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Trump Orders Stimulus Package Negotiations to Stop Until After Election

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  • In a series of tweets Tuesday, President Trump said he is halting all negotiations on the coronavirus stimulus package until after the election, adding, “immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill.”
  • He also said he instructed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to focus on approving his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The move prompted outrage from many Democrats who argued that Trump was acting in his own self-interest, not America’s, by holding the stimulus package hostage and bribing people to vote for him. 
  • Some Republicans also condemned the move, but others defended it, saying Democrats had only provided unworkable proposals and refused to negotiate.
  • Hours later, Trump appeared to backtrack and urged Congress to immediately approve another round of stimulus checks as well as billions of dollars for both airline payroll support and the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

Trump Ends Stimulus Talks

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he was ending all negotiations on another coronavirus relief stimulus package until after the election. 

Trump declared the decision in a series of tweets where he accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) of “not negotiating in good faith” and said he was rejecting her requests. 

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” he wrote.

The president went on to say that he asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instead to “focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.”

“Our Economy is doing very well,” he added. “The Stock Market is at record levels, JOBS and unemployment also coming back in record numbers. We are leading the World in Economic Recovery, and THE BEST IS YET TO COME!”

Backlash 

Following that announcement, many people took to Twitter to condemn the president, arguing he was holding the stimulus package hostage and that he was essentially bribing Americans to vote for him.

Many politicians also echoed the claim that Trump was simply doing this to benefit himself, including Pelosi, who has been one of the main politicians leading the stimulus negotiations.

“Today, once again, President Trump showed his true colors: putting himself first at the expense of the country, with the full complicity of the GOP Members of Congress,” she said in a statement. “He refuses to put money in workers’ pockets, unless his name is printed on the check.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden also hit on similar points in a statement on his campaign page.

“Make no mistake: if you are out of work, if your business is closed, if your child’s school is shut down, if you are seeing layoffs in your community, Donald Trump decided today that none of that — none of it — matters to him,” the former vice president said before going on to condemn Trump for ending the negotiations so the Senate could focus on jamming through his Supreme Court nominee. 

The president telling the Senate to focus on the controversial near-election nomination rather than providing Americans with much-needed assistance also sparked anger among many.

“In the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, Trump won’t help people get the relief they need – but he will ram through an illegitimate Supreme Court nominee to rip away Americans’ health care,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.) tweeted. “So much for the art of the deal. This is despicable.”

Questionable Strategy and Republican Response

Politics divisions aside, many people also wondered what strategic purpose Trump’s announcement served, and why the president would see any benefit in refusing to give American’s economic support less than a month before the election. 

“Wait, so Trump not only rejects stimulus funds that would probably have helped his re-election chances, but *also* does so in a way to make sure that he personally will take blame for it?” pollster and FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver said in a tweet.

“The timing of Trump’s sudden move perplexed Republicans since there was little downside politically to allowing the talks to continue to play out,” CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju tweeted. “Now, they fear, that Trump’s decision will make it easier for Democrats to pit the blame squarely on the WH.”

To that point, a small handful of Republicans have spoken out against Trump for ending negotiations. In a statement, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) called the move “a huge mistake.” Rep. John Katko (R-Ny.) also explicitly tweeted that he disagreed with the president.

“With lives at stake, we cannot afford to stop negotiations on a relief package,” he continued. “The Problem Solvers Caucus has a proposal that both sides agreed on and can bring negotiators back to the table. I strongly urge the President to rethink this move.” 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.), a staunch ally of the president, also chimed in. While he did not directly criticize Trump, he did reiterate Katko’s remarks encouraging his Republican colleagues and the president to look at that same bipartisan package.

“Time to come together to help America deal with COVID as we move toward a vaccine,” he added.

Of course, on the other side, there were also plenty of Republicans who defended the move, including key leaders, like McConnell, who said he agreed with Trump’s decision when asked by reporters Tuesday.

“I think his view was that they were not going to produce a result and we needed to concentrate on what’s achievable,” he added.

Other Republicans also echoed Trump’s remarks, arguing that Pelosi’s deal was unworkable.

“Just look at Pelosi’s last offer to see how unserious she is,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said in a tweet, calling the proposal “a leftist wish list.”

Trump Reverses Course

However, following the backlash — as well as a significant stock market dip — Trump appeared to reverse course. Just hours after saying he was ending all stimulus talks, he called on Congress to pass key elements of the package.

“The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business,” he tweeted. “Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!” 

“If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY,” he said in another tweet shortly after. “I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening, Nancy?”

Those late-night proclamations confused many. In an attempt to clear up the discourse, Wednesday morning, Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows went on Fox News. There, he explained that the negotiations on a stimulus package were indeed dead but also added that he and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin were in talks about smaller bills.

“The secretary and I have been talking about what we could do with stand-alone bills to help airlines, small businesses and the American people, with stimulus checks,” he said. “So, hopefully, we can convince Speaker Pelosi to do something on a stand-alone basis.”

However, while speaking to reporters, a spokesperson for Pelosi said that Mnuchin asked about a standalone airline bill in a call with the Speaker this morning. In that call, Pelosi reminded the secretary that Democrats had tried to push through an airline payroll bill on the House floor via unanimous consent last week, but Republicans blocked it.

As for the other measures Trump mentioned in his tweets, while Pelosi and Democrats have supported them, it seems unlikely that they will agree to this. In general, they have rejected piecemeal stimulus legislation in pieces because they believe smaller bills will not do enough to help the pandemic economy. 

Economic Concerns

Regardless of the uncertain path forward, Trump’s push to pass certain parts of the package did seem to revive the stock market, which quickly rebounded Wednesday morning. However, the stock market’s optimism is not something that is shared by everyone.

In fact, just hours before Trump tweeted that he was ending negotiations and asserted that the economy was doing well, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell painted a grim picture of where the economy is headed in incredibly unusual remarks

In his comments, Powell urged Congress and the White House to approve more stimulus packages and warned hem that failure to do so could result in dire consequences.

“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” he said. “Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy and holding back wage growth. By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller.”

Despite that dire warning, Trump still claimed that the stimulus package was not needed because the economy was doing well, and the stock market and jobs were coming back at record levels.

But many experts — including some of Trump’s own advisors — have said the economy is not doing well and unless more money is injected into it, the economy is at risk of stalling or even backsliding.

Even beyond that, it is simply false that the stock market — which does not reflect the health of the economy — is at record levels. Similarly, regarding Trump’s job claims, while unemployment has gone down since its peak in April, it is still at 7.9%, and the country has recovered barely half of the jobs lost in March and April.

At the same time, many are worried that the job losses the country has seen are permanent and that given the predictions from experts about coronavirus spikes this fall and winter, Americans can expect more closures and slowdowns.

With the election edging nearer and nearer, Trump and his allies have firmly centered the economy as a key issue, now more than ever. The question now is will it come back to bite him?

According to a New York Times-Siena College poll from last month, 72% of voters supported a stimulus. That includes a majority of Republicans, but as for how Americans struggling in the pandemic economy will respond on Election Day, that is yet to be seen.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Washington Post)

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House Panel Approves Commission To Study Reparations

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  • In a 25 to 17 vote along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would establish a commission to study slavery reparations for Black Americans.
  • Republicans objected to the plan, arguing that it will cost too much money and that it is unfair to make all American taxpayers responsible for the consequences of slavery.
  • Democrats pushed back, claiming the modern oppression of Black people still holds roots in slavery, and noting that the bill just creates a commission to study reparations, not implement them.
  • While the proposal faces steep odds in the Senate, Wednesday’s historic vote will move the measure to the House floor for a full vote for the first time since it was introduced over three decades ago. 

Reparation Commission Achieves First Approval

The House Judiciary Committee voted for the first time on Wednesday to advance a bill that will create a commission to consider paying slavery reparations for Black Americans.

The legislation was first proposed over 30 years ago, and if signed into law, it would create a 13-member commission that would study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S. and then give Congress a recommendation for “appropriate remedies” to best compensate Black Americans.

The measure passed the committee 25 to 17 along party lines, as expected, with objections from Republicans, who claimed reparations will cost too much and that they are unfair to Americans who have no history of enslavers in their families.

Democrats pushed back against those assertions, arguing that the federal government does have enough money to take some kind of action. They also noted that the commission will not actually implement any reparations, but rather just look into the options and then make a non-binding recommendation.

There are a lot of different ideas for what reparations could look like. While some support direct cash payments of various sizes, others have argued there are different proposals that might be more realistic to put into law, like no-interest loans for Black homeowners or free college tuition.

“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight. Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday.

Others also condemned the argument that some Americans, particularly those whose ancestors did not directly benefit from owning slaves, should not bear responsibility. They said that this line of thinking ignores both generational wealth, which vastly benefits white Americans over all others, as well as how Black Americans are hurt by modern-day discrimination and oppression that has roots in slavery.

“Slavery was indeed ended 150 years ago but racism never took a day off and is alive and well in America,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in committee Wednesday. 

“You can ask the family members of Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd. Black folks in this country cannot keep living and dying like this. But we’ll be forced to do so if White folks in America continue to refuse to look back at history.”

Uphill Battle

While many have described the legislation as a flexible first step, any further congressional action will almost certainly be an uphill battle. The committee vote is just the very first step: the proposal still has to go to a vote by the full House, where it is unclear if it will even garner enough support among the House Democrats’ slim majority. 

If it were to pass the lower chamber, the bill faces almost insurmountable odds in the 50-50 split Senate, where ten Republicans would have to join all Democrats to break the legislative filibuster.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he will start considering when to schedule the vote, though it is unlikely to be considered soon. Hoyer also urged President Joe Biden to use his executive power to create the commission if the legislation fails.

The White House has said that Biden supports the commission, but administration officials have not confirmed whether he would act unilaterally on the subject.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (Vox)

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Biden To Pull All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11

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  • President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
  • Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
  • Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.

Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.

“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’

The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.

Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.

The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.

Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.

As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.

According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.

Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.

However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens. 

Concerns Over Withdrawal

The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.

As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces  — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust

Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.

Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.

But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.

While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.

Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.

Politicians Respond

Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.

“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”

Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave. 

Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.

“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.

“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.

The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.

“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”

It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)

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Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen

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  • A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
  • Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
  • Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
  • Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”

Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.

Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.

Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.

According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.

Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.

The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018. 

In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”

The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.

One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.

Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.

Ongoing Investigation

Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.

“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”

Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.

The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.

Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.

It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.

The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.

The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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