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The Hill’s Morning Report – Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe?

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Monday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, find us at @asimendinger and @alweaver22.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is ready to kick off the first of multiple hearings into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but that is not satisfactory to a group of House Democrats who believe he has been ineffective leading the probes into President Trump and his administration.


Most Democrats agree that Nadler is in an almost impossible position as he straddles the line between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lack of desire to impeach the president and a growing House Democratic chorus to do so. But this has also put him in the crosshairs of some who believe he failed to lay out a broad strategy or land a significant blow against the president and his allies.


According to Olivia Beavers and Scott Wong, critics believe Nadler’s response to Mueller’s report has been sloppy, disorganized and too heavy-handed in some instances while not tough enough in others. Additionally, some committee members gripe that Nadler’s communication with them has not been great. The chairman and his committee face frustrations that they haven’t obtained from the Justice Department the complete, unredacted version of Mueller’s report or persuaded the former special counsel to testify either privately or publicly.


If “Republicans don’t comply with something, we should be ready to … slap them on the wrist right away. Not wait days and days and days and then figure out what we want to do,” said one Democratic lawmaker involved in investigations tied to the Trump administration.


It hasn’t helped that the administration has stonewalled Nadler at every turn, including subpoenas for Attorney General William Barr, former White House counsel Don McGahn and former White House communications director Hope Hicks. House Democrats are prepared to vote to hold Barr and McGahn in contempt of Congress on Tuesday over their decisions to defy subpoenas.


Despite the criticism, Nadler is moving forward with the hearings, headlined by testimony on Monday from John Dean, who served as White House counsel during former President Nixon’s administration. House Democrats believe Dean is an ideal witness who can provide “historical context” on obstruction of justice given his role in the Watergate scandal. Dean’s congressional testimony eventually contributed to Nixon’s resignation. He also served four months in prison for his role in the cover-up (The Hill).


In a preemptive strike against Dean’s appearance before the committee, Trump tweeted Sunday night that the former White House counsel is nothing more than a “CNN sleazebag attorney.”


The New York Times: People are trying to figure out William Barr. He’s busy stockpiling power.


As the committee investigates the report, the pro-impeachment crowd has continued to swell, with 58 House Democrats supporting opening an impeachment inquiry. One group that is largely missing from the group, however, are swing-state freshmen who helped the party retake the House last fall.


According to Cristina Marcos, only one Democrat who flipped a GOP-held seat last November — Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) — supports impeaching the president. Some members, including Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), believe some Democrats are further along that they’ve let on about impeachment but don’t want to get ahead of Pelosi and the leadership team.


Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) recently told CNN that while she is still not on board with impeachment, it’s on her mind more than it was previously.


“To tell you the truth, I have been thinking more and more about when it would be appropriate to start the inquiry,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “I’ve read [special counsel Robert Mueller’s] report. There is clear evidence that this president has obstructed justice, and I think that there have to be serious consequences.


The Washington Post: For Democrats, Trump impeachment question is a personal struggle transcending politics.


> Across the Capitol, senators are ramping up their efforts to block Trump’s emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies. Last week, senators introduced 22 resolutions — one for each sale — that would block the deals from moving forward in an unprecedented move to respond after a president approves an emergency arms sale. One key sponsor is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch ally of the president, which senators say shows the level of concern Congress has over the sales (The Hill).  


Bloomberg: GOP Senators exhale after considering crossing Trump on tariffs.





POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: If some Democrats had their druthers, multiple 2020 Democratic candidates would recalibrate their efforts to help the party take back the Senate instead of running what they believe are already ill-fated campaigns for the party’s presidential nomination.


As Alexander Bolton reports, Democrats are urging a trio of Democrats in the 2020 field to shift gears and run for the Senate next year. Along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), they hope former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) take the Senate plunge instead of continuing to pursue presidential ambitions. The three candidates have failed to take off nationally in a crowded 2020 presidential field.


While Bullock and Hickenlooper have barely registered in polls and are struggling to gain traction, the same cannot be said of O’Rourke, who has been the rare 2020 candidate to take a tumble in the polls after a white-hot start where he raised $6.1 million in his first 24 hours of his campaign. Headlined most recently by a Des Moines Register poll showing him pulling only 2 percent support, O’Rourke has seen his star falter, leading to calls from prominent Democrats to drop his bid and take on Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) next year.


“The clock is running out for people who have not demonstrated any ability to mount a serious presidential bid to help make a real difference in their country by helping to turn the Senate,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), saying publicly what other Senate Democrats have expressed privately.





Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there has been some frustration among Senate Democrats with those who have spurned Senate races for 2020 bids. They could change their minds as the presidential contest narrows, he added.


“We have a number of presidential aspirants who would make excellent senatorial candidates but they first have to be committed to the race. I hope they’ll reach the point where it makes sense to them,” Durbin said.


The filing deadline in Texas will force O’Rourke to decide by Dec. 9, meaning a decision will have to come just under two months prior to the Iowa caucuses. As for Colorado and Montana, the deadlines in both states occur after Super Tuesday, meaning both Hickenlooper and Bullock can run for the Democratic nod and switch gears for Senate races if they remain among the presidential pack that long. Colorado’s filing deadline is March 17, while Montana’s is March 9.


The trio’s decision to run for president dealt a big blow to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has come up empty in multiple instances to land a prime recruit in top races to take on Senate GOP incumbents. In Texas, Schumer has thrown his weight behind MJ Hegar, who lost to Rep. John Carter (R) in November. The race in Colorado to take on Sen. Cory Gardner (R) has turned into a free-for-all, while Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins (D) is the only announced candidate in Montana against Sen. Steve Daines (R), but lacks the kind of party support Bullock could muster. Additionally, former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams passed on running in Georgia against Sen. David Perdue (R).


> Democratic presidential contenders are ready to break the bank wide open with expensive policy proposals that would add trillions of dollars to the deficit if they’re enacted, as Jonathan Easley reports.


The 2020 hopefuls are angling to one-up each other with big policy ideas addressing health care, climate change and student debt. But the ambitious plans often carry trillion dollar price tags, providing ammunition to Republicans and drawing criticism from some Democrats that the “massive government expansions” will scare off voters. The size and cost of the proposals were unimaginable only a few years ago and underscore the degree to which both parties have abandoned their concerns about deficit spending.


For example, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) climate change plan, which is considered the cream of the crop by environmental activists, would cost $3 trillion over the next decade, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) proposal to eliminate student debt and erase tuition at public schools would cost $1.25 trillion. Additionally, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) “Medicare-for-All” plan would cost $32 trillion in government spending.


The Hill: Sanders seizes 2020 megaphone to attack companies over minimum wage.


While the campaigns continue to release plan after plan on domestic issues, most are putting foreign policy on the back-burner.


As Jordain Carney writes, Democratic lawmakers and strategists believe it will be a crucial point of contrast with the president during the 2020 race, but 2020 Democrats have focused on top domestic issues, including health care and the economy even though they believe Trump has bungled issues on the international stage.


The Hill: Tougher debate threshold sets off scramble among 2020 Democrats.


The Washington Post: Warren’s nonstop ideas reshape the Democratic presidential race — and give her new momentum.


The Associated Press: Democratic rivals take only veiled swipes at former Vice President Joe Biden in Iowa.


Los Angeles Times: In Iowa, 19 Democrats times 5 minutes equals 2020 campaign “speed-dating.”


Politico: Latino leaders sound alarms over Trump reelection in 2020.


WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: Following nine days of U.S.-Mexico tariff drama and a signed agreement on Friday whose provisions are in dispute, Trump reset the clock to 90 days before he says he may again seek to punish Mexico for the flow of illegal migrants at the U.S. southern border.


Senators from both parties have pointed to their misgivings about the president’s threat of 5 percent tariffs on all imported goods from Mexico, which economists argue would be disruptive and expensive for U.S. businesses, auto producers and consumers. Advocates for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) expressed concerns that a threat of new tariffs could hinder Congress’s ratification of the new North American Free Trade Agreement.


Trump turned to tariffs as leverage with the new Mexican government to try to gain cooperation to stem the tide of illegal migrants and asylum seekers moving through Mexico from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. After reversing course to announce that escalating tariffs would not take effect today, the administration resumed its push for the USMCA. Vice President Pence also urged Congress to change immigration laws — a highly unlikely prospect before the 2020 elections.


Politico: Pence said “it’s time for Congress to step up … to reform our asylum laws, secure our border, and fix this broken immigration system once and for all! Let’s get it done!”


According to the State Department, Mexico agreed to dispatch 6,000 national guardsmen at the border with Guatemala to block migrants from reaching the United States and expand a Trump administration program that holds thousands of asylum-seekers in Mexico during U.S. immigration processing.


If Mexico’s actions “do not have the expected results,” additional measures could be taken within 90 days, and the two countries will continue to discuss add-on steps during that period (The New York Times).


Trump boasted about the joint agreement over the weekend, praising Mexico while reprising his tariff threats.


The New York Times: A drama of Trump’s own making ends with a familiar hero.


The New York Times: Mexico agreed to take border actions months before Trump announced a tariff deal.


The New York Times: The president, who disputed reporting that the deal with Mexico was not entirely new, claimed there are provisions yet to be unveiled.


Bloomberg: Mexico never agreed to a farm deal with the United States, contradicting Trump’s reference to future “large” purchases of U.S. agricultural products.





Around the departments, the Environmental Protection Agency is embroiled in a deepening controversy over science, research and government data (The Hill).


NASA, featured in Trump’s twitter feed last week (along with the moon and Mars), faces questions about its plans for commercialization of the International Space Station (The New York Times).


The Pentagon has raised the stakes for Turkey over the NATO ally’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system, threatening repercussions that put billions of dollars on the line for both countries if Ankara goes through with the purchase (The Hill).

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Beijing started this trade conflict. Trump must finish it, by Dan DiMicco, chairman of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Crazy pork barrel projects are one more exhibit of reckless spending, by Kristin Tate, opinion contributor, The Hill.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Washington Post columnist George Will, author of the new book “The Conservative Sensibility”; pollster Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Poll, discussing a new survey focused on abortion issues and the public’s outlook on Democratic presidential candidates; and John Stanton, former BuzzFeed Washington bureau chief, who talks about being the co-founder of the Save Journalism Project.


The House returns at 2 p.m. The House Judiciary Committee begins a series of hearings at 2 p.m. drawn from the Mueller report.


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of Ryan T. Holte to be a judge with the United States Court of Federal Claims.


The president has lunch with the vice president at 12:30 p.m. Trump joins a meeting about Major League Baseball’s efforts to combat human trafficking and player defections from Cuba. He’ll also meet at 4 p.m. with the 103rd Indianapolis 500 champions, Team Penske, founded by professional race car driver Roger Penske.


Pence participates in a commissioning ceremony at 11 a.m. for former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. Pence joins Trump for lunch, then heads to the Smithsonian Institution castle building in Washington to participate in a Board of Regents meeting at 2 p.m. In the afternoon, Pence rejoins Trump at the White House to welcome Team Penske champions.


Tech: YouTube faces calls to rethink its business model as it wrestles with harassment, extremism and exploitation on its platform (The Hill). The New York Times reported on the making of a YouTube radical and the impact of YouTube’s recommended algorithm. CEO Sundar Pichai of parent company Google told Axios on HBO during an interview, “We are bringing that same notion [from Google] and approach to YouTube, so that we can rank higher quality stuff better and really prevent borderline content — content which doesn’t exactly violate policies, which need to be removed, but which can still cause harm.” He said “fact checkers” will be brought in to monitor YouTube videos, which he concedes will be controversial.


State Watch: California on Sunday tackled seasonal wildfires as Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest electric utility, proactively cut power to residential and business customers located in fire hazard areas (The Associated Press). … Mississippi’s race for governor is in the headlines because of a legal fight over a Jim Crow-era law that requires a gubernatorial candidate to win across a geographic cross section of the state. A lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Eric Holder (D) places Democrat Jim Hood in an awkward position because he’s both the state’s attorney general, who would have to defend Mississippi’s current system, and the Democratic nominee for governor, who could benefit if the system is struck down (The Hill).





News media: The financially struggling U.S. news industry will have a chance this week to speak out about the ongoing battle for digital advertising revenue in an era where the goliaths, Facebook and Google, dominate. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday begins an antitrust probe of the largest tech companies. News outlets are seeking to be heard by lawmakers at a time when Facebook and Google have invested heavily — at least $36 million last year —  to lobby Congress and the Trump administration (The Hill). (NPR asks whether lawmakers are tech-savvy enough to tackle antitrust options as they examine the reach of Big Tech.) … ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network announced it will partner with six additional newsrooms beginning July 1, funding salaries for selected reporters up to $75,000 and sharing data with The Arizona Republic, The Capital (Annapolis, Md.), The Frontier (Tulsa, Okla.), the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Miami Herald and Oregon Public Broadcasting. … Elsewhere, China’s leading investigative reporter Liu Wanyong quit journalism at age 48, another step toward an end to independent journalism and scrutiny in a country dealing with Communist Party orthodoxy and censorship under President Xi Jinping. The current climate is compared with the “propaganda of the Mao era” (The New York Times). … Russian newspapers today displayed rare solidarity to publish identical front pages to defend detained investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was beaten by police in Moscow after being stopped, then kept in custody without a lawyer on Thursday before being transferred to house arrest on Saturday (The Associated Press).


And finally … Someone in Southern California begins this week as a really, really wealthy individual after Saturday’s news that the winning $530 million Mega Millions jackpot ticket was sold at a San Diego liquor store (CBS News). It’s the seventh-largest jackpot in the game’s history.


If the winner chooses a lump-sum payout, he or she will pocket $345 million. But experts recommend that lottery winners think long and hard about opting for the annuity plan instead (CNBC).


The odds of nabbing a Mega Millions jackpot are decidedly slim — 1 in 302.5 million. The game’s $2 tickets are sold in 44 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.




Tags Bernie Sanders Chuck Schumer Cory Gardner Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Dick Durbin Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Eric Holder Hope Hicks Jared Huffman Jay Inslee Jerrold Nadler Joe Biden John Carter John Cornyn John Hickenlooper Lindsey Graham Nancy Pelosi Reince Priebus Robert Mueller Sheldon Whitehouse Steve Bullock Steve Daines Tom Malinowski William Barr

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