What to Know in Washington: Trump Sets Tone for a Bruising 2020

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Democrats are getting an early preview of what a bare-knuckle brawl a general-election matchup between President Donald Trump and one of the top three Democratic primary contenders would be.

He’ll paint Joe Biden as “sleepy” and senile. He’ll bash Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as “crazy,” underscoring his proposal to eliminate private health insurance. And he’ll mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas” for her past claims to Native American ancestry.

New evidence came yesterday, when Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale posted a video calling into question the former vice president’s mental acuity. It spliced clips of Democratic rivals doing the same, alongside footage of Biden’s verbal faux pas and TV reporters discussing concerns within the party about the front-runner’s ability to handle a long and tough election.

The early hints at Trump’s playbook point to the likely ugliness of the 2020 general election, which both parties are hyping as the most important in generations. Trump’s tactics reveal a president who’s unlikely to allow his own age, verbal blunders and checkered past to stop him from leveling attacks on his would-be rival for those same attributes. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Trump to Visit Border Wall: Trump continues his trip to California for fundraisers today, with a planned stop at the Otay Mesa border wall at 5:35 p.m. Washington time, according to White House daily guidance. Trump will deliver remarks at 11:50 a.m. at a fundraising breakfast in Los Angeles, then travel to San Diego for a roundtable with supporters at 3:10 p.m., Chelsea Mes reports.


Photographer: George Etheredge/Bloomberg
Trump at a rally in New Mexico on Monday.

Happening on the Hill

Arbitration Bill Gets Veto Threat: The White House has threatened a veto of a measure that would restrict mandatory arbitration, ahead of the House taking up the legislation this week. “By limiting contractual options, this bill would hurt businesses and the very consumers and employees it seeks to protect,” the White House’s budget office said in a statement. If the measure passes Congress in its current form and is presented to Trump for his signature, his advisers would recommend a veto, the statement said.

Treasury Nominees Advances: The Senate yesterday voted to advance the nominations of two top Treasury Department political appointees, clearing the path for a floor vote. The Senate voted 54-40 to limit debate and advance to a vote on the confirmation of Brent McIntosh to be undersecretary for international affairs, the lead representative for the department in trade and international tax deals. He is currently the department’s general counsel. The vote to invoke cloture was 55-37 for Brian Callanan, Treasury’s current deputy general counsel. He would replace McIntosh as general counsel if confirmed. Read more from Colin Wilhelm.

Boeing’s CEO Asked to Testify on 737: The chairman of the House committee overseeing aviation yesterday invited Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and the company’s chief engineer of commercial aircraft to testify before a hearing in Washington. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be holding the hearing on Oct. 30 on the 737 Max, the company’s best-selling model that’s been grounded worldwide since March 13 following its second fatal crash. The hearing is one day after the one-year anniversary of the first 737 Max crash, off the coast of Indonesia. Read more from Alan Levin.

DOJ’s Auto Probe Described as Intimidation: The Justice Department’s antitrust probe of four carmakers appears to be an effort by the Trump White House to pressure companies into backing a federal plan to relax automobile emissions and efficiency regulations, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate’s antitrust panel, said yesterday. Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen are under scrutiny over a July agreement they struck to voluntarily meet compromise emissions standards offered by California state regulators. Read more from Ryan Beene.

Senators Blast U.S. Antitrust Chiefs: Senators slammed U.S. antitrust chiefs for doing too little too late to rein in giant technology companies and for running overlapping investigations that could hobble enforcement. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons and Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, who both have a mandate to enforce antitrust laws, admitted yesterday at a Senate oversight hearing that the process by which the agencies split up investigations had sometimes broken down, resulting in potentially overlapping probes. Read more from David McLaughlin and Ben Brody.

Rape Kit Program Renewal Hits Snag: A partisan battle over a domestic violence measure is threatening the renewal of a program to help identify rapists through DNA testing, which expires at the end of this month. The House could vote on a Senate-passed bill to reauthorize the rape kit program before the deadline. But House Democrats want the Senate to consider their update to the Violence Against Women Act, which includes reauthorization of the rape kit program. “The first priority is putting pressure on VAWA,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the House domestic violence bill, said last week. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Halting Trump’s Endangered Species Rollback: A pair of Democrats unveiled legislation yesterday to block the Trump administration’s proposed rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act. The Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Protection Act Act would repeal the White House’s three separate rulemakings. Together, those proposed rules represent arguably the most sweeping changes to the nation’s bedrock animal preservation law in its 46-year history. Stephen Lee has more.

Elections, Politics & Probes

Warren Narrows Gap With Biden in Poll: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is gaining ground on former Vice President Joe Biden and is also pulling ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with the help of a groundswell of enthusiasm among liberal Democrats, a poll released yesterday shows. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of national Democratic primary voters is the first major survey since last week’s debate in Houston, which featured a smaller field of 10 candidates. Biden leads with 31%, with Warren at 25% and Sanders, who was in third place at 14%. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Fossil-Fuel Investment Could Trip Up Steyer: Billionaire Tom Steyer’s small investment in a Colorado-based oil company could create big headaches for him. In his Federal Election Commission financial disclosure available yesterday, the presidential candidate listed a stake worth between $1,000 and $15,000 in Direct Petroleum Exploration, a company involved in oil production.

That’s not even a rounding error for Steyer whose net worth Bloomberg estimates at $3.1 billion, but it could prove troublesome because the former hedge fund manager has put climate change at the center of his campaign and is among the 18 candidates who have sworn off contributions from fossil-fuel executives. Read more from Bill Allison.

Foreign Affairs

Iran Says It’s Not Looking for War: President Hassan Rouhani said Iran is not looking for a war in the Gulf following Saturday’s strikes on Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil installation, as the Islamic Republic sent a cable to Washington, formally denying any role in the attack. Iran sent the note to the U.S. via the Swiss embassy in Tehran, warning that it would respond “swiftly” to any action against it. The Swiss mission has represented U.S. interests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Iranian comments come hours before Saudi Arabia is due to unveil what it says is evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attack, and with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo due to hold talks in the kingdom today. Read more from Arsalan Shahla.

Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command has sent forensic specialists to assist Saudi Arabia with its assessment of the strike, according to a Defense Department statement citing Joint Chiefs Chairman Joe Dunford. “In the region, wherever it originated from, the most likely threat is either Iran or Iranian-backed proxies,” Dunford told reporters. “Without getting out in front of the Saudi investigation, I think that is a reasonable conclusion.” Dunford said the military is planning options for Trump and other leaders, but stressed that military action is only one possible response, Chelsea Mes reports.

Israeli Election Puts Trump at Risk of Losing Ally: The tight Israeli election — and the weeks of debate it may fuel over the formation of a ruling coalition — has put Trump on the brink of losing one of his closest foreign allies. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the type of political gifts most leaders could only dream of, from his decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal to his order to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But now it’s not clear if Netanyahu will be around much longer to return those favors.

Israel’s election rerun produced a dramatic deadlock, thrusting a key Mideast ally into further political turmoil just as Trump gears up to release his peace proposal and prepares for a re-election fight in which he is certain to boast about his pro-Israel credentials. Read more from David Wainer and Justin Sink.

Strengthened CFIUS Security Reviews: The Trump administration proposed new regulations to toughen national-security reviews of foreign investments in U.S. companies involved in technology and infrastructure. Yesterday’s proposed regulations seek to implement a 2018 law that gave an interagency review panel called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. with greater authority to examine foreign transactions. The new rules expand the timeline and scope of covered transactions, including certain real estate deals involving foreign persons. Read more from Justin Sink.

U.S.-Japan Deal May Be Unveiled at UN: The administration is optimistic over the prospects for a trade deal with Japan, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said yesterday. “There just might be an announcement at the United Nations,” Kudlow told the U.S.-Japan Business Conference in Washington. “You can never tell, but I’m an optimist.” Trump on Monday said his administration had struck a partial trade deal with Japan on tariff barriers and digital trade, and the sides are expected to enter into the agreement in the “coming week s.” Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Around the Administration

White House Fires DHS General Counsel, NYT Reports: The White House last night fired Department of Homeland Security General Counsel John Mitnick, the New York Times reports. The move, which is the latest of a series of shakeups at the department, was confirmed by a department spokesman, according to the report.

Trump Blames Democrats for Homelessness: Trump yesterday said he wants to curb homelessness in Los Angeles and other large U.S. cities, blaming the problem squarely on Democrats as he campaigns for re-election. Options the administration is examining include relocating the homeless from the streets of Los Angeles and elsewhere into vacant federal property, two officials said. The White House released a report on homelessness Monday that described the issue largely as a result of over-regulation of the housing market, exacerbated by lax policing and an abundance of homeless shelters in Democratic-led cities. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Christopher Palmeri.

SCOTUS Asked to Curb CFPB Independence: The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to give the president more control over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency that regulates mortgages and credit cards. Asking the court to take up a pending appeal, administration lawyers said the Constitution requires that the president be allowed to fire the agency’s head for any reason. The 2010 law that set up the CFPB says the director can only be removed for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” The Trump administration’s position increases the chances the court will take up the issue in the nine-month term that starts in October. A ruling would come by June, only months before the 2020 presidential election. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Trump Fans Can’t Sue San Jose: Trump fans who accuse police of not protecting them at a 2016 presidential campaign rally that turned violent failed to convince a judge that they should be able to sue on behalf of thousands who attended the event. The 20 rally-goers brought civil rights claims against San Jose, Calif., and a handful of police officers saying that everyone at the event was put in danger and should be part of the lawsuit. On Tuesday, a federal judge rejected the request. Read more from Peter Blumberg and Robert Burnson.

Last Survivor of Kennedy-Nixon Duel Dies: Sander Vanocur, the NBC journalist who helped bring politics into the television age during the 1960s with his interviews of leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., has died. He was 91. He died Monday night in Santa Barbara, California, according to the Associated Press, citing his son Chris Vanocur.

During his 14 years at NBC News, Vanocur became a familiar face to American viewers while covering election cycles as White House correspondent and national political reporter. The last surviving participant in the U.S.’s first presidential debate — between Kennedy and Richard Nixon on Sept. 26, 1960 — Vanocur was part of the technology-driven transition from World War II presidents to a generation of leaders increasingly defined by the new medium of television. Read more from David Henry.

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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