Essential Politics: That famous political question again grips Washington

Essential Politics: That famous political question again grips Washington
Essential Politics (LAT)

It's impossible to count how many times some version of the question has been asked in the midst of a political scandal. But its origins are clear: the Watergate hearings of 1973.

"What did the president know, and when did he know it?" asked the late Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker.


This week, the question could be asked of a lot of people in the White House — and not just the president — over serious allegations about a former staff member's past behavior.


Testimony on Tuesday presented perhaps the most troubling evidence of a serious discrepancy in the White House's explanation for when officials knew about the domestic violence allegations against former top staffer Rob Porter.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the agency's background check on Porter was completed last summer. That's at odds with a White House spokesman saying that Porter's "background investigation was ongoing."

Wray's account is sure to add to the controversy over the decision by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and others to defend Porter after Britain's Daily Mail first reported two ex-wives' accounts a week ago.


It may not have happened yet, but there are still promises that a closely watched Senate effort on immigration policy will happen in the coming days in public and not behind closed doors.

"Now it is time to back up this talk with the hard work of finding a workable solution," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday. "I hope this body can seize this opportunity and deliver real progress."

There were speeches on Tuesday but no action, and a number of proposals floated for consideration.

"The purpose here is not to make a point," said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday. "The purpose is to get something done."

Meanwhile, the focus of the immigration fight now seems squarely on the future of family visas — the ability for newly legal residents, including "Dreamers," to sponsor parents and loved ones for legal status. Advocates say family ties help immigrants thrive, but GOP lawmakers want to limit what they call "chain migration."

Speaking of Dreamers, there was news on the fate of Dreamers and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Tuesday. A federal judge ruled the Trump administration didn't offer "legally adequate reasons" for ending DACA.

We'll continue to have the latest developments on our Essential Washington news feed.



The president may not like talking about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, but his top national security advisors aren't mincing words about what they expect in 2018.

"There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the upcoming midterm elections as a potential target," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Then there's the challenge of replacing voting systems in states across the nation, some of which could be vulnerable to attack.


-- Even as prospects for a new Republican push to roll back the Affordable Care Act remain dim, the White House is doubling down on the repeal effort, calling for massive cuts to healthcare assistance in its 2019 budget.

-- Ignoring warnings from diplomats and even a powerful GOP-controlled Senate committee, the Trump administration went ahead Monday with drastic cuts to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

-- The stock market's volatility puts new Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in a bind: If they calm investors by signaling a slowdown of interest rate hikes, it could backfire and push the economy into recession.

-- After years of trying to move, the FBI wants to tear down its vast headquarters building and construct a new command post on the same site in downtown Washington.

-- Moscow's city government announced Monday that it will consider a request from a Russian parliament member to change the postal address of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to 1 North American Dead-end.


California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León received a significant boost in his insurgent bid to defeat Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday, winning the endorsement of SEIU California — one of the state's most politically powerful labor unions. This comes a day after the California Nurses Assn. also backed his bid, but the Los Angeles Democrat still faces a steep challenge both in fundraising and in the polls.

It's worth noting that, earlier on Tuesday, SEIU California also announced it's backing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the governor's race, a less surprising endorsement.



-- Three of the top Democrats in the governor's race vowed Tuesday night to help enrich the lives of women of color in California, both economically and in political influence.

-- Republican candidate for governor John Cox was in the news for after decade-old statements were revealed in which he linked gay rights with pedophilia and bigamy.

-- Steve Poizner, who served four years as California insurance commissioner, will again run to lead the Department of Insurance — this time as an independent.

-- California's new law expanding workplace protections against ICE raids is legal and necessary in the era of Trump, state leaders said on Tuesday.

-- On the anniversary of the Oroville Dam crisis, state lawmakers passed a bill that would mandate dam inspections every year.

-- Some vulnerable California House Republicans can thank House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Mike Pence for at least a fifth of the money they have raised for this year's midterm elections.

--An effort to recall Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon over his decision to shelve a single-payer healthcare bill has fizzled.

-- A group of tenant organizations in Los Angeles is opposing state legislation that would increase housing near transit due to worries about displacement.

--Despite being on a leave of absence pending a sexual harassment investigation, state Sen. Tony Mendoza introduced 15 pieces of legislation this week. A Senate representative said the Los Angeles County Democrat's office is allowed to continue operating in his absence.

--There's a new Democratic political action committee called CA-BAM, and it plans to play in California's crowded House primaries.

-- A Los Angeles city councilman wants to know what it would take to pull out of the city's troubled recycling program.

-- State Treasurer John Chiang is riffing off the popular, kitschy Dos Equis beer ad "The Most Interesting Man in World" in a new digital spot for his campaign for governor.

-- Happy Valentine's Day! Celebrate with The Times' card generator inspired by the city of Los Angeles.


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