What to Know in Washington: Biden Wears Target in Second Debate

The lineup of the second debate of Democratic presidential candidates today and tomorrow is almost exactly the same as the first. But the stakes are higher as the contenders try to ensure they will survive an inevitable winnowing of the crowded field.

And this time, Joe Biden knows his Democratic rivals are coming for him.

Biden will be the main target of rivals such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who are likely to once again confront him on issues from criminal justice to health care.

“I’m not going to be as polite this time,” Biden said Thursday at a fundraiser in Detroit.

Biden has retreated to huddle with advisers for five days of debate preparation behind closed doors, even as other candidates maintained busy public schedules through the weekend and Monday.

“Joe Biden probably goes into this debate right now with the largest expectations in terms of what he must do,” said Mitchell McKinney, a professor at the University of Missouri who studies presidential debates. With attacks likely to come from many directions, Biden can no longer afford to position himself above the primary fray and focus his campaign on running against Donald Trump in November, he said.

Booker has been increasingly critical in recent weeks, calling Biden “the architect of mass incarceration” for his 1994 crime bill. Booker continues to poll in low single digits and needs a breakout moment. Biden is also likely to be confronted by Harris, who stole the spotlight in the first forum last month when she attacked him for his record on school desegregation. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Biden Harris Debate
Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Biden and Harris engage during the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27 in Miami.

Democrats Play Catch Up in Rust Belt: Trump, both as a candidate and as president, has assiduously targeted Rust Belt states with attention and policies — including tariffs — that he can point to as evidence he made good on his promise to bolster American manufacturing, especially the steel industry. That’s put Democrats running to replace him at risk of falling behind the president in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio that will prove crucial to deciding who wins the White House. And so far, they’re not doing a lot to catch up.

“Our steel industry was going out of business,” Trump said in mid-July during a White House event to promote domestically produced goods. “If I hadn’t been elected, you would have no steel industry now. It would be gone.”

Trump campaigned in 2016 on revamping trade deals to revive America’s industrial base — a strategy that helped him pick off the historically Democratic states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that Hillary Clinton took for granted. Democrats carried those three states in every election from 1992 to 2012 and they will need them to win in 2020.

If anything, Trump’s hand has been strengthened. The manufacturing sector added 264,000 jobs in 2018, the biggest annual gain in two decades. And the steel industry, buoyed by Trump’s 25% tariffs that curbed imports, has added workers while making plans to invest billions in new mills and upgrading old ones. Read more from Matt Townsend and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Happening in the Senate

Judicial Nominations:The Senate began working through a list of 19 Trump judicial selections Monday evening by advancing the nominations of two district court nominees, including Greenberg Traurig shareholder Michael Liburdi. It’s unclear whether the Republican-led chamber will get through the entire batch of Trump nominees before breaking on Thursday for its August recess, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to clear a significant number of them.

The Senate has set an aggressive pace for fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to appoint conservative judges, so far clearing 43 appeals court judges, 86 district court judges, and Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Read more from Jake Holland.

Trump Wins Veto Fight on Saudi Bill: The Senate lost a bid to override Trump’s veto and block arms sales to Saudi Arabia to punish the kingdom for the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The votes yesterday demonstrate the limits of Congress’ ability to act as a check on the president’s policies, even on foreign policy issues where some Republicans oppose the president’s position. Only a handful of GOP senators joined Democrats in voting to override the vetoes. None of the three resolutions got over 46 votes, far short of the two- thirds majority needed.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Saudi Arabia has been targeting civilians in its war against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. “There are few days in this body when we can say our votes will save lives,” Menendez said on the Senate floor just before the votes. “Today is such a day.“ Read more from Daniel Flatley.

Lawmakers Urge Russia Sanctions in NDAA: Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked leaders of Senate and House Armed Services panels to include Russia sanctions legislation in the final version of the annual defense policy bill. The sanctions language would “prevent future efforts by foreign governments and foreign actors to interfere in American elections by making it clear that such interference will be met with swift and severe consequences,” Van Hollen and Rubio wrote in a letter to leaders of the committees.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the 2020 defense bill, and a conference committee will work on a compromise that must pass both chambers and be signed by Trump to become law. Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill wasn’t included in the Senate version. Read more from Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis.

White House Scrutinized

Trump Confidant Backed Saudi Nuclear Goals: Thomas Barrack, a confidant and top fundraiser of Trump, urged the White House to sell the Saudis nuclear technology without restrictions designed to prevent the kingdom from building nuclear weapons, according to a report House Democrats released yesterday. Barrack, founder and chairman of Colony Capital along with IP3 International, a consortium seeking to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, wielded “outsized influence” to promote the technology transfer without barring the Saudis from reprocessing or enriching spent fuel for nuclear weapons, the House Oversight Committee report found.

The Trump administration is considering approving a nuclear-sharing deal with Saudi Arabia that would ease those prohibitions that scuttled past negotiations during the Obama administration, Bloomberg News reported in December 2017.

“With regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policy making from corporate and foreign interests,” said the report, which was prepared for Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). The report was based on 60,000 pages of new documents the committee obtained that “raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the president’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons,” according to the report. Read more from Ari Natter and James Rowley.

Trump Suit Over N.Y. Taxes Delayed 24 Hours: A federal judge put on hold Trump’s request for an emergency order barring House Democrats from getting his New York State tax records and gave the parties 24 hours to defuse the situation. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington said the order was intended to balance three interests: the president’s desire for a hearing; the House Ways and Means Committee’s contention it is shielded from Trump’s suit by the Constitution’s so-called speech or debate clause; and New York state’s assertio n that the court lacks jurisdiction over Trump’s claim against it.

Nichols, whom the president appointed to the bench in January, issued his directive yesterday following a nearly two-hour hearing on the attempt to block the information from being turned over before Trump has a chance to challenge it in court. Read more from Andrew Harris and Laura Davison.

Mnuchin’s Ex-Bank Hit Over Alleged Discrimination: OneWest Bank will pay more than $7 million to settle California Reinvestment Coalition allegations that the company engaged in racial discrimination in mortgage lending from 2014 until at least 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said yesterday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was OneWest’s chairman for some of the period in which misconduct is alleged to have occurred in the Los Angeles area.

HUD said in a statement it approved the accord between OneWest and the California group, which accused the bank of redlining. OneWest denied the claims, and said it settled to get “administrative closure.” No individuals, including Mnuchin, were accused of misconduct. OneWest, which Mnuchin built from the remains of a bank that failed during the 2008 financial crisis, was bought by CIT Group in 2015, and now operates as a subsidiary. Mnuchin served on CIT’s board until late 2016, when he was tapped to become Trump’s treasury secretary. Read more from Austin Weinstein.

What Else to Know

Trump’s Trade Aid Went to Biggest Farms: More than half of the Trump administration’s trade war aid for farmers went to just a 1/10 of the recipients in the program, according to an analysis of payments by an environmental organization. Eighty-two farming operations received more than $500,000 in payments through April under the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Market Facilitation Program, according to the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed payment records it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act covering $8.4 billion i n payments. Read more from Mike Dorning.

China Tries to Woo U.S. Trade Team: Chinese trade negotiators are set to host their U.S. counterparts at a landmark of jazz-era Shanghai on the city’s riverside Bund, re-opening trade talks with a marked change of atmosphere after an almost three-month hiatus. U.S. delegates including Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are set to attend a dinner at the Fairmont Peace Hotel tonight, according to people familiar with the matter.

Expectations for a breakthrough in the trade talks remain low. The two sides are further apart than they were three months ago, when negotiations broke down and each side blamed the other for derailing attempts to reach a deal. China is pushing for compromise in the talks, with state media underlining this week that the U.S. should meet it “halfway.” Read more.

China Sea Tensions Loom Over ASEAN Summit: Rising tensions in the South China Sea and the fallout from the U.S.-China trade war are set to dominate talks this week as diplomats converge in Bangkok for a key Southeast Asia summit. Pompeo will be joined at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting by his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on the heels of trade talks between the two countries in Shanghai today.

The meetings come amid accusations from Vietnam and the Philippines that China has become more aggressive in asserting its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea, a move the U.S. last week termed “bullying behaviour.” Still, China will be looking to further advance a long-anticipated maritime code of conduct with ASEAN, Southeast Asia’s 10-nation bloc, after both sides agreed upon a preliminary draft, an Indonesian official said yesterday. Philip Heijmans, Bibhudatta Pradhan and Arys Aditya have more.

U.S. to Appeal Order Blocking Asylum Rule: The Trump administration will appeal a federal judge’s ruling last week that bars it from implementing a new rule that would make it impossible for Central American immigrants to apply for asylum at the Mexican border if they haven’t done so already, and were denied, in another country they traveled through. Lawyers for the government filed a notice of appeal yesterday in federal court in San Francisco. They also filed an emergency request that the judge’s preliminary injunction will be put on hold while the case is before the appeals court. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration must face a lawsuit by immigrants from Central America who claim U.S. border agents used threats and intimidation to deny them the opportunity to apply for asylum. A federal judge in San Diego yesterday largely denied the government’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. The case precedes the administration’s rule that immigrants from Central American countries must apply for protection from torture and prosecution in a country they travel through before they are eligible to apply at the U.S. border. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

Hospitals to Disclose Prices in Trump’s Medicare Proposal: Some 6,000 hospitals nationally would be required to disclose the standard prices for their medical services and any discounted rates paid by health insurers as part of a wave of new Medicare proposals announced yesterday. The three proposals continue the administration’s push to cut paperwork, streamline regulations, and increase price transparency. The new hospital price disclosure proposal by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would require facilities to post all their negotiated rates for 300 common “shoppable services,” like hip replacements or tonsilectomies, in an easy-to-read format. Read more from Tony Pugh.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com