Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule

Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Tuesday night in Washington, where the Senate Republican tax bill is expected to include a repeal of ObamaCare's individual mandate, and where Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsData confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue The FIRST STEP Act sets up a dangerous future The Sessions DOJ is working to end the great asylum hustle MORE faced a tough grilling from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

 

THE BIG STORY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that the Senate tax bill will include language to repeal ObamaCare's individual mandate. The move had been pushed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE and some conservative senators, but could make it tougher for moderate Republicans to support the tax bill.

McConnell told reporters that adding the individual mandate repeal will make it easier to muster 50 votes to pass the bill.

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"We're optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful and that's obviously the view of the Senate Finance Committee Republicans as well," McConnell said.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Helsinki summit becomes new flashpoint for GOP anger Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash MORE (S.D.), the Senate's No. 3 Republican, told reporters there has been a whip count and he is confident Republicans can pass a tax bill that includes a measure to repeal the mandate.

Why would they do this? While conservatives have been pushing for a mandate repeal, leadership had previously been worried about complicating their tax bill. But they need the money. Repealing the mandate will raise an estimated $300 billion to $400 billion over the next year that could be used to pay for lowering individual and business tax rates even further.

Will moderates get on board? Multiple GOP senators said that nobody openly objected when the idea was presented during their weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday afternoon. And a bipartisan market stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.) might be used to entice some moderate votes.

Peter Sullivan has the full rundown here.

 

ON TAP FOR WEDNESDAY

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider legislation that would open the door to drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on "reducing air emissions through innovation."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee holds a hearing on Trump administration nominees, including Kate O'Scannlain to be the Labor Department's solicitor and Preston Rutledge to be assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

The House Oversight Committee hears "recommendations and reforms" from inspectors general from the Peace Corps, Justice Department, and Department of Homeland Security.

The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on bills for the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up legislation to delay new rules on brick makers.

 

REGULATORY ROUNDUP

Technology: Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday refused to say whether he has discussed the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger with anyone at the White House.

"I'm not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House," he said in response to a question from Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHouse GOP refuses to boost funding for election security Sparks fly at hearing on anti-conservative bias in tech Live coverage: FBI agent defends anti-Trump texts in tense hearing MORE (D-R.I.) at a Tuesday House Judiciary Committee meeting.

The White House and Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, have both denied that there has been any interference in the merger negotiations.

According to multiple news reports that emerged last week, the Justice Department's antitrust division had demanded that AT&T and Time Warner sell off CNN in order to get their merger approved. CNN is a Time Warner subsidiary and a frequent target of President Trump who claims its coverage is biased.

Earlier in Tuesday's hearing, Sessions declined to comment on the merger discussions but threw doubt on the reports.

Harper Neidig has the story here.

 

More merger news: Two top House Judiciary Committee Democrats are pushing their panel to hold a hearing examining the White House's role in what they call a "troubling pattern of potential political interference by President Trump" in the Department of Justice's (DOJ) review of AT&T's merger with Time Warner.

DOJ sources recently said that antitrust officials had rejected an offer from AT&T to divest from CNN in order to win approval for the $85 billion deal. AT&T officials flatly denied that the offer was ever on the table -- or would be.

The top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersAP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Portland activist stages ‘reparations happy hour’ Conyers III won't appear on primary ballot in race to replace his father MORE Jr. (Mich), and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) expressed their concern with Trump's possible involvement, noting that he "has repeatedly criticized CNN for the nature of its coverage of him." In their letter, the lawmakers also highlighted Trump's tweets disparaging CNN as "#FakeNews."

Ali Breland has the details here.

 

Also on the merger: AT&T also reportedly wants to investigate if the White House influenced the Justice Department's review of its merger with Time Warner should the pending deal fail.

Sources told Bloomberg that AT&T will seek court approval to access communications between the Justice Department (DOJ) and the White House if the administration sues to block the deal.

More from Ali Breland here.

 

Education: Democrats are pressing Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDon’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to take over Afghan war MORE for more transparency as her department rewrites an Obama-era rule that could put predatory schools on the hook to repay unfair student loans.

In a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroDems launch pressure campaign over migrant families American families need paid leave without sacrificing their retirement Lawmakers request new GAO gender pay study MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said they are "deeply concerned" about the lack of full transparency surrounding the borrower defense to repayment rule.

DeVos announced plans in June to redo the rule, which was aimed at better protecting student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices. The rule would have created consistent, clear, and transparent procedures to file claims.

DeLauro and Murray said the department created a subcommittee on financial responsibility and solicited nominations from individuals with expertise in financial accounting standards. But they say the department decided, without any stated reason or legal rationale, that subcommittee meetings will not be open to the public.

Read Lydia Wheeler's story for more.

 

Transportation: Federal investigators ripped Amtrak on Tuesday for its poor safety culture, which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed for a deadly train crash that killed two workers near Philadelphia last year.

The safety board held a hearing in Washington to discuss the probable cause of the incident, in which an Amtrak engineer struck a piece of construction equipment parked on the tracks.

The train derailed, killing two employees who were working on the track bed and injuring dozens of passengers.

During the hearing, the NTSB slammed Amtrak for failing to randomly drug test employees, consistently use safety equipment and ensure communication among its employees during shift changes -- all of which the panel said could have prevented the fatal crash.

Melanie Zanona has the full story here.

 

Environment:  President Trump's chief official at the United Nations climate summit said Tuesday his top priority at the meeting is ensuring all nations, including large polluters such as China, play the same role in international climate change deals.

"We want to make sure that we do what we can to avoid bifurcation," George David BanksGeorge (David) David BanksProxy advisors do need to be regulated GOP senators push Trump to submit pollution treaty amendment for Senate approval Odds are Trump re-enters the Paris Agreement in 2020 MORE, Trump's special assistant for international energy and environment, told reporters in Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday, according to Climate Home News.

"Bifurcation is a major flaw in the framework convention, and we certainly don't want to see it in the Paris agreement," he said. "So I would say that's probably the No. 1 priority."

Banks is referring to the structure of the underlying international deal setting the course for United Nations work on the climate.

That agreement includes different classes of countries, with major economies -- such as the United States -- committing to work more aggressively to address climate change than other nations.

The Paris deal does not present that format. Instead, nations agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as they determine they can.

Devin Henry has the story here.

 

Administration: President Trump will nominate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting Director Thomas Homan as his pick to permanently lead the agency, the White House announced Tuesday.

Trump appointed Homan as acting ICE director after taking office in January. The Senate must still hold confirmation hearings and approve his nomination to serve in the role permanently.

Homan has served with the agency for three decades, including time spent in Dallas and San Antonio as an immigration officer.

Brett Samuels has the rest of the story.

 

Finance: A group of Senate Democrats want the Commerce Department's top watchdog to launch an investigation into Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOn The Money: Commerce to review uranium imports | Lawmakers urge Trump not to impose auto tariffs | White House wants steeper cuts to EPA funding | Google hit with massive B fine Auto industry groups, lawmakers urge Trump administration to avoid tariffs on auto imports Census Bureau faces hiring woes amid low unemployment MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanNew Hampshire governor signs controversial voting bill Conway takes aim at congressional intern who yelled 'f--- you' at Trump Fox's Regan defends CNN's Acosta, calls for civility: 'What has happened to us?' MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker calls on Kavanaugh to recuse himself on Trump-related cases Anti-Trump protesters hold candlelight vigil by White House House backs resolution expressing support for ICE MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Poll: Majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers press Trump admin for list of migrant kids separated from families The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near Ocasio-Cortez responds to Dem senator who said policies 'too far to the left' don't win in Midwest MORE (Ill.) sent a letter to Peggy Gustafson, the inspector general of the Commerce Department, asking that she open an investigation into Ross's compliance.

The senators' request includes asking the inspector general to determine the "true value" of Ross's personal wealth, if he has complied with his ethics agreement including divesting his assets, if the agreement is adequate and if senior Commerce Department officials have been allowed to serve despite conflicts of interest.

Jordain Carney has more here.

 

Elsewhere in the news:

Determining the threshold at which large banks face higher regulation (The Wall Street Journal)

HHS nominee oversaw big drug price increases at Eli Lilly (The Wall Street Journal)

FDA chief warns about kratom to treat opioid addiction; will seek more regulatory power (USA Today)

US banking regulator cautions against regulatory rollback (Reuters)

Volkswagen agrees to pay $69M to settle New Jersey emissions suits (Reuters)