presidency if he were convicted of a crime, according to the preliminary results of an exit poll conducted on Saturday by Edison Research.
The poll gathered responses from 1,508 voters in the Republican contest. Updated results will be available as more responses are gathered.

Trump had already won Iowa by 30 points and New Hampshire by 10, while a dispute in Nevada led to the real estate tycoon running unopposed in the official contest.

The margin of Trump’s victory was always the main question in South Carolina, with analysts arguing that Haley managing to whittle the gap to 15 points or less would have counted as a good night.
Trump aides have been clear however that they want to see off Haley long before the Republican National Convention in July — and are expecting the party to coalesce around the front-runner ahead of the first of his criminal trials on March 25.

Trump made clear Saturday that he is looking beyond Haley to a likely November contest against Biden.
Speaking ahead of voting booths closing to the Conservative Political Action Committee conference — a must-stop for Republican politicians — Trump spent much of his time bashing Biden, not Haley.
Haley — a traditional conservative who espouses limited government and a muscular foreign policy — has argued that a Trump presidency would be mired in scandal from day one.
The 52-year-old former UN ambassador underscored the point Saturday by describing as “disgusting” comments Trump had made to Black conservatives on the campaign trail.

“It’s disgusting. But that’s what happens when he goes off the teleprompter. That’s the chaos that comes with Donald Trump,” Haley said at a polling station in her home state.
“That’s the offensiveness that’s going to happen every day between now and the general election, which is why I continue to say Donald Trump cannot win a general election,” she added.
Trump made the comments Friday evening in a speech to Black conservatives.
Nodding to his multiple indictments, Trump said that “Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against.”
Haley has also blasted Trump’s reaction to the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny — he avoided criticizing President Vladimir Putin — and his threat to encourage Moscow to attack NATO nations not meeting their financial obligations.
Her central argument — that polling shows her performing better than Trump in hypothetical matchups with Biden — may have fallen on deaf ears but she has vowed to stay in the race through Super Tuesday.
Analysts say she is building her profile for a potential 2028 run — and is poised to step in should legal or health problems knock Trump out of the race.
“Nikki Haley’s an incredible role model,” said one Republican voter, Julie Taylor. “She’s not giving up, she’s showing strength and grace and courage.”

One third of South Carolina Republicans would spurn Trump if he were convicted-exit poll
Some 32 percent of voters in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary contest think Donald Trump would not be fit for the presidency if he were convicted of a crime, according to the preliminary results of an exit poll conducted on Saturday by Edison Research.
The poll gathered responses from 1,508 voters in the Republican contest. Updated results will be available as more responses are gathered.