China, U.S. to disclose details of rare cooperation against fentanyl drug scourge

China, U.S. to disclose details of rare cooperation against fentanyl drug scourge
BEIJING (Reuters) – Drug law enforcement officers from China and the United States will jointly brief the media on Thursday on a fentanyl smuggling case, in an unusual disclosure of rare Sino-U.S. cooperation in cracking down on fentanyl crimes.

China’s National Narcotics Control Commission and enforcement officers from both countries will give “detailed information” at a press conference in Xingtai city in northern Hebel province about a fentanyl smuggling case that was jointly uncovered by both sides, according to a notice circulated by the State Council Information Office.

Reporters will also be able to view a live broadcast of the trial at the Xingtai court, before the press conference.

Fentanyl is a cheap, relatively easy-to-synthesize opioid painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin that has played a major role in a devastating U.S. opioid addiction crisis.

U.S. officials say China is the main source of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances that are trafficked into the United States, much of it through international mail. China denies that most of the illicit fentanyl entering the United States originates in China.

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Chinese President Xi Jinping in August of failing to meet his promises to crack down on the deluge of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues flowing into the United States. China labeled that “blatant slander”.

The dispute over fentanyl comes with the United States in the middle of a major trade dispute with China.

China’s National Narcotics Control Commission said in September that Sino-U.S. cooperation on investigating and prosecuting fentanyl-related substances was “extremely limited”, even though counter-narcotics law enforcement departments from both sides had long maintained a good cooperative relationship.

The sudden show of cooperation announced on Tuesday coincides with intense bilateral negotiations over a phase-one trade agreement which Trump said he hoped to sign with Xi.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Several states wary of $48 billion opioid settlement proposal

Several states wary of $48 billion opioid settlement proposal
By Tom Hals and Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Several U.S. states that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic are pushing back on a proposed $48 billion settlement framework that would resolve thousands of lawsuits against five drug companies accused of fueling the addiction crisis.

The proposal would bring an end to all opioid litigation against AmerisourceBergen Corp<ABC.N>, Cardinal Health Inc<CAH.N> and McKesson Corp<MCK.N>, drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Inc<TEVA.TA><TEVA.N>, and Johnson & Johnson<JNJ.J>.

The companies have proposed paying $22.25 billion cash mostly over 18 years, while services and drugs to treat addiction valued at $26 billion by the companies would be provided over the coming decade, mostly by Teva.

Officials in states such as Ohio, New Hampshire and West Virginia — all hard hit by the deadly drug addition crisis — voiced concerns about the proposal.

James Boffetti, the associate attorney general for New Hampshire, said in an interview he was troubled that payments were stretched over many years.

“The concern is, I think, the states need money now to create the infrastructure for treatment,” he said.

Small states fear the money will be divvied up by population rather than need.

“Any global opioid settlement that doesn’t reflect the unique and unprecedented damage imposed on West Virginia through the opioid epidemic should be DOA,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Some 400,000 U.S. overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017 were linked to opioids, according to government data. Roughly 2,600 lawsuits have been brought nationwide by states, local and tribal governments.

The three distributors in a joint statement said they were committed to finalizing a global settlement and would continue working with the other parties on the details of the framework. Teva declined to comment.

J&J said in a securities filing on Wednesday the deal would lower third quarter profit by $3 billion.

The proposal, announced on Monday, was hammered out by the companies and attorneys general in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

It will need broad support among state attorneys general and will have to overcome opposition from the lawyers representing local governments that sued. Those lawyers declined to sign on when presented the proposal last week.

Under the settlement framework, money for each state would be divvied up, with 15% going to the state treasury, 15% for local governments that filed lawsuits and 70% going to a proposed state fund aimed at addressing the crisis.

Boffetti predicted it would takes weeks for states to determine whether they back the settlement framework.

North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, acknowledged that a detailed term sheet needs to be developed.

“There are a lot of details and mechanics that need to be added to it,” Stein told Reuters in an interview. “That will happen in the coming weeks.”

The proposal did win a major supporter on Tuesday. Tom Miller of Iowa, the longest-serving attorney general, publicly backed the proposal, calling the framework “an important step in addressing the crisis.”

Colorado’s attorney general, Phil Weiser, called it a “very promising development.”

The lawsuits accuse distributors of failing to flag and halt a rising tide of suspicious orders and drugmakers of overstating the benefits of opioids while downplaying the risks.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing. Drugmakers say their products carried government-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks of opioids, while distributors argue their role was to make sure medicines prescribed by licensed doctors were available for patients.

The proposed deal has widened a fault line between attorneys general and local governments.

Cities and counties generally hired private attorneys to bring their cases, and attorneys general want to limit the amount of the settlement that goes to pay private lawyers. The attorneys for local governments also generally opposed Teva contributing opioid treatment drugs to the settlement, instead of cash, in part because of concerns that the framework placed an inflated value on those drugs.

Last week’s talks failed to reach a global deal, and on Monday, the three wholesale distributors and Teva struck a last-minute $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over opioids.

North Carolina’s Stein said he looked forward to resolving concerns about the proposal and warned that settling lawsuits individually was unsustainable.

“If we proceed on the current path and each county and city brings their case and extracts whatever amount they may be able to get from these companies, the companies will end up bankrupt,” he said. “The opioid crisis is a national problem that demands a national solution.”

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Nate Raymond in Boston, Massachusetts; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Sandra Maler)

Trump: looking at economic penalty for drugs coming from Mexico

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he is considering an economic penalty apart from tariffs to counter the smuggling of drugs from Mexico across the southern U.S. border.

“Likewise I am looking at an economic penalty for the 500 Billion Dollars in illegal DRUGS that are shipped and smuggled through Mexico and across our Southern Border,” Trump said in a Twitter post as he prepared to leave the White House for a two-day trip that will include a visit to the border.

Praising Mexico for moving recently against drug traffickers, Trump said, “If they continue that, everything will be fine. If they don’t we’re going to tariff their cars at 25 percent.”

“Also, I’m looking at an economic penalty for all of the drugs that are coming in through the southern border and killing our people,” Trump told reporters in Washington.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump threatens tariffs if Mexico does not help with immigration, drugs

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the "White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council" meeting in the Cabinet room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to put tariffs on cars coming from Mexico into the United States if Mexico does not continue to help Washington deal with the immigration and drug situation along the southern U.S. border.

Trump told reporters at the White House he would put tariffs on cars or close the border, but he said he may start with the tariffs. He also said he would give Mexico a year to try to stop the flow of drugs before putting tariffs in place.

“A lot of good things are happening with Mexico. Mexico understands that we’re going to close the border, or I’m going to tariff the cars,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Trump said he would “probably start off with the tariffs – that will be a very powerful incentive.”

Trump warned last Friday that he would close the U.S. border with Mexico this week unless Mexico took action to help stop the flow of illegal migrants across the frontier.

Trump said on Thursday that media coverage in recent days has prompted Mexico to take action to curb the flow of immigrants to the United States and take other action to ease the pressure on U.S. ports of entry.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by David Gregorio)

The rise and fall of ‘El Chapo,’ Mexico’s most wanted kingpin

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is Mexico’s most notorious kingpin who shipped tonnes of drugs around the world, escaped two maximum-security jails and became one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives.

He now faces the prospect of life in prison.

Jurors on Monday will begin deliberations on 10 criminal counts facing Guzman, 61, in the trial that began in November in New York.

The audacious exploits of El Chapo, or Shorty, captured the world’s imagination and turned him into a folk hero for some in Mexico, despite the thousands of people killed by his brutal Sinaloa cartel.

Beyond putting Guzman’s personal life and drug dealings on public display, the case has also highlighted Mexico’s long-time fight to bring down its chief adversary in the bloody war on drug trafficking.

In January 2016, after some three decades running drugs, Guzman was caught in his native northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Six months earlier, he had humiliated Mexico’s then-president, Enrique Pena Nieto, by escaping from prison through a mile-long tunnel dug straight into his cell – his second time escaping a Mexican jail.

Just days after his 2016 capture, Guzman’s larger-than-life reputation was sealed when U.S. movie star Sean Penn published a lengthy account of an interview he conducted with the drug lord, which the Mexican government said was “essential” to his capture a few months later.

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats,” Penn said Guzman told him at the drug lord’s mountain hideout.

Mexico’s government extradited Guzman in January 2017, a day before Donald Trump took office as U.S. president on vows to tighten border security to halt immigration and drug smuggling.

Guzman’s legendary reputation in the Mexican underworld began to take shape when he staged his first jailbreak in 2001 by bribing prison guards, before going on to dominate drug trafficking along much of the Rio Grande.

However, many in towns across Mexico remember Guzman better for his squads of hitmen who committed thousands of murders, kidnappings and decapitations.

Violence began to surge in 2006 as the government launched a war on drug trafficking that caused criminal groups to splinter and killings to spiral.

Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel went on smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, marijuana, and crystal meth across Mexico’s border with the United States.

In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission dubbed him the city’s first Public Enemy No.1 since Al Capone.

ELUSIVE KINGPIN

Security experts concede the 5 foot 6 inch gangster was exceptional at what he did, managing to outmaneuver, outfight or outbribe his rivals to stay at the top of the drug trade for over a decade.

Rising through the ranks of the drug world, Guzman carefully observed his mentors’ tactics and mistakes, forging alliances that kept him one step ahead of the law for years.

Mexican soldiers and U.S. agents came close to Guzman on several occasions but his layers of body guards and spies always tipped him off before they stormed his safe houses.

In preparing for a raid in 2014, U.S. officers restricted information to a small group for fear of corruption among Mexican law enforcement, DEA agent Victor Vasquez testified in Guzman’s trial.

SINALOA ROOTS

Guzman was born in La Tuna, a village in the Sierra Madre mountains in Sinaloa state where smugglers have been growing opium and marijuana since the early twentieth century.

He ascended in the 1980s working with Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, alias “The Boss of Bosses,” who pioneered cocaine smuggling routes into the United States.

The aspiring capo came to prominence in 1993 when assassins who shot dead Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas claimed they had actually been aiming at Guzman.

Two weeks later, police arrested him in Guatemala and extradited him to Mexico. During his eight-year prison stay, Guzman smuggled in lovers, prostitutes and Viagra, according to accounts published in the Mexican media.

After escaping, Guzman expanded his turf by sending in assassin squads with names such as “The Ghosts” and “The Zeta Killers,” in reference to the rival Zetas gang.

Guzman hid near his childhood home, agents said, but rumors abounded of him visiting expensive restaurants and paying for all the diners.

In 2007, Guzman married an 18-year-old beauty queen in an ostentatious ceremony in a village in Durango state.

The state’s archbishop subsequently caused a media storm when he said that “everyone, except the authorities,” knew Guzman was living there. Guzman’s bride, Emma Coronel, gave birth to twins in Los Angeles in 2011. She attended nearly every day of her husband’s trial, at one point donning a red blazer that matched his own.

WAGING WAR

Between 2004 and 2013, Guzman’s gangs fought in all major Mexican cities on the U.S. border, turning Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo into some of the world’s most dangerous places.

In one such attack, 14 bodies were left mutilated under a note that read, “Don’t forget that I am your real daddy,” signed by “El Chapo.”

Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel often clashed with the Zetas, a gang founded by former Mexican soldiers, arming its crew with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.

In 2008, hitmen working for a rival murdered Guzman’s son Edgar, a 22-year-old student. Guzman reportedly left 50,000 flowers at his son’s grave.

In the 1990s, Guzman became infamous for hiding seven tons of cocaine in cans of chili peppers. In the following decade, his crew took drugs in tractor trailers to major U.S. cities including Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago, indictments say.

Forbes magazine put the kingpin’s wealth at $1 billion, though investigators say it is impossible to know exactly how much he was worth.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Mexico City Newsroom; Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and Alistair Bell)

A matter of life and death? UK stockpiles drugs as no-deal Brexit feared

Jo Elgarf is seen with her daughter Nora and the child's prescription medicine at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Edward Baran

LONDON (Reuters) – With just 56 days until Britain leaves the EU, Jo Elgarf has begun stockpiling food in case politicians fail to strike an exit deal, but she says she cannot do the same with vital drugs her disabled daughter needs.

Four-year-old Nora has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and relies on imported Epilim and Keppra daily to stop her suffering seizures. Elgarf wants to stock up on the drugs in case supplies are hit but she can’t because they are only available on a monthly prescription.

For Nora, “this could be matter of life and death,” Elgarf told Reuters at her home in southwest London.

“It could mean being sent off in an ambulance to hospital with a massive seizure that lasts five minutes plus. She cannot miss those medicines. There’s no ifs and buts about it and we cannot use alternatives either.”

With the clock ticking, British lawmakers are still struggling to agree a withdrawal treaty with the European Union, having comprehensively rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s agreement last month.

The default position means Britain will leave on March 29 without a deal in place unless something can be agreed beforehand. That has led to fears that supply chains will be severely disrupted leading to shortages of food and medicines.

According to the British government, about three-quarters of medicines used by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) come via the EU. May, a Type 1 diabetic, has said she herself relies on insulin produced in another EU country.

WORLD’S BIGGEST FRIDGE BUYER

Last August, Health Secretary Matt Hancock outlined plans to ensure Britain had an extra six weeks of supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

In January, he said Britain had bought 5,000 fridges to hold medicines, making him the biggest buyer of fridges in the world, and secured warehouse space.

Jo Elgarf sits with her daughter Nora at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Jo Elgarf sits with her daughter Nora at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

“Making sure patients continue to have access to the medicines they need is paramount…,” said health minister responsible for Brexit planning Stephen Hammond.

“We are working extremely closely with industry to make sure there are significant supplies of these drugs in the UK,” Hammond wrote in an article last week.

But some Britons do not share that confidence, and anecdotal evidence from newspaper readers suggests people are stockpiling everything from children’s painkillers to medicines for serious conditions.

For Elgarf, a member of anti-Brexit Facebook group “48 percent Preppers” – a reference to the percentage that voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum – that is not an option, and that has left her fearful.

“It doesn’t matter even if I had all the money in the world, I can’t go and buy these medicines because they are prescription-only. I have no way of securing my child’s future,” she said.

It is not just patients and their families who are concerned.

The chief executive of a body running hospitals in Birmingham, England’s second-biggest city, warned last week there was a risk operations could be canceled because of a drug shortage.

“In the event of a chaotic, no-deal exit, many NHS trusts could quickly run out of vital medical supplies,” Dr Dave Rosser wrote in a memo to his board of directors.

He said “well-informed and non-political NHS sources” had estimated goods from Europe across the English Channel “could be reduced to between one-third and one-fifth of current daily volumes for a period of at least some months.”

According to the Brexit Health Alliance, an industry body, 45 million patient packs go to the EU from the UK every month, and 37 million packs go the other way.

“Any divergence from these harmonized standards by the UK in the future, and a lack of agreement on cooperation with the EU on medicines and medical devices, would mean that supply chains are at risk,” it said.

One unintended consequence of the concern is that patients stocking up on medicines might bring about problems themselves.

“Hospitals, pharmacies, (family doctor) surgeries and patients should not stockpile medicines at any point during this process,” health minister Hammond said.

“Doing so risks shortages for other patients. If everyone does what they are supposed to, we are confident the supply of medicines will continue uninterrupted whatever the Brexit outcome.”

(Writing by Michael Holden; editing by John Stonestreet)

Grisly Mexican gang battle near U.S. border leaves 21 dead

FILE PHOTO: A logo patch is shown on the uniform of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the international border between Mexico and the United States south of San Diego, California March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Delphine Schrank

REYNOSA, Mexico (Reuters) – The charred remains of 21 people killed in a suspected gang battle have been found in a Mexican border town, just over the river from where U.S. President Donald Trump was seeking to win support on Thursday for his plan to build a border wall.

Officials in the notoriously violent border state of Tamaulipas said they were investigating the incident, which took place in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, after discovering the bodies on Wednesday. Seventeen of the bodies were burned.

Photos shared with Reuters by a state official show the deceased scattered along a dirt track in scrubland, alongside burned-out vehicles.

Trump visited McAllen, Texas on Thursday afternoon, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Ciudad Miguel Aleman. He threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to pay for the wall.

He has justified that demand by saying that undocumented migrants, criminals and illegal drugs have been pouring across the border. Statistics show illegal immigration has fallen to a 20-year low, while many drugs are believed to enter through legal ports of entry.

In Tamaulipas, turf wars between the local Gulf Cartel and its chief rival, the Zetas, have been a key source of bloodshed over recent years.

One body found was wearing the remains of a baseball cap bearing the letters and logo of the Gulf Cartel, while others wore the remains of bullet-proof vests with the same insignia, according to the photos.

Luis Rodriguez, a spokesman for state police, said in a statement that it appeared gunmen from the Gulf Cartel had fought with members of the Northeast Cartel, a group that split off from the Zetas.

Irving Barrios, the state’s attorney general, said in a radio interview that authorities found semi-automatic weapons and bulletproof vehicles at the site.

The area is “greatly fought over” by traffickers of arms and drugs as well as those who help undocumented migrants to cross to the United States, he said.

Another confrontation on Thursday morning between an armed group and military forces in Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, also in Tamaulipas, left five people dead and one military officer injured, said a representative from the state’s peace coordination group.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico during years of fighting between security forces and cartels warring over drug trafficking, extortion rackets and the exploitation of migrants.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank in Reynosa, additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

As U.S. shutdown ties record, Trump weighs emergency declaration

President Donald Trump salutes a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter as he stands with U.S. Border Patrol agents as it flies over the Rio Grande River during his visit to the U.S. - Mexico border in Mission, Texas, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing the prospect of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, is considering declaring a national emergency that would likely escalate a policy dispute with Democrats over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall into a court test of presidential power.

To escape a political trap of his own making, Trump on Thursday suggested that he might declare an emergency so he can bypass Congress to get funding for his wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 election campaign.

As the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim in an early-morning tweet, saying Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall, without offering any evidence. It would become the longest U.S. shutdown on Saturday.

He originally pledged Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But the Mexican government has refused. Trump is now demanding that Congress provide $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding for the wall.

Democrats in Congress call the wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem. The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees staying home on furlough or working without pay set to miss their paychecks.

With no Capitol Hill compromise in sight, Trump publicly ruminated on Thursday during a trip to the Texas border about declaring an emergency.

A close Trump confidant judged the time for such a step had come. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.”

The Wall Street Journal, NBC and the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, reported that the White House had asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look into diverting money from its budget toward the wall and to explore how fast construction could begin under an emergency declaration. Reuters could not immediately verify the accuracy of the reports.

BOXED IN

Critics of the national emergency strategy have said it may be illegal. In any case, it was almost certain to trigger an immediate court challenge from Democrats, including an accusation of trying to circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings.

That would push the wall impasse into the courts, allowing the government to be fully reopened while the judges weigh the case, which could take months.

“After the emergency announcement, the path toward construction via executive order may be as unclear as a storm at midnight. But it will at least allow the president to move out of the corner he’s boxed himself into,” said Charles Gabriel, analyst at strategy firm Capital Alpha Partners.

Partial government funding expired on Dec. 22, leaving departments ranging from Justice, Agriculture and Treasury to Commerce and Homeland Security without money to operate programs and pay their workers.

An emergency declaration would come with risks. Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have signaled worries about such an action. Given that the Constitution gives Congress the power to set spending priorities and appropriate money, they worry about a tough legal fight and an unwise precedent.

‘CROSSING THE RUBICON’

“If Trump crosses this Rubicon, what would prevent a Democratic president from declaring a ‘national emergency’ on Day 1 of their administration on climate change and/or healthcare?” Chris Krueger, an analyst at strategy firm Cowen Washington Research Group, asked in a commentary note.

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has had good relations with Trump, said declaring a national emergency would be “wrong, but I think that’s his only way out.”

Manchin predicted that if Trump made the declaration, Congress would immediately move to pass bills funding the various agencies, knowing that the president would then be able to sign them into law.

While some Republican senators have begun clamoring for an end to the shutdown, party leaders toeing Trump’s line this week have ignored passage in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives of funding bills for government agencies. The House was expected to pass more such bills on Friday.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

In Oval Office speech, Trump demands a wall but does not declare emergency

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office, about immigration and the southern U.S. border on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown, at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump urged Congress in a televised speech on Tuesday to give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico but stopped short of declaring a national emergency to pay for the barrier with military funds.

Facing Democratic opposition in Congress to a wall that he promised to build as a presidential candidate, Trump said in his first prime-time address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Using blunt language in an attempt to win public support, the Republican president said illegal immigrants and drugs flowing across the southern border posed a serious threat to American safety.

“How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” he said, recounting gruesome details of murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

But after days of hinting he might use presidential powers to declare an emergency as a first step toward directing money for the wall without congressional approval, Trump said he would continue seeking a solution to the impasse with Congress.

Trump’s speech came 18 days into a partial government shutdown precipitated by his demand for the wall. Public opposition to the shutdown is growing and that could hurt Trump, as he said last month he would be proud to close the government to fight for the wall.

Democratic leaders, in a rebuttal also carried live on national television, accused the president on Tuesday night of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the situation along the border.

“The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts,” said Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.

“The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation, many of them veterans,” she said.

BLAME GAME

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that 51 percent of adults mainly blamed Trump for the shutdown, up 4 percentage points from late December, while 32 percent blamed congressional Democrats and 7 percent faulted Republicans in Congress.

Republican lawmakers have increasingly expressed concerns about Trump’s handling of the long-running dispute.

But he has shown no signs of giving up. He is scheduled to visit the southwest border on Thursday and may still choose to make the national emergency declaration.

Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Monday the president was considering the possibility and the White House counsel’s office was studying its legality.

Democrats and other opponents of a wall have threatened to take legal action if Trump issues an emergency order.

They say he is manufacturing a crisis in a bid to meet his 2016 presidential campaign promise for a wall that he said at the time would be paid for by Mexico. The Mexican government has refused to provide such funds.

Trump was to meet at the White House on Wednesday with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

Politics colored the remarks from both sides on Tuesday.

Trump said African-Americans and Hispanics were especially hard hit by the border crisis; both groups are key Democratic constituencies. Pelosi pointedly mentioned that veterans were hurt by the shutdown; Trump has courted veterans as a candidate and as president.

Trump at times tried to adopt a softer tone. “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” he said, suggesting that women and children were among the migrants often victimized by trafficking across the border.

Hoping to demonstrate flexibility during his nearly 10-minute speech, Trump said of the border barrier he wants to be built: “At the request of the Democrats it will be a steel barrier and not a concrete wall.”

But Democrats have opposed not just the construction materials to be used, but the extent of a project that could end up costing more than $24 billion over the long run.

Democrats also argue that a mix of fencing, which already has been constructed in many parts of the border, and higher-tech tools would be cheaper and more effective in securing the border.

Pelosi said Trump rejected bipartisan legislation to reopen the government agencies shuttered as a result of the fight over the wall, and that he was obsessed with “forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall.”

She has previously called the wall immoral. Trump took issue with that in his speech.

“The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized,” he said.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who delivered a rebuttal along with Pelosi, urged the president to reopen the government while the debate over immigration policies continued.

“The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall,” he said. “So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President: Reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Eric Beech and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Standoff over Trump border wall puts U.S. Congress in budget ‘pickle’

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol is pictured in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and Congress, embroiled in a feud over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, have only five days to reach a deal before a partial government shutdown could leave about a quarter of the federal workforce without paychecks.

Trump has demanded $5 billion as a down payment on construction of a huge wall that he argues is the only way to keep illegal immigrants and drugs from crossing into the United States, again pushing the proposal in an early morning tweet on Monday. Democrats and some Republicans argue there are less costly, more effective border controls.

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, paint a line on the ground as they work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, paint a line on the ground as they work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The money Trump wants is only a small fraction of the roughly $450 billion Congress was poised to approve – before the latest battle over the proposed wall – to fund several agencies which will otherwise run out of money on Dec. 21.

Large swaths of the government already are funded through next September, including the U.S. military and agencies that operate public healthcare, education and veterans’ programs.

Several Republican and Democratic congressional aides on Friday said there was no apparent progress being made toward resolving the standoff, after Trump and leading congressional Democrats battled each other on Tuesday in front of television cameras in the White House Oval Office.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Since then, a senior House Republican aide said his party was “in a pickle” over how to keep the government open.

The aide noted that Republicans, who will control both houses of Congress until Jan. 3, will not be able to muster the minimum 218 votes needed in the House to pass a funding bill if it contains Trump’s demand for border wall money, which Democrats oppose.

Agent J. Cruz of the U.S. Border Patrol looks on along the newly completed wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's visit to U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

Agent J. Cruz of the U.S. Border Patrol looks on along the newly completed wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s visit to U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

If funds run out on Dec. 21, the NASA space program would potentially be unfunded, along with national parks, the U.S. diplomatic corps and agriculture programs.

Similarly, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security would be vulnerable to shutdowns, although “essential” employees, such as FBI agents, airport security screeners and border patrol agents, would still report to work.

Their paychecks, however, would not be issued until the shutdown ends and Congress would have to decide whether to award back pay for them as well as any furloughed workers.

A government in such disarray might not play well for Republicans over the holiday period, especially if Americans also view images for two weeks of Trump vacationing at his exclusive Florida beach-front mansion.

“After the president&rsquo;s comments earlier this week when he said he was going to own the shutdown, that sealed the deal for Democrats. There is absolutely no reason for them to cut a deal with this president,” said Jim Manley, a political strategist and former Senate Democratic leadership aide.

With the clock ticking, the House is not even bothering to come to work until Wednesday night.

For now, Democrats are waiting for the White House to signal whether it will engage on legislation that would keep programs operating, but without money for Trump’s wall.

White House adviser Stephen Miller told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program on Sunday that the administration would “do whatever is necessary to build the border wall.” Asked if that included shutting down the government, he said: “If it comes to it, absolutely.”

If not, Manley predicted the government will limp along until Jan. 3, when Democrats take control of the House and Pelosi likely becomes the speaker and promptly advances funding, daring the Republican-led Senate to reject it.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Leslie Adler and Paul Simao)