Mnuchin says U.S. economy could open in May, defying experts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that the American economy could start to reopen for business in May, despite many medical experts saying that closures and social distancing measures will need to stay in place for longer to defeat the coronavirus.

Asked on CNBC whether he thought President Donald Trump could reopen the U.S. economy in May, Mnuchin said, “I do.”

“As soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues, we are making everything necessary that American companies and American workers can be open for business and that they have the liquidity they need to operate the business in the interim.”

U.S. economists have cautioned against bringing large numbers of people back to their workplaces too quickly.

“When the spread of the virus is under control, businesses will reopen, and people will come back to work,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in Washington on Thursday morning. “There is every reason to believe that the economic rebound, when it comes, can be robust.”

Trump on Wednesday said he hoped to reopen the economy with a “big bang” once the death toll from the virus is on the downslope. He did not give a timeframe for that reopening, but his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on Tuesday it could take place in four to eight weeks.

Economists have cautioned against bringing large numbers of people back to workplaces too quickly, because that could spark new outbreaks and deal a major setback to recovery efforts.

A paper co-authored by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Emil Verner in March about the response to the 1918 flu epidemic found that cities that restricted public gatherings sooner and longer had fewer deaths – and ultimately emerged from that pandemic with stronger economic growth.

Weighing the economy against protecting people from infection or death is a “false tradeoff” he told Reuters in March.

Fed Chair Powell took a more cautious approach to reopening the economy, saying that much depended on the advice of medical experts and the government’s health officials.

But speaking in a Brookings Institution webcast event, he said he welcomed a healthy debate on how and when the economy could be reopened safely.

“We need to have a plan, nationally, for reopening the economy,” Powell said. “While we all want it to happen as quickly as possible, we all want to avoid a false start, where we partially reopen and that results in a spike in coronavirus cases and then we have to go back again to square one.”

(Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. appeals court throws out Democrats’ lawsuit challenging Trump businesses

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out a lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers alleging President Donald Trump’s overseas business dealings violate the U.S. Constitution’s anti-corruption “emoluments” clauses.

Reversing a lower court judge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said a group of more than 200 Democratic lawmakers lacked legal “standing” to bring the case in the first place.

The three-judge panel said it was bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have limited the ability of individual members of Congress to litigate questions that affect the legislative branch as a whole.

The Democratic lawmakers “can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit,” the three-judge panel wrote. “But we will not—indeed we cannot—participate in this debate.”

“We’re disappointed in the panel’s decision and are considering next steps,” said Elizabeth Wydra, a lawyer who argued on behalf of the lawmakers.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which argued the case for Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was brought in 2017 by congressional Democrats including Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. It is one of a trio of cases against Trump over the rarely tested emoluments clauses, which prohibit presidents from taking gifts or payments from foreign and state governments.

One or more of the cases could end at the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts said.

The emoluments cases have largely centered on the Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, which the Republican president opened shortly before he was elected in November 2016.

Unlike past presidents, Trump has retained ownership of numerous business interests, including the hotel, while serving as president.

Since Trump’s election, the hotel has become a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting the U.S. capital.

The lawsuits alleged that, in failing to disengage from the hotel, Trump has made himself vulnerable to inducements by foreign governments seeking to curry favor.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

Saving the world is on Sue Desmond Hellman’s to do list

FILE PHOTO: Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at the 2019 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – If you had $50 billion to try to solve the world’s worst problems, what exactly would you do?

That is the daunting challenge that faces Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann when she walks into her office every morning as president of the Gates Foundation – the largest private foundation in the United States, set up by Bill and Melinda Gates.

For the latest in Reuters’ Life Lessons series, Desmond-Hellmann talked with us about the winding path that took her from the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, through years in Uganda, to the top of the philanthropic world.

Q: When you were a kid growing up in Reno, Nevada, what money lessons did you learn from your parents?

A: Two things made huge impacts on me: One was that my mom and dad were both children of the Depression, and the first in their families to go to college, so they really knew the value of education. I was one of seven kids, and every night at dinner we talked about nothing but homework and school and books.

The other thing was the importance of values and faith. All the way through 12th grade, my life totally revolved around church and Catholic school.

Q: What was it like to begin your medical career in San Francisco in the 1980s?

A: I started at UCSF as an intern in 1982, and if you look at the history books, the first descriptions of HIV started appearing at that time. So I was literally becoming a doctor in the epicenter of the epidemic. In fact, my specialty was Kaposi’s sarcoma, which you see in a lot of AIDS patients.

Q: After that, you treated AIDS patients in Uganda. What lessons did you take away from that experience?

A: We were approached by the Rockefeller Foundation to study heterosexual HIV transmission in Africa, so my husband Nick and I sold our Honda Civics, sublet our apartment, and hopped on a plane.

We were extremely isolated. When we came back from Uganda, we never complained about anything ever again.

Q: How long did you and your husband grapple with student loans?

A: We were paying those off for the longest time. I still remember the coupons you had to rip off, and send in with your check. We had a lot of debt we had to get rid of, so we were very conservative with our money. It wasn’t until around 2000 where we were financially secure enough to start giving some away to charity.

Q: You have billions to work with, how do you decide where to direct that money?

A: We are in the equity business, the idea that all lives have equal value. So we believe in education as something that drives equity and that no matter your zip code or background or family wealth, you can get a good public education.

We complement that work with a focus on global health, which began after Bill and Melinda took a trip to Africa and saw children dying of diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines. The big drug companies tend to invest in health conditions that affect the rich world, so we focus on what affects the poor: things like TB, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia.

Q: What is the best life advice you got from Bill and Melinda Gates?

A: The thing I admire about Bill and Melinda is that they are pretty even-keeled about setbacks. Most people tend to beat themselves up when they hit an obstacle, but they don’t get frustrated. They understand that most people overestimate what they accomplish in one year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years.

Q: What life lessons do you try to pass on to the next generation?

A: I have lots of nieces and nephews, and a couple of things have been North Stars for me. One is being generous: That can be through money, but it can also be through volunteering, or just how you interact and treat people.

The next thing is that when you have a setback, see it as an opportunity. I have had times in my life where I tried to go left, and the door was closed. So turn right and open another door, because there may be something great behind it. Setbacks are only temporary, so keep moving and don’t get stuck.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Jonathan Oatis)

Major European nations recognize Guaido as Venezuela president

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Jose Elas Rodriguez and Sudip Kar-Gupta

MADRID/PARIS (Reuters) – Ten European nations joined the United States in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president on Monday, heightening a global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.

France, Spain, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands’ coordinated move came after the expiry of an eight-day ultimatum for Maduro to call a new election.

The Venezuelan leader, accused of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship and wrecking its economy, has defied them and said European rulers are sycophantically following President Donald Trump.

Guaido, who leads the National Assembly, declared himself caretaker leader last month in a move that has divided international powers and brought Venezuelans onto the streets.

Trump immediately recognized him but European Union countries were more hesitant.

Russia and China, which have poured billions of dollars of investment and loans into Venezuela, are supporting Maduro in an extension of their geopolitical tussle with the United States.

“From today, we will spare no effort in helping all Venezuelans achieve freedom, prosperity and harmony,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, urging fair elections and humanitarian aid.

In response, Maduro accused “cowardly” Spain of taking a “malign” decision. “If one day there is a coup, if one day there is a gringo military intervention, your hands will be stained with blood, Mr. Pedro Sanchez,” he said in a speech.

Maduro, 56, a former union leader, bus driver and foreign minister, replaced former president Hugo Chavez in 2013 after his death from cancer. But he has presided over an economic collapse and exodus of 3 million Venezuelans.

He accuses Washington of waging an “economic war” on Venezuela and harboring coup pretensions aimed at gaining control over its oil. Venezuela’s oil reserves are the largest in the world but production has plunged under Maduro.

“ILLEGITIMATE, KLEPTOCRATIC REGIME”

Critics say incompetent policies and corruption have impoverished the once-wealthy nation while dissent has been brutally crushed.

A draft EU statement said the 28-member bloc would “acknowledge” Guaido as interim president, but formal recognition was a prerogative of individual states.

“The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as he announced London was recognizing Guaido.

Russia accused Europe of meddling.

“Imposing some kind of decisions or trying to legitimize an attempt to usurp power is both direct and indirect interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Caracas pays both Russian and Chinese loans with oil.

Maduro won re-election last year, but critics say the vote was a sham. Two opposition rivals with a good chance of winning were barred, while food handouts and other subsidies to hungry Venezuelans were linked with political support.

Italy’s 5-Star Movement, which makes up half of the ruling coalition, dissents from the European stance, saying it would not recognize self-appointed leaders.

But its governing partner, the League, disagrees.

Guaido told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that he would do everything possible to secure Italian support.

In addition to European pressure, a bloc of Latin American nations plus Canada were to meet on Monday seeking to maintain pressure on Maduro.

“All these shameless people are clinging to power,” said Luis, a 45-year-old Venezuelan outside the consulate in Madrid. “Let them hold elections so they see they won’t get even 10 percent of the votes.”

Italy’s SkyTG24 channel quoted Maduro as appealing to the Pope to help dialogue ahead of what he hoped would be a “peace conference” led by Mexico and others on Feb. 7. Conscious of the collapse of a past Vatican mediation bid, foes say Maduro uses dialogue to play for time and regroup when on the back foot.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Guy Faulconbridge and Mike Holden in London; Jose Elias Rodriguez in Madrid; Andrew Osborn and Thomas Balmforth in Moscow; Andrei Khalip in Lisbon; Steve Scherer in Rome; Alissa de Carbonnel and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Sarah Marsh in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Trump says to address trade, immigration in State of the Union speech

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while participating in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he will address his proposed immigration overhaul in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday and will seek Democratic support for it.

Speaking to reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Trump said his immigration overhaul will have to be bipartisan “because the Republicans don’t really have the votes to get it done in any other way.”

Trump also said his speech will cover his efforts to lower trade barriers around the world for American exports. “We have to have reciprocal trade. It’s not a one-way deal anymore,” he said.

(Reporting By Steve HollandEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Attorney General Sessions sets up Hezbollah investigation team

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has set up a team to investigate individuals and organizations providing support to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Islamist group in Lebanon that the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday.

Republicans have criticized former President Barack Obama following a December Politico report that the Obama administration hindered a Drug Enforcement Administration program targeting Hezbollah’s trafficking operations during its negotiation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Republican President Donald Trump says Obama gave away too much to Iran to secure the agreement, which gives Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Sessions said the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors for the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team to ensure all investigations under the DEA program, called Project Cassandra, will be completed.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” Sessions said.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Bernadette Baum)

Kenya’s Odinga rejects vote re-run date without ‘guarantees’, Kenyatta rebuffs demand

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, speaks during a church service inside the St. Stephen's cathedral in Nairobi, Kenya September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

By John Ndiso

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga said on Tuesday his coalition would not participate in the re-run of a presidential election proposed for Oct. 17 unless it is given “legal and constitutional” guarantees.

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta responded by saying there was nowhere in law that required the electoral body to consult Odinga.

The opposition also said it is planning to file dozens of challenges to results from races lower down the ticket, including legislative and local seats.

Odinga’s conditions for participating in the repeat presidential election include the removal of six officials at the election board. He wants criminal investigations to be opened against them.

“You cannot do a mistake twice and expect to get different results,” Odinga told reporters. “A number of the officials of the commission should be sent home, some of them should be investigated for the heinous crimes they committed.”

Kenya’s Supreme Court ordered on Friday that the Aug. 8 vote be re-run within 60 days, saying Kenyatta’s victory by 1.4 million votes was undermined by irregularities in the process. Kenyatta was not accused of any wrongdoing.

The ruling, the first time in Africa that a court had overturned the re-election of a sitting president, was hailed by Odinga supporters as “historic”.

Analysts have said it is likely to lead to some short-term volatility in East Africa’s biggest economy, but could build confidence in institutions longer-term.

On Monday, the election board said it would hold new elections on Oct. 17.

But Odinga said he wanted elections held on Oct. 24 or 31 instead.

“There will be no elections on the seventeenth of October until the conditions that we have spelt out in the statement are met,” he said.

Kenyatta rebuffed Odinga’s demands to the commission on the setting of the election date.

“There is no legal requirement that Raila be consulted. I was neither consulted. Kenya doesn’t belong to one man,” he said in a statement sent by his office.

Odinga has lost the last three presidential elections. Each time, he has said the vote was rigged against him.

The opposition also plans to lodge 62 court cases contesting governorship, lawmaker, and local seats, spokeswoman Kathleen Openda told Reuters.

At least 33 court cases were filed contesting election results before the presidential election was annulled, said Andrew Limo, spokesman for the election board. Others had been filed since but he did not have the updated figure.

Limo said the numbers had not yet reached the same level as during the 2013 elections, when the board received challenges to 189 results.

(Writing by David Lewis and Katharine Houreld; Editing by George Obulutsa)

White House says Trump condemns Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis

People gather for a vigil in response to the death of a counter-demonstrator at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, outside the White House in Washington,

By Ian Simpson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s remarks condemning violence at a white nationalist rally were meant to include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the White House said on Sunday, a day after he was criticized across the political spectrum for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists.

U.S. authorities opened an investigation into the deadly violence in Virginia, which put renewed pressure on the Trump administration to take an unequivocal stand against right-wing extremists occupying a loyal segment of the Republican president’s political base.

A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured, five critically, on Saturday when a man plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally in the Southern college town of Charlottesville. Another 15 people were injured in bloody street brawls between white nationalists and counter-demonstrators who fought each other with fists, rocks and pepper spray.

Two Virginia state police officers died in the crash of their helicopter after assisting in efforts to quell the unrest, which Mayor Mike Signer said was met by the presence of nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers.

Former U.S. Army enlistee James Alex Fields Jr., 20, a white Ohio man described by a former high school teacher as having been “infatuated” with Nazi ideology as a teenager, was due to be appear in court on murder and other charges stemming from the deadly car crash.

The federal “hate crime” investigation of the incident “is not limited to the driver,” a U.S. Justice Department official told Reuters. “We will investigate whether others may have been involved in planning the attack.”

Democrats and Republicans criticized Trump for waiting too long to address the violence – his first major crisis on the domestic front that he has faced as president – and for failing when he did speak out to explicitly condemn white-supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.

Trump on Saturday initially denounced what he called “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

On Sunday, however, the White House added: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

The statement was emailed to reporters covering Trump at his golf resort in New Jersey and attributed to an unidentified “White House spokesperson.”

 

SOLIDARITY WITH CHARLOTTESVILLE

Memorial vigils and other events showing solidarity with Charlottesville’s victims were planned across the country on Sunday to “honor all those under attack by congregating against hate,” a loose coalition of civil society groups said in postings on social media.

Virginia police have not yet provided a motive for the man accused of ramming his car into the crowd. But U.S. prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation, FBI and Justice Department officials said.

Derek Weimer, a history teacher at Fields’ high school, told Cincinnati television station WCPO-TV that he remembered Fields harboring “some very radical views on race” as a student and was “very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler.”

“I developed a good rapport with him and I used that rapport to constantly try to steer him away from those beliefs,” Weimer recounted, adding that he recalled Fields being “gung-ho” about joining the Army when he graduated.

The Army confirmed that Fields reported for basic military training in August 2015 but was “released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015.” The Army statement did not explain in what way he failed to measure up.

Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and a single count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, authorities said.

Two people stop to comfort Joseph Culver (C) of Charlottesville as he kneels at a late night vigil to pay his respect for a friend injured in a car attack on counter protesters after the "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Two people stop to comfort Joseph Culver (C) of Charlottesville as he kneels at a late night vigil to pay his respect for a friend injured in a car attack on counter protesters after the “Unite the Right” rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

REPUBLICAN SENATORS CRITICIZE RESPONSE

On Sunday before the White House statement, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the Republican Party’s Senate election effort, urged the president to condemn “white supremacists” and to use that term. He was one of several Republican senators who squarely criticized Trump on Twitter on Saturday.

“Calling out people for their acts of evil – let’s do it today – white nationalist, white supremacist,” Gardner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday. “We will not stand for their hate.”

Sunday’s White House statement elaborating on Trump’s initial comment on the Charlottesville clashes was followed hours later by even tougher rhetoric against white nationalists from Vice President Mike Pence, on a visit to Colombia.

“We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo Nazis or the KKK,” Pence said. “These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

Mayor Signer, a Democrat, blamed Trump for helping foment an atmosphere conducive to violence, starting with rhetoric as a candidate for president in 2016.

“Look at the campaign he ran, Signer said on CNN’s State of the Nation.” “There are two words that need to be said over and over again – domestic terrorism and white supremacy. That is exactly what we saw on display this weekend.”

Jason Kessler, an organizer of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate army commander General Robert E. Lee from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down. The rally stemmed from a long debate over various public memorials and symbols honoring the pro-slavery Confederacy of the U.S. Civil War, considered an affront by African-Americans.

Kessler attempted to hold a press conference outside city hall in Charlottesville on Sunday but was quickly shouted down by counter-protesters.

 

(Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani and Mike Stone in Washington, James Oliphant in New Jersey, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Julia Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Grant McCool and Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mary Milliken)

 

Driver rams his car into Brazil’s presidential residence

Federal policemen and Brazilian armed forces reinforce security in front of Alvorada Palace after a driver rammed his car through the gates of Brazil's presidential residence in Brasilia, Brazil, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – A driver rammed his car through the gates of Brazil’s presidential residence on Wednesday and was arrested, security forces said, though President Michel Temer was not inside the building.

Guards fired warning shots and then opened fire at the vehicle when it refused to stop, before detaining the driver, who appeared to be a minor, the statement said. Temer himself lives in another official residence.

The driver was not wounded and the car stopped inside the compound of the Alvorada residence. Images published by the G1 news website show the presidential residence gate knocked to the ground and shotgun shells over the floor outside the residence.

Access to the area was closed after the incident. Temer lives in Jaburu, another official residence, less than a mile away from Alvorada.

Temer has the lowest approval rating of any president in almost 30 years, only seven percent, pollster Datafolha showed last week.

Brazil’s president was charged on Monday for taking bribes by prosecutor-general Rodrigo Janot and the Supreme Court sent the charges to the lower house on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Tatiana Bautzer; Editing by Sandra Maler, Bill Trott and Michael Perry)