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Three Big Things

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  • Trump, McConnell huddle; virus aid talks at risk of collapse

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump huddled at the White House Thursday with the Senate’s top Republican, searching for a way forward on vital COVID-19 rescue money, while Trump’s top bargainers returned to Capitol Hill amid increasing concern that negotiations with Democrats might collapse.

    The impasse in the negotiations is putting at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people, and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

    Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a key player in the troubled talks and possesses far more experience than Trump’s administration negotiating team, which is publicly frustrated by the inflexible tactics of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The Democratic duo has not yielded much ground from an unprecedented $3.5 trillion House-passed rescue package.

    McConnell seemed to downplay the significance of the Trump meeting, telling a reporter merely that “we talked a little bit about everything.”

    And Pelosi and Schumer were still exuding confidence in a political and legislative landscape that’s tilted in their favor. Trump and McConnell both badly want an agreement, but Democrats control the House and may actually provide the lion’s share of votes in the Senate. The votes, as Pelosi often says, are the currency of the realm.

    The Democratic duo has stayed in sync throughout the talks — which they demanded — even reminding reporters Thursday that their relationship dates to Schumer’s time as a hard-charging House member in the 1980s and early 1990s.

    They say the federal coronavirus aid package needs to be huge in order to meet the moment: a surge in cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness, and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

    “We believe the patient needs a major operation while Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid,” Schumer said. “We won’t let them just pass the Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding.”

    After a Wednesday session that produced no progress, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned to Pelosi’s Capitol suite Thursday evening to confront the gulf in their negotiating stances. Both sides have set a goal of agreeing on a deal by week’s end — though that is appearing increasingly out of reach.

    “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have at least some glimmer of hope,” Meadows said entering Pelosi’s office. “If they’re willing to be serious about negotiations, then we’ll reach a deal. The president wants to get a deal. Hopefully, we make more progress today than we have in the last several days.”

    The White House is also promising that Trump will attempt to use executive orders to address elements of the congressional package involving evictions and jobless benefits. But there’s no evidence that the strategy would have much impact or be anything close to what’s necessary, and Pelosi appeared unimpressed at a morning news conference.

    “I don’t think they know what they’re talking about,” Pelosi said dismissively.

    Addressing reporters, Pelosi and Schumer staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their demand for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

    “Don’t nickel and dime our children,” Pelosi said. “Don’t say ‘we want to give a tax break to a business lunch and not give more money for children to have food stamps.’”

    Pelosi was referring to a GOP proposal to increase the deduction for business meals from 50% to 100%. The idea seems likely to die, along with President Donald Trump’s efforts to cut the Social Security payroll tax. But Schumer and Pelosi continue to push to restore a tax break for state and local taxes paid mostly by wealthier people with high incomes and valuable homes.

    McConnell, R-Ky., is likely to have to assume a higher profile if the talks are to come to a successful close, but he issued a grim assessment of the situation on Thursday, again complaining that Pelosi and Schumer are not negotiating in good faith.

    “Day after day, they’ve stonewalled the president’s team. Day by day, they’ve tried to invent new euphemisms to create the illusion of progress,” McConnell said Thursday.

    Frustration was palpable among Republican senators shuttling in and out of a GOP lunch session, some of whom say Schumer is intent on using the situation as a hammer against Republicans. Schumer is desperate to win the Senate majority just as Republicans are desperate to hold on in a terrible political year.

    “As long as they calculate that they’re better off politically doing nothing, it’s going to be hard for us to move forward,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “And that’s the calculation they’ve made, it appears.”

    McConnell is sending the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won’t come until late next week or even after. Progress has been scant in the talks despite more than a week of negotiation.

    White House negotiators made some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to state and local governments in a Tuesday session — and then promptly got scalded by Republicans after details leaked out.

    But Pelosi, a sometimes imperious force whose experience in negotiations is far more extensive than Meadows, will likely have to make some concessions soon. Her dollar figure for aid to states and local governments far exceeds what independent experts such as Moody’s Analytics recommend, for example, and her position in favor of restoring the expensive state and local tax break is probably unsustainable.

    “She’s not going to allow the negotiations to collapse. She knows what the right moment is to pull the trigger and to try and close the deal,” said Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf. “But she also knows when to wait and to let the other side come to you.”


  • Warrant issued for State Rep. Will Dismukes

    MONTGOMERY — A felony arrest warrant has been issued for State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville), Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey announced in a Thursday press conference.

    The warrant is for first-degree theft of property, a Class B felony. The freshman state legislator allegedly stole more than $2,500 from a former employer, Weiss Flooring in Alabama’s capital city.

    Bailey said Dismukes has not yet been arrested and has until Thursday at 4:00 p.m. CT to turn himself in.

    The district attorney reminded the public that a warrant represents “a mere allegation” and that Dismukes remains presumed innocent “until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.”

    Bailey advised “the alleged amount is a lot more than” $2,500 stolen. He added that he was limited on providing specifics on the case and the allegations at this time.

    The DA advised that the business owners brought the allegation to authorities. The time period of the alleged offense was “from 2016 to 2018,” per Bailey.

    Dismukes reportedly told WSFA that he is innocent.

    The state representative from Autauga County has come under fire recently for his participation in a celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

    According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Weiss Flooring made the complaint on May 20, which would have been before Dismukes initially made headlines for Confederate-related issues. Authorities have since that date been investigating, leading to a warrant being signed on Thursday.

    While Dismukes has rejected bipartisan calls for him to resign over his recent controversies, a felony conviction would automatically remove him from office.

    In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) reacted to the news.

    “If true, it is disappointing when a public official, elected with the confidence of the people, abuses that trust. I support the letter of the law, and no one is above it – especially those in public office,” the governor stated.

    Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan released a statement on Dismukes.

    “We expect our elected officials, regardless of Party, to follow the laws of our state and nation,” she commented. “No one is immune to these standards. It is very disappointing to hear of these allegations. This is now a legal matter and it must run its course.”

    Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn


  • Students return to the classroom at Saraland City Schools

    SARALAND, Ala. (WKRG) — Students in Saraland headed back to the classroom Thursday morning. The district is one of the first in Alabama to reopen after closing in March.

    District leaders expect about 88% of their students to be back in the classroom.

    Saraland City Schools offers two learning environments parents can select for their child. One that is ‘traditional on-campus’ classroom, or a ‘learn-at-home’ approach. 

    There is a lot of excitement for the school system as they welcome students back to the classroom for the first time since March.

    Saraland Elementary School is decorated to welcome its students back to the classroom.

    Buses are running, but it is requested for parents who can transport their children to do so. Masks are required on the bus.

    But, the school system warns students will experience a ‘new normal’ until the pandemic subsides.

    The school system has sent out a summary of their COVID-19 precautions. They first ask parents to keep their students home if anyone in their family is experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, as a precaution. And if anyone tests positive for the virus, contact the school nurse. The Mobile County Health Department will conduct contact tracing.

    Classrooms will be set up differently, to allow for social distancing, by maximizing the space between desks.

    Thermal scanning thermometers have been distributed across Saraland schools. Students will have their temperatures checked periodically.

    Masks are required for children 6 and older. The school system says students will wear masks in hallways, and anytime moving around the school, going by the phrase “when you move, you mask.”

    Masks will be provided to students when they don’t have their own.

    For high school students who drive themselves to school are required to stay in their cars until they hear the bell at 7:20 am. Otherwise, if they are dropped off, they will go straight to their homeroom.

    For a full breakdown of the rules CLICK HERE. For a letter from Saraland’s Superintendent CLICK HERE. To see the student handbook CLICK HERE.


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