What to Know in Washington: 2020 Democrats to Skip AIPAC

Several Democratic presidential candidates say they are skipping this year’s meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee amid a roiling debate within the party over U.S. policy toward Israel under President Donald Trump.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is “concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution,” his campaign policy director, Josh Orton, said in an email.

Representatives of Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro said they won’t be attending the AIPAC conference, which begins Sunday in Washington, without giving a reason. John Delaney, another 2020 Democratic contender, said yesterday he also won’t be attending, citing a scheduling conflict.

Trump has accused Democrats of being “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish.” The president has been a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and yesterday he broke with decades of U.S. policy and said it’s time for the U.S. to “fully recognize” Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights. The move will give a boost to Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations as he’s running for re-election. He is scheduled to speak at AIPAC and meet with Trump next week.

The conference will have a bipartisan lineup of members of Congress who plan to address the group over three days, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a member of the Democratic House leadership, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to AIPAC’s schedule.

There has been growing skepticism in the Democratic Party about the U.S.-Israel lobbying group, which is seen as a hub of support for Netanyahu’s policies that are controversial among American progressives, including in the Jewish community. The party also has been embroiled in controversy over accusations that statements made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) used anti-Semitic tropes. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Meanwhile, Trump’s embrace of Netanyahu and his government has helped endear him to conservative American Jews as well as evangelical Christians, Margaret Talev, David Wainer and Nick Wadhams report. But it risks collapsing his effort to strike a new Mideast peace deal even before his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, publicly reveals it.

The president has also further alienated liberal U.S. Jews and voters sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, who have yet to see any benefit from Trump administration policies. Read more on Trump’s announcement yesterday.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Trump, as a candidate, speaks during the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee policy conference in 2016.

Politics & Elections

Sanders Confronts Front-Runner Challenges: No longer a fringe candidate or an outsider, Bernie Sanders will be under pressure to score decisive victories in early contests for the Democratic nomination or risk seeing his 2020 candidacy deflate. Sanders’ challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016 gives him higher name recognition than other declared 2020 candidates, and that’s made him the early front-runner in the primary campaign.

But he still has to prove he has overcome his previous shortcomings — primarily an inability to win over significant numbers of the women and minority voters that are a key part of the party’s base. And rather than being the one candidate chasing the prohibitive favorite, Sanders in 2020 will face a bigger, younger and more diverse crowd of competitors, many with similar platforms. Read more from Arit John.

Gerrymandering Fight: North Carolina Republicans didn’t hide their goal when they approved a new congressional voting map in 2016: They wanted to give their party the biggest advantage possible. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider the North Carolina districts in a clash opponents hope will produce the court’s first-ever ruling striking down a map as too partisan. The justices hear arguments Tuesday in the case, along with a fight over a Democratic-drawn congressional district in Maryland. Greg Stohr and Allison McCartney preview the fight.

Rhode Island Scam PAC: Donors to Russell Taub’s political action committee were under the impression they were helping Republican candidates. Instead, most of their contributions went to finance Taub’s high-flying lifestyle, including cigars, escort services and adult entertainment. Taub, a Rhode Island political fundraiser who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016, pleaded guilty yesterday to operating the latest in what has become a series of fake fundraising operations called scam PACs. He told donors they could give unlimited amounts to the PACs, and 100 percent of their money would go to support GOP candidates. In fact, about $1 million of the total $1.6 million raised was converted to personal use by Taub, he admitted. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

Movers & Shakeups

White House Technology Pick: For the first time in two years—and for the first time under Trump—the U.S. is set to have a chief technology officer. Trump yesterday nominated for the post Michael Kratsios, a former venture capitalist who now serves as deputy CTO. Kratsios is just 32, but he’s well-connected, having served as chief of staff at investment management firm Thiel Capital before joining Trump’s transition team in late 2016. The firm’s namesake, Peter Thiel, had broken with the technology industry by endorsing Trump and then helping with the transition. After the inauguration, Thiel kept his day job as an investor, but Kratsios was named deputy CTO, becoming Trump’s defacto head of tech policy while the top job went unfilled. Read more from Max Chafkin.

Trump Said to Tap Moore for Fed Board: Stephen Moore, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a long-time supporter of Trump, is being considered by the president for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, according to two people familiar with the matter. Moore was the founder of the conservative Club for Growth and served on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. He was a senior economist on the Congressional Joint Economic Committee and was an economic analyst for CNN. Moore is a close friend of White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, and was an adviser on Trump’s campaign, helping write its economic agenda. Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs.

Sanctions Staff Defects: The U.S. office in charge of financial sanctions, Trump’s favorite weapon against American adversaries, risks being hobbled by staff departures due to management turmoil and growing private-sector demand for its expertise. Trump has nearly doubled the number of people and companies under U.S. sanctions. But in the last two years, about 20 staff have left the office in charge of implementing and enforcing sanctions, the Office of Foreign Assets Control — about 10 percent of its workforce. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

Around the Agencies

Border Wall Wish List: The Pentagon said it had received a list of potential border wall projects requested by the Department of Homeland Security and has started reviewing what construction work might be funded. Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan must sign off on any of the projects along the U.S.-Mexico border before tapping into $3.6 billion in the military construction budget that could be used to bankroll Trump’s border wall.

The Homeland Security request was the next crucial step in Trump’s effort to have the military fulfill a signature campaign promise of securing the border. But the use of money meant for improvements at military bases across the country riled lawmakers who worry projects in their states and districts could be cut. Read more fromTravis J. Tritten.

Tech Company Probes: The Federal Trade Commission plans to investigate technology companies’ collection and use of consumer data, stepping up pressure on companies like Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. that depend on amassing vast amounts of information on users. FTC Chairman Joe Simons told Congress that the agency plans to use its authority to demand companies provide information about their data practices, according to a document obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. He didn’t name the companies that would be examined. Read more from David McLaughlin and Daniel R. Stoller.

Nuclear Plant Funding: Trump is dipping into a federal loan program that his administration has repeatedly sought to kill to rescue a struggling nuclear power project in Georgia that critics say is a credit risk for taxpayers. The administration is expected to announce today it is finalizing a $3.7 billion loan guarantee for two nuclear reactors being built by Southern. Called Plant Vogtle, it is the only nuclear facility under construction in the U.S. and one seen as vital for an industry that’s lagged due to competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to visit the plant today alongside Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Southern CEO Tom Fanning, according to the Energy Department. Two people familiar with the trip say Perry will announce the loan guarantees. Read more from Ari Natter.

Oil Drilling Plan: A top Interior Department official told oil industry leaders the Trump administration is seeking to sign contracts leasing new coastal waters for oil drilling under favorable terms that will be difficult for future presidents to revoke or rewrite. Joe Balash, the assistant secretary for land and minerals management, outlined that approach to oil industry leaders attending an International Association of Geophysical Contractors conference in Houston last month, according to audio obtained by Bloomberg News.

“When it comes to our specific royalty terms — anything that’s under contract — we still enjoy the sanctity of contracts in this country and I expect that’s going to last for some time,” Balash told the IAGC conference. “So getting our leases out — and out on terms that are competitive and have the ability to sustain the long life of a property once it goes into production — is also key.” Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Taiwan Plane Sale: The Trump administration has given tacit approval to Taiwan’s request to buy more than 60 F-16 fighter jets, according to people familiar with the matter, prompting a fresh protest from China amid its trade dispute with the U.S. Trump’s advisers encouraged Taiwan to submit a formal request for the jets, built by Lockheed Martin, which it did this month, according to the people, who asked not be identified discussing internal discussions. “China’s position to firmly oppose arms sales to Taiwan is consistent and clear,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing today in Beijing. “We have made stern representations to the U.S. We have urged the U.S. to fully recognize the sensitivity of this issue and the harm it will cause.” Read more from Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Jacobs, Jenny Leonard and Tony Capaccio.

DoD, Google and China: Google has requested a meeting with a top U.S. general as political tension rises over the internet giant’s artificial intelligence work in China. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that Google “indirectly benefits the Chinese military” and is planning to meet with the company over the matter. The Pentagon official cited a Google AI lab that opened in Beijing in 2017 as a cause of concern. “In my judgment, us assisting the Chinese military in advancing technology is not in U.S. national interests,” Dunford said yesterday at an Atlantic Council event. “So it’s a debate we have to have.” Read more from Mark Bergen.

What Else to Know Today

Trump Hosts Caribbean Leaders: Trump will host leaders of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia at his Mar-a-Lago, Fla., resort today, according to a statement from White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Trump hopes “to strengthen our security cooperation and counter China’s predatory economic practices,” and will also thank them for their support for peace and democracy in Venezuela, Sanders said. Trump will spend the weekend at his Florida resort.

Trump on the Fed: Trump said the Federal Reserve should hold off from further rate increases or other tightening of U.S. monetary policy to encourage economic growth. “Hopefully now we’ll won’t do the tightening, because with the world going so, you know, off and with a lot of things happening, you don’t do tightening at this time,” Trump said this morning in an interview broadcast on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings With Maria,” according to a transcript the network released. Trump complained that U.S. economic growth would have exceeded 4 percent in 2018 had the Fed not repeatedly raised rates. Read more from Alex Wayne.

China Trade Talks: U.S. officials are downplaying the prospect of an imminent trade deal with China as Trump’s top negotiators prepare to head to Beijing for a fresh round of talks next week, according to people familiar with the matter. Trump has said that he wants an agreement that could be enforced, not a quick deal. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading the talks for Trump, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will travel to Beijing for meetings at the end of next week, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will then come to Washington in April to continue the discussions, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said yesterday. Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs.

White House Investigations: The House Oversight, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence chairmen responded to a letter from the White House Counsel about requests for documents and interviews with staffers relating to communications between Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin.

“Our Committees are in receipt of the White House Counsel’s letter, which continues a troubling pattern by the Trump Administration of rejecting legitimate and necessary congressional oversight with no regard for precedent or the constitution,” the lawmakers said. The chairmen, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said previous administrations made officials available for interviews and gave documents to Congress on “the conduct of foreign relations” by the president and White House staff. Read more from Chelsea Mes.

Heritage Law Clerk Training Probed: Six Democratic senators want to know if law clerks participating in a conservative organization’s training program violated the judicial codes of conduct. The Heritage Foundation, which held the training program in February, has advocated for “repealing reproductive rights; dismantling affirmative action policies; limiting voting rights; and restrictive immigration policies,” the Judiciary Committee members said in a letter to James Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The organization has touted its role in helping Trump select nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Transgender Military Service Ban: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced the House plans to vote next Thursday on a resolution opposing Trump’s military service ban. Hoyer said in a statement the ban “is discriminatory, and the House will vote next week to reject it and call on the Department of Defense to not reinstate it.”

The move comes shortly after Trump’s administration again urged a judge in Washington to lift the last nationwide injunction against a ban on transgender Americans serving in the military — the only remaining obstacle to the new policy taking effect. The U.S. Supreme Court lifted in January a pair of national injunctions in two related lawsuits, according to Erik Larson.

Admissions Scandal: The president of a major college organization called for the end of legacy admissions in public colleges in the wake of multi-million dollars admissions cheating scandal that involved several elite universities including Yale and lead to 50 people being arrested, Emily Wilkins reports. “[E]fforts and initiatives to support first-generation students and others cannot be fully realized if practices that give preferential treatment to those from families of multi generational college graduates continue to exist,” said Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities, which is comprised of more than 240 public universities.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com