What to Know in Washington: Trump Impeachment Response Uncertain

The House this week begins the solemn task of deciding whether to bring impeachment articles against President Donald Trump, faced with a sharply divided American public, a compressed timetable and doubts about how and if the White House will participate.

The next round of public hearings gives Democrats a crucial opportunity to synthesize weeks of witness testimony and other evidence into a narrative that convinces the U.S. public that Trump’s actions merit impeachment. As the case moves to the Judiciary Committee, it’s also is another chance for Republicans to defend the president and paint the Democratic-led inquiry as an entirely partisan enterprise.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone yesterday rejected Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler‘s (D-N.Y.) invitation for Trump and his legal team to take part in Wednesday’s hearing, criticizing the committee for demanding a response before witnesses have been announced or a schedule set for other hearings. He said the entire process has been unfair to the president, but he left open the possibility that Trump would be represented at future sessions.

“An invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the president with any semblance of a fair process. Accordingly, under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing,” Cipollone wrote. “Nevertheless, if you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the president, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the administration the ability to do so meaningfully.’

By Wednesday, Judiciary panel members are expected to have in hand a report from the Intelligence Committee on the question of whether the president attempted to coerce Ukraine into announcing investigations that would benefit him politically.

Only three times in history has the House of Representatives gotten to this stage in presidential impeachment proceedings. No president has ever been convicted by the Senate and removed from office. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before articles against him were put before the full House.

According to a House resolution adopted in October with only Democratic votes, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) must send the Judiciary Committee a formal report of his panel’s findings and recommendations, and the first draft is expected to be circulated among committee members today. Intelligence Committee Republicans are expected to write their report for the minority to present their interpretation of the facts.

Officials familiar with both committees say Nadler will likely receive Schiff’s report before Wednesday’s hearing, which will discuss the constitutional basis for impeachment and whether Trump’s actions meet that threshold. Read more from Billy House.

The White House - Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

Republican Says Schiff Should Testify: House Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said Schiff is “the first person who needs to testify.” He made the comment on Fox News yesterday. “If he chooses not to” testify, Collins said of Schiff, “then I really question his veracity in what he’s putting in his report.” Rich Miller and Ari Natter have more.

Senate Wild Cards: Trump has openly cheered for the impeachment process to move to the friendlier confines of the GOP-led Senate, but there may be some surprises in store for him on the way to a likely acquittal. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said it’s “inconceivable” at this point that the Senate will convict Trump on any articles of impeachment sent over from the House. It would take at least 20 Republican votes — along with all Democrats — to form the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump, and at present there are exactly zero.

McConnell and Trump, though, do have a different math problem. Call it the Rule of Four: it would take only four Republican defections to give Democrats an advantage in setting the rules for who testifies, how long the process goes on and other procedural steps that will set the tone and tempo for the trial. Steven T. Dennis and Laura Litvan look at five wild cards as the likely Senate impeachment trial takes shape.

2020 Hopefuls Map Out Senate Impeachment Plan: The Senate’s six Democratic White House hopefuls are preparing for a new campaign challenge: running for president while stuck in Washington for an impeachment trial that could last weeks. The impeachment would require Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to serve as jurors, and could provide an advantage to candidates who can remain on the campaign trail during that time, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The candidates from the Senate say they’re preparing for that scenario. Read more from Ari Natter.

Happening on the Hill

Trump Stocks Cabinet With Business Lobbyists: In his previous life as a lobbyist, Dan Brouillette represented clients including Ford and electric utilities with business before the U.S. Energy Department. Now he’s on the verge of running the very agency he once sought to influence. Brouillette, who’s expected to be confirmed today as secretary of the Energy Department, is the latest example of how K Street has deepened its presence in the upper echelon of the Trump administration. Departing cabinet officials are being replaced by former lobbyists who are now in a position to oversee industries they once represented. Read more from Ari Natter.

Pelosi Leads Delegation to Climate Conference: It’s been a decade since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led lawmakers to the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit. This year, she’s making a comeback. She arrived in Madrid on Saturday with 13 House members and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 25), the annual gathering to foster global cooperation to avert catastrophic climate change. Pelosi’s delegation will serve as a counterbalance to the Trump administration, which on Nov. 4 began the formal process of withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate accord to set national greenhouse gas reduction targets. Read more from Tiffany Stecker.

While Trump may be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, the U.S. is still going to be a force at the negotiating table as international leaders gather in Madrid to map out rules for carbon trading as a way to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

North American Trade Deal Still Needs Work: Mexico’s negotiator for a trade agreement with the U.S. and Canada said there’s more work to do before the deal can be finalized and win approval in the U.S. Congress, increasing the odds that the debate may drag into next year. Remaining differences focus on enforcement of labor standards, dispute settlement, biologic drugs and environmental rules, Jesus Seade, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said on Friday following meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

An agreement could still happen as soon as next week, with ratification before the end of the year, Seade said. But he cautioned that he needs to confer with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Mexico’s private sector before signing off on changes. Read more from Eric Martin and Shelly Hagan.

Privacy Bill Would Override States: Big technology companies like Google could sidestep a growing threat of state privacy laws under a discussion draft being circulated by the office of Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). The measure would prevent states from enforcing data privacy or security laws that would affect companies that are covered by the proposal, according to a draft. The bill wouldn’t preempt state rules that require businesses to notify consumers in the event of a data breach, under the draft language.

The preemption provision differs from privacy legislation released last week by committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would allow states to pass their own privacy rules, like those in the California Consumer Privacy Act. The panel will discuss privacy legislation at a hearing this week. Read more form Daniel R. Stoller.

Tax Writers Look for Opening to Move Legislation: Tax writers will press for a package that can be attached to must-pass legislation as Congress starts its year-end legislative sprint. That means billions of dollars in temporary tax breaks for individuals and companies, as well as the chance of any significant tax package becoming law this year, are facing a do-or-die moment. A tax package could include the renewal of expired tax breaks known as extenders and expanded clean energy incentives. Read more from Kaustuv Basu and Colin WIlhelm.

Elections & Politics

Biden Seeks to Rejuvenate Iowa Campaign: Joe Biden is working to breathe new life into his campaign in Iowa, a state where he’s struggled to keep up with his competitor’s organizations and popularity despite leading the crowded 2020 field of Democrats in most national polls. Biden kicked off an eight-day bus tour this weekend that focuses on rural areas. He’s traveling with Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, and Vilsack’s wife, Christie. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and Tyler Pager.

Biden Organizers Join Teamsters Union: Field organizers for Biden’s campaign have unionized, joining the staffs of most major Democratic presidential candidates who have made support for labor a key part of their pitch to voters. The Biden workers joined Iowa-based Teamsters Local 238, which has members from the staffs of the Iowa Democratic Party and two presidential hopefuls. About 120 Biden field staff across the country chose the union through card-check recognition on Friday.

“Political campaign workers deserve a voice on the job as much as anyone,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said in a statement. “These workers, who face the prospect of long, pressure-filled hours on the campaign trail, need a strong partner like the Teamsters Union that will fight for their rights.” Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Montana’s Bullock Quits Presidential Race: Montana Governor Steve Bullock is ending his presidential campaign, citing an inability to gain traction with Democratic primary voters. “While there were many obstacles we could not have anticipated when entering this race, it has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field,” Bullock, 53, said in a statement reported by the Washington Post. Read more from Emma Kinery.

Joe Sestak Ends Presidential Bid: Former two-term Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) yesterday said he was ending a campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction with voters since its kick-off in June. Sestak, a former three-star Navy admiral, didn’t qualify for any of the candidate debates — even at the start of the process, when the events were held over two nights to accommodate 20 hopefuls. He announced the decision to end the “Accountability to America” campaign on Twitter and in an emailed statement, Ros Krasny reports.

Loeffler Reported to Join Senate from Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp (R) this week plans to pick financial executive Kelly Loeffler to fill a U.S. Senate seat, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week. The move would undercut Trump and others who wanted Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) to be appointed instead. The seat is being vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is exiting the Senate at the end of 2019 due to health issues.

Defense & Foreign Affairs

Trump’s UN Envoy Craft Takes Spotlight: The U.S. takes over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this week with plans to promote one of Trump’s favorite themes — reducing the world’s reliance on American taxpayers — while facing pressure to raise the contentious issue of China’s human rights record. The council’s president for a month gets to choose topics for debate, and Kelly Craft, a wealthy Trump backer who became United Nations ambassador in September, has opted for “Peacekeeping Performance” and “The Role of Philanthropy in Post-Conflict situations.” Diplomats read those themes as code words for more belt-tightening at the U.N., which has grown increasingly cash-strapped since Trump has been in the White House. Read more from David Wainer.

Trump Just One of the Wild Cards at NATO: What was conceived as a celebration for one of the world’s most important military alliances risks becoming a show of disunity — and this time it’s not because of anything Trump has said or done. Meeting in London this week, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have two other presidents to worry about: France’s Emmanuel Macron, who in recent weeks has openly questioned the collective defense clause at NATO’s heart, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has troubled alliance members with his decisions to send troops into Syria and buy a Russian anti-missile system. Marc Champion and Jonathan Stearns have more.

Trump Says Taliban Talks Resume: Trump made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan to meet with both troops and the country’s president, saying that peace talks with the Taliban have resumed amid a push for a cease-fire and to reduce U.S. deployment in the region. Trump summoned reporters for part of the meeting and said talks with the Taliban are ongoing. The U.S. wants the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and will continue to reduce its troop commitment to the region, Trump said. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Trump Signs Hong Kong Bill: Trump last week signed legislation expressing U.S. support for Hong Kong protesters, prompting China to threaten retaliation just as the two nations get close to signing a phase one trade deal. China summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad, with Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng telling him to stop meddling in Hong Kongese affairs. He warned that such actions would strain ties and risk affecting “cooperation in important areas,” according to a foreign ministry statement, which didn’t give more details. Read more from Mario Parker.

China avoided measures related to trade in its first actions retaliating against the U.S. law, instead vowing to sanction some rights organizations and halt warship visits to the city. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing today that U.S. groups targeted for sanctions included the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. Hua said that China would also suspend further Hong Kong port visits by U.S. Navy ships over the legislation. Read more.

North Korea Tests Trump With Missiles: North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles and could be planning bigger moves, stepping up pressure as it threatens to walk away from sputtering nuclear talks unless Trump offers up concessions by year end. The two missiles were fired in rapid succession from North Korea’s east coast Thursday, traveling a distance of about 380 kilometers (240 miles) and reaching a height of about 100 kms, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono told reporters. Read more from Jon Herskovitz and Jihye Lee.

Trump Revives Brazil, Argentina Steel Tariffs: Trump said he’s reinstating tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and Brazil, nations he criticized for cheapening their currencies to the detriment of U.S. farmers, and again called on the Federal Reserve to loosen monetary policy. Combining his trade agenda with his Fed criticism in an early morning tweet, he said the two South American countries “have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies. which is not good for our farmers. Therefore, effective immediately, I will restore the Tariffs on all Steel & Aluminum that is shipped into the U.S. from those countries.” Read more from Brendan Murray.

What Else to Know Today

Gun Rights Case Could Fizzle at Court: Gun rights advocates finally convinced the justices to take up a Second Amendment case for the first time in nearly a decade, but how the court deals with a procedural hiccup could end up having a bigger impact. The merits of the case turn on a New York City regulation significantly limiting where lawful gun owners can take their guns, but the justices first have to confront the question of mootness, since the city has since repealed the challenged law. The mootness issue has the potential to foil the court’s first foray back into gun rights since its landmark decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. City of Chicago in 2010, where a sharply divided court held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.

Obamacare Numbers Fall Behind: Obamacare enrollment for 2020 is lagging behind last year’s numbers despite lower premiums and more insurers competing in the markets, and the finger-pointing has already begun. Blame is being cast on Trump administration cuts in Affordable Care Act outreach and education, but the drop-off also could be related to reduced joblessness and more people enrolling in employer-based health plans, analysts and researchers say. Read more from Sara Hansard.

Black Student Loan Defaults Steady: Black student borrowers have posted persistently high default rates in recent years, despite the introduction of options like income-driven repayment designed to help struggling borrowers, a new report released today found. Black students who began college in the 2011-2012 academic year and borrowed in their first year defaulted at a rate of 31% six years into their loans, according to the analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. That’s close to the estimated six-year default rate of 33% for black students who entered college in 2003-2004. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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