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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
President Trump doesn't want to give Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria, White House officials have told congressional appropriators and leadership. This is because he claims, without evidence, that the island’s government is using federal disaster relief money to pay off debt.
The White House didn't comment on this reporting.
Behind the scenes: In late October, Trump grew furious after reading a Wall Street Journal article by Matt Wirz, according to five sources familiar with the president's reaction. The article said that "Puerto Rico bond prices soared ... after the federal oversight board that runs the U.S. territory’s finances released a revised fiscal plan that raises expectations for disaster funding and economic growth."
Trump's wariness about sending federal money to Puerto Rico dates back to the beginning of his administration. In early 2017, when negotiating the omnibus spending bill, Democratic congressional leaders were pushing Trump to bail out Puerto Rico's underfunded health care system that serves the island's poorest citizens.
The bottom line: Congress took steps to keep disaster relief funds from being used to pay down the island's debt, and as Bloomberg reported at the time, "neither the island's leaders — nor the board installed by the U.S. to oversee its budget — are proposing using disaster recovery aid to directly pay off bondholders or other lenders."
Why it matters: Congress will have to pass a new package of spending bills in December. Hill sources say the package may include a bill to send more federal money to disaster areas. Trump has told aides he believes too much federal money has already gone to Puerto Rico — more than $6 billion for Hurricane Maria so far, according to FEMA. (The government projects more than $55 billion from FEMA's disaster relief fund will ultimately be spent on Maria's recovery.)
Trump often blames Democratic-controlled states for the fallout from their natural disasters. On Saturday, Trump threatened "no more Fed payments" for California to deal with its deadly fires unless the state addresses what Trump claims is "gross mismanagement of the forests."
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Trump is as jazzed as ever about hitting foreign-made cars with steep tariffs. Just about every member of his senior economic team besides Peter Navarro believes this is a terrible idea. But they haven’t swayed him.
Instead, with each passing month, his zest for car tariffs only swells.
Between the lines: Trump now views the threat of car tariffs as his best leverage over negotiating partners. He has privately told aides that he got a better trade deal with Canada because he threatened Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with car tariffs. And he says the same about the Europeans, according to sources briefed on his thinking.
What we're hearing: Trade law dictates that Defense Sec. James Mattis must provide a national security justification for any new auto tariffs. A source who spoke to Mattis more than a month ago said he was deeply skeptical about the idea, worrying that big new car tariffs could further strain relationships with allies. Mattis has not, however, made any final decision.
Behind the scenes: There's no sense in the top ranks of the White House that these tariffs are imminent. But Trump still talks about them, so some aides worry he could get impatient one day and force their hand like he did with the steel and aluminum tariffs.
The Washington Post's Dave Weigel writes in the latest edition of his superb campaign newsletter "The Trailer":
President Trump speaks at Police Chiefs Convention. Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Legislation designed to reduce federal prison sentences for some non-violent crimes and to help prisoners prepare for freedom is inching its way toward the Senate floor. And it just got a big boost from an unlikely ally: rank-and-file police.
The Fraternal Order of Police — the largest law enforcement labor organization in the U.S. — announced Friday its support of a bipartisan Senate criminal justice reform bill, which would lower certain mandatory sentences, incentivize prison rehabilitation programs, provide sanitary products to women and potentially release around 4,000 people.
Why it matters: Part of the challenge for reform advocates like Jared Kushner has been persuading hard-liners such as Sen. Tom Cotton and President Trump that the bill could win the support of law enforcement and wouldn’t undermine public safety, a person familiar with the negotiations tells Axios. FOP's endorsement clears a significant hurdle, Axios' Stef Kight writes.
Another advantage: Jeff Sessions was arguably the administration’s single-most effective opponent of this kind of legislation. His departure means reformers have one less barrier.
The big picture: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would have a whip count on the bill after the midterm elections and has indicated he would bring it to the floor if can get more than 60 votes. Republicans close to leadership believe criminal justice reform could pass the Senate during the lame duck, but this is far from certain and hard-liners like Cotton will be difficult if not impossible to win over.
Criminal justice reform is one of only a few policy issues that can win broad bipartisan support. A narrower version of the bill focused on rehabilitation and re-entry programs passed the House 360-59 in May.
Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images
House Republicans and Democrats will soon elect their leaders to take them through the 2020 elections. Here’s a read of the field, from well-placed Republican and Democratic sources:
Republicans go first, holding their leadership elections on Wednesday.
House Democrats plan to hold their leadership elections on Nov. 28.
Congress returns to session after the midterms.
The House has a light floor schedule this week, with Republicans holding their leadership elections on Wednesday. Expect plenty of non-controversial items including "the posthumous award of a Congressional Gold Medal to Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl in recognition of his acts of valor during World War II."
The Senate will take up the Coast Guard reauthorization bill, which includes a lot of local priorities for waterway states across the country, according to a congressional leadership aide.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official: