The Hill's Morning Report — Will Ralph Northam survive?

The Hill's Morning Report — Will Ralph Northam survive?
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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report, and it’s Monday. Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, you can find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger. 

In #53, the New England Patriots slogged past the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever played. The Patriots tied the Pittsburgh Steelers with their sixth win, and Tom Brady, 41, became the oldest quarterback to win the Super Bowl and the first NFL player to earn six rings, while Bill Belichick, 66, became the oldest head coach to win the title (NBC News).

***

In Virginia, the political fate of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam may soon become clearer. 

He spent the weekend weighing calls from within his party for his resignation, but reportedly had not reached a decision by Sunday night. Northam’s shifting explanations about a racially explosive snapshot in a 1984 yearbook undercut his ambitions to remain in office.

The Washington Post: Northam held “urgent meeting” with top staff Sunday night to consider stepping down.

During a jaw-dropping press conference on Saturday, Northam said he never wore blackface or a Ku Klux Klan costume at a medical school party, as he initially apologized for doing in statements he released on Friday. He said a photo of two such figures on his yearbook page along with snapshots he submitted could have been published in error 35 years ago. 

As part of his revised defense, Northam volunteered he darkened his face with shoe polish while imitating Michael Jackson’s moonwalk during a 1984 dance contest when he was a pediatric intern with the Army in San Antonio, Texas.

Northam’s efforts to survive the upheaval set up a potential leadership clash with a growing and outspoken bloc of the state’s Democratic establishment. Northam’s four-year term ends in 2022.

The New York Times: In Northam’s turmoil, Democrats see an agenda at risk.

If the governor resigns, he would be succeeded by Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (The New York Times). 

“I asked my colleagues, I asked Virginians to accept my word, to realize I made mistakes in my past, to offer forgiveness, and then let’s all as a commonwealth move forward.” — Northam on Saturday

Instead, calls for resignation piled up in Richmond as well as in Congress and among Democrats running for president or thinking about entering the 2020 race.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand 'not worried' about being 'discounted' in 2020 race Cory Booker releases 10 years of tax returns Buttigieg gets first congressional endorsement MORE (D-N.Y.), who was quick to urge former Democratic Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenBehar laments Franken resignation to Gillibrand: 'I really miss him now' Winners and losers from first fundraising quarter Election analyst says Gillibrand doesn't have 'horsepower to go the full distance' MORE of Minnesota to leave the Senate following accusations of sexual misconduct, wasted no time telling the Virginia governor he should go.

 

 

The Congressional Black Caucus said the governor’s ability to lead in Virginia was irreparably damaged and urged him to resign (The Hill). 

Virginia Democratic Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems ask Justice Dept to release findings of Acosta-Epstein investigation MORE and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Hillicon Valley: Trump unveils initiatives to boost 5G | What to know about the Assange case | Pelosi warns tech of 'new era' in regulation | Dem eyes online hate speech bill MORE, along with Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottLabor Department official steps down amid ethics questions: report The Congressional Black Caucus: America stands to lose a lot under TrumpCare House passes Paycheck Fairness Act MORE (D-Va.) issued a joint statement saying Northam “must resign.” Douglas Wilder, the state’s first African American governor, did the same, as did former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who campaigned extensively for Northam, his lieutenant governor in 2017, to defeat Republican Ed Gillespie.

Addendum … Information about the yearbook photo provided to the Big League Politics website was linked in a tipster’s mind to the governor’s recent late-term abortion remarks (The Washington Post). … There was more than one blackface photo in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook in 1984 (Richmond Times-Dispatch). ... Northam, as a pediatric intern at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, was profiled by the local newspaper in 1985 (San Antonio Express-News).

LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS & 2020: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS embassy in Sri Lanka warns against visiting places of worship Kim Jong Un's 'long yet necessary road' toward reaffirming alliances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump tells House investigators 'no' MORE, a Kansan urged by GOP admirers to consider running to succeed retiring Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSchumer, author discussed possible Kansas Senate run: report Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Republicans writing off hard-line DHS candidate MORE (R-Kan.), will deliver a MOKAN (Missouri-Kansas) Forum speech on Tuesday morning at a Washington restaurant.

Pompeo has not publicly ruled out a Senate run, but the president played down the idea while talking with CBS News on Friday.

I think he loves being secretary of State. He's doing a fantastic job. And I asked him the question the other day. He says he's absolutely not leaving. I don't think he'd do that. And he doesn't want to be lame duck. And he's doing a fantastic job as our secretary of State. Great energy and great — a great, smart gentleman.” — Trump 

 

 

American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who hails from Wichita and whose wife is a communications adviser to Trump, is also trying to decide if he’ll enter the Kansas Senate contest. During a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview on Friday, Schlapp said his friend’s decision factors into his own. 

“[Pompeo] would be a great senator, if he decided to do that. … I can’t imagine running against somebody you like so much like that, so hopefully that gets avoided.”  — Schlapp

More from the 2020 hustings: Lawrence, Mass., will be the location on Saturday of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenColbert links large 2020 Dem field to Avengers: 'A group of every available person in the universe' Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary Sanders dominates, Buttigieg surges in 2020 social media battle MOREs formal launch for president. … A Democratic Party debate among White House wannabes about how to tax the rich is loud and lively (The Hill). … Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) is watching his political stock slide (The Hill). … Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Treasury misses second Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Waters renews calls for impeachment | Dem wants Fed pick to apologize for calling Ohio cities 'armpits of America' | Stocks reach record high after long recovery Sherrod Brown asks Trump Fed pick why he referred to Cleveland, Cincinnati as 'armpits of America' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Ohio), who is exploring a presidential race, again blasted Trump as “a racist” (The Hill). … McAuliffe says he’d “like” to run for the White House in 2020 but hasn’t made up his mind (The Hill). … The Iowa caucuses are a year away (summary of the 2020 landscape by the Council on Foreign Relations).

***

CONGRESS: Shutdown frictions may be center stage, but lawmakers have plenty of other fireworks in mind this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection agency limps into 2020 cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration MORE (R-Ky.) is leading the charge with an amended measure expected to be adopted later this week to challenge Trump’s troop withdrawal policy in Syria (Roll Call).

Senate lawmakers and foreign policy experts are warning that ongoing peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan are tougher than Trump and administration officials suggest (The Hill).

The Senate this week is expected to approve an Israel anti-boycott provision as part of a larger foreign policy measure and send it to the House, where pro-Israel Democrats oppose some provisions but are nevertheless eager to take up the Senate bill. It poses a challenge for the Speaker (The Hill).

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday will vote on the nomination of William Barr to be attorney general for the second time in his career. The full Senate is expected to confirm Barr this month, but Senate Democrats have already signaled their opposition, in part based on his stated unwillingness to pledge to publicly disclose complete findings from the Russia investigation expected to be submitted to the Justice Department by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE. 

On Friday, the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors questions former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (ABC News). He heads to federal prison in March on charges that include lying to Congress.

Also on Friday, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker appears before the House Judiciary Committee to respond to questions from members of the new Democratic majority.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Risks of a new arms race accelerated after Russia’s announcement over the weekend that it would suspend its obligations under a Cold War-era nuclear missile treaty. President Vladimir Putin’s decree appeared to be the death knell for a pact the Trump administration said on Friday it would abandon (The Wall Street Journal). … Meanwhile, community officials in Youngstown, Ohio are urging the Ohio congressional delegation to back nearby Camp Garfield for a $5 billion ground-based missile defense system (The Vindicator).

Venezuela: The United States is sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela and urging more members of the Venezuelan military to abandon their allegiance to isolated President Nicolás Maduro, according to White House national security adviser John Bolton.

Trump said during the CBS News interview that deployment of U.S. troops to Venezuela is “an option,” but added his belief that international efforts to propel Maduro out of power were well underway (Reuters).

Trump & intelligence: Trump's relationship with his intelligence chiefs runs hot and cold, particularly when it comes to Iran policy. His advisers testified last week that Iran is abiding by the terms of the Obama-era nuclear agreement signed with Tehran (The Hill).

I want them to have their own opinion and I want them to give me their opinion. But … I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problems.I have intel people, but that doesn't mean I have to agree.” — Trump during his CBS interview

Trump’s time: It’s no secret the 45th president prefers unstructured time while working, and Axios confirmed the details drawn from Trump’s internal schedules. Presidency scholars and former White House officials say Trump’s free-range approach to time management, adapted from years in business, is a stark departure from his predecessors (Axios).

White House staff turnstile: Trump and his senior advisers continue to make personnel changes. Kash Patel, who completed a controversial stint working with Republicans on Capitol Hill after serving as a Justice Department lawyer, moves to the National Security Council, according to CNN reporting. … Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s favorite physician, has been promoted despite a 2018 investigation that nudged him to withdraw his nomination to lead the Veterans Affairs Department (The Washington Post). Navy Rear Adm. Jackson was recommended for a second star (Fox News). His new title is assistant to the president and chief medical adviser, according to the White House, which on Saturday also announced 36 other staff changes.

Trump physical examination: Physicians at Walter Reed Medical Center on Friday will administer Trump’s second medical exam as president (CNN). It was recommended last year that the 72-year-old president undergo a colonoscopy as part of this year’s exam, but it’s unclear if he will do so. Some of Trump’s predecessors elected to temporarily transfer power to their vice presidents during the routine test.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley & Alexis Simendinger. We want to hear from you! @jeasley@thehill.com and @asimendinger@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

 

OPINION

End the war in Afghanistan. It’s time to bring American soldiers back home, by The New York Times editorial board. https://nyti.ms/2RAywjh 

Walled in by a wall: Trump has angered America’s political middle, by Judd Gregg, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2G8j8t9

WHERE AND WHEN

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Gigi Sohn, who advocates for net neutrality; education specialist Richard Giordano discusses teacher strikes; and Liuba Grechen Shirley describes Vote Mama, a new organization to help more mothers get elected to Congress. http://thehill.com/hilltv

The House convenes at 11:30 a.m.

The Senate meets at 3 p.m. and votes on a leadership-backed amendment to the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act. Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE (D-Ill.) will discuss the “new Senate Democratic agenda" at an event hosted by Georgetown University at 7 p.m., to be covered by C-SPAN.

The president has lunch with Vice President Pence.

ELSEWHERE

> Tip for those nearing retirement age: During a limited window before and after age 65, Medicare requires enrollees to sign up, or pay a hefty penalty for life. Nearing retirement age? Read, read, read. It’s complicated. (The New York Times). 

> Investigations: Candidate Trump sought but was rejected for a loan from Deutsche Bank during his presidential campaign and while managing the Trump Organization. New reporting explains why. Two House committees are examining the president’s decades-long relationship with Deutsche Bank (The New York Times).

> Robotics: Artificial intelligence meets physics to conquer Jenga — after clobbering humans in chess, the Rubik’s cube and the Chinese board game Go. Strategically removing small blocks from an increasingly wobbly tower of 54 game pieces was a new challenge in machine learning aced by the robotics brainiacs at MIT (The Washington Post has video; see also Science Robotics). 

 



THE CLOSER

And finally … If you’re sleep-deprived, in a funk or hungover this morning, here’s something that potentially is cheaper and more restorative than coffee, yoga or a massage: autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).

It’s now an internet trend all about relaxation, and it inspired a Super Bowl beer ad seen by tens of millions of football fans before and during Sunday’s game.

Some scientists are studying ASMR and believe there may be something to the alleged relaxation-inducing effects on humans, which have been likened to a non-sexual “brain orgasm.” The web is filled with videos intended to trigger bliss through a repetition of sights and sounds, such as someone turning pages in a book, brushing hair or tapping objects.

ASMR is described as a tingly euphoric feeling, usually starting on the head and scalp.

The whispery, waterfall-accessorized commercial featuring actress Zoe Kravitz created for the Super Bowl seized on the ASMR craze and tried to bottle it.