What to Know in Washington: House to Vote on China Sanctions

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The House is poised to give final passage today to legislation that would sanction Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Muslim minorities, the latest in a series of moves by Congress and the White House to put pressure on the Beijing government.

The measure was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate earlier this month, and it has broad support in the House amid rising criticism of China over trade, its handling of the initial coronavirus outbreak and its attempts to put down anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

President Donald Trump yesterday declined to say whether he would sign the legislation if it passed the House, saying it was being reviewed at the White House.

“We’re taking a look at it very strongly,” he told reporters.

China has threatened retaliation over efforts in the U.S. to exert pressure over human rights issues. The House vote comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economies are at a low point.

The administration is separately considering possible penalties against Chinese officials, businesses and financial institutions if the authorities crack down on dissent in Hong Kong with a new national security law.

The legislation before the House today condemns the internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China. It also calls for closing the camps where they are being held and would require Trump to impose sanctions on and revoke the visas of any officials found to be responsible for the oppression of the Uighurs.

The vote reunites a bipartisan and bicameral coalition that was instrumental in passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the fall of 2019 and comes as the National People’s Congress is considering a new national security law for Hong Kong that opponents fear will curtail essential freedoms and criticism of the Communist Party. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

Bloomberg Government legislative analyst Naoreen Chowdhury takes a deep dive on the measure in the BGOV Bill Summary. Read more here.

Also Happening on the Hill

House to Vote on Lapsed Surveillance Authorities: The House plans to vote today on legislation to aid federal tracking of suspected terrorists and spies even as Trump called for “all Republican House members” to oppose it.

The Senate passed the bill 80-16 on May 14. It would restore three provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allow the collection of business and other records of individuals through the FISA court. The provisions expired March 15.

Trump in a tweet last night urged Republican representatives to “vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!” While the president didn’t elaborate, he’s repeatedly accused members of the Justice Department and the FBI of misconduct for the misuse of FISA to spy on his 2016 presidential campaign.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last night asked Democratic leaders to postpone today’s vote, according to an official familiar with the matter, who added that McCarthy’s request was in response, at least in part, to Trump’s tweet. Read more from Billy House.

Grassley Criticizes Trump IG Shakeup: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a statement last night criticized the White House’s response to his calls for details on the terminations of the inspectors general of the intelligence community and of the State Department.

Grassley said the lack of transparency and insufficient warning of the removals is not good for the presidency or government accountability. “Nor is placing political appointees from the overseen agency into an acting leadership position within an inspector general office acceptable, especially when those individuals are keeping their appointments at the same time. The White House Counsel’s letter does not address this glaring conflict of interest,” he said. Read more from Ben Livesey.

House Republicans Go to Court Over Proxy Voting: Republicans in the House mounted a legal challenge to a proxy voting procedure Democrats pushed through this month for colleagues who are in quarantine or otherwise housebound during the coronavirus pandemic. The Republicans argued in a 38-page complaint filed in Washington federal court yesterday that the approval of the May 15 resolution, which would permit a single lawmaker to cast votes on behalf of as many as 10 colleagues, defied historical precedent and the U.S. Constitution. The GOP likely faces an uphill climb in a lawsuit because the Constitution lets the House set its own rules. Read more from Billy House and Erik Wasson.

Three Senators No Longer Under Probe: Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have been notified that the Justice Department is no longer looking into their families’ stock sales after a private briefing early in the pandemic. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) remains the subject of a related investigation, Dow Jones reported. He has temporarily stepped down as Intelligence Committee chairman amid the probe into whether he sold stocks as a result of secret briefings on the threat of the coronavirus. Read more from Steven T. Dennis and Billy House.

Economic Activity

Fed Frets for Main Street Business: The Federal Reserve’s next front in the battle to support the U.S. economy is to prevent millions of American small businesses from becoming the Achilles heel of the recovery. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking Committee last week he’s concerned about America’s “jobs machine” — its small and medium sized firms — tipping into bankruptcy and destroying the “work of many families and generations.” If that happens, there will be fewer jobs when state governors declare it’s safe for households to go back to work.

The central bank is tasked with avoiding that outcome through its Main Street lending program approved by Congress, but it’s already proved a harder endeavor than imagined. The Fed is under increasing scrutiny about the facility — one of its riskiest undertakings ever — because it’s still not operational. Read more from Craig Torres.

SBA Told to Consider Bankrupt Applicant: The Small Business Administration cannot reject an applicant for an emergency loan designed to aid employees of small companies just because the would-be borrower is in bankruptcy, another bankruptcy judge ruled. Judge Cynthia Jackson of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida granted family entertainment center company NRP Lease Holdings an injunction prohibiting the agency from disregarding the company’s loan application just because it’s in Chapter 11. Daniel Gill has more.

Amtrak Plans Deep Workforce Cuts Ahead of Slow Pandemic Recovery: Amtrak is preparing to slash its workforce by as much as 20% in its upcoming fiscal year as the U.S.’s lone nationwide passenger railroad braces for a slow recovery to ridership that’s been gutted by the coronavirus. Amtrak projects ridership will return to just half of 2019 levels in its upcoming fiscal year beginning in October, CEO William Flynn said in a memo to employees. Read more from Ryan Beene.

Elections, Politics & Probes

Vote-by-Mail Deadlines Leave States Just Weeks to Get Ready: Election officials have just weeks left to ensure their states can handle a surge of mail-in votes in November in the face of fierce opposition from Trump and Republicans in Congress. With just a little more than five months to Election Day, localities and states need to decide soon whether to buy new equipment to help sort, verify and count mail-in ballots — if they can afford it — or rely on staff to manually handle the crush of incoming mail.

The problem is particularly acute in the battleground states of Wisconsin and North Carolina, which have not traditionally had high rates of vote-by-mail and where Democratic governors are at odds with Republican-led legislatures over whether to expand absentee balloting. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Trump Mail Voting Tweets Get Twitter Flag: Twitter has started fact-checking Trump. The president didn’t take it lightly. Following years of criticism that the social network let the president spread misinformation, yesterday a pair of Trump’s tweets that made unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting were appended with links reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” The president responded shortly afterward, tweeting that the company was interfering with the 2020 election. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” Trump posted to his 80 million followers. Read more from Alex Wayne and Kurt Wagner.

Trump May Be Stuck With Convention in N.C.: Republicans would only move their presidential nominating convention from North Carolina as a worst-case scenario, despite Trump’s threats to do so if they can’t ensure a big celebration, people familiar with the negotiations said. Trump pressed Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to decide how many people can come to the Aug. 24-27 convention, so that his campaign can decide if it can live with those limits or quickly put together a new plan in another state. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Emma Kinery, and Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Biden Hopes to Resume In-Person Events: Joe Biden said yesterday he hopes to resume in-person events after spending more than two months campaigning virtually from his Delaware home. The former vice president said he is following his state’s stay-at-home orders, but he hopes to resume a public schedule once that is lifted. “I hope to be able to do more,” he told CNN. Tyler Pager has more.

DeSantis Says He’ll Appeal Order on Ex-Felons Voting: A federal court’s ruling added to Florida’s uncertainty over how many people will be allowed to vote in November’s elections just six months from now. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said yesterday Florida will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that a state law blocking ex-felons from voting when they’re too poor to pay court-ordered fees and fines is unconstitutional. Read more from Jennifer Kay.

West Virginia Governor Files Complaint Over Campaign Ad: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) yesterday filed a complaint with state elections authorities against one of his six challengers in the Republican primary. Candidate Woody Thrasher’s statements in a television ad are “a bald-faced lie,” Justice told reporters. In the ad, Thrasher says the incumbent governor didn’t thoroughly vet the criminals released in an attempt to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Read more from Andrew M. Ballard.

South Carolina Absentee Ballot Witness Rule Blocked: South Carolina cannot enforce a law requiring individuals voting by absentee ballot this June to obtain a witness’s signature, a federal judge ruled Monday, citing the unusual circumstances presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Read more from Holly Barker.

What Else to Know Today

Facebook Ran Charm Offensive to Woo State Prosecutors: Facebook went to great lengths to develop friendly relationships with powerful state prosecutors who could use their investigative and enforcement powers in ways that could harm Facebook’s revenue growth, Naomi Nix reports.

Colleges, Employers Fear Curbs to Foreign Student Job Program: The Optional Practical Training program could be on the chopping block as the Trump administration weighs new restrictions to non-immigrant visa programs, reports Andrew Kreighbaum.

Trump Wants U.S. Troops Out of Afghanistan: Trump said he doesn’t have a targeted date for pulling U.S. soldiers out of Afghanistan but wants it done as soon as is “reasonable,” Kim Chipman reports. “We want to bring our soldiers back home” from Afghanistan and other countries, he told reporters at the White House. “We can always go back if we have to,” he added. Right now, U.S. troops in Afghanistan are “policing and we aren’t meant to be a police force,” Trump said.

African Lender to Probe President Following U.S. Pressure: The African Development Bank’s board agreed to an independent probe of its president, Akinwumi Adesina, after the U.S. rejected an internal investigation that cleared him of allegations of favoritism, according to two people familiar with deliberations on the matter. Read more from Baudelaire Mieu, Leanne de Bassompierre and Katarina Hoije.

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; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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