After Self-Created Drama, Trump Signs Omnibus

By John T. Bennett

Who Is Cecil Andrus?

By Jason Dick

With a shakeup in administration staffing, President Donald Trump has purged aides who tried to manage him, replacing them with aides whose hardline instincts he may have to manage, says Roll Call’s White House reporter John T. Bennett.


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President Donald Trump intends to slap new tariffs and other penalties on Chinese goods in response to what U.S. officials contend is Beijing’s practice of stealing technology and companies’ information.

Senior White House officials described Trump as giving Chinese leaders months to alter its practices, only to conclude they have no intention of doing so. Officials said the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations “worked very hard” to improve trade relations with Beijing, but ultimately had only “failed dialogues” to show for those efforts.

“President Trump did his due diligence in inviting the Chinese to the Mar-a-Lago process and engaged,” one of the senior officials said Thursday morning. “We went all the way until August in trying to resolve these through dialogue. … The problem is with the Chinese, talk is not cheap. It’s been very expensive. … The president decided we needed to move forward.”

U.S. and global markets were down ahead of Trump setting the tariffs process in motion.

The administration is eager to use the coming penalties to try to force Chinese officials to cease alleged actions including acquiring all or shares of U.S. firms to obtain data about American technologies they then hand to Chinese firms that then dominate the markets there that depend on those stolen technologies. The penalties will also target China’s alleged habit of crafting licensing terms for specific products to favor domestic firms over American companies.

[Trump v. Biden? President and Former VP Lobby for a Fistfight]

The coming tariffs and penalties, which could total $50 billion, could cool Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has lavished the Chinese president with praise, even breaking with U.S. tradition by endorsing Xi’s aggressive move to become, as Trump put it “president for life.”

The action the White House announced Thursday, once implemented, would be Trump’s harshest move yet against the Asian giant after his 2016 presidential campaign featured daily attacks over China’s trade tactics and bold promises to alter Beijing’s behavior. But just how far the action might go will not be decided for months.

That’s because the White House officials who briefed reporters Thursday morning described the documents Trump will sign around midday as only starting a bureaucratic process to identify Chinese goods that might be slapped with import penalties. That process will take weeks, then the actual tariffs would have to be crafted.

When pressed, the senior officials assured reporters actual tariffs are coming, saying they are required to take the next bureaucratic steps. Trump has directed them to, at the end of the process, penalize the Chinese. The $50 billion figure was selected because officials determined that would offset gains China has made via its trade tactics.

“If China dominates the technologies of the future, it will be very hard for the United States to have an economy of the future,” the official said. “What the United States is doing to defending itself against … economic aggression.”

Watch: Emerging Omnibus Plan Lacking Some Big-Ticket Trump Asks

“Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!” Trump tweeted March 7. Trump wrote that day that he thinks highly of Xi, but contended he has privately pressed his counterpart on a need for the Asian power to alter its trade practices.

China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!

Trump’s coming action against China follows his decision last month to slap tariffs on aluminum and steel imported from all other countries. That move, which angered and frustrated Republican lawmakers who warned of a trade war, was largely aimed at China.

The senior White House official said the Trump team expects this action to be a “unifying” one among Republicans and Democrats.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans urged him to instead take an action within his legal authorities aimed directly at Beijing’s trade practices, which a list of U.S. administrations have questioned.

In true Trump fashion, he decided to do both.

For instance, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch delivered a blistering critique Tuesday of the president’s trade policy, urging the White House to focus on actions to level trade imbalances with countries like China and groups like the European Union. China has a $375 billion trade surplus with the United States.

The Utah Republican told an audience at a Business Roundtable event that “external opponents and internal skeptics” threaten the U.S. economy — a veiled warning about other global actors and the Trump team’s brand of mercantilism, an economic philosophy that had been pushed out of American politics in the post-great wars era.

[With Omnibus, Trump Learning You Can’t Always Get What You Want]

Yet, Hatch and other congressional Republicans ultimately backed down in their brief feud with Trump over his steel and aluminum tariffs. GOP leaders have said they have no plans to move legislation that would lessen their impact or roll them back, handing Trump what he perceives as a big win.

“I have been in the Senate for 42 years, and this is one of the most challenging environments for U.S. trade that I've seen,” Hatch said. “When it comes to trade policy, we’re all seeing the dangerous pitfalls that are currently in our path. They threaten to undermine and undo our recent success. Fortunately, in my view, those pitfalls are avoidable.”

Hatch took aim at China: “Their government and state-owned enterprises have condoned and participated directly in the theft of trade secrets and the violation of intellectual property rights.”

The Xi administration fired back Thursday ahead of Trump’s announcement.

“How many soybeans should China buy that are equal to one Boeing aircraft?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, according to wire reports. “Or, if China buys a certain number of Boeing aircraft should the U.S. buy an equal number of C919s?”

Joe Williams contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

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Congress appears ready to delay action indefinitely on a number of pressing policy issues.

The 2018 omnibus spending bill could be the last major legislative package to advance this year, a reality that spurred members in both chambers to lobby leadership to attach their pet project legislation to it.

“We realize it could be the last vehicle before December that has any kind of momentum,” West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said.

While it’s possible either chamber could pass standalone policy measures, optimism is low that legislation on more controversial issues will clear both the House and Senate, and earn the support of President Donald Trump.

The omnibus does tackle some pressing issues for members like additional funding to help bolster the security of the U.S. electoral system — but provisions related to hot-button topics including health insurance and immigration were not included. And given the hyper-partisan political environment and upcoming midterms, legislation on those issues is not expected to advance in the coming months.

That means delayed action on, among other things, stabilizing the insurance markets created by the 2010 health care law, and addressing the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, possibly until after the November elections or longer.

Despite a last-minute lobbying campaign by the White House to include a short-term DACA extension in the spending bill, it was ultimately rejected amid opposition from both Democrats and Republicans.

But the issue is not going away. And political tensions over the future of the DACA program are likely to increase deeper into election season.

Democrats on the campaign trail will almost certainly continue to put the blame on Trump for trying to end the program, criticize the White House for undermining negotiations on Capitol Hill, and blast congressional Republicans for failing to act.

House Republicans, facing intense backlash from their political base, are likely to continue to oppose any legislation that doesn’t have Trump’s backing or would lead to anything that could be characterized as mass amnesty for millions of undocumented immigrants, like some of the Senate proposals.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who already devoted a week of floor time to the issue that yielded no successful legislative vehicle, has given no indication he plans to schedule another floor debate in the coming months.

While lawmakers and the White House continue to discuss a possible compromise, an ongoing court case on Trump’s decision to terminate the DACA program has taken away some of the urgency to act.

The verdict? Pending a major breakthrough, action on immigration could be punted to next year at the earliest.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander spent months selling the benefits of his health care legislation to his colleagues. The Tennessee Republican touted the potential reductions in premium costs and, along with Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, kept the issue at the forefront of the omnibus discussions over the past few weeks.

Ultimately, the legislation, which would have provided $30 billion to a state reinsurance fund over three years and three years of funding for the so-called cost-sharing subsidies, was not included amid objections from conservative Republicans and Democrats.

And the disagreements on the issue are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

“If this debate about the mechanics of how you apply the Hyde language continues to be the Democrats’ point of view, I don’t see how you can ever change the Affordable Care Act without repealing or replacing it,” Alexander said, referring to the law that prevents federal money from funding abortions.

Some Republicans are loath to take any action to stabilize the insurance markets after failing to fulfill an eight-year campaign promise to overhaul the health care law. And Democrats continue to push back against any legislation that they believe either undermines the current law or doesn’t provide enough federal resources to lower premium costs.

While the White House has signaled support for some of the proposed health measures, the Trump administration can continue to take executive actions to overhaul the law.

The verdict? Another year will come and go without Congress passing any major legislation related to the insurance markets.

Democrats likely lost their last chance to try to force Republicans to pass legislation to ensure the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 elections continues uninterrupted.

No provision was included in the omnibus to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, despite increasing calls from Democrats for such a measure.

Following the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Democrats amped up the pressure on Republicans to pass legislation to shield Mueller from the same fate.

McConnell, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other GOP leaders say they are confident Trump will not fire the special counsel — a move that would surely launch impeachment talks and drive an already chaotic White House to the brink.

“I would love to have seen protection for Mueller, but I’m going to take the majority leader and the vast majority of my Republican colleagues who have commented that they understand … it would be the beginning of the end of this presidency if he were to fire Mueller,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the chamber’s Intelligence panel.

Mueller, who is investigating, among other things, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign, has been in the president’s crosshairs since the investigation launched. Trump, according to media reports, has considered firing Mueller. Recent revelations have even prompted some Republicans to begin speaking out.

“We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel. Don’t create a constitutional crisis,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Trump critic.

The verdict? Congress is unlikely to protect Mueller through legislation. But should Trump do the unthinkable, it would bring Congress to a standstill, cripple the remaining GOP legislative agenda and eclipse everything else in Washington.

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President Donald Trump is hoping to land a U.S. astronaut on Mars during his tenure in the White House, and Congress is prepared to continue to back up that mission.

The fiscal year 2018 spending bill would provide $1.35 billion in funding for the Orion Spacecraft at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The program, which received the same level of funding for fiscal year 2017, is aimed at building a vehicle for deep-space travel, including the Moon and Mars.

“For the first time in a generation, NASA is building a new human spacecraft that will usher in a new era of space exploration,” a fact sheet for the program states. “It will be the safest, most advanced spacecraft ever built, and it will be flexible and capable enough to take us to a variety of destinations.”

NASA, under the omnibus, would receive $4.79 billion in total for space exploration efforts, a $466 million increase over 2017 funding levels.

While the first mission for the Orion spacecraft will be an unmanned journey “miles beyond the moon,” NASA hopes to send humans on the journey in the early 2020s.

Trump last year announced a plan to return U.S. astronauts and eventually Mars.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” he said during a signing ceremony in December. “It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use.”

NASA is still without a Senate-confirmed leader. The chamber has yet to approve Rep. Jim Bridenstine — an Oklahoma Republican who is Trump’s pick to lead the agency, although he is on the Executive Calendar awaiting floor consideration.

In a letter sent on Tuesday, 61 House lawmakers, led by Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer to swiftly confirm Bridenstine.

“It would be a travesty to America’s space program for it to remain leaderless at this critical time when America’s space industry is making rapid advances that will set the course of space leadership for decades to come,” the members wrote. “We urge the Senate to confirm Jim Bridenstine swiftly and allow him to lead the world’s premier space agency into the next age of space exploration.”

Watch: McConnell: Omnibus Not ‘Perfect’ But Contains Victories

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Tucked away on one of the 2,232 pages of the omnibus spending bill Congress sent to President Donald Trump’s desk early Friday morning is a provision to ban federal funding for a group called the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.

ACORN does not exist, however, and hasn’t since 2009.

The group worked to register poor people to vote and to push for social services like expanded Medicaid and affordable housing. After Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, House Republicans accused ACORN of running a mass voter fraud campaign and swinging the Oval Office to Obama. No evidence of voter fraud was ever found.

Still, Republicans — and many Democrats — voted to end federal funding to the organization in the 2009 spending package. ACORN dissolved shortly after that, but the language prohibiting funds to the group snuck its way into this year’s bill nearly a decade later.

“I don’t remember this ever being discussed one time,” Rep. Tom Coletold HuffPost. “It wasn’t discussed at a hearing. I don’t remember it being discussed at any meeting with my Democratic colleagues and counterparts who negotiated the bill.”

The Oklahoma Republican said staffers may have inserted the ACORN provision in this year’s package after lifting portions of text from previous years’ spending deals.

The text reads: “None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.”

ACORN does not have “affiliates,” “subsidiaries,” or “allied organizations” because it no longer exists. Corporate and nonprofit law do not define the term “successor,” Huffpost reported.

“They did it in!” Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut quipped about her Republican colleagues defunding a nonexistent organization, according to Huffpost.

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I have often believed that Nancy Pelosi is the only real man in Washington.

She’s got skin thicker than a rhinoceros. She raises money like a hedge fund chairman. Her personal ambitions are as obvious as they are legendary and, unlike the male congressional leaders before her and around her, she never, never, never gives up.

I vividly remember a day in 2009 when it seemed like the Affordable Care Act might not get across the finish line. Harry Reid was running into roadblocks in the Senate and President Barack Obama wasn’t exactly signaling confidence from the White House.

But Pelosi insisted health care reform was happening. “If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll use a parachute. We’re going to get health care passed.”

Around that time, I asked Pelosi about something a female senator had said — that for a woman to be in politics, she needs to know how to take a punch. Pelosi added with a smile, “And you have to know how to throw a punch, too.”

Ask any Democrat in her caucus. This is no Disney princess.

That, along with tens of millions of dollars in ads run against her and never countered by Democrats, may be why Republicans have been so successful in demonizing Pelosi and making her the best campaign foil money can buy.

As far back as 2010, when the GOP ran $60 million worth of anti-Pelosi ads against Democrats, the Republican National Committee’s go-to message has been urging their voters to help unseat her. “40 Votes Means No More Madame Speaker,” one particularly memorable fundraising pitch read. Democrats lost 63 seats and the majority that year.

So is a leader like Pelosi, so vilified on the right, worth keeping around for the Democrats? Her allies, of course, say yes, and offer up the many examples of what she’s already done. They say she’s raised a lot of money for Democrats, and they’re not kidding. Over the course of her time in leadership, Pelosi has raised more than half a billion dollars, $643.5 million to be specific.

They also point to the fact that she’s the best “vote counter” in Washington. But counting votes doesn’t fully describe what she’s been able to do with the help of the Democratic Caucus since she’s led it.

While House Republicans have more than earned their John Boehner tag as “frogs in a wheelbarrow,” House Democrats delivered on their priorities in the majority and have mostly stayed unified in the minority, extracting as much power as possible from the numbers they have.

Take climate change, for example.

While progressives and Democrats routinely mock GOP members as “anti-science” for their failure to even acknowledge climate change, Pelosi and the House Democrats have been the only legislative body ever to do anything about it by passing the cap-and-trade bill in 2009. Democrats lost their House majority the next year, with the bill getting part of the blame. But Democrats lost the Senate, too, which never passed any climate legislation at all.

Compare Pelosi to the last five speakers and see who ranks as the most effective.

Former Speaker Tom Foley lost his own House seat in Washington state on his way out the door. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich passed significant legislation with Bill Clinton before he led the impeachment against him, only to be pushed out by his troops in a blaze of disloyalty after just four years.

The sad story of Dennis Hastert is well known, as was the reality that the real power center of the House at the time was shared with GOP leader Tom DeLay.

Boehner tried hard to keep his caucus in line, but there’s only so much a man can do with people who don’t want to follow him.

And Speaker Paul Ryan managed to pass his cherished tax cut bill, but has often found his agenda hijacked by conservatives and the president’s tweet-of-the-day, not the other way around.

Watch: Thunderous Applause as House Passes Tax Overhaul

It’s no surprise that after 13 years with Pelosi at the top, the grumbling among House Democrats for fresh blood would kick up in earnest. But it’s hard to find the instigators of the coup if it’s coming.

Several Democrats tell me that any Pelosi successor is expected to lord over the stewing family feud that Pelosi has managed to keep mostly under wraps.

“Whoever it is is going to get eaten alive by the caucus,” one Democrat told me. So the job that the truly ambitious members want is to be Pelosi’s  successor once the dust settles.

There’s also concern among Democrats that if a majority materializes in November, no other leader can step in and be ready to go up against Trump on Day One. Pelosi, on the other hand, seems to have been training her whole life for this. And would anyone be more unsavory to the president as a rival across the table than a liberal woman? The Resistance might enjoy what they see.

But there’s one more reason that it’s not time for Democrats to toss Pelosi out, and they have Republicans to thank for this one. Take out your chess board and add a third dimension, because Pelosi’s value as a campaign foil has been so fortified by millions of dollars of GOP spending that it now works for Democratic hopefuls too.

Would Conor Lamb have won his seat without dumping on Pelosi? It certainly didn’t hurt him. There are lots of other Lambs in the field for Dems to capitalize on.

Even if 10, 20 or 30 new members all promised to oppose her, Pelosi would still have the votes to get back the gavel for herself and the party. The reality is that the path back to the majority might be straight over Pelosi’s back. But she is one of the few people in Washington tough enough to handle it and ambitious enough to accept it in service to a return to the top.

Watch: Pelosi: Lamb Win in Republican District a ‘Tremendous Victory’


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