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Senate Democrats to push multi-pronged domestic security bill

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U.S. Senate Democrats plan to unveil a package of proposals this week to tighten domestic security in the wake of the mass shooting in California that killed 14 people and injured 21, according to a Senate Democratic source on Sunday.

One part of the plan, according to the source, attempts to make airports safe by beefing up Transportation Security Administration operations. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson has been pushing a bill to improve screenings of TSA employees.

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Overall, the package would put Democrats out in front politically on an issue that is moving to center stage in Congress since the San Bernardino shootings.

Meanwhile, another Democratic aide said there is a strong possibility that the renewal of a range of U.S. intelligence programs could be included in a must-pass government spending bill lawmakers hope to complete in coming days.

Republicans have criticized Democratic President Barack Obama for not being tough enough against the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for an attack in Paris last month.

The married couple blamed for the California attack, killed by police hours after the rampage, may have been followers of Islamic State, according to social media postings and law enforcement. But there is no evidence yet that they were working in coordination with the militant group.

Other elements of the Democrats’ package will include initiatives already unveiled, including making it harder for people on “terror watch lists” to buy weapons and explosives.

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That measure is opposed by the powerful National Rifle Association and many Republicans, who argue that innocent people, who have no intention of committing violent acts, can mistakenly end up on the watch lists.

Last week, Republicans blocked this proposal.

Another element, which Republicans are expressing support for, would tighten a visa waiver program enjoyed by travelers in 38 countries, many in Europe. It would require visa interviews for people in those countries if they have recently traveled to Iraq or Syria.

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The aide said other provisions, which were not detailed, would be taken from bills that have been under consideration in the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees.

Democrats are in the minority in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, decides what bills come to the chamber for debate and votes.

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Last month, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impose new restrictions on an Obama program aimed at bringing thousands of Syrian refugees to the United States. Critics in Congress said it would make it impossible to administer the program.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Andrew Hay)


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Melania Trump statue torched near her Slovenian hometown: report

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On Wednesday, The Daily Beast reported that a wooden statue of First Lady Melania Trump carved from a tree outside her hometown in Slovenia last year has been burned to the ground.

"The artist who had commissioned the sculpture, Brad Downey, had the statue removed on July 5," reported Madeline Charbonneau. "Downey, who is American but works out of Berlin, had hoped his statue of the first lady would create dialogue about American politics, given that Melania Trump is an immigrant married to a president who seeks to stem immigration. Though the investigation is still pending, Downey said he hopes to interview the perpetrators for an upcoming exhibition."

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FBI investigating Chinese businessman who bankrolled media company linked to Steve Bannon

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A Wall Street Journal expose revealed that a Chinese businessman is under investigation by the FBI after he used funds to bankroll a media company with ties to a former aide to President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon.

"Federal Bureau of Investigation national security agents in recent months have asked people who know both men for information on Mr. Guo’s activities, including the source of funds of a media company linked to him that hired Mr. Bannon in 2018 as a consultant, the people said," according to the Journal. "As recently as last week, the FBI met with one person familiar with the companies tied to Mr. Guo, the people said. The probe has been underway for more than six months, and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn have been involved.

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Mike Pompeo asks Egypt to stop harassing US citizens

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday welcomed Egypt's release of a US citizen but urged the ally to stop harassment of others.

Mohamed Amashah, 24, was freed Monday, nearly 16 months after he was arrested in Cairo's Tahrir Square for holding up a sign seeking the release of prisoners, according to human rights campaigners.

A dual US-Egyptian citizen who lives in New Jersey, he had gone on a hunger strike this year to protest his conditions.

"We thank Egypt for securing his release and his repatriation," Pompeo told a news conference.

"But at the same time, we urge Egyptian officials to stop unwarranted harassment of US citizens and their families who remain there," he said.

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