Republicans want census data on citizenship for redistricting

FILE PHOTO: A community activist holds a sign in Chinese and English at an event to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – John Murante, a conservative Nebraska senator, last year introduced a bill to prevent non-citizens from being counted when the state redraws its voting maps.

He said the effort aimed to ensure each election district contained similar numbers of voters, but opponents argued it intended to undermine the political power of immigrant communities.

Murante’s bill died after its critics pointed out a lack of granular data on where the state’s non-citizens live.

That data may soon be available.

The Trump administration believes its proposed question about citizenship on the 2020 Census will help states that want to draw citizens-only voting districts in the next round of redistricting by providing the first comprehensive data on non-citizens in about 70 years, according to a Reuters review of court and federal register documents and interviews with more than a dozen state lawmakers.

Such a change would provide a new opportunity for Republican-controlled states – those most likely to adopt citizens-only redistricting – to redraw their voting maps in a way that could help their party win more state-level elections.

Currently, state and federal voting districts are drawn to be roughly equal in population, regardless of how many residents can legally vote. That means tallies for district-drawing purposes include non-citizens, such as green-card holders and undocumented immigrants.

Democrats and immigrant rights activists say this system ensures elected leaders represent everyone in their district who depends on public services such as schools and trash pickup, regardless of voting eligibility.

Republicans argue that districts should be the same size so each vote carries the same weight. If one district has far fewer eligible voters than another, each vote there has more influence on election outcomes.

That’s a problem for Republicans because the eligible voters in immigrant-heavy districts tend to support Democrats.

Trump administration officials have been considering the merits of citizens-only redistricting since 2017 – well before announcing their intention in March 2018 to add the citizenship question to the decennial survey, according to court documents filed as part of litigation over the citizenship question.

And in December, the Census Bureau issued a notice in the Federal Register saying that if any states “indicate a need for … citizenship data” to use in redistricting, it would “make a design change” to provide it.

Republican lawmakers in Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Nebraska told Reuters they would consider making use of the citizenship data if it became available.

The tactic is prohibited at the federal level by past U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the U.S. Constitution as requiring that U.S. House districts be based on total population. But the court, in a 2016 case known as Evenwel v. Abbott, left the door open for state-level districts to use other metrics.

The Commerce Department, which includes the Census Bureau, declined to comment on whether redistricting was part of the motivation for proposing the citizenship question.

James Whitehorne, the chief of the Census Bureau’s Redistricting & Voting Rights Office, called the federal register notice routine. “We’re supposed to provide states with what they identify as needing,” he said.

U.S. voting districts are drawn at the state level, most often by state legislators, giving the party in power control over how the lines are redrawn.

While both Republicans and Democrats frame the debate over citizen-only districts around fairness, demographic experts point out that both sides have a lot at stake politically.

Data from the nonpartisan APM Research Lab showed that 95 of the 100 U.S. congressional districts with the highest foreign-born populations are represented by Democrats. Similar data for state-level seats was not available.

Redrawing such districts with citizen-only populations would give Republicans a better shot by expanding the districts into more conservative areas, said Albert Kauffman, a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio who has studied redistricting and opposes excluding non-citizens.

In Texas, a citizens-only map could strip Latino voters of majorities in two or three state senate seats and six or seven state representative seats, Kauffman said, pointing out that Hispanic voters traditionally lean left.

“Democrats know they would probably lose seats at every level,” Kauffman said.

SUPREME CHALLENGE

Immigrant rights activists and Democratic-led cities and states have sued the Trump administration to prevent it from asking census respondents about their citizenship, and the Supreme Court will decide by June if the question can remain.

Opponents argue the administration aims to use the question to intimidate immigrants out of responding to the census, which would cost their communities political representation and a share of about $800 billion in annual federal aid allocated based on population.

The administration disputes that. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his decision to add the question was aimed at getting the Justice Department the comprehensive citizenship data it needs to better enforce Voting Rights Act provisions that protect minorities from discrimination.

Ross has not publicly commented on how citizenship data might be used in redistricting. But Census records, as well as emails released during the litigation over the citizenship question, showed he was thinking about citizens-only redistricting well before he announced plans to add the question.

In April of 2017, at the behest of former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Ross spoke with former Kansas Secretary of State and noted immigration hawk Kris Kobach, according to the emails. One topic of discussion was “the problem that aliens … are still counted for congressional apportionment,” according to a subsequent email from Kobach to Ross describing their conversation.

The following month, Ross asked Commerce Senior Policy Advisor David Langdon to look into whether non-citizens, including illegal immigrants, are included in voting maps, according to Langdon’s deposition in the litigation over the citizenship question.

Kobach and Langdon did not respond to requests for comment.

ATTRACTING INTEREST

A handful of states will likely request the census data on citizenship if the question survives its legal challenges, state lawmakers and a Republican strategist told Reuters.

Lawmakers and state officials from Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas said in interviews they are considering citizen-only districts. Republicans in Tennessee also voiced support for citizens-only redistricting in court papers filed in the Evenwel Supreme Court case. Reuters reached out to several of the Tennessee lawmakers who signed the court brief, but all declined to comment.

Missouri Representative Dean Plocher, a Republican who sponsored unsuccessful legislation last year to base Missouri’s voting districts on citizen population, said the effort is aimed solely at equalizing the power of all votes in the state. He said he hadn’t considered how such changes might affect his party’s chances in elections.

Nebraska’s Murante – the former senator behind his state’s failed citizens-only redistricting bill and now the state’s treasurer – said he supports citizens-only maps because the state’s constitution requires that “aliens” be excluded from voting districts.

Immigrant rights activists counter that citizens-only districts could be forced to expand in ways that weaken the political influence of immigrant communities.

The effect could be particularly pronounced in places such as south Texas, where immigrants make up more than a quarter of the population, said Juan Hinojosa, a Democratic state senator.

Hinojosa’s district includes areas known as colonias — informal communities of poor, largely Hispanic families. Citizen-only redistricting would make it more likely that anti-immigration Republicans would win elections in the border region, Hinojosa said.

The question of how to count non-citizens in voting districts may end up at the Supreme Court, said Kel Seliger, a Republican Texas state senator, who told Reuters that lawmakers there would explore citizen-only maps.

“You’ve got be careful,” he said, “that the Republican bias doesn’t get us on the wrong side of the Constitution.”

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Brian Thevenot and Paul Thomasch)

Trump vetoes lawmakers’ measure against border wall

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a veto of the congressional measure to end his emergency declaration to get funds to build a border wallas sheriffs look on with Attorney General William Barr and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday vetoed a measure to terminate his emergency declaration to fund a border wall, striking back at Republican and Democratic lawmakers who opposed the controversial move with the first veto of his presidency.

While Congress is unlikely to muster the votes to override the veto, the rebuke from some members of his own party left Trump politically wounded, at least temporarily, as immigration and his planned wall along the U.S. southern border become a flashpoint again in the 2020 presidential campaign.

The bipartisan vote in the Senate on Thursday approving the measure was a slap at Trump over his decision to circumvent Congress and take money already designated for other programs to pay for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Twelve of Trump’s fellow Republicans joined Democrats to pass the measure to end the emergency declaration.

Trump called the resolution reckless and said he was proud to veto it.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up his veto of the congressional resolution to end his emergency declaration to get funds to build a border wall after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up his veto of the congressional resolution to end his emergency declaration to get funds to build a border wall after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“As President, the protection of the nation is my highest duty. Yesterday, Congress passed a dangerous resolution that if signed into law would put countless Americans in danger, very grave danger,” he said, sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office. “Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it.”

Trump expressed pride in the Republicans who did not vote to support the resolution and said later that he had sympathy for those who defied him, adding they did what they had to do. The White House had lobbied heavily for Republicans to back Trump, despite concerns among some about executive overreach and precedent-setting action that a future Democratic president could copy on policies that Republicans oppose.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the action the president had taken was legal.

The emergency declaration is being challenged in court as an unconstitutional usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse.

Trump was flanked by border officials and people whose family members were killed by someone who was in the United States illegally.

The president has said he wants a wall to prevent immigrants from crossing into the United States illegally. Democrats deny there is an emergency at the border, saying border crossings are at a four-decade low.

Trump thanked Republican senators who voted for his declaration in a Twitter post earlier on Friday. “Watch, when you get back to your State, they will LOVE you more than ever before!” he said.

The president made a border wall a central promise of his 2016 campaign for the White House. He initially insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall but it has declined to do so. Last year, Trump forced a government shutdown over an impasse with Congress over funding for the barrier.

When a deal to prevent another shutdown did not give him the funding he requested, Trump declared a national emergency, redirecting funds that were allocated for other projects to build the barrier instead.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. House takes aim at loose gun-sale checks; passes second bill

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a second bill in as many days to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills were likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.

The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.

While Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.

From 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 shootings in which four or more people were killed, with at least 1,001 total deaths, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Thursday’s background check bill would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It passed by a 228-198 House vote.

Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto both pieces of legislation if they reached his desk because the first would impose “burdensome requirements” and the second “burdensome delays.”

The current background check process allows a gun purchase to proceed after three days, even if a background check has not been completed, said Democratic Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.

He said that process resulted in 4,800 gun sales in 2017 to individuals with criminal records, a history of mental illness and other disqualifying circumstances.

“FBI analysis of the current background check system shows that 3 business days isn’t enough time to decide if someone shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Clyburn said on Twitter.

His bill aims to close what Democrats call the “Charleston loophole” in the background check law by extending the window to complete a check to 10 days. They say the loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where the background check bills originated, on Thursday called them “misguided” and said “my constitutional rights could be deferred indefinitely.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Susan Thomas)

Senator Sanders to ask why drug, once free, now costs $375k

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a news conference on Yemen resolution on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas .

By Yasmeen Abutaleb

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders plans to send a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals on Monday asking it to justify its decision to charge $375,000 annually for a medication that for years has been available to patients for free.

The drug, Firdapse, is used to treat Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a rare neuromuscular disorder, according to the letter, made available to Reuters by the senator’s office. The disorder affects about one in 100,000 people in the United States.

The government is intensifying its scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry and rising prescription drug prices, a top voter concern and a priority of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Both the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, controlled by Republicans, have begun holding hearings this year on the rising costs of medicines. Sanders is an independent who usually votes with Democrats.

In the letter dated Feb. 4, Sanders asked Catalyst to lay out the financial and non-financial factors that led the company to set the list price at $375,000, and say how many patients would suffer or die as a result of the price and how much it was paying to purchase or produce the drug.

For years, patients have been able to get Firdapse for free from Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small New Jersey-based drug company, which offered it through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) program called “compassionate use.”

The program allows patients with rare diseases and conditions access to experimental drugs outside of a clinical trial when there is no viable alternative. 

Florida-based Catalyst received FDA approval of Firdapse in November, along with exclusive rights to market the medication for several years. The company, which bought rights to the drug from a company called BioMarin in 2012, develops and commercializes drugs for rare diseases.

In December, Catalyst announced it would price Firdapse at $375,000 a year. 

“Catalyst’s decision to set the annual list price at $375,000 is not only a blatant fleecing of American taxpayers, but is also an immoral exploitation of patients who need this medication,” Sanders wrote in his letter.

Sanders joins other U.S. lawmakers in investigating the pricing practices of pharmaceutical companies this year.

Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in January, wrote to 12 pharmaceutical firms asking for detailed information on how they set drug prices. 

Democratic Representatives Frank Pallone and Diana DeGette wrote to the heads of Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, the long-time leading manufacturers of insulin, requesting information on why the drug’s price has skyrocketed in recent years.

(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

House Republicans move to reprimand King over white supremacy comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives moved on Monday to strip congressman Steve King of his committee assignments after the Iowa Republican gave a media interview in which he questioned why white supremacy is considered offensive.

The decision by the House Republican Steering Committee to remove King from his posts on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees must be ratified by the full caucus of House Republicans.

The move comes as several House Democrats filed censure motions against King after he told the New York Times in an interview published last week: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

King, who has a history of making statements that critics have condemned as racist, said in a statement that his comments in the Times interview were “completely mischaracterized” and the committee’s decision was “a political decision that ignores the truth.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that King’s remarks were “beneath the dignity” of the party and the country.

“Let us hope and pray earnestly that this action will lead to greater reflection and ultimately change on his part,” McCarthy said.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called on King to resign. King was first elected to Congress in 2002 and won re-election in November with just over 50 percent of the vote, sharply lower than the 61.2 percent he polled in 2016.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said in a statement: “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. government shutdown drags into fourth week amid stalemate

Travelers wait in a security line at Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 13, 2019. REUTERS/David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A partial government shutdown entered its 24th day on Monday as talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remained stalled even as some of Trump’s fellow Republicans called on the president to cut a deal and strains mounted nationwide.

Trump appeared unmoved to act, however, retweeting criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer that urged the top Democratic leaders to negotiate with him over funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’ve been waiting all weekend. Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!” Trump wrote in an early morning tweet on Monday.

Democrats have rejected Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the border wall in addition to other border funds but have said they would support $1.3 billion to bolster border security in other ways, including beefing up the number of Border Patrol agents and increasing surveillance.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government shut down last month as Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress as well as the White House. In December Trump said he would take responsibility for the shutdown but has since shifted the blame to Democrats. A growing proportion of Americans blame Trump for the closures, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

He now must win concessions from the Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month following November’s elections. He also must win over enough Senate Democrats to secure the 60 votes needed to pass funding legislation there.

The stress from the shutdown became more visible as 800,000 federal employees across the United States missed their first paychecks on Friday. The cut government services also affected travelers as a jump in unscheduled absences among federal airport security screeners forced partial closures of airports in Houston and Miami.

National parks also remain shuttered, food and drug inspections have been curtailed and key economic data is on hold, among other impacts. Federal courts are set to run out of money on Friday.

ADDRESS TO FARMERS

Later on Monday, Trump is scheduled to address a New Orleans gathering of farmers, a key bloc of Trump supporters who have been hit by the shutdown as federal loan and farm aid applications have stalled and key farming and crop data has been delayed.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who last week had called on Trump to declare a national emergency as a way to get money to build his wall, on Sunday urged the president to instead reopen the government for a short period of time in an effort to restart talks before taking such action.

Declaring a national emergency over immigration issues is fiercely opposed by Democrats and remains unpopular with some Republicans. It also would likely face an immediate legal challenge.

Pelosi called on the Republican-led Senate to vote on several bills passed earlier this month by the House to fund affected departments that do not include money for Trump’s wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up any legislation that does not have Trump’s support.

Representatives for Schumer could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Both the Senate and the House were scheduled to reconvene on Monday afternoon, despite a weekend winter storm shuttered much of the Washington area and it remained unclear what, if any, steps lawmakers might take to address the lapsed funding measures for affected agencies.

Senator Chris Coons on Monday reiterated fellow Democrats’ call for Trump to reopen the government while negotiations over the wall and immigration continue.

He acknowledged efforts by Graham and other Republicans to forge a temporary solution but said Trump has been unpredictable even among fellow conservatives with ever-shifting positions.

“Every time they make progress, the president throws cold water on it,” Coons told CNN in an interview.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)

House Democrats to test Republicans on Trump’s wall demand

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives for a House Democratic party caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On the 19th day of a partial U.S. government shutdown, Democrats were set on Wednesday to test Republicans’ resolve in backing President Donald Trump’s drive to build a wall on the border with Mexico, which has sparked an impasse over agency funding.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, who took control of the chamber last week, plan to advance a bill to immediately reopen the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been partially shut down since Dec. 22.

Democrats are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service – at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans – and voting to keep it partially shuttered.

In a countermove, the Trump administration said on Tuesday that even without a new shot of funding, the IRS would somehow make sure those refund checks get sent.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Wednesday that Trump was still considering a declaration of a national emergency to circumvent Congress and redirect government funds toward the wall.

The Republican president’s push for a massive barrier on the border has dominated the Washington debate and sparked a political blame game as both Trump and Democrats remain dug in.

In a nationally televised address on Tuesday night, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” referring to murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell opened the Senate on Wednesday with an attack on Democrats for not supporting Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the wall.

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s speech was a rehash of spurious arguments and misleading statistics.

“The president continues to fearmonger and he makes up the facts,” Schumer said.

DEMOCRATIC TACTICS

Later in the week, Pelosi plans to force votes that one-by-one provide the money to operate departments ranging from Homeland Security and Justice to State, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor.

By using a Democratic majority to ram those bills through the House, Pelosi is hoping enough Senate Republicans back her up and abandon Trump’s wall gambit.

The political maneuvering comes amid a rising public backlash over the suspension of some government activities that has resulted in the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Other “essential” employees are being required to report to work, but without pay for the time being.

As House Democrats plow ahead, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will go to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to attend a weekly closed lunch meeting of Senate Republicans.

They are expected to urge them to hold firm on his wall demands, even as some are publicly warning their patience is wearing thin.

Later in the day, Trump is scheduled to host bipartisan congressional leaders to see if they can break the deadlock. On Thursday, Trump travels to the border to highlight an immigration “crisis” that his base of conservative supporters wants him to address.

With tempers running high over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion just for this year to fund wall construction, there are doubts Pelosi’s plan will succeed in forcing the Senate to act.

McConnell has not budged from his hard line of refusing to bring up any government funding bill that does not have Trump’s backing even as a few moderate members of his caucus have called for an end to the standoff.

The funding fight stems from Congress’ inability to complete work by a Sept. 30, 2018, deadline on funding all government agencies. It did, however, appropriate money for about 75 percent of the government by that deadline – mainly military and health-related programs.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott and Alistair Bell)

U.S. government shutdown grinds on, Trump threatens emergency powers

U.S. President Donald Trump works at his desk in the Oval Office as he prepares to speak to reporters in the Rose Garden after a meeting with U.S. Congressional leaders about the government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and senior Democrats failed to strike a deal in talks on Friday to end a partial shutdown of the U.S. government as they again fought over Trump’s request for $5 billion to fund his signature wall on the Mexican border.

After Democratic congressional leaders turned Trump down at a meeting in the White House Situation Room, the Republican president threatened to take the controversial step of using emergency powers to build the wall without approval from Congress.

Trump is withholding his support for a bill that would fully fund the government until he secures the money for the wall. As a result around 800,000 public workers have been unpaid, with about a quarter of the federal government closed for two weeks.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats had told Trump during the meeting to end the shutdown. “He resisted,” Schumer said. “In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Trump confirmed that comment but painted a more positive picture of the meeting, the first since a new era of divided government began when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives on Thursday.

“We had a very, very productive meeting, and we’ve come a long way,” Trump said.

But raising the stakes in his tussle with the newly emboldened Democrats, Trump threatened extraordinary measures to build the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into the United States.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY?

Asked by a reporter whether he had considered declaring a national emergency to build the wall, Trump said: “Yes, I have … I may do it … we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.”

He said he could declare a national emergency “because of the security of our country, absolutely.”

The U.S. Constitution assigns Congress the power over funding the federal government so Trump likely would face legal challenges if he tried to bypass Congress on financing the wall. Building a wall – and having Mexico pay for it – was one of Trump’s main promises when he ran for president in 2016.

Trump’s wall project is estimated to cost about $23 billion.

Democrats have called the wall immoral, ineffective and medieval.

Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected Democratic speaker of the House, said Friday’s meeting with Trump was “sometimes contentious” but that they agreed to continue talking.

“But we recognize on the Democratic side that we really cannot resolve this until we open up government and we made that very clear to the president,” she said.

Credit rating agency Moody’s says the shutdown will cause minimal U.S. economic and credit market disruption but there could be a more severe impact on financial markets and the broad economy if the closure is protracted.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last week showed that 50 percent of the public blame Trump for the shutdown and 7 percent blame Republican lawmakers, while 32 percent blame Democrats.

In a Dec. 11 meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut the government over the security issue and would not blame Democrats. He has since said they are responsible.

Administration officials and congressional staffers are set to continue meeting over the weekend to try to end the impasse.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that the leaders and Trump had decided to designate staff to work over the weekend. He said Trump had named Vice President Mike Pence, senior aide Jared Kushner and Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen.

The partial shutdown is straining the country’s immigration system, worsening backlogs in courts and complicating hiring for employers.

Federal agencies such as the Justice Department, Commerce Department and departments of Agriculture, Labor, Interior and Treasury have been hit by the shutdown.

House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal, a Democrat, asked the Internal Revenue Service in a letter on Friday to explain the possible effects of the shutdown on the upcoming tax filing season for millions of Americans.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Tim Ahmann and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bill Trott and Rosalba O’Brien)

Democrats to push shutdown halt that Trump unlikely to accept

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Ginger Gibson and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In their first action in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats plan to adopt a bill on Thursday to end a federal shutdown without funding a Mexican border wall, trying to firmly fasten blame for the 13-day-old closure on President Donald Trump and his Republicans.

Passage of the bill by the new Democratic majority was expected to occur shortly after Nancy Pelosi is elected speaker of the House, returning the liberal from San Francisco to one of Washington’s most powerful posts for a second time.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday his chamber, still in Republican hands, would not vote on the legislation, calling it a “political sideshow” and “total nonstarter.”

“We’re asking the president to open up government,” Pelosi told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday after another unproductive meeting with Trump on the matter. “We have given the Republicans a chance to take yes for an answer.”

The Democrats’ shutdown-halting bill closely resembles one that won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, which Democratic leaders say will put the onus on Republicans to accept it or clearly own the shutdown.

Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border triggered the shutdown affecting about a quarter of the federal government and 800,000 federal workers.

McConnell said previously that Senate Republicans would not approve a spending measure Trump does not support. The Senate leader has been largely absent from discussions over the shutdown, deferring to the White House after Trump surprised him by rejecting his prior attempts to keep the government open without funding the wall.

The House proposal, which would fund most of the government through September and provide another month to negotiate wall funding, will more likely be a starting point for further negotiations in the new divided government.

Congressional leaders said they would return to the White House on Friday to resume talks with Trump, a sign that the government is likely to remain closed for the rest of the week.

Funding for about a quarter of the federal government expired on Dec. 22, closing “non-essential” operations at agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Energy and Commerce.

National parks have closed campgrounds for fear that toilets will overflow. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without pay. The immigration courts, already overburdened, are largely shuttered.

While the first 12 days of the shutdown crept by quietly during the holiday season, Thursday will mark the changing of power in the House, in which the Democrats won a majority of seats in November’s elections, and a new dynamic, with Pelosi again central to moving any legislation through Congress.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)