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Washington Report March 3, 2017

03 Mar 2017

Washington Report March 3, 2017

A Moment That Gives Us Hope … Tax Reform By August? Unlikely. … Defense Approps … A Rising Tide Does Not Lift All Boats … Take it to the Bank … EPA In the News … State Sidelined. Period. … ‘The Ambassador From Russia is Russian’ and the Biggest Story of Russian Intrigue Since the Cold War … and other news of the week.

Best,

Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners

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A MOMENT GIVES US HOPE The Fix “… between John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Proves everything about politics is NOT terrible.

You can hate McCain. Or Graham. Or both. Or Republicans. Or the Senate. Or politics.But if this exchange doesn’t make you feel good – and cause you to choke up — you need to go to the doctor because you don’t have a heart.” Let me know if you agree.

Click for a MUST WATCH video clip.

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Happy Friday. Things were looking up for the Trump administration earlier this week. Donald Trump’s joint session speech to Congress was seen as a turning point. But here is where things stand now: ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS recused himself from all investigations into anything relating to the 2016 campaign (more on this below). Just hours before, the president’s press secretary had scoffed at the suggestion he should recuse himself, saying “there’s nothing to recuse himself.” TAX REFORM BY AUGUST? A DREAM, FOR NOW : Administration officials are running around town saying they will complete tax reform by August, but for now, top White House aides are in open war over a central component of an overhaul: the House GOP idea to tax imports instead of exports. Instead of deciding on a strategy internally and promoting it, the aides have been shadow boxing, expressing different opinions in private settings with reporters and business leaders. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary who is in his first job in D.C., is publicly saying he is confident in having a comprehensive tax reform bill signed by August, which has elicited head shakes and chuckles all over town. There is no bill — or anything close — and many of the Treasury aides who would be working on tax reform aren’t even in place. Most people see early 2018 as a more likely target date, considering the president has promised health care repeal and replace, $30 billion in emergency spending, a border wall with Mexico, not to mention they need to lift the debt ceiling and fund the government. And the president’s budget — the key element in tax reform — is, for now, dead on arrival. About the August date, one top Republican chuckled and said, “Goals.” HUNDREDS of executive branch positions are unfilled and unconfirmed by the Senate, leaving cabinet secretaries with a bare-bones staff.” (Politico)

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MINIBUSES PREDICTED Pro “House Republican leaders are considering passing “packages” of fiscal 2017 spending bills to avoiding another stopgap spending measure in April. House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen believes “it is likely” the panel will bundle the remaining fiscal 2017 spending bills and send them to the House floor before next month’s deadline, according to a committee aide.” Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan ruled out the possibility of considering individual spending bills on the House floor, citing a time crunch. That statement signals a shift from the plan some House lawmakers had been expecting after House GOP leaders announced they would vote on the fiscal 2017 defense package next week.”

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FINAL DEFENSE APPROPS BILL BOOSTS PROCUREMENT FUNDING Politico “The final version of the fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill includes a $6.8 billion boost in procurement above the Obama administration’s budget request, funding more fighter jets, ships and helicopters. The bill, released Thursday by the House and Senate Appropriations committees, provides $583.7 billion in total defense funding for fiscal 2017. The measure … adds roughly $9 billion above the Pentagon’s initial fiscal 2017 request through the ‘war budget’ (AKA the Overseas Contingency Operations – OCO). That’s a shift from the House-passed defense appropriations bill last year, which used a funding gimmick by short-changing the war budget in order to boost base defense spending by $18 billion. Most Democrats opposed that defense bill, but the final version is likely to have bipartisan support. … In addition to the appropriations bill, the Pentagon is preparing a separate $30 billion supplemental spending request for fiscal 2017 that is expected to boost readiness funding. The House is to take up defense appropriations on the floor next week, which will kick off the effort to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30. The continuing spending resolution (CR) expires April 28.”

FY2018 President Donald Trump’s $603 billion defense budget proposal for fiscal 2018 would be largely beneficial for defense contractors, but not all of them would reap the same rewards, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service.The report, released Thursday, finds that Trump’s budget proposal would boost prime contractors, with Lockheed Martin, Huntington Ingalls, General Dynamics and Boeing among the biggest beneficiaries of more defense spending. Government services contractors, however, could struggle.

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Capstone In the News … ‘Wisconsin to Gain From Military Spending’ Journal Sentinel Article

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Ben Carson and Rick Perry were easily confirmed to lead HUD and Energy. The vote totals were 58 to 41 and 62 to 37, respectively. Pence swore them in last night. A sharply divided Senate Finance Committee recommended the confirmation of Seema Verma, a health-care consultant, to run the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs. On a vote of 13 to 12, with every Democrat in opposition, Verma’s nomination now moves to the full Senate.

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TAKE IT TO THE BANK Politico “Obamacare repeal will pass this month … GOP leaders are all but declaring: The House will vote to repeal and replace by the end of this month. IN A SECURE LOCATION NYTs “Just a week before two powerful House committees are to vote on a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, opponents point out that almost no one has actually seen the legislation, which would affect the lives and wallets of millions of Americans. While Republicans discussed details of the measure, Democrats went from office to office on Thursday hunting for a copy. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has criticized the measure as described publicly by party leaders, also tried and failed to see it. “I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock & key, in a secure location, & not available for me or the public to view,” Mr. Paul wrote on Twitter.

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EPA HALTS INQUIRY “The EPA Thursday announced it was withdrawing a request that operators of existing oil and gas wells provide the agency with extensive information about their equipment and its emissions of methane, undermining a last-ditch Obama administration climate change initiative. The EPA announcement was a first step towards reversing an Obama administration effort – which only got underway two days after Donald Trump’s election – to gather information about methane, a short-lived but extremely powerful climate pollutant which is responsible for about a quarter of global warming to date. The EPA announcement further advances efforts by the White House and Republicans in Congress to undo the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate emissions from oil and gas production.”

STATE SIDELINED ON CLIMATE WashPo “Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser, is pressing the president to officially pull the United States from the [Paris Agreement on Climate Change] accord, according to energy and government officials with knowledge of the debate. But, they say, he is clashing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president’s daughter Ivanka, who fear the move could have broad and damaging diplomatic ramifications. … Next week, Mr. Trump plans to sign an executive order directing (Scott) Pruitt to start the lengthy legal process of unwinding Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. regulations for cutting greenhouse pollution from coal-fired power plants. Those regulations are the linchpin of the last administration’s program to meet the nation’s obligations to reduce climate emissions under the Paris agreement. While the president cannot, as Mr. Trump suggested, unilaterally undo a 194-nation accord that has already been legally ratified, he could initiate the four-year process to withdraw the world’s largest economy and second-largest climate polluter from the first worldwide deal to tackle global warming.”

STATE SIDELINED IN GENERAL The Atlantic “With the State Department demonstratively shut out of meetings with foreign leaders, key State posts left unfilled, and the White House not soliciting many department staffers for their policy advice, there is little left to do. … The seeming hostility from the White House, the decades of American foreign-policy tradition being turned on its head, and the days of listlessness are taking a toll on people who are used to channeling their ambition and idealism into the detail-oriented, highly regimented [work] … Without it, anxiety has spiked.” The steady departure of senior officials at the State Department is continuing, as two assistant secretaries of state are stepping down next week, leaving only a handful of career diplomats who were holdovers from the Obama administration among the cadre of senior State Department officials”

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SCRAPING EDUCATION REGS Politico “Senate Republicans have filed a measure to scrap Obama regulations enacted by the Dept. of Education aimed at strengthening teacher preparation in the U.S. The House last month passed a measure to do the same. The rule would have eventually punished low-performing teacher preparation programs by cutting off their access to federal TEACH grants that help students pay for teacher training. Republicans are using the Congressional Review Act to get rid of the teacher preparation regs and Obama accountability regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. If successful, the Education Department would then be prohibited from writing “substantially similar” rules to replace the overturned ones. President Donald Trump has already pledged to sign the measures.”

What is the Congressional Review Act? This law is intended to be an oversight tool for members of Congress, offering a check on federal agencies. Though the time frame can vary, the law allows Congress at least 60 days to review a major rule before it goes into effect. During that period, lawmakers can object, and, if enough of them agree, eventually overturn it with the president’s signature.

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“I DIDN’T HAVE – DID NOT HAVE COMMUNICATIONS WITH RUSSIANS”
– Sen. Jeff Sessions (at his confirmation hearing)

“The ambassador from Russia is a Russian.”
-Sen. Al Franken (who doesn’t often show his SNL side … in an interview on CNN)

The Washington Post reported late Wednesday on Sessions’s previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Although Sessions now denies talking about the campaign with the Russian ambassador, at his confirmation hearing he denied contact with the Russian government, period. But what stings even more is that he actually volunteered that denial. He wasn’t even asked to provide it. The Fix “Jeff Sessions is a lawyer. He is the nation’s top law enforcement officer. He has been a state attorney general and United States attorney, too. All of which makes his now-contradicted denials of contact with the Russians completely inexplicable. How could a man who is supposed to be so studied at the law take the stand … under oath … at a confirmation hearing … and not be precise with his words? It all suggests, yet again, a Trump administration that can’t shoot straight. The big question is whether that’s due to actual malice or gross incompetence. And neither is a good option.

When Sessions spoke with Amb. Kislyak in July and September, the senator was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.”

WHITE (HOUSE) RUSSIAN … SESSIONS TO RECUSE SELF … The Fix “Atorney General Jeff Sessions held a news conference Thursday afternoon aimed at stopping the bleeding caused by revelations that he had not told the full truth about his contacts with Russian officials during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. The big news was that Sessions is recusing himself from any FBI investigations into the attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 election. But there was one big question that Sessions struggled to answer: Why, when asked by Sen.Al Franken (D-MN) about contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Russian operatives during his confirmation hearings, did he say he hadn’t had any contact? Sessions said Thursday that the answer he provided Franken was “honest and correct as I understood it at the time.” Um, okay.
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@adamentous (WashPo) “We reached all 26 members of the 2016 Armed Services Committee to see who met with Russian envoy Kislyak in 2016. Sessions was the only one.

IT’S NOT JUST SESSIONS Politico “When Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak traveled to the GOP convention last summer, he met with now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions – and with two other Trump campaign advisers. It’s unknown what the Trump campaign officials who spoke with the ambassador – J.D. Gordon and Carter Page – discussed with him. However, the newly-revealed communications further contradict months of repeated denials by Trump officials that his campaign had contact with officials representing the Russian government. MORE White House officials acknowledged yesterday that Jared Kushner joined ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn during a private meeting with the Russian envoy at Trump Tower in December. “It is common and not improper for transition officials to meet with foreign officials. But all meetings between Trump associates and Russians are now significant as the F.B.I. investigates Russian interference in the American election and whether anyone close to Mr. Trump’s campaign was involved,” the NYTs explains.

Flashback: The RNC, at the behest of Trump officials, watered down the platform on Ukraine to move closer to Russia’s position. Of note: The Russian ambassador did not go to the Democratic convention.

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LEFT BREADCRUMBS, NYTs “In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election – and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians – across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.”
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WHO IS SERGEY KISLYAK?Politico: an interesting read.

NYTs “The questions about contacts between Mr. Trump’s circle and Russian officials have revealed what both sides presumably knew, that American intelligence agencies closely track Mr. Kislyak’s movements and tap his phone calls. Russian officials on Thursday expressed anger that their ambassador’s actions were being questioned and that some news reports suggested he might be an intelligence operative….He has told associates that he will leave Washington soon, likely to be replaced by a hard-line general.”

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ISIS PROPAGANDA VICTORY Politco Magazine “I think he is good for us,” a Canadian ISIS fighter told [the writer] when asked about how the group views Trump in relation to past presidents. “We needed someone like him, who is direct. I mean, with no hidden agendas or behind-the-scenes plots,” the same ISIS fighter said. “He is clear and everyone, even the kuffar [infidels], know that he hates Muslims.” Full Article Link

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PAGING HILLARY IndyStar “VP Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues. Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges. “Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence’s are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence’s personal account was hacked last summer.”

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WHAT TO TELL YOUR BOSS THE NEXT TIME YOU MUST ATTEND ETHICS TRAINING …. Not until the White House does it! President Trump’s team rejected a course for senior White House staff, Cabinet nominees and other political appointees that would have provided training on leadership, ethics and management, according to documents obtained by Politico. The documents suggest the program could have better prepared officials for working within existing laws and executive orders, and provided guidance on how to navigate Senate confirmation for nominees and political appointees, how to deal with congressional and media scrutiny, and how to work with Congress and collaborate with agencies.”

REPUBLICANS ON IMPORTANCE OF A FREE PRESS: MEH The Fix “In case you forgot how receptive today’s Republican Party is to President Trump’s ongoing campaign against the “fake news media,” I present to you a new poll from the Pew Research Center. Only about half of Republican-leaning voters in the poll say the freedom of the press to criticize political leaders is “very important” to maintaining U.S. democracy — by far the lowest of five components of a strong democracy tested. Fewer GOP-leaning voters said they believe a free press is very important than say the same about the right to nonviolent protest (68 percent), checks and balances (83 percent), and free and fair elections (92 percent).

SCORE FOR SNAP INC. Yesterday, Snapchat’s parent company made its stock market debut. And everything was coming up rainbow vomit and flower crowns. This was the biggest US tech IPO since Facebook. The parent of the disappearing-message app Snapchat, jumped 44% on the first day of trading on Thursday, valuing the company at about $34 billion. That sound you hear is CEO Evan Spiegel saying ‘told you I had a good idea.’

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