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By Julie Tsirkin

WASHINGTON — With more than 800,000 federal workers missing their first paychecks on Friday, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they will decline their pay or donate it to charity in solidarity with those affected by the partial government shutdown.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is one of dozens of members of Congress who have refused pay since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, according to a NBC News count.

When asked by NBC News’ Hallie Jackson on Wednesday if he would be taking a paycheck during the current shutdown, Van Hollen said he wanted to be treated like any other government worker.

“I have instructed the Senate disbursing office to treat me like any other federal employee — at least the 800,000 who are not getting paid right now. So I will not be getting my pay during this period of government shutdown,” said Van Hollen.

At least fourteen of the lawmakers who are refusing or donating their pay are freshman members of Congress, including Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

He said in a tweet on Thursday that he, too, will forego his $174,000 salary until lawmakers can “come to an agreement to adequately fund border security.”

A number of lawmakers have said they’ll donate their salary to a worthy cause as long as workers remain without the paychecks.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a tweet that all his pay would go to Homes for the Brave, an organization aimed at aiding homeless veterans in Connecticut, while Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., said he would donate his pay to local and national veterans organizations. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is donating to three food banks in her home state, while Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is giving to a National Guard foundation and a North Dakota homeless shelter, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and Congress are no closer to ending the stalemate over the funding he has demanded for his border wall. He has opposed legislation passed by the Democratic-held House to reopen the government temporarily, and the Senate’s Republican leadership has refused to consider any government funding legislation the president won’t sign.

However, Trump said that he would sign the legislation passed by Congress guaranteeing back pay to federal workers affected by the partial shutdown, which will set a record for the longest in American history early Saturday morning. The House passed the measure on Friday with overwhelming bipartisan support, 411 to 7, after it passed the Senate by unanimously by voice vote.

While several members of Congress have committed to refusing their pay until funding for nine essential government departments, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, is restored, the vast majority are continuing to draw their salaries.

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., said he donated his entire paycheck during a past shutdown. But when asked by NBC News’ Hallie Jackson on Friday if he would do the same during the current shutdown, the congressman said it wouldn’t make a difference.

“Even if I do again what I did before, it’s not going to end the shutdown. The president can end the shutdown,” said Heck.

When asked if she would be taking a paycheck, Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said on MSNBC on Tuesday, “I am, I’m working.”

Sen. John Thune’s office told NBC News on Friday that the majority whip would be accepting his paycheck, regardless of the ongoing shutdown. Other top Senate leadership — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. — did not respond to requests for comment.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he will not be accepting pay during the partial government shutdown, while other House leaders — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. — did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Senate leaders make $193,400 annually, compared to the average federal worker salary of $51,340 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 800,000 workers who are affected by this partial shutdown, roughly half are furloughed, or forbidden from working, while the rest were working with no guarantee of pay.

Darryl Floyd, a furloughed worker for the International Trade Commission, told NBC News on Friday that he is battling dual concerns: missing paychecks while paying for his wife’s cancer treatment.

“We kind of worry about the bills getting paid, if she’s going to be able to buy medicine or whatever it may be, will we be able to eat. So, it’s kind of stressful,” said Floyd.

Frank Thorp V and Alex Moe contributed.



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Trump abruptly reverses Treasury’s North Korea-related sanctions on Chinese shippers

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Friday that he would lift sanctions his Treasury Department had just announced it would impose on two Chinese shipping companies for allegedly violating existing prohibitions on providing goods and transportation services to North Korea.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The sanctions — which the White House did not immediately confirm that the president’s tweet was in reference to — were actually announced Thursday by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is an agency under the Treasury Department.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained the president’s decision as a courtesy to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump broke off denuclearization talks in Hanoi last month.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” Sanders said.

Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official and an MSNBC contributor, said that Trump’s decision had undercut law enforcement and sent a message to Kim that he won’t ramp up sanctions. While it’s good that Trump wants to continue diplomatic discussions with Kim, Cha said, the tweet had also sent the wrong signal to other countries about U.S. policy.

For years, the U.S. has used the threat and imposition of sanctions to deter individuals, companies and foreign governments from doing business with the North Korean regime to squeeze that nation’s economy and pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

At a time when Trump is eager to strike a trade deal with China, the relief from sanctions that Treasury officials imposed may also go over well in Beijing.

In announcing the sanctions Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. government wanted to make clear to shipping companies that they could not do business with North Korea.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Mnuchin said. “Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk.”

However, senior Trump administration officials also said Thursday that “the door is wide open” to more talks with North Korea, telling reporters that President Trump remains “personally engaged” and also wants contacts to occur on the working level, although they wouldn’t disclose whether any such contacts have occurred since the summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Josh Lederman contributed.

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Gun rights groups try last-ditch move to stop Trump ban on rapid-fire bump stocks

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Owners of bump stocks — attachments that allow rifles to be fired rapidly — are hoping a federal appeals court will relieve them of the legal duty to destroy the devices by Monday.

The Trump administration ordered a ban on bump stocks after they figured prominently in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people and wounded 500 others. A police investigation revealed that Stephen Paddock, who carried out the massacre, had 22 semi-automatic rifles with him in his hotel room overlooking an outdoor concert that he attacked, and 14 of the weapons were equipped with bump stocks.

Under a federal rule that took effect in December, owners must destroy their bump stocks, which are usually made of plastic, by Monday or risk prosecution for a felony. The rule suggests smashing them with a hammer, cutting them apart with a saw, or turning them over to a local ATF office. It applies to individual owners, dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

Federal authorities estimate that half a million of them have been sold in the U.S.

The devices are attached to a rifle in place of the normal stock, the end piece that sit next to a user’s shoulder. Once in place, the bump stock absorbs the weapon’s recoil and alters the relationship between the trigger finger and the weapon.

Without a bump stock, the rifle remains stationary, and the trigger finger must be moved to fire each round. With a bump stock, after the trigger is pulled once, the recoil begins moving the trigger against the finger, which remains stationary, resulting in rapid firing like a fully automatic rifle.

For that reason, the Trump administration concluded that bump stocks violate a federal law that bans machineguns, defined as weapons that automatically fire more than one shot “with a single function of the trigger.”

Gun rights groups sued, arguing that bump stocks are intended to be used with AR-15 style rifles which are mechanically incapable of firing more than once with a single function of the trigger, because it must be released and moved again to allow the weapon to fire. They say the words of the statute — single function of the trigger — refer to the movement of the trigger itself, not whether the trigger is pulled by a finger or actuated by a bump stock.

“The government is just wrong to focus to focus on the behavior of the person rather than the function of the trigger,” said Erik Jaffee, representing the gun owners. “Function of the trigger means the trigger, not the shooter.”

The Justice Department told the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Friday that the courts have interpreted the phrase “single function of the trigger” to mean “single pull of the trigger.” A bump stock, government lawyers argued, allows a rifle to fire automatically once the trigger is pulled once, and that qualifies it as a machinegun.

An ATF spokeswoman said some owners have already turned in their bump stocks. But gun owner groups said others were waiting to see whether the appeals court agrees to put the rule on hold.

The court did not indicate when it might rule.



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‘I will TELEPATHICALLY stop you!’ Uri Geller sends Theresa May BIZARRE Brexit warning

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PARANORMAL spoon bender Uri Geller has written a bizarre open letter to Theresa May, telling the Prime Minister he “loves” her but “will stop you telepathically” from carrying out Brexit.

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