What to Know in Washington: Hints of High Court Abortion Agenda

It may be years before the U.S. Supreme Court says anything about Alabama’s new abortion ban. But the justices could start leaving clues today.

Two less sweeping abortion disputes from Indiana will be candidates for action when the court issues a list of orders Monday. In one, Indiana is seeking to bar abortions motivated by the risk of a genetic disorder and require clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains. In the other, the state aims to reinstate a requirement that an ultrasound be performed at least 18 hours before an abortion.

The appeals are part of a growing list of Supreme Court cases likely to give an early indication of how quickly the court’s conservative justices — particularly Chief Justice John Roberts and new Justice Brett Kavanaugh — are prepared to cut back constitutional protections for abortion.

Any case granted review in the coming weeks would be heard in the term that starts in October and be decided in the thick of the 2020 election campaign, when President Donald Trump will be seeking a second term. Restricting abortions is a top policy goal for the conservative and evangelical voters who helped elect Trump, and the president’s authority to nominate Supreme Court justices has proven to be a potent political motivator for Republicans.

The always-heated abortion debate took on additional urgency this month in response to laws passed at the state level. Georgia banned the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, something that can occur before a woman knows she is pregnant. Then Alabama made abortion a felony in almost all cases with a law designed to prod the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Democratic presidential candidates have seized on the issue, hoping to rally their voters to fight to preserve what they describe as a fundamental part of a woman’s reproductive rights. While some Republicans cheered the restrictive state laws, others said the Alabama law goes too far because it doesn’t make an exception for victims of rape or incest. Trump waded into the issue over the weekend, suggesting the measure went too far. In a series of tweets late Saturday, the president declared himself “strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions – Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother.”

Read more on what to watch from the court today from Greg Stohr.

Photographer: Chris Greenberg/Bloomberg News
Pro-choice and pro-life activists in front of the Supreme Court in 2005.

Trump Judicial Picks: Stephanie Dawkins Davis is Trump’s first black female judicial nominee, and her bipartisan appointment comes amid the contentious drive by the president and his Senate allies to reshape the federal courts. The magistrate judge and former federal prosecutor will appear this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about her nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which includes Detroit. “She has a strong intellect, tireless work ethic and sound judgment,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for that Michigan district who supervised Davis. Patrick L. Gregory has more on the pick.

Presidential Probes

Trump Lashes Back After Amash Comments: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian who’s often at odds with most other congressional Republicans, said Trump has engaged in “impeachable conduct,” drawing a rebuke from the president as a “total lightweight.” Amash said on Twitter Saturday that he’s concluded — after reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted 448-page report — that Attorney General William Barr “deliberately misrepresented” the findings using “sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies.”

“Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” said Amash, who arrived in Congress as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010.

Trump responded yesterday on Twitter, calling Amash “a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands” and “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy.”

Other prominent Republicans on Sunday morning talk shows also disagreed with Amash. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on “Sunday Morning Futures” that Amash has a record of breaking ranks to vote with Democrats and just wants attention. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a vocal Trump critic in the past, called Amash’s comments “courageous” but said neither the Republican-controlled Senate nor the American people are on board with impeachment. Read more from Billy House.

What’s Next for Trump’s Tax Records: New York is on the cusp of enacting a law that could help congressional Democrats gain access to Trump’s state tax returns, potentially opening the door for Congress to obtain tax records for any New York resident or business they want to investigate. That has some tax and ethics experts worried that Republicans and Democrats alike could use the provision and a similar one at the federal level to target political opponents or others to advance policy goals.

The question of accessing the tax records of a public official started when Trump broke from decades of precedent by refusing to release his federal returns as a presidential candidate, despite promising to be an “open book” about them before he ran for office. Read more from Laura Davison.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday rejected House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s (D-Mass.) subpoena for six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Now, Neal will likely turn to the courts, embarking on a lengthy battle that could help define Congress’ powers to oversee the executive branch. Read more from Joe Light.

Deutsche Bank Probe: Multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner aroused the suspicion of anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank in 2016 and 2017, according to the New York Times. The specialists recommended the matter be referred to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes, but bank executives rejected their advice, the newspaper reported yesterday. As a result, the “suspicious activity reports” prepared by compliance staff members about the Trump and Kushner transactions were never filed with the government, the New York Times reported. Read more from Josh Saul.

Happening on the Hill

Tax Administration Bill: It was supposed to be a slam dunk for lawmakers to pass a tax administration bill out of both chambers and pass a retirement bill out of the House before Memorial Day. But resistance from some Democratic members about a few provisions in these measures slowed or stalled these bipartisan bills, showing yet again the difficulty of moving tax legislation quickly in Congress.

Five months into the new Congress, lawmakers seem far away from addressing other tax issues such as extending expired tax breaks or fixing errors in the 2017 tax law. Although lawmakers in Congress like to talk about bipartisanship, the dynamic of a Democrat-majority House and a Republican-majority Senate complicates efforts. The politics of the 2020 election are also already playing a part in how lawmakers perceive some legislation.

Still, all hope isn’t lost. A House floor vote on the retirement expansion bill is planned this week. Attached to it will be a fix to an error in the tax law that is placing a higher tax on certain survivor benefits for military families. Read more from Kaustuv Basu and Robert Lee.

Trump ‘Being Played’ on Infrastructure? Trump said he wants Congress to pass major infrastructure legislation but that he’s “being played by the Democrats” who are trying to goad him into raising taxes. “I think what they want me to do is say, ‘Well, what we’ll do is raise taxes and we’ll do this and this and this,’’’ Trump said in an interview that aired last night on Fox News. “And then they’ll have a news conference, ‘See? Trump wants to raise taxes.’ So it’s little bit of a game.’’

Trump is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss how to pay for a proposed $2 trillion infrastructure initiative, which the parties discussed during an April 30 meeting at the White House. But Democratic leaders want Trump to present the options he could support for raising revenue as the starting point for negotiating a plan. They say that without the president’s leadership, other Republicans won’t go along and it will founder. Read more from Mark Niquette.

ACA Subpoena a Dilemma for Democrats: An anticipated congressional subpoena for documents related to the White House and Justice Department’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is setting up a legal battle over executive privilege. House Democrats are likely to start issuing subpoenas to the White House and Justice Department after May 27, the deadline five committee chairmen gave for responding to requests for voluntary turnover of documents and testimony. The White House could balk, as it has i n the past, citing its right to keep confidential its officials’ private deliberations.

A prolonged fight over executive privilege would delay the ability of House lawmakers to obtain information and could call into question the point of issuing subpoenas in a case that many see as political no matter what the documents show. Read more from Shira Stein.

Politics & Elections

Trump Rally: Trump heads to Montoursville, Pa., this evening for a “Make America Great Again” rally at 7 p.m.

Buttigeg Town Hall: Pete Buttigieg sought to extend the reach of his Democratic presidential campaign by making his argument for generational change in Washington to the audience of Trump’s favored television network. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor broke with some of his rivals for the party’s presidential nomination by taking part in a Fox News town hall last night. He took questions from a largely friendly audience at a high school in Claremont, N.H., on issues including climate change, taxes, abortion and how to handle Trump’s tweets. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Harris’s Plans on Women’s Pay: Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) unveiled a plan today to fine corporations that fail to prove to the government they’re paying women equally as men for similar work, and then use the money to fund a national paid-leave policy. The senator’s campaign says the plan is a “radical change” in how the U.S. deals with stubborn pay disparities. It touches on four causes important to many progressive voters — gender equality, bridging the pay gap, corporate accountability and boosting paid leave. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Sanders Tries Again With Southern Voters: Black voters in the South helped derail Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential bid in 2016, and the senator is back seeking better traction, counting on enthusiasm for sweeping proposals on issues like health care and criminal justice to build support. Sanders on Saturday added to his policy lineup a 10-point “blueprint” to revamp K-12 education, telling a crowd in Orangeburg, S.C., that was about one-third African American that public schools are suffering under “decades of racism and neglect.” Read more from Laura Litvan.

Biden Wants to ‘Stop Fighting and Start Fixing’: Joe Biden told voters that he would lead the country “to stop fighting and start fixing” if elected president, striking a contrast with the current occupant of the White House and with many of the other Democrats hoping to win their party’s nomination. After weeks spent explaining why he’s in the race for the Democratic nomination for a third time, the former vice president held a major campaign rally on Saturday to tell voters what he would do as president, and offered the promise of a reunited country. “I know some of the really smart folks say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity. They say Democrats are so angry that the angrier a candidate can be, the better chance he or she has to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it. I really don’t,” said Biden, speaking outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

What Else to Know Today

China Trade Relations: Trump said he was “very happy” with the trade war and that China wouldn’t become the world’s top superpower under his watch. “We’re taking in billions of dollars,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s Steve Hilton when asked about the end game on the trade war. “China is obviously not doing well like us.”
Trump’s comments signal he’s in no rush to get back to negotiating with Beijing after talks to end the trade conflict fell apart earlier this month. He has since raised tariffs on Chinese goods and moved to restrict Huawei’s access to the U.S. market, putting the Chinese telecom giant and scores of its affiliates on a blacklist that curtails access to key American suppliers. Read more from Karen Leigh.

Border Battle: A judge weighing whether to block Trump’s funding plan for a border wall said he may have to consider the legality of each section of the barrier as it’s proposed. U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam hinted Friday that he supports opponents of the wall — including 20 state attorneys general and the Sierra Club — who contend the president overstepped his authority by announcing that he will tap funds not authorized by Congress to pay for construction. But the judge also indicated he’s reluctant to issue a broad injunction barring the government from building barriers anywhere along the U.S.-Mexico border. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra.

Trump’s Iran Warning: Trump warned Iran not to threaten the U.S. or face ruinous consequences as tensions mount between Washington and Tehran. “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump said Sunday in a tweet. “Never threaten the United States again!” In a taped interview that aired Sunday on Fox News, Trump said: “I just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons and they can’t be threatening us.’’

The U.S. hastened the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and withdrew some diplomatic personnel from Iraq in recent weeks after saying intelligence showed a growing threat toward U.S. forces or commercial shipping by Iran or its proxy forces in the Mideast. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Mideast Peace Plan: The Palestinian Authority said it will boycott a conference launching the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan because it’s focused on economic issues rather than the political disputes at the heart of the conflict with Israel. The White House announced late yesterday that it will hold a conference in Bahrain next month to promote economic development in the Palestinian territories as part of efforts to seek a Middle East peace agreement. “We will inform Bahrain that we will not take pa rt in such a conference,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We will not sell our country based on an economic project.” Read more from Fadwa Hodali.

Trump Says Freeing Fannie-Freddie Is ‘Urgent’: Trump said freeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government control is a “pretty urgent problem” that his administration plans to work with Congress to address. The president on Friday at a conference hosted by the National Association of Realtors, said the mortgage giants lack competition, that taxpayers remain on the hook for any losses at the companies and that they aren’t being run as well as they could be. He added that his administration is discussing ideas for fixing Fannie and Freddie with “some incredible talent from Wall Street.” Read more from Austin Weinstein.

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

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