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Window On Washington - November 4, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 41

Nov 04, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Impeachment Schedule. The House is in recess this week but will continue to hear testimony from a number of witnesses related to the impeachment probe. Since the House voted on a formal impeachment process, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she anticipates public hearings to begin later this month, but did not commit to a timeline for when the process would be completed. Other Democrats have previously stated that they expect the House to wrap up the process in December, and send articles of impeachment to the Senate by Christmas. Meanwhile, the Senate, which is in session, will continue to work on judicial nominees.

Another Continuing Resolution. With the current continuing resolution set to expire later this month, appropriators are beginning to negotiate on the length of the next continuing resolution, knowing that it is not possible to finish the appropriations process before the deadline. Senate Appropriations Chairman Shelby (R-AL) stated the possibility of a continuing resolution that goes into February, while House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said her preference would be for the continuing resolution to end sometime in January. On Sunday, the President did not commit to avoiding another government shutdown when the current short term spending bill expires on November 21 telling reporters ‘it depends on what the negotiation is.’  The dynamic between impeachment and short term appropriations will bear watching over the next 17 days.

House Appropriations Chair Race. Both Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL, Military-Construction Chairwoman) and Betty McCollum (D-MN, Interior Chairwoman) have announced their interest in becoming the next Chair of the full Appropriations Committee after the current Chairwoman, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), retires. Labor-HHS-Education Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Energy and Water Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Transportation-HUD Chairman David Price (D-NC) have already announced their interest in the position.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate Democrats Block Defense Spending Bill over Trump Wall: Senate Democrats blocked a defense spending bill for the second time last week, underscoring the hurdles ahead of the government funding deadline. Senators voted 51-41 on whether to advance a spending package that was expected to include the defense funding. The bill needed 60 votes to advance. Democrats warned ahead of time that they would oppose taking up the bill until lawmakers get a deal on top-line spending figures, known as 302(b)s. (The Hill)

Senate Passes First Spending Package: The Senate on Thursday passed its first spending bills for fiscal 2020, which started at the beginning of this month. The bundle of four bills covers funding for the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The bundle still must be reconciled in conference talks with the House — and there’s still a border wall, and other obstacles, standing in the way of real progress on passing the required 12 annual spending bills. (Yahoo News)

Health

White House Aide: Time to Abandon Pelosi Drug Plan, Alter Senate Bill: The White House wants bipartisan buy-in on drug pricing legislation, but is willing to sacrifice a key Democratic provision in a Senate Finance Committee plan to firm up Republican support for a compromise, according to domestic policy adviser Joe Grogan. The bipartisan Senate Finance bill is touted by committee leaders as most viable answer to high drug costs. But many Republicans object to the way it would cap Medicare Part D price hikes at annual inflation rates; nine GOP lawmakers voted against the bill during a July markup. (Politico)

Pelosi: 'I'm Not a Big Fan of Medicare for All': Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she is “not a big fan” of "Medicare for All," the health care proposal advocated by progressives that has gained ground in the Democratic Party, especially among its presidential candidates. Speaker Pelosi has previously declined to embrace a push among progressive lawmakers for the health care proposal and has raised doubts about the idea, though her latest remarks are more critical than statements earlier this year, when she said she was “agnostic.” (The Hill)

Defense

What’s in the Emergency Defense Policy Bill?: With political gridlock stalling negotiations over the annual defense authorization bill, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Jim Inhofe (R-OK) unveiled plans last Tuesday for his backup “skinny” version of the legislation, which extends necessary authorities for military operations while leaving out nearly all points of conflict for negotiators. (Defense News)

Defense Spending Bill Fails Senate Vote in Fight Over Border Wall: The Senate last Thursday failed to advance a defense spending bill for 2020 amid partisan fighting over the president’s use of military funding for the border wall. The package of spending for the Department of Defense (DOD) and for the departments of Labor (DOL) and Health and Human Services (HHS) failed on a procedural vote, as most Democrats withheld their support. (Defense News)

Inhofe, Smith Seem Willing to Drop PFAS Language from NDAA: It seems increasingly less likely that a fiscal year 2020 defense policy bill – still stalled in conference negotiations – will include language addressing toxic PFAS chemicals. “We’re not going to grab something from some other committee’s jurisdiction and jam it into our bill,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said. “I will not hold up the defense bill over that PFAS provision, as much as I feel like it should be addressed.” (Association of Defense Communities)

Senate Confirms Nuclear Commander: The Senate confirmed Vice Adm. Charles Richard to be commander of US Strategic Command by unanimous consent last Thursday as part of a batch of military nominees. Richard will also be promoted to a four-star admiral as part of the confirmation. (The Hill)

Cyber

GOP Senator Blocks Sweeping Election Reform Bill: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, objected the bill’s passage, arguing that the legislation would "give the federal government unprecedented control over elections in this country." (The Hill)

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Cybersecurity for Local Governments: Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), James Lankford (R-OK) introduced a bipartisan bill last week to strengthen local government cybersecurity defenses by switching to the .gov domain for websites and email addresses. (Klobuchar Press Release)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Republicans Shoot Down White House Plan to Install Cuccinelli Atop DHS: Republican senators are warning President Trump that he cannot legally appoint immigration hard-liner Ken Cuccinelli to lead the Department of Homeland Security. (Politico)

A Bipartisan Bill in Congress Could Legalize 325,000 Unauthorized Immigrants: The legislation, the product of months of discussions, represents a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on one of the most contentious topics of the Trump administration, ultimately attracting 20 Republican cosponsors, according to a spokesperson for Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), who helped lead the negotiations. (Vox)

Lindsey Graham Will Give Judiciary Chairmanship Back to Chuck Grassley: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) plans to hand the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee back to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in the next Congress after Grassley’s tenure on the Senate Finance Committee. (Politico)

Graham: Trump's ATF Nominee 'Very Problematic': Kenneth Charles "Chuck" Canterbury, who was previously president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, rankled senators during his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year by dodging their questions or giving vague answers when it came to his views on firearms. (The Hill)

Environment/Interior

Jerry Brown: 'Impeachment is Important, but the Climate is Even More Important': Speaking in front of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, Brown argued that recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would remove California’s right from setting heightened vehicle emissions standards are equal to climate denial. (The Hill)

Trade

'Double Whammy': House Approves Sweeping Turkey Sanctions Bill, Recognizes Armenian Genocide: In a remarkable rebuke of a NATO ally, the House last Tuesday approved a biting sanctions bill that could cripple Turkey's economy and would punish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally by requiring an assessment of his net worth amid questions about his finances in Turkey. (USA Today)

Pelosi Says U.S. Should Align with EU to Pressure China on Trade: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Democrats would be tougher on China than President Trump by aligning with the European Union to bring additional pressure on the world’s second-largest economy. (Bloomberg)

Banking & Housing

Bill Would Require Bank CEOs to Report to Washington Annually: A new House bill introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) would mandate the CEOs of the country's largest banks to “report” to Washington annually, and submit annual public reports with information about their banks' size and market activity. (Banking Dive)

Booker Introduces Bill Banning Facial Recognition Tech in Public Housing: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) last Friday introduced a bill banning the use of facial recognition technology in public housing, mirroring legislation proposed in the House in July. The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act would block the tech from being installed in housing units that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (The Hill)

 Labor & Workforce

Pay to Play: Will California Prompt Congressional Action on College Athletics? Player advocates have long argued the NCAA exploits college football players, raking in millions for schools while denying student-athletes (almost half of whom are African American) the opportunity to realize their value. California is hoping to change that – under recently passed reforms, in the coming years, the state will allow student-athletes to make money from their names, images and likenesses, a move that could set off a state arms race, upend the current notion of amateurism and change the sport forever, which has pulled Congress increasingly into areas of labor and education policy it has avoided in the past. (Roll Call)

 Transportation

Documents Show Safety Concerns at Boeing Before Deadly Crashes: The new revelations about how Boeing wrestled with the safety questions surrounding the new system on its best-selling plane came at a congressional hearing last Wednesday, adding to evidence that the company was aware of concerns about the plane’s safety before two crashes that left 346 people dead. (New York Times)

Senate Votes to Spare Transit a 12 Percent Funding Cut: The Senate today adopted an amendment by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) to the "minibus" appropriations bill, H.R. 3055, that would head off an automatic 12 percent across-the-board cut to transit agencies. It would block implementation of what's known as the "Rostenkowski rule," which triggers an automatic funding cut any time unfunded transit authorizations exceed projected Highway Trust Fund receipts for transit over the next four years. (Clark Hill Insight)

Energy

Greg Walden to Retire in Latest Sign of GOP Doubts About Retaking House: Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the top Republican on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, will retire at the end of this Congress — the latest sign that Republicans see a struggle to retake the House in 2020. (Politico)

Murkowski, Manchin Open to Broadening FERC Authority Through Legislation: The leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said today they were open to granting FERC new authorities through legislation to combat recent challenges ranging from grid security to cyber threats. Neither committed to a timeline for such a review, but they expressed a desire to get the commission its full five-member complement. (Clark Hill Insight)

Education

House Democrats Advance Federal Student Aid Overhaul: The House Education and Labor Committee last Thursday voted 28-22 to approve a massive overhaul of federal student loans and other higher education programs that they touted as an overdue move to address the costs of higher education. (Roll Call)

Tax Reform

Congress’ Budget Team Can’t Tell if Tax Cuts Caused Revenue Drop: The federal government is taking in less money but can’t tell if the shortfall is tied to the 2017 tax cuts or other factors like trade uncertainty, the Congressional Budget Office said in a letter. (Accounting Today)

Agriculture/USDA

Produce Groups Support Proposed Farm Labor Bill, Will Seek Improvements: Drawing broad bipartisan and industry support, a group of House lawmakers on Oct. 30 introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would address the earned status for certified agricultural workers, make improvements to the H-2A program, and mandate E-Verify for growers. (The Packer)   

Space/NASA & NOAA:

Cruz Criticizes House for Lack of Action on Commercial Space Legislation: The Chairman of the Senate’s Space Subcommittee said on Oct. 31 that his counterparts in the House seemed uninterested in working on legislation to modernize commercial space regulations, citing the lack of legislation on the matter and only a single hearing in the past year on the topic in the House Science Committee. (Space News)

Impeachment Inquiry

House Democrats Adopt Rules for Public Impeachment Proceedings: House Democrats adopted a resolution last Thursday adopting procedures that will govern the public portion of their impeachment inquiry into President Trump, but no Republicans joined them in supporting the measure despite requesting the probe be conducted transparently. (Roll Call)

Top NSC Russia Official Confirms Key Testimony Linking Trump to Quid Pro Quo: Tim Morrison, President Trump’s top Russia aide, corroborated aspects of William Taylor’s testimony connecting the president to a quid pro quo with Ukraine, according to people familiar with Morrison’s testimony to House impeachment investigators. (Politico)

House Investigators Seek Bolton’s Testimony in Impeachment Inquiry: Democratic investigators have requested testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton in their expanding impeachment probe of President Trump, reaching into the upper echelons of the White House as they prepared to move ahead Thursday with a pivotal vote setting out the next stages of the inquiry. (Washington Post)

Testimony: White House Lawyer Told Vindman Not to Discuss Ukraine Call: The senior White House lawyer who placed a record of President Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president in a top-secret system also instructed at least one official who heard the call not to tell anyone about it, according to testimony heard by House impeachment investigators last week by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Obamacare on Stronger Footing for 2020 as Open Enrollment Begins: Obamacare is looking healthier as its seventh open enrollment period began last Friday, even as the nation's uninsured rate has begun to tick up and a federal appeals court considers a case that could invalidate the entire law. Many consumers signing up on the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, will find lower rates and more choices for 2020. The average premium for the benchmark plan will drop 4% – the second year in a row of lower rates – while 20 more insurers are offering policies, bringing the total to 175. (CNN)

Trump Pressed to Follow Through on Vaping Crackdown: Lawmakers from both parties initially applauded when President Trump and federal health officials made the announcement last month that they would restrict the sale of all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes. But the administration has also been taking heat from the right, which worries it is overreaching and will hurt businesses. That has worried Democrats and public health groups, who have been ratcheting up their advocacy efforts with a flurry of letters to the president and other administration officials. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Proposed New DOL Apprenticeship Plan: Experts Argue Pros, Cons: Last month, Department of Labor officials considering a new rule for apprenticeship programs received a groundswell of opinion on the matter, receiving more than 325,000 comments, many of them focused on a controversial provision that would especially affect construction workers. (Construction Dive)

Defense/DOD

Lockheed to Get $34 Billion for F-35 as Pentagon Announces Award: The Pentagon announced a final agreement with Lockheed Martin Corp. for the next-generation F-35 jet; the contract valued at about $34 billion for 478 fighters. (Bloomberg)

Trump’s Syria Pullout that Isn’t: President Trump’s decision to send troops to protect oil fields in Syria means the US may have as many troops in the country — or potentially more — as when he took office, undermining his repeated pledge to end a “forever war” in the Middle East. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Is Getting Serious About an Interstellar Mission: Interstellar space exploration has long been the stuff of science fiction, a technological challenge that many engineers believe humans just aren’t up to yet. But an ongoing study by a group of NASA-affiliated researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab is challenging this assumption and working to develop a mission that if selected by NASA, could fly as soon as 2030. (Wired)

China Targets Late 2020 for Lunar Sample Return Mission: China is aiming to launch its complex Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission in late 2020, following launch vehicle-related delays. The ambitious mission is now scheduled to launch atop the fifth Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket, meanwhile in related news NASA struggles to plan how to accommodate more sample returns as part of their planned human missions to the moon. (Space News)

Trade

US Farm Bankruptcies Surge 24% on Strain from Trump Trade War: The squeeze on farmers underscores the toll that China’s retaliatory tariffs have taken on a critical Trump constituency as the president enters a reelection campaign and a fight to stave off impeachment. (LA Times)

White House Adviser Kudlow Sees Optimism over China Trade Deal: China trade talks are making progress and the United States still aims to sign an initial deal this month, although the phase one agreement remains unfinished and some issues will be pushed to a second pact, a White House official said last Friday. (Reuters)

Cyber

Pentagon Awaits Possible Amazon Challenge Over Cloud Deal: Amazon must decide soon if it will protest the Pentagon’s awarding of a $10 billion cloud computing contract to rival Microsoft, with one possible grievance being the unusual attention given the project by President Trump. (AP)

Twitter Drops All Political Ads in Shot at Zuckerberg: Twitter will no longer run political ads, CEO Jack Dorsey announced last Wednesday in a shot across the bow at Facebook, which faces rising heat over its policy of allowing candidates to lie in their campaign messaging. (Politico)

FCC Proposal Targeting Huawei Garners Early Praise: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving aggressively to ban companies from using federal subsidies for equipment from Chinese telecommunications groups Huawei and ZTE, and earning initial praise from lawmakers and industry groups. (The Hill)

Energy/DOE

Murray Energy Joins Growing List of Coal Companies to Declare Bankruptcy: Murray Energy, once the nation’s largest privately held coal company, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as consumers shift to cheaper and cleaner sources of power. Founder and former CEO Robert Murray was a vocal supporter of President Trump, favoring the rollback of certain Obama-era regulations. (CNBC)

White House Backing Off Proposed Fuel-Efficiency Freeze: The Trump administration is backing away from a plan to freeze tailpipe-emissions targets for new vehicles through 2025, say people familiar with the process. The administration is now considering requiring a 1.5% annual increase in fleetwide fuel efficiency, using an industry measure that takes both gas mileage and emissions reductions into account, the people said. (Wall Street Journal)

Justice/DOJ

DOJ Changed Hiring to Promote Restrictive Immigration Judges: Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests describe how an already opaque hiring procedure was tweaked for the six newest hires to the 21-member Board of Immigration Appeals. (Roll Call)

Appeals Court Delays House’s Access to Mueller Grand Jury Secrets: A federal appeals court has put a temporary hold on a judge’s order requiring the Justice Department to give the Democratic-led House grand jury material from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that could be fodder for the ongoing impeachment effort against President Donald Trump. (Politico)

Transportation/DOT

White House Pressed Car Makers to Join Its Fight Over California Emissions Rules: Previously, many automakers had indicated to California that they would not take a stand on the matter. However, the companies’ stances quickly changed after a top policy aide to President Trump began calling to push them to sign on to the administration’s effort to eliminate California’s right to set its own auto emissions rules on planet warming pollution. (New York Times)

Trump White House Wants Direct Control Over Where Cars Are Made: The US Trade Representative (USTR) is asking for broad discretion to administer auto rules under the new NAFTA, though some worry that the process could be abused for political gain. (Bloomberg)

Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot Boards Approve $50B Merger: Carmakers Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot confirmed their intention to merge Thursday, after speculation of the deal came earlier in the week. (The Hill)

Environment/EPA/DOI

EPA to Weaken Public Protections Against Toxic Coal Ash in Water: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release several new rules in the coming weeks, many of which will relax regulations meant to protect the environment from industrial pollution. In a gift to the coal industry, the EPA will reverse course on regulations meant to reduce the amount of toxic heavy metals that leach into the water systems from the ash emitted by coal-fired power plants. (EcoWatch)

Interior Department Grounds Drone Fleet Over Fears of Chinese Spying: There have been growing concerns among military and Homeland Security officials that the UAVs, which are made in China or consist of Chinese-made parts, are gathering sensitive information for the Chinese government. (Gizmodo)

Department of Education

DeVos Says Lower Test Scores Show a 'Student Achievement Crisis': Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last Wednesday blamed Washington overreach, high-paid school administrators and layers of bureaucracy for American students' lower scores on the Nation's Report Card, pointing to the scores as proof that the United States "has a student achievement crisis." (CNN)

Agriculture/USDA

Foreign Pig Plague Starts Rippling Through American Meat Markets: US meat markets had so far been shielded from the effects of a deadly pig disease wiping out Asian herds. But that’s starting to change as pork supplies plummet in China, the world’s top consumer, causing them to ramp up imports.  As a result, it’s becoming harder to set longer-term contracts amid concerns over market volatility and changing trade flows. (Yahoo Finance)

Tax Reform/IRS

Treasury Moves to Roll Back Obama Rules on Offshore Tax Deals: Treasury issued final regulations eliminating documentation requirements that were part of the Obama-era rules. The department also announced its intention to propose regulations in the future that alter other portions of the offshore tax rules. (The Hill)

White House Officials Ramp Up New Tax Cut Talks: White House officials and congressional Republicans have begun early talks on a new package of tax reductions and economic growth measures, under pressure from President Trump, who is agitating to announce a new tax cut proposal heading into the 2020 election. (Washington Post)

Treasury, IRS Propose Form to Collect Data About Investments in Opportunity Zones: The Treasury Department and IRS on Thursday released a draft form that is designed to collect information about investments made under the "opportunity zone" provision in President Trump's tax-cut law. The release of the form comes amid concerns from lawmakers that the opportunity-zone program doesn't have enough guardrails to ensure that it is actually meeting its intended goal of revitalizing economically distressed areas. (The Hill)

Impeachment Inquiry

Trump's Russia Director To Leave National Security Council Amid Impeachment Inquiry: Tim Morrison, the top Russia official on President Trump's National Security Council, who testified in the impeachment inquiry last Thursday, is set to leave his White House post imminently. Morrison, a conservative hawk who has served as the senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council, will be replaced by Andrew Peek, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, according to the sources. (NPR)

Key Witness in Impeachment Inquiry Asks Federal Court to Rule Over Testifying: The House subpoenaed Charles Kupperman, who served as President Trump’s deputy national security adviser, to testify last week. But in an effort to stop Kupperman from doing so, the White House said on Friday that the president had invoked “constitutional immunity,” leaving Kupperman uncertain about what to do. (New York Times)