Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, Trump signs into law

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the intensifying coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump quickly signed it into law.

The massive bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives nearly unanimously. The rare bipartisan action underscored how seriously Republican and Democratic lawmakers are taking the global pandemic that has killed more than 1,500 Americans and shaken the nation’s medical system.

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate before the lower chamber approved the bill. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

But the bipartisan spirit seemed to end at the White House. Neither Pelosi nor Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was invited to Trump’s all-Republican signing ceremony for the bill, aides said.

Their Republican counterparts, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did attend, along with three Republican House members.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses,” Trump said. “I really think in a fairly short period of time … we’ll be stronger than ever.”

In an statement about signing the bill, Trump rejected aspects of a provision in the law setting up an inspector general to audit some loans and investments.

Asked about the statement, Pelosi told MSNBC: “Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel … appointed by the House, in real time to make sure we know where those funds are being expended.”

She called Trump a “dangerous president” who had chosen to ignore the threat of the coronavirus.

“Our next thrust will be about recovery and how we can create good-paying jobs so that we can take the country into the future in a very strong way,” Pelosi said.

The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

To keep Massie’s gambit from delaying the bill’s passage, hundreds of lawmakers from both parties returned to Washington despite the risk of contracting coronavirus. For many, that meant long drives or overnight flights.

One member who spent hours in a car was Republican Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has put in charge of efforts to handle the coronavirus crisis.

Pence drove the nearly 600 miles (966 km) from his home state, Indiana, to Washington on Thursday. “We can’t afford to wait another minute,” he said on Twitter.

‘THIRD-RATE GRANDSTANDER’

Massie wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request for a recorded vote.

Trump attacked Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and saying he should be thrown out of the Republican party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote the president, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders had asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members.

At least five members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote late on Wednesday, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until April 20.

Democratic and Republican House leaders appeared together at a news conference at the Capitol to celebrate the bill’s passage – an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” McCarthy said.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 100,000 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, the most of any country.

Adding to the misery, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallis and Stephen Coates)

Decriminalization of polygamy in Utah clears key hurdle in state legislature

By Jennifer Dobner

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – Legislation to effectively decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults in Utah overwhelmingly passed the state House of Representatives in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, moving it a step closer to becoming law.

The measure reduces the criminal penalty for plural marriage from a felony to an infraction on par with a traffic ticket. It cleared the House on a vote of 70-3.

The bill, which originated in the Senate, now goes back to that body for a final vote to approve a technical amendment made in the House. Both chambers are controlled by a Republican majority.

Final Senate passage would send the bill to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, also a Republican. He has not indicated whether he would sign the measure into law.

Under current statutes, polygamy – typically involving a man who cohabitates with and purports to marry more than one wife – is classified as a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

If the bill becomes law, punishments for plural marriage would be limited to fines of up to $750 and community service.

However, fraudulent bigamy – in which an individual obtains licenses to marry more than one spouse without their knowledge, or seeks to wed someone underage without her consent – would remain a felony. It would also be treated as a felony if charged in connection with other crimes such as child abuse, fraud, homicide or human trafficking.

The bill’s Republican sponsor, Senator Deidre Henderson, has said her intent is not to legalize polygamy but to decriminalize it so that those from polygamous communities who are victims of crimes can come forward for help or to seek social services without fear of being prosecuted themselves.

Opponents of the bill say current law should not be changed because polygamy is inherently dangerous and harmful to women and children, particularly girls, some of whom have been forced into marriages with older men.

Polygamy is a remnant of the early teachings of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially abandoned the practice in 1890 and now excommunicates members found engaged in the practice.

Fundamentalist Mormons, numbering an estimated 30,000 across the western United States, continue the practice, however, in the belief that if promises glorification in heaven.

(Reporting by Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City; Editing by Steve Gorman, Robert Birsel)

U.S. House impeachment of Trump sets stage for trial in Senate

U.S. House impeachment of Trump sets stage for trial in Senate
By Amanda Becker and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The impeachment of President Donald Trump in the U.S. House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress sets the stage for a historic trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate on whether he should be removed from office.

But it was unclear on Thursday how or when that trial would play out after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she might delay sending over the articles of impeachment to the Senate in order to pressure that chamber to conduct what she viewed as a fair trial.

Trump said the ball was now in the Senate’s court.

“Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles & not deliver them to the Senate, but it’s Senate’s call!” Trump said on Twitter. “If the Do Nothing Democrats decide, in their great wisdom, not to show up, they would lose by Default!”

 

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said on MSNBC that Democrats would like the Senate to first approve a $1.4 trillion spending plan and a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico before turning to impeachment.

He said Democrats were also concerned that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell may not allow a full trial. McConnell has predicted there is “no chance” his chamber will convict Trump.

“It’s very hard to believe that Mitch McConnell can raise his right hand and pledge to be impartial,” Hoyer said.

The mostly party-line votes on Wednesday in the Democratic-led House came after long hours of bitter debate that reflected the partisan tensions in a divided America, and made Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached.

Republicans argued that Democrats were using a rigged process to nullify the 2016 election and influence Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, while Democrats said Trump’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender, were a threat to democracy.

Trump is certain to face more friendly terrain during a trial in the 100-member Senate, where a vote to remove him would require a two-thirds majority. That means at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump – and none have indicated they will.

Pelosi said after the vote she would wait to name the House managers, who will prosecute the case, until she knew more about the Senate trial procedures. She did not specify when she would send the impeachment articles to the Senate.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said it would not bother him if Pelosi did not send over the impeachment articles.

“My attitude is OK, throw us in that briar patch, don’t send them, that’s all right,” he said on Fox News. “We actually have work to do.”

Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, a former U.S. vice president, as well as a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election.

Democrats said Trump held back $391 million in security aid intended to combat Russia-backed separatists and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to coerce Kiev into interfering in the 2020 election by smearing Biden.

Trump is also accused of obstruction of Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with lawful House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.

Trump, who is seeking another four-year term in the November 2020 presidential election, has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a “witch hunt.”

At a raucous rally for his re-election in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House voted, Trump said the impeachment would be a “mark of shame” for Democrats and Pelosi, and cost them in the 2020 election.

“This lawless, partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party,” Trump said. “They’re the ones who should be impeached, every one of them.”

DEEP DIVISIONS

Trump’s election has polarized the United States, dividing families and friends and making it more difficult for politicians in Washington to find middle ground as they try to confront pressing challenges like the rise of China and climate change.

The impeachment vote comes ahead of Trump’s re-election campaign, which will pit him against the winner among a field of Democratic contenders, including Biden, who have repeatedly criticized Trump’s conduct in office and promised to make it a key issue.

Reuters/Ipsos polls show that while most Democrats wanted to see him impeached, most Republicans did not. Televised hearings last month that were meant to build public support for impeachment appear to have pushed the two sides further apart.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Lisa Lambert; Writing by John Whitesides and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Top Senate Republican blasts House impeachment effort against Trump

By David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday signaled opposition to a Democratic request to call new witnesses in a Senate trial expected next month on whether to remove President Donald Trump from office, saying he would not allow a “fishing expedition” after a “slapdash” House impeachment process.

Lawmakers from both parties were set to grapple on Tuesday over the rules of engagement for a historic vote set for Wednesday in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, where Trump is likely to become the third U.S. president to be impeached.

If the House approves articles of impeachment – formal charges – as expected, it would set the stage for a trial in the Senate, controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans – on whether to convict him and remove him from office. No president has ever been removed from office via the impeachment process set out in the U.S. Constitution.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he wants the trial to consider documents and hear testimony from four witnesses, including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, saying testimony could sway Republicans in favor of impeachment.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell took aim at Schumer and Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that spearheaded the impeachment inquiry launched in September.

“So now, the Senate Democratic leader would apparently like our chamber to do House Democrats’ homework for them. And he wants to volunteer the Senate’s time and energy on a fishing expedition to see whether his own ideas could make Chairman Schiff’s sloppy work more persuasive than Chairman Schiff himself bothered to make it,” McConnell said.

“From everything we can tell, House Democrats’ slapdash impeachment inquiry has failed to come anywhere near – anywhere near – the bar for impeaching a duly elected president, let alone removing him for the first time in American history,” McConnell added.

McConnell said he also hoped to meet with Schumer very soon to discuss how to proceed.

Trump remained in attack mode a day before his expected impeachment in the Democratic-led House, referring to the process in a Twitter post as “this whole Democrat Scam” and calling himself “your all time favorite President.”

“Don’t worry, I have done nothing wrong. Actually, they have!” Trump wrote.

In what is expected to be a marathon meeting, the House Rules Committee will decide how much time to set aside for debate on Wednesday before lawmakers vote on two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his dealings with Ukraine.

Representative Jerry Nadler – the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which approved the articles of impeachment last week – will miss the Rules Committee meeting because of a family emergency, and Representative Jamie Raskin will represent the Democrats in his place, a congressional aide said. Nadler is expected to be back at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The panel’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, also will testify before the Rules Committee.

The looming vote promises to bring a raucous, partisan conclusion to a months-long impeachment inquiry against Trump that has bitterly divided the American public as voters prepare for next year’s presidential and congressional elections.

The House is expected to approve the impeachment articles largely along partisan lines. The action then moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where the effort to remove Trump from office faces long odds.

House Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender to oppose him in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. He is also accused of obstructing Congress’ investigation into the matter.

Trump has denied wrongdoing.

Lawmakers are expected to offer amendments at the Rules Committee meeting, which could run for 12 hours or more depending on how many of the House’s 431 sitting legislators decide to show up and speak.

In the end, the committee will set the rules for the floor debate that will precede the impeachment vote.

The White House, which has not cooperated in the impeachment inquiry in the House, also signaled opposition to Schumer’s requests for the Senate trial.

“Why in the world should we be asked to fill in the blanks that the Democrats created? They created these huge holes and canyons in the presentation of their case. It’s not up to us to help them fill in the blanks and make their case,” presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters.

The final House vote is expected to fall largely along party lines. Several Democrats from districts that backed Trump in 2016 said on Monday they would vote to impeach him.

Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, which is expected to consider the charges in January.

Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and at least 20 of them would have to vote to convict Trump in order to clear the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump from office. None have indicated they may do so.

McConnell has suggested the chamber could move quickly to a vote without hearing from witnesses, after House Democrats and the White House make their presentations.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Democrats unveil impeachment charges against Trump

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the House of Representatives announced formal charges against President Donald Trump on Tuesday that accuse him of abusing power and obstructing Congress, making him only the fourth U.S. president in history to face impeachment.

The full Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote on the charges, or articles of impeachment, next week. It is almost certain to vote to impeach the Republican president, setting the stage for a dramatic trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, likely to begin in January.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters that Democrats had to take action because Trump had endangered the U.S. Constitution, undermined the integrity of the 2020 election and jeopardized national security.

“No one, not even the president, is above the law,” Nadler said at a news conference that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders of committees involved in the impeachment probe.

“Our elections are a cornerstone of democracy … the integrity of our next election is at risk from a president who has already sought foreign interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections,” Nadler said.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and calls the inquiry a hoax. The White House has refused to participate in the hearings in the House because it says the process is unfair.

Trump attacked the impeachment effort in a Twitter post early on Tuesday, saying to impeach a president when the country has such a strong economy “and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness!”

Democrats have moved rapidly in their impeachment inquiry since launching an investigation on Sept. 24 into allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the 2020 elections.

They accuse Trump of abusing power by withholding aid to Ukraine, a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression, as well as dangling a possible White House meeting to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch the investigation.

Republicans say Democrats are seeking to overturn the results of the 2016 election with a “witch hunt” against Trump, who denies he did anything wrong.

“Americans don’t agree with this rank partisanship, but Democrats are putting on this political theater because they don’t have a viable candidate for 2020 and they know it,” Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign manager, said in a statement.

WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT

Trump is unlikely to be convicted in the Senate, given it is controlled by his party, but his impeachment may yet have an impact on the campaign trail as Democrats seek to retake control of the White House.

The House Judiciary panel could vote this week on whether to send the formal charges to the full House.

Pelosi launched the impeachment probe after a whistleblower reported concerns over a July 25 telephone call in which Trump sought help from Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, a leading contender in the Democratic race to challenge Trump in next November’s election.

That led to weeks of investigation and hearings in the House. Committee leaders met with Pelosi following the last scheduled impeachment hearing on Monday evening.

Democrats say their investigation shows Trump withheld $391 million in military aid and the White House meeting to get Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Republicans argue Trump did nothing improper in his call with Zelenskiy and say there is no direct evidence he withheld aid or a White House meeting in exchange for a favor.

The Judiciary Committee would need to give 24 hours’ notice before meeting to vote on whether to forward the articles to the full House for a final impeachment vote by the chamber.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Paul Simao; Editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Senate passes HK rights bill backing protesters, angers Beijing

By Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation on Tuesday aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong amid a crackdown on a pro-democracy protest movement, drawing condemnation from Beijing.

Following the voice vote, the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” will go to the House of Representatives, which approved its own version last month. The two chambers will have to work out their differences before any legislation can be sent to President Donald Trump for his consideration.

“The people of Hong Kong see what’s coming – they see the steady effort to erode the autonomy and their freedoms,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said at the start of the brief Senate debate, accusing Beijing of being behind the “violence and repression” in the Asian financial hub.

The Senate passed a second bill, also unanimously, that would ban the export of certain crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police forces. It bans the export of items such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.

Under the first Senate bill, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would have to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for special U.S. trading consideration that bolsters its status as a world financial center. It also would provide for sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong.

There was no immediate response from the White House, which has yet to say whether Trump would approve the Hong Kong Human Rights bill. A U.S. official said recently that no decision had been made, but the unanimous Senate vote could make a veto more difficult for the Republican president.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said if the measure got to Trump’s desk there would probably be an intense debate between Trump aides worried it could undermine trade talks with China and those who believe it is time to take a stand against China on human rights and Hong Kong’s status.

In Beijing on Wednesday, China condemned the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and vowed strong counter-measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security.

“This act neglects facts and truth, applies double standards and blatantly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s other internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.

“It is in serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations. China condemns and firmly opposes it.”

The United States must immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s other internal affairs, or “the negative consequences will boomerang on itself”, Geng added.

Pompeo said on Monday the United States was gravely concerned about Hong Kong’s deepening unrest and violence, urging the city’s government to tackle public concerns and China to honor the promises it made to maintain liberties after taking back the territory from British rule in 1997.

Pompeo addressed the issue again on Tuesday before leaving the United States for a NATO meeting in Brussels.

“We continue to urge everyone to do this peacefully,” he told reporters. “There is a political resolution of this that is achievable, we hope that’ll be the path forward.”

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when Britain handed it back to China.

Senate aides said they expected the legislation eventually would move forward as an amendment to a massive defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, expected to pass Congress later this year.

Demonstrators in Hong Kong have been protesting in the streets amid increasing violence and fears that Beijing will ratchet up its response to stop the civil disobedience.

Following passage of the bill, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We have sent a message to President Xi (Jinping): Your suppression of freedom, whether in Hong Kong, in northwest China or in anywhere else, will not stand.

“You cannot be a great leader – and you cannot be a great country – when you oppose freedom, when you are so brutal to the people of Hong Kong, young and old, who are protesting.”

Xinjiang, in northwest China, is home to many mostly Muslim Uighurs, large numbers of whom have been detained in what China says are vocational training centers, but which some U.S. officials have called “concentration camps.”

This month the foreign ministry said China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States about the legislation and urged that it not be passed into law.

China would “inevitably take vigorous measures to firmly respond, to staunchly safeguard our sovereignty, security and development interests,” the ministry added.

Trump prompted questions about his commitment to protecting freedoms in Hong Kong when he referred in August to the mass street protests as “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.

Trump has since urged China to handle the issue humanely, warning that anything bad that happened in Hong Kong could hurt talks to end a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

In a post on Twitter on Wednesday, China’s embassy in the United States said, “The democracy and human rights held so dearly by the American people are once again abused by some American politicians to justify violence and disorder.”

It added, “Do they want to side with the rioters? SAD!”

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Daphne Psaledakis Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk, and Ryan Woo and Se Young Lee in Beijing; Editing by Leslie Adler and Clarence Fernandez)

Turkey’s Erdogan may call off U.S. trip after Congress votes: officials

Turkey’s Erdogan may call off U.S. trip after Congress votes: officials
By Orhan Coskun and Dominic Evans

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan may call off a visit to Washington next week in protest at votes in the House of Representatives to recognize mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide and to seek sanctions on Turkey, three Turkish officials said.

Erdogan is due in Washington on Nov. 13 at President Donald Trump’s invitation, but said last week that the votes put a “question mark” over the plans.

“These steps seriously overshadow ties between the two countries. Due to these decisions, Erdogan’s visit has been put on hold,” a senior Turkish official said, adding that a final decision had not been taken.

Turkish sources say Trump and Erdogan have a strong bond despite anger in Congress over Turkey’s Syria offensive and its purchase of Russian air defenses, and despite what Ankara sees as Trump’s own erratic pronouncements.

Those personal ties could be crucial given NATO member Turkey’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system, which under U.S. law should trigger sanctions.

Turkey is already suspended from the F-35 fighter jet program in which it was both joint producer and customer, and the offensive it launched against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria on Oct. 9 set the stage for further U.S. retaliation.

Although Trump appeared to clear the way for the incursion by withdrawing troops, the White House briefly imposed sanctions before lifting them after a deal to halt the fighting and clear the Kurdish fighters from the border.

Then, two weeks after that deal, the Congressional votes infuriated Turkey once more.

‘POLITICAL TIMING’

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were orchestrated or constitute genocide.

“They took advantage of the current political climate against Turkey in Washington to pass this resolution,” a source close to the presidency said. Like the other officials, he spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump has expressed sympathy for Turkey over its purchase of Russian defense systems, blaming his predecessor for not selling Ankara U.S. Patriot missiles. His eagerness to pull U.S. forces out of Syria also aligned with Erdogan’s plan to send troops across the border to drive back the Kurdish YPG.

However, last month Trump threatened to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy, and Trump sent Erdogan a letter on the day the offensive started warning him he could be responsible for “slaughtering thousands of people”.

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump wrote.

A Turkish security official cited Trump’s letter, along with the votes in Congress, as damaging: “If the atmosphere doesn’t change, there won’t be any point to this visit”.

Erdogan himself said three weeks ago he could no longer keep up with Trump’s blizzard of tweets.

Still, for Ankara, Trump remains the best hope of salvaging a partnership between two countries that, despite their difficulties, want to quadruple their annual trade to $100 billion.

“The two leaders have a good relationship,” the source close to the presidency said. “President Trump wants to have good relations with Turkey in spite of his own establishment.”

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Judge orders Trump to hand over tax returns to NY prosecutors

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge on Monday said U.S. President Donald Trump must hand over eight years of tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors, forcefully rejecting the president’s argument that he was immune from criminal investigations.

Trump’s immunity claim was “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values,” U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero wrote in a 75-page decision.

“The court cannot square a vision of presidential immunity that would place the President above the law,” Marrero added.

Trump quickly filed an emergency appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which temporarily blocked Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from enforcing the subpoena, citing the “unique issues” in the case.

Marrero’s decision would have forced Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA to start turning over documents on Monday afternoon.

The decision further complicates Trump’s battle to keep his finances under wraps, despite having promised during his 2016 White House run that he would disclose his tax returns.

Vance, a Democrat, had subpoenaed personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018 and other records from Mazars, as part of a criminal probe into the president and his family business.

“The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts, so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump,” Trump, a Republican, tweeted after Marrero’s decision. “A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!”

HOUSE PROBE

In suing Vance last month to block the subpoena, Trump argued that he was immune from criminal probes while in office, and the U.S. Constitution required Vance to wait until after he left the White House.

Trump is separately trying to block Deutsche Bank AG from handing over financial records, which the bank has said include tax returns, sought by multiple U.S. House of Representatives committees.

Those probes is separate from the debate over whether Trump should be impeached because of his dealings with Ukraine.

The 2nd Circuit appeals court heard oral arguments in the Deutsche Bank case on Aug. 23. It has yet to rule.

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said he was pleased the subpoena would not be enforced immediately. Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance, declined to comment.

Both sides proposed schedules to allow oral arguments in Trump’s appeal later this month.

Mazars did not respond to requests for comment, but has said it would comply with its legal obligations. The U.S. Department of Justice, which opposed Vance’s bid to dismiss Trump’s case, declined to comment.

‘OVERREACH OF EXECUTIVE POWER’

Marrero, who was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, declined to assert jurisdiction over the Vance subpoena, saying Trump should have brought his case in a New York state court.

The judge, however, made clear that if the appeals court disagreed with that finding, Trump should lose.

Marrero said Trump failed to show that enforcing the subpoena would interfere with his presidential duties, cause irreparable harm or be against the public interest.

He also rejected as too broad the idea that the president, his family and his businesses should be shielded from criminal process.

“The expansive notion of constitutional immunity invoked here to shield the President from judicial process would constitute an overreach of executive power,” Marrero wrote.

Marrero said even President Richard Nixon had conceded during the Watergate scandal that he would be required to produce documents in response to a judicial subpoena.

In seeking a stay, Trump’s lawyers said the case raised “momentous” questions about the president’s immunity and that complying with the subpoena would cause irreversible damage.

“There will be no way to unscramble the egg scrambled by the disclosure,” Trump’s lawyers said.

Vance issued the subpoena four weeks after issuing another subpoena to the Trump Organization for records of hush money payments, including to two women prior to the 2016 election who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, which he denies.

Trump is running for re-election. His current term ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. House to vote to reinstate net neutrality rules in April

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will vote in April on a bill to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission under U.S. President Donald Trump.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a letter to colleagues on Thursday seen by Reuters that lawmakers will vote on the bill dubbed the “Save the Internet Act” during the week of April 8.

The bill mirrors an effort last year to reverse the FCC’s December 2017 order that repealed rules approved in 2015 that barred providers from blocking or slowing internet content or offering paid “fast lanes.”

The reversal of net neutrality rules was a win for internet providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, but opposed by content and social media companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.

The bill would repeal the order introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, bar the FCC from reinstating it or substantially similar order and reinstate the 2015 net neutrality order. Republicans oppose reinstating the 2015 rules that grant the FCC sweeping authority to oversee the conduct of internet providers.

The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, voted in May 2018 to reinstate the rules, but the House did not take up the issue before Congress adjourned last year. The White House opposes reinstating the net neutrality rules and it is not clear that proponents will be able to force a vote in the Senate.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

Senate votes to terminate Trump national emergency

U.S. President Donald Trump walks down the U.S Capitol steps with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) after they both attended the 37th annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday joined the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would defy President Donald Trump by terminating the national emergency on the southern border that he declared on Feb. 15.

Trump has vowed a veto – an act he has not yet taken as president. But enough Republicans in Congress are expected to block any veto override attempt. A two-thirds vote of the House and Senate are needed overturn a presidential veto.

The Senate voted 59-41 to end the emergency.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Lambert)