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Updated: 28 min 31 sec ago

Report: Pompeo Warns Russia Against Taliban Bounties

1 hour 30 min ago

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Russia’s foreign minister about alleged bounty payments to Taliban militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.

The Times reported Friday that Pompeo made the warning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a July 13 phone call, citing unidentified U.S. officials.

It said Pompeo’s warning was the first known rebuke from a senior U.S. official to Russia over the alleged bounties program.

Pompeo has previous declined to say whether he specifically raised the bounty allegations with Russia. However, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that he has “raised all of the issues that put any Americans at risk” each time he has spoken to Lavrov.

Trump has called the reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops “another Russian hoax" despite concerns about them from the intelligence community.

Trump told reporters in Florida last month, “It was never brought to my attention and it perhaps wasn't brought because they didn't consider it to be real. And if it is brought to my attention, I'll do something about it," he said.

During an interview with “Axios on HBO,” Trump said he had not raised the bounty allegations in a recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and, frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said.

White House officials have said that Trump was not briefed on the suspected bounties because the assessment was not conclusive. However, several media outlets, including the Times, have reported that the issue was included in one of the president’s written daily briefings in February. Trump has said he was never personally told about the issue.

Russia has denied that it paid bounties to Taliban militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Canada to Impose Retaliatory Tariffs on US Goods, Hopes for Resolution

1 hour 58 min ago

Canada will slap retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) worth of U.S. aluminum products after the United States said it would impose punitive measures on Canadian aluminum imports, a senior official said on Friday.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference the countermeasures would be put in place by Sept. 16 to allow consultations with industry.

The move marks the latest ruction in a choppy relationship between the neighbors and close allies since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Trump moved on Thursday to reimpose 10% tariffs on some Canadian aluminum products on Aug 16 to protect U.S. industry from a "surge" in imports. Canada denies any impropriety.

"At a time when we are fighting a global pandemic ... a trade dispute is the last thing anyone needs - it will only hurt the economic recovery on both sides of the border. However, this is what the U.S. administration has chosen to do," said Freeland.

"We do not escalate and we do not back down," she said later, variously describing the U.S. decision as "entirely unacceptable," absurd and ludicrous.

The Canadian list of goods that might be subject to tariffs includes aluminum bars, plates, refrigerators, bicycles, washing machines and golf clubs. Trump is a keen golfer.

"I think the very best outcome would be for the United States to reconsider," said Freeland, adding that she was confident common sense would prevail.

The list of goods subject to tariffs is narrower than the last time Ottawa struck back at Trump because the two sides agreed in 2019 to limit the scope of retaliation in disputes over steel and aluminum, said a Canadian government source who requested anonymity.

In 2018, Ottawa slapped tariffs on C$16.6 billion ($12.5 billion) worth of goods ranging from bourbon to ketchup after Washington imposed sanctions on Canadian aluminum and steel.

Ottawa may be calculating its measures will be short-lived. A source briefed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office said Canadian officials are increasingly sure Trump will lose the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump acted just weeks after a new continental trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico took effect. The North American economy is highly integrated and Canada sends 75% of all its goods exports to the United States.


NRA Dissidents Cautiously Welcome Lawsuit, See Overhaul as Long Overdue

2 hours 19 min ago

National Rifle Association members who have been alleging corruption within the gun lobby's leadership for years have cautiously welcomed a lawsuit from New York state that threatens to dissolve the foremost champion of gun rights in the United States. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued on Thursday to break up the NRA, alleging senior leaders of the nonprofit group wasted millions of dollars of members' money on their own luxury travel, personal gifts from retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, family vacations to the Bahamas and big game hunts in Africa. 

FILE - New York state Attorney General Letitia James takes a question after announcing that the state is suing the National Rifle Association, during a press conference in New York, Aug. 6, 2020.

"Honestly, this is the best thing for the NRA," said Stephen Bozich, a lifetime NRA and NRA safety instructor. "It will end up resulting in the kind of action a lot of people in the gun community have been looking for, which is new leadership." 

Like other NRA members, Bozich wants the NRA to remain intact. With the presidential election three months away, he is also skeptical about the political motives of James, a liberal Democrat who ran for attorney general in 2018 on anti-NRA rhetoric. 

But within the NRA's 5 million members are dissidents who have been clamoring for reform, only to be defeated as NRA leadership and its 76-member board of directors closed ranks behind Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. 

The dissidents have tried to speak for lower-income members who send some of their scarce disposable income to the NRA to defend their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. 

The lawsuit details how LaPierre squandered more than $1 million of that money on private jet travel for his wife and family over four years when he was not even a passenger. Such mismanagement shrank NRA assets by $64 million over three years, the suit said. 

"I've been trying to wake people up for years as to the corruption," said Tim Harmsen, a lifetime NRA member and host of the Military Arms Channel online. "The NRA is broken on the inside. It needs new leadership. Wayne has to go. It's almost as if he's purposely trying to run the organization into the ground." 

FILE - National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Feb. 29, 2020.

In depositions cited by the lawsuit, LaPierre does not deny the expenditures but justifies them as legitimate expenses. 

The NRA has dismissed the suit as a baseless and politically motivated attack. It did not immediately respond to a Reuters request to address the internal criticism. 

The NRA's internal critics complain that years of inaction only jeopardized gun rights and invited someone like James to step in, using the state's authority to regulate a nonprofit organization that is registered in New York. 

Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist who remains a member, said LaPierre should take an immediate, unpaid leave and board members who were on the oversight committees should resign. 

"Those in the know were aware for years about improprieties and outrageous expenditures with the top leadership at NRA," Feldman said. "But the extensively detailed allegations of double dealing, sweetheart contracts and engorged salaries coupled with board payoffs are depressingly staggering."

Germany, France Quit WHO Reform Talks Amid Tension With Washington, Sources Say

2 hours 44 min ago

France and Germany have quit talks on reforming the World Health Organization in frustration at attempts by the United States to lead the negotiations, despite its decision to leave the WHO, three officials told Reuters. 

The move is a setback for President Donald Trump as Washington, which holds the rotating chair of the G-7, had hoped to issue a common road map for a sweeping overhaul of the WHO in September, two months before the U.S. presidential election. 

The United States gave the WHO a year's notice in July that it is leaving the U.N. agency — which was created to improve health globally — after Trump accused it of being too close to China and having mishandled the coronavirus pandemic. 

The WHO has dismissed his accusations. European governments have also criticized the WHO but do not go as far as the United States in their criticism, and the decision by Paris and Berlin to leave the talks follows tensions over what they say are Washington's attempts to dominate the negotiations. 

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing executive orders on lowering drug prices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, July 24, 2020.

"Nobody wants to be dragged into a reform process and getting an outline for it from a country which itself just left the WHO," a senior European official involved in the talks said. 

The German and French health ministries confirmed to Reuters that the two countries were opposed to the United States leading the talks after announcing its intention to leave the organization. 

A spokesman for the Italian health ministry said that work on the reform document was still under way, adding that Italy's position was in line with those of Paris and Berlin. 

Asked about the position of France and Germany, a senior Trump administration official said: "All members of the G-7 explicitly supported the substance of the WHO reform ideas." 

"Notwithstanding, it is regrettable that Germany and France ultimately chose not to join the group in endorsing the road map," he said. 

A spokesman for the British government declined to comment on the latest developments but added that Britain supported the WHO and urged a reform of the body "to ensure it remains flexible and responsive." 

The talks on WHO reform began about four months ago. There have been nearly 20 teleconferences between health ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, and dozens of meetings of diplomats and other officials. 

A deal by the G-7, which also includes Japan and Canada, would facilitate talks at the G-20 and United Nations, where any changes would have to be agreed upon with China, Russia and other major governments not in the G-7. 

It is unclear whether a G-7 summit in the United States, at which Trump hopes leaders will endorse the road map, will now go ahead in September as planned. 

U.S. officials have not said what reforms Washington has sought. But an initial reform road map proposed by Washington was seen by many of its allies as too critical, with one European official involved in the negotiations describing it as "rude." 

Despite changes to the original text, Washington's push remained unacceptable, mainly to Germany, sources familiar with the negotiations said. 

Funding and 'politicized management' 

In the weeks before the collapse of the talks, negotiators had told Reuters positions were getting closer as Washington softened its approach and European negotiators started to see the reform process as a means to make the WHO more independent from political pressure.

European governments had also begun to make skeptical remarks about the WHO in public, with Germany's health minister urging the WHO to hasten a review of its handling of COVID-19.

FILE - Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 28, 2020.

In private, some Europeans have supported a tougher line, with some criticizing WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and what they see as politicized management of the pandemic. 

"Everybody has been critical of Tedros," a negotiator from a European G-7 country told Reuters. 

A German government source said: "It must ... be ensured in future that the WHO can react neutrally and on the basis of facts to global health events." 

But European governments want to make the WHO stronger, better funded and more independent, whereas the U.S. withdrawal of funds is likely to weaken it — Washington is the largest contributor, providing 15% of the budget. 

Some Europeans see Trump's criticism of the WHO as an attempt in the run-up to the U.S. election to distract attention from his handling of COVID-19, and Berlin's ties with Washington have been strained by his decision in July to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany. 

Plans to reform the WHO are unlikely to be definitively shelved, especially if Trump is defeated in the November election. European governments want Washington to remain a WHO member and a financial supporter, and they have shown an interest in boosting their own funding to the body. 

Israel Says It Shot Down Drone on Golan Heights Overnight

3 hours 9 min ago

Israel's military said Friday that it had shot down a drone overnight that crossed into Israeli airspace near Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau at the frontier with Syria.

No other details were given, though the army said it was not connected to the triggering of sirens later in the day by a false alarm regarding a drone infiltration.

Israel has been on high alert as tensions have escalated with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Earlier in the week, Israeli aircraft attacked targets in Syria. It described the strikes as retaliation for an attempted bombing of the border fence by an enemy squad that Israel's military chief Friday said was sent by Iran.

There was no immediate comment from Iran.

Israel captured most of the Golan Heights from Syria in a war in 1967.

How Philippines Got Runaway COVID-19 Caseload, an Outlier in Asia

3 hours 34 min ago

The Philippines has become a COVID-19 outlier in East Asia with a runaway caseload because initial stay-home orders ended early and people struggle to practice social distancing despite strict rules, local observers say.

New reported cases spiked during the past month, leaving the archipelago with a cumulative total of about 120,000. Daily cases set a record Tuesday of 6,277. Now cities have shut down again, threatening access to workplaces in a country where many people depend on daily labor to survive.

“A lot of it is because people don’t follow the protocols,” said Rhona Canoy, president of the International School of CDO in the southern Philippine city Cagayan de Oro.

“They don’t wear masks,” she said, “and the biggest issue of all is that people don’t observe social distancing.”

People wearing masks shop for fresh food at a market in Manila on Aug. 6, 2020.

So dire is the situation in the Philippines that on Tuesday the United Nations and 50 nonprofit partners began carrying out a $122 million response plan to help about 5.4 million of the country’s “poorest and most marginalized people” with a focus on protecting women, according to Canoy.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, only Indonesia still struggles with daily COVID-19 caseload surges. Most of Northeast Asia, including the disease’s apparent source, China, has recovered, despite isolated flare-ups.

Stay-home orders in much of the Philippines began easing in June before hospitals could deploy equipment and coordinate with each other to handle the disease, said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

Among hospitals, she said, “things were so bureaucratic and top-down, and when they decided to open up the economy little by little, it turned out that much of the supposed things that should have been done during the strict lockdown period have not been done.”

A child reacts after getting swabbed for a free coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a gymnasium in Navotas City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Aug. 7, 2020.

A lot of people still fear getting tested for COVID-19 at hospitals in case they test positive, Canoy said. She said some parts of the country lack bed space for any local surge in cases.

Not everyone wears a face mask in shopping malls, often because they find them uncomfortable or because they left them at home, Canoy said. In restaurants, she said, diners sit “bunched up” at bigger tables, even if the next table is only a meter away.

Crowded slum housing pushes people into streets, basketball courts and tiny stores where air circulates better despite stay-home orders, said Eduardo Araral, a Philippine native and associate professor at the National University of Singapore's public policy school.

“You cannot force poor people to be staying inside because, all the more, they are congested,” Araral said. “It makes more sense to just be outside where there’s more space.”

Stay-home measures resumed this week in metro Manila and other parts of the country affecting about 27 million of the country’s 109.5 million population.

A worker disinfects chairs at the airport in Manila on Aug. 4, 2020.

Public transport has noticeably slowed, making it hard for even medical staffers to reach their jobs, Araral said. Prolonged shutdowns will keep poorer people away from work too long, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit in Singapore.

“This is always the problem in low-income countries where a lot of people are dependent on daily work and there’s no government support, so I think this is the problem in places like in the Philippines that you can’t really keep people locked down for long periods of time because many have very little savings, if any," Biswas said.

Remote parts of the Philippines, a group of some 7,100 islands, still report few cases, however. They can keep local economies on track because they get little traffic from metro Manila or Cebu, the country's two most infected spots.

Cagayan de Oro, the southern Philippine city of 753,000 people where Canoy’s school is located, recorded just 140 cases from March through July.

It is hard to know, however, when a flight arrives with an infected passenger, she said, so she chastises her rice vendor who doesn’t use a mask, and cringes at people gathering outside convenience stores where they go to spend economic relief money.

Winfrey Demanding Justice for Breonna Taylor With Billboards

3 hours 36 min ago

First, Oprah Winfrey put Breonna Taylor on the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine. Now the media mogul is spreading her message with billboards demanding justice for the Kentucky woman shot to death during a police raid. 

Twenty-six billboards displaying a portrait of Taylor are going up across Louisville, Kentucky, demanding that the police officers involved in her death be arrested and charged, according to social justice organization Until Freedom. That's one billboard for every year of the Black woman's life. 

The billboards, funded by the magazine, showcase the magazine cover dedicated to Taylor, the Courier Journal reported. Also displayed is a quote from Winfrey: "If you turn a blind eye to racism, you become an accomplice to it." 

Until Freedom thanked the magazine for its work on the billboards. 

"Together, we will make sure no one forgets #BreonnaTaylor's name and recommit to the fight for justice for her and her family," the group said in a tweet. 

Taylor, an emergency medical tech studying to become a nurse, was shot multiple times March 13 when police officers burst into her Louisville apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The warrant to search her home was in connection with a suspect who did not live there and no drugs were found. 

FILE - A protester carries a "Justice for Breonna Taylor" sign during a Defund the Police march from King County Youth Jail to City Hall in Seattle, Washington, Aug. 5, 2020.

Kenneth Walker, Taylor's boyfriend, was originally charged with attempted murder after he fired a shot at one of the officers who came into the home. Walker has said he didn't know who was entering the apartment and was firing a warning shot. The charge was later dropped. 

Global protests on behalf of Taylor, George Floyd in Minnesota and others have been part of a national reckoning over racism and police brutality. Tensions have swelled in Taylor's hometown and beyond as activists, professional athletes and social media stars push for action while investigators plead for more patience.

Criminal charges?

The decision on whether to bring state-level criminal charges against the Louisville officers rests with Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. He took the Taylor case after a local prosecutor recused himself from reviewing the matter. One of the officers has been terminated and two other officers are on administrative reassignment. 

Cameron, the first African American elected to the attorney general's job in Kentucky, has declined to put a timetable on his decision since taking over the case in May. 

Cameron told the Courier Journal in a Thursday interview that his office was waiting for information on ballistics tests the FBI has been conducting. 

"An integral part of this investigation is: What will those ballistics tests show? And so we are in the process of trying to get that information back from the FBI," he told the Louisville newspaper. 

The FBI field office in Louisville said Friday that a "significant amount of ballistic evidence" was collected when investigators returned to Taylor's apartment in June. 

"This evidence is being tested and analyzed at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia," the FBI's Louisville office said in a statement. "Once the FBI Laboratory has completed its findings, FBI Louisville will promptly share our results with the attorney general's office." 

Christopher 2X, an anti-violence activist in Louisville, told reporters this week that he's encouraged by the commitment that FBI officials locally and nationally have shown to the case. He commented after participating in a meeting at the FBI's Louisville office.

The Infodemic: Are Most Diseases Transmitted by Hand?

3 hours 54 min ago

Fake news about the coronavirus can do real harm. Polygraph.info is spotlighting fact-checks from other reliable sources here​.

Daily Debunk

Claim: Over 80% of all diseases in the world are transmitted by hand.

Verdict: Misleading

Read the full story at: Africa Check


Social Media Disinfo


Circulating on social media: Claim that the Pirbright Institute, a British research institute dedicated to the study of infectious diseases of farm animals which has ties to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, holds a patent for a vaccine against COVID-19.

Verdict: False

Read the full story at: Reuters​

Factual Reads on Coronavirus

Could My Symptoms Be Covid-19?
These days, every cough, sneeze or headache makes you wonder: Could it be Covid-19?
-- New York Times, August 5​

Nine Important Things We’ve Learned about the Coronavirus Pandemic So Far
Some early public health messages about COVID-19 have been overturned.
-- Scientific American, August 4

Coronavirus: WHO gears up for main mission into China to hunt for the origins of Covid-19
WHO and Chinese experts have drafted terms of reference for probe into the epidemiology of early infections.
-- South China Morning Post, August 4

New Study Shows Human Ancestors Had ‘Complicated Love Life’

3 hours 56 min ago

Researchers have confirmed that hundreds of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals mated with at least four other contemporary species of ancient humans, or hominids, and the evidence lives on in the genes of modern men and women.

A study published Thursday in the science journal PLOS Genetics shows how researchers from Cornell University analyzed the genomes, the complete genetic “map,” from Neanderthals, a prehistoric human ancestor called Denisovans, and modern humans.

Analysis of the genomes revealed new evidence of gene flow between these species, bolstering earlier theories that the species intermated. The researchers found 3% of the Neanderthal genome came from interbreeding with other ancient humans that lived at the same time.

The new study estimates this intermixing happened between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago — far earlier than previous estimates indicated.

The researchers also found that 1% of the Denisovan genome contained genetic material that came from an "archaic human ancestor" that was neither human, nor Neanderthal, nor Denisovan. They suggested it came from Homo erectus, an early human ancestor believed to be the first to spread to what is now Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.

Homo erectus looked much like we do today, but with elongated legs and shorter arms. They are believed to have outlived contemporary hominids, dying out as recently as 117,000 years ago.

The new study suggests that 15% of the genetic pieces that came from Homo erectus have been passed on to humans today. They suggest it split off from the lineage that would become modern humans about 1 million years ago, which would fit the timeline for intermingling with its contemporary hominid species.

The genome for Homo erectus has not been sequenced so it is difficult to precisely figure out how all the different human ancestors got together. But the researchers theorize that migration habits combined with the fact that all four species did overlap for several thousand years made it likely that they intermingled.

Cuomo Clears New York Schools Statewide to Open, Carefully

4 hours 15 min ago

New York schools can bring children back to classrooms for the start of the school year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday, citing success in battling the coronavirus in the state that once was the U.S. heart of the pandemic.

The Democratic governor's decision clears the way for schools to offer at least some days of in-person classes, alongside remote learning. Students will be required to wear masks throughout school day.

"Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established," Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. "If there's a spike in the infection rate, if there's a matter of concern in the infection rate, then we can revisit."

Many New York school districts have planned to start the year with students in school buildings only a few days a week, while learning at home the rest of the time. Cuomo said individual districts will decide how to instruct students.

More than 1 million public school students in New York City — the largest district in the U.S. — had their last day of in-class instruction on March 13, just as waves of sick people were beginning to hit city hospitals. All schools statewide were closed by March 18.

The city's mayor, Bill de Blasio, has been saying since the spring that his goal for fall was to bring students back on schedule, with as much classroom time as possible while still allowing for social distancing.

A coalition of teachers, students, and families protest during a rally called National Day of Resistance Against Unsafe School Reopening Opening, Aug. 3, 2020, in New York.

That plan has looked exceedingly ambitious as other large school systems have backed away from in-person instruction in recent weeks.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston, among other places, all announced they would start the school year with students learning remotely.

De Blasio, while cautioning that he could change course at any time, had expressed hope that the relatively low rate of transmission of the virus in the city would allow students and staff to return safely.

He had also said a return to classroom instruction is vital to jump-starting the city's economy, now hobbled by parents being forced to stay home with their children.

"It will not be easy but I think most parents feel strongly that even some time in school is a lot better for their kids than none," de Blasio said Friday at a separate briefing earlier in the day.

School reopening plans, though, face enormous hurdles.

Cuomo warned that New York's roughly 750 districts still need to address the fears of parents and teachers that schools will be unsafe. He said he will ask school districts to post their remote learning plan and require "discussion sessions" with parents.

"They have to communicate with the parents and explain the plan and answer the questions of the parents," Cuomo said.

The outbreak, while reduced, is not over in New York. Around 10,000 New York City residents tested positive for the virus in July.

On Wednesday, two unions, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers, demanded clearer health protocols dictating that schools should shut down immediately for two weeks if any student or member of the staff contracts the virus.

Teachers are prohibited from striking in New York, but it has been unclear whether large numbers would either opt out of classroom instruction for medical reasons or simply refuse to work.

Parents, too, have struggled to decide whether to send their children to school or opt solely for online instruction at home.

Schools have spent the summer coming up with safety plans, securing protective gear and figuring out how to fit fewer students into classrooms and school buses. Cuomo required all school systems to submit plans detailing their reopening plans, saying that the state would not allow any district with an unsafe plan to bring students back to classrooms.

The governor said the Department of Health will continue to go through plans over the weekend, and will notify school districts where incomplete or deficient. He said about 50 school district health plans are incomplete or deficient. A district can't open if its health plan is rejected.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker warned this week that "an ill-prepared reopening could put students, staff and parents in peril."

Earlier this summer, Cuomo set a general metric to help measure when it was safe to bring students back, saying the state would allow a return in regions where fewer than 5% of people tested for COVID-19 came back positive.

The entire state has been well under that threshold all summer, but Cuomo had also recently stressed that, even if he allowed schools to reopen, it wouldn't work if parents and teachers aren't sure they are safe.



Last-ditch Virus Aid Talks Collapse; No New Help for Jobless

4 hours 18 min ago

A last-ditch effort by Democrats to revive collapsing Capitol Hill talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money ended in disappointment on Friday, making it increasingly likely that Washington gridlock will mean more hardship for millions of people who are losing enhanced jobless benefits and further damage for an economy pummeled by the still-raging coronavirus.

"It was a disappointing meeting," declared top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, saying the White House had rejected an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to curb Democratic demands by about $1 trillion. He urged the White House to "negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don't say it's your way or no way."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, right, walk out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, Aug. 7, 2020.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, "Unfortunately we did not make any progress today."

With the collapse of the talks, he said President Donald Trump was now likely to issue executive orders on home evictions and on student loan debt.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, "This is not a perfect answer — we'll be the first ones to say that — but it is all that we can do, and all the president can do within the confines of his executive power."

Friday's session followed a combative meeting on Thursday that, for the first time cast real doubt on the ability of the Trump administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill to come together on a fifth COVID-19 response bill. Pelosi summoned Mnuchin and Meadows in hopes of breathing life into the negotiations, which have been characterized by frustration and intransigence on both sides.

A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

In a news conference on Friday Pelosi said she offered a major concession to Republicans.

"We'll go down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion," Pelosi said. The figures are approximate, but a Pelosi spokesman said the speaker is in general terms seeking a "top line" of perhaps $2.4 trillion since the House-passed HEROES Act is scored at $3.45 trillion. Republicans say their starting offer was about $1 trillion but have offered some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to states, among others, that have brought the White House offer higher.

Mnuchin said that renewal of a $600 per-week pandemic jobless boost and huge demands by Democrats for aid to state and local governments are the key areas where they are stuck.

"There's a lot of areas of compromise," he said after Friday's meeting. "I think if we can reach an agreement on state and local and unemployment, we will reach an overall deal. And if we can't we can't."

Pelosi declared the talks all but dead until Meadows and Mnuchin give ground.

"I've told them 'come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,'" she said.

Democrats have offered to reduce her almost $1 trillion demand for state and local governments considerably, but some of Pelosi's proposed cost savings would accrue chiefly because she would shorten the timeframe for benefits like food stamps.

Pelosi and Schumer continue to insist on a huge aid package to address a surge in cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

On Friday, they pointed to the new July jobs report to try to bolster their proposals. The report showed that the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs last month, a much lower increase than in May and June.

"It's clear the economy is losing steam," Schumer said. "That means we need big, bold investments in America to help average folks."

Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's rank and file opposed to another rescue bill at all. Four prior coronavirus response bills totaling almost $3 trillion have won approval on bipartisan votes despite intense wrangling, but conservatives have recoiled at the prospect of another Pelosi-brokered agreement with a whopping deficit-financed cost.

McConnell has sent the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won't come until late next week, if then.

Pelosi and Schumer have staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their insistence for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

"This virus is like a freight train coming so fast and they are responding like a convoy going as slow as the slowest ship. It just doesn't work," Pelosi said Friday.

School Teachers in US Protest Going Back to Classrooms

4 hours 39 min ago

In early August, thousands of parents, educators, students, and community members took to the streets in over 25 U.S. states to call for safe and equitable schools.  The protests, organized as a National Day of Resistance, were called to raise concerns that with the coronavirus still spreading reopening schools for in-person learning is dangerous.  The issue has become political, with pressure growing from the White House and many state governors to reopen the classrooms.  Nina Vishneva has this report narrated by Anna Rice on the demonstrations in New York City. 

Camera:  Max Avloshenko, Alex Barash, Olga Terekhin

US Sees Election Threats From China, Russia and Iran

4 hours 43 min ago

The director of US intelligence on Friday raised concerns about interference in the 2020 election by China, Russia and Iran.

U.S. intelligence has assessed that China is hoping President Donald Trump does not win reelection, Russia is working to denigrate Democrat Joe Biden and Iran is seeking to undermine democratic institutions, said Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence Security Center.

In a statement, Evanina provided the U.S. intelligence agencies’ most recent assessment of election threats to the November presidential election.

“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” Evanina said. “We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran.”

China views Trump as “unpredictable” and does not want to see him win reelection, Evanina said. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of the November election in an effort to shape U.S policy and pressure political figures it sees as against Beijing, he said.

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston consulate and actions on other issues,” he wrote.

On Russia, U.S. intelligence officials assess that Russia is working to “denigrate” Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” among his supporters, Evanina said. He said that would track Moscow’s criticism of Biden when he was vice president for his role in Ukraine policies and support of opposition to President Vladimir Putin inside Russia.

On Iran, the assessment said Tehran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions as well as Trump and divide America before the election.

“Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” Evanina wrote. “Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s re-election would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”

Greece-Egypt Maritime Deal Aimed at Stemming Turkish Designs in Eastern Mediterranean

5 hours 33 min ago

The Greek government is hailing a deal reached with Egypt on Thursday establishing an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas rights as a major success, claiming it counters growing Turkish influence in the region as Ankara prepares to issue new oil exploration licenses that have been sharply criticized by Greece, the European Union and Washington.

In a surprise move, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias secretly jetted off to Egypt to seal the deal, finalizing a strategic alliance with Cairo, which diplomats in Athens said required 13 rounds of negotiations and 15 years to ultimately conclude.

With the European Union and Washington increasingly concerned about Turkey’s growing influence in the eastern Mediterranean, Greek and Egyptian negotiators now moved fast.

The agreement effectively expands and consolidates both countries’ rights to drill and explore untapped reserves in the hundreds of miles of sea that divides them.

More important, Greece said the deal trumps a contentious maritime deal that Turkey recently signed with the Libyan government in Tripoli, allowing Turkey to drill for gas and oil in the same region, including within Greek waters, off the coast of Greek islands such as Crete.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to supporters and the media in Istanbul, Aug. 7, 2020. Erdogan has called a maritime deal between Greece and Egypt "worthless."

Dendias explains

This deal, he said, is the exact opposite of what he calls the invalid and illegal understanding between Ankara and Tripoli. It confirms and safeguards the rights of Greece's islands, Dendias said, and it attests to the decisiveness of both Greek and Egypt to block Turkey’s influence in the region.

With this agreement, Dendias said, Turkey’s deal with Tripoli goes in the trash, where he said it should.

While both NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have been at odds for years over sea, air and land rights. Tensions have flared in recent months, with Greece warning it would wage war if Turkey moved to act on its energy designs, drilling or even exploring in waters in Greece claims.

Turkey insists it is well within its rights to explore untapped energy fields in the eastern Mediterranean and it has submitted its maritime deal with Libya to the United Nations for ratification.

With tensions running high between the two nations, EU member states and the U.S. State Department have urged Turkey to back off from its ambitious energy designs, at least for now. They are also pushing Greece and Turkey to return to the negotiating table in hope of trying to sort out age-old differences. It has been four years since the two countries have held regular diplomatic meetings.

Constantinos Filis, director of the Athens-based Institute of International Relations, said Greece would have little chance of major success at those talks without the agreement it now has with Egypt.

Without this agreement, Filis said, Greece would have been at a serious disadvantage. Now, it can come to the negotiating table and claim a legal difference, pushing Turkey to seek recourse with the International Court at The Hague to resolve these matters — delineation of the continental shelf and who has rights over what area.

Whether Greece will do so remains unclear. And even if it does, there is no guarantee it will win.

Turkey argues that Greek islands should not be included in calculating maritime zones of economic interest. It says it is well within its rights to explore reserves, even off the coast of certain Greek islands.

No exact date for the so-called exploratory talks has been set, but officials in Athens told VOA they expected that the sessions would begin in coming weeks, well before EU leaders meet again in September to review their collective stance on Turkey, including potential sanctions.

Postal Service Loses $2.2B in 3 Months as Virus Woes Persist

5 hours 35 min ago

The U.S. Postal Service says it lost $2.2 billion in the three months that ended in June as the beleaguered agency, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, piles up financial losses that officials warn could top $20 billion over two years.

"Our financial position is dire, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, a broken business model and a management strategy that has not adequately addressed these issues,'' Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general, said Friday in his first public remarks since taking the job in June.

"Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight,'' DeJoy told the postal board of governors at a meeting Friday.

While package deliveries to homebound Americans were up more than 50%, that was offset by continued declines in first-class and business mail, even as costs increased significantly to pay for personal protective equipment and replace workers who got sick or chose to stay home in fear of the virus, DeJoy said.

Without an intervention from Congress, the agency faces an impending cash flow crisis, he said. The Postal Service is seeking an infusion of at least $10 billion to cover operating losses as well as regulatory changes that would undo a congressional requirement that the agency pre-fund billions of dollars in retiree health benefits.

Louis DeJoy, the 75th postmaster general of the United States and chief executive officer of the USPS. (USPS photo)

The agency is doing its part, said DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser and former supply chain executive who took command of the agency June 15. DeJoy, 63, of North Carolina, is a major donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. He is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who is not a career postal employee.

Limits on overtime

In his first month on the job, DeJoy said, he directed the agency to vigorously "focus on the ingrained inefficiencies in our operations,'' including by applying strict limits on overtime.

"By running our operations on time and on schedule, and by not incurring unnecessary overtime or other costs, we will enhance our ability to be sustainable and ... continue to provide high-quality, affordable service,'' DeJoy said.

While not acknowledging widespread complaints by members of Congress about delivery delays nationwide, DeJoy said the agency would "aggressively monitor and quickly address service issues.''

DeJoy's remarks came as lawmakers from both parties called on the Postal Service to immediately reverse operational changes that are causing delays in deliveries across the country just as big volume increases are expected for mail-in election voting.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that changes imposed by DeJoy "threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans.''

In separate letters, two Montana Republicans, Senator Steve Daines and Representative Greg Gianforte, also urged the Postal Service to reverse the July directive, which eliminates overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers and mandates that mail be kept until the next day if distribution centers are running late.

FILE - Republican Greg Gianforte greets supporters after winning Montana's sole congressional seat, May 25, 2017, in Bozeman, Mont.


And 84 House members — including four Republicans — signed yet another letter blasting the changes and urging an immediate reversal.

"Delaying mail service is unacceptable," Gianforte wrote Thursday to DeJoy. "Do not continue down this road."

In their letter, the 84 House members said it was "vital that the Postal Service does not reduce mail delivery hours, which could harm rural communities, seniors, small businesses and millions of Americans who rely on the mail for critical letters and packages.'' The letter was led by Representative Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, who has called DeJoy to testify at a hearing next month.

The flurry of letters came as the top Democrat on a Senate panel that oversees the Postal Service launched an investigation into the operational changes.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said DeJoy had failed to provide answers about the service delays, despite repeated requests.

Peters is asking members of the public to provide their stories about delays or other problems with deliveries.

The Postal Service is reeling from mail delays and financial problems at a time when record numbers of mail ballots are expected in the November presidential election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE- In this Dec. 14, 2017, photo, boxes for sorted mail are stacked at the main post office in Omaha, Neb.

Criticism from Trump

Trump, a vocal critic of the Postal Service, contended Wednesday that "the Post Office doesn't have enough time" to handle a significant increase in mail-in ballots. "I mean, you're talking about millions of votes. ... It's a catastrophe waiting to happen."

DeJoy met with Schumer and Pelosi on Wednesday in a closed-door session that Schumer called "a heated discussion." Democrats told DeJoy that "elections are sacred" and urged him not to impose cutbacks "at a time when all ballots count," Schumer said.

In his remarks to the postal board of governors, DeJoy disputed reports that the agency was slowing down election mail or any other mail. He called election mail handling "a robust and proven process."

While there will "likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so," DeJoy said. "However ... we cannot correct the errors of [state and local] election boards if they fail to deploy processes that take our normal processing and delivery standards into account."

Democrats have pushed for $10 billion for the Postal Service in talks with Republicans on a huge COVID-19 response bill. The figure is down from a $25 billion plan in a House-passed coronavirus measure. Key Republicans whose rural constituents are especially reliant on the post office support the idea.

Analysts Hope Elections Do Not Slow Somalia-Somaliland Talks

5 hours 47 min ago

As Somalia and the self-declared republic of Somaliland head toward elections, conflict experts are calling on both sides not to let politics disrupt progress in recent talks.

The two sides disagree on the status of Somaliland, which declared independence from Mogadishu in 1991.

In June 2020, Somali government officials led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo met a delegation from Somaliland led by President Muse Bihi Abdi.

FILE - Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo addresses lawmakers in the capital Mogadishu, Feb. 8, 2017.

The meeting in Djibouti was the first time Somalia's and Somaliland's presidents had met since 1991, when the Somali government collapsed and Somaliland declared its independence. Somaliland is not recognized by any country.

The agreement reached in June not to politicize aid and investment was another first between the sides.

However, both Somalia and Somaliland are scheduled to have elections in coming months, and analysts suspect that will hold up any further negotiations.

"I think Mogadishu will be quite distracted in the next few months," said Omar Mahmood, a senior analyst on Somalia at the International Crisis Group. "To what degree can the current government engage at a deep level, given that they have a few months remaining on this mandate?"

Last month, the Somali parliament voted out Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire for failing to secure general election and national security. Since then, the technical team that is supposed to follow up on the Djibouti talks has not held any meetings, according to a member of the team from Mogadishu who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Mahmood says it's hoped that Somalia and Somaliland can still discuss issues that can be achieved in the short term.

"That's international assistance and humanitarian aid, and basically how they share that, and also security, security cooperation, the battle against al-Shabab," he said. "They have already outlined these various specific topics, and they are supposed to have a sort of subcommittee meeting on those."

However, there appears to be no change in Somalia's stance that Somaliland is not an independent country.

Mogadishu's technical team on the talks is led by the interior minister, signaling that Somalia considers the talks an internal matter. Somaliland's team is led by the foreign affairs minister, signaling that Hargeisa sees the talks as a negotiation between two states.

Faisal Ali Warabe, an opposition politician in Somaliland, says there is nothing to talk about with Somalia.

"We will think about engaging Somalia in the future, knowing well there is no government," he said.

He says Somalia is a divided country, with five presidents and five states. "Since we have our country, there is no war between us, and they have no power over us. It was a mistake to engage them," Warabe said.

The people of Somaliland accused Somalia's government of committing widespread abuses against them during the government of Mohamed Siad Barre in the 1980s.

Still, the two sides have agreed to continue with the engagement, in hopes of finding a solution to their political and historical differences. 

Former US National Security Adviser Scowcroft Dies

6 hours 26 min ago

Brent Scowcroft, a pragmatic three-star general who served as national security adviser to Republican U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and  later criticized President George W. Bush's Iraq war policies,  died on Thursday. He was 95. 

Scowcroft, a member of the presidential commission that investigated the biggest scandal of Ronald Reagan's presidency  and an architect of the 1991 Gulf War under the elder Bush, died of natural causes, according to a statement on Friday from a  spokesman for the Bush family. 

Scowcroft reached the rank of Air Force lieutenant general  during a 29-year military career and was an influential voice on U.S. national security for decades. He was a cautious internationalist - he called himself a realist - closely aligned with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. 

Scowcroft served as chief military aide to Republican President Richard Nixon during a time when the United States was looking to extricate itself from the Vietnam War, then became Ford's national security adviser from 1975 to 1977 and George H.W. Bush's national security adviser from 1989 to 1993. 

"He's just marvelous and he never asks for one ounce of credit," the elder Bush said of Scowcroft after the Gulf War was won in March 1991. 

Scowcroft, a soft-spoken man with the manner of a genial Westerner, remained close to Bush and co-authored a 1998 book with him. But he took exception to his son George W. Bush's "unilateral" approach to world affairs as president. 

Scowcroft was a key adviser to the elder Bush during the 1991 Gulf War in which U.S. forces, along with a coalition of allies, expelled Iraqi troops that had invaded oil-rich neighbor Kuwait in August 1990.. 

The war ended with Bush's team opting to leave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in power after Iraq's forces were quickly swept out of Kuwait. Twelve years later Bush's son ordered an invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam and led to his execution but left American troops fighting a messy war in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. 

Scowcroft, in a PBS interview five years later, explained the first Bush administration's decision not to send U.S. forces to Baghdad in 1991 to overthrow Saddam. 

"It was never our objective to get Saddam Hussein. Indeed, had we tried we still might be occupying Baghdad. That would have turned a great success into a very messy, probable defeat," Scowcroft said. 

 'Failing venture'

Before the younger Bush launched his Iraq war in 2003, Scowcroft publicly opposed it, doubted the U.S. justifications for it and called it an unwise diversion from the fight against terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaida. 

In 2004, Scowcroft called Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a "failing venture" and faulted Bush for becoming 

"mesmerized" by hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. 

In 2005, Scowcroft said the continued American presence in Iraq was inflaming the Middle East. He advocated handing over the U.S. operation in Iraq to NATO or the United Nations. 

His criticisms were particularly stinging, considering he was a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, who served Bush as national security adviser and then secretary of state. Scowcroft had served under Bush as chairman of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board but was removed in 2005. 

During Ford's presidency, Scowcroft closely advised the president, alongside Kissinger, on the 1975 evacuation of the last U.S. forces in Vietnam. The chaotic scene in Saigon - with helicopters plucking people off rooftops - became a symbol of America's debacle in Vietnam that left 58,000 U.S. troops dead. 

In 1987, Scowcroft was one of three members of the Tower Commission that investigated the biggest scandal of Republican Reagan's presidency - the sale of arms to Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages in Lebanon, with proceeds diverted to fund "contra" rebels in Nicaragua in violation of U.S. law. 

Born on March 19, 1925, in Ogden, Utah, Scowcroft graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1947 and later earned a doctorate in international relations from Columbia University. 

His career as a military pilot ended in 1949 when his P-51 Mustang crashed in New Hampshire, breaking his back. 

He taught Russian history at West Point and headed the U.S. Air Force Academy's political science department before taking a series of jobs at the Pentagon in the 1960s. 

Scowcroft had one daughter with his late wife, Marian. 




Somali Floods Displace Hundreds of Thousands, Raise Fears of Coronavirus Spread

6 hours 36 min ago

Surging floodwaters in the southern regions of Somalia have driven more than 650,000 people to flee their homes this year. The U.N. refugee agency reports the flooding has caused food shortages, led to the outbreak of killer diseases and increased the risk of the coronavirus spreading in the country.

More than 150,000 flood victims have become homeless since late June, including 23,000 in the past week, according to officials. Weather forecasters warn the worst is not over. They predict the heavy rains and extreme flooding will continue for some time in certain regions and exacerbate the living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of displaced.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Charlie Yaxley reports many of the newly displaced are living in overcrowded, makeshift shelters with little protection from the harsh weather. He says families are exposed to increased risk of crimes such as robbery and rape.

FILE - Residents live in crowded conditions in the Sayidka camp for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, Somalia, March 26, 2020.

"Food is in short supply and many are going hungry with rising malnutrition in children, leaving them at risk of starvation," he said. "Sanitary conditions are poor and access to medical care is scarce and health partners warn of a risk of diarrhea, vector-borne diseases, respiratory-tract infections and other communicable diseases rapidly spreading amongst the displaced population."

Yaxley says there has been no reported major coronavirus outbreak, but he tells VOA the outlook is not good. He says people have little access to clean water, the cramped quarters prevent social distancing, and very little sanitation infrastructure is in place.

"So conditions are ripe for transmission of viruses, including COVID-19, and it is exacerbated even further because in some areas, we are not able to access some of the affected communities. And some areas, particularly in the southern part, are controlled by armed groups and militias."

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Yaxley says the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are not able to reach those areas and deliver assistance. He says the many people living there are largely left to fend for themselves.

Yaxley says aid agencies are doing their best to deliver medical and personal protective equipment, as well as make people aware of the hygiene measures needed to mitigate COVID-19 and other diseases.

The UNHCR is urgently appealing to the international community to support its relief efforts. The agency has appealed for $154 million to provide for the needs of an estimated 2.6 million internally displaced people and 30,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The agency says it has received 33 percent of what it needs to carry out its life-saving mission. 

US Sanctions Hong Kong Leaders

7 hours 13 min ago

The United States has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s pro-China government leader and other Hong Kong officials for allegedly suppressing freedom in the former British colony.  

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other government leaders on Friday, the latest in a series of moves the Trump administration has taken against China amid rising tensions over the coronavirus and trade disputes. 

The sanctions are aimed at penalizing Beijing for curtailing anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong. There was no immediate response from Hong Kong or Beijing. 

FILE - Protesters hold up blank papers during a demonstration in a mall in Hong Kong on July 6, 2020, in response to a national security law which makes political views, slogans and signs advocating Hong Kong’s independence or liberation illegal.

Hong Kong citizens have enjoyed civil liberties that don’t exist in mainland China since Britain relinquished control of the territory to China in 1997. 

Earlier this year, however, China imposed a new national security law that undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy, drawing criticism from pro-democracy activists and Western countries. 

“The recent imposition of draconian national security legislation on Hong Kong has not only undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy, it has also infringed on the rights of people living in Hong Kong,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.   

In addition to Lam, the sanctions target Hong Kong’s current and former police chiefs and eight other officials for orchestrating a campaign to curtail political liberties in the territory. 

The penalties also freeze any U.S. assets the Hong Kong officials hold and generally prohibits Americans from conducting business with them. 

Because of a surge in coronavirus cases, Lam recently announced a one-year delay to a legislative election in which pro-democracy activists hoped to win a majority of the seats. The U.S. denounced the postponement, declaring it was another move by China to undermine democracy in Hong Kong. 

Virus Aid Talks on Brink of Collapse; Sides 'Very Far Apart'

7 hours 15 min ago

Washington talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money are teetering on the brink of collapse after a marathon meeting in the Capitol generated lots of recriminations but little progress on the top issues confronting negotiators.

"There's a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart" on, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He talked of impasses on aid to states and local governments and renewing supplemental unemployment benefits in the Thursday night meetings.

Both sides said the future of the talks is uncertain. No meeting is scheduled so far for Friday, an informal deadline to reach the broad outlines of an agreement. President Donald Trump is considering executive orders to address evictions and unemployment insurance, but they appear unlikely to have much impact.

A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., emerged from Thursday's meeting to give a pessimistic update about the chances for an agreement.
"We're very far apart. It's most unfortunate," Pelosi said.

Both sides have adopted a hard line in the talks, though the Trump team is more open in disclosing a handful of its proposed compromises. Republicans were late to agree to the talks and have become frustrated by the inflexible tactics of Pelosi and Schumer, who have been exuding confidence in a political and legislative landscape that appeared tilted in their favor.

The Democratic pair say the federal coronavirus aid package needs to be huge to meet the moment: a surge in cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.
"We believe the patient needs a major operation while Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid," Schumer said. "We won't let them just pass the Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding."

On Friday, the two pointed to the July jobs report to try to bolster their proposals. The report showed that the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs last month, a much lower increase than in May and June.

"The latest jobs report shows that the economic recovery spurred by the investments Congress has passed is losing steam and more investments are still urgently needed to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people," Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of McConnell's rank and file opposed to another rescue bill at all. Four prior coronavirus response bills totaling almost $3 trillion have passed on bipartisan votes despite intense wrangling, but conservatives recoiled at the prospect of another Pelosi-brokered agreement with a whopping deficit-financed cost.

The White House is also promising that Trump will attempt to use executive orders to address elements of the congressional package involving evictions and jobless benefits. But there's no evidence that the strategy would have much impact or be anything close to what's necessary, and Pelosi appeared unimpressed at a morning news conference.

"I don't think they know what they're talking about," Pelosi said dismissively Thursday.

Pelosi and Schumer staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their insistence for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

"Don't nickel and dime our children," Pelosi said. "Don't say, 'We want to give a tax break to a business lunch and not give more money for children to have food stamps.'"

Pelosi was referring to a GOP proposal to increase the deduction for business meals from 50% to 100%. The idea seems likely to die, along with Trump's efforts to cut the Social Security payroll tax. But Schumer and Pelosi continue to push to restore a tax break for state and local taxes paid mostly by wealthier people with high incomes and valuable homes.

McConnell, R-Ky., is likely to have to assume a higher profile if the talks are to come to a successful close, but he issued a grim assessment of the situation Thursday, again complaining that Pelosi and Schumer are not negotiating in good faith.

"Day after day, they've stonewalled the president's team. Day by day, they've tried to invent new euphemisms to create the illusion of progress," McConnell said.

Frustration was palpable among Republican senators shuttling in and out of a GOP lunch session, some of whom say Schumer is intent on using the situation as a hammer against Republicans. Schumer is desperate to win the Senate majority just as Republicans are in trying to hold on in a terrible political year.

"As long as they calculate that they're better off politically doing nothing, it's going to be hard for us to move forward," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "And that's the calculation they've made, it appears."

McConnell is sending the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won't come until late next week or even after.

White House negotiators made some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to state and local governments in a Tuesday session — and then promptly got scalded by Republicans after details leaked out.