This is why the first 100 days is a 'ridiculous standard' for judging presidents – Washington Post


President Trump poses for a portrait in the Oval Office in Washington on April 21. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

President Trump, who has yet to pass any major legislative initiatives, recently tweeted his frustration with the “ridiculous standard of the first 100 days” as a benchmark for judging a new president’s accomplishments. The historical record suggests that he may have a point.

Landmark laws are a rarity in the first 100 days

Using a widely accepted measure, we can identify all the “landmark” legislation enacted during the first 100 days of a newly elected president’s term since Franklin D. Roosevelt, when the first 100 days became the period to watch. As shown in the table below, most presidents since 1949 finish their first 100 days having passed exactly zero landmark laws (the same trend is found if we count the small number of notable, but less-than-landmark laws that pass, like President Barack Obama’s Lilly Ledbetter Act).

In this regard, at least, Trump can be viewed as a fairly typical president.

True, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed landmark education reform 82 days after his inauguration, and after only 29 days in office, President Barack Obama signed the record-sized fiscal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in the wake of the Great Recession. But these cases may be exceptions that prove the rule.

[In Trump’s America, who’s protesting, and why?]

Do the first 100 days predict future performance?

The table also displays the total number of landmark laws enacted during a president’s first full four-year term. Not surprisingly, presidents who are legislatively successful during the first 100 days are also relatively successful during the remainder of the term. Johnson and Obama averaged five landmark laws over their full first term.

What about the fate of presidents who, like Trump, fail to notch a big victory during their first 100 days? More surprisingly, the average number of landmark laws ultimately enacted by Congress and these presidents doesn’t differ significantly from those of Johnson and Obama.

Still, these presidents deliver a wide range of outcomes.

[Trump’s threat of steel tariffs heralds big changes in trade policy]

One-third of these presidents never managed to sign any landmark measures into law in their first term. This cohort includes not only presidents who faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party, like Richard Nixon. It also includes Jimmy Carter, who, like Trump, was blessed with House and Senate majorities from his own party.

But an equal number of presidents who got off to a slow start ended by rivaling the accomplishments of the quick-to-start presidents. Admittedly, two of these could be considered unusual cases.

[Racial attitudes motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism]

Of the four landmark legislative accomplishments listed under President John F. Kennedy’s first term, only one — the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — occurred before his assassination. The other three might be more accurately attributed to his successor, Johnson — albeit possibly inspired by the grief after JFK’s assassination.

President George W. Bush’s first term produced an impressive six landmark acts, but four were prompted largely by a single dramatic event, the terrorist attacks of 9/11: the Authorization for Use of Military Force against the terrorists, the USA Patriot Act, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which established the federal department.

The other example of a president who was slow to find his legislative footing but ended the first year with a strong record was President Bill Clinton. He produced no landmark legislation during his first 100 days, but his first term eventually resulted in four big laws. Two passed when his fellow Democrats controlled Congress: the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993 and the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Another two passed after Republicans swept into power in the 1994 elections: the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 to overhaul the welfare system, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to increase competition in the communications business.

Let’s judge new presidents after their first year instead

So will Trump’s legislative record end up more like that of Carter’s or Clinton’s presidency? At this point, either seems possible. Both early presidencies resemble Trump’s, at least in someways. The first 100 days simply do not offer enough evidence from which to accurately predict what’s still to come.

So what would be a better period of time to judge? A president’s record after a full year.

As you can see in the table below, five presidencies had nothing big to show after the first full year; after four years, these delivered an average of only 1.4 landmark acts. But six presidencies delivered at least one big act within the first year; after four years, those averaged an impressive four landmarks acts. That’s a statistically significant difference.

In particular, both Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s administrations’ latent legislative skill only become clear toward the end of each one’s first year in office

The “first 100 days” standard should probably be retired by politicians and pundits alike.

[Why presidential candidates (like Trump) campaign as isolationists — but (like Trump) govern as hawks]

As House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) noted last month, “Doing big things is hard.” It takes time to reach out to key players, to craft workable legislation and to build sufficient support. Only in unusual circumstances can all of this come together in only 100 days.

Want to assess Trump’s legislative prowess? Check back in December.

David R. Jones is professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His research focuses on legislative productivity and public opinion of Congress.

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Trump Administration To Impose 20 Percent Tariff On Canadian Lumber – NPR

Piles of softwood lumber destined for export are stacked at a Canadian lumberyard in Richmond, British Columbia.

Richard Lam/CP

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Richard Lam/CP

The Trump administration announced it will impose a 20 percent tariff on imported softwood lumber from Canada.

The dispute is not new — the United States and Canada have sparred over imports of forest products for decades. But the action comes as the two nations prepare to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which President Trump has harshly criticized.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the tariff will be applied retroactively.

“We tried to negotiate a settlement but we were unable,” just as previous administrations were also unable to resolve the dispute with Canada, Mr. Ross said, adding that the Trump administration has notified Canada of its decision.”

Ross’s announcement is the beginning of a process involving several U.S. government agencies, which must determine that the domestic timber industry has suffered harm before the tariff can be imposed.

The U.S. timber industry has complained for decades that Canada subsidizes its lumber products which are then sold at below-market prices in the United States.

Canada objected to the U.S. move, as reported by Reuters:

“Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a joint statement that Commerce’s accusations ‘are baseless and unfounded’ and would raise U.S. home construction and renovation costs.”

Trump had focused his unhappiness regarding trade primarily on China and Mexico — until last week, when he criticized Canadian restrictions on imports of U.S. dairy products, as reported by The Associated Press:

“We can’t let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “Included in there is lumber, timber and energy. We’re going to have to get to the negotiating table with Canada very, very quickly.’ “

“The president took issue with Canadian changes on milk classification that he said have put farmers in Wisconsin and New York state out of business. Canada changed its policy on pricing domestic milk to cover more dairy ingredients, leading to lower prices for Canadian products including ultra-filtered milk that compete with U.S. milk.

“Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm workers, is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace,” Trump said.”

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The Latest: China says North Korea diplomatic channels open – Washington Post

By Associated Press,

PYONGYANG, North Korea — The Latest on tensions on the Korean Peninsula (all times local):

4 p.m.

China says its diplomatic channels with North Korea remain open and exchanges are normal, despite a spike in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Tuesday that China urges all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from any actions that could push tensions even higher.

While China is North Korea’s most important ally, the North has repeatedly snubbed Beijing’s calls to comply with United Nations resolutions on its missile and nuclear programs.

Since taking power in 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has rarely met with Chinese officials and has yet to visit the country that provides his regime with most of its foreign trade and economic assistance.

The lack of meetings has raised questions about their traditional friendship, and speculation grew higher this month when North Korea reportedly ignored a request for a visit by Beijing’s top negotiator on the nuclear issue, Wu Dawei.

Lu did not address any specific issues at a regular news conference, but said, “I want to say that China and North Korea maintain normal exchanges and the diplomatic channel between the two countries remains smooth.”

“I would like to reiterate that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive and the tension is high. We urge all sides concerned to keep restrained and calm and refrain from taking actions that could escalate tensions,” Lu said.

____

3:40 p.m.

South Korea’s military says North Korea is conducting large-scale live-fire drills at an area around an eastern coastal town to mark its military’s founding anniversary.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday didn’t specifically comment on the size of the drills in an area near Wonsan.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency earlier said that the exercise involved 300 to 400 artillery pieces and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely observed what was one of the country’s largest artillery drills.

An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry couldn’t confirm such details.

There was speculation that the North might carry out another nuclear or missile test.

___

2:05 p.m.

South Korea’s military says it’s closely watching North Korean troop movement around an eastern coastal town where the North reportedly conducted a huge live-fire drill to mark the founding anniversary of its military.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday didn’t directly confirm a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, which cited an unnamed government source to report that the North carried out an exercise involving 300 to 400 artillery pieces in an area around Wonsan.

Yonhap says that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely observed what was one of the country’s largest artillery drills.

South Korea’s military says it’s maintaining “firm readiness.”

There was speculation that the North might carry out another nuclear or missile test.

___

1:50 p.m.

South Korea’s envoy for North Korea Kim Hong-kyun says he and his Japanese and American counterparts have agreed to “maximize pressure” on North Korea to prevent it from making further provocations.

The three envoys held talks in Tokyo on Tuesday as North Korea marked the anniversary of its military amid speculation it might carry out another nuclear or missile test.

Kim says the envoys strongly denounce North Korea’s continuing provocations, including threats of a nuclear war.

He says: “We agreed to maximize pressure on North Korea by imposing punitive measures that would be unbearable to them if the North continues further provocations despite our warnings.”

Kim said the roles of China and Russia are crucial to apply pressure effectively on North Korea toward its denuclearization. He praised China for its recent steps seen more cooperative toward that goal.

___

1:05 p.m.

A ruling Chinese Communist Party newspaper is warning North Korea against conducting another nuclear test, saying that would likely propel events past the “point of no return.”

In an editorial Tuesday, the Global Times says the previous day’s phone conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China showed the two countries were in close communication over the tensions.

It says China hopes for a peaceful outcome, but that Beijing has “very limited influence on the entire situation.”

It says: “The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point.” The paper is known for its often stridently nationalistic views.

It says if North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test as expected, “it is more likely than ever that the situation will cross the point of no return. All stakeholders will bear the consequences, with Pyongyang sure to suffer the greatest losses.”

As a traditional ally and North Korea’s chief source of trade, food and fuel aid, China has come under intense pressure to use its influence to dissuade Pyongyang from additional nuclear tests and missile launches.

However, Beijing is intensely wary of any measures that might cause the collapse of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s hard-line communist regime, fearing that could lead to a wave of refugees and a Pyongyang government beholden to Washington and Seoul.

___

1 p.m.

U.S. envoy for North Korea Joseph Yun says he and his counterparts from Japan and South Korea agreed to coordinate “all actions” on North Korea.

The three envoys also agreed that China has a key role in pressuring North Korea to abandon its missile and nuclear programs.

Yun told reporters after a meeting in Tokyo that all diplomatic, military and economic actions on North Korea will be coordinated among the allies.

Yun says China especially has “a very, very important role” to play. He says U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions on Pyongyang must be fully implemented.

He says: “There are a number of countries who could be more proactive” in implementing the sanctions. He did not identify the countries.

___

12:40 p.m.

South Korean newspapers are questioning whether President Donald Trump is tuning out South Korea as he shapes his North Korea strategy.

Trump skipped calling Seoul during his phone conversations with his counterparts in Beijing and Tokyo on Sunday over the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles program.

The Maeil Business Daily said Tuesday that Trump not calling South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the country’s acting leader, showed that the relations between the allies are “not normal.”

The newspaper also mentioned that Washington has yet to name its new ambassador to Seoul three months after the departure of Mark Lippert and questioned whether Trump has “entirely left out South Korea in his picture for the Korean Peninsula.”

The JoongAng Ilbo daily said in an editorial that South Korea shouldn’t be excluded from critical discussions surrounding North Korea, because “the destiny of our nation could be at stake.”

Seoul has long worried about losing its voice in international efforts to deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat — something local media have termed “Korea Passing.”

Maeil Business wrote: “When a military clash happens in the Korean Peninsula, South Korea will be the first target of North Korea and its military will hold joint operations with U.S. troops to fight back. … If there is a partner Trump needs to discuss with foremost over the North Korea problem, it’s not Xi Jinping or Shinzo Abe, but the leader of South Korea.”

___

11:55 a.m.

South Korea says a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine has docked in the southern port of Busan, but it isn’t expected to participate in joint naval exercises with South Korea.

An official from South Korea’s navy said Tuesday the USS Michigan is making a routine stop to rest its crews and reload supplies. The submarine arrived on the same day North Korea celebrates the anniversary of the founding of its military.

North Korea often marks significant dates with show of military capability, and South Korean officials have said the North could be preparing another round of nuclear or missile tests around the anniversary.

President Donald Trump has dispatched to the region what he called an “armada” of ships, including an aircraft carrier, in a show of force. South Korea’s navy is planning to hold joint naval drills with U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson battle group, which has trained with Japanese destroyers in recent days, around the weekend.

___

11:15 a.m.

Envoys from Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have gathered in Tokyo to discuss North Korea amid concern it may carry out another nuclear or missile test.

Japanese officials say U.S. representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun met Tuesday with his Japanese counterpart Kenji Kanasugi and Kim Hong-kyun of South Korea to share their latest analyses and discuss cooperation.

There is speculation that North Korea may carry out another nuclear or missile test to mark the anniversary of its armed forces Tuesday. It launched a missile one day after the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the three envoys were to deepen cooperation and stay on the same page amid growing tension.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry also announced that China’s envoy for North Korea, Wu Dawei, will visit Tokyo later Tuesday for talks with Kanasugi.

___

11:10 a.m.

North Korea’s capital is quiet on Tuesday amid expectations of some sort of a big event to mark the anniversary of the founding of the country’s military.

The morning came and went without any nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches and all that is publicly scheduled for the day are gatherings for mass dancing, a common celebratory feature of major North Korean holidays.

The main political event to mark the anniversary apparently was a “national meeting” held the day before, when thousands of senior military and civilian officials gathered at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un did not attend. It was not known how he is marking Tuesday’s anniversary.

At the meeting, army Gen. Pak Yong Sik, North Korea’s minister of defense, reiterated Pyongyang’s claim that the country is ready to use pre-emptive strikes or any other measures it deems necessary to defend itself against the “U.S. imperialists.”

He told the gathering: “The situation prevailing on the Korean Peninsula is so tense that a nuclear war may break out due to the frantic war drills of the U.S. imperialists and their vassal forces for aggression.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea tensions: US submarine arrives in South Korea – BBC News

A US submarine has arrived in South Korea, amid worries of another North Korean missile or nuclear test.

The missile-armed USS Michigan is set to join an incoming group of warships led by aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.

North Korea is celebrating its army’s 85th founding anniversary on Tuesday. It marked the event with a large-scale firing drill, South Korea said.

Tensions have risen in the area in recent weeks, with the US and North Korea exchanging heated rhetoric.

Experts fear Pyongyang could be planning more tests – it has marked some key anniversaries in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.

However, South Korea’s defence ministry said “no unusual development had been detected”.

Instead, the North conducted a large live-fire drill around the city of Wonsan, South Korea said.

“Our military is closely monitoring the North Korean military’s movement,” the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

North Korea conducted a failed ballistic missile test on 16 April, prompting US Vice-President Mike Pence to warn it not to “test” President Donald Trump.

In an unusual move, the entire US Senate has been asked to attend a briefing on North Korea on Wednesday at the White House.

The USS Michigan docked at South Korea’s Busan port on Tuesday, in what it called a routine visit. It is a nuclear-powered submarine carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 60 special operations troops and mini-subs, reported the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.


Analysis: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul

The North Korean crisis is moving on many fronts.

The US submarine docking in South Korea is a routine event – but in this time of heightened tension it has extra significance

Pyongyang remains defiant, including of China, warning that if it helped the US, the results would be “catastrophic”.

Envoys from South Korea, the US and Japan are discussing North Korea in Tokyo.

What this all adds up to depends on whether President Trump has rejected the advice given to his predecessors that attacking North Korea could provoke an attack on Seoul, with one expert saying there could be tens of thousands of deaths on the first day.

It may be that President Trump has decided that the cost of North Korea eventually getting nuclear weapons that could strike the US means that the risk of war has to be taken. We simply do not know.


The submarine is expected to take part in military exercises with the Carl Vinson warship group, which the US said it was dispatching to North Korea earlier this month to “maintain readiness” in the region.

At the time, Mr Trump said that he was sending an “armada” to the region and that the US had submarines which were “very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier”.

Pyongyang reacted angrily to the aircraft carrier deployment, threatening to sink it and launch a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike” against what it called US aggression.

However, the US warships caused some confusion and attracted mockery when it emerged that they actually sailed in the opposite direction, away from North Korea, after the announcement. However, US Navy officials said they are now proceeding to the region as ordered.

China is North Korea’s only ally and main trading partner – and the US has been urging Beijing to help put pressure on Pyongyang.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to Mr Trump on Monday, urging all sides to “maintain restraint and avoid actions that would increase tensions”.

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Arkansas carries out country's first back-to-back executions in almost two decades – Washington Post

Arkansas executes its first inmate in 12 years after the U.S. Supreme Court clears the way for the lethal injection of 51-year-old Ledell Lee. (Reuters)

Arkansas on Monday night executed two inmates in back-to-back lethal injections, carrying out the country’s first double execution since 2000.

The executions came after Arkansas, pushing back on legal challenges, executed an inmate last week, the state’s first lethal injection in more than a decade. As part of a hurried execution pace that has drawn national attention, Arkansas officials returned to the execution chamber four days later to carry out a pair of death sentences.

The second execution Monday night was briefly delayed by a federal judge so she could consider claims that the first lethal injection may have been botched, but she lifted that stay shortly before 9:30 p.m. local time. The second inmate was pronounced dead about an hour later, according to the Associated Press, which had a reporter witness it.

These lethal injections marked the first back-to-back executions in the United States since Texas carried out two death sentences in one night nearly two decades ago. Arkansas was also the first state to make such an attempt since a widely publicized botch in Oklahoma in 2014.

[With its lethal drugs expiring, Arkansas set an unprecedented execution schedule]

Arkansas hoped this month to resume executions by carrying out eight death sentences in 11 days, an unprecedented schedule that has been thwarted by court orders blocking half of those lethal injections. State officials then shifted their focus to carrying out the remaining executions on the schedule.

Jack H. Jones Jr. and Marcel W. Williams, both of whom have been on Arkansas death row since being convicted of brutal murders two decades ago, unsuccessfully sought to delay their lethal injections at a state prison southeast of Little Rock.

Both appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected their requests Monday afternoon and evening. Jones was executed first. Williams was scheduled to follow not long after, but his lethal injection was postponed while his lawyers argued in federal court that Jone’s execution was botched. Both men had said their medical issues presented complications to the executions, which involve injections of three drugs.

The Supreme Court first denied Jones’s request for a stay about an hour before the executions were set to begin at 7 p.m. Monday in Arkansas. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who is assigned cases from the federal circuit covering Arkansas, referred the request to the full court, which denied it without explanation; Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only member of the court to register a dissent.

[Arkansas executed one death-row inmate. Three more executions are planned this month.]

Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m., 14 minutes after his lethal injection got underway, according to the Associated Press, which had a reporter serve as a media witness. He delivered a last statement expressing remorse.

Arkansas inmates Jack Jones, left, and Marcel Williams. (Arkansas Department of Correction via AP)

Williams’s appeal was still pending when Jones’s execution ended, but not long after, the justices denied the stay request. Again, no explanation was given and Sotomayor was the only justice to note a dissent.

While the Supreme Court’s decision to reject Williams’s requests seemingly meant that the second execution could proceed as planned, that was quickly cast into doubt after a federal judge issued a temporary stay later Monday night.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued the order indefinitely delaying Williams’s execution after his attorneys filed a motion seeking a stay, arguing that Jones’s “execution appeared to be torturous and inhumane.” Baker later issued an order denying the motion and lifting the stay after a hearing was held.

In the motion, Williams’s attorneys, noting that he shared medical issues with Jones, said corrections staff struggled to insert a central line into Jones’s neck. The attorneys said that corrections officials did not wait five minutes, as required by the execution policy, after the injection began to check and make sure Jones was unconscious after the sedative was administered. They also alleged that Jones was still “moving his lips and gulping for air” after five minutes had elapsed.

One media witness says Jones’s “lips did move, but only very briefly at the very start of the process.” According to the Associated Press, its reporter who witnessed Jones’s execution said that the inmate moved his lips briefly after the sedative was first administered and noted that officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently during the first few minutes. The AP reporter also said Jones’s chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked his consciousness.

Under the Arkansas lethal-injection protocol, state officials must check to make sure inmates are unconscious at least five minutes after the sedative is injected. If they remain conscious, officials are then directed to inject a second dose of the sedative.

[Arkansas carries out first execution since 2005 after Supreme Court denies stay requests]

Williams’s attorneys say in their filing that he did not agree to have a central line inserted, and warned that their client’s execution could be “even more torturous” than Jones’s.

State officials filed a short response pushing back on these assertions about the IV and the execution, calling them “inaccurate” and “utterly baseless.”

“The claim that Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air is unsupported by press accounts or the accounts of other witnesses,” the Arkansas response stated. “The drugs were administered to Jones at 7:06 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. There was no constitutional violation in Jones’ execution.”

After Baker lifted her stay, Williams’s execution proceeded, and he was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. after a 17-minute lethal injection, the Associated Press reported.

After both executions were finished, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) — who scheduled the lethal injections and did not issue a statement following the execution last week — said that “the rule of law was upheld” and “justice has prevailed.”

In a statement after Jones’s execution, Hutchinson said that the “victim’s family has waited patiently for justice” for two decades. After Williams’s execution, Hutchinson thanked the victim’s family for their patience and said “in this case our laws ended in justice.”

The lethal injections in Arkansas were planned as part of a schedule that would have been without parallel in modern capital punishment. Hutchinson set eight executions to occur in pairs — back-to-back on four nights spread out over last week and this week — and while most executions occur with little public notice, the timetable in Arkansas drew unusual attention and some criticism.

Attorneys for the inmates filed a volley of appeals seeking to delay the executions, while two dozen former corrections officials wrote a letter to Hutchinson asking him to reconsider the schedule. They warned that the schedule was “needlessly exacerbating the strain and stress placed on” the people carrying it out and saying the timetable could “increase the chance of an error occurring.”

Washington Post reporter Mark Berman explains why Arkansas scheduled eight executions in 11 days. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Arkansas officials defended this schedule as necessary because their stock of midazolam, a common sedative that has provoked controversy after some executions and is one of three products used in the state’s executions, expires at the end of April. Due to an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, Arkansas authorities say they are not sure if more can be obtained. Leslie Rutledge (R), the state’s attorney general, pledged to fight attempts to delay the remaining executions, saying that “families have waited far too long to see justice.”

As the execution dates approached, both sides engaged in a multifaceted legal battle, with death-row inmates and Arkansas officials appealing to state and federal courts. Drug companies also weighed in, unsuccessfully asking judges to prevent the state from using their products, which at least one company suggested was obtained through dishonest means.

Death-row inmates in Arkansas also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as a group, but those requests have been rebuffed, most recently Monday, when the high court denied a request to rehear a case from Arkansas inmates that the justices had already denied. No explanations were given, though Justice Sotomayor said she would have granted the petitions in that case.

The lethal injections planned Monday come just four days after Arkansas resumed executions, carrying out the death sentence for Ledell Lee after the Supreme Court declined stay requests.

Last week, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked the first two executions on the schedule, and another execution planned for the same night as Lee’s was stayed. Another execution is planned for Thursday night, while a second originally set that night was stayed this month by a federal judge.

While two executions per night had been the original plan in Arkansas, Jones and Williams appear to be the only two who will actually be put to death under the back-to-back scheduling.

Jones, 52, was sentenced to death in 1996 for raping and killing Mary Phillips. According to court records, Jones stalked and killed Phillips, a bookkeeper, and before killing her, he beat her 11-year-old daughter so severely that police thought she was dead when they got to the scene.

The Arkansas Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit prison, where executions occur. (Kelly P. Kissel/AP)

Jones’s attorneys have argued in court that he has medical conditions that could result in the Arkansas execution method causing him severe pain, according to court records. In a filing, his attorneys said Jones has diabetes, hypertension and several other conditions that cause him to be on medication that could bring intense or painful suffering because of a possible tolerance to the sedative used in the lethal injection.

State officials argue that Jones’s challenge involves “guesswork” about the sedative and “is no different than the many lethal-injection challenges” he has filed before. Baker, the federal judge, denied that motion Friday, saying Jones’s case did not show “a significant possibility” that the lethal injection process could cause that pain and suffering.

After Jones was executed, Rutledge, the attorney general, released a statement saying she hoped this helped Phillips’s family.

“This evening, Lacey Phillips Manor and Darla Phillips Jones have seen justice for the brutal rape and murder of their mother, Mary Phillips,” Rutledge said in a statement. After detailing the case, Rutledge added: “The Phillips family has waited far too long to see justice carried out, and I pray they find peace tonight.”

[Arkansas had shifted its focus to remaining executions after court losses]

Williams, 46, was sentenced to death in 1997 for abducting, robbing, raping and killing Stacy Errickson, who was 22 and was living at the Little Rock Air Force Base while her husband was serving overseas. Arkansas officials, in court filings opposing a stay in his case, said he forced her at gunpoint to take cash from ATMs before raping, beating and strangling her.

Attorneys for Williams have argued in court filings that he had poor counsel during his trial in both his guilt and penalty phases, which they said meant he was sentenced to death despite the jury not hearing any mitigating evidence arguing against the death penalty.

Protesters praying, emotionally preparing for scheduled execution of Marcel Williams… #ARExecutionspic.twitter.com/SJsguGKALw

— Kimberly Rusley (@KATVKimberly) April 25, 2017

In another filing, they pointed to health issues, saying he weighs 400 pounds and suffers from several medical maladies that meant the planned lethal injection “was more likely to maim than kill him.” His attorneys argued for stays on both counts, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rejected both requests on Friday.

Rutledge said she felt the execution provided justice for Errickson’s family and friends.

“I hope that tonight’s lawful execution brings much-needed peace to all of Stacy’s loved ones, particularly her now-adult children Brittany and Bryan,” she said in a statement.

[Arkansas courts had briefly blocked the use of a lethal injection drug]

The Arkansas Supreme Court rejected stay requests from both men. The 8th Circuit, which had denied an appeal filed by the eight inmates facing execution that challenged the Arkansas method of execution, also denied another challenge Friday that was filed by some of the inmates — including Williams, but not Jones — and focused on the state’s clemency procedures.

The double execution was the country’s first since August 2000. Texas was in the midst of carrying out 40 death sentences that year, the most for any state in a single year since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. (Executions nationwide have fallen since that time, and last year, 20 death sentences were carried out nationwide.)

Before the double execution in 2000, the first inmate’s last words were an admonition against racism targeting black people, according to records kept by Texas corrections officials. He then said, “Let’s do it.” The second inmate apologized to his victim and his family before saying, “I am ready. I love you all.”

[Drug companies take aim at Arkansas executions and demand lethal injection drugs back]

Arkansas is not the first state to plan a double execution since then. Perhaps the most highly publicized botched lethal injection in recent memory occurred the last time a state tried carrying out two executions in one night.

In 2014, Oklahoma authorities attempted to execute Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, in the first of two lethal injections planned that night. They bungled the process: Lockett writhed and grimaced on the gurney, prompting the execution to be called off, and he died 43 minutes after it began. (The second execution scheduled for that night was delayed; when it was carried out months later, Oklahoma officials used the wrong lethal injection drug. The state has yet to resume executions.)

Officials in Oklahoma later blamed that bungled execution on a misplaced IV. In a state review, officials involved in the process said the back-to-back scheduling added to the stress they felt.

This story, first published at 4:58 p.m. Monday, has been updated repeatedly with news from Arkansas. 

Further reading:

Executions and death sentences declined last year in the U.S.

After divided Supreme Court allows Alabama execution, inmate heaves and coughs during lethal injection

 The state Supreme Court justice who stepped down to protest the death penalty

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Arkansas carries out country's first back-to-back executions in almost two decades – Washington Post

Arkansas executes its first inmate in 12 years after the U.S. Supreme Court clears the way for the lethal injection of 51-year-old Ledell Lee. (Reuters)

Arkansas on Monday night executed two inmates in back-to-back lethal injections, carrying out the country’s first double execution since 2000.

The executions came after Arkansas, pushing back on legal challenges, executed an inmate last week, the state’s first lethal injection in more than a decade. As part of a hurried pace that authorities say is propelled by an expiring drug, Arkansas officials returned to the execution chamber four days after that lethal injection to carry out two more death sentences.

The second execution Monday night was briefly delayed by a federal judge so she could consider claims that the first lethal injection may have been botched, but she lifted that stay shortly before 9:30 p.m. local time. The second inmate was pronounced dead about an hour later, according to the Associated Press, which had a reporter witness it.

These lethal injections marked the first back-to-back executions in the United States since Texas carried out two death sentences in one night nearly two decades ago. Arkansas was also the first state to make such an attempt since a widely publicized botch in Oklahoma in 2014.

[With its lethal drugs expiring, Arkansas set an unprecedented execution schedule]

Arkansas hoped this month to resume executions by carrying out eight death sentences in 11 days, an unprecedented schedule that has been thwarted by court orders blocking half of those lethal injections. Even after some lethal injections were stayed, officials shifted their focus to carrying out the remaining executions on the schedule.

Jack H. Jones Jr. and Marcel W. Williams, both of whom have been on Arkansas death row since being convicted of brutal murders two decades ago, unsuccessfully sought to delay their lethal injections set for Monday night at a state prison southeast of Little Rock.

Both appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected their requests Monday afternoon and evening. Jones was executed first. Williams was scheduled to follow not long after, but his lethal injection was postponed while his lawyers argued in federal court that Jones’s execution was botched. Both men had said they had medical issues that could complicate the executions, which involve injections of three drugs.

The Supreme Court first denied Jones’s request for a stay about an hour before the executions were set to begin at 7 p.m. Monday in Arkansas. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who is assigned cases from the federal circuit covering Arkansas, referred the request to the full court, which denied it without explanation; Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only member of the court to register a dissent.

[Arkansas executed one death-row inmate. Three more executions are planned this month.]

Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m., 14 minutes after his lethal injection got underway, according to the Associated Press, which had a reporter serve as a media witness. He delivered a last statement expressing remorse.

Arkansas inmates Jack Jones, left, and Marcel Williams. (Arkansas Department of Correction via AP)

Williams’s appeal was still pending when Jones’s execution ended, but not long after, the justices denied the stay request. Again, no explanation was given and Sotomayor was the only justice to note a dissent.

While the Supreme Court’s decision to reject Williams’s requests seemingly meant that the second execution could proceed as planned, it was pushed further into the night after a federal judge issued a temporary stay.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued the order indefinitely delaying Williams’s execution after his attorneys filed a motion asked for a stay, arguing that Jones’s “execution appeared to be torturous and inhumane.” Baker later issued an order denying the request and lifting her stay after a hearing was held.

In the motion, Williams’s attorneys, noting that he shared medical issues with Jones, said corrections staff struggled to insert a central line into Jones’s neck. The attorneys said that corrections officials did not wait five minutes, as required by the execution policy, after the injection began to check and make sure Jones was unconscious after the sedative was administered. They also alleged that Jones was still “moving his lips and gulping for air” after five minutes had elapsed.

One media witness says Jones’s “lips did move, but only very briefly at the very start of the process.” According to the Associated Press, its reporter who witnessed Jones’s execution said that the inmate moved his lips briefly after the sedative was first administered and noted that officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently during the first few minutes. The AP reporter also said Jones’s chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked his consciousness.

Under the Arkansas lethal-injection protocol, state officials must check to make sure inmates are unconscious at least five minutes after the sedative is injected. If they remain conscious, officials are then directed to inject a second dose of the sedative.

[Arkansas carries out first execution since 2005 after Supreme Court denies stay requests]

Williams’s attorneys say in their filing that he did not agree to have a central line inserted, and warned that their client’s execution could be “even more torturous” than Jones’s.

State officials filed a short response pushing back on these assertions about the IV and the execution, calling them “inaccurate” and “utterly baseless.”

“The claim that Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air is unsupported by press accounts or the accounts of other witnesses,” the Arkansas response stated. “The drugs were administered to Jones at 7:06 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. There was no constitutional violation in Jones’ execution.”

After Baker lifted her stay, Williams’s execution proceeded, and he was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. after a 17-minute lethal injection, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who scheduled the lethal injections and did not issue a statement following the execution last week, issued statements late Monday saying that “the rule of law was upheld” and “justice has prevailed.”

In a statement after Jones’s execution, Hutchinson said that the “victim’s family has waited patiently for justice” for two decades. After Williams’s execution, Hutchinson thanked the victim’s family for their patience and said “in this case our laws ended in justice.”

The lethal injections in Arkansas were planned as part of a schedule that would have been without parallel in modern capital punishment. Hutchinson set eight executions to occur in pairs — back-to-back on four nights spread out over this week and last — and while most executions occur with little public notice, the timetable in Arkansas drew unusual attention and some criticism.

Attorneys for the inmates filed a volley of appeals seeking to delay the executions, while two dozen former corrections officials wrote a letter to Hutchinson asking him to reconsider the schedule. They warned that the schedule was “needlessly exacerbating the strain and stress placed on” the people carrying it out and saying the timetable could “increase the chance of an error occurring.”

Washington Post reporter Mark Berman explains why Arkansas scheduled eight executions in 11 days. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Arkansas officials defended this schedule as necessary because their stock of midazolam, a common sedative that has provoked controversy after some executions and is one of three products used in the state’s executions, expires at the end of April. Due to an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, Arkansas authorities say they are not sure if more can be obtained. Leslie Rutledge (R), the state’s attorney general, pledged to fight attempts to delay the remaining executions, saying that “families have waited far too long to see justice.”

As the execution dates approached, both sides engaged in a multifaceted legal battle, with death-row inmates and Arkansas officials appealing to state and federal courts. Drug companies also weighed in, unsuccessfully asking judges to prevent the state from using their products, which at least one company suggested was obtained through dishonest means.

Death-row inmates in Arkansas also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as a group, but those requests have been rebuffed, most recently Monday, when the high court denied a request to rehear a case from Arkansas inmates that the justices had already denied. No explanations were given, though Justice Sotomayor said she would have granted the petitions in that case.

The lethal injections on Monday come just four days after Arkansas resumed executions, carrying out the death sentence for Ledell Lee after the Supreme Court declined stay requests.

Last week, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked the first two executions on the schedule, and another execution planned for the same night as Lee’s was stayed. Another execution is planned for Thursday night, while a second originally set that night was stayed this month by a federal judge.

While two executions per night had been the original plan in Arkansas, Jones and Williams appear to be the only two inmates who will actually be put to death on the same night this month.

Jones, 52, was sentenced to death in 1996 for raping and killing Mary Phillips. According to court records, Jones stalked and killed Phillips, a bookkeeper, and before killing her, he beat her 11-year-old daughter so severely that police thought she was dead when they got to the scene.

The Arkansas Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit prison, where executions occur. (Kelly P. Kissel/AP)

Jones’s attorneys have argued in court that he has medical conditions that could result in the Arkansas execution method causing him severe pain, according to court records. In a filing, his attorneys said Jones has diabetes, hypertension and several other conditions that cause him to be on medication that could bring intense or painful suffering because of a possible tolerance to the sedative used in the lethal injection.

State officials argue that Jones’s challenge involves “guesswork” about the sedative and “is no different than the many lethal-injection challenges” he has filed before. Baker, the federal judge, denied that motion Friday, saying Jones’s case did not show “a significant possibility” that the lethal injection process could cause that pain and suffering.

After Jones was executed, Rutledge, the attorney general, released a statement saying she hoped this helped Phillips’s family.

“This evening, Lacey Phillips Manor and Darla Phillips Jones have seen justice for the brutal rape and murder of their mother, Mary Phillips,” Rutledge said in a statement. After detailing the case, Rutledge added: “The Phillips family has waited far too long to see justice carried out, and I pray they find peace tonight.”

[Arkansas had shifted its focus to remaining executions after court losses]

Williams, 46, was sentenced to death in 1997 for abducting, robbing, raping and killing Stacy Errickson, who was 22 and was living at the Little Rock Air Force Base while her husband was serving overseas. Arkansas officials, in court filings opposing a stay in his case, said he forced her at gunpoint to take cash from ATMs before raping, beating and strangling her.

Attorneys for Williams have argued in court filings that he had poor counsel during his trial in both his guilt and penalty phases, which they said meant he was sentenced to death despite the jury not hearing any mitigating evidence arguing against the death penalty.

Protesters praying, emotionally preparing for scheduled execution of Marcel Williams… #ARExecutionspic.twitter.com/SJsguGKALw

— Kimberly Rusley (@KATVKimberly) April 25, 2017

In another filing, they pointed to health issues, saying he weighs 400 pounds and suffers from several medical maladies that meant the planned lethal injection “was more likely to maim than kill him.” His attorneys argued for stays on both counts, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rejected both requests on Friday.

Rutledge said she felt the execution provided justice for Errickson’s family and friends.

“I hope that tonight’s lawful execution brings much-needed peace to all of Stacy’s loved ones, particularly her now-adult children Brittany and Bryan,” she said in a statement.

[Arkansas courts had briefly blocked the use of a lethal injection drug]

The Arkansas Supreme Court rejected stay requests from both men. The 8th Circuit, which had denied an appeal filed by the eight inmates facing execution that challenged the Arkansas method of execution, also denied another challenge Friday that was filed by some of the inmates — including Williams, but not Jones — and focused on the state’s clemency procedures.

The double execution was the country’s first since August 2000. Texas was in the midst of carrying out 40 death sentences that year, the most for any state in a single year since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. (Executions nationwide have fallen since that time, and last year, 20 death sentences were carried out nationwide.)

Before the double execution in 2000, the first inmate’s last words were an admonition against racism targeting black people, according to records kept by Texas corrections officials. He then said, “Let’s do it.” The second inmate apologized to his victim and his family before saying, “I am ready. I love you all.”

[Drug companies take aim at Arkansas executions and demand lethal injection drugs back]

Arkansas is not the first state to plan a double execution since then. Perhaps the most highly publicized botched lethal injection in recent memory occurred the last time a state tried carrying out two executions in one night.

In 2014, Oklahoma authorities attempted to execute Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, in the first of two lethal injections planned that night. They bungled the process: Lockett writhed and grimaced on the gurney, prompting the execution to be called off, and he died 43 minutes after it began. (The second execution scheduled for that night was delayed; when it was carried out months later, Oklahoma officials used the wrong lethal injection drug. The state has yet to resume executions.)

Officials in Oklahoma later blamed that bungled execution on a misplaced IV. In a state review, officials involved in the process said the back-to-back scheduling added to the stress they felt.

This story, first published at 4:58 p.m. on Monday, has been updated repeatedly with news from Arkansas. 

Further reading:

Executions and death sentences declined last year in the U.S.

After divided Supreme Court allows Alabama execution, inmate heaves and coughs during lethal injection

 The state Supreme Court justice who stepped down to protest the death penalty

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

White House 'confident' of averting shutdown as Trump shows flexibility on wall – Washington Post

By , and ,

The White House sought Monday to calm a jittery Washington ahead of a showdown with Congress over spending, and President Trump softened his demand that a deal to keep the federal government open include money to begin construction on his long-promised border wall.

Despite one-party control at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the brinkmanship that came to define spending battles in the Obama years has tumbled into the Trump era, as have the factional divisions over strategy and priorities that have gripped the GOP for a decade.

But with a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

“The president is working hard to keep the government open,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Monday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he was “very confident” that an agreement would be reached by Friday, but he pointedly said he could not “guarantee” that a government closure would be averted.

At issue is whether the spending measure will explicitly allocate funds toward building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — a campaign promise that was a rallying cry for Trump’s base and one on which he is eager to demonstrate progress by Saturday, his 100th day in office.

Democrats, meanwhile, gave the White House an opening, saying they would agree to some new money for border security — so long as it did not go toward the creation of a wall, something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called “immoral.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the idea of a wall while suggesting that a combination of smart technology and law enforcement, including the use of drones, would be “a much more effective way to secure the border” without hitting an impasse in Congress.

Republicans were working to define Trump’s campaign promise down, arguing that any form of border security would fulfill it.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a supporter of immigration reform who challenged Trump in the 2016 primaries. “I think it’s become symbolic of better border security. It’s a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that’s a bridge too far — but I’m mixing my metaphors.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a key appropriator and member of Senate leadership, said that “there could be a wall in some places and technology in other places,” implying that there would not be funding for the wall sketched out in campaign rhetoric. “I think you’re going to get a down payment on border security generally,” he said.

Trump has asked Congress for $1.5 billion in new money to start construction on the wall, and he wants an additional $2.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The wall, experts say, would cost $21.6 billion and take 3½ years to construct.

At the White House, Spicer portrayed Trump’s position not as a demand but rather as one of two priorities — the other being additional military funding — in evolving negotiations with Congress. He left open the possibility that the president could agree to funding for border activities generally, such as additional fencing or drones.

“I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations that are ongoing,” Spicer said.

Should lawmakers fail to find consensus by Friday, there are plans ready to quickly pass through the House and Senate what is referred to as a “short-term C.R.,” a continuing resolution to keep the government open until discussions are finalized.

The Senate returned Monday night and the House returns Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving only three days this week when both chambers will be in session.

The more conciliatory language emanating from the White House did not stop Trump from continuing to hammer away on Twitter at what he claims is an urgent need for the wall. In a pair of posts, Trump sought to build public pressure on lawmakers to pass funding for wall construction.

“The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!” he wrote in a morning post.

In another message several hours later, Trump wrote that if “the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be! #BuildTheWall.”

Still, Trump has left himself wiggle room to agree to sign a government funding bill that does not include money for the wall.

“My base understands the wall is going to get built, whether I have it funded here or if I get it funded shortly thereafter,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “That wall’s getting built, okay? One hundred percent.”

Asked if he would sign a bill without wall funding, Trump told the news service, “I just don’t know yet.”

The debate over wall funding is just one of several moving pieces congressional leaders are trying to address this week to avoid a partial government shutdown. In 2015, President Barack Obama made a deal with congressional lawmakers to fund government operations through April 28, 2017. If a new agreement isn’t reached by then, many federal employees will stop being paid, national parks will close, and a number of other changes will kick in — as in 2013, the last time the government shut down.

Since new rules about spending bills went into place after Jimmy Carter’s administration, a government shutdown has never occurred when a single political party has controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Paramount for many Republican lawmakers is funding the government, as opposed to the wall specifically. If the government shuts down, they fear, voters could blame the GOP for failing to govern, and the party could suffer the consequences in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I’d like to make it as clean as we can and fund the government,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “I wouldn’t mind funding the wall, but it’s a question of what we can do. The question is, what’s doable and will we make the deadline?”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said that an effective “wall” along the border had been “authorized years and years and years ago,” in the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

“It’s been partially built and partially funded. He wants to fund the rest of it and build it — perfectly legitimate debate that should take place on that,” Risch said.

Asked if that debate could happen in three days, Risch chuckled. “Things get done quickly around here when they want it to get done,” he said.

Even when Republicans controlled the House during the Obama administration, they could rarely pass spending bills without Democratic support. That is because a number of the House’s most conservative members often refused to support such bills, making a bipartisan majority coalition a necessity. In addition, 60 votes are needed to pass a requisite procedural vote in the Senate. With just 52 seats, Senate Republicans will need bipartisan support in that chamber as well.

Among other guarantees, Democrats want assurances that insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act will continue to be funded. There have been discussions among Republicans that Democrats could agree to provide money for the construction of the wall in exchange for those health funds, but Democrats have refused.

Sunday morning, congressional Democrats submitted to Republicans a compromise spending plan, which included some new money for border security but only if it did not go toward a wall. Democrats also asked for assurances that the health insurance subsidies would continue to be funded, language that would shore up benefits for coal miners and a change that would expand Medicaid benefits to people in Puerto Rico, according to a senior Democratic congressional aide.

Pelosi told reporters on a conference call Monday that Congress was “on the path to get it done until [Trump] did intervene” and that the administration’s actions so far belied his campaign promise to “make Mexico pay” for the border wall.

James Norton, a former deputy assistant undersecretary for homeland security under President George W. Bush, said funding for technologies, such as cameras and radars, on the border has dropped off since the early 2000s. He said to get money for the wall or other border security measures, the administration will have to “sell specifics” to lawmakers.

“Each part is going to need to be sold in a specific way to Congress, and they’re going to have to hit the Hill hard,” Norton said. “It won’t be easy.”

Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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White House 'confident' of averting shutdown as Trump shows flexibility on wall – Washington Post

By , and ,

The White House sought Monday to calm a jittery Washington ahead of a showdown with Congress over spending, and President Trump softened his demand that a deal to keep the federal government open include money to begin construction on his long-promised border wall.

Despite one-party control at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the brinkmanship that came to define spending battles in the Obama years has tumbled into the Trump era, as have the factional divisions over strategy and priorities that have gripped the GOP for a decade.

But with a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

“The president is working hard to keep the government open,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Monday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he was “very confident” that an agreement would be reached by Friday, but he pointedly said he could not “guarantee” that a government closure would be averted.

At issue is whether the spending measure will explicitly allocate funds toward building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — a campaign promise that was a rallying cry for Trump’s base and one on which he is eager to demonstrate progress by Saturday, his 100th day in office.

Democrats, meanwhile, gave the White House an opening, saying they would agree to some new money for border security — so long as it did not go toward the creation of a wall, something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called “immoral.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the idea of a wall while suggesting that a combination of smart technology and law enforcement, including the use of drones, would be “a much more effective way to secure the border” without hitting an impasse in Congress.

Republicans were working to define Trump’s campaign promise down, arguing that any form of border security would fulfill it.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a supporter of immigration reform who challenged Trump in the 2016 primaries. “I think it’s become symbolic of better border security. It’s a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that’s a bridge too far — but I’m mixing my metaphors.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a key appropriator and member of Senate leadership, said that “there could be a wall in some places and technology in other places,” implying that there would not be funding for the wall sketched out in campaign rhetoric. “I think you’re going to get a down payment on border security generally,” he said.

Trump has asked Congress for $1.5 billion in new money to start construction on the wall, and he wants an additional $2.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The wall, experts say, would cost $21.6 billion and take 3½ years to construct.

At the White House, Spicer portrayed Trump’s position not as a demand but rather as one of two priorities — the other being additional military funding — in evolving negotiations with Congress. He left open the possibility that the president could agree to funding for border activities generally, such as additional fencing or drones.

“I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations that are ongoing,” Spicer said.

Should lawmakers fail to find consensus by Friday, there are plans ready to quickly pass through the House and Senate what is referred to as a “short-term C.R.,” a continuing resolution to keep the government open until discussions are finalized.

The Senate returned Monday night and the House returns Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving only three days this week when both chambers will be in session.

The more conciliatory language emanating from the White House did not stop Trump from continuing to hammer away on Twitter at what he claims is an urgent need for the wall. In a pair of posts, Trump sought to build public pressure on lawmakers to pass funding for wall construction.

“The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!” he wrote in a morning post.

In another message several hours later, Trump wrote that if “the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be! #BuildTheWall.”

Still, Trump has left himself wiggle room to agree to sign a government funding bill that does not include money for the wall.

“My base understands the wall is going to get built, whether I have it funded here or if I get it funded shortly thereafter,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “That wall’s getting built, okay? One hundred percent.”

Asked if he would sign a bill without wall funding, Trump told the news service, “I just don’t know yet.”

The debate over wall funding is just one of several moving pieces congressional leaders are trying to address this week to avoid a partial government shutdown. In 2015, President Barack Obama made a deal with congressional lawmakers to fund government operations through April 28, 2017. If a new agreement isn’t reached by then, many federal employees will stop being paid, national parks will close, and a number of other changes will kick in — as in 2013, the last time the government shut down.

Since new rules about spending bills went into place after Jimmy Carter’s administration, a government shutdown has never occurred when a single political party has controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Paramount for many Republican lawmakers is funding the government, as opposed to the wall specifically. If the government shuts down, they fear, voters could blame the GOP for failing to govern, and the party could suffer the consequences in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I’d like to make it as clean as we can and fund the government,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “I wouldn’t mind funding the wall, but it’s a question of what we can do. The question is, what’s doable and will we make the deadline?”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said that an effective “wall” along the border had been “authorized years and years and years ago,” in the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

“It’s been partially built and partially funded. He wants to fund the rest of it and build it — perfectly legitimate debate that should take place on that,” Risch said.

Asked if that debate could happen in three days, Risch chuckled. “Things get done quickly around here when they want it to get done,” he said.

Even when Republicans controlled the House during the Obama administration, they could rarely pass spending bills without Democratic support. That is because a number of the House’s most conservative members often refused to support such bills, making a bipartisan majority coalition a necessity. In addition, 60 votes are needed to pass a requisite procedural vote in the Senate. With just 52 seats, Senate Republicans will need bipartisan support in that chamber as well.

Among other guarantees, Democrats want assurances that insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act will continue to be funded. There have been discussions among Republicans that Democrats could agree to provide money for the construction of the wall in exchange for those health funds, but Democrats have refused.

Sunday morning, congressional Democrats submitted to Republicans a compromise spending plan, which included some new money for border security but only if it did not go toward a wall. Democrats also asked for assurances that the health insurance subsidies would continue to be funded, language that would shore up benefits for coal miners and a change that would expand Medicaid benefits to people in Puerto Rico, according to a senior Democratic congressional aide.

Pelosi told reporters on a conference call Monday that Congress was “on the path to get it done until [Trump] did intervene” and that the administration’s actions so far belied his campaign promise to “make Mexico pay” for the border wall.

James Norton, a former deputy assistant undersecretary for homeland security under President George W. Bush, said funding for technologies, such as cameras and radars, on the border has dropped off since the early 2000s. He said to get money for the wall or other border security measures, the administration will have to “sell specifics” to lawmakers.

“Each part is going to need to be sold in a specific way to Congress, and they’re going to have to hit the Hill hard,” Norton said. “It won’t be easy.”

Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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State Department website removes article touting history of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate – Washington Post

By ,

The State Department on Monday removed from its website an article about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, following questions about whether the federal government improperly promoted Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The State Department issued a statement Monday apologizing for “any misperception.”

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether the item had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns.

The short item had been posted on a promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopted Trump’s term “winter White House” for the ­members-only club. It did not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item did note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item read. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article noted.

The item included photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gave a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.

“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item read. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”

One watchdog group, American Oversight, called for an investigation by the State Department inspector general and said it would request public records documenting how the blog post was created.

The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.

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State Department website removes article touting history of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate – Washington Post

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The State Department on Monday removed from its website an article about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, following questions about whether the federal government improperly promoted Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The State Department issued a statement Monday apologizing for “any misperception.”

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the statement said.

It was not clear whether the item had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns.

The short item had been posted on a promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopted Trump’s term “winter White House” for the ­members-only club. It did not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item did note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item read. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article noted.

The item included photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gave a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.

“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item read. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”

One watchdog group, American Oversight, called for an investigation by the State Department inspector general and said it would request public records documenting how the blog post was created.

The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.

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