Biden says U.S. considering diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, President Joe Biden confirmed on Thursday, a move that would be aimed at protesting China’s human rights record, including what Washington says is genocide against minority Muslims.

“Something we’re considering,” Biden said when asked if a diplomatic boycott was under consideration as he sat down for a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A diplomatic boycott would mean that U.S. officials would not attend the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

A U.S. decision not to send diplomats would be a rebuke of Chinese President Xi Jinping just days after Xi and Biden worked to ease tensions in a virtual summit, their first extensive talks since Biden took office in January.

Activists and members of Congress from both parties have been pressing the Biden administration to diplomatically boycott the event given that the U.S. government accuses China of carrying out a genocide against Muslim ethnic groups in its western Xinjiang region, something that Beijing denies.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told a regular briefing on Thursday that U.S. consideration of a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics was driven by concerns about human rights practices in Xinjiang province.

“There are areas that we do have concerns: human rights abuses,” Psaki told reporters. “We have serious concerns.”

“Certainly there are a range of factors as we look at what our presence would be,” she said, while declining to provide a timeline for a decision.

“I want to leave the president the space to make decisions,” she said.

Sources with knowledge of the administration’s thinking have told Reuters there was a growing consensus within the White House that it should keep U.S. officials away from the Games.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was talking to countries around the world about “how they’re thinking about participation,” but left a deadline for a decision unclear.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators in October proposed an amendment to an annual defense policy bill that would prohibit the U.S. State Department from spending federal funds to “support or facilitate” the attendance of U.S. government employees at the Games.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also called for a diplomatic boycott, saying global leaders who attend would lose their moral authority.

Some Republican lawmakers have been calling for a complete boycott of the Olympics.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas told a news conference on Thursday that a diplomatic boycott of what he called the “genocide Olympics” would be “too little, too late” and said no U.S. athletes, officials, or U.S. corporate sponsors should take part.

Nikki Haley, a Republican former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also had called for a complete boycott, saying attending would send a message that America was willing to turn a blind eye to genocide.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Katharine Jackson and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Berkrot)

Post Trump, U.S. Democrats offer bill to rein in presidential powers

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House of Representatives Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday seeking to pull back powers from the presidency, part of an ongoing effort to rein in the White House in a rebuke to the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump.

House leaders said the “Protecting our Democracy Act” would restore the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government that was written into the Constitution.

Among other things, it would put new limits on the use of presidential pardons, prohibit self-pardons and strengthen measures to prevent foreign election interference or illegal campaign activity by White House officials.

The bill also would boost subpoena enforcement, protect inspectors general and watchdogs and strengthen oversight of emergency declarations.

As president, Trump fired a series of inspectors general – watchdogs charged with fighting corruption at federal agencies. To sidestep congressional control over government spending, he declared a national emergency at the border with Mexico to force the transfer of military funds to help build a wall there, a campaign promise.

“We have to codify this… so that no president of whatever party can ever assume that he, or she, has the power to usurp the power of the other branches of government,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news conference.

Representative Adam Schiff, a lead sponsor, said Democratic President Joe Biden’s White House had been consulted on the bill’s contents. He said he hoped for a House vote this autumn.

The path forward was uncertain. Democrats hold only a slim House majority, and the Republican caucus stands firmly behind Trump, who is expected to run for re-election in 2024 and remains the party’s most influential leader.

Republicans overwhelmingly opposed Trump’s two impeachments – led by many of the Democrats who introduced the legislation – and rejected a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters.

Aides to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Patricia ZengerleEditing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. Democrats set showdown with Republicans on federal debt limit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The top Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Monday said they would aim to continue funding the government and increase its borrowing authority in a single bill in coming days, setting up a showdown with Republicans who have vowed not to approve more debt.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill, which must pass by Oct. 1 to avoid the third partial government shutdown in the past decade, would also suspend the nation’s borrowing limit until after the 2022 elections that will determine which party controls Congress.

But with Senate Republicans vowing to oppose any increase in federal borrowing authority, the two parties are engaging in a dangerous game that could cause widespread government disruptions or at the very least rattle financial markets until a deal is reached.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee with oversight of government spending, told reporters that with 60 votes needed in that chamber to advance legislation and with Republicans in opposition, there likely are not the votes to pass the combined measures.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Leahy said.

Democrats so far have rebuffed Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that the debt limit be linked to a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that Democrats hope to pass without any Republican support under a special procedure.

Democrats insist that the debt limit increase should remain a bipartisan effort.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Chris Reese and David Gregorio)

Pelosi predicts ‘what’s his name’ would fail in a 2024 White House run

(Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump might make another White House run in 2024, but if he does, he will take his place in American history as a two-time loser, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted on Thursday.

Visiting England for a meeting of parliamentary leaders from G7 countries, the Democratic leader was asked during a forum to reflect upon the two impeachment proceedings she initiated against Trump late in 2019 and in January 2021.

Seizing an opportunity to score a political point against the man who continues to be the most powerful force in the Republican Party, Pelosi proclaimed, “I don’t ever talk about him.”

However, she continued to talk about Trump, though not by name.

“I reference him from time to time as ‘What’s His Name,'” Pelosi said, quickly adding: “If he wants to run again, he’ll be the first president who was impeached twice and defeated twice.”

Her remarks were met with loud applause from the largely British audience.

Throughout Trump’s four years in the White House, Pelosi tangled with the president over immigration policy, infrastructure investments, the pandemic response and a wide range of other domestic and foreign issues.

She gained a reputation of being eager to skewer the hard-hitting Trump and became one of the biggest thorns in his side as she initiated not one, but two impeachment proceedings against him.

The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump both times.

The former president is already playing a role in the 2022 midterm elections for Congress by recruiting challengers to Republican lawmakers he has tangled with. And Trump has dropped numerous hints he might seek the presidency for a third time in 2024.

“I say to my Republican friends, and I do have some, ‘Take back your party,'” Pelosi said. “You have now been hijacked by a cult that is just not good for our country.”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Capitol Police says ‘robust security’ planned for Sept 18 rally

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Capitol Police on Wednesday said it is enacting strong security measures ahead of a Sept. 18 rally in which supporters of former President Donald Trump intend to show support for people arrested for participating in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“We have a robust security posture planned for September 18th,” the U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement. “All available staff will be working.”

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger will provide a security briefing to top lawmakers on Monday, Sept. 13, a source familiar with the meeting said.

The source said U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited three top congressional leaders — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy — to the security briefing, which will be held in Pelosi’s office.

Citing an internal Capitol Police memo, CNN reported on Wednesday that law enforcement officials are bracing for potential clashes and unrest during the Sept. 18 rally, which is being planned by a right-wing group.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Democrats will not raise debt limit in $3.5 trillion bill -Pelosi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats will not include a provision to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit in a $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” spending measure they hope to pass this autumn, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday.

Pelosi said the $28.5 trillion debt limit must be raised, but told a news conference she would not say whether this would be included in a must-pass bill to keep the government running, expected at the end of September.

“I am not here to talk about where” the debt limit would be raised, “but it won’t be in reconciliation,” she told reporters. Democrats are currently crafting the reconciliation package, a sweeping social spending bill, and hope to pass it in the coming weeks.

Senior congressional Republicans have vowed not to vote for an increase of the debt limit, instead urging Democrats to pass it without their votes through the reconciliation maneuver. Failure to increase the limit could lead to a shutdown of the federal government – something that has happened three times in the past decade.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday again urged Congress to tackle the debt ceiling, saying it was unclear how long Treasury’s efforts to temporarily finance the government would last and citing ongoing economic worries over the pandemic.

The “most likely outcome is that cash and extraordinary measures will be exhausted during the month of October,” Yellen wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Leaders of the Democratic-led Senate and House of Representatives are expected to force votes to lift the debt limit in late September.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, also declined to say whether the debt limit will be included in what is called a continuing resolution that must be passed by the end of September to keep government operations funded.

Both Pelosi and Schumer noted that when Donald Trump was president, Democrats supported debt limit increases, and urged Republicans to back one now.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrea Ricci)

Texas’s near-total abortion ban takes effect after Supreme Court inaction

By Andrew Chung and Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) -A Texas ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect on Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court did not act on a request by abortion rights groups to block the law, which would prohibit the vast majority of abortions in the state.

Abortion providers worked until almost the midnight deadline, when the court’s inaction allowed the most restrictive ban in the country to be enforced while litigation continues in the groups’ lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

The law amounts to a near-total ban on abortion procedures given that 85% to 90% of abortions occur after six weeks of pregnancy, and would likely force many clinics to close, the groups said.

Such a ban has never been permitted in any state since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, in 1973, they said.

At Whole Women’s Health in Fort Worth, clinic staff worked up to midnight, serving 25 patients in the 2-1/2 hours before the deadline, said spokeswoman Jackie Dilworth.

The national group said its Texas locations, also including Austin and McKinney, remained open on Wednesday.

“We are providing all abortion medication and abortion procedures, but as long as the patient has no embryonic or fetal cardiac activity,” Dilworth said. “Our doors are still open, and we’re doing everything we can to come within the law but still provide abortion care to those who need us.”

Planned Parenthood and other women’s health providers, doctors and clergy members challenged the law in federal court in Austin in July, contending it violated the constitutional right to an abortion.

The law, signed on May 19, is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks. Citizens who win such lawsuits would be entitled to at least $10,000.

Abortion providers say the law could lead to hundreds of costly lawsuits that would be logistically difficult to defend.

In a legal filing, Texas officials told the justices to reject the abortion providers’ request, saying the law “may never be enforced against them by anyone.”

“Texas Right to Life is thankful that the Texas Heartbeat Act is now in effect. We are now the first state ever to enforce a heartbeat law. We still await word from SCOTUS,” spokeswoman Kimberlyn Schwartz said in a statement, using an acronym for Supreme Court of the United States.

‘ALL-OUT EFFORT’

Democratic U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the Texas move.

“This radical law is an all-out effort to erase the rights and protections of Roe v Wade,” Pelosi wrote on Twitter. Using the legislation’s number, she added, “we will fight SB8 and all immoral and dangerous attacks on women’s health and freedoms with all our strength.”

A court could still put the ban on hold, and no court has yet ruled on its constitutionality, Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, wrote in a tweet.

“Despite what some will say, this isn’t the ‘end’ of Roe,” he wrote.

Texas is among a dozen mostly Republican-led states that have enacted “heartbeat” abortion bans, which outlaw the procedure once the rhythmic contracting of fetal cardiac tissue can be detected, often at six weeks – sometimes before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Courts have blocked such bans.

The state of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a major case the justices agreed to hear over a 2018 law banning abortion after 15 weeks.

The justices will hear arguments in their next term, which begins in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

The Texas challenge seeks to prevent judges, county clerks and other state entities from enforcing the law.

A federal judge rejected a bid to dismiss the case, prompting an immediate appeal to the New Orleans, Louisiana-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which halted further proceedings.

On Sunday, the 5th Circuit denied a request by the abortion providers to block the law pending the appeal. The providers then asked the Supreme Court for an emergency ruling.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Gerry Doyle and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. urges lawyers to volunteer to fight feared surge of evictions

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday urged attorneys across the legal profession to volunteer their time to assist the crush of tenants expected to be forced out of homes now that a COVID-19 pandemic-related eviction moratorium has ended.

The move came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court ended a federal moratorium aimed at keeping people housed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic President Joe Biden and top members of his party in Congress blasted that decision but have not taken further emergency action to stop what could be a wave of evictions.

In a letter addressed to “members of the legal community,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said eviction filings are expected to spike to roughly double their pre-pandemic levels and that lawyers have an ethical obligation to help the most vulnerable.

“We can do that by doing everything we can to ensure that people have a meaningful opportunity to stay in their homes and that eviction procedures are carried out in a fair and just manner,” Garland said.

Garland’s letter encouraged lawyers to volunteer at legal aid providers, or to help tenants apply for emergency rent relief through government programs.

Garland said “the vast majority of tenants need access to legal counsel because far too many evictions result from default judgments in which the tenant never appeared in court.”

The nation’s top court on Thursday granted a request by a coalition of landlords and real estate trade groups to lift the moratorium by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was to have run until Oct. 3, saying it was up to Congress to act.

Over 60 Democrats in the House of Representatives pushed for congressional leaders to take action, writing a letter urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, to revive the national eviction moratorium for the rest of the pandemic.

Congress approved $46 billion in rental assistance earlier in the pandemic, but the money has been slow to get to those who need it, with just $3 billion issued through June for rent, utilities and related expenses, according to U.S. Treasury data.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. House advances Biden’s infrastructure, social programs

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to advance key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda after reaching a tentative compromise between moderates and progressives over which elements should take priority.

The House voted to move forward on a package that would advance Biden’s ambitious plan for trillions of dollars to expand child care and other social programs, championed by the party’s progressive wing.

The vote was 220-212 with no Republicans supporting the measure.

They agreed to vote by Sept. 27 on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, a priority for moderate Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said her chamber would work with the Senate to nail down the details of a larger $3.5 trillion budget with increased spending for social programs.

Biden’s fellow Democrats have little room for error as they try to approve the two massive spending initiatives in the House and Senate, where the party holds razor-thin majorities.

“These negotiations are never easy,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern after his panel approved the deal. Members of the House briefly returned to Washington this week during their scheduled summer break to vote on the measures.

Pelosi had hoped to quickly approve the $3.5 trillion budget outline, which would enable lawmakers to begin filling in the details on the sweeping package that would boost spending on child care, education and other social programs and raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

But centrist Democrats, led by Representative Josh Gottheimer, had refused to go along, saying the House must first pass the infrastructure bill, which has already won approval by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

Liberals, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have said they will not support the smaller package without the larger one, fearing they will lose leverage.

Democrats hold a narrow 220-212 majority in the House.

Pelosi said that the House would work with the Senate on the details of the multitrillion-dollar budget outline, which Senate Democrats plan to pass using a maneuver that gets around that chamber’s normal rules requiring 60 of the 100 senators to agree to pass most legislation.

“It remains for us to work together, work with the Senate, to write a bill that preserves the privilege of 51 votes in the Senate,” Pelosi said. “So we must work together to do that in a way that passes the House and passes the Senate. And we must do so expeditiously.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy blasted Pelosi and other Democrats with bare-knuckle partisan rhetoric for working on an agreement to secure Biden’s domestic spending priorities and voting legislation, without addressing the crisis in Afghanistan.

“Maybe in your caucus, you think it is a great day for you and the Democrats,” McCarthy said. “It’s an embarrassing day to America, it’s an embarrassing day for this floor and it’s embarrassing that you would even move forward with it.”

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan HeaveyWriting by Andy SullivanEditing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Pelosi presses White House to reinstate COVID-19 eviction moratorium

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday put fresh pressure on the White House to reinstate a COVID-19 pandemic-related residential eviction moratorium after lawmakers failed to extend it before it lapsed over the weekend.

House Democrats made an effort to extend the moratorium implemented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to Oct. 18 but a Republican congressman blocked their bid to pass the measure by unanimous consent on Friday. The moratorium has protected millions of Americans who have fallen behind on rent from being forced from apartments and houses.

In a letter to fellow House Democrats, Pelosi on Monday urged President Joe Biden’s administration to renew the moratorium without congressional action. Pelosi told lawmakers such an extension would provide more time to speed distribution of $46.5 billion already allocated by Congress for rental relief. Only about $3 billion of that sum has been distributed.

“The money must flow, and the moratorium must be extended by the administration,” Pelosi wrote.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plans to brief lawmakers on the eviction mitigation funds on Tuesday, Pelosi said.

Biden last Thursday urged Congress to extend the moratorium, noting that a Supreme Court opinion last month indicated that legislative approval would be required to do so.

Pelosi on Friday initially wanted the House to pass legislation that would extend the moratorium through the end of the year, then decided to pursue a renewal through Oct. 18 with a legislative maneuver requiring unanimous consent. In the end, Democratic leaders did not bring any legislation to a formal vote amid concerns by some lawmakers. The Senate also would have to approve any renewal passed by the House.

More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind on rental payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, collectively owing more than $20 billion to landlords.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty said the moratorium’s end means “thousands of Black families and children could lose the roof over their heads at a time when the deadly pandemic is surging once again, and their lives are in disorder due to the pandemic.”

Landlord groups have opposed the moratorium, which the CDC implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic. The CDC first issued it in September 2020 after a prior moratorium approved by Congress expired. The agency most recently extended it in June for a month before it finally expired at midnight on Saturday.

The National Apartment Association, with 82,600 members that collectively manage more than 9.7 million rental units, last week sued the U.S. government seeking billions of dollars in unpaid rent due to the moratorium.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)