Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule

Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Tuesday night in Washington, where the Senate Republican tax bill is expected to include a repeal of ObamaCare's individual mandate, and where Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ puts its integrity in doubt by interfering with immigration courts Trump shakes up Justice Department, intelligence community Do people think ill of Jeff Sessions merely based on the sound of his voice? MORE faced a tough grilling from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

 

THE BIG STORY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that the Senate tax bill will include language to repeal ObamaCare's individual mandate. The move had been pushed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE and some conservative senators, but could make it tougher for moderate Republicans to support the tax bill.

McConnell told reporters that adding the individual mandate repeal will make it easier to muster 50 votes to pass the bill.

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"We're optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful and that's obviously the view of the Senate Finance Committee Republicans as well," McConnell said.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer requesting .5 billion in emergency funding on coronavirus Republicans give Barr vote of confidence Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick MORE (S.D.), the Senate's No. 3 Republican, told reporters there has been a whip count and he is confident Republicans can pass a tax bill that includes a measure to repeal the mandate.

Why would they do this? While conservatives have been pushing for a mandate repeal, leadership had previously been worried about complicating their tax bill. But they need the money. Repealing the mandate will raise an estimated $300 billion to $400 billion over the next year that could be used to pay for lowering individual and business tax rates even further.

Will moderates get on board? Multiple GOP senators said that nobody openly objected when the idea was presented during their weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday afternoon. And a bipartisan market stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn The Trump administration's harmful and immoral attack on children MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Public health experts raise alarm as coronavirus spreads Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash MORE (D-Wash.) might be used to entice some moderate votes.

Peter Sullivan has the full rundown here.

 

ON TAP FOR WEDNESDAY

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider legislation that would open the door to drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on "reducing air emissions through innovation."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee holds a hearing on Trump administration nominees, including Kate O'Scannlain to be the Labor Department's solicitor and Preston Rutledge to be assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

The House Oversight Committee hears "recommendations and reforms" from inspectors general from the Peace Corps, Justice Department, and Department of Homeland Security.

The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on bills for the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up legislation to delay new rules on brick makers.

 

REGULATORY ROUNDUP

Technology: Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday refused to say whether he has discussed the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger with anyone at the White House.

"I'm not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House," he said in response to a question from Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineTrump's intel moves spark Democratic fury Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Hillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency MORE (D-R.I.) at a Tuesday House Judiciary Committee meeting.

The White House and Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, have both denied that there has been any interference in the merger negotiations.

According to multiple news reports that emerged last week, the Justice Department's antitrust division had demanded that AT&T and Time Warner sell off CNN in order to get their merger approved. CNN is a Time Warner subsidiary and a frequent target of President Trump who claims its coverage is biased.

Earlier in Tuesday's hearing, Sessions declined to comment on the merger discussions but threw doubt on the reports.

Harper Neidig has the story here.

 

More merger news: Two top House Judiciary Committee Democrats are pushing their panel to hold a hearing examining the White House's role in what they call a "troubling pattern of potential political interference by President Trump" in the Department of Justice's (DOJ) review of AT&T's merger with Time Warner.

DOJ sources recently said that antitrust officials had rejected an offer from AT&T to divest from CNN in order to win approval for the $85 billion deal. AT&T officials flatly denied that the offer was ever on the table -- or would be.

The top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersFormer impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill VA could lead way for nation on lower drug pricing The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems release first transcripts from impeachment probe witnesses MORE Jr. (Mich), and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) expressed their concern with Trump's possible involvement, noting that he "has repeatedly criticized CNN for the nature of its coverage of him." In their letter, the lawmakers also highlighted Trump's tweets disparaging CNN as "#FakeNews."

Ali Breland has the details here.

 

Also on the merger: AT&T also reportedly wants to investigate if the White House influenced the Justice Department's review of its merger with Time Warner should the pending deal fail.

Sources told Bloomberg that AT&T will seek court approval to access communications between the Justice Department (DOJ) and the White House if the administration sues to block the deal.

More from Ali Breland here.

 

Education: Democrats are pressing Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders top target at CPAC Democrats spar with DeVos at hearing, say Trump budget would 'privatize education' Free college won't revive the liberal arts MORE for more transparency as her department rewrites an Obama-era rule that could put predatory schools on the hook to repay unfair student loans.

In a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroDemocrats spar with DeVos at hearing, say Trump budget would 'privatize education' Trump names Pence to lead coronavirus response New Social Security rule limits access to non-English speakers MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said they are "deeply concerned" about the lack of full transparency surrounding the borrower defense to repayment rule.

DeVos announced plans in June to redo the rule, which was aimed at better protecting student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices. The rule would have created consistent, clear, and transparent procedures to file claims.

DeLauro and Murray said the department created a subcommittee on financial responsibility and solicited nominations from individuals with expertise in financial accounting standards. But they say the department decided, without any stated reason or legal rationale, that subcommittee meetings will not be open to the public.

Read Lydia Wheeler's story for more.

 

Transportation: Federal investigators ripped Amtrak on Tuesday for its poor safety culture, which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed for a deadly train crash that killed two workers near Philadelphia last year.

The safety board held a hearing in Washington to discuss the probable cause of the incident, in which an Amtrak engineer struck a piece of construction equipment parked on the tracks.

The train derailed, killing two employees who were working on the track bed and injuring dozens of passengers.

During the hearing, the NTSB slammed Amtrak for failing to randomly drug test employees, consistently use safety equipment and ensure communication among its employees during shift changes -- all of which the panel said could have prevented the fatal crash.

Melanie Zanona has the full story here.

 

Environment:  President Trump's chief official at the United Nations climate summit said Tuesday his top priority at the meeting is ensuring all nations, including large polluters such as China, play the same role in international climate change deals.

"We want to make sure that we do what we can to avoid bifurcation," George David BanksGeorge (David) David BanksOvernight Energy: House energy panel to address climate change at first hearing | DOJ investigating whether Zinke lied to watchdog | Landmark greenhouse gas agreement takes effect Novel international greenhouse gas commitment goes into effect White House nominating new science adviser with extreme-weather background MORE, Trump's special assistant for international energy and environment, told reporters in Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday, according to Climate Home News.

"Bifurcation is a major flaw in the framework convention, and we certainly don't want to see it in the Paris agreement," he said. "So I would say that's probably the No. 1 priority."

Banks is referring to the structure of the underlying international deal setting the course for United Nations work on the climate.

That agreement includes different classes of countries, with major economies -- such as the United States -- committing to work more aggressively to address climate change than other nations.

The Paris deal does not present that format. Instead, nations agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as they determine they can.

Devin Henry has the story here.

 

Administration: President Trump will nominate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting Director Thomas Homan as his pick to permanently lead the agency, the White House announced Tuesday.

Trump appointed Homan as acting ICE director after taking office in January. The Senate must still hold confirmation hearings and approve his nomination to serve in the role permanently.

Homan has served with the agency for three decades, including time spent in Dallas and San Antonio as an immigration officer.

Brett Samuels has the rest of the story.

 

Finance: A group of Senate Democrats want the Commerce Department's top watchdog to launch an investigation into Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis Ross2020 census to run ads on 'Premio lo Nuestro' Can the US slap tariffs on auto imports? Not anymore On The Money: Slowing economy complicates 2020 message for Trump | Tech confronts growing impact of coronavirus | Manufacturing rises after five-month contraction MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students State officials press Congress for more resources to fight cyberattacks Sanders says NH Democratic senators were wrong to back Trump's USMCA MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Bloomberg campaign lobbied Yang for endorsement, possible VP offer: report Warren calls for changes to presidential pardon power, pledges to create clemency board MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThree lessons from BIPA for data privacy legislation Swing votes steal spotlight in marathon Trump impeachment Q&A Hillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinHillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Hillicon Valley: Democrats cancel surveillance vote over pushback to amendments | Lawmakers grill Ticketmaster, StubHub execs over online ticketing | Senators urge USDA to open up rural broadband funding MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthJoe Walsh ends GOP primary challenge to Trump Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over ,000 price tag for wheelchair users Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted K ticket price MORE (Ill.) sent a letter to Peggy Gustafson, the inspector general of the Commerce Department, asking that she open an investigation into Ross's compliance.

The senators' request includes asking the inspector general to determine the "true value" of Ross's personal wealth, if he has complied with his ethics agreement including divesting his assets, if the agreement is adequate and if senior Commerce Department officials have been allowed to serve despite conflicts of interest.

Jordain Carney has more here.

 

Elsewhere in the news:

Determining the threshold at which large banks face higher regulation (The Wall Street Journal)

HHS nominee oversaw big drug price increases at Eli Lilly (The Wall Street Journal)

FDA chief warns about kratom to treat opioid addiction; will seek more regulatory power (USA Today)

US banking regulator cautions against regulatory rollback (Reuters)

Volkswagen agrees to pay $69M to settle New Jersey emissions suits (Reuters)