The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown likely after chaotic day

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report and TGIF! One word to describe this week is “turmoil.” ☃ Our roundup of news and analysis will take a holiday hiatus before returning Jan. 2 for what promises to be the start of a lively 2019. Until then, find the latest news at Very merry wishes from Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (@joneasley and @asimendinger on Twitter.)


The Senate today faces a midnight deadline to consider a House-passed version of a measure to fund the government, one that includes President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE’s demand for at least $5 billion for a border wall. 

The House passed a stopgap measure late Thursday, rather than take up the Senate version, approved Wednesday with no wall funding. The House vote of 217-185 puts the House at odds with the Senate, adding layers of complication to the rush to avert a partial government shutdown before the Christmas holiday.

This was a victory for House Republicans, but why didn’t they pass this bill earlier? Such a move would have given them leverage against Senate Democrats.

Many senators departed Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, thinking they were done for the year. Today, they’ve been called back to vote on a measure many believe will fail.

The Hill: Trump sides with conservative House Republicans, vowing not to sign a stopgap compromise without $5 billion for a wall with “steel slats.” Senate Democrats oppose the president’s demand.

The Hill: For the president, the government funding fight comes down to his base.

The Hill: Trump’s Thursday reversal, the result of pressure from conservative radio and television pundits, including Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, stunned senators.

Limbaugh said Trump conveyed that he would not cave on a bedrock promise from his campaign.

"The president got word to me 20 minutes ago that if it comes back to him without money, if whatever happens in the House and Senate comes back to him with no allocation of $5 billion for the wall, then he's going to veto it," Limbaugh told his audience. 

The Hill: The House-passed border wall bill is dead in the Senate, says Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE (D-N.Y.).

Odds of a partial government shutdown: High.


Trump’s abrupt announcement on Thursday that Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November MORE will depart the administration in late February, and with no successor named, set off alarms in Washington and in capitals around the globe.

“This will embolden people to do stupid things,” one GOP analyst told The Hill. “This is just an abomination. The Syria announcement was an abomination. It’s like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

The Hill: Mattis resigns, says views aren’t in line with Trump’s.

Military and counterterrorism experts in the United States, as well as U.S. allies around the world, respect Mattis as a reservoir of discipline and seasoned knowledge in Trump’s always-roiling ocean.

Reuters: NATO today hailed Mattis’s contributions.

The Washington Post: Mattis departure sends shock waves abroad.

GOP reactions to the defense secretary’s decision highlighted growing fears that the president is increasingly content to arrive at impulsive decisions while governing in a dangerous world. And is willing to do it alone.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power MORE (R-Ky.) spoke of his admiration for Mattis in a statement issued late Thursday, accompanied by a blunt warning about Russia, a nation allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as Moscow opposes ISIS.

We must … maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter,” McConnell said (The Hill).

So I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis, who shares those clear principles, will soon depart the administration. But I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership. It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new Secretary of Defense.”

Other Republicans backed the general.









Mattis’s announcement took place at the same time the president and Congress were working to avoid a government shutdown in a disagreement about funding a border wall. And in the background, financial markets plummeted Thursday, weighed down by year-end pessimism. 

Trump will start 2019 with unprecedented turnover in his administration, including at the United Nations, the Justice Department, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The president has an acting White House chief of staff who also serves as budget director. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenMore than million in DHS contracts awarded to firm of acting secretary's wife: report DHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law Appeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections MORE, who has been at odds with Trump over immigration, reportedly plans to resign in late January (Government Executive/Quartz).  

It has been clear for months that Trump had become disenchanted with Mattis’s advice. The president’s Wednesday announcement to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria in one month while declaring victory over the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) brought tensions with the four-star Marine general to the breaking point.

The New York Times: Trump rebuffed Mattis on Thursday during the general’s last-ditch attempt to keep American troops in Syria. Mattis then told the president he was resigning.

The Washington Post: Trump directed the Pentagon to plan to withdraw nearly half of the more than 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan, a move that senior advisers and military officials have warned against.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.” — Mattis resignation letter (complete text HERE)

The New York Times: Russian President Vladimir Putin applauded Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. “Donald’s right, and I agree with him.”

Reuters: Syria’s Kurds reel in reaction to U.S. withdrawal orders. Assad seen planning next steps.

The New York Times: U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria abruptly scrambled the geopolitics of the Middle East. Kurdish forces, fearing they’ve been betrayed, threaten to release thousands of Islamic State prisoners if the U.S. pulls out. Israel faces new calculations with Iran.

Trump defended his Syria policy:






WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: William Barr, nominated to be attorney general, sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to the Justice Department in June critical of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s line of inquiry about potential obstruction of justice (The Wall Street Journal).

Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinDOJ kept investigators from completing probe of Trump ties to Russia: report Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book MORE said Thursday that Barr’s input had no impact on decisions made within the department. Democrats will surely grill Barr on his memo during his expected confirmation hearing next year. One question likely to be asked: Why did you share a copy of your memo with an attorney representing the White House? (The Hill)

The disclosures prompted one senior Senate Democrat to suggest Trump should withdraw Barr’s nomination.



Justice Department: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was advised by department ethics officials that he should recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia probe, but his advisers told him not to do it, and he will now be briefed on the investigation (The Washington Post).

Justice Department - China: The department unveiled criminal charges against hackers affiliated with China’s main intelligence service for an alleged cyber-spying campaign targeting U.S. and other countries’ networks (The Associated Press). China called the United States arrogant and selfish following the charges (The Associated Press).

Agriculture Department: The Trump administration said Thursday it wants to tighten food stamp restrictions for some able-bodied Americans through an administrative action rather than legislation. The move will inflame political divisions over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides free food to some 40 million Americans who qualify, or about 12 percent of the U.S. population (Reuters).

National Intelligence: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will deliver an assessment on election security to the White House today, the second time the intelligence community will determine if there was foreign meddling in an American election (The Hill).

Homeland Security: Asylum seekers will wait in Mexico rather than in the United States while their applications are processed under a change of Trump administration policy (The Washington Post).

Who taught Trump how to tweet? His tutor said “oh, no” in 2013 (Politico).



POLITICS: Leading Democrats imagine a prolonged presidential contest in 2020, a shifting electoral map, and potentially three dozen progressive candidates laboring to raise money and capture national recognition over 18 months to nearly two years.

With that in mind, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Thursday announced a schedule of 12 primary debates to begin next summer and continue into 2020 (The Hill). Reminder: DNC initially scheduled only six Democratic primary presidential debates in 2016, before subsequently adding three more.

Ron Klain, whose diverse résumé in politics, policy and law includes debate coaching for an array of Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates and nominees, thinks the DNC came up with a smart plan.



> Many Latino voters continue to identify with the Republican Party as 2020 contests loom large. FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. analyzes why Latino support for conservatives is part of the math and the shifting demographics in Florida, Arizona and Texas, where Democrats want to be competitive.


CONGRESS: In addition to the deadline drama over Trump’s demand for funds for a border wall, there was other news on Capitol Hill on Thursday. 

Criminal justice reform: The House passed bipartisan sentencing and prison reforms approved by the Senate earlier this week, sending the measure to the president. Trump will sign it into law this morning (The Hill).



Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill GOP senators say coronavirus deal dead until after election MORE (R-Kan.), 82, is mulling retirement. He’ll confer with his family over the holiday break, reflecting on his close race in 2014 and the farm bill just signed by Trump, which he considers part of his legislative legacy (Politico). "Experience counts, but in today's environment I'm not too sure that's the top consideration people are thinking about," Roberts said. On Monday, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGraham: GOP has votes to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda MORE (R-Tenn.) announced he will not seek a fourth term in 2020.


James Mattis’s final protest against the president, by David A. Graham, The Atlantic.

Russia, Iran and Turkey will step into the vacuum the U.S. leaves in Syria, by Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, opinion contributor, 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!



The Senate convenes at noon. 

The House meets at 9 a.m.

The president hosts a signing ceremony at 11 a.m. for the “First Step Act” and the “Juvenile Justice Reform Act” in the Oval Office. At 2 p.m., he hosts another signing ceremony for the “Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act”


> Entertainment: Movies bounced back, winding up with a record year in theaters. The year’s top 10 movies were sequels, reboots or based on comic books (The Associated Press).

> Tech: In Germany, Amazon sent Alexa recordings to the wrong user. The company called it an “isolated incident” (The Associated Press). 

> Space: Saturn’s iconic rings are fading, being pulled into Saturn by gravity at a pace that requires 300 million years before complete ringlessness (Quartz).


And finally … Bravo to this week’s Morning Report quiz winners, who had all the answers when asked a few questions drawn from the Trumps’ official 2018 Christmas photograph: Milt Mungo, Sandy Sycafoose, Elizabeth Murphy, Cheryl Gibson and Lorraine Lindberg.

These news consumers knew that the Dec. 15 picture taken of the president and first lady in the White House Cross Hall was posed in a spot between the East Room and the State Dining Room on the State Floor (USA Today and White House Museum).

Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power FBI director casts doubt on concerns over mail-in voting fraud Trump: 'We could hardly hear' boos, chanting at Supreme Court MORE wore a sequined white dress by designer Céline (Glamour).

Observers opined via social media that the official 2018 Christmas portrait of the Trumps veered a bit from photographic tradition by not including their 12-year-old son, Barron (Romper).

The cost of printing and mailing many thousands of holiday cards sent by contemporary presidents falls to the respective national political parties. In Trump’s case, the tab is picked up by the Republican National Committee, not taxpayers. (Check out a festive slideshow of presidential Christmas cards through the years HERE).