The House will return Tuesday, and stay in session through Friday. The Senate will return Monday, and stay in session through Thursday.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House came back to work last Monday, and voted to pass two bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 5192, the Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act, by a vote of 420-1.
On Wednesday, the House passed a Rule for considering H.R. 5444, the Taxpayer First Act, and H.R. 5445, the 21st Century IRS Act. Then the House passed both bills – H.R. 5445, the 21st Century IRS Act, passed by a vote of 414-3, and then H.R. 5444, the Taxpayer First Act, passed by a vote of 414-0.
Then the House took up and passed H.R. 2905, the Justice for Victims of IRS Scams and Identity Theft Act of 2018, by a vote of 403-3.
And then they were done. On Wednesday, as I predicted last week. And they left town.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House will come back to work on Tuesday, with the first votes scheduled for 6:30 PM.
At that time, the House will try to take up six bills under Suspension of the Rules.
On Wednesday, the House will host French President Emmanuel Macron.
On Thursday and Friday, the House will consider H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, and H.R. 3144, to provide for operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System pursuant to a certain operation plan for a specified period of time.
And they will also try to take up H.R. 5447, the Music Modernization Act, under Suspension of the Rules.
And then they’ll be done.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned to work last Monday and attempted to invoke cloture on the motion to concur in the House amendment to S. 140, a bill about Tribal Labor Sovereignty. The motion to invoke cloture failed by a vote of 55-41.
Then, on Wednesday, the Senate did something highly significant – it voted to extend the Congressional Review Act to a “guidance,” not a rule, that had been issued in 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding auto loans. This episode marks the first time that the Congressional Review Act has been used to overturn a guidance, which apparently has the same effect as a rule, but isn’t subject to public comment when it’s issued. The vote to overturn the guidance was 51-47.
More importantly, it’s the first time Congress has used the CRA to overturn a regulatory issue because it had not been properly submitted to Congress in the first place. Remember, the CRA allows Congress and the President to overturn a regulatory decision within 60 legislative days of its issuance – but it also requires agencies to inform Congress of its proposed rules. And the 60-day clock does not start ticking until the agencies do so. So, in this case, the CFPB had never informed Congress of its proposed rule, and that meant that the 60-day clock had not run out, because it had never begun.
This opens the door to the Trump Administration and Congress working together to overturn many, many more regulations than had previously been thought available.
Then the Senate returned to S. 140, and tried again, but failed again, to invoke cloture. The failed vote was 56-42.
Later Wednesday, the Senate voted by 50-48 to invoke cloture on the nomination of Congressman James Bridenstine to be Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Then the Senate voted to confirm Carlos Muniz to be general counsel of the Department of Education. The vote to confirm was 55-43.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to confirm James Bridenstine to serve as NASA Administrator. The vote to confirm was 50-49.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate will return on Monday, with the first vote set for 5:30 PM. That will be a vote on a motion to invoke cloture on the nomination of Stuart Duncan to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Senate tried but failed twice last week to invoke cloture on the motion to concur in the House amendment to S. 140, so that may be on this week’s agenda.
In addition, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has announced his intention to hold a committee vote Monday afternoon on the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state.
And on Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is scheduled to hold a vote on a bill that would make it more difficult for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Majority Leader McConnell says that bill will never see a floor vote – as he points out, it would be silly to expect President Trump to sign it – but Grassley says McConnell does not control what happens in the Judiciary Committee, so he’s going to go ahead with a vote.
This is not a case of Chairman Grassley thumbing his nose at Leader McConnell. Last year, there were three different bills to protect Mueller circulating. Grassley asked the three principal sponsors to work together to bring him one bill, and he promised them a vote in committee if they succeeded in merging their bills together. They succeeded, so Grassley is following through on his promise.
The Penny Plan – in which the federal budget is balanced by means of a simple, one-penny-on-the-dollar spending reduction each year for five years – was reintroduced in both House and Senate last week.
In the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul of KY took advantage of Senate rules that say if the leadership and the Senate Budget Committee have not reported out a budget by April 1, any senator can do it. On Wednesday, he did just that, introducing S.Con.Res. 37, a privileged resolution that he may be able to force to the floor of the Senate.
In the House, South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford introduced H.R. 5572, the One Percent Spending Reduction Act of 2018. The bill was co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert, Paul Gosar, Walter Jones, Thomas Massie, Mark Meadows, Gary Palmer, and Scott DesJarlais.
Week Two of former FBI Director James Comey’s book tour continued, and it was no better than the first. The former G-Man was challenged on ethical leadership at a book-signing event at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan. But that wasn’t the most surprising thing about the book tour last week – I think the most surprising thing was the pushback Comey got from liberal cable TV hosts he and his publisher had expected would be in his back pocket, helping him flog book sales.
Instead, he got a fair amount of criticism about his choice to “lower” himself to the president’s level by writing about the president’s hand size, skin tone, and hair. One host actually suggested he seemed rather “catty” in his choice to write about such topics, and that seemed to throw Comey off his game, at least a bit.
On Thursday evening, though, the game changed, when the Department of Justice released the seven memos Comey wrote about his meetings and conversations with President Trump. I’ve included a link to the memos in the Suggested Reading, and I suggest you take the time to read them. They’re only 15 pages total, and they’re illuminating.
From those memos, we learned some interesting things:
First, as Bob Goodlatte, Trey Gowdy, and Devin Nunes – the chairmen, respectively, of the House Judiciary Committee, Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence – wrote, the memos establish that, “the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier. The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened. While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation.”
Second, we learned that not only is Comey an acknowledged leaker – which we’ve known for quite some time, since he last year acknowledged leaking four memos to a friend of his, in the expectation that the memos would then be leaked to the media – but we also learned that he lied to the president of the United States, when he wrote that he told President Trump directly, “I explained that he could count on me to always tell him the truth. I said I don’t do sneaky things, I don’t leak, I don’t do weasel moves.” In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the Department of Justice Inspector General is now conducting a review because “at least two of the memos that Mr. Comey gave [his friend] contained classified information, contrary to Mr. Comey’s claim that it was all unclassified.”
Third, we learned that President Trump’s famous request for “loyalty” came in a larger context related to FBI leaks. That is, it was not, as has been previously reported, a request for personal loyalty from Comey to Trump, but a plea for institutional loyalty, and an end to leaks from the FBI.
Fourth, we learned that President Trump’s request that Director Comey find a way to “let this go” with respect to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn wasn’t a request to Comey to turn a blind eye to a crime, it was instead President Trump making the argument that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in the first place. And if President Trump didn’t believe Flynn had done anything wrong in the first place, it’s hard to then argue that he was trying to obstruct justice by asking Comey to overlook Flynn’s wrongdoing.
Fifth, we learned that former Obama Director of National Intelligence Adm. James Clapper is the one who pushed Comey to hang back and brief President-Elect Trump individually on the existence and the contents of the so-called “Steele Dossier.” Now, this is really important – as Comey informed the president-elect at the time, the media had had the dossier for months, and had been trying desperately to figure out a way they could get the allegations into print. They couldn’t just publish a story revealing the existence of the dossier and then reporting its allegations, because the allegations were so sensational, and none of them had been verified, and without at least some modicum of verification, no major outlet was willing to cross that journalistic ethics line. Christopher Steele himself had briefed reporters from several news organizations in the late September/early October 2016 time frame, in the weeks leading up to the election. Only Mike Isikoff of Yahoo! News and David Corn of Mother Jones bit. But the major establishment media outlets – The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the broadcast networks news divisions, and major cable news outlets – wouldn’t report the story until they had what Comey described as a “news hook.” A “news hook” is an event of some distinction – a statement by a principal, or an action of some kind, or, in this case, a briefing. The very fact that the FBI Director briefed the president-elect of the United States on the contents of a file folder became a legitimate way for the mainstream news media outlets to report, for the first time, the existence of the file, in the context of reporting on Comey’s briefing the file to the president-elect. And once that was done, it was only a matter of hours before BuzzFeed decided to publish the entire contents of the file folder online. And once THAT was done, all the major mainstream media outlets figured it was already out there, available to the public, so they might as well inform THEIR readers on THEIR platforms. And that’s how the contents of the Steele Dossier became public.
We’ve known for quite some time that Comey was the intelligence community chief who briefed the president-elect on the existence and the contents of the Steele Dossier. He was the only member of the Obama-era intelligence community leadership who was going to stick around for the new administration – both CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence Adm. James Clapper were planning to leave government during the transition period. So it made sense that Comey was the one to linger behind, after a meeting, and brief the president-elect privately.
But what we did not know before the release of the Comey memos was that Clapper was the one who pushed Comey to brief the president-elect, which, given Clapper’s new career as a CNN on-air contributor, raises the question – did Clapper deliberately set up Comey to brief the president-elect FOR THE PURPOSE OF CREATING A NEWS HOOK that could then be leaked to a major media outlet, so they could get the Steele Dossier and its contents out in public?
I don’t know the answer to that. And I’m not sure how one would investigate to determine the answer to that question. Clapper would certainly deny it. But he’s already been caught telling untruths to Congress, so I don’t know that I’d accept his word at face value on this.
As I said, it was not a good week for James Comey.
The Justice Department Inspector General believes he’ll be finished with his report on the FBI and DOJ’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation next month. He’s been asked to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 8.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that that very same DOJ Inspector General had sent a criminal referral of his finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had lied under oath to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. That U.S. Attorney will determine whether McCabe will be charged with a crime.
Though we only learned of the criminal referral Thursday, the referral itself apparently took place some time ago.
Lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. And it’s serious. This is what Martha Stewart and Bernie Madoff and Rod Blagojevich went to jail for.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court – with Trump-appointed Justice Neal Gorsuch voting with the four liberal Justices to create a 5-4 majority – ruled in favor of an immigrant threatened with deportation after two first-degree burglary convictions. The Supreme Court ruled that the convictions did not qualify as legitimate grounds for removal because the law’s definition of a “crime of violence” was too vague.
Not surprisingly, President Trump weighed in shortly thereafter, tweeting his demand that Congress remove loopholes and pass a legislative fix “to ensure violent criminal aliens can be removed from our society.”
Speaker Ryan is forgotten, but not gone. The attention has shifted to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, but – and this is a big but – they’re not the only two trying to figure out how to take the Speaker’s gavel.
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, one of the founders and former chairmen of the House Freedom Caucus, is one of those trying to figure out if he can put together a coalition to get to 218. That’s something we would support wholeheartedly, and we’ve got a petition supporting Jim Jordan for the job of Speaker. If you haven’t yet signed it, please consider doing that.
Not surprisingly, there are also rumblings out of the Texas delegation, which, with 24 members of the House GOP Conference, is the largest GOP delegation in Washington. Two Texans to keep your eye on – Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Mike Conway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Two items of note on the North Korea front this week:
First, we learned on Tuesday evening that CIA Director and Secretary of State designee Mike Pompeo, at the behest of President Trump, visited Pyongyang over Easter weekend to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in advance of a possible U.S.-North Korea summit meeting in May or June. In a sense, the president isn’t even waiting for Pompeo to be confirmed to his new position in the president’s cabinet – on this mission, he was acting as a secretary of state would, representing the President of the United States in the most sensitive international negotiations we know of. And in doing so, the president put the Democrats between a rock and a hard place – if Pompeo is now denied confirmation, that could lead to the collapse of the discussions with North Korea, and Democrats would bear the blame for torpedoing talks aimed at removing nuclear weapons from North Korea’s arsenal.
Then, on Friday night, Kim Jong Un announced that North Korea would no longer test nuclear weapons or the intercontinental ballistic missiles which would carry them, and he promised to shut down the testing site where the last six nuclear tests took place. Experts were divided in their assessments of the significance of this move – several pointed out that the statement contained no promise of denuclearization, while others suggested it implied exactly that.
I think we would be wise to keep our eye on this going forward. As I read the statement, it does not contain a promise of denuclearization – and the tone itself is almost braggadocios, as if Kim is saying he’s not going to test anymore because he doesn’t need to test anymore. He wants to be accepted into the club of nuclear powers, and I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll give away his nuclear weapons capability for free. He may give them away – or SAY he’s giving them away – in exchange for something else he wants, but I don’t think it makes sense to think he’s going to give them away for free.
So we’ll stay tuned.
In days gone by, Mike Pompeo’s trip to North Korea on behalf of President Trump would have cinched his confirmation vote. Democrats running for reelection in red states wouldn’t have dared vote against him.
But these are no longer the days of old, and the left-wing base of the #resistance is putting a ton of pressure on Senate Democrats to do everything they can to obstruct President Trump’s agenda. And when it comes to filling out Trump’s cabinet, that means voting against the confirmation of current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state this week.
Democrats are now considering a scheme to try to deny Pompeo a floor vote by voting to kill his nomination in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I don’t want to get bogged down in the weeds here, so let’s just say for now that just because one Democrat – Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota – has said she’s prepared to vote for Pompeo on the floor does not mean he’s out of the woods yet. He could be blocked in the Foreign Relations Committee, which would then require Majority Leader McConnell to use a nuclear option to bring the nomination to the floor.
This is not about Mike Pompeo’s qualifications. He graduated first in his class at the United States Military Academy, then graduated from Harvard Law School before serving in the U.S. Army and going into business before getting himself elected to Congress and then serving on the House Intelligence Committee and as CIA Director. He’s clearly qualified.
For Democrats, this is about denying President Trump something he wants. And for most of the Republicans who have indicated difficulty with the nomination, this is about what they view as President Trump’s foreign policy and national security overreach – most recently, in their view, in his decision to fire missiles at Syria without official congressional authorization. In the case of Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, it’s apparently about restrictions on travel to Cuba.
So this is not yet a done deal. We expect Pompeo’s nomination to see floor action this week, but that will only happen when Majority Leader McConnell believes he has the votes to confirm Pompeo.
House Speaker Paul Ryan declared last Tuesday that the House would vote this year to make permanent the individual tax cuts included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. You’ll recall that while the corporate rate cuts contained in that bill were permanent, the reductions in individual tax rates were set to expire in 2026.
But don’t expect that bill to go anywhere in the Senate. That’s because Majority Leader McConnell sees no reason to give red state Democrats a chance to go on the record voting to cut taxes just months before their reelections, especially when Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could easily let eight of his red state Democrats vote for the procedural motion that would allow them to demonstrate support for tax cuts without actually letting the tax cuts on the floor.
Do the math. Since the bill will not have the protection of reconciliation instructions, it will have to surpass the 60-vote threshold to be considered in the Senate. Schumer has 49 votes, which gives him eight votes to spare. He could let eight red state Democrats running for reelection vote to invoke cloture and STILL be able to keep the bill off the floor. The end result would be eight red state Democrats who would just have been given a free pass on a tax cut vote, without getting the benefit of their votes to actually cut taxes.
So, don’t expect to see that bill move to the floor of the Senate if it passes the House.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: