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A nuclear vote that previews debates to come

Amy Harder

WASHINGTON DC: A bipartisan Senate bill subsidizing existing nuclear power plants and backing new kinds of such technology passed a congressional committee late on Wednesday.

Why it matters: It won’t become law before year’s end, but it’s likely to resurface in 2021 as an example of the type of bipartisan compromise expected under a divided Congress with President-elect Joe Biden in the White House.

Where it stands: 16 senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee supported the measure, and five (all Democrats) opposed the measure, called America’s Nuclear Infrastructure Act.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), declined to comment on whether he would bring it to the floor before this Co-ngress is over in the coming weeks, but it’s unlikely given the bigger debates on economic stimulus.

Analysts at the nonpartisan ClearView Energy Partners said in a research note to clients on Wednesday that the bill is likely to be reintroduced and “may represent an initial area of potential cooperation. Indeed, this year’s action may be positioning it for inclusion in next year’s likely climate-conscious stimulus debate.”

How it works: The bill would create an Environmental Protection Agency system that financially supports existing nuclear power plants that may shut down before federal licenses require due to economic pressures.

Other components include a program to encourage competition around advancing new nuclear power technology and efforts to streamline the review process for that type of tech.

The bill garnered an unusually broad coalition of lawmakers and interest groups, including labor groups and some environmentalists, who support the jobs and carbon-free power nuclear provides.

Yes, but: At least two letters were sent by two different sets of environmental groups expressing opposition, citing several concerns, including safety.

One letter was signed by more than 100 organizations, many of them smaller and local, categorically opposed to government support for nuclear power.

The other was by three of America’s most influential environmental groups also opposing the bill, but noting that subsidies for existing nuclear should “only be considered as part of a broader suite of policies that also support renewables and efficiency.”

What I’m watching: Whether such a bargain surfaces next year. One of Washington’s most influential progressive leaders, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), also made such a comment in Wednesday’s meeting.

“I’d be willing to talk about a program to support nuclear power, but you can’t just have one side of the conversation,” said Markey, referring to how Republicans weren’t supporting wind and solar subsidies.

Given Democrats still control the House, it’s likely any deal with this measure would need to have a hefty renewable-energy component too to pass.

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Zalmay heads off to Qatar and Turkey

F.P. Report

WASHINGTON DC: U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad departed for Ankara on December 2. In Turkey, he will discuss international coordination and Turkish support for Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, confirmed the U.S State Department in a press release.

The officials have stated that during his stop in Qatar, Ambassador Khalilzad will meet with the two Afghan parties as they move into the next phase of negotiations following the successful conclusion of an agreement on rules and procedures.

It is imperative the parties build on the current momentum and accelerate their work to reach agreement on a political roadmap and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire cited the press release.

After this United States Special envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad will also travel in the region to gather support for Afghanistan Peace Negotiations. This visit comes after yesterdays breakthrough agreement signed between the Afghanistan government and The Taliban’s in Doha.

Over this Khalilzad stated that, the agreement is three pages codifying “rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire,” tweeted Zalmay Khalilzad.

The United States special envoy for Afghanistan has played a critical role in the talks; he further added “this agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues.

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Ivanka deposed in suit involving inaugural body’s alleged misuse of funds

Shawna Chen

WASHINGTON DC: Ivanka Trump was deposed in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the possible abuse of inaugural funds, according to a court filing.

The Washington, D.C. attorney general’s office sued the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) in January, alleging the committee misused over $1 million in payments to the Trump hotel in D.C. for event space during the president’s 2017 inauguration. Those funds “flowed directly to the Trump family,” the lawsuit claims.

What’s new: The First Daughter confirmed that she was deposed in a tweet Thursday.

“This week I spent 5+ hours in a deposition with the Democrat D.C. AG’s office where they questioned the rates changed by the Trump Hotel at the inauguration. I shared with them an email from 4 years ago where I sent instructions to the hotel to charge “a fair market rate” (See below) which the hotel then did,” she wrote.

“This ‘inquiry’ is another politically motivated demonstration of vindictiveness & waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The big picture: Multiple people warned the Trump family about the possible impropriety of holding events at the president’s own hotel.

In December 2016, former inaugural committee deputy chair Rick Gates told Ivanka Trump that he was “a bit worried about the optics” of such transactions.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a contractor and event planner for the PIC, was also concerned that the committee was “vastly overpaying” for the hotel, per the filing.

The costs — $175,000 daily for four days of event space — were at least twice the market rate, according to Wolkoff.

Though she shared these concerns with Donald and Ivanka Trump, as well as Gates, they moved ahead with the payments.

Context: Ivanka Trump is one of many witnesses in this investigation.

Tom Barrack, chair of the inaugural committee, was questioned on Nov. 17, the court filing states.

Wolkoff is expected for a deposition next week.

The attorney general’s office has also subpoenaed records from Barrack, Ivanka Trump, Gates and the first lady.

What to watch: It’s unclear what will come of this lawsuit, but it adds to ongoing criticism of the Trump White House’s relationship with the president’s business endeavors. (Axios)

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Is Trump ‘foolish enough’ to veto defense bill?

WASHINGTON (Agenc-ies): House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said he believes it’s still possible President Donald Trump would veto the annual defense policy bill but warned it “would be a huge political mistake.”

“I’m not unhappy when President Trump makes political mistakes, but I want this bill in law,” Smith, D-Wash., told Defense News in an interview Wednesday. “So, I hope the president realizes that this would be a mistake both substantively and politically. But I am the last person on Earth who could control that decision.”

The comments came as Congress moved forward on the must-pass authorization bill, apparently defying Trump’s threats to veto it over its inclusion of language requiring several bases named after Confederate leaders be renamed and for its exclusion of a repeal of the legal immunity for online companies. Democrats, and some Republicans, said publicly Wednesday it would be wrong for Trump to veto the popular bill.

The House and Senate versions (which were reconciled Wednesday after months of negotiations) initially passed by veto-proof majorities, and Smith predicted that Republicans would vote to override in the event of a veto. Beyond the bill’s role in setting military personnel and acquisition policy, and securing a pay raise for troops, Smith touted its inclusion of new benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

“[Military construction] projects, pay and bonuses, making sure troops can continue to train as they’re supposed to?I think all of that is important, and Republicans are not going to want to vote against the defense bill,” Smith said, adding that Senate Republican leaders have endorsed it.

“If the president is foolish enough to veto it, I think they’ve staked out their ground very clearly,” Smith said of congressional Republicans. “They’re not going to vote for [earlier versions] going out [of the House and Senate] and then change because it’s an override.”

With the veto threat unresolved, however, Smith said he wanted to avoid the fate of wide receiver DK Metcalf, who blew a touchdown in the Seattle Seahawks matchup with the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 27, when he celebrated just before the goal and fumbled the ball.

“I believe in the phrase, ‘Finish the play.’” It’s a good step,” Smith said of a compromise conference report unveiled Wednesday, “but before it’s actually in law, I will not be celebrating.”

Trump tweeted late Tuesday that he would veto the bill unless it included Section 230 in a continuation in his running battle with social media firms over their alleged anti-conservative biases. That put Republicans in a tight spot as they aim to hold onto the support of the president and their base ahead of runoff elections In Georgia.

Smith echoed criticisms that, despite desires from the left and right to address Section 230, the issue’s complex nature requires Congress to arrive at a more deliberate fix than the White House’s 11th-hour proposal.

“He’s been president for four years, and has never done anything [legislatively] on the issue … until literally three weeks ago, when [White House Chief of Staff] Mark Meadows called me up and said he wanted to stick it on the defense bill,” Smith said, adding: “I think this is an issue we need to look at. This is not the place to look at it.”

In a floor speech Wednesday night, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., was more conciliatory toward Trump but similarly resolute the issue had no place in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Without mentioning Trump’s veto threat, he argued that including Section 230 repeal would endanger the bill, which is “about making sure our troops are cared for.”

Inhofe pledged “to do everything possible” to repeal Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, but “through other means.”

“President Trump is right, totally. Repeal is the only answer and we’re going to make sure we get this thing done. Not on the defense authorization bill, but any of the other vehicles that came along,” Inhofe said of Section 230.

In a possible sign that Trump may be backing off his veto threat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to bring the compromise NDAA to a floor vote, as is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Lawmakers were signing the compromise conference report on Wednesday, but the timing of votes in the House and Senate hadn’t been set by congressional leaders.

Inhofe told reporters he believed the Senate would take up the bill early next week, while Smith said separately he thought the House would vote before the Senate.

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany doubled down on Trump’s threat over Section 230.

“The president is serious about it,” she said at White House news conference Wednesday. “He is going to put pressure on Congress to step up on this.”

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PM calls Prince Charles

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday held a telephonic conversation with Prince Charles of Wales and exchanged views on bilateral relations, issues of mutual interest including Covid-19, climate change and biodiversity.

During the telephonic conversation, the prime minister expressed condolences on the loss of precious lives in the United Kingdom due to Covid-19 and underlined that international cooperation was pivotal for success in fight against the pandemic.

He said that Pakistan has been able to mitigate the deleterious impacts of Covid-19 on health and economy through national coordinated efforts, smart lockdowns and implementation of SOPs.

The prime minister underlined that Climate Change being one of the most pressing issues of our times, Pakistan was committed to work with the global community to tackle this problem. He briefed the Prince of Wales on steps taken by the government to address the challenges of Climate Change, highlighting the launching of ‘Eco-System Restoration Initiative’, including 10 Billion Tree Plantation Project as well as establishment of national parks under Protected Areas Initiative. The prime minister extended invitation to the Prince of Wales to visit Pakistan along with the Duchess of Cornwall.

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SC directs KP govt to activate waste disposal project in two months

ISLAMABAD (APP): The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to activate industrial and hospitals waste disposal project within two months.

A two-member bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan heard the suo moto notice case regarding disposal of hospitals waste.

During the course of proceedings, a representative of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government submitted the provincial government report.

The Chief Justice said that it had been 72 years but the governments had not been able to build a sewage system in the country yet. The administration was not able to built drainage systems, he added.

He said that the governments had to go to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for everything. It was beyond understanding that when would the country be self-sufficient in some area, he added.

The Chief Justice directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore the project regarding disposal of industrial and hospitals waste or else the court would summon the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The KP government official said that the Asian Development Bank would provide $ 475 million funds for the waste disposal project. The project included water filtration plants and sewage plants, he added.

Addressing the official the Chief Justice asked did he knew how much money this was? If so much money was spent on the province, the situation of KP would change, he added.

He observed that vehicles were called for the project but nothing really happened on ground.

The court directed the KP government to submit progress report over the matter and adjourned hearing of the case for one month.

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NAB kicks off new investigation against Dar

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: On Thursday the Executive Board Meeting presided over by NAB Chairman Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal was held. In this meeting the authorities approved filing two corruption references, three investigations, seven inquires, transferring some investigations to parent departments for further action. It was also decided that inquiry against CDA officers should be closed due to absence of evidence.

In addition, National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) Executive Board Meeting (EBM) has given approval of initiating a new investigation against former finance Minister Ishaq Dar and former Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Syed Mehdi Shah on graft charges.

Moreover the official authorities have also revealed that the forum agreed over approval of filing corruption reference against Asadullah Faiz, former director Estate Management, CDA, Shahid Murtaza Bukhari, former deputy director general Estate Management, CDA, Muhammad Arshad, DAO Estate Management , CDA, Maqbool Ahmed, former accounts officer Estate Management, CDA, Attaur Rehman, Saeedur Rehman, Munawar Ahmed and Muhammad Ahmed.

The reason given for filing corruption references includes accusations of illegally allotting and commercializing a plot reserved for clinic.

This caused a huge loss of around Rs 91.964 million to the national exchequer.

Furthermore, the sources stated that in this meeting it was also decided and approved that the EBM approved filing another corruption reference against AS Babar Hashmi, former ambassador, embassy of Pakistan at Sofia, Tufail Qazi, former accountant Embassy of Pakistan, Sofia.

These cases are based on the allegation of their involvement in misappropriation of embassy funds and causing millions of rupee losses to the national exchequer.

In addition to this, EBM also accorded approval for conducting three investigations against several persons including two investigations against Syed Talat Mehmood, Chief Executive Officer, Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (ADBP) and approved investigations against the officers/officials of Pakistan Sports Board, Liaquat Gymnasium.

In this meeting, the the EBM also approved conducting seven inquiries against various personalities including Ishaq Dar, former finance minister, Syed Mehdi Shah, former, chief minister Gilgit-Baltistan, Syed Talat Mehmood, chief executive officer, Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) and others, officers/officials and others of Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Malik Tanvir Aslam Awan, former member of provincial assembly, Punjab and others, Nimra Tanveer, Raheela Asghar, Asghar Nawaz, Messers Geo Masters, Private Limited, management of Geo Masters International, Limited and others.

The EBM also gave green signal over sending ongoing investigations being conducted against Dr Manzoor Hussain, former Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, Government of Pakistan, officers, officials and others of Ministry of Science and Technology to the Ministry of Science and Technology for further action.

Regarding the Pakistan Embassy in Japan, the EBM accorded approval to transferring the sale issue of the building of Pakistan Embassy in Japan to Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further action.

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JCP recommends Babar, Tariq as IHC judges

ISLAMABAD (APP): The Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) has recommended Babar Sattar and Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri as additional judges of the Islamabad High Court.

The committee met on Thursday under the Chairmanship of Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

Senior most judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice and senior most judge of the Islamabad High Court, law Minister, Attorney General, Member of Pakistan Bar Council and Islamabad Bar Council attended the meeting.

Under Article 175-A of the Constitution, JCP recommended for the appointment and confirmation of the judges, whereas the Parliamentary Committee on Judges Appointment endorses these recommendations.