with Brent D. Griffiths

It's Friday. We made it. Well, sort of. We've still got an impeachment trial session tomorrow. So don't go too far. Tips, comments, chocolate milk? Reach out and sign up. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The Policies

LET'S TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE: Indiana Sen. Mike Braun thinks climate activist Greta Thunberg is inspiring.

In President Trump’s world, that’s a controversial statement for a Republican senator to make about the 17-year-old Time Magazine person of the year who has become a punching bag for a climate skeptic president who questions the established science linking human activity to climate change.

  • “I would never want to diss someone like that,” Braun said recently, pointedly omitting Trump’s attacks on the “very angry” Swedish teenager. “She’s talking about an issue that she ought to be sincerely concerned about because if we don’t, we’ll pay a consequence for it. So yes, I admire her.”

The freshman senator who ran in 2018 as a Trump loyalist in Vice President Pence’s home state is not just an unlikely Thunberg supporter he’s a self-described conservationist readying to push a reluctant Republican Party forward on an issue many in the GOP have long denied or ignored.

So when we sat down with Braun in December to talk about President Trump's impending impeachment trial in the Senate, he was less interested in landing attacks against Democrats and more eager to voice the climate-related concerns of his four millennial children and his plans as the chairman of the new bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.

  • “I think there have been a lot of Republicans in the closet on climate,” Braun said of his efforts to recruit others to the group he rolled out in October with Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.).
  • Between the two of them, Braun and Coons have thus far rounded up six other senators to join them: Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Michael F. Bennet (D-Col.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Additional members will be announced in coming weeks after the conclusion of Trump’s impeachment trial.
  • Read the full piece here.

2020 state of mind: In the interview, the senator outlined an ambitious timeline to raise GOP awareness on climate change as the country’s “next biggest issue.” He wants to discuss his climate evangelism with Trump before the president is “debating whoever the Democratic nominee is” in the 2020 race for the White House.

  • “We as Republicans will have a void there if there’s no comment or view about climate,” Braun said, a nod to bubbling GOP fears that a party without a meaningful climate change plan will continue to hemorrhage young voters.

Braun faces an uphill battle: Just this week, the President ended federal protections for wetlands and small waterways in the U.S. It’s just one of many of environmental rules and federal regulations designed to mitigate climate change being targeted and repealed by the Trump administration. 

  • At the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Trump called activists like Thunberg, who also attended the forum, “perennial prophets of doom” who must be rejected for “predicting the apocalypse,” though he also endorsed an initiative to restore and conserve one trillion trees.
  • One of the president’s top officials, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, took a cue from his boss and mocked activists like Thunberg for urging investors to stop investing in fossil fuel stocks.
  • “Is she the chief economist or who is she? I’m confused,” Mnuchin said of Thunberg. “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us. ”

But even if Braun and his more moderate Republican colleagues don’t use the same inflammatory rhetoric as Trump, many Republicans are still loath to implement the kind of restrictions on industry that would make the most difference to the environment. 

There remains a serious chasm between Democrats and Republicans in devising strategies to achieve the emissions reductions necessary to avoid the irreversible and potentially catastrophic effects of climate change:

  • Braun still supports Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord and abandon the global pledge to slash carbon emissions, which most Democrats fiercely oppose. 
  • Braun supports reforestation to offset carbon emissions and is also interested in backing legislation around carbon capture, a method by which carbon dioxide is trapped at a large source and later stored. He also expressed interest in pushing a carbon pricing program, a price applied to carbon dioxide emissions, in “a year or two down the road.”
  • At the state level, Braun is calling on Trump to lay off of California — a state his administration has targeted time and time again over their efforts to fight climate change.
  • “If he accepts climate as an issue of discussion, he might not weigh in as heavily on what California does,” Braun said. “In fact, if any state wants to spend any money to do better at helping mother earth out. I’m okay with that -- even California.”
  • But still, the Indiana Republican sees federal efforts as working in tandem with relaxed environmental regulation so that industry can “actually use fossil fuels so long as they don’t emit any ”carbon dioxide, which is responsible for trapping significant heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • But from Coons's perspective: “The best we can do is keep trying to find consensus because otherwise we’ll get nothing done,” Coons said. “We won’t solve climate change or transition to zero carbon emissions but there is a lot we can do to show the world that the U.S. is modernizing the [electric] grid, and investing in research and compelling new opportunities.”

The Campaign

YOUNG [CONSERVATIVE] VOTERS: It’s not just Braun and the Democratic Party that Trump will have to hear from on the issue of climate change. 

His administration’s environmental approach might not sit well with young conservative voters increasingly passionate about environmental issues. 

Quill Robinson, the director of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative group active on the environment, is on the frontlines of the movement to reengage conservatives on climate change, sustainability and conservation: 

  • “There’s a generational divide — younger people are much more likely to say that climate change is real and we should do something about it,” Robinson said.
  • “If we want to protect [GOP Sens.] Cory Gardner [Colo.] and Collins’s [Maine] seats, we can’t be framed as the party of climate denialists any more,” Robinson told us. “It just doesn’t work. My generation doesn’t accept it.”
  • “I can tell you that for young people having the Republican Party being perceived as the party of climate denial is a reason they wouldn’t vote Republican. This is a case we’ve been making for a long time now. There’s a really big disconnect that we can overcome between the president’s rhetoric and where the future of the party is at. ”
At the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, Democrats continued to make their case for abuse of power while Republicans zeroed in on the Bidens. (The Washington Post)

The Investigations

DEMS TAKE AIM AT ABUSE OF POWER: “House impeachment managers laid out the heart of their abuse-of-power case against [Trump] — charging that his efforts to pressure Ukraine into political investigations were precisely what the nation’s founders wanted to guard against when they empowered Congress to remove a president from office,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian report.

They also pre-butted attacks on Biden: Their defense comes “in anticipation that it will be a major portion of the White House’s defense later this week, saying [former vice president Joe] Biden’s actions were in line with official U.S. policy at the time and not done to benefit an energy company connected to his so,” our colleagues write.

  • Some Republican senators said bringing up the Bidens makes them fair game: “It means when President Trump’s lawyers stand up and present their defense, that they are going to have the opportunity to present the very significant evidence that’s supported and still supports a serious investigation into corruption at Burisma and ultimately whether Joe Biden participated in that corruption,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told reporters.

Schiff's closing: House Democrats still have another day to present their case, but Intelligence Committee Chair and lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff closed the night with an emotional plea to senators about why Trump deserves to be removed from office. 

  • This is why if you find him guilty, you must find he should be removed, Schiff said. “Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost."


Dialing it down: “An incessant operator of the telephone, Trump has not taken to calling the potential swing senators to plead his case,” our colleagues Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey write of the White House strategy not to pressure Republican senators serving as jurors in the trial.

  • Dems are also following a do-not-approach policy: The party is “relying instead on public opinion and the House prosecutors to squeeze them into breaking ranks,” our colleagues write of possible GOP swing votes. “What has so far been absent, multiple senators and aides said, is any sort of bipartisan dialogue aimed at brokering an agreement to secure testimony from key witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.”
  • Instead the goal is to pressure lawmakers through votes: Democrats “used a series of procedural votes Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning to box in GOP leaders, potentially putting their goals of protecting Trump and ensuring their majority at odds by forcing the moderates to cast votes against summoning documents and witnesses.”

The key senator to watch: “Keep your eye on Lamar Alexander, Politico's Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan report

  • More details: On the most important question of the trial — whether to subpoena witnesses — the 79-year-old Tennessee Republican senator is a wild card, Politico reports. Privately, senior Senate Republicans expect the vote to seek witness testimony to fail, but they are watching Alexander and several other Republicans closely. And wherever Alexander comes down is almost sure to be the majority position in the Senate.

Trying their patience: As he proceedings stretch on, many senators will get up and quietly move about the chamber, sometimes standing up against the back wall, sometimes ducking into the respective cloakrooms for a quick drink of something other than the water and milk that are allowed on the Senate floor,” our colleague Paul Kane writes of the world's greatest deliberative body's struggle to stay alert.

  • Don't think that's by the book: “Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was seen reading a book Thursday as the House managers made their case, our colleague writes.  “On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) simply left early.” Senators are required to remain silent, though some have been seen chatting and yawning.
  • They don't stop: “Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had blue and purple fidget spinners, a toy used to help children keep their attention and not usually used by 64-year-old and 42-year-old senators, respectively."
On Jan. 23, China enacted travel bans for the central Chinese city of Wuhan in an effort to contain a coronavirus outbreak. (The Washington Post)

Global Power

CHINA STRUGGLES TO CONTAIN VIRUS: "Major Chinese cities, including Beijing and quarantine-blocked Wuhan, banned all large gatherings over the coming Lunar New Year festival, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, in an expanding effort to contain a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak," our colleagues Anna Fifield and Lena H. Sun report.

  • More details: "The extreme measures were accompanied by other indications that Communist Party authorities were struggling to control the outbreak, notably the aggressive censorship of any criticism or skepticism on social media," our colleagues write. "At least 26 deaths have been confirmed in China, two of them outside of Hubei province. At least 835 people have been infected."

The CDC is monitoring another potential U.S. case: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announed that health officials in Texas notified it about a potential case of coronavirus," our colleagues write. "The CDC said in a statement that it is in communication with state health officials and will share more information as it becomes available."

  • WHO holds off on declaration: "In Geneva, the World Health Organization cited Chinese efforts to prevent transmission and the limited number of cases recorded abroad as its reasons for not declaring that the outbreak was a public health emergency of international concern," our colleagues write. "But WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference that the decision 'should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the outbreak is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth.'"
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