James Comey

Yet Another Unbelievable, Wacky Week in Washington, DC

As weeks go in Washington, DC, this has to be one of the wackiest as President Trump plots an attack on Syria, Facebook is accused of being a monopoly and former FBI Director James Comey’s memoir says the White House is run like a forest fire. And that doesn’t include the retirement announcement of House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker John Boehner’s decision to advocate for legal medical marijuana.

As weeks go in Washington, DC, this has to be one of the wackiest as President Trump plots an attack on Syria, Facebook is accused of being a monopoly and former FBI Director James Comey’s memoir says the White House is run like a forest fire. And that doesn’t include the retirement announcement of House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker John Boehner’s decision to advocate for legal medical marijuana.

You can’t say nothing is happening in the nation’s capital. You just can’t believe what’s happening.

President Trump is preparing to respond to a poison gas attack of civilians in Syria, signaled a reversal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and had a tweet tirade over a raid of the home and office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Trump said the raid was “disgraceful.” Cohen’s attorneys said it was “unnecessary and inappropriate.” Cohen said the agents who carried out the raid were “polite and respectful.” Media reports suggested the purpose of the raid may have been to seize recordings Cohen made of his conversations, including with Trump.

GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he is retiring at the end of his term, fueling speculation of an impending GOP shellacking in the mid-term elections this fall. Meanwhile, Ryan’s Republican predecessor, John Boehner, announced his views on cannabis have “evolved” and he will advocate for legalization of medical marijuana.

Former FBI Director James Comey’s tell-all memoir is leaked that delivers scathing criticism of Trump as “unethical and untethered to the truth” and more like a mob boss than the leader of the free world. Trump responded on Twitter by calling Comey an “untruthful slime ball” and a “leaker” of classified information. Somewhere in the West Wing, former strategic advisor Steve Bannon was trying to convince Trump aides to go gonzo.

Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo underwent confirmation hearings where some of the most heated questions centered on what he says to Trump in their private conversations. Meanwhile, the Senate moved forward the nomination of a former coal industry lobbyist as the top deputy at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Senate and House committees, including the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, grilled Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg about failures to protect user privacy. Questioning zeroed in on whether Facebook is a monopoly and should be regulated.

The Congressional Budget Office issued an updated analysis of the GOP tax cut indicating it will result in a $1.9 trillion deficit and 80 percent of the benefit will accrue to foreigners, which complicates Republican campaign plans to tout the tax cut as a major achievement. Retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker told reporters voting for the GOP-backed tax cut may have been his biggest blunder in office. Trump dismissed the CBO findings.

Despite promising a swift response with “new, smart missiles,” Trump and his national security team were still debating how and when to respond to Syria’s renewed used of chemical weapons in light of Russia’s threat to defend Syrian military installations if attacked by US missiles or armed forces.

Trump’s tariff talk, which rattled stock markets, angered farmers and drew reciprocal tariffs, cooled off after Chinese President Xi Jinping gave what observers viewed as a conciliatory speech on trade relationships and included a reference to protection of intellectual property of foreign companies. Despite tough talk on the campaign trail and quick action when in office to dump US participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump suddenly recognized the continued efforts of the other 11 Pacific Rim partners to write fair trade rules as a possible source of leverage on China.

Trump chose to stay in Washington, DC instead of attending a Latin American summit focusing on trade, including apparently stalled talks on revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Vice President Mike Pence, who is filling in for Trump, is expected to hear pushback from Latin American leaders about Trump’s comments and actions toward Latino immigrants. Aides to Pence said his individual meetings with leaders are intended to “soften the edges” of US foreign policy and immigration views.

The week provided a lot for Trump to fume about, prompting stories about the President’s renewed consideration of firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Previous musings about such firings have been dismissed by the White House, Trump’s lawyers and Republican leaders on the Hill. However, this week Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley sought expedited consideration of bipartisan legislation to insulate the Mueller investigation from any adverse action by Trump.

Toward the end of the week, Trump pardoned Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice involving the leak of a CIA officer’s identity. Libby’s sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush, but not pardoned. The timing of Trump’s pardon seemed like a signal that he would protect those who protect him.

The beehive in Washington, DC this week didn’t include any mention of or tweets about North Korea. The leaders of North and South Korea are scheduled to meet April 27 and a face-to-face meeting between Kim Jong-un and Trump is anticipated in either May or June.

 

Senate to Tackle Health Care Amid Policy Chaos

Senate Republicans want to vote on their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July amid a chaotic legislative landscape with tax, infrastructure, budget and debt ceiling measures hanging in limbo in the shadow of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible charges of obstruction of justice.

Senate Republicans want to vote on their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July amid a chaotic legislative landscape with tax, infrastructure, budget and debt ceiling measures hanging in limbo in the shadow of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible charges of obstruction of justice.

The Trump administration plans to send a more detailed version of its infrastructure package to Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans want to vote on a health care bill by the August recess and a politically contentious vote looms on raising the debt ceiling.

In the background are ongoing efforts to craft tax legislation and assemble a Fiscal Year 2018 budget, while Congress awaits a Supreme Court decision on the modified Trump travel ban and manages around the shoes-keep-dropping Russian election meddling investigation. There also is continuing fallout from Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and his tweet fight with the Muslim mayor of London following a terrorist attack.

You can’t say nothing is going in the nation’s capital, but you can understand why little is getting done. Depending on your viewpoint, Capitol Hill is a target-rich opportunity or ground zero for policy chaos.

The first concrete sense of timing on GOP legislative priorities came this week when Senate Republicans said they would produce their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July and vote on it, regardless whether they had the votes to approve it, before the end of July. The announcement came as several senators expressed doubt a GOP consensus plan could be developed that quickly. There were news reports that some Senate Republicans wanted to get the issue off the table once and for all, even if they had to explain to constituents why it failed.

Senators face the same dilemma as their House counterparts in finding a way to prevent health insurance premiums from rising while not lopping off millions of Americans from health insurance. The work group developing the Senate GOP plan is reportedly working with the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to avoid a politically devastating score like what the House-passed version earned. But they are focused on curbing the cost of premiums, which could mean fewer essential services, less protection for people with chronic diseases or higher subsidies, perhaps funded by reduced Medicaid spending. 

Trump’s team dubbed this as infrastructure week as an attempt to build momentum for Trump’s proposed $1 trillion investment package and give his political base some positive news in the lead-up to former FBI Director James Comey’s much-anticipated testimony later this week. However, that plan was undermined as stories continued to drip about what Comey might say about pressure from the President to put aside the investigation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The Russian election meddling story didn’t go away either. In her NBC debut, Megyn Kelly interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin who dropped hints about election-related hacking. There also was a report based on US intelligence sources indicating Russian military cybersecurity tried to infiltrate American voting systems.

The White House made news by appealing to the US Supreme Court to uphold travel restrictions on six mostly Muslim countries, followed by a series of tweets by Trump who insisted on calling the restrictions a travel ban. Opponents of the travel ban will file their briefs by Monday, which means there could be a decision any time after that. Some of Trump’s own legal team worried his tweets could undercut their arguments before the high court.

The infrastructure plan to be released may face additional complications because of Trump’s proposal to separate and privatize the US air traffic control system, an idea that doesn’t appear to enjoy uniform support among congressional Republicans, especially ones representing rural communities who fear the loss of air traffic control for their small airports.

There is no apparent action on a tax plan, despite the President’s tweet that it is moving along ahead of schedule, because no tax legislation has been submitted by the Trump administration. That is more or less true on the FY 2018 budget, too.

Lost in the shuffle is the vote to raise the federal debt ceiling, which Trump’s Treasury officials say must occur before the August recess. House and Senate GOP leaders generally agree on the importance of raising the debt limit, which was breached in March, but they need Democratic votes to pass it. Delaying the debt ceiling vote has given Democrats more bargaining chips and more leverage, at least in the short term.

Summers in DC are always hot and muggy outside. They may not be much cooler inside.