What to Know in Washington: GOP Weighs Trump Trade Confrontation

Congressional Republicans, worried about the possible economic fallout from President Donald Trump’s plan to impose a tariff on Mexico, have discussed taking legislative action to head off his plan, a person familiar with the matter said last night.

GOP lawmakers are considering whether to revive a resolution of disapproval over the national emergency declaration that underpins Trump’s justification for the tariffs, according to the person, who asked not to be identified to discuss sensitive deliberations. The action would also stop the president from spending billions on a border wall without congressional approval.

Congress earlier this year passed a similar resolution, but the House didn’t have enough votes to override a presidential veto.

The political calculation for Republicans considering a resolution to rebuke their own president could be different this time, as they fear the economic impact of a 5% tariff on all imports from Mexico starting on June 10 unless that country’s government curbs illegal migration to the U.S. The tariff could rise to as high as 25% by October unless Mexico takes sufficient action, as judged by the Trump administration.

The discussions occurred as top GOP Senators warned the administration that Congress could reclaim its tariff powers or hold up a new North American free trade deal if the White House carries out its threat to impose the levies. It would take a critical mass of congressional Republicans publicly supporting this legislative rebellion to convince Trump to reverse course before the tariffs are set to begin next week. Read more from Erik Wasson and Daniel Flatley.


Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/BloombergShipping containers at the APM Terminals Lazaro Cardenas SA shipping terminal in Mexico.

2020 Democrats Avoid Trade Proposals: On the campaign trail, the nearly two dozen Democratic candidates running for president overwhelmingly agree that Trump’s trade policies have failed. They’re just not ready to say what they’d do about it.

Of the 14 contenders who attended the California Democratic Party convention this weekend, only one, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), addressed the issue. She condemned Trump’s recent threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods but didn’t offer any policy prescriptions of her own.

This relative silence leaves two constituencies crucial to winning back the White House — union members and rural voters — open to being wooed by Trump’s get-tough approach, much as they were when he faced Hillary Clinton in 2016. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Trump’s Risk: For Trump, the expansion of his tariffs not only jeopardizes the health of the U.S. economy, he risks undermining his own political standing, too.

A new report from Goldman Sachs shows that, while Trump may not distinguish friend from foe, U.S. voters certainly do. While Trump’s tough line against China does draw some support, the Goldman report shows that significantly more voters disapprove of the tariffs the president has applied — or threatened to apply — on imports from friendly nations. Furthermore, his protectionist trade policies haven’t produced the kind of political boost in critical swing states that his backers are depending on.

“Voter approval on trade policy appears to be no higher in key competitive states than in other states,” Goldman finds, “and overall presidential approval in those states has declined by more than the national average.” Read more from Joshua Green.

Also Happening on the Hill

Immigration Debate in House—BGOV Podcast: A bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for more than 2 million people without legal status tops the agenda this week, as the House is scheduled to vote on the “American Dream and Promise Act.” It’s the latest development in the ongoing immigration debate, a week after Trump announced tariffs on goods imported from Mexico that will escalate until the country stems the flow of migrants from Central America to the U.S.

On this episode of “Suspending the Rules,” Bloomberg Government homeland security reporter Michaela Ross and legislative analyst Adam M. Taylor dive into the immigration debate and break down the proposals in Congress and from the administration. Listen and subscribe to Suspending the Rules from your mobile device: Via Apple Podcasts | Via Overcast | Via Stitcher | Via Spotify

Vote on $1 Trillion in Fiscal 2020 Funds: The House next week could look to vote on a five-bill fiscal 2020 spending bill totaling almost $1 trillion, including funds for the Defense and Health and Human Services departments, among other federal agencies. The House Rules Committee has sent notice of a measure that would package the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, State, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch spending bills. It would provide $986.7 billion in discretionary funds. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee last night advanced a fiscal 2020 spending bill that would increase funds for the IRS and Treasury Department. The spending bill would provide $24.6 billion in discretionary funds, including $13.6 billion for Treasury and $12 billion for IRS. Michael Smallberg takes a closer look at what else is in the bill.

Congress Sends $19 Billion in Disaster Aid to Trump: The House cleared a $19 billion disaster-aid plan for areas hit by hurricanes, Midwest floods and California wildfires yesterday after months of negotiations and a final delay of more than a week caused by Republican objections. The bill, passed 354-58 as the House returned from a week-long recess, now goes to Trump, who has said he supports the measure although it omits border security funds he requested.

Trump hailed passage of the bill on Twitter, saying, “Farmers, Puerto Rico and all will be very happy.” Southern lawmakers have clamored for relief for farmers in states hit by Florence and Michael, which wiped out timber and pecan crops in Alabama and Georgia. “While it has taken far too long, this bill delivers much-needed assistance to American communities struck by recent natural disasters,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor. Read more from Erik Wasson and Steven T. Dennis.

Senate Passes Bill to Address Foreign Election Hacking: The Senate passed on voice vote a bill to combat the threats of foreign hacking in U.S. elections, Nancy Ognanovich reports. The DETER bill (S. 1328) aims to keep foreign agents found interfering in U.S. elections out of the country. The bipartisan bill was one of two approved by the Judiciary Committee in May aimed at dealing with election threats. The other measure, which hasn’t come to the floor, would make it a crime to hack into state voting systems. Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the bills “a step in the right direction but by no means a comprehensive solution to the problems we face with hacking and attacking our election system.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats are trying to give state election overseers an injection of money to upgrade anti-hacking defenses. The Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee approved by voice vote yesterday a bill to provide $600 million in new funding for election security grants. That’s less than what the House had already voted to authorize as part of its sweeping election and ethics package (H.R. 1). But the $1 billion envisioned in that legislation appears unlikely to become law, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying he has no intention of bringing up the bill for a floor vote. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

Democrats Lose Bid to Block Trump’s Wall: House Democrats failed to block Trump’s plan to fund his southern U.S. border wall with about $6.1 billion Congress had allocated for other purposes. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington ruled yesterday that he lacks jurisdiction to consider the dispute. McFadden, a Trump appointee, had expressed wariness of the lawmakers’ arguments at a May 23 hearing.

“This is a case about whether one chamber of Congress has the ‘constitutional means’ to conscript the judiciary in a political turf war with the president” about the implementation of legislation, McFadden wrote. Agreeing with a Justice Department lawyer’s defense of the administration, the judge concluded he couldn’t get involved in the fight. Read more from Andrew Harris.

Congress Opens Probe of Tech Competition: The House Judiciary Committee is joining the rush to investigate big technology companies, with a focus over whether increased concentration in the industry is crowding out competition and hurting consumers. Congress’s probe will address three issues, according to a committee statement released yesterday. The hearings, led by the Antitrust Subcommittee, will focus on competition in digital markets, anti-competitive conduct of “dominant firms,” and whether current laws and enforcement policies ar e adequate. Read more from Billy House and Anna Edgerton.

Barr Threatened With Contempt Over Census: House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) threatened he may hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt if they don’t produce documents by this Thursday on efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. In letters yesterday to both Cabinet members, Cummings said they must comply with subpoenas for the material, without redactions, or face the contempt actions by his committee. Read more from Billy House.

What Else to Know

Trump in U.K.: Trump waded into the U.K.’s fraught politics on the first day of a state visit, urging his hosts to proceed with Brexit and dangling the promise of a U.S. trade deal he said would swiftly follow. With the country preparing for the appointment of a new prime minister, Trump called on the British to throw off the “shackles” of European Union membership in a tweet before a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. The White House issued a statement saying that the president supports a Brexit “being accomplished in a way that will not affect glob al economic and financial stability while also securing independence to the United Kingdom.”

Trump and May hosted a business roundtable this morning, before their teams meet at Downing Street. A press conference is scheduled in the afternoon. Trump told May and executives today he sees “a very, very substantial trade deal’’ with the U.K. May referred to the range of companies at the meeting, and said it showed the “huge scope there is to the transatlantic businesses that we have between the United States and the United Kingdom.” Follow the latest from Bloomberg News here.

U.S.-China Trade: The Trump administration yesterday expressed disappointment that China blames the U.S. for the failure of trade talks between the two countries.

“It is important to note that the impetus for the discussions was China’s long history of unfair trade practices,” the Treasury Department and the U.S. Trade Representative said in a joint statement. “Our negotiating positions have been consistent throughout these talks, and China back-pedaled on important elements of what the parties had agreed to.”

The U.S. is “disappointed” that the Chinese have used the ‘White Paper’ and recent public statements to “pursue a blame game misrepresenting the nature and history of trade negotiations between the two countries,” the joint statement continued. Read more from John Harney and Saleha Mohsin.

Meanwhile, China issued a travel advisory on the U.S. through the end of the year. The country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism cited recent “frequent” shootings, robbery and theft in America as the reason for its alert, according to the official Xinhua News Agency today. The travel warning was spurred by difficulties Chinese nationals are encountering while in the U.S., Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing. Asked if the move was part of the protracted trade dispute, Geng said it was a response to “current circumstances.” Read more.

Biden Promises 100% Clean Energy: Calling climate change “an existential threat,” Joe Biden, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race, proposed achieving 100% clean energy and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as part of a $5 trillion climate plan that would be paid for by undoing Trump’s signature tax cuts. Biden pledged to go “well beyond” the climate policies embraced by the Barack Obama administration with a series of executive orders starting on his first day in office, and said he’ll demand that Congress enact legislation enforcing his mid-century emissions reduction goal. “We must take drastic action now to address the climate disaster facing the nation and our world,” Biden said. Read more from Ari Natter.

EPA Rule Keeping Scientists Off Boards Challenged: An EPA policy that keeps agency grantees off scientific advisory boards is again being challenged in court. The directive was issued in 2017 by former Administrator Scott Pruitt. Public health groups lodged a previous challenge to the directive. Their suit was dismissed in February because the EPA enjoys broad discretion when it comes to populating its advisory boards, the judge said. Read more from Porter Wells.

Education Department Sued: Two college students sued the Education Department on Monday over a 2018 decision to reinstate a troubled college accrediting agency that allowed several for-profit colleges to receive federal funding shortly before the schools collapsed, Emily Wilkins reports.

In the suit, the students who attended Virginia College, a for-profit school, allege that if the department had not reinstated the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools, the school would have closed in June 2018 after failing to be approved by a different accreditor. However, the department’s reinstatement of ACICS allowed Virginia College to enroll students for the fall 2018 semester — including the two plaintiffs. According to the suit, Virginia College’s shuttering at the end of 2018 prevented the students “from finishing their coursework but saddling them with substantial student loan debt.”

The department’s decision to reinstate ACICS was criticized by Democratic lawmakers and is under investigation by the department’s inspector general.

Home Health Groups Hover Around Immigration Debate: Home health-care groups are delicately trying to avoid taking a stance on immigration policy, even as they also press the Trump administration to refrain from cutting off the supply of immigrants who increasingly provide the industry’s workers. The reliance was underscored yesterday by a new study from Health Affairs magazine which said over 3 million immigrants work in the health-care sector, accounting for more than a sixth of the entire workforce and roughly a third of direct-care workers.

The dynamic has home-care companies and industry groups advocating against proposals that could limit the number of people who enter the U.S. looking for work.

The groups are generally wary of wading into the issue out of fear they’ll lose support from lawmakers on expanding Medicare and Medicaid’s payments for their services. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Mueller Witness Faces New Child Porn Charge: An adviser to the United Arab Emirates who cooperated extensively with the Mueller probe was arrested on 1-year-old charges of transporting child pornography. George Nader was arrested as he arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. He previously pleaded guilty to the same charges in 1991. Nader is mentioned repeatedly in Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in 2016, including in a section discussing his work arranging a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with Erik Prince, a Trump ally, and Kirill Dmitriev, who heads the Russian sovereign wealth fund. Read more from Andrew Harris and David Voreacos.

North Korea Nuclear Envoy Reportedly Not Executed: North Korea’s top nuclear envoy who was reportedly executed is actually alive and in custody, CNN reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Kim Hyok Chol, who led working-level negotiations for the February summit in Hanoi between Trump and leader Kim Jong Un, is being investigated for his role in the failure to reach a deal, CNN reported today. South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon Chul told foreign correspondents at a briefing he has nothing to share about the reported purge in North Korea. Read more from Jihye Lee.

Venezuela Strategy: When Trump recognized Juan Guaido as the rightful leader of Venezuela in January, 50 governments quickly lined up behind the American president in an impressive show of Western unity. But as the effort to dislodge Nicolas Maduro stalls out, many of those countries are charting new diplomatic paths on Venezuela, ignoring American calls not to negotiate with him. Recently concluded talks in Norway and separate discussions between Europe and both sides of the Venezuelan divide have effectively pushed the U.S. to the margins. Read more from David Wainer, Ethan Bronner and Andrew Rosati.

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