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Washington Report July 21, 2017
21 Jul 2017

Washington Report July 21, 2017

TH$S WEEK ON THE H$LL … Healthcare Confusion … Bipartisanship Is Not Dead … Zombie AG … A Plan to Counter Russian Hacking … TRUMPIAN … The Big Idea: When the President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal (H/T Richard Nixon) … McCain, A True Patriot, Real Sadness … and other news of the week.


Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners



… by Capstone Partner Will Stone who is monitoring the progress of the FY18 appropriations bills in the House and Senate. Check out his thoughts/insights.

— The House has completed marking up each of the 12 bills and the Senate has completed 3 bills.
– House Republican caucus members were calling for all 12 bills to be combined into one bill, called an omnibus, and passed before the August recess but the Senate refused to consider such a bill before the end of the fiscal year so the idea was dropped.
– The current idea being discussed in the House is combining MilConVA, Defense, DHS and State-Foreign Ops into a “national security bill” to be voted on next week. The Senate has not commented on the passage of this “mini-bus” so there’s no indication of what will happen before the Members and Senators leave town.
– So far the House and Senate numbers are fairly close so reconciling the dollars in conference will not be that difficult. The policy riders added in the House could be the sticking point in any negotiations with the Senate.

LIFELINE Roll Call “Federal arts and humanities programs targeted for elimination by the Trump administration would get a lifeline from House appropriators willing to ignore the president’s proposal and keep them running. The $31.5 billion fiscal 2018 Interior-Environment spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday includes $145 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. While that’s still a 3.2 percent cut from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, it is more than $116 million above Trump’s budget request.”

IN THE HOUSE , still no plans to delay the start of its late summer recess.



“Mitch McConnell still plans to hold a vote early next week, but senators have expressed confusion on which bill will be on tap. “Senators left town for the weekend under a cloud of confusion after [McConnell] reopened talks on a discarded plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act under heavy pressure from President Trump. The White House intervention sparked a flurry of meetings and activity, but the rush produced no new evidence that the bill can pass. … By week’s end, leaders had returned to a repeal-and-replace strategy at Trump’s behest. On Thursday, most GOP senators could not say what legislation they expected to vote on next week, and skeptics appeared no closer to backing the new plan.”

“That’s a luxury we don’t have.”
– John Cornyn, the no. 2 Senate Republican, on whether senators should know what the plan is on health-care before voting to bring it to the floor next week.

HARSH REALITY Politico ” … privately several [Republican] senators say they don’t see the configurations of a bill that gets them to 50 votes. Aides working on the bill were equally downbeat.”

CBO “The latest turmoil came amid another disappointing report from the CBO on the Senate’s second repeal-and-replace bill – but, critically, the CBO did not consider the Cruz amendment in their score. To recap, the CBO has now said that the Senate’s two versions of repeal-and-replace would both result in 22 million fewer insured Americans, while the repeal-only bill would leave an additional 32 million Americans without insurance. In comparison, the version the House passed would have an impact of 23 million fewer insured Americans.
— Trump has attempted to scare Senate Republicans into supporting virtually any measure that stood a chance of making it to his desk. But … “[Trump] has proved simply too unpopular nationally — polling at 36 to 40 percent approval this week — too weak in many senators’ home states, too erratic and too disengaged from the details of governing to harness his party, as other new presidents have. … [Some Republican senators] have come to believe that their constituents, even the most conservative ones, are more loyal to them than to Mr. Trump. … A Republican senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to preserve his relationship with Mr. Trump, put it more bluntly. The president, he said, scares no one in the Senate, not even the pages.”



“Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) introduced ‘Dream Act’ legislation that would grant permanent legal status to more than 1 million young people who arrived in the United States before they turned 18, passed security checks and met other criteria … ‘I am hoping we can find a pathway forward with President Trump,’ Graham said at a news conference. ‘Wouldn’t it be ironic if the man who started his campaign talking about illegal immigration in a very tough way would be the man who started the country on a path to solving the problem?’” AND THEN Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) penned a NYTs op-ed on reforming the bail system to slash the prison population: “Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. As criminal justice groups work to change sentencing and mandatory minimum laws, we must also reform a bail system that is discriminatory and wasteful.”



“Jeff Sessions said that he plans to stay on as AG, despite Trump’s remarks in a NYTs interview that he “would not have nominated Sessions” had he known he would recuse himself from the Russia probe. “Sessions said he had the ‘honor of serving as attorney general,’ and he planned ‘to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.’ But Sessions’s public expression of confidence masked deeper private tensions regarding his position in the administration and his rapport with a president who once turned to him as a confidant and policy guide. … Sessions has rapidly lost his standing as one of Trump’s most trusted advisers and has drifted from the president’s inner circle … Politico “Having the tensions with the president of the United States spill out in public as they did Wednesday created the prospect of a zombie attorney general-going through the motions of the office, while lacking any real connection to or support from the president and the White House.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT RECUSAL RULES Trump’s comments to the NYTs represent “a stunning vote of no-confidence” in all of federal law enforcement, Benjamin Wittes argues on Lawfare. “His complaint? They’re all, in different ways, not serving him. And serving him, he makes clear, is their real job. … He twice describes Sessions’s [recusal] decision as ‘unfair to the president,’ seemingly unaware that his recusal was almost surely compelled by Justice Department recusal rules. That is, the President is openly expressing bitterness toward his attorney general for following the rules — because the rules don’t favor Trump’s interests … He [made it perfectly clear that] Sessions’s job is, in his mind, a personal service contract to him and that if Sessions couldn’t deliver on service to Trump, he shouldn’t have taken the position. … It’s a chilling interview — chilling because of the portrait it paints of presidential paranoia, chilling for its monomaniacal view of the relationship between the president and law enforcement, and chilling for what it says about Trump’s potential readiness to interfere with the Mueller investigation.”

THE INADVISABLE PRESIDENT The Atlantic “President Trump’s comments Wednesday about AG Sessions, in a NYTs interview, still take one’s breath away. Other presidents, even Richard Nixon in extremis, were careful to give lip service to at least the ideas of accountability, checks and balances, and boundaries on a president’s personal power. The more Donald Trump says about his view of loyalty and limits, the more he sounds not like a character from John Adams or Lincoln but instead from The Sopranos. Click Here for Full Article.

FOR TRUMP, LOYALTY IS A ONE-WAY STREET ‘No one was more loyal than Sessions. No one,’ a White House official said … The thinking goes: If this kind could happen to Sessions, it could happen to anyone. One official described the President’s blasting of Sessions as only intensifying the already low morale inside the West Wing.”



Time “In the months following the California [2016] primaries, the feds discovered that Russian hackers had broken into more than 20 state and local election systems and attempted to alter voter registration in several of them. Looking back at the events in Riverside County, cybersecurity officials at the White House wondered whether it had been a test run by the Russians. “It looked like a cyberattacker testing what kind of chaos they could unleash on Election Day,” says one former federal cybersecurity official who looked into the case. “There was no forensic evidence, so we may never know for sure, but the intelligence told us the Russians were bragging about doing just that. It is easy to forget, in the constant flurry of news, that the abiding goal of the Russian operation against the 2016 presidential election was, in the words of the U.S. intelligence community, “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.” What unfolded from early spring 2016 through the close of polls on Nov. 8 in states and counties across America was an aggressive attack on the credibility of our elections and a largely unseen and futile attempt by the federal government to counter it. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. intelligence services worked to identify the hackers and determine how widespread their malicious influence operation was. The feds struggled to help states protect their ballot machines and voter-registration rolls, only to become suspected of election meddling themselves amid mounting partisanship. In the end, realizing there was little they could do to stop what they feared might be a final Russian attack on the vote, the feds worked up an extraordinary plan to limit the damage on Election Day and in the days after. [A] previously undisclosed 15-page plan produced by Obama cybersecurity officials and obtained by Time, shows just how worried Washington was.
On Nov. 1, the White House went so far as to war-game an Election Day attack. Over the course of five hours, the National Security Council ran a fictionalized sequence of events to rehearse how federal agencies would communicate and respond in a real attack. Some of the scenarios dealt with actual vote meddling, while others focused on disinformation efforts to undermine the election. As the nightmare scenarios unfolded–from voters turned away to violence at polling places–the team went over what actions each agency would take and what the legal constraints were on what they could do. As it happened, Nov. 8 came and went with no final, spectacular attack on the integrity of the election. But the Russian effort may nonetheless be working, helped wittingly or otherwise by Donald Trump. Most Americans believe that their own votes will be correctly counted, but their faith that elections are honest is collapsing. In 2009, 59% of Americans had confidence in the honesty of elections, while 40% did not, according to Gallup. By 2015, those numbers had flipped, and just before the November vote, amid Trump’s repeated talk of rigged elections and the widespread coverage of Russian hacking, Gallup found that only 30% of Americans had confidence in the honesty of our elections, while 69% did not.

Read Full Article



THE BIG IDEA: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” Richard Nixon said during a televised interview in 1977. But Nixon understood that he could never pardon himself. President Trump may not.”

NYTs “Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort. Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves. Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

@EricHolder: “There is NO basis to question the integrity of Mueller or those serving with him in the special counsel’s office. And no conflicts either”.

LAW IS UNRESOLVED Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. … Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else. There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. … ‘This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,’ said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question. … No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it.” Regardless of how serious these conversations are, someone who has nothing to hide typically is unlikely to query his lawyers about whether he can pardon himself.



— Mueller is looking into possible money laundering by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (WSJ)
— Mueller is also examining a “broad range” of Trump’s business transactions, as well as those of his associates, as part of his ongoing investigation. (Bloomberg) “FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008 … Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary, as well as the efforts of Jared Kushner … to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties.”



“In ways big and small, the president continues to show disdain for the long-standing independence of the Justice Department and the rule of law. CNN reported that Trump personally interviewed his nominee to be U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia before tapping her. There are 93 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys, but this one is of special interest to Trump because she has jurisdiction over the capital city — where he obviously has a lot of personal interests at stake. Jessie Liu, the current deputy general counsel for the Treasury Department who Trump tapped to be the next US attorney for the District of Columbia, disclosed in her responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she met with the President as part of her interview process.” Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, told CNN. “This goes to the independence of the Justice Department” and “any effort by any president to diminish that is problematic. This is a BIG DANG DEAL that should not get lost amid the even bigger stories. It raises a host of questions about what commitments Liu might or might not have made to the president and to what extent she would try to protect him once confirmed.”



The Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, unanimously voted to advance Christopher Wray’s nomination to become the next director of the FBI.



“A day after announcing that he is combating a brain tumor, Sen. John McCain used his signature snark to warn colleagues that he will be returning soon to Washington — and chastised the Trump administration for ending assistance to moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad.” McCain tweeted Thursday morning, just hours after his office confirmed that he has been diagnosed with a tumor called a glioblastoma.” True sadness.

EERILY SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES NYTs “In the middle of contentious health care deliberations, a larger-than-life figure in the Senate learns he has a very serious form of brain cancer. A leading voice goes quiet and the Senate suffers for it. Such was the case in 2008 when Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, learned he had brain cancer and again this week when it was announced that John McCain, Republican of Arizona, had the exact condition that claimed his colleague — a man who shared Mr. McCain’s zest for a good argument and for cutting a deal.”

MCCAIN’S ABSENCE LEAVES A HOLE IN THE SENATE MorningD “Arizona Sen. John McCain ‘s “sudden departure leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Republican Conference. On defense and foreign policy issues, McCain is among the loudest GOP voices, largely based on his own experience as a Vietnam War hero and prisoner of war. A hawkish interventionist utterly convinced of America’s undisputed place as the world’s leader, McCain has pushed to expand the U.S.’ presence overseas, not withdraw from it, which often put him in collision with the Trump-Bannon worldview. From Syria to ISIS to Iran to North Korea, McCain has pushed for hard-line U.S. policies, including military strikes if necessary… “And McCain, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, may not be able to oversee completion of the annual defense authorization bill, which had been expected to be taken up on the Senate floor as early next week. “The Pentagon, too, loses one of its biggest allies in Congress, although one who is not above bashing admirals and generals when he feels they deserve it. McCain has long supported getting rid of the 2011 budget caps and adding tens of billions of dollars to the defense budget. That’s in line with what Trump wants to do as well.”



“Two of [Trump’s] most senior cabinet members became embroiled Thursday in an unusual legal battle after ExxonMobil under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s leadership [was found to have] violated U.S. sanctions against Russia. … Treasury officials fined ExxonMobil $2 million Thursday morning for signing eight business agreements in 2014 with Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Rosneft, an energy giant partially owned by the Russian government. The business agreements came less than a month after the United States banned companies from doing business with him. Hours after the fine was announced, Exxon filed a legal complaint against the Treasury Department — naming Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the lead defendant — while calling the actions ‘unlawful’ and ‘fundamentally unfair.’



Pew “Following an election that had one of the largest gender gaps in history, women are more likely than men to say they are paying increased attention to politics.
And while far more Democrats than Republicans say they have attended a political event, rally or protest since the election, Democratic women – especially younger women and those with postgraduate degrees – are among the most likely to have participated in such a political gathering.

HOW POLITICS IMPACTS CONVERSATIONS & FRIENDSHIP “A majority of the public finds talking with people who have a different opinion from their own about Donald Trump to be a stressful and frustrating experience: About six-in-ten (59%) say it is stressful and frustrating, while about a third (35%) say it is interesting and informative.”




Bloomberg Businessweek “Sinclair is the nation’s largest owner of broadcast TV stations. It has 173 of them, mostly in small markets (Sioux City, Iowa; Fresno, Calif.; Little Rock), but with several in larger metropolitan areas as well (Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Washington). Whatever a particular station’s network affiliation—ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, or NBC—Sinclair viewers get a steady dose of conservative political commentary. … To left-leaning viewers only just becoming aware of the company’s reach, Sinclair is positioned to flip a switch and turn those 173 stations’ newscasts—currently delivering bulletins on weather, school closings, and local affairs—into a cohesive network that pushes a Fox News-esque worldview of outrage and conflict into individual cities, counties, and towns.”







Pivotal anniversary this week.

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