What to Know in Washington: McConnell Faces Pressure on Gun Laws

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is starting his summer break under siege. Democrats are intensifying pressure on him to take up gun legislation, expletive-hurling protesters have shown up at his front door and his campaign generated social media outrage over a tweet.

It’s been a rough stretch for the Kentucky Republican, and the aftermath of two mass shootings in 24 hours last weekend guarantees he’ll remain under the spotlight. McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2020, must decide whether to step away from his rigid defense of gun-owner rights as he works with an unreliable partner in President Donald Trump, who is sending mixed signals about where he stands on the issue.

The self-described “grim reaper” of liberal policy plans has stayed firmly in control in the GOP-led Senate by successfully shepherding a host of conservative judges through confirmation, staving off Democratic legislative initiatives and staying out of the line of fire from Trump. The gun issue, one of the most volatile in U.S. politics, will test his ability to maneuver between the Democrats and the president.

“McConnell is a cool customer and he’ll let the Senate work its will without taking up Democratic House-passed legislation,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who was a top aide to past GOP leaders of both the House and Senate.

The renewed emphasis on gun control comes as McConnell also is fending off Democratic attacks over his unwillingness to allow votes on legislation aimed at securing U.S. elections before 2020, in response to findings that Russia acted to swing the 2016 vote in Trump’s favor. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough tagged McConnell as “Moscow Mitch,” kicking off the social media trend that’s been picked up by chanting protesters. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Campaign Twitter Locked Over Threats: Adding to his woes,McConnell’s reelection campaign Twitter account was suspended after it tweeted videos of what it described as “violent threats” against him. “We appealed and Twitter stood by their decision, saying our account will remain locked until we delete the video,” McConnell’s campaign manager, Kevin Golden, said in a statement. While shutting down McConnell’s account, Twitter allowed a hashtag threatening him to spread, Golden said. Read more from Ben Brody and Laura Litvan.

Trump Visits Shooting Survivors

Trump visited survivors of the pair of mass shootings that killed 31 people over the weekend, a solemn presidential duty that he and White House officials nevertheless managed to infuse with politics. He spent much of yesterday in private meetings with survivors of the attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, as well as the doctors and nurses who treated them and local police. But he also brought with him from Washington his usual grievances, assailing Joe Biden, Ohio Democrats who joined him at a hospital, and the media.

Tweets were his main public remarks for the day, and journalists traveling with him were excluded from tours of hospitals in the two cities. His press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, insisted to reporters that the travel “wasn’t about a photo op for the president and the first lady.” But White House social media director Dan Scavino, who accompanied Trump on his hospital tours, posted a dozen photos to Twitter showing a smiling president meeting with nurses and doctors, patients and law enforcemen t officers in Dayton. Trump retweeted Scavino and posted a video of his Ohio visit. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

LaPierre Warns Trump on Gun Bill: NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre told Trump in a call that a background check bill the president expressed support for would not be popular with his supporters, The Washington Post reports, citing unnamed officials. LaPierre argued against the bill’s merits, The Post reports.

Aides Say DHS Didn’t Request Terror Funding Hike: The Homeland Security Department hasn’t formally requested a boost in its budget to fight domestic terrorism, congressional aides said, despite the department’s acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan’s remarks on Tuesday that he asked Congress for an “out-of-cycle budget request.” The Trump administration has faced criticism that it has inadequately funded and staffed federal efforts to combat the rise in domestic threats. The department made an informal budget request for more funding this spring without submitting a formal budget amendment, but it was too late in the DHS appropriations bill writing process to make the change, according to a House Democratic aide, Michaela Ross reports.

Senate appropriators have been in talks with DHS about funding for grants and programs to combat extremism, but no formal increase request has been made by the administration, a spokesperson for Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in an email. Both aides said appropriators were open to considering such a request in upcoming appropriations negotiations next month.

A DHS spokeswoman said in an email yesterday that the department has asked for funds to provide further threat briefings to law enforcement and community leaders and to place more prevention regional coordinators throughout the U.S. The spokeswoman did not respond to a request to clarify if these requests were made formally and to whom.

Elections & Politics

LGBT Advocates Worry Gay Rights Focus Lacking in Democratic Race: With some signs Millennial-generation support for LGBT rights is waning, an advocacy group says the Democratic presidential debates should focus more on gay-rights issues in this election season. In the first four Democratic presidential debates, the issue of gay rights has mostly been tangential and brief, said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, the LGBT media advocacy group. It’s not enough to Kate Ellis that one of the candidates is openly gay, or that many of the candidates are t alking about the topic on the campaign trail. There needs to be discussion on a national stage, she said, pointing to the debate next month in Houston. Read more from Jeff Green and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Billionaire Defends Trump Fundraiser: Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins and an investor in Equinox gyms and SoulCycle, defended his decision to hold a Trump fundraiser, saying he likes to “engage directly and support the things I deeply care about.” After reports of a planned Trump luncheon at Ross’s home in New York’s Hamptons drew boycott threats and criticisms from within his own businesses, the billionaire said he engages with political leaders out of “deep concern for creating jobs and growing our country’s economy. ” SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan, meanwhile, sought to distance the company from Ross as calls for boycotts spread on social media. Ross is “not involved in the management of SoulCycle,” she said on Twitter. Read more from Nick Turner and Noah Buhayar.

Puerto Rico Gets Third Leader Since Friday: Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez yesterday was sworn in as Puerto Rico’s third governor in five days. She lacks a secretary of state, a new justice secretary to replace herself, assorted aides and officials, and the desire to do the job. Vazquez said she’d take the oath only out of duty after the bankrupt U.S. commonwealth’s top court threw out former Governor Ricardo Rossello’s picked successor yesterday. The court unanimously ruled that Pedro Pierluisi violated the island’s constitution when he claimed the office last week because he never got confirmation by the local Senate. Michelle Kaske and Michael Deibert have more.

U.S. Soccer Hires Lobbyist on Womens’ Pay: U.S. Soccer has hired two D.C. lobbying firms — FBB Federal Relations and Van Ness Feldman — amid a flurry of criticism over how much the World Cup-winning women’s national team is paid compared to the men’s team, Politico reports. The U.S. Soccer Federation has disputed claims the women are paid less than the men despite the women having won four World Cups while the men’s team missed out on qualifying for their most recent World Cup.

What Else to Know

U.S. Rushes to Ready New China Tariffs: The Trump administration is rushing to finalize a list of $300 billion in Chinese imports it plans to hit with tariffs in a few weeks’ time, as U.S. companies make a last-ditch appeal to be spared from the latest round of duties. Trump’s announcement last week on adding a 10% tariff as of Sept. 1 to virtually every Chinese import that’s not yet subject to punitive duties took U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer by surprise, people familiar with the discussions said. Lighthizer and his staff are now under pressure to revise an initial list targeting more than 3,800 Chinese product lines based on issues raised during a public comment period and hearings. The USTR is planning to publish the final list this week or early next, the people said. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Mark Niquette.

Trump’s Stance on Kim Under Strain: For the fourth time in two weeks, North Korea has tested an increasingly sophisticated, hard-to-track missile system that could wipe out South Korean and Japanese cities — not to mention U.S. forces based in both countries. Yet Donald Trump says he’s not worried. The president and his team contend that diplomacy with North Korea remains on track, thanks in part to his personal rapport with leader Kim Jong Un. They say Kim has kept his word by holding off from testing a nuclear weapon or launching longer-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

The risks in that strategy are growing more worrisome as Kim seems increasingly intent on forcing Trump into concessions, critics say — and some members of the president’s own administration privately agree. They argue that Trump is needlessly giving up leverage and may even encourage Kim to cross the U.S.’s red line on nuclear testing. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

U.S., South Korea Defense Cost Talks: The U.S. and South Korea can’t even agree on whether they’ve started talks on sharing defense costs, let alone how much to pay. Trump threw the long-simmering issue of alliance cost-sharing back on the agenda yesterday with a tweet saying “talks have begun” to increase South Korea’s payments for U.S. military protection. That prompted a South Korean government official to say that the next round of negotiations between the two sides hasn’t yet started.

The tweet is the latest example of Trump’s penchant for putting pressure on allies with ever-increasing demands. South Korea has been a particular target, with the Trump administration seeking a 50% increase in funding last year and requesting new commitments such as joint patrols of the Persian Gulf. Read more from Jihye Lee.

Democrats Sue to Force McGahn Testimony: House Democrats asked a judge to order former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, making good on their threats to pursue his testimony and evidence he has that Trump obstructed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Democrats filed the lawsuit last night in a federal court in Washington, noting that McGahn was a key witness in Mueller’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to tilt t he race in the president’s favor and if Trump interfered with the probe.

“The Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president based on the obstructive conduct described by the special counsel,” the committee said in the complaint. “But it cannot fulfill this most solemn constitutional responsibility without hearing testimony from a crucial witness to these events: former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II.” Read more from Andrew Harris and Billy House.

Trump’s Labor Enforcement: The Trump administration’s move to back Kentucky coal miners who protested unpaid wages by blockading their employer relies on a powerful if rarely used tool criticized as overly punitive to businesses when President Barack Obama wielded it. The tactic, called “hot goods,” seeks to freeze the movement of goods produced by workers who were shorted on pay. Under prior Republican and Democratic administrations, the Labor Department utilized it against employers in garment, agriculture and manufacturing industries, sometimes to considerable blowback. When it was used against an Oregon berry farm in 2014, the fruit rotted and the department’s Wage and Hour Division administrator was hauled before Congress.

But even in a White House dedicated to overturning many of Obama’s policies, a mix of political forces and public outcry in Kentucky have cleared the path for a nonpartisan, positive reception. Read more from Ben Penn.

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