What to Know in Washington: Mueller Adds to Impeachment Fervor

Robert Mueller’s first public statement on his investigation of President Donald Trump raised more calls from Democrats for impeachment, but any formal proceeding is likely months away — if it happens at all.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other party leaders are reluctant to pursue impeachment hearings, focusing instead on a slow windup of investigations by multiple committees. The House calendar could also delay the process, with members set to be away from Washington for big chunks of time for the rest of the year.
That could push any impeachment hearings into 2020, with the Republican-led Senate likely to acquit Trump in the end — a troubling prospect even for Democrats in favor taking action against Trump.

“It would be very tough to start impeachment in an election year,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said.

An impeachment inquiry likely would take months to play out, stealing time and attention from legislation that Democrats want to use as political messages in their 2020 campaigns. It also would expose them further to attacks from Trump and Republicans that the process is politically motivated.

National polls show most of the public doesn’t currently support impeachment, and many Democrats share Pelosi’s concern that impeachment could backfire politically by animating Trump’s base. That would put some of the 40 Democratic freshmen at risk in next year’s election, especially those who represent areas where Trump is popular. Read more from Billy House.

Read more: Sahil Kapur chceks in on where the major 2020 Democratic presidential candidates stand on impeachment.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice in Wednesday.

A Guide to House Democrats’ Investigations: Bloomberg Government’s James Rowley has the latest on the major inquiries into Trump underway in the House. The investigations are in addition to the panels’ scrutiny of corporate behavior and routine oversight of executive-branch policy decisions. Read more.

‘Insufficient Evidence’: A few days after the report landed in March at the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr said that Mueller had found insufficient evidence of “coordination” between Russia and the Trump campaign to bring charges. As for the inquiry into obstruction by the president, Barr said he found that the evidence was not sufficient to bring charges there either. Barr’s shorthand caught on, chiefly with the White House and the Republican Party: “insufficient evidence” for charges of either collusion or obstruction.

That’s not what Mueller said yesterday as he reiterated what was in the report, emphasizing points that made him sound like a disappointed teacher reminding his students to do their homework. Mueller noted that his office had insufficient evidence to bring criminal conspiracy charges against the Trump campaign for its response to Russian efforts in the election-tampering aspect of his investigation. But he didn’t invoke the same phrase for the second part of his report, which cited 10 episodes in which Trump’s actions could be construed as obstructive. Intended or not, that was a reminder that Barr was the one who said he and other senior officials at the Justice Department “concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Read more from Greg Farrell.

Stone Ally Miller to Testify: Andrew Miller, a former aide to Republican political operative Roger Stone, will testify before a federal grand jury tomorrow, ending a yearlong battle over a subpoena issued by Mueller. Miller and his attorney, Paul Kamenar, gave up their fight in an appearance yesterday before Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington. A day earlier, the U.S. appeals court that rejected his challenge formally returned the case to her and, with it, the power to have Miller arrested and jailed. Read more from Andrew Harris.

Also on Lawmakers’ Radar

USMCA to Survive Trump-Pelosi Feud: Democrats are still holding out hope they can sculpt the new NAFTA to their liking despite the acrimonious debate over whether to impeach Trump and the president’s personal attacks on Pelosi. Democratic lawmakers and their aides say the sides can look past the squabbling to reach a deal that can pass the Democrat-controlled House. Still, they are urging the White House to speed up collaboration and start addressing their concerns to get a vote on the agreement by year-end.

In a step viewed as positive, the speaker this month created working groups to negotiate with the administration on areas in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement they’d like to see changes, including provisions on labor, environment, pharmaceuticals and enforcement. The removal of U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico this month also cleared a hurdle for the Democrats.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in an interview Tuesday downplayed the effect of Trump’s angry outburst toward Pelosi on the USMCA process, and emphasized the need for the White House to address Democratic policy objections. “We are trying to get to yes,” Hoyer said. Read more from Jenny Leonard and Erik Wasson.

The USMCA should be voted on by Congress this summer, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters in Geneva, N.Y. yesterday, Teaganne Finn reports. “The longer it lingers the more difficult it is,” said Perdue. Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who appeared with Perdue, was optimistic the House has the votes to pass the agreement. “I believe if the vote happened on the floor of the House today, we would pass it, we would pass it overwhelmingly,” Reed said.

Tackling Senior Drug Costs: Leaders of two influential House committees, looking to help seniors save on their pharmacy bills, are grappling with where to shift the cost burden. The Democratic and Republican heads of the House Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means committees recently released a draft bill that would cap at $5,100 what seniors on Medicare’s prescription drug benefit would pay out of pocket each year. At the same time, the lawmakers want to reduce the government’s share of spending and are considering putting m ore of that expense on insurers and drugmakers.

Bringing a major public health insurance benefit in line with private insurers that typically offer caps on annual health spending could stand as a landmark achievement for a divided Congress. But the bigger the benefit, the bigger the cost. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Facebook Privacy Questions: Facebook says there are still “many open questions” about how it will use and keep data such as users’ Internet Protocol addresses as part of its years-long plans to focus on privacy through messaging and groups. Nearly three months after announcing that the company would address a series of privacy missteps by rebuilding many of its features to emphasize smaller groups and ephemeral and encrypted communication, Facebook cited unresolved questions around so-called metadata and suggested it could be shared with the company’s advertising arm in a letter to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Read more from Ben Brody.

Meanwhile, Pelosi blasted Facebook for refusing to take down a doctored video of her, saying it suggests the social networking company acted as “enablers” of Russian election interference. Read more from Romy Varghese.

Pence, Trudeau to Talk Trade

Canada’s prime minister meets today with Vice President Mike Pence. Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Ottawa yesterday, said his meeting with Pence will mostly center on the new trade deal between the two countries and Mexico to replace NAFTA.

Pence announced the trip earlier this month and said he was going to call for swift adoption of the new continental trade deal. A senior official in Trump’s administration, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the trip, said the White House is calling on Congress to bring the deal up for a vote. Canada introduced its ratification bill yesterday.

The pair meet at 11:55 a.m and will hold a media briefing at 1:45 p.m.

Trudeau also signaled he’ll address abortion and his concerns that the U.S. is “backsliding” on women’s rights. Trudeau and his government are avowed defenders of abortion rights.

“Obviously, I’m very concerned with the situation around the backsliding of women’s rights that we’re seeing from conservative movements here in Canada, in the United States and around the world,” Trudeau said, according to video from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “I will have a broad conversation with the vice president — of course that’ll come up, but we’re going to mostly focus around the ratification process on NAFTA and making sure that we get good jobs for Canadians.” Read more on the visit’s agenda from Josh Wingrove.

U.S.-EU Talks Struggle: Even though Trump held fire earlier this month on auto tariffs that have the potential to further roil Europe’s struggling economy, a succession of domestic dilemmas on both sides of the Atlantic threaten to frustrate efforts at a trade pact before they’ve even begun. Ten months after Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker struck a Rose Garden truce meant to clear the way for negotiations to reduce tariffs on industrial goods and eliminate regulatory hurdles, those talks are showing few signs of going anywhere meaningful. Read more from Shawn Donnan and Richard Bravo.

U.S.-China Talks: China said the next move in trade talks must come from the U.S., days after Trump said he’s in no hurry to make a deal. “The U.S. keeps escalating the trade tensions, and makes various tricks, which has severely hurt the trade talks,” Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said in Beijing. “Whether the China-U.S. trade talks can make any progress largely hinges on the U.S. attitude and sincerity.”

Wrong U.S. actions damaged the talks and forced China to retaliate, Gao said. China hopes the U.S. corrects its mistakes, but will fight to the end if the U.S. keeps escalating tensions, he said today. Read more.

Meanwhile, a Fox Business Network host and a broadcaster for Chinese state television sparred over key trade issues on a live debate broadcast by the U.S. network last night, after their online fight went viral on Chinese social media. Read more from Karen Leigh.

Movers & Shakeups

Possible Fed Nominee Talks Policy: Judy Shelton, a conservative economist whom the Trump administration is considering for a vacancy on the Federal Reserve, said the central bank should avoid restraining growth while the U.S. is engaged in a trade war with China. “China is able with its state-controlled apparatus to bring everything to bear” including intervening in currency markets and fiscal stimulus, Shelton said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview with David Westin. “I wouldn’t want the Fed to be a burden and to do the wrong thing at this time and undermine some of the good growth prospects that we have ahead of us.”

Asked if the Fed made a mistake with its last interest-rate increase in December, Shelton said, “by its own admission, we’ve seen almost a complete turnaround, so I think the Fed itself went from being quite inclined to raise as quickly as possible to now rethinking and sitting tight and now even hinting that it could go the other way.” Read more from Steve Matthews.

Shelton also said she isn’t convinced the goals set for it by Congress are relevant for the U.S. central bank. “I would probably be highly skeptical of those,” she said in an interview, referring to the mandate in the Federal Reserve Act that calls on the Fed to pursue maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates. “Those are such nebulous objectives.” Read more from Christopher Condon and Craig Torres.

HHS Official Who Oversaw Migrant Children Departs: The head of the government office charged with sheltering children who were separated from their parents after being brought into the U.S. is leaving the Trump administration June 7, the HHS said in a tweet. Scott Lloyd, who headed the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, had been the public face of the HHS’s part in the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to children being separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border. He also worked to prevent several undocumented teens from getting abortions in his time at the department. Read more from Shira Stein.

Trump to Nominate Hutton for VA Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs: Trump announced he will nominate James Hutton to be VA’s chief communications official. Hutton currently serves as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the VA and previously worked as executive director of public affairs and director of media relations. Former Assistant Secretary John Ullyot announced he would be resigning in April, CNN reported.

What Else to Know Today

U.S. Directs Troops to Middle East: The U.S. sent additional troops directed to the Middle East to Saudi Arabia and Qatar as America’s standoff with Iran shows few signs of abating, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said. “I don’t see a change in any behavior,” Shanahan told reporters yesterday en route to Indonesia, when asked about Iran. “The situation still remains tense. It is a high-threat environment.” Trump ordered more forces to the Middle East as the Pentagon blamed Tehran for recent attacks on ships and oil pipelines in the region. Read more from Glen Carey.

White House Targets USS McCain, Report Says: The White House called for the U.S. Navy to move the warship USS John S. McCain “out of sight” before Trump’s visit to Japan, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing an email reviewed by the newspaper. A U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official, in an email May 15 to U.S. Navy and Air Force officials, laid out proposals for Trump’s arrival that he said had resulted from talks between the White House Military Office and the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, according to the WSJ. That included the directive: “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight,” according to the Journal. “Please confirm #3 will be satisfied,” the newspaper cited the official as writing.

The White House declined to respond to queries about the reason for the directive or where it came from, the WSJ said. Trump himself subsequently tweeted that he was “not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan.” Read more from Colin Keatinge and Glen Carey.

Trump Appeals Ruling That Blocks Border Wall Funding Plan: The Trump administration filed notice that it will ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review a May 24 ruling by a judge in Oakland, California, holding that plans to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border can’t go forward without his review, Peter Blumberg reports. Trump has said he would ask for an “expedited appeal” against the California judge’s ruling.

Student Loan Discharges: Students who were misled by colleges into attending and who are now seeking loan forgiveness would have an easier time under a revised Trump administration proposal but they could still face an uphill climb. The Education Department plans to allow students to have their loans forgiven under a rule known as “borrower defense” if they can show there is a greater than 50% chance the school deceived them, according to a copy of its draft final rule. The change would be the latest chapter in a years -long dispute over how to compensate students who took out loans to attend colleges that made false claims about their graduates’ success. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Trump Campaign Official Lobbies on Energy: The Ohio House of Representatives yesterday approved a measure that would subsidize the state’s struggling coal and nuclear plants after lobbying from a member of Trump’s re-election campaign. Bob Paduchik, who also led the Ohio Trump campaign in 2016, called lawmakers urging them to support the legislation and stressing that the president was behind it as well, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Paduchik’s pitch underscored the thousands of coal and nuclear power plant jobs that could be tied to the legislation and the political risks to Trump in the battleground state if it failed, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter. Read more from Ari Natter, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, and Stephen Cunningham.

NRA’s Legal Fight Escalates: The National Rifle Association’s longtime advertising and public relations firm ended its relationship with the group amid a legal battle that has cast a harsh light on spending and governance at the gun-rights lobby. The firm, Ackerman McQueen, said yesterday that it would cease working with the NRA after 38 years because “the NRA’s chaos led us to lose faith” in the group. Read more from Neil Weinberg and David Voreacos.

Louisiana Passes ‘Fetal Heartbeat’ Law: Louisiana lawmakers yesterday banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—a restriction the state’s Democratic governor says he will sign. The measure headed for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk does not include exceptions for rape or incest. But even with support from the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, the ban depends on the outcome of a legal challenge to a similar law passed by neighboring Mississippi this year.

This latest state effort to restrict abortion access suggests lawmakers are closely watching what their colleagues in other jurisdictions are doing. The effective date of the Louisiana bill is contingent on a federal appeals court deciding that a similar Mississippi law is constitutional. Read more from Jennifer Kay.

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