U.S. House begins debating impeachment of Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday began debating legislation to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time of his presidency.

The House is set to first hold a vote setting rules for Wednesday’s debate. If it is approved it will set the stage for a vote later in the day on passage of one article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting insurrection in a speech he made last week that led to rioting in the U.S. Capitol.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Susan Heavey)

U.S. House overrides Trump’s veto of key defense bill

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives voted on Monday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a $740 billion defense policy bill.

The 322-87 House vote, in which 109 Republicans joined Democrats to override Trump’s veto, leaves the bill’s fate to the Republican-led Senate, where a final vote is expected this week. If the Senate seconds the House action, the bill becomes law. It would be the first veto override of Trump’s presidency.

Trump said he blocked the legislation because he wanted it to overturn liability protections for social media companies unrelated to national security, and he opposed a provision to rename military bases named after generals who fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War.

Twenty Democrats, including the prominent progressive, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, opposed the override.

Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, urged Republicans ahead of the vote not to side with the president.

“The world is watching what we do,” the Texas Republican said. “I would only ask that as members vote, they put the best interests of the country first. There is no other consideration that should matter.”

The legislation, which addresses a host of defense policy issues and includes a pay raise for U.S. troops, has been passed by Congress every year since 1961.

The bill had earlier passed both chambers of Congress with margins greater than the two-thirds majorities needed to override the president’s veto. But Trump vetoed it anyway and the bill went back to Congress for a possible override.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Aurora Ellis)

Lawmakers block Trump’s requested changes on coronavirus bill

By Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday blocked attempts to alter a $2.3 trillion coronavirus aid and government spending package, leaving its status in doubt after President Donald Trump demanded extensive changes to the legislation.

Democrats sought to increase direct payments to Americans included in the bill from $600 to $2,000 per person as part of a coronavirus economic relief initiative, acting on one of Trump’s requests. Republicans, who oppose the higher amount, blocked that request.

Republicans then moved to change the amount of foreign aid included in the package, seeking to address another one of Trump’s complaints. Democrats blocked that effort.

The flurry of activity on the House floor did nothing to break a standoff that threatens desperately needed assistance for millions of Americans and raises the prospect of a partial government shutdown at a time when officials are trying to distribute two coronavirus vaccines.

The 5,500-page bill took months to negotiate and was supported by Trump’s administration.

With the status quo unchanged, it was unclear whether Trump would sign the package into law or hold out for further action.

Without his signature, unemployment benefits for those thrown out of work by the pandemic are due to expire as soon as Saturday, and the U.S. government would be forced into a partial shutdown starting on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

U.S. Supreme Court throws out challenge to Trump census immigrant plan

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday threw out a lawsuit seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude immigrants living illegally in the United States from the population count used to allocate congressional districts to states.

The 6-3 ruling on ideological lines, with the court’s six conservatives in the majority and three liberals dissenting, gives Trump a short-term victory as he pursues his hardline policies toward immigration.

“At present, this case is riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review,” the ruling said. The decision noted that the court was not weighing the merits of Trump’s plan.

Challengers led by New York state and the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump’s proposal would dilute the political clout of states with larger numbers of such immigrants, including heavily Democratic California, by undercounting state populations and depriving them of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“If the administration actually tries to implement this policy, we’ll sue. Again. And we’ll win,” said Dale Ho, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the challengers.

The administration has not disclosed what method it would use to calculate the number of people it proposed to exclude or which subsets of immigrants would be targeted. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the justices during the Nov. 30 oral argument in the case that the administration could miss a Dec. 31 statutory deadline to finalize a Census Bureau report to Trump containing the final population data, including the number of immigrants excluded.

During the oral argument, Wall told the justices that it is “very unlikely” the administration would amass data to exclude all immigrants in the country illegally. Instead, Wall said, it may propose excluding certain groups, such as the fewer than 100,000 in federal detention, and the total number may not be high enough to affect apportionment.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion that the government can currently try to exclude millions of individuals, including those who are in immigration detention or deportation proceedings, and the some 700,000 young people known as “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

“Where, as here, the government acknowledges it is working to achieve an allegedly illegal goal, this court should not decline to resolve the case simply because the government speculates that it might not fully succeed,” Breyer added.

There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. The challengers have argued that Trump’s policy violates both the Constitution and the Census Act, a federal law that outlines how the census is conducted.

The Constitution requires apportionment of House seats to be based upon the “whole number of persons in each state.” Until now, the U.S. government’s practice was to count all people regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

By statute, the president is required to send Congress a report in early January with the population of each of the states and their entitled number of House districts.

The challengers have argued that Trump’s plan could leave several million people uncounted and cause California, Texas and New Jersey to lose House seats.

A three-judge panel in New York ruled against the administration in September.

The Supreme Court in June 2019 ruled against Trump’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census. Critics said the question was intended to frighten immigrants from taking part in the population count and artificially reduce population numbers in heavily Democratic areas.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; additional reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Factbox: Results of high-profile U.S. House of Representatives races

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats were projected to retain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election, but appeared to have failed in their goal of wresting more seats from Republicans.

Results were still coming in on Wednesday, but Democrats lost several of the most closely watched contests in sharp contrast to their convincing win in 2018.

Here are some of the most high-profile races in the 435-member House:

MINNESOTA’S 7TH DISTRICT

Long-time Representative Collin Peterson, one of only two House Democrats who opposed both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in 2019, was defeated by Minnesota’s former lieutenant governor, Republican Michelle Fischbach. The district in rural western Minnesota voted strongly for Trump in 2016.

SOUTH CAROLINA’S 1ST DISTRICT

Representative Joe Cunningham, who stunned Republicans in 2018 when he became the first Democrat to represent the coastal district in nearly four decades, lost to Republican Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel military college.

GEORGIA’S 14th DISTRICT

Republican small business owner Marjorie Taylor Greene is a political newcomer who promoted online conspiracy theory QAnon in a 2017 video but later backtracked, saying it was not part of her campaign. She won a House seat in conservative rural northwest Georgia after her Democratic opponent dropped out.

TEXAS’ 21ST DISTRICT

Republican Representative Chip Roy defeated Wendy Davis, a Democratic former state senator who caught the national spotlight in 2013 by talking for over 11 hours to temporarily stop an anti-abortion bill. The central Texas district includes part of Austin.

NEW MEXICO’S 2ND DISTRICT

Freshman Democratic Representative Xochtil Torres-Small lost a rematch with Republican Yvette Herrell, who had been the loser two years ago and was endorsed by the conservative House Freedom Caucus’ political action committee. The district covers southern New Mexico including part of Albuquerque.

COLORADO’S 3RD DISTRICT

Republican Lauren Boebert, a pistol-packing gun rights activist who defied coronavirus restrictions to open her restaurant, spoke warmly of QAnon in May, but later said “I’m not a follower.” She defeated Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a university professor, in a largely rural district encompassing western Colorado.

These races remain undecided:

NEW JERSEY’S 2ND DISTRICT

Representative Jeff Van Drew, who was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 2018 but became a Republican after voting against impeaching Trump, faces a strong challenge from Democrat Amy Kennedy. She is a former schoolteacher who married into the famous U.S. political family. The district in southern New Jersey includes Atlantic City.

NEW YORK’S 2ND DISTRICT

Republican New York State legislator Andrew Garbarino is running against a Black combat veteran, Democrat Jackie Gordon, for the seat held for 14 terms by retiring Republican Representative Peter King. The largely suburban district on Long Island includes the eastern edges of the New York City metropolitan area.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Mary Milliken)

U.S. court lets House move forward with challenge to Trump’s border wall

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court handed a win to the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, saying the Democratic-led chamber could proceed with a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s diversion of funds to pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Reversing a lower court judge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said in a 3-0 decision that the House had legal standing to sue Trump for using money to build the wall that was appropriated by Congress for other purposes.

The case now returns to a lower court, where House Democrats will argue that diverting the funds violated the separation of powers doctrine laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which argued for the administration in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The wall was Trump’s signature 2016 campaign promise, and at the time he insisted that Mexico would pay for it. Mexico never agreed to that and has not done so.

The three-judge panel cited an Aug. 7 ruling by the same court that a House panel could sue to enforce a subpoena issued to former White House Counsel Don McGahn. That case was later dismissed on other grounds.

In February 2019, after a protracted political battle and a government shutdown, Congress approved $1.38 billion for construction of “primary pedestrian fencing” along the border in southeastern Texas, well short of Trump’s demands.

To obtain additional funds for the wall, Trump declared a national emergency and his administration said it planned to divert $601 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion earmarked for Department of Defense counterparties programs and $3.6 billion from military construction projects.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

U.S. House passes stopgap funding bill to avoid government shutdown

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding bill on Tuesday to keep the federal government operating through Dec. 11, after striking a deal with Republicans on aid for farmers and nutritional assistance to children.

With government funding running out on Sept. 30, leaders of both parties have been working on legislation to continue funding most programs at current levels and thus avoid a government shutdown in the middle of a pandemic and ahead of the Nov. 3 elections.

The measure, which now heads to the Senate, appeared in danger on Monday when Democrats left out key farm aid that President Donald Trump had promised last week during a political rally in Wisconsin, a key battleground state in his bid for re-election.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement announcing a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republicans on the continuing resolution, or CR, which included the farm relief as well as nutritional assistance for children during the pandemic sought by Democrats.

“We have reached an agreement with Republicans on the CR to add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families,” Pelosi said in her statement. “We also increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout.”

The version that House Democrats filed on Monday did not include the $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered it a blank check for political favors.

Republicans were furious at the omission. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi’s resistance to including farm aid in the bill had been “basically a message to farm country to drop dead.”

The rest of the bill generally continues current spending levels. It would give lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; writing by Susan Cornwell and Phil Stewart; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

U.S. House pauses vote on bill to fund government and avoid shutdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives put on hold an expected Tuesday vote on a bill to fund the government through Dec. 11, while bipartisan congressional leaders discussed whether to include farm aid sought by President Donald Trump, lawmakers and aides said.

The delay “relates to numerous agriculture provisions” in the bill, one Democratic aide said. With government funding lapsing on Sept. 30, House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the stopgap funding legislation, but they angered Republicans by leaving out some farm money that Trump wanted.

The bill generally continues current spending levels, avoiding a government shutdown when funding runs out on Sept. 30. It would give lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

“At some point in the next day or two, we expect that there will be a continuing resolution on the floor that will continue the current spending agreement until December,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, who have the majority. He said he hoped it would be “bipartisan in nature.”

The version that House Democrats filed on Monday did not include $21.1 billion that the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered it a blank check for political favors. Trump had promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans protested the omission, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arguing that farmers need the help.

“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

A House Republican aide said Democrats had earlier walked away from an agreement that included the farm aid.

“Republicans will continue to fight for these provisions to be included,” he said.

Leaders of both parties say they are not interested in a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown, amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

House bill extends U.S. highway funding, boosts airport funding

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday proposed spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control operations, as well as to extend surface transportation programs.

Earlier this year, Congress agreed to suspend taxes on passenger airline tickets, cargo and fuel for the remainder of 2020. Significantly reduced travel demand because of the coronavirus pandemic and the tax suspension has led to a major shortfall in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

The bill also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year. Congress has struggled for years to find a way to fund highway repairs as gasoline tax revenue has lagged spending. The House bill proposes directing $13.6 billion from the general fund to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Peter DeFazio said “with this one-year extension in place, we can continue work on a long-term, transformational bill.”

Representative Sam Graves, the top Republican on the panel, said the extension provides “immediate, desperately needed certainty to state DOTs and transportation and construction industry workers.”

On June 15, Reuters and Bloomberg News reported that the Trump administration was preparing an infrastructure package of up to $1 trillion focused on transportation projects as part of its push to spur the world’s largest economy back to life.

After weeks of internal debate, the White House opted not to make the plan public ahead of the November presidential election, sources told Reuters.

In July, the House approved a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package to boost spending on roads, bridges, public transit and rail over 10 years – a plan the White House rejected.

Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Congress has not boosted the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax since 1993. That tax is now worth just 10.2 cents after adjusting for inflation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. officials defend Portland crackdown: ‘We’re not going to apologize’

By Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Homeland Security officials said on Monday they had no intention of pulling back in Portland, Oregon, and defended the federal crackdown on anti-racism protests, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent law enforcement units to Portland to back up the Federal Protective Service responsible for guarding U.S. government facilities after receiving intelligence about planned attacks around July 4, the DHS officials said.

“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities. We are not escalating, we are protecting,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, told Fox News.

President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland and violence in other “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his Republican administration moves to intervene in urban centers he says have lost control of demonstrations. Protests began across the country after the police killing of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.

In Portland, federal officers last week started cracking down on crowds, using tear gas to disperse protesters and taking some into custody in unmarked cars.

Portland Police early on Monday provided details on another tense night between protesters and federal law enforcement in the city, saying federal agents used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside a federal courthouse downtown.

Wolf said federal law enforcement was doing its job.

“We’re not going to apologize for it,” he said. “We’re going to do it professionally and do it correctly.”

The clampdown in the liberal city has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary, said the federal officers wore the same uniforms every day and the crowds knew who they were. He also defended the use of unmarked cars as routine.

“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” he told CNN.

Cuccinelli said if federal authorities receive the same kind of intelligence threat in other places, they would respond the same way. “It’s really as simple as that,” he said.

On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.

Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.

Cuccinelli dismissed local leaders’ calls to leave the city.

“We will maintain our presence,” he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)