U.S. House approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill, sends to Trump

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in American history – to help individuals and companies cope with an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak and provide hospitals with urgently needed medical supplies.

The massive bill, also passed by the Republican-controlled Senate late on Wednesday, now goes to Republican President Donald Trump who is expected to promptly sign it into law.

Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

Massie, an independent-minded Republican who has repeatedly defied party leaders, said on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve. He did not speak on the House floor during the three-hour debate.

Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” on Twitter and said he should be thrown out of the Republican Party.

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay,” Trump wrote.

Other said he was putting lawmakers’ health at risk.

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

“Thomas Massie, this is disgusting. This is inhumane,” Democratic Representative Max Rose said on Fox News.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law. It passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday night.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 85,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,200.

The Labor Department on Thursday reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis)

‘Dilly-dallying around’: Testy U.S. Senate nears coronavirus relief vote

By David Morgan and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tempers boiled over in the U.S. Senate on Monday as lawmakers moved toward another vote on a far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package even though Republicans and Democrats said they were still at odds over details that had stalled the package over the weekend.

Both sides said they were close to an agreement on the massive bill, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said carried a $2 trillion price tag. But they remained at odds over provisions to help businesses, as well as the amount of money to provide to hospitals and state and local governments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Republicans angrily accused Democrats of trying to take advantage of the crisis to advance their political agenda with unrelated provisions. McConnell said the Senate, controlled by President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, would hold another procedural vote on the package after it fell short on Sunday.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after a meeting to wrap up work on coronavirus economic aid legislation, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

“This is not a juicy political opportunity. This is a national emergency,” McConnell said as the Senate opened its session.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer suggested the vote would again fall short unless the measure included more guardrails to avoid misuse of the $500 billion earmarked to help struggling industries.

“Our goal is to reach a deal today and we’re hopeful, even confident that we will meet that goal,” Schumer said. He said the upcoming vote would be “irrelevant” if negotiations were not complete.

Republican Senator John Thune angrily accused the Democrats of “dilly-dallying around.”

“The country is burning and your side wants to play political games,” Thune said.

Mnuchin said the two sides made progress on Monday morning.

“We knocked off a bunch of things on the list already and we’re closing in on issues,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office. He did not give specifics.

U.S. stocks fell on Monday as the coronavirus forced more U.S. states into lockdown, eclipsing optimism from an unprecedented round of policy easing by the Federal Reserve.

The bill represents a third effort by Congress to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic that has killed at least 428 people in the United States and sickened more than 34,000, leading state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home and putting much business activity on hold.

The measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said Republicans were also trying to add provisions that would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program that is due to expire in May.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, released her own version, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes they need to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus threat has affected their ranks. Republican Senator Rand Paul said he tested positive for the virus on Sunday, and several others have self-quarantined as a precautionary measure. Republicans only mustered 47 votes in a procedural vote on Sunday.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

Senate acquits Trump in historic vote as re-election battle looms

By David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his U.S. Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided America to give him a second White House term.

The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history – just like the two other impeached presidents – in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarize the country.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on Dec. 18, with the votes falling far short of the two-thirds majority required in the 100-seat Senate to remove him under the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit him of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. Republican Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict. No Democrat voted to acquit.

The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. A conviction on either count would have elevated Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican, into the presidency. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.

On each of the two charges, the senators voted one by one on the Senate floor with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called the trial a sham and a cover-up. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election victory.

Throughout the impeachment drama, Trump and his Republican allies kept up their attacks on Biden’s integrity. It remains to be seen how much political damage that inflicted. In the first of the state-by-state contests to determine the Democratic challenger to Trump, Biden placed a disappointing fourth in Iowa, according to incomplete results from Monday’s voting. Biden has accused Trump of “lies, smears, distortions and name-calling.”

 

‘APPALLING ABUSE’

Trump faces no serious challengers for his party’s presidential nomination. He is poised to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in August and previewed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday campaign themes such as American renewal, economic vitality and hardline immigration policies.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke with his party to vote to convict Trump on the abuse-of-power charge. Romney called the president’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden “grievously wrong” and said Trump was “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”

“What he did was not ‘perfect,'” Romney said on the Senate floor, as Trump has described his call with Ukraine’s president that was at the heart of the scandal. “No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep one’s self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Romney, a moderate and elder statesman in his party, paused during his speech as he became choked with emotion after mentioning the importance of his religious faith.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lashed out at Democrats, saying: “What you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell.”

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Trump’s acquittal in an unfair trial was worth nothing.

“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition.”

In his speech, McConnell said: “The architects of this impeachment claimed they were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both.”

 

BIGGEST VICTORY YET

Democrats expressed concern that an acquittal would further embolden a president who already challenges political norms. They have painted him as threat to U.S. democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They also have voiced concern over Russia interfering in another American election.

Trump’s legal team offered a vision of nearly unlimited presidential powers, a view Democrats said placed any president above the law.

The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations – they are fighting in court for access to his financial records – and voiced hope that the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.

Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stick with him.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That is nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.

The trial formally began on Jan. 16. The Senate voted 51-49 last Friday to defeat the Democrats’ bid to call witnesses such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, with only two Republicans joining them.

In the previous presidential impeachment trials, Andrew Johnson was acquitted in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and Bill Clinton was acquitted in 1999 of charges stemming from a sex scandal.

In the hours before the vote, numerous senators gave speeches on the Senate floor explaining their vote.

 

SHADOW OF INVESTIGATION

Trump, now seeking a second four-year term, has been under the shadow of some sort of investigation for most of his presidency. The acquittal marked the second time in 10 months that he withstood an existential threat to his presidency.

In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence that Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia in its interference on his behalf in the 2016 election. Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice in seeking to impede the investigation but stopped short of concluding the president acted unlawfully. Trump declared full vindication.

Last July 25, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a phone call to “do us a favor” and open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine colluded with Democrats to meddle in the 2016 election to harm Trump.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president. Trump accused the Bidens of corruption without offering substantiation. The Bidens denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump further abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists and by dangling a coveted White House meeting as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.

Under the Constitution, impeachment is the mechanism for removing a president or certain other federal officials for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)

Trump nears likely acquittal as U.S. Senate to cast impeachment vote

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four months after Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the Senate is poised on Wednesday to acquit him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump, a Republican and only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, faces a 4 p.m. (2100 GMT) vote that will determine whether he can complete his term as president or must immediately turn over his office to Vice President Mike Pence.

While the vote will be historic, there is little doubt of the outcome as none of the Senate’s 53 Republicans have said they will vote to convict him.

It would take 67 of the 100 senators to oust the 45th president from office – an action that has never been taken by the Senate.

In 1999, Democratic President Bill Clinton was acquitted on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was found not guilty of 11 charges, which partially revolved around a post-Civil War tussle over his removal of the secretary of war.

Richard Nixon, the only president to resign, did so in 1974 when many of his fellow Republicans abandoned him during a House impeachment probe related to a break-in at Democratic Party offices in Washington.

If Trump is acquitted, Republicans and Democrats will take their respective cases to voters as Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3. Rancor amid the proceedings echoed in Congress late Tuesday as Trump delivered his annual State of the Union remarks, with tensions between the president and House Democrats spilling into public view.

Trump’s Senate trial, spanning 21 days, focused on whether he withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine last summer as leverage to get Kiev to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic contender in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

Trump denied any wrongdoing and Republicans in the House and Senate largely rallied around him. But over the past few days, some Republican senators have criticized Trump’s behavior, while defending his right to remain in office.

“It was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican up for re-election this year, said on Tuesday, adding that Trump had learned his lesson.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen rejected that argument, telling CNN on Wednesday that “we know from the president’s own words that he has not,” as Democrats argue Trump will remain undeterred if faced with no rebuke.

Even with the outcome in sight, it remains to be seen whether any Democrats from Trump-leaning states break ranks to hand Trump a bipartisan acquittal.

Senator Mitt Romney, the only other moderate Republican along with Collins to go against the party earlier by urging more witness testimony, is also expected to make remarks on Wednesday. Once the party’s standard-bearer as its 2012 presidential nominee, he has at times appeared out of step with a party now fully behind the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has waged a full-throated defense of Trump on Tuesday, urging the Senate to “vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic.”

In response, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer argued that it was “the beginning of the end of democracy” if Americans believe their elections are being manipulated through foreign interference, such as that solicited by Trump.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Jan. 27 and 28 showed 39% of American adults approved of Trump’s performance in office, while 55% disapproved. That is slightly down from when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and his disapproval at 53%.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

A newly emboldened Trump gives Democrats a reason to fret

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump took the stage for his State of the Union speech in an unfamiliar position: With the wind at his back.

For most of his three years in office, Trump has been surrounded by tumult, much of it of his own making, resulting ultimately in his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Now, for the first time in a long time, things are looking up.

He is on the verge of being acquitted by his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. Opinion polls show his approval ratings on an upswing. And the Democratic presidential nomination race was consumed by chaos as results from the Iowa caucuses this week were delayed by a full day because the mobile app used to record the results had a coding problem.

For Trump, the timing could not be better.

Despite being impeached, he is firmly entrenched in office, after surviving the Mueller investigation into Russian electoral interference and accusations that he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

“He has had existential political threats facing him from the moment he was elected until tomorrow,” said Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, referring to the impending acquittal vote on impeachment charges.

All of it brought out the showman in the former reality TV star during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. At one point, he choreographed a reunion between a U.S. servicemember returning from Afghanistan and his family to cheers from lawmakers.

Along that line, for much of the speech, Trump appeared to be making an overt appeal to suburban voters who could decide his fate.

He spoke of child-care initiatives, and efforts to combat AIDS and the opioid crisis. He called for greater transparency for medical bills, and he sought to take credit for protecting Americans with pre-existing healthcare conditions, even though his administration supports a lawsuit that would gut the Affordable Care Act.

Trump also touted bipartisan accomplishments such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and vowed to protect entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. He pledged to protect the public from the coronavirus that is spreading in China and beyond.

RIGHT TURN

But lest anyone think the combustible Trump had turned touchy-feely, he also reassured his hardline supporters by previewing what promises to be a recurrent campaign theme: accusing Democrats of supporting unlimited free healthcare to undocumented immigrants.

As he did during his first presidential campaign, he warned of the dangers of so-called “Sanctuary Cities” and detailed incidents of violent crime committed by border-crossers.

Trump, too, seemed eager to exploit divisions among Democrats as they struggle to settle on a candidate who could mount the biggest threat to him.

The early favorite, Biden, appeared to have stumbled badly in Iowa, while U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, was much more competitive.

At one point, Trump appeared to reference Sanders, who favors a government-run healthcare system, by declaring “We will never let socialism destroy American healthcare!”

At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Sanders drew a laugh from the crowd on Tuesday when he questioned Trump’s pledge to improve healthcare in America: “Really? How gullible do you think the American people are?” he said.

In his speech to Congress, Trump did not address the most polarizing topic in the room, the months-long attempt by Democrats to remove him from office. He avoided any temptation to take a victory lap ahead of Wednesday’s Senate vote.

“It was very smart to ignore the impeachment trial, stay above the fray and instead provide a laundry list of accomplishments along with proposals that will keep his base rock solid,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington.

That did not stop partisan tensions from running high. At the close of his remarks, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who had orchestrated Trump’s impeachment in the House, tore up her copy of his speech. Earlier, Trump had refused to shake her hand upon entering the chamber.

While recent polls showed that more than 40 percent of Americans favored Trump’s conviction and removal from office on charges that he tried to persuade Ukraine to interfere in the coming election, Trump received good news from another poll on Tuesday.

The Gallup organization said he had reached his personal best in their tracking poll, hitting 49% approval – the highest since he took office.

That prompted nervous Democrats on social media all day to fret that Trump, after three years of non-stop drama, might be peaking at just the right time.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Manchester, New Hampshire; Editing by Howard Goller)

Top Senate Republican lashes out at Democrats over Trump impeachment

By Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A day before the Senate is expected to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, the chamber’s top Republican on Tuesday exhorted senators to clear Trump and stop Democrats’ “factional fever” from scorching America’s system of government.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer, said the president, not impeachment, was the threat to democracy in the United States.

The impeachment trial of the 45th U.S. president began on Jan. 16 and is winding to a close on Wednesday, when the deeply divided Senate is scheduled to vote on whether Trump should be removed from office. He appears assured of acquittal, with a two-thirds vote needed to remove him from office and his fellow Republicans occupying 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

Senators on Tuesday were delivering a series of speeches explaining how they will vote.

McConnell, who helped engineer a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence, lashed out during a speech on the Senate floor at the Democratic House of Representatives for pursuing impeachment.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought in the investigation. The Constitution allows for the removal of a president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers’ design to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic,” McConnell said.

McConnell echoed the arguments made by Trump’s legal team that Democrats were seeking to annul the 2016 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Washington Democrats think President Donald Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor the moment – the moment – he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. That is the original sin of this presidency – that he won and they lost,” McConnell said. “Ever since, the nation has suffered through a grinding campaign against our norms and institutions from the same people who keep shouting that our norms and institutions need defending.”

McConnell called the two charges constitutionally incoherent, though he did disagree with the view offered by Trump’s legal team that a president cannot be impeached without a violation of statutory law.

Shortly after McConnell spoke, top Senate Democrat Schumer said Trump’s actions in the Ukraine matter were the true threat to America. Schumer said that for a president to “blackmail a foreign country to interfere in our elections gets at the very core of what our democracy is about.”

“If Americans believe that they don’t determine who is president, who is governor, who is senator, but some foreign country out of reach can join us on elections, that is the beginning of the end of democracy,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Trump has drawn almost uniform support among Republican senators though several have called his actions wrong and inappropriate.

THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

Trump is running for re-election in the Nov. 3 election. Former Vice President Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump. Besides aiming to unseat Trump, Democrats hope to keep their majority in the House and seek to seize the Senate from Republican control.

Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to Congress in the House chamber on Tuesday night.

Any hints of fallout in the impeachment trial will be most closely watched in electoral districts and states closely divided between Republicans and Democrats and will play a pivotal role in November’s House and Senate races.

Any backlash against the impeachment drive could hurt some Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, while Republicans who have staunchly defended Trump could find themselves in a tough spot with their moderate constituents.

On Monday night, Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate, said she would vote to acquit Trump but also sharply criticized the president and lawmakers in both parties.

“The president’s behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedent over those of this great nation,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said that even if the Senate votes to acquit the president as expected, Democrats have succeeded in uncovering Trump’s actions that they argue make him unfit for office or re-election.

“Whatever happens, he has been impeached forever. And now these senators, though they don’t have the courage to assign the appropriate penalty, at least are recognizing that he did something wrong,” Pelosi told the New York Times.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Makini Brice, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller)

Republicans hope for quick end to Trump trial as Democrats push for witnesses

By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate is expected to wrap up the initial phase of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Thursday before turning to the explosive question of whether to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.

Republicans, who control the Senate, said there was a chance the trial could end on Friday with Trump’s acquittal on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December.

An acquittal would leave the Republican president in office and allow him to claim vindication just as the Democratic Party holds its first nominating contest for the Nov. 3 election in Iowa on Monday. Trump will hold a rally in the state on Thursday night.

Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by using congressionally approved military aid as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Lawyers for Trump and the House Democrats who are managing the impeachment prosecution will spend a second day on Thursday answering questions about the case written down by lawmakers and read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Then, probably on Friday, each side will present what amount to closing arguments before the senators move to the central question of whether to call witnesses to shed more light on Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine President Volodmyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden.

Democrats need to persuade at least four Republican senators to vote with them to assure a majority vote in the 100-seat chamber, an effort the top Democrat in the Senate has called an uphill fight.

At least four Republicans – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – and two Democrats – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Alabama’s Doug Jones – are seen as potentially on the fence on the issue.

Democrats are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office no matter what happens, but allowing witnesses could inflict political damage on the president as he seeks re-election.

Possible testimony from Bolton is of particular interest after a report – which he has not denied – that he planned to say in an upcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine until it investigated Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Representative Sylvia Garcia, one of the Democratic impeachment managers, told reporters on Thursday morning she still thought it was possible that Bolton would appear.

“Today our job will be to convince them (the senators) that this will be a fair trial,” Garcia said on a conference call.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER

In questioning on Wednesday, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz offered an expansive defense of presidential power, saying: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, responded on Thursday in a tweet: “We’ve seen a remarkable lowering of the bar. According to Trump’s lawyers, everything is okay as long as the president believes it helps his reelection. It’s not okay to solicit foreign election interference, even if you fail. It just makes you a failed crook.”

Dershowitz tweeted on Thursday that the media had “distorted” his remarks.

Senator John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in seniority, has said it was possible the trial could end on Friday without witnesses being called in spite of pressure from Democrats.

“The momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday,” he said. Other Republican senators were predicting a similar outcome.

Democrats were not conceding defeat, however.

“There’s tremendous pressure from a vindictive, nasty president on every Republican senator, but I think (as) they sit there … we’ve got a real shot to get witnesses and documents,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday.

If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice Roberts could step in to break the tie. There is so little precedent for impeachment trials – this is only the third of a president in U.S. history – Senate aides said there is no way to know exactly what would occur, however.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Paul Simao)

Trump impeachment: What happens next?

(Reuters) – Lawyers defending U.S. President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial wrapped up their presentation on Tuesday.

Here is what to look out for next:

WEDNESDAY

* When the Senate returns at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), the 100 senators will get a chance to question the Democratic lawmakers prosecuting the case, as well as Trump’s defense team.

* The Senate has set aside up to 16 hours for questioning over two days. Lawmakers will not ask questions directly themselves but will submit them to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

* Questions can be directed at the prosecution or the defense, but not at other senators. Roberts will pose the questions.

THURSDAY

* Questioning is likely to continue, although it is not clear whether lawmakers will use all of their time.

FRIDAY AND BEYOND

* At the conclusion of the question period, the impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers will have four hours, equally divided, to make what could amount to closing arguments.

* The Senate will then debate on Friday whether to subpoena witnesses and documents, followed by a vote. In the event of a tie vote, the motion fails.

* If the Senate votes to hear more evidence, it would then hold subsequent votes on which witnesses senators would like to call and what documents they want to read.

* If the Senate subpoenas witnesses, they would be deposed privately before the Senate decides on public testimony.

* If no witnesses or additional documents are subpoenaed, senators could consider other motions or proceed to vote on each article of impeachment.

* Theoretically, the trial could conclude this week. But if witnesses are called, it could still be going on when Trump delivers the annual State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

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)