U.S. consumer watchdog director resigns at request of Biden administration

By Michelle Price

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kathy Kraninger has resigned effective immediately as director of the U.S. consumer watchdog at the request of President Joe Biden’s administration, she tweeted shortly after Biden was sworn in on Wednesday, paving the way for the new president to quickly install an interim agency head.

Kraninger was appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump to serve a five year term as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ending in 2023.

Last year, however, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a challenge, backed by the Trump administration and long-supported by most Republicans, which argued that the CFPB director served at the president’s will.

Biden’s transition team made it clear on Monday that his White House was willing to test that new power if Kraninger did not resign when it announced that he planned to nominate Federal Trade Commission member Rohit Chopra to replace Kraninger.

“I support the Constitutional prerogative of the President to appoint senior officials within the government who support the President’s policy priorities, which ensures our government is responsive to the will of the people,” Kraninger wrote in her resignation letter.

It was unclear whether the White House planned to install Chopra as acting CFPB director pending his Senate confirmation, or whether Kraninger’s deputy or another CFPB staffer would lead the agency in the interim.

The CFPB has been a political lightning rod since it was created following the 2009 financial crisis, beloved by Democrats as a guardian of ordinary Americans but reviled by Republicans as too powerful and unaccountable.

Consumer groups have fiercely criticized Kraninger for defanging the agency by relaxing enforcement and easing rules on payday lending, mortgage lending, and debt collection.

On Wednesday, Kraninger appeared to rebut those criticisms, writing that she had “focused on implementing common-sense solutions to complex problems and delivering real value for the American people.”

(Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Impeachment or the 14th Amendment: Can Trump be barred from future office?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers have said President Donald Trump should be disqualified from holding political office again following his impeachment on Wednesday for inciting a mob that stormed the Capitol as lawmakers were certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Now that the House has impeached Trump, the Senate will hold a trial on whether to remove him and possibly bar him from future office.

Legal experts said disqualification could be accomplished through the impeachment proceedings or the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Here is how the disqualification effort could play out.

CAN TRUMP’S DISQUALIFICATION BE ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH IMPEACHMENT?

The U.S. Constitution says there are two ways to punish an impeached official: removal from office or “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

The House approved a single article of impeachment accusing Trump of inciting insurrection when he delivered a speech to supporters.

Trump is likely to argue at trial that his remarks were free speech protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and that, while he told supporters to “fight,” he did not intend it as a literal call to violence.

Removing an official requires a “conviction” by a two-thirds Senate majority under the Constitution. Under precedent, only a simple majority is needed for disqualification. Historically, that vote only happens after a conviction.

Three federal officials in U.S. history have been disqualified through impeachment proceedings. All three were federal judges.

Most recently, in 2010 the Senate removed and disqualified from future office a Louisiana judge found to have engaged in corruption.

There is some debate over the scope of the disqualification clause and whether it applies to the presidency, said Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University.

Analyzing historical documents, some law experts say the founders did not intend the presidency to be considered an “office” under the disqualification clause, while others argue that the term applies.

CAN TRUMP BE DISQUALIFIED IF HE IS NOT CONVICTED BY THE SENATE?

This is uncharted legal territory, and there is no clear answer, scholars said.

Paul Campos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado, said he believed a vote to disqualify Trump can be held even if there are not enough votes for conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the Senate has wide latitude to determine how it conducts a trial, he said.

But Kalt said he thought disqualification would require conviction first. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of punishing the president for an offense he did not commit, Kalt said.

All three judges who were disqualified from office were first convicted.

WHAT ABOUT THE 14TH AMENDMENT?

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment provides an alternative path for disqualification.

The provision states that no person shall hold office if they have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States. It was enacted following the Civil War to bar Confederates from holding public office.

Under congressional precedent, only a simple majority of both chambers is needed to invoke this penalty. Congress can later remove the disqualification, but only if two-thirds of both houses vote in favor of doing so.

In 1919, Congress used the 14th Amendment to block an elected official, Victor Berger, from assuming his seat in the House because he had actively opposed U.S. intervention in World War I.

The text of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not explain how it should be invoked.

Another section the 14th Amendment, Section 5, empowers Congress to enforce the entire amendment through “appropriate legislation.” Some scholars have interpreted this language to mean that a majority of both chambers of Congress could enact a law applying a ban to a particular president, like Trump.

“The 14th Amendment route is very unclear as to what it would take to get it rolling,” said Kalt. “I think it would require some combination of legislation and litigation.”

COULD TRUMP CHALLENGE A DISQUALIFICATION IN COURT?

It is certainly possible, said Kalt.

A Supreme Court case from 1993 makes clear that the court is wary of second-guessing how the Senate handles impeachment. In that case, involving an accused judge, the court said whether the Senate had properly tried an impeachment was a political question and could not be litigated.

If Trump is disqualified, the current Supreme Court might want to clarify whether the move was lawful, Kalt said.

Trump appointed three of the Supreme Court’s nine members: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. The court now has a six-judge conservative majority.

“If you are going to say someone can’t run, you want to get that litigated and settled sooner rather than later,” Kalt said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

Trump campaign challenges election results in Wisconsin Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump campaign said it filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging Wisconsin’s results in the 2020 presidential election in the state’s Supreme Court, the latest in a series of legal challenges to the Nov. 3 election.

“Today’s suit includes four cases with clear evidence of unlawfulness, such as illegally altering absentee ballot envelopes, counting ballots that had no required application, overlooking unlawful claims of indefinite confinement, and holding illegal voting events called Democracy in the Park,” the campaign said in a statement.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Franklin Paul)

Supreme Court cancels arguments over Trump bid to withhold parts of Russia probe

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday canceled oral arguments next month over President Donald Trump’s bid to keep Congress from seeing material withheld from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian political meddling, raising the possibility that the justices may never rule on the issue.

The court granted a request from the Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which asked in court papers for a postponement given that a new Congress will convene in the first week of January 2021 and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

The committee last year subpoenaed grand jury materials related to the Mueller report, which documented Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election to boost Trump’s candidacy. The Justice Department withheld the materials when the report was released.

Come January, a newly constituted committee, still led by Democrats following last month’s election, “will have to determine whether it wishes to continue pursuing the application for the grand-jury materials that gave rise to this case,” the committee said in the court papers.

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, representing the Trump administration, did not oppose the request.

The oral arguments had been scheduled for Dec. 2. The court action in a brief order means it is possible the case will be dropped altogether once Biden takes office.

Mueller submitted his report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr in March 2019 after a 22-month investigation that detailed Russian hacking and propaganda efforts to help the Republican Trump and harm his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and documented multiple contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Howard Goller)

Trump to meet Michigan lawmakers in bid to overturn electoral defeat

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump will meet with Republican leaders from Michigan at the White House on Friday as his campaign pursues a bid to overturn the Nov. 3 election following a series of courtroom defeats.

The Trump campaign’s latest strategy, as described by three people familiar with the plan, is to convince Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states won by President-elect Joe Biden, such as Michigan, to set aside the results and determine Trump the winner.

“The entire election frankly in all the swing states should be overturned and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for Trump,” Sidney Powell, one of Trump’s lawyers, told Fox Business Network on Thursday.

Biden, a Democrat, won the election and is preparing to take office on Jan. 20, but Trump, a Republican, has refused to concede and is searching for a way to invalidate the results, claiming widespread voter fraud.

The Trump team is focusing on Michigan and Pennsylvania for now, but even if both those states flipped to the president he would need another state to overturn its vote to surpass Biden in the Electoral College.

Such an extraordinary event would be unprecedented in modern U.S. history. Trump not only would need three state legislatures to intervene against vote counts as they stand now, but then also have those actions upheld by Congress and, almost certainly, the Supreme Court.

Michigan’s state legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, both Republicans, will visit the White House at Trump’s request, according to a source in Michigan.

The two lawmakers will listen to what the president has to say, the source said. Shirkey told a Michigan news outlet earlier this week that the legislature would not appoint a second slate of electors.

“It’s incredibly dangerous that they are even entertaining the conversation,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told MSNBC. “This is an embarrassment to the state.”

SOUNDING THE ALARM

Biden, meanwhile, is due on Friday to meet Democratic leaders in Congress, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after spending most of the week with advisers planning his administration.

Nationally, Biden won nearly 6 million more votes than Trump, a difference of 3.8 percentage points. But the outcome of the election is determined in the Electoral College, where each state’s electoral votes, based largely on population, are typically awarded to the winner of a state’s popular vote.

Biden leads by 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 as states work to certify their results at least six days before the Electoral College convenes on Dec. 14.

Legal experts have sounded the alarm at the notion of a sitting president seeking to undermine the will of the voters, though they have expressed skepticism that a state legislature could lawfully substitute its own electors.

Trump’s lawyers are seeking to take the power of appointing electors away from state governors and secretaries of state, and give it to friendly state lawmakers from his party, saying the U.S. Constitution gives legislatures the ultimate authority.

ROMNEY CRITICIZES TRUMP

Even though election officials have not reported any major irregularities, most prominent Republicans have remained devoted to their leader or quietly acceded. But a few Republicans, including senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have spoken out.

“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the president has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said in a statement on Thursday. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”

Other Republican senators including Ben Sasse and Joni Ernst called on Trump to offer proof.

Trump’s attempts to reverse the outcome via lawsuits and recounts have met with little success.

The Georgia Secretary of State on Friday confirmed that Biden won the state after a manual recount and an audit were conducted.

“The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state’s office or courts, or of either campaigns,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican and Trump supporter, told reporters.

Despite the setbacks, the Trump campaign has not abandoned its legal efforts.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, said on Thursday he planned to file more lawsuits, accusing Democrats of masterminding a “national conspiracy” to steal the election, though he offered no evidence to support the claim.

Biden called Trump’s attempts “totally irresponsible” on Thursday, though he has expressed little concern they will succeed in preventing him from taking office on Jan. 20.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit, Jarrett Renshaw in Wilmington, Delaware, Karen Freifeld in New York and Jan Wolfe and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Daniel Trotta, David Clarke and Chizu Nomiyama)

Republicans back Trump’s right to challenge Biden victory

By Steve Holland and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON/WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will push ahead on Tuesday with longshot legal challenges to his election loss, as Republican U.S. lawmakers and state officials defended his right to do so.

Pennsylvania Republican state lawmakers called for an audit of results in the state that on Saturday enabled Democrat Joe Biden to secure the more than 270 votes in the Electoral College he needed to win the presidency.

Biden, the president-elect due to take office on Jan. 20, 2021, also leads Trump in the popular vote by more than 4.6 million votes, according to the latest count of ballots.

Trump has made baseless claims that fraud was marring the results. The count has been delayed by a surge in mail-in ballots prompted by voters’ desire to avoid infection from the coronavirus pandemic.

Judges have tossed out lawsuits in Michigan and Georgia, and experts say Trump’s legal efforts have little chance of changing the election result.

The leading Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Monday carefully backed Trump, saying that he was “100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities,” without citing any evidence.

McConnell’s comments represent the thinking of most Senate Republicans for now, said a senior Senate Republican aide. “The position is tenable until it isn’t and might last for a week or two before it becomes untenable,” the aide said.

The dispute has slowed Biden’s preparations for governing.

A Trump appointee who heads the office charged with recognizing election results has yet to do so, preventing the Biden transition team from moving into federal government office space or accessing funds to hire staff.

The General Services Administrator Emily Murphy, appointed by Trump in 2017, has yet to determine that “a winner is clear,” a spokeswoman said. Biden’s team is considering legal action.

BARR MOVE PROMPTS RESIGNATION

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday told federal prosecutors to “pursue substantial allegations” of irregularities of voting and the counting of ballots.

He also told them that “fanciful or far-fetched claims” should not be a basis for investigation. His letter did not indicate the Justice Department had uncovered voting irregularities affecting the outcome of the election.

Richard Pilger, who for years has served as director of the Election Crimes Branch in the Justice Department, said in an internal email he was resigning from his post after he read “the new policy and its ramifications”.

The previous Justice Department policy, designed to avoid interjecting the federal government into election campaigns, had discouraged overt investigations “until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.”

Biden’s campaign said Barr was fueling Trump’s far-fetched allegations of fraud.

“Those are the very kind of claims that the president and his lawyers are making unsuccessfully every day, as their lawsuits are laughed out of one court after another,” said Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to Biden.

A bipartisan group of six former U.S. Justice Department officials blasted Barr’s move.

“The voters decide the winner in an election, not the President, and not the Attorney General,” wrote the group, which includes Don Ayer, a deputy attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush.

“We have seen absolutely no evidence of anything that should get in the way of certification of the results, which is something the states handle, not the federal government.”

REPUBLICANS REMAIN LOYAL

Although a few Republicans have urged Trump to concede, the president still had the support of prominent party leaders who had yet to congratulate Biden.

Trump’s campaign on Monday filed a lawsuit to block Pennsylvania officials from certifying Biden’s victory in the battleground state, where the Democrat’s lead grew to more than 45,000 votes, or nearly 0.7 percentage points, with 98% of ballots counted on Tuesday morning.

It alleged the state’s mail-in voting system violated the U.S. Constitution by creating “an illegal two-tiered voting system” where voting in person was subject to more oversight than voting by mail.

“The Trump campaign’s latest filing is another attempt to throw out legal votes,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said on Twitter.

Pennsylvania state Representative Dawn Keefer led a group of Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday in calling for a bipartisan investigation with subpoena powers to see if the “election was conducted fairly and lawfully.”

Asked about any evidence of fraud, Keefer told reporters, “We’ve just gotten a lot of allegations,” adding that “they’re too in the weeds” for her to know more without investigating.

Biden will give a speech on Tuesday defending the Affordable Care Act, the landmark healthcare law popularly known as Obamacare, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a lawsuit backed by the Trump administration to invalidate it.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Richard Cowan, Jan Wolfe, Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Simon Lewis in Wilmington, Delaware; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Angus MacSwan, Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller

As America counts, the world holds its breath for U.S. election outcome

By Luke Baker, Libby George and Daria Sito-Sucic

LONDON/LAGOS/SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A day after Americans voted in a bitterly contested election, the rest of the world was none the wiser on Wednesday, with millions of votes still to count, the race too close to call and a mounting risk of days or even weeks of legal uncertainty.

Donald Trump’s pre-emptive declaration of victory at the White House was condemned by some U.S. political commentators and civil rights groups, who warned about the trampling of long-standing democratic norms.

Most world leaders and foreign ministers sat on their hands, trying not to add any fuel to the electoral fire.

“Let’s wait and see what the outcome is,” said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “There’s obviously a significant amount of uncertainty. It’s much closer than I think many had expected.”

But while Raab and others urged caution, the Slovenian prime minister broke ranks, congratulating Trump and the Republican party via Twitter.

“It’s pretty clear that American people have elected @realDonaldTrump and @Mike_Pence for #4moreyears,” wrote Janez Jansa, one of several east European leaders, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who are fervent Trump allies. “Congratulations @GOP for strong results across the #US.”

The latest vote tally showed Democrat challenger Joe Biden with a lead in the Electoral College – 224 votes to 213, with 270 needed for victory – but with counting still be completed in at least five major ‘battleground’ states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Georgia.

In 2000, the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore hinged on Florida. It was ultimately decided in Bush’s favor by the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling five weeks after the vote.

In his comments, Trump suggested the Supreme Court – to which he has nominated three of the nine justices – would have to decide the winner again.

On Twitter, the hashtags #Trump, #Biden and #USElections2020 were trending from Russia to Pakistan, Malaysia to Kenya and across Europe and Latin America, underscoring how much every region of the world sees the outcome as pivotal.

In Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of trying to interfere in the election, there was no official reaction.

But Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Stalin’s foreign minister, advised Russians to stock up on popcorn to watch the show he predicted was about to unfold, saying U.S. society was fatally split.

“The result of the elections is the worst outcome for America,” Nikonov, who welcomed Trump’s 2016 win, wrote on Facebook. “Whoever wins the legal battles half of Americans will not consider them the lawful president. Let’s stock up on large quantities of popcorn.”

‘IT AFFECTS US ALL’

In Australia, crowds watched the results roll in while drinking beer in an American bar in Sydney.

“The news is so much better when Trump is in,” said Glen Roberts, wearing a red ‘Make Europe Great Again’ baseball cap. “You never know what he said, it’s so good. I think it’ll be less interesting if Trump loses.”

Others were quick to underline the ramifications of the U.S. vote worldwide. “I think it affects us all, what happens over there really matters for the next four years over here,” said Sydney resident Luke Heinrich.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading civil rights groups, warned about the need to reserve judgment on the results until every vote is counted. With a very high number of mail-in ballots this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, full tallies are expected to take days in some states.

Executive director Kenneth Roth said premature declarations of victory were dangerous.

“Autocrats might be perfectly happy to undermine democracy in the United States by welcoming a premature declaration of victory,” he said.

China, whose relations with the United States have sunk to their worst in decades under Trump, said the election was a domestic affair and it had “no position on it”.

Chinese social media users, however, were quick to mock the failure of the U.S. electoral system to deliver a quick and clear result.

“Whether he wins or loses, his final mission is to destroy the appearance of American democracy,” one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote on Wednesday.

“Let Trump be re-elected and take the U.S. downhill,” another wrote.

In Nigeria, one leading politician, Senator Shehu Sani, said the uncertainty in the United States was reminiscent of Africa.

“Africa used to learn American democracy, America is now learning African democracy,” he tweeted to his 1.6 million followers.

(Reporting by Luke Baker in London, Libby George in Lagos and Daria Sito-Sucic; Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Crispian Balmer in Rome, Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw, Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Tony Munroe and Gao Liangping in Beijing; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Johnson & Johnson fails to overturn $2.12 billion baby powder verdict, plans Supreme Court appeal

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Missouri’s highest court on Tuesday refused to consider Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of a $2.12 billion damages award to women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in its baby powder and other talc products.

The Missouri Supreme Court let stand a June 23 decision by a state appeals court, which upheld a jury’s July 2018 finding of liability but reduced J&J’s payout from $4.69 billion after dismissing claims by some of the 22 plaintiffs.

Johnson & Johnson said it plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It said the verdict was the product of a “fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” and was “at odds with decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer.”

Kevin Parker, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement: “Johnson & Johnson should accept the findings of the jury and the appellate court and move forward with proper compensation to the victims.”

Johnson & Johnson said in May it would stop selling its Baby Powder talc in the United States and Canada.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company said last month it faces more than 21,800 lawsuits claiming that its talc products cause cancer because of contamination from asbestos, a known carcinogen.

In its June decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals said it was reasonable to infer from the evidence that Johnson & Johnson “disregarded the safety of consumers” in its drive for profit, despite knowing its talc products caused ovarian cancer. It also found “significant reprehensibility” in the company’s conduct.

Johnson & Johnson has faced intense scrutiny of its baby powder’s safety following a 2018 Reuters investigative report that found it knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its talc.

Internal company records, trial testimony and other evidence show that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, J&J’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

Johnson & Johnson shares were up 2 cents at $138.71 in late afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)

Trump’s Supreme Court pick lauded as ‘unashamedly pro-life’ in hearing’s third day

By Lawrence Hurley, Patricia Zengerle and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced fresh questioning at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, with the panel’s Republican chairman lauding her as “unashamedly pro-life” even as Democrats worry that she could vote to overturn the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

Barrett, a conservative federal appellate judge who is the Republican president’s third selection for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body, was in the third day of her four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

“This is history being made folks,” Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the panel, said. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she’s going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting for you.”

“It will be a great signal to all young women who share your view of the world,” Graham added.

Under questioning by Graham, Barrett reiterated her comments from Tuesday that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned.

Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favorite of religious conservatives, told the committee on Tuesday she could set aside her religious beliefs in making judicial decisions.

Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve on the court and the second Republican appointee.

During 11 hours of questioning on Tuesday, she sidestepped questions on contentious social issues and told the committee she had no agenda on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Democrats say Barrett’s confirmation would threaten healthcare for millions of Americans and they have said the Senate should not consider filling the vacancy until after the presidential election.

Barrett, 48, would tilt the court even further to the right, giving conservative justices a 6-3 majority. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, making Barrett’s confirmation a virtual certainty.

Barrett has declined to say whether she would recuse herself from the major Obamacare case to be argued on Nov. 10, in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the law. She said the case centers on a different legal issue than two previous Supreme Court rulings that upheld Obamacare that she has criticized.

In response to Democratic suggestions that she would vote to strike the entire law down if one part is found to be unlawful, Barrett on Wednesday told Graham that when judges address the legal question raised in the case, the “presumption” is that Congress did not intend the whole statute to fall.

Barrett agreed with Graham that if a statute can be saved, it is a judge’s duty to do so. Barrett indicated she was in favor of a broad reading of the “severability doctrine” in which courts assume that when one provision of a law is unlawful, Congress would want the rest of the statute to remain in place.

“I think insofar as it tries to effectuate what Congress would have wanted, it’s the court and Congress working hand in hand,” Barrett said of the doctrine.

Barrett on Tuesday also refused to say whether the 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide was wrongly decided. Barrett deflected Democrats’ questions about whether she would participate in any dispute resulting from the Nov. 3 presidential election, promising only to follow rules giving justices the final say on recusal.

Trump has urged the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Trump has said he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election’s outcome as he faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The hearing is scheduled to end on Thursday with testimony from outside witnesses, with Republicans already preparing for committee vote next week.

Trump nominated Barrett to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The four-day confirmation hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote due by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court ends Democratic lawmakers’ anti-graft lawsuit against Trump

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday put an end to a lawsuit brought by congressional Democrats that accused President Donald Trump of violating anti-corruption provisions in the U.S. Constitution with his business dealings.

The justices refused to hear an appeal by 215 Senate and House of Representatives Democrats of a lower court ruling that found that the lawmakers lacked the necessary legal standing to bring the case that focused on the Republican president’s ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The lawmakers accused Trump of violating the Constitution’s rarely tested “emoluments” clauses that bar presidents from taking gifts or payments from foreign and state governments without congressional approval. The lead plaintiff in the case is U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Trump faces two similar lawsuits – one brought by an advocacy group and the other by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Those cases likely would be dismissed as moot if Trump loses his Nov. 3 re-election bid, according to University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

Elizabeth Wydra, a lawyer for the Democratic lawmakers, said they were disappointed by the denial.

“With today’s cert denial, this critical anti-corruption provision of our Constitution has been weakened, and the American people are the worse off for it,” said Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Trump International Hotel in Washington is located in a historic building just blocks from the White House. The hotel, opened by Trump shortly before he was elected in 2016, became a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting Washington.

Unlike past presidents, Trump has retained ownership of his business interests while serving in the White House. The emoluments lawsuits have accused him of making himself vulnerable to bribery by foreign governments.

In the case brought by congressional Democrats, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in February ruled that individual members of Congress have limited ability to litigate questions affecting the legislative branch as a whole.

The appeals court said it was bound by a 1997 Supreme Court decision that held that six members of Congress lacked the legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of a law dealing with presidential vetoes. The lawmakers appealed, telling the Supreme Court that the D.C. Circuit misapplied the 1997 precedent.

Justice Department lawyers, arguing for the Trump administration, had urged the high court not to hear the Democratic appeal. They argued that the lower court correctly held that “federal legislators generally lack standing to sue to enforce the asserted institutional interests of Congress.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)