House passes bill to raise federal minimum wage to $15 an hour

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building is seen through flowers in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by October 2025, a big win for workers and labor groups, even as it remained unlikely the bill would pass a Republican-controlled Senate.

The move comes at a time when the $15 minimum wage fight, first started by fast-food workers in New York in 2012, has been gaining momentum around the country with several states and large private-sector employers that hire entry-level workers.

Cities and states including Seattle, San Francisco, New York state, California, Arkansas and Missouri have raised their minimum wage. Over the past year, employers like Amazon.com Inc and Costco Wholesale Corp have raised their base wages to $15 an hour while others like Target Corp have committed to going up to that level by the end of 2020.

Even some opposed to the move like fast-food chain operator McDonald’s Corp said recently it would no longer fight proposals to raise the federal minimum wage.

The country’s largest private-sector employer Walmart Inc, which pays $11 in base wages to its employees, recently said it supports raising the federal minimum wage, calling it “too low.”

The Democratic-majority House approved the legislation titled Raise the Wage Act, in a mostly partisan vote of 231-199. Only three Republicans voted for it, while six Democrats opposed it.

The bill increases entry-level wages for millions of American workers from the current $7.25 an hour – about $15,000 a year for someone working 40 hours a week, or about $10,000 less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. It has remained unchanged since 2009.

Many Republicans and business groups have argued that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would hurt jobs, forcing businesses to hire fewer people and replacing jobs with automation. Several Republican lawmakers cited a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week, which estimated the move will boost wages for 17 million workers but at the same time, 1.3 million workers would lose their jobs.

U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said he would not take up the House’s minimum wage bill.

“We don’t need to lose jobs, we don’t have enough jobs now,” he told Fox Business Network in an interview on Thursday. “This would depress the economy at a time of economic boom. We’re not going to be doing that in the Senate.”

McConnell’s opposition to the bill makes its passage more symbolic in nature. However, it delivers a long-sought victory to liberals and allows Democratic presidential hopefuls to attract more working-class Americans with a promise to tackle growing economic inequality in the country, a key campaign issue for many candidates.

“This is a historic day,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, adding this is about 33 million people in the country getting a raise. “No one can live in dignity with a $7.25 an hour wage. Can you?,” she said.

Others like U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said a pay raise for American workers is long overdue. “We’ve now had the longest period without a minimum wage increase,” he said.

Several moderate Democrats, especially those who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump and were concerned about job losses, were assured by an amendment that would require a study of the effects of the bill a few years in, leaving room to make adjustments if more jobs are lost than expected.

Unions and labor groups, who brought the $15 minimum wage bill onto the national stage, see the passage of the bill as a key step towards building support among voters in Republican-dominated states and districts.

For retail workers like Cyndi Murray, a 19-year Walmart worker who is also a leader with labor group United For Respect, this is a big step forward in making companies, who pay below $15 an hour, pay higher wages.

“Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, pays so low that many employees depend on food stamps to survive,” she said. “They won’t change unless they’re forced to. That’s why the Raise the Wage Act has our full support.”

Walmart has said it pays an average of $17.50 an hour to its hourly employees, including benefits.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Bernadette Baum and Diane Craft)

Hong Kong braces for new mass protests against planned extraditions to China

Hong Kong braced for strikes, transport go-slows and another mass demonstration in protest against a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, as the Chinese-ruled city's leader vowed defiance.

By Clare Jim and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong braced for strikes, transport go-slows and another mass demonstration in protest against a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, as the Chinese-ruled city’s leader vowed defiance.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would push ahead with the bill despite deep concerns across vast swaths of the Asian financial hub that triggered its biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

In a rare move, prominent business leaders warned that pushing through the extradition law could undermine investor confidence in Hong Kong and erode its competitive advantages.

The extradition bill, which has generated unusually broad opposition at home and abroad, is due for a second round of debate on Wednesday in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council. The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

An online petition has called for 50,000 people to surround the legislature building at 10 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Tuesday and remain until Wednesday.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China under a “one-country, two-systems” formula, with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.

But many accuse China of extensive meddling, denying democratic reforms, interfering with local elections and the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Sunday’s protests plunged Hong Kong into political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing.

She warned against any “radical actions”, following clashes in the early hours of Monday between some protesters and police after Sunday’s otherwise peaceful march.

Police erected metal barriers to secure the council building as a small number of protesters started to gather on Tuesday evening despite torrential rain and thunderstorm warnings. Police conducted random ID checks at train stations.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo urged people to join the rally and encouraged businesses to strike “for a day, or two, or probably for one whole week”.

Nearly 2,000 mostly small retail shops, including restaurants, grocery, book and coffee shops, have announced plans to strike, according to an online survey, a rare move in the staunchly capitalist economy.

Eaton HK Hotel, which is owned by Langham Hospitality Investments and operated by Great Eagle Holdings, said it respected workers’ “political stances” and would allow them to rally.

The student union of several higher education institutions and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union urged people to strike on Wednesday. Nearly 4,000 teachers said they would rally.

Human rights groups have repeatedly cited the alleged use of torture, arbitrary detentions, forced confessions and problems accessing lawyers in China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, as reasons why the Hong Kong bill should not proceed.

“When the fugitive extradition bill is passed, Hong Kong will become a ‘useless Hong Kong'” said Jimmy Sham, convenor of Civil Human Rights Front. “We will be deep in a place where foreign investors are afraid to invest and tourists are afraid to go. Once the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ (it) will become nothing.”

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong called on the government not to pass the bill “hurriedly” and urged all Christians to pray for the former colony.

A staff union affiliated to a pro-democracy labor group under the New World First Bus Company called on its members to drive at the speed of 20-25 kmh (12-15 mph) to show their opposition to the proposed law.

A Facebook post called on people to enjoy a picnic next to government offices on Wednesday, describing the area as “among the best picnic sites”. The post has attracted close to 10,000 responses from people promising to attend.

Beijing-based consultancy Gavecal said some bankers in Hong Kong were reporting that many mainland clients were shifting their accounts to Singapore, fearing they could come under scrutiny in the financial hub.

“MISSTEPS COULD BE COSTLY”

Many residents of the financial center, both expatriate and local, are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip over the city.

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Hong Kong matters are purely a Chinese internal affair and China demands the United States stops interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs.

The comments came after Washington said on Monday it was gravely concerned about the proposed law and warned that such a move could jeopardize the special status Washington affords Hong Kong.

Prominent business figures urged the government to tread cautiously to protect Hong Kong’s competitiveness.

“The integrity and independence of (Hong Kong’s) legal system are absolutely central to Hong Kong’s future,” said Fred Hu, founder and chairman of China-based private equity firm, Primavera Capital Group.

Activist investor David Webb, in a post on Lam’s Facebook page, urged her to send the bill to the Law Reform Commission for further study.

“If you press ahead and bulldoze the bill through LegCo, then you will probably get the legislation passed, but at huge political cost and damage to the international credibility of HK for due process when reforming its legislation,” Webb said.

(Additional reporting by Kane Wu, James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Anne Marie Roantree, Felix Tam and Vimvam Tong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

Credit reporting agencies face pressure from skeptical U.S. Congress

FILE PHOTO: The logo and trading information for Credit reporting company Equifax Inc. are displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The nation’s major credit reporting agencies faced renewed scrutiny from Congress on Tuesday, as lawmakers consider legislation overhauling the industry.

Top executives from the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax Inc, Experian Plc and TransUnion had to defend their business models before skeptical lawmakers who appeared eager to order changes to the sector following Equifax’s massive data breach, disclosed in 2017.

“Our nation’s consumer credit reporting system is broken,” said Representative Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee. “I’m troubled to the point where I do think that we need to start thinking about how we reimagine it and rebuild it from the ground … We will be introducing legislation.”

Waters has a draft bill that would limit the reach of such credit reports, shorten the time adverse information remains on consumers’ records, and make it easier for consumers to dispute errors on their reports.

Several Democrats made clear they were dissatisfied with the current state of the country’s credit reporting, arguing consumers lack control over their own data.

The panel’s top Republican, Representative Patrick McHenry, agreed the industry was in need of a makeover. However, he emphasized a desire to see more companies compete with the three largest agencies.

“What I see here is an oligopoly,” he told executives. “I don’t see that vibrant competition which is needed for these agencies to actually help consumers.”

The massive data breach disclosed by Equifax in 2017, where a cyber attack exposed the personal data of roughly 148 million people, has driven calls from Washington for changes to the industry.

Legislation beefing up protections around consumer data is seen by analysts and lobbyists to be a rare area of common ground in the current Congress, where Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate.

Waters’ Senate counterpart, Banking Chairman Mike Crapo, has said legislation addressing the collection and protection of personal data is one of his top priorities this year. He is currently soliciting input on how consumers could retain more control over their personal information.

For their part, credit reporting agency executives told lawmakers they were working to address consumer concerns and bolster their cybersecurity to guard against future breaches.

“Consumers trust and expect that their credit reports contain the most accurate and complete data possible, and lenders rely on that information to help millions of consumers obtain the right loans at the right time,” said Equifax CEO Mark Begor in prepared testimony.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. Congress advances border security bill without Trump border wall

A visitor walks by the U.S. Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in U.S. history in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Thursday aimed to end a dispute over border security with legislation that would ignore President Donald Trump’s request for $5.7 billion (£4.45 billion) to help build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border but avoid a partial government shutdown.

Late on Wednesday, negotiators put the finishing touches on legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, along with a range of other federal agencies.

Racing against a Friday midnight deadline, when operating funds expire for the agencies that employ about 800,000 workers at the DHS, the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and others, the Senate and House of Representatives aimed to pass the legislation later on Thursday.

That would give Trump time to review the measure and sign it into law before temporary funding for about one-quarter of the government expires.

Failure to do so would shutter many government programs, from national parks maintenance and air traffic controller training programs to the collection and publication of important data for financial markets, for the second time this year.

“This agreement denies funding for President Trump’s border wall and includes several key measures to make our immigration system more humane,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, said in a statement.

According to congressional aides, the final version of legislation would give the Trump administration $1.37 billion in new money to help build 55 miles (88.5 km) of new physical barriers on the southwest border, far less than what Trump had been demanding.

It is the same level of funding Congress appropriated for border security measures last year, including barriers but not concrete walls.

Since he ran for office in 2016, Trump has been demanding billions of dollars to build a wall on the southwest border, saying “crisis” conditions required a quick response to stop the flow of illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants, largely from Central America.

He originally said Mexico would pay for a 2,000-mile (3,200-km) concrete wall – an idea that Mexico dismissed.

Trump has not yet said whether he would sign the legislation into law if the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-led Senate approve it, even as many of his fellow Republicans in Congress were urging him to do so.

Instead, he said on Wednesday he would hold off on a decision until he examines the final version of legislation.

But Trump, widely blamed for a five-week shutdown that ended in January, said he did not want to see federal agencies close again because of fighting over funds for the wall.

Senator Richard Shelby, the Republican negotiator who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Twitter post he spoke to Trump later on Wednesday and he was in good spirits. Shelby told Trump the agreement was “a downpayment on his border wall.”

‘NATIONAL EMERGENCY’

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is in regular contact with the White House, said Trump was “inclined to take the deal and move on.”

But Graham also told reporters that Trump would then look elsewhere to find more money to build a border wall and was “very inclined” to declare a national emergency to secure the funds for the project.

Such a move likely would spark a court battle, as it is Congress and not the president that mainly decides how federal funds get spent. Several leading Republicans have cautioned Trump against taking the unilateral action.

Under the bill, the government could hire 75 new immigrant judge teams to help reduce a huge backlog in cases and hundreds of additional border patrol agents.

Hoping to reduce violence and economic distress in Central America that fuels immigrant asylum cases in the United States, the bill also provides $527 million to continue humanitarian assistance to those countries.

The House Appropriations Committee said the bill would set a path for reducing immigrant detention beds to about 40,520 by the end of the fiscal year, down from a current count of approximately 49,060.

Democrats sought reductions, arguing that would force federal agents to focus on apprehending violent criminals and repeat offenders and discourage arrests of undocumented immigrants for minor traffic violations, for example.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, which is run by Republicans, said there were provisions in the bill that could result in an increase in detention beds from last year.

Lowey said the bill would improve medical care and housing of immigrant families in detention and expand a program providing alternatives to detention.

The wide-ranging bill also contains some important domestic initiatives, including a $1.2 billion increase in infrastructure investments for roads, bridges and other ground transport, as well as more for port improvements.

With the 2020 decennial census nearing, the bill provides a $1 billion increase for the nationwide count. Also, federal workers, battered by the record 35-day partial government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 as Trump held out for wall funding, would get a 1.9 percent pay increase if the bill becomes law.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Robert Birsel and Chizu Nomiyama)

Wary of shutdown, Trump inches toward support for funding deal

U.S. President Donald Trump listens next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday edged toward backing a deal in Congress on government funding that would not meet his demand for $5.7 billion for a wall on the Mexican border but would avert a partial government shutdown.

Trump, widely blamed for a five-week shutdown that ended in January, said he did not want to see federal agencies close again because of fighting over funds for the wall, one of his signature campaign promises in the 2016 election.

The Republican president did not commit himself to backing the government funding agreement struck between Democratic and Republican lawmakers this week. But two sources and a Republican senator close to the White House said he would likely sign off on it.

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing. I think a point was made with the last shutdown,” Trump told reporters. “People realized how bad the border is, how unsafe the border is, and I think a lot of good points were made.”

Trump said he would hold off on a decision until he sees actual legislation about the issue. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was “inclined to take the deal and move on.”

Graham told reporters that Trump would then look elsewhere to find more money to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and was “very inclined” to declare a national emergency to secure the funds.

With a Friday night deadline looming before a shutdown, there is little time for the White House and the political parties in Congress to agree on funding.

Funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.

LESS MONEY

The congressional agreement reached on Monday falls far short of giving Trump all the money he wants to help build the wall. Instead, congressional sources say, it includes $1.37 billion for new barriers – about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90 km) of the border.

Details of the legislation were still being written, but the full bill could be made public as early as Wednesday evening, according to lawmakers and congressional aides.

The accord must be passed by the House of Representatives, dominated by Democrats, and the Republican-controlled Senate, then signed by Trump by midnight on Friday to prevent a shutdown.

The measure’s fate in the House was far from certain given the risk that some conservatives and liberals will oppose the compromise for different reasons.

Like Trump, congressional Republicans have little appetite for a repeat of the 35-day partial shutdown in December and January – the longest in U.S. history – which closed about a quarter of federal agencies and left some 800,000 federal workers without pay.

“It’s time to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, in reference to voting on the compromise.

Democrats in the House are aiming to schedule a vote on Thursday evening, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters. If passed, it would then go to the Senate.

OTHER OPTIONS

A White House spokeswoman, Mercedes Schlapp, told CNN that lawyers were reviewing the administration’s options should Congress not provide Trump’s demanded money for the wall.

The Washington Post, citing a White House official, said Trump was likely to explore using his executive power to reallocate other federal funds for barrier projects along the southern border. CNN, citing the White House, also said Trump was weighing the use of an executive order, among other options.

Trump previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall – a move that would almost certainly draw opposition in Congress and in the courts.

“We think the president would be on very weak legal ground to proceed,” said Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

Speaking to sheriffs and police chiefs of major cities, Trump said later on Wednesday that he was determined to “fully and completely” secure the U.S. border, including providing more law enforcement, closing legal loopholes and finishing the border wall.

Trump has come in for criticism from the right for wavering on support for the wall, which the administration says will cut illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

“Trump talks a good game on the border wall, but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it,” right-wing commentator Ann Coulter tweeted on Tuesday.

Trump abandoned a planned compromise on funding for the wall in December after similar criticism.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

House panel plans action on gun background check bill next week

FILE PHOTO: A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, U.S. in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will take up legislation next week that would require universal background checks for gun buyers, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Thursday.

The panel will mark up the bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, on Feb. 13 and send it to the House floor for a vote, committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told a news conference. The legislation has 230 House co-sponsors, including five Republicans.

“It’s finally time for action in Congress,” Nadler said. “This bill will close the loopholes that have allowed felons, domestic violence abusers and other prohibited persons to purchase guns through private sales.”

The bill would require background checks for all firearm sales and most firearm transfers. The legislation would likely pass the Democratic-controlled House. But there are no signs that it would succeed in the Republican-led Senate.

Nadler’s announcement came a day after the House Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on gun violence in years and heard testimony from witnesses including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who voiced support for the legislation.

Gun violence represents an epidemic that claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans in 2017. Of those deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December that 60 percent were self-inflicted.

The U.S. Constitution protects the right of Americans to bear arms. The measure is fiercely defended by Republicans.

At Wednesday’s House hearing, Republican lawmakers warned that the new legislation could lead to a national gun registry and asserted that expanded background checks would penalize law abiding citizens but not protect people from gun crime.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Tom Brown)

On Day 28, no sign of end to U.S. partial government shutdown

Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the partial U.S. government shutdown hit the four-week mark on Friday, tensions mounted in Washington on either side of the standoff over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to help fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

That ultimatum, which congressional Democrats have rejected, has prevented Congress from approving legislation to restore funding to about a quarter of the federal government, which closed down partially on Dec. 22 when several agencies’ funds expired for reasons unrelated to the border.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives has left town for a three-day weekend, returning late on Tuesday. The Senate was expected to reconvene on Friday, but its exact plans were unsettled.

The Republican-controlled Senate, toeing Trump’s line on the wall, has not acted on any of several shutdown-ending bills approved in recent days by the House, all lacking wall funding.

The partial shutdown – already the longest in U.S. history – seemed certain to drag well into next week, meaning 800,000 federal workers nationwide would continue to go unpaid and some government functions would remain impaired.

Any serious debate about immigration policy has deteriorated into a test of political power. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested to Trump that he delay the annual State of the Union address until after the government reopens, Trump responded by denying Pelosi and a congressional delegation use of a military aircraft for a planned trip to Belgium and Afghanistan.

Trump’s intervention stopped the trip just as Pelosi and other lawmakers were about to travel.

Pelosi’s spokesman said on Friday that the congressional delegation had been prepared to fly commercially after the military plane was revoked, but learned the administration had also leaked the commercial travel plans.

“In light of the grave threats caused by the President’s action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights,” Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter.

Hammill said the State Department had to pay for the commercial flight, which was how the White House knew about the travel plans that Hammill said were leaked.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied leaking the travel plans, adding, “When the speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out.”

In tweets on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim that farmworkers would still be able to enter the country and stressed again his demand for the border wall, which he says is needed to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Democrats have resisted the wall as wasteful and unworkable.

The House has passed short-term spending bills that would end the shutdown and reopen the government, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow a floor vote on them, saying they lacked White House support.

A House Republican aide told Reuters on Thursday that no back-channel talks to resolve the shutdown were taking place.

During the week, a small group of Senate Republicans sought support for a plan to urge Trump to agree to a short-term funding bill in exchange for a debate on border security. Their efforts went nowhere.

The Trump administration worked to minimize the damage being done to government operations across the country. On Thursday, the State Department said it was calling furloughed employees back to work.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Jeff Mason and Makini Brice; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. government shutdown enters its 26th day as talks paralyzed

FILE PHOTO: Following a weekend snowstorm, the dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in the distance as a jogger stops to photograph the Washington Monument in Washington U.S., January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday is expected to sign legislation providing 800,000 federal employees with back pay when the partial government shutdown ends, even through a conclusion to the impasse remains no where in sight.

As the shutdown stretches into its 26th day, Trump is also scheduled to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at 11:30 a.m..

Whether the meeting is related to the shutdown was not immediately clear, however. Neither the White House nor lawmakers’ offices immediately responded to a request for details.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22, after Trump insisted he would not sign legislation funding a quarter of government agencies unless it included more than $5 billion for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The wall was a signature campaign promise of his before the 2016 presidential election. Trump said at the time Mexico would pay for it but has since reversed himself, denying that he ever said Mexico would directly foot the bill for the wall.

On Wednesday, Trump continued to blame Democrats for the standoff and trumpet his support of the wall, writing in a post on Twitter that wall projects around the world “have all been recognized as close to 100% successful. Stop the crime at our Southern Border!”

It was not immediately clear what wall projects he was referring to.

His tweets appear unlikely to move Democrats, who have controlled the House of Representatives since Jan. 3. Trump also needs the support of at least some Democrats in the Senate to pass funding legislation.

Senate Democrats have planned an event on the steps of the Capitol intended to highlight the havoc of the shutdown is wreaking, as 800,000 federal workers are furloughed – meaning they are forced to stay home, or work without pay – and contractors do not receive payments.

Economists have estimated that each week the shutdown continues will shave off 0.1 percent of economic growth.

More than half of Americans blame Trump for the government shutdown, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. A separate poll found the shutdown has affected four in 10 Americans, far beyond the 800,000 federal employees directly feeling the impact of the funding lapses.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Trump threatens ‘very long’ U.S. government shutdown

A pedestrian walk past the U.S. Capitol ahead of a possible partial government shut down in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened a “very long” government shutdown just hours ahead of a midnight deadline, calling on the Senate to pass spending legislation that includes his $5 billion demand for border wall funding and seeking to shift blame for a holiday showdown to Democrats.

The Republican-led Senate had already approved funds for the government through Feb. 8 without money for the wall. But Trump pushed Republican allies in the House of Representatives on Thursday to use the short-term funding bill as leverage to force through the border wall money despite Democratic objections.

In a series of ten early-morning tweets on Friday, the president urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House. Trump, who last week said he would be “proud” to preside over a shutdown, sought to blame Senate Democrats, whose support is needed to reach the 60 votes needed for passage.

Republicans currently have a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.

“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything,” he tweeted. “He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen.”

Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through next Sept. 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services.

But funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and Agriculture Department, is set to expire at midnight on Friday. A shutdown would leave a number of federal workers without a paycheck at Christmas.

If the House measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats have pledged to prevent it from getting the votes it needs for passage.

“The bill that’s on the floor of the House, everyone knows it will not pass the Senate,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters late Thursday.

It was not yet clear what would happen in that case. The partial government shutdown could begin, or lawmakers could work to find a solution that Trump finds acceptable.

Trump also called on McConnell to use the so-called “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes currently needed.

The nuclear option would allow the chamber to approve legislation with a simple majority in an extreme break from Senate tradition that McConnell has so far resisted.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Friday said Trump would stay in Washington rather than go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays as planned, but said she hoped the Senate would not vote down the bill.

“We hope they’ll step up,” she told reporters at the White House.

Trump’s border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Ginger Gibson and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kieran Murray, Sam Holmes and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Congress works to avert shutdown but still no money for Trump wall

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Richard Cowan and Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Thursday steered toward preventing a partial federal shutdown as leaders hoped for final passage of a temporary government funding bill that still leaves President Donald Trump without money for his promised border wall.

Trump attacked Democrats again for not supporting the wall and said he would not sign any legislation that does not include it, possibly threatening the spending bill that Congress is negotiating.

It was not clear, however, whether Trump was referring to the funding bill that passed the Senate late on Wednesday that is to be debated by the House or Representatives, or whether the warning was aimed at legislation Democrats might advance next year.

The White House was not immediately available for comment.

Rank-and-file House Republicans left a closed-door meeting with their leaders giving conflicting views on whether Trump would sign into law the bill that would keep about 25 percent of federal programs operating beyond midnight on Friday when existing money expires.

The House is expected to act on the legislation later this week.

“The Democrats, who know Steel Slats (Wall) are necessary for Border Security, are putting politics over Country,” Trump said on Twitter on Thursday morning. “What they are just beginning to realize is that I will not sign any of their legislation, including infrastructure unless it has perfect Border Security. U.S.A. WINS!”

Trump appeared to be referring to legislation Democrats might try to advance in 2019, when they take control of the House from Republicans.

In a late-night session on Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill to provide money to keep a series of programs operating through Feb. 8. But it defied the president by refusing to give him any of the $5 billion he demanded to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, his key campaign promise.

Last week in a meeting with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Chuck Schumer Trump had said he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

SEVEN-WEEK EXTENSION

Congress’ midnight Friday deadline was for funneling money to finance federal law enforcement activities, airport security screenings, space exploration, and farm programs, to name a few.

But instead of resolving the budget impasse with a funding bill to keep several federal agencies operating through next September, the end of this fiscal year, the Senate approved only a seven-week extension of existing funds.

Democrats and several of Trump’s own Republicans have balked at money for a wall that the president argues would stop the illegal flow of immigrants and drugs into the United States.

With Democrats taking control of the House on Jan. 3, it will be even harder for Trump to win money for a border wall.

“When House Democrats assume control in two weeks, my primary focus will be to pass reasonable spending legislation that does not fund President Trump’s wasteful wall,” said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who in 2019 will chair the House Appropriations Committee, which writes government funding legislation.

Meantime, Trump administration officials were looking for ways to build the wall, which the president initially had pledged Mexico would pay for, by reassigning money already doled out to U.S. agencies for other projects.

The White House has not provided details of that effort but leading Democrats have warned that shifting funds around in such a way would have to be approved by Congress.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows, the leader of a group of hard-right conservatives, told reporters that if this temporary spending bill is enacted, Republican candidates in 2020 will suffer.

“He (Trump) campaigned on the wall” in 2016, Meadows said. “It was the center of his campaign … the American people’s patience is running out,” he said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Michael Perry and Bill Trott)