What to Know in Washington: Brazil’s Bolsonaro Visits Trump

One of the world’s most enthusiastic students of President Donald Trump’s turbulent, Twitter-based style of government will finally meet the master tomorrow when Brazil’s new head of state visits the White House.

For Jair Bolsonaro, who revels in the “Trump of the Tropics’’ moniker, the trip offers him the opportunity to both drum up business for Brazil and to relaunch his image on the global stage after an underwhelming debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The U.S. leader, on the other hand, will relish the attention of an unabashed fan and ally in his combative approach toward China.

Few — if any — Latin American presidents have embraced their U.S. counterparts with as much fervor as Bolsonaro, whose lawmaker son Eduardo recently addressed a Trump rally in Florida, urging the crowd to “build that wall.” Eduardo Bolsonaro is now president of the lower house’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But while the affection appears mutual, the Trump administration has yet to offer the Brazilian government much more than supportive tweets. There’s been no U.S. ambassador in Brasilia since the middle of 2018.

“Brazil only stands to gain from a closer relationship with the U.S.,” Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo said in an interview. “In the past there were limits to the relationship with the U.S. on the pretext of avoiding subservience, but that’s a great fallacy.”

Two deals appear close to fruition. One would pave the way for U.S. companies to explore Brazil for uranium and invest in new nuclear power plants. The other involves commercial use of the Alcantara rocket launch site. While the U.S. has long been eager to use the base, Brazil has been reluctant to lease sovereign land to a foreign power without oversight of the sensitive technology involved. Read more on Bolsonaro’s visit from Samy Adghirni and Simone Iglesias.

Photographer: SERGIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro

Politics & Elections

O’Rourke Plays Nice: His youthful vigor allows him to hop onto coffee house counters in a single bound and drive himself to campaign events, but Beto O’Rourke may be lacking a qualification some Democratic voters are looking for: a thirst for combat with Republicans and Trump. Campaigning across Iowa and Wisconsin during the weekend as a newly minted 2020 presidential candidate, O’Rourke frequently talked about his willingness to cooperate with those of differing political stripes. It echoed the sort of calls former President Barack Obama made during his 2008 campaign for political civility that became elusive during his tenure.

O’Rourke’s initial days on the campaign trail also revealed vagueness in answers to questions posed by some voters, a willingness to apologize for past mistakes and stamina that could prove a major asset in a race where many of the candidates are significantly older than his 46 years. But the Texan’s approach contrasts with some other Democratic presidential candidates who have been highly critical of Trump and Republicans in general. It also risks making him look like someone who won’t throw punches at a time his party is searching for a candidate who can compete against Trump’s street-fighting style on a debate stage, Twitter and elsewhere. Read more from John McCormick.

Gillibrand Jumps In: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is officially joining the 2020 presidential race, adding to a crowded Democratic field that’s already shaping up to be one of the biggest in decades. Gillibrand made her announcement in a short video called “Brave Wins,” two months after telling the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” she was exploring a run. America needs a leader “who makes big, bold, brave choices,” she said in the video. Another message on her campaign’s website sought to explain why she expects to rise above the rest of the pack. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Biden’s Slip: Former Vice President Joe Biden made a verbal slip on Saturday and almost referred to himself as a presidential candidate as he edges toward entering the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination. “I have the most progressive record of anybody running,” he told a room full of family and friends gathered for a Delaware Democratic Party dinner, stopping himself just before he referred to what he might be running for. The home state crowd responded with cheers, and after a few seconds playing up the situation, he added, “anybody who would run.”

Biden has made clear in recent public appearances and to allies that he is planning to run. He’s 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. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Sanders Campaign Unionizes: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2020 campaign is recognizing a union of its staff, a first in the history of U.S. presidential campaigns. “We’re honored that his campaign will be the first to have a unionized workforce,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in an emailed statement. The campaign agreed to recognize the union, a local of the United Food and Commercial Workers, after a majority of staff signed cards over the past week. The bargaining unit was formed with around 45 employees, according to the union, and could grow to more than 1,000 as the campaign progresses. Read more from Josh Eidelson.

Dems Set 2020 Strategy: Democratic contenders are already making strategic decisions about where to dedicate campaign resources, putting heavy focus on select states because of a compressed primary calendar and an unusually crowded field. A cross-country sprint through 14 states — from the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses to Super Tuesday on March 3 — promises to sort out winners and losers earlier than in past years. Democrats are making the first four states their top priority and also pouring resources into the 10 Super Tuesday states, including delegate-rich California and Texas. Jennifer Epstein and John McCormick have more on the strategy for 2020.

Pompeo’s Future Run: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who earlier ruled out a run for the Senate in 2020, declined to close the door on running for office in Kansas in the future, the Kansas City Star reports citing an interview with Pompeo. “I try to just avoid ruling things out when there’s others who are in control,” he said, adding, “The Lord will get me to the right place.

Mueller Probe Updates

Mystery Mueller Subpoena: The U.S. Supreme Court gets a chance to join the fray over Special Counsel Robert Mueller for the first time this week as the justices consider whether to hear an appeal in a mystery case that’s kept people guessing for months. The partially redacted appeal, filed by an unidentified foreign government-owned company in a fight over a grand jury subpoena, centers on U.S. courts’ power over businesses owned by foreign governments. It’s the first known effort to get the nation’s highest court to weigh in on Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling with the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice.The dispute became a source of intrigue in part because a federal appeals court in Washington closed an entire floor of the courthouse to the public while the case was being argued on Dec. 7. The justices could say on March 25 whether they will take the case or reject it without a hearing. Read more on the case from Greg Stohr.

Cohen’s Reduced-Sentencing Bid: Time is running out for Michael Cohen, who has less than two months until he reports to prison. Since his televised congressional hearing where he accused Trump of being a cheating, racist con man, Cohen has been a blur of activity. He has testified to Congress behind closed doors, sued Trump for legal fees and feuded publicly with the president over whether he ever sought a pardon.Outside the public glare, Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, has been on an urgent private mission — seeking to provide fresh leads about Trump to prosecutors so they’ll recommend leniency in his own case. Facing three years behind bars, he has testified that he’s been cooperating in investigations into possible crimes by Trump, his family business and his inner circle. It could be a tough sell, according to legal experts and a review of federal sentencing data. Read more from Shahien Nasiripour, David Voreacos and David Kocieniewski.

Key Clues From Mueller’s Probe: Mueller is expected to deliver his report soon to Attorney General William Barr on Russian influence in the 2016 election, wrapping up an investigation he began in May 2017. He is looking into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. But Mueller was given broad latitude to pursue other matters that arose from the investigation. Paul Murray, Mira Rojanasakul, Andrew Martin and David Voreacos put together the key clues from Mueller’s probe.

Trump Renews McCain Attack: Trump attacked on John McCain over the weekend, tweeting about the role the late Arizona Republican senator played in sharing the so-called Steele Dossier with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the media. McCain gave a copy of the first 33 pages of the dossier to the FBI in December 2016, which Fox News said was confirmed by former senior counterintelligence FBI agent Bill Priestap in a newly released filing. British intelligence officer Christopher Steele assembled the dossier that allegedly suggested a coordinated Russian effort to help Trump win the presidency.The tweets started on Saturday when Trump quoted what former independent counsel Ken Starr, who headed the investigation into the Clinton administration, said about McCain on Fox & Friends. Trump ended his tweet with a reference to McCain’s vote against the GOP Senate majority in the attempt to repeal Obamacare in 2017. Read more from Hailey Waller.

FY20 Spending Talks

Defense Spending Plan: House Democratic leaders are weighing an unusual schedule for defense legislation this year: the fiscal 2020 Pentagon spending bill likely would be written before the annual defense authorization bill, according to congressional aides who asked for anonymity to discuss the tentative plans.Traditionally, the House Armed Services Committee first writes the defense authorization bill, which sets funding levels as well as policy for the next fiscal year, and lawmakers in the past have usually approved the measure by Memorial Day. This year, the marathon mark up of the bill likely will happen mid-June, possibly the week of June 17, while the Pentagon spending measure would be written well before that. Member requests for funding in the spending bill are due April 1. Read more from Roxana Tiron and Jack Fitzpatrick.

White House Holds Back Military Cut Details: The White House isn’t releasing a list of military construction projects that could have their funding diverted for Trump’s border wall out of concern about the vote in Congress to override a presidential veto, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “This is the White House wanting to hold the list back because they worry that if senators and House members saw the potential projects that were going to be ransacked to pay for the president’s wall, they would lose votes,” Kaine said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told senators during a hearing Thursday that he would provide the list of bases potentially affected later that day, but he didn’t. Trump issued his first veto a day later on a congressional resolution that would block his declaration of a national emergency to shift $3.6 billion from Pentagon construction projects for his promised wall on the southern U.S. border. The president’s proposed budget for fiscal 2020 would restore those funds for military construction and provide an additional $3.6 billion “in case additional emergency funding is needed for the border,” according to Shanahan. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Unions Gird for Next Shutdown: Labor unions are already preparing for another government shutdown after the last one that began in December and lasted 35 days caught so many by surprise, union leaders told Bloomberg Law.“We have PTSD from this history,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told Bloomberg Law. “There will be more urgency from aviation unions” the next time there’s a shutdown threat, said Nelson, whose union represents about 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines. Nelson made headlines earlier this year when she said unions would “ground” the U.S. aviation system if necessary to protect the public from the dangers posed by a government shutdown. Read more from Louis C. LaBrecque.

Around the Agencies

White House Higher Education Plan: The White House is urging Congress to set new limits on student loan borrowing by graduate students and parents, as part of a larger package spelling out the Trump administration’s priorities for higher education legislation. The administration will present its priorities this afternoon as part of the agenda for the National Council for the American Worker. The priorities mark the first higher education policy outlines from the Trump Administration, and come as lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to give the higher education law its first comprehensive update since 2008. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Deregulation Effort: An unintended consequence of Trump‘s drive to deregulate is states and localities are regulating more aggressively, according to a report by the top regulatory official in the George W. Bush administration. Recent evidence includes state efforts to regulate net neutrality, motor vehicle emissions, and industrial chemicals, said a new assessment of Trump’s de-regulatory record by John Graham, who served for five years as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Bush White House. Read more from Cheryl Bolen.

FAA Probed on Boeing: FAA employees warned as early as seven years ago that Boeing had too much sway over safety approvals of new aircraft, prompting an investigation by Department of Transportation auditors who confirmed the agency hadn’t done enough to “hold Boeing accountable.”The 2012 investigation also found that discord over Boeing’s treatment had created a “negative work environment” among Federal Aviation Administration employees who approve new and modified aircraft designs, with many of them saying they’d faced retaliation for speaking up. Their concerns pre-dated the 737 Max development. Last night, a person familiar with the 737 Max said the Transportation Department’s Inspector General was examining the plane’s design certification before the second of two deadly crashes of the almost brand-new aircraft. Read more from Peter Robison and Alan Levin.

What Else to Know Today

New Zealand Killings: Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said there’s no sign of a conspiracy in the mosque attacks that killed 50 people in New Zealand, and he rejected suggestions that Trump has failed to speak out against white supremacists. “We have no indication that this is part of a larger conspiracy,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” He said there’s been no proposal for added security around mosques in the U.S. in response to the “truly sorrowful and tragic event.” Mulvaney appeared to be saying there’s no plot extending beyond New Zealand, as he later noted there has been “concern that other folks might be involved down there.” Read more from Ben Brody.

Netanyahu Seeks Trump Bump: Trump has spent two years showering Benjamin Netanyahu with precious political gifts, from the Jerusalem embassy move to his exit from the Iran nuclear deal. With a close-run election looming, the Israeli leader needs him more than ever. Netanyahu travels to Washington next week with a corruption scandal hanging over his bid for re-election on April 9. For the first time in a decade, his fragile coalition could fall to a center-left bloc led by ex-military chief of staff Benny Gantz. Netanyahu’s officially coming for the AIPAC conference, an annual pro-Israel policy gathering that’s become a key stop for political leaders, but his visit will serve up excellent campaign optics back home. Read more from David Wainer and Ivan Levingston.

SCOTUS’s March Session: Men will outnumber women at the high court 20 to four this month, the court’s hearing list shows. The March session also features the somewhat rare appointment of an amicus, or friend of the court, to argue a position abandoned by one of the parties on appeal. That will be today in Smith v. Berryhill, where Gupta Wessler’s Deepak Gupta will argue for a position formerly advanced by the government in a Social Security benefits case. Top Supreme Court advocate Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis will argue twice, the partisan gerrymandering case and a racial gerrymandering case out of Virginia today. Read more from Jordan S. Rubin and Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

Trump Targets GM: A day after demanding that General Motors keep open a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that it’s idling, Trump said he asked CEO Mary Barra to sell the plant and tried to shift blame to the Democratic leader of the local union. “I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our Country is BOOMING,” Trump said in a tweet yesterday after he said he had just spoken to Barra about the plant. “I asked her to sell it or do something quickly.” Earlier yesterday, Trump tweeted that “Democrat UAW Local 1112 President David Green ought to get his act together and produce.” He added, “Stop complaining and get the job done!” Read more from Mark Niquette and Ben Brody.

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; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com

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