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Sewell calls Trump’s threat to shutdown the government over border wall “disgraceful”

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, said that President Donald J. Trump’s threat to shut down the government if his border wall project is not funded “disgraceful.”

The President made the comments in a televised White House meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

“We need funding for teacher pay, health care, for job skills training and access to higher ed,” Rep. Sewell said on social media. “We need funding for roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems. Shutting down the government over funding for a wall that the public doesn’t want is disgraceful. Plain and simple.”

Congress is currently considering the delayed 2019 Homeland Security budget. A key sticking point is a wall on the southern border that Trump promised in the 2016 election. Pres. Trump is demanding that the budget include a $5 billion appropriation for beginning construction of his wall along the approximately 1,954 miles of the U.S./Mexico border. The Democrats have offered just $1.3 billion for general border security. While Republicans have a one-seat majority in the Senate and a majority in the House, passing a budget is going to require bipartisan support, given Senate rules.

Leader Pelosi told the President, “You can’t win,” on the border wall issue and Senator Schumer warned that the President would be held responsible if there was a shutdown.

An angry President Trump replied: “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not gonna blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down. And I’m gonna shut it down for border security.”

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Leader Pelosi replied, “Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you so that we can work together in a bipartisan way to meet the needs of the American people. I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open — that a shutdown is not worth anything. And that you should not have a Trump shutdown.”

“A what, did you say?” Pres. Trump said.

“Trump shutdown,” Pelosi responded. “You have the White House. You have the Senate. You have the House of Representatives. You have the votes. You should pass it.”

“No, we don’t have the votes, Nancy,” Pres. Trump replied. “Because in the Senate we need 60 votes.

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“No, but in the House,” Rep. Pelosi said. “You can bring it up right now.”

After the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi told reporters outside the White House that the shutdown will be Mr. Trump’s responsibility, and Trump’s alone.

“The President has the White House, he has the Senate, he has the House of Representatives, all in Republican control,” Pelosi said. “He has the power to keep government open. Instead, he has admitted in this meeting that he will take responsibility, the Trump shutdown is something that can be avoided. The American people do not need at the time of economic uncertainty, people losing jobs, the market in the mood and the rest, the Trump shutdown is luxury that the American people cannot afford.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement after the meeting, “President Trump had a constructive dialogue with Democrat Leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. The President and the Democrat Leaders agreed to support the passage of historic criminal justice reform, and discussed significant progress with the farm bill. Major disagreement remains on the issue of border security and transparency. Walls work – where walls have been built, illegal crossings have dropped substantially. President Trump made clear that any government funding measure must include responsible border security, including a wall, to protect the American people from drugs, crime, terrorism, public health threats, and the severe straining of the social safety net.”

A shutdown does not necessarily benefit the President’s position. There is only expected to be a week left in this lame-duck Congress. When Congress returns from the Christmas break, Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) will be out as the Speaker of the House and instead, Pelosi will be Speaker because Democrats picked up 40 Republican seats and will have the majority of the House for the first time since 2010. Passing a budget through a Democratic-controlled House could be more difficult for the President.

Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District and is a member of the House Democratic leadership. Sewell is presently the ranking member on the Subcommittee on the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture so could chair that important subcommittee when the Democrats take over in January.

Original reporting by Fox News and CBS News contributed to this report.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Jones applaudes inclusion of his anti-money laundering legislation in defense bill

The bill aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks during a live-streamed press briefing. (VIA SEN. DOUG JONES'S OFFICE)

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and a bipartisan group of three other senators applauded the inclusion of their anti-money laundering legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Jones and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, in September 2019 introduced their Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act which aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. 

“For too long, our anti-money laundering laws haven’t kept up with the rapidly evolving methods that criminals and terrorists use for illicit financial activities,” Jones said in a statement Thursday. “Our bipartisan bill is the largest comprehensive effort in decades to improve transparency and will give prosecutors, national security officials, law enforcement, and financial institutions the modern tools they need to crack down on money laundering and terrorist financing. Its inclusion in the annual defense bill is a great step forward for the rule of law and for the security of all Americans.” 

If approved as part of the NDAA, the ILLICIT CASH Act will require shell companies, which are often used to launder money from criminal enterprises, to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It would also improve communication between law enforcement, financial institutions and regulators, according to a press release from Jones’s office.

According to research from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. A recent report by Global Financial Integrity found that in every state in the U.S. more information is currently required to obtain a library card than to register a company. 

“To form a company in any state in the U.S., it is not necessary to identify or provide any information about the person(s) who will ultimately be controlling the company. In some cases it isn’t even necessary to provide information about who will be managing the company and, where some information about managers (i.e. officers or directors) is required, it is very limited,” the report states. 

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“Human traffickers, terrorist groups, arms dealers, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, drug cartels, and rogue regimes have all used U.S.-registered shell companies to hide their identities and facilitate illicit activities,” the press release reads. “Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies find it increasingly difficult to investigate these illicit financial networks without access to information about the beneficial ownership of corporate entities involved.” 

The ILLICIT CASH Act includes the following elements: 

  • Setting national exam and supervision priorities to improve AML-CFT outcomes and better target federal resources in the effort to identify evolving criminal and national security threats.
  • Establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information that will be maintained in a comprehensive federal registry, with strict privacy protections, accessible by federal and local law enforcement.
  • Improving the recruitment and retention of top talent to combat money laundering and terrorism by providing special hiring authority at the Department of Treasury and FinCEN.  
  • Prioritizing innovation and technology in AML-CFT monitoring and reporting through the establishment of a new Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology, updated guidance on financial technology risk assessments, and a Financial Crimes Tech Symposium.
  • Facilitating communication and information sharing between FinCEN, national security agencies, law enforcement and financial institutions through the establishment of new programs and reporting mechanisms.  
  • Requiring law enforcement agencies and regulators to formally review regulations within the Bank Secrecy Act to ensure regulations, guidance, reports and records are highly useful in countering financial crime. 
  • Requiring streamlined data and real time reporting of suspicious activity reports, and requiring law enforcement to coordinate with financial regulators to provide periodic feedback to financial institutions on their suspicious activity reporting.
  • Prioritizing the protection of personally identifying information while establishing a clear path for financial institutions to share AML-CFT information for the purposes of identifying suspicious activity.
  • Preventing foreign banks from obstructing money laundering or terrorist financing investigations by requiring these banks to produce records in a manner that establishes their authenticity and reliability for evidentiary purposes, and compelling them to comply with subpoenas. This legislation also authorizes contempt sanctions for banks that fail to comply and increase penalties on repeat BSA violators. 
  • Ensuring the inclusion of current and future payment systems in the AML-CFT regime by updating the definition of “coins and currency” to include digital currency.

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Congress

Mike Rogers will be most powerful Republican in the House on national defense

Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, has been elected the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee by the House GOP Steering Committee for the next Congress.

Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. Rogers defeated Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the ranking member of the House Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, in the race.

The full House GOP conference is expected to ratify the Steering Committee’s decision in the coming days.

Current ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is retiring.

The House Armed Services Committee is tasked with crafting the National Defense Authorization Act. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, recently named Rogers a conferee on the conference committee tasked with preparing the 2021 NDAA.

“I am honored to once again be named an NDAA Conferee,” Rogers said. “Being at the table to negotiate the NDAA is more important than ever. With more threats to our great nation every day, I will continue to advocate for a strong National Defense.”

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Rogers was a strong proponent of creating the Space Force as a new military branch.

Democrats were able to narrowly maintain control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 elections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, leads one of the smallest majorities anyone has had in the House since World War II. That, and if the Republicans can hold onto their majority in the Senate, means that Republicans will have a sizeable influence on defense policy during the Biden presidency.

If Republicans can pick up seats in the 2022 midterms, Rogers presumably would chair the House Armed Services Committee. Under House GOP rules, a member can be a ranking member or a chairman of a committee for just three terms until they are term-limited out of that role.

The popular Rogers easily defeated his Democratic challenger in the 2020 election to win his 10th term representing Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Health

Alabama breaks daily COVID-19 case, hospitalization record again Thursday

Coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.

Eddie Burkhalter

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An aerial view of Huntsville and Huntsville Hospital, where medical staff are treating a record number of COVID-19 patients.

For a second straight day, Alabama’s daily COVID-19 case count was at a record high on Thursday, and coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,531 new cases Thursday, and the state has averaged 2,461 cases each day for the last two weeks, a 28 percent increase over the previous two weeks. 

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force state report for Alabama, released Sunday, shows that shows 90 percent of Alabama counties had moderate or high levels of community transmission last week, while 64 percent had high transmission levels. The state ranked 19th highest in the percentage of tests that were positive. 

Coronavirus is surging across the country, with cases per day increasing more than seven times the levels seen in the U.S. before the summer surge, and hospitalizations are three times as high now as then, according to the report. The U.S. reported record high cases and deaths Wednesday. 

“It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health,” the report states. “You should have groceries and medications delivered.” 

The report warns that for those under 40 “you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period” if you gathered beyond your immediate household. 

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“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others, and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report continues. 

The number of people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday reached 1,827. That’s nearly 40 percent higher than two weeks ago. Huntsville Hospital had a record-high 338 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, after a string of record-setting daily hospitalizations. UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients Wednesday and 125 on Thursday.

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Testing statewide remains low. The average positivity rate over the last week was 34 percent. Public health experts say it should be below 5 percent to ensure adequate testing is being done to prevent cases from going undetected. 

The state averaged 8,517 tests each day over the last two weeks, down from the two week average of 9,407 recorded on Nov. 26.

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National

U.S. Chamber announces support for a coronavirus aid bill before Christmas

The Chamber is supporting a $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it strongly supports coronavirus relief legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday.

“For pandemic relief to become law, it must be bipartisan,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We are greatly encouraged that a bipartisan group of House and Senate members along with the Problem Solvers Caucus have released an outline that can potentially break the partisan gridlock that has prevented long-overdue pandemic relief. Between this effort and the recent revisions to the Senate Republican proposal — which maintains critical elements especially with respect to liability protection — we believe there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a bill that can become law.”

While it is critical that lawmakers get the details right, time is of the essence. American families cannot wait until next year, Bradley said.

“The Chamber urges lawmakers to support bipartisan efforts to enact pandemic relief in the coming weeks,” he said. “We also urge lawmakers to work with the business community to ensure that relief reaches small businesses as soon as possible and that liability reforms provide meaningful protections like in the ‘Safe to Work Act’.”

Before the election, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included stimulus checks for every family in America. That costly package was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate like their earlier $4.4 trillion HEROES Act proposal, which they passed in the early summer. Senate Republicans supported a $500 billion “skinny” package that failed because Senate Democrats filibustered. Senate Democrats also killed a $500 billion extension of the Payroll Protection Program.

The $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal does not mail out a second round of checks to every family like the CARES Act did. To get Democratic support, this bill — unlike the two Republican bills — does include $160 billion in support for state and local governments. Small businesses would receive $288 billion, at least partially through the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP loans would keep people on payrolls through the holiday season and into next year. The unemployed would be paid an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits for four months, totaling $180 billion. There is also $82 billion earmarked for education and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution.

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The latest bipartisan proposal was put together in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.

In the House of Representatives, it is supported by Democrats Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Republicans Fred Upton of Michigan, Tom Reed of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota.

In a joint news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said that they could support the legislation but that they want some tweaks to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called the bill a “waste of time,” saying that he thought it was too big and is still supporting his $500 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say they are concerned that a large third stimulus bill would only add to the debt.

The incoming Biden administration’s transition team is also supporting the bill.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy. Members range from the small businesses and local chambers of commerce that line the main streets of America to leading industry associations and large corporations.

(Original reporting by Newsweek, Fox News, and CBS News contributed to this report.)

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