What to Know in Washington: BGOV’s Fall 2020 Hill Watch

The congressional agenda will kick into overdrive starting this week, as lawmakers return to Washington to face an end-of-month government funding deadline amid frought negotiatons over another round of coronavirus stimulus legislation. The clock is ticking, both on the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year and the Nov. 3 election, and the lame-duck session that will follow it.

Bloomberg Government’s Fall 2020 Hill Watch offers comprehensive coverage of all the issues and legislation on lawmakers’ agenda the rest of this year. Read the report here.

Senior congressional reporter Nancy Ognanovich provides an overview of the agenda, which is dominated by the debate over further coronavirus aid, the need to extend government funding past Sept. 30, and attempts to renew and extend other programs and authorities.

Budget and appropriations reporter Jack Fitzpatrick looks at how rising concerns about debt and deficits may shape fiscal debates into next year, regardless of who wins the election.

Elections reporter Greg Giroux details the Senate races that will determine which party has the majority next year, while Emily Wilkins captures the views of election administrators on the challenges of voting, and vote counting, this November with the anticipated spike in mail-in ballots.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Bloomberg
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will attempt to negotiate the next round of coronavirus aid and fiscal 2021 spending bills.

Latest on Stimulus Talks

President Donald Trump said congressional Democrats don’t want to make a deal on another round of economic stimulus because they think it would help him win re-election, Josh Wingrove reports. “They don’t want to make a deal,” Trump said at a news conference yesterday, after he was asked why he won’t meet with Democratic leaders to negotiate. “I don’t have to meet with them in order to be turned down.”

The Democratic-led House passed an additional $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill in May that the Republican-led Senate refused to consider. Negotiations on compromise legislation with the White House are stalled.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will try to break the logjam this week with a scaled-down $500 billion stimulus plan the White House supports. Although only half of what the GOP offered at the end of July, McConnell is struggling to get Republicans fully behind it as newly-energized fiscal hawks in the party balk at adding to the estimated $3.3 trillion fiscal 2020 deficit, Erik Wasson, Billy House and Laura Litvan report.

“I hope by the end of the week, we can begin moving forward with that,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday on Fox News. He called the smaller measure “targeted.”

Mnuchin also said this weekend Trump “couldn’t be more pleased” with how the recovery is progressing but he does want more stimulus to move ahead. Third-quarter growth will be “phenomenal,” snapping back from the huge second-quarter contraction, as the impact of coronavirus shutdowns fade, Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” He noted some observers are predicting GDP growth of 30% to 35%, Tony Czuczka, Jordan Yadoo and Craig Torres report.

Trump Wants to Give Leftover $300 Billion to Taxpayers: Trump said Congress should authorize sending taxpayers checks from about $300 billion left over in a pandemic lending program. “We have $300 billion sitting in an account that we didn’t need,” Trump said at a news conference on Friday. “It would be a very appropriate thing to release that to the American people and I am willing to do it.” Read more from Justin Sink and Saleha Mohsin.

Elections & Politics

Who to Watch in the New Hampshire and Rhode Island Primaries: Primary elections are on tap today in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, two of the final three states to vote before the Nov. 3 general election. In the Granite State, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is in a stronger position for re-election than in 2014, when she almost lost her seat, and Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) is among the 29 House Democrats seeking re-election in districts Trump won in 2016. In the Ocean State, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is a shoo-in to win a new term, as are the two Democrats that form the state’s House delegation.

Following New Hampshire and Rhode Island’s votes, Delaware will hold the final primary on Sept. 15. Louisiana’s blanket primary, where all candidates appear on the same ballot, is on the national Election Day. Read more from Greg Giroux.

Green Groups Attack Daines for Landowner Ties: The political action committees of two environmental groups are pouring $3 million into new television ads attacking Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) for his record on public lands and ties to billionaire landowners. The spots, dubbed “The Highest Bidder,” criticize the incumbent for campaign contributions from real estate interests and Dan and Farris Wilks—Texan brothers who are the largest individual landowners in Montana. League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund and Environmental Defense Fund Action Votes will run the ads for two weeks beginning today in the Butte, Bozeman, Billings, Helena, and Great Falls media markets. Read more from Kellie Lunney.

Biden Builds Presidential Transition Team: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is expanding his transition team with senior campaign aides, vice presidential contenders and a former primary rival, two months before he faces Trump in the general election. Biden added four co-chairs to help former Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman oversee the effort. They include Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the campaign; Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), a national co-chair of the campaign; New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was vetted as a potential running mate; and Jeffrey Zients, a top economic adviser to President Barack Obama. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Trump Eyes Path Running Through Minnesota: Trump’s campaign is pouring resources into winning Minnesota, betting that rising public opposition to Black Lives Matter protests will tip the historically Democratic state the president narrowly lost four years ago. Trump won the White House in 2016, in part, on narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But he trails Biden in all three. Michigan and its 16 Electoral College votes, where Republicans lost congressional races and the governor’s mansion in 2018, looks particularly out of reach. That’s got the president’s campaign working on an alternative path to re-election. His aides say one possibility is some combination of wins in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine and Nevada. Read more from Mario Parker.

  • Meanwhile, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) spent her first day of in-person campaigning in Milwaukee yesterday by appealing to communities of color that will be crucial to her party winning the battleground state in November. Harris bounded off a plane and immediately met with the family members of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed after being shot by police. She also spoke by phone with Blake during the meeting. She then toured a union training facility, discussed the challenges of running a small business with Black business owners and met with Latino activists who advocate for frontline workers. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Battleground States Shaped by Downturn: The 12 closely contested states that will decide the election enjoyed healthy economies as the year began, boding well for Trump’s bid for a second term. Now, after the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic collapse, the president’s fortunes in those battlegrounds has shifted radically, with job losses and business closings hitting each state differently. That could move the advantage toward Biden in some of the key states, including Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina. Read more from Gregory Korte, Reade Pickert, Paul Murray, Jeremy C.F. Lin and Jackie Gu.

Biden Holds Lead Over Trump: Biden holds a 10-point lead over Trump two months before the Nov. 3 election, with support for each candidate getting more solid as voting day approaches, a new CBS News poll shows. Among the survey’s findings were that four in 10 Democrats say Biden isn’t campaigning enough; half of independents agree. The top issue for voters was the economy, followed by health care, the coronavirus outbreak, and recent protests. Biden had the backing of 52% of likely voters nationwide to Trump’s 42%, according to the Sept. 2-4 poll conducted for CBS by YouGov. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Trump Weighs Putting Cash Into Race: Trump discussed spending as much as $100 million of his own money on his re-election campaign, if necessary, to beat Biden, according to people familiar with the matter. The billionaire president talked about the idea with multiple people, though he hasn’t yet committed to any self-funding, according to people briefed on internal deliberations. Though Trump personally contributed $66 million to his 2016 campaign, it would be unprecedented for an incumbent president to put his own money toward winning a second term. Trump sought advice about whether he should self-fund as he scrutinizes heavy spending by his team earlier this year that failed to push him ahead of the former vice president in the polls. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Mario Parker and Bill Allison.

Biden Outspends Trump on Facebook Ads: The Biden campaign paid up to $7.42 million for Facebook ads shown to users between Aug. 31 and Sept. 6, according to an analysis of data from Facebook’s Ad Library. The Trump campaign spent up to $6.66 million on ads active in the past seven days. The three demographics most targeted by the Trump campaign’s 1,702 Facebook ads that were seen on Sept. 6 were males, 45-54, males, 55-64 and males, 35-44. The demographics on which the Biden campaign focused its attention in its 1,155 ads were males, 25-34, females, 25-34 and females, 35-44. Read more from Leonid Bershidsky.

Strzok Calls Trump Danger to the U.S.: Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who started the 2016 probe into Russian election interference, said Trump remains a “clear and present danger” to U.S. national security after being compromised by personal and financial dealings with Russia. In a new book, “Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump,” Strzok said senior FBI officials were reluctant to open an investigation into Trump. They ultimately determined in May 2017 they had no choice due to Trump’s actions, which included firing FBI Director James Comey and lying in ways that made him vulnerable to foreign coercion. Read more from Chris Strohm.

  • Russia’s state media outlets and proxy websites are spreading disinformation about vote-by-mail, according to a leaked Department of Homeland Security bulletin. “Since March 2020, Russian state media and proxy websites have denigrated vote-by-mail processes, alleging they lack transparency and procedural oversight, creating vast opportunities for voter fraud,” according to the bulletin, which was reported and published online by ABC News. “We assess that Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the Covid-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process.” Read more from Alyza Sebenius.
  • Facebook will “much more aggressively” label posts meant to manipulate or mislead U.S. voters in the lead-up to November’s election, said Nick Clegg, a top company official. Facebook’s stepped-up efforts at content-flagging are being done in conjunction with the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center. Read more from Jordan Yadoo.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Trump Says Vaccine Could Be Ready in October: Trump, speaking at the White House yesterday, hinted the U.S. could approve a coronavirus vaccine in October, ahead of the November election, as Biden demanded transparency from the government as it studies the shots. Many public health officials and scientists expressed concern the FDA is under pressure from the White House to approve a vaccine before Trump faces re-election on Nov. 3. Americans may be unwilling to receive a shot if they believe it was rushed to market based on the campaign timetable.

Before Trump’s news conference, Biden said he would heed the advice of scientists about whether to get a coronavirus vaccine if one were to become available before November’s presidential election. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

  • Meanwhile, Harris told CNN she wouldn’t take Trump’s word alone on the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine, Sydney Maki reports.
  • An unsubstantiated claim two weeks ago by Trump — that the “deep state” was slowing approval of a Covid-19 vaccine — set off an effort by government officials and private industry to ensure the White House doesn’t interfere with a methodical, careful scientific process. FDA leaders are insulating the agency’s vaccine reviewers from outside political pressure by sticking to June guidelines that set the standard for what it will take for a vaccine to pass through the agency, said one official familiar with the planning, who asked for anonymity discussing private deliberations. They’re also making clear to FDA staff political noise shouldn’t influence the agency’s decisions. Read more from Anna Edney, Drew Armstrong and Robert Langreth.
  • Drugmakers are planning a public pledge to not send any Covid-19 vaccine to the FDA for review without extensive safety and efficacy data, according to people familiar with the effort. The joint stance is seen as a bulwark against political pressure being applied on the FDA to get a vaccine out as soon as possible. It’s likely to be announced in a multi-company statement as soon as this week. The plans, which could still change, were described by people involved in the effort on condition of anonymity. Read more from Robert Langreth.

Virus Fatigue Is Risk, Ex-FDA Head Says: “Pandemic fatigue” is an additional risk as the U.S. heads into the fall and winter, when infectious diseases traditionally spread more readily, former FDA head Scott Gottlieb said. A coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be available for widespread use this year, and more than 20% of the U.S. population could be infected with Covid-19 by year-end based on current spread rates, Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “People are exhausted,” he said. “People have been social distancing and wearing masks and staying home for a long period of time right now. Small businesses are hurting.” Read more from Tony Czuczka and Yueqi Yang.

Around the Administration

Trump Moves to End Racial Sensitivity Training: Trump has instructed federal government agencies to halt racial sensitivity training with a White House memo that condemned such initiatives as contrary to the nation’s “fundamental beliefs.” The memo was released late Friday by Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, who said Trump directed him “to ensure that federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda sessions.” Read more from John Harney.

Trump Would Support Probe of DeJoy Donations: Trump said he’d support an investigation of allegations Postmaster General Louis DeJoy illegally reimbursed employees of his logistics company for campaign donations to Republican politicians. Trump said at the White House yesterday he wasn’t familiar with the allegations but “I’ll certainly know within a short period of time.” Asked if he’d be in favor of a probe, Trump said, “Sure, sure. I think let the investigations go, but he’s a very respected man.” DeJoy should lose his Postal Service job “if something can be proven,” he said. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

DeVos Plan for Private School Funds Illegal: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s attempt to give private schools a larger share of federal coronavirus relief dollars is illegal, a federal judge ruled. The Education Department announced in May it would dole out Care Act funds to private schools without regard to “family income, residency, or eligibility based on low achievement.” U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said in a ruling Friday doing so would be illegal because the act clearly requires money to be allocated to private schools based on the number of children from low-income families who attend them. Read more from Joe Schneider.

U.S. May Lower Long Haul Trucking Age: An 18-year-old can’t buy a beer in most U.S. states, but pretty soon he or she may be able to drive a commercial truck across state lines — and that has safety advocates alarmed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering a pilot program to test lowering the age limit for interstate commercial drivers from 21 to 18, the agency announced Friday. Read more from Keith Laing.

U.S. Ordered to Partly Lift Ban on Visa Winners: Trump’s proclamation barring green card applicants, diversity visa lottery winners and other foreign guest workers from entering the U.S., has been partially blocked by a Washington federal judge. Read more from Genevieve Douglas.

How Trump Relocated Art from Embassy in France: After Trump’s planned trip to a French cemetery for fallen Marines was canceled in November 2018, he had some extra time on his hands in a mansion filled with artwork. The next day, he went art shopping — or the presidential equivalent. Trump fancied several of the pieces in the U.S. ambassador’s historic residence in Paris, where he was staying, and on a whim had them removed and loaded onto Air Force One, according to people familiar with the matter. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Nick Wadhams and Katya Kazakina.

Defense & Foreign Affairs

Trump to Scale Back Economic Ties With China: Trump said he intends to curb the U.S. economic relationship with China, contrasting himself with Biden by threatening to punish any American companies that create jobs overseas and to forbid those that do business in China from winning federal contracts, Emma Kinery and Josh Wingrove report.

  • The Trump administration is considering a ban on importing products containing cotton from the Xinjiang region of China in response to Beijing’s alleged repression of the Uighur Muslim minority group, according to two U.S. officials. Read more from Kevin Cirilli.
  • Chinese authorities delayed renewing the press credentials of some journalists working for American media outlets, including Bloomberg News, CNN and the Wall Street Journal, in response to the Trump administration limiting visa terms for Chinese reporters in the U.S. Read more.

China Proposes Global Data Rules: China today outlined a slate of rules designed to prevent foreign governments from acquiring data stored locally, seeking to counter Washington’s accusations that services like TikTok and WeChat share sensitive user information with Beijing. Read more.

Duterte Pardons U.S. Marine: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he has pardoned a U.S. marine found guilty in 2015 of killing a transgender Filipina, Andreo Calonzo reports.

Assange Loses Bid to Set Aside U.S. Charges: Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resumed in London after a seven-month hiatus, with the judge rejecting an attempt by attorneys for the WikiLeaks founder to set aside the allegations of a broader U.S. indictment. Read more from Jonathan Browning.

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; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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