Washington Update for the Week Ending May 12, 2017

comeyNCPA’s Legislative Director Brian Williams give us an update.

There are so many topics that ought to have occupied the attention of policymakers in Washington this week: Responding to nuclear and conventional threats from North Korea, reforming the byzantine tax code, mitigating the increasing damage inflicted by Obamacare, and liberating small business entrepreneurs to create jobs and grow the economy, just to name a few.

Instead, Washington was distracted by the abrupt firing of James Comey, former director of the FBI. Over the last several months, nearly everyone in Congress agreed (at one time or another) that Mr. Comey deserved to be fired. But the unceremonious timing, clumsy rationalization, and mixed messaging from the Administration only served to whip the Free Press into a frenzy, created an atmosphere of confusion among the intrinsic allies of the President, jolted Congress even further out of focus, and added to the already alarming level of distress among the scant few who still watch MSNBC.

It all started on Tuesday against the tenuous backdrop of Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to being blackmailed by Russia. The White House issued an unexpected announcement on Tuesday evening that President Trump had fired the FBI director. Confusion ensued almost immediately because of recent reports speculating on Mr. Comey’s recent Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. At first, it appeared that the two events were linked, but President Trump said he fired the FBI director simply because he wasn’t doing a good job. Later, details emerged about a reported request from Mr. Comey to the Justice Department for more resources to conduct the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, but the White House press office said that Mr. Comey’s dismissal had been on the President’s mind ever since the day he was elected and had nothing to do with Russia. All of this was unfolding as President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office, the photographs of which did not help assuage the growing speculation about Russia.

It went downhill from there. The President of the United States accused the former FBI director of being a “showboat,” and said the FBI is in turmoil. In an unrelated hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the new acting FBI director appeared to contradict the President’s assessment of the FBI and their ongoing investigation. The President responded this morning with a thinly veiled warning that he might have recorded his conversations with Mr. Comey. And to muddle matters even worse, the President suggested that the White House may cancel future press briefings in order to improve accuracy. To figure out what in the world is going on, the U.S. Senate has asked the deputy attorney general to brief them next week.

Meanwhile, in spite of the Comey drama, several important things are happening in Washington and around the world:

  • The Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States)—or G7 for short—is meeting in Italy this week to address a broad range of international issues, including international tax rules, cyber security, and terrorism. One issue that ought to be addressed, if for no other reason than to provide clarity and leadership to the other G7 countries, is the Paris Climate Treaty. As you recall, President Obama unilaterally agreed to the Paris Climate Treaty last year without Senate ratification. The easiest and most Constitutional way to proceed is for the President to submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification, which he should have done before the G7 meeting. The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate to ratify treaties, which is the reason President Obama didn’t submit the Paris Climate Treaty to the Senate in the first place. If the Senate disapproves the treaty, it would send a strong signal to the G7 and rest of the world that the United States is committed to energy and economic development, not an international wealth distribution scheme that will only further hinder economic progress in developing nations.
  • President Trump nominated 10 judges to serve on federal courts around the country. In spite of all the palace intrigue happening in Washington these days, the nomination of solid, originalist judges will serve the United States to a greater, lasting degree, than almost anything else the President does.
  • The Senate was in session this week, although they failed to approve legislation that would have overturned a job-killing, Obama-era environmental regulation. The Senate voted to confirm the new U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, and they voted to confirm the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb. The House of Representatives was in recess this week.
  • The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the latest development of the President’s efforts to issue an executive order that bars visas from countries that cannot prevent the travel of terrorists to the United States.
  • The Pentagon is weighing whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

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