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Confirmed: Pence’s Unprecedented Tie-Breaking Vote Gives DeVos The Edge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s choice of billionaire Betsy DeVos to be education secretary was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, but only after Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break a tie that threatened to defeat her.

The tie-breaking vote, which Senate officials said was unprecedented to confirm a president’s Cabinet nominee, came after two Republicans joined with 46 Democrats and two independents in opposition to DeVos. Critics have called her unprepared to lead the Department of Education.

Following a rocky Senate confirmation hearing, Democrats have attacked DeVos as being unprepared to lead the Department of Education.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer immediately derided the proceeding.

“This cabinet nom is so unqualified, so divisive, that @MikePenceVP had to drive down Pennsylvania Ave to cast the deciding vote,” he wrote in a Twitter post after the vote.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the vice president also serves as president of the Senate, with the power to cast votes only when there are ties on nominations or legislation.

Democrats kept the Senate in session throughout Monday night debating on DeVos and in an attempt to pressure one more Republican to join in opposition to DeVos and thus defeat her.

Ultimately, only Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the Democrats and two independents in opposition to DeVos. That left 50 Republicans supporting her in the 100-member chamber.

Historically, Cabinet nominees with weak support in the Senate ask the president to withdraw their nomination, which DeVos did not do.

DeVos is married to the heir and former CEO of Amway, which sells household and personal care items. She is also the daughter of the founders of Prince Corp, a Michigan car parts supplier and sister of Erik Prince, the founder of the security company formerly known as Blackwater USA, now called Academi.

As Monday night’s debate wound down, Schumer said of DeVos: “She disdains public education where 90 percent of our students are.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging her confirmation, said it was time to “end the unprecedented delay by Democrats” on the Cabinet nominations by Trump, a Republican who took office on Jan. 20.

DeVos has been an advocate of charter schools, which operate independently of school districts and frequently are run by corporations. Democrats are concerned she will promote charter schools in a way that would undercut public schools, which have long been the anchor of the U.S. education system.

The Senate is now expected to move on to debating Trump’s choices of Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, Representative Tom Price to be secretary of Health and Human Services and ex-banker Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary.

All three face opposition from Senate Democrats.

Also facing a rough ride is Trump’s choice of Andrew Puzder to be secretary of labor. Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc, has admitted to employing an undocumented immigrant as a house cleaner.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Sarah Lynch and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Even The Koch Brothers Are Lobbying Against The Republican Border Tax Plan

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (Reuters) – Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch is launching a campaign to sink a border tax under consideration by Republican leaders in Congress, a move that could complicate the lawmakers’ efforts to find a way to pay for President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group founded by Charles Koch and his brother David, plans to use its network of wealthy political donors and activists to kill the proposal, which aims to raise $1.2 trillion over 10 years on goods coming into the United States, according to officials from the group, which gathered this weekend for a conference.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan is pushing the tax as part of a broader overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

The White House has given mixed signals on whether Trump supports the approach, but proponents say revenue collected from the border tax could finance Trump’s drive to build a wall along the southwestern U.S. border. Proponents also say it would discourage U.S. manufacturers from moving abroad.

On Thursday, AFP sent a letter expressing its opposition to the border tax to a House panel in charge of writing tax legislation.

AFP Chief Executive Officer Luke Hilgemann, in an interview, called the measure “a massive tax increase” on U.S. consumers, who would pay more for foreign goods. He urged Ryan to “go back to the drawing board.”

AFP and its offshoot organizations have become a powerful force in U.S. politics, bolstering candidates and issues on federal and state levels.

Besides defying Republican leaders on the border tax, the Koch-led organization on Sunday challenged Trump on a policy he implemented on Friday to stop the movement of people from countries with large Muslim populations from traveling to the United States.

“The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive,” said an official of the Koch network.

Koch refused to endorse Trump during his presidential campaign, differing with the candidate over his positions on immigration and trade policy, and his practice of singling out companies for possible retribution if they move jobs abroad.

Nevertheless, Hilgemann said AFP had a “developing relationship” with the Trump White House, which he said had reached out to his organization to discuss some policy matters.

At the same time, former AFP officials have landed high-level jobs in the Trump administration, giving the group a conduit for airing its policy wishes.

Looking toward the 2018 congressional and gubernatorial elections, AFP officials said they planned to boost the network’s spending on policy and political activities to between $300 million and $400 million, up from an estimated $250 million for the 2016 campaigns.

Hilgemann also said AFP was laying plans to mobilize activists to help win Senate confirmation of Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court nominee. The White House said Trump was planning this week to announce his pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

The New Republican Majority In Congress Lays Groundwork For Trump Era

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Congress begins a new session on Tuesday where it will start laying plans for enacting President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, repeal of Obamacare and the rollback of financial and environmental regulations.

With Trump set to be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, Republican lawmakers hope to get a quick start on priorities that were blocked during Democratic President Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House.

Since his election on Nov. 8, the Republican president-elect has made clear he wants to move swiftly to enact proposals he outlined during the campaign such as simplifying the tax code, slashing corporate tax rates and repealing and replacing Obama’s signature health insurance program known as Obamacare.

Republicans have long sought to dismantle Obamacare, insisting it was unworkable and hampered job growth. But they face a dilemma over how to provide health insurance for the 13.8 million people enrolled in Obamacare who could lose their coverage. The law aims to provide health insurance to economically disadvantaged people and expand coverage for others.

Last month Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said that before the election, he assumed Democrats would take back control of the Senate and hold on to the White House, ending any talk of repealing Obamacare.

“I didn’t think … Trump had a chance of winning,” McConnell said in a Dec. 19 interview with Kentucky Educational Television.

The opposite occurred and now Republicans find they have to deliver on their campaign promise, even though they have not agreed on a replacement healthcare program.

Trump kept up his attack on the law on Tuesday, tweeting: “People must remember that ObamaCare just doesn’t work, and it is not affordable,” and adding, “It is lousy healthcare.”

The first meeting of the 115th Congress will be full of ceremony, as the 435 members of the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate are sworn in.

Amid the celebration will be a move by House Republicans to clear the decks for Obamacare repeal.

That will come in the form of a vote on rules governing House procedures in the two-year term of the chamber. Tucked into the rules package is a move to prevent Democrats from slowing or stopping Obamacare repeal legislation because of the potential cost to the U.S. Treasury of doing so.

Leading Democrats warned on Monday of a fierce battle over Obamacare.

“We’re going to fight as hard as ever to protect the ACA (Affordable Care Act),” said Representative Steny Hoyer, the House’s second-ranking Democrat.

Speaking to reporters, Hoyer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they would launch an effort to mobilize grassroots support for Obamacare by explaining how repeal would create a ripple effect hurting a majority of Americans.

Obama is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with congressional Democrats to discuss strategies for fending off the Republican attacks on Obamacare.

CABINET, SUPREME COURT NOMINATIONS

The Senate will kick off hearings on Trump’s choices to head his Cabinet departments and other top jobs in the new administration.

It is also expected to receive a Supreme Court nomination from Trump early in his term to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February. Republicans refused to consider Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland last year.

Prominent Republican Senator John McCain has warned that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, will have to explain his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom McCain has called a “thug and a murderer.”

Tillerson, who spent much of his career at Exxon Mobil Corp, has been involved in business dealings in Russia and opposed U.S. sanctions against Moscow for its incursion into Crimea.

While McConnell repeatedly called for removing Obamacare “root and branch,” he said in the Kentucky television interview that his top priorities for the new Congress were dealing with the “massive overregulation” he said had been a brake on the U.S. economy and accomplishing tax code changes to stop companies from moving jobs offshore.

Republican lawmakers also want to curtail or block regulations aimed at controlling industrial emissions that contribute to climate change, and roll back banking industry reforms enacted after the near-collapse of Wall Street in 2008.

Republicans might use upcoming spending bills funding government agencies to try to kill some of those regulations. Trump is also expected to try to use his executive powers toward that end.

Republicans will hold a slightly smaller majority in both the Senate and House than they enjoyed the past two years.

That means Democrats will still have bargaining power, especially on issues that divide Republicans, such as spending priorities.

IMAGE: Child guests of a U.S. House member take their seats in the House chamber for the ceremonial first day of the new session of Congress in Washington, U.S. January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

New U.S. Congress Prepares To Undo Obamacare, Weigh Trump Picks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new, Republican-controlled U.S. Congress convenes on Tuesday eager to repeal major portions of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law and roll back environmental and financial industry regulations, but could quickly become embroiled in fights over President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices.

Despite his promise to unite a deeply divided country, Trump will be sworn in on Jan. 20 leading a Republican Party that early on will push legislation through Congress without significant – or any – Democratic support.

According to a Gallup poll released on Monday, Trump will take office with less than half of Americans confident in his ability to handle an international crisis, use military force wisely or prevent major ethics lapses in his administration.

Leading Democrats on Monday warned of a fierce fight over Obamacare, which is expected to have 13.8 million people enrolled in the program that aims to provide health insurance to economically disadvantaged people and to expand coverage for others.

Obama is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with congressional Democrats to discuss strategies for fending off Republican attacks on Obamacare.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence will meet with his fellow House Republicans the same day to rally them on repealing Obamacare, Politico reported.

Republicans in coming weeks will try to steer legislation through Congress using procedures that would not require Democratic cooperation. Their bill, which has not been unveiled, is expected to repeal Obamacare, but postpone the actions for two or three years while also maintaining some of the law’s provisions.

“We’re going to fight as hard as ever to protect the ACA (Affordable Care Act), said Representative Steny Hoyer, the House of Representatives’ second-ranking Democrat.

Speaking to reporters, Hoyer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they would launch an effort to mobilize grassroots support for Obamacare by explaining how repeal would create a ripple effect hurting a majority of Americans.

For years, Republicans have hammered away at Obamacare, insisting it was unworkable and was hampering job growth. With control of Congress and the White House, they will be in a position to enact a repeal bill.

The Senate will have more than legislation on its hands in the new year.

It has the daunting task of debating and voting on the scores of appointees Trump already has announced to head his Cabinet departments and for other top jobs in the new administration.

It also is expected to receive a Supreme Court nomination early on from Trump, triggering a likely confirmation war.

Prominent Senator John McCain has warned that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, will have to explain his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom McCain has called a “thug and a murderer.”

Tillerson, who spent much his career at Exxon Mobil Corp, has been involved in business dealings in Russia and opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia for its incursion into Crimea.

Meanwhile, Democrats are expected to oppose Republican Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, in part because of his opposition to immigration and past remarks that showed racial insensitivity.

And given Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington of special interests, especially Wall Street influence, Democrats are also poised to attack the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to be treasury secretary.

Mnuchin is a successful private equity investor and hedge fund manager who spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Nevertheless, Trump is expected to win approval of most, if not all, of his nominees.

Besides Obamacare repeal, Republicans also want to curtail or block regulations aimed at controlling industrial emissions that contribute to climate change and banking industry reforms enacted in the wake of the near-collapse of Wall Street several years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who waged bitter battles against Obama over the past eight years, has warned his fellow Republicans against overreaching following their Nov. 8 election victories.

In an interview with Kentucky Educational Television on Dec. 19, McConnell said, “It’s certainly no time for hubris” and there is “not much I can do (legislatively) with Republicans only in the U.S. Senate.”

While he repeatedly called for removing Obamacare “root and branch,” McConnell said in the interview that his top priorities for the new Congress were dealing with “massive overregulation” that he said has been a brake on the U.S. economy and accomplishing tax code changes to stop companies from moving jobs offshore.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2016.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Trump Again Tries To Pass Off New Sprint Jobs As His Own Deal (It’s Not)

PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday said telecommunications group Sprint Corp and a U.S. satellite company OneWeb will bring 8,000 jobs to the United States, and the companies said the positions were part of a previously disclosed pledge by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp.

SoftBank holds stakes in both companies and its chief, billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son, earlier in December said he would invest $50 billion in the United States and create 50,000 jobs.

Sprint in January said it had cut 2,500 jobs as part of its plan to cut $2.5 billion in costs. On Wednesday it said it would create 5,000 jobs in areas including sales and customer care by the end of its fiscal year ending in March 2018.

Sprint spokesman Dave Tovar said the jobs were part of the pledge made by Son but would be funded by Sprint.

SoftBank and OneWeb had announced on Dec. 19 that the Japanese company was leading a $1.2 billion funding round.

OneWeb plans to use the funds to build a plant in Florida to produce low-cost satellites, creating almost 3,000 jobs at the company and its suppliers.

SoftBank described its $1 billion share of the funding as the first tranche of the $50 billion promised by Son in a meeting with Trump.

It is not clear whether the $50 billion SoftBank investment would be part of a $100 billion tech investment fund that the head of SoftBank and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had announced earlier in the year.

“I was just called by the head people at Sprint and they are going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States, they are taking them from other countries,” Trump told reporters outside his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

“And also OneWeb, a new company, is going to be hiring 3,000 people. So that’s very exciting,” he added.

Shares of Sprint Corp, which is 82 percent owned by SoftBank, were barely changed in after-hours trading.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Heather Somerville; Writing by Ayesha Rascoe and Peter Henderson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

Asked About Russian Sanctions, Trump Says ‘We Ought To Get On With Our Lives’

PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that the United States and Russia lay to rest the controversy over Moscow’s computer hacking of Democratic Party computers, saying, “We ought to get on with our lives.”

Trump has cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers took information from Democratic Party computers and individuals and posted it online to help Trump win the election.

The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for hacking into U.S. political institutions and individuals and leaking information, two U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Asked by reporters if the United States should sanction Russia, Trump replied: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

Trump made his remarks at Mar-a-Lago, his seaside Florida resort where he is spending the Christmas and New Year’s holidays while also interviewing candidates for administration jobs.

Trump said he was not familiar with remarks earlier on Wednesday by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said Russia and President Vladimir Putin should expect tough sanctions for the cyber attacks.

“We have speed. We have a lot of other things but I’m not sure you have the kind of security that you need. But I have not spoken with the senators and I certainly will be over a period of time,” he said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump delivered brief remarks to reporters at the Mar-a-lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump’s Infrastructure Splurge On A Collision Course With Skilled Labor Crunch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s drive to rebuild U.S. roads, bridges, ports and other public works projects with a $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan would come as the country faces a shortage of skilled laborers.

Before any dirt can be moved, Trump would have to get approval from Congress. But with Democratic support and a push from business groups, there is some optimism that Trump could win over skeptical Republicans who control Congress, if the plan does not add significantly to federal debt.

More than two-thirds of U.S. roads are in less than good condition and nearly 143,000 bridges need repair or improvement, the Transportation Department estimates.

At the same time, construction contractors have reported tight labor conditions in the South, Midwest and Southwest, causing project delays, the Federal Reserve noted last month.

Earlier this year, the National Association of Home Builders estimated there were around 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the United States, an 81 percent increase in the last two years.

Infrastructure projects need highly trained workers, such as heavy equipment operators and iron specialists. But as a result of the 2007-2008 recession, which caused an estimated 25 percent of construction jobs to vanish, their ranks have thinned.

Many of these workers went back to school, joined the military or got lower-paying jobs in retail, services and other sectors. Some just got too old for the rigors of construction.

“They wandered off into other careers,” said Leonard Toenjes, president of Associated General Contractors of Missouri, which represents contractors in the state.

Undocumented immigrants, who otherwise might help replenish those ranks, are unlikely candidates however, since companies do not want to invest in training people with an uncertain status, especially given Trump’s anti-immigrant bent.

The labor shortage is driving up construction costs, according to government and industry experts, which could cut into the scope of any new Washington investment scheme.

In response to the construction “skills gap,” the U.S. Department of Labor and Federal Highway Administration are aiming to expand help to localities training workers for road and bridge building, according to a FHWA spokesman.

Even if the scope of work is not as grandiose as Trump originally envisioned, it would benefit a range of businesses, from steel maker Nucor Corp and concrete firm US Concrete Inc to construction machinery companies such as Caterpillar Inc.

More infrastructure spending would boost trade unions, too, which appeals to Democrats.

MCCONNELL WARY

“We will build new roads, tunnels, bridges, railroads, airports, schools and hospitals,” Trump boasted in a Dec. 1 speech in Cincinnati.

A Trump transition representative, who asked not to be named because the topic was still under discussion, said that enactment of “infrastructure funding legislation” is one of the top priorities for the first 100 days of the new administration. A Trump website refers to taking steps that would fill a $1 trillion gap in infrastructure investments over 10 years.

Like many Trump campaign proposals, his infrastructure plan is thin on details.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters earlier this month: “What I hope we will clearly avoid, and I’m confident we will, is a trillion-dollar stimulus.”

In a departure from past fiscal policies, Trump has proposed slashing taxes and expanding infrastructure investment at a time of economic stability. Historically, such steps have been used by the government to provide economic stimulus in recessions.

Trump has discussed investor tax credits for infrastructure projects. Democrats have attacked this as a boon to Wall Street that would spark too few projects and create too few jobs.

House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week infrastructure is something her party could collaborate on with Republicans.

But she said Democrats would reject anything “disguised as infrastructure. It has to be a real infrastructure bill that grows the paychecks of American workers.”

If Congress balks at writing a big check, there is talk of a mix of alternatives. One could involve new corporate income tax revenue from bringing foreign profits into the country. Others could be an infrastructure revolving fund, raising the gasoline tax or a new surface freight fee, experts said.

These could help marquee projects move forward: a Hudson River rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey; a deeper port in Charleston, South Carolina; expanded rail service in southern California; fixing the crumbling I-70 freeway in Missouri; replacing a key bridge linking Ohio and Kentucky.

Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University, said fixing roads and bridges would boost U.S. productivity and, depending on how it is structured, generate good-paying jobs for those without college educations.

Given shortages of high-skilled construction labor, he said government ought to ramp up the projects carefully to allow time to train a new generation of skilled workers. “I’m not sure anyone has thought that through,” he said.

(Click here for graphics on U.S. construction employment, spending)

(Additional reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Heavy equipment set up by the occupiers as a roadblock remains on the road leading to the headquarters to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Oregon February 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

House Speaker Ryan Won’t Defend Or Campaign For Trump

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives distanced himself from Donald Trump on Monday as the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign sank deeper into crisis over his sexually aggressive remarks about women.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told an emergency meeting of fellow Republican lawmakers that he would neither defend Trump or campaign with him in the coming 30 days, the time remaining to the Nov. 8 presidential and congressional elections, but would focus on protecting Republican majorities in Congress.

His comments were made during a conference call by Republicans in the U.S. Congress, a source familiar with the call said. The call was arranged to work out how to handle the fallout from a video that surfaced on Friday showing the Republican nominee making lewd comments about women in 2005.

Ryan said that he would spend the remainder of the election campaign making sure that if Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wins in November she does not get a “blank check” in the form of Democrat-controlled Congress, the source said. Republicans currently control both the House and Senate.

The latest drama around Trump, a New York businessman who has never previously run for public office, has plunged the party into its biggest crisis in decades.

Ryan has had several public disagreements with Trump but until now has nonetheless supported his presidential bid.

During a weekend dominated by criticism of Trump over the remarks about women, a string of members of Congress, governors and other prominent Republicans called on him to drop out of the race.

Republican members of Congress are worried that Trump’s campaign could ruin their chances of holding their majorities in the elections and inflict long-term damage on the party.

Nearly half of all 332 incumbent Republican senators, congress members and governors have condemned Trump’s remarks, and roughly 1 in 10 have called on him to drop out of the race, according to a Reuters review of official statements and local news coverage.

But any attempt to replace Trump on the ballot this close to Election Day would face huge legal and logistical hurdles.

A defiant Trump went on the offensive in a vicious presidential debate on Sunday, saying Clinton would go to jail if he were president and attacking her husband, Bill Clinton, for his treatment of women.

The debate, the second of three before the vote, was remarkable for the brutal nature of the exchanges between the two.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Amanda Becker, Amy Tennery, Michelle Conlin, James Oliphant and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at a news conference following a closed Republican party conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Republicans’ Congress Lull Could Impede A Clinton Presidency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in Congress are planning a light legislative agenda as they return from their long summer break on Tuesday, a strategy some say is designed in part to bog down Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

It is not uncommon for the Congress to take it slow in an election year and legislative delays could work in Republicans’ favor if their nominee Donald Trump takes the White House in November.

But the strategy will also pay dividends if it is Clinton who takes office on Jan. 20. She will be forced to deal with old baggage rather than focus on her agenda of infrastructure investments and immigration and Wall Street reforms.

“If Hillary wins, we force her to waste time, resources, momentum, early good will and political capital – all on cleanup duty,” said a senior aide to one Republican senator.

If all goes as expected this autumn, a U.S. Supreme Court seat, vacant since Feb. 13, will remain unfilled until sometime next year. A sweeping Pacific free-trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama will be on hold, if not doomed.

And if many conservative Republicans get their way, government agencies will run on stop-gap funding from Oct. 1 until sometime in February or March. That means that the next president would have to negotiate a longer-term deal or face the prospect of government shutdowns in the early days of a new administration.

Senior congressional aides have told Reuters their agenda for the coming months include bills to keep the government funded, combat the spreading Zika virus and renewing laws guarding the nation’s water resources.

Other items would help the majority Republicans score political points with key constituencies before the November elections, even though they have no chance of becoming law.

These include scolding the Obama administration for a $400 million payment to Iran in January after Tehran released American prisoners, anti-abortion measures and, once again, proposals to repeal Obama’s landmark healthcare law.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former aide to Republican leaders in Congress, acknowledged that public opinion polling is trending in Clinton’s direction.

If Clinton wins, Bonjean added, “The whole mindset (among Republican leaders in Congress) would shift to taking care of the most important business to help Republicans and unloading the more difficult, tense issues for a Clinton administration to deal with.”

Clinton has maintained a lead in most polls since Republican and Democratic conventions, but some surveys showed that lead narrowing. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sept. 2 showed Trump effectively pulling even with the Democratic nominee.

Yet one veteran Republican congressional aide said more and more Republicans in Congress brace for the White House to stay in Democratic hands for the next four years, even if their party manages to maintain control of Congress.

Trump’s trouble in appealing to important groups of voters, such as Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians, and self-inflicted wounds “have made it pretty clear he’s highly unlikely to get there,” he said.

Leaving the Supreme Court nomination and other high-profile disagreements for 2017 “does bog down” a new administration, “no question about it,” the aide said.

Some election years mean a slow autumn in Congress, but this is not always the case. In 2012 for example, lawmakers dramatically labored all the way through New Year’s Eve addressing a “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax and spending laws.

Not all of the delays in passing legislation are purely on Republican shoulders though.

While Trump has blasted free-trade deals, leading Democrats, including Clinton, also have criticized Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership pact that would create a free-trade zone ranging from Japan to Chile.

Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, downplayed the challenges Clinton might face early on. “She knows how to deal with Congress. She’s been there,” he said referring to Clinton’s years as a senator representing New York.

Besides, he added, if Trump loses, Republicans will be busy dealing with their own problems.

“They’ll have to think seriously about how they got themselves in the trouble that they’re in.”

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Julia Edwards and Tomasz Janowski)

Photo: Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to reporters as he arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Trump Hovers Over McCain, Rubio Senate Re-Election Races

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican voters in Arizona and Florida are expected to pick Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio as their respective U.S. Senate nominees when they go to the polls on Tuesday, but one name not on either ballot, Donald Trump, looms large.

The Republican presidential nominee has endorsed both McCain and Rubio in their re-election bids even though he has rocky relations with both senators.

Trump offended McCain and many other Republicans last year by suggesting that the maverick senator and party’s 2008 presidential nominee was anything but a war hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War after his airplane was shot down during a bombing mission.

In March, Trump ended Rubio’s presidential bid by trouncing him in the Florida primary to cap a race in which the New York businessman taunted the first-term senator as “little Marco,” and Rubio insulted Trump on everything from his hair color and the size of his hands to misspelled words in tweets.

During their re-election efforts, both McCain and Rubio have offered support for Trump as the party’s White House nominee. But they have tiptoed around him, mainly out of concern that his provocative comments on illegal immigration, Muslims and U.S. support for NATO could alienate moderate and independent voters in their states.

At the same time, they have steered clear of attacks on Trump that might antagonize his core supporters.

Adding to the intrigue is that the fates of the two senators will likely play a big role in whether Republicans can upset expectations and maintain majority control of the Senate after the Nov. 8 election.

But first, McCain will have to win Tuesday’s Republican primary in Arizona and Rubio will have to prevail in Florida.

McCain, who is trying to extend a 30-year Senate career, faces a challenge from physician and former state Senator Kelli Ward, who is aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement.

McCain leads Ward by 55 percent to 29 percent, according to a CNN opinion poll released last week. But Ward is ratcheting up her attacks, arguing: “It’s time to defeat the establishment and retire McCain.”

In an interview last week with Politico, Ward called McCain, 80, “a pretty sour old guy.” Citing her medical background, she questioned whether he would even live long enough to complete another six-year Senate term.

Ward has aligned herself with Trump, who will face Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election.

MIXING THE MORTAR

Echoing Trump’s call for the building of a wall on the southern border with Mexico, Ward has boasted: “It’s time to mix the mortar to fix the border.”

Trying to neutralize Ward’s appeal with conservatives, McCain has touted his support for gun rights, his vow to cut government waste and endorsements from anti-abortion leaders.

If McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, wins on Tuesday, he would face Democratic U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick.

While McCain has said he is in the toughest re-election fight of his career, the CNN poll has him opening a 13-point lead over Kirkpatrick.

Rubio, who decided last year not to seek re-election to the Senate in order to pursue the Republican presidential nomination, jumped into the race in June after his failed White House bid.

His late decision to seek a second Senate term came at the urging of Republican Party leaders, who viewed him as their best hope for preventing Democrats from taking the seat.

That prompted the major Republican Senate candidates to quit, leaving Carlos Beruff, 58, a millionaire homebuilder and newcomer to politics, as Rubio’s main primary challenger. Like Ward, Beruff has embraced Trump and has accused Rubio of “tap dancing” around the presidential nominee and only offering him lukewarm support.

Rubio is polling well ahead of Beruff. A win on Tuesday means Rubio would likely face U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy, who leads the Democratic field.

(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump waves goodbye as he leaves the stage after his wife Melania concluded her remarks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar