What to Know in Washington: A Search for Infrastructure Funding

President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders enter infrastructure talks today already at odds over how to pay for the massive investments that American voters say their communities desperately need.

Before their first White House meeting since January’s government shutdown, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made it clear in a letter to Trump yesterday that they will push for a “substantial, new and real” source of revenue to pay for infrastructure projects.

Schumer, speaking later on the Senate floor, suggested clawing back part of the GOP’s “massive mammoth tax break to big corporations and the already wealthy” to pay for an infrastructure deal.

The White House has been hesitant to define the scope of investment needed and wary of specifying a funding source or how to deploy federal dollars. Since Trump took office, his aides have favored a mix of some federal spending and seed money to encourage larger investments of state, local and private capital. Congressional Republicans have slammed the suggestion that trimming tax cuts could pay for infrastructure.

“We’re going slowly on this,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters yesterday, adding that White House officials have an open mind and want to work with Democrats on “things that both sides can agree to.”

Infrastructure is the rare public policy issue that unites voters across the ideological spectrum, as well as rival groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO union federation. Yet there’s been no agreement on how to offset as much as $2 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated is needed to upgrade public works. Trump has long promised that the projects would renew communities and juice the economy. Laura Litvan and Mark Niquette preview what to watch for at today’s meeting.

Photographer: : Loren Elliott/Bloomberg
Trump at the International Union of Operating Engineers Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas earlier this month

Happening on the Hill

Democrats Plot Careful Medicare for All Path: Speaker Pelosi is guiding House Democrats along a narrow path as she seeks to convince party progressives that the idea of providing Medicare for everyone in the U.S. is being taken seriously, while assuring moderates that the House won’t move too far, too fast. The House today will gavel in the first-ever hearing on a sweeping Medicare for All proposal, an idea that’s energized the Democratic left, which is pushing to make it a central part of the 2020 campaigns for the White House and Congress.

If private health insurers are one day put out of business by a government-run single payer health system, they may look back at Tuesday as the beginning of the end. Yet the bill coming before the House Rules Committee won’t become law anytime soon and may never get a hearing in the committees that oversee Medicare. Erik Wasson and Alex Ruoff preview the hearing.

This Week’s Agenda Podcast: Trump would be barred from pulling the U.S. out of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement under a bill the House will consider this week. On this episode of Bloomberg Government’s “Suspending the Rules,” legislative analyst Adam M. Taylor and Bloomberg Environment reporter Tiffany Stecker break down the bill and Democrats’ climate agenda ahead of the 2020 elections. Listen here.

Gun Research Sees Boost in House Spending Bill: Gun violence research would restart at the Centers for Disease Control for the first time in more than two decades as part of House Democrats’ spending plan, although Republicans are unlikely to go along with it. The draft planunveiled yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee includes $25 million to fund firearm injury prevention research at the CDC. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) plans to reintroduce a bill that would increase the minimum age to purchase assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines from 18 to 21. “It’s common sense to prevent the sale of deadly assault weapons to individuals who aren’t even allowed to buy a beer,” Feinstein said in a statement following the Saturday shooting at a synagogue in Poway, Calif. Under U.S. law, a person must be at least 21 years old to legally buy a handgun but can be 18 to purchase an assault rifle, such as the one used in the Poway attack, the statement said, Ben Livesey reports.

Barr Must Answer to House Lawyers, Nadler Says: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said “there is no middle ground” in his panel’s demand that Attorney General William Barr on Thursday also sit for staff attorney questions over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. “We’ve been very clear. Barr has to come. He has to testify,” Nadler told reporters regarding Barr’s scheduled testimony before the House panel. “It’s none of the business of a witness to try to dictate to a congressional committee what our procedures for questioning him are,” Nadler said. Read more from Billy House and Ben Livesey.

Speeding Up Processing of Asylum Seekers: Legislative text for a bill that may speed up the processing of asylum seekers and quickly deport those without valid claims is complete and ready for Senate Homeland Security Committee members to review, Chairman Ron Johnson(R-Wis.) said in an interview. Johnson before recess laid out broad parameters of the proposal, which could increase the number of immigration judges and family detention facilities and allow children to be detained longer than 20 days so they can be held with their families while awaiting immigration court dates, among other provisions.

Johnson said he’d like to meet with Democrats to discuss the bill and look for compromises before the Memorial Day break. Johnson said he is working with Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the legislation. Graham said in a separate interview he was also looking for areas to make a deal with Democrats, Michaela Ross reports.

  • Fee for Asylum Seekers Under Trump Order: Meanwhile, a White House memo seeks a proposal of new rules within 90 days that would require undocumented migrants to pay a fee to apply for asylum within the U.S. as well as a fee for a work permit as they await immigration court proceedings. The memo also directs new rules so all asylum claims would be adjudicated by immigration courts within 180 days, significantly faster than the current average of two years. Michaela Ross has more.

Lawmakers Seek Solutions to Vet Suicides: A bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday pledged to take action to prevent veteran suicides hours after a fourth veteran this month took their own life on Department of Veterans Affairs property. The number of veteran suicides has remained unchanged at 20 per day for years, despite the VA naming it the department’s top clinical priority and Congress pouring billions of dollars into prevention efforts. Officials, veterans advocates and lawmakers have repeatedly said the issue is not something t he VA can solve on its own — 14 out of those 20 veterans per day are outside the VA’s system — and members are searching for new ways to reduce the rate of suicide.

But lawmakers, VA officials and policy experts at a hearing last night recognized that the issue is complicated. Megan Howard has more.

Elections and Politics

Biden Makes Pitch: Joe Biden is arming his presidential campaign with a populist message aimed squarely at voters who can help him defeat both Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In a speech yesterday at a union hall in Pittsburgh, the former vice president said he’s making his third run at the presidency to rebuild the American middle class, which he called “the backbone of this nation.” He called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, letting people buy into a public Medicare option for health insurance and repealing “Trump’s tax cut for the very wealthy and corporations.”

The address set the tone for his Tuesday trip to Iowa, where the Democratic presidential field will face its first test next February. The last time Biden competed in the state’s caucuses, in 2008, Iowa voters ended his presidential aspirations. This time, Biden is attempting to run between the progressive populism of Sanders, his chief competitor for the Democratic nomination, and Trump’s brand of nativist populism. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Cummings’ Voter Bias Inquiries: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s razor-thin win in an election in which he was both candidate and chief supervisor is Exhibit A in House Democrats’ efforts to create momentum for reviving federal oversight of some states’ voting procedures. “We have come to accept that a lot of votes will not be counted’’ so what “we want to do is shine a light on our voting system throughout the country and whether it reflects what Americans want,’’ said Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

Cummings’ committee is one of several in the House examining election procedures around the country to document patterns of discrimination. It has demanded information from Kemp and other Georgia officials as it seeks data about other alleged voter suppression efforts in Texas and Kansas. Read more on Cummings’ quest from James Rowley.

Meanwhile, Texas officials are required under the Constitution to comply with a request for voter-roll data from the Oversight Committee, which is investigating alleged voter suppression, Cummings wrote to the state’s attorney general. Texas’s response to a March letter from the panel was inadequate and it needs to comply by May 3, Cummings told Ken Paxton in the letter, which was also signed by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Vivek Shankar reports.

Kimberly Guilfoyle Joins Trump Re-Election Campaign: Trump’s re-election campaign has added five members to its team including Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., as a senior adviser. The campaign also named Hannah Castillo as director of coalitions, Marty Obst as senior strategist for vice presidential operations, Samantha Menh as director of vice presidential operations and Nathan Groth as in-house counsel, Ben Livesey reports.

Movers and Shakeups

Rosenstein Leaving After Turbulent Tenure: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to resign May 11, ending a controversial tenure in which he appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller and took actions that won him praise — and anger — from both the right and left. “The Department of Justice made rapid progress in achieving the administration’s law enforcement priorities,” Rosenstein said in his resignation letter. “We enforce the law without fear or favor because credible evidence is not partisan, and truth is not determined by o pinion polls.”

Rosenstein, a veteran federal prosecutor who served under presidents of both parties, appointed Mueller in May 2017 to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump or any of his associates conspired in the effort. He won praise from Democrats for defending Mueller and letting the special counsel carry out the investigation in the face of constant attacks by Trump and his conservative allies. Read more from Chris Strohm.

Two Republicans Express Misgivings on Moore: Two key Republican senators expressed misgivings yesterday about Stephen Moore’s candidacy for a position on the Federal Reserve Board amid growing criticism of past comments deriding women and Midwestern cities.
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) have withheld endorsements of Moore, a Heritage Foundation fellow and a former Trump campaign adviser. If nominated by Trump, Moore can lose no more than three Republican senators, assuming all of the chamber’s Democrats vote against him.

“I’m not enthused about what he has said in various articles,” Ernst, the Senate’s fourth-ranking Republican, told reporters. “I think it’s ridiculous.” Later Monday, Shelby said he thought the proposed nomination has “some problems” and is causing concern among Republican senators. Shelby said “it looks like drip by drip” on Moore’s prospects. Read more from Alyza Sebenius, Justin Sink, and Steven T. Dennis.

Trump Nominates Puerto Rico Board: Trump yesterday announced his intent to nominate the current seven members of the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board to fill out the remainder of their three-year terms, according to a White House statement. Puerto Rico politicians’ “mismanagement led to over a hundred billion dollars in debt and unfunded liabilities,” the White House said in the statement. The Financial Oversight and Management Board is providing “stability and oversight needed to address these chronic issues that will bring hope of a brighter future for Puerto Rico.”

Trump also nominated John Kramer to be CFO of the Transportation Department and Paul Shmotolokha to be the first vice president of the Export-Import Bank for the remainder of a four-year term expiring Jan. 20, 2021.

New Minority Staff Director at Transportation Panel: David Strickland, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will serve as minority staff director for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, according to a statement from ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). “David’s work on the critical issues the Committee faces from transportation to consumer protection to Internet privacy, made him the ideal candidate for this role and I am looking forward to working with him,” Cantwell said.

What Else to Know Today

Trump Sues to Stop Account Disclosure: Trump sued to block Deutsche Bank and Capital One from complying with congressional subpoenas targeting his bank records, escalating the president’s showdown with Democratic lawmakers investigating his finances. The German lender has already begun the process of giving documents related to loans made to Trump or some of his businesses to the New York state attorney general, who is conducting her own probe, said a person familiar with the matter. The bank hasn’t yet handed over any client-related records to the House committees and will wait for the outcome of the legal proceedings, said the person, asking not to be identified in disclosing internal information.

“The subpoenas were issued to harass President Donald J. Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the President and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in the introduction to the 13-page complaint filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court. Read more from Peter Blumberg, Robert Burnson and Steven Arons.

Tech Lobbying: Trump often hurls insults at internet companies Facebook, Google and Twitter, accusing them of bias against him and others with conservative views. While the platforms are some of the president’s favorite corporate targets, another group of tech companies is working the back channels in some of the White House’s most powerful offices — and often getting results.

Legacy tech companies IBM, Oracle and Microsoft are basking in the White House’s glow, enjoying broad access to the White House in 2018, according to lobbying disclosures that show communications with the Executive Office of the President, an umbrella White House entity that includes many of the president’s senior technology, national security and economic policy advisers. Read more from Ben Brody and Naomi Nix.

Trump’s Environment Team Embraces ‘Deep State’: The Trump administration hasn’t changed its environmental goals, but it has changed how it is going about achieving them, with more attention paid to crafting legally defensible policies and less time seeking out enemies in the so-called deep state. That is the conclusion of attorneys, lawmakers, and even executive branch staffers who spoke with Bloomberg Environment. They said that Andrew Wheeler and David Bernhardt, the nascent leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, respectively, are much more comfortable with the intricacies of crafting policy than their headline-grabbing predecessors were. Read more from David Schultz.

FAA Starts Bid to Restore Confidence: The FAA yesterday took a potentially important step toward rebuilding confidence not only in the Boeing 737 Max but also in the agency itself, convening a week-long summit of civil aviation regulators from Brussels to Beijing. Led by former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart, delegates from eight overseas nations and the European Union are meeting in Seattle to examine the FAA’s original certification of the Max as safe to fly, including the automated flight control system linked to two crashes since October that killed a combined 346 people. Read more from Ryan Beene.

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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