Washington Brief: Confirmation Hearing for Gorsuch Starts Today

Washington Brief

  • Judge Neil Gorsuch will face lawmakers for public questioning today as his Supreme Court confirmation hearing begins in the Senate Judiciary Committee. While Republicans say his nomination will sail through, Democrats are likely to target him with questions on issues like President Donald Trump’s travel ban. (The New York Times)
  • The House Intelligence Committee will hold a public hearing today to discuss allegations of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey is scheduled to testify. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • A judge in Hawaii rejected the Justice Department’s request to narrow the scope of an injunction to block only a provision that would bar entry to the United States for citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries. (Politico)
  • Amid the absence of top deputies at Cabinet agencies, the White House has installed at least 16 political aides at departments to serve as Trump’s eyes and ears. (The Washington Post)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Monday
House Intelligence Committee hearing with FBI’s Comey, NSA’s Rogers 10 a.m.
Confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Gorsuch 11 a.m.
Senate convenes 12 p.m.
AEI event with Bret Baier 12:30 p.m.
House convenes 2 p.m.
House Rules Committee meets on GOP health care plan 5 p.m.
Tuesday
Brookings event with Rep. Schiff on protecting liberal democracy 10 a.m.
Wednesday
Confirmation hearing for Labor secretary nominee Alex Acosta 9 a.m.
Heritage event on school choice 12:30 p.m.
Thursday
Confirmation hearing for SEC nominee Jay Clayton 9:30 a.m.
Pfizer CEO speaks at the National Press Club 12:30 p.m.
Friday
No events scheduled

 

General

Hawaii judge declines to narrow travel ban injunction
Josh Gerstein, Politico 

A federal judge in Hawaii who issued a temporary restraining order against key parts of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban last week has turned down a Justice Department request to narrow the injunction. In a ruling Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson rejected a federal government motion asking the judge to limit his injunction to the portion of the travel ban executive order that restricts travel to the U.S. by citizens of six majority-Muslim countries.

Divisions on Trade Dominate G-20 Global Summit
Ian Talley, The Wall Street Journal 

World finance chiefs struggled during a weekend of tense talks to find common ground on boosting trade in a global economy that is finally showing faint signs of momentum. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, rejecting a concerted effort by rivals here, got finance officials to drop a disavowal of protectionism from a closely watched policy statement issued by the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations.

Transcript: Independent Journal Review’s Sit-Down Interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Erin McPike, Independent Journal Review

In his first sit-down interview since becoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson spoke with Independent Journal Review’s Erin McPike about the challenges of American diplomacy with China, the imminent threat of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, and his reasoning behind his limited press access.

Presidential

White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to be Trump’s eyes and ears
Lisa Rein and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post 

The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials. At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation.

Trump’s winning Supreme Court move? Staying out of it
Annie Karni, Politico 

President Donald Trump brags that his White House runs like a “fine-tuned machine,” even as it finds itself embroiled in an intra-party health care fight, internal divisions and legal setbacks to its immigration ban. One action, however, is moving along smoothly: the nomination and confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Using Special Forces Against Terrorism, Trump Seeks to Avoid Big Ground Wars
Eric Schmitt, The New York Times 

From Yemen to Syria to here in Central Africa, the Trump administration is relying on Special Operations forces to intensify its promised fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups as senior officials embrace an Obama-era strategy to minimize the American military’s footprint overseas. In Africa, President Trump is expected to soon approve a Pentagon proposal to remove constraints on Special Operations airstrikes and raids in parts of Somalia to target suspected militants with the Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda.

Trump preparing to confront China over cars
Jonathan Swan, Axios 

Senior White House officials are quietly preparing to confront China over what they consider unfair practices in the auto industry. It’s a move that could profoundly disrupt relations between the superpowers.

Trump’s budget would cut funding for Appalachia — and his allies in coal country are livid
Brad Plumer, Vox 

During the campaign, Donald Trump billed himself as the “last shot” for coal country. He alone could save regions like Appalachia that had long suffered from poverty and dwindling coal jobs.

Senate

Gorsuch Confirmation Presents Democrats With 2 Difficult Paths
Carl Hulse, The New York Times 

When it comes to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, Senate Democrats appear to have two options: Get out of the way or get run over. Senate Republicans’ enthusiastic backing of President Trump’s nominee ensures majority support even before the confirmation hearing begins Monday.

Russia Inquiries Overlap in a Tangle of Secrets and Sniping
Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times

Russia’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election has spawned a tangle of inquiries with competing agendas and timetables, and with little agreement on the most important things that should be investigated. Staff members for the Senate Intelligence Committee have spent weeks poring over raw intelligence that led the Obama administration to conclude that Russia meddled in the election, but they have yet to be given any access to far more politically charged information — evidence of contacts between Russians and associates of President Trump.

Al Franken may be the perfect senator for the Trump era — a deadly serious funnyman
Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post 

It was a half-hour before one of the sparsely attended committee hearings that take place almost every day on Capitol Hill — in this case, a session on energy infrastructure so dry it would not merit even the presence of a C-SPAN camera. But in Al Franken’s suite of offices in the Hart Senate Office Building, the man still known best as one of the early stars of “Saturday Night Live” was going through an intense rehearsal with four aides.

House

James Comey Could Shed Light on Russia, Trump’s Wiretap Charge
Janet Hook and Shane Harris, The Wall Street Journal 

FBI Director James Comey will be called before lawmakers Monday as part of an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation that he had been wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign. In advance of Mr. Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, a number of lawmakers of both parties have said they have seen no evidence to support Mr. Trump’s allegation about then-president Barack Obama.

Rep. Schiff: ‘Circumstantial Evidence of Collusion’ Between Trump Campaign, Russia
Kailani Koenig, NBC News 

Despite denials from some top intelligence officials that there was any evidence of collusion between associates of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives while Moscow tried to interfere with the 2016 election, Rep. Adam Schiff on Sunday defended the House Intelligence Committee continuing to look into the matter. Two weeks ago on “Meet The Press,” James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence under President Obama, denied that any evidence of such collusion existed while he oversaw the work of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Ryan stakes it all on Obamacare repeal
John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade, Politico 

Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump — those awkward, sometimes reluctant allies — face the biggest test yet of their unusual relationship as the House barrels toward a dramatic vote this week on repealing and replacing Obamacare. The stakes could not be higher for either of them.

How The Health Care Fight Has Given Power Back To A Once-Quiet Conservative Group
Alexis Levinson, BuzzFeed News 

The Republican Study Committee were the conservative troublemakers in Congress before the tea party made fighting leadership cool. After the group spent a few years working under the radar, RSC Chairman Mark Walker now finds himself alongside Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the flashier Freedom Caucus, at the center of the fight over how the House will move forward repealing and replacing Obamacare.

GOP lawmakers wouldn’t come to a town hall — so voters brought literal empty suits
Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post 

In the past two months, Republican lawmakers who have dared to brave town halls have been upbraided, booed and yelled at over policy decisions, Cabinet votes or even just the fact that they share a party affiliation with a polarizing president. Some legislators are taking a simple lesson from the shouting: You can’t get booed if you don’t show up.

States

State Sen. Daniel Biss expected to announce Democratic governor bid Monday
Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune 

A Democratic state senator from Evanston who put together ads last fall attempting to link Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to President Donald Trump has told leading Democrats he will formally launch his campaign for governor on Monday, sources said. Sen. Daniel Biss, who has served in the Illinois legislature representing the northern suburbs since 2011, has scheduled a 10 a.m. Facebook Live event “to address his plans to build a movement to take our state back from wealthy and insider interests,” according to an email his campaign released Sunday.

New Mexico Governor Rejects Budget, Will Recall Lawmakers
Morgan Lee and Russell Contreras, The Associated Press 

A New Mexico state budget plan from lawmakers that would shore up spending on public schools and state agencies by raising taxes and fees was resoundingly rejected on Saturday by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, minutes after the adjournment of a 60-day legislative session. Martinez chided lawmakers for wasting time by approving tax increases and a minimum wage increase that she does not support. She said she will call the Legislature back to Santa Fe soon to renegotiate, without specifying a date.

Closing the Partisan Divide One Rest Stop at a Time
Jay Leeson, Texas Monthly 

John Smithee apparently doesn’t listen to political consultants. If he did, the second-longest-serving Republican in the Texas House would hear panicked versions of a political proverb he’s long understood: There’s no context in politics— when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Advocacy

Wall Street frets over fate of corporate tax cut
Christopher Matthews, Axios 

Between Election Day and March 1st, the S&P 500 rose nearly 11%, but has fallen 0.17% in the roughly three weeks since. This loss of momentum indicates that investors are beginning to worry about the fate of corporate tax reform, as the debate over healthcare is revealing broader divisions among Republicans in Washington.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Gorsuch would serve nation with honor, distinction on Supreme Court
Sen. Chuck Grassley, The Des Moines Register 

The U.S. Constitution established three branches of the federal government to serve as a check on the power of each of those branches. This constitutional structure is purposefully designed to limit the concentration of power that comes at the expense of individual liberty and personal freedom.

Democrats: Don’t Use Republican Playbook on Gorsuch
Michael R. Bloomberg, Bloomberg View 

Democrats long complained about the way Republicans treated President Barack Obama. When Republicans refused to cooperate on legislation, when they threatened to shut down the government, when they stonewalled his Supreme Court nominee, Democrats lambasted them — and justifiably so — for dereliction of duty.

What the Senate Should Ask Judge Gorsuch
Jeff Greenfield, Politico 

When Judge Neil Gorsuch faces the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, will we see a series of crisp, clear exchanges on the nature of the Constitution, the role of precedent, the limits of presidential power? Or will we see what one legal scholar called “a vapid and hollow charade, in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of viewpoints and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis”?

The Gorsuch Resistance
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal 

The Senate begins confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch Monday, and the image to keep in mind is professional wrestling. Democrats have dug up so little on the supremely qualified Supreme Court nominee that they’ll be huffing and puffing and pretending to body slam the judge around the hearing room. It’s mostly political theater.

A proud welcome to President Trump
Mitch McConnell, Louisville Courier-Journal

In his first visit to Kentucky since his Inauguration, I am proud to welcome President Trump to Louisville to discuss the future of health care. Every day, Kentuckians are hearing stories and seeing headlines that Obamacare is a failure.

Research Reports and Polling

The Happiest and Unhappiest Countries in the World
Jon Clifton, Gallup

Last summer, Brexit shocked the world. Few global experts saw it coming. In their defense, most economic indicators didn’t point to a political upheaval. Gross domestic product in the U.K. was growing at about 2%, and unemployment had dropped to 4.9%. From a data perspective, things seemed OK.

Briefings

Washington Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

President Donald Trump defended his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., after it was revealed that in June 2016 he met with a Russian lawyer who has ties to the Kremlin. The meeting came after he was led to believe the lawyer would provide damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and that the information was part of the Russian government’s effort to assist his father’s presidential campaign. The meeting included a Russian-American lawyer who’s a former Russian intelligence officer

Washington Brief: Trump Says He Didn’t Learn of Son’s Meeting With Russian Lawyer Until This Week

President Donald Trump said he did not hear “until a couple of days ago” about a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer who might have had damaging information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He also said he spent more than 20 minutes of his two-hour meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin pressing him on election meddling.

Washington Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

The Supreme Court allowed part of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to take effect, while saying the temporary restrictions could not be imposed on people who have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States. Hawaii brought forth a legal challenge that asked a federal judge to clarify whether the Department of Homeland Security violated the Supreme Court’s instructions regarding which family members qualify as having bona fide relationships.

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