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Trump says shutdown could last for 'months or even years'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Friday he could keep parts of the government shut down for "months or even years" as he and Democratic leaders failed in a second closed-door meeting to resolve his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico. They did agree to a new round of weekend talks between staff members and White House officials.

Trump met in the White House Situation Room with congressional leaders from both parties as the shutdown hit the two-week mark amid an impasse over his wall demands. Democrats emerged from the roughly two-hour meeting, which both sides said was contentious at times, to report little if any progress.

The standoff also prompted economic jitters and anxiety among some in Trump's own party. But he appeared in the Rose Garden to frame the upcoming weekend talks as progress, while making clear he would not reopen the government.

"We won't be opening until it's solved," Trump said. "I don't call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country."

Trump said he could declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval, but would first try a "negotiated process." Trump previously described the situation at the border as a "national emergency" before he dispatched active-duty troops in what critics described as a pre-election stunt.

Trump also said the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay would want him to "keep going" and fight for border security. Asked how people would manage without a financial safety net, he declared: "The safety net is going to be having a strong border because we're going to be safe."

Democrats, on the other hand, spoke of families unable to pay bills and called on Trump to reopen the government while negotiations continue. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "It's very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government."

Friday's White House meeting with Trump included eight congressional leaders — the top two Democrats and Republicans of both chambers. People familiar with the session described Trump as holding forth at length on a range of subjects but said he made clear he was firm in his demand for $5.6 billion in wall funding and in rejecting the Democrats' request to reopen the government.

Trump confirmed that he privately told Democrats the shutdown could drag on for months or years, though he said he hoped it wouldn't last that long. Said Trump: "I hope it doesn't go on even beyond a few more days."

House Democrats muscled through legislation Thursday night to fund the government but not Trump's proposed wall. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said those measures are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president's support.

A variety of strategies are being floated inside and outside the White House, among them trading wall funding for a deal on immigrants brought to the country as young people and now here illegally, or using a national emergency declaration to build the wall. While Trump made clear during his press conference that talk on DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) would have to wait and that he was trying to negotiate with Congress on the wall, the conversations underscored rising Republican anxiety about just how to exit the shutdown.

Seeking to ease concerns, the White House sought to frame the weekend talks as a step forward, as did McConnell, who described plans for a "working group," though people familiar with the meeting said that phrase never actually came up. Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner to work with a congressional delegation over the weekend. That meeting is set for 11 a.m. today, the White House said.

Some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort with the shutdown in recent days, including Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, putting additional pressure on Republicans.

But with staff level talks there is always an open question of whether Trump's aides are fully empowered to negotiate for the president. Earlier this week, he rejected his own administration's offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer.

During his free-wheeling session with reporters, Trump also wrongly claimed that he'd never called for the wall to be concrete. Trump did so repeatedly during his campaign, describing a wall of pre-cast concrete sections that would be higher than the walls of many of his rally venues. He repeated that promise just days ago.

"An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!," he tweeted on Dec. 31.

Trump was joined by Pence in the Rose Garden, as well as House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise. McConnell, who went back to the Capitol, unaware of the press conference, said it was encouraging that the White House officials and the congressional contingent would meet over the weekend "to see if they can reach an agreement and then punt it back to us for final sign off."

Schumer said that if McConnell and Senate Republicans stay on the sidelines, "Trump can keep the government shut down for a long time."

"The president needs an intervention," Schumer said. "And Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene."

Stocks swing to huge gains after jobs report, trade talks

NEW YORK — Global stocks soared Friday and reversed the big losses they suffered just a day earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 746 points in the latest twist in a wild three months for markets.

Hopes for progress in the U.S.-China trade dispute, a strong report on the U.S. jobs market and encouraging comments from the head of the U.S. central bank about its interest rate policy all combined to cheer investors.

China's Commerce Ministry said trade talks will be held Monday and Tuesday in Beijing, and investors will again look for signs the world's largest economic powers are resolving their dispute. The tensions have dragged on for nearly a year, slowing business and dragging down stock indexes worldwide.

The talks are going ahead despite tension over the arrest of a Chinese tech executive in Canada on U.S. charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.

The two governments have expressed interest in a settlement but have given no indication that their stances have shifted. After several tit-for-tat tariff increases last year, Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed Dec. 1 to postpone further hikes.

The two countries hope to have "positive and constructive discussions," said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang.

Meanwhile the Labor Department said U.S. employers added 312,000 jobs last month, a far stronger result than experts had anticipated. U.S. stocks have tumbled since October as investors worried that the economy might slow down dramatically because of challenges including the trade dispute and rising interest rates.

The nation's unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.9 percent last month, but that, too, was considered a positive sign, reflecting an increase in Americans beginning to look for work. And average hourly pay improved 3.2 percent from a year ago.

Trump called the job growth "GREAT" on Twitter.

The torrid hiring in December far outstripped the 180,000 jobs investors had been anticipating and could help ease fears that the economy's expansion — now in the middle of its 10th year — may be coming to an end.

"The labor market is very strong even though the economy appears to be slowing," said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at the investment management firm AllianceBernstein. "Those two things cannot coexist for very long. Either weakening demand will lead firms to dial back the pace of hiring or the robust pace of hiring will lead firms to ramp back up production."

The stock market's plunge had threatened to shake up the confidence and the spending plans of businesses and consumers. Some analysts said investors were acting as if a recession was on the horizon, despite a lack of evidence that the U.S. economy is struggling.

"It's hard to square recession worries with the strongest job growth we've seen in years," said Alec Young, managing director of global markets research for FTSE Russell.

Stocks rose even further after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will be flexible in deciding if and when it raises interest rates, adding that he wouldn't resign if asked to so by Trump. Both of those messages cheered stock market investors who had been worried about Trump's repeated attacks on his hand-picked choice to lead the nation's central bank.

Powell also said the Fed is open to making changes in the way it shrinks its giant portfolio of bonds, which affects rates on long-term loans such as mortgages.

Until recently, the Fed had suggested it planned to raise short-term interest rates three times this year and next, and Powell said the Fed's balance sheet was shrinking "on auto-pilot." Wall Street feared that the Fed might be moving too fast in raising borrowing costs, said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors.

The Fed's interest-rate and bond portfolio policies "were at the top of the list of things we were concerned about, which is why the statement Powell made today is so supportive of the market," Orlando said. "The Fed understands that what they attempted to communicate last month was inartful, that they didn't get the right message across, and Powell tried to reset."

The S&P 500 index climbed 84.05 points, or 3.4 percent, to 2,531.94, more than wiping out Thursday's loss. The Dow rose 3.3 percent to 23,433.16 after gaining 832 during the afternoon. The Nasdaq composite jumped 275.35 points, or 4.3 percent, to 6,738.86.

About 90 percent of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange traded higher.

Stocks sank Thursday after Apple said iPhone sales in China are falling, partly because of the trade fight, and a survey suggested U.S. factories grew at a weaker pace. Technology companies took their biggest losses in seven years.

The U.S. and China have raised tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods in a fight over issues including Beijing's technology policy. Last month, President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to 90-day ceasefire as a step toward defusing tensions, but that failed to calm the stock market.

Technology companies, banks, health care and industrial companies all made strong gains. Most of the companies in those industries stand to do better in times of faster economic growth.

Smaller and more U.S.-focused companies did even better than larger multinationals. The Russell 2000 index surged 49.92 points, or 3.8 percent, to 1,380.75. Smaller companies have fallen further than larger ones in the last few months as investors got nervous about how the U.S. economy will perform in 2019 and 2020.

Stocks have whipsawed between huge gains and losses for the last few weeks after their big December plunge. Katie Nixon, the chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management, said investors will continue to react to the health of the economy, and to concerns about high levels of corporate debt as interest rates rise.

"We don't expect that this will be the end to the volatility," she said. "There's mounting evidence we're going to see a slowdown," albeit not a severe one.

Board defers decision on objections to 2 Pinckneyville City Council candidates, will meet again next week

PINCKNEYVILLE — Arguments, sometimes passionate ones, were given to the Pinckneyville Municipal Officers Electoral Board, contesting two candidates’ eligibility to run in the April City Council race.

The challenges were to Jamie Benbrook's bid for the city's police commissioner and Brad Hirte's petition for streets and public improvement commissioner, respectively. 

The board determined that a decision could be not made in either case Friday. Another hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Jeffrey Scholebo testified first — he was contesting the eligibility of former Pickneyville police officer Jamie Benbrook’s run for police commissioner. He argued that Benbrook had not been a resident of the city for one year prior to turning in his petition.

Scholebo provided as evidence a copy of the warranty deed to Benbrook’s Pinckneyville home that was signed last year and a note from his previous Du Quoin landlord.

He also brought Pinckneyville police officer John Morgan to testify that between April and June of 2018 he and other officers drove Benbrook to and from work from a residence in Du Quoin.

David Stone, the city’s commissioner of public property, asked Scholebo why he was interested in the matter — did he care that much about who ran for police commissioner?

“I just don’t feel he deserves it,” Scholebo said. “I honestly feel he’s crooked.”

After the meeting, Scholebo declined to elaborate on why he felt Benbrook was crooked.

In 2012, Benbrook came under fire when video surfaced showing him giving a pass to the then-mayor's son after he crashed his truck while under the influence of alcohol. Benbrook got a one-day suspension, six months of probation, and was ordered to attend a field sobriety detection class after the incident.

Benbrook resigned his position last year.

No one was present at the hearing Friday to speak on Benbrook’s behalf.

The second hearing took up two objections to Brad Hirte’s petition to run for the city’s streets and public improvement commissioner position.

Tim Simpson filed the complaints and offered two areas he saw as disqualifying: Simpson simply wrote on his petition that he was running for 'streets commissioner', instead of writing the complete title. And, Simpson said, he found an error noted on Hirte's petition.

Simpson argued that the people signing his petition might have been misled, thinking there was another position available for public improvement commissioner.

Simpson also pointed to an error marked by a notary on his application. He said this should have been corrected and fresh paperwork turned back in.

The board asked if he had any case law to present to back up his claims. Simpson did not.

There to defend himself, Hirte pointed out that on one of the objections to his petition, Simpson’s address was written as “Mission Street,” which does not exist within the city and could have made the objection null.

“I think it’s Missouri, if you know how to read,” Simpson shouted from the back of the room.

It was noted that this particular objection did list Mission Street — however, Simpson was assured that because his second objection included the contents of the first, he was not in danger of having his grievance tossed out on those grounds.

As to the error on Hirte’s petition, Hirte explained that this was a blank that the notary had accidentally filled in with her name and had written “error” pointing out her own mistake, not Hirte’s.

This wasn’t accepted as evidence, though, because the notary was not there to testify to this herself and the comment was therefore considered hearsay.

Johnston City
New Johnston City mayor hopes to build on progress made by his predecessor

JOHNSTON CITY — In his first day on the job as mayor of Johnston City, Doug Dobbins said his primary goal is to build on the progress made for the city by his friend and predecessor.

“We’ve been friends for a long time. I wouldn’t be on the council if it weren’t for him,” he said of Jim Mitchell, Johnston City’s mayor for the past eight years, who died in office this week.

On Thursday evening, the Johnston City Council voted to name Dobbins as Mitchell’s replacement. He will fill out the remaining two years of the term; the mayor's seat will be on the ballot again in 2021. 



Dobbins said that during Mitchell's years leading the city, he formed a team to help stabilize the city’s affairs. “He put us in the right direction and we’ve been headed that way ever since,” Dobbins said. “Hopefully, we can keep the ship righted in the direction Jim started it in.”

Dobbins has served as a Johnston City alderman for about eight months, he said, after he was appointed to fill a vacancy. 

Dobbins is a mining engineer, and is currently working for American Coal Co. to reclaim its shuttered coal mine in Galatia. He has lived in Johnston City for 60 years. He and his wife raised three children there, and they have six grandchildren.

Dobbins said he never gave any previous thought to being mayor, but believes it is important that someone steps up to lead Johnston City in carrying forward Mitchell’s legacy. Dobbins said there is a good team in place in the city to do that.

Mitchell, 74, died Tuesday at Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion with his family by his side. Dobbins said that he will miss Mitchell’s friendship and leadership. According to his son, Mitchell fought a yearslong battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

“Jim Mitchell literally ate, slept and breathed Johnston City,” Dobbins said. “He loved this place, and liked serving the people,” he said. Dobbins said he welcomes feedback from citizens on how to grow business in town or any other initiatives or concerns they want to speak with him about.

Johnston City, population 3,543, employs about 40 full- and part-time employees, including council members and the mayor.