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)

Top House Republican threatens to cut funding to states, cities that don’t protect statues

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation on Thursday that would cut federal aid to state and local governments if they do not protect statues, after protesters attacked monuments to people who owned slaves or fought for the Confederacy.

“It is wrong to erase our history,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement, criticizing “left-wing mobs” who have attacked statues across the United States.

Under his bill, introduced with fellow Republican Representatives Jim Jordan and Sam Graves, some federal funds would be withheld if local governments do not “restore order or arrest rioters.”

During national – and international – protests against racial injustice sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May some demonstrators have taken down or vandalized statues of historical figures such as Robert E. Lee, who led Confederate troops against the United States, and Christopher Columbus.

Republican President Donald Trump, who is campaigning for re-election in November, has harshly criticized such protesters, and criticized U.S. lawmakers who want to remove monuments to those who owned slaves and fought against U.S. forces in the 1860’s Civil War.

Trump has threatened decades-long prison terms for those who deface monuments or statues.

McCarthy introduced his bill as Democrats pushed legislation to remove monuments to slave owners and those who supported slavery from the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

On Thursday, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the House would pass such legislation next week or the week after.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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)