What to Know in Washington: Probe Puts Schiff in GOP Crosshairs

Adam Schiff has emerged in less than a week as the standard bearer for the House Democrats’ impeachment effort, putting him squarely in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs and leaving him with little margin for error.

In his first days in the role, Schiff’s (D-Calif.) been challenged head-on by the president and his allies. The House Intelligence chairman’s plans for a quick series of hearings into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to help investigate a political rival ran into immediate obstacles.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo rejected plans by Schiff’s committee and two other panels to get testimony this week and next from State Department employees. Trump’s former special Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the intelligence community’s inspector general are still scheduled to give depositions.

Last night, Schiff and two other committee chairman sent a letter to the State Department warning that officials who obstructed a congressional inquiry could face criminal charges and the withholding of their salaries.

It’s unclear whether the administration will cooperate with other demands for witnesses and documents. A second inspector general — one attached to the State Department — plans to brief multiple House and Senate committees today about documents related to Ukraine, a House official familiar with the matter said.

Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are also scheduled to hold a news conference today at the Capitol. Read more from Billy House.

Rep. Adam Schiff
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

Trump Calls it a ‘Coup’: Trump ratcheted up his attacks on lawmakers pursuing a whistle-blower complaint, saying that it amounts to a “coup.”

“As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP,” Trump tweeted last night. The tweet marked the seventh time this year that he’s tweeted that he’s been the subject of a coup attempt, but the first since a scandal erupted over his interactions with Ukraine’s president, Josh Wingrove reports.

Menendez Questions Pence, Perry: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is asking Vice President Mike Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry if they played a role in pushing Trump’s personal agenda in Ukraine, including pressuring the Ukrainian president to boost Trump’s 2020 election prospects. Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked about Pence’s canceled trip to attend Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration and Perry’s trip in Pence’s place, and what the two talked about in meetings with Zelenskiy, accord ing to his letters to the vice president and energy secretary, Kim Chipman reports.

Morrison Denies Pressure: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied being pressured by Trump to help probe the origins of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Morrison said today he had a brief telephone conversation with Trump a couple of weeks ago, in which the president asked for a point of contact within the Australian government to help Attorney General William Barr with the inquiry, Edward Johnson reports.

Conte Approved Barr Meetings: Meanwhile, Italy’s prime minister authorized two secret meetings between Barr and members of the intelligence agencies in Rome as part of a U.S. investigation into the scandal involving Trump’s possible ties to Russia, according to one of Italy’s leading newspapers. The meetings focused on the origins of the scandal and the fate of Joseph Mifsud, a Rome-based professor involved in the case, Corriere della Sera said. A Justice Department official yesterday said that Barr is reviewing action take n by the U.S. intelligence agencies in 2016 and has met with officials from Italy and Australia. Read more from John Follain and Ross Larsen.

On Lawmakers’ Radars

Democrats to Rewrite Pipeline Bill: Democrats are striking out on their own and planning to redraft a pipeline safety bill after negotiations with Republicans broke down. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) are working on a new measure to reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, two sources said. It’s a departure from a historically bipartisan process to reauthorize the agency responsible for the pipelines that carry oil, gas, and hazardous materials across the country. Read more from Tiffany Stecker.

Neal Pushes Agencies on Surprise Billing: House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) wants to include a “negotiated rulemaking” process to require insurers and doctors work out billing disagreements and hold patients “harmless,” meaning they won’t be billed for extra charges. “This process has already been successfully used in the health care context, most recently in Medicare for the clinical laboratory free schedule improvements and for the design for the durable medical equipment payment system,” Neal said in a letter.

The framework would leave it up to federal agencies to work to identify rates for surprise bills, as opposed to proposals approved by committee which would often require doctors to accept a set rate instead of out-of-network rates. Neal said he will direct his staff to work over the next few weeks to develop the surprise medical billing legislation, Alex Ruoff reports.

Lawyers Aim to Talk to Trump Tax Whistleblower: House lawyers are trying to speak with an IRS whistleblower who claims that audits of Trump’s tax returns have been improperly influenced, according to Neal. “It is accurate to say that there has been an individual who stepped forward and made some allegations” and that House legal counsel is “proceeding on the basis of trying to interview the individual,” Neal told reporters in Springfield, Mass., yesterday, according to audio posted by WAMC radio. Read more from Colin Wilhelm.

Meanwhile, Trump got a federal judge to block a California law that would make him disclose his federal tax returns to qualify for the 2020 Republican Party’s primary ballot there. U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. in Sacramento yesterday granted Trump’s request to put the law on hold until there’s final decision on whether or not it’s constitutional, Edvard Pettersson reports.

Elections & Politics

Biden’s Grip on 2020 Race Tested: Joe Biden’s once-clear path to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is getting murkier. But it’s not the Trump impeachment scandal involving Biden’s son that’s doing it. The former vice president is being tested by the collective toll of age, verbal blunders and a contrast with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) dramatic plans to overhaul government. Trump’s attempts to tarnish him with scandal have yet to make a dent with Democratic voters — and heightens the Biden campaign’s argument that the president fears him most in a general election. Read more from Sahil Kapur and Tyler Pager.

Biden Proposes Assault Weapons Buyback: Biden has rolled out a gun safety plan that includes a federal buyback program for assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, an approach that’s already drawn criticism from Trump. The former vice president unveiled the proposal ahead of attending a March For Our Lives gun violence prevention forum in Las Vegas today. Read more from Kathleen Hunter.

Democrats Plan to Tax the Rich: The leading Democratic presidential candidates are promising to pay for their policy visions with new taxes on the wealthy — and some of the 2020 contenders would have to pay dearly. The four top-polling candidates – Warren, Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris – all earned at least $500,000 last year, according to their tax returns. And they’ve embraced tax-the-rich proposals that could increase levies on themselves and similarly-situated peers as they look to unseat Trump. Read more from Laura Davison and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Trump’s 2020 Effort Raises $125 Million: Trump and the Republican National Committee continued to shovel cash into their re-election war chest, as third-quarter fundraising surged to $125 million. Trump’s campaign, the party and two joint fundraising committees that support them ended the quarter with $156 million cash on hand, more than twice the amount that President Barack Obama’s re-election committees had at this point in 2011. “President Trump has built a juggernaut of a campaign, raising record amounts of money at a record pace, ” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in statement. Read more from Bill Allison.

Buttigieg, Sanders Can’t Convert Cash Into Support: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sanders are the top fundraisers of the 2020 Democratic race so far, with a total of $61 million and $51 million in their war chests, respectively. But it’s not helping them catch on with voters. A strong showing in fundraising used to translate to prominence in the polls. But in 2019, candidates with low or dropping numbers have been leading the money chase. Buttigieg is languishing in fourth place in polls, with around 5%, while Sanders is stuck in third at 1 8%, behind Biden and Warren. Read more from Bill Allison.

Meanwhile, Harris’s fundraising has held steady in the third quarter even as her campaign lost momentum. Harris, currently in fifth place in the RealClearPolitics polling survey, raised $11.6 million in the third quarter. That was down slightly from the $11.8 million she raised in the previous quarter. Read more from Allison.

Sessions Tipped to Run For Flores’ Seat: Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is expected to run for Congress again, but this time from a different congressional district, the Associated Press reports, citing Republican megadonor Roy Bailey and two GOP operatives with knowledge of the decision. Sessions, former chairman of the House Rules Committee, is likely to run in the rural central Texas district currently held by retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas).

Defense & Foreign Affairs

North Korea Tests Trump’s Limits: North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile designed for submarines, testing Trump’s tolerance for weapons tests just hours after agreeing to restart stalled nuclear talks with the U.S. The South Korean military said the missile was fired near North Korea’s eastern Wonsan area just after 7 a.m. Wednesday and flew 570 miles into space before falling in the sea. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile may have separated during flight, with at least one piece falling in the country’s exclusive economic zone near the southwestern prefecture of Shimane. Read more from Jihye Lee and Emi Nobuhiro.

Iran Agrees to Outlines of European Plan: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he agrees with the general outlines and basic terms of a European-led plan to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement but couldn’t yet accept the wording of the package, state TV reported. “The plan was acceptable in a sense, in terms of its outlines, as it called for Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons and to contribute to peace in the region and regional waterways,” Rouhani was cited as saying. He added that it also calls for the removal of U.S. sanctions on Iran , the immediate resumption of Iran’s oil exports, and for Iran to have access to its oil income. Read more from Arsalan Shahla.

Pompeo Starts Europe Visit With Tariff Focus: Pompeo kicked off a visit to Europe with talks that focused on Italian concerns at the prospect of new U.S. tariffs. Pompeo met yesterday with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at his official residence in Rome, the first of a three-day visit to the capital that will also take him to the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Francis. Conte stressed that new U.S. tariffs, with food products accounting for the lion’s share of Italian exports to the country, would be a big blow for Italy at a time when his government is trying to restart a stagnant economy, newswire Ansa reported. Read more from John Follain.

National Security Team Promotes Ex-Navarro Aide: Trump’s new national security adviser has again turned to his Asia team to fill his senior ranks. Robert O’Brien has appointed Alex Gray, formerly the National Security Council’s Oceania & Indo-Pacific security director, to be a senior adviser, according to three people familiar with the plan. An NSC spokesman declined to comment. Gray previously worked as a deputy for Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade and manufacturing adviser who has repeatedly warned about the need to re-balance the U.S. relations hip with China. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Around the Administration

Trump to Unveil Medicare Plan: Trump will outline his vision for the future of Medicare this week, contrasting plans with Democrats in a speech promising to strengthen the program for the elderly and disabled. Trump is scheduled to travel to Florida tomorrow where he’ll deliver a wide-ranging speech on his administration’s health policy, and announce an executive order regarding the Medicare system, titled “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction.” Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Riley Griffin and Josh Wingrove.

Trump Officials Agree on Ethanol, Biodiesel Plan: The Trump administration has agreed to a new plan for boosting renewable fuels and offsetting waivers exempting oil refineries from mandates to use them, according to three people familiar with the matter. The tentative deal, which follows weeks of negotiations, permits the EPA to offset those waivers in response to criticism from industry advocates and Midwestern politicians that the exemptions have hurt demand for corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel. Under the deal, the EPA would factor in recent waivers into new annual biofuel quotas, by adjusting the targets to reflect a three-year rolling average of exemptions. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Mario Parker, and Jennifer Jacobs.

Separately, a Brazilian government decision to allow more U.S. ethanol to enter the country without tariffs may be blocked by the South American nation’s Congress in a move that threatens to weaken bilateral trade relations, Rachel Gamarski, Fabiana Batista and Murilo Fagundes report.

Nominations: Trump announced his intent to nominate Paul Ray to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. Ray currently serves as acting administrator. Trump also announced the intent to nominate Kipp Kranbuhl to be assistant secretary of financial markets for the Treasury Department, according to an emailed White House statement.

10% of USDA Employees Opted to Move: In June, the Agriculture Department announced plans to move almost 600 employees from two research agencies out of Washington to Kansas City by Sept. 30, but only about 60 workers actually ended up making the move, the department said. Sixteen Economic Research Service and 45 National Institute of Food and Agriculture employees chose to relocate, according to a USDA spokesperson. “Hundreds of qualified scientists, economists, and support staff have been removed from ERS and NIFA in order to move less than 10% of employees to Kansas City,” said Laura Dodson, an ERS economist and acting vice president of an employee union. Teaganne Finn has more.

Asylum Seekers Ask Appeals Court to Let Them In: Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S. said they’ve waited long enough in Mexico for their applications to be assessed under a Trump administration policy they call unlawful. Yesterday, their advocates asked the federal appeals court in San Francisco to rule that the policy is illegal. Such a ruling would open the border gates to about 45,000 people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 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

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