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

 

 

 

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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill 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 PompeoUS to label white supremacist group as terrorist organization for first time Trump administration eyes Afghan security forces funding for aid cut: report Trump says 40,000 Americans have been repatriated who were stranded abroad 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 McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R-Ky.) has instructed Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.) and Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (R-Idaho) to recommend additional measures that could “respond to or deter Russian malign behavior.”

> Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill UN biodiversity chief calls for international ban of 'wet markets' Graham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets MORE (R-S.C.) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE  (D-N.J.) are working on legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia.

> Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight 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 MORE (R-Pa.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats struggle to keep up with Trump messaging on coronavirus Pentagon gets heat over protecting service members from coronavirus Overnight Defense: Lawmakers call for probe into aircraft carrier captain's firing | Sailors cheer ousted commander | Hospital ship to ease screening process for patients MORE (D-Md.) have asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPhase-four virus relief hits a wall On The Money: Senate aims to quickly approve more small-business aid | Dems seek conditions on new funds for small-business loans | Pelosi says next round of relief will top T House GOP leaders back effort to boost small-business loans MORE to impose financial sanctions on the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee. Van Hollen and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPhase-four virus relief hits a wall On The Money: Senate aims to quickly approve more small-business aid | Dems seek conditions on new funds for small-business loans | Pelosi says next round of relief will top T The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Debruyne Says Global Response Platform Needed; Navarro Saw It Coming 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 RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy 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 SchiffHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation Schiff calls on DNI Grenell to explain intelligence community changes READ: Schiff plans to investigate Trump firing intel watchdog 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 SasseAmerica's governors should fix unemployment insurance Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus House Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus MORE (R-Neb.), whose term expires in 2020

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul volunteering at hospital after negative coronavirus test Georgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat 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 MurkowskiLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus 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 McCarthyLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Phase-four virus relief hits a wall House GOP leaders back effort to boost small-business loans MORE (R-Calif.) nor Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse GOP leaders back effort to boost small-business loans Top GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Pelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response 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 BradyOfficials sound alarm over virus relief check scams Mnuchin says Social Security recipients will automatically get coronavirus checks Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing 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 DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents 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) ManchinPoliticians mourn the death of Bill Withers Pressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package 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 McCaskillGOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Claire McCaskill: Ron Johnson is an 'embarrassing tool' To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out  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) HaleyCoronavirus sets off industry scramble for aid from Washington Why Klobuchar should be Biden's vice presidential pick Overnight Defense: 'Tens of thousands' of National Guard troops could be activated for coronavirus response | Hospital ships could take week to deploy | Trump says military to help Americans stuck in Peru 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 TrumpPrivate equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans 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 NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security 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.