U.S. senators criticize Apple for not testifying on antitrust concerns

(Reuters) – Apple Inc is refusing to testify at an upcoming U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on competition issues related to mobile app stores, the bipartisan leaders of the panel said on Friday.

App makers long have accused Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPads, along with Google’s Play store for Android devices, of engaging in anticompetitive behavior by requiring certain revenue sharing payments and setting strict inclusion rules. A subcommittee hearing was being planned for late April but no date has been set yet.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Republican, said they wrote to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook on Friday urging the company to reconsider.

“A little more than two weeks before the planned hearing, Apple abruptly declared that it would not provide any witness,” the letter said. “Apple’s sudden change in course to refuse to provide a witness to testify…is unacceptable.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple and game maker Epic Games are scheduled to square off on those issues in a federal trial beginning May 3 in California.

A spokeswoman for Klobuchar did not immediately comment on whether Google or other companies had agreed to testify at the planned subcommittee hearing.

Google has agreed to testify at the hearing, a source said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Marguerita Choy

U.S. Senate semiconductor chip legislation – Biden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate leaders are preparing to introduce legislation on semiconductors, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday as the nation wrestles with an ongoing shortage of the critical technology used in a range of devices from cars to computers.

“We’re working on that. (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer and, I think, (U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch) McConnell are about to introduce a bill along those lines,” Biden said amid remarks on his own plan to boost the nation’s infrastructure.

Coronavirus: US Senate passes major $1.9tn relief plan

The US Senate has voted to approve America’s third major spending package to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan passed by 50 votes to 49 on Saturday, and will now head to the House of Representatives where it is expected to be endorsed.

The relief plan has been championed by President Joe Biden, but Republicans have criticised it as too costly.

Mr Biden’s Democratic Party compromised on a key issue ahead of the vote.

There were long discussions over federal unemployment benefit, which Democrats agreed to lower from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit would be extended until 6 September under the plan.

The package also envisages one-off payments worth $1,400 to be sent to most Americans.

America’s worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, with a current unemployment rate of 6.2%. 

What’s in the package?

The so-called American Rescue Plan allocates $350bn to state and local governments, and some $130bn to schools.

It would also provide $49bn for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14bn for vaccine distribution.

The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes – at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000.media caption”I’m not sure how we’re going to survive”

The extension of jobless benefits until September, meanwhile, would mark a key reprieve for millions of long-term unemployed Americans whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March.

The bill also includes grants for small businesses as well as more targeted funds: $25bn for restaurants and bars; $15bn for airlines and another $8bn for airports; $30bn for transit; $1.5bn for Amtrak rail and $3bn for aerospace manufacturing.

What were the sticking points?

While Republicans broadly backed two previous stimulus plans, passed when they controlled both the White House and the Senate under Donald Trump, they have criticised the cost of Mr Biden’s bill.

There was a marathon 27-hour session before the final vote on Saturday, and the 50-49 tally along party lines was indicative of the widespread Republican opposition.

The even split between the parties in the Senate meant that every Democratic senator needed to support the party’s plans.

But on Friday a moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, objected on the grounds that the huge bill might overheat the economy. It took 11 hours of negotiation throughout the night to come up with a deal.

The compromise on lowering unemployment benefit meant the package could move forward to a final vote.

“It’s been a long day, a long night, a long year, but a new day has come and we tell the American people help is on the way,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the vote.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, however, criticised the aid package. “The Senate has never spent $2tn in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process,” he said.

Mr Schumer has predicted that the House will endorse the bill and President Biden will sign it before boosted unemployment benefits expire on 14 March.

How the number of deaths has been falling in the US
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Trump awaits trial in the Senate

Donald Trump has been impeached – again. So what now?

Donald Trump waves as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on 12 January
image captionDonald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice

The former president is the first in US history to have been charged with misconduct – or impeached – twice by the lower chamber of US Congress.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives accused Mr Trump of encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud and egging on a mob to storm the Capitol on 6 January.

Some Republicans also backed impeachment in that historic vote.

What happens next?

Mr Trump, a Republican, now faces trial in the upper chamber, the Senate. 

A two-thirds majority in the Senate means a conviction. 

If Mr Trump is convicted, senators could also vote to bar him from ever holding public office again.

OK, when is the trial?

It is set to start next month.

Before that, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, needs to send the article of impeachment – the charge of incitement laid out and approved by the lower chamber – to the Senate.

She is set to do that on 25 January. According to the Constitution, that triggers the trial phase which must begin by 13:00 (local) the following day.

But the new Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has agreed to a request from the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, for more time during the pre-trial phase. So the trial itself will begin on 9 February.

Can he be tried now he has left?

It’s never happened before so it’s untested and the US Constitution doesn’t say.

Impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon were ended when he quit in 1974.

So Mr Trump could take his case to the Supreme Court, claiming his trial was unconstitutional.

Some lower ranked officials have been impeached after leaving office.

Would Mr Trump be convicted in the Senate?

Democrats only hold half the 100 seats so they would require 17 Republicans to vote against someone from their own party.

That’s a tall order from a party that has largely remained publicly loyal to Mr Trump.

But 10 Republicans in the House supported impeachment and a couple of senators have indicated they are open to it.

Even Mitch McConnell says he has not yet made up his mind how he will vote.

Could Trump run for president again if convicted?

If he is convicted by the Senate, lawmakers could hold another vote to block him from running for elected office again – which he had indicated he planned to do in 2024. 

This could be the biggest consequence of this impeachment.

If he is convicted, a simple majority of senators would be needed to block Mr Trump from holding “any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States”.

So 50 senators plus a casting vote from Vice-President Kamala Harris would be enough to damn Mr Trump’s hopes of political power.

This could be appealing to Republicans hoping to run for president in the future and those who want Mr Trump out of the party.

What about other benefits?

There has been talk of Mr Trump losing benefits granted to his predecessors under the 1958 Former Presidents Act, which include a pension and health insurance, and potentially a lifetime security detail at taxpayers’ expense. 

However, Mr Trump is likely to keep these benefits if he is convicted after leaving office.

What was his first impeachment for again?

That was over his dealings with Ukraine, although he denied any wrongdoing.

He was accused of pressing the country’s leader to open an investigation into Mr Biden, then his emerging rival for the White House, and his son Hunter.

Mr Trump appeared to use military aid as leverage. He was impeached by the House and cleared by the then Republican-controlled Senate.

Georgia Senate election: Raphael Warnock projected to win seat for Democrats

Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock is projected to win the first of two nail-biting Senate races in Georgia, unseating Republican Kelly Loeffler.

With 98% of votes counted, US TV networks and the Associated Press news agency called the race for Mr Warnock.

Control of the Senate in the first two years of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s term will be determined by the outcome of the second runoff.

The result is a blow for outgoing Republican President Donald Trump.

The election is being rerun because none of the candidates in the November general election achieved the 50% needed for victory under state rules.

If confirmed, Mr Warnock would become the first black senator for the state of Georgia – a slavery state in the US Civil War – and only the 11th black senator in US history.

Claiming victory, Mr Warnock paid tribute to his mother, Verlene, who as a teenager worked as a farm labourer. 

“The other day – because this is America – the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said.

Although Mr Biden’s Democrats would need to take both seats to gain full control of Congress, the Republican party of outgoing President Donald Trump needs only to win one in order to retain the Senate.

When will we get a result?

With 98% of ballots counted from Georgia’s 159 counties, both races were closely fought.

Mr Warnock has a wafer-thin lead over Ms Loeffler, while Republican David Perdue is tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Thousands of votes remain to be counted in the Atlanta suburbs such as DeKalb County, which is expected to go heavily for the Democrats. Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling told CNN that final results were expected by lunchtime on Wednesday (about 17:00 GMT).

More than three million votes – about 40% of the state’s registered voters – were cast before Tuesday. Early voting was a key benefit for Mr Biden in November’s White House election.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump – whose unsubstantiated claims that he was the victim of electoral fraud left Republican strategists worried about turnout in Tuesday’s Senate runoffs – continued to cast aspersions on the integrity of the vote in Georgia.

On Saturday, Mr Trump pushed Georgia’s top election official Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to “find” enough votes to overturn Mr Biden’s presidential election win in the state.

What’s at stake in Georgia?

The vote in the Peach State will decide the balance of power in the Senate.

If both Democrats win, the Senate will be evenly split 50-50, allowing incoming Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

This would be crucial for pushing through Mr Biden’s agenda, including on key issues such as healthcare and environmental regulations – policy areas strongly contended by Republicans.

The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden’s nominees for cabinet and judicial posts.

If Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both win, it would bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

What do the exit polls say?

Mr Trump’s unproven claims of voter fraud may have eroded voter confidence in the election system, according to exit polls from Edison Research.

Its survey of voters leaving polling stations found around 70% of them were very or somewhat confident their votes would be counted accurately, a drop of nearly 15% from November’s White House election.

Exit polls showed Georgians in a clean split over which party they want to control Congress: 49% favoured Republicans, while 48% said the Democratic party.

The demographics roughly matched those in November. Black voters, who made up 29% of the electorate, favoured the Democratic candidates nine-to-one. The Republicans, meanwhile, were winning a majority of white voters.

And these surveys showed that most voters were repeating the choices they made in November. Georgians who supported Mr Trump were casting ballots for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler, while Biden supporters were doing the same for Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff.

Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue
image captionSenators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are the candidates for the Republican Party
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are the Democratic challengers
image captionJon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are the Democratic challengers
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Trump will face blame if Republicans lose

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

Although the results are not final, it appears Republican worries about the two run-off elections in Georgia were well-founded. Their voters did not show up at the polls in the kinds of numbers they were hoping. Meanwhile, Democrats turned out at higher levels. In county after county, both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock outperformed their general election numbers.

The two Democrats, at times running as a team, appeared to complement each other’s electoral coalitions. Warnock energised black voters across the state. Mr Ossoff, although he slightly underperformed his Democratic counterpart, still attracted suburban and educated voters around Atlanta.

If it turns out both Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock prevail, Donald Trump will receive considerable blame for the Republican defeats. The party that loses the White House usually does better in subsequent congressional elections, not worse. And Georgia, despite Joe Biden’s victory there, is still a traditionally conservative state.

Instead, the two races were a dead heat coming down the stretch, as Mr Trump spent most of his time and energy disputing his electoral defeat and lobbing attacks at Republican leaders in the state.

It turns out that may not have been a wise electoral strategy – and it could cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Why was there a runoff election in Georgia?

None of the candidates reached the 50% needed to win outright in the elections in November, forcing Tuesday’s runoff elections under Georgia’s election rules.

Mr Perdue nearly prevailed first time out against Mr Ossoff, a former filmmaker, falling just short of the required majority with 49.7%.

The other seat had more candidates, with Democrat Mr Warnock recording 32.9% to Ms Loeffler’s 25.9%.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years but the party has been boosted by Mr Biden’s presidential election win over Mr Trump there. Mr Biden’s margin of victory was about 12,000 votes among five million cast.

If elected, Mr Warnock would become Georgia’s first black US senator and 33-year-old Mr Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member since Mr Biden in 1973. 

Mr Warnock serves as the reverend of the Atlanta church where assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr grew up and preached.

Graphic

What happens next?

On Wednesday, more political drama will unfold in Washington DC as lawmakers gather in a special joint session to ratify the results of November’s presidential election.

The typically procedural affair – which will affirm Mr Biden’s victory – has become unusually contentious, with about a dozen Republican senators vowing to challenge the results.

The group, led by Senator Ted Cruz and including Ms Loeffler, wants a 10-day delay to audit unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. The move is all but certain to fail as most senators are expected to endorse the results that have already been certified by US states. https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia captionSenator Ted Cruz on Donald Trump: Then and now

Vice-President Mike Pence is set to preside over the session in his role as president of the Senate. 

He has come under pressure this week from Mr Trump to reject the certification, but the vice-president told Mr Trump at their weekly lunch on Tuesday that he has no power in Congress to block Mr Biden’s win, according to the New York Times. Mr Trump said the report was “fake news”.

Supporters of Mr Trump are demonstrating in the capital, disputing the presidential election. Mr Trump is expected to address a “Save America Rally” in the nation’s capital on Wednesday. The mayor has asked for the National Guard to be deployed in the city amid fears of unrest.

Mr Biden, a Democrat, is due to be inaugurated as president on 20 January. 

President Trump has refused to concede the election to Mr Biden, who won 306 votes to Mr Trump’s 232 in the US electoral college, which confirms the president. 

Mr Biden won at least seven million more votes than the president.