What to Know in Washington: Democrats Face Impeachment Decision

President Donald Trump’s decision to fight “all the subpoenas” is pushing Democrats toward a complicated and risky choice: take on the White House in a lengthy court battle or begin an impeachment.

The impeachment process would strengthen Democrats’ legal case for enforcing subpoenas, but it would open them to political attacks from Republicans saying they are rushing toward a predetermined outcome that would be rejected by the Senate.

The White House has been goading Democrats into opening an impeachment proceeding by fighting many of the current subpoenas on the grounds they’re not related to a clear legislative purpose. Democratic leaders have been wary of such a move, concerned it could backfire and help Trump win re-election next year.

The fight represents a constitutional power struggle between two branches of government. It will also come down to perception: whether an impeachment process is seen as opening a legitimate investigation or as a political step to remove someone from office.

Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said in an interview that House Democrats shouldn’t be required to support their subpoenas by initiating “full-blown impeachment proceedings merely as a tactical move to enforce the investigative efforts of the six major investigative committees.”

“Most Democrats still do not want to go down that road of impeachment — the political peril in that is still unknown,” said Connolly. “But having said that, if for tactical reasons that is what we have to do to enforce subpoenas that he is defying across the board, what alternative to we have?”

Yesterday, a federal judge forcefully backed the Democrats, saying that Trump’s longtime accounting firm should comply with a subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee and hand over his financial records. “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta wrote in an opinion.

Trump has been fighting several Democratic subpoenas of current and former U.S. officials, as well as a broader series of requests for documents and testimony. Yesterday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone moved to shield former Counsel Don McGahn from testifying before Congress, asserting broad immunity to compelled testimony. Previously, Trump claimed executive privilege to block McGahn from handing documents over to the panel. Trump’s move to block McGahn from testifying under subpoena before the House Judiciary Committee today infuriated Democrats, prompting at least one previously reluctant lawmaker to call for impeachment.

“It may be an impeachment inquiry will strengthen our hand significantly in our effort to bring witnesses before our committee and collect documents,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview. Read more from Billy House.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Trump at the White House on Monday.

More Presidential Probes

Cohen Said Trump Lawyer Spoke of ‘Global Pardon’: Michael Cohen, Trump’s ex-fixer, told a House panel earlier this year that he had discussed the possibility of a “global pardon” with one of the president’s attorneys, a move that Cohen said was meant to “shut this whole thing down,” according to a newly released transcript.

Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in closed testimony Feb. 28 that he had additional discussions about possible pardons with another person he described as being close to Trump, according to a transcript released by the panel late Monday. But Cohen appeared to contradict himself on the timing of some of those discussions, raising questions about the veracity of his testimony. Read more from Billy House and Shahien Nasiripour.

Ignoring Presidential Pardons Under State Bill: New York’s state Assembly is ready to vote on letting prosecutors ignore some presidential pardons. The state Assembly today will take up the bill, which would establish a “double jeopardy” exception, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) told reporters. The measure would allow state or local charges to be brought against someone who received a presidential pardon if the president has a clear conflict of interest with the defendant. That would include White House staff, those who worked on the president’s campaign, and family members. It also would apply to Trump if he were to pardon himself, which he has said he has the right to do. Read more from Keshia Clukey.

Trump’s Tax Returns: New York is on the cusp of enacting a law that could help congressional Democrats gain access to Trump’s state tax returns, potentially opening the door for Congress to obtain tax records for any New York resident or business lawmakers want to investigate. That has some tax and ethics experts worried that Republicans and Democrats alike could use the provision and a similar one at the federal level to target political opponents or others to advance policy goals. Read more from Laura Davison.

Happening on the Hill

BGOV Podcast: The House plans to vote this week on the “Consumers First Act,” which would undo several recent changes made by the Trump administration to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. On this episode of BGOV’s “Suspending the Rules,” legislative analyst Michael Smallberg breaks down the legislation, which includes rolling back moves to reorganize the agency and limit its enforcement efforts. Listen and subscribe to Suspending the Rules from your mobile device: Via Apple Podcasts | Via Overcast Via Stitcher | Via Spotify

Senate GOP Readies Climate Bills: Senate Republicans are readying a response to populist climate initiatives such the “Green New Deal” with measures that they say adhere to their free-market principles and stand a better chance of becoming law. The emerging proposals to fight climate change would avoid imposing dramatic cuts to carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, they seek to promote clean energy technology such as energy storage, renewable power and carbon-capture technologies. One measure would create an investment fund to pay for the research. Read more from Ari Natter.

TSA Pay Needs Fix: Low pay is a top driver of high turnover and poor morale at the Transportation Security Administration, but moving workers under the broader federal government civil service salary system as advocated by some Democrats and the agency’s employee union isn’t the answer, according to an independent panel report summary released yesterday. The summary, commissioned by the agency last September, lays out challenges impacting the TSA’s workforce and makes recommendations for improvement. The agency has struggled for years with high attrition rates and some of the lowest morale in the federal government. Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to place TSA under the the decades-old General Schedule pay system utilized by most white-collar employees, an effort that has been supported by the agency’s union. Michaela Ross has more.

Lighthizer to Meet With Senate GOP: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will attend the weekly GOP Senate lunch today to discuss the Trump administration’s trade agenda, according to people familiar with the plans. Trump’s trade chief was on Capitol Hill yesterday to discuss the USMCA and trade with China with Senate Finance Republicans. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Erik Wasson.

Movers and Shakeups

Transportation Official Eyed for Fed Board: Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said yesterday that Derek Kan is among those being considered by the White House to serve on the Federal Reserve, Nancy Ognanovich reports. Kan, who’s currently undersecretary of transportation for policy, is well regarded by Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Shelby says.

Shelby says he forwarded his own recommendations to the National Economic Council that Kudlow heads. Shelby declined to say whether Kan’s name was on his list. Kan was confirmed on a 90-7 vote to serve in his current post at the Transportation Department in Nov. 2017.

Second 9th Circuit Nominee Eyes Confirmation: Daniel Collins could soon be a judge on the San Francisco-based appeals court where he’s been a familiar face, despite Democratic concerns that he took litigation positions that they say sought to overturn precedent. Collins is a Munger, Tolles & Olson partner who’s been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where he’s argued 38 cases. The Senate advanced his nomination yesterday in a procedural vote to limit debate. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

CFPB’s Senior Enforcement Official Departing: The CFPB is losing one of its most senior enforcement officials, Kristen Donoghue, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Donoghue, currently assistant director of enforcement, has been with the enforcement division nearly since the beginning of the agency in 2011. She has risen through the ranks from an enforcement attorney beginning in 2011 to her current role overseeing the agency’s enforcement team. Read more from Lydia Beyoud.

Trump to Make Treasury Nominations: Trump yesterday announced he will nominate Brian Callanan to be general counsel of the Treasury Department, according to a White House statement. Trump also nominated Brent McIntosh, the current general counsel of Treasury, to be Treasury undersecretary for International Markets and Development, Chelsea Mes reports. Trump also named former Overseas Private Investment Corporation President Ray Washburne to be a member of his Intelligence Advisory Board.

Politics & Elections

Harris Threads Needle of Moderation and Revolution: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is planting her presidential campaign in the middle of a power struggle between the Democratic establishment and the party’s revolutionaries. The crowded Democratic race is defined on one end by Joe Biden’s incrementalism and calls for bipartisanship and on the other by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) vow to upend the economic and political order. Harris is trying to steer between the two front-runners, betting that in the end voters will want a blend of their approaches.

“The policies that Harris endorses and the markers that she lays down in the campaign are a good bellwether for where the mainstream of the party is,” said Brian Fallon, who served as national press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and now runs the advocacy group Demand Justice. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Democrats Cozy Up to Wall Street: Democratic presidential candidates have disavowed corporate cash, lobbyist checks, and the super PAC system. They’re trying to outdo each other with promises to finance their campaigns with grassroots contributions. But while they play down the role of money and influence, longtime Wall Street donors who have both say little has changed.

“I’ve talked to about half of them, and I have not run into a single one who said, ‘Hey, you worked at Goldman Sachs, I can’t take your money,’ ” says Goldman Sachs partner Bruce Heyman, who helped elect Barack Obama by collecting checks from friends, and later became his ambassador to Canada. “I’ve not heard that—ever.” Max Abelson has more.

Trump Hits Biden for Minimizing China Threat: Trump went after a potential re-election challenger, Joe Biden, yesterday for minimizing the economic threat posed by China, and said Beijing wants the former vice president elected to replace him. “They want Biden so that China can continue to make $500 billion dollars a year and more ripping off the United States,” he said at a rally in Montoursville, Pa., on behalf of a Republican running in a special election for the House.

Biden downplayed China while campaigning in Iowa City, Iowa, on May 1, drawing criticism from some of the other Democrats challenging him for the party’s nomination. “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Biden said, according to CNN. “You know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not — they’re not competition for us.” Read more from Alyza Sebenius.

What Else to Know Today

China Warns U.S. on Trade: China could retaliate against the U.S. after Trump blacklisted Huawei, the Chinese ambassador to the European Union said. Trump upped the ante in his trade dispute with China last week, announcing moves to curb Huawei’s business that are starting to have ramifications for other companies around the world. “This is wrong behavior, so there will be a necessary response,” Zhang Ming, China’s envoy to the EU, said in an interview in Brussels yesterday. “Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests are being undermined, so the Chinese government will not sit idly by.” Read more from Natalia Drozdiak, Jonathan Stearns and Nikos Chrysoloras.

Perhaps nothing captures the growing anti-U.S. sentiment in China better than a song about the trade war that is going viral in Beijing: “If the perpetrator wants to fight, we will beat him out of his wits.” This privately-produced song has more than 100,000 views on WeChat and is just one of many signs of brewing anti-American sentiment on Chinese social media as trade talks falter. Read more.

U.S. Census Said Vulnerable to Kremlin: The U.S. Census Bureau is concerned the Russian government could hack into data collected in the 2020 Census, in a similar way to how it interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a top bureau official said. “Most of the agencies of the federal government that ingest data are very concerned about interference” in the process of the 2020 Census,’ said John Abowd, chief scientist at the U.S. Census bureau. Read more from Steve Matthews.

Trump Talks Iran at Rally: Trump said the U.S. has seen no signs that Iran is preparing to attack American forces but he again threatened the Islamic Republic. “We have no indication that anything is happening or will happen,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a campaign rally in Pennsylvania yesterday. “But if it does it will be met with great force.” Read more from Emma Kinery.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he advocates talks and diplomacy but not under “current conditions.” The U.S. has requested talks with Iran on several occasions but this is a time for “resistance,” not negotiations, Rouhani said, according to the state-run Tasnim news agency.

DeVos’ Email Record-Keeping Questioned: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos didn’t follow the correct process to preserve business-related email from her personal accounts, according to a review by the department’s inspector general of political appointees’ emails. While DeVos’ emails from her personal accounts are in the department’s system, she forwarded them not to her own account but the accounts of senior department officials. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Trump’s ACA Alternative: Affordable insurance and quality of coverage are two competing interests hanging in the balance of a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health plans set to be argued this week. At a hearing scheduled for today, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard J. Leon will weigh arguments from the government and the patient advocates who challenged a rule lengthening the period of time a short-term limited duration insurance plan can be used from three months to a year. Leon, an appointee of George W. Bush, already decided not to grant the patient groups’ request to stop the rule from taking effect in November 2018, saying that wasn’t practical. Read more from Madison Alder.

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