Trump Steps Back Border Wall Demand in Budget Fight

U.S. President Donald Trump remains committed to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but indicated Monday he is willing to wait until later this year for Congress to consider funding the project rather than insisting it be included in negotiations to avoid a government shut down this week.

The current spending plan for U.S. government operations runs out at midnight Friday, leaving Trump and congressional negotiators just days to reach an accord on funding priorities through the end of September. 

In comments later confirmed by a White House official, Trump told a group of conservative journalists during a private meeting Monday that he could wait until September to reconsider funding for construction of the wall.

Democrats oppose the project, and the party’s leaders in Congress welcomed Trump’s shift.

“It’s good for the country that President Trump is taking the wall off the table in these negotiations,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Now the bipartisan negotiators can continue working on the outstanding issues.”

Schumer had earlier criticized Trump, saying the president was risking a federal shutdown “by shoving this wall down Congress’ and the American people’s throats.”

Wall still priority

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Trump’s two priorities in the budget talks are increasing spending on defense as well as border security in order to thwart illegal immigration.He said the administration is “very confident” a deal will be reached without a government shutdown.

Trump vowed during his run for the White House to build a 3,100-kilometer barrier along the U.S. southern border and make Mexico pay for it, something Mexican leaders say will not happen.

Since Trump took office three months ago, border crossings have diminished, but Spicer said that the wall still “absolutely” needs to be built.

“Just because you have a couple good months, a year, you want to take prudent long-term steps….It’s a promise he made to the American people,” the spokesman said. “This is a permanent step that will extend beyond his presidency. Eight years from now (assuming Trump is re-elected in 2020), the next president will have that wall in place to make sure that (illegal immigration) doesn’t continue.”

Trump, in a Twitter comment, said the “the Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)! If the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be!” 

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US-China to Launch 4 Rounds of Talks, as Trump ‘Looks Forward’ to Beijing Visit

The U.S. and China are launching four rounds of talks, as U.S. President Donald Trump heads to China later this year in a visit aimed at strengthening cooperation to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

In a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday, Trump said he’s “looking forward to the state visit to China,” according to a readout published by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Coordinating efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and addressing the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs are expected to be high on the agenda in Trump’s first visit to China.

“President Trump [during his call with Xi] criticized North Korea’s continued belligerence and emphasized that Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said in a statement.

The two leaders met in Mar-a-Largo earlier this month.

In a departure from the previous administration, four rounds of talks are being initiated to focus on U.S.-China relations under the Trump administration.

The first round of the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, led by the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon, will be held in Washington in the coming months.

“We would like to start the preparation soon of the first round of Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, Cyber and Law Enforcement Dialogue, as well as Social and People-to-people Exchange Dialogue,” Xi told Trump in the phone call, according to the Chinese government statement.

For years, the main channel to manage U.S.-China relations was the bilateral Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual high-level gathering for the two countries to discuss a wide range of regional and global issues.

The dialogue started under the George W. Bush administration as the Strategic Economic Dialogue and was later upgraded by former President Barack Obama after he took office.

A possible time for Trump’s visit to China is in November, when he will attend the U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the East Asia summit in the Philippines, along with the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Vietnam.

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Will US Government Shut Down on Trump’s 100th Day in Office?

The U.S. House of Representatives has just a few days to finish negotiations for a 2017 budget. If no agreement is reached on levels of funding, the U.S. government will shut down at midnight April 28.

What is the US House of Representatives?

Each of the House’s 435 representatives represents about 700,000 people back in their home state Congressional districts. They draft and pass legislation that will become the law of the land. The House is half of the legislative branch of government. Together with the other half, the Senate, it makes up the U.S. Congress.

Why are they debating the budget?

The government budget is one of the most important pieces of legislation the House debates.

It is a law directing how the U.S. government spends its money. Just like any other legislation the House passes, the budget must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president to become a law.

Why are they making a decision so close to the deadline?

Late last year President-elect Donald Trump asked the Republican Congress to delay consideration of the 2017 budget so his new administration could make decisions on funding priorities.

Congressional Republican leaders agreed and passed a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government while they discussed those priorities. They gave themselves a deadline of April 28 to complete those priorities, that is when the money appropriated for government spending runs out.

Are these debates and compromises unusual?

Not recently. The U.S. government has started each of the last eight fiscal years under a CR.

Does it matter if it’s a continuing resolution or a budget?

A continuing resolution keeps all spending at current levels. A budget allows for cuts or increases that can have a great deal of impact on how government agencies operate.

Republicans have a majority in the U.S. Congress and a President in the White House. Why can’t they agree on a budget?

Congressional Republicans don’t always agree on spending priorities with President Trump, who has often diverged from his party on many key issues.

Like any political party, the Republican Party encompasses many different approaches to social and economic issues. For example, the House Freedom Caucus believes in limited government and more power for the states. The “Tuesday group” is made up of Republicans who consider themselves moderates on spending and how involved the government should get in people’s personal lives.

Different groups in a party align or break away from each other depending on the issue being debated. A bill must have 218 votes to pass the House.

If House Speaker Paul Ryan cannot accumulate enough votes from his own party to pass a bill, he will have to negotiate to win votes from the Democrats, the minority party.

How much money is in the federal budget?

Total spending in the 2017 budget is about $3.65 trillion. Trump proposed increases in spending for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and suggested paying for some of these increases through cuts to other government agencies.

What are the obstacles to funding the government?

The president’s budget is only a suggestion to Congress. As representatives of the people of the United States, Congress members are charged with making the final funding decisions. One of those obstacles could be Trump’s request to fund building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Will Congress give President Trump money for the wall?

Many House representatives have concerns about the cost of a border wall. Cost estimates vary, from the Department of Homeland Security’s $21 billion to a Senate Democrats’ report putting the cost at almost $70 billion.

House representatives have questioned if a border wall is the best use of government money and proposed funding other options, such as increased personnel, technology and surveillance.

If time is running out to fund the government, they could compromise on these options and save the fight for border wall funding for next year’s budget.

Why is the timing of this budget fight important?

Trump’s 100th day in office will be on April 29. Many observers and presidents see the first 100 days as an important milestone for measuring legislative and foreign policy achievements, but it has no official significance.

 

 

Building a wall on the US-Mexico border was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises. Securing funding for the border wall in the 2017 budget would be a high-profile accomplishment during his early days in office.

But Trump may want to avoid a government shutdown starting on his 100th day in office.

What’s next?

Congress will have to start looking at a budget for 2018 very soon. Because they have more time to work on the 2018 budget, expect to see big battles over some of Trump’s key policy proposals, including cutting funding to government agencies, increasing defense spending, and immigration enforcement.

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Obama Returns to Public Eye with Chicago Event

Former U.S. President Barack Obama returned to public life Monday, urging young people in his adopted home town of Chicago to be activists in their communities, much like he was before running for political office.

Obama said that as a community organizer three decades ago in Chicago he learned that “ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things,” a lesson “that stayed with me.”

The 44th U.S. president said he hopes to “help and prepare the next generation to take up the baton and take on the world.” He said such pressing problems of income inequality, climate change and unfairness in the criminal justice system are “serious, they’re daunting, but they’re not insoluble.”

WATCH Obama speech LIVE

Obama has stayed out of the public eye since leaving office three months ago, ignoring the political controversies of Washington. Obama, a Democrat, derided his successor, real estate mogul turned Republican politician Donald Trump, during last year’s national election campaign as unfit to assume the presidency, but Obama has declined to offer any commentary on Trump’s performance since he took over the White House.

As he greeted people at the University of Chicago, where he once taught law school classes and where his presidential library is planned, he joked, “What’s been going on since I’ve been gone?” But he offered no thoughts on Trump’s often controversial early months of his four-year tenure.

While staying out of the public eye, Obama has spent time on vacation with his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama. He was spotted kitesurfing at airline titan Richard Branson’s Caribbean island retreat in February. More recently, the Obamas spent time aboard the luxury yacht of film studio magnate David Geffen in French Polynesia, alongside rock star Bruce Springsteen, actor Tom Hanks and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Both Obamas also signed multi-million-dollar deals to write their memoirs.

The former president first ran for political office in Chicago, elected as an Illinois state senator, and is appearing Monday at the University of Chicago, where he was a law professor and where his presidential library is planned.

The event program says the town hall-style meeting is part of Obama’s “post-presidency goal to encourage and support the next generation of leaders driven by strengthening communities around the country and the world.” Before entering politics, Obama was a community organizer in Chicago.

Shortly before leaving office in January, Obama gave his farewell address in Chicago, telling supporters to remain engaged in public life.

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he said then. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.”

In the coming weeks, Obama is accepting a Profile in Courage Award in Boston, giving private paid speeches in the U.S. and Europe and attending an event in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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US Surgeon General Who Spoke Out Against Gun Violence Resigns

The U.S. Surgeon General under the Obama administration has resigned and been replaced, at least, temporarily, by his deputy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that Vivek Murthy was asked to resign after “assisting in a smooth transition” from the Obama administration to that of President Donald Trump.

Murthy’s replacement is his deputy, Sylvia Trent-Adams, who becomes one of the first nurses to serve in the position. Her photo replaced Murthy’s on the Surgeon General’s web page and Twitter account on Friday.

Richard Carmona, a nurse and a physician who served under President George W. Bush, referred to himself as the first nurse to serve as surgeon general.

The U.S. Surgeon General has little power, but often uses his or her position to draw attention to public health concerns.

Murthy’s confirmation in the Senate was opposed by the National Rifle Association because he has spoken out about gun violence in the past, calling it a public health issue.

Health and Human Services employees privately expressed surprise at the swift change of personnel, although it is not unusual for presidential appointees to be replaced in the early days of a new administration.

 

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Pence: US Confident China Will Press North Korea to Drop Nuclear Program 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. is quietly confident that China will do more to influence North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program.

Pence spoke Saturday in Sydney at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Both the U.S. and Australia have pressured China to take more responsibility in influencing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Pence said Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program “represents a threat to the stability and security of this region and potentially a threat to the continental United States…” 

Vinson to arrive soon

The U.S. vice president, who is the first senior official of the Trump administration to visit Australia, said “continuing on the path the world has been on with North Korea over the last 25 years is just unacceptable.”

Pence said an aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, heading for waters off the Korean peninsula would be in the Sea of Japan within days.

Turnbull said China could use its economic leverage to force North Korea into compliance.

US will honor resettlement deal

Pence also confirmed the U.S. would honor a controversial refugee program with Australia that would resettle 1,250 asylum seekers in the U.S. President Trump has described the Obama administration refugee deal as “dumb.”

Earlier, the two leaders appeared at pains to present a united front following the tension between the longtime allies sparked by a spat over the refugee resettlement deal struck by the Obama administration.

Pence’s visit Down Under, part of his 10-day, four-country trip to the Pacific Rim, is widely viewed as an effort to smooth over relations with Australia. Indeed, the vice president seemed determined to reassure Australia of its importance to the U.S., noting as he stood next to Turnbull on the shores of Sydney Harbor: “It’s always heartening to stand beside a friend, and I do so today.”

Both leaders also repeatedly cited the nations’ long history of military cooperation. Australia has fought alongside the U.S. in every major conflict since World War I, and is one of the largest contributors to the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria.

“I trust that my visit here today on my very first trip to the Asia Pacific as vice president of the United States and the president’s plans to travel to this region this fall are a strong sign of our enduring commitment to the historic alliance between the people of the United States of America and the people of Australia,” Pence said.

The U.S. vice president is on the final leg of a 10-day, four country trip to Asia that has already taken him to South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Philanthropist Bill Gates Sounds Warning on Cuts to Development Aid

The founder of Microsoft, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, has given a passionate defense of foreign aid while voicing fears the political climate in the U.S. and in Britain could result in cuts to aid budgets. In a speech this week in London, he warned that withdrawing aid would “create a leadership vacuum that others will fill.”

Gates, who gives $5 billion a year to development aid through the foundation he set up with his wife, Melinda, is one of the world’s most generous philanthropists. In a speech at London’s Royal United Services Institute this week, he voiced fears that the political tide is turning against foreign aid.

“It concerns me that some world leaders are misinterpreting recent events as reasons to turn inward instead of seeing them for what they are: problems that although they are difficult and will take time, can be solved — if we invest in the long-term solutions that are necessary,” Gates said.

Watch: Billionaire Philanthropist Bill Gates Warns Against Cuts to Aid Budgets

The United States remains by far the world’s biggest donor, funding long-term programs and emergency relief across the globe. But President Donald Trump is proposing significant cuts to the $43-billion foreign aid budget as part of efforts to reduce government debt.

Gates argues that many critics of foreign aid don’t realize the major progress that has been achieved.

“If you could only pick one number to highlight the effectiveness of the development agenda since 1990, I would pick the number 122 million. That’s the number of children’s lives that have been saved,” he said.

He disputed the notion that funding foreign aid is a bottomless pit.

“As you bring down that childhood death rate, families choose to have less children,” he said. “The population goes down very substantially. Which brings within reach all of the things society is trying to do: better health, better education, economic opportunity.”

Gates’ speech in London comes as Britain gears up for a snap election in June. The UK is one of the few developed countries to meet the U.N. aid budget target of 0.7 percent of GDP. Current Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to keeping that pledge but many in her party want aid money diverted to the military.

Gates said he wanted to make the case for the facts.

“When aid is mismanaged it is a double crime, stealing both from the taxpayer and from the poor.” he said. “But let’s be clear. The bulk of this aid is getting to its recipients and having an incredible effect. There will always be a need to adjust, we’re working in very tough countries, so you’ll never get 100 percent perfect effectiveness. But you can learn. And every year, the aid is better spent.”

Aid agencies say the debate could not come at a worse time, with about 65 million refugees around the world, worsening conflicts in the Middle East and famine striking East Africa.

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Lawmakers Push to Extend Retired Coal Miners Benefits

Lawmakers from coal-mining states are pushing to extend health benefits for more than 22,000 retired miners and widows whose medical coverage is set to expire at the end of April.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and other coal-state Democrats threatened to shut down the government over the issue in December, but they retreated after winning a four-month extension that preserves benefits through April 30.

As lawmakers return to the Capitol following a two-week recess, Manchin says the time for extensions is over.

“We will use every vehicle we can, every pathway we can, to make sure we do not leave here … until we have our miners protected,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor before the break.

“We’ve been very patient,” Manchin said. “I am not going to have another notice sent out to our retired miners, to their widows, saying we’ve given you 90 days or 120 days extension. That’s not going to happen this time.”

Deadline is Friday

But as a Friday deadline looms to keep the government open, lawmakers have not reached agreement on extending the benefits. A plan pushed by GOP leaders in the House would extend health benefits for 20 months, through the end of 2018.

Manchin said Senate Democrats are against that idea because it’s only a partial fix. At least a dozen Senate Republicans are willing to join Democrats in support of a more complete plan that addresses health benefits and a related issue over failing pension plans for nearly 100,000 unionized miners, Manchin said.

“This shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue,” he said in an interview. “This is an issue of fairness.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said McConnell supports legislation to protect and permanently extend the health benefits, but had no word on the progress of talks related to the spending bill.

A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan also offered no update.

Pieces and parts

President Donald Trump, who has vowed to revive the struggling coal industry, has given “verbal support” for the miners’ benefits, Manchin said, but needs to do more.

“I need him now to either tweet or call Senator McConnell and tell him it’s time to act,” Manchin said. “Mr. President, if you are listening, please tweet out: ‘Mitch, help us. We need you.’”

Trump and Republicans have decried what they describe as a “war on coal” waged by the Obama administration, and have taken a series of actions since Trump took office to boost coal production and reduce regulations, including a rule to protect streams from coal-mining debris.

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters that the White House is “happy to talk … about pieces and parts of the miners’ programs” as part of negotiations on a bill to keep the government open.

“I don’t think we’re very interested in the pension component of that but more interested in talking about the health care component of that,” Mulvaney said.

Pension problem is bigger

Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, said he is hopeful a compromise can be reached on health benefits, but he complained that Republicans appear unwilling to address the far more costly pension issue. Congress scrapped a $3 billion, 10-year measure to stabilize failing pension funds last year.

“The pension part is not going to go away. It only gets worse by the day,” he said.

Account balances have dwindled amid the coal’s industry steep decline, including continued layoffs and a rash of bankruptcy filings that have spread to the industry’s largest companies. Without congressional intervention, some pension funds could run out of cash by next year, the union says.

For the moment, Congress appears focused on health benefits.

In West Virginia, about 8,500 retired miners and their families face loss of benefits if Congress does not act. Some mining families have been unable to make doctor’s appointments after May 1 because of uncertainty over whether medical bills will be paid, Smith said.

Other states affected include Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Alabama.

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Charity Worker Freed in Egypt Meets Trump

An Egyptian-American aid worker who was freed Thursday night after spending almost three years in an Egyptian prison met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday morning.

Aya Hijazi and her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, an Egyptian, were acquitted earlier this week of child abuse charges stemming from an aid organization they established to help street children in Egypt.

WATCH: Trump on Hijazi’s release

The charges were widely decried by international human rights groups and the U.S. government. Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi spoke about the case earlier this month, and the White House was able to negotiate the release of Hijazi and her husband, along with four other humanitarian workers.

During her visit to the White House, Trump said he was very happy to have the aid worker back in the U.S. He did not take questions from reporters in the room.

Hijazi, a dual national, was born in Egypt and grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington suburb. She received a degree in conflict resolution from George Mason University in 2009.

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Trump to Order Review of US Tax, Financial Reform Laws

President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Friday directing the Treasury Department to review significant tax regulations that were implemented last year, with an eye toward fulfilling a campaign promise to reduce the tax burden on Americans, according to the White House.

The president also will sign two memoranda ordering reviews of a 2010 Wall Street reform law that banks and insurance companies have said impede their ability to conduct business.

The memoranda will order reviews of two sections of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was created to prevent a repeat of the 2007-09 financial crisis. The sections detail how big banks can wind down during a financial crisis and authorizes the top U.S. financial regulators to identify excessive risks in the U.S. financial system.

The documents instruct Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to review key provisions of the tax code and the Dodd-Frank Act, and then report to the White House on ways to improve them.

Mnuchin said Thursday the Treasury Department is working “day and night” on tax reform and soon will unveil a sweeping overhaul plan.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, said earlier this week the first tax overhaul in decades could be ready later this year.

Nevertheless, the tax review order Trump will sign enables his administration to conduct a review of the tax code that is independent of Congress.

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