What to Know in Washington: GOP ‘Can’t Run’ From Health Care

President Donald Trump said Republicans “blew it” on health care and will lose the 2020 election if they don’t devise a plan to repeal Obamacare that protects coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“We blew it the last time, man I was fed a bill of goods,” Trump said last night in a speech at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner. “We can’t run away” from health care, he added, saying that if the party doesn’t address the issue: “we’ll lose.”

Democrats “have health care right now and we need to take that away from them,” Trump said, laying out a strategy for the 2020 campaign. He said that Republicans would win back the House of Representatives if they campaign on a pledge to end Obamacare and replace it in their first vote following the election with a cheaper program that still protects sick people from being denied coverage by insurers.

Republicans have struggled mightily since Obamacare became law to reach consensus on such a plan.

It wasn’t clear if Trump was aware that reporters had been allowed to cover his speech. At one point he said he expected it to be leaked to the press. Later, he said it would be dangerous for Democrats to win the 2020 election, calling them “stone-cold crazy.”

He used the address to stake out positions and potential themes for his own re-election campaign, and to assail and mock potential opponents and critics. The president singled out former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s been contemplating a bid for the Democratic nomination but come under scrutiny over allegations by two women of inappropriate contact. “I was going to say welcome to the world, Joe. You having a good time, Joe?” Trump told the gathering. Read more from Alyza Sebenius.

Photographer: Ron Sachs/Pool via Bloomberg
Trump speaks during the National Republican Congressional Committee Annual Spring Dinner on Tuesday.

McConnell’s Pushback: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chided Trump for recent policy demands, pushing back on the president’s threat to close the southern border and taking credit for halting Trump’s call for GOP lawmakers to overhaul Obamacare.

McConnell said yesterday he thought Trump’s suggestion to close the border to prevent illegal immigration poses a “potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country.”

And asked if there was political risk in Trump’s demand for Republicans to craft a new comprehensive health-care plan, McConnell smiled and said, “not any longer” — taking credit for persuading Trump to delay this policy push. He said he spoke to Trump on Monday and explained the difficulty of passing further changes to Obamacare. Hours later, Trump said on Twitter that the party could wait until after the 2020 election.

Trump’s policy announcements in recent days have sent exasperated Republicans scrambling, including his call to close the border and cut aid to three Central American nations, along with the administration’s new effort in court to overturn the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Read more from Laura Litvan and Alyza Sebenius.

Happening on the Hill

Democrats’ Subpoena Push: A House committee yesterday authorized a subpoena aimed at forcing a former official in the White House Personnel Security Office to testify after a woman who works there said top-secret clearances for senior aides were granted improperly. The action came as Democrats who control the House moved on multiple fronts to press investigations into Trump and those around him.

The action set the stage for another showdown today, when the Judiciary Committee plans to authorize a subpoena for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report on Russian election interference, as well as all underlying evidence. Attorney General William Barr has promised to provide the report by mid-April but with sections potentially blacked out concerning classified information and grand jury proceedings. Read more from Billy House.

NATO Chief to Address Congress: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will address a joint meeting of Congress in a reaffirmation of congressional support for the alliance on its 70th anniversary. Stoltenberg met with Trump at the White House yesterday.

Trump said yesterday that NATO allies have made progress toward meeting his demands to increase their defense spending in his meeting with Stoltenberg. Trump also said yesterday the U.S. and its NATO allies had made “great strides in Afghanistan” but that the war there was also “unfortunate” and “ridiculous.” His administration is seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, who were forced from power in 2001 after a U.S.-led invasion but have fought an insurgency ever since. Read more from Alyza Sebenius and Nick Wadhams.

Green New Deal: Rep. Mike Levin (Calif.) is one of only two co-sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution representing a district that flipped from Republican to Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections. It’s not an unusual position for him. Levin campaigned on his career as an environmental attorney before winning the congressional seat that former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa held for 18 years. But Republicans say his decision carries a risk, and it’s one that many first-term Democrats are avoiding. Tiffany Stecker takes a look at ho w house-seat flipping Democrats are avoiding the Green New Deal.

Helping Federal Employees in Shutdown: A bipartisan House group introduced a bill that would “ensure that employees’ dental and vision benefits and their long-term care insurance coverage would continue during any period the government is shut down,” they said in a statement. The group includes House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Chelsea Mes reports.

Medicaid Programs and Drug Rebates: The Senate yesterday passed by unanimous consent a House-passed measure that would penalize drug-makers that misclassify products to avoid paying higher Medicaid rebates. The bill also would allow states to provide coordinated care through Medicaid for youth with complex medical conditions. For more on the measure, read the BGOV Bill Summary from Danielle Parnass.

Self-Driving Cars: Congress has dragged its feet in its effort to regulate emerging autonomous vehicles technology, and now the Transportation Department and auto industry are moving ahead with their own plans to put the cars on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last night that it will consider requests from General Motors and Nuro to put vehicles on the road that don’t meet the federal safety standards that predate automated technology. Sarah Babbage takes a closer look at the effort.

Movers and Shakeups

Trump Announces Nominations: Trump yesterday nominated Michelle Bowman to be the Federal Reserve’s community bank representative for a 14-year term beginning Feb. 1, 2020. Bowman is already a governor at Federal Reserve. Trump also announced his intent to nominate Allison Herren Lee to be a commissioner at the SEC for a five-year term, expiring June 5, 2022. Lee would replace Kara Stein, who left the SEC in January after her term ended, and would bring the five-member commission back to full strength if she is confirmed by the Senate, Chelsea Mes reports.

Trump yesterday also announced his intention to nominate Alma Golden and Frederick Nutt to be assistant administrators at USAID, and Richard Norland to be U.S. ambassador to Libya, the White House said in a statement.

Kudlow Backs Moore for Fed Board: Trump’s top economic adviser said the president stands by his choice of Stephen Moore for an open seat on the Federal Reserve Board despite recent reports about the possible nominee’s failure to fully pay taxes and alimony. Larry Kudlow, head of the National Economic Council, confirmed Trump’s confidence in Moore in an interview with Bloomberg News yesterday. Moore has faced a wave of criticism following reports that he owes more than $75,000 in taxes and other penalties to the U.S. government. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Saleha Mohsin.

Trump Called Powell in March: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell received a call from Trump on March 8 as concerns that day about the U.S. job market helped send stocks to their biggest weekly drop of the year. For months, Trump has been pointing the finger at Powell and the Fed’s interest-rate increases for restraining the economy and spooking the stock market. The president has also tweeted his displeasure, most recently last Friday. Read more from Craig Torres

Politics & Elections

Iowa Voting: The tradition-bound Iowa caucuses are set to allow some online voting next year and among the likely beneficiaries are older voters, who’ll press candidates to focus on issues such as prescription drug prices, Social Security and Medicare. Boosted participation by those 65 and older — a demographic that already accounts for more than a quarter of the Democratic turnout in the caucuses — could provide even more incentive for presidential hopefuls to pitch to voters who otherwise might not venture out on a winter night to attend in person.

The plan by Iowa Democrats is for the virtual caucus meetings to generate roughly 10 percent of the delegates from each of the state’s four congressional districts, no matter how many people actually participate. While remote participation could carry less voting weight than in-person caucusing, it will be a slice of the electorate that can’t be ignored. Read more from John McCormick.

Chicago Chooses Historic Mayor: Chicago made history yesterday, electing former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot its first black, female mayor as the city struggles with gun violence on its streets and looming fiscal woes. Lightfoot, who also will be the first openly gay leader of the nation’s third-most-populous city, soundly defeated Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, 74 to 26 percent with nearly all precincts reporting, according to city election board returns. Lightfoot had never held elective office and will replace Rahm Emanuel, who chose not to run for a third term. Read more from Elizabeth Campbell and Kim Chipman.

What Else to Know

Barr Mulls Mueller Report: Trump is being left out of his attorney general’s deliberations over how much to release publicly from Mueller’s investigation — including matters the president could say he has the authority to keep private. Barr hasn’t discussed any part of Mueller’s report with the White House, according to a Justice Department official, but plans to rely instead on his own judgment in deciding whether some details in the report should be withheld under executive privilege.

Barr, in a little-noticed line from a letter he sent to lawmakers on Friday, wrote that he had no plans to share the report with the White House and that “although the president would have the right to assert privilege over certain parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me.” Barr, who issued a four-page summary on March 24, said he’s aiming to release a fuller version “by mid-April.” Read more from Shannon Pettypiece and Chris Strohm.

Border Closing Would Halt Auto Assembly, Hit Farms: Trump has been short on details about his threat to close the border with Mexico to cut off illegal immigration, and even inside the White House aides are unsure how — or even if — he’ll follow through. But any move that would shut down or hinder $1.7 billion in daily cross-border trade would have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. economy.

Amid warnings from his Republican allies and his advisers, Trump yesterday dialed back somewhat from his threat by tweet last week to shut the border if Mexico didn’t stop the flow of Central Americans heading north. He suggested the U.S. could “close large sections of the border, maybe not all of it.” But he also made clear the idea of a broader action isn’t off the table. “Let me just give you a little secret: security is more important to me than trade,” Trump said at the White House. “I’m to tally prepared to do it. We’re going to see what happens over the next few days.” Mike Dorning takes a look at the economic risks of closing the border.

U.S.-China Talks: Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will resume negotiations with his U.S. counterparts in Washington today as both governments push for an agreement to end their protracted trade dispute. The latest round of talks follow discussions last week in Beijing, where Liu met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Outstanding issues include protection for intellectual property and how to enforce any broader trade agreement. Read more.

Airport Screeners Endured Pay Delay, TSA Head Says: Airport screeners have largely been staying on their jobs even after their pay was delayed during the government shutdown earlier this year, Transportation Security Administration head David Pekoske said. Lawmakers and the airline industry have been closely monitoring the fallout of the 35-day lapse in federal funding on agency morale and retention. About 50,000 agency security officers continued to screen air travelers without regular paychecks during the shutdown, leading to callouts as high a s 10 percent of officers. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Kittens’ Use in ‘Traumatic Testing’ Halted: Cats will no longer be used in research testing for a parasitic disease found in humans, the Agriculture Department announced. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service said its toxoplasmosis research has been redirected and “the use of cats as part of any research protocol in any ARS laboratory has been discontinued and will not be reinstated.” Read more from Teaganne Finn.

White House Urges Court to Throw Out Wall Suit: The Trump administration asked a Washington federal judge to throw out a pair of lawsuits challenging the president’s national emergency declaration that he said allowed him to tap funding for his long-sought wall along the southern U.S. border.

At least five lawsuits were filed in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s February decree based on his claim that the flow of Central American migrants into the U.S. from Mexico warranted the measure, allowing him to line up $8 billion in funding for the barrier. “Such challenges raise political questions that courts are not equipped to answer, as courts overwhelmingly have recognized,” Justice Department lawyers said in twin filings yesterday. Read more from Andrew Harris and Kartikay Mehrotra.

Faulty 737 Sensor From Crash Linked to U.S. Shop: A faulty sensor on a Lion Air 737 Max that’s been linked to the jetliner’s deadly crash last October and a harrowing ride the previous day was repaired in a U.S. aircraft maintenance facility before the tragedy, according to investigative documents. Read more from Alan Levin and Harry Suhartono.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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