Washington Brief: Trump Wants Republicans to Make Infrastructure Top Priority for 2018


Top Stories

  • President Donald Trump will push GOP leaders in Congress to make infrastructure legislation their top priority this year when they meet this weekend at Camp David. The administration is readying a proposal to generate $1 trillion for improvements, including $200 billion from the federal government, that would be released ahead of the State of the Union Address, slated for Jan. 30. (USA Today)
  • The Trump administration plans to open vast new stretches of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, including some places that have been off limits for decades. The Interior Department’s plan drew criticism from Florida officials, including Gov. Rick Scott (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D). (Politico)
  • Trump reportedly instructed White House counsel Don McGahn in March to prevent Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. The president’s effort did not work, but the previously unreported pressure on Sessions is one of several episodes that special counsel Robert Mueller has learned about as he investigates whether Trump obstructed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Russia probe. (The New York Times)
  • The owners of Breitbart News are considering ousting Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, from his position as chairman after his scathing quotes in a new book about Trump. Bannon’s longtime benefactors, billionaires Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, a partial owner of Breitbart News, are also distancing themselves from Bannon. (The Wall Street Journal)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Friday
CSIS event on Taiwan’s cybersecurity environment 10 a.m.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event on Iran’s cyber threat 12:30 p.m.

General

Breitbart Owners Debate Ousting Bannon Amid Trump Feud
Julie Bykowicz et al., The Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump’s growing feud with Steve Bannon is threatening the former White House strategist’s leadership of the conservative Breitbart News website and upending Mr. Bannon’s plans to wage “war” on party incumbents he deemed insufficiently loyal to the White House agenda. Mr. Bannon’s longtime benefactors, billionaires Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, are actively distancing from him even before the expected release this week of a book that has roiled Messrs. Trump and Bannon’s relationship, according to two people close to the Mercers.

U.S. Adds 148,000 Jobs, Wages Rise in Signs of Full Employment
Katia Dmitrieva, Bloomberg

U.S. job gains slowed by more than forecast in December, wage gains picked up slightly and the unemployment rate held at the lowest level since 2000, adding to signs of a full-employment economy. Payrolls rose by 148,000, compared with the 190,000 median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, held back by a drop in retail positions, a Labor Department report showed Friday.

Lawmakers Object to DOJ Move on Marijuana Enforcement
Todd Ruger, Roll Call

Attorney General Jeff Sessions drew strong criticism from lawmakers Thursday for changing a Justice Department policy on marijuana enforcement that had allowed states to move forward on legalizing the drug’s recreational and medical use. Sessions’ move upsets the uneasy status quo between state laws that legalize marijuana and the federal laws against possession and distribution, which was set up by Obama administration guidelines from the Justice Department.

White House, senators seek Iran measure ahead of nuclear deadline
Patricia Zengerle, Reuters

U.S. senators and Trump administration officials met at the White House on Thursday, hoping to hammer out compromise legislation to tighten restrictions on Iran while keeping Washington in an international nuclear deal with Tehran. Senators Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Ben Cardin, the panel’s top Democrat, had an evening meeting with President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, to discuss possible legislation, Senate and White House aides said.

Presidential

Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump’s Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation
Michael S. Schmidt, The New York Times

President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House’s top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election. Public pressure was building for Mr. Sessions, who had been a senior member of the Trump campaign, to step aside.

At Camp David, Trump will push Republicans to make infrastructure top 2018 priority
Heidi M. Przybyla, USA Today 

President Trump plans to press Republican congressional leaders this weekend at Camp David to make a major infrastructure package their top legislative priority this year, as his administration readies a blueprint he’ll tout in the State of the Union address on January 30, according to two White House officials. The White House will release a proposal in mid to late January that will call for a wholesale change in the way the U.S. approaches big infrastructure projects, according to the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly because the plan is being finalized.

Trump aims to open California, Florida, Atlantic waters for oil drilling
Ben Lefebvre, Politico

The Trump administration unveiled a plan Thursday to open vast new stretches of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, erasing the policies put in place by previous Democratic and Republican administrations and setting up a conflict with state governments fearful about the risk of spills. The proposal drew immediate criticism from Florida officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of President Donald Trump who is expected to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this year, as well as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.  

Trump Administration Seeks $18 Billion Over Decade to Expand Border Wall
Laura Meckler, The Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is asking Congress for nearly $18 billion to construct more than 700 miles of new and replacement barriers along the southwest border, offering its most detailed description yet of the president’s vision for a border wall with Mexico. The request, if granted, would be a major expansion from the 654 miles of barrier now, bringing the total to nearly 1,000 miles—about half of the entire southwest border.

U.S. to Start Korean Trade Talks Amid Rising Tensions
Ana Swanson, The New York Times

The Trump administration and South Korean officials will meet on Friday to begin formally renegotiating a free-trade pact that has served as a source of conflict between the two allies. The meeting comes at a moment of heightened tension in the Korean Peninsula and unease in the broader region.

White House bans personal cellphones for staffers and guests
Adam Edelman, NBC News

White House staffers and guests will no longer be able to use their personal cellphones in the West Wing, the Trump administration said Thursday. The announcement came just a day after details from a forthcoming book about the inner-workings of the Trump administration emerged — a development that enraged President Donald Trump and prompted him to threaten legal action against Steve Bannon, the former strategist who is quoted widely in the book.

Trump Administration Postpones an Obama Fair-Housing Rule
Emily Badger and John Eligon, The New York Times

Undermining another Obama-era initiative, the Trump administration plans to delay enforcement of a federal housing rule that requires communities to address patterns of racial residential segregation. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, in a notice to be published Friday in the Federal Register, says it will suspend until 2020 the requirement that communities analyze their housing segregation and submit plans to reverse it, as a condition of receiving billions of federal dollars in block grants and housing aid.

Senate

DACA deal begins to form, but details remain sticking points
Tal Kopan, CNN  

The outline of an immigration deal is starting to take shape in Washington after months of negotiations. Yet even as lawmakers draw close to a resolution, filling in the blanks could prove insurmountable.

Trump, Romney talk on phone amid speculation over Utah Senate bid
Alex Isenstadt, Politico

President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Mitt Romney on Thursday evening, a conversation that comes amid mounting speculation that Romney — a fierce Trump critic — is preparing to run for Senate in Utah. The brief call, which was described by two sources who were briefed on it, lasted less than 10 minutes.

In shift, Democrats try to keep Sessions as attorney general
Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, CNN

Last year, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was blunt in his assessment of Jeff Sessions: “For the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign.” Now, Schumer and other Democrats have changed their tune, suggesting Sessions should stay in the job as long as special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Blackburn outraises GOP opponent by $500,000 in Tenn. Senate primary
Lisa Hagen, The Hill

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) outraised her main GOP Senate primary opponent by more than $500,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to numbers released by both campaigns. Blackburn’s campaign announced that it raised $2 million in the fourth fundraising quarter of last year, which covers fundraising between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

Minnesota Republicans seek the return of Tim Pawlenty
Rebecca Berg, CNN

As Tim Pawlenty weighs whether to run for Senate in Minnesota, Republicans have been attempting to persuade the former governor to jump into the race — with outreach by a roster party leaders, donors and Republican activists, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions. The Senate seat has emerged as an unexpected pickup opportunity for Republicans in a potentially punishing midterm election year after Sen. Al Franken’s abrupt resignation following sexual misconduct allegations.

House

Judge: House panel entitled to Fusion GPS bank records
Josh Gerstein, Politico

A federal judge has denied a bid by the private investigation firm Fusion GPS to prevent the House Intelligence Committee from obtaining the firm’s bank records, as part of a congressional probe into the funding and creation of a so-called dossier containing a variety of accurate, inaccurate and salacious claims about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled Thursday that the House panel’s work appeared to be legitimate.

Ryan backed Nunes in spat with Justice Dept. over Russia documents, sources say
Laura Jarrett et al., CNN

House Speaker Paul Ryan backed his fellow congressional Republican, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, during a meeting over the Russia investigation Wednesday, capping off a months-long dispute between the committee and the Justice Department, multiple sources with the knowledge of the situation told CNN. CNN reported Wednesday that Ryan met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI head Christopher Wray in his Capitol Hill office, but details emerged Thursday providing new insight into how a nasty inter-branch dispute has quietly subsided — at least for now.

Republican super PACs surge into Pennsylvania special election
David Weigel, The Washington Post

Two Republican super PACs have started spending money in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, a once-safe seat for the party where Democrats have grown bullish on their chances. Ending Spending Inc., funded in large part by the billionaire Ricketts family, announced a $1 million ad buy on Thursday in the district — beating both Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone to the airwaves ahead of the March 13 special election.

States

Republicans keep control of Virginia state House after tie-breaker
Gary Robertson, Reuters 

Republicans kept control of Virginia’s House of Delegates on Thursday after their candidate won a lottery-style drawing to resolve a tied race, but the losing Democrat said she might challenge the results. As cameras clicked in a packed room in Richmond, the state elections board chairman pulled a film canister containing Republican incumbent David Yancey’s name from a blue-and-white ceramic bowl loaned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

DeSantis makes it official, enters governor’s race
Matt Dixon, Politico 

With President Donald Trump’s recent endorsement in his back pocket, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis on Friday will announce he’s entering the governor’s race, a move poised to inject national cash into a campaign already on the 2018 national radar. “I’m excited about taking this first step towards a campaign for governor,” DeSantis told POLITICO.

California Defiant in Face of Federal Move to Get Tough on Marijuana
Thomas Fuller, The New York Times

The sale of recreational cannabis became legal in California on New Year’s Day. Just four days later, the Trump administration acted in effect to undermine that state law by allowing federal prosecutors to be more aggressive in prosecuting marijuana cases.

Oregon sues Monsanto over PCB pollution in waterways, soil
Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press

The state of Oregon sued the agrochemical company Monsanto on Thursday over pervasive pollution from PCBs, the toxic industrial chemicals that have accumulated in plants, fish and people around the globe for decades. The company called the lawsuit baseless.

Advocacy

It ain’t over: Net neutrality advocates are preparing a massive new war against Trump’s FCC
Tony Romm, Recode

The fiercest advocates for net neutrality are readying a new war in the nation’s capital, hoping to restore the rules that the Trump administration just eliminated — and galvanize a new generation of younger, web-savvy voters in the process. Not even a month after the Federal Communications Commission voted to scrap its requirement that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, an armada of tech startups, consumer activists and state attorneys general are preparing to take the agency to court.

Investigation details secretive contacts with lobbyist on $2 billion Illinois lottery contract
Joe Mahr and Matthew Walberg, Chicago Tribune

A top staffer for the Illinois Lottery failed to disclose her relationships and contact with lobbyists for a firm that was bidding for a massive contract to manage the lottery, a state investigation has found. The lack of disclosure led the state’s top contract officer to suspend the contract with the British lottery firm Camelot, potentially worth at least $2 billion, according to records reviewed by the Tribune.

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Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

It’s time for Jeff Sessions to go, as shown by the latest FBI leak
Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, Washington Examiner

As the first year of the Trump administration comes to a close, one can’t help but look back on how allegations of “Russian collusion” dominated the headlines of almost every news agency. Hearings, leaks, and so-called “bombshells” saturated the mainstream media coverage almost immediately after the 2016 presidential campaign concluded.

The Book of Bannon
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

Washington is having another media meltdown, this time over the public divorce between Donald Trump and former aide Stephen Bannon over a new book on President Trump’s first months in office. Our reading is that the book tells us what everyone already knew, and the falling out could help the Trump Presidency and Republicans.

The State Where Everyone Wants to Be Governor
Frank Bruni, The New York Times

The year is young enough that your plans probably aren’t fixed. Maybe you should run for governor of Colorado.

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Research Reports and Polling

Why 2018 Will Make 2017 Seem Tame
Bruce Mehlman, Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas

House & Senate Majorities Up for Grabs. Intense State-Level Elections With Big Redistricting Impact.

For New Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith, a Lesser Form of Incumbency
Geoffrey Skelley, Sabato’s Crystal Ball

On Tuesday, now-former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) officially resigned from the U.S. Senate following allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women. As we discussed in our last newsletter for 2017, Franken’s resignation means that Minnesota will hold a special election for Senate this coming November, which will take place at the same time as the regular election for the state’s other Senate seat (a “double-barrel” election).