What to Know in Washington: Pelosi, Trump Conflict Gets Personal

Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump spent much of the week goading each other with increasingly direct insults, but the Speaker has many reasons for resisting what could be her ultimate weapon: impeachment.

Pelosi is watching more than just the national polls that show most of the public doesn’t support impeachment. She is also wary of animating the president’s voter base for the 2020 election and opening a trial that would give the Republican-led Senate the chance to acquit him.

Even while Pelosi urges restraint, she has sharpened her response to questions about impeachment, saying Trump is “obstructing justice,” and “engaged in a cover-up.” She said at a news conference yesterday that Trump, for political reasons, actually wants Democrats to try to impeach him, and she characterized him as frustrated that they are not yet “on the path to impeachment.”

These mixed messages from Pelosi — urging caution and recognizing that impeachment could be “unavoidable” — reflect the delicate job of balancing aggressive congressional oversight with the need to preserve her majority in the House and deny Trump re-election in 2020.

Faced with resistance from the Trump administration to committee probes, some Democrats are increasingly looking to an impeachment inquiry as the legal justification to enforce subpoenas, pushing Pelosi to begin the process despite the political risks.

“Ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice — yes, these could be impeachable offenses,” Pelosi said yesterday. “How we deal with it is a decision that our caucus makes, and our caucus is very much saying, whatever we do, we need to be ready when we do it.”

In a series of press statements, public letters and an aborted meeting this week, Pelosi and Trump traded taunts and questioned each other’s sanity. They faulted each other for abandoning bipartisan negotiations on infrastructure and trade. Trump called Pelosi “a mess” and “crazy.” She said she prays for the president and suggested his family or staff should have “an intervention.” Trump also tweeted a video clip that had been altered to exaggerate stumbles in Pelosi’s speech. Billy House has more on the implications of the spat.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Pelosi at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

Senate Tees Up Disaster Aid for House, Trump

The Senate passed a $19.1 billion disaster-aid plan yesterday for areas hit by hurricanes, Midwest floods and California wildfires after lawmakers resolved months of disagreement over funds for Puerto Rico. Trump said he supports the bill. The 85-8 vote sends the bill to the House, which plans to vote as soon as possible, said an aide to Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

“House Democrats support clearing it through the House as soon as possible,” Lowey spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement. House members have already left town for a week-long recess, but the chamber could pass the bill without lawmakers present if no member objects. That chamber is scheduled to meet this morning at 11 a.m., when the measure could be considered by unanimous consent.

Trump’s consent came amid his public battle with Pelosi and Democratic leaders, and a day after he said he wouldn’t negotiate with Democrats as long as they continued their congressional investigations.

The president previously insisted that the disaster-aid bill provide more funds for beds for undocumented migrants, leading to an impasse with Pelosi. The fight over money to address the influx of migrants at the southern border has been put off until June when Congress returns from recess. Read more from Erik Wasson and Steven T. Dennis.

The disaster package also carries a four-month extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, days before it was set to expire on May 31. The program has been beset by financial problems for over a decade, when it began paying out significantly more in claims than it took in from premiums. A report from the Congressional Budget Office found that, though the program was designed to cover its own costs, it now loses an estimated $1.4 billion on average every year. David Schultz has more on the program.

For a comprehensive look at what’s in the bill, read the BGOV Bill Summary from Michael Smallberg.

Political Win: Senators’ determination to go home for the Memorial Day recess with an accomplishment to brag about helped drive the disaster aid deal.

“There’s plenty you can talk about but to these families and communities affected by disaster nothing short of doing something about that disaster will be satisfying to them — nor should it be,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a senior appropriator whose home state was struck by tornadoes as the package was being negotiated.

About three-fourths of the incumbents running next year represent states that have had major natural disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, even an earthquake. Nancy Ognanovich takes a closer look at what they had to gain.

Trump Travels to Japan

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are unlikely to resolve trade disputes involving automobile tariffs during meetings starting this weekend in Tokyo, a Japanese official said.

“I don’t think they will find the final solution at this summit meeting,” Takehiro Shimada, minister of public affairs at the Japanese embassy in Washington, told reporters yesterday. Instead, Shimada said he anticipated the two leaders would “confirm the importance of the acceleration of the negotiations” toward “creating a win-win” agreement.

A U.S. official also downplayed the prospects on trade on Wednesday, saying it’s not the focus of the four-day trip, which is built around the symbolism of close U.S.-Japan ties. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s plans, said the president intends to promote bilateral, free and fair trade in his conversations with Abe.

Trump last week declared that imported cars represented a threat to U.S. national security but announced a delay in imposing tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from Japan and other nations for 180 days to pursue negotiations. Trump, who departs for Tokyo today, has sought to cut the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Lobbying Against Trump’s Tariffs: U.S. trade associations and companies aren’t giving up the fight against the latest round of duties proposed by the president who calls himself “Tariff Man” as the world’s two-largest economies try to finalize a sweeping trade deal. They’re clinging to the hope — however slim — that the administration may spare their products, and eventually heed their warnings that the tariffs will hurt American companies and consumers. Mark Niquette takes a closer look at their lobbying effort.

Trump Targets Countries That Undervalue Currencies: The Trump administration is proposing tariffs on goods from countries found to have undervalued currencies, in a move that would further escalate its assault on global trading rules. The proposal, laid out in a Federal Register notice released yesterday, would let U.S.-based companies seek anti-subsidy tariffs on products from countries found by the Treasury Department to be engaging in competitive devaluation of their currencies. Currently no country in the world meets that criteria. But it also sets a broader standard by focusing on the “undervaluation” of currencies. Read more from Shawn Donnan and Jenny Leonard.

What Else to Know Today

U.K.’s May to Depart June 7: An emotional Theresa May announced she will quit as Britain’s prime minister after admitting she had failed to deliver the one task that defined her time in office — taking the country out of the European Union. “I have done my best,” May said in a statement to cameras in the sunshine outside her Downing Street offices. “It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.”

May said Britain now needs a new prime minister to take over and try to complete the task that has defeated her. She will stand down as Conservative Party leader on June 7, with a leadership contest formally beginning the following week. Bloomberg News’ Tim Ross in London is following the latest.

Trump Authorizes Barr to Declassify Documents: Trump yesterday gave Attorney General William Barr “full and complete authority” to declassify information related to his inquiry into investigations of the 2016 presidential election. The president, in a memorandum, directed U.S. intelligence agencies to cooperate with Barr’s review, which he has said would look into allegations by Trump and his allies that his campaign was spied upon and that various figures in the Justice Department and the FBI were trying to undermine him.

Even as the president has granted his attorney general greater power to look into what led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the White House has refused to allow Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) Judiciary Committee to see the unredacted version of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the election, or the underlying evidence. Read more from John Harney and Margaret Talev.

Trump Plans to Bypass Congress on Saudi Arms Deal: The Trump administration is considering using a rarely cited provision in the Arms Control Act to clear arms sales to Saudi Arabia over congressional opposition, according to a person familiar with the matter and U.S. lawmakers. The provision allows Trump to circumvent the normal approval process by declaring that an emergency exists that requires the sales to go through immediately “in the national security interests of the United States.”

For more than a year, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has had a hold on $2 billion worth of precision-guided munitions kits for Saudi Arabia and another $1 billion sale to the United Arab Emirates over concerns about civilian casualties from the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

War-Crimes Pardons: Trump’s reported intent to pardon some U.S. service members accused of war crimes over the Memorial Day weekend would break new ground in an already unconventional process, and may have lasting implications for military justice. Among the pardons Trump reportedly is considering are for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs and Army Green Beret Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn. Gallagher is accused of shooting unarmed civilians and killing a detainee in Iraq. Golsteyn is accused of killing an unarmed Afghan. Also among the rumored potential pardon recipients are a group of Marines who urinated on Taliban corpses.

Lawyers, including those with military experience, say these raise red flags not just because of the serious nature of the charges, but also because some of the pardons would be made before convictions in court. The Justice Department says on the FAQ section of its website that preemptive pardons are “highly unusual.” Read more on the legal elements of the move from Jordan S. Rubin.

Trump Targets Immigrant Welfare Bills: Trump ordered the U.S. government to enforce a decades-old law that requires Americans who bring migrants into the country to take financial responsibility if they claim welfare benefits, the president’s latest attempt to curb immigration. Trump directed his administration to spend the next 90 days developing rules for U.S. citizens to reimburse the government for each dollar of means-tested federal aid provided to immigrants they’re sponsoring. That means Americans who seek to bring relatives t o the U.S. could be obligated to pay the government back if the immigrants use programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, or the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program. Read more from Margaret Talev and Justin Sink.

U.S. Charges Julian Assange: The U.S. charged former WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 18 counts related to endangering U.S. national security by conspiring to obtain and disclose classified information in one of the biggest intelligence breaches in American history. The indictment against Assange, who until recently was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, says the 47-year-old was complicit with former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning in “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to national defense.” The charges supersede an earlier indictment against Assange. Read more from Chris Strohm and Bill Faries.

Election Fines: Three presidential electors who wrote in Colin Powell’s name rather than voting for Hilary Clinton in 2016 can be fined $1,000 by Washington state for failing to abide by the popular vote, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The votes by the three so-called “faithless” electors violated a state law which required them to vote for a person nominated by the party of which they are an elector. Clinton bested Trump in Washington state. The electors had argued that states can’t infringe on a fed eral responsibility outlined in the U.S. Constitution. They also said said that Electoral College members have discretion and voting is a personal choice protected by the First Amendment from any restrictive state action.

The case, along with a similar case in Colorado, probably is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, who represented the electors. Read more from Paul Shukovsky.

Student Loan Alternative: The Education Department is considering a new method for making student loans: allow selected colleges to take responsibility for a student’s federal borrowing while providing funding to be repaid based on a student’s income. Colleges, under an experimental site still in the works, would be on the hook for collecting federal loan payments by entering into an income-share agreement with the student, a department spokeswoman said. The deal would require a student to pay a set percentage of income for a number of years. Any unpaid loan debt left over after that time would be forgiven. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Broker-Conflict Rules Set for Overhaul: The Securities and Exchange Commission plans to hold a June 5 meeting to vote on the most sweeping overhaul of broker rules in years, setting new standards for Wall Street on what the regulator considers inappropriate conflicts of interest. At the meeting, SEC commissioners will decide whether to “establish a standard of conduct for broker-dealers” when they advise retail customers on “any securities transaction or investment strategy involving securities,” according to a notice posted yesterday on the agency’s website. Read more from Jesse Westbrook.

Programming Note: Bloomberg Government’s What to Know in Washington will not publish Monday due to the Memorial Day holiday. We will return Tuesday, May 28.

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