Barr defends Trump before release of special counsel’s Russia report

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday offered a spirited defense of President Donald Trump ahead of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, but revealed that it detailed 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official and a Trump appointee, gave a news conference at the Justice Department as he sought to shape the narrative on a watershed day in Trump’s tumultuous presidency.

Barr is one of a handful of people to have seen the report before its release later on Thursday. He emphasized that Mueller did not conclude there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

The attorney general previously said Mueller had not exonerated Trump on the question of whether the president had committed the crime of obstruction of justice by trying to impede the Russia inquiry.

At the news conference, Barr said the report details “ten episodes” involving Trump and “discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.” Barr said he concluded Trump had not committed obstruction of justice.

Barr said he and Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017, “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.”

“Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” Barr said.

The prospect of the Democratic-led House of Representatives beginning an impeachment process to remove Trump from office receded with the release of Mueller’s initial findings last month.

Some House Democrats had spoken of launching impeachment proceedings against Trump in Congress but top Democrats have been notably cautious. Any such effort would be unlikely to be successful because Trump fellow Republicans controls the Senate, which would decide the president’s fate.

The report’s disclosure, with portions expected to be blacked out by Barr to protect some sensitive information, is certain to launch a new political fight in Congress and on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, as Trump seeks re-election in a deeply divided country.

BARR DEFENDS TRUMP

“President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates,” Barr said.

“At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion,” added Barr.

Moments after Barr concluded his news conference, Trump posted an image of himself on Twitter surrounded by fog with the words: “No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats – GAME OVER.”

Barr said Trump’s personal lawyers “were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released,” a revelation certain to infuriate congressional Democrats.

“The Russian government sought to interfere in our election process but thanks to the special counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Barr said.

The report promises to provide new details about some of the biggest questions in the investigation, including the extent and nature of his campaign’s interactions with Russia and actions Trump may have taken to hinder the inquiry including his 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Mueller submitted the report to Barr on March 22. Two days later, Barr told lawmakers the inquiry did not establish that Trump’s 2016 campaign team engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia and that Mueller had not reached a formal conclusion on obstruction of justice.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, flanked by Edward O'Callaghan, Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, flanked by Edward O’Callaghan, Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Barr seemed to offer cover for Trump’s actions by saying the report acknowledges that “there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”

Justice Department regulations give Barr broad authority to decide how much of the report to make public.

“That’s the bottom line. After nearly two years of investigations, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government-sponsored efforts to illegally interfere in the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts,” Barr said.

The release of the report may deepen an already bitter partisan rift between Trump’s fellow Republicans, most of whom have rallied around the president, and his Democratic critics, who will have to decide how hard to go after Trump as they prepare congressional investigations of his administration.

Wall Street took Barr’s comments in stride, with the S&P 500 holding slight gains during the news conference then slipping into negative territory after it ended.

Democrats were furious that Barr held a news conference on the report before it was provided to Congress.

Copies of the report will be delivered to Congress between 11 a.m. and noon (1500-1600 GMT), a senior Justice Department official said. The delay in seeing the report sparked Democratic complaints that Barr wanted to shape the public’s views during his news conference before others had a chance to draw their own conclusions.

Barr said “significant portions” of the report could have been kept secret because of a legal doctrine called executive privilege that lets the president withhold information about executive branch deliberations from other branches of government, but were not redacted.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan, Jan Wolfe, Nathan Layne, Karen Freifeld and Makini Brice; Writing by John Whitesides and Will Dunham, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Trump vetoes lawmakers’ measure against border wall

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a veto of the congressional measure to end his emergency declaration to get funds to build a border wallas sheriffs look on with Attorney General William Barr and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday vetoed a measure to terminate his emergency declaration to fund a border wall, striking back at Republican and Democratic lawmakers who opposed the controversial move with the first veto of his presidency.

While Congress is unlikely to muster the votes to override the veto, the rebuke from some members of his own party left Trump politically wounded, at least temporarily, as immigration and his planned wall along the U.S. southern border become a flashpoint again in the 2020 presidential campaign.

The bipartisan vote in the Senate on Thursday approving the measure was a slap at Trump over his decision to circumvent Congress and take money already designated for other programs to pay for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Twelve of Trump’s fellow Republicans joined Democrats to pass the measure to end the emergency declaration.

Trump called the resolution reckless and said he was proud to veto it.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up his veto of the congressional resolution to end his emergency declaration to get funds to build a border wall after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up his veto of the congressional resolution to end his emergency declaration to get funds to build a border wall after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“As President, the protection of the nation is my highest duty. Yesterday, Congress passed a dangerous resolution that if signed into law would put countless Americans in danger, very grave danger,” he said, sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office. “Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it.”

Trump expressed pride in the Republicans who did not vote to support the resolution and said later that he had sympathy for those who defied him, adding they did what they had to do. The White House had lobbied heavily for Republicans to back Trump, despite concerns among some about executive overreach and precedent-setting action that a future Democratic president could copy on policies that Republicans oppose.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the action the president had taken was legal.

The emergency declaration is being challenged in court as an unconstitutional usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse.

Trump was flanked by border officials and people whose family members were killed by someone who was in the United States illegally.

The president has said he wants a wall to prevent immigrants from crossing into the United States illegally. Democrats deny there is an emergency at the border, saying border crossings are at a four-decade low.

Trump thanked Republican senators who voted for his declaration in a Twitter post earlier on Friday. “Watch, when you get back to your State, they will LOVE you more than ever before!” he said.

The president made a border wall a central promise of his 2016 campaign for the White House. He initially insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall but it has declined to do so. Last year, Trump forced a government shutdown over an impasse with Congress over funding for the barrier.

When a deal to prevent another shutdown did not give him the funding he requested, Trump declared a national emergency, redirecting funds that were allocated for other projects to build the barrier instead.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. House takes aim at loose gun-sale checks; passes second bill

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a second bill in as many days to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills were likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.

The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.

While Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.

From 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 shootings in which four or more people were killed, with at least 1,001 total deaths, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Thursday’s background check bill would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It passed by a 228-198 House vote.

Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto both pieces of legislation if they reached his desk because the first would impose “burdensome requirements” and the second “burdensome delays.”

The current background check process allows a gun purchase to proceed after three days, even if a background check has not been completed, said Democratic Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.

He said that process resulted in 4,800 gun sales in 2017 to individuals with criminal records, a history of mental illness and other disqualifying circumstances.

“FBI analysis of the current background check system shows that 3 business days isn’t enough time to decide if someone shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Clyburn said on Twitter.

His bill aims to close what Democrats call the “Charleston loophole” in the background check law by extending the window to complete a check to 10 days. They say the loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where the background check bills originated, on Thursday called them “misguided” and said “my constitutional rights could be deferred indefinitely.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Susan Thomas)

Trump says he’ll declare emergency on U.S.-Mexico border

A U.S. Border Patrol agent listens from the front row as President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border during remarks about border security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Roberta Rampton and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday announced he would declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, a move Democrats vowed to challenge as an unconstitutional attempt to fund his promised border wall without approval from Congress.

“I’m going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said from the Rose Garden of the White House.

“We have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it’s unacceptable,” he said.

The president said he would sign the authorizing paperwork later in the day in the Oval Office.

Trump was also expected on Friday to sign a bipartisan government spending bill approved by Congress on Thursday that would prevent another partial federal government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday morning.

The bill, which contains no money for his wall, is a defeat for Trump in Congress, where his demand for $5.7 billion in barrier funding yielded no results, other than a record-long, 35-day December-January partial government shutdown that damaged the U.S. economy and his opinion poll numbers.

Reorienting his wall-funding quest toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency could plunge Trump into a lengthy battle with Democrats – and divide his fellow Republicans.

Fifteen Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent the transfer of funds from accounts Trump likely would target to pay for his wall.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, swiftly responded to Trump’s declaration.

“The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

The president acknowledged that his order would face a lengthy legal challenge. “We’ll win in the Supreme Court,” Trump said.

Trump has argued the wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs streaming across the southern border despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments are likely smuggled through legal ports of entry.

At Friday’s White House event, a half-dozen women holding poster-sized pictures of family members killed by illegal immigrants preceded Trump into the Rose Garden. He cited their presence in announcing the emergency declaration.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration had found nearly $7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund and $3.5 billion from a military construction budget.

Trump on Friday estimated the order could free up as much as $8 billion to construct the wall.

The funds would cover just part of the estimated $23 billion cost of the wall promised by Trump along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico.

The Senate Democrats’ bill also would stop Trump from using appropriated money to acquire lands to build the wall unless specifically authorized by Congress.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton Morgan; additional reporting by David Morgan, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice and Eric Beech; Writing by James Oliphant, Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Shares surge to 2-month high, dollar climbs ahead of Trump speech

FILE PHOTO - Visitors look at an electronic stock quotation board at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) – World stocks raced to a fresh two-month high on Tuesday to keep up their fast start to 2019 while the U.S. dollar strengthened for a fourth straight session as investors awaited President Trump’s annual State of the Union speech later in the day.

With European shares posting strong gains and Wall Street opening solidly higher, MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.60 percent, rising for a sixth straight session as it hit a two-month high.

Trump was due to give his address at 2100 ET (0200 GMT), with investors awaiting indications of progress in U.S.-China trade talks and watching for signs of tensions with Democrats following a 35-day partial federal government shutdown.

The Federal Reserve’s dovish recent statement on interest rate policy, along with optimism over U.S.-China tensions, has fueled recent risk appetite, even as estimates for U.S. corporate earnings have been falling.

“Despite the State of the Union tonight, investors seem increasingly certain that we are going to avoid any escalation of the trade tensions with China and avoid another government shutdown,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief global investment strategist at Charles Schwab in Boston.

“Investors are viewing policy considerations offsetting falling earnings expectations,” Kleintop said.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 168.25 points, or 0.67 percent, to 25,407.62, the S&P 500 gained 11.94 points, or 0.44 percent, to 2,736.81 and the Nasdaq Composite added 55.71 points, or 0.76 percent, to 7,403.24.

Shares of Esta Lauder Cos and Ralph Lauren reacted favorably to the companies’ respective quarterly reports.

Fourth-quarter earnings for companies on the benchmark S&P 500 index were on track to have climbed 15.4 percent, but profit in the first quarter is now expected to rise by only 0.5 percent, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 1.33 percent, as BP shares jumped after its earnings report.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, rose 0.22 percent, up for a fourth straight session, with the euro down 0.24 percent to $1.1408.

Continued recovery in investors’ appetite for risk-taking exerted pressure on safe-haven currencies, dragging the Swiss franc to an 11-week low against the dollar.

U.S. Treasury yields fell as investors started to price in the Fed’s dovish interest rate outlook amid an uncertain global economic outlook.

“Yields are consolidating around levels that are more consistent with the new position at the Fed which is … it is effectively on hold at least in the next six months,” said John Herrmann, rates strategist at MUFG Securities in New York.

Benchmark U.S. 10-year notes last rose 7/32 in price to yield 2.6983 percent, from 2.724 percent late Monday.

U.S. crude fell 0.24 percent to $54.43 per barrel and Brent was last at $62.60, up 0.14 percent on the day.

(Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed in New York, Marc Jones in London; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Senator Sanders to ask why drug, once free, now costs $375k

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a news conference on Yemen resolution on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas .

By Yasmeen Abutaleb

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders plans to send a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals on Monday asking it to justify its decision to charge $375,000 annually for a medication that for years has been available to patients for free.

The drug, Firdapse, is used to treat Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a rare neuromuscular disorder, according to the letter, made available to Reuters by the senator’s office. The disorder affects about one in 100,000 people in the United States.

The government is intensifying its scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry and rising prescription drug prices, a top voter concern and a priority of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Both the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, controlled by Republicans, have begun holding hearings this year on the rising costs of medicines. Sanders is an independent who usually votes with Democrats.

In the letter dated Feb. 4, Sanders asked Catalyst to lay out the financial and non-financial factors that led the company to set the list price at $375,000, and say how many patients would suffer or die as a result of the price and how much it was paying to purchase or produce the drug.

For years, patients have been able to get Firdapse for free from Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small New Jersey-based drug company, which offered it through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) program called “compassionate use.”

The program allows patients with rare diseases and conditions access to experimental drugs outside of a clinical trial when there is no viable alternative. 

Florida-based Catalyst received FDA approval of Firdapse in November, along with exclusive rights to market the medication for several years. The company, which bought rights to the drug from a company called BioMarin in 2012, develops and commercializes drugs for rare diseases.

In December, Catalyst announced it would price Firdapse at $375,000 a year. 

“Catalyst’s decision to set the annual list price at $375,000 is not only a blatant fleecing of American taxpayers, but is also an immoral exploitation of patients who need this medication,” Sanders wrote in his letter.

Sanders joins other U.S. lawmakers in investigating the pricing practices of pharmaceutical companies this year.

Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in January, wrote to 12 pharmaceutical firms asking for detailed information on how they set drug prices. 

Democratic Representatives Frank Pallone and Diana DeGette wrote to the heads of Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, the long-time leading manufacturers of insulin, requesting information on why the drug’s price has skyrocketed in recent years.

(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Trump says may declare an emergency for wall as little headway in talks

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting to "discuss fighting human trafficking on the southern border" in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he might declare a national emergency to obtain funding to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico because it did not appear Democrats were moving toward a deal that would provide the money.

“We’re not getting anywhere with them,” Trump said during an event at the White House.

“I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have to do that,” he added, referring to the possibility of an emergency declaration that could allow him to use funds that Congress has approved for other purposes.

His comments came a day after Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters, “There’s not going to be any wall money” in legislation to fund border security for the rest of this year.

Pelosi said funding for more ports of entry or additional border security technology was open for negotiation. She added that the 17 House and Senate negotiators working on legislation to fund homeland security for the year should decide the components of the nation’s border security.

Democratic negotiators unveiled a detailed opening position containing no money for any type of additional physical barriers on the border to control the flow of undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs. Previously they had supported $1.3 billion for new fencing and improvements to existing barriers.

Trump has said he has to have a wall for border security.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

U.S. lawmakers search for remedies as government shutdown rolls on

At the end of a stormy day, the setting sun breaks through the clouds to illuminate the White House in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate, after rejecting two shutdown-ending bills, was searching for a way to end a government closure entering its 35th day and threatening the economy, as hundreds of thousands of federal workers missed a second paycheck on Friday.

Republican President Donald Trump was dug in at the White House, continuing to insist on funding for a wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border, while the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which opposes the wall, had left Washington for the weekend.

On Thursday, a bill backed by Trump to end the shutdown by including $5.7 billion he wants for the wall and a separate bill supported by Democrats to reopen shuttered agencies without such funding did not get the votes required to advance in the 100-member Senate.

Afterward, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they were introducing an amendment in the Senate to temporarily reopen the roughly one-quarter of the federal government affected by the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Senator Ben Cardin, one of the Democratic co-sponsors, said he did not think it contained any wall funding.

Trump said on Thursday that if Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer reached an agreement to end the shutdown, he would support it.

The president also said, however, that a deal was “not going to work” unless it included “a wall or a barrier.” He said one suggestion was “a pro-rated down payment for the wall.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said a temporary measure to reopen shuttered government departments and agencies must have “a large down payment on the wall.”

A spokesman for Schumer said on Thursday night that Senate Democrats “have made clear to Leader McConnell and Republicans that they will not support funding for the wall, pro-rated or otherwise.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters the possibility of legislation that includes a large down payment on a wall, “is not a reasonable agreement.”

McConnell told reporters on Thursday night: We’re still talking. At least we’re talking. I think that’s better than it was before.”

The Senate was scheduled to work on Friday, but it was unclear whether it might take any action on ending the shutdown.

CNN reported on Thursday that the White House was preparing an emergency declaration that Trump could issue to circumvent Congress if lawmakers do not fund his wall.

Asked about the report, a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Nothing is off the table, but we still believe the best path forward is working with Congress on a solution to the humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border.”

An emergency declaration would almost certainly be swiftly challenged on constitutional grounds by Democrats.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

Explainer: How U.S. shutdown over border wall fight might play out

Jocelyn Lofstrom, whose husband is a federal worker, prepares a sign prior to a protest of the partial U.S government shutdown on day 33 of of the shutdown in the Hart Senate office building in Washington, U.S., January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On the 34th day of a partial U.S. government shutdown, President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remain at odds over his demand for funding for a wall on the border with Mexico.

Trump has refused to sign any legislation to fund an array of government agencies, including the departments of agriculture, commerce, justice, interior and homeland security, unless it includes $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall.

The Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have rejected the wall as ineffective and immoral and want the government to be reopened before any further talks about border security.

As long as the stalemate continues, 800,000 federal employees are on furlough or working without pay.

The following are some possible ways the standoff might end:

GLIMMERS OF COMPROMISE

The Senate is due to vote on two measures on Thursday: Trump’s proposal to fund government agencies through Sept. 30 while paying for a wall and also providing some temporary protections for some undocumented immigrants (“Dreamers”), and a Democratic plan to reopen the government through Feb. 8 while border security negotiations continue.

Both measures are expected to be defeated. If they are, that could clear the way for a new round of negotiations between Congress and Trump.

The fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is willing to allow the votes suggests he may be trying to persuade lawmakers of both parties to compromise. The speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, told reporters on Thursday that she was willing to meet face-to-face with Trump.

POSSIBLE WAYS TO BREAK THE IMPASSE

* Congress and Trump find a way to temporarily re-open the government under a promise of serious border security negotiations over the next month or so.

* Democrats agree to more than the $1.3 billion in border security funding they have been backing, but less than the $5.7 billion Trump wants. If Trump faces a public opinion backlash or there are signs Republican lawmakers may be abandoning him, he might have to settle for less.

* Democrats and Republicans agree on $5.7 billion in border security funding this year, but the language allows both sides to claim victory by including different ways of securing the border. Democrats insist the money will not be used to build a wall; Trump and his fellow Republicans tout the money that will include funding for various types of barriers and other tools to discourage illegal immigration and drugs.

* A “grand bargain” emerges that reopens the government, bolsters border security and also provides protections from deportation for “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. Other changes to immigration law also could be included. Such a deal would fund federal programs through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, add funds for an array of border security tools without imposing tough new constraints on immigration that Trump has previously attempted.

TRUMP DECLARES ‘NATIONAL EMERGENCY’

While the possibility that this might happen has faded recently, Trump could revive his threat to declare a national emergency at any time. His rationale would be that illegal immigration jeopardizes U.S. security and he is empowered to act by redirecting existing federal funds to build the wall. Defense Department accounts could be targeted for use on the border.

Under the Constitution, Congress holds the power to make decisions about spending U.S. taxpayers’ money and using presidential powers to move funding around is almost certain to face legal challenges.

Taking this step would probably lead to prompt enactment of legislation reopening the government under the belief that Trump would sign it into law, without the $5.7 billion.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Sonya Hepinstall)

Senate plans votes to end shutdown, but solution still far off

A visitor walks by the U.S. Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in U.S. history in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate planned votes on Thursday for competing proposals to end the partial government shutdown – both of which were likely to fail – as lawmakers and the White House sniped at each other over how to break their monthlong impasse.

Just hours before the Senate was scheduled to vote, there were signs that lawmakers might consider new ideas for ending the 34-day shutdown, which was triggered by Trump’s demand for money to fund his long-promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The shutdown has left hundreds of thousands of government workers furloughed or working without pay.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters that she was willing to meet face-to-face with Republican President Donald Trump to discuss the issue.

Her comment came one day after she announced that Trump’s State of the Union speech in the House chamber, scheduled for Tuesday, would not occur until the shutdown ended, despite the president’s plans to come. Trump, who considered giving the speech at another venue, conceded late on Wednesday and said he would deliver the speech in the House in the “near future.”

Trump wants $5.7 billion for the border barrier, opposed by Democrats, as part of any legislation to fund about a quarter of the federal government.

The longest such shutdown in U.S. history has left 800,000 federal workers, as well as private contractors, without pay and struggling to make ends meet, with the effects on government services and the economy reverberating nationwide.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday urged furloughed federal workers to seek loans to pay their bills while adding in a CNBC interview that he couldn’t understand why they were having trouble getting by.

Pelosi denounced the comments.

“Is this the, ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of attitude or ‘Call your father for money?’ or ‘This is character building for you?'” Pelosi asked at a news conference.

She said she did not understand why Ross would make the comment “as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second paycheck tomorrow.”

Trump had a response for Pelosi as well.

“Nancy just said she ‘just doesn’t understand why?’ Very simply, without a Wall it all doesn’t work. Our Country has a chance to greatly reduce Crime, Human Trafficking, Gangs and Drugs. Should have been done for decades. We will not Cave!” he said in a tweet.

VOTES PROCEED

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned a vote on Thursday afternoon on a Democratic proposal to fund the government for three weeks that does not include wall funding.

Its prospects looked dim in the Republican-majority Senate, although at least one conservative senator reportedly plans to back it. The Democratic-controlled House has passed similar bills but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include the wall funding.

McConnell has previously said he would not consider legislation that Trump did not support. The fact that he is willing to allow a vote suggests he may be trying to persuade lawmakers of both parties to compromise.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner intends to vote for the bill, the Denver Post said, citing the lawmaker’s spokesman. Gardner’s representatives could not be reached for immediately for comment.

McConnell also planned to hold a vote on a separate bill that includes wall funding and a temporary extension of protections for “Dreamers,” hundreds of thousands of people brought to the United States illegally as children, to reflect an offer Trump made on Saturday.

Democrats have dismissed Trump’s offer, saying they would not negotiate on border security before reopening the government and would not trade a temporary extension of the immigrants’ protections in return for a permanent border wall they have called ineffective, costly and immoral.

McConnell’s calculation may be that if both bills fail, Republicans and Democrats would be convinced to seek a deal.

One possibility emerged on Wednesday when House Democratic leaders floated the idea of giving Trump most or all of the money he seeks for security along the Mexican border but that could not be used to build a wall.

Representative James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said Democrats could fulfill Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for border security with technological tools such as drones, X-rays and sensors, as well as more border patrol agents.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found more than half of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown even as he has sought to shift blame to Democrats after saying last month he would be “proud” to close the government for border security.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott)