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Did the U.S. catch 4,000 terrorists at the southern border in 2018?

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By Julia Ainsley

WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that Customs and Border Protection picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year “that came across our southern border.”

But in fact, the figure she seems to be citing is based on 2017 data, not 2018, and refers to stops made by Department of Homeland Security across the globe, mainly at airports.

In fiscal 2017, the latest year for which data is available, according to agency data and the White House’s own briefing sheet, the Department of Homeland Security prevented nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from “traveling to or entering the United States.”

According to Justice Department public records and two former counterterrorism officials, no immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders leaves after speaking to the press outside the White House on Jan. 4, 2019.Jim Young / Reuters

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about Sanders’ statement.

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s meeting Friday afternoon with Congressional leaders to negotiate the end of the government shutdown, the White House issued briefing materials that stated “3,775 known or suspected terrorists [were] prevented from traveling or entering the U.S. by DHS” in fiscal year 2017. Nowhere did the briefing materials state the known or suspected terrorists were stopped at the southern border.

Ned Price, who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said many of those 3,775 were stopped simply because their name matches that of someone on a terrorist watch list, which have grown in recent years, and not because they pose a threat.

“So-called terrorist watchlists are an important tool in our national security arsenal, but they are far from fool-proof in large part because of their sheer size. The number of people on such lists ballooned in the years after 9/11, with some reports indicating that more than one million names had been associated with suspected terrorist activity. That’s why false-positives, including in the case of crossings at our southern border, are commonplace. Even the late Ted Kennedy was registered on one such list when attempting to fly, presumably because of the commonality of his name,” Price said.

Nick Rasmussen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center from December 2014 through December 2017 said, “During my tenure, the threat of terrorists trying to infiltrate the United States across our southern border was much more of a theoretical vulnerability than an actual one. It simply isn’t the case that terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda see the southern border as the optimal the way to get would-be terrorists into the country.”

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press conference at the White House Friday afternoon that more than 3,000 immigrants have been stopped at the southwest border, over an unspecified period, because they are special interest aliens. DHS classifies nearly all immigrants crossing the border who is a national of a country outside of the Western Hemisphere as a Special Interest Alien, according to DHS reports.

A spokeswoman for the National Counterterrorism Center did not respond to a request for comment.

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Shutdown problems mount as workers poised to miss another check

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By Dareh Gregorian

Problems are piling up at the nation’s airports as workers affected by the government shutdown are poised to miss another paycheck.

Unless the government reopens by midnight — which would take a miracle, since the White House and Democrats don’t appear to be speaking to one another — federal employees will go another pay cycle without compensation, giving them four weeks without pay.

The fallout from the impasse over federal spending on border security was on display at airports across the country on Monday, where the Transportation Security Administration acknowledged that a large number of their agents failed to show up to work, causing longer waits at security lines.

TSA experienced a national rate of unscheduled absences 7.5 percent compared to a 3.3 percent rate one year ago on the same weekday, and “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the agency said in a statement.

The longest waits for travelers were at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where the “max standard wait time” was 46 minutes, the TSA said. Newark Liberty International Airport had waits of about 40 minutes, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had waits of about 36 minutes.

Other airports had quicker lines. Boston’s Logan International Airport, New York’s Westchester County Airport and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida all had wait times of just 10 minutes, the agency said.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22, after President Donald Trump declared he wouldn’t sign a stopgap measure passed by the Senate that would have kept the government open until Feb. 8 because it didn’t include funding to build a wall along the southern border.

On Saturday, Trump proposed ending the shutdown by offering limited protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as minors and offering other enticements in return for $5.7 billion in funding for his wall. Democratic lawmakers, however, have said they won’t negotiate on border funding until the government is re-opened, and on Tuesday, the Supreme Court effectively extended Dreamer protections for 10 more months.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon that the chamber will hold votes on Trump’s proposal on Thursday as well as on a Democratic alternative that would simply re-open the government without providing funding for the wall.

Neither proposal is likely meet the required 60-vote threshold for adoption. The Republican plan would need support from seven Democrats, and the Democratic plan would need backing from 13 Republicans.

Trump has indicated he would veto any bill to reopen the government that doesn’t include his requested wall money.

“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games.”

A report from the FBI Agents Association on Tuesday said the shutdown is making the country less safe. The advocacy group, which represents 14,000 current and former agents, said the shutdown has impeded investigations across the country — preventing agents from doing such things as getting records in child sexual assault cases, doing undercover drug buys, or paying confidential sources in gang cases and counterterrorism efforts.

A spokeswoman for the federal court system, meanwhile, said officials had been able to save enough money to keep the courts operating until Jan. 31. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts had initially said the system would run out of money by Jan. 15. “No further extensions beyond Feb. 1 will be possible,” the spokeswoman said.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he was reopening Farm Service Agency offices nationwide “to provide administrative services to farmers and ranchers during the lapse in federal funding,” the department said in a news release. The agency’s 9,700 workers won’t get paid until the shutdown is over. They’re being temporarily recalled on Thursday and will staff the agency five days a week for two weeks and three days a week after that, if needed, the release said.

In addition to the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay, an estimated 1.2 million people who had been working on government contracts aren’t getting paid either.

Others whose businesses benefit from government operations are feeling the effects too.

With the national parks closed, National Park Inn at Mount Rainier National Park has had to lay off about half its staff so far, said Melinda Simpson, operations manager of concessionaire Rainier Guest Services.

“Do we want to lose any of these people? No,” Simpson said. “It’s not like a furloughed position where somewhere down the line they’re going to get money and and they’re going to get payment — they don’t get anything. For us as a company, we’ll survive. But for the individuals — and really that’s what this all about — I don’t know.”

Associated Press, Steve Patterson and Frank Thorp V contributed.



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In divorce papers, Joni Ernst says Trump interviewed her for VP spot during campaign

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By Dartunorro Clark

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, says she was interviewed by then-candidate Donald Trump to be his runningmate, but “turned down” the chance because of her strained marriage with her husband, who “hated” her success, according to court records in her divorce case.

Ernst, considered a rising star in the Republican Party, made the claim in an affidavit filed in ugly divorce proceedings with her husband of 26 years, Gail. The NBC News affiliate WHO-TV, in Des Moines, Iowa, obtained a copy of the filings before they were sealed on Tuesday.

“In the summer of 2016, I was interviewed by Candidate Trump to be vice president of the United States. I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn’t the right thing for me or my family,” Ernst said in the affidavit, which was filed in October of last year. “I continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher out of concern for Gail and our family.”

In 2016, Ernst spent the Fourth of July holiday with Trump at his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey. She told USA Today that she and Trump had a “good conversation,” but days later suggested to Politico that she was not interested in the job.

“I made that very clear to him that I’m focused on Iowa. I feel that I have a lot more to do in the United States Senate. And Iowa is where my heart is,” she said. Trump ultimately tapped Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Ernst was elected to the Senate in 2014, thanks in part to an unconventional and attention-grabbing ad campaign. “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” she said in her ad, entitled “Squeal.”

Her win gave Republicans control of the Senate, and she was the first woman elected to federal office in Iowa’s history. Ernst, who served in Kuwait and as a company commander in the Iraq War, was also the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate.

The divorce filings were first reported by Cityview, a Des Moines newspaper, on Monday.

Ernst said in the court papers that as her profile grew, her already-troubled marriage deteriorated.

“Meanwhile, he hated any successes I had and would belittle me and get angry any time I achieved a goal,” she said of her husband.

Gail Ernst rebuffed the accusation in court documents, saying he was supportive and abandoned his own goals for his wife.

“I gave up all my aspirations and goals to be a good dad and husband so Joni could pursue her dreams,” he said.

WHO-TV reported a dissolution of marriage decree was filed in the case on January 3, meaning the couple is now officially divorced. NBC News has reached out to Ernst’s office for comment.

Dareh Gregorian contributed.

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Senate to vote on competing bills to end government shutdown Thursday

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By Rebecca Shabad and Frank Thorp V

WASHINGTON — The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on two competing bills that aim to re-open the federal government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Tuesday, the 32nd day of the partial government shutdown.

While the 2:30 p.m. ET vote will mark the first time the Senate will take action to end the shutdown since it began on Dec. 22, both pieces of legislation are expected to fail.

McConnell announced Tuesday that the Senate hold a vote on a proposal made by President Donald Trump over the weekend that would re-open the government in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding and temporary protection for some immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, among other immigration provisions.

The measure, which the president unveiled on Saturday, needs the support of 60 senators to advance to a final vote — which means it would require votes from Senate Democrats, who have already declared the plan dead on arrival. Assuming all Republicans vote in favor of this bill, seven Democrats would have to defect in order for it to advance, which is highly unlikely.

“You can’t have a compromise when one side is determining not only what they want in the bill, but what we want in the bill without even seriously negotiating with us. That’s not how negotiating works. That’s not the Art of the Deal,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the GOP plan on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“What we have here is just another one-sided, partisan proposal from the president. And contrary to the president’s claims, it hardly represents a softening of his position. If anything, it’s even more radical,” he added.

Separately, the GOP-controlled Senate will vote Thursday afternoon on a Democratic short-term spending bill that excludes border wall funding and would reopen the government until Feb. 8. It would also include funding to respond to natural disasters. If all Democrats voted in favor of this measure, 13 Republicans would need to back it for it to move on to a final vote.

The decision to hold these votes, which are widely expected to fall short, come after McConnell’s repeated insistence over the past few weeks that the only bill the Senate would take up would have to be one that could get a signature from Trump, earn enough Democratic votes in the Senate to overcome the 60-vote procedural hurdle, and pass the Democratic-controlled House.

“The Senate will not waste time on show votes, messaging votes, or any other proposals which fail to check those boxes regarding the funding bills,” McConnell said earlier this month on the Senate floor.

Trump on Tuesday continued to blast Democrats for their lack of support for his border wall policy.

“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security. With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games. Must finally be done correctly. No Cave!”

A few hours later, he tweeted praise for the congressional GOP. “Never seen [McConnell] and Republicans so united on an issue as they are on the Humanitarian Crisis & Security on our Southern Border. If we create a Wall or Barrier which prevents Criminals and Drugs from flowing into our Country, Crime will go down by record numbers!”

Meanwhile, House Democrats plan to bring more appropriations bills to reopen the government to the floor this week, which would add more than $1 billion in border-related funds — not for the wall — in an attempt to sweeten the package for Republicans.

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