What to Know in Washington: Trump in No Rush for Legislative Win

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President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda remains more aspirational than strategic despite a spate of meetings last week with congressional leaders on infrastructure, prescription drug prices and trade.

More than four months into the 116th Congress, Trump still talks about legislation in broad terms but has shown little urgency in working with a divided Congress to get bills passed.

Democrats have no incentive to work with the president and give him a legislative victory he can champion ahead of the 2020 election, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t announced any legislative agenda this year, said Kyle Kondik, communications director at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“I don’t think he necessarily needs legislative accomplishments,” Kondik said of the president. “Part of how people are going to decide on his reelection is what the state of the economy is and whether they feel satisfied with the state of the country.”

Trump’s legislative priorities for this Congress fall into four categories: trade, especially the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement; infrastructure; immigration, including visas and border security; and health care, including insurance and drug pricing, a senior White House official told Bloomberg Government. Whether Trump and Democrats can make progress on those issues remains to be seen. Read more from Cheryl Bolen.


Photographer: Doug Mills/Pool via Bloomberg
Trump shakes hands with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Barr Contempt Fight Enters New Phase

The House Judiciary panel’s vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt sets off a potentially long and uncertain process for Democrats trying to obtain more information on Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — who warned yesterday that “we are now in a constitutional crisis” — emphatically cast the decision to hold the attorney general in contempt as a battle between democracy and tyranny as Democrats face up to Trump’s decision to ignore their subpoenas. Yet Democrats haven’t yet settled on a timetable for a contempt vote in the full House or even a specific plan for going to court to enforce the subpoena. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

  • Amid the standoff, the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Justice Department agreed to end litigation arising from the contempt citation against Barr’s Obama-era predecessor, Eric Holder. Filed with a federal appeals court in Washington, the pact between the DOJ and the committee cordons off trial court rulings in the earlier dispute that each side could have wielded against the other as Barr’s fight with the lawmakers intensifies. Read more from Andrew Harris.
  • Also yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for the counterintelligence items in Mueller’s report and any underlying evidence. “Today, we have no choice but to issue a subpoena to compel their compliance. If the department continues to ignore or rejects our requests, we will enforce our request in Congress and, if necessary, the courts,” Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to answer additional questions about his earlier testimony for the panel’s bipartisan Russia probe, a person familiar with the matter said. The panel wants his response to testimony by his father’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, on the Moscow project, the person said. It’s the first known instance of a Republican-led committee compelling testimony from one of Trump’s children, potentially setting up a battle between a fiercely protective father and his overseers in Congress. Shannon Pettypiece and Shahien Nasiripour have more.

Politics & Policy

Medicare for All’s Price Tag: Medicare for All’s estimated thirty trillion dollar price tag puts Democratic contenders for president in 2020 in a tough spot. To pay for those programs, the candidates have focused on taxing the rich. But many of the plans they’ve put on the table would require across-the-board tax increases that would hit middle-earners as well as the wealthy, public policy analysts say. None more than Medicare For All.

Raising the more than $30 trillion needed to fund the health plan over a decade would require doubling all personal and corporate income taxes or tripling payroll taxes, which are split between employees and employers, said Marc Goldwein, a senior vice president at the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “There is a lot of money out there, but there isn’t $30 trillion sitting around from high earners,” he said. “It just doesn’t exist.” Read more from Laura Davison.

McConnell Mulls Making Senate Democrats Vote Again on Climate: McConnell is readying a vote to force senators to indicate whether they back keeping the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement. McConnell’s strategy is similar to the one he used in March to force Senate Democrats, including those hoping to win the White House in 2020, to say whether they back the ambitious climate change and green jobs platform known as the Green New Deal. That March 26 floor showdown over a resolution backing the Green New Deal ended with the Senate voting it down 0-57, and 43 Democrats voting “present” in protest.

This time the Republican leader wants a vote on the Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9), which the Democratic-controlled House passed May 2 largely along party lines. The bill—which McConnell has already warned won’t get support of the majority Republicans—would direct the Trump administration to draw up plans for meeting the U.S. pledge to the Paris climate accord and bar President Trump from using funds to withdraw from the deal, a move the president announced in 2017. Read more from Dean Scott.

Klobuchar Wouldn’t Kill Trump Tax Law: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said yesterday she doesn’t want to fully repeal Trump’s tax revamp, breaking with rival and fellow Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) who said it should be eliminated entirely. “I would’ve brought that corporate tax rate down some, but not to where they brought it,” she said at a Fox News town hall in Wisconsin. “There are parts of that bill that I would keep in place.” Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Kelly Predicts Trump Victory: Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the right Democratic candidate could give Trump a “run for his money” in 2020 but predicted his former boss would win re-election. “You never know,” Kelly said Wednesday at SkyBridge Capital’s SALT Conference in Las Vegas. “There’s multiple people running on the Democratic side. I think if they pick the right person I think they can give the president a run for his money. But I think he will win a second term.” Read more from Justin Sink.

Isakson Called VA, FDA, FBI on Behalf of MiMedx: Biotech firm MiMedx of Marietta, Ga., had a problem with one of its biggest customers, the Department of Veterans Affairs. For help, it turned to a friendly senator in Washington, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). After the VA said it would no longer purchase medical tissue sold by MiMedx, Isakson made at least three phone calls to the agency on behalf of his friend and the company’s CEO, Parker H. Petit, according to two officials who spoke with the senator. Over a five-year period, according to federal records, internal MiMedx documents and people familiar with the matter, Isakson personally reached out at least eight times to federal agencies on behalf of the company — to the VA, the Food an d Drug Administration and the FBI. The extent of those efforts, supplemented by his staff, hasn’t been reported previously.

Though the federal agencies provided MiMedx with relief in some cases, there’s no evidence that any policy change was influenced by the senator. Still, Isakson’s extensive outreach on behalf of a biotech CEO surprises ethics watchdogs, because the line between looking out for a constituent and attempting to obtain favorable treatment for a friendly political donor can be blurry. Read more from Anders Melin.

Christie Says He’d Take One Job Under Trump: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he’s repeatedly rejected job offers from Trump but that there’s one position he wouldn’t name that he’d accept. “He knows what I’d say yes to and he knows what I’ve said no to,” Christie said yesterday at an appearance at SkyBridge Capital’s SALT Conference in Las Vegas.

Christie said he’s told Trump twice each that he wasn’t interested in leading the Homeland Security or the Labor departments, and he also turned down White House chief of staff. He sidestepped a question about whether he was holding out for attorney general, sitting on the stage next to a man who held that post, Jeff Sessions. Read more from Justin Sink.

Fiscal 2020 Spending Bills Move

Congressional Geek Squad May Return: Stung by criticism of their oversight of the high-tech industry and concerned about mounting cyber-attacks against their own offices, lawmakers are taking steps to bring back their in-house geek squad. The House Appropriations Committee today is to vote on draft fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch spending legislation that would provide $6 million to the OTA. It would be the office’s first funding in almost a quarter of a century.

Democrats’ effort to strengthen lawmakers’ in-house expertise is gaining the support of some Republicans, including conservatives who want Congress to be able to adequately oversee technological developments on everything from artificial Intelligence to autonomous vehicles. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Trump Conscience Protection Rule Targeted: House Democrats advanced a spending bill that would block the Trump administration’s recent rule allowing health-care providers to deny service based on religious beliefs, in a move that may sap any bipartisan backing for the measure. The House Appropriations Committee advanced the $189.9 billion fiscal 2020 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill by a party-line 30-23 vote yesterday. Democrats, by the same margin, voted to adopt an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that would block the implementation of the rule — which Democrats have said would particularly put LGBT people at risk if health-care providers use their religion to justify discrimination.

“This really is a poison pill rider,” said Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking member on the Labor-HHS Subcommittee. He added, “The Labor-HHS bill will never become law if this language is inserted into it.” Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

What Else to Know Today

Surprise Billing: Trump will deliver remarks on “ending surprise medical billing” at 11:45 a.m. today, the White House said in its daily guidance.

Divisive Court Issues Delayed: In January the Supreme Court appeared poised to act on Trump’s bid to end deportation protection for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants. Then the case disappeared. Though scheduled to discuss the appeal at their Jan. 18 private conference, the justices haven’t taken any public action since.

The case has become one of the many mysteries in a Supreme Court term that so far is defined less by the issues the justices have decided than by those they’ve deferred. The court has also put off taking action in cases involving abortion, same-sex wedding cakes and transgender bathroom access. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Trump Says China Broke Deal: Trump declared that China’s leaders “broke the deal” he was negotiating with them on trade, ratcheting up his rhetoric ahead of fresh talks already clouded by imminent tariff increases and Beijing’s threats of retaliation. At a campaign rally last night in Panama City Beach, Fla., the president noted that top Chinese trade negotiator Liu He was traveling to Washington for further talks. “Good man,” Trump said, “but they broke the deal,” leading him to order higher tariffs.

China disputed Trump’s characterization that the country reneged. “There have been various commitments made for us,” Commerce Ministry Spokesman Gao Feng said at his regular press conference in Beijing Thursday. “China is credible and honors its word and that has never changed.” Read more.

As the president prepares for high-stakes negotiations with China over the next few days, much of the challenge has to do with how the president balances the two Chucks in his life. On one presidential shoulder sits Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is a vocal critic of Trump’s tariffs and the economic damage suffered by American farmers and businesses. On the other sits Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the longtime China hawk, who as Senate minority leader has been a persistent reminder of the political risks Trump faces as he pursues both a deal with Beijing and his re-election. Read more from Shawn Donnan.

USMCA Support: A nonprofit group supporting Trump plans to organize a tour of key electoral battleground states to try to build public support for the president’s re-write of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The tour will begin in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 20 with an event featuring Vice President Mike Pence, said Brian Walsh, president of America First Policies, a nonprofit linked to a super-PAC that backs Trump. Such nonprofits aren’t required to disclose their donors and are sometimes described as “dark-money” groups. The group is planning stops in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin — all states that Trump’s campaign believes it must retain in 2020 for the president to be re-elected. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Trump Seeks Blocking Nationwide Injunctions: Pence said the Trump administration will ask the Supreme Court to prevent lower courts from imposing nationwide injunctions against the president’s policies. Pence complained yesterday in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society that federal district courts have imposed more nationwide injunctions against Trump than the first 40 presidents combined. Read more from Margaret Talev and Greg Stohr.

Iran Threat Plays Into Trump’s Hands: Trump has long wanted the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to fall apart. He got one step closer to that on Wednesday, when Iran warned European nations it’s ready to quit the accord in 60 days if it doesn’t start seeing greater economic benefits from the agreement. American officials didn’t gloat over Iran’s announcement, but the move appeared to play into their hands. Officials in the U.K. and Germany, two partners in the nuclear deal, were immediately pressed on whether they would side with Washington or Tehran if the Iranian threat to stop observing limits on uranium enrichment is carried out. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Glen Carey.

Trump Losing the Fight to Ban Huawei: Trump’s worldwide campaign to blackball Huawei is looking like a failure. Attempts to persuade other governments to exclude Huawei equipment from the next generation of super-fast mobile networks have hit a wall — even among close allies. So far, only a handful of countries, including Australia and Japan, have joined the U.S.’s call to boycott the Chinese company. Not a single European nation has done so, not even the U.K., triggering a scolding from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Lond on yesterday. Read more from Todd Shields and Bill Allison.

North Korea Weapons Test: North Korea fired at least one unidentified projectile today, South Korea said, an act of defiance that marks the country’s second test launch of weapons in less than a week. North Korea launched the weapon from the country’s northwest Sino-ri missile base at around 4:30 p.m., South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The projectile flew 260 miles across the Korean Peninsula, local broadcaster KBS TV said, a distance that would be consistent with a short-range missile. Read more from Youkyung Lee.

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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