The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test

 

 

 

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, you can find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.


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President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for round two of his confirmation hearings.

While most nominees for attorney general are grilled on their approach to law enforcement – former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller MORE cast himself as a “law and order” attorney general on drugs, crime and immigration – Barr’s candidacy hangs almost exclusively on his approach to Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s special counsel investigation.

On Monday, Barr sought to reassure Democrats that he would act independently of the president and would not interfere in Mueller’s investigation. Some of his responses alarmed Democrats, who are deeply suspicious of the man Trump has picked to oversee what many expect will be the final stretch for the special counsel investigation.

Still, Barr passed his first confirmation test. He kept a calm demeanor in answering questions from lawmakers and there were only a few tense moments, which is rare for a confirmation hearing for attorney general.

The Hill: Five Takeaways from Barr’s first day of hearings.

The Hill: AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump.

How Barr sought to satisfy Democrats

> Barr cast himself as close friends with “Bob” Mueller and said he would allow the special counsel to complete its investigation. “On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work.”

Specifically, Barr said the president had “absolutely not” asked him to fire Mueller if he is confirmed. Furthermore, Barr said if Trump asked him to fire Mueller without cause, he would refuse. “I would not carry out that instruction.”

> Barr sought to cast himself as an independent law enforcement official who would not be swayed by politics — or the president. I won’t be bullied into doing anything that I think is wrong. Whether it be editorial boards, or Congress or the president. I’m going to do what I think is right."

How Barr broke with the White House

> I don’t believe that Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.”

> Barr told lawmakers that Trump would not be allowed to “correct” Mueller’s final report.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told The Hill during an interview earlier this month that the White House deserves a first crack to “correct it” before it’s released to the public. Barr said “that will not happen.”

The White House is reportedly drafting its own report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

> Barr said the president is limited in his pardoning power, and that it would be illegal for Trump to issue a pardon in exchange for a promise not to incriminate him. “That would be a crime.”

Where Barr attracted further scrutiny

> It seems unlikely that Barr will recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe.

Democrats believe that Barr’s past skepticism toward the investigation – he wrote a 19-page memo detailing why he believes an obstruction investigation based on specific circumstances would be “fatally misconceived” – should require his recusal.

“I will seek the advice of the career ethics personnel, but under the regulations, I make the decision as the head of the agency as to my own recusal.”

> Barr did not commit to making the Mueller report or reports to the Justice Department public.

“It is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel’s work. My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.”

“I will commit to providing as much information as I can, consistent with the regulations.”

 

 

More from the investigations front … House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference Schiff: Mueller report 'far worse' than Watergate Schiff: Democrats 'may' take up impeachment proceedings MORE (D-Calif.) makes specialty hires for restarted Russia probe (CBS News) … The Morning Report learned that Schiff made a trip to McLean, Va., on Tuesday morning to meet with Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsJordan, Meadows press intelligence chief on House Intel Russia probe transcripts Overnight Energy: John Kerry hits Trump over climate change at hearing | Defends Ocasio-Cortez from GOP attacks | Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill MORE … Mueller files status report highlighting cooperation from key witness (The Hill) … House GOP asks U.S. attorney for update on investigation into allegations former FBI general counsel James Baker is being investigated for criminal leaks (The Hill).

LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: At the White House, the government shutdown is encouraging the president’s non-furloughed advisers to plan ahead, just in case Trump delivers a nationally televised State of the Union address Jan. 29 while still arm-wrestling over federal funding and border security.

In the Capitol, Democratic leaders are sizing up the 26-day impasse and have decided House members will remain in Washington next week – even if the border debate has not budged – during what had been a planned district work period to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The Senate will do the same (The Hill).

The Hill: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general MORE (D-Calif.) has largely maintained party unity during the House faceoff with Trump. But centrist Democrats are beginning to gripe about repetitive inaction, while the White House is eager to try to pressure Pelosi’s caucus into some public defections.

The Hill: On Tuesday, House moderate Democrats rejected an invitation to negotiate with the president absent their leadership, while at the same time House Democrats failed to drive a wedge through the GOP conference to get their colleagues to break with Trump. As a result, the House rejected a stopgap measure aimed at reopening the government (The Hill).

At the same time, some freshmen House Democrats sought out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' MORE (R-Ky.), believing he might be able to break the logjam.

But instead, McConnell decided to block a House measure for a second time, arguing that without the president’s approval, the Senate will refrain from voting (The Hill).

The Washington Post: “As soon as the president tells him there is something he’d be willing to sign, he’ll bring it to the floor. But the president’s signature isn’t a given on anything, and the leader isn’t going to go through with some futile act on something in the meantime.” – Sen. John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (R-Texas)

 

 

In other words, members of Congress were ready with talking points on Tuesday but light on negotiations that might bring about an end to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.  

The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE (D-N.Y.) says Senate Democrats have not heard from the president since Trump walked out of a 14-minute White House meeting earlier this month.

Americans have begun to chafe at Washington’s dysfunction, and the administration is trying to make temporary adjustments by summoning thousands back to work without compensation.

The Federal Aviation Administration opted to bring back some furloughed employees without pay (The Hill), as did the IRS (CNN).

NASA employees protested in Houston (The Houston Chronicle), as did Transportation Security Administration workers (HuffPost).

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington declined to compel the government to pay its employees who are working during the shutdown. Three unions, along with individual federal workers, had filed suit against the administration arguing they could not be forced to work without compensation (The Washington Post).

The Associated Press: From travel to IPOs, the shutdown is upsetting the U.S. economy.

In other Congress news … As House committee assignments were handed out on Tuesday, The Hill’s Scott Wong broke the news that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMichael Steele: A missed opportunity at holding banks accountable House Dem dismisses impeachment push: 'I'd rather defeat' Trump at ballot box Tlaib rallies in support of Green New Deal at Detroit town hall MORE (D-N.Y.) landed a coveted spot on the House Financial Services Committee, a power position for the standout freshman (The Hill) …  The House approved a resolution rejecting white supremacy and white nationalism (The Hill) … Only one House member voted against the resolution and it wasn’t GOP Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingThe Hill's Morning Report — Combative Trump aims at Pelosi before Russia report Steve King's campaign spent more than it raised last quarter It's time for a 'Congressional Jewish Caucus' MORE of Iowa, the target of Republican wrath because of his controversial remarks about race. King was encouraged to find another line of work by critic Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyRep. Cheney: Socialism 'driving the agenda of the Democratic Party' Dem lawmaker offers tool for 'filling in the blanks' of Green New Deal Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, and several others (The Hill) … House Democratic investigators, at the outset of a new probe into rising drug prices, asked a dozen pharmaceutical companies to explain how they price their products (The Hill).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' 2020 Dems ratchet up anti-corporate talk in bid to woo unions MORE (D-N.Y.) announced on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” last night that she’s setting up an exploratory committee ahead of a run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own, which is why I believe that health care should be a right and not a privilege.” — Gillibrand

 

 

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio) is also dipping a toe into the pool, announcing last night that he’s launching a “Dignity of Work” tour through Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada (The Hill). Brown said he’ll make a final decision in the “weeks ahead.”

“The message of dignity of work will work for any Democratic nominee that comes down the line in the next several months.” — Brown on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes”

They join what is expected to be a crowded primary field that already includes Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTim Ryan doesn't back impeachment proceedings against Trump Schiff: Democrats 'may' take up impeachment proceedings Trump claims Democrats' plans to probe admin will cost them 'big time' in 2020 MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard fundraises off 4/20: 'Appalls me' that feds consider marijuana illegal Groups, lawmakers use 4/20 to raise awareness about marijuana sentencing reform Several 2020 Dems say they're ready to face Fox News town hall MORE (D-Hawaii) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Several other big names, including former Vice President Joseph Biden, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' Tulsi Gabbard fundraises off 4/20: 'Appalls me' that feds consider marijuana illegal MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' 2020 Dems ratchet up anti-corporate talk in bid to woo unions MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Wage growth shaping up as key 2020 factor for Trump Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' MORE (I-Vt.) could join the race soon.

 

 

Sanders, who electrified the liberal base in 2016 and finished second to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Nadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting Kellyanne Conway: Mueller didn't need to use the word 'exoneration' in report MORE, is already in damage control mode this go-round over allegations of sexual harassment among his 2016 campaign officials (The Hill).

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, 77, also appears to be nearing a run. He told The Associated Press that he believes he can be elected president despite his age.

More from campaigns and politics … Conservative Democrats will face 2020 primary challenges arranged by progressive groups who view them as out of step with the party (The Hill).

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ADMINISTRATION & WHITE HOUSE: On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York blocked the Commerce Department from adding a question about American citizenship to the 2020 U.S. census (The Hill). The ruling handed the president’s critics a win after they accused the administration of attempting to use the once-every-decade census to advance GOP political aims (The New York Times).

Environmental Protection Agency: Andrew Wheeler, nominated to permanently lead the agency he serves as acting chief, is expected to face a tough confirmation grilling today beginning at 10 a.m. before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (The Hill). … Committee Chairman Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE (R-Wyo.) backed Wheeler this morning in an Op-Ed (USA Today).

NATO: Trump’s repeated remarks about the United States potentially leaving NATO have unnerved Republicans (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

Checks and balances: Who leads in a government shutdown?, by Leon Panetta, former secretary of Defense and opinion contributor for The Hill. http://bit.ly/2FBHr1r

How Trump could win the shutdown, by Conrad Black, American Greatness. http://bit.ly/2FATUmb

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 10 a.m.

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. The Senate Judiciary Committee at 9:30 a.m. holds a second day of hearings to consider Barr’s nomination. 

The president meets at 11:30 a.m. with the House Problem Solvers Caucus in the Situation Room. He has lunch with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS downplays North Korea's saber rattling Overnight Defense: Pompeo rejects North Korean call for him to leave negotiations | Trump talk with rebel Libyan general raises eyebrows | New setback to Taliban talks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems face tricky balancing act after Mueller report MORE at 1 p.m. At 2:15 p.m., Trump signs the “Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019,” a law to provide back pay to furloughed federal workers when the current funding lapse ends.

Vice President Pence speaks to the Global Chiefs of Mission conference at the State Department at 10:20 a.m. An hour later, he joins the president with members of Congress in the White House Situation Room. Pence meets with Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, at 1 p.m. At 1:15 p.m., the vice president meet with U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad. At 1:30 p.m., Pence   meets with the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. At 1:45 p.m., he meets with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson at the White House. At 2:15 p.m., Pence joins Trump while the president signs the back pay legislation for federal workers in the Oval Office. At 3:45 p.m., Pence meets with families who have lost a relative to death at the hands of an undocumented immigrant, known as “Angel” families.

Pompeo convenes the two-day conference for all U.S. ambassadors in Washington.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will speak about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at noon at the Heritage Foundation.

The Federal Reserve at 2 p.m. releases its beige book, a summary of economic conditions reported by Fed bank districts, published eight times a year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. releases the U.S. import and export price indexes for December. 

ELSEWHERE

> Brexit: The U.K.’s Parliament on Tuesday crushed Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to exit the European Union, and as a result her government faces a no-confidence vote on Wednesday (The Associated Press). That vote could trigger a general election (Reuters). The deadline remains March 29 for Great Britain to leave the EU and options for an orderly transition are scarce (Reuters).

 

 

> Tech: Facebook says it will invest $300 million over three years in local news media, and it released a list of where it will start (TechCrunch). … As Netflix’s costs rise, the streaming service is raising prices for 58 million U.S. subscribers up to 18 percent (The Associated Press). … U.S. consumers spent a record $126 billion over the 2018 holidays to shop online, including via Amazon and using their smartphones (Reuters).

> Terrorism: Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for 14 deaths resulting from a staged terror attack on a guarded office, hotel and shopping compound in Nairobi (Reuters). An American and a British national are among the casualties in Kenya’s capital (The Associated Press) … In Syria, American Warren Christopher Clark, who is being held in Kurdish custody, told NBC News in an exclusive interview that he does not regret joining the Islamic State.

 

 

> Immigration: A caravan of several hundred migrant asylum seekers bound for the United States crossed the border from Honduras to Guatemala on Tuesday (Reuters).

> Women’s March: The Democratic National Committee has dropped its partnership with the Women’s March amid accusations of anti-Semitism in the movement’s leadership ranks. This year’s Women’s March is scheduled to take place in Washington and elsewhere on Jan. 19 (Jewish News Syndicate).

> Cyber: U.S. officials have charged several overseas hackers with breaking into a Securities and Exchange Commission database that stores market-moving corporate data (The Wall Street Journal).

THE CLOSER

And finally … On Jan. 16, a nod to two inventors, one American and one French, who shared birthdays and watched as their names stuck to their creations.

Frank J. Zamboni, born on this day in 1901 in Eureka, Utah, invented the ice resurfacer that bears his name. Every child who has ever been to a hockey game has dreamed of one day driving the Zamboni out onto the ice in between periods. The machine’s creator died in 1988 at the age of 87.

Meanwhile, on this day in France in 1853, André Michelin was born. André and his younger brother Édouard opened a rubber company in 1888. They registered a series of successful patents that led them into the tire business. Today, Michelin is the second largest tire manufacturer in the world and the company still operates out of their hometown of Clermont-Ferrand.