With Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: A partial government shutdown in nine days appears more likely after President Trump’s televised Tuesday throwdown with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Looking ahead to next week and next year, here are five takeaways:
1) By saying he will own any shutdown, Trump lost significant negotiating leverage.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” he told Schumer. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it.”
The Senate minority leader, barely containing his glee, sought to avoid eye contact with the president.
“Several White House advisers and GOP congressional aides said they believed Trump damaged himself by agreeing to own a possible shutdown and so vividly saying he would not blame it on Schumer, as he did an earlier shutdown,” per Phil Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Bob Costa.
“One administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump appeared upset after leaving the meeting, flicking a folder and sending its papers flying out,” adds the Los Angeles Times’s Jen Haberkorn.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who as No. 2 in GOP leadership will be responsible for whipping the votes to pass any deal, was asked if he watched the televised session. “I did, unfortunately,” he told the Hill. “I wish I didn’t.”
“If the president follows through on the threat, about 25 percent of the federal government would begin to run out of money on Dec. 21, putting hundreds of thousands of federal workers at risk of getting furloughed without pay just before Christmas,” per Erica Werner and John Wagner.
2) After calling Trump’s bluff, Pelosi has a stronger hand internally.
Her exchange with Trump is helping to lock down the votes she needs to get elected as speaker when the new House convenes next month.
“Pelosi has argued the importance of having a woman at the ‘decision-making table’ in Trump’s Washington. And Tuesday’s show helped make her point,” Colby Itkowitz writes in a piece on the gender dynamics. “At the beginning of the discussion, Pelosi, who has been in Congress for 31 years and has been the leader of her party for 16, tried to encourage Trump to ask Republican leaders to bring up his version of a government funding bill in the House if he’s so certain it could pass there with $5 billion for a wall. But Trump kept coming back to the point that, as if Pelosi didn’t know, he didn’t have the votes in the Senate. ‘Nancy,’ he’d begin, and then explain again that 60 votes are required to pass such a bill in the Senate. Pelosi kept her composure throughout the charade.”
“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session,” Trump said. “It would be done.”
“Well, then go do it,” replied Pelosi.
House Republicans are now scrambling to figure out if they can muster a majority for such a show vote, as both sides remain billions apart. They’re likely to bring such a measure to the floor only if they can get the votes. Trump says he’ll take nothing less than $5 billion for a wall; Democrats say they’ll give nothing more than $1.3 billion for fencing.
“As soon as she returned from the White House, Pelosi strolled into a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, where fellow Democratic lawmakers were in the process of selecting committee chairs for the new Congress,” Mike DeBonis reports. “‘It’s like a manhood thing for him,’ she said of the wall, according to an aide who was present. ‘As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing.’ She told colleagues that she was ‘trying to be the mom’ in the room while Trump and Schumer bickered … interrupting Pelosi at times, mansplaining at others. Pelosi also described to colleagues how the Oval Office meeting concluded: ‘He said, ‘We can go two routes with this meeting — with a knife or a candy.’ I said, ‘Exactly.’ ”
3) Because this could be Trump’s last shot to get his wall as president, he’s going out of his way to show supporters that he’s doing everything he can.
As I highlighted yesterday, polling shows that 2 in 3 Republicans would rather Trump shut down the government than compromise on his border wall. That’s why the president invited cameras to tape what was supposed to be a private meeting. He wanted to show that he’s a fighter and to convey that he behaves the same way on the campaign trail as in the Oval Office.
“Having already dropped his public vows to make Mexico pay for the wall and issued false claims that parts of the project are well underway, Trump is facing mounting pressure from his conservative base to score a visible win ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign,” David Nakamura reports. “Commentator Ann Coulter, a onetime Trump supporter who broke with him over the lack of progress on the wall, wrote on Twitter that the president holds ‘all the cards’ in the negotiations but put the odds at 50-50 that he would ‘cave.’ In another tweet, she highlighted a Washington Post fact check that punctured Trump’s claims of progress on the wall: ‘Does Trump think his supporters are dumber than a WaPo reporter?’”
“It’s now or never,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports the wall.
“If he doesn’t at least force a shutdown for some time, I don’t see how he can go into 2020 and blame Democrats,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates lower immigration levels. “Everyone would say, ‘Of course, they are your opponents, but you didn’t really even try.’”
Democrats offered a deal early this year that Trump’s failure to take now looks foolish. They agreed to pony up $25 billion for a wall in exchange for protecting the “dreamers.” Even Bernie Sanders said he’d vote for wall funding. But Trump, egged on by nativists in his orbit, demanded they also agree to deep cuts in legal immigration, a poison pill.
4) Trump, as thin-skinned as ever, is still in denial about the results of the midterms.
It’s remarkably easy for people to get under Trump’s skin. Chuck and Nancy, as Trump refers to the Democratic leaders, needled him on the economy and the election. And his response illustrated why this was the first meeting between the three leaders in more than a year. Indeed, the president has rarely put himself in positions of being directly challenged over the past two years.
The most memorable mansplaining from Trump came when he suggested that Pelosi cannot control her caucus. “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now,” Trump said.
“Mr. President,” Pelosi countered, “please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.”
“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” added Schumer.
“Excuse me,” interjected Trump, “did we win the Senate? We won the Senate!”
“When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble,” Schumer said, turning to the assembled cameras to offer narration like Kevin Spacey’s character on “House of Cards.”
Tuesday’s reality TV episode from the West Wing, though, felt much more like HBO’s “Veep” than Broadway’s “Hamilton.”
5) Democrats might be wise to nominate a candidate for president from outside the Washington morass.
It seems a safe bet that confrontation will trump conciliation in Washington over the next two years. The bases in both parties want their leaders to be fighters, even as the plurality of Americans want politicians to seek common ground. It’s hard to see how average Americans watch spectacles like yesterday’s and conclude anything other than that Washington is broken. If yesterday was a harbinger of what’s to come, the president who prides himself as a dealmaker isn’t going to make many big deals.
Divided government will either make Trump look weak and ineffective — or give him a useful foil to run against in 2020. Frankly, it could cut either way. Or both ways. Will voters blame Trump or Democrats? It’s plausible that many swing voters will adopt the a-pox-on-both-your-houses mentality.
Dysfunction could set the stage for another change election. Trump carried the mantle of change in 2016, and he’ll try to seize it again in 2020. Whether he succeeds will depend on whom Democrats nominate to challenge him.
Yesterday illustrated that there’s an opening for a Democrat who is not part of the mess. This could benefit outsiders like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg or Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
As she privately debriefed House Democrats afterward, Pelosi said of Trump: “It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Britain’s Conservative Party has called for a “no confidence” vote against Prime Minister Theresa May after she acknowledged the likely parliamentary defeat of her Brexit deal. William Booth and Karla Adam report: “May quickly responded that she would not resign but would defend her vision for Brexit. She warned the rebellious lawmakers that ousting her will not make getting a Brexit deal any easier, and instead will bring delay and confusion. ‘I will contest that vote with everything I’ve got,’ said May, speaking outside of Downing Street. ‘I stand ready to finish the job.’ Removing and replacing the prime minister would take weeks. Changing leaders now, May warned, would ‘put our country's future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it.’”
The vote over the prime minister’s fate will take place Wednesday evening. “If a large number of Tories vote against [May], she may be pressed to resign. If half of the Conservative Party lawmakers vote against her, May would be removed. The looming no confidence vote throws May’s Brexit deal and Britain’s future relationship with Europe into chaos. The prime minister on Monday announced she was delaying a vote on her deal, after she concluded her accord faced a humiliating defeat in the House of Commons. May spent Tuesday meeting with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the E.U. leaders, trying to secure new concessions that might appease British lawmakers who don’t like her Brexit withdrawal agreement.”
-- Widening the aperture: “Instability appears to be the order of the day, whether in the United States or in Europe,” Dan Balz writes. “Traditional politics, of the kind practiced in Western democracies for decades after World War II, is on shaky ground nearly everywhere, struggling to find the point of equilibrium that can satisfy populations fractured by economic, cultural and social changes. … The dividing lines in this new world of unrest are no longer simply those along a left-right continuum, with conservatives pitted against liberals. Those battles still exist, here and elsewhere, but increasingly the forces of destabilization are coming from other angles and other directions. … This has taken forms that are changing politics, political alliances and policies here and abroad: a growing divide between cosmopolitan and non-cosmopolitan populations; deepening cultural differences between urban and rural parts of society; widening differences among those favoring a society more open and welcoming to immigrants and those favoring closed borders and turning inward and taking care of the home front.”
GET SMART FAST:
A French official declared the shooting near a Christmas market in Strasbourg to be an act of terrorism. The manhunt is still underway for the suspect, who has been identified by media as 29-year-old Cherif Chekkat. The shooting killed at least two people and left another 14 injured. (James McAuley)
A jury sentenced James A. Fields Jr. to life in prison for ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville last year, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others. The jurors handed down an overall sentence of life plus 419 years and $480,000 in fines. (Paul Duggan)
The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to allow it to enforce a new policy of denying asylum to migrants who illegally cross the southern border. Lower courts have declared the new policy to likely be illegal because it circumvents specific language in federal law allowing anyone who enters the United States to apply for asylum. (Robert Barnes)
Three police officers in Houston were shot while serving a warrant on a suspect who later killed himself. “All three injured officers are awake and alert. Expected to survive their injuries,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted. (NBC News)
CBS News settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount with three women who accused Charlie Rose of sexual harassment. A lawyer for the women said a portion of the lawsuit that names Rose remains active. (Eli Rosenberg and Amy Brittain)
The Arctic has lost 95 percent of its oldest and thickest ice over the past three decades, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card. The loss of ice could have major implications for the rate of global warming, as ocean water starts absorbing more solar heating that was previously deflected by the cover of ice. (Chris Mooney)
Two former executives of a Ford plant in Argentina were convicted in connection to the torture of workers during the country’s dictatorship in the 1970s. Lawyers for the victims said they may sue Ford in U.S. federal court, a prospect that legal experts said would be an uphill battle. (Reuters)
New York prosecutors dropped charges against Jazmine Headley, the 23-year-old woman who was filmed having her child pulled out of her arms by police officers at a Brooklyn food-assistance center. “They’re hurting my son,” Headley can be heard repeatedly screaming in the video after an officer admonished her about sitting on the floor. (Katie Mettler and Antonia Noori Farzan)
Facebook has filed several patent applications for technology to predict a user’s future location. One of the applications details a method of using past location data to predict where a user is going to go next. (BuzzFeed News)
Virgin Galactic’s planned test flight to an altitude of more than 50 miles has reignited a debate over where exactly space begins. Pilots have previously been awarded astronaut wings for making it to 50 miles or above, but many believe the edge of space begins at 62 miles. (Christian Davenport)
Public health experts in New Zealand concluded that James Bond had a “severe” and “chronic” drinking problem. Researchers at the University of Otago analyzed two dozen Bond films to calculate that the fictional British Secret Service agent was seen drinking alcohol exactly 109 times. (Lindsey Bever)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- U.S. investigators increasingly believe the Chinese intelligence community was behind the Marriott hack that affected up to 500 million people. Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg report: “These people cautioned that the investigation has not been completed, so definitive conclusions cannot be drawn. But the sweep and tactics of the hack, which took place over four years before being discovered, prompted immediate speculation that it was carried out by a national government. Preliminary indications show the breach was executed by hackers affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security … The MSS, an intelligence and security agency, has been behind many Chinese government intrusions into sensitive U.S. networks in recent years. …
“Some U.S. intelligence officials believe that the breach was conducted to enrich the massive Chinese data sets on U.S. and other citizens that have been amassed for years. Such breaches include the 2015 Office of Personnel Management intrusion, which compromised personal data of more than 20 million government employees, family members and applicants, and also information collected during Chinese breaches of health-care institutions such as Anthem and CareFirst.
“The Marriott breach exposed an unusually broad array of data, including names, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers and credit card numbers, as well as information on where people traveled and with whom. Such information would be valuable [to] intelligence agencies seeking to build dossiers and track movements of diplomats, spies, military personnel, business executives and journalists. Armed with a rich array of personal data, an intelligence agency can also tailor an approach to a person to see whether the individual can be recruited as a spy or blackmailed for information. The passport data, which is not often collected in data breaches, probably was a particularly valuable find for the hackers.”
-- The Trump administration plans to condemn China for economic espionage and the hacking attempts, further escalating tension between the two countries. Ellen Nakashima and David J. Lynch report: “Multiple government agencies are expected to condemn China, citing a documented campaign of economic espionage and the alleged violation of a landmark 2015 pact to refrain from hacking for commercial gain. In perhaps the most significant move, the Justice Department is expected to announce the indictments of hackers suspected of working for a Chinese intelligence service and participating in a long-running espionage campaign that targeted U.S. networks. Along with that, the administration is planning to declassify intelligence relating to the breaches, which date to 2014, and to impose sanctions on some of those believed responsible, according to people familiar with the plans.”
-- Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview that he is willing to personally intervene in the Justice Department's case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted for extradition to the United States from Canada. Emily Rauhala reports: “‘Whatever’s good for this country, I would do,’ he told the news agency. “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.” The comment, starkly at odds with earlier remarks from U.S. officials, came shortly after Meng, the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, was granted bail as she awaits a hearing on extradition to the United States.
“Meanwhile, Canadian authorities confirmed that Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat and an analyst for the International Crisis Group, has been detained in China. It was unclear Tuesday whether Kovrig’s case was related to China’s threats that there will be 'severe consequences' for Canada if Meng is not released. But the detention of a Canadian citizen in China is sure to complicate an already complex standoff involving Beijing, Washington and Ottawa.”
-- The Chinese government claimed it arrested Kovrig because his think tank was operating illegally in the country. Anna Fifield reports: “‘The relevant organization has violated Chinese laws because the relevant organization is not registered in China,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a press briefing Wednesday. China sharply tightened its rules on NGOs operating in the country last year, part of a broader crackdown on civil society and free speech. … The nongovernmental organization said it had received no information about Kovrig, its senior adviser on North East Asia, since [his arrest].”
-- Many in China view Meng’s arrest as a matter of national pride. Anna Fifield, David J. Lynch and Ellen Nakashima report: “The fraud allegations against [Meng] fit neatly into the Chinese narrative about American efforts to undercut China’s rise as an innovator and rival, especially in the race for the next step in smartphone technology, known as 5G. Adding to that, Meng is seen in China as something of a corporate princess, and Huawei is deeply vested in Beijing’s push for Chinese-led development across Asia and beyond.”
-- Trump said that he stands by the Saudi crown prince despite the CIA's assessment he is linked to the killing of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Reuters’s Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton report: “Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago. ‘He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,’ Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office. Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: ‘Well, at this moment, it certainly does.’”
-- Connecting the dots: Trump’s refusal to accept the expert conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community, a habit that began with dismissing Russian interference during the 2016 election, has continued to infect his approach to national security. Greg Miller reports: “The pattern has become a source of mounting concern to senior U.S. intelligence officials who had hoped that Trump, as he settled into office, would become less hostile to their work and more receptive to the information that spy agencies spend billions of dollars and sometimes put lives at risk gathering. Instead, presidential distrust [of the IC] ... has spread across a range of global issues. Among them are North Korea’s willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program, Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions, the existence and implications of global climate change, and the role of the Saudi crown prince in the killing of a dissident journalist. …
"... U.S. officials involved in interactions with the White House said that the disconnect between spy agencies and the president is without precedent and that senior analysts have spent the past year struggling to find ways to adapt to an arrangement they described as dysfunctional. Many have taken to writing ‘for the record,’ officials said, meaning they generate reports to document intelligence community warnings on North Korea, Iran and other subjects. … The President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a document that for decades has been drawn up specifically for the commander in chief, ‘has become more important for Cabinet-level officials than the president,’ said a former senior U.S. intelligence official.”
ON CAPITOL HILL:
-- In a major reversal, Sen. Mitch McConnell announced the Senate will vote this month on a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. The majority leader has repeatedly insisted the chamber did not have the time to take up such legislation. Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey report: “[McConnell’s] public pessimism only strengthened the resolve of advocates, Republican senators supportive of the bill and the White House — particularly senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had already marshaled endorsements from a diverse coalition and asked police union officials, evangelical leaders, and prominent GOP donors and activists to call McConnell, another White House official said. And then there was the unequivocal support from [Trump], who never waffled publicly from the legislation despite criticism from some law-and-order conservatives that the First Step Act could let some violent offenders off the hook from serving out their sentences — a claim that the bill’s authors vehemently dispute.”
-- The Senate overwhelmingly passed an $867 billion farm bill. Jeff Stein reports: “In an 87-to-13 vote, the Senate approved legislation that allocates billions of dollars in subsidies to American farmers, legalizes hemp, bolsters farmers markets and rejects stricter limits on food stamps pushed by House Republicans. The legislation will now head to the House, where it is also expected to pass, after lawmakers worked out a House-Senate compromise this month. [Trump] expressed support for the legislation on Tuesday and said he expects it will be signed into law. Congressional negotiators said they faced increasing pressure to complete the bill from farmers and ranchers who have suffered steep declines in commodities prices amid Trump’s ongoing trade war with China.”
-- Two key Democratic lawmakers said they will use their perches to try blocking the Washington Redskins from building a stadium on federal land. Mike DeBonis reports: “Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who will lead the Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies next year, spoke out after The Washington Post reported Friday on an effort by the team, D.C. officials and congressional Republicans to insert language in a sweeping year-end spending bill that could clear a crucial obstacle to building a new facility on the site of the existing RFK Stadium. In an interview Monday, McCollum raised two objections — to the potential long-term private use of federal land without a thorough public process and to the team’s name, which she called a ‘racial slur.’ … Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), the ranking Democrat on the corresponding Senate Appropriations subcommittee, said Tuesday that he, too, would ‘fully oppose’ any effort to slip a stadium-related provision in the year-end bill.”
-- Google CEO Sundar Pichai sailed through his congressional testimony without any obvious flubs. Drew Harwell reports: “Pichai was the measured, mild-mannered political tenderfoot in a sea of Washington bombast, not showing agitation at the silliest of questions or taking his interrogators’ bait. And after the hearing, with the high-stakes showdown behind him, one of the most powerful executives on the planet couldn’t help but smile. The two mock hearings in California and Washington he had sat for in preparation were a little less tough, Pichai said with a soft laugh later.
“The demands from a phalanx of lawmakers — skewed heavily toward stern-faced, old, white men — ranged from prosecutorial cross-examinations to questions more likely to be expressed by old uncles seeking tech support from young kids during a Thanksgiving gathering. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) asked Pichai why a Google search of the word ‘idiot’ had brought up images of [Trump]. And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) asked him to explain why his seven-year-old granddaughter’s iPhone had acted strangely. ‘Congressman, the iPhone is made by a different company,’ Pichai said quietly. … After it all, Pichai proved to even his critics to be a master of deflection, capable of gliding past tough questions and consistently hitting talking points — saying a lot while conveying very little.”
-- Pichai acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post that Google wrestles with how to set global policies on issues like hate speech and disinformation. Tony Romm and Craig Timberg report: “The stakes could rise dramatically if Google reenters China, where Google shut down its Chinese-language search engine in 2010 over security and censorship concerns. In the Post interview, Pichai said the company has an internal effort to develop a product aimed at the Chinese market, though he declined to say what it was or whether it was likely to be a search engine. … But employees have revolted against a project that many see as counter to Silicon Valley ideals of free speech. ‘Our principles apply for us globally,’ he added. ‘We have many ways we can approach it.’”
-- Negotiations over a term-limit deal that would lock in the support Nancy Pelosi needs to retake the House speakership are in the final stages. Mike DeBonis reports: “At least five of the California Democrat’s internal critics are ready to throw her their support under terms of a deal that were discussed but not finalized in a meeting with Pelosi on Tuesday afternoon. … Three Pelosi opponents attended — Democratic Reps. Bill Foster (Ill.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.) and Linda T. Sánchez (Calif.) — and discussed a deal under which Pelosi would support and advocate term limits for the top three House Democratic leaders, according to three people familiar with the talks. Under the proposal discussed Tuesday, those leaders would be subject to a three-term limit, with a possible fourth term if House Democrats vote by a two-thirds majority to retain them. The limit would be retroactive, meaning Pelosi, incoming House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and incoming House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) — all of whom held the same posts from 2007 to 2011 — would be effectively limited to one, maybe two, terms going forward if the policy is adopted.
“The proposal would be subject to a caucus vote next year, after new members are sworn in, but the people familiar with the talks said Pelosi has agreed to abide by its terms even if the caucus does not ultimately adopt the policy. The term limits would not extend to committee chairs, a measure that would be deeply controversial among House Democrats.”
-- Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) is now facing a potential primary challenge in 2020 because progressive women in his district are so angry about his machinations against Pelosi. NBC Boston’s Alison King reports: “North Shore political activist Bambi Snodgrass and other 6th district progressives are not happy with Moulton’s unrelenting opposition to the House Speaker. … Just this fall, Snodgrass was knocking on more than 1,000 doors for Moulton. But after Election Day, Snodgrass watched Moulton try to unseat Pelosi without offering a replacement and decided Moulton had misread the moment. … Outgoing state Sen. Barbara L’Italien, who ran unsuccessfully in this year’s third district race despite living in the fifth district, has similar concerns about Moulton and is already looking ahead to possibly challenging him in 2020.”
-- West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, whose reelection campaign received significant financial support from the fossil fuels industry, will become the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, despite an orchestrated campaign on the left to block him. Felicia Sonmez reports: “The move was ratified Tuesday by members of the Senate Democratic caucus, [Schumer] announced. In a statement, Manchin said he was ‘excited for the opportunity to continue to serve West Virginians in this new role.’ … Manchin’s prospective appointment had prompted opposition from figures including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and billionaire activist Tom Steyer, two Democrats who are openly considering White House bids.”
-- Boosting her 2020 hopes, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will get to keep her high-profile seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Seung Min Kim and John Wagner report: “Harris, a former prosecutor and California state attorney general, risked having to forfeit the seat as committees were reconfigured to reflect the Republicans’ expanded majority starting next month. Harris is the most junior member of the panel. But Senate leaders cut a deal with Republicans to expand the size of the committee, a move that will allow Harris to remain and another GOP member to join the panel.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN AND WOMEN:
-- White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said John Kelly will remain as chief of staff through at least Jan. 2 -- and possibly beyond. “Trump later told reporters that he was in ‘no rush’ to name a successor to Kelly and that he expected to announce a replacement in a week or two," per John Wagner.
- Trump told Reuters he is considering 10 to 12 candidates “that want it badly” to replace Kelly as chief of staff.
- “After the press pool left the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump repeated to Pelosi and Schumer his claim that many people want to be his chief of staff. Schumer then looked at Kelly, who was standing in the room, and remarked that it appeared he would have to stay on the job for a while,” per Rucker, Dawsey and Costa.
-- An AP investigation found that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump could financially benefit from a real estate investment program included in the GOP tax overhaul that the promoted. Stephen Braun, Jeff Horwitz and Bernard Condon report: “Trump and Kushner jointly own a big stake in a real estate investment firm, Cadre, that recently announced it is launching a series of Opportunity Zone funds that seek to build major projects under the program from Miami to Los Angeles. Separately, the couple owns interests in at least 13 properties held by Kushner’s family firm that could qualify for the tax breaks because they are in Opportunity Zones in New Jersey, New York and Maryland … There’s no evidence the couple had a hand in selecting any of the nation’s 8,700 Opportunity Zones, and the company has not indicated it plans to seek tax breaks under the new program. But the Kushners could profit even if they don’t do anything — by potentially benefiting from a recent surge in Opportunity Zone property values amid a gold rush of interest from developers and investors.”
-- A Trump appointee who was criticized for doing little work while collecting a government paycheck was forced out of Veterans Affairs. Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey report: “Peter O’Rourke’s departure marks an unceremonious fall for a Trump loyalist once seen as a rising star at VA, where he nonetheless had a rocky tenure, first leading a high-profile office handling whistleblower complaints, next as chief of staff and then, for two months, as the agency’s acting secretary. Since August he has held the nebulous role of senior adviser, with an uncertain portfolio and a senior executive salary as high as $161,000. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie asked for his resignation Friday, O’Rourke said. … Asked why he was getting paid not to work, O’Rourke said he was ‘available for anything the secretary asked me to do’ and acknowledged that ‘there were times I didn’t have a lot to do.’”
-- A new survey found job satisfaction decreased this year at 60 percent of federal agencies. Lisa Rein reports: “After three years of steady improvement as the economy rebounded from the recession, the number of employees who would recommend their agency as a good place to work dropped at 60 percent of federal offices, the annual ‘Best Places to Work in the Federal Government' rankings found. Less than 40 percent of agencies improved their ratings on the scorecard of job satisfaction at federal workplaces, compared with more than 70 percent in the Obama administration’s final years and Trump’s first.”
-- A former adviser to the Koch brothers will now oversee the Interior Department’s FOIA requests. The Hill’s Miranda Green reports: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last month quietly issued a secretarial order giving Daniel Jorjani the authority to oversee all FOIA requests at the agency, according to a document obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. … Jorjani is a fierce advocate for Zinke. In a FOIA document released in March he told another staffer, ‘At the end of the day, our job is to protect the Secretary.’ Critics worry that Jorjani's new role will give the administration and its political allies more power to withhold public information.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Defense attorneys for Paul Manafort suggested they may not contest special counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that the former Trump campaign chairman broke his plea deal by lying to prosecutors. Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Rosalind S. Helderman: “U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told prosecutors on Tuesday that the government’s filing did not provide enough information for her to determine that Manafort has breached the plea deal that requires him to fully cooperate with prosecutors. … Manafort’s lawyers told her it was increasingly possible the defense might not ask for a hearing to challenge the government’s allegations. They have previously said Manafort believes he has been truthful. Defense attorney Richard W. Westling said a breach might not impact prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation, in which case Manafort might not challenge the assertion he had broke the deal. … Jackson expressed surprise on that point, saying, ‘It seems unlikely to me this is going to be irrelevant.’”
-- Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will be sentenced today by a federal judge. From Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett: “The 11 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III will give Cohen a chance to address the wrongdoing to which he has pleaded guilty and perhaps offer new details on how his offenses connect to the president. … Cohen has pleaded guilty in two separate cases — one brought by [Mueller] over Cohen’s lies to Congress, the other brought by federal prosecutors in New York over tax and bank fraud allegations and campaign finance violations. Federal sentencing guidelines in the New York case call for Cohen to face as many as five years and three months in prison — though it is likely he will get less than that.”
-- Lawyers for Michael Flynn argued the former national security adviser deserved no jail time, echoing a similar recommendation from Mueller’s team. Carol D. Leonnig reports: “[Flynn’s lawyers] acknowledge he did not tell the FBI the whole truth about his conversations with a Russian ambassador in early 2017, when the bureau was looking into Russian interference in the presidential election. But, they said, he quickly agreed to cooperate when [Mueller] first asked him for information and ultimately sat for 62 hours of interviews. Flynn agreed to plead guilty to a felony of making a false statement even in light of later reports that FBI officials involved in his case were themselves under investigation for misconduct, the lawyers said.”
-- Documents set to be filed in court tomorrow outline how alleged Russian agent Maria Butina developed connections to conservative circles in an attempt to influence U.S. politics. Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report: “The young Russian operative called her strategy the ‘Diplomacy Project,’ an elaborate, multiyear scheme to infiltrate the conservative movement … Butina laid out the proposal in March 2015 and then pursued her plan over the next two years, traveling to conferences to schmooze Republican presidential candidates. She established close ties to top officials in the National Rifle Association. She hosted ‘friendship dinners’ with wealthy Americans. And she organized a Russian delegation to attend the influential National Prayer Breakfast in Washington .. Butina is expected to admit for the first time that her activities were part of a concerted endeavor, coordinated with a top Russian official with the express intent of establishing unofficial lines of communication with Americans who could influence U.S. politics.”
-- That’s show business, folks: Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and his wife are having a documentary series made about the Russia investigation’s impact on their lives. Rosalind S. Helderman reports: “A docuseries about the couple is being produced by a Los Angeles-based company that hopes to capitalize on the personal drama surrounding the 31-year-old energy consultant and his Italian wife. ‘The story to me is this young couple who falls in love and days later find themselves in the middle of this international scandal,’ said executive producer Stephanie Frederic of FGW Productions.”
-- Stormy Daniels was ordered to pay nearly $300,000 of Trump’s legal fees in her failed defamation lawsuit against the president. Felicia Sonmez reports: “U.S. District Judge S. James Otero ruled that Daniels must pay Trump $293,052.33 in ‘attorneys’ fees, costs and sanctions,’ a figure representing 75 percent of the amount Trump had been seeking. … Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, has appealed Otero’s ruling in the case. … Charles Harder, an attorney for Trump, hailed Tuesday’s decision as a triumph for the president."
-- Hypocrisy alert: Trump has criticized Mueller’s prosecutors for past donations to Democratic candidates, but the president’s attorney general nominee has given over half a million dollars in political donations. Shawn Boburg and Anu Narayanswamy report: “[William] Barr has donated more than $567,000 in the past two decades, nearly all to GOP candidates and groups, federal records show. His wife, Christine Barr, gave more than $220,000 over that time, records show. Before he was nominated to be attorney general, Barr criticized past donations by prosecutors working [for Mueller]. … Previous attorneys general have donated to politicians before landing at the Justice Department, but none since Barr first served as attorney general, in the early 1990s, have given on the same scale.”
-- Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are backing a former aide’s request to receive probation for lying to the FBI during a federal leak investigation. Federal prosecutors have asked that James Wolfe serve two years in prison for lying about his use of encrypted messaging to inform a journalist about the committee’s activities. (Spencer S. Hsu)
-- More trouble in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District: Bladen County election officials allegedly counted ballots from early voting before Election Day and shared those numbers with outsiders, violating state law. The Charlotte Observer’s Brian Murphy reports: “The report showing totals from Bladen County’s only early voting location was run on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 from 1:44 p.m. to 1:46 p.m., according to a copy released by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement … Under North Carolina election law, ‘if one-stop ballots ... are counted electronically, that count shall commence at the time the polls close.’ … That kind of data — how many votes each candidates had banked in early voting — would be valuable to campaigns seeking late-minute information or operatives collecting mail-in absentee ballots, especially if only one side had the information.”
-- The North Carolina GOP chairman said a new election should be called if the latest allegations are true. “This action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for,” Robin Hayes said in a statement. “We can never tolerate the state putting its thumb on the scale. The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election.” (Politico)
-- Democrats considering running in 2020 are racing to convince top strategists to join their teams. Michael Scherer reports: “[Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s] effort, in particular, has been so aggressive — his team has interviewed 80 potential hires, with the governor speaking to 30 himself, in Denver and elsewhere — that it soon became the talk of a tight group of Democratic operatives who are facing down unemployment after devoting themselves to congressional races for the last two years. … But the Colorado governor is not alone. With no front-runner and a primary contest that could cost billions, the race to build a presidential campaign team is already well underway, even though most candidates have not yet created legal vehicles for hiring staff. Potential candidates have been crisscrossing the country to gut-check operatives, setting hours aside in their schedules to work the phones and meeting to draft plans for 20 or more different campaign strategies to win the Democratic nomination.”
-- New Hampshire Republicans are considering measures to ease Trump’s pathway to the 2020 GOP nomination — a move that is opposed by allies of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a primary challenge. Politico’s Christopher Cadelago reports: “In the most far-reaching move, [Trump’s] allies are looking to scrap the state GOP’s tradition of remaining neutral in the primary — to clear the way for an endorsement of the president. They’re also moving to install one of their own as head of the state Republican Party. The efforts wouldn’t stop a moderate Republican like [Kasich] from taking on Trump. But they are designed to shield the president from the kind of damage that a serious primary fight could do to him heading into the general election.”
-- Rep. Tom Emmer, the new chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, voiced relative optimism about how the GOP will regain some of the 40 House seats lost in 2018. The National Journal’s Ally Mutnick and Kyle Trygstad report: “Emmer's analysis of the midterms pins the blame on the Republican Party at large for failing to win over independent voters with a cohesive message on the booming economy. He stressed that the party’s focus on immigration in the final days repelled moderates, but he disputed attempts to fault the president specifically and pushed back on assumptions that Trump would be a liability in 2020. ‘You’re definitely impacted, but you don’t rise or fall based on the executive,’ he said. ‘You get to run your own race, but I think this is a customer-service business. You have to have your own independent brand.’ That sentiment isn’t shared across the Republican consultant class.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump claimed the attack in France demonstrated the need for stricter border security, even though the suspected shooter was a French national:
Another very bad terror attack in France. We are going to strengthen our borders even more. Chuck and Nancy must give us the votes to get additional Border Security!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2018
Chuck Schumer blamed Trump for any potential government shutdown:
Over and over and over and over. He’s said it more than 20 times. President @realDonaldTrump wants to throw a temper tantrum and shut down the government.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 11, 2018
The American people cannot afford that. pic.twitter.com/emh4vAVN0Y
Pelosi piled on:
.@realDonaldTrump has the Senate, the White House, and the House (for the moment) under Republican control. He has the power to keep government open – but instead, he says he’s going to shut down the government. #TrumpShutdown pic.twitter.com/Pdbo4rH0sG— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) December 11, 2018
An incoming House Democrat argued the meeting proved that Pelosi should return to the speakership:
Like a painting, this photo appeared to concisely capture the devolving scene during the Oval Office meeting:
Incredible argument unfolding now in front of the press between trump, Pelosi and Schumer over votes for border security. Pelosi keeps asking not to discuss it in front of the press. pic.twitter.com/pEEnFhuplY— Vivian Salama (@vmsalama) December 11, 2018
A Democratic strategist reacted to the image:
Where have I seen that expression before...? 🤔— Ian Sams (@IanSams) December 11, 2018
Oh yeah! All the other times he's starred in "Conflict Scene" on Trump TV! pic.twitter.com/bnfB8ymVwQ
A former GOP congressman expressed solidarity with Schumer:
A former senior adviser to Mitt Romney analyzed the vice president's body language:
VP Pence's body language indicates he knows just how badly this was going for the President.— Kevin Madden (@KevinMaddenDC) December 11, 2018
But also how badly it diluted the power of the Oval Office setting.
Others mocked Pence's lack of engagement in the argument. From the communications director of the nonprofit organization Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights:
Mike Pence powered down to save electricity pic.twitter.com/TpFpa5mwrt— Max Burns (@themaxburns) December 11, 2018
From a New York Times writer:
mike pence is the worst member of this improv team— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) December 11, 2018
From a ProPublica reporter:
We go live to Mike Pence pic.twitter.com/hWOo3qLemu— Jessica Huseman (@JessicaHuseman) December 11, 2018
Others imagined Pence fantasizing about Trump's removal from office:
An Atlantic writer questioned Vladimir Putin's official line on Maria Butina:
Is that why the Russian gov has conducted 6 consular visits to Butina, passed 4 diplomatic notes to State about her case, and had Lavrov personally speak to Pompeo twice about her prosecution? (The official Kremlin Twitter account changed its avatar to a picture of her, too.) https://t.co/arP4QLqvd2— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) December 11, 2018
A University of California at Irvine professor pushed back against Trump's characterization of Michael Cohen's hush-money payments:
Number one: No, it was a campaign contribution. https://t.co/zKiYwLqgTl— Rick Hasen (@rickhasen) December 12, 2018
Number two. It it was a wilful of federal campaign finance law, it wasn't only civil. https://t.co/zKiYwLqgTl
Trump celebrated the news on the Senate's criminal justice bill:
Thanks to Leader McConnell for agreeing to bring a Senate vote on Criminal Justice this week! These historic changes will make communities SAFER and SAVE tremendous taxpayers dollars. It brings much needed hope to many families during the Holiday Season.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 11, 2018
The communications director for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) celebrated her continued membership on the Senate Judiciary Committee after Schumer cut a deal with McConnell:
Great news for the Senate and for future gifs that Kamala Harris will keep her seat on Judiciary. pic.twitter.com/JASpMBPxqI— Lily Adams (@adamslily) December 11, 2018
Another Democratic member of the committee lamented Republicans' support of controversial judicial nominees:
Senate Republicans just voted to confirm a circuit court nominee, Jonathan Kobes, who was rated “not qualified” to serve in this position by the non-partisan American Bar Association. Why are Republicans pushing unqualified judges?— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) December 11, 2018
A veteran House Democrat looked ahead to his future chairmanship position:
.@NancyPelosi, I am honored to have your recommendation to serve as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.— Elijah E. Cummings (@RepCummings) December 12, 2018
Government must work for the people, and I will focus my Chairmanship on improving the lives of Americans in real and meaningful ways.
A Reuters reporter shared this photo after two of his colleagues were included in the group named Time's 2018 Person of the Year:
A year ago, Reuters journalists Wa Lone (pictured) and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested for doing their jobs as reporters. They're still in jail today. Join us and share a picture with the thumbs-up sign that symbolizes their optimism and resolve. #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo pic.twitter.com/PQFcLBBLeh— Andrew RC Marshall (@Journotopia) December 11, 2018
A Post writer and former Time reporter noted this of the magazine's selection:
And the debate over Sen. Ted Cruz's facial hair raged on:
I deserve the ratio but....Ted Cruz’s beard looks good. pic.twitter.com/swkG9zqevU— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) December 12, 2018
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Wall Street Journal, “The Loneliest Generation: Americans, More Than Ever, Are Aging Alone,” by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg: “Baby boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history, and the resulting loneliness is a looming public health threat. About one in 11 Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, partner or living child, census figures and other research show. That amounts to about eight million people in the U.S. without close kin, the main source of companionship in old age, and their share of the population is projected to grow.”
-- ProPublica, “How the IRS Was Gutted,” by Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger: “Had the billions in budget reductions occurred all at once, with tens of thousands of auditors, collectors and customer service representatives streaming out of government buildings in a single day, the collapse of the IRS might have gotten more attention. But there have been no mass layoffs or dramatic announcements. Instead, it’s taken eight years to bring the agency that funds the government this low. Over time, the IRS has slowly transformed, one employee departure at a time. The result is a bureaucracy on life support and tens of billions in lost government revenue. ProPublica estimates a toll of at least $18 billion every year, but the true cost could easily run tens of billions of dollars higher.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Why do so many Americans adore Michelle Obama? She keeps it real (even at a funeral),” from Helena Andrews-Dyer: “Following protocol at the state funeral for former president George H.W. Bush last week, Michelle sat with her husband, the Clintons, the Carters and, awkwardly, the Trumps. After [Trump] shook hands with his predecessor, Barack Obama, Michelle, dressed in a smart black pantsuit, leaned over and offered what appeared to be a curt ‘Good morning.’ (It’s worth noting that Hillary Clinton, who Trump has said should be jailed, didn’t even look in his direction.) The slightly raised eyebrows, the borderline smirk and a sharp look that spoke volumes — the shade! It was an instant Michelle Moment, a viral snippet from the somber occasion that seemed to solidify what so many say they love about Mrs. Obama: her authenticity.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Kellyanne Conway: Rep.-elect Ocasio-Cortez ‘doesn’t seem to know much about anything,’” from John Wagner: “Conway teed off Tuesday on Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), calling her ‘a 29-year-old congresswoman who doesn’t seem to know much about anything.’ Conway’s assessment of Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist who has become a target of Republican ire even before being sworn in, came a day after Ocasio-Cortez accused outgoing White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly of ‘cowardice.’ Ocasio-Cortez on Monday called for Kelly to apologize before leaving his post for an October 2017 episode. In remarks at the White House, he called Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) an ‘empty barrel’ and accused her of grandstanding at a public event in Florida by taking credit for securing federal funding for a new building. Video of the event showed his attack to be inaccurate.”
Trump will participate in a signing event for an executive order creating the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The people would revolt if that happened." -- Trump on the prospect of him being impeached. (Deanna Paul)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It will be sunny with light winds in D.C. today, making the cold a bit more tolerable. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Still on the cool side — winter jacket territory for most of us — but we should see temperatures climbing closer to normal. Morning readings rise into and through the 30s under mostly sunny skies, with afternoon highs topping out in the mid-40s as we turn partly cloudy. Winds remain light, from the northwest this morning, and then from the south later this afternoon.”
-- The Capitals beat the Red Wings 6-2 as Alex Ovechkin scored his first hat trick of the season. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed a $269 million increase in education funding. Laura Vozzella reports: “[Northam would increase] teachers’ pay raises to 5 percent and [plow] more money into school construction, per-pupil spending and programs for at-risk students under a budget plan partially unveiled Tuesday. Northam (D) said the state had a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to make those investments because of a windfall of up to $600 million from changes to federal tax law and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows states to require online retailers to collect sales taxes.”
-- D.C. Catholic priest Urbano Vazquez is facing two additional accusations of sexual misconduct after being charged last month with sexually assaulting a teenage girl. Keith L. Alexander, Peter Hermann and Michelle Boorstein report: “Vazquez, 46, assistant pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Northwest Washington, turned himself in to authorities Tuesday on charges of second-degree sexual assault of a minor and misdemeanor assault of an adult woman. The alleged abuse of the juvenile began when she was 9 years old and continued until she was 10, according to William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Late-night hosts reveled in the drama of Trump's meeting with Schumer and Pelosi:
Someone dressed as the Monopoly man sat behind Sundar Pichai during the Google CEO's congressional testimony:
Our video team quizzed people to see if they could remember the news events of 2018:
A D.C. man was caught getting a free ride on a local bus:
And Virginia McLaurin, who famously danced with the Obamas at the White House, celebrated her 109th birthday with the Harlem Globetrotters at a D.C. public charter school: