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)

Trump push for conservative judges intensifies, to Democrats’ dismay

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As President Donald Trump pursues his goal of making the federal judiciary more conservative, his fellow Republicans who control the Senate are poised to confirm another batch of his picks for influential U.S. appeals courts to the dismay of some Democrats.

The Senate this week is set to take up six of Trump’s nominees to the regional appeals courts, including four from states that have at least one Democratic senator.

A long-standing Senate tradition that gave senators clout over judicial nominees from their home states has been fraying for years, meaning Democrats have less of a chance of blocking appointees they oppose, as they did with some success during Republican former President George W. Bush’s administration.

One of those due for consideration on the Senate floor this week is Milwaukee lawyer Michael Brennan, who Trump has nominated for a vacant seat on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over a region that includes Wisconsin. One of Wisconsin’s two senators, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, opposes Brennan’s confirmation.

Another important test will come at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday for Ryan Bounds, a federal prosecutor from Oregon nominated by Trump to fill a seat on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Oregon’s two senators, both Democrats, oppose the nomination.

Brennan, Bounds and other Trump nominees who may be opposed by home-state Democratic senators are likely to win confirmation because of the Republicans’ 51-49 Senate majority.

Trump has made quick progress in reshaping federal appeals courts, winning Senate confirmation of 15 nominees to fill vacancies on federal appeals courts. Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama won confirmation of nine appeals court judges by the same point in his first term.

Trump also has been picking a raft of conservative jurists for lower federal courts and won Senate confirmation last year of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The regional appeals courts play a major role in shaping U.S. law. The judges hear appeals from federal district courts and usually have the final say, as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up only a tiny proportion of cases.

The appeals courts can set binding precedents on a broad array of issues, including voting rights, gun rights and other divisive social issues.

WORTHWHILE PRICE

For Trump and his party, setting aside a long-standing Senate tradition may be a worthwhile price to pay to achieve what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called a top goal: shifting the ideological composition of the federal judiciary to the right.

For Trump, nine of the 15 appeals court vacancies he has filled have been on regional courts that already leaned conservative. His administration now aims to fill vacancies in regional courts from states represented by Democratic senators.

Leonard Leo, an outside advisor to Trump who has been instrumental on judicial nominations including Gorsuch’s, said the White House has the same criteria for picking conservative nominees no matter the state.

But Leo said, “You’ve got to engage a little more – in a more intense degree of consultation – with Democrats than with Republicans, so that takes a little time.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Some nominations have been less contentious, with the White House and Democratic senators able to agree.

Michael Scudder and Amy St. Eve, two Trump nominees for the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are backed by the two Illinois senators, both Democrats. They are among the nominees up for Senate confirmation votes this week.

Hawaii’s two Democratic senators back a Trump nominee to the 9th Circuit. The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, has so far held fire on Richard Sullivan, Trump’s nominee to the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Michigan’s two Democratic senators voted in November to confirm Joan Larsen to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Liberal activists doubt the White House is serious about compromise on judicial nominations.

“Those few examples show that when Democratic home state senators are consulted in good faith, they are not looking for progressive judges,” said Christopher Kang, who worked on judicial nominations in Obama’s White House.

“They understand that President Trump is going to appoint conservative judges but they are willing to work in good faith to find consensus nominees,” Kang added.

There are 148 vacancies in the federal judiciary, with 68 pending nominees. Trump inherited a large number of vacancies in part because McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans refused to confirm Obama’s nominees to fill some of the jobs before he left office in January 2017, including Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

(This story corrects court to which Larsen was appointed in paragraph 19, Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals instead of Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.)

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)

Americans want armed school guards and tighter gun laws: Reuters/ poll

Instructors work with participants on proper gun handling during a firearms training class at the PMAA Gun Range in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhar

By Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – A majority of Americans, including Republicans, Democrats and gun owners want stricter laws on gun ownership and armed guards in schools, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll taken in early March.

Hundreds of thousands of students and their families are expected to march in cities across the United States on Saturday to demand stricter gun control, part of the response to a mass shooting at a Florida high school in February.

The following are some of the main findings of the poll:

GUNS IN SCHOOLS

About 75 percent of adults say they want armed security guards in school, with some 53 percent in favor of publicly funding gun classes for teachers and school personnel and 45 percent saying school staff should be encouraged to carry a weapon.

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL

A majority of Democrats and Republican voters support stricter gun laws, including 91 percent on both sides who say anyone with a history of mental illness should be banned from owning a gun. Eighty-four percent of Republicans believe people on the “no-fly” list should also be banned from gun ownership and 83 percent are in favor of expanding background checks. A majority of Republicans also say that assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips should be outlaw

GUN OWNERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO VOTE

Gun owners are more politically active than others, the poll found. They are more likely to be registered to vote, and they express more interest in voting in November’s midterm elections, when one third of U.S. Senate seats and all the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be decided.

Fifty percent of gun owners said they are certain to vote compared to 41 percent of people who do not own a gun.

GUN CONTROL IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE ECONOMY

Gun control is on a par with the economy as a top issue that will motivate U.S. voters in November, the poll found.

GUN OWNERS STILL APPROVE OF THE NRA

One in four adults say they own a gun and a majority of gun owners say they own more than one gun.

Nearly 60 percent of gun owners say that the National Rifle Association gun rights advocacy group is either doing “the right amount of work” or it “doesn’t do enough” to promote the interests of gun owners. About 30 percent say the NRA is “too aggressive” in promoting gun rights, according to the poll.

Separately, about 38 percent of gun owners also say they would like to vote in November for a congressional candidate who would oppose U.S. President Donald Trump and 39 percent say the country is on the wrong track.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 2,389 U.S. adults was conducted between March 5-7 and has an overall credibility interval of 4-5 percent.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in NEW YORK; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Grant McCool)

U.S. spending bill tackles border, election security: source

FILE PHOTO: U.S. border patrol officers are pictured near a prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal government spending deal being worked out in the U.S. Congress includes additional funding to boost border security, protect the upcoming elections in November and rebuild aging infrastructure, a source familiar with the negotiations said on Wednesday.

While the source said a final overall spending agreement had not been reached, other Republican and Democratic congressional aides have told Reuters that leaders plan to unveil their agreement on the $1.3 trillion spending bill later on Wednesday.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress have until Friday night to reach a deal before a lapse would force federal agencies to suspend operations. The current plan would provide for government funding through Sept. 30, after a series of short-term funding measures implemented since last fall.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate said on Tuesday they were close to a deal and hoped to complete legislation by Friday as they worked to overcome divisions over several thorny issues such as President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

So far, the package provides $1.6 billion for some fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico and other technological border security efforts, the source said.

Trump had sought $25 billion for a full wall, but negotiations fell through to provide more money in exchange for protections for “Dreamers,” young adults who were brought illegally into the United States as children.

The spending plan also provides $307 million more than the Trump administration’s request for the FBI to counter Russian cyber attacks, and $380 million for U.S. states to improve their technology before November’s congressional election, according to the source.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election campaign, and intelligence chiefs said last month that Russia will seek to interfere in the midterm elections this year by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports. Russia has denied any interference.

The planned spending measure allocates $10 billion for spending on infrastructure such as highways, airports and railroads. It also includes money for the so-called Gateway rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, the source said.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill if the Gateway project is included. While its funds remain, they are directed through the U.S. Department of Transportation, rather than provided directly, Politico reported.

Additionally, lawmakers’ added $2.8 billion to address opioid addiction, the source said.

One potential stumbling block includes gun-related provisions prompted by a mass shooting at a Florida high school on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and faculty members. On Tuesday, as another shooting swept over a high school in Maryland, House Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers were still discussing a proposal to improve federal background checks for gun purchases.

Another issue tying up negotiations was tax treatment for grain co-ops versus corporate producers, according to Politico.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)

Trial to begin over Kansas voter ID law requiring citizenship proof

FILE PHOTO: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law that he pushed to combat what he believes to be rampant voter fraud in the United States in his office in Topeka, Kansas, U.S., on May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Dave Kaup/File Photo

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Reuters) – A trial over a Kansas law critics call illegal that requires proof of U.S citizenship from people registering to vote is set to begin on Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed in February 2016 in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argues that the state law violates the National Voter Registration Act by requiring voters who do not have a driver’s license to show documents like a birth certificate or U.S. passport for voter registration. It is one of numerous voter ID laws passed by Republican-led state legislatures in recent years.

Democrats have argued that ID laws target voters who typically support the Democratic Party, such as the young and minorities. Proponents of the measures have said they are intended to prevent voter fraud.

Each side in the case will present opening statements on Tuesday, followed by an expected five or more days of testimony. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson will hear the case.

In May 2016, Robinson temporarily blocked enforcement of the law pending outcome of the trial. The law first went into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The chief defendant in the case, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has said the law is intended to prevent voter fraud.

A lawyer and candidate for Kansas governor, Kobach has said a lack of required documentation could allow thousands of non-Americans to vote in Kansas, potentially canceling out the votes of citizens. Kobach will serve as lead lawyer for the state.

Kobach, a Republican, served on a commission appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump to investigate voter fraud. Trump contended that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election that he won. The commission was shut down in January.

The ACLU said that the law had blocked more than 35,000 Kansans from registering to vote between 2013 and 2016.

Lawmakers in 23 states have imposed new voting restrictions since 2010, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

This year, six states have introduced bills imposing photo identification requirements for voting, and bills have been put forward in Kentucky and New Hampshire to make existing voter identification laws more restrictive, the Center said.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Ben Klayman and Rosalba O’Brien)

What’s in play in Washington on gun rights after Florida school shooting

Messages, posted on a fence, hang, as students and parents attend a voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the coming Wednesday's reopening, following last week's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Angel Valentin

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who has frequently pledged support for gun rights, is considering some changes to gun laws and other safety measures after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

Here are the proposals in play for Trump, who faces pressure to act from student activists pushing for tougher gun laws, as well as opposition from gun owners, the politically powerful National Rifle Association, and Republicans worried about how the issue will shape congressional elections in November.

TIGHTER BACKGROUND CHECKS

Trump supports a bill that would strengthen a database of people who are not legally allowed to buy guns. The bill would provide incentives for federal agencies and states to upload more data into the system.

Some Republican senators have already expressed concerns that errors in the expanded data could prevent some people from legally exercising their constitutional rights to own guns.

One potential snag: the House of Representatives has already passed a version of the bill that includes a measure allowing people to bring legal concealed guns across state lines. The Senate would likely balk at the provision.

Trump has not given his opinion on a proposal to require background checks at gun shows or on internet sites, which has been a way around the background checks conducted for sales in stores. This idea has failed twice in the past five years to find enough backing in the Senate.

AGE LIMITS

Trump said last week he wanted to restrict gun sales to people aged 21 and over. Currently, 18-year-olds can buy many types of guns.

He has subsequently been silent on that idea. The White House said details are being studied. Republicans in Congress, where they control both the House and Senate, have shown little appetite for the measure.

FUNDS FOR THREAT DETECTION

Trump supports a bill that provides schools with funding for training to identify warning signs for violence, anonymous tip lines, and other measures to boost school safety. There is broad bipartisan support for the measures.

BUMP STOCKS

Trump has asked his administration to craft regulations to effectively ban sales of “bump stock” accessories that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire hundreds of rounds a minute.

Banning bump stocks, which were not used in the Florida shooting but were used in a massacre in Las Vegas in October, has been studied in the past and deemed to require action by Congress. New regulations could be tied up with lawsuits. There is little momentum in Congress to change the law.

ARMING TEACHERS

Trump is most enthusiastic about the idea of training certain teachers and staff to carry concealed guns, which he said would the most cost-effective way to protect students in the event of a shooting. He said he believes potential school shooters would be deterred by knowing some teachers are armed.

This proposal falls in the jurisdiction of state and local governments, a point that Trump and Republican lawmakers have emphasized. The idea has been adopted in Texas and some other states, but teachers’ unions and some law enforcement groups have panned it.

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

Trump has said he would address mental health, but has not provided specific ideas. He has bemoaned the lack of mental institutions to treat people who may be violent.

Congress is likely to direct new funds to mental health under a 2016-passed law that authorizes money to move forward for the first time this year.

‘RED FLAG’ LAWS

Some states have laws allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people reported to be dangerous. Trump has not expressed opinions on the idea. There is not currently a broadly backed push in Congress to create similar laws at the federal level.

BAN ON SEMIAUTOMATIC RIFLES

Students who survived the Florida shooting, gun control groups and many Democrats want a federal ban on semiautomatic rifles, sometimes called assault rifles. There was a federal ban on assault-style weapons from 1994-2004, but there is little support for a renewed ban among Republicans. Trump has not discussed it.

MOVIES AND VIDEOGAMES

Trump has expressed concern that children are exposed to too much violence in movies and videogames, but has not made any specific proposals on the topic.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Frances Kerry)

Senate faces showdown over immigration and ‘Dreamers’

Demonstrators calling for new protections for so-called "Dreamers," undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their immigrant parents, walk through a senate office building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration remained insistent on hardline immigration measures on Thursday as the U.S. Senate prepared to vote on various legislative proposals to protect young “Dreamer” immigrants and to tighten border security.

In a statement overnight, the Department of Homeland Security dismissed what some thought was the bill most likely to win enough bipartisan support to pass the chamber, saying it failed to meet minimum criteria set out by President Donald Trump.

The plan, crafted by a bipartisan group of senators led by moderate Republican Susan Collins, would protect from deportation 1.8 million young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children and who are known as Dreamers.

It also includes a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even construct segments of Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico.

The immigration issue has become a matter of urgency for lawmakers after Trump in September ordered an Obama-era program that protected Dreamers to end by March 5, telling Congress it should come up with a solution by then.

The Department of Homeland Security blasted the Collins-led plan, saying it destroyed the ability of DHS officers to remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the country, and “is an egregious violation of the four compromise pillars laid out by the President’s immigration reform framework.”

Trump’s four provisions are for any bill to include funds to build the border wall, to end the visa lottery program, to impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants, and to protect Dreamers.

The Republican president has backed a bill by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that embraces Trump’s wish list but is unlikely to win support from enough Democrats in the closely-divided chamber.

A narrower third bill, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, has been dismissed by Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to bring forward all three measures on Thursday to gauge which has enough support to move toward a vote in the Senate ahead of a Friday deadline he has imposed for the legislation.

Despite backing from several Republicans for the Collins-led plan, it was unclear if enough Democrats would get behind it to muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate that Republicans control 51-49.

Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine told MSNBC on Thursday he thought lawmakers were “very close” to the 60 votes needed on the Collins-led measure. Republican Senator Marco Rubio told Fox News he was unsure whether any Senate plan would move forward.

Even if one of three bills passes, it must still win over the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority and are pushing a more conservative proposal that is closer in line with Trump’s framework.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will support only legislation backed by Trump, who has carried his tough law-and-order stance toward immigrants from his 2016 campaign into his administration.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Senate Republican leader embraces Trump immigration plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans on Tuesday turned up the heat on Democrats seeking protections for young “Dreamer” immigrants as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell embraced President Donald Trump’s demands for broad changes to the country’s immigration policies.

In announcing his support for legislation that would help immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children, McConnell also threw his weight behind building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and sharply curtailing visas for the parents and siblings of immigrants living in the United States legally.

“This proposal has my support and during this week of fair debate I believe it deserves support of every senator who’s ready to move beyond making points and actually making a law,” McConnell, a Republican, said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Even some Republicans, however, have expressed skepticism that such broad, fundamental changes in U.S. immigration law can pass the Senate by the Thursday deadline that No. 2 Republican Senator John Cornyn urged late on Monday.

Also on Monday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who is leading the charge for Dreamers, told reporters that he thought early Senate votes on immigration legislation would begin with “expansive” measures that will fail to win the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.

Then, Durbin said, senators will be forced to move “toward the center with a moderate approach.”

But at least for now, Republicans were holding a tough line. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, interviewed on Fox News, said Trump’s immigration plan “is not an opening bid for negotiations. It’s a best and final offer.”

That ran counter to statements Trump has made in recent days, including early on Tuesday in which he said in a tweet that “Negotiations on DACA have begun.”

DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Democratic former President Barack Obama initiated in 2012 and which has allowed around 700,000 Dreamers to legally study and work in the United States temporarily. Last September, Trump announced he would terminate the program on March 5.

During testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Monday, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said he thought that a deal on immigration legislation will be reached “and that we have full funding on the (border) wall” of $18 billion over two years.

Durbin and other Democrats have talked of the possibility of a bill that provides for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and additional border security, which could include the construction of more border fencing and other high-tech tools to deter illegal immigrants.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

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

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

By David Morgan, Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESSURE ON MARKETS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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