Washington Brief: Senate Confirms Sessions as Attorney General

Washington Brief

  • In a near-party line vote, the Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Jeff Sessions to be President Donald Trump’s attorney general. Next up? Rep. Tom Price for secretary of Health and Human Services. (The New York Times)
  • As Senate Democrats consider whether to block all things Trump, their base is with them, but the American people are not, according to a poll. (Morning Consult)
  • House Democrats finished the first day of their retreat in Baltimore defending their relevancy in the era of Republican-controlled government. (The Baltimore Sun)
  • Trump is set to meet with airline leaders today amid uncertainty about his travel ban. The aviation industry lacks a unified approach to the new administration. (The Wall Street Journal)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Thursday
Brookings Institution event on Obamacare insurance markets 9 a.m.
Friday
No events scheduled

 

General

Washington Turns Attention to Yemen, Pleasing Gulf States
Yaroslav Trofimov, The Wall Street Journal  

Yemen’s simmering war is getting fresh attention from Washington—to the delight of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, hopeful that President Donald Trump will choose the conflict as his first battleground to roll back Iran. Saudi Arabia and other monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been fighting in Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, ousted that year by the pro-Iranian Houthi militia.

Northeast U.S. Bracing for Powerful, Fast-Moving Snowstorm
Philip Marcelo, The Associated Press

A powerful, fast-moving storm swept through the northeastern U.S. early Thursday, making for a slippery morning commute and leaving some residents bracing for blizzard conditions and more than a foot of snow. Commuters in the densely populated region awoke to windblown snow — less than 24 hours after enjoying spring-like temperatures — and faced slick highways.

Germany’s Global Trade Surplus Hits Record in 2016
Nina Adam, The Wall Street Journal

Germany’s exports exceeded its imports by the widest yearly margin on record last year, a sign of the strength of Europe’s biggest economy that could inflame tensions between Washington and Berlin over their trade relations. Germany’s trade surplus—or the balance of exports and imports of goods—rose to €252.9 billion ($270.58 billion), marking the highest surplus since records began after World War II, the statistics body said Thursday.

Presidential

In Letter to China, Trump Says He Wants ‘Constructive Relationship’
Michael Forsythe, The New York Times

President Trump has sent a letter to his Chinese counterpart saying he looked forward to developing a “constructive relationship” with Beijing, the latest in a series of conciliatory signals by the new administration after months of heated rhetoric aimed at America’s largest trading partner. The letter, dated Wednesday, also thanked China’s president, Xi Jinping, for a message he sent congratulating Mr. Trump on his inauguration and conveyed wishes to the Chinese people for the Lunar New Year, the White House said in a two-sentence statement.

Airline, Airport Leaders to Meet Trump on Thursday
Susan Carey, The Wall Street Journal

U.S. aviation leaders are set to meet President Donald Trump on Thursday amid disagreement over terms granted to some foreign carriers and uncertainty over the administration’s travel ban on citizens of seven nations. Chief executives from passenger and cargo airlines as well as operators of many U.S. airports are expected to attend the meeting, people familiar with the matter said.

Supreme Court Nominee Calls Trump’s Attacks on Judiciary ‘Demoralizing’
Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, privately expressed dismay on Wednesday over Mr. Trump’s increasingly aggressive attacks on the judiciary, calling the president’s criticism of independent judges “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” The remarks by Judge Gorsuch, chosen by Mr. Trump last week to serve on the nation’s highest court, came as the president lashed out at the federal appellate judges who are considering a challenge to his executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Pentagon leader assumes new role: Turning down the temperature on Trump
Missy Ryan, The Washington Post

As President Trump’s new Pentagon chief, Jim Mattis has a long list of tasks ahead, including devising a more aggressive campaign to combat the Islamic State and restoring military readiness after years of budget cuts. But a few weeks into his tenure, the retired general’s most visible role has been of a different sort: soothing Americans and allies unnerved by the president and some of his top advisers.

Trump and Brexit Pose New Questions for Financial Regulation
Stephen Fidler, The Wall Street Journal

Europe has spent the years since the financial crash constructing an edifice of regulation to curb excessive risk-taking by banks and other financial institutions. With the last bricks almost in place, two factors threaten to bring the building down: Donald Trump and Brexit.

Trump’s Oval Office Tweets Force CEOs to Choose Fight or Flight
Shannon Pettypiece et al., Bloomberg News

President Donald Trump is injecting himself into the daily business of U.S. companies to an unprecedented extent, spurring investors and executives to weigh their exposure to his wrath when making decisions. The latest was Nordstrom Inc., which drew Trump’s public anger on Twitter Wednesday for discontinuing his daughter Ivanka’s line, saying sales had slumped.

The Melania controversy is nothing new: Eleanor Roosevelt pitched hot dog buns.
Krissah Thompson and Emily Heil, The Washington Post

The tall, regal first lady was a magnet for marketers — and she happily signed on. During her years in the White House, she became a paid pitchwoman for hot dog buns, mattresses and air travel.

Senate

Jeff Sessions Confirmed as Attorney General, Capping Bitter Battle
Eric Lichtblau and Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times

Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed on Wednesday as President Trump’s attorney general, capping a bitter and racially charged nomination battle that crested with the procedural silencing of a leading Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren. Mr. Sessions, an Alabama Republican, survived a near-party-line vote, 52 to 47, in the latest sign of the extreme partisanship at play as Mr. Trump strains to install his cabinet.

Inside Chuck Schumer’s plan to take on President Trump
Sam Frizell, Time

Put Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump in a room together and you can’t miss the connection. They are the leaders of rival parties, sharp opponents on Twitter and in the press, but they live by the same words, as big and bold as the city that made them.

Carly Fiorina confirms it: she is considering challenging Sen. Tim Kaine
Jenna Portnoy, The Washington Post

Carly Fiorina, the former GOP presidential candidate, is considering challenging Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) next year. Her comments on a Portsmouth-based radio show popular among party activists marks the first time that the Fairfax resident has spoken publicly about getting back into politics since the November election.

Mitch McConnell Sees ‘High Level of Satisfaction’ With Trump Administration
Carl Hulse, The New York Times 

Although there is plenty of anxiety in Washington about the shaky early performance of the Trump administration, don’t count Senator Mitch McConnell among the hand wringers. Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the majority leader, says he and his Senate Republican colleagues are quite satisfied with the Trump team so far.

What is ‘Rule 19?’ It was created after a fistfight in the Senate in 1902
David Hawkins, The Washington Post 

America got a civics lesson Tuesday night when Senate Republicans used an obscure rule to shut down a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that criticized Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the nominee for attorney general. Republicans took issue when Warren quoted from a pair of letters written by the late Coretta Scott King and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., opposing Sessions’s ill-fated nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986.

House

Blackburn Says Her Panel Will Let FCC Make First Move on Net Neutrality
Amir Nasr, Morning Consult

The House subcommittee in charge of shaping telecommunications policy will let the Federal Communications Commission make the first move on rolling back net neutrality rules, the panel’s chairman said Wednesday. “Let’s let the FCC go in and do what they are able to do, make the first move on that, and then we’ll be able to revisit that situation,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, head of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, told reporters at a briefing on Capitol Hill.

House Democrats, in Baltimore, vow to fight Trump
John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

House Democrats opened their annual issues retreat in Baltimore on Wednesday by vowing to aggressively fight President Donald Trump, slamming his first weeks in the White House and suggesting there would be little room for compromise. In a barrage of criticism, Democratic leaders meeting at an Inner Harbor hotel used “illusionist” and “authoritarian regime” to describe Trump.

Paul Ryan on working with Trump, Russia sanctions and GOP goals
PBS Newshour

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sits down with Judy Woodruff for an extended interview. They discuss Ryan’s relationship with President Trump, why he would never support a Muslim ban, finding common purpose with Steve Bannon, why he thinks restarting a relationship with Russia won’t work, plus Republican plans for tax reform, health care, infrastructure and more.

Key Conservative Lawmaker Opens Door to Obamacare Insurer Payments
Mary Ellen McIntire, Morning Consult

The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus said he would be open to making payments to insurers in 2018, agreeing to support a provision of Obamacare over which House Republicans had sued the Obama administration. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he may be open to funding the reinsurance and cost-sharing reduction payments under the Affordable Care Act during a short-term transition period away from the health care law toward a more conservative alternative.

States

Kennedy enters 2018 Illinois governor’s race ripping Rauner for causing ‘economic chaos’
Rick Pearson, The Chicago Tribune

Democratic businessman Chris Kennedy entered the Illinois governor’s race Wednesday, assailing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for “destroying” the state’s economy and failing to lead state government out of its financial mess. “I think Gov. Rauner’s taken a state government budget problem and turned it into economic chaos for the rest of the state. I don’t think it needed to go that way. And I think it’s fixable,” said Kennedy, 53, the son of the slain Democratic liberal icon Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy.

Gov. Hogan’s office has blocked 450 people from his Facebook page in two years
Ovetta Wiggins and Fenit Nirappil, The Washington Post

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan uses his Facebook page to share his cancer journey, promote his agenda and, at times, urge voters to contact Democratic lawmakers who oppose him. The Republican also uses the social media platform to quiet his critics.

North Carolina Judges Suspend Limit on Governor’s Powers
Mitch Smith, The New York Times 

A three-judge state court panel in North Carolina on Tuesday held up part of a new Republican-backed law that strips important power from the newly elected Democratic governor. The ruling, temporarily halting the requirement that the governor seek legislative approval for his cabinet selections, escalated the partisan tensions that have shaken up the state, and came shortly before a scheduled State Senate hearing on one of Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet picks.

Advocacy

Trump Expected to Name Two Veteran Lobbyists to Advise on Energy Issues
Amy Harder and James V. Grimaldi, The Wall Street Journal 

President Donald Trump is likely to tap two veteran lobbyists to advise on energy and environmental issues in the White House, according to multiple people close to the new administration, filling key roles with longtime Washington experts. Michael Catanzaro, a lobbyist at CGCN Group, is likely to be tapped to cover domestic energy issues, and George David Banks, executive vice president at conservative nonprofit American Council for Capital Formation who was an early supporter of Mr. Trump, is expected to lead global energy and environmental issues.

Harvard Spent Over Half a Million Dollars Lobbying Congress in 2016
Claire E. Parker and Leah S. Yahred, The Harvard Crimson 

Harvard spent over half a million dollars lobbying the federal government in 2016, a number that has held relatively steady for the past five years. The University’s Federal Relations Office shelled out $550,000 last year—up $10,000 from 2015—lobbying Congress on legislation related to immigration, science research funding, Harvard’s tax-exempt status, and financial aid, according to public records filed with Congress.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

The Case for Keeping America’s AIDS Relief Plan
Bill Frist, The New York Times

Among global public health advocates, there is a growing concern that President Trump may cut back, or even eliminate, programs that have played a critical role in fighting diseases worldwide. While every administration should strongly review our nation’s overseas commitments, and there are undoubtedly programs that we should cut, I hope he recognizes the success and importance of one in particular: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Trump Is Repeating Obama’s Rookie Mistakes
Barry Ritholtz, Bloomberg News

The disastrous roll out of President Donald Trump’s clampdown on refugees and visitors from majority-Muslim countries wasn’t how his supporters were expecting his administration to begin. While it was a cornerstone of his election campaign, it was poorly thought out, with little consideration given to the inevitable legal challenges, protests and political backlash.

To Reject Trump the Perverse, Poets Wage a Battle in Verse
Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

Some people stand up to President Trump in the courts, others in street protests. And the poets among us, they battle President Trump with an arsenal of verse.

How We’ll Stop a Rogue Federal Agency
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, The Wall Street Journal

The Obama presidency placed no greater burden on America’s growth potential than the avalanche of regulations that smother the U.S. economic system. The most destructive and dangerous of the new regulatory bureaucracies created by the Democrat-dominated 111th Congress is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

McConnell must act, not just talk
Paul Graseck, Louisville Courier-Journal

As a lifelong social studies educator, I love Kentucky and our nation. I am distressed that President Trump is not respecting the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.

The Trouble With Nationalism
Jonah Goldberg, National Review 

There’s text and then there’s context. Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru’s cover essay on nationalism in the current issue is controversial more because of the context than because of the text itself. Self-avowed nationalists are in the saddle across the West — including in the West Wing.

The Real Democratic Party
The Wall Street Journal

The Senate made history Tuesday when Mike Pence became the first Vice President to cast the deciding vote for a cabinet nominee. The nominee is now Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Research Reports and Polling

Democratic Base Mostly Fine With Blocking All Things Trump in Congress
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult

Senate Democrats have been nearly united in their opposition to President Donald Trump’s most controversial nominees, but a question remains about how the minority caucus plans to proceed once the chamber moves past the confirmation battles. A new Morning Consult/POLITICO poll found that among Democratic voters, 56 percent say their party should stick to its principles against Trump, even if it means blocking all legislation and nominees.

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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