Explainer: What is McConnell’s proposed impeachment trial format?

Explainer: What is McConnell’s proposed impeachment trial format?
By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has enough support from his fellow Republicans to begin the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump even though lawmakers have yet to agree whether to call witnesses.

The framework supported by Republican senators, which McConnell has described as a “phase one” deal, would postpone the decision on whether to have witnesses testify during the trial — mirroring the process used during former Democratic President Bill Clinton’s five-week impeachment trial in 1999.

The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump in December on charges he pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The following explains what the Republican-supported resolution on trial rules is expected to look like.

What will be covered by the Republican-backed “phase one” plan?

McConnell has not yet published a draft of the resolution but he said it would be “very similar” to one adopted in January 1999 during the Clinton trial.

That resolution set deadlines for the prosecution and defense to submit “trial briefs” that laid out their cases in writing. The resolution also allocated 24 hours for representatives of each side to make oral arguments and set aside 16 hours for senators to ask them questions.

It allowed senators to seek dismissal of the charges against Clinton in the middle of the trial, which would have effectively ended the process. A senator sympathetic to Clinton filed such a motion, but it was voted down.

Crucially, the resolution, which passed 100-0, did not resolve whether witnesses would be called — one of the most contentious questions in any impeachment trial. A follow-up resolution allowing for three witnesses to testify in videotaped depositions passed 2-1/2 weeks later along a party-line vote, backed by 54 Republicans and opposed by 44 Democrats.

The type of resolution described by McConnell would supplement, rather than replace, a set of detailed impeachment trial rules dating back to 1868 known as the “standing rules,” said Donald Wolfensberger, a congressional scholar in Washington.

The “standing rules” specify speeches different individuals must recite and the times of day when events must occur, among other items.

How many votes does McConnell need for his “phase one” plan?

The answer to this question depends on whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi transmits the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, said Wolfensberger.

Once that happens, the Senate can open the trial and only a simple majority of senators would be needed to decide on the sort of initial rules McConnell has described, Wolfensberger said.

That vote would not occur until after Pelosi sends over the impeachment package, McConnell has said. Pelosi has held onto the papers in hopes of pressuring the Republican-controlled Senate into agreeing to hear testimony during the trial.

Frustrated with Pelosi’s delay, Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Jan. 5 introduced a resolution that would allow the Senate to dismiss the impeachment articles before the House transmits them. It would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate to pass, making that outcome unlikely.

Could there still be witnesses in the Senate trial?

It is possible congressional Democrats will succeed in their push to hear from witnesses during the trial.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. That means four Republicans would need to cross party lines and join Democrats in requesting witness testimony.

Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said on Jan. 5 he would testify before the Senate if issued a subpoena, a surprise development that could potentially strengthen the case that Trump should be removed from office.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer now is pressuring Republican lawmakers to vote to allow witnesses and documents. Democrats hope to hear from Bolton and three current White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Republicans could conceivably try to call witnesses of their own, like Biden or the government whistleblower whose complaint ultimately led to the impeachment inquiry.

Trump is unlikely to be removed from office, however, because under the U.S. Constitution that would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate.

(Reporting by Jan WolfeEditing by Andy Sullivan and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. House passes new North American trade deal replacing NAFTA

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade deal on Thursday that includes tougher labor and automotive content rules but leaves $1.2 trillion in annual U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade flows largely unchanged.

The House passed legislation to implement the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement 385-41, with 38 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent member voting no.

The bipartisan vote contrasted sharply with Wednesday night’s Democrat-only vote to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump. [nL1N28S09W]

The House vote sends the measure to the Senate, but it is unclear when the Republican-controlled chamber will take it up. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that consideration of the measure would likely follow an impeachment trial in the Senate, expected in January.

The USMCA trade pact, first agreed upon in September 2018, will replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump vowed for years to quit or renegotiate NAFTA, which he blames for the loss of millions of U.S. factory jobs to low-wage Mexico.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave USMCA a green light last week after striking a deal with the Trump administration, Canada and Mexico to strengthen labor enforcement provisions and eliminate some drug patent protections.

Pelosi said she was not concerned about Democrats handing Trump a political victory on USMCA as they are trying to remove him from office.

“It would be a collateral benefit if we can come together to support America’s working families, and if the president wants to take credit, so be it,” Pelosi said during House floor debate before the vote.

CONCESSIONS FOR DEMOCRATS

The changes negotiated by Democrats, which include tighter environmental rules, will also set up a mechanism to quickly investigate labor rights abuses at Mexican factories. They have earned the support of several U.S. labor unions that have opposed NAFTA for decades.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer made a concession by dropping a requirement for 10 years of data exclusivity for biologic drugs, a provision that Democrats feared would keep drug prices high and that they called a “giveaway” to big drugmakers.

Some of the most ardent trade skeptics in Congress have voiced support of the deal, including Representative Debbie Dingell, who represents an autoworker-heavy district in southeastern Michigan. Dingell said in television interviews that she backed the bill, even though she was skeptical it would bring auto jobs back to Michigan.

Representative Ron Kind, a pro-trade Democrat from Wisconsin, one of the top dairy-producing states, praised new access to Canada’s closed dairy market under USMCA.

“A no vote is a return to the failed policy of the old NAFTA, the status quo, rather than this more modernized version,” Kind said in floor debate.

AUTOS, DIGITAL, CURRENCY

The agreement modernizes NAFTA, adding language that preserves the U.S. model for internet, digital services and e-commerce development, industries that did not exist when NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990s. It eliminates some food safety barriers to U.S. farm products and contains language prohibiting currency manipulation for the first time in a trade agreement.

But the biggest changes require increased North American content in cars and trucks built in the region, to 75% from 62.5% in NAFTA, with new mandates to use North American steel and aluminum.

In addition, 40% to 45% of vehicle content must come from high-wage areas paying more than $16 an hour – namely the United States and Canada. Some vehicles assembled in Mexico mainly with components from Mexico and outside the region may not qualify for U.S. tariff-free access.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this week that automakers will pay nearly $3 billion more in tariffs over the next decade for cars and parts that will not meet the higher regional content rules.

(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)

Explainer: The case for Trump’s impeachment – and the case against it

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives could vote as soon as Wednesday to formally charge President Donald Trump, a Republican, with “high crimes and misdemeanors,” making him only the third U.S. president in history to be impeached.

That sets up a trial in January in the Republican-run Senate, where he is expected to be acquitted.

Here is the Democrats’ case for removing Trump from office, as well as the Republican counter-argument.

THE CHARGES

In their articles of impeachment,  Democrats charge that Trump abused his power as president by pressuring a foreign government, Ukraine’s, to help him win re-election. They accuse the president of endangering the U.S. Constitution, jeopardizing national security and undermining the integrity of the 2020 election.

At the heart of their impeachment case is testimony by current and former officials alleging an extraordinary effort that went outside official channels to pressure Ukraine to announce a corruption investigation into former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, a potential political rival in 2020.

The allegations by Trump allies against Biden – that he used his position as vice president to force the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to stop an investigation of an energy company on which his son Hunter Biden was a director – have been discredited. Neither Trump nor his allies have provided evidence to support them and Biden has denied them.

Trump pressed Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a July 25 phone call to work with his attorney general, William Barr, and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to investigate the Bidens and also a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

Democrats allege that the evidence they have gathered in their inquiry shows Trump withheld a high-profile White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security aid to pressure Zelenskiy to announce the investigations. Trump ultimately released the money after news of the delay became public, although the White House meeting has yet to take place.

Democrats also charge Trump with obstructing Congress by preventing members of his administration from cooperating with the probe, in defiance of the Constitution.

“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive – and the president becomes a dictator,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said last Wednesday.

The Democrats’ case rests in large part on a rough transcript of the July 25 call, in which Trump asks Zelenskiy to “do us a favor” and work with Barr and Giuliani in carrying out the investigations he sought. Current and former U.S. officials testified that Trump directed them to work with Giuliani on Ukraine issues, despite the fact that the former New York mayor was a private citizen.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland provided some of the most damaging testimony.  He said he spoke directly with Trump about the effort to pressure Ukraine and said other top administration officials were involved. He testified that Ukrainian officials understood they would have to announce the investigations in order to get the withheld security aid.

REPUBLICANS CRY FOUL

Trump says he has done nothing wrong, and his Republican allies in Congress agree with him. None are expected to vote to impeach him this week.

“You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said last week.

Republicans have coalesced around the argument that the Democrats’ case amounts to hearsay because it mostly relies on the testimony of officials who did not deal directly with Trump. (Democrats say Trump’s refusal to cooperate has prevented them from getting the testimony of other officials directly involved in the matter – a central pillar of their obstruction of Congress charge.)

Republicans say no actual exchange of favors took place, because Zelenskiy ultimately did get the delayed aid and the meeting with Trump that he sought – albeit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly – even though the Ukrainian president did not agree to the investigations that Trump wanted.

They argue that Democrats are subverting the will of voters who elected Trump president in 2016 simply because they do not like his policies or his personality, turning the impeachment process into a partisan tool.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan, editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)

House panel recommends Trump be impeached for abuse of power

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Friday recommended that President Donald Trump be impeached for abuse of power, clearing the way for a vote in the full House of Representatives next week.

The impeachment article approved by the panel accuses Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to run against Trump next year.

Trump has denied wrongdoing.

The committee will vote later on a separate article of impeachment accusing Trump of obstructing the congressional Ukraine investigation.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Heavey)

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.

WHY IMPEACHMENT?

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.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

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.

CAN THE SENATE REFUSE TO HOLD A TRIAL?

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.

WHAT ABOUT OPENING A TRIAL AND QUICKLY ENDING IT?

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.

WHAT’S THE PARTY BREAKDOWN IN CONGRESS?

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.

WHO BECOMES PRESIDENT IF TRUMP IS REMOVED?

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)

U.S. House committee to kick off public impeachment hearings next week

U.S. House committee to kick off public impeachment hearings next week
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee will kick off a series of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump next week, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Wednesday.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify on Nov. 13, while former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will appear on Nov. 15, Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.

He said more details will be released in coming days.

All three diplomats have raised alarm bells about the release of U.S. security aid to Ukraine being made contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations that Trump, a Republican, had demanded.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 election.

That might damage Trump, but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.

Democrats had said they had enough material to move forward with public impeachment hearings, which would be a likely prelude to articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump being brought to a vote in the House.

If the House votes to approve the articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office.

Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for removing the president.

(Additional reporting by Humyera Pamuk and Richard Cowan in Washington and Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Writing by Susan Heavey and Paul Simao; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

 

Congress clashes over border funding as migrant emergency continues

Asylum seekers waiting in hopes of being let through the nearby U.S. port of entry line up for a meal provided by volunteers at a makeshift migrant camp by the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

(Reuters) – The U.S. House and Senate will try to resolve their conflicting versions of an emergency funding bill on Thursday to address worsening humanitarian conditions for migrant children and families on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed by an overwhelming 84-8 vote a $4.6 billion spending bill on Wednesday. The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Tuesday night tied more strings to its approval of the money, setting standards for health and nutrition of migrants in custody after reports they lacked necessities such as soap and diapers.

A photo of drowned migrants, and reports of horrendous conditions for detained children have spurred efforts to craft compromise legislation to send to U.S. President Donald Trump before Congress breaks this week for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

Whether Trump will sign a deal is uncertain as he continues to push for spending on the kind of border security some Democratic adversaries blame for migrant deaths.

Trump has made cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his administration but officials are saying they will soon run out of money for border agencies. Border crossings hit their highest level in more than a decade in May, straining resources and creating chaotic scenes at overcrowded border patrol facilities.

The need for funding has become more urgent as attorneys last week called attention to more than 300 children detained in squalid conditions at a border patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

Reporters given a short tour of the facility on Wednesday were told by Station Chief Matthew Harris that it currently has 117 children in custody, but that a month and a half ago the number peaked at almost 700 children.

Harris said the facility was designed to hold people in custody for eight to ten hours. He said the average stay now was six to ten days, with teenage mothers staying up to two weeks, and some medical cases more than a month in the hospital.

Some older teenage girls could be seen talking and laughing, while others wore distraught looks. Some teenage boys played soccer while small children sat on the floor with blankets.

Trump has made building a wall along the southern border a key goal of his administration, but government officials say they need money to keep migrant housing facilities open past month end.

Border crossings hit their highest monthly level since 2006 in May, with more than 60% of migrants either children or families, mostly from Central America.

Lawyers and human rights workers said they found sick and hungry children when they visited the border patrol facility in Clint, Texas earlier this month.

“Many had been detained for weeks, one even up to a month in really horrific conditions,” said Clara Long, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The conditions of unaccompanied children crossing the border has become a key issue in the 2020 presidential race. During a debate on Wednesday night, many of the Democratic candidates called for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws and about 12 of them are set to visit a Florida facility this week.

A photo of a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter who drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande added urgency on both sides of the aisle to reach a funding deal.

Trump criticized the House bill on Wednesday, telling Fox Business Network he wanted more money for “protection” from the drug traffickers and other criminals he says are taking advantage of the family surge to slip into the country.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Additional reporting by Omar Younis in Los Angeles and Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso, Texas; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lisa Shumaker and Chizu Nomiyama)