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.

The House Versus the Senate

“Every year we send a lean thoroughbred race horse to the Senate in the form of a budget, and they send back a dairy cow. Full of milk and a

Stuff Jeremy Didn’t Know Yesterday Morning…

Between a book project on the 1973 constitutional convention, a series of history segments produced by LaPolitics, committee meetings and

Rabalais’ Political History: Mayor Maestri’s Lunch With Franklin Roosevelt

While this week marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans, it is also the annual commemoration of a less heralded event in

Alford’s Opinion Column: At Sixes & Sevens

Here it comes — the Legislature’s sixth special session since being sworn in 29 months ago. And you know what? Don’t bet against a seventh

Political Chatter: Macron, Mulvaney & Girl Scouts

— Gov. John Bel Edwards and First Lady Donna Edwards are in Washington, D.C. That’s our governor in the picture above, standing on the

Gamard’s Beltway Beat: French Folks, Beltway Cajuns & Pompeo

French Folks, Beltway Cajuns & Pompeo The governor isn’t the only one getting face-time with French President Emmanuel Macron tonight.

#HBD TRACKERS!

— Tuesday 04/24: Rep. Malinda Brumfield-White, Ian Paul Auzenne and Darren Gauthier — Wednesday 04/25: Sen. Neil Riser, Miss Eva Kemp,

#LA: Data Security and Craft Brewing with Cary Koch

  Episode 4 of the Hashtag Louisiana podcast has it all - geniuses, politicians, lobbyists and all us regular folks trying to keep our

WEEKLY: They Said It

“If we as legislators ever had a place to print money, it’s in capital outlay.” —Ways and Means Vice Chair Jim Morris, in The Advocate  

WEEKLY: Constitutional Coalition Has Partners

It was reported in the March 22 issue of LaPolitics Weekly that businessman and donor Lane Grigsby was forming Constitutional Coalition 2020

WEEKLY: Constitutional Convention Poll & CABL

The LaPolitics office at the Capitol received an unidentified robo poll that focused largely on the need to hold a constitutional convention

LOWDOWN: Julie Emerson On The Meaning Of Place

This episode of The LaPolitics Lowdown continues with a four-part series we produced with Covalent Logic and the Public Affairs Research

SPONSORED: Festival International 2018 Is Here

  Next week is the start of the largest international music and arts festival in the United States: Festival

#HBD TRACKERS!

— Tuesday 04/17: Shelly Dupre — Wednesday 04/18: Rep. Sam Jones, Rep. Jerome “Nature Boy” Zeringue, former Rep. Roy Burrell, Carl Redman

GAMARD’S BELTWAY BEAT: From Raids & Airstrikes To Sanctions & ‘Slimeballs’

Former FBI Director James Comey’s reemergence may accrue the same headline-making exposure he achieved last summer. This time around he’s

POLITICAL CHATTER

— Constitutional Coalition 2020 has a website. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFO — Former Chesapeake executive Paul Pratt has launched a new

ALFORD’S OPINION COLUMN: Cracking The Congressional Code

Louisiana voters will send six representatives to Congress during the November general elections and, if needed, the December runoffs. Those

RABALAIS’ POLITICAL HISTORY: Steve, JBJ & The Lanes To Leadership

Long before U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was thrust into the developing race for speaker, and prior to subsequently endorsing his

PLACE YOUR BETS! Handicapping HB 1 & Adjournment

Running The Numbers Since this regular session feels like a gamble anyway, and since there has been an avalanche of gaming bills

They Said It: Lucky Dogs & Ric Flair

"Do you make Lucky Dogs out of swine?" —Rep. Greg Cromer, to Rep. Kirk Talbot, who co-owns the company with his family and who was

WEEKLY: GOP Chair Targets Agency Heads

The last bill that House GOP Delegation Chair Lance Harris filed for the regular session seeks to add "new layers of transparency" to the

WEEKLY: Higgins Has Money, And A Posse

Congressman Clay Higgins has more than $211,000 in his campaign kitty after the first quarter of 2018, during which he collected $217,000 in

LOWDOWN: Ted James On Failure, Assumptions & Compassion

This episode of The LaPolitics Lowdown kicks off a four-part series we produced with Covalent Logic and the Public Affairs Research

SPONSORED: Building Homes And Providing Hope

  On Thursday, April 26, the annual Village of Hope Gala will to be held at Le Pavillon in Lafayette and includes a four-course

Election Trend: Voters Hate Tax Referendums  

Many political observers were surprised to see the defeat of several routine tax measures on the March 24 ballots, leaving some to wonder if