What to Know in Washington: Democrats Weigh Fines for Testimony

The Trump administration is fighting House Democrats’ investigative inquiries at every turn. Some Democrats want to make them pay.

At a meeting of House leaders earlier this month, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler(D-N.Y.) suggested fining officials personally if they deny or ignore subpoenas, according to a person who attended the meeting. Nadler’s idea, the person said, was to put teeth in his party’s numerous investigative queries, many of which Trump officials are stonewalling or simply ignoring.

Nadler even mentioned jailing administration officials as a consequence for contempt of Congress, though he surmised such a plan might be unrealistic, added the person, who requested anonymity to discuss a closed-door session. The person said the idea surprised many in the room but seemed to have been researched as a serious option by Nadler or his staff.

A Nadler spokeswoman did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

Since January, the Trump administration has faced a fusillade of subpoenas, demands to testify and letters requesting information.

Just this month, House committees have demanded an unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, six years of President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns and testimony on White House security clearances.

The administration has often denied the requests, calling them an unconstitutional infringement on the president’s powers. Read more from Joe Light.

Mnuchin Stalls Trump’s Tax Release: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin again refused to release Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats, arguing that the Democrats’ stated legislative purpose hides their real intent — to expose the president’s personal and business financial records to the public. Mnuchin met House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s (D-Mass.) Tuesday deadline to respond to his second request for the tax returns, but only by saying he would give a final response by May 6, when the Justice Department is expected to have completed its review of the request.

Neal set an initial deadline of April 10 for Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to hand over six years of personal and business returns and then extended it to Tuesday when Mnuchin balked. Read more from Joe Light and Laura Davison.

Trump showed no sign of softening his resistance to releasing his tax returns, with a spokesman saying he’s still “not inclined” to hand over the paperwork despite yesterday’s deadline. “Once he’s out of audit, he will think about doing it. He’s not inclined to do so at this time,” Trump’s deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News.

Bloomberg QuickTake: How Trump’s (Private) Tax Returns Could Become Public

Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg
Mnuchin after meeting with Senate Republicans to defend lifting sanctions on the Russian firms.

Democrats Threaten Contempt Vote on Ex-Trump Aide: House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is threatening to hold a former White House official in contempt after Trump administration lawyers convinced him not to testify Tuesday about the granting of security clearances. Former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline received a subpoena for a closed hearing after a longtime employee in the White House clearances office, Tricia Newbold, told lawmakers that she and other colleagues denied 25 applications for clearances only to see them overturned by supervisors.

“I intend to consult with House counsel and committee members about scheduling a vote on contempt,” Cummings said in a statement, “I hope that Mr. Kline, in close consultation with his personal attorney, will carefully review his legal obligations, reconsider his refusal to appear, and begin cooperating with the committee’s investigation.” Read more from Billy House.

Elections and Politics

Biden Said to Planning 2020 Bid on Thursday: Joe Biden is set to announce his entry into the 2020 presidential campaign on Thursday and follow up with his first campaign rally next week in Pittsburgh, according to two people familiar with his plans, a clear message that he intends to lay a claim to the working-class voters who helped elect Trump in 2016. His kick-off rally is tentatively planned to take place in front of a union crowd in the one-time center of the U.S. steel industry, Pittsburgh, the people said, who asked for anonymity because the plans haven’t been made public. He’ll follow with trips to the four states where the first nomination contests will be held starting in February 2020. Jennifer Epstein and Margaret Talev have more.

Hegar to Challenge Cornyn in 2020: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar (D) announced she will seek to unseat Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in 2020. Hegar’s biographical video became a viral sensation last year when she ran for the House. She lost by about 3 percent to incumbent Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), Emma Kinery reports.

DHS Expanding Cyber Services for 2020 Campaigns: Campaigns and and voting equipment vendors can expect better outreach and more services from the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber agency, officials said. “Now that we do have presidential level campaigns, we are engaging directly,” said Christopher Krebs, director of the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said at a conference. Read more from Michaela Ross.


First Quarter Overview: Lobbying reports filed by yesterday’s deadline are providing analysts a look into the hot-button issues on the corporate world’s radar: cloud computing, 5G broadband, health insurance and more. They also reveal the effects of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Read the BGOV roundup.

Ag Groups Shift Lobby Focus to Making Farm Law Work: Major farm and industry groups that pressed for enactment of a farm bill last year are now turning their lobbying attention to influencing the Agriculture Department’s implementation of the newly enacted authorization, according to quarterly disclosures filed Monday. Several leading agriculture groups—including American Farmland Trust, National Milk Producers Federation, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association—added implementing the farm law to the issues they listed in the disclosures as lobbying activities. None of these groups listed implementation in their lobbying disclosures for the final quarter of 2018. Read more from Teaganne Finn.

Coming Up in Congress

Pelosi Plans Infrastructure Meeting With Trump: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she plans to sit down with Trump next week to discuss an infrastructure deal. Infrastructure and lowering prescription drug prices top the House agenda, said Pelosi. “These are two that we are very optimistic we can accomplish.”

The April 30 infrastructure meeting, which Pelosi requested in a call to Trump earlier this month, will also include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) according to a senior Democratic aide. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Rules Hearing on ‘Medicare-for-All’: The House Rules Committee has set an April 30 hearing on a “Medicare for All” measure (H.R. 1384), Alex Ruoff reports. It’d be the first congressional hearing on the concept, according to an announcement from the panel. Witnesses will be announced this week, it said. “It’s a serious proposal that deserves serious consideration on Capitol Hill as we work toward universal coverage,” Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in a statement. BGOV’s Danielle Parnass and Alex Ruoff delve into the measure in a Closer Look.

Still, the Rules Committee’s Democrats include two members skeptical that Medicare for All can work: Donna Shalala(D-Fla.) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). Scanlon on her official site said she supports “a transition to Medicare for All,” but first wants to protect the Affordable Care Act and a “public option system.” Shalala has voiced support for expanding Medicaid, not Medicare, to more Americans.

Lawmakers Seek Google Briefing Over Privacy: Top House Energy and Commerce lawmakers are calling on the CEO of Google to brief them on news reports that the company tracks and stores hundreds of millions of consumers’ location data. Yesterday’s letter followed a New York Times report that Google maintains a database, known as Sensorvault, that stores the location data of hundreds of millions of devices. The lawmakers want Google to brief committee staff by May 10. Read more from Jon Reid.

Expanding Agent Orange Veterans Benefits: Lawmakers and advocates are split on how much to worry about the costs of expanding eligibility for disability benefits for some Vietnam-era veterans in the wake of a recent federal court decision. The trigger was a circuit court decision in January that said veterans who served on deep water ships off Vietnam are entitled to a presumption of benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

“They are going to need some funding,” Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, said in an interview. That’s left appropriators and top lawmakers on the Veterans’ Affairs panels wondering how to pay for the latest expansion of benefits—or whether to ignore new costs altogether. Megan Howard has more.

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Defense and Foreign Affairs

Saudi Arms Deal Stalls as Rebuke of Kingdom: The Trump administration has few options to move forward on a $2 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Congress is leveraging to censure the U.S. ally for alleged human rights abuses and to rebuke the White House for its unconditional embrace of the kingdom. Raytheon has been blocked from selling precision-guided munitions kits to Saudi Arabia for more than a year now — far longer than the normal hold for Congress to review an arms sale. Senator Bob Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, says his April 2018 block on the order will continue until he sees evidence that this technology actually does reduce civilian casualties by turning gravity bombs into more precise “smart” bombs, as the administration claims.

The sale is far from being resolved since the State Department and Defense Department have yet to provide this evidence, according to a person familiar with the proposed sales. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with lawmakers from both parties reached new lows last year over the kingdom’s killing of U.S.-based Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October and the impact that Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen is having on civilians. Read more from Daniel Flatley and Glen Carey.

Kushner Backs Blaming Saudis for Khashoggi Death: Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, said he doesn’t dispute the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was behind the death of Khashoggi. “Look, I’m not going to dispute American intelligence services’ recommendations,” Kushner said at a TIME Magazine 100 forum. Trump has played down the role of bin Salman in Khashoggi’s murder at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, and Kushner has a close relationship with the prince. Read more from Emma Kinery and Justin SInk.

Ghost Fleet Aimed at Foes Spooks Some in Congress: America’s symbol of power at sea has always centered on sailors manning intimidating destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers bristling with fighter jets. But now, the Navy is looking to a new generation of drone ships—what it calls its Ghost Fleet—to sink China’s and Russia’s ambitions to dominate at sea, a prospect that demands the U.S. expand its reach and eyes on the vast oceans without spending billions on more people and traditional ships.. Read more from Roxana Tiron.

U.S. Talks With China Resume Next Tuesday: Negotiators led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin will travel to Beijing next week for another round of talks, the White House said. Talks starting on Tuesday “will cover trade issues including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, purchases and enforcement,” the White House said. Chinese officials will then head to Washington on May 8, the White House said. Read more from Bloomberg News in Asia.

Trump Seeks Reciprocating EU’s Harley Tariffs: The U.S. will respond to the European Union’s tariffs on motorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson, which has shifted some production overseas to avoid rising levies, Trump said. “So unfair to U.S. We will Reciprocate!” Trump said on Twitter in a post quoting a person speaking on Fox Business Network. Harley is moving some of its U.S. production overseas to sidestep EU tariffs that jumped to 31 percent from 6 percent after Trump hiked tariffs on steel and aluminum. Read more from Terrence Dopp.

Netanyahu Says Israel Will Name Community for Trump: Trump’s name, already emblazoned on buildings and real estate around the globe, could soon extend to the Golan Heights. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday he will name a community in the region after Trump, who officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau a month ago. Read more from Alisa Odenheimer.

Europe Doubles Down on Iran Support: Europe is pledging to keep afloat its efforts to aid Iran after the U.S. tightened the screw by targeting all exports of Iranian oil for sanctions. The French government and the European Union both said they will abide by the terms of the Iran nuclear accord with world powers even after the latest U.S. move. France and European partners want to continue efforts to ensure that Iran derives economic benefits as long as Tehran complies with its nuclear obligations, the Foreign Ministry in Paris sai d. Read more from Viktoria Dendrinou and Helene Fouquet.

USMCA Would Cut Car Sales, Boost Parts Sector: The economic hit from a 140,000 drop in annual car sales would be more than offset by growth in the domestic parts industry under the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, according to a report from the independent U.S. International Trade Commission. The ITC found that overall effects of the USMCA—the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement—would be modest. Sarah Babbage breaks down the ITC’s report in the BGOV Closer Look.

U.N. Adopts Resolution Amid Abortion Row With U.S.: The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution condemning sexual violence in warfare, but only after language on a woman’s right to “reproductive health” was removed to avert a veto by the anti-abortion Trump administration. The German-sponsored resolution expresses “deep concern at the full range of threats and human rights violations and abuses experienced by women and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict situations.” It passed with 13 votes in favor and abstentions by Russia an d China. Read more from David Wainer.

What Else to Know

SCOTUS Signals Support for Census Citizenship Query: Key Supreme Court justices seemed inclined to let the Trump administration add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census in a clash that will shape the allocation of federal funding and congressional seats. In an 80-minute argument yesterday that was technical and combative, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh directed almost all their questions to the lawyers challenging the decision to ask about citizenship.

But opponents say a citizenship question could result in a census under count in areas with large non-citizen populations that could shift congressional districts and federal funds away from those communities. “There’s no doubt that people will respond less,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said of the administration’s initiative that would be the court’s first direct look at a White House effort since it upheld Trump’s travel ban last year. Read more from Greg Stohr.

At yesterday’s arguments, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco took the podium for the Trump administration, while Douglas Letter, general counsel of the House, was one of three lawyers arguing against that addition. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

Trump Meets Twitter’s Dorsey: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey met with Trump at the White House yesterday, the same day the president tweeted that Congress should “get involved” in a battle against “discriminatory” practices by the social media company. Trump tweeted that he had a “great meeting” with Dorsey and that he wants to keep an “open dialogue” with the tech executive. Read more from Justin Sink.

Trump Aides Told to Skip Press Dinner: The White House said that Trump administration officials won’t attend the White House Correspondents’ Association charity dinner on Saturday, escalating the president’s feud with the news media. Trump was already planning to skip the affair himself, and instead has scheduled a rally in Green Bay, Wis., Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink report.

Proposed Hiring Rule Faces Bipartisan Opposition: The Trump administration’s proposal to require people applying for federal jobs to disclose their participation in criminal diversion programs undermines criminal justice reform, according to a bipartisan group of senators. “Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions, and who in many cases have worked hard to complete court-mandated programming, should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Office of Personnel Management acting Director Margaret Weichert. Read more from Vivek Shankar.

Employers Could Pay Students in Grants Under Proposal: More federal grants could go to pay students working at companies as part of their educations under a potential federal pilot program. Top Education Department officials say the move could increase cooperation between colleges and businesses to provide on-the-job experience. Work-study programs help low- and middle-income students work part-time while earning funding for their tuition. Universities can allocate a grant to cover as much as 50 percent of a student’s wages while working for a private, for-profit organization. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

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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