Gamard’s Beltway Beat: Raids, Trade Wars and Spendthrifts

Let’s start in New York: The FBI raided President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room yesterday, searching in part for information related to Louisiana native and former politico Stephanie Clifford, also known as adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleges the president had an affair with her during his marriage and paid her to keep silent via nondisclosure agreement approaching the presidential election.

It’s also come to light that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt sought (and, in some cases, succeeded) to spend tax dollars on a long list of extravagences, including a bulletproof office desk and flashing lights and sirens for his D.C. motorcade. Despite a succession of Pruitt’s administration cohorts being booted from President Trump’s circle and hints of additional exoduses, the president seems keen on keeping this particular official around for his track record.

Meanwhile, immigration policy is ramping up. The president has set the Pentagon-approved goal of dispatching 4,000 National Guard troops to the Mexico border. Some border states, e.g. Texas and Arizona, have answered the call with hundreds of men and women. Others, e.g. Montana and California, have not been so quick to deploy. The president also signed a memo to end "catch and release," the term for when illegal immigrants are released from detention while waiting for their court hearing.

Mexico is in a stack of this week’s international dilemmas, topped by the faction of U.S. citizens, many of whom constitute President Trump’s archetypal base, who are growing apprehensive over a potential trade war with China. President Trump proposed last week to impose an additional $100 billion in tariffs with Chinese goods, hiking up the $50 billion he proposed earlier in the week. China has retaliated with its own tariff threats on products that would affect U.S. farmers and manufacturers, including soybean and corn growers, pig farmers and makers of cars, aircraft and pharmaceutical drugs.

The president has also imposed new sanctions on two dozen Russian oligarchs and industrialists, seen as the latest backlash at Russian President Vladimir Putin for the country’s increasingly asserted interference in the 2016 presidential elections. (It’s worth mentioning recent reports that President Trump is not a criminal target in the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling.) Also overseas, a Syrian rebel group suffered a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 42 people and injured several others, including women and children. Aid groups blame Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, while Syria and Russia blame Israel for a subsequent air strike on a Syrian military base.

This all comes one year after President Trump ordered a missile strike on the country’s air base in response to Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons that killed more than 80 civilians, followed by the commander-in-chief’s more recent stance to pull American troops out of Syria in their combat against ISIS. The president Sunday morning criticized Russia and Iran for “backing Animal Assad,” signaling a change in forecast for those troops, this time not against ISIS but instead with the Middle Eastern country’s seven-year civil war.

A little further east, following weeks of waiting, officials now say that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is willing to meet President Trump next month to discuss denuclearization. This is also John Bolton’s first week on the job as the new U.S. national security advisor.

Finally, whistleblowers now claim that Cambridge Analytica, the British political consulting firm under fire for allegedly hijacking the U.S. 2016 presidential election, has exploited data from over 87 million Facebook users in attempt to sway the American vote. That’s a jump from the 50-million figure reported late last month. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying Tuesday in a joint hearing with the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees (U.S. Sen. John Kennedy sits on the former) and Wednesday will testify to the House Energy and Commerce Committee (that includes Congressman Steve Scalise).

These hearings, depending on how they go, could be this newsweek’s usurper from Capitol Hill. But Facebook’s evolution into a “country,” as Kennedy puts it, is not the only debate on the U.S. government’s expanding ties to Silicon Valley. Over 3,000 Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement with a Pentagon artificial intelligence program that could enhance drone strike accuracy: “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.”

Here’s what else has been keeping the Louisiana delegation busy:

— U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy sent a letter to U.S. Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro asking to review its “anti-gang” strategy in the wake of the opioid epidemic: “The GAO recommended some improvements that have not been implemented and may need to be reexamined. Since then, the drug epidemic has worsened in our country, and Congress has authorized significant investments in Central American narcotics control, law enforcement, and anti-gang efforts.” He talked the China “trade war” and drug price transparency on Fox Business, and has a new bill to end U.S. subsidies for international postal shipments from foreign countries, particularly China. He also argued his case for veteran organ transplant reform to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He has a new bill to end U.S. subsidies for international postal shipments from foreign countries, particularly China.

— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy appeared on CBS News “Face the Nation” on Sunday to talk about what he planned to talk about with Mark Zuckerberg in today’s hearing on Facebook, and whether the social media site should be regulated: “Our promised digital utopia has minefields in it... I don't want Facebook to, to censor what I can see in all respects but I do want them to stop the fake news...I do not want to regulate Facebook.” He also commented on Scott Pruitt: “Stop acting like a chucklehead, stop the unforced error, stop leading with your chin. If you don't need to fly first class don't. Don't turn on the siren on your SUV just to watch people move over, you represent the president of the United States.”

— Congressman Steve Scalise lauded the troop deployment to the Mexican border: “I’m glad that we finally have a president in Donald Trump who is taking direct action to secure America’s borders and is restoring our national security. Protecting our nation’s borders is a basic responsibility of government, yet at every turn liberals in Washington have obstructed efforts to enhance border security and enforce the rule of law.”

— Congressman Cedric Richmond appeared with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to talk about FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 elections. He also gave his take on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “safety” in his administrative position, as well as the Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge) and Stephon Clark (Sacramento) shootings. He also went on CNN for the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Every time we see people come together, whether it’s Black Lives Matter...whether it’s Colin Kaepernick taking the knee during the National Anthem, that’s King.” The lone Louisiana Democrat also talked about “fighting” President Trump’s message, and made a plug for the $1.3 trillion spending bill, which none of the state’s delegation supported except for Steve Scalise and himself.

— Congressman Clay Higgins was at this weekend’s “christening” of the new Omega Protein fishing vessel in Vermillion Parish: “164 feet of badass ship. Economic growth. Tax reform. Rolling back federal regulations. America, is back.” He also spent some time at Palmetto State Park.

— Congressman Mike Johnson went on Fox News to talk the troops dispatched to the Mexican border, and the government’s next moves for border security: “We all know we have the poorest border.” ICYMI: The freshman lawmaker and former District 8 representative visited Baton Rouge and spoke on the House floor about his new job thus far, followed by an impression of Rep. Barbara Norton. He also spoke for students' religious rights in public schools at the Bossier City Freedom Student Summit: “We’re not for forcing faith on anyone. That’s not what we’re about.”

— Congressman Ralph Abraham sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue regarding the feared trade war with China: “I am encouraged to finally have a President who will stand up to the Chinese and hold them accountable for their manipulative and underhanded trade practices…but am gravely concerned that American agriculture will be forced to shoulder the burden of this trade dispute.” He also met with Civil Air Patrol Barksdale Composite Squadron members and Pastor's Meeting attendees, including GO TELL Crusades, Inc. founder Rick Gage, while at home.

— Congressman Garret Graves sent out a joint announcement last week with Gov. John Bel Edwards on the latest Community Development Block Grants for 2016 flood victims: “It’s time to stop expecting people to just rebuild every time there’s a flood and raise their insurance rates – we have to make our communities stronger." Graves met with Baton Rouge Councilwoman Tara Wicker, former East Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff Leduff and Leduff’s son, Kelly Leduff, about “efforts to speed law enforcement response times.” Here he is with Cajun Navy member John Bridgers.

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