What to Know in Washington: Democrats Split on Impeaching Trump

The leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates split Monday night over impeaching President Donald Trump, highlighting a schism in the party over whether a risky effort to expel him from office will distract from talking about the pocketbook issues that voters care most about.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the early front-runner for the nomination, gave his first direct answer on the question of impeachment, saying the House should carry out a “hard investigation,” but he warned that the political battle would play into the president’s hands. His stance put him at odds with some other members of the party’s progressive wing, including rival Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Warren, who was joined in calling for Trump’s impeachment by Senate colleague Kamala Harris (Calif.), made an impassioned argument that Democrats shouldn’t avoid the fight.

“There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution,” Warren said at her town hall, one of five held in Manchester, New Hampshire.

With the public far from sold on a bruising impeachment fight, Democrats in Congress and the presidential campaign have been grappling with how to respond to the revelations in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign was involved. Read more from Sahil Kapur and Laura Litvan.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at a 2018 press conference

Elections and Politics

Harris Vows to Use Executive Orders on Guns: Also at the CNN town hall, Harris vowed to use executive actions to tighten rules on firearms sales if she’s elected president and Congress fails to act on gun control in her first 100 days in office. Her proposals to bypass Congress with actions including expanding requirements for background checks and revoking licenses for gunmakers and dealers found to have broken the law would almost certainly face legal battles. But they represent her attempt to lean into a cause that’s gained strong Democratic support. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Warren Proposes Scrapping Student Debt for Millions: Warren proposed eliminating student-loan debt for an estimated 42 million Americans with a wealth tax, seeking to show young voters she would ease one of their biggest economic burdens. The plan would slash as much as $50,000 in student debt for anyone with household income of under $100,000, and partially cancel debt for those who make as much as $250,000. Beyond $100,000 in income, the $50,000 in per-person debt forgiveness falls by $1 for every $3 earned, zeroing out after $250,000. In other words, those who earn $130,000 would be eligible for $40,000 in debt relief, while those who make $190,000 could lower their loan amount by $20,000. Sahil Kapur breaks down the plan.

Her plan comes as the majority of students seeking loan forgiveness through two Education Department programs still owed payments on their loans by the end of 2018. Only 1 percent of the applications were approved through a forgiveness program for public and nonprofit workers by the end of December 2018, according to new data from the department. The agency received 65,500 applications through the end of the year. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

AOC Laps Lower-Key Members in Small-Dollar Funds: House freshmen who’ve attracted national attention are doing better than their lesser-known colleagues at attracting the small-denomination donations that are a sign of strong grass-roots enthusiasm. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has gained almost $600,000 this year from donors giving $200 or less each. That’s over 80 percent of her total haul of close to $728,000 in the first quarter of 2019, according to a newly filed Federal Election Commission report. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

Realtors Give $1.2 Million in N.C. Special: The National Association of Realtors is pouring in over $1.2 million in political action committee money into a North Carolina House special election to support a Republican candidate who until recently helped run the group’s political operation. The association is backing Leigh Brown, who owns a real estate brokerage in Concord, N.C., and is one of nearly a dozen candidates in a May 14 Republican primary in the state’s Ninth Congressional District. The GOP nominee will run against Democrat Dan McCready to fill a seat left vacant after the 2018 midterms due to a controversy over absentee ballot fraud. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

More Mueller Reactions

Pelosi Pushes Back Against Impeachment Demands: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed back on Democrats calling for Trump’s impeachment, even though she said the president “engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior which does not bring honor to the office he holds.” Pelosi said impeachment proceedings are not the only way to uncover the facts needed for Congress to hold Trump “accountable.” In a “Dear Colleague” letter, Pelosi concedes her party doesn’t fully agree on what course it should take following the report’s release on Thursday. Read more from Billy House.

Democrats Summon McGahn Over Mueller Report: House Democrats have issued a subpoena to former White House Counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in the Mueller investigation, to testify before the Judiciary Committee in an early move by lawmakers to follow up on the report’s findings. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that he issued the subpoena for McGahn’s testimony on May 21 and for him to hand over related documents by May 7. Read more from Shannon Pettypiece and Billy House.

Trump’s Legal Team Shelves Rebuttal to Mueller: Trump’s legal team has decided to shelve a plan to issue a formal rebuttal to Mueller’s report, said Rudy Giuliani, even as the president unleashes his own attempts on Twitter to discredit the special counsel and his findings. The president’s lawyers will focus instead on knocking down specific accounts in Mueller’s report as they surface in news media, Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, said in an interview yesterday. Read more from Shannon Pettypiece.

Defense, Trade, Foreign Affairs

Trump May Limit Visas: The Trump administration is considering suspending or limiting the number of visas granted to people from countries that have a high rate of overstays, or remaining in the U.S. after their non-immigrant entry permits have expired. Trump signed a memorandum ordering his State and Homeland Security secretaries to find ways to reduce the number of people overstaying in the U.S., according to a White House statement. Read more from Vivek Shankar.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court could make it easier for lawful permanent residents to remain in the U.S. after committing a crime. The justices agreed yesterday to review an Eleventh Circuit ruling regarding when lawful permanent residents can obtain discretionary “cancellation of removal.” At issue is the “stop-time rule,” which pauses the accumulation of the seven-year residency requirement necessary to obtain cancellation. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

F-35 to Be Billions Costlier, Pentagon Finds: Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet, the world’s costliest weapons program, just got even costlier. The estimated total price for research and procurement has increased by $22 billion in current dollars adjusted for inflation, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual cost assessment of major projects. The estimate for operating and supporting the fleet of fighters over more than six decades grew by almost $73 billion to $1.196 trillion. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Trump to Escalate Iran Feud by Ending Waivers: The Trump administration said it won’t renew waivers that let countries buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions, a move that roiled energy markets and risks upsetting major importers such as China and India. The current set of waivers — issued to China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — expire May 2, Nick Wadhams, Glen Carey and Margaret Talev report. A senior Trump administration official involved in the discussions on Iran oil waivers said there would be absolutely no justification for the Islamic Republic to close the Hormuz strait, which the U.S. would find unacceptable.

At the same time, Glen Carey and Ladane Nasseri report the Trump administration’s bet that economic isolation will force Iran to abandon ballistic missile development and change other behavior isn’t working. Iran still provides Hezbollah with an estimated $700 million a year in funding and bolsters its military capabilities, furnishes financial and military aid to the Shiite Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and helps Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war. And despite assertions by U.S. officials in March that the sanctions against Iran’s banking, energy, shipping, and aviation sectors were having their desired effect, Hezbollah is still the strongest force in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen regularly attack Saudi troops on the border, and the Assad regime is consolidating power. Read more.

Iran Has ‘Intensive’ Talks With Partners: Iran said it’s holding “intensive” talks with its partners in the region and beyond to contain the fallout from the Trump administration’s decision not to renew waivers that let countries buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions. The Foreign Ministry “is having intensive consultations with many of its foreign partners including Europeans and neighbors,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing the ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi. Read more from Ladane Nasseri.

Trump’s Top Economist Sees Trade Wars Like Battle Against Scurvy: Trump’s top economist has a new analogy for those bemoaning the impacts of the administration’s trade wars: Just think of the U.S. economy as an 18th century warship battling a scurvy outbreak and Trump’s tariffs and other trade weapons as the bitter lemons needed to cure it. His point is that the president is repairing a sick economy that has been laboring for too long under the weight of disastrous trade deals that disadvantage the U.S. against economic competitors and trading partners such a s China and Mexico. Read more from Shawn Donnan.

Movers and Shakeups

Trump Drops Plan to Nominate Cain: Trump said he won’t nominate former pizza company executive Herman Cain to sit on the Federal Reserve Board. Cain is bowing out after a path to Senate confirmation appeared blocked by his own party. A fourth Republican in the Senate said earlier this month he’d oppose Cain, all but sinking any chances that he’d receive Senate approval if Democrats stay united in their opposition.

The president’s desire to place Cain and fellow supporter Stephen Moore on the Fed board had sparked concern over the politicization of the central bank. The Fed answers to Congress and was designed to have independent control over monetary policy, insulating interest rates from short-term political considerations that might do long-term economic harm. Read more from Alister Bull.

Lighthizer Legal Aide Said Leaving: Trump’s chief trade negotiator is losing an important legal adviser before the U.S. and China aim to close a landmark trade deal, two people briefed on the staff change said. Stephen Vaughn, the general counsel at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative who joined the administration in 2017, is leaving his position as early as this week, according to the people. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Newstead Heads to Facebook: Facebook has named Jennifer Newstead, a legal adviser to the State Department, as the internet giant’s general counsel to replace Colin Stretch, who announced he was leaving in 2018. Newstead, who has worked at the State Department since 2017, previously was a partner at law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP, where she focused on cross-border regulatory, enforcement and litigation issues, Facebook said yesterday. Read more from Jillian Ward.

DOD’s Designer of JEDI Cloud Stepping Down: The Pentagon official who developed a controversial $10 billion cloud-computing project is stepping down after four years of his efforts to upgrade the Defense Department’s IT systems. Chris Lynch, director of the Defense Digital Service, told his staff in an email that he was ending his “nerd tour of duty.” Brett Goldstein, Chicago’s former chief information officer, “will be leading Defense Digital Service through its next phase to grow and expand this incredible work,” he said. Read more from Naomi Nix.

What Else to Know

Trump Sues to Block Subpoena for Financial Documents: Trump and the Trump Organization have asked a U.S. judge to block a congressional subpoena seeking business records from his longtime accounting firm Mazars USA LLP. The subpoena is part of sweeping series of requests by Democratic lawmakers for financial records from Trump’s company and himself.
Trump has refused to cooperate, and his lawsuit in Washington shifts what is certain to be an intense battle into the federal courts. Private lawyers for the president said the House Oversight and Reform Committee is exceeding its authority by rummaging in Trump’s personal business records without a “legitimate legislative purpose.” Trump is suing in his individual capacity, and not as president. Read more from Andrew Harris.

Trump’s Earth Day Message Ignores Climate Change: Trump commemorated Earth Day with a message that included nods to “historic economic and job growth,” but made no mention of climate change. “Environmental protection and economic prosperity go hand in hand,” Trump said in a statement. “A strong market economy is essential to protecting our critical natural resources and fostering a legacy of conservation.”

Despite critics of his environmental record — which includes a vow to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord and dismantling Obama-era rules to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — Trump said America’s air and water quality ranks among the highest in the world. Read more from Ari Natter.

Trump Touts Wall to Children at Egg Roll: Trump used the opportunity of the White House Easter Egg Roll to address some of his youngest supporters over one of his signature policy goals: building a wall on the southern border. “It’s happening, it’s being built now,” Trump told children on the South Lawn. “Here’s a young guy who said ‘keep building that wall.’ Do you believe it? He’s going to be a conservative someday,” Trump said. Read more from Shannon Pettypiece and Alyza Sebenius.

Texas Landowners Drop Suit to Block Wall Plan: A trio of Texas landowners who sued to block the president from building a border wall in their backyards are dropping their case. The Trump administration still plans to build a wall on their properties along the U.S.-Mexico border; it just won’t be funded by the president’s Feb. 15 emergency proclamation, according to a request for dismissal of the suit filed in federal court. The case is one of at least five that followed after Trump declared that he would be reallocating money from the budget to raise about $7 billion to pay for his wall — funding that was previously denied by Congress. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra.

Bias Suits by LGBT Workers Get Supreme Court Review: The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether federal law bars employers from discriminating against gay and transgender people, accepting cases that could let the court’s new conservative majority put its imprint on the American workplace. The justices will hear three cases, including an appeal from a man who says a Georgia county fired him because he is gay and another from a now-defunct skydiving company accused of firing an instructor because of his sexual orientation. Read more from Greg Stohr.

BGOV Podcast—Marijuana Bills Budding in Congress: States’ continuing push to legalize marijuana use—and the businesses that serve users — has sparked the interest of Congress. On this episode of “Suspending the Rules” from Bloomberg Government, legislative analysts Sarah Babbage, Michael Smallberg, Adam M. Taylor, and Adam Schank cut through the haze to break down cannabis-related measures Congress could take up. Proposals include full-scale legalization, as well as smaller bills that would allow states to regulate it, give pot businesses access to the financial system, and relax regulations on medical research and veterans’ use, among other things.

Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students: Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais announced that the department would allocate $28 million to continue a pilot program allowing prisoners to use federal grants to pay for college classes while they are incarcerated. Reinstating Pell Grants for eligible prisoners, known as Second-Chance Pell, has bipartisan support and has gained momentum as the White House and advocacy groups call for lawmakers to include it in an update to the higher education act that’s in the works. The Pell pilot program is entering its fourth year. In the first two years, schools awarded about $35.6 million in the grants to about 8,800 incarcerated students, according to the Government Accountability Office, Emily Wilkins reports.

To contact the reporter on this story: 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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