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Mark Meadows, Trump whisperer – POLITICO


Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows, a three-term North Carolina congressman little known outside the Beltway, has earned an outsize influence on shaping the direction of the Trump administration. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Congress

The conservative lawmaker talks to Trump more than the president does with many senior aides, sometimes spending an hour-plus on the phone or speaking multiple times a day.

When Mark Meadows didn’t get President Donald Trump’s chief of staff gig, he wasn’t losing much.

Just 10 days later, the powerful conservative lawmaker managed to engineer what has since become the longest-running government shutdown — convincing Trump to pull the trigger right as the partial closure was on the brink of being avoided.

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Meadows picked up the phone to make his move just after Vice President Mike Pence had told lawmakers over lunch on Dec. 19 — two days before government funding would expire — that Trump was prepared to sign a clean spending bill to keep the government open through early February. The North Carolina Republican, who helped shutter the government in 2013 during a revolt against Obamacare, wasn’t prepared to back away from demanding funds for a border wall. And despite Pence’s clear-as-day comments, he assumed the president wasn’t either.

Meadows was right.

The following day, at Meadows’ urging, Trump said he would veto any short-term funding bill that didn’t include $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southern border, a campaign chant-turned top policy priority. Republican leaders quickly scuttled a press conference planned to announce their agreement to keep the government open. A day later, a quarter of the federal government shutdown. Nearly a month later, little has changed.

Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, was among several prominent conservatives — including Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, and radio personality Rush Limbaugh — who pressured Trump to stick to his border wall promise as congressional negotiations unfolded in December. But while right-wing pundits often make their cases through the airwaves, Meadows’ methods of persuasion are far more direct.

Four sources with knowledge of their relationship said Trump talks to Meadows more than he does with many of his senior aides. They sometimes spend an hour-plus on the phone together or speak more than once per day.

The result is that a three-term congressman little known outside the Beltway has earned an outsized influence on shaping the direction of the Trump administration — and the country. Meadows has the president’s ear on any number of topics, from immigration and border security to criminal justice and international affairs. And he’s used that access to push Trump toward stances aligned with the rapidly ascendant House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line conservative and libertarian caucus founded in 2015 that Meadows chairs.

In other words, Meadows — who many people, even those in D.C., probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup — might be one of the country’s most powerful lawmakers.

“He had as much exposure to Trump as [recently departed House Speaker] Paul Ryan did, maybe more,” said a former White House official, who described Meadows as the president’s “go-to guy.” A current administration official said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has found himself in a similar situation.

The shifting power dynamics on Capitol Hill is yet another way that Trump has upended Washington’s political class.

A former aide to President Barack Obama told POLITICO that Trump’s predecessor had “plenty of relationships with individual members of Congress, but what we always did was keep leadership in the loop and respect the chain of command.” The White House declined to participate for this story.

If Trump is unavailable or preoccupied, Meadows can turn to the president’s senior staff.

During Trump’s recent trip to McAllen, Texas, Meadows was summoned to the White House to huddle with aides on their latest shutdown strategy, according to a person familiar with the meeting. And when Trump was weighing whether to declare a national emergency at the border — an extraordinary move he at least temporarily backed away from — Meadows was privately urging the White House to consider other options. One idea he floated was increasing the $160 fee Mexican citizens currently pay for valid Border Crossing Cards and reappropriating the funds for Trump’s border wall.

Publicly, Meadows has also proposed reallocating “improper payments,” a large annual sum of federal dollars erroneously given out, toward a wall project.

“He always provides Trump with a range of alternative solutions,” said the former Trump White House official.

Inside the West Wing, Meadows omnipresence — one person close to Trump estimated that the president met with Meadows “every [three] days” during his first few months in office — is welcomed by some but grates on others.

“He’s a torchbearer for conservative policies and holds the administration’s feet to the fire,” said one former Trump aide, describing his input as a net-positive.

But Meadows has also irritated White House aides hoping to avoid political battles or let certain issues simply fade away.

Perhaps most notably, he and fellow Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) urged Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last fall for slow-walking congressional requests for documents related to the ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. When Trump polled his inner circle on getting rid of Rosenstein, most advisers argued doing so would be politically catastrophic, according to two sources familiar with those discussions.

“There’s definitely a group in [the White House] that thinks he’s a fucking pain in the ass,” said one of the former White House officials, who claimed that several staffers in the legislative affairs office find Meadows “more disruptive than helpful.”

Still, Meadows is unlikely to fall out of favor with Trump.

The North Carolina lawmaker first ingratiated himself with the president’s family during the 2016 election, becoming the de facto chairman of Trump’s operation in North Carolina, a bellwether state that worried senior campaign officials even late into the evening on election night. Two of those officials, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said they were even more grateful for the role Meadows’ wife Debbie played following the release of the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. On the tape, Trump brags to TV host Billy Bush about sexually accosting women.

“Debbie was on a bus with Christian women on Billy Bush Saturday, which was basically the acid test for hardcore Trump supporters. She and Mark were at the barricades with us,” one ex-campaign official said, recalling that Meadows’ wife became a top surrogate for Trump when he needed female defenders the most.

After Trump won, Meadows became an early congressional defender, positioning himself as a loyal supporter amid a GOP caucus queasy over the president’s Twitter habits and interference in congressional matters. He also tepidly embraced Trump family pet projects — such as paid family leave — that fell outside conservative orthodoxy.

“In the past, I wouldn’t have given it a chance, but Ivanka’s advocacy for that particular issue at least makes it a question that has to be answered,” Meadows said days after Trump stumped for the policy in his first State of the Union address. He later worked to help Jared Kushner pass the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill — another measure that angered hawkish Republicans — and the two of them now talk often, according to a Kushner aide.

“We went to North Carolina to an event that Mark threw a year ago for his reelect. Jared spoke very positively of him there,” the aide said.

Now, it could fall on Meadows to help the president navigate the seemingly intractable government shutdown. As the shutdown enters its fifth week, the Democrats and Republicans remain at an impasse. Negotiations between party leaders have dried up and the prevailing sense is that no one sees a way out. Trump’s latest attempt to offer a deal on Saturday — an exchange of wall funding for extending legal status protections for some undocumented immigrants — was rejected by Democrats before the president even officially made the overture.

“There’s only way out: open up the government, Mr. President, and then Democrats and Republicans can have a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Saturday.

But while other Republicans have started grumbling about Trump’s intransigence and the theatrics that have taken the place of face-to-face meetings, Meadows has resolutely stood by his side. He even cheered on the president when he canceled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s overseas visit to troops in Afghanistan, a move that prompted eye-rolling from other GOP members.

“Bravo to POTUS,” he wrote.

MAGA Twitter quickly glommed on.

Tucker Carlson: When Did Democrats Become The Party Of Bill Kristol And Other Discredited Neocon Hacks? | Video

Tucker Carlson delivered a monologue Tuesday night on how no one is allowed to question NATO because the ruling class likes things the way they are and they don’t like being challenged.



CARL BERNSTEIN: The evidence suggests, indeed, Trump is, has been a pawn of the Russians.

Frightful stuff. We’ll have their full argument in just a bit. As we told you last night, the FBI has suspected this for some time. The bureau opened a criminal investigation into the president more than a year ago, on the grounds that no loyal American would fire a leader as impressive as FBI director James Comey. Putin must have ordered it. The Washington Post concurred. As one of the paper’s columnists noted, Trump has also quote, “endorsed populism.” That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Populism. It has the stink of Russia all over it. Smells like vodka and day-old herring.

So people in Washington have had their suspicions for years. But now we know for sure. In a stunning New York Times piece today, current and former Administration officials, speaking of course from behind the protective veil of anonymity, because honestly you don’t know what the KGB or whatever it’s called these days is capable of doing, divulged that, on multiple occasions over the course of last year, President Trump privately floated the idea of pulling the United States out of NATO. Let that sink in. Leaving NATO.

This is a huge story. Or it would have been huge in 1983, when the Soviet Union still existed and it was still clear what the point of NATO was. NATO, you’ll remember, was created to keep the Soviets from invading Western Europe. NATO did a good job at that, all the way until the day the Soviet Union collapsed, in the summer of 1991. Almost 28 years ago. Vladimir Putin runs Russia now. He does not plan to invade Western Europe. He can’t. So why do we still have NATO? Nobody really knows. In Washington you’re definitely not allowed to ask. That’s a shame because it would be an interesting conversation. Remaining in NATO comes with significant obligations. In the 1990s, our leaders decided it would be a good idea to promise countries like Latvia and Estonia that we’d use nuclear weapons to protect them if they ever had a problem with Russia. Why did we do that? Who knows? The details are lost to history. The point is, we did. How do we feel about that now? Are you ready to launch a nuclear war over Latvia? What do you think of sending your kids to defend the territorial integrity of Estonia? Our foreign policy establishment thinks it’s well worth it. In fact, under the current rules of our membership in NATO, we would have no choice. You might not have known that. All of this might merit a national debate of some sort. At some point. When we’re ready. 28 years in.

But no. The left isn’t into national debates anymore. They’re into screaming, threats, criminal investigations, and other forms of coercion. They like the ways things are in this country. They’re benefitting hugely. They don’t like being challenged. They consider asking difficult questions a criminal act. Just this morning, Preet Bharara, the most famous former federal prosecutor in America, explained this on Twitter. Quote: “If true, Trump should immediately and publicly state his apparent wish to withdraw from NATO so he can be promptly impeached, convicted, and removed from office.” Unquote.

In other words, talking about leaving NATO isn’t simply unwise. It’s an impeachable offense. Lots of famous and powerful people in Washington think this. Watch:

SOT: JAMES CLAPPER: Withdrawing from NATO—even discussing withdrawing from NATO—would be disastrous for the security of the United States.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think that act would be so destructive to our country (edit) it would be a ground for some profound effort by our part, whether it’s impeachment or the 25th Amendment. He can’t do that to this country. And I don’t believe that he can do it without Senate ratification.

The 25th Amendment. According to a sitting member of Congress, rethinking NATO isn’t just treasonous and criminal, though it is. It’s prima facie evidence of insanity. You’re not fit to govern if you say that. You probably shouldn’t drive a car.

Amazing. Whatever happened to the Democratic Party? When did the anti-war people become florid neocons? When did it become the party of Bill Kristol and Max Boot and every other discredited hack still trying to replicate the Iraq disaster around the world? Who knows? But it is now. Ask Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard is a Democratic member of Congress who’s running for President. On most questions she’s a conventional liberal. She represents Hawaii after all. But on the question of Syria she’s skeptical. Gabbard isn’t eager to overthrow the Assad government. She worries about what might come next, and what might happen to the Christians and other religious minorities who live there. For this position she’s being denounced by the left as a monster. This morning, the Daily Beast tried to link her to David Duke. Literally. The dumb people on tv are mad too. Watch:

KEILAR: She went, in 2017, Gloria — this is going to be another issue — to visit with Bashar al Assad in Syria. This trip has already come back to bite her. When she takes on President Trump over his coziness with dictators, people will say, hello, you went to Syria to meet with a dictator.

BORGER: And she was criticized by Democrats at the time.

KEILAR: She did apologize.

BORGER: She did, but how many apologies can you make for bad judgment? She was criticized. Democrats continue to criticize her. She didn’t do it with anybody’s permission. And I think meeting with a brutal dictator like Assad, particularly given current affairs right now, particularly given a president who, as you point out, has been criticized for cozying up to dictators. I think she will not only be criticized within the Democratic Party, but I think it makes her a less effective candidate. She can’t position herself against Trump about meeting with dictators when, in fact, she’s done it herself. So, you know, I think she has — she’s going to have some problems.

That’s the new standard in Washington, just so you know. You’re not allowed to meet with foreign dictators. It’s immoral. It might be treason. Unless it’s Xi Jinping of china. Yes, the Chinese murder their political opponents and put Muslims in concentration camps. But it’s not a huge deal. Former California governor Jerry Brown met with Xi two years ago, and praised him as a leader in the fight against global climate change, even though China is by far the world’s biggest polluter. But whatever. He may be a dictator, but he’s a progressive dictator. And the left is definitely for those. They’re role models actually.

One of the 4 Americans killed in Syria this week was a Bowdoin College grad

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — One of the four Americans killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria this week was a Navy sailor and married mother of two whose father is a high-ranking officer in the New York State Police, officials said Friday.

The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in Wednesday’s attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij.

They are Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of Pine Plains, New York, and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.

Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent. —Handout / AFP / Getty Images

The attack, claimed by the Islamic State group, also wounded three U.S. troops and was the deadliest assault on U.S. troops in Syria since American forces went into the country in 2015.

The Pentagon’s statement said Kent was from upstate New York but didn’t give a hometown. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Friday that she was from Pine Plains and was the daughter of state police field commander Col. Stephen Smith, the agency’s third-highest position.

“We owe her our eternal gratitude for her selfless dedication and sacrifice,” Cuomo said while ordering flags on state government buildings to be flown at half-staff in Kent’s honor.

Tara Grieb, principal of Stissing Mountain Junior-Senior High School in Pine Plains, said Kent grew up in the small, picturesque Hudson Valley town 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of New York City and graduated from the local high school in 2001.

Grieb said Kent moved away after enlisting in the Navy in 2003.

“She was an honor student and a fabulous person,” Grieb said. “We are proud of her and her service and we support her family 100 percent in their time of sorrow.”

Kent’s mother, Mary Smith, taught sixth grade in the district until retiring last year, Grieb said.

Kent, who lived in Maryland with her husband and two children, was assigned to the Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66 based at Fort George Meade.

Cryptologic technicians are part of the Navy’s intelligence-gathering apparatus, analyzing encrypted electronic communications and using computers and other technology to compile information on the nation’s enemies.

Cmdr. Joseph Harrison, the unit’s commanding officer, said in a statement that Kent “was a rockstar, an outstanding Chief Petty Officer, and leader to many in the Navy Information Warfare Community.”

Florida’s Palm Beach Post reported that Farmer’s parents loaded suitcases into a friend’s SUV on Friday morning before heading to Dover, Delaware, for the return of their son’s remains.

Duncan Farmer characterized his son as “a good man. Good son. Good father. Good husband.” Then he added, “A good friend.”

Duncan Farmer said they knew Jonathan, a Green Beret, was in Syria, but “we didn’t know exactly where.”

Jonathan Farmer was born in Boynton Beach, Florida, south of West Palm Beach. He grew up in Palm Beach Gardens, attending the Benjamin School before going to Bowdoin College in Maine.

His father said Jonathan Famer was in the military for 13 years and had been in dangerous places “many times,” including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said services will be at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Palm Beach Gardens, but a date hasn’t been set. He said internment will be at Arlington National Cemetery.

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson asked Missourians to pray for the family of Wirtz, a former Navy SEAL who was working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency as an operations support specialist.

Wirtz “died bravely serving our nation in a dangerous part of the world, and for that we are grateful,” Parson said.

Close

Council houses were once a glory of the public realm. Let’s return to those days | Rowan Moore | Opinion

Build more council homes. Not so long ago, this idea was, although not new, radical. So thoroughly had Margaret Thatcher schooled the nation in the virtues of private property that, decades after her departure, it still seemed outlandish to mainstream politicians to go back to what had been the main way of addressing housing need. Now, as it has finally sunk in that the private sector cannot, will not and should not be expected to fill all the gaps in the supply of homes, even Conservative politicians are calling for local authorities to be given the powers to do so instead.

However, whenever the case is made, it raises the obvious question, which is where to find the money. Everyone knows that housing is expensive. Everyone knows – or did, before it was found that national wealth can be frittered and forsworn in the great Brexit adventure – that the government has been in the grip of austerity for all of this decade. It’s a reasonable point.

There has always been a good answer to this question, which is that colossal sums are already spent on housing benefit, much of it going to private landlords and on providing temporary accommodation for the homeless. To spend on building council homes would reduce this expenditure and return income to the public purse whence it came. It would be an investment that would pay off in the not-too-distant future.

Gradually, local authorities have been given more ability to borrow and to build, which has resulted in some new council homes that are as good – thanks in part to standards set by modern building regulations – as any that have ever been built. But they are swimming against the current of another part of the Thatcher inheritance, her famous decision to allow council tenants to buy their own homes, at up to 70% discounts of their value, without allowing local authorities to reinvest the proceeds in new housing.

“Reinvigorated” by the coalition government in 2012, the policy is continuing to remove homes from public ownership. The coalition promised that changes they made to the policy, allowing councils to reinvest some of the proceeds from sales, would enable the replacement of homes sold. In practice, many more are being sold than are being built.

Shared ownership homes in Worland Gardens in Stratford, east London, designed by Peter Barber Architects for Newham council.



Shared ownership homes in Worland Gardens in Stratford, east London, designed by Peter Barber Architects for Newham council. Photograph: Morley von Sternberg

The result, as a new report by Tom Copley, a Labour member of the London Assembly, argues, is that 42% of ex-council homes in the capital are owned by private landlords, often in portfolios of five or more properties. Copley calculates that more than £900m a year would be saved if every benefit claimant in London in private rented accommodation were in council accommodation. He highlights a perverse consequence of right-to-buy policies, which is that councils find themselves paying, often at premium prices, to rent from private landlords homes that they themselves once owned. He also points out that conditions for residents in the private rental sector are generally worse than any other. At the London level, Copley’s conclusion is that right to buy should be abolished in the capital, as has happened in Scotland and is happening in Wales.

The case for this is compelling. There is also a bigger point that goes beyond the capital, especially other areas where pressures on housing are severe. This is that, short of an extreme libertarian position that housing should not be subsidised in any way, it is more wasteful not to build council homes than it is to build them. It is generally better for local government to own assets and receive income for them than it is to pay rent.

This is not to say that expanding public housing is easy. It is not only a question of funding but also of the supply of land, which is in turn a matter of planning. Given constraints across much of the country, especially in the south, this requires a higher level of constructive thinking and public confidence in planning processes than exists.

In principle, in a country of which (depending how you measure it) about 7% is developed, there is room for more. In principle, thoughtful planning can provide new homes that are beautifully or at least adequately designed. Modern garden cities could be created, with exemplary transport and open spaces, while also giving more people better access to nature than before. Serious organisations have proposed such things but it requires a leap of faith to believe that they will actually happen.

There is also a question of the ability of the construction industry, which tends to find it hard to expand and contract, to find the materials and labour to meet demand. If a recent cross-party report is to be believed, 3m socially rented homes have to be built by 2040. If these numbers are added to private sector housebuilding, annual output would be greater than at any time since the public housing boom of the 1960s.

Back then, builders turned to prefabricated systems of construction in order to improve output. The results were mixed, although they have since become common and successful in the building of offices. Now, private companies are again experimenting with making homes in factories, although, as this requires initial investment and therefore confidence in future returns, this is unlikely to happen in large numbers as long as there are booms and busts in housebuilding. Reliable and consistent public investment would help here.

It seems daunting and improbable that a country that has long proceeded with short-term responses to housing need, driven by the preferences of the private-housebuilding industry and private property-owners, should undertake such a far-sighted and co-ordinated set of policies. Whatever happens will certainly be more haphazard and piecemeal than it ideally could be. But there have at least been shifts – the experiments with prefabrication, the cautious consideration to planned development given by thinktanks and policy units.

Among these is the once unthinkable return of council housing, whose funding is one of several essential issues. Copley’s report, being London-based and focused on specific issues, doesn’t offer all the answers, but it helps to dislodge one more intellectual obstacle. It is one more nudge towards a saner future.

Rowan Moore is architecture critic of the Observer

Trump proposes wall-for-DACA in bid to end shutdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump proposed an immigration deal on Saturday in a bid to end a 29-day partial government shutdown, including temporary protections for “Dreamers” and other immigrants, but Democrats immediately dismissed it.

Insisting on his demand for $5.7 billion to fund a U.S.-Mexico border barrier as part of any bill to fully reopen the government, Trump sought to pile pressure on Democrats by appealing to immigrants they have tried to help.

In a speech from the White House, Trump offered three years of protections for young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers,” as well as for holders of temporary protected status (TPS), another class of immigrants.

Decrying what he called a “badly broken” U.S. immigration system, Trump said, “I am here today to break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward to end the government shutdown and solve the crisis along the southern border.”

But the protections he proposed fell far short of the path to citizenship for Dreamers that Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have been urging for years.

In a statement after Trump’s speech, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the plan a “bold solution to reopen the government, secure the border, and take bipartisan steps toward addressing current immigration issues.”

A spokesman for McConnell said he would seek Senate passage of the proposal next week.

Democrats insisted talks on border security occur only after the government is reopened. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It was the president who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place. Offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage taking.”

Even before Trump spoke, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said his offer as reported in advance was “unacceptable,” did not “represent a good-faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives,” and was unlikely to gain the votes needed to pass the House or the Senate.

About a quarter of the U.S. government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, as funding has expired for reasons mostly unrelated to the border or immigration.

WORK WITH NO PAY

Some 800,000 federal workers have been staying home on furlough or working without pay.

Trump has refused to consider legislation needed to fully reopen the government unless it includes $5.7 billion to help pay for a border wall or other barrier, which he says is needed to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs.

The full cost of such a barrier could eventually top $24 billion, according to some government estimates.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on border security and the partial shutdown of the U.S. government from the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Trump also asked Congress for $782 million to hire an additional 2,750 border agents, law enforcement officers and staff, and another $563 million to hire 75 new immigration judge teams to reduce a backlog in immigration courts.

The Dreamers, mostly young Latinos, are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects certain people who illegally entered the United States as children. It provides about 700,000 immigrants with work permits, but no path to citizenship.

Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Trump’s proposal for the Dreamers and border humanitarian assistance was based on conversations with rank-and-file Democrats.

He said Trump hopes millions of Americans will pressure Democrats to go along with the deal. Pence said conservatives should not worry that Trump is providing amnesty to Dreamers, saying, “This is not an amnesty.”

“We hope once people get past the initial statements and initial reaction, when they really look at this legislation, when it comes to the floor of the Senate, they’ll see it as an effort by the president to take ideas from both parties,” said Pence.

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said declaring a national emergency on the border to fund a wall without congressional approval remained an option but was not Trump’s preferred solution.

“Can the Democrats separate themselves from the extreme left and work out a compromise on border security? I think a lot of members want to do that,” Mulvaney said.

Former President Barack Obama put DACA in place in 2012 through an executive order. Most of his fellow Democrats since then have sought more lasting protection for the Dreamers. The Trump administration said in September 2017 it would rescind DACA, but it remains in effect under court order.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is given to nationals from designated countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster, or other strife. TPS holders are permitted to work and live in the United States for limited times.

The Trump administration has shown a deep skepticism toward the TPS program and has moved to revoke the special status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and other nations.

Polls showed Americans increasingly blame Trump for the shutdown, the 19th since the mid-1970s. Most past shutdowns have been brief. The current one has had no impact on three-quarters of the government, including the Department of Defense, which has secure funding.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Pete Schrodeder; Editing by Leslie Adler, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis

The Latest: Congo runner-up: Don’t recognize Tshisekedi

The Latest on Congo’s presidential election (all times local):

2:25 a.m.

Congo’s election runner-up Martin Fayulu is calling on the international community and the Congolese people to not recognize or obey the newly elected president, Felix Tshisekedi, calling himself the country’s only legitimate leader.

Fayulu’s statement was issued minutes after the Constitutional Court rejected his challenges to the Dec. 30 vote and confirmed that Tshisekedi won.

Congo’s government says Tshisekedi’s inauguration is on Tuesday.

Fayulu’s statement urges the Congolese people to not recognize anyone who “illegitimately claims” to be president. He has urged nationwide protests against what he calls a constitutional coup d’etat.”

___

2:10 a.m.

Congo’s election runner-up Martin Fayulu is urging nationwide protests after the Constitutional Court rejected his challenges to the vote and confirmed that Felix Tshisekedi won.

Fayulu says he considers himself Congo’s only legitimate president.

He says that “the constitutional court has just confirmed that it serves a dictatorial regime.” He says the court validated false results in a “constitutional coup d’etat.”

Fayulu had accused Congo’s electoral commission of announcing results dramatically different from ones posted at polling stations around the country. But the court said he did not put forward proof to back his claims.

Congo’s government says Tshisekedi’s inauguration is on Tuesday.

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1:20 a.m.

Congo’s Constitutional Court has declared that Felix Tshisekedi is elected president after it rejected challenges to the vote by the runner-up, Martin Fayulu.

The declaration came minutes after it turned away Fayulu’s request for a recount in the Dec. 30 vote.

Fayulu had accused Congo’s electoral commission of announcing results dramatically different from ones posted at polling stations around the country. Leaked data attributed to the commission shows that Fayulu easily won.

But the court said Fayulu did not put forward proof to back his claims.

The court’s ruling comes shortly after the African Union in an unprecedented move asked Congo to delay announcing the final election results, citing “serious doubts” about the vote. It planned to send a high-level delegation on Monday to find a way out of the electoral crisis, fearing unrest.

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12:45 a.m.

Congo’s Constitutional Court has rejected a challenge to the presidential election results filed by declared runner-up Martin Fayulu.

Fayulu had requested a recount, accusing Congo’s electoral commission of announcing results dramatically different from ones posted at polling stations around the country. Leaked data attributed to the commission shows that Fayulu easily won the Dec. 30 vote over the declared winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi.

The court ruling comes after the African Union in an unprecedented move asked Congo to delay announcing the final election results, citing “serious doubts” about the vote.

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10:10 p.m.

People inside Congo say internet service has returned, 20 days after it was cut off following the elections.

Internet service in Congo had been blocked since Dec. 31 in a likely attempt to dampen speculation about the presidential election results. The Constitutional Court is poised to rule on a challenge to the results filed by declared runner-up Martin Fayulu, who alleges fraud.

The U.S. ambassador to Congo, Mike Hammer, tweeted earlier Saturday saying 20 days without internet in the country are “20 days too many” and that access “needs to be restored now.”

British Ambassador John Murton also had been tweeting regular reminders of the shutdown.

___

3:50 p.m.

The party behind the declared winner of Congo’s presidential election is rejecting the African Union’s surprise request to delay announcing the final results amid “serious doubts” about the vote.

The secretary-general of Felix Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party accuses mining lobbyists of seeking to destabilize Congo and loot the mineral-rich country.

Jean-Marc Kabund’s statement comes as Congo’s Constitutional Court is poised to rule on the declared runner-up’s challenge to the election results, alleging fraud. Kabund’s UDPS party calls on the Congolese people to unite and defend the country’s sovereignty.

Hundreds of Tshisekedi’s supporters are in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, waving tree branches and banners reading “Congo for the Congolese.”

Runner-up Martin Fayulu seeks a recount in the Dec. 30 vote.

‘Why won’t Zurich pay £1,548 claim to repair my piano?’

I arranged to have my grand piano transported from Croatia to the UK. The piano did not arrive for six weeks. It was at this point that I found it had been damaged.

This included severe damage to the surface of the lid and the candle platforms connecting the music carrier. Pictures were taken by the people who delivered it as well as by myself.

Subsequently I was advised to obtain a quotation for repair because a new lid was unobtainable for this piano. I sent this, and the removals company claims to have passed it on to its insurer, Zurich.

However, when I approached Zurich directly, it simply sent automated replies stating it cannot deal with claims as quickly as it would like.

Can I please enlist your help?

ED, Hants

You had paid £1,736 by BACS transfer to the removers to have the baby grand piano brought back from the ground floor of a property in Croatia. The piano was supposed to have been packed in a wooden case. Indeed a picture had been sent of it ready for transport in this.

Later it was being maintained that the damage must have occurred while it was with one or two other companies that also took over the delivery at a later stage. You had not been told about these extra companies becoming involved, but in any event you had been assured that the piano would be insured throughout, including while it was in a warehouse.

When the piano arrived you describe it as being bubble-wrapped and in cardboard. It had been transported in such a way that the lid was bearing the weight instead of the piano travelling sideways as it should have done.

You had sent any amount of emails about the whole sorry saga.

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino to retire this month


Tom Marino

Rep. Tom Marino’s retirement will trigger a special election for the open seat, which is considered safely Republican. | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file

Five-term Rep. Tom Marino is ditching Congress less than three weeks into his new term, he announced Thursday.

The Pennsylvania Republican, who was reelected by a landslide in November’s midterms, will step down Jan. 23 to take a job in the private sector, he said.

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“Having spent over two decades serving the public, I have chosen to take a position in the private sector where I can use both my legal and business experience to create jobs around the nation,” Marino said in a statement.

Marino represents Pennsylvania’s 12th District, which stretches from the outskirts of Harrisburg and State College, the home of Penn State University, to Pennsylvania’s border with New York.

The district is heavily Republican: Marino won reelection in 2018 by over 30 points, and President Donald Trump carried it by an even greater margin in the 2016 presidential election.

His retirement will trigger a special election for the open seat, which is considered safely Republican.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, will be responsible for setting the date for a special election. State law gives Wolf wide latitude for setting the date, but it has to be at least 60 days after Marino’s resignation.

Marino served as a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania under President George W. Bush before returning to private legal practice. He was first elected to the House in 2010, and was one of Trump’s earliest boosters in Congress, backing him in the GOP primary and contributing to his electoral success in Pennsylvania.

Marino was nominated in 2017 to be the White House’s federal drug czar, a post tasked in part with crafting a response to the opioid crisis, but withdrew after a damning report from The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” showed that he advocated for legislation that would make it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious opioid shipments, a win for drug distributors.

Fact-Free Politics | RealClearPolitics

In this era when there has been more information available to more people than at any time in the past, it is also true that there has been more misinformation from more different sources than ever. We are not talking about differences of opinion or inadequate verification, but about statements and catchwords in utter defiance of facts.

Among the most popular current catchwords are “climate change deniers.” Stop and think. Have you ever — even once in your entire life — seen, heard or read even one human being who denied that climates change?

It is hard even to imagine how any minimally knowledgeable person could deny that climates change, when there are fossils of marine creatures in the Sahara Desert. Obviously there has been quite a climate change there.

The next time someone talks about “climate change deniers,” ask them to name one — and tell you just where specifically you can find their words, declaring that climates do not change. You can bet the rent money that they cannot tell you.

Why all this talk about these mythical creatures called “climate change deniers”? Because there are some meteorologists and other scientists who refuse to join the stampede toward drastic economic changes to prevent what others say will be catastrophic levels of “global warming.”

There are scientists on both sides of that issue. Presumably the issue could be debated on the basis of evidence and analysis. But this has become a political crusade, and political issues tend to be settled by political means, of which demonizing the opposition with catchwords is one.

It is much the same story on economic issues. Any proposal to reduce income tax rates is sure to bring out claims that these are “tax cuts for the rich,” based on the “trickle-down theory” that reducing the taxes collected from the rich will cause some of their wealth to “trickle down” to people with lower incomes.

Here, yet again, all you need to do is think back over your own life, and ask yourself if you have ever — even once in your entire life — seen, heard or read a single human being who advocated this “trickle-down theory.

Certainly none of the innumerable fellow economists I have encountered in my 88 years ever advocated any such theory. Nor am I aware of anyone else, in any other walk of life, who has done so.

Yet there are ringing denunciations of the “trickle-down theory” in books, articles, and in politics and the media. That theory has been denounced as far away as India.

The next time someone talks about the “trickle-down” theory, ask them to tell you where specifically you can find the writings, videos or any other evidence of someone advocating that theory. You may get some very clever and creative evasions of your question, but no actual answer.

One of the best-selling history textbooks did name Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon as having said in the 1920s that letting the rich pay less taxes would allow their wealth to “trickle down” to others. It was one of the very rare examples that actually named a name.

Unfortunately, what this widely used history textbook attributed to Andrew Mellon was the direct opposite of what he actually said. In Mellon’s own book, “Taxation,” he said that wealthy people were not paying enough tax revenue to the government, because they put their money into tax-exempt securities.

Mellon called it “incredible” that tax laws allowed someone making a million dollars a year to pay not a cent in taxes, and an “almost grotesque” consequence that people of more modest incomes had to make up the shortfall.

He understood, however, that higher tax rates did not automatically mean higher tax revenues. So when the tax law changes that he advocated cut tax rates, the income tax revenues actually hit a record high at that time. Moreover, the rich paid more tax revenue and a much higher percentage of all income tax revenues than before.

Issues in both economics and science can get complicated. But when one side of those issues has to resort to demonstrably false catchwords, that should give us a clue.

COPYRIGHT 2019 CREATORS.COM

Here’s the AP’s look at what didn’t happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out. Here are the real facts:

CLAIM: Side-by-side photos circulating widely online as part of the ’10 Year Challenge’ purport to show the nearly complete deterioration of a portion of sea ice from 2008 to 2018.

THE FACTS: The photos, which aim to show the effects of climate change, are of different ice formations and have been falsely captioned. They have been shared more than 200,000 times as part of the “10 Year Challenge” meme, which started on social media to show how something or someone has changed over 10 years. But the comparison uses two completely different ice formations, on different ends of the Earth. One photo, labeled as being from 2008, shows the Getz Ice Shelf in Antarctica. It was taken in November 2016 by Jeremy Harbeck, a NASA scientist, during a research flight for NASA. “In 2008, I was not even working on this project,” Harbeck told The Associated Press. The other image, taken in 2018 by Julienne Stroeve, an ice scientist with the University of Manitoba, shows a remnant of ice in the Chukchi Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. “This picture is really misleading,” said Stroeve, who said she took the photo while collecting data about ice positions in the summer. “You can’t just cherry pick individual years. You have long-term change happening.” Harbeck’s photo was used Monday with an AP report about a newly released study that found ice in Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s.

CLAIM: ‘Tlaib and Omar co-sponsor bill to recognize Muslim holidays as federal holidays’

THE FACTS: The first two Muslim women elected to Congress did not co-sponsor a bill that would federally observe Islamic holidays, as numerous posts circulating online suggest. The posts followed publication of a false story that claimed Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan proposed a bill that would mark Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which means “Feast of Sacrifice,” as federal holidays. The website that distributed the false story carries a disclaimer noting its content is largely fictional. According to legislative records, both congresswomen have co-sponsored a number of bills since taking office on Jan. 3, but none would federally recognize any Islamic holidays.

CLAIM: Side-by-side photos of Obama honoring a ‘talk show host’ and Trump bestowing a medal on a ‘Vietnam war hero,’ appear below the comment ‘NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE?

THE FACTS: The post juxtaposes a photo of former President Barack Obama draping a medal on comedian Ellen DeGeneres and a photo of Trump putting a medal on a war hero, with the suggestion that Obama honors entertainers over veterans. Obama and Trump have both awarded medals to war heroes and entertainers. In the photo of Trump, he is giving the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award, to 71-year-old former Army medic James McCloughan, for saving wounded soldiers during the Vietnam War. In his first two years in office, Trump has given the Medal of Honor out seven times. During Obama’s eight years in office, he awarded the Medal of Honor to 48 servicemen, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. In the photo of Obama, he is honoring DeGeneres with a different award, the Medal of Freedom. The award is the nation’s most prestigious civilian award, recognizing an individual’s “meritorious contributions” to the U.S. Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to more than 100 people. Trump selected Medal of Freedom honorees for the first time in November, giving the award to seven recipients, ranging from GOP Senator Orrin Hatch to Elvis Presley.

CLAIM: “President Trump got all our favorite foods. It was the best meal we ever had. Then we go and see the coastal elite media trashing it for not being organic vegan. We’re football players, not bloggers. This was a perfect blue collar party.” –Tweet attributed to Clemson quarterback after the team’s White House visit following its national college football championship win.

THE FACTS: The quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, denounced the quote quickly Tuesday after it began circulating on social media. “I never said this by the way,” he said in a tweet. “I don’t know where it came from. However the trip to the White House was awesome!” Ross Taylor, assistant athletic director for Clemson football communications, told The Associated Press, that “everything that is presented in that meme is fabricated.” The false quote circulated on social media paired with a photo of confetti falling on the quarterback after Clemson’s 44-16 win against Alabama on Jan. 7. Trump served the team an array of fast food during their visit to celebrate the team’s win. Trump, a fast food lover, said he even paid for their meal himself because of the partial government shutdown, the AP reported. The choice of menu was criticized by late-night TV hosts and others who found it beneath what should be served to national champions visiting the White House.

This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online.

Find all AP Fact Checks here.

Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter.

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