McConnell says Senate Republicans have not ruled out witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

McConnell says Senate Republicans have not ruled out witnesses in Trump impeachment trial
By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that Republicans had not ruled out hearing witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, one of the main sticking points in drafting rules for the proceedings.

However, McConnell made clear he would not accede to a Democratic request for the U.S. Senate to agree ahead of time to take testimony during the trial.

The Republican leader instead repeated his position in an interview with Fox News Channel that any decision on witnesses be made after opening arguments in the case from both Democrats and representatives for Trump.

Allowing witness testimony, particularly from current and former administration officials, was likely to prolong the trial and could bring up new evidence damaging to Trump.

Republicans have a 53-seat majority in the Senate, where 51 votes are needed to pass a set of rules for the Trump trial.

The Republican president was impeached last week by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on two charges over his pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and Biden’s son. Biden is a potential Democratic candidate to run against Republican Trump in the November 2020 election. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump was charged with abuse of power and obstructing Congress’ investigation. He has said he did nothing wrong.

There is little chance Trump will be convicted and removed from office through a trial in the Republican-led Senate, but the impeachment proceedings could resonate at the ballot box in November.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has requested to have four witnesses subpoenaed for the Senate trial expected to begin early next year. The White House blocked all four, including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, from testifying during impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives in December.

“We haven’t ruled out witnesses,” McConnell said in an interview with “Fox & Friends.” “We’ve said, ‘Let’s handle this case just like we did with President Clinton.’ Fair is fair.”

In that 1999 trial, he said, senators went through opening arguments, had a written question period and then decided what witnesses to call based on that.

McConnell and Schumer failed to reach an agreement on Thursday on rules for the trial, which McConnell said would be the Senate’s first order of business in the new year.

“We remain at an impasse on these logistics,” McConnell said on Thursday.

He used the word “impasse” again on Monday in saying senators could not take any action until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally transmits the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Pelosi has withheld them in a bid to pressure Senate Republicans to reach an accord with Schumer on trial rules.

Schumer and other Democrats have criticized McConnell for working closely with the White House on trial strategy, saying he was not acting like an impartial juror.

Senators are expected to be administered an oath promising to do “impartial justice according to the Constitution” at the start of any impeachment trial.

McConnell dismissed the criticism in the Fox interview, asking if any Democratic leaders were impartial.

“Let’s quit the charade,” McConnell said. “This is a political exercise. A political exercise.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Grant McCool)

Explainer: How impeachment works and why Trump is unlikely to be removed

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday instructed the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

What happens next and why Trump is unlikely to be removed from office are both explained here.


The founders of the United States feared presidents abusing their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for removing one from office.

The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

High crimes and misdemeanors have historically encompassed corruption and abuses of the public trust, as opposed to indictable violations of criminal statutes.

Former President Gerald Ford, while in Congress, famously said: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.


Impeachment begins in the House, the lower chamber, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment,” by a simple majority of the body’s members.

The Constitution gives House leaders wide latitude in deciding how to conduct impeachment proceedings, legal experts said.

The House Intelligence Committee has conducted an investigation into whether Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would benefit him politically, holding weeks of closed-door testimony and televised hearings before issuing a formal evidence report.

The Judiciary panel will use the report to consider formal charges that could form the basis of a full House impeachment vote by the end of December.

If the House approves articles of impeachment, a trial is then held in the Senate. House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the United States presides. Historically, the president has been allowed to have defense lawyers call witnesses and request documents.


There is debate about whether the Constitution requires a Senate trial. But Senate rules in effect require a trial, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly stated that he will allow one to proceed.

Republicans could seek to amend those rules, but such a move is politically risky and considered unlikely, legal experts said.


The Senate rules allow members to file, before the conclusion of the trial, motions to dismiss the charges against the president. If such a motion passes by a simple majority the impeachment proceedings effectively end.

Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial, which did not end in a conviction, lasted five weeks. Halfway through the proceedings, a Democratic senator introduced a motion to dismiss, which was voted down.


Democrats control the House. The House comprises 431 members at present, 233 of whom are Democrats. As a result, the Democrats could impeach the Republican Trump with no Republican support.

In 1998, when Republicans had a House majority, the chamber voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton, a Democrat.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds majority. A conviction seems unlikely. Should all 100 senators vote, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.


In the unlikely event the Senate convicted Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe, editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)

Facebook tightens rules for U.S. political advertisers ahead of 2020 election

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc is tightening its political ad rules in the United States, it said on Wednesday, requiring new disclosures for its site and photo-sharing platform Instagram ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November 2020.

The social media giant is introducing a “confirmed organization” label for U.S. political advertisers who show government-issued credentials to demonstrate their legitimacy.

All advertisers running ads on politics or social issues will also have to post their contact information, even if they are not seeking the official label.

Advertisers must comply by mid-October or risk having their ads cut off.

Under scrutiny from regulators since Russia used social media platforms to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has been rolling out ad transparency tools country by country since last year.

Since May 2018, Facebook has required political advertisers in the United States to put a “paid for by” disclaimer on their ads. But the company said some had used misleading disclaimers or tried to register as organizations that did not exist.

“In 2018 we did see evidence of misuse in these disclaimers and so this is our effort to strengthen the process,” said Sarah Schiff, product manager at Facebook.

Last year, Vice News journalists managed to place ads on behalf of figures and groups including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and “Islamic State.” Just last week, Facebook banned conservative news outlet the Epoch Times from advertising on the platform after it used different pages to push ads in support of President Donald Trump.

Paid Facebook ads have become a major tool for political campaigns and other organizations to target voters.

The re-election campaign for Trump, a Republican, has spent about $9.6 million this year on ads on the site, making him the top spender among 2020 candidates, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic firm that tracks digital ad spending.

After the announcement, the Trump campaign told Reuters it thought there was a “glaring omission” in Facebook’s political ads policy because news media were not held to the same standards as campaigns for buying ads.

Facebook does not apply its ad authorization policies to certain news sources that it determines to have a good track record for avoiding misinformation, have a minimum number of visitors and have ads with the primary purpose of reporting on news and current events.

Last year, Facebook began requiring political advertisers to submit a U.S. mailing address and identity document. Under the new rules, they will also have to supply a phone number, business email and website.

To get a “confirmed organization” label, advertisers must submit a Federal Election Commission ID number, tax-registered organization ID number, or government website domain matching an official email.

Facebook has continuously revamped its policies around political advertising, which differ by country.

In 2018, it launched an online library of political ads, although the database has been criticized by researchers for being poorly maintained and failing to provide useful ad targeting information.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco; Additional reporting from Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)

Facebook releases long-secret rule book on how it polices the service

FILE PHOTO: A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person's eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By David Ingram

MENLO PARK, Calif. (Reuters) – Facebook Inc on Tuesday released a rule book for the types of posts it allows on its social network, giving far more detail than ever before on what is permitted on subjects ranging from drug use and sex work to bullying, hate speech and inciting violence.

Facebook for years has had “community standards” for what people can post. But only a relatively brief and general version was publicly available, while it had a far more detailed internal document to decide when individual posts or accounts should be removed.

Now, the company is providing the longer document on its website to clear up confusion and be more open about its operations, said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of product policy and counter-terrorism.

“You should, when you come to Facebook, understand where we draw these lines and what’s OK and what’s not OK,” Bickert told reporters in a briefing at Facebook’s headquarters.

Facebook has faced fierce criticism from governments and rights groups in many countries for failing to do enough to stem hate speech and prevent the service from being used to promote terrorism, stir sectarian violence and broadcast acts including murder and suicide.

At the same time, the company has also been accused of doing the bidding of repressive regimes by aggressively removing content that crosses governments and providing too little information on why certain posts and accounts are removed.

New policies will, for the first time, allow people to appeal a decision to take down an individual piece of content. Previously, only the removal of accounts, Groups and Pages could be appealed.

Facebook is also beginning to provide the specific reason why content is being taken down for a wider variety of situations.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has become a dominant source of information in many countries around the world. It uses both automated software and an army of moderators that now numbers 7,500 to take down text, pictures and videos that violate its rules. Under pressure from several governments, it has been beefing up its moderator ranks since last year.

Bickert told Reuters in an interview that the standards are constantly evolving, based in part on feedback from more than 100 outside organizations and experts in areas such as counter-terrorism and child exploitation.

“Everybody should expect that these will be updated frequently,” she said.

The company considers changes to its content policy every two weeks at a meeting called the “Content Standards Forum,” led by Bickert. A small group of reporters was allowed to observe the meeting last week on the condition that they could describe process, but not substance.

At the April 17 meeting, about 25 employees sat around a conference table while others joined by video from New York, Dublin, Mexico City, Washington and elsewhere.

Attendees included people who specialize in public policy, legal matters, product development, communication and other areas. They heard reports from smaller working groups, relayed feedback they had gotten from civil rights groups and other outsiders and suggested ways that a policy or product could go wrong in the future. There was little mention of what competitors such as Alphabet Inc’s Google do in similar situations.

Bickert, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, posed questions, provided background and kept the discussion moving. The meeting lasted about an hour.

Facebook is planning a series of public forums in May and June in different countries to get more feedback on its rules, said Mary deBree, Facebook’s head of content policy.


The longer version of the community standards document, some 8,000 words long, covers a wide array of words and images that Facebook sometimes censors, with detailed discussion of each category.

Videos of people wounded by cannibalism are not permitted, for instance, but such imagery is allowed with a warning screen if it is “in a medical setting.”

Facebook has long made clear that it does not allow people to buy and sell prescription drugs, marijuana or firearms on the social network, but the newly published document details what other speech on those subjects is permitted.

Content in which someone “admits to personal use of non-medical drugs” should not be posted on Facebook, the rule book says.

The document elaborates on harassment and bullying, barring for example “cursing at a minor.” It also prohibits content that comes from a hacked source, “except in limited cases of newsworthiness.”

The new community standards do not incorporate separate procedures under which governments can demand the removal of content that violates local law.

In those cases, Bickert said, formal written requests are required and are reviewed by Facebook’s legal team and outside attorneys. Content deemed to be permissible under community standards but in violation of local law – such as a prohibition in Thailand on disparaging the royal family – are then blocked in that country, but not globally.

The community standards also do not address false information – Facebook does not prohibit it but it does try to reduce its distribution – or other contentious issues such as use of personal data.

(Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Jonathan Weber in Singapore; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Neil Fullick)

Mexico ruling party says rules aimed at stopping rise of left

Enrique Ochoa Reza, Chairman of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) arrives to give his speech during their national assembly ahead of the 2018 election at Mexico City’s Palacio de los Deportes, Mexico August 12, 2017.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Rules adopted by Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party to allow it to form coalitions and non-members to run for president were necessary to stop leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from winning office next year, its president said.

The rules adopted over the weekend give the once-dominant party, known as PRI, a better chance of clinging to power in the July presidential election, where veteran leftist Lopez Obrador is an early favorite among voters tired of graft scandals, violence and a tepid economy.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico June 9, 2017.

File photo: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

PRI President Enrique Ochoa called Lopez Obrador “the enemy to beat,” repeating a long-standing refrain by Mexico’s ruling class that he would wreck the economy with Venezuelan-style policies.

“He is the threat for Mexico going forward,” Ochoa said in an interview on Foro TV. “We don’t want to have the same fate as Venezuela, with food shortages, the highest inflation in the world and GDP falling by 7 percent.”

Since last year, Mexico has been more concerned about a possible rupture of trade ties with the United States under Donald Trump than domestic politics, but the government has grown confident in recent months that talks starting this week in Washington will not end the North American Trade Agreement, which underpins much of Mexico’s economy.

Lopez Obrador recently denied having anything to do with the Venezuelan government. On the two previous occasions that the former Mexico City mayor ran for president, his opponents used the same strategy of comparing him with Venezuela’s socialists.

Ochoa said the new party rules allowed any future PRI president-elect to form coalitions to “foment governability.” He did not rule out alliances with any major party, beyond saying coalitions should be with those the centrist PRI could identify with ideologically.

Party veteran Mario Fabio Beltrones proposed allowing coalitions. The rules allowing non-party members to run for president are widely seen as favoring Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, a technocrat untainted by the corruption scandals that have eroded the popularity of Pena Nieto’s government.

Meade has served in governments of both the PRI and the conservative opposition National Action Party. He is not a member of either party.


(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)


Chicago police finalize tighter ‘use of force’ rules

FILE PHOTO: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson arrives at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago Police on Wednesday finalized stricter limits on when officers can use firearms and other force, the latest attempt to reform a department roiled by misconduct and criticism in the wake of a high-profile 2014 shooting of a black teen by a white officer.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the use-of-force policy changes spell out more clearly when it is considered reasonable and necessary, and include new prohibitions on force that is discriminatory or employed as punishment.

Changes also bar officers from shooting at a fleeing suspect unless the person presents an imminent threat, and require officers to use de-escalation techniques. The definition of deadly force was expanded to include chokeholds and striking a subject’s head with an impact weapon.

Experts said the changes, the first to Chicago’s policies since 2002, marks a shift in thinking about force already adopted in cities such as Seattle and Baltimore.

“This policy at the end of the day will save lives and the careers of officers,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum.

Finalized after months of discussion and revisions, the new rules – which also affect use of Tasers, chemical spray and canines – will start in autumn, after officer training. Johnson said they are meant to address police safety and civil rights concerns.

“I know there will be some who think these policies are too restrictive for officers to do their jobs, and some will think it will not be restrictive enough,” he told a news conference.

Some advocates for reform called it a victory and said it could help rebuild public trust. But Kevin Graham, president of Chicago’s police union, disputed in a statement that excessive force was a widespread problem or that policies needed updating.

The tightened rules come as Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempts to reform the police department.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Chicago Police Department practices in the wake of the 2014 incident in which black teenager Laquan McDonald was shot to death by a white officer. A video of the shooting, released in 2015, sparked days of protests.

It was one of many high-profile incidents that thrust Chicago and other U.S. cities into a national debate over the use of excessive force by police against minorities.

In January, the federal investigation found that Chicago police routinely violated the civil rights of people and cited excessive force, including cases of officers shooting at fleeing suspects and using Tasers on children. It also found racially discriminatory conduct and a “code of silence” to thwart investigations into police misconduct.

Police said the new rules apply a more restrictive justification for deadly force than required by state law.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

In-patient or not? Medicare requires hospitals to tell you

An entrance sign to a hospital is seen in Dallas, Texas,

By Mark Miller

CHICAGO (Reuters) – You are in the hospital for tests after experiencing dizziness. You are nervous about what the tests will show, but at least you do not have to worry about hospital bills – you have Medicare, so you can relax about healthcare coverage. Or can you?

Not if you are in the hospital under “observation status” – a Medicare designation applied to patients deemed insufficiently ill for formal admission, but still too sick to be allowed to go home. Observation status can result in thousands of dollars in higher costs – especially if you need post-hospital nursing care.

Medicare covers care in skilled nursing facilities, but only for patients who were first formally admitted to a hospital for three consecutive days.

Federal data shows that the number of Medicare patients classified as under observation has jumped sharply in recent years, and it has stirred a great deal of pushback from Medicare enrollees and advocacy groups. A new law – the Notice Act – requires hospitals to at least notify patients if they stay in the hospital more than 24 hours without being formally admitted. Patients will receive the warnings starting in January, but advocates argue the new protection does not go far enough.

“It does half of what we would like to see,” said Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “The notice should also allow patients to appeal their status.”

Hospitals have been motivated to use the status to avoid costly penalties from Medicare for improper admissions under a well-intentioned effort by Medicare to control costs through a program that audits hospitals for possible overpayments. The program began during the George W. Bush administration.

The number of patients cared for under observation status doubled to nearly 1.9 million in 2014 compared with 2006, according to figures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The majority (54 percent) were for observation stays of less than 24 hours; another 38 percent of the stays were 48 hours or less, CMS reports.


The new notifications will require hospitals to inform patients orally and in writing if they are on observation status for more than 24 hours. The written notification, developed by CMS, is called the Medicare Outpatient Observation Notice (MOON). The MOON also explains the cost implications of receiving hospital services as an outpatient.

The costs of observation status can affect any enrollee on traditional fee-for-service Medicare. (Beneficiaries using Medicare Advantage, which provide all-in-one care, will also receive the MOON, but some Medicare Advantage plans will cover a stay in a skilled nursing facility without first requiring that patients have a three-day inpatient hospital stay.)

Medicare normally covers up to a maximum of 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility following a hospital admission – it pays 100 percent for the first 20 days, and patients are responsible for a daily $161 co-pay for the next 80 days. But patients leaving the hospital for a nursing facility after an observation pay the full cost out of pocket.


The cost of skilled nursing care is substantial, and rising quickly. This year, the national median monthly cost of a private nursing room is $7,698, according to a Genworth survey, and it runs much higher in states such as New York ($11,330 per month) and California ($9,338).

Medicaid would cover the stay if the patient meets the program’s low-income requirements (a status called “dual-eligible”). A commercial long-term care policy might provide some coverage, although many of these policies have “elimination” features (deductibles) that require patients to pay the first 90 days out of pocket.

Observation status also affects coverage of drug usage in the hospital. Medicare Part B would cover drug usage for the specific problem related to the hospitalization, subject to Part B’s typical 20 percent copay); for routine drugs that you take at home (say, a statin for high cholesterol), practices vary. Some hospitals allow patients to bring their own drugs from home, others do not, and charge much more than you would pay at a typical pharmacy.

Some – but not all – Part D drug plans will cover some of these prescription drug costs.

A broader fix to the observation status has garnered broad support from organizations ranging from AARP to the American Medical Association, elder law groups and Medicare advocacy groups. Legislation that has bipartisan support has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would require that time spent in observation be counted toward meeting the three-day prior inpatient stay that is necessary to qualify for Medicare coverage.

“The bill is simple,” said Edelman of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “Count the time in hospital, no matter what. If you are in the hospital for three midnights, you have met this requirement.”

(The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)