U.S. warns foreign companies doing business with Venezuela

WASHINGTON (McClatchy) — The Trump administration is taking steps to punish anyone doing business with the Venezuelan defense sector — including foreign entities trying to quell dissent by shutting down the internet. It's the latest effort by the administration to ratchet up pressure on the Caracas government and oust Nicolas Maduro from power.

The U.S. government has initiated the legal authority to sanction any entity, foreign or domestic, that does business with the Venezuelan defense or security services, a senior administration official told a small group of reporters Friday.

The official warned that foreign companies doing business with Venezuela should be "treading lightly on that front."

"So if you're a Russian company that is doing business, whether it's on spare parts or supplying them, if you're Spanish company supplying Venezuelan military or security services with any products, you will be subject to sanctions," the official said.

The measures were announced Friday by the Treasury Department as part of a series of steps that also targeted two vessels which transported oil from Venezuela to Cuba.


House passes disaster aid package

WASHINGTON — The House passed a $19.2 billion disaster aid package to help victims of recent storms and flooding rebuild, with the price tag growing by about $1.8 billion on the floor through amendments to add funds for repairing damaged military facilities, highways, levees, dams and more.

The vote was 257-150, with 34 Republicans crossing the aisle to support the bill drafted by the Democratic majority.

President Donald Trump and GOP leaders tried to tamp down defections on the bill, which they oppose because it would pump more money into Puerto Rico, which hasn't yet been able to spend much of the $20 billion previously appropriated after 2017's Hurricane Maria.

Republicans are focused on the Senate, where bipartisan negotiations are ongoing on a separate aid package. The White House and Republicans want to impose more financial controls on Puerto Rico's management of funds run through the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program.


States spend big on make-or-break 2020 census

WASHINGTON (CQ Roll Call) — Freed from the budget constraints that dogged them during the last census and with a growing understanding of what accurate population counts mean for the possibility of federal dollars, states are spending at an unprecedented rate to boost census outreach.

California has already allocated more than $100 million on efforts aimed at getting all its residents counted in the 2020 census. No state approaches that total, but 10 others have enacted laws to spend a total of $31.7 million to make sure as many residents as possible are counted, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That total could soon grow by $22.5 million if governors in Colorado, Georgia and Washington sign bills passed by their legislatures. Six other states have legislation pending that would allocate $112 million. That doesn't include a proposal from California Gov. Gavin Newsom to add $54 million for next year.

Thirty states have also set up complete count committees, according to the NCSL. Such committees are tasked with outreach to county, municipal and community organizations that can help make sure more people are counted.

States are convinced the federal government will not contribute what it did in 2010.

There's also a growing recognition of the value of an accurate count, and the cost of missing out on almost $900 billion per year in federal grants for transportation, social services, education and other programs.

In addition to the prospect of missing out on federal dollars, states are at risk of losing congressional seats as part of the census process.

Much of the focus of states is on so-called hard-to-count residents, including immigrants, lower-income families and individuals, and people living in remote rural areas.


U.S.-China trade war worsens

BEIJING (LA Times) — The Trump administration's abrupt Chinese tariff hike Friday raises strong doubts on whether the world's two largest economies can reach a deal to quell their escalating trade war in the coming weeks.

Senior U.S. and Chinese trade officials met over two days in Washington, but talks broke off Friday without signs that they were any closer to resolving their differences.

President Donald Trump tweeted that the discussions were "candid and constructive" and that his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping "remains a very strong one."

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He told Chinese journalists before leaving Washington on Friday that the two sides would meet again in Beijing for another round of talks, but there was no word on when it would take place.

Trump said Friday that he was in no hurry for a deal.

"There is absolutely no need to rush," he wrote in a Twitter message in which he praised the tariffs he's already slapped on Chinese goods and touted how much more he can impose.

If trade negotiators do not reach a deal in coming weeks, the U.S., Chinese and global economies will be hurt, say analysts, who assume both sides will find a way to end the impasse.

"My baseline scenario is that both leaders still need a deal for political reasons, so we are likely to get one in the next few weeks, but it won't be this week," said Arthur Kroeber of Gavekal Dragonomics, a financial research firm headquartered in Hong Kong. "The maneuvering right now is mainly end-of-negotiation stuff. But both sides are playing brinkmanship pretty hard so there is material risk (say 20 to 25%) that we don't get a deal."