What to Know in Washington: Politics Leads Policy in 2020 Run-up

Politics Leads Policy in 2020 Run-up

House Democrats are using their majority to push gun-control, campaign-finance and voting-rights legislation. Senate Republicans are advancing abortion restrictions while trying to put Democrats on the spot with a vote on climate change.

None of the proposals stand a chance of getting through a divided Congress. Instead, the measures are designed to corner lawmakers from the opposing party with tough votes that could be used against them in 2020 campaigns.

With the new Congress under way, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are already using legislative votes to get an early start on jockeying for advantage in the 2020 elections. That’s an early sign the window is closing for passing bipartisan legislation to send to President Donald Trump.

While both parties often use control of a chamber of Congress to work on winning elections as much as making law, it’s unusual for that to become the chief focus so far ahead of election day.

“We have an opportunity to demonstrate to the American people what a Democratic government would look like,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said in an interview. “Politically we put them in a very difficult position.”

McConnell, asked last week if he has met with Pelosi to find common ground, said there’s been no discussion so far of work on compromise legislation. “We haven’t yet, but I wouldn’t say that there won’t be some things that we can agree on,” he told reporters.

This week, for example, House Democrats plan to pass an anti-corruption and voting rights bill they promised in last year’s elections, but the measure stands little chance in the Senate. McConnell has dismissed it as the “Democrat Politician Protection Plan.” Read more from Laura Litvan and Anna Edgerton.

Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg

More Elections & Politics

Hickenlooper Ready for 2020: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) filed a statement of candidacy to run for president in 2020 with the Federal Election Commission this morning. In a campaign announcement video released today, Hickenlooper presented himself as a Washington outsider capable of both confrontation and cooperation. His record of bipartisanship in a battleground state stands in contrast with the nation’s polarized electorate and a desire among progressives in the Democratic Party for confrontation over cooperation. Read more from John McCormick.

What Voters Want: Americans are least favorable toward a presidential candidate who’s a socialist or older than 75, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that said Trump’s approval rating ticked up in the past month. Only 25 percent of respondents ranked “socialist” as a desirable trait for a candidate. Only 37 percent said “someone over 75” was desirable, according to the survey, released yesterday. More voters were accepting of candidates who were gay or lesbian, independent or under 40. The survey suggests that 41 percent of voters would definitely or probably vote for Trump in 2020, against 48 percent who said they would vote for the Democratic candidate. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Trump Plays to Base at CPAC: Trump delivered the longest speech of his presidency on Saturday, a two-hour-plus tour of conservative talking points old and new that included some unscripted and at times vulgar attacks on his political enemies. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Trump told supporters that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was “bullsh–,” suggested that immigrant members of Congress “hate our country,” took a shot at the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates, and pledged to withhold federal research money from universities that don’t protect conservative speech.

The speech was an early glimpse of Trump’s focus on the 2020 election, showing a president who’s more comfortable in a free-wheeling campaign environment than in the confined settings of state meetings, such as his summit in Hanoi with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that dominated last week. As he took the stage, Trump literally hugged an American flag. Joshua Gallu recaps the speech’s highlights.

Tax Proposals: Democrats are leading the 2020 presidential campaign with a slew of tax-the-rich proposals, representing a tone change revealing a party moving to the left. The plans emerge as a bevy of Democratic contenders are trying to catch fire in a party that is unified in its hopes of defeating Trump next year. They are looking to ride a wave that reclaimed the House for the party last November, and swept many unabashed progressives into office. Marie Patino and Laura Davison compare the candidates’ proposals so far.

Coming Up in Congress

Democrats’ Ready Trump Queries: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he’s aggressively investigating whether there’s evidence of wrongdoing by Trump, thrusting the veteran lawmaker into center of a politically risky probe. Nadler said he plans to demand documents today from more than 60 people and entities, including the White House, the Trump Organization and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son — following other committee chairmen who’ve made sweeping document requests since Democrats took control of the chamber in January.

The move is already fueling Republican charges that his probe is a thin disguise for a predetermined outcome: impeachment. But it will no doubt satisfy a Democratic base eager to see Trump put on trial. Any impeachment proceeding would be run by Nadler’s committee.

Trump, meanwhile, has been lashing out over Democrats’ probes. “Presidential Harassment by ‘crazed’ Democrats at the highest level in the history of our Country,” he tweeted yesterday. Read more from Billy House.

Preparing for Mueller Report: When Special Counsel Mueller closes up shop and submits his long-awaited final report — possibly within days — it will be only the start of an explosive chain of events. There will be a struggle in Congress, on cable TV and social media and probably in the courts over how much must be disclosed from what will begin as a secret report to Attorney General William Barr.

There also will be an epic political fight over whether the findings implicate Trump in wrongdoing that may even merit his impeachment, as some Democrats say, or clear him after a 21-month investigation that he and other Republicans call a “witch hunt.” Strohm and Larry Liebert take a look at how the Mueller report is likely to play out.

National Emergency Vote: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he’ll vote to block Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that’s likely to provide enough votes for the measure to pass the Senate and draw Trump’s first veto. “I can’t vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress,” Paul said in a speech during the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday, the Bowling Green Daily News reported on its website.

The House voted Feb. 26 to block the emergency declaration, but without enough votes to override a promised presidential veto. Only 13 Republicans joined all Democrats in backing the measure. The Senate has 18 calendar days from that date to consider the House measure or act on its own version. Read more from Laura Litvan and Edith Moy.

Robocall Bill Has Bipartisan Support: It’s not easy to stop a robocaller. The Federal Communications Commission has levied millions of dollars in fines for tricking consumers with spoofed calls. Phone companies like Verizon and AT&T offer call-blocking tools and are working with law enforcement to crack down on scammers. Still, the number of robocalls received yearly are in the billions and rising. After failing at least a dozen times to pass legislation to address the problem, Congress is considering a measure with good prospects of passage. Alexis Kramer and Sara Merken look at the latest measure’s prospects.

Tax Extenders: Congress’ continued inaction on a set of expired tax breaks means people who had home mortgage debt forgiven in 2018 after foreclosure or a short sale may find themselves owing thousands of dollars in unanticipated taxes this filing season. The temporary provisions, called “extenders,” are usually renewed every few years as part of a package consisting of tax breaks for businesses and individuals. But many of them expired at the end of 2017, and Congress has failed to act on them because of competing priorities and the new Democratic House’s desire to hold hearings on the provisions. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

What Else to Know Today

U.S., China Near Trade Deal: The U.S. and China are close to a trade deal that could lift most or all U.S. tariffs as long as Beijing follows through on pledges ranging from better protection of intellectual-property rights to buying a significant amount of American products, two people familiar with the discussions said. Chinese officials made clear in a series of negotiations with the U.S. in recent weeks that removing levies on $200 billion of Chinese goods quickly was necessary to finalize any deal, said the people, who weren’t authorized to talk publicly about the deliberations. That’s the amount the Trump administration imposed after China retaliated against the U.S.’s first salvo of $50 billion in tariffs that kicked off the eight-month trade war. One of the remaining sticking points is whether the tariffs would be lifted immediately or over a period of time to allow the U.S. to monitor whether China is meeting its obligations, the people said. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Korea Drills Halted: The U.S. and South Korea agreed to end their biggest annual joint military drills in a bid to ease tensions with North Korea. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo decided to conclude the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of the exercises, the Pentagon said on Saturday. They will be replaced by a modified exercise called “Alliance” running from March 4 to March 12 that will focus on “strategic, operational, and tactical aspects of genera l military operations,” the Combined Forces Command said in a separate statement. Read more from Jihye Lee, Youkyung Lee and Nick Wadhams.

Meanwhile, Trump said that Cohen’s House hearing last week contributed to his decision to walk away from negotiations with North Korea. “For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk,’” Trump said in a tweet last night. Alyza Sebenius has more.

Guaido Plans Venezuela Return: Juan Guaido said he will return to Caracas for protest marches today, risking arrest in his bid to end six of years of rule by Nicolas Maduro that have led Venezuela into poverty and revolt. Guaido didn’t provide details about how he will enter the country. It’s also unclear whether Maduro’s forces will arrest him for violating a travel ban, as threatened. Guaido secretly left Venezuela in February, at first to oversee a delivery of aid provided by the U.S., which has led calls for governments to recognize him as interim president until an election can be held. Read more from Daniel Cancel.

Refugee Ruling: The Trump administration must come up with a plan for 2,714 Central American children and family members who were left in limbo — some facing life-threatening danger — when the government in 2017 abruptly ended a program designed to offer them safe passage to reunite with their relatives already living in the U.S. A federal judge concluded Friday the government provided no reason — other than arguing it would be a burden on the Department of Homeland Security — why it shouldn’t process applications for children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who’d already been conditionally cleared to travel to the U.S. before the administration mass-rescinded the approvals in August 2017. Read more from Pamela MacLean.

McGahn Returns to Law: Former White House Counsel Donald McGahn will return to law firm Jones Day this month, the Washington Post reports, citing an interview with him. McGahn will lead the firm’s government regulation practice in Washington and be an outside adviser to senior Senate Republicans on nominations to the Supreme Court and federal courts. Majority Leader McConnell said he will continue to seek McGahn’s support on nominations, the Washington Post reports.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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