House to deliver Trump impeachment charge on Monday, rejecting Republican push for time

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will deliver an impeachment charge against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, rejecting Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s request for a delay.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who displaced McConnell as the chamber’s leader after Democrats won two Georgia runoff elections this month, announced the move on the Senate floor but did not say when Trump’s second impeachment trial would begin.

“The House will deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate. The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Friday.

That came the morning after McConnell asked the House to delay sending the charges until next Thursday, and to agree not to start the trial until mid-February to give Trump more time to prepare a defense against the charge that he incited insurrection by his followers who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” McConnell said on Friday. “The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself.”

The moves come as Schumer and McConnell are struggling to assert control in a 50-50 chamber where Democrats hold now hold a razor-thin majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

The trial could distract from Democratic President Joe Biden’s efforts to push an ambitious legislative agenda through Congress, including nearly $2 trillion in fresh COVID-19 relief for Americans and U.S. businesses, as well as the need to confirm his Cabinet nominees.

Trump last week became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, and when the Senate convenes for his trial will be the first president to be tried after leaving office.

Ten House Republicans joined Democrats on Jan. 13 in impeaching him. The support of at least 17 Senate Republicans would be needed to convict him; a separate vote would then be needed to ban him from running for office again.

Such a vote could signal that senior Republicans were eager to remove Trump as the de facto leader of their party; he has said he may seek to run again in 2024.

Trump’s fate ultimately could depend on McConnell, whose position is likely to influence other Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Republican said this week that the mob was “fed lies” and “provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Filibuster face-off: Schumer, McConnell at loggerheads over U.S. Senate power sharing

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A standoff between new U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and the man he replaced, Republican Mitch McConnell, over a core rule of Senate operations has kept the two from reaching a deal on how to manage the 50-50 chamber.

Schumer is resisting McConnell’s demand for a promise to protect the long-standing Senate rule requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to advance most legislation, known as the legislative filibuster.

Their argument is holding up the basic organization and work of the Senate as it begins the new year with 50 senators from each party. Committees have not reorganized to accommodate new members.

“Things are on hold. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do,” the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, told reporters on Thursday.

Democrats have the majority in the Senate because the new vice president, Democrat Kamala Harris, can vote in case of a tie.

But she cannot be expected to be there every day to decide every dispute. So Schumer and McConnell started talking earlier this week about a possible power-sharing deal governing daily operations, similar to a deal struck two decades ago when the Senate also had a 50-50 split.

McConnell is pushing for a commitment from Schumer to protect the filibuster, which some progressive Democrats have suggested should be ditched so that Democrats can pass their agenda without Republican support.

“I cannot imagine the Democratic leader would rather hold up the power-sharing agreement than simply reaffirm that his side won’t be breaking this standing rule of the Senate,” McConnell said Thursday.

Democrats could unilaterally change the rule to require only a simple majority for legislation to advance, if all 50 Democrats plus Harris agreed to do so, a gambit sometimes called the “nuclear option.” In recent years, the rules have been changed to allow most judicial and Cabinet nominations to advance with a simple majority, but not legislation.

Schumer is resisting McConnell’s demand, telling reporters on Thursday he did not want any “extraneous” provisions in the power-sharing deal.

Moderate Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin favor keeping the legislative filibuster. But even Manchin supports Schumer sticking to his guns and not making any promises to McConnell, keeping the threat of going “nuclear” on legislation in reserve if Republicans do not work cooperatively.

“Chuck has the right to do what he’s doing,” Manchin told reporters this week. “He has the right to use that to leverage in whatever he wants to do.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Congressional COVID-19 impasse continues, Pelosi warns ‘house is burning down’

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Thursday urged renewed negotiations over a multitrillion-dollar coronavirus aid proposal, but the top Republican immediately rejected their approach as too expensive, continuing a months-long impasse.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer ticked off a litany of grim data about the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, with eight straight days of over 100,000 new coronavirus cases being reported each day.

“It’s like the house is burning down and they just refuse to throw water on it,” Pelosi said of Republicans.

She and Schumer told a news conference that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory strengthened the Democratic position, which is to spend at least $2.2 trillion on another round of coronavirus aid, on top of the $3 trillion Congress has approved since the pandemic began. Republican President Donald Trump has not conceded to Biden.

“We’re willing to sit down and talk; they haven’t wanted to talk,” Schumer said, referring to the post-election session of Congress that lasts until the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to reporters in a hallway a few minutes later, said he preferred previous Republican proposals in the range of $500 billion, which he said would be aimed at the “residual problems.”

“I gather she (Pelosi) and the Democratic leader in the Senate still are looking at something dramatically larger. That’s not a place I think we’re willing to go,” McConnell said.

“But I do think there needs to another package,” the Republican said. “Hopefully we can get past the impasse.”

A senior official in Trump’s administration said it was leaving any negotiations about a coronavirus relief package to McConnell and Pelosi for the time being. But there was no sign such talks were imminent. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin negotiated unsuccessfully with Pelosi for several weeks earlier in the fall.

Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Biden on Thursday by phone and the three “discussed the urgent need for the Congress to come together in the lame duck session on a bipartisan basis” to pass more coronavirus relief, a statement from Biden’s transition team said.

The bill should include resources to fight the pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments, expanded unemployment insurance, and affordable healthcare for millions of families, the statement said.

The Democratic-majority House in May approved an additional $3.4 trillion in coronavirus aid, but it went nowhere in McConnell’s Senate, where Schumer’s Democrats blocked less expensive Republican proposals from floor action.

The longest-serving Republican in Congress, 87-year-old Representative Don Young, announced on Thursday that he had been infected with coronavirus, the latest of over 20 members of Congress to have been infected.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)

President-elect Biden’s hopes for Democratic agenda hang on Georgia runoffs

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden’s hopes of enacting major Democratic priorities like expanding healthcare access, fighting climate change and providing more coronavirus aid are going to hang on a pair of U.S. Senate races in Georgia in January.

Democrats fell short of their goal of taking a Senate majority and actually lost seats in the House of Representatives, making Republicans well positioned to block major Biden legislative initiatives.

That leaves Biden’s party with the daunting task of trying to unseat two incumbent Republican senators in the traditionally Republican-leaning state, where Biden himself holds just a narrow lead over President Donald Trump as vote-counting continues.

“We take Georgia, then we change the world,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer declared in New York on Saturday. Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp also heralded the high-stakes January voting, calling on Republicans to unite and saying “the fight is far from over.”

Republicans appear poised to hold at least 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats next year, presuming that leads in North Carolina and Alaska hold. That makes winning the two Georgia runoffs pivotal in getting control of the Senate for Democrats. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be able to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue, who is seeking a second term, received 49.8 % of the vote, compared to Democrat Jon Ossoff, who got 47.9%.

In the other contest, Black Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock got 32.9% to Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler’s 25.9%. A third Republican, Representative Doug Collins, failed to make the runoff after coming in third with 20%.

DEMOCRATS HAVE A CHANCE

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator for two decades, but changing demographics and the gradually improving Democratic performances in recent contests suggest the party has a chance at winning the Jan. 5 runoffs, political scientists say.

But those odds will largely depend on keeping voters engaged, said Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University.

“Whichever party has the better turnout operation is the one that wins,” Gillespie said.

Voter mobilization efforts have boosted Democrats’ fortunes, she said. Registration campaigns, like the one led by Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2018, helped register thousands. But it remains to be seen if Georgia voters will come out in January as they did for November’s election, which featured the presidential ticket.

Both Perdue and Loeffler are Trump allies. But Loeffler ran strongly to the right this year to defeat fellow Republican Collins.

She accepted an endorsement from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congresswoman-elect who has promoted the baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon. Loeffler has posted photos with herself on Twitter with members of a private militia group, and has called the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests police violence and racial injustice, a “Marxist” group.

Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University, asked whether Loeffler’s actions might now work against her in the runoff with Warnock — and in turn pull Perdue down since both Republicans will be on the ballot at the same time.

“Will she get a boost on some level from Perdue also running? … Or is it possible that now that there is more attention given to her and given to some of the positions that she took, that (could) honestly harm both of the Republican candidates?” Steigerwalt said.

“Democratic voters in particular in the exit polls mentioned that one of the main things that caused them to turn out was racial justice,” Steigerwalt said.

BIDEN GOALS AT STAKE

Biden’s cabinet picks and policy proposals would face choppy water if Republicans maintain a Senate majority. He pledged to strengthen and build on the Obamacare healthcare program. He also campaigned on a multi-trillion-dollar plan to curb carbon emissions and create jobs, and said he favored raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

Those goals would face stiff opposition with Republicans in charge of the Senate. There would likely be hard bargaining over any additional coronavirus aid, which a number of Republicans oppose.

On the other hand Biden, a former senator who campaigned as a centrist, has known the leader of the Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for years. They have struck deals together before, including an agreement to allow tax rates to rise on the wealthy late in 2012, when Biden was vice president. Last week, McConnell referred to Biden as an “old friend.”

“Look for him to drive long-standing priorities of his like infrastructure, where he could perhaps find support from a moderate Republican or two,” said Scott Mulhauser, a Democratic strategist who worked for Biden in the 2012 presidential election.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)

Congress faces coronavirus, government funding battles as summer recess ends

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress faces a tight deadline to avoid a government shutdown as lawmakers begin returning to Washington next week, complicated by bitter conflicts between Republicans and Democrats over the next package of coronavirus aid.

The Republican-led Senate is due back on Tuesday, while the Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to hold votes on bills starting the following week.

With congressional elections on Nov. 3, both chambers have very few days left to finish work as lawmakers plan to campaign in their home states for much of October.

The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, so they will have to scurry to reach a deal on legislation funding government programs and averting a partial shutdown that could be especially damaging to lawmakers facing re-election in November.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed optimism that agreement will be reached in a timely way.

Congress is widely expected to pass a temporary measure mainly funding the government at current levels, leaving budget decisions for after Election Day.

But the issue is complicated by rancor over how best to address the coronavirus, especially amid the yawning federal budget deficit.

On Wednesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the fiscal 2020 deficit would hit $3.3 trillion, or 16% of gross domestic product, fueled by emergency pandemic aid already enacted into law.

More than $3 trillion in coronavirus relief was enacted earlier this year. But the Republican-led Senate left town last month without taking up another $3 trillion aid package the House passed in May or an alternative.

The two parties are sharply divided, but there are also disputes among Trump’s fellow Republicans. Many of the Senate’s 53 Republicans are on record opposing additional federal coronavirus relief, and most of the others want to pass a far smaller bill than the House’s.

One senior Senate Republican aide said disagreement among Republicans was so great that it was not clear whether a smaller, partisan bill could come up for a vote. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has said he opposes a so-called “skinny” coronavirus bill and his party could block one from passing.

Alternatively, lawmakers could tuck coronavirus relief into the must-do government funding bill. Provisions could include extra unemployment benefits to replace the $600-per-week payments that expired in July, measures to prevent evictions or aid for schools or local governments.

But a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Reuters that Democrats want a “clean” government-funding bill. That usually means a measure without controversial add-ons.

Republican President Donald Trump is running for re-election, and one- third of the 100-member Senate and all 435 House seats are up for grabs when voters head to the polls on Nov. 3.

A government shutdown just before the elections, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, could be particularly damaging to Republican prospects since they control the White House and Senate.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. House to vote on $25 billion postal infusion, mail-in ballot safeguards

By David Shepardson and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Democrats unveiled on Wednesday legislation that would require same-day processing for mail-in ballots and give the cash-strapped Postal Service a $25 billion infusion while erasing changes pursued by the agency’s new leader, an ally of President Donald Trump.

The Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote on the legislation on Saturday, though there is little chance for passage in the Republican-led Senate. The bill would prevent the Postal Service from implementing policies to alter service levels that were in effect at the beginning of this year.

Democrats and other critics have accused the Republican president of trying to impair the Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting as he trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Under intense criticism, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced on Tuesday that he would put on hold until after the election cost-cutting moves at the Postal Service that Democratic lawmakers and state attorneys general argued could imperil mail-in voting. DeJoy said he suspended all “operational initiatives” through Election Day to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

DeJoy, who has been a major political donor to Trump, assumed the job in June.

The Postal Service long has faced financial woes with the rise of email and social media, losing $80 billion since 2007, including $2.2 billion in the three months ending June 30.

Democrats want DeJoy to explain how he will reverse the changes he has made, including whether he will order the return of sorting machines already removed.

Separately, Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, asked the Postal Service Board of Governors to release all materials related to the selection of DeJoy and for “additional information” regarding the role of Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in the search and selection process.

The board in May said it reviewed records of more than 200 candidates before narrowing the list to more than 50. The board then interviewed more than a dozen candidates in first round interviews, and invited seven candidates for follow-up interviews.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that mail balloting is vulnerable to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, and Trump himself plans to vote by mail in Florida this year.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the White House was not involved in the Postal Service changes. The Treasury Department and the Postal Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)

Congressional Democrats, White House set new round of coronavirus aid talks

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top White House officials and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress will try again on Tuesday to narrow gaping differences over a fifth major coronavirus relief bill to help stimulate the economy and possibly provide new aid to the unemployed.

The two sides have reported some progress in recent days. But they remain far apart on a range of issues including unemployment benefits for workers made jobless by the epidemic, as well as liability protections for businesses and funding for schools, state and local governments and election security.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were due to meet with Senate Republicans at a midday policy lunch, before resuming negotiations with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT).

Federal Reserve officials are urging Congress and the White House to help the struggling U.S. economy. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs during the crisis.

Congress passed more than $3 trillion in relief legislation early in the epidemic. But lawmakers missed a deadline last week to extend the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment payments that have played a key role in propping up the U.S. economy.

Democrats are pressing for another $3 trillion that would retain the $600 benefit and add nearly $1 trillion in assistance for state and local governments.

Senate Republicans, who have not taken part in the White House talks with Democrats, have proposed a $1 trillion package that would slash the unemployment payment to $200 a week and eventually move to 70% of wages.

Republicans say the $600 benefit – which is on top of state unemployment payments – discourages people from taking lower-paying jobs. A Fed official on Monday said there was little evidence to support that view.

Differences also remain on whether to extend a moratorium on housing evictions and Democrats’ demand for around $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments suffering revenue shortfalls as a result of the epidemic.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Sam Holmes and Paul Simao)

Senate Republicans push back on McConnell’s $1 trillion U.S. coronavirus relief proposal

By David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in the U.S. Senate pushed back on Tuesday against their own party’s $1 trillion coronavirus relief proposal the day after it was unveiled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sending some U.S. stocks downward.

McConnell and the chamber’s top Republicans unveiled the coronavirus aid package hammered out with the White House just four days before the expiration of expanded unemployment benefits keeping millions of Americans afloat during the crisis. The proposal would slash the federal benefit from $600 per week in addition to state unemployment, to $200.

Democrats have also rejected the package, calling it too small compared with their $3 trillion plan that passed the House of Representatives in May. Dissident Republicans criticized its expense.

McConnell touted the proposal as a “tailored and targeted” plan to reopen schools and businesses, while protecting companies from lawsuits.

Some U.S. stocks dropped as investors worried about the resurgence in coronavirus cases and awaited progress on the relief plan. [.N]

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham estimated that half the party’s members in the Senate would oppose the plan.

“I think if Mitch can get half the conference that’d be quite an accomplishment,” Graham told reporters. Graham said he considers this a war against the coronavirus. “You have to spend money when you’re in a war.”

Multiple Republican senators call the plan too costly.

“I’m not for borrowing another trillion dollars,” Republican Senator Rand Paul told reporters.

The Republican proposal would give many Americans direct payments of $1,200 each, provide billions in loans to small businesses, support hospitals and help schools reopen.

The federal supplemental unemployment benefit has been a financial lifeline for laid-off workers and a key support for consumer spending. Democrats quickly denounced the proposed cut as draconian when millions of Americans cannot return to shuttered workplaces.

PARTISAN DISPUTES

Many Republicans insist the unemployment payout encourages Americans to stay home rather than go back to work by paying them more than their previous wages. Their proposal would provide the $200 weekly payment in place until states create a system to provide a 70% wage replacement for laid-off workers.

Democrats said the $200 plan would damage the economy.

“People want to work, Republican friends. They just don’t have jobs to do it. We’re not going to let them starve while that happens,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Democrats also want money for state and local governments, which face multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, with businesses closed and residents out of work.

“Our residents, our businesses, our families, they need direct federal support now,” said Savannah, Georgia, Mayor Van Johnson, one of a group of Democratic and Republican mayors on a conference call with reporters.

Bipartisan lawmakers questioned why funds for some programs that seemed to have nothing to do with the pandemic – such as $1.8 billion for a new Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters – were in the proposal.

Schumer and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were due to meet later on Tuesday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had lunch with Republican senators.

The partisan wrangling comes as U.S. coronavirus cases have passed 4.3 million, with nearly 150,000 people killed in the country, and tens of millions out of work.

The Democratic-led House in May passed its $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill known as the “HEROES Act,” but the Republican-led Senate would not consider it.

McConnell acknowledged that the Republican “HEALS Act” was just a starting point for negotiations, and would need bipartisan support to become law.

“The HEALS Act is full of provisions that I would frankly dare my Democratic colleagues to actually say they oppose,” McConnell said.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)