What to Know in Washington: House Passes Bipartisan Budget Deal

The House passed a two-year debt ceiling extension and budget bill yesterday in a bipartisan deal backed by Trump that will lessen the chance of a government shutdown this fall and put any risk of a U.S. default off until after the 2020 election.

The measure, passed 284-149, would allow a $324 billion increase in discretionary spending for two years over existing budget caps. Most Republicans voted no despite Trump having urged them to support it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the plan a “good deal” and said he expects his chamber to clear it next week for Trump’s signature.

“House Republicans should support the TWO YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT which greatly helps our Military and our Vets. I am totally with you!” the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, hours before the vote.

Voting for the bill were 219 Democrats and 65 Republicans, while 16 Democrats and 132 Republicans opposed it.

The bill would avert a potential default on payments in early September by extending the U.S. borrowing limit through July 31, 2021. Congress will still need to scramble to pass spending bills adhering to the new $1.3 trillion spending cap to fund the government when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Congress will work in September on passing spending bills to avoid a shutdown. Republicans and Democrats, as part of the deal, agreed that no “poison pills” will be in the spending bills, though they left that term undefined. That creates the risk that a dispute over a specific funding proposal, such as a border wall, could cause another shutdown. The Senate hasn’t drafted any of the spending bills and plans to vote on them in committees during that month. Given the backlog, a stopgap spending b ill is likely to be enacted before the Oct. 1 deadline as the full-year spending bills are negotiated. Read more from Erik Wasson.

BGOV OnPoint: Appropriations Update for July 26.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Getty Images
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the steps of the Capitol.

Happening on the Hill

No Action Yet on Escobar Border Efforts: The House yesterday left for recess a day earlier than planned and without passing one of its first major border-related bills. The measure aims to establish new oversight mechanisms and reports for the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration systems. The delay came despite a wave of scrutiny from lawmakers over the conditions of migrant facilities and allegations of crude behavior and sexual assault by agents. A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said leadership planned to take up the legislation again in September, Michaela Ross and Emily Wilkins report.

The bill, by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), had been slimmed down earlier yesterday to remove several controversial provisions, Hoyer said in a hallway interview. Last-minute changes made July 17 by the House Homeland Security Committee to an amended version of the bill worried some members, according to two senior Democratic aides. Concerns included the cost impact of the bill and a provision that could expose individual agents to lawsuits for violating family separation policies.

  • At least 981 more children were separated from their parents under a Trump administration policy than were previously identified as part of the lead-up and early implementation of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy last year, Jonathan White of the Health and Human Services Department’s Public Health Service Commissioned Corps told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. Those children are in addition to the over 2,800 that White’s office had previously identified as part of the June 2018 court ca se that ordered reunification, Michaela Ross reports.

Dozens of District Court Picks Eyed: Senate leaders are preparing to put more federal judges on the bench before Capitol Hill shuts down for the August recess. McConnell filed for cloture, or to limit debate, on 19 judicial nominations. The list includes two who were first nominated by President Barack Obama and later renominated by Trump.

In private negotiations, leaders are seeking a bipartisan deal on nominees who could be confirmed by unanimous consent, shortening the amount of time that senators spend on floor debate. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said the cloture filings could be viewed as a negotiating tactic. “Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” he said. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Panel Releases Nixon Tax Details as Precedent: House Democrats released documents yesterday to show that their attempt to get Trump’s tax returns has historical precedent. The House Ways and Means Committee voted to publish documents detailing how members of a congressional tax committee used their authority to get President Richard Nixon’s tax information and that the Internal Revenue Service immediately complied, according to a statement from panel Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.). The documents show that the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation requested several years of Nixon’s tax returns from the late 1960s to the early 1970s to see if he improperly took tax breaks. Read more from Laura Davison, Kelly Zegers, and Colin Wilhelm.

Venezuelan Immigration Relief Bill Passes: A measure to provide temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans is headed to the Senate just days after an earlier attempt at House passage failed to get the necessary votes. The measure (H.R. 549), which passed yesterday on a vote of 272 to 158, would grant temporary protected status to Venezuelans currently in the U.S. in the wake of the Trump administration’s refusal to do so. The House voted 268 to 154 in favor of the bill on Tuesday, but the measure failed to garner the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass under suspension of the rules. Read more from Laura D. Francis.

Self-Help Panel Focuses on Tech: Requiring lawmakers receive instruction in both cybersecurity and civility and making Congress more accessible for those with disabilities are a few of two dozen recommendations unanimously approved by a House panel seeking to update the chamber. The bipartisan proposals are the second batch from the Modernization Committee, which was established under the House rules package (H. Res. 6) in January and will dissolve by the end of the year.

The bulk of the recommendations approved yesterday dealt with technology, including updating how outside technology vendors are approved and creating a customer service portal. “You’re seeing massively disruptive technological changes,” said Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.). “Frankly I think Congress has been behind the 8-ball in that regard.” Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Business Groups to Push USMCA During Recess: U.S. business groups are stepping up efforts to get Congress to ratify a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, pressing lawmakers when they go home for their August recess to support a vote when they return to Washington. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gathered leaders from 18 trade associations Thursday at its headquarters near the White House to promote the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. The group released a letter to lawmakers this week on behalf of about 600 business and agricul tural organizations urging support for the pact. Read more from Mark Niquette and Ben Brody.

Elections & Politics

Democrats Preparing For 2020 Senate Fight: Democrats trying to win control of the Senate next year will depend on candidates like Mark Kelly. On paper, the Arizona Democrat looks like a blue-chip recruit: Navy combat veteran; former astronaut; prominent gun-control activist; husband of ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But the party out of power doesn’t yet have enough Kellys to go around, and Democrats won’t know until deep in the campaign season which of their contenders are good at parrying attack ads, opposition research, and Twitter harangues.

Republicans have advantages in 2020, including a Senate election map dominated by states Trump won in 2016. Trump won in 20 of the 22 states where Republicans are defending Senate seats, and he won 15 of them by at least 14 percentage points. For Democrats, that makes recruiting strong challengers essential. And so far they’ve had mixed results. Read more from Greg Giroux on the fight for the Senate.

Sanders, Warren Face a Potential Knockout Round: New England Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will face off early next year in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary with a huge prize at stake: the claim to the party’s progressive mantle. The two rivals have similar strengths and weaknesses. Each hails from a neighboring state and espouses popular left-leaning ideas such as Medicare for All and canceling student debt. Both are struggling to win over the black and Hispanic voters who will be influential in subsequent primaries, leaving little room for error in New Hampshire.

The Feb. 11 vote has broad implications for their campaigns. The outcome could determine which of the two candidates emerges as standard-bearer of the Democratic Party’s rising progressive wing, which is vying for dominance against an establishment represented by front-runner Joe Biden. The rivalry between Sanders and Warren will play out on July 30 when they appear on the same stage during the Democratic debate in Detroit. Read more from Sahil Kapur and Laura Litvan.

Democrats Denounce Death Penalty’s Return: Democratic presidential candidates renewed their opposition to the death penalty after Attorney General William Barr announced the Trump administration would resume executions following a de facto 16-year hiatus. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) was most to the point, tweeting simply: “Abolish the death penalty.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor, called capital punishment “immoral and deeply flawed,” while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called it a “violation of human rights.” Read more from Gregory Korte.

  • Barr’s announcement followed a Supreme Court term that indicated an increasing receptiveness toward capital punishment now that Trump’s two appointees are on the bench. But as recently as 2015, the death penalty was under so much pressure that then- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if his colleagues outlawed it, Greg Stohr reports.

Olson Says He Won’t Seek Re-Election: Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) says his time serving in Congress has “come at great personal sacrifice to my family,” and that after completing his current term in Texas’s 22nd district he will not seek re-election. Olson said in his statement his wife has “carried the lion’s share of parenting” and that his mother-in-law “has suffered health issues that require more care and attention,” Ben Livesey and Greg Giroux report.

Sanders Campaign Labor Charge: New details on an anonymous unfair labor practice charge filed against Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign shine a light on some of the allegations against the campaign. The charge was filed by a former staffer, a campaign spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law. The staffer alleges that the campaign retaliated against certain workers for engaging in protected labor activity, according to a redacted copy of the document. Hassan A. Kanu and Andrew Wallender have more.

Movers & Shakeups

House Passes FAA Waiver: Dan Elwell is one step closer to keeping his job at the Federal Aviation Administration now that the House passed a legislative waiver (S. 2249) allowing two former military officers to fill top FAA spots at the same time. The measure awaits the president’s signature to allow Elwell and newly Senate-confirmed Steve Dickson to serve as deputy and administrator respectively. Sarah Babbage explains the waiver in a BGOV Bill Summary.

Trump Seeks to Fill HUD Post: The White House announced yesterday Trump intends to nominate David Carey Woll to be assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Woll is currently principal deputy assistant secretary of the department’s Office of Community Planning and Development, the White House said in a statement. He oversees $8 billion annually for “affordable housing and community revitalization initiatives across America,” the White House said.

U.S. Envoy to Kuwait: The White House also announced yesterday that Trump intends to nominate Alina Romanowski to be U.S. ambassador to Kuwait. She’s currently principal deputy coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, the White House said in a statement. Romanowski previously served as coordinator for U.S. assistance to Europe and Eurasia in the State Department’s Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs, the statement said.

Labor Chief Nominee Faces Recusal: Labor Department secretary nominee Eugene Scalia likely would have to recuse himself from involvement in ongoing OSHA lawsuits in which he—or members of his law firm—represented clients if he is confirmed, ethics and labor law attorneys said. Such recusals wouldn’t likely have a major impact on the direction of Occupational Safety and Health Administration policy, however. That’s because Scalia likely wouldn’t be restricted from participating in general policy discussions or decisions on issues involved in cases in which he or other members of the law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, previously or presently represented clients, the attorneys said. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

Former EPA Official Pushing Trump Energy Agenda: Trump’s self-described environment and energy ambassador sees herself as a walking retort to the administration’s biggest detractors. “Democrats try to paint the picture that women and minorities don’t support the president,” says Mandy Gunasekara, a former EPA official. “They actually do. Democrats have tried to make that a political point, and I can prove them wrong just by showing up.” Gunasekara is young—34—and bluntly offers, “It helps that I’m a woman.” Gunasekara is no longer working for the president, at least not officially. But she says her new organization, the Energy 45 Fund, plans on helping him get re-elected by embracing his environmental record. Read more from Stephen Lee.

What Else to Know

Trump ‘Disappointed’ Sweden Hasn’t Freed Rapper: Trump said he was “very disappointed” in Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven for not intervening in the detention of rapper A$AP Rocky, who’s facing assault charges after a fight in the streets of Stockholm. “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around,” the president said as part of two tweets on the hip-hop star’s fate.

The president’s criticism came after prosecutors in Sweden announced earlier Thursday they would be formally charging the 30-year-old, whose real name is Rakim Mayers. Trump called Lofven last weekend at the urging of Kanye West, offering to “personally vouch” for A$AP Rocky. Read more from Justin Sink.

Taking Message to Iranians: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said he would be willing to travel to Tehran to address the Iranian people about U.S. foreign policy as the Trump administration applies maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic to renegotiate a nuclear accord. “Sure, if that’s the call, happily go there,” Pompeo said. “I’d like a chance to go, not do propaganda but speak the truth to the Iranian people about what it is their leadership has done and how it has harmed Iran.” Pompeo likened such a trip to how Iran ian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif communicates with the American public during his trips to the United Nations in New York. Read more from Cirilli, Wadhams and Glen Carey.

Warning to Turkey About Russian S-400: Pompeo urged Turkey not to make the S-400 missile defense system it purchased from Russia “operational” as Trump holds off on implementing new sanctions required by law. “There could be more sanctions to follow but frankly what we’d really like is for the S-400 not to become operational,” Pompeo said yesterday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Pompeo has to contend with a rift between Trump and lawmakers on the best way to respond to Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian system.

The U.S. has long said Turkey’s move is incompatible with its role in both NATO and the F-35 jet program, though Trump has also signaled he’s reluctant to put more sanctions on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Pompeo’s focus on Turkey not making the Russian system “operational” appears to signal a step back from the previous U.S. focus on Ankara not accepting components of the missile defense system and may be an attempt at forging a compromise. Turkey has not yet received the actual missiles for the system. Read more from Kevin Cirilli and Nick Wadhams.

‘Do the Right Thing’ in Hong Kong Protests: Pompeo said China should “do the right thing” in dealing with protests in Hong Kong, urging all sides to avoid the sort of violence that has broken out as the demonstrations stretch into their eighth week. “The president, I think, captured it right when he said that we need China to do the right thing,” Pompeo said. “We hope that they’ll do that, we hope that the protests will remain peaceful.” Pompeo’s comments followed remarks by Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, who called the behav ior of some demonstrators “intolerable” and suggested China could deploy troops if necessary. Read more from Cirilli and Wadhams.

Kim Threatens South Korea: While Kim Jong Un said his latest missile tests were aimed at South Korean “military warmongers,” the North Korean leader had a clear message for Trump: Bend in nuclear talks or bigger provocations may follow.

Kim oversaw the “power demonstration fire” of a new-type of tactical guided weapon yesterday “to send a solemn warning” to his southern rivals, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch on the launch. The report came a day after the regime launched what South Korea said were two short-range ballistic missiles that executed maneuvers to avoid detection before plunging into the sea east of the divided peninsula. Although the report criticized only Seoul — and made no mention of t he U.S. or Trump — it referenced “moves to introduce the ultramodern offensive weapons” and “hold military exercises” as the reason for the provocation. Read more from Jihye Lee and John Harney.

Pompeo said the door remains open for diplomacy with North Korea even though it launched short-range missiles early yesterday and that he hopes working-level talks between the two countries will begin in the next month or so. Pompeo described the missile launches as more a negotiating tactic than a move that would create a rupture or lead Trump to reverse his commitment to talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Read more from Cirilli and Wadhams.

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