Washington Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead


Week in Review

The Trump administration

  • Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies were charged with a plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment, brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, said that by early-to-mid 2016, the Russian efforts included supporting Donald Trump’s campaign and disparaging Hillary Clinton’s.
  • Steve Bannon met with Mueller’s team for some 20 hours over several days, according to unnamed sources familiar with the proceedings. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist also met with members of the House Intelligence Committee but left after four hours, answering little more than the two dozen questions that the White House had negotiated with the House’s lead counsel.
  • Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with Mueller’s office, according to unnamed sources, a sign that he’s poised to cooperate with the investigation. A plea deal would put further pressure on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Gates’ co-defendant, to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
  • The White House released its budget request for fiscal year 2019, a proposal that seeks to authorize $4.4 trillion in spending – 10 percent more than government spending in 2017 – as Congress prepares to consider spending bills for the next fiscal year. Even with major cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs, the budget plan would not eliminate the federal deficit after 10 years, marking the White House’s first public acknowledgement that spending increases and the $1.5 trillion tax cut are putting pressure on the government’s debt.
  • Voters were evenly split, at 47 percent, on whether they approve of Trump’s job performance, according to a recent poll. The figures marked the first time since April that Trump’s net approval was not in negative territory.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said his agency first flagged issues in March with its background check of Rob Porter, who resigned this month as White House staff secretary following accusations that he verbally and physically abused two ex-wives. Wray said his agency “administratively closed” Porter’s file last month, a timeline that conflicts with the sequence of events offered by White House officials, who had said the FBI’s investigation was “ongoing.”
  • George David Banks, who had served as a senior official on the National Economic Council, said he resigned after he was told he would not receive a permanent security clearance. His resignation came as the White House faces increasing scrutiny over employees who are allowed to work with interim clearances.
  • In a 9-4 vote, the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump’s travel ban targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries violates the Constitution, a decision that goes further than a December decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the ban violated federal immigration law. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up both issues — immigration law and the constitutionality — in the coming months when it decides the legality of the ban.
  • A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program cannot end in March as Trump has planned. The decision is similar to a Jan. 9 ruling by a federal judge in San Francisco that DACA must remain in place while litigation challenging the administration’s decision continues.

Congress

  • The Senate failed to advance bipartisan legislation that would protect about 1.8 million “Dreamers,” prevent parents of Dreamers from being sponsored for citizenship and provide $25 billion for border security. Trump threatened to veto the bill if it made it to his desk, and three other measures – including one mirroring Trump’s proposed immigration framework – also failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle, leaving Congress on an uncertain path to address the Dreamers issue before a March 5 deadline.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Congress should remove restrictions that forbid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the links between mental health and gun violence. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Congress should hold hearings following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.
  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating how Porter kept his role in the administration under an interim security clearance even as accusations of spousal abuse were made against him, according to Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Gowdy sent letters Wednesday requesting information from both the White House and the FBI.
  • Rep. Kevin Cramer will seek the Republican nomination for Senate in North Dakota. Cramer had initially passed on the race, which would pit him against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in November.
  • Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, announced he would run for Senate in Utah, where Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) is retiring at the end of the 115th Congress. Romney is on solid ground to continue his critiques of Trump, who has seen his net approval erode by 30 percentage points in Utah since taking office.

What’s Ahead

  • The House and Senate are in recess until Feb. 26.
  • The FBI is investigating what happened after “protocols were not followed” after it obtained a tip in January that the man behind Wednesday’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., was said to have had the “potential” of conducting a school shooting.

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Monday
Federal holiday — no events scheduled
Tuesday
Atlantic Council event on Iran’s missile program 9 a.m.
Wednesday
CSIS event on the economic impact of cybercrime 8 a.m.
Council on Foreign Relations hosts World Economic Update panel discussion 12:30 p.m.
Thursday
Conservative Political Action Conference 7 a.m.
Technology Policy Institute event on the economics and policy implications of artificial intelligence 8:45 a.m.
Heritage Foundation event on Trump, executive power and the bully pulpit 6 p.m.
Friday
Conservative Political Action Conference 7 a.m.
Governors participate in Politico’s State Solutions Conference 9 a.m.
World Bank Group president speaks at Council on Foreign Relations event 1 p.m.

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