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This week in Washington, Republicans went at each other over immigration, Democrats attacked each other over the Gina Haspel nomination, and the president attacked the Fake News Media and “Haters.” No Collusion!
This week in Washington
Good afternoon from our nation’s capital, which is especially swampy as of late: we’re in the middle of a week of of constant torrential rain, which should let up just in time to usher in D.C.’s lovely, surface-of-Venus summer season. Drainage required.
Lots of moves this week from the swamp-dwellers — let’s get started with immigration, which is coming back to the fore thanks to tricky maneuvering from members of Congress and incendiary statements from President Donald Trump.
Right now, a group of House Republicans supportive of immigration reform — in particular, a lasting solution for the young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers — are fed up with Speaker Paul Ryan’s refusal to allow immigration bills to the floor. They’re resorting to a little-used mechanism called a discharge petition, which forces a floor vote on a bill if a majority of members agree.
With unanimous Democratic backing, 25 Republicans are needed to advance the discharge petition, which would open up a debate — and vote — on immigration measures that many lawmakers have craved. As of now, 20 Republicans have signed on to the discharge petition, and nearly all of them are moderates who face tough re-election battles in the fall in districts won by Hillary Clinton or with large Latino populations. (Neither of Minnesota’s two most endangered Republicans, Rep. Erik Paulsen and Rep. Jason Lewis, have signed on.)
The level of support for the discharge petition has been surprising, and Beltway press is framing this as open rebellion from GOP moderates. Ryan and his lieutenants are trying to put this fire out, arguing that a big immigration debate — and, possibly, a compromise — would damper midterm enthusiasm from the party base and cost the GOP their House majority. Those signing on to the petition, however, believe they’re as good as gone if they don’t make something happen on immigration. The Washington Post with more behind-the-scenes dynamic here.
The backdrop for the Capitol Hill immigration debate: some of the most extreme rhetoric on immigration we’ve seen yet from the president. At a White House roundtable on Wednesday featuring California leaders who have flouted that state’s sanctuary policies, Trump said “We have people coming into the country — or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” Outrage from many corners; conservative media countered that his words were taken out of context and that the Bias Media (!!!) is at it again. (The full transcript of the roundtable is here.)
Meanwhile, over in the conservative House Freedom Caucus, there’s immigration dissatisfaction, but for different reasons: they’re unhappy that the hard-line bills they support haven’t gotten a vote. Some are threatening to hold up the passage of the Farm Bill — which the House is debating now and is slated for a Friday vote — if their demands on immigration aren’t met. (WaPo’s James Hohmann, per usual, has a smart take on how immigration is ripping the GOP apart.)
That news underscored another important thread from this week: it’s been a rough go of it for the Farm Bill, which has turned into an election-year partisan free-for-all and faces an uncertain future.
The massive legislation is approved every four years or so, and it outlays close to $1 trillion in funding for everything from SNAP (food stamps) to crop insurance programs. Naturally, this is a huge deal for Minnesota — home of Spam, Cargill, General Mills, and huge soybean, corn, and sugar-growing businesses. Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, is the Dems’ general on the effort.
The Farm Bill has historically been pretty nonpartisan, as far as congressional business goes. But this year’s Farm Bill talks broke down early when House Republicans pushed significant tweaks and cuts to SNAP — anathema to Democrats, and some Republicans — which sank the Farm Bill in the House the last time around.
Republicans have pushed ahead with those changes, endangering the bill’s viability and generally making Democrats angry. With all Dems expected to vote no on the legislation, Republicans are trying to corral enough conservatives and moderates to support the bill; it remains to be seen how well they’re doing that. As the president says: “We’ll see!”
A few key votes on the Senate side of the Capitol this week: you may have heard that senators voted, 52 to 47, to strike the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal Obama-era rules that enshrined net neutrality into law. All 49 Senate Dems joined with three GOP senators to make it happen. However, this is a mostly symbolic #Resistance win: overturning the FCC’s net neutrality rule requires the House to agree and the president to pass on a veto. Neither is likely to happen. (The House is starting to try, though — with a discharge petition!)
After weathering a tough confirmation hearing and intense public scrutiny, Gina Haspel was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 54 to 45 to become chief of the CIA on Thursday. Ultimately, six Democrats backed Haspel, whose nomination was anathema to the party base due to her leading role in using “enhanced interrogation” techniques as a CIA officer after September 11. (It also pushed three Republicans to oppose her nomination.)
It wasn’t too surpising that Haspel got the backing of a few red-state Dems up for reelection this fall, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. But what pushed her over the finish line was the backing of Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Dem on the Intelligence panel, and a pair of blue state senators.
Considering the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate, Democrats could have blocked Haspel’s confirmation even without a unanimous stonewalling. The Dems’ schism on the nomination fight is opening a rift in the party, AP’s Lisa Mascaro reports. Politico explains how Haspel “beat the Resistance.” Splinter News has a headline that sums up where the left is at.
Big week in foreign policy news: on Monday, the U.S. made official a move presidents have been talking about for years: moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
This is a largely symbolic move in a part of the world where symbolism matters a lot: Jerusalem is disputed territory, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital. U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as belonging to Israel strikes a huge blow to U.S. credibility in the eyes of Palestinians, as Trump’s administration tries to broker a peace deal.
A big delegation from the U.S. was on hand to celebrate the embassy opening, which included presidential adviser-children Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, along with prominent American Israel-backers like former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman (currently the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition) and casino mogul-GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
As those at the embassy celebrated — the Times of Israel has some nice color here — scenes of war unfolded in Gaza, as Palestinians protested the move and their leaders condemned the U.S. As of now, Israeli security forces have killed at least 58 Palestinians who gathered to protest at the border with Israel. WaPo with some analysis of Israel’s actions in the aftermath.
Political takeaways: in moving the embassy, POTUS — always looking up to fire up his base — scored a huge win for two key (often overlapping) parts of his constituency: evangelical Christians and pro-Israel hawks. Few Democrats criticized the move, as party leaders like Chuck Schumer had nothing but praise. Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum were among a small handful of House Democrats to publicly condemn the embassy move and the violence in Gaza.
It seemed like just yesterday that Trump had the Nobel Peace Prize locked up for brokering a denuclearization peace deal with North Korea. Now, the planned June 12 summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un is in jeopardy, as Kim is threatening to walk away if the U.S. and South Korea insist on his regime giving up its nuclear program in exchange for lifting stifling economic sanctions. (You know, the whole idea behind the deal.)
Conservative columnist and never-Trumper Jennifer Rubin says the whole debacle is making Trump look like a gullible fool. Politico on how new national security adviser John Bolton is tarnishing POTUS’ prospects for the Nobel. WaPo explores Trump’s brand of “diplotainment,” as one former Obama staffer put it.
You might be thinking: with all these crises around the world, how’s our State Department doing? Didn’t the last guy fire everyone and sell all the furniture? The answer is yes, but current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reversing course: this week, he announced that State will be lifting a hiring freeze, and that its budget will go up significantly.
Meanwhile, former Secretary of State and “last guy” Rex Tillerson, is spending his retirement giving thinly veiled warnings about his old boss: this week, he gave a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute in which he talked about an ethical crisis in U.S. government and warned of the “twilight of American democracy” if nothing changes. Sour grapes, much?
Also this week, the nation’s high court paved the way for more high rolling: SCOTUS struck down a 1992 law that effectively prohibited sports betting in most states. This set off a bonanza in the states to start cashing in as soon as possible (hi, New Jersey!) but Minnesota is far behind the pack.
A lot of Minnesota angles in national political events and coverage in the past week: Axios reports that Trump’s 2020 campaign team is focusing on winning Minnesota, which POTUS only lost by one point in 2016. WaPo’s Philip Bump has some analysis here.
Meanwhile, Trump himself had some things to say about Congressman Ellison, who he criticized by name at a rally in Indiana for wearing a shirt at a rally that proclaimed in Spanish, “I don’t believe in borders.” What really matters, though, is that Ellison was one of the first people publicly saying Trump could win the 2016 election — so, naturally, POTUS went out of his way to say he doesn’t think the congressman is all bad.
On Tuesday, center-left think tank Center for American Progress held its annual “Ideas Conference,” considered something of a must-stop for Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls. Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke, and argued that Democrats need to talk less about Russia, the Mueller investigation, and every little Trump thing if they want to win in the Midwest in 2018.
The quote: “They’re not asking me about Russian bots, they’re asking me about soybean exports.” (A bit of context: CAP, where allegiance to Clinton runs deep, is the liberal organization that’s pushing Trump-Russia the hardest.)
More primaries this week! On Tuesday, insurgent progressives beat establishment-backed candidates in key House primaries in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. I noted last week that many more Republicans voted in the Ohio primary than Dems: well, in Pennsylvania, 100,000 more Democrats showed up than did Republicans. (And a whole lot of Dems showed up in deep-red Idaho.)
Finally, a note from the media biz: BuzzFeed has a worthwhile write-up on the celebrity status now enjoyed by the top White House reporters — and how plum “side-hustle” contracts to appear on cable TV regularly are pushing their incomes well into six figures. Nice work, if you can get it!
This week’s essential reads
Vice President Mike Pence so assiduously positions himself as Trump’s humble hype man and sidekick that his effusive praise of POTUS has become a running joke in Washington. Behind the veep’s adoring glances, though, is a steely resolve to claim leadership of the GOP: the New York Times reports that Pence is quietly building a political apparatus and flexing his influence in key 2018 races the president hasn’t bothered with. Story:
In addition to addressing dozens of party events in recent months, Mr. Pence has effectively made himself the frontman for America First Policies, an outside group set up to back Mr. Trump’s agenda. He has keynoted more than a dozen of its events this year, traveling under its banner to states including Iowa and New Hampshire. And Mr. Pence has worked insistently to shape Mr. Trump’s endorsements, prodding him in the contests for governor of Florida and speaker of the House, among others.
Word of the internal tensions is getting out beyond the walls of the White House: one prominent lawmaker said the complaints of high-ranking Trump officials were starting to circulate on Capitol Hill.
“They’re looking for people to stay on the team, not break away from the team,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said of the Trump side of the West Wing.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence remain on good terms personally, and the president has largely welcomed the vice president’s political guidance, according to people close to both men. …
For now, Mr. Pence and his aides have found a yawning opening within the West Wing, as Mr. Trump’s principal political aides spend much of their time managing his impulses and vying with each other, instead of overseeing the party and this year’s campaign. While past vice presidents, like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Dick Cheney, have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda.
Ten years ago, many people thought a president couldn’t get worse or more undignified than George W. Bush. Now, the current occupant at 1600 Penn is making Bush look positively saintly in the eyes of his one-time critics. WaPo’s Roxane Roberts reports on how the strange phenomenon of Bush nostalgia has gripped the capital, and how Trump’s shortcomings are prompting people to overlook Bush’s — even the hated Iraq War. A lot of great lines in this one:
Washington, it seems, has developed Bush nostalgia. Just nine years after he left the White House, many conservatives pine for their misunderestimated good old boy from Texas. Looking in the rearview mirror, the last Republican president suddenly appears measured, compassionate, principled — in short, presidential. Even liberals who could not wait for Barack Obama to move into the White House are grudgingly penitent, privately admitting that they didn’t appreciate Bush’s good qualities. …
When Bush left Washington, his popularity was in the tank, with just a 33 percent approval rating. Those numbers have doubled: 61 percent of Americans, including a number of Democrats and independents, say they have a favorable view of him, according to a CNN poll released this January.
But this newfound appreciation may have less to do with history and more to do with political beer goggles: It’s 2 a.m. in the nation’s capital, and suddenly every past president looks good.
No one wants to say it out loud, but Donald Trump may be the best thing that ever happened to George W. Bush.
Since the advent of the #MeToo era, powerful members of Congress have been driven from office over allegations of sexual misconduct, with reporters swarming them on Capitol Hill, staking out their homes, and pressing their colleagues for reaction. You’d think the same might happen to Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat accused of molesting a teenager in 2007. Yet, the explosive allegation against the congressman has barely registered — raising questions about the longevity of D.C.’s reckoning on sexual misconduct. The Los Angeles Times:
Asked recently whether she would push Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California to resign over allegations in a lawsuit that he molested a teenager in 2007, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shrugged.
That seems to sum up Washington’s collective response so far to the latest #MeToo sexual misconduct crisis involving a member of Congress.
A half-dozen U.S. representatives and senators have already been driven from office over such claims. But Capitol Hill appears to be reacting differently to Cárdenas, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley who flatly denies the allegations as the invention of a disgruntled former staff member.
Compared to the attention afforded previous scandals, politicians and much of the press have been more measured since Cárdenas confirmed earlier this month that he was the unidentified politician being sued in Los Angeles for allegedly groping a 16-year-old girl more than a decade ago.
There were no swift calls for Cárdenas’ resignation like those that beset former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Also missing is the swarm of reporters who dogged Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) after claims emerged that he harassed a campaign staff member.
The week in takes
Former Hillary speechwriter Ben Krauss: Democratic 2020 hopefuls need to learn to speak like human beings and not robots
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.): If it were Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers, maybe we wouldn’t have had the 2008 financial crash
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.): Rising sea levels are being caused by rocks falling into the sea, not climate change
DFL Senate candidate Richard W. Painter: What was the point of the American revolution if the British enjoy single-payer health care and we don’t?
The Week’s Paul Waldman: Republicans will never, ever reform immigration
Your weekend longread
In June of 2017, a gunman opened fire on a baseball field in suburban D.C., coming close to killing two dozen Republican members of Congress who were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game. It could have been the deadliest act of political assassination in U.S. history; instead, several people — including the #3 House Republican — were severely injured, but only the gunman died.
Everything about the shooting is shocking and remarkable, from who the targets were to the fact that more of them weren’t seriously hurt. Almost a year later, what’s maybe most remarkable is how quickly this event has faded from the public’s consciousness: it’s rarely talked about, much less held up as a political rallying point like the Parkland shooting or Sandy Hook.
BuzzFeed News’ Kate Nocera and Lissandra Villa have put together a step-by-step retracing of that day in June, and it’s a harrowing and authoritative account of the shooting — and a thoughtful reflection on the place it might hold in history.
Waking up pre-dawn to go to baseball practice is a welcome distraction for the Republicans who play — a few hours without the news cycle, or whatever President Trump is doing, or questions about whether they’ll keep control of Congress. Here, Steve Scalise isn’t seen as a potential replacement for Paul Ryan; he’s the second baseman. Jeff Flake isn’t the voice of anti-Trump conservatism; he’s a center fielder. Jeff Duncan isn’t the Freedom Caucus member and Trump booster from South Carolina; he’s at short.
So Rep. Roger Williams thinks about how the team was in shape and feeling good (at least as good as it was going to get). He thinks about how the pitchers weren’t there — he ordered them to rest their arms — and how they had Republican staffers who’d volunteered to help the team filling in. He thinks about how everyone else was taking their final at bats and picking up balls, getting ready to head back into Washington. He thinks about what could have gone unfathomably wrong, if everything had not gone exactly right.
At around 7:06 a.m., a man in a blue T-shirt approached the field and fired 62 7.62x39mm rounds through a lawfully purchased Century International Arms SKS-style semiautomatic assault rifle. The shooting was, Alexandria’s elected prosecutor concluded, “an act of terrorism” that was “fueled by rage against Republican legislators.” The day was one in a continuum of violent, surreal days over the past year, from mass shootings to Charlottesville.
You may love them, or you may disagree almost everything they stand for, but that morning, the roughly two dozen people on that field just tried to stay alive. Those nine minutes were a near miss of modern American history, between the dark aftermath of a deadly, mass political assassination and our own reality, in which most people don’t think very often about June 14, 2017, the difference between everything changing, and almost nothing changing at all.
What to look for next week
This Saturday, Rep. Jason Lewis will hold three public town halls in his 2nd Congressional District, making him one of a few vulnerable GOP incumbents to agree to appear in front of constituents in that setting. (Lewis has previously said he didn’t want to host the first Democratic rally of 2018.) Expect a lot of attention from #Resistance types on what Lewis says and how his office administers the events.
MORE PRIMARIES NEXT WEEK! Voters in Georgia, Kentucky, and Arkansas go to the polls. That’s our last round of voting before the Super Tuesday primaries on June 5.
Next week, assuming Congress survives the Farm Bill fight, lawmakers will move to consider the annual appropriations bill for the U.S. military, a big step in the congressional funding process. The bill proposes to fund the Pentagon for $713 billion in fiscal year 2019.
That’s all from me for this week — thanks for sticking with me. As always, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.