But the orphan from the West Indies who became our first treasury secretary has also become something of a historical celebrity since the last impeachment fight 21 years ago, which helps explain why his name is coming up in the public debate much more than it did last time.
The musical bearing Hamilton’s name, which debuted on Broadway in 2015, remains a culturally resonant sensation. It’s helped the man who never became president – spoiler alert: he was killed in a duel – overshadow fellow Founding Fathers who did, including his “Federalist” co-author James Madison and arch-rival Thomas Jefferson.
A group of more than 700 historians and scholars published an open letter last night urging the House to impeach President Trump. It’s no coincidence that the letter mentions Hamilton six times. The signatories include public intellectuals like Robert Caro, Ken Burns and Ron Chernow. Chernow wrote the 818-page biography of Hamilton that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the hip-hop show that dramatically transformed public perceptions of the Founding Father.
“As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, impeachment was designed to deal with ‘the misconduct of public men’ which involves ‘the abuse or violation of some public trust,’” says the letter, which was organized by the nonprofit advocacy group Protect Democracy. “Collectively, the President’s offenses, including his dereliction in protecting the integrity of the 2020 election from Russian disinformation and renewed interference, arouse once again the Framers’ most profound fears that powerful members of government would become, in Hamilton’s words, ‘the mercenary instruments of foreign corruption.’ …
“Hamilton understood, as he wrote in 1792, that the republic remained vulnerable to the rise of an unscrupulous demagogue … President Trump’s actions committed both before and during the House investigations fit Hamilton’s description and manifest utter and deliberate scorn for the rule of law and ‘repeated injuries’ to constitutional democracy. That disregard continues and it constitutes a clear and present danger to the Constitution.”
-- Hamilton’s name appears 35 times in a 658-page report formally recommending impeachment that was released earlier Monday by the House Judiciary Committee. “Advocating that New York ratify the Constitution, Hamilton set the standard for impeachment at an ‘abuse or violation of some public trust,’” the report says. “And in Federalist No. 68, Hamilton cautioned that the ‘most deadly adversaries of republican government’ may come ‘chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.’ … Rather than assume the Framers wrote a Constitution full of empty words and internal contradictions, it makes far more sense to agree with Hamilton that impeachment is not about crimes. The better view, which the House itself has long embraced, confirms that impeachment targets offenses against the Constitution that threaten democracy.”
-- After Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would move forward with articles of impeachment, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) began his news conference by noting that she did not quote Hamilton. “I listened to Speaker Pelosi give us historical references, but one that she skipped was Alexander Hamilton when he wrote: ‘There will always be the greatest danger, that the decision to use the impeachment power would be driven by partisan animosity instead of real demonstrations of innocence or guilt,’” McCarthy said. “This is the day that Alexander Hamilton feared and warned would come!”
To make sure his point wasn’t lost, as McCarthy wrapped up his presser, he returned to Hamilton. He even referred to him by his first name. “The most important part here is, Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father, was concerned and warned us that this day could come,” McCarthy emphasized. “We hope that, at any time, whoever has this power in this country, that they never repeat what Alexander warned us would come.”
-- Previously, both the majority and the minority reports from the House Intelligence Committee invoked Hamilton.
“Such a fervor to impeach a political opponent for purely partisan reasons was what Alexander Hamilton warned of as the ‘greatest danger,’” wrote the staff for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
“Hamilton explained that impeachment was not designed to cover only criminal violations, but also crimes against the American people,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in the preface of his report.
-- Members from both parties also quoted Hamilton during last week’s House mark-up to debate the articles of impeachment before advancing them to a vote on the floor.
“Impeachable offenses as Alexander Hamilton explained are ‘abuses of public trust, injuries done to society itself,’” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.). “High crimes, in other words, are abuses of power committed against the people. This is exactly what President Trump has done.”
“Alexander Hamilton said the greatest danger of impeachment would be depriving a president of due process,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.). “Democrats are making the founders’ worst nightmare come true.”
Trump retweeted a video clip Ratcliffe tweeted of himself making this point.
-- Throughout this donnybrook, quoting Hamilton on Twitter has become fashionable for lawmakers across the ideological spectrum:
From the independent who quit the GOP after endorsing Trump’s impeachment:
To a pro-Trump Republican congressman, also from Michigan:
-- Hamilton’s name is also being routinely dropped on all the cable news channels. Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, who worked in Barack Obama’s White House on regulatory policy, upbraided Mitch McConnell on MSNBC on Friday for saying on Fox News the night before that he’s working hand in hand with the White House counsel to ensure Trump is acquitted.“We might say, ‘Senator McConnell, meet Alexander Hamilton,’” Sunstein told Rachel Maddow. “The Senate is supposed to be independent and impartial. The idea is not to closely coordinate with the person who is accused of committing an impeachable offense. … I’m quoting Hamilton. That was his authoritative account.”
Alan Dershowitz, an emeritus professor at Harvard Law School, told Laura Ingraham on Fox News last Tuesday that Congress, not the president, is abusing its power by preparing to pass articles of impeachment that accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “There is nothing in the Constitution about abuse of power,” Dershowitz said. “They are so vague and open-ended. They are exactly … what Alexander Hamilton said was the greatest danger.”
Appearing on CNN at almost the same time, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) quoted Hamilton in Federalist 65. “Our job was to do the fact-finding to determine whether or not there was the equivalent of an indictment, that the president should be tried as to whether or not this constituted bribery, if this was, in fact, an abuse of power,” she said. “It was Hamilton who talked about the abuse of power being doing something that violates the public trust. When you put your personal interests above the American people's interest in trying to get dirt on one of your campaign opponents, that is putting yourself first.”
-- Hamilton has also been appearing frequently on opinion pages. “This is precisely the kind of crisis Alexander Hamilton feared,” former Republican senator Slade Gorton (Wash.) wrote in a New York Times op-ed endorsing Trump’s impeachment. “Given the temptations a president might have in dealing with foreign powers, Hamilton’s solution was equally clear: Congress should be involved,” added Gorton, 91, who served three terms and lost his seat to Maria Cantwell in 2000. “The founders gave Congress the power to check a president accused of abusing the power of his office. They expected Congress to render its judgment on the facts. So, to my fellow Republicans who have been willing only to attack the process, I say: engage in the process.”
“Alexander Hamilton had the foresight to warn us that impeachment would be prone to abuse rather than driven by 'real demonstrations of innocence or guilt,’” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel wrote in her own op-ed for Fox News.
-- During the House Judiciary hearing with constitutional scholars, Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman even envisioned a scenario in which members of Congress would run into Hamilton in the afterlife. “We have to ask ourselves,” Feldman mused. “Someday we will no longer be alive, and we'll go wherever it is we go – the good place or the other place. And we may meet there Madison and Hamilton. And they will ask us: ‘When the president of the United States acted to corrupt the structure of the republic, what did you do?’ And our answer to that question must be that we followed the guidance of the framers, and it must be that, if the evidence supports that conclusion, that the House of Representatives moves to impeach him.”
Despite advocating for judges who rule based on the original intent of the framers, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) expressed disgust that law professors had the gall to speculate about what Hamilton and his compatriots might think about impeaching Trump. “I think we just put in the jury pool the Founding Fathers and said, ‘What would they think?’” Collins snapped at Feldman. “I don’t think we have any idea what they would think.”
Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan quoted William Davie, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from North Carolina, to support the Democratic rationale for impeachment. “Hamilton got a whole musical,” she joked, “and William Davie is just going to get this committee hearing.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, the academic called by Republicans and a Madison biographer, said the Founders wouldn’t have impeached. “We are living in the very period described by Alexander Hamilton: a period of agitated passions,” Turley testified. “I get it. You're mad. The president's mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad. And Luna is a Goldendoodle, and they don't get mad. So, we're all mad. Where has that taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad? Will it only invite an invitation for the madness to follow every future administration? That is why this is wrong.”
-- Miranda said afterward that he was in meetings during this hearing, but that his phone fell off the table at one point because it was vibrating with so many messages about the shout-outs to Hamilton. “I was hoping this particular part of [Hamilton’s] writing wouldn’t be this relevant to our times, but here we are,” the 39-year-old said in an interview that ran in the New York Post. “I thought [the show] would be popular with teachers, and I hoped it would appeal to hip-hop fans and musical theater fans alike.”
He added: “I never anticipated how it would catch on with people in power and how often I hear politicians and people who work in D.C. quoting the show. It’s mind-boggling to me.”
-- A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Americans locked in a partisan stalemate on removing Trump from office. Dan Balz and Scott Clement report: “On the eve of the House vote, 49 percent of Americans say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46 percent say he should not. Those are essentially identical to findings at the end of October, when 49 percent favored impeachment and removal and 47 percent opposed. The latest poll also finds that regardless of whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, 49 percent say he improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, while 39 percent say Trump did not do this.”
- Despite the stalemate, most Democrats and Republicans alike expect that a likely Senate impeachment trial will give Trump a fair hearing.
- Bipartisan majorities, including almost 2 in 3 Republicans, say the president should allow his top aides to testify.
“Among Democrats, 85 percent say Trump should be impeached and removed, while 86 percent of Republicans say he should not. Independents split 47 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. Republican support for impeachment has slipped from 18 percent in October to 12 percent today. … Democrats and Republicans hold mirror opposite views on specific charges against Trump. In the view of Republicans, 78 percent say the president did not improperly pressure Ukraine and 85 percent say he did not obstruct Congress. Among Democrats, 80 percent say Trump improperly pressured Ukraine and 82 percent say he obstructed Congress.”
THE WHIP COUNT:
-- Centrist Democrats are falling in line to support impeachment. Seung Min Kim, Felicia Sonmez and Philip Rucker report: “A contingent of Democratic House members from Republican-leaning districts announced one by one Monday that after weeks of extraordinary pressure, they have decided to vote to impeach [Trump]. … Monday’s announcements dealt a blow to Trump and his allies, who had been encouraging Democrats to defect to bolster their depiction of impeachment as a crusade by extremist liberals. … Of the 31 House Democrats who represent districts that Trump carried, at least 17 have said they will vote to impeach the president. Only two so far have said they would vote against impeachment.” The moderates siding with their party characterized their decisions as acts of conscience. This is what they’re saying:
- Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a freshman from New York: “The fact this president withheld aid from Ukraine for his own political gain is very troubling,” Brindisi told Syracuse.com. “In fact, I think it’s unconstitutional.” Brindisi, who had been considered one of the most likely Democrats to split from his party, said his decision caused him “great pain” because he has worked with Trump and his administration on issues such as trade and national security.
- Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a freshman and one of the two most vulnerable Democrats representing Virginia in Congress: “The President’s actions violate his oath of office, endanger our national security, and betray the public trust.”
- Rep. Elaine Luria, the other vulnerable Virginia Democrat: “Voting to impeach was not a decision I took lightly—but I take my oath seriously, and I will be voting in favor of both articles of impeachment.”
- Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan congresswoman from a Trump district who acknowledged that the vote may cost her reelection: “I will be voting yes … I can hear that this is a very controversial decision — and I knew that. All I can ask from the people who are listening is that, while we may not agree, I hope you believe me when I tell you that I made this decision out of principle.”
- Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, who had been expected to break with the party: “People I respect have reached different conclusions on the best course of action. We agree what the President did was wrong.”
- South Carolina Rep. Joe Cunningham said he took his time to make up his mind because he wanted to give Republicans a chance to prove Trump innocent: “I’ve waited and waited and I have not found any evidence they submitted compelling at all,” Cunningham told the Charleston Post and Courier.
- New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim, who said the House vote “will determine the very framework of our democracy, what constitutes acceptable behavior by future presidents, and the kind of country our children and grandchildren will grow up in.”
- Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who toppled Barbara Comstock last year: “I did not come to Congress to impeach the President, but his actions have left us no choice.”
-- Some centrist Democrats, though, remain on the fence. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson told KFGO News that he’s leaning against voting for impeachment but has yet to make a final decision. Peterson said Republicans have approached him about switching parties, but he turned down the offer. "I'm staying in the party, in spite of some of the stuff that's going on that I don't agree with, I am not going switch parties at this stage of my career," he said.
-- In New Jersey, Democratic candidates are already signing up to take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the congressman who is expected to defect to the GOP over his opposition to impeachment. From the Press of Atlantic City: “A woman is likely to be the Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by [Van Drew] … Longport’s Brigid Harrison, a Democrat and Montclair State University professor, on Monday afternoon announced she will definitely run, and Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and former teacher who is married to former Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, said she has formed an exploratory committee to consider mounting a campaign. … Other names have surfaced as possible candidates, and most of them are female. They include Tanzie Youngblood, who ran in the 2018 Democratic primary and lost to Van Drew; Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett; and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis.”
-- After a federal judge rejected his attacks against the FBI and the Justice Department, former national security adviser Michael Flynn now faces sentencing on Jan. 28. Spencer S. Hsu and Carol D. Leonnig report: “U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Washington dismissed Flynn’s motion to find prosecutors in contempt. In a 92-page decision, Sullivan ruled there was no basis for Flynn’s allegations that federal law enforcement officials entrapped the retired three-star Army general into accepting a plea deal or that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecutors had wrongfully held back 50 requests for evidence from Flynn’s attorneys. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador after the 2016 U.S. election, had been set to be sentenced this Wednesday. Sullivan this month delayed the sentencing pending a report by a Justice Department inspector general on how the FBI handled the Russia investigation, which reviewed topics related to Flynn’s allegations.”
-- Rudy Giuliani said he provided Trump with detailed information about how former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was impeding investigations that could benefit the president, a move the president's lawyer said set the stage for her to be recalled. From the Times: “In an interview, [Giuliani] described how he passed along to Mr. Trump ‘a couple of times’ accounts about how the ambassador … had frustrated efforts that could be politically helpful to Mr. Trump. They included investigations involving [Joe Biden] and Ukrainians who disseminated documents that damaged Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. The president in turn connected Mr. Giuliani with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who asked for more information, Mr. Giuliani said. Within weeks, Ms. Yovanovitch was recalled as ambassador at the end of April and was told that Mr. Trump had lost trust in her. The circumstances of Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster after a smear campaign engineered in part by Mr. Giuliani were documented during testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, where she was a key witness ...
“Mr. Giuliani told the president and Mr. Pompeo that Ms. Yovanovitch was blocking visas for Ukrainian prosecutors to come to the United States to present evidence to him — and also to federal authorities — that he claimed could be damaging to Mr. Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and to Ukrainians who distributed documents that led to the resignation of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Mr. Giuliani also claimed, based on his own interviews with those prosecutors, that Ms. Yovanovitch had sought to block investigations in Ukraine. And he relayed vague claims that she had been bad-mouthing the president. … There is no evidence that she had disparaged Mr. Trump, nor that she had issued a do-not-prosecute list, as one of Mr. Giuliani’s prosecutor sources once claimed. But, by Mr. Giuliani’s account on Monday, the information he was spreading about her seemed to find a receptive audience at the highest reaches of the United States government and led Mr. Trump to involve Mr. Pompeo.”
-- A new lawsuit raises questions about former energy secretary Rick Perry’s role in Ukraine’s energy sector. From Time magazine: “This summer, the Ukrainian government awarded the rights to develop a huge complex of oil and gas fields in the country to an American company that is co-owned by a former campaign donor to [Perry]. The decision annoyed the heads of the state-owned Naftogaz conglomerate, which had competed and lost the bidding for the contract. Now, Naftogaz has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the deal ... casting a spotlight on Perry’s role in Ukraine’s oil and gas industry. … Naftogaz alleges that the government of Ukraine acted illegally and with bias in July when it granted the oil and gas fields to an American company that is co-owned by Michael Bleyzer, one of Perry’s longtime allies and financial backers.”
-- U.S. Attorney John Durham had a long and stellar record of investigating corruption. Some fear that his latest work examining the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Trump’s campaign – an assignment he received from Attorney General Bill Barr – tarnishes that reputation. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett reports: “Durham issued a remarkable public statement registering his disagreement [with the IG report]. The move left many inside and outside the Justice Department puzzled, as it seemed out of step with Durham’s character. In general, law enforcement considers it inappropriate to comment on ongoing investigations, and Durham is known for being especially tight-lipped. In sworn testimony before Congress, Inspector General Michael Horowitz later described his and Durham’s dispute as being over a relatively unimportant bureaucratic distinction about how the probe was categorized — a matter that likely would not have had a substantive impact on the Russia case. … From the beginning, some in law enforcement and intelligence circles have bristled at Durham’s assignment. Repeatedly investigating the investigators, current and former Justice Department officials said, risks discouraging FBI agents and prosecutors from initiating cases against high-profile targets. The officials said they worried Durham’s probe was meant mainly to validate Trump and Barr’s criticism of the Russia probe.”
GRAVE WARNINGS FROM REPUBLICAN POOH-BAHS:
-- “There’s a dire threat to the country I love,” writes William Webster, the only American who has served as director of both the FBI and the CIA, in an op-ed for the Times: “Order protects liberty, and liberty protects order. Today, the integrity of the institutions that protect our civil order is, tragically, under assault from too many people whose job it should be to protect them. The rule of law is the bedrock of American democracy, the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants. Every American should demand that our leaders put the rule of law above politics. I am deeply disturbed by the assertion of President Trump that our 'current director' — as he refers to the man he selected for the job of running the F.B.I. — cannot fix what the president calls a broken agency. The 10-year term given to all directors following J. Edgar Hoover’s 48-year tenure was created to provide independence for the director and for the bureau. The president’s thinly veiled suggestion that the director, Christopher Wray, like his banished predecessor, James Comey, could be on the chopping block, disturbs me greatly. The independence of both the F.B.I. and its director is critical and should be fiercely protected by each branch of government. …
“As F.B.I. director, I served two presidents, one a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who selected me in part because I was a Republican, and one a Republican, Ronald Reagan, whom I revered. Both of these presidents so respected the bureau’s independence that they went out of their way not to interfere with or sway our activities. I never once felt political pressure. I know firsthand the professionalism of the men and women of the F.B.I. The aspersions cast upon them by the president and my longtime friend, [Barr], are troubling in the extreme. … The country can ill afford to have a chief law enforcement officer dispute the Justice Department’s own independent inspector general’s report and claim that an F.B.I. investigation was based on ‘a completely bogus narrative.’…
"As a lawyer and a former federal judge, I made it clear when I headed both the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. that the rule of law would be paramount in all we did. … I have complete confidence in Mr. Wray, and I know that the F.B.I. is not a broken institution. It is a professional agency worthy of respect and support. The derision and aspersions are dangerous and unwarranted. I’m profoundly disappointed in another longtime, respected friend, Rudy Giuliani … I hope he, like all of us, will redirect to our North Star, the rule of law, something so precious it is greater than any man or administration.”
-- A group of 20 former Republican lawmakers, administration officials and legal experts argue in a new legal brief that Trump’s rationale for refusing to comply with subpoenas has no legal basis. They signed onto a brief urging a federal appeals court to reject Trump’s claim that his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, cannot be compelled to give testimony. From Politico: “While many right-leaning lawyers … have asserted that the founders’ view of the Constitution mandates an expansive, muscular view of executive authority and executive privilege, the new friend-of-the-court brief argues that a truly ‘originalist’ view of the showdown calls for the courts to force McGahn to appear, especially given the ongoing impeachment fight. ‘The idea that a president and his current and former advisors enjoy absolute immunity from subpoena — particularly during impeachment proceedings — finds no support in early American practice,’ the GOP ex-officials contend. ‘During the early republic, Congresses and presidents recognized that Congress had nearly untrammeled authority to request documents and testimony to support impeachment proceedings.’
"Signed on to the brief are several prominent [conservatives], including former Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.), and ex-Reps. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa). Former Justice Department official Stuart Gerson and prominent conservative lawyer George Conway are also among those asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to endorse Congress’s right to question senior executive branch officials about potential misconduct. … With many originalist judges and legal scholars fond of approaching the Constitution with their best approximation of an 18th-century eye, the brief cites various examples from the late 1700s and early 1800s that the ex-officials contend show the founders favored Congress enjoying robust access to executive branch secrets.”
-- Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, another Republican, said Trump asking a foreign leader for a political favor is an “abuse of power.” From the Patriot-News: “Mr. Ridge, the nation’s first homeland security secretary, indicated he is disturbed by Mr. Trump’s actions that led House Democrats to unveil articles of impeachment ... ‘I am disappointed and troubled by the very fact that my president – and he is my president – would ask a foreign leader of a troubled country who’s been besieged by an enemy of the United States, to do him a political favor,’ said Mr. Ridge. ‘As far as I’m concerned, it is abuse of power.’”
-- Carly Fiorina, the former GOP presidential candidate and Ted Cruz's running mate, said she believes Trump should be impeached. Fiorina called Trump’s conduct "destructive to our republic" in an interview with CNN. "Loyalty to Trump is what I think it stands for," she said of the GOP. The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive said Trump’s "conduct is impeachable," but she added that she's not sure he should be removed by the Senate and also that she cannot rule out voting for him in 2020. "I think it is vital that he be impeached," Fiorina told CNN. "Whether removed this close to an election, I don’t know."
-- A GOP state senator in Nebraska endorsed impeachment. From Newsweek: State Sen. John McCollister tweeted: "There are Republicans ALL OVER the country who want you impeached. We don't fall for some cult of personality. We've read the constitution." He used the hashtag "#RepublicansForImpeachment."
-- Mitch McConnell opposes impeachment witnesses now, but he was all for them during Bill Clinton’s trial. From CNN: “‘There have been 15 impeachments in the history of the country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other 13 impeachments there were witnesses,’ he told CNN's Larry King Live on January 28, 1999, as the Clinton trial played out in the Senate. The number included judges who were charged with impeachment. ‘it's not unusual to have a witness in a trial. It's certainly not unusual to have witness in an impeachment trial,’ McConnell said at the time. He added: ‘The House managers have only asked for three witnesses. I think that's pretty modest.’”
-- Additional commentary from The Post’s opinion page:
- Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe: “Don’t let Mitch McConnell conduct a Potemkin impeachment trial.”
- The Editorial Board: “Will any Republicans show respect for the Constitution?”
- David Ignatius: “Rudy Inc.”
- Jennifer Rubin: “How far can the House go to stop a sham trial?”
- Eugene Robinson: “Nixon was bad. Trump is much worse.”
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERSHADOWED BY IMPEACHMENT:
-- Congress finalized a $1.3 trillion spending deal ahead of Friday’s deadline to avoid another shutdown. Mike DeBonis reports: "Negotiators released the 2,313-page bill late Monday. A high-profile conflict over border wall spending — the issue that sparked a record 35-day partial government shutdown a year ago — was resolved with a retreat to the status quo: Funding remains unchanged from 2019 levels at $1.375 billion, short of the $8.6 billion President Trump requested from Congress.The Trump administration, however, retains the ability to transfer funds from other accounts, though the bill does not replenish the accounts it drew from earlier this year. Funding for immigration enforcement agencies also remains unchanged from 2019 levels. The continuation of any border-wall funding is a blow to Democrats … But Democrats touted significant wins elsewhere in the bill — including $25 million in funding for federal gun violence research and $425 million in election security grants, as well as a $208 million boost in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Also riding along on the spending legislation is a bill raising the national age for tobacco sales to 21, a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and a permanent repeal of several Affordable Care Act taxes that have faced bipartisan opposition and have been repeatedly delayed since the act’s 2010 passage. … Republicans highlighted a $22 billion increase in Pentagon funding, which Democrats agreed to over the summer as part of a two-year, $2.7 trillion budget accord that also suspended the federal debt cap for the remainder of Trump’s first term. … Other GOP wins included funding to advance a Republican-supported Veterans Affairs program aimed at privatizing some VA health care delivery, as well as the preservation of several policy restrictions related to abortion and gun rights.”
-- The measure prohibiting sales of tobacco products to anyone under 21 will include cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Laurie McGinley and Yasmeen Abutaleb report: The measure “has bipartisan support and was introduced in May by [McConnell] and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). In November, President Trump told reporters he supported an increase in the tobacco-buying age to 21 from 18. Public health advocates praised the move, saying it would help reduce kids’ access to vaping products. But they stressed much more action is needed to reverse the youth vaping surge. And several expressed concern that the White House will use the ‘Tobacco 21’ measure, as it is called, to avoid imposing the ban on flavored e-cigarettes that Trump announced in September but subsequently backed away from. A White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said it was likely Trump would embrace the age change as at least part of a solution to the youth vaping problem, but that no final decision had been made.”
-- The deal repeals several taxes originally created to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. The deal calls for a repeal of what's known as the “Cadillac tax,” a 40 percent tax on generous health insurance plans that had been intended to encourage corporations to buy lower-cost plans for employees. This tax has drawn bipartisan opposition. The bill would also repeal the 2.3 percent tax on the sale of medical devices such as catheters and pacemakers. (Reuters)
-- The spending bill includes a deal that will extend lapsed and expiring tax breaks, but it won’t be as expansive as many lawmakers had hoped for. From the Journal: “The extended breaks included incentives for biodiesel producers, which expired at the end of 2017 but would last through 2022 if enacted. A more generous medical-expense deduction for individuals that lapsed at the end of 2018 would run through 2020. A tax credit for short-line railroad maintenance would last through 2022. Breaks for brewers and distillers set to lapse this year would continue through 2020. … Lawmakers came up short of a broader tax deal that some had sought. As late as Monday evening, they were discussing making some of the tax breaks permanent. For example, Democrats didn’t get tax-break expansions for renewable energy or electric vehicles and didn’t get the tax credits for low-income families that they had sought. And Republicans didn’t get to fix an error in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that has slowed building renovations. The result is a deal that largely maintains the status quo or revives dead tax breaks, which will placate businesses temporarily. It also sets Congress up for another mixed bag of a tax bill next year or in 2021.”
-- The $25 million for research on gun violence is not much money, but it's an important step after decades of restrictions. William Wan reports: “The deal ... would send $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to study gun violence, with each agency receiving $12.5 million ... Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted the deal comes almost exactly seven years after the devastating elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. ... She said the federally funded research ‘will help us better understand the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how Americans can more safely store guns, and how we can intervene to reduce suicide by firearms.’ … The deal reached Monday would build on that language to give the CDC and the NIH money to start that research anew. The $25 million, however, falls short of the $50 million requested by Democrats in their original spending bill. And it is relatively small compared with other federally funded research. In 2018, for example, the NIH devoted $3 billion toward research on HIV/AIDS and $5.9 billion on brain disorders.”
-- U.S. diplomats who mysteriously fell ill in Cuba and China get long-term emergency health care and other benefits under the deal. More than 40 U.S. government employees were affected by the incidents that have not yet been publicly explained. (Reuters)
-- The spending bill also addresses health care and pensions for retired miners. The bill secures lifetime health-care benefits for the 13,000 miners who would’ve lost their benefits entirely and the 92,000 who would’ve seen their pensions gutted next year without congressional action. (The Hill)
-- The spending deal boosts funding for aviation safety programs by $67 million following the two deadly Boeing 737 Max crashes. (Reuters)
-- Boeing announced it will halt production of its 737 Max jet in January as the FAA reviews a software fix. The indefinite stoppage could send ripples across the economy and put tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in jeopardy, Jonathan O’Connell and Aaron Gregg report: “As one of the country’s top manufacturers and the single biggest component of the Dow Jones industrial average, Boeing plays a significant role in the U.S. economy, and the effects of its decision on employment and stock prices could be swift. Boeing said the decision would not immediately lead to any layoffs among its own staff, which numbers 153,000 people, saying those workers will ‘continue 737-related work, or be temporarily assigned to other teams.’ But Boeing’s supply chain includes hundreds of other U.S. manufacturers, from a Wichita-based firm, Spirit AeroSystems, that builds fuselages for the 737 — and relies on Boeing for nearly half its business — to engine assembly teams outside Cincinnati. Collins Aerospace, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, handles much of the jet’s complicated electronics.”
-- Corporations paid an average federal tax rate of 11.3 percent on their profits last year, roughly half the rate established under Trump’s 2017 tax law. Jeff Stein and Christopher Ingraham report: “The 2017 tax law lowered the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, but in practice large companies often pay far less than that because of deductions, tax breaks and other loopholes. In the first year of the law, the amount corporations paid in federal taxes on their incomes — their ‘effective rate’ — was 11.3 percent on average, possibly its lowest level in more than three decades, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank. … The report also found that 91 corporations in the Fortune 500, many worth billions of dollars, paid no federal taxes last year. The findings come amid an intense debate about whether the 2017 tax law was tilted too far towards extending benefits for corporations. … These tax cuts, combined with big spending increases, have led to an explosion in the federal deficit, which this year rose to almost $1 trillion …
“The 91 profitable Fortune 500 corporations that paid no federal tax in 2018 earned a combined $101 billion last year. Those paying no federal tax include many household names: Online retailer Amazon, for instance, received a $129 million rebate on $10.8 billion in profits, primarily because of how the tax code treats stock options included in pay packages. Amazon’s chief executive is Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and owner of The Washington Post. Video game maker Activision Blizzard had $447 million in profits but received a tax rebate of $243 million, resulting in an effective tax rate of -54.4 percent. The company went on to shed 800 jobs in the early weeks of 2019. … Negative corporate tax rates can occur ‘because a corporation carries back excess tax deductions and/or credits to an earlier year or years and receives a tax refund check from the U.S. Treasury Department,’ according to the report. Other tax breaks and loopholes companies use to decrease their tax burdens include accelerated depreciation, which allow companies to take larger upfront write-offs on the expected wear and tear of newly purchased equipment, and special deductions for the stock options included in executive compensation packages.”
-- The Mormon Church misled members, a whistleblower claims. Jon Swaine, Douglas MacMillan and Michelle Boorstein report: “A former investment manager alleges in a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has amassed about $100 billion in accounts intended for charitable purposes, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Washington Post. The confidential document, received by the IRS on Nov. 21, accuses church leaders of misleading members — and possibly breaching federal tax rules — by stockpiling their surplus donations instead of using them for charitable works. It also accuses church leaders of using the tax-exempt donations to prop up a pair of businesses. A spokesman for the church did not respond to detailed questions from The Post about the complaint. ‘The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions,’ spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. …
"The complaint was filed by David A. Nielsen, a 41-year-old Mormon who worked until September as a senior portfolio manager at the church’s investment division, a company named Ensign Peak Advisors that is based near the church’s headquarters. Nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, are exempted in the United States from paying taxes on their income. Ensign is registered with authorities as a supporting organization and integrated auxiliary of the Mormon Church. This permits it to operate as a nonprofit and to make money largely free from U.S. taxes. The exemption requires that Ensign operate exclusively for religious, educational or other charitable purposes, a condition that Nielsen says the firm has not met. In a declaration signed under penalty of perjury, Nielsen urges the IRS to strip the nonprofit of its tax-exempt status and alleges that Ensign could owe billions in taxes. He is seeking a reward from the IRS, which offers whistleblowers a cut of unpaid taxes that it recovers.”
-- The Sackler family transferred $1.36 billion in Purdue Pharma profits overseas, the company revealed in a court filing. Christopher Rowland reports: “The family who owns Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the narcotic painkiller OxyContin, transferred $1.36 billion to overseas accounts and affiliated companies after 2008, part of $10.3 billion in total profits distributed out of the company, according to an accounting of family cash transfers filed by Purdue Pharma in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday. Overseas transfers have been a source of inquiry by the New York state attorney general and other states seeking information about where the billionaire Sackler family moved Purdue profits over the past decade. … One set of overseas cash transfers of $312 million came in 2017, the same year states and counties began filing lawsuits against the company, accusing it of stoking America’s opioid epidemic with misleading marketing ... Other sums went to family holding companies and offshore corporate affiliates. The largest recipients of funds were family-owned companies called Rosebay Medical and Beacon, which were repositories of around $4.2 billion. Millions of dollars went to reimbursing Sackler family members for travel, cellphone payments and other expenses, including legal fees."
-- California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) rejected Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy plan. Derek Hawkins reports: “In a letter late Friday to PG&E’s president, Newsom said the plan failed to address key issues related to safety, corporate governance and capital structure, and that it would ‘not result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable, and affordable service.’ ‘The state remains focused on meeting the needs of Californians including fair treatment of victims,’ Newsom wrote, ‘not on which Wall Street financial interests fund an exit from bankruptcy.’ The move is a setback for PG&E as it pushes to emerge from Chapter 11 proceedings in the coming months and start compensating victims of devastating wildfires linked to its equipment. The company needs Newsom’s approval to move forward with the plan and will probably have to make major revisions in light of the governor’s letter.”
-- Instagram will launch a new artificial intelligence feature that warns users before they post something that could be offensive. (Gizmodo)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- The new NAFTA deal is back on track after Mexico’s deputy foreign minister Jesus Seade said he was “very satisfied” with it. David J. Lynch, Seung Min Kim and Kevin Sieff report: “Seade had complained in recent days that the attaches represented a bid to circumvent Mexico’s refusal to permit unilateral American inspections of factories in Mexico. Under the trade deal, only an independent panel chosen by both countries can visit factories to investigate alleged mistreatment of workers. But after meeting Monday in Washington with Robert E. Lighthizer, the chief U.S. trade negotiator, Seade said the issue had been settled. Lighthizer released a letter to the Mexican official stating that the attaches ‘will not be ‘labor inspectors’’and would not conduct factory inspections.”
-- The Migrant Protocols Program, known as “Remain in Mexico,” has a 0.1 percent asylum grant rate. From the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Data shows that as of September, of the more than 47,000 people in the program, fewer than 10,000 had completed their cases. Of that group, 5,085 cases were denied while 4,471 cases were dismissed without a decision being made — mostly on procedural grounds. Only 11 cases — or 0.1 percent of all completed cases — resulted in asylum being granted, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.”
-- Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that North Korea is likely to carry out unspecified tests if it doesn’t “feel satisfied” with U.S. diplomatic efforts. From Reuters: “Tension has been rising in recent weeks as Pyongyang has conducted a series of weapons tests ... ‘We have seen talk of tests. I think that they will be likely if they don’t feel satisfied,’ Esper told reporters traveling with him from Europe back to Washington. He did not provide details on what type of tests may be likely but added he was hopeful about diplomatic efforts.”
-- Just 4 percent of South Koreans would meet Trump’s demands to pay billions more for U.S. troops, a poll found. Adam Taylor reports: “The poll of 1,000 Korean adults, conducted by Hankook Research this month on behalf of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, found that a clear majority of South Koreans favored only a relatively modest increase in funding for the hosting of U.S. troops, rather than the more substantial amount demanded by the Trump administration. The data also showed that if no agreement could be reached between Washington and Seoul on the costs of hosting the troops, a slight majority of South Koreans prefer reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea, while about 1 in 10 said that all U.S. troops should be removed.”
-- Arsenal star Mezut Özil drew China’s wrath after he criticized its government’s mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs. Cindy Boren and Lyric Li report: “A scheduled live television broadcast Sunday of an English Premier League match was canceled by a Chinese state-run network after comments by [Özil], the star of one of the featured teams, criticized the country for its treatment of Muslims. The back and forth between Özil and representatives of Arsenal and the Chinese government is just the latest tension encountered by behemoth pro sports leagues doing business in China, following weeks of controversy after an NBA executive expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong.”
-- Protests erupted across India against a new citizenship law that introduced religion as a criterion for nationality. Joanna Slater and Niha Masih report: “Fresh protests swept India on Monday, a day after police entered a university campus in the nation's capital and injured hundreds of students who were expressing opposition to the country's controversial new citizenship law. Students said Delhi police officers beat them with batons, hurled insults and fired tear gas canisters inside the campus after a march outside the university gates turned violent. New demonstrations took place in at least 17 cities on Monday. The protests are part of a wave of unrest that has gripped India following the passage of the citizenship law on Dec. 11. The measure was a priority for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won reelection in May and has moved to implement his party’s agenda of emphasizing Hindu primacy in India. The law introduced religion as a criterion for nationality for the first time and created an expedited path toward citizenship for migrants who belong to six religions — excluding Islam, the faith practiced by 200 million Indians.”
-- India’s Internet shutdown in Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy. Niha Masih, Shams Irfan and Joanna Slater report: “The shutdown, which entered its 134th day Monday, is now the longest ever imposed in a democracy, according to Access Now, an international advocacy group that tracks Internet suspensions. Only authoritarian regimes such as China and Myanmar have cut off the Internet for longer. India imposed the shutdown on Aug. 5, when authorities revoked Kashmir’s autonomy and statehood, snapped all communications and detained the region’s mainstream politicians. Landlines and calls on some mobile phones were subsequently restored, but the Internet remains blocked — a move Indian authorities say is necessary to maintain security in the restive territory claimed by both India and Pakistan. The 7 million people in the Kashmir Valley were abruptly returned to a pre-Internet era. They are unable to operate online businesses or read this article. In early December, they began disappearing from WhatsApp because accounts are automatically deleted after 120 days of inactivity. Journalists rely on a government-run center with just 10 computers to file their stories. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce estimates $1.4 billion in losses already.”
-- Modi’s cleanliness drive has made little difference for those who toil in India’s sewers. Joanna Slater reports: “At least three people have died cleaning sewers in Bangalore since March; across India, activists have documented 112 such deaths this year, more than one every three days. Despite a 2013 law forbidding the practice, cleaning sewers and removing blockages is still done by hand and without any safety equipment in many parts of the country. Employers who violate the law are not punished.”
-- Pakistan sentenced former ruler Pervez Musharraf to death for high treason. From Al Jazeera: “The treason trial against Musharraf - for imposing the state of emergency on November 3, 2007 - began in 2014. Musharraf, who is in self-imposed exile in Dubai, was not immediately available for comment. He has denied the charges in the past. His actions in 2007 lie at the centre of the treason case against the 76-year-old former ruler. On November 3, the military ruler imposed a 'state of emergency,' suspended the constitution and detained senior political leaders and judges. The crisis was precipitated in March 2007 by Musharraf's attempt to remove then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a move the Supreme Court later deemed illegal. The attempt prompted widespread protests by lawyers across the country, who were later joined by political parties and other groups. Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999, ruling the South Asian country for nine years before being removed when his political party was routed in a general election.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump selectively touted some poll numbers, and Biden went after him for it:
A Princeton history professor drew some Nixon parallels:
A reminder that Trump has previously sent others on failed fact-finding missions:
Mike Pompeo shared a picture of himself with a group of outside advisers before an exclusive dinner, and NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent noted the dearth of women:
Mitt Romney appears to be waiting for further discussion before he makes up his mind:
Pete Buttigieg, who's faced criticism for not being transparent about his big donors, held a fundraiser at a Napa wine cave:
Other 2020 campaigns began fundraising off it:
The CIA is getting its holiday cheer on:
A Republican strategist just wants to spend Christmas with an old friend:
And the Academy released its Oscars shortlists:
After the New Yorker story published, Giuliani went on Fox News and doubled down on his statement about the ousted ambassador:
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert went after Republican senators who rejected the notion of a fair impeachment trial:
So did Seth Meyers:
“The Daily Show” correspondent Jordan Keppler went out to talk to Trump supporters about impeachment:
Charlotte Henderson, 105, and John Henderson, 106, have been certified by Guinness World Records as the oldest living married couple. Their 80th anniversary is Dec. 22: