Good morning, Power Uppers. Today the House will vote to impeach President Trump in a culmination of a nearly three-month-long impeachment inquiry -- and almost three years of a rollercoaster presidency. Sign up for all the latest.
On The Hill
SHORT AND SWEET (FOR TRUMP): The vision of a perfect impeachment trial from a senator who rarely deviates from President Trump: No witnesses and a speedy vote to acquit Trump.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is the latest Republican showing a lack for an appetite for a messy and drawn-out affair as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hammers out the parameters for a trial in the new year.
- "I don't know how you would ever agree on the list of witnesses," Braun told Power Up from his office on Capitol Hill.
Braun said he understands why the White House has been pushing for a full trial that would end with an exoneration of Trump on both counts of abusing his power and obstruction of Congress: "I think that could be a point of view that if I were in [Trump's] shoes I would want as well, but you got to consider the full consequences of it."
But he doesn't think it's worth opening the door to a broader trial that Democrats would insist include witnesses such as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, who were blocked from testifying in the House -- even though Trump has said he wants former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter to testify and reveal "how corrupt our system really is."
- Braun would be willing to buck Trump on this, if it came down to it: "If [the White House] would say yes, we're okay with the top three picks that Democrats want to bring in if we get our top three? I would have to think about it but it takes us from 10 days to two weeks out to maybe a month and a half or so. Who knows? So, that's not one where I'd fall in line [with Trump]," Braun told us. "In fact, I would probably go the other way -- even if I got a call directly from the White House."
- A prolonged trial would not sit well with his constituents: "I don't think we'd learn any more, and then the biggest thing we'd get -- from Hoosiers especially -- would be the time we're wasting on all of this stuff."
- This is in line with the latest from McConnell himself: He called Senate Democrats' request to subpoena new witnesses "dead wrong" and suggested on Fox News he wanted to avoid a "show trial in which both sides try to embarrass the other and put on a, you know, an embarrassing scene, frankly, for the American people": "After we've heard the arguments [from the House], we ought to vote and move on."
Nothing more to hear: Fresh off of an MSNBC hit -- "there aren't many others that will go on MSNBC and I do it as often as I can" -- Braun argued that he would not vote to impeach Trump "based on everything we've heard so far."
- Key: "I will listen, and I don't think anybody should have their mind absolutely made up. But I think you can say comfortably that if you don't hear anything else, we've had enough through all the versions that have been out there fully aired out in the House, and I don't expect anything any different beyond it."
Toeing the line: Braun is positioning himself as a defender of the president during the impeachment process -- but with a bit more nuance than some of the bombastic Republicans who insist the president could do no wrong.
- Braun, who has called Trump's actions toward Ukraine "inappropriate" but not impeachable, dodged our question about whether he thinks it's wrong for a president to solicit a foreign government to get involved in an American election.
- He said there was "no quid pro quo" in Trump's request to Ukraine's president to look into the Bidens, but it was "unwise" for the president to have steered his dialogue in the direction of opening investigations.
- Braun did say the efforts of Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to continue to press investigations, including reportedly briefing the president as soon as he returned from a recent trip to Ukraine, are "pushing the envelope."
When asked if Trump should apologize to the American people for any inappropriate behavior, as President Clinton did in repeatedly in 1998, Braun said: "I don't think apology is in the president's vocabulary, when he's got a point of view."
- "That's part of his style," Braun said. "I think when you come from a background like his, let's face it, that's not your standard cardboard cutout career politician."
But even like some of Trump's most ardent defenders, Braun refused to rule out the fact that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election -- despite contrary findings from his colleagues and even recent statements from FBI director Christopher Wray that there was no such top-down interference effort like the one Russia carried out.
- "How much of that occurred? I think you can't say absolutely nothing," Braun said. "...Do I think it changed any votes? You know probably not. I don't think there's any proof that it did."
- Still, Braun does not dismiss concerns about interference in the 2020 race, saying "there are many out there who will do anything they can to try to disrupt our democracy here."
No such thing as impartial?: Braun pushed back against criticism that Republicans were not taking seriously the oath to render impartial justice at a trial. "Everybody wants to equate it to a court of law. Well, there wouldn't be any of the jurors in place, because everybody's gone in with a political point of view," he said.
- He pointed the finger at Senate Democrats: "I guess we got five left in the presidential race that are senators: How could they be impartial jurors when they have been out campaigning against the defendant so to speak?"
- This, too, echoes the latest line from McConnell: “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process...I’m not impartial about this at all," the majority leader said yesterday, per our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane, and Elise Viebeck.
- McConnell outlined what the trial will look like in the most specific detail to date on Fox: "We'll listen to the arguments that the House managers appointed by [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi make. We'll listen to the response of the president's lawyers. We'll have a period of written questions and then the Senate will have to make a decision. Do we know enough? Have we learned enough after listening to all this to go on and vote on the two very weak articles of impeachment? ... Obviously, I think we've heard enough. After we've heard the arguments, we ought to vote and move on."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has made a different calculation about whether to hold a trial, on the heels of new Washington Post-ABC News polling that shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans -- including two in three Republicans -- want Trump to allow his top aides to testify at the Senate trial.
- Schumer told MSNBC last night that "he plans to force votes on the testimony of four key current and former Trump administration figures," per our colleague Felicia Sonmez.
- “Even though 51 votes governs, I’m allowed to ask for votes,” Schumer said. “I will ask during the impeachment proceeding for a vote on whether Mulvaney should testify, and whether Bolton [and others] should testify... And many of my Republican colleagues will be in a real dilemma.”
HAPPENING TODAY: The House will vote to impeach the president of the U.S. for the third time in history.
- The House has enough votes to impeach Trump, here are the latest numbers from our colleagues' tracker:
- "The whole House will gather to begin debating on two articles of impeachment at 9 a.m. But don't expect a result too soon after. Members will have six hours to debate, and the final vote is predicted to take place between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.," per Politico's Matthew Choi who has a guide of the historic day.
- Trump, meanwhile, has a rally scheduled in Battle Creek, Mich. tonight and might be taking the stage around the same time the final vote will be happening.
At The White House
AN OPEN BOOK: Trump accused congressional Democrats of an "attempted coup" ahead of the impeachment vote, in a six-page letter that the New York Times's Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman report resembled a "Twitter tirade published on White House stationary."
- "The words ran together with the cadence of a Trump rally script, just before the president veers from the teleprompter. The accusations, untruths and wayward exclamation points piled up by the paragraph,” they wrote.
- Key message: “You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!” Trump wrote to Pelosi. “By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy.”
Behind the scenes: “Multiple aides said on Tuesday that the president wanted the letter to be written because he wanted to get some things off his chest. By letter’s end, he seemed to have gotten rid of all of them,” per Rogers and Haberman.
- Our colleagues Phil Rucker, Elise Viebeck, and John Wagner report: "Trump worked on the letter for more than a week, revising drafts with policy adviser Stephen Miller and legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal processes. The president did not want White House lawyers to review it until the final stages, the person said, and some of them warned against including certain passages."
Pelosi's response: "Pelosi called Trump’s letter 'ridiculous,' telling a CNN correspondent as she walked between meetings at the Capitol that she had not read it, but understood the essence and 'it’s really sick.'"
I am told White House lawyers were cut out of the process of drafting the President's six-page letter to Pelosi. At the direction of the President, the letter was drafted by Eric Ueland, Stephen Miller and Mulvaney aide Michael Williams. Cipollone saw it after it was drafted.— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) December 18, 2019
From the Courts
FISA COURT DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM FBI: "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the government to explain what the FBI will do to ensure the bureau does not mislead judges again when applying for surveillance orders like those used in the 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign," our colleague Devlin Barrett reports.
The order came in a rare public statement from the secretive court: "Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, the presiding judge of the secretive court, publicly rebuked the FBI for 17 omissions and errors contained in applications to monitor the electronic communications of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser," our colleague writes.
- Key quote: "When FBI personnel misled [the Justice Department] in the ways described above, they equally misled” the court, Collyer wrote. “The FBI’s handling of the Carter Page applications, as portrayed in the [inspector general’s] report, was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor” expected of filings under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
- The FBI says changes are being made: Wray has ordered more than 40 changes to address the mistakes raised in the inspector general's report
NCAA PRESIDENT ASKS CONGRESS FOR HELP WITH ATHLETE PAY: After more than a century of opposition, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the governing body of college athletics is now open to Congress stepping in to address how student athletes should be compensated, our colleague Rick Maese reports.
The NCAA has essentially run out of options. California's decision to defy the association and pass a law opening the door to some form of compensation has sparked interest by other states as well.
- Key quote: "We need your help right now. I think the debate and the discussion is well past the ability of a group of states to resolve,” Emmert said during an appearance at an Aspen Institute event sponsored in part by The Washington Post.
More from Emmert: He started the day in Washington by meeting with Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), two lawmakers who have been outspoken in their criticism of the NCAA and who illustrate the bipartisan pressure being brought to bear at the federal level as states continue to turn the screws.
- "Murphy, Romney and three other senators formed a bipartisan working group of senators this month," our colleague writes. "They plan to hold meetings with stakeholders, exploring legislative options that might make the system more equitable for college athletes. [The] closed-door meeting with Emmert was the first such session."
Outside the Beltway
The U.S. has more than half a million homeless people – nearly 1 in 4 live in California.— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 17, 2019
We spent 3 months documenting life in one of Oakland's most sprawling homeless camps.https://t.co/kwjNFUZnd1
AN EYE-OPENING LOOK AT HOMELESSNESS: "Homeless people are treated worse than stray animals." That striking quote is just part of three-month project that investigated what it is like to live at a homeless encampment in Oakland, Calif. The Times's Thomas Fuller and Josh Haner report in their interactive expos on what those experiences say about the increasing rise on inequality in places like Oakland, just across the bay from wealthy Silicon Valley.
- The full quote: "When someone finds a stray animal they take it home and feed it. When someone finds a homeless person they call the police. Where is the compassion?" Markaya Spikes told the Times. Oakland has said it will close the camp, which raises the question of where people will go.
The United Nations has said the camp resembles the slums of Delhi: "Both places share 'no access to toilets or showers and a constant fear of being cleaned off the street,'" the Times writes of U.N. representative Leilani Farha's report of visiting the camp in 2018.
- For comparison, the Times also documented an encampment on the outskirts of Mexico City: "Unlike Oakland, where there are only a few portable toilets and where many use a bathroom at the McDonald's next door, the residents in Mexico City have working toilets in each shack."