Friday morning news: December 21, 2018

Partial government shutdown looms » The federal government appears to be just hours away from a partial shutdown. Funding expires at midnight for numerous government agencies. 

The House was set to take up a funding bill yesterday that had just cleared the Senate one day earlier. But the bill did not include additional funds for a border wall. And President Trump said again on Thursday without that he’s not signing it.

TRUMP: I’ve made my position very clear. Any measure that funds the government must include border security. Has to, not for political purposes, but for our country, for the safety of our community. 

The White House had signaled a possible willingness to hold off on additional funding for a wall. But some conservative lawmakers pressured the president to hold out for a bill with border wall funds, arguing that with Democrats set take over the House, this might be his last chance.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters…

RYAN: What we’re going to do is going back to the House and work with our members. We want to keep the government open, but we also want to see an agreement that protects the border. We have very serious concerns about securing our border. 

President Trump has asked for $5 billion for construction of a border wall.

Defense Secretary Mattis to step down » Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly announced Thursday he will soon step down. His announcement came just a day after President Trump overruled his advice against pulling troops out of Syria.

Mattis said he’ll leave by the end of February. In a letter to the president, he said he’s leaving because—quote—“you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”

Another issue on which the president and Mattis have clashed is the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

The president reportedly has the Pentagon developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14-thousand American troops now serving there. One official says the troops could be out by the summer, but no final decision has been made.

That would mark a sharp change in the Trump administration’s policy of trying to pressure the Taliban to the negotiating table after more than 17 years of war.  

Lawmakers continue to sound alarms about Syria pullout » Meantime, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to sound alarms over troop withdrawal in Syria.

Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio said if U.S. troops leave now, ISIS will reemerge different, more splintered, but still dangerous…

RUBIO: As an insurgency, as a powerful insurgency that can then carry out huge propaganda gains around the world, raise money, plot and/or inspire attacks abroad.

Rubio says for that reason, it’s in America’s best interest not to pull out of Syria right now.

And fellow Republican senator, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham added…

GRAHAM: ISIS in Afghanistan, I know for sure, is looking toward the United States and their target sets. Mr. President, you have a chance to change course. You have a lot of bipartisan support to do so. Take advantage of it. 

But President Trump is not backing down. He declared once again on Thursday that ISIS in Syria is defeated and the troops are coming home.

TRUMP: And they’re coming back now. We won, and that’s the way we want it, and that’s the way they want it.

House passes First Step Act » The first major overhaul of the criminal justice system in decades now awaits President Trump’s signature. WORLD Radio’s Leigh Jones reports.

LEIGH JONES, NEWS EDITOR: The House passed the so-called First Step Act on Thursday in stunningly bipartisan fashion. The final vote: 358-to-36.

The Senate passed the measure earlier this week.

The bill aims to cut down on the cost of incarceration and prison overcrowding while placing a heavier emphasis on reforming non-violent convicts.

It allows for earlier release for some inmates due to good behavior and cuts the minimum mandatory sentence for some low-level crimes. It also expands job training and other measures designed to help prisoners turn their lives around and stay out of jail after they’re released.

President Trump says he will sign the bill into law.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Leigh Jones.

Judge rules D.O.J. definition of credible fear in asylum cases oversteps executive authority » A federal judge this week said the Department of Justice must accept the applications of asylum-seekers who have a credible fear of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Legally establishing “credible fear” is the first hurdle migrants must clear in applying for asylum in the U.S. But earlier this year former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that credible fear designation should be limited to those fleeing religious, social, and political persecution in their home country.  

But U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that policy overstepped executive authority. The White House filed a motion to stay the ruling, saying it would overwhelm immigration courts with meritless cases.

North Korea makes new demands in nuclear talks » North Korea is rejecting calls by the U.S. to completely rid itself of nuclear weapons unless the United States also eliminates its—quote—“nuclear threat” on the Korean Peninsula. WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin has that story.

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: North Korean state-run media said Thursday that the U.S. has—quote—“nuclear weapons and other forms of aggression forces.”

The United States removed nuclear weapons from South Korea in the 1990s but still has a so-called “nuclear umbrella” there in the form of bombers and submarines in place in the region to protect its allies.

North Korea says the Korean Peninsula cannot be denclearized until the U.S. removes its nuclear assets in the South. And it says it won’t get rid of its nuclear weapons until that happens

The latest demands from Pyongyang come as the White House is discussing a second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un early next year.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.

MLB reaches deal with Cuba for players to sign » Major League Baseball, its players’ association and the Cuban Baseball Federation reached an agreement that will allow players from Cuba to sign big league contracts without defecting. The deal is the result of efforts to eliminate the dangerous trafficking that had gone on for decades.

The agreement allows Cubans to sign under rules similar to those for players under contract to clubs in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Wednesday that the deal “will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Defense Secretary Jim Mattis walks down the steps of the Pentagon, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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