What to Know in Washington: Democratic Unity Beat by Border Bill
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is known as a master legislator for her ability to hold House Democrats together in even the toughest negotiations. Yet she came up short on a crucial border funding bill this week, forced to back down amid bitter caucus infighting.
The episode exposed rifts between the party’s moderate and liberal wings, denting the veneer of unity Pelosi (D-Calif.) largely maintained for the first six months of the Democratic House majority and her second speakership.
While she held different Democratic factions together to negotiate an end to January’s government shutdown and tamped down calls to impeach President Donald Trump, the details of a $4.5 billion funding measure sparked bitter House floor confrontations, hallway blame-shifting and angry tweets among Democrats who felt betrayed by their colleagues.
The contentious end to weeks of emotion-filled debate over the best way to help migrants housed in unsafe and in some cases deadly conditions also raises questions about the leverage Democrats will wield in upcoming talks on the debt ceiling, spending limits and Trump’s revised North American trade agreement.
Without unified negotiating positions, the party will have a tougher time confronting the Republican Senate and White House. Read more from Erik Wasson.
Photo:Win McNamee/Getty Images
Pelosi at a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday.
What’s in the Bill? Federal agencies would receive $4.59 billion in emergency funding to address the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border under the bill headed to Trump’s desk. Michael Smallberg takes a deep dive on where that money goes in this BGOV Bill Summary.
Homeland Personnel Shakeups: A campaign to oust acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan threatens to stress an already overwhelmed immigration system and jeopardize legislation to ease the growing surge of migrants, lawmakers from both parties say. “I don’t know who would replace him, and I don’t know if we’d have a relationship,” the House Homeland Security Committee’s ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in an interview yesterday. “I like McAleenan. He’s competent. He needs to stay. I don’t know what’s going on with these swirling stories.”
Rogers was referring to allegations by informal White House advisers on Fox News and other conservative outlets that McAleenan has opposed Trump’s immigration policies and leaked sensitive information on deportation raids. Neither McAleenan nor the White House has announced plans of a departure, and he denied the accusations of leaks in a Fox News interview yesterday. McAleenan, the acting head of the department since April after more than a decade at the border agency, has been welcomed by many lawmakers in both parties who say his years-long relationship with members and on-the-ground experience would make him difficult to replace. He succeeded Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who the White House pushed out. Read more from Michaela Ross.
Detention Center Inspections: The U.S. government urged a federal judge to deny an emergency request by human rights lawyers for an inspection of Customs and Border Protection facilities in Texas where minors are allegedly held for weeks in squalid conditions. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law says the facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley constitute a public health emergency and asked that independent medical professionals be given access to children held there. In response, lawyers for the Trump administration said yesterday the request will impose “extensive obligations” on the government. They also argued the U.S. deserves a full and fair opportunity to respond to the allegations before the judge issues a decision. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.
Harris Stakes Claim as Top 2020 Contender
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) staked her claim to top-tier status in the Democratic primary with a searing indictment of Joe Biden on race, putting the front-runner on defense and puncturing the aura of inevitability that he had carefully sought to cultivate.
The deeply personal confrontation at a Democratic debate last night pitted the 54-year-old daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants against a 76-year-old white man for fondly recalling his civil relationships with segregationist senators in the 1970s and 1980s. Both are aggressively courting the black community, a vital constituency that has decided the last five Democratic presidential nominees in every contested primary since 1992.
For Harris, the exchange was her boldest gambit yet in making her personal identity and experiences a calling card — not Democratic socialism like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), not policy papers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), not optimism like Beto O’Rourke or Pete Buttigieg. Harris has struggled to catch fire, most notably with black voters, in part due to a lack of a clearly defined message as she sought to straddle the progressive and establishment wings of the Democratic Party. She attempted to change all that with the exchange with Biden.
It is not yet clear if Harris can capitalize on this moment, or if she might succeed in dislodging Biden from his front-runner’s perch, only to see another candidate — such as Warren — slide into that position. Read more from Sahil Kapur and Tyler Pager.
More Debate Highlights:
- Here are the highlights and key takeaways from the second night of debates.
- Here’s how long the candidates spoke, and what they said.
- The candidates largely agreed on their first tax priority: Scrap Trump’s tax overhaul and institute new levies to pay for social programs to benefit the middle class, Laura Davison reports.
- The candidates also rallied around the idea of a government-run Medicare option last night, disagreeing only over whether to make it an option or put all Americans in the program, Anna Edney and Sahil Kapur report.
Also Happening on the Hill
Senate Lingers for Iran Vote: The Senate began voting early this morning on an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would require Trump to seek congressional approval for any military action in Iran — one of the few measures considered by the Republican-led chamber to curtail his war-making ability. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) allowed the vote, but it wasn’t easy to schedule. It will begin early this morning for senators trying to head home for the Independence Day recess, and it could stay open for much of the day to allow the six senators running for president to fly back from the Democratic debates in Miami. Read more from Daniel Flatley.
Budget, Debt Limit Talks on Hold: Negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders to raise the budget caps and lift the federal debt limit haven’t progressed and are now on hold until Congress returns from its break July 8, McConnell said. “So far that has not been successful,” McConnell told reporters of discussions to raise fiscal 2020 and 2021 limits under the Budget Control Act. “I’m disappointed we have not gotten there but I have not given up.”
As the Senate prepared to leave town for a weeklong recess, McConnell said there’s been no progress since a meeting he attended in the office of Pelosi on June 19 with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and others. The meeting ended without any deal on how to raise the caps or deal with the debt limit. McConnell didn’t say when negotiations will resume. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.
Post-Recess Schedule: When lawmakers return the second week of July, the House will take up defense and intelligence authorizations, arms sales, and raising the federal minimum wage, while the Senate will take up nominations, spending bills and funding for Sept. 11 first responders. Off the floor, negotiations with the Trump administration to raise budget caps and the debt ceiling will continue. Giuseppe Macri has more.
Top Democrats Urge Against Asylum Proposal: A new asylum policy under development between the Homeland Security Department, Guatemala, and Mexico would be unlawful, according to a letter from House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (N.Y.) yesterday, Michaela Ross reports.
The Trump administration has been negotiating to enter into safe third country agreements with the countries, similar to its pact with Canada, so migrants crossing through those countries would need to first apply for asylum there instead of the U.S. The chairmen said the U.S. State Department’s own reports conclude those countries do not have adequate legal protections for asylum seekers, and the administration lacks legal authority to negotiate such agreements without Congress.
Turning Mueller Frustration Into Security Focus: The House passed the first of a series of bills aimed at securing U.S. elections before 2020, responding to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings that Russia acted to swing the 2016 vote in Trump’s favor. The bills are an attempt to pressure Senate Republicans into joining efforts to protect state voting systems and punish foreign actors that try to interfere. While some provisions could get support from individual Republicans, GOP Senate leaders are unlikely to put the measures to a vote in their current form. Read more from Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan.
Trump Hotel Targeted in Document Demands: The U.S. agency responsible for government buildings cited confidentiality concerns to justify its hesitation to turn over documents related to the Trump International Hotel to a House committee investigating the role of the president’s company at the historic site. House Oversight and Reform Committee Democrats said the General Services Administration’s unwillingness to cooperate is part of a “large-scale coordinated pattern of obstruction.” They added that the agency had been cooperative in turning over documents in past administrations. Read more from Jarrell Dillard.
USDA Relocation Controversy: The Agriculture Department needs to provide more reasoning for relocating hundreds of researchers outside of Washington, lawmakers told the agency in a letter yesterday. House Agriculture Committee members Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) met with USDA staff this week regarding the agency’s decision to relocate staff to Kansas City this summer and didn’t get enough information justifying the move, according to the letter, Teaganne Finn reports.
The House passed a package of spending bills this week including language to block the relocation of employees from the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. However, USDA staff are able to move as early as August, leaving little time for Congress to approve a measure in the Senate and have it signed by the president.
Headlines From G-20
Trump’s lighthearted request that Vladimir Putin refrain from meddling in the 2020 election was the highlight of his first full day at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
The U.S. president held a series of meetings with foreign leaders, including Japan’s Shinzo Abe, India’s Narendra Modi and Germany’s Angela Merkel, where he primarily discussed his various trade disputes. But as has become typical for Trump, his unofficial activities drew the most attention.
In their first meeting since Mueller’s report, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he’d tell Putin not to meddle in the 2020 vote. “Of course I will,” Trump answered. Turning to Putin, he said: “Don’t meddle in the election, president.” Pointing his finger, he repeated himself: “Don’t meddle in the election.” Putin smiled at first, and turned to his translator. After she told him what Trump had said, he laughed. Trump looked at Putin, shook his head and smiled. Margaret Talev and Jennifer Jacobs have more highlights of the summit.
Xi Fires Shots at U.S. Before Trump Meeting: As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for one of the most important meetings of his seven-year rule, he appears to have Trump on the brain — even if he won’t say so directly. In conversations with other leaders ahead of his sit down tomorrow with the U.S. president on the sidelines of the G-20, Xi spared no opportunity to paint the U.S. as the bad guy in China’s spiraling trade conflict, while avoiding the provocative step of naming Trump personally.
In remarks to African leaders this morning, Xi took a not-so-subtle swipe at Trump’s policy slogan, “America first.” Warning against “bullying practices,” Xi said that “any attempt to put one’s own interests first and undermine others’ will not win any popularity.” Xi then used remarks on the digital economy to call for a “fair and equitable market environment” and the “completeness and vitality of global supply chains.” Read more from Peter Martin.
Trump Says ‘No Time Pressure’ on Iran: Trump said there was “absolutely no time pressure” in dealing with Iran as European nations pushed to salvage what remains of the 2015 nuclear accord and avert a slide toward war. “We have a lot of time,” Trump told reporters at the G-20, after he was asked about his message on Iran. “There’s no rush. They can take their time. There’s absolutely no time pressure.” Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.
Movers & Shakeups
Pfizer Names Gottlieb to Board: Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down as the chief of the FDA earlier this year, is joining Pfizer’s board of directors. Gottlieb was celebrated by pharmaceutical companies for moving quickly during his time atop the FDA to bring new treatments to market. A medical doctor, he served as commissioner from May 2017 until this April, ending his tenure in part because he had been commuting to Washington from Connecticut. Read more from Cynthia Koons.
Republican Threatens to Stall USDA Picks: Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) is threatening to block the confirmations of three Agriculture Department nominees until it stops intervening in government decisions on whether to grant oil refineries exemptions from biofuel-blending quotas. Kennedy made the threat in a letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue yesterday, amid reports the USDA chief has encouraged the EPA to pare its approval of the exemptions or redistributed waived quotas to other refineries. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Mario Parker.
What Else to Know
Political Cases Test High Court: U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts has often said the Supreme Court isn’t a partisan institution. Confronted with two of the court’s most explicitly political cases in years, he tried to prove it. The Republican-appointed Roberts underscored his independence from Trump yesterday by joining the court’s four liberals to at least delay the president’s bid to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census. And in a case that could have broader implications, Roberts and his four conservative colleagues ruled that lawmakers are free to draw voting maps to their own party’s political advantage without interference from federal courts.
Together, the last rulings of the court’s nine-month term underscored Roberts’s singular role: a conservative who is also the court’s pivotal vote and staunchest protector of what he sees as its institutional reputation.
The justices will issue a final list of orders today, possibly deciding whether to hear Trump’s bid to end the Obama-era deportation protections for thousands of young undocumented immigrants, another case with high political stakes. Read more from Greg Stohr.
Business Groups Seek Time on Tech Exports: Washington’s biggest business groups are asking the Trump administration for more time to review impending new limits on exports of sensitive technology such as semiconductors in hopes of getting the Commerce Department to narrow the impact of the restrictions. A coalition of 27 trade groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable are concerned that the department could move more quickly than planned and issue the new limits within a week and give industry just 30 days to respond, according to three people familiar with the groups’ discussions. Read more from Ben Brody.
Student Borrowers Fighting Servicers: A federal appeals court rejected an Education Department decision, ruling that student borrowers can use state consumer protections laws to hold loan servicers accountable. The ruling yesterday came from a lawsuit involving a student borrower and Great Lakes Educational Loan Services. Around the time the case was filed in March 2018, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a notice that loan servicers did not need to follow state laws, Emily Wilkins reports.
However, the Seventh Circuit Appeals Court said the document was “not persuasive” in part because it was different from the department’s previous positions. Several state attorneys general weighed in on the case, pushing back against the department’s interpretation of the law.
DOD to Review Contract Finance Rates: The Pentagon has agreed to its first comprehensive study in over 30 years of how it provides short-term financing to help contractors complete their work following an aborted overhaul last year that sparked a backlash, the Government Accountability Office said. Defense Pricing and Contracting, which oversees the issue of contract financing for the Pentagon, agreed with findings released yesterday by the watchdog agency that the department doesn’t have the data to know whether its policies are helping or hurting defense companies. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.
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Coming up at BGOV
The State of Congressional Investigations
July 16, 2019