Washington Brief: Background-Checks Bill in Senate Faces Hurdles on Both Sides of the Aisle

Top Stories

  • Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would encourage states and federal agencies to submit criminal-conviction records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ran into new hurdles, raising doubts over the ability of Congress respond to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Some Democrats suggested they might withhold their support amid worries Republicans would not pass other gun-control measures, while some conservative Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky raised concerns over the appeal process for people flagged under a strengthened background check system. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • White House communications director Hope Hicks is scheduled to be interviewed privately by the House Intelligence Committee today as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to two unnamed House officials. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said the panel wants to ask her questions about events and conversations during her time on Trump’s campaign and as part of the administration. (Bloomberg)
  • A special primary election is being held today in Arizona’s 8th District to select the candidates to run in an April 27 special election to replace former Rep. Trent Franks (R), who resigned in December amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Former state Sens. Steve Montenegro and Debbie Lesko are the frontrunners among the dozen GOP candidates, while two Democrats are seeking their party’s nod. (The Associated Press)
  • Chris McDaniel, a Republican state senator in Mississippi, is expected to announce this week that he will challenge Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) for the Republican nomination for Senate this year, according to two unnamed sources. McDaniel ran an unsuccessful campaign for the party’s nomination for Senate in 2014 against Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). (Politico)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Sens. Cornyn, Hatch, governors participate in U.S. Chamber of Commerce Invest in America Summit 8 a.m.
CBO director testifies at House Budget Committee hearing 10 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on energy infrastructure 10 a.m.
Sens. Carper, Merkley participate in Electric Drive Transportation Association event 12 p.m.
Sen. Peters, Rep. Walden participate in Axios event on self-driving cars 8 a.m.
Sen. Coons participates in Hudson Institute event on foreign policy 11:30 a.m.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts aviation summit 7 a.m.
Reps. Fitzpatrick, Guthrie, Kuster participate in U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on opioid crisis 8:30 a.m.
Fed’s Powell testifies at Senate Banking Committee hearing 10 a.m.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on infrastructure framework 10 a.m.
No events scheduled

A data-driven look at the future of mobility

An exclusive look at new survey research data that explores consumer receptivity to auto industry innovations, including electric and self-driving cars, energy sources, and even auto insurance.


U.N. Links North Korea to Syria’s Chemical Weapon Program
Michael Schwirtz, The New York Times

North Korea has been shipping supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons, United Nations experts contend. The supplies include acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, according to a report by United Nations investigators.

State Department point man on North Korea, Joe Yun, to retire Friday
Anna Fifield, The Washington Post

The State Department’s point-man on North Korea, Joseph Yun, will leave his post on Friday, even as there are glimmers of hope that Pyongyang might finally be willing to sit down for talks with Washington. Yun, 63, is retiring as special representative for North Korea policy and deputy assistant secretary for Korea and Japan after more than three decades of service.

Supreme Court Hears Case on Public-Sector Union Fees
Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal

The power of public-sector unions hung in jeopardy Monday after Supreme Court arguments put front and center the raw politics behind a dispute over payroll deductions that support collective bargaining. Justice Anthony Kennedy ticked off an agenda he suggested public-sector unions bring when they bargain with state and local government: “for a greater size workforce, against privatization, against merit promotion, for teacher tenure, for higher wages, for massive government, for increasing bonded indebtedness, for increasing taxes.”  

Education Department Launches Investigation Into How MSU Handled Larry Nassar Abuse
Alanna Vagianos, HuffPost

The Education Department announced on Monday that it will open an investigation into Michigan State University and how the school handled reports of child sexual abuse involving former doctor Larry Nassar. “This new Title IX investigation will look at systemic issues in the University’s handling of sex-based incidents involving Dr. Larry Nassar,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a press release.   

Housing official says she was replaced for rejecting Carson’s costly office redecoration
Jon Swaine and Ben Jacobs, The Guardian

A senior career official in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has alleged that she was demoted and replaced with a Donald Trump appointee after refusing to break the law by funding an expensive redecoration of Ben Carson’s office. Helen Foster said she was told “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” after informing her bosses this was the legal price limit for improvements to the HUD secretary’s suite at the department’s Washington headquarters.


Trump to host Macron for first state visit since taking office
Lisa Hagen, The Hill

The White House confirmed Monday that French President Emmanuel Macron has been invited for the first state visit of President Trump’s administration. Macron and first lady Brigitte Macron will visit the the White House on April 24, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at Monday’s briefing.

Bizarre legal brawl intensifies at Trump hotel in Panama
Joshua Partlow and David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post

Last Thursday afternoon, the majority owner of the Trump International Hotel here in Panama arrived unexpectedly in the building’s swank Sky Lobby with an entourage. He wanted to fire the Trump Organization, which has managed the hotel since it opened in 2011.

Trump’s Tax Cuts in Hand, Companies Spend More on Themselves Than on Wages
Matt Phillips, The New York Times

President Trump promised that his tax cut would encourage companies to invest in factories, workers and wages, setting off a spending spree that would reinvigorate the American economy. Companies have announced plans for some of those investments.


Background-Checks Bill Runs Into Hurdles in Congress
Kristina Peterson and Michael C. Bender, The Wall Street Journal

Legislation designed to improve background checks for gun purchases ran into new hurdles Monday, raising doubts about lawmakers’ ability to act in the wake of the Florida school shooting. The background-checks bill, sponsored  by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), would encourage states and federal agencies, including the military, to submit criminal-conviction records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

Fate of Manchin-Toomey background check proposal hinges on Trump, lawmaker says
Cristiano Lima, Politico

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Monday the fate of a bipartisan bill to expand background checks on gun sales that repeatedly failed to pass through the Senate is now in the hands of President Donald Trump. Manchin expressed an openness to revive the proposal, which would expand firearm background checks to include online sales and gun shows, but said the proposal would need backing from the White House to gain traction in Congress.

GOP showdown: McDaniel expected to challenge Wicker for Senate
Alex Isenstadt, Politico

Mississippi Republican Chris McDaniel is expected to announce later this week that he will wage a 2018 primary challenge against GOP Sen. Roger Wicker, according to two people briefed on his plans. McDaniel, a conservative state senator who waged an unsuccessful 2014 primary against longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, has scheduled a rally on Wednesday afternoon in Ellsville, Miss.


Hope Hicks to Appear Before House Intelligence Panel, Officials Say
Billy House, Bloomberg

White House communications director Hope Hicks is scheduled to be interviewed privately Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to two House officials familiar with the matter. Her appearance before the committee is scheduled for 10 a.m., said the officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss the plans.

Sex, campaign funding scandals dog US House race in Arizona
Bob Christie and Anita Snow, The Associated Press 

Sex-related and campaign funding allegations involving several top candidates have captured much of the attention in the Republican primary to replace a U.S. congressman from Arizona who quit amid charges of sexual misconduct last year. Because the state relies heavily on mail-in ballots completed before the revelations against two of the lead contenders surfaced, it’s unknown how much of an impact they will have on Tuesday’s special contest to replace Rep. Trent Franks in the 8th Congressional District.

Most House Democrats get behind effort for new assault-weapons ban
David Weigel, The Washington Post

A supermajority of House Democrats — 156 members of the 193-member conference — have signed on to a new bill that would restore and build on the expired ban on “assault weapons.” The legislation, introduced by Reps. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), gained support over the weekend as most Democrats were at home in their districts.

After Florida shooting, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas proposes funding metal detectors in schools
Rishika Dugyala, The Texas Tribune 

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said Monday she’ll introduce legislation to create a federal grant program for schools interested in installing metal detectors after the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting that took 17 lives. In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Granger said the proposal — which she hopes to submit by the end of next week — would fully fund the installation for schools that have their detailed security plans approved by federal officials.


Twenty states sue federal government, seeking end to Obamacare
Eric Beech, Reuters

A coalition of 20 U.S. states sued the federal government on Monday over Obamacare, claiming the law was no longer constitutional after the repeal last year of its requirement that people have health insurance or pay a fine. Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, which was eliminated as part of the Republican tax law signed by President Donald Trump in December, Obamacare was unlawful.

Washington governor confronts Trump at White House
Jordan Fabian, The Hill 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) confronted President Trump on Monday over his proposal to arm educators in order to prevent future school shootings. Inslee stood and objected to the controversial idea during a meeting with the nation’s governors at the White House, telling Trump that law enforcement agencies and instructors are both alarmed by the idea of teachers “packing heat” around young children.

Rick Scott gets gun control makeover
Marc Caputo, Politico

Florida Gov. Rick Scott broke with President Donald Trump over the question of gun-toting educators. He’s ticked off the National Rifle Association. Suddenly, he’s in good graces with the state teachers union, his longtime adversary.  

Missouri House forms panel to investigate Gov. Greitens
David A. Lieb and Jim Salter, The Associated Press

The Missouri House formed a special panel of seven lawmakers on Monday to investigate Gov. Eric Greitens following an invasion-of-privacy charge alleging he took a nonconsensual photo of a woman in a compromising position. The committee, which will have subpoena powers, will determine whether to initiate impeachment proceedings against the Republican governor to try to remove him from office.

Indicted Maryland senator is stripped of his committee assignments
Ovetta Wiggins, The Washington Post

Maryland Sen. Nathaniel Oaks (D-Baltimore City), who is facing federal corruption charges, was stripped of his committee assignments on Monday night following an inquiry by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. Oaks, who did not attend Monday’s session, will no longer serve on the Senate Finance Committee.  

Ex-Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco gets one charge tossed in corruption case
Victoria Bekiempis, New York Daily News

The federal judge presiding over former Gov. Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco’s corruption case has thrown out one of the counts against him. Manhattan Federal Judge Valerie Caproni decided Monday to dismiss a count alleging that Percoco used his official power to get bribes from Syracuse developers Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, in exchange for favors.

Holder group sues Walker for not holding elections in Wisconsin
Edward-Isaac Dovere, Politico

The National Redistricting Foundation sued Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin on Monday for not holding special elections for two state Legislature seats. The seats, left vacant by an assemblyman and state senator who resigned in December to take jobs in Walker’s Republican administration, will otherwise remain open until January 2019, following the regularly scheduled elections for the seats in November.  


Luther Strange makes play to return to D.C.
Andrew Restuccia and Daniel Strauss, Politico

Voters sent Luther Strange back to Alabama last year, but the former senator is quietly plotting a return to Washington. Strange, who had been appointed to the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions but was defeated by Roy Moore in the Republican primary in September, has been on the hunt for a job in Washington over the past few weeks, according to three people familiar with his plans.

Bipartisanship through beer
Megan R. Wilson, The Hill

“You have to be patient,” Craig Purser, the chief executive of the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) says, admiring the thick layer of foam on top of the beer in his glass and noting the sensory benefits that come along with it. People don’t realize that, Purser adds as he leans against his in-office bar, watching the froth slowly recede.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Railroads Provide Infrastructure Example
John J. Lee and Andy Schor, Morning Consult

Over the next two weeks, the nation’s transportation secretaries and county commissioners will meet in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues of mutual concern and make their voices heard to Congress. One issue of great importance to each of these groups is infrastructure—the state of America’s roadways, bridges, airports and waterways.

How Republicans Can Win the Midterms
Charlie Mahtesian, Politico

There are so many signs of a coming rout in the House in November that’s it’s almost impossible to envision any way for Republicans to hang onto their 24-seat majority. And yet a faint outline of how the party might pull it off is nevertheless taking shape.

California’s Democratic Tea Party
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

Democrats are having their Tea Party moment, if that isn’t unfair to the Tea Party. The Democratic Party is moving sharply left in response to President Trump, as activists look to purge politicians they don’t think are partisan or progressive enough.

We All Must Live With Mitch McConnell’s Proudest Moment
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

Remember when the Senate confirmed Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, the veteran federal appeals court judge, to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly two years ago this month? It was a brilliant tactical move by Mr. Obama — picking a moderate, widely respected jurist who had won the highest praise from top Republicans, and giving the court a majority of Democratic-appointed justices for the first time in nearly half a century.

The Nunes memo continues to backfire
Editorial Board, The Washington Post

Republicans have conducted a campaign of misdirection and innuendo in a partisan effort to help President Trump discredit the Justice Department and the FBI. There was already ample evidence of this before Saturday.

Research Reports and Polling

Public Split on Basic Income for Workers Replaced by Robots
RJ Reinhart, Gallup 

Americans are split in their support for a hypothetical universal basic income (UBI) program that would guarantee a minimum income for workers who lose their jobs because of advances in artificial intelligence (AI). Forty-eight percent support and 52% oppose a UBI program for workers who are displaced by technology.