What to Know in Washington: Biden Speaks As 2020 Decision Looms

Former Vice President Joe Biden will speak to a key labor ally in Washington today as he nears a decision on whether to join a crowded Democratic field for what would be his third run for president.

Biden will address a meeting of the International Association of Fire Fighters, a group that has long supported him and signaled it will back him if he runs in 2020. The union’s 316,000 members lean Republican but its leadership has typically endorsed Democratic candidates and believes its members would largely rally behind Biden.

The former Delaware senator and vice president to Barack Obama appears poised to enter the race unless he has a last-minute change of heart, according to people who have spoken with him in recent weeks. He would enter as a front runner, though it’s unclear whether he’d be able to maintain that advantage on the campaign trail.

“He’s going through this strategic process to consider everything that one has to consider to make the decision,” said IAFF president Harold Schaitberger, who last spoke with Biden just over a week ago. “If he pulls the trigger to run, so will we,” he said of an endorsement for Biden.

Biden ran in 1988 and 2008 and considered another White House bid for the 2016 nomination, but opted against running after the death of his son Beau.

Biden is expected to wait until early April to announce so that he’ll have nearly three full months to raise money before filing his first quarterly fundraising disclosure. The next public event on his schedule is the Delaware Democratic Party’s dinner on Saturday in Dover. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg
Biden speaks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annuual Winter Meeting in Washington in January.

O’Rourke Heads to Iowa: Meanwhile, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is heading to Iowa to help campaign for a local official, adding to speculation that he’s closer to making a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. O’Rourke, who gained a national following during his unsuccessful 2018 Senate bid, is expected to knock on doors Saturday for a Democratic state legislative candidate facing a March 19 special election, said Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Jonah Hermann. Read more from John McCormick.

Happening on the Hill

Budget Briefings: Join Bloomberg Government analysts for a webinar this afternoon as they provide an overview of the president’s budget proposal, which will face a tough road through the Democrats’ House majority. Click here to register.

On Capitol Hill, Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought will testify today during the House Budget Committee’s hearing on Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal, which was released yesterday. Find BGOV’s comprehensive coverage of the request here.

Nominations: A federal appeals court is poised for the first time under Trump to flip to a majority of Republican appointees, a big step in the drive by the president and his Senate allies to remake the judiciary with conservatives. The milestone is expected today with the likely confirmation of Paul Matey to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Senate last night advanced his nomination to a final vote, 50 to 44.

Republicans have made transforming the judiciary with conservatives a top policy and political priority. Trump has fortified the conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority with two appointments, and Matey would be the 35th circuit nominee confirmed under his watch. The GOP judicial march continues this week after Matey when the chamber will take up the nomination of top Trump regulatory official Neomi Rao to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit. Her confirmation also is expected. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Impeachment Effort: Progressive Democrats said they want to keep open the possibility of impeaching Trump after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she doesn’t want to seek to remove the president from office without bipartisan support. “Public corruption, abuse of power and obstruction of justice are all different,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Progressive Caucus. “If there are serious patterns in each of these then that to me seems like it would be impeachable, but we don’t know that yet, we haven’t gotten that information yet.”

The latest debate over whether Trump deserves to be removed from office was set off by Pelosi’s comments in an interview with the Washington Post, and reveals a divide among Democrats who say the president needs to be held accountable for actions that are already public and those who want to wait for more evidence of wrongdoing. Pelosi said in the interview that she doesn’t “think we should go down that path,” referring to impeachment, because it’s “too divisive.” She said only “something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan” could make the case for removing Trump. Read more from Anna Edgerton.

Feinstein Calls on FAA to Ground 737 Max: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) yesterday called for the FAA to ground all 737 Max 8 series jets operating in the U.S. until the probe of the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash is completed and “the cause of the crash is known, and it’s clear that similar risks aren’t present in the domestic fleet,” she told the FAA in a letter. Boeing is facing a growing crisis of confidence over its 737 Max jet, as airlines and regulators from Singapore to Australia move to ground or block the plane following two deadly crashes in five months. Kyunghee Park and Angus Whitley have the latest.

Trump Lawyer’s Testimony Pursuit: The White House has rebuffed a congressional request to question a former deputy counsel about an allegedly inaccurate account of a payment to the adult movie actress known as Stormy Daniels. “Given longstanding law and practice, we are not inclined to make the former deputy counsel to the president available for a transcribed interview inquiring into his conversations and advice he provided while serving as deputy counsel to the president,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter to House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

Cummings has been seeking transcribed testimony from Stefan Passantino, the former deputy counsel, and Trump’s personal attorney Sheri Dillon. Cummings has said both lawyers were on a call in which Dillon appeared to provide inaccurate information to the Office of Government Ethics, portraying the payment as part of a “retainer” for the services of Michael Cohen. Read more from Billy House and Shannon Pettypiece.

Politics & Policy

Capital Gains Increase: Bill Gates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders all want the rich to pay more taxes, but Gates is saying what the Democratic candidates appear to be thinking: Go for the capital gains rate. Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and the world’s second-richest man, has suggested that an increase in the capital gains tax rate is the simplest and most direct way to target America’s wealth.

And tax experts say that’s essentially what Sens. Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders (I-Vt.), both seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, are doing with her wealth tax and his expansion of the estate tax. They’re just packaging it in a way that’s easier to sell on the campaign trail. Democratic tax proposals are simply a “stealth attack” on the preferential rate for capital gains, said Christopher Faricy, a political science professor focused on tax and inequality at Syracuse University. Read more from Lynnley Browning.

Warren Vs. Facebook: Facebook’s social-media site took down some advertisements from Warren’s presidential campaign that call for the company to be broken up, then restored the ads after a Politico report about the decision. “We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” the company said in a statement. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.”

China-Owned Company Draws FEC Fine: A Chinese-owned corporation was fined for making $1.3 million in illegal foreign contributions to a super PAC. The Federal Election Commission fined American Pacific International Capital $550,000 for violating the ban on campaign contributions by foreign nationals. The privately held California real estate company was wholly owned by a foreign corporation called Jag Pacific. APIC gave money to Right to Rise, a super political action committee supporting Jeb Bush’s 2012 presidential campaign. The super PAC was fined $390,000 for soliciting a foreign contribution. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

What Else to Know

Lands Bill Signing: Trump at 1:45 p.m. today will participate in a signing ceremony at the White House of S. 47, The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. The public lands packaged passed by Congress earlier this year would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and increase access to federal lands for hunting and fishing. For more on the measure, read the BGOV Bill Summary from Adam M. Taylor.

U.S.-China Trade: China’s Vice Premier Liu He and his American counterparts decided on arrangements for the next stage of trade talks, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. Liu, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also held specific negotiations over critical issues about the wording of an agreement in a phone call this morning, Xinhua said, without giving further details. Negotiators from both sides have been in close contact in recent weeks as markets await confirmation of a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Xi Jinping to seal a deal.

A the world’s two largest economies inch towards a trade agreement designed to define and reorder their economic relationship for years to come, one question looms large: Does Xi trust Trump enough to get on a plane and seal the deal?

Trump and his aides have for weeks been pushing for Xi to agree to a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s club and resort in Palm
Beach, Florida, to finalize a deal as soon as this month to end a dispute that has cast a shadow over the global economy. Trump himself has said that it’s only when the two leaders meet that the final details can be ironed out. Chinese officials, however, have long been wary of putting Xi in a position where he might be embarrassed by an unpredictable Trump or forced into last-minute concessions. Read more from Shawn Donnan and Kevin Hamlin.

Pompeo Calls Out Russia, Cuba for Support of Maduro: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will pull all remaining personnel from its embassy in Venezuela’s capital, adding that the presence of diplomatic staff “has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”

Earlier, Pompeo blasted Russia and Cuba for their continued support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, accusing them of keeping his regime afloat despite the will of the country’s people. Pompeo, in a hastily arranged news conference yesterday, dispensed with diplomatic language in referring to Maduro’s regime. He criticized “Cuban communist overlords” and the “deeply corrupt ruling class” protecting Maduro. Of Venezuela’s close ties with Russia, Pompeo said, “It’s a match made in hell.” Read more from Nick Wadhams.

Space Junk: A chunk of aluminum about the size of an aspirin tablet could strike a spacecraft with the force of a 400-pound safe traveling at 60 miles per hour. Like the plastic collecting in Earth’s oceans, junk like paint flecks, non-functioning spacecraft, defunct satellites, and rocket boosters have accumulated in Earth’s orbit over 60 years of space flight. For all the damage that tiny chunks of debris can create, there are 34,000 objects 10 centimeters or larger that pose an increasing threat to survival in space.

No comprehensive strategy has been drawn up to clean the debris even as more satellites are likely to enter orbit, with the creation of Trump’s Space Force. The space-junk “plan” as it now stands is: detect it and fly around. Read more from Sylvia Carignan.

Flood Insurance Rates: Flood insurance premiums could rise and property values fall in the most deluge-prone areas under a plan the Trump administration intends to roll out in coming weeks to change the way risk is calculated under the National Flood Insurance Program. Instead of simply focusing on whether a home is inside or outside of the 100-year flood plain, the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to use private-sector data to calculate the real flood threat for each home and set costs based on that data, according to people familiar with the effort and a briefing document obtained by Bloomberg. Read more from Christopher Flavelle.

Trump Investigation: The New York attorney general’s office issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of Trump Organization projects and an unsuccessful effort to buy the Buffalo Bills football team, the New York Times reported. The inquiry by the office of Attorney General Letitia James is a civil investigation, not a criminal one, although its focus and scope were unclear, the paper said, citing a person briefed on the subpoenas. The office wasn’t immediately available for comment after normal business hours. Read more.

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; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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