Wednesday, March 29, 2017
587 Days until Election Day 2018
1,315 Days until Election Day 2020
Trump's Washington: The Latest
Russia Investigation The continued investigation of the ties between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump continues to dominate Washington, even as one probe of the matter has basically grinded to a halt. House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is already under pressure due to his handling of an explosive claim last week that conversations of members of the Trump transition were "incidentally collected" by U.S. intelligence agencies. Nunes went to brief the President on the information and told the press before his colleagues (Trump said it "somewhat" vindicated his claim of being wiretapped by former President Obama); this week, it has emerged that Nunes received the information on the White House complex, raising questions as to whether he coordinated with the Administration he is supposed to be investigating.
Democratic leadership, every Democratic member of his committee - including ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) - and even one Republican lawmaker, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), have called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. Instead, he's paused the entire thing.
Nunes canceled an open hearing scheduled for Tuesday, which was set to include testimony from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. He never scheduled a closed hearing that was supposed to take its place, featuring FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, nor has a time been set to interview the growing number of Trump associates volunteering to testify, including Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. And he canceled two meetings of the Committee that were supposed to take place on Monday and Thursday.
Why? Nunes said he wants the FBI Director to return to the committee. "Until Comey comes forward, it’s hard for us to move forward with interviews and depositions," he said on Tuesday. Nunes' delay of the investigation has only served to increase Democratic frustration wtih him. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the panel, told the Washington Post: “In my three years here, I’ve never seen us have a full week without a hearing. We’ve made no progress since last Monday’s open hearing, and that is intentional.” Swalwell added on MSNBC's "Morning Joe": ""This was done because the White House wanted it to be done. This is what the coverup to a crime looks like."
Asked by reporters Tuesday if he would continue leading the investigation, despite Democratic pressure, Nunes responded: "Well, why would I not?" Most Republicans have continued to defend Nunes, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) answering "no" when asked if the chairman should step away. However, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been critical of Nunes: "there’s so much out there that needs to be explained by the chairman," the former said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning"; "he’s gone off on a lark by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here," the latter echoed on NBC's "Today."
Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI continue their Russia probes without much criticism. The Senate panel's chairman, Richard Burr (R-NC), and ranking member, Mark Warner (D-VA), will provide an update of their investigation at a 2:30pm press conference today.
Also on Tuesday, the White House has continued to push back against the idea of ties to Russia. "If the President puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russia connection," an exasperated Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, said at his daily briefing. Spicer spent the first part of his briefing knocking down a Washington Post story from that morning, which reported that the Trump Administration had attempted to stop Yates, who served as Acting Attorney General in the early days of Trump's presidency, from testifying, saying her testimony would cover topics protected by executive privilege. "The Washington Post story is entirely false," Spicer responded. "The White House has taken no action to prevent Sally Yates from testifying and the Department of Justice specifically told her that it would not stop her and to suggest otherwise is completely irresponsible."
Health Care When the GOP replacement to Obamacare, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), went down last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced defeat at a press conference. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," he said. In interviews, President Trump also said health care would not be returning to his agenda for a long time, declaring that House Republicans who sunk the AHCA would have to live with Obaamcare. The GOP bill was dead, Trump declared.
Not anymore, it seems. Publicly blaming the hardline House Freedom Caucus for killing the AHCA, Trump has said he hopes to work with Democrats to craft a bipartisan health care plan, and sooner than previously expected. "I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care," the President said at a bipartisan reception for Senators last night. "That's such an easy one. I have no doubt that that's going to happen very quickly."
According to a number of outlets, the White House has quietly restarted negotiations with Congress on health care, with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon talking with lawmakers. Politico reported Tuesday that many Republican lawmakers are hoping to revive the AHCA from the dead, and continue to rework it within the party to mollify conservatives and moderates alike. Both groups had significant objections to the measure.
Many in the GOP hope this process will happen quickly, and that a new bill could be passed in mere weeks. "I think we're closer today to repealing Obamacare than we've ever been before, and are surely even closer than we were Friday," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the House Freedom Caucus has not budged, still calling for complete repeal of Obamacare. In fact, caucus member Mo Brooks (R-AL) has filed a bill fully repealing the health care law, and said he plans to file a discharge petition to send his measure to the floor without leadership approval. According to USA Today, the Freedom Caucus is hoping to meet with the moderate Tuesday Group to iron out their differences. And on the other side? “Members of the Democratic caucus remain ready and willing to work with you on policies that would improve the stability of the individual insurance market,” 44 Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to President Trump, obtained by the Washington Post.
Gorsuch Nomination Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced a date Tuesday for the vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch: Friday, April 7. "We're going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed," McConnell confidently told reporters on Capitol Hill. Gorsuch is set to face a Judiciary Committee vote on Monday, April 3.
McConnell's Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is leading an attempted filibuster of Gorsuch's nomination. The judge will need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster; eight Democrats would need to join the 52 Senate Republicans for him to do so. If not enough Democrats join the GOP, McConnell can try to invoke the "nuclear option," a controversial move that would abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations and only require 51 votes for Gorsuch's confirmation.
"I hope it doesn't come to that but if the Democrats force our hand, then we'll be prepared to do what we need to do to confirm the judge," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said. Democrats are hoping they can deny Gorsuch the needed 60 votes, and are hoping some Republicans - such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) - will oppose McConnell's rule change, although Cornyn predicted that none would. The "nuclear option" was first invoked in 2013 by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), but it did not include Supreme Court nominees.
So far, just two Democrats have announced their opposition to the filibuster: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Both are in the group of ten Senate Democrats who face re-election next year in states won by Trump in 2016, many of whom are still undecided on the filibuster, including Jon Tester (D-MT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Joe Donnelly (D-IN).
Mark Your Calendars: Shutdown Looming The current continuing resolution funding the government is set to run out on Friday, April 28 - less than one month (just a dozen or so legislative days) away. If no alternative is passed by then, the federal government will shut down. More coming on this fight in the days ahead...
Number of Note According to Gallup's Monday and Tuesday tracking polls, President Trump's job approval rating stands at 36%. For context: President Obama's lowest Gallup approval was 38%.
Per NBC, here's where Gallup had Presidents stood at this point: Obama (63%), Bush II (53%), Clinton (53%), Bush I (56%), Reagan (60%), Carter (75%).
Tweet, Tweet Via @realDonaldTrump:
5:41pm, Tuesday: "Why doesn't Fake News talk about Podesta ties to Russia as covered by @FoxNews or money from Russia to Clinton - sale of Uranium?" (Clinton's former campaign chairman John Podesta legally served on a board of an American company with a Russian banker. The Uranium One sale was approved by Clinton, and eight other agency heads, when she was Secretary of State.)
7:01am, today: "Remember when the failing @nytimes apologized to its subscribers, right after the election, because their coverage was so wrong. Now worse!" (The Times did not apologize.)
7:21am, today: "If the people of our great country could only see how viciously and inaccurately my administration is covered by certain media!"
The President's Schedule At 10:30am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.
At 11am, President Trump will host a roundtable on opioid and drug abuse in the Cabinet Room. At the roundtable, he is expected to announce the formation of an Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission to be chaired by Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), a onetime rival of turned early endorser of Trump's. Christie initially led Trump's transition team before being pushed out and was (at one point) believed to be in the running for a number of Administration posts. His commission will work to address the opioid crisis, which President Trump often spke about on the campaign trail.
At 3:45pm, President Trump will drop by a Women's Empowerment Panel in the East Room. The panel will be moderated by state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R-FL), a Trump ally also rumored to be joining the Administration eventually. The panelists are three of Trump's four female Cabinet-level officials: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, as well as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.
The First Lady's Schedule First Lady Melania Trump will head to the State Department today to present the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon. According to the State Department, the award "annually recognizes women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk." It was founded by then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in 2007, and has since been awarded to over 100 women from more than 60 countries. Thirteen women will receive the award today.
Vice President's Schedule Vice President Mike Pence will swear in David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel today; he will also join Trump at the roundtable and panel.
Senate Schedule The Senate will meet at 10am today. The chamber will debate another resolution repealing an Obama Administration regulation, this time targeting a Labor Department rule on retirement savings plans for government employees.
House Schedule The House will also convene at 10am, to debate he Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act, which prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from enacting a rule unless "all scientific and technical information relied on to support the action is: 1) the best available science; 2) specifically identified; and 3) publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results," according to Popvox.