U.S. House to pass nearly $500 billion more in coronavirus aid on Thursday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will pass Congress’ latest coronavirus aid bill on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, paving the way for nearly $500 billion more in economic relief amid the pandemic.

Pelosi, in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, said House lawmakers were ready to then move on to a fifth effort to continue tackling issues swelling from the outbreak that has crushed the nation’s economy and battered its healthcare system.

“We’ll pass it tomorrow in the House,” the California Democrat said.

The bipartisan $484-billion package, which passed the Republican-led U.S. Senate on Tuesday, includes an additional $321 billion for a previously set up small business lending program that quickly saw its funds exhausted.

It also includes $60 billion for a separate emergency disaster loan program – also for small businesses – and $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for national coronavirus testing.

Pelosi said she hopes the newly provided funds will be able to flow to strapped employers and others as soon as possible after U.S. President Trump, who has backed the bill, signs it into law.

“This is absolutely urgent,” she told MSNBC.

She also said a subsequent fifth aid package should also include money to protect U.S. elections and the U.S. Postal Service.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Zieminski)

U.S. House approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill, sends to Trump

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in American history – to help individuals and companies cope with an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak and provide hospitals with urgently needed medical supplies.

The massive bill, also passed by the Republican-controlled Senate late on Wednesday, now goes to Republican President Donald Trump who is expected to promptly sign it into law.

Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

Massie, an independent-minded Republican who has repeatedly defied party leaders, said on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve. He did not speak on the House floor during the three-hour debate.

Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” on Twitter and said he should be thrown out of the Republican Party.

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay,” Trump wrote.

Other said he was putting lawmakers’ health at risk.

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

“Thomas Massie, this is disgusting. This is inhumane,” Democratic Representative Max Rose said on Fox News.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law. It passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday night.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 85,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,200.

The Labor Department on Thursday reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis)

House on edge ahead of $2.2 trillion coronavirus vote

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Armed with hand sanitizer and discouraged from using elevators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives aimed to quickly pass a sweeping $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Friday, though it was unclear if they would be forced to delay a day.

Leadership of the Democratic-controlled chamber and top Republicans aimed to pass the largest relief measure that Congress has ever taken up in a voice vote, one of the fastest methods the chamber has, and pass it on to Republican President Donald Trump for his signature.

There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposed the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than in a formal call recording how each House member voted, which could delay the vote until Saturday.

The Capitol has laid out special procedures because of the coronavirus to minimize the threat of infection. Members are barred from sitting next to one another and would be called from their offices alphabetically for the vote. They will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and encouraged to take the stairs, rather than use elevators, to better maintain social distancing.

While most of the House’s 430 current members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, several are expected to travel to Washington for a vote around 11 a.m. EDT(1500 GMT).

On a call with fellow Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members not to do anything to delay the unprecedented economic aid package the Republican-led Senate backed by a unanimous 96-0 vote on Wednesday night.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who helped craft the package, also urged lawmakers to pass it quickly.

“This is the time that we want to see the government and that states all come together and execute on the largest financial package in the history of time,” he said on Fox Business Network.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

VOICE VOTE SOUGHT

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday. She had said that if there were calls for a roll-call vote, lawmakers might be able to vote remotely as not all would be able to be in Washington.

It was unclear whether Massie would block the measure.

“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.

Democratic Representative Dean Phillips asked Massie on Twitter to let his colleagues know if he intended to delay the bill’s passage “RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend about $200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt.”

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.

The Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; writing by Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Trump rejects impeachment charges as an affront to U.S. Constitution

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday rejected the Democratic-led House of Representatives’ impeachment charges, describing the allegations that he had abused his power and obstructed Congress as affronts to the U.S. Constitution that must be rejected.

“The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,” an executive summary of the Republican president’s pre-trial brief said in Trump’s first comprehensive defense before the start of his Senate trial.

Trump, only the fourth of 45 American presidents to face the possibility of being ousted by impeachment, is charged with abusing the powers of his office by asking Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden, and obstructing a congressional inquiry into his conduct.

The executive summary asserted that the “House Democrats theory of ‘abuse of power’ is not an impeachable offense.” It rejected the obstruction of Congress charge as frivolous and dangerous, saying the president exercised his legal rights by resisting congressional demands for information.

It accused the House Democrats of conducting a rigged process and said they succeeded in proving that Trump had done nothing wrong.

While the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, it is important for the Republican president to diminish the Democratic accusations as a partisan witch-hunt. He needs to limit the political damage to his re-election bid as he seeks a second term in November.

Trump’s legal team says he was well within his constitutional authority to press Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last year to investigate Biden and his son Hunter as part of what Trump says was an anti-corruption drive. The Bidens deny any wrongdoing and Trump’s allegations have been widely debunked.

Democrats say Trump abused his power by withholding U.S. military assistance to Ukraine as part of a pressure campaign and obstructed Congress by refusing to hand over documents and barring administration officials from testifying, even when subpoenaed by House investigators.

Trump’s team says he is protected by the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers provisions.

In a 111-page document filed before the Senate trial begins in earnest on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers laid out their arguments against Trump, saying the president must be removed from office to protect national security and preserve the country’s system of government.

Seeking to show he is still conducting presidential business despite the trial, Trump is scheduled to depart late on Monday for Davos, Switzerland, to join global leaders at the World Economic Forum. Some advisers had argued against him making the trip.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Ross Colvin, Daniel Wallis and Bernadette Baum)

Trump nemesis Schiff to lead Democratic team at impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unveiled a seven-member team to prosecute President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial in the Senate, headed by a former prosecutor who has become a nemesis of the Republican president.

After weeks of delay, the House was poised on Wednesday afternoon to send the two impeachment charges – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – passed on Dec. 18 against Trump to the Senate, clearing the way for a trial that will determine whether he is removed from office to start in earnest next week.

The trial in the Senate – controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans – is expected to end in his acquittal after several weeks of a televised proceedings, leaving him in office. But it will focus attention on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate domestic political rival Joe Biden, just as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up.

Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, 59, will lead the House “managers” who will present the case to senators that Trump should be ousted for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son and for obstructing the House investigation by refusing to provide requested testimony and documents.

Schiff spearheaded the House impeachment investigation launched in September into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and he is a frequent target of Trump attacks. Trump called Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, “a deranged human being” at a NATO meeting in Britain in December.

Other managers include Jerrold Nadler, 72, who crafted the two articles of impeachment against Trump, as House Judiciary Committee chairman. [L1N29K0R3]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the prosecutors – a group of four men and three women including two African Americans and a Hispanic lawmaker – were selected for their ability to make an effective case.

“The emphasis is making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution, to seek the truth for the American people,” Pelosi told a news conference.

The White House greeted the announcement of the House team with scorn.

“The naming of these managers does not change a single thing,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “President Trump has done nothing wrong. He looks forward to having the due process rights in the Senate that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats denied to him, and expects to be fully exonerated.”

The White House and congressional Republicans complained that Trump was treated unfairly in the impeachment inquiry. The investigation led by House Democrats included numerous public and private hearings, with testimony from numerous witnesses. Trump instructed current and former officials not to cooperate in the inquiry and rejected an invitation to have lawyers representing him play a role in public hearings.

Biden is one of 12 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election, and the trial might still be underway when Iowa and New Hampshire hold their first party nominating contests in early February.

Not one of the Senate’s 53 Republicans has voiced support for ousting Trump, a step that would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member chamber.

Democrats are pressing to call Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton as a trial witness, which could prove damaging to Trump. Other witnesses in the impeachment inquiry said Bolton was a vocal critic of the effort to pressure Ukraine.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted the idea of calling witnesses at all, saying his chamber should consider only the evidence that has been amassed by the House. Other Republicans and Trump himself have said they would like to call witnesses of their own – including Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

“If McConnell makes this the first trial in history without witnesses, it will be exposed for what it is, and that is an effort to cover up for the president,” Schiff told the news conference.

House Democrats indicated on Wednesday they would expand their case against Trump by including phone records and other documents provided over the weekend by Florida businessman Lev Parnas, who worked with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine.

Schiff said material released on Tuesday showed Giuliani was acting at Trump’s direction.

“The president was the architect of this scheme,” Schiff said.

A pivotal event for the impeachment case against Trump was a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukraine’s president to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Will Dunham)

House to vote on sending Trump impeachment charges; trial now imminent

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday to send formal impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, lawmakers said on Tuesday, setting the start of Trump’s trial for as early as this week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a party meeting that she would also name the Democrats’ team of “managers” who will lead the prosecution of Trump at the trial, Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar said.

The House impeached Trump last month on charges of abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress.

But Pelosi has delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get that chamber’s Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to agree to include new witness testimony that could be damaging to the Republican president.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as no Republicans have voiced support for ousting him, a step that would require a two-thirds majority.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win as he tries to win re-election in November.

A Wednesday vote would allow the Senate to start the trial on Thursday afternoon, although the first few days will be consumed with housekeeping duties such as swearing in members and formally reading the two impeachment charges. Lawmakers likely would not hear opening arguments until next week at the earliest.

“We’ll have I think about a 10-minute debate and we’ll vote on it and then send everything over. And the Senate trial, I assume, will start next week,” Cuellar said.

The 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts its trial along those lines, as Republican McConnell has suggested, that would mean lawmakers would still be considering charges against the president while the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential election were underway in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Democrats want current and former White House officials such as former national security adviser John Bolton to testify, but McConnell has yet to say definitively how the Republican-controlled Senate will conduct the trial.

He has not committed to allowing any witnesses or new documents in the proceedings and instead could steer the process toward a quick acquittal. He has left open the possibility of deciding on witness testimony later in the trial.

House Democrats have said Pelosi could name up to 10 lawmakers as managers to argue the case against Trump, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who spearheaded the impeachment probe, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; writing by Alistair Bell; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Putin says impeachment case against Trump is ‘fabricated’

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that U.S. Democrats had impeached President Donald Trump for “fabricated” reasons in order to reverse his 2016 election victory.

Putin, speaking at his annual year-end news conference, said he expected Trump to survive the proceedings and stay in office.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to impeach Trump, but Putin, like most observers, said he expected the Republican Senate to acquit him.

“It’s unlikely they will want to remove from power a representative of their party based on what are, in my opinion, completely fabricated reasons,” said Putin.

“This is simply a continuation of the (U.S.) intra-political battle where one party that lost an election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results using other methods and means.

“They first accused Trump of a conspiracy with Russia. Then it turned out there wasn’t a conspiracy and that it couldn’t be the basis for impeachment. Now they have dreamt up (the idea) of some kind of pressure being exerted on Ukraine.”

Putin nevertheless criticized the United States in general for what he called unfriendly steps toward Russia, saying Moscow had adopted a policy of responding in kind.

In particular, he complained about what he said was a refusal to respond to Moscow’s proposals to extend the New START arms control treaty, which limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the world’s two biggest nuclear powers can deploy.

Regarded by many experts as the only thing preventing an unfettered arms race between the two Cold War rivals, the treaty can be extended for another five years, beyond its expiry date in February 2021, by mutual agreement.

“So far there’s been no answer to our proposals,” said Putin. “And if the New START treaty doesn’t exist anymore, there will be nothing in the world to curb the arms race. And that, in my view, would be bad.”

(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

U.S. House passes Hong Kong rights bills, Trump expected to sign

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills to back protesters in Hong Kong and send a warning to China about human rights, with President Donald Trump expected to sign them into law, despite delicate trade talks with Beijing.

The House sent the bills to the White House after voting 417 to 1 for the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which the Senate passed unanimously on Tuesday. Strong support had been expected after the House passed a similar bill last month.

The measure, which has angered Beijing, would require the State Department to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for the special U.S. trading consideration that helped it become a world financial center.

It also would provide for sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in the Chinese-ruled city.

Demonstrators have protested for more than five months in the streets of Hong Kong, amid increasing violence and fears that Beijing will ratchet up its response to stop the civil disobedience.

The protesters are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio was a main sponsor of the Senate-passed bill, which was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Jim Risch and Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin.

The House passed, by 417 to zero, a second bill, which the Senate also approved unanimously on Tuesday, to ban the export of certain crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police forces. That measure bans the export of items such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.

President Trump has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign a bill passed by Congress, unless he opts to use his veto.

A person familiar with the matter said the president intended to sign the bills into law, not veto them.

Vetoes would have been difficult to sustain, since the measures passed both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House with almost no objections.

A two-thirds majority would be required in both the Senate and House to override a veto.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

In Beijing on Wednesday, China condemned the legislation’s passage, and vowed strong countermeasures to safeguard its sovereignty and security.

China’s foreign ministry said this month that China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States about the legislation and urged that it not be passed into law, saying it would not only harm Chinese interests and China-U.S. relations, but the United States’ own interests too.

It said China would “inevitably take vigorous measures to firmly respond, to staunchly safeguard our sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Trump prompted questions about his commitment to protecting freedoms in Hong Kong when he referred in August to its mass street protests as “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.

Trump has since called on China to handle the issue humanely, while warning that if anything bad happened in Hong Kong, it could be bad for talks to end a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

On Thursday, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, the People’s Daily, urged the United States to “rein in the horse at the edge of the precipice” and stop interfering in Hong Kong matters and China’s internal affairs.

“If the U.S. side obstinately clings to its course, the Chinese side will inevitably adopt forceful measures to take resolute revenge, and all consequences will be borne by the United States,” it said in a front-page editorial.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump says he might be willing to testify in impeachment inquiry

Trump says he might be willing to testify in impeachment inquiry
By Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday indicated publicly for the first time that he might be willing to testify in the impeachment inquiry over his efforts to pressure Ukraine “even though I did nothing wrong.”

Lawmakers in the Democratic-led impeachment process in the U.S. House of Representatives have not formally called Trump as a witness in the inquiry into whether he used foreign policy to try to get Ukraine to investigate domestic political opponent Joe Biden.

During former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump said he was willing to testify but ultimately gave only written answers. House Democrats said on Monday they are investigating whether those answers are untruthful, according to CNN.

Denying any wrongdoing, the Republican president has railed on Twitter and elsewhere against the impeachment inquiry and attacked witnesses by name.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on Sunday in a CBS interview that Trump has every opportunity to present his case, including coming before intelligence committee hearings.

“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Trump said on Twitter.

At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into former U.S. Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

The hearings could pave the way for the House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump’s removal.

House Speaker Pelosi, in her interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” said: “The president could come right before the committee and speak all the truth that he wants if he wants to take the oath of office … or he can do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case.”

Trump’s written answers to federal investigators in the Mueller probe were under renewed scrutiny on Monday, CNN said. The House’s general counsel told a federal court in Washington that lawmakers were examining whether the answers were untruthful, the report said.

Last week, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, testified in the trial of Trump ally Roger Stone that Trump’s 2016 campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails by WikiLeaks website potentially damaging to the Republican’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Gates’ testimony appeared to conflict with sworn written statements that Trump gave Mueller, CNN reported.

HEARINGS THIS WEEK

The public phase of hearings shifts into higher gear this week when a parade of officials will face questioning by Democratic lawmakers seeking details that could link Trump to a pressure campaign against Ukraine.

Eight more witnesses are due to testify in the second week of the televised hearings. They include Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, whose direct interactions with Trump are likely to be a main focus in the investigation of whether the president made security aid to Ukraine contingent on it agreeing to dig up dirt on Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in 2020.

Several witnesses testified last week that they were alarmed over the pressure tactics used against Ukraine, as well as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The latest round of hearings will stretch from Tuesday to Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power in part by withholding $391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to investigate Biden. The money, approved by the U.S. Congress to help U.S. ally Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists, was later provided.

At the first impeachment hearing last Wednesday, Republicans repeatedly blasted Democrats for not calling an anonymous whistleblower to testify publicly or behind-closed doors. The whistleblower account of the July 25 call led to Democrats opening the inquiry.

“There’s one witness, one witness that they won’t bring in front of us, they won’t bring in front of the American people, and that’s the guy who started it all, the whistle-blower,” Republican Jim Jordan said on Nov. 13.

Democrat Peter Welch responded at the time, “I would be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Karen Freifeld, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Grant McCool; Editing by Alistair Bell)

House readies vote on stopgap funding bill to avoid government shutdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on Thursday on a stopgap government funding bill that would avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1 by maintaining current spending levels until Nov. 21.

The measure, known as a continuing resolution or CR, is intended to give lawmakers additional time to agree on more comprehensive funding legislation after overcoming differences on funding priorities, including President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico and immigration policies that Democrats oppose.

“Our hope is that we will take the few weeks we have, now that we have a continuing resolution, and actually get a spending bill that will get bipartisan support,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat.

The vote was expected to occur after an hour-long debate due to begin in mid-afternoon. If approved as expected, the measure would move to the Senate. Final passage would require approval from both houses of Congress and the signature of Trump.

The new measure was hammered out during negotiations involving members of both parties and lawmakers from both chambers of Congress.

Lawmakers adopted a two-year budget and debt deal in July that authorized discretionary defense and non-defense programs. But Congress still needs to pass annual legislation to fund agencies. Without approval of the new measure, funding would expire after midnight on Sept. 30, when the current federal fiscal year ends.

The government shut down for more than a month in December and January, after Trump initially refused to sign a spending bill without funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The new funding measure requires the Department of Agriculture to report to Congress by the end of October on payments made to U.S. farmers under the Trump administration’s trade war mitigation program, according to an aide who said payments to foreign-owned companies would have to be listed.

In composing the measure, lawmakers avoided border policy proposals from liberal Democrats to better ensure passage by both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate.

The measure does include funding that Democrats sought for public-health centers and for the Medicaid healthcare program in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Tom Brown)