What to Know in Washington: GOP Waits for Trump on Gun Control

Democrats and Republicans are stalemated over gun control measures, as a debate over how to address last month’s three mass shootings gets off to a sharply partisan start with no clear direction from President Donald Trump.

The House Judiciary Committee met yesterday to push through three measures, including legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines that allow extended firing without reloading.

Yet the Senate still hasn’t acted on legislation the House passed in February to expand federal criminal background checks of gun buyers, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave little indication he’s willing to consider new proposals.

McConnell said he’s waiting to hear from the White House what sort of gun legislation Trump would be willing to sign. “I can’t handicap the outcome,” McConnell told reporters after the Senate GOP’s weekly private lunch. “We’re waiting for something we know, if it passed, would actually become law.”

Trump met with Republican congressional leaders on the fall agenda later in the day. Afterward, McConnell told reporters, “I don’t have any announcements to make.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the president has a “historic opportunity” if he were to back universal background checks, and he urged Senate Republicans to press him to do so. Read more from Laura Litvan and Steven T. Dennis.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
McConnell at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Happening on the Hill

Democrats Seek to Block Coastal Oil Drilling: The House is set to vote today on two proposals for limiting drilling in U.S. coastal waters, including an effort to permanently ban rigs near Florida, as Democrats seek to demonstrate their opposition to fossil fuels and emphasize Republicans’ sustained support for oil. The measures also could highlight divisions in the Republican party over offshore drilling, after GOP lawmakers from the southeast U.S. objected to the Trump administration’s earlier efforts to sell oil and gas leases in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the bills aren’t expected to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate, Democrats say their passage in the House would demonstrate opposition to Trump’s efforts to expand coastal oil and gas development. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Senators Warn Hong Kong Is Weak Link for U.S. Tech: A bipartisan group of senators has told the Trump administration that they’re concerned whether U.S. export controls are strong enough to prevent China from getting sensitive U.S. technology through Hong Kong. “We believe it is critical that the United States take appropriate measures to ensure China does not abuse Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to steal or otherwise acquire critical or sensitive U.S. equipment and technologies in support of its strategic objectives or to infringe on the rights of people in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and elsewhere,” the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill that would prohibit commercial exports of some less-lethal crowd control items like tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police force, following reports that some U.S.-manufactured munitions had been used to try to quell the protests, Ben Livesey reports.

White House No-Shows Anger Terror Bill Writers: Democratic and Republican lawmakers preparing to write legislation to stave off domestic terrorism and mass shooting threats excoriated the Trump administration for slow-walking the appearance of top officials at an annual oversight hearing. “It is outrageous that the day before Sept. 11 we cannot have an annual counterterrorism brief,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday. “To not be able to hear from the leadership of the Cabinet on where we are on counterterrorism threats is just nuts.”

The panel in July had invited top officials to testify at its hearing on terrorism and threats to the homeland, and those officials initially refused, according to Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and multiple committee aides. FBI Director Christopher Wray, Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and National Counterterrorism Center acting Director Russell Travers later agreed to testify Oct. 30, they said. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Ways & Means Eyes Green Energy Tax Package: The House Ways and Means Committee is likely to start negotiations in the coming weeks on a clean energy tax package that would likely focus on extending and expanding breaks like the one for electric vehicles. A centerpiece will likely be Rep. Dan Kildee’s (D-Mich.) bill (H.R. 2256) to extend tax benefits aimed at encouraging electric car purchases, and expanding them for car manufacturers like Tesla that have already hit the credit’s threshold. Read more from Colin Wilhelm and Kaustuv Basu .

Legislation Banning Mandatory Arbitration Advances: Legislation that would prohibit mandatory arbitration agreements in employment, consumer, and other contracts advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. The bill would invalidate a predispute arbitration agreement if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute. Republican members of the panel panned the bill, saying it was too broad and prevented consumers from achieving a “simpler, cheaper, and faster path to justice,” according to Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the committee’s ranking member. Read more from Jaclyn Diaz.

Thune Names Chief of Staff: Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) announced that his current whip office deputy chief of staff Nick Rossi will succeed Brendon Plack as chief of staff, according to a statement yesterday. “Having served in a number of roles in my committee and leadership offices, Nick is uniquely prepared to take on these new responsibilities at the helm of my whip operation,” Thune said in the statement. Rossi has been a “key member of Thune’s staff since January 2013, including serving as majority staff director of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee during Thune’s chairmanship,” the statement said.

Elections & Politics

Trump-Backed Bishop Wins Tightly Contested Race: Republican Dan Bishop won a North Carolina special election yesterday for a House seat, dashing Democratic hopes to swipe this partly suburban district from Republican hands ahead of Trump’s 2020 re-election effort. Bishop, a state senator, defeated Democrat Dan McCready, a solar-energy businessman and Marine Corps veteran who also ran in last November’s election. The original race was invalidated by the state’s elections board because of evidence of absentee-ballot fraud connected to the campaign of Republican Mark Harris.

Holding on to North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, represented by Republicans for more than half a century, was a relief for Trump, who made a major effort to bolster Bishop’s candidacy. Still, the close contest forced the GOP to spend time and money in what has traditionally been friendly territory, a district where Trump won by 12 percentage points in 2016. Read more from Greg Sullivan.

Bishop is a steadfast ally of Trump who shares the president’s policy views on most issues and calls Trump “the greatest fighter ever to occupy the White House.” He also echoes the president’s divisive attacks on what they characterize as “socialist Democrats” and a “fake news media.” Greg Giroux has more on the newest House member.

Also, Republican state Rep. Greg Murphy won the race for North Carolina’s 3rd District seat. Murphy shares Trump’s views on curbing illegal immigration, including the president’s demand to build more border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. In unofficial returns, Murphy had 58% of the vote compared with 42% for Democrat Allen Thomas. Read more from Greg Giroux.

Biden, Warren Set for First Showdown: Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are charting vastly different paths to the Democratic nomination that could collide beginning with Thursday’s debate. Warren is building a movement for “big, structural change,” and Biden is focused on beating Trump in what he often describes as a “battle for the soul of this nation.” But they have campaigned on parallel lines, not criticizing each other or proactively making distinctions between their visions. At the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston tomorrow, they will share a stage for the first time, giving voters and pundits their first chance to directly compare the two candidates. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

  • Biden Tops Texas Democratic Poll, Warren Second: Biden still tops the Democratic primary field in Texas with Elizabeth Warren surging into second place on the eve of the party’s third candidate debate in that state, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Biden is supported by 28% of Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, with Warren following with 18% and both Bernie Sanders and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke falling to 12%. Read more from Elizabeth Wasserman.

Freedom Caucus Chooses Biggs to Be New Chairman: The House Freedom Caucus selected Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to replace current Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who will end his role Oct. 1 and remain a member of the Freedom Caucus board, according to a statement from group. Biggs is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Chelsea Mes reports.

Foreign Affairs

Trump-Rouhani Meeting Odds Improve: Trump has made no secret he’s willing to sit down with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a move that would break more than four decades of U.S. policy. With John Bolton’s ouster as national security adviser, the odds of that meeting just got better. Bolton built his career on a hardline approach toward Iran, long calling for preemptive strikes on the country to destroy its nuclear program. His sudden dismissal yesterday immediately fueled speculation — and worry in some quarters — that the U.S . “maximum pressure” campaign might ease in a bid to lure Iranian leaders to the negotiating table. Read more from David Wainer.

The end of Bolton’s fractious tenure leaves Secretary of State Michael Pompeo at the helm of the Trump administration’s foreign policy as it manages crises from Iran to North Korea. Pompeo is now without peer on Trump’s national security team. Among the president’s advisers, Pompeo will have the biggest sway on decisions about brokering a deal with Iran, restarting talks with North Korea and finding a way to draw down forces in Afghanistan. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Trump mentioned to him several possible candidates on a shortlist to replace Bolton. Graham told Fox News that Trump mentioned Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence; Brian Hook, senior policy adviser to Pompeo; and Rick Waddell, a former national security official, Ben Livesey reports.

China Starts Tariff Exemptions: China announced a range of U.S. goods to be exempted from 25% extra tariffs put in place last year, as the government seeks to ease the impact from the trade war without lifting charges on major agricultural items like soybeans and pork. Pharmaceuticals and lubricant oil are among exclusions to levies on imports announced by the Ministry of Finance on its website today. The exemptions, effective from Sept. 17 to Sept. 16 2020, will cover 16 categories of products worth about $1.65 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations based on China’s 2018 trade data. Other products on the list include alfalfa, fish meal and pesticides. Read more.

Trump Plans Crackdown on Chinese Fentanyl: The Trump administration is considering an executive order to crack down on shipments of fentanyl and counterfeit goods, according to people familiar with the matter, a move aimed in part at pressuring China to help the U.S. combat its opioid epidemic. The draft order would target foreign shippers routing deliveries through the U.S. Postal Service—and not the two-largest U.S. couriers, United Parcel Service and FedEx, according to the people.

Washington has criticized Beijing for not doing enough to curb the flow of fentanyl, a highly addictive painkiller that’s played a role in the opioid epidemic blamed for thousands of deaths in the U.S. Trump has linked the issue to trade talks, citing President Xi Jinping’s failure to stop the smuggling of China-made fentanyl as a reason for hiking tariffs earlier this month on Chinese goods. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Mexico Says No New Measure Needed on Immigration: Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that Mexico doesn’t need to take any new measures to reduce the number of undocumented migrants bound for the U.S. because the current strategy is proving successful. Ebrard led a Mexican delegation yesterday for meetings at the White House that included a brief conversation with Trump. Ebrard said that he explained the importance of the steps Mexico has taken since June, including the deployment of the National Guard, and also expressed concern about guns f lowing south from the U.S. Read more from Eric Martin.

Around the Administration

Trump Faces Season of Scrutiny: Heading into his re-election campaign, Trump faces months of inquiries by House Democrats beyond a potential impeachment probe. The scrutiny extends from Trump’s personal finances to decisions made by the White House on issues such as health care and immigration, his alleged direct involvement in payments to silence two women claiming to have had affairs with him and whether his closest aides improperly used private messaging services to conduct official business.

Most probes don’t have a direct tie-in to whether the Judiciary Committee opens a formal presidential impeachment inquiry. But many do, and the interconnected investigations will add to the drumbeat of Democratic attacks on Trump leading up to the 2020 election. Billy House looks at some of the biggest investigations to keep tabs on in upcoming months.

Ross Reportedly Threatened Weather Staffers: The Commerce Department’s inspector general is investigating a report that Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire Weather Service Employees who contradicted Trump’s false claim that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama, according to Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “I expect interesting facts will come out and we will be instructed by that, guided by that,” Wicker said in an interview, Ari Natter reports. The New York Times reported Monday that Ross threatened to fire weather officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after they contradicted Trump’s claim.

White House to Meet With Biofuel Producers: Trump administration officials are set to meet with renewable fuel producers today, as they seek to entice industry endorsements for a plan to bolster corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel. The meeting is slated to include executives from Louis Dreyfus, Renewable Biofuels, and Renewable Energy Group, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named discussing private negotiations. Ethanol and biodiesel industry trade associations are not expected to be present. Read more from Mario Parker and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Momentum for Digital Watchdog to Regulate Tech Giants: With Big Tech accused of everything from decimating industries to abusing privacy, calls are growing for the creation of a federal regulator. Presidential candidates, consumer advocates and some antitrust enforcers have focused on breaking up Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — or at least forcing them to unwind past acquisitions. Yet those moves could take years and face lengthy court challenges.

The desire for faster action is fueling demands for a new agency to oversee the industry, an idea that’s gaining traction among liberal and free-market economists in the U.S., Europe and Australia. They say there’s plenty of precedent: The U.S. and other countries have watchdogs for specific industries, such as aviation, medicine, financial services and the environment, so why not digital markets? Read more from Ben Brody.

Meanwhile, a team of Federal Trade Commission investigators has begun interviewing small businesses that sell products on Amazon to determine whether the e-commerce giant is using its market power to hurt competition. Several attorneys and at least one economist have been conducting interviews that typically last about 90 minutes and cover a range of topics, according to three merchants. All were asked what percentage of revenue their businesses derive from Amazon versus other online marketplace s like Walmart and EBay, suggesting regulators are skeptical about Amazon’s claims that shoppers and suppliers have real alternatives to the Seattle-based company. Read more from Spencer Soper and Ben Brody.

Climate Group That Unites Yellen, Exxon Unveils Carbon Tax Plan: Major oil, power and consumer products companies are releasing their most specific plans yet for a nationwide tax on carbon dioxide that promises to halve U.S. emissions of the greenhouse gas by 2035. The more detailed blueprint set to be unveiled Wednesday by the Climate Leadership Council calls for a $40 tax to be levied on each ton of carbon dioxide, with the fee increasing at least 5% every year and proceeds rebated to American consumers.

The tax would be imposed on carbon dioxide emissions at the mines and power plants whose products generate the greenhouse gas. In exchange for the fee, federal regulations targeting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities would be swept away or preempted — a regulatory rollback seen as critical to ensuring continued support from businesses and winning votes from conservative lawmakers in Congress. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

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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