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Power Up: Republicans' latest explanation for not passing gun-control laws: Impeachment

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with Brent D. Griffiths

It's Friday. We made it. Well, almost. We've got another public testimony on tap today before happy hour. Tips, comments, recipes? Reach out and sign up.

The Policies

BLAME GAME: President Trump has so far failed to follow through on his vow to secure tougher gun laws in the wake of this summer's mass shootings that killed dozens. The latest rationale from Republicans: The House's impeachment inquiry makes it impossible. 

  • “Unfortunately, our discussions on the legislative aspects of this have been sidetracked because of the impeachment process on the Hill, and so we are going forward with all the operational steps that we can take that do not require legislative action,” Attorney General William P. Barr said at Wednesday event in Memphis, according to CNN's David Shortell. “Right now it does not appear that things in Washington are amenable to those kinds of negotiations and compromises.” 
  • What Barr did not mention: Trump, who called for imposing “meaningful” background checks this summer and finding ways to prevent those with mental illnesses from obtaining firearms, never offered a specific proposal. And the White House distanced itself from supporting aggressive legislation after blowback from conservative members -- all before the start of the impeachment investigation. 

Stark imagery: A school shooter opened fire in Santa Clarita, Calif., leaving two students dead yesterday -- right as a Republican senator blocked an effort from Democrats to expand background checks. 

  • News of the wrenching scene broke as Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy made an emotional appeal to their colleagues on the Senate floor to pass universal background checks — making it at least the seventh shooting to occur on school grounds since the start of this academic year, according to our colleagues Mia Nakaji Monnier, Crystal Duan, Moriah Balingit and Katie Mettler.
  • “We can't go 24 hours without news of another mass shooting somewhere in America. My kids and millions others hide in corners of their classroom or in their bathrooms preparing for a mass shooting at their school, and this body does nothing about it,” said Murphy. 
  • The gun background check bill was blocked by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who objected to the unanimous consent request and argued that the bill should not be “exempt from consideration by the appropriate committee of jurisdiction,” per CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi.

Waiting on the White House: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also blamed the impeachment inquiry for the lack of legislative progress. “Impeachment has sucked all the oxygen out. But I hope we will revisit. I really do. I am ready to do something yesterday,” 

  • But …: He added that Senate Republicans were “waiting on the White House” for guidance, according to ABC's Mary Bruce.
  • Graham told reporters that “there is bipartisan support for one part of a gun control package — a grant program that encourages states to set up 'red flag' programs that allow law enforcement officers to preemptively seize a person’s firearms if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others,” report BuzzFeed's Paul McLeod and Kadia Goba. 

Republicans will likely be waiting a while …: Trump “has abandoned the idea of releasing proposals to combat gun violence that his White House debated for months following mass shootings in August,” White House officials and lawmakers told our colleague Josh Dawsey earlier this month. It's a “reversal from the summer when the president insisted he would offer policies to curb firearm deaths.” 

  • The impeachment factor: “Trump has been counseled by political advisers, including campaign manager Brad Parscale and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, that gun legislation could splinter his political coalition, which he needs to stick together for his reelection bid, particularly amid an impeachment battle,” according to Josh. 
  • “President Trump quietly moved gun control to the side and let it be replaced by breaking news,” Dan Eberhart, a major GOP donor who told Josh that Trump is better off ignoring proposals for the time being. “I suspect that was the plan all along.” 
  • Trump was also “pressed repeatedly by NRA President Wayne LaPierre this summer and early fall to not propose any gun-control measures,” per Josh.

… And Democrats might, too: “I wish this weren’t the case, but Republicans’ interest in working on guns is driven by casualties of 15 or more. It’s so awful that it works like this,” Murphy said. “I don’t doubt that we’ll be back in a conversation about background checks, but it probably won’t happen until there’s another epic-scale shooting.”

Barr's plan: Barr introduced a proposal on Wednesday that would better enforce the U.S. gun background check system, coordinate state and federal gun cases and ensure prosecutors quickly update databases to show when a defendant can’t possess a firearm because of mental health issues,” per the Associated Press's Adrian Sainz and Michael Balsamo. 

  • Known as Project Guardian, Barr unveiled it at his Memphis event the same day public impeachment hearings began in Washington. 

  • The details: “As part of the program, U.S. prosecutors will coordinate with state and local law enforcement officials to consider potential federal charges when a suspect is arrested for weapons possession, is believed to have used a gun to commit a violent crime or drug-trafficking offense or is suspected of being a violent gang member,” Sainz and Balsamo report. 

  • By contrast: The House in February to amend federal gun laws to require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers — and extend the amount of time for the government to complete a background check on someone trying to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, from three days to 10 days. 

  • Barr got blowback after news of Trump's efforts to explore expanding background checks leaked: “A leaked document outlining one Trump administration proposal to expand background checks on firearms sales prompted an uproar from the right [in September] — underscoring the significant challenges the White House will face on any additional gun restrictions it tries to advance in Congress,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane, and Josh reported at the time. 

ON THE TRAIL: Democratic 2020 candidates sought to keep pressure on Republicans throughout the day. Sen. Kamala Harris called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reconvene the Senate to vote on the background check bill that already passed the House. 

  • “We’ve all been together saying Mitch McConnell needs to convene the Senate,” Harris said on MSNBC. “We have a good bill that recognizes that we don’t need to take everyone’s gun, but we need to have smart gun safety laws … there’s been a failure of the United States Congress to have the courage to act. It is pathetic. It is pathetic, that people yield to a gun lobby on an issue that affects all our children.” 

On The Hill

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE TODAY'S HEARING: We'll be watching former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who not only saw firsthand Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and his associates' private efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy to Ukraine but experienced it. Despite praise from fellow diplomats and even some White House officials, Yovanovitch was ousted amid a smear campaign to undermine her, our colleagues Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report

Who is Yovanovitch?: A 33-year career diplomat, Yovanovitch has served under presidents of both parties. She was born in Canada in to parents who fled the Soviet Union, has worked as a diplomat in seven countries and previously served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. 

What she'll say: Her public testimony this morning “is expected to showcase how what appears to have begun as the personal crusade of private individuals became intertwined with efforts to use Ukraine to benefit Trump politically,” our colleagues write. Democrats also expect Yovanovitch to provide a visceral retelling of what is was like to watch her own president later attack her in a call with another foreign leader. 

  • A moment of reckoning on gender: “The symbolism of that conflict underscores the significance of the historic probe, which was initiated by the female speaker of the House — Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — and made possible by female voters who helped deliver the House to Democrats in the last election,” our colleague Elise Viebeck reports.

How does she connect to the July 25 phone call?: Yovanovitch was ousted in April months before Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but many of same figures who pushed for Trump to remove her are central characters in the impeachment inquiry, including Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have since been charged with campaign finance crimes.

So why did they want her gone then?: Yovanovitch's efforts to push Ukraine to fight corruption appear to have angered a number of powerful Ukrainian politicians. But as our colleagues write, Guiliani displeasure mounted when the State Department refused to grant a visa to former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. 

  • Joe Biden, as vice president, “had pushed for the firing of Shokin, who U.S. and European officials believed was not sufficiently aggressive in pursuing corruption cases,” our colleagues write. Shokin has claimed he was pushed aside because of an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company whose board members included former vice president Joe Biden's son. (We should note our colleagues and scores of fact-checkers have found no credence to the claims that Biden's efforts were designed to curtail an investigation nor evidence of any wrongdoing by Hunter Biden.)
U.S. diplomats William B. Taylor Jr. and George Kent testified in the first public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry on Nov. 13. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The Investigations


There's now another source who overheard Gordon Sondland's call with Trump: As we detailed here, the stakes are high for ambassador to the European Union as evidence emerged of a previously unknown call with Trump about getting Ukraine to pursue investigations. Now there's another State Department official saying they overheard the call, our colleagues John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez and Colby Itkowitz report

  • Suriya Jayanti, a Foreign Service officer based at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, “overheard the phone call and also witnessed Sondland’s other interactions during his trip to Ukraine, where the call took place in a restaurant …
    Jayanti was the embassy official tasked with accompanying Sondland throughout the day of the call.” 
  • Meanwhile, lawmakers will hear from the aide who told acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. about the Sondland call: David Holmes will testify behind closed doors this afternoon. One thing is certain: it will be challenging for Republicans to paint Holmes as a partisan as he was honored in 2014 with a State Department award for challenging President Obama's Afghanistan policy, our colleague Anne Gearan reports.

A White House official is set to break the blockade: Mark Sandy, a longtime career employee at the White House Office of Management and Budget, “is expected to break ranks and testify Saturday,” our colleague Erica Werner writes. If Sandy shows up for his closed-door deposition, he would be the first OMB official to cooperate with the inquiry.

  • Remember: OMB was the office that handled the hold on aid. Sandy could potentially fill in some key details on how that process unfolded.

The investigation into Rudy is wider than we thought: Giuliani “is being investigated by federal prosecutors for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings, according to three U.S. officials,” Bloomberg's Chris Strohm and Jordan Fabian report. Other possible charges could relate to “bribing foreign officials or conspiracy.”

It's all about bribery now: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the Trump of “bribery” by seeking to use U.S. military aid as leverage to pressure the Ukrainian government to conduct investigations that could politically benefit the president, our colleagues Mike DeBonis and Toluse Olorunnipa report.

  • Why the change in wording: Pelosi's move away from the Latin quid pro quo came after House Democrats' campaign arm found the word “bribery” resonates more in battleground states, our colleague Rachael Bade wrote on Twitter. Bribery is also one of the specific phrases cited in the Constitution as an impeachable offense. 

The GOP hones their attack: The lack of firsthand knowledge has become one of Republican's key rebuttals against the Democrats' case thus far, our colleagues Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey report.

The Campaign


Here are the 10 Democratic presidential candidates that will be onstage next week: Biden, Harris, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg​​​​​​, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), financier and philanthropist Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and businessman Andrew Yang.

  • There will be two fewer candidates than in October: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro failed to make the stage for the first time. Former congressman Beto O'Rourke ended his campaign last month. There will be no new additions this time around. 
  • Tune in! The Nov. 20 debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, will be held in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Deval Patrick finds out just how hard it will be to break through: “He has no campaign cash, little campaign staff, low probability of qualifying for debates — and just 81 days to go, as of Thursday, before voting begins,” our colleagues Matt Viser and David Weigel report of the former Massachusetts governor's last-minute entry.

  • Timing is everything: “Patrick wants to appeal to black voters, but by a matter of days missed the deadline to make the ballots in Alabama and Arkansas, two states with large black populations,' our colleagues write. “He wants to win moderates and build a national coalition, but because he didn’t alert officials in Michigan of his candidacy earlier this week, he now faces the extraordinary task of gathering 11,000 signatures in the next month.”
  • They even forgot to register a crucial website: “His campaign forgot to register the domain, so it’s instead forwarding to a harsh piece by Howie Carr, a Boston Herald columnist and longtime Patrick antagonist.”

In the Media

'NOT EXACTLY HIGH DRAMA': “If you would like to watch grass grow, you would have loved the opening.” “Five hours of mostly colorless and snail's pace testimony.” What are we describing here?

If you were about fire off an angry tweet at yet another reporter for pointing out the lack of pizazz in current impeachment inquiry --- think again. Because 46 years ago, Washington Post reporter Jules Whitcover wrote those two descriptions and more about the first day of the Senate Watergate Commitee hearings.

In just a couple of months, things became much less boring: Jules didn't know then what we all know happened now. The world wouldn't learn until July 1973 that there was a taping system inside the White House.

  • Just over two months before Jules wrote that, lead White House counsel John Dean would call the Watergate case a "cancer on the presidency" during a conversation with President Nixon in the Oval Office as Dean talks about the foiled robbers potentially pejuring themselves. And in June 1972, when Nixon and White House chief of staff H.R. "Bob” Haldeman plotted a cover-up less than a week after the break-in occured in what would become known as "the smoking gun tape." 

He wasn't the only one who intitally wrote off the hearings: The networks ABC, CBS and NBC aired the hearings live each day but struck a deal to rotate coverage so they could still air their precious soap operas, as our colleague Gillian Brockell wrote earlier this week. But soon enough, the hearings became as popular, if not more, than their usual daytime dramas. 

  • Key stat: "By the time the 319 hours of Senate Watergate hearings had aired, nearly 85 percent of American households had watched at least some of them ...," our colleague writes.

This time could be very different though: As we saw unfold earlier this week, there are very clear echo chambers in how the allegations against Trump are being covered