With Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: History judges politicians not by what they say in the wilderness but by what they do while in power.
Three years ago this month, shortly after being elected speaker, Paul Ryan went to the Great Hall at the Library of Congress to outline his vision for the House. “We want all Americans, when they look at Washington, to see spending going down, taxes going down and debt going down,” he said.
This afternoon, Ryan will return to the Great Hall to deliver his farewell address. By the standard he set for himself, the Wisconsin congressman – retiring at age 48 – batted one for three.
The deficit was $438 billion in 2015. This year it’s $779 billion. Next year it’s projected to balloon to $1 trillion.
There are two main drivers for this spike. The first is the tax package that Ryan quarterbacked into law a year ago this week. Congressional Republicans initially indicated that cuts would be offset with tax increases elsewhere, but they abandoned that commitment by dubiously insisting that the bill would generate enough growth to pay for itself. Nonpartisan analysts calculate that what passed will reduce revenue by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. But it will cost more than $2 trillion if the temporary cuts to individual income tax rates are extended, as most expect will happen.
The second is the end of sequestration. Ryan agreed to a $1.3 trillion spending deal in March that broke the caps and boosted federal expenditures by $300 billion.
During the two years Republicans have had unified control of the federal government, the national debt has grown by $1.9 trillion. That’s the size of Brazil’s entire economy. The debt, already $21.9 trillion, is forecast to grow by $4.4 trillion during President Trump’s first term.
The Treasury Department revealed last week that the U.S. government spent twice as much in November as it took in.
Interest payments on the debt are now the government’s fastest-growing expense. By some projections, within a decade, more than $900 billion will be due annually just for interest payments. That means the federal government will be spending more on servicing the debt than the military.
Adding insult to injury, Ryan’s congressional career could have ended (and might still) with a partial government shutdown as the result of Trump’s demand for billions in new spending for a border wall. No one on the right has insisted that such spending be offset with cuts elsewhere, something House Republicans demanded even for disaster relief during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Cutting people’s taxes while spending more money is about as easy as it gets in politics. Paying for it is what requires leadership. And that’s where, even Ryan himself acknowledges, he’s fallen short.
-- Ryan allies say it’s unfair to hold him singularly responsible for the ballooning deficit because he controls only one half of one-third of the government. They say he’s genuinely concerned about the crushing debt and would have done more if he had felt he could. President Trump ran in 2016 on not making any changes to Social Security or Medicare, they note, so it was a non-starter at the start of his presidency in terms of bills getting signed into law. To be sure, Trump – who has described himself as the “king of debt” – has never pretended to care as much about red ink as Ryan.
-- In his speech at 1 p.m., Ryan plans to bemoan America’s “broken politics” and describe the failure to overhaul federal benefit programs as “our greatest unfinished business.”
“Our complex problems are solvable. That is to say, our problems are solvable if our politics will allow it,” Ryan will say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks shared with the Associated Press. “I acknowledge plainly that my ambitions for entitlement reform have outpaced the political reality and I consider this our greatest unfinished business. Ultimately, solving this problem will require a greater degree of political will than exists today. I regret that.”
The AP’s Alan Fram says Ryan doesn’t mention Trump by name in the early text, but he decries the growing divisiveness in American politics. “All of this pulls on the threads of our common humanity, in what could be our unraveling,” the outgoing speaker plans to say. “The drivers of our broken politics are more obvious than the solutions.”
Ryan suggests that “rediscovering that human connection is one lane on the road back to aspiration and inclusion as the guiding influences in public life.”
-- During a Daily 202 Live interview on Nov. 30, Ryan named debt and immigration as “two regrets that I wish we could have got done.” He noted that the Obamacare repeal bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate, would have reduced the cost of Medicaid. “Health-care entitlements [are] the driver of the debt that’s got to get dealt with,” he said. “I really believe the bill we passed out of the House is flawed as it was written because we had to use Senate rules, but it was still excellent legislation which would have made a huge difference … on debt and deficits. It’s the one that got away.”
The 2012 GOP nominee for vice president pointed his finger at the Senate for being unserious about the debt, noting that he proposed budgets for years that could have put the country on a more sustainable course. “I’m also proud of getting our party to recognize debt,” said Ryan. “I’m proud of the fact that the House, since I was Budget [committee] chair, every session has passed a budget that shows how we would balance the budget and how we would pay off the debt. Now, the Senate never passed those budgets and that’s frustrating to me. But the House has said specifically, ‘Here’s what we would do to balance the budget and pay off the debt.’ And I was ostracized when I first put this stuff out there back in 2007. Ostracized! My own party said, ‘Run away from Ryan.’ … And so I think I’ve moved the ball on that issue. I feel like not as far as I’d wanted to, but a great distance.”
-- Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who chaired the House Budget Committee during the 1990s, excoriates this generation of congressional Republicans for disingenuously talking like cost-cutting deficit hawks on the stump and social media. “But once the TV lights go off, they turn tables to support record spending and deficit-driven borrowing that have left us with an unprecedented burden of national debt,” Kasich writes in an op-ed for The Post.
“It’s a mystery to me why political leaders and commentators who fashion themselves as conservatives could think or act otherwise,” adds Kasich. “For as long as I can remember, increasing deficit spending and national debt topped the list of conservative taboos. An even bigger mystery is why deficits and debt were not hotly debated in the recent midterm elections. Every other issue, ridiculous or sublime, got a full airing, but the 21 trillion-pound gorilla sitting there in plain sight was ignored.”
-- Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), part of the dying breed of moderates in the Capitol, used his farewell address last week to warn that Congress is whistling past the graveyard. “This deficit is going to destroy everything that we’re trying to do in this country, and we have done next to nothing to address it,” he said. “There is an old cartoon. It was Popeye, and Popeye had a friend named Wimpy. And Wimpy loved hamburgers. But Wimpy never had any money. So Wimpy’s famous saying was, ‘I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.’ That is the American government today: We do things, we don’t pay for any of them, but someday we will.”
Republicans hammered Donnelly in attack ads this year for voting against the tax cuts. But the outgoing senator is proud of his principled stand for fiscal discipline, even if it cost him his Senate seat. “The debt is on an unstoppable course, unless we do something here, to be at $30 trillion,” he said. “And so what did we do here? We passed a tax cut, because what’s another $1.5 trillion?! A tax cut at a time when we have a full-employment economy! We passed the tax cut and we’re now running, in a great economy, over a trillion-dollar deficit every year. If we can’t balance our books now, when are we ever going to do this?”
-- It’s a vicious cycle: Republican leaders like Ryan talked about the national debt publicly less after they took power, and Trump didn’t express concern about it as a candidate, so the party’s base has become less concerned about the issue – even as the problem became, objectively, much worse. A Pew poll earlier this year found just 48 percent of Americans say cutting the deficit should be a top policy priority for the president and Congress, down from 63 percent in 2014 and 72 percent in 2013. Since 2013, the share of Republican voters who say cutting the deficit should be a top priority has fallen from 81 percent to 59 percent. It’s also fallen among Democrats from 65 percent to 41 percent.
-- Bob Costa and Mike DeBonis wrote a broader piece on Ryan’s legacy as speaker for the front page of today’s newspaper: “Several longtime friends of Ryan declined to make public comments, citing their private disappointment in him and saying Ryan would be personally hurt if they shared their blunt assessments. ‘Paul doesn’t want to believe it’s all as bad as it is,’ one said.
“Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) said the tax cuts and regulatory measures the House passed are ‘worth celebrating’ and waved away the lack of progress on spending cuts. ‘It is what it is,’ said MacArthur, who lost his reelection bid last month. ‘No speaker or president operates in a vacuum. There are a lot of things he wishes he could have done.’ …
“‘He was the future of the party, but it’s been a disappointing couple of years,’ said William Kristol, a conservative commentator and Trump critic who has known Ryan for decades. ‘He was in a tough situation and didn’t make the best of it.’ …
“Another area in which Ryan made only fitful progress was his much-trumpeted anti-poverty agenda … The tax bill included a provision creating low-tax ‘opportunity zones,’ but more ambitious ideas never made it into law. ‘There wasn’t a lot at all on policy, but Paul did the best he could under the circumstances he faced,’ said veteran anti-poverty organizer Robert Woodson, who has worked closely with Ryan and traveled with him to many urban churches. ‘You can’t blame him for Washington.’”
-- “Once an advocate of enhancing congressional power and curtailing an overweening executive, Ryan presided over the worst abdication of congressional power in modern memory,” conservative Trump critic Jennifer Rubin writes on her Right Turn blog. “Ironically, had Ryan ever stood up to Trump — insisting he abide by the emoluments clause at the outset of his presidency, conducting meaningful oversight of Cabinet officials’ misuse of funds, etc. — Ryan might have saved Trump from his own worst tendencies, saved his House majority and saved his own legacy.”
-- In contrast to Kasich, E.J. Dionne argues that Ryan’s lack of follow-through on his rhetoric about the deficit really ought to be viewed as part of a pattern of GOP hypocrisy that dates back decades: “A truly gifted con artist is someone who pulls off the same scam again and again and keeps getting away with it. … Their audacity when it comes to deficits and tax cuts is something to behold, and they have been running the same play since the passage of the Reagan tax cuts in 1981. Republicans shout loudly about how terrible deficits are when Democrats are in power — even in cases when deficits are essential to pulling the nation out of economic catastrophe, as was the case at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term. But when the GOP takes control, its legions cheerfully embrace Dick Cheney’s law and send deficits soaring. Recall what President George W. Bush’s vice president said in 2002 justifying the 2003 tax cuts: ‘Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.’ …
“Deficits don’t matter if they would impede handing out tax benefits to corporations and the affluent. But they put us ‘on the brink of national bankruptcy’ and threaten ‘a debt crisis,’ as [Ryan] put it in 2011, when Democrats want to finance programs for the middle class or the poor. Republicans know one other thing: Their deception will work as long as neutral arbiters — in the media and think tanks along with those who genuinely care about deficits — fail to call it out. … Does anyone doubt that with Democrats in charge, the promiscuous tax cutters will be reborn yet again as fiscal scolds? They’ll dust off those old Ryan speeches and call for steep spending cuts.”
-- Trump has seemed perfectly willing to kick the can down the road. Last year, senior advisers presented the president with charts that showed a “hockey stick” spike in the debt if his policies are implemented and no changes are made to entitlements. “Yeah, but I won’t be here,” the president responded, according to the Daily Beast, pointing out that the spike won’t come until after he finishes his second term.
“Three former senior administration officials said the deficit issue was rarely brought up in Trump’s presence because he had no interest in discussing it,” Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta reported last month. “When former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn’s staffers prepared a presentation for Trump about deficits, Cohn told them no. It wouldn’t be necessary, he said, because the president did not care about deficits, according to current and former officials. Trump also repeatedly told Cohn to print more money, according to three White House officials familiar with his comments. ‘He’d just say, run the presses, run the presses,’ one former senior administration official said, describing the president’s Oval Office orders.”
-- During an interview yesterday with Bloomberg News, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to blame Democrats for the growing deficit, even though Republicans have been in charge. “In an effort to get the military spending — which the president thought was critical and which I fully support — given the issues we have all over the world and the under-investment we have had in the last eight years, this required bipartisan support and the Democrats required big increases in non-military spending,” Mnuchin said. “So that’s a major component of deficit today.” He added that any spending bill needs 60 votes in the Senate, which means that Republicans cannot simply slash domestic programs that Democrats like.
Mnuchin was then asked what ever happened to Trump’s fantastical promises before the midterm elections that he’d enact a 10 percent tax cut for middle-class families before the end of the year. “I’m not going to comment on whether it is a real thing or not a real thing,” the treasury secretary replied. “I’m saying for the moment we have other things we’re focused on.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The Senate overwhelmingly passed a criminal justice bill aimed at reducing mandatory minimum sentences and allowing inmates the opportunity to get out of prison earlier. John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian report: “The First Step Act passed on a vote of 87 to 12, with dozens of Republicans, including longtime holdout [Mitch McConnell], joining all 49 members of the Democratic caucus to approve legislation that even some GOP supporters fear could leave them vulnerable to charges of being soft on crime. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) tried to allay those concerns shortly before the final vote, stressing that Trump ‘wants to be tough on crime, but fair on crime’ — and had told him personally that he had his ‘pen ready to sign this bill.’”
What it does: “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. The latter would affect about 2,000 current federal inmates. It also overhauls the federal prison system to help inmates earn reduced sentences and lower recidivism rates."
What's next: “A different version passed the House this year, so the House would have to pass the latest draft before it can be sent to Trump for his signature. The House is expected to endorse that bill when it comes up for a likely vote later this week, and [Ryan] has expressed support for the legislation.”
GET SMART FAST:
A judicial council said the allegations in dozens of misconduct complaints filed against Brett Kavanaugh are “serious” but dismissed them on jurisdictional grounds. The 83 claims filed by lawyers, professors and other concerned citizens accuse the justice of making false statements during his Senate confirmation hearings, displaying a lack of judicial temperament and making inappropriate partisan statements. Because he is no longer on the D.C. Circuit, however, the panel said it no longer has the authority to get to the bottom of such allegations. (Ann E. Marimow and Robert Barnes)
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said he would veto a bill on redoing fraudulent elections over concerns about campaign finance provisions. Cooper added he would sign the bill if legislators removed the sections he says provide cover to lobbyists and those accused of campaign finance violations. (AP)
An FDA panel recommended that doctors prescribe the opioid overdose antidote naloxone alongside prescription painkillers for at least some patients. Committee members described the recommendation as a message to make the antidote more readily available. (Lenny Bernstein)
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 53 journalists have been killed worldwide this year. Thirty-four journalists were killed in retaliation for their work, nearly twice as many as last year. (AP)
Elon Musk’s Boring Company opened its first functioning test tunnel. Musk has said such tunnels will provide relief from “soul-destroying” urban traffic, but it took two years and $40 million to create the first one. (Geoffrey A. Fowler)
Two former news executives who were fired from their past jobs will help launch a new media start-up meant to restore faith in journalism. Former NPR news chief Michael Oreskes, who was accused of forcibly kissing colleagues, and former Fox News executive editor John Moody, who wrote a column widely criticized as racist, were recruited to help lead LaCorte News. (Politico)
The Financial Times named George Soros its person of the year. The newspaper called the billionaire philanthropist “the standard bearer of liberal democracy and open society.” (Financial Times)
A record number of people are expected to hit the road this holiday season. Surveys indicate more than 102 million plan to drive more than 50 miles over the Christmas holiday, while millions more will use other forms of transportation to travel. (Ashley Halsey III)
Sitcom star and director Penny Marshall died at 75. Marshall starred in “Laverne & Shirley” and went on to direct successful movies like “Big” and “A League of Their Own.” (T. Rees Shapiro)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- A federal judge delayed sentencing Michael Flynn after he suggested Trump’s national security adviser may have betrayed his country by acting on behalf of a foreign government. Spencer S. Hsu, Matt Zapotosky and Carol D. Leonnig report: “The stunning development means that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s engagement with Flynn will continue for some months, leaving Flynn to wonder whether he will lose his freedom. Flynn’s attorney requested the delay after the judge’s opinion became apparent, hoping further cooperation with law enforcement would earn the court’s mercy. From the start, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan made clear he was infuriated by Flynn’s conduct — both in lying to the FBI while in the White House and in working to advance the interests of the Turkish government while he was a part of Trump’s campaign.
“The judge seemed to take particular umbrage at the suggestion made by Flynn and his supporters, just before the sentencing, that he had been duped by the FBI. Early in the hearing, Sullivan forced Flynn to admit publicly that he knew lying to the bureau was illegal and that he was guilty of a crime. Later, the judge pointed to an American flag in his D.C. courtroom as he berated the former three-star general for his misdeeds. ‘Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for,’ the judge said. ‘Arguably, you sold your country out.’ Flynn, standing straight and flanked by attorneys, looked shaken, his jaw clenched.”
-- Sullivan even asked whether Flynn’s behavior “rises to the level of treasonous activity”: “Could he have been charged with treason?” (He later qualified that he was not accusing Flynn of treason.)
-- The judge's upbraiding of Flynn surprised some of the retired general’s supporters, who predicted Sullivan might even throw out Flynn’s guilty plea and clear his name. Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “Instead, the 71-year-old veteran jurist used his platform to puncture conspiracy theories that paint Flynn as a victim of deep-state persecution. And he reminded the country of a few simple creeds commonly held in courthouses but increasingly dismissed by the president’s allies: Lying to the FBI is against the law. Breaking the law is bad. People who work in the White House are supposed to be held to a higher standard. ‘This is a very serious offense,’ Sullivan told Flynn, even after Mueller’s prosecutors told the judge they agreed that Flynn should face little to no incarceration because he cooperated with their investigation. …
“Sullivan also expressed frustration at a lack of information about what Flynn has given Mueller’s team. . … At day’s end, the judge issued one last shot at Flynn, ensuring that he understood he will be treated like all other defendants. Noting that there had been no restrictions on Flynn’s travel, Sullivan wrote in an order that beginning Jan. 4, the former general will no longer be allowed to travel more than 50 miles outside Washington without permission. He will also have to surrender his passport.”
-- Columnist Dana Milbank argues the judge struck a patent blow for the rule of law: “His passion on the bench was a much-needed corrective from the federal judiciary. He was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the federal bench but by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to D.C. judgeships, and he has a reputation for shredding prosecutors. … Some will criticize Sullivan for his heated language and for threatening Flynn with a harsher sentence than even prosecutors want. But the judge’s bold stand was worthy of another on the same court who, nearly half a century ago, was accused of overstepping his bounds during the Watergate cases. Higher courts, and history, ultimately vindicated John Sirica’s belief that he shouldn’t be ‘sitting on the bench like a nincompoop and watching the parade go by.’ Sullivan, in his righteous defense of truth, honored that noble tradition.”
-- Flynn’s former business partner Bijan Kian pleaded not guilty to illegally acting as a foreign agent for the Turkish government. Rachel Weiner reports: “According to prosecutors, the Turkish government paid Kian and Flynn’s Flynn Intel Group consulting firm hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for the extradition of prominent dissident Fethullah Gulen, using a Turkish businessman as a conduit. … Kian’s trial is set for Feb. 11. But prosecutors said they plan to introduce classified evidence, and his attorney, Robert Trout, said he would seek evidence from abroad. Both will almost certainly cause delays. A status hearing is set for Jan. 3.”
-- During his closed-door testimony Monday with House members, Jim Comey defended the FBI’s January 2017 interview with Flynn. From Karoun Demirjian: “According to a newly released transcript of the interview, GOP members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees focused intently on whether federal investigators should have taken better care to ensure that Flynn was accompanied by a representative of the White House Counsel’s Office during his interview and that he knew lying to FBI investigators was a crime. Comey said it was ‘totally reasonable’ and ‘consistent’ with FBI practices not to warn Flynn of the consequences of lying and suggested that officials were simply ‘encouraging’ Flynn to proceed without a lawyer when they told him requesting one could slow things down.”
-- The White House pushed back against Comey’s criticism of Republican lawmakers for not standing up to Trump. “The last person that we will take any lecture from about the values of this country is from a self-admitted liar and leaker that we know James Comey to be,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “He’ll be the last person that we’re going to take any type of lecture from.” (John Wagner)
FOLLOW THE MONEY:
-- New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced that Trump has agreed to shut down his personal charity amid allegations of misused funds. David A. Fahrenthold reports: “[She] said that the Donald J. Trump Foundation is dissolving as her office pursues its lawsuit against the charity, Trump and his three eldest children. The suit, filed in June, alleged ‘persistently illegal conduct’ at the foundation, which Trump began in 1987. Underwood is continuing to seek more than $2.8 million in restitution and has asked a judge to ban the Trumps temporarily from serving on the boards of other New York nonprofit organizations. Underwood said Tuesday that her investigation found ‘a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.’ … In a court filing in New York, Underwood said that the foundation’s remaining $1.75 million will be distributed to other charities approved by her office and a state judge.”
-- New York’s investigations into Trump’s finances could ramp up next month once its new attorney general, Letitia James, assumes office. Kristine Phillips reports: “During the campaign, James, a Democrat, said she intends to aggressively investigate Trump’s businesses and finances. On the night of her victory, she stood in front of supporters in Brooklyn and all but declared a war against Trump: ‘I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn.’ Now, many eyes are on James, a former public defender who defied her father’s wishes by becoming a lawyer instead of marrying a plumber. At 60, she would be at the helm of investigations that could personally affect the president of the United States.”
-- Contrary to the claims of his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Trump signed a letter of intent to move forward with plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while he was a candidate for president. CNN’s Kate Sullivan reports: “Chris Cuomo obtained a copy of the signed letter of intent that set the stage for negotiations for Trump condominiums, a hotel and commercial property in the heart of Moscow. The letter is dated October 28, 2015, and bears the President's signature. When asked on Sunday about the letter, Giuliani incorrectly told CNN's Dana Bash that it had not been signed. ‘It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it,’ Giuliani told Bash.”
-- Meanwhile, the Trump Organization appears to be exploring a deal in the Dominican Republic, which has raised fresh concerns about conflicts of interest. ABC News’s Matthew Mosk, Kyra Phillips, Alex Hosenball, Kaitlyn Folmer and Brian Epstein report: “Last month, the non-profit group Global Witness sent an undercover investigator to see if they could learn more. … [The group’s findings] included undercover recordings that captured a sales agent at the Cap Cana resort describing a Trump-branded condominium development in the works for a new, beachfront location. … Global Witness and other critics say any move by the Trump Organization to return to the island nation could represent a departure from the president’s promise to avoid undertaking fresh overseas developments during his term in office.” The Trump Organization claimed it has no new development deals in the works.
-- Mueller’s team appears to be zeroing in on Trump associates who may have offered to ease Russian sanctions. The Daily Beast’s Erin Banco reports: “The Special Counsel’s Office is preparing court filings that are expected to detail Trump associates’ conversations about sanctions relief—and spell out how those offers and counter-proposals were characterized to top figures on the campaign and in the administration, [three] sources said. The new details would not only bookend a multi-year investigation by federal prosecutors into whether and how Trump associates seriously considered requests by Moscow to ease the financial measures. The new court filings could also answer a central question of the Russia investigation: What specific policy changes, if any, did the Kremlin hope to get in return from its political machinations?”
-- A court ruling reveals that a mystery entity challenging a grand jury subpoena from Mueller is an unnamed company owned by a foreign government. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports: “The Justice Department had asked the company to turn over ‘information’ about its commercial activity in a criminal investigation and a federal appeals court is forcing the unnamed company to comply with the subpoena.”
-- Hacked diplomatic cables provided to the New York Times show that European diplomats were alarmed after Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin, and the White House worked behind the scenes to assuage their fears. David Sanger and Steven Erlanger report: “In one cable, European diplomats described [the summit] as ‘successful (at least for Putin).’ … In their conversations with American officials after the Helsinki meeting in July, European diplomats described efforts by the White House to engage in damage control after Mr. Trump had gone off-script during a joint news conference with Mr. Putin. Mr. Trump appeared to agree to allow Russians to question former American diplomats in exchange for the American interrogation of Russians who had been indicted by [Mueller]. According to a July 20 document describing their private exchanges, White House officials assured the Europeans that Mr. Trump’s agreement would be ‘nipped down’ to prevent the questioning of Americans.”
Did China hack the cables? “The techniques that the hackers deployed over a three-year period resembled those long used by an elite unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army. The cables were copied from the secure network and posted to an open internet site that the hackers set up in the course of their attack, according to Area 1, the firm that discovered the breach. Area 1 made more than 1,100 of the hacked European Union cables available to The New York Times."
THE IMMIGRATION WARS:
-- Trump abandoned his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding as congressional Republicans scrambled to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the week. Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Seung Min Kim report: “White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday [that] Trump does not want a shutdown and will identify 'other ways' to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the concession by the president, which came after lawmakers from both parties argued that his $5 billion wall plan wouldn’t get through Congress, did not break the impasse that’s overtaken Capitol Hill in the final days of unified GOP control of Washington.
“Democrats rejected a Republican spending offer made shortly after Trump’s retreat on the wall, and Congress appeared headed toward the lowest-common-denominator solution: a short-term funding extension that would keep the government open for a period of weeks and then hand Democrats the responsibility of passing a more lasting fix once they retake the House majority in January. … But it was uncertain whether the president would sign such a measure, and the overall outcome was impossible to predict given Trump’s tendency to swiftly embrace new demands and discard old ones.”
-- The White House’s suggestion that it will find “other ways” to pay for Trump’s wall is at odds with the reality of how government funding works. Damian Paletta reports: “‘If you do this without going through the proper reprogramming requests and getting all the proper approvals, you are breaking the law,’ said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A similar assessment was shared by some Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday, but [Sanders] said lawyers were reviewing what was possible. ‘That’s their entire job is determining whether or not something is legal, and we are looking to those individuals to find out those specific pots of money that can be used for that,’ she said.”
-- A group of House Democrats denounced the conditions of a New Mexico Border Patrol station that they toured following the death of a 7-year-old migrant girl. Nick Miroff reports: “The congressional delegation, led by members of the House Hispanic Caucus, described a facility jam-packed with families, lacking sufficient medical care and poorly equipped to care for children. ‘The only reason this facility is still open as it is now is because these cameras can’t get in,’ Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) told reporters who had to wait outside the station ... Green said he saw scores of children ‘stacked’ in holding cells and huddled in foil blankets on concrete floors, alongside toilets lacking privacy screens. ‘If one of your cameras could get in there, the public would see what we have seen, and we should shut this down,’ he said, ‘or we would restructure it so that we could treat human beings in a decent fashion.’”
-- A Honduran mother and her children who were photographed being tear-gassed at the border have reached the United States. Kristine Phillips reports: “Maria Lila Meza Castro and her five children were among several asylum seekers who showed up at the Otay Mesa port of entry, between Tijuana and San Diego. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that Castro has applied for asylum and that her family, along with eight unaccompanied minors, have been taken inside the San Diego facility for processing.”
-- A Yemeni woman who was blocked from entering the United States because of Trump’s travel ban has been granted a visa to say goodbye to her dying 2-year-old son in California. Katie Mettler reports: “The woman, 21-year-old Shaima Swileh, has been living in Egypt but is a citizen of Yemen, one of several Muslim-majority countries targeted under a travel ban imposed by the Trump administration. Swileh’s husband, Ali Hassan, 22, is a U.S. citizen and resident of Stockton, Calif. The two met in Yemen, were married in February 2016 and soon had their son, Abdullah. But the boy was born with a degenerative brain disorder called hypomyelination, which caused him to experience seizures and other symptoms as an infant … The boy began seeking treatment at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where doctors sent letters to the embassy in Cairo about Abdullah’s dire health … Publicity and pressure over Swileh’s situation mounted over the weekend and culminated Monday in a news conference at the CAIR offices in Sacramento.”
-- More companies pulled advertising from Tucker Carlson’s show, as Fox News stood by its host after his controversial remarks on immigration. Deanna Paul and Alex Horton report: “A count by The Hollywood Reporter reached 16 companies as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, with TD Ameritrade, Just For Men and the United Explorer credit card joining the ranks of companies that had previously announced their intentions. … Fox News called the outrage ‘unfortunate and unnecessary distractions.’ Network spokeswoman Carly Shanahan said in a statement, ‘It is a shame that left-wing advocacy groups, under the guise of being supposed ‘media watchdogs,’ weaponize social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech.’” The network added that, because the companies had switched their advertising to other Fox programs, no revenue had been lost.
THE REST OF THE AGENDA:
-- The Trump administration finally moved to ban bump stocks via regulation, nearly a year after Trump said he'd do so. The AP’s Michael Balsamo reports: “The devices will be banned under a federal law that prohibits machine guns, according to a senior Justice Department official. … The regulation, which was signed by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Tuesday morning, will go into effect 90 days after it is formally published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen on Friday, the Justice Department official said. … The change has undergone a legal review and the Justice Department and ATF are ready to fight any legal challenge that may be brought, the official added.”
-- A new GAO report finds that Trump’s Veterans Affairs department failed to spend millions of dollars set aside for a national outreach campaign meant to curb veteran suicide. Lisa Rein reports: “As the number of veterans taking their own lives climbed, VA’s media outreach plunged in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 — with fewer social media posts, public service announcements and paid advertisements compared with the agency’s efforts during the Obama administration, auditors said. … VA set aside $6.2 million this year alone to advertise its crisis hotline — the centerpiece of its suicide-prevention efforts — online, on billboards, buses and trains, and via local and national radio commercials. But as of September, the agency had spent $57,000 — less than 1 percent of that budget, auditors wrote.”
-- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed former Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally to fill the Senate seat held by John McCain (R) for decades. Sean Sullivan reports: “McSally, who lost a close race for Arizona’s other Senate seat this year, will succeed Sen. Jon Kyl (R), who will step down at the end of the year ... McSally is expected to run for the seat in a 2020 special election, setting the stage for a potential marquee contest in a battleground state. The seat also will be on the ballot in 2022. … McSally’s appointment came after a period of frustration for Ducey and his closest confidants, who were disappointed with her campaign and the way her team handled the aftermath of the election. McSally also needed to mend her frayed relations with McCain’s family.”
-- Ducey clarified that Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema would be sworn in before McSally, allowing the Democrat to become the state’s senior senator and first female senator. The Arizona Republic’s Rachel Leingang and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report: “Seniority is based on the date of swearing in and can affect committee assignments, appointments of federal officials and the selection of offices or desks. In this case, the swearing in also represents a milestone for Arizona, which has never had a female senator. And, if McSally were sworn in first, it could be seen as a slight by the Ducey administration.” Mitch McConnell’s office pointed out that Sinema would be the senior senator regardless because she served more time in the House.
-- History made: Arizona, a state that has never had a female senator, will now have an all-female Senate delegation — joining California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada and Washington. The next Senate class will have the highest number of all-female delegations in history. (Roll Call)
-- The Iowa Democratic Party is considering allowing absentee voters to participate in its presidential caucus, a move that could increase the ideological diversity of caucus participants. Matt Viser reports. “Until now, Iowa’s quirky system required participants to show up at a local precinct for a few hours on a winter’s night and organize into groups based on which candidate they support. Candidates who cannot garner 15 percent are no longer considered viable and their supporters have to pick another candidate. How to accomplish that in a way that allows absentee participation is a major challenge. The details are still being worked out — and would need to be adopted by a state committee and approved by the DNC — but it would be a fundamental shift in how the caucuses have been conducted for decades. One idea is to use a ranked ballot, another is to allow a proxy vote by a trusted friend or relative.”
-- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is considering a presidential run. Yahoo News’s Jon Ward reports: “‘I am thinking about it,’ Bennet said [when asked about a potential bid]. Bennet has reportedly been talking to staff in Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucus there … Bennet, 54, carries himself in a low-key manner but has impressive credentials, and has been considered a rising Democratic star. Former President Obama mentioned him among a handful of young Democrats he believed could be national stars, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump celebrated the Senate's passage of its criminal justice bill:
....This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
He also defended the proposed design of his border wall:
....It will be beautiful and, at the same time, give our Country the security that our citizens deserve. It will go up fast and save us BILLIONS of dollars a month once completed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) had a startling realization on Capitol Hill:
In the Democratic cloakroom as we vote tonight. Just realized I was surrounded by no less than 5 Presidential candidates, and there were only 10 of us in there. This is going to get interesting. 😳— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) December 19, 2018
An editor at HuffPost provided this reminder after Judge Sullivan suggested that Mike Flynn sold out the United States:
Yeah, let's not forget that Flynn reportedly advised Trump to *HOLD OFF ATTACKING ISIS*, presumably because Turkey, the country secretly paying Flynn, didn't want the U.S. to arm the Syrian Kurds. Trump agreed, delaying assault on ISIS capital for months: https://t.co/aXF5NSxhD2 https://t.co/LZXsFvTut5— Nick Baumann (@NickBaumann) December 18, 2018
From a Post reporter:
This weekend, @JudgeJeanine hailed Judge Sullivan as "a jurist unafraid of the swamp, a judge who has a track record of calling out prosecutorial misconduct, a man who does not tolerate injustice or abuse of power."— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) December 18, 2018
She suggested he might toss Flynn's guilty plea.
Not so much!
A CNN reporter noted the spectacle outside the courtroom:
As Flynn left the federal courthouse just now, people outside chanted, “Lock him up.”— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 18, 2018
A former U.S. ambassador to Russia who is now a professor at Stanford posed this question:
I still don’t understand why Flynn lied to FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. As former DIA head, Flynn would know how closely Kislyak is monitored. Was he hiding something even bigger than we know? Discussing sanctions doesn’t seem big enough to try to hide at such risk.— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) December 18, 2018
The Post's Fact Checker columnist once again corrected this Trump claim:
For the umpteenth time, the Russia investigation did not start with the Steele dossier. It was opened because a Trump campaign official disclosed to a foreign diplomat he knew the Russians had Clinton emails. https://t.co/rqj5BoLsEW— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) December 18, 2018
This evergreen tweet from Trump's press secretary recirculated in light of the most recent Russia investigation developments:
When you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing https://t.co/SIoAxatCjp— Sarah Sanders (@SarahHuckabee) November 3, 2016
A White House reporter confronted Sanders after her abbreviated news conference:
"Do your job, Sarah!" one member of the White House press corps yells out after Sanders curtails the first press briefing of the month after about 20 minutes.— Philip Bump (@pbump) December 18, 2018
Columnist Connie Schultz, who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), came to the defense of a Post reporter after D.C.'s shadow senator attacked him:
My friend Sherrod supports #dcstatehood and as Will pointed out, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Why not focus on what’s important instead of trying to be clever (which you are not) and smug (which you certainly are)— Sen Michael D Brown (@SenMDBrown) December 18, 2018
Hi, Michael. Sherrod loved the tweet, especially because it came from Wesley Lowery, who grew up in Ohio. Also, he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist & author of “They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, & a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement.” We are fans.— Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) December 18, 2018
A New York state senator quickly backtracked after making an inappropriate comment to a senior staffer for the Senate majority:
This is a New York state senator tweeting at a senior staffer for the senate majority pic.twitter.com/EqHY9jJY9a— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) December 18, 2018
A presidential historian marked this little-known anniversary:
First impeachment trial in American history started today 1797—against Senator William Blount of Tennessee, charged with treason and secret conspiracy with foreign power (England): pic.twitter.com/IGuDgkJELe— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) December 18, 2018
And the first lady shared a photo with the president at the festive White House:
Merry Christmas from President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. @POTUS & @FLOTUS are seen Saturday, December 15, in their official 2018 Christmas portrait, in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks) pic.twitter.com/nIuplZSDBe— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) December 18, 2018
-- “‘Pure incompetence,’” by Peter Jamison: “For the past four years, the nation’s capital has undergone its worst public-health crisis since the arrival of AIDS: an explosion of fatal drug overdoses among African Americans. … The District has consistently fallen short in its response to mounting opioid casualties, misspending millions of federal grant dollars and ignoring lifesaving strategies that have been widely adopted elsewhere, a Washington Post investigation found.”
-- Vox, “I read 1,182 emergency room bills this year. Here’s what I learned,” by Sarah Kliff: “For the past 15 months, I’ve asked Vox readers to submit emergency room bills to our database. I’ve read lots of those medical bills — 1,182 of them, to be exact. My initial goal was to get a sense of how unpredictable and costly ER billing is across the country. There are millions of emergency room visits every year, making it one of the more frequent ways we interact with our health care system — and a good window into the health costs squeezing consumers today.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Nevada becomes first state with majority female Legislature,” from the Nevada Independent: “Nevada will become the first state in the country to have a majority female Legislature after members of the Clark County Commission appointed two women to a pair of open seats in the Assembly. … With the appointments, female lawmakers will take 23 of 42 seats in the state Assembly and nine of 21 spots in the state Senate, good for 32 out of the 63 seats in the Legislature. … The new Assembly members are both Democrats, and will serve the remainder of the two-year terms until the 2020 election. They’ll join a supermajority in the Assembly, where Democrats hold 29 of the 42 seats.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Bump-stock ban has gun-rights advocates up in arms,” from Fox News: “Gun rights advocates appear to be up in arms over the Trump administration’s impending ban on bump stocks, which is scheduled to take effect next year. … After the Las Vegas tragedy, bump stocks were under intense scrutiny. But Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, says banning bump stocks will do little to quell mass shootings. ‘They were just looking for a scapegoat. And they found one,’ Aposhian told the Salt Lake Tribune. … Janalee Tobias, who founded Women Against Gun Control, insists more emphasis should be placed on the causes of mass shootings rather than the weapons themselves.”
Trump will receive his intelligence briefing and have lunch with the secretary of state. He and the first lady will later attend two Christmas receptions.
The Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee will announce its decision on raising interest rates at 2 p.m Eastern. Fed Chair Jay Powell will hold a news conference on the announcement at 2:30 p.m. (Heather Long)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“It is time we faced a hard truth: Both sides would benefit greatly from a peace agreement, but the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more.” — Nikki Haley, delivering what was likely her final address on the Middle East. (Anne Gearan and Carol Morello)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Washingtonians should enjoy today’s sunshine and relatively mild temperatures before rain likely returns tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “As the center of high pressure shifts to our east, we’ll see light winds from the south warm us up a few degrees over yesterday. After a chilly morning start in the 20s, look for afternoon highs in the upper 40s to low 50s under partly to mostly sunny skies.”
-- The Wizards lost to the Hawks 118-110. (Candace Buckner)
-- The D.C. Council gave its final approval to legalizing sports betting in the District. Fenit Nirappil reports: “The bill easily passed on an 11-to-2 vote. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) supports the legislation. … The District will join seven other jurisdictions outside Nevada that allow sports gambling: New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Mexico. Arkansas and New York are positioned to join next year.”
-- A Virginia man was sentenced to 357 years in prison for the 1995 sexual assault of four Reston roommates. Justin Jouvenal reports: “Jude Lovchik, formerly of Springfield, Va., was convicted of 17 counts of abduction, sodomy and other charges on Monday, following a two-week trial that featured harrowing accounts of the women’s ordeal.”
-- The spotting of a rat on the White House lawn has re-attracted attention to Washington’s rodent problem. From Marissa J. Lang: “Social media speculation over the rat’s identity and motives ensued. People wondered: Was it looking for a job? Fleeing a sinking ship? Unlikely. According to the District’s resident rat guru, Gerard Brown, a program manager at the D.C. Department of Health, it was probably one of many rats ‘flushed out’ of its burrow by heavy weekend rain.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert mocked arguments from Michael Flynn's lawyers that their client was tricked into lying to the FBI:
James Corden applauded Trump for still making time for his "lifelong passion":
Trump's 2020 campaign released an ad asking his supporters to leave a “thank you” voice mail for the president. When you call, though, you get hit up for money:
And a little girl couldn't contain her excitement about meeting Michelle Obama: