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Donald Trump’s rails against court, migrants in call to troops

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Palm Beach (US) | President Donald Trump used a Thanksgiving Day call to troops deployed overseas to pat himself on the back and air grievances about the courts, trade and migrants heading to the US-Mexico border.

Trump’s call, made from his opulent private Mar-a-Lago club, struck an unusually political tone as he spoke with members of all five branches of the military to wish them happy holidays.

“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said of judges who have blocked his attempts to overhaul US immigration law, as he linked his efforts to secure the border with military missions overseas.

Trump later threatened to close the US border with Mexico for an undisclosed period of time if his administration determines Mexico has lost “control” on its side.

The call was a uniquely Trump blend of boasting, peppered questions and off-the-cuff observations as his comments veered from venting about slights to praising troops “You really are our heroes,” he said as club waiters worked to set Thanksgiving dinner tables on the outdoor terrace behind him.

And it was yet another show of how Trump has dramatically transformed the presidency, erasing the traditional divisions between domestic policy and military matters and efforts to keep the troops clear of politics.

“You probably see over the news what’s happening on our southern border,” Trump told one Air Force brigadier general stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, adding: “I don’t have to even ask you. I know what you want to do, you want to make sure that you know who we’re letting in.”

Later, Trump asked a US Coast Guard commander about trade, which he noted was “a very big subject” for him personally.

“We’ve been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals,” Trump told the commander, who sheepishly replied that, “We don’t see any issues in terms of trade right now.” And throughout, Trump was sure to congratulate himself, telling the officers that the country is doing exceptionally well on his watch.

“I hope that you’ll take solace in knowing that all of the American families you hold so close to your heart are all doing well,” he said. “The nation’s doing well economically, better than anybody in the world.”

He later told reporters “nobody’s done more for the military than me.” Indeed, asked what he was thankful for this Thanksgiving, Trump cited his “great family,” as well as himself.

“I made a tremendous difference in this country,” he said.

But Trump continued to warn about the situation on the southern border as he took questions from reporters, pointing to the caravans of Central American migrants that have been making their way toward the US and warning that, “If we find that it gets to a level where we lose control or people are going to start getting hurt, we’re going to close entry into the country for a period of time until we get it under control.”

He said he had the authority to do so by executive order and claimed he’d already used it earlier this week. “Two days ago, we closed the border.

We actually just closed it, said nobody’s coming in because it was just out of control.”

By no means did he seal the border with Mexico. Officials did shut down one port of entry, San Ysidro, in California, for several hours early Monday morning to bolster security because of concerns about a potential influx of migrant caravan members. They closed northbound lanes into the US and reopened most of them before the morning rush.

Trump’s border threat came days after a federal judge put the administration’s attempts to overhaul asylum rules on hold.

Courts have also blocked several versions of the president’s travel ban as well as his attempt to end a program that allows young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to live and work in the country.

Trump probably could close the entire southern border by order, at least temporarily, invoking national security powers. But doing so could cause extraordinary damage to bilateral relations as well as to cross-border commerce between the US and Mexico, its third largest trading partner.

It would not necessarily stop migrants from coming either; Trump would have to contend with the same asylum laws already vexing his efforts to harden the border.

Trump said he’d spoken with his daughter Ivanka following news she’d sent hundreds of emails from a private address while serving as a senior White House adviser. Trump said she was “very innocent” and that situation was very different from the one he’s said his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton should be in jail for.

He defended his acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, calling him “a highly respected person” whom the press had treated nastily.

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China’s top trade negotiator to visit US January 30-31

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China

Beijing | China’s top trade negotiator will travel to the United States to resume talks later this month ahead of a March deadline to avoid bruising tariff hikes, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.

Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington on January 30-31 for the negotiations, the ministry said, following up on talks by lower-level officials in Beijing earlier this month.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a three-month trade war truce in December, suspending US plans to increase tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods to give negotiators space to find a solution.

Liu and US officials will “hold negotiations on economic and trade issues and work together to push forward and implement the consensus” reached by Xi and Trump, ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters.

China’s senior negotiator will travel at the invitation of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Gao said. Without a resolution, punitive US duty rates on USD 200 billion in Chinese goods are due to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on March 2.

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Indian-American Raja Krishnamoorthi 1st South Asian to serve on powerful committee on intelligence

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Raja Krishnamoorthi

Washington | Indian-American Democratic lawmaker Raja Krishnamoorthy has been appointed as a member of a Congressional committee on intelligence, becoming the first South Asian to serve in the powerful body tasked to strengthen America’s national security.

Krishnamoorthy, 45, who represents Illinois’s 8th congressional district in the House, was chosen along with Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Peter Welch of Vermont as the four new Democratic members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) for the 116th Congress.

The HPSCI is tasked with overseeing the activities and budget of the 17 intelligence agencies of the US. Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi appointed Krishnamoorthi Wednesday.

Pelosi said, “Our new members of the Intelligence Committee bring exceptional judgment, expertise and determination to our mission to honour that oath and, guided by the strong, principled leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff, will restore the long tradition of bipartisanship and integrity of this critical committee. “We look forward to the many contributions these new members will bring to Democrats’ work to strengthen America’s national security and defend our democracy”.

Krishnamoorthi, after Pelosi announced his appointment, said: “It is very humbling to be chosen to serve on the Intelligence Committee in this Congress, and I am ready to join with my colleagues in preserving the safety and security of our nation”.

“The intelligence challenges and international threats facing our country today are vast, ranging from terrorism to cyberwarfare to investigating Russia’s previous and continuing attempts to sabotage our democracy.

“I am honoured that the Speaker and Caucus have placed their trust in me and the contributions I’ll make to the Committee. When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect and defend the Constitution from all threats, foreign and domestic, and I know that the work we do under the leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff will fulfil that solemn duty,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Born into a Tamil-speaking family in New Delhi, his family moved to Buffalo, New York when he was three months old. Krishnamoorthi attended Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He also attended Harvard Law School.

Early this week, Pelosi appointed Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to the House Education and Labour Committee.

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US tells Taliban it must talk to Afghan government

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Aghan Taliban

Kabul | The US envoy in Afghanistan has said on Wednesday that a peaceful end to the 17-year conflict requires the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government, which they have consistently refused.

Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to reporters in Kabul on his latest visit to the war-torn country, where he is at the centre of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict which began with the US invasion of 2001.

“The road to peace will require Taliban to sit with other Afghans, including the government,” Khalilzad said.

“There is a consensus among all regional partners on this point,” he added, according to quotes sent to the US embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents have long refused to hold direct talks with the Kabul government, which they dismiss as a puppet of Washington.

Taliban representatives have met several times with US officials in recent months, but earlier this week threatened to suspend the fledgling peace efforts, accusing the US of changing the agenda of the talks and “unilaterally” adding new subjects.

“If the Talibs want to talk, we can talk, if they want to fight we can fight. We hope that the Talibs want to make peace,” Khalilzad said in response to the threat.

The envoy arrived in Kabul on late Tuesday, where he met with the country’s political leaders. On his third tour of the region since his appointment in September, he had previously travelled to India, the United Arab Emirates and China. He is expected next in Pakistan.

His tour comes shortly after US officials said in December that President Donald Trump intends to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad Wednesday said that if the Taliban choose to continue fighting, “The United States will stand with the Afghan government and the Afghan people and support them”.

He dismissed reports the US wanted to maintain military bases in the country.

“We have never said we want permanent military bases in Afghanistan,” he said.

“What we want is to see this conflict end through negotiation, and to continue our partnership with Afghanistan, and to ensure no terrorist threatens either of us.” In the long run, the US is seeking a military, diplomatic and economic relationship with Afghanistan, he added.

Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said he hopes for fresh talks with the Taliban “very soon”.

The US is not the only country dancing around talks with the militants. Russia and Iran have held meetings with the Taliban in recent months, while China has also made overtures. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan are all participating in the US efforts.

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