The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight
The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Steady Kavanaugh proves to be a tough target for Democrats
Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Thursday! 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 former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, discussing the Trump White House (and his book, "The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President"). http://thehill.com/hilltv
Democrats took their best shots at President Trump's Supreme Court nominee on Wednesday but Brett Kavanaugh appears to be on course to be the next associate justice, possibly in time for the high court's start on the first Monday in October.
Wednesday's hearing was once again punctuated by countless protester disruptions. The Capitol Police charged 73 people with unlawful demonstration activities.
But Democrats were restrained, despite fury from the liberal base that Senate leaders aren't doing enough to try to derail Kavanaugh's nomination.
The Hill: Dems switch tactics on second day of hearings.
A quick roundup of where things stand:
> Democrats focused heavily on whether Kavanaugh believes a sitting president should be open to civil and criminal charges, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former state attorney general, describing Trump as "an unindicted co-conspirator" in the Russian interference campaign around the 2016 election.
Kavanaugh has argued in the past that charges should be delayed until a president has left office or has been removed through the impeachment process, but said that he would review every case with fresh eyes.
Kavanaugh cited 9/11 as the impetus for his perspective, saying that working for then-President George W. Bush made him realize that the president should be unencumbered by outside legal pressures to be able to concentrate on national security.
Democrats have said that may be one of the reasons why Trump picked Kavanaugh.
On Wednesday, Kavanaugh declined to answer hypothetical questions about whether a president can pardon himself or if a president could pardon others in circumstances of presidential legal jeopardy.
And he declined to say whether he'd recuse himself from any case brought before the Supreme Court dealing with Trump's legal issues.
"I think that tone of not getting us involved in politics means I need to stay not just away from the line but three zip codes away from the line of current events or politics." - Kavanaugh
However, the appellate court judge cited U.S. v. Nixon, the 1974 Supreme Court ruling that forced then-President Nixon to turn over tapes and documents from the Watergate investigation, as one of the "greatest moments in Supreme Court history."
Kavanaugh said that ruling showed the Supreme Court could operate independently during a "crisis moment." Kavanaugh insisted that he was not arguing that a president would have blanket immunity from crimes he may have committed in office.
"No one is above the law. That is just such a foundational element of the Constitution." - Kavanaugh
Reuters: Kavanaugh evasive on scope of presidential powers.
> Roe v. Wade was the other Supreme Court ruling hanging over Wednesday's hearing, as Democrats have warned a conservative-leaning court would be eager to reverse the landmark abortion rights case.
Kavanaugh, who wrote a book used by law professors to teach the importance of precedent, described Roe and a follow-up case that confirmed the ruling as "precedent upon precedent."
He said Roe has been "reaffirmed many times" and that he believes the matter to be "settled law."
"When you talk about respect for precedent it's misleading because there are ways to say you are relying on precedent ... but still severely limit a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices." - Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
> Several Democrats sought to cast Kavanaugh as a far-right political operative. But with more than 30 minutes allotted to each senator, the lines of inquiry meandered, and Kavanaugh never appeared rattled or on the ropes.
Democrats pressed Kavanaugh on his contacts with a GOP Senate aide who resigned in 2004 after being accused of stealing Democratic emails. They sought to tie Kavanaugh to the conservative Federalist Society, which has been advising Trump on his judicial nominations.
And they questioned whether Kavanaugh had been truthful about his role in a Bush-era detention policy. Kavanaugh stood by his previous testimony, saying he was "not involved" in "questions about the rules governing detention of combatants."
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif), a potential 2020 presidential candidate, didn't get her first crack at Kavanaugh until late last night. Harris, the former attorney general of California, accused Kavanaugh of having once used a term in an editorial that has been adopted by white supremacists, and she focused on the gender dynamics inherent in abortion rights.
She insinuated that the judge may have had an inappropriate conversation about special counsel Robert Mueller with one of Trump's allies at a law firm. Over the course of an eight-minute exchange that was interrupted by protesters and an objection from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Harris was not more specific, and Kavanaugh would not say whether he knew anyone at the law firm. Perhaps Harris is sitting on something she will return to today.
TAKEAWAY: Kavanaugh was steady throughout the marathon session. He will return for another long day on Thursday. Republicans are sticking together and can propel the nomination through committee and through the full Senate with their 51-49 majority. It's likely that one or more red-state Democrats will join Republicans in bolstering Kavanaugh's final tally. Schumer on Wednesday was able to force the Senate to adjourn as a way to protest Kavanaugh's proceeding, but in the minority, Democrats possess few tools to block Trump's nominee.
The Associated Press: Kavanaugh faces final round of questioning without missteps.
LEADING THE DAY
WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Editors at The New York Times in charge of op-eds made the unusual decision on Wednesday to publish an essay critical of Trump and his administration, written by a senior administration official, but under a protective cloak of anonymity. The president and his team cried foul, calling on the unnamed "coward" to resign (The New York Times).
On social media, the piece was both hailed and skewered. It also inspired legions of armchair detectives on the hunt for the author, reminiscent of pre-Twitter sleuths in 1996 who homed in on journalist Joe Klein as the "anonymous" creator of "Primary Colors," a bestselling, barely fictionalized takedown about West Wing denizens during the Clinton years.
The world's most influential newspaper offered safe harbor to a government official to vent his or her anonymous critiques, similar to background quotes published almost daily in the company's news pages: "Many of the senior officials in [Trump's] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations ... There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first" (The New York Times).
Two key questions: Will Washington ever know who wrote the essay? And how long and to what extent will Trump and his aides try to identify the writer, masked to protect his or her job?
What's known and unknown: The Times's opinion editor declined to identify the writer's gender (CNN Money); the essayist knew how to approach opinion editors through an intermediary; he or she is not part of Trump's base, warns of the president's "erratic behavior," and instead admires the late Sen. McCain. The writer disapproves of Trump's equivocation about Russia and was privy to the president's discussions about Moscow. He or she values international alliances, hails bipartisan compromise and laments political tribalism. And the author celebrates the administration's economic initiatives, including lower taxes and less regulation.
David Frum: This is a constitutional crisis.
Congressional Research Service: Presidential disability: An Overview. The 25th Amendment.
> Trump remained busy on Wednesday issuing dismissals and criticisms of investigative journalist Bob Woodward's book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," for sale in stores next week. The president denied suggesting the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as reported (The Hill), and Trump repeated denials from White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis (both reported to have vented that the president was ill-informed and unwilling to get up to speed on issues) (The Hill).
> Meanwhile, Mattis, who is in India this week, juggled a report that the White House senior staff is assessing potential candidates in case the Defense secretary leaves the Pentagon soon (The Washington Post). Asked by reporters if he plans to replace Mattis, Trump responded, "He's doing a fantastic job as secretary....I think he's a terrific person. ... He'll stay."
> Criminal justice reform: (The Hill) Celebrity Kim Kardashian West visited the White House on Wednesday to discuss proposed prison and sentencing reforms with administration officials. Having helped persuade Trump in June to commute the life sentence of former inmate Alice Johnson, Kardashian West returned as a guest to discuss potential improvements in the clemency process, which Trump is utilizing largely devoid of extensive input from the Justice Department. Others in the conversation included CNN host Van Jones, Federalist Society President Leonard Leo, and retired Judge Kevin Sharp.
POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Trump is back on the trail today with an event in Billings, Mont., to support Republican Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, who is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in a state the president carried by more than 20 points in 2016 (The Billings Gazette).
Vice President Pence will be in central Florida on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is running neck-and-neck with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in one of the hottest Senate races of the cycle (The Palm Beach Post). A new poll shows Scott and Nelson running in a dead heat (Quinnipiac University).
Former President Obama, meanwhile, is gearing up for his big return to the trail. Obama has stops planned in California and Ohio in the coming days (The New York Times).
Former first lady Michelle Obama is also back on the scene, hosting events in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Miami later this month for When We All Vote, a group with star-studded co-chairs, including Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
And there's another big name entering the political fray - Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has made his first political donation, giving $10 million to a Super PAC that works to get veterans elected to office (The Washington Post).
A roundup from the states...
> Massachusetts: Democrat Ayanna Pressley's stunning victory over Rep. Michael Capuano (D) in a primary on Tuesday is the latest sign of a Democratic Party in turmoil against its own establishment (The Hill).
> North Carolina: A U.S. court says the 2018 midterm elections in the Tarheel State must proceed as planned even though GOP maps were drawn illegally to give Republicans a political advantage (Reuters).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➔ CONGRESS: Tech companies: Many listened carefully on Wednesday during testimony by Twitter and Facebook executives to gauge whether the GOP-led Congress intended to seek legislative remedies for what some lawmakers see as political bias, as well as risks of outside manipulation of information on platforms.
But instead of lambasting the companies, lawmakers from both parties agreed that Facebook and Twitter had recognized the problem of foreign influence on their platforms and were engaging more with Congress (The New York Times). The lawmakers concurred with the companies that the responsibility to root out foreign interference on social media requires government help.
The Hill: Recap of House Energy and Commerce and Senate Intelligence answers from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook's No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg.
It was the executive branch that announced some action on Wednesday. The Department of Justice said it will convene a meeting with state attorneys general to explore whether social media companies are "intentionally stifling" free speech (The Hill).
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been under heavy fire from the president over his recusal from the Russia probe and his arm's-length from the White House when it comes to management of the department, said the administration will talk with state officials this month about a "growing concern" that tech companies may be "intentionally stifling" the free flow of ideas on their platforms.
It remains unclear what steps Congress or the Justice Department could take beyond jawboning that will impact how Twitter, Facebook, Google and other private information platforms operate, especially in light of their international reach.
> Jurisdiction: House Republicans disagreed about how to handle the tech executives on Wednesday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who wants to be Speaker, infuriated conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus when a hearing with Dorsey went to the Energy and Commerce Committee instead of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where a number of conservative members sit. McCarthy says it wasn't his call (The Hill).
The Hill: Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearings.
> `Crazy people': Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, standing outside the Senate Intelligence Committee room on Wednesday, clashed with Infowars conspiracy monger Alex Jones when he touched the senator's shoulder (The Hill). Irritated about news media interest focused on the discredited Jones, Rubio told CNN producer Ted Barrett and others, "I know you've got to cover them, but you give these guys way too much attention. We're making crazy people superstars. So, we're going to get crazier people."
> Amazon's Bezos, during an intriguing Forbes magazine interview, described his company's market size as "unconstrained" One Forbes takeaway: "If you study the skills Amazon is currently learning, you'll have a fair idea of what it will soon be selling. And right now Bezos is learning about healthcare."
> Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has assailed Amazon's executives and operations and defended its employees for months. This week, he introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act, or the Stop BEZOS Act, to underscore his points (Fox Business). Amazon has denied the senator's assertions about poor working conditions and low pay.
> Spending bills: (The Hill) Trump on Wednesday said he does not "expect" a federal government shutdown at the end of the month as a byproduct of any impasse between the two parties over keeping the government funded in the new fiscal year. Trump met at the White House with GOP lawmakers to discuss a strategy leading up to a funding deadline on Sept. 30. Reversing a previously stated position, the president told The Daily Caller during an interview over the weekend that he doesn't like "the idea" of shutdowns and wants to work to avoid one before the November elections. He says he still wants funding for the wall, but Senate GOP leaders say that discussion will resume after the midterms (The Hill).
> House - tax cuts 2.0: (The Hill) House GOP leaders want lawmakers to vote on a second tax-cut measure this month in an effort to give conservative lawmakers additional selling points to tout to voters before November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Wednesday he favors permanently extending individual tax changes enacted in December, which were deliberately made temporary. Those provisions were intended to comply with rules that made it possible to get a bill through the Senate with a simple-majority vote. Still, some Republicans have doubts about whether this is the right move for the party ahead of the midterms (The Hill).
> Senate Armed Services panel: (The Hill) Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was officially selected on Wednesday to succeed McCain as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee at least until January. He's been acting chairman since last year.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley email@example.com & Alexis Simendinger firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill's reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Senators should seize the John McCain moment, by former Sen. Paul G. Kirk Jr. (D-Mass.), opinion contributor for The Hill. http://bit.ly/2wKQXKm
WHERE AND WHEN
The House convenes at 10 a.m.
The Senate begins work at noon.
The president midday will join a Rosh Hashanah telephone call with Jewish leaders and rabbis from the Oval Office. Then he travels to Billings, Mont., to participate in a political roundtable with supporters and headline a political rally. Trump will remain in Montana overnight.
Pence travels to central Florida to address guests at a political luncheon and also participates in a political fundraiser and a separate fundraising dinner for Republican Gov. Scott, who is running for the Senate. The vice president returns to Washington, D.C., tonight.
Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis are in New Delhi for the inaugural India 2+2 ministerial dialogue that begins today. They are scheduled to meet with their counterparts there about diplomatic and security priorities.
Invitation from The Hill: Sept. 12, newsmakers discuss "A Healthy Start: Infant and Early Childhood Nutrition," featuring Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Brandon Lipps from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Hill's Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack kicks off a conversation about maternal, infant and early childhood nutrition, and progress toward the goal of healthier eating. RSVP HERE.
> Washington, D.C., taxes climb on Oct. 1 (WTOP). Here's a list: The city's tax applied to a ride-hail service, such as Uber or Lyft, soars from 1 percent to 6 percent; the cigarette tax jumps from $2.94 per pack to $4.94 per pack; the city's general sales tax goes from 5.75 percent to 6 percent; off-premises alcohol tax (for beer, wine and liquor bought at stores) rises from 10 percent to 10.5 percent; vehicle rental tax will increase from 10 percent to 10.25 percent; and the hotel tax rate will go from 14.8 percent to 14.95 percent, but apply only to bookings made Oct. 1 or later.
> Pakistan: Secretary Pompeo made his first visit to Pakistan this week to meet with newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan in an effort to reset relations between the two countries (The Associated Press). Pompeo was there on his way to ministerial meetings in India.
> NAFTA: The U.S. and Canada on Thursday will resume discussions about the North American Free Trade Agreement, facing a deadline at the end of the month. Among key issues still to be hashed out: Canadian dairy, the sunset clause and investor-state rules (The Hill).
And finally ... It's Thursday, which means we have another Morning Report QUIZ CONTEST, drawn from recent headlines. This is a chance to win some newsletter fame on Friday by sending your best guesses to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (and please put "Quiz" in your subject line).
On this day in 1848, Frederick Douglass convened the National Convention of Black Freemen in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the first major gatherings of black political leaders in the United States.
One hundred and seventy years later, after the election of America's first black president, we're watching a breakthrough season for African-American candidates running for office, particularly on the Democratic side, where black candidates have achieved stunning upsets of longtime House members and won primaries to run for governor in key states.
On Tuesday night, Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a 44-year-old African-American woman, defeated 20-year Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) in a primary. Elsewhere, Democrats Stacey Abrams (Ga.), Andrew Gillum (Fla.) and Ben Jealous (Md.) are seeking to become the first-ever black governors of their respective states.
Let's test your knowledge about African-American political history:
How many African-Americans have been elected governor of a state in U.S. history?
The first black lawmakers elected to Congress belonged to which party?
- National Convention of Black Freemen
- The Republican Party
- The National Union Party
- The Democratic Party
Who was the first black woman to be elected to the Senate?
- Kamala Harris
- Carol Moseley Braun
- Eleanor Holmes Norton
- Shirley Chisholm
This state has never elected an African American governor but it has elected more minority governors than any other. Which state is it?
- New York
- New Mexico
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is one of three African-Americans presently in the Senate. Scott once represented South Carolina's 1st District in the House, which was also the launching point for which notable African-American politician?
- Joseph Rainey, the first ever African American elected to the House in 1870.
- Richard Cain, the episcopal minister who authored a civil rights bill that passed in 1875.
- Robert B. Elliott, who fought the Ku Klux Klan as leader of the South Carolina National Guard.
- Current Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.).