What to Know in Washington: Impeachment Risks Crowding Agenda

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s re-casting of existing investigations of President Donald Trump as an impeachment inquiry changed little about how those probes are conducted. But the intensified focus risks crowding out the legislative agendas of both the White House and Democrats.

The impeachment drive centers on the same six committees that already have been looking into Trump’s actions in office and business dealings. No House floor vote to endorse their work is planned in the wake of Pelosi’s announcement and no timeline for drafting articles of impeachment has been announced.

“What changes is the tempo and the focus,” Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.

The sprawling House investigations have triggered subpoenas and court cases that could take months to resolve. Pelosi now is being urged by some Democrats to narrow the focus to Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the heart of the current impeachment proceeding. Last night, NBC News reported that 218 House members — a majority of the chamber — supported some sort of impeachment inquiry.

Relations between Trump and Pelosi were tense even before the furor over Trump urging Ukraine to help him smear a political rival, Joe Biden.

Yet lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate had served themselves a full plate of issues to deal with before the 2020 election campaign takes over, including a revised trade pact with Canada and Mexico, gun laws, prescription drug prices and funding the government.

The view from the White House was grim. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the impeachment inquiry “destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country.” And Trump lashed out at Pelosi yesterday saying “as far as I’m concerned, she’s no longer the speaker of the House.”

Still, amid the turmoil and rancor, Democrats have still made statements giving cheery assessments of the prospects for making deals to pass legislation or continue negotiations with Republicans and the White House. Erik Wasson has more.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Pelosi speaks to the media on Wednesday.

Spy Chief to Face Democrats

The nation’s spy chief who delayed giving Congress a whistleblower complaint about Trump will face tough questions from House Democrats today, an early glimpse of their newly intensified impeachment focus.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire will testify before the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint, which details Trump’s request that the president of Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Maguire will also appear behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Maguire headed off a confrontation over whether Congress would see the complaint after the administration agreed to give it to the intelligence panels, but Democrats want to know — among other things — why he withheld it in the first place, and whether he was responding to political pressure from Trump.

The administration turned the whistleblower complaint over to select lawmakers yesterday, following the release of a White House memo of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy. Democrats say the rough transcript of the conversation shows Trump brazenly pressuring a foreign power to undermine a political rival, while Republicans largely gave Trump a pass since there was no explicit quid pro quo. Read more from Chris Strohm, Billy House and Andrew Harris.

More Impeachment Coverage

History Says Impeachment Won’t Backfire: Citing their experience in the 1990s, Republicans warned Democrats this week that an impeachment inquiry into Trump would backfire politically. History, however, doesn’t back up that assertion. Only three U.S. presidents have ever faced a serious threat of removal by Congress – Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — and in each case the party that initiated the inquiry ended up benefiting in future elections.

“The idea that Democrats are going to have a political loss from this – maybe they will,” said Elizabeth Holtzman, a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation. “But the Nixon impeachment doesn’t show that. It shows an amazing victory.” Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Republicans Chide Trump But Stick With Him: Senate Republicans showed discomfort with Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy, calling it inappropriate but unworthy of his removal from office. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who leads the Senate Ukraine caucus, said it would have been better if Trump hadn’t mentioned Biden’s name, but “the rush to judgment by the other body is totally unwarranted.” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called the phone conversation “inappropriate,” but ultimately gave Trump a pass because the rough transcript “reveals no quid pro quo.” Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that the transcript raises more questions. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $5 million in the 24 hours after Pelosi announced she was opening a formal impeachment inquiry. “Huge groundswell of support,” campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted in announcing the haul, which he said included donors from all 50 states. The total is far short of the $24.8 million Trump raised in less than 24 hours when he officially relaunched his re-election bid. Read more from Bill Allison.

Also Happening on the Hill

Pot Bill to Ease Bankers’ Fears Passes: The House passed legislation designed to let banks do business with cannabis companies in states that allow marijuana sales, a step that some supporters see as helping to pave the way to nationwide legalization. The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which passed on a 321-103 vote yesterday, would protect lenders from federal penalties for doing business with firms in the burgeoning industry. The bill won bipartisan support in the House amid calls to help cannabis companies move away from being all-cash operations. Read more from Elizabeth Dexheimer.

Border Oversight Bill Passes: House lawmakers concerned about the oversight of migrant care and the treatment of citizens living near the border passed a bill yesterday to implement more oversight at the Homeland Security Department. The newest version of the measure by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) would establish an independent ombudsman to oversee the training of and complaints about U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees and take steps toward the use of body cameras. Trump “strongly opposes passage” of the bill, according to a statement from the White House.

In July, government watchdogs began investigating allegations of immigration agents posting lewd content on social media and abusing migrants, including at least one allegation of sexual assault, Michaela Ross reports.

Democrats Talk Assault Weapons Ban: Lawmakers considering an assault weapons ban want to avoid what they say was a deficiency in the previous ban by making it harder for gun manufacturers to avoid that classification by modifying the weapons. “We must examine the loopholes of the 1994 law,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) at a Wednesday hearing on a proposed assault weapons ban. “The ban was not without its shortcomings. During the ban, the gun industry boasted of its ability to modify assault weapons so they were technically legal but still deadly instruments of mass killing.” Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Democrats Renew Push for Worker Misclassification Bill: House Democrats later this year will re-introduce a bill that would penalize companies that wrongly classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. The measure, the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act, was most recently introduced last year by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Democrats plan to roll it out before the end of the year, according to a House Education and Labor Committee aide. The core provisions of the bill will remain the same, but it is unclear who will be the legislation’s lead sponsor. Read more from Jaclyn Diaz.

Labor Law Overhaul Proposal Approved: Legislation that would make sweeping changes to federal labor law advanced out of a House committee yesterday to move closer to a floor vote likely before the end of the year. The House Education and Labor Committee approved the Protecting the Right to Organize Act in a 26 to 21 vote. Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said the “comprehensive” legislation would add strength to the existing “toothless” federal labor laws. “At its heart, the legislation before us today is about restoring workers’ right to organize and restoring balance to the economy,” he said. Read more from Jaclyn Diaz.

Anti-Fraud Bill for Immigrant Visas: Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) aim to build upon recent Homeland Security Department rules to work a complete overhaul of the EB-5 immigrant investor program. A bill, introduced yesterday, would make several changes designed to combat fraud and abuse in the program. It would also reauthorize the EB-5 regional center program for another five years. Read more from Laura D. Francis.

Elections & Influence

Warren Highlights Electability: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday used her first rally as a front-runner in the Democratic presidential race to assure a crowd in a small New Hampshire town that her brand of progressive politics made her the most viable candidate. “There’s a whole bunch of core issues, like raising the minimum wage, and giving unions more power, and more regulations over financial institutions, and canceling student loan debt, and a wealth tax, that the majority of Americans — not just the majority of Democrats, the majority of Americans — are on board,” Warren said in Keene.

Polls this week showed her leading in the Granite State as well as Iowa and California, and one survey found her narrowly displacing Joe Biden at the head of the Democratic pack nationally. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Signal Loses Key Lobbyists: Signal Group lobbyists with blue chip clients such as Microsoft and Facebook are leaving the company to strike out on their own. The new firm — founded by Rob Chamberlin, Sam Whitehorn and Jeff Markey — is called Elevate Government Affairs and launches Oct. 1, the three told Bloomberg Government.

The trio is registered to lobby for more than two dozen clients, including Charter Communications inc., General Electric, and a number of municipalities, according to disclosure forms. For clients such as Microsoft, Facebook, FedEx, Honeywell International, and American Airlines, disclosures show that those going to the new firm are the only ones at Signal currently lobbying for those accounts. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

Around the Administration

Barr Sought DOJ Facebook Antitrust Probe: The Justice Department intends to investigate Facebook after prodding from Attorney General William Barr, according to a person familiar with the matter, even though the Federal Trade Commission already has an inquiry underway. The social-media giant now faces parallel probes by two federal agencies over whether it has harmed competition in violation of antitrust laws. The Justice Department’s case will focus on conduct that’s separate from what the FTC is examining, said the person. The two federal inquiries are in addition to several investigations by state attorneys general and the House Judiciary Committee. Read more from David McLaughlin.

Trump Targets California Over Pollution: The Environmental Protection Agency is set to demand California to do a better job keeping human waste and other pollution tied to the state’s homeless residents from fouling area waterways, the latest front in a Trump administration fight with the nation’s most populous state. The EPA today will ask California to outline its plans for tackling the problem, roughly one week after Trump complained about it following a visit to the state, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Interior Department Denies Climate Crisis: The White House brushed aside concerns about climate change as it sought to justify plans for oil drilling in the Arctic refuge, even going so far as to suggest that a little extra warmth would do the planet good. “There is not a climate crisis,” the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management asserted in its environmental analysis of the coming sale of drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain released earlier this month. Congress mandated the sales two years ago as part of the tax overhaul but a thorough environmental assessment is a legal requirement for holding the auctions. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

California Side of Emissions Battle Grows: Two Democratic governors have lined up their states to join the 13 others in adopting California’s rules to curb automobile greenhouse gas emissions, even after the Trump administration moved to nullify state authority on fuel-efficiency rules. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz yesterday directed his state’s environmental agency to being drafting rules to cut tailpipe emission and bolster sales of electric cars, policies patterned upon those set by California regulators. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday said her state would also adopt new tailpipe greenhouse gas and zero-emission auto requirements starting in the 2022 model year. Read more from Ryan Beene.

Court Won’t Revisit Federal Workforce Lawsuit: The Trump administration is free to implement three executive orders affecting the federal workforce, after an appeals court yesterday declined to reconsider an earlier decision reviving the orders. The decision means the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit won’t take a second look at a July 16 ruling from a three-judge panel that overturned a lower court judge’s decision setting aside large portions of the orders. Read more from Louis C. LaBrecque.

Census Finds 22.1 Million ‘Not a U.S. Citizen’: The percentage of foreign-born U.S. residents has reached its highest level in more than a century, according to estimates from the 2018 American Community Survey released today. A record 44.7 million people are foreign-born, or about 13.7% of the U.S. population. That’s the highest rate since 1910 and comes amid a highly-charged political debate over whether the decennial Census survey should include a citizenship question. A subset of the foreign-born figure — the number of people in the U.S. but ‘not a U.S. citizen’ held at around 22 million in 2018. Read more from Alex Tanzi.

Foreign Affairs

Trump, Abe Ink Trade Deal: Trump and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe touted a limited trade agreement yesterday, as the U.S. withdrew the threat of imposing auto tariffs on the Asian nation for now. Trump and Abe signed the “first stage” of an initial pact after meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In an emailed statement, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office described the agreement as covering “early achievements.” Trump told reporters that he expects “in the fairly near future” that the U.S. will have “final comprehensive deals signed with Japan.” Read more from Isabel Reynolds and Jordan Fabian.

Trump Bans Entry of Venezuelan Officials: Trump signed a proclamation suspending the entry of senior Venezuelan officials and their families to the U.S., the latest in a series of efforts to oust Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro. Members and immediate relatives of Venezuela’s rubber-stamp constituent assembly, as well as military, police and national guard officials at the rank of colonel or above will be halted from entering the U.S. The ban will also apply to those who act on behalf or support Maduro’s regime or derive significant financial benefit from it, according to White House statements. Read more from Patricia Laya.

Saudi Prince Says Khashoggi Murder Happened on His ‘Watch’: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said the murder of government critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi “happened under my watch,” but without his knowledge, Frontline PBS reported. “I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch,” the prince was cited as saying in a documentary by PBS’s Frontline. Frontline said the crown prince made the comments in December 2018, two months after the murder in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The prince blamed unnamed of ficials for acting without his knowledge. Read more from Abbas Al Lawati.

Jacques Chirac, French President Who Defied U.S., Has Died: Jacques Chirac, the French president who led his country into Europe’s common currency and spearheaded international opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, died on Thursday. He was 86. Chirac’s death was announced by his family to Agence France-Presse. As president of France from 1995 to 2007, Chirac sought more clout for his country and for the European Union, advocating a “multipolar” world to balance U.S. and “Anglo-Saxon” dominance. The president, who first entered government under Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, forged, like his mentor, a reputation for defiance, first toward his own bosses and later toward the U.S. Read more from Francois de Beaupuy.

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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