Nation and World briefs for February 6

  • In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo, lights illuminate the U.S. Capitol on second day of the federal shutdown as lawmakers negotiate behind closed doors in Washington. The era of trillion-dollar budget deficits is about make a comeback _ and a brewing budget deal hastened the arrival. Lawmakers are inching closer to a two-year, budget-busting spending pact that would give whopping budget increases to both the Pentagon and domestic programs have been inching closer to an agreement, according to aides and members of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

House Republicans working on averting another shutdown

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are grappling for a strategy to avert another government shutdown at midnight Thursday.

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They scheduled a closed-door session Monday evening to brief House GOP lawmakers on a way to pass a stopgap funding bill that could last through March 23 to buy time for progress in implementing any follow-up budget pact and, perhaps, pass immigration legislation.

One option, GOP aides said, would be to pass the stopgap spending bill by marrying it with a full-year, $659 billion Pentagon spending bill. The aides required anonymity because lawmakers hadn’t been briefed.

Republicans are scrambling to pass the measure through the House since they can’t count on support from Democrats — who feel stymied by inaction on legislation to protect young immigrants from deportation — to advance the legislation.

That approach of pairing the Pentagon’s budget with only temporary money for the rest of the government wouldn’t go anywhere in the Senate, vowed Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who said it “would be barreling head first into a dead-end.”

On the other hand, the Senate might respond with a long-awaited spending pact to give whopping increases both to the Pentagon and domestic programs. Talks in the Senate on such a framework appeared to intensify in hopes of an agreement this week, aides and lawmakers said.

The situation in both the House and Senate was murky, though it’s clear Senate Democrats have no appetite for sparking another government shutdown.

The broader budget picture is one in which GOP defense hawks are prevailing over the party’s depleted ranks of deficit hawks while Democrats leverage their influence to increase spending for domestic priorities such as combating opioid misuse.

The result could be the return of trillion-dollar deficits for the first time since former President Barack Obama’s first term.

Letter belies pope’s claim of ignorance

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis received a victim’s letter in 2015 that graphically detailed how a priest sexually abused him and how other Chilean clergy ignored it, contradicting the pope’s recent insistence that no victims had come forward to denounce the cover-up, the letter’s author and members of Francis’ own sex- abuse commission have told The Associated Press.

The fact that Francis received the eight-page letter, obtained by the AP, challenges his insistence that he has “zero tolerance” for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy.

The scandal exploded last month when Francis’ trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defense of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. During the trip, Francis callously dismissed accusations against Barros as “slander,” seemingly unaware that victims had placed Barros at the scene of Karadima’s crimes.

On the plane home, confronted by an AP reporter, the pope said: “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But members of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.

Court allows Pennsylvania to redraw GOP-favored district map

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let a court-ordered redrawing of congressional districts in Pennsylvania proceed, raising Democratic hopes that a revamped map might yield them several more seats this fall.

Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, rejected the request from GOP legislative leaders and voters to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court intended to produce new congressional districts in the coming two weeks.

The Pennsylvania high court ruled last month that the current map of 18 districts violates the state constitution because it unfairly benefits Republicans.

The decision comes just four days before the Republican-controlled Legislature’s deadline for submitting a replacement map for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to consider. So far, there has been a notable lack of bipartisan movement on getting such a deal.

Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation has been 13-5 in favor of Republicans during the three election cycles since the GOP-drawn 2011 map took effect, and experts have said those 13 seats are several more than would have been produced by a nonpartisan map.

Maldives declares emergency, soldiers reportedly storm court

MALE, Maldives — The Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency Monday as the political crisis deepened in the Indian Ocean nation amid an increasingly bitter standoff between the president and the Supreme Court. Hours after the emergency was declared, soldiers forced their way into the Supreme Court building, where the judges were believed to be taking shelter, said Ahmed Maloof, an opposition member of Parliament.

Soon after that, security forces arrested opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on charges that include bribery and attempting to overthrow the government, his lawyer, Maumoon Hameed, said on Twitter. Gayoom was the archipelago nation’s president from 1978 to 2008 and is the half brother of the Maldives’ current president.

A surprise Supreme Court ruling last week ordering the release of imprisoned opposition leaders has led to growing turmoil, with President Yameen Abdul Gayoom lashing out at the court, opposition protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Male, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting.

The emergency decree gives the government sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restricts freedom of assembly, officials said.

The United States strongly criticized the decree, which State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said also imposes travel restrictions.

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President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has “systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure” since his election in 2013, Nauert said.

She called on Yameen, the army, and police to comply with the rule of law, and for the constitutional rights of Maldivians to be restored.