What to Know in Washington: Trump’s Impeachment Trial Kicks Off

Donald Trump’s impeachment moves to the GOP-controlled Senate where the president and Democrats will battle over a small group of Republicans whose votes will determine the course of a trial on whether he should be removed from office.

The Senate proceedings will begin formally today with a show of pageantry that includes the reading of two impeachment articles and U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in 100 senators as jurors. Yet one of the most pressing and contentious issues — whether to meet Democratic demands for witnesses — will remain unresolved for more than a week.

The seven House Democrats chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday to argue the impeachment case will have their best shot when the trial fully gets under way early next week to persuade at least four Republicans that new witnesses must be heard and new evidence presented.

Despite Trump’s conflicting statements about wanting witnesses to defend him during the Senate trial, White House officials said yesterday the president’s team is seeking a short trial and that no additional testimony is needed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that’s his preference as well, but it may be up to his Republican colleagues, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

All four have said they’re open to hearing new testimony. Together they have the power to join with Democrats on key questions like whether to subpoena former National Security Adviser John Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and a trove of documents sought by the House but blocked by the president.

The trial is almost certain to end with Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress; 67 votes are required to convict and no Republican senator has said the articles laid out by House merit his removal from office. But the entire proceeding will hang over his bid for re-election as well as his legacy. Read more from Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Laura Litvan.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
A U.S. Capitol police officer stands near the American flag on Wednesday.

Parnas Says Trump Lied: Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, accused Trump of lying for saying he didn’t know what Parnas and Giuliani were doing in Ukraine. In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow yesterday, Parnas said, “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas said. “President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” he added in the interview. Read more from Chris Strohm and Billy House.

Happening on the Hill

Republicans Plot Climate Strategy: House Republican lawmakers will huddle over their approach to climate change during a closed-door strategy summit today, as they face intensifying pressure from younger voters to address the environmental threat. The strategy session is spurred by a growing recognition among some Republican congressional leaders that the party has for too long ceded the debate over climate change to Democrats, according to three House Republican aides who asked not to be named discussing private deliberations.

“There’s been a lot of credibility given to some really crazy and dangerous and irresponsible ideas, and we’ve got to make sure that we are working to inform and educate the public about the dangers of some of these policies,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), ranking member on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said in an interview. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ari Natter.

Age Bias Bill Passed: Workers would have an easier time proving age, disability, and similar discrimination claims in court under a bill passed by the House. The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would lower a bar currently requiring workers to show that discrimination or retaliation was the sole reason behind an employer’s decision to fire, demote, or take other adverse action. The measure would allow workers suing for discrimination, such as age or disability bias, to pursue “mixed-motive” claims.

“I don’t know what the Senate is going to do. They haven’t done much,” Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the lead sponsor, said shortly after the House vote. “The record will show that Democrats in the House supported senior citizens’ right to get a job free from discrimination and Republicans in the Senate did whatever they’re gonna do. So we’ll see.” Read more from Jaclyn Diaz.

U.S. Effort in Afghanistan Worse Than ‘D–’: U.S. efforts to rebuild Afghanistan after almost two decades of fighting have been plagued by insecurity, personnel issues and politically-driven timelines, according to the Pentagon’s watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction. “The constant turnover of U.S. personnel, or what we have euphemistically called the annual lobotomy, negatively impacted all of our reconstruction efforts,” Special Inspector General John Sopko told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. The U.S. effort was further undermined by a lack of understanding of the “historical, social, legal and political traditions” of the country, he said.

Sopko delivered a blistering critique of American efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. At one point in the hearing, Sopko said if the U.S. had done more than just “showed up for class” or achieved a “D-minus,” the reconstruction efforts would have worked a lot better. The U.S. has spent nearly $900 billion on the Afghan conflict, the longest in American history. Yet the Taliban are at their strongest since being overthrown in 2001, civilian casualties remain near a record high and attacks by insurgents make it impossible for Afghan forces to secure much of the country. Read more from Glen Carey.

Iran Threat Stirs Cyber Defense Call: Potential cyberattacks in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike this month on Iran’s senior military leader Qassem Soleimani are spurring U.S. lawmakers to urge for more funding for the Department of Homeland Security. “You have gotten the committee in a good position to make some strong arguments from a budgetary standpoint that would help shore up some known vulnerabilities,” House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said after a hearing yesterday on threats to the homeland following Soleimani’s death. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Elections & Politics

Trump Tries to Elbow Democrats Out of Iowa: Trump is trying to elbow Democratic presidential candidates out of the spotlight before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. The president held his own televised rally in neighboring Wisconsin on Tuesday to compete with the Democrats’ seventh debate in Des Moines. His campaign also bought a full-page ad in the city’s newspaper and flew a banner through the sky saying “TRUMP FIGHTS FOR IOWA FARMERS!” before candidates sparred on stage. He’ll hold a rally in Des Moines on Jan. 30, just four days before the caucuses. He’s also sending his sons to Iowa and the campaign has scheduled a host of other events. Read more from Mario Parker.

Steyer Lifts Ceiling on Spending: Billionaire Tom Steyer has blown past the $100 million he committed to his Democratic presidential campaign by more than 25% and now says there is no ceiling on what he will spend if it keeps paying off. It remains to be seen whether that tactic will work. Steyer received 1% support in a Quinnipiac national poll of registered voters taken last week. But he’s scored a second-place showing in a recent poll in South Carolina, which holds its primary at the end of February. Read more from Bill Allison.

Bloomberg Seeks to Mobilize Women: Michael Bloomberg sought to mobilize female voters behind his Democratic presidential campaign yesterday with an organizing event in New York, saying women will be the difference in ousting Trump from office. “When we defeat President Trump in November, I know it will be because women rose up to say, ‘Enough,”’ Bloomberg said at a rally in a New York hotel ballroom to launch a “Women for Mike” effort.

The push comes as Bloomberg is facing questions about lawsuits that accuse him of making crude remarks at work in the 1990s and fostering an uncomfortable work environment for women, as well as whether he should release women from non-disclosure agreements. Bloomberg has denied the allegations. Read more from Mark Niquette. Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company.

Buttigieg Backed by N.H. Lawmaker: Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg netted the first endorsement from the New Hampshire congressional delegation on Friday, winning the support of Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.). Kuster, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, will campaign with Buttigieg in Concord on Friday. “Pete Buttigieg is the leader who can finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring our nation together to usher in a new era where we finally solve our most urgent problems,” Kuster said. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Defense & Foreign Affairs

U.S.-China Trade Deal Reality Check: The deal signed between the U.S. and China brings a pause in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. However, it promises some actions China has already taken and skepticism remains as to whether the nation can buy an additional $200 billion in goods and services, including $95 billion in commodities. To achieve the promised increase in purchases, U.S. exports of goods and services have to jump almost 56% this year from 2019 to reach the total laid out in the deal signed by Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, according to Bloomberg calculations. Read more.

South Korea Should Consult U.S. on North Korea Tours, Envoy Says: South Korea’s push to allow for private tourism to North Korea should be discussed with the U.S., said Ambassador Harry Harris, who added the visits are technically possible. “Tourism is allowed under sanctions, but what you take with you when you tour, some of those things might not be allowed under those sanctions,” the U.S. envoy to South Korea told reporters today after President Moon Jae-in raised the proposal earlier this week. Harris said consultations with a designated U.S. government body should take place to “avoid misunderstandings.” Read more from Jihye Lee.

After F-16s From U.S., Taiwan Looks Inward: In her first term, President Tsai Ing-Wen secured more than $10 billion in high-profile U.S. weapons to defend Taiwan against China. Over the next four years, it might be more important to acquire less glamorous, but nimbler weapons to prevent China from weighing an invasion. Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party considers Taiwan as an independent country, spent her first four years in office successfully securing high-tech arms commitments from Trump, including more advanced F-16s and battle tanks. Now she’ll need to show whether she can use that base to build a more credible deterrent against any attack by an increasingly powerful China. Read more from Iain Marlow.

Trump Pushes Mexico to Step Up Cartels Efforts: Trump is pushing Mexico to do more to confront drug cartels over concerns about narcotics and violence coming from the U.S. southern border — topics that will lead the agenda when his top law enforcement official visits today. Mexican officials will host Attorney General William Barr in Mexico City for the second time in as many months, the latest instance of an ongoing conversation between the two countries. A Department of Justice official said the purpose of Barr’s trip is to have high-level meetings on joint counter-narcotics efforts. Read more from Eric Martin and Michael Smith.

Trafficking Fight in Line for Funding: More money to fight human trafficking and first-of-their-kind prosecutions against companies and corporate officials importing goods produced with forced labor will be coming from the Homeland Security Department, its new chief said yesterday. The issues are now a priority and should “rise to the top” of future budget requests across agencies, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told a gathering at the Heritage Foundation, unveiling the agency’s first strategy to fight human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and the importing of goods using forced labor. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Around the Administration

Trump Targets Prayer in School: Trump will announce new guidance on prayer in public schools today, targeting an area in which he’s allowed scant constitutional latitude in another appeal to evangelical Christian voters. Trump telegraphed the action during a Jan. 3 event at a Miami-area megachurch to launch an “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition, telling the audience it would be “big.” But prayer in schools is already legal, with restrictions set out in a series of court actions the president can’t unilaterally countermand.

Trump and his campaign have shown some concern about evangelical support for his re-election following a Dec. 19 editorial published by Christianity Today, founded by the evangelist Billy Graham, that called the president “immoral” and said he should be removed from office. In 2016, 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump. They mostly live in reliably Republican states in the South, but their votes will be crucial to Trump in swing states including Florida and the Rust Belt. Read more from Mario Parker.

SEC’S Jackson Leaving Next Month for NYU: Robert Jackson Jr. said he will step down from the Securities and Exchange Commission next month to return to teaching, leaving Wall Street’s main regulator with an open Democratic seat as Republicans push to dial back rules before November’s elections. Since joining the SEC in January 2018, Jackson has often led opposition to policies pushed by Chairman Jay Clayton, including last year’s landmark move to overhaul conduct standards for brokers and investment advisers. At the same time, he and Clayton — both political independents — worked together to approve enforcement actions in the face of objections from the commission’s two Republicans. Read more from Ben Bain and Andrew Ramonas.

BakerHostetler Lawyer Gets Trump Nod: A BakerHostetler employment and labor lawyer is Trump’s expected pick to fill a seat on the U.S District Court for the Southern District of Texas, adding to Trump’s appointments already in the state. Drew Tipton, who’s been with the firm since 1999, specializes in complex labor and employment and trade secret litigation. Tipton also clerked for Judge John D. Rainey, a judge on the Texas court to which he’s going to be nominated. If confirmed, Tipton would fill the last remaining district court vacancy in Texas. Read more from Madison Alder.

Virginia Declares Emergency Ahead of Militia Protests: Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a temporary state of emergency ahead of expected demonstrations in Richmond on Monday and prohibited all weapons from the state’s capitol grounds until Jan. 21. Citing intelligence analysts, the governor’s office said in a statement yesterday that out-of-state militia groups were planning to attend the event that has been surrounded by credible threats of violence and white nationalist rhetoric. Read more from Nathan Crooks.

Bloomberg Retracts SALT Cap Wealth Exodus Story: Bloomberg has retracted an incorrect article published yesterday with the headline “Trump’s SALT Cap Fuels a Wealth Exodus From High-Tax States” because time frames in the Bank of America analysis on which the story was based were inaccurate. The underlying Internal Revenue Service data in the Bank of America report reflects income earned in 2017 and 2016 before the tax law took effect. The story was included in Bloomberg Government’s afternoon newsletter.

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