U.S. ‘net neutrality’ rules will end on June 11 -FCC

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington, U.S., February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission said in a notice on Thursday that landmark 2015 U.S. open-internet rules will cease on June 11, and new rules handing providers power over what content consumers can access will take effect.

The FCC in December repealed the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, allowing internet providers to block or slow websites as long as they disclose the practice. The FCC said the new rules will take effect on June 11.

A group of states and others have sued to try to block the new rules from taking effect. The revised rules were a win for internet service providers like AT&T  and Comcast Corp & CMCSA but are opposed by internet firms like Facebook Inc  and Alphabet Inc.

“The agency failed to listen to the American public and gave short shrift to their deeply held belief that internet openness should remain the law of the land,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said Thursday. “The FCC is on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American people.”

The U.S. Senate is set to vote as early as next week on whether to reject the FCC repeal of the net neutrality rules – but that effort faces an uphill battle.

Proponents currently have the backing of 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats, as well as Republican Senator Susan Collins. With the prolonged absence of Republican Senator John McCain due to illness, proponents believe they will win on a 50-49 vote.

Senator Ed Markey said it was “likely” the vote will take place in the middle of next week. On Wednesday, senators officially filed a petition to force a net neutrality vote and 10 hours of floor debate under the Congressional Review Act.

Following the FCC announcement, Markey wrote on Twitter, “the Senate must act NOW and pass my resolution to save the internet as we know it.”

The FCC voted 3-2 to reverse Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain online content.

Once they take effect, the new FCC rules would give internet service providers sweeping powers to change how consumers access the internet but include new transparency requirements that require them to disclose any changes to consumers.

If the Senate approves the measure, it would not likely pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. If the legislation were to pass the House, President Donald Trump would be expected to veto it.

In February, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has often said he is confident the agency’s order will be upheld.

Democrats have said they believe the issue would be key in November’s midterm congressional elections, especially among younger internet-savvy voters.

Republicans have said the FCC repeal would eliminate heavy-handed government regulations, encourage investment and return the internet to pre-2015 rules.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

After walkouts, U.S. teachers eye elections for school funding gains

FILE PHOTO: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

By Heide Brandes and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY/TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – High school physics teacher Craig Hoxie filed to run for Oklahoma’s House of Representatives on Friday, a day after the end of a two-week teacher walkout that had pressed lawmakers for school funding.

“A week ago, I would have told you I wasn’t going to do it,” said the 48-year-old Army veteran who has worked in public schools for 18 years, as he drove to the state election board office to submit his paperwork to become a Democratic candidate in this fall’s election. “There is a funding crisis with all public services in our state.”

Teachers and parents in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona have staged collective actions in recent weeks, seeking higher wages and education spending. They say years of budget reductions have decimated public school systems in favor of tax cuts.

Protests in those Republican-dominated states have encouraged teachers unions and Democratic candidates who will try to capitalize on the outrage to score electoral victories. In November’s mid-term elections, 36 governorships and thousands of state legislative seats will be up for grabs.

“This transcends what has traditionally been viewed as blue states and red states,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which boasts 1.7 million members. “The deprivation has gotten so great that people are taking the risk to escalate their activism.”

The union, typically aligned with the Democratic Party, has targeted a number of key states with plans to mobilize in statehouse, gubernatorial and congressional elections this fall.

Nationwide, progressive causes have seen a surge of enthusiasm since Republican President Donald Trump’s election. Protesters have rallied on issues as wide ranging as gun control, gender equality, science and immigrants’ rights.

The Oklahoma walkout demonstrated the power of collective action to influence Republican lawmakers, as well as its limits. The legislature boosted annual education funding by about $450 million and raised teacher pay by an average of about $6,100, yet those figures remained short of the teachers’ demands.

The state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), declared victory and turned its attention to the fall elections to continue the fight for more funding. At least a dozen Oklahoma teachers are seeking office.

In remarks to the Tulsa County Democratic Party on Friday, OEA President Alicia Priest said local union chapters would form election committees to support pro-education candidates, while members will go door-to-door.

“We have to change and try something different,” she said of teachers choosing to run for office themselves.

Several Republican incumbents facing challenges from teacher candidates did not respond to calls for comment.

Sheri Guyse, 42, a parent with two children in Oklahoma public schools who participated in the walkout, pledged that come November, she would remember whose side lawmakers were on.

“A few of their demands were met, and of course that’s a step in the right direction, but the only thing I’m feeling really good about today is that there’s a big election in November where a lot of these legislators will lose their jobs,” she said.

A number of teachers have already won special legislative elections as Democrats in the last two years. Karen Gaddis, a retired teacher who ran on a largely pro-education platform, captured a seat near Tulsa that had been in Republican hands for more than 20 years.

“Things have gotten so bad out here, we’re like a third-world country,”” Gaddis said in a phone interview. She first ran and lost in 2016, but said she has sensed a shift this year as people have grown fed up with budget cuts.

“Education in particular was just being flushed down the toilet,” she said.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on statehouse races nationwide, said more than 50 educators are running in other states. The group said the 26 states in which Republicans control both the legislature and the governorship have seen an average 5 percent cut in education spending over the last decade.

In response, David James, a spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports that party in statehouse races, said, “It is sad and appalling for the Democrats to be coordinating a national protest effort with their longtime faculty room friends in the teachers unions to push a political agenda in the classroom, at the expense of the nation’s students.”

John Waldron, a social studies teacher, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in Oklahoma in 2016. He is running again as a Democrat in 2018, this time for the state House of Representatives, and said the walkout gives him confidence this campaign will unfold differently.

“We’ve turned a whole generation of Oklahomans into political activists now,” he said.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa; Writing and additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Oklahoma House approves education tax bill amid teacher walkout

A teacher stands next to a music stand holding a sign during a school walkout in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S. April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a $20 million internet sales tax on Wednesday as part of a revenue package aimed at ending a statewide walkout by teachers seeking higher pay and more education funding.

The walkout, now in its third day, is the latest upheaval by teachers in a Republican-dominated state after a successful West Virginia strike last month ended with a pay raise. More than 100 school districts in Oklahoma will remain shuttered on Thursday.

Lawmakers approved the tax measure as hundreds of teachers, parents and students packed the Capitol in Oklahoma City to press for a $200 million package to raise education spending in Oklahoma, which ranks near the bottom for U.S. states.

“This is a win for students and educators and signals major progress toward funding the schools our students deserve,” Alicia Priest, head of the Oklahoma Education Association, the teachers union, said in a statement after 92 lawmakers approved the sales tax measure.

Across the state, protests were held near schools and along streets, with demonstrators holding signs bearing slogans such as “35 is a speed limit, not a class size.”

The tax bill requires third-party vendors on internet sites such as Amazon to remit state sales taxes on purchases made by residents.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers on Thursday will weigh a measure expanding gaming at Native American casinos as part of the $200 million package. Lawmakers are also weighing such options as repealing exemptions for capital gains taxes.

The teachers’ protests reflect rising discontent after years of sluggish or declining public school spending in Oklahoma, which ranked 47th among the 50 states in per-student expenditure in 2016, according to the National Education Association.

Kentucky teachers also have demonstrated against stagnant or reduced budgets by a Republican-controlled legislature. Arizona educators have threatened similar job actions.

“My books were old when I was in high school more than 15 years ago and chances are a lot of them are still being used today,” Oklahoma City resident Ashley Morris said by telephone from a statehouse rally.

“Students just aren’t getting what they need or deserve and that puts teachers in a tough situation,” said Morris, whose roommate is a first-grade teacher who relies on a second job to make ends meet.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler)

School safety bill passes House, no action on gun control

Students from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC, hold up signs with the names of those killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting during a protest for stricter gun control during a walkout by students at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lisa Lambert and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives approved spending more money on metal detectors, locks and other school security measures on Wednesday, but took no steps to tighten gun control laws a month after a Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people.

While students marched nationwide for change on one of America’s most vexing social issues, lawmakers voted 407-10 for legislation to spend $50 million to $75 million per year from 2019 through 2028 on school security and safety training.

 

People supporting gun control attend a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

People supporting gun control attend a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

No parallel measure was pending in the Senate, where a somewhat more ambitious bill was being debated, but prospects for meaningful gun control reforms in Congress remained remote in the face of stiff resistance from gun industry lobbyists.

“This bill, on its own, is not the kind of meaningful congressional action needed to address this crisis of gun violence,” Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said in a statement.

“This must be a first step and it must be followed by a serious effort to pass legislation that expands background checks and bans military-style assault weapons,” he said.

It was not yet clear when the Senate would take up the House bill, which would not become law without Senate approval.

President Donald Trump applauded the House bill, the White House said, though it falls far short of broader gun control legislation he talked about shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The measure would not allow any of the funding to be used for arming teachers or other school personnel. The White House said the bill would be improved by lifting that restriction.

Since the Parkland massacre, student protesters have successfully lobbied for tighter gun controls in Florida. Hundreds of them gathered outside the Capitol to urge Congress to take action on placing new limits on firearms and gun sales.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) listens to testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) listens to testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

In the Senate is a bill to strengthen existing background checks of gun purchasers. It enjoys broad bipartisan support but has not been scheduled for debate.

Congressional aides said discussions were underway about folding the school safety and background check bills into a government funding bill that lawmakers want to pass by March 23.

Eleven organizations, including some gun control and law enforcement groups, wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urging passage this month of the background checks bill.

Since the Florida shooting, the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration have considered measures to curb gun violence while trying to avoid crossing the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group, or threatening the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Neither the House nor Senate bills address many of the gun control initiatives backed by students, teachers and families of shooting victims at the Florida school.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Katherine Posada, a teacher at the school, recounted the horror she experienced the day of the shooting and urged Congress to ban assault-style weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged in the murders.

“Some of the victims were shot through doors, or even through walls – a knife can’t do that,” Posada said. “How many innocent lives could have been saved if these weapons of war weren’t so readily available?”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Alexander and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)

U.S. House passes bill to help schools combat gun violence

People supporting gun control attend a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about legislative proposals to improve school safety in the wake of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lisa Lambert and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation to help schools and local law enforcement prevent gun violence, one month after the mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 407-10, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House announced President Donald Trump’s support of the bill, which is far short of the broader gun control legislation he talked about shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Since that massacre, student protesters have successfully lobbied for tighter gun controls in Florida. Hundreds of them gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to take their argument to a Congress that has long resisted placing new limits on firearms and gun sales.

The House-passed bill would authorize federal grants, totaling $50 million a year, to fund training, anonymous reporting systems, threat assessments, intervention teams and school and police coordination.

The measure, however, would not allow any of the funding to be used for arming teachers or other school personnel. The White House said the legislation would be improved by lifting that restriction.

“The best way to keep our students and teachers safe is to give them the tools and the training to recognize the warning signs to prevent violence from ever entering our school grounds, and this bill aims to do just that,” said Republican Representative John Rutherford of Florida, a former sheriff who sponsored the school safety bill.

It was not yet clear when the Senate would take up the House-passed bill.

Already awaiting action in the Senate is a bill to strengthen existing background checks of gun purchasers. It enjoys broad bipartisan support but has not been scheduled for debate.

Congressional aides said there were ongoing discussions about possibly folding the school safety and background check bills into a massive government funding bill that Congress aims to pass by March 23.

Eleven organizations, including some gun control and law enforcement groups, on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urging passage this month of the background checks bill.

Neither the House nor Senate bills address many of the gun control initiatives backed by students, teachers and families of shooting victims at the Florida school.

In emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Katherine Posada, a teacher at the school, recounted the horror she experienced the day of the shooting and urged Congress to ban assault-style weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged in the murders.

“Some of the victims were shot through doors, or even through walls – a knife can’t do that,” Posada said. “How many innocent lives could have been saved if these weapons of war weren’t so readily available?”

Since the Florida shooting, the Republican-led Congress and Trump’s administration have considered a variety of measures to curb gun violence while trying to avoid upsetting the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group or threatening the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Protesters with signs targeting the NRA and advocating an assault rifle ban filled the hearing room in the Senate on Wednesday and occasionally applauded as some Democrats on the panel spoke about enacting stricter gun laws.

Meanwhile, the No. 2 official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation told lawmakers in testimony Wednesday that his agency dropped the ball by mishandling several tips about Cruz before the shooting, and said reforms were underway.

“The FBI could have and should have done more to investigate the information it was provided prior to the shooting,” Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Alexander and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Tom Brown and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump would sign bill on schools, guns about to pass House: statement

FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump waves as he arrives to speak in support of Rick Saccone during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is ready to sign legislation intended to curb school violence that was inspired by last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, and which the House of Representatives is poised to pass later on Wednesday.

In a statement released on Wednesday the White House said the legislation would help protect children and reiterated its support for arming teachers or other school personnel. It said the bill “would be improved by eliminating the restriction on the use of funds to provide firearms training for those in a position to provide students with appropriate, armed defense.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, told reporters that the chamber would pass the legislation, which would authorize $50 million a year to help schools and law enforcement agencies prevent violent attacks, on Wednesday. But with the Senate considering other legislation this week and next, any gun legislation may not reach Trump’s desk before April.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Congress expected to vote on budget to avert government shutdown

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018.

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were expected to vote on a proposed budget deal on Thursday that would avert another government shutdown but that has angered fiscal conservatives who complain it would lead to a $1 trillion deficit.

The plan to keep the government operating and to increase spending over the next two years faced resistance from conservatives in the Republican Party, who favor less spending on domestic government programs. At the same time, many liberal Democrats wanted to withhold their support as leverage to win concessions on immigration policy.

That meant the bill’s passage was not assured in the House and would need some Democratic support. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who has backed the agreement, said on Thursday he believed the chamber will pass the budget deal.

“I think we will,” Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support.”

Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the deal “eye-popping and eyebrow-raising.”

“We took an official position last night to say we can’t support this,” he told CNN on Thursday.

Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

The rare bipartisan deal reached by Senate leaders on Wednesday raises spending on military and domestic programs by almost $300 billion over the next two years.

It would allow for $165 billion in extra defense spending and $131 billion more for non-military programs, including health, infrastructure, disaster relief and efforts to tackle an opioid crisis in the country.

It would stave off a government shutdown before a Thursday night deadline and extend the federal government’s debt ceiling until March 2019, putting off for more than a year the risk of a debt default by the United States.

CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION

The agreement, backed by Republican President Donald Trump, disappointed conservative House Republicans and outside groups.

“It’s not like Republicans aren’t concerned about disaster relief, or Republicans aren’t concerned about funding community health centers or dealing with the opioid crisis,” U.S. Representative Warren Davidson, a Republican, said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“But when you add them all up, it adds to an awful lot of spending. … It’s not compassionate to bankrupt America.”

Liberal Democrats meanwhile opposed the deal because it does not include an agreement to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” young people brought illegally to the United States as children.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday staged an eight-hour speech on the House floor in support of immigration legislation, including reading letters from Dreamers pleading to be allowed to stay in the United States.

A number of lawmakers who supported the bill acknowledged the deal was not perfect. “It’s not pretty,” Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger said on CNN.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester said he hoped House Democrats would back the measure. “We don’t want the perfect to get in the road of the good,” he told the cable network.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said many lawmakers believe the defense spending in the bill was essential. “We’re going to get it through because most people will support it,” he told Fox News.

Senate Republicans planned a procedural vote on a stand-alone bill to increase military funding for the rest of the year to demonstrate support for Trump’s promised defense build-up.

Democrats will not support it because it does not contain similar spending increases for non-military programs. But the Senate’s failure to advance the bill will not damage the budget legislation, which is due for a vote later in the day.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News the agreement provides long-term certainty in the budget and funding for Trump priorities including infrastructure and military funding.

Failure to agree on spending led to a partial three-day shutdown of government agencies last month.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)

Trump promises to ‘take the heat’ for broad immigration deal

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was ready to accept an onslaught of criticism if lawmakers tackle broad immigration reforms after an initial deal to help the young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers and build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump told lawmakers at the White House he would back a two-phased approach to overhauling U.S. immigration laws with the first step focused on protecting immigrants who were brought here as children from deportation along with funding for a wall and other restrictions that Democrats have opposed.

Once that is done, Trump said, he favors moving quickly to address even more contentious issues, including a possible pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that is opposed by many Republicans and many of his supporters.

“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care,” Trump told lawmakers about a broad immigration bill. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you wanted to go that final step, I think you should do it.”

Trump campaigned for the White House in 2016 with a hard-line approach on illegal immigration, and many of his supporters consider potential citizenship for undocumented immigrants to be an unacceptable grant of amnesty.

Trump said on Tuesday he would sign a bill that gives legal status to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers, as long as the bill had the border security protections he has sought, including funding for a wall.

“Now, that doesn’t mean 2,000 miles of wall because you just don’t need that … because of mountains and rivers and lots of other things,” Trump said. “But we need a certain portion of that border to have the wall. If we don’t have it, you can never have security.”

Trump and his fellow Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress, have been unable to reach agreement with Democrats on a deal to resolve the status of an estimated 700,000 young immigrants whose protection from potential deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program ends in early March.

“A VERY PRODUCTIVE MEETING”

Under pressure from immigrant groups ahead of midterm congressional elections in November, Democrats are reluctant to give ground to Trump on the issue of the wall, his central promise from the 2016 presidential campaign.

But after the meeting, lawmakers from both parties said they would meet as early as Wednesday to continue negotiations on a deal covering DACA and border security, as well as a visa lottery program and “chain migration,” which could address the status of relatives of Dreamers who are still in the United States illegally.

“From that standpoint it was a very productive meeting,” said Senator David Perdue, a Republican. “We have a scope now.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the broader bill with a path to citizenship was not a focus for now.

“We’re certainly open to talking about a number of other issues when it comes to immigration, but right now this administration is focused on those four things and that negotiation, and not a lot else at this front,” she said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also was at the meeting, said negotiators in Congress still faced difficulties but it was important that Trump had shown he had “no animosity toward the Dream Act kids” and the “wall is not going to be 2,220 miles wide.”

PARTY DIFFERENCES ON BORDER SECURITY

The U.S. Congress has been trying and failing to pass a comprehensive immigration bill for more than a decade, most recently in 2013 when the Senate passed a bill that later died in the House of Representatives.

The latest immigration negotiations are part of a broader series of talks over issues ranging from funding the federal government through next September to renewing a children’s health insurance program and giving U.S. territories and states additional aid for rebuilding after last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.

Top congressional leaders did not attend the hour-long meeting. The guest list included lawmakers from both parties involved in the immigration debate, such as Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

A majority of those protected under DACA are from Mexico and Central America and have spent most of their lives in the United States, attending school and participating in society.

Trump put their fate in doubt in early September when he announced he was ending the DACA program created by former President Barack Obama, which allowed them to legally live and work in the United States temporarily.

Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, said a DACA bill could win support for passage even though there are differences between the parties over what constitutes necessary border security.

“Democrats are for security at the border,” Hoyer told Trump during the meeting. “There are obviously differences, however, Mr. President, on how you affect that.”

On Monday, Trump announced that he was ending immigration protections for about 200,000 El Salvadorans who have been living legally in the United States under the Temporary Protection Status program. Haitians and other groups have faced similar actions.

A congressional aide told Reuters that negotiators in Congress also have been talking about legislation that would expand TPS in return for ending a visa lottery program that Republicans want to terminate.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and Amanda Becker; Writing by John Whitesides and Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. House gives final approval to tax bill, delivers victory to Trump

President Trump celebrates with Congressional Republican on the South Lawn of the White House.

By David Morgan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval on Wednesday to the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years, sending a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.

In sealing Trump’s first major legislative victory, Republicans steamrolled opposition from Democrats to pass a bill that slashes taxes for corporations and the wealthy while giving mixed, temporary tax relief to middle-class Americans.

The House approved the measure, 224-201, passing it for the second time in two days after a procedural foul-up forced another vote on Wednesday. The Senate had passed it 51-48 in the early hours of Wednesday.

“We are making America great again,” Trump said, echoing his campaign slogan at a White House celebration with Republican lawmakers. “Ultimately what does it mean? It means jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Trump, who emphasized a tax cut for middle-class Americans during his 2016 campaign, said at an earlier Cabinet meeting that lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent was “probably the biggest factor in this plan.”

It was uncertain when the bill would be signed. White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said the timing depended on whether automatic spending cuts triggered by the legislation could be waived. If so, the president will sign it before the end of the year, he said.

The administration expects the waiver to be included in a spending resolution Congress will pass later this week, a White House official told reporters.

BUSINESS FRIENDLY

In addition to cutting the U.S. corporate income tax rate to 21 percent, the debt-financed legislation gives other business owners a new 20 percent deduction on business income and reshapes how the government taxes multinational corporations along the lines the country’s largest businesses have recommended for years.

Millions of Americans would stop itemizing deductions under the bill, putting tax breaks that incentivize home ownership and charitable donations out of their reach, but also making tax returns somewhat simpler and shorter.

The bill keeps the present number of tax brackets but adjusts many of the rates and income levels for each one. The top tax rate for high earners is reduced. The estate tax on inheritances is changed so far fewer people will pay.

Once signed, taxpayers likely would see the first changes to their paycheck tax withholdings in February. Most households will not see the full effect of the tax plan on their income until they file their 2018 taxes in early 2019.

In two provisions added to secure needed Republican votes, the legislation also allows oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and removes a tax penalty under the Obamacare health law for Americans who do not obtain health insurance.

“We have essentially repealed Obamacare and we’ll come up with something that will be much better,” Trump said.

Democrats were united in opposition to the tax legislation, calling it a giveaway to the wealthy that will widen the income gap between rich and poor, while adding $1.5 trillion over the next decade to the $20 trillion national debt. Trump promised in 2016 he would eliminate the national debt as president.

“PILLAGING”

“Today the Republicans take their victory lap for successfully pillaging the American middle class to benefit the powerful and the privileged,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Opinion polls show the tax bill is unpopular with the public and Democrats promised to make Republicans pay for their vote during next year’s congressional elections, when all 435 House seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs.

“Republicans will rue the day they passed this bill,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters. “We are going to continue hammering away about why this bill is so unpopular.”

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the bill, saying support would grow for after it passes and Americans felt relief. “I think minds are going to change,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” television program.

A few Republicans, a party once defined by fiscal hawkishness, have protested the deficit-spending encompassed in the bill. But most voted for it anyway, saying it would help businesses and individuals while boosting an already expanding economy they see as not growing fast enough.

In the House, 12 Republicans voted against the tax bill. All but one, Walter Jones of North Carolina, were from the high-tax states of New York, New Jersey and California, which will be hit by the bill’s cap on deductions for state and local taxes.

Despite Trump administration promises that the tax overhaul would focus on the middle class and not cut taxes for the rich, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, estimated middle-income households would see an average tax cut of $900 next year under the bill, while the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would see an average cut of $51,000.

The House was forced to vote again after the Senate parliamentarian ruled three minor provisions violated arcane Senate rules. To proceed, the Senate deleted the three provisions and then approved the bill.

Because the House and Senate must approve the same legislation before Trump can sign it into law, the Senate’s late Tuesday vote sent the bill back to the House.

Graphic: Republican tax bill’s tax brackets and rates – http://tmsnrt.rs/2BJnrIV

Graphic: U.S. debt level since 1950 – http://reut.rs/2B3Yl3C

(Reporting by David Morgan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Roberta Rampton, Gina Chon and Susan Heavey; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott)

House approves new Russia sanctions, defying Trump

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers’ permission before easing any sanctions on Moscow, in a rare rebuke of the Republican president.

It was unclear how quickly the bill would make its way to the White House for Trump to sign into law or veto. The bill still must be passed by the Senate, which is mired in debate over efforts to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system as lawmakers try to clear the decks to leave Washington for their summer recess.

The sanctions bill comes as lawmakers investigate possible meddling by Russia in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by Republican Trump’s campaign.

Moscow has denied it worked to influence the election in Trump’s favor, and he has denied his campaign colluded.

The White House said the president had not yet decided whether he would sign the measure. Rejecting the bill – which would potentially hamper his hopes of pursuing improved relations with Moscow – would carry a risk that his veto could be overridden by lawmakers.

“While the president supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president’s desk,” said spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

House members backed the bill, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, by a near-unanimous margin of 419-3, with strong support from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, despite objections from Trump, who wanted more control over the ability to impose sanctions.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed an earlier version of the bill with near-unanimous support. The House added the North Korea measures after becoming frustrated with the Senate’s failure to advance a bill it passed in May.

Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the three countries “are threatening vital U.S. interests and destabilizing their neighbors. It is well past time that we forcefully respond.”

But the combined bill has run into objections from some senators, who are unhappy that the House added the North Korea sanctions after holding up the measure for more than a month.

Senate leaders have not said when they might consider the House bill. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was not sure the bill would “fly through” his chamber.

“The only language we agreed to was Iran and Russia. So adding North Korea on, I just don’t know how we’re going to deal with it yet,” Corker told reporters. “The better route would have been to send over what had been agreed to.”

The bill had raised concerns in the European Union, where U.S. allies depend on supplies of Russian gas. But House members said the bill was tweaked to try to alleviate the worries of Europeans and the energy sector.

INVESTIGATIONS

The intense focus on Russia, involving several congressional probes and a separate investigation by a Justice Department-appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller, has overshadowed Trump’s agenda.

The scrutiny has angered and frustrated the president, who calls the investigations a politically motivated witch hunt fueled by Democrats who cannot accept his upset win in last November’s election against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state.

Without offering evidence, Trump lashed out on Twitter on Tuesday about “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage” his presidential campaign in order to aid Clinton. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington denied the accusations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had been set to compel Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to testify at a hearing on Wednesday, but rescinded the subpoena late on Tuesday as negotiations over his participation continued.

Manafort has started turning over documents to the committee and is negotiating a date to be interviewed, the panel said in a statement.

The committee is looking at a June 2016 meeting in New York with a Russian lawyer organized by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. Trump Jr. released emails this month that showed he welcomed the prospect of receiving damaging information at the meeting about Clinton.

On Friday, the panel had asked that Manafort and Trump Jr. appear at the Wednesday hearing, but a witness list released on Tuesday evening included neither of their names.

Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Tuesday morning, his spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent three hours with the House of Representatives intelligence panel, his second straight day on Capitol Hill answering questions about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

Kushner had a “very productive session” with the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said after the meeting.

Republican Representative Michael Conaway said Kushner was “straightforward and forthcoming. He wanted to answer every question that we had.”

Kushner, who is now a top aide in Trump’s White House, told reporters on Monday he had no part in any Kremlin plot..

U.S. House Republicans on Tuesday rejected a legislative effort by Democrats to obtain Treasury Department documents that could show any ties between the finances of Trump, his inner circle and the Russian government.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Karen Friefeld; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)