Congressional lawmakers reach deal on border wall funding
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators reached agreement Monday night to prevent a government shutdown and finance construction of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, overcoming a late-stage hang-up over immigration enforcement issues that had threatened to scuttle the talks.
Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed to far less money for President Donald Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The agreement means 55 miles of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
“With the government being shut down, the spectre of another shutdown this close, what brought us back together I thought tonight was we didn’t want that to happen” again, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Details won’t be officially released until Tuesday, but the pact came in time to alleviate any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend. Aides revealed the details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.
In El Paso, Trump and O’Rourke go head-to-head over wall
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Donald Trump charged ahead Monday with his pledge to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, skimming over the details of lawmakers’ tentative deal that would give him far less than he’s been demanding and declaring he’s “setting the stage” to deliver on his signature campaign promise.
In the first dueling rallies of the 2020 campaign season, Trump’s “Finish the Wall” rally in El Paso went head-to-head against counterprogramming by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic congressman and potential Trump rival in 2020, who argued that walls cause more problems than they solve.
The rallies across the street from each other served as a preview of the heated yearslong fight over the direction of the country that has now begun in earnest. And they made clear that Trump’s long-promised border wall is sure to play an outsized role in the presidential race, as both sides use it to try to rally their supporters and highlight their contrasting approaches.
Standing in a packed stadium under a giant American flag and banners saying “FINISH THE WALL,” Trump insisted that large portions of the project are already under construction and vowed to fulfil his 2016 campaign promise regardless of what happens in Congress.
“Walls work,” said Trump, whose rally was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. “Walls save lives.”
Clamour for ouster of top Democrats slows in Virginia
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The clamour for the resignation of Virginia’s top two politicians seemed to die down Monday, with some black community leaders forgiving Gov. Ralph Northam over the blackface furor and calling for a fair hearing for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax on the sexual assault allegations against him.
Over the past several days, practically the entire Democratic establishment rose up to demand fellow Democrats Northam and Fairfax immediately step down. But the tone changed markedly after the weekend.
A Democratic state lawmaker who had threatened to begin impeachment proceedings against Fairfax, Virginia’s highest-ranking black politician, set the idea aside after running into resistance.
At the same time, several black clergy and civic leaders made clear they are willing to give both Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring a second chance, while urging due process for Fairfaxe. Herring, like Northam, has admitted putting on blackface in the 1980s.
As the scandals engulfing Virginia’s top three elected Democrats developed, it became increasingly clear that it could look bad for the party if Fairfax were summarily pushed out and the two white men managed to stay in power.
Bezos probe concludes mistress’ brother was Enquirer source
WASHINGTON (AP) — Private investigators working for Jeff Bezos have concluded that the brother of the Amazon CEO’s mistress leaked the couple’s intimate text messages to the National Enquirer, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.
The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
The findings add to the intrigue surrounding the clash between the pro-Trump tabloid and the world’s richest man. Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics. Trump has been highly critical of Bezos over his ownership of The Washington Post and Amazon, and the Post’s coverage of the White House.
The brother, Michael Sanchez, is a supporter of President Donald Trump and an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Carter Page. He is also the manager of his sister, Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor. The investigators have not said how they believe Michael Sanchez came into possession of his sister’s intimate messages.
Michael Sanchez did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Monday. In a Jan. 31 tweet, he said without evidence that Bezos’ longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, who is leading the private investigation, “spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories.”
AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s wall mirage, immigrant stereotypes
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday presented the border wall as a work in progress, hailing the start of a “big, big portion” with much more coming soon. That’s a hefty exaggeration from a president who has yet to see an extra mile of barrier completed since he took office.
With another possible government shutdown looming, and illegal immigration still at the heart of the budget dispute, Trump is pulling out the stops to portray his proposed wall as essential to public safety, including stemming crime and drugs. As he’s done repeatedly, Trump also defied the record in claiming that the wall that Congress has refused to pay for is rapidly coming together anyway.
Trump addressed the subjects at an El Paso, Texas, rally Monday night and an earlier White House meeting with sheriffs. A look at some of his comments:
TRUMP, on the effect of a border wall on crime in El Paso: “When that wall went up, it’s a whole different ball game. … I don’t care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat. They’re full of crap when they say it hasn’t made a big difference. I heard the same thing from the fake news. They said, ‘Oh crime, it actually stayed the same.’ It didn’t stay the same. It went way down. … Thanks to a powerful border wall in El Paso, Texas, it’s one of America’s safest cities now.” — rally remarks.
THE FACT: Trump falsely suggests a dramatic drop in crime in El Paso due to a border wall. In fact, the city’s murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. It’s true that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso’s annual number of reported violent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that corresponded with similar declines in violent crime nationwide and included periods when the city’s crime rates increased year over year, despite new fencing and walls.
Snow slams Northwest again and even Hawaii gets some
SEATTLE (AP) — Schools closed across Washington state and the Legislature cancelled all hearings Monday with winter snowstorms pummeling the Northwest again as a larger weather system wreaked havoc in the region and even brought snow to Hawaii.
Seattle’s metro area had already been hit by three snow storms this month and the National Weather Service reports that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has received 20.2 inches (51 centimetres) of snow so far in February, the snowiest month in more than 50 years.
The storm that hit Seattle Sunday dumped up to 4 inches (10 centimetres) of snow. More than 6 inches (15 centimetres) of snow fell on Monday with rain and snow expected Tuesday as a lingering jet stream drives cold arctic air into the normally temperate region, and was part of a larger cycle that has also driven snow as far away as Hawaii.
In the state capital of Olympia, lawmakers cancelled meetings and the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington State University in Pullman called off classes.
And as far away as Northern California, Humboldt County beaches that have not had snow in more than 15 years received a dusting and blizzard conditions caused whiteouts on mountain roads.
Rep. Omar apologizes for tweets on AIPAC’s influence
WASHINGTON (AP) — Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar “unequivocally” apologized Monday for tweets suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are being paid to do so, which drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Minnesota Democrat said she had no intention offending anyone, including Jewish Americans.
“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
The statement was the latest reckoning among Democrats of intense differences in their ranks over the U.S.-Israeli relationship, highlighted by criticism from Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. They are the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Pelosi and other Democrats, including leaders and chairmen, laid down a marker making clear that Omar had overstepped.
In a pair of tweets over the weekend, Omar criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.
Venezuela’s crisis hits stand-still over emergency aid
CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) — Nearly three weeks after the Trump administration backed an all-out effort to force out President Nicolas Maduro, the embattled socialist leader is holding strong and defying predictions of an imminent demise.
Dozens of nations have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the presidency and the U.S. has tightened sanctions aimed at cutting off billions of dollars in oil revenue. But anti-Maduro street protests have come and gone, and large-scale military defections have failed to materialize.
With the U.S. seen as considering military action only as a last resort, Guaido is trying to regain momentum with an effort this week to move U.S. emergency food and medicine into Venezuela despite Maduro’s pledge to block it.
Such an operation could provoke a dangerous confrontation at the border — or fizzle out and leave Maduro even stronger.
With so much at stake, Guaido is under increasing pressure to soon unseat Maduro, analysts say.
Public honours late John Dingell, longest-serving congressman
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Hundreds of John Dingell’s former constituents lined up Monday at a performing arts centre in suburban Detroit to pay their respects to the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, passing his flag-covered coffin and offering thanks and condolences to his family.
Dingell’s casket was in a ballroom at the centre in Dearborn. Outside the room, mourners viewed oversized photos of his life and 59-year career in Congress. He died last week at age 92, four years after retiring from the House.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, who was elected to her husband’s seat in 2014, stayed to greet everyone throughout the day, after some private moments near the casket with former Rep. Candice Miller and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.
Imad Hamad recalled how Dingell helped him with a thorny immigration problem that threatened his future in the U.S.
“I think John Dingell is not just an American hero to Americans. I think his model is a global model,” Hamad said. “He is one of the few who gave politics a good meaning.”
Dachshunds get chance to break out of Westminster doghouse
NEW YORK (AP) — Could this really be the year that dachshunds get out of the Westminster doghouse?
Always a popular pooch, somehow they’ve never walked off with best in show at America’s top dog competition. But that could change after sprightly Burns won the hound group Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
“Dachshunds are the best breed in the world!” handler Carlos Puig told the cheering crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Golden retrievers, Labs, Chihuahuas and Dalmatians are among other well-liked dogs that have gotten totally shut out here.
Clearly a fan favourite, Burns the longhaired dachshund will have a chance to win for all underdogs in the final ring of seven Tuesday night. The low-slung 7-year-old did well just to get this far — there were a whopping 76 dachshunds entered in three varieties at the 143rd Westminster Kennel Club.
The Associated Press