The Hill's Morning Report - Congress readies spending punt into 2019

The Hill's Morning Report - Congress readies spending punt into 2019
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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report and happy Thursday! 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.

Congress is poised to end an uproar over funding parts of the government with a seven-week patch that expires on Feb. 8 without President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE’s demanded $5 billion to build a border wall.


The Senate by voice vote passed a short-term continuing resolution late on Wednesday and sent it to the House. If approved there and then signed by Trump, the compromise would avert a partial government shutdown set to begin on Saturday.


The stopgap bill, described by Republican senators as a “reality” option on the table in discussions with the White House, resolves few disagreements but keeps the government operating through the Christmas holiday (The Hill).

The Senate concluded its work for the year, but not before hitting a snag on Wednesday over whether to include a land and water measure, and other adornments in the continuing resolution (The Hill).


The House is expected to act before Friday’s midnight deadline, but some conservative members warned that if Trump retreats from his demand for appropriations for a border wall, he’ll suffer dire political consequences among his supporters.


The president has been admonished not to capitulate, but Republicans in the Senate said the president has little leverage.


The New York Times: “It’s been clear to me,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said, “that at least on this issue, Mrs. Pelosi has been running the show.”


The Associated Press: Dozens of House Republicans may be absent from Washington for final votes this week after losing their majority in the midterm election.


Lawmakers are being asked to temporarily extend funding for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and numerous agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State and Transportation. The Senate-passed compromise does not increase funding for border security or the wall, among Trump’s notable campaign promises.


Under pressure from his base to deliver on his infamous pledge, the president tweeted that Mexico will indirectly foot the bill and that a wall can be constructed by the U.S. military.





WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Trump’s abrupt announcement to pull U.S. forces out of Syria over the next month caught members of Congress, some administration officials and Kurdish forces by surprise while hasty notifications circulated Wednesday morning, and The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post broke the news. The upshot: anger and confusion (The Hill).


The president’s decision, which he unveiled with scant details on Twitter, reawakened years of debate straddling two administrations about U.S. strategy against the Islamic State, as well as the U.S. outlook for relations with Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Kurds.





In a brief White House video message created in the Rose Garden, Trump said troops want to leave Syria: “We have won against ISIS. … It’s time to come back. … They’re coming back now.”


The New York Times: Trump argued internally this week that the risk of a Turkish incursion could be a threat to U.S. forces in Syria.


The Associated Press: U.S. combat partners in Iraq and Afghanistan wonder if Trump will pull the plug on them, too.


Some members of the president’s party criticized the decision, which fulfills one of Trump’s 2016 campaign promises. In private, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE tried but failed to dissuade Trump from the withdrawal from Syria, arguing the U.S. mission was incomplete.


The Washington Post: Mattis has been repeatedly overruled by Trump.


At the same time, some Republican senators have been embroiled in a separate debate about whether Congress could or should exert more sway over U.S. war powers, including U.S. military assistance in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.


The long-running arguments in Congress about countering terrorist organizations will continue in 2019 as Democrats take control of the House and Republicans enlarge their majority in the Senate.


The Hill: Senators call on Trump to reconsider an exit from Syria.


“An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia,” Trump ally Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSecond ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE (R-S.C.) said in a statement. “I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.”


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Tenn.), who was scheduled to meet with Trump and expected to discuss Syria, was already at the White House Wednesday afternoon when he was told the meeting was canceled (The Hill). Corker is retiring from the Senate at the end of this session.


U.S. forces in Syria have numbered as many as 2,000, but the administration declined to say how many troops are on the ground there now.






FEDERAL RESERVE: The nation’s central bank on Wednesday raised interest rates for the fourth time this year, signaling perhaps two more hikes in 2019 rather than three, in line with its gauge of strong U.S. economic expansion and robust job creation but expectations for slower global growth.


While the Fed’s decision this week was widely expected, the stock market fell to its lowest level since September 2017 (The Hill). World equity markets slumped today (Reuters).


Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, during his final news conference of the year, said political considerations, including Trump’s frequent Fed criticisms and advice to the central bank not to raise rates “play no role whatsoever in our discussions or our decisions about monetary policy. … Nothing will deter us from doing what we think is the right thing to do” (CNBC video).


Bloomberg: The Fed’s rate hikes since Trump’s inauguration may have added $6 million per year to the Trump Organization’s annual borrowing costs.






Russia - sanctions: The departments of State and Treasury imposed fresh Russia-related sanctions on Wednesday, expanding a blacklist of individuals allegedly involved in a Kremlin-backed campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, among other offenses (Reuters).


CONGRESS: Judges - Senate Democrats, led by New York Democrat Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate confirms Trump judicial nominee criticized for being hostile to LGBT community Senate confirms Trump judicial nominee criticized for being hostile to LGBT community Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills MORE, are blocking a slate of judicial nominees at the end of the year under pressure from progressive groups. It is customary for Senate leaders to collaborate on a package of judicial and executive nominees before a major holiday recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate to vote Thursday to block Trump's Saudi arms deal MORE (R-Ky.) made judicial nominees a top priority this year, but Democrats see no upside in cooperating when it comes to approving more conservative judges (The Hill).



Deals and disorder: Just a week after an incendiary White House meeting between Democratic leaders and Trump over government funding, Congress is headed out of town with a series of legislative compromises, including a farm bill, congressional rules reforms dealing with sexual misconduct, and the most significant criminal justice overhaul in a generation (The Hill).



Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' The unexpected shadow of 1994, 25 years later Addressing climate change is a win for Republicans — why not embrace it? MORE’s goodbye: During a Wednesday farewell address that capped two decades as a Wisconsin congressman, three years as Speaker and a star turn in 2012 as vice presidential running mate with Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney jokes about his multiple houses while arguing against tying lawmaker pay to budget Romney jokes about his multiple houses while arguing against tying lawmaker pay to budget Republicans more interested in a primary challenge to Trump than Democrats were for Obama in 2012 MORE, Ryan described his legacy and sidestepped the word “Trump.”


And no wonder. Once hailed as the policy-loving wunderkind of the Republican Party, Ryan is retiring from a brand of conservative politics remade by a president he’s by turns encouraged, rebuked and ignored. And he expects to hand the gavel in January to California Democrat Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE, his almost-assured successor as Speaker.


The husband and father from Janesville, who’ll be 49 next month, is coy about what comes next. It’s easier to guess what won’t entice Ryan: Trump’s Cabinet, Trump’s senior staff or a posh ambassadorship. Some of his admirers speculated last summer that Ryan would be an ideal thought leader and rainmaker at the American Enterprise Institute (The Hill), a role that would let him be in Washington part-time.


David Frum: The self-delusion of Paul Ryan.






House GOP: Heading into the minority in a matter of weeks has become a rude awakening for the two-thirds of House Republicans who have only served in the majority. The Speaker’s office is packed up for the change-over. Scores of lame-duck GOP lawmakers who are working out of temporary cubicles in the basement have stopped showing up for votes. And committees have purged staff members in preparation for tighter budgets next year. The result has left a sour mood in the Capitol as House Republicans limp out of Washington at year’s end (The Hill).

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The Islamic State has been degraded, but not defeated. Despite what President Trump said, our mission is not complete, by Joshua A. Geltzer and Christopher P. Costa, former senior directors for counterterrorism under Presidents Trump and Obama, The New York Times.


Denying protections for asylum seekers denies them opportunities to seek safety, by Amelia McGowan, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who expects to chair the House Natural Resources Committee in January. He talks about the upcoming agenda. And Nick Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, discusses the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.


The Senate is in period of morning business beginning at 11:30 a.m.


The House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business; voting begins after 11 a.m. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House MORE will testify this morning before the House Judiciary Committee about oversight of her department. The House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m. will discuss the rising federal debt.


The president at 2:30 p.m. participates in a signing ceremony for the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.”


Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Trump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Trump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon MORE holds a press conference at 10:30 a.m. at the Justice Department to announce a China-related national security law enforcement action. He’ll be accompanied by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers; FBI Director Christopher Wray; and Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The event will be livestreamed.


> Facebook: The tech giant confronts new calls for Washington regulation following a New York Times report that found the company granted undisclosed access to user data to more than 150 companies — a practice CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Libras fire back at Facebook for naming new cryptocurrency after astrological sign representing fairness MORE appeared to deny during congressional testimony this year (Bloomberg). … The attorney general for the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against Facebook on Wednesday for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, to gain access to the names, “likes" and other personal data about tens of millions of the social site’s users without their permission. The suit marks the first major effort by U.S. regulators to punish Facebook for its entanglement with the firm (The Washington Post).


> Immigration: A federal judge blocked Trump administration policies that prevented immigrants who suffered gang violence or domestic abuse in their home countries from seeking asylum. The Justice Department said it is weighing a response to Wednesday’s ruling, which said the administration overreached under existing immigration laws (The Associated Press).   


> Catholic Church: Pope Francis on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Monsignor Alexander Salazar, a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop, following a claim, first made in 2005, of misconduct with a minor during the 1990s. The resignation adds to a string of alleged misconduct cases brought to light this year involving bishops (The Associated Press). … The Catholic Church in Illinois withheld the names of at least 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, the state’s attorney general said Wednesday in a scathing report (The New York Times).


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the official Christmas photograph of the president and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Trump jokes he'd get 'electric chair' if he deleted even one 'love note' email to Melania MORE, it’s time for some smart guesses about the White House portrait released this week (as well as some of the media coverage it inspired).


Email your responses today to, and please add “Quiz” to your subject line. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


First, the White House photo:





Let’s begin with the location where the Trumps posed. Where is Cross Hall in the White House?


  1. The East Wing
  2. Between the East Room and the State Dining Room on the State Floor
  3. In the president’s personal quarters in the residence
  4. The West Wing colonnade


The first lady, a former model, is known for selecting designer apparel straight from the runway. The news media dissected her form-fitting, sequined turtleneck dress. Whose creation did Melania wear in the official pix?


  1. Céline
  2. Ralph Lauren
  3. Dior
  4. Scanlan Theodore


On social media, observers thought the official 2018 Christmas photograph of the Trumps was missing something traditionally included by previous first families. What did commentators most frequently mention they expected to see in such a photo, but did not?


  1. A menorah
  2. A cardigan
  3. Santa Claus
  4. The Trumps’ 12-year-old son, Barron, who lives with them


In modern administrations, presidents mail out many thousands of holiday keepsake cards featuring messages (and often photographs) to their supporters and benefactors. What entity covers the costs of those seasonal greetings?


  1. The White House Historical Association
  2. A sitting president’s national political party (in Trump’s case, the Republican National Committee)
  3. The president himself
  4. Taxpayers