Trump points to Republican gains, broaches cooperation with Democrats

Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill addresses her supporters at her midterm election night party in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. November 6, 2018. McCaskill conceded the election to Republican Josh Hawley. REUTERS/Sarah Conard

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday portrayed the midterm election results as “an incredible day” for his Republicans despite a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives that will lead to greater restraints on his administration.

At a White House news conference, Trump argued that Republicans beat historical odds in Tuesday’s elections, saying the party’s gains in the U.S. Senate outweighed its loss of the House.

He also mocked those Republican candidates who lost their seats after refusing to embrace him on the campaign trail, such as U.S. Representative Barbara Comstock of Virginia.

“It was a big day yesterday, an incredible day,” he said in what was only his third formal solo news conference at the White House. “Last night the R party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

Republicans expanded their control of the U.S. Senate, knocking off at least three Democratic incumbents on Tuesday, following a divisive campaign marked by fierce clashes over race and immigration.

But they lost their majority in the House, a setback for the president after a campaign that became a referendum on his combative leadership.

The divided power in Congress combined with Trump’s expansive view of executive power could herald even deeper political polarization and legislative gridlock in Washington.

The Democrats will now head House committees that can investigate the president’s tax returns, possible business conflicts of interest and any links between his 2016 election campaign and Russia.

There may be some room, however, for Trump and Democrats to work together on issues with bipartisan support such as a package to improve infrastructure or protections against prescription drug price increases.

“It really could be a beautiful bipartisan situation,” Trump said.

He said Nancy Pelosi, who may be the next speaker of the House, had expressed to him in a phone call a desire to work together. But Trump doubted there would be much common ground if Democrats press investigations.

“You can’t do it simultaneously,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, Patricia Zengerle, Amanda Bedcker and David Alexander in Washington and Megan Davies in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell and Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry and Paul Simao)

Firepower for U.S. stocks may lose spark as Democrats gain clout

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. stock market may be facing the remainder of Donald Trump’s presidential term with the prospect of less juice to supercharge it.

Stock returns have been fueled the past year by Trump’s corporate tax cuts, which have pumped up profits. Yet, any hope of further fiscal stimulus in the form of more tax cuts faded with the results of Tuesday’s congressional elections, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s Republican party.

“The return to political gridlock in Washington will likely serve to temper growth expectations, or at least moderate the prospect of additional stimulative fiscal policy,” said Jon Hill, US Rates Strategist at BMO Capital Markets in New York.

The election comes as the market is also losing the low-rate monetary policy that has supported equities during its near decade-long bull run, as the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to stave off inflation.

Without both fiscal and monetary stimulus, Wall Street performance will depend even more on fundamental factors at a time investors are looking for signs pointing to when the long economic expansion will finally end.

“This is really not a stock market that needs more fiscal stimulus and I think in order for the bull market to continue what it really needs is strong earnings in the face of what is likely to be increasing interest rates,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Indeed, some investors may see a silver lining in the diminished prospects for more tax cuts, given concerns about the ballooning deficit and even higher interest rates.

“If the Republicans swept today, you would get more fiscal stimulus but that also would likely result in higher interest rates and the Fed moving potentially faster,” said Keith Lerner, chief market strategist at SunTrust Advisory Services in Atlanta. “So beyond the initial positive reaction, my sense is that there would be some offsets from higher interest rates.”

At the same time, the potential for some fiscal stimulus is still alive through an infrastructure spending package, an area where analysts say Trump and Democrats could find common ground and where an agreement could boost stocks, particularly shares in construction and materials companies.

HEADWINDS AHEAD

Tuesday’s result of a split Congress, with Republicans keeping control of the Senate, was the most likely scenario projected by polling data and prediction markets ahead of the elections and had been anticipated by investors.

Immediate market moves to the news may be misleading. Two years ago, stocks futures plunged when it became clear that Trump would win the presidency, only for them to reverse course within hours.

Stock market gains this year may indeed continue – stocks historically have climbed following midterm elections. For the two calendar years following each national U.S. election, the S&P 500 had a mean annual increase of 12 percent under Republican-controlled governments, compared to an increase of 9 percent for Democratic-controlled governments and a 7 percent rise for gridlocked governments.

Yet replicating the lofty returns of Trump’s first half of his term – the stock market is up 29 percent since his election – may prove elusive.

Democratic control of the House makes the prospect of a new tax-cut package, following the recent steep cut in the U.S. corporate tax rate, appear less likely. Trump has been seeking a 10 percent middle-class tax cut while making permanent individual tax cuts from his 2017 tax overhaul.

The change in House control could bring other challenges for the market.

Trump’s favoring of light regulations for banks and other industries has created a climate that investors say has helped stocks. A Democratic-led House could bring greater oversight on industries such as pharmaceuticals and banks.

With fresh oversight power, Democrats could inspect nearly every aspect of Trump’s presidency from his long-elusive tax returns to possible business ties with Russia and conflicts of interest. In the event the House attempts to impeach Trump, history suggests market volatility could spike, at least in the short term, according to OppenheimerFunds.

But, on the positive side for stocks, analysts doubt Democrats would be able to roll back the heart of the market-friendly changes, including the corporate tax cuts.

The Democrats’ victory in the House could also benefit the market, some investors have said, by tempering Trump’s aims such as on international trade.

Any pressure on stocks could be less severe because the stock market already endured a steep pullback in October from record highs, which some investors in part attribute to jitters over uncertainty about the election.

And some investors will be happy just to move on from the elections.

“It’s one less thing that’s in front of you that you have to worry about,” said Walter Todd, chief investment officer at Greenwood Capital in Greenwood, South Carolina.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Ablan, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Megan Davies and Frances Kerry)

Trump tastes election defeat but finds some wins at White House watch party

Sunset is seen over the White House, on the day of the U.S. midterm election, in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – By the time President Donald Trump and his team tucked into hamburgers and hot dogs at a White House election watch party on Tuesday night, he was ready for the bad news.

His closest aides tried to focus him on the positives.

Working on just a few hours’ sleep after a heavy final day of campaigning, Trump spent much of Tuesday on the phone, checking in with friends and advisers, talking to state and national Republican Party officials and White House aides to get a picture of what to expect.

What he heard from them was that Republicans would likely lose control of the House of Representatives but hang on to control of the Senate, adding seats to its majority there.

So when word came in that the projections were broadly correct, it did not come as a shock.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not surprising,” said Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The House loss meant Trump will face investigations into his tax returns, his businesses and his administration by Democratic lawmakers. His legislative agenda, including a vague proposal for a middle-class income tax cut, is likely stalled.

At his watch party, Trump was upbeat. In his only public comment on Tuesday night, he tweeted: “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!”

He followed up with a tweet on Wednesday morning taking credit for Republican wins.

“Those that worked with me in this incredible Midterm Election, embracing certain policies and principles, did very well. Those that did not, say goodbye! Yesterday was such a very Big Win, and all under the pressure of a Nasty and Hostile Media!,” Trump said.

In another message on Twitter, Trump said he had received congratulations “from foreign nations (friends) that were waiting me out, and hoping, on Trade Deals. Now we can all get back to work and get things done!” He did not name any countries.

BLAME FOR HOUSE SETBACKS

One Trump adviser said the president was probably not prepared for the onslaught of investigations that Democrats were likely to launch.

“I don’t think he fully comprehends what this means by giving the gavel to (Democratic House leader) Nancy Pelosi and her cronies,” the adviser said, asking to remain unidentified.

Some Trump advisers were already anonymously assigning blame for the expected loss of about 30 House seats, focusing on Corry Bliss, head of a political action committee that distributed money to House Republican candidates, and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel.

There was also grousing about House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced plans to resign at the end of the year instead of leaving sooner.

But there was some satisfaction among Trump and his aides that the losses were not as bad as had been projected by strategists who said a Democratic “blue wave” would take away 40 House seats.

The party that controls the White House usually loses seats in the first congressional midterm elections two years after a presidential victory. President Barack Obama’s Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010.

“Trump should be feeling good right now. They finished strong. They picked up seats in the Senate and they minimized the ‘blue wave’ in the House. These midterms are historically tough for a White House,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed.

Trump and his advisers felt that adding at least two seats to the Republicans’ Senate majority helped blunt the impact of the House outcome.

BURGERS AND BIG SCREENS

For Trump, the evening unfolded at a watch party in the White House residence, where the East Room and the State Dining Room were set up with large-screen TVs. Buffet tables were laden with some of Trump’s favorite foods.

The guest list included major donors Sheldon Adelson, Harold Hamm and Stephen Schwartzman, Cabinet members like Steven Mnuchin of Treasury and Kirstjen Nielsen of Homeland Security, evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, top aides like Conway, his wife Melania and children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, and Vice President Mike Pence.

Cheers rang out among the guests when Republican victories were scored, particularly when Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded defeat in the Florida governor’s race.

Trump was described by aides as content in how he performed on the campaign trail, not prone to soul-searching, and believing his focus on illegal immigration – he warned of an “invasion” from a caravan of Central American migrants weaving through Mexico – had helped give his candidates a needed boost.

Trump held 30 get-out-the-vote rallies in the past two months, including 11 in the last six days across eight states, the last three on Monday when he returned to the White House about 3 a.m.

Aides said the president was delighted at the projected victories by Republican Senate candidates he had campaigned for, such as Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri, as well as Republican Brian Kemp’s victory in the Georgia governor’s race.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump’s agenda remained the same, and that he would be willing to work with Democrats on immigration, the opioid crisis and funding infrastructure projects.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Kieran Murray, Peter Cooney and Chizu Nomiyama)

Police find packages sent to ex-U.S. intel chief Clapper, Senator Booker

A U.S. Postal Inspection Service facility is pictured near Miami International Airport, in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Authorities found two more suspicious packages on Friday addressed to U.S. Senator Cory Booker and James Clapper, the former U.S. director of national intelligence, amid a manhunt for the person who sent bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of U.S. President Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) walks to an elevator as he leaves the Senate chamber after a procedural vote on the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) walks to an elevator as he leaves the Senate chamber after a procedural vote on the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The 11th package was found at a mail sorting facility in Florida and was addressed to Booker, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, the FBI said on Twitter. A 12th package was addressed to James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, and sent to CNN, the cable network reported.

Meanwhile, a local police bomb squad and canine units joined federal investigators on Thursday to examine a sprawling U.S. mail distribution center at Opa-Locka, northwest of Miami, Miami-Dade County police said.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that Florida appeared to be the starting point for at least some of the bomb shipments.

“Some of the packages went through the mail. They originated, some of them, from Florida,” she said during an interview with Fox News Channel on Thursday. “I am confident that this person or people will be brought to justice.”

Authorities called the parcel bombs an act of terrorism. They were sent less than two weeks before national elections that could alter the balance of power in Washington.

FILE PHOTO: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

FILE PHOTO: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombs, and the public was asked to report any tips.

All the people targeted were frequently maligned by right-wing critics. They included Democratic Party donor George Soros, former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said that at least five of the packages bore a return address from the Florida office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Authorities believe the packages, which were intercepted before reaching their intended recipients, all went through the U.S. Postal Service at some point, a source said. None detonated and no one has been hurt.

The devices were thought to have been fashioned from bomb-making designs widely available on the internet, a federal law enforcement source told Reuters.

Still, investigators are treating the devices as “live” explosives, not a hoax, said James O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner. Two of the parcels surfaced there.

“It does remain possible that further packages have been or could be mailed,” William Sweeney, assistant director of the FBI, told a news conference in New York.

Investigators have declined to say whether the devices were built to be functional. Bomb experts and security analysts say that based on their rudimentary construction it appeared they were more likely designed to sow fear rather than to kill.

The parcels each consisted of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices,” the FBI said. Each was affixed with a computer-printed address label and six U.S. “Forever” postage stamps, the agency said.

Others who received the bombs were former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA director John Brennan, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters of California, and actor Robert De Nero. Two packages were sent both to Waters and Biden.

Brennan’s package was sent in care of the New York bureau of CNN, where he has appeared as an on-air analyst.

The episode sparked an outcry from Trump’s critics, who charged that his inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats and the press has created a climate for politically motivated violence.

After first calling for “unity” and civil discourse on Wednesday, Trump lashed out again Thursday at the “hateful” media. His supporters accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting the president was to blame for the bomb scare.

“Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!” Trump said on Twitter at about 3:15 a.m. EST (0715 GMT) on Friday.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Mark Hosenball and Susan Heavey in Washington; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Factbox: Targets of suspicious packages, explosive devices in the United States

(Top L-R) U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party donor George Soros, former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden are pictured along with (Bottom L-R) former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former CIA director John Brennan and actor Robert De Niro in a combination photograph made from Reuters file photos. REUTERS/Files

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Police were investigating a suspected explosive device found in New York City on Thursday after a series of other package bombs were sent this week to current and former Democratic U.S. politicians, CNN and a prominent Democratic Party donor.

The New York Police Department said it was handling a suspicious package in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. A police source said the package was addressed to actor Robert De Niro, who has been critical of Republican U.S. President Donald Trump.

Following are the figures targeted:

FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON:

A suspicious package sent to Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival in the 2016 presidential election, was found late Tuesday during an off-site mail screening, according to the Secret Service. Clinton said later her family was fine.

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

The Secret Service uncovered a suspected explosive device sent to Obama’s residence in the Kalorama district of Washington, D.C., early on Wednesday during a screening. Officials said Obama was not at risk.

CNN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR JOHN BRENNAN:

New York City Police evacuated the Time Warner Building Wednesday after a suspicious package was found in the CNN mail room. The package was addressed to Brennan, who is an outspoken Trump critic and a periodic contributor to the network.

BILLIONAIRE FINANCIER GEORGE SOROS

A small bomb was found on Monday in a mailbox outside a New York home of billionaire financier George Soros, one of the world’s biggest donors to liberal groups and causes. Soros, who was not at the property, is a hated figure among some right-wing activists in the United States and Eastern Europe.

U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN FROM FLORIDA DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ AND FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER:

The building housing the Florida office of Wasserman Schultz, former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, was evacuated after a suspicious package was found, according to media reports. The package was addressed to Holder but Wasserman Schultz was named on the return address.

U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN FROM CALIFORNIA MAXINE WATERS:

The FBI said on Wednesday it was investigating two packages addressed to Waters, who had also said Capitol Police told her that her Washington office was a target.

ACTOR ROBERT DE NIRO

A suspicious package similar to those sent to Clinton, Obama and others had been addressed to Robert De Niro at property he owns in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, according to a New York Police Department source. De Niro has been critical of Trump, who in turn has criticized the actor.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Senate confirms Kavanaugh for Supreme Court; to be sworn in on Saturday

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh arrives for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert/File Photo

By Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deeply divided U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as Republicans dismissed sexual assault accusations against the conservative judge and delivered a major victory to President Donald Trump.

By a vote of 50-48, the Senate gave a lifetime job to Kavanaugh, 53, after weeks of fierce debate over sexual violence, privilege and alcohol abuse that convulsed the nation just weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Kavanaugh will be sworn in almost immediately on Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts, according to a statement from the court.

The Senate vote takes the highest U.S. court down a more conservative path perhaps for many years and is a bitter blow to Democrats already chafing at Republican control of the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Adding to the drama, women protesters in the Senate gallery shouting, “Shame on you,” briefly interrupted the start of the final confirmation vote on Saturday afternoon.

Kavanaugh’s nomination became an intense personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.

Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh fought back hard, denying the accusations in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.

Trump stood by Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes, and this week mocked Ford’s account of what she says was a drunken attack on her by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

U.S. Capitol Police arrest protesters from the steps of the Capitol in the hours ahead of a scheduled U.S. Senate vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S. October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Capitol Police arrest protesters from the steps of the Capitol in the hours ahead of a scheduled U.S. Senate vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S. October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

TRUMP TWEET

Trump, seeking a legacy as the president who put a strongly conservative stamp on the court, praised the Senate for its vote.

“I applaud and congratulate the U.S. Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Later today, I will sign his Commission of Appointment, and he will be officially sworn in. Very exciting!” he wrote.

Hundreds of protesters against Kavanaugh gathered on the grounds of the Capitol and at the Supreme Court. A total of 164 people were arrested in the protests, U.S. Capitol Police said.

A townhouse near the Washington residence of Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose backing for Kavanaugh helped get him over the line on Saturday, flew the flag of her home state Maine upside down in protest.

The confirmation allows Trump to hit the campaign trail ahead of the congressional elections saying that he has kept his 2016 promise to mold a more conservative American judiciary.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s partisan defense of himself, in which he said he was victim of a “political hit,” was enough itself to disqualify him from the court.

Repeatedly during the Senate debate, Republicans accused Democrats of staging a “smear” campaign against Kavanaugh to prevent a conservative becoming a Supreme Court justice.

The accusations against Kavanaugh energized the #MeToo social media movement that emerged after high-profile accusations of sexual assault and harassment by men in politics, the media and the entertainment industry.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation gives conservatives a solid 5-4 majority in any future legal battles on contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights, industry regulation, and presidential powers.

The dispute over Kavanaugh has added fuel to campaigning for the elections in November when Democrats will try to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

Several polls show that Republican enthusiasm about voting, which had lagged behind, jumped after the Kavanaugh hearing last week.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters that the political brawl over Kavanaugh will help Republicans at the elections.

“Nothing unifies Republicans like a court fight,” McConnell said in an interview ahead of the vote. “It’s been a seminal event leading into the fall election.”

But Democrats hope women angered at the Kavanaugh accusations will turn out in large numbers to vote out Republicans.

During Saturday’s vote, senators were showered with cries of “We will not forget,” and “Survivors vote” from protesters in the Senate gallery.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Kavanaugh heads toward final Senate vote for Supreme Court post

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh took a step on Friday toward joining the Supreme Court when the U.S. Senate approved him in a preliminary vote, despite accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.

After a bitter partisan fight that gripped the country, lawmakers backed Kavanaugh by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate toward a definitive decision on whether to confirm him.

The full confirmation vote could take place as early as Saturday.

Given the result of Friday’s vote, federal appeals court judge Kavanaugh looked on track to get the lifetime job on the Supreme Court. But a change of heart by some lawmakers in the final vote would mean his confirmation could still be derailed.

Confirmation would hand Trump a clear victory and tip the balance on the court to a 5-4 majority in favor of conservatives in possible legal battles ahead over contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military.

The Kavanaugh fight has riveted Americans just weeks before Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

What was already a sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school in Maryland in 1982. Two other women also made accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in the 1980s.

He denied the allegations.

Kavanaugh’s fate might still be in the hands of a few key

senators in a chamber where Republicans hold only a razor-thin majority.

One of them, Republican Susan Collins, voted in favor of advancing the process on Friday, but said she would announce later in the day whether she would support Kavanaugh in the final vote still ahead.

Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Jeff Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh, but neither has stated his position on a final vote.

Further complicating matters for the Republican leadership, Senator Steve Daines was set to be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday and has said he will not miss the ceremony. That may require a delay in the final vote.

FLASHPOINT

Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee was broadcast live on television last Thursday and captured the attention of millions watching.

In an angry rebuttal later that day, Kavanaugh said the accusations were part of a “political hit” by Democrats.

His nomination became a flashpoint in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault. Trump mocked Ford on Tuesday during a political rally in Mississippi, further angering Democrats and women campaigning for an end to sexual violence.

Trump, himself accused by numerous women during the 2016 presidential election of sexual misconduct, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that an FBI report showed that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “totally uncorroborated.”

The FBI sent Congress documents detailing additional interviews about Kavanaugh that the agency conducted at the request of some Republican and Democratic senators.

While the documents have not been made public, Republicans said they did not back up sexual assault allegations by Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California.

Similarly, Republicans said the FBI found nobody to support assault claims by Deborah Ramirez, who was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University in the 1980s.

Democrats called the FBI report a whitewash and said the White House placed constraints on the FBI, which did not speak to many potential witnesses.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Morgan, Ginger Gibson, David Alexander, Lisa Lambert and Kevin Drawbaugh; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Chaos descends as Senate hearing on Trump’s high court nominee opens

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is surrounded by photographers as he takes his seat for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, opened in chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents stemming from the nominee’s White House work more than a decade ago.

With Democratic senators interrupting the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters removed one by one by security personnel, the session quickly descended into a ruckus.

“This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically, according to mob rule,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said, a characterization Democrats rejected.

“What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy. This is what happens in a free country when people can stand up and speak and not be jailed, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of it,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh – the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body – as he entered the hearing room along with family members. But moments after Grassley opened the session, Democrats decried the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.

Protesters took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting, “This is a travesty of justice,” “Our democracy is broken” and “Vote no on Kavanaugh.”

“We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said. Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity” and said the withholding of the documents by Republicans and the White House left lawmakers unable to properly vet Kavanaugh.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court – which already had a conservative majority – further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block his confirmation. Democrats signaled they would press Kavanaugh on abortion and gun rights, among other issues, when they get to question him on Wednesday.

Grassley ignored the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing, saying it was “out of order” and accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.

Republican Orrin Hatch accused Democratic senators of political opportunism, noting, “We have folks who want to run for president,” though he did not mention any by name. There has been speculation Booker and Harris might consider 2020 presidential runs.

Hatch grew visibly irritated as protesters interrupted him.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

“I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed. We shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of stuff,” Hatch said.

Senator Ted Cruz accused Democrats of “an attempt to relitigate the 2016 election” won by fellow Republican Trump.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.

Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. That job involved managing paper flow from advisers to Bush.

Republicans also have released some, but not all, of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh’s two prior years as a lawyer in Bush’s White House Counsel’s Office.

Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

There is a long history of heated fights over U.S. Supreme Court nominations, with anger in both parties. But the Democratic frustrations that boiled over on Tuesday had been simmering for more than two years.

Democrats have accused Senate Republican leaders of stealing a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court Merrick Garland in 2016, allowing Trump to fill a Supreme Court vacancy instead.

Republicans also last year reduced the margin for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to a simple majority in order to force through the confirmation of Trump’s first high court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

‘AM UMPIRE’

Grassley sought to turn the attention to Kavanaugh’s qualifications, calling him “one of the most qualified nominees – if not the most qualified nominee – I have seen.”

The Senate is likely to vote on confirmation by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.

“A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

The hearing gave Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections in which they are seeking to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court’s liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Kavanaugh also is likely to be questioned by senators about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump, who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy,” Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Amanda Becker, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham)

Americans grapple with recognizing facts in news stories: Pew survey

A couple of people ride the subway as they read newspapers as the train pulls into the Times Square stop in Manhattan, New York, U.S. February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Only a quarter of U.S. adults in a recent survey could fully identify factual statements – as opposed to opinion – in news stories, the Pew Research Center found in a study released on Monday.

The survey comes amid growing concerns about so-called fake news spread on the internet and social media. The term generally refers to fabricated news that has no basis in fact but is presented as being factually accurate.

Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and other tech companies have recently come under scrutiny for failing to promptly tackle the problem of fake news as more Americans consume news on social media platforms.

The main portion of Pew’s survey polled 5,035 adult Americans aged 18 and above in February and March. The study was intended to determine if respondents could differentiate between factual information and opinion statements in news stories.

Participants were given five factual statements such as “spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget,” and five opinion statements such as “democracy is the greatest form of government.” They were asked to identify which ones were factual and which were opinions.

Only 26 percent were able to correctly identify all five factual statements. On opinions, about 35 percent were able to correctly identify all five statements. Roughly a quarter got most or all wrong in identifying facts and opinions, the research showed.

The study found that participants’ ability to classify statements as factual or opinion varied widely based on their political awareness, trust in the news media, and “digital savviness” or degree to which they are confident in using digital devices and the internet.

“There is a striking difference in certain Americans in distinguishing what are factual statements and what are not and that depends on one’s level of digital savviness, political savviness,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, said in an interview.

The study also found that when Americans call a statement “factual” they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate. They tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions, Pew said.

The research showed Republicans and Democrats were also more likely to think news statements are factual when the statements appeal to their side, even if the statements were opinions.

(Reporting by Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Scalise back on baseball field a year after shooting

FILE PHOTO: House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) heads to the House floor before a vote to pass a budget and to end a government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – U.S. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana will play second base in a charity baseball game at Washington Nationals Park on Thursday, a year after being wounded by a gunman who opened fire on Republican lawmakers during baseball practice.

“It’s been a long road to this day. I’m grateful for the support and prayers from my colleagues and friends,” Scalise, No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, wrote on Twitter. “They were with me the entire way. Let’s play some baseball!”

Members of Congress will take to the field in Washington for Thursday night’s charity game, which is due to begin at around 7 p.m. ET (2300 GMT).

Scalise, 52, was critically injured early on the morning of June 14, 2017 when 66-year-old James Hodgkinson shot at Republican lawmakers as they practiced in Alexandria, Virginia for an annual charity baseball game between Republicans and Democrats.

Scalise was hit in his left hip, sustaining injuries to internal organs, broken bones and severe bleeding.

Hodgkinson, from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, had posted angry messages on social media criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republicans politicians before he launched the attack. He died after being wounded in a gunfight with Capitol Hill police.

Scalise underwent multiple operations and physical therapy following the shooting. On Thursday, he told CNN in an interview during an early morning baseball practice that he had been unable to fully recall the incident until just a few weeks ago.

“I’ve starting to be able to walk without crutches, but I don’t quite have the balance to be able to move at a good pace,” Scalise told CNN.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)