Headlines: December 20, 2018
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UPDATED: The US Senate passed a temporary spending bill to keep the federal government funded through to February 8 on Wednesday. But President Donald Trump on Thursday morning indicated that he might not sign the deal despite indications in recent days of a capitulation on funding for his border wall. The House was to have voted on its version of the bill on Thursday just hours ahead of the December 21st deadline, and send it to Trump’s desk for a signature. But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in the morning that, “At this moment, the President does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall. The President is continuing to weigh his options.” According to the Washington Post, “senior Republicans in Congress even appeared unsure of what Trump actually wanted before he would sign legislation.” Trump faced anger and derision from his conservative supporters over his apparent capitulation in recent days over the wall.
A federal judge on Wednesday dealt yet another blow to Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies. Judge Emmet Sullivan blocked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ impossibly strict guidelines for asylum applications that were announced and implemented earlier this year. Sullivan ruled that the US must stop deporting immigrants, “without first providing credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.” He added, “It is the will of Congress — not the whims of the Executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal.” But on Thursday morning, the Department of Homeland Security announced a deal it had reached with Mexico for asylum seekers to wait in Mexico instead. It is likely to be challenged in court. A few weeks ago an Appeals Court ruled that the Trump administration cannot deny asylum claims from people crossing the border between the official ports of entry.
In other immigration news, a standoff between six Honduran nationals and Border Patrol ended on Wednesday after 17 hours at the US border near San Diego, California. Two Democratic members of Congress, Nanette Barragan and Jimmy Gomez joined the group of six. The lawmakers spent the hours pressuring border patrol staff to process the asylum applications. It is common practice for authorities to limit the number of asylum claims saying they are at capacity. Most applicants are forced to wait weeks or months in Mexico. This particular group had reached US soil and so were finally processed with the help of the members of Congress.
Outgoing Republican Congressman Paul Ryan gave his last speech as House Speaker on Wednesday. Ryan expressed regret in failing to gut Social Security and Medicare – programs he refers to as “entitlements.” He said, “I acknowledge plainly that my ambitions for entitlement reform have outpaced the political reality, and I consider this our greatest unfinished business.” Paul Ryan marveled at the US being, “most free and the most prosperous nation on earth ever.”
The Trump administration on Thursday announced restrictions on food stamps via a rule change, after Congress passed a Farm Bill days ago that did not include cuts.The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food assistance to about 12% of the US population, or 40 million Americans. According to Reuters, “Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said 75 percent of the 3.8 million able-bodied individuals receiving food stamps were not working in 2016, the latest year for which the USDA has the data.” Perdue said, “This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense, particularly when employment opportunities are plentiful as they currently are.” He added, “The nation’s economy is booming and unemployment is at lowest…since 1969.”
In other news, the US Federal Reserve has raised benchmark interest rates this week to between 2.25 and 2.5%. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell explained his decision for raising interest rates at a press conference on Wednesday. President Trump has vociferously slammed the decision in an unusually public manner saying it was important to keep interest rates low to stimulate the economy.
A Los Angeles Catholic Bishop has resigned over allegations that he had inappropriate relations with a minor. Pope Francis accepted Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar’s resignation on Wednesday. Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said in a statement, “I regret to inform you that in 2005, a year after he had been ordained a bishop, the Archdiocese was made aware of an allegation against Bishop Salazar of misconduct with a minor.” He explained, “Although the allegation was never directly reported to the Archdiocese, it was investigated by law enforcement in 2002, and the District Attorney did not prosecute.” The rampant pedophilia among Catholic priests has been a continuing scandal all over the nation.
In international news, US allies in Syria are slamming Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from the country. Earlier this week Trump announced the surprise decision to pull all troops from Syria saying the mission to defeat the Islamic State was complete. But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announced in a strongly worded statement that the US withdrawal would only lead to resurgence in ISIS forces and destabilize the region. The group said, “The war against terrorism has not ended and (the Islamic State group) has not been defeated,” and that, “The decision to pull out under these circumstances will lead to a state of instability and create a political and military void in the region and leave its people between the claws of enemy forces.” One Kurdish journalist, Arin Sheikhmos told Associated Press, “If the Americans pull out and leave us to the Turks or the (Syrian) regime our destiny will be like the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 — million of refugees, there will be massacres. Neither the regime, not Iran nor Turkey, will accept our presence here.” Russian President Vladimir Putin however, welcomed the news of US withdrawal saying, “Donald’s right, and I agree with him.” Russia has been Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s strongest ally in a brutal war for years now, and routinely carries out bombing raids in the country.
And finally the United Nations has released a report on the conditions facing female refugees that cross through Libya toward Europe and found shocking levels of gang rape and sexual abuse. The report covered the period between January 2017 and August 2018 and found, “a terrible litany of violations and abuses committed by a range of state officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers against migrants and refugees.” The “overwhelming majority” of women and girls were gang raped and abused as they passed through Libya.