June Washington D.C. Preview

June 3, 2019

— Another trade war: President Donald Trump's use of tariffs as a foreign policy tool will be tested this month after he threatened to impose 5 percent tariffs on Mexico beginning June 10 unless that country does more to stop illegal border crossings into the United States. Mexican leaders and a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are holding a summit Wednesday. If border issues remain unresolved, Trump has threatened to increase the duty rate each month until it reaches 25 percent on Oct. 1.


— On a second front: The Trump administration is expected to announce sweeping restrictionson asylum that would effectively block Central American migrants from entering the U.S. A draft DHS proposal would prohibit migrants from seeking asylum if they have traveled through a country other than their own before arriving on U.S. soil. In addition, the White House is working on a legislative fix that would be less vulnerable to a court challenge. Language similar to the DHS draft proposal is expected to be included in Trump's new immigration bill that would boost security at the southern border and seeks to admit more high-skilled, well-educated immigrants.


— Disaster deal is almost done: The House this week is expected to pass a $19.1 billion disaster relief package after Republicans thwarted three attempts to fast-track the bill during the Memorial Day recess. Conservatives — upset that the legislation doesn't offset spending or fulfill Trump's request for emergency border aid — have demanded a roll call vote. The Senate passed the bill, H.R. 2157, on May 23 after a last-minute scramble to strip out border aid, which proved an insurmountable sticking point for lawmakers.


Moving down the to-do list: With disaster aid almost a done deal, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) may now turn to fiscal 2020 funding bills. The Senate spending leader recently said he would like to see a higher number for defense. He also expressed interest in once again combining that measure in a minibus with the Labor, HHS and Education title, pairing the two most contentious and expensive spending bills.


Meanwhile, House appropriators are chugging along with an aggressive markup schedule. Eight out of 12 spending bills are ready for floor votes, and the House is on track to pass the whole dozen by month's end. — Caitlin Emma


On the Hill: Among the host of appropriations measures the House is likely to move this month are the Energy and Water title and Interior and EPA title. Also queued up are several other bills containing provisions that would block the U.S. from withdrawing from the Paris climate accordand the Trump administration's effort to weaken fuel economy standards. Plus, both chambers are moving along with the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate's version — which cleared committee in late May — contains a proposed three-year phaseout of the military's use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam, and there's expected to be another push to add additional PFAS language as the measure hits the floor. Both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and House Energy and Commerce are continuing efforts to craft PFAS bills of their own.


Car wars: The Trump EPA is expected to issue emission standards this month for vehicles for model years 2021-2025 — a move that will officially kick off the legal battle with California and several other states that oppose the rollback from the stricter levels set by the Obama administration. EPA and the Transportation Department have proposed freezing fuel economy standards, though the administration may end up offering up some incremental increases — but nothing like the 5 percent annual improvement the previous administration sought.

Along with that, EPA is expected to revoke California's power to set its own emissions regulations, a move that would certainly head to the courts. This has automakers nervous that they could soon be facing two different auto markets in the U.S. — one that adheres to the Obama targets and one that is closer to the looser Trump levels. — Anthony Adragna


Opioids on trial: A case in Oklahoma is providing an unprecedented examination of how the country spiraled into a devastating opioid epidemic — and could indicate to what degree drugmakers accused of fueling the crisis will be held responsible in hundreds of other lawsuits pending across the country.


Most of the litigation against opioid makers and distributors — involving states, cities, counties and tribes — is wrapped up in a single massive lawsuit overseen by a federal judge in Ohio. But the Oklahoma lawsuit against a single manufacturer of prescription painkillers is the first to reach trial and could establish a precedent for damages paid to communities ravaged by opioids. A big judgment against pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson could push other defendants to settle rather than take their chances at trial.


The Oklahoma trial, which is being streamed online, is expected to last for much of the summer. — Paul Demko


HEA watch: All eyes are on Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee's ranking Democrat, for signs of progress on a bipartisan deal to update the Higher Education Act — the sweeping law that governs the nation's student financial aid programs. The two have been working behind closed doors for months to come up with the legislation's first update since 2008.


Education Department funding: House leaders have said they plan to consider the spending bill that funds the Education Department by the end of June. Last month, House appropriators approved a roughly $200 billion fiscal 2020 spending draft for the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education. It included a roughly $76 billion budget for the Education Department, and largely rejected the Trump administration's proposed cuts. — Kimberly Hefling


Question mark on T-Mobile-Sprint: The FCC is poised to give the giant T-Mobile-Sprint mergera green light, but the Justice Department is another story. DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim hasn't shown his hand on the $26 billion deal, possibly suggesting that he's seeking new concessions from the two wireless companies. Whether those additional asks will be acceptable to T-Mobile and Sprint — which have been seeking regulatory approval for more than a year — is unclear. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he's satisfied with T-Mobile's commitments to rural broadband and 5G, and his two fellow FCC Republicans are on board, giving Pai the majority that his agency needs to approve. — Eric Engleman


Whose best interest?: On June 5, the SEC will vote to adopt landmark rules designed to eliminate conflicts of interest by financial advisers and require them to put their customers&#x