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Senate reaches deal on sexual harassment rules after months in limbo

The PBS NewsHour was the first to learn that the Senate had struck a deal to update the rules on sexual harassment in Congress. Judy Woodruff learns more from Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor, plus what House Republicans are demanding from the Justice Department and where trade talks stand with China.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I'm joined now by our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, and by Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol.

    Welcome to you both.

    So, Lisa, we just heard from Congressman Jordan, not only about the special counsel, but the other thing he's asking for is that the Justice Department release a trove of classified documents, turn it over to Congress.

    What is the conversation on Capitol Hill about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think, as you got out of Senator — or out of Congressman Jordan, there is a real concern from some conservatives that the FBI abused its power.

    However, Judy, from other Republicans and some conservatives, there are two other worries, one, that those conservatives are going too far too fast. They say let the inspector general of the Department of Justice, who is working on this issue, finish that investigation.

    The other concern is even broader, Judy — and I heard this on both sides of the Capitol today from Republicans — a worry that this is changing the rules of the game, how classified intelligence is handled. They're worried that by allowing some members who may complain in some cases to have access to this kind of information, that it sets a very bad precedent.

    Also, there are concerns that only Republicans are invited to look at — to talk about this information this week, not Democrats. Usually, these things are bipartisan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, let's pick up on that.

    The president has asked his chief of staff, General John Kelly, to work on setting up meetings, to talk about these documents, what should be released. What have you learned about that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump is one year into making the case that he's a victim of overreaching by the Department of Justice, and these documents and the arguments about them really are being used to build that case.

    President Trump said that he — in a meeting today, when asked, he said that he wanted to kind of get to the bottom of this, that the Congress wants to know. But, essentially, it's that Republican lawmakers want to know.

    And I want to read off some of the people that are going to be on that — in the meeting. It's going to be FBI Director Christopher Wray. It's going to be the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. It's going to be Representative Trey Gowdy and Chairman Nunes.

    And what we see there, of course, is not just any kind of Republicans. What we see there are people who have been making the case that this president is a victim of really a political campaign to get him out of office and for people who don't like him.

    So I think it's really important to not just think about the fact that there are no Democrats there, but the Republicans that are there are people that have been very vocal supporters of the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, almost a foregone conclusion going in.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa, different subject.

    As we know, more conversation today about where the trade talks stand with China. Several strands to that, the conversations both at the White House and at the Capitol. What are you hearing about that? What are lawmakers saying?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was one of the topics that came up the most today.

    And it started this morning with a tweet from Senator Marco Rubio, a former opponent of the president's, this morning tweeting out that: "Sadly, China is outnegotiating the administration and winning the trade talk right now."

    That's about as sharp of a critique as this president, who sells himself as a negotiator, as there can be. Today, what's happened in Congress is, I hear from Republicans especially they're concerned that the president's policy on trade is scattered.

    And, in fact, we saw today some actual action, not just words, Judy. The House Banking Committee passed out of its committee a broad bill that would overhaul the way the U.S. looks at foreign investment. It would in some ways make it tougher for Chinese investors and Chinese businesses that we think are security threats to get through.

    In that bill, Judy, was a very specific amendment that would stop the president from being able to roll back sanctions on Chinese companies like ZTE. That's the company that's been in the headlines lately — and I think Yamiche will talk about it — that the president has said he wants to help.

    The Senate action today, Judy, went the other way and said to the president, no, you shouldn't be able to roll back these sanctions. There is sort of a political war within the president's trade war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating.

    And, Yamiche, meantime, there are some reports today that the administration has reached some kind of deal with China over the ZTE question, which has been hanging out there, what, for 10 days now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes, and the president when asked about it today said that there is no deal. He said that he also is pushing back on criticisms that China is running circles around him.

    The idea is that the president wants to make the case that he is being really, really tough on China, and that he says that the U.S. has been using — has been losing for years, $500 billion a year, in Chinese trade.

    So the idea is that this president is feeling like he has to be on the offense. Today, Sarah Sanders was asked about this today, and she said Senator Schumer — she pointed to Senator Schumer and said that his criticisms were very partisan.

    But she didn't talk about the fact that Marco Rubio is also someone who is out there criticizing the president. And what we see there is the president really feeling as though even his own party is questioning his leadership. And they're trying to have a united front, trying to look strong, but there are obviously cracks in the way that these trade negotiations are happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sounds like still a long way to go before this is figured out.

    Finally, Lisa, something else going on at the Capitol. The Senate has apparently come to some kind of an agreement on how to deal with sexual harassment claims inside the Congress. Tell us about that. You have been following this story and breaking news on it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    We at "PBS NewsHour" were among the first — we were the first to learn today that there is a deal in the Senate. After these many months of this question of the rules about sexual harassment in Congress being in limbo, waiting for congressmen to act on their rules, now there is a deal between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

    A reminder that the rules here in the Capitol are just basically universally seen as archaic and unfair to those — to victims of sexual harassment. Currently, Judy, anyone accusing someone of harassment has to wait 90 days and go through forced counseling and mediation.

    Here's what's in this deal in the Senate. It would take away that 90-day delay, and it would make members of Congress personally liable. They would have to personally pay for any sexual harassment findings against themselves for their behavior.

    However, the Senate did make one change from what the House did. Those members of Congress wouldn't be personally liable for their staff behavior. So, we expect this to move forward pretty quickly. It's taken a long time. And this was a very big deal for people who work here in Congress and a statement from our lawmakers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, quickly, Lisa, that means they have reached final agreement?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I wouldn't say final.

    We have to wait for the votes, but, yes, every — this has great momentum. There are not any problems for it right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you for your reporting on that, Yamiche Alcindor, for all your reporting at the White House.

    Thank you both.

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