What to Know in Washington: Summit Ends as U.S. Demands Rejected

President Donald Trump flew halfway around the world for his hastily arranged second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, betting that his personal diplomacy could overcome sticking points both sides have known about for years.

Now he’s coming home empty-handed.

The collapse of talks in Hanoi exposed just how far apart the adversaries are, even after two face-to-face meetings. Kim refused to walk away from his nuclear program — something the regime has resisted for decades. Instead, he offered up one aging nuclear facility but refused to give up his arsenal and other infrastructure — while asking the U.S. to drop all of its sanctions.

Even Trump, who’s been eager for a deal, knew he couldn’t go that far.

“It was about the sanctions — basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that,” Trump told reporters at a news conference today in Hanoi after talks were abruptly cut short. “There is a gap. We have to have sanctions and he wants to denuke, but he wants to do areas that are less important than we want.”

The president’s move will be a relief to arms control experts worried that Trump was willing to take a bad deal over no agreement. He arrived in Vietnam under pressure to come away with more than the largely symbolic handshakes and vaguely worded joint statement of his first summit in Singapore eight months ago.

But the path forward now is murky. While Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to continue negotiations, it’s unclear how North Korea will react to the president walking away from the bargaining table. And it casts fresh doubt on his strategy of relying on top-down talks with the North Korean leader to extract concessions. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Margaret Talev.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
Trump speaks at a news conference following the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit on Thursday.

Trump Says Cohen ‘Lied a Lot’

Trump said his former fixer Michael Cohen “lied a lot” in his depiction of the president as a racist and con artist during dramatic testimony before a House committee.

Trump also assailed House Democrats for holding yesterday’s hearing as he was in Hanoi for his summit with Kim. “Having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of a very important summit like this is sort of incredible,” Trump told reporters at his news conference in Hanoi today.

Yet Trump’s disparagement of his former lawyer, who had spent much of the day laying out a litany of damning allegations against him, was somewhat subdued, and he even offered faint praise of Cohen at one point.

Trump said that Cohen lied through most of his testimony but that he told the truth when he said he saw no collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign. “He lied a lot but he didn’t lie about one thing,” the president said. “I was actually impressed” that Cohen said there was no collusion.

The nationally televised hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee was the most dramatic public inquiry into Trump’s personal and business affairs since Democrats won control of the House in the November election.

Cohen touched on numerous instances that could raise legal risks for the president, including hush money paid to a porn star before the 2016 election and allegations that Trump overstated his net worth for loans, insurance and tax purposes. Cohen also said that he is in actively cooperating with U.S. prosecutors for the Southern District of New York about other cases involving Trump. Read the latest from Margaret Talev, Justin Sink and Jennifer Epstein.

Cohen Opens Trump to Potential Legal Risks: Cohen offered potentially damaging specifics on at least three possible misdeeds, starting with his assertion that Trump inflated the Trump Organization’s finances when seeking loans and insurance discounts and deflated them for tax purposes.

Cohen also told lawmakers that he witnessed a conversation during the 2016 campaign between Trump and his friend Roger Stone, who disclosed in advance that WikiLeaks would soon release stolen emails damaging to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and that as president Trump personally repaid Cohen for payments that he’d directed Cohen to pay a porn star as hush money. Read more from Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Andrew Harris on Trump’s legal risks.

Business Aides at Risk, Too: Trump probably isn’t the only one sweating over the testimony. Three top executives of the Trump Organization were implicated by Cohen yesterday, suggesting they may face scrutiny by federal prosecutors.

The chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, was involved with Cohen in paying hush money to an adult film actress in the days before the election — with Trump’s blessing, Cohen said. Weisselberg and two other executives, Matthew Calamari and Ron Lieberman, knew that Trump inflated the value of his assets to an unidentified insurance company, he added.

Cohen also took aim at a fellow personal lawyer for Trump. He said the attorney, Jay Sekulow, previewed Cohen’s testimony before his appearance on the Hill in 2017 regarding plans to build a Trump building in Moscow. Cohen later pleaded guilty to lying to Congress during that testimony. Read more on the risks in Trump’s orbit from David Voreacos, Greg Farrell, Shahien Nasiripour and Andrew Martin.

Happening on the Hill

Gun Background Check Bill Passed: House Democrats passed a bill requiring background checks on all gun purchases — including at gun shows and online — but the first expansion of firearms-control laws in decades is destined to hit a roadblock with the GOP-led Senate and Trump. The measure, which the House passed 240 to 190 yesterday, would require a licensed dealer to perform a background check for all firearm transfers between two people who are unrelated.

The House today plans to vote on another bill that would prevent gun sales from automatically going forward if a background check isn’t finalized within three days. This would close the “Charleston loophole” — a reference to the 2015 shooter in a Charleston church who bought a gun in spite of a drug felony conviction because of a records delay.

Both pieces of legislation are unlikely to advance in the Senate, where Republican leaders have in the past rejected similar bills that seek to close a gap in existing laws that allow gun purchases in private sales, such as at gun shows, to take place without background checks. The White House threatened a veto, saying the measures include “burdensome requirements” and is “incompatible” with the Second Amendment’s “guarantee of an individual right to keep arms.” Read more from Anna Edgerton.

Speed Bumps in Senate’s Plan to Speed Nominations: Senate Republicans have a chance to get some Democrats to vote on permanently limiting nomination debate time, but only if they start showing respect to the minority party, said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“I imagine a scenario where we have a Democratic president and it’ll take even longer than it’s currently taking to confirm nominees,” Schatz said on the Senate floor yesterday. “So I think there are a number of us on both sides of the aisle that are open to modifying the way we operate.”

Senate Republicans are proposing to reduce to two hours from 30 the maximum debate time after a cloture vote has shown that lower-court and most agency-level nominees have enough support for confirmation. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Tax Law Fixes: Tax executives have their eyes on the 2017 tax overhaul’s instability as House Democrats are set to begin a thorough review of the law and consider which parts of it they would change. Lobbyists and stakeholders have said the new House majority members will almost certainly have the 21 percent corporate rate in their crosshairs. There is speculation that the new 20 percent deduction for pass-through businesses is likely to be put on the chopping block as well. Read more from Lydia O’Neal.

USDA Food Assistance Fight: Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee will try to fight the Agriculture Department’s plan to toughen work requirements for recipients of government food assistance. “For the next two years, they can forget it,” Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters yesterday, following a committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “It’s not going anywhere,” Peterson said.

A package of committee rules for the new 116th Congress instructs the Office of General Counsel of the House to “immediately explore all possible legal options” for responding to new rule making out of the USDA. Peterson said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) is “already in the process of hiring lawyers.” Read more from Teaganne Finn.

DeVos Joining Push for Tax Credit in School Choice Measure: A new school choice bill supported by the Education Department would create a federal tax credit for those who donate to state organizations providing private school scholarships, a sponsor of the legislation said. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) said on Capitol Hill that he and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) would be joining Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today to promote the forthcoming bill. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

GOP v. ‘Green New Deal’: One conservative House Republican is knocking his own party’s moderates over their support for certain efforts to combat climate change. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, has long denied that human activity significantly influences climate.

At an event yesterday, he denounced the Green New Deal, a resolution to phase out fossil fuels from first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that has become to Republicans a symbol of government overreach. He also alluded to efforts backed by Republicans, like a carbon fee and dividend bill introduced in January, as detrimental to the economy. Read more from Tiffany Stecker.

Politics & Elections

O’Rourke Nears 2020 Decision: Beto O’Rourke has made up his mind about a 2020 presidential run and said yesterday that he will announce his intentions soon, the Associated Press reports. The former congressman said in a statement that he and his wife, Amy, “have made a decision about how we can best serve our country” and were “excited to share it with everyone soon.”

O’Rourke won’t run for Senate next year against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Dallas Morning News reports, citing unidentified people close to O’Rourke.

Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) will announce his run for the 2020 presidential election tomorrow in Seattle, local broadcaster KIRO 7’s reporter Essex J. Porter tweeted, citing multiple unidentified people familiar.

What Else to Know

U.S. China Trade: The Trump administration is signaling more caution about progress on a currency deal with China, as the two sides have been haggling over a way of enforcing the deal. “Is there an agreement?” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said yesterday in his testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has oversight on trade issues. “There’s no agreement on anything until there’s agreement on everything.”

Lighthizer’s tone marked a stark shift from the enthusiasm that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin showed in announcing on Friday that the U.S. and China had concluded “one of the strongest agreements ever on currency.” Mnuchin added at the time that work remained on “many issues” of the currency agreement, which would be part of a broader trade deal.

U.S. and Chinese negotiators were still at odds on Saturday over how to enforce China’s commitments on its currency, according to four people familiar with the matter. Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Andrew Mayeda.

Trump Agencies Bicker Over Ethanol Plan: Trump’s pledge to his rural agricultural base to allow year-round sales of higher blends of ethanol is spurring differing opinions between two key federal agencies. Secretary Perdue told lawmakers in a House hearing yesterday that a final rule to allow widespread sales of those higher blends “won’t happen” by the summer-driving season following delays from the 35-day partial government shutdown. That sparked a swift response from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is writing the regulation and insists the measure is on track.

“EPA is planning on releasing its RVP/RIN market reform proposal in March, and working expeditiously to propose and finalize the rule consistent with the president’s direction before the start of the summer driving season,” agency spokesman Michael Abboud said in a statement. Read more from Mario Parker and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Paid Family Leave Efforts: States that are cumulatively home to over 90 million Americans are considering adding some form of paid family and medical leave benefits for workers. Such “social insurance” bills have been introduced in at least 18 states so far this year. They vary somewhat but would generally provide leave benefits for new parents and for workers dealing with their own serious illness, or a family member’s. The programs typically grant workers 12 weeks of paid leave at a percentage of annual wages and are funded through a combination of employee and employer payroll deductions. The early legislative flourish this year continues an ongoing trend. Last year, 27 such proposals were introduced in statehouses around the U.S. Read more from Genevieve Douglas.

Texas Ordered to Halt Voter Purge: Texas must get the approval of a federal judge before removing anyone from official voter registration rolls in a purge that could disenfranchise thousands of naturalized citizens, he ruled. Calling letters demanding proof of citizenship sent to 98,000 registered Texas voters “ham-handed and threatening,” U.S. District Judge Fred Biery ordered the state not to send any more such communications while he weighs legal arguments.

In a short opinion stating that evidence shows there “is no widespread voter fraud” in Texas to fuel concerns of heavy voting by undocumented immigrants, Biery said the purge appears to be a “solution looking for a problem.” Read more from Laurel Brubaker Calkins.

Pakistan-India Tensions: Trump today credited the U.S. with helping to ease a rise in tensions between India and Pakistan. “We have, I think, reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India,” Trump said in his Hanoi at a press conference. “They’ve been going at it, and we’ve been involved in trying to have them stop.”

Tensions between India and Pakistan, both of which have nuclear arsenals and a long history of conflict, escalated this week in the most serious military confrontation between the two nations in decades. Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan on Tuesday for the first time since the 1971 war between the two countries.

“We’ve been in the middle trying to help them both out, see if we can get some organization and some peace, and I think, probably, that’s going to be happening,” Trump said. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

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; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com

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