THE MUTUAL FRUSTRATION SOCIETY: Tensions between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and some of her closest comrades are hitting a boiling point over whether to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
A week of significant courts wins for House Democrats has been overshadowed by dissent in their ranks, mixed messaging, and dramatic, closed-door meeting fights spilling into public view, as more and more frustrated members have clamored to initiate impeachment proceedings following unprecedented obstruction by the White House.
Things only got worse after Trump “angrily” walked out of a meeting yesterday with Democratic leaders following comments in which Pelosi said the president was engaged in a “coverup.”
- On Monday a federal judge ordered Trump's accounting firm to hand over records to Congress, rejecting o rguments from the president's lawyers that congressional requests served no legislative purpose.
- Another judge followed yesterday, rejecting Trump's request to block congressional subpoenas for his banking records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.
- And on Wednesday, New York state lawmakers passed a bill that would “clear a path for Congress to obtain President Trump’s state tax returns, injecting another element into a tortuous battle over the president’s refusal to release his taxes,” per the New York Times's Jesse McKinley.
- “Easing some of the escalating tension between Congress and the White House, the House Intelligence Committee postponed efforts to enforce a subpoena against the Justice Department on Wednesday after officials agreed to hand over a cache of documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia report,” NBC reported.
The proof is in the pudding: The court triumphs underscore why Pelosi has so far held firm to her stance that House Democrats can perform their oversight duties without opening a formal impeachment inquiry with unpredictable political repercussions, according to House aides who explained her position.
- “Pelosi is frustrated that some of her top lieutenants are going against the grain,” a Democratic House aide told Power Up. “She wants everyone to get in line. She's trying to say, 'Slow and steady,' but they're going on CNN and MSNBC and saying impeach.”
- “There's a, 'These [people] ain't loyal mentality happening at the upper echelon,' the aide added.
- Democratic aides with firsthand knowledge of the tensions noted the speaker's office and other members of leadership are especially frustrated with Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Judiciary Committeee and the head of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, who is tasked with developing and leading the caucus on a unified message.
- Off message: Cicilline says it's time to open an impeachment inquiry now that former White House counsel Don McGahn didn't show up to testify on the Hill. That undercuts the issues-based agenda he is supposed to be pushing as head of House Democrats' messaging arm.
- It's not just Cicilline: Other members of Judiciary, such as Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), have also called on Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N..) and Pelosi to move ahead with the impeachment process.
But in the view of Pelosi's detractors on the issue — including others Democrats in leadership positions and on Judiciary — there's equal amounts of frustration from members who feel that they lack the ability to do their jobs.
“There's a concern that the American people value authenticy from politicians and so if we are making that decision [not to open an impeachment inquiry] based off political expediency, to just shove impeachment off to the side because you want to run the Third Way playbook from the 90’s . . . you risk having another 2016 happen,” a House aide told Power Up, suggesting there was a generational difference in approaches.
“I believe that we have come to the time of impeachment,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told NBC News's Kasie Hunt. “Just as impeaching without cause could be construed, and is politically motivated, choosing to not impeach when there is an abundance of cause could also be construed similarly. And so, I know that the speaker's working very hard to bring the party together. It's not easy. It's not an easy thing to pursue.”
“It’s time for Congress to open an impeachment inquiry. There is political risk in doing so, but there’s a greater risk to our country in doing nothing,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted. “This is a fight for our democracy.”
“There are a lot of members that agree that we can do both things and don’t have to make a choice” between legislating and oversight, another Democratic House aide explained. Voters “expect us to do our job and do oversight. We have seen the polling on that . . . We need to continue with the investigation but the investigation is really hard to do when you can’t get any information from the White House or can't get anyone to testify.”
A senior Democratic aide responded:
- “This is a situation where the entire top rung in leadership are in complete agreement — not only on messaging but on strategy and to say there is a generational divide in the caucus is preposterous,” the aide told Power Up.
Pollsters we talked to mostly sided with Pelosi's argument that it's a mistake for Democrats to focus on impeachment rather than issues like health care and the environment.
- “The polling is clear — [voters] don't have the stomach for this and they don't think it reaches the benchmark to actually impeach,” a national Democratic pollster told Power Up. “You don't want to out base [Trump] because he will only slaughter you.”
- “What do you want to be the evening news from here on out to be about?," the pollster added. “Impeachment? Congressional hearings? Or health care and reducing prescription drug costs? That’s the bottom line. What do you think drives persuadable voters: Impeachment or the party that drives things on health care?”
One poll in particular has been shared with Democrats on Capitol Hill: In a national poll among registered voters conducted by Hart Research for National Law Works shortly after the release of the redacted Mueller report (the final interviews were completed on April 30), voters were asked about a variety of steps Democrats in Congress might take now that the Mueller investigation has been completed and made public.
- Per Geoff Garin, the president of Hart Research: “The approach that is most widely and most strongly supported by voters is the one the Speaker is taking. 'Hold hearings on the Mueller investigation and other possible wrongdoing by President Trump, and then determine what action to take next.'"
- “Fifty-eight percent are favorable to that approach, while 42 percent are unfavorable. Among those with strong feelings, 37 percent are very favorable and 28 percent are very unfavorable,” according to Garin.
- Key: “When we ask about beginning impeachment proceedings, the intensity goes in the opposite direction: 29 percent are very favorable, but 38 percent are very unfavorable.”
Garin added that Pelosi “understands the long game and plays it very well.”
- “Pelosi has maneuvered Trump into a really dangerous place for him politically, since now he is the one who is refusing to work with Democrats on infrastructure because he doesn’t want Congress to hold him accountable,” Garin told Power Up.
At the White House
INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK, GONE AGAIN EDITION: “The feud between President Trump and congressional Democrats reached new heights of animosity Wednesday after Trump angrily walked out of a White House meeting on the nation’s infrastructure, insisting he would not work with Democrats unless they abandon their inquiries into his businesses, presidency and personal finances,” Mike DeBonis, Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and John Wagner report.
- Trump's impromptu presser: "'Get these phony investigations over with,' Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden, moments after he spent three minutes in the Cabinet Room raging against [PelosI], Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats.”
- Pelosi's take: “He just took a pass, and it just makes me wonder why he did,” Pelosi, who maintains that Democrats remain committed to improving infrastructure, told reporters on Capitol Hill . . . “In any event, I pray for the president of the United States, and I pray for the United States of America.”
- Dear colleagues: “Sadly, the only job the President seems to be concerned with is his own. He threatened to stop working with Democrats on all legislation unless we end oversight of his Administration and he had a temper tantrum for us all to see,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to members.
- Trump's rebuttal:
In a letter to her House colleagues, Nancy Pelosi said: “President Trump had a temper tantrum for us all to see.” This is not true. I was purposely very polite and calm, much as I was minutes later with the press in the Rose Garden. Can be easily proven. It is all such a lie!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2019
On The Hill
BIPARTISAN AGREEMENT ON RISKS OF FACIAL RECOGNITION SOFTWARE: “At a time when most issues in Washington generate a starkly partisan divide, members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee were startlingly bipartisan in their condemnation of the technology, which federal and local law-enforcement agencies already are using across the country to identify suspects caught on camera,” our colleague Drew Harwell reports.
“Members blasted the largely unregulated technology as inaccurate, invasive and having potentially chilling effects on Americans’ privacy and free expression rights. Several voiced support for passing federal laws to restrain the technology’s use before, as Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said, ‘it gets out of control.’”
- AOC weighs in: “The technology’s higher rate of inaccuracies when scanning people of color — as shown in research led by Joy Buolamwini, an artificial intelligence researcher for the MIT Media Lab who testified at the hearing — also led some lawmakers to question more generally the lack of racial diversity in the American tech industry,” Drew writes. ‘We have a technology that was created and designed by one demographic, that is only mostly effective on that one demographic, and they’re trying to sell it and impose it on the entirety of the country,’ [Ocasio-Cortez] said.”
Key: While the hearing was taking place, Amazon shareholders “voted down proposals meant to curb sales of the company’s controversial facial recognition tool and to limit its carbon output,” per The Verge's Colin Lecher.
“Two Rekognition proposals would have asked Amazon to cease sales to government agencies and to complete a review of the tool’s civil liberties implications. Amazon went to the Securities Exchange Commission in an attempt to stop the proposals from coming to a vote, but the agency allowed them to continue. The measures had received support from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which pressed the shareholders to adopt the facial recognition proposals.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) who has been spearheading the conversation on regulating facial recognition technology on Capitol Hill, told Power Up that Amazon is “avoiding responsibility” when it comes to answering crucial questions of the surveillance technology. (Amazon owner Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
“We don't even know if Amazon is exporting the use of facial recognition technology — they won't tell us anything along those lines,” Gomez told us. “They're avoiding responsibility when it comes to that technology. So that leads to a lot of questions . . . This is something not on people's radars. And once people start to think about it and learn about it, there are all sorts of red flags and so much potential for abuse.”
“This technology is starting to be deployed so widely and there are no boundaries on the technology,” Gomez added. “In a lot of situations, people haven’t signed up for this kind of intrusion. So this is just the beginning and we will step in and ask these hard questions. People want legislation on both sides of the aisle.”
Check the sky for flying 🐽 bc Rep. Meadows, much of the Freedom Caucus & I are in agreement on preventing total surveillance of Americans without their knowledge.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 22, 2019
Whether it’s Amazon or Gov, no one should be tracked w/o consent or a warrant. https://t.co/JQh5WVNTdg
Outside the Beltway
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION NOT DOING ENOUGH TO ADDRESS OPIOIDS: "... Health policy experts say drug treatment funding is not nearly enough, and the administration’s response was hobbled by the failure to appoint a drug czar in its chaotic first year and confusion over who was in charge of drug policy.
"The depth of the problem continues to overwhelm the government’s response, and the administration has yet to produce a comprehensive strategy that is legally required by Congress," our colleagues Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham, Steven Rich and Shelby Hanssen report in their blockbuster series with photos by Salwan Georges and video by Dalton Bennett and Whitney Shefte.
- Trump has done some things, but not enough: "President Trump has taken a number of steps to confront the crisis, stem the flow of fentanyl into the country from China and Mexico, and step up prosecutions of traffickers. Congress also has increased spending on drug treatment."
- Key quote: "John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during the George W. Bush administration, said that after two years and a presidential commission to study the problem, the Trump administration is still struggling to confront the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history and is not dedicating nearly enough federal resources. 'What other threat that is preventable is going to kill tens of thousands of Americans?' Walters said. 'We’re spending much more money on terrorism, as we should, but we’re not spending a similar amount on the source of death to many more Americans right now.'"
AMBASSADORS COMPARE CHINA’S TREATMENT OF UIGHURS TO A “GULAG”: “The Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang province is drawing condemnation from civilized nations and civil society because of its brutality, scale and violation of the fundamental right to religious freedom,” Ambassadors Nathan Sales and Sam Brownback write in an op-ed for The Post. “But there is another angle that should also raise concern: These abuses undermine the global consensus on counterterrorism. Beijing is painting its human rights violations as a legitimate counterterrorism effort, when they patently are not.”
- We've previously written about how the Trump administration is staying mostly silent about China’s treatment of one million ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims as trade talks continued between the U.S. and China. But with talks stalled, officials are speaking up more loudly.
- Key quote: ‘“Colorful’ is not a word we would use to describe a gulag,” Sales and Brownback write of a top Communist Party official’s description of the camp.
- More on the counterrorism aspect: “What makes this intolerable situation even worse is China’s consistent misuse of ‘counterterrorism’ as a pretext for gross human rights abuses,” Sales and Brownback write. “To repeat: The repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not counterterrorism. It’s one more chapter in Beijing’s long history of oppressing Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and the Falun Gong.”
WHEN AT A SUMO WRESTLING MATCH...: Some sumo fans are upset that Trump won't be sitting cross-legged, per tradition, at the sumo wrestling match he is scheduled to attend during his visit to Tokyo over the weekend.
Trump "can expect a warm welcome from the sumo wrestling community when he presents a custom-made ‘Trump Award’ to the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo on May 26,” Reuters’ Jack Tarrant and Yoko Kono report from Tokyo. “However, with Trump expected to view the bouts from a chair instead of sitting cross-legged on a cushion as ringside viewers typically do, some fans have been left upset at his special treatment.”
- “Trump, 72, will sit in a chair, instead of on a 'zabuton' cushion on the floor as is customary,” Tarrant and Kono write. “That has upset some sumo fans."
- Masaru Tomamoto, 73, would prefer the U.S. leader to follow custom: “I also want to sit on chair as we watch sumo wrestling,” admitted Tomamoto over a steaming bowl of chanko nabe, the stew favored by sumo wrestlers. “But if (Trump) watches a Japanese traditional sport, sumo, I think that it would be much better for him to sit cross-legged with the cushion on the floor, rather than on chair.
My birthday present to myself! pic.twitter.com/pGBuOoZ9Lp— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) May 23, 2019
In the Media
WHAT (ELSE) WE'RE READING:
- What happens when you cross Trump: DeVos family ends longtime Amash support. By The Detroit News's Jonathan Oosting.
- Most Democrats Running For President Want To Make Abortion Legal Nationwide — No Matter What. By BuzzFeed News's Ema O'Connor.
- Tell us how you really feel, North Korea: North Korean Media Lashes Out at ‘Reckless, Senseless’ Biden. By Bloomberg's Rita Devlin.
- Paging the thermostat terrorists: Frigid Offices Might Be Killing Women’s Productivity. By The Atlantic's Olga Khazan.
- An update to our story on Rep. Dan Lipinski from earlier this week: Canceled Fund-Raiser Prompts Question: Can a Democrat Oppose Abortion? By the New York Times's Jonathan Martin.
- Ouch: Putin out-prepared Trump in key meeting, Rex Tillerson told House panel. By The Post's John Hudson and Josh Dawsey.
"Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Russian President Vladimir Putin out-prepared President Trump during a key meeting in Germany, putting the U.S. leader at a disadvantage during their first series of tête-à-têtes...
In response to Tillerson’s remarks, Trump countered his former aide, saying in a statement that he “was perfectly prepared for my meetings with Vladimir Putin. We did very well at those meetings.”