Trump declares national emergency to build border wall

Trump declares national emergency to build border wall

WASHINGTON (AP) – Battling with one branch of government and opening a new confrontation with another, President Donald Trump announced Friday he was declaring a national emergency to fulfill his pledge to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bypassing Congress, which approved far less money for his proposed wall than he had sought, Trump said he would use executive action to siphon billions of dollars from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts for the wall, aides said. The move is already drawing bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill and expected to face rounds of legal challenges.

Trump made the announcement from the Rose Garden, as he claimed illegal immigration was “an invasion of our country.”

Trump’s move followed a rare show of bipartisanship when lawmakers voted Thursday to fund large swaths of the government and avoid a repeat of this winter’s debilitating five-week government shutdown. The money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) he wanted this year.

To bridge the gap, Trump announced that he will be spending roughly $8 billion on border barriers – combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency. The money is expected to come from funds targeted for military construction and counterdrug efforts, but aides could not immediately specify which military projects would be affected.

Despite widespread opposition in Congress to proclaiming an emergency, including by some Republicans, Trump was responding to pressure to act unilaterally to soothe his conservative base and avoid appearing like he’s lost his wall battle.

Word that Trump would declare the emergency prompted condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority.

In a sing-songy tone of voice, Trump described how the decision will be challenged and work its way through the courts, including up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said, “Sadly, we’ll be sued and sadly it will go through a process and happily we’ll win, I think.”

In an unusual joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it an “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist” and said it “does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation. ”

“The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

Democratic state attorneys general said they’d consider legal action to block Trump. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the president on Twitter “we’ll see you in court” if he made the declaration.

Even if his emergency declaration withstands challenge, Trump is still billions of dollars short of his overall funding needed to build the wall as he promised in 2016. After two years of effort, Trump has not added any new border mileage; all of the construction so far has gone to replacing and repairing existing structures. Ground is expected to be broken in South Texas soon on the first new mileage.

The White House said Trump would not try to redirect federal disaster aid to the wall, a proposal they had considered but rejected over fears of a political blowback.

Senate OKs border deal; Trump will sign, declare emergency

Senate OKs border deal; Trump will sign, declare emergency

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate resoundingly approved a border security compromise Thursday that ignores most of President Donald Trump’s demands for building a wall with Mexico but would prevent a new government shutdown. The White House said Trump would sign it but then declare a national emergency and perhaps invoke other executive powers to try to shift money to wall-building from elsewhere in the federal budget.

Congress’ Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate, quickly branded such a presidential declaration “a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall.”

House passage and Trump’s signature were assured for the basic spending bill compromise, which for now would stamp a bipartisan coda on a nasty melee that’s dominated the initial months of power sharing in Washington.

The specter of the national-emergency declaration has produced widespread opposition in Congress, but Trump is under pressure to soothe his conservative base and avoid looking like he’s surrendered in his wall battle with Congress.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump would sign the bill and take “other executive action, including a national emergency.” She added, “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”

Trump had demanded $5.7 billion to start building more than 200 miles of wall. The bipartisan agreement provides under $1.4 billion — enough for just 55 miles of new barriers and fencing.

An emergency declaration and other assertions of executive power to access money are expected to prompt lawsuits and potential votes in Congress aimed at blocking Trump from diverting money, which could conceivably reach billions of dollars. White House aides and congressional Republicans have suggested Trump might tap funds targeted for military construction, disaster relief and counterdrug efforts.

In a surprising development, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would support Trump’s emergency declaration. That was a turnabout for the Kentucky Republican, who like Democrats and many Republicans has until now opposed such action.

Democratic opponents of a declaration have said there is no crisis at the border and Trump is merely sidestepping Congress, while Republicans have warned that future Democratic presidents could use the move to force spending on their own priorities like gun control.

But lawmakers from both parties were openly relieved to forestall a fresh federal shutdown and put the border security battle — at least this phase of it — behind them.

Meeting with reporters, House Speaker Pelosi, warned that legal action aimed at blocking Trump’s emergency declaration was an option, but she stopped short of saying it would definitely occur.

No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was more definitive. “House Democrats will challenge this irresponsible declaration,” he said in a statement.

The Senate approved the border security deal by a lopsided 83-16 tally. The House planned to vote on passage in the evening.

Trump’s signature will end this stage of a raucous legislative saga that commenced before Christmas and was ending, almost fittingly, on Valentine’s Day. The low point was the historically long 35-day partial federal shutdown, which Trump sparked and was in full force when Democrats took control of the House, compelling him to share power for the first time.

Trump yielded on the shutdown Jan. 25 after public opinion turned against him and congressional Republicans. He’d won not a nickel of the $5.7 billion he’d demanded for his wall but had caused missed paychecks for legions of federal workers and contractors and lost government services for countless others. It was a political fiasco for Trump and an early triumph for Pelosi.

The fight left both parties dead set against another shutdown. That sentiment weakened Trump’s hand and fueled the bipartisan deal, a pact that contrasts with the parties’ still-raging differences over health care, taxes and investigations of the president.

Notably, the word “wall” — which fueled many a chant at Trump campaign events and then his rallies as president — does not appear once in the compromise’s 1,768 pages of legislation and explanatory materials. “Barriers” and “fencing” are the nouns of choice.

The pact would also squeeze funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in an attempt to pressure the agency to gradually detain fewer immigrants. To the dismay of Democrats, it would still leave an agency many of them consider abusive holding thousands more immigrants than it did last year.

The measure contains money for improved surveillance equipment, more customs agents and humanitarian aid for detained immigrants. The overall bill also provides $330 billion to finance dozens of federal programs for the rest of the year, one-fourth of federal agency budgets.

The agreement was expected to be carried by pragmatists from both parties. Many of Congress’ most liberal members were expected to oppose it, unwilling to yield an inch to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, while staunch conservatives preferred a bill that would go further.

“I made a promise to my community that I wouldn’t fund ICE,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a freshman who’s become a face of her party’s left wing and a leading proponent of eliminating the agency.

Swallowing the deal would mark a major concession by Trump, who has spent months calling the situation at the southern border a national security crisis. In private conversations, Trump has called the congressional bargainers poor negotiators, said a person familiar with the conversations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Trump has repeatedly vowed Mexico would pay for the wall, a suggestion that country has spurned. His descriptions of the wall’s size have fluctuated, at times saying it would cover 1,000 of the 2,000-mile boundary. Previous administrations constructed over 650 miles of barriers.

Facing opposition from Trump, Democrats lost their bid to include language giving federal contractors back pay for wages lost during the last shutdown. Government workers have been paid for time they were furloughed or worked without paychecks.

Also omitted was an extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Democrats say this will give them a chance later this year to add protections for transgender people to that law.

Toys R Us plans second act by holiday season

Toys R Us plans second act by holiday season

NEW YORK (AP) — Toys R Us fans in the U.S. should see the iconic brand re-emerge in some form by this holiday season.

Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us executive and now CEO of the new company called Tru Kids Brands, told The Associated Press he and his team are still working on the details, but they’re exploring various options including freestanding stores and shops within existing stores. He says that e-commerce will play a key role.

Toys R Us, buckling under competition from Amazon and several billions of dollars of debt, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in September 2017 and then liquidated its businesses last year in the U.S. as well as several other regions including the United Kingdom.

In October, a group of investors won an auction for Toys R Us assets, believing they would do better by potentially reviving the toy chain, rather than selling it off for parts. Starting Jan. 20, Barry and several other former Toys R Us executives founded Tru Kids and are now managing the Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Geoffrey brands. Toys R Us generated $3 billion in global retail sales in 2018. Tru Kids estimates that 40 percent to 50 percent of Toys R Us market share is still up for grabs despite many retailers like Walmart and Target expanding their toy aisles.

“These brands are beloved by customers,” said Barry. He noted that the company will focus on experiences in the physical stores, which could be about 10,000 square feet. The original Toys R Us stores were roughly about 40,000 square feet.

Barry said he and his team have been reaching out to toy makers and have received strong support. But he acknowledged that many had been burned by the Toys R Us liquidation.

Tru Kids, based in Parsippany, New Jersey, about a 20 minute drive from Wayne, New Jersey, where Toys R Us was based, will work with licensing partners to open 70 stores this year in Asia, India and Europe. Outside the U.S., Toys R Us continues to operate about 800 stores.

Notorious drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman convicted

Notorious drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman convicted

NEW YORK (AP) — Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was convicted Tuesday of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel.

Guzman listened to a drumbeat of guilty verdicts on drug and conspiracy charges that could put the 61-year-old escape artist behind bars for decades in a maximum-security U.S. prison selected to thwart another one of the breakouts that made him a folk hero in his native country.

A jury whose members’ identities were kept secret as a security measure reached a verdict after deliberating six days in the expansive case. They sorted through what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions in profits by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.

As the judge read the verdict, Guzman stared at the jury, and his wife watched the scene, both with resignation in their faces. When the jurors were discharged and Guzman stood to leave the courtroom, the couple traded thumbs-ups.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American.”

Evidence showed drugs poured into the U.S. through secret tunnels or hidden in tanker trucks, concealed in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry — suggesting that a border wall wouldn’t be much of a worry.

The prosecution’s case against Guzman, a roughly 5½-foot figure whose nickname translates to “Shorty,” included the testimony of several turncoats and other witnesses. Among them were Guzman’s former Sinaloa lieutenants, a computer encryption expert and a Colombian cocaine supplier who underwent extreme plastic surgery to disguise his appearance.

One Sinaloa insider described Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeno cans — shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500 million each year. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, punishing a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and having his men bury the victim while he was still alive, gasping for air.

The defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzman’s lawyers did not deny his crimes as much as argue he was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue called the conviction “a victory for the American people who suffered so much” while the defendant poured poison over the borders. He expected Guzman to get life without parole.

“It is a sentence from which there is no escape and no return,” Donoghue told a news conference outside the courthouse, through snow and sleet.

He added: “There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting. Those people are wrong.”

Ray Donovan, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, said the case underscored Guzman’s true colors, showing that “the real Chapo is a ruthless killer and manipulator.”

Lichtman said the defense “fought like complete savages” and will appeal the case. “No matter who the defendant is, you still have to fight to the death.”

He said his client was a positive thinker who “doesn’t give up.”

Upon hearing the verdict, Guzman was “as cool as a cucumber,” Lichtman added. “Honest to god, we were more upset than he was.”

Deliberations were complicated by the trial’s vast scope. Jurors were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100 million bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzman and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity. Another day, a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series “Narcos: Mexico” came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal.”

While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But his sing-songy voice filled the courtroom, thanks to recordings of intercepted phone calls. “Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, who testified she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzman in 2014 when Mexican marines started breaking down his door. She said Guzman led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

The defendant had previously escaped from jail by hiding in a laundry bin in 2001. He then got an escort from crooked police officers into Mexico City before retreating to one of his many mountainside hideaways. In 2014, he pulled off another jail break, escaping through a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Even when Guzman was recaptured in 2016 before his extradition to the United States, he was plotting another escape, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said in closing arguments.

“Why? Because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes,” she told the jury. “He wanted to avoid sitting right there. In front of you.”

No verdict after 5 days of deliberations at El Chapo trial

No verdict after 5 days of deliberations at El Chapo trial

Lawmakers reach deal on border wall funding

Lawmakers reach deal on border wall funding