What to Know in Washington: Pelosi Fights on Multiple Fronts

Two hundred days into her second stint as Speaker, Nancy Pelosi is waging battles on her right and her left as well as against the calendar.

She’s the Democratic Party’s lead combatant with President Donald Trump, and will remain so until the party’s presidential nominating convention picks a nominee.

In the House, Pelosi (D-Calif.) is trying to keep her party’s ideological fissures from becoming yawning chasms that will hobble Democrats in the 2020 election, including throttling back growing demands among Democratic members to begin impeachment proceedings against the president — which she regards as a losing issue politically.

Pelosi’s ability to walk that high wire is on display this week.

She got a measure of vindication for her go-slow approach on impeaching Trump despite pressure from a growing number of Democrats agitating to begin proceedings. More than five hours of testimony from Special Counsel Robert Mueller yesterday didn’t supply the blockbuster sound bites that supporters of impeachment might have hoped. Pelosi, as she’s argued repeatedly in the past, said Democrats must build their own case if they’re going to send articles of impeachment to the Republican-controlled Senate.

“If we have a case for impeachment, that’s the place we will have to go,” she said at a news conference. “The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the president off the hook.”

Today, the House takes up the deal she negotiated with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to set government spending levels for the next two years and suspend the nation’s debt ceiling. Progressive Democrats complain that it gives too much to the Pentagon and not enough to domestic programs, while the party’s more moderate members are wary of adding to yearly budget deficits that are already on track to top $1 trillion.

But no one doubts Pelosi has the votes to get it through the House. Read more from Billy House.

Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images
Pelosi at a news conference on Mueller’s testimony at the Capitol on Wednesday

Democrats Fail to Gain Jump-Start for Probes

Democrats approached Mueller’s testimony with a list of goals they largely failed to accomplish. Some wanted the former special counsel to read damning portions of his report aloud for a live television audience, which he declined to do. Others hoped for fresh details on possible obstruction of justice by Trump, but Mueller didn’t offer any.

Mueller’s long-awaited appearance yesterday fell short of Democrats’ predictions that he’d jump-start their stalled investigations into Trump and perhaps propel a move to impeach him. Afterward, some insisted there’s still plenty to be mined from what their star witness did say. Read more from Billy House.

Only one topic got under the skin of an otherwise jubilant Trump: whether he could still be indicted after Mueller’s investigation. Trump repeatedly accused journalists of engaging in “fake news” merely for asking about Mueller’s statements that Trump could still be charged. “The fact that you even asked that question, you’re fake news,” Trump said to one reporter.

It was the only subject that appeared to irritate the president, who otherwise predicted that the Democrats hurt their 2020 election chances with the hearing and accused them of overplaying their hand on Mueller’s report. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Also Happening on the Hill

Trump Meets With PhRMA Ahead of Drug Pricing Markup: Trump met with representatives of the drug industry’s trade group at the White House yesterday, according to a person familiar with the matter, Justin Sink and Anna Edney report. The person, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private, said that the president made no commitments during the discussion with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The person said the session took place at the request of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The meeting, which was reported earlier by Politico, occurred as a bipartisan effort is underway in the Senate that two of its sponsors say would lead to $100 billion in savings on prescription-drug spending over a decade. Those savings would come about, in part, by penalizing pharmaceutical companies for raising prices faster than the rate of inflation. The measure, advanced by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, will be taken up by the panel today. It could face opposition from drug-industry lobbyists and other lawmakers. Alex Ruoff has more.

Boosting Trump Tax Return Arguments: The documents the House Ways and Means Committee plans to review in a closed session today may aid Democrats with legal arguments in their quest for Trump’s tax returns, a House aide said. The meeting, announced Tuesday, will focus on historical documents tied to tax code Section 6103, a provision that provides House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) the authority to seek Trump’s personal and business tax returns. The panel will move into an executive session to discuss documents that have private taxpayer information, another aide said. Kaustuv Basu and Colin Wilhelm have more.

  • Meanwhile,Trump is asking a federal judge for an emergency order keeping House Democrats from getting—or even asking for—his New York State tax returns. A day after the president sued to block the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining those records under a newly enacted New York State law, he petitioned the court to stifle any such request before it’s made by Neal. Read more from Andrew Harris.

Trump Vetoes Bill Against Saudi Arms Sales: Trump vetoed three bipartisan measures passed by Congress intended to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the White House said in a statement. “This resolution would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners,” Trump said in a message to lawmakers released by the White House yesterday. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

Facebook FTC Deal Shows Need for Bill: Facebook’s $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission to resolve years of privacy violations stirred criticism from privacy experts and lawmakers of both parties. Some say it shows more than ever the need to resume efforts to craft a federal privacy law, which are currently stalled in Congress. Facebook also disclosed that the FTC opened a formal antitrust probe into its business.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), said the fines weren’t enough, and that “tough oversight is needed to prevent the abuse of consumer information by Facebook and other companies.” And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of the foremost Republican tech critics, on Twitter said the deal “does nothing to change Facebook’s creepy surveillance of its own users & the misuse of user data.” Ben Brody has more reactions from lawmakers and consumer groups.

Census Bureau Behind on Technology Fixes: The Census Bureau is behind on addressing security vulnerabilities in its new cloud system and online forms as it braces for the 2020 census, according to government oversight agencies. The 2020 census will be the first time many Americans complete the survey online, yet technology systems are not fully tested after planned operational tests in 2017 and 2018 were scaled back due to budget uncertainties.

“The Bureau is home to one of the largest databases of identifiable personal information on the American public,” Rep.Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee, said at a hearing yesterday. “The security of the data is paramount not only to a well-run census, but to the public’s confidence in the system,” he said. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Tax Benefits for Same-Sex Couples: The House yesterday passed a measure by voice vote that would use gender-neutral terms for marriage in the tax code and expand tax refund eligibility for some same-sex couples. The bill (H.R. 3299), from Democratic Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Andy Levin (D-Mich.), would extend refund eligibility for same-sex couples who were married before the federal Defense of Marriage Act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The measure’s prospects are uncertain in the Senate, Kaustuv Basu reports.

House Passes Bill Targeting Robocalls: The House passed a bill yesterday that aims to increase penalties for illegal robocalls, teeing up bipartisan discussions in August to work out differences with similar Senate-passed legislation. The House passed the bipartisan bill (H.R. 3375) by a 429-3 vote. Rebecca Kern has more.

Border Patrol Chief Asks Congress for New Laws: The head of U.S. Border Patrol told lawmakers that supplemental funding is a temporary solution for the crisis at the southern border, which will only be solved when Congress passes legislation to address how children and families are detained and processed. “To make a lasting impact Congress must make the changes to the legal framework that we have outlined time and time again,” said Carla Provost, the Border Patrol chief. “A Band-Aid is simply not enough.” Read more from Jarrell Dillard.

Elections & Politics

Warren’s Plan to Beat Trump: After a slow start on the trail, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has not only put herself into the top tier of Democratic hopefuls but forced the others to follow her lead. Warren has made a wealth tax the centerpiece of her campaign, part of a fusillade of proposals that are more aggressive, far-reaching—and expensive—than any previous Democratic front-runner would have dared venture: break up big tech companies like Google and Facebook; abolish private health insurance and give everyone Medicare; start a $2 trillion industrial policy built on “economic patriotism” to boost exports; crack down on private equity’s “Wall Street looting”; overhaul corporate governance by putting workers on boards; eliminate the filibuster; cancel student loan debt; and establish free public college and universal child care.

Together, Warren’s platform amounts to a giant leap in Democratic ambition—some would say radicalism—that dwarfs the steady but safe achievements of the Clinton and Obama eras. In this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Green interviews the candidate on her radical plans for 2020.

Biden Fires Back at Booker on Crime Record: Vice President Joe Biden parried criticism of his criminal justice record from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), saying Booker was responsible for controversial law-and-order policies while he was mayor of Newark. “His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African American men,” Biden said in Michigan today. “If he wants to go back and talk about records, I’m happy to do that, but I’d rather talk about the future.” Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Meanwhile, Biden and Booker continue the quest to lock down black voter support today and tomorrow as the 2020 candidates move from the NAACP convention to the National Urban League gathering in Indianapolis. Biden and Booker are among those speaking today at the Urban League convention, potentially putting them on a collision course for another round over their records on criminal justice before next week’s Democratic debate in Detroit, Jennifer Epstein reports.

Movers & Shakeups

Puerto Rico Governor Resigns: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello resigned late yesterday after two weeks of furious protests, throwing the leadership of the U.S. commonwealth into uncertainty as it struggles back from a ruinous hurricane and navigates a record bankruptcy.

Rossello said in an Internet video that he would leave office Aug. 2. He was undone by popular fury after the publication of profane, vengeful and misogynistic text messages among him and his aides that disparaged foes and ordinary residents of the U.S. commonwealth. The stage was set by corruption investigations that have resulted in the indictment of two former administration officials. But Rossello’s exit plunges the island deeper into uncertainty as it tries to revive a recession-scarred eco nomy and rebuild from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Read more from Michael Deibert, Michelle Kaske and Amanda Albright.

Ginsburg Laments Confirmation ‘Dysfunction’: The Supreme Court confirmation process is dysfunctional and both political parties are to blame, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said yesterday. Ginsburg said high court vetting in the Senate has devolved from weighing a nominee’s qualifications to how they’ll vote on a particular issue. She said Trump conservative nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are “decent and smart” but their confirmations were divisive, while she, describing herself as a “flaming feminist” at the time of her nominatio n in 1993, met little resistance and won confirmation overwhelmingly. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

Attorney Who Advocated Anti-Abortion Views Confirmed: A private attorney who’s publicly expressed anti-abortion views won Senate confirmation yesterday to a district judgeship in Nebraska, the latest appointee Republicans have pushed through as they reshape the federal judiciary. Brian Buescher, who took an anti-abortion stance during an unsuccessful 2014 bid to be Nebraska attorney general, was approved 51 to 40 on a party-line vote to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. He’s previously come under fire by Senate Democrats for sta tements he made about abortion during his campaign, saying he was in favor of outlawing abortion altogether. Read more from Jake Holland.

DOD Taps GOP House Candidate for Cyber Office: The Pentagon has named an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate to lead a new cybersecurity office, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. Katie Arrington, who lost in her campaign for a South Carolina House seat last year, will head a new Chief Information Security Office under Kevin Fahey, assistant defense secretary for acquisition, according to the memo. Arrington, a former South Carolina state lawmaker, lost in the 2018 election to Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.). Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Trump Seeks Envoy to Chad: The White House announced Trump intends to nominate Steven Koutsis to be U.S. ambassador to Chad. Koutsis currently leads the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, and has previously served in U.S. State Department leadership positions in Burkina Faso, Sudan, and South Sudan, the White House said.

What Else to Know

Asylum Seeker Restriction Blocked: A California federal judge halted the Trump administration’s new asylum restriction that makes most migrants seeking to cross the southern border ineligible for sanctuary in the U.S. — a setback for the president hours after another judge let the rule stand. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco is at odds with U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly in Washington, who earlier declined to suspend the rule. Kelly’s decision was cheered by the White House. Tigar granted a reques t from the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrants’ rights groups to block the administration from implementing the new rule while its legality is being challenged. Read more from Joel Rosenblatt and Edvard Pettersson.

Guatemala Faces Punishment for Migrant Talks: Trump accused Guatemala of backing out of a deal to stop migrants from claiming asylum in the U.S. and said he’s considering “very severe” consequences, which could include tariffs. Trump said the Central American country “gave us their word” that it would sign a so-called safe-third-country agreement requiring migrants from points south, such as Honduras and El Salvador, to claim asylum in Guatemala instead of continuing to the U.S.

“And then all of a sudden they backed up, they said it was their Supreme Court,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t believe that. We’ll either do tariffs, or we’ll do something, we’re looking at something very severe with respect to Guatemala.” Read more from Josh Wingrove.

U.S. Effort to Protect Ships From Iran Spurned: Soaring tensions with Iran following attacks on tankers and drones prompted the Trump administration to call for a coalition of allies to protect ships passing through the Persian Gulf. This week, U.S. partners including the U.K. and France essentially asked to be counted out. Rather than signing on to the Trump administration’s “Operation Sentinel,” those countries want to establish a European maritime security initiative nearly identical to — but separate from — the American project. The s plit reflects just how uneasy key allies have become about the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign toward Iran. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

DOD Watchdog to Probe Claims Against Auditor: The Pentagon’s inspector general will investigate allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation against the Navy’s top auditor following a complaint detailing some of the claims from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). Navy Auditor Gen. Ronnie Booth has been accused of a “pattern of harassment, retaliation and hostility in the workplace” that has been “documented at length in multiple sources” dating to 2007, Speier wrote in a July 16 letter to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. Booth was promoted to his current post in February, despite Navy leaders being aware of the claims, said Speier. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

North Korea Launches Two Projectiles, Seoul Says: North Korea launched at least two projectiles early today from the eastern part of the Korean Peninsula just hours after U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton departed South Korea. A statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff called the projectiles “unidentified” and said that they flew 430 kilometers, or about 267 miles. The statement offered few other details other than to say the projectiles were fired from Wonsan, where North Korea has previously tested missiles. Jihye Lee has more.

Trump Faces Marketing Fraud Lawsuit: Trump, his company and three of his children must face a class-action lawsuit in which people allege that they were scammed into spending money on fraudulent, multilevel marketing ventures and a dubious live-seminar program. U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in New York ruled yesterday that the case can go forward with claims of fraud, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices. The decision likely opens the door for plaintiffs to start gathering evidence from Trump and his company, inc luding documents and testimony. Read more from Bob Van Voris.

Swedish Prosecutor Charges A$AP Rocky: A Swedish prosecutor has charged U.S. rapper A$AP Rocky and two other people held in remand since July 5 on suspicion of committing an assault in central Stockholm. “I have today commenced criminal proceedings against the three individuals suspected of assault causing actual bodily harm, having come to the conclusion that the events in question constitute a crime and despite claims of self-defense and provocation,” Public Prosecutor Daniel Suneson said in a statement today.

Trump over the weekend said he received assurances from Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven that A$AP Rocky would be “treated fairly” after promising to “personally vouch” for the bail of the hip-hop artist. Read more from Niklas Magnusson.

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