Washington Brief: Trump’s Budget Calls for Significant Cuts to State Dept., EPA

Washington Brief

  • President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018 calls for a hike in spending on defense and security paid for by large cuts elsewhere, including to the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. (Morning Consult)
  • A Hawaii court delivered a blow to Trump’s most recent travel ban. A nationwide order blocking its implementation suggests the Trump administration will have to defend the president’s rhetoric about Muslims in court. (The New York Times)
  • Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he is open to changing the House GOP’s health care bill following the release of a Congressional Budget Office score and continued dissatisfaction among the party’s factions. The House Budget Committee is scheduled to mark up the legislation today. (Morning Consult)
  • The Senate voted to confirm former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) to be the director of national intelligence. Senators also cleared the way for Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, to remain on active duty in the Army. (The Associated Press)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

House Budget Committee marks up AHCA 10 a.m.
House Judiciary Committee marks up the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act 10 a.m.
Heritage Foundation event on tobacco, e-cigarette regulations 12 p.m.
House Oversight Committee marks up bills overhauling USPS 1 p.m.
No events scheduledNo events scheduled



Russian Agents Were Behind Yahoo Hack, U.S. Says
Vindu Goel and Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times 

The Justice Department charged two Russian intelligence officers on Wednesday with directing a sweeping criminal conspiracy that stole data on 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014, deepening the rift between American and Russian authorities on cybersecurity. The Russian government used the information obtained by the intelligence officers and two other men to spy on a range of targets, from White House and military officials to executives at banks, two American cloud computing companies, an airline and even a gambling regulator in Nevada, according to an indictment.

Fed Raises Interest Rates, Remains on Track to Keep Tightening
Nick Timiraos and Kate Davidson, The Wall Street Journal 

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it would raise short-term interest rates and keep lifting them this year, moving the central bank into a new, more aggressive phase of draining easy money from the financial system as the economy improves. Officials said they would raise their benchmark federal-funds rate by a quarter percentage point to a range between 0.75% and 1%, and penciled in two more increases this year.

Justin Trudeau Warns Trump About NAFTA Plan, Says Deal Is Good for U.S. Jobs
Alastair Jamieson, NBC News 

Donald Trump’s plan to tear up NAFTA could hit U.S. jobs, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned in an exclusive interview with NBC News. The president has begun moves to renegotiate what he called the “worst trade deal ever approved in this country.”

America’s Empty-Church Problem
Peter Beinart, The Atlantic

Over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God.


Trump Calls for 28 Percent Cut to State Dept. in ‘America First’ Budget Proposal
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday will release an outline of its budget request for fiscal year 2018, calling for a $54 billion hike in defense spending paid for by cuts to foreign aid and domestic programs. Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the “America first” budget is based on the promises Trump made to the American people during the 2016 campaign.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Latest Travel Ban Nationwide
Alexander Burns, The New York Times

A federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order Wednesday evening blocking President Trump’s ban on travel from parts of the Muslim world, dealing a political blow to the White House and signaling that proponents of the ban face a long and risky legal battle ahead. The ruling was the second frustrating defeat for Mr. Trump’s travel ban, after a federal court in Seattle halted an earlier version of the executive order last month.

White House will push for earlier end to Obamacare Medicaid expansion
Jonathan Swan and David Nather, Axios 

The Trump administration will push the House Republican leadership to move up the end date for Medicaid expansion in the Obamacare replacement bill, cutting off states’ ability to enroll new people with extra federal funds in 2018 rather than 2020, according to a source with direct knowledge of the administration’s plans. The administration also wants to block states that haven’t expanded Medicaid from doing so before the expansion ends.

Trump Officials Are Learning How Hard It Is to Sell $1 Billion of Their Assets
Jean Eaglesham and Ryan Dezember, The Wall Street Journal 

Members of Donald Trump’s cabinet are obliged to sell more than $1 billion worth of assets to prevent conflicts of interest, a process that is proving difficult and time-consuming. A Wall Street Journal review of those needed sales shows almost three-quarters of the total is held in illiquid assets such as real estate, closely held companies and stakes in private-equity funds, likely extending the time necessary to unwind the positions.

Wherever Trump goes, his gang of aides stays close by
Annie Karni and Josh Dawsey, Politico 

When President Donald Trump boarded Air Force One on Wednesday morning to travel to Michigan and Tennessee, he didn’t wing it alone: His entire senior West Wing staff traveled with him. Accompanying the president out of town on his daylong tour were senior adviser Jared Kushner, strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus, counselor Kellyanne Conway, senior aide Hope Hicks, press secretary Sean Spicer and policy adviser Stephen Miller.


Senate votes to approve Trump’s picks for key security posts
The Associated Press 

The Senate backed key players of President Trump’s national security team on Wednesday, confirming his pick for intelligence director and clearing the way for an active-duty Army general to serve as his national security adviser. Senators voted 85-12 to approve the nomination of former Indiana senator. Dan Coats as director of national intelligence, making him the fifth person to hold the post created after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Trump barrels toward clash with Congress over border wall
Burgess Everett et al., Politico 

President Donald Trump is heading toward a showdown with Capitol Hill Democrats over his border wall. The White House is signaling to Capitol Hill leaders that he wants money to beef up the U.S. border with Mexico in a spending bill due by late April, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Members of Congress demand cooperation from administration on Trump-Russia probe
Karoun Demirjian and Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post 

Tensions between congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are rising over Russia, as lawmakers probing alleged ties between the president’s team and the Kremlin accused officials of trying to block their efforts. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), whose committee is one of several where investigations are fully underway, accused Justice Department officials Wednesday of lying when they promised to share information about ongoing department probes with lawmakers conducting oversight.

McCain: Rand Paul ‘is now working for Vladimir Putin’
Connor O’Brien, Politico 

Sen. John McCain on Wednesday accused fellow Sen. Rand Paul of doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding after Paul blocked an attempt to vote on a treaty for NATO membership for Montenegro. “The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin,” McCain bluntly said of Paul on the Senate floor following the dust-up.


Ryan Open to Changing Health Bill As GOP Struggles to Reach Agreement
Mary Ellen McIntire, Morning Consult

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that the GOP health care bill would be amended before the measure came to the floor. The House Budget Committee is still expected to mark up the current version of the Republican bill to overhaul the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, but more changes would come afterwards, before the House Rules Committee takes its stab at the measure.

In Virginia, three GOP congressmen line up against GOP health-care plan
Jenna Portnoy, The Washington Post 

Three of Virginia’s seven Republican members of Congress have come out against House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to revise the Affordable Care Act — and the other four have yet to take a position. The dissent, from two hard-line conservatives and one moderate, illustrates the challenge House leaders face in pushing a proposal that the Congressional Budget Office said would reduce the deficit but also leave 24 million more Americans uninsured.

Nunes and Schiff say they’ve seen no evidence to back Trump’s wiretapping claim
David S. Cloud, The Los Angeles Times

The Californians leading the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that they’ve seen no evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama before he took office. “We don’t have any evidence that that took place,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said at a press conference with Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the panel.

Democrats Eye Georgia Special Election To Test 2018
Messages Jessica Taylor, NPR News

National Democrats are investing more resources in an upcoming Georgia special election, hoping new research gained from focus groups could not only pull off an upset in the suburban Atlanta district, but also give them clues to how they can best put the House in play next year. According to details first shared with NPR, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sponsoring three focus groups in the district over the coming week aimed at better discovering how to target younger voters, African-American voters and swing voters — many of whom have not been reliable in turning out in midterm elections.

Gianforte: Montana’s U.S. House race a referendum on Trump administration
Jay Kohn, MTN News

The sprint is on in Montana’s special Congressional election set for May 25, 2017. As of Tuesday, the special election to fill Montana’s vacant house seat is just 72 days away.


Off-Year Governors Races Look Challenging for GOP
Stuart Rothenberg, Inside Elections 

Gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey will get plenty of attention this year, in part because of Donald Trump’s victory and the developing divisions in the two major parties. Observers will be looking for possible signs that Trump’s “new” Republican Party is changing the political arithmetic or that Democrats have found a road back to relevance.

Florida governor signs bill tightening death penalty
Ellen Powell, The Christian Science Monitor 

Top on the Florida’s legislature’s list of priorities this legislative session: getting the state’s death penalty process back up and running, this time with more stringent requirements for imposing the punishment. On Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 280 into law.


Trump Adviser Carl Icahn Lobbies for Rule Change That Benefits Icahn
Zachary Mider and Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Bloomberg Businessweek 

Late in the day on Feb. 27, Michael McAdams’s phone lit up with a flurry of calls and messages. McAdams runs a biofuels trade group, and in the arcane world of fuel policy, the news couldn’t have been bigger: The White House was considering a radical change to the U.S. renewable fuel mandate, which governs the amount of ethanol blended into the country’s gasoline supply.

Lobbyists finding spots in Trump administration
Megan R. Wilson, The Hill 

Drew Maloney, who led the Washington office for an oil and gas giant, has been chosen as the Treasury Department’s liaison to Congress, becoming the latest lobbyist to go into the Trump administration. The White House on Tuesday evening announced that President Trump would be nominating Maloney to serve as the assistant secretary of Treasury for legislative affairs.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

It’s All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating
James C. Dozier, Morning Consult

It’s a frequent refrain that those who fail to learn from the past are inevitably destined to repeat it. A cursory glance through history offers recurring examples of minorities being scapegoated to suit the nationalistic desires of failed leaders and movements. President Trump’s executive orders banning entry of refugees and travelers from select Muslim-majority countries represent one recent example of this kind of dark isolationism.

Three Criteria for Health Reform
Ted Cruz and Mark Meadows, The Wall Street Journal

Republicans have a historic opportunity to follow through on our promise to repeal ObamaCare. The recent elections that focused on the law’s repeal—2010, 2014 and 2016—were massive GOP victories. The American people gave our party unified control of the federal government, and a mandate for meaningful change.

Don’t Try to Fix Obamacare. Abolish It.
Erick Woods Erickson, The New York Times 

As Republicans in Washington grapple with altering the Affordable Care Act, they have proceeded in a direction that will do little to curb the cost of health care in America. Instead, they are pushing a bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, might save the government money, but will end coverage for 24 million people (though several million of those would be willingly giving up coverage the law now requires them to have).

How the GOP Crackup Happens
Rich Lowry, Politico

Less than two weeks after the unveiling of the GOP Obamacare replacement, the party is already staring into the abyss. The bill has had the worst rollout of any major piece of legislation in memory, and failure is very much an option.

Rex Tillerson’s Dangerous Silence
Stephen Krupin, New York Magazine 

Not long after President Obama’s second inauguration, I walked down 23rd Street in Foggy Bottom toward my new office in the State Department. I was a couple of days from starting as incoming Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief speechwriter, and was a couple of blocks from the building when I ran into two of the outgoing secretary’s writers.

Research Reports and Polling

Americans Tilt Toward Protecting Environment, Alternative Fuels
Frank Newport, Gallup 

Given a choice, the majority of Americans think protecting the environment should take precedence over developing more energy supplies, even at the risk of limiting the amount of traditional supplies the U.S. produces. An even larger majority would prioritize developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power over the production of oil, gas and coal.