The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested




Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Thursday! This daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) Alexis Simendinger is working solo for a spell while newsletter partner Jonathan Easley enjoys some R&R. Find her on Twitter @asimendinger.  



Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features former Trump campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiOvernight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Zinke, Lewandowski join Trump veterans’ lobbying firm Trump campaign spent nearly 0K of donor money on law firm representing Kushner MORE, and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeFive takeaways from acting AG's fiery House hearing Democrat to acting AG: 'We are not joking here' Whitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers MORE (D-Texas), interviewed during the Congressional Black Caucus annual legislative conference in Washington.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE is not the first president to be buffeted by political storms along with the winds of an approaching massive hurricane.


Former President George H.W. Bush, running for reelection in August 1992, was walloped when Hurricane Andrew leveled parts of Florida, and the errors committed by former President George W. Bush and his administration during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita remain instructive.


But as with just about everything involving the 45th president, facts and motives collide into instant controversy.


Trump on Wednesday tracked Hurricane Florence as its path toward the Carolinas appeared to widen and he spoke with Georgia’s governor about the state’s needs. He left his schedule open today and Friday, warned the public to heed local instructions to evacuate if ordered, and advised people to prepare to ride out the storm, if necessary.


“It’s going to be one of the biggest [hurricanes] to ever hit the East Coast, one of the biggest to ever hit our country,” he said.


By this morning, Florence’s ferocity was downgraded but its breadth was enormous as it appeared to take aim at North Carolina’s southern coast before heading inland. Landfall is expected on Friday.


“Disaster is at the doorstep and it’s coming in.” – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper


As the storm drew closer and residents in the Carolinas steeled themselves, Trump’s political detractors found new ammunition to pummel the administration about its handling last year of Puerto Rico’s woes following Hurricane Maria.


CBS News and other media outlets reported that an airport runway on the island was carpeted with 20,000 pallets of bottled water, now contaminated, stacked under blue tarps (Reuters). The water never made it to hurricane survivors when many had been forced to resort last year to drinking out of contaminated pipes. Social media exploded with finger-pointing and heated debates about who was to blame.





The mood darkened again when media outlets reported on documents released on Tuesday night by Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyThe border deal: What made it in, what got left out Lawmakers introduce bill to fund government, prevent shutdown Dems wary of killing off filibuster MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who may enter the presidential race in 2020. The material he shared suggested the Department of Homeland Security diverted nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to finance immigrant detention (The Hill).


While federal officials confirmed the transfer of funds, they said disaster assistance operations were never compromised (The Associated Press). One document indicated that the resources shifted to ICE were drawn from FEMA travel, training, public engagement and information accounts, not from funds to help disaster victims (CNN).


“It’s a non-issue for us at this moment.”Brock Long, FEMA administrator


By afternoon, FEMA posted its reaction to the $10 million controversy on its web page listing hurricane “rumors,” an information site intended to help the public get factual guidance when misinformation abounds during a natural disaster. The pushback about the FEMA funding transfer appeared alongside an advisory that hotels do not have to accept pets just because guests are trying to flee an approaching storm.  


The Hill’s Niall Stanage highlights the potential turbulence heading into the weekend and even next week, should Florence hang around. Trump’s controversial remarks defending the administration's response after Maria – a hurricane that resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people – raise the stakes if Florence wreaks devastation, or if the federal response is found wanting.


USA Today: Why hurricanes are doing more damage (It’s not the storms. It’s what’s in their paths.)

The Hill: Between 1 million and 3 million people will likely lose power when Florence makes landfall, according to Duke Energy.

The New York Times: Florence presents test for Trump, FEMA after last year’s harsh lessons.


POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: In Rhode Island on Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo won her party’s nomination for a second term, while the mayor of the state’s second-largest city, Allan Fung, earned the GOP nomination for another shot at the governor’s seat in November (The Associated Press). In congressional races, Democratic Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseNew battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks Dems probing whether NRA made illegal contributions to Trump Senate panel advances Trump's pick for key IRS role MORE and Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineForeign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' Greedy tort bar tarts up the CREATES Act Whitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers MORE (D) easily won their respective primaries. Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: House Intel panel will release Russia interviews | T-Mobile, Sprint step up merger push | DHS cyber office hosting webinars on China | Nest warns customers to shore up password security Lawmakers put Pentagon's cyber in their sights Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump blasts intel officials as 'passive and naive' | Lawmakers reintroduce Yemen war powers resolution | Dems push Pentagon to redo climate report | VA proposes new rules for private health care MORE was unopposed in the Democratic primary.


The Hill: Five things to watch for in New York’s primaries today.


> Senate outlook: National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar dissects indicators that lead him to believe Democrats are unlikely to win control of the Senate this fall. “Democrats would need to sweep the close Senate races in Trump country to win back a majority. That would require an epic Republican collapse this November. ...It’s looking most likely that the Senate will remain closely divided, with Republicans holding their narrow advantage past 2018.”  


> `Dark money’ in campaigns: Just 15 groups account for three-quarters of the anonymous cash flowing into federal elections since the Supreme Court paved the way for corporate and union money in candidate races eight years ago, according to a report by Issue One, a group that supports greater campaign-finance regulation. Many of those donor groups remain significant players in the 2018 midterm elections (USA Today).


Other headlines in politicsIn N.H. election stunner, a one-time refugee knocks off entrenched incumbent (The Boston Globe).




CONGRESS: Senate GOP leaders are eyeing an end-of-September vote on Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Outside stakeholders are increasing the pressure on a key group of undecided moderate senators, who will determine the outcome, by releasing a barrage of new ads and polling aimed at swaying votes. The high-pressure tactics, particularly targeting GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration DOJ warns White House that national emergency will likely be blocked: report On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration MORE (Maine), who supports abortion rights, have angered some of her colleagues (The Hill)


> Six major Web companies and internet-service providers, including AT&T, Twitter, Amazon, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, will detail consumer data privacy practices during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Sept. 26 (Reuters). Data privacy policy is a significant issue for the companies, lawmakers and the administration as the potential for legislation is debated. Witnesses at that hearing are to include Google’s chief privacy officer, Twitter’s global data protection officer and Apple’s vice president for software technology.


> Trump Senate ally: Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (R-Ky.) has emerged as a reliable (albeit mercurial) presidential defender, going out of his way to extend the president his support in areas where not many — if any — of his GOP colleagues are willing to tread. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports on an interesting alliance that began early in 2017.


> Congress & endangered species: Ambitions in Congress and in the Trump administration to overhaul the Endangered Species Act have sparked a frenzy of lobbying on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. Industries that have long complained about the law, including oil and agriculture interests and developers, see a rare opening for change while Republicans retain control in Washington. Conservation groups, meanwhile, are less active (The Hill).


> Appropriations: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' Winners and losers in the border security deal House passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency MORE (Ky.), anxious about a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government as well as a looming hurricane that could linger along the East Coast into next week, moved up a key vote on Wednesday night. Senators approved a $147 billion package to fund the Energy Department, veterans' programs and the legislative branch. The bill is the first of three spending packages Congress hopes to approve this month to keep the government operating into the new budget year on Oct. 1. The House is set to vote on the package on Thursday (The Hill).


> House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRubio discovers Native American heritage through TV show Feminine hygiene products to be available to House lawmakers using congressional funds Former Ryan aide moves to K street MORE (R-Wis.), who retires from Congress in January, continued on Wednesday to offer inventive responses about where his career heads next. He sat down in the Capitol for an interview with the president of the website (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).





WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Nearly 20 months into his presidency and two months before the midterm elections, Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities that meddle in U.S. elections and spread propaganda and misinformation (The Hill).


“By signing this executive order, I am adding to my record of implementing the strongest measures to date of any United States president to protect our electoral system.” – Trump


Administration officials say the government is detecting continued cyber interference, and concerns have expanded to include meddlers in China, North Korea and Iran, in addition to Russia.


The order requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct regular assessments about potential foreign interference in the elections, and seeks reports from the Homeland Security and Justice departments. It also describes a process for the Treasury and State departments to recommend appropriate, automatic sanctions (The Associated Press).


"We felt it was important to demonstrate the president has taken command of this issue, that it's something he cares deeply about — that the integrity of our elections and our constitutional process are a high priority to him."John Bolton, White House national security adviser


> Russia: The Trump administration and some European allies seek to counter Moscow’s aggressive cyberattacks and conventional physical assaults, including attacks carried out by the secretive military intelligence agency, GRU (The Hill).


> Trump vs. North Korea: The president is encountering more skepticism from inside and outside the administration about his faith that personal relationships and presidential negotiations are the key to resolving long-running U.S. foreign policy challenges. His approach faced new scrutiny after the White House announced it began “coordinating” a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, despite little denuclearization progress to show from the first meeting in June (The Hill).


> Department of Homeland Security: The number of migrant family members arrested for illegally entering the United States rose 38 percent in August, according to statistics released on Wednesday. Administration officials characterized the spike in arrests as a “crisis” (The Washington Post).


> Medicaid and work restrictions: The Trump administration applauds an Arkansas policy that will drop 4,353 people from the Medicaid health program because they are now required to have a job to remain eligible. The administration in January allowed states to propose so-called work requirements in Medicaid, the state-federal health-care program that covers more than 73 million low-income Americans. It’s the first time since Medicaid’s creation in 1965 that the federal government allowed a work requirement. It’s part of a broader administration effort to tighten access to government assistance programs (Bloomberg).


> U.S.-China trade talks to resume: The Trump administration on Wednesday invited China to restart talks about trade disagreements, and China agreed. Hanging over the negotiations: Threatened tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods (Reuters).


> No typing required (!): Since August, Trump has expanded his Twitter repertoire with videos in which he delivers one-minute messages directly to the camera from locations around the White House. The videos, posted to social media, are a project of former Fox News executive Bill Shine, who now advises the president on communications as a West Wing staff member. The settings showcase the power and majesty of the presidency, married to Trump’s reality-television speaking style (The New York Times).


Takeaway: Presidents before Trump also utilized short audio and video messages to reach audiences via radio, television and social media. What’s new is primarily tailored to Trump: The staging appears more presidential and the messages are pithy but scripted.



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The future of the military depends on revamping the Pentagon budget, by Frederico Bartels


The president’s threat against a Justice Department attorney could have deep consequences for Justice, by former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern  


The House convenes at 10 a.m.


The Senate convenes for a pro forma session at 9:45 a.m.


The president has no events on his public schedule as of this morning.


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Top Dem demands State Department documents on Khashoggi killing MORE meets at 4 p.m. with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the department.


The Labor Department releases the consumer price index for August at 8:30 a.m. Economists say they expect the price index to rise by 0.3 percent, which would result in a year-over-year increase in prices to 2.8 percent.


Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political affairs, at 7 p.m. appears at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington to chat with New Yorker columnist Susan Glasser about world events and Sherman’s new book, “Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power and Persistence.” During her diplomatic career, Sherman helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and engaged with officials from North Korea and Cuba.  


Government Executive and Noblis host a discussion at 8:15 a.m. about “Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction: From Threat Detection and Disruption through Response Operations.” James McDonnell, the Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary in charge of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, is among federal, defense and industry experts participating. Details in Washington are HERE.


> Vatican and sexual abuse: Rocked by sexual abuse scandals in multiple countries, Pope Francis is summoning senior bishops for a first-of-its-kind meeting Feb. 21-24 at the Vatican to discuss prevention of abuse by Roman Catholic clerics. Wednesday’s announcement marks the pope’s most concrete response to abuse of children and adults, plus years of cover-ups, all of which are under investigation in some U.S. states (The Washington Post) … Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the embattled archbishop of Washington, will travel to the Vatican "in the very near future" to ask Francis to accept his resignation (CNN). Wuerl is under scrutiny over what he may have known about abuse allegations against his predecessor, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, and how he handled abusive priests while he headed the Diocese of Pittsburgh.


> Sexual harassment: CBS News’s “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager was forced out of the company on Wednesday following allegations that he tolerated an abusive workplace and violated company policy. CBS Corporation ended Fager’s contract days after CEO Les Moonves exited in the wake of The New Yorker’s detailed accounts that he sexually harassed female subordinates for years.


> iPhones: Make a call. Check the time. Monitor your heart with your own electrocardiogram. Do more with a big-screen device in your hand, or a small-screen gizmo around your wrist. In most cases, pay more for the upgrades. Apple Inc. announced new products on Wednesday, just in time for the holiday gift-buying season. Tech reporters have all the details (Reuters and Engadget).





And finally … It’s Thursday, time for a Morning Report QUIZ CONTEST, drawn from recent headlines. Newsletter fame on Friday awaits the quiz masters with the correct guesses about stormy weather. Send answers to (and please put “Quiz” in your subject line).


Is this statement true or false? Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are different weather phenomena.


1) True

2) False


Which entity gives hurricanes their names?


1) U.N. Tropical Cyclone Committee

2) The Weather Channel

3) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

4) World Meteorological Organization


Which U.S. hurricane left the costliest property and other damages in its wake?


1) Katrina

2) Harvey

3) Sandy

4) Maria


In what year did the first U.S. reconnaissance airplane fly through a hurricane to gather data?


1) 1932

2) 1944

3) 1948

4) 1957


Hurricanes are described in categories from 1 to 5, drawn from the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. What does that scale measure?


1) Distance traveled in ocean miles following initial formation

2) Span of days after designation as a hurricane

3) Wind speed

4) Diameter of the storm’s eye