What to Know in Washington: Biden Enters Race for White House

Former Vice President Joe Biden announced today that he is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, positioning himself as the only candidate who can defeat President Donald Trump.

Biden plans to frame the race as a battle for the soul of the nation, and will focus his campaign on an agenda of rebuilding and expanding the middle class and bridging the country’s partisan divide.

“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen,” Biden said in announcing his decision via posts on social media. “The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that’s made America America is at stake. That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.”

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Joe Biden speaks at the International Association of Fire Fighters legislative conference on March 12

Biden will follow up with a fundraiser on today, then a rally Monday in Pittsburgh, according to his campaign. Over the next week and a half he’ll make stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the first states to hold primaries or caucuses.

Biden enters the race as a front-runner in a field that now includes 20 candidates, though he no longer appears as dominant as he once did. His campaign began months later than many of his backers anticipated, giving opponents a head start in building their teams, raising money and attracting supporters. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

More on 2020 Contenders

Sanders Faces Skeptical Audience of Minority Women: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) faced a skeptical audience of minority women in Texas, a group that will be key in deciding the Democratic presidential nominee from a racially diverse field of candidates and a record number of women. Pressed by multiple questioners to address why women of color should back him, Sanders leaned heavily on his economic message, drawing audible expressions of frustration from some of the more than 1,500 people attending the She the People forum in Houston. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Booker Releases Tax Returns: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) released 10 years of tax returns yesterday, and like many of his neighbors, he got stung by the new cap on deductions of state and local taxes. Booker reported that he earned $152,715 in total income in 2018, but gave $24,000 to charity, which puts him in the top tier of candidates for philanthropy. Read more from Joe Light and Laura Davison.

Klobuchar Presses for Election Assistance Funding: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (R-Minn.) led four other 2020 presidential hopefuls and dozens of other Democratic senators in a letter asking Congressional appropriators for more funding to support election cyber security and administration help by the federal government. The letter asks Congress to fund the Election Assistance Commission at higher levels than called for in Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget, Michaela Ross reports.

Coming Up in Congress

Senate Eyes New Role for Troops at Border: Senators will debate expanding the military’s role at the southern border as Trump threatens Mexico and calls for the deployment of more armed troops. The Armed Services Committee will begin considering next week whether the military should perform some now-prohibited law enforcement activity, Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said. Members are crafting their annual defense policy bill, set for markup May 20. The Pentagon has emphasized it’s barred from domestic law enforcement, and such work could require more border troops to carry guns. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

Yesterday, Trump said that he planned to send “armed soldiers” to the southern border, again blasting Mexico for “not doing nearly enough” to capture migrants. “Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers, probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the Border,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border.” The Associated Press reported Mexican soldiers confronted U.S. counterparts in Texas on April 13, with the Mexican soldiers mistakenly believing that they were on Mexican soil. Read more from Alyza Sebenius.

Cummings Invokes Dying Mom’s Plea in Bias Inquiries: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s razor-thin win in an election in which he was both candidate and chief supervisor is Exhibit A in House Democrats’ efforts to create momentum for reviving federal oversight of some states’ voting procedures. “We have come to accept that a lot of votes will not be counted’’ so what “we want to do is shine a light on our voting system throughout the country and whether it reflects what Americans want,’’ Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said.

Cummings’ panel is one of several in the House examining election procedures around the country to document patterns of discrimination. It has demanded information from Kemp and other Georgia officials as it seeks data about other alleged voter suppression in Texas and Kansas. To Cummings, the investigation is “very personal’’ because of the death-bed request of his mother, a daughter of South Carolina sharecroppers. Read more from James Rowley.

State Shares of Special Ed Pupils Differ, GAO Says: Democrats are concerned differences in how states pick students qualifying for special education services result in some children being denied necessary help they would have received in another state. The proportion of children ages 6 to 21 who were identified as eligible for federal support varied by state, from about 6 percent in some to slightly more than 15 percent in others, a new report by the Government Accountability Office found. Read more form Emily Wilkins.

Measles Rise Spurs Hopes for More Funding: Public health advocates want Congress to boost federal support for immunization programs to more than $700 million next year as the country nears a milestone number of measles cases. The pressure is mounting on lawmakers to respond to the more than 600 reported cases of measles, public health officials say. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

John Herzfeld reports on efforts around the country to limit exemptions to vaccine requirements, including a bill heading to the governor’s desk in Washington state.

Veteran Suicide Prevention Coordinators Legislation: Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) is pushing new bipartisan legislation that would require an assessment of the workload and vacancy rate of Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention coordinators. The move comes after three suicides occurred VA facilities in April and the rate of veteran suicide has remained at 20 per day despite pouring millions into prevention efforts, Megan Howard reports.

Declining Energy Prices Sap Momentum for Efficiency Legislation: Curbing energy use is an idea that typically enjoys bipartisan backing in Congress, but energy conservation and efficiency legislation now faces a new obstacle—relatively low energy prices—in addition to ongoing concerns over its price tag. Dean Scott has more.

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Defense and Foreign Affairs

Troubled Lockheed Copter Needs New Review: The Pentagon needs to undertake another review of Lockheed Martin’s $31 billion CH-53K heavy lift helicopter program amid continuing technical problems and delays, according to Senate Armed Services Chairman Inhofe. He said the importance of the CH-53K King Stallion to the Marine Corps means that a “comprehensive, independent update” on the long-delayed program is overdue. Inhofe’s role leading the committee that authorizes defense spending means his request will almost certainly be heeded. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Kim Jong Un Asks Putin to Play Go-Between as Trump Talks Sputter: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sought Vladimir Putin’s help in resolving a nuclear stalemate with the U.S., asking the Russian president at their first summit to convey his views to Trump.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un himself asked us to inform the American side about his position,” Putin told reporters after more than three hours of talks on a university campus in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok. “There are no secrets here. We will discuss this with the Americans and our Chinese partners,” said Putin, who is heading to Beijing later Thursday. Read more from Olga Tanas and Youkyung Lee.

U.S. Moves Could Lead to Regime Change: Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran could take a dangerous turn if he heeds the advice from allies and aides seeking regime change in the Islamic Republic, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said yesterday. After the U.S. said it will allow waivers to some governments still importing Iranian oil expire, exposing them to sanctions, Zarif said he thinks Trump wants to force Tehran to the negotiating table but is being pushed toward a possible military conflict by some advisers, including the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and National Security Adviser John Bolton. David Wainer has more.

Trump Is Said to Back Libyan Strongman’s Attack on Tripoli: Trump indicated in a phone call with Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar last week that the U.S. supported an assault on the country’s capital to depose its United Nations-backed government, according to American officials familiar with the matter. An earlier call from White Bolton also left Haftar with the impression of a U.S. green light for an offensive on Tripoli by his forces, known as the Libyan National Army, according to three diplomats. Read more from Samer Khalil Al-Atrush, Jennifer Jacobs and Margaret Talev.

What Else to Know

Another Trump Aide Refuses to Testify in Congress: For the second time this week, a Trump administration official is declining to appear for closed hearing with a Democratic-led House committee, potentially risking contempt charges. John Gore, the principal deputy attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, won’t appear for a deposition before the Oversight and Reform Committee that was scheduled for Thursday, according to a letter by assistant attorney General Stephen Boyd. Gore received a subpoena from the committee earlier this month. Read more from Billy House.

Related: Trump Digs In for Battle Over Congress’s Power to Investigate

Trump Erroneously Claims SCOTUS Role in Impeachment: Trump said he’d ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene if Congress mounts an impeachment effort against him—even though there are no legal grounds for the justices to consider such a request. “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Trump tweeted. Read more from Terrence Dopp and Greg Stohr.

Clinton Tell Congress to Treat Mueller Like Watergate: Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said Congress should begin a Watergate-style investigation into Trump’s attempts to obstruct Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election she lost. Clinton said in a Washington Post op-ed that lawmakers should undergo “substantive hearings” on Mueller’s report from his investigation and shouldn’t “jump straight to an up-or-down vote on impeachment.” Read more from Margaret Talev.

Spotlight Turns to Moore After Cain Drops Bid: Herman Cain’s withdrawal from consideration for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board has intensified the scrutiny of Trump’s other controversial choice for the central bank, economics writer Stephen Moore. Like Cain, Moore has yet to be formally nominated for the board. His background check continues, and Trump hasn’t signaled he’s reconsidering, according to a person familiar with the matter. Alex Wayne, Margaret Talev and Christopher Condon have more.

Trump Seeks Speedy Project Reviews: Promising “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways,’’ Trump ordered faster U.S. decisions on major public-works plans. That hasn’t happened with a New York City-area rail tunnel that boosters call the nation’s most-needed infrastructure project. His administration has missed the target approval date by more than a year for the environmental document needed to build a new tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan. The U.S. Department of Transportation blames local authoritie s for the delay. But tunnel supporters say they submitted high-quality work, only to see the administration erect hurdles because of political opposition to the $12.7 billion project. Read more from Mark Niquette and Elise Young.

Border Patrol Stretched ‘Too Thin’: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has struggled for years to hire and keep agents along the more than 100,000 miles of southern border and coastline, battling morale-sapping conditions including extreme climate, long hours, and remote outposts. This year’s surge in migrant border crossings is exacerbating a shortage of almost 7,000 agents, according to data from a government watchdog report. Caring for the migrants has torn agents away from their other national security duties, and forced hundreds of airport and border customs officers from their posts to lend a hand, leading to millions of dollars in lost and delayed trade and travel. Acting Homeland Secretary Secretary Kevin McAleenan has warned of a “breaking point.” Michaela Ross breaks down the situation.

Easier to Challenge Data Used in Rulemaking: Flaws in government data or analysis used to support federal regulations will be easier to challenge under new guidance released yesterday by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The guidance from OMB marks the first overhaul since 2002 directing how agencies should implement the Information Quality Act. Arguments over regulatory decisions have often come down to data, with industry distrustful that agencies are using the best available science and agencies wary of possibly biased industry analyses. Read more from Cheryl Bolen.

‘Saint Constance,’ the Patron of Lost Pensions: There’s no such thing as a lost cause in pension advocate Constance Donovan’s mind. The Treasury and Labor Department alum has spent five years delving into exhausting legal battles—including one that dragged on for decades and resulted in over $1 billion in settlement payments—with the mostly well regarded but sometimes confrontational Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Her congressionally mandated role as the PBGC participant and plan sponsor advocate makes her the last line of defense for flustered pension holders and employers, a double duty Donovan does not take lightly. Warren Rojas profiles Donovan here.

To contact the reporter on this story: 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

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