Congress

ADL alarmed by author speaking to Congress who links gun control and Holocaust

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern that a witness at a congressional hearing on a controversial gun bill  wrote a book arguing that gun control rendered Jews defenseless during the Holocaust.

Stephen Halbrook, who wrote “Gun Control in the Third Reich” in 2015, is set to appear Tuesday at a meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, which is considering the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. The bill would loosen controls on transporting firearms across state lines, an area that Halbrook has litigated as a prominent gun rights attorney.

“We have long been concerned about facile comparisons of gun control legislation in America to policies upheld by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in an email to JTA. “The national debate over gun control is a divisive issue with many strong opinions. While there are legitimate arguments on both sides, the notion that Jews could have saved themselves from the Nazi onslaught is not one of them. It is historically inaccurate and deeply offensive to bring the Holocaust into this debate where it simply does not belong.”

Halbrook’s book argued that a key element in the Nazis’ repressive policies was the disarming of Nazi enemies, a theory embraced last year by the then-presidential candidate and now-Housing Secretary Ben Carson. Halbrook emphasizes in his book that gun control was not a factor leading to the Holocaust. Instead, he says, it facilitated it.

Historians of Nazi Germany have widely discredited the theory, saying that whatever restrictions on gun purchases the Nazis placed on Jews must be seen as part of the array of repressive measures Nazis imposed on Jews and not as Nazis favoring gun controls per se. In fact, the Nazis in 1938 loosened controls on gun ownership for non-Jewish Germans.

Others have questioned how Jews in Germany, who made up only 1 percent of the population, could have staged an effective rebellion against the Nazis’ military regime.

JTA was alerted to Halbrook’s scheduled appearance before the committee by Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun control advocacy group founded by Gabrielle Giffords, the Jewish Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot and critically wounded by a gunman in 2011 in a deadly attack. She has since retired from Congress.

David Chipman, a senior adviser to the group, also appeared as a witness, testifying against a provision of the bill that would loosen restrictions on silencers. Its sponsor, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., says silencers protect hunters’ hearing.

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Congress sends condemnation of white supremacists (White Idiots) to Trump for signature

WASHINGTON — Congress has backed a resolution condemning white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups following a white-nationalist rally in Virginia that descended into deadly violence.

The House approved the measure by voice vote Tuesday, one day after the Senate also cleared it by voice vote with little fanfare. The resolution now goes to President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for his response following the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Its sponsors — Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats of Virginia, and Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Johnny Isakson of Georgia —used a mechanism that mandates the president’s signature on the resolution. Most nonbinding resolutions simply require majority votes, as they stop short of being law, and express the sense of a body. This would commit Trump to the resolution’s sentiments.

The resolution “rejects white nationalism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

It also urges the president and his administration “to speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy, and use all resources available to the president and the president’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

Trump asserted there were good people on “both sides” of the Charlottesville rally and bemoaned rising efforts to remove Confederate monuments as an attack on America’s “history and culture,” drawing widespread condemnation.

The resolution assiduously avoids blaming any other parties for the deadly violence. An alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who is named and honored in the resolution.

The resolution describes Heyer’s death as a “domestic terrorist attack” and acknowledges two Virginia state troopers who died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protests.

The resolution also calls on the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security to “investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism by white supremacists.” Trump recently shut down funding for just such a Homeland Security task force.

The resolution was backed in the House by Virginia Reps. Tom Garrett and Gerry Connolly, with support from the entire Virginia House delegation.

The joint resolution is supported by a range of civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Trump administration okay with Israel keeping aid boost from Congress

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will not stand in the way of defense assistance funding to Israel added by the US Congress and won’t hold Israel to its pledge to ensure such funds are returned.

“The administration is committed to ensuring Israel receive the assistance that has been appropriated by Congress,” R.C. Hammond, a State Department spokesman, told Fox News on Monday. Hammond relayed the statement to other media after it was posted on Twitter by a Fox News reporter.

At issue is $75 million appropriated by Congress on top of the $3.1 billion due to Israel under the current arrangement with the United States, which dates to 2007. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham led appropriation of the extra funding in part because he was furious at the terms of a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Obama administration that governs the next decade of US assistance to Israel.

Under those terms, defense assistance was bumped up to an average of $3.8 billion, but Israel agreed not to lobby Congress for additional funds and agreed to return any additional funds.

Hammond was responding to reports in conservative media that the State Department was considering demanding that Israel return the money.

At the time of the signing — before the election and Donald Trump’s surprise victory — Israeli officials said they would return any additional funds appropriated by Congress.

AS DEADLINE LOOMS, TRUMP MAY PUNT FATE OF IRAN DEAL TO CONGRESS

 

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration may declare in October that Iran has violated a US law governing America’s role in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which would force a heated debate in Congress on whether to reimpose sanctions on the rogue state, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a speech that President Donald Trump would have “ground to stand on” should he decertify Iran’s conformity with the terms of the legislation, which requires the president every 90 days verify Tehran’s compliance with the nuclear accord itself, as well as its continued service in the national security interests of the United States.

That law, written by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, “asks us to put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle,” Haley told the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington.

“Under its structure, we must consider not just the Iranian regime’s technical violations of the JCPOA [nuclear agreement], but also its violations of [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231 and its long history of aggression,” she said, referring to a UN resolution that codified the nuclear accord. “We must consider the regime’s repeated, demonstrated hostility toward the United States. We must consider its history of deception about its nuclear program. We must consider its ongoing development of ballistic missile technology.”

The ambassador thus outlined a subtle strategy that would allow Trump to punt the fate of the nuclear accord to members of Congress, who in reinstating nuclear-related sanctions would effectively kill the agreement.

“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail,” Haley asserted. “We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in US national security interests.”

Brokered by the Obama administration in 2015 with Iran, Germany and the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, the JCPOA was designed to strictly govern the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work without addressing its “nonnuclear activities” of concern to international powers. But critics of the deal – including the Israeli government – worry that in failing to address those activities, it provides cover for Tehran to expand its military operations across the region.

“The deal drew an artificial line between the Iranian regime’s nuclear development and the rest of its lawless behavior,” Haley said. “The result is that for advocates of the deal, everything in our relationship with the Iranian regime must now be subordinated to the preservation of the agreement.

“Iran’s leaders want to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage to its bad behavior,” she said.

Haley’s speech offered a first look of the administration’s plans for next month, when Trump – who throughout his presidential campaign railed against the nuclear accord – is faced with a hard deadline on recertification. She underscored that Trump has not yet decided to declare Iran in noncompliance, but that his decision to do so would not amount to US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.

She warned that, under the deal, Iran will be allowed to expand its nuclear infrastructure unchecked as key provisions of the deal expire. “ W e will be dealing with the next North Korea” if the JCPOA is preserved in its current form, Haley said. She criticized the agreement’s failure to link Iran’s ballistic missile program with its nuclear work, despite the UN Security Council’s repeated resolutions to that effect. And she noted that Iran has in the past hidden its most sensitive nuclear activities in military sites that are now hard to reach for UN inspectors.

“Another major flaw in the JCPOA is its penalty provisions,” she said. “Whether an Iranian violation is big or small – whether it is deemed to be material or nonmaterial – the deal provides for only one penalty. That penalty is the reimposition of sanctions.

“And if sanctions are reimposed, Iran is then freed from all the commitments it made,” she continued. “Think about that. There is an absurdly circular logic to enforcement of this deal. Penalizing its violations don’t make the deal stronger, they blow it up.”

Indeed, that decision would be in Congress’s hands should the president follow through on Haley’s plan.

Congress conducted a bruising debate in August 2015 over whether or not to vote against the agreement – a vote that drew Israel’s government into American politics and challenged many senior Democrats to buck the leader of their own party.

Haley did acknowledge that America’s allies in Europe want to see the accord preserved, but claimed they have expressed concern with Iran’s regional activities in recent months.

“I’m not making the case for decertifying,” Haley said, while adding: “Should he decide to decertify, he has ground to stand on.”

Trump Widens Rift With Congress as Critical Showdowns Loom

WASHINGTON — President Trump has widened an extraordinary rift with his own party, as he threatened a government shutdown over his long-promised border wall and attacked key lawmakers whose votes he needs heading into a crucial legislative period.

The escalating tensions between the Republican president and the Republican Congress endanger delicate negotiations in the coming weeks to overhaul the tax system, keep the government running and avoid a costly default on the country’s debt. They are the clearest signs to date that the uncomfortable alliance between Mr. Trump, who won the presidency promising to “drain the swamp,” and Republican lawmakers who hoped to enact long-stalled conservative priorities, has begun to fray.

In a challenge to Republicans late Tuesday, Mr. Trump threatened to shut down the government in a matter of weeks if Congress did not fund the wall on the southern border that was a signature promise of his campaign for the White House.

“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Mr. Trump told a raucous rally in Phoenix as his supporters chanted, “Build that wall!”

“The American people voted for immigration control — that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he added. “One way or the other, we’re going to get that wall.”

On Wednesday, he followed up on the threat by attacking Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who has said he is skeptical of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico unless, as Mr. Trump promised, Mexico pays for it. Mr. Flake is one of two Republican senators up for re-election next year in a swing state, and the president has put his finger on the scale toward a primary challenger, Kelli Ward.

“Not a fan of Jeff Flake,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post. “Weak on crime & border!”

And amid a frosty period in his relationship with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, Mr. Trump questioned the Senate leader’s approach, faulting Republicans for failing to blow up longstanding Senate rules that make most legislation subject to a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.

“If Republican Senate doesn’t get rid of the Filibuster Rule & go to a simple majority, which the Dems would do, they are just wasting time!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, suggesting a change that Mr. McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders have repeatedly rejected.

Mr. McConnell on Wednesday sought to play down the friction between himself and the president, issuing a statement in which he insisted that their common legislative priorities were on track.

“The president and I, and our teams, have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals,” Mr. McConnell said. “We are working together to develop tax reform and infrastructure legislation so we can grow the economy and create jobs; to prevent a government default; to fund the government so we can advance our priorities in the short and long terms; to pass the defense authorization and defense appropriations bills so we can support our troops and help implement an effective strategy against ISIL; to provide relief from Obamacare; and to continue our progress for our nation’s veterans.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, echoed that statement and said the president and Mr. McConnell “will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the president’s cabinet.”

But there is growing evidence of tensions that have erupted privately between the president and other senior Republicans as well. In a testy call this month, first reported by Politico, Mr. Trump vented angrily to Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, over Russia sanctions legislation he said would damage his presidency, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Mr. Corker insisted that he would not back down on the measure, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Mr. Trump’s threat on Tuesday of a shutdown introduced new uncertainty to the ambitious wish list. It sharpened a suggestion that Mr. Trump made early this year, in the wake of a budget agreement he grudgingly accepted even though it omitted money for the wall, that the United States needed “a good ‘shutdown’” this fall to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending.

Mr. Trump has asked Congress to allocate $1.6 billion this year toward building a wall along the roughly 1,900-mile border with Mexico. Currently, a mix of barriers — from chain-link fences and steel walling that keep people from crossing to steel beams to stop vehicles — stretch across about 650 miles of the border. So far, Congress has provided $341 million this year to repair and bolster the existing border barriers.

Overall, the Trump administration is seeking $3.6 billion for the border wall over the next two fiscal years. In the past, however, Mr. Trump has said there is no need for a wall along the entire border, which spans four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Congressional leaders distanced themselves from the president’s threat. Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said on Wednesday in Oregon that no one wanted a dispute over the border wall to result in a lapse in government funding, adding that he did not believe that such a confrontation would be necessary.

White House officials said Mr. Trump’s words were not meant as a legislative directive or veto promise so much as a message to lawmakers, including Democrats who have previously supported spending on border fencing.

“Protecting our borders is only controversial if you are looking for reasons to obstruct a longstanding and bipartisan effort,” said John Czwartacki, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

Hard-line conservative nationalists such as Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist ousted from the White House last week, have counseled the president to take a hard line on wall funding to buck up his political base after the embarrassing defeat of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have warned Mr. Trump that signing a funding bill that does not include substantial sums for the wall could enrage his core supporters.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s bare-knuckled tactics could alienate congressional Republicans when he can ill afford to lose their support.

The president wants to push through a tax overhaul by year’s end, but first Republicans must approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 to trigger special procedures that would allow the package to pass the Senate with only 51 votes, instead of the 60 required for most legislation.

A budget resolution is always difficult, but it will probably become entangled in another divisive issue, the debt ceiling: The Treasury Department has estimated that the government will reach its borrowing limit sometime in October, at which point Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit to avoid a default.

Most immediately, the government will run out of money on Oct. 1 unless Congress approves new government spending bills. But in that conflict, the president may have handed Senate Democrats the whip, while inoculating them from blame. They can now filibuster any spending bill that contains wall funding, forcing Republicans to strip out the money and challenge Mr. Trump to veto it.

“If the president pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading toward a government shutdown, which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, said Mr. Trump’s threat had made it clear that he was willing to sow chaos in the service of his top policy priority. “The president said he will purposefully hurt American communities to force American taxpayers to fund an immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall,” she said.

Republicans privately vented their dismay at the president’s tactics and language — especially his political maneuvering against their colleagues. The contest between Mr. Flake and Ms. Ward appears to have become something of a proxy fight between the president and the majority leader.

“I would just say that I think it’s important that we all stay unified as Republicans to complete our agenda,” Mr. Ryan cautioned.

But Ms. Sanders signaled that the president was willing to stoke such disputes if he believed it served his purposes.

“I think everybody knows this president isn’t somebody who backs down,” she told reporters on Air Force One as Mr. Trump returned to Washington on Wednesday. “If he thinks we need to lean in a little, I’m sure we will.”

White House aides had urged Mr. Trump not to mention Mr. Flake by name at the rally in Phoenix, which he instead used to savage the news media as unpatriotic and “sick,” angrily defend his response to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va., and praise Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff whose aggressive immigration crackdowns led to a federal conviction for criminal contempt of court.

The president criticized Mr. Flake only obliquely in the speech — “Nobody knows who the hell he is,” Mr. Trump said — and waited until Wednesday morning to take aim at the senator by name on Twitter.

In an interview Wednesday on “The Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox News Radio, Mr. Flake said, “I will continue to support the president and work with him when I think he’s right, and challenge him when I think he is going in the wrong direction.”

Mr. Trump appears to be in a fighting mood. Before his exit, Mr. Bannon repeatedly warned Mr. Trump and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, that September could be the breaking point for the Trump presidency — “a total meat grinder,” Mr. Bannon told them.

Conservatives will object to raising the debt ceiling unless it contains some provisions to help rein in government spending — an unlikely scenario. Instead, Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell will have to rely on Democratic votes to pass the increase — and put the president in the awkward position of having to sign it despite repeatedly promising to tackle the country’s debt.

Mr. Bannon warned White House colleagues that that could send the conservative House Freedom Caucus into open revolt against the speaker. To placate them, Mr. Bannon counseled, the White House must extract wall funding at all costs.

McConnell: There’s ‘Zero Chance’ That Congress Fails to Raise Debt Limit

Mitch McConnell said Monday that there is “zero chance” that Congress will fail to increase America’s debt limit next month. But the Senate Majority Leader offered zero details on what, precisely, this inevitable debt-ceiling bill would look like — or how the GOP leadership planned to go about passing it.

“There is zero chance — no chance — we will not raise the debt ceiling,” McConnell said, appearing at an event in Kentucky with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “America is not going to default, and we’ll get the job done in conjunction with the secretary of the Treasury.”

Mnuchin, for his part, reiterated the White House’s preference for a “clean” debt-ceiling hike — which is to say, a bill that does nothing beyond increase the limit on how much money the U.S. government can borrow. Right now, the Treasury Department expects to hit the current debt limit by September 29.

In a saner political universe, such a “clean” bill would be a no-brainer. After all, the legislation is going to have to be bipartisan, as Republicans lack the 60 Senate votes necessary for evading a filibuster on a debt-ceiling increase. Given how hard it is for Democrats and Republicans to reach consensus on fiscal issues, it makes sense to defer all other conflicts while working to secure the mutual goal of preventing the United States from defaulting on its debt — and, thus, triggering a stock-market crash, recession, and/or long-term increase in America’s cost of borrowing.

Of course, the most sensible option would be the abolition of the debt ceiling altogether. If Congress wishes to limit the growth of the national debt, it can do so by raising taxes or appropriating less funds; the debt limit merely gives irresponsible deficit demagogues a chance to hold the nation’s credit rating hostage to their unpopular policy demands.

Alas, the House GOP is filled with such hawks. The far-right Republicans of the Freedom Caucus believe that voting to allow the Treasury to borrow more money — so as to finance the spending that Congress already voted for — is a crime against America’s grandchildren. (They also believe that the GOP should pass a tax plan that increases the deficit, and that the federal government must do everything in its power to ignore climate change.) Thus, they see voting to not trigger a recession as a major ideological concession to the left — one that should earn them some kind of reward.

Earlier this month, the caucus’s chairman Mark Meadows informed the GOP leadership that to support a debt-ceiling hike, he and his fellow reactionaries would need the bill to include at least $250 billion in mandatory spending cuts, or else drastic rollbacks to federal regulations.

During the Obama years, there was a political logic to this sort of brinkmanship: Since voters tend to blame the president’s party for anything bad that happens on his watch, Democrats had more to lose from default than Republicans did. Threatening to sabotage the economy unless your political rivals agree to advance your widely reviled ideological goals was always a morally odious gambit; but in 2013, it was, at least, a logically coherent one.

Now, though, no one has more to lose from a Congress-induced recession than congressional Republicans. And Paul Ryan can almost certainly pass a clean debt-ceiling hike with Democratic and moderate Republican votes, should he let such a bill come to the floor. So, the Freedom Caucus’s only leverage in this fight is a tacit threat to end Ryan’s speakership, should he opt for working with Democrats over the House’s only true conservatives. But given how much money Ryan is raking into the congressional GOP’s campaign coffers, it’s hard to believe a mutiny is in the cards.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats — who, as members of the opposition party, enjoy relative immunity from the consequences of default — are mulling their own debt-ceiling demands.

The GOP leadership has reportedly considered folding the debt ceiling into some piece of minor legislation with bipartisan buy-in, or else into a bipartisan spending agreement. But if the Freedom Caucus’s word can be trusted, every option will require Ryan to buck his party and govern with Democratic votes. While such a move is unlikely to cost the speaker his gavel, it would (almost certainly) make it even more difficult for the House leadership to placate its right flank in the upcoming battles over the 2018 budget and tax reform.

All of which is to say: For McConnell and Ryan, September may prove the cruelest month.

Trump’s Confederacy fight threatens GOP agenda in Congress

Senior Republicans on Capitol Hill fear President Donald Trump’s eagerness to fight a Confederate-tinged culture war and his attacks on fellow Republicans are squandering precious political capital and imperiling their agenda in Congress.

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately need Trump to help them sell Republicans on a debt ceiling hike by the end of September — a toxic vote for conservatives. And they know they’ll need strong White House leadership to get tax reform over the finish line, a must-do for the conservative base after the embarrassing collapse of their Obamacare repeal effort.

But Trump is preoccupied lately with defending Confederate statues and playing to his base of supporters on the so-called “alt-right.” He hailed some Charlottesville, Virginia, protesters fighting the removal of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s likeness as “very fine people” — though they did so at a rally packed with white supremacists. And he tried to equate attendees chanting “blood and soil!” — an old Hitler slogan — with counterprotesters who opposed them.

Trump is also going after members of his own party who’ve criticized his response to the deadly Charlottesville protest — not exactly the team-building exercise needed at this moment.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, later adding: “Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

Republicans are practically pulling their hair out, frustrated over the leadership vacuum they say Trump is creating. The way they see it, the party is gearing up for one of the most politically precarious legislative stretches in recent memory. In addition to tackling the debt ceiling and tax reform, GOP leaders need to avert a government shutdown, strike a long-term spending deal with Democrats and pass a budget that appeases conservatives and moderate Republicans — all in the next couple of months.

There are also serious concerns about North Korea’s heightened aggression toward the U.S.

And yet, rank-and-file Republicans have had to drop what they’re doing to repudiate Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville, as have Cabinet members and military officials. Business leaders quit a presidential council en masse.

“I do think there need to be some radical changes,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker told reporters in Tennessee on Thursday. “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability or some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Without an immediate change in his leadership style, Corker added, “our nation is going to go through great peril.”

Top GOP tax writers on the House Ways and Means Committee met in Santa Barbara, California, on Wednesday to pitch the merits of tax reform to the nation. National attention paid to the event paled in comparison to that focused on Trump’s divisive rhetoric — only the latest example of Trump’s controversies stealing the GOP spotlight.

“These constant tangents create distractions; they force our members to talk about statues and Nazis instead of tax reform,” one senior House GOP aide said Thursday. “Until this White House learns how to actually use the bully pulpit, they’re essentially useless.”

Added another senior GOP source: “The daily five-ring Trump circus hurts our ability to get things done.”

For dozens of Republicans, however, Trump’s recent words are about more than a mere distraction; they’re depriving the party of a much-needed leader.

Conservative lawmakers and outside groups, for instance, are already plotting their resistance to GOP leadership’s expected calls to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts. Ryan and McConnell will need Trump to give them political cover.

As Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the whip team, noted in a Thursday interview, Trump is “extremely popular” in deeply conservative districts. So if Trump wants a “clean” debt ceiling increase, he’ll have to be vocal about it and “do the whipping” to get conservatives on board.

Republicans also need Trump engaged and on their side to lock down GOP priorities in a spending deal they’re expected to strike with Democrats this fall. The government runs out of money on Sept. 30. And while leaders are eyeing a short-term patch to buy them more time, many expect an ugly, partisan shutdown fight this winter over Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

“We’re going to need him for a lot of things,” said Rooney, who’s still holding out for corresponding cuts for a debt ceiling increase. “We’re going to need him for tax reform, too. He needs to whip these votes, not just to members of Congress but to their constituents.”

But some Hill Republicans worry Trump will continue to be distracted by the controversy of the day.

“Trump is just making September that much more toxic,” said another GOP aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “How are we as Republicans supposed to maneuver through some major cliffs if he just sets the whole place on fire?”

During a Thursday morning tweetstorm, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham noted that Trump’s Charlottesville response was winning praise from racists and begged him to “for the sake of our nation — as our president — please fix this.”

Trump responded by attacking Graham as “publicity seeking” — and rubbing in the South Carolinian’s face his defeat in the 2016 GOP primary. “He just can’t forget his election trouncing,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

That was minutes before Trump shot arrows at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who in recent weeks has urged Republicans to stand up to Trump. “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted.

It was just the latest in a growing list of Trump attacks on Senate Republicans that have also drawn scorn from Hill GOP insiders. Between the jabs at them on Twitter and anger at the president’s reaction to Charlottesville, Republicans see an increasingly soured relationship between Congress and the president — one that could hurt tax reform and other GOP priorities.

Some Republicans felt the Obamacare repeal effort might have actually passed had Trump been more engaged in selling it and less obsessed with White House infighting that’s consumed all of Washington. As with health care, Republicans can afford to lose only a few votes and still pass a GOP tax bill.

But without allies on the Hill, lawmakers may balk when Trump implores them to take tough votes for his agenda.

“The reality is that every time he attacks a Republican, he invites another member in good standing and another segment of the Republican Party to abandon him,” Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, told POLITICO Playbook on Thursday. “When you’re eight months in and Republicans are all you have left, chipping away at the remaining few is a helluva strategy.”

Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs at the Club for Growth, said Trump needs to be laser-focused on tax reform if he hopes to get a bill passed this fall. Tax reform, Roth said “is hard enough as it is.” And “in order to successfully pass tax reform, you need a large amount of unity and focus.”

Right now, Roth said, “there is a big concern” that unity just isn’t there — and that Trump is not doing enough.

“For tax reform to pass, we need the president to be talking about it every day and twice on Sunday,” he added. “He needs to go out across the country and push for it and fight for it and talk about it all the time. It’s the single most-important thing between now and the end of the year.”

Censure, Statues, Hearings: Congress Weighs Response to Trump Remarks

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/censure-statues-hearings-congress-weighs-response-trump-remarks-n793291?cid=eml_mrd_20170817

 

WASHINGTON — Congress has become skilled at distancing itself from President Donald Trump, but some are urging elected officials to go beyond tweets and press releases in response to the president’s comments about last weekend’s violence in Virginia when they return from recess in September.

Members of both parties have condemned Trump’s insistence that “both sides” bear some responsibility for the clashes at the Charlottesville, Va. rally and his defense of “very fine people” who joined a torch-wielding group of white supremacists that marched on the University of Virginia chanting “Jews will not replace us” and Nazi slogans.

But some some politicians are also pushing a menu of legislative options that they argue could help send a message to hate groups, encourage tougher executive action, and more clearly repudiate Trump’s position.

“I really believe if we are a government made up of three co-equal branches of government, I think it’s time for the Congress to step up and into the gap, so to speak,” Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. said in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday.

In the most explosive example, a group of Democrats unveiled legislation to censure President Donald Trump for failing to adequately condemn white supremacist groups and for blaming “both sides” for violence at the rally.

Related: Republicans and Democrats Blast Trump’s Latest Charlottesville Remarks

The bill, by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., would also call on Trump to fire aides Steve Bannon, who boasted while running Breitbart News that the site was “the platform for the alt right,” and Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart editor who mocked concerns about white supremacist terror just days before the rally.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League have also raised concerns about Bannon and Gorka, who have denied any ties to white nationalism or extremism.

“Congress needs to send a clear message that white supremacy and Nazi sympathy is not the official position of the United States government,” Nadler said on Twitter.

Outside activists have called for censure as well. The liberal activist group MoveOn.org have also circulated a petition in support of the idea and Jesse Ferguson, a former campaign aide to Hillary Clinton, has promoted the idea on Twitter.

“I’m a regular citizen who can tweet and Facebook that I don’t like what he said, but my elected officials need to be held to a higher bar,” Ferguson told NBC News.

Image: Robert E. Lee Statue in the US Capitol
Virginia’s statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee stands in the Crypt in the U.S. Capitol on June 23, 2015 in Washington. file Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc. file

Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. and Cedric Richmond, D-La. each repeated calls to remove Confederate symbols from the Capitol Building, which displays statues to Jefferson Davis and other Confederate figures.

“These images symbolize a time of racial discrimination and segregation that continues to haunt this country and many African-Americans who still to this day face racism and bigotry,” Thompson said in a statement.

There are currently 12 statues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall that honor Confederate soldiers and politicians, according to the Washington Post, versus four statues honoring African Americans.

The statues are chosen by state governments, making their removal more complicated, but the attack could put pressure on leaders in Congress and statehouses to take action. State and local elected officials around the country have redoubled efforts to take down Confederate statues and memorials in the days since the Charlottesville attack.

Related: Trump Dissolves Business Advisory Councils As CEOs Quit

Republican Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker renewed calls this week to remove the Confederate flag imagery from the Mississippi state flag, whose presence in the U.S. Capitol building has also drawn criticism from Thompson.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee called on Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas to schedule hearings on domestic terrorism when they come back in September.

“Unfortunately it has become clear we cannot count on President Trump for action,” the group of twelve Democrats wrote in a joint letter requesting the hearing.

Experts on hate groups have urged the administration to come up with a clear plan to confront white supremacists, who they say have been energized by Trump’s political rise. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pledged a vigorous response to the Charlottesville attack.

While legislation to censure the president is unlikely to attract Republican support, GOP lawmakers in Congress had grown more assertive in their relationship with Trump even before the events of the past days. In recent weeks, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation codifying sanctions on Russia over objections from Trump.

Two Republican Senators have introduced separate bipartisan bills to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller should Trump try to remove him from his investigation. A raft of Republican senators also defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from attacks by Trump.

Lawmakers in both parties could apply additional pressure on the administration if they believe the White House is slacking. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. called on the Department of Homeland Security to form a task force on white supremacist violence that reports to Congress and has been strongly critical of Trump’s response so far.

“Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world,” Graham said in a statement on Wednesday.

With sanctions and warnings, Trump and Congress step up pressure on Iran

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump said he would be “surprised” if the United States adjudicates Iran in compliance with the nuclear deal in three months and the U.S. House of Representatives approved new sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic, signaling increasing fragility for the 2015 agreement.

“We’ll talk about the subject in 90 days, but I would be surprised if they were in compliance,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The United States must declare Iran in compliance every 90 days. Trump, acting on the advice of his top security advisers, agreed to do so earlier this month, but with great reluctance.

Later the same day, Trump in Youngstown, Ohio, again expressed misgivings about the deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a rollback in its nuclear program. The agreement was President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.

“If that deal doesn’t conform to what it’s supposed to conform to, it’s going to be big, big problems for them,” Trump said. “That I can tell you. Believe me.”

Trump reportedly is coming around to embracing an argument that Iran is in violation of the “spirit” of the deal even if it is complying with its narrow particulars, mandating limited uranium enrichment. Iran has continued its ballistic missile testing and maintains an interventionist role in conflicts in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Syria.

Congress also is increasing pressure on Iran to roll back non-nuclear activities that the United States considers disruptive.

A bill that the House passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday ramps up sanctions on Iran for its missile testing, human rights abuses and backing of terrorism, and tightens the president’s ability to waive the sanctions. The measure, which also includes Russia and North Korea sanctions, has yet to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which led opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, backs the bill.

“AIPAC urges the Senate to quickly pass the legislation and the president to sign it into law,” AIPAC said in a statement.

Defenders of the nuclear deal say it was designed purely to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power, allowing the United States and its allies to more comfortably confront it on issues like terrorism, military interventions and missile testing. Obama, like Trump, continued to sanction Iran in those areas.

Trump also targeted Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that is an ally of Iran, in remarks Tuesday at a joint news conference with the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” the president said. “The group continues to increase its military arsenal, which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel, constantly fighting them back.”

Trump, however, declined to say whether he would back new sanctions targeting Hezbollah under consideration in Congress.

“With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria,” he said.

Separately, the House on Wednesday unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution calling on Iran to release U.S. citizens and residents held in prison, including Robert Levinson, a Jewish former FBI agent who has been missing since 2007 when he was in Iran on what has been revealed as a rogue CIA operation.

The White House made a similar appeal earlier this week.

Congress Reaches Deal on Russia Sanctions, Creating Tough Choice for Trump

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election-meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

The new legislation sharply limits the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions. At a moment when investigations into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials have cast a shadow over his presidency, Mr. Trump could soon face a bleak decision: veto the bill — and fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration abhors.

The White House has not publicly spoken about the compromise legislation. But two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the legislation in the current political atmosphere, even if he regards it as interfering with his executive authority to conduct foreign policy. But as ever, Mr. Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to veto a significant bill.

Congress has complicated his choice because the compromise legislation also encompasses new sanctions against Iran and North Korea, two countries the administration has been eager to punish for its activities.

A sanctions package had stalled in the Republican-led House for weeks after winning near-unanimous support in the Senate last month. Democrats accused Republicans of delaying quick action on the bill at the behest of the Trump administration, which had asked for more flexibility in its relationship with Russia and took up the cause of energy companies, defense contractors and other financial players who suggested that certain provisions could harm American businesses.

 

The House version of the bill includes a small number of changes, technical and substantive, from the Senate legislation, including some made in response to concerns raised by oil and gas companies.

But for the most part, the Republican leadership appears to have rejected most of the White House’s objections. The bill aims to punish Russia not only for interference in the election but also for its annexation of Crimea, continuing military activity in eastern Ukraine and human rights abuses. Proponents of the measure seek to impose sanctions on people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others.

Paired with the sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the House version of the bill was set for a vote on Tuesday, according to the office of Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the chamber’s majority leader.
On Saturday, the agreement appeared destined for bipartisan, bicameral support.

Senator Ben. Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that though he would have preferred full adoption of the Senate version, “I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations.”

He said the legislation would “express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said he expected this “strong” bill to reach the president’s desk promptly “on a broad bipartisan basis.”

In the House, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip, praised the agreement’s stipulation that “the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions.”

But Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, struck a notably different tone. In a statement, she said she was “concerned by changes insisted upon by Republicans” that would empower Republican leadership only to “originate actions in the House to prevent the Trump administration from rolling back sanctions.”

She also registered concerns about adding sanctions against North Korea to the package, questioning whether it would prompt delays in the Senate. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Cardin expressed no such concerns.

Republican leaders did not immediately release statements on Saturday.

The delays in the House became a source of deep frustration among some Russia hawks, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, before he left Washington for medical treatment for a brain tumor.

“Pass it, for Christ’s sake,” he said to his House colleagues, as the measure languished last week over technical concerns raised mostly by Republicans.
As House Republican leaders like Speaker Paul D. Ryan chafed at the suggestion that they were doing the White House’s bidding by not taking up the measure immediately, the administration sought to pressure members by insisting that the legislation would unduly hamstring the president.

Officials argued that Mr. Trump would be effectively handcuffed — deprived of the power to ease or lift the sanctions as he saw fit. The White House pushed to remove language giving Congress the ability to block such actions.