In Brief: September 23, 2020

House easily passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown

WASHINGTON — In a sweeping bipartisan vote that takes a government shutdown off the table, the House passed a temporary government-wide funding bill Tuesday night, shortly after President Donald Trump prevailed in a behind-the-scenes fight over his farm bailout.

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The stopgap measure will keep federal agencies fully up and running into December, giving lame-duck lawmakers time to digest the election and decide whether to pass the annual government funding bills by then or kick them to the next administration. The budget year ends Sept. 30.

The 359-57 vote came after considerable behind-the-scenes battling over proposed add-ons. The final agreement gives the administration continued immediate authority to dole out Agriculture Department subsidies in the run-up to Election Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., retreated from an initial draft that sparked a furor with Republicans and farm-state Democrats, who said she was interfering with the routine implementation of the rural safety net as low crop prices and Trump’s own tariffs slam farm country.

“It’s a big deal. This is cash flow to mom and pop businesses all over rural America,” said Texas Rep. Michael Conaway, top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee. “They get them every year in October. They come like clockwork.”

In talks Tuesday, Pelosi restored a farm aid funding patch sought by the administration, which has sparked the ire of Democrats who said it plays political favorites as it gives out bailout money to farmers and ranchers.

Senate GOP plans vote on Trump’s court pick before election

WASHINGTON — Votes in hand, Senate Republicans are charging ahead with plans to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat before the Nov. 3 election, launching a divisive fight over Democratic objections before a nominee is even announced.

Trump said Tuesday he will name his choice Saturday, confident of support. Democrats say it’s too close to the election, and the winner of the presidency should name the new justice. But under GOP planning, the Senate could vote Oct. 29.

“I guess we have all the votes we’re going to need,” Trump told WJBX FOX 2 in Detroit. “I think it’s going to happen.”

Republicans believe the court fight will energize voters for Trump, boosting the party and potentially deflating Democrats who cannot stop the lifetime appointment for a conservative justice. The Senate is controlled by Republicans, 53-47, with a simple majority needed for confirmation.

From wire sources

The one remaining possible Republican holdout, Mitt Romney of Utah, said Tuesday he supports taking a vote.

Still, with early presidential voting already underway in several states, all sides are girding for a wrenching Senate battle over health care, abortion access and other big cases before the court and sure to further split the torn nation.

World powers clash, virus stirs anger at virtual UN meeting

UNITED NATIONS — Kept apart by a devastating pandemic and dispersed across the globe, world leaders convened electronically Tuesday for an unprecedented high-level meeting, where the U.N. chief exhorted them to unite and tackle the era’s towering problems: the coronavirus, the “economic calamity” it unleashed and the risk of a new Cold War between the United States and China.

As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the first virtual “general debate” of the U.N. General Assembly, the yawning gaps of politics and anger became evident. China and Iran clashed with the United States — via prerecorded videos from home — and leaders expressed frustration and anger at the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the U.N. chief has called “the number one global security threat in our world today.”

As he began his speech, the secretary-general looked out at the vast General Assembly chamber, where only one mask-wearing diplomat from each of the U.N.’s 193 member nations was allowed to sit, socially distanced from one another.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition,” Guterres said. “But it has made it more important than ever.”

While the six-day mainly virtual meeting is unique in the U.N.’s 75-year history, the speeches from leaders hit on all the conflicts, crises and divisions facing a world that Guterres said is witnessing “rising inequalities, climate catastrophe, widening societal divisions, rampant corruption.”

Kentucky city prepares for Breonna Taylor announcement

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Officials in Kentucky’s largest city were preparing Tuesday for more protests and possible unrest as the public nervously awaits the state attorney general’s announcement about whether he will charge officers in Breonna Taylor’s shooting death.

With timing of the announcement still uncertain, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency due to the potential for civil unrest, hours after police said they would restrict access in the city’s downtown area. The mayor and police said they were trying to plan ahead of time to protect both demonstrators and the people who live and work there.

But some involved in protests seeking justice for Taylor questioned why the police were going to such “overkill” lengths when the city has been the site of peaceful protests for months.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has declined to set a deadline for his decision. Earlier this month, he remarked that “an investigation, if done properly, cannot follow a certain timeline.”

Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said officials from Cameron’s office have promised to try to give authorities a heads-up.

Trump, Biden fight to define campaign’s most pressing issues

SWANTON, Ohio — President Donald Trump was interrupted twice during an Ohio rally this week by sign-waving supporters chanting, “Fill that seat!”

“I will fill that seat,” Trump responded before launching into an extended riff on his plans to quickly nominate a successor to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “They say it’s the most important thing a president can do.”

During a swing through Wisconsin a few hours earlier, there were no big crowds for Democrat Joe Biden, whose campaign is strictly following protocols to combat the coronavirus. The battle over the future of the Supreme Court was largely missing, too, with Biden far more eager to talk about the pandemic, health care and the economy.

Since Ginsburg’s death on Friday sparked a battle over the future of the Supreme Court, Trump and Biden have fought to define the lens through which voters view the 2020 contest. Biden wants the election to be a referendum on Trump and his failure to control a pandemic that has killed 200,000 Americans or address the nation’s larger health care issues. Trump wants to focus on the court fight to unite the party and energize the GOP’s base.

Biden openly acknowledged his reluctance to focus on the Supreme Court during an interview with WBAY, a local Green Bay, Wisconsin, news station, when asked whether he’d support liberal proposals to add seats to the high court.

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Cindy McCain endorses Biden for president in rebuke of Trump

PHOENIX — Cindy McCain endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president Tuesday in a rebuke of President Donald Trump by the widow of the GOP’s 2008 nominee.

Trump has had a fraught relationship with members of John McCain’s family since he disparaged the Arizona senator during his 2016 campaign. But the McCains have until now stopped short of endorsing Trump’s rivals.

Cindy McCain cited the decadeslong friendship between her family and Biden’s and their bond as the parents of children serving in the military.

“He supports the troops and knows what it means for someone who has served,” McCain said in a phone interview. “Not only to love someone who has served, but understands what it means to send a child into combat. We’ve been great friends for many years, but we have a common thread in that we are Blue Star families.”

McCain’s backing could help Biden appeal to Republicans disaffected with the GOP president and give the former vice president a boost in Arizona, a crucial swing state that McCain represented in Congress for 35 years. He’s remained a revered figure since his 2018 death from complications of a brain tumor, particularly with the independent voters whom Biden is courting.

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Few resources, old-growth forest allowed for fire’s growth

LOS ANGELES — A lack of firefighting resources in the hours after it was sparked allowed a fast-moving wildfire to make an unprecedented run through Southern California mountains and eventually find fuel in old-growth trees to become one of Los Angeles County’s largest fires ever, an official said Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire has burned for more than two weeks and was still threatening more than 1,000 homes after scorching its way through brush and timber down into the Mojave Desert. It’s one of dozens of other major blazes across the West.

“This is a stubborn fire,” Angeles National Forest spokesman Andrew Mitchell said. Only about 100 firefighters were initially dispatched on Sept. 6 when the Bobcat Fire broke out and swiftly grew to about 200 acres (81 hectares), he said.

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“To put that into perspective, normally for a fire that size we’d have at least double or triple that number of firefighters,” Mitchell said. At the time, many Southern California ground crews and a fleet of retardant- and water-dropping aircraft were assigned to multiple record-breaking blazes in the northern part of the state.

By the time staffing was ramped up, flames had found their way deep into inaccessible forest. Embers floated across mountain ridges, igniting towering trees and creating an expanding wall of fire.

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