What to Know in Washington: Democrats Court Detroit Urban Voters

This week’s Detroit debates offered the Democratic Party a chance to repair what was widely considered one of its fatal 2016 mistakes: taking for granted the white, non-college-educated workers who instead embraced Donald Trump’s promise to revitalize the Rust Belt.

The stakes couldn’t be higher in Michigan, a traditionally Democratic state Trump captured by a razor-thin margin. It arguably will entail boosting enthusiasm among the state’s many white working-class voters as well as African Americans in inner-city Detroit.

But anyone expecting to hear a full-throated plan for helping auto workers and union members would have been disappointed in the two nights of debates.

The candidates spent more time on issues facing people of color, who feel ill-treated by the health-care and criminal-justice systems or because they live in cities with poor schools and crumbling infrastructure. It was poisoned water in Flint, Mich., not laid-off General Motors employees in Lordstown, Ohio, that got the most attention.

For Democrats, taking back Michigan may come down more to getting more people to the polls in Detroit, which is 83% black, and Flint, who reliably vote Democratic, than to flipping voters in white working-class suburbs. In those towns, Trump argued that his economic policies would save their jobs, including many union positions. Read more from David Welch.

Photographer: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg

More Policy & Politics

Harris Wants to Cut Part of Trump Tax: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a Democratic presidential candidate, says she would fund her health care plan by rolling back one of the few changes in President Donald Trump’s tax law that Democrats actually wanted. She wants to fund her version of “Medicare For All,” which she says would allow Americans to buy into a public-run option or keep their private insurance, by taxing domestic and offshore profits at the same rate.

That could face resistance within her own party, because it would unwind one of the few parts of the 2017 Republican tax law that Democrats helped develop, even as it may resonate with voters who want to see corporate America pay more taxes.

The tax overhaul passed without any Democratic votes and largely no input in the drafting. But prominent Democrats — including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) — had in the years before that pushed to make it easier for U.S. companies to operate globally, a change that Republicans ultimately included in their 2017 tax law. Read more from Laura Davison.

Biden Defends Obama Amid Democratic Criticism: Joe Biden came to Barack Obama’s defense yesterday after Democratic presidential candidates’ critiques of the popular former president’s legacy during the second presidential debate. “I was a little surprised at how much incoming there was about Barack, about the president,” Biden told reporters. “I’m proud of having served with him, I’m proud of the job he did, I don’t think there’s anything he has to apologize for.” Biden added: “It kind of surprised me, the degree of the criticism.” Read more from Sahil Kapur and Erik Wasson.

Journalist Eyes Shalala’s Seat in 2020: Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular Spanish-language journalist, will make another bid for the House seat in Florida’s 27th congressional district, setting up a rematch with Rep. Donna Shalala (D) in 2020. “I believe South Florida deserves better than politicians like Donna Shalala who stand by while radicals peddle the same socialist agenda that has ruined the countries from which many of us escaped,” Salazar said yesterday on Twitter. Read more from Kim Chipman and Greg Giroux.

Hurd Says He Won’t Seek Re-Election: Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), the only African American House Republican and who represents a 71% Latino district in Texas, said he won’t seek re-election in 2020 “in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress,” he said in a statement. Hurd, who is in his third term, recently backed a House resolution condemning remarks from Trump that have been called racist. Hurd, in separate interview with The Washington Post, criticized Trump’s tweets about Democratic congresswomen. Read more from Ben Livesey.

What Comes Next for Puerto Rico: It’s clear that Puerto Ricans want Gov. Ricardo Rossello to leave office today. Rossello himself wants to leave office today. What’s unclear is who might replace him when he walks out the door at 5 p.m.

The U.S. territory, in its second year of bankruptcy and still rebuilding after Hurricane Maria, is in a succession crisis as the governor tries to leave following a roiling scandal. Lawmakers in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives are set to meet this morning at 9 a.m. to consider Rossello’s replacement: Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state, next in line of succession. But many legislators oppose Pierluisi because of his ties to a federal fiscal oversight board. If the House rejects him, hi s nomination would die. Read more from Michelle Kaske and Michael Deibert.

Raising Family Farmer Debt Caps: A limit on the amount of debt that family farmers have to meet in order to qualify for Chapter 12 bankruptcy would be increased under a Senate bill passed yesterday. The “Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019,” passed by voice vote in the Senate, would raise the Chapter 12 operating debt cap to $10 million. This would allow for more farmers to reorganize their debts as commodity prices remain unsteady.

“By providing relief to these small-to-mid-size farms, we can ensure more successful reorganizations, which will be beneficial for everyone involved in the supply chain,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. The House passed the bill under suspension of the rules on July 25. For more, read the BGOV Bill Summary by Adam M. Taylor.

The Senate yesterday also passed two other measures backed by Grassley. Small businesses reorganizing under bankruptcy protection would be allowed to remain in operation under one bill, which would also create an expedited timeline for those bankruptcies. Read more on that from Adam M. Taylor. Pensions, annuities, and other payments for injuries or death related to military service would be excluded from the calculation of income for bankruptcy purposes under the other measure. Read more from Adam M. Taylor.

Special Investigation: America’s Secret Drug War

Two film producers could spend the rest of their lives in prison for selling synthetic drugs—but they swear the stuff they sold was legal. A chemist who was a top DEA expert on the subject agrees—but now he’s locked up, too.

Part 1 of a two-part Bloomberg Law investigation tells the story of a man who’s done everything from sell T-shirts to produce films featured at Sundance. He calls himself a serial entrepreneur and a libertarian. But right before the Fourth of July, a Las Vegas jury called the 48-year-old something else: a drug kingpin.

Part 2 tells the story of the DEA chemist who was told to be a “team player” when he spoke out, why one lawyer is still angry years after her client got a sweet deal in a synthetic drug case, and what happened when a reporter called the DEA to find out whether it thinks a certain drug is illegal. Read the full investigation here.

What Else to Know

U.S. and EU to Announce Beef Deal: Trump will formally announce a deal to open up the European Union to more beef exports after the bloc carved out quotas from other nations earlier this year, people familiar with the plans said. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and the European ambassador to the United States today will sign an agreement to increase the amount of American beef that can be sold in the EU market, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Trump Calls Hong Kong Protests ‘Riots’: Trump labeled recent protests in Hong Kong as “riots,” adopting the language used by Chinese authorities and suggesting the U.S. would stay out of an issue that was “between Hong Kong and China.”

“Something is probably happening with Hong Kong, because when you look at, you know, what’s going on, they’ve had riots for a long period of time,” Trump told reporters at the White House yesterday before departing for a campaign rally in Cincinnati. Trump said he didn’t know what China’s attitude was toward unrest in the former British colony, which is home to tens of thousands of Americans. “Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that,” Trump said. “But that’s between H ong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.” Read more from Derek Wallbank and Iain Marlow.

China Pledges Countermeasures to Trump Tariffs: Beijing pledged to respond if the U.S. insists on adding extra tariffs to the remainder of Chinese imports, after President Donald Trump’s abrupt escalation of the trade war. Trump announced yesterday that he would impose a 10% tariff on a further $300 billion in Chinese imports, a move set to hit American consumers more directly than any other in his trade wars so far. The new import taxes, which Trump later said could go “well beyond” 25%, will be imposed beginning Sept. 1 on a long list of go ods expected to include smart-phones, laptop computers and children’s clothing. Read more from Shawn Donnan, Jenny Leonard and Miao Han.

  • Trump ruled out giving Beijing any advance notice of his intent to slap a new 10% tariff on $300 billion in Chinese goods in an Oval Office meeting before he announced the new duties, according to several people familiar with the discussions. During the meeting, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Lighthizer briefed Trump on their talks in Shanghai this week with their Chinese counterparts. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Jenny Leonard, Shawn Donnan and Saleha Mohsin.

U.S. to Test New Missiles After INF Treaty Ends: The U.S. is planning to conduct tests soon on new missile technology that would have violated a treaty with Russia set to expire today, senior administration officials said. Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2018 after accusing Russia of developing a weapon that violated the pact. The U.S. formally suspended its participation in February, starting a six-month clock to end the pact. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Russia Chemical Weapons Sanctions: Trump signed an executive order yesterday that appears to authorize a second round of U.S. sanctions on Russia as punishment for the 2018 nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in the U.K. The order, released by the White House, directs the government to seek to cut off international financing and forbid U.S. bank loans to countries subject to U.S. sanctions for using chemical or nuclear weapons. Russia is one such country and has been facing another round of U.S. penalties, though its name does not appear in the document. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

Pompeo Hopes North Korea Talks Will Resume Despite Missile Fire: Pompeo said nuclear talks with North Korea would not be stymied by Pyongyang’s third test in a week of a new ballistic missile that weapons experts say was designed to strike U.S. allies in East Asia. Pompeo was speaking today on the sidelines of the Asean Foreign Ministers meeting in Bangkok, just hours after it appeared North Korea had likely fired a new type of short-range ballistic missile. Officials from the U.S. and South Korea recognized the “flight characteristics” of projectiles similar to those launched Wednesday. Read more from Philip J. Heijmans and Natnicha Chuwiruch.

Trump Floats Blockade of Venezuela: Trump said he may order a blockade of Venezuela, where the U.S. has sought to depose President Nicolas Maduro. “Yes, I am,” Trump told reporters yesterday after he was asked whether he’s weighing a blockade or quarantine. He didn’t elaborate in brief remarks. The White House has thrown its support behind National Assembly head and opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by about 50 countries as the rightful interim leader of the South American country. Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Sami Adghirni have more.

DOJ Declines to Prosecute Comey: Justice Department officials have declined to prosecute former FBI Director Jim Comey for allegedly mishandling classified information, including leaking memos to the media about his interactions with Trump, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The decision was made after the department’s independent inspector general referred Comey for possible prosecution, the person said.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been conducting a broad review into decisions and actions by Comey and other Justice Department officials in the early stages of the investigation into whether Trump conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election or obstructed justice. It seems Horowitz’s review into Comey’s handling of the classified information was spun off as a separate matter and could be completed within weeks. Read more from Chris Strohm.

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