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The Daily 202: Trump caves again to corporate lobbying pressure as he flip-flops on flavored e-cigarettes

Demonstrators hold signs that read “We Vape! We Vote!” outside President Trump’s rally in Dallas on Oct. 17. (Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg)

with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump is spurning the women who have his ear to side with male advisers as he kowtows to a pressure campaign orchestrated by corporate interests.

Perhaps the most effective path to persuade Trump to change his mind on public policy is to convince him that he would lose support from his base, whether it’s true or not. This is how the National Rifle Association, which should be viewed first and foremost as a trade association for the gun industry, got him to break his promise to impose “very meaningful background checks” for gun purchases after the massacres in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

This same dynamic helps explain why the president has backed away from the crackdown he announced two months ago on most flavored e-cigarettes. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Sept. 11 that first lady Melania Trump feels “very, very strongly” that government must quell the youth vaping epidemic that has ensnared 5 million teenagers. “She’s got a son,” Trump said, referring to his wife. (Barron, 13, is his son, too.) “We can’t allow people to get sick, and we can’t have our youth be so affected,” the president added.

Trump was also pressed to act by his daughter Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser in the White House, and encouraged by Kellyanne Conway, the most powerful woman in the administration who is not a member of the president’s family. Conway, who managed Trump’s 2016 campaign in the home stretch after Paul Manafort was pushed out over his sketchy financial dealings in Ukraine, argued that doing something about flavored e-cigs could enable the president to regain ground he’s lost among suburban moms who have traditionally voted Republican.

But on Nov. 4, the night before details of the ban were all set to be formally unveiled during a news conference, the president balked. My colleagues Josh Dawsey and Laurie McGinley scoop that Trump refused to sign a one-page decision memo during a flight to a campaign rally in Kentucky that would have taken candy, fruit and mint flavors off the market within 30 days. Three officials familiar with the discussions said that Trump has grown upset with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who took the lead in rolling out a plan to address the vaping crisis. “He didn’t know much about the issue and was just doing it for Melania and Ivanka,” a senior administration official explained.

When 18-year-old Adam Hergenreder became violently ill, his doctors were quick to identify vaping as the likely culprit. Now his mother is warning others. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Late last week, more than a dozen White House officials met to try to find a way forward,” Josh and Laurie report. “Given Trump’s record of zigzags, some officials cautioned the president could reverse course again. Or he might back some ban on flavored e-cigarettes that exempts vape shops. Others said the White House might pursue a different tack altogether by endorsing legislation that would raise the minimum federal age for buying tobacco products to 21 from 18 … Some bet the anti-vaping effort is dead, though, especially because the administration could argue the youth vaping problem has been greatly eased by Juul Labs’ recent decision to stop selling its popular mint-flavored nicotine pods. ‘It’s going to go the way of guns,’ predicted one adviser…”

The president changed his mind after he was warned repeatedly that banning flavored e-cigarettes would anger vaping enthusiasts and could depress turnout for him in the 2020 election. Trump’s reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale told the president that moving against flavored e-cigarettes could backfire with his base. “A Washington Examiner op-ed written by a pro-vaping conservative activist, Paul Blair, with the headline ‘Banning flavored e-cigarettes might cost Trump reelection,’ was circulated at the White House and considered the ‘opinion of the campaign,’ according to a White House official involved in the process,” Michael Scherer, Josh, Laurie and Neena Satija reported last month. “Trump advisers [in the White House] compiled a binder of evidence supporting the idea of strong new measures to combat youth vaping, according to a person familiar with the effort. The documents included public polling, supportive editorials, statements from the scientific and medical community, and statements from elected leaders.”

It’s unclear if Trump read that binder. But Trump’s helicopter flew over hundreds of people who gathered on the Ellipse to protest his flavor ban when he departed the White House on Nov. 9 to watch the Alabama-LSU football game. He also saw a pro-vaping protest outside his rally in Dallas last month. And there was a social media campaign that used the hashtag #IVapeIVote. This effort has included many hallmarks of what’s known as an “Astroturf” campaign.

Tim and Ruby Johnson said all children should be educated about the dangers of vaping after their daughter nearly died from vaping-associated pneumonia. (Video: Reuters)

-- Many former Trump aides have been cashing in on the industry’s panic. Juul has been paying Trump world insiders like Josh Raffel, a former spokesman for Jared Kushner; Johnny DeStefano, a former counselor to the president; and Rebeccah Propp, former director of media affairs for Vice President Pence. Brian Ballard, the Florida lobbyist who represented Trump’s businesses there and worked on the president’s 2016 campaign, has been paid seven figures by Reynolds American, which owns an e-cigarette company. Jeff Miller, a lobbyist with close ties to Pence, reported that his firm was paid $60,000 by Altria from July through September 2019 to lobby on the executive branch on issues related to the regulation of tobacco products, including “WH Administration Initiative to ban flavored vaping products.”

Conservative activist Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has played a starring role in ginning up opposition to the implementation of what Trump announced, but he’s declined to say whether he or his group have received money from the e-cigarette industry.

-- The bigger picture: Trump continues to campaign like a populist even as he governs like a plutocrat, and the republic continues its descent toward corporatocracy. In 2016, he promised to be a different kind of Republican and said he’d check corporate power. He said he was incorruptible because he was so rich that he didn’t need to take campaign contributions. Among other things, Trump said he would end the carried interest loophole and go after hedge funds. In practice, he’s done the opposite.

The president’s signature legislative achievement was the tax cut bill in 2017, which has proven to be even more of a giveaway for the rich than analysts feared while exploding the national debt. A damning story on the front of Sunday’s New York Times highlighted how FedEx – which spent $10 million on lobbying that year, mostly on tax policy – went from owing $1.5 billion in taxes to nothing the following year. But the shipping company did not increase total investment in new equipment and other assets in the fiscal year that followed, as its chief executive Fred Smith said companies would do if they got the lower corporate rate. Instead, the story explained, FedEx used its windfall to reward shareholders with more than $2 billion in stock buybacks and dividend increases. Smith called the story an “outrageous distortion of the truth” and challenged the publisher of the Times to a debate on federal tax policy, but he did not specify any errors.

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-- Four were killed and six were injured during a shooting at a backyard football-viewing party in Fresno, Calif. Katie Shepherd reports: “Fresno Police Lt. Bill Dooley told reporters near the scene that officers arrived to find ‘several individuals’ dead on the back lawn. Unknown suspects fled before police arrived at the home, shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday evening ... All the victims were ‘Asian males’ between 25 and 35 years old, Fresno Police Deputy Chief Michael Reid told the Bee. ‘Thank God that no kids were hurt,’ Reid said, the Associated Press reported. Police declined to discuss what kind of weapon was used or any potential motive."

Lawmakers argued the validity of the Trump impeachment hearings, whether a quid pro quo can be established and the inquiry’s next steps on Nov. 17. (Video: The Washington Post)


-- Trump tweeted this morning that he will “strongly consider” testifying in writing as part of the impeachment inquiry. The president said he might take up House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a suggestion she made over the weekend on CBS. Trump also claimed the rules of the inquiry had been “rigged” against him by Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has summoned four witnesses to appear before his panel on Tuesday. “Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Trump said in tweets that described Pelosi as “Nervous Nancy” and “crazy.” (Follow our liveblog for more updates throughout the day.) 

-- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Trump administration officials who provided information to the anonymous whistleblower about the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine “exposed things that didn’t need to be exposed.” Felicia Sonmez, Karoun Demirjian and Douglas MacMillan report: “‘This would have been far better off if we would’ve just taken care of this behind the scenes,’ Johnson said in an interview on NBC News’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ... 'We were trying to convince President Trump.’ … Trump on Sunday continued to take aim at his own administration officials, accusing Jennifer Williams, Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, of being a ‘Never Trumper.’ … Williams is expected to testify publicly on Tuesday. Her closed-door testimony, which was released Saturday, suggests that the Office of Management and Budget had clamped down on Ukraine aid more than two weeks earlier than has been previously reported. …

“The comments by Trump and Johnson also come amid intensifying scrutiny of the actions of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, [who is expected to testify on Wednesday and one of eight people scheduled to appear in public hearings this week]. According to testimony released Saturday, a former White House national security official told House investigators that Sondland was acting at Trump’s behest and spoke to a top Ukrainian official about exchanging military aid for political investigations — two elements at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he believes Sondland will face pressure this week when he’s asked about inconsistencies between his testimony and that of other recent witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. …

"On ‘Fox News Sunday,’ House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) dismissed the witnesses who have testified, ... arguing that ‘they were not all Trump administration folks.’ ‘They’re Schiff’s witnesses,’ Scalise said. … When pressed by host Chris Wallace on the fact that most of the witnesses are part of the Trump administration, Scalise responded that ‘there are a lot of people who worked in the Trump administration who have very countering views to that and they’ve not been allowed to come forward.’ ... In an interview with CBS News’s ‘Face the Nation’ ... Pelosi declined to weigh in on the timeline for a potential impeachment vote, saying only that there may be further depositions over the Thanksgiving holiday and that there may be ‘a decision or maybe they have more hearings’ once Congress returns.”

-- Tim Morrison, the former top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, testified that it was his understanding Sondland spoke to Trump directly about half a dozen times between July 16 and Sept. 11. Trump has increasingly tried to distance himself from Sondland. During an interview with CNN on Sunday, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said Morrison’s testimony is "alarming.” From CNN: “‘Well, of course, all of that is alarming. As I've said from the beginning, I think this is not OK. The President of the United States shouldn't even in the original phone call be on the phone with the president of another country and raise his political opponent,’ [Turner said]. … Turner also addressed tweets Trump posted last week during former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's public testimony before the panel. … ‘It's certainly not impeachable, and it's certainly not criminal and it's certainly not witness intimidation. It certainly wasn't trying to prevent her or wouldn't have prevented her from testifying, she was actually in the process of testifying. But nonetheless, I find the President's tweets unfortunate,’ the congressman said.”

-- Sondland kept several Trump administration officials apprised of his effort to get Ukraine to launch investigations into the Bidens, including Mick Mulvaney and Rick Perry, according to emails obtained by the Wall Street Journal: “The emails reviewed by the Journal show that three days [after the July 10 meeting], Mr. Sondland urged Mr. Morrison to schedule the call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky before Ukrainian parliamentary elections on July 21. ‘Sole purpose is for Zelensky to give Potus assurances of "new sheriff" in town. Corruption ending, unbundling moving forward and any hampered investigations will be allowed to move forward transparently,’ Mr. Sondland wrote. Mr. Morrison replied that he was ‘tracking.’ On July 19, a day before the president was initially scheduled to speak to Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Sondland emailed a group of administration officials including Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Perry to say that Mr. Zelensky was prepared to assure the president that he would open investigations. ‘I talked to Zelensky just now. He is prepared to receive Potus’ call,’ Mr. Sondland wrote. ‘Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will "turn over every stone."’ He added that Mr. Zelensky was eager for the call to take place before the parliamentary elections. Mr. Mulvaney responded: ‘I asked NSC to set it up for tomorrow.’”

-- When Sondland stepped in to mediate, things really went off the rails. From the Daily Beast: “Ukrainian officials arrived at the White House on July 10 expecting something approaching normal. They were in Washington for a scheduled meeting with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton with a plan to propose a new path for U.S.-Ukrainian relations under the umbrella of energy and security cooperation. All seemed to go well—until [Sondland] stepped in. ‘That’s when things really went off the rails,’ one person in the room said. … Sondland raised his voice several times in his attempt to persuade the Ukrainian officials sitting across from him, including Andriy Yermak, a close aide to Zelensky, and Zelensky’s then-national security adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk. One individual told The Daily Beast that Sondland ‘got very emotional,’ adding that ‘there was lots of yelling.’ Another individual called the meeting ‘erratic’ and said the Ukrainians began to ignore Sondland and instead turned to Fiona Hill, who ran the National Security Council’s Russia desk at the time, for clarification on Washington’s messaging. Sondland has previously tried to claim he didn’t know much about a quid pro quo with Ukraine—until he suddenly told Congress he now recalls the deal. But the details of Sondland’s behavior in the Ward Room underscore the intensity in which the EU Ambassador advocated for the investigations into [Joe] Biden and Burisma.”

-- An overwhelming 70 percent of Americans think Trump’s request to a foreign leader to investigate Biden was wrong, an ABC News/Ipsos poll found

-- Trump’s public schedule for this week seems designed to keep him distracted from the televised hearings as much as possible. From Axios: “Trump's schedule for the coming week shows him governing, promoting U.S. jobs and highlighting the arts and pop culture. On Tuesday, as Democrats question Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Trump will be meeting with his Cabinet. On Wednesday, as Democrats grill [Sondland], Trump will he visiting Apple's manufacturing plant in Texas. And on Thursday, after Democrats question [Hill], Trump will be presenting the national medals of arts and humanities.”


-- Hundreds of leaked Iranian intelligence reports offer a detailed portrait of how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs and the unique role of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force. From the Times and the Intercept: “The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraq, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life. Many of the cables describe real-life espionage capers that feel torn from the pages of a spy thriller. Meetings are arranged in dark alleyways and shopping malls or under the cover of a hunting excursion or a birthday party. Informants lurk at the Baghdad airport, snapping pictures of American soldiers and keeping tabs on coalition military flights. Agents drive meandering routes to meetings to evade surveillance. Sources are plied with gifts of pistachios, cologne and saffron. Iraqi officials, if necessary, are offered bribes. …

The leaked cables ... detail the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iranian influence since the American invasion in 2003, which transformed Iraq into a gateway for Iranian power, connecting the Islamic Republic’s geography of dominance from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. … Many of Iraq’s foremost political, military, and security officials have had secret relationships with Tehran, according to the documents. … According to the reports, after the American troop withdrawal in 2011, Iran moved quickly to add former C.I.A. informants to its payroll. … In interviews, Iranian officials acknowledged that Iran viewed surveillance of American activity in Iraq after the United States invasion as critical to its survival and national security. … The roughly 700 pages of leaked reports were sent anonymously to The Intercept, which translated them from Persian to English and shared them with The Times. … The Intercept communicated over encrypted channels with the source, who declined to meet with a reporter. In these anonymous messages, the source said that they wanted to ‘let the world know what Iran is doing in my country Iraq.’”

-- Protests in Iran continued after the country’s supreme leader endorsed a government decision to cut fuel subsidies and warned demonstrators against clashing with security forces. Erin Cunningham reports: “In a televised address, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supports the measure to push up gasoline prices and ration supplies, a move designed to raise funds for cash handouts to the poor. The abrupt decision, announced Friday, sparked demonstrations in about two dozen locations across the country as residents already grappling with soaring inflation called on the government to reverse the hike. In towns and cities across Iran, drivers abandoned vehicles on highways and protesters blocked roads and set tires and buildings alight. Some demonstrators clashed with baton-wielding security forces, officials said, and at least one protester and a police officer were killed."

-- Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong were surrounded by riot police this morning inside a university campus, setting the stage for a bloody fight. Casey Quackenbush, Anna Kam, Gerry Shih and Tiffany Liang report: “Police blocked exits to try to coax exhausted protesters out of the Polytechnic University on Monday after a night of clashes with students. When some attempted to leave, officers forced them back with tear gas and rubber bullets and made dozens of arrests. As night fell, and with explosions and black smoke emanating from the grounds, police repeated demands for the demonstrators — some of whom have been there for days — to surrender. At rallies across the city, people expressed support for the trapped students. … Some 500 to 600 students remain trapped, said Derek Liu, head of the university’s student union. PolyU’s president, Jin-Guang Teng, in a video statement urged students to hand themselves in. …

"In a new setback for [Hong Kong leader Carrie] Lam, Hong Kong’s highest court ruled Monday that the government’s use of a British colonial-era emergency ordinance to ban face coverings at public gatherings was unconstitutional. Lam had introduced the measure to aid police in identifying protesters and effectively expand powers of arrest. Lam visited an injured police officer in the hospital on Monday, but she did not make public remarks, and her office did not respond to a request for comment. In a message on Facebook later, she condemned protesters and urged them to obey police.”

-- Uighur activists called the leaked Chinese documents revealing the government’s plan to systematically detain millions of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region another form of genocide. Lateshia Beachum reports: “The more than 400 pages of documents, leaked, according to the Times, by a member of the Chinese political establishment, included internal speeches by President Xi Jinping and other officials, information about the surveillance and control of the Uighur population and internal investigations on local officials. … The papers confirm reports that more than 1 million people have been detained in internment camps as the Chinese government seeks to strip Uighurs of their identity and indoctrinate them into being secular and loyal party supporters. Xi still told party members in secret speeches that religious extremists should be treated with ‘absolutely no mercy,’ the Times reported. The documents included a script for officials to follow when explaining to students returning to the region why their parents had disappeared, the Times reported. The World Uyghur Congress called China a ‘country with concentration camps’ in a retweet.”

-- Few Uighurs have been able to escape the widespread surveillance, and even fewer are able to make it to the U.S. in search of asylum. Now, an Uighur family living in Northern Virginia has caught the attention of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Emily Rauhala and Anna Fifield report: “Zumrat Dawut, her husband, Imran Muhammad, and their three children got out. Dawut, who survived internment and an unwanted sterilization, fled first with her family to her husband’s native Pakistan. The next leg of their journey took them to a basement apartment in Virginia outside Washington. They spent their first American summer strolling through shopping malls and savoring Popeyes’ halal fried chicken. ‘Here in U.S., people have human rights. People live like real human beings,’ Dawut said. They have applied for asylum in the United States. They want, desperately, to stay. But their case — which recently caught [Pompeo’s] attention — raises tough questions for the Trump administration as it vows to take a harder line on China while simultaneously seeking a trade deal with Beijing. The United States has roundly condemned the internment camps in Xinjiang. But will it take in those who endured Beijing’s chokehold on the region and somehow reached the United States?”

-- Russian troops took command of a U.S. air base in northern Syria. From CBS News: “The Russians are playing up the takeover of the Kobani airfield as a victory. The former U.S. airbase that served as the main logistical hub for America's fight against ISIS, now with the Russian flag flying above it. The Russians moved in just a day after U.S. forces moved out, leaving behind barracks, beds, abandoned medical supplies and the skeleton of a gym with weights removed, to render it useless. The same can't be said of the runway, however. An American-made landing strip now under Russian management. It's the second major military expansion in this region in as many days, after Russia announced it had opened up a new helicopter base in Qamishli, which, like Kobani, is also on the Turkish border.”

-- A planned prisoner swap between the Afghan government and the Taliban meant to restart peace talks between the insurgent group and the U.S. has been delayed. Susannah George reports: “The emergence of significant snags early on highlights the difficulty of getting the two sides back to the negotiating table. The Taliban has long refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government. The swap would have freed two university professors in exchange for three high-profile militants linked to the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani announced the deal on live television last week, saying it would help bring ‘peace and stability’ to Afghanistan ... But days after Ghani’s announcement, none of the prisoners have been released and the government and Taliban officials are trading blame. Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Ghani, blamed the Taliban for the delay, tweeting Saturday that the insurgents ‘failed to observe the conditions’ of the swap and caused ‘the disruption of the exchange process.’ He did not elaborate.”

-- Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the U.S. and South Korea postponed a joint military exercise, bowing to saber-rattling by North Korea. From the AP: “The move comes even as Japan’s defense minister, whose country feels threatened by repeated North Korean missile launches, told Esper ‘no one could be optimistic about’ changing the North’s behavior. … Esper insisted the postponement was not a concession to North Korea but rather an attempt to ‘keep the door open’ to diplomacy to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”

-- North Korea responded to a tweet by Trump that hinted at another summit with Kim Jong Un by saying it has no interest in giving Trump further meetings unless it gets something in return. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan said Washington must discard what his government sees as “hostile” policies in order to keep negotiations alive. (AP)

-- While Trump stands by, the world’s tyrants are trying to make the world safe for dictatorship, warns The Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt: “The United States is retreating, almost apologizing for ever having thought about promoting democracy. Everyone from Rand Paul to Bernie Sanders and many in between agrees we should stay home and mind our business. But the result is not a world in which every country is free to go its own way. Instead, the world’s tyrants — while still complaining about color revolutions and U.S. interference — roam far and wide, promoting their ideologies and their corporations, bullying and buying and burrowing and shooting their way to influence. Russia and China, the loudest conjurers of imaginary CIA pro-democracy plots, have become the world’s most active underminers of democracy beyond their borders.”

-- Last year, after CIA Director Gina Haspel was nominated for her position, White House counsel Don McGahn suggested she withdraw due to her role in the “enhanced interrogation” program, which he argued could kill her confirmation chances. Trump disagreed, telling advisers that he supports "torture." From Axios: “Trump actually liked this aspect of Haspel's resume, according to three sources who spoke to the president at the time. In fact, Trump told aides that Haspel's support for ‘torture’ or ‘waterboarding’ (Trump uses these words interchangeably in his private conversations) was an asset, not a liability. Trump told advisers that he asked Haspel her opinion on whether waterboarding works. In Trump's telling, Haspel replied to him that she was ‘100%’ sure it works, a source who spoke to Trump about it told me. ‘He seemed impressed with how sure she was about something so controversial,’ the source said. ‘That she did not bat an eye, did not sugarcoat it, that it works.’”

-- Friday news dump follow-up: “Trump sides with war criminals,” Kori Schake, a veteran of George W. Bush's national security team, writes in the Atlantic: “Trump has exercised his authority to intervene in three cases involving war crimes, on the side of the alleged war criminals. He pardoned one serviceman who was convicted of heinous crimes, and another awaiting trial for heinous crimes. He also reversed the demotion of a Navy SEAL convicted of taking trophy pictures with an enemy corpse. All were brought to justice by their fellow servicemen and women; each prosecution relied on testimony from servicemen in the same units who witnessed the war crimes and reported them to military superiors. This makes Trump the first commander in chief in memory to pardon American servicemen for violent crimes committed in uniform. The justification can be found in a statement Trump made in 2016: ‘You have to play the game the way they are playing the game.’ That is, the U.S. should operate the way terrorists operate.”

-- The Trump administration’s immigration jails are packed, but deportation numbers are lower than in Barack Obama's presidency. Abigail Hauslohner reports: “According to the latest snapshot of ICE’s prisoner population, from early November, nearly 70 percent of the inmates had no prior criminal conviction. More than 14,000 are people the U.S. government has determined have a reasonable fear of persecution or torture if deported. Though [Trump] has made cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his first term, his administration lags far behind President Barack Obama’s pace of deportations. Obama — who immigrant advocates at one point called the ‘deporter in chief’ — removed 409,849 people in 2012 alone. Trump, who has vowed to deport ‘millions’ of immigrants, has yet to surpass 260,000 deportations in a single year. And while Obama deported 1.18 million people during his first three years in office, Trump has deported fewer than 800,000. It is unclear why deportations have been happening relatively slowly.”

-- England’s Prince Andrew hoped that an interview with the BBC about his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein would put an end to a scandal that has dogged him for years. It didn’t go quite as planned. Karla Adam reports: “An example of some of the exchanges: Andrew: ‘Do I regret the fact that he [Epstein] has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes.’ Emily Maitlis: ‘Unbecoming? He was a sex offender.’ Andrew: ‘Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite.’ The interview was undoubtedly a coup for the BBC, which was in talks with the palace for nearly a year to secure it, and for Maitlis, the journalist whose interrogation has won widespread acclaim. But royal watchers described the interview as ill-judged and excruciating. ‘I expected a train wreck,’ tweeted Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website. ‘That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.’

"Andrew told Maitlis that he flew to New York in December 2010 to end his friendship with Epstein, because breaking it off over the phone would have been a ‘chicken’s way of doing it.’ At the time, Epstein had served time in prison for child sex offenses. Andrew said he stayed at Epstein’s home for four days because it was ‘convenient.’ Andrew was also criticized for what he didn’t say. He expressed no concern for Epstein’s victims. ‘Not One Single Word of Remorse,’ read a front-page headline on the Mail on Sunday. … Andrew was repeatedly grilled about Virginia Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, who has said that Epstein groomed her to have sex with the prince on three occasions. He said he had ‘no recollection’ of meeting her and ‘categorically’ denied having sex with her.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Back-to-back losses in key governors’ races send additional warning to Trump ahead of 2020. David Nakamura reports: “When Kentucky’s Republican governor lost his bid for reelection two weeks ago … the president and his allies brushed it off by declaring that Trump had nearly dragged an unpopular incumbent across the finish line. On Sunday, a day after another Trump-backed GOP gubernatorial candidate fell in Louisiana, the president and his surrogates barely mounted a defense. In a barrage of 40 tweets and retweets by Sunday evening, Trump didn’t mention Eddie Rispone’s loss to incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), even though the president had held two campaign rallies in the state in the 10 days before the election aimed at boosting his chances. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel — who had publicly praised Trump after the Kentucky elections in which the GOP won five other statewide races — also was mum on Louisiana....

Trump campaigned hard for Rispone and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) … turning their races into something of a referendum on his own standing … ‘What Trump did in Louisiana was increase voter participation. While he increased the pro-Trump turnout, he also increased the anti-Trump turnout. That’s kind of the lesson here,’ said Ron Faucheux, a nonpartisan political polling analyst based in New Orleans. … In Louisiana, state GOP leaders had pleaded with the president to personally get involved in the race, and Trump held a rally with Rispone in Bossier City on Thursday during which the president cast the contest in personal terms. Referring to Bevin’s loss in Kentucky, Trump complained that the media pinned the defeat on him. ‘So you’ve got to give me a big win, please,’ he told the crowd.”

-- Top Republicans are second guessing Trump's decision to waste so much time in Louisiana. From the Times: “Mr. Trump carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, so the outcome of the governor’s race carries no implications for his own re-election, the balance of power in Congress or the president’s policy agenda. And the moderate Mr. Edwards has relentlessly cultivated Mr. Trump, showing up at the White House every chance he gets — so it was not even an opportunity to defeat a critic. Some of the president’s advisers were mystified, therefore, that the White House would repeatedly send him to a state irrelevant to his re-election for a candidate he scarcely knows … after they had just been scalded in their attempt to rescue Mr. Bevin in another safely red state. … Still, the main instigator for the president’s involvement in the races, many Republicans said, was Mr. Trump himself, who simply craves the adulation of his supporters and is singularly focused on notching victories, no matter the details. He is even more eager to flex his political muscle in the face of impeachment, and has surrounded himself with several aides who either defer to his whims regardless of the neon-flashing signs of risk before them, or know little about politics. … People close to Mr. Trump … said he viewed the campaigns he had weighed in on mostly as opportunities for gratification.”

-- Louisiana’s outcome was only possible because of a spike in black turnout. From CNN: “In heavily African American, Caddo, East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes, turnout was up about 15% to 30% compared to last month's Louisiana ‘jungle primary.’ … Parishes in the rest of the state saw a lower increase in turnout. This trend in the early vote data suggested that African Americans were going to make up a larger share of voters in the runoff than they did in October's jungle primary … One key to turning out black voters is to not merely rely on Trump as a foil. The fact is that Edwards won in Louisiana not because of Trump but because Edwards has been a popular governor with an approval rating north of 50%. He had a strong appeal to the black community in particular. What Edwards demonstrated on Saturday is that Trump is not everything when it comes to elections.”

-- National Democrats are increasingly worried that their presidential nominating contest will drag deep into next summer. Michael Scherer reports: “That scenario is prompting the campaigns, several of which have signed up veteran delegate counters, to begin strategizing for a protracted nomination slog, with some even playing out scenarios for dealmaking in the weeks leading up to the Democratic convention in July. … Broadly, the Democrats’ fear is that the surging energy and turmoil in their party, and its passion to defeat Trump, may be leading to fracturing rather than unity. Some in the party worry that could hamper its ability to defeat Trump, although others argue that a tough primary will strengthen the eventual nominee. Three party veterans, who have each worked on delegate strategies in past presidential contests … described the landscape as unprecedented. … The operatives point to other factors, including the increasing role of small-dollar fundraising, which allows candidates to stay in longer, and the diminished role of superdelegates, whose function was to rally the party around a nominee if needed. They also point to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s medical and political rebound from a heart attack, which suggests he could battle Sen. Elizabeth Warren for liberal voters for months. One delegate counter admitted to concluding it is now 'more likely than not' that no one gets a majority of pledged delegates, largely because of Sanders’s continued strength and the likelihood that he will continue to campaign even if he is trailing late in the primary contest.”

-- Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg apologized for his stop-and-frisk policy ahead of his likely presidential run. Sean Sullivan and Michael Scherer report: “Bloomberg expressed regrets at a predominantly black megachurch he has visited many times, telling congregants he didn’t understand the full effects on African American and Latino communities quickly enough and should have curtailed the program sooner. ‘I’m sorry that we didn’t,’ Bloomberg said. ‘But I can’t change history. However, today, I want you to know that I realize back then, I was wrong.’ The speech served as one of the clearest indicators yet that the billionaire businessman might soon join the crowded Democratic primary. Bloomberg has filed paperwork to run in Alabama and Arkansas and has mapped out a strategy that would largely bypass the four earliest nominating states. Instead, he would focus on later contests of note, including those in Southern states with large black populations. Bloomberg’s attempt to confront one of his biggest potential liabilities reflects the ongoing shift in the Democratic Party on issues of race, criminal justice and police violence. Voters and activists are increasingly demanding their leaders take firmer stances against discrimination by law enforcement and reject tough-on-crime policies that were more widely accepted decades ago.”

-- In Las Vegas on Sunday, Biden drew some groans from a crowd of Democrats when he said he wants more research done on marijuana and suggested that it may be a “gateway drug.” Teo Armus reports: “But the 76-year-old Democrat is in tune with at least one demographic: his peers in the silent generation, who, at 35 percent, have what may be one of the lowest percentages of support for marijuana legalization, according to the Pew data released on Nov. 14. … ‘The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,’ Biden said. ‘It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.’ Answering an audience question, Biden indicated that he is not opposed to the drug entirely. He supports the use of medical marijuana and would decriminalize possession of the drug, he said, adding that he wants individual states to make decisions on recreational use.”

-- A new CBS poll found support for Pete Buttigieg in Iowa has tripled since September and risen seven points since last month. “In addition to his gains in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg has picked up support in the aggregate 18-state poll. CBS News recontacts voters for this study, and most of Buttigieg's current supporters reported a different first-choice candidate last month, primarily Warren. … The poll asked voters what Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg could do to become a first choice among voters who are considering them. The top answer was convincing voters they could defeat Mr. Trump, which outpaced all other reasons tested, such as convincing voters that their policies would work or that they could handle the job of president.”

-- In case you missed it: Buttigieg rocketed to the top of the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll that came out on Saturday night. “Since September, Buttigieg has risen 16 percentage points among Iowa’s likely Democratic caucusgoers, with 25% now saying he is their first choice for president. For the first time in the Register’s Iowa Poll, he bests rivals [Biden, Sanders and Warren], who are now clustered in competition for second place and about 10 percentage points behind ... [Warren] led the September Iowa Poll, when 22% said she was their first choice. In this poll, her support slips to 16%. [Biden], who led the Register’s first three Iowa Polls of the 2020 caucus cycle, has continued to slide, falling 5 percentage points to 15%. [Sanders] also garners 15% — a 4 percentage point rise.”

-- Warren pitched her new, more flexible approach to government-run health care during a swing through Iowa this weekend as her campaign struggles to move beyond a problematic issue for her. Annie Linskey reports: “On Friday, she announced she will push Congress to pass legislation that allows all Americans to opt into the existing Medicare program in her first 100 days in office and take executive actions even sooner to lower the price of prescription drugs. She wouldn’t push for full-blown Medicare-for-all until the third year of her term. … Her new pitch also seems designed to assuage voters worried that her earlier approach would force 150 million people off their private insurance.  … That has prompted Sanders to adjust, adding a line to his stump speech that contrasts Warren’s approach to his. ‘Today I tell you that on our first week in office, we are going to introduce Medicare-for-all single-payer legislation,’ he said Saturday in East Los Angeles. ...

Several who attended Warren’s town hall ... were relieved by her new approach. ‘I like the shift,’ said Elizabeth Texley, 43, of Cedar Rapids. Texley works with seniors and hasn’t yet decided who she will support in the upcoming caucuses. ‘The goal of Medicare-for-all is great,’ she said. ‘But I don’t think you’re going to be able to get everybody on board right now.’  Warren’s new proposal, Texley added, ‘does make it easier to support her.’”

-- Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, promoting the Nevada caucuses, said Iowa and New Hampshire are not diverse enough states to provide Democrats with insight into how a candidate will fare across the country. From the AP: “‘I don’t think it matters what happens in Iowa or New Hampshire because those states are not representative of the country anymore,’ the longtime Nevada senator said. Nevada is the third state to weigh in but the first that looks like the rest of the country, with a sizeable Latino population and significant groups of Asian American and black voters … Reid, who says he won’t endorse until after Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucuses, said it’s too early to start counting candidates out of the race and he’s impressed with the packed field. Reid said he thinks that Biden has appeared strong in Nevada because he ‘is one that appeals to diversity,’ but he added that most of the other Democrats running can also appeal to diverse groups.”

-- Democrats in California are wondering if it’s time for Kamala Harris to finally drop out of the race. From Politico: “In the halls and meeting rooms of the Long Beach Convention Center, many of the battle-scarred Democratic insiders — strategists, elected officials, campaign operatives — had a far more caustic view of her chances, suggesting that Harris’ team has already let slip away her shot at the White House. With California polls strongly suggesting she might not win, place — or even show — in her home state, many privately expressed the view that Harris should begin seriously considering leaving the race to avoid total embarrassment in the state’s early March primary. Her continued weakness in the presidential contest could even have a more damaging effect, several said — encouraging a primary challenger in 2022, when Harris is up for reelection.”

-- An Obama-era Pentagon official who attacked Trump over his affinity for Russia is entering the crowded New York Democratic primary field to succeed retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D). Anne Gearan reports: “Evelyn Farkas, a national security analyst and author, will announce her campaign Monday and attend a candidate forum not far from Chappaqua, the New York town where she grew up. She is the fifth Democrat to launch a bid to represent the safely Democratic 17th District, located in the affluent northern suburbs of New York City. But Farkas said her experience helps her stand out. ‘There isn’t another candidate who has my experience and qualifications,’ she said in an exclusive interview Sunday. Farkas served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of policy toward Russia, Ukraine and neighboring countries under [Obama]. She was an early critic of Trump’s relationship with [Putin].”


Trump responded to North Korea's attacks on Biden, while managing to insult the former vice president as well:

Trump criticized some of the witnesses in the impeachment probe, and a Democratic congressman reminded him that several got their jobs from him:

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) criticized Pete Buttigieg for using a stock photo of a woman from Kenya in his plan for African Americans:

After Bloomberg apologized for his "stop and frisk" policies, a public defender from the Big Apple said it's not enough:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "He is healthy as can be," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said after the president made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed. "That man works from 6 a.m. until, you know, very, very late at night. He’s doing just fine.”



John Oliver looked at the census for the season finale of his HBO show:

 “Saturday Night Live” added some “pizzazz” to the first impeachment hearings:

Trevor Noah would like to remind Democrats that they don’t have to keep replenishing the stock whenever a 2020 candidate drops out: