As clock ticks, new hurdle emerges in border security talks
WASHINGTON — Bargainers clashed Sunday over whether to limit the number of migrants authorities can detain, tossing a new hurdle before negotiators hoping to strike a border security compromise for Congress to pass this coming week. The White House wouldn’t rule out a renewed partial government shutdown if an agreement isn’t reached.
The two sides remained separated by hundreds of millions of dollars over how much to spend to construct President Donald Trump’s promised border wall. But rising to the fore was a related dispute over curbing Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in appearances on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday,” said “you absolutely cannot” eliminate the possibility of another shutdown if a deal is not reached over the wall and other border matters. The White House had asked for $5.7 billion, a figure rejected by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, and the mood among bargainers has soured, according to people familiar with the negotiations not authorized to speak publicly about private talks.
“You cannot take a shutdown off the table, and you cannot take $5.7 (billion) off the table,” Mulvaney told NBC, “but if you end up someplace in the middle, yeah, then what you probably see is the president say, ‘Yeah, OK, and I’ll go find the money someplace else.’”
While the two sides seemed close to clinching a deal late last week, significant gaps remain and momentum appears to have slowed. Though congressional Democratic aides asserted that the dispute had caused the talks to break off, it was initially unclear how damaging the rift was. Both sides are eager to resolve the long-running battle and avert a fresh closure of dozens of federal agencies that would begin next weekend if Congress doesn’t act by Friday.
From wire sources
El Paso bristles at Trump’s claim that wall made city safe
EL PASO, Texas — People walking over the Paso del Norte Bridge linking this West Texas border city to Mexico can watch President Donald Trump’s border wall getting bigger in real time.
Workers in fluorescent smocks can be seen digging trenches, pouring concrete and erecting rust-colored slabs of 18-foot-high metal to replace layers of barbed wire-topped fencing along the mud-colored Rio Grande, which is usually little more than a trickle.
Most of the more than 70,000 people who legally cross four city bridges daily — to shop, go to school and work — pay the construction in the heart of downtown no mind. But on a recent weekday, one man stopped and pointed, saying simply “Trump.”
In his State of the Union address, the president said a “powerful barrier” had cut crime rates in El Paso. He’s holding a rally here Monday to show why he’s demanding more than 100 miles of new walls, costing $5.7 billion, along the 1,900-mile border, despite opposition from Democrats and some Republicans in Congress.
But many in this city of dusty desert winds and blistering salsa, bristle at the prospect of their home becoming a border wall poster child.
AP Exclusive: Undercover spy exposed in NYC was 1 of many
LONDON — When mysterious operatives lured two cybersecurity researchers to meetings at luxury hotels over the past two months, it was an apparent bid to discredit their research about an Israeli company that makes smartphone hacking technology used by some governments to spy on their citizens. The Associated Press has now learned of similar undercover efforts targeting at least four other individuals who have raised questions about the use of the Israeli firm’s spyware.
The four others targeted by operatives include three lawyers involved in related lawsuits in Israel and Cyprus alleging that the company, the NSO Group, sold its spyware to governments with questionable human rights records. The fourth is a London-based journalist who has covered the litigation. Two of them — the journalist and a Cyprus-based lawyer — were secretly recorded meeting the undercover operatives; footage of them was broadcast on Israeli television just as the AP was preparing to publish this story.
All six of the people who were targeted said they believe the operatives were part of a coordinated effort to discredit them.
“There’s somebody who’s really interested in sabotaging the case,” said one of the targets, Mazen Masri, who teaches at City University, London and is advising the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case in Israel.
Masri said the operatives were “looking for dirt and irrelevant information about people involved.”
Female acts, rap songs win big at the Grammy Awards
LOS ANGELES — Women returned at the Grammys on Sunday as female acts won album of the year and best new artist, while rap also triumphed, with Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” becoming the first rap-based song to win record and song of the year.
Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” picked up album of the year, and Dua Lipa won best new artist.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Musgraves said. “I am very thankful. Winning doesn’t make my album any better than anybody else in that category.”
Gambino was the night’s big winner, picking up four honors, including best music video and best rap/sung performance.
Drake surprised the music world when he emerged on stage to accept the best rap song trophy but told the room of musicians that winning awards isn’t necessary if you have real fans attending your concerts and singing your songs.
Dems’ 2020 field now includes Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Sunday joined the growing group of Democrats jostling to be president and positioned herself as the most prominent Midwestern candidate in the field, as her party tries to win back voters in a region that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
“For every American, I’m running for you,” she told an exuberant crowd gathered on a freezing, snowy afternoon at a park along the Mississippi River with the Minneapolis skyline in the background.
“And I promise you this: As your president, I will look you in the eye. I will tell you what I think. I will focus on getting things done. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. And no matter what, I’ll lead from the heart,” the three-term senator said.
Klobuchar, who has prided herself for achieving results through bipartisan cooperation, did not utter Trump’s name during her kickoff speech. But she did bemoan the conduct of “foreign policy by tweet” and said Americans must “stop the fear-mongering and stop the hate. … We all live in the same country of shared dreams.” And she said that on her first day as president, she would have the U.S. rejoin an international climate agreement that Trump has withdrawn from.
Trump responded to Klobuchar’s announcement with a tweet mocking her stance on global warming, a phenomenon he has disputed in the past. He wrote that Klobuchar talked proudly “of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like a Snowman(woman)!” Trump often overlooks evidence of record global warming and conflates cold spells and other incidents of weather with climate, which is long-term.
Top Pentagon official in Afghanistan amid push for peace
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Pentagon’s top official made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday to meet with U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders amid a push for peace with the Taliban.
Pat Shanahan, the recently installed acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the U.S. troop presence, although officials say that is at the top of the Taliban’s list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.
Shanahan said he is encouraged that President Donald Trump’s administration is exploring all possibilities for ending a 17-year war, the longest in American history.
But he stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide. Thus far the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, calling it illegitimate. Washington is trying to break that impasse.
“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It’s not about the U.S., it’s about Afghanistan,” Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.
Socialist Maduro seeks to raise dollars with appeal to greed
CARACAS, Venezuela — When Jose Humberto Vivas needs to trade dollars for Venezuelan bolivars, he usually flouts the nation’s rigid exchange controls by turning to illegal currency traders.
But last week, Vivas put a few hundred dollars in his wallet and headed to an exchange house regulated by Venezuela’s socialist government, lured by the seemingly improbable prospect of an official rate that is more inviting than the black market rate.
“I haven’t been here in years,” Vivas said as he stood in line outside Italcambio, a normally lifeless exchange house in downtown Caracas protected by tinted windows and an armed security guard who inspects customers’ IDs.
“There’s a long wait here . and it takes days to get the money transferred to your account, but it might be worth it,” said Vivas, who makes a living from selling dairy products.
Little noticed amid the turmoil unleashed by the opposition’s renewed push to oust President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s central bank devalued the country’s currency on Jan. 28 by 50 percent, eclipsing the parallel black market rate.
Possible impeachment could further upend Virginia politics
RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers on Monday will reluctantly face the unprecedented prospect of impeaching the state’s second most powerful leader as they struggle to address revelations of past racist behavior and allegations of sexual assault roiling its highest levels of office.
At least one lawmaker said he will try to pursue impeachment of Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax after two women accused Fairfax of sexual assault in the 2000s, a move that experts believe would be a first in Virginia. Fairfax has vehemently denied the claims and called for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate.
There’s little sign of broad appetite for impeachment, with lawmakers set to finish this year’s session by the month’s end. But the Legislature is swirling with questions about lines of succession and the political fallout for Democrats should the governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general leave office, willingly or not.
Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, are embroiled in their own scandal after acknowledging they wore blackface in the 1980s . Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said Sunday that he considered resigning but that he’s “not going anywhere” because the state “needs someone that can heal” it.
Northam said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it’s been a difficult week since a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced, showing a person wearing blackface next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam initially said he was in the photo, then denied it the next day, while acknowledging that he did wear blackface to a dance party that same year.
Before multiculturalism, blackface rampant in US pop culture
At the time Virginia’s future political leaders put on blackface in college for fun, Dan Aykroyd wore it too — in the hit 1983 comedy “Trading Places.”
Sports announcers of that time often described Boston Celtics player Larry Bird, who is white, as “smart” while describing his black NBA opponents as athletically gifted.
Such racial insensitivities ran rampant in popular culture during the 1980s, the era in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, have admitted to wearing blackface as they mimicked pop singer Michael Jackson and rapper Kurtis Blow, respectively.
Meanwhile, Chicago elected its first black mayor, Michael Jackson made music history with his “Thriller” album, U.S. college students protested against South Africa’s racist system of apartheid and the stereotype-smashing sitcom “The Cosby Show” debuted on network television.
It would be another 10 years before the rise of multiculturalism began to change America’s racial sensibilities, in part because intellectuals and journalists of color were better positioned to successfully challenge racist images, and Hollywood began to listen.
Trump-Kim summit to focus on NKorea nuke complex, US rewards
SEOUL, South Korea — When President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first met in Singapore last year, there was pomp, there was circumstance, but there wasn’t much substance.
Before they meet again in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28, there’s growing pressure that they forge a deal that puts them closer to ending the North Korean nuclear weapons threat.
But what could that look like?
Kim may be willing to dismantle his main nuclear complex. The U.S. may be willing to cough up concessions, maybe remove some sanctions. The question, however, is whether what’s on offer will be enough for the other side.
Here’s a look at what each side could be looking for as Trump and Kim try to settle a problem that has bedeviled generations of policymakers.