What to Know in Washington: Trump to Ohio as GM Plant Closes

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President Donald Trump today will visit a thriving military factory in politically vital Ohio, a symbol of his success at enlarging the U.S. defense budget, as he seeks to turn attention away from his inability to bring back jobs to a failing car plant elsewhere in the state.

The two factories — in Lordstown and Lima — offer a contrasting picture of American manufacturing and Trump’s policies.

General Motors seeks to close its Lordstown plant, citing slow sales of the car that’s built there. The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, which is owned by the government and operated by a unit of General Dynamics, builds Abrams tanks and Stryker combat vehicles, and is set to grow from 400 employees before Trump’s presidency to 1,000 in years ahead.

“The tank plant’s doing well, so he’s going there despite cutting defense spending elsewhere to pay for his national emergency,” said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, referring to Trump’s plan to pay for a wall along the southern U.S. border by reallocating some military funding. “But on the other hand, Lordstown symbolizes nothing but a broken campaign promise,” Duffy added. “He was going to keep this plant open, he was going to create more jobs there.”

Trump can’t take Ohio for granted in his bid for re-election next year. His fortunes may ride on manufacturing jobs, the effect of his trade war with China and the overall state of the economy. Some polling indicates his approval in Ohio has slipped, and Democrats are circling the state, hoping to move it back into their column.

In a series of tweets starting Saturday, Trump attacked both GM and the UAW over the closing of the Chevrolet Cruze factory in Lordstown.

The Ohio Democratic Party will emphasize Trump’s decision to raise money an hour’s drive from Lordstown without visiting the GM workers. The campaign and the Republican Party expect to raise $3 million in Canton, according to a Republican National Committee official. Ticket prices start at $2,800, with a dinner ticket price of $50,000 per individual or $70,000 per couple. Read more on the trip from Margaret Talev.

Photographer: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
GM Lordstown workers rally outside the plant on March 6.

GM and UAW: Meanwhile, Trump’s Twitter barrage is unlikely to re-open the idled plant. But his intervention in the matter will intensify what are already shaping up to be hard-fought negotiations between GM and the United Auto Workers union. GM and the UAW have each pushed back on Trump’s tweets, but the two have otherwise been very much at odds entering bargaining over a new four-year labor contract.

“Trump’s tweets definitely amped it up,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of researcher LMC Automotive. “It adds layers of pressure on GM.”

GM and the UAW’s negotiations will decide the fate of the Lordstown factory and three other U.S. plants that are ceasing production and lacking any future product. The union is under pressure from its members to bargain hard for the plants to be saved. But GM management is unlikely to buckle easily, since the four endangered facilities aren’t the only ones the company hasn’t been fully utilizing. Read more from David Welch.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Plans: The race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination may be about to get a front-runner. Former Vice President Joe Biden has told some supporters that he’s making plans to jump into the race, joining a diverse field of candidates vying to challenge Trump, a person familiar with the conversations said.

Biden has led in early polls of primary voters, and could capture significant support from major Democratic donors, many of whom have held off from backing other candidates while awaiting his decision. An announcement of his plans is expected in the coming weeks, according to the person. Read more from Margaret Talev and Jennifer Epstein.

Social Media Scrutiny: Facebook has touted its new plan to integrate the company’s messaging products and use encryption as a privacy enhancement. Insiders also say it could help stave off any effort by Washington to break up the company. Tech giants are hunkering down in the face of a mounting bipartisan backlash after outrage over the failure of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to swiftly remove video of the New Zealand massacre.

Trump slammed Facebook, Google and Twitter yesterday for siding with Democrats, while the House’s top antitrust lawmaker called for an investigation of Facebook. The onslaught is set to intensify as the 2020 presidential campaign gets under way, even as the candidates are spending big money on the tech platforms to spread their messages. Attacking the companies serves both sides: Conservatives can be seen as fighting liberals in Silicon Valley, while progressives can attack corporate power. Read more from David McLaughlin and Ben Brody.

Trump Probes

Nadler Asks for Executive Privilege Plans: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is seeking to confirm whether Trump will assert executive privilege to keep confidential possible discussions the president may have had with former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker regarding probes by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York.

“If the president contacted Mr. Whitaker in an attempt to interfere in an ongoing investigation or limit his own legal exposure, then executive privilege may not apply here at all,” Nadler said in a letter yesterday to Steven Engel, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. During a March 13 meeting with House lawmakers, Nadler said that Whitaker declined to respond to certain questions on the basis that the president could invoke executive privilege over the matters in the future. Read more from Caitlin Webber.

Oversight Document Requests: House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a Washington Post op-ed yesterday that the White House is “engaged in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction” over document requests. Cummings said his panel has sent 12 letters to the White House and in response, the White House has refused to hand over any documents, nor produce any witnesses for interviews. “The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress,” he said.

Cohen Scrutiny Routed in Foreign Ties: Well before Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign-finance violations, Mueller was building a different sort of case against him — pursuing evidence he’d acted as an unregistered foreign agent. Prosecutors haven’t brought such charges against Cohen. But documents made public yesterday show that the early stages of Mueller’s probe of Trump’s longtime fixer were driven by concerns about his possible foreign ties, including suspicious payments from a company tied to a Russian oligarch.

Those insights emerge in hundreds of pages of partially blacked-out affidavits that were filed to justify searches of Cohen’s email accounts and phones by federal authorities in New York. But the filings also make reference to searches done earlier at Mueller’s request, before his office handed over some or all of the matter to law enforcement in Manhattan. Read more from Erik Larson and Shahien Nasiripour.

What Else to Know Today

Education Executive Order: The White House tomorrow is scheduled to sign an executive order touching on several issues in higher education, including free speech on college campuses, according to several advocacy groups with knowledge of the event. Trump announced the executive order during an address to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference this month. The measure is expected to address issues connected with higher education, including data on colleges. The White House this week released a list of proposalsfor a forthcoming update to the higher education law, which lawmakers are in the process of working on.

Trump Taps FAA Chief: Trump named former airline executive Stephen Dickson to run the Federal Aviation Administration as the agency faces scrutiny for its role in approving the Boeing 737 Max for service before two fatal crashes of the jetliner. The FAA administrator job has been vacant since Michael Huerta, who had been appointed by President Barack Obama, stepped down in early 2018 at the end of his five-year term.

Dickson, who was senior vice president-flight operations for Delta, needs Senate confirmation before taking over the agency that oversees the aircraft industry and operates the world’s largest air-traffic system. Trump was said to have earlier considered his personal pilot, John Dunkin, for the post. Read more from Todd Shields.

Meanwhile, federal authorities began a criminal probe of the certification process for Boeing’s 737 Max jets, after the first of two catastrophic crashes since October. There’s little precedent for plane makers like Boeing facing U.S. criminal charges over deadly crashes, though there may be risks of prosecution if the company lied to regulators about the safety of its plane. Read more from Bob Van Voris, Margaret Cronin Fisk and Tom Schoenberg.

Departing Gottlieb Aims to Keep Heat on E-Cigarettes: With weeks to go in his tenure atop the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb squared off with two companies at the center of his efforts to halt a surge in teen vaping. Gottlieb, who plans to leave his post April 5, said at an event in Washington yesterday that he had a contentious meeting last week with executives from Marlboro maker Altria and Juul.

Late last year, Altria took a $12.8 billion stake in Juul, maker of a popular vaping device, at the same time that the companies had promised to increase efforts to keep kids from getting hooked on e-cigarettes. Miffed by the transaction, Gottlieb had summoned the companies to Washington to provide answers.

“The e-cigarette industry has been overly dismissive” of the risk that kids could become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarette use, Gottlieb said at the Brookings Institution yesterday. “We’re capturing an exploding epidemic right now.” Read more from Anna Edney.

Nuclear Plant Aid: The Trump administration will finalize $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to Southern Co. and its partners who are building a troubled nuclear reactor project in Georgia — the last of its kind under construction in the U.S. — according to two people familiar with the matter. The guarantees, expected to be announced Friday when Energy Secretary Rick Perry visits Plant Vogtle alongside Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Southern CEO Tom Fanning, represents a critical lifeline for the project, which is more than five years behind schedule and has doubled in cost to $28 billion. Read more from Ari Natter.

Brazil Trade Deal: Brazil has agreed to open a wheat import quota of 750,000 metric tons a year free of duty, a move U.S. Wheat Associates says could benefit American farmers. The new quota was announced after a meeting in Washington between Trump and Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro yesterday. “This agreement opens an annual opportunity for U.S. wheat farmers to compete on a level playing field,” the U.S. Wheat Associates said in a joint statement with the National Association of Wheat Growers. Read more from Isis Almeida and Mike Dorning.

Steelmakers Defeat Tariff Relief Requests: Four of the largest U.S. steel producers have made a majority of the objections to companies’ requests for relief from Trump’s steel tariffs, sinking many importers’ hopes of escaping the duties. Nucor, U.S. Steel, AK Steel and TimkenSteel accounted for about 10,191 objections out of 19,213 that were submitted to the Commerce Department, according to a Bloomberg Law data analysis. And the objections appear to be working. Read more from Rossella Brevetti.

Cuomo Presses for Rail Tunnel: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unleashed rage on Trump for delaying the Hudson River rail tunnel project, slamming the “useless wall” he wants on the border and questioning his business acumen.

The criticism came in a letter to Trump four days after DOT effectively disqualified the $13 billion project from federal funding. The tunnel, between New York and New Jersey, would provide a link to Manhattan for northeastern U.S. passenger trains. It must be completed before the century-old existing tunnel, damaged by floodwater, is taken out of service for years of repairs. Trump, a New York City native and heir to a real-estate fortune, has insisted that New York and New Jersey pay a larger share of the construction costs. Read more from Elise Young and Henry Goldman.

1MDB Corruption Scandal: The central figure in a multinational financial scandal that ensnared Goldman Sachs is fighting his indictments with both lawyers and spin doctors, recently bringing on two firms to help manage the press scrutiny surrounding the case. A federal grand jury in Brooklyn, N.Y. has indicted Low Taek Jho, known as Jho Low, on charges including money laundering, the embezzlement of billions from the Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB, and paying bribes to foreign officials.

New filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that Low’s attorneys in recent weeks hired two public relations companies to help with the case: New York-based Reevemark LLC and Washington-based Levick Strategic Communications. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

Military Trans Ban: The U.S. government is “incorrect” in claiming that there are no further impediments to Trump’s promised ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, a federal judge said. The administration said on March 8 that it would issue a memorandum implementing the ban next month, citing the government’s U.S. Supreme Court victory that lifted two nationwide injunctions against the policy. A third injunction that wasn’t part of that case was subsequently lifted on March 7. A fourth injunction, however, hasn’t budged. Read more from Erik Larson.

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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