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The Hill’s Morning Report – Barr held in contempt after Trump invokes executive privilege, angering Dems

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Thursday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, find us at @asimendinger and @alweaver22.

Two branches of government clubbed each other with the Constitution on Wednesday as a fight between the Department of Justice and House Democrats escalated to a new level.


As House Democrats, led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), continued their demand for the unredacted report written by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, the White House pushed back hard and invoked executive privilege at the recommendation of the Department of Justice.


The move cemented the committee’s vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not responding to a subpoena for the complete report. The committee voted 24-16 along party lines, Morgan Chalfant and Olivia Beavers reported.


The dramatic vote occurred after a day of negotiations that fell apart. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nadler earlier Wednesday, explaining that Barr could not comply with the subpoena “without violating the law, court rules and court orders” before advising that the president would exert executive privilege over the material in question.


Nadler was having none of that, calling the administration’s move a “blanket defiance” of Congress’s oversight responsibilities.  


“This decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties,” Nadler said. “I hope that the department will think better of this last-minute outburst and return to negotiations.”


“We are now in a constitutional crisis,” he added.


The decision marks the first instance in which the president has used executive privilege to stand in the way of the probes by House Democrats into the administration, as Chalfant and Jordan Fabian write. It is also likely to spark a legal fight that could take months to resolve and infuriate Democrats.  


As the fights continue, House Democrats have struggled to make consequences stick with the Trump administration, Cristina Marcos reports.


Despite the vote to hold Barr in contempt, history shows that public punishment does not compel this administration to play ball with Congress. Additionally, after the Treasury Department refused to hand over Trump’s tax returns, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said the fight will likely go straight to the courts given that subpoenas have been ineffective to date.


While some Democrats have wanted to pursue aggressive oversight in lieu of rushing to impeachment proceedings, lawmakers say the blanket stonewalling from the administration could be an impeachable offense.


The New York Times: Facing a Trump stonewall, Democrats struggle for options to compel cooperation.


As the fight with House Democrats takes center stage, the Senate’s investigation made waves as lawmakers on the panel subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. in what is believed to be the first known congressional subpoena to one of the president’s children (The Hill).


This would not be the first appearance on Capitol Hill for Trump Jr., who appeared before both the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2017 for closed-door sessions. The transcripts from interviews with the two committees have not been released publicly.


However, Trump Jr. is not pleased by the subpoena. Sources close to the president’s eldest son indicated to The Wall Street Journal that Trump Jr., will fight the new subpoena, which was issued weeks ago prior to the subpoena fight centered around Don McGahn and the recent brouhaha between the Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee.


“No lawyer would ever agree to allow their client to participate in what is an obvious PR stunt from a so-called ‘Republican’ senator,’” one source close to Trump Jr., told the Journal, referring to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.).


As for Senate Republicans, they are not pleased at all by the subpoena. As Alexander Bolton reported, members wondered if Burr got the memo that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) passed along Tuesday declaring “case closed.”


Perspectives & Analysis:


E.J. Dionne: In the battle over impeachment, Trump and the GOP have fired the first shots.

Jonathan Turley: Democrats showing contempt by holding William Barr in contempt.





WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: High-stakes trade talks between the Trump administration and Chinese negotiators are set to resume today in Washington. China on Wednesday threatened to retaliate in kind if the United States increases tariffs on $200 billion in imported Chinese goods after midnight Friday, as formally announced in Washington.


The president theorized that China backtracked from commitments it made to the administration as the negotiations progressed because Beijing believes its position will strengthen if a Democratic president is in the Oval Office in 2021.


The Wall Street Journal: China decided to play hardball because Beijing believed the United States was willing to compromise.


Although the financial markets worry that talks could yet fall apart, leading to higher tariffs on imported Chinese goods that would raise prices for U.S. consumers, the presence of Chinese Premier Liu He in Washington today and Friday is considered a hopeful sign.


“The reason for the China pullback & attempted renegotiation of the Trade Deal is the sincere HOPE that they will be able to `negotiate’ with Joe Biden or one of the very weak Democrats, and thereby continue to ripoff the United States (($500 Billion a year)) for years to come,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.


Guess what, that’s not going to happen! China has just informed us that they (Vice-Premier) are now coming to the U.S. to make a deal. We’ll see, but I am very happy with over $100 Billion a year in Tariffs filling U.S. coffers…great for U.S., not good for China!”


According to The Wall Street Journal, analysts at Oxford Economics estimated that tariffs of 25 percent against all Chinese imports could reduce U.S. economic growth by 0.3 percent, which could push the growth rate below 2 percent by the end of the year.


The Associated Press: Trump’s tariff hike menaces a strong economy.


> Trump’s taxes: The president on Wednesday made light of details about his business losses decades ago, which added up to more than $1 billion over a decade and allowed him to pay little or no federal taxes, according to The New York Times. The president described the losses and tax hedges as “sport.”


“Real estate developers in the 1980’s & 1990’s, more than 30 years ago, were entitled to massive write offs and depreciation which would, if one was actively building, show losses and tax losses in almost all cases,” Trump tweeted.


Much was non monetary. Sometimes considered “tax shelter,” you would get it by building, or even buying. You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes …  almost all real estate developers did — and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport. Additionally, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!”


As Niall Stanage reports, Trump has long been dogged by criticism that he was never the successful business tycoon he claimed to be. The Times reporting late on Tuesday added new information that could potentially tarnish Trump’s aura among his supporters. Boasting about being wealthy enough to pay no taxes is not the economic message some of his middle- and lower-income supporters embrace.


> White House national security adviser John Bolton is a year into his tenure in the West Wing and his fingerprints are all over Trump’s foreign policy. Detractors fear Bolton is pushing Trump toward military action against Venezuela and Iran. Allies say Bolton is just doing his job to provide Trump with options in two countries that have his attention (The Hill).


Reuters: Trump slaps new U.S. sanctions on Iran’s metals industry.

The Washington Post: Trump grousing about Bolton’s interventionist strategies.


> White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney: Trump’s top staff lieutenant is a lightning rod for some Senate Republicans who complain a disaster assistance compromise is stuck because of Mulvaney. They see the former congressman as partial to the conservative House Freedom Caucus and its efforts to influence Trump in directions perceived as too strident for the GOP political realities in the Senate (The Hill).


> Health and Human Services and drug imports: Trump says he’d like to approve Florida’s plan to import prescription drugs from Canada as a way to lower drug costs. But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar frowned on that idea during a White House meeting on Monday. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who attended as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, questioned whether imported pharmaceuticals would be safe. The idea, however, has the potential to shake up the U.S. drug market and bring down prices (The Hill).


> Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and privacy: At a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, FTC commissioners encouraged Congress to pass the nation’s first comprehensive consumer privacy law, which they said would add teeth to what the regulatory agency can accomplish. A bipartisan Senate working group has been trying to hammer out a draft compromise bill since last summer. House members said on Wednesday they will draft their own measure (The Hill).


> Colorado school shooting: Ivanka Trump met privately with Douglas County, Colo., first responders and law enforcement officials on Wednesday in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Colorado on Tuesday. A White House spokesman said she conveyed the president’s gratitude for the swift action of those who rushed to STEM School Highlands Ranch, where nine students were shot, one fatally, by two fellow students.


The president tweeted, “Our Nation grieves at the unspeakable violence that took a precious young life and badly injured others in Colorado. God be with the families and thank you to the First Responders for bravely intervening. We are in close contact with Law Enforcement.”


The Associated Press: Slain teen in Colorado charged the attacker.




POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: The president took to the campaign stage once again Wednesday night, this time in Panama City, Fla., where he predicted that the ongoing investigations by Democrats will lead to him winning four more years in the White House.


According to Jordan Fabian and Brett Samuels, Trump touched on a number of subjects during the rally, as he usually does, but spoke directly about the investigations and argued that Democratic lawmakers are more interested in Trump-centric probes than they are promoting the economy.


“They want to do investigations instead of investments,” Trump told supporters at an outdoor amphitheater near the Gulf of Mexico. “I think it drives us on to victory in 2020.”


The Hill: Trump pledges $448M for Florida hurricane recovery.


Trump also weighed in on some of the 2020 Democrats running for the chance to take him on next year. He wondered “what the hell happened” to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), adding that he has a “fallen like a rock” recently in the 2020 race.


He also spoke for the first time about South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who he mocked for his youth and inexperience in high-level negotiations.


“He’s got a great chance. He’ll be great. He’ll be great representing us against President Xi of China,” he said, eliciting laughs from the crowd. “That’ll be great.”


The Wall Street Journal: Republicans hire nine regional directors for Trump 2020 election.





> 2020 Democratic hopefuls gathered Wednesday in a push to win union support, including a potentially critical endorsement, and to provide themselves a boost in the early stages of the party’s primary process.


As Max Greenwood reports, over the course of two days at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers legislative conference in Washington, half a dozen contenders recalled personal ties to organized labor, railed against international trade agreements and decried right-to-work laws that they said had gutted organized labor protections across the country. The appearances underscore just how eager Democrats are to court members of major labor unions at a time when many groups are reluctant to wade in early to the 2020 presidential race.


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vowed before the workers union to place a moratorium on cuts to pension benefits overseen by the federal government, if he is elected.


Politico: ‘Case not closed, buddy’: Warren goes all in on Trump impeachment.


NBC News: Kamala Harris blows past Democratic rivals in fundraising in communities of color.


Politico: ‘Nobody is ceding California to Kamala Harris’: Mayor Pete raids the West Coast.


Josh Kraushaar: Are House Democrats ready for the rematch?


Elsewhere in politics … McConnell’s reelection campaign made “Cocaine Mitch” shirts available for purchase through his campaign store. The shirts ($35) were announced on the one-year anniversary of the defeat of Don Blankenship, who gave McConnell the nickname, in West Virginia (The Hill) … Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not ruling out a run for his old Senate seat in Alabama against Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). He said he remains “interested about the issues” while speaking during a conference in Las Vegas (The Hill).


CONGRESS: There’s more happening this week in the Capitol than investigations and constitutional clashes. Lawmakers are increasingly worried that the government is heading toward another government shutdown this fall. Congress has made little progress heading toward a deadline at the end of September, and predictions about the path ahead are not upbeat. Congress also needs to raise the cap on the nation’s borrowing authority by late summer, also an uphill battle (The Hill).


> Scott Wong and Mike Lillis interviewed Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), an up-and-coming lawmaker from Los Angeles who is likely to be elected to the House Democratic leadership one day, according to one fellow Californian. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says the new Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman has what it takes to lead. In an interview, Bass said she’s interested in moving up if she can be of “service” to her colleagues.





> Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he and Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel, are drafting a plan to cap expenses for prescription drugs under Medicare as part of a broader effort to lower drug prices. Grassley hopes to unveil and mark up such a bill next month (The Hill).

> House Democrats pulled two bills from planned floor action on Wednesday after Trump tweeted his opposition and urged Republicans to vote against one of the measures, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate. Trump assailed a measure that would end a legal challenge to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s reservation in Massachusetts (The Hill).

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



The hero solution to the mass-shooting contagion, by David French, National Review.


Keeping Trump’s tariffs commitment will mean healthier U.S.-China relations, by Joseph Bosco, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Marcia Dyson, a surrogate spokeswoman for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), talking about legislation that would block Chinese companies from infiltrating U.S. rail; and Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy, on the U.S. standoff with Iran.


The House convenes at 10 a.m.


The Senate meets at 10 a.m.


The president, who directed HHS in January to address consumer complaints about receiving surprisingly high medical bills, will speak about the subject at 11:45 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room. Trump will host the Boston Red Sox, the 2018 World Series champions, to the White House Rose Garden at 3:45 p.m.


Vice President Pence heads to Minnesota to talk about the administration’s support for the U.S.- Mexico-Canada Agreement. He’ll visit R & J Johnson Farms in Glyndon, Minn., before flying to St. Paul to tour Gerdau Ameristeel and speak to employees. Pence will return to Washington this evening.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has returned to Washington, after canceling what was supposed to be a final stop in Greenland during what started as a four-nation tour. On Tuesday, the secretary hastily scratched a planned visit to Berlin in order to make a quick visit to Baghdad (Politico).


Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will receive a large, official send-off today at 2 p.m. as he concludes his decades of service at the Justice Department, with tributes from Barr, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray and other top officials.  


The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the producer price index for April at 8:30 a.m. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports on U.S. international trade in March, also at 8:30 a.m.


Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this morning sits down with a roundtable of reporters at a Washington event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.


The Fund for American Studies will host the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Alumni Dinner at the National Press Club at 7 p.m. The Novak program, honoring the late Washington media notable, has awarded more than 140 fellowships to young journalists. Information is HERE.


North Korea: CNN journalist Will Ripley, based in Hong Kong, tweeted this morning that North Korea launched at least one “unidentified” projectile at 3.30 a.m. today, according to South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. The object flew west to east, and is the second test firing in less than a week. Ripley noted such weapons tests are occurring just as a United Nations report finds North Korea suffering from serious food shortages. The Trump administration has suspended efforts to retrieve war remains from North Korea because of Pyongyang’s lack of engagement after the failed Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, Ripley added (CNN). The type of projectile launched has not been identified (The Associated Press).


State Watch: General Motors’s plan on Wednesday to sell an Ohio plant drew Trump’s praise but sparked skepticism from United Auto Workers (Bloomberg).


Supreme Court: Justices have yet to announce whether the court will take up two closely-watched cases this year. Justices have repeatedly put off saying whether they will hear arguments in a case challenging an Indiana abortion law signed by then-Gov. Pence as well as a case concerning an Oregon bakery fined for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian couple (The Hill).


In the Know: Judy Kurtz reports that sixteen members of a family spread across the country accidentally booked tickets to see former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, thinking they were going to enjoy a multi-generational ladies getaway to see singer Lyle Lovett. The result when they realized their mistake and went anyway? “We all had a blast. It was so much fun,” said Belinda Walker.


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz, which is inspired by Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the newborn pride of Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle. We’re eager for some smart guesses about the British royal family.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


What is Prince Harry’s place in the line of succession?

  1. Fourth
  2. Fifth
  3. Sixth
  4. Seventh


How long has Queen Elizabeth II reigned as the British monarch?

  1. 62 years
  2. 64 years
  3. 67 years
  4. 70 years


Which award-winning artist sang at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997?

  1. Paul McCartney
  2. Elton John
  3. George Harrison
  4. Sting


Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning British monarch. Who is the second-longest?

  1. Queen Victoria
  2. King George VI
  3. King George III
  4. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother


How many great-grandchildren do Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have?

  1. Four
  2. Five
  3. Seven
  4. Eight




Tags Bernie Sanders Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Ivanka Trump Jamie Raskin Jeff Sessions Jerrold Nadler Joe Biden John Bolton Karen Bass Kevin McCarthy Kim Jong Un Lamar Alexander Mark Warner Mick Mulvaney Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Pete Buttigieg Richard Burr Richard Neal Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Ron Wyden William Barr
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