What to Know in Washington: Trump Plays to Base With Attack

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With his unrelenting attacks on four women House Democrats, Donald Trump is placing a bet he can stoke his base of die-hard Republican supporters, yet risks deepening accusations that he is racist.

After a week of missteps and following recent polls suggesting his re-election is in doubt, Trump saw an opportunity in a fight between House Democrats to further sow the country’s political divisions and rally his most loyal supporters.

The president yesterday continued his calls for the lawmakers — all American women of color — to “go back” to countries they “came from.” He brushed off concern his remarks were racist. “A lot of people love it,” he said, adding, “if they don’t like it here, they can leave.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her three colleagues in turn dismissed Trump’s behavior as a racist distraction. “Do not take the bait,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said at a news conference.

The president is keen on framing his opponents as radical socialists in the run-up to the 2020 election, seeking to neutralize Democratic candidates who have characterized their campaigns as antidotes to the chaos and turmoil that have defined the Trump White House. But his tweets, inviting the lawmakers to return to the “crime infested places from which they came,” crossed a line seldom even approached by his modern predecessors.

The episode underscored the extent to which the president views racial strife as a political opportunity. The four outspoken young lawmakers, also including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), have increasingly clashed with their party’s more moderate leadership. The dispute dramatically escalated last week when Ocasio-Cortez publicly suggested a racial element behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) criticism of her and her colleagues. Trump declared yesterday that it was always his plan to provoke Democrats to rally around the women, embracing their policies. Read more from Justin Sink.

House Democrats today will look to chastise Trump for his comments, holding a vote on a resolution unveiled yesterday that would condemn his remarks as “racist.” The House Rules Committee met last night to set terms of debate on the measure (H. Res. 489) sponsored by Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). The resolution “strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

Pressley_Tlaib_Ocasio-Cortez
Photographer: Al Drago/BLoomberg
Reps. Pressley, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez at a hearing last week.

Also Happening on the Hill

Green Card Bill HitsSnag—BGOV Podcast: The House last week easily passed a bill to eliminate per-country caps on employment-based green cards, a move that would reduce the backlog of applicants from China and India. The bill faces a rockier road in the Senate, however, where concerns on specific occupations and the broader system of legal immigration are holding up any action.

On this episode of “Suspending the Rules” from BGOV, legislative analyst Adam Taylor and Bloomberg Law immigration reporter Laura Francis examine the bill’s prospects. Listen and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Mnuchin Says Debt Limit Deal Includes Caps: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Pelosi are hashing out details of a debt limit deal that both sides say should include an agreement on a two-year budget deal. “To the extent we can agree on a debt ceiling and budget deal, that is the first choice,” Mnuchin told reporters yesterday. “I think we’re very close to a deal but as you know these deals are very complicated.”

Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke by telephone last night and agreed to talk again today, according to a Democratic aide. The call follows a series of discussions between the two leaders representing the priorities of House Democrats and the White House. Mnuchin’s discussions with the speaker took on increased urgency last week when the Treasury accelerated its estimate for when the U.S. will run out of money to meet payment obligations. He said under one of the Treasury Department’s scenarios, the U.S. risks defaulting in early September, before lawmakers return from their summer recess. Josh Wingrove has more.

Tech Giants Brace for Washington Showdown: U.S. technology giants are headed for their biggest antitrust showdown with Congress in 20 years as lawmakers and regulators demand to know whether companies like Google and Facebook use their dominance to squelch innovation. Executives from Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are set to appear today before the House antitrust panel, whose Democratic chairman is leading an investigation into the market power of the biggest tech companies and their effect on competition.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who leads the antitrust panel, is bearing down on technology companies as antitrust enforcers prepare their own scrutiny of the industry. The hearing will focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. One of the key complaints from critics of the big tech companies is that they can use their power to thwart competition from smaller rivals. Read more from David McLaughlin and Ben Brody.

Conway Skips Hearing Despite Subpoena: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway didn’t appear at a House hearing yesterday on whether she violated a law prohibiting administration officials from engaging in political work while on public payroll. Trump directed her to skip the hearing “in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter to House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). The Justice Department, Cipollone wrote, “has advised me that Ms. Conway is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters related to her service as a senior adviser to the president.” Read more from Billy House, Josh Wingrove and Jarrell Dillard.

Drug Industry Donors Favor McCarthy: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) raked in more campaign contributions in 2019 from political action committees affiliated with top drugmakers than anyone else in Congress, according to a review of Federal Election Commission filings. McCarthy and his main political action committee took $127,000 in the first six months of the year from PACs associated with six firms that have a history of giving to candidates: AbbVie, AmerisourceBergen, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) was a distant second in accepting donations from PACs affiliated with the companies, at $26,500. Democratic leaders have declared that reining in drug pricing will be a main priority for 2019 and a rare opportunity for possible cooperation with the president. So far, though, the current Congress has yet to send a major piece of drug-pricing legislation to Trump’s desk. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Migrant Detention Center Conditions: “Dangerous”, overcrowded conditions at migrant border facilities inspected in May and June were “far more grievous than any of our inspectors had previously encountered,” a federal government watchdog official told the House Judiciary Committee’s panel on Immigration and Citizenship yesterday. “Our inspections teams, some of them whom have been doing this over a decade, have never seen anything like this before,” said Diana Shaw, assistant inspector general for special reviews and evaluations at the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The office published two reports in the last several weeks, but Shaw said her team was still concerned DHS efforts to address the conditions “fell short” and weren’t being carried out fast enough. She said her office would issue a report as soon as possible looking at the root causes of the conditions. Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said she was concerned that the overcrowding was caused by the department delaying the transfer of children and adults to long-term facilities with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The full committee is slated to markup legislation (H.R. 3239) aiming to improve humanitarian conditions for migrants at the border.

Elections & Politics

2020 Money Race: Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) surged, Joe Biden got in the game and one-time rising star Beto O’Rourke faltered during the second-quarter 2020 presidential money race. The campaign finance filings showed that the five top-tier Democratic candidates are pulling away from the rest of the crowded field and revealed how far ahead Trump is in the hunt for contributions. As some two dozen Democratic candidates compete for donors, Trump has the luxury of focusing on the general election.

Bill Allison and Mark Niquette break down what the second-quarter Federal Election Commission filings released yesterday show.

Thiel Says Warren Is Most ‘Dangerous’ Candidate: Peter Thiel, the technology industry’s most prominent Trump supporter, called Warren the most “dangerous” Democratic presidential candidate. In a rare television interview, Thiel said yesterday that Warren was the only Democrat talking about important issues like the economy. “All the others are almost equally unimpressive, in that it’s all identity politics in one flavor or another,” he told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. “I’m most scared by Elizabeth Warren. I think she’s the one who’s actually t alking about the economy, which is the only thing, the thing that I think matters by far the most.” Read more from Lizette Chapman.

Harris Unveils Drug Plan: Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) rolled out a policy blueprint to slash prices for prescription drugs when they cost less in other developed countries or when their price climbs faster than inflation.

Her proposal would give the HHS authority to set a “fair price” for drugs on the basis of average costs in countries under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, like Canada and France. Profits from sales above that level would be taxed at 100% and the proceeds would be returned to consumers in rebates. Harris, who is set to discuss her plan today at a forum hosted by AARP in Davenport, Iowa, said she wants to take on the “massive profits” of drug makers. “This plan puts peop le over profit by forcing these companies to reduce prices for consumers and holding them accountable when they gouge Americans,” she said in a statement. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Movers & Shakeups

Judicial Nominations: The Pennsylvania-based federal appeals court is closer to having a full bench for the first time in six years. The Senate yesterday voted to end debate on the nomination of Peter Phipps to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, setting up his likely confirmation later this week. Phipps would be the 43rd circuit court judge nominated by Trump to be confirmed by the Republican-led Senate as part of the president’s drive to reshape the judiciary with conservative appointments. While the p ace of judicial confirmations has picked up overall, the number of circuit court appointments has fallen sharply this year as Trump is close to exhausting the list of openings. Read more from Jake Holland.

Trump Picks Acting CEA Head: Trump has picked Tomas Philipson, former University of Chicago professor and health care policy specialist, to be acting chairman of the White House Counsel of Economic Advisers, a White House spokesman confirmed in an emailed statement yesterday, Josh Wingrove reports. Philipson has already been serving as acting chair of CEA.

DOD Chief Management Officer Pick: The White House announced yesterday Trump intends to nominate Lisa Hershman to be the chief management officer for the Defense Department. Hershman is currently serving as the deputy chief management officer. Before joining DOD, Hershman was founder and CEO of the DeNovo Group, and is the former CEO of Hammer and Company, according to a White House statement.

The White House also announced Trump plans to nominate Michael DeSombre to be U.S. ambassador to Thailand. DeSombre is currently a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell law firm based in Hong Kong, where the White House said he “leads the mergers and acquisition practice in Asia.” The White House also says Trump intends to nominate Carmen G. Cantor to be ambassador to Micronesia, reports Kim Chipman.

What Else to Know

Agriculture Immigration Rules: The Trump administration proposed new immigration rules yesterday for temporary agricultural workers that officials said would make it easier for employers to apply for the visas. The Labor Department said in a statement announcing the proposed new regulations that the changes would simplify the H-2A program through electronic filing of job orders and applications and allowing employers the option of staggering entry of H-2A workers on a single application.

Agricultural groups have pressed for changes to make it easier to bring in foreign workers to meet seasonal needs. The H-2A visa is intended for temporary agricultural workers in cases where there are insufficient American workers able or willing to fill openings. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Congress Can Reverse ACA Guidance, GAO Says: Congress can take action to overturn Trump administration changes to waivers that states have used to forgo certain Obamacare requirements. The Government Accountability Office decided yesterday that a guidance on state innovation waivers falls under the boundaries of the Congressional Review Act. That law allows Congress to reverse federal regulations shortly after they’re enacted, and it only requires a simple majority in each chamber to pass a resolution disapproving of a rule.

The administration guidance allows states to use federal funds to pay for plans that don’t cover people with pre-existing conditions, including short-term limited-duration plans and association health plans. Association health plans allow groups of small businesses to form health insurance plans for their employees. Read more from Shira Stein.

Border Agents Investigated for Facebook Posts: U.S. Customs and Border Protection is internally investigating at least 62 current employees and eight former workers tied to Facebook groups connected with offensive posts, Matt Klein, assistant commissioner of the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility, said in an emailed statement. The agency has asked Facebook to preserve all information that existed on the pages in question, Klein said. CBP is consulting with legal counsel to determine if any of the posts in question rose to criminal mis conduct, Klein said.

The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said last week that her office is investigating allegations that agency leadership knew about the posts for years and used them as a way to collect information without taking action, but that it would not be a criminal investigation, Michaela Ross reports.

Trump Team Eyes Russia Arms Control Talks: The U.S. is getting “strong signals” that Russia wants a more stable relationship with Washington, and the Trump administration wants to use that opening to press for a broad arms control agreement that would also include China, two senior American officials said. The administration will test Moscow’s interest in such an agreement when Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan leads a delegation to Geneva tomorrow for meetings with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

Land Agency HQ to Be Moved Out of Washington: The Interior Department is moving the headquarters of the division that oversees the nation’s public lands out of Washington to Grand Junction, Colo., according to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). Proponents of relocating the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters, which manages about 245 million acres of public land, say they want more of the agency’s employees closer to the land it oversees. Critics say the effort will take leaders away from the front lines of where policies and budgets are determined. Read more from Ari Natter.

DeVos Says Cyber Workers Don’t Need College: Cybersecurity jobs should be open to people with nontraditional educations, including those without a four-year college degree, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said at a government cybersecurity training program graduation. “Every student in the United States needs the freedom to pursue their own education in ways and in places that work for them,” DeVos said at the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy, which trains federal employees in data security skills, Anna Kramer reports.

Flynn-Tied Lobbying Trial: The security-consulting business owned by former national security adviser Michael Flynn was secretly working as an agent for the government of Turkey in the fall of 2016, prosecutors said at the start of a trial of Flynn’s one-time business partner Bijan Kian. Kian led the Flynn Intelligence Group’s paid lobbying effort to discredit a U.S.-based Muslim imam who is prominent in the Turkish opposition movement, said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gibbs.

Despite a law that requires registration by any U.S. company or individual working on behalf of a foreign government, Gibbs said Kian lied to hide that Flynn Intel was acting as an arm of the Turkish government’s efforts to pressure the U.S. into extraditing the cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Gulen for an attempted coup in 2016, a claim the imam has denied. Read more from David Kocieniewski

To contact the reporter 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

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