Trump, who spoke of “American carnage” in his inaugural address, seems plainly uninterested in seizing the mantle of moral leadership on the global stage. He’s consistently displayed a Hobbesian and Machiavellian approach to power politics during his nearly two years in office, eschewing the pillars of Lockean, Wilsonian and Reaganite thought while deemphasizing the promotion of democracy and human rights as aims of U.S. foreign policy.
His blase responses this fall to the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi and what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen have put in stark relief Trump’s abdication of that traditional moral leadership role.
On Thursday afternoon, a bipartisan coalition in Congress moved to fill the void and perform this function of the presidency that Trump has essentially outsourced. Senators voted 56-to-41 to cut off U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s often brutal conduct in the Yemen civil war. It’s the first time either chamber of Congress has asserted itself against the executive branch by using the War Powers Act, which became law during the depths of the Vietnam quagmire in 1973.
A few minutes later, the Senate voted unanimously to approve a separate, nonbinding resolution that blames Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for what happened to Khashoggi. The CIA concluded that MBS, as he’s known, probably ordered and monitored the dismemberment of the dissident journalist inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. But Trump has touted the authoritarian prince’s denials and sought to play down the expert assessment of his own intelligence community. There’s even a tape.
“Unfortunately, at a moment in which it is most needed, the Trump administration has abdicated America’s moral leadership,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chair of the Intelligence Committee. “In filling that void, and in light of the actions by the Saudis both in Yemen and in Khashoggi’s murder, the Senate must send a message that America’s moral voice will not be diminished.”
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) celebrate at the Capitol after the Senate voted to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE)
“Today was a victory for the Constitution and the separation of powers,” said Lee, who secured support from six of his GOP colleagues for the war powers resolution. “With this vote, we are one step closer to reviving our constitutional framework – where the power to declare war lies with Congress, not the executive branch – and we have taken a step towards removing ourselves from the spread of human suffering in Yemen.”
“For decades, under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, Republicans congresses and Democratic congresses, the Congress of the United States has abdicated its constitutional responsibility for war-making,” said Sanders. “It is not the president who has the responsibility under the Constitution to send our young men and women to war. It is the Congress. And we have got to take it back.”
“A bipartisan majority spoke with one voice that the status quo is over, and we will no longer accept the war crimes being committed in our name,” said Murphy. “The momentum is on one side, and it’s only growing. Congress has woken up to the reality that the Saudi-led Coalition is using U.S. military support to kill thousands of civilians, bomb hospitals, block humanitarian aid and arm radical militias. The Saudis are important partners, but they need to realize that our partnership is not a blank check for them to fund extremists and murder civilians.”
-- House Republicans plan to ignore the war powers measure, and the White House has indicated Trump will disregard the nonbinding resolution, but the Senate debate appears to have had some impact at the negotiating table.
A broader campaign of international pressure from the West has pushed the Saudis to make concessions in peace talks after four years of fighting. The United Nations has brokered negotiations in Sweden this week between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthis, the Iran-backed rebel group. The two sides agreed yesterday to a cease-fire in the port city of Hodeida, which serves as a critical lifeline for humanitarian aid into the country. They also apparently settled on terms for a prisoner swap. “We are living the beginning of the end of one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st century,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters.
“Previous cease-fire agreements have collapsed quickly. But there has been greater international pressure on the warring sides in recent months to de-escalate the fighting, in part because of warnings by relief agencies that more than 16 million people in Yemen — more than half of the country’s population — are facing famine-like conditions,” Kareem Fahim and Missy Ryan report from Riyadh. “More than 60,000 people, combatants and civilians, have been killed in the conflict since 2016, according to an estimate by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.”
-- Many senators said they hope the resolution accelerates peace talks by putting Saudi Arabia on notice that they cannot count on unquestioning American support. “There must be a negotiated end to the fighting in Yemen, and the Saudi government must clearly understand that as a strategic ally of the United States, it has a responsibility to act in ways that promote democracy, human rights and stability in the region,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “[W]e must send a message to the administration that we need a stronger response on this issue.”
“After reviewing the overwhelming evidence, it is clear that the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen are no longer something we, as the leader of the free world, can support,” added Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). “This resolution … sends a clear message … that the United States will no longer tolerate their disregard for human life.”
-- Paul Ryan, doing the bidding of the administration in one of his final acts as speaker, jammed language into the farm bill on Wednesday that will prevent the House from using the War Powers Act during the remainder of the lame-duck session to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi effort in Yemen.
“It's a common technique in the House: An unpopular measure is snuck into something that must pass. The gimmick worked, but only because five Democrats who had worked on the farm bill broke with their party to support it,” Dave Weigel reports. “In the new Democratic Party, that meant that five more Democrats were being talked about as targets for primary challenges. Alexandra Rojas, whose group Justice Democrats is recruiting challengers in 2020 House races, said the farm bill vote had galvanized activists who were on the verge of winning the Yemen fight.”
-- But the comfortable margin in the Senate showed how much juice the well-heeled Saudi lobby has lost and could be a harbinger of what’s to come once Democrats control the House, from implementing sanctions to curtailing arms sales to Riyadh. “American foreign policy should be dictated by our national security interests and our values, not by the interests of the Saudi royal family,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
“We won’t enable a president who chooses to cover up for Saudi leadership instead of standing up for American values,” added Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
-- How it’s playing:
- The Washington Post Editorial Board: “The Trump administration won’t stand for Khashoggi. It could at least stand for jailed Saudi women.”
- Katherine Zoeph in the New York Times: “The Saudi Regime’s Other Victims. The murder of Khashoggi has focused attention on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. We need to remember all of the thousands in prison.”
- The Wall Street Journal: “Saudi Arabia Pumps Up Stock Market After Bad News, Including Khashoggi Murder. The government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has spent billions to counter selloffs in recent months.”
- The Fix: “The entire Senate just said Trump is wrong about Khashoggi.”
- The Economist: “Trump’s efforts to boost the Saudi alliance risk damaging it.”
- Washington Monthly: “We Should Have Reevaluated Our Saudi Alliance Before Now.”
- The Nation: “What the Hell Is Wrong With Paul Ryan? It is outrageous that the House Speaker continues to block action to end US support for Saudi atrocities against Yemen.”
- Breitbart: “Paul Ryan’s Last Act: Protecting Barack Obama’s Illegal War in Yemen with Democrat Votes.”
- HuffPost: “5 Democrats Bail Out Paul Ryan And Protect Saudi Arabia.”
- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) op-ed for Fox News: “Hold Saudis accountable, but don't ignore Iran in Yemen.”
- Haaretz: “Benjamin Netanyahu on Khashoggi Murder: Destabilizing Saudi Arabia Would Destabilize the World.”
- John Hanna, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, writes in Foreign Policy: “Neither Side Gets the Khashoggi Debate Right. The tribalism infecting U.S. domestic politics has unfortunately crept deep into the foreign-policy discourse.”
-- Trump’s insistence for much of the year that he had “no knowledge of any payments” to silence the women who allege they carried on extramarital affairs with him while the first lady was home caring for their infant son tops The Post Fact Checker’s list of “the biggest Pinocchios of 2018.” Glenn Kessler explains: “There has been no serial exaggerator in recent American politics like the president. He not only consistently makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proved wrong. The explosion of false and misleading statements from him in 2018 is well documented in our database: In the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day. … Meanwhile, the midterm election campaign, of course, was also an endless source of false claims, as an avalanche of negative ads tumbled across televisions screens. One of the president’s ads is included on this list. Two potential opponents of the president in 2020 — Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and [Bernie] — earn spots on our list. …
“Trump says many things that are factually incorrect, but he sometimes says things that are mind-blowingly false. Despite having access to more information than anyone on Earth, he persists in making claims with literally no foundation. He has repeatedly claimed that U.S. Steel announced it is building new plants — anywhere from six to nine — but that’s not true. He said that as president, Barack Obama, gave citizenship to 2,500 Iranians during the nuclear-deal negotiations, but that’s not true. Over and over, Trump claimed that the Uzbek-born man who in 2017 was accused of killing eight people with a pickup truck in New York brought two dozen relatives to the United States through ‘chain migration.’ The real number is zero.
“Trump and his aides claimed they did not have a family separation policy, when in fact they did. They said U.S. laws or court rulings forced them to separate families that crossed the border illegally, but that was not true. When a caravan of more than 5,000 migrants from Central America started making its way to the border, another series of dubious claims was spawned, including that people of Middle Eastern descent were involved. The president also falsely claimed that he had started building his border wall, but Congress has not appropriated the necessary funds.”
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) walk to the Senate floor after the weekly Democratic caucus policy luncheon. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
- Elizabeth Warren invited Bernie Sanders over for dinner at her D.C. condo to discuss their presidential ambitions. Both acknowledged their likely 2020 bids, but neither senator sought the other’s support or tried to dissuade the other from running. No staffers were allowed. (New York Times)
- French police said they “neutralized” a person matching the description of the suspect in the Strasbourg Christmas market shooting. An official in the Paris prosecutor’s office told a French newspaper that the person caught was named Cherif Chekatt and that he's now dead. (James McAuley)
- Actress Eliza Dushku received a confidential $9.5 million settlement from CBS stemming from a sexual harassment complaint. Dushku claimed she was retaliated against for confronting “Bull” actor Michael Weatherly about inappropriate comments he made. (New York Times)
- News organizations with Australian operations largely declined to report on Cardinal George Pell’s conviction on sexual abuse charges out of concern over the judge’s gag order. The judge in the case, Peter Kidd, said some journalists are facing “the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment” for violating the order. But many outlets outside of Australia, including The Washington Post, covered the conviction. (Paul Farhi)
- The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's pension reform law. In a major defeat for Gov. Matt Bevin (R), the court ruled that the bill's speedy passage violated a provision in the Kentucky constitution requiring that lawmakers have a “fair opportunity” to consider legislation before voting on it. (Louisville Courier Journal)
- Fed chairman Jay Powell has been emphasizing recently that the strong U.S. economy masks “important disparities by income, race and geography.” In a sign of how economic benefits have not been evenly distributed, 4 in 10 American adults still say they could not cover a $400 emergency expense. (Heather Long)
- A former Special Forces soldier who was once awarded a Silver Star for his valor is facing a murder charge in connection to the 2010 killing of a suspected Taliban bombmaker. Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn allegedly said during a 2011 polygraph test while applying to the CIA that he killed the man, according to Army documents. (Dan Lamothe)
- Indiana police said they prevented a potential mass shooting at a middle school after receiving a tip about the teenage suspect. Officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who allegedly had plans to attack Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond, Ind., before he killed himself. (Moriah Balingit and Mark Berman)
- A former Baylor University fraternity president who was accused of raping a young woman but received no jail time was barred from attending his commencement ceremony. The University of Texas at Dallas added that Jacob Anderson is banned from campus following public outcry over his lenient sentence. (Katie Mettler, Eli Rosenberg and Kristine Phillips)
- A California man who was trapped in the grease vent of a Chinese restaurant for two days was rescued by firefighters. The man was hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion but is expected to recover, while police officers have opened a trespassing and vandalism investigation. (Amy B Wang)
Donald Trump takes the oath of office from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. (Jim Bourg/Pool/AP)
-- Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee is being investigated by federal prosecutors for possible misuse of funds. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha report: “The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions. Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law. … The investigation partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings ... In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, [FBI] agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money. ...
“The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors. The committee raised more than double what former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. [Trump’s] funds came largely from wealthy donors and corporations who gave $1 million or more — including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co.”
-- The prosecutors are investigating whether the inaugural committee, as well as a pro-Trump super PAC, accepted illegal foreign donations, according to the New York Times’s Sharon LaFraniere, Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman. “The inquiry focuses on whether people from Middle Eastern nations — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds. … Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a billionaire financier and one of Mr. Trump’s closest friends, raised money for both funds. … The super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, was formed in the summer of 2016 when Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign was short of cash and out of favor with many major Republican donors.”
-- Multiple news outlets have now confirmed that Trump himself was at the August 2015 meeting where Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed hush-money payments to the president's alleged mistresses. The Wall Street Journal first reported the president’s attendance at the meeting last month. NBC News’s Tom Winter reports: “As part of a nonprosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company, admitted that ‘Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.’ The ‘statement of admitted facts’ says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment ‘in concert with the campaign,’ and says that Pecker, Cohen and ‘at least one other member of the campaign’ were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the ‘other member’ was Trump.”
-- In his first interview since being sentenced, Cohen said of the hush-money payments that Trump “was very concerned about how this would affect the election.” John Wagner reports: “Cohen, who has admitted facilitating payments to two women in violation of campaign finance laws, told ABC News that he knew what he was doing was wrong. Asked whether the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, ‘Of course.’ He added that the purpose was to ‘help [Trump] and his campaign.’ … His comments, in an interview on ‘Good Morning America,’ are at odds with those of Trump on Thursday in tweets and a television interview.”
-- “[The president’s] evolving strategy on the hush-money allegations is textbook Trump: Tell one version of events until it falls apart, then tell a new version, and so on — until the danger passes,” Philip Rucker and John Wagner report. “The latest developments have exposed the depth of Trump’s efforts to deceive the public about the illegal hush-money payments, and some of his friends and advisers said privately that they fear those efforts could imperil the president. While there is a consensus view inside the White House that a sitting president will not be indicted, [a] former senior administration official described a deep uncertainty about other ways that Trump could be held liable. And there is growing anxiety among Trump’s allies, including in Congress, that he could be vulnerable to the various investigations and, eventually, Democratic-led impeachment proceedings.”
-- The escalating investigations, aided by cooperation from Trump’s former allies, have left the president feeling increasingly isolated. The Los Angeles Times’s Chris Megerian and Eli Stokols report: “Several [people] close to the president … said Trump already senses diminishing respect and worries about losing support from powerful financial donors and Republican lawmakers as his legal and political troubles worsen. ‘They're still not saying it publicly, but most Republicans on the Hill understand ... that it's not going to end well, that it's going to be bad,’ said a longtime Republican operative close to party leadership.”
-- The latest developments in the Russia investigation have reinvigorated claims from Trump’s critics that his election victory was illegitimate. Marc Fisher reports: “The evidence emerging in recent days and months that multiple crimes were committed in an effort to help Trump win the presidency is fueling arguments from Democrats and other Trump critics that the man in the Oval Office got the job through nefarious means. Even with no proof that those crimes swayed votes, the critics say, Trump has no moral hold on the office. … Trump and his defenders retort that prosecutors so far have fallen well short of proving criminal deeds by the president himself. They say the legitimacy debate is just one more weapon in a bristling partisan arsenal deployed by Trump haters on the left.”
-- Another threat: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she expects a House committee to “take the first steps” toward getting Trump’s tax returns after Democrats retake the chamber next month. John Wagner reports: “Pelosi said the decision on whether to initiate the process will fall to the Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), who is expected to become chairman of the tax panel, has said he plans to insist that Trump release his tax returns. If Trump doesn’t do so voluntarily, then Neal plans to file a legal request with the Treasury secretary that would require that the returns be disclosed to a small group of people on Capitol Hill. Neal has predicted that the matter would end up in federal court.”
-- The guilty plea of Russian agent Maria Butina has cast an unwanted spotlight on the National Rifle Association, a group she allegedly infiltrated at the highest levels and whose legal exposure remains unclear. Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report: “One of Butina’s main targets was the NRA — a group she identified in a 2015 memo as an organization that 'had influence over' the Republican Party, according to court filings. Her relationships with the group, she wrote, could be used as the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication to the next presidential administration. Later that year, she helped organize a delegation of top NRA leaders to visit Moscow, arranging for them to meet Russian government officials, and she attended the group’s annual conventions as an honored guest. Butina and Alexander Torshin, a former Russian government official who helped direct her activities, then used their NRA connections to get access to GOP presidential candidates.”
“NRA officials, who did not return requests for comment Thursday, have repeatedly refused to answer questions about Butina or its interactions with Russian activists. NRA spending on the 2016 elections surged in every category, with its political action committee and political nonprofit arm together shelling out $54.4 million. The bulk of the money — $30 million — went to efforts supporting Trump. That is triple the amount the group devoted to electing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. … The group’s spending on federal races in 2018 plummeted to roughly $9 million.”
-- Mueller’s pattern of getting guilty pleas from cooperating witnesses may suggest his investigation is nearing its end. Devlin Barrett reports: “In the cases of Cohen, former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller has proceeded to the sentencing of each without first making him testify at trial against others. That’s at odds with the common practice of prosecutors — which is to hold the stick of a tougher prison sentence over defendants until they have completed all of their cooperation, particularly any public testimony. While the recent legal action has led to speculation that prosecutors are narrowing in on the president in anticipation of more criminal charges, Mueller’s sentencing timeline suggests a different outcome to some legal experts — that the accounts of those cooperating witnesses will appear in a written report, not in court.”
-- The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are looking to talk to several people who have been charged in Mueller’s investigation. CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report: “The [Senate] committee has been engaged in discussions with the special counsel and defense attorneys to get access to several cooperating Mueller witnesses in addition to Cohen, including Flynn, Papadopoulos and [Manafort’s deputy Rick] Gates, according to a source familiar with the investigation. … The expected incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, has also expressed a desire to speak again to Cohen, who testified behind closed doors before both intelligence panels last year. Schiff has said he's in touch with Cohen's legal team, too.”
-- Friends and associates of Michael Flynn agree that his public persona underwent a radical transformation in the past few years, but they are divided as to why. Marc Fisher writes in an in-depth piece on Trump’s former national security adviser: “His friends and critics agree that after winning a reputation as a master intelligence officer on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, Flynn broke with lifelong patterns of behavior. Once discreet and apolitical, he morphed into a highly partisan alarm ringer. A man once trusted to cautiously analyze information began touting wild hearsay as fact. … Did he gradually absorb a new, conspiracy-minded worldview, in part inspired by his son Michael Jr.’s embrace of fringy ideas? Did he discard lifelong habits because he’d been enraged to his core when President Barack Obama’s administration in 2014 removed him as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), his last and most senior military assignment? Or had Flynn, who retired as a lieutenant general, long harbored extreme views, successfully shielding his real opinions from those around him?”
Children join a protest in the Senate Hart Building on the day of the court-imposed deadline for the Trump administration to return migrant children who were separated from their parents. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
-- Stories from the border: A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and exhaustion after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week. Nick Miroff and Robert Moore report: “The child’s death is likely to intensify scrutiny of detention conditions at Border Patrol stations and CBP facilities that are increasingly overwhelmed by large numbers of families seeking asylum in the United States. According to CBP records, the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in. More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she ‘reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.’ … The agency is investigating the incident to ensure appropriate policies were followed.”
-- Trump pledged to do “whatever it takes to get border security,” even as he tried to shift blame toward Democrats for any potential government shutdown. Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and John Wagner report: “In a video posted on Twitter, Trump attacked Democrats as ‘absolute hypocrites’ and claimed they’ve supported funding border barriers in the past but won’t do so now because of their opposition to him. The video showed images of people rushing the border and included clips of [Chuck Schumer], former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and [Barack Obama] speaking in opposition to illegal immigration and in favor of border security. ‘We need to have the wall. We need border security. Whatever it takes to get border security, I will do it,’ Trump says in the video. ‘I pledged that a long time ago, and I will pledge it always.’” Reminder: Trump said just three days ago he would be “proud” to shut the government down over wall funding.
-- Lawmakers say no progress has been made on a border wall deal since Trump had his contentious meeting with Schumer and Pelosi. Politico’s Sarah Ferris, Burgess Everett and Anthony Adragna report: “Lawmakers say there is no public plan to prevent a partial government shuttering. And no secret plan either. ‘There is no discernable plan. None that’s been disclosed,’ said Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, as he threw his hands into the air. … The House isn’t planning to return until the night of Dec. 19 — leaving only about 72 hours to reach a border wall deal that has eluded both parties for months. Democrats say they’re waiting on Republicans, and Republicans say they’re waiting on Trump.”
-- In case you missed it: ICE has arrested 170 immigrants who sought to sponsor migrant children. NBC News’s Daniella Silva reports: “ICE said Tuesday that the arrests were of immigrants suspected of being in the United States illegally and took place from early July to November. They were the result of background checks conducted on potential sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children placed under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly two thirds of those arrested — 109 in total — had no criminal record, the agency said. Another 61 of those arrested did have criminal records, but ICE did not specify the crimes and said it could not break down convictions by violent and nonviolent offenses.”
-- DHS issued a news release entitled, “Walls Work,” which included questionable claims about the progress being made on Trump’s border wall. USA Today’s William Cummings reports: “‘DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly,’ reads the release, which eschews the use of articles in many instances. ‘We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall. Instead, under this President we are building a wall that is 30-feet high.’ ‘FACT: Prior to President Trump taking office, we have never built wall that high,’ the message adds. The government has built higher walls, but the statement presumably meant to specify it was referring to a border wall.”
Ivanka Trump departs Air Force One with Jared Kushner in Coraopolis, Pa. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
-- Trump is considering his son-in-law Jared Kushner for White House chief of staff, according to HuffPost’s S.V. Date: “[Kushner] met with Trump Wednesday about the job, a top Republican close to the White House [said]. He and two others close to Trump or the White House … confirmed Kushner’s interest in the position. … Kushner has been pushing his own candidacy with Trump, citing his work on a criminal justice reform package and a claimed ability to work with Democrats, one person said. ‘I don’t know why he thinks that, when the Democrats are mainly going to be coming after Trump,’ the source said. … Trump told reporters Thursday that he is down to five finalists. ‘We are interviewing people now for chief of staff,’ he said at a photo opportunity with newly elected governors who were visiting the White House.”
-- Trump also met with former New Jersey governor Chris Christie about the job last night, per Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “[Trump] considers him a top contender to replace John Kelly as chief of staff, according to a source. … Trump has met with a couple of others, but the way he’s discussed Christie to confidants make them think he’s serious. His legal background may come in handy next year.”
-- Some advisers are encouraging Trump to consider young White House aide Johnny DeStefano for chief of staff. The LA Times’s Eli Stokols reports: “Several people close to the president are promoting [DeStefano], who was a political aide to former House Speaker John A. Boehner before joining the administration as Trump’s director of personnel. He since has seen his portfolio expand and often travels with the president.”
-- The president’s top aides remain deeply divided over whether Trump’s former deputy campaign manager David Bossie should be considered for the job. Politico’s Gabby Orr, Andrew Restuccia and Rebecca Morin report: “Some White House allies say [Bossie] shot to the top of the list the minute Trump expressed an interest in having an effective political operator in the slot. His chances only improved, they add, when Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the conservative Freedom Caucus, fell out of the running. But others quickly dismiss the speculation, saying the Trump world adviser can’t overcome opposition within the first family and lingering concerns about a hotheadedness that kept him out of the West Wing to begin with.”
-- “Trump’s hunt for a new chief of staff has taken on the feel of a reality TV show,” the AP’s Catherine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire write. “No leading name has emerged in the days since Trump’s preferred candidate to replace John Kelly bowed out. But the void has quickly filled with drama. … Trump himself likes to feed the drama, dropping hints about the number of candidates in the running and bantering with journalists about who wants the job. The erratic search recalled the transition period before Trump took office, when prospective aides and television personalities paraded before a pack of journalists in the lobby of Trump Tower. Author Chris Whipple, an expert on chiefs of staff, called the search process ‘sad to watch.’”
IF YOU COME AT THE QUEEN, YOU BEST NOT MISS:
-- There are two deeply reported tick-tocks this morning on how Nancy Pelosi locked down the votes to become speaker. Both focus on the many strategic and tactical mistakes made by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), the ringleader of the rebels trying to take her down. The hyper-ambitious Moulton has become a lightning rod, and Pelosi allies — including some of the biggest donors in the Democratic Party — are now determined to field a primary challenger against him in 2020.
-- “Moulton had drawn up list of 58 Democrats who he knew wanted a new leader. Most of those, he said he believed, would sign a letter expressing opposition to Pelosi. … Instead of 35 names, the rebels ultimately released a letter Nov. 19 with only 16 names,” Mike DeBonis and Robert Costa report. “‘A lot of summer soldiers around here,’ Moulton, a former Marine Corps officer, would say.
- “When during a CNN appearance he accused Pelosi of not moving aggressively on gun-control legislation during her previous time as speaker, her aides lined up gun-control advocates to criticize him.
- “He annoyed other members of the group by issuing a statement two days before the nominating vote declaring that he was willing to negotiate with Pelosi about the broader leadership team, upending their strategy.
- “Other members of the rebel group urged Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) to take a more aggressive role as a female face of the anti-Pelosi effort, but she bristled at being asked to step forward as a token woman — especially by Moulton, whom she blamed for strategic missteps.”
“Pelosi had neutered Moulton right under his nose. Just days after the election, she phoned VoteVets’ Chairman Jon Soltz and asked for his help wooing the incoming freshmen. Soltz had been working with Moulton but also had a close relationship with Pelosi. Soltz decided his group would remain neutral. But he gave the candidates advice that proved critical to helping Pelosi, sources said: Think about the long game. To be an effective legislator, you will have to work with the next speaker — which more likely than not would be Pelosi. The advice worked. The candidates refused to sign the rebels’ document. And when Moulton lobbied harder for their signatures, he repelled them even more. In fact, some female veterans told other Democrats that they were annoyed with Moulton, these lawmakers said, concluding that they were being used for Moulton’s own political gain. …
“He asked for a meeting with Pelosi to start talks between the two sides — then misled his fellow rebels about who initiated the discussion, according to three sources familiar with the incident. Moulton told [Rice] and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — perhaps Pelosi’s staunchest critics in the group — that Pelosi requested the meeting. In reality, he had gone to Pelosi’s staff and said he wanted to sit down. It created an awkward dynamic before a terrible meeting. Rice walked into Pelosi’s office and said, ‘Thank you for calling this meeting.’ ‘I didn’t ask for this meeting,’ Pelosi scoffed. An awkward silence ensued, and the meeting unraveled from there.”
-- The term-limit deal Pelosi negotiated has once again cast a spotlight on her complicated relationship with her No. 2, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports: “The friction goes back decades. The last time Democrats took power from Republicans, in 2006, Ms. Pelosi backed then-Representative John P. Murtha in his effort to oust Mr. Hoyer from the majority leader’s slot. The putsch failed spectacularly, but she’s ready to handcuff him again with a deal on term limits. … Some see Mr. Hoyer as the ultimate corporate pol, out of sync with a Democratic caucus in which women, millennials and people of color are in ascendance, with the loudest new voices on the left. … But over his more than 50 years in public life, 37 of them in Congress, Mr. Hoyer has proved himself a quiet survivor.”
-- GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris directed the hiring of the operative now at the center of election fraud allegations in North Carolina, despite warnings about his tactics. Amy Gardner and Beth Reinhard report: “Harris sought out the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, after losing a 2016 election in which Dowless had helped one of Harris’s opponents win an overwhelming share of the mail-in vote in a key county. State and local investigators say that whether Harris knew that his campaign may have engaged in improper tactics has become a focus of the expanding probes into whether election irregularities affected the 9th District election, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. That question is also roiling the state Republican Party, whose leaders had rallied around Harris, a 52-year-old evangelical pastor from the suburbs of Charlotte. Party leaders are now backing away from Harris and trying to limit the fallout of a scandal that has delayed certification of the last undecided federal contest of the 2018 election cycle. …
“Harris was warned about possible fraud on primary day in June 2016, during his first bid for the 9th District congressional seat, according to people familiar with the conversation. The incumbent congressman and winner of the primary had received just one mail-in vote in rural Bladen County. Harris, who came in second place, had won four. Johnson, the last-place contender, meanwhile, had received nearly all of them — 221. The only explanation, advisers told Harris that night in Charlotte, was that something shady had occurred on that third-place campaign, according to the people. A year later, they said, when Harris resolved to run for Congress again, the candidate personally directed the hiring of Dowless, an adept field operative and Bladen County native who had helped deliver that unusual result in 2016.”
-- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is cooling on the idea of appointing former Senate candidate Martha McSally to John McCain’s old Senate seat if Sen. Jon Kyl (R) steps aside. Sean Sullivan reports: “Ducey has made no firm decision and McSally, who narrowly lost this year’s Senate race, remains a finalist. … But her stock has fallen in the eyes of the governor, according to two people familiar with his thinking, as Ducey approaches one of the most significant decisions of his political career. Ducey’s choice would affect not only the future of the Senate but the 2020 elections in an increasingly competitive battleground state. It could also impact his relationship with [Mitch McConnell], a McSally advocate, as well as other party leaders who want to see more Republican women in Congress.”
-- A federal judge rejected GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s lawsuit challenging Maine’s candidate-ranking system. The AP’s Marina Villeneuve and Patrick Whittle report: “Poliquin sought to have the voting system declared unconstitutional after he lost the election to Democrat Jared Golden despite having the most first-place votes. Poliquin asked U.S. District Judge Lance Walker either to declare him the winner or order another election for the 2nd Congressional District. But Walker, appointed by [Trump], said states are given great leeway in how they conduct elections. Critics can question the wisdom of ranked-choice voting, Walker said, but such criticism ‘falls short of constitutional impropriety.’”
-- Kansas’s incoming Democratic governor turned down a White House invitation to meet with Trump and other governors-elect, according to the Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman and Bryan Lowry. “Trump campaigned aggressively for Gov-elect Laura Kelly’s Republican opponent, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, this fall. … Kelly’s team said she was unable to travel to Washington because she is focused on the transition and the state budget. … Kelly and every other newly elected governor was invited to attend the Thursday meeting to discuss shared state and federal priorities, including workforce development, infrastructure, support for veterans and military families and fighting the opioid crisis, according to the White House.”
Blake Farenthold, pictured in 2017, resigned as a Republican congressman from Texas after sexual harassment accusations. (Susan Walsh/AP)
-- The House and Senate quickly passed a bill aimed at overhauling how Congress handles sexual harassment complaints and sent the legislation to Trump’s desk. Elise Viebeck reports: “Advocates welcomed the measure, which mandates an annual report of all settlements and awards and eliminates the confidentiality agreements required for accusers at the beginning of the existing process. … The measure approved on Thursday only requires lawmakers to pay for settlements involving harassment and retaliation, not discrimination. Cases in which a woman is fired for being pregnant, for example, would not trigger the liability. Republicans and Democrats in the lower chamber said they plan to introduce legislation next year to change this on the House side.” Why it matters: Trump will now sign into law a bill made possible by the #MeToo movement, which was triggered in part by his electoral victory despite accusations of sexual misconduct and which he has repeatedly mocked over the past year.
-- House Republicans are increasing pressure on the Trump administration to end government funding for research using fetal tissue. Amy Goldstein reports: “[A] hearing before subcommittees of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee grew testy at times over whether cells from sources other than aborted fetuses are as useful as fetal tissue in advancing therapies and possible cures for diseases from HIV to cancer. … The hearing, which played to Republicans’ base of social and religious conservatives, comes amid moves by Trump health officials to rethink whether federal money should continue to support the research. In the past three months, the Department of Health and Human Services has severed one contract with a California firm that has been a major supplier of such tissue for laboratories.”
-- For the second consecutive year, the Senate will allow to lapse Barry Lee Myers’s nomination to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The New York Times’s Lisa Friedman reports: “Democrats have said that Mr. Myers has significant conflicts of interest, including his past eagerness to privatize the National Weather Service. … Republicans blamed Democrats for the delay. Mr. Trump had to renominate Mr. Myers in January after the Senate failed to act last year. Mr. Myers has twice been advanced by the Commerce Committee, said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican chairman.”
-- Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) tried to defend his purchase (and rapid sale) of stock in a defense contractor after he voiced support for record Pentagon spending. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Inhofe said through spokeswoman Leacy Burke that the purchase was made without his knowledge by a third-party adviser, and that he had ‘no involvement’ in the transaction. ‘The Senator has called his financial adviser and they reversed, or busted, the transaction,’ Burke said, referring to a Wednesday letter in which Inhofe instructed adviser Keith Goddard ‘to no longer purchase defense or aerospace companies as part of my financial holdings.’”
-- Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) used their farewell addresses to blast the dysfunction of the Senate and politics generally. NBC News’s Allan Smith reports: “‘Peter Morgan, an author, wrote that no family is complete without an embarrassing uncle,’ said [McCaskill]. ‘We have too many embarrassing uncles in the United States Senate. Lots of embarrassing stuff.’ She said that if senators ‘don't have the strength to look in the mirror and fix’ the Senate, ‘the American people are going to grow more and more cynical, and they might do something crazy like elect a reality TV star president.’ McCaskill added: ‘The United States Senate is no longer the world's greatest deliberative body. And everybody needs to quit saying it until we recover from this period of polarization and the fear of the political consequences of tough votes.’
“Earlier, Flake used his final address on the Senate floor to warn of threats to America's democracy ‘from within and without.’ ‘We of course are testing the institutions of American liberty in ways that none of us likely ever imagined we would — and in ways that we never should again,’ Flake said. ‘My colleagues, to say that our politics is not healthy is something of an understatement. I believe that we all know well that this is not a normal time, that the threats to our democracy from within and without are real, and none of us can say with confidence how the situation that we now find ourselves in will turn out.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
George Conway, who is married to White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, said he didn't believe Trump's comments about Michael Cohen:
Given that Trump has repeatedly lied about the Daniels and McDougal payments—and given that he lies about virtually everything else, to the point that his own former personal lawyer described him as a “f****ing liar”—why should we take his word over that of federal prosecutors?— George Conway (@gtconway3d) December 14, 2018
Maria Butina — an example of Russian “espionage lite”-operating openly but hiding direction/support from Russia. This as distinct from 2 other varieties: full-fledged agents under cover, and “illegals”who blend in, ready for contingencies. 3 types together raise odds of scoring.— john mclaughlin (@jmclaughlinSAIS) December 13, 2018
A White House official says Jared Kushner is not under consideration for chief of staff and is not interviewing for the job. (The usual Trump White House caveats apply here.)— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) December 13, 2018
Having a great time at the Whitehouse Christmas Party! pic.twitter.com/dN96pra5QB— Reince Priebus (@Reince) December 14, 2018
Despicable. After so many - from George H.W. Bush to John McCain and Bill Clinton - worked for years to heal this open wound and put a war behind us - they’re turning their backs on people who fled and many who fought by our side. For what possible gain?https://t.co/fZC5O825OB— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) December 13, 2018
Many of California’s Vietnamese families came here as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War.— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) December 13, 2018
Since then, they’ve become an irreplaceable part of our communities and culture.
Today I joined @RepLowenthal in writing to @realDonaldTrump that we oppose ANY effort to deport them. pic.twitter.com/LiqfRwUwq8
Why do people keep trying to cross the border illegally, even after being deported? Because their 12-year-old daughters in Texas send them messages like these. pic.twitter.com/MB2ta3ya8m— Kevin Sieff (@ksieff) December 13, 2018
It’s tough to fact-check a statement that is so bonkers, but here goes:— Heather Long (@byHeatherLong) December 13, 2018
1. 95% of USMCA is the same as NAFTA
2. There is no additional tax revenue
3. Only “savings” is there is less biz uncertainty now that we have deal https://t.co/vGa9aXxsF6
Wharton just called. They would like that degree back. https://t.co/tkQFS23il6— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) December 13, 2018
And I was worried this woudn’t be a dignified, open-minded search for the truth. pic.twitter.com/8L0tA0NQQy— James Comey (@Comey) December 13, 2018
Sen @JimInhofe is handing out these paper card statements when asked by reporters about this story about buying defense stocks after pushing for military spending (he spoke to us, as well): https://t.co/K5MRGF8vaH pic.twitter.com/unSJt4FmPs— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) December 13, 2018
When corporation uses profits for stock buy back it’s deciding that returning capital to shareholders is better for business than investing in their products or workers. Tax code encourages this. No surprise we have work life that is unstable & low paying. https://t.co/yHV1qS0yLu— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 13, 2018
YOU. VOTED. FOR. THE. HUGE. TAX. CUT. THAT. IS. DRIVING. THIS.— Ronald Klain (@RonaldKlain) December 13, 2018
You, you, you, you, you. YOU. https://t.co/FsZ1iClrsg
.@united says having a tip jar on the bar in their lounge ‘compromises the experience of the traveler’. As a result, their workers are taking home $50 or $100 less after an evening of work. That’s shameful, & they should reverse their decision immediately. https://t.co/Ze5FSnvngd— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) December 13, 2018
This is a real statement Tennessee’s Department of Health just sent out. pic.twitter.com/W6SZKb5oRn— Kimberlee Kruesi (@kkruesi) December 13, 2018
Bittersweet day cleaning out my office in #Albany but very excited to begin the next chapter of my life representing the people of #NY22 in Washington. It has been a great honor serving in the @NYSA_Majority. #ThePeoplesHouse pic.twitter.com/GfjNR1k0yj— Anthony Brindisi (@ABrindisiNY) December 13, 2018
Spotted on Instagram, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris joking about the “SBC.”— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) December 14, 2018
“Senate Black Caucus,” Booker says.
“I don’t think there’s ever been one,” he adds.
“We just founded it,” she says. pic.twitter.com/jxX1tPiAP2
We take this request very seriously and will do everything in our power to talk about sending you one. https://t.co/ZA29goTcnO— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) December 13, 2018
-- “The boy on the bridge,” by Jessica Contrera: “There was no way she could have seen him, the boy on the bridge. Marisa Harris was driving her Ford Escape down a Northern Virginia highway, heading home after a peaceful afternoon hike at Burke Lake. Her boyfriend, Perry Muth, was stretched out in the passenger seat as they cruised east on Interstate 66 toward the bridge, an overpass suspended across the busy highway. … The boy on the bridge was 12. What led him there would always be a mystery to Marisa’s family, even after police and prosecutors came to their conclusions. There was no fence on the part of the bridge he’d reached. There was a pedestrian sidewalk, and beside it, a three-foot, two-inch-tall guardrail. But there was nothing to stop the boy from climbing over it. And nothing to stop him from jumping — just as Marisa’s car reached the spot below.”
-- BuzzFeed News, “The Cities Where The Cops See No Hate,” by Peter Aldhous: “Year after year, the vast majority of police departments across the country report zero hate crimes to the FBI. After sifting through more than 2,400 police incident reports from 2016 obtained from 10 of the largest such departments, BuzzFeed News identified 15 assaults in which the cops’ own narratives suggested that the suspect may have been motivated by bias.”
-- New York Times, “How ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Went From Parlor Act to Problematic,” by Jacey Fortin: “Rock Hudson did it with Mae West. Ray Charles did it with Betty Carter. Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt did it with a modern twist. And somewhere along the line, the 74-year-old song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ became a holiday standard, in heavy radio rotation, playing overhead in department stores, and covered on Christmas albums. … Now, a long-simmering debate over the lyrics has reached a boil. The annual holiday culture wars and the reckoning over #MeToo have swirled together into a potent mix. Say — what’s in this drink?”
| HOT ON THE LEFT: |
“U.S. Budget Deficit Hits Widest on Record for Month of November,” from Bloomberg News: “The U.S. posted the widest November budget deficit on record as spending doubled revenue. Outlays jumped 18 percent to $411 billion last month, while receipts were little changed at $206 billion, the Treasury Department said in a monthly report on Thursday. That left a $205 billion shortfall, compared with a $139 billion gap a year earlier. The U.S. ran the largest deficit in six years in fiscal 2018, the first full year of Donald Trump’s presidency when his Republican party enacted a tax-cut package and raised federal spending for the military and other priorities. The measures have added to the growing federal deficit, which is forecast to push past $1 trillion by 2020 when the U.S. next holds presidential elections. In the first two months of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, the gap widened to $305.4 billion, compared with $201.8 billion the same period a year earlier.”
| HOT ON THE RIGHT: |
“Florida Senate won't consider reinstating former Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes,” from the South Florida Sun Sentinel: “The Florida Senate has declined to take action on former Broward County elections head Brenda Snipes’ suspension, paving the way for an ally of Republican Gov. Rick Scott to fill the remainder of her term, according to a memo on Thursday from Senate President Bill Galvano. Snipes had announced she would resign her post effective Jan. 4, amid an outcry over stumbles by her office during Florida’s recount. A day after Scott suspended her from office on Nov. 30, Snipes she said she would withdraw her resignation. Citing ‘misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty,’ Scott installed Pete Antonacci, his former top lawyer, to fill the remainder of Snipes’ term, which ends after the 2020 presidential election. … Galvano, R-Bradenton, said legal precedent in Florida has established that Snipes cannot take back her resignation once a successor has been named by the governor.”
Trump will receive his intelligence briefing and later attend two Christmas receptions with the first lady.
The president is also expected to spend 16 days at Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It will be his longest sojourn to the “Southern White House” since his inauguration. (Palm Beach Post)
"I think the Oval Office is an evidence-free zone. You’ve got to have facts, data, evidence, truth in order to make an agreement on how you go forward." – Nancy Pelosi on Trump’s argument that economic benefits from a renegotiated NAFTA would cover the cost of a border wall.
-- Rain will become increasingly likely in Washington as the day goes on. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds thicken, with a few morning sprinkles possible. Steadier rain should hold off until later afternoon or perhaps into evening locally. We likely stay stuck in the 40s for high temperatures, with a very light but steady east-northeast breeze off the Bay and Atlantic. Monitor radar with us by midday for any rain timing and intensity updates.”
-- The Metro board advanced measures to charge peak fares for special events and expand rush-hour service. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “But the board tabled action on a measure to continue the system’s early-closing hours for another year after board members representing the District threatened to veto it. … Metro has proposed continuing the early closings to expand a preventive maintenance program implemented in the wake of its SafeTrack rehabilitation work.”
-- A U-Va. professor retired after an internal investigation concluded he had inappropriate sexual contact with a student 17 years ago. Nick Anderson reports: “John Casey, an award-winning fiction writer, kissed and touched the student in an unwelcome manner one night in 2001, according to a letter summarizing conclusions last week from a disciplinary review panel. The investigation also determined Casey had sex with the student at a time when she was likely to have been enrolled in his class, according to the letter. The panel characterized his conduct as ‘reprehensible,’ according to the letter, and recommended termination. But the panel cleared Casey on a major charge: It concluded there was not enough evidence to support former student Lisa Schievelbein’s allegation that the professor had sexual intercourse with her repeatedly without her consent.”
-- The earliest known painting of George Washington returned to his Mount Vernon estate for the first time since 1802. The Charles Willson Peale painting is on loan from Washington and Lee University and will be on display for the next two years. (Michael E. Ruane)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert updated the presidential seal to reflect the latest developments from the Russia investigation:
Melania Trump visited a D.C. children’s hospital:
Virgin Galactic launched a spacecraft that reached an altitude of more than 50 miles, making it the first manned U.S. spacecraft to reach space since 2011:
Miss USA apologized for comments she made about the English-speaking abilities of two Miss Universe contestants:
And officials at JFK Airport discovered live birds hidden in hair rollers:
Source: The Washington Post