GOP and Democrats trade blame for shutdown, no deal in sight
WASHINGTON (AP) — The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year, as President Donald Trump sought to raise the stakes Friday and both parties traded blame in the weeklong impasse.
Agreement eludes Washington in the waning days of the Republican monopoly on power, and that sets up the first big confrontation between Trump and newly empowered Democrats. Trump is sticking with his demand for money to build a wall along the southern border, and Democrats, who take control of the House on Jan. 3, are refusing to give him what he wants.
Trump worked to escalate the showdown Friday, reissuing threats to close the U.S.-Mexico border to pressure Congress to fund the wall and to shut off aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants have fled.
“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” he wrote in one of a series of tweets.
The president also signaled he was in no rush to seek a resolution, welcoming the fight as he heads toward his own bid for re-election in 2020. He tweeted Thursday evening that Democrats may be able to block him now, “but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”
Lawyer: McCarrick repeatedly touched youth during confession
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s sexual abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has expanded significantly after a man testified that the retired American archbishop sexually abused him for years starting when he was 11, including during confession.
James Grein testified Thursday in New York before the judicial vicar for the New York City archdiocese, who was asked by the Holy See to take his statement for the Vatican’s canonical case, said Grein’s attorney Patrick Noaker.
The testimony, which lasted about an hour, was difficult and stressful but Grein was proud to have done it, Noaker said.
“He wants his church back. He felt that in order to accomplish that end, he had to go in and testify here and tell them what happened, and give the church itself the chance to do the right thing,” Noaker said in a telephone interview Friday.
Grein initially came forward in July after the New York archdiocese announced that a church investigation determined an allegation that McCarrick had groped another teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.
Nielsen visits Texas border after second child’s death
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Friday visited the Texas border city where an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy was detained with his father before dying in government custody .
DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said earlier in the week that Nielsen was scheduled to tour multiple stations and substations, and was also scheduled to meet with emergency medical technicians and medical professionals, as well as local officials.
Nielsen then was scheduled to go to Yuma, Arizona, on Saturday.
DHS did not immediately release more details on the trip or who Nielsen met, saying it was closed to the press.
The trip came four days after the death of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Felipe was the second Guatemalan child to die in government custody in three weeks.
Wall Street faces annual losses despite solid gains for week
Wall Street capped a week of volatile trading Friday with an uneven finish and the market’s first weekly gain since November.
Losses in technology, energy and industrial stocks outweighed gains in retailers and other consumer-focused companies. Stocks spent much of the day wavering between small gains and losses, ultimately unable to maintain the momentum from a two-day winning streak.
Even so, the major stock indexes closed with their first weekly gain in what’s been an otherwise painful last month of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 rose more than 2 percent for the week, while the Nasdaq added nearly 4 percent. The indexes are still all down around 10 percent for the month and on track for their worst December since 1931.
“It seems like convulsions in either direction have been the real norm for much of December and that’s certainly been the case this week,” said Eric Wiegand senior portfolio manager for Private Wealth Management at U.S. Bank. “The initial push higher and then seeing it subside a little bit is perhaps getting back to a little bit more of a normal environment, reflecting the reality that we have still a number of issues overhanging the market.”
The market’s sharp downturn since October has intensified this month, erasing all its 2018 gains and nudging the S&P 500 closer to its worst year since 2008.
Trump and China loom over a tumultuous year in Asia
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — To judge by the stream of extraordinary images on the Korean Peninsula, you might think 2018 marked the beginning of an elusive peace in one of the world’s last vestiges of the Cold War.
Just months after a barrage of threats of missile strikes and personal insults had many fearing the worst, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strode toward each other on a sultry June day in Singapore and grasped hands, vowing to upend decades of animosity and pursue a nuclear settlement. About a month earlier, Kim walked across the cracked concrete block that marks the Korean border, the world’s most heavily armed, and then, with a grin, guided a delighted South Korean President Moon Jae-in back into northern territory for a quick photo-op. Moon later flew into Pyongyang for a triumphant tour that saw him address a stadium of 150,000 North Koreans.
And yet, despite all the jaw-dropping images, any one of which would have stood out in sharp relief in an ordinary year, a sense of unease has taken hold in South Korea. There has been no substantial disarmament by the North, no grand peace deals, and many have the same old fears that North Korea will never give up its nuclear arsenal.
As 2018 draws to a close, the Korean Peninsula is not the only place in Asia looking ahead with apprehension.
Across the region, there are pockets of optimism but also a pervasive feeling of disquiet, a lot of which is linked to the twin political behemoths whose presence has been felt this year in every corner of Asia: China and Trump. That’s especially true of a Trump-China trade war that has caused fears of a global economic slowdown.
Sheriff blames sanctuary law for California officer’s death
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A suspected drunken driver accused of killing a California police officer who pulled him over was captured Friday as he tried to flee back to Mexico, where he lived before illegally crossing into the U.S., authorities said.
The sheriff leading the investigation blamed California’s sanctuary law for preventing local authorities from reporting Gustavo Perez Arriaga to U.S. immigration officials for two previous drunken driving arrests. If he had been deported, the sheriff said, Cpl. Ronil Singh of the tiny Newman Police Department would still be alive.
“We can’t ignore the fact that this could have been preventable,” Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson told reporters, asking why the state was “providing sanctuary for criminals (and) gang members. It’s a conversation we need to have.”
Following a statewide manhunt, Perez Arriaga was arrested on a murder warrant in a house near Bakersfield, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of where Singh was shot Wednesday.
As a SWAT team prepared to raid the house, Perez Arriaga came out with his hands up and surrendered. He was sent north in the slain officer’s handcuffs, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.
EPA targets Obama crackdown on mercury from coal plants
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday targeted an Obama-era regulation credited with helping dramatically reduce toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, saying the benefits to human health and the environment may not be worth the cost of the regulation.
The 2011 Obama administration rule, called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, led to what electric utilities say was an $18 billion clean-up of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.
Overall, environmental groups say, federal and state efforts have cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 85 percent in roughly the last decade.
Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities and other birth defects in children, among other harm. Coal power plants in this country are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants, which enters the food chain through fish and other items that people consume.
A proposal Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. It calculates that the crackdown on mercury and other toxins from coal plants produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and was not “appropriate and necessary” — a legal benchmark under the country’s landmark Clean Air Act.
UK honors cave rescue divers, Twiggy, Monty Python’s Palin
LONDON (AP) — British divers who rescued young soccer players trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand are among those being recognized in Britain’s New Year’s Honors List, along with 1960s model Twiggy and Monty Python star Michael Palin.
Twiggy, a model who shot to stardom during the Beatles era, will become a “dame” — the female equivalent of a knight — while Palin, whose second career has seen him become an acclaimed travel documentary maker, receives a knighthood.
Jim Carter, who played the acerbic Mr. Carson in “Downton Abbey,” was also recognized, as was filmmaker Christopher Nolan, director of “Inception” and “Dunkirk,” and best-selling author Philip Pullman, creator of the Dark Materials trilogy.
The list released Friday also named 43 people who responded quickly to the extremist attacks in Manchester and London in 2017.
The honors process starts with nominations from the public, which are winnowed down by committees and sent to the prime minister before the various honors are bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II or senior royals next year.
Supreme Court keeps a lower profile, but for how long?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court began its term with the tumultuous confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, followed by a studied avoidance of drama on the high court bench — especially anything that would divide the five conservatives and four liberals.
The justices have been unusually solicitous of each other in the courtroom since Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and several have voiced concern that the public perceives the court as merely a political institution. Chief Justice John Roberts seems determined to lead the one Washington institution that stays above the political fray. Even Roberts’ rebuke of President Donald Trump, after the president criticized a federal judge, was in defense of an independent, apolitical judiciary.
The next few weeks will test whether the calm can last.
When they gather in private on Jan. 4 to consider new cases for arguments in April and into next term, the justices will confront a raft of high-profile appeals.
Abortion restrictions, workplace discrimination against LGBT people and partisan gerrymandering are on the agenda. Close behind are appeals from the Trump administration seeking to have the court allow it to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation and to put in place restrictive rules for transgender troops.
Snyder signs bill to make Michigan ballot drives tougher
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed a law making it harder for groups to put proposals on the Michigan ballot, imposing a geographical-based requirement that may prevent them from gathering signatures for petitions mainly from the most populated areas.
The move followed voters’ passage of three Democratic-backed proposals last month and Republicans’ unprecedented tactic — enacted by the term-limited governor two weeks ago — to weaken minimum wage and paid sick time laws that began as ballot initiatives. Legal challenges are expected in Michigan and neighboring Wisconsin, where the GOP recently passed more sweeping laws to curtail incoming Democrats.
Also Friday, Snyder vetoed a bill that would have automatically empowered the Republican-led Legislature to intervene in certain lawsuits, which had been seen by critics as an attempt to especially hamstring incoming Democratic Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel but also Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer. He also vetoed a measure that would have blocked future attempts to force the disclosure of donors to nonprofits, including political groups whose sway has grown in elections.
He signed a law requiring his successor’s administration and future governors to have a “clear and convincing” need to adopt environmental and other state regulations that are tougher than federal standards, despite Whitmer’s objections.
Snyder finished acting on bills days before he leaves office after a frenetic lame-duck session in which GOP lawmakers passed some measures criticized as power grabs.
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