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.


President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally 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 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign 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 (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 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 SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests 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 CoatsTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer Trump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down 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).


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 PelosiPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Trump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief 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 McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal 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 CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal 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 SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief Postal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period 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-CortezDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Ethics Committee orders Tlaib to refund campaign ,800 for salary payments Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants 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 Campaign Report: Biden builds big lead in battleground Florida Progressive Bowman ousts Engel in New York primary Colorado GOP Rep. Scott Tipton defeated in primary upset 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 CheneyRepublicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker House GOP pushes back at Trump on changing election date 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).


POLITICS: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandExpanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic 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 BrownOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill 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 WarrenBiden campaign says no VP pick yet after bike trail quip Biden edges closer to VP pick: Here's who's up and who's down Democratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardFinancial firms facing serious hacking threat in COVID-19 era Gabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 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 HarrisBiden campaign says no VP pick yet after bike trail quip Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Biden edges closer to VP pick: Here's who's up and who's down MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) could join the race soon.



Sanders, who electrified the liberal base in 2016 and finished second to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Hillary Clinton touts student suspended over crowded hallway photo: 'John Lewis would be proud' 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).


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 BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining 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)

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

How Trump could win the shutdown, by Conrad Black, American Greatness.


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 PompeoBeirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally Advocacy groups come out against Trump pick for ambassador to Germany US pledges million in disaster aid to Lebanon 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. 


> 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).


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.