Trump’s shutdown proposal faces uncertain fate in Senate

By JILL COLVIN and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s proposal to reopen the government, with immigration provisions Democrats denounce as inadequate, is headed for Senate action, its prospects uncertain.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will try to muscle through the 1,300-page spending measure, which includes $5.7 billion to fund Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the sticking point in the standoff between Trump and Democrats that has led to a partial government shutdown now in its 32nd day.
Meanwhile, another missed paycheck looms for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and Democrats say they won’t negotiate border funding while the shutdown continues.
Senate Republicans late Monday unveiled the legislation, dubbed the “End The Shutdown And Secure The Border Act,” but its passage this week is by no means certain.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber but need Democrats to reach the usual 60-vote threshold for bills to advance. No Democrat has publicly expressed support for the proposal Trump announced over the weekend.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s office reiterated that Democrats are unwilling to negotiate any border security funding until Trump reopens the government.
“Nothing has changed with the latest Republican offer,” Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said. “President Trump and Senate Republicans are still saying: ‘Support my plan or the government stays shut.’ That isn’t a compromise or a negotiation — it’s simply more hostage taking.”
The Republican plan is a trade-off: Trump’s border wall funding in exchange for temporary protection from deportation for some immigrants. To try to draw more bipartisan support, it adds $12.7 billion in supplemental funding for regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. All told, it would provide about $350 billion for nine Cabinet departments whose budgets are stalled. Other than the wall and immigration-related provisions, the core measure hews closely to a package of spending bills unveiled by House Democrats last week.
In exchange for $5.7 billion for Trump’s wall, the legislation would extend temporary protections against deportation to around 700,000 immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump has tried dismantling the Obama-era program, which covers people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, but has been blocked by federal lawsuits.
That figure is substantially lower than the 1.8 million people Trump proposed protecting a year ago, which included people potentially eligible for DACA protections but who’d not applied for them. In addition, Trump’s 2018 proposal included other immigration changes and $25 billion to pay the full costs of building his wall. His measure was among several the Senate rejected last February.
The new Senate bill would provide three more years of temporary protections against deportation to around 325,000 immigrants in the U.S. who have fled countries racked by natural disasters or violent conflicts. Trump has ended that program, called Temporary Protected Status, for El Salvador, which has the most holders of the protected status, as well as for Honduras, Nicaragua and several other countries.
Another part of McConnell’s bill would tighten restrictions on minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in the U.S. It was already drawing condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocates.
The proposal would require asylum seekers under age 18 from those countries to apply for that status at special facilities in Central America, not at the U.S. border; let no more than 15,000 receive asylum annually; and bar them from appealing a decision to the courts.
The proposed asylum curbs would be “even more inhumane and un-American than Trump’s disastrous zero-tolerance policy” of prosecuting all migrants entering the U.S. without authorization, said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. DeGette chairs the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee that is investigating Trump’s now abandoned policy of separating migrant children from their families.
Yet some on the right, including conservative commentator Ann Coulter, accused Trump of offering “amnesty.”
“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer,” Trump tweeted Sunday, in response. He added: “Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else.”
While the House and the Senate are scheduled to be back in session Tuesday, no votes have been scheduled on Trump’s plan. McConnell spokesman David Popp said the GOP leader “will move” to vote on consideration of the president’s proposal this week. The bill includes funding for most domestic agencies.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing ahead this week with their legislation to reopen the government and add $1 billion for border security — including 75 more immigration judges and infrastructure improvements — but no funding for the wall.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Democrats are playing “political games” and repeated his claims that the wall is a solution to drugs and crime — although the Drug Enforcement Administration says only a small percentage of drugs comes into the country between ports of entry.
“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security,” Trump tweeted. “With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games. Must finally be done correctly. No Cave!”
The impact of the government’s longest-ever shutdown continues to ripple across the nation. The longest previous shutdown was 21 days in 1995-96, when Bill Clinton was president.
The Transportation Security Administration said the percentage of its airport screeners missing work hit 10 percent on Sunday, up from 3.1 percent on the comparable Sunday a year ago.
The screeners, who have been working without pay, have been citing financial hardship as the reason they can’t report to work. Even so, the agency said it screened 1.78 million passengers Sunday with only 6.9 percent having to wait 15 minutes or longer to get through security.
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Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

3 groups, many videos, many interpretations of DC encounter

By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press
A group of five black men shouting vulgar insults while protesting centuries of oppression. Dozens of white Catholic high school students visiting Washington for a rally to end abortion. And Native Americans marching to end injustice for indigenous peoples across the globe who have seen their lands overrun by outside settlers.
The three groups met for just a few minutes Friday at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, an encounter captured in videos that went viral over the weekend — and again cast a spotlight on a polarized nation that doesn’t appear to agree on anything.
At first the focus was on a short video showing one of the high school students, Nick Sandmann, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and appearing to smirk while a crowd of other teens laughed derisively behind him, as he faced off against a 64-year-old Native American, Nathan Phillips, who played a traditional chant on a drum.
Pull back further and a different view emerged, however, in a separate video showing members of a group calling itself the Black Hebrew Israelites taunting everyone on the mall that day, calling the Native Americans who had gathered there for the Indigenous Peoples March “Uncle Tomahawks” and “$5 Indians” and the high school students “crackers” and worse.
It was an ugly encounter of spewed epithets but one that nevertheless ended with no punches thrown or other violence.
Still, the videos were all over social media, again appearing to illustrate a nation of such deep divisions — racial, religious and ideological — that no one was willing to listen to the others’ point of view. Add to that the political tensions spilling over from a government shutdown that has gone on for a month and the stage was set for a viral moment.
But in this case, the videos didn’t tell the whole story, all the parties involved agree.
“I would caution everyone passing judgment based on a few seconds of video to watch the longer video clips that are on the internet, as they show a much different story than is being portrayed by people with agendas,” Sandmann, a junior, said in a statement released late Sunday.
Sandmann’s statement does seem at odds with some video from the confrontation that showed students from his school, Covington Catholic High in Park Hills, Kentucky, laughing at Phillips’ Native American group and mockingly singing along with him, as well as interviews with Phillips who said he heard the students shout “Build that wall!” and “Go back to the reservation!”
The fullest view of what happened that Friday afternoon came from a nearly two-hour video posted on Facebook by Shar Yaqataz Banyamyan. It showed members of his Black Hebrew Israelite group repeatedly interacting with the crowd as people from the Indigenous Peoples March and the high school students vigorously argued with them for a few minutes.
Sandmann said in his statement the students from his all-male high school were waiting for their buses near Banyamyan’s group when the latter started to taunt them. One of the students took off his shirt and the teens started to do a haka — a war dance of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture, made famous by the country’s national rugby team.
Phillips, an elder of the Omaha tribe, and Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes, said they felt the students were mocking the dance and walked over to intervene.
Phillips and Sandmann locked eyes, their faces inches apart. Both men said their goal was simply to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. But caught on video, the encounter still went viral.
The high school students felt they were unfairly portrayed as villains in a situation where they say they were not the provocateurs.
“I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination,” Sandmann said in his statement.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington apologized for the incident, promising an investigation that could lead to punishment up to expulsion if any wrongdoing by the students was determined.
The Indigenous Peoples Movement felt the encounter was a reminder the U.S. was founded on racism and President Donald Trump’s presidency is rekindling hatred based on skin color.
“Trump has riled up a reactionary voting block that reminds us that we are a nation founded on patriarchy, genocide and racism. Trump is clearly giving these archaic instincts license, encouraging the kind of aggressive goading that I witnessed,” movement spokesman Chase Iron Eyes said in a statement.
Trump himself weighed with several tweets in as some news reports questioned whether the early criticism of the students was warranted. The president tweeted Tuesday, in part: “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.”
Banyamyan posted his own reaction on Facebook, referencing the dozens of high school students in their Make America Great Again gear coming over to his group of five and chanting. In a rambling video, he also praised Phillips and compared Sandmann to the devil.
After the sun set and the Covington high school students left, Banyamyan’s video showed a few police officers stopping by to check on his group as they were wrapping up their protest. One of the officers said they were worried by the number of people that briefly massed in that one spot. One of the Black Hebrew Israelites said there were no problems.
“We weren’t threatened by them,” he said. “It was an OK dialogue.”

Supreme Court returns to gun rights for 1st time in 9 years

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will take up its first gun rights case in nine years, a challenge to New York City’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits.
The court’s decision to hear the appeal filed by three New York residents and New York’s National Rifle Association affiliate could signal a revived interest in gun rights by a more conservative court. The case won’t be argued until October.
The challengers are represented by prominent lawyer Paul Clement, who has been urging the justices to elaborate on the extent of constitutional gun rights the Supreme Court declared in decisions in 2008 and 2010. The court had previously rejected several appeals.
The court may be more willing to take on a gun rights case now that Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was President Donald Trump’s second high-court nominee to be confirmed.
Clement says the case “is a perfect vehicle to reaffirm that those decisions and the constitutional text have consequences.”
Joining in support of gun rights, 17 states said the court should break its years-long silence and use the case to define the scope of gun rights under the Constitution and the level of scrutiny, or skepticism, judges should apply to gun laws.
New York’s ordinance allows people licensed to have handguns to carry them outside the home to gun ranges in the city. The guns must be locked and unloaded.
The city residents who filed suit want to practice shooting at target ranges outside the city or take their guns to second homes elsewhere in New York state.
Lower courts had rejected the challenge.
The city’s top lawyer, Zachary Carter, urged the court to reject the case, arguing that the restrictions allowed New York police to reduce the number of guns carried in public.
There are seven shooting ranges in the city and at least one in each of the city’s five boroughs, Carter said.

Democrats lurch left on top policies as 2020 primary begins

By STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Democratic presidential contender Julian Castro launched his campaign by pledging support for “Medicare for All,” free universal preschool, a large public investment in renewable energy and two years of free college for all Americans.
That wasn’t enough for some of his party’s most liberal members.
Critics on social media quickly knocked Castro’s plan to provide only two years of free higher education — instead of four — as “half measures,” ”scraps” and “corporate Dem doublespeak.” Aware of the backlash, the former Obama administration Cabinet member clarified his position in an interview days later.
“At least the first two years of college or university or apprenticeship program should be tuition free — and preferably four years,” Castro told The Associated Press. “We’re going to work toward that.”
Welcome to the 2020 presidential primary. Almost no policy is too liberal for Democrats fighting to win over their party’s base, which is demanding a presidential nominee dedicated to pursuing bold action on America’s most pressing challenges.
Among two dozen possible candidates, virtually all have embraced universal health care in one form or another. Some have rallied behind free college, job guarantee programs, a $15 minimum hourly wage and abolishing — or at least reconstituting — the federal agency that enforces immigration laws. While few have outlined detailed proposals to fund their priorities, most would generate new revenue by taxing the rich.
The leftward lurch on top policies carries risks.
President Donald Trump and his Republican allies are betting that voters will ultimately reject the Democratic proposals as extreme. Some GOP leaders cast lesser plans as socialism during the Obama era.
Republican critics are joined by a handful of moderate Democrats, who fear that promises by well-intentioned presidential prospects may create unrealistic expectations with their party’s most passionate voters.
Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican mayor of New York now considering a Democratic presidential bid, recently opined that primary voters might be receptive to a more moderate approach.
“Most Democrats want a middle-of-the-road strategy,” Bloomberg said on ABC’s “The View.” He added: “If you go off on trying to push for something that has no chance of getting done, that we couldn’t possibly pay for, that just takes away from where you can really make progress in helping people that need help today.”
So far, at least, very few presidential prospects are heeding such warnings.
In the 2016 campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was the only presidential contender to support “Medicare for All,” a proposal that would essentially provide free health care coverage to all Americans. This year, it’s hard to find anyone in opposition.
That’s even after one recent study predicted the plan would cost taxpayers more than $32 trillion. Proponents argue that those same taxpayers would save the trillions they currently spend out-of-pocket for their health care.
Lesser-known policies have emerged heading into 2020 as well.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is expected to launch his presidential campaign soon, has sponsored legislation to create a federal jobs guarantee program in several communities across America. The pilot program, which is co-sponsored by fellow 2020ers like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, could ultimately transform the U.S. labor market by providing well-paid government employment with benefits for anyone who wants it.
Critics decry the plan as a step toward socialism.
“Big challenges demand big solutions,” Booker told the AP. “Both Martin Luther King Jr. and President Franklin Roosevelt believed that every American had the right to a job, and that right has only become more important in this age of increasing income inequality, labor market concentration and continued employment discrimination.”
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer supports much of the liberal movement’s new priorities — including Trump’s impeachment — but says the federal jobs guarantee “doesn’t make sense” given the nation’s low employment rate.
“I want the private sector to produce jobs people can live on,” he said in an interview. “A guarantee of government jobs doesn’t make sense.”
Yet Steyer insists that most of his party’s policy priorities — universal health care and free college, among them — are anything but radical.
“The Republicans are an extremist far-right, radical party. When you say we need to moderate to their position, there’s nothing moderate or pragmatic about their position,” said Steyer, who recently backed away from a presidential run, although he’s expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to shape the 2020 debate.
Free college is quickly emerging as a litmus test for Democratic contenders.
Those already on the record backing free tuition at public colleges and universities include former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders, Gillibrand, Harris and Warren. Estimates vary for the cost to state and local taxpayers, although Sanders acknowledged it could be $70 billion annually.
Warren seemed to back away from her support for free college during an appearance in Iowa earlier in the month, however. In 2017, she co-sponsored the “College For All Act,” which would have made tuition free at public universities.
Asked in a radio interview whether she supports reducing the cost of college or offering it free, Warren responded: “No, I think this is about reducing the cost.”
It’s unlikely the Democratic Party’s energized base would tolerate any significant shifts to the center on free college — or any of the party’s top issues.
Such populist appeals helped fuel sweeping Democratic victories in last fall’s midterm elections, while producing a new generation of unapologetic Democratic leaders such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is aligned with the democratic socialist movement. And polls repeatedly suggest that voters support proposals for universal health care, free college and free preschool.
“We have seen a dramatic shift in the Democratic Party’s center of gravity,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
To win the next presidential election, the Democratic nominee must embrace “big ideas,” he continued. “Those who deny that are hurting their chances in 2020.”
Meanwhile, Castro, like others in the early 2020 field, says he’s fully committed to a “bold vision” to address the nation’s top policy challenges.
“All Democrats recognize that this is not going to be easy, that to get Medicare for all, for instance, it’s not guaranteed, it’s not going to be easy, it may require along the way there are some compromises,” he said. “But I’m convinced that it’s worth it to go forward.”

High court lets military implement transgender restrictions

By JESSICA GRESKO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender people while court challenges continue.
The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have.
The Trump administration had urged the justices to take up cases about the plan directly, but the court declined for now. Those cases will continue to move through lower courts.
Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under President Barack Obama. The military announced in 2016 that transgender individuals already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017 as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
But after President Donald Trump took office, the administration delayed the enlistment date, saying the issue needed further study. While that study was ongoing, the president tweeted in late July 2017 that the government would not allow “Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He later directed the military to return to its policy before the Obama administration changes.
Groups representing transgender individuals sued, and the Trump administration lost early rounds in those cases, with courts issuing nationwide injunctions barring the administration from altering course. The Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted those preliminary injunctions.
In March 2018, the Trump administration announced that after studying the issue it was revising its policy. The new policy generally bars transgender individuals from serving unless they serve “in their biological sex” and do not seek to undergo a gender transition.
The policy has an exception for transgender troops who relied on the Obama-era rules to begin the process of changing their gender, allowing them to continue to serve. The military said last year that over 900 men and women have done so.

GOP dismisses suggestion that State of Union be postponed

By CATHERINE LUCEY, JILL COLVIN and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A grand Washington ritual became a potential casualty of the partial government shutdown as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked President Donald Trump to postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union speech. She cited concerns about whether the hobbled government can provide adequate security, but Republicans cast her move as a ploy to deny Trump the stage.
In a letter to Trump, Pelosi said that with both the Secret Service and the Homeland Security Department entangled in the shutdown, the president should speak to Congress another time or he should deliver the address in writing.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied anyone’s safety is compromised, saying Wednesday that both agencies “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
Trump did not immediately respond to the request, and the White House, thrown off guard by the move, didn’t immediately offer any official response. But GOP allies accused Pelosi of playing politics, with Republican Rep. Steve Scalise tweeting that Democrats are “only interested in obstructing @realDonaldTrump, not governing.”
Pelosi, who issued the customary invitation to Trump weeks ago, hit the president in a vulnerable place, as he delights in taking his message to the public and has been preparing for the address for weeks.
The uncertainty surrounding the speech also underscored the unraveling of ceremonial norms and niceties in Trump’s Washington, with the shutdown in its fourth week, the White House and Democrats in a stalemate and the impasse draining the finances of hundreds of thousands of federal employees.
Pelosi left unclear what would happen if Trump insisted on coming despite the welcome mat being pulled away. It takes a joint resolution of the House and Congress to extend the official invitation and set the stage.
“We’ll have to have a security evaluation, but that would mean diverting resources,” she told reporters when asked how she would respond if Trump still intended to come. “I don’t know how that could happen.”
Pressure on Trump intensified on Wednesday, the 26th day of the shutdown, as lawmakers from both parties scrambled for solutions. At the White House, Trump met a bipartisan group of lawmakers, as well as a group of Republican senators, but progress appeared elusive.
The shutdown, already the longest ever, entered its 27th day Thursday. The previous longest was 21 days in 1995-96, when Bill Clinton was president.
While Trump’s own advisers said the shutdown was proving a greater drag on the economy than expected, Trump showed no signs of backing off a fight that he views as vital for his core supporters.
On Wednesday, Trump signed legislation into law affirming that the roughly 800,000 federal workers who have been going without pay will ultimately be compensated for their lost wages. That was the practice in the past.
As he weighs a response to Pelosi, Trump could not go forward with a State of the Union address in Congress without her blessing. Donald Ritchie, former historian of the Senate, said that anytime a president comes to speak, it must be at the request of Congress. Trump could opt to deliver a speech somewhere else, like the Oval Office, but it would not have the same ritualistic heft.
Democratic leaders did not ask the Secret Service if the agency would be able to secure the State of the Union event before sending the letter, according to a senior Homeland Security official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Pelosi’s office said Congress is already familiar with the percentage of Secret Service and Homeland Security employees who have been furloughed and working without pay.
The Secret Service starts preparing for events like these months in advance.
Lawmakers struggled to find a way out of the shutdown Wednesday. Trump is demanding $5.7 billion to build a wall along the Mexican border that he says is needed on humanitarian and security grounds. But Pelosi is refusing money for the wall she views as ineffective and immoral, and Democrats say they will discuss border security once the government has reopened.
Some expressed little optimism.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has been working on bipartisan strategies, declared glumly: “I am running out of ideas.”
Trump met a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday that included seven Democrats. Two people who attended the White House meeting agreed it was “productive,” but could not say to what extent Trump was listening or moved by the conversation.
The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the event candidly, said it seemed at some points as if people were talking past each other. Lawmakers talked about the shutdown’s effect on their constituents and advocated for “border security.” Trump and others on-and-off used the term “wall.” It was not clear if progress had been made, by those accounts.
Meanwhile a group of Republican senators headed to the White House later Wednesday.
Many Republicans were unwilling to sign on to a letter led by Graham and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., to reopen the government for three weeks while talks continue.
“Does that help the president or does that hurt the president?” asked Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., among those going to the White House.
He has not signed the letter.
“If the president saw it as a way to be conciliatory, if he thought it would help, then perhaps it’s a good idea,” he said. “If it’s just seen as a weakening of his position, then he probably wouldn’t do it.”
While Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she has signed, others said GOP support was lacking.
“They’re a little short on the R side,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., another leader of the effort.
The House and Senate announced they are canceling next week’s planned recess if the shutdown continues, which seemed likely. Some Republicans expressed concerns over the impact of the shutdown and who was getting blamed.
Said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.:”Right now, are you seeing any pressure on Democrats? I think Republicans are getting the lion’s share of the pressure.”
He added: “The president accepted the blame so people are happy to give it to him.”
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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. government shutdown: https://apnews.com/GovernmentShutdown
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Associated Press writers Chris Rugaber, Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly, Jonathan Lemire, Alan Fram, Colleen Long, Andrew Taylor, Laurie Kellman, Elana Schor and Ken Sweet contributed to this report.

New US strategy foresees sensors in space to track missiles

By DEB RIECHMANN and LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration will roll out a new strategy for a more aggressive space-based missile defense system to protect against existing threats from North Korea and Iran and counter advanced weapon systems being developed by Russia and China.
Details about the administration’s Missile Defense Review — the first compiled since 2010 — are expected to be released during President Donald Trump’s visit Thursday to the Pentagon with top members of his administration.
The new review concludes that in order to adequately protect America, the Pentagon must expand defense technologies in space and use those systems to more quickly detect, track and ultimately defeat incoming missiles.
Recognizing the potential concerns surrounding any perceived weaponization of space, the strategy pushes for studies. No testing is mandated, and no final decisions have been made.
Specifically, the U.S. is looking at putting a layer of sensors in space to more quickly detect enemy missiles when they are launched, according to a senior administration official, who briefed reporters Wednesday. The U.S. sees space as a critical area for advanced, next-generation capabilities to stay ahead of the threats, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details of the review before it was released.
The administration also plans to study the idea of basing interceptors in space, so the U.S. can strike incoming enemy missiles during the first minutes of flight when the booster engines are still burning.
Congress, which ordered this review, already has directed the Pentagon to push harder on this “boost-phase” approach, but officials want to study the feasibility of the idea and explore ways it could be done.
The new strategy is aimed at better defending the U.S. against potential adversaries, such as Russia and China, who have been developing and fielding a much more expansive range of advanced offensive missiles that could threaten America and its allies. The threat is not only coming from traditional cruise and ballistic missiles, but also from hypersonic weapons.
For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled new strategic weapons he claims can’t be intercepted. One is a hypersonic glide vehicle, which could fly 20 times faster than the speed of sound and make sharp maneuvers to avoid being detected by missile defense systems.
“Developments in hypersonic propulsion will revolutionize warfare by providing the ability to strike targets more quickly, at greater distances, and with greater firepower,” Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last year. “China is also developing increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile warheads and hypersonic glide vehicles in an attempt to counter ballistic missile defense systems.”
Current U.S. missile defense weapons are based on land and aboard ships. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both emphasized space-based capabilities as the next step of missile defense.
Senior administration officials earlier signaled their interest in developing and deploying more effective means of detecting and tracking missiles with a constellation of satellites in space that can, for example, use advanced sensors to follow the full path of a hostile missile so that an anti-missile weapon can be directed into its flight path.
Any expansion of the scope and cost of missile defenses would compete with other defense priorities, including the billions of extra dollars the Trump administration has committed to spending on a new generation of nuclear weapons. An expansion also would have important implications for American diplomacy, given long-standing Russian hostility to even the most rudimentary U.S. missile defenses and China’s worry that longer-range U.S. missile defenses in Asia could undermine Chinese national security.
Asked about the implications for Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Russia and strike better trade relations with China, the administration official said that the U.S. defense capabilities are purely defensive and that the U.S. has been very upfront with Moscow and Beijing about its missile defense posture.
The release of the strategy was postponed last year for unexplained reasons, though it came as Trump was trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
While the U.S. continues to pursue peace with North Korea, Pyongyang has made threats of nuclear missile attacks against the U.S. and its allies in the past and has worked to improve its ballistic missile technology. It is still considered a serious threat to America. Iran, meanwhile, has continued to develop more sophisticated ballistic missiles, increasing their numbers and their capabilities.
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Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Government shutdown taking toll on wildfire preparations

By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Just two months after a wildfire wiped out Paradise, California, officials are gearing up for this year’s fire season and fear the government shutdown could make it even more difficult than one of the worst in history.
The winter months are critical for wildfire managers who use the break from the flames to prepare for the next onslaught, but much of that effort has ground to a halt on U.S. land because employees are furloughed. Firefighting training courses are being canceled from Tennessee to Oregon, piles of dead trees are untended in federal forests and controlled burns to thin dry vegetation aren’t getting done.
Although the furloughs only affect federal employees, the collaborative nature of wildland firefighting means the pain of the four-week-long shutdown is having a ripple effect — from firefighters on the ground to federal contractors and top managers who control the firefighting strategy.
State and local crews who need training classes, for example, are scrambling without federal instructors. Conservation groups that work with the U.S. Forest Service to plan wildfire-prevention projects on federal lands are treading water. Annual retreats where local, state and federal firefighting agencies strategize are being called off.
The fire season starts as early as March in the southeastern United States, and by April, fires pop up in the Southwest. Last year’s most devastating fire leveled the Northern California town of Paradise just before Thanksgiving, leaving just a few months to prepare between seasons.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that while there’s not fire going on out there right now, there’s a lot of really critical work going on for the fire season — and that’s not getting done,” said Michael DeGrosky, chief of the Fire Protection Bureau for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
It’s especially important with climate change making wildfire seasons longer, deadlier and more destructive.
DeGrosky was supposed to be teaching a course this week for firefighters who want to qualify for the command staff of a fire management team. But the class was canceled without instructors from federal agencies.
Similar classes were called off in Oregon and Tennessee, and others face the same fate as the shutdown drags on. President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats are at odds over funding for a border wall.
A dozen senators from Oregon, California, New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, West Virginia and Michigan sent a letter this week to Trump warning that the shutdown would put lives at risk this coming fire season. Classes necessary for fire incident managers, smokejumpers and hotshot crews are in jeopardy in the near future, the senators said.
Smokejumpers parachute into remote forests to battle blazes not inaccessible by firefighters on the ground and hotshot crews are small groups of elite firefighters trained to battle the most ferocious flames.
The winter is also when seasonal firefighters apply for jobs, get the required drug tests and move to where they will train and work. In many cases, there’s no one to answer the phone or process the applications, and some potential recruits may decide to work elsewhere to avoid the hassle.
“Even if the shutdown ends and we start hiring people, we will have missed the cream of the crop,” DeGrosky said.
The U.S. Forest Service said in an email that the agency was committed to hiring for temporary and permanent firefighting positions and would continue critical training “to the extent feasible.”
The first session of an apprenticeship program for wildland firefighters went ahead this week, Forest Service spokeswoman Katie O’Connor said.
“The agency is assessing and prioritizing the activities we are able to maintain while in shutdown status. We are unable to speculate on specific impacts while the government shutdown is ongoing and ever-changing,” O’Connor said in a statement.
Conservationists and fire managers say there are other concerns.
Clearing and thinning projects and planned burns on federal land that could lessen fire danger by weeding out flammable debris also are largely on hold in California, Oregon and elsewhere. Private contractors say they have received letters telling them to stop the work.
There’s already a backlog of such projects in federal forests in Oregon and Northern California, said Michael Wheelock, president of Grayback, a private contractor in Grants Pass, Oregon.
Intentional fires can only be set in a narrow winter window before temperatures and humidity falls — and that is rapidly closing, Wheelock said.
“Every week that goes by, it’s going to start increasing the impact,” he said.
Joyce McLean, who lost her and her husband’s home in Paradise last November, supports Trump’s push for a border wall but worries what will happen if firefighters aren’t prepared for next time.
“I hope there are no more forest fires,” said McLean, 74. “I wouldn’t wish that on nobody.”
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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus .

Life in limbo: Leftover embryos vex clinics, couples

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Chief Medical Writer
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Tens of thousands of embryos are stuck in limbo in fertility clinics, leftovers from pregnancy attempts and broken dreams of parenthood.
Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and can’t be found. In other cases, couples are struggling with tough decisions.
Jenny Sammis can’t bring herself to donate nearly a dozen of her extras to research. She and her husband agreed to do that when they made their embryos 15 years ago, but her feelings changed after using some of them to have children.
“I have these two gorgeous, smart people who came from this process,” Sammis said. “These embryos are all like seeds that could become potential people. That reality to me was all abstract when they were in the freezer.”
Tank failures at two clinics in Ohio and California last year revealed hidden issues with long-frozen embryos, including some from the 1980s when IVF began. A few years ago, medical groups developed sample consent forms clinics could use for new patients, spelling out what could happen to unused embryos. But that hasn’t resolved what to do with ones made long ago.
“It’s a real dilemma for these clinics,” said Rich Vaughn, a Los Angeles lawyer who headed the American Bar Association’s assisted reproduction committee for many years. “We don’t quite know what to do with them and everyone’s afraid to act” for fear they’ll be sued if people surface decades later and want their embryos.
The number is growing as more couples try IVF and because of changes in how it’s done. The old way was to mix eggs and sperm in the lab and transfer multiple fresh embryos to a womb, hoping at least one would lead to pregnancy. Now, couples usually freeze many embryos, test for health problems and transfer the most viable one at a time to avoid multiple births. That often means leftovers once the desired family is complete.
How many embryos are in storage isn’t known — centers don’t have to report that. One study estimated there were 1.4 million in the U.S. Researchers think 5 to 7 percent are abandoned, though it’s as high as 18 percent at some clinics. Some define that as a year of no contact or storage payments after reasonable efforts to find the owners; others draw the line at five years. Some clinics search social media and hire investigators to find owners when abandonment is suspected.
“It has vexed our field” from the start, said Dr. Mark Sauer, a fertility specialist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School who is on the ethics committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
It also has vexed couples, many of whom never expected so many leftovers. Sara Raber of New York’s Long Island had five extras after conceiving two children.
“Your goal in the beginning is just to get pregnant,” so making a lot of embryos seems necessary because you don’t know how many tries it will take, she said. But disposing of extras brings a finality to family building that’s different for IVF couples than it is for those who conceived naturally.
“You’re making a conscious decision not to have a baby anymore,” said her husband, Howard Raber. “That’s what makes it hard.”
Even after the Rabers agreed to donate theirs to research, which usually means to a fertility clinic to let staff practice IVF, the paperwork sat on her desk for months, Sarah Raber said.
In Arlington, Virginia, Sammis is having a similar struggle. “I get to the point of signing the papers and I just can’t deal with it,” she said.
Sammis said a friend who couldn’t decide what to do with her embryos moved away and “didn’t give the fertility center her forwarding address … That was her way of dealing with it.”
When couples have abandoned embryos, “it was largely because they did not want to be responsible for making a very difficult decision. They would rather let the program do it,” Sauer said.
Andrea Braverman, a health psychologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said it’s not an easy choice. A study of 131 couples in Canada found that one third had not returned for frozen embryos after five years. Another study found that up to 70 percent of couples delayed a decision for at least five years and many changed their minds about what they thought they’d do after they had IVF.
“This is a fluid decision. It is not a one-and-done,” Braverman said.
Dr. Craig Sweet, who runs a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Florida, knows the problem well. About 18 percent, or 300, of his clinic’s frozen embryos are abandoned, some for 25 years. A study he did found that couples were more likely to abandon embryos if they had stored them a long time, had a low education level, already had many children or owed the clinic money.
One of his patients with more than a dozen leftover embryos forged her husband’s signature on forms giving permission to use them because she wanted more children and he did not. The plan fell apart when the clinic insisted on seeing him personally.
“Things happen. Life happens, divorce happens, depression, financial changes” — many things can lead a couple to disagree about using embryos, Sweet said.
The courts view an embryo as something between person and property, said Susan Crockin, a reproductive law expert at Georgetown University. When it’s in the lab as opposed to being in a womb, “people have equal rights to it” and most courts will not allow one member of a couple to use an embryo over the other’s objection, she said.
The actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiancé Nick Loeb fought over frozen embryos they made, but a court said Vergara could not be forced to procreate against her wish and denied Loeb use of the embryos after the couple split.
States may try to rewrite legal precedents. Last April, Arizona’s governor signed legislation allowing one member of a divorced couple to use embryos created during a marriage even if the ex-spouse doesn’t want a child.
Clinics try to avoid being in the middle.
“What we tell couples is that if you’re divorced, nobody gets to transfer the embryos until we get something from a court” that says who has control of them, said Dr. Richard T. Scott Jr., scientific director of Reproductive Medicine Associates, one of the nation’s largest clinics with centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.
In 2005, Sweet began requiring patients to agree not to destroy unused embryos. He also started Embryo Donation International to provide embryos to couples willing to use them to have children. He accepts embryos from 62 facilities in North America and has more than 400 available; 50 to 60 were used in 2017, he said.
“It just didn’t make sense to us that people were discarding perfectly normal, useful embryos,” he said.
His IVF coordinator, Rebecca Ruano, had 18 leftover embryos after the birth of her twins, and agreed to donate the extras to people unable to have children. “I was not willing to destroy or donate them to science. We worked too hard for them,” she said.
Frozen embryos remain viable for decades as far as anyone knows. Last year, the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee reported a birth using an embryo that had been frozen for 24 years.
Sweet supplied a Chicago woman an embryo that had been frozen for 17 years and made one request:
“When the baby is born,” he said, “I want you to see if you can register the kid to vote.”
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Follow Marilynn Marchione: @MMarchioneAP
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The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

FBI: Man wanted to attack White House with antitank rocket

By KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man who traded his car for an antitank rocket and explosives in a plot to storm the White House is under arrest, authorities said.
Hasher Jallal Taheb, 21, of Cumming, was arrested in an FBI sting operation Wednesday and is charged with attempting to damage or destroy a building owned by the United States using fire or an explosive, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Taheb had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.
The FBI set up the sting after a local law enforcement agency said in March that it got a tip from someone who said Taheb had become radicalized, changed his name and planned to travel abroad, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit filed in court.
Taheb told the undercover agent he had never shot a gun but could learn easily and also said he had watched some videos of how grenades explode, authorities said.
The affidavit says Taheb told a confidential FBI source in October that he planned to travel abroad for “hijra,” which the agent wrote refers to traveling to territory controlled by the Islamic State. Because he didn’t have a passport, he couldn’t travel abroad and told the FBI source that he wanted to carry out an attack in the U.S. against the White House and the Statue of Liberty.
He met with the undercover agent and the FBI source multiple times last month and was also in frequent contact using an encrypted messaging application, the affidavit says.
During one meeting with the agent and the source, Taheb “advised that if they were to go to another country, they would be one of many, but if they stayed in the United States, they could do more damage,” the affidavit says. Taheb “explained that jihad was an obligation, that he wanted to do as much damage as possible, and that he expected to be a ‘martyr,’ meaning he expected to die during the attack.”
At another meeting, he showed the undercover agent a hand-drawn diagram of the ground floor of the West Wing of the White House and detailed a plan for attack, the affidavit says. He asked the undercover agent to obtain the weapons and explosives needed to carry out the attack, and they discussed selling or exchanging their cars to pay for them.
Taheb told the undercover agent they needed a “base” where they could regroup and where he could record a video to motivate people: “He stated he would be the narrator, clips of oppressed Muslims would be shown, and American and Israeli flags would be burned in the background.”
Last week, Taheb told the undercover agent he wanted to pick up weapons this week and drive directly to Washington to carry out the attack, investigators said.
Taheb said they would approach the White House from the back road, causing a distraction for police and then would proceed into the White House, using an antitank weapon to blow open a door and then take down as many people and do as much damage as possible, the affidavit says.
Taheb met with the FBI source and undercover agent on Wednesday in a parking lot in Buford to exchange their cars for semi-automatic assault rifles, three explosive devices with remote detonators and an anti-tank rocket, the affidavit says.
A second FBI source met them and inspected the vehicles, and a second FBI undercover agent arrived in a tractor trailer with weapons and explosives that had been rendered inert by the FBI. The undercover agent and Taheb talked about the guns, how to arm and detonate the explosives and how to use the antitank rocket, the affidavit says.
Taheb and the undercover agent and FBI source whom he believed to be part of his group turned over their car keys to the second confidential source and then loaded the inert explosives and guns into a rental vehicle, the affidavit says. Then, after they got into the car and closed the doors, agents arrested Taheb.