Washington, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year, as President Donald Trump sought to raise the stakes Friday and both parties traded blame in the weeklong impasse.
Agreement eludes Washington in the waning days of the Republican monopoly on power, and that sets up the first big confrontation between Trump and newly empowered Democrats. Trump is sticking with his demand for money to build a wall along the southern border, and Democrats, who take control of the House on Jan. 3, are refusing to give him what he wants.
Trump worked to escalate the showdown Friday, reissuing threats to close the U.S.-Mexico border to pressure Congress to fund the wall and to shut off aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants have fled.
"We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with," he wrote in one of a series of tweets.
The president also signaled he was in no rush to seek a resolution, welcoming the fight as he heads toward his own bid for re-election in 2020. He tweeted Thursday evening that Democrats may be able to block him now, "but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!"
Incoming acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Trump had canceled his plans to travel to Florida to celebrate New Year's at his private Mar-a-Lago club.
The shutdown is forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors to stay home or work without pay, and many are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse. It also is beginning to pinch citizens who count on public services. Gates are closed at some national parks, new farm loans will be put on hold beginning next week, and in New York, the chief judge of Manhattan federal courts suspended work on civil cases involving U.S. government lawyers, including several civil lawsuits in which Trump himself is a defendant.
The Smithsonian Institution also announced that museums and galleries popular with visitors and locals in the nation's capital will close starting midweek if the partial shutdown drags on.
The Environmental Protection Agency will keep disaster-response teams and other essential workers on the job as it becomes the latest agency to start furloughing employees in the government shutdown. Spokeswoman Molly Block says the EPA will implement its shutdown plan at midnight Friday. That will mean furloughing many of its roughly 14,000 workers.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., released a statement applauding a decision by the administration to reverse new guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security that prevented the Federal Emergency Management Agency from writing or renewing National Flood Insurance Program policies during the current government shutdown. He said it was important that people could continue to get and maintain their flood insurance.
With another long holiday weekend coming and nearly all lawmakers away from the Capitol there is little expectation of a quick fix.
"We are far apart," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CBS on Friday, claiming of Democrats, "They've left the table all together."
Mulvaney said Democrats are no longer negotiating with the administration over an earlier offer to accept less than the $5 billion Trump wants for the wall. Democrats said the White House offered $2.5 billion for border security, but that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice President Mike Pence it wasn't acceptable.
"There's not a single Democrat talking to the president of the United States about this deal," Mulvaney said Friday
Speaking on Fox News and later to reporters, he tried to drive a wedge between Democrats, pinning the blame on House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
"My gut was that (Schumer) was really interested in doing a deal and coming to some sort of compromise. But the more we're hearing this week is that it's Nancy Pelosi who's preventing that from happening," he said, alleging that if Pelosi "cuts a deal with the president of any sort before her election on January 3rd she's at risk of losing her speakership, so we're in this for the long haul."
Pelosi has all but locked up the support she needs to win the gavel on Jan. 3 and there is also no sign of daylight between her and Schumer in the negotiations over government funding.
Mulvaney added of the shutdown: "We do expect this to go on for a while."
Democrats brushed off the White House's attempt to cast blame.
"For the White House to try and blame anyone but the president for this shutdown doesn't pass the laugh test," said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer.
Pelosi has vowed to pass legislation to reopen the nine shuttered departments and dozens of agencies now hit by the partial shutdown as soon as she takes the gavel, which is expected when the new Congress convenes.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill added that Democrats "are united against the President's immoral, ineffective and expensive wall" and said Democrats won't seriously consider any White House offer unless Trump backs it publicly because he "has changed his position so many times."
"While we await the President's public proposal, Democrats have made it clear that, under a House Democratic Majority, we will vote swiftly to re-open government on Day One," Hammill said in a statement.
But even that may be difficult without a compromise because the Senate will remain in Republican hands and Trump's signature will be needed to turn any bill into law.
"I think it's obvious that until the president decides he can sign something — or something is presented to him — that we are where we are," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who opened the Senate on Thursday for a session that only lasted minutes.
Trump had said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for his promised wall, but Mexico refuses to do so. It was unclear how Trump's threat to close the border would affect his efforts to ratify an amended North American free trade pact.
He has repeatedly threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries that he deems have not done enough to combat illegal immigration, but thus far he's failed to follow through. Experts have warned that cutting off aid money to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras could actually exacerbate the problem by worsening the poverty and violence that push many migrants to leave.
And it is Congress, not the president, which appropriates aid money.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reacted cautiously to Trump's threat to close the border, calling it an "internal affair of the U.S. government."
"We are always seeking a good relationship with the United States. We do not want to be rash," he said.
Seoul, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — To judge by the stream of extraordinary images on the Korean Peninsula, you might think 2018 marked the beginning of an elusive peace in one of the world's last vestiges of the Cold War.
Just months after a barrage of threats of missile strikes and personal insults had many fearing the worst, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strode toward each other on a sultry June day in Singapore and grasped hands, vowing to upend decades of animosity and pursue a nuclear settlement. About a month earlier, Kim walked across the cracked concrete block that marks the Korean border, the world's most heavily armed, and then, with a grin, guided a delighted South Korean President Moon Jae-in back into northern territory for a quick photo-op. Moon later flew into Pyongyang for a triumphant tour that saw him address a stadium of 150,000 North Koreans.
And yet, despite all the jaw-dropping images, any one of which would have stood out in sharp relief in an ordinary year, a sense of unease has taken hold in South Korea. There has been no substantial disarmament by the North, no grand peace deals, and many have the same old fears that North Korea will never give up its nuclear arsenal.
As 2018 draws to a close, the Korean Peninsula is not the only place in Asia looking ahead with apprehension.
Across the region, there are pockets of optimism but also a pervasive feeling of disquiet, a lot of which is linked to the twin political behemoths whose presence has been felt this year in every corner of Asia: China and Trump. That's especially true of a Trump-China trade war that has caused fears of a global economic slowdown.
Much of the news in Asia has been the typical scattershot fare of tragedy and triumph: there were catastrophic tsunamis, quakes and floods in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the return to office in Malaysia of a 93-year-old former strongman, and a fall from grace for the Nobel Peace laureate who now leads Myanmar over what many call a campaign of ethnic cleansing against hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya.
But if you want to mark a through-line in a region that contains more than half the world's population and boasts a stunning range of diversity, look to China and Trump.
China's increasing power has been impossible to ignore on the Korean Peninsula, where Beijing props up its ally in Pyongyang even as it serves as Seoul's largest trading partner. Beijing fires up feelings of both nationalist rage and avarice in Southeast and South Asia as it pushes its territorial claims, using huge sums of money, investment and diplomatic energy to promote its interests.
For his part, Trump has made himself felt in a way both modern and unorthodox, using his Twitter feed to repeatedly wade into Asia's biggest hot spots in a manner that for many here can seem intent on upsetting years of previous U.S. policy and precedent in the region.
His fraught diplomacy with North Korea and his high-stakes trade dispute with Beijing have drawn the most attention.
After testing the effectiveness of belligerent rhetoric, Trump has turned to action with China, hiking tariffs on Chinese goods over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.
Trump's moves against Beijing, which denies any trade misbehavior, reflect broad American anxiety about Chinese competition and fears that Beijing's plans for the state-led creation of global tech champions might erode U.S. industrial leadership.
Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed Dec. 1 to postpone more tariff hikes for 90 days while they negotiate, and U.S. and Chinese envoys are preparing for talks in January. But penalties that have hammered Chinese manufacturers, American soybean farmers and other exporters remained in place.
Forecasters warn that with no resolution, the conflict could knock up to 0.5 percentage points off global growth through 2020. They say the loss to China's growth could be as much as 1.3 percentage points next year.
As Trump and Kim angle for another summit, there are growing doubts that Kim will ever voluntarily deal away the weapons that he likely sees as his strongest guarantee of survival. Several reports from private analysts in recent weeks have accused the North of continuing nuclear and missile development, citing details from commercial satellite imagery.
And analysts say that China, North Korea's main economic lifeline, has been loosening its enforcement of sanctions against the North following Kim's outreach to Beijing and amid the trade dispute with the United States.
China and Trump were also on the minds of officials in South and Southeast Asia this year.
India managed to avoid the worst of the Sino-U.S. trade spat, but even New Delhi, which Washington sees as a valuable ally and a bulwark against growing Chinese power, comes in for occasional criticism, such as when Trump blasted India's tariffs amid Harley-Davidson's decision to move production overseas.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is often more focused on Beijing than on Washington, watching warily as China's influence grows in countries like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, both of which India has long seen as within its sphere of influence. New Delhi was quietly relieved by the 2018 electoral defeat of former Maldives strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who had forged increasingly close ties to China.
In Southeast Asia, China, whose historical influence over the region used to be checked by projections of American force, has stepped up efforts to take advantage of a perceived U.S. vacuum and has, with little challenge, asserted its maritime claims in the South China Sea by building island bases in waters also claimed by four other governments, most notably Vietnam and the Philippines.
China's soft power, in the form of infrastructure investment, especially related to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, began to meet some pushback, as financial terms and prospective debt began to be seen as potentially onerous.
The region's most stunning political development came in Malaysia, where Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad united with former foes to oust his old long-ruling party. After taking over, Mahathir canceled plans for some major Chinese projects.
In Myanmar, democracy activists' high hopes that the coming to power of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 would usher in enlightened civilian rule have died as the Nobel Peace laureate has failed to restrain, or even denounce, the Buddhist-majority country's violent military campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority. More than 700,000 Rohingya still languish in miserable refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh after being driven out of their homeland beginning in 2017.
But Southeast Asia also had what might have been Asia's most inspiring story of the year when Thai navy SEALs and cave divers from around the world staged a daring underwater rescue of 12 members of a boys' soccer team and their coach who'd been trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand for almost three weeks.
Maybe it's fitting that this rare feel-good story, unlike much of the rest of Asia, had little to do with either Trump or China.
Washington, Dec 28 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is threatening to close the U.S. border with Mexico if Democrats in Congress don't agree to fund the construction of a border wall.
Trump tweeted Friday morning that "We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely," unless a funding deal is reached with "the Obstructionist Democrats."
Trump's demand for money to build the border wall and Democrats' refusal to give him what he wants has caused a partial government shutdown that is nearly a week old. Congress adjourned for the week without a resolution in sight.
The shutdown is idling hundreds of thousands of federal workers and beginning to pinch citizens who count on some public services.
It's looking increasingly as if the partial government shutdown will be handed off to a divided government to solve. This, as agreement eludes Washington in the waning days of the Republican monopoly on power.
Now nearly a week old, the impasse is idling hundreds of thousands of federal workers and beginning to pinch citizens who count on varied public services.
For example, the government says it won't issue new federal flood insurance policies or renew expiring ones until the budget for them is restored.
Congress is closing out the week without a resolution in sight over the issue holding up an agreement — Trump's demand for money to build a border wall with Mexico and Democrats' refusal to give him what he wants.
Baghdad, Dec 28 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's surprise trip to Iraq may have quieted criticism at home that he had yet to visit troops in a combat zone, but it has infuriated Iraqi politicians who on Thursday demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"Arrogant" and "a violation of national sovereignty" were but a few examples of the disapproval emanating from Baghdad following Trump's meeting Wednesday with U.S. servicemen and women at the al-Asad Airbase.
Trips by U.S. presidents to conflict zones are typically shrouded in secrecy and subject to strict security measures, and Trump's was no exception. Few in Iraq or elsewhere knew the U.S. president was in the country until minutes before he left.
But this trip came as curbing foreign influence in Iraqi affairs has become a hot-button political issue in Baghdad, and Trump's perceived presidential faux-pas was failing to meet with the prime minister in a break with diplomatic custom for any visiting head of state.
On the ground for only about three hours, the American president told the men and women with the U.S. military that Islamic State forces have been vanquished, and he defended his decision against all advice to withdraw U.S. troops from neighboring Syria, He said the U.S. was once again respected as a nation, and declared: "We're no longer the suckers, folks."
The abruptness of his visit left lawmakers in Baghdad smarting and drawing unfavorable comparisons to the occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
"Trump needs to know his limits. The American occupation of Iraq is over," said Sabah al-Saidi, the head of one of two main blocs in Iraq's parliament.
Trump, he said, had slipped into Iraq, "as though Iraq is a state of the United States."
While Trump didn't meet with any officials, he spoke with Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi by phone. A planned meeting between the two leaders was canceled over a "difference in points of view" over arrangements, according to the prime minister's office.
The visit could have unintended consequences for American policy, with officials from both sides of Iraq's political divide calling for a vote in Parliament to expel U.S. forces from the country.
The president, who kept to the U.S. air base approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad, said he had no plans to withdraw the 5,200 troops in the country. He said Ain al-Asad could be used for U.S. air strikes inside Syria.
The suggestion ran counter to the current sentiment of Iraqi politics, which favors claiming sovereignty over foreign and domestic policy and staying above the fray in regional conflicts.
"Iraq should not be a platform for the Americans to settle their accounts with either the Russians or the Iranians in the region," said Hakim al-Zamili, a senior lawmaker in al-Saidi's Islah bloc in Parliament.
U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq as part of the coalition against the Islamic State group. American forces withdrew in 2011 after invading in 2003 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the Iraqi government to help fight the jihadist group. Trump's visit was the first by a U.S. president since Barack Obama met with then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at a U.S. base outside Baghdad in 2009.
After defeating IS militants in their last urban bastions last year, Iraqi politicians and militia leaders are speaking out against the continued presence of U.S. forces on Iraqi soil.
Supporters of the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won big in national elections in May, campaigning on a platform to curb U.S. and rival Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs. Al-Sadr's lawmakers now form the core of the Islah bloc, which is headed by al-Saidi in Parliament.
The rival Binaa bloc, commanded by politicians and militia leaders close to Iran, also does not favor the U.S.
Qais Khazali, the head of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia that fought key battles against IS in northern Iraq, promised on Twitter that Parliament would vote to expel U.S. forces from Iraq, or the militias would force them out by "other means."
Khazali was jailed by British and U.S. forces from 2007 to 2010 for managing sections of the Shia insurgency against the occupation during those years.
Trump's visit would be a "great moral boost to the political parties, armed factions, and others who oppose the American presence in Iraq," Iraqi political analyst Ziad al-Arar said.
Still, the U.S. and Iraq developed considerable military and intelligence ties in the war against IS, and they continue to pay off in operations against militants gone into hiding.
Earlier in the month, Iraqi forces called in an airstrike by U.S.-coalition forces to destroy a tunnel used by IS militants in the Atshanah mountains in north Iraq. Four militants were killed, according to the coalition.
A hasty departure of U.S. forces would jeopardize such arrangements, said Iraqi analyst Hamza Mustafa.
Relations between the U.S. and Iraq also extend beyond military ties. U.S. companies have considerable interests in Iraq's petrochemical industry, and American diplomats are often brokers between Iraq's fractious political elite.
Iraq's Sunni politicians have been largely quiet about the presidential visit, reflecting the ties they have cultivated with the U.S. to counterbalance the might of the country's Iran-backed and predominantly-Shiite militias.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Abdul-Mahdi accepted Trump's invitation to the White House during their call, though the prime minister's office has so far refused to confirm that.
Las Vegas, Dec 28 (AP/UNB) — Documents made public Thursday recounted anew how police officers took cover next to patrol vehicles on the Las Vegas Strip while a gunman rained bullets from a high-rise hotel into an outdoor music festival during the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's modern history almost 15 months ago.
Also among statements from 18 of the hundreds of officers who responded to the shooting were accounts of police forming attack teams and working their way along hotel hallways in the Mandalay Bay resort before blasting with explosives through bullet-riddled doors of a 32nd-floor room to find shooter Stephen Paddock dead amid a cache of assault-style rifles.
One group advanced down the sides of a hallway where a hotel security guard had been wounded earlier, while another went downstairs to then come up an emergency exit stairwell close to Paddock's door.
Absent was any new information about Paddock's motive for the attack that killed 58 people and injured 869 late Oct. 1, 2017.
Officer Joseph Jones later told department investigators it still wasn't clear when he arrived if the shooter was inside or outside. But he said he saw flashes at an upper-floor window before he and other officers started running toward the hotel.
"We heard the automatic rifle fire," Jones said, adding in a transcribed statement that his officer body-worn camera was recording when he arrived to find concert-goers fleeing the Route 91 Harvest Festival grounds across the street from the hotel.
"Intermittently you could see some flashing," Jones said, "but once we started to move ... I couldn't see it anymore."
Authorities determined that Paddock, a 64-year-old former millionaire accountant, real estate investor and high-limit video poker player, died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head before police reached him.
Investigators determined that Paddock fired more than 1,000 shots in 11 minutes out the windows and down the interior hallway. They did not determine what motivated him to meticulously plan and execute the massacre.
Officer Aden Ocampo Gomez, a department spokesman, declined Thursday to comment.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo declared the police investigation ended in August, issuing a report that said hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of investigative work found no motive, no conspiracy and no other shooters.
Weekly releases of police records to the media have continued under court order in a public records lawsuit by media organizations including The Associated Press. The material has included clips of nearly 1,200 officer body camera videos, many hours of 911 audio recordings and dozens of handwritten and transcribed witness accounts.
A final FBI report, expected to include a behavioral analysis of Paddock, is expected soon.