Israeli minister condemns Sanders’ remarks on ‘racist’ Netanyahu government

FILE PHOTO: U.S. 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders participates in a moderated discussion at the We the People Summit in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister condemned U.S. Democratic Party presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as racist over its treatment of Palestinians.

While enjoying unprecedentedly strong backing from the Republican administration of President Donald Trump, some Israelis have been fretting about whether this comes at the cost of losing traditionally bipartisan support in Washington.

Addressing a televised CNN event alongside other Democratic candidates on Monday, Vermont senator Sanders said he was “100 percent pro-Israel” but proposed changing U.S. policy toward it.

“The goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government,” Sanders said, adding that Netanyahu “is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly”.

Netanyahu was reelected to a fifth term on April 9 and appears likely to build a coalition government including religious ultranationalists opposed to Palestinian statehood.

“We condemn statements like that made by Sanders, which was really strange,” Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister in Netanyahu’s outgoing cabinet and senior member of his conservative Likud party, told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV.

“The Israeli government is not a racist government, nor does it include a single racist minister,” the regional cooperation minister said.

“To be right wing is not illegitimate and it is odd that the Democratic Party allows one of its senior members to not respect the democratic choice of the State of Israel.”

Hanegbi cast his own remarks as specific to Sanders rather than any more generalized criticism of the Democratic Party.

Asked whether Israel risked being seen in the United States as a country championed by Republicans, he said: “We make every effort to avoid this danger because, indeed one of Israel’s greatest advantages over all the years was the ability not to get caught up in the political dispute between the parties.”

U.S. Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic, studies show, a trend that political analysts say has also contributed to a degree of grassroots disconnect between the allies since Trump’s rise. Sanders is himself Jewish and, in his CNN appearance, noted his past visits to, and relatives living in, Israel.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

Trump leaves options open on deal to prevent government shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump listens next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump left his options open on Wednesday over whether to sign a funding deal that would avert another partial government shutdown but leave him short of the money he wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

The Republican president said earlier this week he is not happy with a compromise thrashed out in Congress and has not ruled out a possible veto of the legislation.

But a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday that Trump would likely back the bipartisan deal, even if it only gives him $1.37 billion for border fencing rather than the $5.7 billion he is seeking to help build the wall.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the administration was waiting until it is clear exactly what lawmakers are proposing.

“We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. “It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.”

Another White House spokeswoman, Mercedes Schlapp, told CNN that lawyers were reviewing the administration’s options should Congress not provide Trump’s demanded money for the wall, a signature campaign promise in his 2016 election win.

With a Friday night deadline looming before government agencies begin closing for lack of funding, senior congressional Republicans have urged Trump to back the deal.

They have little appetite for a repeat of the 35-day partial shutdown in December and January – the longest in U.S. history -which closed about a quarter of the federal agencies and left some 800,000 federal workers without pay.

But Trump has come in for criticism from the right for wavering on support for the border wall, which the administration says will cut illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

“Trump talks a good game on the border wall, but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it,” right-wing commentator Ann Coulter tweeted on Tuesday. Trump abandoned a planned compromise on funding for the wall in December after similar criticism.

OTHER OPTIONS

The Washington Post, citing a White House official, said Trump was likely to explore using his executive power to reallocate other federal funds for barrier projects along the southern border. CNN, citing the White House, also said Trump was weighing the use of an executive order, among other options.

The president previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall — a move that would almost certainly draw opposition in Congress and in the courts.

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives could vote as soon as Wednesday evening, a senior aide said, despite not yet having produced a written copy of the agreement reached by congressional negotiators on Monday night.

The accord must also be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and signed by Trump by midnight on Friday to prevent a shutdown.

The measure’s fate in the House was far from certain given the risk that conservatives and liberals will oppose the compromise for different reasons.

Congressional sources said the deal includes $1.37 billion for new border fencing, about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90 km) of the border – but not the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded for the wall.

Democrats say Trump’s planned wall would be expensive, ineffective and immoral.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump to lawmakers: Don’t waste your time, deal needs wall

U.S. President Donald Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With little time to craft a deal over funding security operations on the U.S.-Mexico border, a bipartisan group of lawmakers was to meet in a public work-session on Wednesday even as President Donald Trump maintained a hard line on constructing a massive wall.

Congressional negotiators are up against a Feb. 15 deadline for agreeing on funding through Sept. 30 for several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and its border operations.

Realistically, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have about a week to settle differences and still give the full House of Representatives and Senate time to debate and vote on any deal.

A 35-day partial shutdown of agencies was triggered on Dec. 22 when Trump refused to sign funding bills that did not contain $5.7 billion for a wall along the southwestern U.S. border.

Faced with steadfast opposition in the Democratic-majority House, Trump relented on Friday, agreeing to re-open federal agencies temporarily without his $5.7 billion request. In return, Congress agreed to a special panel to negotiate a border security deal.

Trump has threatened a resumption of the record-long shutdown if the panel fails to find common ground or produces a plan he does not like.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump warned: “If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!”

Physical barriers have long been installed on parts of the border to keep out illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants and more are underway.

It was unclear whether Trump, who views the current arrangement as insufficient, would accept a simple continuation of such installations. Building a wall on the U.S. southern border – with Mexico paying for it – was one of Trump’s most often repeated promises during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mexico has refused to pay for a wall.

Democrats, arguing a border wall is ineffective, say they want a mix of security tools: drones, sensors, scanning devices and fences, along with more border patrol agents.

Wednesday’s committee meeting might be the only public session since behind-the-scenes negotiations are the stage for the real bargaining.

The session is expected to mainly allow the seven Senate negotiators and 10 House negotiators an opportunity to make opening statements. The committee is headed by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and Republican Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With a mix of wall supporters and opponents, it is unclear whether the panel will reach agreement.

Republican Representative Kay Granger was optimistic, telling reporters she and Lowey “have worked together well” over the years.

If Congress denies his request, Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” in order to take existing funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes – possibly from the Defense Department, for example – to build his wall.

There is bipartisan opposition in Congress to that plan, which likely would spark legal challenges since the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate funds and direct their use.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

Congress expected to vote on budget to avert government shutdown

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018.

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were expected to vote on a proposed budget deal on Thursday that would avert another government shutdown but that has angered fiscal conservatives who complain it would lead to a $1 trillion deficit.

The plan to keep the government operating and to increase spending over the next two years faced resistance from conservatives in the Republican Party, who favor less spending on domestic government programs. At the same time, many liberal Democrats wanted to withhold their support as leverage to win concessions on immigration policy.

That meant the bill’s passage was not assured in the House and would need some Democratic support. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who has backed the agreement, said on Thursday he believed the chamber will pass the budget deal.

“I think we will,” Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support.”

Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the deal “eye-popping and eyebrow-raising.”

“We took an official position last night to say we can’t support this,” he told CNN on Thursday.

Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

The rare bipartisan deal reached by Senate leaders on Wednesday raises spending on military and domestic programs by almost $300 billion over the next two years.

It would allow for $165 billion in extra defense spending and $131 billion more for non-military programs, including health, infrastructure, disaster relief and efforts to tackle an opioid crisis in the country.

It would stave off a government shutdown before a Thursday night deadline and extend the federal government’s debt ceiling until March 2019, putting off for more than a year the risk of a debt default by the United States.

CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION

The agreement, backed by Republican President Donald Trump, disappointed conservative House Republicans and outside groups.

“It’s not like Republicans aren’t concerned about disaster relief, or Republicans aren’t concerned about funding community health centers or dealing with the opioid crisis,” U.S. Representative Warren Davidson, a Republican, said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“But when you add them all up, it adds to an awful lot of spending. … It’s not compassionate to bankrupt America.”

Liberal Democrats meanwhile opposed the deal because it does not include an agreement to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” young people brought illegally to the United States as children.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday staged an eight-hour speech on the House floor in support of immigration legislation, including reading letters from Dreamers pleading to be allowed to stay in the United States.

A number of lawmakers who supported the bill acknowledged the deal was not perfect. “It’s not pretty,” Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger said on CNN.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester said he hoped House Democrats would back the measure. “We don’t want the perfect to get in the road of the good,” he told the cable network.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said many lawmakers believe the defense spending in the bill was essential. “We’re going to get it through because most people will support it,” he told Fox News.

Senate Republicans planned a procedural vote on a stand-alone bill to increase military funding for the rest of the year to demonstrate support for Trump’s promised defense build-up.

Democrats will not support it because it does not contain similar spending increases for non-military programs. But the Senate’s failure to advance the bill will not damage the budget legislation, which is due for a vote later in the day.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News the agreement provides long-term certainty in the budget and funding for Trump priorities including infrastructure and military funding.

Failure to agree on spending led to a partial three-day shutdown of government agencies last month.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)

White House sees good chance of long-term budget deal

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2018.

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are expected to unveil “a good, bipartisan deal” on Wednesday that would raise current limits on federal spending for two years, the White House said, as Congress seeks to end fights over spending that have plagued Washington for months.

Higher defense spending expected in the agreement would allow President Donald Trump to make good on his campaign promise for a U.S. military build-up, although the White House is still concerned about non-defense spending levels, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told MSNBC.

But Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives’ Democratic leader, said she would not support such a deal, aimed at lifting some limits on government spending for two years, unless Republican Speaker Paul Ryan promised to advance legislation on immigration. Trump’s fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

Over the past several months, congressional leaders have been negotiating a deal that would raise spending caps for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, and the next one for both defense and non-defense programs.

A broad budget deal could ease the brinkmanship over spending that roils Washington so regularly that financial markets barely flinch anymore at the threat of a government shutdown.

“There’s some things that you give and take in a negotiation like this, and so I think this will be a good, bipartisan deal but we’re more excited about the defense spending,” Short said.

Aside from the planned longer-term deal, lawmakers were also trying to reach agreement by Thursday to avoid a shutdown and fund the government until March 23.

“We expect the government is not going to shut down this week,” Short said.

In a further sign of Congress’ inability to get basic work done, the House on Tuesday had to approve another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down.

Stopgap measures are needed when Congress fails to approve spending on time for a full fiscal year, something it has done only four of the past 40 years, according to congressional researchers.

The Senate was expected to take up the House stopgap legislation as Congress raced to get a finished bill for Trump to sign into law before government funding runs out on Thursday.

If that fails, the U.S. government would experience its second shutdown this year, after a partisan standoff over U.S. immigration policy led to a three-day partial shutdown last month.

Immigration again emerged as a possible point of contention in budget talks when Democrat Pelosi said she would oppose a two-year deal unless the Republican Ryan promised to advance legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of young adult immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” brought to the United States illegally as children.

Republicans are eager to keep spending and immigration separate. But Trump threatened on Tuesday to upend budget talks by saying he would welcome a government shutdown if Congress were not able to agree to changes in immigration law that he said would prevent criminals from entering the country.

January’s shutdown came after Democrats sought to have a spending bill include protections for the Dreamers that Trump has rescinded effective in March.

On Tuesday, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the emerging Senate two-year deal would increase funding for domestic programs like drug treatment and broadband infrastructure that Democrats want, as well as a military spending increase sought by Republicans.

“We’re making progress,” Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic minority whip, told MSNBC on Wednesday.

Congress must also raise the federal debt ceiling or face defaulting on the government’s bills, and several Republican lawmakers said the matter would be part of Senate budget talks. The U.S. Treasury is expected to run out of borrowing options by late March.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump tells Republicans to get back on healthcare bill

U.S. President Donald Trump calls on Republican Senators to move forward and vote on a healthcare bill to replace the Affordable Care Act in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington,

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and members of his administration on Sunday goaded Republican senators to stick with trying to pass a healthcare bill, after the lawmakers failed spectacularly last week to muster the votes to end Obamacare.

For the second day running, the Republican president tweeted his impatience with Congress’ inability to deliver on his party’s seven-year promise to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill commonly known as Obamacare. Members of his administration took to the airwaves to try to compel lawmakers to take action.

But it was unclear whether the White House admonishments would have any impact on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who control both houses signaled last week that it was time to move on to other issues.

Republicans’ zeal to repeal and replace Obamacare was met with both intra-party divisions between moderates and conservatives and also the increasing approval of a law that raised the number of insured Americans by 20 million.

Polling indicates a majority of Americans are ready to move on from healthcare at this point. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Saturday, 64 percent of 1,136 people surveyed on Friday and Saturday said they wanted to keep Obamacare, either “entirely as is” or after fixing “problem areas.” That is up from 54 percent in January.

With the U.S. legislative branch spinning its wheels, the executive branch pledged to look at rewriting Obamacare regulations. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told ABC’s “This Week” that he would change those regulations that drive up costs or “hurt” patients.

Price sidestepped questions about whether there were administration plans to waive Obamacare’s mandate that individuals have health insurance, saying “all things are on the table to try to help patients.”

But Price also told NBC he would implement Obamacare because it is the “law of the land.”

That Obamacare was still law clearly angered Trump, who has no major legislative accomplishments to show for his first half-year in office. “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal Replace …” the president said in a tweet on Sunday morning.

 

NOT ‘TIME TO MOVE ON’

On Friday, Senate Republicans failed to collect enough votes to repeal even a few parts of Obamacare. That capped a week of failed Senate votes on whether to simply repeal, or repeal and replace, the 2010 law, while Trump repeatedly berated lawmakers in a late attempt to influence the legislation.

“The president will not accept those who said, quote, ‘it’s time to move on,'” Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to Trump, said on Fox News Sunday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, had made exactly that comment before dawn on Friday morning after the failed healthcare vote.

The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said on Sunday lawmakers should stay in session to get something done on healthcare – even if this means postponing votes on other issues such as raising the debt ceiling.

“So yes. They need to stay. They need to work. They need to pass something,” Mulvaney said on CNN.

The House of Representatives has already gone home for its August break and the Senate is expected to do the same by mid-August.

Mulvaney also said Trump was seriously considering carrying out threats he tweeted about on Saturday, when the president said that “if a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

That tweet appeared to be referring to the approximately $8 billion in cost-sharing reduction subsidies the federal government pays to insurers to lower the price of health coverage for low-income Americans.

The Saturday tweet also appeared to be a threat to end the employer contribution for members of Congress and their staffs, who were moved from the normal federal employee healthcare benefits program onto the Obamacare insurance exchanges as part of the 2010 healthcare law.

“What he’s saying is, look, if Obamacare is hurting the American people – and it is – then why shouldn’t it hurt insurance companies and more importantly, perhaps for this discussion, members of Congress?” Mulvaney said on Sunday on CNN.

Some Republicans have said they are trying to find a way forward on healthcare. Senate Republican Susan Collins, one of three Republicans who voted against repealing parts of Obamacare on Friday, told NBC that Congress should produce a series of bills with bipartisan input on healthcare, including appropriating the cost-sharing subsidies.

The Senate has one vote scheduled when it reconvenes on Monday afternoon: whether to confirm a U.S. circuit court judge. Senate aides said they had no guidance for the agenda beyond that vote.

 

(Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Roberta Rampton, and Caren Bohan; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Mary Milliken)

 

U.S. House panel to take up bill to spur generic drug development

File photo: U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) asks questions of the witnesses during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 24, 2013.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee will take up bipartisan legislation next week to foster generic drug development, the committee’s chairman, Representative Greg Walden, said on Thursday.

“President (Donald) Trump made it clear … he wants competition to lower drug prices, and that is precisely what this measure will help accomplish,” Walden, a Republican from Oregon, said at a health subcommittee hearing.

“Specifically the bill will require FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) to prioritize, expedite and review generic applications of drug products that are currently in shortage, or where there are few manufacturers on the market,” Walden said.

Trump this week met pharmaceutical executives and called on them to cut prices. He said the government was paying “astronomical” prices for medicines in its health programs for older, disabled and poor people.

Walden said recently there had been cases of “bad actors” who “jacked up the price of drugs because there was no competition,” but he did not name names. “We want to make sure that does not happen again,” the congressman said.

“For those in the industry who think it’s okay to corner a market, drive up prices and rip off consumers, know that your days are numbered,” Walden said.

He said the bill would also increase transparency around the backlog of generic drug applications at the FDA, saying there was an “unacceptably high” number.

The bill will be sponsored by Representative Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida, and Representative Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, Walden said. Republicans have the majority in both chambers of Congress.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)

U.S. senators urge Trump to take tough line on Russia over Ukraine

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) (C) talks with reporters after the weekly Democratic caucus policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S.

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday urging him to take a tough line against Russia over what they termed its “military land grab” in Ukraine.

The letter, whose 12 Republican and 15 Democratic signatories included some leading foreign policy voices from Trump’s Republican party, was an early sign that lawmakers will publicly assert themselves on international matters where they disagree with his White House.

The New York property developer becomes president on Jan. 20.

Trump signaled during his campaign that he might take a softer line in dealings with Moscow, repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. Putin said recently Trump confirmed to him that he was willing to mend ties.

“In light of Russia’s continued aggression and repeated refusal to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereign right to choose its own destiny, we also renew our call for the United States to increase political, economic and military support for Ukraine,” said the letter, led by Senators Richard Durbin, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican, who are co-chairmen of the Senate Ukraine caucus.

In the letter, seen by Reuters before its public release, the senators also said they believe Russia’s annexation of Crimea should not be accepted and the United States should not lift sanctions imposed on Russia for its behavior in eastern Ukraine.

President Barack Obama and Putin have had a challenging relationship, with stark differences over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. Tensions have risen more with Obama’s Democratic Party in particular over cyber attacks attributed to Russia during the U.S. presidential election.

Among Republican senators who signed the letter were John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham, head of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department.

A majority of Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including ranking Democrat Ben Cardin, signed the letter. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on Senate Armed Services, also did so.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)