Trump points to Republican gains, broaches cooperation with Democrats

Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill addresses her supporters at her midterm election night party in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. November 6, 2018. McCaskill conceded the election to Republican Josh Hawley. REUTERS/Sarah Conard

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday portrayed the midterm election results as “an incredible day” for his Republicans despite a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives that will lead to greater restraints on his administration.

At a White House news conference, Trump argued that Republicans beat historical odds in Tuesday’s elections, saying the party’s gains in the U.S. Senate outweighed its loss of the House.

He also mocked those Republican candidates who lost their seats after refusing to embrace him on the campaign trail, such as U.S. Representative Barbara Comstock of Virginia.

“It was a big day yesterday, an incredible day,” he said in what was only his third formal solo news conference at the White House. “Last night the R party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

Republicans expanded their control of the U.S. Senate, knocking off at least three Democratic incumbents on Tuesday, following a divisive campaign marked by fierce clashes over race and immigration.

But they lost their majority in the House, a setback for the president after a campaign that became a referendum on his combative leadership.

The divided power in Congress combined with Trump’s expansive view of executive power could herald even deeper political polarization and legislative gridlock in Washington.

The Democrats will now head House committees that can investigate the president’s tax returns, possible business conflicts of interest and any links between his 2016 election campaign and Russia.

There may be some room, however, for Trump and Democrats to work together on issues with bipartisan support such as a package to improve infrastructure or protections against prescription drug price increases.

“It really could be a beautiful bipartisan situation,” Trump said.

He said Nancy Pelosi, who may be the next speaker of the House, had expressed to him in a phone call a desire to work together. But Trump doubted there would be much common ground if Democrats press investigations.

“You can’t do it simultaneously,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, Patricia Zengerle, Amanda Bedcker and David Alexander in Washington and Megan Davies in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell and Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry and Paul Simao)

Firepower for U.S. stocks may lose spark as Democrats gain clout

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. stock market may be facing the remainder of Donald Trump’s presidential term with the prospect of less juice to supercharge it.

Stock returns have been fueled the past year by Trump’s corporate tax cuts, which have pumped up profits. Yet, any hope of further fiscal stimulus in the form of more tax cuts faded with the results of Tuesday’s congressional elections, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s Republican party.

“The return to political gridlock in Washington will likely serve to temper growth expectations, or at least moderate the prospect of additional stimulative fiscal policy,” said Jon Hill, US Rates Strategist at BMO Capital Markets in New York.

The election comes as the market is also losing the low-rate monetary policy that has supported equities during its near decade-long bull run, as the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to stave off inflation.

Without both fiscal and monetary stimulus, Wall Street performance will depend even more on fundamental factors at a time investors are looking for signs pointing to when the long economic expansion will finally end.

“This is really not a stock market that needs more fiscal stimulus and I think in order for the bull market to continue what it really needs is strong earnings in the face of what is likely to be increasing interest rates,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Indeed, some investors may see a silver lining in the diminished prospects for more tax cuts, given concerns about the ballooning deficit and even higher interest rates.

“If the Republicans swept today, you would get more fiscal stimulus but that also would likely result in higher interest rates and the Fed moving potentially faster,” said Keith Lerner, chief market strategist at SunTrust Advisory Services in Atlanta. “So beyond the initial positive reaction, my sense is that there would be some offsets from higher interest rates.”

At the same time, the potential for some fiscal stimulus is still alive through an infrastructure spending package, an area where analysts say Trump and Democrats could find common ground and where an agreement could boost stocks, particularly shares in construction and materials companies.

HEADWINDS AHEAD

Tuesday’s result of a split Congress, with Republicans keeping control of the Senate, was the most likely scenario projected by polling data and prediction markets ahead of the elections and had been anticipated by investors.

Immediate market moves to the news may be misleading. Two years ago, stocks futures plunged when it became clear that Trump would win the presidency, only for them to reverse course within hours.

Stock market gains this year may indeed continue – stocks historically have climbed following midterm elections. For the two calendar years following each national U.S. election, the S&P 500 had a mean annual increase of 12 percent under Republican-controlled governments, compared to an increase of 9 percent for Democratic-controlled governments and a 7 percent rise for gridlocked governments.

Yet replicating the lofty returns of Trump’s first half of his term – the stock market is up 29 percent since his election – may prove elusive.

Democratic control of the House makes the prospect of a new tax-cut package, following the recent steep cut in the U.S. corporate tax rate, appear less likely. Trump has been seeking a 10 percent middle-class tax cut while making permanent individual tax cuts from his 2017 tax overhaul.

The change in House control could bring other challenges for the market.

Trump’s favoring of light regulations for banks and other industries has created a climate that investors say has helped stocks. A Democratic-led House could bring greater oversight on industries such as pharmaceuticals and banks.

With fresh oversight power, Democrats could inspect nearly every aspect of Trump’s presidency from his long-elusive tax returns to possible business ties with Russia and conflicts of interest. In the event the House attempts to impeach Trump, history suggests market volatility could spike, at least in the short term, according to OppenheimerFunds.

But, on the positive side for stocks, analysts doubt Democrats would be able to roll back the heart of the market-friendly changes, including the corporate tax cuts.

The Democrats’ victory in the House could also benefit the market, some investors have said, by tempering Trump’s aims such as on international trade.

Any pressure on stocks could be less severe because the stock market already endured a steep pullback in October from record highs, which some investors in part attribute to jitters over uncertainty about the election.

And some investors will be happy just to move on from the elections.

“It’s one less thing that’s in front of you that you have to worry about,” said Walter Todd, chief investment officer at Greenwood Capital in Greenwood, South Carolina.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Ablan, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Megan Davies and Frances Kerry)

Trump tastes election defeat but finds some wins at White House watch party

Sunset is seen over the White House, on the day of the U.S. midterm election, in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – By the time President Donald Trump and his team tucked into hamburgers and hot dogs at a White House election watch party on Tuesday night, he was ready for the bad news.

His closest aides tried to focus him on the positives.

Working on just a few hours’ sleep after a heavy final day of campaigning, Trump spent much of Tuesday on the phone, checking in with friends and advisers, talking to state and national Republican Party officials and White House aides to get a picture of what to expect.

What he heard from them was that Republicans would likely lose control of the House of Representatives but hang on to control of the Senate, adding seats to its majority there.

So when word came in that the projections were broadly correct, it did not come as a shock.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not surprising,” said Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The House loss meant Trump will face investigations into his tax returns, his businesses and his administration by Democratic lawmakers. His legislative agenda, including a vague proposal for a middle-class income tax cut, is likely stalled.

At his watch party, Trump was upbeat. In his only public comment on Tuesday night, he tweeted: “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!”

He followed up with a tweet on Wednesday morning taking credit for Republican wins.

“Those that worked with me in this incredible Midterm Election, embracing certain policies and principles, did very well. Those that did not, say goodbye! Yesterday was such a very Big Win, and all under the pressure of a Nasty and Hostile Media!,” Trump said.

In another message on Twitter, Trump said he had received congratulations “from foreign nations (friends) that were waiting me out, and hoping, on Trade Deals. Now we can all get back to work and get things done!” He did not name any countries.

BLAME FOR HOUSE SETBACKS

One Trump adviser said the president was probably not prepared for the onslaught of investigations that Democrats were likely to launch.

“I don’t think he fully comprehends what this means by giving the gavel to (Democratic House leader) Nancy Pelosi and her cronies,” the adviser said, asking to remain unidentified.

Some Trump advisers were already anonymously assigning blame for the expected loss of about 30 House seats, focusing on Corry Bliss, head of a political action committee that distributed money to House Republican candidates, and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel.

There was also grousing about House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced plans to resign at the end of the year instead of leaving sooner.

But there was some satisfaction among Trump and his aides that the losses were not as bad as had been projected by strategists who said a Democratic “blue wave” would take away 40 House seats.

The party that controls the White House usually loses seats in the first congressional midterm elections two years after a presidential victory. President Barack Obama’s Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010.

“Trump should be feeling good right now. They finished strong. They picked up seats in the Senate and they minimized the ‘blue wave’ in the House. These midterms are historically tough for a White House,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed.

Trump and his advisers felt that adding at least two seats to the Republicans’ Senate majority helped blunt the impact of the House outcome.

BURGERS AND BIG SCREENS

For Trump, the evening unfolded at a watch party in the White House residence, where the East Room and the State Dining Room were set up with large-screen TVs. Buffet tables were laden with some of Trump’s favorite foods.

The guest list included major donors Sheldon Adelson, Harold Hamm and Stephen Schwartzman, Cabinet members like Steven Mnuchin of Treasury and Kirstjen Nielsen of Homeland Security, evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, top aides like Conway, his wife Melania and children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, and Vice President Mike Pence.

Cheers rang out among the guests when Republican victories were scored, particularly when Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded defeat in the Florida governor’s race.

Trump was described by aides as content in how he performed on the campaign trail, not prone to soul-searching, and believing his focus on illegal immigration – he warned of an “invasion” from a caravan of Central American migrants weaving through Mexico – had helped give his candidates a needed boost.

Trump held 30 get-out-the-vote rallies in the past two months, including 11 in the last six days across eight states, the last three on Monday when he returned to the White House about 3 a.m.

Aides said the president was delighted at the projected victories by Republican Senate candidates he had campaigned for, such as Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri, as well as Republican Brian Kemp’s victory in the Georgia governor’s race.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump’s agenda remained the same, and that he would be willing to work with Democrats on immigration, the opioid crisis and funding infrastructure projects.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Kieran Murray, Peter Cooney and Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump enacts anti-opioid abuse package in rare bipartisan step

FILE PHOTO: A syringe filled a narcotic, an empty syringe and a spoon sit on the roof of a car, where a man in his 20's overdosed on opioids in Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyde

By Yasmeen Abutaleb

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Medical treatment will be more widely available to opioid abusers while mailing illicit drugs will be more difficult under a measure to fight drug addiction that was signed into law on Wednesday by U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a year more typically marked by partisan gridlock, Trump signed the rare bipartisan package passed by Congress earlier this month to tackle a problem that led to a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017.

The legislation expands access to substance abuse treatment in Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled; cracks down on mailed shipments of illicit drugs such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful than heroin; and provides a host of new federal grants to address the crisis.

The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 98-1 in September after a 353-52 vote in favor in the House. The bill had 252 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, more than almost any other bill in recent years, according to website GovTrack Insider.

Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency last year, which enabled the government to respond more quickly to crises. But addiction experts, advocacy groups and Democrats said the administration was not doing enough.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray released a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that they said showed Trump’s emergency declaration fell short of his promises. The report said the government has used few of the powers it could use, under the declaration.

“Hand waving about faster paperwork and speeding up a few grants is not enough. The Trump administration needs to do far more to stop the opioid epidemic,” Warren said in a statement.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said the criticism from the senators was “predictable and unfortunately very partisan,” noting that both voted for the opioids legislation.

In addition to educating the public and expanding access to treatment, Conway said the administration was also focused on securing the border with Mexico to stop drugs from coming into the United States.

(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)

After fight that split U.S., Kavanaugh wins place on Supreme Court

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts as Kavanaugh's wife Ashley holds the family bible and his daughters Liza and Margaret look on in a handout photo provided by the U.S. Supreme Court taken at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., October 6, 2018. Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Handout via Reuters

By Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, dismissing anger over accusations of sexual misconduct against him and delivering a major victory to President Donald Trump who has now locked in a conservative majority on the court.

By a vote of 50-48, the deeply-divided Senate gave the lifetime job to Kavanaugh, 53, after weeks of fierce debate over sexual violence, alcohol abuse and his angry response to the allegations that convulsed the nation just weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Kavanaugh will help take the highest U.S. court to the right, perhaps for many years, and his confirmation is a bitter blow to Democrats already chafing at Republican control of the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Conservatives will now have a 5-4 majority in any future legal battles on contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights, industry regulation, and presidential powers.

Adding to a dramatic day on Capitol Hill, women protesters in the Senate gallery shouted “Shame on you!” and briefly interrupted the vote.

Another group of protesters stormed toward the doors of the nearby Supreme Court building with raised fists. Police stood guard at the doors.

Kavanaugh was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts shortly after the vote.

Kavanaugh’s nomination blew up into a personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her in the upstairs bedroom of a home in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.

Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh fought back against the accusations, denying them in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.

Trump, who called Kavanaugh to congratulate him on Saturday, said he was “100 percent” certain that Ford named the wrong person in accusing the judge.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One while flying to a campaign rally in Kansas, Trump said of Kavanaugh: “We’re very honored that he was able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats.”

Michael Bromwich, a lawyer for Ford, said in a tweet that Kavanaugh’s confirmation capped, “A week that will live in infamy for the U.S. Senate, permanently diminishing its stature.”

A few Republican senators who had wavered over whether to vote for Kavanaugh finally backed him this week, saying they did so in part because a brief FBI investigation found no corroborating evidence of Ford’s accusations.

Democrats said the FBI probe was nowhere near wide enough.

Trump watched the vote on a large-screen television tuned to Fox News in a wood-paneled cabin on the plane. He flashed two thumbs up when the final vote was declared and aides on board applauded.

The Senate confirmation allows him to hit the campaign trail ahead of the congressional elections saying that he has kept his 2016 promise to mold a more conservative American judiciary.

At a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, Trump mocked Ford’s account of what she says was a drunken attack on her by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

For weeks, senators from both parties decried the harsh and often emotional rhetoric in the clash over Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, dismissed the prospect of lingering bitterness among senators. “These things always blow over,” he told a news conference.

WOMEN PROTESTS

Hundreds of protesters against Kavanaugh gathered on the grounds of the Capitol and at the Supreme Court. A total of 164 people were arrested in the protests, U.S. Capitol Police said.

Residents of a townhouse near the Washington home of Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican whose backing helped get Kavanaugh over the line on Saturday, flew the flag of the lawmaker’s home state Maine upside down in protest.

Accusations against Kavanaugh energized the #MeToo social media movement that emerged after high-profile accusations of sexual assault and harassment by men in politics, the media and the entertainment industry.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s partisan defense of himself, in which he said he was victim of a “political hit,” was enough itself to disqualify him from the court.

The dispute over Kavanaugh has added fuel to campaigning for the elections in November when Democrats will try to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

Several polls show that Republican enthusiasm about voting, which had lagged behind, jumped after the Kavanaugh hearing last week.

McConnell told Reuters that the political brawl over Kavanaugh will help Republicans at the ballot box.

“Nothing unifies Republicans like a court fight,” McConnell said in an interview ahead of the vote. “It’s been a seminal event leading into the fall election.”

But Democrats hope women angered at the Kavanaugh accusations will turn out in large numbers to reject Republicans.

During Saturday’s vote, senators were showered with cries of “We will not forget,” and “Survivors vote” from protesters in the Senate gallery.

Democrats must gain at least two Senate seats and 23 House seats at the elections to claim majorities in each chamber, enabling them to block Trump’s agenda and investigate his administration. The Democrats are seen as having more chance of winning control of the House of Representatives than the Senate.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter: “Confirming Brett Kavanaugh in the face of credible allegations of sexual assault that were not thoroughly investigated, and his belligerent, partisan performance…undermines the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Kavanaugh succeeds retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often the decisive swing vote on social issues.

The showdown over Kavanaugh had echoes of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings in 1991 involving sexual harassment allegations lodged against him by a law professor named Anita Hill.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Roberta Rampton on Air Force One; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Senate confirms Kavanaugh for Supreme Court; to be sworn in on Saturday

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh arrives for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert/File Photo

By Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deeply divided U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as Republicans dismissed sexual assault accusations against the conservative judge and delivered a major victory to President Donald Trump.

By a vote of 50-48, the Senate gave a lifetime job to Kavanaugh, 53, after weeks of fierce debate over sexual violence, privilege and alcohol abuse that convulsed the nation just weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Kavanaugh will be sworn in almost immediately on Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts, according to a statement from the court.

The Senate vote takes the highest U.S. court down a more conservative path perhaps for many years and is a bitter blow to Democrats already chafing at Republican control of the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Adding to the drama, women protesters in the Senate gallery shouting, “Shame on you,” briefly interrupted the start of the final confirmation vote on Saturday afternoon.

Kavanaugh’s nomination became an intense personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.

Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh fought back hard, denying the accusations in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.

Trump stood by Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes, and this week mocked Ford’s account of what she says was a drunken attack on her by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

U.S. Capitol Police arrest protesters from the steps of the Capitol in the hours ahead of a scheduled U.S. Senate vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S. October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Capitol Police arrest protesters from the steps of the Capitol in the hours ahead of a scheduled U.S. Senate vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, U.S. October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

TRUMP TWEET

Trump, seeking a legacy as the president who put a strongly conservative stamp on the court, praised the Senate for its vote.

“I applaud and congratulate the U.S. Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Later today, I will sign his Commission of Appointment, and he will be officially sworn in. Very exciting!” he wrote.

Hundreds of protesters against Kavanaugh gathered on the grounds of the Capitol and at the Supreme Court. A total of 164 people were arrested in the protests, U.S. Capitol Police said.

A townhouse near the Washington residence of Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose backing for Kavanaugh helped get him over the line on Saturday, flew the flag of her home state Maine upside down in protest.

The confirmation allows Trump to hit the campaign trail ahead of the congressional elections saying that he has kept his 2016 promise to mold a more conservative American judiciary.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s partisan defense of himself, in which he said he was victim of a “political hit,” was enough itself to disqualify him from the court.

Repeatedly during the Senate debate, Republicans accused Democrats of staging a “smear” campaign against Kavanaugh to prevent a conservative becoming a Supreme Court justice.

The accusations against Kavanaugh energized the #MeToo social media movement that emerged after high-profile accusations of sexual assault and harassment by men in politics, the media and the entertainment industry.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation gives conservatives a solid 5-4 majority in any future legal battles on contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights, industry regulation, and presidential powers.

The dispute over Kavanaugh has added fuel to campaigning for the elections in November when Democrats will try to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

Several polls show that Republican enthusiasm about voting, which had lagged behind, jumped after the Kavanaugh hearing last week.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters that the political brawl over Kavanaugh will help Republicans at the elections.

“Nothing unifies Republicans like a court fight,” McConnell said in an interview ahead of the vote. “It’s been a seminal event leading into the fall election.”

But Democrats hope women angered at the Kavanaugh accusations will turn out in large numbers to vote out Republicans.

During Saturday’s vote, senators were showered with cries of “We will not forget,” and “Survivors vote” from protesters in the Senate gallery.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Chaos descends as Senate hearing on Trump’s high court nominee opens

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is surrounded by photographers as he takes his seat for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, opened in chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents stemming from the nominee’s White House work more than a decade ago.

With Democratic senators interrupting the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters removed one by one by security personnel, the session quickly descended into a ruckus.

“This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically, according to mob rule,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said, a characterization Democrats rejected.

“What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy. This is what happens in a free country when people can stand up and speak and not be jailed, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of it,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh – the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body – as he entered the hearing room along with family members. But moments after Grassley opened the session, Democrats decried the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.

Protesters took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting, “This is a travesty of justice,” “Our democracy is broken” and “Vote no on Kavanaugh.”

“We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said. Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity” and said the withholding of the documents by Republicans and the White House left lawmakers unable to properly vet Kavanaugh.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court – which already had a conservative majority – further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block his confirmation. Democrats signaled they would press Kavanaugh on abortion and gun rights, among other issues, when they get to question him on Wednesday.

Grassley ignored the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing, saying it was “out of order” and accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.

Republican Orrin Hatch accused Democratic senators of political opportunism, noting, “We have folks who want to run for president,” though he did not mention any by name. There has been speculation Booker and Harris might consider 2020 presidential runs.

Hatch grew visibly irritated as protesters interrupted him.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

“I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed. We shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of stuff,” Hatch said.

Senator Ted Cruz accused Democrats of “an attempt to relitigate the 2016 election” won by fellow Republican Trump.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.

Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. That job involved managing paper flow from advisers to Bush.

Republicans also have released some, but not all, of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh’s two prior years as a lawyer in Bush’s White House Counsel’s Office.

Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

There is a long history of heated fights over U.S. Supreme Court nominations, with anger in both parties. But the Democratic frustrations that boiled over on Tuesday had been simmering for more than two years.

Democrats have accused Senate Republican leaders of stealing a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court Merrick Garland in 2016, allowing Trump to fill a Supreme Court vacancy instead.

Republicans also last year reduced the margin for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to a simple majority in order to force through the confirmation of Trump’s first high court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

‘AM UMPIRE’

Grassley sought to turn the attention to Kavanaugh’s qualifications, calling him “one of the most qualified nominees – if not the most qualified nominee – I have seen.”

The Senate is likely to vote on confirmation by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.

“A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

The hearing gave Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections in which they are seeking to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court’s liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Kavanaugh also is likely to be questioned by senators about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump, who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy,” Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Amanda Becker, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham)

Abortion looms over Senate fight on Supreme Court nominee

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh pictured at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – When a U.S. appeals court last week rejected an Alabama abortion law, one of the court’s judges bemoaned having to base the decision on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, calling it an “aberration of constitutional law.”

The views of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Ed Carnes, a Republican appointee to the Atlanta-based court, are shared by many conservatives opposed to the landmark 1973 ruling.

The big question is whether conservative U.S. appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, is one of them.

The possibility he could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade will be a top line of questioning when Kavanaugh appears before a U.S. Senate panel for his confirmation hearing, starting on Tuesday.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last month found that 68 percent of Democrats believed abortion should be legal, while 61 percent of Republicans said the procedure, in general, should be illegal.  The issue has come to highlight the deep divide between the two parties.

Yet, some on both sides question whether Roe v. Wade could easily be overturned, given the Supreme Court’s tradition of standing by its older decisions. Under a principle known as stare decisis, the court tries to protect its credibility by avoiding politicization and keeping the law evenhanded.

During an Aug. 21 meeting, Kavanaugh told Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who favors abortion rights, that Roe v. Wade was “settled law,” she said afterward.

The court is currently split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh would replace if he is confirmed by the Senate, disappointed fellow conservatives by affirming abortion rights in two key cases.

Still, precedents can be cast aside. For instance, just two months ago, the conservative majority, including Kennedy, overturned a major 1977 labor law precedent. The ruling came after two earlier rulings that undermined it.

“Rarely if ever has the court overruled a decision – let alone one of this import – with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

ROAD MAP FOR ROE

The stakes are high in the Senate battle over Kavanaugh because, if confirmed, he could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade.

Doing that would likely prompt many conservative-leaning states to take steps to outlaw abortion altogether.

In the run-up to the Kavanaugh hearings, abortion rights groups have held rallies nationwide, while opponents of Roe v. Wade are optimistic that Kavanaugh will be on their side.

“I hope that there will be a future majority to overturn Roe, and I hope Kavanaugh would be among them,” Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said in an interview.

Abortion opponents could use the recent labor case decision as a road map to overturning Roe by taking up a series of abortion cases that would also criticize Roe’s validity.

“Five years of decisions questioning (Roe) – that could change things,” said John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Most analysts expect a steady weakening of Roe as opposed to a quick reversal. “They probably won’t do it instantly, but they will probably get there eventually,” said Carolyn Shapiro, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Trump pledged during the 2016 election campaign to appoint judges hostile to Roe v. Wade, a stance that won over social conservatives who helped him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The president’s fellow Republicans narrowly control the Senate and can ensure Kavanaugh’s confirmation if they avoid defections from their ranks.

NO DIRECT RULING

When Trump named him in July as his Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh emphasized his Catholic faith. In a decade as a judge, he has not ruled directly on abortion, although he has signaled sympathy for legal arguments by anti-abortion advocates.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Supreme Court could soon wade back into the abortion debate. Legal battles over state bans on the procedure in early pregnancy are working through the courts.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which manages abortion clinics in several states, said she had spent her whole career working with the fate of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance.

Her clinic won the last major Supreme Court ruling on abortion in 2016, when the justices struck down strict regulations in Texas.

“This time I think Roe could fall,” she said. “But you have to stand up for what’s right even when the odds are against you.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

Massive U.S. defense policy bill passes without strict China measures

U.S. Army soldiers carry a large U.S. flag as they march in the Veterans Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Wednesday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military and sidestepping a potential battle with the White House over technology from major Chinese firms.

The Senate voted 87-10 for the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. The annual act authorizes U.S. military spending but is used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters as it has passed annually for more than 50 years.

Since it cleared the House of Representatives last week, the bill now goes to Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

While the measure puts controls on U.S. government contracts with China’s ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd because of national security concerns, the restrictions are weaker than in earlier versions of the bill.

This angered some lawmakers, who wanted to reinstate tough sanctions on ZTE to punish the company for illegally shipping products to Iran and North Korea.

In another action largely targeting China, the NDAA strengthens the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews proposed foreign investments to weigh whether they threaten national security.

Lawmakers from both parties have been at odds with the Republican Trump over his decision to lift his earlier ban on U.S. companies selling to ZTE, allowing China’s second-largest telecommunications equipment maker to resume business.

But with his fellow Republicans controlling both the Senate and House, provisions of the NDAA intended to strike back at Beijing and opposed by the White House were softened before Congress’ final votes on the bill.

Separately, the NDAA authorizes spending $7.6 billion for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

And it would prohibit delivery of the advanced aircraft to fellow NATO member Turkey at least until after the production of report, another measure that was stricter in earlier versions of the bill.

U.S. officials have warned Ankara that a Russian missile defense system Turkey plans to buy cannot be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system. They are also unhappy about Turkey’s detention of an American pastor.

The fiscal 2019 NDAA was named to honor McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, war hero, long-time senator and former Republican presidential nominee, who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by James Dalgleish and David Gregorio)

Battle for control of U.S. Congress advances in seven states

FILE PHOTO: A woman wears a sticker in multiple languages after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Venice, Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A bitterly personal matchup in New York between a convicted felon seeking to reclaim his congressional seat from a former prosecutor is among dozens of key races in seven U.S. states on Tuesday, as voters pick candidates for November elections that will determine control of Congress.

Voters in Colorado, Maryland, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi will also select competitors for the Nov. 6 elections, when Democrats will seek to wrest control of Congress from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

Democrats need to flip 23 of 435 seats to gain control of the House of Representatives, which would stymie much of Trump’s agenda while opening up new avenues of investigation into his administration. They would have to net two seats to take the Senate, but face longer odds there, according to analysts.

Residents of New York City’s Staten Island borough will decide whether to give Republican Michael Grimm, fresh off a prison term for tax fraud, a chance to return to his old seat in Congress, three years after he resigned following his guilty plea.

The race has seen the candidates trade personal insults and accusations of lying, with Trump’s presence looming above it all.

Grimm, a bombastic former FBI agent known for once threatening to toss a television reporter off a balcony, has attacked incumbent Republican Representative Dan Donovan, the borough’s former district attorney, for not sufficiently supporting Trump.

Donovan, who earned Trump’s endorsement in May, has responded by calling attention to Grimm’s criminal conviction.

The district is considered within reach for Democrats in November.

“They should have a reality show: ‘The Real Candidates of Staten Island,'” said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. “It’s nasty, it’s personal – and it’s enjoyable to watch.”

DEMOCRATIC BATTLES

Voters in upstate New York will pick among seven Democrats in one of this year’s most expensive House campaigns. Republican first-term incumbent John Faso is considered vulnerable in November, and his potential challengers have collectively raised more than $7 million.

In Colorado, an establishment-backed Democrat and a liberal insurgent are vying to take on incumbent Republican Representative Mike Coffman, whose district favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

Jason Crow, an Iraq war veteran backed by the national party, is facing Levi Tillemann, who was endorsed by Our Revolution, a group born out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. Tillemann earned attention this month with an anti-gun violence video in which he blasted himself in the face with pepper spray.

South Carolina’s Republican contest for governor is the latest test of Trump’s sway among party voters. The president campaigned on Monday alongside Governor Henry McMaster, who is in a tight nominating battle with businessman John Warren. The winner is likely to prevail in November.

Voters will also pick Senate candidates in states including Utah and Maryland. Analysts say Democrats face a steep climb trying to take that chamber, as they are defending seats in states like Indiana, Montana and North Dakota that supported Trump two years ago.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to earn his party’s Senate nomination in Utah, while Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in military prison for leaking classified data, is a long shot in Maryland’s Democratic nominating contest against incumbent Senator Ben Cardin.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)