Over at the Pentagon, the military’s intelligence arm warned that the Trump administration’s pullout from Syria could aid the revival of ISIS.
Oh, and the government won’t shut down for now — no small accomplishment for a Congress that subjected Washington to the longest shutdown in history earlier this year.
These breakthroughs might have been front page fodder in a different news cycle, but not in Trump’s Washington this week. That’s why POLITICO’s policy journalists are here with your quick fix of other news, for part 2 of our take on what happened in Washington while you were watching the impeachment .
Democrats and Republicans agreed on an asbestos ban
Thirty years after EPA tried and failed to ban asbestos, House Democrats and Republicans agreed on legislation to prohibit the carcinogenic fiber. The deal on Tuesday got bipartisan support before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 47-1, after lawmakers agreed to a temporary exemption for the only industry that still uses asbestos, chlorine manufacturing, giving companies time to switch to newer technologies.
Ultimate passage into law is still uncertain, but this is the most promising outlook that asbestos ban legislation has enjoyed in years. The bill’s advancement follows a court ruling that faulted the EPA for not studying the health risks of “legacy” chemicals such as the asbestos insulation present in millions of homes and other buildings. — Alex Guillén
The Pentagon’s spy agency said Trump’s Syria pullout helped ISIS
The withdrawal, along with Turkey’s cross-border incursion to fight the Kurds, allowed ISIS to “reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad,” the quarterly report from the lead inspector general on the U.S. military campaign against ISIS said.
“The [Defense Intelligence Agency] also reported that without counterterrorism pressure, ISIS will probably be able to more freely build clandestine networks and will attempt to free ISIS members detained in [Syrian Democratic Forces]-run prisons and family members living in internally displaced persons … camps,” the inspector general added. — Connor O’Brien
Washington: Shutdown-free for another month
Congress cleared a short-term spending bill that will keep the government open for four additional weeks, diminishing the chances of a paralyzing government-wide shutdown before Thanksgiving but also punting a tough decision on border wall spending.
Trump signed off on the bill, which runs through Dec. 20, since it doesn’t impose new restrictions on his border wall spending. Congressional leaders still lack a fiscal 2020 funding plan beyond the new deadline. Protracted fights over Trump’s border wall dominate the spending talks and impeachment proceedings threaten to consume Congress through January. — Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes
The EPA rescinded Obama-era chemical safety requirements
The EPA is weakening a chemical safety rule issued by the Obama administration in response to the 2013 West, Texas, fertilizer facility explosion that killed 15 people. The rule — which covers 12,500 facilities ranging from oil refineries to chemical plants to food and beverage manufacturers — frees companies from more rigorous mitigation and safety preparation requirements. And it no longer requires the owners of chemical plants, refineries and other industrial facilities to publicly release data on the chemicals they store on-site.
The agency argued that the cost of those provisions outweighed potential benefits, added new burdens on facilities also subject to separate federal workplace safety standards and raised concerns about terrorists’ access to data. But environmentalists and unions have complained that the rollback will leave workers, especially firefighters and other first responders, at risk. — Alex Guillén
The Labor Department abandoned plans to roll back safety protections for teens
Teenagers were banned from working some types of health care jobs. The Labor Department scrapped a controversial proposal eliminating protections for teens operating patient lifting devices in nursing homes and hospitals. The idea was billed as an effort to expand apprenticeship opportunities in the health care industry. But worker safety groups said it would allow teens to perform “one of the most hazardous jobs in the nation.” Democrats also questioned whether the agency violated its data quality guidelines by relying on a SurveyMonkey poll with fewer than two dozen respondents to justify removing the protections. — Rebecca Rainey
Trump’s FDA nominee dodged tough questions on vaping restrictions
The new pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration skated through a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, despite declining to endorse harsh e-cigarette regulations and occasionally pleading ignorance on topics managed by the vast agency. Both Democrats and Republicans closely questioned nominee Stephen Hahn, a cancer doctor, on how he would handle vaping amid concern that the Trump administration is backing away from a crackdown on flavored vapes targeted at children. Hahn said he will put patients first but stopped short of committing to flavor bans. Republicans are aiming to install him by the end of the year. — Sarah Owermohle
Another marijuana bill was a hit in a House committee
The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would make marijuana legal at the federal level and let states to make their own decisions regarding the drug. It would also scrub criminal records for certain marijuana-related federal crimes and create a grant program to help people arrested for marijuana offenses get launched in the legal market. “Look, I have never been happier that Chairman [Jerry Nadler] got sidelined on impeachment, because it appears he’s been given the time to work on an excellent cannabis bill,” Trump ally and marijuana supporter Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on the eve of the historic vote. “If he gets sidelined again, who knows — maybe we’ll get an asylum bill.” Despite the committee vote, the bill may face six more committees before it can be scheduled for a House floor vote. And its future in the Senate is pretty uncertain given Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s promise that he would not consider any marijuana legalization legislation. And this bill doesn’t have the same kind of House GOP backing that legislation that would give cannabis businesses access to financial services had when it passed the chamber in September. — Natalie Fertig
Regulators helped create a new big bank
A merger between BB&T and SunTrust, the largest bank union since the 2008 financial crisis, got the green light Tuesday, clearing the way for the two lenders to become the sixth-largest retail lender in the country. The Federal Reserve and FDIC signed off on the deal, even as the Fed dinged SunTrust for past “unfair and deceptive practices,” problems that the new bank will have to resolve.
The merged bank will be named Truist, with more than $453 billion in assets — smaller in size than only JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank — and with 2.6 percent of all U.S. deposits. The Justice Department signed off on the proposed merger earlier this month after the lenders agreed to sell more than two dozen branches to resolve antitrust concerns. — Victoria Guida
FCC settles big fight over the next generation of wireless technology
One of the most intense lobbying feuds over wireless spectrum in recent memory came to an end this week when the Federal Communications Commission announced it will auction off airwaves in the so-called C-band to get them into the hands of wireless providers. The wireless industry says this slice of the spectrum is crucial for rolling out ultra-fast 5G services — but the decision marks a defeat for satellite companies that now hold the airwaves and wanted to sell them privately.
The satellite companies had contended that a private sale would be faster than a public auction. But it also could have meant less oversight and more revenue going to the firms instead of the U.S. Treasury.
The issue became so heated that Trump at one point got involved — and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who favored the public auction option, warned that Americans would be monumentally “screwed” if foreign satellite companies ran the sale. Now the pressure will be on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to set up and fast-track the auction in 2020 as the U.S. vies with China and other nations for 5G supremacy. — John Hendel
Trump is considering picking a new trade fight with Europe
Trump administration officials are looking at whether to start a new trade investigation against the European Union as the chance to hit the bloc with car tariffs appears to have passed, according to multiple people briefed on the issue. It would mean European auto imports wouldn’t be subject to duties out for national security reasons, but the EU — and its trade practices — would face a much broader inquiry, the people said.
“What it would do is it would create a situation that for another year would give the president leverage over the EU,” said a former administration official.
Trump was supposed to make a decision by Nov. 14 on whether to take action against imports of automobiles and auto parts from the EU. But with the deadline passed, questions are now being raised over whether he can continue using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to take any future tariff action. The previously little-used provision allows the president to impose trade restrictions if imports are considered a threat to national security.
Instead, a broader so-called Section 301 inquiry would examine whether trade policies impose unjustifiable burdens or restrictions on U.S. commerce. If an investigation finds that practices do so, Trump could slap tariffs on various imports from Europe. He has used just such a probe to slap duties on billions of Chinese goods. — Adam Behsudi and Doug Palmer