‘Every time, it’s messy:’ U.S. again approaching debt ceiling

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress will learn on Wednesday when the federal government will likely run out of money to pay its bills, setting the stage for the latest in a long series of fights over what is known as the debt ceiling.

A failure by Democrats and Republicans to work out differences over whether government spending cuts should accompany an increase in the statutory debt limit, currently set at $28.5 trillion, could lead to a shutdown of the federal government — something that has happened three times in the past decade.

“Every time, it’s messy,” said the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Mike Crapo, when asked about the process of adjusting the debt limit. He noted that in his nearly three decades in Congress he had pushed for spending cuts in those negotiations, adding in a brief interview that he would be seeking cuts again.

Neither Crapo nor other senior Republicans have brought up the threat of a shutdown in recent public statements, and Democrats insist on a “clean” debt limit increase unfettered by a fight over spending reductions.

But the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, warned on Wednesday that members of his party would be unlikely to support a hike to the debt limit, given the current Democratic drive for a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure investment bill.

“I can’t imagine there will be a single Republican voting to raise the debt ceiling after what we’ve been experiencing,” McConnell told the Congress-focused Punchbowl News. But rather than call for an outright battle, he suggested Democrats address the debt limit in a second spending measure they are expecting to pass without Republican votes in a maneuver called reconciliation.

On July 31, the Treasury Department technically bumps up against its statutory debt limit. Much like a personal credit card maximum, the debt ceiling is the amount of money the federal government is allowed to borrow to meet its obligations. These range from paying military salaries and IRS tax refunds to Social Security benefits and even interest payments on the debt.

Since the government spends more than it receives in revenues, it keeps operating by borrowing more and more.

If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling from its current $28.5 trillion by then, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is expected to take special steps to avoid a government default. Such stop-gap measures are effective for only a short period.

On Wednesday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is scheduled to release its latest estimate of when the government actually would be unable to pay its bills — known as the “X Date.”

Democrats are eyeing several possibilities for heading off debt payment problems, such as attaching a debt-ceiling increase to a bipartisan infrastructure bill being negotiated in the Senate or as part of a stop-gap funding bill in September to avoid government shutdowns on Oct. 1 with the start of the new fiscal year.

Failure could lead to a repeat of the government shutdowns seen in 2013, January 2018 and one that lasted from 35 days from late December 2018 into January 2019. Other factors also were in play during those disruptions.

In a sign of Wall Street’s worry about the approaching limits, yields on short-term U.S. Treasury debt have inched up to around 0.05%, after having hovered near zero since early in the pandemic.

‘IF YOU INCUR YOUR BILLS, YOU PAY THEM’

Cooperation from Republicans in passing a debt limit increase is essential given the 50-50 party split in the Senate, where most legislation requires 60 votes to advance.

“Nobody should be allowed to take our economy hostage, particularly when we are in a fragile period like this” with the United States clawing its way out of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee that oversees the debt limit.

“If you incur bills, you pay them,” Wyden added.

The brewing battle over budget deficits and debt comes after Senate Republicans earlier this year adopted a party rule stating that any debt limit increase should be coupled with spending cuts.

It also is on the heels of Congress approving around $5.7 trillion in COVID-19-related relief measures since early 2020 and as Democrats push for over $4 trillion in infrastructure investments, amid an estimated $3 trillion budget deficit this year alone.

DEBT LIMIT ‘WEAPONIZED’

That sense of urgency rankled Democrats, since Republicans had little problem increasing the debt limit in 2018 and 2019 when a fellow Republican, Donald Trump, was president and after they enacted sweeping tax cuts skewed to the wealthy, which were projected to add $1.8 trillion to the nation’s debt.

“I think the debt limit became weaponized a while back and that created a huge problem,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in 2011, when Republicans launched a battle over the debt limit and federal spending, which led to the first-ever Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating — a move that reverberated through global financial markets.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs insurers on Obamacare reimbursements

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a bid by health insurance companies to seek a full reimbursement from the federal government under a provision of the Obamacare law aimed at encouraging them to offer medical coverage to uninsured Americans.

The justices turned away appeals brought by private insurers Maine Community Health Options, Community Health Choice Inc and Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative.

The insurers had said they were collectively owed millions of dollars for each year they did not receive payments the government had pledged to make under the 2010 law, formally called the Affordable Care Act. Litigation will now continue in lower courts over how much the insurers can claim.

The Supreme Court left in place an August 2020 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that the insurers’ reimbursement for money owed could be offset by other income they received from the government in the form of premium tax credits.

The Supreme Court in an 8-1 ruling in April 2020 in an earlier stage of the same litigation decided that the federal government must “honor its obligations” and pay various private insurers up to $12 billion owed to them. But when the case returned to lower courts after that ruling, the federal government continued to argue that it was not required to pay in full, setting up a new round in the legal fight.

Unlike other litigation involving Obamacare – long targeted by Republicans for repeal in Congress or invalidation through the courts – this case concerned only payments to insurers and did not directly challenge the law itself.

The court in a 7-2 ruling last Thursday rejected a Republican challenge to the law, the third time that the justices preserved Obamacare over the past decade.

The insurers have said the government was supposed to help them recover from early losses they suffered after the law was passed by Congress and signed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

The law has enabled millions of Americans who previously had no medical coverage to obtain insurance, including those with pre-existing medical conditions, though an expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor and though private insurers.

Payments to the insurers would have come through the law’s so-called risk corridor program designed to mitigate insurers’ risks from 2014 to 2016, when they sold coverage to previously uninsured people through exchanges established under Obamacare.

Insurers that paid out significantly less in claims on policies sold through the exchanges than they took in from premiums provided some of their gains to the government. Insurers that paid out more were entitled to government compensation for part of their losses.

From 2015 through 2017, Congress passed legislation barring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from using general funds to pay the government’s risk corridor obligations. Health insurers turned to federal courts to obtain the payments.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Cuomo says New York to review any COVID-19 vaccine authorized by federal government

By Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday said the state will carry out its own review of coronavirus vaccines authorized or approved by the federal government due to concerns of politicization of the approval process.

Cuomo, a Democrat who has repeatedly criticized President Donald Trump and his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, told reporters at a briefing he was going to form a review committee to advise the state on the safety of a vaccine.

“Frankly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion,” Cuomo said. “New York State will have its own review when the federal government is finished with their review and says it’s safe.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declined to comment on governor’s remarks. On Wednesday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told a U.S. Senate committee that the agency would only approve a vaccine that was safe and effective.

Recent statements by Trump and his secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on authorization of COVID-19 vaccines currently in late stages of testing have caused concern among health experts that FDA decisions can remain independent of politics.

“The way the federal government has handled the vaccine, there are now serious questions about whether or not the vaccine has become politicized,” Cuomo said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Defense and HHS officials will allocate authorized vaccines to the states, which are then expected to handle most distribution, the agencies have said.

Cuomo said a committee of state experts will devise a distribution and implementation plan for approved vaccines that would also determine who gets vaccinated first.

While all U.S. states are expected to come up with vaccine distribution plans, conducting an independent safety review would be a most unusual move.

Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for distribution ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

On Wednesday, Trump said he may not approve any new, more stringent FDA standards for an emergency authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying such a proposal would appear political.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the FDA would issue the guidance to boost transparency and public trust over fears it was being pressured to rush out a vaccine.

“We’re looking at that and that has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it,” Trump told a White House news conference, when asked about the report.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Additional reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

House Democrats file bill to fund U.S. government but leave out new farm money

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump declares coronavirus a national emergency

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus, opening the door to providing what he said was about $50 billion in federal aid to fight the disease.

Trump made the announcement at a Rose Garden news conference.

Trump said he was declaring the national emergency in order to “unleash the full power of the federal government.” He urged every state to set up emergency centers to help fight the virus.

Pressure has been mounting for Trump to declare an infectious disease emergency under the 1988 law that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster funds to state and local governments and to deploy support teams. The power is rarely used. Former President Bill Clinton in 2000 declared such an emergency for West Nile virus.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey, Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

Trump says he will block U.S. funds to ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would withhold money from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions after a U.S. court ruled that his administration could block federal law enforcement funds to states and cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan granted the move on Feb. 26, but three other federal appeals courts have agreed to uphold an injunction against the withholding of such funds, setting up a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As per recent Federal Court ruling, the Federal Government will be withholding funds from Sanctuary Cities. They should change their status and go non-Sanctuary. Do not protect criminals!” Trump tweeted, although he gave no other details.

The 2nd Circuit overturned a lower court ruling directing the release of federal funds to New York City and the states of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington. The states and city sued over a 2017 policy conditioning receipt of the funds by state and local governments on their giving federal immigration officials access to their jails, and advance notice when immigrants in the country illegally are being released from custody.

Three federal appeals courts in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco have upheld injunctions barring enforcement of at least some of the administration’s conditions on the funds. The latest ruling set up a possible battle at the U.S. Supreme Court, which often resolves legal disputes that divide lower courts.

The Republican president, who is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 election, has taken a hardline stance toward legal and illegal immigration. His battle against Democratic-led “sanctuary” jurisdictions focuses on laws and policies making it harder for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to find and arrest immigrants they consider deportable.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Justice Department resumes use of the death penalty, schedules five executions

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr at the "2019 Prison Reform Summit" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday it was reinstating a two-decades long-dormant policy to resume the federal government’s use of capital punishment and immediately scheduled the executions for five death row federal inmates.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.”

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for increasing use of the death penalty for drug traffickers and mass shooters.

The Justice Department said it has scheduled executions for five federal inmates who have been convicted of horrific murders and sex crimes.

Those inmates include Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist who was convicted in Arkansas for murdering a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl.

Another one of the five is Lezmond Mitchell, who was found guilty by a jury in Arizona of stabbing a 63-year-old grandmother and forcing her young granddaughter to sit next to her lifeless body on a car journey before slitting the girl’s throat.

“Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies,” the department said, adding that all five executions will take place at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

Master of bygone civility, Bush is hailed at funeral as U.S. ‘soldier-statesman’

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is arrives carried by a military honor guard during a State Funeral at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President George H.W. Bush was hailed at his state funeral on Wednesday as a warrior-statesman of uncommon personal kindness who went from being a hero of American conflicts to representing a bygone era of civility in politics.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand with former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter in the front row at the state funeral for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand with former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter in the front row at the state funeral for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Amid an unusual bipartisan spirit at the service at the Washington National Cathedral, both Republican and Democratic politicians honored a president who called for a “kinder, gentler” nation.

Bush, the 41st U.S. president, died last week in Texas aged 94. He occupied the White House from 1989 to 1993, navigating the collapse of the Soviet Union and expelling former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s forces from oil-rich Kuwait.

“George H.W. Bush was America’s last great soldier-statesman,” Jon Meacham, a presidential biographer, said in a eulogy. “He stood in the breach in the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship,” he said.

At a ceremony full of pomp but also peppered with laughter, the capital’s current political feuds were briefly set aside in honor of the late president, a naval aviator who survived being shot down by Japanese forces over the Pacific Ocean in World War Two, and a former head of the CIA during the Cold War.

 

A patrician figure, Bush was voted out of office in part for failing to connect with ordinary Americans during an economic recession.

But he has been remembered as representing an earlier era of civility in American politics, that image burnished in recent years by the divisiveness and anger in the United States that accompanied the rise of President Donald Trump.

Former President George W. Bush said his father “valued character over pedigree, and he was no cynic. He’d look for the good in each person, and he usually found it.”

“The best father a son or daughter could ever have,” the former president said in his eulogy, his voice cracking with emotion as he spoke near his father’s flag-draped coffin.

Former President George W. Bush places his hand over his heart with Laura Bush as they watch the casket of the late former President George H.W. Bush depart the U.S. Capitol enroute to the National Cathedral for funeral services, Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Former President George W. Bush places his hand over his heart with Laura Bush as they watch the casket of the late former President George H.W. Bush depart the U.S. Capitol enroute to the National Cathedral for funeral services, Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

TEARS AND MEMORIES

Taking his seat at the cathedral, Trump shook hands with his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who he has often sharply criticized.

Democratic former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 election opponent, and her husband former President Bill Clinton shared the front pew with Trump, Obama, and their spouses.

Trump, like Bush a Republican, infuriated the late president by attacking his sons, George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, a rival in the 2016 Republican primary campaign.

Trump sat mostly motionless next to first lady Melania Trump throughout much of the service.

He had tweeted earlier that he was “Looking forward to being with the Bush family. This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!”

Bush did not endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election. He did not publicly say who he voted for but a source told CNN at the time that he had voted for Hillary Clinton.

Bush, who was ailing in recent years, did send Trump a letter in January 2017 saying he would not be able to attend his inauguration because of health concerns but wishing him the best.

All surviving former U.S. presidents were at the cathedral. During one of the eulogies, Bill Clinton wiped away tears and former first lady Michelle Obama leaned over to pat him on the arm.

‘RESOLUTE AND BRAVE’

Canadian former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney lauded Bush’s role in handling the end of the Cold War and helping the delicate reunification of Germany.

Bush put together a U.S.-led international coalition that ousted invading Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 and was president when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

“When George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute and brave,” he said.

The guest list included Britain’s Prince Charles and leaders from Germany, Jordan, Australia and Poland, along with a host of former world leaders, such as former British Prime Minister John Major, who was in office during Bush’s term.

Trump closed the federal government on Wednesday to mark a day of mourning for Bush, and several U.S. financial exchanges were closed.

During his presidency, Bush was dogged by domestic problems, including a sluggish economy, and he faced criticism for not doing enough to stem the tens of thousands of deaths from the AIDS virus ravaging America.

When he ran for re-election in 1992, he was pilloried by Democrats and many Republicans for violating a famous 1988 campaign promise: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” His opponent Bill Clinton coasted to victory.

An ad from the 1988 campaign also came back to haunt Bush and tarnish his reputation as a fair player.

A political group close to the Bush campaign was accused of racism after releasing an ad about African-American prisoner Willie Horton who raped a white woman after being released on furlough. The ad suggested that Bush’s Democratic presidential opponent Michael Dukakis had been weak on crime while governor of Massachusetts.

Bush is to be buried on Thursday at his Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

Before Wednesday’s service, his body lay in state since Monday evening in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.

Thousands of people filed past to pay their respects, some getting a chance to see Sully, a service dog who was Bush’s friendly companion. Sully became an internet sensation after being photographed lying next to his late master’s coffin.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Mourners line up to honor former President Bush at U.S. Capitol

Mourners pay their respects at the casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush as it lies in state inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The historic and ornate U.S. Capitol Rotunda hosted mourners on Tuesday paying respects to the 41st U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, who died last week at the age of 94 and will be buried on Thursday in his home state of Texas.

A casket bearing Bush’s body arrived on the Capitol grounds at sunset on Monday for a ceremony led by congressional leaders who celebrated the life of the Republican president and father of the 43rd president, George W. Bush.

President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, plans to visit with the mourning family at Blair House, near the White House, on Tuesday, while first lady Melania Trump will give a tour to former first lady Laura Bush of the White House’s holiday decorations.

“The elegance & precision of the last two days have been remarkable!” Trump wrote in a tweet.

At the Capitol, the public was given 36 hours to file past the elder Bush’s flag-draped coffin. Early on Wednesday, it will be transported to the Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened a session of the Senate on Monday heralding the “daring” World War Two aviator, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and wartime president. “Year after year, post after post, George Bush stayed the course,” McConnell said.

Bush was elected president in 1988 after serving two terms as President Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

During his four years in the White House, Bush used U.S. military power to end Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, steered the United States through the end of the Cold War and condemned China’s violent reaction to pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.

He was dogged by domestic problems, including a sluggish economy. When he ran for re-election in 1992, he was pilloried by Democrats and many Republicans for violating his famous 1988 campaign promise: “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

Democrat Bill Clinton coasted to victory, ending Bush’s presidency.

Early in his political career, Bush served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967-1971. He lost bids in 1964 and 1970 for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas.

Bush is the 12th U.S. president to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The first was Abraham Lincoln following his assassination in 1865.

On Monday, mourners lined up to enter the Capitol for the public viewing that began later that evening, including Theresa Murphy, 64, a retired New York high school history teacher.

“His character speaks most, because of his character, how he handled so many important points in our history. The Iraq war, the falling of the Berlin Wall, he wasn’t (saying) that’s all about me,” Murphy said, adding: “Can you imagine what it would look like if our president today did that?”

The federal government and some financial exchanges will be closed on Wednesday for a day of mourning.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

More U.S. states deploy technology to track election hacking attempts

FILE PHOTO: A man types into a keyboard during the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. on July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

By Christopher Bing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A majority of U.S. states has adopted technology that allows the federal government to see inside state computer systems managing voter data or voting devices in order to root out hackers.

Two years after Russian hackers breached voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona, most states have begun using the government-approved equipment, according to three sources with knowledge of the deployment. Voter registration databases are used to verify the identity of voters when they visit polling stations.

The rapid adoption of the so-called Albert sensors, a $5,000 piece of hardware developed by the Center for Internet Security https://www.cisecurity.org, illustrates the broad concern shared by state government officials ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, government cybersecurity experts told Reuters.

CIS is a nonprofit organization based in East Greenbush, N.Y., that helps governments, businesses and organization fight computer intrusions.

“We’ve recently added Albert sensors to our system because I believe voting systems have tremendous vulnerabilities that we need to plug; but also the voter registration systems are a concern,” said Neal Kelley, chief of elections for Orange County, California.

“That’s one of the things I lose sleep about: It’s what can we do to protect voter registration systems?”

As of August 7, 36 of 50 states had installed Albert at the “elections infrastructure level,” according to a Department of Homeland Security official. The official said that 74 individual sensors across 38 counties and other local government offices have been installed. Only 14 such sensors were installed before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

“We have more than quadrupled the number of sensors on state and county networks since 2016, giving the election community as a whole far greater visibility into potential threats than we’ve ever had in the past,” said Matthew Masterson, a senior adviser on election security for DHS.

The 14 states that do not have a sensor installed ahead of the 2018 midterm elections have either opted for another solution, are planning to do so shortly or have refused the offer because of concerns about federal government overreach. Those 14 states were not identified by officials.

But enough have installed them that cybersecurity experts can begin to track intrusions and share that information with all states. The technology directly feeds data about cyber incidents through a non-profit cyber intelligence data exchange and then to DHS.

“When you start to get dozens, hundreds of sensors, like we have now, you get real value,” said John Gilligan, the chief executive of CIS.

“As we move forward, there are new sensors that are being installed literally almost every day. Our collective objective is that all voter infrastructure in states has a sensor.”

Top U.S. intelligence officials have predicted that hackers working for foreign governments will target the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Maria Benson, a spokesperson for the National Association of Secretaries of States, said that in some cases installations have been delayed because of the time spent working out “technical and contractual arrangements.”

South Dakota and Wyoming are among the states without Albert fully deployed to protect election systems, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The South Dakota Secretary of State’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office said it is currently considering expanding use of the sensors.

(Reporting by Chris Bing; Editing by Damon Darlin and Dan Grebler)