U.S. House passes bill to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday narrowly voted, for the second time in less than a year, to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, sending it to the Senate where it faces stiff Republican opposition.

By a vote of 216-208, the Democratic-controlled House approved the initiative with no Republican support.

The population of Washington, D.C. is heavily Democratic. As a state, it likely would elect two Democratic senators, potentially altering the balance of power in the Senate, which now has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.

Democrats, who have been advocating statehood for the capital of the United States for decades, hope to take advantage of last November’s election of President Joe Biden as well as control of the Senate and House to admit a new state for the first time since 1959, the year Alaska and Hawaii joined the union.

Democrats argued statehood would fix a centuries-old wrong of “more than 700,000 Americans citizens who pay federal taxes, who fight and die in wars, who serve on our juries and yet have no vote in the Senate or the House of Representatives,” said Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky. “That is the definition of taxation without representation.”

The new state would be named “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” after George Washington, the first U.S. president, and Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved person who became a famous abolitionist.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Grant McCool and Chizu Nomiyama)

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)

House to deliver Trump impeachment charge on Monday, rejecting Republican push for time

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will deliver an impeachment charge against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, rejecting Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s request for a delay.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who displaced McConnell as the chamber’s leader after Democrats won two Georgia runoff elections this month, announced the move on the Senate floor but did not say when Trump’s second impeachment trial would begin.

“The House will deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate. The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Friday.

That came the morning after McConnell asked the House to delay sending the charges until next Thursday, and to agree not to start the trial until mid-February to give Trump more time to prepare a defense against the charge that he incited insurrection by his followers who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” McConnell said on Friday. “The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself.”

The moves come as Schumer and McConnell are struggling to assert control in a 50-50 chamber where Democrats hold now hold a razor-thin majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

The trial could distract from Democratic President Joe Biden’s efforts to push an ambitious legislative agenda through Congress, including nearly $2 trillion in fresh COVID-19 relief for Americans and U.S. businesses, as well as the need to confirm his Cabinet nominees.

Trump last week became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, and when the Senate convenes for his trial will be the first president to be tried after leaving office.

Ten House Republicans joined Democrats on Jan. 13 in impeaching him. The support of at least 17 Senate Republicans would be needed to convict him; a separate vote would then be needed to ban him from running for office again.

Such a vote could signal that senior Republicans were eager to remove Trump as the de facto leader of their party; he has said he may seek to run again in 2024.

Trump’s fate ultimately could depend on McConnell, whose position is likely to influence other Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Republican said this week that the mob was “fed lies” and “provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

U.S. Senate backs massive defense bill, despite Trump veto threat

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Friday threw its weight behind the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a $740 billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, passing the bill with a margin large enough to overcome President Donald Trump’s promised veto.

The Republican-controlled Senate backed the bill by 84 to 13, more than the two-thirds majority needed in the 100-member chamber to override a veto.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives backed the NDAA by 335 to 78 earlier this week, also more than the two-thirds majority needed.

Backers hope strong bipartisan support will prompt Trump to reconsider his threat to veto the annual bill, which sets policy for the U.S. military and has become law for 59 straight years.

The White House said earlier on Friday that Trump’s position had not changed. The president will have 10 days – minus Sundays – to issue a veto, sign it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Trump has threatened to veto the fiscal 2021 NDAA because of a provision to remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases.

He also objects because it does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc from liability for what appears on their platforms, although that is not related to the military.

Trump also objects to some provisions in the legislation that could slow plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis and Philippa Fletcher)

U.S. Senate passes, sends to Trump, one-week extension of government funding

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Friday unanimously approved a one-week extension of federal funding to avoid a government shutdown this weekend and to provide more time for separate negotiations on COVID-19 relief and an overarching spending bill.

With the Senate’s vote the measure now goes to President Donald Trump for signing into law.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan)

Senate blocks confirmation of Trump Fed nominee Shelton

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judy Shelton to the board of the Federal Reserve, making her the latest in a string of failed nominees to the central bank.

Trump’s Republican Party has a 53-47 majority in the current Senate, but several were absent, including two who were quarantining due to exposure to COVID-19, and others joined Democrats in voting ‘no’ in the so-called cloture vote.

The vote was 47 to 50 with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voting ‘no’ to preserve the option to reconsider later.

Shelton, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign who has argued the nation would be better off returning to the gold standard, as recently as 2017 criticized the Fed’s power over money and financial markets as “quite unhealthy.” During her Senate confirmation process, she called the Fed’s bond-buying and zero rates in the last crisis “extreme.”

Her views on interest rates have moved in lockstep with Trump’s. She lambasted easy money before Trump’s presidency, but supported it after he took office, and has expressed skepticism over the Fed’s need to set policy independently from the president and Congress.

Other Trump Fed nominees that failed to be confirmed included former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who later died of COVID-19.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; writing by Ann Saphir; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Edward Tobin)

Sullivan wins re-election in Alaska, giving Republicans 50 seats in Senate: Edison Research

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska won re-election, Edison Research projected on Wednesday, leaving control of the Senate to be determined in January by two runoff elections in Georgia.

Sullivan, 55, defeated Al Gross, an independent who ran as a Democrat in an election that some political analysts had seen as a potential opportunity for Democrats to capture a Republican seat.

Coming a day after Republican Senator Thom Tillis won re-election in North Carolina, Sullivan’s victory confirms that Democratic hopes of winning a majority of seats, and with it the power to support Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda, will come down to two Georgia elections scheduled for Jan. 5.

With Biden’s White House victory, Democrats need to pick up three Republican Senate seats to hold 50 Senate seats, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.

Biden has surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes needed to defeat Republican incumbent President Donald Trump.

Democrats won Republican seats in Arizona and Colorado in last week’s election. But they lost a seat in Alabama, reducing their gain to a single seat.

In Georgia, Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Susan Heavey; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Trump says he has fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that he had “terminated” Defense Secretary Mark Esper, appearing to use his final months in office after his Nov. 3 election defeat to settle scores within his administration.

Trump, who publicly split with Esper in recent months over a range of issues, said on Twitter that Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will become acting secretary of defense. The Senate would be highly unlikely to confirm any new nominee before Trump leaves office in January.

“Mark Esper has been terminated,” Trump said on Twitter. “I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately.”

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

Esper had long been preparing for the prospect of his resignation or dismissal following the Nov. 3 election, particularly if Trump were to win a second term in office, sources said.

Trump has steadfastly refused to acknowledge his election loss.

Esper angered Trump particularly by opposing Trump’s threat to use active duty troops to suppress street protests over racial injustice in the United States during the summer.

Esper also disagreed with Trump’s dismissive attitude toward the NATO alliance, sources said.

(Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. Senate kills $300 billion coronavirus aid bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday killed a $300 billion coronavirus aid bill written by Senate Republican leadership, as Democrats blocked the measure on a procedural vote.

The Senate voted 52-47 to advance the bill, short of the 60 votes needed to continue debate on the measure.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Senate to vote on Republican coronavirus aid bill opposed by Democrats

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate was set to vote on Thursday on a Republican bill providing around $300 billion in new coronavirus aid, far below the $3 trillion Democrats insist is needed to stimulate an ailing economy and help people struggling through the pandemic.

In what could be the final vote on coronavirus relief in Congress before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections, Republicans and Democrats appeared to be deadlocked over the next steps in responding to a virus that has killed more than 190,000 people in the United States and nearly 900,000 globally.

If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fails, as expected, to get the 60 votes needed in the 100-member chamber to advance his latest bill, lawmakers will likely focus on wrapping up other work within the next couple weeks so they can return to their home states to campaign for re-election in November.

Earlier this year, Congress quickly passed four major bills providing about $3 trillion to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill in May that would provide another $3 trillion in aid. But gridlock has since prevailed.

Some Republican senators expressed doubts on Wednesday that a compromise coronavirus bill would emerge quickly if McConnell’s latest “skinny” bill is rejected on Thursday in the Republican-controlled chamber.

“There’s always some possibility,” said Senator Richard Shelby, adding: “Unless something really broke through, it’s not going to happen.”

The Republican bill would renew a federal unemployment benefit, but at a lower level than Democrats sought. It also would set new protections for businesses against liability lawsuits during the pandemic, which Democrats have labeled a “poison pill.”

An array of other initiatives, including aid to state and local governments, a second round of direct federal payments to households and bailouts for U.S. airlines during the economic downturn were not addressed in the Republican bill and could be considered in a possible post-election session of Congress.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)