What to Know in Washington: Trump Set for Impeachment Fight

President Donald Trump’s advisers are pushing him to defy congressional investigations in hopes of luring Democrats into escalating a fight that they say will turn voters against the party in the 2020 elections.

The advisers are counting on news coverage of the battle with Congress — including Democrats’ raising the possibility of impeachment — distracting attention from candidates vying to replace Trump, and portraying the president as a victim of partisan gamesmanship.

Democrats are playing into their script. The House Judiciary Committee today is set to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for missing a subpoena deadline to turn over an unredacted version of Mueller’s report. Trump advisers also see an upside from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) warning yesterday that the administration’s defiance of subpoenas could lead to impeachment proceedings.

“It won’t turn out well for them,” said Trump’s campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “The fact that Democrats want to continue the witch hunt shows that they have no interest in legislating and only care about politics.”

But the effort to turn Trump’s potential liabilities into a 2020 election advantage also carries risks. The president’s refusal to turn over documents could lead voters to conclude he has something to hide and focus attention on the Mueller investigation, which painted an unflattering picture of Trump even if it didn’t result in a criminal indictment. That could turn off moderate and independent voters in key swing states like Pennsylvania.

Expect to hear more from Trump on the issue. He’s in Panama City, Fla. tonight for another “Make America Great Again” rally. Read more from Shannon Pettypiece.

Executive Privilege: Barr threatened to ask Trump to invoke executive privilege to head off demands by the House Judiciary Committee for the full, unredacted Mueller report. Barr last night raised the stakes in his clash with Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “In the face of the committee’s contempt vote, the attorney general will be compelled to request that the president invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Nadler. Read more from Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis.

Photographer: Lauren Justice/Bloomberg
Trump speaks during a rally in Green Bay, Wis., on April 27.

Movers and Shakeups

Export-Import Bank Set for Comeback: Senators will vote on confirming several of Trump’s picks for the Export-Import Bank after advancing the nominations of Kimberly A. Reed for president, and former Rep. Spencer Bachus III and Judith DelZoppo Pryor to be members of the board of directors. If they are confirmed in final votes scheduled today, the bank would have the three-member quorum it needs to approve deals worth more than $10 million.

The Ex-Im Bank says it has almost $40 billion in pending transactions awaiting consideration by the board that would support an estimated 230,000 jobs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said moving the nominations forward will be a boon for the U.S. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

HR Office Pick Faces Senate Questions: The woman nominated to lead the federal government’s chief HR office told a Senate committee yesterday that employee morale during her time leading the Federal Labor Relations Authority dipped because she tried to make the agency more efficient.

The FLRA was inefficient, with “siloed” components that didn’t communicate well with each other when she became the agency’s chair, Dale Cabaniss told Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) during a hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I made changes necessary to make the agency function as one,” she said. The changes “weren’t necessarily popular” with agency employees, she said. Read more from Louis C. LaBrecque.

Senate Slow to Act on Environment Picks: The House is making headway on spending bills for the EPA and the departments of Energy and the Interior, with appropriators setting broad budget numbers for several funding bills slated for committee approval today. Not so in the Senate, where the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing Energy Department funding and water development, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), is awaiting the green light on how to proceed. Read more from Dean Scott.

Rokita Tapped for Amtrak Board: Trump will nominate former Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) to the board of Amtrak, the White House said in a statement. Rokita ran for a Senate seat in 2018 in Indiana, but lost in the Republican primary to now-Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Greg Sullivan reports.

Kelly on Trumps: Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said members of Trump’s family serving on the White House staff needed to be “dealt with” as he sought to implement a more orderly process in the West Wing. “They were an influence that has to be dealt with,” Kelly said yesterday during an interview on Bloomberg Television when asked whether it was complicated to have the president’s family working at the White House. Read more from Justin Sink.

Happening on the Hill

GOP, Trump Talk Immigration: Senate Republicans praised an immigration proposal spearheaded by White House adviser Jared Kushner after a meeting with Trump and staff at the White House yesterday. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) said although they didn’t see bill text, the outline was similar to a bill the duo re-introduced last month that aims to increase high-skilled immigration while curbing refugee and family-based migration.

Perdue said the bill also included border security measures, but that many details still needed to be worked out. He said he expected the White House to continue to meet with Republican Senators on the plan and then Democrats. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said the bill didn’t include provisions to offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers. About a dozen GOP senators and another dozen White House staff were to attend the meeting, according to a White House spokesman, Michaela Ross reports.

Drilling Won’t Stop, Bernhardt Says: Interior Secretary David Bernarhdt told Congress he believes climate change is happening and that human activity is a cause, but said he won’t stop fossil fuel development on lands he oversees. Bernhardt, the Trump administration’s second interior secretary, told a House Appropriations subcommittee that he “recognizes that the climate is changing” and that “I recognize that man is a contributing factor.”

But the onus is on Congress, not the White House, to address climate change, Bernhardt said at a hearing yesterday, his first testimony to Congress since he was confirmed to his current role earlier this year. In keeping with this stance, Bernhardt declined a request from Subcommittee Chairwoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), to halt all oil and gas development in response to climate change. Read more from David Schultz.

  • Also from Bernhardt’s testimony, he said he was “confident” an ongoing federal probe will exonerate him of ethical misconduct claims. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Menendez Calls for Post-Mueller Russia Sanctions: Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is calling for Congress to revisit his Russia sanctions bill in the wake of the findings of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “bully,” Menendez said on the Senate floor, and his legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), will counteract Putin’s attempts to intimidate the U.S. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

Lawmakers Seek Biofuel Waiver Halt: Thirty-five lawmakers are urging the EPA to stop exempting refineries from federal biofuel mandates, calling the practice “a betrayal of our rural communities” that threatens the agricultural sector in the U.S. The letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler from a bipartisan group of mostly Midwestern lawmakers comes as the agency nears decisions on 40 refinery applications for exemptions from 2018 biofuel blending mandates. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

What Else to Know

Iran Sets Nuclear Deadline: Iran set a 60-day deadline for its nuclear deal counterparts to abide by their commitments on oil and banking, saying it will stop observing restrictions on uranium enrichment if they don’t. The move threatens the landmark 2015 accord meant to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and will further ratchet up tensions with Trump’s administration, which walked away from the agreement a year ago. The U.S. has since imposed sanctions that squeezed Iran’s economy, triggered a currency collapse and ushered in shortages of consumer goods. Read more from Ladane Nasseri, Arsalan Shahla and Golnar Motevalli.

Trade Lobby Blitz: Automakers, retailers and oil drillers are among the hundreds of companies that rebelled against Trump’s tariffs and threats to walk away from long-standing trade agreements, but they’re rallying behind his latest pact with Canada and Mexico that faces steep hurdles in Congress. The companies have joined with major business groups in multiple coalitions mounting an all-out campaign in an attempt to salvage the deal. They’re spending millions in a lobbying blitz both inside Washington and in congressional districts, sometimes using former Democratic lawmakers to press for ratification. Read more from Mark Niquette.

U.S.-China Trade Talks: China will seal a trade deal with “rationally crazy” Trump as early as Friday, or soon after, because both sides want a resolution to their dispute, according to Li Daokui, a former adviser to China’s central bank. “President Trump appears to be crazy but I call him rationally crazy — he wants to squeeze a better deal for the U.S.,” Li told Bloomberg Television in an interview in Beijing today. “The two sides, President Trump and China, at the end of the day are rational.” Read more.

Trump Can Force Asylum Applicants to Wait: The Trump administration persuaded a federal appeals court to let border officials continue to force Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications for entry to the U.S. are pending. While yesterday’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is temporary, a three-judge panel said the Department of Homeland Security will probably prevail in defending the policy that was announced in December and later challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra.

Biden in Nevada Rips Trump on Immigration: Joe Biden promised to end the deportation of veterans who aren’t U.S. citizens if he’s elected president, making one of his first forays into immigration policy since launching his campaign last month. “Anybody who’s fought for the United States of America should not be in a position to be deported,” Biden said in response to a shouted question from a Marine Corps veteran at a campaign rally just outside Las Vegas yesterday.
The event, at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades in Henderson, was Biden’s sole public appearance during his inaugural trip to Nevada as a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination. He’s campaigning with a frontrunner’s comfort — and caution — as he’s traveled to early caucus and primary states, checking off boxes on issues important to local voters, meeting with party and union leaders and appearing before important donors. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Dairy Group Jabs at Plant-Based Spreads: The U.S. butter industry has a beef: competitors labeling their plant-based spreads “butter.” Because of “declining margarine and spread sales, companies are seeking to capitalize on butter’s resurgent popularity” by misusing the term, said Tom Balmer, executive director at the American Butter Institute. He called on the Food and Drug Administration to enforce “standards of identity,” the definitions the government sets to inform consumers of the origin of what they consume. Read more from Teaganne Finn.

Korea Food Aid: South Korea said Trump supports the donation of food to North Korea through a U.N. agency, as the top U.S. envoy noted the regime’s growing impatience with sputtering nuclear talks. Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in — who has tried to serve as a bridge between the U.S. president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — spoke yesterday about North Korea’s weekend weapons test and reviving nuclear talks that broke down when Trump abruptly ended a summit with Kim in Hanoi in February. Since then, North Korea has raised tensions with threats and military provocations. Read more from Jihye Lee.

Trump Had Losses of $1.17 Billion in a Decade: Trump, who won the presidency in part on his image as a successful business mogul, lost $1.17 billion over 10 years on failed business deals, according to tax records obtained by The New York Times. The losses, in the 1980s and 1990s, were more than those reported by nearly any other American taxpayer during that period, according to Internal Revenue Service data the Times said it had reviewed. Read more from Shannon Pettypiece.

  • Trump Used Same Tax Breaks as Amazon: Trump complains that large corporations, such as Amazon, are shirking their tax responsibilities. Yet for at least a decade, Trump paid none or very little in federal income taxes by exploiting some of the same generous tax breaks that the online retail giant and others have used to reduce IRS bills. Read more from Laura Davison.

Panels in Talks With Trumps About Banks: Two House committees said they are in “good-faith negotiations” to allow Trump to see copies of the subpoenas directing Deutsche Bank and Capital One to turn over his bank records, as well as those of his three oldest children and some Trump businesses. Read more from Bob Van Voris.
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

Coming up at BGOV


Big MAC Analysis 2019
May 9, 2019
Register Now