What to Know in Washington: Trump Holds Sway on Mueller Details

The next step in Attorney General William Barr’s work on the Mueller report is deciding just how much of it to release, and one person is likely to get a big say in the answer: President Donald Trump.

That’s because Trump and his attorneys could assert executive privilege to block anything deemed sensitive regarding presidential deliberations — potentially a major stumbling block to the full release of the report demanded by Democrats.

It’s a quirk of this investigation that Trump plays two roles simultaneously — subject and likely arbiter of some of what the public gets to see — and the attorney general is charged with protecting the president’s rights to withhold certain information related to his work.

After Barr released a four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on Sunday, partisan divisions are sharper than ever. Key Republicans, including Trump, went on the offensive, saying they want to investigate officials from the Obama administration for their role in opening the Russia investigation in the first place.

Democrats’ questions about whether Barr faithfully reported Mueller’s findings — and whether the attorney general stepped over the line by ruling that Trump didn’t obstruct justice — grew louder. Six House Democratic committee chairman sent Barr a letter yesterday demanding to see Mueller’s full report by April 2.

The demand promised a bitter partisan fight that could stretch for weeks as Barr weighs a further release. Read more from Shannon Pettypiece and Chris Strohm.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee postponed its scheduled hearing with a longtime associate of Trump, Felix Sater, citing the need to work with other committees and bring in Justice Department and FBI officials in order to understand Mueller’s “areas of inquiry and evidence his office uncovered.” The hearing was scheduled for tomorrow.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Trump at the White House on Monday.

Happening on the Hill

BGOV Podcast: The House this week will vote on a nonbinding resolution opposing the Trump administration’s move to ban transgender troops from serving in the military. The Pentagon said it plans to implement the policy in April, after several temporary injunctions were lifted. On this week’s episode of Bloomberg Government’s “Suspending the Rules,” Pentagon reporter Travis Tritten examines the ban and what comes next. Listen here.

Democrats’ Unveil Health Care Plan: House Democratic leaders are unveiling a bill aimed at beefing up Obamacare and a commitment to their signature health achievement.

The measure would expand the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance subsidies and reverse several Trump administration rules that expanded health insurance plans that don’t have to comply with the health law’s rules for basic coverage, according to representatives of advocacy groups who have worked with House leaders on the legislation and have seen draft versions of it. The proposal also is expected to create an annual cap on how much some Americans would have to pay out of pocket for health services. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) holds a press conference on the measure today at the Capitol at 2:30 p.m. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Democrats’ move comes as the Trump administration is hardening its legal position toward Obamacare, arguing now the entire law is unconstitutional in a shift that promises to bring the issue to the forefront of the 2020 election campaign.

The position is a change for the Justice Department after it argued last year that large parts of the 2010 law — but not all of it — should be struck in the case Texas v. U.S., which is pending before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A trial court judge sided with Texas and voided the law in a December ruling. The Justice Department now says that the entire law should be thrown out.

Trump’s move, which could prove to be a gift for Democrats, prompted a swift response from Pelosi. “Tonight in federal court, the Trump administration decided not only to try to destroy protections for Americans living with pre-existing conditions, but to declare all-out war on the health care of the American people,” she said in a statement. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Green New Deal Vote: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is commandeering the Democrats’ Green New Deal in an attempt to expose their divisions and force some of the party’s leading 2020 presidential candidates into an awkward vote. The measure — mostly a collection of goals for mitigating climate change rather than a fully formed plan of action — has been a favorite punching bag for McConnell and Republicans since it was rolled out with fanfare by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“I could not be more glad that the American people will have the opportunity to learn precisely where each one of their senators stand on this radical, top-down, socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy,” McConnell said yesterday, ahead of a planned vote today.

When McConnell puts the resolution on the Senate floor most Senate Democrats will be voting “present” to protest what they see as a sham vote forced by the majority leader, said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. The question marks are Democrats who represent solidly Republican states who might vote no and some of the six senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Read more from Steven T. Dennis and Laura Litvan.

Meanwhile,Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is pushing a “New Manhattan Project” that he said will combat climate change with nuclear energy, carbon capture for coal plants, better batteries, and green buildings. Alexander, speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, said the “Green New Deal” is an “assault on cars, cows and combustion.”

New NAFTA Faces Long Road in Congress: Pelosi will play a pivotal role in Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which isn’t one of her legislative priorities. It’s a change of pace from the frenetic year of negotiations that led to the deal being signed by leaders from all three countries in November.

Pelosi is expected to only move the deal through the House if she can find a critical mass of her caucus supporting it and if she extracts concessions unrelated to trade from the White House in return, senior congressional aides say. Asked to comment, Pelosi’s office referred to remarks she made this month in which the speaker said she and other Democrats are still weighing USMCA’s provisions on the environment, labor, pharmaceuticals and enforcement before deciding whether to support it.

With 60 new Democratic members who still have to familiarize themselves with their districts’ priorities and the content of the trade deal, the biggest challenge is educating lawmakers, the aides said. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to meet with freshman members in the coming weeks to make his case.

Meanwhile, Trump plans to meet at 3:15 p.m today with members of Congress on trade at the White House, after attending Senate Republicans’ policy lunch on Capitol Hill earlier in the day. Read more from Jenny Leonard, Andrew Mayeda and Mark Niquette.

Housing Finance Overhaul: The Senate Banking Committee will make its opening move today on a new proposal to end government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and reshape the $10 trillion mortgage housing market. The panel is slated to review a legislative outline from Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) that would return Fannie and Freddie to private control more than a decade after the 2008 financial crisis, when the federal government seized the companies. The committee will have to grapple with key issues such as Fannie and Freddie’s capital requirements and the government’s future support of low-income home buyers. BGOV legislative analyst Michael Smallberg provides an overview of Fannie and Freddie, the government takeover, and Crapo’s legislation.

Movers & Shakeups

Another Ninth Circuit Pick Set for Confirmation: Bridget Bade is poised to become the fourth Trump nominee to win confirmation to a federal appeals court that he’s derided over rulings against his policies. The Senate voted 77 to 20 yesterday to end debate on the magistrate judge’s nomination to the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and a confirmation vote could come as early as Tuesday. The court has ruled against Trump in high-profile immigration cases, and he’s called it a “total disaster.”  Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Moore to Face Confirmation Fight: Trump’s pick for an open Federal Reserve board seat, Stephen Moore, has sharply criticized some of the Republican senators whose votes he’ll need for confirmation. Yet that hasn’t made him many enemies. Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate and have only a one-vote advantage on the Banking Committee that will review his nomination. That leaves a narrow path to confirmation for a controversial nominee, who’s drawn criticism from some economists who’ve questioned whether he’s qualified to join the Fed’s seven-seat board of governors.

Moore’s outspoken views on limited government that he’s expressed on television and radio, along with his work for the Trump campaign and as an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, seem all but certain to leave him without support from Senate Democrats. Whether he’s confirmed or becomes Trump’s third failed Fed nominee depends on winning support from some of the Republican moderates he’s torched in the past. Read more from Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson.

What Else to Know Today

Israel Strikes New Targets: Israel struck additional targets in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed home to deal with a flare-up in violence only two weeks before close-fought elections. Israeli warplanes, tanks and helicopters launched new attacks after a night of rocket barrages from the Hamas-run territory and Israel air raids defied the militant group’s claims that Egypt had brokered a truce.

Netanyahu cut short his trip to Washington after a rocket from Gaza smashed through a home in the heart of Israel, but not before witnessing Trump officially recognize his country’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau it captured from Syria in 1967. Read the latest from Gwen Ackerman and Saud Abu Ramadan.

DOD Approves $1 Billion for Trump’s Wall: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan gave the green light for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use as much as $1 billion in military funds to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Shanahan, in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, said the money would be used to support her agency’s request to build 57 miles of “18-foot-high pedestrian fencing, constructing and improving roads, and installing lighting within the Yuma and El Paso Sectors of the border.”

The decision marked the latest development in Trump’s push to shift funds to build the border wall that was a central promise of his 2016 campaign after Congress wouldn’t provide the money. Read more from Chelsea Mes.

Separately, the Army told lawmakers it could use another $2.3 billion for priorities not funded in the fiscal 2020 budget request for the Pentagon. In a letter to leaders of congressional defense panels, Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley said over $1 billion would go towards supporting operations in Europe and the Pacific. The Army is also asking for $564.5 million for infrastructure projects. Roxana Tiron breaks down the wish list.

Huawei Pushback Isn’t Foundering, DOD Official Says: A top U.S. defense official pushed back against the notion that Trump administration efforts to dissuade allies from using Huawei Technologies were foundering, while calling European reluctance to act against the Chinese equipment maker “a huge concern.” Military-to-military discussions are ongoing and “there’s actually a huge dialogue going on about, what is the path forward and how do we work together,” Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said. “We’ve frankly seen a lot of our European allies leaning forward to work with us.” Read more from Todd Shields.

Businesses Target Scalia Opinion: A U.S. Supreme Court ruling written by conservative icon Justice Antonin Scalia has become an unlikely target for business groups. And now the court may be poised to overturn it. Scalia’s 1997 opinion requires judges generally to defer to federal agencies’ interpretations of their own regulations. Industry trade associations say the decision gives agencies too much power, fostering onerous and unpredictable rules. The groups will ask the court to jettison the ruling in a case set for argument tomorrow. Read more from Greg Stohr and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

SCOTUS Asked to Review Bump Stock Ban: Gun-rights advocates asked the Supreme Court to temporarily halt a new federal ban on bump stocks, the attachments that can increase a semiautomatic rifle’s rate of fire. The ban is scheduled to take effect today. Two separate groups of challengers filed papers at the high court yesterday, seeking emergency intervention to stop the prohibition until federal appeals courts have ruled on the policy. Read more from Greg Stohr.

EPA Chief Recusal: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is formally recusing himself from agency reviews and permitting decisions on a proposed gold and copper mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay amid criticism his former law firm represented the developer. Wheeler promised to steer clear of matters involving the controversial Pebble Mine in an updated March 20 recusal statement, two years after his former employer, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, had arranged a meeting between former EPA chief Scott Pruitt and project developer Pebble LP. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Stephen Lee.

Trump Team Split Over Iran Oil Waivers: Trump’s national security team is deeply divided over whether to let a small group of countries keep buying Iranian oil after a U.S. deadline on sanctions waivers expires in May. Now that fight is getting ugly. The division — primarily between John Bolton’s National Security Council and Michael Pompeo’s State Department — has led to rising frustration and flared tempers. It’s exposing fault lines over how the president’s most senior advisers approach the Iran issue, according to four people familiar with the debate who asked not to be identified discussing the internal deliberations. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Margaret Talev.

Harris Offers $315 Billion for Teacher Raises: Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is proposing a $315 billion boost in federal spending to give the average public school teacher a $13,500 raise. The plan would be funded by higher estate taxes, according to an aide. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

With assistance from Brandon Lee

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; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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The Pentagon’s March to the Cloud
April 18, 2019
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