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Trump’s Plan to Fund Border Wall Construction Weighs by Court

At stake is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make major progress on a signature campaign

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FILE - A woman and children are ushered into cars by U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing illegally over the border wall into San Diego, Calif., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 9, 2018. VOA

President Donald Trump is moving fast to spend billions of dollars to build a wall on the Mexican border with money secured under his declaration of a national emergency, but he first must get past the courts.

On Friday, a federal judge in Oakland, California, will consider arguments in two cases that seek to block the White House from spending Defense and Treasury Department money for wall construction. California and 19 other states brought one lawsuit; the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, brought the other.

On Thursday, a federal judge in the nation’s capital will consider a bid by the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent Trump from spending any Defense Department money for a border wall.

At stake is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make major progress on a signature campaign promise heading into his campaign for a second term.

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President Donald Trump is moving fast to spend billions of dollars to build a wall on the Mexican border with money secured under his declaration of a national emergency. Pixabay

The president’s adversaries say the emergency declaration was an illegal attempt to ignore Congress, which authorized far less wall spending than Trump wanted. Trump grudgingly accepted congressional approval of $1.375 billion to end a 35-day government shutdown on Feb. 15 but declared an emergency in almost the same breath. The White House says it has identified up to $8.1 billion that it could spend.

Trump’s actions “amount to a usurpation of Congress’ legislative powers in violation of bedrock separation of powers principles embedded in the Constitution,” the state attorneys general wrote.

The administration argues that the president is protecting national security interests as unprecedented numbers of Central American asylum-seeking families arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“The increasing surge of migrants, the highest in over a decade, has placed a tremendous strain on the limited resources of the Department of Homeland Security and exacerbated the risks to border security, public safety, and the safety of the migrants themselves,” the Justice Department said in a court filing.

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The courtroom showdowns come amid a flurry of activity to accelerate wall construction. Kenneth Rapuano, an assistant secretary of defense, said in a court filing last month that work on the highest-priority, Pentagon-funded projects — in Yuma, Arizona, and in New Mexico — could begin as soon as May 25.

The Defense Department transferred $1 billion to border wall coffers in March and another $1.5 billion last week. Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, may decide as soon as Wednesday whether to transfer an additional $3.6 billion.

Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $789 million contract to SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, to replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of barrier in New Mexico, paid for by Pentagon funds.

On Wednesday, Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Montana, won a $141.8 million contract to replace 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma and 15 miles (24 kilometers) in the Border Patrol’s El Centro, California, sector. Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, won a $646 million contract to replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in the Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona, sector. All of those projects are funded by the Defense Department, with construction expected to begin in as little as 45 days.

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On Thursday, federal judge in the nation’s capital will prevent Trump from spending any Defense Department money for a border wall. Pixabay

Also this week, the Department of Homeland Security waived environmental impact and other reviews to replace wall in California and Arizona under a law that gives the secretary sweeping powers to spec construction.

The environmental waivers cover a 15-mile (24-kilometer) replacement in El Centro that is funded by the Homeland Security Department’s 2018 appropriations and was awarded in a contract to SLSCO last year. The administration said construction could begin on that project as early as Saturday.

Aside from California, states participating in the legal challenge are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. (VOA)

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Trump to Pursue Higher Sales Age for Vaping Devices: ‘An Age Limit of 21 or So’

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will pursue raising the age to purchase electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 in its upcoming plans to combat youth vaping.

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details.

“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” said Trump, speaking outside the White House.

Currently the minimum age to purchase any tobacco or vaping product is 18, under federal law. But more than one-third of U.S. states have already raised their sales age to 21.

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FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018. VOA

A federal law raising the purchase age would require congressional action.

Administration officials were widely expected to release plans this week for removing virtually all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. Those products are blamed for soaring rates of underage use by U.S. teenagers.

However, no details have yet appeared, leading vaping critics to worry that the administration is backing away from its original plan.

Trump resisted any specifics on the scope of the restrictions.

Also Read- US Officials Identify ‘Strong Culprit’ in Vaping Illnesses

“We’re talking about the age, we’re talking about flavors, we’re also talking about keeping people working — there are some pretty good aspects,” Trump said.

Mint flavor

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.

Fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors have been targeted because of their appeal to underage users.

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FILE – A man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette, Oct. 18, 2019. VOA

On Thursday, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, announced it would voluntarily pull its mint-flavored e-cigarettes from the market. That decision followed new research that Juul’s mint is the top choice for many high school students who vape.

With the removal of mint, Juul only sells two flavors: tobacco and menthol.

Vaping critics say menthol must be a part of the flavor ban to prevent teens who currently use mint from switching over.

‘Tobacco 21’ law

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Juul and other tobacco companies have lobbied in support of a federal “Tobacco 21” law to reverse teen use of both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. The effort also has broad bipartisan support in Congress, including a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The logic for hiking the purchase age for cigarettes and other products is clear: Most underage teens who use e-cigarettes or tobacco get it from older friends. Raising the minimum age to 21 is expected to limit the supply of those products in U.S. schools.

Delaying access to cigarettes is also expected to produce major downstream health benefits, with one government-funded report estimating nearly 250,000 fewer deaths due to tobacco over several decades.

Still, anti-tobacco groups have insisted that any “Tobacco 21” law must be accompanied by a ban on flavors, which they say are the primary reason young people use e-cigarettes. (VOA)