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The Hill’s Morning Report — Takeaways from the battle royal in the Oval Office

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report and happy Wednesday! Our newsletter gets 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 Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), on transportation issues and the new Congress; Paris-based journalist Rokhaya Diallo, on protests in France; and author Greg Lukianoff.


Washington moved closer to a partial government shutdown after negotiations between President Trump and top congressional Democrats imploded in spectacular fashion on live television on Tuesday.

With the cameras rolling in the Oval Office, Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) bickered and took pointed jabs at one another, previewing the levels of hostility and brinkmanship that could become commonplace in a divided government.

Vice President Pence sat zen-like in the corner and didn’t utter a word as the 17-minute drama unfolded.

Tune in to Saturday Night Live this weekend for the reenactment.

The Hill: Trump, Democratic leaders go toe-to-toe at the White House.

The Hill: Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown.

At the end of the day, the upshot remained the same: There will be a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21 if a spending agreement can’t be reached. Republicans and Democrats are billions of dollars apart, with the president’s insistence on money to build a wall along the southern border being the sticking point on both sides.

A few highlights and takeaways from a raucous day…

> Did Pelosi bait Trump into taking responsibility for a potential shutdown? Or was it the president’s plan all along? Who knows, but if federal agencies close on Dec. 21, Trump has claimed ownership of the consequences and the political fallout.

The president was at first taken aback when Pelosi called it a “Trump shutdown,” asking her to repeat herself. It didn’t take long for him to warm to the idea.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.” – Trump

> Senate Republicans were dumbfounded by Trump’s shutdown threats.

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton asked Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) if he witnessed the meeting.

“I did, unfortunately. I wish I didn’t.” – Cornyn

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who advised Trump in a private meeting last month to avoid a shutdown over the border wall, was not pleased.

“I’ve never said that myself. I’m always trying to work to fund the government … I think it’s a step in that direction [of a shutdown], obviously, at least the rhetoric.” — Shelby

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed concern.

“I hope that’s not where we end up.” – McConnell

Senate Republicans were also skeptical of Trump’s claim that if he didn’t get the money he wants for the wall, he could go around Congress by ordering the military to build it (The Hill).

> Trump is demanding $5 billion. Democrats had been offering $1.6 billion. Schumer on Tuesday took that number down to $1.3 billion, putting the two sides even further apart (The Hill).

Pelosi told reporters late in the day that Trump called her after the Oval Office meeting to say he was reviewing their latest offer. The call lasted about one minute, Pelosi said.

> Bitterness from Tuesday’s encounter could linger.

After returning to Capitol Hill, Pelosi took another shot at the president during a private meeting with Democrats, The Hill’s Scott Wong and Melanie Zanona report.

“It’s like a manhood thing for him — as if manhood could ever be associated with him — this wall thing.” — Pelosi

Pelosi also said: “It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

Trump, meanwhile, angered liberals by asserting that migrants who seek entry into the country harbor diseases and pose public health risks.

“People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in, and in many cases … it’s contagious.” — Trump

Still, there were glimmers of hope. Trump said after the cameras were turned off that he had a productive meeting with Schumer and Pelosi.

“Believe it or not, I think it was a very friendly meeting. I mean you saw the beginnings of it. … I’ve actually liked them for a long period of time. I respect them both, and we made a lot of progress. …I have to say, I thought it was a very good meeting. When you left, when the press left, we had a fairly long meeting.” — Trump


INVESTIGATIONS: The president’s former personal attorney and self-described “fixer” Michael Cohen will be sentenced today on nine federal charges.

The bulk of the charges pertain to Cohen’s own personal finances and business ventures. But Cohen has also pleaded guilty to one campaign finance violation that implicates the president, stemming from payments he made to keep stories from two women who claim to have had extra-marital affairs with Trump out of the newspapers.

Trump explained the payments in a Tuesday interview with Reuters.

“Michael Cohen is a lawyer. I assume he would know what he’s doing. Number one, it wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?”

Cohen is facing the possibility of roughly 42 months in prison. Prosecutors in New York have recommended he do “substantial” time behind bars, even as he’s made himself available as a witness to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Hill: Cohen saga reaches dramatic climax in federal court.

CNBC: Judge orders Stormy Daniels to pay Trump $294,000 after finding her defamation suit “meritless.”



> Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn asked a federal judge on Tuesday to spare him from prison time. Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian but has cooperated with the special counsel. Last week, Mueller said in a filing that Flynn had provided “substantial assistance” and recommended he serve no jail time (The Hill).

In Tuesday’s filing, Flynn said he was tricked into lying when he was interviewed at the White House last year by former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and former FBI agent Peter Strzok. McCabe and Strzok have since been fired over other matters (The New York Times).

> On Tuesday, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort appeared before a judge, who heard from the special counsel about how he violated the terms of a plea deal by lying to prosecutors about his contacts with Trump administration officials (The Hill).

Manafort’s team has until Jan. 7 to refute the new charges. He’s facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

More from the investigations front … Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos is out of prison and being followed by a documentary filmmaking crew (The Washington Post) … A judge has delayed the plea deal hearing for alleged Russian agent Maria Butina (Reuters).


CONGRESS: A revised bipartisan criminal justice reform bill supported by Trump will now get a Senate vote, perhaps as early as Friday, overcoming the staunch resistance of McConnell. The measure’s supporters, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), believe the measure can clear the Senate and the House and head to the president’s desk this month (The Hill).

“If you look at criminal justice reform, that’s a big thing. I know we’ve been looking to do that for many years and they haven’t been able to do it. We’ve done it hopefully very soon and in a bipartisan way. … It’s going to be voted on very shortly, maybe Friday, very, very soon.” — Trump



Farm bill: The Senate approved a massive agriculture bill on Tuesday after months of disagreements and negotiations (The Hill).

Rebuking Saudi Arabia: The Senate is expected to take a high-stakes vote today on a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Such action is a prominent slap at Riyadh, and also at the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who continue to defend the U.S. ally. Separately, GOP leaders, as well as Foreign Relation Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), are negotiating a resolution naming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “responsible” for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s slaying in October (The Hill).

Impeachment & oversight: House Democrats are not of like mind about how soon and how intensively to aim at Trump with articles of impeachment when they hold the majority (The Hill). … Meanwhile, the president on Tuesday said he is not concerned that he could be impeached. “People would revolt.” Payments made by his attorney in 2016 on his behalf were not violations of campaign finance laws, he said (Reuters interview).

House Democrats – term limits: Pelosi is closing in on a deal with some of her fiercest Democratic critics to support term limits for party leaders — a move that would likely pave the way for her to clinch the Speaker’s gavel in January (The Hill). The top three leaders would be term-limited, according to Tuesday’s talks (The Washington Post). Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who will assume the role of House majority leader in January, is opposed to such limits. And he’s got company (The Hill).

House Democrats – title advancement: Pelosi ally Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who steered the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee through this year’s winning midterms, will get the new title of “assistant Speaker” next year (The Hill).




CAMPAIGNS AND POLITICS:  A few contentious battles are still raging across the country after the midterm elections

> In North Carolina, the state Republican Party said it would agree to a new general election if claims that officials leaked early votes before Nov. 6 are proven true (The Hill).

Those claims came from a precinct worker in Bladen County, which has been at the center of other allegations of election fraud and voting irregularities.

Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready there by fewer than 1,000 votes, but the ongoing investigations into election malfeasance might result in a do-over.

> In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) will be leaving office at the end of the year amid a cloud of controversy (The Associated Press). 

Walker said Tuesday he’d consider vetoing a bill Republicans passed in the lame-duck session that Democrats have described as a power grab aimed at handcuffing incoming Gov. Tony Evers (D).

More from campaigns and politics … Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) narrowly leads former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in a survey of members (The Hill) … Biden taking his time on presidential decision (The Hill) … Americans stuck in place even as economy booms (The Hill).

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


Can McConnell and Schumer end Senate gridlock?, by James G. Flood, opinion contributor, The Hill.

Six years after Sandy Hook, it’s time for action on gun violence, by Joan Cook, opinion contributor, The Hill.


The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m. and resumes consideration of a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the Treasury Department rule on “Returns by Exempt Organizations and Returns by Certain Non-Exempt Organizations.

The House convenes at 10 a.m. The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade hears testimony from Treasury Department Under Secretary David Malpass at 10 a.m. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law will hear from Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph J. Simons at 2 p.m. during an oversight hearing on antitrust enforcement agencies. 

The president at 2:30 p.m. will sign an executive order creating the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. The event was expected to take place in Baltimore, but was moved to the White House (The Washington Post).

Vice President Pence will receive a briefing from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at NASA and greet employees at 12:30 p.m. during a visit to the agency’s headquarters.

Secretary of State Pompeo attends a United Nations Security Council meeting about Iran at 10 a.m. in New York City. He speaks to the press at 12:15 p.m.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will visit Texas and the Dallas Police Department to speak about Project Safe Neighborhoods at 2:20 p.m. CT.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the U.S. consumer price index for November and the real earnings report at 8:30 a.m.


The Treasury Department releases a federal budget statement for November at 2 p.m. Analysts are eyeing the rising federal deficit, which was $303 billion for the first two months of fiscal 2019 — $102 billion more than during the same period last year, the Congressional Budget Office reported on Monday (The Hill).



> Tech: Google CEO Sundar Pichai was grilled by lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about privacy, data collection, allegations of political bias and the company’s reported work on a search engine in China (CNBC). The Google chief vigorously defended his company and the markets responded positively to his testimony, which came amid new legal and regulatory threats facing the tech sector, and companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Twitter (The Hill).

> United Kingdom: Conservative British lawmakers today triggered a no-confidence vote on Prime Minister Theresa May, which could result in her removal from government if she loses (The Associated Press). May, embroiled in controversy approaching her country’s March deadline to exit the European Union, vowed to fight “with everything I’ve got.”

> China: A Canadian court has granted bail to Meng Wanzhou, a top official for the Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies, who was accused of evading U.S. trade restrictions on Iran (Reuters). China has threatened to retaliate if Meng is not released. On Tuesday, Canada said China detained one of its citizens. The U.S. Justice Department reportedly wants Meng extradited to the U.S. to face charges, further complicating trade negotiations between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Bloomberg). Trump says he’s open to intervening in the matter, if it will help resolve the trade impasse (Reuters).

> State watch: Kentucky lawmakers consider a school ban on corporal punishment (Louisville Courier Journal). … In Virginia, a Charlottesville jury recommended life in prison for James Alex Fields, who drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters in 2017 and killed Heather Heyer (WTOP). … California already has the nation’s most robust building requirement programs for new homes in fire-prone areas, but recent fire seasons stirred debate among state officials that more is needed (The Associated Press).


And finally … Journalists killed and targeted for their work appear on four different TIME magazine covers as “person of the year,” chosen “for taking risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts, for speaking up and for speaking out.”

The high-profile annual issue describes “the guardians and the war on truth” as a global phenomenon, with a focus on slain Saudi journalist Khashoggi, the five reporters and editors murdered by an aggrieved shooter inside the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., and Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, imprisoned in Myanmar/Burma following their reporting about a mass execution carried out by military and security forces.

The House is considering a resolution calling on the government of Burma to release the two journalists.

TIME explained its choices HERE, and NBC News and many other outlets gave the “guardians” conceit prominent coverage on Tuesday.

“The old-school despot embraced censorship. The modern despot, finding that more difficult, foments mistrust of credible fact, thrives on the confusion loosed by social media and fashions the illusion of legitimacy from supplicants.” — TIME



Tags Andrew McCabe Bob Corker Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Donald Trump George Papadopoulos Jim Bridenstine Joe Biden John Cornyn Mark Harris Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Paul Manafort Peter DeFazio Richard Shelby Robert Mueller Steny Hoyer

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