Week in Review

Last Friday, the President signed an omnibus spending bill that funds the federal departments and agencies subject to last month’s partial government shutdown through the end of fiscal year 2019, averting another shutdown. The bill included nearly $1.4 billion for physical barriers along the southern border, less than the $5.7 billion the President initially requested. At the same time, the President declared a national emergency under which the Administration will seek to redirect federal funds to build additional security barriers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the declaration “unlawful” and pledged to fight it in court. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voiced support for the declaration, some Senate Republicans have called it unnecessary.

President Trump was in Miami on Monday for a speech about the crisis in Venezuela. He reiterated his demand that Nicolas Maduro abandon his claim to the presidency, again voicing the United States’ support for opposition leader Juan Guaido. In the meantime, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer led a series of trade meetings this week with a Chinese delegation in Washington. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Larry Kudlow, and Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro also participated.

With new Attorney General Bill Barr in place at the Department of Justice, the President announced this week his intention to nominate Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jeff Rosen to replace outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

With Congress in recess this week for Presidents Day, many members traveled to Europe to attend the Munich Security Conference and to meet with senior NATO and EU officials.

Looking Ahead

The House and Senate will both be in session next week. The Senate will take up a series of nominations, including Andrew Wheeler to be Administrator of the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). Leader McConnell (R-KY) will also bring up the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. In the meantime, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet for the second time next week at a summit in Vietnam.

California Lawmakers Explore Potential Changes to Sweeping Privacy Law

Yesterday, the Assembly Committee on Consumer Protection and Privacy held an informational hearing on the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the country’s most stringent state privacy law that prompted federal lawmakers to begin exploring a statue that will possibly preempt similar state laws. Privacy advocates, attorneys, and representatives of the business community discussed how CCPA came to be and how it compares to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as well as the law’s workability and issues that may require clarification, either through legislation or the implementing regulation. Representatives of Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office provided an update on the regulatory process, including the six public forums to date, and noted that a Notice of Proposed Regulatory Action is slated to be released this fall, followed by additional public hearings. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a similar hearing on March 5, overlapping with the seventh and final forum at Stanford Law School.

Justice Thomas Suggests Supreme Court Reconsider Federal Libel Law

On Tuesday, Justice Clarence Thomas challenged the Supreme Court to review the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan case, citing the decision as one driven by policy, rather than constitutional law. The landmark case made it more difficult for public figures to claim libel. As a result, public figures are currently required to show that the information promulgated is false and has created reputational harm, as well as prove malicious intent.

Thomas voiced his thoughts on the ruling in a concurring opinion agreeing with the Court’s decision not to hear a case involving sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Cosby. “We did not begin meddling in this area until 1964, nearly 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified,” he wrote. “We should reconsider our jurisprudence in this area.” While Thomas is not the first Supreme Court Justice to criticize the decision, his opinion comes in the midst of the President’s ongoing assertion that media outlets should be held accountable for pieces critical of his presidency. However, consensus would need to exist amongst at least four justices to consider a case regarding this issue, given that such a case would reach the Supreme Court.

White House Releases 2018 Science & Technology Highlights Report

The White House today released the 2018 Science & Technology Highlights Report, which outlines milestones in science and technology (S&T) and the research and development enterprise. The report covers accomplishments in a wide range of fields, including 5G and Rural Connectivity; Advanced Manufacturing; Artificial Intelligence (AI); Advanced Transportation; Cybersecurity; Digital Economy; Environment; Energy Dominance; Health and Medicine; High Performance Computing and Advanced Electronics; Homeland and National Security; Lab-to-Market; Natural Disaster Resilience; Ocean Science; Opioid Epidemic Response; Polar Science; Privacy; Quantum Information Science; R&D Fundamentals; Space Exploration; and STEM Education and Workforce.

In addition to outlining specific advancements in these fields, the report highlights Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, the new Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), citing his “extreme weather expertise that has improved predictions and saved countless lives.” Further, the report emphasizes the White House-coordinated events throughout 2018 designed to generate dialogue between industry stakeholders and policymakers, including summits on quantum information science and AI.

“Year two of the Trump Administration saw historic progress in ensuring American leadership in the Industries of the Future. From landmark national initiatives on artificial intelligence and rural connectivity, to bold national strategies for 5G, advanced manufacturing, quantum computing, and STEM education, the Trump Administration is committed to ensuring the next great technologies are built in America, by American workers, and for the benefit of the American people,” Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy Michael Kratsios stated in a statement.

EU Member States Approve Copyright Directive

A majority of member states approved the final text of the new EU Copyright Directive on Wednesday. Negotiators from the European Council, Parliament, and Commission announced last week that they reached consensus on the proposal. The Directive will require digital platforms to enter into licensing agreements with content publishers, as well as to monitor and remove copyright-protected content from social media platforms. Several countries, including Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, and the Netherlands, refused to support the proposal, citing concerns that the Directive could negatively impact innovation and disadvantage the EU in the digital market. “We regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies,” the dissenters noted in a statement. Belgium and Slovenia, abstained from the vote.

The European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee will review and vote on the agreement next week. If approved, the proposal will be subject to a parliamentary vote expected to take place in March or April.