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US to Award Contracts for Building Mexico Border Wall

Trump has said the wall will cost $12 billion, while Republican leaders in Congress have pegged its cost 20 percent higher than that. An internal Homeland Security report forecast the total cost could be as much as $21.6 billion.

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FILE - Workers continue work raising a taller fence on the Mexico-U.S. border separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico, and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Jan. 25, 2017.
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The U.S. government plans to start awarding preliminary contracts by April for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, to fulfill one of President Donald Trump’s principal campaign promises.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it will accept “concept papers” for the wall’s design beginning next week and will choose the best ones by March 20. The agency will then ask vendors for construction cost estimates and, after reviewing their bids, begin granting contracts by mid-April — a remarkably quick schedule for a government construction project.

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Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that the border-wall project was “way ahead of schedule.”

“We’re going to build a wall, don’t worry about it,” Trump told a cheering crowd of his supporters. “We’re building a wall. We’re building the wall. In fact, it’s going to start soon.”

Cost estimates vary

The Customs and Border Protection agency, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, did not indicate where the initial phase of construction will begin.

Trump has said the wall will cost $12 billion, while Republican leaders in Congress have pegged its cost 20 percent higher than that. An internal Homeland Security report forecast the total cost could be as much as $21.6 billion.

Since the earliest stages of his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico as a way to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He has assured Americans that Mexico would pay for the wall — a claim denied repeatedly by Mexico’s elected leaders — and the issue has soured relations between the two countries.

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Relations with Mexico sour

The White House has said Trump has a “buffet of options” to make Mexico to pay for the wall, including imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports from Mexico. Critics have said that scenario would mean American consumers actually would be paying for the wall.

The border barrier primarily would be aimed at stopping illegal immigrants from entering the United States. However, many Mexicans regard the idea of a wall as an insult, and authorities on both sides of the international border have predicted that rough terrain and large stretches of private property straddling the border could make building the wall a long, complicated project.(VOA)

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Christine Ford Testifies Against Brett Kavanaugh; Decision Pending

If Kavanaugh is confirmed for the Supreme Court, the court will have a clear 5-4 conservative majority, which could be solidified for a generation or longer.

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Brett Kavanaugh
In this combination image of Reuters photos, Christine Blasey Ford, left, and Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testify separately before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

It was a day of drama, tears and tempers in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh angrily denying a charge of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford at a party in 1982 when they were teenagers.

Both got the chance to tell their stories to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a nearly nine-hour-long hearing.

“I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Kavanaugh told the senators. “I have never done this to her or to anyone.”

Hours earlier, Ford told the panel she was “100 percent certain” it was a drunken Kavanaugh who pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams for help.

Kavanaugh told the senators he attended no such party. He accused Democrats of seeking to avenge Hillary Clinton’s election loss by mounting a calculated attack for political gain and engaging in grotesque character assassination.

Kavanaugh vowed he will not be intimidated into withdrawing.

The Judiciary Committee, with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, plan to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Friday and, if approved, will send it to the entire Senate, which will begin procedural votes Saturday.

 

Brett Kavanaugh
In this photo combination, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

 

Late Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee announced he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. While, he said, it took courage for Ford to testify, there was no evidence to corroborate her allegations.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he is still weighing his vote after hearing Ford and Kavanaugh testify.

Asked how he will vote, Flake said, “Let me process it.”

 

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, also said she needs time to decide how she will vote. She is running for re-election in a state that voted heavily for President Donald Trump.

Sen. Doug Jones, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, said he is voting no on Kavenaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning,” he said, adding that Ford was credible and courageous.

Brett Kavanaugh
In this photo combination, Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. VOA

Ford’s testimony

Earlier in the day, Ford testified that she feared that Kavanaugh was “going to accidentally kill” her during the alleged incident in 1982.

She said what she remembers most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge’s “uproarious laughter” during the incident and “having fun at my expense.”

Democratic senators repeatedly praised Ford for her courage in coming forward.

A prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, questioned Ford on behalf of Senate Republicans. She asked Ford about timelines and peripheral issues and did not challenge her basic account of sexual assault. But Ford’s account lacked firm corroboration of her claims by others at the party.

Kavanaugh’s testimony

Kavanaugh was much angrier, strident and emotional.

He “unequivocally and categorically” denied the charges and cried as he spoke of how the ordeal has wrecked his family. He presented the senators with what he said were handwritten calendars from 1982 showing his activities and whereabouts. He says they did not include the party.

Kavanaugh said he welcomes whatever the investigation the committee wants, but would not directly answer whether he would approve an FBI probe.

Brett Kavanaugh
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh gives his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee. VOA

Admitting he loves drinking beer, he pointed to what he says was his outstanding academic record and dedication to high school sports and church.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Kavanaugh and blamed Democrats for not disclosing the accusations earlier.

“As part of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the FBI conducted its sixth full field background investigation of Judge Kavanaugh since 1993, 25 years ago. Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports … was there a whiff of any issue, any issue at all related to anyway inappropriate sexual behavior.”

But Democrats did not buy Kavanaugh’s self-portrayal of an angelic choir boy. Senator Patrick Leahy pointed to Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page and its jokes about heavy drinking and sex.

Brett Kavanaugh
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., makes a point during a hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee. VOA

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham lost his temper during his time to question Kavanaugh. He accused Democrats of an “unethical sham” and warning Republicans that if they vote not to confirm Kavanaugh, they would legitimize “the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen in my time in politics.”

Trump stands by his man

President Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He tweeted that the judge showed Americans exactly why he was chosen.

Trump’s tweet did not mention Ford.

No clear winner

Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro, says it is unclear if anyone came out ahead after Thursday’s testimony.

Also Read: Video- USA Gears Up For Its Midterm Elections

“We’re at a dangerous point because if we have no more evidence and Kavanaugh’s rejected, that sets the precedent that accusations are enough to derail … and if he’s approved, then still there will be people who think that he’s a sexual assaulter or rapist and there he is sitting at the Supreme Court.”

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the court will have a clear 5-4 conservative majority, which could be solidified for a generation or longer. (VOA)