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U.S. lawmakers optimistic on reaching border security deal

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U.S. lawmakers optimistic on reaching border security deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facing a Friday deadline to avoid another partial U.S. government shutdown, congressional negotiators said they were aiming to reach a deal on border security funding by Monday night, after talks broke down over the weekend.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Richard Shelby spoke to reporters during a break in private meetings they have been holding with two of their House of Representatives counterparts.

“Senator Shelby and I … both agree that if we can wrap this up tonight, do it tonight, not go over to tomorrow” with negotiations, Leahy said.

“We’re talking about reaching an agreement on all of it,” Shelby said. He was referring to deciding funding levels through Sept. 30 for physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, along with the number of immigrant detention beds throughout the United States.

The stalled talks restarted in the U.S. Capitol just hours before a scheduled rally in the Texas border city of El Paso, where President Donald Trump will promote his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal opposed by Democrats.

An anti-wall protest will greet the Republican president, led by hometown Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman considering running for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination after gaining national prominence last year by nearly upsetting Republican Ted Cruz in a U.S. Senate race in Texas.

In Washington, the lawmakers grappled with brokering a deal by late Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the House of Representatives and Senate and get Trump’s signature by Friday, when funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.

Trump, who said in December he would be “proud” to shut the federal government over border security, took a different tack on Monday. “It’s up to the Democrats,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked whether the government was headed toward its second shutdown of the winter.

The talks stumbled over the weekend over funding for physical barriers along the border and a Democratic proposal to reduce allotted spaces in immigration detention facilities for people facing deportation.

Democrats oppose the Trump administration expanding its capacity to hold more people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for eventual deportation.

The White House and the top Republican in Congress on Monday blasted the Democratic plan, which calls for lowering an existing cap on beds at the detention facilities to 35,520 from the current 40,520 in return for giving Republicans some of the money they want for physical border barriers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the proposal a “poison pill” introduced into the talks by the Democrats, saying it would result in the release of thousands of illegal immigrants.

FILE PHOTO: A prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall is seen through the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo

Democrats counter that placing new limits would force the administration to focus on detaining illegal immigrants with serious criminal records and not those stopped for minor traffic infractions, for example.

Conservative Republican Representative Mark Meadows, an ally of the White House, told reporters he thought Trump would be open to avoiding a government shutdown by extending funding at current levels if a broad deal cannot be reached.

‘MANUFACTURED CRISIS’

Trump’s December demand for $5.7 billion to help construct a border wall triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last month without him getting wall funding. Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow congressional negotiators time to find a compromise on government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, to avert another shutdown on Feb. 15.

Negotiators had been discussing possibly slightly more than $1.6 billion for “physical barriers” along the southern border, far below Trump’s demand.

Trump made a border wall one of his central 2016 campaign promises, saying it was needed to curb illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other crimes and that Mexico would pay for it. Democrats, who assumed control of the House last month from Trump’s fellow Republicans, have called a wall ineffective, expensive and immoral.

Democrats generally push for less use of detention, arguing it is much cheaper to release some immigrants but require restrictions on them such as wearing ankle bracelets that track their location. Republicans want to increase the number of beds in detention facilities to enable holding more people to speed up and expand deportations.

The personalized gavel of House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), serving as the Chairwoman of a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers from both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, is seen at the start of their first public negotiating session over the U.S. federal government shutdown and border security on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Trump, who has sought to crack down on illegal immigration and has called the situation at the border a national security crisis, deployed 3,750 more U.S. troops there this month.

Rebuking Trump, California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said he would pull hundreds of the state’s National Guard troops from the border.

“The border ‘emergency’ is nothing more than a manufactured crisis – and CA’s National Guard will not be part of this political theater,” Newsom wrote on Twitter.

New Mexico’s Democratic governor made a similar move last week.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland; writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney

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Washington state could become first state to allow human composting

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Washington state could become first state to allow human composting

Washington state lawmakers on Friday passed a bill that would allow residents take part in “natural organic reduction” of human remains, citing in part research that said careful composted human remains could be safe for use in a household garden, reports said.

The Seattle Times reported that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s office on Friday said he did not review the final legislation. Inslee– who is running for president— has been active on Twitter since the state Senate and House of Representative passed bill 5001, but did not mention the bill in any posts. The bill reportedly passed easily and had bipartisan support.

The report pointed out that the measure has been several years in the making. There was a trial that involved six backers who agreed to organic reduction. The results were positive and “the soil smelled like soil and nothing else,” the report said.

Troy Hottle, a fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told the paper that the method is as “close to the natural process of decomposition [as] you’d assume a body would undergo before we had an industrialized society.”

An NBC News report last year said the procedure could cost $5,500.

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“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” Democratic state Sen. Jamie Pedersen told NBC.

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Ben Carson explains benefits of investing in ‘Opportunity Zones’ for areas facing economic challenges

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Ben Carson explains benefits of investing in 'Opportunity Zones' for areas facing economic challenges

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spoke on “The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton” in an interview that aired Sunday about proposed new regulations aimed at making it easier for investors to take advantage of tax breaks for investing in “Opportunity Zones” in low-income areas.

“Policies have been pretty much aimed at putting people into programs,” Carson said, and now the Trump administration is trying to get poor Americans “out of the programs and self-sufficient.”

President Trump said last week that 8,700 neighborhoods across all 50 states and U.S. territories have received the Opportunity Zone designation and would be eligible for the federal tax incentives he’s proposed.

“The entire island of Puerto Rico is an opportunity zone,” Carson said.

“We are very concerned about the rural areas, too,” he added.

Trump’s proposed regulations were issued by the Treasury Department. They sought to clear up questions that were keeping some investors from using the incentives.

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The program was included in the $1.5 trillion tax cut legislation that Trump pushed through Congress in 2017.

The new Opportunity Zones were set up to enable private investors to re-invest profits into designated areas.

“They are going to invest that money somewhere,” Carson said.

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He noted private investors would do what they do because they “want to be successful.”

As White House officials have explained, investors in Opportunity Zones could get tax benefits by deferring their capital gains taxes invested in the zones until 2026. They also could receive discounts of up to 15 percent on capital-gains profits invested in the zones and would pay no capital-gains taxes on investments in the zones held for at least 10 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tulsi Gabbard: Mueller report found ‘no collusion took place,’ Dems shouldn’t push to impeach Trump

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Tulsi Gabbard: Mueller report found 'no collusion took place,' Dems shouldn't push to impeach Trump

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a 2020 candidate for president, told Fox News on Sunday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election found “no collusion” between President Trump and Russia — and that it’s time for the country to focus on the issues that matter most to Americans.

Gabbard, a Democrat, told “America’s News HQ” that while she supported the Mueller investigation, “the conclusion that came from that Mueller report was that no collusion took place. Now is the time for us to come together as a country to put the issues and the interests and the concerns that the American people have at the forefront, to take action to bring about real solutions for them.”

She continued, “I don’t think that we should defeat Donald Trump through impeachment. I think it’s really important for us, in this country, to come together and have the American people vote to take Donald Trump out of office in 2020.”

Gabbard’s position came in direct contrast to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who last Friday called on the House of Representatives to start impeachment proceedings. Warren explained Saturday at an event in New Hampshire, “I know people say this is politically charged and we shouldn’t go there, and that there is an election coming up, but there are some things that are bigger than politics.”

GABBARD SAYS U.S. UNDERMINING NORTH KOREA PEACE BID WITH IRAN, VENEZUELA POLICIES

Also Friday, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, another 2020 candidate, said launching impeachment proceedings would be “perfectly reasonable.”

Gabbard countered, “What I am worried about is the continued divisiveness and putting partisan political interests ahead of the interest of the people,” citing a voter’s concerns about making ends meet while struggling with the costs of health care.

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The Justice Department released a redacted version of Mueller’s report last Thursday. Mueller wrote that he found no proof of collusion between Trump and Russia, and did not draw a conclusion over accusations the president may have obstructed justice.

For his part, President Trump tweeted on Sunday, “Despite No Collusion, No Obstruction, The Radical Left Democrats do not want to go on to Legislate for the good of the people, but only to Investigate and waste time. This is costing our Country greatly, and will cost the Dems big time in 2020!”

Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Leland Vittert contributed to this report.

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