What to Know in Washington: Trump Visits Violence-Stricken Towns

Donald Trump will seek to console the grief-stricken residents of El Paso and Dayton today, a presidential duty he’s never quite mastered and one made harder by local reluctance for his visit.

The president and first lady Melania Trump will pay tribute to emergency responders in both cities after a pair of weekend shootings left at least 31 people dead and dozens injured. But the visits are complicated both by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric — blamed by Democrats for helping to incite the El Paso attack — and his resistance to gun-control measures demanded by local politicians in the aftermath of the shootings.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who is from El Paso, said Trump shouldn’t visit, and the city’s Republican mayor has acknowledged local opposition to the president. Dayton’s mayor, a Democrat, has criticized Trump’s reaction to the shootings, in which he blamed mental illness and video games and refused to endorse proposals such as expanded background checks for gun buyers.

“His comments weren’t very helpful to the issue around guns,” the mayor, Nan Whaley, said at a news conference yesterday. “If you just do mental health and don’t do gun work, on common-sense gun legislation, we will not be successful in this fight.”

The U.S. experiences mass shootings at a pace that far exceeds other developed nations, but the Republican Party has resisted policies that seek to limit civilian access to firearms. Further complicating Trump’s attempts to soothe the nation, the El Paso attacker posted a racist manifesto online that echoed language the president himself has used in verbal attacks against immigrants and minority members of Congress.

“The president’s the president of all the people, and what he wants to do is go to these communities and grieve with them, pray with them, offer condolences, and quite frankly offer thank you and appreciation to those who are first responders and put their lives on the line and were able to take out the shooter so quickly,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said yesterday. “He also wants to talk about potential solutions — how we keep this from ever happening again,” Gidley said.

Gidley said the president is open to considering new legislation, including a background checks bill that passed the House but has not been advanced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Democrats called on McConnell to bring the bill forward. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

2020 Democrats May Be Promising More Than They Can Deliver: Democratic candidates are promising bold executive action on guns if they win the presidency, but they may only manage timid steps. After eight years of half-measures by President Barack Obama — some of which were undone by a Republican Congress and the Trump administration — experts say there’s not much more executive power the president has left to control the sales and use of guns.

No president can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and require universal background checks by executive order. Those are the most sought-after changes by gun-control advocates since the shootings in Texas and Ohio. But they would require action by Congress, where gun measures have stalled year after year. That hasn’t stopped the 2020 Democratic candidates from promising new gun safety measures — with or without the help of Congress. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Domestic Terrorism Hearings, Funding Request: The House Homeland Security Committee is planning a slate of hearings, a floor vote and potential legislation addressing domestic terrorism following last weekend’s deadly shootings, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement yesterday.

One hearing will focus on the role of the 8chan message board in mass shootings. The alleged gunman in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, appeared to post an anti-immigrant screed on the online messaging forum, encouraging others to spread the word. It was the third killing linked to 8chan this year, after the massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a synagogue in Poway, California.

The panel also plans a September full-committee hearing with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting National Counterterrorism Center Director Russell Travers on the growth of the threat, and a September floor vote on legislation that would increase federal government reporting and research on domestic terrorism.

Meanwhile, more funding for a violence and terrorism prevention program at DHS may be part of annual appropriations negotiations this fall, according to a House Democratic aide. Federal efforts to fight domestic terrorism were spotlighted after the weekend’s mass shootings. McAleenan said in an interview with CBS that DHS asked Congress for “an out-of-cycle budget request” to help bolster its Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program, which includes efforts to curb racially motivated violence. Former DHS officials said the department’s program has shrunk by at least half in its staffing during the Trump administration.

GOP’s Turner Backs Military-Style Weapons Ban: Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a native and former mayor of Dayton, announced yesterday he backs preventing military-style weapon sales to civilians, magazine limits, and red flag legislation that aims to prevent disturbed individuals from buying firearms. “We must prevent mentally unstable people from terrorizing our communities with military style weapons,” he said in a statement. “The carnage these military style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable,” Turner said, Kim Chipman reports. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) is also rethinking his stance on guns, TMZ reports. He now supports universal background checks and raising the gun purchasing age from 18 to 21, he told the outlet yesterday.

Elections & Politics

Early House Retirements Signal GOP Woes: An early wave of Republican retirements in the House is bolstering Democrats’ chances of holding the majority in 2020 and flipping key seats in GOP strongholds like Texas. A spike in Republican retirements in 2018 gave Democrats the chance to win some House seats that otherwise might have been out of reach. Democrats managed to flip 40 GOP-held districts, mostly in suburban areas where women and college graduates have soured on Trump.

While there probably won’t to be as many Republicans retiring in 2020, there are likely more to come as the GOP faces the prospect of Democrats maintaining or expanding their 235 to 197 advantage in the House as both parties also contest control of the Senate and White House. Read more from Billy House.

Big Oil Targeted by 2020 Democrats: The fossil fuel industry is squarely in the crosshairs of Democrats running for the White House as they move sharply to the left on climate change, evoking growing alarm from a sector that’s found a cheerleader in the Trump administration. It has moved to rescind regulations on oil drilling and proposed extraordinary measures to aid coal mining. Big oil and its Republican allies say the Democrats’ swing to the left on the issue will backfire with voters, especially in states such as Ohio that Tr ump won in part with an appeal to aggrieved coal miners. These critics have commissioned studies asserting that the Democratic polices would cost millions of jobs while increasing pump prices for gasoline. Read more from Ari Natter.

Biden Holds Sizable Lead Nationwide: Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden still maintains a significant lead in the Democratic primary, but support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is growing, a new Quinnipiac Poll released yesterday found. Biden has 32% support, trailed by Warren with 21%, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 14% and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 7%. The latest poll shows a sizable jump for Warren and a slump for Harris since the debates last week in Detroit. A survey by Quinnipiac released before the debates in Detroit put Warren at 15% support and Harris at 12% support. Read more from Bill Allison.

Schumer Spoke to Hickenlooper About Senate Run: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke with former Colorado Gov. and presidential candidate John Hickenlooper about running for the Senate in Colorado, CNN reports, citing Hickenlooper aide Peter Cunningham. “He is still in the race for president, but he hasn’t closed the door to anything,” Cunningham told CNN. Schumer spoke to Hickenlooper late last week after debates, CNN reports. Hickenlooper is yet to qualify for next round of Democratic presidential debates, and Schumer wants him to challenge incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in 2020, CNN reports.

Steyer Spends on Ads, Struggles in Polls: Since launching his presidential bid, billionaire Tom Steyer has booked more air time than any of his rivals, and even outpaced Trump’s campaign in online ad spending, but has hardly registered in most polls. His deep pockets might be having an impact in early states though. Though he can’t seem to rise above 1% in national polls, a new poll by Morning Consult reports him at 6% among voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, sites of the first four contests, where the environment al activist has been spending heavily. Read more from Bill Allison.

Republicans Need Runoff to Pick Nominee for Mississippi Governor: Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is looking ahead to the general election contest for governor even though he still faces another intraparty battle. A runoff will be needed to pick the GOP nominee for the first time in almost 30 years. Reeves, who has the backing of outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant (R), won 49% of the Aug. 6 primary vote, according to unofficial returns. That’s just shy of the 50% he needed to avoid the Aug. 27 runoff.

He faces former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, who garnered about 33% of the primary vote over state Rep. Robert Foster’s 17%. On the Democrats’ side, Attorney General Jim Hood won comfortably, 69% to 11% over his nearest challenger in the eight-candidate field. Read more from Jennifer Kay.

Movers & Shakeups

Judicial Emergencies Magnified Under Trump: Federal Judge Ricardo Martinez has had to get creative in dealing with a serious shortage of judges in his Seattle-based court. He’s tapped bankruptcy judges, magistrate judges, and senior judges that have gone into semi-retirement. What he doesn’t have are enough active district court judges.

While the Republican-led Senate has pushed through Trump’s judicial selections at a historic pace, no nominees have been put forward for vacancies in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. And all three of the active judges Martinez does have—including himself—will be eligible to take senior status in September. The combination of lengthy refill times and soaring caseloads per judge means the vacancies in Martinez’s court meet the federal court administration system’s cr iteria for a judicial emergency. His four emergencies are among the 54 nationwide in district courts, up from the 33 that Trump inherited from the Obama administration.

District courts notorious for a large volume of litigation, like New Jersey, are also feeling a pinch. Most of the emergencies are in Democratic-leaning states like Washington. Read more from Jake Holland.

Google Adds Regulatory Heavyweight: Google has hired a former top official at the Office of Management and Budget to guide the tech giant as it navigates increased calls for regulation, a company spokesperson said yesterday. Michael Fitzpatrick, head of regulatory advocacy at General Electric Global Law & Policy for the past eight years, is joining Google as director of regulatory affairs within its governmental affairs office. Fitzpatrick served as associate administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the agency within OMB that reviews all significant federal regulations, during President Obama’s first term.

He joins former GE colleague Karan Bhatia hired by Google in June 2018 as head of public policy. Regulatory issues facing big technology companies include data protection, privacy, content, internet of things and artificial intelligence, Cheryl Bolen reports.

U.S. Envoy to Burkina Faso: The White House announced yesterday Trump intends to nominate Sandra Clark to be U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso. Clark served as director of the Office of West African Affairs at the Department of State and deputy chief of the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, according to a White House statement.

Internet Liability Shield Scrutinized—BGOV Podcast

With congressional and public attention increasingly focused on social media companies, lawmakers and other stakeholders are discussing changes to the obscure provision of law that’s been credited with the rise of online companies. The “Section 230” shield protects online platforms from liability for user-generated content. Lawmakers including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they’re open to changes to create more accountability for privacy and moderation practices.

On this special episode of BGOV’s “Suspending the Rules,” technology reporter Rebecca Kern sits down with Public Knowledge Legal Director John Bergmayer to discuss how Section 230 helped create the current internet landscape and his group’s views on proposed changes to the law.

Listen and subscribe: Via Apple Podcasts | Via Overcast Via Stitcher | Via Spotify

What Else to Know

Tech Tariffs Would Add $1 Billion to Import Costs: U.S. technology companies would pay an additional $1 billion a month or more in tariffs if Trump follows through on his threat to impose duties on additional Chinese imports next month, a trade group said. Trump said last week that he plans to add a 10% tariff on essentially all remaining Chinese imports — a category of goods valued at $300 billion that includes a raft of consumer and tech goods. About $250 billion in imports from China have already been hit with a 25% tariff.

The Consumer Technology Association said the industry paid $1.7 billion in tariffs in June. The additional levies set to take effect on Sept. 1 would impact about $13 billion in technology imports from China that month, including mobile phones, laptops, televisions and smartwatches, the group said. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Chamber Defends Trump Power Plant Rule: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gone to court in defense of the Trump administration’s plan to ease limits on power plant emissions, a move that would ensure the country’s top business lobbying group has a say in the matter even if Trump loses reelection next year. The chamber filed a motion with a Washington-based appeals court yesterday seeking to intervene in defense of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule, which is being battled by a coalition of public health groups. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

North Korea Missile Tests Send Warning to U.S.: Kim Jong Un said North Korea’s latest missile tests were intended as a warning against ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises, while Trump’s new Pentagon chief defended the training as necessary to maintain readiness. North Korean state media said today Kim personally oversaw what allied military officials said was a pair of short-range ballistic missile launches a day earlier — the fourth such volley in two weeks. “The demonstration fire clearly verified the reliability, security and actual war capacity of the new-type tactical guided weapon system,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea has taken escalating steps in recent weeks to show its frustration with the U.S.’s refusal to meet its demands in nuclear talks. The regime also has specifically accused Trump of breaking a pledge during a June 30 meeting to suspend all joint drills — the latest of which started Monday. Read more from Jihye Lee and Isabel Reynolds.

ACLU Sues Over ‘Fast-Track’ Deportations: The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration over a new rule that it said “massively expands” fast-track deportations of undocumented immigrants without a standard legal process like a court hearing or access to an attorney. The suit, filed yesterday in federal court in Washington, targets the federal government’s enhanced use of the “expedited-removal” process. That system has long been used to remove undocumented immigrants who are apprehended within 100 miles of the U.S. b order and can’t prove they have been in the U.S. continuously for at least two years. Read more from Erik Larson.

DOJ Backs Trump’s Suit Over Records: The Department of Justice is backing Trump’s efforts to thwart House Democrats seeking financial records held by accountants at Mazars USA. The government’s lawyers told a federal appeals court largely the same things Trump’s attorneys had argued at a hearing last month: a subpoena served on Mazars by the House Oversight Committee this year wasn’t properly authorized and lacked a legitimate legislative purpose. The three-judge appellate panel, consisting of two Democratic appointees and one Repu blican, asked the Justice Department to file a friend-of-the-court brief after the July 12 arguments. Read more from Andrew Harris.

Cohen Suit Faces Skeptical Judge: Michael Cohen’s efforts to make the Trump Organization pay millions of dollars he owes in legal fees faced skepticism from a New York state judge. Cohen, once Trump’s personal lawyer, sued the Trump Organization in March, seeking almost $4 million. Cohen said the company had initially promised to reimburse him for any legal costs associated with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and other matters and actually paid some of the bills, until reports emerged that Cohen planned to cooperate with prosecutors and Trump distanced himself. Chris Dolmetsch has more.

Michaela Ross in Washington and Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington also contributed to this story.

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