The World-Herald’s Washington Bureau rounds up news highlights from Capitol Hill and beyond.

The halls of Congress were quiet last week as Americans came together to celebrate their nation’s birthday.

President Donald Trump hosted a salute to the armed forces on the National Mall complete with military aircraft flyovers and armored vehicles on display.

In his speech, Trump steered clear of his typical rally material as he touted the country’s unity and the valor of those in uniform.

Crowds turned out for the event despite hot and humid weather that turned into at-times heavy rain.

Trump later said the deluge interfered with his teleprompter — which might explain the part of his speech about the army taking over airports long before airplanes were even invented.

In other news:

Getting USMCA done

The Trump administration is hoping its replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement will make it through Congress later this summer.

Farm country is closely following the fate of the new deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, given agriculture’s reliance on international markets and the pain already felt from tariff battles.

Chuck Grassley mug

Chuck Grassley

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters last week that the timing for USMCA approval depends largely on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Grassley said he thinks Pelosi is committed to getting to “yes” but that she needs to bring along others in her party.

“She’s got so many new members, she’s got to make them feel comfortable with it,” Grassley said.

Pelosi has called for a limited number of changes to the deal, particularly when it comes to the enforcement of labor and environmental standards.

Grassley said it’s possible those concerns could be addressed through what are known as “side letters” that indicate how the agreement should be implemented.

But he questioned the viability of opening up the actual agreement, noting that Mexico has already ratified it.

“You can’t go back to the negotiating table,” Grassley said.

Ethanol wars’ latest skirmish

The Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed rules Friday that have the ethanol industry crying foul.

Those proposed rules set the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.

The industry’s problem isn’t so much with the actual number, but rather the agency’s refusal to account for the waivers it has been granting to refiners.

Those are intended to help small refineries struggling to meet the mandates, but pro-ethanol groups say they are being handed out like candy and in some cases benefiting operations owned by large, profitable oil companies. Ethanol advocates say the waivers are destroying demand for the fuel, which then affects the price of the corn used to make it.

Curt Mether, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said in a press release that the waivers represent another hit to farmers already struggling with a tough economic environment.

“We need President Trump to keep the EPA in alignment with his promises on ethanol,” Mether said.

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Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH.

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