Lawmakers to vote on pulling US ‘back from brink’ on shutdown

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (C), alongside US Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R), Republican of Texas, and US Senator Orrin Hatch (L), Republican of Utah. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018

Lawmakers to vote on pulling US ‘back from brink’ on shutdown

WASHINGTON: The top senator from US President Donald Trump’s party urged lawmakers to “step back from the brink” as they gathered Sunday for a crunch vote to keep the government shutdown from stretching into the coming work week.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are set to stay home without pay as of Monday morning following the dramatic collapse Friday night of talks to agree on an urgent funding measure.
The shutdown cast a huge shadow over the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration as president and highlighted the deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that the shutdown would “get a lot worse” if federal workers have to stay home without pay.
“Today would be a good day to end it,” McConnell said from the Senate floor during a rare Sunday session aimed at hashing out a deal ahead of a vote he said would take place at 1:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, unless progress is made sooner.
Lawmakers have traded bitter recriminations for the failure to pass a stop-gap funding measure, and McConnell once again sought to pin the blame on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Trump early Sunday encouraged the Senate’s Republican leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” — a procedural maneuver to change the chamber’s rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.
“If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!” he tweeted, referring to the stop-gap funding measure.
But Senate leaders have been wary of such a move in the past, as it could come back to haunt them the next time the other party holds a majority.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on Sunday accused some Democrats of wanting to “deny the president sort of the victory lap of the anniversary of his inauguration” — echoing a complaint Trump made on Twitter the day before.
“There’s other Democrats who want to see the president give the State of the Union during a shutdown,” Mulvaney said on Fox, referring to the nationally televised address Trump is to deliver on January 30.
At the heart of the dispute is the thorny issue of undocumented immigration.
Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Trump’s populist base by refusing to back a program that protects an estimated 700,000 “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived as children — from deportation.
Schumer said he and Democrats were willing to compromise, but Trump “can’t take yes for an answer — that’s why we’re here.”
“I’m willing to seal the deal, to sit and work right now with the president or anyone he designates — let’s get it done,” Schumer said.
Trump has said Democrats are “far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border.”
Essential federal services and military activity are continuing, but even active-duty troops will not be paid until a deal is reached to reopen the US government.
There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one, in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave.
“We’re just in a holding pattern. We just have to wait and see. It’s scary,” Noelle Joll, a 50-year-old furloughed US government employee, told AFP in Washington.
A deal had appeared likely on Friday afternoon, when Trump — who has touted himself as a master negotiator — seemed to be close to an agreement with Schumer on protecting Dreamers.
But no such compromise was in the language that reached Congress for a stop-gap motion to keep the government open for four more weeks while a final arrangement is discussed. And Republicans failed to win enough Democratic support in the Senate to bring it to a vote.
Republicans have a tenuous one-seat majority in the Senate, and on Friday needed to lure some Democrats to their side to get a 60-vote supermajority to bring the motion forward. They fell 10 votes short.
The measure brought to Congress would have extended federal funding until February 16 and reauthorized for six years a health insurance program for poor children — a long-time Democratic objective.
But it left out any action on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that affects Dreamers.
White House officials insisted there was no urgency to fix DACA, which expires March 5.
Highlighting the deep political polarization, crowds estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands took to the streets of major US cities including Los Angeles, New York and Washington over the weekend to march against the president and his policies and express support for women’s rights.
Protesters hoisted placards with messages including “Fight like a girl,” “A woman’s place is in the White House” and “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”


Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

Updated 06 April 2020

Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

  • The two countries, Italy and Spain, that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease
  • Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday

MADRID: A week ago, emergency rooms and intensive care wards in Spain and Italy were overflowing with woozy, coughing coronavirus patients and literally buzzing with breathing machines.
So many died that Barcelona crematories have a waiting list of up to two years, forcing some people to bury loved ones temporarily in cemeteries with the expectation of exhuming them for cremation later on.
But now the two countries that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease, while Britain, where the prime minister has been hospitalized, seems headed in the opposite direction.
Between them, Italy and Spain saw nearly 30,000 deaths and 265,000 confirmed infections in the pandemic. They, and other European countries that locked down weeks ago and ramped up testing, are now seeing the benefits.
Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday, surpassing Italy’s daily increase for the second day in a row.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,” the deputy chief executive of Britain’s NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, told Sky News.
In Spain, deaths and new infections dropped again on Monday. The health ministry reported 637 new fatalities, the lowest toll in 13 days, for a total of over 13,000 dead. New recorded infections were the lowest in two weeks.
Emergency rooms in the hard-hit Madrid region of 6.6 million were returning almost to normal a week after scenes of patients sleeping on floors and in chairs.
Patients awaiting treatment in Madrid-area ERs went down Monday to 390 cases, one-tenth of the arrivals last week, the regional government said. The number of people being treated for coronavirus in intensive care stabilized at about 1,500 for five straight days.
Transport, Mobility and Urban Affairs Minister José Luis Ábalos said the figures show Spain is entering “a new phase of the battle.”
“This new phase does not mean we can let down our guard. We are assessing the measures that we will need to adopt,” Ábalos said.
At the San Carlos Clinic Hospital in Madrid, nearly 15% of the hospital’s 1,400-strong staff contracted the coronavirus, in line with the national average,
“Our priority at the moment is to bring health workers back to work,” said Dr. Julio Mayol, the facility’s medical director.
Still, there are fears for a new outbreak as Spanish authorities begin talking about loosening the grip on mandatory confinement, and the strain on hospitalizations will still be seen for another week while that in intensive care units for another two weeks, Mayol said.
Italy still has, by far, the world’s highest coronavirus death toll — almost 16,000 — but the pressure on northern Italy’s ICUs has eased so much that Lombardy is no longer airlifting patients to other regions.
In the northern city of Bergamo, one of Europe’s virus epicenters, hospital staff were still pulling long, difficult shifts even if the numbers of new patients had eased a bit.
“There has been no reduction in the work,” said Maria Berardelli, a nursing coordinator at Pope John XXIII hospital. “There have been fewer admissions to the emergency room, but our intensive care units are still full, so the activity hasn’t been reduced.”
In a public housing project in the city of Seville, 90-year-old Manuela Jiménez has been confined to her home for more than 20 days. She speaks to neighbors from her window as they deliver food and says she has never seen anything like it, despite having lived through the Spanish Civil War and Second World War.
“Back then my mother would lock me up and I would stay calm but now, look, there is my neighbor and I can’t see her”, says Jiménez.
Illness has been compounded by shocking economic pain as all the world’s largest economies have ground to a halt, including in Italy and Spain. In France, which slightly trails its two neighbors to the south in deaths and infections, the government shut the country down two days after Italy — and has also seen a slight easing.
The UK initially resisted taking some of the tough measures seen in other European countries, which banned large events, shut schools and closed their borders to slow the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
The government’s first advice was that people should wash their hands frequently. As the number of cases soared, the response escalated to include the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and a nationwide order for everyone but key workers to stay home.
Now, Austria and the Czech Republic are openly discussing how to ease some of the crippling restrictions. Austria’s chancellor said the plan is to let small shops and garden centers reopen next week, with limits on the number of customers inside, and the rest on May 1. The Czech government is proposing an end to the ban on travel abroad as of April 14 and the reopening of small stores.