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Trump, Pelosi feud heats up again

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WASHINGTON — She imperiled his State of the Union address. He denied her a plane to visit troops abroad.

The shutdown battle between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is playing out as a surreal game of constitutional brinkmanship, with both flexing political powers from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as the negotiations to end the monthlong partial government shutdown remain stalled.

In dramatic fashion, Trump issued a letter to Pelosi on Thursday, just before she and other lawmakers were set to depart on the previously undisclosed trip to Afghanistan and Brussels. Trump belittled the trip as a “public relations event” — even though he had just made a similar warzone stop — and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.

“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” wrote Trump, who had been smarting since Pelosi, the day before, called on him to postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union address due to the shutdown.

Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker — let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the White House, travelling to a combat region — is very rare. Lawmakers were caught off guard. A bus to ferry the legislators to their departure idled outside the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.

The political tit-for-tat between Trump and Pelosi laid bare how the government-wide crisis has devolved into an intensely pointed clash between two leaders determined to prevail. It took place as hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and Washington’s routine protocols — a president’s speech to Congress, a lawmaker’s official trip — became collateral damage.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker planned to travel to Afghanistan and Brussels to thank service members and obtain briefings on national security and intelligence “from those on the front lines.” He noted Trump had travelled to Iraq during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22, and said a Republican-led congressional trip also had taken place.

Trump’s move was the latest example of his extraordinary willingness to tether U.S. government resources to his political needs. He has publicly urged the Justice Department to investigate political opponents and threatened to cut disaster aid to Puerto Rico amid a spat with the island territory’s leaders.

Some Republicans expressed frustration. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted, “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.” He called Pelosi’s State of the Union move “very irresponsible and blatantly political” but said Trump’s reaction was “also inappropriate.”

While there were few signs of progress Thursday, Vice-President Mike Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner dashed to the Capitol late in the day for a meeting with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And the State Department instructed all U.S. diplomats in Washington and elsewhere to return to work next week with pay, saying it had found money for their salaries at least temporarily.

For security reasons, Pelosi would normally make such a trip on a military aircraft supplied by the Pentagon. According to a defence official, Pelosi did request Defence Department support for overseas travel and it was initially approved. The official wasn’t authorized to speak by name about the matter, so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the president does have the authority to cancel the use of military aircraft.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California slammed Trump for revealing the closely held travel plans.

“I think the president’s decision to disclose a trip the speaker’s making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way,” Schiff said.

Trump’s trip to Iraq after Christmas was not disclosed in advance for security reasons.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wanted Pelosi to stay in Washington before Tuesday, a deadline to prepare the next round of paychecks for federal workers.

“We want to keep her in Washington,” Sanders said. “The president wants her here to negotiate.”

The White House also cancelled plans for a presidential delegation to travel to an economic forum in Switzerland next week, citing the shutdown. And they said future congressional trips would be postponed until the shutdown is resolved, though it was not immediately clear if any such travel — which often is not disclosed in advance — was coming up.

Trump was taken by surprise by Pelosi’s move to postpone his address and told one adviser it was the sort of disruptive move he would make himself, according to a Republican who is in frequent contact with the White House and was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

While he maintained a public silence, Trump grew weary of how Pelosi’s move was being received on cable TV and reiterated fears that he was being outmanoeuvred in the public eye. Trump was delighted at the idea of cancelling Pelosi’s trip, believing the focus on the resources needed would highlight her hypocrisy for cancelling his speech, according to the Republican.

Trump has still not said how he will handle Pelosi’s attempt to have him postpone his State of the Union address until the government is reopened so workers can be paid for providing security for the grand Washington tradition.

Pelosi told reporters earlier Thursday: “Let’s get a date when government is open. Let’s pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it’s OK not to pay people who do work. I don’t.”

Trump declined to address the stalemate over the speech during a visit Thursday to the Pentagon, simply promising that the nation will have “powerful, strong border security.”

Pelosi reiterated she is willing to negotiate money for border security once the government is reopened, but she said Democrats remain opposed to Trump’s long-promised wall.

“I’m not for a wall,” Pelosi said twice, mouthing the statement a third time for effect.

The shutdown, the longest ever, entered its 28th day on Friday. The previous longest was 21 days in 1995-96, under President Bill Clinton.

In a notice to staff, the State Department said it can pay most of its employees beginning Sunday or Monday for their next pay period. They will not be paid for time worked since the shutdown began until the situation is resolved, said the notice.

The new White House travel ban did not extend to the first family.

About two hours after Trump grounded Pelosi and her delegation, an Air Force-modified Boeing 757 took off from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington with the call sign “Executive One Foxtrot,” reserved for the first family when the president is not travelling with them. It landed just before 7 p.m. at Palm Beach International Airport, less than 2 miles (3 kilometres) from the president’s private club.

A White House spokesperson did not answer questions about the flight.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. government shutdown: https://apnews.com/GovernmentShutdown

___

Associated Press writers Jon Lemire, Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Catherine Lucey, Matthew Lee, Zeke Miller And Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press




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Canada’s chief medical officers plan some downtime after months of hard work

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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s chief medical officers were hailed as the nation’s rising stars. Their regular public briefings made them familiar faces and household names to thousands of Canadians, and their scientific expertise helped shape government policies that gradually flattened the domestic curve over the past four months.

But how have Canada’s top doctors coped during a time of unprecedented stress, and can they start to relax now that numbers are on the decline? Several weigh in with their thoughts:

— Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada

The federal chief public health officer said she and her team have been working flat out since the pandemic shifted into high gear in mid-March, sometimes putting in work days of as long as 20 hours. Tam said she has not always been good at following her own regular advice to balance public health restrictions with mental health self-care, but said she hopes to address that during some vacation time later this summer. A break is also necessary to help health officials brace for the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the fall, she added. 

“It is a time to make sure we recharge everything so that we’re ready for any resurgences,” Tam said at a news conference. “That is very important, because I think most of the public health workers, and anyone in the health system … have been working extremely hard.”

Part of that effort involves scaling back Tam’s once daily news briefings to roughly biweekly affairs.

 

— Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec

In the province hit hardest by COVID-19, Arruda has peppered his regular briefings with calls for residents to concentrate on activities to help them unwind from the stress of living through a pandemic. The province’s director of national public health even cited his own fondness for baking as an example. But when pressed about his pending vacation plans, Arruda offered few specifics other than the fact that he was decompressing on command.

“I’ve been asked by my minister to take vacation. The prime minister, too,” he said. “I will be in Quebec … sleeping well if possible, listening to music.”

Arruda said biking and sports also figure into his staycation plans, adding he would be wearing a face mask through most of these leisure activities.

 

— Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto

The last few months have been a demanding time for Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, who spent eight weeks living away from her family in order to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19. She said that phase was defined by almost non-stop work punctuated with Facetime calls to catch up, adding such an arrangement was not conducive to a strong work-life balance. Now that she’s back home again, however, de Villa said striking that equilibrium has gotten easier.

“I can’t just do work all the time, because they’re there,” she said of her husband and teenage sons. “It gives me a break. I get the chance to recharge from them, I do get energy from them.”

De Villa said she too intends to take some time off at some point this summer. In the meantime, she tries to vary her work routine by getting up and moving around her home and neighbourhood as much as possible to stave off fatigue.

  

— Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta

Alberta’s chief medical health officer is already enjoying some downtime. The doctor who made sartorial waves by wearing a dress featuring the periodic table of elements early in the pandemic has remained a regular fixture at the province’s COVID-19 updates. At one of those briefings last week, she said that COVID-19 will be with us for some time.

“We cannot wait until the pandemic is over to take a break or recharge,” she said as she announced plans for a week’s vacation. “Self-care is important and summer is a wonderful but brief time in Alberta. We all need to take care of our physical and mental health for the weeks and months to come.”

Hinshaw said she planned to spend her break with her family.

“I sometimes fear (they) will soon no longer remember my name,” she quipped.

 

— Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, also scheduled time off for the week of Canada Day. A written statement from the province’s health department says Roussin plans to take more time off later in the summer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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U.S., Mexican presidents meeting at White House to talk USMCA, without Canada

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WASHINGTON — The president of Mexico is in Washington to meet with President Donald Trump and celebrate North America’s new trade deal — a celebration in which Canada is not taking part.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to join the talks, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this week’s pressing parliamentary business and the continuing threat of renewed U.S. tariffs against Canadian aluminum exports.

The coming into force of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a win for all three countries at a time of serious economic uncertainty, Trudeau said Wednesday as he suggested — without stating directly — that he intends to discuss the matter with Trump in the near future.

“I speak reasonably regularly, and have over the past many years, with the U.S. president, and look forward to congratulating him and all of us on the coming into force of the new NAFTA, the USMCA,” the prime minister told a news conference.

“I think it’s really important that at a time of economic strain and stress that we continue to have access to the world’s most important market. This is good for Canadian workers and Canadian jobs right across the country.”

The formal debut of the agreement, which took effect last week, was sullied by the U.S. trade representative’s claim that Canada has exceeded limits on aluminum exports to the United States established when Trump lifted national-security tariffs on Canadian-made steel and aluminum in May 2019.

The threat of renewed tariffs “is a little bit difficult to understand,” Trudeau said.

“The U.S. doesn’t make nearly enough aluminum to be able to cover its needs, particularly at a time when we want economies to get going again across North America. What tariffs would do would be to raise prices for manufacturers in the United States and put extra stresses on them at a time when stresses abound.”

Higher prices may be precisely the goal: the two U.S. producers that are urging the USTR to take action have ties to a Swiss metals company that holds the exclusive rights to sell Russian-made aluminum in the United States. China, Russia, India and Canada are the four largest aluminum producers in the world.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s visit to Washington, his first foreign trip since being elected in 2018, has prompted widespread criticism at home for a leader whose campaign trafficked heavily in criticizing Trump.

Since then, the leader known in Mexico as AMLO has been pilloried for his deference to a U.S. president famous for aggressive anti-immigration policies at the southern border.

With a U.S. presidential election now just four months away, it’s Trump who stands to benefit politically from a bilateral visit, experts told a Wilson Center panel discussion Wednesday — and if Lopez Obrador hopes to secure safe harbour from Trump’s unpredictable foreign-policy whims, he may be sadly mistaken.

“If he thinks that going to Washington in this moment … is going to insulate him or protect him from future actions by this president, especially in a campaign year — against tariffs, against some kind of other punitive measure — I think he’s fooling himself,” said Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama.

“Witness the fact that obviously we have the discussion of aluminum tariffs vis-a-vis Canada right now, as we’re celebrating USMCA. This is not a president who necessarily says, ‘These are my new partners, I will not penalize them no matter what.'”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made a similar point, but not without twisting the partisan knife a little.

“Usually when Justin Trudeau leaves the country, it hurts Canada’s position on the world stage, so maybe it’s a good thing he stayed home,” Scheer said. “He has a perfect losing record when it comes to Donald Trump, so maybe we’re better off that he didn’t go.”

New Democrat trade critic Daniel Blaikie, meanwhile, is urging the federal Liberal government to spell out during a House of Commons trade committee meeting Thursday how it plans to protect Canada’s aluminum sector from the threat of an “arbitrary attack.”

“A second tariff levelled at an industry that is already hurting could very well be devastating,” Blaikie wrote in a letter this week to International Trade Minister Mary Ng. “The current global pandemic only makes matters worse.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.

— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


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