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As U.S. Shutdown Continues, Trump Continues Wall Campaign

Cutting funds to Central American countries would mean a cutback on humanitarian programs, according to State Department data.

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The White House is seen, Dec. 28, 2018, in Washington. The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump continued Saturday to stress the need for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall as a partial government shutdown, triggered by a stalemate over funding for the project, entered its eighth day.

In a tweet Saturday, Trump said Democrats should take the initiative on ending the shutdown, saying, “I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal” on border security.

A budget standoff remains between Trump, who wants $5 billion in wall funding, and Democratic lawmakers, who back a modest increase in overall border security funding but resolutely oppose a wall.

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Trucks wait for border customs control to cross into the U.S. at the Otay border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Feb. 2, 2017. VOA

Close border, cut aid

In a series of tweets Friday, Trump again threatened to close the entire U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if Congress failed to give him money to fund the wall. He also asked for changes in what he said was the United States’ “ridiculous immigration laws.”

Closing the U.S.-Mexican border would mean disrupting a $1.68 billion-a-day trade relationship between the two countries. In addition, immigrant advocates have called any move to seal the border “disgraceful.”

In a tweet Saturday, Trump linked Democrats’ “pathetic immigration policies” with the deaths of two Guatemalan children while they were in U.S. custody.

His comments, the first to reference the children’s deaths, came the same day that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was finishing a two-day visit to the southern U.S. border, where she said in a statement, “The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis.”

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks at one of border wall prototypes in San Diego, June 28, 2018. VOA

Trump has declined to comment on whether he might accept less than $5 billion for wall funding. When asked Wednesday how long he thought the shutdown would last, Trump told reporters, “Whatever it takes.”

420,000 work without pay

Out of a workforce of about 2.1 million federal employees, more than 800,000 have been furloughed without pay. About 420,000 of those furloughed employees are being required to work without pay.

Democrats have blamed Trump for “plunging the country into chaos” and have noted that, weeks ago, Trump said he would be proud to own a shutdown over border wall funding.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and presumed incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a joint statement, “The president wanted the shutdown, but seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”

 

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A border wall prototype stands in San Diego near the Mexico-U.S. border, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 22, 2018. VOA

 

The Republican Party controls the White House, as well as both chambers of Congress. Next Thursday, however, a new Congress, with a Democrat-controlled House, will be seated.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Channel on Friday, “We’re here, and they know where to find us.”

Mulvaney also blamed Democrats for the continuing shutdown, saying they have refused to negotiate since the White House made an offer last weekend.

Lorella Praeli, deputy political director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that Congress has an obligation to serve as a check on the executive branch.

“This government shutdown is due solely to Trump’s border wall obsession and his refusal to abandon his anti-immigrant agenda, even at the cost of denying hundreds of thousands of federal workers their holiday paychecks and impacting operations at several federal agencies,” Praeli said.

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A monitor in the House of Representatives displays a schedule update on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018. VOA

Affected departments

Among the government agencies affected by the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22 are the departments of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Interior and the Executive Office of the President.

Early Saturday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had funding through midnight Friday, was shutdown. Many of the agency’s 14,000 employees are being furloughed, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said. Disaster-response teams and other employees deemed essential would continue to work, she added.

If the partial shutdown continues, the Smithsonian Institution said it would begin closing its 19 museums, art galleries and National Zoo starting midweek. The Smithsonian attractions drew nearly 21 million visitors by the end of October 2018, according to the institution’s website. It recorded 30 million visitors in 2017

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Tourists arrive to visit the U.S. Capitol on a rainy morning in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018, during a partial government shutdown. VOA

Mexico’s reaction

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters Friday that Trump’s border-closure threat was an internal U.S. government matter.

“We take great care of the relationship with the government of the United States,” Lopez Obrador said. “Of course we will always defend our sovereignty. … We will always protect migrants, defend their human rights.”

Also Read: Donald Presses Democrats on Border Wall Funding Ahead of Senate Meeting

Cutting funds to Central American countries would mean a cutback on humanitarian programs, according to State Department data. The aid includes assistance on civilian security, legal development and basic nutrition.

The largest grant was spent to help with agriculture in Guatemala, where the U.S. Agency for International Development says food security is a “grave concern.” (VOA)

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World Leaders Prepare for G7 Summit Even As Fears Over Global Economy Increases

The economic fears are rooted in the trade war between the United States and China

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Security concerns will also be high on the agenda. North Korea has resumed its ballistic missile tests. Pixabay

The G-7 host, Emmanuel Macron,  has made fighting inequality the theme for the annual meeting of the seven industrialized nations, which opens Saturday in the French seaside resort of Biarritz with the leaders of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada in attendance.

The French president has invited leaders from several other countries, including six African nations, to take part in the annual discussion of major global challenges. But analysts say any grand ambitions for the summit will likely be stymied by pressing economic concerns.

Most worrisome are recent indicators from both sides of the Atlantic of slowing economic growth and a possible global recession.

Earlier this month, government bond yields in both the United States and Germany were briefly higher for two-year than 10-year bonds, a sign that investors see significant risks ahead, says economist Jasper Lawler of the London Capital Group.

“Particularly in the U.S., it’s actually been a very reliable signal to point towards a recession.”

Adding the investors’ fears, the usual fiscal tools to tackle a recession might not be available.

“We don’t have that usual fallback from central banks of cutting interest rates because they already have, and they are already at rock bottom levels,” says Lawler.

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Summit host France is determined to not let economics overshadow its own agenda. Pixabay

The economic fears are rooted in the trade war between the United States and China, which has resulted in both countries imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of imports. Europe is suffering additional headwinds, says economist Lawler.

“The trade war, but also just the auto sector, the transition from using diesel cars to electronic vehicles. It’s a period of uncertainty that’s unduly affecting Europe.”

Summit host France is determined to not let economics overshadow its own agenda — and top of the list is climate change, says John Kirton of the G-7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.

“It’s driven by the scary science which is unfolding every day, but more importantly by the historic heat waves that have afflicted Europe, including France.”

U.S. President Donald Trump left last year’s G-7 summit in Canada early, before the leaders had discussed climate change, and later disavowed the final communiqué. This year France is determined to keep the United States on board, says Kirton.

“President Macron I think has structured his agenda to allow Donald Trump to be at his best. Gender equality — the president has been very good at that, it’s at the top of the French list. Education — yes, and also health. It’s the president of the United States that’s been pushing the G-7 to try to get it to deal with the opioid crisis.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump left last year’s G-7 summit in Canada early, before the leaders had discussed climate change, and later disavowed the final communiqué. Pixabay

Security concerns will also be high on the agenda. North Korea has resumed its ballistic missile tests.

Meanwhile the standoff between Iran and the West has escalated over the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, which followed the detention of an Iranian vessel in Gibraltar.

Burgeoning anti-government protests in Russia and Hong Kong also pose questions for the G-7, says Kirton.

Also Read: Purchase Rights for Huawei Extended By US

“Have we seen the tide [change], where authoritarian leaders in various degrees are no longer in control? It may not be the way of the future. In fact, if that’s the case, then how can the G-7 activate its distinctive foundational issue: to promote democracy?” Kirton asked.

Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet Trump at the G-7 for the first time in his new role. Both leaders are hoping for a rapid trade deal amid signs of a steep economic downturn in Britain as it edges closer to crashing out of the European Union with no deal at the end of October. (VOA)