With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: By scheduling six confirmation hearings for the same day, the Senate GOP is working to prevent any one Donald Trump nominee from dominating a news cycle. The gambit is very likely to succeed.
It’s no coincidence that Republican committee chairmen scheduled hearings for some of the president-elect’s most controversial and polarizing nominees next Wednesday.
Trump, after putting it off repeatedly, will also finally have his first press conference since the election at the same time. And Mitch McConnell plans a budget vote-o-rama, including votes related to the repeal of Obamacare. This will further distract the press and the public.
The GOP leadership’s approach will minimize unflattering process stories and prevent Trump’s nominees from receiving the kind of full airing and scrutiny that they would otherwise.
It’s the political equivalent of running a no-huddle offense in the first quarter and throwing a lot of deep balls when you know the defense is outmatched. The other side’s best safety is still recovering from a pulled hamstring, and the defensive coordinator is distracted by the head coaching job he’s going to take next season. The odds are that Team Trump will score a bunch of touchdowns.
In fact, the conventional wisdom inside the Capitol right now is that all of Trump’s picks will get confirmed, no matter how many red flags several have in their backgrounds.
-- Here are the six hearings now set for next Wednesday:
Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, with his questionable ties to Vladimir Putin and long tenure as CEO of ExxonMobil, will appear before the Foreign Relations Committee. Making his rounds on the Hill, behind closed doors, Tillerson has been willing to talk tough about the Kremlin. But will he do so in open session? Will he commit to keep in place the sanctions put on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine? Will he punt when asked about Russian interference in the election? Tillerson has complex business interests from which he must disentangle himself yet he refuses to provide Congress with his full tax returns. His required financial disclosure form shows that he has assets worth up to half a billion dollars. Yesterday, he struck a deal with Exxon for a retirement package worth $180 million, to kick in if he is confirmed. (Karoun Demirjian has the latest.)
Trump’s pick for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, appears before the Intelligence Committee. He’ll face questions about Trump’s sustained attacks on the integrity of intelligence professionals, his plans to reorganize the community (much more on that below), as well as his outspoken support for torture.
Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, who has funded campaigns both to expand charter schools and to limit regulations on them, will appear before the education committee. She played a central role in a Michigan charter school movement that even supporters of charters acknowledge lacks in oversight and quality. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on HELP, said yesterday that DeVos still hasn’t returned her questionnaire or submitted financial disclosures.
The Judiciary Committee on Jan. 10-11 considers the nomination of Attorney General nominee Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, whose checkered record on race prompted the Senate to block him when he was nominated for a district judgeship. Wednesday is when Democrats finally get their chance to call witnesses who can speak out against Sessions. (In addition to civil rights, which everyone knows is a liability for the Alabama senator, a new ACLU report is highly critical of his record on immigration, abortion and criminal justice. Read it here.)
John Kelly’s confirmation hearing to run the department of homeland security, which would have jurisdiction over Trump’s proposed deportation force and crackdown on illegal immigration, will be at 2 p.m. The retired Marine general is a border-security hawk who clashed with the Obama administration over allowing women in combat and closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He’s also a Gold Star father whose son was killed by the Taliban in 2010.
Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is a lock to become Transportation secretary. She was George W. Bush’s labor secretary and the first Asian American female Cabinet member in U.S. history. In 2001, she was approved by unanimous consent.
-- On a quiet day, most of the aforementioned hearings would have the potential to transform into get-your-popcorn-ready blockbusters that could lead the news and spark a national dialogue about hugely consequential topics, from the future of public education to race relations, America’s role in the world, the moral hazards of Trump’s support for torture or the virtue of a trillion-dollar infrastructure package. But the flurry of simultaneous activity will make it vastly easier for his allies to jam these secretaries through without any of these debates breaking through.
-- Don't forget: Because Harry Reid myopically went nuclear in 2014, all these folks can now be confirmed with just 50 votes.
-- It is inconceivable that Trump and his team did not have the Senate schedule in mind when they rescheduled their press conference for the 11th.
-- Frustrating some Hill Democrats, Barack Obama – who is concerned primarily with his own legacy at this point – has scheduled his farewell address for 9 p.m. Eastern on the night of the 10th. The speech is happening so late – to maximize the west coast audience – that it will probably dominate the cable conversation on Wednesday morning, instead of news about the nominees.
-- The Post has the resources to flood the zone, with multiple beat reporters assigned to every hearing mentioned above, but very few news organizations do. And TV news has limited airtime. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine even savvy news consumers reading six standalone stories about Senate confirmation hearings, plus analysis of Obama’s farewell speech and coverage of Trump’s presser.
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- A House panel formed by Republicans to investigate the procurement of human fetal tissue for medical research has recommended stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood, heralding a new congressional assault on the nation’s largest provider of abortions and women’s health care. From Mike DeBonis: “The GOP majority on the Select Investigative Panel included the recommendation in the 471-page final report, which was issued Tuesday on the dissolution of the panel. It was formed in 2015 after antiabortion activists recorded a series of undercover videos that they said documented abuses by abortion providers and intermediaries that provide fetal tissue to researchers. Over strong objections from Democrats, medical groups and abortion rights supporters, Republicans issued subpoenas to dozens of clinics, procurement firms and research institutions. Their final report suggests that some clinics and firms are illegally profiting from fetal-tissue transactions and that their business arrangements could create an incentive to perform more abortions. … The panel’s Democrats preemptively blasted the findings in a 114-page report of their own, released in December, that challenged the Republicans’ key claims. They criticized the GOP members’ ‘McCarthy-era tactics,’ accused them of relying on ‘unsourced, unverified documents’ and argued that there is ‘no legitimate basis’ to strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s medical services.” (Read the Republican report here. Read the Democratic report here.)
-- House Republicans have also revived an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to slash the pay of an individual federal worker down to $1. One lawmaker dubbed it the “Armageddon rule,” arguing it makes the work of federal employees vulnerable to the whims of elected officials. (Jenna Portnoy and Lisa Rein)
GET SMART FAST:
- Convicted mass murderer and cult leader Charles Manson was rushed from a high-security California penitentiary to the hospital after falling “seriously ill.” Hospital officials confirmed Manson is still alive but cannot release details on his condition. (Kristine Guerra)
- In related news, Manson is unsurprisingly a TERRIBLE prison inmate. A fascinating new LA Times story chronicles some of the 100 rule violations he’s racked up while behind bars – including spitting in guards’ faces, throwing hot coffee at staffers, and setting his mattress ablaze. He once also tried to start a flood.
- A Massachusetts sheriff has made a personal offer to Trump to make the inmates in his jails available to help build Trump’s border wall with Mexico. (Boston Globe)
- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) used $600 in campaign money to fly a family rabbit. The revelation comes as the son of a former congressman, who inherited his dad's seat, faces a larger ethics review over now-reimbursed campaign charges – including oral surgery, a resort stay and a jewelry purchase in Italy! Last year, his son racked up charges in an online video game. (Roll Call)
- Newly sworn-in North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced plans to expand Medicaid, acting in defiance of a law passed by Republicans. (AP)
- Macy’s announced plans to slash more than 10,000 jobs after a disappointing holiday season, reiterating plans to shutter 100 stores. (Sarah Halzack)
- The credit bureaus TransUnion and Equifax were fined $23 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for misleading consumers about the cost and value of their products. They’re each required to pay a combined $17.6 million in restitution for consumers and $5.5 million in fines to the CFPB. (Jonnelle Marte)
- Four people in Chicago are in custody after live-streaming the torture of a duct-taped special needs teenager who was reported missing. Police call the footage “sickening,” saying the man was kicked and cut repeatedly while the assailants, who appear black, laughed, ate, and made disparaging remarks towards both Trump and white people. The victim appears to be white. (Derek Hawkins)
- Chaos erupted at a high school pep rally after a white student filmed a Snapchat video of his black peer participating in a chicken wing-eating contest; narrating footage with racist comments and suggestions that he is “on welfare” and “sneaking leftovers” for later. The hateful video prompted a fistfight. Initially, only the black student was charged criminally. But, under pressure, the district attorney now says the white student will be charged with cyber-harassment and ethnic intimidation too. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- A Minnesota couple killed in a murder-suicide may have sexually abused as many as eight young boys. Authorities said they believe one of the men used his elementary school teaching post to exploit his young victims. The two were found dead after learning they were under investigation for the crimes. (Kristine Guerra)
- Colorado police said the body of a six-year-old boy, reported missing on New Year’s Eve, has been found under the ice of a frozen pond. It’s still unclear whether his heartbreaking death was the result of an accident or foul play. (Sarah Larimer)
- An L.A.-based photojournalist known for his daring and prolific work capturing active crime scenes, finally decided to get out from behind the lens – just in time to save the life of a man trapped in a burning SUV. (Peter Hlley)
- An unlucky U.K. driver who lost his car in a crowded parking garage for SIX MONTHS has finally been reunited with the vehicle. Not only was the car not his – a friend had loaned him the BMW for the evening, he said – but he was also charged for the entirety of his time in the lot. Police estimate it’ll run him about $6,000. Ouch... (CNN)
-- Was the list of key dates in 2017, which led Tuesday’s edition of the 202, helpful? If so, we’ve created a calendar that anyone can download and import into their respective calendar tools (iCal, Outlook, Google calendar) via this download link. (http://wapo.st/202calendar)
TRUMP BATTLES THE SPOOKS:
-- BIG: Trump is working with top advisers to “restructure and pare back” the top U.S. spy agency – a move prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “has become bloated and politicized," the Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes report: The planning comes as Trump continues to level a series of online attacks against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and “mocking” assessments that Russia stole emails from Democratic groups and individuals to aid his campaign. “One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world."
Stat du jour: “Since the November election, Mr. Trump has published close to 250 Twitter posts. Of those, 11 have focused on Russia or the election-related cyberattacks. In each of those tweets, Mr. Trump either has praised Putin—last month calling him 'very smart'—or disparaged the investigation into the hacks.”
-- Trump’s broadsides against the U.S. intelligence community have divided Republicans on the Hill, with some ready to pounce on his skepticism that Moscow meddled in the presidential race, while others urge a more “cautious” approach. Karoun Demirjian and Greg Miller report: Outspoken Putin critics such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham want to go “full-bore” on holding Russia to account for its suspected interference. But efforts may be slowed by fellow GOP senators who prefer to first hear the evidence from the intelligence community and wait until Trump is in office. “The resulting schism could widen as Congress begins probing the CIA’s charges that Russia intervened in the November elections in an attempt to help Trump, potentially becoming one of the first significant intraparty breaches of the Trump presidency."
-- Trump’s skepticism of U.S. intel, as well as his recent praise of Assange, is really poisoning the well. CIA veterans said levels of open hostility towards them are “extraordinary.” “I can’t think of any transition during my career as seemingly fraught as this one,” said John Rizzo, the CIA’s former acting general counsel.
-- McCain is holding his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today to discuss “foreign cyber threats.” The hearing is expected to focus on Russia and will include testimony from a raft of U.S. intelligence officials, including James Clapper, Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre, and NSA Director Michael Rogers. Some have expressed hope that they will present further evidence of Russian meddling. “The point of this hearing is to have the intelligence community reinforce … [that] the Russians did this,” Graham said, slamming recent remarks from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “You seem to have two choices now — some guy living in an embassy, on the run from the law for rape, who has a history of undermining American democracy … or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us. I’m going with them.”
-- Trump’s top advisers are split on how to respond to Russia, with some members of his team scrambling to keep deep internal tensions at bay ahead of next week’s confirmation hearings. Politico’s Bryan Bender reports: “As the president-elect's top national security picks prepare to testify before Congress his transition team is plotting ways to prevent a public spectacle that airs their most wildly divergent assessments of the threat Russia poses. … Trump's nominees to run the State Department, Pentagon, CIA and Department of Homeland Security are all being prepped to avoid making major policy pronouncements and stick to generalities as much as possible in deference to the incoming president. But Senate Republicans and Democrats worried by Trump's blase reaction to Russian interference in American interests are expected to pounce on any divisions … ‘That is where the waters get a little choppier,’ one official said. ‘It is a line of attack we are anticipating.’”
-- Trump ally and Putin enthusiast Dana Rohrabacher said he is planning to lead a congressional delegation to Russia next month, saying Moscow’s leaders are “eager” to talk directly with U.S. lawmakers about sanctions and other lingering tensions. Robert Costa reports: “We’re going to look at certain goals we can set with our Congress and the Duma,” the Russian legislature, the California Republican said in an interview. “What could we actually set in the legislature of Russia and in Congress? Could we work together, for example, and cooperate on space activities?” Rohrabacher, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats, was coy when asked whether his group would meet with Putin. “I really can’t say that,” he said after a pause and a half-smile. “It’s possible.” Rohrabacher said he was not working with Trump’s transition team on the trip but acknowledged that he is close to many Trump advisers … [and] said he does not expect Trump to oppose [the trip].”
-- David Weigel and Joby Warrick chart Julian Assange’s stunning evolution from pariah to paragon on the right: “[Today’s] treatment of Assange is a stark departure from what was, until recently, a near-universal condemnation of the Australian by conservative pundits and politicians as well as the national security establishment. Assange has inspired both admiration and hatred — sometimes by the same individuals — since his anti-secrecy organization first made global headlines in 2010. [Those 2010 releases] prompted calls in conservative media for Assange’s prosecution, or worse: Conservative commentator Jeffrey Kuhner, in a Washington Times op-ed piece that year, suggested that the U.S. government should have him assassinated. On Fox News, legal experts debated the best legal course against Assange … [and] a column in the conservative publication National Review Online questioned why Assange wasn’t dead already. … Lawmakers and national security officials were only slightly less harsh.”
Compare that to what certain "conservative" voices say now: "Fox News host Sean Hannity, who told Assange last month that he had “done us a favor,” said Tuesday that he believes “every word” Assange says. 'You exposed a level of corruption that I for 30 years on the radio as a conservative knew existed,' Hannity told Assange.” And Sarah Palin, who once compared Assange to the editor of an al-Qaeda magazine, now credits him with releasing “important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat (sic) candidates and operatives.'"
-- The Post’s Fact Checker gives Assange three Pinocchios for his claim that there is no link between the Russian government and the hacked DNC emails: “Assange assured the public that he is 1,000 percent sure that there was no Russian involvement, without providing any evidence in the interview or in response to our inquiry,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee writes. “The facts we know contradict Assange’s assurance, and the situation is much too complex for him to make such a sweeping statement. Further, he does not disclose any of the independent assessments that have been made about Guccifer 2.0, who has claimed credit for providing WikiLeaks with DNC emails.”
-- Fresh fodder for Trump tweets: The FBI did not physically examine servers at the DNC before issuing a report attributing the sweeping cyberhacks to Russia-backed hackers, Buzzfeed’s Ali Watkins reports. “Six months after the FBI first said it was investigating the hack of the [DNC’s] computer network, the bureau has still not requested access to the hacked servers, a DNC spokesman said. No US government entity has run an independent forensic analysis on the system … The FBI has instead relied on computer forensics from a third-party tech security company, CrowdStrike, which first determined in March of last year that the DNC’s servers had been infiltrated by Russia-linked hackers, [a U.S. intelligence official said]. ‘CrowdStrike is pretty good. There’s no reason to believe that anything that they have concluded is not accurate,’ the intelligence official said, adding they were confident Russia was behind the widespread hacks. It’s unclear why the FBI didn’t request access to the DNC servers, and whether it’s common practice when the bureau investigates the cyberattacks against private entities by state actors."
-- Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last night that Trump will continue his unsupervised and prolific Twitter use as president, acknowledging that neither he nor other advisers are consulted before Trump fires off his 140-character missives. “I do not know, I do not get a memo [about the tweets],” Spicer said at a University of Chicago Institute of Politics event. “He drives the train on this.” Spicer also pushed back against the notion that Trump’s tweets would complicate his work as a White House liaison to the public, saying his new boss’s unorthodox communication habits made for an “exciting piece of the job.” “You know that he can drive a message and influence people in a way that hasn’t been done before,” he said. (More from the Wall Street Journal’s Shibani Mahtani.)
THE DEMOCRATIC CIVIL WAR COMES TO VIRGINIA:
-- Former congressman Tom Perriello told senior Democrats last night that he intends to run for governor of Virginia, a surprise move that will belatedly thrust Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s hand-picked successor into a primary battle. “Until now, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has been the only Democrat seeking to succeed McAuliffe, who is barred by the state constitution from seeking back-to-back terms,” Laura Vozzella reports from Richmond. “While Republicans have been tearing one another apart in crowded primaries for governor and lieutenant governor, Democrats have been lined up behind Northam for more than a year — ever since Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) decided in September 2015 to seek reelection instead of the governorship. Perriello rode Obama’s coattails in 2008 to narrowly defeat a longtime GOP incumbent in a red-leaning central Virginia congressional district. He lost the seat two years later. Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe, said Northam still has the governor’s backing. Amy Dudley, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), confirmed that the senator still supports Northam.”
-- This challenge could quickly escalate into a proxy fight amidst the emerging Democratic identity crisis. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin, who grew up and is deeply steeped in the commonwealth’s politics, explains: “For decades, Virginia Democrats have taken care to distinguish themselves from their more liberal national party and present themselves as prudent centrists. But having carried Virginia in the last three presidential elections and controlling every statewide office, some Democrats are hungry to elevate progressives. … By running, Mr. Perriello presents Democrats with something of a generational and stylistic contrast. Mr. Northam, 57, is a low-key doctor with deep roots on Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore and a diploma from the Virginia Military Institute — the sort of Democrat, in other words, who once flourished in the state. While Mr. Northam is now largely in line with party orthodoxy, he was seen as moderate enough as a state senator that Republicans wooed him to consider switching parties…
“Neither Mr. Perriello nor Mr. Northam is well known to Virginia voters. Mr. Northam would enjoy a substantial financial advantage and the support of Mr. McAuliffe, who is popular with Democrats. The governor, in fact, is hosting a fund-raiser at his Northern Virginia home this weekend for Mr. Northam. But Mr. Perriello is well liked among some liberal activists and could gain support with the sort of highly engaged voters who show up in low-turnout summer primaries. To do so, though, he will have to fend off questions from the left about some of his stances on cultural issues. He was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in his 2010 campaign and cast some votes against abortion.”
DUELING OBAMACARE VISITS BELIE AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR HEALTH CARE:
-- Mike Pence met with Congressional Republicans to discuss rolling back the Affordable Care Act, pushing forward with repeal efforts even as they acknowledged that developing a replacement along conservative lines may “take several months.” Juliet Eilperin, Amy Goldstein and Kelsey Snell report: “Signifying how enormous a priority the issue is for the incoming administration, [Pence] met privately to discuss it with House and Senate Republicans. He offered no details afterward about what a new health-care law might look like but vowed to unwind the existing one through a mixture of executive actions and legislation.” Elsewhere in the building, Democrats huddled with President Obama during one of his rare Capitol Hill appearances, where he urged lawmakers “not to help the GOP” devise a new healthcare plan. The dueling high-level visits, on the same day that the Senate opened debate on a budget resolution that would begin rolling back the law, highlighted the sharp political fault lines that surround the future of the government’s health policies ... Pence told reporters that he and Trump would pursue a ‘two-track approach’ to chip away at the ACA through executive powers and legislation. According to a lobbyist … the Trump transition team has been considering ways to strip down the health benefits that insurers must provide in plans that they sell to individuals and small businesses.”
-- Rand Paul announced he will oppose the Republican budget resolution designed to begin the process of unwinding Obamacare, making him possibly the only Republican lawmaker to break ranks, David Weigel reports. “In a speech … he will criticize the resolution for assuming $9 trillion in additional debt over the next 10 years. Paul, who has introduced his own balanced budgets since entering Congress in 2011 — with little support — favors the simultaneous repeal of the ACA and passage of a replacement bill, without adding to the debt. Paul, who was reelected last year, expects to cast the only “no” vote in his conference.”
-- West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin skipped the Obama meeting, a snub and a reminder that his caucus cannot count on him in upcoming votes. He’s trying to establish his independence to survive in a ruby red state next year. (CNN)
TRUMP TAKES OVER:
-- Trump tapped Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to head the SEC, placing yet another financial industry insider in a key administration position. From Renae Merle: “As chairman … Clayton would help police many of the same large banks he has spent decades representing, including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. He also would play a key role in Trump's efforts to dismantle parts of [the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act]."
-- Trump named several more top White House staffers on Wednesday, formally announcing three more deputies to serve under Reince Priebus. Katie Walsh, a former Priebus deputy at the Republican National Committee, will help oversee senior staff and manage the scheduling operation and Office of Public Liaison. Rick Dearborn, former chief of staff to Jeff Sessions, will lead the White House legislative affairs office. Joseph Hagin, who served as White House deputy chief of staff for operations under President George W. Bush, will assume a similar role. Additional hires include the longtime head of his personal security operation, Keith Schiller, who he tapped to oversee Oval Office operations, and former Chris Christie aide Bill Stepien, who will be White House political director. (David Nakamura
-- More on Stepien --> “How Christie’s top aide shook Bridgegate and won over Trump,” by Politico's Josh Dawsey, Ryan Hutchins and Alex Isenstadt: “During a salacious criminal trial last year involving the 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike cited the hard-nosed culture of Gov. Chris Christie’s political operation. Running that operation was Bill Stepien, who was named [Trump’s] political director Wednesday. His name was mentioned almost 700 times in the trial. … Stepien’s hiring by the White House capped a remarkable political recovery for the 38-year-old political operative, who had been expected to play a major role in Christie’s 2016 presidential campaign before the governor cut ties with him over the bridge scandal."
-- Ford canceled its plans to open a factory in Mexico this week, opting instead to expand operations at a plant in Michigan. But contrary to claims made by the president-elect, the real reason for their move has little to do with Trump. Danielle Paquette explains: “Ford’s move became political after Fields expressed confidence in the business climate under [Trump], and Trump on Twitter took credit for the company’s decision. Both men invoked the importance of protecting American jobs. Analysts, though, say Ford’s decision stemmed more from its long-term goals than the new administration or devotion to U.S. workers[:] The company aims to invest $4.5 billion in electric vehicles by 2020. The Ford engineers, tasked with creating these models, work in Dearborn, Mich. … [and] moving production to Mexico would have made their jobs harder …” “Keeping a new technology near the engineers is an important thing, at least in the first generation,” said auto analyst Brett Smith. “That gives them a lot more control to monitor a system.”
-- Internet providers are pushing hard for a quick repeal of Obama-era privacy rules. Brian Fung reports: “Some of the nation's biggest Internet providers are asking the government to roll back a landmark set of privacy regulations it approved last fall — kicking off an effort by the industry and its allies to dismantle key Internet policies of the Obama years. The rules, which passed by a 3-to-2 partisan vote favoring Democrats at the [FCC] in October, are meant to keep Internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon and others from abusing the behavioral data they collect on customers as they regularly use the Internet. But now the fate of those regulations lies in question as Republicans prepare to take control of the nation's top telecom watchdog."
THE WORLD COMES TO TERM WITH TRUMP:
-- The Trump Organization is canceling talks over possible projects in Brazil, Argentina and India as the president-elect pulls back from deal-making less than three weeks before taking office. From the AP: “Trump lawyer Alan Garten says the company has cancelled a ‘memorandum of understanding’ to continue discussions with local partners over a possible office tower in Rio de Janeiro. He also said the company won’t continue ‘exploratory’ talks over projects in Pune, India, and in Argentina. The moves follow the cancellations late last year of licensing deals for hotels in Brazil, Azerbaijan and the neighboring country of Georgia. Trump has pledged to do ‘no new deals’ while president and to leave management of his company to his two adult sons.”
-- Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto tapped ousted finance minister Luis Videgaray to lead the foreign ministry on Wednesday. Joshua Partlow reports: The move comes as Nieto seeks to bolster ties with the incoming Trump administration by appointing the ousted official who served as a behind-the-scenes liaison to the Trump campaign and advocated for his visit to Mexico. It’s also a stunning reversal of fortune for Videgaray, who was ousted from his leadership role after intense public outcry over Trump's visit to the country.
-- Trump spoke to new U.N. leader Antonio Guterres over the phone on Wednesday, just days after he took aim at the organization as “sad!” and “a club for people to get together … and have a good time.” A U.N. spokeswoman confirmed the conversation, calling it an “introductory phone call” in which the two had a “very positive discussion” on future relations. (New York Magazine)
THREE PUNDIT PERSPECTIVES:
-- SHOT: In a Post op-ed, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt considers a scenario in which Trump is playing Russia like he “played the media” during the presidential race. “I know the guffaws that just erupted. I have firsthand knowledge that the new president is not — or at least was not — educated in matters such as the nuclear triad or the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. The collective, deep, probably unbendable assumption is that he just doesn’t know much about many aspects of national security. From that assumption it is an easy, and dangerous, leap to ‘he’s clueless, cannot learn and has no interest in learning.’ That might be true. Now for the stretch on your part — and mine: What if [Trump] is playing the Russians and Vladimir Putin as effectively as he played the U.S. media? … Is it better to be thought a lightweight and dismissed by rivals if you are in fact talented, ambitious and ready to strike? To be thought clueless when in fact you have a plan? … It isn’t like the chattering class hasn’t been completely wrong before.”
-- CHASER: “If anybody was expecting that Trump would use the lengthy interregnum between Election Day and Inauguration Day to offer reassurances about what lies ahead, he has gone out of his way to disabuse them,” the New Yorker’s John Cassidy writes. “For the past two months, he has spent his time publicly congratulating himself on his victory (while greatly exaggerating its scale) and taunting those he defeated; putting together a Cabinet of conservative ideologues, billionaires, and generals; blithely dismissing calls for him to divest his business interests; and—this almost every day—running his mouth on Twitter. In short, it has been a distinctly Trumpian transition.”
-- Earlier this week, New York Times columnist David Brooks said Trump’s statements should probably be treated “less like policy declarations and more like Snapchat.” “They exist to win attention at the moment, but then they disappear,” he writes. “To read Trump correctly, it’s probably best to dig up old French deconstructionists like Jean Baudrillard, who treated words not as things that have meanings in themselves but as displays in an oppositional power struggle. Trump is not a national leader; he is a national show. The crucial question of the Trump administration could be: Who will fill the void left by a leader who is all facade?”
-- TERRIFYING: “In China, Big Brother isn’t just watching your every move. He may be selling your personal data,” by Simon Denyer: “Sometimes living in China feels like dystopia has already arrived. As thick clouds of choking smog envelop the Chinese capital this week, more bad news has emerged to make life here feel even more like a grim science fiction movie. Not only are Chinese authorities collecting vast amounts of personal data on all of their citizens, that data is now for sale, [available to strangers] … and for very affordable prices. For just 700 yuan, or $100, the paper’s reporters were able to find huge amounts of information about a colleague — including a full list of hotel rooms checked into, airline flights taken, Internet cafes visited, border entries and exits, apartment rentals and real estate holdings. They were also able to purchase data to pinpoint another colleague’s location in real time via his mobile phone, [as well as other] detailed information [such as] whom their colleague stayed with during each hotel visit."
-- SICKENING: “Charleston church shooter: ‘I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did,’” by Matt Zapotosky: “Six weeks after he shot and killed nine people at a Charleston church, Dylann Roof lamented in a jailhouse journal that he could no longer go to the movies or eat good food. But he still felt the massacre was ‘worth it’ because of what he perceived as the wrongs perpetrated by the black community. ‘I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did,’ Roof wrote. ‘I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.’ The journal was the centerpiece of prosecutors’ opening bid to convince jurors that Roof, 22, deserves the death penalty. … [For weeks after the murders], Roof wrote about his racial hatred and desire to spark mayhem in a journal that investigators took from his jail cell. He said he sometimes lamented the loss of some of the things he enjoyed doing while free, but remarked, 'Then I remember how I felt when I did these things, when I committed these murders, and how I knew I had to do something. And then I realized it was worth it.'"
-- “Anger at a cop killer, a plea for clemency, and a fight over free expression at American University,” by Susan Svrluga: “The statue of Leonard Peltier was meant to raise awareness of his Native American activism, his artistry and his decades spent in prison for killing two FBI agents, a crime he says he didn’t commit. But just as a federal prosecutor in the case against him wrote to President Obama supporting Peltier’s request for clemency, the sculpture has sparked outrage at American University. Anger over the sculpture, which some critics say glorifies a cop killer at a time when police officers have been targeted for violent attacks across the country, led the university to remove it Tuesday, less than a month after it was installed. That decision in turn upset proponents of free speech, who said the university had violated its own principles of open inquiry, political discourse and debate.”
-- Joe Biden will create and lead a nonprofit organization to grapple with a “broad range” of cancer issues after he leaves the White House, mirroring many of the priorities in the “cancer moonshot” initiative that he has championed since his son’s tragic death. Laurie McGinley interviewed the outgoing vice president: “I’m going to begin a national conversation and get Congress and advocacy groups in to make sure these treatments are accessible for everyone, including these vulnerable underserved populations, and that we have a more rational way of paying for them while promoting innovation,” Biden said. The new cancer nonprofit organization, which Biden will head, will be based in either Wilmington, Del., or Washington, he said. More details are expected to be announced in early February.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Bernie Sanders gave a Senate floor speech with a giant poster of one of Trump's tweets:
earlier today, sen. ted cruz chuckled when i walked past him carrying this poster. pic.twitter.com/65iAY2106p— mike casca (@cascamike) January 4, 2017
This is the tweet:
I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2015
Here are a few of the more notable responses to Trump citing Julian Assange to challenge the U.S. intelligence community, starting with Lindsey Graham's:
I don't believe any American should give a whole lot of credibility to anything Julian Assange says. No American should be duped by him.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 4, 2017
Assange has a record of undermining the United States. He's no friend to America or democracy.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 4, 2017
In Julian Assange’s world we are the bad guys – not the Russians, not the Iranians, not the North Koreans.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 5, 2017
From a former CIA spokesman:
From House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff:
When Trump belittles the Intelligence Community, he impairs our national security and prospects for the success of his own Administration.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 4, 2017
That Trump would accept self-serving denials of Kremlin is alarming enough. Citing Assange takes him into new & more treacherous territory.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 4, 2017
From Susan Hennessey of the Brookings Institution:
The IC is not infallible. Skepticism of intelligence is healthy. This isn't that. It's a smear campaign to discredit a critical body.— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) January 4, 2017
From conservative writer Erick Erickson:
Remember when GOP believed siding with other nations and accused rapists against our own intelligence community would be considered treason?— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) January 4, 2017
From GOP pollster Frank Luntz:
"Dozens of Afghans credited with providing intelligence to US forces. Their villages are given for identification."https://t.co/fpq3ZUMXOR— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) January 4, 2017
Assange in 2010: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” https://t.co/MXf5eCStgm— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) January 4, 2017
Here's what Paul Ryan had to say:
Ryan says he doesn't want to get into that but calls Assange a "sycophant for Russia" and someone who leaks and steals data— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) January 4, 2017
In case you missed it, a reminder of Trump's past comments on WikiLeaks:
After a GOP congressman said the party doesn't have an ObamaCare replacement plan ...
Brian Schatz replied on Twitter:
THIS. IS. NOT. ON. THE. LEVEL. https://t.co/FfGSbr20mg— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 4, 2017
Even comedian Rob Delaney weighed in:
Your 1st attempt to repeal was January 19, 2011. For 5 YEARS you've sat on your craven, ideologue hands when you could've made a plan… https://t.co/y6oBRiKGAP— rob delaney (@robdelaney) January 4, 2017
Marsha Blackburn's online poll did not go as planned:
Harry Stein of the Center for American Progress slammed the GOP for "deficit hypocrisy":
1. Upcoming tweetstorm: The undisguised deficit hypocrisy from Republicans deserves a closer look.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
2. The new Republican budget resolution makes it crystal clear that Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is president.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
3. After years of ranting about deficits and debt under Obama, the Republican budget includes basically zero deficit reduction.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
4. Public debt goes from $20 trillion to $29 trillion over the 10 years covered by the Republican budget. https://t.co/u3G2cTRDaL— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
5. Republicans want to amend the Constitution to require balanced budgets (terrible idea), but their own budget doesn't even try to balance.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
6. Last Congress, the Republican budget created a point of order against increasing deficits. Their new budget waives it! pic.twitter.com/SPGFn6WvF9— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
7. Claiming this budget is only about ACA repeal only makes it worse from a fiscal standpoint. ACA has been great for the federal budget.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
8. Many reporters and deficit hawks overvalue anti-deficit rhetoric and undervalue actual policy. Republicans have long exploited this.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
9. Republicans who vote for this budget are making clear they don't care about deficits. Don't let their rhetoric obscure this reality.— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) January 4, 2017
Justin Amash posted an old photo of his father's family:
My dad (center) & family came to the U.S. in 1956 as Palestinian refugees. They were expelled from their home in 1948 for being Christians. pic.twitter.com/h9yh6JswRn— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 4, 2017
House Democratic women gathered for a photo:
House Democrats are proud to swear-in 65 Democratic women to the 115th Congress! Together we stand for all Americans. pic.twitter.com/LZpW8jsuSB— House Democrats (@HouseDemocrats) January 4, 2017
Ron DeSantis brought his daughter to work:
Madison is helping me hold down the fort in my new office. Maybe her first words will be "drain the swamp"! pic.twitter.com/HGFzyk76xd— Ron DeSantis (@RepDeSantis) January 4, 2017
Kristi Noem celebrated the anniversary of the Girl Scouts -- and the start of their cookie season (yum):
Speaking of cookies, it sounds like Adam Schiff is no longer wary of vegan desserts, thanks to Cory Booker:
Mitch McConnell's spokesman mocked Chuck Schumer's new #MakeAmericaSickAgain hashtag:
Our colleague Dave Fahrenthold got mixed up in this exchange on Twitter after Ted Lieu accidentally mistook his handle for Blake Farenthold's:
Finally, after John Ekdahl posed this question to journalists:
The top 3 best selling vehicles in America are pick-ups. Question to reporters: do you personally know someone that owns one?— John Ekdahl (@JohnEkdahl) January 4, 2017
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse had this reply:
Heads-up, reporters.. You can rent my '06 Chevy Silverado w/249k miles, shattered windshield, & nearly new air-freshener. JUST TO FEEL ALIVE https://t.co/8scAi3hCUZ— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) January 4, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- GQ, “Micro-dosing LSD: The Drug Habit Your Boss Is Gonna Love,” by Josh Dean: “What started as a body-tinkering, mind-hacking, supplement-taking productivity craze in Silicon Valley is now spreading to more respectable workplaces, maybe even to your office, where the guy down the hall might already be popping a new breed of brain-boosting pills or micro-dosing LSD—all in the name of self-improvement. Can you afford not to keep up?”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“What if a president loses control?” by The New Yorker's Jeffrey Frank: “There’s no need to dwell on the particular character of Trump, who will be sworn in on January 20th. But it is worth examining what remedies exist if any President is too careless, inattentive, or impulsive to deal sensibly with questions affecting the nation’s survival. What could be done if a President behaves in a way that directly threatens to turn the planet into radioactive dust? And who could do it? Or, to rephrase that for a super-partisan era, who would be brave enough even to cross party lines, if taking that step were required to stop someone who, acting on a whim or in a tantrum, seemed ready to start a nuclear war? The Constitution does provide certain remedies, foremost among them being impeachment, though that requires a high crime or misdemeanor, a House bill, a Senate trial. But there is another path."
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Omarosa Angers Black Republicans With Invite-Only Meeting,” from Buzzfeed: “Black Republicans are figuring out how to respond to an invite-only meeting taking place Wednesday between senior staff of [Trump’s] transition and mostly Democratic-leaning civil rights groups and clergy. The meeting, [described in an invitation as an ‘African-American Listening Session,’] … sent black Republicans scrambling for answers well into the night Tuesday into Wednesday morning, setting off fears that the Trump transition team does not intend on having black Republicans who helped Trump get elected be involved with influencing the team on policy. Many of the black Republicans not invited view it as a snub; after all, they are longtime party loyalists who stuck with Trump through a tough — and, at times, embarrassing — campaign.”
At the White House: Obama participates in interviews with local radio hosts. Biden speaks at an anti-sexual assault event.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of S.Con.Res. 3, the FY 2017 budget resolution. The House meets at noon for legislative business, with votes on H.R. 26, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, expected to begin between 1:15 and 2:15 p.m. The House also considers a resolution objecting to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
John McCain was asked yesterday whether he could vote to confirm Red Tillerson, who received an award from the Putin regime. "Sure,” the senator replied. “There's also a realistic scenario that pigs fly!” (An aide sought to clarify last night that he was joking.)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Some light SNOW is expected by tonight! The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Only the earliest risers may catch a glimpse of the sun as clouds quickly stream across the region. The snow band out in the Midwest could (30 percent chance) begin to spin off some patches of light snow or flurries as the afternoon wears on. Scattered areas of light snow may (40 percent chance) coincide with the evening commute and a few slick spots are possible, but road temperatures a hair above freezing should prevent a widespread ice-up. Day time high temperatures reach the mid-to-upper 30s but cool quickly to the low 30s in any snow that develops.”
-- Metro Police said they are investigating a woman’s claim that she was robbed and held at knifepoint by a group of men on the Green Line train several weeks ago, releasing details on a case that were not previously provided to the public. The woman said she’s frustrated that the incident wasn’t immediately publicized in an effort to locate her attackers. (Faiz Siddiqui)
-- A D.C. pro-weed group is handing out thousands of free joints on Trump’s inauguration day, seeking to cleverly circumvent the recreational usage rules that prohibit sale of the drug before leading a march to the National Mall. (Esquire)
-- MS-13 MAKING A COMEBACK: A 22-year-old man who had been lured to Maryland from New Jersey — expecting to rendezvous with a woman after an exchange of Facebook messages — was killed and buried in a shallow grave in Montgomery County, according to police documents. "The killing, which took place in October, appears to be related to the MS-13 street gang," Dan Morse reports. "The gang has made a resurgence in the Washington area over the past year."
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Parents and students in the stands at a high school basketball game in Ohio raised the concept of “rivalry” to a whole other plane, scuffling in a brawl that the conference commissioner blamed on adults. The Wooster Generals had just beaten the Lexington Minutemen, 63-41, in an Ohio Cardinal Conference battle between undefeated teams in Lexington when the fight broke out behind the scorer’s table. Raw video shows mostly adults arguing before the scrap escalates:
Obama called for a "seamless passing of the baton" to the next administration:
And he told members of the Armed Forces that being commander-in-chief has been "a privilege of a lifetime":
This Mexican politician staged a protest in the lobby of Trump Tower:
Sean Spicer was heckled in Chicago:
Here's why it matters that Joe Scarborough is friends with Trump:
Meanwhile, on late-night television, Oprah Winfrey spoke about Michelle Obama:
Taraji P. Henson talked about holding a screening of Hidden Figures at the White House:
And Stephen Colbert recapped the latest from Congress and Trump's Twitter feed: