Charleston mass shooting victims can sue U.S. over gun purchase: court

FILE PHOTO: Dylann Roof sits in the court room at the Charleston County Judicial Center to enter his guilty plea on murder charges in state court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Grace Beahm/Pool/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Survivors of a 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church can sue the U.S. government over its alleged negligence in allowing Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine African-Americans, a federal appeals court said on Friday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was not immune from liability under either the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or the Brady Act to prevent handgun violence.

Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel revived 16 lawsuits that challenged lapses in how the government vetted prospective gun purchasers, including the FBI’s management of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

William Wilkins, a former chief judge of the 4th Circuit representing the victims, said Congress had charged the FBI with adopting procedures “to stop people like Roof who could obtain assassins’ weapons” from doing so.

“The government has to do what the law requires,” Wilkins said in an interview. “It failed to do that in this case.”

Roof, a white supremacist, had been admitted to a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, where he then used his .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol in the shooting.

Victims said a proper background check would have shown that Roof had recently admitted to drug possession, which would have disqualified him from buying the gun from a federally licensed dealer two months earlier.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court that no one disputed that a proper check would have stopped Roof.

But he said U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston was wrong to dismiss the lawsuits on immunity grounds in June 2018, even as Gergel faulted the government’s “abysmally poor policy choices” in managing the background check system.

Gregory said the case turned on the NICS examiner’s alleged negligence in disregarding mandatory procedures. “The government can claim no immunity in these circumstances,” he wrote.

Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee partially dissented, saying the government was not immune from Brady Act claims, but that Gergel properly dismissed the FTCA case.

Roof, now 25, was sentenced to death in January 2017 after being convicted on 33 federal counts related to the shooting, including hate crimes. He pleaded guilty three months later to state murder charges, and was sentenced to nine consecutive life terms without parole.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

Deputy of Venezuela’s Guaido arrested and dragged away by tow truck

FILE PHOTO: Juan Guaido (R), new President of the National Constituent Assembly and lawmaker of the Venezuelan opposition party Popular Will (Partido Voluntad Popular), and lawmaker Edgar Zambrano of Democratic Action party (Accion Democratica), leave the congress after Guaido's swearing-in ceremony, in Caracas, Venezuela January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

By Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan intelligence agents detained opposition leader Juan Guaido’s congressional deputy on Wednesday, using a tow truck to drag his vehicle away with him inside, prompting the U.S. government to warn of “consequences” if he was not released.

The SEBIN intelligence agency seized Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which Guaido heads, in the first arrest of a lawmaker since Guaido tried to spark a military uprising last week to bring down President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Venezuela’s pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly agreed on Tuesday to strip Zambrano and six other lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity to allow their future prosecution. The opposition does not recognize the assembly’s decisions.

The Supreme Court had earlier accused those lawmakers of conspiracy, rebellion and treason, and accused another three opposition legislators of the same crimes on Wednesday.

The opposition says Maduro has stacked the court with his own supporters, while the U.S. government this week threatened to sanction all its members.

The U.S. government’s Venezuelan embassy, now based in Washington, said Zambrano’s “arbitrary detention” was “illegal and inexcusable.”

“Maduro and his accomplices are those directly responsible for Zambrano’s security. If he is not immediately freed, there will be consequences,” the embassy said on Twitter.

An attempted uprising last week led by Guaido, recognized by the United States and other Western countries as the rightful head of state, failed to dislodge Maduro, as have a series of U.S. sanctions against his government. Maduro decried the events as an attempted coup.

“One of the principal conspirators of the coup has just been arrested,” Diosdado Cabello, head of the Constituent Assembly, said in comments broadcast on state television.

“They will have to pay before the courts for the failed coup that they attempted,” he said.

‘KIDNAPPED’

Zambrano said on Twitter at about 6.40 pm local time (2240 GMT) SEBIN agents had surrounded his vehicle outside the headquarters of his Democratic Action party in Caracas’ La Florida district.

“We were surprised by the SEBIN, and after refusing to let us leave our vehicle, they used a tow truck to forcibly transfer us directly to the (SEBIN headquarters) Helicoide,” he said. It was not yet clear if Zambrano was already at the Helicoide.

Guaido said on Twitter: “The regime has kidnapped the first vice president.”

Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume an interim presidency, denouncing Maduro as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent. Maduro has overseen the collapse of Venezuela’s economy, which has shrunk by half over the past five years, forcing more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate.

The Constituent Assembly removed Guaido’s parliamentary immunity in early April. Authorities have not tried to arrest him since then, but Maduro has said he will “face justice.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has threatened Maduro’s government with a harsh response should it ever detain Guaido.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s head, Maikel Moreno, rebuffed the U.S. government’s threats to sanction his court’s members if they did not reject Maduro’s government and Guaido.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s constitutional chamber in 2017 for rulings that “usurped the authority” of the National Assembly.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the Trump administration would soon sanction the 25 remaining members of the court. Pence said the United States was lifting economic sanctions on a former Venezuelan general who turned against Maduro in order to encourage other Maduro allies to follow suit.

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said: “We demand the SEBIN stop the intimidation, respect the lawmakers’ parliamentary immunities, and immediately release Edgar Zambrano.”

(Reporting by Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

U.S. names three killed in Syria blast claimed by Islamic State

American flags fly on National Mall with U.S. Capitol on background as high-wind weather conditions continue in Washington, U.S. March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

(Reuters) – The United States on Friday identified three Americans killed in a suicide attack in northern Syria this week that the U.S. government said was likely carried out by the Islamic State militant group.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent, 35, identified as being from upstate New York, and Scott Wirtz, a civilian Department of Defense employee from St. Louis, died during the Wednesday attack in Manbij, Syria, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

The Pentagon did not identify the fourth person killed, a contractor working for a private company.

The Manbij attack on U.S. forces in Syria appeared to be the deadliest since they deployed on the ground there in 2015. It took place in a town controlled by a militia allied with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Two U.S. government sources told Reuters on Thursday that the United States views the Islamic State militant group as likely responsible for the attack. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

The attack occurred nearly a month after President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team with a surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring Islamic State had been defeated there.

U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S Navy, in Washington, DC, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S Navy, in Washington, DC, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

If Islamic State carried out the attack, that would undercut assertions, including by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence several hours after the blast on Wednesday, that the militant group has been defeated.

Experts do not believe Islamic State has been beaten despite its having lost almost all of the territory it held in 2014 and 2015 after seizing parts of Syria and Iraq and declaring a “caliphate.”

While the group’s footprint has shrunk, experts say it is far from a spent force and can still conduct guerilla-style attacks. An Islamic State statement on Wednesday said a Syrian suicide bomber had detonated his explosive vest in Manbij.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. expands medical checks after Guatemala boy dies

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in San Diego County, U.S., are seen through a hole on the metallic border wall between United States and Mexico, photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

By Sofia Menchu and Yeganeh Torbati

NENTON, Guatemala/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Migrant children will receive more thorough medical checks after an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. custody this week, the U.S. government said on Wednesday, and his mother expressed grief and despair over his death.

Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died on Monday, and his father, Agustin, 47, came from the western municipality of Nenton in Huehuetenango province, Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra said. The pair trekked to the Mexico-U.S. border, joining thousands of others who have left their remote area.

Gomez, belonged to a family of indigenous Maya, was the second child to die this month in U.S. custody after crossing from Mexico, following the Dec. 8 death of Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old girl also from Guatemala.

“I’m sad and in despair over the death of my son,” the boy’s 32-year-old mother, Catarina Alonzo, told Reuters by phone from her home in the tiny village of Yalambojoch, speaking through a translator because of her limited Spanish.

The latest fatality prompted sharp criticism from some Democrats, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced policy changes on Wednesday aimed at preventing future deaths of children in custody.

All children in Border Patrol custody have been given a “thorough medical screening,” and moving forward all children will receive “a more thorough hands on assessment” as soon as possible after being apprehended, whether or not the adult with them asks for one, Nielsen said in a statement.

Gomez’s parents, who speak a Maya language called Chuj and little Spanish, have requested an autopsy be done as quickly as possible so their son’s body can be repatriated to Guatemala, Larra said. The results are expected in about a week, she added.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has not released an official cause of death.

Most families in Nenton, a mountainous area near the Mexican border, are of indigenous origin and subsist on corn and beans, as well as money sent back from relatives working in the United States and Mexico, according to a local government report.

Huehuetenango sends the highest number of migrants abroad from Guatemala every year, Larra at the foreign ministry said.

Nielsen said the death of migrant children in U.S. custody is rare, noting that in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, six migrants died under the CBP’s auspices, none of whom were children. It had been more than a decade since a child died in CBP custody, she added.

“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” Nielsen said, noting she would travel to the border later this week to observe the medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations.

She placed some blame for the risks faced by migrant children on their families. “Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north,” Nielsen said.

INVESTIGATION DEMANDED

Gomez and his father were detained on Dec. 18 in El Paso, Texas, for illegally entering the country, the agency said.

They were given hot food, snacks, juice and water, and two days later, were transferred to the El Paso Border Patrol Station, CBP said. On Dec. 23, they were moved to the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station in New Mexico.

On the morning of Dec. 24, an agent noticed Gomez “was coughing and appeared to have glossy eyes,” CBP said, and the father and son were transferred to a nearby hospital.

The boy was found to have a fever and cold and was released with a prescription for an antibiotic and Ibuprofen. That evening, Gomez started vomiting, and his father declined medical help because his son had been feeling better, CBP said.

A few hours later, Gomez again began feeling nauseous and was taken back to the hospital, where he died just before midnight. CBP previously said he had died early on Tuesday.

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called on Wednesday for the DHS internal watchdog, the Inspector General’s office, to investigate Gomez’s death.

Other Democrats expressed outrage.

U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz of California said on a conference call that CBP facilities he had visited last week near El Paso were “dehumanizing” and not equipped to handle emergencies in remote areas of the Mexico-U.S. border.

“This is under the care and the responsibility and the custody of the United States government, and they do not meet the most minimal basic standards of humanitarian health,” he said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Nenton, Guatemala, and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and David Morgan in Washington, Editing by Dave Graham, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

Top Trump aide says government shutdown may go into New Year

FILE PHOTO: White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about of U.S. President Donald Trump's budget in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget director and chief of staff on Sunday said the partial U.S. government shutdown could continue to Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take over the House of Representatives.

“It’s very possible this shutdown will go beyond (December) the 28th and into the new Congress,” Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.

“I don’t think things are going to move very quickly here for the next few days” because of the Christmas holiday, added Mulvaney, who serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and was named acting White House chief of staff 10 days ago.

The U.S. Senate adjourned on Saturday, unable to break an impasse over Trump’s demand for more funds for a wall on the border with Mexico that Democrats are unwilling to accept.

Mulvaney said the White House made a “counter-offer” to Democrats on funding for border security that fell between the Democratic offer of $1.3 billion and Trump’s demand for $5 billion.

As part of those talks on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence offered to drop the demand for $5 billion for a border wall, substituting instead $2.1 billion, ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources.

A Democratic source familiar with the negotiations said real discussions have been happening between Democratic lawmakers and Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who has been talking to the White House. It was unclear what Democrats had offered.

Mulvaney sought to shift blame for the partial shutdown to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic nominee for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, saying she might hold up negotiations to ensure she secures the position.

“I think she’s in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing to where she cannot be seen as agreeing with the president on anything until after she is speaker,” Mulvaney said. ”If that’s the case, again, there’s a chance we go into the next Congress.”  

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill disputed that account, saying in a statement: “As Mr. Mulvaney well knows, House Democrats are united in their opposition to the President’s immoral, expensive and ineffective wall.”

The White House should “stop the posturing and start serious bipartisan talks,” Hammill said.

Financing for about a quarter of federal government programs – including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture – expired at midnight on Friday. More than 400,000 “essential” employees in those agencies will work without pay until the dispute is resolved. Another 380,000 will be “furloughed,” meaning they are put on temporary leave.

Law enforcement efforts, border patrols, mail delivery and airport operations will keep running.

Building a wall to try to prevent migrants from entering the United States illegally was a central plank of Trump’s presidential campaign, but Democrats are vehemently opposed and have rejected his funding request.

Trump reiterated his push for border security on Sunday, saying on Twitter that “the only way” to stop drugs, gangs, and human trafficking at the border was with a wall or barrier.

“Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun, but it is only a good old fashioned Wall that works!,” the president said in the tweet.

Earlier in the week, leaders in both the Senate and House thought they had reached a deal that Trump would sign that contained less money for border security, only to watch the president, under pressure from conservatives, re-assert his demand for $5 billion at the last minute.

Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia on the Senate Banking Committee, said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that he thought a deal this week was possible.

“I spoke to the president last night, he wants that,” Purdue said, adding: “I’m hopeful that cooler heads will prevail and we’ll get to some number between $1.6 (billion) and $5 billion on that.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Mary Milliken, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump signs measure keeping U.S. government open until Dec. 21

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a budget extension on Friday that will keep the U.S. government open for two more weeks, according to the White House.

Congress on Thursday approved the two-week stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown, setting up a potential standoff over Trump’s proposed border wall later this month.

Before the extension expires on Dec. 21, the Republican-led Congress is expected to consider a $450 billion bill to fund government agencies through the fiscal year that ends next Sept. 30.

Trump has demanded $5 billion this year as part of his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico and has threatened to force a partial government shutdown if Congress does not provide the money. Democrats, who will take control of the House of Representatives in January and have greater say over federal spending, argue the wall would be ineffective at keeping out illegal immigrants and illicit drugs.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Pentagon creating software ‘do not buy’ list to keep out Russia, China

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is working on a software “do not buy” list to block vendors who use software code originating from Russia and China, a top Defense Department acquisitions official said on Friday.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters the Pentagon had been working for six months on a “do not buy” list of software vendors. The list is meant to help the Department of Defense’s acquisitions staff and industry partners avoid buying problematic code for the Pentagon and suppliers.

“What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that has Russian or Chinese provenance, for instance, and quite often that’s difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies,” she told reporters gathered in a conference room near her Pentagon office.

The Pentagon has worked closely with the intelligence community, she said, adding “we have identified certain companies that do not operate in a way consistent with what we have for defense standards.”

Lord did not provide any further details on the list.

Lord’s comments were made ahead of the likely passage of the Pentagon’s spending bill by Congress as early as next week. The bill contains provisions that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military.

The legislation was drafted after a Reuters investigation found that software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Security experts said allowing Russian authorities to look into the internal workings of software, known as source code, could help adversaries like Moscow or Beijing to discover vulnerabilities they could exploit to more easily attack U.S. government systems.

Lord added an upcoming report on the U.S. military supply chain will show that the Pentagon depends on foreign suppliers, including Chinese firms, for components in some military equipment.

She said the Pentagon also wants to strengthen its suppliers’ ability to withstand cyber attacks and will test their cybersecurity defenses by attempting to hack them.

The Pentagon disclosed the measures as the federal government looks to bolster cyber defenses following attacks on the United States that the government has blamed on Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China.

The Department of Homeland Security this week disclosed details about a string of cyber attacks that officials said put hackers working on behalf of the Russian government in a position where they could manipulate some industrial systems used to control infrastructure, including at least one power generator.

(Reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Most children, parents separated at U.S.-Mexican border reunited: court filing

After being reunited with her daughter, Sandra Elizabeth Sanchez, of Honduras, speaks with media at Catholic Charities in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – About 1,400 children of some 2,500 separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border have been reunited with their families, the U.S. government said in a court filing on Thursday.

Government lawyers said 711 other children were not eligible for reunification with their parents by Thursday’s deadline, which was set by a federal judge in San Diego. In 431 of these cases, the families could not be reunited because the parents were no longer in the United States.

The parents and children were separated as part of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration. Many of them had crossed the border illegally, while others had sought asylum at a border crossing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case against the government, said in Thursday’s court filing that data showed “dozens of separated children still have not been matched to a parent.”

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt accused the government in a statement of “picking and choosing who is eligible for reunification” and said it would “hold the government accountable and get these families back together.”

In a call with journalists after the court filing, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official Chris Meekins said it was awaiting guidance from the court about how to proceed with the children of 431 parents no longer in the United States. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is an agency of department.

The government did not say in the call or in its court filing how many of those parents were deported.

One immigrant, Douglas Almendarez, told Reuters he believed that returning to Honduras was the only way to be reunited with his 11-year-old son.

“They told me: ‘He’s ahead of you’,” said Almendarez, 37, in the overgrown backyard of his modest soda shop several hours drive from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. “It was a lie.”

The ACLU said the government has not yet provided it with information about the reunifications of children aged 5-17 with their parents, including the location and timing of them.

“This information is critical both to ensure that these reunifications have in fact taken place, and to enable class counsel to arrange for legal and other services for the reunited families,’ it said.

LOST IN ‘BLACK HOLE’

Immigration advocates said the government’s push to meet the court’s deadline to reunite families was marred by confusion, and one said children had disappeared into a “black hole.”

Maria Odom, vice president of legal services for Kids in Need of Defense, said two children the group represented were sent from New York to Texas to be reunited with their mother. When they arrived, they learned their mother had already been deported, Odom told reporters during a conference call.

Odom said her group does not know where the children, aged 9 and 14, have been taken.

It was an example, she said, “of how impossible it is to track these children once they are placed in the black hole of reunification.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An outcry at home and abroad forced U.S. President Donald Trump to order a halt to the separations in June. U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government to reunite the families and set Thursday as the deadline.

Sabraw has criticized some aspects of the process, but in recent days, he has praised government efforts.

The ACLU and government lawyers will return to court on Friday to discuss how to proceed.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del.; additional reporting by Loren Elliott in McAllen, Texas, Nate Raymond in Boston and Callaghan O’Hare in San Antonio; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Grant McCool)

Government workers begin shutdown as Senate vote looms

The U.S. Capitol is lit during the second day of a shutdown of the federal government in Washington, U.S., January 21, 2018.

By Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of federal workers began shutting down operations on Monday with the U.S. government closed and the Senate prepared to try again to restore funding, if only temporarily, and resolve a dispute over immigration.

As government employees prepared for the first weekday since the shutdown began at midnight Friday, U.S. senators were to vote at midday on a funding bill to get the lights back on in Washington and across the government until early February.

Support for the bill was uncertain, after Republicans and Democrats spent all day on Sunday trying to strike a deal, only to go home for the night short of an agreement.

Federal employees received notices on Saturday about whether they were exempt from the shutdown, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said. Depending on their schedules, some were told to stay home or to go to work for up to four hours on Monday to shut their operation, then go home. None will get paid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Sunday that an overnight vote on a measure to fund government operations through Feb. 8 was canceled and would be held at 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) on Monday.

Up until Monday, most federal workers were not directly affected by the shutdown that began at midnight on Friday.

The federal Office of Personnel Management said on its website on Sunday night that “federal government operations vary by agency.”

The Department of Defense published a memo on its website detailing who does and does not get paid in a shutdown and saying that civilian employees were on temporary leave, except for those needed to support active-duty troops.

The Department of Interior led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, offered no guidance on its website, which still had a “Happy Holidays from the Zinke Family” video near the top of the site. The department oversees national parks and federal lands.

The State Department website said: “At this time, scheduled passport and visa services in the United States and at our posts overseas will continue during the lapse in appropriations as the situation permits.”

Markets have absorbed the shutdown drama over the last week, and on Monday morning world stocks and U.S. bond markets largely shrugged off Washington’s standoff even as the dollar continued its pullback. U.S. stock futures edged lower.

‘DREAMERS’ DRAMA

The U.S. government has not been shut down since 2013, when about 800,000 federal workers were put on furlough. That impasse prevented passage of a needed funding bill centered on former Democratic President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

The problem this time focused on immigration policy, principally President Donald Trump’s order last year ending an Obama program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which gave legal protections to “Dreamer” immigrants.

The “Dreamers” are young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children by their parents or other adults, mainly from Mexico and Central America, and who mostly grew up in the United States.

Trump said last year he would end DACA on March 5 and asked Congress to come up with a legislative fix before then to prevent Dreamers from being deported.

Democrats have withheld support for a temporary funding bill to keep the government open over the DACA issue. McConnell extended an olive branch on Sunday, pledging to bring immigration legislation up for debate after Feb. 8 so long as the government remained open.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer objected to the plan and it was unclear whether McConnell’s pledge would be enough for Democrats to support a stopgap funding bill.

Congress failed last year to pass a complete budget by Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year, and the government has been operating on a series of three stopgap spending bills.

Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, where they have a slim 51-49 majority. But most legislation requires 60 Senate votes to pass, giving Democrats leverage.

Trump told a bipartisan Senate working group earlier this month that he would sign whatever DACA legislation was brought to him. The Republican president then rejected a bipartisan measure and negotiations stalled.

McConnell had insisted that the Senate would not move to immigration legislation until it was clear what could earn Trump’s support.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who is involved in bipartisan immigration negotiations, said McConnell’s statements on Sunday indicated there was progress in negotiations and he urged his Democratic colleagues to approve another stopgap bill.

(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and Damon Darlin; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jeffrey Benkoe)

SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off on Sunday from a Florida launch pad

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Cente

y Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off on Sunday from a Florida launch pad once used to send NASA astronauts to the moon, a step forward for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and his company’s goal of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

The 229-foot tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 soared off a seaside launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:39 a.m. EST (1439 GMT) carrying a Dragon cargo ship that holds supplies and science experiments for the station.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disappears into clouds after it lifted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida,

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disappears into clouds after it lifted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Nine minutes after blastoff, the main section of the rocket flew back to a landing pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the eighth successful touchdown for Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

“Baby came back,” Musk wrote on Twitter, celebrating the landing. SpaceX had decided to delay the mission on Saturday, 13 seconds before launch due to concerns about the steering system in the rocket’s upper stage.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration closely monitored Sunday’s launch to learn more about the company’s operations before it clears SpaceX to fly U.S. astronauts.

The liftoff marked a successful debut for SpaceX at Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A, originally built for the 1960s-era Apollo moon program and later repurposed for the space shuttles. SpaceX plans to use the pad for commercial missions, as well as future manned flights.

The pad was last used for the final space shuttle launch in 2011. In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease and has spent millions on remodeling.

“It was really awesome to see 39A roar back to life,” SpaceX Dragon program manager Jessica Jensen told reporters after the launch. “This is a huge deal for us.”

It was also SpaceX’s first launch from Florida since an accident in September caused heavy damage to what had been the company’s prime site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of the NASA spaceport.

NASA hired SpaceX to fly cargo to the station after the shuttle program ended. SpaceX and Boeing Co are scheduled to begin flying crews to the station by the end of 2018, but a U.S. government report last week said technical hurdles likely will delay both companies.

Last month, SpaceX resumed flying its Falcon 9 rockets using a second launch pad in California, where the first stage of the rocket also succeeded in relanding.

The company plans to reuse the rockets to slash costs and reduce pricing.

SpaceX aims to have the Florida launch pad damaged in last year’s explosion up and running by this summer.

(Editing by Letitia Stein, Jeffrey Benkoe and Alan Crosby)