What to Know in Washington: Democrats Short on 2020 Recruits

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to wrest the chamber from Republicans in 2020 is growing harder as he and the party confront a shortfall of candidates and an electoral map with few easy seats to flip.

Three potentially strong candidates said no this week to challenging GOP incumbents in some of the few races where Democrats might have a hope of making gains. With the 2020 campaign already under way, the clock is running to line up Democrats who can raise the money needed for a Senate bid.

Schumer was unable to coax Stacey Abrams into taking on Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), where Abrams gained national prominence last year in her unsuccessful campaign to become the first black female governor.

Also this week, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) decided to run for re-election for her seat and won’t launch a bid against Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). And Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said he’ll stay in the House instead of taking on Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) closest confidants. Some other potential Senate candidates have opted to seek the Democratic presidential nomination instead.

Their decisions point toward an uphill fight for Senate Democrats. “If they want any shot at the majority, Democrats have to expand the playing field,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “And that’s what they’re struggling with right now.”
The GOP controls the Senate 53-47, meaning the Democrats need to pick up three seats to win the chamber next year if their party wins the White House, and four if President Donald Trump wins re-election. But just three GOP senators are currently seen at risk — Martha McSally (Ariz.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Susan Collins (Maine). Democrats, meanwhile, could lose a seat in heavily Republican Alabama, where Doug Jones (D) won a 2018 special-election upset. Read more from Laura Litvan and Daniel Flatley.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Abrams this week declined to run for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat.

Barr’s Review of FBI ‘Spying’ Has a Wide Reach

Attorney General William Barr has begun to fill in details on his controversial pledge to investigate whether the FBI and Justice Department engaged in improper “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016.

In a contentious hearing this week on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Democrats accused Barr of sounding like Trump’s personal lawyer. But some Republicans encouraged him to lay out the contours of the nascent surveillance probe that he made clear is among his top priorities.

Barr told the Senate Judiciary panel that he has assembled a team to determine whether there was any improper “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016, including whether intelligence collection began earlier than previously known and how many confidential informants the FBI used. He also suggested his focus was on senior leaders at the FBI and Justice Department at the time. His review also will examine whether a dossier that included salacious accusations against Trump was fabricated by the Russian government to dupe U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI, Barr told the Senate panel on Wednesday. Read more from Chris Strohm and Billy House.

Democrats Lack Options to Compel Barr Cooperation: Barr’s snub of a House hearing on Mueller’s report exposed that Democrats are in an awkward position: They don’t have any good options for forcing the Trump administration to cooperate with their multiple investigations. Democrats seeking to compel—or punish—Barr and others who ignore their invitations and subpoenas could pursue contempt proceedings, which carry no tangible penalty when branches of government face off, or take action in court, which would be protracted. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders are resisting the other obvious option—moving to impeach the president—even as Republicans goad them on. Read more from Billy House

Happening on the Hill

Trump Oversight Bleeds in Drug Price Work: Fights about investigations into the Trump administration in the House Oversight Committee are seeping into its bipartisan work on drug pricing. Three other House committees with jurisdiction over drug pricing legislation—Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and Ways and Means—have each passed bills in preparation for a floor vote. Meanwhile, Oversight and Reform Chairman, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) are trading barbs over information requests.

Lawmakers typically rely on information from industry and interest groups to create legislation. The Oversight Committee is an investigative committee and historically doesn’t focus on marking up bills. But Cummings is known to conduct oversight with the goal of writing legislation. Any disputes over what types of information to collect could hamper the committee’s ability to get useful data, which in turn could hurt the development of a bipartisan drug pricing package. Shira Stein has more.

Another Border Funding Fight: House Democrats will want to rein in Immigration and Customs Enforcement spending and ensure that Border Patrol officials aren’t reassigned to do paperwork, if they agree to provide billions in extra funding to handle migrants crossing the southern border. The restrictions reflect congressional Democrats’ wariness about Trump’s funding request and concern part of it might be redirected to pay for his campaign promise of a border wall.

Lawmakers may provide a supplemental appropriations measure in response to the White House request for another $4.5 billion, said Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. Finishing work on a disaster aid measure for areas damaged by hurricanes, wildfires, and floods is a higher priority, she said. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick and Michaela Ross.

Graham Says He May Skip Trump on Immigration Bill: Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said legislation to address the migrant surge at the Southwest border will be unveiled next week, “with or without” the White House. “I’m tired of waiting,” Graham said. He said his bill would address “everything that’s a magnet for Central America,” including allowing for longer detention times for migrant children traveling in families, which is now capped at 20 days. Graham added that he will work with Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and Cornyn. Michaela Ross has more.

Rape Kit Bill Advances as Domestic Violence Bill Stalls: Senate sponsors say they expect easy passage of their bill to reauthorize a rape kit testing program, but they haven’t been able to broker an agreement on renewing the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the rape kit bill by voice vote yesterday. The measure would reauthorize through fiscal 2024 a program that gives states and cities grants to test backlogged rape kits. “It’s broadly bipartisan, so I’m confident we’ll get it done,” said sponsor Sen. Cornyn. “It’s not controversial.”

There’s no compromise in sight on renewal of the Justice Department’s grant program to prevent sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence, which lapsed in February. Read more from Katherine Scott.

DeFazio Pushes Gateway in Infrastructure Bill: Any federal legislation to create and finance an infrastructure program in the U.S. will include a provision specifically requiring federal financing for the Gateway rail tunnel project under the Hudson River, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. “I can guarantee this is one of the projects that will be included in those designations but we need more funding,” he said said yesterday. “I’m writing the bill in my committee and it’s going to include projects of national and regional significance.” Read more from Henry Goldman.

Democrats’ Labor Bill: Democrats are proposing a far-reaching bill that would bolster workers’ organizing rights, prohibit the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and walk back U.S. Supreme Court decisions on employee arbitration and union fee collection. The legislation will also likely test the labor bona fides of Democrats looking to unseat Trump in the White House.

The measure is likely to pass in the House, but it’s a long shot in the Republican-controlled Senate. Still, the proposal may become significant for the more than 20 Democrats running for president as they seek organized labor’s support on the road to the White House. The proposal, and whether candidates support it, will likely be used by labor unions as a way to choose candidates worthy of their endorsement ahead of the 2020 election. Read more from Jaclyn Diaz.

Threats to Religious Institutions: A spate of attacks on synagogues, churches and mosques around the world in recent months has spurred House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) to call on a panel of experts to be assembled to help prevent religious attacks. The pair asked the Homeland Security Department to create a new subcommittee on its bipartisan Homeland Security Advisory Council where outside experts could advise DHS on curbing threats to religious institutions.

Thompson and nearly 100 bipartisan co-sponsors Thursday also re-introduced a bill (H.R. 2476) that would codify a grant program to help nonprofits like worship centers to buy gates, surveillance cameras, security personnel and other equipment to help thwart terrorist attacks, Michaela Ross reports.

Senate Set to Restore Employment Agency Quorum: The Senate is set to vote next week to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a quorum for the first time in five months and at a critical juncture for the agency. Lawmakers will vote on corporate lawyer Janet Dhillon’s nomination for an open Republican seat on the EEOC. Dhillon’s confirmation, which is likely to come on a party-line vote, would give the commission the three members necessary for the agency to approve significant policy, litigation, and spending decisions. Read more from Chris Opfer.

Movers & Shakeups

Moore Flop Raises Concern on Trump’s Vetting: Trump has named four people for two seats on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors. None of them have made it through the Senate, raising doubts about the president’s central bank acumen and the White House’s vetting process for nominees. Conservative economic pundit Stephen Moore yesterday was the latest Fed candidate to flame out, following businessman Herman Cain and economists Nellie Liang and Marvin Goodfriend.

Trump has succeeded in filling three posts on the Fed board and managed to elevate Jerome Powell, already a governor, to the chairmanship — though the president rapidly soured on him following the central bank’s 2018 interest rate increases. The president also won Senate confirmation of Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida and the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, Randal Quarles. All were considered conventional, non-controversial choices.

Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners LLC, a Washington policy research firm, said he expected the White House to return to similar candidates. “I do think they go back a little more toward the technocrats,” he said. “But, more importantly, they consult with GOP senators to make sure that they are not putting them in an awkward position. And they vet them.’’ Read more from Justin Sink, Saleha Mohsin, Steven T. Dennis and Jennifer Jacobs.

Menendez Lifts Hold on State Department Pick: Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) lifted his hold on a vote for a senior State Department nominee after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to provide documents linked to an investigation of political retribution at the agency. The move ended a yearlong standoff, letting Brian Bulatao, Trump’s nominee for undersecretary general for management, win approval from the committee yesterday. He now faces a vote by the full Senate, which is expected to approve him quickly. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Daniel Flatley.

What Else to Know Today

Trump Hails Steel Tariffs in Defiance of GOP: Republican senators said they warned Trump yesterday against imposing tariffs on car imports and discussed alternatives that would achieve the White House’s goals. Trump followed with a tweet celebrating his current steel tariffs. More than perhaps any other issue, trade is where Trump has broken with the GOP’s free-market orthodoxy. Senate Republicans used a meeting at the White House to voice their concerns with the president’s tariffs agenda. But their appeal appears to have had little success. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Erik Wasson.

Trump Order Aims to Beef Up Cybersecurity Workforce: Federal employees in the cybersecurity field will be encouraged to take temporary reassignments with the Homeland Security Department and other agencies under an executive order signed by Trump aiming to strength the U.S.’s cybersecurity capabilities. DHS, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Personnel Management have 90 days to send a report to the president describing the proposed rotation program. Read more from Louis C. LaBrecque.

Trump Stumps for Qualcomm in FTC Monopoly Case: The White House asked a federal judge to consider limiting any penalties against Qualcomm in a Federal Trade Commission case accusing the company of anti-competitive practices. The Justice Department filed an unusual intervention in a two-year-old case brought by another federal agency that has already been through a trial and is awaiting the judge’s final ruling.

The Justice Department told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh that if she concludes that the company’s licensing model for chips used in mobile phones violates antitrust law, an aggressive remedy could undermine innovation and the firm’s central role in commercializing 5G mobile networks. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra and Ian King.

Facebook to Elevate Privacy Oversight to Board: Facebook is nearing a settlement with U.S. regulators that would elevate responsibility for privacy oversight to the company’s board of directors, according to a person familiar with the matter. The agreement being negotiated with the Federal Trade Commission, which would resolve a year-long investigation into the social-media company, would put privacy protections on par with the board’s other responsibilities, said the person, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Read more from David McLaughlin and Ben Brody.

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

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