What to Know in Washington: Trump Reverses Course on Census

The Justice Department is exploring ways to include a citizenship question on the U.S. census as President Donald Trump vows to fight on after the Supreme Court put the plan on hold.

Even with the government off for the Independence Day holiday, Trump said officials were at work on the matter after a federal judge in Maryland gave the U.S. until 2 p.m. today to reach a definitive conclusion. The Washington Post and Axios reported that the administration was considering the option of an executive order, though it isn’t clear if that strategy would be successful.

“So important for our Country that the very simple and basic ‘Are you a Citizen of the United States?’ question be allowed to be asked in the 2020 Census,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice are working very hard on this, even on the 4th of July!”

The Justice Department’s move Wednesday came a day after the administration said it was abandoning its plan to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, an announcement Trump contradicted. “We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt told U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland on Wednesday.

“We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court’s decision. We’re examining that, looking at the near-term options to see whether that’s viable and possible,” Hunt said. Read more from Margaret Talev, Andrew Harris and Josh Wingrove

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump applauds during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. The White House said Trump’s message won’t be political — Trump is calling the speech a “Salute to America” — but it comes as the 2020 campaign is heating up.

Trump Says Detention Better Than Migrant Countries: Trump said that undocumented migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border are living in better and safer conditions than in their home countries, after public outcry over the detention of children and adults in unsanitary conditions. “Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they” came from, “and in far safer conditions,” Trump said Wednesday. “No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked & aghast at how terrible things are.

The Trump administration has come under intense scrutiny in recent days amid reports of migrants, including children, being held in appalling conditions. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) this week accused U.S. border agents of conducting “psychological warfare” against detained migrants who were allegedly told to drink water from toilets if they were thirsty. Read more from Joshua Gallu.

On Lawmakers’ Radars

Senate GOP Concerned by White House Budget Plans: A group of 15 Senate Republicans, including Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), are uncomfortable with the Trump administration’s budgetary plans to avert a federal government shutdown, according to a letter sent to top White House officials on Wednesday. The administration officials’ proposal, pitched in June, involves a one-year extension of current spending levels and a one-year suspension of the debt limit. Read more from Ana Monteiro.

Fetal Tissue Research Funding Ban: A White House decision to stop funding fetal tissue research by government scientists has prompted a new group of House Democrats to press Trump’s top health official on the policy. “The Administration’s action is a grave step backward for the millions of patients waiting for cures and treatments,” 34 lawmakers wrote in a July 2 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “We urge you to reconsider this policy shift and allow researchers to move forward with sound, responsible, and ethical science.” Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Democrats Still Rallying Members on Minimum Wage, Labor Bills: House Democrats, eager to get two top labor policy items off the ground this year, are facing a tougher time than expected getting party members on the same page. A proposal to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024 is moving forward to a floor vote later this month, after facing some pushback by some fellow Democrats. Headway on another proposal, with big implications for labor, has been much slower as more progressive members work to rally and educate lawmakers on provisions of the bill. Read more from Jaclyn Diaz.

Elections & Politics

Amash Quits GOP Over ‘Party Politics’: Rep. Justin Amash, the only House Republican open to impeaching Trump, said he would quit the party, after becoming “disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it.” Amash wrote in a column for the Washington Post that he’s “declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party.”

Amash, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, has long been an independent libertarian-minded vote in the House. A West Michigan lawmaker who pledged to read every word of every bill he voted on, Amash has often broken from his party, a stance that for years was widely tolerated within his own caucus. That changed earlier this year, when Amash said a full reading of Robert Mueller’s report had convinced him Trump had engaged in “impeachable conduct.” Read more from Derek Wallbank.

Harris Keeps Tripping Up on Her ‘Medicare for All’ Fuzziness: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) says she supports “Medicare for All,” and she has cosponsored legislation with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) . But unlike her Democratic presidential rival, she says the plan wouldn’t end private insurance. That’s misleading. The measure would outlaw all private insurance for medically necessary services but allow a sliver to remain for supplemental coverage. It would force the roughly 150 million Americans who are insured through their employer to switch to a government-run program.

Harris is trying to find a narrow path between two competing constituencies in the Democratic Party. On one side are progressives who passionately support so-called single payer insurance and are pushing the party to the left. On the other is the party establishment, which believes that calling for an end to private insurance for millions would be political suicide against President Donald Trump in 2020. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Biden Returns to Trail With ACA Talk: Joe Biden returned to the campaign trail Wednesday with a defense of the Affordable Care Act, consciously drawing a contrast with other Democratic presidential hopefuls after spending weeks focused almost exclusively on Trump. “I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says scrap Obamacare,” the former vice president told voters in Waterloo, Iowa, at his first public appearance since last Thursday’s primary debate. “I’m against any Republican who wants to scrap it, I’m against any Democrat who wa nts to scrap it.” Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Harris Dispute With Biden on Busing Carries Into Iowa Stops: Harris renewed her criticism of Biden for his opposition to busing as a senator in the 1970s, extending a dispute between the two Democratic presidential contenders sparked at last week’s debate.

“I’ve asked him and have yet to hear him agree that busing, that was court-ordered and mandated in most places and in that era in which I was bused, was necessary and he has yet to agree that his position on this, which was to work with segregationist and oppose busing was wrong. Period,” the California senator told reporters Thursday in Indianola, Iowa. Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Jennifer Epstein.

Bennet Campaign Raises $2.8 Million: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) raised $2.8 million in his White House run in his first two months as a candidate, his campaign announced Wednesday. Bennet also transferred $700,000 from his Senate account, giving him $3.5 million in receipts in the second quarter. Small-dollar donor support surged the day after Bennet appeared in the second night of the Democratic debates. His campaign said that 83% of its contributions are in amounts of $25 or less and 95% are in amounts of $100 or less. Read more from Bill Allison.

Ex-Marine Who Threatened Congressman: An ex-Marine will face a larger prison sentence for cyberstalking and threatening a congressman who criticized retired Marine General John Kelly during the debate over immigration policy, the Sixth Circuit said Wednesday. The district court didn’t clearly err by applying the government official enhancement to Scott Sulik’s sentence, the opinion by Judge Jane B. Stranch said. The congressman, who was not identified by name in the decision, made a public statement in 2017 that Kelly was a “disgrac e to the uniform he used to wear.” After Sulik heard about the comment, he sent the congressman a series of threatening emails saying things like he “put his family at risk.” Read more from Bernie Pazanowski.

Defense & Foreign Affairs

Trump Warns Iran After Rouhani Threat: Trump warned Iran Wednesday against stepping up uranium enrichment, the latest escalation of the conflict over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program that has plunged the Gulf into renewed uncertainty. “Rouhani says that they will Enrich Uranium to ‘any amount we want’ if there is no new Nuclear Deal,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, referring to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!” Read more from Golnar Motevalli and Josh Wingrove.

“Negotiation between Iran and America will take place if the supreme leader gives the permission,” Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi was cited as saying by state-run IRNA news agency on Thursday. “The U.S. president thought that sanctions would bring Iran to its knees but the Islamic Republic will not succumb to negotiations under the pressure of global arrogance.”

Major state-run news agencies, including IRNA, later simultaneously ran a statement from the intelligence ministry denying that there was any mention of negotiations by the minister. Iran’s leaders, including Khamenei, have repeatedly refused to negotiate with the U.S. while under crippling sanctions. Read more from Arsalan Shahla.

Putin Pulls Russia Out of Nuclear Pact: President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of a Cold War-era nuclear pact that’s already been abandoned by the U.S., ending more than three decades of agreement on banning short- and medium-range missiles. Putin signed a law to suspend the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to a statement Wednesday on the lower house of parliament’s website. Trump announced in February that he’s pulling out of the landmark treaty, which bans deployment of ground-launched missiles with range s between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers, after he accused Russia of violating the pact, something Moscow denies. Read more from Tony Halpin.

U.S. Hits Back at Huawei Challenge: A U.S. law prohibiting federal agencies from buying Huawei Technologies equipment isn’t legislative punishment but serves to protect against China gaining a strategic foothold in those agencies’ networks, the government said. Justice Department lawyers asked a federal judge in Sherman, Texas, to throw out a lawsuit Huawei filed against the U.S. government in March. The Chinese telecom giant sued to invalidate a law Congress passed last year barring government purchases of its products. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

What Else to Know

Trump Remakes July 4: Trump delivered a 4th of July speech on the National Mall that extolled the U.S. military and American people and put himself at the center of the Independence Day celebration.

“We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag — the brave men and women of the United States military,” Trump said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday, flanked by American flags. “We are part of one of the greatest stories ever told — the story of America.”

Trump recalled key developments in American history, including the country’s founding, exploration of the west, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. He avoided overly political themes, calling the speech a “Salute to America,” though it came as a crowded field of Democrats is challenging him in the 2020 campaign. The event included military tanks, flyovers by military jets and Air Force One, and culminated with an extended fireworks display. Read more from Josh Wingrove, Laura Davison and Giovanna Bellotti Azevedo.

House Panel May Investigate Park Service Funds for July 4 Event: The head of a House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department threatened to investigate the use of National Park Service entrance fee funds to pay for a July 4 celebration on the National Mall. House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) questioned Interior’s spending $2.5 million in park entrance fees on Trump’s July 4 “Salute to America” event on the National Mall. Read more from Bobby Magill.

Border Wall Ruling Gives Clues to Judge on Trump Tax Returns: A recent decision from the judge selected to rule in the lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s tax returns may offer clues about how that fight will go. Judge Trevor N. McFadden sided with the administration in June in a case involving how to pay for Trump’s desired border wall.

But the reason he gave involved a broader issue than the border wall funds: McFadden ruled the House didn’t have standing, which is necessary for a federal judge to be able to rule on the actual dispute in the case. That central question could be an important issue when it comes to the president’s tax returns, which the House Ways and Means Committee sued to obtain on July 2. The case is in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. And multiple legal experts say, given that Judge McFadden will make the decision, the border wall fight could offer insight. Read more from Aysha Bagchi.

Presidential Delegation to FIFA Final Match: The White House on Wednesday announced a presidential delegation to attend the final match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Lyon, France, on Sunday. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley will lead the delegation made up of French and Monaco Ambassador Jamie D. McCourt, Peace Corps Director Josephine K. Olsen, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce, former professional soccer pla yer Shauna Rohbock, also of the U.S. Army National Guard and member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition; and Bakkt CEO and Co-owner of the Atlanta Dream Kelly Loeffler.

NLRB Eliminates Hurdle to Union Fight: The National Labor Relations Board made it easier for an employer to oust a union after getting evidence that a majority of workers no longer supports that union. The NLRB’s Republican majority modified the board’s legal framework for an employer to stop bargaining prior to the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement and announce it will eject the union when that contract ends. Read more from Robert Iafolla.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

Coming up at BGOV


The State of Congressional Investigations
July 16, 2019
Register Now

Race to the Finish: Maximizing Q4 Opportunities
July 17, 2019
Register Now