What to Know in Washington: Pelosi Counters Impeachment Push

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is facing new pressure from House Democrats to open impeachment proceedings as she plans to meet with her party behind closed doors today to discuss President Donald Trump’s defiance of congressional investigations.

Several influential Democratic lawmakers, including a few top Pelosi lieutenants, in recent days joined calls to begin an impeachment inquiry, spurred by Trump’s move to prevent former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee.

Pelosi, who is also scheduled to meet with Trump today to discuss infrastructure proposals, remains deeply reluctant to pursue impeachment, worried that the move could backfire on her party and motivate Trump’s base. But her strategy is coming under increased second-guessing.

In at least two private meetings this week, Pelosi was pressed by Democrats to consider moving more quickly toward impeachment. In one of the meetings, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) conveyed that some of his panel’s Democrats now want to pursue that option, according to a House official. His committee would likely oversee the early stages of such an inquiry.

A vocal minority, including Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), has long been calling for Trump’s impeachment, with even more urgency since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released. But until this week, that talk had been relatively isolated. And Pelosi retains many influential supporters who firmly back her go-slow approach, including No. 3 House Democrat James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and long-time ally Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). Read more from Billy House.

Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

Investigations to Continue: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) yesterday suggested that impeachment may — at some point — become necessary if Trump continues what he called “the largest, broadest coverup of any administration in history’’ by denying lawmakers’ requests for information about a variety of government activities and policies.

The six House committees investigating Trump’s financial dealings and Mueller’s criminal probe will continue to fight for the information they have sought, Hoyer said. “If it leads to a conclusion that we need to proceed further through other avenues, including impeachment, so be it.” Read more from James Rowley.

Under Scrutiny: A Guide to the Trump Probes in the House

Trump Responds: The president pushed back on Democrats’ impeachment push in a series of tweets this morning. “Everything the Democrats are asking me for is based on an illegally started investigation that failed for them, especially when the Mueller Report came back with a NO COLLUSION finding. Now they say Impeach President Trump, even though he did nothing wrong, while they ‘fish!,’” he wrote. “The Democrats are getting ZERO work done in Congress. All they are focused on is trying to prove the Mueller Report wrong, the Witch Hunt!”

More Presidential Probes

Deutsche Bank Subpoena: The judge who will consider today whether Congress can subpoena records from Trump’s bankers has a fresh ruling he can rely on: a strongly worded opinion by another federal judge saying that lawmakers have the power to demand records from the president’s accountants.

“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington wrote in his rejection of Trump’s attempt to block a subpoena seeking documents from the accounting firm, Mazars USA.

House lawyers are hoping for equally quick and favorable action from another Obama-appointed judge, Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan, today during a scheduled hearing on a request by Trump to block Deutsche Bank and Capital One from complying with subpoenas for financial records. House lawyers presented Mehta’s opinion to Ramos in a court filing just hours after that ruling. Read more from Bob Van Voris.

IRS Memo Says Tax Returns Must Be Given: A legal memo prepared by the IRS says tax returns must be turned over to Congress if requested, exposing disagreement within the Treasury Department, which has refused to comply with a subpoena for Trump’s returns, The Washington Post reported.

The memo said that the only way out of complying with the request from the House Ways and Means Committee is for the president to take the rare step of executive privilege. The Post said in a report published yesterday that it could not determine who wrote the memo or who reviewed it. The agency told the Post that IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig and current chief counsel Michael Desmond were unfamiliar with it until the Post asked them about it. Read more from Wendy Benjaminson.

Nadler Subpoenas Hope Hicks, Annie Donaldson: Judiciary Chairman Nadler issued a pair of subpoenas yesterday ordering two more of Trump’s former aides, Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, to testify before the panel and hand over documents. He wants Hicks, the former White House communications director, and Donaldson, deputy to former White House counsel Don McGahn, to undergo questioning in his panel’s efforts to pursue findings by Special Counsel Robert Mueller concerning possible obstruction of justice by Trump. Read more from Billy House.

New York to Tell Trump Pardons Don’t Apply There: Prosecutors in New York State could soon be allowed to ignore some presidential pardons. The state’s Assembly yesterday voted 90-52 in favor of legislation (A.6653) establishing a “double jeopardy” exception, allowing state or local charges to be brought in limited instances against someone who has received a presidential pardon for the same crimes. Read more from Keshia Clukey.

Democrats Skip Chance to Grill Carson: Days after a government watchdog found that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson mishandled a furniture splurge, he sat at the witness table of a congressional hearing and said nothing about the expensive office purchase—because he wasn’t asked. “We’ve asked a lot of questions about that some time ago,” Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said after the hearing. “That did not get in anyone’s question agenda today.” Read more from Katherine Scott.

Happening on the Hill

Trump Wants USMCA Passage Before Infrastructure: Trump told Democratic congressional leaders ahead of today’s White House meeting to discuss restoring the nation’s infrastructure that he first wanted them to pass his replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, potentially casting a cloud over today’s talks.

“Before we get to infrastructure, it is my strong view that Congress should first pass the important and popular USMCA trade deal,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It will replace the job killing Nafta, one of the worst trade deals ever entered into by our nation.” Read more from John Harney and Mark Niquette.

Mnuchin Returns to Hill: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is headed for another clash with Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters as Democrats ratchet up pressure over his refusal to turn over Trump’s tax returns. Mnuchin will testify before the House Financial Services Committee today. An April session with the panel ended in acrimony after Mnuchin and Waters bickered over when to end the questioning. Saleha Mohsin has more.

Medicare for All: The “Medicare for All” push is hitting serious obstacles in the House in the face of resistance from Democratic leaders concerned that replacing the private insurance system would generate backlash from voters who like their coverage. The House Budget Committee is holding a hearing today to explore “design components and considerations for establishing a single-payer health care system,” which could serve as a preliminary step toward overhauling how Americans get health insurance coverage.

But that may be a Pyrrhic victory for progressives championing for Medicare for All legislation because the effort appears unlikely to go much further. A bill sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and 109 other Democrats hasn’t gained much support since its release in February, and the Budget panel’s Democratic chairman said he doesn’t see such legislation advancing any time soon. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Pompeo’s Iran Briefing Fails to Reassure Democrats: Democrats were still clamoring for answers about U.S. intentions in Iran, even after a closed-door briefing from Trump administration officials about heightened tensions in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other intelligence officials spoke with House Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol yesterday, followed by a separate briefing for senators. Democrats leaving the briefings characterized them as too-little-too-late and contended that any military action in Iran would require explicit congressional approval.

“The Iranians are nowhere near being ready to talk. They are not showing any signs of backing down from their provocatory behavior,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said.

“Tell me how this strategy is working if Iran won’t talk and they’re not de-escalating militarily?” Read more from Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis.

Spending Bills, Budget Talks

Defense Bill Funds F-15EX Jets, Blocks Space Plans: The Pentagon would win funding to buy eight new Boeing F-15EX fighter jets but be forced back to the drawing board on its overhaul of space operations under legislation approved Tuesday by the House panel that oversees defense spending. The House Appropriations Committee voted 30-22 to advance a $690 billion funding bill that would bankroll the F-15EX, boost the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighters, and reject cuts to the Army’s CH-47 Chinook helicopter program. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

Energy-Water Spending Bill Approved: The House Appropriations Committee yesterday advanced a fiscal 2020 spending bill for the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies on a mostly party-line 31-21 vote. The bill would provide $46.4 billion in discretionary funds, a $1.8 billion hike over fiscal 2019. The Energy Department would receive $37.1 billion. Nearly all Appropriations Committee Republicans voted for an amendment that would have given more than $26 million to the Energy Department to resume its licensing process for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Read more from David Schultz.

Democrats Use Budget Hearing to Probe Climate: House Democrats used a budget hearing to amplify their call for more climate science and responses to rising sea levels. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, said the Trump administration’s proposed $1 billion cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and $250 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service would gut those departments’ capabilities to study climate change and protect coastal communities in danger of being flooded. Read more from Stephen Lee.

Politics & Elections

Biden Touts Small-Dollar Donors: Joe Biden got 97% of the contributions to his presidential campaign in amounts of less than $200, his campaign announced, leaving out a key detail: how much that added up to. The former vice president, like many of the other 22 active candidates running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is touting his success with small donors as an indicator of grassroots support from voters. It’s become almost as important as poll numbers as evidence of a candidate’s appeal.

Much of the information campaigns have voluntarily released on fundraising doesn’t provide as full a picture as the reports candidates are required to submit to the Federal Election Commission each quarter, and omit details about all the ways they are raising money. Read more from Bill Allison.

Keller Wins Special Election: State Rep. Fred Keller won a special election in Pennsylvania for the vacant 12th district, the Associated Press projects, defeating little-known and underfunded Democratic opponent Marc Friedenberg. The district that gave Trump 66% of its votes in 2016. Former Rep. Tom Marino (R) resigned in January.

Movers & Shakeups

rump Legislative Affairs Head Leaving: Trump’s legislative affairs director, Shahira Knight, is planning to leave the administration for a post in the private sector as the focus in the White House turns from the president’s policy agenda to his upcoming re-election campaign.

The departure of Knight, a longtime Republican congressional aide who played a central role in Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul, comes as the White House attempts to negotiate agreements with Congress to hike the debt ceiling, avoid automatic spending cuts under sequestration, and pass a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. Read more from Justin Sink.

Trump Taps Barrett for Air Force Secretary: Trump said in a tweet yesterday he intends to nominate Barbara Barrett, former chairwoman of the Aerospace Corporation, to be the next the Air Force Secretary after Heather Wilson said in March she plans to resign from the post. Read more from Kathleen Miller.

Murkowski Concerned on FERC Nominations: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she wants to see an empty seat filled on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Stephen Cunningham reports. The lengthy vetting period for a new commissioner is a challenge, and is something “we have no control over” and neither does the White House, she said. The vacancy was caused by the death of Kevin McIntyre in January. Murkowski said she’s hopeful a new member could be confirmed by the end of the year. “The sooner you get started, the better off we will be, as we will have more time to do that.”

What Else to Know Today

China Trade Tensions: Chinese President Xi Jinping called on citizens to join a “new Long March,” a phrase he’s used before to characterize achieving progress despite hardship, as the U.S. weighs stronger restrictions on Chinese technology companies amid a deepening trade war. Xi made the remarks on Monday while leaving the Long March memorial garden in Jiangxi Province, according to a video clip released by state television. The site marks the starting point of a lengthy migration from 1934 by the Communist Party’s military after setbacks that forced it to join with troops in northwest China.

Trump is considering blacklisting up to five Chinese surveillance companies including Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology and Zheijiang Dahua Technology, according to people familiar with the matter. The restrictions would be similar to those imposed last week on Huawei Technologies, and would sharply curtail the companies’ access to the U.S. market and American suppliers. Read more.

Mideast Peace Plan: Skepticism about the Middle East peace plan drawn up by Trump’s son-in-law abounds, but even a failed effort may play into the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister won his latest election partly on promises to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the disputed West Bank, a move that would see Israel taking another unilateral step away from decades of international consensus on how to resolve the crisis.

While Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner has revealed little about his long-awaited proposal, it’s widely expected to include increased Israeli control over the West Bank. For the hardliners in Netanyahu’s coalition, the time is ripe with their ally Trump in the White House to seize more of the disputed territory regardless of whether the broader peace plan — which the Palestinians have rejected in advance — succeeds or fails. Read more from David Wainer and Ivan Levingston.

McAleenan Calls for Domestic Terrorism Panel: Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan is calling for the creation of a panel to focus on fighting domestic terrorism against faith-based groups. The panel would be part of the bipartisan Homeland Security Advisory Council, a group of outside experts who advise the department and lawmakers on threat response, McAleenan said yesterday. At a meeting of the advisory council, he said he wants to know if churches, synagogues, mosques and other organizations need additional funding and sup port to curb extremist attacks. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan panel looking at how to improve care for migrant children and families apprehended at the Southwest border will miss its goal to issue a report by the end of the month, the head of the committee said. The disclosure of the delay came a day after the department confirmed a fifth migrant child died while in federal custody since December. Read more from Michaela Ross.

TSA Border Staffing Risks Longer Airport Waits: Redeploying hundreds of Transportation Security Administration personnel to care for the migrant surge at the Southwest border has private airport officials, the agency’s union, and lawmakers worried about protecting travelers’ safety. “This is going to make it riskier,” said Lance Lyttle, managing director of the Port of Seattle’s aviation division, referencing concerns that fewer baggage screening officers would lead to longer wait times and security vulnerabilities from the crowds right before summer’s peak travel season. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Border Agency Put Up Only 1.7 Miles of Wall: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has put up just 1.7 miles of fencing with the $1.57 billion that Congress appropriated last year for Trump’s wall along the Mexican border, a federal judge was told. A lawyer for the House provided the information yesterday to the judge in Oakland, Calif., who is weighing requests from 20 state attorneys general and the the Sierra Club to block Trump from using funds not authorized by Congress to build the wall. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

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