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US Senate Approves Funds to Address Border Crisis

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to address the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border with more than $4 billion in supplemental funds and new requirements for the care of detained migrants, especially children.

The 84-8 vote came amid renewed scrutiny of the Trump administration’s treatment of minors in its custody and amid widespread revulsion over the deaths of a father and daughter from El Salvador who perished trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the United States.

“There is no longer any question that the situation along our southern border is a full-blown humanitarian and security crisis,” Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said, adding that there was “no excuse” for delay in addressing the situation.

“Inaction is simply not an option for those who care about alleviating the suffering of desperate children and families seeking refuge in the United States,” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said.

The Republican-led Senate approved the bill after voting down a House version that also boosted funds for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies stretched to the breaking point by border arrivals totaling more than 100,000 a month, the highest numbers recorded in more than a decade.

Although broadly similar, the Senate version is less extensive in regulating the care of detained children. Unlike the House version, it provides $145 million for the Pentagon to assist in border operations.

To reach President Donald Trump’s desk, the Senate bill would need to pass the House. Hpwever, majority-Democrats in the House have signaled they want changes to the bill. As a result, a bicameral committee is expected to be formed to try to hammer out a version that can pass both chambers. Time for swift action is growing short, as Congress will be in recess next week for America’s Independence Day holiday.

Speaking with reporters before departing the White House, Trump hailed legislative movement on border funding.

“I believe the House is going to be getting together with the Senate. Hopefully, they can get something done,” Trump said.

Earlier in the day, the president once again blamed Democrats for the border crisis, tweeting: “The Democrats should change the Loopholes and Asylum Laws so lives will be saved at our Southern Border. They said it was not a crisis at the Border, that it was all just manufactured.’ Now they admit that I was right – But they must do something about it. Fix the Laws NOW!”

On the Senate floor, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fired back.

“We can do something about this [crisis] if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame,” Schumer said. “Mr. President, you are the president of the United States. You are head of the executive branch. You control what’s happening at the border.”

Schumer spoke alongside a blown-up photo, widely distributed by news organizations, of the drowned Salvadoran father and daughter, as reaction poured in across Capitol Hill and beyond.

“I don’t want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said. “I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate … to do something.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has faced renewed criticism on Capitol Hill after news reports emerged earlier this week of squalid living conditions at a CBP facility in Texas that houses detained migrant children.

A Senate panel on Wednesday pressed administration officials on the subject.

“What are you doing to actually make sure that children are getting the care and the sanitary conditions and the food that they need?” New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan asked.

The Border Patrol’s chief of law enforcement operations, Brian Hastings, responded that detention facilities are being upgraded with shower facilities and increased medical care. He added that more funds are being devoted to basic supplies, such as diapers and baby formula.

Voters Get First Up-Close Look at 2020 Democratic Contenders

It is more than 16 months until the next U.S. presidential election in late 2020, but 20 Democratic presidential contenders are set to debate each other Wednesday and Thursday nights to give Democratic voters a first look at whom they might want to pick as the party’s nominee to try to oust Republican President Donald Trump.

Ten of the Democratic candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the current front-runners for the party nomination; Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas, are set to spar tonight for two hours. They will appear before a live audience in Miami, with millions more watching on national television.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader for the nomination in national surveys, is joining other top-tier possible choices on the debate stage Thursday night, including Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of the Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana; along with six others.

The unwieldy field of candidates, in addition to another five that did not meet the Democratic National Committee’s minimal political standards to merit a spot in the debates, all sense they might have a chance to unseat Trump after a single term in the White House.

Political issues, electability

Democratic voters, however, so far seem uncertain of what they are looking for in their party standard-bearer in the Nov. 3, 2020, election — someone who best represents their political views on such contentious issues as health care, abortion, foreign policy, immigration, taxes and more, or possibly a candidate who has one overriding quality: the best chance of defeating Trump.

On the streets of Miami, Florida voter Dawn Schonwetter looked forward to the Democratic debates and stressed the importance of the state in the upcoming presidential election.

“We’re a big state. We have a lot of electoral votes, so I think it is a major battleground state – that makes it very exciting here for us at election time,” she said.

Traffic moves past Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center the day before 20 Democratic U.S. presidential candidates begin a two night debate that will be the first debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential election in Miami.

Another Florida voter, Republican-turned-progressive Democrat Eduardo De La Vega, said he intends to choose the candidate with the best plans for health care and education.

“This is why I’m here – to see who is the right person. It’s going to be really exciting because if a Democrat wins the state, it’s over for the Republicans,” he said.

Trump, as he left Washington for the Group of 20 economic meetings in Japan, said he would watch the Wednesday debate from Air Force One and taunted Biden — who won’t be on the stage until Thursday.

“It just seems very boring, but I’m going to watch it,” he told Fox News.

“Biden is a lost soul,” Trump claimed. “He doesn’t know where he is.”

A key unknown ahead of the debates is whether the Democratic challengers will spend more of their time attacking each other for their differences over policy issues or chiefly aim their political barbs at Trump.

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Crowded Democratic Presidential Field Ready for First Debate video player.

Already, some of the Democrats are trying to diminish Biden’s nomination chances, attacking him for his recent recollection that 40 years ago when he was a young U.S. senator, he had working relationships in the Senate with segregationists adamantly opposed to the equality of blacks and whites.

Although the candidates have been campaigning for months in the early states where Democrats next year will hold presidential party nominating contests — including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — for millions of Americans watching on television, it will be their first chance to size up the candidates and see whether they find someone they might favor over Trump.

No shoo-in

Despite a robust U.S. economy — a normal election-year barometer favoring an incumbent U.S. president’s re-election — Trump is by no means a shoo-in for a second four-year term.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum, June 5, 2019, in Elkhart, Indiana.

Polling shows the one-time New York real estate magnate, a surprise winner in 2016, has yet to win over many voters beyond the hard core of populist and Republican voters that has supported him through his 29-month presidency. More voters than not, surveys repeatedly show, disapprove of his performance in office.

U.S. political pundits dismissed Trump’s chances of a victory three years ago, but he could win again.

At the moment, however, surveys show several Democrats leading the 73-year-old Trump. Biden, who is 76 and was President Barack Obama’s two-term vice president, holds the biggest edge of more than 10 percentage points over Trump. But polls this far ahead of the election are not necessarily predictive and may be just a snapshot of a moment in time.

In all, a dozen Democratic presidential debates are planned between now and the first months of 2020, although the number of candidates appearing in them will diminish over time as contenders drop out for lack of voter support and campaign funds. The first voting in Democratic primaries and caucuses to decide the presidential nomination starts February 3 in the Midwest farm state of Iowa.

All of the Democratic presidential candidates, to one degree or another, have staked out positions on key issues they think are important to reshape policy debates in Washington, while at the same time attacking Trump for his views about domestic issues and international relations during his unprecedented presidency.

The Democrats running for the U.S. presidency have broadly adopted a much more expansive liberal role for the federal government than either the more conservative Trump or Republicans who control the Senate. Democrats, in philosophical political agreement with many of their presidential candidates, took control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 congressional elections.

Political differences

The Democratic presidential candidates do have policy differences among themselves and often have emphasized a variety of issues they think might help them connect with voters when there is such a large field of candidates.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with supporters at an event at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, June 11, 2019.

Warren and Sanders, neck and neck in second place behind Biden in nomination surveys, are both pushing for far-reaching changes to the country’s economic policies to help middle-class families, paid for with higher taxes on wealthy people. Warren wants new taxes on people with more than $50 million in assets, while Sanders called this week for wiping out all $1.6 trillion in student college debt.

O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, has called for a $5 trillion plan to combat climate change, an issue that resonates with many Democrats after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Senators Booker and Klobuchar have advanced more moderate proposals on several issues in hopes of capturing the mass of voters not willing to go as far to the left politically as some of the other Democrats have.

Biden, to a large degree, has stayed above the fray of debate over policy issues, preferring to present himself as the voice of American stability, a correction to Trump’s unpredictable, tweet-filled presidency.

Mocking Trump’s long-standing political slogan, “Make America Great Again,” Biden recently told voters, “Let’s make America America again.”

But appearing on the same stage with other Democrats may force him to explain and account for his four decades as a Washington political figure and twice-failed presidential campaigns.

The candidates

The other candidates debating Wednesday include Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.

Thursday’s list of candidates also includes New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and self-help author Marianne Williamson.

Car Bomb Targets Former IS Stronghold in Syria

A powerful explosion on Wednesday rocked a town in northeast Syria, local sources told VOA. 
 
The car bomb attack, which took place on a main street near the center of Tabqa, wounded at least two security personnel and one civilian, the sources said. 
 
“There are definitely more casualties, but we don’t have any details yet as local security forces have blocked the entire area,” a Tabqa-based aid worker who requested anonymity for security reasons told VOA. 
 
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State terror group has carried out similar attacks in the past against U.S.-backed forces in the town and elsewhere in northeast Syria. 

Taken by SDF
 
Tabqa, which is administratively part of Raqqa province, was under IS rule from 2014 until 2017, when U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took control of the town. 
 
“The city has been secured since we liberated it from [IS] terrorists,” an SDF commander, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told VOA. “But these occasional incidents are expected as [IS] still has sleeper cells throughout the region.” 

SDF officials said they had arrested members of IS-affiliated sleeper cells in two northern Syrian cities this week. 
 
“Counterterrorism units arrested five members of Daesh’s sleeper cells in two separate successful raids in Raqqa and Manbij countryside,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Wednesday in a tweet, using the Arabic acronym for IS. 
 
Earlier this week, IS took responsibility for a motorcycle explosion that wounded at least five civilians in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northeast Syria. 
 

FILE – A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces watches over people who were evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, outside Baghouz, Syria, March 5, 2019.

In late March, the SDF declared victory over IS in its last stronghold in eastern Syria. But some experts charge that the group continues to pose a major threat to local forces in the war-torn country. 
 
“IS will remain a threat in Syria as long as there is no political stability in Syria,” said Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows IS activities in the country. 
 
“It’s true that they don’t hold territory anymore, but IS has proven time and time again that it can wage attacks from within communities it once ruled,” he told VOA.   
 
Since 2011, Syria has been devastated by a multilayered civil war that has led to the rise of several terror groups, including IS and al-Qaida. 
 
This week, political directors of the U.S.-led coalition against IS convened in Paris to discuss stabilization efforts in Syria and Iraq after the military defeat of the terror group. 
 
Islamic State’s “territorial defeat does not represent the terrorist group’s eradication or the end of the terrorist threat it poses,” the coalition said in a statement Tuesday. 
 
“While it continues to inspire terrorist attacks through active propaganda efforts, [IS] has also proved its resilience and adaptability, continuing to conduct lethal attacks,” the statement added. “It has used its active cells in the region to attack our partners and the civilian populations both in Iraq and in Syria where we have recently seen an increase of [IS] attacks in the Levant.” 

Migrant Ship Enters Italian Waters Despite Warnings

A German humanitarian ship carrying 42 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya has reached Italian waters, defying orders from Rome to stay away. 

By late Wednesday evening, the Sea-Watch 3 had stopped just outside Lampedusa island harbor. 

The ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, said on Twitter that she had run out of options. The vessel, operated by the German non-profit Sea-Watch, had spent two weeks on the open seas when no European country would accept it. 

“I know what I’m risking,” Rackete, said on Twitter, “but the 42 survivors I have on board are exhausted. I’m taking them to safety.”

🔴 “I decided to enter the port of #Lampedusa. I know what I’m risking, but the 42 survivors I have on board are exhausted. I’m taking them to safety.”

14 days the EU failed #SeaWatch3. Our commander has no choice. https://t.co/DKXXsUUfkS (pic: E. Ferrari) pic.twitter.com/rfeh0LLmm7

— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) June 26, 2019

She later tweeted a video in which she says that Italian authorities had boarded the ship to check documentation and the crew’s passports.

Update from our captain #CarolaRackete on the bridge of #SeaWatch3.#IoStoConCarola#fateliscenderepic.twitter.com/Y7F0dAKeR2

— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) June 26, 2019

Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister has promised fines, arrests and seizures for any vessel that enters Italian waters without authorization. “We will use every democratic means to stop this mockery of law,” Salvini said. “Italy cannot be the landing spot for anyone deciding to unload human beings.”

He has repeatedly accused charity rescuers of being complicit with people smugglers by waiting off the Libyan coast to pick up migrants from unseaworthy vessels that couldn’t make it all the way to Europe.  

Until recently, Italy had been the preferred landing spot for migrants fleeing North Africa for Europe. But in June 2018, the far-right government closed its ports to migrant rescue vessels. 

Migrant arrivals to Italy have plummeted since Salvini took office a year ago. So far this year, just 2,456 have arrived across the Mediterranean, according to official data, down 85% for the same period in 2018 and down 96% from 2017 levels.

Spain Separatists’ Terror Link to Venezuela Appears Well-Trodden

When the Basque terrorist group ETA’s most wanted fugitive, Josu Ternera, accused of ordering a 1987 bombing that killed 11 people in Spain,was arrested across the border in France on May 17, he was using a Venezuelan passport with the false name of Bruno Marti.

Days later, Spanish police dismantled the Guerrilla Army of the Free Galician People (EGPCG), another separatist group that had conducted bombings in northeastern Spain. That group’s leader, Jose Gil, had attempted an escape to Venezuela.

When Anna Gabriel, a head of the Catalan far-left separatist organization CUP, fled Spain last year to avoid arrest for allegedly inciting violence, her first stop was: Venezuela.

“There is clear evidence of Venezuelan support for terrorist and separatist movements,” said Ramon Peralta, a senior law professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, who believes that there are ideological ties between extremist groups and the Venezuelan government,which provides them key assistance.

FILE – Swiss exiled pro-independence former member of the Catalan parliament Anna Gabriel gestures after a side event of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, March 19, 2018.

‘Keep close contact’

“Police officials stationed at [Spain’s] embassies in countries where there is a terrorist presence keep close contact with the local governments about the matter,” a Spanish foreign ministry spokesmen told VOA, adding that “investigations have been conducted into ETAs presence in Venezuela over recent years.”

Venezuela harbors the largest concentration of ETA fugitives, according to Spanish police, who say 13 members of the group are currently living there. About 50 militants from political organizations associated with ETA such as Batasuna, Bildu and Askapena have also traveled regularly to the South American country.

Some ETA members are under government protection in Cuba, where their asylum was in some cases negotiated by the Spanish government.

A retired police official said that he met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to arrange the deportation to Cuba of an ETA gunman from Algeria when the north African country expelled the group about 30 years ago. Spanish officials say that Cuban authorities have regularly reported on his status.

But Venezuela has been less cooperative, according to Spanish police sources, who say that the government of President Nicolas Maduro has provided little information about the activities of ETA and refused to extradite its members, some of whom are on the Maduro government payrolls.

Analysts say alleged Basque bomb maker Arturo Cubillos has worked for many years in the security department of Venezuela’s agriculture ministry, assisting ETA and other groups. Spain requested Cubillos’ extradition after the Colombian government accused him of conducting explosives training for leftist FARC guerrillas.

The terrorist route to Venezuela is well-trodden. When the Chilean government learned militants of an indigenous Mapuche movement seeking the independence for southern Chile had traveled there, they contacted the U.S. State Department to inquire whether the American embassy in Santiago had picked up any information on the group’s possible fundraising in Venezuela, according to diplomatic cables seen by VOA.

FILE – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with mayors and governors at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, May 19, 2014.

Support network

Venezuela’s support network also appears to operate through well-placed agents in third countries. An individual of dual Spanish-Venezuelan nationality assisted EGPCG leader Gil in his attempt to escape to Venezuela through Portugal, where he tried to board a flight to Caracas, according to Spanish police.

Most Venezuelans have to struggle through endless bureaucracy to obtain passports. But members of ETA, FARC and other insurgent groups get VIP treatment, Maduro’s critics allege.

“Josu Ternera, who has never set foot in Venezuela, has received his passport under a false identity from SAIME (Venezuela’s Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Immigration), while millions of Venezuelans can’t get access to identification and travel documents,” tweeted Pedro Burelli, a former executive board member of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA.

Marco Ferreira, a retired brigadier of Venezuela’s National Guard, says he was ordered to process identity documents for several suspected terrorists when he headed SAIME under Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez. At that time, the department was called ONIDEX.

The list also included individuals of Middle Eastern origin, mainly Lebanese and Syrians connected with Hezbollah, according to Ferreira, who says he left ONIDEX when it came under the control of Cuba, which has taken over Venezuela’s national identification system.

The system’s database is linked to Havana via underwater fiber-optic cables and Cuban security officers now hold key posts in the renamed agency. Cuba has trained the agency’s personnel and provided state-of-the-art technology.

ETA renounced armed struggle last year shortly after FARC leaders signed a peace deal with the Colombian government. Ternera, prior to his capture, announced that the Basque struggle for independence was entering a “new phase.”

Venezuelan President Maduro has openly backed separatists in Catalonia, where militant groups conducting campaigns of intimidation against opponents of independence have adopted the name of Colectivos, from Venezuela’s pro-government thug squads.

Human Rights Watch, in a report last year, said the armed pro-government groups, along with security forces, attacked demonstrators at rallies attended by thousands of Venezuelans.  

Brazil President Backtracks on Looser Gun Restrictions as Lawmakers Resist

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday reversed a move to loosen gun control laws by presidential decree, in a strategic retreat after lawmakers pushed back on one of the far-right leader’s key campaign promises.

In May, Bolsonaro signed decrees easing restrictions on importing and carrying guns and buying ammunition, which needed congressional approval to become permanent law. After the Senate rejected a decree last week, Bolsonaro decided on Tuesday to revoke it and reconsider his strategy.

The former army captain vowed last year to crack down on crime and ease access to guns, rolling back decades of arms control efforts as many Brazilians clamored for a dramatic response to rising violent crime.

Bolsonaro’s reversal on Tuesday, published in a late edition of the government’s official gazette, contradicted comments made just hours earlier by his spokesman Otávio Rêgo Barros that the
president would not revoke the guns decree.

Bolsonaro also sent a new bill to Congress on Tuesday that aims to loosen restrictions on the possession of arms in rural areas, Senate President Davi Alcolumbre wrote on his Twitter
account.

US Sanctions Put Telecoms Firms Off Cuba, Internet Task Force Says

U.S. sanctions on Cuba are deterring American firms from exploring its telecommunications sector even as Washington seeks to expand internet access on the Communist-run island, according to the final report of a U.S. government task force released on Tuesday.

Chinese companies dominate Cuba’s telecoms sector, a status quo “worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese Internet infrastructure providers,” the report said.

Cuba’s government protested the U.S. State Department’s creation of a Cuba Internet Task Force last year as “foreign interference.” It remains unclear how open it would be to U.S. investment in the strategic telecoms sector.

“U.S. companies informed the subcommittees they are often deterred from entering the market due to uncertainty caused by frequent changes to U.S. regulations concerning Cuba,” according to the task force, convened last year by the State Department.

U.S. presidents have successively tightened and loosened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba imposed in the years after its 1959 revolution.

Former President Barack Obama created a loophole for U.S. telecommunications companies to provide certain services to Cuba. His successor, Donald Trump, maintained the loophole but tightened the broader sanctions, worsening the overall business climate.

Banks are increasingly reluctant to process payments originating in Cuba. Some telecoms firms surveyed by the task force said that was putting them off offering key services and products in the country.

The task force advised the U.S. government to clear up the regulatory uncertainty and seek feedback on how to improve telecoms firms’ ability to invest.

Until 2013, the internet was largely available to the public in Cuba only at tourist hotels amid the U.S. embargo, lack of cash and concerns over the free flow of information.

The government has increased web access in recent years, installing a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela and introducing cyber cafes, Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile internet.

Cuban telecoms monopoly ETECSA signed a deal earlier this year with Alphabet’s Google on increasing connectivity, but the two have not publicly agreed on any significant investments.

Denmark Becomes Third Nordic Country to Form Leftist Government This Year

Denmark on Wednesday became the third Nordic country this year to form a leftist government after Social Democratic leader Mette Frederiksen finalized terms for a one-party minority government, making her the country’s youngest-ever prime minister.

While the new left-leaning government is unlikely to fundamentally change Denmark’s economic policy, Frederiksen, 41, has promised to increase welfare spending after years of austerity.

A bloc of five left-leaning opposition parties led by Frederiksen’s Social Democratic Party won a majority in a June 5 election, prompting center-right leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen to resign as prime minister.

“It is with great pleasure I can announce that after three weeks of negotiations, we have a majority to form a new government,” she said.

Ageing populations have prompted Nordic governments to chip away at the cradle-to-grave welfare state, but the June 5 election showed clear support among Danish voters for leftist parties. It also dealt a blow to right-wing nationalists, who lost more than half of their votes compared with 2015.

While the leftist opposition bloc received a convincing majority, support for the Social Democratic Party declined slightly compared with the 2015 vote. But it remained the country’s biggest party.

Despite differences among left-leaning parties over issues such as welfare and immigration, Frederiksen got their backing to form a one-party minority government, a common arrangement inDenmark.

Frederiksen’s Social Democrats will have to rely on the Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance and the Social-Liberal Party – formerly headed by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager – to pass laws in the 179-seat parliament.

The four parties agreed to soften some tough measures on immigration, including abandoning a plan by the previous government to hold foreign criminals on a tiny island.

The parties also said they agreed on a plan to allow more foreign labor, on further measures to eliminate rising inequality and on a plan to create a binding law on the reduction of emissions.

Following spending cuts by successive governments to reduce the public deficit, which has resulted in an erosion of traditional welfare services, the Social Democrats campaigned for an increase in spending and making businesses and the wealthy pay more toward welfare through higher taxes.

Many Danes, who like counterparts in other Nordic states pay some of the highest taxes in the world to underpin their welfare system, worry that further austerity will erode the universal healthcare, education and elderly services long seen as a given.

Economists have said there is some room within the country’s sound public finances to increase spending.

In Finland and Sweden, the Social Democratic parties formed governments earlier this year.

Brazil Congress Ditches Bolsonaro Decree Weakening Indigenous Agency

Brazil’s Congress threw out part of a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro giving say over indigenous land claims to the Agriculture Ministry, further undermining the right-wing president’s agenda to empower rural farmers in disputes over land.

The move, announced by Senate President David Alcolumbre came a day after a Supreme Court justice suspended Bolsonaro’s move to strip the land decisions from indigenous affairs agency Funai, which is part of the Justice Ministry.

“We agreed the subject should be handled by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security,” Alcolumbre wrote on Twitter.

In late May, lawmakers spoiled Bolsonaro’s first attempt to grant the land demarcation powers to the farm ministry, but the president issued a second decree on June 19 reinforcing the move.

A presidential decree goes into effect immediately, but requires the approval of Congress within 120 days to become law or it expires.

FILE – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro talks at the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 6, 2019.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain elected last year on a wave of conservative sentiment, has alarmed anthropologists and environmentalists alike with vows to assimilate the country’s 800,000 indigenous people into Brazilian society.

The far-right president says he wants to open reservation lands to agriculture and mining, even in the Amazon rainforest, encouraging indigenous tribes to engage in commercial activity in return for royalties.

US House Passes Emergency Funding Bill for Migrant Care Crisis

It took last-minute changes and a full-court press by top Democratic leaders, but the House passed with relative ease Tuesday a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package to care for thousands of migrant families and unaccompanied children detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
 
The bill passed along party lines after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quelled a mini-revolt by progressives and Hispanic lawmakers who sought significant changes to the legislation. New provisions added to the bill Tuesday were more modest than what those lawmakers had sought, but the urgent need for the funding — to prevent the humanitarian emergency on the border from turning into a debacle — appeared to outweigh any lingering concerns.
 
The 230-195 vote sets up a showdown with the Republican-led Senate, which may try instead to force Democrats to send Trump a different, and broadly bipartisan, companion measure in coming days as the chambers race to wrap up the must-do legislation by the end of the week.
 
 “The Senate has a good bill. Our bill is much better,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues in a meeting Tuesday morning, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private session.
 
“We are ensuring that children have food, clothing, sanitary items, shelter and medical care. We are providing access to legal assistance. And we are protecting families because families belong together,” Pelosi said in a subsequent floor speech.
 
The bill contains more than $1 billion to shelter and feed migrants detained by the border patrol and almost $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over the Department of Health and Human Services. It seeks to mandate improved standards of care at HHS “influx shelters” that house children waiting to be placed with sponsors such as family members in the U.S.
 
Both House and Senate bills ensure funding could not be shifted to Trump’s border wall and would block information on sponsors of immigrant children from being used to deport them. Trump would be denied additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.
 
“The President’s cruel immigration policies that tear apart families and terrorize communities demand the stringent safeguards in this bill to ensure these funds are used for humanitarian needs only — not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
 
Three moderates were the only House Republicans to back the measure. The only four Democratic “no” votes came from some of the party’s best-known freshmen: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ihan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
 
The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it would hamstring the administration’s border security efforts, and the Senate’s top Republican suggested Tuesday that the House should simply accept the Senate measure — which received only a single “nay” vote during a committee vote last week.
 
“The idea here is to get a (presidential) signature, so I think once we can get that out of the Senate, hopefully on a vote similar to the one in the Appropriations Committee, I’m hoping that the House will conclude that’s the best way to get the problem solved, which can only happen with a signature,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
 
A handful of GOP conservatives went to the White House to try to persuade Trump to reject the Senate bill and demand additional funding for immigration enforcement such as overtime for border agents and detention facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a top GOP lawmaker who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting. Trump was expected to reject the advice.
 
House Democrats seeking the changes met late Monday with Pelosi, and lawmakers emerging from the Tuesday morning caucus meeting were generally supportive of the legislation.
 
Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess, and pressure is intense to wrap up the legislation before then. Agencies are about to run out of money and failure to act could bring a swift political rebuke and accusations of ignoring the plight of innocent immigrant children.
 
Longtime GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said Democrats were simply “pushing partisan bills to score political points and avoiding doing the hard work of actually making law,” warning them that “passing a partisan bill through this chamber won’t solve the problem.”
 
Lawmakers’ sense of urgency to provide humanitarian aid was amplified by recent reports of gruesome conditions in a windowless Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, where more than 300 infants and children were being housed. Many were kept there for weeks and were caring for each other in conditions that included inadequate food, water and sanitation.
 
By Tuesday, most had been sent elsewhere. The incident was only an extreme example of the dire conditions reported at numerous locations where detainees have been held, and several children have died in U.S. custody.
 
The Border Patrol reported apprehending nearly 133,000 people last month — including many Central American families — as monthly totals have begun topping 100,000 for the first time since 2007. Federal agencies involved in immigration have reported being overwhelmed, depleting their budgets and housing large numbers of detainees in structures meant for handfuls of people.
 
Changes unveiled Tuesday would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish new standards for care of unaccompanied immigrant children and a plan for ensuring adequate translators to assist migrants in their dealings with law enforcement. The government would have to replace contractors who provide inadequate care.
 
Many children detained entering the U.S. from Mexico have been held under harsh conditions, and Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press last week that children have died after being in the agency’s care. He said Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people — more than triple their maximum capacity of 4,000.
 
Sanders announced Tuesday that he’s stepping down next month amid outrage over his agency’s treatment of detained migrant children.
 
In a letter Monday threatening the veto, White House officials told lawmakers they objected that the House package lacked money for beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needs to let it detain more migrants. Officials also complained in the letter that the bill had no money to toughen border security, including funds for building Trump’s proposed border wall.