White House warns of economic catastrophe without action on debt limit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House warned on Friday that a failure by the U.S. Congress to extend the debt limit could plunge the economy into a recession and could lead to cuts in critical state services.

The government faces an October deadline on the debt limit, after which it may not be able to pay all of its bills without congressional approval.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his aides have been trying to broker a deal with Republicans to resolve a showdown over raising the $28.5 trillion federal borrowing limit.

The administration is warning lawmakers that the country risks a new financial crisis and a default on its payment obligations.

“Economic growth would falter, unemployment would rise, and the labor market could lose millions of jobs,” the White House said in a new fact sheet.

For months, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to act, saying cash and “extraordinary measures” being used to temporarily finance the U.S. government will run out in October.

But Republicans, who lost control of the White House in the 2020 election and do not hold the majority in the Senate or the House of Representatives, have balked and placed the potential crisis on Democrats’ shoulders.

“It’s absolutely unspeakable, unthinkable that we would allow the federal government to default on the obligations it has already made,” White House economic adviser Brian Deese told MSNBC on Friday.

“We’re confident that this is going to get done.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Biden says Republican governors are undermining COVID safety response

By Nandita Bose

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday directed his ire at the governors of Florida and Texas, accusing the Republican leaders of “doing everything they can to undermine the life-saving requirements” he proposed to counter the spread of COVID-19.

Some Republican governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, have vowed to fight the vaccine mandate for big companies that Biden rolled out last week in the face of surging U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves earlier this week likened Biden’s mandate to tyranny.

“I propose a requirement for COVID vaccines, and the governor of that state calls it a ‘tyrannical-type move?'” said Biden, noting that the pandemic has killed over 660,000 people in the United States.

“This is the worst type of politics…and I refuse to give in to it,” Biden said, adding that the policies rolled out by the White House are “what the science tells us to do.”

Some Republican-led states and a sizable minority of Americans have defied vaccine recommendations from health officials, arguing that mandates infringe on their personal freedoms.

With just 63% of the eligible U.S. population having received at least one vaccine dose, the U.S. vaccination rate now lags most developed economies.

Biden’s vaccine policy is expected to face a string of legal challenges from Republicans, including Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who became the first to file a lawsuit against it on Tuesday.

DeSantis has threatened fines for cities and counties that require employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying they violate Florida state law.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Tyler Clifford; Editing by Heather Timmons and Bill Berkrot)

New flight carrying at-risk Afghans arriving in U.S. later on Monday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A new flight carrying evacuated at-risk Afghans will arrive in the United States later on Monday from Ramstein air base in Germany, a senior State Department official said, adding that the pace of flights will ramp up from transit hubs temporarily housing those evacuated from Kabul.

Speaking at a briefing with reporters, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were currently eight transit hubs across six countries that were hosting more than 17,000 people.

“The transit hubs that we have arranged in Germany, Italy and Spain will have the combined capacity to process approximately 15,000 people on a rolling basis, which in turn will enable us to keep evacuating people continuously from Kabul,” the official said.

“Today the first onward flight of SIV applicants took off from Germany to the United States and we expect those to continue to ramp up,” the official added, in reference to the Special Immigrant Visa, designed for issuing visas to people who worked with the U.S. military.

The Taliban seized power just over a week ago as the United States and its allies were withdrawing troops after a 20-year war launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants in 2001.

Panicked Afghans and foreigners have thronged the airport for days, clamoring to catch a flight out before the U.S.-led forces complete their pullout by the end of the month.

The official said the U.S. commitment to at-risk Afghans would not end on Aug. 31, but did not elaborate on how Washington could continue its efforts to airlift people if it withdraws completely from the country.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said that the United States expects to evacuate between 50,000 and 65,000 people from Afghanistan. That is fewer than the number eligible for safe harbor, according to estimates by advocates.

The official also dismissed reports that only Americans were able to get through to Kabul airport and that others had been blocked.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by David Holmes)

U.S. investigators raid Giuliani apartment in New York

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Federal investigators on Wednesday executed a search warrant at the Manhattan apartment of Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and personal lawyer to former U.S. President Donald Trump, as they probe his business dealings with Ukraine.

A lawyer for Giuliani, Bob Costello, confirmed that a search warrant had been executed. Electronic devices were among the items seized, according to The New York Times. Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have been investigating Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine.

While the search warrant does not mean Giuliani committed a crime, it signals that investigators persuaded a judge they believed criminal conduct occurred and that executing the warrant might uncover relevant evidence.

“This is a seismic moment in the investigation,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“It’s a big deal to execute a search warrant concerning an attorney because of issues of attorney-client privilege,” she said. “It’s a bigger deal to execute a search warrant of an attorney who worked for the former president.”

Giuliani, 76, began representing Trump, a fellow Republican, in April 2018 in connection with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Giuliani’s role in Washington was complex, with the former mayor frequently proclaiming himself a business consultant and lawyer in the private sector even as he enjoyed extraordinary access to the halls of power.

Giuliani eventually became a key figure into whether Trump abused his office for personal political gain in his dealings with Ukraine.

His work included an investigation before the 2020 election into now-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine. The Bidens have denied wrongdoing.

Two former Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been charged with campaign finance violations and other crimes.

Parnas’ and Fruman’s work included efforts to help Giuliani dig up damaging information about the Bidens, and what prosecutors called an effort to remove then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Giuliani gained early renown in the 1980’s as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where he put leaders of five New York Mafia families in prison and successfully prosecuted Wall Street’s “junk bond king,” Michael Milken.

He later won wide acclaim as “America’s Mayor” for his efforts in helping New York City recover from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Giuliani ran unsuccessfully for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York, and Jan Wolfe and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Analysis: What will survive of U.S.-Middle East policy under Biden?

By Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub

TRUMP HEIGHTS, Occupied Golan Heights (Reuters) – Trump Heights, Trump Square, Trump train terminal: Israel isn’t shy about honoring Donald Trump, who is widely admired among Israelis for his staunch support of their country.

But in the Palestinian territories, no U.S. president was openly reviled as much as Trump, or depicted in such unflattering terms in portraits and effigies across the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

In four years, Trump overturned decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Joe Biden will want to undo many of those changes during his presidency, but his freedom for maneuver will be limited.

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, signaled that countering Iran would be central to Biden’s Middle East agenda.

But Blinken said the United States was “a long way” from rejoining the 2015 pact with Iran – restraining Tehran’s nuclear program – which the United States quit under Trump.

Biden and his team have said they will restore ties with the Palestinians that were cut by Trump, resume aid and reject unilateral actions, such as construction of Israeli settlements on occupied territory.

But Blinken said the U.S. embassy in Israel would remain in Jerusalem, which Trump recognized as Israel’s capital.

Four Trump-brokered diplomatic deals between Israel and Arab states are also likely to remain – they have bipartisan support in Washington and brought a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.

So too is Trump’s acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

Biden’s challenge will be how to walk back not just Trump-era policy – and the polarization triggered by the man who said he had “done a lot for Israel” – without being accused of retreating altogether from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“He will try to project an image of fairness and balance,” Michele Dunne, Director of the Middle East Program at the U.S. based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters.

“There is no question that Biden’s policies towards the Middle East will be quite different from those of Trump; the question is how different they will be from those of (former President Barack) Obama… I doubt that Biden sees the conflict as ripe for U.S. diplomacy right now.”

TRUMP AND NETANYAHU

Trump was broadly in lockstep on Middle East policy with his closest ally in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As well as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Trump backed Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory that the Palestinians seek for a state.

Israel’s investment in its West Bank settlements between 2017-2019 increased by almost half against the last three years in office of Obama, according to official Israeli data provided to the U.S. State Department and seen by Reuters.

One day before Biden’s inauguration, Israel issued tenders for more than 2,500 settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, on top of hundreds more announced by Netanyahu last week.

Relations with the Palestinians reached a new low after Trump cut off $360 million annual funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, reduced other aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington D.C.

Blinken returned to long-standing, pre-Trump, diplomatic norms at his senate hearing.

“The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution,” Blinken said.

But he added: “Realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”

In Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini was optimistic of change, and that things might ease up for the Palestinian refugees that his agency cares for.

“We indeed have informal contact with the incoming new administration. We heard all the messages we are receiving that there are intentions to resume the partnership,” he told Reuters.

THE TRUMP BRAND

For many Israelis, the Trump brand has not been tarnished by the Capitol Hill riot on Jan. 6.

In Trump Heights, a tiny Golan Heights settlement, work is underway to house 20 new families who will move in by the summer. A giant black and gold sign at the gate has been restored after vandals stole the ‘T’.

“We are keeping the name Trump Heights, we are proud of the name. President Trump deserves gratitude for all the good deeds he did for us,” Golan Regional Council Head Haim Rokach told Reuters.

An Israeli cabinet minister this week reaffirmed his support for Trump’s name to adorn a future train terminus near Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and at Trump Square roundabout in Petah Tikva he remains popular. “We will miss him,” said Alon Sender. “He was good for Israel.”

(Additional reporting by Rami Amichay, Adel Abu Nimeh, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Ali Sawafta, Writing by Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Democrats in Congress to begin drive to force Trump from office after Capitol violence

By Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats begin their drive to force President Donald Trump from office this week, with a House vote on articles of impeachment expected as early as Wednesday that could make him the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.

“It is important that we act, and it is important that we act in a very serious and deliberative manner,” Representative Jim McGovern, chairman of the Rules Committee, told CNN on Monday. “We expect this up on the floor on Wednesday. And I expect that it will pass.”

Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol last week, scattering lawmakers who were certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, in a harrowing assault on the center of American democracy that left five dead.

The violence came after Trump urged supporters to march on the Capitol at a rally where he repeated that his election defeat was illegitimate. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, many of her fellow Democrats and a handful of Republicans say Trump should not be trusted to serve out his term.

“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi wrote to fellow House Democrats on Sunday.

Dozens of people who attacked police officers, stole computers and smashed windows at the Capitol have been arrested for their role in the violence, and officials have opened 25 domestic terrorism investigations.

Trump acknowledged that a new administration would take office on Jan. 20 in a video statement after the attack but has not appeared in public. Twitter and Facebook have suspended his accounts, citing the risk of him inciting violence.

When the House convenes at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) on Monday, lawmakers will bring up a resolution asking Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the never-used 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows the vice president and the Cabinet to remove a president deemed unfit to do the job. A recorded vote is expected on Tuesday.

McGovern said he expected Republican lawmakers to object to the request to invoke the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump. In that case, he said, his committee will provide a rule to bring that legislation to the House for a vote and, 24 hours later, the committee will then bring another resolution to deal with impeachment.

“What this president did is unconscionable, and he needs to be held to account,” McGovern said.

Pence was in the Capitol along with his family when Trump’s supporters attacked, and he and Trump are currently not on speaking terms. But Republicans have shown little interest in invoking the 25th Amendment. Pence’s office did not respond to questions about the issue. A source said last week he was opposed to the idea.

POSSIBLE INSURRECTION CHARGE

If Pence does not act, Pelosi said the House could vote to impeach Trump on a single charge of insurrection. Aides to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who voted against recognizing Biden’s victory, did not respond to a request for comment.

House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate voted not to convict him.

Democrats’ latest effort to force Trump out also faces long odds of success without bipartisan support. Only four Republican lawmakers have so far said publicly that Trump should not serve out the remaining nine days in his term.

The lawmakers who drafted the impeachment charge say they have locked in the support of at least 200 of the chamber’s 222 Democrats, indicating strong odds of passage. Biden has so far not weighed in on impeachment, saying it is a matter for Congress.

Even if the House impeaches Trump for a second time, the Senate would not take up the charges until Jan. 19 at the earliest.

An impeachment trial would tie up the Senate during Biden’s first weeks in office, preventing the new president from installing Cabinet secretaries and acting on priorities like coronavirus relief.

Representative Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, suggested his chamber could avoid that problem by waiting several months to send the impeachment charge over to the Senate.

A conviction could lead to Trump being barred from running for president again in 2024.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump says he is not involved in potential prosecution of Biden’s son Hunter

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he had nothing to do with any potential prosecution of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who has disclosed that his taxes are being investigated by a federal prosecutor in Delaware.

“I have NOTHING to do with the potential prosecution of Hunter Biden, or the Biden family. It is just more Fake News. Actually, I find it very sad to watch!” the Republican president wrote on Twitter.

His Twitter post came a day after Jeffrey Rosen, the incoming acting attorney general, declined to say in an interview with Reuters whether or not he would appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden and his foreign business dealings.

Hunter Biden on Dec. 9 disclosed that his tax affairs were under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware, part of the Justice Department.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters that the investigation has been ongoing for at least two years, but Attorney General William Barr managed to keep it under wraps ahead of the 2020 election.

An attorney for Hunter Biden could not immediately be reached for comment.

Trump and his allies have raised questions about potential conflicts of interest from Hunter Biden’s position on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma at the time his father was vice president under Democratic President Barack Obama. Trump and his allies also have called for investigations into Hunter Biden’s efforts to raise capital for a Chinese fund.

Among the most active in urging a criminal investigation into the Biden family has been Rudolph Giuliani. Barr set up a special intake process at the Justice Department to vet and investigate tips related to Ukraine, including evidence that Giuliani had gathered.

Giuliani and his attorney Robert Costello were invited on Jan. 29 to the FBI field office in Pittsburgh to meet with Scott Brady, the region’s U.S. attorney, and several other prosecutors and FBI agents to present evidence they had collected concerning Hunter Biden, Costello told Reuters in an interview this month.

“They had two FBI agents taking notes on their laptops,” Costello said, noting that Giuliani “did the vast majority of the speaking.”

Costello added that since that meeting, the top assistant in Brady’s office and he had followed up somewhere between six and 10 times.

It is unclear exactly what became of the information once it was handed to Brady’s office, and whether it was forwarded to the prosecutors in Delaware who are handling the Hunter Biden investigation.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder and Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. resets execution date for only woman on federal death row

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice has rescheduled the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer and the only woman on federal death row, to take place on Jan. 12, a few days before Joe Biden is due to be inaugurated as president of the United States.

Last week, a federal judge temporarily delayed the execution of Montgomery, which had been set for Dec. 8, to allow her two lead lawyers time to recover from COVID-19 in order to file a clemency petition asking President Donald Trump to commute the sentence to life in prison.

In his order, Judge Randolph Moss of the U.S. District Court in Washington ordered the Justice Department to not execute Montgomery before Dec. 31. The Justice Department filed a notice of the new Jan. 12 execution date with the court on Monday.

Trump’s administration resumed carrying out executions earlier this year after a 17-year hiatus, although a dwindling number of state governments have continued to do so throughout.

The federal government executed eight convicted murderers this year, the most federal executions in a single year since at least the 1920s, according to a database compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Montgomery would be the first women to be executed by the federal government since 1953.

Besides that of Montgomery, Trump’s administration has scheduled four other executions before the Jan. 20 inauguration following the Nov. 3 elections.

Biden, once a supporter of capital punishment, has said he will work as president to end the federal death penalty.

Montgomery, 52, was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. Montgomery butchered Stinnett to cut the fetus from her womb. The child survived.

Montgomery’s lawyers say Montgomery admits her guilt but deserves clemency because she has long suffered severe mental illness, exacerbated by being gang raped by her stepfather and his friends during an abusive childhood.

Montgomery is being held at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, a prison for inmates with mental illness. Her lawyers say that she has been dressed in a “suicide smock” and given only a crayon with which to write.

“Now, despite Lisa’s deteriorating mental health and a much deeper understanding of the trauma she endured, the government plans to kill her,” Sandra Babcock, one of Montgomery’s attorneys, said in a statement. “No other woman has been executed for a similar crime, because most prosecutors have recognized that it is inevitably the product of trauma and mental illness.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

GM hits reverse on Trump effort to bar California emissions rules

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – General Motors said on Monday it was reversing course and will no longer back the Trump administration’s effort to bar California from setting its own emissions rules in an ongoing court fight.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said in a letter to environmental groups it was “immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us.”

The dramatic rejection of Trump came as GM sought to work with President-elect Joe Biden, who has made boosting electric vehicles (EVs) a top priority. The Detroit automaker has laid out an ambitious strategy to boost EV sales and last week said it will increase spending on EVs and autonomous vehicles by 35% from previous disclosed plans.

The announcement reflects corporate America’s move to engage quickly with the incoming Democratic administration.

Barra said she believes “the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions.”

The White House did not immediately comment.

In October 2019, GM joined Toyota Motor Corp, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and other automakers in backing the Trump administration in its bid to bar California from setting its own fuel efficiency rules or zero-emission requirements for vehicles.

California and 22 other states and environmental groups challenged the Trump administration’s determination that federal law bars California from setting stiff tailpipe emission standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates.

Barra was among corporate and labor leaders that met virtually last week with Biden.

Speaking on Monday, Barra said she was “confident that the Biden Administration, California, and the U.S. auto industry, which supports 10.3 million jobs, can collaboratively find the pathway that will deliver an all-electric future.”

The Trump administration in March finalized a rollback of fuel efficiency standards to require 1.5% annual increases in efficiency through 2026, well below the 5% yearly boosts in Obama administration rules it discarded.

Other automakers, such as Ford Motor Co, Honda Motor Co and Volkswagen AG, which announced a deal with California in 2019 on emissions requirements that was finalized in August, did not intervene on the administration’s side in the California fight.

Toyota said Monday that “given the changing circumstances, we are assessing the situation, but remain committed to our goal of a consistent, unitary set of fuel economy standards applicable in all 50 states.”

Other automakers backing the Trump administration include Hyundai Motor Co , Mazda, Nissan Motor Co, Kia Motors Corp and Subaru Co.

GM had drawn the ire of many California officials and environmental groups.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign, said “GM tried to prevent California from protecting its people from tailpipe pollution. They were wrong. Now the other automakers must follow GM and withdraw support for (President Donald) Trump’s attack on clean cars.”

In September, California Governor Newsom said the state planned to ban the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035 in a bold move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California is the largest U.S. auto market, accounting for about 11% of all U.S. vehicle sales, and many states choose to adopt its green vehicle mandates.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

Biden to name Kerry as U.S. climate czar, emphasizing diplomacy’s role in the fight

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team said on Monday former Secretary of State John Kerry will be named climate czar, a sign that Biden views diplomatic skills as vital to the job.

As Biden’s special envoy for climate, Kerry will have a seat on the National Security Council in the White House, marking the first time an official will be dedicated to the issue in that organization, Biden’s transition team said in a statement.

The NSC has played a powerful foreign policy role since it was created in 1947 under President Harry Truman.

Biden has pledged to reverse course on climate from President Donald Trump who doubts mainstream climate science. He yanked the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate, and dismantled Obama-era climate and environment regulations to boost drilling, mining and manufacturing.

Kerry, 76, called climate change “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” as secretary of state under former President Barack Obama. In travels from glaciers in Greenland to the Solomon Islands, Kerry emphasized cooperation on tackling climate change.

Before the landmark Paris agreement Kerry also pushed for China, the world top greenhouse gas emitter, and the United States, the second-leading polluter, to agree targets on emissions and work toward a global deal.

Kerry, who was also a longtime liberal senator from Massachusetts and 2004 presidential candidate, will likely get a quick start as Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris agreement soon after he comes to office.

Appointing Kerry as climate envoy “sends the strongest possible signal about the importance of climate action to the incoming administration,” said Paul Bodnar, who was a senior director for energy and climate under Obama.

After leaving government Kerry continued to work on climate change. Late last year, Kerry launched World War Zero, a bipartisan group of world leaders and celebrities to combat climate change.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)