Senate Republicans are showing an increasing willingness to challenge President Donald Trump on foreign policy by voting for legislation that contradicts him publicly after they have failed to sway him privately.
The next test may come as early as today when some conservatives are indicating they may join with Democrats to defy the White House by backing a measure to block further U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Republican senators also are sponsoring legislation to impose additional sanctions on Russia and pushing additional punishment for Saudi Arabia over the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Republican senators generally have been reluctant to criticize Trump on domestic issues — in part because of the president’s sway with GOP voters — though at least a few plan to vote against the president’s emergency declaration to fund border wall construction. GOP hesitancy fades on foreign policy as Trump veers from party orthodoxy.
With Democrats controlling the House and GOP senators join with Democrats to rebuke Trump, the odds are higher that Congress in coming months could send the president legislation that contradicts his will and forces a veto.
“Congress is definitely stepping up and expressing its views,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a Trump ally. “When you see things like the announcement we’re leaving Syria before we even tell the military or our allies, that caused a lot of concern and so we’ve had some discussions with the national security adviser and other White House staff about how senators could be helpful.”
Trump “doesn’t come from the conventional — what I would call national security Republican perspective,” Cornyn said. Read more from Daniel Flatley
Photographer: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) flanked by Republican Senator Mike Lee (Utah), speaks after the Senate voted to withdraw support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen in December. The Senate could vote today on a new resolution on Yemen from Murphy and Lee.
Happening on the Hill
Judicial Nominations: Trump has filled 20 percent of the nation’s federal appeals seats in his swift bid to reshape the judiciary with strong conservatives, and the emphasis could soon shift to accelerating district court confirmations. The appeals court milestone will be underscored with Neomi Rao’s expected confirmation today to the seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that was vacated by Trump’s second Supreme Court appointment, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
With the help of the Republican-led Senate, Trump will have seen 36 of his appeals nominees, including Rao, win confirmation in a little over two years. That translates into a hair over 20 percent of 179 appellate seats. Trump is outpacing his recent predecessors and is living up to one of his key campaign promises. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.
Confirmation Process: Senate Republican leaders have the 51 votes they need to shorten debate time and expedite confirmation of dozens of Trump’s nominees, Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said. Blunt told reporters yesterday that while it could be done with 51 votes, he’d rather garner 60 votes to change the process, Nancy Ognanovich reports.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could move to cut debate time on district court nominees and many executive branch nominees from 30 hours to two hours when lawmakers return from their 10-day recess that starts Friday, Blunt said.
Drug Price Scrutiny: The Senate Finance Committee asked the biggest U.S. pharmacy-benefit managers to come to Capitol Hill in April for the next phase of the panel’s inquiry into high drug prices. PBMs were expected to be called to testify after top pharmaceutical executives put much of the blame for high drug costs on the middlemen at a hearing last month. The pharma CEOs argued that rebates paid to PBMs cloud the true cost of prescription drugs. Rebates have been criticized by the Trump administration, which wants more transparency in pricing. The Senate panel’s leaders said in a letter that benefit managers “owe patients and taxpayers an explanation of their role.” Read more from Anna Edney.
Meanwhile, the chairwoman of a key health subcommittee’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry are raising concerns over her role in the drug price effort, Shira Stein reports this morning. There’s recognition from lobbyists and lawmakers that Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who leads the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, might not be a strong champion in trying to pass drug pricing legislation, a drug pricing advocate said in an interview. Eshoo has received more money in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical and health product companies than any other industry over the course of her career, a total of $1.63 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Read more.
Democrats Divided on Budget: House Democrats may forgo a vote on a budget resolution this year, rather than divide the caucus over whether to push for an increase or decrease in military spending, Jack Fitzpatrick reports.
There’s a 50-50 chance that Democrats will adopt a fiscal 2020 budget resolution, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told reporters yesterday. Party leaders have left it up to his committee to determine how to address the budget, he said. If the panel marks up a resolution, Yarmuth expects it to go to the full House for a vote. Defense spending is a key wedge between the wings of the House Democratic Caucus, said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a Budget Committee member. Some progressive members will not vote in favor of any resolution with an increase in defense spending, Jayapal said.
Pentagon Budget: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said he opposes the Pentagon’s request of about $7 billion in fiscal year 2020 to support the construction of a wall along the U.S. Mexico border, Roxana Tiron reports. The Pentagon included the wall funding request as part of a $9 billion emergency funding request outside the spending subject to budget caps. The Trump administration requested $750 billion for national defense programs; of that, $164 billion would be in a war funding account. “I want to take that $750 billion and use it for defense, that is what I would want to do,” Thornberry said, adding that wall funding should be part of the overall budget negotiations.
DeLauro Wants Cap on For-Profit College Funds: The head of the House subcommittee responsible for funding the Education Department said she wants to use the appropriations process to limit funding to for-profit colleges that leave students with high debts and low earnings. “I see ourselves doing something about curtailing what these for-profit colleges are doing,” House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told Bloomberg Government. “I don’t have the magic bullet or the mechanism here, but that is the goal, is to see that we prevent them, to stop them from the way they are hurting college students.” Read more from Emily Wilkins.
What Else to Know
U.S. Aviation Influence: The second fatal crash of a Boeing 737 Max aircraft in less than five months is creating a new hierarchy in aviation safety. Thrusting to the top: China. Three days after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, killing all 157 people on board, country after country ignored assessments by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that the plane is safe to fly. Canada agreed it was too early to act but many fell into line in growing numbers behind China, the first major nation to ground its 737 Max fleet.
In doing so, centuries-old American allies including the U.K. and Australia broke convention by snubbing an authority that has defined what’s airworthy — and what’s not — for decades. New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam today became the latest countries to block the 737 Max, helping legitimize China’s early verdict on March 11 that the plane could be unsafe. Read the latest.
Drug Pricing Provision in USMCA: A provision of the revised trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada that would extend drug companies’ hold on some of the most expensive medications on the market is running up against congressional Republicans’ pledges to end Big Pharma’s alleged abuse of the U.S patent system. With lower drug prices for consumers being one of the few bilateral cornerstones in today’s tumultuous political climate, the tug-of-war brought on by the pharmaceutical language in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement underscores how difficult it will be for Congress to pass the trade deal, one of Trump’s longstanding priorities. Read more from Jacquie Lee.
Manafort’s 4-Year Sentence Could Grow: Paul Manafort could have been sentenced to as long as 24 years in prison last week. Instead, a sympathetic federal judge in Alexandria, Va., gave him less than four. Today, Manafort faces another sentencing, this time before a federal judge in the District of Columbia who has already thrown him in jail for attempting to tamper with witnesses and chastised him for breaching his cooperation agreement. Read more from Andrew Harris and David Voreacos.
Judiciary Adopts Sexual Harassment Policies: The federal judiciary will change its response to workplace sexual misconduct charges effective immediately, the policy-making body for the federal courts announced today. It is itself “misconduct not to report misconduct,” Chief Judge Merrick Garland, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said in a press briefing following the bi-annual Judicial Conference meeting. The changes clarify what behavior is prohibited, address informal methods to report misconduct, and provide for training mechanisms to educate employees on prohibited behaviors, said Garland, who heads the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.
IRS Slashes Rules: The IRS is scrapping nearly 300 regulations that it says are effectively defunct, and it could look for more ways to trim the tax code. The agency is eliminating 296 regulations from the tax code that “are no longer necessary because they do not have any current or future applicability under the Internal Revenue Code,” the agency said in a final rule set to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. The IRS is also amending 79 regulations to reflect the scrapped rules. The agency originally proposed eliminating 298 rules last year, but decided against removing two after reviewing their cross-references. Read more from Robert Lee.
Colleges Cut Ties With Huawei: Top U.S. universities are shunning research money from Huawei amid pressure from Congress and the Trump administration to limit dealings with the Chinese telecommunications-equipment maker over national security concerns. Princeton University, Stanford University, Ohio State University and the University of California at Berkeley all say they are cutting or reducing ties to Huawei. Read more from Todd Shields.
Pompeo Vows to Slash Iran Oil Exports: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is “committed to bringing Iranian crude oil exports to zero as quickly as market conditions will permit,” yesterday at a conference in Houston. The State Department is working to facilitate more U.S. energy exports, Pompeo said, adding that liquefied natural gas exporters Cheniere, Sempra Energy, and Venture Global are weakening Russia by providing an alternative supply of fuel, Rachel Adams-Heard reports.
Seperately, OPEC is sending a message to Wall Street banks and big investors that if Washington passes legislation that would allow the
U.S. government to sue the cartel, the first victim will be shale. Suhail Mohammed Al Mazrouei, the United Arab Emirates oil minister and the former president of OPEC, told a group of U.S. financiers Monday that if the so-called NOPEC bill becomes law, the cartel would stop working and therefore every member would raise production to maximum capacity, causing a crash in oil prices, according to people who attended the meeting. Read more from Javier Blas.
To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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