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Window On Washington - November 19, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 46

Nov 19, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Recess. The House and Senate, along with new member orientation, recess this week for the Thanksgiving holiday and will start up sessions again the week of Nov. 26.

House Leadership Elections. Last week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected House minority leader, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), was elected to the No. 2 Republican leadership position in the new Congress, where he will serve as minority whip, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R –WY) was elected to the third-ranking position in the GOP hierarchy and will be the next Republican conference chair. See the full list of House Republican leaders here. The Democratic leadership elections are scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28th, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is poised to assume the post of Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress. President Trump has also voiced his support of Pelosi.  

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

GOP Leaders Aim to Avert Shutdown Over Wall Funding, but Trump Makes No Promises: Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) and other GOP leaders met with President Trump on Thursday about ways to fund the government. Shelby said Trump did not commit to signing a bill that does not give him all the money he wants to fund construction of a wall along the Mexico border. Shelby said Trump was noncommittal about how he planned to proceed. (The Washington Post)

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Makes Late Push for Two-Year Budgeting: A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers is pushing for major reforms to the budgeting process for federal agencies, calling on Congress to pass top-line spending levels every two years instead of annually. Lawmakers have kicked the idea around for years, but nudged the proposal closer to law in a joint committee formed as part of the two-year budget deal President Trump signed earlier this year. The panel delayed a vote on the changes until after Thanksgiving, as its members debated amendments and a plan for final passage. (Government Executive)

Banking & Housing

Housing Industry Pushes Senate to Confirm Kathy Kraninger as Next CFPB Director: Under Mick Mulvaney, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (or Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, depending on who you ask) has taken a much gentler approach towards the financial services industry. That tactic is likely to continue if the Trump administration’s choice as a permanent replacement for departed CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Kathy Kraninger is ever confirmed by the Senate. And that’s just what the housing industry is now loudly calling for. (Housing Wire)

Tax Reform

GOP Tax Law Might be at Risk as Democrats Eye Corporate Hike: Democrats plan to use their control of the House to argue for raising the corporate tax rate by a few percentage points — a long-shot change that, if enacted, could cause the Republican-championed tax cut to unravel. For now, the effort is a political talking point, as Democrats look to set the agenda for the 2020 elections and galvanize voters by pushing for middle-class relief. Increasing the corporate rate is likely to be a nonstarter in the Senate, as long as Republicans control the chamber. They’ve cited the new corporate rate as integral to the tax law and responsible for the improved economy. But if the move were to happen eventually, it could undermine the foundation of President Trump’s signature legislative achievement. (Accounting Today)

Health

Left Wants a Vote on Single-Payer Bill in New Congress: Progressive Democrats are pushing for a vote on a controversial health-care bill after the party takes control of the House early next year. But the left’s push for “Medicare for all” legislation would likely divide Democrats and pose a headache for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is poised to become Speaker in the next Congress. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who is co-chair of the Medicare for All Caucus in the House, told supporters on an organizing call Tuesday night that simply expressing support for the idea is not enough. Yet, many other House Democrats, including members of the leadership, are not on board with the idea of government-run universal health insurance. (The Hill)

Justice

Grassley Gave McConnell Judges. Now He Wants His Criminal Justice Bill: Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley is leaning on his track record of processing judicial nominations to get a floor vote on a bipartisan bill he spearheaded to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system. In an unusual personal plea, the 85-year-old Iowa Republican on Thursday said he wanted “reciprocity” from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “what I’ve done in our unified effort on judges” during President Trump’s administration. (Roll Call)

Defense

U.S. Senate Rejects Effort to Stop Bahrain Arms Sale: The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 77-21 to table Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) effort to prevent a $300 million sale of rocket launchers to Bahrain — intended as a proxy vote on U.S. military aid to the Saudi side of Yemen’s civil war. The action came hours after the U.S. Treasury Department added economic sanctions against 17 Saudis accused of taking part in the October killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi inside their country’s consulate in Istanbul — and days after the Trump administration halted refueling for Saudi-led bombing in Yemen. (Defense News)

Agriculture

Farm Bill Negotiators Struggle with Forestry, Other Issues in Closing Deal: Farm bill negotiators are struggling to work out deals on forestry regulations, commodity program eligibility rules and other issues with a goal of finalizing an agreement that Congress can vote on before adjourning in December. “We’re getting close,” House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) said Friday. “Momentum is building to get this done, so I’m encouraged. Conaway said the House committee's top Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, had joined him in making the most recent proposals to settle disputes with their Senate counterparts. "This is now a House offer, not just a Conaway offer," Conaway said. (Agri Pulse)

Cybersecurity

Cyber Will be a Priority for New Congress. But What Does that Mean?: Significantly expanding the government’s cyber efforts will require additional dollars from Capitol Hill appropriators. And following this month’s midterm elections, Congressional aides are skeptical the near-term budget outlook will drastically change after Democrats take control of the House and Republicans lead the Senate. Instead, they expect another continuing resolution in the coming years. In hearings this week, some of the federal government’s cyber leaders said they need additional dollars in the next year. Offering a window of hope, both Democratic and Republican aides told Fifth Domain that cybersecurity is one of the few issues that has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. (Fifth Domain)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health

HHS Official Vows to Pursue Research ‘Alternatives’ to Aborted Fetal Tissue: An HHS official told a key conservative lawmaker Friday the agency seeks to end the use of fetal tissue in taxpayer-funded research if it can find “adequate alternatives” — advancing the agenda of anti-abortion groups who decry the use of tissue derived from elective abortions for biomedical research. Brett Giroir, the HHS assistant secretary of health, sent a letter to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) — the anti-abortion leader of the Freedom Caucus — describing the agency's plan to move forward on alternatives to fetal tissue. The National Institutes of Health currently funds more than $100 million in research that draws on fetal tissue. (Politico)

EPA

Trump Announces Wheeler as EPA Nominee: President Trump announced Friday he plans to nominate the acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, to permanently lead the agency. Trump announced the move during a Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, where he introduced Wheeler along with other top administration officials in attendance. Wheeler took over the agency after Trump's first EPA administrator, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, resigned in July under a cloud of scandal. (CNN)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Advisory Group Skeptical of NASA Lunar Exploration Plans:  NASA’s plans to return humans to the surface of the moon within 10 years got a chilly reception from an advisory group Nov. 15, who called on the agency to accelerate that timeframe and reconsider development of the Gateway facility in lunar orbit. At the meeting of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group at NASA Headquarters here, Tom Cremins, associate administrator for strategy and plans at the agency, provided an overview of the NASA “Exploration Campaign,” the high-level approach it plans to undertake to implement Space Policy Directive 1. (Space News)

Bridenstine Worried About Budget Pressures on NASA: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Nov. 15 that the reelection defeat of a key appropriator, and the potential for budget cuts next year, is a cause for concern for him as he tries to balance the agency’s priorities. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, was defeated Nov. 6 in his bid for a tenth term in Congress. His defeat, as well as a Democratic takeover of the House, will put the leadership of that subcommittee in new hands next year. (Space News)

DHS

Trump Signs Measure Overhauling DHS Cybersecurity Efforts: President Trump signed a measure Friday that renames and reorganizes a division within the Department of Homeland Security that works to reduce physical and cybersecurity threats to the country's infrastructure. The directorate will be renamed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and will operate with independence akin to the Secret Service. The goal of the new independence and autonomy of the office is to speed up the department's efforts to protect the nation's energy grid and critical infrastructure. (CNN)

Trade

Automaker Groups Warn U.S. Tariffs will Undermine New NAFTA Deal: U.S. automakers and parts suppliers on Thursday warned that President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and threatened car tariffs would undermine the benefits of the new deal to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, causing widespread job losses. At a wide-ranging hearing before the U.S. International Trade Commission, labor representatives said the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement fails to include adequate enforcement of labor standards, while Southeastern U.S. fruit and vegetable growers said it leaves them vulnerable to subsidized Mexican competition. (Reuters)

Pence-Xi Showdown at APEC Shows U.S.-China Divide Only Widening: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traded sharp barbs with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in back-to-back speeches at a regional summit, showing that neither country appears to be giving ground in an escalating trade war. Xi received applause when he told the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea that implementing tariffs and breaking up supply chains was “short-sighted” and “doomed to failure.” He called for a stronger World Trade Organization and defended his signature Belt-and-Road Initiative, saying it’s “not a trap as some people have labeled it.” Speaking moments later, Pence told delegates the U.S. offers countries in the region “a better option’’ for economic and diplomatic relations than Beijing’s heavy-handed approach. He warned against taking Chinese loans, saying the U.S. “doesn’t drown our partners in a sea of debt” nor offer “a constricting belt or a one-way road.” (Bloomberg)

Defense

The Pentagon Failed its Audit, but Officials Aren’t Surprised: The U.S. Department of Defense “failed” its first-ever audit, expected to be released Thursday, according to its No. 2 official. But Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan isn’t surprised at the result, saying it was widely expected the audit would find issues. The audit, concluded through the DoD’s Office of Inspector General, has long been sought by lawmakers and good-government groups. (Defense News)

DOE

Department of Energy Announces $98 Million for 40 Transformative Energy Technology Projects: The Department of Energy announced $98 million in funding for 40 new projects as part of OPEN 2018, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s latest open funding opportunity. These funds will support some of America’s top energy innovators’ R&D projects as they seek to develop technologies to transform the nation’s energy system. (DoE Press Releases)

Transportation

In-flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force Announced by Department of Transportation: DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the task force, which is part of the larger Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee. "The Task Force will review current practices, protocols and requirements of U.S. airlines in responding to and reporting allegations of sexual misconduct by passengers on board aircraft," said a DOT statement. Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee guidelines are outlined in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which President Trump signed into law in October. Members of the sexual misconduct task force will be announced during the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee's first meeting scheduled for Jan. 16, 2019. (NBC News)

White House

Inside Trump's Embrace of Sentencing Reform: President Trump's backing of bipartisan criminal justice reform last week is a 180-degree twist from Campaign Trump, who ran on 1980s-style law and order. Jared Kushner brought the president a long way to get his support. Trump has privately worried that supporting the bill would madden his base and get him offside with law enforcement. But the endorsement of the bill by the Fraternal Order of Police —"the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers" — went a long way. (Axios)

Trump, Top Advisers to Meet About Launch of Middle East Peace Plan: President Trump will hold a crucial meeting this week with his top national security and foreign policy advisers to discuss both the details of the White House's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and the timing for its release. The White House's "peace team," led by senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working on the plan for the last two years. It's now basically ready, and Trump has said he wants it published sometime between December and February. But U.S. officials said the current political crisis in Israel and the imminent announcement on early elections in the country will play a role in any decision Trump makes regarding the plan's release. (Axios)

Elections

A Presidential Map for the 21st Century: To win re-election, President Trump must wage a two-front war: Not only does he have to defend Democratic-leaning Midwest states that sealed his victory in 2016, but he now needs to defend against clear Republican erosion in the South and Southwest. "Changing demographics and Trump have blown up the electoral map that has dominated American politics since 1992," said Doug Sosnik, a White House adviser to President Bill Clinton who is one of the best trend detectors in U.S. politics. Sosnik projects that there could be more tossup states in the South and Southwest than in the Midwest — with almost twice the number of electoral votes at stake. (Axios)

What Really Happened in Texas: Over 8.3 million Texans voted in the 2018 midterm elections. It’s an astounding figure, especially considering that about 4.6 million voted in the midterms just four years ago. That difference — almost 3.7 million — says a lot about the changing face of the Lone Star State, but Tuesday’s result says more. Yes, Texas is growing, but as of 2018, it’s still red and still likes Ted. But let’s back up for a moment. The Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, came within 3 percentage points of defeating Sen. Ted Cruz, which is close enough to put Texas at the center of two of the big post-election questions: Is Texas a swing state? And will O’Rourke run for president? (FiveThirtyEight)