The Hill's Morning Report — Key decisions loom for Trump after Thanksgiving

 

 

 

Welcome to the Morning Report and happy Wednesday! The Hill’s daily newsletter will take a break over the Thanksgiving holiday and return on Nov. 26 to get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar with the Arab Gulf States Institute, to discuss the president’s continued alliance with Saudi Arabia’s royal family; Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats eye Pompeo testimony Ex-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony GOP seeks to gain more control of impeachment narrative MORE (R-N.C.), talking about investigating the Clinton Foundation; and Dr. Peter Hotez of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, explaining a recent outbreak of chickenpox in North Carolina. http://thehill.com/hilltv

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE will face a gauntlet of high-stakes political and policy decisions when he returns to Washington after spending the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in Mar-a-Lago.

The dramatic lame-duck session ahead will turn on key moments involving the president:

> The Russia probe: Trump on Tuesday submitted written answers to questions from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE about the Russia investigation (The Hill). The president’s legal team is speaking as if the written responses should bring the probe to an end. Would they consider making the president available for an in-person interview if the special counsel insists? And will Trump appoint a long-term replacement for former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE? Democrats view acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as a yes-man for the president’s prosecutorial whims and a threat to the special counsel. They aim to keep the pressure on through investigations into communications between Whitaker and the White House.

The New York Times: Trump wanted to order Justice Department to investigate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Hillary Clinton praises former administration officials who testified before House as 'gutsy women' Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart MORE and James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGraham on Syria: Trump appears 'hell-bent' on repeating Obama's mistakes in Iraq Trump hits back at Graham over Syria criticism Comey says he has a 'fantasy' about deleting his Twitter account after end of Trump term MORE.

> China: The president is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 Summit in Argentina at the end of the month amid a trade war between the U.S. and China and growing fears of a global economic slowdown. The multi-billion-dollar game of tariffs tit-for-tat has frustrated industries and investors and has contributed to the recent stock market slide. On down-market days in the past, the Trump White House sent economic adviser Larry Kudlow out to make soothing statements about how an agreement between the U.S. and China is likely. That didn’t work on Tuesday, as the markets sold right through Kudlow’s reassuring remarks. Is the economic outlook sufficiently bleak that Trump and Xi might be under pressure to reach a deal?

Reuters: With a blistering new trade report on Tuesday, the U.S. Trade Representative added to U.S.-China disputes. Asian markets fell today as tensions rose.

> Immigration: Congress will have to come to an agreement to fund roughly a quarter of the government’s operations by Dec. 7 to avoid a partial shutdown. Trump has not ruled out blowing past the deadline with no resolution if he doesn’t get funding for a border wall. Will he follow through? Lawmakers and the president keep saying immigration laws need a major overhaul, but no one has made a move in that direction. This week, a federal judge, citing existing law, blocked the Trump administration from denying asylum to migrants seeking entry into the U.S. And Democrats are opening investigations into Trump’s decision, announced ahead of the midterm elections, to send thousands of troops to the border to deal with a migrant caravan.

> Criminal justice reform: There is rare bipartisan support in Washington for a Senate bill aimed at reforming the criminal justice system. The president is pushing for passage of a compromise bill, which was brokered in part by his son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerButtigieg knocks Trump as a 'walking conflict of interest' Biden's weak response to Trump is a lesson for Democratic candidates Mark Hamill zings Ivanka Trump for 'Star Wars' tweet MORE. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatient advocates launch drug pricing ad campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House MORE (R-Ky.) stands in the way. The Kentucky Republican says there’s more important work to be done in the lame-duck session. Will Trump lean on him to push the legislation through and begin the year on a bipartisan high note?

The New York Times: McConnell feels the heat from the right to bring criminal justice reform up for a vote.

> Mississippi Senate runoff: Trump is already committed to swooping into Mississippi next week to campaign for Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) in a runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy. But Hyde-Smith’s campaign has been a disaster and the contest has turned into another racially-charged fiasco for Republicans. There is very little upside for the president here. If Hyde-Smith wins, she holds a state the president carried by almost 19 points in 2016. If she loses, it resembles the special election in Alabama earlier this year, in which a horribly flawed GOP candidate embarrassed the party and fumbled away a Senate seat in a deep red state. Trump heads into 2019 with a campaign playbook that looks tattered coming out of the midterms and a governing style devoted to wedge issues. Is that how he plans to govern during the upcoming era of divided government?

The Hill: During a televised debate Tuesday night, Hyde-Smith apologized, saying she meant no “ill will” when she said she’d be on the “front row” if she were invited to a “public hanging.” Espy said his opponent “rejuvenated old stereotypes” and gave Mississippi “a black eye.”

LEADING THE DAY

WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Trump on Tuesday infuriated lawmakers, the news media, and Turkey with a 638-word statement saying he would not allow the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to disrupt the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia (The Hill).

The CIA has reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s gruesome killing, which was carried out inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Trump sought to cast doubt on that finding.

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t! … The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!” – Trump

Turkey, which investigated the journalist’s killing and linked evidence to the Saudi royal family, called Trump’s statement “comic” (Reuters).

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump threat lacks teeth to block impeachment witnesses Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs MORE, who says the Saudis are U.S. allies against Iran, backed the president.

"It’s a mean, nasty world out there, the Middle East in particular. This is a long, historic commitment and one that is absolutely vital to American national security." – Pompeo

The Trump administration has announced sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of coordinating and executing the plot to kill Khashoggi. One of those sanctioned was a former top aide to the crown prince and another was the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.

Many lawmakers believe the crown prince must be held responsible for Khashoggi’s death and are pushing for further sanctions against Riyadh.

A sampling of the responses from lawmakers to Trump’s statement:

“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.” – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong George Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (R-Tenn.)

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.” – Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally

The Hill: Senators push Trump administration to determine Saudi crown prince role in Khashoggi’s death.

The Saudi journalist’s former U.S. colleagues were equally incensed.

“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships. He is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.” – Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan

 

 

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Immigration: The Justice Department dismissed as “absurd” a federal judge’s temporary order preventing the government from blocking asylum-seeking migrants who illegally cross the border into the United States (Reuters). The department vowed to defend Trump’s asylum decision and assailed a ruling it described as an effort “to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled.

> Niall Stanage: Will Trump’s standing with supporters evolve as his immigration policies continue to be blocked in courts? (The Hill)

Homeland Security Department – caravan: The Department of Homeland Security is gathering intelligence from paid undercover informants inside the migrant caravan that is now reaching the California-Mexico border, as well as monitoring the text messages of migrants (NBC News).

Pentagon – border security: U.S. military troops will be allowed to defend border security personnel (ABC News).

> The administration is considering giving U.S. troops on the border the authority to carry out medical screening of migrants, which would be an expansion of the Pentagon’s role (Reuters).

Senate Democrats – caravan: Twelve senators, led by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and including California’s two Democratic senators, wrote Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump turns Pelosi's 'meltdown' criticism around: 'She is a very sick person' War of words at the White House Trump calls Mattis 'world's most overrated general' over ISIS comments MORE on Tuesday seeking information about the Pentagon’s justification and the costs associated with what they called “the overt politicization of the military and the lack of evidence to justify the deployment of active duty troops to confront the migrant caravan before the midterm elections” (NBC 7 San Diego).

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CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLawmakers, social media users praise photo of Pelosi confronting Trump Trump turns Pelosi's 'meltdown' criticism around: 'She is a very sick person' Trump threat lacks teeth to block impeachment witnesses MORE (D-Calif.) moved closer to being the next Speaker of the House on Tuesday.

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference Harris wins endorsement of former CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge MORE (D-Ohio), who was mulling a run for Speaker, instead offered a surprise endorsement for Pelosi, putting pressure on the remaining Democratic dissidents to do the same.

In exchange, Fudge said Pelosi offered to make her chairwoman of a now-defunct subcommittee on voting rights and elections (The Hill).

The endorsements for Pelosi are rolling in from national Democrats. On Tuesday, Pelosi got this vote of confidence from former President Obama:

“I think Nancy Pelosi, when the history is written, will go down as one of the most effective legislative leaders that this country's ever seen.” – Obama

It’s still unclear whether Pelosi currently has the 218 votes she needs to be Speaker when the House votes in early January. Sixteen Democrats have signed a letter saying they’ll vote against her. But Pelosi is close to the magic number and Fudge’s endorsement may go a long way to helping her seal the deal.

The Hill: Pelosi vows to expand leadership team.

 

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> Mississippi: Trump will headline rallies in Tupelo and Biloxi on Monday for Hyde-Smith, whom he defended again on Tuesday. He argued she was joking when she made the remark about attending a hanging.

“She’s a tremendous woman and I think she’s going to win … [The remarks were made] in jest … it’s a shame she has to go through this.” – Trump

Reuters: “Hanging” remark spurs Democrats in Mississippi.

CNBC: AT&T, Walmart ask Hyde-Smith to return donations after backlash.

CNN: Photo surfaces of Hyde-Smith posing with Confederate artifacts.

 

 

 

More on campaigns and politics … An actress who says she had a relationship with Michael Avenatti alleges that he hit her and dragged her across the floor in a dispute over money (The Associated Press) … Liberal activist Tom Steyer is planning town halls in early-voting states ahead of a potential presidential run (The Hill) … New York Democrats are planning an ambitious overhaul of the state’s voting laws, potentially opening the door to a new generation of voters and more upsets to entrenched incumbents (The Hill) … What does Michael Bloomberg need to do to win over liberal Democrats and win the party’s nomination in 2020? (The Hill) … Democrats are going through state rather than federal courts, seeking friendlier territory as they challenge gerrymandered district lines (The Hill).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CONGRESS & OVERSIGHT: House Democrats have a long list of policy-centered legislation they’d like to showcase next year, but at the moment what’s on their minds is oversight of Trump, the White House and the executive branch.

Exhibit A: House Democrats say they will investigate the email practices of Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpBiden praises Buttigieg for criticizing GOP attacks: 'That's a good man' Buttigieg knocks Trump as a 'walking conflict of interest' Stephen Miller defends Trump, accuses Democrats of 'witch hunt part two' MORE, who admitted this week she used a personal email account to conduct government business in 2017 while functioning as an unpaid adviser to her father. She said no classified material was in her communications (The Hill).

Retiring Republican Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyCNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate The Hill's Morning Report — Arrest of Giuliani associates triggers many questions Trump says Gowdy can't join his legal team 'for a couple months' MORE (S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee until January, gave his Democratic colleagues an assist on Tuesday. In a letter to the White House, he set a Dec. 5 deadline for receipt of information about Ivanka Trump’s emails — information he suggested the committee should have received when it first submitted questions about recordkeeping policies in September 2017 (The Hill).

The president says his daughter’s use of a personal email account was unlike former Secretary Clinton’s reliance on private email and a personal server while leading the State Department. Trump’s campaign against Clinton was laced with condemnations of her email practices and accusations that she should be “in jail” (The Hill).

Separately, House Democrats on Tuesday demanded records and information from the Environmental Protection Agency about the administration’s rollbacks of Obama-era climate policies (The Hill).

Across the Capitol building, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerPelosi fires back after Trump 'meltdown': 'We have to pray for his health' 5 big wins in US-China trade pact Trump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe MORE (D-N.Y.) called for an investigation of the acting attorney general’s contacts with the White House (The Hill).

Meanwhile, members of the House Ethics Committee called on leaders from both parties to help prevent sexual harassment in congressional workplaces. Committee members urged passage of anti-harassment legislation, which stalled this year despite lawmakers’ vows to take action and clean up their own rules (The Hill).

Congress – U.S. pension crisis: A special congressional committee may recommend a federal taxpayer bailout to shore up underfunded multiemployer pension programs. Price tag? Up to $3 billion annually from the U.S. Treasury Department to help at least a million retirees, according to a draft plan (The Washington Post).

Senate – drug prices: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' MORE (I-Vt.) introduced a bill on Tuesday that he says would dramatically reduce drug prices (The Hill).

States v. federal gridlock: While Washington tries to tidy up funding for the fiscal year that began in October, state budgets have expanded in ways that give them clout at a time when federal gridlock is the norm (The Hill).

The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

OPINION

Takeaways from the White House’s short-lived stand against CNN’s Jim Acosta, by Kim Wehle, opinion contributor, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2KlC2Mo

Don’t fret the lame duck, by Christopher Koopman, opinion contributor, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2BmZ4ji

WHERE AND WHEN

The House and Senate are out for the holiday week.

The president is at Mar-a-Lago in Florida through the weekend. Trump has no public events today.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker will deliver remarks about national security efforts to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City at 11:30 a.m.

Government reports today: U.S. durable goods orders for October, and jobless claims, both released at 8:30 a.m.; and U.S. existing-home sales for October, out at 10 a.m.

The Hill’s newsmaker event "Preparing for a Treatment: Alzheimer's Diagnosis and Care" on Nov. 28 features Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick Democratic senators condemn Trump for calling on China to investigate Bidens MORE (D-Mass.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTillis says impeachment is 'a waste of resources' GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising MORE (R-N.C.). Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack talks with lawmakers and experts about groundbreaking advancements in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Registration is HERE.

ELSEWHERE

> Student loans: One of the nation’s largest student loan servicing companies may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans, according to the findings of a federal Department of Education audit of the practices of Navient Corp. Despite the findings, the government has claimed it has no jurisdiction to act. The office of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets MORE (D-Mass) revealed the audit (The Associated Press).

> Wildfires survivors’ misery: Rain is bringing a threat of mudslides to the Northern California area ravaged by the Camp wildfire, impacting survivors who are living in tents and temporary shelters (CBS News). … Authorities are struggling to persuade evacuees in tents to transition out of them and into designated shelters. One reason it’s so tough: a publicized outbreak of norovirus in shelters (San Jose Mercury News).  … Smoke from the California wildfires has impacted air quality and is visible across the country, including on the East Coast (CNN).

> Housing: Construction of single-family homes in the United States fell for a second straight month, suggesting the housing market remained mired in weakness in October as mortgage rates continue to rise (Reuters).

> Yemen: Aid group Save the Children reports that a “conservative” estimate of children under age 5 who have died of starvation and disease in Yemen is 85,000 since the outbreak of civil war there in 2015 (The Associated Press). The war and a Saudi-led blockade have created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 8 million people at risk of starvation.

> NASA: The space agency is days away from a risky landing on Mars of a three-legged, one-armed geologist that will probe the planet and listen for quakes. The spacecraft is to make its descent to the Mars surface on Monday (The Associated Press).

 

 


THE CLOSER

And finally … Thanksgiving! Pulling the surprise right out of the stuffing, Google has mapped what Americans will likely do on Thursday and Black Friday, and FiveThirtyEight polled what we’re likely to eat in various regions of the country.

Of course they did. 

Using search data from last year, Google Trends offers national and city-specific pointers about expected crowds and traffic, popular activities and unusual regional destinations HERE. For example, if you’re in Washington, D.C., on Thanksgiving day, you’re more likely to be searching for a bakery, a museum or a parking spot compared with the rest of the country.

Thanksgiving side dishes underscore America’s vast culinary divides, as we know. But to be more specific, New England is mad about squash, while Texans and those dining in the Southwest believe cornbread is a requirement. Green beans are favorites in the Great Lakes states, while macaroni and cheese will be a major food group in the Southeast on Thursday. Check out maps from FiveThirtyEight.

But from sea to shining sea — even taking into account the influence of international cuisine, vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians — a plattered turkey still rules.

Enjoy your holiday, be thankful and be safe!