What to Know in Washington: SCOTUS to Decide Trump Census Query

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was determined to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census—so determined that he committed a “veritable smorgasbord” of legal violations to get his way, according to a federal judge.

Now the effort by President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary is before the Supreme Court, which will hear the government’s appeal tomorrow in one of the biggest cases of the nine-month term. It will be the court’s first direct review of an administration initiative since the justices upheld the president’s travel ban last year.

The case thrusts Chief Justice John Roberts’s court into an intensely political fight that will affect the allocation of congressional seats and federal dollars. The case will test the court’s willingness to defer to an administration that critics say has a penchant for cutting legal corners.

In a book-length opinion in January, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said Ross committed a litany of violations of the federal law that governs administrative agencies. That law requires officials to make major decisions through a reasoned process and to give an honest explanation for their actions.

Ross “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices,” Furman wrote.

Those who oppose a citizenship question say it could result in a census undercount in areas with large noncitizen populations that could shift congressional districts and shift federal funds away from those communities. California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, New York and Illinois all are at risk of losing at least one seat in the House of Representatives, according to Furman.

Furman is one of three Democratic-appointed federal trial judges who ruled against the administration in separate cases. With the Census Bureau saying it needs to start printing questionnaires this summer, the high court is hearing the case on an expedited basis, directly reviewing Furman’s decision and bypassing the appeals court level. A ruling is likely by late June. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Lyft, Uber Say Citizenship Question Bad for Business: Companies and business associations—from Lyft to Univision to Levi Strauss—oppose the Trump administration’s plan to add the question, saying it will hurt their ability to make sound business decisions. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

Mueller, Biden Set to Reshape Democratic Campaign

The 2020 Democratic presidential race moves into a crucial new phase this week as the release of Mueller report and the expected entry of former Vice President Joe Biden into the fray reshape the debate and reset what’s been a fluid field of contenders.

Biden’s entry comes just as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions from his two-year investigation of Russian election interference delivered a trove of material for attacks by the Democratic contenders on Trump—if they choose to use it.

The Russia probe has consumed Washington but it’s rarely raised on the campaign trail by either voters or the candidates. So far among the 18 declared candidates, only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Obama cabinet secretary Julian Castro have called for beginning impeachment proceedings. It’s a sign of how the party is still trying to navigate between hitting Trump hard or keeping the focus on kitchen-table issues that won them the House in 2018.

Meanwhile, the former vice president is poised to jump into the race this week. He’ll enter as the front-runner, buoyed by near-universal name recognition, a nostalgia for Barack Obama’s presidency and support from moderate Democrats. Read more from Sahil Kapur, Joshua Green and Jennifer Epstein.

Biden Announcement Could Come This Week: Biden’s possible announcement could come as soon as Wednesday, according to three people familiar with his plans. One of the people cautioned that the plans could change, given the former Delaware senator’s fits and starts around previous presidential campaigns. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Moulton Enters Race: Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) is joining the 2020 race. The Massachusetts lawmaker and Iraq War veteran made the announcement on his website Monday, the AP reports.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) exits a Democratic caucus meeting in Washington on Nov. 28, 2018.

Democrats Weigh Options After Mueller

Schiff Says Democrats Will Debate Impeachment: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Sunday that the Democrats will discuss whether to begin impeachment hearings of Trump after progressives ratcheted up pressure on reluctant party leadership. “We’re going to have a caucus about this over the next couple weeks to try to figure out what the best course is, not for the party, but what’s the best course for the country,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

That opening spurred several high-profile progressives including Sen. Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to call for impeachment. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders, battling to preserve party unity so they can move ahead on a policy agenda, have repeatedly warned about political risks of an unsuccessful impeachment attempt, mindful of the impact on the Republican Party when it impeached President Bill Clinton without removing him. Read more from Ben Brody.

Related: Elizabeth Warren Calls for House to Begin Impeachment of Trump

Related: Pelosi Pressured as Progressives Demand Impeachment Post-Mueller

Democrats Reject Offer of Less-Redacted Mueller Report: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Democratic leaders including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Attorney General William Barr that they’re rejecting his offer to see a less redacted version of Mueller’s eport. His proposal to permit only 12 lawmakers to view a less-redacted version, and bar them from discussing it with others in Congress, was “not acceptable,” they say, Greg Sullivan reports.

Nadler on Friday issued a subpoena for a full, unredacted version of Mueller’s report and all the evidence behind it, giving Barr a May 1 deadline to comply. “My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice,” Nadler said in a statement. Read more from Billy House.

FEC Head Seeks Scrutiny of Russia’s Role: Mueller’s report gave the Federal Election Commission a possible road map to go after Trump campaign officials over Russian links and perhaps levy fines. Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub (D) said she wants the commission, which is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, to start scrutiny right away. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

Also From the Report

Trump’s Secret Moscow Skyscraper Pursuit Exposed Him to Kremlin: Felix Sater argued that a skyscraper in Moscow bearing Trump’s name could be the key to putting the real-estate tycoon in the White House.

“Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater, a Moscow-born businessman, wrote to Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Nov. 3, 2015, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Why Trump Tower Meeting Didn’t Take Down Trump: When news first broke in July 2017 about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, it looked like just the caught-in-the-act moment critics thought could ensnare Trump. The 20-minute gathering in Manhattan seemed to have everything: Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer. The supposed promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton. The president personally dictating parts of a statement that smacked of cover-up.

Collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice—Robert Mueller’s twin targets—all seemingly taking place right inside Trump’s signature landmark, just a few months before the election. In Mueller’s final report, however, the Trump Tower meeting is little more than a blip, just one of a host of incidents that drew his attention. His analysis tells the story of how Trump, his son and many of those in the White House came to escape being charged—due to the difficulty of making indictments stick and the high legal bar Mueller faced to establish criminal intent. Read more from Erik Larson.

Putin’s Use of Tycoons as Trump Emissaries: Shortly after news emerged that Clinton called Trump to concede the election Nov. 9, 2016, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund obtained a message from New York: “Putin has won.” The exchange recorded in Mueller’s report, in which the name of Kirill Dmitriev’s contact was redacted, captures the jubilation among Kremlin insiders over Trump’s win after what U.S. intelligence said was a campaign of Russian interference designed to help the underdog, Jake Rudnitsky and Ilya Arkhipov report.

White House Responds

McGahn Cooperation May Have Defused Legal Battle: Trump was never called to account for a Saturday night massacre or called to testify before Mueller. That’s in part because of a deft maneuver by Donald McGahn, whose actions as White House chief counsel were among the more significant disclosures in the newly released Mueller report. McGahn flatly refused to take any step to remove Mueller as Trump fumed over the Russia investigation in his first year as president. Read more from Greg Farrell and Tom Schoenberg.

Nothing Wrong With Russian Help, Giuliani Says: Trump’s lawyer and a former federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani said there’s nothing wrong with a U.S. presidential candidate taking information from Russian sources. “It depends on where it came from,” Giuliani told moderator Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.” While in hindsight he’d advise against accepting Russia’s aid “out of an excess of caution,” Giuliani said any political candidate would accept potentially damaging information on an opponent. Read more from Andrew Harris and Hailey Waller.

Judge Urged Not to Dismiss Russian Hacking Suit: With much of the U.S. looking over the Mueller report, the Democratic National Committee argued last week its civil suit against Trump, the Russian Federation, WikiLeaks and members of the Trump campaign and White House should go forward. The DNC accused the defendants of violating U.S. racketeering, computer fraud and other laws by conspiring to hack emails from DNC computers and leak them ahead of the 2016 election in a “brazen attack on American democracy.” Bob Van Voris has more.

Defense and Foreign Affairs

Sri Lanka Latest: Sri Lanka’s government has blamed local jihadist group National Thowheed Jamath for one of Asia’s deadliest terrorist attacks in years, and said other nations had shared intelligence warnings ahead of the blasts. The death toll rose to 290 in the coordinated blasts on Easter Sunday at churches and luxury hotels, which the government said were carried out by seven suicide bombers. The Easter Sunday attacks targeted foreign tourists and Christians — marking a shift from the violence that fueled a three-decade civil war on the Indian Ocean island.

“There had been several warnings from foreign intelligence agencies about the impending attacks,” Sri Lanka’s Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said at press conference in Colombo. “Persons named in intelligence reports are among those arrested. Some named in the reports had died during attacks.”
“We don’t see how a small organization can do all of this,” he added. “We are now investigating international support for the group and their other links.” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in an address to the nation late Sunday authorities had received warnings but “not enough attention had been paid.” Read more from Anusha Ondaatjie and Iain Marlow.

Easter Attacks Threaten More Violence in Sri Lanka: One of Asia’s deadliest terrorist attacks in years shattered a period of relative calm in Sri Lanka, threatening to revive sectarian tensions that fueled a three-decade civil war on the Indian Ocean island. More than 200 people, including up to 30 foreigners, were killed in a series of coordinated explosions on Easter at churches and hotels across the country, including the capital Colombo. Several Americans are among the dead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
Some of the explosions were suicide bombings, Information Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said. While as many as 13 suspects were taken into custody, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe suggested authorities had received warnings but “not enough attention” had been paid. “We have to look deeper into this,” Wickremesinghe said in an address to the nation late Sunday. “But the first task is to make sure that the country is not destabilized.” Read more from Anusha Ondaatjie and Iain Marlow.

North Korea Targets Bolton Comments on Third Summit: North Korea has criticized National Security Adviser John Bolton for his comments downplaying a possible third summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to KCNA.
“We never expected anything logical from Bolton, but as national security adviser, he should at least know the context of dialogue that took place between the two leaders regarding a third summit before he says anything,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry diplomat Choe Son Hui was quoted by the news agency as saying. “I’m not sure if he meant to be humorous, but for me, his comments were unattractive and foolish.” Susan Decker and Greg Sullivan detail Pompeo’s reaction to North Korea.

Trump Spoke With Libyan Strongman: Trump spoke with a Libyan strongman whose forces are advancing on the nation’s capital, the White House said, in a move that may undermine support for the country’s internationally recognized government. The strongman, Khalifa Haftar, who enjoys the support of Russia, France and Arab nations and controls much of Libya’s east and south, launched a campaign to take the capital earlier this month. Trump discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya ” with Haftar, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said. Read more from Alex Wayne.

Korean Analysts Doubt U.S. Will Levy Auto Tariffs: South Korean industry analysts say they don’t expect Trump to follow through on his threats to ratchet up any import duties on cars, at least not those from South Korea. The Trump administration is considering steeper import tariffs on cars and car parts on national security grounds. Kelly Kasulis has more.

Trump’s Push to Make Cuba ‘Surrender’: The Cuban negotiator who normalized relations with the U.S. during the Obama administration said Trump’s push to dismantle the deal won’t dislodge the communist regime in Havana. Cuba endured almost 60 years of U.S. aggression and can survive another bout of antagonism from Washington, Josefina Vidal, now Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, said. Read more from Stephen Wicary.

Ukrainian President-Elect Gets Trump Call: Ukraine’s most-watched comedian won a landslide victory in Sunday’s presidential runoff as voters vented their frustration at the ex-Soviet republic’s lack of progress since a revolution five years ago, Yulia Surkova and Kateryna Choursina report. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old TV comic who’s tapped into fury at the political class, got 73 percent of ballots after almost 99 percent of votes were counted. Zelenskiy’s triumph owes a lot to his newcomer status and comes despite a campaign that’s been heavy on style with only a sprinkling of policy proposals. Trump called Zelenskiy to congratulate him and pledged support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in implementing reforms and in fighting corruption.

What Else to Know Today

PayPal Joins Cannabis Banking’s Lobbying Ranks: The payments processor PayPal recently joined the growing number of companies, municipalities and others lobbying Congress to approve cannabis banking legislation. The San Jose, Calif.-based financial technology and small business lending company— which more typically lobbies on issues like mobile banking, transaction fees and international trade—added pot banking in its first quarter 2019 lobbying report. PayPal’s foray into lobbying on the SAFE Banking Act is a signal that mainstream financial services companies are eager to to start doing business with the cannabis industry—and are willing to pony up to get the legislation through Congress. Read more from Lydia Beyoud.

Related: Growing Weed Use Sparks Lawmakers’ Interest: BGOV OnPoint

EPA Must Face Claims Over Flint Water Health Risks: The U.S. government isn’t immune from a lawsuit accusing the EPA of failing to timely respond and warn residents of Flint, Mich., about health risks in its water supply, a federal court ruled. The Environmental Protection Agency’s alleged failure to act in response to the crisis wasn’t grounded in considerations of public policy, and therefore the EPA didn’t demonstrate entitlement to sovereign immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act, Judge Linda V. Parker of the U.S. District Court for the E astern District of Michigan said. Read more from Daniel Seiden.

N.C. Candidates Try ‘to Out-Conservative Each Other’: Republican voters in a vacant North Carolina congressional district have 17 choices, all of whom say they’re pro-gun, pro-wall, and pro-Trump. “Virtually all the candidates are trying to out-conservative each other with tag lines like ‘a true conservative’,” Carmine Scavo, a political scientist at East Carolina University in Greenville, said.

The 3rd District, which envelops Jacksonville, New Bern, the Outer Banks, and part of Greenville, will whittle down its candidates field April 30. The gargantuan GOP primary lineup means no candidate is likely to reach the 30 percent vote threshold need to avoid a runoff. The seat opened when Rep. Walter Jones died earlier this year. Greg Giroux and Andrew Ballard have more.

DHS Opens Terrorism Prevention Office: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said a new office at the department supports the prevention of all forms of terrorism, including both international and domestic, as well as preventing acts of targeted violence such as racially motivated violence. The office expands the aperture of terrorism prevention to include targeted violence, the department said. Read more from Nick Lichtenberg.

Trump’s Housing Agency Cracks Down on Zero Down Payment Home Loans: The Trump administration is cracking down on national affordable housing programs because of concern over growing risk to the government’s almost $1.3 trillion portfolio of federally insured mortgages. The effort targets providers of money for borrowers who can’t afford the 3.5 percent down payment typically required on Federal Housing Administration loans. Such help—from government agencies and families—enables 4 in 10 FHA loans. Borrowers in government down-payment assistance programs become delinquent at about twice the rate of those who put up their own money. Read more from Prashant Gopal.

Health Apps May Be Sharing Data With Facebook, Google: Google, Facebook and other third-parties obtained user data from popular health apps meant to aid users with depression and smoking, according to a new study. Researchers for the Journal of the American Medical Association looked into privacy policies of 36 top depression and smoking cessation apps to see how the user’s data was shared with third parties. The authors detected data transmitted to a third party other than the patient or doctor in 33 apps (92 percent), and 29 apps (81 percent) sent advertising and marketing analytics just to Google and Facebook. Read more from Ayanna Alexander.

To contact the reporter on this story: 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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