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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    Black female legislators in two predominantly white Midwestern states urged their Republican colleagues Tuesday to join a national push to outlaw discrimination based on hairstyles such as braids and dreadlocks. Legislative committees in Kansas and Wisconsin held separate hearings on similar proposed revisions to their states' anti-discrimination laws. Four black female legislators in Wisconsin and one in Kansas, all of them Democrats, said employers and teachers often wrongly see white people’s hair as the standard for what's clean and professional. “Imagine waking up every morning knowing you’ve got to go to work and can’t be yourself,” Wisconsin state Rep. LaKeisha Myers, a black Milwaukee Democrat, said during an Assembly Constitution and Ethics Committee hearing. She is the chief sponsor of the bill in Wisconsin's Assembly. The proposals would ban bias in housing, employment and public accommodations based on hairstyles “historically associated with race” such as braids, locs and twists. The Democratic lawmakers and other supporters of the legislation said black women have felt compelled for years to straighten their hair with harsh chemicals or hot appliances to avoid affecting their chances of getting a job, winning a promotion or staying employed. California, New York and New Jersey enacted such laws last year and similar measures have been introduced in 20 other states, including Kansas and Wisconsin, according to the CROWN Coalition, a movement founded by beauty products maker Dove and the National Urban League, Color Of Change and the Western Center on Law and Poverty advocacy groups. It wasn't clear how far the Kansas or Wisconsin measures will get. Supporters in both states faced questions about how broadly such laws could be interpreted. Kansas Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Kristi Brown said in a written statement to the Kansas Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee that such a law could affect an employer's ability to enforce a dress code or even comply with some safety standards. In the Kansas hearing, Sen. Rob Olson, a white Kansas City-area Republican, said he supports people's right to express themselves through hairstyles but said allowing restaurants to impose hair-related health standards as perhaps “the biggest challenge” to enacting it. And the chairman of the Wisconsin Assembly committee, Rep. Chuck Wichgers, a white suburban Milwaukee-area Republican, said that he would have convince other lawmakers that the bill wouldn’t open a “Pandora’s box” where anyone of any race could accuse an employer of discrimination. “How do we explain to other legislators that if you have dreads, you can sue to get what you wanted?” Wichgers said. Supporters of the legislation in both states cited a December 2018 incident in which a high school wrestler in New Jersey was told he had to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a match. The sponsor of the Kansas measure, state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat and her chamber's only female black member, passed around copies of a photo of the wrestler having his hair cut. But backers of the bills said straightening hair to fit in at school or work or to have a better chance at getting a job has been part of the African-American experience for years. “I don't know any black woman that has not experienced getting relaxer and not having her hair burned, or the scabs on your scalp and having to put creams on your scalp to heal the scabs that you may get from a chemical burn,” said Michele Watley, founder of Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet, a Kansas City group that advocates for black women. Watley said anti-bias laws like the one proposed in Kansas still would allow employers to impose safety and health requirements, such as requiring shorter hair to avoid getting it caught in machinery. Bridget Dunmore, a retired Internal Revenue Service worker from Raymore, Missouri, said in the 37 years she worked, she always straightened her hair for job interviews rather than wearing it in braids, as she prefers. She was in a Kansas City, Kansas, hair salon on Tuesday, and reflected on how she saw straightening her hair as a “means to an end” when she was younger but now sees feeling compelled to do it as discrimination. “The more natural, beautiful hairstyles will affect, will most likely prevent, me from getting a job,” said Dunmore, who is black. “Individuals are focusing too much on the outer appearance of our natural hairstyles.” Faust-Goudeau said the issue has become almost an emotional one for her, because, as the mother of two daughters, “I deal with it on a personal level.” ___ Richmond reported from Madison, Wisconsin. ___ Follow John Hanna at https//twitter.com/apjdhanna and Todd Richmond at https://twitter.com/trichmond1
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden stopped short Tuesday of saying he’d support Bernie Sanders if the progressive Vermont senator wins the Democratic presidential nomination. “I’m not going to make judgments now,” Biden told reporters in Muscatine, six days before the Iowa caucuses. “I just think that it depends upon how we treat one another between now and the time we have a nominee.” Biden had previously promised to support the Democratic nominee, “regardless” of who it is. At some stops along the campaign trail, Biden has even pledged to “work like hell” to help any of his rivals defeat President Donald Trump. Yet tensions are rising between Biden and Sanders on the campaign trail. The two men reflect the larger ideological battle between a Democratic establishment in which Biden has spent his career and the progressive left that has surged in influence since Sanders' failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. The two have jousted over their records on Social Security, foreign policy and trade. Sanders recently apologized to Biden after one of the senator's high-profile supporters penned a column asserting that Biden has a “corruption problem.” And Biden has ratcheted up his suggestions in recent days, without naming Sanders, that the party will lose big in November if it makes a sharp leftward turn. Asked later Tuesday whether he can defeat Sanders, a democratic socialist elected in Vermont as an independent, Biden smiled, nodded and then boarded his campaign bus. Biden is in the middle of his final tour of the state before the Monday caucuses begin Democrats’ 2020 voting. Sanders is balancing his campaign with Trump's Senate impeachment trial on Capitol Hill. Polls ahead of the Iowa caucuses suggest Sanders and Biden are in a tight race with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Sanders has confidently predicted victory in Iowa and in the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary that follows, telling his supporters that the party establishment is “nervous” about his strength. His advisers argue that such momentum would dent Biden’s long-standing advantage in most national polls of Democratic voters. Biden’s advisers maintain that the state is a toss-up, and they’ve said for months that the former vice president doesn’t have to win in Iowa because he maintains a wide advantage among nonwhite voters who will have strong sway over states that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire. Last week, Sanders' 2016 rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, initially refused to say whether she would endorse the Vermont senator if he wins the 2020 nomination — “I'm not going to go there yet,' she said — and she offered a broad condemnation of his style of politics. Later, she walked back her comments, saying her No. 1 priority was “retiring Trump” and that “as I always have, I will do whatever I can to support our nominee.” ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”
  • Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said “there will be more coming later” about his expected Senate bid, otherwise keeping quiet about the race during a visit Tuesday to the Georgia state Capitol as lawmakers advanced a bill that could give the congressman an edge if he decides to challenge newly sworn-in GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Collins, one of President Donald Trump's most high-profile House defenders, showed up in Atlanta as a proposal to change the way Georgia conducts its special Senate election this year has exposed divisions in the allegiances of statehouse Republicans. GOP Gov. Brian Kemp has threatened to veto any election changes ahead of what will be the debut campaign for Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman and political novice appointed by the governor to replace recently retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. Meanwhile, powerful state House Speaker David Ralston, also a Republican, praised Collins at the Capitol on Tuesday as a loyal friend and ally. “He has stood by me when few would, and I don’t forget things like that,” Ralston said of Collins. Isakson's retirement from the Senate at the end of December set up a political scramble for his seat. Collins openly lobbied for the appointment, with support from Trump. When Kemp chose Loeffler to fill the seat until a November special election, the governor outraged many Trump loyalists for what they perceived as defiance of the president. Collins is expected to announce that he will challenge Loeffler for the seat, a Republican official said Monday. But Collins refrained when he was swarmed by reporters Tuesday outside the chamber of the House, where he had been invited to speak as the honorary chaplain of the day. “For the other question many of you may be asking, there will be more coming later,” Collins told reporters. The decision by the four-term lawmaker could complicate the GOP's chances of holding onto the seat as Republicans battle to retain their Senate majority in this November's elections. Under current Georgia law, Loeffler and any challengers would all compete Nov. 3 in a free-for-all special election that could include multiple Republicans and Democrats. If no one wins a majority of the vote, a runoff would be held in January. But a proposal moving through the state House would add party primaries, like those held in normally scheduled elections, to choose a single Republican and Democratic nominee ahead of the November election. Facing Loeffler head-to-head in a GOP primary could give an advantage to Collins, who frequently appears on Fox News Channel and has wide support among conservatives. Primary contests also appeal to many Georgia Democrats, who see a one-on-one race with Loeffler or Collins as their best chance of winning the Senate seat. Loeffler was chosen in part for her ability to appeal to a wider range of voters in a general election, particularly women in metro Atlanta suburbs that were once solidly Republican but have become more competitive. Though still not well known to may Georgia voters, Loeffler has also pledged to spend up to $20 million of her own money on the campaign. The bill to add party primaries to Loeffler's race received bipartisan support among state lawmakers in a House committee vote Tuesday. Ralston, the influential House speaker, also voiced support for the measure. But Kemp is already threatening to veto the proposal, which would have to pass the state House and Senate. “You don’t change the rules at half-time to benefit one team over another,' Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said in a statement Monday. Since her appointment, Loeffler has tried to guard against a challenge from the right by positioning herself as a true Trump conservative, emphasizing strong positions on gun rights and building a wall along the border and criticizing the impeachment process. On Monday, Loeffler chastised Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, tweeting: “After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on!” State Sen. Steve Gooch, a Republican from Dahlonega, said Collins had his support. “He’s got a lot of support over the state and now in the nation,' Gooch said. 'He’s become a leader in Washington. Doug has really been a champion for the president in the impeachment.” Requiring party primaries in the race could also benefit Democrats, who haven’t fared well in recent runoff elections. The state Democratic Party hopes to coalesce behind a single candidate in the race. Democrats Ed Tarver, a former federal prosecutor who served as U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Southern District under President Barack Obama, and Matt Lieberman, the son of former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, are running. The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church — where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached — is also said to be considering a bid. ___ Associated Press staff writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
  • The unveiling of a long-awaited Middle East peace plan. A fiery, made-for-TV defense against impeachment on the floor of the Senate. A rally in deep blue New Jersey to fire up supporters and back a newly minted Republican ally. President Donald Trump was spending a particularly busy Tuesday moving on several fronts toward a common goal: shoring up support for his reelection bid. Using both the power of the presidency and his robust reelection bank account, Trump was reaching out to different groups, trying to push past the ongoing impeachment trial that has cast a shadow over the White House. “I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” Trump declared in the East Room of the White House. He was referring to his new Mideast peace plan but also giving voice to his fundamental argument for a second term in office. Iowa's caucuses next week will be the first big milestone of the 2020 presidential campaign. Although Trump doesn't face a serious Republican primary challenger, the kickoff of voting provides a backdrop for the president's whirlwind day in Washington and his evening rally in Wildwood, New Jersey. Releasing a Middle East peace plan is a signature event for any White House, though Trump’s proposal was immediately met with skepticism that it would go anywhere without Palestinian buy-in. But Trump’s proposal was about more than how the plan would play out in the troubled region. It was also an effort to keep his promises to some of his most ardent supporters at home. Trump’s strong pro-Israel position has brought him support from Zionist Jews and evangelical Christians. Trump enjoys robust support from evangelicals, and his first campaign event of 2020 was a speech to conservative Christians in Miami. Minutes after Trump concluded his remarks Tuesday, the president's impeachment trial resumed at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where his legal team was wrapping up its defense presentation. Trump had demanded that his legal team use its three days to offer a robust televised defense of his actions and play not just to the 100 senators in the chamber but also to the millions watching at home. Although Trump’s acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate is all but assured, his team has tried to minimize the political damage. And the president is hoping to use impeachment to motivate his political base and independents disenchanted with impeachment to turn out in greater numbers this fall. Jay Sekulow, one of his lawyers, used his time before the Senate to offer a greatest-hits list of attacks against Trump’s perceived foes — from ousted FBI agents to secret federal courts — and to highlight what he saw as politically driven maneuvering by the Democrats to oust the president. “Danger, danger, danger,” he told senators. “That’s politics. You’re being called upon to remove the duly elected president of the United States. That’s what these articles of impeachment call for.” White House counsel Pat Cipollone, also part of the defense, added: “What they are asking you do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election, with no basis, and in violation of the Constitution.” “Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their ballots?” Cipollone said. “The election is only months way. The American people are entitled to choose their president.” While Trump’s lawyers argued that the Democrats were trying to undo the last election, the president’s focus on Tuesday night will be on the next one. For his first rally since the Senate trial began, Trump was traveling not to a 2020 battleground state but instead to the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey. The rally will be in support of Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who recently switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP after breaking ranks over impeachment. Trump hosted Van Drew in the Oval Office last month and pledged to hold a rally for him ahead of his election this fall. The setting will be atypical for Trump: a Jersey shore town where people camped out overnight on the beach to get a spot in line for the rally being held at a boardwalk convention center. Campaign officials expected a raucous crowd, one that does not have many chances to see Trump in person and may draw in voters from the nearby battleground state of Pennsylvania. Van Drew, who will attend the rally, has pledged his “undying support” to Trump. Trump celebrated Van Drew’s defection as a sign of cracks within the Democratic Party over impeachment, and he was expected to use the New Jersey rally to again paint the Senate trial as a purely partisan proceeding, aides said. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”
  • As a congressman in the 1990s, Bernie Sanders expressed an openness to making “adjustments' to the tax and benefit structure of Social Security. He also praised an overhaul of the social safety net program signed into law by President Ronald Reagan that reduced benefits and increased taxes on working families. Sanders' presidential campaign and allies have highlighted similar remarks by Joe Biden to attack the former vice president and make the explosive charge that Biden was an outspoken proponent of slashing the program. With Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses less than a week away, Sanders' remarks from decades ago are surfacing as a counterpunch to the criticism of Biden, as the two top candidates in the Democratic race escalate a feud over the nation's most popular entitlement, an issue that has particular reach among older voters. Sanders, a democratic socialist, is a favorite of progressives who admire him for his convictions and consistency on issues. But when it comes to Social Security, it appears that wasn't always the case. In 1994, after Republicans took control of the House for the first time since the Eisenhower era, they brought a renewed focus on fiscal restraint and deficit reduction. Biden and Sanders both bowed to those pressures in some respect. Today, Social Security's long-term finances are sagging under the weight of the ballooning number of baby boomers who are collecting benefits. The options available to sustain the program's financing also remain the same: Benefits can be cut, taxes can be raised or a combination of the two can be enacted. Sanders' allies have specifically highlighted Biden's past use of the term “adjustments' — a word they say was deployed as a euphemism for cuts. Yet Sanders himself used the word in an election-year opinion article about Social Security that ran in The Burlington Free Press in 1996. “As our population ages,' Sanders wrote, “it is clear that we will have to make incremental adjustments in Social Security taxes and benefits — as Congress has done in the past.' During a 1999 press conference, Sanders went further, praising an overhaul of Social Security signed into law by Reagan in 1983. The legislation, which came as the program was on the brink of insolvency, raised taxes on working families, froze benefit increases for six months and gradually raised the age in which retirees can receive full benefits from 65 to 67. Sanders said it was a good example of people coming together to enact a solution without draconian changes. “We should remember that in 1982, Social Security was within a few months — a few months — of not being able to pay out all benefits owed to Americans,' Sanders said at the time. “And then people came together and said of course we want to save Social Security. They worked together, and they did.' Sanders' campaign disputed the idea that his remarks were a sign of approval for reduced Social Security benefits. They say he has a lengthy record of opposing cuts to the program and has instead supported tax increases or spending reductions to other programs, like military aid. They say the quotes, stripped of this broader context, present a deceptive version of Sanders' actual beliefs. That's the same rebuttal Biden's campaign has invoked in response to attacks by Sanders and his allies. “We’re not going to play a game of semantics one week before the Iowa caucuses, especially on an issue so important to working families,' said Sanders spokesman Mike Casca. “The vice president over and over again worked with Republicans in Washington to try to cut benefits for people relying on Social Security. For decades, Sen. Sanders did the exact opposite.' The comments, however, are another example of something Sanders said in the past that clashes with the present. Earlier this month Bloomberg News reported that Sanders said during his 1996 campaign that the Social Security system had been “adjusted before, and adjustments will have to be made again.' He declined to say at the time what “adjustments' he supported. Recently, CNN unearthed a video of Sanders voicing his approval for a 1994 crime bill, which critics contend sparked an era of mass incarceration that disproportionately locked up black men. Sanders has since said that he regrets voting for the “terrible' bill. But at the time, he praised it for striking a balance between making more money available for police and jails while funding crime prevention efforts. Biden, who has been attacked over his vote for the bill, has also apologized for supporting the measure. The back-and-forth with Sanders over Social Security highlights Biden's evolution over a long public career, much of which was centered around his tenure as centrist senator and deal maker. Biden's campaign points to a long list of legislation he supported that increased Social Security benefits. But as an influential legislator who had a hand in passing major bills, he also was willing to enter negotiations with Republicans by considering a reduction in cost-of-living increases. Often these changes were presented as a way to cut costs that would save the program. As the Democratic Party moved leftward – a development that tracks along ever-widening income and wealth inequality – Biden has moved with it. “There will be no compromise on Medicare and Social Security, period. That’s a promise,” Biden said on Jan. 20 at the Black & Brown Forum in Des Moines. As Sanders, a Vermont senator, has risen in the polls, he and his allies have sought to turn Biden's past remarks about Social Security against him. They've circulated video footage, news stories and transcripts of his past remarks. In some cases, what appears to be a sweeping statement by Biden lack crucial context. One of the principal examples is a clip from a 2018 speech in which Biden discussed in favorable terms then-House Speaker Paul Ryan's comments that a rising deficit demanded action on the popular entitlement programs. The video, circulated on Twitter by a top Sanders adviser, omits Biden’s larger criticism over how Ryan handled the 2017 tax cuts and subsequent budget debates. Other widely distributed videos of Biden as a U.S. senator from Delaware in 1995 and presidential candidate in 2007 show him explaining his support for a more austere federal budget, including putting Social Security and Medicare “on the table.” “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security, as well,” Biden said during a 1995 speech on the Senate floor. “I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits. ... And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time and I tried it a fourth time.” The remarks were delivered in support of a federal balanced budget amendment that ultimately failed to win approval and did not relate directly to legislation that would have cut or frozen Social Security spending — or any other specific program. Yet as Biden himself acknowledged at the time, Social Security would likely have faced cuts if such a measure had been approved. He has moved far from that position now. “What I’d do is I make sure that we expand Social Security coverage,” Biden said earlier this month when a voter in Iowa asked him about the program. ___ Slodysko reported from Washington. ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”
  • The Bureau of Prisons is holding off on transferring the warden who was in charge of the New York City jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. The agency said Tuesday it would defer the transfer of Lamine N’Diaye to a leadership role at FCI Fort Dix, a low-security prison in Burlington County, New Jersey, until the internal investigation is completed into the circumstances surrounding Epstein's death at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Epstein was found unresponsive in his jail cell on Aug. 10 and was later pronounced dead. The AP reported last week that N'Diaye was to be transferred despite multiple active investigations into Epstein’s death. The agency's backtracking came after Attorney General William Barr stepped in and told officials at the Bureau of Prisons to reverse course given the active investigations, a person familiar with the matter told the AP. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal personnel matter. Barr ordered N’Diaye be reassigned to a desk post at the Bureau of Prisons’ regional office in Pennsylvania after Epstein’s death as the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general investigated. The inspector general’s investigation is continuing, and the Justice Department is still probing the circumstances that led to Epstein’s death, including why he wasn’t given a cellmate. But the Bureau of Prisons had planned to move N’Diaye to the new role on Feb. 2, which would have put him back in the field supervising inmates and staff members. Epstein took his own life in August while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. His suicide cast a spotlight on the federal prison agency, which has been plagued for years by a chronic staffing shortage and violence and highlighted a series of safety lapses inside one of the most secure jails in America.
  • Attorney General William Barr ordered federal prosecutors across the U.S. to step up their efforts to combat anti-Semitic hate crimes as he met with Jewish leaders in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday. Barr said he has been “extremely distressed by the upsurge in violence” in Jewish communities, including in New York City, which saw a string of anti-Semitic attacks during the Hanukkah holiday. The attorney general said the Trump administration would have “zero tolerance for this kind of violence.” Barr's visit came a day after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, where survivors warned of rising anti-Semitism worldwide. It also came on the same day as President Donald Trump unveiled a Middle East peace plan that called for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in east Jerusalem while recognizing Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs in the West Bank — something the Palestinians are unlikely to accept. Barr directed U.S. attorneys' offices to ensure they have a specific point of contact to handle outreach to the Jewish community and someone responsible for reporting hate crimes. He said he was also working with FBI Director Christopher Wray to create a national plan to combat anti-Semitic violence, and he announced federal charges in Brooklyn against a woman who allegedly had slapped three Jewish women. Allen Fagin, executive vice president at the Orthodox Union, said Barr was met with a resoundingly grateful response from the local Jewish community representatives who attended. “Not only a recognition of the problem and a resolve to bring the resources of the federal government to bear, but the very fact that he came to Brooklyn to do that and brought with him senior representatives of local law enforcement, I think conveyed a very powerful message,” said Fagin. “I cannot tell you how much it means to us when you say our federal government will have zero tolerance towards hate,' Rabbi David Niederman, who said three of his relatives were killed by Nazis during the Holocaust, told the attorney general. Jewish communities in the New York City metro area have been on edge after a shooting rampage at a northern New Jersey market in December that killed six and an attack at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey that left five people stabbed. In making clear the federal government would step in when necessary, Barr announced charges against 30-year-old Tiffany Harris, who made headlines in New York City after she was accused of slapping three people in one of a series of apparently anti-Semitic attacks reported throughout New York during Hanukkah. A federal criminal complaint details how Harris slapped the women and shouted expletives as she noted they were Jewish. Her case drew headlines in New York City after she was released without bail and then arrested again a day later in connection with another assault. In the second case, police allege she slugged a woman in the face. She was later re-arrested for missing an appointment with social workers and held for a psychiatric evaluation. Harris' attorney did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. “This will not be an isolated case,” Barr told the religious leaders. “We will move aggressively if we see this kind of activity.” Rich Donoghue, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said the charges had been under seal for several weeks and pointed to the case as an example of the federal government’s low tolerance for anti-Semitic crime. He said federal officials would step in to prosecute cases amid a debate over New York’s new bail reform law. “We are going to respond if we feel that the laws that they are putting in place do not sufficiently address the local needs,” Donoghue told The Associated Press. ___ Associated Press Writer Elana Schor contributed to this report.
  • An annual congressional report says the U.S. budget deficit is likely to burst through the symbolic $1 trillion barrier this year despite a healthy economy. Tuesday's Congressional Budget Office report follows a burst of new spending last year and the repeal in December of several taxes used to help finance the Affordable Care Act. Those have combined to deepen the government's deficit spiral well on into the future, with trillion-dollar deficits likely for as far as the eye can see. The annual CBO update of the government's economic and fiscal health estimates a $1 trillion deficit for the ongoing fiscal year, which would bring the red ink above $1 trillion for the first time since 2012, when former President Barack Obama capped four consecutive years of $1 trillion-plus budget deficits. The government, slated to spend $4.6 trillion this year, would have to borrow 22 cents of every dollar it spends. Most economists say the most relevant way to look at the deficit is to measure it against the size of the economy, with deficits at 3 percent or so of gross domestic product seen as sustainable. The latest report shows deficits averaging 4.8 percent of GDP over the course of the coming decade. “As a result of those deficits, federal debt would rise each year, reaching a percentage of the nation's output that is unprecedented in U.S. history,' the CBO report says. Obama's deficits came as the U.S. economy recovered from the deep recession of 2007-2009. The return of trillion-dollar deficit now comes as the economy is humming on all cylinders, with the CBO predicting that the jobless rate nationwide will average below 4 percent through at least 2022. The growth rate is predicted to hit average 2.2 percent this year. “The economy's performance makes the large and growing deficit all the more noteworthy,” said CBO Director Phillip Swagel. “Changes in fiscal policy must be made to address the budget situation, because our debt is growing on an unsustainable path.” The government reported a $984 billion deficit for the 2019 budget year. Cumulative deficits over the coming decade are expected to total $13 trillion — a total that would have gone higher save for CBO's belief that yields on Treasury notes will remain unusually low as the government refinances its $23 trillion debt. The recent surge in the deficit has followed passage of the 2017 Trump tax bill, which has failed to pay for itself with additional economic growth and revenues as promised by administration figures like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The surge in deficits also follows a final rewrite last summer of a failed 2011 budget deal to increase spending of both defense and domestic programs. Divided government isn't helping the deficit picture as the Democratic-controlled House led the way in repealing $377 billion worth of “Obamacare' tax hikes, including a so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was also a driving force in last summer's budget accord, which is scored at adding $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade. CBO holds a traditional view of economists that debt that's too high has a “crowding out” effect on private sector investment in the economy and can lead to higher interest rates and maybe even a European-style debt crisis. But interest rates have remained low despite CBO's alarms and more liberal economists hold a much more dovish view of the effects of higher deficits on the economy. The CBO report landed amid an intensifying presidential campaign in which concerns about the deficit are not really an issue. President Donald Trump has promised to leave Social Security pensions and Medicare benefits off the table as his administration seeks ways to blunt the political impact of the eye-popping deficit figures. The administration's budget is being released next month but is likely to be largely ignored, especially as election-year politics take over.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday thanked his staffers of color for feeling able to voice their grievances following a news report that said some had expressed frustrations with the campaign. “That may not be something that’s typical or has happened a lot before in presidential campaigns, to try to empower staffers at all levels to be able to speak to their concerns and experiences, to raise concerns and to have these tough conversations,” Buttigieg told reporters after a campaign stop in Ottumwa, Iowa. “And they are tough.” During campaign diversity meetings last month, some Buttigieg staffers expressed feelings of pressure and at times disrespect within the organization, according to a report Tuesday in The New York Times. Although he is among four front-runners ahead of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses next Monday, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has struggled to garner measurable support among African American voters nationally. Iowa's population is 90% white. “In every organization and in our country, we’ve got to work much harder to do a better job when it comes to making sure that inclusion is a reality,” Buttigieg told reporters. 'Especially in the Trump era.” ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”
  • In normal years, Iowa is the center of the political universe during the final stretch before its famed caucuses. Top candidates rumble across the state on multi-city bus tours and hold giant rallies every night. Images of the state's snowy landscape flood television screens. 2020, it turns out, is not a normal year. The frenetic battle to win the Iowa caucuses has morphed into a steady — some might even say boring — affair. Many of the leading candidates are stuck in Washington sitting through President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. In their place are surrogates of varying degrees of fame whose job is to keep the energy high enough to convince them to still head to their precinct on Feb. 3 to participate in the caucus. On one especially slow day last week, Andrew Yang was the only presidential candidate in the state. Television live shots in front of the gold dome of the state Capitol have been replaced with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate impeachment trial on most cable networks. Some journalists have rearranged their travel to either skip the state or arrive later. “This is a little bit weird,' said Kent Crawford, a retired middle school band director who attended a rally in Dubuque last week for Pete Buttigieg, one of the few events in the state that day. “I can feel it.' Robert Johnson, a Des Moines community activist who has worked for more than a year to register African American voters, is understanding of the competing demands on some candidates — but is growing a bit impatient. “We are in the fourth quarter of this game and we need all hands on deck. It’s all or nothing at this point,' he said. “And at this point the star players have to go to the locker room.” Briefly freed from the Senate trial, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren returned to Iowa over the weekend to hold major events. Warren attracted hundreds of supporters to Cedar Rapids, the state's second largest city for an event with Jonathan Van Ness, a host of Netflix's “Queer Eye.' Sanders, meanwhile, held a massive rally featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and filmmaker Michael Moore. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, aren't tied to the Senate trial. They have been a steady presence in the state and are expected to step up their campaigning in the days ahead. Candidates are planning a final blast of activity this weekend even as it's unclear whether the impeachment trial will allow senators to return. The band Vampire Weekend will perform at a Sanders rally on Saturday. Warren plans a “river to river road trip' that will take her through a half dozen cities across the state over two days. The absent senators might be most missed by the crush of media professionals who have set up shop in Iowa to report on the last days of the caucus campaign. The Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates more than 2,000 members of the media will work at times out of a caucus headquarters in Des Moines, about triple the number in 2012. Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats, said he's heard more frustration from reporters than voters. “We definitely hear the media complaints,” he said. “Some people have waited to come to Iowa for the last two weeks and now nobody's here.” Still, the caucuses have big implications for Iowa Democrats this year. Even before the impeachment trial upended the campaign, there was growing skepticism of the largely white state's prominent role in selecting a nominee for a party that's increasingly defined by a multiracial coalition. Polling that suggests Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Biden are in a close race could undermine Iowa's traditional role in picking the ultimate nominee. New rules about how results will be reported could add to even more confusion on caucus night. Jennifer Konfrst, a state legislator and longtime caucus activist, said people like her probably made up their mind on which candidate to support long ago, but plenty of others are only now getting engaged in the process. Some of those, she said, could miss out on seeing candidates who have had to pare back on their visits. “They're the ones who are going to be missing an opportunity to hear from some of these candidates,' she said. William Sims, a Des Moines activist and Biden supporter, said the trial ultimately could prompt more Democrats to caucus, calling it “a motivating factor for a lot of people.' A candidate's ability to turn out supporters on caucus night is more important than any single appearance, Sims said, adding that most of the candidates have returned repeatedly to the state. Or as Kay Hess, an 81-year-old receptionist from Dubuque put it, 'People have been campaigning non-stop in Dubuque for a year. That’s intense. It’s a little odd to think some can’t be here, but you can hardly tell.” ___ Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed to this story from Dubuque, Iowa. ___ Follow Scott McFetridge on Twitter: https://twitter.com/smcfetridge ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “ Ground Game.”

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A strong earthquake was reported Tuesday afternoon in the Caribbean Sea between Cuba and Jamaica, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The earthquake was reported around 2:10 p.m. EST, according to officials. It was centered about 78 miles south-southeast of Lucea, Jamaica and 87 miles east-northeast of Niquero, Cuba. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage caused by the temblor. Reports to USGS showed the earthquake was felt as far away as South Florida. In Miami, fire officials ordered a precautionary evacuation of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, where some reported feeling the quake, according to the Miami Herald. Officials with the National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the earthquake posed no tsunami threat. Tuesday’s temblor is the fourth magnitude 7 or above quake felt in the Caribbean since 2000, USA Today reported. Officials with the USGS initially said the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3.
  • A California sex offender already in prison on unrelated charges has been accused of torturing and killing five of his own infant children over a nine-year span between 1992 and 2001, authorities said. Paul Allen Perez, 57, was arrested on five counts of premeditated murder Monday, days before he was due to be paroled from prison. According to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records, Perez has been in Kern Valley State Prison in Delano since August 2010. He was arrested on the murder charges at Kern Valley, Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez said during a news conference Monday morning. “The fact that he was not allowed to walk out of that prison a free man cannot be overlooked,” Lopez said. Perez is accused in the deaths of Nikko Lee Perez, Kato Allen Perez, Mika Alena Perez, Kato Krow Perez and another infant named Nikko Lee Perez, who was born the year after the brother who shared his name. His murder charges include the special circumstances of lying in wait, torture and multiple victims. According to The Associated Press, he also faces charges of assault on a child under 8 and criminal enhancements due to his prior convictions. Lopez described the alleged slayings as acts of “unspeakable evil” that “ignited a resolve in the hearts of all involved to bring justice to the vulnerable and innocent victims of this case.” Perez, a convicted sex offender, became a murder suspect after investigators took a look at the cold case of a slain infant found March 29, 2007, in an irrigation slough just east of Woodland. According to the AP, the baby boy was wrapped in a Winnie the Pooh blanket and a layer of plastic before being placed in a metal cooler. The cooler was weighed down with heavy objects and submerged in the slough, located about 15 miles northwest of Sacramento. The infant, who was about 3 months old when he died, suffered a fractured skull and other blunt force trauma, the AP reported. He also had healing fractures, including broken ribs, that showed a pattern of abuse. Lopez said having the unsolved case on the books haunted investigators in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. The case remained unsolved until October, when DNA testing identified the boy as Nikko Lee Perez, who was born Nov. 8, 1996, in Fresno. The sheriff did not go into details of how Nikko’s DNA led to his identification. Fresno is about 190 miles from where the infant’s body was found. It was not immediately clear if his body was in the slough the entire nine years before it was found or if he was hidden elsewhere and dumped there more recently. Watch the news conference with Yolo County law enforcement officials below.  “His identification is the result of extraordinary work done by the Yolo County Coroner’s Office and the California Department of Justice (Bureau of) Forensic Services’ Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory in Richmond,” Lopez said. “What began as a single unsolved homicide has become so much more. “Sadly, we learned during this investigation that Nikko was not an only child.” Detectives discovered that Nikko had at least four siblings, including Kato Allen Perez, who was born in 1992 in Merced and was known to have died. Kato’s cause and manner of death were not detailed Monday morning. The whereabouts of the other three siblings -- Mika, who was born in 1995; the second Nikko, who was born in 1997; and Kato Krow, born in 2001 -- are unknown, but investigators believe they, too, are dead. “All are now believed to have been murdered as infants,” Lopez said. The fisherman who discovered Nikko’s remains in 2007 told the AP he has never forgotten what he saw that day. “When I opened that box, I was 99 percent sure it was a human body, but I wanted to hold onto the belief that maybe it wasn’t,” Brian Roller said. “When I saw one of the officers (at the scene) start to cry, I knew right then that what I was thinking was true.” Roller told the news agency he was relieved to learn the long-ago mystery had been solved. Lopez said while DNA testing provided the break in the case, it was the “human element” that ultimately led to Perez’s arrest. He said a team of investigators “determined to learn the truth” spent countless hours on the case. “While I am proud of the efforts of my investigators and coroner’s office, this is not a day that will bring joy to any one of us,” Lopez said in a written statement. “In my 40 years in law enforcement, I cannot think of a case more disturbing than this one. There can be no victim more vulnerable and innocent than an infant, and unfortunately this case involves five.” Lopez told reporters he could not answer questions Monday about the case, which is still extremely active. In particular, he said he could not discuss anything regarding additional family members of either Perez or the slain children. Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, who also spoke at Monday’s news conference, said Perez is eligible for the death penalty. His office is still reviewing the case to determine if it will seek it. The AP reported that Perez was first sent to prison in 1990, sentenced to two years for assault with the intent to commit a sex offense. He was released the following year, according to California’s sex offender registry. He has also served time for vehicle theft, possession of a deadly weapon by an inmate and fleeing while on parole, according to the AP. Anyone with information on Perez or the slain infants is urged to contact the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office at 530-668-5280 or 530-666-8282. Anonymous tips can be called in at 530-668-5248.
  • Butler County and Miami University officials are investigating two possible cases of coronavirus at Miami. Miami officials informed the Butler County General Health District about the possible cases on Tuesday. The people had recently traveled to and returned from China, officials said. They are in isolation and “not severely ill,” officials said in a news release. Samples from their tests were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday. Officials said that, unless someone has recently traveled from China or been near someone ill with the new virus, their risk is low. In an email to the Miami community, officials said a student went to the Student Health Services with “very mild symptoms” on Monday after recently traveling to China. The student “met the criteria for 2019-Coronavirus testing,” and officials expect results from the CDC “in the coming days.” The student and his traveling companion are being isolated in their residence that is away from campus awaiting the test results, the email said. About a dozen Miami University Regional campus students in Hamilton and Middletown list their residence near the area in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, where the outbreak began in December, according to school officials. It’s unclear how many of those students returned home for winter break and how many remained in the U.S. Officials are asking those who traveled to China and are experiencing symptoms to contact their doctor before traveling to the doctor’s office. The Butler County General Health District has produced a fact sheet about the virus. “This is what public health does and why we train,” Jennifer Bailer, health commissioner for the Butler County General Health District, said in a news release. “Our staff, officials at Miami University and the Ohio Department of Health are taking every precaution to keep the community safe. “The same precautions that protect against catching and spreading the flu are likely to be helpful for this respiratory virus: Wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your nose and eyes, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze and don’t go to work if ill. Displaying compassion to all people will be vital as the situation evolves.”
  • Authorities in Pennsylvania have filed charges against a 21-year-old man accused of pouring hot sauce into a 7-month-old girl’s mouth and attacking her mother Monday, according to multiple reports. Johnstown police arrested David Jones, 21, on charges of aggravated assault on a person under 6, strangulation, simple assault and harassment, WNEP reported. In a criminal complaint obtained by The Tribune-Democrat, authorities said they were called around 3 a.m. Monday to a home on the 200 block of Ohio Street. A woman told police Jones hit her child, poured hot sauce into the infant’s mouth and sat on the girl, the newspaper reported. The woman said that when she tried to intervene, Jones grabbed her by the neck, threw her against a wall and choked her for about 30 seconds, The Tribune-Democrat and WTAJ reported. Authorities said the woman managed to flee to a neighbor’s home, where she called 911, according to WNEP. “(Police) found the baby responsive with a very clear red rectangular line on her stomach consistent with the foot of the bassinet,” The Tribune-Democrat reported. The child was taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center for evaluation of her injuries, according to WTAJ. A judge ordered Jones held in Cambria County Prison on a $10,000 bond, according to The Tribune-Democrat. Records from Cambria County showed he remained jailed Tuesday.
  • Lots of people associate dip with he Super Bowl, so it's appropriate that Bush's has created a 70-layer bean dip, weighing 1,087 pounds in honor of the upcoming Super Bowl. They say the dip has '10 unique 7-layer bean dip recipes' stacked on top of one another, and was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records last week. (More)

Washington Insider

  • With Republican Senators facing uncertainty over whether to call witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, President Donald Trump's legal team wrapped up its opening arguments in the President's impeachment trial on Tuesday by calling on the Senate to reject the case from House Democrats. 'It is time for this end end here now,' said White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. 'We urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment.' After almost completely ignoring the question of whether Bolton could tell a story about the President's actions regarding Ukraine, the Trump legal team took on Bolton directly on Tuesday afternoon. 'Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true - even if true - would rise to the level of abuse of power or an impeachable offense,' said the President's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow. 'You cannot impeach a President on an unsourced allegation,' Sekulow concluded, as he said the President's defense was 'compelling.' Originally, the White House legal team seemed to be ready to go until close to dinner - but instead used less than two hours of arguments in their third and final day before the Senate. Bubbling underneath the surface of the final summary by the White House legal team was the question of whether GOP Senators would agree to call Bolton - and others as witnesses. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said there would not be a scenario where just one witness would be called by the Senate in this impeachment trial. 'If people want witnesses, we're going to get a lot of witnesses,' Graham told reporters before Tuesday's impeachment session began, as he said the GOP would be interested in calling Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, the whistleblower and more. Democrats felt like the White House wrap up was lacking. 'It's clear that they are still reeling from the revelations of John Bolton's book,” said lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).