Good Tuesday morning from El Paso, Texas. Power Up is headed to the detention facility at Lordsburg Border Patrol Station in New Mexico where 7-year-old Jakelin Caal was held before she died — stay tuned.
Separately, we still need to hear from you as we close out a raucous 2018. Tell us what you thought the year's biggest stories were — inside and outside of Washington. Personal anecdotes encouraged. Thanks for waking up with us.
At the White House
RECLAIM, CHALLENGE, OR CORONATE: President Trump recently said he hopes he lures a primary challenge in his 2020 reelection campaign, whether it be from Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) or someone like outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R).
As it turns out, two-thirds of Iowa’s Republican voters welcome challengers to Trump in that state's Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, too.
A primary challenge against a sitting incumbent president hasn't been successful in modern political history. But the current head winds Trump faces are unique: 17 investigations into Russian interference and the Trump campaign and transition and foundation, layered by a softening economy and the loss of suburban women voters in 2018.
Two Republican senators have already declined to endorse Trump in 2020, marking the early rumblings of a debate that is only likely to intensify as the reelection campaign nears.
- Nothing wrong!: Over the weekend, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that “she sees nothing wrong” with Republicans challenging Trump in 2020. Collins said she would wait until 2020 to discuss whether she will endorse Trump.
- “It’s always interesting when we have primaries because a lot of times it allows different viewpoints to surface,” Collins said. “It can help influence public policy down the road and it’s healthy for our democracy.”
- Corker: Retiring Sen, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has often criticized Trump, wouldn't rule out the idea that a Democrat could be better for the country than reelecting Trump. “I don’t think the Democrats, yet, are capable of electing a centrist,” he told NBC News's Kasie Hunt. “It just feels like they’re being pulled to the side. But I think for some, someone like that might be appealing. But I don’t know. I don’t want to speak to that yet. Let’s see what happens a year from now.”
Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant and partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, told Power Up that launching a primary against a sitting president “has to be seen as the longest of long shots. But that doesn't mean someone won't try and it doesn't mean it's impossible.”
Madden said that a potential GOP primary challenger might be looking further down the road: “The odds of winning may be outweighed by the belief that a primary would be the first step in a longer reclamation project inside the Republican Party and that providing primary voters an alternative in 2018 is a big part of that,” Madden said.
He listed two key elements to create a realistic environment for a primary challenger:
- “A fractured party base,” and an “uprising in the national party leadership structure or in key states.”
- “President Trump has actually solidified these elements in his favor, while at the same time he enjoys an approval rating hovering around 90 percent with Republicans. All this makes the pathway to a primary challenge very, very narrow, even with the numerous controversies swirling around the president,” Madden added.
- A former Trump campaign staffer delivered the message in less eloquent terms: “To be honest, Trump would murder any primary challenger. [It] would not be a contest. Aside from having the donor class and institutional support of the party, there's nobody else that can go punch for punch with Trump,” the source said.
- RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said as much in a statement: “The Republican Party and our grass roots base is firmly behind President Trump heading into 2020, and we look forward to re-nominating him and Vice President Pence to continue fighting for the American people.”
So far, only two Republicans have publicly suggested they’re open to exploring what exactly a challenge against Trump might look like: Kasich, who ran in 2016 and lost to Trump; and Flake, a Trump critic who retired rather than seek what would have been a bruising reelection for him.
The Ohio governor, who positioned himself as a kinder gentler Republican in 2016, has said he is seriously considering a run against Trump, voicing concerns about the administration since Trump took office. John Weaver, a political strategist working with Kasich, told Power Up the RNC’s blind support of Trump is akin to handcuffing “themselves to the Titanic and throwing the key into the ocean.”
- Bullish: “We feel pretty bullish about certain aspects of [a challenge]. But it’s not been done successfully before, although history has never seen anybody quite like Trump,” Weaver told us. “And what we’re beginning to see in polling … is while Republicans remain tribal and say a Yankees fan, they might be keen on a new pitcher for the Yankees. But it’s still early in the process.”
- Weaver said that neither the RNC — nor congressional Republicans — will have any bearing on whether or Kasich ultimately runs.
- Snap: Republican lawmakers, Weaver added, “will be the last ones to come around” to a primary challenge “because they’re so afraid to be on the receiving end of a tweet from Trump or not invited to a cocktail party. But they’re out of touch with what’s going on around the country and in many ways … the reason we have Trump. but at the end of the day, this will be decided by rank and file voters,” he told us.
There are other Republicans who have left light footprints in places like Iowa and over a year ago, the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns wrote of Vice President Pence’s “2020 shadow campaign.”
- Insurance policy: “In a June meeting with Al Hubbard, an Indiana Republican who was a top economic official in Mr. Bush’s White House, an aide to the vice president, Marty Obst, said that they wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020 and that Mr. Pence would need Mr. Hubbard’s help, according to a Republican briefed on the meeting. Reached on the phone, Mr. Hubbard declined to comment.”
- More from the NYT from August 2017: “ … in interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning.”
- At the time, Pence’s team released a statement slamming the story. However, Pence still remains the person most likely to be the Republican nominee if it's not Trump, according to betting website PredictIt.
- Weaver, however, dismissed Pence as a viable challenger, arguing that anyone taking on Trump needs to “be someone who has stood firm on what he represents from day one” which “eliminates a lot of people.
On K Street
FLYNN'S ASSOCIATES INDICTED: A newly unsealed indictment charged two of Michael Flynn's business associates with conspiracy and acting as agents of the Turkish government as they drummed up support — in public and behind the scenes — for the extradition of one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rivals.
The former national security adviser and an early Trump campaign ally, Flynn himself has been charged with lying to the FBI and is slated to be sentenced today. Though he was a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe, Flynn's attorneys recently accused the special prosecutor of heavy-handed tactics by allegedly discouraging him from having a lawyer present during a January 2017 interview (prosecutors say that the retired Army lieutenant general should have known it was a crime to lie to federal officials.)
Prosecutors said that Flynn worked with Bijan Kian, one of his business partners, and took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Turkish government as they pushed for the expulsion from the United States of dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen. The pair took orders from Kamil Ekim Alptekin, who has close ties to Turkish leadership, prosecutors said.
This all happened in 2016, when Flynn was an important public surrogate for the Trump campaign. The Post's Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky and Carol D. Leonnig report:
- 'A powerful and enthusiastic ally': “U.S. law enforcement has repeatedly rejected Turkey’s efforts to force Gulen back to his home country — despite intense pressure from Erdogan, who says that the cleric is responsible for a failed 2016 coup attempt, in which Gulen denies any involvement,” Weiner, Zapotosky and Leonnig wrote. “By prosecutors’ account, the foreign government found a powerful and enthusiastic ally in Flynn.”
- Is Flynn in trouble, too? Last year, Flynn admitted he lied about his consulting firms' ties to Turkey and agreed to cooperate with the Robert Mueller investigation. “That almost certainly helped produce charges against Kian and Alptekin,” The Post reported. “But the indictment Monday spells out for the first time how intimately Flynn was involved in the effort, which involved weekly conference calls to coordinate with Turkish officials.”
- The Flynn as 'innocent hero' theory: The Post's Aaron Blake wrote that the latest indictment debunks the theory, gaining traction in conservative circles, that Flynn had been unfairly cornered by Mueller's team. Blake wrote the document "is further evidence that the idea that Flynn was just some guy going about his business who waltzed into an FBI trap is fanciful; it implicates his own eponymous business in an illegal lobbying operation.”
- Read the full indictment here.
On The Hill
ABOUT THAT WALL: The shutdown showdown continues. The Post's Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner and Josh Dawsey report that congressional Republicans “struggled Monday to find a way to persuade President Trump to back off a public threat to shut down the government over border wall money, staying largely in the dark over the impasse that could halt pay for” around 800,000 federal workers come Friday at midnight.
- Emboldened by the support of Border Patrol agents and advice from “his closest advisers that he would have even less leverage when Democrats take control of the House next month,” Trump remained disinterested in even supporting stopgap measures.
Meanwhile, in El Paso: As the president fights for his wall from the White House, the real-life repercussions of the administration’s immigration policies continue to play out along the U.S.-Mexico border. While Reis holds down the fort in Washington, I traveled to El Paso last night to head to the U.S.-Mexico border with Nick Miroff, one of The Washington Post reporters who broke the story that 7-year-old Jakelin Caal died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after entering the United States illegally with her father and a group of 163 migrants
- Miroff and I am covering a congressional delegation led by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) intended to “‘investigate” the circumstances leading up to Caal's death who “collapsed hours after she and her father were taken into U.S. custody on Dec. 6,” according to Miroff.
- First, the delegation will visit the border crossing where Jakelin and her father entered the United States and then proceed to a New Mexico border patrol station. The CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will join the group for their tour of the detention facility. McAleenan has come under scrutiny for not disclosing Caal's death during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing where he said that more staff was needed to handle so many incoming families and children.
- Miroff reports that per congressional aides, “lawmakers want to question the Border Patrol agents present when Caal became critically ill, but CBP officials have not granted the request.”
The CBP and Caal’s father Nery have detailed conflicting accounts of the series of events leading up to his daughter’s death.
- Per Miroff: “CBP officials and the Department of Homeland Security said last week that Nery Caal told U.S. agents his daughter had not consumed food or water for several days before entering the United States, then received both once in U.S. custody. On Saturday, though, he disputed the CBP account in a statement read by representatives, insisting his daughter had been in normal health before crossing the border.”
- A full autopsy has not been completed yet but according to CBP, Caal passed away of “dehydration, shock and liver failure.”
FORCED LABOR CAMPS IN CHINA: After rebuffing calls from the West to end the mass detention of Uighur Muslims, Kazakhs and other (mostly Muslim) minorities, China appears to have implemented a system of forced labor within the internment camps that is feeding the global supply chain of consumer goods and causing a U.S. congressional and international outcry.
The New York Times, The Financial Times, and the Associated Press have uncovered evidence the internment camps in China's Xinjiang region, where an estimated one million Muslims are being detained and subjected to political and religious indoctrination, have transitioned to private and state-subsidized factories where detainees are forced to work. Previously, reports emerged of “torture, starvation, and death in the camps.”
- Detainees' relatives told The Financial Times their Uighur and Kazakh family members “have been employed at textile factories with little to no pay after 'graduating' from the region’s detention centres.”
- More from The FT: “Yutian’s detention centre boasts eight factories specialising in vocations such as shoemaking, mobile phone assembly and tea packaging."
- AP tracked shipments from one such factory to Badger Sportswear, a North-Carolina based supplier, that “show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the U.S. Badger CEO John Anton said Sunday that the company would source sportswear elsewhere while it investigates.”
- More from the AP: “A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused the foreign media of making 'many untrue reports,' but did not specify when asked for details."
- From Rushan Abbas, an Uighur living in D.C. whose sister is currently a detainee: “American companies importing from those places should know those products are made by people being treated like slaves,” she told the AP. “What are they going to do, train a doctor to be a seamstress?”
Sanctions?: Uighurs in Washington are pushing for the U.S. to take stronger action against China. The New York Times reported in September the Trump administration is considering sanctions to punish Beijing for the detention centers, following pressure from lawmakers aimed at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Until now, President Trump has largely resisted punishing China for its human rights record, or even accusing it of widespread violations,” the NYT reported.
- On the Hill: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill that “calls for the secretary of state to consider invoking the Global Magnitsky Act to impose economic sanctions on Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, the party chief in Xinjiang, engaged in the abuse.” Fifteen Republican and Democratic senators have signed the bill.
- More pressure: " . . . 5 ambassadors in Beijing from Western nations sent a letter to Xinjiang’s Communist Party leader, Chen Quanguo, to have him explain alleged rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs, Reuters reported Thursday. Canada’s ambassador is leading the effort, which also includes envoys from Britain, Germany and Scandinavian countries, but not from the United States,” The NYT reports.
- A spokeswoman told Power Up that Treasury doesn't “telegraph sanctions or comment on prospective actions.”
In the Media
MOONVES OUT WITHOUT SEVERANCE: Les Moonves, once among the most powerful men in entertainment as the head of CBS, won't receive a severance package — which could have reached $120 million — in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct allegations. The network's board of directors announced its decision after the company completed an internal investigation that determined Moonves was guilty of “willful and material malfeasance” and a failure to comply with a review. Moonves resignedin September after Ronan Farrow published a pair of scathing articles in The New Yorker detailing the allegations against him.
“Severance packages, which often result from the terms of an employee’s contract, have become flash points in high-profile workplace harassment and assault cases,” wrote The Post's Elahe Izadi and Travis M. Andrews. “Fox News terminated Bill O’Reilly’s contract in 2017 after he was accused of harassing female employees, and the former host walked away with $25 million. Roger Ailes received a $40 million severance package after he stepped down as head of Fox News in 2016 after his own sexual harassment scandal.”
Moonves has denied the allegations, and the CBS board said that harassment and retaliation are “not pervasive” at the company — though Moonves is one of a series of powerful men who have left the network after misconduct allegations, including host Charlie Rose and "60 Minutes” executive produce Jeff Fager.
What we're reading:
- 'If I could ... I would take him to her': Trump travel ban keeps Yemeni mother from seeing dying 2-year-old in Oakland by Erin Allday via The San Francisco Chronicle.
- Hocus POTUS: Witches to Trump: Stop calling the Mueller investigation a ‘witch hunt’ by Will Sommer via The Daily Beast.
- What Justice Kavanaugh's classmates are reading: After Kavanaugh, inside Georgetown Prep's culture of omertà by Evgenia Peretz via Vanity Fair.
- What to read on the way to the court — anywhere in the world: Tibet is going crazy for hoops by Louie Lazar via The Atlantic
- What to read for last-minute shopping: The Best Stuff of 2018 via GQ.