Dec 11, 2019

Analysis | The Daily 202: Trump welcoming Russia’s top diplomat back to the Oval Office is one of his most brazen moves yet

By James Hohmann

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov departs the White House on Tuesday after privately huddling with President Trump in the Oval Office. The Russian delegation was all smiles. (Jim Waton/AFP/Getty Images)
THE BIG IDEA: President Trump met behind closed doors in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The White House said in a readout that Trump “warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections.” Speaking to reporters at the Russian Embassy, Lavrov denied that Trump broached the issue. “We haven’t exactly even discussed elections,” he said.
The conflicting accounts force Americans to decide: Who do they believe?
This is another instance of the White House being hobbled by its lack of credibility, the consequence of Trump and his team being so willing to play fast and loose with the truth for so long.
The White House’s official readout of the president’s April 21 phone call with Volodomyr Zelensky said that Trump “expressed his commitment” to work with Ukraine’s newly elected president to “root out corruption.” When the White House released the transcript of that call last month, however, it turned out Trump did not mention corruption. The readout had been drafted before the conversation took place and was never updated.
According to our Fact Checker database, Trump made at least 13,435 false or misleading claims to the American people during his first 993 days as president.
To be sure, the Kremlin is notorious for lying about almost everything, even after they’re caught red-handed. When Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election came up during a news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier in the day, Lavrov categorically denied it. My colleague John Hudson asked Lavrov why he doesn’t simply “read the Mueller report.”
“We read it,” Lavrov replied, speaking through an interpreter. “There is no proof of any collusion.”
Though he did not establish a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, then-special counsel Bob Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Like Lavrov, Trump has also repeatedly refused to acknowledge the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a bid to boost his campaign.
For his part, Pompeo chimed in during yesterday’s news conference with Lavrov to say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and to declare that “it’s unacceptable.”
Trump tweeted the picture below after what he called a “very good meeting” with Lavrov. When both sides have their own versions of what was discussed, we can look at the public evidence. Judging by the expressions on their faces, the conversation does not seem to have been particularly acrimonious.
Just had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of Russia. Discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling. Look forward to continuing our dialogue in the near future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
-- What’s more significant than whether election interference came up in the Oval Office is that the meeting even took place at all. Lavrov was welcomed to the White House just hours after House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment against Trump related to his actions regarding Ukraine, an American ally that’s struggling to fend off Russian-backed separatists in the east and the continuing Russian occupation of Crimea, which belongs to Kyiv. Lavrov’s visit also came just one day after the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report that concluded the FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016.
At the heart of the Democratic bill of particulars related to impeachment is the allegation that Trump tried to use a White House meeting, along with military aid, as leverage to coerce Zelensky into announcing an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory – which originated with the Russian intelligence services – that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Lavrov flew to Washington directly from Paris, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Zelensky on Monday to discuss the fate of Ukraine. Putin and Zelensky agreed to a “full and comprehensive” cease-fire in eastern Ukraine by the end of the year. Many analysts agree that Zelensky’s negotiating position has been badly weakened by the revelations about Trump’s transactional approach to Ukraine’s security.
It is difficult to overstate the irony that Lavrov got a second meeting in the Oval Office with Trump while Zelensky has yet to visit Washington. Zelensky and his top aides saw a White House meeting with Trump this summer as immensely important to send a message to the Russians that Ukraine’s new government has the strong backing of the U.S. government. Trump also had no obligation to grant Lavrov an audience.The Russian foreign minister could have just met with Pompeo, his counterpart, or not come at all.
A White House spokesman dismissed concerns about the optics of welcoming Lavrov but not Zelensky. “The president talked about and campaigned about having a better relationship with Russia,” Hogan Gidley said on Fox Business. “It’s incumbent on any American president to build better relationships across the globe.”

Trump meets with Lavrov, left, and Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, at the White House on May 10, 2017. This photo was released by the Russian government. There were no American photojournalists allowed into the Oval Office for the president's 2017 or 2019 meetings with Lavrov. (Russian Foreign Ministry/AP)
-- Trump's brazenness has been a hallmark of his reality-show presidencyIndeed, the last time Trump met with Lavrov in the Oval Office – on May 10, 2017 – was the day after he fired James Comey as FBI director. The president told his Russian visitors in the Oval Office that firing Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him. “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump also disclosed highly classified information to Lavrov during the meeting related to a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. After The Post broke this story, Trump declared that he has an absolute right to share the nation’s biggest secrets with whomever he wants.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Trump began yesterday by lashing out on Twitter at “current” FBI Director Chris Wray, his pick to replace Comey, after Wray offered an honest assessment of what the IG report said. Wray’s comments were only striking because they were so at odds with the misleading spin offered up by Trump, which he wanted his appointees in the Justice Department to parrot.
-- Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky – in which he asked for a “favor” when Ukraine’s president said he wanted to buy Javelin antitank missiles – came just one day after Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as the 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice by Trump that he outlined in his report.
-- During a news conference on July 27, 2016, Trump said that a foreign power would be “rewarded mightily” if it hacked Clinton’s private email server and released her messages. “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the then-Republican nominee declared.
“Within approximately five hours of Trump's statement, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton's personal office,” Mueller wrote in his report, referring to the Russian military intelligence agency.
-- This June, shortly after the Mueller report came out, Trump invited future interference in American elections when he declared that “there isn’t anything wrong” with accepting “oppo research” from foreigners and said he feels no obligation to alert the FBI if his campaign is approached again by foreign agents in 2020. During an interview with ABC News in the Oval Office, where he would meet with Lavrov six months later, Trump said that he would “want to hear” whatever information a foreigner was offering and that accepting compromising information about a challenger does not count as foreign interference.
“The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it,” he said. “When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that's the way it is.” Trump added: “You don't call the FBI. … Oh, give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.”

-- Time Magazine named Greta Thunberg, 16, as its 2019 Person of the Year“Thunberg began a global movement by skipping school: starting in August 2018, she spent her days camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read Skolstrejk för klimatet: ‘School Strike for Climate.’ In the 16 months since, she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history. …
“The politics of climate action are as entrenched and complex as the phenomenon itself, and Thunberg has no magic solution. But she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not.”
-- The magazine’s editors revealed the choice on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, making Thunberg the youngest selection since Time began naming a Person of the Year in 1927. The four other finalists on the shortlist were Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the anonymous CIA whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s Ukraine conduct trigged the impeachment proceedings and the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The magazine named “Public Servants” as “the Guardians of the Year,” including “all of the career public servants who took great professional risks in pursuit of the truth.” Among those named are Marie Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor, Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman.
-- Yesterday, for only the fourth time in America’s history, congressional leaders put forward articles of impeachment charging a president. That milestone was the most predictable event on a day that only accentuated the country’s divide and highlighted the distortions of truth in the Trump era. Dan Balz and Philip Rucker report: “‘It amazes me,’ added Jim Edgar, a former Republican governor of Illinois, noting how Trump uses whatever he can to defend himself, even if it strains or runs contrary to the truth. ‘You can catch him dead to rights, and he goes out and turns it around, and people believe it.’ But Edgar also noted that members of both parties are now being pushed by their bases. ‘You’ve got pretty smart people on both sides forced into taking the extreme position, whether hellbent on impeachment or impeachment never,’ he said.”
-- A small group of moderate House Democrats floated the longshot idea of censuring Trump instead of impeaching him. From Politico: “Those Democrats, nearly all representing districts that Trump won in 2016, huddled on Monday afternoon in an 11th-hour bid to weigh additional — though unlikely — options to punish the president for his role in the Ukraine scandal as the House speeds toward an impeachment vote next week. The group of about 10 lawmakers included Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), and Ben McAdams (D-Utah.). … The idea of censure, according to the lawmakers, is to offer a competing alternative to impeachment that could attract at least some Republican support on the floor.” This ship has sailed. This is not going to happen.
-- Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire running for president, will spend $10 million to give air cover to House Democrats targeted by the GOP with attack ads for backing impeachment. Decisions about the messaging and which districts to play in will be handled by House Majority PAC, the primary Democratic outside group for House races. (Michael Scherer)
-- There’s a growing divide between Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the contours of the impeachment trial in the Senate. From CNN: “In conversations with the White House, the Kentucky Republican has made clear he hopes to end the trial as soon as he can, an effort to both get impeachment off his lap and protect his conference from potentially damaging votes should the process break out into partisan warfare. That will include a continuous whip count until McConnell feels he has the votes to acquit the President and end the show. He has even floated a 10-day minimum during these talks, one person said. But the show is exactly what Trump wants.”
-- Trump and Vice President Pence headed to Pennsylvania for the fourth time this year. At a rally last night, the president railed against impeachment. Ashley Parker and Robert Costa report: “Calling the articles of impeachment ‘flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous,’ Trump dismissed the inquiry against him as the ‘impeachment crap,’ and said that any Democrat who votes for it would be sacrificing not just their House majority but their dignity. ‘Everybody said, ‘This is impeachment lite. This is the lightest impeachment in the history of the country, by far,’’ Trump said. ‘It’s not even an impeachment.’ He added, later: ‘They’re impeaching me because they want to win an election and that’s the only way they can do it.’"
-- Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page sued the bureau and the Justice Department, alleging officials unlawfully released a trove of politically charged text messages she exchanged with a senior FBI agent with whom she was having an affair. Derek Hawkins reports: “Page accused the agencies of violating the Privacy Act by showing reporters a document containing nearly 400 texts between her and former senior FBI agent Peter Strzok, in which the pair discussed their intense dislike of Trump and their fear that he might win the presidency. The messages, which came to light in December 2017, fueled claims that the FBI was prejudiced against Trump and became ammunition for scores of angry tweets and public statements by the president and his supporters. Page’s lawsuit said the attention has ‘radically altered her day-to-day life.’"
Trump attacked Page personally during his rally last night, devoting several minutes to parodying his perception of Page and Strzok’s relationship. He then claimed without evidence that Strzok needed a restraining order against Page when the relationship ended. "This poor guy, did I hear he needed a restraining order after this whole thing, to keep him away from Lisa?" Trump said in Hershey, Pa. ‘I don’t know if its true, the fake news will never report it, but it could be true.’”
-- Attorney General Bill Barr dramatically intensified his attacks on the FBI’s 2016 investigation into the Trump campaign — asserting that the bureau opened the probe without good reason, pursued the case even after it had collapsed and might have acted in bad faith. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “In two media interviews [on Tuesday], the top U.S. law enforcement official launched a broadside against his predecessors who handled one of the most sensitive investigations in FBI history, rejecting an assessment from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog that the case was opened with appropriate cause, not out of political animus. His comments drew condemnations from some involved in the case, and those inside the Justice Department privately worried he might be undercutting faith in federal law enforcement to please the president."
  • “I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr told NBC News. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”
  • “It was a travesty, and there were many abuses,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
"Those inside the department say they privately worry his latest comments could have real consequences. ‘He seems a lot more of a Kool-Aid drinker than I expected,’ said one Justice Department employee … ‘Once you start eroding public confidence in the bureau, that’s got an impact on our ability to get convictions in our cases.’ Added another: ‘It’s this internal debate, "Am I violating my own principles by staying here and working under this set of conditions? Or am I … somebody who should stay so when this nightmare is over, we can just start putting the pieces back together?”'"
-- Rudy Giuliani said Trump asked him to brief the Justice Department and congressional Republicans on his findings from a recent trip to Ukraine ahead of a likely Senate impeachment trial. Josh Dawsey reports: “‘He wants me to do it,’ Giuliani said in a brief interview. ‘I’m working on pulling it together and hope to have it done by the end of the week.’ However, it is unclear whether GOP senators or Justice Department officials want information from Giuliani, whose meetings in Europe last week with Ukrainian sources drew condemnation from Democratic lawmakers and winces even from some Republicans. … Two White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations said that Trump did not instruct Giuliani to go to Ukraine. The president’s advisers were displeased about the trip, although Trump has not expressed those concerns, they said.”
-- One America News, the pro-Trump TV network that sent a camera crew with Giuliani to Ukraine last week, tried to get former Ukrainian parliamentarian and multimillionaire Oleksandr Onyshchenko a visa to travel to the U.S. But German authorities arrested him because of a warrant from Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutors. From the Daily Beast: “The effort … was part of a push by OAN to unearth information on Burisma Holdings … ‘I can confirm that One America News Network did attempt to secure a number of visas for former Ukrainian officials to travel to the United States, including Olekesandr Onyshchenko,’ network president Charles Herring [said] in an email … Herring added that the outlet is also ‘currently seeking visas’ for several other former Ukrainian officials, but is no longer doing so for Onyshchenko. Herring declined to say which other ex-officials his outlet is trying to secure visas for. Efforts by media outlets to secure legal travel authorizations for their sources are in an ethical gray area, according to one expert. Especially when the source in question is accused of embezzlement.”
-- At least Giuliani has one less thing to worry about: His acrimonious divorce case has been settled, avoiding a messy public trial. From the Times: “The couple have resolved all their differences and financial squabbles, according to an emailed statement from Bernard E. Clair, Mrs. Giuliani’s lawyer, and they ‘intend to remain friends in the years to come.’ The Giulianis, who had been married since 2003, were to begin their divorce trial in Manhattan early next year. The details of the settlement will remain confidential, Mr. Clair added. … The often caustic proceedings divulged their lavish lifestyle, including a $230,000 monthly spending habit, and their six houses and 11 country club memberships. Other extravagances included Mr. Giuliani spending $7,131 on fountain pens and $12,012 on cigars.”
-- Trump paid out $2 million in damages, as ordered by a judge, related to misusing charity funds for his personal and political benefit. David A. Fahrenthold reports: “The money was split among eight charities, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). The charities were the Army Emergency Relief, the Children’s Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, the United Negro College Fund, the United Way of National Capital Area, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ... In addition, Trump agreed to distribute the remaining $1.8 million left in the Donald J. Trump Foundation to the same eight charities. In all, each charity received $476,140.41. … [Attorneys for Trump] did not answer a reporter’s query about whether Trump intended to count the court-ordered $2 million payment on his taxes as a charitable deduction.”
-- On the impeachment front, Democrats portray Trump as a “continuing threat” to American democracy. But when it comes to finally ratifying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, they see him as a trustworthy partner in consummating the grandest trade deal the U.S. has ever negotiated. Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report: “The nation saw a split screen Tuesday morning, in which [Nancy Pelosi] dashed from a somber announcement of articles of impeachment against the president to a jubilant proclamation of a revised North American trade accord — bewildering liberals who said Democrats were sending disastrously mixed messages about Trump 11 months before the 2020 election. But inside the confines of the House, the tandem moves made perfect sense: It is, multiple Democratic lawmakers said, the ultimate expression of the ‘walk and chew gum’ mentality that Pelosi and other party leaders have been pushing since the earliest days of their majority, and it generated nearly universal acclaim from lawmakers Tuesday. ...
While Trump can herald the deal, so can House Democrats looking for a legislative accomplishment to promote in their reelection bids. This is especially true for the dozens of Democratic incumbents running in districts that Trump won in 2016.The changes negotiated by Democrats made the agreement more worker-friendly, beefing up dispute-resolution procedures and toughening the process for verifying labor standards in Mexico — a key weakness of NAFTA. Democrats also won concessions from Trump on patent protections for certain pharmaceuticals and enforcement of environmental standards. Those concessions have given Democrats an opening to argue that the trade deal isn’t the clear-cut win for Trump that he will undoubtedly claim it is. … The advancement of the trade accord alongside the impeachment articles is an outgrowth of a push from a small but influential group of freshman moderates who backed the impeachment inquiry this fall but also pushed Pelosi to keep tight reins on the process. … Those freshmen, meanwhile, urged Democratic leaders to push through key legislative agenda items, including the new North American trade deal.”
-- Trump’s top trade official clashed with an influential Republican senator during a conference call Tuesday morning as some GOP discontent and resignation about the trade deal began to grow. Seung Min Kim and Jeff Stein report: “The frustrations of Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) about provisions of the new North American trade agreement were part of a contentious exchange that came as U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer briefed key Senate Republicans on details of the deal. … Pelosi told other House Democrats during a closed-door meeting Tuesday that ‘we ate their lunch,’ referring to multiple changes White House officials made to the trade deal in recent weeks to win the support from labor groups.”
-- Heather Long’s analysis of what's in the final deal:
  • Winners: Labor, CEOs, Lighthizer and Canada.
  • Losers: Mexico, China, the MAGA trade agenda, pharmaceuticals and U.S. car buyers.
  • Mixed bag: Farmers.
-- A federal judge in El Paso blocked Trump’s plan to spend $3.6 billion in military funds on the border wall. Nick Miroff reports: The judge ruled that “the administration does not have the authority to divert money appropriated by Congress for a different purpose. The Trump administration was planning to use those funds to build 175 miles of steel barriers, and the court’s permanent injunction is a setback for Trump’s pledge to erect 450 linear miles of fencing by the end of next year. District Court Judge David Briones, a Bill Clinton appointee, said in his ruling that the administration’s attempt to reprogram military construction funds by emergency proclamation was unlawful and that the plaintiffs in the case were entitled to a permanent injunction halting the government. … The Trump administration has budgeted nearly $10 billion for barrier construction to date, so the ruling affects roughly one-third of the money the president plans to spend on his signature project. Briones’s decision does not apply to other money available to the administration, including reprogrammed military counternarcotics funds.”
-- With Trump’s support, the Border Patrol union was able to secure a generous new labor contract that significantly increases the number of union officials allowed to collect a government salary without performing any patrol duties. Nick Miroff, Josh Dawsey and Arelis R. Hernández report: “The new collective bargaining agreement, which took effect Nov. 1, requires the government to finance the equivalent of 74 full-time union positions, more than comparable Department of Homeland Security unions and about three times the working hours that the National Border Patrol Council has used in recent years, even though the number of agents has declined. The move pulls additional Border Patrol agents from their jobs to focus on labor relations matters at a time the administration considers the situation at the U.S. southern border to be a national security crisis. It also expands the number of border agents whose roles as union officers allow them to engage in partisan political activity, a potential benefit to the president’s 2020 campaign.
-- The Pentagon’s inspector general will review how U.S. troops have been used on the southern border, saying he has received “several requests” to do so. Dan Lamothe reports: “Glenn Fine, acting Defense Department inspector general, said his office will examine what the service members are doing, what training they received and whether they have complied with laws, Pentagon policy and operating guidelines they received. ‘We intend to conduct this important evaluation as expeditiously as possible,’ Fine said in a statement to The Washington Post. The decision comes after 34 members of the House requested a review in September, according to a letter that Fine sent Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on Tuesday. … Nineteen senators issued a similar request to Fine last spring, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) said in a statement released Tuesday.”
-- U.S. officials have started sending families seeking asylum to Guatemala, even if they’re not from that Central American country and had sought protection in the U.S. (Los Angeles Times)
-- Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will define Judaism as a race or nationality. It's an attempt to curb anti-Semitism and Israel boycotts on college campuses. From the Times: By interpreting Judaism this way, the order will “prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students. In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or B.D.S. — movement against Israel has roiled some campuses, leaving some Jewish students feeling unwelcome or attacked. … Critics complained that such a policy could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the name of fighting anti-Semitism. The definition of anti-Semitism to be used in the order matches the one used by the State Department and by other nations, but it has been criticized as too open-ended and sweeping. For instance, it describes as anti-Semitic ‘denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination’ under some circumstances and offers as an example of such behavior ‘claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.’"
-- Under pressure from rival campaigns, Pete Buttigieg released the names of his private and government clients during his stint as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. Chelsea Janes and Amy B Wang report: “The list includes Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Canadian supermarket Loblaws, Best Buy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Defense. According to the campaign, Buttigieg’s work for Blue Cross Blue Shield ‘looked at overhead expenditures such as rent, utilities, and company travel. The project he was assigned to did not involve policies, premiums, or benefits.’ … That Buttigieg advised Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will provide more fodder to liberal critics who have already taken to calling him ‘Wall Street Pete’ and suggested that his ‘Medicare for all who want it’ plan preserves the health insurance industry and fails to provide the kind of drastic change to the health-care system promised by Medicare-for-all.”
-- Former vice president Joe Biden is signaling to aides he would serve only a single term. From Politico: “While the option of making a public pledge remains available, Biden has for now settled on an alternative strategy: quietly indicate that he will almost certainly not run for a second term while declining to make a promise that he and his advisers fear could turn him into a lame duck and sap him of his political capital. According to four people who regularly talk to Biden … it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for re-election in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president. … By signaling that he will serve just one term and choosing a running mate and Cabinet that is young and diverse, Biden could offer himself to the Democratic primary electorate as the candidate best suited to defeat Trump as well as the candidate who can usher into power the party’s fresh faces.”
-- The Supreme Court is considering claims under Obamacare that the government owes billions to private insurance companies. Robert Barnes reports: “A lawyer for insurance companies warned the Supreme Court of a $12 billion ‘bait-and-switch’ that raised ‘the fundamental question of whether the government has to keep its word.’ … It was Round 5 for the Affordable Care Act ... at the Supreme Court Tuesday. And only one of the oddities was that Washington lawyer Paul D. Clement, who had argued unsuccessfully in 2012 that the ACA was unconstitutional, was back to claim that under the law, his insurer clients were owed billions of dollars. It appeared he might have more luck this time. The law’s legality was not being questioned. Instead, it was whether Congress had ‘seduced’ insurance companies, in the words of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., into offering low-premium policies to at-risk customers and then reneged on a promise to help bear the costs. Most justices seemed to think it had.”
-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolled out a new method for approving student debt relief claims. Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports: “On Tuesday, the Education Department released an updated methodology for processing loan forgiveness claims made under a statute known as borrower defense to repayment. It will continue to provide relief by comparing the wages of students in similar academic programs but now rely on publicly available data to avoid running afoul of privacy laws that brought the prior method to a halt. … Higher-education experts warn the new formula could result in substantially less loan cancellation than the previous plan. It compares median earnings of graduates who have made debt relief claims with those of graduates from comparable programs. The bigger the difference, the more relief an applicant will receive.”
-- A former Boeing manager warned the company about problems with the production of 737 Max jets. Lori Aratani and Ian Duncan report: “Edward Pierson, who was a senior manager at Boeing’s Renton, Wash., factory, said a push to increase production of the 737 Max from 47 a month to 52, created a ‘factory in chaos.’ Employees were working seven days. Overtime had more than doubled and in some cases, Pierson said, employees were doing jobs for which they had no training. ‘The factory did not have enough skilled employees, specifically mechanics, electricians and technicians to keep up with the backlog of work,’ Pierson said in remarks prepared for a hearing Wednesday before the House Transportation Committee. ‘I witnessed numerous instances where manufacturing employees failed to communicate effectively between shifts, often leaving crews to wonder what work was properly completed.’”
-- The Federal Aviation Administration will create a new safety branch following the 737 Max crashes. Michael Laris reports: “The move comes as the agency faces intense scrutiny for certifying in 2017 that Boeing’s 737 Max planes were safe, despite what investigators would later say was a flawed flight control feature that contributed to two crashes that killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The email sent Monday to employees in the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service, or AIR, does not mention the Max directly, and is written in bureaucratic language that eschews finger-pointing and emphasizes the complexities of aviation safety. But it offers new — though still incomplete — insight into how the agency is diagnosing its own shortcomings, even as administrator Steve Dickson is set to face a congressional oversight hearing Wednesday.”
-- A shooting in Jersey City left six people dead, including a police officer, after two men fired at authorities. Reis Thebault and Katie Mettler report: “The standoff began when the two men shot and killed a police officer who approached them at Bayview Cemetery in the city’s Greenville neighborhood, said Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly. The gunmen fled to a kosher supermarket, where they exchanged more fire with authorities and were killed. Three other people, believed to be bystanders, were also among the dead in the store, Kelly said. The slain police officer was identified as Detective Joseph Seals, a 15-year veteran of the Jersey City force. Two other officers were also shot, one in the shoulder and the other in the body, Kelly said. They were treated and released from the hospital.”

For several summers, this deeply incised melt channel transported overflow from a large Greenland melt lake to a moulin, a conduit that drains the water through many hundreds of feet to the ice sheet’s bed. (Ian Joughin)
-- Greenland’s ice losses have septupled and are now in line with its highest sea-level scenario, scientists said. Chris Mooney reports: “The sheet’s total losses nearly doubled each decade, from 33 billion tons per year in the 1990s to an average now of 254 billion tons annually. Since 1992, nearly 4 trillion tons of Greenland ice have entered the ocean, the new analysis found, equivalent to roughly a centimeter of global sea-level rise. While a centimeter may not sound like much, that uptick is already affecting millions. ‘Around the planet, just 1 centimeter of sea-level rise brings another 6 million people into seasonal, annual floods,’ said Andrew Shepherd, a University of Leeds professor who co-led the massive collaboration with NASA researcher Erik Ivins. The results, from a scientific group called the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE), were published Tuesday in the journal Nature. The research suggests an alarming pace of change for the Earth’s second-largest body of ice, which could theoretically drive more than 20 feet of sea-level rise over a millennium.”
-- The Arctic is going through a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state that is causing it to emit billions of tons of carbon into the air, according to an alarming U.S. government assessment of the region. Andrew Freedman reports: “The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers. The findings are contained in the 2019 Arctic Report Card, a major federal assessment of climate change trends and impacts throughout the region. The study paints an ominous picture of a region lurching to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment.”
-- The Saudi aviation student who shot and killed three U.S. sailors on a Florida base last week may have embraced radical ideology years before arriving in the U.S., according to an internal Saudi assessment. Missy Ryan reports: “According to the internal report, a Twitter account believed to have been used by Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani indicates that four religious figures described as radical appear to have shaped the Saudi Air Force trainee’s ‘extremist thought.’ … The Saudi government says it is working with the United States and other allies to determine what motivated the shooter and improve screening procedures for military personnel and students being sent overseas. … The report also put forward information that could explain why his Twitter activity was not previously detected. The account now believed to be Shamrani’s, the report said, did not display his full name, but rather parts of his name that are common in Saudi Arabia, and contained no biographical information or photo.”
-- The Pentagon is halting operational training for all Saudi military students studying in the U.S. Derek Hawkins reports: “The move is part of a ‘safety stand-down’ ordered Tuesday by Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist under which the military will review how it screens foreign military students and grants them access to bases. Flight training and other operational exercises will cease for the roughly 850 Saudi trainees in the United States pending the completion of the review, which could take a week or more, defense officials said. That means Saudi pilots, including several hundred studying at Naval Air Station Pensacola and other Florida bases, will be grounded for the time being.”
-- Six months ago, the FBI issued a warning about a loophole the Saudi shooter used to obtain a gun. From Yahoo News: ‘The FBI warning, dated May 22 and titled 'Federal Hunting License Exception Could Be Exploited by Extremists or Criminal Actors Seeking to Obtain Firearms for Violent Attacks,’ was sent from the bureau’s Office of Private Sector ... The warning encouraged businesses to be aware that ‘extremists and other criminal actors could exploit the federal statutory exception that allows non-immigrant visa holders’ who normally can’t buy firearms or ammunition to legally purchase them ‘with a valid hunting license or permit.’ The warning goes on to note that foreign ‘terrorist organizations, including ISIS, have encouraged Westerners to exploit perceived gaps in gun laws to conduct mass casualty shooting attacks in their home countries,’ and that foreign national visa holders ‘could use this hunting license exception to obtain firearms to commit violence in the Homeland.’”
-- The State Department barred a Saudi diplomat from entering the United States, citing his involvement in “gross violations of human rights” in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. Carol Morello reports: “Mohammed al-Otaibi was the Saudi consul general in Istanbul when Khashoggi was killed in the consulate as he tried to obtain paperwork for his upcoming marriage. Otaibi was heard on a tape the Turkish government retrieved from the consulate saying, as Khashoggi was being tortured, ‘Do this outside. You are going to get me in trouble.’ Otaibi left Turkey shortly after the killing and reportedly was fired from his position. Otaibi was one of 17 Saudis sanctioned last November for their involvement in the death of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.”
-- In response to the Afghanistan Papers, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai blamed American funding for fueling widespread corruption in the country. Siobhán O’Grady reports: “‘What could we do? It was U.S. money coming here and used by them and used for means that did not help Afghanistan,’ Karzai, who served as president of Afghanistan from 2004 to 2014, told the Associated Press in an interview in Kabul. … Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel and former adviser to multiple U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, told government interviewers in 2016 that by 2006, the Afghan government ‘self-organized into a kleptocracy,’ The Post reported this week. … One unidentified former senior U.S. official told government interviewers in 2015 that U.S. money was ‘empowering a lot of bad people.’ ... Several of the interviews mentioned Karzai, and the AP reported that the former Afghan president ‘has denied wrongdoing but hasn’t denied involvement in corruption by officials in his government.’”
-- India passed a controversial citizenship law that would exclude Muslim migrants. Joanna Slater and Niha Masih report: “The new law creates a path to citizenship for migrants who belong to several South Asian religions but pointedly excludes Islam, the faith practiced by 200 million Indian citizens. ... [It's] the latest political victory for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a strident nationalist in the mold of other right-leaning populist politicians around the globe. Since winning a landslide reelection victory in May, Modi has moved swiftly to implement his party’s agenda of emphasizing Hindu primacy in India, a diverse democracy home to more than 1.3 billion people. Hindu nationalist ideologues view India’s history as a series of humiliations — centuries of rule by Muslim kings followed by British colonialism — that must be redressed.”
-- The Canadians detained by China in retaliation for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou's arrest have now spent a year in confinement. During that time, Wanzhou has been allowed to live under house arrest at her two Vancouver mansions. Anna Fifield and Jeanne Whalem report: Wanzhou has been able to consult with a “team of lawyers she has hired to help fight her extradition to the United States. She can spend time with her husband and children and has taken up oil painting to fill her days. Still, if she tires of the seven-bedroom, $12 million house where she now lives, her ankle monitor enables her to travel within 100 square miles of her home, as long as she’s back by her 11 p.m. curfew. The two Canadian men detained in China just nine days after Meng’s arrest, in an act widely seen as retaliation, do not enjoy such a leisurely existence. Tuesday marked a year since their detention. For the first six months, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business executive Michael Spavor were held in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day, a move classified as a form of torture. They have endured hours of interrogation, according to people familiar with their situations.”
-- Trump is facing mounting criticism over his attempts to salvage nuclear talks with North Korea amid threats from Pyongyang. David Nakamura reports: “John Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, was among a number of prominent figures who on Tuesday rebuked the Trump administration’s move to block a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea’s human rights violations, scuttling the gathering for a second consecutive year. ‘Kim’s repression of his people, terrorist activities, and pursuit of WMD’s all warrant the fullest scrutiny. We should take the lead, not obstruct other nations,’ Bolton [said]. … The administration’s decision — which also drew condemnation from [Biden] and former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power — came after North Korea’s U.N. representative had warned that a human rights meeting would be viewed by Pyongyang as ‘another serious provocation,’ the latest in a series of North Korean threats in recent weeks.”
-- French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a “true European army” to allow the E.U. to defend itself from Russia and the U.S. “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Macron told France’s Europe 1 radio in an interview. “When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security.” (The Independent)
-- Boris Johnson closed his election campaign by trying to crack the Labour Party’s – and Jeremy Corbyn’s – “red wall” of support. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “The Labour Party’s color is red, and for generations the working classes in a line of now struggling industrial towns have served as a near-unassailable defense against incursions by Conservative Party candidates such as Johnson, who needs to win a clear majority in Thursday’s vote to deliver Brexit. Stretching back to the creation of the Labour Party early in the last century, folks in towns such as Grimsby — who work with their hands in manufacturing, construction, transportation — almost always send Labour lawmakers to Westminster. But Brexit has altered the landscape — and the wall appears wobbly. … The Conservatives hope Johnson’s gung-ho Brexit plans and his populist appeals, alongside promises to boost spending on cops and nurses, will woo Labour supporters who want to leave the European Union, as promised.”
-- A former Mexican anti-drug official was charged with taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes from “El Chapo’s” cartel. Mary Beth Sheridan and Shayna Jacobs report: “The arrest of Genaro García Luna was stunning news even in a country that has struggled with profound drug corruption for years. He had been secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012, responsible for creating a new federal police force. He worked closely with U.S. officials on a multibillion-dollar effort known as the Merida Initiative to confront the cartels. … García Luna is a former intelligence agent who ran the Federal Investigation Agency, similar to the FBI, from 2001 to 2005. The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday that García Luna began receiving payoffs from the Sinaloa cartel while at the agency, and continued doing so during his time as a cabinet minister.”
-- The CDC is sending teams of experts to Pacific island nations in response to measles outbreaks amid concerns that a major outbreak on Samoa could heighten the spread of the disease. Lena H. Sun reports: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already deployed two experts to Samoa, where measles has overwhelmed the health system in a country with a population of about 200,000. Measles has sickened nearly 4,900 people, killing 71, most of them children under 5. This week, in response to requests for help from individual countries and United Nations groups, additional CDC teams are flying to Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa, where there are ongoing, smaller measles outbreaks that could intensify, CDC officials said. One CDC expert will focus on fighting misinformation about measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, in response to requests from UNICEF.”
-- The U.S. Army plans on funding construction of rare earths processing facilities as part of an urgent push by Washington to secure a domestic supply of the minerals used to make military weapons and electronics. From Reuters: “The move would mark the first financial investment by the U.S. military into commercial-scale rare earths production since World War Two’s Manhattan Project built the first atomic bomb. … China, which refines most of the world’s rare earths, has threatened to stop exporting the specialized minerals to the United States, using its monopoly as a cudgel in the ongoing trade spat between the world’s two largest economies.”
-- The Trump administration is sending mixed signals on delaying new tariffs on over $100 billion of Chinese goods that are due to take effect this weekend. U.S. officials have recently hinted that Trump could pause the tariffs, which could affect nearly every product imported from China. (New York Times)
-- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar, her homeland, from accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice. (New York Times)
-- Physicians in New Zealand said they will require an additional 1.2 million square centimeters of skin to treat the critical burns on patients who survived the White Island eruption earlier this week. There are 29 patients still receiving care in hospitals around the country. (RNZ)
The Trump campaign shared an edited video that featured Trump as Thanos, a major villain in the blockbuster "Avengers" series. Some noted why this might not be a good look:
So you're arguing that Trump is Thanos ("The Mad Titan") who wants to kill half of all living things, but in the end winds up defeated and dying, taking all of his sycophantic followers down with him?
Great work, everyone.
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) December 10, 2019
Thanos was about to die in this scene tho (sorry for spoiler for the two people who didn’t see it)
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 10, 2019
Trump's team is presenting him as a narcissistic child-abusing villain intent on wiping out half of all life, AND picked the moment right before Thanos was defeated. #TheBestPeople
— Gerry Duggan (@GerryDuggan) December 10, 2019
The latest Quinnipiac University poll doesn’t look good for Trump:
new Quinnipiac national poll on 2020 general election shows every prospective Democratic nominee beating Trump :
Biden 51%, Trump 42%
Sanders 51%, Trump 43%
Warren 50%, Trump 43%
Bloomberg 48%, Trump 42%
Buttigieg 48%, Trump 43%
Klobuchar 47%, Trump 43%
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) December 10, 2019
Many decried Trump’s decision to sign an executive order defining Judaism as a nationality, not just a religion:
Judaism is a religion and should not be intertwined, in any way, with Israeli nationalism, restrictions on free speech, or hatred towards other minority groups. This is not good for Jews and not good for US.
— David Rothschild (@DavMicRot) December 10, 2019
So if I decide not to be Jewish am I not part of the race anymore? If three days later I decide I want to be part of the race is it my race again? Judaism is a faith. Anyone can be Jewish whenever they want and anyone can decide not to be. It is not a race or a nationality.
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 11, 2019
Some drew historical parallels:
Anyway, Hitler kicked off the Holocaust with the Nuremberg Laws that, among other things, declared German Jews weren't of German nationality. So Trump signing an executive order declaring Judaism it's own nationality is....well not great for us descendants of Holocaust survivors.
— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) December 11, 2019
The Department of Homeland Security tried to hit back at criticisms that it didn't allow a group of doctors to vaccinate migrant children against the flu:
Of course Border Patrol isn't going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs.
— DHS Press Secretary (@SpoxDHS) December 10, 2019
And some jolly voters were supporting Trump in Pennsylvania:
Live from Hershey, Pa. —>
— Ashley Parker (@AshleyRParker) December 11, 2019
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I dream about him. It’s true," Trump said of Buttigieg at last night's rally. He mocked Buttigieg's rise in the Democratic field. (Ashley Parker and Robert Costa)

Stephen Colbert noted the jarring juxtaposition between having the two articles of impeachment drop against Trump at the same time the USMCA deal was announced:

Seth Meyers noted that some Republicans seem to be talking faster and without a clear narrative as they try to defend Trump:

Trevor Noah didn't think Trump would make it three years into his presidency without getting impeached:

Builders are embracing an old concept — wood — as a climate-friendly alternative:

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