What to Know in Washington: Texas Shooting Follows Hearing Delay

A shooting Saturday in Texas left seven people dead and more than a dozen others wounded, adding urgency to the debate over gun safety a day after Democrats postponed a meeting to consider legislation related to gun control measures.

The shooting came four weeks after 22 people were killed in the Texas city of El Paso, and less than a month after nine were killed by a shooter in Dayton, Ohio. It also came a day after House Democrats postponed a planned markup of gun-control legislation.

The House Judiciary Committee canceled a Wednesday hearing in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian. Lawmakers don’t officially return to Washington until next Monday, but the panel was working to prepare the measures for consideration when Congress reconvenes.

An attacker in Saturday’s daylight, drive-by shooting fled police and hijacked a U.S. Postal Service truck, opening fire on people between the West Texas citie

of Midland and Odessa. He was shot dead by police and so far hasn’t been identified, but he is believed to be a white man in his 30s.

Lawmakers’ response to the Texas shooting fell along predictable lines, with Democrats calling for gun-control measures and Republicans pushing back.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who’s urging President Donald Trump to support the background check legislation that he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) crafted in 2013, said on ABC this weekend that he’d “spoken with the president repeatedly and recently.” While Trump was “interested in doing something meaningful” to expand background checks on gun sales or other measures, he hasn’t endorsed a specific bill and “I can’t guarantee an outcome,” Toomey said. “I’m not sure where this all ends.”

Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty Images
A chalk message at a memorial for victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in West Texas.

Homeland Chief Says Shootings Are Security Risk: Mass shootings in the U.S. “absolutely are a homeland security threat” that are getting increasing attention within the federal government, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said. McAleenan spoke on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, a day after the Texas shooting. “They absolutely are a homeland security threat,” McAleenan said of mass shooters. “In our counterterrorism strategy and approach, domestic terrorism has taken a front line focus for us.”

Since April, he said, the agency has set up a new office to target violence and terrorism prevention, with an explicit focus and balance on domestic terrorism — including racially motivated violent extremism. Read more from Hailey Waller.

Prior to the shooting, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) announced his panel would hold a public roundtable briefing in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to discuss homeland security issues related to acts of domestic terrorism.

Expedited Executions Pushes as Shooting Response: The Justice Department has drafted legislation to expedite the death penalty for those convicted of mass murder and the provision will be included in a larger White House package designed to address recent incidents of gun violence, a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday. Pence has been directly involved in conversations with Attorney General William Barr about the death penalty initiative, Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, told reporters traveling with Pence betwe en Poland and Ireland yesterday.

Trump has said the White House would seek to work with Congress on new gun laws, including efforts to strengthen the death penalty and so-called “red flag” legislation that would allow courts to order the preemptive removal of firearms from individuals believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Read more from Justin Sink and Tyler Pager.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden rejected the idea of speeding up executions for mass slayings. Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) rolled her eyes at the idea when asked at an event in Hampton Falls, N.H. “I don’t support the death penalty,” she said during a gaggle with reporters.

Biden, the leading Democratic candidate to contest Trump’s re-election, said that he didn’t believe the death penalty proposal advocated by Pence would have stopped mass shooters like the one responsible for the El Paso attack. Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Tyler Pager.

Elections & Politics

Democratic Race Is About to Get Serious: The unofficial end of summer kicks off a more intense phase of a Democratic presidential race that has been led by Biden, with progressives Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a battle for second as the rest of the sprawling field struggles to break through.

“There’s a real sense that time is running out after Labor Day,” said Alex Conant, a public relations consultant who was a top aide on the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Voters become more engaged. Before Labor Day most voters are content to watch the show. After Labor Day they start picking a team.” He added, “Especially if you’re a second- or third-tier candidate who’s been waiting to make a move, the time is now.”

Democrats have essentially culled the field to a four-person race with a few wild cards showing signs of life and others hanging by a thread. Party members are eager to nominate a candidate they believe can beat Trump, keeping Biden atop polls even amid concerns about his age and propensity for gaffes. Sanders and Warren are behind, splitting Democrats hungry for swift and far-reaching progressive change, while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has settled into a distant fourth place. Read more from Sahil Kapur and Jennifer Epstein.

Why Kamala Harris Hasn’t Caught Fire: Harris entered the race with impressive credentials — a popular black woman with an inspiring story who hailed from a large Democratic state and drew accolades for her fiery questioning of Trump’s nominees. Yet despite a shot of adrenaline after confronting Biden in the first debate, she has failed to catch fire with Democratic voters who are torn between a nostalgic fondness for Biden and a revolutionary desire for Sanders or Warren.

Harris’s attempt to replicate her feat in the second debate backfired among Democrats who say she went too negative on Biden. She also suffers from a perception that she lacks a deep ideological well to guide her policy ideas, in contrast to her three main rivals who are better-defined. And her past as a prosecutor has earned her supporters and detractors. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Ohio to Host October Debate: Ohio will host the top Democratic contenders for president at a debate on Oct. 15, the state’s Democratic Party said Saturday. The exact location and the television network to carry the event haven’t been determined. If more than 10 candidates qualify, the event will be held on two nights, Oct. 15 and Oct. 16. Ohio has the best track record of predicting the presidential winner of any state since 1896, including voting for the victor in each election since 1964. Read more from Gregory Korte and Jennifer Epstein.

Sanders Teases Medical Debt Proposal: Sanders is proposing to cancel an estimated $81 billion in past-due medical debt owed by Americans as he vies for the nomination using a platform focused on health care. The plan is still being formulated and details — including how it would be financed — weren’t addressed in an emailed release from the Sanders campaign on Saturday. The full proposal will be announced within a month. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Warren Says Wealth Tax Plan Isn’t a Cranky Idea: Warren says she’s for a wealth tax — but not because she’s cranky. At an event in Hampton Falls, N.H., Warren gave her standard stump speech to a crowd of 800 people who stuck around despite heavy rain for her trademark selfie line. “I’m not proposing a wealth tax because I’m cranky. No. I’m not,” Warren said. “Some of these guys say ‘I worked hard, I had a great idea…So this is mine.’ And the answer is yeah you did, good for you. You did have a good idea, no one’s angry about that. But here’ s the deal: you built a great fortune here in America, I guarantee you built it at least in part using workers all of us helped pay to educate.” Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Foreign Affairs

Iceland PM to Meet With Pence: Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir will meet with Vice President Pence when he visits the north Atlantic island this week. The meeting will take place tomorrow, and follows an earlier report that Jakobsdottir would be unable to greet Pence due to a scheduling hurdle.

Meanwhile, Pence yesterday said the American people “stand with Ukraine” but that European nations should do more to help the former Soviet republic. The U.S. has “carried the load” on Ukraine and “we’ve been proud to do that,” Pence told reporters in Warsaw. “But we believe it’s time for our European partners to step forward.” The U.S. still has “great concerns” about corruption in Ukraine, he said. Washington has been one of Kiev’s staunchest allies following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and amid the Kremlin-backed conflict that erupted later that year. Read more from Justin Sink.

Pence also said Poland should do more to shore up the independence of its judiciary, which would help attract foreign direct investment. “We talked about the importance of judicial independence and the rule of law,” Pence said yesterday after meeting Polish President Andrzej Duda. “We believe it’s in the interest of the Polish people” to undertake more actions to bolster the independence of courts and the U.S. is grateful to Duda’s “commitment to expanding the rule of law.” Justin Sink has more.

China, U.S. Struggle to Set Trade Meeting: Chinese and U.S. officials are struggling to agree on the schedule for a planned meeting this month to continue trade talks after Washington rejected Beijing’s request to delay tariffs that took effect over the weekend, according to people familiar with the discussions. Despite efforts by Trump to soothe financial markets and portray the talks as making progress, the world’s two biggest economic powers have yet to agree on basic terms of re-engagement, with mistrust on both sides. The date for a visit of Chinese officials to the U.S. capital hasn’t been set, though that’s not necessarily a sign it still won’t happen, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. U.S. equity futures fell on the news, touching their lows for the day. Read more from Jenny Leonard, Jeffrey Black, Shawn Donnan and Saleha Mohsin.

U.S. Says It’s at ‘Threshold’ of Taliban Deal: The U.S. said it’s at the “threshold” of a deal with the Taliban after the latest round of talks ended, even amid reports that the group attacked another Afghan city on Sunday. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said he’ll be traveling to Kabul for consultations after discussions with the Taliban concluded in Qatar. The withdrawal of American and NATO forces was the most contentious point in the negotiations in the ninth round of talks. Read more from Shoko Oda and Eltaf Najafizada.

Iran Pushes to Find Fix for Nuclear Staredown: Iran is ramping up negotiations as signs gather that it’s closer to ending a showdown with Europe over the wobbling 2015 nuclear deal and easing a security crisis in the Persian Gulf. Iran’s top envoy Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks in Moscow with counterpart Sergei Lavrov as the threat of another erosion of Iran’s compliance with the accord looms. His deputy Abbas Araghchi went to Paris with a team of economists and central bank officials to discuss a French proposal to help restore Iran’s oil exports, the backbone of its economy. Read more from Abbas Al Lawati and Arsalan Shahla.

What Else to Know

East Coast Braces for Dorian Chaos: The U.S. East Coast from Florida to the Carolinas was bracing for devastating winds and a life-threatening storm surge from Hurricane Dorian as the Category 3 storm wreaks havoc on the Bahamas. Dorian sat just north of Grand Bahama, about 100 miles east of Florida’s West Palm Beach, the National Hurricane Center said in a 3 a.m. advisory. While its winds continue to weaken as it widens out, the storm has inflicted huge damage, killing five on one island, according to Prime Minister Hubert Minnis , who called the destruction a “historic tragedy.”

Even if the U.S. mainland dodges a head-on blow as the hurricane follows a track up the east coast over the next few days, that would still bring it “dangerously close” to Florida through tomorrow, according to the NHC. It’s threatening to inundate coastal communities with rain and rising sea levels. In Georgia and the Carolinas, coastline residents are being told to evacuate. Read more from Brian K. Sullivan and Matthew Bristow.

Trump Calls for 2.6% Pay Increase for Federal Workers: Federal workers will receive a 2.6% pay increase in January if Congress goes along with the plan laid out Friday by Trump. In an “alternative pay plan” sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Pence in his capacity as president of the Senate, Trump said current U.S. economic conditions made it necessary to block a much larger pay increase that would have gone into effect under the law governing federal pay. However, the president defied expectations by calling for the 2.6% pay increase rather than seeking the pay freeze he called for in his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal. Read more from Louis C. LaBrecque.

Drug Pricing Bills in Congress: Multiple committees in the House and Senate have weighed in on the drug pricing debate as lawmakers consider ways to tackle the issue this fall. In the House, the bills have gone through the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Judiciary committees. In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Finance; and Judiciary committees have acted.

Bloomberg Government’s Danielle Parnass tracks and compares recent bills that have advanced in Congress, including those related to generic drugs, patents, Medicare rebates, and price reporting. Read the analysis here.

FTC Takes Tougher Data Security Stance After LabMD Fight: The Federal Trade Commission is issuing specific data security requirements to companies as part of agency settlements, policing businesses more aggressively than before, attorneys and former staff said. Proposed settlements reached this year with LightYear Dealer Technologies LLC, ClixSense.com, Unixiz Inc, and D-Link Systems Inc. show what the FTC is expecting in terms of corporate data security and responsibility, data security and privacy attorneys and former staff said. Mandates in related consent orders, such as directing senior officers to provide annual compliance certifications to the FTC, go father than previous requirements and will likely reappear in future orders in settlements with other companies, they said. Read more from Sara Merken.

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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