The Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies

The Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies
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In any era, it’s an explosive moment when a House Speaker publicly accuses the nation’s attorney general of lying to Congress.

Under TV lights during a news conference, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs On The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel MORE (D-Calif.) asserted on Thursday that Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe truth about presidential power GOP rep predicts watchdog report on alleged FISA abuses will find 'problems' Barr defends Trump's use of executive authority, slams impeachment hearings MORE intentionally misled Democratic lawmakers during testimony about special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s findings.

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“He lied to Congress, and if anybody else did that it would be considered a crime,” she said. “Nobody is above the law; not the president of the United States, and not the attorney general.”

A firestorm of recriminations, accusations and political theater burned through the Capitol on Thursday. Props used by Democrats at a House Judiciary Committee hearing — including a chicken figurine in place of Barr, the witness who was a no-show — left little room for decorum, and lots of openings for Twitter. 

The committee, led by Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMaloney wins House Oversight gavel House Judiciary Committee approves landmark marijuana legalization bill Maloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman MORE (D-N.Y.) used an empty chair to punctuate the point that the Trump administration is not warming to Democratic efforts to obtain an unredacted copy of the Mueller report, to question Barr as members see fit and to gather evidence about the president and his advisers in case a formal impeachment inquiry gains traction.

Barr, who is serving for a second time as attorney general (79 days thus far with the Trump administration), has infuriated Democratic lawmakers with what they view as his misleading testimony under oath, his caustic dismissal of Democratic oversight, his absolutist analysis that no president can be prosecuted while in office and his defense of Trump’s behavior, as described in detail in the Mueller report. 

Some House Democrats want Barr to resign or recuse himself from ongoing investigations. Some are threatening to hold Barr in contempt or eventually serve him with subpoenas. Others have floated the idea of impeaching him (The Hill).

Early on Thursday, the villain in the Democrats’ political narrative was Barr. But Trump retook the stage, telling a Fox News interviewer late in the day that he might block former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying to Congress, a move that would escalate his war against Democrat-led investigations. The president said he does not “think [he] can let” McGahn testify to lawmakers while keeping other White House aides from cooperating in the future with House Democrats’ probes of his administration, campaign and business dealings (The Hill).

When Pelosi took aim at the attorney general, the Justice Department immediately shot back, describing her comments as “a baseless attack” (The Hill).

The bitter name-calling continued, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns McCarthy blasts Pelosi on USMCA The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE (R-Calif.) took a swing at his Democratic colleague from New York in front of a room full of reporters (The Hill).

I do not believe Attorney General Barr lied; I believe he’s been very transparent in all of this,” McCarthy said. “I think if people are looking at who has lied in the process, simply look at Chairman Nadler.”

Partisan tensions have also flared in the Senate, where the fallout from the Mueller probe has cleaved the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republicans have blasted Democrats for critiques they describe as "slander" about Barr. GOP members fume that the Senate’s minority (where six senators are running for Trump’s job, three of whom sit on the Judiciary panel) want to revive the "Kavanaugh treatment," a reference to events during the committee’s emotional and divisive confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughIn private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book GOP senator compares impeachment inquiry to Kavanaugh confirmation Christine Blasey Ford receives ACLU courage award MORE (The Hill).

On Thursday, House Democrats entered into direct talks with Mueller and his team, rather than with the Justice Department, about testimony to Congress. Although a May 15 date had been proposed by Nadler, no date had been set. 

The Hill: Timeline — Mueller, Barr and the Trump probe.  

The Associated Press: The attorney general Trump wanted – a look at Barr’s rhetoric.

The Associated Press: Barr is besieged with allegations of being the president’s protector.

The New York Times: How opinion writers across the political spectrum reacted to Barr’s testimony.

 



LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: It was a day of milestones for both congressional majorities Thursday even though the headlines largely focused on investigations.

In the House, Democrats passed the first bill in a decade aimed at combating climate change in what they call a “first step” toward building a strategy to fight global warming.

As Rebecca Beitsch and Miranda Green reported, the House voted 231-190 to pass the Climate Action Now Act, which would block the Trump administration’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement, among other actions. Three Republicans — Reps. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickMark Ruffalo brings fight against 'forever chemicals' to Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure MORE (Pa.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikLive coverage: Impeachment spotlight shifts to Fiona Hill, David Holmes The Hill's Morning Report - Sondland stuns; Dems pull punches in fifth debate How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment MORE (N.Y.) and Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (Fla.). — joined Democrats in voting for the measure.

The bill, however, will not come up in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms Congressional authority in a time of Trump executive overreach MORE (R-Ky.) says it “will go nowhere.”

Trump announced in June 2017 that he would withdraw the U.S. from the accord negotiated during the Obama administration. The U.S. cannot officially pull out of the agreement until November 2020.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Republicans confirmed their 100th judge since Trump took office Thursday when Rodolfo Ruiz was confirmed, 90-8, to serve as a United States district judge for the Southern District of Florida. 

In addition, the Senate also confirmed two other district judges on Thursday, bringing the total to 102. Since Trump took office, 63 district judges, 37 circuit judges and two Supreme Court justices have been confirmed (The Washington Examiner).

> Trump is facing opposition from within his own ranks as the White House presses on with negotiations toward a $2 trillion infrastructure package. Namely, Republicans are concerned about how the package would be funded.

As Alexander Bolton, Scott Wong and Juliegrace Brufke report, Republicans are hellbent against raising taxes and say the bill should be paid for.

They disagree with Trump leaning toward a greater share of federal funding for infrastructure, and they are warning against a replay of former President Obama's 2009 stimulus package. They are also cautioning that the highway trust fund is about to expire and that money needs to be directed toward it.

McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump attacks Fox News for interviewing Swalwell How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment Chris Wallace: Trump testifying 'would be akin to Prince Andrew testifying about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein' MORE (R-La.) want to keep public-private partnerships on the table for a bipartisan infrastructure deal, breaking with the president.

“We ought to look at every option to see if those kinds of partnerships help us build more roads and help meet the needs of communities,” Scalise told reporters on Thursday.

Trump reportedly referred to his administration’s previous infrastructure plan — which called for public-private partnerships and was coordinated by former national economic adviser Gary CohnGary David CohnTrump says US will hit China with new round of tariffs next month Gary Cohn bemoans 'dramatic impact' of Trump tariffs Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE — as “so stupid,” adding that he was never supportive of the model because “you get sued.” 

The Hill: GOP distances itself from Trump’s ObamaCare attacks.

Politico: Dreamer bill stalls amid Dem divisions.

The Atlantic: Infrastructure Week isn’t a joke anymore.

The Washington Post: Senate Democrats ask NRA execs, PR firm for documents related to alleged self-dealing.

***

POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Another day, another addition to the 2020 Democratic primary.

It was Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum Fox News anchor apologizes for saying Booker dropped out of 2020 race Klobuchar unveils plan to secure elections as president MORE’s (D-Colo.) turn Thursday. Bennet, a two-term senator, made it official during an appearance on CBS This Morning.

"My plan is to run for president," he said, adding that his campaign would focus on restoring opportunities for Americans and integrity in government.

Bennet had teased a potential run in April, when he was also diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, he says he was pronounced cancer free by his physicians weeks later following successful surgery.

Known for his even-keeled political approach on Capitol Hill, Bennet’s bid for the White House is his boldest bid yet for national attention. He made waves earlier in 2019 when he took aim at Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown DNC raises million in October in best monthly haul of the year Supreme Court weighs lawsuit pitting climate scientist against skeptics MORE (R-Texas) during the midst of the 35-day government shutdown after the Texas Republican and other Senate Republicans backed a bill to pay members of the Coast Guard but not to reopen the government.

In years past, he also made news as a member of the Gang of Eight immigration bill in 2013 that died when the House did not take up the measure. He also chaired the Senate Democratic campaign arm during the 2014 cycle when Republicans took back the majority.

Bennet is the sixth sitting Senate Democrat to enter the 2020 race. 

 

 

> Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKamala Harris receives new Iowa endorsements after debate performance Watergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs MORE has cast himself as a “union man” in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination and support from white, male voters, but there’s concern that he is focusing too much in that area and not on “increasingly diverse unionized workforces” (The Daily Beast).

“ ‘Those of us who work in and around the labor movement understand how diverse the membership is. The old stereotypical view of white male-dominated unions is a thing of the past,” Steve Rosenthal, former political director for the AFL-CIO, told The Daily Beast. ‘It’s one element of the labor movement, but not even the dominant element anymore. With the growth of the public and service sectors, with organizing, the bigger unions like [National Education Association] NEA, [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] AFSCME and [Service Employees International Union] SEIU have incredibly diverse memberships.’ ”

In the opening week of his campaign, Biden’s push to frame himself as a winner for unions has come under attack from Trump, who claims that he still earns the most support from rank-and-file members despite antipathy from union leaders.

The Hill: Biden faces dilemma over K Street allies.

The Atlantic: Trump’s Biden plan? It could get dirty.

Politico: Trump team races to fend off red-state debacle.

> Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKamala Harris receives new Iowa endorsements after debate performance Warren speech in Georgia interrupted by pro-charter school protesters Hillicon Valley: Senators ask Trump to halt Huawei licenses | Warren criticizes Zuckerberg over secret dinner with Trump | Senior DHS cyber official to leave | Dems offer bill on Libra oversight MORE’s (D-Mass.) focus on policy and ambitious field organizing may be starting to pay off in the 2020 race. 

According to Max Greenwood, a handful of national polls released this week show the Massachusetts senator gaining on her competition, even placing second to former Biden in one survey. In the process, Warren has largely cemented her standing as the leader of the “ideas primary.” She has managed to secure consistent media coverage and draw curious voters to campaign events by issuing a steady stream of detailed policy proposals on everything from corporate consolidation in the agriculture sector to mounting student loan debt.

The New York Times: Warren’s campaign, “based on ideas,” bets on Iowa.

The Associated Press: Klobuchar releases $100 billion substance abuse, mental health plan.

The Associated Press: Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris receives new Iowa endorsements after debate performance On The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Democratic strategist laments 'low bar' for Biden debate performance MORE aims to regain spotlight in crowded 2020 field.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Hours after economist Stephen MooreStephen MooreOn The Money: Trump seeks to shift spotlight from impeachment to economy | Appropriators agree to Dec. 20 funding deadline | New study says tariffs threaten 1.5M jobs Trump tax adviser floats middle-class cuts ahead of 2020 Sunday shows - Next impeachment phase dominates MORE appeared on Bloomberg TV on Thursday to say “I’m all in” to try to persuade the Senate to grant him a confirmation hearing, Trump announced Moore’s name had been withdrawn as a nominee to join the Federal Reserve Board (Bloomberg and CNBC).

The announcement reflected insufficient Senate support following a cascade of personal and professional controversies that dogged the conservative Trump ally who has been known for years as a cable television analyst. Trump still faces two vacancies on the Fed after Herman CainHerman CainConservatives slam Beto O'Rourke over threat to tax-exempt status for religious organizations President Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE, another nominee recently floated for the Federal Reserve Board, withdrew his name from contention last month.   

"I'm bummed out, frankly, that I'm not going to be over there, the Fed, because I think I could have some ideas that the Fed really needs," Moore told Fox Business Network's Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon. 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act Tensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' MORE (R-Iowa), who is running for reelection in 2020 and publicly opposed Moore’s nomination, offered advice to the White House for the next pick: “Please do some research.

> Pentagon: Reports of sexual assault in the U.S. military jumped by nearly 38 percent from 2016 to 2018, with an estimated 20,500 allegations of unwanted sexual contact last year. The report surveyed Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel who reported that the number of sex assaults has risen significantly since the 14,900 recorded in the last survey in 2016. Unwanted sexual contact includes all forms of assault, ranging from groping to rape (USA Today). … The Defense Department, in response to the report, plans to make sexual harassment in the military a crime (The Hill).

Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierStory from Fiona Hill's childhood goes viral during her impeachment testimony Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, added, “Congress must lead the way in forcing the department to take more aggressive approaches to fighting this scourge.”     

> U.S.-China trade: Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump signs short-term spending bill to avert shutdown Trump awards Jon Voight, others National Medal of Arts Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown MORE described this week’s round of talks in Beijing as “productive” and said negotiations will resume Wednesday in Washington with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. Administration officials have said the United States will know within a few weeks whether China is serious about reaching a trade accord. Trump is eager to sign an agreement with President Xi Jinping this spring.

 



The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!



OPINION

Mueller’s facts versus Trump’s spin, by Al Hunt, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2PKuHZo

Any infrastructure program will be swallowed by the swamp, by Liz Peek, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2DKvvsL

WHERE AND WHEN

The House convenes at 2:30 p.m.

The Senate meets Monday at 3 p.m. and at 5:30 p.m. is expected to vote on whether to advance the nomination of Joseph Bianco to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  

The president will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs Hill, Holmes offer damaging impeachment testimony: Five takeaways Graham requests State Department documents on Bidens, Ukraine MORE. Trump will then meet with Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini of the Slovak Republic for an hour beginning at 1:45 p.m. at the White House.

Vice President Pence heads to Lafayette, La., where he’ll visit Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, which was burned during a recent act of arson. Pence will fly to Lexington, Ky., and take a tour of Hallway Feeds, a small business, and meet with employees to discuss the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. This evening, Pence will attend the Kentucky Governor’s Ball in Frankfort, Ky., and returns to Washington. 

White House acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs Hill, Holmes offer damaging impeachment testimony: Five takeaways Trump campaign releases 'Bull-Schiff' T-shirts MORE will join Mexican Ambassador to the United States Martha Bárcena Coqui and representatives of Latino groups interested in trade for a White House briefing for guests and business owners from around the country about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. The briefing will be followed by a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will report on U.S. employment in April at 8:30 a.m.

ELSEWHERE

Tech: Facebook permanently banned right-wing commentator and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones,  Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and other “dangerous” figures from its platform, the company announced on Thursday (The Hill). … Changes being negotiated between the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook would alter the board’s structure and corporate governance by adding a committee focused on privacy practices. The aim would be to put privacy on par with the board’s other responsibilities (The Wall Street Journal). 

Opioid execs guilty: Drug company executives were convicted on Thursday on charges related to a racketeering scheme involving kickbacks for doctors who prescribed large quantities of fentanyl painkiller spray. A federal jury in Boston found Insys Therapeutics CEO John Kapoor, 75, and four other executives guilty (USA Today).

CBD: Oreo-maker Mondelez says it’s considering adding cannabis-infused products to its snack repertoire, which includes Chips Ahoy cookies, Cadbury chocolate and Nutter Butter cookies (NBC News).

Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeSweden drops investigation into Assange rape charges Jury finds Stone guilty of lying to Congress Roger Stone jury ends first day of deliberation without a verdict MORE: The WikiLeaks founder told a judge in the United Kingdom he will fight extradition to the United States, triggering a prolonged legal battle while he also serves a 50-week prison sentence for skipping bail in 2012 (The Associated Press).

Pod mania: Loquacious former President Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton announced they’ll launch a summer podcast, called “Why Am I Telling You This,” to feature wide-ranging discussions with celebrities, innovators, deep-thinkers and do-gooders. Early interviews will include celebrity chef José Andrés and former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek Hallegere MurthyThe Surgeon General's deafening silence on gun violence We must act to address gun violence The Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies MORE. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic strategist laments 'low bar' for Biden debate performance Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel Trump to hold campaign rally in Pennsylvania next month MORE may occasionally be a guest (The Hill).

 



THE CLOSER

And finally … Kudos to winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Readers were savvy about the Kentucky Derby, which takes place on Saturday. 

Here’s who finished strong with this week’s puzzle: Elise McClintick, Ken Cottman, Cheryl Gibson, Bob Schneiderman, Jeff Marston and David Straney.

They knew that the Kentucky Derby is often referred to as the “longest-running sports event in the United States,” the “Run for the Roses,” and the “greatest two minutes in sports.” However, we invented “distilled heartbreak” to describe the Derby, so that bit of fiction was the correct choice in our lineup.

Horses in the Kentucky Derby race 1-1/4 miles.

Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, American Pharoah and Justify all won the coveted Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing with victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. (And FYI, among those champions American Pharoah captured the informal Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing, which includes the Triple Crown races plus the Breeders’ Cup Classic.)

The total Derby purse this year is the richest in history at $3 million. The winner of Saturday’s race takes home $1.86 million in prize money (based on responses, this question proved tricky for quite a few skilled guessers). 

On Wednesday, Omaha Beach, suffering from a respiratory ailment, was scratched from the race after being an early 4-1 favorite to win on Saturday.

> Related news from The Associated Press: Kentucky Derby evolves from 90 minutes to 5 hours for NBC.