What to Know in Washington

Congress is back, and facing a spring sprint to kick off annual spending bill work that could serve as a precursor to bipartisan headway on select issues before elections take over heading into next year.

After spending the first months of the 116th Congress pushing her party’s ambitious political agenda, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she’s ready to cut deals with Trump and Republican leaders on issues that typically draw cross-aisle support, including spending bills, infrastructure proposals, new trade deals, drug pricing plans, and more.

“Our main must-pass legislation is the appropriations bills, and we will pass them in a bipartisan way,” Pelosi said. “The president has said over and over again he wants to do an infrastructure bill. So do we. And we’re going to.”

Pelosi said she’ll meet tomorrow with Trump and other congressional leaders to begin talks on those and other items that could advance before the start of the August recess. After a record 35-day government shutdown marred the year’s start, leaders don’t want any replay at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The outcome of the budget talks also will have implications for whatever infrastructure plan Congress decides to pursue, as well as a number of other policy issues pending on Capitol Hill.

Bloomberg Government previews all the major issues to watch in the Spring Hill Watch.

Click here to read the Spring 2019 Hill Watch.

U.S. Capital

Also Happening on the Hill

Democrats Continue Post-Mueller Push: Attorney General William Barr put his spin on Robert Mueller’s Russia report in the days — and hours — before the public got to see it. Now, he’ll face lawmakers who will press him to reconcile his findings with the special counsel’s.

In scheduled testimony before Senate and House panels on Wednesday and Thursday, Democrats will question Barr’s credibility after he gave Trump grounds to claim “total EXONERATION” from a report that stopped short of that. Republicans will prod Barr to deliver on his pledge to look into their assertion — and Trump’s — that the president’s 2016 campaign was the victim of government “spying.”

They will be the first hearings into Mueller’s 448-page report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, and Barr may prove to be one of the few administration officials to testify without a court fight. Trump pledged last week that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas” that have begun to flow from committees in the Democratic-controlled House. Read more from Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis.

Cummings Seeks Kline Interview on Clearances: House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) scheduled a Wednesday interview with former White House personnel security director Carl Kline as part of the panel’s probe into White House security clearances, a statement said. Kline failed to appear last week for a deposition after being issued a subpoena, before White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said Kline would be allowed to answer questions on the issue of security-clearance policies.

“I understand that the White House ordered you not to appear, but that is not a valid legal reason to defy a congressional subpoena,” Cummings wrote to Kline in a letter. “Despite the President’s indiscriminate vow to keep ‘fighting all the subpoenas’ — untethered from any legal rationale — you have your own obligation to comply.” Read more from Jim Jia.

House Democrats Tee Up Bill to Keep U.S. in Paris Climate Deal: House Democrats plan to deliver a message to Trump this week: At least one chamber in Congress wants the U.S. to stay in the 2015 Paris climate accord. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) plans to make a bill that would call for keeping the U.S. in the pact the first priority for floor action as Congress returns from a two-week recess. House leadership hopes to start floor debate on May 1. The bill has little chance of moving in the Republican-controlled Senate. But House Democratic leade rs hope it can unite their caucus around climate in a way that the ambitious Green New Deal resolution hasn’t. Read more from Dean Scott.

Visiting Stalled N.J.-NYC Gateway Project: House lawmakers next week will visit the New York-New Jersey area to learn about the rail tunnel project known as Gateway that’s been mired in a funding conflict with the White House. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) will lead the delegation on a two-day visit with plans for a tour and a May 3 round-table discussion, the committee said in a statement. DeFazio said he plans to have specific project authorizations as part of a major infrastructure bill this year. Read more from Ryan Beene.

FEMA Head Rebuffs Democrats’ Puerto Rico Demand: The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency sided with Republicans in a bitter congressional dispute over the right amount of government assistance for rebuilding Puerto Rico, saying it wouldn’t be good for the island if Washington paid the full cost for recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria.

Pete Gaynor, FEMA’s acting administrator, said Friday that repairing the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 will be faster and more efficient if Puerto Rico continues to shoulder some of the cost. That gives the island an incentive to ensure the work is done properly, he said. Christopher Flavelle and Erik Wasson have more.

Trump Ally Calls for More Russia Sanctions: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of Trump, called for more sanctions on Russia and criticized presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s statements downplaying the significance of that country’s interference in the 2016 election. “I like Jared a lot, but he’s leaving out a big detail,” Graham said on CBS’s Face the Nation, noting Russia hacked into the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Can you imagine what we would be saying if the Russians or the Iranians hacked into the presidential team of the Republic an Party?” Read more from Christopher Flavelle.

Biden, Sanders Stake Out Positions

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both white-haired septuagenarians with decades of experience in Washington. Yet the two front-runners represent opposite ideological poles in a packed field of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

They offer voters a stark choice. Biden is an establishment Democrat with a long record of bipartisan deals ranging from budget accords this decade to a now-maligned 1994 crime bill. Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist, was an early adopter of ideas including single payer health insurance and a $15 federal minimum wage that have rapidly gained traction in the progressive base.

Or as Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report put it in an analysis posted Thursday, Biden and Sanders represent “restoration versus revolution.”

For the moment, Biden, 76, and Sanders, 77, lead the pack in virtually every poll, buoyed by strong name recognition. But both are vulnerable in a cluttered pack of 20 candidates, the most diverse group ever to seek a major-party nomination. The variety reflects a party base increasingly made up of young people, nonwhite voters and women. It features the would-be first woman president, first Indian-American president, first Latino president and first gay, millennial president.

“Biden and Bernie are the two titans in this race, and the only question is who’s going to challenge them,” said Tad Devine, a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns and a top strategist for Sanders in 2016.

Biden will kick off his campaign road show today at an event in Pittsburgh, Pa. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Biden speaks during the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers conference in April.

Biden Nabs Big Labor Endorsement With Fire Fighters’ Backing: Biden won support of the International Association of Fire Fighters, giving him his first major union endorsement in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Kim Chipman reports.

Senior Surge: Although it gets much less attention than the jump in youth turnout, 2018 saw an historic “senior surge” that helped Democrats win 40 House seats—and that, were it to continue, could give Biden an unexpected boost in the presidential primary.

“The senior surge accompanied a swing towards Democrats among older voters,” says Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic political data and data services firm. “While the Democratic primary electorate generally skews older than the general electorate, it appears seniors are poised to play an even more influential role in the 2020 primaries.” Joshua Green has more.

More Elections and Politics

2020 Democrats Slam Corporate America: Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination used a forum Saturday to criticize U.S. corporations for not doing enough to support their workers and called for more restrictions on companies that try to stifle union organizing. The gathering, just east of the fabled Strip in Las Vegas, was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It represented the most extensive single test yet of the 2020 field on issues relating to labor, a key constituency for the Democratic Party. Read more from John McCormick and Emma Kinery.

  • Some takeaways from the event include Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-Calif.) criticism of McDonald’s. “You can’t go around talking about the Golden Arches as a symbol of the best of America when you are not conducting yourself in the best way in terms of supporting the working people of America,” she told an audience of several hundred workers.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) criticized corporations for labeling workers as independent contractors to bar them from organizing. “Because once we’re independent contractors, as you know, you can’t get them organized,” she said. “So, how about we roll that one back.

Biden Outraises Sanders, O’Rourke in First 24 Hours: Former Vice President Joe Biden raised $6.3 million in the first 24 hours after he announced he’d seek the Democratic presidential nomination, besting other Democratic contenders’ first day of fundraising figures, his campaign said. Biden received donations from all 50 states and 97 percent were under $200, his campaign said. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) received $5.9 million from about 223,000 donors in the 24 hours after he announced his repeat bid for the presidency, Kathleen Miller reports.

Biden leads Sanders by 17 percent to 11 percent among Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed. Biden has 3 percent support among the voters under 30 years old, compared with Sanders’s 13 percent, according to the poll, which was conducted by phone from April 22 to 25 among 1,001 American adults, with a 3.5-point margin of error.

Trump Touts Economy in Campaign Pitch: For his part, Trump on Saturday night revved up his pitch to voters in key Rust Belt states by touting the U.S. economy, saying he’s working to stop jobs from moving to neighboring countries, and mocking his Democratic opponents. “We’re now the No. 1 economy anywhere in the world and it’s not even close,” Trump said at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He later told the cheering audience that returning for another term in office will make the U.S. stronger: “At the end of six years, you’re going to be left with the strongest country you’ve ever had.” Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Justin Sink.

Movers and Shakeups

Moore Vows to Survive ‘Smear Campaign’: Trump’s pick for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board said while he would withdraw from consideration if he becomes a liability from what he called a “smear campaign,” he doesn’t think it will come to that. “I’m going to make it through this process,” Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser and Heritage Foundation fellow, told ABC.

Last month, Trump said he planned to nominate Moore to one of two open seats on the Federal Reserve Board. Moore has come under fire for past writings and comments criticizing cities and states in the Midwest and ridiculing women. He has said columns on women, written years ago, were “a spoof.” Read more from Mark Niquette and Reade Pickert.

Justice Department’s Acting No. 3 to Step Down: Jesse Panuccio, the acting associate attorney general at the Justice Department, submitted his resignation this week as Attorney General Barr is reshaping the agency’s top ranks, the Wall Street Journal reported. Panuccio oversees divisions such as antitrust, civil rights, natural resources and tax, according to the DOJ’s website.

Barr is considering Claire Murray, who left the White House Counsel’s Office to join his inner circle, for the position, the Journal said, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Panuccio has been in the job since February last year, according to the report.

Wilson Broke Ranks in Raising Shanahan Concerns: Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson,diverging from other top Pentagon officials, raised concerns about acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s dealings involving his former employer, Boeing, according to an inspector general’s report. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

Also on the inspector general report, billionaire Elon Musk confided to Shanahan late last year that his SpaceX lost the competition for a military satellite launch because it “had written a poor proposal that ‘missed the mark,”’ according to the report. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

What Else to Know Today

Trump’s Fossil Fuel Push Stalls: Trump has kept a laser focus on bolstering the U.S. fossil fuel industry to achieve what he calls “energy dominance,” but federal judges have gotten in the way. The latest setback came April 19, when a judge ruled Trump’s Interior Department illegally lifted an Obama-era moratorium blocking the sale of coal on federal land. And last week, people familiar with the administration’s plans said it had abandoned until after the 2020 elections its two-year campaign to expand oil drilling to new U.S. waters, following a March 29 ruling against a presidential edict to resume selling drilling rights in the Arctic. The setbacks in fulfilling campaign pledges could deny Trump bragging rights as he mounts his re-election bid. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

U.S.-China Trade Talks: The next round of China-U.S. trade talks will get underway in Beijing this week with significant issues still unresolved, according to a senior Trump administration official. While both sides are eager to reach an agreement, the possibility remains that Trump would walk away from the negotiating table with China if he isn’t satisfied with how talks are progressing, the person said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are scheduled to begin talks in Beijing tomorrow with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. Discussions will cover trade issues including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, purchases, and enforcement, according to a White House statement. Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Malcolm Scott.

Trump Looks for End to Japan Farm Tariffs: Trump urged Japan to end tariffs on U.S. farm products when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who appears to have deflected the most damaging U.S. demands on trade weeks before the pair are likely to meet again during two upcoming Trump visits. Trump pushed for the end of the Japanese agricultural levy. Abe raised the issue of existing U.S. tariffs on its cars and highlighted the growing number of jobs created in the U.S. by Japan’s investment. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Yuko Takeo.

U.S. Agreed to Pay for Warmbier But Didn’t, Bolton Says: The U.S. signed a document pledging to pay North Korea $2 million for medical care of American Otto Warmbier in return for his release but didn’t follow through, National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sunday. “That’s what I am told,” Bolton told correspondent Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” when asked whether the U.S. had signed the agreement, which would have occurred before Bolton joined the administration in 2018. Read more from Christopher Flavelle and Ben Brody.

Trump Touts Withdrawal From Arms Treaty: Trump said his administration is withdrawing from a global arms treaty that set rules for sales and transfers of small arms, missile launchers and warships. “My administration will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. My administration will never ratify the U.N. Arms Treaty,” Trump said at a National Rifle Association conference in Indiana. “We’re taking our signature back.”

The NRA, a key constituency for Trump, has long opposed the Arms Trade Treaty, saying it infringes on gun owners’ rights, even though the U.S. never ratified the agreement. Alyza Sebenius has more.

  • Meanwhile, Maria Butina, the self-styled Russian gun-rights activist who befriended senior officials from the NRA and the Republican Party in the run-up to the 2016 election, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for failing to register in the U.S. as an agent of a foreign power, David McLaughlin and Greg Farrell report.
  • Separately, a probe into the NRA is reportedly underway in New York, where Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation and issued subpoenas, NPR reporter Tim Mak said in a tweet, citing a spokesperson for the office. The New York Times also reported James opened an investigation into the organization’s tax-exempt status, making good on a promise made before her election in 2018. The NRA is headquartered in Fairfax, Va., but was chartered in New York. The news comes as the NRA’s president, Oliver North, stepped down after a leadership dispute with CEO Wayne LaPierre at the influential pro-gun group, the AP reported.

Conway Says Synagogue Attack Part of Wider Threat: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the fatal shooting inside a San Diego synagogue suggests white nationalism is one of “many growing threats” that provoke deadly attacks. The shooting by a 19-year-old gunman, killing one woman and wounding three others, turned attention back to hate crimes and the White House’s response. Trump said on Saturday “it looks like a hate crime” and expressed condolences. Read more from Haley Waller.

Sen. Lugar, Who Led Arms-Control Pacts in Senate, Dies: Richard Lugar, a six-term Republican senator from Indiana whose foreign-affairs and farm-policy dealings with Democrats represented a bygone era of bipartisanship, has died. He was 87. The Lugar Center, a Washington-based think tank founded by the senator, said Lugar died peacefully Sunday.

Lugar led Senate confirmation of treaties with the Soviet Union limiting nuclear weapons during the 1980s. After the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, he and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) led the legislative effort to demolish weapons of mass destruction in the successor states. Serving in the Senate from 1977 to 2013, Lugar was twice chairman of its Foreign Relations Committee and often traveled abroad on diplomatic and fact-finding missions. Read more from Stephen Miller.

Former CFTC Commissioner Dies: Bart Chilton, the former Commodity Futures Trading Commission official who called for tighter regulation of swaps and derivatives, and was known for his long blond hair that stood out in buttoned-down Washington, has died. The TV channel RT America, for which Chilton hosted the show “Boom Bust,” announced the death late Saturday, citing an unspecified “sudden illness.” He was 58. Read more from Hailey Waller and Nick Baker.

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

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

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