Trump says he’ll declare emergency on U.S.-Mexico border

A U.S. Border Patrol agent listens from the front row as President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border during remarks about border security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Roberta Rampton and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday announced he would declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, a move Democrats vowed to challenge as an unconstitutional attempt to fund his promised border wall without approval from Congress.

“I’m going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said from the Rose Garden of the White House.

“We have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it’s unacceptable,” he said.

The president said he would sign the authorizing paperwork later in the day in the Oval Office.

Trump was also expected on Friday to sign a bipartisan government spending bill approved by Congress on Thursday that would prevent another partial federal government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday morning.

The bill, which contains no money for his wall, is a defeat for Trump in Congress, where his demand for $5.7 billion in barrier funding yielded no results, other than a record-long, 35-day December-January partial government shutdown that damaged the U.S. economy and his opinion poll numbers.

Reorienting his wall-funding quest toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency could plunge Trump into a lengthy battle with Democrats – and divide his fellow Republicans.

Fifteen Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent the transfer of funds from accounts Trump likely would target to pay for his wall.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, swiftly responded to Trump’s declaration.

“The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

The president acknowledged that his order would face a lengthy legal challenge. “We’ll win in the Supreme Court,” Trump said.

Trump has argued the wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs streaming across the southern border despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments are likely smuggled through legal ports of entry.

At Friday’s White House event, a half-dozen women holding poster-sized pictures of family members killed by illegal immigrants preceded Trump into the Rose Garden. He cited their presence in announcing the emergency declaration.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration had found nearly $7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund and $3.5 billion from a military construction budget.

Trump on Friday estimated the order could free up as much as $8 billion to construct the wall.

The funds would cover just part of the estimated $23 billion cost of the wall promised by Trump along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico.

The Senate Democrats’ bill also would stop Trump from using appropriated money to acquire lands to build the wall unless specifically authorized by Congress.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton Morgan; additional reporting by David Morgan, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice and Eric Beech; Writing by James Oliphant, Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Americans support gun control but doubt lawmakers will act: Reuters

FILE PHOTO: A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, U.S. in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most Americans want tougher gun laws but have little confidence their lawmakers will take action, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday ahead of the one-year anniversary of the country’s deadliest high school shooting.

The poll of more than 6,800 adults reflects widespread frustration with state and federal lawmakers after decades of mass shootings in the United States. The Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and staff.

According to the poll, 69 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans, want strong or moderate restrictions placed on firearms. To stop gun violence, 55 percent said they wanted policies that make it tougher to own guns, while 10 percent said making firearm ownership easier would be better.

The poll shows public support for strong firearms restrictions dipped slightly from a year ago, when the media was closely following the Parkland shooting, but overall support for gun restrictions has risen since the poll started asking about gun control in 2012.

Among those who want tougher gun laws now, only 14 percent said they were ‘very confident’ their representatives understood their views on firearms, and just 8 percent felt ‘very confident’ their elected representatives would do anything about it.

Taletha Whitley, 41, of Clayton, North Carolina, said lawmakers were too dependent on campaign contributions from gun rights groups to care about public opinion.

“It would take money out of their pockets to write gun control laws,” said Whitley, a Democrat who works in customer service for a local grocery chain. “That’s why they haven’t done anything about all of these mass shootings. It’s about the dollars.”

The findings underscore the challenges for gun safety advocates who, even after a banner legislative and electoral year in 2018, continue to push against the perception that the gun lobby commands the debate.

Gun control laws have been passed in 20 states since the Parkland shooting, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gun control advocates also outspent the National Rifle Association during last year’s congressional elections, and 150 of the 196 candidates Everytown endorsed won their races for state and federal offices.

Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, said it has taken years to build a community of activists capable of taking on the NRA. After an effort to overhaul gun laws failed in 2013, Watts continued to recruit volunteers and aligned her organization with Everytown to build a network that now has a chapter in every state.

“You cannot underestimate the significance of hundreds of thousands of volunteers telling their lawmaker you have to do the right thing,” Watts said. “We tell them that when you do we’ll have your back, and when you don’t we’ll have your job.”

Watts and others are taking advantage of a drop in activity among gun rights advocates, who have been operating with less urgency now that they have an ally in the White House.

The NRA concedes that fundraising has fallen since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in November 2016 but said gun control groups were overplaying their hand with some of their agenda.

“There’s less to do because we’ve been so successful over the years,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “We continue to defeat gun control legislation across the country while passing gun rights legislation.”

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL

The poll found rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans largely agree on a variety of gun-control measures, including a ban on internet sales of ammunition, stopping people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, placing armed guards at schools and expanding background checks at gun shows.

Among parents with school-age children, 65 percent said they were somewhat or very worried about gun violence in schools, and a majority of those parents were supportive of efforts intended to beef up school security.

Sixty-one percent of parents said they favored publicly funding firearms training for teachers and school personnel, and 54 percent said they approved of allowing school personnel to carry guns.

Irfan Rydhan, 44, of San Jose, California, favors strong firearms restrictions but said he did not seriously think about gun control until earlier this year when he enrolled his 6-year-old in kindergarten.

“Obviously there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with dropping your kid off at public school, and there’s no one really watching him all the time,” said Rydhan, a poll respondent. “It makes you want to be more proactive about his safety.”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English between Jan. 11 and Jan. 28 throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 6,813 adults, including 2,701 who identified as Democrats and 2,359 who identified as Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)

Bipartisan bill unveiled in Senate to stop China tech threats

FILE PHOTO: Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Senator Mark Warner listens to testimony from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at a hearing on foreign influence operations on social media platforms on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. lawmakers who have been active in congressional efforts to address technology threats from China introduced a bill on Friday to create a White House office to fight state-sponsored technology theft and defend critical supply chains.

Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat and a vice chairman on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Marco Rubio, a Republican on the panel, introduced the legislation.

The bill aims to create the Office of Critical Technologies and Security to coordinate an inter-agency strategy to fight high-tech threats to national security posed by China and other foreign actors, they said in a press statement.

“We need a whole-of-government technology strategy to protect U.S. competitiveness in emerging and dual-use technologies and address the Chinese threat by combating technology transfer from the United States,” said Warner in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Executive Branch and others to coordinate and respond to this threat.”

The bill was introduced in the midst of a battle between Washington and Beijing as President Donald Trump’s administration has accused China of seeking to steal U.S. technology and other misbehavior.

The two nations have been locked in a trade war for much of the past year, disrupting the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods and raising the concern of slowing growth. Talks are set for Beijing next week.

Separately, national security experts as well as lawmakers such as Warner and Rubio have been concerned about the use of Chinese-made telecommunications equipment in U.S. networks, and are attempting to exclude companies like Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp from U.S. networks.

The White House office created by the bill would seek to ensure that critical U.S. supply chains, both government and non-governmental, are not jeopardized by reliance on foreign manufacturers, the two lawmakers said in the statement.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Senate easily approves criminal justice legislation

The front gate is pictured at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/ File Photo

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation long in the making and backed by President Donald Trump to reduce sentences for certain prison inmates.

By a vote of 87-12, the Republican-led Senate passed and sent to the House of Representatives the “First Step Act,” which would ease the way for some prisoners to win early release to halfway houses or home confinement.

The legislation also aims to establish programs to head off repeat offenders and protect first-time non-violent offenders from harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

Earlier this year, the House passed a bipartisan bill focusing on prison reforms, which did not include sentencing reforms.

With little time left as Congress tries to wrap up its session this month, Senate proponents are hoping their broader version is accepted by the Republican-controlled House.

Trump congratulated the Senate on passing the bill and said he looked forward to signing it into law.

“This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved,” Trump tweeted.

The United States leads the world in prison population, with about 2.2 million people incarcerated at the end of 2016.

During Senate debate of the bill, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin noted the United States had 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

He added that minorities bore the brunt of tough minimum sentences that judges have been directed to impose as a result of a decades-old law that has exploded the numbers of incarcerated people.

“The majority of illegal drug users and dealers in America are white. But three-quarters of the people serving time in prison for drug offenses are African-American or Latino,” Durbin said.

In response to criticism from some conservatives that the legislation could prompt the release of violent criminals into society, the bipartisan measure was reworked to scale back the discretion judges would have in some sentencing cases.

Before passing the bill, the Senate defeated amendments by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and John Kennedy that would have further tightened requirements.

Those amendments would have excluded child molesters and other violent felons from early release, required notification of victims before offenders are let out of prison early and included a plan to track the effectiveness of anti-recidivism programs.

The push for the legislation gained momentum as progressive Democrats were joined by fiscal conservatives, who saw the potential for savings if the U.S. prison population was reduced, along with religious conservatives who preached the importance of giving people a second chance.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)