The Hill’s Morning Report — Possible Trump indictment overshadows budget talks
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Spring is here and time is ticking for Congress to agree on budget numbers.
House Republicans are attending their annual issues conference in Orlando, Fla., an event that was supposed to serve as an opportunity for the House GOP to highlight their unexpected unity and successes over the past two months. But for all the talk about budgeting, The Hill’s Emily Brooks and Mychael Schnell report the retreat has instead been overwhelmed by questions about the possible indictment of former President Trump in the coming days.
House Republicans are already sharpening their knives for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has promised investigations into whether any federal funds have been spent in the probe, and The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports that letters are expected from the House Administration Committee and possibly the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government.
Three GOP committee chairmen — Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Comer (Ky.) and Bryan Steil (Wis.), who oversee the Judiciary, Oversight and Accountability and Administration panels, respectively — on Monday sent a letter to Bragg demanding he sit down with aides and hand over documents related to possible federal support he may have received, including any communications with the Justice Department or other federal law enforcement (Politico).
On the budget side, House GOP members gathered in Florida are lowering expectations that they can adopt a balanced budget blueprint this year, while emphasizing their commitment to cap next year’s spending at fiscal 2022 levels. It’s long been a Republican goal to balance the federal budget within the 10-year window used by congressional scorekeepers, and this year’s proceedings are especially pressured as the threat of the debt ceiling looms.
But House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) told reporters Monday that a balanced budget is not the most important spending metric the GOP is eyeing in fiscal 2024 (Roll Call).
“Long-term frameworks have their value,” Arrington said. “But I think what’s most meaningful to the people in my district and … the people in our conference after that discussion — I can say this for my committee — is what are we going to do over the next year or two. And quite frankly, I think that’s the conversation that Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy is trying to have with our president and with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”
President Biden has called on McCarthy and House Republicans to produce a fiscal 2024 budget before negotiating on spending. The president released his own $6.8 trillion spending plan nearly two weeks ago, which Republicans have rejected outright (Reuters).
▪ Axios: White House sounds alarm on Freedom Caucus’ budget plan.
▪ Business Insider: Five ways the GOP budget plan is a “disaster for families,” the White House says.
Over in the Senate, the Appropriations Committee, led by Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), is eager to return to regular order. The committee last week released a tentative subcommittee hearing schedule beginning this week and through early June with the goal of completing the appropriations process before Sept. 30 — and avoiding the kind of omnibus spending bill that kept Congress in session until days before Christmas last year.
Murray and Collins have vowed to determine topline numbers, draft and mark up each of the 12 appropriations bills in committee, move them to the floor — requiring 60 votes — knowing they will eventually have to work with the new Republican majority in the House, as well as the Senate’s wide ideological differences.
The process “won’t be a walk in the park,” as Murray said at a recent news conference. During the past three years, the committee has marked up only three bills, and during that time, no Senate appropriations bills reached the floor. As Roll Call reports, the chamber hasn’t passed any individual appropriations since 2019, when, during the fiscal 2020 process, Senators passed four bills in one combination package.
But despite the looming challenges, senators are prepared for the uphill battle.
“There’s just a real commitment, I think, on both sides of the aisle to get that done,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “It’s one of those things that’s going to be difficult, but I have great hope it will actually happen.”
The Senate Budget Committee, meanwhile, is moving slowly. Customarily, the committee, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), would take the chamber’s first step in the appropriations process by adopting a budget resolution by April 1, but Whitehouse said he wants to assess Biden’s budget and the House GOP plan before deciding how to move forward.
▪ The Hill: How the farm bill could curb the chaos around hemp products.
▪ The Hill: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday on the president’s proposed fiscal 2024 budget for the agency.
▪ Bloomberg Law: Federal vendors get first data points for fiscal 2024 IT Budgets.
▪ El Paso Times: Defense Department budget calls for $74 million for Fort Bliss rail yard spur.
LEADING THE DAY
Trump is seeking to take advantage of his possible indictment by the Manhattan district attorney for an alleged hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. As the Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch and Brett Samuels report, the former president is using the threat to raise money for his 2024 campaign while casting himself as a victim of a political state. Trump has used his megaphone to rile up supporters, urging them to protest any arrest and fight for their country — messaging that echoes calls he made ahead of Jan. 6. The effort shows Trump and his team think the legal case against him can actually be used to better his standing in a GOP primary race, though the calls for protests also risk backfiring.
If indicted, Trump will be finger-printed and his mug shot will be taken, though he won’t have a “perp walk” and may not be handcuffed (The Hill).
▪ Politico: By-the-book district attorney confronts unpredictable opponent in Trump.
▪ The Hill: If the former president is indicted, what happens next? He can still run for office if arrested, and even convicted.
The looming indictment is putting GOP lawmakers who would prefer to move on from Trump in a tough spot as the former president is calling for mass protests if Bragg tries to place him in custody. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes that many GOP senators see the arrest of a former president for offenses that have been hanging out in the public arena for years as crossing the line. But at the same time, Republican lawmakers are fearful of a repeat of the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, and are concerned about what may unfold if Trump stokes a public backlash against the district attorney and don’t want to be painted by Democrats as sitting on their hands if violence erupts.
▪ The Hill: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) faces a political minefield with the possible Trump indictment.
▪ The New York Times: For the GOP, a looming Trump indictment takes center stage.
▪ NBC News: Trump moves to quash Georgia special grand jury report.
If Trump is indicted this week, the White House is expected to employ a simple strategy: Get out of the way. The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports that privately, aides and allies said that was an intentional strategy to let the news speak for itself while pointing to the importance of accountability and rule of law.
“The White House doesn’t have to do much here,” one source close to the administration said. “They need to acknowledge that it’s a serious legal matter and then leave it up to the courts.”
Biden allies acknowledged that they know Trump’s team will inevitably turn the indictment into a political issue, suggesting that Bragg, a Democrat with connections to Biden, was conducting another so-called witch hunt. But Biden, they said, should not feel compelled to “get in the mud” himself.
The Hill: Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote the sole dissent as the Supreme Court on Monday vacated a lower court abortion ruling. The Supreme Court ruling struck down a federal court decision upholding the right of a minor to go to court to obtain permission to undergo an abortion.
On Monday, the president and first lady Jill Biden focused public attention on mental health with some public service messaging from the cast of Apple TV+’s comedy “Ted Lasso,” including visiting actor Jason Sudeikis (CNN).
“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter who you voted for, we all probably — I assume, we all know someone who has or had been that someone ourselves actually, that’s struggled, that’s felt isolated, that’s felt anxious, that has felt alone,” Sudeikis said from the White House briefing room. “It’s actually one of the many things, believe it or not, that we all have in common as human beings.”
Sudeikis said Biden and his team are trying to drive home the message that options for mental health assistance are available nationwide with backing from the federal government.
“I know in this town a lot of folks don’t always agree, right?” Sudeikis said. “But I truly believe that we should all do our best to help take care of each other.”
👎 Biden on Monday issued his first veto since taking office, appearing in a video filmed inside the Oval Office while using his pen to reject a bill that would have reversed a Labor Department rule on environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.
The administration had previously issued a rule stating that money managers can weigh climate change and other ESG factors when they make decisions for retirement investments on behalf of clients. It replaced a rule from the Trump era that the Biden administration said discouraged consideration of ESG factors “even in cases where it is in the financial interest of plans to take such considerations into account” (The Hill).
Opponents of the rule could try to override the president’s veto, but at this point it appears unlikely they could get the two-thirds majority needed in each chamber to do so (CNN). McCarthy tweeted that Biden put “woke Wall Street over workers.”
“Retirement plan fiduciaries should be able to consider any factor that maximizes financial returns for retirees across the country. That is not controversial — that is common sense. Therefore, I am vetoing this resolution,” Biden said in a statement.
✒️ Biden on Monday signed without a statement a Republican-initiated measure that nullifies the District of Columbia’s efforts to overhaul some criminal penalties. After GOP accusations that the D.C. law was “soft on crime,” putting Democrats in a bind, members of the City Council scrambled to withdrew the measure, which the council initially approved over the veto of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) (The Washington Post).
🏞 The president today will put land and water conservation in the forefront with new national monuments announced in Nevada and Texas and instructions to the Commerce secretary to consider expanding a national marine sanctuary designation for remote Pacific islands with the goal by 2030 of conserving 30 percent of ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction. Biden today will protect half a million acres with the unveiling of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada, to “honor Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples,” and Castner Range National Monument in West Texas near El Paso, which includes Fort Bliss and connects the area with the Franklin Mountains State Park (The Washington Post).
🇺🇸 U.S. officials on Monday said the administration helped gain the release of Jeffery Woodke, 62, a humanitarian aid worker from California who was held hostage by militants in Niger for more than six years. The U.S. did not detail how the release was negotiated other than to say no ransom was paid nor were concessions granted (The New York Times). Woodke, a missionary who spent decades in Niger, was kidnapped in October 2016 and was released outside of Niger “in the Mali-Burkina” Faso area (ABC News). Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Niger last week.
“I’m gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity,” Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted. “The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him.”
Also released was French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was kidnapped in Gao, Mali, in April 2021 by a group affiliated with al Qaeda, the Committee to Protect Journalists previously reported (NPR).
Reuters: French, U.S. hostages released after years of captivity in West Africa.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Russia on Monday for a three-day state visit, taking a stand with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the West after the Russian leader was accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes in Ukraine. The visit, the first by Xi since Russia’s invasion, represents a personal triumph for Putin, who denies his country is isolated on the world stage. Xi, who has deepened economic ties with Russia, wants the rest of the world to see Beijing as a potential peacemaker as Russia’s war with Ukraine heads into its second year (The Washington Post and Reuters).
▪ The New York Times: Why China and Russia are closer than ever.
▪ Sky News Australia: Phone call “scheduled” between Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
▪ The Hill: Secretary of State Antony Blinken slams Xi for providing “diplomatic cover” to Putin during Moscow visit.
▪ The New York Times: Japan’s prime minister becomes the latest G7 leader to visit Ukraine.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Russia tried to freeze Ukraine. Here’s how it survived the winter. Air defenses downed many missiles targeting power plants. When they were hit, crews scrounged spare parts and fixed them.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s government survived a no-confidence vote in parliament Monday after it pushed through a deeply unpopular pension and retirement age overhaul without a vote last week, sparking outrage and spontaneous protests across the country. Observers say Macron’s failure to find enough support in parliament to put his proposals to a vote has already undermined his reformist agenda and weakened his leadership, and a ninth nationwide day of strikes and protests is scheduled on Thursday (Politico EU and Reuters).
▪ The New York Times: The children of the Iraq war have grown up, but some wounds don’t heal.
▪ The Washington Post: The world is on the brink of catastrophic warming, United Nations climate change report says.
▪ Reuters: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversees simulated nuclear counterattack against U.S., South Korea.
■ The first indictment, by James D. Zirin, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/42CrvEu
■ Pandemic preparations: “I worry we’re making the same mistakes again,” by Bill Gates, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/40joV4i
WHERE AND WHEN
📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene at 5 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate meets at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of a motion to proceed to a bill that would repeal authorizations for use of military force against Iraq.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will speak to attendees at the White House Conservation in Action Summit held at the Interior Department at 1:45 p.m. Biden and the first lady will host an Arts and Humanities Awards event in the East Room at 4:30 p.m.
Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the East Room arts and humanities awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Emhoff also will headline an Emerge America virtual event at 5:30 p.m. to celebrate female Jewish leaders.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 3 p.m.
➤ BANKING & ECONOMY
The countdown has begun ahead of the Federal Reserve’s Wednesday decision on interest rates amid uncertainty in the banking industry, The Hill’s Tobias Burns reports.
The weekend’s shotgun sale of Credit Suisse to Swiss rival UBS along with ongoing rescue measures to save First Republic, plus the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, played havoc with forecasts of Fed action.
Many analysts believe the Fed faces a tough decision about whether to raise rates another 25 basis points, as markets initially expected, or pause until later in the spring to let frayed nerves among investors and depositors settle a bit.
There is no clear consensus in Congress about whether new or amended laws are needed as House and Senate members in both parties talk about asking top supervisory officials and banking executives to testify about what went wrong and how future liquidity panics among depositors can be prevented.
▪ The Hill: House conservatives voice opposition to any increased guarantees on bank deposits.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants an independent investigation of SVB and Signature Bank.
▪ The Wall Street Journal and CNBC: JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon leads fresh discussions with other top executives of major banks to try again to stabilize First Republic Bank of California.
Elsewhere on Monday, the tech sector continued to lead headlines with mass layoffs. Amazon said it plans to cut another 9,000 workers on top of 18,000 employees it announced it would shed last year (CNBC).
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
🌼 Allergy season is becoming more intense across the country, lasting longer and with more pollen in the air. That spells bad news for the more than 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from allergy-related symptoms. A report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America revealed last year’s U.S. “allergy capitals,” or the most challenging places to live for those with pollen allergies.
According to the report, the most difficult spot to live with allergies last year was Wichita, Kan., followed by Dallas; Scranton, Pa.; Oklahoma City; and Tulsa, Okla., to round out the top five (The Washington Post).
💉 California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Saturday announced the state is manufacturing its own insulin and capping the cost at $30. The Golden State’s CalRx initiative has partnered with nonprofit generic drug manufacturer CIVICA to make the drug and bring the price down by around 90 percent, according to the governor’s office. Newsom also announced Saturday that the state will move next to manufacture its own naloxone, a drug used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose (The Hill).
CBS News: The Affordable Care Act has significantly reduced racial disparities in health care access, report says.
▪ The Washington Post: Lawmakers probe whether organ procurers are “gaming” the system.
▪ MSNBC: School districts name social media companies in mental health lawsuits.
▪ Slate: Long COVID-19: The truth about it is emerging, and it’s not what we thought.
▪ The Washington Post: A deadly fungal infection is rapidly spreading in U.S. health facilities.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 1,706 for the most recent week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Data is reported on Fridays.)
And finally … 🐦 Hello, world! On this day in 2006, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first non-automated tweet on a new platform he envisioned for status sharing.
@Jack told co-workers, “Just setting up my twttr.”
Those were tech’s Ancient Times. We all know what happened to Twitter after that (and Dorsey, who resigned as CEO in 2021, chronicled the platform’s growth along the way, WIRED reported).
The earliest tweets were limited to 140 characters. Billboard’s top song at the time was “So Sick” by Ne-Yo. The No. 1 grossing film domestically was “Failure to Launch” starring Matthew McConaughey. And Putin was on a state visit to China.
By the way, 63 percent of current Twitter users are male. Can you tell?
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