With Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) likely would have won another term in 2020, but he probably would have faced a primary challenge from someone promising to march more in lockstep with President Trump.
In 2014, Alexander won the GOP nomination for a third term against two unknown challengers with less than 50 percent of the vote. He beat then-state Rep. Joe Carr, running as a tea partyer, by just nine points. He even lost his home county.
Now that he’s decided not to seek reelection, the former cabinet secretary, governor and presidential candidate has two years to pursue his pragmatic instincts for compromise unencumbered by fear of blowback from grass-roots activists or donors. He can negotiate deals that would be able to pass a Democratic House, especially around health care or education, and possibly even speak out against Trump, who is temperamentally his opposite.
With Bob Corker and Jeff Flake leaving town next week, many have been wondering who — if anyone — will emerge in the next Congress as the leading conscience for conservatism against the backdrop of Trumpism. There’s not an obvious spokesman for traditional Republican values like fiscal responsibility and morality.
Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has gotten a lot of buzz because he’s just secured a six-year term and was the party’s standard-bearer in 2012, but he’s still getting his sea legs and has signaled that he will mainly want to go along to get along, at least initially.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has been more willing to speak truth to power, but he’s up for reelection in 2020 — which creates a strong disincentive to stand athwart Trump, yelling stop. At least until he wins his primary.
Ditto with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who long ago boarded the Trump Train.
Alexander’s retirement announcement makes him a wild card to watch. Becoming a lame duck might embolden the 78-year-old to embrace the role of senior statesman. He is perhaps now as well positioned as anyone in the upper chamber to break the fever of tribalism that has infected and diminished what was once the world’s greatest deliberative body.
“I have gotten up every day thinking that I could help make our state and country a little better, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I have,” Alexander said in a statement. “I will continue to serve with that same spirit during the remaining two years of my term.”
Alexander served five years as chair of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 3 post in GOP leadership, but gave it up in 2012 because he wanted to focus more on legislating than messaging. Many lawmakers would kill for that role, and it said a lot about his approach to the job that he didn’t want it anymore. “He has stood for civility, for bipartisanship and for pragmatism, and the country is a better place because of him,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Senate Democrats see Alexander as an honest broker they can work with, and they are hopeful that not standing for reelection will sharpen his conciliatory instincts. Chuck Schumer said he “felt a pang of sadness” when he saw the afternoon news alert that Alexander was retiring while riding the Amtrak from New York to Washington. The Senate minority leader immediately phoned him. “He reminded me … he will still be around for two years and wants to work together to get things done, an Alexanderian statement if there ever was one,” Schumer said in a floor speech last night.
The New York Democrat recalled that Alexander called him almost every day for a month to keep the opioid bill that Trump signed into law in October from getting derailed, and he said they always chat candidly when they’re exercising together in the Senate gym. “He seeks compromise almost reflexively, so both sides of the aisle trust him — and respect him,” said Schumer. “I know I do, and we’ve worked together a great many times in my years here. Hopefully, as he said on the phone, there will be a few more opportunities in the next two years to work together successfully — hopefully and God willing — again.”
On the other hand, Alexander is much closer personally with Mitch McConnell than he is to Schumer. The Senate majority leader is now in cycle and could face a tough 2020 reelection battle in neighboring Kentucky. Alexander would seemingly be reluctant to take any actions that would make his friend’s life much harder, such as the way that Flake has boycotted judicial nominees until he gets a vote on his bill to protect special counsel Bob Mueller.
Because Alexander’s intent is to pass bills into law, he will also likely be reluctant to antagonize the president or pick fights that could poison the well. That’s just not his style. Moreover, as a veteran of two administrations, Alexander is also more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the executive branch than some of his colleagues.
So don’t expect Lamar! to go on TV and harangue the president. He’s not going to publicly declare that Trump is putting us on track for World War III, as the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did. But Alexander could always become more forceful behind the scenes. “I know he will press through the next two years with great vigor,” Corker said in a statement, “and I look forward to all he will accomplish … as he completes his service in Washington.”
Alexander says he made up his mind to retire in August while he was fishing in Canada. The senator told Sean Sullivan in an interview that he waited until the end of the year before announcing his decision to ensure it was the right one: “He called Trump on Sunday to inform him, and before he could reveal his decision to the president, Trump talked about him serving 20 more years, Alexander recalled. When he told Trump why he was calling, the president expressed disappointment, according to Alexander, but also congratulated him.”
He acknowledged that reaching across the aisle is harder than it used to be, but he also emphasized that more work gets done that way than most outsiders realize. He pointed to a copyright bill that recently was signed into law and will mean more royalties for songwriters in Nashville as an example of something that generated little fanfare. “I think there’s plenty that goes on in a bipartisan way, and I think the more senators we have who use those skills and work with each other, the better the Senate will be,” Alexander told Sean.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Alexander has “a unique capacity to bring people together” in the divided Senate. “He is a problem solver at a time when too many people in politics want to talk about a problem rather than solve a problem,” said Blunt.
Health care is the biggest area where there’s an opening for Alexander to lead. He will remain the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — known in congressional parlance by its acronym HELP.
After Republican legislative efforts to repeal Obamacare failed last year, Alexander declared that it was time to make the law work. He chastised the forces inside his own party who believed the health-care system should be allowed to collapse and worked with Democrats to forge a compromise that would have resumed key payments to insurers, as a way to keep premiums down, in exchange for granting states greater flexibility to regulate health coverage.
“I would ask,” Alexander said in a floor speech, “what’s conservative about creating chaos so millions can’t buy health insurance?”
But forces in the Trump administration and congressional conservatives conspired to torpedo his deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Instead, Republicans repealed the individual mandate as part of the tax code overhaul — further undermining the stability of the exchanges and fueling a court challenge that will mean years of continuing uncertainty — which could jeopardize coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
Alexander might be able to make headway coming up with fixes for the ACA that could lower health-care costs and make insurance more affordable. The president will be looking for wins he can run on in 2020 and might be more amenable than he was when Republicans controlled the House. Murray, who will continue to be the top Democrat on HELP, expressed hope:
.@SenAlexander has been a great partner on so many bipartisan bills—from fixing No Child Left Behind, FDA reform, and more. I'm looking forward to two more years of productive work with him. He has served our country and his state for so many years, and I wish him the best! -PM— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) December 17, 2018
Regardless of how the next two years play out, Alexander has had a truly remarkable run as a man in the arena. As an undergrad at Vanderbilt, he was editor in chief of the campus newspaper — where he wrote editorials in the late 1950s and early 1960s against segregation. After law school at New York University, he clerked on the 5th Circuit for John Minor Wisdom, a progressive on race for his time.
Alexander went to work as a legislative assistant in 1967 for Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who became his most consequential mentor and whose seat he now holds. Baker would later become Senate majority leader and then Ronald Reagan’s White House chief of staff. Alexander left the Hill to become a staff assistant to Richard Nixon for two years before going home to manage Winfield Dunn’s successful campaign for governor in 1970. Dunn became the first GOP governor in 50 years.
Alexander himself was the GOP nominee for governor four years later. But he lost in 1974 because that post-Watergate election was a nightmare for the GOP. He tried again and won in 1978 as Jimmy Carter’s Democratic Party suffered significant losses in the South. During that race, in the pre-cellphone era, Lamar famously walked 1,022 miles across the state and stayed overnight at the homes of 73 supporters along the way. He was only 38 years old when he became governor, and he helped make the state a hub for automakers and accelerated an economic renaissance. After his second term, he became president of the University of Tennessee system. Then George H.W. Bush tapped him to be education secretary.
He waged credible campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000. He easily won election to the Senate in 2002 when Fred Thompson retired and has won reelection twice. He’ll have held statewide office for more than a quarter of a century when his third Senate term ends.
While everyone in the Capitol is buzzing about how Alexander will act now that he’s not running, everyone in the Tennessee political class is obsessing over who will replace him. Outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam would follow in the pragmatic tradition of Alexander, Corker and Baker — and he’d be the front-runner if he chooses to run. Alexander appeared with Haslam on Monday for the unveiling of his portrait at the state capitol in Nashville. “No one has served our state longer as a governor and senator and few, if any, have served it better than Lamar,” Haslam said in a statement.
If Haslam passes on the Senate race, the party establishment might rally around Bill Hagerty, the ambassador to Japan, or someone like Diane Black, who lost the primary in the governor’s race this year. The more confrontational, harder-edged wing of the GOP is looking to rally around Rep.-elect Mark Green, who just got elected to the House last month but sounds interested in seeking the Senate seat. The Club for Growth put out a statement yesterday urging Green to run.
“The reality is that whoever wants to replace Lamar Alexander will need to marry conservative values with proven results,” said Republican strategist Brian Reisinger, a former Alexander spokesman. “Tennessee has a long history of electing people who have a proven ability to get things done. … Whoever succeeds Lamar will need to offer Tennesseans the same balance of principle and pragmatism that he has come to embody more than anyone else.”
GET SMART FAST:
The Dow closed down 507 points, or 2.1 percent, after slipping 496 points on Friday. The market is now down about 5 percent for 2018 as it records its worst month in more than three years. The figures have put the Dow on track to have its worst December performance since 1931. (Thomas Heath)
The Maryland Province Jesuits released a list of its priests who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. The accusations date to the 1950s and cover several states — including Maryland, Massachusetts and Georgia. (Julie Zauzmer and Marisa Iati)
China is detaining up to 1 million Muslims in internment camps that produce clothes, some of which end up in the United States. The AP tracked shipments from one such camp to Badger Sportswear in North Carolina. (AP)
The former Special Forces officer facing a murder charge tied to the death of an alleged Taliban bombmaker said he blames a 2016 Fox News interview for redrawing attention to the case. Maj. Matthew Golsteyn said he believes he never would have been charged if he had not admitting to killing the man during an interview about military rules of engagement. (NBC News)
Google announced plans to spend $1 billion on a new campus in New York City. The expansion could bring more than 7,000 jobs to the region. (Hamza Shaban)
The development of gene-edited farm animals in the United States has sparked debates over safety concerns and ethical considerations. Government action over the next year could determine the future of food products from such animals. (Carolyn Y. Johnson)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- The Senate’s report on Russian disinformation revealed Kremlin trolls targeted Bob Mueller after he was appointed special counsel. Craig Timberg, Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin report: “The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies. One post on Instagram — which emerged as an especially potent weapon in the Russian social media arsenal — claimed that Mueller had worked in the past with ‘radical Islamic groups.’ …
“On Monday, the NAACP called for a week-long boycott of Facebook starting Tuesday, saying the company’s business practices — and the spread of ‘disingenuous portrayals of the African American community’ on its site — should prompt further congressional investigation. Facebook said in a statement that it has ‘made progress in helping prevent interference on our platforms during elections, strengthened our policies against voter suppression ahead of the 2018 midterms, and funded independent research on the impact of social media on democracy.’”
-- “Russia’s support for Trump’s election is no longer disputable,” The Post’s Editorial Board writes. “Republicans have protested over the past year that election interference is neither unusual nor important. This week’s reports comprehensively put both arguments to rest. Russia waged an unprecedented campaign, targeting Americans across all segments of society, on platforms large and small. … The question now is whether committee members will be willing to hold Russia accountable in their own forthcoming review. Candidate Donald Trump once invited Russia to find Ms. Clinton’s emails, sending the message that it could meddle with impunity. Though sanctions have been imposed since the election, evidently Russia has not been deterred. Until that changes, no reform will be sufficient.”
-- Two of Michael Flynn’s business associates were indicted on charges of acting as agents of the Turkish government. Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky and Carol D. Leonnig report: “Throughout the fall of 2016, while Flynn served publicly as a key surrogate and foreign policy adviser to [Trump’s] presidential campaign, prosecutors say he and business partner Bijan Kian took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Turkish government to push for the extradition from the United States of dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen. Their efforts, prosecutors said, were directed by Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman with close ties to the country’s leadership. … Flynn, who went on to serve as [Trump’s] national security adviser, admitted last year to lying about his consulting firm’s business with the Turkish government and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in a deal with [Mueller’s] team. That almost certainly helped produce charges against Kian and Alptekin. But the indictment Monday spells out for the first time how intimately Flynn was involved in the effort, which involved weekly conference calls to coordinate with Turkish officials.”
-- “The indictment is further evidence that the idea that Flynn was just some guy going about his business who waltzed into an FBI trap is fanciful,” Aaron Blake writes. “The indictment lays out a kickback scheme that made it seem as if a Turkish businessman was the Flynn Intel Group’s client, when, in fact, it was the Turkish government. It says Flynn and Kian met with high-level Turkish officials in New York in September 2016 about the effort — despite Flynn having said that it was just to gain background about the country.”
-- Ahead of Flynn’s sentencing today, Mueller released a January 2017 memo detailing the FBI's interview that month with the then-national security adviser. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports: “In the interview described in the memo, Flynn lied about his contact during the presidential transition in 2016 with then-Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. … He told the agents that ‘no,’ he had not sought to influence Russia's vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution about Israeli settlements. But investigators knew … that Flynn had asked for Russia to vote against or delay the resolution. Flynn's second lie, as described in the FBI memo, came in response to the agents asking him about the US's expulsion of Russian diplomats or closing Russian properties following the Kremlin's interference in the 2016 election. They asked him if he had encouraged Kislyak not to retaliate. ‘Flynn responded, “Not really. I don't remember.” It wasn't, “Don't do anything”’ the memo said. But the FBI knew that Flynn had asked Russia on that call not to escalate its response.” (Read the memo here.)
-- After appearing again before House lawmakers, former FBI director Jim Comey accused Trump of trying “to burn down the entire FBI.” Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘The FBI’s reputation has taken a big hit because the president with his acolytes has lied about it constantly,’ Comey told reporters ... But Comey directed his vitriol not just at the GOP members of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, but at all Republicans — including retiring GOP lawmakers, such as Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who have openly criticized Trump but aren’t seeking reelection.
“‘At some point, someone has to stand up and face the fear of Fox News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets, stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement but stand up and speak the truth,’ Comey said, without naming names. … Comey reiterated [his defense of his actions as FBI director] more strongly Monday, flatly refusing to take any personal responsibility for the reputation of the FBI having suffered under his stewardship. He instead blamed Trump for ‘lying about the FBI, attacking the FBI and attacking the rule of law in this country’ and the ‘silence from people in this building’ — meaning Capitol Hill — for allowing him to do it.”
-- Trump ally Roger Stone admitted he spread false information on the far-right conspiracy website Infowars, but the information was not about WikiLeaks. From Tim Elfrink: “To settle a lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages from Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese businessman, Stone admitted that he ‘failed to do proper research’ before accusing Guo of violating U.S. election law by donating money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Stone also falsely accused Guo, who is also known as Miles Kwok, of funding a presidential run by Stephen K. Bannon and being convicted of financial crimes. In a statement sent to The Washington Post, Stone blamed the falsehoods on Sam Nunberg, a former Trump aide who has now testified before a special counsel’s grand jury.”
THE #METOO MOVEMENT:
-- CBS’s board of directors announced Les Moonves would not receive any severance after the former chairman was accused of sexual misconduct. From Elahe Izadi and Travis M. Andrews: “The network made the announcement after the completion of a company investigation that found Moonves guilty of ‘willful and material malfeasance’ and a failure to comply with the investigation. He was set to receive as much as $120 million as part of his severance package, depending on the results of the inquiry. Moonves resigned in September after several women accused him of sexual misconduct in a pair of scathing exposes in the New Yorker. A lawyer for Moonves called the CBS board’s conclusions ‘without merit.’”
-- Vanity Fair’s Evgenia Peretz has an in-depth piece on the culture of Georgetown Prep, the school Brett Kavanaugh was attending when an assault alleged by Christine Blasey Ford would have taken place: “At a typical party, the Prep boy would put the Who or the Stones on the turntable, and the action started. As [Kavanaugh’s friend Mark] Judge put it, ‘If you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up with someone.’ But hooking up wasn’t always about mutual pleasure. Since Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, countless women from his private-school scene have been sharing experiences they had that mirror the one Blasey Ford described. ‘Like Chrissy, I don’t remember the house where I was assaulted,’ Kelly Fordon, who graduated Visitation in ’85, says. ‘I don’t remember the date, and I’m absolutely certain that no one who was at the party besides me and the perpetrator would have any memory of the events. One thing I remember with absolute clarity is the person who assaulted me.’”
-- Australian actress Yael Stone accused actor Geoffrey Rush of sexual misconduct. The “Orange Is the New Black” star claimed Rush continually expressed sexual interest in her and ultimately exposed himself to her and watched her while she showered. Another actress has also accused Rush of similar harassment while they worked on a production of “King Lear” together. (A. Odysseus Patrick)
-- Former “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor is taking a minor step back into the spotlight a year after he was ousted over a sexual misconduct allegation. The AP’s Jeff Baenen reports: “Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show — the second of back-to-back, sold-out Keillor performances at Crooners, a jazz nightclub in a northern Minneapolis suburb not far from where Keillor grew up. For Keillor, it’s a much smaller audience than the millions of radio listeners he entertained on Saturday evenings during the heyday of ‘Prairie Home.’ But the nightclub show also represents a step into the spotlight for the 76-year-old Keillor a year after Minnesota Public Radio cut ties with him over a sexual misconduct allegation.”
-- A new poll found only about a third of Americans say the country has made “major gains” toward women’s equality in the past year. Nearly half of respondents characterized the advancements made this year as only “minor” steps. (NBC News)
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- Republican leaders struggled yesterday to persuade Trump to strike a deal with congressional Democrats over border-wall funding to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of the week. Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner and Josh Dawsey report: “At the White House, Trump has remained disinclined to support even stopgap measures that would keep federal government operations running for a week or two, told by his closest advisers that he would have even less leverage when Democrats take control of the House next month. Trump is also bolstered by support of rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, whose union leader told the president in a recent Oval Office conversation that they would back a wall-induced shutdown if the dispute came to that point.
“All that has left Republican lawmakers eager to avoid a shutdown unsure whether Trump would ultimately come around to at least one option that would end the impasse before Friday. Without a resolution that the president could sign before midnight Friday, roughly 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed or forced to work without pay in a partial shutdown that Trump has already — and proudly — claimed as his own. … Trump has told people around him that he is frustrated that he does not have much leverage in the fight, and two presidential advisers said a shutdown was unlikely because there was no way the president could win. The White House plan is to not shut down the government, both of these people said.”
-- A senior Customs and Border Protection official told Congress that border officials are trying to limit asylum applications to discourage migration into the United States. BuzzFeed News’s Hamed Aleaziz reports: “The statement by Jud Murdock, CBP’s acting assistant commissioner, contradicted official claims that the practice of ‘metering’ — when officials limit the number of individuals who can make asylum claims at ports of entry on any given day — was due to resource constraints, including a lack of detention space and personnel. When asked about the practice at a Senate hearing last week, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that it was not meant as a deterrent. But on Dec. 6, Murdock said in a closed congressional briefing that CBP had chosen to limit asylum-seekers at ports of entries because ‘[t]he more we process, the more will come,’ according to [a letter written by senior House Democrats].”
-- House Democrats want to question the Border Patrol agents who detained 7-year-old Jakelin Caal after she died in their custody. Nick Miroff reports: “Democrats with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus say they will tour a Border Patrol station in New Mexico on Tuesday to ‘investigate’ the circumstances leading up to the death of a Guatemalan girl who collapsed hours after she and her father were taken into U.S. custody on Dec. 6. … According to congressional aides, lawmakers want to question the Border Patrol agents present when Caal became critically ill, but CBP officials have not granted the request.”
-- At least four companies have suspended their advertising on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show following his controversial comments on immigration. “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our country poorer and dirtier and more divided,” Carlson said. (NBC News)
THE REST OF THE AGENDA:
-- If the Texas judge's ruling striking down the Affordable Care Act makes it to the Supreme Court, it will face the same majority that twice upheld the law. Robert Barnes reports: “The case first must be considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and would not reach the high court until the term that begins next October — leaving the issue unresolved heading into the 2020 presidential campaign. … Still, legal experts cautioned against dismissing U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision as an implausible flight of judicial activism that is sure to be quickly struck down ... Many say they do not expect O’Connor’s ruling to survive review at its next stop ... even though it is viewed as one of the nation’s most conservative appeals courts. If the 5th Circuit overturns O’Connor’s ruling, the controversy could end there. If not, the Supreme Court would almost surely accept an appeal for the term that begins in October 2019, with a decision coming [as late as June 2020].
“If it does end up before the Supreme Court, the fate of the ruling will probably hinge on Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. … O’Connor drew extensively on Roberts’s 2012 opinion that said the law could not be justified by the commerce clause, and that Congress’s taxing power provided its legitimacy. It is possible the chief justice would be moved by that argument, and the individual mandate, and along with it the provisions that provide affordable insurance for those with preexisting conditions, should fall. But finding that the entire law is unconstitutional might be a more difficult ask. Roberts in 2012 quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when explaining that ‘as between two possible interpretations of a statute, by one of which it would be unconstitutional and by the other valid, our plain duty is to adopt that which will save the act.’”
-- The Senate overwhelmingly voted to advance the chamber’s criminal justice reform bill. Seung Min Kim reports: “Senators voted 82 to 12 to end debate on the First Step Act and steer the legislation to a final vote, probably scheduled for Tuesday. The bill would revise several sentencing laws, such as reducing the ‘three strikes’ penalty for drug felonies from life behind bars to 25 years and retroactively limiting the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. … Before a final Senate vote, dozens of the bill’s proponents will have to defeat ‘legislative poison pills’ that they say are designed to kill the bipartisan compromise that has been carefully negotiated among Democratic and GOP lawmakers, as well as the Trump administration.”
-- A school safety commission created by Trump in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting plans to recommend rolling back Obama-era policies meant to ensure that minority children are not unfairly disciplined. The New York Times’s Erica L. Green and Katie Benner report: “Almost immediately [after its creation], the commission turned away from guns and instead scrutinized the Obama administration’s school discipline policies, though none of the most high-profile school shootings were perpetrated by black students. … The documents obtained by The Times — a draft letter and a draft chapter of the safety commission’s research — focus significantly on race and promote the idea that the federal crackdown on potentially discriminatory practices has made schools more dangerous.”
-- Trump plans to sign an executive order formally creating a U.S. Space Command. The AP’s Zeke Miller and Lolita Baldor report: “Vice President Mike Pence will make the announcement Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, two U.S. officials said, and Trump could sign the order as soon as Tuesday. The move is separate from Trump’s goal of creating a ‘Space Force’ as an independent armed service branch, but could be a step in that direction. The U.S. Air Force’s existing Space Command would be a key component of the new joint entity, raising space to the same status as U.S. Cyber Command. … The move would actually recreate a U.S. Space Command, which existed from 1985 to 2002.”
-- House Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition has undergone a radical transformation since its creation in 1994 and is poised to play a significant role in the next Congress. Paul Kane reports: “Blue Dog membership will hit at least 24 next year and more are being recruited. This will make them a force to be reckoned with in the next two years, as Democratic leaders will have fewer than 20 votes to spare to pass legislation if Republicans stand united against them. … These Blue Dogs may not come from Alabama and Mississippi anymore, but they still represent swing districts and are reluctant to support sweeping legislation like single-payer universal health insurance. These Blue Dogs want to focus on the campaign pledges that swept Democrats back to power in the House, such as stabilizing health costs and an infrastructure plan.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
-- Ryan Zinke’s departure from the Interior Department will probably not end investigations into his possible ethical misconduct. Politico’s Ben Lefebvre and Zack Colman report: “Interior’s in-house watchdog said Monday that it will keep pursuing the multiple investigations it has open into Zinke. The probes by the Interior inspector general’s office include one into Zinke's involvement in a Montana land deal … that is backed by Dave Lesar, chairman of the giant energy company Halliburton. … The Justice Department declined to comment on multiple news reports that it is pursuing its own probe into the land deal. But if such a criminal probe were underway at DOJ, Zinke's departure would be unlikely to derail it … On top of those investigations, Zinke and his successor will still have to face House Democrats who are eager to scrutinize the Trump administration’s policies of opening lands for drilling and mining while shrinking the size of protected federal monuments in the West.”
-- The nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics announced there is “substantial reason to believe” outgoing Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) misused House resources to support his personal business, held back material information about his financial stake and allowed the company to engage in an “unfair or deceptive trade practice” to solicit customers. But Blum won’t face formal sanctions because he lost reelection last month, and the Ethics Committee will no longer have jurisdiction come January. Elise Viebeck lays out what the congressman did: “The OCE’s investigation began in March after the Associated Press reported that Blum violated House ethics rules by failing to disclose his ties to Tin Moon, a company that promises to help clients bury unflattering information in their Internet search results. The OCE found that Blum did not include his financial stake in Tin Moon on a 2016 disclosure form and that he probably underestimated his interest in the business on the amended form. Blum has called the omission a ‘minor, unintentional oversight’ and downplayed his role in the company, describing himself as a ‘$700 passive investor.’ But the company website identified him as CEO and included his official congressional photo on its website until … the AP published its story … A video testimonial that appeared on the site in 2016 featured Blum’s then-district director John Ferland [who is currently his chief of staff] representing himself as a small-business owner and encouraging others to ‘take a look at Tin Moon.’”
-- Mick Mulvaney, the president’s new acting chief of staff, said in 2016 that Trump’s past actions and comments would disqualify him from office in an “ordinary universe.” CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reports: “On October 7, 2016, a week before Mulvaney made the comments, the Access Hollywood tape of Trump making lewd comments about women, including bragging about grabbing them by the genitals, was made public. ‘My guess is worse stuff is going to come out in the last 30 days,’ Mulvaney said … ‘That's not going to make Hillary Clinton a good candidate for president.’ ‘Should either of these people be, be a role model for my 16-year-old triplets? No,’ Mulvaney said. ‘In an ordinary universe, would both of these people's past activities disqualify them for serving for office? Yes. But that's not the world we live in today.”
-- Republican operatives are testing new strategies for how Trump should present himself to voters as he seeks reelection. Michael Scherer reports: “One polling effort is intended to test messages and policy initiatives for the next State of the Union address and the coming year, while providing a better understanding of what worked and what did not in the midterm elections, according to a person familiar with the Trump reelection effort. … Other Republican-aligned research projects are planned to decode the 2018 results in an effort to reclaim voters Trump will probably need to win reelection. The research will test the appeal of crossover issues Trump could champion in swing states among voters the GOP has been losing — such as new initiatives to control the costs of prescription drugs, deal with student loan costs and tackle the opioid crisis. …
“The Republican National Committee has launched its own data analysis of the 2018 results. A second effort is affiliated with America First Action, a super PAC that spent more than $30 million before this year’s election, largely in states that are expected to be battlegrounds in 2020. The third effort by another outside group that supported Trump’s 2016 campaign will focus on decoding the sentiments of counties in the Midwest that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016.”
-- Trump’s 2020 campaign intends to adopt an unusual organizational structure that will involve merging with the RNC. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “It’s a stark expression of Trump’s stranglehold over the Republican Party: Traditionally, a presidential reelection committee has worked in tandem with the national party committee, not subsumed it. … The goal is to create a single, seamless organization that moves quickly, saves resources, and — perhaps most crucially — minimizes staff overlap and the kind of infighting that marked the 2016 relationship between the Trump campaign and the party. While a splintered field of Democrats fight for the nomination, Republicans expect to gain an organizational advantage.”
-- Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) of South Bend, Ind., announced he would not seek a third term, positioning himself for a likely presidential run. Annie Linskey reports: “Buttigieg would not be the first mayor to attempt such a jump — nor, likely, even the sole mayor in the 2020 Democratic presidential field. But he would put forth a distinct profile, as a 36-year-old former Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan veteran who is gay and married. ‘I know now that the time has come for me to prepare the city for new leadership again,’ Buttigieg said during a news conference at his office. Asked about his political future, Buttigieg said he doesn’t plan to make an announcement until the new year. … Buttigieg already has a trip on the books to Iowa.”
-- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is seeking potential staffers for a presidential campaign and may make an announcement as soon as this week. BuzzFeed News’s Alexis Levinson reports: “If Gabbard runs, her supporters say, she could be the candidate who quenches the current political thirsts. At 37, she would be one of the youngest candidates in the field. She’s an Iraq War veteran and became the first Hindu in Congress when she was elected in 2012. And she has bona fides as someone who was proposing climate change legislation before potential Democratic presidential candidates started signing on to the Green New Deal.”
-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is reaching out to Iowa Democrats before she formally announces her 2020 bid. The Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel reports: “‘She's not calling me to ask about the weather or my Christmas plans,’ said Tri-County Democrats Chairman Kurt Meyer, who received a call from Warren in early December. ‘We talked about issues and things that were important to her and things that I care about.’ Warren is one of the few possible Democratic presidential contenders who has not visited the first-in-the-nation caucus state in recent months, though she did deploy staff and resources to aid Iowa Democrats ahead of the midterms. The phone calls reflect continued movement behind the scenes as Warren decides whether to formally launch a presidential campaign. She said before the midterms that she would ‘take a hard look’ at doing so.”
-- Warren is expected to release a bill today aimed at lowering drug prices by having the government mass-produce generic drugs. Politico’s Alex Thompson and Sarah Karlin-Smith report: “The bill, dubbed the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, is unlikely to pass the Republican-led Senate, but it signals that a future Warren White House could try to radically revamp the federal government’s role in the pharmaceutical market in order [to] try to lower prices. … Warren is one of several senators eyeing White House runs who have introduced bills targeting the pharmaceutical industry. … The flurry of bills suggests that the powerful pharmaceutical industry will be a major populist target during the Democratic presidential primary and possibly the general election, as millions of Americans struggle with rising health care costs.”
-- Potential 2020 contender and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he would push to legalize recreational marijuana. The New York Times’s Vivian Wang reports: “The highly anticipated proposal came in a speech in Manhattan on Monday, in which the governor outlined his agenda for the first 100 days of his third term. … The speech, which seemed delivered with a national audience in mind, could prolong slow-burning speculation about Mr. Cuomo’s presidential ambitions. It also showed, in striking detail, the governor’s leftward evolution in his eight years in office, from a business-friendly centrist who considered marijuana a ‘gateway drug,’ to a self-described progressive championing recreational marijuana, taxes on the rich and a ban on corporate political donations.”
-- Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is considering backing a 2020 primary challenge to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Politico’s Laura Barrón-López reports: “[Ocasio-Cortez] put colleagues on notice for future primaries just days after the November election, telling a livestream audience that she and an allied group, Justice Democrats, would keep working together to boost anti-incumbent challengers — though she didn’t name names. But a person who has discussed the project with Ocasio-Cortez and her team said the congresswoman-elect has recruited an African-American woman to challenge Jeffries, who was just elected to replace [Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.)] as caucus chairman — the No. 5 House Democratic leadership position. … The group feels Jeffries takes too much money from corporate interests, a key litmus test, and is overly friendly with banking and pro-charter school interests.”
-- A former Democratic federal prosecutor is considering a 2020 Senate run against Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). McClatchy’s Bryan Lowry reports: “Roberts looks vulnerable to Democrats — and some Republicans, and that’s a big reason the 2020 race has quickly drawn a prominent potential challenger, former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom. Grissom confirmed Monday that he’s been considering a run for U.S. Senate as a Democrat for roughly a year. He’s not officially made his decision, but he’s actively ... laying the groundwork to mount a challenge against Roberts, the Kansas Republican who has been in Congress for nearly four decades."
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Talks between U.S. diplomats and Taliban representatives on ending the war in Afghanistan stretched into a second day. Sayed Salahuddin reports: “Initially, the talks between the Taliban emissaries and a team led by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were expected to last one day, but Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed that the meetings would continue through Tuesday. The Taliban said Monday that its delegates had no plans to meet with members of the Kabul government, which it insists is just a puppet of the Americans and too divided internally to negotiate effectively.”
-- Trump’s tumultuous relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel epitomizes his confrontational stance toward U.S. allies that has led some to wonder whether he is trying to destroy the European Union. The New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser reports: “Europe has had many fights with American Presidents over the years, but never in the seven decades since the end of the Second World War has it confronted one so openly hostile to its core institutions. Since Trump’s election, Europe’s leaders have feared that it would come to this, but they have disagreed about how to respond to him. … The challenge from Trump has been especially personal for Germans, whose close relationship with the United States has defined their nation’s postwar renaissance. … [French President Emmanuel Macron] has sought to guide the Continent through the standoff with Trump, but has struggled, because the President’s harsh words reflect a painful truth: Europeans are dependent on the United States for their security and increasingly divided as Putin’s Russia threatens the nations in the east.”
-- British Prime Minister Theresa May announced a new parliamentary vote would be held on her Brexit deal in mid-January. Karla Adam reports: “May said parliamentary debate on the deal would resume Jan. 7, with a vote held the following week. That didn’t satisfy her critics. Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a largely symbolic motion of no confidence in the prime minister, ‘due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straightaway.’ The motion, directed at May personally, might be embarrassing for her but could not bring down her government. It also doesn’t require the government to allot time to debate it. On Monday it was unclear when or if such a debate would happen.”
-- A Saudi human rights commission is investigating alleged torture of jailed women’s rights activists. The Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Summer Said report: “A top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani, allegedly oversaw some aspects of the torture and threatened at least one jailed woman with rape and death, according to testimony before the commission, [government] officials and others said."
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump wished his former national security adviser good luck being sentenced today and suggested he was pressured by Mueller's team, despite being a cooperating witness for it:
Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2018
He also advised the Fed to reconsider more interest rate hikes:
I hope the people over at the Fed will read today’s Wall Street Journal Editorial before they make yet another mistake. Also, don’t let the market become any more illiquid than it already is. Stop with the 50 B’s. Feel the market, don’t just go by meaningless numbers. Good luck!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2018
A HuffPost reporter estiminated the odds of a government shutdown:
Judging by the relatively small amount of media coverage — where are the shutdown clocks?!!? — you’d think there’s about a 10% chance of a partial government shutdown.— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) December 17, 2018
But smart GOP aides seem to think it’s more like 50/50.
A Post reporter highlighted one reason lawmakers may be skipping votes:
One indirect cause of no-shows for House votes: Many have nowhere to live during lame duck.— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) December 17, 2018
Nearly 100 members are retiring, probably a couple dozen who slept in their offices. They lost those offices a few weeks ago. No bed, no DC, no vote.https://t.co/MX7TTz4dMR
A former senior Obama staffer made this argument about the border wall:
Time for my periodic reminder that we are having an elaborate conversation about building a wall at the border despite the fact that the actual challenge at the border is coming from people who present themselves to the authorities.— Cecilia Muñoz (@cecmunoz) December 17, 2018
Hope to see that reflected in the coverage.
A House Democrat went after Tucker Carlson for his segment on immigration:
Dear Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson): I'm an immigrant. Irish Spring soap cleans my skin the same way it cleans your skin. My parents were poor. They worked hard and started a successful business. Now their son is in Congress.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) December 18, 2018
So take your hatred of immigrants and shove it. https://t.co/I2cOv4nlLi
A Harvard law professor and frequent Trump defender posed a question about perjury:
Lying to the FBI is only a crime if the lie was “material”. If the FBI already knew the answer to the question— if they have tapes— and ask it only to elicit a lie, should that lie be deemed material?— Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) December 17, 2018
A New York Times reporter replied:
Ken Starr and his team already knew the answer to the question when they asked Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky and they considered it material and deemed the answer to be perjury. So did a majority of the House of Representatives. https://t.co/eBtzxXAs49— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) December 18, 2018
A national security lawyer analyzed Michael Flynn's interactions with the FBI:
So I’ve gone through the Flynn 302 twice now.— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) December 18, 2018
1) Flynn was more than sufficiently warned about the context.
2) The agents repeatedly tried to give him hints to refresh his memory. He kept lying.
3) maybe now this stupid conspiracy can die
From a former U.S. attorney fired by Trump:
At this point frankly I’m most concerned that the special counsel gave Flynn a sweetheart deal. In which he took but a fraction of responsibility for what he did. For both Russia and for Turkey.— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) December 18, 2018
A former senior adviser to Obama highlighted Trump's reversal on the stock market:
From a CNN analyst:
Stock market doesn't equal economy. But if economy declines, Trump's chance at winning reelection is adios amigos. His approval rating is in the low 40s with a good economy. Imagine it with a bad one?— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) December 18, 2018
A Republican congressman slammed Trump's "bailouts" for farmers:
My fellow Republicans used to oppose bailouts. Now, they euphemistically call them “market facilitation payments.” @POTUS’s big-government trade policy hurt many farmers and ranchers, and he’s responding with even bigger government. https://t.co/rwXrpaEZ28— Justin Amash (@justinamash) December 18, 2018
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) questioned ethical guidelines for lawmakers:
This is the downside of the political stunt of voting against member allowance or pay increases.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 17, 2018
Politicians can get on a high horse about declining their own pay increase, and then write nefarious loopholes to allow use of leg power to make money in potentially unethical ways.
The communications director for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pushed back against an article questioning her boss's 2020 prospects:
“Harris, who looks in many ways like a winner on paper but hasn’t demonstrated the kind of charisma on the stump that you normally expect from a presidential candidate.”— Lily Adams (@adamslily) December 18, 2018
Out of curiosity: were you at events w her in CA, IA, OH, NV, MI, WI, PA, FL, GA, MO, SC in the 2018 cycle? https://t.co/Bfwvay9wzj
Will Comey speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention?
Comey will definitely be a speaker at the 2020 DNC convention— Jesse Hawken (@jessehawken) December 18, 2018
A Post reporter quipped:
I mean, yeah, traditionally the presidential nominee gets to give a speech. https://t.co/xZ0tAdiyO1— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) December 18, 2018
Hillary Clinton attended the New York premiere of a biopic on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with the subject of the film herself:
A former House speaker continues to enjoy retirement:
Perfect evening at Marco Island. pic.twitter.com/wWINwrgnAp— John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) December 16, 2018
And Roger Stone advertised "the perfect Christmas gift for patriots":
View this post on Instagram
The perfect Christmas gift for the patriots on your list. The “Roger“ stone. This is an exact replica of the stone that David used to take down Goliath. Use it as a paperweight or... All proceeds go to the Stone Defense Fund to help me fight Robert Mueller and the Deep State https://stonecoldtruth.com/product/get-your-own-roger-stone/
-- “Falling out,” by Peter Jamison: “Since 2014, the national rate of fatal drug overdoses has increased more than twice as fast among African Americans as among whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this new explosion of deaths, the nation’s capital is ground zero. The District saw 279 people die of opioid overdoses last year, a figure that surpassed the city’s homicides and was greater than three times the number of opioid deaths in 2014. More than 70 percent of cases involved fentanyl or its analogues, according to the District’s chief medical examiner, and more than 80 percent of victims were black.”
-- “His fiancee was killed on a run in Logan Circle. He was left with the rest of his life,” by Michael Brice-Saddler: “Standing outside the Logan Circle restaurant, just feet away from where his fiancee spent her final moments, Daniel Hincapie had a vision. ‘I can see it so clearly, I can see her running down the street,’ he said. ‘And this time, she just keeps going.’ Wendy Martinez, 35, was fatally stabbed while running on the evening of Sept. 18, in what D.C. police said was a brutal and unprovoked attack by a stranger. It was the worst day of Hincapie’s life. The best day had come just six days prior.”
-- Wall Street Journal, “Goldman Sachs Ignored 1MDB Warning Signs in Pursuit of Asian Business,” by Tom Wright and Liz Hoffman: “[Goldman Sachs’s] push for Asian business and lax oversight of partners led the bank to dismiss warning signs in its dealings with a corrupt Malaysian investment fund, internal documents and interviews with people involved in the transactions show.”
-- WBUR, “My Dad's Friendship With Charles Barkley,” by Shirley Wang: “Whenever we attended dinner parties, my dad would talk about his friend Charles Barkley. The first time my dad told the story, I didn’t pretend to know who this person was. Basketball has never been my thing. Like a good millennial, I Googled Charles Barkley. He seemed pretty famous — and definitely not like anyone who would be friends with my dad. But again, as a good millennial, I knew that people have very loose definitions of the word ‘friend.’ … But no. The friendship was real.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“She lost her school job after refusing to sign a pro-Israel pledge. Now, she’s filing a lawsuit,” from Eli Rosenberg: “Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist who has worked as a contractor in a Texas school district for nine years, received a new contract agreement to sign in September for the upcoming school year. The agreement asked her to affirm that she did not boycott Israel and assert that she would not while working for the school. She declined to sign it. … So she was forced to stop working with the district. The contract, which stems from a 2017 law passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature and governor that prohibited state agencies from contracting with companies boycotting Israel, is the subject of a lawsuit filed this week by Amawi in federal district court in Austin.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Statue of Liberty climber who protested Trump administration found guilty,” from Fox News: “A woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty over the summer in protest of the Trump administration was found guilty Monday for the ‘dangerous stunt’ which federal prosecutors say endangered law enforcement officers. Therese “Patricia” Okoumou was charged with trespassing, interfering with agency functions and disorderly conduct following the event on July 4, to which she pleaded not guilty. Okoumou faces up to 18 months in prison. … Okoumou was protesting Trump's immigration policies on Independence Day when she climbed up to the base of Lady Liberty, roughly 25 feet above the monument's observation point, and refused to leave.”
Trump will participate in a roundtable discussion on the report from the Federal Commission on School Safety, which was created in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“[Trump’s] use of the term ‘rat’ for Michael Cohen and mischaracterizing this as a break-in to his attorney's office frankly makes him sound more like a mob boss than president of the United States.” — Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). (Politico)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- D.C. will once again avoid the rain today, but winds are expected to pick up. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Scattered clouds this morning start to clear out by late morning into midday, with a mostly sunny afternoon favored as highs reach the low to mid-40s. It feels colder, more like the 30s, as breezes from the northwest at 10 to 15 mph gust to 20 at times.”
-- A man was convicted of sexually assaulting four roommates in Reston in 1995 after his wife revealed he had confessed to her. Justin Jouvenal reports: “Kathrin Lovchik’s future husband told her she was the first person with whom he could share the secret that was ‘eating him up,’ she testified. He showed her a black ski mask that had been in a bedroom closet and said he had raped about 20 women. He told her that he was the ‘Fairfax rapist,’ she said. … The chilling testimony, some of which was not heard by the jury, was a centerpiece of a two-week trial that resulted Monday in Jude Lovchik’s conviction in a 1995 sexual assault on four roommates in their Reston apartment. A jury will sentence Lovchik on Tuesday in Fairfax Circuit Court.”
-- Eleven Prince George’s County police officers were suspended after a gun was unintentionally fired at a holiday party. Lynh Bui reports: “Several off-duty officers were at a home in Brandywine, Md., on Saturday evening when a privately owned handgun was discharged, according to Prince George’s police. The officers, who were suspended with pay, include members of the bureau of patrol — including officers who are part of the emergency services team that is essentially a SWAT team — and the bureau of investigations, said Jennifer Donelan, a county police spokeswoman.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert marveled at how many investigations Trump is facing:
Seth Meyers mocked Stephen Miller and Rudy Giuliani’s defenses of Trump:
Two former police officers have been charged after a video emerged showing them slamming a middle school student to the ground:
Waves up to 40 feet in height slammed into California’s coast:
And the first transgender Miss Universe contestant competed in the pageant: