Congressional Movement Grows to Save DACA by Year’s End

A group of House Republicans is preparing a letter asking Speaker Paul Ryan to find a legislative fix by December for almost 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. Their eligibility to remain in the country hangs in the balance as part of an end-of-year legislative pileup on Capitol Hill.

President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program earlier this year, calling on Congress to pass legislation that would provide DACA recipients with a path to permanent status in the U.S. before the program phases out in March 2018.

The effort to gather signatures for the letter is being led by Virginia Republican Scott Taylor, according to Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a New Mexico Democrat, who spoke with reporters in a background briefing Thursday morning. Taylor’s office did not respond to a VOA request for comment.

Grisham said she did not have the text of the letter, but her sense of it was that if a legislative option was not offered, members would sign on to a discharge petition that would force a vote on a DACA bill. That petition was introduced by Republican Mike Coffman earlier this year.

Coffman told VOA he was “certainly optimistic something is going to be done before March.” He said he would have to consider any letter that sought a more immediate solution.

For their part, Democrats “are still very clear as a caucus,” Grisham said. “We have to do it by the end of the year.”

The DACA program does not confer legal status but does give recipients temporary protection from deportation and permission to legally work. Grisham said 122 recipients “are negatively impacted every single day” because their protection expires.

Link sought to budget bill

Democrats have tried to tie DACA legislation to the government budget bill. Funding for the government runs out next Friday, so either the bill or a temporary extension must be passed by then to avoid a government shutdown.

Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass a budget in the Senate, have vowed to vote against any spending bill that does not include a DACA fix.

Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida and the sponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children Act, one of the possible legislative fixes for the DACA program, said he would not “support any appropriations bill that funds the government beyond December 31st unless we get this DACA issue resolved.”

“It doesn’t have to be included in the spending bill, but it has to get done. Again, as long as it gets done, I’m OK with a stand-alone bill. If it’s part of another package, let’s just get it done,” Curbelo said.

Ryan has said the fix to the DACA program should “be considered on its own merits” and not as part of a larger spending bill.

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Possible Deal for Flynn? Washington Reading Tea Leaves

The few public signs emanating from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation increasingly raise the prospect that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is looking to cut a deal.

But many questions remain about what charges, if any, Flynn would face and whether Mueller’s prosecutors are focused on his private business dealings and truthfulness with federal agents, or if they’re looking for a bigger fish like the president himself or those who remain in his inner circle.

A plea would certainly be a Washington bombshell, putting a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and close friend of the president in a criminal courtroom and planting the sprawling investigation led by the no-nonsense former FBI director squarely in the White House.

 

In recent days, White House lawyers have downplayed the significance of Flynn’s legal troubles for the president, drawing a clear line between Flynn’s personal baggage and his work on the Trump campaign and the administration.

 

The extreme secrecy of Mueller’s investigation — including the ability to keep the lid on the arrest of a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser for months — has left even those who regularly interact with his prosecutors reading tea leaves. And it’s made sorting out the significance of recent events surrounding Flynn an amorphous — and at times partisan — exercise.

A critical person in Trump’s campaign and national security team, Flynn was present for consequential decisions during the formative days of the administration and functioned as a main conduit for contacts with Russian officials. He could be an essential witness for Mueller, if he chose, as he investigates potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The feeling of suspense around the Mueller investigation only deepened this week with the cancellation of grand jury testimony, an ABC News report that Flynn’s attorney was meeting with Mueller’s team and the revelation Wednesday that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had been questioned by special counsel prosecutors about Flynn in recent weeks.

 

Outside observers are urging caution in reading too much into the moves, while acknowledging that some are more significant than others.

“You get so few scraps of information that it’s awfully tempting to unpack what little information you have and see what’s there,” said Andrew Leipold, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.

Contact with Trump team ceases

Leipold said he would be careful attaching too much meaning to the recently postponed grand jury testimony. But he said it is potentially a telling sign of cooperation with Mueller’s team that Flynn’s attorneys have broken off communication, or information-sharing, with the Trump legal team.

“It means something,” he said. “If you and I are cooperating and you say all of a sudden, ‘I’m not cooperating anymore,’ there’s probably a pretty good reason,” he said.

The cutting of contact with Trump’s legal team came last week after Kushner was questioned by Mueller’s investigators, which occurred earlier this month.

 

The questioning was brief — 90 minutes or less — and tightly focused on Flynn. It was in part aimed at determining whether Kushner had any exculpatory information on Flynn, according to a person familiar with Mueller’s investigation. Kushner and Flynn were both prominent figures in the Trump campaign, the presidential transition and the early days of the Trump administration.

 

The two also took part in discussions during the presidential transition with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States at the time, about establishing a backchannel between the two countries, a possible indication of prosecutors’ interest given Mueller’s mandate to probe contacts between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

Flynn resigned in February

Flynn was forced to resign from the White House in February after officials concluded that he had misled them about his contacts with Kislyak during the transition period. Weeks before he was fired, he was interviewed by the FBI about that communication, and former FBI Director James Comey has said Flynn was under investigation for potentially lying to federal agents.

Mueller’s grand jury also had planned to hear testimony from an employee of a public relations company that worked with Flynn’s firm on $530,000 worth of lobbying and investigative research for a Turkish businessman.

 

The testimony had been scheduled for the coming days and was slated to focus on Flynn’s firm’s interactions with congressional staff. But it was abruptly postponed this week.

The details of Kushner’s questioning and the postponement of the grand jury testimony were confirmed by people familiar with Mueller’s investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation.

Kushner ‘has voluntarily cooperated’

Asked about the meeting with Mueller, Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, did not elaborate on the nature of the question, saying only in a statement his client “has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so.”

For his part, Flynn has stayed quiet.

His attorney, Robert Kelner, has not responded to multiple media inquiries, even as headlines about his client have piled up. Kelner also did not respond to emails, texts and calls from The Associated Press this week.

 

Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr, has yet to comment on the special counsel’s ongoing investigation that has now stretched into its seventh month.

 

Instead, the special counsel has decided to speak in indictments and plea agreements. In the meantime, Washington — and the country — wait for the next one.

 

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US Putting Off Planned Ban on Its Use of Cluster Bombs

The Pentagon has put off indefinitely a planned ban on using certain cluster bombs, which release explosive sub-munitions, or bomblets. The U.S. military considers them a legitimate and important weapon, although critics say they kill indiscriminately and pose hazards to civilians.

A 2010 international treaty outlaws the use of cluster bombs, but the U.S. is not a signatory.

The George W. Bush administration declared in 2008 that after Jan. 1, 2019, the United States would continue its use of cluster bombs only if they met a performance standard of failing to detonate 1 percent or less of the time. That standard is important because armed and unexploded cluster munitions left on the battlefield pose a long-term hazard to civilians.

Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said that despite efforts to develop more reliable, and thus safer, cluster munitions, the U.S. military has been unable to produce bombs with failure rates of 1 percent or less. He said it’s unclear how long it might take to achieve that standard, and thus the Pentagon concluded in a months-long policy review that it should set aside the 2019 deadline and allow commanders to authorize the use of the weapons when they deem it necessary.

The new policy drew immediate criticism. Mary Wareham, arms division director for Human Rights Watch, said there is no compelling reason for the use of cluster munitions.

“The U.S. says it can’t produce ‘safe’ cluster munitions, so it has decided to keep using ‘unsafe’ ones,” she said. “We condemn this decision to reverse the long-held U.S. commitment not to use cluster munitions that fail more than 1 percent of the time, resulting in deadly unexploded sub-munitions.” Her organization is chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition, an international campaign seeking to eliminate cluster bombs.

A new Pentagon policy approved Thursday erases the 2019 deadline and asserts that the weapons are legitimate, not necessarily a humanitarian hazard, and important for wartime attacks on “area targets” like enemy troop formations.

The new policy authorizes commanders to approve use of existing cluster bombs “until sufficient quantities” of safer versions are developed and fielded. “Safer” means meeting the 1 percent failure standard or developing bombs equipped with a self-destruct mechanism or that can be rendered inoperable in 15 minutes or less by the exhaustion of their power source.

The policy does not define what qualifies as “sufficient quantities” of safer weapons, and it sets no new deadline.

U.S. arguments

In practice, the U.S. rarely uses cluster bombs. The Pentagon says its last large-scale use was in the 2003 Iraq invasion. They could be considered important for use in a large-scale conflict such as a ground war against North Korea.

In a memorandum signed Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the U.S. remains committed to fielding weapons that are effective in war and that “minimize unintended harm” to civilians and U.S. and partner forces.

“Although the [Defense] Department seeks to field a new generation of more highly reliable munitions, we cannot risk mission failure or accept the potential of increased military and civilian casualties by forfeiting the best available capabilities,” Shanahan wrote.

“Cluster munitions are legitimate weapons with clear military utility,” Shanahan wrote. He also asserted that cluster munitions “may result” in less unintended harm to civilians and others than if other types of weapons have to be used instead against certain targets like massed formations of enemy troops and time-sensitive or moving targets.

By law, the U.S. cannot provide cluster munitions to other countries unless they meet the 1 percent failure standard.

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Initially Praised, CIA Director Mike Pompeo Has Drawn Criticism

Since taking charge at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Director Mike Pompeo has earned a reputation as a strong ally of President Donald Trump, despite breaking with the American leader on some key issues.

When asked Thursday about media reports of Pompeo’s possible nomination as U.S. Secretary of State, both the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had no comment.

Upon nominating Pompeo to lead the CIA last November, Trump said the graduate of the U.S. Military Academy “has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens. … He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies.”

Since then, the 53-year-old former three-term congressman from the Midwestern state of Kansas apparently has continued to win Trump’s favor while giving him the CIA’s daily intelligence briefings in person at the White House, rather than delegating that responsibility to a staff aide.

Known for his tough views on terrorism, torture and Iran, Pompeo previously served on the House Intelligence Committee, and quickly won praise from former intelligence officials and lawmakers alike.

And in his first public comments after being sworn-in, Pompeo seemed to cement additional support, backing conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies about the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and its connections to Moscow.

“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is — a non-state, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” he told a forum this past April.

“It overwhelmingly focuses on the United States while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations,” he added, calling the celebration of WikiLeaks in some circles “perplexing and deeply troubling.”

Pompeo on Russia

But at other times, Pompeo has garnered criticism for expressing views that seemed more in line with those of the White House, sometimes contradicting the CIA’s own findings.

“The Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election,” Pompeo told an audience in Washington in October.

But an unclassified report by the top U.S. intelligence agencies issued in January made no such claim.

“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” the report said.

Later, the CIA sought to clarify Pompeo’s comments.

“The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed, and the director did not intend to suggest that it had,” a CIA spokesman said.

At other times, Pompeo has publicly refused to rule out working with Russia in areas such as counterterrorism.

“If Russia has information that can help us fight the CT [counterterror] fight around the world, it’s my duty” to work with them and “the right thing to do,” he said.

Pompeo also was criticized following a report by The Intercept that at the request of the president, he met with a former intelligence official who has been arguing U.S. intelligence officials are unfairly blaming Russia for the leak of Democratic National Committee emails.

Iran, North Korea and counterterror

At the same time, the CIA director has been applauded by some for what they have called a clear-eyed view of U.S. adversaries like Iran, continuing his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, and North Korea.

“We ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them [North Korea] achieving that objective,” Pompeo said last month when asked about Pyongyang’s pursuit of missile technology that could launch a warhead to targets in the United States.

“They are so far along in that it’s now a matter of thinking about how do you stop the final step?” he added.

Before his confirmation as CIA director, some critics also voiced concerns about his stance on the use of torture.

Those involved in the CIA interrogation program “are not torturers, they are patriots,” Pompeo said in 2014, adding that the programs were “within the law, within the Constitution and conducted with the full knowledge” of appropriate lawmakers.

During his confirmation hearing, Pompeo told senators he would “absolutely not” bring back such interrogation techniques.

Pompeo, a graduate of Harvard Law School, also drew criticism in 2013 after he suggested Muslim leaders who didn’t publicly condemn terror attacks were “potentially complicit” in the attacks.

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German Jobless Rate Hits Best Figure Since 1990 Reunification

Germany, Europe’s most robust economy, said Thursday that its unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent in November, the lowest figure since West and East Germany were unified in 1990.

Even as Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Berlin politicians struggle to form a coalition government, the German economy remains strong, with a months-long dip in the country’s jobless rate and solid demand for German products from other countries.

The German report came as Eurostat, the statistics agency for the European Union, said the jobless rate for the 19-nation eurozone bloc that uses the euro currency dropped to 8.8 percent in October. It was the lowest figure since January 2009, when Europe and countries across the world were in the midst of a steep recession.

The German and European jobless rates trail those in the United States, the world’s largest economy, where unemployment has dropped to 4.1 percent, a 17-year low. But the U.S. and European numbers point to steady improvement that had been slow to emerge after the devastating job losses and high unemployment seven to nine years ago.

Eurostat said more than 14 million people remained out of work, but that was 1.5 million fewer than a year ago. In Spain, the jobless rate has been cut from about 25 percent to 16.7 percent.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said that while wages still are not increasing much, they could rise in the coming months as the continent’s economy continues to rebound.

Patrick Chovanex, chief strategist at New York-based Silvercrest Asset Management, told VOA the U.S. is in the eighth year of its recovery.

“It’s a recovery that has kind of waxed and waned,” he said. “One of the things that has been happening over the past couple years is that different parts of the economy were waxing and waning out of sequence with one another. So housing would be strong while manufacturing would be weak, and then vice versa. Every so often they happen to coincide.

“Right now we’re seeing a pattern of several elements of the economy being strong at once. Hopefully, that will continue.”

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Britons React Angrily to Trump’s Retweets of Anti-Muslim Videos

British lawmakers and officials have reacted angrily to President Donald Trump’s retweeting of anti-Muslim videos initially posted by a far-right British leader who has been convicted of hate speech. Trump remains unrepentant for the tweets, and the situation has escalated with members of parliament. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports from Washington.

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