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Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: What’s Buzzing on Capitol Hill?

By Alex Gangitano
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Heard on the Hill

DC Denizens, Don’t Throw Out the Manual Just Yet

By Alex Gangitano
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The Trump administration is not aiming to “cleve off” the U.S. economy from China’s, but it intends to continue pressuring the Asian giant even though tough moves like repeated rounds of tariffs have yet to bring the fundamental changes President Donald Trump is demanding.

“Our goal is not to totally divorce our economies from each other,” said a senior official who briefed reporters Friday at the White House about trade matters. “Our goal is for China to stop behaving unfairly.”

And the official also gave no indication that talks with Canada are any closer than where they were weeks ago to bring Ottawa into a preliminary U.S.-Mexico deal that might replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

[Trump to Senate Judiciary on Kavanaugh Hearing: ‘Get On With It’]

Even as some lawmakers and economists warn the world’s two largest economies trading blows has the global economy teetering on the cusp of a trade war with economic ripple waves, the senior official made clear the administration has no plans to dial back its actions toward China.

Trump’s trade rhetoric and actions have “gotten more attention because it’s been bigger and bolder, but I think it’s consistent with the way past administrations have used tariffs, which is: If we see unfair practices, we’re going to take action to address them with the hope that ultimately we get to a world where there are less tariffs, less non-tariff barriers, and less subsidies.”

The senior official did not hide his frustration, repeatedly telling reporters not to buy Chinese officials’ alleged confusion about what the U.S. side wants out of ongoing — but stalled — negotiations because “they know what we need.”

But it is not clear just how far Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are willing to take what the senior official described as a “little dispute” — rejecting a reporter’s use of the term “economic warfare” — between the two countries. What is more clear is Xi and his government have yet to blink in a high-stakes game of economic chicken.

“We tried to work through the Global Steel Forum. I’ll be the first to say, I wish that would yield some results, but it hasn’t,” the senior official said, using an long-running U.S.-Chinese dispute about the latter’s practices with that commodity.

“China still will not turn over the most basic information about its steel industries. They won’t get rid of the subsidies [for their companies] that the Steel Forum has recognized they need to.”

American farmers and other agriculture-based industries have been hit hard by Trump’s tariffs and China’s retaliatory ones. Asked if those sectors should expect the import fees to remain in place indefinitely, the senior official also blamed Beijing.

“I don’t know when China will commit” to the changes the Trump administration is demanding, he said. “I hope it will be soon.”

As Trump’s aides often do, the senior official delivered his often-tough words with a lighter touch - but still sending a message to China: “The president is willing to do what it takes to solve this problem. … The hope is China realizes that.”

[Judiciary Staffer’s Tweets Fuel Fight Over Kavanaugh Accuser]

Another senior official told reporters in late August that Chinese officials had yet to move toward the changes in behavior the U.S. would like to see. “But so far,” that official said, “we have yet to see those.” It appears little progress was made in the weeks since.

On the talks with Canada, the senior official repeatedly described himself as “still optimistic” the U.S.-Mexico pact soon will become a three-way deal. But he acknowledged time is running out as a Sept. 30 congressionally set deadline nears.

“Canada needs to decide what it wants to do,” the official said. “Until we hit that date, there’s still an opportunity to get this done.”

He said the question remains whether Canadian officials “will kill this deal because of its dairy farmers” which he dubbed a small part of its overall economy.

Some lawmakers have warned the White House to do what it must to get Canada to join the deal, saying a two-way pact with Mexico would not be economically viable - especially since Canada is America’s No. 1 export market.

The officials declined to provide the White House’s whip count or say just how close votes might be should it submit the deal without Canada. But he did say Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and other agriculture-state members routinely tell Trump officials to “fix this agriculture problem.”

Insisting Congress ultimately would approve a U.S.-Mexico agreement, the official said “there’s a lot for Congress to like” while acknowledging this: “I’m not going to tell you it wouldn’t be better if we had all three.”

Watch: McConnell, Schumer React to Trump Trade Deal

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Two House members are planning to host a demonstration of a voting system hacking next week.

Republican Rep. John Katko of New York and Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois are leading the event on Wednesday, Sept. 26, which will feature the director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society, J. Alex Halderman.

“Last year, the American people learned that Russia targeted as many as 39 state election systems in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. These malicious hackers were able to access databases containing sensitive information such as names, dates of birth, driver’s licenses, and partial Social Security numbers,” Katko and Quigley said in a joint statement. “While we were fortunate that the Russians did not tamper with the vote counting process this time around, there is no guarantee that they will not try in 2018 or beyond.”

The two members have legislation that’s designed to set up an award system for people in the cyber security space who catch election security vulnerabilities. It also would set up a competition with federal backing for election hacking.

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President Donald Trump suggested Friday that if Christine Blasey Ford had been sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school that charges would've been filed against him.

That claim runs contrary to the fact that most sexual assault victims do not report the incidents.

Trump called on Blasey Ford to come forward with charges that might have been filed at the time.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump tweeted. “I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn  date, time, and place!”

Ford told the Washington Post that she didn’t discuss the incident with anyone in any detail until a 2012 therapy session with her husband.

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Florida congressional candidate Michael Waltz originally did not divulge on his financial disclosure form to run for office that he owned a 50 percent stake in a consulting firm that led U.S. aerospace and defense manufacturers on a trip to Libya in 2013 to meet with government officials there.

Waltz, the Republican candidate for Florida’s open 6th District seat and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, has since filed an amendment to his financial disclosure form listing himself as a partner in the defense consulting firm, Askari Associates, LLC.

The amendment was added to his file at the House Clerk’s office this past Sunday, Sept. 16.

Askari co-founder and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Mary Beth Long confirmed in a Sept. 11 interview with Roll Call that Waltz, who is listed on multiple defense think tank websites as a co-founder and partner at Askari, still has an ownership stake in the company.

Long said Askari produces minimal revenue — and one year did not produce any at all — because their sole client has “a different fiscal calendar” and “they tend to catch up sporadically.”

“It’s maddeningly delayed some years,” Long said.

The House Ethics Committee’s disclosure rules state that any “partner” in a limited liability company who is running for a House seat must report that position on his financial disclosure forms “regardless of whether or not compensation was received.”

It’s not unusual for candidates to file amendments to their financial disclosures since many of them have extensive financial portfolios and sources of income, Adav Noti, the senior director at the Campaign Legal Center who worked at the Federal Elections Commission’s Office of General Counsel from 2007 to 2017, said.

Waltz is unlikely to face much scrutiny from ethics officials over his disclosure, especially now that he has amended it.

“Amendments to the personal financial disclosures are pretty common and they very rarely lead to any sort of penalty,” Noti said.

Waltz submitted his original disclosure July 28, but soon realized he had left off Askari and Campaign Partners, Inc., a fundraising software for charities, his campaign said.

“When I realized I had inadvertently left off two companies, I attempted to amend my financial disclosure the same day,” Waltz said in a statement.

“I apparently missed a field which caused an error and prevented the form from fully submitting and leaving the form in limbo. I appreciate the House Clerk’s Office assistance in helping me correct the issue,” he said.

Waltz left a message with the House Clerk’s office to ask about the status on his amendment form on Sept. 12, a day after Roll Call had spoken with Long, his former business partner, about the discrepancy on the financial disclosure form.

A representative at the Clerk’s office left him a message, reviewed by Roll Call, saying he had not completed the amendment, which is why it wasn’t “showing up.”

On Sept. 16, Waltz submitted the amendment listing his stakes in Askari and Campaign Partners and received an automated email notification that the file had been received, which was provided to Roll Call.

“That is not an implausible scenario,” Noti said of Waltz’ struggle to submit his amendment.

Candidates submit their forms to the Federal Elections Commission, which does not have any oversight over the process but merely acts as a collection service. They file their disclosures on the same online portal as high-ranking federal officials in the executive branch.

“It really is possible that somebody could fill it out and not click the final step because it’s not a well-designed system,” Noti said.

In September 2013, Askari led a contingent of roughly eight to 11 aerospace and defense manufacturers — including Lockheed Martin, Iomax, and others — to Tripoli where they met with the newly installed minister of defense and other military leaders, according to Long, who represented Askari on the trip, and a press release from October of that year on Askari’s website.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce set up all the meetings with the Libyan officials, where they focused mostly on “understanding Libya’s border situation more clearly, specifically with Egypt,” Long said.

Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed a year earlier in the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, had asked Long at a breakfast shortly before he died to help bring U.S. and Canadian manufacturers to the country that was plunged in civil war, she said.

GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, who represented Florida’s 6th District resigned last week to focus on his bid for governor against Democrat Andrew Gillum.

He will be replaced by either Waltz or Democrat Nancy Soderberg.

Soderberg had nearly quadruple the amount of cash on hand as Waltz at the end of the second filing quarter, the FEC’s online database shows.

But Waltz has a distinct advantage given the district’s recent voter history: President Donald Trump carried Florida’s 6th District by 17 points in 2016.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

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Capitol Police arrested 56 protesters Thursday who flooded Senate office buildings  to voice opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and express support for his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

Thirty three protesters were arrested outside of Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley’s office in the Hart Senate Office Building Thursday afternoon. The demonstrators were charged with “Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding.” Earlier in the day, Capitol Police arrested 23 protesters outside of Sen. Susan Collins office in Dirksen for “unlawful demonstration activities.” They faced the same charges.

In addition to the protesters arrested, scores of people staged quiet demonstrations all day at different senators’ offices. Many wore pins reading “I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford,” which are a throwback to pins worn during the 1991 hearings in which Anita Hill testified about sexual harassment while working for then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. One of the buttons that reads “I believe Anita Hill” is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Thursday’s protesters came from a variety of groups, from healthcare organizations, disability rights groups and the Womens’ Marches.

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