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North Korea canceled secret meeting with Pence at Olympics, US says

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Vice President Mike Pence was set to secretly meet with North Korean officials at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, earlier this month, but North Korea canceled at the last minute, the Trump administration said Tuesday.

“North Korea dangled a meeting in hopes of the Vice President softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics,” Nick Ayers, Pence’s Chief of Staff, said.

Pence “was ready to take this opportunity,” according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, and would have used the meeting to emphasize U.S. concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The meeting with Kim Yo Jong, regime leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, was supposed to take place on Feb. 10, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the news. But less than two hours before the meeting was slated to begin, the North Koreans backed out.

NORTH KOREA AND KIM JONG UN: MEET THE KNOWN KEY PLAYERS IN THE REGIME

Pence’s office said North Korea “would have strongly preferred” if the vice president didn’t use his trip to the Winter Games as a platform to discuss the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” to dissuade the North from using its nuclear program.

“Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,” Ayers said. “But as we’ve said from day one about the trip: this administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics.”

North Korea previously said through state-run media that there was “no need” to meet with Pence at the Games.

Pence and the North Korean delegation drew attention at the Games’ Opening Ceremony when he and second lady Karen Pence sat just feet away from Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam. There appeared to be no interaction between either delegation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nicole Darrah covers breaking and trending news for FoxNews.com.

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GOP Sen. Johnson delays Covid relief bill by forcing all 628 pages be read out loud

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A Republican senator on Thursday severely delayed the passage of a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package by forcing the entire 628-page bill to be read out loud.

In protest of the bill, which had been expected to pass after a marathon round of votes overnight Thursday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., objected to waiving the reading of the legislation.

Two Senate clerks — John Merlino and Mary Anne Clarkson — are expected to take shifts reading the bill. The effort, which began at around 3:30 p.m., could last over 15 hours before lawmakers actually begin debating the provisions in the legislation.

Any member can object to waiving the reading of the bill, a procedural move that is typically skipped. Johnson said in a tweet on Thursday because of its large price tag “we should know what’s in the bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Johnson’s stunt would “accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard day in, day out to help the Senate function.”

The clerk begins reading 628 pages of the Covid Relief bill on the Senate floor of the Capitol on March 4, 2021.NBC News

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted Thursday afternoon to begin debate on President Joe Biden’s relief package in a party-line vote. The bill does not need any Republican support to pass because Democrats are using a special budget process to bypass the filibuster. However, Republicans are expected to raise objections to the bill anyway.

Before a final vote can be taken, there will be a period of lawmakers introducing unlimited amendments, known as a vote-a-rama.

The House passed a version of the Covid-19 relief bill in February. Once the Senate bill is approved, the House will need to vote on it again before it can be sent to the president.



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Whitehall cuts NOW! 'Staggering' salaries of civil servants must be slashed, says Leaver

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BREXITEER Rupert Lowe has demanded “Whitehall cuts” coming just a day after Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed tax changes in his Budget.x

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U.S. Capitol Police request continued National Guard help amid security threats

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The U.S. Capitol Police are asking to keep National Guard troops around for a while longer to help protect the complex, two defense officials confirmed to NBC News.

The police officials’ request of the Department of Defense comes as fears of another assault on the Capitol by extremists went unrealized Thursday and highlights the continued concerns about security at the building.

The request was for a 60-day extension, The Associated Press reported. The nearly 5,000 troops still in Washington, D.C. were slated to return home next week. It’s unclear how many troops the Capitol Police are requesting. The defense officials said the request was an initial ask, with a more detailed request still forthcoming.

The National Guard’s presence at the Capitol was beefed up after the deadly Jan. 6 riot, which saw hundreds of former President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the building in a bid to delay or reject the counting of electoral votes in favor of Joe Biden.

Security was heightened at the Capitol on Thursday after the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent a joint intelligence bulletin to state and local law enforcement officials warning them that some domestic extremist groups have “discussed plans to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove democratic lawmakers on or about 4 March,” a senior law enforcement official told NBC News.

March 4 is considered the “true inauguration day” by some Trump supporters and believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The bulletin also warned that extremists were emboldened by the success of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, heightening the overall threat they pose. It made clear that “the threat did not begin or end on January 6,” the law enforcement official said.

The aftermath of the attack has resulted in the erection of additional barriers around the Capitol as well as the large troop presence — issues that lawmakers have complained about during recent hearings on security issues and elsewhere. Some Democrats have expressed concern about the true level of safety at the Capitol, while some Republicans have downplayed the need for the enhanced security.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., told The Associated Press that lawmakers have been concerned about the security plan going forward.

“We want to understand what the plan is,” Slotkin said. “None of us like looking at the fencing, the gates, the uniformed presence around the Capitol. We can’t depend on the National Guard for our security.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, however, suggested at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week that the security presence at the Capitol amounted to “political theater” intended to cast Trump supporters in a negative light.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on Wednesday that she thinks the National Guard should remain at the Capitol “as long as needed.”

Pelosi has tasked retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré with leading a review of the Capitol’s security, and said she hopes to be able to present a draft of the plan to the House next week.

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