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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — With Donald Trump working to keep his party unified in the government shutdown battle, some Senate Republicans have begun discussing expanding negotiations over the wall to include additional immigration issues, such as relief for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The conversation, mostly involving Republicans, picked up steam on Wednesday as the stalemate over the government shutdown and the border wall showed no signs of easing. While the discussions might be aimed at solving a number of long-standing immigration reform issues, they also risk stirring a backlash from conservatives who believe DACA relief to be a form of amnesty, and on the left from those who don’t want it used as a negotiating tool.

“There is some discussions about whether a bigger deal could be negotiated that would include money for border security,” Sen. John Conryn, R-Texas, said after Trump met with Senate Republicans over lunch in the Capitol on Wednesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has formed a working group of senators to discuss a broader immigration deal. The starting point would be the Bridge Act, which provides legal work permits for people eligible for DACA relief in exchange for $25 billion for the wall.

Graham hosted the first meeting in his office Wednesday afternoon. Attendees included those who have expressed unease over the shutdown, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has stepped into a leading White House role on the shut down, is also in attendance.

No Democrats joined the meeting but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met with Graham privately. Manchin said Graham presented some ideas to move the negotiations forward.

One Republican senator said that after a conversation with the president at the White House, the president appeared open to including DACA in wall negotiations to reopen the government. The senator, who didn’t want to be identified because they are relaying private conversations, said they spoke to Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about including the issue of Temporary Protected Status. The Trump administration has ended TPS, or legal status, for at least 200,000 Central Americans and Haitians.

But Democrats have indicated that they don’t want to bring DACA into discussions, in part, because they don’t trust the president in negotiations.

During a previous negotiation on immigration, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said negotiating with Trump is like “negotiating with Jell-O” because after what appears to be a tentative agreement the president has backtracked. “If he has trouble with this, imagine how much trouble he’ll have with a bigger solution,” Schumer said Wednesday about the prospect of broadening out the negotiations.

And the right is likely to immediately oppose a deal that includes DACA. Last week, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted that “NOTHING could be worse than another amnesty.”

Garrett Haake contributed.



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Democratic mayor Pete Buttigieg running for president; would be first openly gay nominee

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By Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential bid, according to a video and email announcement.

“The reality is there’s no going back, and there’s no such thing as ‘again’ in the real world. We can’t look for greatness in the past,” Buttigieg says in a video that includes before-and-after footage of South Bend, a Rust Belt city once described as “dying.”

“Right now our country needs a fresh start,” he says.

If he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party.

Buttigieg has touted his work to improve his city of 100,000 residents as he’s prepared for an improbable jump from local politics to a presidential campaign. He’s also said Democrats could benefit from a new generation of leaders as they try to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.

He’s expected to travel to Iowa next week to meet with voters in the nation’s first caucus state, followed by stops in New Hampshire.

Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar who was first elected mayor of his hometown in 2011 at age 29 — making him the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents. A lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, he served a tour in Afghanistan in 2014.

Buttigieg raised his national profile with an unsuccessful 2017 run for Democratic National Committee chairman, saying the party needed a new start. He withdrew from the race before a vote when it became clear he didn’t have the support to win.

Buttigieg has spent time in Iowa and other battleground states in recent years as he tried to build financial support and name recognition. He cracks that those who do know his name still aren’t sure how to pronounce it. Most of the time he goes by “Mayor Pete.”

Amid his campaign for a second term, Buttigieg came out as gay in a column in the local newspaper. He went on to win re-election with 80 percent of the vote. In 2018 — three years to the day after the column ran — he married his husband, middle school teacher Chasten Glezman.

Buttigieg announced in December that he wouldn’t seek a third term as mayor, stoking speculation he would join a field of roughly two dozen candidates who may seek the Democratic nomination for president — most of them better-known and with experience in higher office, and all of them older.

“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” he says in the video released Wednesday. “We’re the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11, and we’re the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents unless we do something different. We can’t just polish off a system so broken. It is a season for boldness and a focus on the future.”

Buttigieg is releasing a book in February about his life and his tenure leading South Bend.

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Shutdown could further endanger whales

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By Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — Rescuers who respond to distressed whales and other marine animals say the federal government shutdown is making it more difficult to do their work.

A network of rescue groups in the U.S. works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to respond to marine mammals such as whales and seals when the animals are in trouble, such as when they are stranded on land or entangled in fishing gear. But the federal shutdown, which entered its 33rd day Wednesday, includes a shuttering of the NOAA operations the rescuers rely upon.

NOAA plays a role in preventing accidental whale deaths by doing things like tracking the animals, operating a hotline for mariners who find distressed whales and providing permits that allow the rescue groups to respond to emergencies. Those functions are disrupted or ground to a halt by the shutdown, and that’s bad news if whales need help, said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium in Boston, which has a rescue operation.

“If it was very prolonged, then it would become problematic to respond to animals that are in the water,” LaCasse said. “And to be able to have a better handle on what is really going on.”

The shutdown is coming at a particularly dangerous time for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, which numbers about 411, said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, a senior biologist with Whale and Dolphin Conservation of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The whales are under tight scrutiny right now because of recent years of high mortality and poor reproduction.

NOAA recently identified an aggregation of 100 of the whales south of Nantucket — nearly a quarter of the world’s population — but the survey work is now interrupted by the shutdown, Asmutis-Silvia said. Surveys of rare whales are important for biologists who study the animals and so rescuers can have an idea of where they are located, she said. No right whale mortalities have been recorded so far in 2019, but there have been at least 20 since April 2017.

“There’s a really significant impact on marine mammal conservation based on this shutdown,” Asmutis-Silvia said. “We have little to no ability to find them because of NOAA’s being furloughed.”

Many in the conservation community are anticipating potential changes to the federal government’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, which is a tool to reduce incidental deaths of whales. But that process, too, is on hold because of the shutdown.

Calls from The Associated Press to NOAA spokespeople were not returned. Some spokespeople for the agency have voicemail set up to say they will return to work when the shutdown is over.

Outside of the federal government, work to protect whales is still going on. The developer of an offshore wind energy project off Massachusetts announced Wednesday it is partnering with environmental groups on a plan to try to protect the right whales.

And not all the news about the whales is gloomy. A Florida research team has located the third right whale calf of the season. None were spotted last season.

Scott Landry, director of marine mammal entanglement response for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said that a NOAA whale entanglement hotline is currently being forwarded to him, and that he’s managing to pick up the slack so far. Rescue groups anticipated the shutdown and are working together to make do until it’s over, he said.

In Virginia, one of the state’s first responders for whale rescues is the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach. Mark Swingle, the aquarium’s director of research and conservation, said the center would not have “the usual assets we depend on to support the response” if it needs to assist an endangered whale.

That’s because NOAA staff and the Coast Guard would not be available, Swingle said.

“These circumstances require extremely specialized training and resources and NOAA is the lead organizer of large whale and other disentanglement efforts,” he said. “Live strandings pose their own set of challenges that NOAA helps navigate appropriately.”

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Trump says he will not give State of the Union until government shutdown is over

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By Phil Helsel

President Donald Trump late Wednesday announced he would not hold a State of the Union address until after the partial government shutdown, now in its fifth week, is over.

The announcement made shortly after 11 p.m. seemingly puts to rest a dispute between the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over whether the address would be held.

Pelosi said in a letter earlier Wednesday that the Democratic-controlled House “will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the president’s State of the Union address in the House chamber until the government has opened.”

Trump said on Twitter: “As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address. I agreed. She then changed her mind because of the Shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative – I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over.”

The president is not allowed to speak in the chamber, the traditional spot for the State of the Union address, unless the House and Senate pass a resolution allowing him to do so.

Pelosi had initially invited Trump to give the speech later this month, but she sent him a letter last week asking him to delay his remarks or submit them in writing. She cited concerns over security because of the partial government shutdown, which affects the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump said, “The State of the Union speech has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth. She doesn’t want the American public to hear what’s going on.”

“Great blotch on the incredible country we that all love. Great, great horrible mark,” Trump said.

Asked if he’d be giving a speech Tuesday night, the president responded that an announcement would be forthcoming soon.

The government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, in a dispute over Trump’s demand that Congress provide $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.



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