What to Know in Washington: Funding, Border, Guns on Hill Agenda

Gun control, drug prices, and defense programs are just part of a crowded agenda that Congress will face as it returns to Washington with only three weeks to avert a government shutdown.

For a complete look at Congress’s agenda, read Bloomberg Government’s Fall 2019 Hill Watch.

After lawmakers and the administration agreed to a spending cap law allowing $1.3 trillion in discretionary funds for fiscal 2020, the Senate Appropriations Committee will unveil its allocations for the 12 spending bills this week and begin markups.

A short-term continuing resolution to continue funding almost certainly will be required for some or most agencies when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, and the House is likely to take it up the week of Sept. 16, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Whether the Trump administration will insist on funding for a wall on the southern border as part of the larger package remains to be seen — attempts to do so in the fiscal 2019 bills led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

Mass shootings in Texas and Ohio reinvigorated a push from Democrats to pass gun control legislation. Quick action is planned in the House on measures to temporarily remove firearms from those who pose a threat to themselves or others, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week he’d wait for action until the administration weighed in.

Senate panels have also teed up legislation on reducing drug prices and preventing surprise medical bills. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is planning her own legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs. Committees in both chambers moved legislation on immigration just before the August recess, with a Senate bill focused on narrowing the criteria for seeking asylum and the House bill aimed at preventing family separations.

Other issues on the docket this fall may include the the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace NAFTA, reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and National Flood Insurance Program, and continued investigations of the Trump administration. Read more in BGOV’s Fall Hill Watch.


Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

White House Flags Concerns in Senate Defense Bill: Meanwhile, the White House still has a raft of concerns over the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill, including Space Force, unmanned Navy ships and space-based missile sensors, according to a letter from the Office of Management and Budget. The White House is pushing the Senate to fully enshrine a Space Force as a sixth service in law and says it’d be hampered by the initial Senate Armed Services Committee’s positions on the other issues. The letter raises 39 separate concerns with the $750 billion bill (S. 1790) and was sent to Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Sept 4. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

Impeachment and Investigations Outlook: Pelosi hasn’t given any deadline on deciding whether to pursue articles of impeachment. Although more than half of the 235 Democrats in the House are calling for Trump to be impeached or at least support an inquiry, she has her eye on the dozens of members who represent Republican-leaning districts and will face voters again in 2020.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to vote this week on setting up special procedures for future hearings, including extending time for the panel’s staff to question witnesses, potentially allowing for more focused inquiries at public hearings, according to a congressional aide familiar with the plan. The changes also would include taking evidence in closed session to deal with sensitive information, such as grand jury material. Erik Wasson and Billy House have more on that, and other Congressional priorities this fall.

Elections & Politics

Warren Gains on Biden in Perceived Electability: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is gaining both in probable Democratic convention delegates and in perceived electability, a CBS News/YouGov tracker poll showed yesterday, even as former Vice President Joe Biden leads in an estimate of likely delegates from early-voting states. Among those considering supporting Warren, the percentage who think she would probably beat Trump in 2020 has jumped 16 percentage points since June, to 55% from 39%. That cuts into Biden’s key argument that he’s the Democrat most likely to beat Trump. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Meanwhile, another of Biden’s rivals suggested yesterday that he might not have what it takes to defeat Trump. “What I see is that every time Democrats have won since 1960, they’ve won because we had a nominee that excited young people, brought together a new diverse coalition of Americans, and was able to get that victory,” Julian Castro said on CNN. The “winning formula” in 2020 “is not to play it safe,” said Castro, a low-polling candidate who served in the Obama administration and is a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. “It’s not to believe that is if we are just little bit different from Republicans we are going to win.” Read more from Ari Natter.

Sanford Running for GOP Nomination Against Trump: Mark Sanford said he’s running for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination against Trump, joining at least two others looking to topple the party’s popular leader. Sanford joins former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and syndicated talk show host and former one-term Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh in challenging Trump at a time some states are poised to cancel their Republican primaries altogether.

The former U.S. representative from South Carolina made the announcement on “Fox News Sunday,” calling for “an earnest and real conversation on debt and deficits and government spending.” Read more from Hailey Waller.

DNC Chair Doesn’t See a Third-Party Challenge: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said he appreciates former Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz’s decision not to run for president in 2020 as an independent, and is confident that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) won’t mount a third-party challenge either. Gabbard has been critical of some of her rivals for the Democratic nomination but said in August she’s ruled out an independent run. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Texas Economy May Usher in a Democrat in 2020: For Republicans, the Texas Miracle may become a victim of its own success. The booming economy that helped the Lone Star State weather the 2008 recession has also sparked a migration there that’s changing the face of Texas politics. The workers who’ve moved to Texas for jobs in the energy and tech sectors are more liberal than Texas natives, slowly turning the deep-red state into a richer purple. Democrats now find themselves close enough to winning Texas that they’ve scheduled the third round of 2020 primary debates for Houston on Thursday.

Texas is a big political prize, and getting bigger. Second only to California in size and electoral votes, it’s the eighth-fastest growing state in the country, helped by a higher-than-average birthrate, immigration, and domestic migration. And while a growing Hispanic population may someday fundamentally transform Texas politics, for now the leftward turn is driven mostly by the predominately white people moving to Texas from other states. Read more from Gregory Korte and Joe Carroll.

2020 Democrats Warm to Mandatory Buybacks of Assault Weapons: As mass shootings pile up, several Democratic presidential candidates are embracing mandated “buybacks” of assault weapons, a proposal that sharpens the political divide on guns and raises the stakes for the 2020 election. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Schumer Picks Senate Primary Favorites: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) effort to unite Democrats behind well-funded, centrist Senate candidates has sparked a backlash from progressives who warn that the Democratic leader risks turning off voters they’ll need to take back the chamber. Consolidating the party apparatus behind strong candidates early can help raise their profile — and bring in millions of dollars in fundraising. But the strategy is angering local activists and competing primary hopefuls.

The campaign committee associated with Senate leaders has already picked well-established candidates in key battleground states more than a year before the election, including Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who’s seeking to unseat Republican Susan Collins, and former Governor John Hickenlooper in Colorado targeting Republican Cory Gardner. Most of the favored Senate hopefuls don’t back “Medicare for All” or the “Green New Deal,” and in many cases they have more progressive competition. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Foreign Affairs

Failed Afghan Talks Underscore Foreign Policy Setbacks: Trump took the presidency vowing to bring his deal-making savvy to American foreign policy, yet his love for grand gestures and personal diplomacy has fallen short with North Korea, China and the Mideast. Now Afghanistan can be added to the list.

In a series of tweets on Saturday night, the president dispatched with a secret plan to host Taliban and Afghan leaders at his Camp David retreat this weekend ahead of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He wanted to talk directly with Taliban negotiators, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said yesterday on CBS, one of five TV interviews.

“I want to look them in the eye,” the president said, according to his top diplomat. That would be reminiscent of his approach to China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, but with just over a year before the 2020 elections, Trump’s personal brand of diplomacy has few successes to point to. Read more from Nick Wadhams, Glen Carey and Jennifer Jacobs.

Pompeo also distanced himself from Trump’s abandoned plan, Nick Wadhams reports. “President Trump ultimately made the decision,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Meanwhile, the move to abruptly cancel the talks may have set back the Afghan peace process, but it came as a relief to the government in Kabul. President Ghani’s administration, which has been excluded from the negotiations, has distrusted the process from the beginning. Afghan officials feared the deal could’ve spurred a violent period similar to the civil war in the 1990s and put the Taliban, which controls or contests more than half the country, in an even stronger position to enforce their severely restrictive, ultra-conservative form of Islam. Read more from Eltaf Najafizada.

Air Force Orders Review After Trump Resort Stays: The U.S. Air Force ordered a review of hotel and overnight lodging rules, Politico reports, amid concerns that Trump’s properties have benefited from questionable itineraries. The review follows reports that air crews had been using a small airport in Scotland proximate to one of Trump’s properties as a refueling stop, at higher fuel costs than the government would otherwise bear if using military facilities, and staying overnight at Trump’s luxury Turnberry resort.

U.S.-North Korea Talks Still Stalled: The U.S. envoy for North Korea said the Trump administration is ready to negotiate whenever Kim Jong Un’s regime is ready, effectively confirming that months of American efforts to bring the two sides back to denuclearization talks have stalled. “We have made clear to North Korea we are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from them,” said Stephen Biegun, the special representative for North Korea talks, in a speech Friday at the University of Michigan. “We are ready, but we cannot do this by ourselves.” Read more from Nick Wadhams.

Kuwait Emir’s Meeting With Trump Postponed: Thursday’s meeting between the Emir of Kuwait and Trump has been postponed after the emir was admitted to a U.S. hospital for checkups, a Kuwaiti official said, Fiona MacDonald and Zaid Sabah report. The Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, is in good health, the official said. After initial tests, doctors recommended additional tests and some rest, so the meeting was postponed, the official added. Kuwait’s state-run news agency KUNA reported the postponement earlier.

Around the Administration

Migrant Agenda Faces Judge’s ‘Ouija Board’ Test: A federal judge pressed the U.S. on whether it skirted rule-making requirements when it adopted new expedited-removal procedures for undocumented immigrants, telling the government it had to go by the book whether the policy itself was crafted with care or by “ouija board.” Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington heard more than three hours of argument on Friday. Read more from Andrew Harris.

No Deal on Biofuel Path to Calm Corn Belt: Trump and top administration officials were unable Friday to finalize a plan for aiding biofuel—and quelling corn-belt criticism—after agricultural groups and farm-state lawmakers said a compromise under consideration would only stoke more anger. A White House meeting on the issue Friday afternoon ended without agreement on a final package of changes to bolster U.S. biofuel-blending mandates and take other steps to propel corn-based ethanol, despite weeks of negotiations and Trump’s Sept. 2 tweet promising “big” changes within two weeks. The administration will continue to deliberate, according to people familiar with the talks who asked not to be named to discuss a private meeting. Read more from Mario Parker and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Pro Bono Help for ICE Detainees: Big Law attorneys will work with outside groups to provide pro-bono representation for immigrants detained in federal raids of food processing plants in Mississippi. Attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis, Kilpatrick Townsend, Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, Greenberg Traurig, and seven other firms are just getting started. They’ll receive training, mentoring and supervision, and will work remotely to help detainees secure bond. Read more from Stephanie Russell-Kraft.

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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