What to Know in Washington: Border Clash Heads to House Floor

The House will vote today on whether to block President Donald Trump’s declaration of a border emergency, forcing Republicans to take a stand on how far they’re willing to go to let him spend taxpayer money on a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The Democratic-backed resolution is destined to pass the House, where the party has a majority, and probably clear the GOP-controlled Senate in coming weeks. But it’s unlikely to get enough support in either chamber to override a promised veto by Trump.

With the votes, both parties will be staking out ground on what’s likely to be one of the most divisive issues in the 2020 election, while also highlighting a power struggle that’s been brewing for years between Congress and the White House over how much control a gridlocked legislature should cede to the executive branch.

It also sets the tone for the next two years of divided government, putting congressional Republicans in the uncomfortable position of opposing their president or defending unilateral White House action they sharply criticized under the Obama administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has cast the plan to undo the emergency declaration as her constitutional duty to defend Congress’s authority over taxpayer money.

“This isn’t about the border, this is about the Constitution of the United States,” she said yesterday. “It isn’t about politics, it isn’t about partisanship. This is about patriotism.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he agreed with Trump that there is a crisis at the border and that the emergency declaration was a proper exercise of presidential power.

“This is not a wall from sea to shining sea,” said McCarthy. “This is looking at trying to fund 200 miles of barrier that the experts have asked for to protect the border to be able to do their job. He has the right and power to do that.”’

The resolution would cancel Trump’s emergency declaration, which was designed to let him shift money from Defense Department accounts to building the wall — a step Trump took after lawmakers funded only a fraction of the $5.7 billion he was seeking to build the barrier. Read more from Anna Edgerton and Erik Wasson.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats speak during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol ahead of a vote on Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the southern U.S. border.

Trump-Kim Summit Off to Rough Start

The slapdash nature of Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong Un was exposed today, as American journalists were abruptly evicted from a Hanoi hotel housing the North Korean leader and key details of the meeting remained a mystery.

The White House has set low ambitions for Thursday’s talks, organized in a matter of weeks after Trump announced the summit Feb. 8. The two sides haven’t even agreed on the meaning of denuclearization or the ultimate purpose of the negotiations — and that’s unlikely to be resolved this week.

Before Kim’s arrival in Hanoi this morning, Vietnam’s foreign ministry announced that the White House media center would have to move from the Melia hotel downtown, where the North Korean leader is staying. The White House offered no explanation for the move, which forced news organizations operating from the hotel to relocate a few blocks away.

Trump is due to arrive in Vietnam later today, and will dine with Kim tomorrow evening after meetings with Vietnamese leaders, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One. She didn’t say where the two men would have dinner, and the White House also hasn’t said where they will hold their formal summit on Thursday.

Sanders complained on Fox News last week that American media had manufactured “high expectations” for the summit. Trump has sought to tamp down public expectations as well, telling state governors on Sunday that he has no intention of lifting harsh U.S. sanctions on North Korea and isn’t pushing for a hasty deal with Kim.

Failure to win substantive concessions from Kim risks turning a dramatic moment into a public letdown for the U.S president, who is making his second trip to the other side of the world to try and convince Kim to give up his nuclear weapons. After agreeing to cease military exercises with South Korea after their first summit without anything substantive from Kim in exchange, Trump’s critics fear the president may again be talked into a U.S. concession. Read more from Justin Sink and Margaret Talev.

Hanoi Trip Panics Vietnam Refugees Over U.S. Expulsion: When Trump travels to Hanoi for the summit, he may seek to make progress on another goal: persuading Vietnam to accept some 8,700 other Vietnamese refugees the White House is trying to deport. Lawyers, community activists, and members of Congress have spoken out against the effort, calling it an unfair attempt to rip up a 2008 agreement, signed by former President George W. Bush, that was thought to protect the majority of the refugees from deportation. Read more from Sheridan Prasso.

Happening on the Hill

Groups Take on Abortion-Rights Senators: Anti-abortion groups are vowing to run get-out-the-vote campaigns against key Democratic senators who struck down a measure yesterday that would’ve punished doctors who fail to provide medical care for children who survive abortions. Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that runs a political action committee and canvassing, wants to make the vote a major issue in nearly a dozen 2020 races and for presidential contenders. Anti-abortion activists see the legislation as popular and difficult to oppose on its merits, a way to put Democrats on the defensive politically. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

The vote on the bill (S. 311) was 53-44, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance under Senate rules. Three Democrats — Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Doug Jones(Ala.) — joined Republicans in favor of the measure.

Judicial Pick Caught in Abortion Tension: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is questioning the anti-abortion credentials of Trump appeals court nominee Neomi Rao, prompting other conservatives to come to her defense. Hawley’s hesitation yesterday raises tension among some Republicans over her nomination to replace now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote Thursday on advancing Rao’s nomination to the floor.

Republicans and Climate Change: Some congressional Republicans are singing a new tune on climate change. The introduction of a “Green New Deal” resolution in the House has sparked the biggest discussion on climate since the 2009 bill to establish a nationwide carbon emissions trading system. For example, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who previously rejected the concept of carbon pollution, has accepted the mainstream view that human activity, including burning fossil fuels, is contributing to climate change.

“We’re kind of defaulting on the fact that the public already is convinced that we play some part,” Shimkus, ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s panel on environment and climate change, told Bloomberg Environment. “So then the question is, how do you engage in doing something positive to affect this, without harming the economy and growth and placing big financial burden on the people who can afford it the least?” Read more from Tiffany Stecker and Abby Smith.

Data Privacy Efforts: Industry groups are planning to urge House lawmakers at a hearing today to override state privacy laws in a prospective federal bill. Congress should “reduce consumer and business confusion by preempting the growing patchwork of state privacy laws,” Dave Grimaldi, executive vice president for public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said in prepared remarks in advance of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee hearing.

That hearing is one of several lawmakers are holding this week as they prepare to write legislation. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hear from industry groups tomorrow. Read more from Sara Merken.

Ninth Circuit Pick Advances: Republicans yesterday advanced the nomination of Eric Miller for a seat on the nation’s largest federal appeals court that Trump ferociously criticizes and has begun reshaping with conservatives. The chamber voted 51 to 46 to invoke cloture, or end debate, on Miller’s nomination to the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, starting the clock on confirmation, which is likely for this week. The Ninth Circuit has ruled against the Trump administration in high-profile immigration disputes, and he’s attacked its liberal reputation. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Lawmakers Prepare for Cohen Testimony: Michael Cohen is about to make his long-awaited public appearance before Congress amid partisan debate over how much damage Trump’s ex-fixer and longtime lawyer can do to his former boss. Cohen’s credibility will be on trial in the three-day event, after he pleaded guilty to nine felonies, including lying to Congress. He will appear today and Thursday behind closed doors before the Senate and House intelligence committees, where some of the questions will focus on his role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The main event for the public will be tomorrow, when he testifies in an open session of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Cohen, who is scheduled to report to prison on May 6, will face questions from Democrats about Trump’s business deals and hush-money payments — and from Republicans who maintain that nothing he says can be trusted. Read more from Billy House.

Trump Organization Asks House Committee to Halt Investigation: Trump’s family business told the House Judiciary Committee it should stop investigating the Trump Organization, claiming a conflict of interest after the committee hired a lawyer whose firm has represented the company. Alan Futerfas, an outside lawyer for the Trump Organization, made the demand in a letter Monday to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Futerfas said the committee’s hiring of Barry Berke, of the Manhattan law firm Kramer Levin, tainted the investigation because Berke’s firm has represented the company “with respect to virtually every aspect of its business” for more than 25 years. Read more from Shahien Nasiripour.

What Else to Know Today

UN Meeting on Venezuela: The U.S. called for a United Nations Security Council hearing today on Venezuela, according to a Security Council diplomat, after a weekend of deadly clashes raised questions about the opposition’s next steps in its efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro, David Wainer reports. The meeting, expected to take place at 3 p.m. New York time, comes after Vice President Mike Pence’s visit yesterday to Bogota, where he met with Venezuelan opposition leaders and representatives of allied governments from Latin America and Europe.

After a weekend of tough talk and bitter fighting on Venezuela’s borders, the U.S. government yesterday pledged concrete steps to restore democracy. The U.S. issued largely symbolic sanctions while allies produced only a strongly-worded statement. As options to punish the Caracas government dwindle, delegates of the Venezuelan opposition and Latin American governments meeting in Bogota called for the International Court and the UN’s human rights commission to investigate Maduro’s government. Read more from Ezra Fieser and Alyza Sebenius.

Iran Foreign Minister Departs: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who led his country’s nuclear negotiations with world powers, signaled that his surprise decision to resign was because he was undermined in his role. In his first public comments after yesterday’s announcement, Zarif said he hoped the move would eventually allow the ministry “to return to its rightful place in foreign policy.” President Hassan Rouhani hasn’t yet accepted Zarif’s resignation. About 150 Iranian lawmakers, or a third of the chamber, signed a letter addressed to the president petitioning to keep Zarif in his role, state-run media reported.

Zarif’s resignation and public comments highlight the struggle of moderate Iranian politicians to engage with the West in the face of hardline opposition at home and aggressive U.S. policies. Trump last year pulled the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement that was supposed to herald an end to Iran’s international isolation. Read more from Golnar Motevalli, David Wainer and Ladane Nasseri.

Sanders Says He Will Release 10 Years of Tax Returns: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plans to release 10 years worth of tax returns “soon,” he said at a town hall forum last night. “We have to do just a few more little things,” Sanders, who announced last week that he would again seek the Democratic presidential nomination, said during the forum, aired on CNN. He added that a few “mechanical issues” remain but that the returns would be released “sooner rather than later.”

Court to Weigh War Memorial: A 40-foot cross in the middle of a Washington-area intersection is the U.S. Supreme Court’s new focus in the centuries-old fight over the role of religion in public life. The concrete cross, completed in 1925 as a World War I memorial, will be at the center of a high court argument set for tomorrow.

The court has struggled to lay out clear rules governing when religious symbols are permissible on public land. Supporters of the monument in Bladensburg, Md., say the Constitution generally allows religious displays, while opponents say the government can’t show favoritism toward particular faiths. A federal appeals court said the cross “endorses Christianity — not only above other faiths, but also to their exclusion.” The ruling, if it stands, could force removal of the monument. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Paul Manafort Seeks Mercy From D.C. Judge: Paul Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, asked a Washington federal judge for mercy in punishing him for illegal lobbying, witness tampering and, ultimately, lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators after promising to cooperate with them.

“Manafort has been punished substantially, including the forfeiture of most of his assets,” attorneys for the former international political strategist told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a court filing yesterday. “In light of his age and health concerns, a significant additional period of incarceration will likely amount to a life sentence for a first time offender.” Read more from Andrew Harris and David Voreacos.

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

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

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