Democrats turn to Nevada, South Carolina after Sanders’ New Hampshire win

By John Whitesides and Amanda Becker

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) – Democrats vying for the right to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump turned their focus to Nevada and South Carolina after Bernie Sanders solidified his front-runner status with a narrow victory in New Hampshire, with Pete Buttigieg close behind him.

While Sanders, a U.S. senator from neighboring Vermont, and Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, finished first and second in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary respectively, the contest also showed the growing appeal of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who placed third after surging over the past few days.

Two Democrats whose fortunes have been fading – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden – limped out of New Hampshire, finishing fourth and fifth respectively amid fresh questions about the viability of their candidacies.

New Hampshire was the second contest in the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump, a Republican, in the Nov. 3 election. Sanders and Buttigieg finished in a virtual tie in the first contest last week in Iowa and won an equal number of delegates – who formally vote at the party’s convention in July to select a nominee – in New Hampshire, according to early projections.

The campaign’s focus now begins to shift to states more demographically diverse than the largely white and rural kickoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The next contest is on Feb. 22 in Nevada, where more than a quarter of the residents are Latino, followed a week later by South Carolina, where about a fourth are African-American.

After that, 14 states, including California and Texas, vote in the March 3 contests known as Super Tuesday, which will also be the first time voters see the name of billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the Democratic presidential ballot.

Democrats must decide whether their best choice to challenge Trump would be a moderate like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden or Bloomberg – or a candidate further to the left like Sanders or Warren.

Only one of the candidates has public events planned on Wednesday. Bloomberg, a billionaire media mogul, plans rallies in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee.

With an eye toward a potential general election campaign against Trump, Bloomberg on Wednesday also announced the opening of a campaign office in New Hampshire headed by Democratic strategist Liz Purdy.

Bloomberg also picked up endorsements from three black members of the U.S. House of Representatives after he came under scrutiny over his past support for a policing tactic known as stop and frisk, which disproportionately affected racial minorities.

In New Hampshire, Sanders had 26% of the vote and Buttigieg had 24%. Klobuchar had 20%, Warren 9% and Biden 8%.

Buttigieg on Wednesday said his strong results in Iowa and New Hampshire showed he had momentum going forward, “settling the questions of whether we could build a campaign across age groups and different kinds of communities.”

Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay U.S. president if elected, still faces questions about what opinion polls show is his weakness with black voters, one of the most loyal and vital Democratic voting blocs.

‘A WHOLE NEW LOOK’

Asked about how he could gain the confidence of racial minority voters, Buttigieg told MSNBC he was focused on economic empowerment and suggested he had learned lessons, sometimes “the hard way,” as mayor of South Bend. He pointed to a plan he released last summer aimed at fighting racism.

“I think we’re getting a whole new look from black and Latino voters who have so much riding on making sure that we defeat Donald Trump, because they are among those with most to lose if they have to endure yet another term of this president,” he told MSNBC.

In a sign of the growing rivalry between Sanders, 78, and Buttigieg, 38, supporters for the senator booed and chanted “Wall Street Pete!” when Buttigieg’s post-primary speech was shown on screens.

“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” Sanders told supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, late on Tuesday.

The Democratic field shrank to nine main candidates after businessman Andrew Yang and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who had trailed in the polls and performed poorly on Tuesday, dropped out.

Biden, 77, who was once the front-runner in the Democratic race, stumbled to his second consecutive poor finish after placing fourth in Iowa. He is certain to face growing questions about his ability to consolidate moderate support against a surging Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

Klobuchar’s campaign said it was spending more than $1 million on ads in Nevada.

“We have beaten the odds every step of the way,” Klobuchar, 59, told supporters in Concord. “Because of you, we are taking this campaign to Nevada. We are going to South Carolina. And we are taking this message of unity to the country.”

 

(Reporting by John Whitesides, James Oliphant, Simon Lewis, Michael Martina and Amanda Becker in New Hampshire, additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Freed from impeachment drama, Trump to press ahead with re-election campaign

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump emerged confident and ready to press on with his re-election effort on Wednesday after the Democratic-led impeachment drive that he denounced as illegitimate crashed to a halt in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump plans to speak about the issue at the White House on Thursday. A source close to the president described his address as a “vindication speech” that would combine some magnanimity with an “I told you so” tone.

Next, advisers said, Trump would proceed at full steam on his political and policy goals, throwing himself fully into his re-election campaign and efforts to fulfill promises he has made to his supporters and the electorate.

“The president is pleased to put this latest chapter of shameful behavior by the Democrats in the past, and looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of the American people in 2020 and beyond,” the White House said in a statement after the verdict.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that accused him of abusing his power by pressing Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face him in the Nov. 3 election, and obstructing Congress’ attempts to investigate the matter.

But he did not come out of the process unscathed.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear, the impeachment will be part of his legacy, and Republican Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict him on the abuse-of-power charge deprived the president of the ability to dismiss the process as entirely partisan.

But Republican officials noted record fundraising during the impeachment process, leading Trump’s re-election effort to bring in $155 million in the last three months of 2019 alone, boosted by a support base that is both pumped up and ticked off.

‘TOTAL VINDICATION’

Although the bruising impeachment battle is certain to be a factor for voters considering whether to re-elect Trump in November, his campaign is claiming victory.

“Acquittal means total vindication,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director. “The Democrats’ decision to move forward with impeachment will go down as the worst political miscalculation in American history.”

In a sign of confidence, minutes after senators found him not guilty, the president tweeted a video of himself with campaign signs projected well into the future, suggesting he wanted to be president for decades to come.

U.S. presidents are constitutionally limited to two elected terms in office. Trump faced accusations of being autocratic and king-like during the Senate impeachment trial.

Trump released another video several hours later that referred to Romney as a “Democrat secret asset” and said the senator tried to “infiltrate” the president’s administration when Trump considered him for the position of secretary of state.

As the impeachment drama dragged on over the weeks, Trump gyrated between feeling upbeat and aggrieved. Advisers said he complained that his trade deal with Mexico and Canada did not get the media coverage it deserved because of the focus on impeachment.

With the threat of removal from office behind him, Trump is expected to bask in the glow of a strong economy and hammer Democrats for their efforts to take him down, even as supporters anticipate that Democrats will keep investigating him.

“I think President Trump and all of his allies are keenly aware of the fact that Democrats are going to keep this barrage up all the way through the November election,” said Jason Miller, a campaign adviser in 2016.

Trump plans to headline a rally in New Hampshire next week and more frequent rallies are expected in the coming months.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Senate acquits Trump in historic vote as re-election battle looms

By David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his U.S. Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided America to give him a second White House term.

The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history – just like the two other impeached presidents – in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarize the country.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on Dec. 18, with the votes falling far short of the two-thirds majority required in the 100-seat Senate to remove him under the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit him of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. Republican Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict. No Democrat voted to acquit.

The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. A conviction on either count would have elevated Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican, into the presidency. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.

On each of the two charges, the senators voted one by one on the Senate floor with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called the trial a sham and a cover-up. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election victory.

Throughout the impeachment drama, Trump and his Republican allies kept up their attacks on Biden’s integrity. It remains to be seen how much political damage that inflicted. In the first of the state-by-state contests to determine the Democratic challenger to Trump, Biden placed a disappointing fourth in Iowa, according to incomplete results from Monday’s voting. Biden has accused Trump of “lies, smears, distortions and name-calling.”

 

‘APPALLING ABUSE’

Trump faces no serious challengers for his party’s presidential nomination. He is poised to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in August and previewed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday campaign themes such as American renewal, economic vitality and hardline immigration policies.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke with his party to vote to convict Trump on the abuse-of-power charge. Romney called the president’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden “grievously wrong” and said Trump was “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”

“What he did was not ‘perfect,'” Romney said on the Senate floor, as Trump has described his call with Ukraine’s president that was at the heart of the scandal. “No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep one’s self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Romney, a moderate and elder statesman in his party, paused during his speech as he became choked with emotion after mentioning the importance of his religious faith.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lashed out at Democrats, saying: “What you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell.”

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Trump’s acquittal in an unfair trial was worth nothing.

“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition.”

In his speech, McConnell said: “The architects of this impeachment claimed they were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both.”

 

BIGGEST VICTORY YET

Democrats expressed concern that an acquittal would further embolden a president who already challenges political norms. They have painted him as threat to U.S. democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They also have voiced concern over Russia interfering in another American election.

Trump’s legal team offered a vision of nearly unlimited presidential powers, a view Democrats said placed any president above the law.

The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations – they are fighting in court for access to his financial records – and voiced hope that the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.

Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stick with him.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That is nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.

The trial formally began on Jan. 16. The Senate voted 51-49 last Friday to defeat the Democrats’ bid to call witnesses such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, with only two Republicans joining them.

In the previous presidential impeachment trials, Andrew Johnson was acquitted in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and Bill Clinton was acquitted in 1999 of charges stemming from a sex scandal.

In the hours before the vote, numerous senators gave speeches on the Senate floor explaining their vote.

 

SHADOW OF INVESTIGATION

Trump, now seeking a second four-year term, has been under the shadow of some sort of investigation for most of his presidency. The acquittal marked the second time in 10 months that he withstood an existential threat to his presidency.

In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence that Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia in its interference on his behalf in the 2016 election. Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice in seeking to impede the investigation but stopped short of concluding the president acted unlawfully. Trump declared full vindication.

Last July 25, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a phone call to “do us a favor” and open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine colluded with Democrats to meddle in the 2016 election to harm Trump.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president. Trump accused the Bidens of corruption without offering substantiation. The Bidens denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump further abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists and by dangling a coveted White House meeting as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.

Under the Constitution, impeachment is the mechanism for removing a president or certain other federal officials for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)

Trump nears likely acquittal as U.S. Senate to cast impeachment vote

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four months after Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the Senate is poised on Wednesday to acquit him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump, a Republican and only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, faces a 4 p.m. (2100 GMT) vote that will determine whether he can complete his term as president or must immediately turn over his office to Vice President Mike Pence.

While the vote will be historic, there is little doubt of the outcome as none of the Senate’s 53 Republicans have said they will vote to convict him.

It would take 67 of the 100 senators to oust the 45th president from office – an action that has never been taken by the Senate.

In 1999, Democratic President Bill Clinton was acquitted on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was found not guilty of 11 charges, which partially revolved around a post-Civil War tussle over his removal of the secretary of war.

Richard Nixon, the only president to resign, did so in 1974 when many of his fellow Republicans abandoned him during a House impeachment probe related to a break-in at Democratic Party offices in Washington.

If Trump is acquitted, Republicans and Democrats will take their respective cases to voters as Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3. Rancor amid the proceedings echoed in Congress late Tuesday as Trump delivered his annual State of the Union remarks, with tensions between the president and House Democrats spilling into public view.

Trump’s Senate trial, spanning 21 days, focused on whether he withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine last summer as leverage to get Kiev to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic contender in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

Trump denied any wrongdoing and Republicans in the House and Senate largely rallied around him. But over the past few days, some Republican senators have criticized Trump’s behavior, while defending his right to remain in office.

“It was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican up for re-election this year, said on Tuesday, adding that Trump had learned his lesson.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen rejected that argument, telling CNN on Wednesday that “we know from the president’s own words that he has not,” as Democrats argue Trump will remain undeterred if faced with no rebuke.

Even with the outcome in sight, it remains to be seen whether any Democrats from Trump-leaning states break ranks to hand Trump a bipartisan acquittal.

Senator Mitt Romney, the only other moderate Republican along with Collins to go against the party earlier by urging more witness testimony, is also expected to make remarks on Wednesday. Once the party’s standard-bearer as its 2012 presidential nominee, he has at times appeared out of step with a party now fully behind the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has waged a full-throated defense of Trump on Tuesday, urging the Senate to “vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic.”

In response, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer argued that it was “the beginning of the end of democracy” if Americans believe their elections are being manipulated through foreign interference, such as that solicited by Trump.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Jan. 27 and 28 showed 39% of American adults approved of Trump’s performance in office, while 55% disapproved. That is slightly down from when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and his disapproval at 53%.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

A newly emboldened Trump gives Democrats a reason to fret

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump took the stage for his State of the Union speech in an unfamiliar position: With the wind at his back.

For most of his three years in office, Trump has been surrounded by tumult, much of it of his own making, resulting ultimately in his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Now, for the first time in a long time, things are looking up.

He is on the verge of being acquitted by his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. Opinion polls show his approval ratings on an upswing. And the Democratic presidential nomination race was consumed by chaos as results from the Iowa caucuses this week were delayed by a full day because the mobile app used to record the results had a coding problem.

For Trump, the timing could not be better.

Despite being impeached, he is firmly entrenched in office, after surviving the Mueller investigation into Russian electoral interference and accusations that he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

“He has had existential political threats facing him from the moment he was elected until tomorrow,” said Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, referring to the impending acquittal vote on impeachment charges.

All of it brought out the showman in the former reality TV star during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. At one point, he choreographed a reunion between a U.S. servicemember returning from Afghanistan and his family to cheers from lawmakers.

Along that line, for much of the speech, Trump appeared to be making an overt appeal to suburban voters who could decide his fate.

He spoke of child-care initiatives, and efforts to combat AIDS and the opioid crisis. He called for greater transparency for medical bills, and he sought to take credit for protecting Americans with pre-existing healthcare conditions, even though his administration supports a lawsuit that would gut the Affordable Care Act.

Trump also touted bipartisan accomplishments such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and vowed to protect entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. He pledged to protect the public from the coronavirus that is spreading in China and beyond.

RIGHT TURN

But lest anyone think the combustible Trump had turned touchy-feely, he also reassured his hardline supporters by previewing what promises to be a recurrent campaign theme: accusing Democrats of supporting unlimited free healthcare to undocumented immigrants.

As he did during his first presidential campaign, he warned of the dangers of so-called “Sanctuary Cities” and detailed incidents of violent crime committed by border-crossers.

Trump, too, seemed eager to exploit divisions among Democrats as they struggle to settle on a candidate who could mount the biggest threat to him.

The early favorite, Biden, appeared to have stumbled badly in Iowa, while U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, was much more competitive.

At one point, Trump appeared to reference Sanders, who favors a government-run healthcare system, by declaring “We will never let socialism destroy American healthcare!”

At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Sanders drew a laugh from the crowd on Tuesday when he questioned Trump’s pledge to improve healthcare in America: “Really? How gullible do you think the American people are?” he said.

In his speech to Congress, Trump did not address the most polarizing topic in the room, the months-long attempt by Democrats to remove him from office. He avoided any temptation to take a victory lap ahead of Wednesday’s Senate vote.

“It was very smart to ignore the impeachment trial, stay above the fray and instead provide a laundry list of accomplishments along with proposals that will keep his base rock solid,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington.

That did not stop partisan tensions from running high. At the close of his remarks, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who had orchestrated Trump’s impeachment in the House, tore up her copy of his speech. Earlier, Trump had refused to shake her hand upon entering the chamber.

While recent polls showed that more than 40 percent of Americans favored Trump’s conviction and removal from office on charges that he tried to persuade Ukraine to interfere in the coming election, Trump received good news from another poll on Tuesday.

The Gallup organization said he had reached his personal best in their tracking poll, hitting 49% approval – the highest since he took office.

That prompted nervous Democrats on social media all day to fret that Trump, after three years of non-stop drama, might be peaking at just the right time.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Manchester, New Hampshire; Editing by Howard Goller)

Top Senate Republican lashes out at Democrats over Trump impeachment

By Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A day before the Senate is expected to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, the chamber’s top Republican on Tuesday exhorted senators to clear Trump and stop Democrats’ “factional fever” from scorching America’s system of government.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer, said the president, not impeachment, was the threat to democracy in the United States.

The impeachment trial of the 45th U.S. president began on Jan. 16 and is winding to a close on Wednesday, when the deeply divided Senate is scheduled to vote on whether Trump should be removed from office. He appears assured of acquittal, with a two-thirds vote needed to remove him from office and his fellow Republicans occupying 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

Senators on Tuesday were delivering a series of speeches explaining how they will vote.

McConnell, who helped engineer a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence, lashed out during a speech on the Senate floor at the Democratic House of Representatives for pursuing impeachment.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought in the investigation. The Constitution allows for the removal of a president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers’ design to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic,” McConnell said.

McConnell echoed the arguments made by Trump’s legal team that Democrats were seeking to annul the 2016 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Washington Democrats think President Donald Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor the moment – the moment – he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. That is the original sin of this presidency – that he won and they lost,” McConnell said. “Ever since, the nation has suffered through a grinding campaign against our norms and institutions from the same people who keep shouting that our norms and institutions need defending.”

McConnell called the two charges constitutionally incoherent, though he did disagree with the view offered by Trump’s legal team that a president cannot be impeached without a violation of statutory law.

Shortly after McConnell spoke, top Senate Democrat Schumer said Trump’s actions in the Ukraine matter were the true threat to America. Schumer said that for a president to “blackmail a foreign country to interfere in our elections gets at the very core of what our democracy is about.”

“If Americans believe that they don’t determine who is president, who is governor, who is senator, but some foreign country out of reach can join us on elections, that is the beginning of the end of democracy,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Trump has drawn almost uniform support among Republican senators though several have called his actions wrong and inappropriate.

THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

Trump is running for re-election in the Nov. 3 election. Former Vice President Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump. Besides aiming to unseat Trump, Democrats hope to keep their majority in the House and seek to seize the Senate from Republican control.

Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to Congress in the House chamber on Tuesday night.

Any hints of fallout in the impeachment trial will be most closely watched in electoral districts and states closely divided between Republicans and Democrats and will play a pivotal role in November’s House and Senate races.

Any backlash against the impeachment drive could hurt some Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, while Republicans who have staunchly defended Trump could find themselves in a tough spot with their moderate constituents.

On Monday night, Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate, said she would vote to acquit Trump but also sharply criticized the president and lawmakers in both parties.

“The president’s behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedent over those of this great nation,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said that even if the Senate votes to acquit the president as expected, Democrats have succeeded in uncovering Trump’s actions that they argue make him unfit for office or re-election.

“Whatever happens, he has been impeached forever. And now these senators, though they don’t have the courage to assign the appropriate penalty, at least are recognizing that he did something wrong,” Pelosi told the New York Times.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Makini Brice, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller)

No Iowa caucus results spark Democrat frustration

By Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – The Democratic Party’s effort to choose an election challenger to Donald Trump got off to a chaotic start in Iowa, with officials blaming “inconsistencies” for an indefinite delay in the state’s caucus results and the president gloating over his rivals’ misfortune.

Long lines and big crowds were reported in some of the more than 1,600 schools, community centers and other locations on Monday night and problems with a new mobile app designed to report the vote forced state party officials to verify the data by other means.

Some Democratic candidates left for New Hampshire, which hosts the next nominating contest on Feb. 11, without a winner announced in Iowa. The chaos was likely to increase criticism from Democrats who have long complained the rural state with a largely white population has an outsized role in determining the presidential candidate.

Shortly after midnight, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price told reporters to expect results later on Tuesday in the state, the first to hold a nominating contest.

The party said it had to make “quality checks” after finding “inconsistencies” in the reporting of the data from caucus sites, sparking frustration among Democrats and criticism from Republicans.

Trump, a Republican, mocked the Democrats, calling the caucus confusion an “unmitigated disaster” in a Twitter post on Tuesday. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.”

The delay prompted two leading candidates in the Iowa race, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, to release their own tallies.

It was unclear when official results would be released.

Some local officials reported having trouble using the mobile app to report results, but when they turned to the traditional method – the telephone – they were put on hold and could not get through.

“We haven’t had that problem before that I know of. Normally we’ve called it in and got right through,” said Donna Crum, chair of the Democratic party in Mills County, Iowa.

Iowa Democratic Party officials said they were confident in their ability to ensure accurate results, citing a paper trail to validate the votes.

INAUSPICIOUS START

It was an inauspicious beginning for Democrats as the party’s 11 contenders began the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

But Republicans in Iowa have their own history of chaos. On the night of the party’s 2012 caucuses, Mitt Romney was declared to have won by eight votes. But the party said two weeks later that Rick Santorum had won by a 34-vote margin. Romney went on to be the nominee.

“Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” said Roger Lau, campaign manager for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

A source in Buttigieg’s campaign said the delay would “delegitimize” the win and dampen the immediate benefits of a strong night. Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s general counsel, Dana Remus, told state party officials in a letter there were widespread failures in the party’s system of reporting results.

After more than a year of campaigning and more than $800 million in spending, the results in Iowa were expected to begin to provide answers for a party desperately trying to figure out how to beat the businessman-turned-president.

Voters had to choose whether to back someone with appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans, like moderates Biden, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota, or someone who energizes the party’s liberal base and brings out new voters, like progressives Sanders and Warren.

DECLARING VICTORY

With no results to celebrate or mourn, the candidates spun their own upbeat view of the outcome. The Sanders campaign released what it said were its internal numbers collected at 40% of precincts, showing him in first, ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and Biden in fourth place.

“I have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced, and when those results are announced I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” Sanders told cheering supporters.

Buttigieg told his supporters in Iowa that “we don’t know the results” but was looking ahead to the New Hampshire contest.

“By all indications, we are going to New Hampshire victorious,” he said.

Several of the candidates, including Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, headed to New Hampshire immediately after the caucuses. Sanders planned to fly there on Tuesday morning.

“Of course we don’t know the results yet – minor problem – but we know we did incredibly well,” Klobuchar told supporters at the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport.

At the caucus sites in Iowa, voters had gathered in groups by candidate preference in a public display of support. If a candidate did not attract 15% of voters, the total needed to be considered viable, that candidates’ supporters were released to back another contender, leading to a further round of persuasion.

Even if one candidate eventually wins by a commanding margin in Iowa, Democrats may still lack clear answers as the race moves on to the other three early voting states of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina later in February.

Whoever remains in the race by Super Tuesday on March 3, when 15 states and territories vote, will also confront billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is skipping the early states in favor of focusing on states rich in delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax, Tim Reid, Simon Lewis, Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson; Writing by John Whitesides and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller and Giles Elgood)

Trump impeachment trial end gets closer; witness bid likely to fail

By James Oliphant and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial faces a climactic vote on Friday, when senators are due to decide whether to call witnesses and prolong the historic proceedings or instead bring them to the swift conclusion and acquittal that Trump wants.

Democrats need to persuade four Republicans to vote with them in the Senate in order to call witnesses such as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and sometime critic of Trump, on Friday became the second Republican senator to state support for voting for witnesses, joining fellow moderate Susan Collins.

Barring an unforeseen change of heart by another Republican senator, that would leave Democrats short of the 51 votes they need and allow Trump’s allies to defeat the request for additional evidence and move toward a final vote that is all but certain to acquit the president and leave him in office.

That final vote could take place late on Friday or on Saturday, congressional sources said.

GRAPHIC: Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP-WHISTLEBLOWER/0100B2EZ1MK/index.html

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who had been undecided, said late on Thursday that Democrats had proven the case against Trump but that the president’s actions did “not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”

Senate Democrats have been arguing throughout the two-week proceedings that lawmakers need to hear from witnesses in order for it to be a fair trial. This would be the first Senate impeachment trial in U.S. history with no witnesses, including trials of two prior presidents and a number of other federal officials.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said a trial barring witnesses and new evidence would be a “kangaroo court” and a “tragedy in every possible way.”

“Lamar’s decision – it’s an offense against the Senate, it’s an offense against the rule of law, and it’s an offense against the American people,” Merkley told CNN.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump in December, formally charging him with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The House also charged Trump with obstruction of Congress for blocking current and former officials from providing testimony or documents.

“The truth is staring us in the eyes,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, said on the Senate floor.

“We know why they don’t want John Bolton to testify. It’s not that we don’t really know what’s happened here. They just don’t want the American people to hear it in all of its ugly, graphic detail.”

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. A vote of two-thirds of the Senate is required to remove him from office and no Republicans have yet indicated they will vote to convict.

Trump’s Republican allies have tried to keep the trial on a fast track and minimize any damage to the president, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. Trump’s acquittal would allow him to claim vindication just as Democrats hold the first of the state-by-state nominating contests on Monday in Iowa to choose the party’s nominee to challenge Trump in the election.

The president held a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday night and denounced the impeachment trial, calling it an effort by Democrats to overturn his 2016 election victory.

“They want to nullify your ballots, poison our democracy and overthrow the entire system of government,” Trump told his supporters.

SHOWDOWN

On Friday, the Democrats prosecuting Trump and the president’s lawyers are expected to present closing arguments before the Senate votes on whether to call witnesses.

Contradicting Trump’s version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations of Democrats, including Biden and the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Kiev, emphasized U.S. support for Ukraine.

Pompeo, the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Ukraine since the impeachment began, also denied that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would be granted a visit to the White House to meet Trump only if Ukraine agreed to announce an investigation of Hunter Biden.

If further witnesses and documents are permitted, Republicans have threatened to call either Joe or Hunter Biden and perhaps the whistleblower within the intelligence community whose complaint about Ukraine led the House to begin its investigation.

If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice John Roberts could step in to break the tie. But there is so little precedent for impeachment trials that Senate aides said there was no way to know exactly what would occur.

Merkley said he did not expect Roberts to break a tie. “He’s not taking a stand for the institutions of the United States,” Merkley said.

If Roberts declines to break a tie, the deadlock would mean a defeat for Democrats.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Jeff Mason in Des Moines, Iowa; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Robert Birsel, Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Republicans hope for quick end to Trump trial as Democrats push for witnesses

By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate is expected to wrap up the initial phase of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Thursday before turning to the explosive question of whether to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.

Republicans, who control the Senate, said there was a chance the trial could end on Friday with Trump’s acquittal on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December.

An acquittal would leave the Republican president in office and allow him to claim vindication just as the Democratic Party holds its first nominating contest for the Nov. 3 election in Iowa on Monday. Trump will hold a rally in the state on Thursday night.

Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by using congressionally approved military aid as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Lawyers for Trump and the House Democrats who are managing the impeachment prosecution will spend a second day on Thursday answering questions about the case written down by lawmakers and read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Then, probably on Friday, each side will present what amount to closing arguments before the senators move to the central question of whether to call witnesses to shed more light on Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine President Volodmyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden.

Democrats need to persuade at least four Republican senators to vote with them to assure a majority vote in the 100-seat chamber, an effort the top Democrat in the Senate has called an uphill fight.

At least four Republicans – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – and two Democrats – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Alabama’s Doug Jones – are seen as potentially on the fence on the issue.

Democrats are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office no matter what happens, but allowing witnesses could inflict political damage on the president as he seeks re-election.

Possible testimony from Bolton is of particular interest after a report – which he has not denied – that he planned to say in an upcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine until it investigated Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Representative Sylvia Garcia, one of the Democratic impeachment managers, told reporters on Thursday morning she still thought it was possible that Bolton would appear.

“Today our job will be to convince them (the senators) that this will be a fair trial,” Garcia said on a conference call.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER

In questioning on Wednesday, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz offered an expansive defense of presidential power, saying: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, responded on Thursday in a tweet: “We’ve seen a remarkable lowering of the bar. According to Trump’s lawyers, everything is okay as long as the president believes it helps his reelection. It’s not okay to solicit foreign election interference, even if you fail. It just makes you a failed crook.”

Dershowitz tweeted on Thursday that the media had “distorted” his remarks.

Senator John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in seniority, has said it was possible the trial could end on Friday without witnesses being called in spite of pressure from Democrats.

“The momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday,” he said. Other Republican senators were predicting a similar outcome.

Democrats were not conceding defeat, however.

“There’s tremendous pressure from a vindictive, nasty president on every Republican senator, but I think (as) they sit there … we’ve got a real shot to get witnesses and documents,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday.

If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice Roberts could step in to break the tie. There is so little precedent for impeachment trials – this is only the third of a president in U.S. history – Senate aides said there is no way to know exactly what would occur, however.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Paul Simao)

Trump impeachment: What happens next?

(Reuters) – Lawyers defending U.S. President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial wrapped up their presentation on Tuesday.

Here is what to look out for next:

WEDNESDAY

* When the Senate returns at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), the 100 senators will get a chance to question the Democratic lawmakers prosecuting the case, as well as Trump’s defense team.

* The Senate has set aside up to 16 hours for questioning over two days. Lawmakers will not ask questions directly themselves but will submit them to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

* Questions can be directed at the prosecution or the defense, but not at other senators. Roberts will pose the questions.

THURSDAY

* Questioning is likely to continue, although it is not clear whether lawmakers will use all of their time.

FRIDAY AND BEYOND

* At the conclusion of the question period, the impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers will have four hours, equally divided, to make what could amount to closing arguments.

* The Senate will then debate on Friday whether to subpoena witnesses and documents, followed by a vote. In the event of a tie vote, the motion fails.

* If the Senate votes to hear more evidence, it would then hold subsequent votes on which witnesses senators would like to call and what documents they want to read.

* If the Senate subpoenas witnesses, they would be deposed privately before the Senate decides on public testimony.

* If no witnesses or additional documents are subpoenaed, senators could consider other motions or proceed to vote on each article of impeachment.

* Theoretically, the trial could conclude this week. But if witnesses are called, it could still be going on when Trump delivers the annual State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)