Republicans in Trump impeachment trial on the spot over Bolton book report

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate came under fresh pressure on Monday to allow witnesses and new documents in his impeachment trial, while Trump’s defense team argued that policy differences were a crucial reason that Democrats have sought to remove him from office.

A New York Times report that former national security adviser John Bolton has written in an unpublished book manuscript that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with politically beneficial investigations prompted fresh calls by Democrats for Bolton and other witnesses to testify at the trial.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a sometime critic of Trump, said there was a growing likelihood that at least four Republican senators would vote to call for Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary to summon the former national security adviser.

Senate Republicans so far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office. Trump’s legal team on Monday resumed its presentation of opening arguments in the trial, including remarks by Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation paved the way for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1998.

The New York Times cited the manuscript by Bolton as saying that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Bolton left his post in September. Trump said he fired him. Bolton said he quit.

If confirmed, the report would add weight to Democrats’ accusations that Trump used the aid – approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign country to help him dig up dirt on a domestic political rival.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump on Monday denied telling Bolton that he sought to use the aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens on unsubstantiated corruption allegations. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was U.S. vice president.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Romney told reporters.

Another moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins, said the reports regarding Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump, said he would support issuing a subpoena to obtain Bolton’s manuscript to see if it should be added to the record, a CNN reporter said on Twitter.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, setting up the trial in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a president from office.

Trump denied telling Bolton he was seeking something in return for unfreezing the Ukrainian aid, which eventually was provided in September after the controversy became public.

“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

DEFENSE ARGUMENT

In its second day of its opening arguments, Trump’s defense team said a crucial reason that House Democrats impeached Trump was not due to misconduct by the president but because of deep political differences.

“We live in a constitutional republic where you have deep policy concerns and deep differences. That should not be the basis of an impeachment,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, told the senators.

“It is our position, as the president’s counsel, that the president was at all times acting under his constitutional authority, under his legal authority, international interest, and pursuant to his oath of office. Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath,” Sekulow added.

The issue of whether to call witnesses might be resolved in a Senate vote on Friday or Saturday. Democrats said the Bolton report made it all the more pressing for the Senate to call Bolton as a witness in what is only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

“It completely blasts another hole in the president’s defense,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the head of the House Democratic team of “managers” who are presenting the prosecution case against Trump, told CNN.

Many Republicans want a speedy trial without witnesses or any evidence beyond the material amassed in the House impeachment inquiry. But Republican senators and staff spent Monday morning getting up to speed on how the witness process would work, according to a senior Republican aide, in case the trial goes in that direction.

The White House directed current and former administration officials not to provide testimony or documents in the House inquiry, leading the House also to charge him with obstruction of Congress as well as abusing his office.

Starr, a former federal judge and Justice Department official, said there were ways short of impeachment for the House to force an administration to comply with its oversight obligations.

“Go to court. It really is as simple as that, I don’t need to belabor the point,” Starr said.

Starr said impeachment was an overused tool.

“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently,” Starr said. “How did we get here with presidential impeachment invoked in its inherently destabilizing and acrimonious way?”

According to the Times, Trump was pressed for weeks by senior aides including Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release the aid.

But in an August 2019 discussion with Bolton, Trump said he preferred sending no aid to Ukraine until officials there turned over all materials they had about the investigation that involved Biden, as well as Hillary Clinton backers in Ukraine, according to the Times.

Senior administration officials have disputed the report.

If senators do not allow new witnesses and evidence, the Senate could vote as soon as the end of this week on whether to remove Trump.

(Additional Reporting by Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed, Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert; Writing Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham; Editing by Andy Sullivan)

Democrats accuse Trump at impeachment trial of corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine

By Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected and warned that America’s global prestige would suffer if the U.S. Senate acquits him.

The Republican Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland the Democrats did not have enough evidence to find him guilty and remove him from office.

In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year.

“To implement this corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign,” said Schiff, leading the House Democrats’ prosecution team of “managers.”

The Democratic team pressed its case against Trump in eight hours of arguments, which will resume on Thursday.

They contend that Trump was trying to find dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for the November election, and his son Hunter Biden who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, to help the president win a second term.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his dealings with Ukraine and impeding the inquiry into the matter.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled 100-member Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office. But the trial’s effect on his re-election bid is unclear.

FOCUS ON JULY 25 CALL

His fellow Republicans in the Senate say his behavior does not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the U.S. Constitution as a reason to oust a U.S. president.

“We believe without question that the president will be acquitted,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters at the end of Wednesday’s session.

Democrats have two more days to make their case. Trump’s defense team will have three days after that for rebuttal in a trial that could potentially conclude next week.

The case against Trump is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into the Bidens as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. military aid to Ukraine was frozen for a period of time.

“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign … we can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct,” Schiff said as the day concluded.

Making references to 18th century U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton and the late Republican President Ronald Reagan, Schiff said the world was watching.

“For how can any country trust the United States as a model of governance if it’s one that sanctions precisely the political corruption and invitation to foreign meddling that we have long sought to eradicate in burgeoning democracies around the world?”

He said senators would “also undermine our global standing” if they did not oust Trump three years into his tumultuous presidency.

Tuesday’s start of the impeachment trial drew about 11 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen ratings data, a figure that fell short of the roughly 13.8 million who watched last November for the first day of the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

HISTORIC TRIAL

It is the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The opening days have been dominated by arguments over Democratic requests for more witnesses and records.

The Trump administration has not complied with subpoenas for documents and has urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate in the impeachment investigation.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found a bipartisan majority of Americans wanting to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial.

It said about 72% agreed that the trial “should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify,” including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans.

In Davos, Switzerland, Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum that he was happy with the way the trial was going.

“I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,” Trump said.

Democratic U.S. Representative Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, said Trump’s comment amounted to boasting about obstruction of Congress.

“This morning, the president not only confessed to it, he bragged about it: ‘Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,'” she said.

But a senior administration official, asked to explain what Trump was referring to, said: “What he’s clearly saying is we have all the facts on our side, and those facts prove he’s done nothing wrong.”

Trump said allowing Bolton to testify at the trial would present national security concerns.

“He knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?” Trump said.

Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who was fired by Trump last year, has disdainfully described the Ukraine pressure campaign as a “drug deal” and testimony from him could be awkward for the president.

A parade of current and former officials spoke at House impeachment hearings last year of a coordinated Trump effort to pressure Ukraine.

But those televised hearings did little to change support for and against Trump’s impeachment. Reuters/Ipsos polling since the inquiry began shows Democrats and Republicans responding largely along party lines.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)

In opening salvo, Trump accused at trial of corrupt Ukraine scheme

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lead Democratic prosecutor accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday of setting up a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him win re-election this coming November.

Trump sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland that Democrats did not have enough evidence against him.

In the opening argument for the prosecution, Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year.

In his dealings with Ukraine, Trump solicited foreign interference to improve his chances in this year’s U.S. presidential election, Schiff said, laying out the main Democratic argument for why Trump abused his power and should be found guilty.

“To implement this corrupt scheme President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign,” Schiff said.

Democrats argue that Trump was trying to find dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son Hunter who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, to help the Republican president win a second term.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and his fellow Republicans in the Senate say his behavior did not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the U.S. Constitution as a reason to oust a U.S. president.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled 100-member Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office. But the trial’s effect on Trump’s November re-election bid is unclear.

The case against him is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into the Bidens as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

“Nothing could be more dangerous to a democracy than a commander in chief who believed that he could operate with impunity, free from accountability. Nothing, that is, except a Congress that is willing to let it be so,” said Schiff, who is leading the prosecution team of Democratic “managers” from the 435-seat House of Representatives.

Democrats have up to three days to make their case. Trump’s defense team will have three days after that for rebuttal in a trial that could potentially conclude next week.

It is the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The opening days have been dominated by arguments over Democratic requests for more witnesses and records.

The Trump administration has not complied with subpoenas for documents and has urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate in the impeachment investigation.

In Davos, Switzerland, Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum that he was happy with the way the trial was going.

“I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller)

Democrats to make opening arguments in Trump impeachment trial

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate will hear opening arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, beginning up to six days of presentations on the question of whether Trump should be removed from office.

After battling into the early morning hours on Wednesday over the trial’s rules, senators voted 53-47 to approve a hastily revised set of procedures put forth by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that allows up to 48 hours of opening arguments – 24 hours for each side – over six days.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and impeding the inquiry into the matter.

The president denies any wrongdoing.

The Senate trial, the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, will resume at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), the day after Democrats argued more witnesses and records were needed since the Trump administration had not complied with requests for documents and urged officials not to participate.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who helped spearhead the House impeachment inquiry, said the evidence against Trump was “already overwhelming” but further witness testimony was necessary to show the full scope of the misconduct by the president and those around him.

“They insist that the president has done nothing wrong, but they refuse to allow the evidence and hearing from the witnesses … and they lie, and lie and lie and lie,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, one of the House’s impeachment managers, said of the president’s lawyers.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone fired back.

“Mr Nadler, you owe an apology to the president of the united states and his family,” Cipollone said. “You owe an apology to the Senate. But most of all you owe an apology to the American people.”

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE

That back-and-forth led Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the impeachment, to admonish both men.

“I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” he said.

Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further testimony and evidence at some point after opening arguments and senators’ questions, but they held firm with Trump to block Democratic requests for witnesses and evidence.

During a debate that finally wrapped up near 2 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Wednesday, 13 hours after it started, senators rejected on party lines, 53-47, four motions from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena records and documents from the White House, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Office of Management and Budget related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

By the same tally, senators also rejected requests for subpoenas seeking the testimony of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, White House aide Robert Blair and White House budget official Michael Duffey.

Under the rules, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, according to a senior Republican leadership aide, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.

Even if such a motion fails, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-majority 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

But the impact of the trial on his re-election bid in November is far from clear.

The Senate trial is expected to continue six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until at least the end of January.

Trump and his legal team say there was no pressure and that the Democrats’ case is based on hearsay. Cipollone described the Ukraine investigation as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president and avert his re-election.

No president has ever been removed through impeachment, a mechanism the nation’s founders – worried about a monarch on American soil – devised to oust a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” One, Richard Nixon, resigned in the face of a looming impeachment.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Patricia Zengerle, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Robert Birsel)

U.S. Senate rejects Democratic bid for documents in Trump impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate rejected a Democratic bid on Tuesday to force the White House to produce documents and evidence in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, an early sign the trial could proceed along lines favorable to Trump.

As the third impeachment trial in U.S. history began in earnest, senators voted 53-47 along party lines to block a motion from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena White House documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Schumer immediately introduced a second motion demanding a subpoena of State Department records and documents related to the matter. The Senate will debate the motion for up to two hours.

Democrats have called on the Senate to remove Trump from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and then impeding the inquiry into the matter.

Trump, who was impeached last month by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, denies any wrongdoing and describes his impeachment as a partisan hoax to derail his 2020 re-election.

During early debate, Trump’s chief legal defender attacked the case as baseless and a top Democratic lawmaker said there was “overwhelming” evidence of wrongdoing.

With the television cameras rolling, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts convened the proceedings and the two sides began squabbling over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading Trump’s defense, attacked the foundation of the charges against the Republican president and said Democrats had not come close to meeting the U.S. Constitution’s standard for impeachment.

“The only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Cipollone said as he argued in favor of McConnell’s proposal to decide on whether to allow further witnesses or documents later in the trial.

“There is absolutely no case,” he said.

DEMOCRATS SEEK TESTIMONY

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who helped spearhead the House impeachment inquiry, summarized the charges against Trump and said the president had committed “constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.”

Schiff said that although the evidence against Trump was “already overwhelming,” further witness testimony was necessary to show the full scope of the misconduct by the president and those around him.

Democrats want a number of current and former Trump administration officials, including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, to testify.

“For all of the name-calling and fingerpointing from the president’s counsel, we did not hear a single argument on the merits about why there should not be the documents and witnesses we requested in this trial,” Schumer said.

McConnell unveiled a plan on Monday for what would be a potentially quick trial without new testimony or evidence. It would have given Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers 48 hours, evenly split, to present their arguments over four days.

That plan was changed to give each side three days to give up to 24 hours of opening arguments. The rules also will allow the House’s record of the impeachment probe admitted as evidence in the trial, as Democrats had demanded.

“We discussed it at lunch. It was pretty much a (Republican) conference consensus that made a lot more sense,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.

Democrats had accused McConnell of trying to rig a trial with proposed rules they said would prevent witnesses from testifying and bar evidence gathered by investigators.

McConnell has repeatedly said the rules would mirror those the Senate used in the 1999 impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further witness testimony and evidence.

Under McConnell’s plan, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, according to a senior Republican leadership aide, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.

Even if such a motion fails, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

But the impact of the trial on his re-election bid in November is far from clear.

TRUMP SUPPORT FIRM

Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine, a vulnerable ally, to interfere in U.S. elections at the expense of American national security and say he is a danger to American democracy.

Trump and his legal team say there was no pressure and that the Democrats’ case is based on hearsay. Cipollone has described the Ukraine investigation as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president and avert his re-election.

“They’re not here to steal one election, they’re here to steal two elections,” Cipollone said on Tuesday.

Cipollone also repeated a charge that Republicans were excluded from the secure facility where the initial depositions for the House impeachment hearings took place. In fact, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee were not only present but questioned witnesses.

The Senate trial is expected to continue six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until at least the end of January.

Trump has sought to rally his base with the impeachment issue, fundraising off it. At raucous election rallies, he has painted himself as the victim of a witch hunt.

Televised congressional testimony from a parade of current and former officials who spoke of a coordinated effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens has done little to change support for and against Trump’s impeachment. Reuters/Ipsos polling since the inquiry began shows Democrats and Republicans responding largely along party lines.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted Jan. 13 and 14, 39% of U.S. adults approved of Trump’s job performance, while 56% disapproved. It also found 45% of respondents said Trump should be removed from office, while 31% said the impeachment charges should be dismissed.

MARKETS SHRUG OFF TRIAL

The trial of a U.S. president could be freighted with drama, huge political risk and the potential unraveling of a presidency. But financial markets have shrugged it off, and the disclosures in the months-long impeachment investigation thus far have done little to boost anti-Trump sentiment among undecided voters or shift away moderate Republican voters.

No president has ever been removed through impeachment, a mechanism the nation’s founders – worried about a monarch on American soil – devised to oust a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

A pivotal event in the impeachment case is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens and a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump abused his power by initially withholding $391 million in Ukraine security aid intended to fight Russia-backed separatists, and a coveted White House meeting for Zelenskiy, to pressure Ukraine to announce the investigations of the Bidens. Trump’s legal team says there is no evidence that the aid was a condition for receiving help.

The obstruction of Congress charge relates to Trump directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Jan Wolfe, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Karen Freifeld, Lisa Lambert and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao and John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller, Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)

Senate sends massive defense bill for Trump to sign, creating Space Force

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to pass a $738 billion defense policy bill that creates President Donald Trump’s “Space Force” and gives federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave, sending it to the White House, where Trump has promised to quickly sign it into law.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 86 to 8 in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The Democratic-led House approved the bill by 377-48 last week.

Trump said on Twitter last week that he would sign the bill as soon as it passes, saying it included all his priorities.

As one of the few pieces of major legislation Congress passes every year, the NDAA becomes a vehicle for a range of policy measures as well as setting everything from military pay levels to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.

This year’s legislation included a 3.1% pay increase for the troops; the first ever paid family leave for all federal workers, and the creation of a Space Force, the first new branch of the U.S. military in more than 60 years and a top military priority for Trump.

The Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate each voted for a version of the NDAA earlier this year. Then lawmakers negotiated for months with representatives from the White House to reach the compromise that just passed.

A few left-leaning Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans voted against the NDAA because it did not include policy planks that would have restrained Trump’s war powers, including banning support for Saudi Arabia’s air campaign in Yemen.

Some also objected to the increase in military spending, as the national debt is skyrocketing.

“Conservatism is about more than supporting military spending at any cost,” Republican Senator Rand Paul said.

The NDAA also does not bar the Republican president from using military funds to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Those provisions were included in the House’s version of the NDAA, but not in the Senate’s. They were removed during the negotiations.

Democratic leaders said they had extracted some concessions from Republicans, the 12 weeks of paid family leave for federal workers.

The fiscal 2020 NDAA increases defense spending by about $20 billion, or about 2.8%. It includes $658.4 billion for Department of Defense and Department of Energy national security programs, $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars and $5.3 billion in emergency funding for repairs from natural disasters.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Editing by David Gregorio and Steve Orlofsky)

As the U.S. House marches toward impeachment, Senate questions next move

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the U.S. House of Representatives moves closer to impeaching President Donald Trump, larger questions loom in the Senate, where Trump’s Republican allies may not give him the extended trial he would like.

Democrats who control the House unveiled formal charges on Tuesday that accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate a political rival and obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee is due to begin considering those charges at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (0000 GMT) and is expected to approve them on Thursday. A vote by the full chamber next week is likely to make Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Democrats had to take action because Trump had endangered the U.S. Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election.

The articles of impeachment do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of the Republican president’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers who represent more conservative districts have argued that the focus should stay on Ukraine.

“I think you’ll see virtually all the Democrats support these articles,” said Representative David Cicilline, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Republicans say Democrats have yet to prove that Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“It’s just as likely the president had good reasons to say what he did on the phone call as nefarious reasons that the Democrats think,” said Republican Representative Debbie Lesko.

Trump has maintained that he did nothing wrong and that Democrats are trying to undo his victory in the 2016 election.

He will be on friendlier terrain in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will likely consider the matter in January in a trial presided over by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

QUICK TRIAL?

Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum in the Senate to drive Trump from office with a two-thirds super majority. But Republicans have yet to decide how to handle the matter.

Trump wants a full trial, featuring testimony from witnesses, including Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, that would flesh out the case for and against impeachment and eat up weeks of time just as the Democratic Party holds its first presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in February.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested on Tuesday that his chamber may opt for a quicker trial that would allow lawmakers to return to their regular business, however.

McConnell will need a majority of the Senate’s 100 members to agree to either plan. That could put a handful of Republican moderates, like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, in the position of deciding how much time the chamber would devote to the proceedings.

McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday the trial would be the “first order of business in January” if the House approves the articles of impeachment in December as expected.

During Democratic President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, no witnesses testified on the Senate floor. Instead, videotaped depositions were conducted with just a few witnesses, which senators screened behind closed doors. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate on charges arising from his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Peter Henderson, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Republicans join Democrats to blast Trump’s Syria withdrawal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a rare show of bipartisanship, the top lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on Monday condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, which could open the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led fighters in the area.

Some threatened to introduce a resolution calling for Trump to reverse the move or legislation imposing sanctions on Turkey if it attacked Kurdish forces. Kurdish soldiers have helped the United States fight the Islamic State militant group, but the Turkish military has branded them terrorists.

“This decision poses a dire threat to regional security and stability, and sends a dangerous message to Iran and Russia, as well as our allies, that the United States is no longer a trusted partner,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a statement calling on Trump to “reverse this dangerous decision.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement: “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.” McConnell was referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

McConnell also noted in his statement that most of the Senate voted in January for an amendment expressing bipartisan concern about the continuing threat posed by Islamic militant groups in Syria and support for a continued military presence.

“The conditions that produced that bipartisan vote still exist today,” he said.

The United States on Monday began pulling troops back from northeastern Syria’s border, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area, after Trump’s surprise announcement on Sunday that he was withdrawing U.S. forces.

Many Congress members from both parties quickly condemned the move, a departure from the deep partisan divide that has opened at the U.S. Capitol, worsened by House Democrats’ decision to open an impeachment investigation of the Republican president.

On Monday, several Republicans better known for their strong backing of Trump also expressed outrage over the decision. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the situation “a disaster in the making” that showed the United States is an unreliable ally.

Graham said he would introduce a Senate resolution opposing the plan and asking for a reversal. He also said he and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen planned to introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if it invades Syria and will call for their suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces.

Later on Monday, however, Trump threatened to destroy Turkey’s economy if it took its planned military strike too far.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Jonathan Oatis)

Republicans see impeachment backfiring. Democrats fear they may be right

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Gabriella Borter, Brendan O’Brien, Andrew Hay and Zachary Fagenson

(Reuters) – Having his morning coffee and cigarette outside a Starbucks in one of the most politically contested counties in the United States, Richard Sibilla recoils at the memory of President Donald Trump’s election.

But impeach him now? Sibilla can see little upside.

“After this he has a much better chance of winning another election, as scary as that sounds,” said Sibilla, 39, a resident of Pinellas County, Florida, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “It’s not even worth following because it’s all going to help him.”

Alarmed by a whistleblower’s revelations that Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives this week launched a formal impeachment inquiry into the Republican president.

Among the public, interviews with more than 60 voters across four of the most important counties in the 2020 election showed Republicans largely confident the impeachment process will backfire and Trump will win re-election. Democrats, on the other hand, are worried they may be right.

Marc Devlin, a 48-year-old consultant from Northampton County, Pennsylvania, said he expects the inquiry to “incense” supporters of the president. “This is my fear, that it will actually add some flame to his fire with his base,” he said. “I just fear ‘party over country.'”

Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Reuters is monitoring voters in four areas that could determine the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential contest: Pinellas County, Florida; Maricopa County, Arizona; Northampton County, Pennsylvania; and Racine County, Wisconsin.

Given the sharply divided electorate and the rules in America’s state-by-state races that determine the winner in the Electoral College, those four states will be among the most targeted by presidential candidates next year.

Public opinion has time to shift before voters cast their ballots next November. But for now, the prospect of impeachment has done little to sway opinions, largely formed along party lines, according to the interviews and polling.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Monday and Tuesday showed 37% of respondents favored impeaching the president versus 45% who were opposed. That 37% figure was down from 41% three weeks earlier and down from 44% in May, after the release of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“I don’t think he did anything wrong,” said Joe D’Ambrosio, 78, who runs a barbershop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and cheers Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

Lee Snover, chair of the Northampton County Republican Committee, said she felt the impeachment inquiry was the latest instance of the Democrats using unfair tactics to try to take Trump down. It showed she said, how disconnected Washington’s politicians are from the country.

“I have not had one Republican crack or say they’re turning or going the other way. They’re laughing it off. I think it’s going to help him,” said Snover, 50.

That sentiment was shared at a meeting of College Republicans United at Arizona State University on Wednesday.

“They have this idea that everyone is siding with them, that Trump is an impeachable president, when really it’s only a minority,” Rose Mulet, 19, said of the Democratic leadership in Congress. “It’s not a reflection of the general public.”

Moreover, odds of impeachment succeeding are long. None of America’s 45 presidents have even been removed that way. Though the Democrats control the House of Representatives, where they need a simple majority of votes, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, would have to vote with a two-thirds majority to remove the president from office.

That reality has only frustrated Democrats angered by what they see as a string of offenses by Trump, from bragging about grabbing women by the genitals to Mueller’s conclusion that Trump interfered with his probe.

“I am enraged,” said Barbara Lebak, a 66-year-old librarian who was working her way through a crossword puzzle from a bench in Racine County, Wisconsin.

Like Lebak, fellow Racine County resident David Ferrell, 56, said he saw multiple reasons to impeach Trump, including what he called the president’s hardline policies on immigration and inflammation of race relations.

“What has taken so long? It should have been done long ago,” said Ferrell. “I’m voting for a Democrat, no matter who it is.”

While polls and interviews suggest most voters are solidly entrenched, some, like Chris Harman, have been swayed.

Harman, 52, who works in sales and marketing in Maricopa County, said he voted for Trump in 2016 but will not in 2020. He said the president had already committed impeachable offenses even before the Ukraine scandal erupted.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” Harman said as he left a baseball game in Phoenix. “I’m not voting for Trump. I tried it, it was a grand experiment, but I’m not going to try it again.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagensen in Florida, Gabriella Borter in Pennsylvania, Andrew Hay in Arizona, and Brendan O’Brien in Wisconin; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on the weather: Reuters/Ipsos poll

The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Only 200 miles separate Michael Tilden and Miranda Garcia in rain-soaked Iowa. But they are worlds apart when it comes to their opinion of the weather.

Garcia, a 38-year-old former journalist and Democrat from Des Moines, thinks flooding has been getting worse in the state, which just came out of its wettest 12-months on record. Tilden, a 44-year-old math teacher and Republican from Sioux City, thinks otherwise: “I’ve noticed essentially the same weather pattern every single year,” he said.

Their different takes underscore a broader truth about the way Americans perceive extreme weather: Democrats are far more likely to believe droughts, floods, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms have become more frequent or intense where they live in the last decade, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The divergence shows how years of political squabbling over global warming – including disputes over its existence – have grown deep roots, distorting the way Americans view the world around them. The divide will play into the 2020 election as Democratic hopefuls seek to sell aggressive proposals to reduce or even end fossil fuel consumption by drawing links between climate change and recent floods, storms and wildfires.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats believe severe thunderstorms and floods have become more frequent, compared to 42% and 50% of Republicans, respectively, according to the poll.

About half of Democrats, meanwhile, think droughts, hurricanes and tropical storms are more common in their region, versus less than a third of Republicans, according to the poll.

Similarly, nearly seven in 10 Democrats said in the poll that severe weather events such as thunderstorms have become more intense, compared to 4 of 10 Republicans. And nearly half of Republicans said there has been no change in the intensity of severe weather over the past decade, versus a fifth of Democrats.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English between June 11 and 14 and gathered responses from 3,281 people. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 2 percentage points up or down.

U.S. government researchers have concluded that tropical cyclone activity, rainfall, and the frequency of intense single-day storms have been on the rise, according to data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, six of the 10 most active years for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin since 1950 have occurred since the mid-1990s, and nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events nationwide have occurred since 1990, according to the data.

“We do expect to see more intense storms,” said David Easterling, a spokesman for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

An overwhelming majority of scientists believe human consumption of fossil fuels is driving sweeping changes in the global climate by ramping up the concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. But it is impossible to draw a direct link between the changes in U.S. weather in the recent past to the larger trend of warming.

President Donald Trump has cast doubt on the science of climate change, saying he believes that research into its severity, causes and effects is not yet settled. Two years ago he announced the United States would withdraw from a global pact to reduce carbon emissions, the Paris Climate Agreement, a deal Trump said could damage the U.S. economy.

Still, a majority of Republicans believe the United States should take “aggressive action” to combat global warming, Reuters polling shows.

Some Republican lawmakers have offered proposals for “market-based” approaches to fend off climate change, such as cap-and-trade systems that would force companies to cut carbon emissions or buy credits from those that do.

Democrats are pushing more aggressive ideas. Nearly all of the party’s presidential hopefuls, who seek to unseat Trump in next year’s election, have put forward proposals to end U.S. fossil fuels consumption within a few decades to make the country carbon neutral.

Trump has slammed the idea, saying it would “kill millions of jobs” and “crush the dreams of the poorest Americans.”

PARTISAN GOGGLES

Jennifer Marlon, a research scientist at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, said the divergence in the way American perceive the weather is being driven by factors including the news they consume and their social circles.

Liberals are more likely to expose themselves to news outlets and people who believe climate change is an urgent threat that affects current weather patterns. For more conservative Americans, the link between weather and climate change is “not a typical conversation,” Marlon said.

Last year, the Yale program – which carries out scientific research on public knowledge about climate change – set out to map the partisan divide on how people perceive the effects of global warming across the United States.

It found that 22% of Republicans reported personally experiencing climate change, compared to 60% of Democrats.

Scientists and researchers at the University of Michigan, the University of Exeter and others came to a similar conclusion in a 2018 study which found that political bias and partisan news reporting can affect whether people indicate experiencing certain extreme weather events.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot)