What to Know in Washington: Anti-Semitism Fight Dents Dem Agenda

An unexpected fight among House Democrats over a first-year member’s inflammatory remarks has overshadowed a week that the party had hoped to devote to its top priorities: passing an anti-corruption bill and investigating President Donald Trump.

Instead of a unified message on the legislation and the probes, meant to be cornerstones of their agenda, Democrats are bickering over a resolution to condemn comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), for rhetoric about Israel that some viewed as anti-Semitic.

Now, both the timing and scope of the resolution are uncertain, leaving neither Omar’s defenders or those offended by her remarks satisfied with how Democratic leaders have handled the party’s response.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has tried to use the anti-corruption measure, H.R.1, to bolster the profile of freshmen in swing states who campaigned on promises to increase transparency in government, expand voting rights and shed light on political donations. Democrats have been distracted from that bill, set for a vote tomorrow, as members argue over when it’s appropriate to rebuke a colleague for his or her remarks.

“H.R.1 is very important to us and has a tremendous following in our country. We are going to see that we are going to get that done and I couldn’t be prouder,” Pelosi said. “‘Nothing will overshadow that.”

Not only is the policy message of the week imperiled, but there are also indications that Democratic unity — forged partly out of resistance to Trump — will be tested over whether to seek his impeachment. How Pelosi resolves the differences could foreshadow her ability to present a unified message before the 2020 elections, when the president and all House members are on the ballot. Read more from Anna Edgerton and Sahil Kapur.

Photographer: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg
Pelosi during an H.R. 1 event in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday.

Also Happening on the Hill

Trump Nominees Advance: Senate Republicans demonstrated the power of their expanded majority for the first time on judicial appointments yesterday by overcoming opposition from one of their own to easily confirm Chad Readler to a federal court seat. Readler was confirmed 52 to 47 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The fortified Republican majority reflecting gains from last November’s midterms has given them flexibility in vetting contentious Trump nominees and more power to swat away Democratic opposition. This advantage has fueled the acceleration of judicial confirmations over the past week, which includes Eric Miller to the Ninth Circuit and Allison Jones Rushing to the Fourth. Another, Eric Murphy, is set to be confirmed to the Sixth Circuit today. He cleared a procedural hurdle, 53 to 46, to set up a final vote. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Ross Warned Not to Delay Testimony: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was warned yesterday that he must not try to put off a scheduled public hearing before a House committee next week, where a main topic will be his role in seeking to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The warning came in a letter to Ross from House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), after Ross had requested more time to prepare for the March 14 hearing, according to an official familiar with the matter. Read more from Billy House.

Probing Trump’s Environment Policies: House Oversight and Reform Committee Democrats are gearing up to investigate Trump environment and climate policies in the months ahead, Chairman Cummings said he is considering a range of environmental issues from water contamination to climate change. He said he’s biding his time to see what other chairmen do on the issues before diving in himself. Read more from Dean Scott.

Inhofe Eyes $750 Billion for Defense: Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he plans to write a bill authorizing $750 billion for national defense in fiscal 2020 and that he expects Trump to call for $174 billion in uncapped war funds. Inhofe’s plan comes as Congress and the White House haven’t struck a deal yet to lift budget caps in law. The defense authorization bill is not subject to spending caps but sets policy and spending authority for the next year, Erik Wasson reports.

Yucca Mountain Waste Fight Heats Up: House Energy and Commerce member John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is reaching across the aisle on legislation to resurrect plans for storing nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. But Nevadans who have long opposed the project say they’re in a better political position now that the Democrats control the House. Shimkus, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce environment panel, said he is working with Democrats to revive a version of his bill that passed the House last Congress but was never taken up in the Senate. Read more from Tiffany Stecker.

Diversity in Tech Companies Scrutinized: Tech companies are facing growing scrutiny in Washington over a lack of diversity in employee ranks along with accusations of racial and gender bias in their platforms as the House presses forward with its policy agenda. Members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee argued in a hearing yesterday that tech companies’ failure to hire adequate numbers of minority and women workers has led the industry to create new products and programs that discriminate against disadvantaged communities. Read more from Naomi Nix.

Money & Politics

Trump Targets Socialism: Staying true to his brand of nostalgic nationalism, Trump is reviving a conservative line of attack on Democrats that dates back generations — socialism is on the march.

Trump’s dire warnings that the U.S. risks sinking into the chaos that’s engulfed Venezuela if Democrats have their way has been amplified by Republicans in Congress and their allies, as the GOP attempts to reverse its losses in the House and hold the Senate and White House in 2020. The Republicans have ready foils in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), two stars on the left who have described themselves as democratic socialists in the mold of Scandinavia. While most Democratic presidential contenders reject the label, Republicans are plastering it on sweeping proposals embraced by many 2020 hopefuls, such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for all and debt-free college education.

“It’s one of the most effective messages we have,” said Matt Gorman, a veteran of GOP presidential campaigns who worked for the party’s House election arm in 2018. “I can see these debates fomenting on the left, and Republicans are sitting back, giddy.” Read more from Sahil Kapur.

AEI’s Secretive Republican Conference: Vice President Mike Pence, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will attend a secretive Republican gathering at the luxury Sea Island resort in Georgia this week, according to people familiar with the matter. The AEI World Forum, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-of-center think tank, is a private event with a closely guarded guest list. It’s closed to the press, but is a magnet for GOP leaders and members of the business world. Pence arrives tomorrow; he’ll deliver a speech and participate in a question-and-answer session on Saturday. Kushner will speak and do a Q-and-A today. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Amazon Lobbying: After building out a powerful influence machine in Washington over the last few years, Amazon is going on the attack. The company is pushing aside trade groups it doesn’t like and creating new ones it does. It’s dispatching senior executives to woo antitrust enforcers. And it’s poaching senior staff from government agencies and congressional offices. Federal records show that Amazon lobbied more government entities than any other tech company in 2018 and sought to exert its influence over more issues than any of its tech peers except Google. Naomi Nix takes a close look at Amazon’s influence game.

Movers & Shakeups

Schiff Taps Heavyweight Prosecutor: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is adding another heavyweight prosecutor to the Intelligence Committee that will investigate Trump’s business dealings, including those involving foreign companies. Daniel Noble, co-chief of the complex frauds and cybercrime unit at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, is leaving to join Schiff’s committee, according to two people familiar with the matter. Read more from Greg Farrell and Christian Berthelsen.

Tracking Unregistered Foreign Agents: A prosecutor who worked with Special Counsel Robert Mueller will lead a new Justice Department effort focused on sniffing out unregistered foreign agents. Brandon Van Grack, who took part in the prosecution of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was tapped to run a group of investigators looking for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Justice Department national security chief John Demers said at a legal conference in New Orleans. Read more from Tom Schoenberg and Christian Berthelsen.

What Else to Know Today

Trump’s Schedule: Trump meets with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this morning at 11 a.m., followed by lunch with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo at 12:30 p.m. The president and First Lady Melania Trump meet with Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his wife, Monika Babisova, at 1:45 p.m., which will be followed by a bilateral meeting. At 4 p.m. Trump will meet with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

Trump to Seek Deep Cuts in Renewable Energy Funding: The Trump administration is again seeking severe cuts to the U.S. Energy Department division charged with renewable energy and energy efficiency research, according to a department official familiar with the plan. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would see its $2.3 billion budget slashed by about 70 percent, to $700 million, under Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request, which is set to be released on Monday. The request is unlikely to be granted by Congress, especially with Democrats in charge of the House, but the figure represents an opening bargaining position for negotiations by the White House. Read more from Ari Natter.

Preparing for the Budget Request: Trump is slated to release at least part of his fiscal 2020 budget request on Monday, kicking off the annual funding debate that will be complicated by coming fights over the debt limit and spending caps. To prepare, read BGOV’s Budget Basics OnPoint, which provides an overview of the federal budget, including spending and revenue, annual deficits, and the debt. It also outlines the annual budget process and next steps in Congress.

Volcker 2.0 Re-do: U.S. regulators are poised to scrap their proposal for revising Volcker Rule restrictions on banks’ trading in favor of a newer version as they respond to a misstep that drew fire from Wall Street lobbyists, according to people familiar with the effort. The Federal Reserve and other financial regulators are working on changes to their Volcker 2.0 plan that will likely require the agencies to re-propose the rule, said two people who requested anonymity because the process isn’t yet public. No final decision has been made to abandon the earlier proposal, the people said. Read more from Jesse Hamilton.

U.S. Conducting 5G Security Review: The Department of Homeland Security is conducting a broad review of risks posed by 5G technology, officials said, as the U.S. grapples with concerns about the new network’s vulnerability to hacking and the rise of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies. The study — a wide-ranging assessment of risks — should be completed within “a couple months,” Chris Krebs, who heads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within Homeland Security, told reporters at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. Read more from Alyza Sebenius and Todd Shields.

Nielsen Knew in Advance of Border Policy: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she was aware in advance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions would announce a zero tolerance policy that led to the separation of migrant families at the southern border. Government watchdog reports allege officials were unprepared to handle the family separations and one said officials had no advance notice. In February, then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker wouldn’t clarify in a House Judiciary hearing that officials at DHS and HHS knew before the announcement. Nielsen, who testified to the House Homeland Security Committee yesterday, affirmed that she knew about the zero-tolerance policy but didn’t know the day Sessions would announce it. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Trump’s North Korea Disappointment: Trump said he’d be very disappointed in Kim Jong Un if reports are accurate that North Korea has begun rebuilding a missile test site it dismantled last year. “I would be very disappointed if that were happening,” Trump told reporters at the White House yesterday. “It is a very early report —we are the ones who put it out — but I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim.”

Trump abruptly ended a summit with Kim last week in Hanoi after the president said the North Korean leader asked for all U.S. sanctions to be lifted in exchange for the dismantling of the country’s main nuclear complex. Two days later, new images from Beyond Parallel, part of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, showed that North Korea was rebuilding a long-range rocket site at the Sohae Launch Facility. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Shannon Pettypiece.

Manafort’s Prison Fate: Paul Manafort will be sentenced for financial crimes today, even as key details about his place in the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election will remain a mystery. Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, will appear in federal court in Alexandria, Va., after a prosecution that left his reputation in tatters, his fortune depleted and his health deteriorating.

He’s paying the price for U.S. crimes he committed while advising pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and after. Manafort, 69, could receive up to 24 years in prison for eight felonies, including hiding $55 million abroad, cheating the U.S. out of more than $6 million in taxes and defrauding banks that lent him money. Read more from David Voreacos, Stephanie Baker and Andrew Harris.

With assistance from Megan Howard

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com

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