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Trump tours border, repeats threat to declare national emergency

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Donald Trump

Washington | US President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to be inching closer to imposing a national emergency that could allow him to bypass Congress to fund a controversial wall along the US-Mexico border that has led to a bitter political impasse and a 21-day government shutdown.

Trump has asked for USD 5.6 billion from Congress to construct the border wall, which he said is crucial to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and smuggling of drugs into the country.

The Democrats have repeatedly refused to approve any legislation to fund the wall. The standoff led to the partial government shutdown.

During his visit to the southern border state Texas on Thursday to push for the wall plan, Trump was asked if he is closer to declaring an emergency — an action that would likely face legal challenges.

“We are. I would like to look it broader. I think we could do this quickly because this is common sense and it’s not expensive. We will save the cost of the wall every year but much more than that,” the president said.

Trump had on Wednesday said that imposing a national emergency is the last option and threatened to use it if the Democrats did not allocate USD 5.7 billion funding for the wall.

The president’s inclination towards declaring a national emergency has gained momentum after he walked out of a meeting with top Democratic leaders — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer — on Wednesday following their refusal to allocate funding.

During an interaction with media personnel in Texas on Thursday, Trump said, “I would like to do a much broader form of immigration, and we can do immigration reform. It’ll take longer. It’s been complex. It’s been going on for 30-35 years, they’ve been talking about immigration reform. But before we do that, we have to create a barrier. That we could do very quickly.”

Contending strongly for construction of a barrier, concrete or steel, along the southern border with Mexico, the president has been claiming that illegal immigrants cause USD 250 billion drain on the American economy.

Republican leaders insist the party stands behind the president, although some Republican lawmakers have spoken out in favour of ending the shutdown.

The opposition Democrats, who are now in majority in the House of Representatives have refused to support such a move arguing that building the wall is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Referring to his meeting with Reggie Singh, the brother of Indian-origin policeman Ronil Singh killed in California recently allegedly by an illegal immigrant during a border patro, Trump said, “Reggie, I got to know him today a little bit. This shouldn’t be happening in our country.”

“This shouldn’t be happening. And what you see of the border, that’s not as much of a problem as they (illegal immigrants) come through the border and they go out throughout our nation,” Trump said.

“As hard as we work, and as well as we’re doing nationwide on crime, a lot of it is caused by people that come in through the southern border. So, and you know, if we had the barrier, it wouldn’t happen,” he told reporters.

But the Democrats appeared to be unconvinced by Trump’s argument of national emergency.

“If and when the President does that, you’ll find out how we will react, but I’m not going to that place now. But I think the president will have problems on his own side of the aisle for exploiting the situation in a way that enhances his power. But not to go there. Let’s see what he does,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol Hill.

Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng from New York on Thursday announced that a legislation would be introduced in the House of Representatives on Friday to prevent Trump from declaring a national emergency.

Some others said that they will file a lawsuit against national emergency.

Trump said he is ready for the lawsuit and asserted that he will win it.

“I am prepared for anything. The lawyers tell me, like, 100 per cent,” he told reporters.

As the government shutdown neared the end of its third week, the president left Washington with no additional negotiations scheduled with congressional leaders over a possible compromise that could both provide border security and open the government.

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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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