Republican Scott wins Florida U.S. Senate seat after manual recount

(Reuters) – Florida’s outgoing governor, Republican Rick Scott, was declared the winner of the state’s hard-fought U.S. Senate race on Sunday, following a manual recount of ballots in the tight contest against three-term Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

In the recount of the Nov. 6 election, Scott won by 10,033 votes out of 8.19 million cast statewide, Florida elections officials said on Sunday. Scott took 50.05 percent, compared with 49.93 percent for Nelson, the officials added.

Nelson, first elected to the Senate in 2000, became the latest incumbent Democratic senator toppled in the midterm congressional election in which President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives.

Other incumbent Democratic senators defeated in the election include Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Scenes of thousands of people across the state reviewing ballots during the recount process had brought back memories of Florida’s 2000 presidential recount, which ended only after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, effectively handing the presidency to Republican George W. Bush.

“I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service,” Scott said in an emailed statement.

The statement ended, “Let’s get to work.”

Nelson’s office said he will issue a statement later on Sunday.

Scott, who was prevented by state law from running for a third term as governor, emerged from the vote with a lead of less than 0.5 percentage points, which prompted a recount of the ballots. Republicans including Trump made allegations, without offering evidence, that the process was marred by fraud.

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The battle between Nelson and Scott and the race to replace Scott as governor both were closely watched contests in which Democrats had hoped to topple Republicans. On Saturday, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican rival Ron DeSantis, an ally of Trump, in the governor’s race, which also went to a recount.

Scott, 65, entered politics from the business world, having amassed a personal fortune as a healthcare executive. He dipped into his wealth to help finance his campaigns, winning the governorship in 2010 and 2014 by about 1 percent of the vote.

Nelson, 76, has been a fixture in Florida politics since he won a seat in the state legislature in 1972. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives and has held state Cabinet posts.

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House ethics panel censures two lawmakers in misconduct probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee on Friday censured one lawmaker for sexually harassing women and another for mishandling accusations of sexual misconduct against his chief of staff.

The panel found Democratic Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada, who did not run for re-election and will not be in the new Congress that is seated in January, had sexually harassed women.

Three women testified Kihuen made unwanted physical and verbal advances from 2013 to 2017. Although Kihuen denied the allegations, the panel said it had found the women credible.

“It saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence. I extend my sincere apologies to each of these women,” Kihuen said in an emailed statement.

The ethics panel separately said Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, leader of the conservative breakaway group known as the House Freedom Caucus, failed to act adequately upon complaints from female staff members about his then-chief of staff, Kenny West, in 2013 and 2014.

The staffers said West stared at them inappropriately, touched them when it was not wanted and made unprofessional comments. The panel found Meadows had paid West for two months after he stopped working and ordered the congressman to repay $40,625.

Meadows’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and West could not immediately be reached for comment.

The House and Senate have not yet finalized legislation intended to boost protections for congressional staffers facing workplace harassment.

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Fed nods to concerns but still sees U.S. rate hikes

(Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate increases ahead, even as they raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the rate-hike cycle will soon peter out.

The widening chasm between market expectations and the interest-rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question facing U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as robust U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create jobs?

“We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent,” Richard Clarida, the Fed’s newly appointed vice chair, said in a CNBC interview. “I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed’s projection of where it’s going, that being at neutral would make sense,” he added, defining “neutral” as the policy rate somewhere between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

Such a range implies anywhere from two to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many he would prefer.

He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring tighter policy. But he also sounded a mild warning.

“There is some evidence of global slowing,” Clarida said. “That’s something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

“It’s my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States,” Kaplan said.

The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month.

Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed’s policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed’s current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76 percent over six trading days.

At the same time, long-term inflation expectations have been dropping quickly as well. The so-called breakeven inflation rate on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS, has fallen sharply in the last month. The breakeven rate on five-year TIPS US5YTIP=RR hit the lowest since late 2017 earlier this week.

Those market moves together suggest traders are taking the prospect of a slowdown seriously, limiting how far the Fed will end up raising rates.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Fed chief Patrick Harker also sounded a skeptical note.

“At this point I’m not convinced a December rate move is the right move,” he was quoted as saying, citing muted inflation readings.

But not all policymakers seemed that worried.

Sitting with his back to a map of the world in a ballroom in Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by “big boys and girls” who understand the risks.

He told reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25 percent so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7 percent, back up to a more sustainable level.

Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet. But the next six months, he said, bear close watching.

“There’s not a great headline” about risks to the economy right now, Evans told reporters. “International is a little slower; Brexit – nobody’s asked me about that, thank you; (the slowing) housing market: I think all of those are in the mix for uncertainties that everybody’s facing,” he said.

“But at the moment, it’s not enough to upset or adjust the trajectory that I have in mind.”

Still, Evans added, the risks should not be counted out: “They could take on more life more easily because they are sort of more top of mind, if not in the forecast.”

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U.S. judge orders White House to restore press pass to CNN's Acosta

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Friday ordered the White House to temporarily restore CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass, which was revoked after a contentious press conference last week with President Donald Trump.

The White House withdrew Acosta’s credentials last Wednesday in an escalation of the Republican president’s attacks on the news media, which he has called the “enemy of the people.”

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who is hearing CNN’s lawsuit challenging the revocation, said Acosta’s credentials must be restored while the network’s case is pending.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Acosta’s credentials would be temporarily restored.

“Let’s go back to work,” Acosta said to reporters after the hearing.

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But Trump said that “people have to behave” and warned of future court action against reporters who do not.

“If they don’t listen to the rules and regulations, we’ll end up back in court and we’ll win,” Trump said on Friday. “But more importantly, we’ll just leave. And then you won’t be very happy, because we do get good ratings.”

CNN said in a statement on Friday that it “looked forward to a full resolution in the coming days”.

In its lawsuit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, CNN said the White House violated the First Amendment right to free speech as well as the due process clause of the Constitution providing fair treatment through judicial process. The network asked for a temporary restraining order.

Kelly, a Trump appointee, did not address the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech and the press, focusing instead on the due process provision.

“Whatever process occurred within the government is still so shrouded in mystery that the government at oral argument could not tell me who made the initial decision to revoke Mr. Acosta’s press pass,” Kelly said in his verbal ruling.

In court, U.S. government lawyers said there is no First Amendment right of access to the White House and that Acosta was penalized for acting rudely at the conference and not for his criticisms of the president.

The judge said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ initial statement that Acosta was penalized for touching a White House staffer attempting to remove his microphone was “likely untrue and at least partly based on evidence that was of questionable accuracy.”

The day after the Nov. 6 congressional elections, Trump erupted into anger during the news conference when Acosta questioned him about the Russia probe and a migrant caravan traveling through Mexico.

“That’s enough, that’s enough,” Trump told Acosta, as a White House staffer attempted to take the microphone away from the correspondent. “You are a rude, terrible person.”

Sanders had accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern” and of preventing other reporters from asking questions at the news conference. She called his behavior “absolutely unacceptable.”

Videos of the encounter show Acosta pulling back as the staffer moved to take the microphone at the press conference.

On Friday, Sanders said the White House “will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future. There must be decorum at the White House.”

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U.S. opposes U.N. Golan resolution, wins Israeli praise

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States opposed on Friday for the first time an annual draft resolution at the United Nations calling on Israel to rescind its authority in the occupied Golan Heights, drawing praise from Israeli officials.

The Golan Heights form a buffer between Israel and Syria of about 1,200 square km (460 square miles). Israel captured most of it from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the territory in 1981, a move not recognized internationally.

The United States has abstained in previous years on “Occupied Syrian Golan” resolution, which declares Israel’s decision to impose its jurisdiction in the area “null and void”, but U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Thursday that Washington would vote against the resolution.

“The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights,” she said in a statement.

“The resolution is plainly biased against Israel. Further, the atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone,” she added.

Despite the U.S. opposition, a U.N. General Assembly committee approved the draft resolution on Friday with 151 votes in favor and 14 abstentions. Only Israel joined the United States in voting no. The General Assembly is due to formally adopt the resolution next month.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said in September he expected Israel to keep the Golan Heights in perpetuity, in an apparent nod toward its claim of sovereignty over the territory.

Since early in Donald Trump’s presidency, Israel has lobbied for formal U.S. endorsement of its control of the Golan. Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with other world powers, though his national security adviser John Bolton told Reuters in August a similar Golan move was not under discussion.

In the past two years, Trump has twice ordered U.S.-led air strikes against targets in Syria in response to what Washington called the use of chemical weapons against civilians by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Israeli officials praised the U.S. move.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called it “extremely important”, saying on Twitter that “no sane person can believe that it (the Golan) should be given to Assad & Iran”.

Tehran has supported Assad during the civil war and Israel has been warning against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.

Israel has closely monitored the fighting in Syria, where just across the Golan frontier battles have raged in clear view.

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U.S. Senate bill vows to get tough on robocalls, up penalties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators on Friday unveiled bipartisan legislation to toughen penalties on robocalls, make it easier for regulators to crack down on unwanted calls and compel mobile phone providers to adopt call authentication technologies.

Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, and Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, introduced legislation that would also bring federal agencies and state attorneys general together to “address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers.”

The bill would boost the civil penalties the Federal Communications Commission can impose on companies which intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions to $10,000 per call, up from $1,500.

YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls and tracks them, estimated there were 5.1 billion unwanted U.S. calls last month, up from 3.4 billon in April.

U.S. regulators have taken a number of actions to try to deter robocalls or automated, prerecorded calls that regulators have labeled a “scourge.”

“Existing civil penalty rules were designed to impose penalties on lawful telemarketers who make mistakes. This enforcement regime is totally inadequate for scam artists and we need to do more to separate enforcement of carelessness and other mistakes from more sinister actors,” Thune said.

The bill would require carriers to adopt technology to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones and require new rules to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers using unauthenticated numbers.

The bill also would extend the statute of limitations to three years up from one year for the FCC to impose robocall fines and direct federal agencies and state attorneys general to work together on prosecuting robocallers.

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote the chief executives of major telephone service providers and other companies, demanding they launch a system no later than 2019 to combat billions of robocalls and other nuisance calls received monthly by American consumers.

In May, Pai called on companies to adopt an industry-developed “call authentication system” aimed at ending the use of illegitimate spoofed numbers from the telephone system. The technology allows communications providers to cryptographically “sign” or use a “digital fingerprint” to verify a caller’s information.

The letters this month went to 13 companies including AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc, T-Mobile US Inc, Alphabet Inc, Comcast Corp, Cox Communications Inc and Sprint Corp.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons said this week that two-thirds of consumer complaints made to the agency are about unwanted calls. The FTC has begun publishing caller ID numbers of robocallers in consumer complaints so apps and telecommunications companies can use the data to block unwanted calls. Simons also urged Congress to give the FTC jurisdiction to investigate telecommunications companies as warranted.

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White House will temporarily reinstate CNN reporter's access

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Friday it will temporarily reinstate access for CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, after a U.S. judge restored Acosta’s press credentials for the time being, saying they had been revoked without due process.

“We will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future,” White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement.

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EU's Malmstrom urges China to help reform WTO or risk U.S. exit

PARIS (Reuters) – China must make concessions in negotiating reform of the World Trade Organization or risk seeing the United States turning its back on the current system, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a conference in Paris on Friday.

“China has won a lot from the WTO system, and we call on China to show leadership and to engage with us to reform and to update the system, to create a level playing field. Because otherwise the U.S. will create a level playing field outside the system,” Malmstrom said.

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Wall Street climbs on hopes of easing trade tensions

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks rose on Thursday on optimism the United States and China could resolve their trade dispute, after a news report said Washington would pause further tariffs on Chinese imports.

Wall Street’s major indexes reversed an early drop after the Financial Times reported that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a group of industry executives the next tranche of tariffs on Chinese imports was on hold.

Wall Street momentarily pared gains after a spokesperson for Lighthizer denied the report, saying plans for the tariffs had not changed. But stocks resumed their upswing and rose further in the last half-hour of trading.

“We’re getting conflicting messages, but the market is absolutely primed for any piece of good news it can get a-hold of,” said Michael Antonelli, managing director of institutional sales trading at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. “The market has been beaten down, and it’s weary. If it catches a ray of sunshine, it gets excited again.”

The benchmark S&P 500 index .SPX gained 28.62 points, or 1.06 percent, to 2,730.2, snapping five days of losses. Shares of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) advanced 2.5 percent to end a five-day losing streak and help the technology sector .SPLRCT climb 2.5 percent, the biggest gain among the S&P 500’s major sectors.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 208.77 points, or 0.83 percent, to 25,289.27 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 122.64 points, or 1.72 percent, to 7,259.03.

Shares of Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) advanced 5.5 percent after the network equipment maker’s quarterly revenue and earnings beat analyst estimates. Cisco was among the biggest boosts to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

Department store operator Dillard’s Inc (DDS.N) tumbled 14.8 percent after third-quarter earnings missed analyst estimates. Retailer J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) also reported same-store sales below analyst expectations. But J.C. Penney shares shed initial losses to climb 11.5 percent after Chief Executive Officer Jill Soltau indicated plans to turn a profit.

The gloomy Dillard’s and J.C. Penney results hurt Walmart Inc (WMT.N) shares, which fell 2.0 percent even though the world’s largest retailer beat same-store sales estimates and raised its full-year outlook.

KB Home (KBH.N) slumped 15.3 percent after the company cut its fourth-quarter revenue forecast. Shares of other homebuilders, including D.R. Horton Inc (DHI.N), Toll Brothers Inc (TOL.N) and Lennar Corp (LEN.N), also fell.

Shares of PG&E Corp (PCG.N) extended their losing streak to a sixth day, hitting a 15-year low of $17.26 and ending down 30.7 percent. The utility company warned it could face liability in excess of its insurance if its equipment caused the deadly Camp Fire in northern California.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a 1.35-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.05-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted six new 52-week highs and 19 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 17 new highs and 154 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 8.67 billion shares, up from the 8.58 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

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Wall Street gains after report next round of China tariffs put on hold

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks gave up early losses on Thursday to rise sharply after the Financial Times reported that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has told industry executives that the next round of tariffs on Chinese imports has been put on hold.

At 1:56 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 178.59 points, or 0.71 percent, at 25,259.09, the S&P 500 .SPX was up 24.55 points, or 0.91 percent, at 2,726.13 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 106.02 points, or 1.49 percent, at 7,242.42.

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