On The Hill
A SUDDEN REVERSAL: “The Special Olympics will be funded,” President Trump declared to reporters on the White House South Lawn yesterday as his proposed cut to the charity sparked condemnation on both sides of the aisle. “I just told my people, I want to fund the Special Olympics . . . I’ve been to the Special Olympics — I think it’s incredible, and I just authorized a funding.”
- Trump's announcement was an abrupt about-face from his 2020 budget proposal that eliminated federal funding for the sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
- Awkward: The decision came after his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, “spent three days defending the proposal, most recently at a contentious Senate hearing Thursday morning,” my colleague Laura Meckler reports.
- DeVos, who initially accused the media and Democrats of “spinning up falsehoods” about the administration's support for people with disabilities — even as she insisted “current budget realities” mean the government cannot support “every worthy program” — quickly changed course, too.
- “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant,” DeVos said. “This is funding I have fought for behind-the-scenes over the last several years.”
- “Someone better pull Betsy out from under the bus right now because he clearly just rode over her,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) whose questioning to DeVos about the Special Olympics cuts went viral, told Power Up.
Part of a pattern: Trump “suggested he had first heard about the budget controversy Thursday morning and that others in his administration were responsible for it, although the cut has been part of all three budgets he has proposed to Congress,” per Meckler.
- “The president's decision to respond to the appropriate public outcry over his administration's proposal to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics doesn't begin to change the fact that they eliminated it in past budgets too,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) told Power Up yesterday after Trump's reversal.
- Lawmakers previously “ignored the Trump proposal and instead increased the charity’s funding, which stands at $17.6 million this year,” per Meckler.
- “This is a cut that he clearly made,” Pocan said. “There's still a lot of other cuts to kids in special [education] and hopefully he'll revisit those as well.”
Democratic lawmakers and disabilities advocates say it's not just the Special Olympics: They worry about other cuts the Trump administration has proposed to a wide range of programs that provide support to those with intellectual and physical disabilities.
- Hassan said the reversal “doesn't change the fact that it shows a compete lack of understanding by the administration about how important programs like Special Olympics and special education inclusion are to individuals who experience a disability and their families.”
- Julie Ward, Deputy Executive Officer for Public Policy of the Arc, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, told Power Up that the Special Olympics is a program that the public is perhaps most familiar with — with but it's “just one of the many programs that were targeted and have been targeted for cuts over the last couple of years of the developmental disability programs.”
The Arc provided Power Up with a list of other programs Trump's budget has proposed cutting. Per Arc:
- The administration wants to zero out funding for Department of Health and Human Services programs relating to autism, including a developmental disabilities surveillance and research program, autism education, early detection and intervention, and the interagency autism coordinating committee.
- Trump proposed various cuts to Development Disabilities Act Programs within HHS over the past two budgets.
- His current budget proposal is seeking a 30 percent cut to the Office of Disability Employment within the Department of Labor.
- And a $10 billion dollar cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which provides benefits to disable workers.
- Flashback to 2017: Then-budget chief Mick Mulvaney, briefing reporters on the administration's 2018 proposed budget, was asked if people currently on SSDI would get less. Mulvaney responded that he hoped so -- but quickly added, “if there are people who are getting SSDI who should not be.”
- The 2020 budget also proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which provides health care coverage to those with disabilities: “It proposes shaving $818 billion from projected spending on Medicare over 10 years and cutting nearly $1.5 trillion from projected spending on Medicaid,” per the New York Times's Jim Tankersley and Michael Tackett.
Advocates' take: Mulvaney's fiscal hawkishness is a major reason for some of these cuts, Ward said. But she also says that collectively, the reductions indicate an underlying skepticism on the part of the Trump administration toward those with disabilities who receive benefits:
- “Reducing size and scope of the federal government and cutting back on entitlement and spending is a real clear motivator — the belief that we’re just spending too much money on human services,” Ward told us. " The underlying. factor? [The thinking may be:] Well, maybe these people don't really deserve this benefits.”
The Trump administration, even in its original defense of cutting the Special Olympics funding, insisted it broadly supports people with disabilities.
- “Make no mistake: we are focused every day on raising expectations and improving outcomes for infants and toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, and are committed to confronting and addressing anything that stands in the way of their success,” DeVos said in her statement.
- “The President's budget reflects that commitment. It supports our nation's 7 million students with disabilities through a $13.2 billion request for [Individuals with Disabilities Educate Act] funding, the same funding level appropriated by Congress . . . The budget also requests an additional $225.6 million for competitively awarded grants to support teacher preparation, research and technical assistance to support students with disabilities.”
Hassan's bottom line: “It's really important that policymakers and the administration understand for families like mine how important inclusion is, and that they understand it didn't come about by accident,” Hassan, whose son Ben has cerebral palsy, told Power up. “Special education inclusion came about because we passed laws in this country that said all of our children have a right to a free and appropriate education.”
MUELLER'S TO-DO LIST: We've written all week about the torrent of political fights triggered by the end of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. But what's next for Mueller and his team? The former FBI director and his squad of prosecutors famous for their silence during the 22-month investigation are quietly wrapping up loose ends.
- Mueller's spokesman Peter Carr answered the basic question: Mueller is still the special counsel, but he's scheduled to leave “in the coming days."
- Of the 19 original prosecutors, Carr said a small group is being kept on to “assist in closing the operations of the office.”
- Carr himself, who even as the official voice for the office was known for declining to comment, will return to DOJ 's Office of Public Affairs.
- Five prosecutors had already left before the announcement of the investigation's end last Friday.
- Those remaining are ultimately expected to either return to DOJ or the private sector, depending on where they were before the investigation began.
- Recent departures: A key prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, is according to the New York Times returning to NYU's Law School. Zainab Ahmad, a top prosecutor who along with Weissmann worked on the Russia probe since before Mueller was even on board, departed the team earlier this month for another job in the DOJ, Yahoo News reported.
- The lead FBI agent in Mueller's office, David Archey, also left this month to return to the bureau's Richmond, Va. field office, per the Times.
But just because the probe is done, doesn't mean it's the last we'll hear about the investigation. Here are some things on our radar:
- Mueller's grand jury: It's continuing to work on "related matters, including an ongoing investigation of a foreign state-owned mystery company that refused to comply with a Mueller subpoena," per colleague Spencer Hsu.
- The full Mueller report: Democrats, including now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are refusing to accept only a summary. But Attorney General Bill Barr has indicated he won't meet the Tuesday deadline that committee chairs set for the full report.
- What we know: The full Mueller report is more than 300 pages, but fewer than 1,000. Of that, based on Barr’s quotations, we’ve seen fewer than 100 words from the report itself and the title.
- What we don't know: When the public will see the full report, or how much information would be redacted.
- Mueller testimony: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said he may call on Mueller to testify.
- Barr testimony: You'll see the attorney general on April 9, testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee on his department's 2020 budget. Nadler also said Barr would do an interview with his panel "very soon." Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said that Barr agreed to testify before his panel, too.
- James Comey's memos: A federal judge ordered DOJ to turn over the full unredacted memos the former FBI director kept on his conversations with Trump, CNN reported. The network and other news organizations have sued for access to the memos.
- Other threads: Mueller's investigation ended without new indictments but referred several matters to other prosecutors, including the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. A number Trump's associates that Mueller already charged are also still awaiting sentencing in D.C., including Rick Gates and Michael Flynn.
HOW TRUMP DODGED A SUBPOENA FIGHT: Publicly, Trump said that he was happy to sit down with Mueller for an interview. Privately, his lawyers were pulling out every stop they could to avoid it. Our colleagues Phillip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Matt Zapotosky have a deep dive into the behind the scenes machinations of Trump's legal team:
The key details:
- An interview was set for January 2018, but John Dowd, then one of Trump's attorneys, canceled it.
- Mueller himself raised the stakes by mentioning the possibility of a subpoena during a meeting at his office in March 2018.
- Dowd “erupted angrily,” my colleagues write. He told Mueller: “You’re screwing with the work of the president of the United States.
- After that, Mueller's team focused on getting Trump to talk voluntarily.
The Trump team strategy to avoid a subpoena shifted to "cooperate fully with every request for documents and witnesses from Mueller, including Trump’s written answers to some questions," my colleagues write. "Their goal: to satisfy Mueller’s hunt for information to the extent that the special counsel would not have legal standing to subpoena the president’s oral testimony."
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says: “We allowed them to question everybody, and they turned over every document they were asked for: 1.4 million documents. We had what you would call unprecedented cooperation.”
They also prepared a “counter report" defending the president that Giuliani tells my colleagues does exist, but may never be released.
In the end, Trump responded to written questions but avoided a sit down. His lawyers consider this their greatest victory.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE: Russia confirmed its military personnel is in Venezuela in support of embattled President Nicolás Maduro on Thursday.
- Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters Thursday that "’Russian specialists’ were on Venezuelan soil but declared their deployment to be ‘in accordance with the provisions of the bilateral intergovernmental agreement on military-technical cooperation’ between Moscow and Caracas,” per CNN’s Nathan Hodge and Anna-Maja Rappard.
- “Asked at the briefing by CNN how long they would be deployed, she replied that the personnel would remain in Venezuela ‘for as long as needed, and as long as the government of Venezuela needs them.’”
It's exactly what Trump warned against: Earlier in the week, Trump told reporters that “Russia has to get out” during an Oval Office meeting with Fabiana Rosales, the 26-year-old wife of Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition party who has been recognized by the Trump administration as Venezuela’s interim president.
First Lady Melania Trump met with Rosales in Palm Beach yesterday: “The White House says Mrs. Trump expressed concern for Venezuelans, including children, who are suffering amid the political and economic crisis roiling the country, causing sharp declines in basic goods and services like electricity. She also reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to new leadership in Venezuela,” per the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government barred Guaidó from holding public office for 15 years — an announcement made by an ally of Maduro.
The move “reflected a tightening of government pressure on an opposition movement backed by the United States and its allies,” according to the Associated Press's Jorge Rueda.
Guaidó undeterred: “We’re going to continue in the streets,” Guaidó said soon after. He dismissed the announcement as “irrelevant because, in his view, Maduro’s government is illegitimate.”
In the Media
What we're reading this weekend:
- When baseball in D.C. didn't break your heart: "The One Year Nixon and Baseball Were Both Winners in Washington." By Frederic J. Frommer in Politico Magazine.
- This should thrill Congress: Energy Secretary Rick Perry Approves Deal to Sell Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia. By The Associated Press’s Matthew Daly.
- The wall: Defense Dept. begins scouting sites for new border wall. By CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Ryan Browne, Geneva Sands and Tammy Kupperman.
- Save Kermit: Amphibian apocalypse is twice as bad as scientists thought. By The Post’s Jason Bittel.
- 'Bout time: Plastic Bags to Be Banned in New York State. By The New York Times’s Jesse McKinley.
- Long read: Climate Change and the Death of the Small Farm. By The New Republic’s Emily Atkin.
- The backstory to Brexit: "How the UK lost Brexit battle." By Politico's Tom McTague.