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February 11, 2019

2-11-2019 Highlights from Last Week….

Week in Review

The Trump administration

  • President Donald Trump pressed a hard line on immigration during his State of the Union address, pushing for his border wall and offering no concessions to Democratic priorities such as a path to citizenship for immigrants brought into United States illegally as children.
  • Trump tapped David Malpass, undersecretary for international affairs at the Treasury Department, as the U.S. pick to lead the World Bank, according to administration officials. Malpass – a former official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations – has spoken critically of institutions like the World Bank, which could intensify resistance from other countries against him leading it.
  • Trump said he plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to “watch Iran,” a move that would commit American troops to the region amid withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan. According to two U.S. officials, senior American military officials recently visited Iraqi bases to determine if they could base small teams of special forces to strike the Islamic State group in Syria, as well as to continue airstrikes and resupplying of allied Kurdish fighters.
  • Trump nominated David Bernhardt, the acting secretary of Interior since Jan. 2, as his permanent replacement for former Secretary Ryan Zinke. Bernhardt is a former oil and agricultural industry lobbyist who also served in George W. Bush’s administration.
  • A White House official said the United States urged members of Venezuela’s military to abandon leader Nicolás Maduro and recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s president. The Trump administration is said to be readying further sanctions on Venezuela as part of an effort to push Maduro to relinquish control.

Congress

  • Bipartisan negotiators from the House and Senate were said to be nearing a deal that would offer Trump money for border barriers, but less than the $5.7 billion he’s sought for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Lawmakers face a Feb. 15 deadline to reach an agreement in order to avoid another partial government shutdown.
  • The House Intelligence Committee moved to broaden its inquiry into whether foreign powers may be exercising influence over Trump, while other House committees began other lines of investigation, including into the president’s tax returns, his acting attorney general and potential rule-bending during the partial government shutdown. The actions come after Trump warned in his State of the Union address that “ridiculous partisan investigations” threaten the economy and the prospect of legislating, comments House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called “an all-out threat.”
  • The committee also voted to provide special counsel Robert Mueller with transcripts from more than 50 interviews it conducted as part of an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The move clears the way for possible perjury prosecutions, though committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) wouldn’t say if Mueller’s team had requested the transcripts.
  • Sources said Trump voiced concern that Schiff is attempting to hire White House employees to help his investigation into foreign attempts to influence the president. The California Democrat hired one former career National Security Council official who left the White House last year, and a second career employee currently detailed to the Trump administration was also said to be considering joining the panel’s staff.
  • Neomi Rao, Trump’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the federal appeals court in Washington, was grilled by senators in both parties about her past controversial writings, including about victims of date rape. A former law professor who advocated for broad presidential power, Rao joined Trump’s administration in 2017 as the White House’s regulatory czar before being nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released a framework of their so-called “Green New Deal,” a massive policy package that, if enacted, would remake the U.S. economy and attempt to eliminate all U.S. carbon emissions. Their non-binding resolution laid out goals for cutting carbon emissions, but itself would not create any new programs.
  • In a 12-10 party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of William Barr to be Trump’s attorney general.
  • Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee he has “not interfered in any way” in Mueller’s investigation. Republicans decried the hearing as political theater, as it came in the waning days of Whitaker’s tenure atop the Justice Department with the Senate set to confirm a permanent attorney general as soon as next week.
  • Former Rep. John Dingell, who was the longest-serving member of Congress, died at age 92. Serving 60 years in the House, the Michigan Democrat was one of the chamber’s most powerful chairmen, helping to write and pass some of the most consequential legislation in the nation’s history.

2020

  • Trump’s re-election campaign launched a state-by-state effort to try to prevent a 2020 primary challenge, including taking steps to change state party rules. Recent primary challenges against incumbent presidents have not been successful, but the Trump campaign hopes to prevent a repeat of problems at conventions that highlighted the weaknesses of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in their unsuccessful re-election bids. (The Associated Press)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren formally launched her 2020 presidential campaign at an event in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The Bay State Democrat struck a populist tone in her speech, linking Trump to “a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.”
  • Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican who won the closest congressional race in the 2018 midterms, announced he will not seek re-election next year. The state’s 7th District was already listed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as a pickup opportunity in 2020, and Carolyn Bourdeaux, who challenged him last year, said she intends to run again.

Virginia scandals 

  • Gov. Ralph Northam’s popularity nosedived in the immediate aftermath of the blackface scandal that resulted in a number of top Democrats calling for his resignation. Morning Consult polling found a 41-point drop in the Virginia Democrat’s net approval rating – including a 38-point drop among Democrats – in the two days after a page surfaced from the governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook showing a picture of one person in blackface and another dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Along with Northam, Virginia’s two other top Democrats in the state were also swept up in scandal, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax accused of sexual assault by two women and Attorney General Mark Herring – next in line to the governorship after Fairfax – admitting to also donning blackface in the 1980s.
  • Tommy Norment, the state’s Republican Senate majority leader, also distanced himself from a decades-old Virginia Military Institute yearbook that he’d edited after it resurfaced showing at least two photos of people in blackface and other racist content.

The investigations 

  • Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have subpoenaed documents from Trump’s inauguration committee, according to sources. The investigators are seeking records related to donors to his inauguration fund, as well as information about attendees at events surrounding the inauguration and benefits provided to top-level donors, such as photo opportunities with the president.
  • Federal prosecutors have been interviewing witnesses about the foreign money that flowed into three law and lobbying firms that Paul Manafort, who would become Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, recruited seven years ago to help improve the image of the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine, according to sources. The probe involving Mercury Public Affairs, the Podesta Group and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom highlights the ripple effects of the work by Mueller’s team, which referred an investigation into unregistered foreign lobbying to federal prosecutors in New York.

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