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Senate Republicans cool to 2nd round of stimulus checks, direct deposits

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WASHINGTON — Democrats want another round of direct stimulus payments to Americans up to $1,200 as coronavirus cases rise in dozens of states. President Donald Trump isn’t ruling it out. But Senate Republicans are on the fence or opposed, complicating its prospects.

“I wasn’t supportive of the first round. I don’t think I’d be supportive of the second,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “This is not a classic recession that requires financial stimulus.”

House Democrats have passed a $3 trillion bill that includes another round of direct deposits and checks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has endorsed that bill nudged Senate Republicans on Thursday to “get off their hands and finally work with Democrats to quickly provide additional federal fiscal relief.”

Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Republicans are divided on whether to send more money to Americans when asked about Trump’s interest in a second round of payments.

“About direct payments or some of the checks — that’s something he’s talked about, and some of our members are interested in that as well. There are some of our members who aren’t interested in that, so we’ll see where that goes,” the South Dakota Republican said.

Thune said Republicans would still need to agree “on a number” and other components of it.

The Senate left on Thursday for a two-week recess.

Coronavirus cases have risen in states like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — numerous states have paused or rolled back their reopening. The state of the economy over those two weeks is likely to impact the Senate Republican calculus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., outlined three broad priorities for the next coronavirus relief bill: “Kids, jobs and health care.” He said he wants it to pass before August, which leaves just two weeks to act once the Senate returns from break on July 20.

Asked by Fox Business Network if he favors another round of direct payments, Trump said, “I do. I support it. But it has to be done properly.” He then segued to discussing unemployment insurance.

Asked again if he wants more direct payments, Trump responded, “I want the money getting to people to be larger so they can spend it,” before saying he doesn’t want it to be “an incentive not to go to work,” an apparent reference to the $600 weekly jobless benefit in the CARES Act that Republicans don’t want to extend.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said the “direct stimulus checks are going to depend on how the economy is doing” and noted the “great unemployment numbers” of June, when the rate fell to 11.1 percent.

“So if it turns out the economy is recovering, that’s a good thing and direct stimulus checks may not be necessary,” he added.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the Senate will “talk seriously and in earnest when we get back” about what might be in the next relief bill, mentioning the rising debt as a concern for the GOP.

“If there is another bill, it will be targeted,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn from our first three bills in terms of what works and what doesn’t. The subtext, or the undercurrent, here at least on my side of the aisle is the fact that we owe $25 trillion and climbing.”

The first round of stimulus payments cost $293 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Surveys show they’re popular among voters as the Nov. 3 general election nears. A CNBC/Change Research poll conducted in early May found 74 percent approval for sustained direct payments in the 2020 battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

A FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor poll showed that 76 percent of Americans say an additional payment is “very” or “somewhat” important to them, while 24 percent said it was not. The results were nearly identical when limited to battleground states.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who faces a competitive re-election battle this fall, was noncommittal when asked about another round of stimulus checks and direct deposits.

“We need to look at it, the jobs numbers. I want to see Iowa and how we’re doing at getting folks back to work. And we’ll take it from there,” she told NBC News.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.



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Japan trade deal BOOM – Tokyo wants £15bn agreement struck by END of month

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JAPAN wants to sign a trade deal with the UK by the end of the month in a £15 billion boost to British businesses.

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Bush to publish book with his paintings of 43 immigrants

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A new book by former President George W. Bush will highlight an issue which now sets him apart from many of his fellow Republicans — immigration.

Crown announced Thursday that Bush’s “Out Of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” will be published March 2. The book includes 43 portraits by the 43rd president, four-color paintings of immigrants he has come to know over the years, along with biographical essays he wrote about each of them.

“Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” by George W. Bush.Crown / via AP

Bush, who served as president from 2001-2009, has often praised the contributions of immigrants, a notable contrast to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies. As president, Bush supported a bipartisan immigration reform bill that narrowly failed to pass in 2007, with opposition coming from both liberals and conservatives.

“While I recognize that immigration can be an emotional issue, I reject the premise that it is a partisan issue. It is perhaps the most American of issues, and it should be one that unites us,” Bush writes in the new book’s introduction, noting that he did not want it to come out during the election season. Bush has not endorsed Trump or his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“My hope is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.”

The book will serve as a companion to an upcoming exhibition at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

“Both ’Out of Many, One” and the exhibition of the same name will include bold, principle-based solutions that comprehensively address the current debate on immigration,” according to Crown. “At the heart of the recommendations is the belief that every year that passes without reforming the nation’s broken system means missed opportunities to ensure the future prosperity, vitality, and security of our country.”

Bush has become a dedicated portrait painter and best-selling author since leaving the White House. His memoir “Decision Points” has sold more than 3 million copies, and his other books include “41,” about his father, former President George H.W. Bush; and a collection of paintings of military veterans, “Portraits of Courage.”

He will donate a portion of his “Out Of Many, One” proceeds to organizations that help immigrants resettle. Financial terms were otherwise not disclosed. Bush was represented by Robert Barnett, the Washington attorney whose other clients have included former President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

The book will be released as a standard trade hardcover and in an autographed deluxe edition, listed for $250, that will be clothbound and contained within a slipcover.

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Trump adds to fractures in worldwide web

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It may not be possible to have a worldwide internet, after all.

Tech policy experts said Friday that the idea of the internet as one global, unifying phenomenon was at stake after President Donald Trump took the sudden step of announcing bans on two popular Chinese apps, TikTok and WeChat, calling them security risks.

It was an extreme example of Trump using security powers to stifle the spread of technology, and people who study how the internet is governed said his orders will only worsen an international breakup along regional and political lines that’s already years in the making.

“This is definitely the splinternet,” said Dipayan Ghosh, a former Obama White House tech adviser who now directs the Digital Platforms & Democracy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“We’re seeing increasing division between the U.S., Russia, China and the E.U., and clear factions are starting to develop. I don’t think it’s helpful, coming especially as it is from a politicized administration,” he said.

Trump’s action took the form of two executive orders. The one about TikTok in effect formalized a deadline for Microsoft’s ongoing talks to buy much of that company. The other order said the U.S. would ban “any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person” starting in 45 days.

The orders were met by a mix of disgust and confusion from experts who described them as half-baked and tainted by Trump’s strategy of attacking China going into the presidential election.

The ban on WeChat came as a particular surprise. Although TikTok had been a target of White House criticisms for weeks, there had been little warning that a ban on WeChat was in consideration.

“It’s the policy equivalent of a jingoistic temper tantrum,” said Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

Although WeChat has been the subject of security concerns, including in studies by the Citizen Lab, Deibert said that going so far as to ban it in the U.S. “will produce chaos for internet users and businesses, invite retaliation from China and present a blueprint for authoritarians the world over to emulate.”

One of the only public hints about a WeChat ban came last month, when Trump adviser Peter Navarro said briefly in an interview to “expect strong action” on TikTok and WeChat.

Matt Perault, director of Duke University’s Center on Science & Technology Policy, said there’s little evidence to justify Trump’s allegation that TikTok and WeChat are serious national security risks, and that consumers will suffer from the bans.

“The greatest threat to the global free flow of information no longer comes from the Great Chinese Firewall, but from America’s Grand Cyber Canyon,” Perault said.

To be sure, while the internet was imagined in the 1960s as a “galactic network,” it has never been truly global.

For many years the internet was generally available only to wealthy, mostly white parts of the planet. Only a few companies such as Facebook and Google can claim to be ubiquitous platforms, and even they are not global because their services are mostly unavailable in the world’s most populous country. In that sense, Trump’s action could be a taste of China’s own strategy applied back to them.

But experts said that until now, the U.S. government had largely been a force that opposed the balkanization of the internet.

Trump has changed that, they said, by acting from intentions that aren’t about fighting for a better internet. Last month, Trump spoke about banning Chinese apps such as TikTok as retaliation for China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are ways to build a robust, long-term strategy for securing the digital supply chain, which is a very complicated issue, but that is not what is happening here,” said Justin Sherman, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

WeChat has drawn longstanding security complaints from security researchers. In one study published last year and cited by Trump, more than 300 million WeChat private messages were found exposed online. WeChat users also said they believed China censored early discussions about the coronavirus this year.

Australia and India are among the countries that have already begun to scrutinize and restrict WeChat.

Within China, WeChat is ubiquitous, serving as an all-in-one app that’s important for making payments and even for displaying someone’s coronavirus test results.

In the short term, the WeChat order could upend people’s ability to communicate with friends and relatives who are in China or who are part of the global Chinese diaspora. Outside China, WeChat is used primarily for messaging but also has some social media functions similar to Facebook.

“The people who are really hurt are people who have older relatives in China,” said Rui Ma, the host of the “Tech Buzz China” podcast and a tech investor in the Bay Area.

Ma said many WeChat users in the U.S. will simply switch messaging apps, and that some have already begun to do so, but she added, “I think it’s going to be very hard for their parents to figure out how to use a new program.”

A ban within the U.S. would also likely have business implications for any American companies that try to market in China or otherwise contact people there, though it was too early to tell exactly, said Doug Barry, a spokesman for the U.S.-China Business Council.

The ACLU warned that if the order results in a broad restriction on communication, it would violate free speech guarantees.

“This is another abuse of emergency powers under the broad guise of national security,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

“It would violate the First Amendment rights of users in the United States by subjecting them to civil and possibly criminal penalties for communicating with family members, friends, or business contacts,” she said.

Access Now, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom online, said the orders from Trump mirror censorship tactics in other nations that the U.S. government has decried for more than a decade.

“Arbitrary and disproportionate blocking, based on geopolitical escalation, spurs a race to the bottom, to a world of splintered internets with less cybersecurity and more exposure to overbearing nationalism,” the group said in a statement.

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