U.S. House to vote Wednesday on Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will take up the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Wednesday, officials said on Tuesday, with the chamber’s expected approval enabling the Democratic president to sign the legislation into law later this week.

Passage of the massive package, one of the biggest U.S. anti-poverty measures since the 1960s, would give Biden and the Democrats who control Congress a major legislative victory less than two months into his presidency.

The House will consider the legislation starting at 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters. The bill was just sent over to the House on Tuesday morning from the Senate.

The House Rules Committee announced it will meet at midday on Tuesday to prepare the bill for floor action. The committee sets the terms for debate and amendments on bills.

The Senate, where Democrats have effective control, passed its version of the bill on Saturday after a marathon overnight session. The upper chamber of Congress eliminated or pared back some provisions in an original House bill, including an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The changes the Senate made must be approved by the House before it can make its way to Biden’s desk.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the House Democratic leadership, called it a “transformational bill” and told reporters, “We’ll pass it, hopefully with some Republican votes.”

Democrats hold a very narrow majority in the House, meaning they can afford to lose only a handful of votes by their own members against the bill.

The first version of the bill passed the House without a single Republican vote. Two moderate Democrats joined Republicans in voting against that version. One of them, Representative Kurt Schrader of Oregon, said on Monday he would now vote for the bill with the Senate changes.

“My concerns remain on the size and scope of this bill but believe the Senate changes provide meaningful relief for Oregonians in need,” Schrader wrote in a post on Facebook.

Republicans, who broadly supported economic relief early in the coronavirus pandemic, have criticized the price tag of the Biden relief package.

Some progressives in the House have criticized the Senate’s changes. But Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters she thought members of her group would back the legislation.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki praised the legislation at a news conference on Monday, saying that while there were some changes on the margins, it represented the “core” of what Biden originally proposed.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Scott Malone, Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. House to bring Trump incitement charge to Senate, launching second impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday will formally charge  former President Donald Trump with inciting insurrection in a fiery speech to his followers before this month’s deadly attack on the Capitol, signaling the start of his second impeachment trial.

Nine House Democrats who will serve as prosecutors will proceed through the building where hundreds of Trump supporters fought with police, leaving five dead, at about 7 p.m. on Monday (0000 GMT), carrying the article of impeachment to the Senate where Trump will face trial.

A similar ceremony was carried out for Trump’s first impeachment trial last January, when the House clerk and sergeant at arms led a small procession of lawmakers through a hushed Capitol.

It will mark two historic firsts – Trump is the only U.S. president to have been impeached by the House twice and will be the first to face trial after leaving office. Conviction in the Senate could result in a vote to ban him from holding future office.

Leaders of the Senate, which is divided 50-50 with Democrats holding a majority because of the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, have agreed not to start the trial until Feb. 9. That gives Trump more time to prepare a defense and allows the chamber to focus on President Joe Biden’s early priorities, including Cabinet appointments.

Ten House Republicans joined Democrats in voting to impeach Trump, a step akin to an indictment in a criminal trial. Senate Democrats will need the support of 17 Republicans to convict him, a steep climb given Trump’s continued popularity with Republican voters.

‘A FLAMING FIRE’

Multiple Republicans, including the party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, have condemned the violence and criticized Trump for inciting it. Republican Senator Mitt Romney told CNN on Sunday that the trial was necessitated by Trump’s inflammatory call to his supporters.

“I believe that what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense. If not, what is?” said Romney, a frequent Trump critic and the only Republican to vote to convict him at his first impeachment trial.

But a significant number of Republican lawmakers have raised objections to the impeachment. Senator Marco Rubio pronounced the trial “stupid” and “counterproductive” on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” Rubio said.

The case is a simpler one than Trump’s first impeachment, which focused on a phone call with Ukraine’s president that was disclosed by a whistleblower. In this case, the actions in question played out in a public speech and a separate phone call to a Georgia election official that was released to the news media.

Trump was acquitted in his first trial last year, which took nearly three weeks and dealt with charges the president had abused his power and obstructed Congress in relation to his call pressing Ukraine to investigate Biden. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday the second trial would be fairly quick.

“Everyone wants to put this awful chapter in American history behind us. But sweeping it under the rug will not bring healing,” Schumer said in New York. “I believe it will be a fair trial. But it will move relatively quickly and not take up too much time because we have so much else to do.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

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)