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Essential Politics: A pivotal week in Washington

Essential Politics: A pivotal week in Washington
Essential Politics (LAT)

Along the road to the airport as President Trump ended his holiday in Florida, people greeted the presidential motorcade with waving American flags, and signs reading “Puppies for Trump,” “Fire McMaster,” “Hillary for prison,” and “Trump Strong.” Then there were the others: “President Trump is fake news,” “Go away and don’t come back,” “Mr. Mueller is coming for [you]” and “Resign.”

Such is the moment in this divided nation.

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Trump returned to Washington on Sunday for what will be a critical week for his legislative agenda. In the coming days, Congress must address immigration issues, children's healthcare and continued funding for the government.

That’s not to mention the GOP tax cut plan that cleared the House and faces an uncertain future in the Senate. (Trump over the weekend said he hoped the Senate would “come through” and approve the plan.)

The bigger question will be how the storylines of sexual misconduct and harassment overshadow any policy discussion.

HARASSMENT STORIES CONTINUE

The long holiday weekend brought plenty of news on this topic.

Under pressure from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others, senior Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr., the No. 2 on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday he would step down from his post as he faces an ethics investigation into allegations he sexually harassed female staffers.

Conyers, 88, the Dean of the House elected last fall to his 27th full term, has denied the allegations. But he said the investigation and the allegations are a distraction to the "important" work of the committee, which he noted handles civil rights cases and voters' access to the ballot box.

Sen. Al Franken issued another apology after new allegations from women.

We’ll be closely tracking what happens here in California when the Assembly begins its sexual harassment hearings Tuesday. The moment comes as one of its lawmakers has opted against reelection in the wake of accusations from six women. The Times’ report about Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra last week could become part of that legislative discussion. Likelier still is that the hearing will examine the process for people to come forward.

To that end, the California Legislature again denied records requests from The Times on sexual harassment complaints.

The issue has gotten attention locally as well. Despite its size, the city of Los Angeles has no centralized method for tracking sexual harassment complaints lodged against its workers. Nor are managers required to report such claims to the city’s Personnel Department. Dakota Smith reports that with dozens of different departments and a fragmented reporting system, two members of the Los Angeles City Council want to examine the city’s process for reporting abusive and inappropriate behavior.

SPOTLIGHT ON AN INVESTIGATION

At 73, Robert Mueller has a record that includes plenty of accolades. But it also shows a man of fallible judgment who can be slow to alter his chosen course. At times, he has intimidated or provoked resentment among subordinates, David Willman reports.

Mueller’s tenacious yet linear approach to evaluating evidence led him to fumble the biggest U.S. terrorism investigation since 9/11, Willman writes, and now, as he leads a sprawling investigation aimed at the White House, Mueller’s prosecutorial discretion looms over the Trump presidency.

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Trump tweeted over the weekend that the Russia investigation is “phony.”

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

The Senate Republican plan to use tax legislation to repeal the federal requirement that Americans have health coverage threatens to derail insurance markets in conservative, rural swaths of the country, according to a Los Angeles Times data analysis. Noam Levey writes that the measure could leave consumers in these regions — including most or all of Alaska, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming, as well as parts of many other states — with either no options for coverage or health plans that are prohibitively expensive.

Voters just don't seem to be that interested in the plan, either. Polls show most Americans view it as benefiting the wealthy and corporations, skeptical it will do much for middle-class taxpayers.

White House officials said Saturday that Trump was on solid legal ground in naming Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But the battle over control of the CFPB escalated Sunday as the deputy director sued to stop Trump. Leandra English requested a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney from taking the position.

Mark Z. Barabak looks at why the Alabama Senate race is far from over, even with all of the allegations against Roy Moore.

Trump, whose “he denies it” remarks kept cable news busy all last week, reiterated his support for Moore over the weekend.

The Supreme Court is set to decide whether corporate whistle-blowers are protected from being fired if they disclose wrongdoing to company officials rather than to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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Catch up quickly on the president’s feud with LaVar Ball.

A Texas Republican congressman apologized for sending a nude selfie during the course of a consensual relationship. The image was posted on Twitter.

From the “you can’t make it up” files, we bring you Piegate.

Get the latest about these storylines, the tax plan developments and what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.

VILLARAIGOSA CAME OUT AHEAD

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the final top Democrat running for governor to release his tax returns, allowed reporters to view six years of filings the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The man who famously proclaimed that he left office with nothing has been busy making millions ever since then, Seema Mehta and Patrick McGreevy report.

LONGSHOT WITH A LONG LIST OF FRIENDS

Omar Navarro lost badly to Rep. Maxine Waters last fall, but he’s trying again, and he has a cadre of famous far-right friends to help him: Trump confidant Roger Stone, former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Plus, a group of major Republican donors plans to take on the long-serving Los Angeles congresswoman. As Sarah Wire reports, either Trump supporters see a GOP path to victory in a district that’s overwhelmingly Democratic or they just want to punish one of Trump’s most vocal detractors.

FORMER CLINTON AIDE FACES LOCAL CONTENDERS IN EAST BAY RACE

Buffy Wicks, who last year helped steer Hillary Clinton’s victory in California, started out as an antiwar community organizer in the Bay Area more than a decade ago before going to work on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. She eventually rose through the ranks to become one of his senior White House staffers.

Now, she is running for office herself -- in the crowded race for Assembly District 15 in one of the state’s most diverse and politically progressive regions, covering Berkeley, Richmond and parts of Oakland. She says she jumped into the competition at an energetic time for Democrats, and with a desire to apply all she learned in Washington. But she is facing some popular local contenders who say they see her as an outsider trying to parachute in.

A reminder you can keep up with this and other important races in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: A PRIVACY BATTLE BREWS

If headlines about private information stolen or data bought and sold worry you, then a California ballot measure will catch your attention next year.

John Myers writes in this week’s Political Road Map column about a possible 2018 proposition that could fundamentally alter the balance of power over consumer privacy rights — a change that, if it makes the ballot and voters approve, would undoubtedly set a national precedent.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- During his 39 years behind bars, Craig Coley maintained his innocence. Now, authorities say they agree with him. Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Coley, 70, last week. Evidence once thought destroyed helped free him.

-- California’s cap-and-trade program saw strong results from its most recent permit auction, raising more than $800 million to help combat climate change.

-- California business leaders urged Congress to reauthorize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program without a government shutdown.

-- California’s Republican candidates for governor will meet for their first debate in January in San Bernardino County, Mehta reports.

-- In cycling-obsessed Colombia, he dreamed of glory. But first he needed a bike. Read Jazmine Ulloa’s story from Tunja, Colombia, produced as part of a fellowship with the International Center for Journalists. The exchange program centered on digital media institutions and is geared to allow journalists to gain insights into digital practices outside the U.S.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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