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Washington Brief: House Intel Panel to Release Thousands of Facebook Ads Purchased by Kremlin-Linked Groups


Top Stories

  • Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said they will soon release the Facebook ads purchased by Kremlin-linked groups as part of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The announcement came after a closed-door meeting between lawmakers and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and the public release of about 3,000 ads is likely after Nov 1. (USA Today)
  • President Donald Trump is planning to sign an executive order today that would allow the sale of less-expensive health care plans that offer fewer benefits, a move that takes aim at the Affordable Care Act. The order is designed to let small businesses pool together to purchase insurance. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Trump’s lawyers are open to the president being interviewed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, according to an unnamed senior White House official. The White House believes the move could bring Mueller’s probe closer to an end, even though a sit-down meeting poses risks for Trump, who could be asked about potential obstruction of justice regarding his dismissal of former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey. (Politico)
  • Federal prosecutors in New Jersey rested their case against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is accused of taking gifts from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for doing favors for him. Testimony over the past month came from former federal officials and congressional staffers, as well as former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). (The Washington Post)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Thursday
HUD’s Carson testifies at House Financial Services Committee hearing 9:30 a.m.
Energy Secretary Perry testifies at House Energy and Commerce hearing 10 a.m.
House Oversight Committee hearing on 2020 Census 10 a.m.
Heritage Foundation event on Iran policy 12 p.m.
Friday
AEI event on U.S. agricultural policy 1:30 p.m.
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General

Congressional staffer charged with filing false security clearance forms
Clarence Williams, The Washington Post 

Prosecutors charged a top congressional staffer Wednesday with filing a false security clearance form nearly a year after he pled guilty to failing to pay taxes, officials said. The Justice Department alleges that Isaac Lanier Avant, chief of staff to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Democratic staff director for the Homeland Security Committee, “willfully made a false statement” on security clearance forms in 2008 and 2013, officials said in a news release.

Judge allows Dakota Access pipeline to keep running
Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press 

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Dakota Access oil pipeline can continue operating while a study is completed to assess its environmental impact on an American Indian tribe. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg’s decision will come as a blow to the Standing Rock Sioux, who have argued that an oil spill from the pipeline under Lake Oahe — from which the tribe draws its water — could have a detrimental effect on the tribal community.

Militants Free American Woman and Family Held for 5 Years in Afghanistan
Adam Goldman, The New York Times

An American woman and her family who have been held hostage by militants in Afghanistan for five years have been freed, ending a case that has long frustrated diplomats and F.B.I. agents involved in trying to secure their release, according to people familiar with the situation. The family was in Pakistan early Thursday, and the White House was preparing to release a statement once they are safely in American hands, according to people who described their status on condition of anonymity because the details have not yet been made public.

An old-school pharmacy hand-delivers drugs to Congress, a little-known perk for the powerful
Erin Mershon, STAT

If House Speaker Paul Ryan comes down with the flu this winter, he and his security detail won’t be screeching off toward the closest CVS for his Tamiflu. Instead, he can just walk downstairs and pick up the pills, part of a little-known perk open to every member of Congress, from Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell down to the newest freshman Democrat.

Presidential

In Start to Unwinding the Health Law, Trump to Ease Insurance Rules
Louise Radnofsky et al., The Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump is planning to sign an executive order Thursday to initiate the unwinding of the Affordable Care Act, paving the way for sweeping changes to health-insurance regulations by instructing agencies to allow the sale of less-comprehensive health plans to expand. Mr. Trump, using his authority to accomplish some of what Republicans failed to achieve with their stalled congressional health-care overhaul, will direct federal agencies to take actions aimed at providing lower-cost options and fostering competition in the individual insurance markets, according to a Wall Street Journal interview with two senior White House officials.

President’s lawyers may offer Mueller a meeting with Trump
Darren Samuelsohn, Politico

Donald Trump’s lawyers are open to having the president sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller, according to a senior White House official, as part of a wider posture of cooperation with the special counsel’s Russia probe. If Mueller doesn’t request an interview by Thanksgiving, Trump’s lawyers may even force the issue by volunteering Trump’s time, the official said.

White House nominates AccuWeather CEO to head climate agency
David Shepardson, Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated the chief executive of AccuWeather Inc to head the government’s meteorological agency that monitors the climate and issues daily weather forecasts. Trump nominated Barry Myers, CEO of privately owned weather forecasting company AccuWeather, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the U.S. Commerce Department.

Trump’s Tough Talk on Nafta Suggests Pact’s Demise Is Imminent
Ana Swanson, The New York Times

The North American Free Trade Agreement, long disparaged by President Trump as bad for the United States, was edging closer toward collapse as negotiators gathered for a fourth round of contentious talks here this week. In recent weeks, the Trump administration has sparred with American businesses that support Nafta and has pushed for significant changes that negotiators from Mexico and Canada say are nonstarters.

At Pennsylvania appearance Trump turns back to tax overhaul; pitch aimed at truckers
Catherine Lucey and Josh Boak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

President Donald Trump pitched his tax plan as a boost for truckers at an event Wednesday in Pennsylvania, saying, “America first means putting American truckers first.” Trump appeared before about a thousand cheering people at an airplane hangar dramatically draped with American flags.

“I Hate Everyone In The White House!”: Trump Seethes As Advisers Fear The President Is “Unraveling”
Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair

At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency.

Senate

Prosecution rests in bribery trial of Sen. Robert Menendez
Devlin Barrett and Alan Maimon, The Washington Post

Menendez is accused of taking gifts — including a luxury hotel stay, flights on private jets, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions — from Salomon Melgen, in exchange for doing favors for the doctor. One of the last pieces of evidence entered in the prosecution case was an email Menendez wrote to a staffer in 2009, in which the senator said he was looking for “the best juice” he could find inside the federal government to help Melgen in a multimillion-dollar billing dispute with Medicare.

Undisclosed deal guaranteed Roy Moore $180,000 a year for part-time work at charity
Shawn Boburg and Robert O’Harrow Jr., The Washington Post 

Former Alabama judge Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, once said publicly that he did not take a “regular salary” from the small charity he founded to promote Christian values because he did not want to be a financial burden. But privately, Moore had arranged to receive a salary of $180,000 a year for part-time work at the Foundation for Moral Law, internal charity documents show.

McConnell ratchets up judicial wars — again
Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim, Politico 

Mitch McConnell wants to further erode Democrats’ influence over lifetime judge appointments, floating plans to jam through judicial nominees opposed by their home-state Democratic senators. But the Republican Senate leader’s own Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, is warning McConnell: Not so fast.

Conservative leaders call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resign
Deirdre Shesgreen, USA Today 

An influential array of ultra-conservative leaders is calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resign, calling him a “failure” who “has cost Republicans almost a year of victories.” “He has demonstrated that he either does not understand the frustration coming from conservatives and the urgency of passing key legislation – or he does not care,” FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said in a statement on Wednesday.

Bannon-tied group kicks off brutal GOP primary season
Jonathan Easley, The Hill 

A pro-Trump outside group aligned with Stephen Bannon endorsed three Republicans running for Senate on Wednesday, firing the starting pistol on what’s shaping up to be a nasty primary season for the GOP. The Great America Alliance — an antiestablishment group which counts Bannon’s political adviser Andy Surabian as a strategist — announced it will support West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in their bids for Senate.

House

House Intel leaders to release Facebook ads purchased by Kremlin-linked groups
Erin Kelly, USA Today

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they will soon make public the Facebook ads that were purchased by Kremlin-linked groups as part of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who is leading the panel’s Russia investigation, said the committee will release about 3,000 ads provided to the panel by Facebook.

Curbelo: Regulatory Fix to Bump Stocks a ‘Big Mistake’
Lindsey McPherson, Roll Call

Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Wednesday called Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s push for a regulatory fix banning bump stocks “a big mistake.” “If we agree that this should be banned we should have the courage of our convictions and proceed with legislation that will make that explicitly clear,” the Florida Republican said.

Opposition mounts against bill to renew surveillance program
Katie Bo Williams, The Hill

A carefully crafted compromise proposal to reform the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program is in trouble, with opposition coming from libertarian-leaning conservatives and members of the House Intelligence Committee. The House Freedom Caucus appears dissatisfied with the National Security Agency reform measure, which was drafted by a bipartisan group of Judiciary Committee lawmakers led by chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

House Dem pulls back from forcing impeachment vote
Cristina Marcos, The Hill

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) stopped short of forcing a vote Wednesday on articles of impeachment against President Trump, but insisted his push isn’t over yet. Green announced his intention on the House floor to offer the impeachment articles as a privileged resolution, which under House rules allows any member to force a vote within two legislative days.  

Key House Republican Plans Bill to Rein In Credit Bureaus After Equifax Hack
Andrew Ackerman, The Wall Street Journal

A top House Republican is moving to boost federal oversight of credit-reporting companies, the first broad legislative effort to rein in the industry in response to the massive hack disclosed by Equifax Inc. last month. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that is expected to require the companies to submit to regular federal cybersecurity reviews.

D.C. Republicans to Grimm: Stay in Staten Island
Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan, Politico

House Republicans have a message for ex-congressman and convicted felon Michael Grimm: Stay home. The disgraced former New York congressman, who served seven months in federal prison for tax evasion, wants to reclaim his old Staten Island seat, declaring a primary challenge against his successor, GOP Rep. Dan Donovan.

States

Former President Barack Obama to campaign for Ralph Northam in Richmond
Andrew Cain, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Former President Barack Obama will return to the campaign trail next Thursday to stump for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam at a rally in Richmond. Details on the location of the get-out-the-vote rally were not yet available.

Rockeymoore Cummings launches bid for Maryland governor
Ovetta Wiggins, The Washington Post

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a policy consultant who is married to longtime U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), is launching a bid for Maryland governor, becoming the second woman and the third African American to join the crowded Democratic primary field. “I truly believe Maryland is punching below its fighting weight,” Rockeymoore Cummings, who is also a small-business owner, said in explaining her decision to seek the nomination to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan in 2018.

Covered California slaps a surcharge on health plans as Trump remains coy on subsidies
Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times 

California’s health insurance exchange said Wednesday it has ordered insurers to add a surcharge to certain policies next year because the Trump administration has yet to commit to paying a key set of consumer subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The decision to impose a 12.4% surcharge on silver-level health plans in 2018 means the total premium increase for those policies will average nearly 25%, according to Covered California.

Democrats Say Florida Nursing Home Deaths May Dog Scott If He Runs for Senate
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult

In a tragedy at a nursing home whose air conditioners shut down during Hurricane Irma, Democratic strategists in Florida are seeing a possible cudgel against Gov. Rick Scott should he run against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year. But Republican operatives defended Scott’s handling of the disaster and said his actions could ultimately prove to be an asset in a potential campaign.

Advocacy

Facebook’s Sandberg meets with lawmakers amid Russia probe
Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press

One of Facebook’s top executives met Wednesday with House members investigating the company’s Russia-linked ads, and told them the social media giant is serious about dealing with the issue. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, told lawmakers the company is working hard to ensure Americans “understand what the propaganda is that they may or may not be reading,” said House Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, who is leading the House intelligence committee probe.

Business, farm groups lobby the Hill as contentious phase of NAFTA talks begin
John Lauinger, Politico

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, there were signs of the increased stakes in the NAFTA talks: Business and agricultural groups mounted a lobbying push targeting more than 250 House members, and the Ways and Means chairman seemed to say businesses have reason to worry. At the White House, in the most visible and symbolic moment of the day, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with President Donald Trump, who relishes being unpredictable.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Trump May Do the Harm to Insurers That Congress Couldn’t
Max Nisen, Bloomberg

Despite seven years of alleged prep work and more than seven months of high-pressure effort, destroying the Affordable Care Act was beyond Congress this year. But President Donald Trump might manage it anyway, with an executive order he could sign this week.

Mr. Trump Alone Can Order a Nuclear Strike. Congress Can Change That.
The Editorial Board, The New York Times

The broad debate over President Trump’s fitness for the difficult and demanding office he holds has recently been reframed in a more pointed and urgent way: Does he understand, and can he responsibly manage, the most destructive nuclear arsenal on earth? The question arises for several reasons.

An Air-Traffic Winner
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

The House has been working for months behind the scenes on the most significant improvement to commercial air travel in decades: Converting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air-traffic control into an operation governed by pilots, airlines, controllers and other industry experts. This would be good news for the economy and the traveling public, if Republicans don’t wig out.

Faster, Steve Bannon. Kill! Kill!
Robert Kagan, The Washington Post

Rarely has a political party more deserved the destruction the Republican Party may be about to suffer at the hands of President Trump’s former strategist, ideological guru and onetime puppeteer Steve Bannon. It was obvious during the earliest days of the campaign that Trump never intended to be either the leader or the protector of the Republican Party.

Research Reports and Polling

U.S. Voters Feel Good About Economy, But Not Trump, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Voters Take A Knee For Both Trump And NFL Players
Quinnipiac University

American voters feel better about the economy and good about their own pocketbooks, but still disapprove 56 – 38 percent of the job President Donald Trump is doing, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Today’s approval rating compares to a 57 – 36 percent disapproval in a September 27 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University.