Build America Bonds to be in Biden infrastructure plan, U.S. House Ways & Means chair says

By Karen Pierog

(Reuters) -Federally subsidized Build America Bonds will return as part of President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure package, the chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee said on Thursday.

Richard Neal, a Democrat who will play a key role in shaping legislation for the plan, said he obtained assurances from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the bonds, along with certain tax credit measures, will be included.

“(Yellen) said all of those issues will be in the president’s proposal and I intend to guard them in the committee,” Neal said at a press conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, carried by a local television station.

A spokesman for Yellen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neal said his committee will hold hearings ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s target for having the chamber vote on legislation by July 4.

The popular Build America Bond program was created under the Obama administration as part of an economic stimulus law allowing states, cities, schools, airports, mass transit agencies and others to sell for a limited time taxable debt with the federal government contributing 35% of interest costs.

Between April 2009 and when the authorization expired at the end of 2010, $181.5 billion of the so-called BABs were issued to fund construction projects aimed at helping the nation recover from the financial crisis.

While BABs on average have outperformed other fixed-income assets over the last 10 years, some past issuers said their return should include protection from across-the-board federal spending cuts that have reduced the federal subsidy on the bonds.

(Reporting By Karen Pierog; Editing by Franklin Paul and Dan Grebler)

Capitol Police ask National Guard to stay for two more months: defense official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Capitol Police have asked the Pentagon to extend the National Guard’s mission to protect the U.S. Capitol for an additional two months, a defense official told Reuters on Thursday.

National Guard troops were dispatched to the Capitol grounds after the Jan. 6 attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump, and tall fencing has been erected to extend the security perimeter.

There are currently about 5,200 National Guard troops around the building. The mission was set to end on March 12.

“We should have them here as long as they are needed,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference.

She also said retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré has submitted draft recommendations for long-term security improvements to the Capitol complex.

She did not provide details but said Congress will have to review them and make decisions “about what is feasible.” Congress would have to approve emergency funding to implement such plans, she said.

The defense official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Capitol Police’s request had been received by the Pentagon and would be examined, and said it was highly likely that it would be approved.

Security around the Capitol was tight on Thursday after police warned that a militia group might try to attack it to mark a key date on the calendar of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

A bulletin issued on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said an unidentified group of “militia violent extremists” discussed plans in February to “take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4.”

March 4 is the day when QAnon adherents believe that Trump, who was defeated by President Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election, will be sworn in for a second term in office. Up until 1933, March 4 was the date of the inauguration.

The Capitol Police, a force of about 2,300 officers and civilian employees, is responsible for protecting the Capitol grounds, lawmakers, visitors and those working there. The National Guard in Washington, D.C., is under the control of the Pentagon, an unusual arrangement as the 50 states have authority over their own National Guard.

Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, which also responded on Jan. 6, is under the control of the city government.

Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin said that she had heard about a 60-day extension request and that the National Guard was asking states for troop contributions.

“No one likes seeing the fortress-like security around the Capitol. And no one wants to again have a security problem in and around this symbolic place,” Slotkin said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

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)

Congressional COVID-19 impasse continues, Pelosi warns ‘house is burning down’

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Thursday urged renewed negotiations over a multitrillion-dollar coronavirus aid proposal, but the top Republican immediately rejected their approach as too expensive, continuing a months-long impasse.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer ticked off a litany of grim data about the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, with eight straight days of over 100,000 new coronavirus cases being reported each day.

“It’s like the house is burning down and they just refuse to throw water on it,” Pelosi said of Republicans.

She and Schumer told a news conference that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory strengthened the Democratic position, which is to spend at least $2.2 trillion on another round of coronavirus aid, on top of the $3 trillion Congress has approved since the pandemic began. Republican President Donald Trump has not conceded to Biden.

“We’re willing to sit down and talk; they haven’t wanted to talk,” Schumer said, referring to the post-election session of Congress that lasts until the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to reporters in a hallway a few minutes later, said he preferred previous Republican proposals in the range of $500 billion, which he said would be aimed at the “residual problems.”

“I gather she (Pelosi) and the Democratic leader in the Senate still are looking at something dramatically larger. That’s not a place I think we’re willing to go,” McConnell said.

“But I do think there needs to another package,” the Republican said. “Hopefully we can get past the impasse.”

A senior official in Trump’s administration said it was leaving any negotiations about a coronavirus relief package to McConnell and Pelosi for the time being. But there was no sign such talks were imminent. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin negotiated unsuccessfully with Pelosi for several weeks earlier in the fall.

Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Biden on Thursday by phone and the three “discussed the urgent need for the Congress to come together in the lame duck session on a bipartisan basis” to pass more coronavirus relief, a statement from Biden’s transition team said.

The bill should include resources to fight the pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments, expanded unemployment insurance, and affordable healthcare for millions of families, the statement said.

The Democratic-majority House in May approved an additional $3.4 trillion in coronavirus aid, but it went nowhere in McConnell’s Senate, where Schumer’s Democrats blocked less expensive Republican proposals from floor action.

The longest-serving Republican in Congress, 87-year-old Representative Don Young, announced on Thursday that he had been infected with coronavirus, the latest of over 20 members of Congress to have been infected.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)

McConnell: Signs of economic recovery point to smaller COVID-19 stimulus

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday that economic statistics, including a 1 percentage point drop in the unemployment rate, showed that Congress should enact a smaller coronavirus stimulus package that is highly targeted at the pandemic’s effects.

The Republican senator told a news conference in Kentucky that the fall to a 6.9% jobless rate, combined with recent evidence of overall economic growth, showed the U.S. economy is experiencing a dramatic recovery.

“I think it reinforces the argument that I’ve been making for the last few months, that something smaller – rather than throwing another $3 trillion at this issue – is more appropriate,” McConnell told reporters.

But his call for a narrow package was quickly rejected by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, who has been working to broker a COVID-19 stimulus deal near the $2 trillion mark with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“It doesn’t appeal to me at all, because they still have not agreed to crush the virus. If you don’t crush the virus, we’re still going to have to be dealing with the consequences of the virus,” Pelosi told a news conference on Capitol Hill.

“That isn’t anything that we should even be looking at. It wasn’t the right thing before,” she added.

Senate Republicans, who oppose a larger package, have twice failed to move forward with smaller legislation worth $500 billion due to Democratic opposition.

Pelosi insisted that any agreement must include effective support for testing, tracing and vaccine development, as well as aid to state and local governments. Trump and his Republican allies have balked at Democratic demands for state and local aid, calling it a bailout for Democratic-run states and cities.

(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

White House says ‘not optimistic’ about COVID-19 aid, talks with Congress are off

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Wednesday said he was not optimistic that a comprehensive deal could be reached on further COVID-19 financial aid and that the Trump administration backed a more piecemeal approach, even as he said negotiations with Congress were over.

“We’re still willing to be engaged, but I’m not optimistic for a comprehensive deal. I am optimistic that there’s about 10 things that we can do on a piecemeal basis,” Meadows told Fox News in an interview.

Meadows did not say what 10 items the administration wanted to tackle, but reiterated President Donald Trump’s position tweeted late Tuesday night that he would back separate legislation addressing airlines, small businesses and stimulus checks for individuals.

Trump called off talks with lawmakers on pandemic aid in a tweet on Tuesday, rattling Wall Street as U.S. stocks sank. He later pulled back saying he would support a few stand-alone bills.

U.S. stock indexes appeared set to open higher on Wednesday, and airline stocks were also higher.

“The stimulus negotiations are off,” Meadows later told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Obviously we’re looking at the potential for stand-alone bills. There’s abut 10 things that we agree on and if the Speaker is willing to look at it on a piece-by-piece basis then we’re willing to look at it,” he said referring to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Democratic-led House has already passed full legislation seeking a wide range of aid as the novel coronavirus continues to spread, infecting an estimated 7.5 million Americans and killing more than 210,600 — the highest in the world.

Pelosi on Tuesday said lawmakers would pass more aid, despite Trump’s refusal to negotiate.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Alex Richardson and Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. House passes stopgap funding bill to avoid government shutdown

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding bill on Tuesday to keep the federal government operating through Dec. 11, after striking a deal with Republicans on aid for farmers and nutritional assistance to children.

With government funding running out on Sept. 30, leaders of both parties have been working on legislation to continue funding most programs at current levels and thus avoid a government shutdown in the middle of a pandemic and ahead of the Nov. 3 elections.

The measure, which now heads to the Senate, appeared in danger on Monday when Democrats left out key farm aid that President Donald Trump had promised last week during a political rally in Wisconsin, a key battleground state in his bid for re-election.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement announcing a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republicans on the continuing resolution, or CR, which included the farm relief as well as nutritional assistance for children during the pandemic sought by Democrats.

“We have reached an agreement with Republicans on the CR to add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families,” Pelosi said in her statement. “We also increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout.”

The version that House Democrats filed on Monday did not include the $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered it a blank check for political favors.

Republicans were furious at the omission. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi’s resistance to including farm aid in the bill had been “basically a message to farm country to drop dead.”

The rest of the bill generally continues current spending levels. It would give lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; writing by Susan Cornwell and Phil Stewart; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

Congress faces coronavirus, government funding battles as summer recess ends

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress faces a tight deadline to avoid a government shutdown as lawmakers begin returning to Washington next week, complicated by bitter conflicts between Republicans and Democrats over the next package of coronavirus aid.

The Republican-led Senate is due back on Tuesday, while the Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to hold votes on bills starting the following week.

With congressional elections on Nov. 3, both chambers have very few days left to finish work as lawmakers plan to campaign in their home states for much of October.

The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, so they will have to scurry to reach a deal on legislation funding government programs and averting a partial shutdown that could be especially damaging to lawmakers facing re-election in November.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed optimism that agreement will be reached in a timely way.

Congress is widely expected to pass a temporary measure mainly funding the government at current levels, leaving budget decisions for after Election Day.

But the issue is complicated by rancor over how best to address the coronavirus, especially amid the yawning federal budget deficit.

On Wednesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the fiscal 2020 deficit would hit $3.3 trillion, or 16% of gross domestic product, fueled by emergency pandemic aid already enacted into law.

More than $3 trillion in coronavirus relief was enacted earlier this year. But the Republican-led Senate left town last month without taking up another $3 trillion aid package the House passed in May or an alternative.

The two parties are sharply divided, but there are also disputes among Trump’s fellow Republicans. Many of the Senate’s 53 Republicans are on record opposing additional federal coronavirus relief, and most of the others want to pass a far smaller bill than the House’s.

One senior Senate Republican aide said disagreement among Republicans was so great that it was not clear whether a smaller, partisan bill could come up for a vote. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has said he opposes a so-called “skinny” coronavirus bill and his party could block one from passing.

Alternatively, lawmakers could tuck coronavirus relief into the must-do government funding bill. Provisions could include extra unemployment benefits to replace the $600-per-week payments that expired in July, measures to prevent evictions or aid for schools or local governments.

But a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Reuters that Democrats want a “clean” government-funding bill. That usually means a measure without controversial add-ons.

Republican President Donald Trump is running for re-election, and one- third of the 100-member Senate and all 435 House seats are up for grabs when voters head to the polls on Nov. 3.

A government shutdown just before the elections, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, could be particularly damaging to Republican prospects since they control the White House and Senate.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. official sees ‘real desire’ for smaller coronavirus relief bill

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – Some Democrats and Republicans have a “real desire” to reach agreement on a smaller coronavirus relief bill that could be worth around $500 billion, a senior Trump administration official said late on Tuesday.

The official said the agreement could include funding for the U.S. Postal Service, additional funding for loans to small- and medium-sized businesses to keep workers on their payrolls and potentially added money for schools.

“I think there’s a real desire by some in the Democratic caucus and some in the Republican conference, both in the House and the Senate, to do a smaller deal on the things we can agree upon,” the official said. “It could be about $500 billion.”

That amount still falls far short of what Democrats have been seeking in protracted discussions with the administration.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday said Democrats in Congress are willing to cut their relief bill in half to get an agreement on new legislation.

“We have to try to come to that agreement now,” Pelosi said in an online interview with Politico. “We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now.”

The Democratic-led House passed legislation with over $3 trillion in relief in May. Democrats offered this month to reduce that sum by $1 trillion, but the White House rejected it.

The two sides remain about $2 trillion apart, with wide gaps on funding for schools, aid to state and local governments, and enhanced unemployment benefits.

The senior administration official said while a narrow agreement was possible on some issues, he did not see aid to state and local governments and a fresh round of stimulus checks as possible at the moment.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez & Shri Navaratnam)

Pelosi: Democrats willing to cut COVID-19 bill in half to get a deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday that Democrats in Congress are willing to cut their coronavirus relief bill in half to get an agreement on new legislation with the White House and Republicans.

“We have to try to come to that agreement now,” Pelosi said in an online interview with Politico. “We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now. We’ll take it up again in January. We’ll see them again in January. But for now, we can cut the bill in half.”

But her remarks did not signal a new position for Democrats, according to a senior aide.

The Democratic-led House passed legislation with over $3 trillion in relief in May. This month, Democrats offered to reduce that sum by $1 trillion, but the White House rejected it.

The two sides remain about $2 trillion apart, with wide gaps on funding for schools, aid to state and local governments, and enhanced unemployment benefits.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Chris Reese and Chizu Nomiyama)