Biden’s first budget marks sharp change from Trump years

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to sharply increase spending to combat climate change and gun violence in a budget that marks a sharp departure from his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The $1.5 trillion budget, reflecting an 8% increase in base funding from the current year, would invest billions more in public transportation and environmental clean-ups, slash funding for a border wall and expand funding for background checks on gun sales, each goal clashing with the prior administration.

Nearly three months into a job consumed by the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the document offered a long-awaited glimpse into Biden’s agenda and kick-starts a grueling negotiation with Congress over what will ultimately be funded.

Biden would increase spending by $14 billion across agencies to deal with the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, a shift from the Trump administration’s dismissal of climate science.

The president would spend millions on dealing with rising numbers of unaccompanied children showing up at the country’s southern border from Central America, including $861 million to invest in that region.

But his budget would provide no funding for the construction of a border wall, a signature Trump priority, and would increase funding for investigation of immigration agents accused of “white supremacy.”

Among the biggest proposed increases in funding are for schools in poorer neighborhoods and on researching deadly diseases other than the COVID-19 pandemic that has dominated his term in office so far.

Biden would spend $6.5 billion to launch a group leading targeted research into diseases from cancer to diabetes and Alzheimer’s, a program that reflects Biden’s long desire to use government spending to create breakthroughs in medical research.

Biden requested some $715 billion for the Department of Defense, roughly even in inflation-adjusted terms with this year, and a compromise between liberals trying to impose cuts and hawks who want military spending to increase.

The money earmarked for the Pentagon aims to deter China, support modernizing the nuclear missile inventory and building “climate resiliency” at military facilities.

Known as a “skinny” budget, Biden’s proposal on Friday provided only cursory figures on “discretionary” programs and departments where Congress has flexibility to decide what it wants to spend for the fiscal year starting in October.

The White House had been delayed in producing the document, blaming resistance from political officials during the handover from Trump and denying that competing interests over issues like military funding played a role.

The proposal does not include Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal or changes in taxation, one administration official said. Those changes would be included in a full budget proposal to be submitted in late spring.

Discretionary spending accounted for $1.6 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, about a quarter of total federal spending. The rest is for areas deemed mandatory including old-age, disability, unemployment and medical benefits.

Each of the proposals is just the first step in a budgeting process that will ultimately be decided in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, where Democrats hold bare majorities.

Biden withdrew his initial pick, Neera Tanden, to lead the Office of Management and Budget after she faced difficulty winning Senate approval. The office is currently run by acting director Shalanda Young.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Barrett authors first U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a loss for environmentalists

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday authored her first ruling since joining the U.S. Supreme Court in October as the court handed a defeat to an environmental group seeking access to government documents.

In the 7-2 ruling, the justices sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, thwarting an effort by the Sierra Club to obtain documents concerning a regulation finalized in 2014 relating to power plants. Barrett and the court’s other five conservative justices were joined by liberal Justice Elena Kagan in the majority, with liberals Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in dissent.

The Senate approved Barrett for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body on Oct. 26 after an accelerated confirmation process that unfolded in the weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election. She is one of three justices appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump and she replaced liberal Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18.

Her swift confirmation by the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans but is now led by the Democrats, moved the court further to the right and prevented Biden from replacing Ginsburg with a liberal successor. It marked the closest to a presidential election that a Supreme Court justice had won Senate confirmation.

The Sierra Club ruling limits the scope of U.S. agency documents that would be subject to a federal law called the Freedom of Information Act, which lets people request certain government materials.

The group wanted access to internal documents concerning the Fish and Wildlife Service’s conclusion that a proposed environmental regulation for cooling water intake structures that are used by power plants and other industrial facilities would not adversely affect endangered species, including fish, turtles and shellfish.

In 2013, the agency initially found that the regulation would put the species in jeopardy but its final recommendation to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 reached the opposite conclusion.

Writing for the court, Barrett said the 2013 draft documents were protected from disclosure because “they reflect a preliminary view – not a final decision – about the likely effect of the EPA’s proposed rule on endangered species.”

A federal judge in California ruled in 2017 that 11 documents had to be disclosed. Trump’s administration appealed and the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 ruled partly for the government but still found that nine documents had to be released.

The case was argued on Nov. 2, the day before Election Day. It marked first Barrett’s first arguments as a justice. She previously served on a lower federal appeals court and as a legal scholar at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

So far, Barrett’s biggest impact on the court came when she provided the decisive vote in favor of religious entities challenging COVID-19 restrictions in New York.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Israeli defense chief sees ‘special security arrangement’ with Gulf allies

By Dan Williams

KEREM SHALOM, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday it intends to develop a “special security arrangement” with Gulf Arab allies, who share common concerns over Iran.

The United Arab Emirate and Bahrain established formal relations with Israel last year. As part of their U.S.-backed rapprochement, Israel and the UAE have proposed defense and military cooperation.

On a visit to an Israel-Gaza border crossing, Defense Minister Benny Gantz played down a report by public radio Kan that Israel was considering a defense agreement with Gulf Arab countries, but said security ties would be pursued.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a defense pact but we are going to develop defense relations with every country that we have relations with,” Gantz told Reuters.

“We have this process of setting up (a) special security arrangement, and within this arrangement we can continue and develop our relations,” he said.

Gantz declined to go into details on what such an arrangement would entail.

He signaled that Israel had no opposition to the sale, approved during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s last days in office, of 50 Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth jets to the UAE. The deal is now under review by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.

Asked about Israel’s view of the sale, Gantz said Israel’s “qualitative military edge” must be preserved by the United States, adding that the advanced warplane was already in the country’s arsenal.

On Monday, the UAE’s ambassador to Israel took up his post, pledging to build up new bilateral relations. Israel opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi in January.

Their so-called U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accords,” joined by Bahrain, have uncorked tourism and commerce between Israel and Gulf Arab countries. Palestinians have been critical of the rapprochement, worried that their own unmet statehood goal might be sidelined.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Trump impeachment defense to attack the process, lawyer says

By Karen Freifeld

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers will make “procedural objections” a focus during his U.S. Senate impeachment case next week, including challenging the notion the former president can face trial after leaving office, one of his attorneys said.

Attorney Bruce Castor Jr. decried the U.S. Senate proceeding due to begin on Tuesday as “unconstitutional,” telling Reuters by phone late on Thursday: “We’re trying to win a case on a bunch of procedural objections.”

“This is ‘Law School 101’ stuff. This isn’t advanced legal treatises in bound volumes that are used in the Supreme Court as references,” Castor said.

It may well be enough to win the case in the 100-member Senate where Trump’s fellow Republicans appear likely to deny rival Democrats the total 67 votes they need to convict Trump. The Republicans assert they do not have the authority to hold a trial for Trump since he left office on Jan. 20.

On Jan. 6, Trump exhorted a crowd of supporters to go to the Capitol, told them to “fight like hell,” and repeated his claims the November election was stolen from him. The ensuing rampage interrupted the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory and sent lawmakers into hiding.

A majority of constitutional law experts assert that it is lawful to hold an impeachment trial after a president leaves office. They assert that presidents who commit misconduct late in their terms should not be immune from the very process the U.S. Constitution created to hold them accountable.

Because the Constitution makes clear that impeachment proceedings can result in disqualification from holding future office, there is a live issue for the Senate to resolve, they say.

Castor and his co-counsel David Schoen were hired on Sunday after Trump parted ways with his prior defense team due to disagreements over strategy.

Trump is only the third U.S. president to be impeached and the first to be impeached twice and to face trial after leaving office.

Trump on Thursday rejected a request to testify at his impeachment proceeding. The House members trying the case have yet to say whether they will call witnesses or how long the trial might run.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)

U.S. court upholds Trump’s national security tariffs on steel imports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Court of International Trade on Thursday upheld former President Donald Trump’s “Section 232” national security tariffs on steel imports into the United States, issuing a decision denying a steel importer’s challenge to the duties.

A three-judge panel at the New York-based federal court which hears challenges to trade actions said the tariffs, imposed in 2018, were legal under a Cold War-era national security trade statute, denying the request by New Jersey importer Universal Steel Products Inc to remove them.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Chris Reese)

Biden decides to stick with Space Force as branch of U.S. military

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden is looking at all policies put in place by Republican predecessor Donald Trump, with a view toward possibly rolling them back, but not so the U.S. Space Force.

“They absolutely have the full support of the Biden administration,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday about the Space Force, a day after her dismissal of a question about the service suggested Biden was less than enthusiastic about it.

The Space Force was created as a separate branch of the U.S. military by Trump, who spoke enthusiastically about the need for a force to protect American interests in orbit and celebrated its new flag in an Oval Office ceremony.

Since it was carved out of the Air Force, there had been speculation that Biden might seek to send the Space Force back to where it was before and deny Trump a signature achievement.

But Biden has decided to keep what has been called the world’s only independent space force, officially established in December 2019.

“We are not revisiting the decision to establish the Space Force,” Psaki said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Biden orders review of Trump immigration rules as officials say time needed to unravel them

By Ted Hesson and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday will order a review of asylum processing at the U.S.-Mexico border and the immigration system as he seeks to undo some of former President Donald Trump’s hardline policies, two senior administration officials said.

Biden will also create a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” border strategy, the officials said on a call with reporters on Monday.

Immigration advocates have urged the new Democratic administration to move quickly but officials say they need time to unravel the many layers of immigration restrictions introduced during the Trump era and to put in place new, more migrant-friendly systems.

“Fully remedying the actions will take time and require a full-governance approach,” one of the officials said.

Biden’s executive orders on Tuesday will not address repealing a coronavirus-era order, known as “Title 42,” that was issued under the Trump administration and allows border officials to expel almost all people caught crossing the border illegally.

He will also mandate a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a program that pushed 65,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for U.S. court hearings. Most returned to their home countries but some remained in a makeshift camp near the Mexican border.

The Biden administration has already stopped adding people to the program but crucially it has not yet outlined how it will process the claims of those already enrolled.

“I can’t tell you exactly how long it will take to put in an alternative to that policy,” another official told reporters on Monday in response to a reporter’s question about processing people enrolled in the program.

Chad Wolf, former acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary under Trump, said in an interview that halting the MPP program was a mistake because it had been an effective deterrent to illegal immigration.

“If you do have a surge (of migrants), you’re taking one of your tools off the table,” he said in reference to the program.

Biden advisers have said in recent months they will not immediately roll back Trump’s restrictive border and asylum policies due to concerns about encouraging illegal immigration during the coronavirus pandemic. Biden himself said in December that his administration needed to set up “guardrails” so that the United States does not “end up with two million people on our border.”

Biden’s actions on Tuesday will follow six immigration orders he issued on his first day in office and will further jumpstart his ambitious pro-immigrant agenda that seeks to erase Trump’s restrictive policies on legal and illegal immigration.

HURDLES

But Biden’s efforts face logistical challenges and opposition from Republicans, according to immigration policy experts, former officials and activists on both sides of the issue.

Lawsuits by conservative groups could potentially slow down Biden’s agenda. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked one of his first immigration moves – a 100-day pause on many deportations – after the Republican-led state of Texas sought an injunction.

Trump won the presidency in 2016 while making border security a major theme of his campaign. If Biden fails to prevent surges in illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, he could give ammunition to Republicans in the 2022 congressional elections, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

“This is the thing that rallied Donald Trump supporters,” she said.

Biden’s review of Trump’s so-called “public charge” rule is expected to start the process to rescind it, according to two people familiar with the plan. The rule makes it harder for immigrants who are poor or need government help to secure residency and stay in the country.

Biden’s expected order setting up the task force to reunite parents and children separated at the southern border was a key election promise.

The task force, however, will face a daunting challenge in trying to track down the parents of more than 600 children who remain separated, according to a January court filing in a related case. The children are living with relatives or in foster care, according to an attorney representing plaintiffs in the litigation.

The task force will be led by Alejandro Mayorkas, one of the senior officials said on Monday. Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, is expected to face a Senate confirmation vote on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin, Aurora Ellis and Alistair Bell)

Israel and Kosovo establish diplomatic relations in virtual ceremony

By Rami Ayyub

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic relations on Monday, via online links due to the coronavirus crisis, under a U.S.-brokered deal that includes a pledge by the Muslim-majority country to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

Israel sees its new ties with the tiny Balkan country as part of its broader normalization with Arab and Muslim countries under agreements sponsored by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump announced the two countries’ ties in September as a side deal to an economic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. As part of the deal, Serbia, which has ties with Israel, also agreed to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

During a signing ceremony held via Zoom video conference, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the new ties were “historic” and “reflect a change in the region, and in the Arab (and) Muslim world’s relationship with Israel.”

Ashkenazi said he had received an official request from Kosovo to establish a Jerusalem embassy, which Israeli officials hope will open by end-March.

Only two countries – the United States and Guatemala – have embassies in Jerusalem. Others, including Malawi and Honduras, have pledged to make the move.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who with broad international backing want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as their capital.

The ceremony included the unveiling of a commemorative plaque that will be placed at the entrance to Kosovo’s embassy in Jerusalem upon opening, Israel’s foreign ministry said.

Kosovo Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla said Kosovo and Israel share a “historic bond” and had both “witnessed a long and challenging path to existing as a people and becoming states.”

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a guerrilla uprising by its ethnic Albanian majority.

Haradinaj-Stublla said she had spoken in recent days with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who she said voiced President Joe Biden’s support for Kosovo’s new relations with Israel and economic agreement with Serbia.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

Twitter permanently suspends My Pillow CEO for election misinformation

By Bhargav Acharya

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc has permanently suspended the account of My Pillow chief Mike Lindell for repeated violations of the company’s policy on election misinformation, the social media firm said late on Monday.

Lindell, a devout supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump, financed post-election protest movements in a bid to overturn the election win of President Joe Biden.

Lindell used his personal Twitter account, which had nearly half a million followers before being suspended, and the company’s account to spread unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election.

Lindell repeatedly violated the company’s civic integrity policy, due to which he was suspended, a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement. Twitter had permanently suspended Trump from its platform earlier this month.

The founder and Chief Executive Officer of the My Pillow company, Lindell’s political commentary and advertisements are a regular fixture on conservative media.

A self-described former cocaine addict and alcoholic who says he found sobriety through Christianity, Lindell helped sponsor a two-week March for Trump bus tour that ended in Washington on Dec. 14 and spoke at five stops.

He told Reuters a fortnight ago that he did not help finance subsequent trips to promote the Jan. 6 rally, but the Capitol riots did not change his views on contesting the election.

“I’m never letting the fraud go,” Lindell told Reuters then.

My Pillow did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment on Twitter’s suspension of Lindell’s account.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Michael Perry)

U.S. House to bring Trump incitement charge to Senate, launching second impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday will formally charge  former President Donald Trump with inciting insurrection in a fiery speech to his followers before this month’s deadly attack on the Capitol, signaling the start of his second impeachment trial.

Nine House Democrats who will serve as prosecutors will proceed through the building where hundreds of Trump supporters fought with police, leaving five dead, at about 7 p.m. on Monday (0000 GMT), carrying the article of impeachment to the Senate where Trump will face trial.

A similar ceremony was carried out for Trump’s first impeachment trial last January, when the House clerk and sergeant at arms led a small procession of lawmakers through a hushed Capitol.

It will mark two historic firsts – Trump is the only U.S. president to have been impeached by the House twice and will be the first to face trial after leaving office. Conviction in the Senate could result in a vote to ban him from holding future office.

Leaders of the Senate, which is divided 50-50 with Democrats holding a majority because of the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, have agreed not to start the trial until Feb. 9. That gives Trump more time to prepare a defense and allows the chamber to focus on President Joe Biden’s early priorities, including Cabinet appointments.

Ten House Republicans joined Democrats in voting to impeach Trump, a step akin to an indictment in a criminal trial. Senate Democrats will need the support of 17 Republicans to convict him, a steep climb given Trump’s continued popularity with Republican voters.

‘A FLAMING FIRE’

Multiple Republicans, including the party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, have condemned the violence and criticized Trump for inciting it. Republican Senator Mitt Romney told CNN on Sunday that the trial was necessitated by Trump’s inflammatory call to his supporters.

“I believe that what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense. If not, what is?” said Romney, a frequent Trump critic and the only Republican to vote to convict him at his first impeachment trial.

But a significant number of Republican lawmakers have raised objections to the impeachment. Senator Marco Rubio pronounced the trial “stupid” and “counterproductive” on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” Rubio said.

The case is a simpler one than Trump’s first impeachment, which focused on a phone call with Ukraine’s president that was disclosed by a whistleblower. In this case, the actions in question played out in a public speech and a separate phone call to a Georgia election official that was released to the news media.

Trump was acquitted in his first trial last year, which took nearly three weeks and dealt with charges the president had abused his power and obstructed Congress in relation to his call pressing Ukraine to investigate Biden. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday the second trial would be fairly quick.

“Everyone wants to put this awful chapter in American history behind us. But sweeping it under the rug will not bring healing,” Schumer said in New York. “I believe it will be a fair trial. But it will move relatively quickly and not take up too much time because we have so much else to do.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)