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Washington Report July 12, 2019
12 Jul 2019

Washington Report July 12, 2019

With Congress back from its 4th of July recess, this week begins a three-week stretch until … wait for it … the August recess.

Flying The White Flag … White (Fun) House Of Mirrors … Odds Of Passing USMCA … Fight Over Facial Recognition … Debt Ceiling, Shutdown, Recess … Hedge-Fund Billionaires, Fighter Pilots, Holding Grudges … We Are The Champions Of The World … Texas Born, Texas Bred and When I Die, Texas Dead. Ha! … and other news of the week.

Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners


Flying The White Flag
theSkimm “[Trump] gave up on his attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Last month, the Supremes blocked the admin from adding it, saying it didn’t have a good reason for including it. Recently, there were reports that Trump was going to do the damn thing himself and take executive action to get the question on the census. But now he’s ditching his census dreams. Instead, he says he’ll order federal agencies to hand over data on people’s citizenship statuses. Plot twist: this is something that the gov apparently already does.
Politico “Amid a cascade of especially pungent tweets Thursday, Trump tapped out one of his stock refrains — that he is a “Stable Genius.” But his leadership style has become more volatile than ever, with the commander in chief pinballing between opposing poles of major decisions, switching with little explanation, leaving allies inside and outside his administration unable to explain what just happened.
THURSDAY was only the most recent example. The president suddenly abandoned his quest to add a citizenship question to the census, after talking up the idea for days. A.G. Bill Barr boasted in an interview earlier this week that he had found a legal way to do it. Then Trump pulled the plug, ordering the Commerce Department to count how many undocumented immigrants there are in America — an option Commerce had rejected months ago.

— THE PRESIDENT said he was going to make health care reform a priority this Congress, but we’ve heard next to nothing about it since he made that proclamation.
– IRAN … THE PRESIDENT authorized air strikes to retaliate for Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone, only to call them off at the last minute.
— HIS ADMINISTRATION has called Huawei a national security threat — as have members of his party on Capitol Hill — only to have the president say he’d be happy to have the tech company be a subject of negotiations in trade talks with China.
— SHANAHAN … White House aides confidently predicted that Patrick Shanahan was safe as Defense secretary, just before he quit — or was fired.

WHAT’S GOING ON? It’s doubtful the president has changed much, and you can no longer say the Mueller investigation is weighing on him. Here’s a theory: Past aides were skilled at reading his intentions, understanding what to ignore and knowing how to redirect his whims. But recently, the administration has been unable to keep up with a president whose unstructured decision-making process has him in different positions in a few hours. For White House reporters, just trying to pin down basic facts of what the administration is doing from day to day has become a funhouse of mirrors — adding to the confusion.”
MILESTONE Axios “Seven months after Jim Mattis resigned as defense secretary last December, the U.S. still has no confirmed replacement — with the nation facing potential armed conflict with Iran, AP writes. Why it matters: That’s the longest such stretch in Pentagon history. There is also no confirmed deputy defense secretary, and other senior civilian and military Pentagon positions are in limbo, more than at any recent time.”


Politico “The Democratic presidential primary is becoming a big problem for what would be President Donald Trump’s premier bipartisan achievement. “The leading White House contenders are amping up their opposition to the U.S.- Mexico-Canada agreement, which has been stalled for months. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is showing no signs of bending without major changes…”
ALSO NEW … ROBERT MUELLER’S testimony is likely to be delayed until July 24, and the two sides are discussing a longer appearance on Capitol Hill. The situation is fluid, but our sources tell us the hearing could now last three hours, instead of two.”


Fight Over Facial Recognition
Axios “A fight over regulating facial recognition tech will begin this week, although an all-out ban is unlikely.

This new privacy front was opened by reports that federal authorities have used facial recognition on millions of driver’s license photos. Microsoft and Amazon have called on the federal government to regulate, but not ban, the technology.

P.S. “Studies have shown that facial recognition software can return more false matches for African-Americans than for white people,” NYT reports. George Byers II, a black software engineer, about a police surveillance program in Detroit involving thousands of cameras: “Facial recognition software proves to be less accurate at identifying people with darker pigmentation. We live in a major black city. That’s a problem.”


Debt Ceiling, Shutdown, Recess … Oh My!
Politico “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially asking her to lift the debt limit before the August recess. (The House is scheduled to leave for recess on July 26; the Senate a week later.) Mnuchin said there is a “scenario in which we run out of cash in early September, before Congress reconvenes.”

— BOY, THIS COULD GET MESSY. Why, you ask? Because both parties’ leaderships would always prefer to twin the debt limit with something else, and in this case, that something else is a deal to lift spending caps that go into effect next year. That spending deal is not close to being wrapped up, and if they can’t seal that, Congress might have to lift the debt limit as a stand-alone vote. That’s a really, really tough stand-alone vote, because who wants to vote to allow the U.S. to accrue more debt without some sort of cover?
Politico “… It’s tough to see Congress leaving for the month with this deadline looming. But last we checked, Donald Trump is still president of the United States. Who knows what might happen in the negotiations between the Hill and the administration? A stopgap funding measure is nearly inevitable to keep the government running into October, some appropriators say, even as key negotiators want a quick agreement on top-line spending figures.”


Did You Know …
Members of Congress and their staffs are not subject to open records laws.


Labor’s Acosta Resigns
WashPost “Jeffrey Epstein was indicted this week on charges of sex trafficking involving girls. In 2008, [Current Labor Secretary] Alexander Acosta signed off on a plea deal for Epstein after similar accusations.
WHEN THE FIRE GETS TOO HOT … Today, embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned amid a churning scandal over this plea deal. Acosta made the announcement … just two days after a news conference that appeared to be designed as an attempt to save his job.”


Shhhh …
‘U.S. Trade Gap Widened In May Despite Tariff Moves’ Wall Street Journal “The U.S. trade gap widened sharply in May despite a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods that took effect in the first half of the month. The trade deficit in goods and services jumped 8.4% in May from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted $55.52 billion in May, the Commerce Department said. The gap widened because of the biggest monthly rise in imports in more than four years along with moderate growth in exports amid a cooling global economy.

The monthly trade figures provide a window into how U.S. trade is affecting the economy. Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, said that a bigger trade deficit appears likely to shave around half a percentage point off economic growth in the second quarter after adding almost twice that much in the first. President Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25% from 10% on May 10. Beijing retaliated by increasing levies on $60 billion of U.S. imports. Analysts didn’t expect the tariff moves to have a major impact on the May figures because the moves were unexpected and came midway through the month, giving companies little time to react.”


President 2020
FUN FACT, via the NYT’s (@marcatracy): “Low-key amazing: every Democratic presidential nominee has been a lawyer going back to *1980*.”

‘Governor’s Tank In Election About Trump’ Politico “Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee are respected two-term Democratic governors, with proven records of accomplishment. In this presidential primary season, that counts for next to nothing. … The three governors in the 23-candidate field are mired at the bottom of national polls for any number of reasons, though one reason appears to stand out more distinctly than the rest: Donald Trump.

“While the steady stream of scandal and controversy surrounding the president is proving to be a boon to members of Congress running for the White House — giving some of them almost limitless opportunities for media exposure — it’s turning out to be a problem for the statehouse-based candidates. Lacking a nexus to the nation’s capital and the Trump administration story of the day, the governors are left standing on the outside looking in, news cycle after news cycle.”
ANOTHER CONTENDER Tom Steyer has officially entered the 2020 race and pledged to spend as much as $100 million of his own money,


Senate 2020
Fighter Pilot v. Mitch McConnell
Politico Democrats are hyped … that they got former fighter pilot Amy McGrath into the Senate race against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. KEEP IN MIND THE FOLLOWING: Trump won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016. As Dave Wasserman (@redistrict) points out: “Folks, there is just no amount of $$$ that is going to elect a Dem to federal office next fall in a place that voted for Trump by 30%.* McConnell will be running on the same ticket as TRUMP in 2020. In 2018, MCGRATH lost by more than 10,000 votes — 3 percentage points — to GOP Rep. Andy Barr in the best year for Democrats in a decade. Barr’s district is the least red Republican district in the state, meaning it should’ve been the easiest for McGrath to win. She lost, even though she raised $8 million while Barr raised $5 million.
— MCCONNELL’S LAST DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGER, Alison Lundergan Grimes in 2014, was a statewide office holder who had won her race for secretary of state by 21 points in 2011. McConnell beat her by 16.


The Man Holds A Grudge
How do I say it? ”He was not on board, OK?'”
– Senator Shelby
“Alabama senator says Trump opposed to Sessions Senate bid,” The Hill “Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) … told The Hill on Thursday that he has discussed a potential Sessions candidacy, and the Senate race more broadly, with Trump, but that the president was ‘not encouraging’ about the former Cabinet official and longtime senator making a bid for his old seat.”


What Is Making Tech Companies Sweat?
theSkimm “… France’s new tax. Yesterday, lawmakers voted for a first-of-its-kind tax on tech giants. The country’s not amused that these companies can dodge taxes there because their HQs are elsewhere. Now it wants Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others to pay up based on revenue they make in France. The country’s president is expected to sign off on it.
That’s gonna be a ‘no’ from US: The Trump admin says it’ll investigate the tax, claiming it might discriminate against US businesses. One response the admin might be looking into: tariffs. Other countries could follow France’s lead as Europe increasingly cracks down on the tech industry.”


We Are The Champions … Of The World
New York City hailed … the four-time World Cup champion U.S. women’s soccer team with a ticker-tape parade on Wednesday. Since no one uses ticker tape anymore, the parade featured shredded recycled paper. (WSJ)
Per the mayor’s office: “New York City has hosted 206 parades along the Canyon of Heroes since the first one in 1886 celebrating the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. … The last ticker tape parade held in New York City honored the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s 2015 World Cup victory. That parade was the first time a women’s athletic team was honored.”
GENDER EQUITY Axios “Setting itself apart from other great American sports teams, the U.S. women’s soccer team is relishing a front-line role in social justice.(AP) Why it matters: The players are now world leaders in the push for gender equity in the workplace, having sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay and treatment vis-a-vis the men’s national team. With a lesbian coach and several lesbian players, including World Cup MVP Megan Rapinoe, they’re a proud symbol of LGBTQ inclusion.”


One Last Bug
Axios “The iconic VW Beetle ceased production in Mexico yesterday (AP).
The last of the 5,961 Final Edition versions of the Beetle — this one painted “stonewash blue” — rolled out under a confetti shower as a mariachi band sang the classic Mexican tune “Cielito Lindo.”
Why it matters: Germany’s VW “Bug” was an example of globalization, sold and recognized all over the world; an emblem of the 1960s counterculture in the U.S.; and a landmark in design, as recognizable as a Coke bottle.”


“Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, I’ll be Texas dead. Ha!”
Dallas Morning News “Ross Perot, self-made billionaire, patriot and philanthropist and two-time independent candidate for U.S. president, has died [at 89] after a five-month battle with leukemia.”
H. Ross Perot spiced his third-party presidential run in 1992 with quips like these, via AP:
– On George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton: “Which one of the three candidates, as a young man, would you want your daughter to marry? Ears and all.”
– On political attacks, from a 1992 presser: “This is Mickey Mouse tossed salad.”
– From a presidential debate: “You implement that NAFTA — the Mexican trade agreement, where they pay people a dollar an hour, have no health care, no retirement, no pollution controls, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera — and you’re going to hear a giant sucking sound of jobs being pulled out of this country.”
– On his commercials: “I love the fact that people will listen to a guy with a bad accent and a poor presentation manner talking about flip charts for 30 minutes, because they want the details.” RIP

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