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Trump: Shutdown could be resolved ‘in 15 minutes’

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WASHINGTON: The partial US government shutdown entered a record 22nd day Saturday, as President Donald Trump remains steadfast in his demand for $5.7 billion to build a Mexico border wall and Democrats in Congress determined to refuse the funds.
The president issued a series of tweets Saturday in an effort to defend his stance and goad Democrats to return to Washington and end what he called “the massive humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border.”
“Democrats could solve the Shutdown in 15 minutes!” he said in one tweet, adding in another, “We will be out for a long time unless the Democrats come back from their ‘vacations’ and get back to work. I am in the White House ready to sign!”
But most lawmakers left town on Friday and will not return before Monday, leaving little chance for any solution to the stalemate before then.
The impasse has paralyzed Washington – its impact felt increasingly around the country – with the president retaliating by refusing to sign off on budgets for swaths of government departments unrelated to the dispute.
As a result, 800,000 federal employees – workers as diverse as FBI agents, air traffic controllers, and museum staff – did not receive paychecks Friday.
The shutdown became the longest on record at midnight Friday (0500 GMT Saturday), when it overtook a 21-day stretch in 1995-1996 under president Bill Clinton.
On Friday, however, Trump backed off a series of previous threats to end the deadlock by declaring a national emergency and attempting to secure the funds without congressional approval.
“I’m not going to do it so fast,” he said at a White House meeting.
Trump described an emergency declaration as the “easy way out” and said Congress had to step up to the responsibility of approving the $5.7 billion he says is needed.
“If they can’t do it… I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right,” he said.
Until Friday, Trump had suggested numerous times that he was getting closer to taking the controversial decision. One powerful Republican ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, tweeted after talks with Trump: “Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW.”
But the president himself acknowledged in the White House meeting that an attempt to claim emergency powers would likely end up in legal battles going all the way to the Supreme Court – as other Republicans and some of his advisers have reportedly cautioned him.
Opponents say that a unilateral presidential move would be constitutional overreach and set a dangerous precedent in similar controversies.

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Trump row with Democrats takes harsh turn

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump doubled down Friday on his claim of an “attempted coup” against him as his battle with Democratic foes entered a vicious new phase of personal insults and strong-arm tactics.
Hovering over it all: the looming question of whether or not the Republican leader will be impeached — “the big I-word,” as Trump put it recently.
The president said he has given his attorney general wide latitude to declassify intelligence information as he probes the origins of the government’s investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign ties to Russia.
“They will be able to see … how the hoax or witch hunt started and why it started,” he told reporters as he departed on a trip to Japan. “It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States.”
“There’s word and rumor that the FBI and others were involved, CIA were involved with the UK, having to do with the Russian hoax,” he said, adding that he might talk to the outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May about it.
“We’re exposing everything,” he added.
Trump’s bid to turn the tables on his political opponents comes amid an escalating constitutional clash of powers with the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
House Democratic leaders have launched numerous probes aimed at getting evidence gathered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign — only to be stonewalled by the White House.
That has raised calls by Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump.
In an odd turn, however, it has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s congressional nemesis, who has pumped the brakes on impeachment — even as she accuses the president of a potentially impeachable cover-up.
The president, for his part, is daring his opponents to initiate proceedings against him — confident that impeachment by the House would most certainly be blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“‘If they try to Impeach President Trump, who has done nothing wrong (No Collusion), they will end up getting him re-elected,'” the president wrote Friday, approvingly retweeting a warning to Democrats by a fellow Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham.

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Iran ‘Threat’: Trump bypasses Congress to sell arms!

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Riyadh hails US decision

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday bypassed Congress to sell $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, citing a threat from Iran, infuriating lawmakers who fear the weapons could kill civilians in Yemen.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration would circumvent the required review by Congress to approve 22 arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, saying that the freeze on sales by Congress could affect the Arab allies’ operational abilities.
The weapons, which include munitions and aircraft support maintenance, are meant “to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The sale was announced earlier Friday by Senator Robert Menendez, who had used his powers to block shipments of tens of thousands of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, fearing they would contribute to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the US allies are mounting an offensive.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
He said that the administration failed to meet the legal definition of an emergency as he vowed to work with lawmakers to counter the decision.
“The lives of millions of people depend on it,” Menendez said.
Another senior Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said that the United States needed to rein in rather than give more weapons to Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudi-led war in Yemen is not an emergency, it is a crime against humanity,” she said in a statement.
The sales come after Trump vetoed an attempt by Congress to stop US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where tens of thousands have died and millions are at risk of starvation in what the United Nations calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Pompeo has resolutely defended the US support for the Saudis, noting that the Huthi rebels who control much of Yemen are allied with US adversary Iran and saying that Huthi rocket attacks into Saudi Arabia could kill Americans taking commercial flights.
Carolyn Miles, president of relief group Save the Children, said that while all sides are at fault, “arms sales to the Saudi/Emirati coalition will increase the suffering of starving children in Yemen.”

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$8.1b arms sales to ‘deter Iranian aggression’

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US says more sanctions likely on Iran

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the US administration was bypassing Congress to sell $8.1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan to “deter Iranian aggression.”
“These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement, hours after a senator announced the sale and sharply criticized it.

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