Stone faces uphill battle in court

Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneFormer Roger Stone aide agrees to testify after fighting subpoena: Report DOJ plans to show Senate Intel less-redacted Mueller report, filing shows Roger Stone considers suing to discover if he was spied on by FBI MORE is having a rough time in court.

The longtime Trump associate attended a 2 1/2-hour hearing in a D.C. courthouse Thursday, during which a federal judge repeatedly pressed his attorneys over their legal arguments, saying previous court rulings prevent her from ruling in their favor.

The high level of skepticism from Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, suggests Stone faces a tough audience in his arguments ahead of a November trial.

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Among his requests: that he receive the redacted portions of the Mueller report relating to him; that the charges of lying to Congress and impeding a congressional investigation be dismissed; and that the indictment be invalidated because the special counsel’s office was improperly funded.

Jackson, known for her no-nonsense demeanor, did not make any rulings during the hearing. But her line of questioning offered clues as to which way she might be leaning.

At one point, Jackson said she didn’t believe that Stone’s lawyers were accurately depicting the charges against him. During a back-and-forth about what kind of documents Stone should be allowed to obtain, Stone’s attorney Robert Buschel said the Republican operative was charged with lying about his interactions with others about WikiLeaks.

“I’m not even sure if that’s true,” Jackson replied, before noting that it was unrelated to the motion before her.

Stone, wearing a gray double-breasted suit, did not speak publicly during the hearing, but could be seen quietly talking with his legal team during the proceedings.

His court appearance follows an indictment earlier this year for allegedly lying to Congress about who he claimed was his back channel to WikiLeaks, telling lawmakers that it was associate Randy Credico when emails obtained by the special counsel indicate that it was another associate, Jerome Corsi.

He is also charged with impeding a congressional investigation and for witness tampering. Stone has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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During another notable exchange on Thursday, Jackson pointed out that one of Stone’s legal arguments — that the executive branch can’t investigate the president — wouldn’t hold up since the Supreme Court has already stated that authority exists.

She also asked why Stone’s lawyers were citing a dissent written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in their argument, instead of any case law.

“Is there any reason why, as a district court judge, I’m supposed to apply to the law a dissent, no matter how well-written or thoughtful one might consider it to be?” Jackson asked, noting that any decision contrary to Supreme Court precedent would face a “likely prompt reversal.”

Stone attorney Bruce Rogow replied that Jackson was likely bound by that precedent to rule against Stone.

In a later argument that Jackson said was also unlikely to hold up in court, Rogow said that even if Jackson had to rule against Stone, she could note in her opinion that she disagreed with the legal precedent.

“I appreciate that advice,” Jackson said, noting that she has “probably” issued opinions making those kinds of notations. “If I agree with you, I’ll consider that option.”

Buschel argued that Stone should never had been charged with lying to Congress because the House Intelligence Committee, which heard Stone’s testimony, didn’t refer Stone to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Jackson responded by saying that when the lawmakers voted to hand over the transcript to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerBiden campaign: Impeachment ‘may be unavoidable’ now Chris Christie: Mueller ‘contradicts’ Barr’s summary of his findings The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Mueller breaks silence in surprise statement MORE, they stated that it could be used for any purpose.

Justice Department lawyers on Thursday noted that Stone held a press conference after delivering his statement to the House Intelligence Committee, during which Stone said he didn’t think all of the committee members believed his remarks.

They said that Stone was essentially drawing attention to himself for having potentially made false statements to Congress. Jackson suggested the special counsel shouldn’t be expected to ignore public comments that Stone made during the course of the investigation.

Still, Jackson indicated she might be willing to give Stone access to some of the information in the Mueller report on his investigation that has been, so far, shielded from public view.

Stone has been arguing that the redacted information in the 448-page report pertaining to his case are necessary for him to build a defense.

Justice Department attorneys have argued against giving him the report, saying he has all the evidence pertinent to his upcoming trial.

Jackson earlier this month ordered the Justice Department to give her the redacted parts of the Mueller report relating to Stone for private review as she weighed whether to allow him access to those portions. She said Thursday that she was not given the full Mueller report.

She said she might ask the Justice Department to rework some of the redactions made in his section to allow him to see more of the details included in there, especially since parts of those sections have already been made public.

But Jackson was wary of a more recent argument put forth by Stone: that the special counsel unfairly targeted him for prosecution.

She rattled off the names of other individuals who have been indicted as part of Mueller’s investigation, including Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortPapadopoulos on AG’s new powers: ‘Trump is now on the offense’ Ex-GOP lawmaker says Trump ‘illegitimate president,’ should be impeached Government moves to seize Manafort’s condo in Trump Tower MORE, Michael Flynn and Richard Gates, asking how Stone could claim he was being unfairly targeted when others have also been prosecuted.

Buschel said that Stone’s legal team believes that other people who testified before the House Intelligence Committee and the special counsel — specifically Credico and Corsi — may have lied, and won’t face charges.

Jackson said the government has the authority to decide which individuals to prosecute, as long as they don’t violate constitutional protections like discrimination on the basis of race or sex.

Stone’s legal arguments at times seemed to focus on the grammar of legal statutes; for example, whether a rule relating to the funding of independent counsels also applied to Mueller’s office because Independent Counsel was capitalized in the statute.

A similar issue was raised pertaining to a rule on the obstruction charges leveled against Stone, on whether there was an Oxford comma between elements of the statute.

Stone had attempted to get a new judge in the case, but was rejected by Jackson this week for a second time.

Jackson slapped Stone with a gag order in the case after he posted an image of the judge on Instagram that depicted a crosshairs in the corner. He claimed that he took the image from another source and didn’t see the crosshairs, but Jackson still ordered him to stop talking to the media about his case.

Jackson’s rulings on the motions argued before her on Thursday are likely to be issued in the coming weeks.

Stone has filed other motions that have not been fully responded to through court filings, meaning Jackson will have other arguments to consider in the future.

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White House starts clock on approval for new NAFTA

The White House on Thursday formally notified Congress that it is starting the approval process for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: ‘I was not informed about’ reported request to move USS John McCain Meghan McCain: Trump is a ‘child’ who will always be ‘deeply threatened’ by my dad Trump accuses Democrats of crime amid rising calls for impeachment MORE’s revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), triggering a showdown with congressional Democrats over Trump’s signature trade agreement.

The decision is designed to put pressure on House Democrats, who have objections to the revised trade pact and have reportedly warned the White House not to begin the formal process of submitting it to Congress.

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“Canada and Mexico have formally initiated their ratification processes. It is time for the United States to uphold our end of the bargain with our key allies and neighbors and do the same,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerChinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead Trump says no discussion of extending deadline in Chinese trade talks MORE wrote in a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Missouri governor steps up threats to Planned Parenthood | Louisiana passes ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban | Trump official who oversaw refugee children to leave post | Durbin urges FDA crackdown on e-cigs Hillicon Valley: Pelosi blasts Facebook for not taking down doctored video | Democrats push election security after Mueller warning | Critics dismiss FCC report on broadband access | Uber to ban passengers with low ratings On The Money: US banks see profits rise | Pelosi ‘optimistic’ on infrastructure deal with Trump | Former Black Caucus staffers flex clout on K Street MORE (D-Calif.)

The White House sent a draft statement of administrative action to lawmakers, a necessary step for the new NAFTA to be considered on a fast-track basis.

That kicks off a minimum 30-day period before the implementing legislation would be sent to Congress, though it is possible the White House could further delay introducing the legislation to provide more time for negotiations.

Filing the report with Congress, however, was intended to send a signal to Democrats that the White House will not accept a long delay.

“Today’s action is all about moving forward on an agreement that we know is a win,” Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSatanic Temple cites religious beliefs as immunity from Supreme Court abortion ruling on fetal remains Pence calls for Supreme Court to expand ‘protections for the unborn’ The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Justices sidestep major abortion decision despite pressure MORE said Thursday during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauTrudeau vows to confront Pence over ‘backsliding’ women’s rights during meeting On The Money: Trump feels squeeze in tax return fight | Second Republican blocks disaster aid bill | Brazilian firm draws scrutiny on Trump farm aid | Trump tariffs threaten to drown gains from tax cuts Canada begins process to ratify new NAFTA: report MORE in Ottawa.

Pence reiterated the administration wants Congress to pass the agreement by “this summer.”

The move inflamed tensions with Democrats who say they need more time to review the agreement and consider changes. Pelosi said the decision “is not a positive step” and “indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement.”

“We have been on a path to yes, but it must be a path that leads to an agreement that delivers positive results for American workers and farmers,” she said in a statement.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA Seven key allies for Pelosi on impeachment Trump feels squeeze in tax return fight MORE (D-Mass.) said the move by the White House would not deter Democrats from demanding changes and working at their own pace.

“The premature submission of a draft statement of administrative action has no impact on that outstanding work or the timeline moving forward,” he added.

Pelosi had reportedly warned Lighthizer privately not to send the draft statement, in order to buy more time for negotiations. The Speaker said her caucus wants stronger labor and environmental protections included in the new NAFTA agreement.

“We all agree that we must replace NAFTA, but without real enforcement mechanisms we would be locking American workers into another bad deal,” she said. “A new trade agreement without enforcement is not progress for the American worker, just a press release for the president.”

But the White House has been pressing for quick action on the deal, which is arguably its top legislative priority ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

In his letter, Lighthizer sought to assuage Democrats, writing that the draft statement “does not limit our ability to find solutions to address concerns members have raised about enforcement of the labor and environmental provisions of the agreement and pharmaceutical pricing.”

By sending the draft statement now, Lighthizer argued that it would allow Congress sufficient time to pass the revised NAFTA before its August recess, the stated goal of the Trump administration.

Trump last year brokered the revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, billing it as a replacement for NAFTA, which he has blasted as a “disaster” for the U.S. But the changes cannot go into place unless the House and Senate approve them, along with the governments of the two other North American countries.  

The deal is designed to shift some automotive production back to the U.S., further open Canadian dairy markets to U.S. farmers and reform intellectual property rules the administration saw as outdated.

– Niv Elis and Brett Samuels contributed

Updated at 6:11 p.m.

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Mueller remarks put renewed focus on election security bills

Legislation aimed at securing U.S. elections got an unexpected shot in the arm this week when Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerBiden campaign: Impeachment ‘may be unavoidable’ now Chris Christie: Mueller ‘contradicts’ Barr’s summary of his findings The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Mueller breaks silence in surprise statement MORE devoted a fair share of his first remarks on the Russia probe to the threat posed by foreign actors seeking to undermine democracy at the ballot box.

Election security bills have been languishing in Congress for months, due in large part to Republicans who do not want to shine a light on Russia’s actions and risk the fury of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: ‘I was not informed about’ reported request to move USS John McCain Meghan McCain: Trump is a ‘child’ who will always be ‘deeply threatened’ by my dad Trump accuses Democrats of crime amid rising calls for impeachment MORE.

The president weighed in on the issue Thursday, telling reporters that “we are doing a lot, and we are trying to do paper ballots as a backup system as much as possible, because going to good old-fashioned paper in this modern age is the best way to do it.”

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Those remarks came after he said Russia did not help him secure the presidency — his first on-camera response to Mueller’s comments, though he tweeted earlier in the day that Russia helped him win the election.

The president’s comments came a day after Mueller shined a spotlight on Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mueller emphasized that “the central allegation of our indictments” was “there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.”

He ended his 10-minute statement by saying this “deserves the attention of every American.”

Election security has been a major focus on Capitol Hill in recent months, mostly among Democrats, with lawmakers introducing several bills designed to combat foreign interference.

However, most legislation has been at a standstill following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Missouri governor steps up threats to Planned Parenthood | Louisiana passes ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban | Trump official who oversaw refugee children to leave post | Durbin urges FDA crackdown on e-cigs Mueller speaks: Five takeaways Ken Cuccinelli neither deserving nor qualified to play any role in immigration policy MORE’s (R-Ky.) “case closed” comments earlier this month regarding Mueller’s Russia investigation. 

McConnell has instead highlighted the work put into securing election systems during the 2018 midterm elections by the Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration, saying that combating threats “requires serious work.”

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Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMueller speaks: Five takeaways Democrats push election security legislation after Mueller warning Hit singer Andy Grammer says ‘unity’ more important than any political party MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership and chairman of the Rules Committee, said during a hearing this month that “the majority leader is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion” on the topic of election security legislation. Blunt added that he was not planning on scheduling any markups of election security legislation because “at this point I don’t see any likelihood that these bills would get to the floor.”

But at least one election security bill has the potential for movement.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Congress reaches deal on disaster aid Bipartisan group of senators introduce legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity of voting systems MORE (R-Okla.) told The Hill on Thursday that he plans to reintroduce the Secure Elections Act next week. The measure stalled during the previous Congress due to a lack of GOP support in the Rules Committee, but was one of the election security bills with the highest profiles in Congress.

While Lankford said there will be some changes to the bill text, the underlying legislation would strengthen cybersecurity information sharing between the federal government and state and local election officials, while also requiring all jurisdictions perform post-election audits to verify Election Day results.

He said the new version of the bill will not include funding for states to improve their election security practices, but will require all jurisdictions to implement audits if they want any future funding.

Lankford added that his office has been working closely with the White House counsel on the bill’s language, but did not go so far as to say whether Trump would support the legislation.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Lankford said the counsel’s office has made “reasonable suggestions,” and emphasized that they want to make sure the bill does not interfere with states being in charge of elections.

“We have to make sure that when we do have a federal election, the system is as secure as possible,” Lankford said.

It remains unclear whether McConnell will support the GOP bill when it is reintroduced. A spokesperson for McConnell told The Hill they had no comment at this time, but pointed to McConnell’s previous comments on election security legislation.

A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocratic strategist says McConnell’s comments on Supreme Court vacancy are ‘a blessing’ Democrats blast McConnell for saying Republicans would fill a 2020 Supreme Court vacancy McConnell says Republicans would fill 2020 Supreme Court vacancy MORE (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, told The Hill that the senator would support legislation that creates “additional sanctions” against foreign adversaries interfering in U.S. elections, and “additional resources” to help state and local election officials address election security threats.

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There has been a flurry of other election security bills introduced by congressional Democrats in recent months as well, with sponsors seizing on Mueller’s comments as a reason to move forward. The most prominent of these is H.R. 1, which includes sweeping election security and integrity reforms.

The House passed that measure along party lines in March, but McConnell has said he will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Another Democratic bill, the Election Security Act, would go further than the Secure Elections Act by requiring states to use “voter-verified paper ballots,” and require the establishment of cybersecurity standards for voting system vendors.

The measure is being spearheaded by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonPelosi blasts Facebook, ties refusal to take down video to Russian meddling Facebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video DHS suggests new role for cybersecurity staff — helping with border crisis MORE (D-Miss.), House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenTrump used Air Force One for political trips after criticizing Obama for it: report Seven key allies for Pelosi on impeachment Pelosi: Trump ‘is engaged in a cover-up’ MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. John SarbanesJohn Peter Spyros SarbanesPelosi: Trump ‘is engaged in a cover-up’ Hillicon Valley: Instagram cracks down on anti-vaccine tags | Facebook co-founder on fallout from call to break up company | House Dems reintroduce election security bill | Lawmakers offer bill requiring cyber, IT training for House House Dems reintroduce bill to protect elections from cyberattacks MORE (D-Md.). 

After Mueller’s surprise remarks on Wednesday, Thompson said in a statement that “the House took critical action toward preserving the integrity of our democratic institutions when it passed H.R. 1 earlier this year, and it is long past time for Senate leadership to allow a vote on the bill.”

Thompson urged House Republicans to support the Election Security Act, saying “the time is now to give Americans the confidence in their vote they rightfully deserve.”

Another bill in the Senate, the Voting Systems Cybersecurity Act, has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee, a spokesperson for Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHas Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Lawmakers, Trump agencies set for clash over chemicals in water Overnight Energy: Democrats push EPA to collect 4K in ‘excessive’ Pruitt travel expenses | Greens angered over new rules for rocket fuel chemical | Inslee to join youth climate strikers in Las Vegas MORE (D-Mich.), one of the bill’s sponsors, told The Hill. But Blunt is unlikely to move forward with the legislation.

“Sen. Peters thinks we need to do more to secure our elections and protect against efforts from our adversaries to interfere in our democracy,” the spokesperson said. “Given the importance of this issue we hope it [the bill] moves forward soon.”

Trump aide: Unclear if UK has made final decision on Huawei

National security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonOvernight Defense: Pentagon intel chief believes Russia cheating on nuke treaty | Shanahan breaks with Trump over North Korean missile tests | Top general explains Iranian threats Top general: Recent Iran threats were different because they were ‘more of a campaign’ Shanahan breaks with Trump on North Korea missile tests MORE said Thursday that British officials may still be undecided on whether to move forward with giving Chinese telecom giant Huawei access to parts of the country’s 5G network.

Bolton told reporters in London that talks are still ongoing about Britain’s future use of the technology, which the U.S. has warned presents security threats, Reuters reported.

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“I’m not sure that this decision has reached the prime ministerial level in final form. I mean we are still talking,” Bolton said, according to Reuters. “People are talking back and forth.”

“Everybody is catching up to the dangers posed, especially in fifth-generation telecommunications systems, by equipment from Huawei and potentially others that can allow foreign governments a back door into telecommunications systems,” he added.

The U.S. has been urging allies to drop Huawei for months. Intelligence officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that the technology giant may be spying on behalf of the Chinese government.

Trump signed an executive order earlier this month paving the way to block foreign tech companies — such as Huawei — from doing business in the U.S. if they are deemed a national security threat by the Commerce Department.

Britain’s National Security Council met last month to discuss future use of Huawei, where officials agreed to block the company’s access to core parts of the country’s 5G network while giving it limited access to noncore parts.

The rollout of the plan was thrown into uncertainty, however, when Prime Minister Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayEU elections portend a full-blown European crisis UK prime minister candidate Boris Johnson to face charges he lied to public during Brexit Poll: 40 percent of Britons want Trump’s visit to UK to be called off MORE announced she would resign. May, who chairs the National Security Council, will step down as party leader on June 7, but will remain as prime minister until a successor is chosen.

Trump is slated to meet with May during a state visit next week.

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Minnesota program will pay homeowners to transform lawns into bee gardens as species inches closer to extinction

Minnesota lawmakers have greenlighted a new program to pay homeowners in the state to transform their lawns into bee gardens in efforts to counter the declining bee population. 

According the Star Tribune, the program was included in part of a spending plan that was recently passed by the state Legislature and now heads to Gov. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzMinnesota governor signs law making marital rape illegal New governors chart ambitious paths in first 100 days Minnesota House votes to allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants MORE (D) for his signature. 

Under the proposed plan, the state would reportedly allocate $900,000 annually to support homeowners interested in making their lawns more attractive to bees, specifically the rusty patched bumble bee, which is indigenous to North America and is labeled an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. 

As part of the effort, homeowners who wish to participate in the program would have bee-friendly plants like wildflowers, clover grasses and other plants native to their local regions planted in their yards.

The program would cover up to 75 percent of expenses for homeowners to transform their lawns. According to the newspaper, those who live in the areas that have been identified as “high potential” for the rusty patched bumble bee could see up to 90 percent of their costs covered.

State Rep. Kelly Morrison (D), who introduced the measure, told the paper that she has “gotten a ton of e-mails and so much feedback from people who are interested” in the program.

“People are really thinking about how they can help,” she added.

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Democratic governor signs Louisiana abortion bill into law

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday signed into law a ban on abortions after the detection of heartbeat activity in the fetus, which can occur at about six weeks of pregnancy. 

The so-called “heartbeat” abortion ban, the sixth of its kind to be passed in recent months, doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest. 

 

With Edwards’ signature, Louisiana joins Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri in enacting such bans.

 

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But Edwards, who says he is “pro-life,” is the first Democratic governor to sign a sweeping bill limiting abortion rights in the state.

 

“In 2015, I ran for governor as a pro-life candidate after serving as a pro-life legislator for eight years,” he said. “As governor, I have been true to my word and my beliefs on this issue.”

 

The “heartbeat” bans, as well as a separate, widespread abortion ban in Alabama, have been criticized on the national stage by abortion rights advocates and prominent Democrats, including many of those running for president. 

 

Louisiana’s ban won’t take effect unless a similar bill in Mississippi is upheld in a federal appeals court. 

 

NARAL Pro-Choice America political director Nicole Brener-Schmitz criticized the legislation in a statement.

 

“Governor John Bel Edwards turned his back on the women of Louisiana today at a time when they needed him most. As anti-choice politicians pass dangerous and unconstitutional bans on abortion before many women know they’re pregnant, people in Louisiana and across the country are watching closely,” she said in a statement. “He won’t get a pass just because he is a Democrat.”

 

A federal judge last week issued a preliminary injunction blocking Mississippi’s new law from going into effect while it is being challenged in court.  

 

Earlier this month Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the country’s strictest abortion ban, which effectively bans the procedure in nearly all cases, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law, which could punish doctors who perform abortions with prison time, hasn’t taken effect and is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

 

Proponents of the bans are hoping the legislation will lead to a Supreme Court battle to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that granted abortion rights nationwide.

 

But despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: ‘I was not informed about’ reported request to move USS John McCain Meghan McCain: Trump is a ‘child’ who will always be ‘deeply threatened’ by my dad Trump accuses Democrats of crime amid rising calls for impeachment MORE‘s appointments of two conservative justices, the court has largely side-stepped the issue. This week, the court declined to take up a challenge to an Indiana law blocking abortions on the basis of sex, race or disability, avoiding a major ruling on the issue for the time being. 

 

–Updated Thursday, 6:29 p.m.

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Overnight Health Care: Missouri governor steps up threats to Planned Parenthood | Louisiana passes 'heartbeat' abortion ban | Trump official who oversaw refugee children to leave post | Durbin urges FDA crackdown on e-cigs

Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care.

Missouri’s governor accused Planned Parenthood of violating state law, Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate GOP vows to quickly quash any impeachment charges Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda MORE (D-Ill.) sounded off on his recent meeting with the acting head of the FDA, and the former head of HHS’s refugee office is leaving the administration.

We’ll start today with news from Missouri:

 

Missouri governor threatens state’s only abortion provider

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) on Wednesday said that the state’s sole abortion provider will be unable to perform abortions after Friday if it doesn’t comply with an ongoing investigation into potential violations of state law.

Parson said the Planned Parenthood clinic is suspected of breaking several state laws and regulations, including one that requires patients receive pelvic exams 72 hours before getting abortions.

Why it matters: The clinic’s current license to perform abortions expires Friday, and Parson said the state will not renew it unless the clinic makes five of its doctors available for interviews and resolves the issues.

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The other side: Planned Parenthood says it has already made two of its doctors available for interviews, but the other five are not technically employees of the organization and haven’t consented to interviews.

President Leana Wen says the laws and regulations Planned Parenthood is accused of violating were designed to shut down abortion clinics.

“All of these regulations have only one purpose, which is to shut down the ability of health centers to provide safe, legal abortions, which is not going to stop abortion, but it will stop safe, legal abortions,” Wen said in an appearance on CBS.

What’s next: Planned Parenthood is suing the state, accusing it of illegally withholding its license renewal. Hearings that were scheduled for Wednesday were postponed until Thursday.

Read more here.

 

More abortion news…

 

Louisiana lawmakers pass ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

The Louisiana state legislature on Wednesday approved a “heartbeat” abortion bill with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, sending the measure to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), NBC News reported.

The law would be among the strictest in the nation and would ban women from terminating a pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically around six weeks. 

The bill was passed on a 79-23 vote in the House after intense debate. The Senate had already approved the bill.

Read more here.

Trump appointee who oversaw refugee children to leave administration

 Scott Lloyd, a Trump appointee who oversaw refugee children at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is leaving the administration, the agency announced on Wednesday.

His last day will be June 7. The agency said Lloyd has a job lined up outside the administration but did not name his future employer.

Lloyd served as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for a year and a half but left that post in November for another job within HHS.

He is best known for his role in the administration’s short-lived “zero tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

He’s also known for blocking pregnant minors in ORR custody from getting abortions.

He appeared before Congress earlier this year, facing questions from angry Democrats over both policies. Lloyd testified that he failed to alert HHS leaders about the health risks of separating migrant children.

House Judiciary Democrats have since been asking for Lloyd to “clarify” some of his testimony that has been proven false. Lloyd had denied that he tracked menstrual cycles of girls and women in his custody.

In fact, it was shown that Lloyd used spreadsheets to track how far along unaccompanied girls were in their pregnancies and was receiving updates on the menstrual cycles of the young migrant girls in custody.

Next up: As part of the staffing shift, HHS said Matt Bowman will now be principal advisor to the head of the refugee office. Bowman is a former religious activist with strong anti-abortion views. Before working at HHS, Bowman was an attorney for the conservative Christian group Alliance for Defending Freedom, where he worked in the groups’ Center for Life. Bowman once argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of a client looking to roll back ObamaCare’s birth control mandate.

Read more here.

 

Durbin urges acting FDA chief to crack down on e-cigarettes

The Food and Drug Administration needs to immediately remove kid-friendly e-cigarette flavors from the market, and crack down on Juul’s claims that it can help people quit smoking, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday.

In a letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, Durbin said he doesn’t understand why the agency isn’t taking action to address the sharp increase in youth vaping.

Durbin outlined the actions he thinks Sharpless needs to take but said that after meeting with Sharpless earlier this month, he does not think the acting commissioner has any intention of dealing with the issue.

“It is my belief that any person leading the FDA … must, first and foremost, feel a deep sense of responsibility to protect the health and well-being of all Americans, especially our nation’s children. Unfortunately, based on our meeting, I do not have confidence that you are that leader,” Durbin said.

More on Durbin’s letter here.

 

Analysis: Top 25 drugs make up much of drug spending

The drug pricing group Patients for Affordable Drugs has a new analysis showing that the 25 costliest drugs made up a large share of total Medicare Part D drug spending.

The 25 costliest drugs make up 29.6 percent of spending, the group found.

Why it’s relevant: The analysis comes as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHillicon Valley: Facebook defends keeping up Pelosi video | Zuckerberg faces contempt of Canadian parliament | Social media giants remove Iran-linked misinformation campaign | WHO calls video game addiction a health ‘disorder’ Facebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video ‘What you eat, you become’: Chef José Andrés reveals what he’d cook for Trump MORE (D-Calif.) last week privately outlined her plan for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which would require Medicare to negotiate on a minimum of 25 drugs.

Some progressives are pushing for that number to be higher, saying that 25 drugs is not enough.

Read the analysis here.   

 

McConnell to get award from anti-abortion group

The Susan B. Anthony List will award Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell says Republicans would fill 2020 Supreme Court vacancy GOP candidate expects Roy Moore to announce Senate bid in June The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Justices sidestep major abortion decision despite pressure MORE (R-Ky.) with the “Distinguished Leader Award” at its gala in June, citing his role in approving more than 100 of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat to announce Senate bid Wednesday against Lindsey Graham Harris praises Amash for calling for Trump’s impeachment: He has ‘put country before party’ NY Times reporter wears wedding dress to cover Trump in Japan after last-minute dress code MORE‘s judicial nominations.

“Throughout the most intense battles over the fate of the courts – including the accompanying intimidation tactics – Leader McConnell has stared down the radical left with wisdom and unwavering determination. For this and for his lifetime of pro-life leadership in the U.S. Senate, we are immensely grateful,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.

The group also praised McConnell for holding votes on several measures championed by anti-abortion groups, including one that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

 

What we’re reading

White House runs into health-care industry hostility as it plans executive order (The Washington Post)

A prescription your doctor can’t write: housing as healthcare (KQED News)

Hospitals and patients’ attorneys spar over lien prices (Modern Healthcare)

Seniors’ spending on cancer drugs has soared (Axios)

 

State by state

Abortion law: As some states restrict reproductive rights, Illinois may expand them (Associated Press)

Medicaid work requirements take effect June 1 in New Hampshire (Conway Daily Sun)

Medicaid expansion supporters drown out Kansas Senate proceedings (Wellington Daily News)

 

From The Hill’s opinion page:  

Congress makes headway to improve mental health care for veterans — but is not done

The wrong way to make policy about heritable genome modification

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Pelosi blasts Facebook, ties refusal to take down video to Russian meddling

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHillicon Valley: Facebook defends keeping up Pelosi video | Zuckerberg faces contempt of Canadian parliament | Social media giants remove Iran-linked misinformation campaign | WHO calls video game addiction a health ‘disorder’ Facebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video ‘What you eat, you become’: Chef José Andrés reveals what he’d cook for Trump MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday blasted Facebook’s refusal to take down a doctored video of her, using the incident to accuse the tech giant of being a “willing enabler” of Russia’s election interference.

“I think they [Facebook] have proven — by not taking down something they know is false — that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election,” Pelosi said in an interview with California radio station KQED News.

Pelosi was referring to a doctored video of her that had been slowed down to make her appear to be slurring her words or intoxicated. The video was posted on Facebook last week and has since been viewed more than 2.8 million times.

Facebook decided not to remove the video, but told The Hill that its fact-checkers had flagged the video as false and were downgrading its distribution in the Facebook news feed.

A Facebook spokesperson defended the decision before a group of international lawmakers in Ottawa, Canada, on Tuesday, saying that “it is our policy to inform people when we have information that might be false on the platform so they can make their own decisions about that content.”

Pelosi said Wednesday that while she “can take it,” her issue was with Facebook “lying to the public” by allowing the video to stay up.

Pelosi added that Facebook not taking down the doctored video called into question the company’s assertion that it was the victim of Russian online interference that was meant to sway the 2016 presidential election.

“We have said all along, ‘Poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians,’” Pelosi said. “I think wittingly, because right now they are putting up something that they know is false. I think it’s wrong.”

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Multiple Democrats in the House and Senate have heavily criticized Facebook for its decision. House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerSecond Republican blocks disaster aid bill’s passage in House Pro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote MORE (D-Md.) told The Hill on Wednesday that he “believes this video – and any dishonestly doctored video that is widespread and misleading the public – should be taken down.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill earlier this week that Congress needs to put “guardrails in place” to prevent a “crisis of confidence” in what consumers see on social media platforms.

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonFacebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video DHS suggests new role for cybersecurity staff — helping with border crisis Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, labeled the doctored video of Pelosi “vile partisan trash” and added that it is a “sad omen of what is to come in the 2020 election season.”

On The Money: US banks see profits rise | Pelosi 'optimistic' on infrastructure deal with Trump | Former Black Caucus staffers flex clout on K Street

Happy Wednesday and welcome back to On The Money. I’m Sylvan Lane, and here’s your nightly guide to everything affecting your bills, bank account and bottom line.

See something I missed? Let me know at slane@thehill.com or tweet me @SylvanLane. And if you like your newsletter, you can subscribe to it here: http://bit.ly/1NxxW2N.

Write us with tips, suggestions and news: slane@thehill.com, njagoda@thehill.com  and nelis@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @SylvanLane, @NJagoda and @NivElis.

 

THE BIG DEAL–Bank profits rise 8.7 percent in first quarter of 2019: Federally insured U.S. banks made $60.7 billion in net income in the first three months of 2019, an 8.7 percent increase from the same period last year, according to data released Wednesday.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reported that the 5,362 commercial and savings banks insured by the regulator saw rising profits as interest on loans outpaced the costs to finance them.

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FDIC-insured banks made $4.9 billion more in profits in the first three months of 2019 than over the same period last year. For the first quarter of 2019, 62.3 percent of banks reported an increase in net income from 2018, while less than 4 percent of banks reported a decline.

I break down the data here.

 

Good times for the banking sector: The FDIC’s quarterly report showed the continued strength of the U.S. banking industry, which has flourished with record profits as the economy recovered from the 2008 recession.

  • U.S. banks reeled in $236.7 billion in profits last year, including more than $28 billion in additional net income thanks to the Republican tax-cut law.
  • The earnings boost for banks was powered in part by a 6 percent annual increase in net interest income, rising $7.9 billion to $139.3 billion in the first quarter.
  • The rise in net interest income helped compensate for a 2.9-percent decline in non-interest net income, which fell $2 billion from 2018.

 

Risks on the horizon: But the data also showed banks taking higher credit losses and bracing for more defaults as 2019 continues.

  • Banks wrote off $12.7 billion in uncollectable loans in the first quarter, an increase of $667.9 million, or 5.5 percent, from the same period last year.
  • Banks also set aside $13.9 billion in loan-loss provisions — money allocated to cover defaulted loans and credit losses — in the first three months of 2019, 11.8 percent more than the same time in 2018.
  • While banks’ balances for non-current mortgages dropped $2.2 billion, or 5 percent, from the previous quarter, overdue corporate debt rose $3.3 billion in that time — a 22.8 percent quarterly increase that was the highest since 2016.

 

Analysts, economists and federal regulators have expressed varying degrees of fear over the record high levels of corporate debt, particularly to corporations already deep in the red.

Some experts and financial sector critics have raised alarm over the growth of collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) packaging debt from highly leveraged companies. They compare such investment offerings to the bonds based on subprime mortgages that helped trigger the financial crisis in 2007.

But Randal Quarles, the Fed vice chair of supervision, tamped down risks to the financial system from CLOs in a speech earlier this month, arguing that leveraged lending “is not really a direct analog to the subprime [mortgage] lending” that caused the 2007 meltdown.

 

LEADING THE DAY

Pelosi insists she’s ‘optimistic’ for infrastructure deal: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHillicon Valley: Facebook defends keeping up Pelosi video | Zuckerberg faces contempt of Canadian parliament | Social media giants remove Iran-linked misinformation campaign | WHO calls video game addiction a health ‘disorder’ Facebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video ‘What you eat, you become’: Chef José Andrés reveals what he’d cook for Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday she’s “optimistic” that lawmakers can strike a bipartisan infrastructure deal but acknowledged the long odds if President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat to announce Senate bid Wednesday against Lindsey Graham Harris praises Amash for calling for Trump’s impeachment: He has ‘put country before party’ NY Times reporter wears wedding dress to cover Trump in Japan after last-minute dress code MORE keeps lashing out over investigations into his administration.

Pelosi noted that Trump has said he wants to work on infrastructure in most of their past conversations in person or on the phone, leading her to “still feel optimistic” that it remains an issue the president is interested in pursuing.

But Pelosi acknowledged while speaking during an event hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California that Trump’s desire for an infrastructure deal might not be enough to overcome the impasse regarding Democratic probes.

“Does he want to do it enough to not be in a huff over my saying that he’s involved in a cover-up? Well, we’ll see. But this is not for the faint of heart.”

Flashback: Last week, Trump abruptly left a meeting with Democratic leaders on an infrastructure plan after Pelosi accused him of engaging in a “cover-up.”

Don’t forget the Dem divisions over impeachment: Pelosi’s comments Wednesday came hours after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a ‘do-over’ Graham: Mueller investigation a ‘political rectal exam’ MORE delivered his first public statement on his nearly two-year investigation, comments which brought new pressure from many Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry. The Hill’s Cristina Marcos has more here on Pelosi’s remarks.

And if you want more on Mueller… Click here for our five takeaways from his remarks, the tough decisions awaiting Democrats, and Trump’s response.

 

Former Congressional Black Caucus staffers flex clout on K Street: The financial services industry is turning to former top staffers from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for lobbying talent, a trend reflecting the growing power of the CBC and the increased scrutiny the industry is facing under the Democratic House.

A number of former chiefs of staff to black lawmakers have been recruited to K Street this year. The moves come with the Black Caucus at a record membership and with some of its senior members, including House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersSeven key allies for Pelosi on impeachment Democrats claim victory as Trump gets battered in court Trump appeals order siding with House Democrats bank subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsSeven key allies for Pelosi on impeachment Democrats claim victory as Trump gets battered in court Trump goes scorched earth against impeachment talk MORE (D-Md.), putting financial institutions in their crosshairs.

“Financial Services holds a particular distinction for CBC-centered leadership because it [the financial industry] was one of the last industries to desegregate. And its power, in terms of providing access to capital, and its power to deny capital, has had a disproportionate, and at times harmful, impact on black communities for centuries,” a former congressional aide told The Hill.

“These are serious matters, politically and policy-wise, that CBC chiefs consistently advise members on.” The Hill’s Alex Gangitano tells us more about this here.

  • The key: For K Street, tapping those with CBC ties is an important step to court House leaders, particularly on banking matters. The CBC’s influence extends beyond Waters on the Financial Services Committee. Five of the six Financial Services subcommittees are headed by Black Caucus members, including Reps. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyBen Carson sends Oreos to Democrat who quizzed him on REOs Ben Carson endures Dem grilling over minority inclusion office Dem rep says lower tax refunds are ‘bad news’ for the economy MORE (D-Ohio), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenSeven key allies for Pelosi on impeachment Steyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess WHIP LIST: Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump MORE (D-Texas) and Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayHarris: Biden ‘would be a great running mate’ Virginia teen’s painting of migrant children to hang in US Capitol Divided Dems look to regroup MORE (D-Mo.).

 

THE HILL EVENT: Affordable Housing & the American Dream

On Tuesday, June 11th, The Hill will host Affordable Housing & the American Dream at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The Hill’s Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons and staff writer Rafael Bernal will sit down with Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversThirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill House bill seeks to bolster security for synagogues, mosques in wake of attacks Congress can open financial institutions to legal cannabis industry with SAFE Banking Act MORE (R-Ohio) and an expert panel for a discussion on how leaders in Washington and the private sector can help ensure that every American has an equal chance of owning a home. RSVP here.

 

GOOD TO KNOW

  • President Trump’s approval rating has stagnated at 46 percent, raising questions about whether presiding over strong economy will help him as much it aided other incumbent presidents seeking re-election.
  • Economists at the New York Fed ask whether there is too much corporate debt in the financial sector.
  • The Trump administration has again decided not to label China as a currency manipulator, but will keep a close eye on Beijing among others being watched for related concerns.
  • Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTo avoid war with Iran, US needs to deal — starting with a concession The Hill’s Morning Report – 2020 Dems make last dash for debate stage GOP rep says intel on Iran is ‘credible’ MORE lashed out at Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, calling it an “instrument of the Chinese government.”
  • The New York Times explains how small U.S. businesses are among the hardest hit by blowback to President Trump’s tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods.
  • The Washington Post reports on how despite Trump’s promises the U.S. auto sector, American carmakers are reeling and facing a difficult future.

 

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Ride-hailing company Uber announced Wednesday that it will ban passengers with “significantly below average ratings” from using the popular app.
  • A bipartisan group of House members from New York are raising concerns about Chinese involvement in building New York City subway cars, zeroing in on the potential that the new train cars could be hacked or controlled remotely.
  • A former Republican House member is joining the board of a cannabis company.
  • And Fortune magazine is putting up a paywall.

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Bank profits rise 8.7 percent in first quarter of 2019

Federally insured U.S. banks made $60.7 billion in net income in the first three months of 2019, an 8.7 percent increase from the same period last year, according to data released Wednesday.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reported that the 5,362 commercial and savings banks insured by the regulator saw rising profits as interest on loans outpaced the costs to finance them.

FDIC-insured banks made $4.9 billion more in profits in the first three months of 2019 than over the same period last year. For the first quarter of 2019, 62.3 percent of banks reported an increase in net income from 2018, while less than 4 percent of banks reported a decline.

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The earnings boost for banks was powered in part by a 6 percent annual increase in net interest income, rising $7.9 billion to $139.3 billion in the first quarter. The rise in net interest income helped compensate for a 2.9-percent decline in non-interest net income, which fell $2 billion from 2018.

The FDIC’s quarterly report showed the continued strength of the U.S. banking industry, which has flourished with record profits as the economy recovered from the 2008 recession. U.S. banks reeled in $236.7 billion in profits last year, including more than $28 billion in additional net income thanks to the Republican tax-cut law.

But the data also showed banks taking higher credit losses and bracing for more defaults as 2019 continues. Banks wrote off $12.7 billion in uncollectable loans in the first quarter, an increase of $667.9 million, or 5.5 percent, from the same period last year.   

Banks also set aside $13.9 billion in loan-loss provisions — money allocated to cover defaulted loans and credit losses — in the first three months of 2019, 11.8 percent more than the same time in 2018.

While banks’ balances for non-current mortgages dropped $2.2 billion, or 5 percent, from the previous quarter, overdue corporate debt rose $3.3 billion in that time — a 22.8 percent quarterly increase that was the highest since 2016.

Analysts, economists and federal regulators have expressed varying degrees of fear over the record high levels of corporate debt, particularly to corporations already deep in the red.

The Federal Reserve identified leveraged lending, the practice of lending to companies with debt levels four times greater than their assets, as an area of moderate concern in its annual financial stability report released earlier this month.

Some experts and financial sector critics have raised alarm over the growth of collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) packaging debt from highly leveraged companies. They compare such investment offerings to the bonds based on subprime mortgages that helped trigger the financial crisis in 2007.

But Randal Quarles, the Fed vice chair of supervision, tamped down risks to the financial system from CLOs in a speech earlier this month, arguing that leveraged lending “is not really a direct analog to the subprime [mortgage] lending” that caused the 2007 meltdown.

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