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Window On Washington - February 3, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 5

Feb 03, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Impeachment Trial Ending. Last week, the Senate voted to block an effort to subpoena any new witnesses or documents in the impeachment trial. Closing arguments will begin later today and occur through Wednesday, when the Senate will hold the vote on whether or not to impeach. It is widely expected that the Senate will vote for the acquittal of President Trump. However, the State of the Union is tomorrow night, meaning the trial won’t be completed until after the annual speech.

House Actions. The House does not hold any votes until Wednesday. It is planning to consider a supplemental appropriations bill to provide aid to Puerto Rico in response to the recent earthquakes. The House also plans to take up a resolution expressing disapproval of the Administration’s new Medicaid block grant plan, as well as a bill that would expand protections for private sector workers’ right to unionize.

Iowa Caucuses. The Iowa Caucuses – the first contest of the 2020 election cycle – is held tonight. There are still over a half dozen Democratic candidates in the race and some recent polls show a tight race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

House Earmarks Decision Likely Next Week, Lowey Says: House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) indicated that the word would come down as soon as this week on whether lawmakers would be able to seek special projects for their districts in next year’s spending bills. The New York Democrat’s comments follow weeks of behind-the-scenes conversations during which she has begun to formulate how the House might bring back the controversial earmarking process during an election year. (Roll Call)

US Deficit to Eclipse $1 Trillion in 2020, CBO Says: The US government’s budget deficit is projected to reach $1.02 trillion in 2020, according to a report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as the federal government continues to spend much more than it collects in tax revenue. A combination of the 2017 tax cuts and a surge in new spending has pushed the deficit wider. (The Washington Post)

Health

House to Vote on Disapproval Resolution of Medicaid Block Grants: The House will vote this week on a resolution to disapprove of the Trump administration’s new Medicaid block grant plan, Democratic leaders announced. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the vote will happen Thursday. The resolution is not likely to be taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate. (The Hill)

Lawmakers Fret over China’s Virus Info as US Local Case Emerges: House lawmakers briefed by the Trump administration expressed confidence in the United States government’s approach to the spread of coronavirus, although not necessarily China’s response, as officials confirmed the first person infected in the US who had not traveled to China. Committee members in the briefing expressed concerns that China may not be providing enough information about the outbreak and worried that a severe flu season could strain the US response if coronavirus spreads here. (Roll Call)

Environment/Interior

Sanders Introduces Bill to Clean Up of Toxic 'Forever Chemicals': A trio of senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill last Wednesday designed to stem the spread of a cancer-linked chemical that has leached into the water supply. (The Hill)

Defense

House Votes 'No War Against Iran,' In Rebuke To Trump: The House has approved two measures seeking to limit the president's ability to take military action without congressional approval. The first piece of legislation, known as the No War Against Iran Act, would block funding for military force in or against Iran unless Congress has signed off. The measure, introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna of California, passed by a vote of 228-175. (NPR)

Trade

Trump Administration Won't Turn Over Auto Import Probe Report, Defying Congress: The Trump administration is snubbing Congress by refusing to turn over a report detailing an investigation into national security risks potentially posed by imported vehicles and auto parts, citing pending international negotiations and executive branch deliberations. (Reuters)

Education

House Democrats' $760B Infrastructure Plan Doesn’t Include Any Money for Schools: Last Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled a $760 billion infrastructure framework, but absent from it was any spending on schools. (Clark Hill Insight)

Transportation

House Democrats Unveil $760B Infrastructure Plan: House Democrats last Wednesday unveiled a $760 billion framework to fund infrastructure investments over five years in an effort to take their first steps on a top campaign priority. (The Hill)

Chairman: Democrats Won't Propose Infrastructure Funding Source Without White House Agreement: House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (R-MA) said last Wednesday that House Democrats aren't going to offer up a revenue source to pay for an infrastructure package until they have a deal with the White House. (The Hill)

Justice

Doug Collins Expected to Step Down as Top Republican on Judiciary Committee: Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) is not expected to stay on as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee as he seeks a Georgia Senate seat, according to several GOP lawmakers and aides, opening up a coveted top slot on the powerful panel. (Politico)

Homeland Security/Immigration

House Panel Approves Legislation to Establish Term for CISA Leader: The House Homeland Security Committee advanced the CISA Director Reform Act, which aims to improve operations and efficiency at the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is charged with protecting our nation from cyber threats. (Security Magazine)

Immigration Judges Association Calls for Independence from DOJ: National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) President Ashley Tabbador told members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship that "America needs an immigration court that is free from improper influence on the decisions of immigration judges." (The Hill)

Labor and Workforce

Congress’s Most Ambitious Attempt to Strengthen Unions in Years is Set for a House Vote This Week: The Protecting the Right to Organize Act would amend some of the country’s decades-old labor laws to give workers more power during disputes at work, add penalties for companies that violate labor law, and grant potentially hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights they don’t currently have. It would also weaken “right-to-work” laws in 27 states that allow employees to forgo participating in and paying dues to unions. (Washington Post)

Space/NASA & NOAA

House Subcommittee Advances NASA Reauthorization Bill: The House space subcommittee approved a NASA authorization bill Jan. 29 that has attracted criticism from NASA and some in the space industry, due to not endorsing the Administration’s goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024 (choosing 2028 instead) while also calling for a human mission to Mars in 2033, although members said they plan to continue to refine the bill. (Space News)

Impeachment Inquiry

'Danger, Danger, Danger': Trump Defense Team Warns Against Impeachment and Other Takeaways: President Trump’s defense team concluded their opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial against the president. The defense team’s opening arguments lasted for two hours. (USA Today)

Trump's Senate Trial: Key Moments from Day One of the Question-and-Answer Phase: Senators remained divided on calling witnesses, and President Trump's lawyers suggested there was nothing wrong with a president seeking foreign re-election help because it could be considered in the national interest. (NBC News)

Swing-Vote GOP Sen. Alexander Comes Out Against Witnesses, Paving Way for Imminent Trump Acquittal: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced late last Thursday night that he would not support additional witnesses in President Trump's "shallow, hurried and wholly partisan" Senate impeachment trial, seemingly ending Democrats' hopes of hearing testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton. (Fox News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Pushes Forward Conservative Transformation of Medicaid: The Trump administration took a step forward to let states convert a portion of Medicaid funding into block grants, a long-sought conservative overhaul of the safety net health care program that Democrats will wield as a political weapon during the election. The plan is the administration’s boldest step yet to curb Medicaid spending and shrink the program covering about 1 in 5 low-income Americans. But the move is inciting fierce opposition from Democrats who say it’s the latest evidence President Trump is trying to sabotage health coverage. (Politico)

Conservative Groups Call on Trump Administration to Scrap Looming Drug Price Move: Opponents of a controversial Trump administration move to lower drug prices are ramping up their messaging efforts against the proposal as they brace for its possible release. A coalition of 52 conservative organizations wrote a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar urging him not to go forward with the proposal and to withdraw it instead. The proposal would link prices for certain drugs under Medicare to the lower prices paid in other countries, an idea usually associated with Democrats. (The Hill)

NIH’s New Cluster Hiring Program Aims to Help Schools Attract Diverse Faculty: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is hoping universities will use a controversial—and largely untested—method of hiring junior faculty members to improve the diversity of the US biomedical research workforce. A top-level advisory group gave NIH officials the green light to launch a $241 million initiative called Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST). The money, over 9 years, would go to help each of roughly a dozen universities and medical schools support a cluster of 10 or more newly hired young faculty members. (Science)

Defense/DOD

US Troop Injuries After Iran Missile Strike Rises to 64: Fourteen additional US service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries from an Iranian attack on an Iraqi air base earlier this month, the Pentagon announced last Thursday. (The Hill)

Trade

Trump Takes Victory Lap with USMCA Signing: With the signing of the legislation, President Trump has followed through on a campaign promise of replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he ridiculed as the “worst” trade deal throughout his 2016 campaign for the White House. (The Hill)

Dept. of Ed

Betsy DeVos says 'Education Freedom is Inevitable' Ahead of State of Union: “Republicans and Democrats alike need look no further than the latest polling data to know that, and this administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal is the best, most direct way to make it happen,” DeVos said, adding that Congress should act “quickly on this bipartisan issue.” (Washington Times)

Labor and Workforce/DOL

Retailers Take Note – DOL Releases its “Joint Employer” Final Rule: The Department of Labor (DOL) has released its much-anticipated final rule on the often-litigated “joint employer” issue under the Fair Labor Standards Act and its statutory requirements relating to minimum wage and overtime obligations. This final rule represents the first significant revisions to DOL’s regulations on this subject in more than 50 years. (Retail Consumer Products Law)

DOJ

DOJ Tells Court That Congress Can't Sue to Enforce Subpoenas: The Trump administration told a federal judge on Thursday that Congress cannot sue the executive branch, attempting to fight off a House committee's subpoena for documents related to aborted efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. (The Hill)

DHS/Immigration

Trump Signs Executive Order Combating Human Trafficking: White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan said Friday that the new executive order establishes a position in the White House domestic policy office “solely devoted” to work on combating human trafficking. (The Hill)

Supreme Court Allows Trump to Enforce 'Public Charge' Immigration Rule: A narrowly divided Supreme Court last Monday allowed the Trump administration to begin enforcing a rule making it harder for poor immigrants to gain green cards. (Politico)

US Travel Ban: Trump Puts Restrictions on Six More Countries: People from Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar will now be blocked from obtaining certain types of visas. (BBC News)

Environment/EPA/DOI

US EPA Chief of Staff Is Headed to Top Coal Mining Group: Ryan Jackson is stepping down after three years at the Environmental Protection Agency to become the National Mining Association’s senior vice president of government affairs, the trade group said last week. (Yahoo News)

EPA Re-Approves Key Roundup Chemical: The agency is doubling down on its claims that the chemical, glyphosate, doesn’t pose a danger to humans despite thousands of lawsuits that attribute cancer to Roundup. (The Hill)

Cyber

Britain Defies Trump Plea to Ban Huawei From 5G Network: Britain said last Tuesday that it would not ban equipment made by the Chinese technology giant Huawei from being used in its new high-speed 5G wireless network, the starkest sign yet that an American campaign against the telecommunications company is faltering. (New York Times)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Courts, Without Law for Guidance, Setting Value of Cryptoassets: Bankruptcy judges are used to deciding the value of assets, but for cryptocurrencies, which can halve or double in value in a matter of months, determining how much one party is owed gets tricky. It’s an issue that could be mitigated by regulators or lawmakers, but despite myriad efforts focusing on digital assets this year, US bankruptcy judges are unlikely to get much guidance, according to several lawyers who track the cryptocurrency industry. (Roll Call)

Agriculture/USDA

Agriculture Roundup: USDA Hemp Rules, Concerns About Exports to China, Amazon Food Stamp Pilot Program: Farm groups and hemp advocates submitted nearly 2,500 comments on the Agriculture Department’s proposed regulations for industrial hemp production before the public comment period ended on Wednesday, and USDA is keeping a close watch on export effects of the coronavirus outbreak in China. (Politico)

Transportation/DOT

3 Major US Airlines Suspend China Flights Over Coronavirus: Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines said Friday that they were suspending service between the United States and China, and some in the White House were reported to be urging further travel restrictions because of escalating fear over the global spread of the coronavirus. (New York Times)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Unveils 16 Payloads That Private Lunar Landers Will Take to the Moon: Just last week, the space agency unveiled 16 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations that will hitch a ride to the moon aboard landers built by two private companies: Astrobotic of Pittsburgh and Intuitive Machines LLC of Houston. The two landers are slated to launch in July 2021 on United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket and Space X's Falcon 9, respectively. (Space.Com)

After Missouri Duck Boat Disaster, NWS Confronts Challenge of Non-Experts Making High-Stakes Weather-Based Decisions: It has been 18 months since a fully loaded duck boat plunged beneath turbulent whitecaps atop Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo. The ill-fated tour took place despite warnings of dangerous weather, and it has led to a National Weather Service assessment report released in December that highlighted the dangers of “self-interpretation” of weather data in the wake of the tragedy. This is in reference to situations in which non-specialists or untrained individuals make high-stakes weather-related decisions. (Washington Post)

Tax Reform/IRS

Global Digital Tax Talks to Move Forward: A group of 137 countries and jurisdictions agreed to move ahead with negotiations to address tax challenges of the digital economy, according to a statement released last Friday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (The Hill)

Impeachment Inquiry

Trump Told Bolton to Help His Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Book Says: More than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, President Trump directed John R. Bolton, then his national security adviser, to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Bolton. (New York Times)