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)

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)

Congress struggles to meet deadline for government funding bill

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress, facing a Friday midnight deadline, toiled on Monday to finish writing a $1.2 trillion bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, as several thorny issues lingered, including funding President Donald Trump’s border wall.

A range of other hot-button initiatives was also slowing the unveiling of legislation that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had aimed to make public late on Monday.

Republican lawmakers exiting a private meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan said, for example, that there still was no decision on whether a couple of narrow, gun control-related measures could be inserted into the massive spending bill.

A Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has given impetus to a bill that would improve background checks for gun sales and another that would spend money to help schools defend themselves against gun violence but without putting new limits on weapons sales.

Republican Representative Mike Simpson, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, noted there was Republican opposition to the gun measures unless other steps such as expanding gun owners’ rights to carry concealed weapons across state lines were also enacted.

Simpson and other lawmakers said they did not know the fate of a move to include around $1.6 billion in funding for the border wall with Mexico, which is opposed by many Democrats and some Republicans.

“Everything that was significant is a work in progress. There is nothing defined” yet, said Republican Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.

Talks were expected to go late into the night.

Lawmakers were hoping to pass the “omnibus” spending bill before the start on Saturday of a two-week spring break. Doing so would put an end for six months to the possibility of any more government shutdowns by funding federal agencies for the rest of this fiscal year.

The federal government was forced to close over a weekend in January because of a similar budget battle.

POLARIZING MEASURES BEING SHELVED

With government funding running out at week’s end, several contentious items were tentatively being killed off to help speed passage of a bill that will significantly increase U.S. defense spending as well as many non-defense programs.

Several Republican lawmakers said a move had failed to renew federal subsidies to health insurers, which would help make “Obamacare” more affordable for low-income people.

Attempts to bolster the Affordable Care Act appeared to have collapsed after Republicans insisted on language that would have placed abortion prohibitions on those insurance plans and Democrats refused to go along.

“The speaker (Ryan) just said it wasn’t in there,” Meadows told reporters.

Trump discontinued the subsidy payments last year.

Trump also has threatened to veto the bill if it contains federal payments for constructing a New York-New Jersey railroad tunnel project known as the Gateway Program. Lawmakers said congressional leaders were still arguing over that money.

Three Republican House members told reporters that a separate initiative to impose an internet sales tax also appeared to be doomed.

Simpson, asked whether there were worries that the House and Senate would be unable to approve the spending bill before existing agency funds run out, said: “There’s always worries about that.”

Republican leaders were hoping to hold the House debate and votes on Wednesday, giving the Senate a couple more days to do the same before the Friday deadline. But the House timetable might have to be delayed a day, some aides and lawmakers said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney)