What to Know in Washington: Trump Faces Re-Election Threats

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Despite a barrage of polls that show him losing to Democratic rivals, Donald Trump’s re-election hopes are far from doomed. But he’s vulnerable on the two most important predictors: presidential approval ratings and the state of the economy.

Trump’s approval rating is 43% in two new surveys by NBC/Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Despite low unemployment and record stock market highs, his approval has averaged in the low 40s steadily through his presidency.

Set against recent history, that’s a dangerous place to be. On the eve of their successful re-elections, Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all had approval ratings in positive territory, according to Gallup tracking polls. Worse yet, Trump’s inflammatory and divisive style of politics has cemented a high negative rating and left him little room to grow.

Despite all that, Trump could very well win in November 2020. He’s raising more money than any Democrat and has the backing of a Republican Party apparatus that is working to define his foes as radical and out of touch. His geographic advantage is so strong he could lose the popular vote by 5 million and still win, according to one analysis.

The most important uncertainty for Trump is the economy. Since World War II, presidents have won a second term unless they oversaw a recession on the road to Election Day — George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1980 were felled by a downturn.

The U.S. economy has sputtered in recent days, with some warning signs that could presage a recession, although economists surveyed by Bloomberg News say there’s only a 35% chance of it hitting within the next year. This month, confidence dipped among independents and Republicans, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index, which showed the second-lowest overall level since before 2016 election. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Photographer: Elizabeth Frantz/Bloomberg
Trump at a rally in New Hampshire last week.

More Elections & Politics

Some Voters Wary of Canceling Student Debt: Even in New Hampshire, where the nation’s highest percentage of young people graduate from college owing money, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) might have a hard time persuading voters of their plan to cancel all such debts and make public university free. To Sanders and Warren, New Hampshire is a must-win. But the student-debt issue is a microcosm of the challenge both candidates face selling their progressive vision in places where more moderate views prevail. A recent YouGov/CBS poll showed that 61% of Democratic voters in New Hampshire want tuition lowered through added government subsidies, but not free. Only 32% of New Hampshire voters favored tuition-free colleges, while 7% said higher education should cost students whatever the market allows. Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Harris Reopens Medicare-for-All Debate: Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-Calif.) response to a health-insurance question at fundraiser in the Hamptons has reopened one of the major fault lines in the Democratic presidential primary: “Medicare for All.” Harris once co-sponsored Sanders’s legislation in the Senate that would collapse all insurance into one government plan, has at times tripped up when asked to defend that position and has repeatedly expressed discomfort with the idea of ending private insurance.

“As you may have noticed, over the course of the many months, I have not been comfortable with Bernie’s plan, the Medicare for All plan. And I’ll tell you why,” she told supporters at a fundraiser Sunday. “It comes back to listening.” Harris said union members who negotiated health care as part of long-term contracts convinced her to allow private insurance. “So there will be a public plan option and a private plan option,” she said. Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

On Lawmakers’ Radar

Democrats Press Administration on State Department Funding: The top Democrats on the House and Senate Budget committees sent a letter to the Trump administration yesterday expressing concerns over reports of a plan to cancel certain foreign aid payments authorized by Congress. A senior administration official confirmed to Bloomberg News that a rescissions package would be announced early this week. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Senate Budget Committee ranking member Bernie Sanders warned the attempt to circumvent Congress with the rescission plan would violate the separation of powers and run afoul of a legal opinion issued last year by the Government Accountability Office.

“We strongly urge the Administration to refrain from sending a rescission message to the Congress; however, in the event the Administration submits such a message, it must take measures to ensure that the affected funds will be prudently obligated in the event the Congress does not approve the rescission, as required by law,” the lawmakers wrote to Acting White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

White House Dismisses Payroll Tax Cuts: The White House dismissed the idea that the administration is looking to cut payroll taxes as a way to bolster consumer spending, as economic indicators increasingly point to a potential downturn. More tax cuts for individuals are being discussed, but payroll taxes aren’t under consideration at present, a White House official said yesterday.

The Washington Post reported that administration officials were in the early stages of talks about whether a payroll tax cut could be a useful tool to help avert a potential economic slowdown. The administration is still debating whether to push Congress to approve the tax cut, according to that report. Read more from Laura Davison.

Energy Efficiency Measures Build Momentum: Efforts to make federal buildings more energy efficient are starting to attract more support in Washington after years of coming up short. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in recent years weren’t able to get an energy efficiency package to the finish line. Portman now says the ground has shifted. “We think we can now get this through both houses,” he said. Read more from Dean Scott.

Foreign Affairs

France and Germany Prepare for Trump’s Arrival: After months of increasingly acrimonious sniping, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel set aside some of their differences last month, pushing through a deal on the next head of the European Commission. The rapprochement arrived just in time, with Trump coming to Europe this week for the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France. The U.S. president has a knack for finding the pressure points in the Franco-German relationship and has been looking to drive a wedge between the two leaders as he turns his focus toward the U.S.’s terms of trade with Europe. Gregory Viscusi previews the trip.

Trump Speaks With Leaders of India, Pakistan: Trump spoke separately yesterday with the leaders of India and Pakistan in a bid to calm tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors over a territorial dispute. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept Kashmir under lockdown for more than two weeks after scrapping the region’s autonomy, a move condemned by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Both nations claim the area, which has triggered two of the three wars they fought since the British left the subcontinent in 1947. Trump said on Twitter that he spoke to his “good friends” Modi and Khan about getting the two countries “to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir. A tough situation, but good conversations!” Read more from Archana Chaudhary and Iain Marlow.

Russia to Stick to Missile Moratorium: Russia said it will continue to observe its moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles after the U.S. tested a cruise missile following a pullout from a Cold War-era treaty that barred testing and developing the weapons. Russia saw the U.S. move coming and it won’t let itself be dragged into a costly arms race, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to RIA Novosti news service. Russia will stick with its unilateral moratorium on deploying missiles that would have been banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty until the U.S. fields them first. Read more from Alexei Anishchuk.

What Else to Know Today.

Wall Street Poised For Changes to Volcker Limits: Wall Street regulators are set to roll out a Volcker Rule overhaul that’s meant to respond to banker complaints about the trading ban’s complexity and compliance demands. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are poised to approve the rewrite of the post-crisis measure today, with three other agencies set to follow. The revamp, known as Volcker 2.0, is an attempt to simplify the “proprietary trading” ban that forbids banks from making short-term invest ments with their own capital. It also aims to clarify some limits on banks’ investing in private equity and hedge funds. Read more from Jesse Hamilton.

Civil Rights Rift at Agencies: A rift between the Justice Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over discrimination cases — a rare occurrence, now increasingly common in the Trump era — is forcing companies to reckon with the ideological divide to comply with federal civil rights laws. The EEOC’s position on workplace bias issues has clashed with the Trump administration’s pro-management stance in litigation, including over LGBT protections, disability discrimination, and criminal background hiring guidance. As the agencies diverge, employers should follow the agency with the most restrictive stance to remain in compliance, attorneys and academics say. The political tension could prove largely symbolic, but it also spotlights the agencies’ priorities. Read more from Erin Mulvaney and Paige Smith.

Pipeline Protests Can Mean Jail Time: After protesters disrupted construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota by chaining themselves to construction equipment and pitching tents along the route, oil and chemical companies found a way to keep it from happening again. They made it a crime.

The companies, including Koch Industries, Marathon Petroleum and Energy Transfer Partners — whose Dakota Access project in North Dakota was targeted three years ago — lobbied state legislatures to effectively outlaw demonstrations near pipelines, chemical plants and other infrastructure. Nine states have gone along so far, in some cases classifying the activities as felonies. More are considering measures. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Facebook-Instagram Draws Calls for New Scrutiny: Antitrust officials are right to look back at Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram to determine whether the deal harmed competition, Colorado’s attorney general said, adding to calls for renewed scrutiny of the takeover of the photo-sharing site. Phil Weiser said in an interview yesterday that large internet platforms like Facebook have been able to buy emerging rivals without sufficient antitrust review of the effects on competition. Read more from David McLaughlin and Vicky Graham.

Meanwhile, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons told the Financial Times in an interview that all options are on the table as the FTC investigates Facebook for potential antitrust violations, but forcing the social media company to divest its businesses would be hard.

Groups Allege Poor Care in ICE Detention: A class-action lawsuit alleges U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement failed to ensure migrants detained in its custody received adequate medical and mental health care, according to a complaint filed Monday by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other immigration advocacy groups. One plaintiff, a U.S. Marine Corps Iraq veteran, is being held in solitary confinement in a Adelanto, Calif. detention center and has not received sufficient care for a heart condition, among other health issues, the suitalleged. Fifteen individuals currently detained at eight facilities in six states and two nonprofit organizations were among the plaintiffs. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Asylum Seekers Look to Bar New Constraints: Lawyers representing migrants asked a federal judge in California to reinstate a nationwide order that blocked the Trump administration from preventing some Central Americans from applying for asylum in the U.S. The administration last month imposed new restrictions on the asylum seekers, barring them from requesting protection if they traveled through another country on their way to the U.S. unless they already tried and failed to receive asylum there. The judge then issued the order blocking the new rules across the country. Read more from Patricia Hurtado.

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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