What to Know in Washington: Democrats Ready Emergency Pushback

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) outlined plans to introduce the measure in an email circulated to colleagues that was obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. The resolution has 92 co-sponsors in the Democratic-controlled House.

The resolution is likely to pass the House and may get enough Republican support to pass the GOP-led Senate. Trump has vowed to veto it.

Trump last week signed an emergency declaration to divert certain military funding for wall construction, after Congress approved only $1.375 billion of the $5.7 billion he sought in a bipartisan budget bill. The president plans to unilaterally shift nearly $7 billion in federal funds to construct physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The draft of the House resolution being circulated would state that the national emergency declared by Trump on Feb. 15 “is hereby terminated.” If the House were to pass it, the Senate would be required to take it up within 18 days, creating a difficult choice for Republicans who control that chamber 53-47.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last night in her own “Dear Colleague” letter invited all fellow Democrats to co-sponsor the resolution. She said the House would “move swiftly” to pass the bill, reporting it out of committee within 15 calendar days and considering it on the floor within 3 calendar days after that.

If passed by the Senate and vetoed by Trump, each chamber would need a two-thirds majority to override the veto. That threshold would be difficult to achieve even in the House, which Democrats control 235-197. Read more from Billy House.

Border Trip: House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is scheduled to lead a trip to the border today with other lawmakers in order to examine Customs and Border Protection facilities and meet with local advocacy groups. “It is crucial we see firsthand the situation on the ground at the border so we have a full and accurate understanding of our current border security operations – and how best to bolster them,” Thompson said in a statement.


A US Customs and Border Protection helicopter flies over the border wall.

Politics & Elections

Democrats’ Tax Plans: Some of the top Democratic presidential candidates are trying to make a name for themselves by calling for higher taxes on the wealthy. And for some wealthy donors, that’s not a problem. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are focusing their 2020 campaigns on trendy new tax-the-rich plans, like Warren’s 2 percent wealth tax or Sanders’ expanded estate tax, as they make their cases against Trump.

The proposals are exciting small-dollar political donors — and so far aren’t scaring off wealthy contributors, said Rachael Rice, who advises Maryland Democrats on fundraising. Those deep-pocketed donors are more motivated to unseat Trump than worry about their own wallets, she said. Patriotic Millionaires, made up of high net-worth donors, was formed in 2010 to demand an end to President George W. Bush’s tax cuts benefiting top earners. Now, the group is pushing for new taxes on the wealthy and is backing ideas like Warren’s proposed annual 2 percent tax on fortunes of more than $50 million and an even larger levy on assets above $1 billion. Read more from Laura Davison.

Democrats Tip-Toe Through Racial Politics: Trump’s polarizing rhetoric on race gives Democrats an opportunity to galvanize a base increasingly made up of non-white voters. Yet it also exposes the party’s delicate approach to the nation’s complex racial politics. Some white candidates in the Democratic contest, such as Sanders, take on the issue explicitly by calling the president a “racist.” But black and Latino contenders like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro are more circumspect, mirroring the rhetorical prudence of former President Barack Obama on race.

The varying approaches show how Democratic hopefuls are making an appeal to core constituencies of a base that’s defined by the pursuit of racial equality, while also trying to avoid inflaming racial tensions and alienating white voters. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

RNC Raises $15.7 Million: The Republican National Committee, with help from small-dollar donors and Trump’s fundraising operation, took in $15.7 million in January, the opening month of the 2020 election cycle, according to its latest filing with the Federal Election Commission. That was more than twice as much as the $7.1 million that the RNC raised in January 2015, when Republicans lined up to try to retake the White House after two terms in Democratic hands, but $4.1 million less than its record $19.8 million haul in January 2017. That was the largest total for the RNC to kick off an election cycle.

The Democratic National Committee raised $6.5 million, spent $8.6 million, and ended January with $6.5 million in the bank against $5.7 million in debts. Small-dollar donors, those who give $200 or less, contributed $2.9 million of the DNC’s receipts. Read more from Bill Allison.

Trump’s Inauguration: The leaders of Trump’s inaugural committee saw trouble coming and tried to get ahead of it. It was January 2018, a year after the black-tie balls and candlelight dinners in Washington. Journalists were asking questions about how the Presidential Inaugural Committee had raised — and spent — a record amount of money. The committee, known as PIC, was set to release additional details about its finances in public tax filings. Complicating matters, a key committee staffer, Rick Gates, had months earl ier been indicted for lobbying work he’d done with Paul Manafort in Ukraine.

To get everyone on the same page, a team reporting to inaugural chairman Thomas Barrack came up with more than 60 questions and answers to circulate among themselves. The draft document, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News, shows how the group prepared to defend its work as questions intensified about its reported $107 million haul. According to nine inaugural staffers and others familiar with the committee’s efforts, the process of planning for Trump’s big week was chaotic and opaque, dominate d by staff culled from Colony Capital, the real estate firm founded by Barrack, and by ex-Trump campaign chairman Manafort’s circle of associates. Read more from Caleb Melby.

Coming Up in Congress

Cohen to Testify: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, is set to publicly testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee next week on topics from hush money paid to women who alleged that they had affairs with Trump, to what he knows about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to nine felonies, is also set to appear before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors next week. Read more from Billy House.

Lighthizer to Talk Trade: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on U.S.-China trade on Wednesday, the committee announced. The hearing will take place as talks between the U.S. and China are heating up in advance of a March 1 deadline to reach a deal with Beijing. Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on some $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on March 2 if a deal isn’t struck by March 1. But Trump has said he could postpone the deadlin e if the U.S. and China get to the point of closing in on a deal. Read more from Rossella Brevetti.

Prescription Drug Prices: Spending on retail prescription drugs will grow faster than any other health service over the next decade, becoming a major contributor to the $6 trillion the U.S. is set to spend a year on health care overall by 2027, according to the federal government’s annual benchmark projections.

As the U.S. on average gets older, as drug approvals speed up and as prescribing guidelines evolve, the country will spend more on medicine because more Americans will be taking more prescription drugs, federal researchers with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said yesterday. Average prescription drug spending will grow at more than 6 percent between 2020 and 2027, faster than hospital and physician spending.

Lawmakers are looking to curb spending on prescription drugs and for ways to save money on Medicare, which is also slated to grow faster in the next few years. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on drug prices on Tuesday featuring the CEOs of seven drug companies. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

California Lawmakers Push Back on Privacy Law: California lawmakers are urging Congress not to enact a federal privacy law that preempts state laws. The state in 2018 enacted a broad privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. Now, businesses are pushing Congress to write a federal bill with different standards that would pre-empt California’s statute.

“We encourage you to allow California and other states to continue to adopt pro-privacy policies that protect consumers and hold bad actors accountable,” Republican Assembly members wrote in a Tuesday letter to U.S. Senate and House committee leaders. Read more from Sara Merken.

National Clean-Energy Mandate Eyed: A federal mandate for states to obtain a set portion of electricity from renewable energy is a forgotten aspect of climate change policies, but some Democrats say it belongs back on the table. These Democrats are uneasy with the lofty goals set out in the “Green New Deal” resolution calling for a 10-year “mobilization” to meet all U.S. power demands with “clean, renewable, and zero-emission sources.” They say a more modest target is achievable.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who along with a half-dozen other Democrats has backed legislation directing utilities to get about 30 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, “is working on an updated standard to be introduced this Congress,” Udall spokesman Ned Adriance said. In the House, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also told Bloomberg Environment that he plans to roll out legislation in the coming months requiring utilities to meet a federal goal for drawing from solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources. Read more from Dean Scott.

Modernizing Congress: House Democrats have turned to Rep. Derek Kilmer, a former McKinsey consultant and self-described nerd, to bring their tradition-bound institution into the high-tech era. Kilnmer heads the new Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, tasked with improving staff retention, upgrading technology and employing social media more effectively to communicate with constituents. Kilmer outlines his plans in an interview with Katherine Scott.

Defense & Foreign Policy

North Korea Summit: Kim Jong Un has made little secret about what’s at the top of his agenda in his second meeting next week with Trump: Easing the sanctions choking North Korea’s moribund economy. That the Feb. 27-28 summit is happening at all is the clearest sign the Trump administration is backing away from its insistence that the sanctions stay in place until the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

Kim threatened last month to walk away from talks without relief, while Trump said yesterday that he would “love to be able to” lift sanctions on North Korea, provided he got “something that’s meaningful.” The question for next week is how much leverage is the U.S. willing to give up — and for what? Youkyung Lee takes a look at Trump’s options, from cheap to expensive.

Syria Withdrawal: Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar will meet his acting U.S. counterpart Pat Shanahan in Washington this week to discuss the pullout of American troops from Syria and Ankara’s concerns over U.S.-backed Kurdish forces there. Turkey is increasingly impatient over the delayed U.S. withdrawal that’s holding up its plans to create a safe zone inside Syria to ward against security threats from Kurdish fighters it regards as an offshoot of the Kurdish separatist PKK group it’s battled for decades. The Kurds were armed by the U.S. to take a leading role in battling Islamic State. Read more from Selcan Hacaoglu.

Anti-Terrorism Effort: The Trump administration is working to prevent thousands of individuals who joined foreign terrorist organizations from traveling back to the U.S. or to other safe havens as groups like ISIS and al-Qa’ida are defeated, according to the National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel, released yesterday, Michaela Ross reports. The report, the first of its kind since 2006, said more than 40,000 people, including more than 250 individuals from the U.S. and 3,000 people from countries that don’t require a visa to enter the U.S., have traveled to international conflict zones to train to be foreign terrorist fighters since 2013.

The report came the same day Trump told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar an Alabama woman who joined Islamic State and now expresses remorse from returning to the U.S. Muthana was smuggled into Syria from Turkey four years ago and has been married to three Islamic State fighters over that time, according to the New York Times. Earlier this year — as the terrorist group lost control of its territorial strongholds in Syria — she surrendered to American troops. She subsequently asked to come back to the U.S., saying she regretted her decision to join the terrorist organization. Read more from Justin Sink.

National Strategy for Aviation Security: The administration yesterday also released a new National Strategy for Aviation Security, the first since 2007. The strategy outlined emerging threats to the aviation sector, such as cyber attacks on GPS systems, the surge in the reckless and malicious use of drones, and the radicalization of some industry insiders, such as vendors or contractors, to carry out attacks. The report said that terrorists and non-state actors have yet to fully exploit cyber vulnerabilities in the industry, Michaela Ross reports.

Maduro’s Soldiers Disobeying Orders, Rubio Says: Venezuelan troops have begun disobeying orders from Nicolas Maduro’s top officers and are unlikely to heed calls to crack down on a humanitarian-aid caravan scheduled to enter the country this weekend, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “Saturday’s a day when we’re going to find a lot about the Maduro regime,” Rubio, who’s been helping set U.S. policy toward Venezuela, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I have reason to believe that rank-and-file military are not going to violently suppress aid workers.” Read more from Patricia Laya.

What Else to Know Today

China Trade: U.S. and Chinese negotiators are working on multiple memorandums of understanding that would form the basis of a final trade deal, according to a person briefed on the talks. They would cover areas including agriculture, non-tariff barriers, services, technology transfer and intellectual property, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The enforcement mechanism remains unclear, but would likely be a threat that tariffs would be reimposed if condition s aren’t met, the person said. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Trump, EU Far Apart on Trade: Trump and the European Union are still far from a deal to avert threatened tariffs on European cars, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said after what he described as contentious exchanges during a meeting with the U.S. president. The two argued over trade and energy policy, areas in which “our relationship has seen better times,” during talks at the White House yesterday, Kurz said. The 32-year-old Austrian leader said he proposed to Trump a wider trade framework that would include U.S. ambiti ons in areas such as agriculture.

“I think he would be ready to make a deal, and we in the EU want one,” Kurz told Austrian public broadcaster ORF after after the 60-minute meeting. “But the positions are very far apart and the White House sometimes takes decisions quickly, so we can’t rule out that those tariffs will come.” Read more from Matthias Wabl.

The meeting came as Trump reiterated his threat to impose tariffs on cars imported from the European Union if the U.S. can’t reach a trade deal with the EU, ratcheting up pressure amid already strained relations between the traditional allies. Read the latest on those negotiations.

Stone Back in Court: Roger Stone, a sometime adviser to Trump who faces charges of lying to Congress and obstructing a federal investigation, will appear before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson today as she weighs whether to tighten a gag order or change the terms of his bail. She may even lock him up. “The judge has very little option other than to revoke his bond and take him in to custody,” former federal prosecutor Ryan Fayhee said, explaining there’s really only one way to interpret the juxtaposition of J ackson’s head and crosshairs in a post on Stone’s Instagram profile. “It was a threat to the judge.” Read more from Andrew Harris.

Coast Guard Officer’s Alleged Plot: A Coast Guard lieutenant living in a Washington suburb stockpiled weapons and plotted to kill prominent Democrats and television news personalities, federal prosecutors said. Christopher Paul Hasson, who worked at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, was arrested on firearms and narcotics charges last Friday. But those counts, prosecutors wrote in a motion arguing that he be kept in detention, “are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committi ng acts dangerous to human life.” Read more from John Harney.

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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