Overnight Finance: Good economic vibes fail to make GOP tax law popular | AT&T says hiring Cohen was 'big mistake' | Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest overseas

Overnight Finance: Good economic vibes fail to make GOP tax law popular | AT&T says hiring Cohen was 'big mistake' | Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest overseas
© Greg Nash

Happy Friday and welcome back to Overnight Finance, where we're not super sold on cancelling August recess, but would love to cancel D.C. August weather.

I'm Sylvan Lane, and here's your nightly guide to everything affecting your bills, bank account and bottom line.

See something I missed? Let me know at slane@thehill.com or tweet me @SylvanLane. And if you like your newsletter, you can subscribe to it here: http://bit.ly/1NxxW2N.

 

THE BIG DEAL: Americans are feeling upbeat about the economy and the state of the country, but that doesn't appear to be translating into support for the tax bill -- a worrying trend for Republicans seeking to keep the House.

GOP lawmakers and outside conservatives acknowledged the gap and give a variety of explanations.

They say taxpayers may not yet be seeing benefits from the law and that President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty MORE and congressional Republicans could spend more time messaging on the issue.

Polls on the tax law, however, keep finding that disapproval of the law exceeds approval. Several polls have also shown that few people are noticing an increase in their paychecks due to the measure. The Hill's Naomi Jagoda explores why here.

 

Reactions:

  • "One piece of legislation doesn't necessarily accomplish everything." -- Former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye.

 

LEADING THE DAY

A 'big mistake': AT&T's CEO said Friday that hiring President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen was "a big mistake."

In a memo to employees, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that while everything the company did in hiring Cohen was in accordance with the law, they should not have hired him.

"There is no other way to say it -- AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake," Stephenson wrote. "To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate. But the fact is, our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment."

In the letter, Stephenson also announced that Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external & legislative affairs, will step down. AT&T's legislative affairs group will now report to the company's general counsel, David McAtee.

Stephenson explained Quinn's departure as a retirement without specifying further. Here's more from The Hill's Ali Breland.

 

Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest in overseas projects: Lawmakers are pushing to revamp the way the U.S assists and invests in struggling countries, finding a rare area of agreement with President Trump when it comes to foreign aid.

With little fanfare, lawmakers are advancing two identical bipartisan bills in the House and Senate that would consolidate several federal international development agencies and expand their investment tools.

The White House is on board, making it one of the few times the president has sought to bolster, rather than slash, the foreign aid system. Key groups in business and foreign relations are supportive of the legislation, which, so far, has faced little opposition in Congress. I break it down for you here.

How it works: The bills would create a new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) to replace the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). That entity invests in and draws private capital to international development projects meant to advance U.S. interests. 

OPIC would be combined with several funds at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that now support projects meant to boost economic growth in poor countries. 

The IDFC would also access a new suite of financial tools to support development projects -- such as power plants, ports and other infrastructure. While OPIC can only offer loans, political risk insurance and support venture funds, the IDFC could acquire equity in projects to help support them. 

OPIC President Ray Washburne told The Hill in an interview that the reform effort would help the U.S. partner with allies on development projects in new ways and expand the country's "soft diplomacy."

"We're getting left out of a lot of projects because we didn't have the ability to put equity into the projects," Washburne said. "OPIC really hadn't changed since 1971, but financial tools in the world have changed dramatically in that time. Like anything, it's time for it to be reformed and redone."

Why it matters: Both Republicans and Democrats have protected foreign aid for decades, calling it an essential diplomatic tool that helps prevent military conflicts by promoting economic growth.

But foreign aid has also come under criticism from some conservatives, including from Trump, who during his presidential campaign talked of putting "America first."

In his first budget, Trump and his conservative budget director, Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyNOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA MORE, proposed a 26-percent cut to State Department funding over the objections from Congress and concerns of the Pentagon. 

"When the administration first came in, there wasn't any kind of focus on what OPIC could really do when used properly to put our national interest first," said Washburne, a veteran GOP fundraiser and Dallas investor appointed to OPIC in 2017. 

Washburne said he pitched Mulvaney and White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE on OPIC as "a prime America First agency."

"We're a profit-making venture, and we help by stabilizing governments and regions of the world," Washburne said. "So once I talked Mick through all of that, the White House actually issued a letter in support of what we're doing."

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK

Monday:

  • The Brookings Institution hosts an event entitled "The future of work: Robots, AI, and automation," 10 a.m.

 

Tuesday:

  • The Brookings Institution hosts an event on building "inclusive" infrastructure, 8 a.m.
  • Senate Banking Committee: Confirmation hearing for Richard Clarida, nominated to be vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; and Michelle Bowman, nominated to be a governor on the Federal Reserve Board, 10 a.m.
  • Senate Small Business Committee: Hearing entitled "The State of Small Business in America: An Update from the U.S. Small Business Administration," 10 a.m.

 

Wednesday:

  • House Financial Services Committee: Hearing on oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement division," 10 a.m.
  • House Ways and Means Committee: Hearing entitled "Tax Reform: Growing Our Economy and Creating Jobs," 10 a.m.
  • House Education and the Workforce Committee: Hearing entitled "Enhancing Retirement Security: Examining Proposals to Simplify and Modernize Retirement Plan Administration," 10 a.m.
  • House Small Business Committee: Hearing entitled "Intellectual Property 101: How Small Business Owners Can Utilize Intellectual Property Protections in Their Businesses," 11 a.m.
  • House Financial Services Committee: Hearing on the implementation of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) customer due diligence rule, 2 p.m.

 

Thursday:

  • House Financial Services Committee: Hearing entitled "Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Program – Stakeholder Perspectives," 10 a.m.
  • House Energy and Commerce Committee: Hearing entitled "Telecommunications Global Competitiveness and National Security," 10 a.m.
  • House Financial Services Committee: Hearing entitled "An Overview of Homelessness in America," 2 p.m.

 

Friday:

  • Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard delivers a speech on modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act, 9:15 a.m.
  • R Street Institute hosts an event entitled "The Challenges Facing the U.S. Postal Service," 12 p.m.

 

NEXT WEEK'S NEWS, NOW

  • The Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday will hold a confirmation hearing for Trump's two latest nominations to the Federal Reserve: Richard Clarida as vice chairman and Michelle Bowman as a governor. Both are well respected and should face little trouble getting through the Senate. You can read more about Clarida and Bowman here.

 

GOOD TO KNOW

 

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Facebook is reportedly 'very serious' about launching its own cryptocurrency.