News Digest – November 15, 2017

In the news last week, Cardin leads Senate Dem effort to prepare major report on Russia, Van Hollen criticizes John Kelly’s interference with DHS, and Cummings questions GOP effort to re-launch Clinton investigations.

Russia

  • Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have undertaken their own investigation — without Republicans — into “Russia’s malign influence around the world.”  A spokesman for Senator Cardin, who is leading the effort, said Democrats are preparing a “major report” on Russia.  
  • House Democrats are pushing the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to take more aggressive action in curbing foreign influence in U.S. elections.  Eighteen members of Congress led by Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) urged the FEC in a letter on Thursday to treat political advertisements on social media platforms in the same way that it treats TV or radio ads.
  • A bill by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, in response to indictments in the special counsel’s Russia probe, would have far-reaching consequences for U.S. representatives of foreign governments, foreign companies and other international interests. Some Democrats, including Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, say they are looking at the proposal and agree in principle with their Republican colleagues that the 1938 law should be revised.  “If we’re going to protect our democracy from this foreign influence, FARA definitely needs to be strengthened,” Sarbanes said.

North Korea

Senator Van Hollen co-authored this op-ed about the bipartisan Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act of 2017, which he co-sponsored to impose mandatory sanctions on the foreign banks and companies that “facilitate illicit financial transactions for North Korea.”

Immigration

Environment

Gun control

Senator Cardin and Senator Van Hollen joined about two dozen Democrats in introducing legislation that would ban assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and bump stocks.

Roy Moore

The Washington Post this week reported allegations that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate, initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 and he was 32.  Senator Van Hollen called the news “revolting” and called on those who have endorsed Moore to “disavow his candidacy right now and and ask him to withdraw.”

Hillary Clinton investigation

  • Media reports that US Attorney Sessions is looking into special counsel for Clinton issues.  Rep. Elijah Cummings demands answers about latest Hillary Clinton investigation, questioning the motives behind a new Republican-launched investigation into why the Obama administration allowed a Russian company to acquire U.S. uranium mines while Hillary Clinton was secretary of State.
  • Representative Elijah Cummings said five congressional committees, including the oversight panel, had investigated the deal and “identified no evidence to substantiate allegations that Secretary Clinton orchestrated, manipulated, or otherwise coerced” the interagency committee to approve the deal.
  • Republican House Oversight Committee leaders “rushed to launch” an investigation on a 2010 uranium deal that purportedly involved Hillary Clinton and special counsel Robert Mueller to “distract” the public from the widening probe into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the U.S. presidential election, Rep. Cummings said.

Conflicts

  • Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings, Jamie Raskin and other House Democrats said last Thursday they have filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to turn over information about the operations of President Donald Trump’s downtown hotel.
    • We regret we have to go to court,” said Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee. “We really do to obtain these basic documents which are clearly within our committee’s jurisdiction.”
  • Top House Democrats are calling for the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to be investigated over whether he has been improperly clearing regulatory hurdles for the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s pending acquisition of Tribune Media.  Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) sent a letter to the FCC inspector general on Monday, asking that he probe whether Chairman Ajit Pai has been clearing the way for the $3.9 billion deal.  More here.

Tax Reform

Census (Editorial)

  • With Congress preoccupied by health care, tax cuts and other hot-button issues this year, a critical priority for the nation — and especially Florida — is at risk.  The next U.S. census isn’t due until 2020, but the federal agency in charge is way behind schedule in preparing for the massive undertaking of accurately counting more than 320 million people.
  • “The Census Bureau is dangerously underfunded and has been for years, and unless we do something about it right now … this massive deficiency could imperil the fairness and accuracy of the census itself,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the committee’s ranking member. “This is not a partisan observation. Both progressives and conservatives agree that current budget projections are way, way, way too low.”

HHS Pick/ Health Care/Drug Prices

  • Democrats plan to use HHS pick Alex Azar to push Trump on high drug prices.  Cummings tweets: “#POTUS picking former drug exec to lead HHS is like a fox guarding the hen house. This is a slap in the face to millions of Americans who are waiting on POTUS to take action to lower drug prices.”  More here.

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