Trump Administration Proposes Limiting Refugee Admissions to 15,000

The Trump administration said late Wednesday it wants to cut the number of refugees admitting into the United States to 15,000 in fiscal year 2021, which begins Thursday.The figure represents the latest in a series of annual cuts since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.In 2020, the administration put the cap at 18,000, and the United States allowed 10,892 refugees into the country before putting the program on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.That was the fewest since the modern refugee program was approved by Congress in 1980.  The annual cap during the administration of President Barack Obama was between 70,000 and 85,000.The State Department said Trump’s 2021 proposal “reaffirms America’s enduring commitment to assist the world’s most vulnerable people while fulfilling our first duty to protect and serve the American people.”Krish Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a federally funded agency charged with resettling refugees in the United States, said the decision to further limit the number of refugee admissions “is a complete abdication of our moral duty and all that we stand for as a nation.” 

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Democrats Say Republicans Rushing Barrett Supreme Court Nomination

Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said Republicans are rushing the Supreme Court confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and reiterated calls for postponing the review of her nomination until after the presidential inauguration in January.In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham released late Wednesday, Democrats said the timeline Graham has set does not allow for a thorough FBI background investigation, review of her entire judicial record or for Barrett to answer senators’ questions.“This timeline is a sharp departure from past practice,” the Democrats wrote. “Even more, it undercuts the Senate’s ability to fulfill its advice and consent role and deprives the American people of a meaningful opportunity to gauge the nominee and her record for themselves.”Graham, a South Carolina Republican, met with Barrett on Tuesday. He described her as highly qualified and has said he is “committed to ensuring that the nominee gets a challenging, fair, and respectful hearing.”President Donald Trump nominated Barrett, a conservative jurist he previously tapped for the federal bench in 2017, to fill the seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s best-known liberal who died September 18 at the age of 87.Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and it appears Barrett has enough Republican support to be confirmed, despite fierce opposition from Democrats.The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin three to four days of formal confirmation hearings on October 12. A vote in the full Senate could come by the end of the month.Democrats have argued the next justice should be named by the winner of the November presidential election, a view Republicans championed when there was a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016. In that year, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, put forth a nominee to replace the late justice Antonin Scalia, an arch conservative.A public opinion poll by The New York Times and Siena College released Sunday showed 56% of voters indicated the seat should not be filled until after the election, while 41% said Trump should make the choice.Barrett has been meeting with other Republican senators, including talks Wednesday with Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Todd Young of Indiana. She is scheduled to meet Thursday with Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. So far, no Democrat has agreed to meet with her.Democrats have also argued that if Barrett joins the court, she should recuse herself from any potential cases that may arise from the November election due to potential conflicts of interest.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected that view Wednesday, calling it “ridiculous” and saying Democrats “are grasping at straws.” 

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Lawmakers Warn US Failing to Adapt to Growing Chinese Threat

U.S. lawmakers are sounding alarms about the threat from China, warning Washington has so far failed to keep up with Beijing as it emerges as a global power.The concerns, voiced in two separate reports Wednesday, criticize U.S. intelligence agencies and policymakers for clinging too long to the notion that increased trade and interaction with China would push Beijing to eventually align itself with Western values.Instead, the reports argue, the United States is struggling to push back as it faces a real danger of being replaced by China on the world stage.“The stakes are high,” according to a redacted report released by Democrats on the FILE – In this June 30, 2020 file photo, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, after a meeting at the White House in Washington.The House Intelligence Committee report, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with intelligence officials and reviews of thousands of assessments, criticized U.S. intelligence agencies for becoming overly focused on their counterterrorism mission and for failing to adapt to the threats of a changing world.“While the United States was busy engaging al-Qaida, ISIS [Islamic State] and their affiliates, offshoots and acolytes, Washington’s unchallenged dominance over the global system slipped away,” the report said.To better counter China and other emerging threats, the report said, U.S. intelligence agencies need to make better use of information commonly available on the internet, social media and elsewhere.The report also said U.S. intelligence officials need to pay more attention to nonimmediate, nonmilitary threats “such as global health, economic security and climate change.”And the report called for a greater focus on recruiting and mentoring what it described as “the next generation of China analysts.”“The good news is that we still have time to adapt,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff in a statement. “It’s my hope that the intelligence community will work hand in hand with the congressional oversight committees to make these necessary changes quickly.”Ranking Member Michael McCaul, R-Tex., questions witnesses during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.A second report released Wednesday, by Republican lawmakers, was no less damning, recommending more than 400 changes to Washington’s China strategy.”To preserve democracy and freedom around the world, the U.S. must act decisively with our allies to regain the initiative,” the China Task Force report warned.Chinese Communist Party ideology “is undermining the core principles of the international system and putting Americans’ safety and prosperity at risk,” it said. “Leniency and accommodation of the CCP and its oppressive agenda is no longer an option.”The report calls on policymakers to boost counterintelligence operations against China and to make sure that the U.S. medical and national security supply chains no longer need to reply on Chinese-made goods.It also recommends increased spending on defense to better counter Chinese nuclear capabilities as well as China’s growing conventional forces.“For more than 40 years, we have tried to bring them into the family of nations as a responsible partner, but they have refused to behave responsibly,” China Task Force Chairman Michael McCaul said in a statement.

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FAA Chief Test Flies Upgraded 737 Max

Federal Aviation Administration Chief Steve Dickson completed a two-hour evaluation flight at the controls of a Boeing 737 Max on Wednesday as part of the final stages of a recertification process after two fatal crashes. The 737 Max was grounded in March 2019 after deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed 346 people over a five-month period. In both crashes, a flawed control system known as MCAS, triggered by faulty data from a single airflow sensor, repeatedly and forcefully pushed down the jets’ nose as pilots struggled to intervene. Since then, Dickson made known he wouldn’t approve the airplane until he flew it himself and was convinced of its safety. A Boeing 737 Max lands at Boeing Field in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020.On Wednesday, Dickson, a former military and commercial pilot, flew together with other FAA and Boeing pilots from King County International Airport — also known as Boeing Field — in the Seattle area. During the flight, he tested a number of Boeing design and operations upgrades intended to prevent similar disasters. If all goes well, the 737 Max could be back in U.S. skies before the end of the year.   Meanwhile, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to reform the FAA’s aircraft certification process in the wake of the 737 Max crashes. 
 

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Hundreds in US Charged in $6B Medical Fraud Schemes

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced charges against 345 people for committing over $6 billion in medical fraud. Those charged include more than 100 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who filed fraudulent claims to federal health care programs and private insurers, according to the Justice Department. The bulk of the fraud — $4.5 billion — was connected to telemedicine, which has surged during the pandemic. For example, the Cleveland Clinic went from averaging 5,000 telemedicine visits a month before the pandemic to 200,000 visits just in April, the Associated Press reported. “Telemedicine can foster efficient, high-quality care when practiced appropriately and lawfully. Unfortunately, bad actors attempt to abuse telemedicine services and leverage aggressive marketing techniques to mislead beneficiaries about their health care needs and bill the government for illegitimate services,” U.S. Health and Human Services Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell said in a statement. “Unfortunately, audacious schemes such as these are prevalent and often harmful.”  FILE – The U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building is seen in Washington, July 13, 2018.According to the Justice Department, some telemedicine company executives allegedly paid doctors and nurse practitioners to order unnecessary medical equipment, medical tests and pain medications without interacting with a patient or with only a brief telephone conversation with a patient they had never seen.  “Durable medical equipment companies, genetic testing laboratories, and pharmacies then purchased those orders in exchange for illegal kickbacks and bribes and submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and other government insurers,” according to a statement from the Justice Department. In addition to telemedicine fraud, other defendants were charged with more than $845 million worth of fraud related to substance abuse facilities, and more than $806 million was connected to other health care fraud, including the illegal distribution of opioids. “This nationwide enforcement operation is historic in both its size and scope, alleging billions of dollars in health care fraud across the country,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt said in a statement. “These cases hold accountable those medical professionals and others who have exploited health care benefit programs and patients for personal gain.” 
 

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Judge Blocks Increase in US Immigration Fees

A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday blocked an increase in immigration fees that was due to go into effect this week. The fees were set to go up Friday by an average of about 20% depending on the type of entry being sought. The halted hikes include a $50 fee for asylum applications, the first time the United States would have charged such a fee.  The cost for applying to be a naturalized citizen was due to increase from $640 to $1,170. Applicants from lower-income households have been able to ask that their fees be waived, but the new rules that were due to go into effect eliminated certain categories of waiver eligibility, such as showing extreme financial hardship. Some applicants would no longer have been eligible under tighter household income thresholds. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes visas, asylum requests, naturalizations and other applications, reported a sharp decline in revenues earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and at one point considered furloughing more than half its staff. Unlike most federal agencies, a significant portion of USCIS’s funding comes from fees collected.In this June 26, 2020 photo, Vida Kazemi is sworn in as a U.S. citizen by Allen Chrysler, immigration services officer, during a drive-up naturalization ceremony in Laguna Niguel, Calif.U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White wrote he based his injunction on several factors.  He said the Trump administration did not adequately follow procedures for making new rules, including failing to consider the impact of the higher fees on low-income applicants. White also agreed with arguments presented by the plaintiffs, a group of eight non-profit groups that work with low-income immigration applicants, who said the acting heads of the Department of Homeland Security had been improperly elevated to their roles at the time the new rules were issued. Plaintiffs in other federal immigration cases have made the same argument about Kevin McAleenan, who was named acting head of the Department of Homeland Security last year before resigning in November, and Chad Wolf, who succeeded him as acting chief.   The defendants argued the appointments were valid. But Judge White ruled the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed” on the claim that neither McAleenan nor Wolf were validly serving as acting Homeland Security secretary. 

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US Presidential Candidates Spar Over Policy, Trade Insults

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over policy and traded insults in their first debate on Tuesday night, just five weeks before the presidential election.  Mike O’Sullivan reports on the combative confrontation. Camera: Henry Hernandez 

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Three Takeaways From Trump, Biden Debate

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden met Tuesday for the first presidential debate ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The 90-minute matchup was moderated by Fox News host Chris Wallace and held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Here are three takeaways from the debate: Interruptions Trump repeatedly talked over both Biden and moderator Wallace during the debate. The result was chaotic, as both men frequently interrupted each other. The prime-time broadcast often showed a side-by-side view of the candidates with each man talking, at times simultaneously. Trump was often rebuked by Wallace, who told the president to “please let the vice president talk.” At one point Biden told Trump, “Will you shut up, man?”President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.Trump’s Taxes Just two days before Tuesday’s debate, The New York Times Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.’Race and violence’One of the six topics chosen by Wallace was “race and violence” in U.S. cities, such as in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month. Last week, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials warned that white supremacist groups pose a rising threat of violence in the U.S. A tense exchange between Trump and Wallace occurred when the moderator asked the president to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and tell them to stand down and not contribute to the violence occurring at some anti-racism rallies. Trump at first appeared to sidestep the question, and then when pushed, he said, “What do you want me to call them? Give me a name.” Wallace offered up the  group known as the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group. Trump spoke to the group, saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by.” He then pivoted, however, criticizing left-wing activists. “Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem,” he said. 

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