What to Know in Washington: House Vote Shows Impeachment Divide

Ask some House Democrats about plans to impeach President Donald Trump, and they’ll say the effort is gaining steam. Ask others — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and they’ll say not so fast, they’re taking a more measured approach.

That divide will be on full display today in a Judiciary Committee vote to establish rules that would apply for impeachment hearings, allowing staff legal experts to publicly question witnesses and some evidence to be considered behind closed doors.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) insists that “formal impeachment proceedings” are already under way and that the vote will essentially set the ground rules.

Yet Pelosi maintains that things haven’t gotten nearly that far and that Democrats will continue to be deliberate in building a well-documented case against the president, including with work by other committees.

With one eye on progressives pushing for impeachment and another on moderate Democrats seeking re-election in Trump-friendly districts, Pelosi is mindful of the need to play it both ways, at least for now.

The Judiciary Committee hearing lets Democrats show their members and base that they’re doing something without actually taking provocative action. As a side benefit, it could strengthen their case in court. But it’s also a risky move as they dance around the ultimate question of whether they want to take the politically perilous step of actually impeaching the president. Read more from Billy House.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Chairman Nadler at a hearing Tuesday.

Elections & Politics

Democrats Brace for an Endurance Test at Debate: The third Democratic primary debate today will have a different chemistry than the two before it: Fewer elements, but a potentially more volatile mix. The event in Houston will be the first time the top 10 candidates will appear on the same debate stage.

By virtue of his big national polling lead, Joe Biden will take center stage, flanked by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to his left and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to his right. It will be the first time Biden and Warren have appeared together at a debate. And the context has changed in the six weeks since the Democratic debate in Detroit: Two major mass shootings, a televised town hall on climate change and more hints of a recession on the horizon. The event at Texas Southern University will be broadcast on ABC stations – and in Spanish on the Univision network – from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Biden Slides Among Democrats: Joe Biden’s hold on the top of the Democratic polls has grown a little more tenuous in the latest CNN poll. The former vice president was at 24% approval among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the poll conducted Sept. 5-9, down from 32% in the same poll in May. His presidential rivals, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are neck and neck behind him, at 18% and 17%, respectively. Warren has sharply improved her margin from the May poll, when she was at 7%. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Rep. Collins Loses Legal Challenge: Rep. Christopher Collins (R-N.Y.), who was charged with insider trading, cannot review materials he says would show that investigators violated a constitutional provision limiting official inquiries into legislative matters, a judge ruled. Read more from Bob Van Voris.

Texas Polling Closures: Texas leads the nation in polling place closures since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that released the state from federal oversight of voting changes, according to a study by a civil rights group. Texas has shuttered 750 polling places since 2012, with a majority of those closures, 590, occurring between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, according to a Sept 10 report issued by the Leadership Conference Education Fund. Read more from Paul Stinson.

Also Happening on the Hill

Boeing Choppers Backed by Senate Panel: The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee rejected an Army proposal to stop production of Boeing’s Chinook helicopters at a mark up on Tuesday. The panel added $28 million in advance procurement funds for the continued production of the Chinook CH-47 Block II, according to a report Bloomberg Government obtained. The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to act on the defense spending measure today. Lawmakers are asking the secretary of the Army to assess rising costs and production issues that could delay a “successful program” before submitting budget request for fiscal 2021, the report says. Read more from Roxana Tiron.

House to Vote on Barring Arctic Drilling: The House is poised to vote today to again bar oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as Democrats seek to put Republicans on the record on tough environmental issues for the 2020 election. The legislation by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) would repeal a law passed by Republicans in 2017 that ended a 40-year-old ban on drilling in the protected wilderness area and instead mandated lease sales in a coastal portion of the 19-million-acre refuge. Read more from Ari Natter.

House Votes to Ban Offshore Oil Drilling: The House voted yesterday to block new offshore drilling in U.S. Atlantic and Pacific waters as well as territory near Florida’s Gulf Coast that is prized by oil companies. The bills are doomed in the Republican Senate, but their passage underscored major bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration’s plans to expand coastal oil and gas development. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

USMCA Offer Aims to Resolve Democratic Doubts: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent House Democrats a new offer on the stalled United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in an effort to resolve their concerns about the trade deal and finally put it to a vote. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said yesterday there has been significant progress on two of four issues that Democrats sought to change. “I don’t think anybody is quite ready yet to show their final hand but the discussions continue to go forward,” he said. “The one that still appears stubborn is labor enforcement.” Read more from Erik Wasson.

Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Tax E-Cigs: Senate Democrats introduced a plan to tax e-cigarettes at the same rates as tobacco products, moving to curtail the use of smoking alternatives on the same day Trump said the federal government will restrict access to these devices. “A new generation of nicotine users has been created virtually overnight, and the companies making billions are downplaying the health risks,” Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement. “It’s time to combat this growing public health threat by taxing e-cigarettes like tobacco cigarettes.” Read more from Laura Davison.

Congress Targets Death Rates of Pregnant Women, New Moms: Legislation to curb the U.S.’s high rate of women who die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications could be hampered by a disagreement over whether to require Medicaid to extend its coverage for new mothers to a full year after giving birth. Republicans and Democrats alike see a need to take action—so much so that their proposals to fix the problem largely overlap. But they’re split over whether to require states to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year or let each state determine individually how to handle the problem. Read more from Shira Stein.

TSA Urged on Post-9/11 Licenses: The Transportation Security Administration may need to do more to make sure Americans know they need new documents to board flights starting in October 2020, a key senator said. “Citizens are going to be caught by surprise and outraged just about a year from now if suddenly they can’t board a plane,” Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said at a hearing yesterday. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Cruz Warns Trump on Iran Sanctions: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said it would be a “serious mistake” for Trump to ease sanctions against Iran to help secure a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani. “Whether or not a meeting occurs, lifting sanctions on Iran, giving the ayatollah an economic lifeline while Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, would be profoundly harmful and a serious mistake,” Cruz said yesterday. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Movers & Shakeups

Trump Reaches 150 Judicial Appointments: Trump has reached 150 judicial appointments as the Senate cleared six more nominees yesterday, including two who were first nominated by Barack Obama and waited four years to be confirmed. “This is a historic milestone,” Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement following the final floor vote in the latest judicial string. “These conservative judicial appointments will impact our nation for years to come.”

So far, the Senate has confirmed 105 Trump district court selections, and 43 circuit court nominees to go with Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The president has been fulfilling a campaign pledge to stock the federal courts with young conservatives. Democrats often have objected to his nominees as too conservative or unsuited to lifetime appointments. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Trump Formally Nominates Scalia for DOL: The White House formally nominated Eugene Scalia to be the next Secretary of Labor. Trump said in a July 18 tweet that he intended to tap Scalia to be the next labor chief. The formal nomination, sent to the Senate yesterday, allows lawmakers to tee up the confirmation process, with an initial hearing possible in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee before the end of the month. Read more from Terence Hyland.

Safety Board Pick Faces Questions on Science: Senators questioned Trump’s nominee to join the agency tasked with probing industrial chemical accidents, asking about her belief in climate change and how she would support an agency the president has tried to defund in past budget requests. “Donald Trump has tried to eliminate the Chemical Safety Board—will you support the mission of the organization?” ranking member Sen. Tom Carper (D–Del.) asked Katherine Lemos during the two-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works yesterday. Read more from Fatima Hussein.

Senate Confirms District Court Pick: An SEC lawyer soon will take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The Senate confirmed Securities and Exchange Commission senior trial counsel Steven Seeger for the judgeship on a 90-1 vote yesterday. He had support from both of his home state senators, Democrats Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. Trump initially nominated Seeger in 2018, but that Congress adjourned without senators voting to confirm him. The president then re-nominated him earlier this year. Read more from Andrew Ramonas.

Immigration & Foreign Affairs

Trump Can Curb Asylum Bids, Supreme Court Says: The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the Trump administration to enforce a new rule designed to sharply limit who can apply for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. The justices said the administration can apply the policy while a legal challenge goes forward. A series of lower court rulings had put the rule on hold. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The policy affects people who travel to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America. People crossing the southern border won’t be able to seek asylum unless they previously applied for protection from one of the countries they passed through. The administration told the Supreme Court the rule “alleviates a crushing burden on the U.S. asylum system by prioritizing asylum seekers who most need asylum in the United States.” The ACLU, representing four nonprofit organizations, sued to challenge the rule, which it said would virtually eliminate asylum at the southern border. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Trump Building Temporary Immigration Courts: Trump’s administration is constructing temporary court facilities in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, to deal with a backlog of immigration cases at the U.S. southern border, Department of Homeland Security officials said. The first hearing at a temporary court in Laredo took place yesterday, and the second location in Brownsville will open today, said the officials. The effort provides 18 temporary hearing rooms to Laredo. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

But the tent court facilities will restrict legal observers, journalists, and the public, officials from the DHS and DOJ said yesterday. Legal orientation services for migrants will also be unavailable initially, they said. Michaela Ross has more.

No Protected Status for Bahamas: The Trump administration doesn’t plan at this time to invoke a special immigration status for Bahamians displaced by Hurricane Dorian who are already in the U.S, an official familiar with the matter said. The official said the U.S. continues to support the recovery effort with aid and services. The revelation comes two days after the acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, endorsed the idea of giving displaced Bahamians temporary protected status in the U.S. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Trump Delays China Tariff Increase: Trump said he was postponing the imposition of 5% extra tariffs on Chinese goods by two weeks, a move that delays the next escalation of the trade war and brightens the backdrop for upcoming negotiations. “At the request of the Vice Premier of China, Liu He, and due to the fact that the People’s Republic of China will be celebrating their 70th Anniversary on October 1st, we have agreed, as a gesture of good will, to move the increased Tariffs on 250 Billion Dollars worth of goods (25% to 30%), from October 1st to October 15th,” Trump wrote yesterday on Twitter. Read more from John Harney and Yinan Zhao.

Russia Warns of Nuke War Risk: Russia warned that declining global strategic stability amid U.S. moves to pull out of an arms-control deal has raised the risk of nuclear war. “There is a risk of a nuclear war. The negative trend has been especially noticeable over the last year,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at a briefing, according to state-run news agency RIA Novosti. He blamed the U.S. and its allies for blocking efforts at diplomacy and undermining the international arms-control system. Read more from Stepan Kravchenko.

Around the Administration

Trump Rules Out Capital Gains Tax Cut: Trump has decided against making an end-run around Congress to cut the tax on capital gains by indexing gains to inflation, the White House said last night. The decision was announced after a meeting earlier in the day between Trump and his economic advisers, where they discussed whether to move ahead with the tax break. “President Trump was thoroughly briefed on the complex economic, legal and regulatory issues, and concluded that at this time he does not feel enough of the benefits will go to the middle class,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. Read more from Jordan Fabian, Laura Davison and Saleha Mohsin.

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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