The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms




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Washington faces a partial government shutdown in five days and there doesn’t appear to be any urgency or a plan by lawmakers to negotiate a way around it.

Lawmakers in both chambers are back to work this week, but someone will have to blink to avoid a shutdown, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE is demanding a spending bill with $5 billion for a border wall and Democrats are not budging from their offer of $1.3 billion.

The Hill: GOP leader faces Trump test in latest shutdown crisis.

The Associated Press: White House closer to partial shutdown with wall demand.

With the shutdown set to kick in at midnight on Dec. 21, Trump and lawmakers spent the weekend focused primarily on the swirl of investigations around the president.

It’s unclear what kind of bill Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy woos Freedom Caucus with eye on Speakership American Greatness editor on how Trump's abandonment of populism affected 2020 election Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' MORE (R-Wis.), who is retiring at the end of the year, will bring to the House floor for a vote. It’s unclear how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.) will treat anything that comes out of the House. And it’s unclear whether Trump will follow through on his threat to veto any spending bill that doesn’t give him the full $5 billion for the wall.

The New York Times: Can the GOP get lawmakers to show up and vote?

The Hill: House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.) gets her swagger on.

One thing is certain: With Republicans in charge of the House and Senate and Trump in the White House, the GOP will shoulder the political fallout.

The president has backed himself in a corner here. Behind the scenes, GOP lawmakers are frustrated by Trump’s brinkmanship and by his indifference about what a shutdown would mean for his party.

The Hill: GOP set to be blamed for shutdown.

The Hill: Trump finds himself isolated in shutdown fight.

One other big thing to watch this week: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will speak on Wednesday at 2 p.m. after the central bank’s scheduled meeting.

The markets, which have been under pressure and experiencing historic volatility, are expecting a modest rate hike amid concerns that a global economic slowdown may be around the bend.

Trump has cast the recent bull market run as a reflection on his fiscal policies and he’s blamed the late-year swoon on expectations that rates will tighten.

The president, investors and corporate leaders will be watching Powell’s remarks closely, both for the Fed’s actions and for the chairman’s appraisal about where the economy is headed as we enter a presidential election cycle.

Reuters: Stocks steady as investors pin hopes on policymakers.

The Hill: A look at the week ahead.


POLITICS:  Health care: A federal judge in Texas struck down ObamaCare as unconstitutional a day before the deadline to sign up for coverage next year, raising new questions about the fate of former President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

The New York Times: Texas judge strikes down ObamaCare as unconstitutional.

The Hill: Five takeaways from the ObamaCare court ruling.

The Affordable Care Act is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court once again, ensuring that health care will be a top issue as Trump seeks reelection.

Lawmakers in both parties questioned the ruling.

"[The Texas judge] could have taken a much more surgical approach and just struck down the individual mandate and kept the rest of the law intact. I believe it will be overturned.” — Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (R-Maine) on ABC News’s “This Week.”

The New York Times: Judge who halted Affordable Care Act is a conservative favorite.

The Hill: ObamaCare signup period ends amid new uncertainty.

The dynamics will be fascinating to watch. Many conservatives were frustrated by the GOP’s inability to repeal the law after campaigning on that promise for years.

In that time, ObamaCare has become more popular and Trump has committed to preserving the law’s pre-existing conditions protections in coverage.

Democrats are thrilled to relitigate the matter and some expressed optimism that the court ruling would move the party to pursue “Medicare for all” legislation.


The judge who ruled on the case was appointed by former President George W. Bush and approved by voice vote in 2007 when Democrats were in control of the Senate. That hasn’t sat well with the left, as Chuck Todd noted on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.).

Todd: You brushed off this judge issue very quickly. Look, that was part of a deal you were a part of cutting back in '07. Was that a bad deal?

Schumer: No, there was no deal, I don't think, on this judge. He was a nominee to the district court. No one brought up anything. No one knew how he'd rule in the future. And you know, it's an awful ruling. Let's make no mistake about it.

Max Nisen: Celebration of ObamaCare’s death is again premature.

Ezra Klein: Court ruling a boon for “Medicare for all.”

More from campaigns and politics … Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) lead among Democrats in Iowa (Des Moines Register) … Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerJudge whose son was killed by gunman: 'Federal judiciary is under attack' Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Policy center calls for new lawmakers to make diverse hires MORE (D-N.J.) to test whether a single man can win the White House (The Inquirer) … Disputed North Carolina race exposes mail ballot flaws (The Hill).


INVESTIGATIONS: Trump tweeted about the investigations around him eight times on Sunday, lashing out at his former attorney Michael Cohen as a “rat” and blasting prosecutors for not pursuing Democrats.

Cohen, who will report to prison in March, has been making the media rounds, casting his former boss as hopelessly corrupt and vowing to spill all of the president’s secrets. Democrats plan to haul Cohen before Congress for public testimony when they take over the House in January (Politico).





The Hill: Trump’s legal problems worsen.

The Hill: Cohen fans the flames around Trump.

In addition to Cohen, several other former members of Trump’s inner circle are cooperating with prosecutors as investigations around the campaign, inaugural committee and the president’s business empire gain steam and captivate Washington.

Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, will be sentenced on Tuesday (The Hill).

The Associated Press: Where the investigations stand.

The Washington Post: Nearly every organization Trump has led is under investigation.

Perspectives and Analysis

George Conway: Trump’s claim that he didn’t violate campaign finance laws is weak and dangerous.

Jonathan Turley: No glory in James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Trump blasts special counsel Durham for moving too slowly Biden plans to keep Wray as FBI director: report MORE getting away with abuse of power at FBI.

More from the investigations front … New Senate report on Russian disinformation shows operations scale and sweep (The Washington Post) … Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE’s probe has cost $25 million so far (The Hill) … How congressional Democrats plan to investigate Trump (The New Yorker) …  Five things to know about the Trump inauguration investigation (The Hill).


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: The government is not fully funded and parts of it might shutter on Friday night. The president’s budget submission to Congress, to be released early in 2019, and usually wrapped up in draft form before Christmas, is still a work in progress. The White House chief of staff, John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, is leaving the West Wing in a matter of days. And lots of seasoned observers in Washington expressed skepticism about Trump’s decision on Friday to name budget director Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney 'concerned' by Giuliani role in Trump election case On The Money: Senate releases spending bills, setting up talks for December deal | McConnell pushing for 'highly targeted' COVID deal | CFPB vet who battled Trump will lead Biden plans to overhaul agency Consumer bureau vet who battled Trump will lead Biden plans to overhaul agency MORE as the acting successor to Kelly while continuing to lead the Office of Management and Budget (The Hill).

No one is quite sure how long Mulvaney, an ambitious former congressman from South Carolina, will be “acting,” or how long Trump will ask him to wear multiple hats. But he is expected to deliver something the president prizes: loyalty (The Associated Press).

NBC News reports it was Mulvaney’s idea to be “acting” chief, a title he hopes to hold for just half a year — and one that would in any other White House be perceived as rendering him a lame duck before he begins.

Trump has experienced more turnover among top West Wing assistants to the president — that is, the roughly 25 senior advisory positions earning the highest salaries — than any previous president at this point in a term. Trump’s turnover is 73 percent, presidency scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, told The Hill.

Simultaneous with the latest West Wing churn, the president purged Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race MORE over the weekend because Zinke was mired in ethics probes, including an investigation at the Department of Justice, which could still dominate headlines when House Democratic overseers hold hearings in 2019.

Trump will sit down with the secretary in the Oval Office this afternoon.

Environmentalists pummeled Zinke on his way out the door. He will “go down as the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation’s history,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said (The Hill).

Interior’s top deputy, David Bernhardt, who is set to become acting secretary at the department, has been the man behind the curtain, suggesting Trump is not changing policies (Politico).



Immigration: A 7-year-old migrant girl’s death in the custody of Customs and Border Protection continues to draw new scrutiny to the government’s treatment of migrants, especially at the southern border with Mexico (The Hill). Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death highlights communications barriers at the border. She was Guatemalan, and her father’s first language is a Mayan dialect (The Associated Press).

Trump on Sunday defended U.S. separations of immigrant parents and children at the border — a policy blocked in federal court — because he says the treatment discourages migrants from attempting to enter the United States.



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The murder of The Weekly Standard, by John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine. http://bit.ly/2PFnVCS

Expect a slowdown in economic growth in 2019, by Michael Hicks, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2QFhYv6


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the House version of the criminal justice reform bill.

The House is in pro forma session today. The full House isn’t scheduled to convene until Wednesday.

Vice President Pence will see Trump over lunch, then meet with New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in the Roosevelt Room. This evening, the vice president flies to Cape Canaveral, Fla., arriving before 10 p.m.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over 'intimidation' tactics Israel's new Gulf relations give Biden's team a new Middle East hub Pompeo knocks Turkey in NATO speech: report MORE meets at 9 a.m. with New Zealand’s Peters.

The president meets with the vice president at midday. Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpDC attorney general: Ivanka Trump 'highly misleading' on lawsuit deposition Biden warns Americans against traveling for Christmas McEnany hits Democratic leaders for not following their own COVID-19 restrictions MORE host two Christmas receptions at the White House this evening.




> Tax law: Divorcing couples are racing to resolve their cases by the end of the year to dodge a change included in the 2017 tax law that eliminates the deduction for alimony payments for divorces concluded in 2019 and beyond (The Hill).

> North Korea: Pyongyang condemned the Trump administration on Sunday for stepping up sanctions, warning the United States of a return to “exchanges of fire” and arguing that North Korea’s disarmament could be blocked forever (Reuters).

> Syria: The United States is waging a hidden war in Syria, where U.S. troops will stay indefinitely while controlling a third of the country — with all the perils that accompany that presence (The Washington Post).

> Africa: The U.S. military carried out six airstrikes in Somalia over the weekend and killed 62 al-Shabab extremist rebels, the Pentagon said today (The Associated Press).

> Tech: Alphabet Inc.’s Google said today that it will invest more than $1 billion to establish a new campus in New York, to be the primary location for Google’s global business organization. The company made the announcement in a blog post (Reuters).

> Sodden city: 2018 is officially Washington’s wettest calendar year on record (WTOP).




And finally … It’s graduation season around the country, and a few ceremonies made us smile over the weekend.


In case you missed it, Aldo Amenta graduated from Florida International University on Sunday, a considerable triumph after a diving accident in a swimming pool three years ago left him in a coma and with a broken neck. As a quadriplegic, Amenta, a native of Venezuela, usually relies on his wheelchair, but he walked across the stage Sunday to accept his diploma with help from an exoskeleton, some rehearsals and the exuberant support of his classmates (CBS News). Video is HERE.





Another Midwestern ceremony went viral with a different kind of flourish. University of Missouri senior Massimo Montalbano, who completed his major in animal sciences, brought Amelia, a 3-year-old cow, to campus on Thursday for his graduation photo. The news media in Columbia, Mo., reported that his slow-moving prop was a hit with students and faculty (Fox Illinois and The Associated Press).





And speaking of animals at graduations, Piedmont Virginia Community College and Service Dogs of Virginia held a special ceremony on Saturday to honor a new team of service dogs. The nonprofit organization based in Charlottesville, Va., raises, trains and places canines to assist people with disabilities (NBC29), and matched 10 clients with dogs this year.