After controversial trial, U.S. Senate poised to acquit Trump

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump was on the brink of ending the darkest chapter of his tumultuous presidency on Monday as the U.S. Senate began the final phase of his impeachment trial that will almost certainly conclude on Wednesday with his acquittal.

The 100 senators will hear four hours of closing arguments split equally between Trump’s legal team and prosecutors from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which charged him with abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to probe political rival Joe Biden, and then obstructing their inquiry.

The Republican-run Senate voted on Friday not to hear from witnesses including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, despite a strong push by Democrats and opinion polls showing most Americans wanted to hear from them.

When the arguments are complete, the senators will be able to make speeches until Wednesday when a final vote will be taken at 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) to determine whether Trump is guilty of the charges and should be removed from office.

The tenor of the speeches is expected to reflect the deepening polarization between Democrats and Republicans as senators seek to justify to the American public why they plan to vote yay or nay for ousting Trump.

The Senate is almost certain to acquit the president, as a two-thirds majority is required to remove Trump and none of its 53 Republicans have indicated they will vote to convict.

Several Republican senators have said that what Trump did was inappropriate but not impeachable. The president says he is the victim of an unlawful Democratic effort to derail his campaign for re-election.

BRUISING BATTLE

During the trial, Trump’s lawyers offered an expansive view of presidential powers as they argued that their client had wide latitude to conduct U.S. foreign policy and that he could not be thrown out of office for abuse of power. They urged senators to let the people decide when they go to the polls in November.

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached and the first in an election year.

The vote on Wednesday is expected to be an anti-climactic end to a trial where the outcome was never seriously in doubt, despite testimony from former and current government officials that Trump, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others pressed Ukraine to announce investigations of opponents that would benefit him politically.

While all 100 senators took an oath to be impartial jurors, the top Republican in the chamber, Mitch McConnell, declared in December before the start of the trial, “We all know how it’s going to end.”

“There is no chance the president’s going to be removed from office,” McConnell said in an interview with Fox News.

While an acquittal will leave Trump still firmly entrenched in the Oval Office, the impeachment battle has renewed focus on the powers of the presidency and the power of Congress to hold a U.S. president accountable. Trump’s White House refused to cooperate in the congressional inquiry, withholding documents and key witnesses in a bruising contest with lawmakers.

The confrontation has consumed Washington since last September, but has had far less impact on the campaign trail, where voters said they were more concerned with bread-and-butter issues. Democratic candidates for their party’s presidential nomination have rarely spoken about impeachment, amid polls showing voters had already mostly made up their minds about Trump’s innocence or guilt.

Trump will deliver his annual State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. Republicans had been pushing for a final vote on impeachment last weekend so that he could use the speech to reset his agenda. But late last Friday that timetable was upended for reasons that were not immediately clear, and the vote was pushed to Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)

Factbox: Trump impeachment – what happens next?

(Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on Wednesday to send formal impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would help acquit his fellow Republican at a trial.

Here is what can be expected in the coming days and weeks:

Jan. 15

The House will vote to formally transmit the charges against Trump to the Senate, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democratic lawmakers, who represent the House majority, voted along party lines on Dec. 18 to impeach Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.

The resolution would also appoint a number of House Democrats as “managers,” who would prosecute Trump in the Senate on charges that he abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender for 2020, and that Trump obstructed efforts by Congress to uncover any misconduct.

Pelosi had delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get McConnell to agree to allow new witness testimony that could be damaging to Trump.

Jan. 16

A Wednesday vote would lead the Senate to take up impeachment on Thursday. The Senate will likely take several days to get through formalities before the trial begins in earnest.

The Senate would initially receive notification from the House that managers have been appointed and then adopt a resolution telling the House when it is ready to receive the managers to present the charges, known formally as articles of impeachment.

The House managers would then physically bring the articles of impeachment into the well of the Senate and present them. The Senate would inform the House when it is ready for the trial and organize for the proceedings.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts would be sworn in to preside over the trial. Senators would be sworn in as jurors.

Week of Jan. 20

House managers would present their case against Trump, and the president’s legal team would respond, with senators sitting as jurors. McConnell has said the Senate will sit in session six days a week, taking only Sundays off.

Senators would then be given time to submit questions to each side.

Senators could also vote on whether to dismiss the charges against Trump.

McConnell has said that, once the charges are formally submitted to the Senate, he will back a resolution that would set initial rules for the trial but postpone a decision on whether to hear from witnesses.

McConnell has not yet published a draft of the resolution but he said it would be “very similar” to one adopted in January 1999 during the impeachment of Democratic former President Bill Clinton.

That resolution set deadlines for the prosecution and defense to submit “trial briefs” that laid out their cases in writing. The resolution also allocated 24 hours for representatives of each side to make oral arguments and set aside 16 hours for senators to ask them questions.

The Clinton resolution referenced by McConnell did not resolve whether witnesses would be called. A follow-up resolution allowing for three witnesses to testify in videotaped depositions passed later along a party-line vote.

Late January to early February

Democrats will push to hear from witnesses during the trial. If McConnell’s resolution on initial trial rules is adopted, as expected, senators would likely vote after the trial has started on whether to introduce witness testimony sought by the Democrats. Republicans could seek to call witnesses of their own as well.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. That means four Republicans would need to cross party lines and join Democrats in requesting witness testimony.

The trial could continue into February, when Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first nominating contests for the 2020 presidential election. That could pose logistical problems for the four senators seeking the Democratic nomination: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Jan Wolfe; editing by Andy Sullivan and Grant McCool)

No sign of end to standoff over Trump impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday there would be no haggling with the Democratic-led House of Representatives over the rules for U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

With lawmakers’ shifting their attention to the U.S.-Iran tensions, McConnell said he would not be pressured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has effectively delayed Trump’s trial by refusing to send the Senate the two articles of impeachment approved by the House last month.

“There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment,” McConnell said on the Senate floor a day after he announced he had enough Republican votes to start the trial without agreeing to Democrats’ demands for the introduction of new witness testimony and documentary evidence.

McConnell, who has pledged to coordinate the trial with the White House, accused Pelosi of wanting to keep Trump “in limbo” indefinitely.

Some Senate Democrats are now saying that Pelosi should release the impeachment articles so that the trial can get underway. But there appeared to be no clamor from Pelosi’s fellow Democrats in the House for a change in her strategy.

“We need to know what the plan is,” Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks.

House Democrats’ meeting Wednesday morning focused on hostilities with Iran, not impeachment, lawmakers said.

Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday in retaliation for the U.S. killing of an Iranian military commander last week. Trump administration officials are expected to brief lawmakers later on Wednesday.

The House last month charged Trump with abusing his power for personal gain in connection with his effort to pressure Ukraine to announce a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November’s presidential election.

It also charged the Republican president with obstructing Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the House brings impeachment charges and the Senate holds the subsequent trial to decide whether to remove a president from office. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is needed to do so.

Trump, who says he did nothing wrong and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win, is likely to be acquitted in the trial, as no Republicans have voiced support for ousting him from office.

McConnell has said that Senate rules prevent it from starting the trial until the House sends it the articles of impeachment.

Pelosi said late on Tuesday that McConnell should reveal the Senate’s plans for the coming trial in a written resolution before she agrees to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Paul Simao)

Explainer: How impeachment works and why Trump is unlikely to be removed

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate is due to hold a trial to consider whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office, after the House of Representatives voted in December to impeach him for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election.

What happens next and why is Trump unlikely to be removed from office?

WHY IMPEACHMENT?

The founders of the United States feared presidents abusing their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for removing one from office.

The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

High crimes and misdemeanors have historically encompassed corruption and abuses of the public trust, as opposed to indictable violations of criminal statutes.

Former President Gerald Ford, while in Congress, famously said: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Impeachment begins in the House, the lower chamber, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment,” by a simple majority of the body’s members.

The Constitution gives House leaders wide latitude in deciding how to conduct impeachment proceedings, legal experts said.

The House Intelligence Committee investigated whether Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to open probes that would benefit him politically, holding weeks of closed-door testimony and televised hearings before issuing a formal evidence report.

The House Judiciary Committee used the report to draft formal charges and voted 23-17 along party lines to approve charges against Trump of abuse of power and obstructing House Democrats’ attempts to investigate him for it.

The Democratic-controlled House approved both of those charges on Dec. 18 in votes that fell almost completely along party lines.

That set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.

WHAT WOULD A SENATE TRIAL LOOK LIKE?

House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the United States presides.

Historically, the president has been allowed to have defense lawyers call witnesses and request documents.

Beyond that, parameters of the trial are uncertain at this point. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is pressing for four Trump aides to testify, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has thrown cold water on that idea, saying House Democrats should have secured the testimony of Bolton and Mulvaney during their investigation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed sending over the impeachment articles to the Senate in a bid to pressure McConnell. The two sides appear to have made little progress toward an agreement.

CAN THE SENATE REFUSE TO HOLD A TRIAL?

There is debate about whether the Constitution requires a Senate trial. But Senate rules in effect require a trial, and McConnell has publicly stated that he will allow one to proceed.

Republicans could seek to amend those rules, but such a moveis politically risky and considered unlikely, legal experts said.

WHAT’S THE PARTY BREAKDOWN IN CONGRESS?

The House comprises 431 members at present. Only three of the chamber’s 233 Democrats voted against one or both articles of impeachment; one voted “present” and another did not vote. Among Republicans, 195 voted against both articles and two did not vote. Independent Justin Amash, a former Republican, voted for both articles.

In 1998, when Republicans had a House majority, the chamber also voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton, a Democrat.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds majority.

That is highly unlikely in this case. No Senate Republicans have indicated they may vote to convict the leader of their party. Should all 100 senators vote, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.

WHO BECOMES PRESIDENT IF TRUMP IS REMOVED?

In the unlikely event the Senate convicts Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Ross Colvin and Grant McCool)

As the U.S. House marches toward impeachment, Senate questions next move

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the U.S. House of Representatives moves closer to impeaching President Donald Trump, larger questions loom in the Senate, where Trump’s Republican allies may not give him the extended trial he would like.

Democrats who control the House unveiled formal charges on Tuesday that accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate a political rival and obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee is due to begin considering those charges at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (0000 GMT) and is expected to approve them on Thursday. A vote by the full chamber next week is likely to make Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House.

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

The articles of impeachment do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of the Republican president’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers who represent more conservative districts have argued that the focus should stay on Ukraine.

“I think you’ll see virtually all the Democrats support these articles,” said Representative David Cicilline, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Republicans say Democrats have yet to prove that Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“It’s just as likely the president had good reasons to say what he did on the phone call as nefarious reasons that the Democrats think,” said Republican Representative Debbie Lesko.

Trump has maintained that he did nothing wrong and that Democrats are trying to undo his victory in the 2016 election.

He will be on friendlier terrain in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will likely consider the matter in January in a trial presided over by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

QUICK TRIAL?

Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum in the Senate to drive Trump from office with a two-thirds super majority. But Republicans have yet to decide how to handle the matter.

Trump wants a full trial, featuring testimony from witnesses, including Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, that would flesh out the case for and against impeachment and eat up weeks of time just as the Democratic Party holds its first presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in February.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested on Tuesday that his chamber may opt for a quicker trial that would allow lawmakers to return to their regular business, however.

McConnell will need a majority of the Senate’s 100 members to agree to either plan. That could put a handful of Republican moderates, like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, in the position of deciding how much time the chamber would devote to the proceedings.

McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday the trial would be the “first order of business in January” if the House approves the articles of impeachment in December as expected.

During Democratic President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, no witnesses testified on the Senate floor. Instead, videotaped depositions were conducted with just a few witnesses, which senators screened behind closed doors. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate on charges arising from his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Peter Henderson, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Senate passes, sends Trump stopgap federal funding to November 21

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would extend federal funding through Nov. 21 and avert partial agency shutdowns when existing authorization expires on Oct. 1.

The Senate signed off by a vote of 82 to 15 on legislation that was approved by the House of Representatives on Sept. 19, sending it to President Donald Trump for signing into law.

The legislation is needed because Congress and the Trump administration so far have failed to agree on the one-dozen bills that would fund most government activities in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

One of the biggest disagreements is over Trump’s demand for $12 billion in fiscal 2020 to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which most Democrats and some Republicans oppose.

A central promise of Trump’s presidency has been the construction of a wall to repel immigrants, many from Central America, from crossing into the United States.

In the face of congressional opposition, Trump early this year declared a national emergency, which he said allowed him to divert appropriated money from other programs to the border wall. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to end that emergency declaration, a move Trump likely would veto if the House of Representatives takes the same step.

There are also unresolved disagreements over funding for immigrant detention centers, public health facilities and other issues.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Many U.S. farmers fume at Washington, not Trump, over biofuel, trade policies

FILE PHOTO: A crop scout walks through a soybean field to check on crops during the Pro Farmer 2019 Midwest Crop Tour, in Allen County, Indiana, U.S., August 19, 2019. REUTERS/P.J. Huffstutter

By P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

ROCHESTER, Minn./CHICAGO (Reuters) – American farmers helped elect President Donald Trump in 2016 on hopes he would shake up Washington and turn around a struggling agricultural economy, but many of his policies have actually stung farmers, notably his trade war with China and biofuel waivers for oil refiners.

Many farmers are angry, and some are directing their anger not at the Republican president, but at Washington’s bureaucracy.

Trump has faced backlash from agricultural groups, ethanol producers and Midwestern politicians upset that his trade war with China has slashed export sales of U.S. soybeans and other crops. Also, Corn futures tumbled after the government forecast a big crop when a flood-ridden spring stalled plantings. Corn-based ethanol plants shuttered after the administration granted waivers to dozens of exempting oil refineries.

Yet polls show that while Trump’s support in farm country has slipped, it remains substantial.

Instead of directing their anger at Trump, dozens of farmers interviewed by Reuters blasted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other Washington institutions they believe are thwarting his true agenda. Unsubstantiated conspiracy theories involving USDA staff are circulating in farm country and gaining traction online.

USDA did not respond to Reuters’ questions on Monday.

Farmers are struggling with how to emotionally process their pain from the Trump administration’s policies, and anger at the USDA may be a coping mechanism, said Ted Matthews, a Minnesota psychologist who has spent 30 years counseling farmers and rural residents across the Midwest.

“The question I hear from farmers who voted for (Trump) is, ‘We believed him when he said he would help make the farm economy better, that we could save our farms. Now, who do we blame?'” Matthews said.

Many farmers told Reuters they intend to support Trump again in his re-election bid in 2020.

“It’s much easier to be angry at a faceless Washington bureaucracy than at the man you voted for,” said Jere Solvie, 69, grain and hog farmer from west-central Minnesota who voted for Trump and still supports him.

Ahead of Democratic nominating contests, that party’s presidential candidates have been campaigning hard in Iowa and other Midwestern states where farms have lost billions of dollars in crop sales to China.

Still, the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last month shows five in 10 U.S. adults in rural areas approved of Trump’s performance in office, higher than his 41% approval nationwide.

Trump’s approval rating was 71% as of Aug. 23, down from 79% in July, according to trade publication Farm Journal Pulse’s poll of 1,153 farmers.

Of the farmers who supported the president, 43% said they “strongly approve” – down 10% from July and the first time the number fell below 50%. The farm journal’s poll came as ethanol groups complained that demand was decimated when Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency granted biofuel waivers to dozens of refineries, saving the oil industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

ALREADY FURIOUS

The USDA is a natural scapegoat and a topic of conspiracy theories among farmers suspicious of its sprawling bureaucracy, career employees and its research who sometimes conflicts with what they see on their own farms.

One farmer, enraged by the USDA’s corn crop estimate, threatened an agency employee last month. The threat of violence prompted USDA to pull all staff from a privately run crop tour that surveys Midwest crops.

This is a sharp contrast to the early days in the administration when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was a reliable point person. His folksy southern charm and his appeals to patriotism helped sell Trump’s policies to farmers, even the trade war.

But Perdue’s honeymoon in farm country has ended. Farmers booed the agriculture secretary in Minnesota last month after he joked: “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.”

“He’s supposed to support us, especially during times of distress,” said Gary Wertish, a fourth-generation Minnesotan who farms 500 acres of corn, soybeans and navy beans, and heard the remarks in person.

Grain farmers were already furious that corn futures prices <Cv1> posted their biggest drop in three years after USDA estimated a bigger-than-expected crop on Aug. 12, despite floods that slowed planting.

Market analysts said farmers have more of a localized view on crop health and are often skeptical of the national focus of USDA forecasts.

Trump voter Byron Heppler, a soybean and corn farmer from Calhoun, Kentucky, said he is open to considering other Republican candidates if any emerge. He said he believes USDA’s research methods are flawed and he feels its employees want to unseat Trump, although he offered no evidence to back up those views.

Other disgruntled farmers have also alleged, without offering evidence, that federal agriculture employees are overestimating corn plantings as part of a plot to hurt Trump in the 2020 election. These farmers said they believe USDA employees are upset the administration is relocating hundreds of economists and other researchers to Kansas City from Washington.

The agency has stood by its forecasts, saying they are in part based on surveys of thousands of farmers. On Trump’s order, the agency has rolled out $28 billion in trade aid support for farmers over the past two years.

Wes Hitchcock, a corn farmer and Trump supporter in Sparks, Nebraska, wrote a 1,700-word paper titled “USDA vs. Trump” and has repeatedly posted it on Facebook in a grain market discussion group with 13,000 members.

Hitchcock said he was unable to plant about 30% of the 2,200 corn acres he had planned to grow because of heavy rains this spring. The corn he did manage to plant is not looking great, either, he said.

“I’m going bankrupt and everybody else will this year too,” he said in a phone interview with Reuters.

His Facebook posts received some skeptical responses.

“To think the USDA deliberately is skewing numbers to make their boss look bad and that people appointed by the president allowed this to happen is delusional,” wrote a user named Zach Alger from Palmyra, Pennsylvania.

(Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Decatur, Illinois; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and David Gregorio)

Senate’s McConnell: ‘Case closed’ on Mueller probe, but top Democrat sees ‘cover-up

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question from reporters next to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as he arrives for a closed Senate Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday sought to slam the door on further investigations of President Donald Trump by declaring “case closed” after a two-year probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, even as House Democrats’ war with the White House intensified.

McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Congress, delivered a stinging rebuke of Democrats seeking additional information on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that found no evidence Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

(Graphic: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP-RUSSIA/010091HX27V/report.pdf)

“The special counsel’s finding is clear. Case closed,” McConnell declared.

Meanwhile, battles between the White House and congressional Democrats over documents and testimony related to the Mueller investigation deepened on Tuesday.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone informed the House Judiciary Committee in a letter that ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn does not have the legal right to comply with a House of Representatives subpoena and disclose documents related to Mueller’s investigation.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, when asked by ABC News whether McGahn would comply with the subpoena, said, “I don’t anticipate that that takes place.”

McConnell accused Democrats of being in an “absolute meltdown” and refusing “to accept the bottom line conclusion” that Mueller’s “exhaustive” report found no collusion with Russia.

Since the public release of the report last month, House and Senate Republicans have defended the president and called for an end to congressional investigations.

Mueller detailed extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. His 448-page report also outlined 11 instances in which the president tried to impede the special counsel’s investigation, but avoided a conclusion on whether or not Trump obstructed justice.

Speaking on the Senate floor after McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer fired back, calling Trump a “lawless president” and accusing the Senate Republican leader of wanting to bury any congressional investigations.

“Of course he wants to move on. He wants to cover up,” Schumer said of McConnell.

Schumer likened McConnell’s move to President Richard Nixon, who was under investigation by Congress before resigning from office in 1974 in the face of impeachment and likely conviction.

“It’s sort of like Richard Nixon saying let’s move on at the height of the investigation of his wrongdoing,” Schumer said.

While McConnell urged an end to the fight over the Mueller report, he acknowledged that was unlikely. Democrats hold a majority in the House, while Republicans control the Senate.

“Would we finally be able to move on from partisan paralysis and breathless conspiracy theorizing? Or would we remain consumed by unhinged partisanship,” McConnell said, adding, “Regrettably, the answer is pretty obvious.”

House Democrats prepared to meet with Justice Department officials on Tuesday over Attorney General William Barr’s failure to release the full unredacted Mueller report as they prepared to cite him for contempt.

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Wednesday vote on a contempt citation for Barr, who missed a second deadline to give lawmakers the full report and failed to appear at a hearing before the panel last week.

The full House would then vote on the rebuke.

A contempt citation against McGahn or other administration officials could lead to a civil case, raising the possibility of fines and even imprisonment for failure to comply.

The Judiciary Committee is among several House panels investigating Trump and his administration on various matters, including the Russia probe and Trump’s personal and business tax returns.

The administration is stonewalling congressional investigators while the president, who has denied any wrongdoing, vowed to fight all congressional subpoenas.

On Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin turned down the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for Trump’s tax returns, teeing up a likely legal battle.

Democratic lawmakers want Mueller to testify before Congress, something Trump has balked at although Barr has said he would not object.

If lawmakers decide that Trump obstructed justice by seeking to impede Mueller, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler could move to impeachment proceedings against the president.

If the House goes down the impeachment route, at least some Republican support would be needed for a Senate conviction.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Tim Ahmann and Steve Holland; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Shutdown costs pegged at $3 billion as U.S. government reopens

Commuters walk from the Federal Triangle Metro station after the U.S. government reopened with about 800,000 federal workers returning after a 35-day shutdown in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy was expected to lose $3 billion from the partial federal government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funding, congressional researchers said on Monday as 800,000 federal employees returned to work after a 35-day unpaid furlough.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the cost of the shutdown will make the U.S. economy 0.02 percent smaller than expected in 2019. More significant effects will be felt by individual businesses and workers, particularly those who went without pay.

Overall, the U.S. economy lost about $11 billion during the five-week period, CBO said. However, CBO expects $8 billion to be recovered as the government reopens and employees receive back pay.

The longest shutdown in U.S. history ended on Friday when Trump and Congress agreed to temporary government funding – without money for his wall – as the effects of the shutdown intensified across the country.

Republican Trump had demanded that legislation to fund the government contain $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He says it is necessary to stop illegal immigration, human trafficking and drug smuggling, while Democrats call it costly, inefficient and immoral.

A committee of lawmakers from both major parties holds their first open meeting on Wednesday as they try to negotiate a compromise on border security before the Feb. 15 deadline.

The CBO estimated the shutdown reduced gross domestic product in the last quarter of 2018 by $3 billion.

It said that in the first quarter of 2019, the level of real GDP is estimated to be $8 billion lower than it would have been, citing “an effect reflecting both the five-week partial shutdown and the resumption in economic activity once funding resumed.”

Trump said he would be willing to shut down the government again if lawmakers do not reach a deal he finds acceptable on border security. On Sunday, he expressed skepticism such a deal could be made, putting the odds at 50-50.

Trump has also said he might declare a national emergency to get money for the border wall. Democrats would likely challenge that in court.

The CBO report serves as a stark warning to Trump against another shutdown, said U.S. Representative John Yarmuth, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“The CBO confirms that the Trump shutdown had a debilitating effect on our entire economy, and if it were to resume in three weeks, millions of Americans would again share the pain of the 800,000 workers who spent the past month without a paycheck,” he said.

Most employees should be paid by Thursday for back pay, which one study estimated at $6 billion for all those furloughed. Contractors and businesses that relied on federal workers’ business, however, face huge losses, although some lawmakers are pushing legislation to pay contractors back as well.

Federal workers poured off of commuter buses and subway escalators on a block of downtown Washington on Monday. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai greeted employees in the lobby, while the Securities and Exchange Commission offered doughnuts, fruit and coffee.

“I’m ready to go. I’m rested and I’m ready. I’m energized,” Gary Hardy, a manager in the Employee Assistance Program at the Department of Homeland Security.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was reviewing five weeks of auto safety recalls that had been submitted by automakers but has not yet begun posting them publicly. The Federal Aviation Administration said it would assess and prioritize immediate post-shutdown needs.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Mana Rabiee and Susan Heavey; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Grant McCool)

House Democrats to test Republicans on Trump’s wall demand

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives for a House Democratic party caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On the 19th day of a partial U.S. government shutdown, Democrats were set on Wednesday to test Republicans’ resolve in backing President Donald Trump’s drive to build a wall on the border with Mexico, which has sparked an impasse over agency funding.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, who took control of the chamber last week, plan to advance a bill to immediately reopen the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been partially shut down since Dec. 22.

Democrats are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service – at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans – and voting to keep it partially shuttered.

In a countermove, the Trump administration said on Tuesday that even without a new shot of funding, the IRS would somehow make sure those refund checks get sent.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Wednesday that Trump was still considering a declaration of a national emergency to circumvent Congress and redirect government funds toward the wall.

The Republican president’s push for a massive barrier on the border has dominated the Washington debate and sparked a political blame game as both Trump and Democrats remain dug in.

In a nationally televised address on Tuesday night, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” referring to murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell opened the Senate on Wednesday with an attack on Democrats for not supporting Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the wall.

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s speech was a rehash of spurious arguments and misleading statistics.

“The president continues to fearmonger and he makes up the facts,” Schumer said.

DEMOCRATIC TACTICS

Later in the week, Pelosi plans to force votes that one-by-one provide the money to operate departments ranging from Homeland Security and Justice to State, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor.

By using a Democratic majority to ram those bills through the House, Pelosi is hoping enough Senate Republicans back her up and abandon Trump’s wall gambit.

The political maneuvering comes amid a rising public backlash over the suspension of some government activities that has resulted in the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Other “essential” employees are being required to report to work, but without pay for the time being.

As House Democrats plow ahead, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will go to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to attend a weekly closed lunch meeting of Senate Republicans.

They are expected to urge them to hold firm on his wall demands, even as some are publicly warning their patience is wearing thin.

Later in the day, Trump is scheduled to host bipartisan congressional leaders to see if they can break the deadlock. On Thursday, Trump travels to the border to highlight an immigration “crisis” that his base of conservative supporters wants him to address.

With tempers running high over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion just for this year to fund wall construction, there are doubts Pelosi’s plan will succeed in forcing the Senate to act.

McConnell has not budged from his hard line of refusing to bring up any government funding bill that does not have Trump’s backing even as a few moderate members of his caucus have called for an end to the standoff.

The funding fight stems from Congress’ inability to complete work by a Sept. 30, 2018, deadline on funding all government agencies. It did, however, appropriate money for about 75 percent of the government by that deadline – mainly military and health-related programs.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott and Alistair Bell)