The wrangling over the flood program is hardly the history-bending stuff that’s animated surging interest in the political debate this year. But it has been a driving concern of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). He represents the toe of Louisiana’s boot, which was hammered by catastrophic flooding last August. On Wednesday morning, Scalise was shot in the hip. He remains in critical condition.
In the wake of the attack, the House Financial Services Committee initially postponed the markup of the flood-insurance package until 1 p.m. The panel then rescheduled the session for 9 a.m. this morning.
The program cuts to the core of an ideological rift in the Republican Party — between free-marketeers, who want the government out of the flood insurance game, and more traditional, pro-business types, who say insurers need the federal support.
It covers roughly 5 million properties and is carrying $24.6 billion in debt after a series of expensive payouts from the likes of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Conservative critics, including House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), argue it’s left taxpayers on the hook for too much and policyholders should shoulder more of their own burden. Objections from Republicans in flood-prone areas – and private interests, like the real-estate industry – have stymied him. The last time Congress re-upped the program, in 2014, House Republican leadership went around Hensarling to broker a compromise with Democrats.
On Wednesday, a number of industry groups were gearing up to try to stop Hensarling’s plan again. The National Association of Homebuilders had about 1,000 of its members in town, staying in a Marriott five miles northwest of the Capitol. They woke up expecting to hear a speech from Vice President Pence. Then, they would make the trek to the Hill to insist lawmakers remove a provision zeroing out flood coverage for new houses in flood plains.
Pence canceled after the shooting. NAHB spread the word to their members: Check to see if lawmakers and staff are still willing to meet. It turned out that most were. “We have to be compassionate,” NAHB president Jerry Howard told me. “At the same time, we have to show those who would undermine our democracy that we will carry forward.” Late last night, an NAHB executive said the group had heard that leadership wanted to deal but hadn’t yet seen an offer.
Insurers likewise were poised to oppose the measure — over a cut in their reimbursement rate for servicing federally issued policies. Jim Grande, a top lobbyist for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said a compromise with Republican leaders on the committee earned their support. Grande also said it was hard to focus on flood insurance in the wake of the attack. “It seems fairy meaningless,” he said. But he added that he understood why Congressional Republicans were forging ahead. “People want to wake up and know that their government is functioning. It’s a resiliency thing.”
President Trump visited Scalise in the hospital last night:
--House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was still listed in critical condition Wednesday night following a shooting at a practice for the annual congressional baseball game. MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Scalise is being treated, said the bullet fractured bones and hit internal organs and that he will require “additional operations.” Law enforcement officials identified 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson from Illinois, who appeared to be angry at President Trump, as the lone gunman behind Wednesday's attack that injured Scalise and four others. Hodgkinson died from gunshot wounds from an exchange of gunfire with police. Capitol police officer Crystal Griner who was injured in the attack was in "good condition" after being shot in the ankle, and another officer David Bailey was released after being treated for a minor injury. Congressional staffer, Zach Barth, who was shot in the leg was released from the hospital and lobbyist Matt Mika was listed in critical condition after surgery as of Wednesday afternoon. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for unity following the attack. An emotional Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tx) praised the Capitol police for their heroism after the shooting.
--Trump, joined by first lady Melania Trump, visited Scalise at the hospital last night and called for prayers for the lawmaker, tweeting he was “in very tough shape.” But tonight's charity baseball game will still go on -- Scalise's Louisiana colleague Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D) said "he absolutely would want the game to continue.” Lawmakers applauded House Speaker Paul D. Ryan's announcement on the floor that the game would continue. "We’re united, not as Republicans and Democrats but as United States representatives," Barton said Wednesday evening alongside fellow congressional baseball manager Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) Louisiana State University, Scalise's alma mater, is sending lawmakers hats and t-shirts to wear during the game. CNN reported Thursday morning that the Louisiana Republican was hoping to watch the game from the hospital. The president will not be attending Thursday night's game due to security concerns.
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— The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter-point on Wednesday, the third such hike in six months and the latest signal from the central bank of its confidence in a strengthening economy. Markets had already priced in the move, with Fed futures having indicated a 93.5% chance of an increase.
The Fed also outlined its plan to begin winding down its $4.2 trillion balance sheet.
— Looming over the meeting was the question of whether Trump will keep Fed Chair Janet Yellen on after her term expires in January. Yellen didn’t offer much when the question was put to her directly:
One commentator thinks Yellen didn’t love the question:
— Eight of the nine members of the Federal Open Markets Committee voted in favor of it, with only Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari opposing. Yellen said the decision "reflects the progress the economy has made and is expected to make toward maximum employment and price stability.”
But not all Fed watchers are convinced the rate hike makes sense. Neil Irwin of the New York Times notes that while the decision looks good based on unemployment that's low and falling, the economy is offering plenty of warning signals that inflation will remain meager. Continually missing its inflation target could take a bite out of the Fed's credibility.
Larry Summers agrees.
Watch Yellen discuss the decision here, in under two minutes, courtesy of Bloomberg:
— The Post scoops: President Donald Trump is now under investigation for possible obstruction of justice in the widening probe of Russia's role in the 2016 election. Investigators led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are interviewing senior intelligence officials about Trump's conduct. They've also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates. From the story:
The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s office has taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate that his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government.
The interviews suggest that Mueller sees the question of attempted obstruction of justice as more than just a “he said, he said” dispute between the president and the fired FBI director, an official said.
Investigating Trump for possible crimes is a complicated affair, even if convincing evidence of a crime were found. The Justice Department has long held that it would not be appropriate to indict a sitting president. Instead, experts say, the onus would be on Congress to review any findings of criminal misconduct and then decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings.
— Meanwhile, the Senate voted, 97-2, to allow Congress to block any attempt by the Trump administration to roll back sanctions on Russia and to ramp them up in retaliation for that country's election meddling and actions in Syria. The vote was a sharp rebuke to the White House, which has resisted acknowledging Russia's role trying to manipulate the 2016 election.
- National Journal is holding a webinar on what’s next for financial reform.
- The National Economists Club hosts a discussion with author and economist Anthony Elson.
- The Cato Institute holds an event on the financial crisis and government-sponsored enterprises.
- The Senate Committee on Banking, House and Urban Affairs holds a hearing on “Fostering Economic Growth: Midsized, Regional and Large Institution Perspective.”
- Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) will speak at a Financial Services Roundtable event.
- Vice President Pence is scheduled to give the keynote address at the conference of Prosperity and Security in Central America. Pence will speak in Miami. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are also scheduled to be at the conference’s first day.
- House Financial Services Committee will markup the bill to extend the flood insurance program this morning.
- The annual Congressional Baseball Game is scheduled to go on tonight starting just after 7 p.m. at Nationals Park, one day after an attack on Republican lawmakers at a practice in Alexandria, Va.
The Post's Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz reported last night that the special counsel overseeing the Russia probe is now investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice:
Who is Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the congressman who was shot at a congressional baseball practice on Wednesday?
Watch reactions from politicians to the shooting attack on the Republican baseball team: