The Hill's Morning Report — Senate focuses on Russia as midterms loom

 

 

 

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Wednesday! Our daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) discussing her resolution supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement. GOP Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson (Wis.) talks about his race against Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinHillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups Senate Democrats press regulators over reported tech investigations Chris Murphy may oppose bipartisan health bill unless it addresses ObamaCare 'sabotage' MORE (D-Wis.). And discussing their respective new books, journalists Annie Lowrey and Dan Kaufman. http://thehill.com/hilltv



With just over 100 days to go before the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans in Congress are focused on Russia, Russia, Russia.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE’s one-on-one meeting and subsequent press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this month set off a storm on Capitol Hill unlike anything we’ve seen in some time.

The hearings begin in earnest today, with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump calls on foreign countries to protect their own oil tankers Trump to travel to South Korea The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Hill: Pompeo faces GOP grilling on Russia, North Korea.

Pompeo will be pressed to divulge the details of what Trump and Putin discussed in their more than two-hour-long meeting with translators, and no one else.

Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., has said that Trump and Putin made “important verbal agreements” related to arms control and cooperation in Syria.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the only agreement the countries came to was that their national security teams would continue to have an open dialogue.

Pompeo’s testimony is only the start of an extended focus in the Senate on Russia’s election interference and Trump’s relationship with Putin.

> The Senate Banking Committee will also hold hearings on the matter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility California governor predicts 'xenophobic' GOP will likely be third party in 15 years This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request MORE (R-Ky.) has instructed Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) and Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoOn The Money: S&P hits record as stocks rally on Fed cut hopes | Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics | Internal IRS watchdog rips agency's taxpayer service | Apple seeks tariff relief Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Hillicon Valley: Senate sets hearing on Facebook's cryptocurrency plans | FTC reportedly investigating YouTube over children's privacy | GOP senator riles tech with bill targeting liability shield | FAA pushed to approve drone deliveries MORE (R-Idaho) to recommend additional measures that could “respond to or deter Russian malign behavior.”

> Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE  (D-N.J.) are working on legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia.

> Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenTrump planning Air Force One flyover during July 4 celebration at Mall: report Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-Md.) have asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Trump's tax returns — DOJ trying to put off the inevitable? GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE to impose financial sanctions on the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report MORE for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee. Van Hollen and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate GOP lawmaker on Iran: Congress should vote on 'what's worthy of spilling American blood and what isn't' The Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? MORE (R-Fla.) have a separate bill proposing new sanctions if Russia interferes in the 2018 election that has 10 co-sponsors.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to thumb his nose at lawmakers, who are frustrated by the president’s mixed messages over whether he believes the intelligence community’s assessment that Russians interfered in the 2016 election and plan to do so again in 2018.

On Tuesday, the president warned the Russians might interfere in the 2018 election to help Democrats who oppose his agenda.

 

 

 

Despite the uproar over his first summit with Putin, the president has invited the Russian president to Washington in the fall for a follow-up meeting. The Kremlin has not yet determined whether it will take Trump up on that offer (Reuters).

Harry J. Kazianis: Putting Putin in the Oval Office is political suicide.

McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Ocasio-Cortez calls out Steve King, Liz Cheney amid controversy over concentration camp remarks Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law MORE (R-Wis.) reiterated on Tuesday that Putin would not be invited to the U.S. Capitol should he come to Washington.

"I can only speak for the Congress. The Speaker and I have made it clear that Putin will not be welcome up here, at the Capitol.”  – McConnell



LEADING THE DAY

*** OVERNIGHT *** CNN late Tuesday obtained audio of Trump’s pre-election conversation with his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, from Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis. The tape will roll endlessly on cable news today and be dissected like audio fragments from the Gene Hackman film, “The Conversation.”

 

The Washington Post: Transcript of Cohen and Trump provided by the president’s legal team suggests Trump knew about model’s deal to sell story of alleged affair.

 

Upshot: In 2016, Trump appeared to assent to paying a publishing company to bury a story about a woman who alleged she had an extramarital affair with him in 2006. The transaction to buy the rights to the story to keep it out of the press was handled by Cohen before voters went to the polls.

 

Why it matters: The FBI is investigating Cohen’s personal businesses and he seems increasingly willing to drag Trump’s dirty laundry into the court-ordered sunlight. There are reportedly a dozen recordings that involve Trump in some way, as well as thousands of other documents the FBI seized from Cohen.

 

Could the hush payment and Trump’s apparent approval put the president in legal jeopardy? Trump’s legal team denies that the discussed payment — which would have sent $150,000 to tabloid-publishing company American Media Inc. for the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s claims — ever took place. The transaction may be more essential to Cohen’s backstory than Trump’s legal vulnerability. However, with the explosive audio tape out in public, the president’s team is on the defensive to explain what happened.

 

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California’s Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff would support impeachment if White House ignores a final court decision on documents, testimony US finds itself isolated in Iran conflict House Intelligence Committee to subpoena Trump associate Felix Sater MORE, wasted no time in tweeting his takeaways:

 

 

 

 

TRADE: The administration intervened Tuesday to salve the bruising impact of the president’s new tariffs, announcing $12 billion in payouts to U.S. wheat and soybean farmers, among other agriculture sectors. The announcement failed to quiet growing criticisms in Congress about Trump’s tariffs, which the president declared “the greatest!” The payouts increased the unease among some Republicans that “bailouts” from Uncle Sam run afoul of conservative orthodoxy and fiscal prudence.

 

 

 

 

Agriculture Department officials said the direct payments would help producers of soybeans, along with sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton and dairy, and farmers raising hogs. The food purchased from farmers would include some types of fruit, nuts, rice, legumes, dairy, beef and pork, The Associated Press reported.

The Oklahoman: Trade war threatens $208 million in Oklahoma exports, including pork.

American Farm Bureau Federation: “We will continue to push for a swift and sure end to the trade war and the tariffs impacting American agriculture.”

Trump said during a Tuesday speech in Kansas City, Mo., that farmers would be “the biggest beneficiary” of his tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which, in turn, triggered retaliatory levies on U.S. products of all kinds. The president called for “patience” from manufacturers, automakers, farmers, cheesemakers, bourbon distillers and other U.S. sectors hit by trade taxes from abroad. He said his plan was to get European, Mexican, Canadian and Chinese trade officials to cut better deals with the United States.

Some GOP lawmakers said they were exasperated, arguing the administration was making poorly conceived trade policy even worse.

“This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches. America’s farmers don’t want to be paid to lose – they want to win by feeding the world. This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.”  – Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSwing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike House Dems move to give lawmakers a pay increase Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries MORE (R-Neb.), whose term expires in 2020

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Washington braces for Trump's next move on Iran Overnight Defense: Latest on Iran after Trump halts planed strike | Dems call Trump's approach 'erratic' | Key Republican urges Trump to retaliate | Esper reportedly getting Defense secretary nomination MORE (R-Ky.), whom Trump is eager to win over to vote for his Supreme Court nominee this fall, slammed his trade actions. “Tariffs are taxes that punish American consumers and producers. If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers the answer is, remove the tariffs,” the senator tweeted.

Other lawmakers faulted the administration for playing favorites, providing an emergency federal safety net for farmers, but not for other affected industries and businesses.

“Farmers are hit but there are a lot of others that are hit by these tariffs as well,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Alaska) said on Tuesday. “I have a seafood industry up north that is not considered to be farmers. We’re farmers of the sea."

 

Today: Trump will discuss trade and autos with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, at the White House this afternoon.

The Associated Press: EU ready to respond to U.S. tariffs with duties of $20 billion if Trump puts duties on cars and auto parts from Europe.

CONGRESS: House members from both parties are looking for new leaders, new ideas and commitments to promises.

House Speaker – leadership: The Hill: A small group of House Republicans are discussing a fallback should neither Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP rep: Trump needs to retaliate against Iran to deter other hostile nations Ocasio-Cortez: McCarthy should apologize to migrant children separated from their parents Lawmakers warn of 'grave situation' after drone shot down MORE (R-Calif.) nor Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseLawmakers warn of 'grave situation' after drone shot down House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (R-La.) secure the 218 votes needed to become the next Speaker if the House remains under GOP control.

House Democrats – new influencer: The Hill: New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has caused a stir inside the Democratic Party since her primary victory, will be on Capitol Hill, where she’s expected to meet with lawmakers, as well as some progressive activists off the Hill.

House GOP new tax measure: The Hill: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law House panel approves bills on tax extenders, expanding tax credits MORE (R-Texas) is pitching "tax cuts 2.0" to House Republicans, and sees a legislative path to make some changes to the tax law Trump signed in December. The election-year ideas unveiled on Tuesday are unlikely to become law but could energize party voters this autumn with promises of permanent tax cuts for individuals and most business owners (Reuters).

House Rules GOP reforms: The Hill: House lawmakers today will unveil proposed reforms to House rules, which they hope can make the House more bipartisan and inclusive. But the Problem Solvers Caucus backing the plan wants lawmakers to weld their support for the next Speaker to a promise to enact the reform ideas.

House – immigration: House GOP leaders are reneging on a vow to hold an immigration vote before the August recess, a move that puts McCarthy in a particularly awkward spot as he seeks to become the next speaker (Politico).

House flood insurance: The Hill: The House is expected to vote today on a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, racing to meet a July 31 deadline and to complete action ahead of future hurricanes. But GOP clashes emerged Tuesday, even as the White House, in a statement, urged Congress to adopt changes that can “help develop the private market for flood insurance.”  



IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) triumphed over Lt. Gov. Casey Cable (R-Ga.) in the gubernatorial primary last night in the Peach State. Trump had backed Kemp in the race, giving him another endorsement victory this cycle.

 

Looking ahead to August, The Hill’s Lisa Hagen has the rundown on dozens of pivotal primary races that will shape the general election. Among the highlights: The brutal and costly GOP primary battles in Arizona and Wisconsin will finally come to a close. And a nationally watched House special election in suburban Ohio is drawing big money and could be another barometer of Democratic enthusiasm heading into the midterms.

The Hill: August primaries may determine the shape of 2018 general election.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle presents a tough challenge for Senate Democrats up for reelection in states Trump carried in 2016.

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Anti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (D-Ind.) on Tuesday became the second Democrat to agree to meet with Kavanaugh, with the date set for Aug. 15. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinRepublicans, Trump Jr. signal support for embattled West Virginia governor Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments MORE (D-W.Va.) will meet with Kavanaugh next week. Trump won Indiana by nearly 20 points and he won West Virginia by more than 40.

The Hill: Senate Democrats struggle with Kavanaugh nomination.

More in politics and campaigns … A federal judge has ruled that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) election officials discriminated against young voters by blocking early voting at college campuses and universities (Tampa Bay Times) … Businesses tied to Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE’s (D-Mo.) husband have been awarded more than $131 million in federal subsidies since she took office (The News & Observer) … GOP lawmakers have decided to brand their 2018 midterm efforts “Better Off Now,” with messaging that will focus on tax reform, the economy, “safer communities” and strengthening the military (The Hill) … In a new Latino Decisions battlegrounds poll, conducted for pro-immigration organizations, 66 percent of registered voters surveyed between July 5-14 believe immigrants come to the U.S. for a better life, while 34 percent think immigrants take jobs away from American citizens and hurt the economy.

 

ADMINISTRATION & WHITE HOUSE: Trump’s average approval rating for his sixth quarter in office was 41.9 percent, his best yet, according to Gallup. Still, that puts Trump on the low end historically, tied with Jimmy Carter for the lowest rating at this point in the first term of a presidency (Gallup).

> Trump tapped Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyNikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' Trump UN nominee: Climate change poses 'real risks' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept MORE to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to “carry out his disruptive agenda,” Reuters reports. But Haley has also shown the president “how the world body serves his purposes.” Michelle Nichols’s rare interview with Haley is worth a read.

“Every day I feel like I put body armor on.” – Haley

 

> Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpAfrican Development Bank is much more than critic suggests Apple seeks to exempt products including iPhone from proposed tariffs The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Tensions flare after Iran shoots down US drone MORE, the daughter of the president and a senior White House adviser, is shuttering her namesake fashion brand, The Wall Street Journal reports. She had separated herself from the day-to-day operations of the business more than a year ago amid concerns over conflicts of interest, and now says she will focus full time on her responsibilities at the White House. She will retain the copyrights and intellectual property with her brand and continues to seek trademarks, The Washington Post explained.

 

The Hill’s Judy Kurtz has the full backstory HERE.

 

> The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to roll back car emissions and efficiency standards, arguing that they make vehicles less safe. The Hill’s Timothy Cama writes that the argument has been a favorite of opponents of strict efficiency standards, who say the rules encourage the manufacturing of smaller, lighter cars. But several new analyses and studies say that efficiency doesn’t necessarily compromise safety (The Hill).



The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!



OPINION

Global ambivalence about Trump’s foreign policy sends clear message to the White House, by Ahmed Charai, international counselor at the Center for National Interest and opinion contributor for The Hill. http://bit.ly/2JWDVxc

 

I’m an immigrant and I find open borders troubling, by Jason Hill, professor of philosophy at DePaul University and opinion contributor for The Hill. http://bit.ly/2mFiGa3



WHERE AND WHEN

The House convenes at 10 a.m. and takes up legislative business at noon.

 

The Senate meets at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of fiscal 2019 spending bills.

 

The president meets this morning at the White House with Ryan and McConnell. Then he confers with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and has lunch with Pompeo and Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Trump admin program sends asylum-seekers to await claims in Mexico, despite fears of violence: report MORE, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Later, Trump meets with European Commission President Juncker at the White House. Trade and tensions about tariffs are expected to dominate the conversations.

 

Pompeo will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 3 p.m. about “American diplomacy to advance our national security strategy.”

 

The EC’s Juncker, after meeting with Trump, will speak at 4 p.m. in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies about "transatlantic relations at a crossroads." His speech will be webcast live.

 

The Washington Post today hosts a newsmaker event with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson from 9:30-10:30 a.m. She’ll be interviewed by columnist David Ignatius.



ELSEWHERE

> A San Francisco-based U.S. appeals court upheld the right to carry guns in public. The ruling could set a path toward the Supreme Court, which has not taken up a major gun rights case since 2010 (Reuters).

 

> Court records show duck boat in Missouri disaster was designed by entrepreneur with no engineering training (Los Angeles Times).

 

> Facebook announced a plan to combat Russians and others who use false information and deceptive tactics to influence public opinion via the platform, but the company won’t say if such manipulation is occurring now (Reuters)

 

> The Tour de France was interrupted Tuesday by tear gas when police, working to disperse protesters, accidentally sprayed riders during the first stage in the Pyrenees. Four-time champion Chris Froome was among those hit and treated for exposure. The annual competition ends July 29 (Associated Press).

 

> Career moves: Lisa Grabert becomes visiting professor and health policy researcher at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Georgetown University in Washington. Grabert formerly served as a senior staff member for health policy on the House Ways and Means Committee.



THE CLOSER

And finally … Everyone has complaints about modes of transportation, it seems. In D.C., the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is cause for red faces while weeks of summer maintenance commence through Labor Day. The subway system in the nation’s capital has been denounced in print as “an ongoing train wreck.” Frustrated commuters vent their travails over Twitter with the hashtag “#UnsuckMetro.”

 

There is hope that dockless bike-shares will take off and help ease urban congestion. But The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Chinese startup Ofo is pulling its bikes out of the D.C. market, citing tensions with the government over regulations.

 

In Los Angeles, Tesla auto owners can’t get their many and varied safety flaws repaired without the kind of long waits that commuters in the City of Angels just won’t abide, reports the Los Angeles Times, describing “scenes of strife.”

 

And if you’re in Pittsburgh, beware. Uber is back on the road with its driverless cars. But in “manual mode,” as if that makes sense. “While we are eager to resume testing of our self-driving system, we see manual driving as an important first step,” says the chief of Uber’s self-driving program.



 

 

--This report was updated at 7:44 a.m. to correct the characterization of President Trump's tweet regarding Russian election interference.