Trump impeachment effort passes first test in split U.S. Congress

Trump impeachment effort passes first test in split U.S. Congress
By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deeply divided U.S. House of Representatives took a major step in the effort to impeach President Donald Trump on Thursday when lawmakers approved rules for the next stage, including public hearings, in the Democratic-led inquiry into Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.

In the first formal test of support for the impeachment investigation, the Democratic-controlled House voted almost entirely along party lines – 232 to 196 – to move the probe forward in Congress.

The vote demonstrated unity among Democrats who accuse Trump of abusing his office and jeopardizing national security for personal political gain. But they did not pick up a single Republican vote.

“It’s a sad day. No one comes to Congress to impeach a president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 presidential election.

That might damage Trump but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.

Republicans accused Democrats of using impeachment to overturn the results of his 2016 victory.

“The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The probe focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to investigate Trump’s Democratic political rival Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president, and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Biden is a leading candidate in the Democratic presidential nomination race to face Trump in the November 2020 election. He and his son have denied any wrongdoing.

Trump has also denied wrongdoing. Republicans have largely stuck by him, blasting the effort as a partisan exercise that has given them little input.

REPUBLICAN PUSHBACK

“The country next year will be deciding who our president is going to be. It should not be Nancy Pelosi and a small group of people that she selects that get to determine who is going to be our president,” said Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican.

Just two Democrats – Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey – voted against the measure. Both represent districts where Trump won in the 2016 election. Other Democrats from Trump-leaning districts, such as Jared Golden of Maine, voted yes.

If the House eventually votes to impeach Trump, that would set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump would not be removed from office unless votes to convict him by a two-thirds margin, something that looks unlikely as congressional Republicans have been reluctant to move against the president.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler declined say when public hearings would start but they are expected to begin in the next few weeks.

The U.S. Constitution gives the House broad authority to set ground rules for an impeachment inquiry and Democrats say they are following House rules on investigations. They have promised to hold public hearings on the case against Trump.

Lawmakers leading the inquiry heard closed-door testimony from Tim Morrison, the top Russia specialist on Trump’s National Security Council. Morrison resigned from his position on Wednesday, a senior administration official said.

Members of the three committees conducting the investigation expect Morrison to fill in more of the details about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Morrison listened in on the July 25 phone call and said the call “could have been better,” according to acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.

Committee members have asked a far more prominent player, former national security adviser John Bolton, to appear next week. Others have testified that Bolton was alarmed by a White House effort to pressure Zelenskiy. Bolton’s lawyer has said he was not willing to testify unless a subpoena is issued.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

Trump drops census citizenship question, vows to get data from government

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr to announce his administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump retreated on Thursday from adding a contentious question on citizenship to the 2020 census, but insisted he was not giving up his fight to count how many non-citizens are in the country and ordered government agencies to mine their databases.

Trump’s plan to add the question to the census hit a roadblock two weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against his administration, which had said new data on citizenship would help to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority rights.

The court ruled, in considering the litigation by challengers, that the rationale was “contrived.” Critics of the effort said asking about citizenship in the census would discriminate against racial minorities and was aimed at giving Republicans an unfair advantage in elections by lowering the number of responses from people in areas more likely to vote Democratic.

Trump, a Republican, and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.

“We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete and accurate count of the non-citizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. We have great knowledge in many of our agencies,” Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. “We will leave no stone unturned,” he said.

Trump said he was not reversing course.

“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” he said.

But there could be more legal challenges ahead for the administration because the U.S. Constitution states that every person living in the country should be counted to determine state-by-state representation in Congress and that is done every 10 years in the Census, not by other means.

“We will vigorously challenge any attempt to leverage census data for unconstitutional redistricting methods,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law.

Waldman said his group would also challenge “any administration move to violate the clear and strong rules protecting the privacy of everyone’s responses, including the rules barring the use of personal census data to conduct law or immigration enforcement activities.”

IMMIGRATION POLICIES

Trump, who has made hard-line policies on immigration a feature of his presidency and his campaign for re-election in 2020, said he was ordering every government agency to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

“That information will be useful for countless purposes, as the president explained in his remarks today,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Barr cited a legal dispute on whether illegal immigrants can be included for determining apportionment of congressional districts. “Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may possibly prove relevant. We will be studying the issue.”

The approach announced by Trump on Thursday was similar to the one proposed by a Census Bureau official to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, according to a memorandum made public by congressional Democrats in 2018. It said the costs of adding a citizenship question to the Census would be high, but using existing administrative records would not.

Opponents called Thursday’s decision a defeat for the administration, but promised they would look closely to determine the legality of Trump’s new plan to compile and use citizenship data outside of the census.

Rights groups in citizenship-question lawsuits in federal courts in New York and Maryland have no plans to abandon the litigation, Sarah Brannon of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, and John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said on a conference call with reporters.

They also see potential for future litigation over the Trump administration’s collection of data, as well as how those data are used in state redistricting.

“We will sue as necessary,” Brannon said.

The Census is also used to distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Shepardson; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice and Eric Beech in Washington and Andrew Chung and Lauren LaCapra in New York; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)

Blasted by Trump over Russia probe, Sessions fired as attorney general

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions departs after addressing a news conference to announce a criminal law enforcement action involving China and a new Department of Justice initiative focusing on China’s economic activity, at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S. November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired on Wednesday after receiving unrelenting criticism from President Donald Trump for recusing himself from an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential race.

In a step that could have implications for the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump replaced Sessions with Matthew Whitaker, who will be acting attorney general. He had been Sessions’ chief of staff.

The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate immediately called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the Mueller probe.

“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

In an opinion piece for CNN that appeared on Aug. 6, 2017, while he was a commentator for the network, Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney, said Mueller would be crossing a line if he investigated the Trump family’s finances. The piece was titled: “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Reuters on Tuesday that he assumed Sessions’ departure was “not going to affect” the Mueller investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the Russia investigation and has also faced criticism from Trump, was seen by Reuters entering the White House on Wednesday afternoon.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on Sessions’ resignation and what it means for Mueller’s probe.

Trump announced Sessions’ departure on Twitter and thanked him for his service. Sessions said in a letter to Trump that he had resigned at the president’s request.

Sessions’ exit had been widely expected to come soon after Tuesday’s congressional elections, in which Republicans retained their majority in the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives.

Never in modern history has a president attacked a Cabinet member as frequently and harshly in public as Trump did Sessions, 71, who had been one of the first members of Congress to back his presidential campaign in 2015.

Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee starting in January, demanded answers in a tweet about Trump’s reasons for firing Sessions.

“Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable,” Nadler asked on Twitter.

Mueller’s probe, operating under the auspices of the Justice Department, already has yielded criminal charges against several Trump associates and has clouded his presidency for many months.

Republicans had repeatedly urged Trump not to oust Sessions, a former conservative Republican senator from Alabama, before the elections lest it create political fallout.

They had also argued that Sessions should be allowed a graceful exit after he doggedly carried out Trump’s agenda on illegal immigration and other administration priorities.

RECUSAL OVER RUSSIA

Trump was only a few weeks into his presidency in March 2017 when Sessions upset him. Rejecting White House entreaties not to do so, Sessions stepped aside from overseeing the FBI’s probe of potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Moscow. Sessions cited news reports of previously undisclosed meetings he had with Russia’s ambassador to Washington as his reason for recusal.

Rosenstein took over supervision of the Russia investigation and appointed Mueller in May 2017 as the Justice Department’s special counsel to take over the FBI’s Russia probe after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

A permanent replacement for Sessions must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which Trump’s Republicans will continue to control as a result of Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Mueller is pursuing an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, whether Trump unlawfully tried to obstruct the probe, and possible financial misconduct by Trump’s family and associates. Mueller has brought charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman and other campaign figures, as well as against 25 Russians and three firms accused of meddling in the campaign to help Trump win.

Trump has denied his campaign colluded with Russia.

Trump publicly seethed over Sessions’ recusal and said he regretted appointing him. On Twitter, he blasted Sessions as “VERY weak” and urged him to stop the Russia investigation. In July 2017, he told the New York Times that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself, he never would have appointed him attorney general.

There were news reports in the weeks after Mueller’s appointment that Sessions had offered to resign. Sessions usually remained quiet on Trump’s criticism, but defended himself in February 2018 after a Trump tweet criticizing his job performance by saying he would perform his duties “with integrity and honor.”

RESPONDING TO TRUMP

In August, Sessions punched back harder after Trump said in a Fox News interview that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department.” Sessions issued a statement saying he “took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in” and vowed not to allow it to be “improperly influenced by political considerations.”

As for his own involvement with Russia, Sessions was questioned in January by Mueller’s team and has offered shifting public accounts. He has said nothing improper transpired in his meetings during the campaign with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. In congressional testimony in November, he said he now recalled a meeting during the 2016 campaign in which a campaign adviser, with Trump present, offered to use connections with Moscow to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Bill Trott and Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

At Trump rally, West Virginia governor switches parties

President Trump talks with West Virginia's Democratic Governor Jim Justice after he announced that he is changing parties during a rally in Huntington, West Virginia. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (Reuters) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, standing next to President Donald Trump at a rally on Thursday night, announced that he was changing political parties, ditching the Democrats and joining Trump’s Republicans.

“I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” Justice told the crowd. “So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican,” he said to loud cheers.

Justice, a billionaire businessman with interests in coal and agriculture, won election in November as a Democrat in his first attempt at political office. Until 2015, he had been a registered Republican.

Trump, who won West Virginia by 42 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, campaigned on a promise to bring back coal jobs, an important industry in the state.

Justice said his late mother would have told him about switching parties: “Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”

Justice told the crowd he had met with Trump twice at the White House in the past several weeks to present ideas on coal and manufacturing.

“He’s got a backbone. He’s got real ideas. He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia,” Justice said of Trump, a fellow billionaire businessman.

Trump, who earlier in the day promised a “very big announcement” at the rally, welcomed Justice into the party’s ranks.

“Having big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” Trump said of the 6-foot-7-inch governor.

With Justice changing his affiliation, there are now 34 Republican governors, 15 Democrats and one independent. Republicans will now control both the legislature and the governorship in 26 of the 50 states.

Republicans control both houses of the West Virginia legislature.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Bernard Orr)

California immigration forum highlights state’s red-blue divide

People protest outside before the start of a town hall meeting being held by Thomas Homan, acting director of enforcement for ICE, in Sacramento, California, U.S., March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Supporters and critics of President Donald Trump’s deportation policy packed a gymnasium in California’s heartland on Tuesday, trading jeers and ridicule during a raucous town hall meeting attended by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a pro-Trump Republican who enjoys strong backing in the region’s conservative suburbs, invited acting ICE Director Thomas Homan to address the public forum in the state capital.

The gathering got off to a boisterous start, with Jones’ opening remarks interrupted by shouts and heckling as he warned that spectators who continued to disrupt the meeting, attended by about 400 people, would be ejected.

About a dozen people were eventually escorted out of the hall.

Homan, whose agency has drawn fire for what some civil liberties advocates have criticized as heavy-handed tactics in rounding up and deporting illegal immigrants, insisted ICE was acting in a targeted fashion against those with criminal records.

He said ICE was also focused on individuals who have violated final deportation orders or have returned after being removed from the country.

“We don’t conduct neighborhood sweeps,” he said over cat-calls. “I don’t want children to be afraid to go to school. I don’t want people to be afraid to go to the doctor.”

Still, he warned that ICE intended to “enforce the laws that are on the books.”

Democratic officials in the Sacramento area, home to about 2 million people in California’s Central Valley some 90 miles (145 km) east of San Francisco, have opposed the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown and are leading a charge in the state legislature to fight his policies.

The division illustrates the complicated politics of the capital region, straddling jurisdictions where the predominantly liberal California coast bleeds into the more conservative interior of the state.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former top Democrat in the heavily blue state legislature, said at an earlier protest rally that ICE had failed to earn the community’s trust.

He called on Jones to end a county agreement with U.S. authorities in which jailed immigrants sought by federal agents for deportation are kept incarcerated beyond their scheduled release to allow ICE to take them into custody.

Among members of the public who spoke was Bernard Marks, 87, a Holocaust survivor, who said: “I spent 5 1/2 years in a concentration camp because we picked up people. Mr. Jones, history is not on your side.”

Another elderly participant, who identified himself only by his first name, Vincent, suggested those entering the United States illegally violated more than just immigration laws.

“How can an illegal alien get a job unless they’ve stolen a Social Security number,” he asked, visibly shaking with emotion after protesters yelled at him while he spoke.

Jones said earlier the town hall was an attempt to “find common ground by reducing conflicting information, eliminating ambiguity and reducing fear by presenting factual information.”

So many groups vowed to protest at the event that it had to be moved to a larger venue than originally planned.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Osterman and Paul Tait)

New York governor calls for amending state constitution for abortion rights

Andrew Cuomo Governor of New York discusses abortion rights

By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday he would seek to ensure that women have access to late-term abortions in the state even if conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court remove federal legal guarantees in place since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is considered a potential candidate for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination, proposed an amendment to the New York Constitution that he said would preserve the status quo regardless of future Supreme Court rulings.

President Donald Trump, the Republican who took office on Jan. 20, plans to announce a nominee to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. That person, if confirmed, is expected to restore the court’s conservative majority after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

The high court ruled four decades ago that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of a woman to have an abortion until the point of viability.

The court defined that as when the fetus “has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb,” generally at about 24 weeks into pregnancy.

The court also recognized a right to abortion after viability if necessary to protect the woman’s life or health.

If the Supreme Court were to overrule Roe v. Wade, as abortion opponents have long hoped, the procedure would remain legal only where state laws allow it.

In New York, a state law that dates to 1970 legalized abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and afterward only if the woman’s life is at stake, with no exception for health. The law is not enforced but could be if Roe v. Wade were overruled, abortion advocates say.

The state’s law was “revolutionary back in the day because it legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, but is now unchanged,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview this month. “The state law is not as protective as Roe,” she said.

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, which opposes abortion, predicted that Cuomo’s proposal would fail.

“How many abortions are enough?” he said in a statement, noting New York’s high rate of abortions. “No one can credibly claim that access to abortion is under any threat in New York.”

There were 29.6 abortions per 1,000 women in New York in 2014, compared to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women nationally, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that supports abortion rights.

Cuomo told a Planned Parenthood rally in Albany, New York, on Monday that women’s rights were under attack in Washington.

“As they threaten this nation with a possible Supreme Court nominee who will reverse Roe v. Wade,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript provided by his office. “We’re going to protect Roe v. Wade in the State of New York.”

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a legal opinion in September making clear that federal court rulings supersede the state’s 1970 law.

For a constitutional amendment to succeed in New York, majorities in the legislature must approve it twice, in successive terms, and voters must approve it.

Republicans control the New York Senate, although it is possible some Republicans might support such an amendment if pressured by constituents who favor abortion rights, said Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at New York’s Fordham University.

Opposition to Trump may galvanize liberals into being aggressive, Panagopoulos said.

“People are scared, and that might compel them to action in a way that different circumstances might have them sitting on the sidelines,” he said.

For years, states have planned for a day when the Supreme Court might overrule Roe v. Wade. Some 19 states have laws that could restrict abortion in that event, while seven have laws that would still guarantee the right to an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Frank McGurty and David Gregorio)

Know the Platforms and VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!

American Flag - VOTE

By Kami Klein

Today, in the few hours of a single day, the United States will know the outcome of one of the most pivotal and historical Presidential votes in our 240 year history.  

This has been an election year where the polls are in a frantic debate over who is really ahead and mud slinging is at an all time high. Even the most uninformed voter knows that the stakes are high for deciding what direction the American people are wishing for this country to go. We have been torn apart, friendships threatened, and voices raised for a very long time.

Electing a President is not all about the character of the person, or who you want to listen to for four years. What we must remember is we are voting on a platform of ideas and beliefs for what is best for U.S., the American people!  We will have a say on what we personally, in our own hearts and from our own experiences, feel is best to answer the the current problems and challenges.

Maybe you don’t know the platforms.  Unfortunately, in all of the rhetoric and the passion from both sides, the ideas and policies each candidate wishes to lead for a new America has been shrouded in a fog. What is the Democratic Platform? Do their beliefs match yours?  What ideas will the Republican Platform put forth in answer to the many problems facing this nation? Your faith and your lifetime of experience matters.

I have heard a few people say that they don’t like either of the candidates. They don’t like them at all so they just won’t vote.  They think their inaction will make a statement to the nation that ‘hey, we just don’t like those candidates, what do you think about that?’. Unfortunately, history has shown that not voting will mean nothing to your leaders.  You have decided not to count.  And you won’t.

No matter where you live or what your circumstances are, you MUST realize that deep down you know what you believe. You have those gut feelings telling you what you believe. You know when something doesn’t sit right with you, and you know when it feels right.  What I am telling you is that how you feel will be counted in the vote unless you wish to remain silent.

Not voting is akin to surrender.  We do not have the luxury of surrender with all that is going on in this country and in this world.  Be brave, be informed, and get to know what it is that these candidates are representing. Vote!  Please vote!

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “ Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

DO NOT SURRENDER!!   Please study the platforms and VOTE!

Download the Republican Party Platform

Download the Democratic Party Platform