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)

House passes bill to raise federal minimum wage to $15 an hour

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building is seen through flowers in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by October 2025, a big win for workers and labor groups, even as it remained unlikely the bill would pass a Republican-controlled Senate.

The move comes at a time when the $15 minimum wage fight, first started by fast-food workers in New York in 2012, has been gaining momentum around the country with several states and large private-sector employers that hire entry-level workers.

Cities and states including Seattle, San Francisco, New York state, California, Arkansas and Missouri have raised their minimum wage. Over the past year, employers like Amazon.com Inc and Costco Wholesale Corp have raised their base wages to $15 an hour while others like Target Corp have committed to going up to that level by the end of 2020.

Even some opposed to the move like fast-food chain operator McDonald’s Corp said recently it would no longer fight proposals to raise the federal minimum wage.

The country’s largest private-sector employer Walmart Inc, which pays $11 in base wages to its employees, recently said it supports raising the federal minimum wage, calling it “too low.”

The Democratic-majority House approved the legislation titled Raise the Wage Act, in a mostly partisan vote of 231-199. Only three Republicans voted for it, while six Democrats opposed it.

The bill increases entry-level wages for millions of American workers from the current $7.25 an hour – about $15,000 a year for someone working 40 hours a week, or about $10,000 less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. It has remained unchanged since 2009.

Many Republicans and business groups have argued that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would hurt jobs, forcing businesses to hire fewer people and replacing jobs with automation. Several Republican lawmakers cited a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week, which estimated the move will boost wages for 17 million workers but at the same time, 1.3 million workers would lose their jobs.

U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said he would not take up the House’s minimum wage bill.

“We don’t need to lose jobs, we don’t have enough jobs now,” he told Fox Business Network in an interview on Thursday. “This would depress the economy at a time of economic boom. We’re not going to be doing that in the Senate.”

McConnell’s opposition to the bill makes its passage more symbolic in nature. However, it delivers a long-sought victory to liberals and allows Democratic presidential hopefuls to attract more working-class Americans with a promise to tackle growing economic inequality in the country, a key campaign issue for many candidates.

“This is a historic day,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, adding this is about 33 million people in the country getting a raise. “No one can live in dignity with a $7.25 an hour wage. Can you?,” she said.

Others like U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said a pay raise for American workers is long overdue. “We’ve now had the longest period without a minimum wage increase,” he said.

Several moderate Democrats, especially those who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump and were concerned about job losses, were assured by an amendment that would require a study of the effects of the bill a few years in, leaving room to make adjustments if more jobs are lost than expected.

Unions and labor groups, who brought the $15 minimum wage bill onto the national stage, see the passage of the bill as a key step towards building support among voters in Republican-dominated states and districts.

For retail workers like Cyndi Murray, a 19-year Walmart worker who is also a leader with labor group United For Respect, this is a big step forward in making companies, who pay below $15 an hour, pay higher wages.

“Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, pays so low that many employees depend on food stamps to survive,” she said. “They won’t change unless they’re forced to. That’s why the Raise the Wage Act has our full support.”

Walmart has said it pays an average of $17.50 an hour to its hourly employees, including benefits.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Bernadette Baum and Diane Craft)

Boeing to spend $50 million to support 737 MAX crash victim families

Michael Stumo, father of Samya Stumo, victim of Flight ET302; is embraced by U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) as he and Paul Njoroge, representing family members of EA Flight 302, arrive to testify before a House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee hearing on "State of Aviation Safety" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Boeing Co said on Wednesday it will dedicate half of a $100 million fund it created to address two crashes of its 737 MAX planes to financial relief for the families of those killed, with compensation expert Ken Feinberg hired by the world’s largest plane maker to oversee the distribution.

The announcement of Feinberg’s hiring came minutes before the start of a U.S. House of Representatives hearing that featured dramatic testimony by Paul Njoroge, a father who lost three children, his wife and mother-in-law in a 737 MAX Ethiopian Air crash in March.

Feinberg told Reuters his team will “start immediately drafting a claims protocol for those eligible,” with the first meeting with Chicago-based Boeing later this week in Washington.

The 737 MAX, Boeing’s best-selling jet, was grounded globally in March following the Ethiopian Airlines crash after a similar Lion Air disaster in Indonesia in October. The two crashes killed 346 people.

Njoroge told reporters after he testified that he did not think the public would trust Boeing going forward. “Do you want to fly in those planes? Do you want your children to fly in those planes?” he asked. “I don’t have any more children.”

Njoroge told a House subcommittee that he still has “nightmares about how (his children) must have clung to their mother crying” during the doomed flight.

Njoroge said Boeing has blamed “innocent pilots who had no knowledge and were given no information of the new and flawed MCAS system that could overpower pilots.” Boeing did not immediately comment on his testimony.

A Boeing official told Reuters last month that after a new software flaw emerged the company will not submit an MCAS software upgrade and training revision until September, which means the planes will not resume flying until November at the earliest. U.S. airlines have canceled flights.

Boeing said on July 3 it would give $100 million over multiple years to local governments and non-profit organizations to help families and communities affected by the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Feinberg, who will jointly administer the fund with lawyer Camille Biros, said the other $50 million in the fund is earmarked for government and community projects.

Boeing reiterated on Wednesday that the money distributed through the fund would be independent from the outcome of any lawsuits. The company is facing a slew of litigation from the families of victims of both crashes.

“Through our partnership with Feinberg and Biros, we hope affected families receive needed assistance as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement.

Feinberg has administered many compensation funds including for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, General Motors ignition switch crashes and numerous school shootings.

Boeing’s initial announcement of the $100 million fund was met with anger by some victims’ families, who described the offer as a publicity stunt.

At the hearing in Washington, Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he would call Boeing officials to testify at a hearing. DeFazio said the committee is in the middle of an in-depth investigation and had just received a “trove” of documents that panel investigators are reviewing.

(Reporting by David Sheperdson in Washington and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Writing by Tracy Rucinski and David Sheperdson; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Trott)

Senate rejects House-backed version of border aid bill

FILE PHOTO: The U.S.-Mexico border is seen near Lukeville, Pima County, Arizona, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected a bill approved a day earlier by the House of Representatives that would have provided $4.5 billion to address a surge in migration at the U.S. border with Mexico, while setting new standards for the care of migrants taken into custody.

Last month, President Donald Trump requested aid for programs to house, feed, transport and oversee a surge of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the United States.

But he had vowed to veto the House legislation. White House officials had said the bill would hamper the Trump administration’s border enforcement efforts.

The Senate was set to move to a separate vote on its own border aid bill after defeating the House measure.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Disaster aid bill worth $19.1 billion blocked again in House

FILE PHOTO - A man cycles past Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday failed again to pass a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill supported by President Donald Trump after a Republican lawmaker objected to the measure.

Following Senate passage of the legislation last Thursday by a vote of 85-8, House Democratic leaders had hoped to win quick, unanimous approval of the bill on a voice vote and send it to Trump for his expected signature.

But with most lawmakers out of town for a recess until June 4, individual House Republicans have been able to block passage twice – once last Friday and again on Tuesday – by demanding an official roll call vote. Any roll call vote would have to wait until the full House returns to work next week.

For months, lawmakers have been haggling over the disaster aid bill in response to hurricanes in the southeastern United States, severe flooding in the Midwest, devastating wildfires in California and other events.

The $19.1 billion in the bill is intended to help farmers cover their crop losses and rebuild infrastructure hit by disasters, including repairs to U.S. military bases.

On Tuesday conservative Republican Representative Thomas Massie objected to passage, saying, “The speaker of this House should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for 10 days and I object.”

On Friday, Representative Chip Roy, a first-term Republican, objected to the bill, citing concerns that the legislation did not include $4.5 billion Trump had requested to deal with a surge of Central American immigrants on the southwestern border.

Roy, a conservative, also complained that the cost of the bill was not offset by savings to other government programs. His move was praised by Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which says Congress should plan for disasters that occur every year instead of approving “emergency” funds for them after the fact.

Congress regularly approves disaster aid bills without any cuts to other programs. The measure is widely expected to pass the House once members return next week from a week-long Memorial Day recess.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; editing by Tim Ahmann and Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. House fails to pass disaster aid bill; second attempt likely next month

FILE PHOTO: Tom Geisler surveys damaged to his farm, following flooding in Winslow, outside Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday failed to pass a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill supported by President Donald Trump, but is expected to try again early next month.

Following Senate passage of the legislation on Thursday by a vote of 85-8, House leaders had hoped to win quick, unanimous approval of the bill and send it to Trump for his expected signature.

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this earial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this earial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

But since the House did not go through regular, more time-consuming procedures, it needed the consent of all of its current 432 members to approve the bill.

For months, lawmakers have been haggling behind the scenes over the disaster aid bill in response to hurricanes in the southeastern U.S., severe flooding in the Midwest, devastating wildfires in California and other events.

The $19.1 billion in the bill is intended to help farmers cover their crop losses and rebuild infrastructure hit by disasters, including repairs to U.S. military bases.

Representative Chip Roy, a first-term Republican, objected to holding the vote, citing concerns that the legislation did not include $4.5 billion Trump had requested to deal with a surge of Central American immigrants on the southwestern border.

Roy also complained that the cost of the bill was not offset by savings to other government programs.

“This is a $19-billion bill that is not paid for when we are racking up $100 million of debt per hour,” Roy complained.

Congress regularly approves “emergency” disaster aid bills without any cuts to other programs, despite objections from some conservative lawmakers.

When the House returns from a week-long Memorial Day recess it is expected to bring the legislation back to the House floor for likely passage.

Friday’s action played out in a nearly empty House chamber as most of its members have left Washington for a week-long Memorial Day holiday recess.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)

U.S. House takes aim at loose gun-sale checks; passes second bill

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a second bill in as many days to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills were likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.

The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.

While Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.

From 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 shootings in which four or more people were killed, with at least 1,001 total deaths, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Thursday’s background check bill would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It passed by a 228-198 House vote.

Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto both pieces of legislation if they reached his desk because the first would impose “burdensome requirements” and the second “burdensome delays.”

The current background check process allows a gun purchase to proceed after three days, even if a background check has not been completed, said Democratic Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.

He said that process resulted in 4,800 gun sales in 2017 to individuals with criminal records, a history of mental illness and other disqualifying circumstances.

“FBI analysis of the current background check system shows that 3 business days isn’t enough time to decide if someone shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Clyburn said on Twitter.

His bill aims to close what Democrats call the “Charleston loophole” in the background check law by extending the window to complete a check to 10 days. They say the loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where the background check bills originated, on Thursday called them “misguided” and said “my constitutional rights could be deferred indefinitely.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Susan Thomas)

House set to reject Trump’s border wall emergency declaration

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), flanked by Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) (L) and House Democrats hold a news conference about their proposed resolution to terminate U.S. President Trump's Emergency Declaration on the southern border with Mexico, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives was poised on Tuesday to vote for terminating President Donald Trump’s proclaimed national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, a first step toward what could be a stinging rejection of his proposed border wall.

If the Democratic-controlled House approves a resolution ending the president’s emergency, as expected, the measure would go to the Republican-controlled Senate where its chances of passage were slimmer, but seemed to be improving.

Trump has vowed to issue a veto, which would be the first of his presidency, against any resolution approved by both chambers targeting the emergency that he single-handedly declared on Feb. 15 as a way to fund his wall by circumventing Congress.

Overriding such a veto in Congress would require two-thirds majorities in both chambers, making it highly unlikely, said lawmakers.

“When you see the vote today, there will be nowhere near the votes to override a veto,” U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The battle in Congress is the latest chapter in a long-running war between Trump and Democrats over border security, immigration policy and the “great, great wall” that Trump has pledged to build since becoming a presidential candidate.

He originally promised that Mexico would pay for it, but after Mexico refused, he asked U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for the project, which Democrats call unneeded and ineffective.

In his first two years in office, Trump’s Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, which under the U.S. Constitution holds the national purse strings, but lawmakers failed to provide the funding Trump wanted for his border barrier.

When Congress, with the House now controlled by Democrats, refused in recent weeks to provide the money he wants, Trump declared an emergency and vowed to divert funds toward the wall from accounts already committed by Congress for other purposes.

That set up a test of the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the presidency that will likely lead to a court challenge after lawmakers deal with the resolution.

A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California has already sued Trump and top members of his administration in an attempt to block his emergency declaration.

Writing on Twitter on Monday, Trump, who says the wall is needed to stop illegal immigration and drugs, warned Republicans not to “fall into the Democrats ‘trap’ of Open Borders and Crime!”

Republican Representative Justin Amash is co-sponsoring the resolution in the House, along with more than 230 House Democrats, and Amash is urging his colleagues to support it.

“The same congressional Republicans who joined me in blasting Pres. Obama’s executive overreach now cry out for a king to usurp legislative powers,” Amash wrote on Twitter.

“If your faithfulness to the Constitution depends on which party controls the White House, then you are not faithful to it,” he wrote over the weekend.

The White House was working to limit Republican support for the measure, especially in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to attend a Senate Republican luncheon on Tuesday, where the resolution was expected to be a key topic.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, in an opinion article published in the Washington Post, said he backed Trump on border security, but would vote for the resolution because he “cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress.”

At least two other Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have said they will likely support the measure, too. For it to pass the Senate, at least one more Republican vote would be needed, assuming all Democrats and two independents back it.

Trump declared the emergency after Congress declined his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall.

Congress this month appropriated $1.37 billion for building border barriers following a battle with Trump, which included a 35-day partial government shutdown – the longest in U.S. history – when agency funding lapsed on Dec. 22.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)

House Republicans move to reprimand King over white supremacy comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives moved on Monday to strip congressman Steve King of his committee assignments after the Iowa Republican gave a media interview in which he questioned why white supremacy is considered offensive.

The decision by the House Republican Steering Committee to remove King from his posts on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees must be ratified by the full caucus of House Republicans.

The move comes as several House Democrats filed censure motions against King after he told the New York Times in an interview published last week: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

King, who has a history of making statements that critics have condemned as racist, said in a statement that his comments in the Times interview were “completely mischaracterized” and the committee’s decision was “a political decision that ignores the truth.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that King’s remarks were “beneath the dignity” of the party and the country.

“Let us hope and pray earnestly that this action will lead to greater reflection and ultimately change on his part,” McCarthy said.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called on King to resign. King was first elected to Congress in 2002 and won re-election in November with just over 50 percent of the vote, sharply lower than the 61.2 percent he polled in 2016.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said in a statement: “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Democrats to push shutdown halt that Trump unlikely to accept

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Ginger Gibson and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In their first action in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats plan to adopt a bill on Thursday to end a federal shutdown without funding a Mexican border wall, trying to firmly fasten blame for the 13-day-old closure on President Donald Trump and his Republicans.

Passage of the bill by the new Democratic majority was expected to occur shortly after Nancy Pelosi is elected speaker of the House, returning the liberal from San Francisco to one of Washington’s most powerful posts for a second time.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday his chamber, still in Republican hands, would not vote on the legislation, calling it a “political sideshow” and “total nonstarter.”

“We’re asking the president to open up government,” Pelosi told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday after another unproductive meeting with Trump on the matter. “We have given the Republicans a chance to take yes for an answer.”

The Democrats’ shutdown-halting bill closely resembles one that won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, which Democratic leaders say will put the onus on Republicans to accept it or clearly own the shutdown.

Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border triggered the shutdown affecting about a quarter of the federal government and 800,000 federal workers.

McConnell said previously that Senate Republicans would not approve a spending measure Trump does not support. The Senate leader has been largely absent from discussions over the shutdown, deferring to the White House after Trump surprised him by rejecting his prior attempts to keep the government open without funding the wall.

The House proposal, which would fund most of the government through September and provide another month to negotiate wall funding, will more likely be a starting point for further negotiations in the new divided government.

Congressional leaders said they would return to the White House on Friday to resume talks with Trump, a sign that the government is likely to remain closed for the rest of the week.

Funding for about a quarter of the federal government expired on Dec. 22, closing “non-essential” operations at agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Energy and Commerce.

National parks have closed campgrounds for fear that toilets will overflow. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without pay. The immigration courts, already overburdened, are largely shuttered.

While the first 12 days of the shutdown crept by quietly during the holiday season, Thursday will mark the changing of power in the House, in which the Democrats won a majority of seats in November’s elections, and a new dynamic, with Pelosi again central to moving any legislation through Congress.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)