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U.S. Government Shutdown Continues, Weekend Talks Planned

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay. As of Friday, the partial shutdown had been in effect for 14 days.

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Caravans from Central America have inflamed the debate over U.S. immigration policy, with U.S. President Donald Trump using the migrants to try to secure backing for his plan to build a border wall on the frontier with Mexico., VOA

A partial U.S. government shutdown showed no sign of ending soon Friday as White House and congressional aides prepared to work through the weekend to try to resolve a stalemate over funding for U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump said he’d had a “very productive” meeting with congressional leaders to try to end the shutdown, which was triggered by disagreement over $5.6 billion in funding to build the wall.

But Democratic congressional leaders characterized the White House meeting differently.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks to reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump about border security in the Situation Room of the White House, Jan. 4, 2019. VOA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who assumed leadership of the newly sworn in House Democratic majority Thursday, called the almost two-hour meeting “contentious.” She continued her oft-repeated assertion that agreement on the wall’s funding “cannot be resolved until we open up the government.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters the president threatened to keep the government closed for “a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Despite comments from the Democratic lawmakers that little progress was made, Trump said that “we’re on the same path” to reopen the government. He touted the benefits of “a solid steel or concrete structure” along the border.

The White House said talks on the funding impasse with House and Senate staff members were set for 11 a.m. EST Saturday.

Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner have been chosen to work with the congressional delegation.

‘We’re not doing a wall’

The House passed a bill Thursday to reopen shuttered federal government agencies. The measure did not, however, include the $5.6 billion the president has demanded for the wall.

“We’re not doing a wall,” Pelosi vowed Thursday. She suggested that the money could better be used for improving border security technology and hiring more border agents.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the House plan to end the shutdown “political theater.”

The Senate passed an identical bill last month, while Republicans still controlled both chambers of Congress.

The legislation passed Thursday in the House called for the reopening of the federal government and the funding of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until early February.

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is surrounded by reporters as he returns from meeting with President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders at the White House, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 2, 2019. VOA

While Trump himself has not used the word “veto,” other White House officials have. One official said the president told Democratic leaders he would “look foolish” if he ended the shutdown.

Trump is blaming Democrats for the current situation after insisting on Dec. 11 he would be “proud” to shut down the government if his demand for wall funding was not met.

On Friday, in response to a reporter’s question, Trump defended that comment. “I’m very proud of what I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t call it a shutdown.”

But he confirmed that he’d told Democrats a shutdown could go on for months or a year or longer.

“I don’t think it will, but I am prepared and I think I can speak for Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate. They feel very strongly about having a safe country, having a border that makes sense,” he said.

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Federal contractor Chris Erickson paints his bathroom, Jan., 4, 2019, in North Salt Lake, Utah. Erickson says he’ll run out of vacation days if the shutdown continues. The father of three from Salt Lake City will then crack into his savings, and he’ll likely postpone a 14th wedding anniversary trip with his wife to a cabin. Erickson said he likely won’t get the chance for reimbursement for the lost days because he’s a contractor. VOA

DHS seeks help

Also Friday, the Pentagon said it had received a request from DHS for additional help securing the U.S. southern border.

A defense official told VOA that the Pentagon was reviewing the request for “additional capabilities at the border.” The official would not elaborate on what specific capabilities DHS requested.

DHS is among the government agencies left unfunded because of the shutdown, but Congress has funded the Defense Department through Sept. 30, 2019.

Also Read: US House Votes to Reopen Government, Rejects Wall Money by Donald TrumpA

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay. As of Friday, the partial shutdown had been in effect for 14 days. This is the fourth-longest government shutdown, partial or full, in the last 40 years.

A Reuters/IPSOS poll conducted mostly after the shutdown began found that 47 percent of adults held Trump responsible for the stoppage, while 33 percent blamed congressional Democrats and 7 percent blamed congressional Republicans. (VOA)

 

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Trump’s Deep Misunderstanding of Trade Policy is Threatening the American Economy

President Donald Trump's aggressive and unpredictable use of tariffs is spooking American business groups

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FILE - Steel rods produced at the Gerdau Ameristeel mill in St. Paul, Minn., await shipment, May 9, 2019. The recent flareup with the U.S. over Mexico tariffs may prove to be a pivotal juncture. VOA

President Donald Trump’s aggressive and unpredictable use of tariffs is spooking American business groups, which have long formed a potent force in his Republican Party. Trade

Corporate America was blindsided last week when Trump threatened to impose crippling taxes on Mexican imports in a push to stop the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.

The two sides reached a truce Friday after Mexico agreed to do more to stop the migrants. But by Monday, Trump was again threatening the tariffs if Mexico didn’t abide by an unspecified commitment, to “be revealed in the not too distant future.”

Such whipsawing is now a hallmark of Trump’s trade policy. The president repeatedly threatens tariffs, sometimes imposes them, sometimes suspends them, sometimes threatens them again. Or drops them.

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FILE – Traffic moves on the old Gerald Desmond Bridge next to its replacement bridge under construction in Long Beach, Calif., July 2, 2018. President Donald Trump’s tariffs provoke retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports. VOA

Business groups, already uncomfortable with Trump’s attempts to stem immigration, are struggling to figure out where to stand in the fast-shifting political climate. They have happily supported Trump’s corporate tax cuts and moves to loosen environmental and other regulations. But the capriciousness of Trump’s use of tariffs has proved alarming.

“Business is losing,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and frequent Trump critic. “He calls himself ‘Mr. Tariff man.’ He’s proud of it. … It’s bad news for the party. It’s bad news for the free market.”

Also Read- U.S. Pentagon Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than Portugal, Study Finds

“It was a good wakeup call for business,” James Jones, chairman of Monarch Global Strategies and a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said of Trump’s abrupt move to threaten to tax Mexican goods.

Creating distance from Trump

Just last week, the sprawling network led by the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch announced the creation of several political action committees focused on policy — including one devoted to free trade — to back Republicans or Democrats who break with Trump’s trade policies. A powerful force in Republican politics, the network is already a year into a “multi-year multi-million dollar” campaign to promote the dangers of tariff and protectionist trade policies.

The Chamber of Commerce, too, is in the early phases of disentangling itself from the Republican Party after decades of loyalty. The Chamber, which spent at least $29 million largely to help Republicans in the 2016 election, announced earlier this year that it would devote more time and attention to Democrats on Capitol Hill while raising the possibility of supporting Democrats in 2020.

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FILE – A field of soybeans is seen in front of a barn carrying a large Trump sign in rural Ashland, Neb., July 24, 2018. President Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for tariffs has upended decades of Republican trade policy that favored free trade. VOA

Few expect the Chamber or business-backed groups like the Koch network to suddenly embrace Democrats in a significant way. But even a subtle shift to withhold support from vulnerable Republican candidates could make a difference in 2020.

Trump’s boundless enthusiasm for tariffs has upended decades of Republican trade policy that favored free trade. It has left the party’s traditional allies in the business world struggling to maintain political relevance in the Trump era.

Also Read- Canon Doing Research and Feasibility Studies to Explore the Possibility of Manufacturing its Products in India

Uncertainty for businesses

Trump’s tariffs are taxes paid by American importers and are typically passed along to their customers. They can provoke retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports. And they can paralyze businesses, uncertain about where they should buy supplies or situate factories.

“Knowing the rules helps us plan for the future,” said Jeff Schwager, president of Sartori, a cheese company that has had to contend with retaliatory tariffs in Mexico in an earlier dispute.

Trump seems unfazed.

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FILE – Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa speaks at a town hall meeting in Greenfield, Iowa, June 2, 2017. VOA

Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, went on CNBC on Monday to decry “the weaponization of tariffs” as a threat to the U.S. economy and to relations with trading partners.

Trump responded by phoning in to the network to declare “I guess he’s not so brilliant” and defend his trade policies.

“Tariffs,” he said, “are a beautiful thing.”

Trump can afford to be confident about his grip over the party: Roughly nine in 10 rank-and-file Republicans support his performance as president, according to the latest Gallup polling. So Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to tangle with him.

Also Read- Apple to Bring Bigger Battery in its Upcoming 2019 iPhone Offerings

But last week’s flareup over the Mexico tariffs may prove to be a pivotal juncture. The spat was especially alarming to businesses because it came seemingly out of nowhere. Less than two weeks earlier, Trump had lifted tariffs on Mexican and Canadian steel and aluminum — action that seemed to signal warmer commercial ties between the United States and its neighbors.

“This really came out of left field,” said Daniel Ujczo, a trade lawyer at Dickinson Wright. “It was something we thought we had settled, and we hadn’t.”

Weighing legislation

Congress was already showing signs of wariness, especially over Trump’s decision to dust off a little-used provision of trade law to slap tariffs on trading partners. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion of 1962 lets the president impose sanctions on imports that he deems a threat to national security.

Trump has deployed that provision to tax imported steel and aluminum. And he’s threatening to impose Section 232 tariffs on auto imports, a chilling threat to American allies Japan and the European Union.

Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to weaken the president’s authority to declare national-security tariffs. In doing so, lawmakers would be reasserting Congress’ authority over trade policy, established by the Constitution but ceded over the years to the White House.

The legislation has stalled in Congress this spring. But on Tuesday, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the bill would be ready “pretty soon.” Given “how the president feels about tariffs,” Grassley said, “he may not look favorably on this. So I want a very strong vote in my committee and then, in turn, a very strong vote on the floor of the Senate.”

Congressional reluctance to challenge Trump could be tested in coming months. Lawmakers may balk if he proceeds with plans to tax $300 billion worth of Chinese goods that he hasn’t already targeted with tariffs — a move that would jack up what consumers pay for everything from bicycles to burglar.

Likewise, taxing auto imports — an idea that has virtually no support outside the White House — would likely meet furious resistance. So would any move to abandon a trade pact with Mexico and Canada. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement if Congress won’t ratify a revamped version he negotiated last year.

For all their disenchantment with Trump, the Chamber of Commerce may yet find it hard to break its ties to the party. Though the chamber says it’s weighing a more bipartisan approach, it recently featured a sign on its front steps: It likened Trump to Republican icons Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. (VOA)