Trump signs deal to end brief government shutdown, increase U.S. spending

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walk to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 7, 2018.

By David Morgan, Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress ended a brief government shutdown on Friday by reaching a wide-ranging deal that is expected to push budget deficits into the $1 trillion-a-year zone.

The bill passed by a wide margin in the Senate and survived a rebellion of 67 conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives thanks to the support of some Democrats. Those conservatives were mainly angry about non-military spending increases.

President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on Friday morning, ending a government shutdown that began just after midnight, when Congress was still debating the budget deal.

It was the second shutdown this year under the Republican-controlled Congress and Trump, who played little role in attempts by party leaders this week to end months of fiscal squabbling.

The deal is the fifth temporary government funding measure for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and replenishes federal coffers until March 23, giving lawmakers more time to write a full-year budget.

It also extends the U.S. government’s borrowing authority until March 2019, sparing Washington politicians difficult votes on debt and deficits until after mid-term congressional elections in November.

Once known as the party of fiscal conservatives, the Republicans and Trump are now quickly expanding the U.S. budget deficit and its $20 trillion national debt. Their sweeping tax overhaul bill approved in December will add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

Nearly $300 billion in new spending included in the bill approved on Friday will ensure the annual budget deficit will exceed $1 trillion in 2019, said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a private fiscal policy watchdog group in Washington.

Friday’s budget deal allows for $165 billion in additional defense spending over two years that will help Trump deliver on his promise to rebuild the military.

That won over many Republicans but some were still furious over the $131 billion extra made available for non-military spending, including health and infrastructure.

None of the added spending will be offset by budget savings elsewhere or revenue increases, relying instead on government borrowing. There also is no offset reduction for nearly $90 billion in new disaster aid for U.S. states and territories ravaged by hurricanes or wildfires.

PRESSURE ON MARKETS

The brief shutdown in Washington came at a sensitive time for financial markets. Stocks plunged on Thursday on heavy volume, throwing off course a nearly nine-year bull run. The S&P 500 slumped 3.8 percent.

Markets barely flinched at the last shutdown in January, but that was before a dizzying selloff that started on Jan. 30 amid concerns about inflation and higher interest rates.

Republican Senator Rand Paul, objecting to deficit spending in the bill, engaged in a nine-hour, on-again, off-again protest and floor speech late on Thursday. He had harsh words for his own party.

“Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits,” he said. “I can’t … in good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits. Really who is to blame? Both parties.”

His dissent forced the brief government shutdown, underscoring the persistent inability of Congress and Trump to deal efficiently with Washington’s most basic fiscal obligation of keeping the government open.

“Republican majorities in the House and Senate have turned the process into an embarrassing spectacle, running from one crisis directly into the next,” said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey prior to the House vote.

Republican Representative Kristi Noem told Reuters she voted against the bill because it increases non-defense spending and raises the federal debt ceiling.

“To increase domestic spending and raise the debt ceiling was coupling two very bad policy decisions and with no reforms tied to it. It was very disappointing,” she said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others in her party had opposed the bill because Republican House leaders would not guarantee her a debate later on steps to protect about 700,000 “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation.

These young people were brought illegally to the country as children years ago, mostly from Mexico. Trump said in September he would end by March 5 former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects the Dreamers from deportation.

Trump urged Congress to act before then. Senate Republicans have pledged to hold a separate immigration debate this month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan had not offered Pelosi an equivalent promise in the House, although he said in a speech before the vote on Friday that he would push ahead for a deal.

“My commitment to working together on an immigration measure that we can make law is a sincere commitment,” he said. “We will solve this DACA problem.”

But Pelosi said Ryan’s words fell short, accusing him of not having “the courage to lift the shadow of fear from the lives of” Dreamers who face the prospect of deportation.

Minutes after midnight, when the short-lived shutdown began, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sent a notice to millions of federal employees telling them to check with their agencies on whether they should report to work on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Bill Trott)

Trump escalates fight over Russia probe, approves release of secret memo

A copy of the formerly top secret classified memo written by House Intelligence Committee Republican staff and declassified for release by U.S. President Donald Trump is seen shortly after it was released by the committee in Washington, February 2, 2018

By Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday approved the release of a classified Republican memo that alleges bias against him at the FBI and Justice Department, in an extraordinary showdown with law enforcement agencies over the probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Ignoring the urgings of the FBI earlier this week, Trump declassified the four-page memo and sent it to Congress, where Republicans on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee immediately released it to the public.

The Republican president told reporters that the contents of the document tell a disgraceful story of bias against him and that “a lot of people should be ashamed.”

The document has become a flashpoint in a battle between Republicans and Democrats over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election. Mueller is also believed to be investigating any attempts to impede his probe.

Trump has repeatedly complained about Mueller’s investigation, which has cast a shadow over his first year in office, calling it a witch hunt and denying any collusion or obstruction of justice. Moscow has denied any election meddling.

The memo, criticized by the FBI as incomplete and slammed by Democrats as an attempt to undermine Mueller’s probe, purports to show that the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was driven by political bias.

The document, commissioned by the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, Devin Nunes, uses the case of investigations into a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, saying the FBI used a biased source to justify surveillance on him.

It alleges that a dossier of Trump-Russia contacts compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and funded in part by U.S. Democrats, formed an “essential part” of requests for electronic surveillance on Page that began in October, 2016.

It says the initial application and subsequent renewal applications did not mention the link between Steele and the Democrats. It also portrays Steele as biased, saying he “was passionate about him (Trump) not being president.”

Democrats said the memo cherry picks information.

“The selective release and politicization of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies,” Democrats on the House intelligence panel said in a statement on Friday.

The Democrats said they hoped to release their own memo responding to the allegations on Feb. 5.

The entire file that the Justice Department used to apply to a special court for permission to eavesdrop on Page remains highly classified, making it hard to evaluate the memo’s contents.

FBI ANGER OVER MEMO

Two days ago, in a rare public rebuke of the president and Republicans in Congress who were pushing to release the memo, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact” in the document and it should not be made public.

On Friday, FBI agents defended their work and said they “have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract” from their mission.

“The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency,”

FBI Agents Association President Thomas O’Connor said in a statement after the memo’s release.

Earlier on Friday, Trump accused top U.S. law enforcement officers – some of whom he appointed himself – of politicizing investigations.

“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The president praised “rank and file” FBI employees.

His latest salvo was sure to worsen the president’s frayed relations with agencies that are supposed to be politically independent.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Democratic President Barack Obama, said Trump’s attack on the FBI and Justice Department was the “pot calling the kettle black.”

Seeking to defuse the conflict over the memo, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan backed the release of a Democratic counterpoint document. His office said he backed making the Democrats’ rebuttal public if it does not reveal intelligence gathering sources or methods.

Democrats say their counter-memo restores context and information left out of the Republican version. Republicans have resisted releasing that document,

The former head of Trump’s presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, and the Trump administration’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have been charged in the Russia probe, along with others.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and David Alexander; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

You can click here for the entire memo that has just been released.    Intelligence committee memo 

Meadows says White House could give more time for ‘Dreamer’ fix

Protesters calling for an immigration bill addressing the so-called Dreamers, young adults who were brought to the United States as children, walk through the Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va (Reuters) – An immigration deal protecting young “Dreamer” immigrants and allocating additional funds for border security without also addressing family migration and the visa lottery would be a “non starter,” Republican Mark Meadows, head of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Thursday.

Meadows said that President Donald Trump could extend the deadline to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program past March 5 in order for Congress to work out a broader deal.

“Listen, we are not going to do a few billion dollars for border security and have the same problem a decade from now, two decades from now,” Meadows told reporters. “If we’re going to solve the problem, let’s solve the problem.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker)

Trump urges bipartisan compromises but continues hard line immigration policies

U.S. President Donald J. Trump (C) stands at the podium as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on during his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018.

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump urged lawmakers on Tuesday to work toward bipartisan compromises, but pushed a hard line on immigration, insisting on a border wall and other concessions from Democrats as part of any deal to protect the children of illegal immigrants.

Trump, in his first State of the Union speech, gave no ground on the contentious issue of whether to shield young immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation.

Aiming to keep conservative supporters happy as he looks to November congressional elections, Trump stood by a set of principles opposed by Democrats, including the border wall with Mexico and new restrictions on how many family members that legal immigrants can bring into the United States.

“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said in his address.

Trump used the hour-and-20-minute speech, given annually by presidents to Congress, to try to overcome doubts about his presidency at a time when he is battling a probe into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia and suffering low job approval ratings.

Trump made no mention of the federal probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, a controversy that is dogging his presidency. Trump has denied collusion and has called the probe a “witch hunt.”

The speech was short on details about Trump’s policy proposals.

But his sober, measured approach was welcomed by the public. A CNN/SSRS snap poll said 48 percent of those surveyed had a “very positive” response to the speech and 22 percent “somewhat positive.”

There was little sign of unity inside the House of Representatives chamber where Trump spoke. Republican lawmakers cheered wildly at the president’s applause lines. Democrats often sat in their seats silently and many booed when he laid out his immigration proposals.

DENOUNCES NORTH KOREAN LEADERSHIP

Turning to foreign policy late in the speech, Trump denounced the “depraved character” of North Korea’s leadership and said Pyongyang’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.”

“We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” he said. In a surprise moment, he singled out a North Korea defector in the crowd, Ji Seong-ho, as an example of what he called the reclusive country’s brutal nature.

Trump also said he had signed an order to keep open the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for foreign terrorism suspects. Former Democratic President Barack Obama had vowed to close the prison, which has been condemned by human rights groups, but was unable to shut it down completely.

Whether Trump would follow through on his appeal for bipartisan harmony was far from clear. Trump’s past attempts at a unifying message have been undermined by his later rancorous tweets and divisive statements that angered Democrats and frequently annoyed lawmakers in his own Republican Party.

The unity plea will first be put to the test in his drive for a compromise on protecting 1.8 million Dreamers – people brought illegally to the country as children – who face a March 5 deadline on whether they can begin to be deported.

Republicans welcomed Trump’s immigration proposals, with U.S. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma saying Trump tried to strike a middle ground.

“My Democratic colleagues can say he didn’t move enough, but you can’t deny he moved a lot. There are people in his core base who think he has moved way too far.”

But Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the longest-serving senator, said Trump’s words about unity, after a year of “divisive actions, petty insults and disgraceful race-baiting … ring hollow.”

Trump said he was “extending an open hand” for an immigration deal and that he would provide Dreamers a pathway to citizenship over 10 to 12 years in exchange for funding the border wall, which he promised during his campaign, and restrictions on legal immigration.

He called his plan a “down-the-middle compromise,” but some Democrats hissed when he said he wanted to rein in “chain migration,” the ability of legal immigrants to bring a wide-ranging number of family members into the country.

“Let’s come together, set politics aside and finally get the job done,” Trump said.

INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN

Trump took credit for U.S. economic gains including a soaring stock market and a low jobless rate. He boasted about the economic growth he believes will result from tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress late last year.

“This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he said.

Trump said he would like a compromise over a plan to rebuild aging roads, bridges and other infrastructure. He said he wanted legislation to generate at least $1.5 trillion through a combination of federal, state and local spending as well as private-sector contributions.

Market reaction was muted, with S&P 500 futures drifting higher, but investors saying there was little new for Wall Street in the speech.

“Futures lifted a bit because it was not a negative speech. He was calm. He celebrated America. He avoided his own failures,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors in Chicago.

While Trump spoke of compromise, his speech provided some reminders of partisan battles over the past year.

He singled out a speech guest, 12-year-old Preston Sharp, for leading an effort to put American flags on the graves of 40,000 veterans, saying the initiative was “why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”

His criticism of National Football League players who refused to stand for the anthem in protest against police shootings of minorities and racial disparities in the justice system, dominated headlines last autumn.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice, Eric Beech and Eric Walsh; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Government shutdown fizzles on spending, immigration deal in Congress

Clouds pass over the U.S. Capitol at the start of the third day of a shut down of the federal government in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2018.

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress voted on Monday to end a three-day U.S. government shutdown, approving the latest short-term funding bill as Democrats accepted promises from Republicans for a broad debate later on the future of young illegal immigrants.

The fourth temporary funding bill since October easily passed the Senate and the House of Representatives. President Donald Trump later in the evening signed the measure, largely a product of negotiations among Senate leaders.

Enactment by Trump of the bill allowed the government to reopen fully on Tuesday and keep the lights on through Feb. 8, when the Republican-led Congress will have to revisit budget and immigration policy, two disparate issues that have become closely linked.

The House approved the funding bill by a vote of 266-150 just hours after it passed the Senate by a vote of 81-18.

Trump’s attempts to negotiate an end to the shutdown with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer collapsed on Friday in recriminations and fingerpointing. The Republican president took a new swipe at Democrats as he celebrated the Senate’s pact.

“I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses,” Trump said in a statement. “We will make a long term deal on immigration if and only if it’s good for the country.”

Immigration and the budget are entangled because of Congress’ failure to approve a full-scale budget on time by Oct. 1, 2017, just weeks after Trump summarily ordered an end by March to Obama-era legal protections for young immigrants known as the “Dreamers.”

The budget failure has necessitated passage by Congress of a series of temporary funding measures, giving Democrats leverage each step of the way since they hold votes needed to overcome a 60-vote threshold in the Senate for most legislation.

With government spending authority about to expire again at midnight on Friday, Democrats withheld support for a fourth stopgap spending bill and demanded action for the Dreamers.

‘DREAMERS’

The roughly 700,000 young people were brought to the United States illegally as children, mainly from Mexico and Central America. They mostly grew up in the United States.

Former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program gave the Dreamers legal protections and shielded them from deportation.

Democrats, as a condition of supporting a new spending stopgap, demanded a resolution of the uncertain future Trump created for the Dreamers with his DACA order last year.

But Democratic leaders, worried about being blamed for the disruptive shutdown that resulted, relented in the end and accepted a pledge by Republicans to hold a debate later over the fate of the Dreamers and related immigration issues.

Tens of thousands of federal workers had begun closing down operations for lack of funding on Monday, the first weekday since the shutdown, but essential services such as security and defense operations had continued.

The shutdown undercut Trump’s self-crafted image as a dealmaker who would repair the broken culture in Washington. It forced him to cancel a weekend trip to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

The U.S. government cannot fully operate without funding bills that are voted in Congress regularly. Washington has been hampered by frequent threats of a shutdown in recent years as the two parties fight over spending, immigration and other issues. The last U.S. government shutdown was in 2013.

Both sides in Washington had tried to blame each other for the shutdown. The White House on Saturday refused to negotiate on immigration issues until the government reopened.

On Monday, Trump met separately at the White House with Republican senators who have taken a harder line on immigration and with moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Doug Jones.

Reuters/Ipsos polling data released on Monday showed Americans deeply conflicted about the immigration issue, although majorities in both parties supported the DACA program.

‘WHY DO WE HAVE TO WAIT?’

Some liberal groups were infuriated by the decision to reopen the government.

“Today’s cave by Senate Democrats – led by weak-kneed, right-of-center Democrats – is why people don’t believe the Democratic Party stands for anything,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Markets have absorbed the shutdown drama over the past week.

U.S. stocks advanced on Monday as each of Wall Street’s main indexes touched a record intraday level after the shutdown deal.

For Jovan Rodriguez of Brooklyn, New York, a Dreamer whose family came from Mexico when he was 3 years old and ultimately settled in Texas, the latest development was more of the same.

“Why do we have to wait – again? It’s like our lives are suspended in limbo,” he said. And they have been for months. I don’t trust the Republicans and I don’t trust (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell with just a promise. That’s not good enough any more.”

(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Ginger Gibson, Amanda Becker, Blake Brittain, Susan Heavey, Steve Holland, Diane Bartz, Lucia Mutikani, Yasmeen Abdutaleb and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Megan Davies in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

Clock running out to avert U.S. government shutdown as Congress faces deadline

The U.S. Capitol building is lit at dusk ahead of planned votes on tax reform in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017.

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump postponed plans to leave Washington on Friday while the U.S. Congress faced a midnight deadline to come up with funding legislation to avoid federal agency shutdowns.

Although the House of Representatives voted 230-197 on Thursday night for a bill to extend expiring funding through Feb. 16, the measure appeared to be on the verge of collapse in the Senate.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said that on Thursday he was ratcheting up the likelihood of a shutdown from 30 percent to a 50-50 possibility.

“The vote this afternoon looks challenging for us to keep the government open,” Trump’s legislative liaison, Marc Short, told Fox News. He expected negotiations to continue up until midnight.

Short and Mulvaney planned to brief the media Friday morning on plans for any possible shutdown.

The Senate was to reconvene later Friday morning. Congress has been struggling since October to resolve the issue and the current bill is endangered because of the deep rift between Republicans and Democrats on immigration issues that have found their way into the funding fight.

Markets were keenly focused Friday morning on the budget woes. The U.S. dollar moving to a near three-year low while Wall Street largely played down any fears of the looming possible shutdown and opened higher.

The government currently is being funded by a third temporary measure since the new fiscal year began in October.

Trump, who was scheduled to leave for his Florida resort in the afternoon, will remain in Washington until Congress passes legislation to avert a shutdown, White House officials said.

“The trip is on ice. If there is a shutdown he won’t go,” one official said on condition of anonymity.

In a morning tweet, Trump accused Democrats of holding up the measure over immigration.

“Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate – but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming?” he said.

Republicans control the Senate but with Senator John McCain undergoing cancer treatment at home in Arizona, they will need at least 10 Democrats to reach the 60 votes required to pass a spending bill. In addition to strong Democratic opposition, at least three Republican senators have said they will not back the continuing resolution in its current form.

Republican Senator Mike Rounds, who had earlier said he could not back the bill in current form, on Friday said in a statement that while the measure was “not ideal,” he would support it after being assured that other legislation to adequately fund the U.S. military would be raised soon.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has indicated he was leaning in favor of the stopgap measure. Manchin is one of 10 Democrats up for re-election this year in states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

When the government shuts down, which has only happened three times in a meaningful way since 1995, hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal workers may be put on furlough, while “essential” employees, dealing with public safety and national security, would keep working.

SHORT-TERM FUNDING

Nearly four months into the 2018 fiscal year, the two parties still have not agreed on top-line spending for defense and non-defense programs, rendering impossible the passage of a long-term government funding bill. Instead, Congress has been struggling to pass its fourth short-term appropriations measure.

Amid the deadlock, more senators were raising the possibility of merely approving enough new federal funds for a few days. The idea is to put pressure on negotiators to then cut deals on immigration, defense spending and non-defense funding by next week.

The immigration fight is over Democrats’ demand that 700,000 young undocumented immigrants be protected from deportation.

Given temporary legal status under a program started by former President Barack Obama, these “Dreamers,” as they are called, were brought into the United States, largely from Mexico and Central America, as children. Many have been educated in the United States and know no other country.

In September, Trump announced he was ending the program and giving Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative replacement.

Since then, however, the president has engaged in a series of spats with Congress. Trump and conservatives in Congress have used the Dreamer fight to try and win tough new immigration controls, including the president’s promised border wall.

Late on Thursday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who is leading the fight for the Dreamers, told reporters there had been some signs earlier in the day that talks with Republicans were taking a positive turn and a deal could be within reach.

But in a late-night speech on the Senate floor, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of aiming to “hold the entire country hostage” by demanding immediate resolution of a “non-imminent problem” related to immigration.

McConnell continued to push for passage of the bill approved by the House so that a government shutdown could be avoided.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

Duterte urges Congress to pass bill for self-rule in Muslim region

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a news conference on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Pasay, metro Manila, Philippines, November 14, 2017.

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday urged Congress to pass a bill granting self-rule to the country’s Muslim minority, warning that its collapse would see separatist rebels abandon a peace process and declare war again.

The largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), signed a peace deal with the government in 2014 to end nearly 50 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced 2 million.

Central to resolving that is the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would create a new autonomous area in the Mindanao region offering more political and economic power. Duterte is a staunch supporter of the plan.

“I am urging everybody to understand, it’s about time the historical injustices committed to them corrected,” Duterte said during the launch of a bank for Filipino overseas workers.

“If nothing happens to the BBL, there will be war in Mindanao.”

He said he could not control rebel groups if they take up arms again and seek an independent state in the south.

The Muslim parts of Mindanao are already fraught with security problems and a collapse of the peace process with the MILF would be one of the biggest setbacks of Duterte’s presidency.

Martial law is in place in Mindanao until the end of the year to allow the military to tackle rebel groups loyal to Islamic State, some of which held parts of southern Marawi City through five months of war with the government last year.

The MILF is bitterly opposed to Islamic extremists and has been collaborating with government troops to fight a radical faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

He said he wanted the BBL passed before Congress focuses its attention on changing the constitution to create a federal system, one of his key election platforms.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty)

House to vote to renew NSA’s internet surveillance program

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin, June 7, 2013.

By Dustin Volz

(Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on Thursday on whether to renew the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program, which has been the target of privacy advocates who want to limit its impact on Americans.

The vote is the culmination of a yearslong debate in Congress on the proper scope of U.S. intelligence collection, one fueled by the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The bill would extend the NSA’s spying program for six years with minimal changes. Most lawmakers expect it to become law if it prevails in the House, although it still would require Senate approval and President Donald Trump’s signature.

Trump appeared on Thursday to initially question the merits of the program, contradicting the official White House position and renewing unsubstantiated allegations that the previous administration of Barack Obama improperly surveilled his campaign during the 2016 election.

“This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” the president said in an early morning post on Twitter.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request to clarify Trump’s tweet but he posted a clarification less than two hours later.

“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!” Trump tweeted.

Unmasking refers to the largely separate issue of how Americans’ names kept secret in intelligence reports can be revealed.

Asked by a Reuters reporter at a conference in New York about Trump’s tweets, Rob Joyce, the top White House cyber official, said there was no confusion within Oval Office about the value of the surveillance program and that there have been no cases of it being used improperly for political purposes.

Some conservative, libertarian-leaning Republicans and liberal Democrats were attempting to persuade colleagues to include more privacy protections. Those would include requiring a warrant before the NSA or other intelligence agencies could scrutinize communications belonging to Americans whose data is incidentally collected under the program.

The White House, U.S. intelligence agencies and Republican leaders in Congress have said they consider the tool indispensable and in need of little or no revision.

Without congressional action, legal support for Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the program, will expire next week, although intelligence officials say it could continue through April.

Section 702 allows the NSA to eavesdrop on vast amounts of digital communications from foreigners living outside the United States through U.S. companies such as Facebook Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

The spying program also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans if they communicate with a foreign target living overseas, and can search those messages without a warrant.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Bill Trott)

Donald Trump Jr. wants ‘leak’ probe, as Congress’ Russia probes press on

Donald Trump Jr. wants 'leak' probe, as Congress' Russia probes press on

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s eldest son asked a House of Representatives committee on Tuesday to investigate possible leaks of information about his Dec. 6 interview with lawmakers, as congressional probes of Russia and the 2016 election picked up steam ahead of the New Year.

Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr., asked Representative Michael Conaway, the Republican leading the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the election, to look into comments he said came from committee members and staff that were included in media reports.

“To maintain the credibility of the Investigation, this Committee should determine whether any member or staff member violated the Rules,” he said in a letter to Conaway.

A spokeswoman for Conaway declined comment.

Separately, the Associated Press reported that Trump Jr. was due to appear in Congress again on Wednesday, this time before the Senate Intelligence Committee, citing a source familiar with the matter.

Republican Senator Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, would not confirm the report. Other committee members and their aides declined comment. Futerfas also declined comment.

The Senate and House Intelligence panels are conducting the main congressional investigations after U.S. intelligence agencies found that Moscow attempted to influence the campaign to help the Republican Trump defeat his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

They are also working to determine whether Trump associates colluded with Russia.

Moscow denies seeking to influence the election, and Trump has dismissed any talk of collusion.

The two committees, sometimes members and sometimes staff, have been conducting frequent interviews with a variety of witnesses, seeking to wrap up their investigations well before the U.S. congressional elections in November 2018.

Burr said he felt “some urgency” related to election security related to next year’s vote. He said he expected the Senate committee’s investigation would last into 2018, and that there were dozens more people still to be interviewed.

“So it’s going to carry over (into next year), but it’s not going to carry over far unless the basket of people (to be interviewed) changes, and the only way that changes is if we learn of individuals that we didn’t know about today,” Burr told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.

He said the committee did not now plan any more public hearings in its Russia probe.

Separately, Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign official, was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee for more than four hours on Tuesday. He came to the attention of investigators after a report that he encouraged George Papadopoulos, a one-time Trump foreign policy campaign adviser, to improve relations between the United States and Russia.

Clovis’ attorney denied those reports. She did not respond immediately to a request for comment about his House testimony on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Congress secures tax deal, Trump backs 21-percent corporate rate

Congress secures tax deal, Trump backs 21-percent corporate rate

By David Morgan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Republicans have reached a deal on final tax legislation, the U.S. Senate’s top Republican tax writer said on Wednesday, with President Donald Trump saying he would back a sharply lowered corporate tax rate of 21 percent.

The 21 percent rate would be slightly above a proposed 20-percent rate that Trump supported earlier, but still far below the present headline rate of 35 percent, a deep tax cut that U.S. corporations have been seeking for years.

As they finalized the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years, Republicans for weeks wavered on slashing the top income tax rate for the rich, but finally agreed to do it, despite Democrats’ criticism that the bill favors the wealthy and corporations, while offering little to the middle class.

The emerging congressional agreement includes a 21-percent corporate rate; a top individual income tax rate of 37 percent, down from the current 39.6 percent level; and a $10,000 cap on deducting state and local property or income tax payments, said sources familiar with the negotiations.

Although the president said a “final number” on the corporate rate had not been set, the Senate and House of Representatives were hurtling toward an agreement that would clear the way for final votes in both chambers next week.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good deal,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch told reporters as he prepared to join other Republicans for lunch with Trump.

Hatch’s remarks appeared to reinforce expectations that a final vote could begin in the Senate as early as Monday. Further details of the agreed legislation were not yet available.

Republicans have been urgently trying to finalize details of their bill without increasing its estimated impact on the federal deficit. As drafted, it is expected to add as much as $1.5 trillion to the $20-trillion national debt over 10 years.

At a tax event held by Democrats, Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi said the Republican bill, if enacted, would cause interest rates to rise, meaning the benefits of a lower corporate tax rate would be “completely washed out.”

Stock markets have rallied for months in anticipation of lower taxes for businesses. The benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average Index <.DJI> was up 0.5 percent at 24,628 in afternoon trading.

“The market is trading at all-time highs, its run-up has been really in anticipation of tax reform,” said Ken Polcari, NYSE floor division director at O’Neil Securities in New York.

CORKER UNDECIDED

Republican Senator Bob Corker, a fiscal hawk, on Wednesday said he was undecided on whether to support the bill. He told reporters: “My deficit concerns have not been alleviated.”

Asked at the lunch by reporters if he would sign a bill with a 21-percent corporate tax rate, Trump said: “I would … It’s very important for the country to get a vote next week.”

With their defeat on Tuesday in an Alabama special Senate election, Republicans were under increased pressure to complete their tax overhaul before Christmas and before a new Democratic Alabama senator can be formally seated in the Senate.

Democrat Doug Jones’ capture of the Alabama Senate seat came hours ahead of the final tax agreement being hammered out.

When Jones, who upset Republican Roy Moore in the deeply conservative Southern state, arrives in Washington, the Republicans’ already slim Senate majority will narrow to 51-49, further complicating Trump’s legislative agenda.

Fast action by Republicans on taxes would prevent Jones from upsetting the expected vote tallies on this bill since he will not likely be seated until late December or early January.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called on Republicans to delay a vote on overhauling the tax code for the first time in 30 years until Jones can be seated, but that was unlikely.

A one-percentage-point change in the corporate rate would give tax writers about $100 billion of revenues over a decade that could be used in many ways. One could be to repeal a federal tax on inheritances paid by wealthy Americans. Another might be to end the corporate alternative minimum tax.

Some Republicans also wanted a slightly higher corporate rate to pay for a higher child tax credit. Lawmakers had also debated capping a popular individual deduction for mortgage interest at $750,000 in home loan value, instead of $1 million.

If Trump can sign a tax bill by the end of the year, it would be the first major legislative victory for him and the Republicans since they took control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in January.

After his lunch with Republican lawmakers, Trump will speak on tax legislation alongside five middle class families who would benefit, senior administration officials said.

He wants to try to counter claims that the Republican tax plan would largely benefit corporations and the wealthy.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office have both said wealthier taxpayers would gain disproportionately from the Republican proposals.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)