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On The Hill
DEAL OR NO DEAL?: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week wrote a much-ridiculed op-ed for Fox News. “Will Dems work with us, or simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?” the headline asked. He then assured readers, channeling Mark Twain, that “reports of the death of bipartisanship in Washington have been wildly exaggerated.”
Maybe, maybe not. Even with divided government — and maybe because of it — some Trump-style deal making might be possible in the new post-midterms Washington. McConnell himself pointed to three areas of possible agreement yesterday:
- Criminal Justice Reform: Trump endorsed “the First Step Act” yesterday afternoon, which includes “reasonable sentencing reform while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.” He said he'd be “waiting with a pen” to sign the measure. (McConnell, though, has been decidedly more “hands-off” with an effort that has divided Republicans, reports Seung Min Kim. Read more here.)
- #MeToo for Congress: McConnell said he's “talked at length” with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and is working on getting legislation to overhaul Congress's woefully outdated sexual harassment policies "done before the end of the year.”
- Infrastructure week, but maybe for real this time?: “I hope so,” McConnell said about getting an infrastructure bill done next year. The “sticking point?” How to pay for it. “Republicans are not interested in doing another $900 billion stimulus,” he added.
There's another unresolved whopper that McConnell is putting off for next year: NAFTA 2.0 or the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). A senior GOP House aide told Power Up the general consensus is the deal that Trump rushed to negotiate with Mexico and Canada before midterm elections “isn't feasible in the lame duck,” in part because Democrats now have leverage.
Problem No. 1: Labor activists are no fans of NAFTA 2.0.
- That's primarily because while the minimum hourly wage requirement for Mexican autoworkers was raised to $16, it's not slated to rise with inflation — meaning that U.S. jobs could still be shifted abroad.
- That's not a good look for a party looking to win back the American worker from Trump. Bill Reinsch, a senior adviser and Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic & International Studies: “Democrats will say the deal isn't good enough on labor — that way they check the AFL- CIO box and tell [U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer to go back to Mexico and do better. And I think he actually can do that. So he does that and he comes back and then the Democrats can say, 'It's no good and we forced them to fix it and now some of us will vote for it,'" Reinsch told us.
Problem No. 2: Are the provisions enforceable?
- “Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement”: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement on USMCA to the New York Times last week calling the agreement a “work in progress.” She added: “Without enforcement you don’t have anything. Without it, you are, shall we say, just rebranding NAFTA . . . Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.”
- Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) also released a statement focused on enforcement: “While many provisions in the new agreement, especially on labor, are steps in the right direction, support in Congress will depend on the final text, implementing legislation, the effectiveness of U.S. enforcement of the agreement, and consultations with our constituents.”
Problem No. 3: Tariffs.
- The Weekly Standard's Haley Byrd reported earlier this week that “a number of Democratic lawmakers might even try to use the USMCA debate to push for the removal of Trump's tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.”
- Byrd reports: “We have leverage now that we didn't have before. So yes, I do think that is a possibility,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said when asked if like-minded Democrats would take advantage of the USMCA debate to seek tariff concessions. “If you look at some of the seats that Republicans lost in this last election, they came in the Midwest, where the pain from the president's tariffs are being felt the most.”
Problem No. 4: Politics.
- 2020: “There's this assumption that once the three countries came together for an agreement, that was the biggest hurdle, but I think what's important to watch is how politics play here . . . on [Democrats] giving the president a win on trade when he's up for reelection in 2020,” Marc Short, Trump's former director of legislative affairs, told us.
- Lighthizer remains “very confident” he can ultimately corral the votes, a USTR spokesman said: “The USMCA is a balanced deal with strong provisions that will benefit U.S. businesses and workers, and that enjoys broad support among key stakeholders,” Jeff Emerson wrote in an email.
- “It's too soon to write an obit”: Reinsch told us that CSIS did an analysis of incoming House Democrats' trade positions and found that 24 had nothing to say on trade; 21 had positive things to say about it; and eight had negative things to say (2 were hard to categorize).
- Path to success: As for the anti-trade Republicans, Trump will provide them cover, Reinsch suspects, “because who is more protectionist than Trump? . . . if he says it's good, his base will believe it's good, so it gives anti-trade Republicans permission. And if Democrats say we fixed it, I think that's a path to success.”
The U.S., Mexico and Canada are expected to sign NAFTA 2.0 on Nov. 30 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, according to Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo.
MEANWHILE: Pelosi's path to the speakership is not as smooth as we all thought. Read The Post's Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck on the “solid opposition from at least 17 Democrats and encountered a significant bloc of undecided women in her bid for speaker.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who is one of 17 Democrats to sign a letter saying they'll oppose Pelosi, is emerging as a possible foe: “People are asking me to do it, and I am thinking about it,” Fudge told cleveland.com. “I need to give it some thought and see if I have an interest. I am at the very beginning of this process. It is just in discussion at this point.”
EBOLA OUTBREAK WORSENS, BUT CDC EXPERTS ARE 1,000 MILES AWAY: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa's largest countries by area and population, the country's biggest Ebola outbreak in 40 years rages on, with many U.S. and international officials worried it's getting worse. Yet American officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Ebola experts and veterans of decades of responses — are 1,000 miles away in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, helping from afar, The Post's Lena H. Sun reported.
- Redeployed: Due to worsening security concerns, the U.S. has no plans to redeploy people to fight the outbreak on the ground there, administration officials said yesterday.
- 'War zone': “The outbreak in northeastern Congo is taking place in an active war zone . . . Attacks on government outposts and civilians by dozens of armed militias have complicated the work of Ebola response teams, who have often had to suspend crucial work tracking cases and isolating people infected with the deadly virus. Violence has escalated in recent weeks,” Lena reports.
Ghost of Benghazi: In late August, CDC experts were withdrawn from Beni, the outbreak's epicenter, after a nearby attack on the Congolese military. “Looming over those security concerns are the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans,” wrote Lena.
One expert laid out the stakes to STAT News: “There is a clear risk to not getting involved,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The risk is that the Ebola outbreak spreads in a more dramatic way in conditions that are already dangerous and make it harder and harder to contain.”
At the Pentagon
THE BALANGIGA BELLS: In addition to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's trip yesterday to visit U.S. troops on our southern border, Mattis made a more obscure stop at F.E. Warren Air Force base in Wyoming to commemorate the start of the process of returning war trophies to the Philippines.
- 117 years later: President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine strongman who Trump has praised, called for the “Bells of Balangiga” — three church bells taken by U.S. Army soldiers from a church during the Philippine-American war in 1901 — to be returned in 2017. Mattis agreed to the request in August. Read more on the backstory here, per the New York Times's Richard Paddock.
“Courage is timeless”: Mattis made brief remarks on the base on the historic significance of the return, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “History teaches us that nations with allies thrive . . . History also teaches us that all wars end. In returning the Bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend, the Philippines, we’ve picked up our generation’s responsibility to keep the respect between our peoples. . . . To those who fear that we lose something by returning the bells,” he said, “please hear me when I say that bells mark time, but courage is timeless.”
In the Agencies
WHO IS MATTHEW WHITAKER? The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel released a memo arguing Trump's appointment of acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker — who hasn't been confirmed by the Senate — is legal and has plenty of historical precedent.
While Trumpworld debates whether the president knows or doesn't know his new AG, The Post's Shawn Boburg and Robert O'Harrow have a deep dive into the former chief of staff to ousted-AG Jeff Sessions:
- A key quote: “Over the past two decades, Whitaker . . . has owned a day-care center, a concrete supply business and a trailer manufacturer, state records show. He led a taxpayer-subsidized effort to build affordable housing in Des Moines, but he walked away from the stalled project two years ago after the city threatened him with a lawsuit.”
- More: “In 2004, when he started a five-year stint as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Iowa, Whitaker cited a personal-injury case and a dispute involving a dry-cleaning business as some of his most consequential legal work.”
- The wrong end of the law: “One year into his term, an equipment rental firm sued Whitaker and Buy The Yard Concrete in Nevada [a business owned by him and a partner], alleging they owed about $12,000 for supplies and equipment rentals, court records show. The lawsuit related to a concrete project in Las Vegas.” The dispute was settled privately after Whitaker noted he lived in Iowa and the work was done by contract employees.
- Controversy: “Among the [office of the U.S. attorney for Iowa's] biggest setbacks was the prosecution of Matt McCoy, an openly gay Democratic state senator and a rising political star on the left. A grand jury indictment accused McCoy of using his political position to extort $2,000 from a security firm in Des Moines where he was a consultant.” A months-long probe ended in an acquittal after two hours and “scorching” criticism of Whitaker's office.
And Whitaker was apparently told of complaints that an invention-marketing company on whose board he sat might be a fraud, Post reporters Tom Hamburger, Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report. Since being appointed acting AG, Whitaker has said he didn't know that World Marketing Strategies could have been engaged in fraudulent activities. The company paid $26 million to resolve a “wide-ranging” FTC complaint.
The key quote: “Ed Magedson, the founder of the Arizona-based Ripoff Report, said he received a phone call from Whitaker in early 2015 after the website posted complaints about World Patent Marketing. '[Whitaker] threatened me, using foul language,' said Magedson, whose website sells companies a program to improve their reputation among consumers. 'He threatened to sue and to ruin my business if I did not remove the ‘false reports.’"
In the Media
FIERY AND FURIOUS: It began as just another typical presidential news conference in this age of atypical presidential news conferences. But it soon devolved spectacularly, reaching a crescendo when Trump, addressing CNN’s Jim Acosta, said, “You are a rude, terrible person.” Later that day, the White House revoked Acosta’s White House “hard pass” — allowing him unlimited access to the White House — an unprecedented move criticized by a wide range of news outlets and First Amendment advocates.
CNN replied by suing the White House to have Acosta’s credentials restored. Here’s how some journalists and organizations have responded:
- Solidarity forever: More than a dozen news outlets — including Fox News — have filed briefs in support of CNN. “We do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people," said Fox News president Jay Wallace. (The Post also filed a brief.)
- Say what?: The White House initially released a misleading and doctored video of Acosta at the news conference to support its assertion that Acosta behaved inappropriately. The White House has since changed its tune.
- ‘Weak and misguided’: That’s how the White House Correspondents’ Association described the decision to revoke Acosta’s credentials. In a strongly worded statement of its own, CNN said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders “lied” when releasing the doctored video.
- Woodward weighs in: However, some members of the media — notably, The Post's Bob Woodward — have criticized CNN and Acosta. Speaking at a conference, the legendary journalist said, “Too many people for Trump or against Trump have become emotionally unhinged about this … The remedy [isn’t a lawsuit], it’s more serious reporting about what he’s doing.”