US Congress votes to avert a shutdown and keep the government funded into early March

US House Speaker Mike Johnson meets with visitors at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2024 after Congress passed a stop gap bill to fund the federal government through early March, averting a partial government shutdown. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2024
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US Congress votes to avert a shutdown and keep the government funded into early March

  • The House approved the measure by a vote of 314-108, with half of Republicans joining Democrats in passing the stopgap funding measure
  • Opposition came mostly from the more conservative members of the Republican conference, who said the measure facilitates more spending 

WASHINGTON: Congress sent President Joe Biden a short-term spending bill on Thursday that would avert a looming partial government shutdown and fund federal agencies into March.
The House approved the measure by a vote of 314-108, with opposition coming mostly from the more conservative members of the Republican conference. Shortly before the vote, the House Freedom Caucus announced it “strongly opposes” the measure because it would facilitate more spending than they support.
Nevertheless, about half of Republicans joined with Democrats in passing the third stopgap funding measure in recent months. The action came a few hours after the Senate had voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill by a vote of 77-18.
The measure extends current spending levels and buys time for the two chambers to work out their differences over full-year spending bills for the fiscal year that began in October.
The temporary measure will run to March 1 for some federal agencies. Their funds were set to run out Friday. It extends the remainder of government operations to March 8.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president would sign the resolution and urged Republicans to quit wasting time on partisan spending bills.
“House Republicans must finally do their job and work across the aisle to pass full-year funding bills that deliver for the American people and address urgent domestic and national security priorities by passing the President’s supplemental request,” Jean-Pierre said.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, has been under pressure from his right flank to scrap a $1.66 trillion budget price tag he reached with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier this month for the spending bills. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said the continuing resolution passed Thursday will facilitate that agreement, and urged colleagues to vote against it.
“It’s Groundhog Day in the House chamber all the time, every day, yet again spending money we don’t have,” Roy said.
Johnson has insisted he will stick with the deal, and centrists in the party have stood behind him. They say that changing course now would be going back on his word and would weaken the speaker in future negotiations.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Americans expect Congress to govern and work in a bipartisan fashion.
“Some of my colleagues would see that this government would shut down and don’t care how hurtful that would be,” DeLauro said.
House Republicans have fought bitterly over budget levels and policy since taking the majority at the start of 2023. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted by his caucus in October after striking an agreement with Democrats to extend current spending the first time. Johnson has also come under criticism as he has wrestled with how to appease his members and avoid a government shutdown in an election year.
“We just needed a little more time on the calendar to do it and now that’s where we are,” Johnson said Tuesday about the decision to extend federal funding yet again. “We’re not going to get everything we want.”
Most House Republicans have so far refrained from saying that Johnson’s job is in danger. But a revolt of even a handful of Republicans could endanger his position in the narrowly divided House.
Virginia Rep. Bob Good, one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, has been pushing Johnson to reconsider the deal with Schumer.
“If your opponent in negotiation knows that you fear the consequence of not reaching an agreement more than they fear the consequence of not reaching an agreement, you will lose every time,” Good said this week.
Other Republicans acknowledge Johnson is in a tough spot. “The speaker was dealt with the hand he was dealt,” said Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr, noting the constraints imposed by the party’s slim majority.
In Thursday afternoon’s vote, 107 House Republicans voted to keep federal agencies funded and 106 voted against the measure. To almost lose the majority of his conference underscores the challenges facing the new speaker and signals the difficulty he will have in striking a deal that will not alienate many of his GOP colleagues. They are clamoring for deeper non-defense spending cuts and myriad conservative policy mandates.
Meanwhile, 207 Democrats voted for the resolution and only two voted against.
The short-term measure comes amid negotiations on a separate spending package that would provide wartime dollars to Ukraine and Israel and strengthen security at the US-Mexico border. Johnson is also under pressure from the right not to accept a deal that is any weaker than a House-passed border measure that has no Democratic support.
Johnson, Schumer and other congressional leaders and committee heads visited the White House on Wednesday to discuss that spending legislation. Johnson used the meeting to push for stronger border security measures while Biden and Democrats detailed Ukraine’s security needs as it continues to fight Russia.
Biden has requested a $110 billion package for the wartime spending and border security.
 


China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 22 May 2024
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China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

  • “Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news

BEIJING: China will continue to strengthen strategic cooperation with Iran, safeguard common interests, and make endeavors for regional and world peace, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday, citing comments from Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks in talks on Tuesday with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari, while attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news. “In this difficult time, China firmly stands by Iranian friends,” he said, referring to the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday.

 


Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

Updated 22 May 2024
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Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

  • The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution

DUBLIN: The Irish government is to announce the recognition of a Palestinian state on Wednesday, a move strongly opposed by Israel, a source familiar with the matter said.
European Union members Ireland, Spain, Slovenia and Malta have indicated in recent weeks that they plan to make the recognition, possibly in a coordinated announcement, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.
The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.
The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution.
Israel’s foreign ministry on Tuesday warned against the move, saying in a post on social media platform X that recognition would “lead to more terrorism, instability in the region and jeopardize any prospects for peace.”
“Don’t be a pawn in the hands of Hamas,” the ministry said.
Hamas holds around 125 hostages seized during its cross-border rampage on Oct. 7, which killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and triggered the war. Gaza medical officials say more than 35,000 have been killed during the Israeli offensive.
The Irish government on Tuesday evening said the prime minister and foreign minister would speak to the media on Wednesday morning but did not say what the topic would be.


Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

Updated 15 min 26 sec ago
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Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

  • The airline said the aircraft was a Boeing 777-300ER with a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board
  • A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured

SINGAPORE: More than 140 passengers and crew from a Singapore Airlines flight hit by heavy turbulence that left dozens injured and one dead finally reached Singapore on a relief flight Wednesday morning after an emergency landing in Bangkok.
The scheduled London-Singapore flight on a Boeing 777-300ER plane diverted to Bangkok after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some into the ceiling.
A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured.
“I saw people from across the aisle going completely horizontal, hitting the ceiling and landing back down in like really awkward positions. People, like, getting massive gashes in the head, concussions,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight told Reuters after arriving in Singapore.
Photographs from the interior of the plane showed gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and luggage strewn around. A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.
Singapore Airlines took 131 passengers and 12 crew on the relief flight from Bangkok that reached Singapore just before 5 a.m. (2100 GMT). There were 211 passengers including many Australians, British and Singaporeans, and 18 crew on board the original flight; injured fliers and their families remained in Bangkok.
“On behalf of Singapore Airlines, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a video message.
Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is looking into the incident, and the US National Transportation Safety Board is also sending representatives for support.
The plane encountered sudden extreme turbulence, Goh said, and the pilot then declared a medical emergency and diverted to Bangkok.
Aircraft tracking provider FlightRadar 24 said at around 0749 GMT the flight encountered “a rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event,” based on flight tracking data.
“There were thunderstorms, some severe, in the area at the time,” it said.
The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. Turbulence has many causes, most obviously the unstable weather patterns that trigger storms, but this flight could have been affected by clear air turbulence, which is very difficult to detect.
Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type of accident, according to a 2021 NTSB study.
While the airline said 30 people were injured, Samitivej Hospital in Thailand said it was treating 71 passengers.
From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.
Singapore Airlines, which is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading airlines and is a benchmark for much of the industry, has not had any major incidents in recent years.
Its last accident resulting in casualties was a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Taipei, where it crashed on Oct. 31, 2000 at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.
 

 


Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Updated 22 May 2024
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Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

  • In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday

NASHUA, N.H.: President Joe Biden, aiming to highlight his legislative accomplishments this election year, traveled to New Hampshire on Tuesday to discuss how he’s helped military veterans get benefits as a result of burn pit or other toxic exposure during their service.
“We can never fully thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made,” Biden said to the veterans and their families gathered at a YMCA. “In America, we leave no veteran behind. That’s our motto.”
In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday. That amounts to about 888,000 veterans and survivors in all 50 states who have been able to receive disability benefits under the law.
That totals about $5.7 billion in benefits given to veterans and their survivors, according to the administration.
“The president, I think, has believed now for too long, too many veterans who got sick serving and fighting for our country had to fight the VA for their care, too,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters on Monday. PACT stands for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics.”
The PACT Act is relatively lower profile compared to the president’s other legislative accomplishments — such as a bipartisan infrastructure law and a sweeping tax, climate and health care package — but it is one that is deeply personal for Biden.
He has blamed burn pits for the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, and has vowed repeatedly that he would get the PACT Act into law. Burn pits are where chemicals, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste were disposed of on military bases and were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before the law, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied 70 percent of disability claims that involved burn pit exposure. Now, the law requires the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit or other toxic exposure without veterans having to prove the link.
Before Biden’s planned remarks, he went to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The president met there with Lisa Clark, an Air Force veteran who is receiving benefits through the PACT Act because her late husband, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Clark, was exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, marked the milestone by praising the veterans who advocated for the law.
“For far too long, our nation failed to honor its promises to our veterans exposed to toxins in military conflicts across the globe— until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law,” Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.


Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Updated 22 May 2024
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Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

  • The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to respond to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the Gaza war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, amid Republican calls for US sanctions against court officials.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his political opponents have sharply criticized Khan’s announcement, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction over the Gaza conflict and raising concerns over process.
The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“We’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response” to the ICC move, Blinken said on Tuesday.
He did not say what a response to the ICC move might include.
In a later hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he hoped to work together with the administration to express the United States’ opposition to the ICC prosecutor.
“What I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage, to not only help our friends in Israel but protect ourself over time,” said Graham.
Republican members of Congress have previously threatened legislation to impose sanctions on the ICC, but a measure cannot become law without support from President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration accused the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The US targeted court staff, including then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, with asset freezes and travel bans.