Posted on

No luck for the Irish as closed U.S. pubs face coronavirus losses on St. Patrick’s Day


NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) – Orla Sweeney, manager of Connolly’s Irish pub in New York City, expected St. Patrick’s Day to once again be one of her bar’s most profitable days of the year.

A sign is seen on the window at McSorley’s Old Ale House, which, established in 1854, is referred to as New York City’s oldest Irish saloon and was ordered to close at 8:00pm as part of a city-wide order to close bars and restaurants in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus the day before Saint Patrick’s Day in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Instead, the pub near Times Square was shuttered on Tuesday, like hundreds of thousands of dining establishments across the United States as state governments enforced closures to control the spread of COVID-19. Sweeney broke the news to her employees on Monday after Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all restaurants to close that night, and they broke down in tears.

“They were like, ‘Well when can I come back to work?’ And I’m like, I’m not really sure,” Sweeney said. “In this industry, they live week to week, day to day, and right now they have nothing.”

There should have been corned beef, bagpipe music and parades, but the streets of major U.S. cities on Tuesday were mostly desolate as local authorities banned parades in cities from New York to San Francisco to slow the spread of the virus that has infected more than 4,400 Americans and killed at least 80.

Even in the holiday’s native country of Ireland, the government on Sunday ordered all pubs to shut down after videos of crowded pubs in Dublin ignited a social media uproar over the possibility of contagion.

Some persistent revelers took their festivities to social media, sharing videos of Irish step dancing on Twitter and posting photos of themselves holding beers in self-quarantine.

A few dozen members of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizing committee donned green and marched with an American flag and bagpipes, following city guidelines to cap gatherings at 50 people.

One Boston Irish musician, Geoff Roman, had been slated to play two fiddle and guitar gigs at pubs on Tuesday before the closures. Instead, he holed up in his Whitman, Massachusetts, apartment and livestreamed half-hour music sessions on Facebook, playing between an Irish flag and a pint of Guinness.

“I’m trying to make people feel like it’s a pub,” Roman said.

Pubs and bars across the United States normally count on St. Patrick’s Day and the March Madness college basketball tournament to bring in a large part of their annual revenue.

U.S. consumers had been forecast to spend some $6 billion on St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation conducted in early February, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in earnest.

The respiratory disease’s spread has left the hospitality industry in the lurch, as workers are barred from their jobs that involve person-to-person contact but have no livelihood without them.

Connolly’s in New York also feeds its staff daily, meaning that its laid-off staff must now find other ways to eat in addition to paying their bills.

“You’re trying to do the right thing by society, but people have to live,” Sweeney said. “I just hope that when it all calms down and settles, that we’ll have places to come back to.”

‘I WOULD HAVE BEEN HURTING’

Several Irish pubs had excess food ready for St. Patrick’s Day customers and needed to find other places for it when they heard the decisions by governors to close restaurants and bars just before the holiday.

Some, like Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, were considering selling family meals for delivery, while others, like O’Shaughnessy’s in Chicago, sold off as much corned beef and cabbage as they could at a 25% discount on Monday before splitting up the leftovers and giving them to staff.

Slideshow (11 Images)

Nothing would stop Walter Szarowicz, 81, from getting a St. Patrick’s Day dinner for his wife who has Parkinson’s disease and whose birthday was Tuesday. He drove 30 minutes to Harrington’s Irish Deli on the north side of Chicago to get her corned beef.

Patrons were not permitted to eat at the deli on Tuesday under Chicago’s temporary health regulation, but a few were lined up for takeout.

“If I didn’t go today and get dinner, I would have been hurting,” Szarowicz said. “When I get home, I will be drinking. I got Irish booze.”

Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York, Ross Kerber in Boston, Brendan O’Brien and PJ Huffstutter in Chicago and Brad Heath in Alexandria, Virginia; Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

U.S. officials talk down coronavirus market panic, tout economic strength


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Trump administration officials on Sunday tried to calm market panic that the coronavirus could cause a global recession, saying the public had over-reacted and that stocks would bounce back due to the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus outbreak with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The S&P 500 index dropped 11.5% last week as the novel flu-like virus accelerated beyond China’s borders, the worst weekly drop since the 2008 global financial crisis.

U.S. regulators who will gather on Wednesday face their most challenging week in a decade, with one official telling Reuters that coming days will determine whether the federal government has to take measures to bolster market confidence.

On Friday afternoon, Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell sought to quell fears, stoked by dire economic data from China, flagging that the central bank would take action if necessary to support the economy, which he said remained strong.

Speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the government’s response to the virus, echoed that point adding the market “will come back.”

“The fundamentals of this economy are strong. We just saw some new numbers come out in housing and consumer confidence and business optimism. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. More Americans working than ever before,” he said.

The fast-spreading virus has infected around 83,000 people in more than 50 countries, with about 70 cases diagnosed in the United States. A Washington state man in his 50s with underlying health conditions was the first American to die from the virus, officials said Saturday. Authorities still do not know how he contracted the disease.

New cases were reported over the weekend in the Chicago area and Rhode Island.

Rebutting Democratic criticism that the administration had bungled its response to the outbreak, Pence said the government was doing “everything possible” to prevent the virus from spreading and that he was “confident” the United States was prepared.

U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News Sunday that the public was over-reacting to the current threat.

He added that during a meeting of the White House’s coronavirus task-force on Saturday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had discussed the negative stock market reaction, saying that much of it was driven by uncertainty.

Azar said the administration aimed to quell that uncertainty by being as transparent as possible about latest developments.

“That’s why we are trying to give the American people all the information we have when we have it so they don’t think there’s secret information they’re not getting,” said Azar.

Reporting by Michelle Price; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

Emboldened, Trump defends right to interfere in criminal cases


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he has “the legal right” to interfere in criminal cases, capping a tumultuous week that raised questions about whether he is eroding the independence of the U.S. legal system.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to questions while meeting with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

Trump’s criticism of the judge, jury and prosecutors in the criminal case of his longtime adviser Roger Stone prompted an unusual rebuke from Attorney General William Barr, his top law enforcement official and has spurred new demands for investigation from the Democrats who unsuccessfully tried to remove the Republican president from office.

It is the latest in a string of aggressive actions by Trump since the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him of impeachment charges last week.

Trump has transferred or fired government officials who testified about his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a potential political rival in November’s presidential election.

He also dropped his nomination of former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, who oversaw the Stone case, for another government post in the Treasury Department.

Sources close to the president said Trump has a greater sense of freedom in the wake of his Senate acquittal.

“You have to remember, he’s not ‘of’ government. He gets frustrated when people tell him something can’t get done. He’s like: ‘Just get it done,’” said one administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Barr said on Thursday that Trump’s attacks made it “impossible” for him to do his job leading the Justice Department, telling ABC News in an interview: “It’s time to stop the tweeting.”

Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Barr added.

The president responded on Friday morning. “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!” he wrote on Twitter.

Administration officials said Barr did not clear his remarks with Trump. They said Trump shrugged them off when told about them by aides.

‘FARTHER THAN NIXON’

Trump’s insistence that he has the right to interfere in criminal cases runs counter to the practice of previous U.S. presidents, who have generally kept an arms-length distance from the Justice Department since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that led then-President Richard Nixon to resign from office.

“Trump goes farther than Nixon, though. He’s proud to openly corrupt the justice system and use it to target his enemies and protect his friends,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said in a prepared statement.

Trump’s running commentary on the Stone case calls into question whether Barr can oversee U.S. law enforcement in an independent manner, said Bruce Green, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at Fordham School of Law.

“Given the sequence of events, it’s doubtful that Barr’s effort to distance himself from the President’s tweets will be enough of a cure. He’ll have to keep working to rebuild public confidence,” Green told Reuters.

Barr has been an outspoken defender of the president and has aggressively sought to implement his agenda, frequently drawing charges from Democrats and former Justice Department officials that he is politicizing the rule of law.

The Justice Department on Tuesday asked for a lighter sentence for Stone, scaling back prosecutors’ initial request that he serve 7 to 9 years after being found guilty of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. That prompted all four prosecutors to resign from the case in apparent protest.

Barr has also ordered an investigation into the Obama administration’s activities in 2016 as it examined possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign, and has gone after states and cities that have defied his hard-line immigration policies.

Barr’s Justice Department sought to quash the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, which led to the president’s impeachment.

He confirmed earlier this week that the department is taking evidence from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has been seeking information in Ukraine about Biden.

Democrats who control the House of Representatives called for Barr to testify next month over the matter and asked the department’s watchdog to investigate but have little other recourse.

Like Barr, Trump’s Republican allies in Congress have said they wish he would be less outspoken on Twitter, even as they have consistently defended his actions.

The Senate on Thursday sought to impose some restrictions on Trump, voting to limit his ability to wage war with Iran and questioning whether one of his nominees is qualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, the president has moved to rebuild his staff with those he sees as loyalists, including former communication director Hope Hicks, who worked closely with Trump in his business before serving as his 2016 campaign press secretary.

He also rehired his former personal assistant Johnny McEntee to lead his personnel office, who sources say will be tasked with ensuring that new hires are loyal to the president.

Trump is about to launch a week of re-election activities, starting with a fundraising dinner on Saturday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

On Sunday, he will seek to appeal to blue-collar voters by attending the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, where he will be named the grand marshal, the first president to have that distinction.

On Tuesday he goes on a three-day swing through California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

U.S. House Democrats call for $760 billion in infrastructure spending over five years


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democrats on Wednesday will unveil a proposed $760 billion infrastructure spending bill over five years that aims to rebuild sagging roads and bridges and reduce carbon pollution.

FILE PHOTO: The new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (R) that is to replace the current Tappan Zee Bridge (L) over the Hudson River is seen in Tarrytown, New York, U.S., August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The proposal is also intended to get U.S. President Donald Trump to return to the bargaining table. Trump campaigned in 2016 on boosting infrastructure spending by at least $1 billion over a decade but focused first on tax cuts and health care reform after taking office.

“America’s infrastructure is in crisis,” Democrats will say, according to a fact sheet. “For decades we have relied on a 1950s-era transportation system that has failed to keep pace.”

In April, Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, without hashing out a way to pay for it. Weeks later, Trump abruptly canceled a follow-up meeting after criticizing congressional investigations.

The Democrats’ plan calls for new spending on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, water, internet expansion, electric grids, aviation and “brownfield” land that was possibly contaminated after previous industrial use.

Democrats want to spend $329 billon over five years on surface transportation, with a focus on fixing the 47,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges. They would also provide $1.5 billion to support the development of an electric vehicle charging network.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

With a presidential election looming, many doubt Congress will be able to tackle infrastructure this year but lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation spending.

A Senate panel in July voted to authorize $287 billion in federal government spending over five years on surface transportation needs, a 27% jump, but Congress has not been able to agree on how to pay for it.

Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee said in a statement they believe Congress can pass infrastructure legislation this year; they argue Congress must find a new way to fund road repairs since existing gasoline tax revenue has not kept pace.

Congress abandoned the practice of largely requiring road users to pay for road repairs and has not hiked the federal gas tax since 1993. Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141 billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund.

To maintain existing spending, Congress will need to find $107 billion over five years, government auditors say.

Democrats would invest $105 billion in transit, $55 billion in rail spending and $30 billion in airport investments. They would also dedicate $86 billion to expand internet access.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kim Coghill

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

As Amazon.com flexes its muscle, Seattle moves to curb corporate political donations


SEATTLE (Reuters) – Seattle, the Pacific Northwest city where home-grown online retailer Amazon.com has increasingly flexed its political muscle, is expected to approve on Monday legislation banning political contributions by companies with at least 5% foreign ownership.

FILE PHOTO: People take in the view from the top of the Space Needle in this aerial photo in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019. Picture taken March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

The move is likely to trigger renewed debate on the legality of corporate donations in U.S. elections while drawing an immediate court challenge.

A six-member committee of Seattle City Council has already unanimously approved the measure, making it almost certain that the full nine-member council will pass it on Monday.

The bill is widely viewed as aimed at reining in political spending from companies such as Am

azon.com (AMZN.O). Amazon, Seattle’s largest employer, donated a record $1.5 million to back a slate of pro-business candidates in the November council elections – a campaign that was largely unsuccessful.

At least 9% of Amazon’s stock is owned by foreign investors, according to financial data provider Refinitiv.

A spokesman for Amazon, which has been butting heads with the city for two years over attempts to levy more taxes on the company, declined to comment.

“What they are proposing is likely an unconstitutional backdoor ban on U.S. companies speaking about local elections,” Jim Manley, an attorney with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, told Reuters.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling struck down limits on political contributions by corporations or unions. Companies and unions may not give money directly to campaigns but may spend unlimited amounts on ads and other means.

The legislation before the Seattle City Council says that companies that have at least 5% of their shares held by foreigners, or 1% by a single foreigner, are subject to foreign influence and therefore cannot participate in elections.

Amazon’s $1.5 million political donation for Seattle’s November elections represented more than half of the nearly $2.7 million raised by a Super Pac for those elections. Four years ago, Amazon donated $25,000.

Super Pacs may accept unlimited contributions from any non-foreign source.

Amazon began to prominently flex its political muscle in May 2018 when the Seattle council approved an employee “head tax” on the city’s largest companies, in order to combat a housing crisis. Just four weeks later, the City Council repealed the tax after a coalition of businesses, with Amazon at the forefront, mounted a well-financed campaign for a referendum to repeal the tax.

Socialist council member Kshama Sawant says she will restart the “Tax Amazon” campaign she led in 2018 with a rally at City Hall on Monday.

Seattle is not the first city to take aim at campaign spending. St. Petersburg, Florida, approved a similar ordinance on foreign-influenced corporations in 2017 that has not yet been challenged in court.

Reporting by Gregory Scruggs; additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

Exclusive: FBI investigates Briton, others for Epstein links – sources


(Reuters) – The FBI is investigating British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and several other people linked to U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services/Handout via REUTERS.

They said a principal focus of the FBI’s investigation is Maxwell, a longtime associate of Epstein, and other “people who facilitated” Epstein’s allegedly illegal behavior.

Maxwell has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Her lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.

The FBI also is following up on many leads received from women who contacted a hotline the agency set up at its New York field office in the wake of Epstein’s arrest in July, the sources said.

One of the sources said the probe remains at an early stage.

The sources declined to give further details or identify the people they are looking at apart from Maxwell. However, they said the FBI has no current plans to interview Britain’s Prince Andrew, a friend of Epstein’s who stepped down from his public duties in November because of what he called his “ill-judged” association with the well-connected money manager.

A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment.

A representative for the British royal family said that whether the agency interviewed Andrew was “a matter for the FBI.”

Epstein’s suicide in August, at age 66, came a little over a month after he was arrested and charged with trafficking dozens of underage girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 to 2005. Prosecutors said he recruited girls to give him massages, which became sexual in nature.

He had pleaded not guilty.

Following Epstein’s arrest, the FBI urged anyone who had been victimized by Epstein or had additional information to call the agency’s hotline.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr vowed to carry on the case against anyone who was complicit with the financier.

“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” he said in August.

The sources said they had received numerous tips from the hotline, which they are looking into.

Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s alleged victims, has said in a civil lawsuit that Maxwell recruited her into Epstein’s circle, where she claims Epstein forced her to have sex with him and friends including Andrew.

Maxwell has called Giuffre’s allegations lies. Giuffre in response filed a defamation suit against Maxwell in 2015.

Giuffre repeated the claims about the prince in a BBC interview that aired this month.

Andrew, 59, also categorically denies the accusations and has said he has no recollection of meeting Giuffre, who was previously named Virginia Roberts.

The two law enforcement sources said the FBI’s principal focus is on people who facilitated Epstein and that Andrew does not fit into that category. They did not rule out the possibility that the FBI would seek to interview Andrew at a later date.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

California governor rejects PG&E bankruptcy reorganization plan


(Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday rejected a bankruptcy reorganization plan submitted by PG&E Corp (PCG.N), the state’s largest investor-owned utility, saying its proposal fails to meet the requirements of a recently enacted wildfire law.

The decision by Newsom, sent to PG&E in a letter, complicates the company’s push to exit bankruptcy and provide billions of dollars to victims of devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 sparked by the utility’s power lines.

The embattled utility now has until Tuesday to further amend its plan to Newsom’s satisfaction, but his criticism of the reorganization package as it was presented by PG&E a day earlier was sweeping.

Newsom said the plan lacks “major changes in governance” and tougher safety enforcement mechanisms mandated under the state wildfire statute, known as Assembly Bill 1054, which was enacted in July.

The governor also said PG&E’s plan, including a proposed $13.5 billion settlement with victims of wildfires blamed on its power lines, would leave the company with a weakened capital structure and “limited ability to withstand future financial and operational headwinds.”

“In my judgment, the amended plan and the restructuring transactions do not result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable and affordable service to its customers, as required by AB 1054,” Newsom wrote.

PG&E, in a statement after release of the governor’s letter, disputed Newsom’s findings that its reorganization plan fails to live up to the criteria of the wildfire law.

“We believe it does and is the best course forward for all stakeholders,” the company said. “We’ve welcomed feedback from all stakeholders throughout these proceedings and will continue to work diligently in the coming days to resolve any issues that may arise.”

State approval of reorganization plan is a necessary step before PG&E can submit the proposal for a vote by creditors and final approval from a bankruptcy judge in San Francisco.

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January citing projected civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from wind-driven blazes in 2017 and 2018 sparked by its equipment. Those included a wildfire last year that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, ranking as California’s deadliest wildfire on record.

BLACKOUTS FOR SAFETY

In recent months, PG&E resorted to widespread power shut-offs that left hundreds of thousands of its customers without electricity for days at a time during periods of extremely high winds and dry conditions.

But the blackouts enraged consumers, regulators and politicians, including Newsom, who accused PG&E of failing through greed and mismanagement to invest in proper maintenance and upgrades of its power system over the years.

PG&E has denied putting profits ahead of public safety but acknowledged it needed to do a better job of protecting the grid from fire hazards.

Newsom had floated the idea of a state takeover of the utility if it failed to satisfy his demands, and has insisted that whatever entity emerges from bankruptcy must be “completely transformed” and more accountable.

The governor’s finding that PG&E’s reorganization plan must comply with the new law, AB 1054, is a prerequisite for the utility’s proposed civil settlement with wildfire victims.

The law creates a wildfire liability fund that investor-owned utilities can access for wildfire claims, provided the utilities contribute toward the fund and make a combined $5 billion, five-year investment toward improvement in their electrical grids.

To participate in the fund, PG&E must exit bankruptcy by June 30, putting intense pressure on the utility to resolve its complicated Chapter 11 quickly.

FILE PHOTO: California governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in San Diego, California, U.S. October 9, 2019. REUTERS/ Mike Blake

Prior to its $13.5 billion deal with victims, the company recently reached an $11 billion settlement with insurance companies and a $1 billion settlement with local governments for fire losses.

Bondholders led by Elliott Management opposed the reorganization plan championed by PG&E. However, the $13.5 billion compensation package agreed to by the utility – more generous than expected – makes it much more difficult for bondholders to upend PG&E’s plans.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by David Gregorio, Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

Rattling Republicans, U.S. House committee delays impeachment vote to Friday


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats delayed an impeachment vote by a U.S. House Committee just before midnight, incensing Republicans and setting up a Friday showdown over President Donald Trump’s future.

The committee had been expected to approve two articles of impeachment late on Thursday, setting up a vote by the Democratic-controlled House next week that is expected to make Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

Instead, as the clock ticked toward midnight, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler sent lawmakers home for the night and said members would return to vote Friday at 10 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

Asked why the votes did not occur late Thursday, House Judiciary Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon said “the American people deserve to see the vote.”

The scheduling appeared to have nothing to do with the substance of the impeachment fight nor was it a sign that Democrats lacked the needed votes. But it outraged Republican leaders, who said afterward many had been planning travel home on Friday and would now have to reset their schedules.

Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel, appeared shocked by the announcement and immediately reacted with anger, saying the rescheduling was done so Democrats could hold their vote when more voters would be watching on television.

“This was the most bush league thing I have seen, forever,” Collins told reporters. “This committee is more concerned about getting on TV in the morning than it was finishing its job tonight and letting the members go home. Words cannot describe how inappropriate this was.”

Democrats had expected to wrap up the hearing early in the evening, but Republicans, led by Collins, proposed a series of amendments that had no hope of passage.

Republicans offered hours of remarks on their amendments, frequently repeating the same prepared commentary and often veering into other topics that ranged from natural gas drilling to the state of the economy.

The committee’s debate began Wednesday evening.

Much of the impeachment focus has been on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. That is the basis for a charge by Democrats that Trump abused power.

Trump has also instructed current and former members of his administration not to testify or produce documents, leading senior officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to defy House subpoenas. Democrats say that behavior constitutes obstruction of Congress, forming the basis of the other impeachment charge.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and has condemned the impeachment inquiry as unfair. His Republican allies in Congress argue that there is no direct evidence of misconduct and that Democrats have conducted an improper process that did not give the president an opportunity to mount his own defense.

Slideshow (4 Images)

If the House impeaches Trump, who is charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, he would then go on trial in the Senate. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to find the president guilty and remove him from office.

Republicans on the committee said that there were no crimes alleged in the impeachment articles and that “abuse of power” had become a catch-all for Democratic complaints about Trump.

“This notion of abuse of power is the lowest of low-energy impeachment theories,” said Republican Representative Matt Gaetz.

Reporting by David Morgan and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

Church nativity scene depicts Holy Family as caged refugees


CLAREMONT, Calif. (Reuters) – A Methodist church in Southern California has turned a classic Christmas tradition – the Nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus – into a statement about immigration by putting the Holy Family in cages.

A sculpture of Mary, depicted as a refugee in a cage, forms part of a Nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, California, U.S. December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

The United Methodist Church in Claremont, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, built the display last weekend to draw attention to the plight of migrants and refugees in the United States.

“We don’t see this as political at all, we see this as theological,” said the church’s pastor, Reverend Karen Clark Ristine. “We know that this infant baby Jesus … grew up to be a Christ who calls us to compassion for our neighbor, compassion for one another.”The Nativity display, which was installed Sunday night, shows the Holy family separated in their own cages each topped with barbed wire. The baby Jesus is wrapped in silver Mylar, similar to ones given to migrants at detention centers to use as blankets.

While the church makes no mention of Trump administration policies, some visitors saw it as a slam against the president.

“I think is disgusting. I think it’s political and this is aimed at Trump,” said Tony Papa, who came to the display. “If I were a member of this church, I’d drop out, I really would, it’s very disgusting.”

SANCTUARY STATUTESPresident Donald Trump has made cracking down on immigration a central issue of his 2020 re-election campaign. His administration has worked to restrict asylum access in the United States in an effort to curb the number of mostly Central American families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump and his top officials have argued that most migrants travel to the United States for economic reasons and lack valid claims to protection.

California, which shares a border with Mexico, has adopted “sanctuary” statutes that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement when it comes to rounding up and deporting undocumented immigrants.

Irene Reyes, a tourist from Arizona, stopped by the nativity scene and became emotional as she talked about its message.”That’s what’s actually happening,” she said about the migrant children detained in cages at detention centers along the border earlier this year. “And it’s like it was brought out to the world and then nothing happened.

“And if you think about it now during the holidays, that these kids, sorry, aren’t with their families and what are we going to do about it? … Like we see it and then we close our eyes to it and it’s not right,” Reyes said.

Reporting by Norma Galeana; writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Michael Perry

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link

Posted on

FBI thinks Saudi shooter acted alone, Florida governor decries ‘deep-seated’ hatred


PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) – Investigators believe a Saudi Air Force lieutenant acted alone when he killed three people and wounded eight at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, before being fatally shot by a deputy sheriff, the FBI said on Sunday.

But they have yet to determine a motive for the rampage, even though fellow Saudi students at the base who were close to the shooter are cooperating with investigators, said Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville office and lead investigator on the case.

Rojas said the FBI was working, as it does in most mass shootings, on the presumption that it was an act of terrorism, but she stressed that was largely to allow investigators to use special tools afforded to them in terrorism cases.

“We are looking very hard at uncovering his motive and I would ask for patience so we can get this right,” she said, adding that 80 FBI special agents, 100 support staff and scores of other investigators from the Navy and multiple federal agencies were working the case.

The FBI identified the shooter as Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, and said he opened fire inside a classroom at the base early on Friday morning.

Rojas said the pistol he used – a Glock 9mm handgun that can be paired with a magazine holding 33 rounds – was legally purchased by the shooter somewhere in Florida. According to U.S. regulations, it is legal for a foreigner in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa to buy a gun if certain conditions are met – including if they simply have a hunting license.

Alshamrani was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies. He had started training in the United States in 2017 and had been in the Pensacola area for the past 18 months, authorities said.

His fellow Saudi students were speaking directly with American investigators and were restricted to the base on order of the Saudi military, Rojas said.

“I thank the kingdom for their pledge of full and complete cooperation,” she added.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were “devastated” by what took place and pledged to help families of the victims.

But members of Congress representing Florida have blasted the U.S. government for not already labeling the shooting as a terrorist attack and have demanded more details about what the Saudi government is doing to help the investigation and prevent future violence by members of its military.

The attack comes as the Trump administration has maintained warm ties with Riyadh amid Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen, high tensions with Middle East rival Iran, and continued political fallout from the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, airman accused of killing three people at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, is seen in an undated military identification card photo released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation December 7, 2019. FBI/Handout via REUTERS.

A group that tracks online extremism has said Alshamrani appeared to have posted criticism of U.S. wars in predominantly Muslim countries and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Twitter hours before the shooting spree.

In English, he also wrote that he hated the American people for “committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity,” and he criticized Washington’s support for Israel, according to analysis by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Reuters has not verified the authenticity of the account, @M&MD_SHAMRANI, which was suspended by Twitter on Friday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, speaking at a Sunday afternoon press conference, answered “yes, yes” when asked if he considered the shooting an act of terrorism.

“There is a lot of frustration in our state over this,” DeSantis said. “You have foreign military personnel coming to our base. They should not be doing that if they hate our country.”

DeSantis said Alshamrani took advantage of a “federal loophole” to buy the gun he used, and he confirmed that the suspect, since arriving in the United States in 2017, made a return trip to Saudi Arabia and also recently visited New York. The governor declined to give further details.

“He had a deep-seated hatred for the United States,” DeSantis said. “For us to be bringing in these foreign nationals, you have to take precautions. Bringing in people from Saudi Arabia – we need to be on guard against that.”

Slideshow (2 Images)

Alshamrani was one of about 200 foreigners at the Pensacola base and thousands around the United States who participate in military training, a program that U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said was “very important to our national security.”

Esper told “Fox News Sunday” that he had asked top defense officials to make sure all necessary precautions were taken to ensure safety at military installations, and that he asked the Pentagon to review screening procedures for military personnel from other countries coming to the United States for training.

Those personnel were already screened by the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security, Esper said.

Reporting by Brad Brooks; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



Source link